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8486 No. 8486

“Well then,” N cleared his throat. “Shall we go?”

There was a murmur of general agreement. A few stiff nods cracked in the silence, old kinks snapping like thick spider-nets. There was dust in the air that settled lazily as N sat back and spoke once again.

“I gathered you good friends here today,” he began with his usual candour, “for a very specific purpose. I’m aware—quite acutely—that some—if not most—of you fellows were in the middle of your three thousand odd-th beauty nap and that I tore you of it rather brutally. I apologise. You’ll get that nap yet, trust me. At the moment, however, I wish of you herein assembled a little attention and, should heavens allow, maybe even some action.”
“Should heavens allow?” a male voice questioned with a hint of candid amusement. “Were you always such a poet, N?”
“Quiet, Bel,” N retorted. “If you’ve got a death wish, we can entertain it till your heart’s content later.”
Bel laughed and spread his arms theatrically. “With you, old boy? Any time.”
Another, female this time, voice chimed into the conversation. “Haven’t you had quite enough of that, you two?” it asked, exasperated.
There was a clink of steel on the floor and a coarse scoff. “N?” a new voice mocked; “enough? Are you growing forgetful for your old years, A?”
“I’ll have you for that, C,” A replied sourly.
“I’m right though. Aren’t I, N? You never have enough, you old loony.”
N sighed impatiently. “I’ll get around carving your tripes out as soon as I’ve tied Bel’s around his neck, C. Now, though, if you’ll kindly let me speak my part, maybe we’ll be able to get something done before the night is out.”
“The night is never out for you, N,” Bel grinned.
“Your mistress might have found the concept fascinating,” N told him, “but this is hardly the time to discuss it at length.”
“She’s been there, I hear,” Bel confirmed. “Still, I’ll try and float the idea past her some other time.”
“You won’t, Bel,” N said sombrely; “don’t fool yourself.”
“I suppose you’re right at that.” The whip-wielding man assumed a sombre expression. “Is that why you’ve had us come here tonight?”
“Among other things.”
“All right, but let’s try and stick to the main course before all else, why don’t we?”
“I had that more or less in mind before we started exchanging pleasantries.”
“Go on with it, in that case,” Bel decided. “Only don’t get side-tracked like you used to. I suppose a few sidelights every now and again are good spice for a story, but you’ve got this ugly habit of straying, you know.”
“Want to die, Bel?” N asked sweetly.
“Afterwards, maybe,” Bel smiled. “Anyway, you’re green to go, old boy. We’re all yours for the time being.”
“At least some of us are,” C snorted.

The two small figures sitting apart from the group with their hands squeezed nervously between their legs started visibly and noisily parted their chairs.

N waited until the clatter had died down; then he stood up and paced back and forth as he explained:

“As you know,” he said, “there has been a development recently.”
A moaned wearily. “Aren’t there always?”
N went on: “We’ve been asleep for the longest time, ladies and gents,” he said. “Some of us longer than the others, some shorter, some are still wintering, but it’s beyond any doubt that we all gave in to this insidious sleep that came to take us one by one. Alas, some weeks ago, my very pleasant dreams were broken. I was woken up, ladies and gentlemen.”
C put a hand to his cheek and leaned aside. “Alas?” he said incredulously
Bel shushed him with a hiss.
“I the liberty of taking that time,” N continued, “to make a cursory survey of our old homes, and believe me, ladies and gents, when I say what I found wasn’t to my greatest liking. We’ve been swept under the rug, ladies and gents. We’ve been traded off like a side of beef, replaced with cheap imitations, cut into thin slices and buried under the scorching summer sun. We’ve been murdered, my good friends! Outrage, I thought! Oh, what joy would it be if we laid our dirt-stained hands on the authors of our fate! It would be like a dream to take them apart! Are they so lost in their own arrogance they forgot all about us—even about me? I am the spider, damn it, the spider that—”
“N,” Bel chided softly, “please.”
“—that weaves in the shadows!” N finished with an explosive breath. “Bel!” he moaned at his whip-wielding friend; “you’re ruining the moment!”
“You’re not being particularly impressive, N,” Bel observed calmly. “You’re not helping your case. That’s what I meant when I said you strayed.”
“At least I never leave my audience with unanswered questions,” N countered, chagrined.
“We all have our shortcomings, I suppose.”
“Some more than the others, yes.”
“Hypocrite,” C murmured.
“Do you want to do this, C?” N lashed out at the tall spearman. “I didn’t call on you because I enjoy the sight of your pecs. I don’t like your tone, old boy. I’m trying to help you all, here.”
“Good friend,” C smirked, “I’ve been asleep for so long that I hardly care for anyone’s likes or nots. All I want is go back to sleep. I only indulged you because of our old acquaintance. So don’t test my patience and tell me what you want, brother mine, before I go off and smack that long nose off your face.”
“Gentlemen are as ever inclined to talk with your fists instead of your mouths, I see,” A remarked.

“Says the one who carries a freaking broadsword on her back!” a new voice pitched in. One of the tiny figures from before flew to its feet and stepped into the light. A pleated skirt swished and a smooth leg showed. “Can’t you people see you’re scaring F to tears?” the small person demanded. “She wasn’t supposed to wake up again, even! Quit yapping and get to the point, already! N, if you’re going to keep up this farce, at least keep it short!”
N whistled. “Well, lookie-here, seems our ladyboy’s balls have dropped after all. All right,” he clapped his hands, “you know what, he’s right. I’ll cut it brief. What I want you ladies and gents to do is stay awake for a while more and make yourselves known.”
“What do you mean?” A wanted to know.
“That’s not for us to decide,” N replied. “We’ll have to make do with what we get, sweetheart, that’s all we can do. What’s your take, Bel?”
The whip-wielding man made a thoughtful sound. “I don’t reckon the odds are all in our favour,” he concluded. “We’re not the ones to make the final decision, as you said.”
“Your rationality is making me retch, Bel. Would a bit of fantasy hurt you? Show some enthusiasm.”
“I’d love to, old boy, but that’s not what my role here is. It’s the truth, though, you have to admit. We may want to come along ourselves, but… well, you know how it may very well turn out.”
“I realise the risk,” N said; “believe me, me and risks go a long way back. C, you’re probably in the biggest pickle here. What do you say?”
“I don’t care all that much anyway,” C said. “What about D, though? Seen him anywhere?”
“D?” N blinked. “Oh, for the love of everything! Where’d that fucking cheesecake go off to?”
“Jail,” someone said.
Someone else laughed.
“Quiet,” N barked; “respect where it’s due.”
A brooding dark figure flouted from beyond the ring of light. “Screw your respect,” it scorned. A faint whiff of old clothes and stale sweat hung in the air.
N wrinkled his nose. “Who let the bitch in? Never mind,” he grunted. “I’ll do something about her later. That guy and I will have to have words again. Anyway,” he went on, “right now, good friends, I want you to leastwise consider the idea. It doesn’t have to be long. You don’t need high-style speeches or detailed accounts on your lives. You can simply say who you are, throw in a few words to your old companions, say something nice, call it a day. I don’t request miracles. I’m well aware you’ve each got your own pressing issues and affairs. We all do. All I ask is that you devote an hour or two and give this thing a blast. You can even pick up from here if you pretty well please. I’ll play along and you can pull my strings all you like. I want to see this happen, folks.”
“You’re not alone in that sentiment,” A said. “Bel?”
“True,” Bel concurred. “Ladyboy? What about you?”
“Quit calling me that. I agree, sheesh. I can’t think why, but I guess people liked us. They’d probably like to see us again, even if only for a brief while.”
F whimpered.
“Take it easy, F,” Bel appeased, “he can likely stand in for you if you’d really rather not.”
“What about them, then?” C asked. “We may will our hats off wanting to play, but without their help we’re as good as frogs on the frontline.”

“Ah yes,” N said. “It all comes down to that, doesn’t it?”

A vicious grin lighted up his face and he turned on his heel to face YOU.

A moment later, so did everybody else.

“Well,” he said pleasantly, “you heard us, folks. I’ve laid down the basics of the deal. The rest is on your shoulders. Bel?”
Bel shrugged helplessly, but remained smiling. “It’d be nice, I suppose. A?”
“I’d be in high heaven,” said the swordwoman. “C?”
“I won’t hold my breath,” the slumped C conceded. “Ladyboy?”
“Quit calling me that, for gods’ sakes.” There was a tired moan. “I’ll do it for F if I must,” the boy gave up, “but don’t count on me to cry if nothing comes out of it, okay?”
“That would have been a sight,” N remarked.

“Sadist,” the hoarse voice from before harrumphed.

N groaned. “Someone toss her some leftovers, please. Anyway,” he continued, looking straight at YOU, “like I said, people, I don’t expect miracles. You’re not the overpowered, universally liked, devilishly handsome and golden-handed playboy here. That would be me. So take your time if you wish. I’d just like for this idea to bear some fruit, however meagre. And if not, even a grumpy ʻnoʼ will suffice.”
“I’ll show you grumpy, you fag.”
N threw his arms up at the ceiling. “Can someone show this cow the door?” he lamented. “She’s seriously beginning to get under my skin! Anyway,” he turned to YOU again, “you know the drill now: disappoint us if you really must, but don’t leave us hanging. Surely the notion is good enough to warrant at least some consideration. Isn’t it?”

Well, isn’t it?

No. 8493
The fuck?