Simulation Bleed

121 - 124

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121

On Mixt's insistence, the whole group moved their tents to the very edge of the festival. It was an arduous process, involving a lot of work and a lot of complaints.

'It was bad enough putting up a tent one time.' Nakishdan struggled to get the poles straight as they put it back together. 'Twice is really annoying.'

'We had to move. There were too many people where we were. They were in danger.'

They were now at the far end of one of the fields, with only a few tents nearby. Behind them was a large fence, and behind that, a dense area of trees. Mixt was still convinced that something bad was going to happen, and wasn't letting down her guard.

'If the flying snakes appear here they won't be such a danger to everyone.'

'I suppose so,' grumbled Nakishdan, not convinced.

Next to them, Geeda Lala and Rainith were re-erecting their own tent.

'Where's Fourteen Trees?' asked Mixt.

'Buying chocolate. And meeting someone.'

'Who?'

'She said there was another member of 47 Jeng coming to join us.'

Mixt was immediately suspicious. 'Another member? Why?'

'For extra protection.'

'Is it Nineteen Stars?'

Geeda didn't know.

'I don't want anyone called Nineteen Stars here.' Mixt looked troubled. 'I don't like the number nineteen.'

'We've noticed,' mumbled Nakishdan, a little less sympathetically than usual, due to the tent relocation, which he resented.

'It's one of the worst numbers. Worse than seventeen. Or maybe not worse. Seventeen is really bad too. They're as bad as each other. Why are there so many bad numbers right at the start? Eleven and thirteen are bad too. But I think nineteen is worse. Nakishdan, if anyone called Nineteen Stars arrives, you have to send them home immediately.

'We can't. Any new member of 47 Jeng will be a big help if the snakes show up, or 102 Woo.'

Mixt looked at Geeda Lala, quite crossly. 'Why do all your friends and all your organisations have numbers? It's really aggravating.'

'Wasn't it interesting that David Bowie liked Rainith's hair?' asked Nakishdan, attempting to distract Mixt from her number fixation, which might, at any time, blossom into an anxiety attack. 'She does look a bit like Ziggy Stardust. Do you think she inspired him?'

Rainith was busy hammering in tent pegs with her sword, and showed no interest in this. Nonetheless, Nakishdan was intrigued. 'Do you think that would count as changing history? If Rainith came back in time and inspired David Bowie's hair?'

'Maybe.'

'If the Department blames us, it's not our fault.'

'Hello!' Fourteen Trees arrived. Her pockets bulged with chocolate. Accompanying her was another small girl. Like Fourteen and Geeda, she had a vaguely Chinese appearance, and she wore a bright blue hat.

'Who's this?' demanded Mixt.

'Twenty Stars.'

'Twenty? You said her name was Nineteen.'

'This is her sister.'

'Oh.' Mixt nodded. 'In that case, I'm pleased to meet you.”


naginata

122

Princess Sowena sat on top of a tree on the Isle of Wight, and looked back in time. She sat there for several hours, probing the past. Rainith had been in this place; she hunted for her friend. Eventually she found her, flying high over the festival in 1970. It was fortunate that Rainith was in flight. Had she been on the ground, among so many people, Princess Sowena would have struggled to contact her. As it was, she projected herself back so that Rainith became aware of a vague shape flying beside her.

'Sowena? Is that you?' Rainith halted, hovering motionless ion the air. The faint image of Princess Sowena hovered next to her.

'Rainith, you're in danger.'

'I'm always in danger.'

'One of Fourteen Trees' companions is going to betray you.'

'What?'

'I saw the aura of betrayal on her the last time I was able to look back. One the Kesh. She's going to betray you.'

'Which one?'

Princess Sowena didn't know. She hadn't been able to make it out that clearly.

Rainith scowled. 'Do you know what she's planning?'

'Something with other people - 102 Woo, I think. I couldn't learn any more. They were too far away in time.'

Rainith narrowed her eyes. 'If anyone betrays us I'll make them regret it.'

Princess Sowena's image began to fade. 'You have to be careful. They're powerful.'

The fairy princess vanished. Rainith the Red was thoughtful as she flew back towards the encampment at the edge of the festival. She considered telling the others what she'd learned, but decided against it. Rainith had no confidence in either Mixt or Nakishdan acting sensibly.

'I don't think Geeda would betray me,' she mused. 'Though you can never be sure. Kesh are probably as untrustworthy as humans. Fourteen Trees doesn't seem likely either, she's helped us. Which means it must be this new person, Twenty Stars. I'll watch her.'

When she landed she found Mixt and the others in the middle of an animated discussion.

'I want to see the Doors!' Nakishdan was insistent.

'We can't go and watch the bands,' said Mixt. 'The whole point of moving the tents back here was so we weren't surrounded by people. What if we're watching the Doors and 102 attack? Or snakes appear?'

'I don't think that's going to happen. They'd have been here by now. What's the point of being at this festival if we can't watch any bands?'

'We didn't come here to enjoy ourselves, we came to protect Geeda and Rainith.'

'I don't need protecting,' said Rainith. 'But I don't want to see the Doors anyway, they'll be terrible.'

'I think they'll be good,' said Nakishdan. 'And Jim Morrison died the year after they played here.'

'Probably well-deserved,' grunted the fairy.

'You know, you're a really horrible person,' said Nakishdan. 'I'm glad you're stuck in 1970. Serves you right.'

An expression of fury settled on Rainith's face. She would not tolerate being criticised in any way, particularly by Nakishdan, whom she regarded as a fool.

'Take that back,' she said. 'Or I'll - '

'You'll what?' came a voice from behind them. 'Kill him treacherously like you killed my brother?'

They spun round to find a tall dark figure walking towards them. He seemed to have appeared from nowhere.

'Your brother?'

'The Elvish Fighting Master. Treacherously killed by you, Rainith the Red, while he was doing your tribe the great favour of teaching you his arts. Killed while he was unprepared for your cowardly, murderous attack.'

Rainith drew her sword. 'He got what he deserved.'

The tall figure drew his sword. 'My name is Noutan. I'm about to give you what you deserve.'

Mixt took a step forward, towards Rainith. Noutan held up his hand.

'Elvish spell of personal revenge,' he said. Mixt stopped abruptly as an invisible barrier appeared in front of her.

'None of you can aid Rainith,' said the Elf. 'But you can watch as I kill her.'


naginata

123

Fourteen Trees was showing her most recent acquisitions to Geeda Lala and Twenty Stars. 'This is a Fry's Plain Chocolate Sandwich. It's really good chocolate. Two layers of plain chocolate with a layer of milk chocolate in between. Like a sandwich.'

'Hence the name, I expect,' said Geeda Lala.

'Exactly. Which is interesting in itself. Chocolate bars on this planet don't always have descriptive names. Though they sometimes do. The plain chocolate sandwich has a blue wrapper whereas - ' Fourteen Trees produced another bar. ' - the milk chocolate sandwich has a red wrapper. See? This has two layers of milk chocolate with one layer of plain chocolate.'

'Which is best?' asked Twenty Stars.

Geeda Lala paused, and screwed up her face. It was a question she'd been pondering. 'I'm not sure. They both have their merits. They're both high-quality bars. But - ' There was a significant pause. 'The strange thing is, you can only get them here, in the seventies. When I've visited Mixt and Nakishdan in 2014 they don't have this chocolate bar any more.'

Twenty Stars frowned. She was a little younger than her companions, and a little shorter. 'Why don't they have it?'

Fourteen Trees shook her head. 'It's inexplicable. Manufacturing seems to have ceased altogether. I've made extensive enquiries. In the short space between this time period and the current time-period, old versions of chocolate have been terminated and new ones have arisen.'

'That's very strange.'

'It is. Kesh confectionary has remained unchanged for hundreds of years.' Fourteen Trees pursed her lips. 'Perhaps that's why it's not very good. Not nearly as good as these.'

Fourteen Trees gave her Kesh companions some of her chocolate to taste. Her pockets bulged with the rest of her purchases.

'It might make a good research project for school. Are you ever coming back to school, Geeda?'

'Not unless they stop threatening me with that special academy. I'm not living on some frozen planet.'

'I wouldn't either,' said Fourteen Trees. 'It's outrageous that your father wants to send you there. 47 Jeng won't let it happen.'

They ate chocolate in silence for a while.

'I am a little worried though,' said Fourteen Trees, eventually.

'Why?'

'You are having some effects here. We haven't been able to cancel them all out. It could be a problem.'

'I haven't seen a flying snake for a while,' said Geeda Lala.

'No, we've been holding them off. And 102 Woo too, even with Girsin. But your crash landing all these thousands of years ago seems to have altered some other things in this place as well.'

'Like what?'

'Well, there's an elf and a fairy starting to fight behind your tent, and I don't think there were meant to be elves and fairies.'


naginata

124

Confronted by the Elvish fencing master's vengeful brother, Rainith's features contorted in fury. She muttered a word, unintelligible to Mixt and Nakishdan, releasing the spell Princess Sowena had given her. The virulent red scar that ran down her face became suddenly visible.

'Your brother gave me this. I'm glad I killed him. I'll kill you too.'

Mixt once more attempted to step forward, but again found herself pushed back. Apparently Noutan's spell of personal revenge would not allow anyone else to interfere. As she watched, Rainith began to shrink, diminishing quickly till she was no more than nine inches tall. Noutan shrank too, though the Elf remained taller, towering several inches over the fairy. The black-clad Noutan seemed calm and determined, striding forward with his sword in his hand. Rainith was far from calm, and roared with anger as she raced towards him.

'I don't like this,' said Mixt. 'What is this barrier? Can you get through?'

Nakishdan shook his head. He couldn't advance either, and was staring with some amazement at the sight of the two miniature figures locked in combat at their feet.

'Geeda, Fourteen,' called Mixt. 'Can you do anything?'

Geeda Lala, concerned for Rainith, had hurried forward, chocolate still in hand, to lend assistance. She crammed the half eaten plain chocolate sandwich into her pocket and consulted the tiny transparent screen that emerged from her palm, but she frowned as she studied the barrier, and shook her head.

'I don't know what this is. Fourteen Trees?'

Fourteen Trees was already entering some numbers in her own screen, but almost immediately shook her head.

'I don't know what it is. I can't remove it.'

Rainith the Red leapt at the Elf, intending to run him through immediately. She found her sword stabbing into thin air as the Elf effortlessly avoided her strike, simultaneously launching his own attack so that Rainith was obliged to move back sharply to avoid his blade. They engaged in furious combat for several minutes, their blades flashing with such rapidity that the observers above could hardly keep track. They were both skilful fighters, and seemed quite evenly matched.

'But the Elf's bigger,' muttered Mixt. 'He'll outlast her. Fourteen Trees, can't you get rid of this barrier?'

'I'm trying!'

The girls of 47 Jeng, who had so much control over most things in this reality, seemed flummoxed by Noutan's Elvish magic. As Mixt looked on anxiously, Noutan landed a blow. His blade sliced into Rainith's shoulder. Blood splattered onto her wing. Rainith howled with rage and launched herself into the air to mount a frenzied attack from above. She was thwarted as Noutan also rose into the air, countering her move.

'I didn't know Elves could fly,' said Nakishdan. 'How's he doing that? He doesn't even have wings.'

Noutan blocked Rainith's attack. Their swords locked for a moment, and swung to one side. The Elf kicked out at Rainith, catching her with a powerful blow, and she span back through the air, blood still dripping from her wounded shoulder.


naginata

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