---- The Master's Evil Fortress of Evil, The Present ----
Milady strolled happily along the corridors of the castle, Chad, Alpha and Ha-Kee in tow. A precognitive spell nudged at the back of her mind, but she was is such good spirits that for once she ignored it. She now had the complete collection of Annoying Wandering Heros and they were all safely locked up. The country of Murishina continued to offer very little resistance as it was over-run. Once she got back to The Master, they were sure to find some way of dealing with the rings. Yes, things were under control.
When Life is being quiet and cooperative, that means it's probably sneaking up on you.
Milady walked into the great hall and knew immediately that she was in control of very little.
"Oh fuc..." she trailed off quietly.
"Tch," Tamaan smiled. "Such language, and from a refined lady, no less. I raised you better than that."
"You're... You're alive!" She slapped her forehead with her hand. "Cripes, this is becoming a soap opera." She shot a glance at The Master. "Buy me some time?" she pleaded telepathically. He scowled darkly and uncrossed his arms, but did not advance.
Tamaan started purposefully toward Milady, only to come to an abrupt halt.
"That's far enough, Father." The Master's huge hand wrapped three-quarters of the way around Tamaan's head. The God of Evil flicked his elven eyes in annoyance.
"That's quite enough, Eric. Know your pla--" Tamaan's words were interrupted as his face shattered the flagstones in the floor.
"*I* AM THE MASTER NOW!!!" The Master shouted. Tamaan was forcefully reminded why even HE feared his son a very little bit. Along with a painfully dull sense of irony, Eric was stronger than him.
"NOW OR NEVER, WENCH!" The Master bellowed. Then he slammed his father's head into the ground again. And again. And again. Milady ran, gesturing for her mirror, which was floating nearby, to follow.
The mirror kept pace easily, halting when she stopped outside the doorway to the hall. First Milady reached through it's surface and pulled out a small vial, which she tucked into a pocket in her dress. Then she muttered "chance", and icy ebon flames danced around her hands as she thrust them into the mirror again, bodily hauling a very surprised Johnas Marlinspike back through. He fell on the ground, blinking.
[!--AN: the spell with the keyword "chance", if you remember, is the increase-strength spell that Milady cast on The Great Chad in chapter 48.--]
"Wha?" the bewildered bodyguard asked as he shot reflexively to his feet. Next, and Jonahs could never quite figure out how, Milady somehow managed to climb up into his arms and wrap them securely around her, entirely without his help.
"Run!" she panted, also motioning for the mirror to stay where it was. "To the East prisons, as fast as your spindly legs can carry us!" Jonahs ran. "And don't use your wings! Any magic and we're dead; Tamaan can feel it, and he'll find us."
"We're in this much trouble my first day on the job?" Jonahs smirked as he whisked Milady along. "That was fast."
---- Still The Master's Evil Fortress ----
Crap, Tamaan thought. Sure, his son was turning the flagstones to dust with his nose. He could fix that. But Milady on the loose meant big trouble, and that had to be stopped. But first things first. He shot his hands out and wrapped them around The Master's ankle, casting a breaking spell as he did so. The Master saw and cast a counterspell, but Tamaan's elegant attack deftly skirted the massive but clumsy defense. There was a crack like a whip, followed by The Master's bellow of rage and pain. He dropped Tamaan and skipped back several paces on one leg, the other now useless, and stopped, still upright, balancing on raw, crackling magical energy.
Tamaan raised himself up from the sizable impression he had made in the floor, face no more bloodied than when he'd entered the room. He smirked. "Wasteful, careless, skill-less fool. There's a reason I replaced your older sister, and most certainly a reason I replaced you." He spat blood into the dust and pointed his palm at the giant shadow before him.
[TODO: replace me with a good fight scene if you come up with one. But who the hell needs another? We want content, dammit, CONTENT! ]
[TODO: remember to delete your todos when you're done with them.]
---- Budget was very low for this chapter. Still Evil Fortress ----
Between it's long legs and disporportionate strength, a Coelanth can cover a remarkable distance in a very short time. And so, by the time our very own God of Evil had his damnable son Right Where He Wanted Him, Milady was already following Jonahs through the door to the East Prisons. (He had insisted, being proper bodyguard protocol and all)
Bartender gave a shout and lept, but was a moment later very surprised to find that when he tackled Jonahs, the coelanth did not so much as budge. Instead, he stood hugging the lanky man and grinning pathetically, as though he had had too much to drink and, while walking home, run off the road and wrapped himself around a tree. Warteen and Palios lept next. Jonahs raised his right leg and flicked the Bartender with his shin, just hard enough to break his grip and send him backwards into Warteen and Palios, all three of whom then stumbled back against the wall. Jonahs whipped a pair of thick, blade-tipped wooden poles from their sheathes on his back, clicking the ends together into a single twelve-foot staff. He lept forward and pinned all three to the wall with considerable force.
"It's safe now, m'lady."
[!--AN: YAY! The orignal Giant Pencils of Doom finally make their appearance!--]
"OOK!" Monkey lept from the shadows, pounding on and then attaching himself to the side of the Coelanth's head.
Milady entered, glancing admirably at the trapped travelers. "Someone's been eating his spinach," she purred.
"Um, Milady? A little help?" Monkey was gnawing ineffectually on the top of Jonahs's head. Milady giggled and tried to reach for Monkey, jumped and missed.
"Bend down a little, and hurry" she scowled. He did, and she reached up, deftly gripping Monkey tightly around the neck with thumb and forefinger. He promptly passed out, and she hung his limp body over Jonahs's quarterstaff.
"You killed monkey!" Warteen protested.
"Just knocked him out. I had to get his attention somehow, and it was between that and threatening his ability to have children. This seemed more humane. Now, if you're done with your misguided heroics, I need you to save all of our sorry hides."
"HELP you?" Warteen spluttered. "We [i]tried[/i] to help you already, and you locked us in a dungeon! And knocked out monkey! I'm really starting to think that Laine was right--er, don't repeat that to her, ok?--that you're really evil!" She smiled at him prettily, an eerily enchanting expression when lit only by torchlight.
"I suppose that I am evil from your perspective, aren't I?" She leaned casually on the staff that held The Psychic trapped against the wall, forcing herself to play it cool for just long enough to gain Warteen's trust, or at least his cooperation. "And the proper verb tense is 'still' evil. You'll know that soon enough."
She then locked eyes with the young man, her face carefully calm and restrained; his psychic senses barely registered a brief, intense wave of sorrow and guilt from her. "Quickly now, take this," she said gently. Warteen was transfixed, though he could feel no magic in her gaze, and she in liquid motion brought a small vial from her cloak to his mouth and tipped it down. He was powerless to do anything but swallow.
"That's good," she patted him on his head, and he blinked, puckered at the bitter liquid. "Quickly, what I've done to you is this: Psychics are poisoned by the Gods before their seventh birthday so that they never reach their full psychic potential. I've just given you an antidote. Your newly full-strength powers may cause you some discomfort to say the least, but you'll just have to deal. Now, a very angry God of Evil--you've heard the name Tamaan when your mother was trying to scare you into behaving, I trust--is not quite as dead as I'd hoped he was. If you don't find the seven Rings Of Erronius in the next five minutes, Laine, Raine and Bob will surely be dead, and I won't have done it." She pressed a fist-sized piece of metal into his hands. It's weight seemed to vary every second or so. A timekey.
[!--AN: Timekeys aren't always completely in "now", and so change weight. Also, I do believe that this is the timekey that Chad & Co used to get back from The Future--]
Neither Milady's words nor the timekey were high on Warteen's list of concerns, however. At least, the dolphins swimming through the walls seemed a bit more alarming. And the dinosaurs wouldn't stop screaming in his ears, either. To say nothing of the stench of decay that choked at his lungs, and the spectral skeletons coming up through the floor to claw at his feet. Milady tapped him across the cheek with her fingers
"Like I said, your psychic powers will be a bit much at first. Not often that your concept of "now" expands from a hazy month at best to a span of millenia. But you have to think right now, and think [i]hard[/i]. You should be able to feel when and where the rings are, now. The Master and I will try to keep Tamaan occupied until your return."
"Why should we trust you!?" Palios protested.
"Yeah!" The Bartender added helpfully.
"Ugh," Warteen woozied.
"Oooook," Monkey echoed thickly.
"If we had time for trust, then I'd make sure you did. As it is, what he's likely to do to you and your friends [i]pales[/i] in comparison to what he'll do to me. That's more than enough to keep me trustworthy. Now follow Warteen wherever he tells you to go." Milady motioned, and Jonahs shoved them all together. She tapped the timekey and they disappeared.
"Well," she sighed, "Tamaan felt the timekey fire. He'll be here in a moment. Let's hope he hasn't killed off my dear, ignorant powersource yet."
A brilliant orange light flickered through the doorway.
"My Lady," a voice grinned from outside.
---- Somewhere, many many places at once! ---- ---- (this is where all our scene budget went for this chapter) ----
One of the cruelest things you can do to a psychic is to make them travel through time. Imagine if you will that your peripheral vision is already wide enough that you can see things both before and after they happen. You watch as Kingdoms rise and fall far off in the distance, again and again as you turn your head back and forth. Friends will sometimes decay to bones right before your eyes, or revert to babies, all while still speaking to you in their normal voices. Birds drop unceremoniously from the trees at the slightest provocation, only to vanish back to their perches. Storms will sometimes roll backwards, and God, don't even [i]ask[/i] about looking at a clock. Feeling woozy yet?
Now imagine someone drops you into a notional Giant Snowglobe Of Time and starts shaking it. Suffice to say, it's a good thing that Warteen had a very strong stomach, because puking in the middle of time travel gets nasty. Entire wars have been started that way.
An image formed in Warteen's eyes, seen vaguely through a psychic haze--and those damn dolphins, who seemed to have followed him into the timestream. He could see a festival of sorts, brightly painted canvas tents set up among a shady stand of trees. A trilling, dancable flute melody wafted surreally across the years, and children ran through the growing afternoon shadows.
Warteen's attention focused on one of these children in particular. The child stopped running with the others, apparently pausing to scratch habbitually at the base of his head. I used to do that, Warteen thought. My mother could never figure out why; I never had lice.
"Hurry up, Saidane!" a girl's voice drifted in from somewhere outside his vision, "and stop playing at fancy! You can plunder the 'foolish mortals' of all their jewelry later!"
"Aww, you're no fun, Lenore!" a second voice cried.
The young child turned around when a hand fell on his shoulder; two girls of about twelve had run up behind him. The one who'd touched him had long, golden hair that fell past her waist and flowed like a river. She wore a high-necked, sleeveless dress, dyed a light and breathess green like newly-budded leaves. Long, flowing skirts were a neat patchwork of yellows and greens. A second girl stood a pace away wearing a similarly-cut dress, but made of brilliant red velvet traced with intricate black embrodiery. Her thick, black, shoulder-length curls bounced merrily, content to keep running even after the girl herself had stopped.
The blond girl dropped to her knees in a rustle of skirts so she was eye-level with the boy, placing her hand on his arm. "How are you, little boy?" she asked, smiling sweetly. "Are you enjoying the festival?"
Both girls were disarmingly pretty, which equates to something very near trust for a six-almost-seven-year-old boy. He smiled back, widely, scratched the base of his skull. Then he made eye-contact with the girl, and abruptly started bawling.
The blond girl looked flustered and taken aback for a moment, and then hugged him. She had been very sad as a little girl, needlessly so as best she could remember. She hugged the little boy like her father had hugged her so many times when she was little. He offered no resistance.
"It's ok," she said in his ear. "I didn't mean to startle you. Hush, now. How'd you like a candied apple?" She leaned back, hands on his shoulders, and he nodded, blinking away the sudden tears.
"Oh hurry it up, Lenore," the black-haired girl pouted, kicking sullenly at the ground.
"Just a minute, Saidane," the blond girl glared back over her shoulder, then reached in a pouch that hung at her waist and pulled out an apple, coated in carmel and skewered with a handy stick. She carefully peeled away the wax-paper wrapping. "Here you go. Hurry up and eat it now." She left her kneeling position and plopped down in the grass, casting a distainful look at Saidane. The boy sniffled and munched pensively, scratched the base of his neck. Saidane sulked.
"I'm sorry I scared you," the blond girl began as younger boy ate.
"No, it wasn't you," he shook his head, seeming to recover quickly. "I just look at people sometimes and get really really sad."
"Oh." She looked away darkly for a moment.
"It's ok. Nothin' strange about the people I feel sad about. Mom doesn't know why it happens, either. She says I'm a 'special boy', but I know she thinks I'm strange."
The blond girl looked back, sympathetic amusement now in her eyes. "Aww-w," she purred, "I'm sure she loves you, really. So, are you enjoying the festival?"
"Yes, m'lady," he smiled, holding up the small stuffed bear he had won at a ring-toss game that morning, crunching away at the apple, "see what I won?" She giggled. He scratched at his head some more.
"That's very nice. But I'm not old enough to be called a lady yet, silly."
"But you're so pretty!" he protested. She blushed and waved her hand dismissively.
"I'm WAY prettier than Lenore," Saidane harrumphed. The little boy looked up at her and was startled by her eyes; they had no color, just black rimmed in white.
"You're scary," he said, and, having finished the apple, dropped the core in the grass. Saidane bristled in rage, but Lenore waved brisky at her, the tip of her finger sparkling for a moment. A vengeful meeping noise that was rising in Saidane's throat was abruptly cut off.
"Hush, you," Lenore said. "You got what you asked for." As she spoke, she picked up the apple core and wrapped it in the wax paper again, returning the package to her pouch. She stood, and the little boy smiled up at her.
"Thank you," he said, and held up the tiny prize bear to her in offering. "Here, you can have this." She took the plush from him, almost reverently, and locked eyes with him.
"Thank you," she said, her face carefully calm and restrained, neutral, "but I can't." She pushed it back into his arms.
"But why?!?" the boy protested. There was a waver in the air, then a torrent of regret and sorrow poured from her eyes and for a moment the little boy couldn't breathe, drowning in raw emotion. He fell gasping to the ground.
And then it was gone again. He looked up, taking deep, shaky breaths, to see Lenore backing away hurriedly, rubbing at a smudge on her cheek and cursing about shape-shifting magic. "C'mon, Saidane," she said, then turned and ran off.
The dark-haired girl perked up from her sulking momentarily, and then seeing her friend leaving her behind yet again, ran off wailing "Lenooore! Wait up!"
The young boy watched them go, still shaking a little bit, too lost in the strangeness of the encounter to be able to process it. He reached up to scratch the phantom tickle at the base of his skull but stopped, because it had vanished.
The scene of the festival blurred in Warteen's eyes and then disappeared back down the well of time. Three travellers and simian companion spiraled on through the rushing ages.
---- Finally, we're back to The Future! ----
"Well, that was certainly an interesting day," Jon Spike commented, reclining on a couch that faced the wall of the Empress Eleanor's luxurious personal quarters. There was an edge on his voice, because not looking at that damn mischevious mirror was proving difficult. It kept moving so that, despite the fact that he was facing the wall like a good, honorable bodyguard, he could still see a perfect image of Milady's silhouette captured delicately on a cloth shower curtain on the opposite side of the room. He swatted angrily at the magical talisman. While a bodyguard's place was always at his charge's side, oogling was strictly forbidden. Of course the stupid mirror loved to torment him with this.
"Make sure the members of the guard doing cleanup and repair get extra rations tonight," Milady called from the other side of her personal chambers, over the hiss of water. "I feel bad for them, really. Dead gesu are horrible to clean up after." The water shut off, and hearing the rustle of towels, Jon stood, moving to wait outside.
Two arms, silky-smooth and very, unbearably bare draped around his shoulders.
"Jon," her voice purred in his ear. He jumped, looking toward the sound and instantly regretting it, eyes riveted by the face resting on his shoulder.
While he was damning things about Milady, he figured he might as well damn her skill with shape-changing magics. Gone were the subtle, matriarchial wrinkles and the graying hair given to her by nearly nine-hundred years of ruling an empire. Instead she wore her most stunning face, appearing no older than twenty, high cheekbones, full, tan lips (a slightly odd color that set off her face perfectly), wavy golden hair and eyes all at once like both twin stars and twin black holes. However much a coelanth and/or a good and honorable bodyguard Jon was, he still had instincts. So he didn't dare look down, or back any further, lest he lose control of himself entirely.
"It's been so long since a man has held me, Jon. Has [i]dared[/i] to hold me. So long since Adam..."
"M-milady!" he squeaked plaintively. She brought her lips toward his...
And then spun around front of him and stepped back a pace, a full head shorter than he again, grinning like a schoolgirl. She wore a long nightgown that, while sleeveless, was quite thick and not at all revealing.
"Sorry," she smirked, giggling conspiratorially. "I have to stay playful somehow. All this running an empire really steals the joy right out of you. So I might as well borrow some youth from you in sheer panic value, right?"
"I'm gonna bring Carrie along next time," he scowled at her ferociously.
Milady clicked her tounge. "But protecting Your Empress is your job, not Carrie's," she smirked.
"Yeah. It's Carrie's job to protect [i]me[/i] from [i]My Empress![/i]"
"Actually, could you go find her, please? There are still some things to be explained. You already know most of the story, and Chad knows it all, so you don't have to bring him unless you happen to run into him. He'd probably get bored anyway. But I owe Carrrie a story."
Jon bowed and then shot out the door in a flash of light on gleaming Hikarikaze, relieved to be dismissed for a few minutes so his head could clear. That woman would be the death of him.
---- The Present, now complete with one ANGRY and not-so-dead God of Evil ----
"Y'won't beat me this time either, you bastard," Milady snarled out the door of the cell. Her mirror slid into existance from thin air, rippling out from it's own center. She grabbed Jonahs and yanked him through after her, eliciting a yelp, after which the mirror promptly reversed it's entrance and collapsed in on itself again.
The mirror reappeared in the main chamber, dumping Milady and Jonahs next to The Master, who lay crumpled on the floor.
"My god, you're a mess," Milady muttered, chuckling at her own irony and sizing him up with a quick glance. Smoke and a black, viscous liquid ran from several long, ragged gashes across his chest and arms, and his leg was bent back under him in a way it was surely never intended to go. Milady dropped to her knees and began flicking her fingers over his broken body in intricate patterns, twining magical force around his wounds. "Like a car crash or something, with all this smoke," she muttered while she worked, letting her conscious mind wander so that the rest of her could focus more effectively on magic for the few precious seconds they had before Tamaan caught up with them. "Lucky you I can still pull enough magic off you to power these healing spells. I swear, you're like a nuclear reactor or something."
Jonahs stood listening from a pace away, weapon at the ready. And while Milady's similes were lost on him, he was surprised nonetheless at the emotion that tinted her tone of voice: concern.
But any chance for Jonahs to wonder was burned away when a flaming cloud burst into existance a hundred feet away, licking upwards and into nothingness and leaving Tamaan in it's wake, irritated but still composed.
"If you're going to keep running, Eleanor, you're going to run out of people to hide behind sooner or later."
"Never call me that!" she spit, looking up from her spells. "Especially not you!"
"You're already responsible for the deaths of countless gods. Planning to add my fool son to their ranks?" He tapped his foot and a wall of flame sprang up from the floor, then darted toward where she kneeled. She steeled herself, readying a counterspell, but the flame turned to ice before she had a chance to cast it.
"You'll not touch Milady, father," The Master growled weakly. "She alone--of all the dark side of heaven--was willing to help me kill those I hated."
"You mean ME, foolish son? You make it plain yet again why you're worthless: wasting enough energy to freeze my spell, when you could've been much more efficient and just dissipated it. Your reliance on your raw power MAKES you worthless."
As father and son argued, Milady grabbed frantically for the flailing threads of the healing spells that she had been casting when Tamaan interrupted; between loosing hold of them as she prepared to dispell the flame attack and the amount of power The Master had put into his own dispell, the were badly weakened. Tamaan saw this.
"Hold it, Eleanor. I'll not give you time to patch your precious traitor up." He raised his hand, and Milady looked up from her spellcasting again.
"Keep working, Milady," Jonahs glanced at her and then shot toward Tamaan with a blast of wind. She went back to work. No time to worry about him, she thought, and if he was willing to make such an obviously suicidal attack, he must know what he's doing, at least a little bit.
"You want to play, half-human?" Tamaan chortled.
"You underestimate me!" Jonahs cried in a voice louder than the rush of his wings. "TAI'SHIAN!" The spell's keyword made Tamaan jump, and the blade of Jonah's staff began to glow brightly. In what was nearly a moment of panic, he launched a salvo of magical energy at the charging Coelanth, hoping to knock him out of the air.
For a full three seconds Jonahs spun, dipped and dove around the glowing red balls, and those he couldn't dodge he slashed with his glowing staff, dissipating them. Then he was close enough, and his blade connected with Tamaan's chest, ripping open a diagonal gash and knocking him backwards. Jonahs pressed his advantage, darting past the surprised god as he fell and executing a neat spin that raked the god's left arm. Then he turned and darted back, landing in a protective crouch in front of Milady.
"A holy strike," she said from behind. "I'm impressed."
"I've had some interesting masters. But it's your move now, Milady, one tai'shian and I'm spent."
In the distance, Tamaan painfully regained his feet.