Subject: General Theories, Ch 6: The Division Of Signs
Posted on: 2018-11-26 07:04:00 UTC
The other chapters may be found here:-
1: General Theories
2: The Art Of Noises
3: The Role Of Conjuring
4: Language In Relation...
5: ... To A Unified Theory
"Fairest and fallen," Siobhan said, her voice thick with the effort of not stammering, not giving in, not letting everything win, "greetings and defiance."
The Lone Power arched an exquisite eyebrow for a second, then gave a theatrical, tinkling sigh. "They always say that. Every time. You know, just once, I'd like for a wizard to be original. Is that so much to ask? But no, it's always 'Fairest and fallen' this and 'greetings and defiance' that. Change the record now and again, it might do you good."
"You. Um." Siobhan paused and looked at Wombat, who shrugged. "Er. You won't get away with this!"
"That too, little wizard, that too. Normally about fifteen minutes after I already have, because mortal brains do tend to arrive to coherent thought fashionably late. Then again, when you're me, linear time is something that happens to other people."
Running out of brainpower, Siobhan tried a different tack. "Oingo boingo, my old man's a mushroom, happy happy boom boom swamp swamp swamp."
"... I've heard-"
"You've heard that too." Siobhan sighed. "Of course you have."
"After this exact amount of tries. Humans always think they're so clever, but I really have seen it all before. Or at least, I will."
"Yeah, non-linear experience of time, you mentioned."
"So, with that all settled..." The Lone Power sashayed forward, grace personified. It snapped a finger and a chaise longue appeared from nowhere, and It artfully lounged upon the crushed red velvet. "I presume you've come to try and stop me."
"I. Er. Well, yes. It's sort of the job description. I thought that was covered in the, er, 'defiance' part of the traditional greeting."
"You're trying to be clever too!" It clapped Its hands, like a proud dog owner whose puppy has finally learned not to leave steaming dumps on the upholstery. "It's quite cute, really. Good look on a boy with your bone structure."
"Oh dear," It continued, "does that strike a nerve? I'm quite knowledgeable about illusions, young man. The images mortal wizards put about to pretend that things that aren't real are. Why pretend any more? No-one's buying it. Why would anyone want to?"
"I..." Siobhan squeaked, then stopped, breath hitching in her throat. Her arm twitched, knocking over her drink. Wombat scooched out of the way of the blue flood. "Frig. Stupid arm."
She looked down, then felt something touch her through the thick sleeve of her raincoat. She turned her head and saw Wombat nuzzling her, gently, slowly, firmly. Then she looked back up.
"I will stop you, Lone One."
"You don't even know what it is you're trying to stop." It laughed, high and clear. Siobhan felt like the whole world was laughing alongside It. "You're groping in the dark for answers, but you know absolutely nothing. Then again, why break the habit of a lifetime?"
"Because you're trying to play on my insecurities about my intelligence and my self-worth and my gender identity. That's been your plan to deal with me from the word go. And it's not working. Not any more."
The Lone Power looked as if she'd just been doused with cold water. It sat up and glared at Siobhan, who stared right back, eyes half-hidden by the hood of her raincoat.
"So then." Siobhan began to walk back and forth. "Let's have a little think about this, shall we? Why do you want me to leave? Whatever you're doing involves everyone being out of the pub unless they're under your direct control. Every other wizard, lowest to highest, has wandered off to... wherever. Actually, you know what?" She snapped her fingers, spinning on the spot briefly. "I don't think we even moved. You gave it away yourself, rabbiting on at me about illusions. Pretending things are real. And since none of them have come back in... I think you needed all the wizards on the other side of a locked door."
"What a lovely story," sighed the Lone Power with the tone of a mother looking at a small child's potato print painting and reassuring the kid that yes, darling, it's definitely going on the fridge. "Do you intend to get to the point? Or do you just like the sound of your own voice."
"Getting there, getting there, patience is a virtue even for beings who don't abide by the rules of causality and linear time." Siobhan had wandered halfway around the table by this point, but now she turned and began to walk back. "So. Next question: why aren't we all dead? I'm new to all this magic lark, but I've got the general impression that you're not a fan of wizards. So why not kill us? Why go through the rigmarole of making an illusion that's individually tailored to each wizard on the premises? That's a lot of work... so whatever you've got planned means that you need them alive.
"So, you need everybody alive and you need everybody out, but the illusion... I'm gonna hazard a guess that it fades away after a certain point? Bet the wizards outside are trying to get in right this second, aren't they? But the doors are locked until everyone's out, and then you can get on with whatever it was you were doing. If I were a betting woman, and I'm not-"
"No," It said. "You're not.
"-Yes, thank you for your input, I told you it's not working." Siobhan's arm twitched again, her knuckles clunking off Purple's pint pot of mixed nuts. "Ow. Smeg. Anyway. I reckon you're putting a curse on the building. There's people from all over the shop in this pub. It's just like Purple said, all the world passes through, like a regular crosstime saloon. Heh. I wonder if there's ever been a Callahan in here. So anyway, I'd say, if I had to make an educated guess, that you're making yourself a part of the building. And after that, every wizard who passes through takes a little bit of you with them when they leave. Your malice. Your cruelty. Your spite. Your inherent youness. And that makes you spread. All across time and space, scattered throughout Earth's history and among its interplanetary neighbours. You're going viral. That's your play, and that's why you needed everyone out, because every single wizard would know what you were doing and stop you. You just did the magical equivalent of leaning back and elbowing a fire alarm. And it almost, almost worked. But here I am. Trying to stop you."
The Lone Power clapped three times, each more derisory than the last. "Pretty little speech. Is that really what you think I'm up to?"
"Yeah, I'd say so. If it wasn't, you'd be a lot more smug. But hey, you caused the collapse of Roman Britain and you drowned a school full of children under a sea of coal slag, maybe you're good at compartmentalizing. Either way up, that's your plan. And now you're not going to kill me, because that's my plan."
"Well, look at it rationally. You kill me, two options. Either you hide the body or you don't. Whichever one you pick, Purple's got to come back into the pub for your plan to work, and he knows I'm here. So that'll set off the alarm bells. And it'll get stopped. Maybe not by me, but someone will stop you. Someone will stand in your way. Because someone has to."
"What masterful reasoning."
Siobhan started pacing faster at that. The Lone One was smiling, and that was bad in a way she couldn't express without resorting to her lizard hindbrain.
"Of course," said the Lone Power in a voice like a silk scabbard, "I could just kill you, craft a reasonably convincing illusion, and have your little friend talk to that to see that you're well and not to worry about anything."
"Ah." Siobhan paced faster still.
"Which means I win, I think. And you die, of course, but you're a mortal, you people are used to that sort of thing."
"Well, I mean, it only happens to us once-"
"Is that a challenge, you stupid little boy?"
Siobhan's eyes were like soup plates and the corners of them were filling with tears. "Can I say my goodbyes, then?"
It waved a hand in a loftily dismissive fashion. "Oh, go on, then. It can't hurt."
Siobhan turned to Wombat. The glittering in his one glass eye was dull and faded as old newsprint. "I'm so sorry, Wombat. I failed you. I should have seen the signs."
Wombat placed a paw on her hand, smoothing over the bruise on her knuckles. "It's going to be all right, Siobhan."
"I hope so," said Siobhan, and only the stuffed animal could see her wink at him. "Because there's a thing about signs. It's called indexicality. One of the three keystones of modern linguistic theory, and therefore anthropology, as it relates to signs and their referents. Simply put, indexicality refers to the phenomenon of a sign pointing to object X in a specific context in which it occurs. The signs above pubs are a great example, actually, as they are indices of not only the social construct of 'the pub' but also of the specific pub itself - what kind of pub it is, what kind of beer it serves, the brewery it's tied to, if any, the list goes on. Now it seems to me that you need this specific pub, with these specific indices, and one of the things I noticed about this pub was that it's a proper old spit-and-sawdust gaff. Do you know what that means? It means I can trace out a spell diagram with my foot and rabbit on about it until I can cast the claudication and grab my one absolute emergency backup plan-"
Siobhan reached out her hand as the spell caught, and within it appeared from nowhere the handle of a small orange suitcase. It was glowing.
"-and you need this one specific pub to do your dirty work, and I am not going to let that happen because I am Siobhan Jones, a wizard of Earth, and I'm going to do what I do best!"
"Go on a day trip?"
"Nope! Hide behind a table and wait for the noise to stop!"
Siobhan unzipped the bag, grabbed Wombat, and dived behind an upturned table.
The world went very briefly orange, and then brightest white.
Purple looked on as the Group Dynamic exploded in a gigantic ball of light, the top half of the front almost totally torn away. Whatever illusion there was disintegrated on contact with the light, and as soon as it did the parade of wizards poured into the pub. All the snakes were dead. The place stank of burnt beer and charred wood.
And up against what was left of the front wall, behind a table, her left arm crushed even as the right cradled a keening Wombat, Eats-The-Purple-Fruits found his friend.
as if from a very strange dream,
"Siobhan, you're okay!" Purple dive-bombed the girl and sat on her shoulder, nibbling her bloodied ear with joy. "Well, you know, given values of okay that might include severe tissue damage, but you're not dead! Which is always a plus."
"oh. mkay. izzit gone?"
"Is what gone - oh skree, the Lone Power did this?"
"nuh. me. aaaaaaaall parta th'plan. ow. tryna... take over th'pub."
"Overshadow the pub?"
"yup. needed somethin for that tho."
Siobhan grinned, slightly maniacally. "y'need a pub."
He couldn't help it. Purple just burst out laughing. It was probably the stress.
"wha happ'ning now, purple?"
"What? Um. No idea. We should probably talk to the local Area Senior. I mean, assuming they're even on the planet, there's been something happening involving Jupiter and it's all a big mess and you're covered in splinters and burns and you made a wisecrack."
"iss the british way. i go sleep now."
"Oh, skree, uh, no, Siobhan, you stay with me now. You stay right here, okay? You focus on my voice."
"sa nice voice."
"Yeah? First time for everything. C'mon, chick, stay with me..."
A week later, the press reported that a gas explosion had ripped through Princes Arcade, demolishing one thankfully-empty pub. It was a miracle nobody was hurt, apparently.
Siobhan saw it on the hospital telly, but she paid it no mind. Instead, she read through more of her Manual. There was a card from a schoolfriend, one from her Nana in Birmingham, and none from her more immediate family. They hadn't even been to visit. She was okay with that.
The little green parakeet sat on the windowsill, chirruping happily away. Every patient sort of understood it, in some way; the bird was trying to help them get better, in its own small way. They weren't sure quite how they knew, but they knew.
After lights-out that night, the bird hopped over to Siobhan as she lay in her bed, a discreet light spell cast on the pages of her book as she read. "You're going to be okay," Purple said.
"I believe you," said Siobhan Jones, a wizard of Earth.
So she closed her book, leaned back, closed her eyes, and believed.
This was the final chapter of General Theories, my ordealfic from earlier this year. Thank you for reading. =]