Begun: 15/5/2002. Ended: 9/6/2002.
Rating: All audiences. By this I mean the sort of stuff you wouldn’t mind exposing your underage sibling to, for though it might seem subversive to some, it is so in a manner far too subtle for the inquisitors to catch. Eh-heh.
Disclaimer: SWAT Kats is the property of whoever owns it at present, and as such, everybody else is barred from making money off this franchise. So please don’t get after me; I’m just a loving fan who’s writing this for no good reason, for faceless people he’ll never see. I can barely get these buggers to read it for free, leave alone pay for it!
Notes: I have liberally borrowed settings and items from certain works, mixed them with my own ideas, then tossed it all together in the pot for three minutes at 56000 rpm. Keep an eye out for this and that that I pilfered. There’s a list at the end: see if you can snare them all. Also, I have decided upon a comparatively laid-back, easy-on-the-noodles writing style–there’s no need to ruin my vacation.
***This is the line-breaks version.***
Ground Pepper (The original title)
Life is strange when one is so very young. The world within hearing range is daunting enough for a half-size; that traversed by sight is downright scary. All around the child lurk forces beyond comprehension and control, sifting through the lacunae of daily existence, forces heaving and drawing at things that move, present in every nook and cranny, skulking in the shadows. Daddies and Mummies in their unconcern may be unsurpassed as bastions of sanctuary, signs that not all is amiss, and yet this very nonchalance is at once both reassuring *and* unsettling. You know wherefore I speak. The comforted child feels different. Misunderstood. The child thus pacified and baffled will repair to familiar haunts, a personal fief where he or she can exert purpose upon pliable things, things that bend before will.
The child will play with mud.
Very well, goes the thought, if there must be magic in the world today, let me have some of it in my grasp!
What follows is a matter of course. The sphere of awareness contracts to almost nothing as the little person becomes engrossed. Life may be strange, but life is magical as well. And that’s the way it is even today, in this age of global networking and word processors and electronic mailing lists. Rest assured, the contemporary child shall eventually grow out of childhood, ending one story and beginning another.
Neither of which concerns us. I digress from the story at hand only to show by contrast modern ethos against a long-lost culture where the people did not outgrow magic as you and I did, but simply passed into expanded domains of deeper and undeniably more sinister magicks. Imagine a people illiterate, superstitious, racked with ailments and infirmities and terrorised by the spectre of malevolent uncertainty. Violent death by sword or fire or fang stares them in the face every moment of their pitiful existence. Those ‘lucky’ enough to survive must contend with famine and the plague, just two among a dozen other ills. Then there are taxes.
Now imagine a mere child–a girl–in the midst of all this. She is no ordinary girl. Undernourished, yes, by our over-sated standards, and granted, unremarkable to the eye, but central to our unfolding tale nonetheless. Her name is–unsurprisingly enough–Callista.
Callista Brigandine, daughter of a dying king, princess of the Keats, monarch-in-waiting. Ah, you say, now we’re getting somewhere. And corny though it sounds, *this*… is her story.
His eyes had been haunted. He stared through young Callista as if she wasn’t there, his one and only daughter. Gaze turned unseeing into someplace a thousand leagues away. She could still feel the moisture in her clammy palms. She vaguely remembered clenching and unclenching her fists as she had stood by her father’s bedside, keeping silent like all the indeterminate others in the stygian darkness were, wondering what exactly to do. An unbearable length of time passed with the little gathering persisting awkwardly, the near-comatose kat unable to make the first move towards breaking the stasis and the mourners unwilling to do the same.
There had been an impasse. Those around blinked back tears of sorrow or boredom and had resigned themselves to an ungainly hush, when all of a sudden–
Callista cringed at the memory. What had ensued moments after the congregation saw the pupils in the eyes of the king constrict was nothing short of pandemonium. An unearthly shriek; the blur and stampede of nurses slamming the possessed back onto the sheets; the brass lantern oscillating crazily, light and shade in a tug-of-war; her mother’s hysterics. The few coherent fragments she was able to pick out. Then… nothing, as her universe imploded into a carousel of shoves, midsections and bellowed orders and she found herself being hustled out into the blinding daylight.
Now only pain and sadness. She let the grief bring her down. Collapsing in a huddle, the floodgates burst wide open, hot, stinging tears cascading over her cheeks and drenching crinkled sleeves sent there to staunch the flow.
She was soon spent. Her head hurt something fierce, and, but for her burning resolve to do something, *anything* that would help save her father, she would have taken a rest. So she stopped crying, affecting what was a poor jab at stoicism. The way a true princess should behave…
What way exactly?
Well, the modern reader might assume she would essay that which nearly every archetypal princess of the Arthurian variety has done. Let’s see now:
1. Swoon (Hmm, highly unlikely, as she hadn’t read in some trashy novella that it was what one in her position was supposed to do, her being unlettered and all; besides, this only looks good on lissome lasses. Superimpose a pre- pubescent individual and the thing takes on a farcical character that approaches grotesque, I’m afraid).
2. Appear in the dreams of an underprivileged lad far, far away, asking for help, videlicet, “You’re the only one who can save me… oh, and the world, while you’re at it” (Beloved of minstrel ballads, space westerns and Playstation games. Though less indecisive than no. 1, it still reeks of whatever, so it won’t do).
3. Offer prayers and hand out sprigs to the departing troops.
That, however, was not the way she had been reared. No way! For these were the Dark Ages of mail and wild boar crests, a semi-barbaric interlude set between the dearly departed Latin empire and whatever sparkling wonder was yet to come, an era when all civilization was in a state of flux. The stratification would only take place centuries into the future. She was a *real* princess, next in line after her mother the queen, a royal in her own right, subservient to no silly convention.
No, the princess of the Keats took on a more proactive role.
So… what then? Would she assemble a host of stalwarts with herself in the van? Would she don leather and armaments and charge the enemy, startling them with high-register ululations, perhaps?
Perhaps. The student of such matters would most likely be eager to follow up on this line of thought. Good luck to him in his noble endeavour. He would be dead wrong. As for little Callista, she possessed littler patience than pragmatism, and so had quietly upped herself and started walking.
To cut a long story short, she proceeded only a short distance before she got somewhere–the settlement being circumscribed by a rude mud-and-rubble barrier surmounted by a palisade wall of pine logs sharpened to a point [this part of the fan-fic finds the author particularly uninspired; I beg pardon], that severely constrained the movement of the inmates–which, as it turned out, was the first of two of what I will label preliminary interludes before the primary undertaking of this story.
It came when her governess, whom she had, in a fit of exuberance only the very young are capable of, nicknamed Nana, accosted her unheralded by either sight or sound. It was no small shock.
“–Nana!” reprimanded she of diminutive intonation. “Why did you steal up on me like that? ’tis not fitting, you gave me a fright!”
“Hush, princess,” said the governess in kindly tones, gathering Callista up in her arms. “I never meant to scare you.”
“Yes you did.” A pout.
“Oh-ho-ho! Why, Callie, I called out to you twice. From over there…” she pointed, “and when you didn’t turn, from there. You didn’t hear me, how could you, when you were making such dole?” A wizened paw drew off a tear.
Callista found to her surprise that she was still weeping. Odd…
She had assumed… what… what was that again…?
She made no reply.
“Callie?” The smile vanished, supplanted by concern. The governess gazed intently at her charge, who kept her eyes downcast, avoiding contact. “Princess…”–no reaction–“your father… it’s about your father, isn’t… it?”
This time, the kat girl’s lip quivered ever so slightly. Both knew what was coming; she buried her troubled face in the old lady’s robe. The governess stroked the sobbing child’s hair, murmuring soothing words with no meaning, for it was the sound of her voice alone that had real import.
Whether it was because of the nurse’s susurration or her comforting embrace that Callista stopped crying is trifling. Cease crying she did, and in doing so was the better for it. She took leave of her governess.
“Take care, Cal.”
With that we move on to interlude two.
Well, that was quick. And she at least knew where she was going on this occasion.
Pray tell, where?
Ah, do you perchance recall all that elegant nonsense I wrote–you *do* recall, don’t you?–at the beginning of this yarn about a good many issues, in particular of *mud*, of all things? Was it all for nothing I put it there? Why do you suppose I did what I did?
Wooh, all that useless stuff. Especially about the mud…
She was going to a very muddy place. For where there was mud there would be certain friends of hers. And these friends because she needed them for what she had in mind, in much the same way she had needed the encounter with Nana. Callista was headstrong, opinionated, set on a course. A course of action she could sustain, however, only when buttressed by outside elements, be they prophecies, omens, or peer encouragement. The governess had restored her emotional equilibrium; her acquaintances would her conviction.
In lay terms, she knew where to look for moral support.
As for the mud itself, for her it equaled happiness, indeed, many were the days the happy group of youngsters, noble and commoner alike, spent sloshing around in viscous filth like a classless pig republic (such sessions would usually end with the wee kids being dragged off by indignant seniors). The Dark Ages had their plus points, few though they were.
Now was different. Not for her was the mud, not today. She came, as I have mentioned already, to meet her caked friends, and to collect clay sculptures set out in the sun to dry–which I have not mentioned.
The conversation was warm and congenial. I leave it to your imagination to construct a probable tête-à-tête, as I suck at these things and moreover feel too lazy to try.
Out in the middle distance an altercation broke into the banter. Everyone turned to look.
There was a gathering of warriors in the town centre. The fight seemed to be primarily between two kats, each of whom was snarling at the other in a most vituperative way. The squat, barrel-chested Captain-of-the-Guard, his supporters behind him, was shouting his head off at his intractable lieutenant, the latter also backed by a sizeable posse. The tall, muscle-bound second-in-command fired back with an odious barrage of insults. Soon both were screaming unintelligibly.
Tempers were rising.
It was the captain who snapped first. He swore furiously, gripping his falchion pommel with his right paw and the scabbard with the left as if to draw out his sword. Restraining hands stayed him, however; saner bodies interceded and separated the two antagonists, who had to make do with murderous glances. The situation was under control, apparently. Spectator’s interest waned, as did that of the princess. This was not a new conflict. The issue, an old, festering one, had to do with the siege that the Keats were enduring. One faction, fronted by the lieutenant, believed sticking around and taking further punishment would be the ruin of the people, and wanted to abandon the high cliffs. Opposed to this were those who placed greater stock in the resilience of the Keats, led by the captain. The king’s infirmities put his overreaching authority in abeyance; his absence hastened the fraying of the ties that bound, and provided the opportunity for the issue to boil over.
The uneasy soldiers went back to their posts, and not without misgivings.
All this was because of their enemy, which was not an army or horde. No, worse than that, much worse. It was but one kat, the immortal Pastmaster.
Yes, that old fart.
Callista pocketed her sculptures and began thinking about the best way to leave camp, so she could gather mystical herbs for healing potions. Ever the optimist, she was fairly confident of her curative abilities. After all, those bunnies *had* been beyond all help save hers. And Big Daddy was tougher than any jackrabbit, wasn’t he? Her tail twitched. Perhaps she could sweet talk a guard into letting her out. If that didn’t work, well, she could always scale a wall (not as inelegant as it sounds–she had ways; magic, remember?).
She considered. Maybe it was an itty-bitty foolhardy to go it alone.
She dismissed the thought as quickly as it came to her.
Tighten that apron string, shake those blonde locks loose and let them fall. You’re the princess of the Keats, destined to lead. Think of this mission as a rite-of-passage, a testing ground.
Think of how much stronger you’ll be if you succeed.
Prestige swelled tenfold and your king rescued, in one fell swoop.
You’ll be a heroine.
You’re a fool.
I *have* to do it, can’t you see?
I’ll make it back… I’ll win.
You’ll die forgotten.
I can’t believe you… I *won’t* believe you.
I don’t believe _in_ you either.
She brushed away her doubts. The last thing she needed were enemies within when those without were worrisome enough. There was work to be done. She couldn’t afford to vacillate.
–It cut into her thoughts.
A cry from one sentry, taken up in seconds by a chorus of others.
–Cut them up, shredded them to ribbons, threw them away.
It meant one thing, one thing alone…
The colony was under attack!
The alarm galvanized the population. Noncombatants scurried for cover, the old and disabled downing shutters and mothers snatching up their offspring. And the soldiers… the soldiers ran in the opposite direction.
Barracks disgorged frenzied infantry: men-at-arms, lancers, skirmishers, bowmen, a roiling mass of war whoops, throwing axe-men in studded corium, chain- mail vested battle leaders wielding long swords, a rustling grey-marrow reed collection of halberds, sallet-protected craniums housing warmed-over anger, cruel flails, bodkin arrow quivers bouncing maniacally, a phalanx of vicious intent driven by hatred and ensured by sheer valour, onward to the enemy who was anyplace and everyplace and never was within swing of a blade nor where you could dispatch a well-aimed bolt.
And as always, an enemy to be beaten off, at high cost each time, only to return a week later.
Oh, the sheer frustration of it all, the utter pointlessness.
Callista strained to catch words.
A pack of them.
This of all days.
The reptiles came into view presently and circled overhead, as if sizing up the situation. The infuriated Keats found the delay intolerable, but could do little beyond pacing the packed soil of the enclosure, issuing taunts at the airborne and dinning their swords against their linden shields. They did not have to wait long.
Down in a single column came the wyverns. They descended without the customary trilling crescendo that had on so many occasions terrified the land- bound. This, and their previously unseen discipline was even more unsettling for the assembled, whose blood ran cold; they too, fell silent. Detached from the plunge was a solitary beast. It lagged behind, and the reason was plain to see– a blue-hooded figure rode its shoulders.
They hurtled onward, gathering impetus. Those below readied themselves. Archers drew beads on the foremost targets, spears were raised in serried formations, and grim Keats huddled behind bucklers, weapons at the ready.
Both sides braced for the shock.
The distance closed swiftly.
A curtain of feathered arrows rose in greeting; the wyverns punched through doughtily, weathering the onslaught… somewhat.
Fingers tightened on hilts. This was it.
For King and Country–
The mêlée lasted mere moments. It took an incalculable toll on life in that short, brief burst of brutality. The fighting was speedily thinning out, armoured bipeds skirmishing with hissing reptiles in small groups.
The Keats were getting the worst of it.
Initially they had held on, somehow, humbling the scaly antediluvians whose charge failed to break the lines. The trouble really began when the Pastmaster started using offensive magic. Still, it took a combination of force bolt, lightning and vertigo in rapid succession to scatter the defenders. Once the breach appeared, the wyverns poured into it, dealing death all round. The Keats were in a near rout. There was no doubt in their hearts and minds that the battle was going against them, and that all was lost.
That is, until they saw a most unexpected sight.
Watching his minions chasing down fleeing kats gave the Pastmaster much satisfaction. It had been a long, arduous struggle. These Keats had given him more trouble than he had bargained for, and now, after the bitterness came sweet reward. He would only savour it after his victory was consolidated, which would involve… what?
That gave him some pause.
His campaign against the king had taken so long he had for a while forgotten his purposes; his original plans obscured by a veil of anger the pain had bequeathed him.
Aha, he knew! And as he thought, he acted. Prodding his mount over to the royal quarters, he held his watch forwards and muttered dactylic hexameter. A gust of wind tore away the roofing of the house. The Dwarf hovered towards the bereft woodwork and looked down at the prone king.
This was what he would do.
To crush the spirit of the Keats once and for all.
To prevent it from ever rising again.
He groped his memory for a suitable spell, found it, and commenced chanting.
The queen, eyes defiant and turned upwards, clung to her husband tenaciously.
The Pastmaster was almost done–
–when a ray of energy suddenly knocked him off his perch.
He fell and hit the dirt gracelessly.
He was furious. Rubbing his injured muzzle, he scrambled to his feet, looking frantically around for the perpetrator of this outrage.
He saw her then, a little waif standing by the damaged threshold, wool skirt fluttering about her calves, yellow hair caught in the swirl of dust. Her fingertips bracketed an amulet over her heart, the chain slack. She was still.
A slow smile came to him.
“…And another comes to meet me,” he lisped. “One more victim.”
She kept staring.
“Have ye no fear, girl?” he growled, rage lapping the sides of his reason.
Her face was set.
He shook his head. “I have not the time for this–” He hefted at the ether, which rippled visibly around his swinging paw, converting into a fireball at the end of the arc. It streaked towards the child and… *dissipated?*
The fingers of unease crept up his backbone. He hurled with both paws. A far larger fireball was now headed for Callista, but this time, she leapt to the side.
Damnation, she was fast!
It was then he became aware of other things.
The young princess’ bravery had not gone unwitnessed. Astounded, the demoralised Keats took fresh courage from her example and were rallying in the meantime, fighting back with renewed vigour. Even now, the wyverns were finding their opposition indomitable. The warriors pressed them hard.
The tide had turned, and no one saw this more clearly than the Pastmaster. He moved quickly.
Sending another fireball to keep Callista off-balance, he picked up where he had left off (a feature, I might add, every bit as nifty and desirable as ‘transfer resume’ is on download managers!), thus finalising the spell. A will- o’-the-wisp light duly ignited and grew into a conflagration, encompassing the summoner, the dying king and his wife, imbuing them all with an unearthly shimmer.
Callista screamed, “NOOOO!” She dashed forward. “Get back here!”
The Pastmaster gloated as he faded, “Foolish girl! Your king and queen are done for! You cannot save them, so run while you can! Ah-haha-ha-ha–!”
The girl wavered momentarily before the flickering aura, then made up her mind.
She leapt in.
A rather silly move, on the face of it. Every wizard worth his saltpetre knew better than to come into contact with transitioning portals. A lot of bad things could happen, the least of which was getting torn apart in the rift. Tch- tsk.
But she was no convent-educated mage; she knew nothing of these things. All she knew was that her mother and father were in mortal danger and she was the only one in a position to help.
Ach, and the amulet. I forgot the amulet. That too.
The portal flexed. Twisted. Changed colour. It did a whole series of alarming things. Pastie *certainly* was alarmed. He tried desperately to restore stability, to no avail. There was an irregularity in the stream named Callista, and she would not be moved. The two wrestled on effectively equal terms, for he had to keep the portal viable for *three* entities in addition to the already difficult task of staving off she who only needed to give a little push before it all fell apart.
It was too much for him, though he was the stronger.
“Insect! You have doomed us!” he shrieked.
Then, as if to confirm his words, the portal exploded.
The soldiers scurried over to their queen’s side. She was woozy, but otherwise in no danger.
“The king!” They cast about in concern. “I see him! Quickly, over there!”
The queen, helped along by a kat at either side, walked up to where the king was. The lieutenant, who was in attendance, looked up from his ministrations.
“He will be all right, Your Highness. There’s no cause for worry.”
“But oh, there is!” She looked stricken. “My baby! Callista!”
“Hold, Your Majesty!” they counseled, stopping her from doing anything rash. The captain quizzed his underlings, “Where *is* she, anyway? Has anybody seen her…?”
The answer was negative. Nobody had, it seemed.
“The king is here, the queen is with us, the princess is missing… and the Pastmaster! Where did he get to?”
“Ho! I saw the knave take off on his bat.” An answer seconded by numerous Keats.
They all looked at one another. Then:
“Wait! I think I know where he’s going to! That’d be the place Princess Callista is right now, and that can only be one place!”
“Let’s get after them!”
A side note: You may not have noticed it, but the part about Callista being sucked away conveniently obviates my having to write reams of stuff on how she and the Pastmaster were able to meet again for the final showdown *if* he had successfully escaped. Now, because of my laziness, you’re missing a nice, long story about how she grieved, recovered, suited up and embarked on a tortuous quest through sylvan dales and green forests brimming with adventure and peril, with strange and fascinating people along the way, some allies, some foes, all worthy of note. Instead of that, you get this. An author with more enthusiasm could possibly handle it; mine ebbs, so I can’t. I just thought I’d let you know.
Well then, on with it!
It happened on one of them Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah days.
The Pastmaster didn’t care. He was tone deaf.
And he was absolutely furious.
To have had victory within his reach, only to see it slip away time and time and time again. Today he had come the closest ever; he had almost made it, but almost wasn’t good enough. Back to square one, to relive the infernal cycle that now seemed to him to be nigh unbreakable.
A bad sign, that was. It meant his spirits were failing.
Even immortals need their R&R, now and then.
His tower came into view. A welcome sight, even if it *was* a dreary recapitulation of the old, tired repair-home-with-defeat-on-your-shoulders routine.
Oh well, there was always a next time. Nothing a little sleep wouldn’t cure.
The wyvern began its descent.
She waited inside. Waited patiently by the big window with the pointed arch where he would certainly disembark.
She would not face him unaugmented.
She possessed something of his, something very dear to him that she had found inside.
Something that could be used against him.
Or so maintained the Voodoo Doll Principle.
That was sufficient for her.
So she waited.
The Pastmaster eased his mount over to the sill. Talons raked granite like skittery chalk on a blackboard. Pastie didn’t like the noise anymore than you or I do–he hated it, in fact.
Which is why he whacked his wyvern about the ears, and the poor beast was so loyal and so afraid of its master that it could only cower and whimper plaintively.
Now, to hear such a creature lament, a creature such as this wyvern, that can thoughtlessly rip a grown kat in two, is an experience most of us would be happy to pass up. Pastie found it even more irritating than the blackboard sound. He would have whacked it some more, but, not being so inclined, gave it a verbal firing instead.
He didn’t notice Callista, who was standing right in front of them, taking in the scene. His cruelty only hardened her resolve.
“It ends today, Pastmaster,” she quietly stated.
“AWK!” he started at her voice. WHAT THE–!!
He swivelled around.
Her! It was HER!! He went half-crazy. This… this insignificant excuse for a little girl was the reason he had failed in his attack on the Keats. His teeth ground. Because of her, he had to endure defeat yet another time AND NOW SHE WAS HERE!! HERE!! BY ALL THAT WAS UNHOLY, HE’D–!!
Yes, yes, it would end today, it certainly would! He sucked in his essence; concentrated his life energy–all of it–to a point, then let fly with a maxis shockwave.
“Avaunt, accursed vermin!” he roared as he emitted.
It could obliterate mountains, it could destroy–
Uh, those maybe, but Callista…
She stood there, untouched.
*He* stood there, drained, thunderstruck.
“I don’t believe it!”
Then he saw.
The reason why.
She was cradling an object in her arms. An elongated quartz cylinder, to be precise, and not simply any Dark Age variation on the olive jar pattern. For inside it, suspended in preserving claret, was an eyeball.
It lolled about in the fluid, without a care in the world, trailing a wisp of cerise optic nerve. The sight of it bobbing placidly in its confines infuriated the Pastmaster.
He advanced unsteadily.
“Give it to me before I LOSE MY TEMPER!” he snarled, fairly spitting out the last three words.
The child said nothing and backed up. Slowly at first, then twisting and breaking into a run when he began getting too close. The Pastmaster made a lunge at her receding back and failed. He yelled after her:
“THAT’S MY EYE! I WANT IT BAAACK!” He howled wildly.
Exhausted, he laboriously managed to stand up, using elbows and palms, knees and lumbar only feebly. Seeing this, Callista felt fear leave her, and she returned, naïve curiosity the preponderant emotion.
She stopped a few feet away from the Pastmaster, his head bowed. He did not look up.
Excellent, she decided, I’ve finally beaten him.
What an airhead for believing so.
For he was in fact thinking feverishly, trying to find the best way out of this mess. He knew the odds were dismal. She had him in a spot. The eye was a guarantee against any hex he could throw against her. His entire kingdom- destroying compendium of combat spells was rendered irrelevant. He could not directly attack her, and physically he was too winded.
But wait, if direct, head-on attacks were out of the question, then what of the *indirect* ones? They might just work. Of course, it would involve mixing spells and would no doubt be taxing on his psychic dexterity, but he could pull it off, he was sure of it. The trick was to focus on the jar *itself*, not her. And though she was powerful, she didn’t look like she was familiar with the subtleties of the paranormal.
He chuckled silently to himself.
Little Callista observed the Pastmaster’s hunched figure shuddering, and drew all the wrong conclusions. She became complacent, even bored.
“So, respected sir, when you’re finished with your sorrow, we shall discuss terms of surrender. Really, crying openly in front of a girl no older than a moment of your lifetime! You ought to be ashamed–”
Two concurrent events transpired.
First, the Pastmaster threw back his head and laughed uproariously.
Then, while still numb with shock, our heroine found herself caressing empty space, and knew then and there that her smugness had been unwarranted.
Possibly fatal as well, she realised, as she dodged a beam.
He chased her around the room, upsetting furniture, scattering tomes, denting stone walls.
“What’s the matter, little lady? Can’t face me without a handicap? Here, *I’ll* give you a handicap!”
Eldritch ectoplasm lashed out at her, singeing her pelt and raking off flaughters. She was imperiled. Without the amulet, that would have eviscerated her corporeal aspect to vapour.
He grinned fiendishly. Not much longer now.
He hummed the Aubrey holes ditty he had been taught in some long-forgotten nursery eons ago. Did a bad job of the tune, but the beat, ah, the beat was perfect!
Perfect and in time to the balletic duty of hunting down errant children.
“With a fire ball here and a lightning bolt there,
Here a flame, set to maim,
Still she ran.
He grew exceedingly tired. He would finish it now. He saw her heading into the alchemist’s chambers and he followed.
In hindsight, he probably shouldn’t have, but he did. He was just too wiped out.
His first impression of the precursor to our laboratories was blinding pain.
She was using acid!
He swore mightily, and let loose a torrent of soul-sapping ghouls.
She called to him–from behind.
He turned and fired again.
She lobbed vials of vitriol at the agonized kat.
She struck again; he missed.
Rage was taking hold of him, uncontrollably.
She had planned it that way.
Efficiently, and without ado, she initialised her spell. His sightlessness was speedily disappearing, so she made it fast. She stood before him, prepared, her heart going into overdrive.
He saw her standing there soon enough. He cursed volubly, and, as expected, unleashed something suitably deadly.
It was to prove his undoing.
For Callista had cast a ‘wildcard roll-box,’ which is a tactical-defense spell that fiddles around with the space-time continuum, interchanging the places of departure and arrival, and I think you know what this means. But that’s not the whole of it, for if so, then it would be nothing more than some big-deal version of the ever-popular teleport under a fancy name. What it really does is to take the energies of the original spell and spin it into something… random, and then dump it on the spell-caster. The thing is, its inherent inaccuracy translates into it being so grossly incongruous that any two-bit lich king can see it beforehand and he may simply refuse to do anything. And if nobody *does* anything, the spell turns on the person nearest to it–usually its own caster. He-he!
Well, Pastie was at the moment nothing more than distilled rage, and all he could see was Callie, Callie, Callie.
He came, he saw, he cast.
When the smoke cleared, Callista beheld a huge amber nugget so tall it scraped the distant ceiling above. At the centre, securely sealed within his resinous gaol, was our loving villain the Pastmaster, now locked away for a good many years.
It was ended.
And she smiled for the first time that day.
The jet jetfighter bearing the two knights from the future was swallowed up by the periwinkle vortex, intermittent flashes of lightning streaking the overcast skies. This foreboding phenomenon soon gave way to the starless, azury firmament of a bright and sunny day.
Megalith city rejoiced, for its ruler and the prophesied champions had prevailed as foretold. The very air was suffused with elation. Everyone was happy.
She was, too.
Over a decade had passed, and her courage had seen her through tough times. No longer a sickly, gap-toothed little girl, she was now a sinuous splendour with wisdom to boot. Leader of her people, loved by all, monarch of the realm, Queen Callista thoughtfully walked back from the window to her paraphernalia-laden table, a clay model of the aforementioned aircraft in hand.
She would get down to something relaxing, like playing around with mud (Remember what I said before? At the beginning? About–ahh, forget it!).
The sound of boots outside her door interrupted her. It was the First Knight, and he carried an object wrapped in paper under his arm.
“Pepper stew, I presume?” she enquired almost jokingly. “Oh, let me guess, this is… a flask of mead, in celebration, perhaps?”
He sighed. “Neither, Your Majesty. You see,” he explained, unwrapping the object, whatever it was, “I caught a servant in the storeroom trying to open this container he had found. He thought it was an olive, but I knew better.”
There it was.
“Why, I haven’t seen this in years!” said she. She picked up the cylinder containing the eye. “You know, I certainly could have put this to good use yesterday. Um-hm.
“Ah, pshaw!” she exclaimed dismissively. “I shan’t sdeigne Fate, who has been most munificent to my people and crown! I am content with the way things lie.”
“What of the eye, my queen?”
“I suggest we dispose of it.”
She looked at him, genuinely surprised. “Why ever should we?”
“It’s rather–how do I put this–*vile*, in my opinion.”
“But of course. *But*”–her index wiggled–“it stays here.”
“If you say so, Your Majesty,” he acquiesced, quite unconvinced. “May I take leave of your presence?”
“You may. Good day, Sir Knight.”
“Good day, my queen.”
(Eugh, a few more of these Your Majesty’s and my queen’s and I’m throwing up!)
He made to leave, but then stopped and came back. (Oh, no!)
“May I ask… why?”
“Why?” she repeated vaguely, staring at the floating eyeball.
Then she came to. “Oh,” she grinned at him, a strange gleam in her eye, “a souvenir!”
I’ve already stolen his heart, she mused, and I have his eye with me. If that skull-faced scallywag ever shows up again, I swear, I will pickle the rest of his sorry carcass piecemeal in dainty little bottles!
She smirked evilly. The soldier found it quite disturbing. His good queen? It didn’t seem possible…
And in an out-of-character move that terrified the First Knight and shall surely see the author being pilloried for his taking liberties with the characters, she tossed her head and laughed, “MWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!”
I guess living in the Dark Ages sort of rubs off on you.
Hokay, here’s list of the things I’ve borrowed:
‘SupahCallieNowToMeThatSeemsaTadFacetious’ is a play on that song from the movie *Mary Poppins* ©) Disney.
‘Keat’ is my take on ‘Geat’, from the old English legend, *Beowulf*. That means ‘Keat’ is pronounced “Kay-at”.
The warlike path, the second behavioral possibility, is an allusion to *Xena: Warrior Princess*.
“Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” is the name of a song from *Song of the South* ©) Disney. The whole single line is taken from the lyrics.
The Pastmaster’s ditty as he pursues Callista is a parody of *Old MacDonald’s Farm*. For your information, ‘Aubrey holes’ are a bunch of cavities around the site of Stonehenge. As far as I know, there *is* no such song.
“Oh, a souvenir!” The big bad guy’s words in *Enter the Dragon* (starring Bruce Lee), when asked about the skeleton of a hand he keeps on display. His hand.
The ‘wildcard roll-box’ is my invention.
‘Brigandine’ is a type of armour, a veritable marriage of steel rings/plates and leather/linen.
Before you reach for that book on Medieval Europe, please keep in mind that the culture described in this story is mostly fantasy. Granted, the “stratification would only take place centuries into the future,” but women were already second-class citizens in this time period. I am no anthropologist; I make no claims to be one. So *that* premise is spurious, added merely to help along the plot. The same goes for _a few_ of the armaments featured here. Likewise, ‘Governess’ Nana is thoroughly implausible.
This story is not remarkable for attention to detail. For instance, the thing about Callista’s clay sculptures–I mention them on three separate occasions–is that they were intended as a set-up device for material that ultimately didn’t pull through, but since they on their own don’t hinder the flow, I decided to keep them, in inert state.
It may look like three weeks, but I really did almost 80% of the story in the last week alone, bleary eyes and all.
Well, that’s it for now. If you have any questions whatsoever, don’t hesitate to contact me. I know my basic grammar is sound; but still, please bring anything amiss to my notice, that is, if. I’d appreciate it. I must say, I’ve had the most fun writing this story, more so than any other fanfic. Dawa.
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