Chimera Book Two by Phil Gomm by Phil Gomm - Read Online

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Chimera Book Two - Phil Gomm

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http://www.phillhosking.co.uk

Last time in Chimera …

Kyp stepped blinking from tunnel Cuthbert had described into a vast wilderness of discarded carpets. The carpets were layered in drifts, their colours clashing, and their patterns hectic. The horizon swam and shimmered, but Kyp could just make out the dark smudge of a distant city. He set out towards it. Gritty gusts blew across the hummocks of piled carpets, the wind reeking of cat pee and propelling tumbleweeds of dog hair across the dunes. The ground felt oddly coarse beneath Kyp’s feet; looking down, he saw to his disgust that the carpets were crunchy with toenail clippings and jumping with fleas.

The towers and turrets of the city soon came to dominate the skyline. Standing before the city’s high wall, Kyp noticed its surface was encrusted with barnacles and limpets. There was a crack in the wall just big enough to admit him, which he squeezed through, scrambling down a precarious staircase of rubble. He walked cautiously through the city’s silent, empty streets. He stared in wonder at the impressive buildings, their ornate marble carvings of fish, sea serpents and squids encrusted with barnacles. Kyp felt overwhelmed by the prospect of searching an entire city for the Sin King, his mind showing him Joe Bean behind bars and Jamie’s heartbroken face.

‘YOU!’ a voice roared suddenly, cracking the air like thunder.

Kyp stared up in confusion at the majestic basilica directly before him. The grand-looking building was peering down at him, its multitude of circular windows narrowed disapprovingly.

‘YOU THERE!’ the voice boomed again, Kyp watching in stunned amazement as the arched entrance to the basilica contracted suddenly like a valve. ‘WHAT DO YOU WANT? SPEAK, OR I WILL CRUSH YOU BETWEEN MY FORTIFICATIONS LIKE A GUPPY!’

‘I came here to find the Sin King,’ spluttered Kyp.

‘SIN KING?’

A violent tremor rocked the city. The basilica flexed alarmingly. Its steeples bristled. Kyp feared the building was about to uproot itself from its foundations.

‘SIN KING! THAT’S A NEW ONE!’

Kyp realised the building was laughing.

‘THE LACUNATICS CALL ME THE GHOST REEF. THE KIRLIANS CALL ME ‘OLD QUAKEFUL’. THE PICAROON WIDOWS KNOW ME AS THE CRUST-STATION. TO MY FRIENDS, THE TINSNIP GULLS AND THE THIMBLE LIMPETS, I AM KNOWN SIMPLY AS THE HOLM. THE PEOPLE WHO ONCE LIVED IN MY STREETS KNEW ME BY ANOTHER NAME. THEY CALLED ME ATLANTIS.’

One of the basilica’s steeples bent all the way over until its tip was just inches from the top of Kyp’s head. The steeple proceeded to examine him, snuffling around his collar, then, swinging back into the sky, the inquisitive pinnacle seemed to converse with the basilica’s other steeples. They nodded excitedly.

‘AS I SUSPECTED. IT’S BEEN MILLENNIA SINCE A HUMAN WALKED MY STREETS. I FELT THE RUSH OF YOUR BLOOD THE MOMENT YOU ARRIVED. MADAME CHARTREUSE NEVER VENTURES INTO THE BADLANDS. SHE HAS NO INCLINATION FOR THE SICK, THE SAD, OR THE EXTINGUISHED, BUT FOR A LIGHT SUCH AS YOURS, SHE WILL MAKE AN EXCEPTION. YOU’RE NOT SAFE HERE. SHE WILL COME FOR YOU.’

‘I didn’t come here to hide from her. I came to ask you where she keeps the children.’

‘THE TINSNIP GULLS TALK OF A GREAT SHIP, OF LIGHTS THAT SHINE FROM ITS DECK LIKE STARS IN THE DARK.’

‘Where is this ship?’

‘ANCHORED IN THE MIDDLE OF THE REDUNDANT SEA, A TERRIBLE PLACE. BENEATH ITS SURFACE LIE GREAT TANGLED FORESTS OF ONU-WEED. IF IT TRAPS YOU, IT DRAINS YOU. IT ROBS YOU OF YOUR FIGHT. YOU WOULD BE A FOOL TO SEEK OUT THAT DEADENING, CONGESTED BRINE. WITH AN ELSEWHERE LIGHT AS CONSPICUOUS AS YOURS, YOU SHOULD GO IMMEDIATELY TO SAINT ANTHONY. MADAME CHARTREUSE IS NOT ALONE IN COVETING IT. THERE ARE MANY IN THE BADLANDS WHO WOULD SEE YOU ROBBED OF IT, AND WORSE.’

‘I don’t care. I have to get to that ship. There’s someone on board I promised I’d help.’

For a moment the basilica was silent.

‘FOLLOW ME!’ it commanded suddenly.

The basilica snapped back into position. A large domed building in another part of the city began to vibrate. A moment later, the dome split down the middle.

‘FOLLOW ME!’ the building bellowed, the two halves of the dome working like jaws.

Kyp ran towards it and waited further instruction.

Over here!’ said a number of voices at once.

Kyp turned to see intricate carvings on the wall of a nearby tunnel squirm into life.

Follow me!’ they cried in unison.

At the end of the tunnel was a stone spiral staircase set into the floor, a drinking fountain in the shape of a giant clam instructing Kyp to descend it. Kyp felt the temperature dropping rapidly as he went deeper into the substructure of the city.

He arrived at last in a large circular space with porpoise-shaped columns, and stepped unwittingly into a foot of freezing seawater. Starfish-shaped vents in the ceiling emitted thick beams of light into the underground chamber. He waded cautiously into the middle of the chamber, ripples radiating out across the water, reflected light illuminating the ceiling, which was carved to resemble the underside of an enormous octopus. Eight massive tentacles snaked out across the chamber’s ceiling like joists. The octopus carving reached down with one of its tentacles and lifted Kyp out of the water.

‘Don’t be afraid,’ the Holm reassured him, speaking to him from the carved octopus’s beak. ‘Just watch.’

An emaciated sock-snake came slithering through the water. At the end of its tail, it carried an old letter-opener, with which it began gouging at the chamber wall using flicks of its tail.

‘What’s it doing?’

‘Wait,’ the Holm instructed.

The sock-snake was joined by another metamorph, a gnarled hat-stand that now used its crown of pegs to engrave the chamber wall too. Another metamorph joined them and now another, now more. Mystified, Kyp watched as a flock of vanity-sparrows flew into the chamber. They began attacking the wall in tight formation, dislodging a shower of grit that fell upon the other metamorphs below.

‘Why are they here?’ asked Kyp.

‘I was once home to many thousands of people. On the day of the great wave that disappeared me, everybody died, but something of their humanity survived, a vestige of the Elsewhere World. These poor creatures are lacunatics in the final stages of the fugue. They are strangers to their own existence and yet they flock here, compelled by a homing instinct as basic as the pramble that gives them movement and the glottal that gives them speech. They come to me because they cannot do otherwise.’

‘But why do they come?’

‘Look closely.’

The tentacle moved Kyp nearer to the chamber wall, where the vanity-sparrows were hammering busily at the stone with their sharp little beaks.

‘What about my Elsewhere Light?’ panicked Kyp, remembering how the Jetsamelites had squabbled upon his and Jamie’s arrival in Flotsam Pothole.

‘They can’t remember its significance,’ said the Holm. ‘That is their tragedy.’

The vanity sparrows flapped and fluttered around him, continuing their strange activity. Now he was closer to the wall, Kyp saw they weren’t marking its surface randomly. The birds were inscribing a series of lines and circles to form a simple image of four stick figures. The first of the four figures was smaller than the others and appeared to be confronting the other three. In its outstretched hand, the smaller figure carried some kind of circular object, rays coming off it like the sun. The first of the three larger figures had ears like a teddy bear; the second was portrayed as having wings and a long, thin face. The third figure was represented with two big eyes, their centres drawn as whirling, hypnotic spirals. Kyp shuddered. Simple though the engravings were, he recognised them well enough.

‘You’re looking at the final battle between the Oblivion Three and the one destined to defeat them,’ said the Holm. ‘Of the existence of these images, Madame Chartreuse has no idea.’

‘But why is it always the same image?’ asked Kyp, looking down at the other metamorphs all working away at their own versions of the same carving.

‘The fugue robs its victims of their memories, but it gives them something too, an image its carriers are compelled to reproduce.’

‘The Tealeaf infects its victims with an image?’

‘A shared memory, yes.’

‘A shared memory of something that hasn’t happened yet? Why would the Tealeaf want to predict the end of the Oblivion Three?’

‘The Tealeaf wants to be stopped.’

‘I don’t believe that. I’ve seen the Tealeaf at work. I’ve seen the Tealeaf feeding.’

‘The Berserker and the Tealeaf deserve our sympathy.’

‘Sympathy?’ said Kyp. ‘Why?’

‘Because once, a very long time ago, they were children.’

Children?

‘Madame Chartreuse’s first. The Berserker was just a baby when he was lost to Chimera. It grew, but never grew up.’

‘And the Tealeaf?’

‘An orphan girl, and now a creature so alone and so