The innkeeper looked up from cleaning one particularly filthy glass just long enough to register the presence of this new customer before grunting noncommittally and waving for his wife to get to work on it. The stranger just stared vacantly at his clenched gauntlet. He didn’t seem to notice when the mug was placed in front of him; though he drank, it seemed more a reflex than conscious action.
The surfacedweller shook himself and pulled out a pocket watch. He glanced at it, scowled more deeply, and put it away.
“Stew. Bread. Simple, but filling.”
“I heard ‘im!”
The innkeeper grunted and returned to his cleaning. The inn was quiet today, just the usual gamblers in one corner and the mysterious old man who seemed to be sitting dead half the time. Lucky, perhaps; most of the rowdier customers he’d had would start a fight with a landsider without much thought.
The stranger was served and ate slowly, still absent from the present, while the innkeep struggled to remove stains in the counter whose origin he was no longer confident in guessing. Some time passed in this manner before old habits kicked in: “So. What’s yer story?”
“Oh, y’know. Just a merc on a job he never asked for.”
“Ah, but do ya want th’ job?”
“Heh. Get a lot of adventurers here, then?”
“No’ so many as y’might think, bu’ yeh. Always lookin’ to cash in on th’ bounties of wha’ever’s threat’nin’ th’ queendom. Us’ly don’t see ‘em again.” He shrugged, jerking his head towards the old man. “Tha’ one’s always going on about ‘ow they’re no’ the right one, but I think ‘e’s off inna head.”
The merc craned around and shuddered at the sight of the cowled old man. “One of those. No, thank you, I’m not here to be A Hero Of Destiny.”
“Well, then, if y’don’t mind my askin’…?”
“Hunting some dangerous individuals. They… they’ll stand out in a crowd, as do I. Sometimes more so. You seem savvy enough; you’ll recognize them if you see them.” He took another swig of black gold and was disappointed to find it his last. “But I’ve a few errands to run before resuming my work. I don’t suppose you know any quality mechanics?”
“Well, if y’just need yer watch fixed, there’s a good friend o’ mine down on-”
“It’s not… a regular watch. I’ll need someone who’s a bit eccentric. Works with… fiddly bits and bottled lightning. That sort of thing.”
The innkeep frowned, stroking his beard. “Nobody like tha’ ‘round here, I’m afraid. Might try th’ Stormlands, but none o’ them much care for outsiders.”
“I’ll check anyway; it’s not something I’d like to delay if at all possible. Thanks for everything.”
“Abou’ tha’.” A meaty hand clamped down on the stranger’s shoulder as he tried to slide from his seat. “Y’may be new ‘round ‘ere, bu’ tha’ doesn’t exempt ya from needin’ t’ pay.”
The princess tangled at her (imaginary) hair nervously as Twenty-Five paced back and forth in front of his desk - which was just as needlessly baroque as her dress. Eryntse had been arrested a couple of times before (for “harassment” reasons; she still did not quite understand how her actions could be deemed as “harassment”) but they usually ended with a stint in a small cell and a stern warning. However, that was when she was inexperienced and lost in the place she deemed her home. The false woman eventually adapted to the concept of no-touchie (when people are looking at least). However, this “imprisonment” (well, at least she pretty sure it was one) by the gentlemen of the castle was a bit more unnerving to her.
Perhaps it was the rude welcome she received (they are so rude). Perhaps it was the amount of light in the room (she was never a big fan of light). Perhaps it was the stupid amounts of documents she had to fill out. The stack they gave her was her arm’s length and it was especially hard to fill these ridiculous forms with two arms (did she mention she only had two arms). There were many things that made her feel disheartened but she was pretty sure what the biggest upsetting thing after affidavits was: interrogation. The concept of one-on-one was incredibly intimidating and scary, especially with Twenty-Five and his imposing helmet (which probably felt awesome to wear, she thought quietly to herself). She was not going to look forward to it. And it was going to happen.
Twenty-Five frowned down at her completed papers – well at least, she thought he did. Helmets often obscure face registration of moods. “So your name is Earny…this?”
“Oh no no no no,” Eryntse dithered nervously, daintily waving with a hand. “It’s E-rinte-cheh. It’s Western. Although my family originally came from the East-”
“It doesn’t sound Western,” Twenty-Five interrupted (which she found rude, but she was not that undignified to interrupt him and do the same – and she was nervous). “Or Eastern. Or anything from this realm at all. In fact, the local arcana could not register anything about you” He stared at Eryntse “Where are you exactly from.”
A couple of tedious seconds passed. “West,” Eryntse piped up so quietly, that it could be more suitably described as an onomatopoeic meep.“I filled it here” she darted a finger at the appropriate section “remember?”
“Uh huh” Eryntse desperately hoped that was a sound of acceptance but judging from the knight’s gestures, it probably was not. He had stopped pace and was slowly rubbing a palm over his face – also he was sighing. Eryntse knew that Very Huge Sighs never bode well. “That’s a pretty large place to be from. So why are you here.”
“Uh, um,” Eryntse felt the volume of her voice drop along with some of her confidence points. In uneasy instinct, she teased at her fanciful hair, tugged at her illusive dress, trying her best to keep her other arms inside of her. She was getting uncomfortable, really uncomfortable. “To...make friends?”
The faulty princess cringed as Twenty-Five dropped the heavy documents on his extravagant desk, the thud ringing in her over-decorated ears. At this point, her uneasiness evolved into full-blown agitation, eating away at her core like a virulent disease. To Eryntse, that action meant a lot of things. He was upset, impatient, serious, vindictive, and do those things even matter? They were all incredibly bad things and Eryntse was afraid (so afraid) of getting the receiving end of it.
“Who sent you here, ” Twenty-Five said.
“A lady, I g-guess? I couldn’t tell the difference.” She added more nervous curls around her finger . “I was kind of dragged here though.” Eryntse looked downwards, the shameful tilt of her head reminiscent of a dog being heavily scolded by her owner as if she had done a Very Bad Thing.
“What was her name.” It was as if Twenty-Five had all the questions in the world – and all the time too.
“I don’t know,” Eryntse teetered; her chair creaked in empathetic desperation. “I didn’t even ask. Maybe I could find he--”
“Why are you dressed like royalty,” he interrupted.
“It’s pretty and everyone does it? I don’t kn--”
“Are you affiliated with any other coalition or castle.”
“I don’t kno-- ”
“Do you intend or wish any harm to our prisoners.”
“I don’t k--”
Twenty-Five was currently staring at one of the many portraits on the walls - all which exclusively contained knights that could be described as identical if it were not for their differentiable armor. That one portrait all of Twenty-Five’s attention was intent had the fanciest regalia ever - probably the head honcho or the originator of these knights, Eryntse guessed. She was taking in all these details because she was nervous and her nervousness was going to spike when her interrogator turned around and practically shoved his helmet into her face.
“Then why are you here.”
Eryntse was incredibly upset. There were many variables that factor into her conclusive emotion: the largeness of the foreign world, the unkindness of strangers, the lack of progress in her quest, the lack of any things to touch, and so forth. Needless to say, the unpleasantries of Twenty-Five’s mug in her face was the last straw, the provocation that made her degenerate into waterworks. Oh damn, did she cry. The room was completely filled with the sniffling and crying and hacking and other types of gross sobbing from one singular and distraught person.
“I don’t knooooooow,” Eryntse wheedled out. “I don’t even knooooooooooooow.”
Twenty-Five could only stare in shock as the sight of a giant pink…thing suddenly appeared nowhere. He had a hard time believing that enormous segmented oh-god-what draped over the seat and the fashion-disaster princess were the same exact person, but the creature was despondently sobbing, her many, many arms all reaching towards her head in consolidation. Despite the lack of eyes, there were big, fat tears disconcertingly streaming down her face. The knight shifted slightly in confusion and befuddlement. She was definitely not human – or from this world anyway.
“I-I don’t know anything” The fleshy slug coughed in fearful mid-sob.
“Don’t hurt meeeeee,” she bawled fearfully.
Twenty-Five could only shake his head as definitely-not-a-princess continued to drown in her lachrymose. Even though she was a foreign entity (the likes that the knight had never seen before), she meant no harm. On the other hand, she was definitely not going to answer any more questions in this state. How do you deal with a pink creature that just suddenly appeared out of nowhere? In front of you, nevertheless?
The knight pondered what to do. Well, she did illegally broke into place (a security one, no less) and fraudulently claimed she was a Queen at first. Perhaps, she has more information in her head that could prove valuable to the Six For Gold Police Department. Twenty-Five finally decided. She would have to detain in a cell for some period of time. You know, to cool down for a bit.
Twenty-Five made a motion with his hand.
“W-what’s this?” Eryntse stammered as a couple of knights came into the room. Despite the volume of the office, the amount of people in the room made her feel a brand of claustrophobic anxiety, especially since they were shackling her many, many arms.
“Well,madam,” Twenty-Five simply put it, “I am afraid we are going to take you in.”
Far below the insignificant commotions from Twenty-Five’s office, there were dark secrets.
In the most abyssal levels of this castle (otherwise known as a basement), there were many things – moth-eaten tax returns, tattered canvas, forlorn bits of metal, outdated swords, even more outdated magazines, other sorts of riff-raff, and so forth. There was something interesting about the juxtaposition of the miscellaneous objects though. From the edges, the junk were few and scattered. However as the eyes furthered from the walls, the rummage seemed to condense, twist, warp in form in shape to form the tumultuous machine dead center of the room. The contraption was an awe-inspiring piece of work. Animated by arcane magic and other vaguely-defined sciences, the vaguely clockwork-like apparatus ran forever – its humming wires feeding ambient energies upwards to other rooms. This was the Engine that kept the Six For Gold Department lively and intact.
Inside the Engine, there was a balloon.
A rubbery red bag filled tightly with ambiguous gases, it was a simple thing with a simple mind. Its intelligence capacities could be barely called sentient, but it registered enough comprehension to realize it was in a Very Bad Scenario and acted in a way that in high cognitive functions, it would have been called “panic.” As such, it bumped fruitlessly against the glass walls, hoping to purchase some sort of force to shatter out of its penitentiary (which was more suited for goldfish than for balloons) into freedom. However, it was a balloon, not an unstoppable force of nature.
The prisoner could only helpless watch as his bumping was silently amplified and converted into energy for this accursed location. The balloon squeaked in plastic-y fear as it started to bump against the walls again. It was getting incredibly frustrated, so frustrated that it sent a mental ripple of fear from its cage, into the basement, up the castle, out of the castle, and into the air. The invisible cry of psychic help travelled through the horizons to search for the receiving end – one that was eternally linked to the Balloon.
Lodged in a stone waiting for the true king of Ingland
Re: The Battle Majestic (Round 4 - Magpie Skies)
Stealth was not really an option. Steven was certainly capable of being stealthy, what with the ability to allow his gloves to scout out the way ahead, but the queens that trailed after him were not. He’d earned enough respect freeing them from the dungeon (a simple matter of conjuring up a lockpick and then applying it to the lock wherein the real difficulty had been managing to come up with a plan of action under such intense scrutiny) that the queens had, at his request, ceased their bickering at full volume instead conducting their bickering in periodic bouts of half-whispers and communal shushes. But even in those moments of silence there were still seven people moving down the miserable stone hallways that made up the grey castle, one or two of whom refused to take their high heels off, no matter how nicely Steven asked.
It was rapidly becoming apparent to Steven that they probably wouldn’t be getting through this castle undetected and as for the grey queen’s minions; well he had next to no idea what they were or whether he’d be able to take them on. The thought crossed his mind that he’d be better off without the queens; he would be quieter, he could move faster and, though he hated himself for thinking it, if they were to be caught it would draw the attention of the minions away. On the one hand near certain failure and on the other a fighting chance of survival. He was pretty annoyed with himself that he couldn’t bring himself to take what was undoubtedly the more sensible option. He’d never taken himself for a hero type, yet here he was, rescuing a whole collection of damsels in distress. And then there was the last round; when he’d figured out his gloves could get him out of there he could have just gone, it would have been the more sensible option to just slip away and hope their hosts had presumed him dead, but instead he’d wanted to rescue everybody. And look where it had got him.
There was some part of Steven that didn’t mind too much that they’d never make it up to the roof, as it would save him from admitting that he had absolutely no idea what to do from that point onwards, but he chided himself for being so childish and just had to hope that if and when they reached that point something would present itself. At some point, in one hallway he couldn’t really tell apart from any other hallway in this place, he noticed that the purple queen had broken from the group and was sticking close to his side.
“Is something wrong?” he whispered, and after a short pause he added “your majesty?” unsure whether she was one of the queens who had kicked up a fuss because he hadn’t shown the proper respect.
“No, I just wanted to say I knew you could do it.” The purple queen whispered back, with a warm smile upon her face. “The door back there I mean, when the others were doubting you, I knew you could do it. Oh, and you can call me Violet.”
“Um, thanks.” Steven replied awkwardly. “I’m Steven, you can, um, call me that.” He paused and then concluded the conversation with a polite but firm: “I appreciate the thought, but I really kind of need to concentrate here?”
“You’re not from here are you?” The purple queen, Violet, continued regardless. “I mean it’s obvious you’re not from one of the Kingdoms, and unlike the rest of that lot,” she gestured dismissively towards the queens trailing behind them, “I have actually met a surface dweller, a terrible crude man he was, not at all like yourself.”
“Yeah, uh, I’m a long way from home.” Steven replied curtly.
“Do you have anywhere to stay?” The purple queen (Steven was finding it hard to think of her as Violet) asked. “You could stay at the fuchsia palace. I’m sure you’d get a hero’s welcome…” She didn’t trail off at that point; it was just the point wherein Steven’s attention was suddenly elsewhere.
Floating down the corridor up ahead was one of his gloves. Instantly he was aware of the group of minions up ahead heading their way. He glanced behind him to find the other glove heading their way and knew instantly that their luck had run out. They must have found the empty cell, and it can’t have been that hard to find the queens themselves. The purple queen had trailed off upon noticing Steven’s very visible alarm. The queens had for once gone perfectly silent as well. Steven’s gloves floated to a stop in front of him and he stared at them, trying to work out how to best protect the queens when there were enemies pressing in on both directions.
“I can help.” Violet was at his ear. “If you can magic me up some kind of sabre?” He glanced up at her. “It’s not very ladylike I know, but I always thought I should know how to protect myself.” A moment later she had a sabre in her hand and Steven was leaning against the wall for support. “Are you okay?”
“I’ll be fine.” He waved her away, and she darted to the back of the group of queens holding tightly to the handle of the byzantium coloured blade. Steven righted himself and readied his gloves in front of him. He was a little drowsy but he was going to put up a fight. Momentarily the grey queen’s minions rounded the corner and bore down upon the group.
A dim grey dot in the distance was growing slowly larger. Streaming through the near-endless azure sky was a carpet, primarily midnight blue but with a complex pattern of silver and gold woven into it. It was a fine carpet, showing no signs of wear and tear, and little signs of use altogether. Seated side by side at the back of the carpet were Sruix and Talis, the latter of the pair looking irate with the current circumstance; though that is not to imply that Sruix was overly pleased either. Standing at the head of the carpet, guiding it with the slightest motion of his arms was a man clothed in swathes of blue fabrics; a scattered spectrum of blue shades running from aqua to zaffre, from periwinkle to sapphire. These fabrics formed a veritable cloak; not an inch of the mage’s skin was to be seen beneath them.
“Not from round ‘ere are yer?” The carpeteer’s voice was surprisingly rough for his arcane appearance. Talis’ response was an incoherent grumble to which Sruix rolled his eyes.
“An astute observation,”Sruix replied,“but don’t worry, just because we are lacking in coin of the realm doesn’t mean we can’t pay your for your services in some other manner.”This was the crux of the animosity between the two former gentlemen.
The man at the head of the carpet was an enchanter, the owner of a shop that they had happened across in their search of the quiet blue village. The carpets had been amongst a selection of other enchanted wares and Talis had proposed that they simply take one, perhaps two, and be off, whereas Sruix had insisted that they pay their way. Had it not been for the well made point that neither of them had any experience piloting a carpet and that they could potentially climb aboard and plunge immediately to their rather untimely demise, they might still have been arguing that point. Though they had known each other a long time, their conflicting moralities had until recently only led to a faint sense of distaste for one another. The fact is however that secluded in their own pocket dimension with the Executive, they’d never really had cause to act upon their beliefs, or rather they’d never gotten in one another’s way before.
“I would ‘ope so.” The enchanter replied. “Else I’d dump yer ‘ere and now and be done with it.” Sruix assured him that he would use his abilities to create a fine enchanted item for him, as soon as they reached the grey palace, while Talis sat impassively. Though he was sullen and not making any attempts to hide that fact, he was holding himself back. He couldn’t afford to alienate his counterpart over something as trivial as a mode of transport.
The group continued their journey through the labyrinthine passageways of the grey castle, now flanked by a group of knee height candy red imps. The minions gave Steven and his gloves a wide berth, which was understandable. He hadn’t grasped the fact that they were not hostile quickly enough to prevent him from punching one of the minions so hard the poor thing was knocked from its feet and sent flying back down the corridor behind it. One of the queens, he would guess the orange one though it was a bit of a blur he couldn’t be exactly sure, called out for him to stop. The minions didn’t speak, but communicated with a series of noises that were somewhere between a low level hum and a series of chirps, which the queens could apparently comprehend without much trouble.
“Mainly they apologised for keeping us prisoner.” Violet explained. “They’re all afraid of the grey queen, and not without good reason. They’re simple creatures; they just want to make people happy.” The purple queen had hung back with Steven, at first offering him a shoulder to lean on while he still felt somewhat drained from the use of his gloves, though now simply offering him company.
The sense of peril which had been so pervasive earlier now felt kind of silly in retrospect. Steven felt like a jerk and less of a hero than he had ever done previously; feelings that were only exacerbated by the fact that most of the queens seemed to have all but forgotten he ever even existed now that they no longer needed him to lead them to freedom. Steven half-wondered why he had ever been prepared to put his life on the line to protect them.
“Don’t feel too bad.” Violet continued. “I almost stabbed one with my bitchin’ new sword. That would have been much worse right?” There was another awkward silence at her failed attempt to lighten the mood and she tried to change the topic. “So, what brings you to our realm?” This was not exactly the great conversation starter that she had hoped it would be; she was about to give up on Steven and try her hand at holding a conversation with one of the minions (despite the fact that her minionese was kind of rusty) when he responded.
“Bad luck.” Steven replied eventually. “I was taken from my life, expected to fight and kill a bunch of other guys, or, well, die trying.”
Violet might have envisioned him pitted against the worst of the worst; criminals, monsters and villains and expected to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds to best them and make the world a better place, however the sour tone of Steven’s voice told her immediately that this was not some heroic endeavour. “That must be awful, to be taken from your home and made to do such a thing.”
“Well…” Steven started, “I wouldn’t say my home exactly. I haven’t been home in years.” There was a moment of silence between the two. It was not awkward like previous pauses in the conversation had been, but somewhat intimate. There was a real sense of homesickness from Steven, a sense of being uprooted from where you belonged so suddenly and not knowing if you could ever return, a feeling of great loneliness. Violet reached out and grabbed Steven’s hand.
“Can you not just say ‘no, I won’t fight’ and not fight?” she asked.
“I don’t think it works like that.” Steven replied sadly.
Suddenly after trekking through seemingly endless series of dim grey corridors they were emerging onto the roof; the bright sunlight burning at their unaccustomed eyes. The roof stretched off before them, in the distance a couple of towers and crenellated battlements were visible marking the edge of the castle and the subsequent surely fatal plunge. There were a couple of minions hanging around, who immediately flocked to the queens as they emerged from the castle proper, but no apparent means of transportation. Steven really hoped that he wasn’t going to be expected to conjure up some form of transportation for them. As the minions led them to the far end of the roof he contemplated such a course of action and was forced to conclude that even the most optimistic option would almost certainly leave him so drained of energy he would be practically catatonic and he didn’t like to think of the queens’ attempting to drive such a thing.
“So, what now?” Steven asked when the group had come to a stop.
“Look.” Violet directed Steven’s attention to the horizon where several distant red dots were getting larger. As they drew closer, they became more distinct. At first Steven thought they were a group of birds, a couple of small ones clustered around a larger one, but as they drew even closer it was clear to see that they were dragons; flame red and oddly angular with small grey eyes. The realisation made him involuntarily draw back, but Violet squeezed his hand and he realised they were chirping the same language as the minions; there was in fact more than just a passing similarity between them. Within a minute or so the largest dragon swooped down and landed upon the roof in front of them. It was large enough for the entire group sans minions to climb upon its back and fly them out of there, and it was apparent that this was the intention.
The queens began to climb aboard the dragon to the same background muttering and moaning that had accompanied more or less every stage of the journey so far. The white queen was especially vocal about how she resented having to ride around upon the backs of animals, but she climbed aboard anyway, not having any real alternative. Steven scanned the skies, noting a tiny square of midnight blue out ahead of them, and behind them a rapidly approaching black shape. Steven stared at it, shading his eyes from the glaring light of the sun with his free hand. It was a slender shape, carried on wings that did not look large enough to bear such a creature with sharp spines trailing behind it and deadly sharp claws.
“Um, guys, there’s another dragon coming.” Steven said, “It doesn’t look as friendly as this one.” Heads turned, and there was sudden sense of panic. The bickering grew louder, the queens that had already climbed aboard the dragon dug their heels into its sides in an effort to get it to fly away immediately, while the other queens pushed and shoved at one another to try to be the next to climb on.
“Oh.” Violet sounded defeated already. “The grey queen.”
"This is far less interesting than I had expected," Lionel mumbled to himself. "I barely have to lift a finger."
He couldn't help but compare it to the slaughter at Oxbow. That had been exhilirating; the security bots posed an actual threat if he didn't catch them first; there were numerous cowards to root out of their hiding places; and the Yaggs had taken some actual effort to down. Of course, the Yaggs were hardly the most tactically competent of foes, but compared to the better majority of the knights, they might as well have been Sun Tzu. He'd been mildly surprised when two knights had charged down separate hallways and collided with each other; then it happened seventeen more times and it had simply stopped being funny.
The worst part was that his son was trying to reassert control, holding him back. All the progress he'd made in the last round was slipping away. He couldn't even kill any of the knights to relieve the boredom, though he was careful not to reveal that; if the boy knew his resistance was having an effect, it would only encourage him further.
Lionel sighed as he heard a nineteenth pair collide behind him, then turned to look and halfheartedly shot a medium-strength bolt to incapacitate them. For the nineteenth time.
He turned around to resume his path, and found that six knights had gathered in the hallway in front of him, swords drawn.
"Finally," he grumbled. "I hope you're at least marginally competent."
He raised an arm and fired at Twenty-Eight, flinging him back to the ground. Then he grabbed Thirty-Seven's sword with his bandage, and swung it towards Forty, who stepped back to avoid it.
Unfortunately, he stepped back into Sixty-Two, who was far less deft, and managed to not only fall to the ground, but trip Forty-Three and Fifty in the process.
Forty, luckily, had managed to avoid getting caught up in Sixty-Two's flailing. He sliced through the bandage, knocking the other sword to the floor. Unfortunately, he then made the mistake of grabbing the bandage, allowing Lionel to easily conduct a calculated shock that carried through his armor and knocked him unconscious.
Forty-Three and Fifty scrambled to their feet as Forty collapsed, with Sixty-Two still flailing around. In the meantime, Thirty-Seven rushed to grab his sword from the floor. Unfortunately, the pause he took to lift it was just long enough for Lionel to fire another bolt.
As Thirty-Seven collapsed, Forty-Three and Fifty used the opportunity to charge at their attacker. But Fifty was soon tangled up by the bandage, and then shocked through it.
Forty-Three was undeterred. He flung his sword at Lionel, hoping the attack on Fifty would divert too much attention. It didn't; Lionel sidestepped the blade, which fell to the floor behind him, and then fired a bolt at Forty-Three.
He smirked. That had been interesting, even without the opportunity to kill. If only more of the knights could make such an effort, halfhearted as it was.
He continued walking down the hall, and sighed as two more knights collided in front of him. Apparently that was too much to hope for.
And then everything went dark as Forty's helmet struck him in the back of the head.
"Er, sorry," Sixty-Two said to Forty's unconscious form, still stuck on top of his legs. "Maybe pushing would work better than pulling?"
"Sixty-Two caught him?" Twenty-Five asked incredulously.
"I don't know how it happened either," Fifteen grumbled. "Regardless, I understand that this man was left in the Queen's room and not the dungeon on your orders. So I believe you owe us an explanation."
Twenty-Five sighed. First the worm-thing, and now this.
"Look, one of the more moronic ones brought him in, I don't even know his number off the top of my head. Said he'd been 'bouncing on clouds' without a license. He was unconscious, I assumed he was simply an unfortunate victim of idiocy."
"You're lucky we didn't actually lose anyone in that attack," Fifteen snarled. "Otherwise, we'd have a good forty-seven victims of idiocy - yours, specifically."
"Yes, I understand that."
"Good. Then you also understand why I'm assigning you to guard his cell." Fifteen glared at the junior knight. "If he tries anything again after he wakes up, it's going to be your problem first and foremost. Understood?"
"Now get over there!"
Twenty-Five rushed off to the dungeon.
"I'm never allowing another visitor into the castle again," he muttered to himself.
Hate was too strong of a word (and how could she hate things), but Eryntse felt a great sort of immense repulsiveness at the state of her prison. The mattress was half-out - and half-gone too; what graffiti on the desk (if this standing pile of splinters could be considered a desk) was caked with blood and other sorts of unmentionables; plus, the rusty bucket on the corner was filled to the brim with...eugh.
Eryntse turned to Fourteen with something akin to desperation on her face, "Do I really have to stay here?"
"Yes," the knight replied as he pushed Eryntse into the cell.
"But I might die," Eryntse cringed as she almost stepped onto an oily rag - no doubt positively exploding with germs. Seriously, why did they let this place get this gross?
"No you won't," Fourteen began to fumble with the complicated mechanism known as the prison lock.
"But I might get lonely," Eryntse wheedled as she nervously weaved her many arms between the bars of her capture. "And die of lonely too."
"Well--," Fourteen sighed.
Fourteen was suddenly interrupted by yet another knight. The intruder would have been practically indistinguishable from others, but he had his differences. He was amazingly chipper - what with singing a vague sort of cheery tune and skipping along his heels. Eryntse glanced at Fourteen's face. It was the face of someone who did not want to meet this person.
"Oh hello," Fourteen greeted with a look more appropriate for uncomfortable family reunions than greeting co-workers. "Twenty-Five."
"Oh heeeeeey, Fourteen!" Twenty-Five snapped his fingers and pointed at Fourteen. "Long time no see...you classy person!"
"Yeah," the other knight shuffled in place. "I wish."
"HA, same as always are you?" Twenty-Five laughed as Fourteen remained silent. "Well don't worry I got a little surprise JUST" There was a needless amount of emphasis on that word. "For you. But first, HOLD ON FOR ONE SECOND."
Without waiting for even a response (Eryntse found that incredibly rude but would rather not say), the visiting knight scurried off to the corner from whence he came.
"Oh great," Fourteen groaned. Eryntse was not looking forward to this either.
Eryntse flinched as a body was practically tossed into the adjacent cell with a great amount of force. That was rather rude on Twenty-Five's part but she would rather not say. She would probably not had said anyway; all her attention was on the newcomer after the dust had settled. He was some man that would be considered normally dressed if it were not for his ridiculous amount of bandages on his arms. He was very much unconscious but he was kind of...twitchy? Where did that twitching come from? Was he shocked to this state or something?
“Well,” Fourteen turned to Eryntse. “At least your companionship problem is solved,”
Eryntse was confused.
Blitz was rudely awakened by an unpleasantly throbbing headache. It was as if someone threw a helmet at his face and then threw him into the room. He would have highly doubted that would have happened but given the unpredictability of his father (oh his father) - anything could had happened. Now that he was in some sort of cage, the hypothetical scenario may have some potential legitimacy--
"Hey," said a quiet voice.
Blitz was getting charged, metaphorically and literally as his left arm began spitting sparks. The superhuman was always on the edge - what with his familial-slash-possession issues and his lunatic bloodthirsty father. The twitchiness did not help at all. As such, he always expected enemies, but he did not expected a pink...thing.
"Hi, I'm Eryntse," the snout between the bars introduced herself. “I like your scarf, by the way.”
"What," Blitz was more taken back by the sudden openness than the sight of such a worm.
"Oh ha ha ha, yeah," Eryntse laughed nervously as though she was in her own little world. "This is kinda my fault isn't it and WE ARE GOING TO DIE ARE WE?"
Blitz would have replied but he had difficulty doing so - mostly because he was completely wrapped with arms. He had never been shaken violently by a giant worm before - but turns out the firsthand experience was absolutely unpleasant.
"Oh my goodness did I just do that I am so sorry!" Eryntse's hands left Blitz and flailed all over the place. Nothing was safe from the seizure that was the creature's appendages - cage bars, walls, Blitz's face. The little episode ended with all the noodly arms wrapped tightly around herself. It was a strange and ridiculous sight. "I just get so nervous sometimes."
"Okay, er -- lady," Blitz had no idea how he should react but he was sure that slightly holding up his hands was a good first step in calming down pink monster neighbors. "Calm down."
"I am already calm!" Eryntse was totally calm, except she was totally not. "I am!" She still was not.
Blitz could only watch in slack-jawed confusion as the pink slug reenacted panic at the disco inside her cell. She was screaming, flailing, squirming, screeching and doing all the activities more suited for a hysterical neurotic than for a perfumed creature with way too many arms. It would be rather amusing but he was getting rather concerned for the next-door prisoner. He had to do something.
"Calm down," Blitz demanded. "Get a hold of yourself."
It took a few minutes for Eryntse to register the fact that there were hands (one bandaged, of course) on the first pair of her shoulders. The epiphany was sudden as a punch to her face but instead of a bloody snout, she had nothing to say. It was quite surprising, quite surprising to her indeed.
"Oh," Eryntse could only say. "Okay."
"Good," Blitz sighed as he took his arms off of the creature's shoulders. "Now you had calmed down, I have some questions to ask of you." The superhuman doubted Eryntse would have any valuable information in terms of prison. On the other hand, he was just as confused of his state in prison like this pinkish wad of flesh. "So, what have you been detained for?"
"For pretending to be someone else, I think?" Eryntse made nervous knots into her fingers. "They say it is a crime, which I don't understand why..." Her words started to trail off.
"Okay," Blitz was confused even more. How could she pretend herself as a someone? She was not even humanoid to begin with! He was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt - for now. After all, there are much more important matters to talk about. "Did they ever told you how long we are going to stand here?"
"No, they never told me my time. Or your time either. We might be in jail forever," Eryntse's eyeless face began to break into tears as though the last sentence was an awful truth she just realized. "I don't want to be in jail foreveeeeeerrrrrrrr."
"Don't do that," Blitz groaned as Eryntse prepared to dive into lachrymose. "In fact." A pause. "I might have a plan."
"Yes I do." In fact, Blitz did not. He honestly had no idea. For Pete's Sake, he just woke up in a small and dirty cell. How could she be so naive as to trust a man who basically spent most of his prison experience being unconscious in a floating medieval castle? He highly doubted that he could make a decent plan on the spot unless--
"HEY GUYS, WOULD YOU SHUT UP," a voice shouted - a voice belonging to one of those ubiquitous knights.
"In fact," Blitz smiled to the intrigued Eryntse. "Here is what you need to do..."
Fourteen sighed. Twenty-Five was normally far more reserved than this; he must have downed a whole damned bottle of cloudwhiskey before coming here. It was disappointing to see such a promising knight partake in such unprofessional conduct. And because of it, Fourteen now had to watch not only the prisoners, but also his drunken colleague. Fourteen was just cynical enough to believe Twenty-Five had gotten himself drunk intentionally, in hopes of making someone else's day worse than his own.
And it didn't help Fourteen's mood that his prisoner had suddenly decided to start asking him dozens of inane questions.
"What's your favorite color?" Eryntyse asked. "Do you have a dog? Where do babies come from? Will you sing me a song?"
Fourteen simply stood there, refusing to answer her. Unfortunately, this did nothing to dissuade the worm-creature.
"When's Christmas? How do they make that armor? Do you like pudding? Are those metal boots comfortable?"
Blitz smirked. Eryntyse's half of the plan was working nicely. Now it was his turn. He walked up to the bars, getting as close as he could to Twenty-Five's helmet. Then he started humming softly.
It wasn't long before the drunken knight joined in, and shortly after that, he decided the tune needed some lyrics.
"Ninety-nine bottles of cloudwhiskey on the wall, ninety-nine bottles of cloudwhiskey..."
Three verses later, Fourteen decided he couldn't take it any more. One of these annoyances would have to go, and it would be faster to deal with the one who wasn't on the other side of a needlessly complex lock.
He walked over to Blitz's cell and punched Twenty-Five in the head, knocking him to the floor.
"If you're still conscious," he said, "then I've got a few words you should hear about proper conduct. First of all--"
He didn't have a chance to finish before a blast of lightning flung the cell door off its hinges, knocking him into the opposite wall.
"--don't drink on the job," he concluded, before passing out.
Blitz walked over to Fourteen's unconscious form and grabbed his keys. Then he took a look at the lock on Eryntyse's door and decided the keys would be too slow.
"Stand back," he said.
Eryntyse moved to the far end of her cell, and Blitz blasted the lock. It fell apart, and he motioned for her to follow.
"Thaaaank you!" Eryntyse gushed, rushing towards him. She coiled around him lightly; Blitz was worried at first, but it soon became clear that the worm-creature just wanted to give him a hug.
"You're welcome," he said, laughing nervously. "Now, can you let me go? We need to get out of here before the knights find us."
Somewhat reluctantly, Eryntyse released him.
"Okay. So where are we going?"
And then Blitz realized he hadn't thought that far ahead.
"I've had enough!" Three growled, slamming his armored fist against the table. "We cannot simply sit by and do nothing while the Moonlight Queen terrorizes the cloudscape!"
"Oh, you're absolutely right, Three," Fifteen grumbled. "Let's send a half-dozen of our best men after her... Oh, no, wait, we tried that. And every last one of them died."
"I'm not denying we could stand a change in tactics," Three conceded. "But we need to act. We have to stop her, for the sake of the people!"
"You talk as if we didn't just nearly lose forty-seven men to one intruder," Twelve interjected. "As best as I can tell, it was pure luck we were able to subdue him."
"Then we should be training these fools better!" Three shouted. "I've read the reports. More than three-quarters of our injuries were from our own men charging right into each other. Surely we can teach them to do better than that."
"I don't think you realize just how thickheaded some of our men are, Three," Fifteen replied. "Now listen, I don't like the Moonlight Queen situation any better than you do. But be realistic. We've tried and failed to take her on, we've recruited dozens of new men and they're mostly hopeless, I really don't see what other option there is."
"Well, dammit, we should be trying to find one!" Three said, pounding the table again. "If we don't stop her, who will?"
At that very moment, the door swung open, revealing two escaped prisoners with no idea which door they were looking for.
Blitz waved awkwardly.
The knights descended on him immediately.
Two minutes later, Blitz was unconscious yet again, and Eryntyse had fled. The worm-creature, however, was not the three knights' prime concern.
"This is the intruder who incapacitated forty-seven men?" Three asked skeptically. "He didn't put up much of a fight."
"This is him, all right," Fifteen said. "Same man we found near Sixty-Two. I'll take him back down to the dungeon, and have a stern talk with Twenty-Five..."
"Fine. But once you do that, I want you right back here to discuss the Moonlight Queen."
"I don't see what there is to discuss, Three. I've got nothing to say I haven't already, and for that matter, neither do you."
"Er... Actually, may I make a suggestion?" Twelve asked suddenly.
"What is it?" Three and Fifteen both asked.
"Well... I just realized two things. First, we can't afford to risk any of our own men to fight the Moonlight Queen. Second, our prisoner here, who managed to knock out forty-seven knights on his own, is not one of our men."
The other two knights stared at him, then turned their eyes to the unconscious prisoner.
Then Three burst into laughter.
"You're a clever one, Twelve. I like you." He patted the junior knight on the shoulder, then lifted up Blitz. "I'll get him some spare armor and a mount. Twelve and Fifteen, you two go and track down that worm."
"I still have to give Twenty-Five a lecture," Fifteen grumbled, shuffling off with Twelve.
Three ignored him. He simply smiled under his helmet and headed for the armory.
"Let's see if we can't make a hero out of you today, boy."
When you sign up to be a time traveling mercenary-assassin, you usually don’t think about the downsides. Partly, that’s because you’re probably young and excitable and not yet worldly enough to know to think about them (that’s how they get you, after all), but partly it’s that when you do think of them, violent death and becoming stranded in an uncivilized era tend to blot out the others.
One of the most rarely noticed is the loss of wonder one has for the workings of the universe. When bombarded with a constant stream of bizarre circumstances most would relegate to fantasy or heavy drug use, and then told, generally, to steal, destroy, or kill everything in sight, one’s worldview tends to skew a little.
"Ahhh, yesss, you..."
Thus, while he rode a boat chained to a cloud and driven by fifty men on wing-oars, away from a city carved from a cloud and surrounded by a golden sphere of magical plasma that was both a shield against invaders and apparently the sun? Jacob just gazed over the railing wondering why they couldn’t go any faster.
"Many things in ssstore for you, yes."
Strictly speaking, he could boost the engines, but without an external source of energy, he’d burn through his reserves a lot faster than he’d like. It’d be easier to just tunnel to his destination once they were closer. ...As though he had a destination in mind. Or a plan. Although, if he could figure out-
"Good things, some. Mostly not."
Jacob realized with a start that he was being talked at. He turned to look-
"But you... yesss, you shall overcome all trials set bef-"
"Oh for the love of- no."
It was the old seer or whatever from the tavern. Naturally.
"No time for this."
"I swear to god, say destiny ahead of you next and I'll kick you overboard."
The old man grumbled and dropped into a sit beside the swordsman. "Jussst trying to do my job. Hard enough finding sssomeone ssstrong enough-"
"And for the love of Christ will you drop that fake lisp."
"...strong enough to kill the Moonlight Queen. Let alone willing. Let alone prophesized."
Jacob tapped a foot irritably, but the conversation was a welcome distraction. "Well I'm definitely not willing, and your prophecies couldn’t possibly have me in them. Wrong universe for that."
"Unknown, unnamed not-quite-knight, farther than far from home? Short of limb, long of years, out of place wherever they go? That’sss- aheh, that’s not you?"
The conversation ceased being a welcome distraction. Jacob glared sullenly off into the distance, grumbling something about his limbs being of at least average length, thank you.
"That’sss not what I meant and you know it."
"Quiet. You're being purposefully vague. Could be talking about anyone."
The pair fell into silence again. Jacob listened to the muffled drone of the engines, trying to let his mind drift back to the bat-
The, um... Huh. Fucker works quickly. Okay, change of plans.
"...Is the Midnight Queen’s castle the big, spooky grey one, by any chance? Over on that stormcloud?"
"Tch! You're being vague! Could be- ow!" The old seer rubbed his head, grumbling. "Alright, alright..."
He squinted towards the indicated bastion. Looked bigger than he remembered. Closer, too, and there was something... odd, but... "Yes, that’s the one. What of it?"
"You humor me, I might humor you. I’m not a huge fan of fate, but if it’ll happen, it’ll happen, right?"
"That’s not exssactly how-"
"Just shut up and tell me the fastest way to get there."
Eryntse had been captured again.
She’d not been particularly difficult to track down – she might’ve managed a passable knightly disguise, if she hadn’t kept standing too close to people and telling them not to throw her back in prison. They had decided, thankfully, to not do that, and were instead sending her on a special mission with her jailfriend! Yaaaaay!
"What we’re going to do," Three patiently explained, "is load you into that metal case," he pointed, "and load that into the cannon," he pointed, "and launch you over to that castle," he pointed, "at which you and your psychopath buddy are going to track down the Moonlight Queen and kill her."
Wasn’t it exciting! Yes! It was! She was totally not terrified by the prospect of having to oh god oh god no this was worse than jail could she just pretty please go back to-
There was a hiss and a clank and a BOOM and she jumped and lost her nerve and lost her disguise and lost her balance and completely failed to see the dull grey bullet housing Blitz arc gracefully through the air and plow less-gracefully through stone and mortar and the edge of a stained glass window. The knights began cheering and she stood and joined in and only after it’d died away did she think to ask what were they were cheering about? Eryntse had the distinct impression she’d been doing something important, but had forgotten what it was in all the excitement that she didn’t know the purpose for. What was she doing, again?
"Arright boys, load ‘er up."
Oh. Right. Crap.
Six knights hoisted her writhing, uncooperative mass, and unceremoniously dumped her in the metal shell which she was becoming increasingly convinced would be her coffin. Any attempts to escape were met with attempts to pack her back in – they hadn’t even managed to make her coffin big enough! She was going to have some very strong words with the undertaker when she got out.
"D’she ever shu’up?"
There was a shove and a clang and a snap and a muffled dear God it’s heavy and wait crap she was sealed in oh god oh god oh god she was going to suffocate and die and aaaaaaaaaa I’m too young to dieeeee and I never got to feel his scaaaaarf nooooo
"I’she still goin’?"
Aaaaa gosh, screaming was tiring and if she was going to die (she was going to dieeeee aaaaa) then she may as well put her energy into looking nice for her funeral.
"...Think she fainted."
"Bloody finally. I’s getting sick of ‘er yammerin’."
The cannon was loaded and swung ponderously back towards the Grey keep. Steam hissed, gears ground, a guard shouted as he slammed through the doors with a sword through his should
"Dammit, don’t tell me I missed my ride!"
Three was already drawing his sword as he turned to the interloper: a man half-clad in half-plate, retrieving his own blade even as he... barked out... orders...?
"You two! Escort this one to the infirmary; he’s not in fit condition to be moving on his own. You, send for reinforcements. You should help him if more guards aren’t near, or help these three restrain me if he can manage."
He waltzed over to the cannon's base, looking around expectantly. "C’mon, I don’t have all day. This isn’t even my hundredth time barging into a room full of guards, you all do –"
Three stepped up and swung. The intruder barely bothered to look over as he parried the strike with his right forearm. He sighed, caught the blade under his elbow and twisted over Three, bashing a knight with the hilt of his sword in mid-air. He landed in a crouch, hoisting Three over his back and slamming him into the ground.
"– the same goddamned thing." The man stood, turning to slug another knight mid-ambush.
Someone had gone and taken the knight with the shoulder wound away. Someone had gone for reinforcements. Funny how that worked, thought Three, lunging and missing as the mystery man leapt atop the cannon.
Three clambered up after him, wobbling unsteadily on the fat iron barrel. The intruder smiled – he was enjoying this! – and took a bow. "Jacob Helix, at your service."
Three grit his teeth. "You’re a madman." The Helix man shrugged, lunging. Their blades clashed, and again. Three had to admit, Helix was a challenge. His parries turned their swordplay into a game of cat-and-mouse, daring the old knight to find an opening around his whirling blade. Even the blows that should have hit all seemed to pierce but air.
Nevertheless, he didn’t seem to be pressing the offensive, and the knight drove Helix steadily back towards the lip of the barrel. The latter set a foot onto nothing and nearly lost his balance – but the mistake was made, and Three managed to slip the tip of his blade under the intruder’s chin.
"Right. There’s three ways you’re getting out of this: quietly, on a cot, or in a coffin."
He... laughed? This intruder had the gall to laugh after maiming some of Six For Gold's best knights?! ...Not a remarkable accomplishment, all things considered, but still!
"I admire your persistance! Captain of the guard, I take it? Listen, I’d love to see this through, but I just don’t have the time."
Helix swept out a leg and knocked Three from his perch. The old knight landed on his arm, felt the bone snap. He rolled onto his back and just lay there, aching.
The intruder sneered down at him. "I choose option four: getting away with it."
"You..." Three shifted, and pain shot down his side. He coughed, tasted blood. A moment passed as he found his voice. "You won’t get away... There’s... nowhere for you to run. Men...!"
Helix laughed again. "A fine speech from an honorable man! But I’m afraid you’re not the first to make it, and I’ve a friend who’s painstakingly developed what I agree is an excellent counterargument."
Six guards burst onto the battlement, four nocking arrows as they moved to surround the intruder.
"Now, how did it go, again...?"
A valve towards the base of the cannon spun of its own accord.
A lever clicked into place.
Jacob stepped off of the cannon.
"And all of your shit."
There was a hiss and a clank and a BOOM
And he was gone.
Last edited by Not The Author; 01-23-2013 at 07:51 PM.
Lodged in a stone waiting for the true king of Ingland
Re: The Battle Majestic (Round 4 - Magpie Skies)
Steven couldn’t tear his eyes away from the imposing shape of the grey queen, still distant but drawing closer with every moment that passed. His throat felt suddenly dry, his body was tense. It seemed as though the world had fallen silent and all he could hear was the furious pounding of his own heart. It was a fight or flight moment, except neither seemed like a viable option. The thought of him attempting to fight a dragon (or near enough) was patently absurd, but what were his other options? Even if everyone could get onto the red dragon before she arrived there was no chance of losing the grey queen in the clear blue skies; it would only delay the confrontation that bit longer. And on foot all he could do was retreat into the castle and hope he wouldn’t be pursued. In terms of survivability it was the best option he had, but it meant abandoning those who he’d been trying to protect to the very thing he’d been trying to protect them from.
He glanced back at the queens, whose bickering and fighting to get their place on the back of the dragon had only gotten worse with the approach of the grey queen, and cursed under his breath. The logical course of action was obvious, but he just could not bring himself to take it, as stupid as he knew that was.
Steven went to say: “Get them out of here, I’ll hold off the grey queen for as long as I can.” and was surprised to find that Violet beat him to it.
“No, I’ll do that, you get the queens somewhere safe.” Steven argued. “I wouldn’t even know where to take them.”
“Just get Jonquil to point you in the direction of her castle. You should be able to hold out against the grey queen there; her numbered knights are really quite effective when she’s around.” Violet replied dismissively. When he didn’t respond she turned and looked him in the eye. “Steven, get out of here. This isn’t your fight.”
“I’m not going anywhere.” Steven replied firmly. There was no time to argue; the grey queen was swooping down onto the rooftop adjacent from where the other queens still clamoured to board the dragon.
“Okay fine, come on.” Violet replied as she darted to put herself between the grey queen and the others. She gripped the Byzantium coloured blade tightly in her hands, a look of grim determination across her face. Steven came to a stop beside her and endeavoured to show that same kind of ‘I shall not be moved’ determination, but it was undercut by the creeping realization of what he was doing.
The grey queen loomed over them both, half again as tall as they were. Her talons were razor sharp, carving into the stone of the roof beneath her. Everything about her was sharp; from the numerous spines running down her back, to the skewer-like blackened spikes that were her teeth and the slit like silver eyes that glared at the purple queen and the would-be hero. But Steven was no hero. It just wasn’t in him. He was just some kid putting on a show; trying to look like he knew what he was doing in front of a group of beautiful women. He’d never felt quite so out of his depth. Nervously, uselessly, he tightened his fists and his gloves did the same as they hung in front of him, as though getting ready for a bout of fisticuffs.
“Charcoal, stop there!” Violet proclaimed confidently. “I will not allow you to take us again.”
The grey queen paid her no heed. She looked past them, her attention resting on the other queens and the candy red dragon they were almost settled upon. She drew back and she roared. It was short; a warning, more menacing than it was angry and more loud than it was anything else. The dragon shifted, turned to face the grey queen and the unceasing bickering seemed to pick up anew. Though it was larger than she was, it seemed less intimidating; a warmer colour and free of spikes and spines and talons and teeth.
A short moment passed and the queen roared again; this one was longer and with it she took a step towards them. Steven took a hesitant step backwards, though Violet stood firm. The red dragon panicked. He roared and kicked and bucked and flung those queens that had managed to scrabble atop him off. As he took flight only the green queen was left clinging desperately onto him. After the grey queen’s roar concluded there was a rare moment of silence between the queens as they picked themselves up and recovered their senses. Of course it didn’t last long before they started blaming one another for taking so long and insisting that they had the best seats, and look at the mess that their dress was in now, this dust was never going to come out.
Before Steven could really react the grey queen was transforming. Her spines and wings seemed to just melt away, her body reshaping itself as though she was as insubstantial as smoke. She became more slender, sleeker; though no less imposing. Though she took the shape of a person she didn’t really look like a person. Her dress, her skin and her hair were all the same shade of inky black; only her eyes of piercing silver, the only features on her almost featureless face, were not. Her dress, thin and figure-hugging and elegant seemed to hang in the air where it trailed after her.
“What the hell is this?” The grey queen demanded; though there was no trace of anger in her honeyed voice. She sounded bitter and hateful and more than a little irritated, but there was no rage there; such would imply that this was a problem that could not be solved at a moment’s notice. “Why is some surface-dweller peasant trying to steal my women?”
“Steven has stolen no-one; he rescued us!” Violet countered angrily. “We’re not your women; we’re not anybody’s women.”
“But you are mine; my pretty little birds, you’ve gotten out of your cage but will you come home or will you try to fly away?” She paused. “It’s such a long way down.”
From somewhere he didn’t know he had, something resembling courage bubbled to Steven’s surface. “Give it up Grey Queen; they won’t be bowed by you any more!”
“Oh look it talks.” She scoffed. “Though nobody told it that I am the Midnight Queen now; grey is such an inelegant colour. Midnight sounds so much grander wouldn’t you agree?”
“It doesn’t matter what you call yourself-”
“Shut up Violet.” The midnight queen interrupted. “I grow tired of this confrontation. Peasant, you say that they won’t be ‘bowed by me any more’? Why don’t we ask them?” She turned her attention to the queens, who were for once silent. “What do you think dears? Do you want to join poor misguided Violet and her earthborn peasant in one pathetic last stand? Or would you rather go back to your room and see another day?”
There was an expectant silence that the queens seemed reluctant to break; mayhap they had been hoping that they could stay out of this fight by simply not picking sides until it was over. Then the confident voice of the white queen cut through the indecision: “You know I rather think I kind of like this old grey castle. Perhaps it would be nice to spend another night here after all.” This was followed by a general murmur of agreement from the other queens and a slight chuckle from the midnight queen herself.
“Pearl!” Violet exclaimed, looking around at the white queen, who responded by folding her arms and turning away. “You’re all going to just let her do what she wishes with you?”
“I thought that you might feel this way.” The midnight queen said with half a smirk. “I’m sure a brace of my minions would be only too happy to see you back to your room while I deal with these troublemakers.”
The minions had until this point just been sort of staying out of everyone’s way, maybe due to a general distaste for conflict or perhaps because they didn’t really want to draw attention to the fact that they might have been helping the queens escape, but they snapped to something resembling attention as the midnight queen barked out a short string of commands in angry minionese. The surrendered queens made their way past Violet, Steven and the Midnight Queen, awkwardly trying not to look any of the three in the eye as they did so and were ‘lead’ by the minions down the stairway and back into the castle proper.
“Well while it has been fun watching you squirm Violet, I think that it is time you put that blade down and went back to your cell.” The levity was gone from her voice now, all that remained was irritation.
“No.” Violet replied simply.
“You do realize you can’t win?” The midnight queen asked. “Nobody is coming to help you, you know. Your kingdom isn’t up in arms, preparing to wage futile war against me. They bowed the knee, they offered me tribute. When you die you will die alone; a pathetic meaningless death. Are you sure you wouldn’t rather be mine?”
“Yes.” Violet’s expression was not one of hurt or hatred, but rather one of grim determination. With a deep breath she tightened her grip upon her blade.
“Fine.” The midnight queen sighed. “Let’s get this over with then.”
Immediately she started to transform again; the same process as before except in reverse. Steven’s stomach sank as he realized that this was finally it; that there is no way that this confrontation could be delayed any further. Violet however had no such problem; without a moment’s hesitation she ran towards the transforming grey queen and plunged the blade into her gut, pushing on it until it was hilt-deep and the blade protruded from the other side of her thin body. The grey queen halfway between forms reacted with something that was somewhere between a scream and a roar, and instinctively lashed out with a slash towards Violet. She dodged back, but not far enough or quick enough.
The midnight queen’s claws sliced through her dress and her skin as though it were nothing, leaving three parallel wounds on her shoulder. She yelped and stumbled further backwards while pale lavender blood leaked from the wounds, soaking her now tattered dress. Violet stared down at her shoulder and winced as she tentatively clenched her fist. She decided she was fine, or fine enough to keep fighting if only, she glanced up, her sword wasn’t lodged in the stomach of a dragon. The midnight queen loomed over her, roaring furiously now. She drew back to attack again, and was punched in the face by a disembodied fist. Steven’s other glove darted all the way around the queen to sneak past her guard and punch her in the hilt of the lodged blade. Her roar of pain was ear-splitting.
The ground trembled beneath them; the sound of glass shattering and stone crumbling drowned out by the deafening roar. For a moment Steven thought that it was the queen roaring so loud that it was tearing the castle apart. He stumbled backwards and tried to steady himself, but there was nothing to steady himself on and so he fell onto his arse. Violet had attempted to use the grey queen’s momentary distraction by Steven’s gloves to swoop in and pull out the sword, she managed to pull the sword free but fell when the ground shook. The sword was knocked from her hand and skidded to rest near the parapet behind her. The midnight queen slashed down, but Violet rolled quickly to the side and clambered up, wincing as she put pressure on her injured arm.
One of Steven’s gloves got a good punch in on the grey queen’s gut wound, staining the glove with gooey silver blood. The grey queen stifled a roar and slashed at the glove; it dodged nimbly aside with nary a scratch. The other glove swooped in and went for her wound and it was at this point that she seemed to realize that attacking the gloves directly was about as effective as trying to swat at flies.
Steven hadn’t even managed to climb to his feet after being knocked down. Even aside from that had been completely superfluous to the entire battle; his gloves were more or less acting of their own accord. He was just standing, well sitting around like a spare part, part shocked at their success thus far and part hopeful that he might just get through this after all. The grey queen turned and leapt at him, moving through the air like a ribbon being pulled after a stick. In but a moment she was standing over him. In a panic Steven kicked out at her spindly legs, but they proved surprisingly sturdy and he couldn’t even knock her off-balance. The midnight queen reached down and closed her fist around Steven’s head, pausing only a moment before slamming it hard against the stone floor.
Violet stabbed her blade into the midnight queen’s flank; though this time she lacked the strength to embed it so thoroughly. The midnight queen responded with a snarl and a swipe of her tail knocking Violet to the ground; her blade skittered from her hands once more. Steven’s head was swimming, his ears ringing. He flailed uselessly, failing to make contact with anything and knowing somewhere in the haze of his mind that even if he had it wouldn’t have made any difference. His gloves weaved through the air as though drunk. They attempted another swing at the grey queen, but didn’t even come close. The midnight queen’s fist was still curled tight around Steven’s head; she raised it, ready to slam it down and smash it rather decisively against the stone floor, when a nervous chorus of chittering minions interrupted her.
They were rather keen to inform her that the castle seemed to be under attack and if it wouldn’t be too much trouble they’d appreciate it if she would so something about the pods crashing through the castle walls, and as if on cue the castle shook once again as another pod smashed its way in. The midnight queen hesitated for a moment, glancing off into the distance where a glinting golden castle was just barely visible. Reluctantly she let Steven go, and with a roar that seemed to indicate that she wasn’t done with them yet, she took flight to deal with the attack.
In her wake everything was silent and still for a minute or so. Violet slowly got to her feet, suddenly feeling a hell of a lot worse now that the adrenaline of the fight itself had worn off. She gathered the sword from where it had fallen and then hurried to Steven’s side. He was barely conscious, limp and plastered with sweat. His head wasn’t bleeding but he was badly bruised. She called for aid from the lingering minions, and while they ran off to fetch a roll of bandages, an icepack and a whole packet of sticking plasters she talked to Steven. She told him to stay awake and reassured him that it was going to be alright though in truth she was less than certain. When the minions got back she applied the icepack to Steven’s head and tentatively bandaged up her shoulder, and eventually with those things done she helped Steven to his feet. He was still a little groggy but more lucid than he had been even if he did need a shoulder to lean on.
“So what now?” He asked.
“You’re asking me? I never thought we’d live this long.” Violet paused. “I guess we go back inside and try and see if we can find another way off of this place?” She tried to sound hopeful, though she couldn’t conceive of any reason why the grey queen would have another means of transport just lying around the place. But despite the forced optimism she hesitated from making her way inside the castle proper and stared out at the endless blue skies, at a small patch of blue that wasn’t quite the right blue and which seemed to be getting closer. A magic carpet… Their ticket out of here! “Hey!” she waved vigorously with her free arm. “Over here!”
As it drew closer it was possible to see that it was being ridden by three hunched figures; the pilot (a blue carpeteer) and two passengers. In an offhanded way Violet noticed that they were, like Steven, not colour co-ordinated, but it was a detail that didn’t seem important when their rescue was here. She didn’t really think about until the carpet landed and Steven’s grip on her shoulder tightened.
“Steven! Excellent, just the man I was looking for.” Talis said cheerfully as he stepped off the carpet. “S, I would appreciate it if you could settle our account with this fine gentleman while I arrange us some further transportation.”
“Steven, are these… friends… of yours?” Violet asked hesitantly. She felt she already knew that the answer to this question was no, but it would have been remiss not to ask.
“These are the two who started this battle.” In principle Steven supposed he should despise both of the gentlemen; they were after all responsible for this whole wretched affair. However he always seemed to be dealing with one situation or another and he’d never really stopped and thought about their role in all of this. So in practice what he felt from the sudden presence of Sruix and Talis was a feeling of wariness. Okay that woman had said that they’d had their powers practically stripped from them but even a fraction of the powers that they’d had had to be pretty dangerous didn’t it?
“Now now, there’s no call for violence here.” Talis spoke in calm, soothing tones that suggested he was here in a peaceful capacity and held his palms up as if to demonstrate this. It was at this point that Steven noticed that Violet had drawn her sword from her makeshift scabbard. Sruix and the carpeteer had descended from the magic carpet, but had paused in whatever business they were doing.
“Violet, this isn’t your fight.” Steven said. “You should just get out of here.” In response she just cracked a smile.
“You really haven’t a clue Steven Taylor. I’m not going anywhere.” She paused. “Besides without me you can barely even stand.” Steven had to concede she had a point there.
“Hold on, there’s clearly a certain amount of misunderstanding here.” Sruix said. “We don’t mean any harm.”
“We are in fact here because we want to help.” Talis cut in. He paused a moment; Steven didn’t look entirely convinced. “Or, well, because we can help one another.”
“Why would I want to help you? This entire thing is your fault.” Steven snapped back.
“It is undeniable that we are to blame, but… you were paying attention during the transition, right? We’re rather unfortunately not in charge any more. Now we are in more or less the same situation as you; one could argue that we are worse off as we don’t have the opportunity to win our freedom. We aren’t contestants; we’re just casualties waiting to happen.” Talis insisted. “Not that I’m trying to cheapen your own plight. These are the just the facts as they stand. We’re both in pretty bad situations here, and since I happen to know for a fact that we can help one another out of those situations, why would we not?”
There was a long pause. Steven had to admit that the former gentleman had a point and that refusing what could be a significant help simply because of who that help was coming from was kind of short-sighted and not in his own best interests. But whatever concessions he might make he could not and would not forget that Talis was still the architect of this unpleasant situation. Reluctantly he said: “Fine, I’ll hear you out at the very least.”
“I’d really appreciate it if we could talk without the implied threat of physical violence.” Talis eyed Violet’s Byzantium coloured blade.
“And I think you should stop wasting our time.” Violet replied. “You know where we are right? You want to still be around when the grey queen comes back?” She paused, mentally reminding herself that this was Steven’s fight and sheathed the blade. “Whatever; just don’t push your luck.” With the weapon out of sight Sruix and the carpeteer went back to their discussion on how exactly they were paying their fare.
“Noted.” Talis replied. “Let’s cut to it then. All three of us want out of this battle and you have the means to get us out; your gloves. As you figured during the last round they have the capability to open up a path between one universe and another, a portal of sorts.”
“So why do I need you?” Steven asked. “What do you bring to this bargain?”
“Did it not strike you as odd functionality for a glove that pretty much exclusively creates and destroys?” Talis asked. “You are not opening a pathway that already exists, you are creating that pathway. Think of it like you’re trapped on one island and for whatever reason you need to be on another island. Your gloves cannot teleport you there, but they could create a bridge. It’s the same principle only on a much larger and more slightly metaphysical scale.”
“That’s… interesting,” Steven ventured, “but I still don’t see what I need you for.”
“Imagine how much energy it would take to create that bridge from one island to another. It would leave you exhausted.” Talis said. “Done on a universal scale you could drain yourself of every last ounce of energy you possess and still come up short; not to mention that coming up short in universal terms would mean that what you’d have would be a gateway to the Timeless Interstice which trust me when I tell you is not a thing you want to have. Now granted S and I have lost the bulk of our power but I’d wager that between us we have enough to open a gateway out of here.”
Steven extricated himself from Violet’s shoulder, though an arm trailed behind for balance. He wasn’t perfectly stable but he was better than he had been. He still kind of felt like throwing up but he suspected that that was more down to the situation than anything else. “I’m not giving you my gloves.”
“Nor should you.” Talis quickly replied. “While S and I have the power, we don’t have the experience at using the gloves to trust ourselves to be capable of such a complex feat of creation. We can channel our power into the gloves whilst you retain control. How does that sound?”
“I don’t know.” Steven replied. “I need time to think.”
“Unfortunately you don’t really have it.” Sruix cut in, having finally dealt with payment for the carpeteer. The carpeteer in question was in fact still hanging around, somehow smoking a cigarette and most likely hoping that one of the four might need a ride out of this bad neck of the woods. “I really don’t think the Executrix is going to just sit around and let us escape from her battle. If we’re getting out of here we need to do it quick before she can intervene.”
“But, what about Jacob and the others…”
“Your loyalty is admirable, but you know Jacob. He can take care of himself.” Talis replied. “And the others, well one of them is an unsociable plant monster, another is a woman you never even met and Blitz, and well… he’s not really a pleasant person. You should have seen how many people he killed in that last round.”
Steven was kind of blindsided. Was this really how it was? Were there really so few people left?
“Is it really worth trying to save the others when such an attempt will inevitably doom yourself?” Talis asked, and instantly Steven realized that he already knew the answer.
“Yes.” He said. “It’s always better to try to be a hero and fail than to be a coward and succeed.” Steven was adamant. His resolve was clear.
Talis scowled. “Damned idealists.” He muttered. “You do realise that you’re as good as condemning us to death?”
“Maybe you deserve it?” Steven suggested. “After what you have done I don’t know how you can have the nerve to stand there and tell me about how bad you have it and expect me to give a f–” Steven had more to say, but he didn’t have the opportunity to say it. Before he knew what was happening he was falling and unconscious. Violet stood over him, a wistful look on her face.
“I thought you two were supposed to be friends?” Talis asked. “I mean I don’t blame you, he was getting rather holier-than-thou.” Violet turned and glared at Talis, quickly reducing him to silence.
“Steven’s a good man. I won’t let him throw away his chance at freedom over a principle.” Violet said. “He deserves better than to be made to participate in your fight to the death.” Talis gestured as if to renounce any ownership of the fight to the death, but Violet continued regardless. “Get out of here, before this Executioner or whatever tries to put a stop to it.” She strode towards the carpeteer, who quickly stubbed out his cigarette and looked to stand to attention. “And don’t you dare harm him.”
“You have my word.” Sruix promised. Violet sighed, but she had things she needed to do for herself.
“Where’re yer off ta?” The carpeteer asked.
“Fuchsia Palace.” Violet said. “And if you get me there before everyone starts dying there’ll be a bonus.” They climbed aboard the carpet, the carpeteer moving with more haste than he had for Sruix and Talis, and promptly they were gone.
“So, what now?” Sruix asked. Talis stopped where he was, turned to look at his companion and raised an eyebrow as if to say ‘really?’
“Take a glove and start feeding your energy in.” He instructed when it was clear Sruix wasn’t kidding. Talis had already picked up one of the gloves from where it had dropped when Steven had been knocked out, and he quickly tossed the other one to his colleague.
“So you were telling the truth then?” Sruix asked.
“Would I lie to you?” Talis asked affecting a mock hurt voice as though it pained him so to have his integrity called into question.
“Of course.”Sruix replied.“I suppose you still can’t tell me how it is that we’re going to avoid the all-seeing eye of the Executrix when we get out of here?”No response.“No I thought not. I’m done.”He threw the glove back to Talis who caught it easily.“How about how we’re going to use the gloves when the only person they respond to is not only unconscious but also unwilling to cooperate with us even if he was awake? That’d be a trick.”
Talis didn’t respond. Slowly he let go of the gloves and they continued to float there. A smile spread across his face.
“How did you manage that?”Sruix asked incredulously.
“I ‘rewired’ the enchantment.” Talis responded distantly. “Unbound the gloves from Steven, bound them to me instead.”
“Oh, huh, nice thinking.”Sruix paused.“Should we, uh, get going then? Don’t want to tempt fate you know?”He could tell from Talis’ hesitation that something was wrong, but he asked anyway, hoping against hope that he was wrong.
“I’m sorry Sruix, but I’ve not been entirely honest with you.” Talis began. “We’re not escaping because as you said, there’s nowhere we could escape to where she wouldn’t eventually be able to find us. Honestly if not betraying you had been an option I would have taken it, but things are as they are I can only be concerned with my own survival.”
“And this helps you how?”Sruix folded his arms irritably.“You now have magical gloves but do you really think that that is going to make a difference in the long run?”
“You weren’t much involved with the selection process were you Sruix? Take a look at him.” Talis nudged Steven’s unconscious body with his foot. Sruix sighed. “Indulge me.” Talis insisted. Sruix did so. “What does he have that makes him a contender for selection for a battle to the death? He’s not strong, he’s not fast, he’s brave apparently but I didn’t know that. What is the one thing that inspired me to select this loser?”
“His gloves?”Sruix suggested.
“Yes.” Talis grinned and flexed the fingers of the gloves. “A pair of extremely powerful magical items; crafted by someone powerful enough to be a Grandmaster himself. They have a sort of rudimentary intelligence you know. They can operate on their own if the need arises; they can think and learn and remember and I think they don’t like me very much but that’s not the point. There have certainly been less intelligent contestants and they have been successful enough.”
“Wait, are you saying…?”Sruix trailed off.
“Correct.” Talis replied. “The gloves are the contestant, or well the core of the contestant. It’s a composite thing, it’s a bit technical. The point is that whoever owns the gloves is at least half a contestant and under the rules you can’t actively kill a contestant. So all I need to do is win the battle and the Executrix can’t touch me.”
“All you need to do?”
“Yes I’m well aware it’s something of a tall order, but at least it’s a chance. It’s more than what she gave me.” Talis focused on the air in front of him, clenched his fists, all four of them, and after a moment a slender black rapier appeared in the air before him. He snatched it up, took a couple of swipes and grinned. “Thanks for your energy old friend. I’ve got to go now; got myself a battle to win, you know. I hope you don’t die too horribly.”