The Stranger's Woes

BOOK: The Stranger's Woes
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THE LABYRINTHS OF ECHO: BOOK TWO

 

THE STRANGER’S
WOES

MAX FREI

Translated from the Russian by Polly Gannon
and Ast A. Moore

 

GOLLANCZ
LONDON

 

CONTENTS

 

ONE

THE MAGAXON FOXES

TWO

THE SHIP FROM ARVAROX
AND OTHER WOES

THREE

THE VOLUNTEERS
OF ETERNITY

 

Previously in
THE LABYRINTHS OF ECHO . . .

 

 

M
AX
F
REI WAS ONCE A
LOSER
. H
E’S A BIG SLEEPER
(
DURING THE DAY
, that is; at night he can’t sleep a wink). A hardened smoker, an uncomplicated glutton, and a loafer, one day he gets lucky. He discovers a parallel world where magic is commonplace, and where he fits right in. This is the city of Echo of the Unified Kingdom, a land where a social outcast like Max can be remade as “the unequaled Sir Max.”

In this upside-down universe, Sir Max’s deadpan humor and newfound talent for magic soon earn him a place in the secret police—night shift only, of course. As Nocturnal Representative of the Most Venerable Head of the Minor Secret Investigative Force of the City of Echo, Max’s job is to investigate cases of illegal magic and battle trespassing monsters from other worlds. With this occupation comes an unusual band of colleagues—the omniscient Sir Juffin Hully, the buoyant Sir Melifaro, the death dealing Sir Shurf Lonli-Lokli, bon vivant and master of disguise Sir Kofa Yox, and the captivating sleuth Lady Melamori Blimm.

Plunging back into the threatening and absurd realm first portrayed in
The Stranger
, Book One of the Labyrinths of Echo series,
The Stranger’s Woes
follows the new adventures and misadventures of Sir Max and his friends in this enchanted and enchanting world.

 

ONE

 

THE MAGAXON FOXES

 

“C
ONGRATULATIONS
, M
AX
. Y
OU AND
M
ELIFARO GET A HOLI
day. One day for both of you.” Sir Juffin Hully was positively glowing with acerbity.

“Big deal. Have the Secret Investigators officially earned the right to keep a harem? Has there been a special Royal Decree?” I asked indifferently. To be honest, I had been out of sorts since morning.

“Even worse, boy. Much worse. It seems that the magnificent General Boboota Box is on the mend. Soon he’ll be up and about.”

“Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later, much to the chagrin of his subordinates. I’ve even missed him. It’s so sweet to see him tremble in terror when I’m around.”

“Is that so? Then you have reason to rejoice.”

“Rejoice? Why?” I sensed a trap.

“To this day Boboota can’t forget how you and Melifaro saved his precious backside from turning into pâté. The burden of his unexpressed gratitude has become too much for him. As a matter of fact, he sent you an official invitation. Tomorrow at sundown you are to cross the threshold of Boboota Box’s residence. Happy?”

“Ouch, Juffin. What if I’m otherwise engaged tomorrow? I could deliver the head of some rebellious Grand Magician to you on a platter, or create a few new Universes. How about it? I’ll do it in the wink of an eye, honest. But I regret to say I won’t be able to make it to Sir Boboota’s party. How unfortunate.”

“Dream on. No, my boy, you’ve got to pay for your mistakes. Since you and Melifaro saw fit to save Boboota’s life, you have to take the consequences. No need to pull such a long face, either. It will be fine. You just have to mention outhouses—Boboota’s favorite subject. Then you come back to me and report the gist of your edifying chat. You’re good at that. So you see, you’ll both be happy—just not at the same time. I’m the only one who gets to be happy all the time.”

“Does Melifaro already know about the pleasure that awaits him?”

“Of course, and he’s delighted. He says that imagining you at Boboota’s table sends shivers up and down his spine.”

“Listen, Juffin, you’ve already done me in. You’ve knocked me flat on my back, wiped the wall with me, and rubbed my nose in the dirt. Now tell me, do I really have to go to Boboota’s?”

“Well, I wouldn’t say that you
have
to, but the poor fellow suffered a real blow from the pâté incident. He’s been confined to his bed for days on end. And remember, he’s turned over a new leaf. So he’s counting on your visit. He’s a very sensitive fellow deep down in his heart.”

“Right, but your hands come up covered in blood after you dig down that far,” I said. “All right, all right, I’ll go. Otherwise, Melifaro will cry all day in the Chair of Despair. What would people think of us then?”

“Attaboy! But why are you so down in the dumps, Max? What’s the matter?”

“Magicians only know,” I said, shrugging. “On the surface everything seems to be just fine—but it’s all wrong. Maybe it’s a seasonal thing, like the mating dance of the Sysoo bird. You know I’m a simple guy. My mind is a very primitive mechanism.”

“Sysoo birds don’t do mating dances,” Kurush said. “People entertain such strange notions about birds.”

I stroked the buriwok’s ruffled feathers. “I’m sorry, sweetheart. I’m an ignorant alien, and you’re a wise Keeper of Knowledge. Forgive me.”

“What’s this I hear?” Juffin said, shaking his head in surprise. “By the way, I hope you aren’t going to bed without the kerchief of the Grand Magician of—”

“Of the Order of the Secret Grass,” I said. “I don’t forget anything at all these days. I turn off the bathroom light and don’t go outside in the nude. I do the famous Lonli-Lokli breathing exercises every morning and eat six times a day. Everything’s just hunky-dory.”

“No, Max. Not everything. What about your dreams?”

“That’s just it: I don’t have any at all,” I said. “The trip to Kettari wiped out my ability to dream altogether. They’re gone. Poof!”

“Hmm. Now we’re getting somewhere. Don’t exaggerate, though. Nothing has been ‘wiped out,’ as you put it. It’s a good thing you have that kind of defense mechanism.”

“Oh, you mean a horror film series has been scheduled for my personal movie theater?” I asked, showing some signs of life.

“Be so good as to speak more clearly. Those metaphors of yours—”

“I just meant to suggest that all the nightmares of the World might be after my scalp.”

“I didn’t need you to tell me that,” Juffin said testily. “But don’t worry. They’ll grow tired of you. It will pass. It’s all for the best—you finally have some time to turn your attention to what happens when you’re awake.”

“Like a visit to Sir Boboota. You’re right, Juffin. That’s a nightmare right there,” I quipped.

“That’s better,” the chief said, smiling. “Much better. Don’t let any untoward wonders spoil your good nature.”

“I have a good nature?”

“Absolutely. Especially after your fifth glass of Elixir of Kaxar. Well, wonder boy, it’s time to get down to the task at hand.”

“Did you send over to the
Glutton
for dinner?” I said.

“For pastries,” Kurush corrected me.

Juffin pulled his hair in mock despair, and I burst out laughing. My own announcement that everything was “all wrong” did start to seem like an exaggeration. I really was fine after all. But a dozen days without a single dream—I wasn’t used to that. I almost felt like a happy dead man who had managed to strike it lucky in the afterlife.

 

“I sense that we’re in for a sea of pleasure today! Even more. Oceans of it. In a word, I’d like to be a pirate crossing those oceans of pleasure.”

Melifaro was stretched out nonchalantly on his own desk, feet crossed, staring at the ceiling. I was sitting in his chair. I couldn’t shake off the bizarre sensation that soon I would be sampling the festive delicacy that was laid out in front of me, elegantly wrapped in a bright turquoise looxi.

“Did you know there are lots of jokes making the rounds about Boboota Box and his men?” Melifaro said.

I shook my head no.

BOOK: The Stranger's Woes
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