The eye of zoltar, p.1
The Eye of Zoltar,
Part #3 of The Last Dragonslayer series by Jasper Fforde
‘Hanging on to the Leviathan for dear life, the small Australopithecine was soon thousands of feet in the air …’
THE EYE OF ZOLTAR
Book Three of The Last Dragonslayer Series
Also by Jasper Fforde
The Last Dragonslayer Series
The Last Dragonslayer
The Song of the Quarkbeast
The Thursday Next Series
The Eyre Affair
Lost in a Good Book
The Well of Lost Plots
First Among Sequels
One of Our Thursdays is Missing
The Woman Who Died a Lot
The Nursery Crime Series
The Big Over Easy
The Fourth Bear
Shades of Grey
First published in Great Britain in 2014 by Hodder & Stoughton
An Hachette UK company
Copyright © Jasper Fforde 2014
The right of Jasper Fforde to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.
A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library
ISBN 978 1 444 70729 8
Hodder & Stoughton Ltd
338 Euston Road
London NW1 3BH
Table of Contents
Also by Jasper Fforde
Where we are now
Tralfamosaur Hunt Part 1: Bait and Lure
Tralfamosaur Hunt Part 1: Chase and Capture
Audience with the King
The Princess changed
The Mighty Shandar
The Remarkable Kevin Zipp
To the border by Royale
The Cambrian Empire
The Empty Quarter
It’s an Australopithecine
At the Claerwin
Speaking on the conch
The naval officer’s tale
A deal with Curtis
Slow boat to the Land of Snodd
Leviathans explained and some tourists
A brush with death
The name’s Gabby
The old Dragonlands
The morning feeding
The handmaiden’s tale
Trouble with gravediggers
The fast-track trial
To the foot of the mountain
The Mountain Silurians
The sky pirate’s tale
Sky Pirate Bunty Wolff
Battle of the Hollow Men
The last stand
We become sisters
Negotiations in Cambrianopolis
About the Author
For Ingrid, Ian, Freya and Lottie
‘I don’t do refunds’
The Mighty Shandar
Where we are now
The first thing we had to do was catch the Tralfamosaur. The obvious question aside from ‘What’s a Tralfamosaur?’ was: ‘Why us?’. The answer to the first question was that this was a Magical Beast, created by some long-forgotten wizard when conjuring up weird and exotic creatures was briefly fashionable. The Tralfamosaur was about the size and weight of an elephant, had a brain no bigger than a ping-pong ball and a turn of speed that allowed it to outrun a human. More pertinent for anyone trying to catch one, Tralfamosaurs weren’t particularly fussy over what they ate. And when they were hungry – which was much of the time – they were even less fussy. A sheep, cow, rubber tyre, garden shed, antelope, smallish automobile or human would go down equally well. In short, the Tralfamosaur was a lot like a Tyrannosaurus Rex, but without the sunny disposition and winning personality.
And we had to capture it. Oh, and the answer to the ‘Why us?’ question was that it was our fault the rotten thing escaped.
Perhaps I should explain a bit about who I am and what I do, just in case you’re new to my life. Firstly, I’m sixteen, a girl, and an orphan – hey, no biggie, lots of kids don’t have parents here in the Kingdoms because of the huge number of people lost in the endless Troll Wars that have been going on these past sixty years. With lots of orphans around, there’s plenty of cheap labour. I got lucky. Instead of being sold into the garment, fast-food or hotel industries, I got to spend my six years of indentured servitude with a company named Kazam, a registered House of Enchantment run by the Great Zambini. Kazam did what all Houses of Enchantment used to do: hire out wizards to perform magical feats. The problem was that in the past half-century magic had faded, so we were really down to finding lost shoes, rewiring houses, unblocking drains and getting cats out of trees. It was a bit demeaning for the once-mighty sorcerers who worked for us, but at least it was paid work.
At Kazam I found out that magic had not much to do with black cats, cauldrons, wands, pointy hats and broomsticks. No, those were only in the movies. Real life was somewhat different. Magic is weird and mysterious and a fusion between science and faith, and the practical way of looking at it is this: magic swirls about us like an invisible fog of emotional energy that can be tapped by those skilled in the Mystical Arts, and then channelled into a concentrated burst of energy from the tips of the index fingers. The technical name for magic was ‘the variable electro-gravitational mutable subatomic force’, but the more more usual term was ‘wizidrical energy’, or, more simply, ‘crackle’.
So there I was, assistant to the Great Zambini, learning well and working hard, when Zambini disappeared – quite literally – in a puff of smoke. He didn’t return, or at least, not for anything but a few minutes at a time and often in random locations, so I took over the running of the company, aged fifteen. Okay, that was a biggie, but I coped and, long story short, I saved dragons from extinction, averted war between the nations of Snodd and Brecon and helped the power of magic begin to re-establish itself. And that’s when the trouble really started. King Snodd thought using the power of magic for corporate profit would be a seriously good wheeze, something we at Kazam weren’t that happy about. Even longer story short, we held a magic contest to decide who controls magic, and after a lot of cheating by the King to try to have us lose, he failed – and we are now a House of Enchantment free from royal meddling, and can concentrate on rebuilding magic into a noble craft one can be proud of.
I now look after forty-five barely sane sorcerers at Kazam, only six of whom have a legal permit to perform magic. If you think wizards are all wise, sage-like purveyors of the Mystical Arts with sparkling wizidrical energy streaming from their fingertips, think again. They are for the most part undisciplined, infantile, argumentative and infuriating, and their magic
So that’s me, really. I have an orphaned assistant named Tiger Prawns to help me, I am Dragon Ambassador to the world – of which more later – and I also have a pet Quarkbeast, which is at least nine times as frightening as the most frightening thing you’ve ever seen.
My name is Jennifer Strange. Welcome to my world.
Now: let’s find that Tralfamosaur.
Myself, Tiger and those forty-five sorcerers all lived in a large, eleven-storey, ornate former hotel named Zambini Towers. It was in a bad state of repair and even though we had some spare magic to restore it to glory, we decided we wouldn’t. There was a certain charm about the faded wallpaper, warped wood, missing windowpanes and leaky roof. Some argued that this added a certain something to the surroundings that made it peculiarly suitable for the Mystical Arts. Others argued that it was a fetid dump suitable only for demolition, and I kind of sat somewhere between the two.
When the call came in I was standing in the shabby, wood-panelled lobby of Zambini Towers.
‘There’s a Tralfamosaur loose somewhere between here and Ross,’ said Tiger, waving a report that had just been forwarded from the police. They’d taken the call but had passed it on to the zoo, who passed it on to Mountain Rescue, who passed it back to the police, who then passed it on to us when the zoo refused it a second time.
‘Anyone eaten?’ I asked.
‘All of two railway workers and part of a fisherman,’ said Tiger, who was only just twelve and, like me, a foundling. He was stuck here for four years and after that he could apply for citizenship, or earn it fighting in the next Troll War, which probably wouldn’t be far off. Troll Wars were like Batman movies: both are repeated at regular intervals, feature expensive hardware, and are broadly predictable. The difference being that during the Troll Wars, humans always lost – and badly. In Troll War IV eight years ago, sixty thousand troops were lost before General Snood had even finished giving the order to advance.
‘Three eaten already?’ I repeated. ‘We need to get Big T back to the zoo before he gets hungry again.’
‘How long will that be?’ asked Tiger, who was small in stature but big on questions.
I swiftly estimated how much calorific value there was in a railway worker, and matched that to what I knew of a Tralfamosaur’s metabolism with a rough guess at how much of the fisherman had been consumed, and came up with an answer.
‘Three hours,’ I said, ‘four, tops. Which sorcerers are on duty right now?’
Tiger consulted a clipboard.
‘Lady Mawgon and the Wizard Moobin,’ he replied.
‘I’ll help out,’ said Perkins, who was standing next to me. ‘I haven’t been terrified for – ooh – at least a couple of days.’
Perkins was Kazam’s youngest and newest graduate, having had a licence for less than a week. He was eighteen, so two years older than me, and while not that powerful magically, showed good promise – most sorcerers didn’t start doing any really useful magic until their thirties. More interestingly, Perkins and I had been about to have our first date when the call came in, but that was going to have to wait.
‘Okay,’ I said to Tiger, ‘fetch Mawgon and Moobin, and you should also call Once Magnificent Boo.’
‘Got it,’ said Tiger.
‘Take a rain check on that date?’ I said, turning to Perkins. ‘In the Magic Industry, it’s kind of “Spell First, Fun Second”.’
‘I kind of figured that,’ he replied, ‘so why don’t we make this assignment the date? Intimate candlelit dinners for two are wildly overrated. I could even bring some sandwiches and a Thermos of hot chocolate.’
‘Okay,’ I said, touching his hand, ‘you’re on. A sort of romantic uncandlelit “recapturing a dangerously savage beast for two” sort of date – but no dressing up and we split the cost.’
‘Game on. I’ll go and make some sandwiches and that Thermos.’
And with another chuckle, he left.
While I waited for the other sorcerers to arrive, I read what I could about Tralfamosaurs in the Codex Magicalis, which wasn’t much. The creature was created magically in the 1780s on the order of the Cambrian Empire’s 1st Emperor Tharv because he wanted ‘a challenging beast to hunt for sport’, a role it played with all due savagery. Even today, over two hundred years later, people still pay good money to try to hunt them, usually with fatal consequences for the hunter. Oddly, this made Tralfamosaur hunting more popular as it seemed citizens were becoming increasingly fond of danger in these modern, safety-conscious times. The Cambrian Empire was now making good money out of what it called ‘jeopardy tourism’ – holidays for those seeking life-threatening situations.
The first to arrive in the lobby was Wizard Moobin, who, unlike all the other sorcerers, was barely insane at all. Aside from his usual magical duties he also worked in magic research and development. Last month, Moobin’s team had been working on a spell for turning oneself momentarily to rubber to survive a fall, the use of instantaneous ‘turning to stone’ enchantments as a way of transporting badly damaged accident victims to surgery, and a method of reliable communication using snails. Aside from this he was good company, aged a little over forty, and was at least polite and gave me due respect for my efforts. Tiger and I liked him a great deal.
‘The Tralfamosaur escaped,’ I told him when he walked into the lobby, ‘when you and Patrick surged this afternoon during the bridge rebuilding. Two quarter-ton blocks of stone were catapulted into the sky.’
‘I wondered what happened to them,’ said Moobin thoughtfully.
‘One fell to earth harmlessly in an orchard near Belmont, and the other landed on the Ross-to-Hereford branch line, derailing a train that was transporting the Tralfamosaur to Woburn Safari Park as part of some sort of dangerous animal exchange deal.’
‘Ah,’ said Moobin, ‘so we’re kind of responsible for this, aren’t we?’
‘I’m afraid so,’ I replied, ‘and it’s already eaten three people.’
‘Whoops,’ said Moobin.
‘Whoops nothing,’ said Lady Mawgon, who had arrived with Tiger close behind, ‘civilians have to take risks with the rest of us.’
Unlike Moobin, Lady Mawgon was not our favourite sorcerer, but was undeniably good at what she did. She was originally the official sorcerer to the Kingdom of Kent before the downturn of magical power, but her fall from that lofty status had made her frosty and ill tempered. She had recently entered her seventieth decade, scowled constantly, and had the unsettling habit of gliding everywhere rather than walking, as if beneath the folds of her large black dress she was wearing roller skates.
‘Even so,’ I said diplomatically, ‘it’s probably not a good idea to let the Tralfamosaur eat people.’
‘I suppose not,’ conceded Lady Mawgon. ‘What about Once Magnificent Boo?’
‘Already in hand,’ I replied, indicating where Tiger was speaking on the phone.
Once Magnificent Boo had, as her name suggested, once been magnificent. She could have been as powerful as the Mighty Shandar himself, but was now long retired and saddled with a dark personality that made Lady Mawgon seem almost sunny by comparison. The reason for this was simple: she had been robbed of her dazzling career in sorcery by the removal of her index fingers, the conduit of a sorcerer’s power. The fingers had remained hidden for over three decades until recently recovered by us, but even reunited with the dry bones, the only magic she could do was wayward and unfocused. These days she studied Quarkbeasts and was the world’s leading authority on Tralfamosaurs, which was the reason we needed her.
Once Perkins had returned with the sandwiches we trooped outside to my Volkswagen Beetle. There were arguably much better cars in the basement at Zambini Towers but the VW was of huge sentimental value: I was found wrapped in a blanket on the back seat outside the Ladies of the Lobster orphanage one windswept night many years before. There was a note stuffed under the windscreen wiper:
Please look after this poor dear child as her parents died in the Troll Wars.
PS: I think the engine may need some oil and the tyre pressures checked.
PPS: We think her name should be Jennifer.
PPPS: The child, not the car.
PPPPS: For her surname, choose something strange.
The car was kept – all items left with a foundling were, by Royal Decree – and was presented to me when the Blessed Ladies of the Lobster sold me to Kazam aged fourteen. After I’d checked the tyre pressures and added some oil it started first time, and I drove to my first job in my own car. If you think fourteen is too young to be driving, think again. The Kingdom of Snodd grants driving licences on the basis of responsibility, not age, something that can frustrate forty-something blokes no end when they fail their responsibility test for the umpteenth time.
‘Shotgun!’ yelled Lady Mawgon, and quickly plonked herself in the passenger seat. Everyone groaned. Being in the back of the Volkswagen meant sitting next to the Quarkbeast, a creature that was often described as a cross between a labrador and an open knife drawer, with a bit of velociraptor and scaly pangolin chucked in for good measure. Despite its terrifying appearance and an odd habit of eating metal, the Quarkbeast was a loyal and intelligent companion.
‘Right,’ I said as we moved off, ‘does anyone have a plan as to how we’re going to recapture the Tralfamosaur?’
There was silence.
‘How about this,’ I said. ‘We modify our plans with regard to ongoing facts as they become known to us, then remodify them as the situation unfolds.’
The Eye of Zoltar by Jasper Fforde / Fantasy / Young Adult / Humor / Actions & Adventure have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes