Have you ever awakened from a dream only to wonder what was real and what was fantasy? Of course you haven’t; you are mere paper bound in leather. Diaries don’t dream. Human beings do dream, however, and today I find myself quite unable to discern fact from fiction.
It all began yesterday morning. I received a summons from Mr. Plutonian. He requested my presence in his offices above Thistle Hill. The time was set for 7pm. The message failed to mention any sort of dinner or refreshment. I thought that rather rude for so polite, or polite seeming, a gentleman. How bothersome it is to be invited out during the dinner hour with no promise of dinner. Clearly, even the “request” was merely an empty gesture of politeness, as the beast also indicated that he would send a carriage for me. Fortunately, I had no pressing plans for the evening. I think he might have sent his carriage for me no matter where I had happened to be. I suppose I must be grateful that he allowed me a few hours’ advance notice this time rather than simply appearing at my front door and demanding entry.
When the carriage arrived, I took my uncle. The invitation had mentioned no other persons, but I wanted a third party to negotiate on my behalf. I had a strong suspicion that Mr. Plutonian would see me carted off to debtor’s prison. Were that to be the case, I wanted one person, at least, to know what had happened to me. Besides, as I have already indicated, Mr. Robonaught has much in common with the demon. If anyone could save me from the tiger’s odious designs, I imagine is it a fellow beast of like age and experience.
We arrived to a floating tent akin to that of a sultan. Delicate white draperies wafted gently upon a cool evening breeze. Within this organza shelter, our feet rested upon a Persian carpet of the finest weave. Matching cushions completed the effect. Beyond the carpet, Mr. Plutonian had provided more traditional seating. For himself, he chose a metal studded chair not unlike a throne. To either side rested one large, comfortable chair of fine green upholstery. Behind that, a large fountain provided a peaceful ambiance and separated the parlor from the beast’s bed chamber, which was decorated in a like manner. No seat was provided for Gordon, of course. Heaven forbid the beast should show his poor servant any civility.
Much to my surprise, I found Miss Ember sitting in a forgotten throne-like chair near the entrance to the tent. I did not see her, at first, until she spoke up in greeting. The manner of her voice and address was that of a stranger despite our friendly acquaintance at the Blue Mermaid, in Steelhead, and even as neighbors in Caledon. Of course, her altered manner might easily be explained by what she called her “perfume,” a scent that I well recognize from a certain secret room beneath the Dragonlands Hotel in Steelhead.
Gordon served tea, as usual, and we sat down to discuss the business at hand. Mr. Plutonian produced for my uncle a copy of our contract and pointed out the clause which I had failed to honor. Miss Ember sat by my side, offering a comforting presence while my uncle conferred with the beast. At one point, she even patted my hand comfortingly. For my part, I attempted to remain as quiet as possible. I spoke only when I was addressed for some point of clarification of my actions and motives, and then I limited my answers to as few words as possible. I have no head for business, as has already been proven. Sometimes it is best to leave worldly matters to the men.
As I sat and sipped my tea, I began to feel curiously relaxed. Indeed, I felt almost happy despite my frazzled nerves. Even my apprehension of the paddy wagon, which I expected to pull up to the hill at any moment, seemed to dissipate upon the strains of a jaunty little cookie girls tune. Quite unable to follow the men in their conversation, I found myself smiling languidly whilst tapping my feet and my fingers. Somewhere in the back of my mind, a coherent thought emerged: that state of fear-induced absence from reality for which I had longed when I took to the opium den had finally descended. It wrapped me like a shroud, as cool and as comfortable as the silken tent walls that surrounded us all. Prison would come and this is how I would endure it. I smiled, pleased with my willful insensibility.
I suppose I would have quite drifted away were it not for a sudden outburst on the part of my uncle, who accused Gordon of having drugged my tea. As loathe as I was to think such a thing of my dear Gordon, my present state did bear a resemblance to a drug induced calm. Accusations flew this way and that, with Gordon breaking his way through my foggy consciousness to insist that he had done no such thing. He practically begged me to believe him. All at once, it seemed that everyone assembled demanded my attention. My uncle desired that we vacate the premises at once and that I dismiss my solicitors, whom he believed to be under the secret employ of Mr. Plutonian. He also said something about shares in my estate, but that is ridiculous, as it is entailed to the family line. Mr. Plutonian, for his part, ignored my uncle and desired my attention and understanding of… something. Meanwhile, Gordon and Miss Ember, whom he kept calling Dame Sans Merci, argued practically across my lap about who had done what to the tea. Tensions rose quickly and I found myself quite rooted to the spot. In my altered state, I could not keep up with so many conversations at once, let alone respond to them.
Confused, I looked from one party to the next for what felt like an eternity until my uncle stood up and grasped my by the shoulders. He pulled me forcibly from my seat and began to lead me toward the exit. Mr. Plutonian then sighed and asked Miss Ember to “enforce his desires” or something to that effect, at which point she ordered me to resume my seat. Quite of their own volition, my feet moved to obey her, and I found myself back in my chair.
What happened next must have been a dream, for I recall being hoisted over my uncle’s shoulders as he transformed from his human shape into his leonine form. Mr. Plutonian’s eyes glowed a fiery red as bright, flashing dots obscured my vision. I felt myself torn in body and soul, every fiber of my being reaching and stretching toward that blasted chair no matter how far my uncle carried me. I heard the sound of a sword being drawn as my head hung precariously between the two snarling beasts. Several times, the word betrothed was uttered. I begged, several times, to be put down, but you know my uncle. Gordon risked nearness to the fray and rushed to attend me with a cool rag, so my discomfiture must have been obvious to all but the two men. Miss Ember urged me to come away and let the men engage in their foolish bluster, but my uncle’s grasp remained firm. My stomach clenched and I swallowed bile twice before my aching body gave way to a great spasm and spewed the contents of my stomach right onto the gentlemen’s shoes.
Floating lights? Shapeshifting? Betrothal? Surely I was dreaming! God, I hope I was dreaming.
At some point, my uncle carried me from the tent, my joints still screaming for the chair. I remember us walking through a forest. Then, at home, I remember my uncle placing me on my bed. He nursed me tenderly, much as I had done for him previously. I awoke this morning in my own bed, but still in yesterday’s clothes. I still feel abominably ill, having twice heaved what little remains of yesterday’s meals into my chamber pot. My brow burns and sweats furiously. My joints ache as though someone has set fire to my very bones. Thankfully, a cool bath has offered some relief.
Certainly, Diary, this must all be a dream. I am obviously very ill. Perhaps my feverish mind conjured up this nonsense. I have not yet ventured from my room to ask my uncle for a full accounting of last night’s events. Nor have I dared attempt to contact Gordon via this damnable ring. Indeed, I have done little more than thrash about in my sick bed or take soothing baths. I feel I must be well before I attempt to reconstruct last night’s events into something more coherent.
Until, then, dear Diary, I remain–
–Miss Palabra Puddlegum–