Post details: Chapter 97 - I'm on the best team!Flip the order!
Chapter 97 - I'm on the best team!
Roxy Tripfoot led the way into the Palace and Cajun, Bernadetta Leathervest, a bruised Commander Flightfeather, Scruff and Astrid Gimmerleck followed her because she was the strongest character among them and the strongest character in a group always becomes the leader because it is the law.
They had to give the King their account of the trouble they'd encountered, and there was a good chance their meeting could lead to an adventure right here at home. Yes, home. For, although everyone in the group except Flightfeather was technically quite far from their birthplaces and families, Brussels was such a rad place that they had all come to think of it as their home in the short time they'd spent there. As nice as place as Brussels had been, though, the signs marking its descent into crappiness were all over the streets. Nobody had bothered to clean up ninety five percent of the mess left by the party – people had only cleared their doorways and front porches, leaving pyramids of trash on the ground that wasn't anyone's immediate territory. When they walked down the street, the people wore sunglasses so they could pretend they hadn't seen you if you tried to talk to them or ask directions – that is if you'd caught them at a moment when they weren't on their cell phones, gossiping about their manager. It had to have been the birthday of at least twenty people that day but the Adventure Friends did not see one person crafting handmade birthday cards or blowing up balloons or setting off fireworks from their roof. If this sort of behaviour carried on, Europe would surely be in tatters by the end of the month. But there was no time to dwell, Roxy thought. She had to do. She quickened her pace as she moved through the Palace, causing the others to quicken theirs in time. She was the leader.
They found David kicking around in the Grand Hall, quite alone. He was smoking and trying his best to read a book on the principles of political opinions expressed at a dinner party but the book was too heavy for him to read it with one hand while the other worried at his burning cigarette, so he had to keep putting the book down on the Grand Table and rub his wrist. When he noticed that Roxy and his dad's friends had come through the truly immense doors of the Grand Hall, he picked up the book and pretended to have the wrist-strength to be riveted by it. When she had drawn close enough to hear him, he pointed at the open book with his cigarette, dramatically rolled his eyes and exclaimed, loudly, “Oh of course! You must strongly disagree with the guest who brought the least substantial dish for the table! I knew that, of course!” He turned to Roxy and acted like he had just seen her. “Oh, hi Roxy, I was just studying, you know, becoming more powerful.” Roxy smiled kindly with her mouth but closed her eyes for a little bit longer than the smile lasted. At some point since their return to Europe, David had got it into his head that mere Politics were not enough to secure his arranged marriage to Roxy Tripfoot, so he had taken to trying to impress her at every opportunity. There's nothing like a ten old boy's display to impress a beautiful ageless gypsy queen to make a beautiful ageless gypsy queen smile kindly with her mouth but close her eyes for a little longer than the duration of the smile. She knelt down so that she and the boy were eye to eye. He was growing like a weed! When she'd first met him, on his sixth birthday, she'd had to get right down on her knees to talk to him like that. More lately she had to move into an uncomfortable crouch with her arms extended downwards and her hands gripped to her knees.
“And what if the host agrees with that person who brought the least substantial dish?” she asked softly. David's eyes widened in panic and darted back to his book, then back to Roxy before he could read anything there because he'd said that he knew already, and then back to the book again because he had no idea what to say. His wrist trembled.
“That looks heavy,” said Roxy. “Would you like me to take it?” she awaited no answer and extended one trim, tan-coloured and luxuriantly furry arm towards the book. David jerked it up to evade her slender fingers. The book escaped his feeble grip, flew through the air to hit him lightly in the face. His cigarette skidded across his cheek and hit for 1 burn damage. The look of horror on his face was one that Roxy had seen all too recently. Her Guilt rating hit maximum as she was beset by the unwelcome recollection of the maire's servants scooping the few undevoured scraps of Oranje from his bedchamber rug with hand-shovels, how the insects of Axe's menagerie stung the lumps of flesh all the way to the anonymous pyre on the Abbey grounds...
She wrapped her arms around him and pulled his face into her breast to hide his sobs from the others in the team, who were in any case maintaining a respectable distance from the prince and his bride-to-be. “Sssh, hush now,” said Roxy, stroking his hair softly and quickly. Then she put her nose on his cold ear and whispered, “It's okay. You can stay with me tonight, child. It's all right.” She held him until he calmed, helped him to dry his tears and then handed him his book back. It was, in fact, pretty heavy. “You're very brave,” she said. “Kings are brave. Kings are very, very brave.” At that moment, Scruff joined in and used his licking and clumsy snuffling and baby-laugh to help get David running stable again. Commander Flightfeather had released him as soon as he'd seen that crying was happening. His people did not cry and their only form of intense emotional release was to die suddenly of overstimulation, so he was always nervous whenever someone looked a bit distraught. Scruff almost knocked David to the floor with his eagerness to heal him. Scruff was getting to be quite big too. He wasn't yet fully grown. As werewolf cubs take a little longer to mature than normal-wolf cubs, but he was getting there. In fact, the reason most werewolves are kind of assholes is because they were invariably teased by the other wolves in their pack for being behind on their growth spurts. But Scruff wouldn't be like that. He would not become an asshole. He'd known only love throughout his short life, despite some paternal abandonment issues (which wolves are generally cool with.)
“We came to see your father,” said Roxy when Scruff was about finished with his rolling and gumming and laughing routine.
“He's in his bedroom,” said David. He had Scruff in a headlock and the last of his tears had soaked into his shirt. “He's planning something with Teacher. I think we're going to go travelling again,” he said thoughtfully.
“Then we'll go and talk to him there then,” said Roxy rising. “Where is your sister?”
“She made a house out of books in the library. She's in there,” said David.
“So then we'll go there and get her out of her book-house,” frowned Roxy.
“She's got one of her eunuchs in there with her,” said David, straining to think of a way to describe exactly what he meant. He thought of his rough life spent on the road in the United States, where he'd witnessed a lot of the behaviour of cowboys and bandits and gringos. “She's establishing dominance,” he tried.
“Very well,” said Roxy, steering the conversation back on track. “She can join us later, but for now, would you like to come with us? What we have to discuss concerns you too. You can put your studies aside for now.” David's eyes lit up. He let go of Scruff and then boy and dog ran to Roxy's side and she held his hand as they Adventure-marched up to the King's bedroom with the others in tow. There were no guards or locked doors or anything along the way – no citizen of Europe would ever try to harm the King unless he or she was under some kind of spell or very soapy brainwash – which was something that actually happened quite often – in which case it was fortunate that the Palace was bristling with Adventure Friends whenever the King was around, or at least some generic heroes of a random level or a few boys-with-a-destiny, so only something that was a really big deal could ever pose a threat, so guards or locked doors were useless anyway. Doors were a meaningless concept to a villain above a certain level and it was against the law to employ anyone who was cool or hardcore as a guard on the grounds that it was cruel to do so. Cool, lucky, hardcore people with names are much happier going off on adventures and finding treasure than staying in one boring place, looking after some crummy door that doesn't even matter. You couldn't get someone like that in a uniform anyway, not unless it was a disguise.
And so Roxy's group of Adventure Friends – which was now nearly all of the current Adventure Team – climbed the Stairs Of Noblilty, passed under the Awesome Archway and entered the King's rad bedroom. At that very moment, elsewhere in the Palace, Jacob Hillmounter went out to the bathroom he shared with Timothy Clashradish to splash some water on his face and maybe find something magical to rub on his hangover. When he opened the bathroom door he found the fly Sagittarius lady from the precious night knelt down on the bathroom tiles, vomiting into the toilet. At first he thought that maybe he'd made some fly love to her that he'd forgotten about – possibly in that window between two AM and four AM when he'd possibly been napping on the Palace couch – but then he saw that she was wearing Timothy's t-shirt. He gasped once and then he gasped some more.
The King welcomed his Adventure Friends into his bedroom and bundled them in for an impromptu secret war council. Colonel Glowfist was there and there was a shape behind the curtain that everyone was too polite to mention. The King sat on his bed and they gathered round. He'd put some maps up on the walls – right over his Leonard Cohen poster and the chart that showed you what the inside of the Earth looked like (crust, Rock Kingdom, Hell, then it was mostly snakes until you hit the Holy Grail at the core.) The King thought back to the last war council he'd had right there in the very same bedroom. How long ago it was and how different were the faces around him then! Well, except for Flightfeather – Colonel Glowfist looked completely different since the fattening and the dandification. Of the absent ones, Father Dominoes on the grounds looking after poor Axe, but he was bound to his new duties in Hell and Axe would probably not fight by his side again. The King foresaw a quiet life of politics and big dinners for his brave friend, and if poor Axe wanted to kill anyone again, he'd have to use poison like a child. Silly old Sally was dead, of course. General Majesty and Mechanicus were up North, in the future, finishing the second Fort Majesty with the help of the Angel Cowboy. He had told them all that they were going to kill Winter and now here he was, years later, with Winter still doing its thing, completely unmolested by righteous fury or richly deserved vengeance of any kind. Well, they would get there, they really would. The King knew that once he'd just cleared up this bothersome Civil War problem, he'd devote 100% of his energies to getting round to Winter like he'd promised everyone. He was still the King, this was still Europe and he still had his Adventure Friends, even if they were all different now:
######ADVENTURE FRIEND ROLL-CALL
# CAJUN aka AGENT CAJUN, AGENT CAGE, 'CAGE-O', 'C'
HERO TYPE: Former recurrent villain
EQUIP HANDS: Portal gun
EQUIP HEAD: Mirror shades
EQUIP BODY: Skinwalker fur
EQUIP OTHER: Bo-hypno amulet
The King's scoop: Cajun had watched over the King for his entire spying career but had turned rogue while in possession of highly experimental, highly magical and highly useful CIA equipment. Could he be trusted? Were his loyalties absolute? Probably, thought the King. How lame would it be if he went back to the President's side now? No one would do that. And even if he did, the President would probably order him to execute one of his former comrades – a cute one, like Flightfeather – and he'd be just about to do it and then -whammo!- he'd have a crisis of conscience and go back to the King's side, so there was really no need to worry.
# BERNADETTA LEATHERVEST aka BERNARDETTA LEATHERVEST
HERO TYPE: Found in a bar
CLASS: Lesbian Warrior
EQUIP HANDS: The Hammer That Broke The World
EQUIP HEAD: Crew-cut
EQUIP BODY: Leathervest family leather vest
EQUIP OTHER: The King's Father's lost belt
The King's skinny: The burly sappho seemed to be quite nonchalantly wielding the legendary Hammer That Broke The World. There were songs about that hammer. There was a book as thick as a man's head in Colonel Glowfist's library that detailed its every rivet and inscription and constantly lamented its persistent loss. The King wasn't up on the entire history of the thing, but he was fairly sure that it was one of those items that his great-grandfather had found, or wrestled off a boss, had blessed by some god, upgraded all the way up to maximum on his workbench, then carelessly dropped in a swamp one fine day. Years would have gone by, then a Slavik Leech-Lord would have found it and yadda yadda, absolute power, yadda yadda, a hundred years of darkness and then it would have wound up in some damn shop with an extortionate asking price. And now Bernadetta had it. Oh, she was also wearing his father's long-lost belt – the one that conferred to the wearer the strength of every European slain in his disastrous 500-man instance raid on Istanbul. Erik Rage-Eater! had famously torn it from his waist and thrown it into the Rhine because he was drunk and a bunch of his friends were filming it on their phones. That belt (and the promise of its eventual return) was the symbol of over a hundred schools, sports teams and breakfast cereals across Europe. One of the most popular Morning Prayers for priests of all creeds is for the safe return of the King's Father's belt, so that the strength lost to the Islamalandians in that fateful raid could return to make Europe all the more fruitful and awesome. And now Bernadetta had it, too. It was odd, thought the King – he never could get thinking about Ms. Leathervest for any length of time without spending the majority of that time considering the stuff she carried. The King couldn't remember a conversation with her that didn't involve stuff, getting more stuff or the best way to use the stuff she had. And now he'd have to have another conversation like that, about where in the name of his father did she get that awesome new stuff. But after that, sometime, he'd have to sit down with her and really get to the bottom of who she was and what she wanted.
# ASTRID GIMMERLECK aka LAMB
HERO TYPE: Girlfriend
EQUIP HANDS: Trowel
EQUIP HEAD: Fedora
EQUIP BODY: Khaki shirt
EQUIP OTHER: Bag of European teeth
The King's mindthoughts on her: If there's one thing that any sort of organisation needs, it's a capable, switched-on young lady with a shovel, an acquired immunity to curses and an aptitude for solving mysteries and swinging from a vine (or even a snake) over a pit of crocodiles. It was just a pity that things were still so weird between them. Her unusual romance with Axe Axewound didn't bother the King at all. To him, sex between two people of any description was already pretty odd and gross, so sex between a woman and a wolf, or at least a wolf-monster, wasn't anything particularly new to take on board. It was just all that business with the Viking hearts that embarrassed him, especially now that it had led to a whole big Civil War. He did find less awkward to be around her since Axe had been crippled, but he knew of course that he couldn't dare talk to her while her man wasn't around, or else he'd only compound his earlier uncoolness. Life is so complicated sometimes!
# COMMANDER FLIGHTFEATHER aka JAMES 'COMMANDER' FLIGHTFEATHER, FLY
HERO TYPE: Foundling
EQUIP HANDS: n/a
EQUIP HEAD: Mottled appearance
EQUIP BODY: Rhea charm
EQUIP OTHER: Perfectly ordinary sword
The King's low-down: His old chum - and ours – was keeping to the back of the crowd of Adventure Friends, close to the wall. The King had dearly missed the funny little bird-creature while he'd been away and he was proud of the fairly decent shake he'd given to being Custodian of Europe. True, the place was now threatening to come crashing down around their ears, but very little of that was Flightfeather's fault. He was a nice guy and good with people and the King would punch to death anyone who said different. Still, the strain of leadership had taken its toll on the poor guy. He was moulting a little on his neck and his beak looked a bit scaly. The King decided that he was better suited to the adventuring life, out in the fresh air.
He wondered how the Commander's pet little man was doing. How long do little men live in captivity?
# ROXY TRIPFOOT aka QUEEN ROXINNIA
HERO TYPE: Romantic tension
CLASS: Gypsy Queen
EQUIP HANDS: Sharp hula hoop
EQUIP BODY: Sexy jangly things
EQUIP OTHER: Enchanted eye-liner
The King's big info: What a fine wife she will make for David someday. There she was, with his hand in hers. What a strong female character she was! It was a shame that she lost the rabbits, thought the King. That had been a neat trick. He had so many friends-who-were-girls now. That made him feel pretty cool. He wondered for a second if he could add his girlfriend to the Adventure Team to up the lady quotient but he had to discard the thought because his girlfriend didn't have any skills or cool powers, apart from being really understanding, and she couldn't walk for very long without needing a break.
# COLONEL GLOWFIST aka FATTY, MR. FATTY,
HERO TYPE: Troubled best friend
EQUIP HANDS: Infernal gauntlet
EQUIP BODY: Powdered finery
EQUIP OTHER: Hilarious wig
The King's understanding: There he stood, a respectable distance from Roxy and her groom-to-be, taking up the space of three of his former selves - his friend and companion, Colonel Glowfist. He'd been briefing him on the upcoming Irish Server Quest and the dangers that his friends would face. Ireland was a pretty fascinating place when you got down to it. It was a pity that they were such a fearsome and determined enemy of Europe / goodness. The journey into the heartland of that foul land would be perilous indeed, and it would have to be done without attracting the attention of the Ire Lords, lest they retaliate with all-out war. And the King's Adventure Friends would have to embark on this quest without him. Never mind that, though. The King had a plan. He'd figured it all out.
“My friends, my dear friends,” said the King at last. He'd been staring at them for half an hour prior to this. He did that when he was planning. “You were wise indeed to notice that all is not right with our fellow Europeans. The Euro-magic that polishes every heart and mind across our nation to a bright golden shine is down to the last daub on the hanky. You here have been spared of this draining because you've been hanging out with me, both abroad and in my crib, but I have been weakened, as you know, my friends, by the stinking unfair ex-craft of She-Who-Shall-Never-Again-Be-Named.” He paused to stare at David for five seconds. David quivered and Roxy held his hand very tightly.
“What will happen when the Euro-magic drains away, Your Highness?” asked Roxy, hoping to move things along. “Will we return to the pointless savagery of beasts?”
“There will be a war,” whispered the King and he clenched his fists. “That much is inevitable. It has been seen it times to come. I shall have to guide it, to delay the slide into beastliness, while you, my friends, labour to restore the ebb and flow of Euro-magic to the mighty tide we have enjoyed for generations.”
“Dad, no! You're splitting us up again?!” gasped David. “We only just got back together again!”
“We spent some time together on the boats, remember?” said the King, sure as ever.
“It was so dark!” wailed David, but the King put up his hand. He was speaking.
“The coming war will pit brother against brother, husband against wife, neighbour against dog, and it would break my many hearts, young David, if it were to be Adventure Friend against Adventure Friend … or father against son.” David said nothing. He did not move. He wanted to cry out, to clutch Roxy's hops and bury himself in the folds of her dress, but he was big now. He couldn't let these sorts of emotions out when his dad's friends were all watching.
“David, I'm sending you and your sister to Fort Majesty. It is the safest non-European place I know of. The icy miles of the Chillinous Plains will protect it from the vagaries of war and its construction should be complete by the time you arrive.”
“You'll be travelling with me, of course. You've many lessons left to take, young Prince,” smiled Colonel Glowfist as he leant on his staff. “Besides, the Ire Lords would be alerted the instant I crossed the little sea into Ireland. That sea didn't always used to be there, I'll have you know,” he said cryptically.
“Will the little Scruff-puppy be going with them, Your Highness? Your Highness, please?” shrilled Commander Flightfeather.
“Yes, what a good idea! You can take Scruff with you, David. An animal companion can be a young King's most valuable asset. They can chew through ropes, that sort of thing. I had a lion and a reindeer, you know. Oh, we're also sending Rigor Mantis with you as a body guard.” On cue, Rigor Mantis threw open the curtain he'd been hiding behind and stalked forward. He brandished a stiletto. It was designed to slip through ribs and puncture lungs. David's composure snapped. He shrieked, hurled a LVL 2 Flame spell at the shrouded face of the dark creature that had appeared in the room and then he grabbed Scruff and ducked behind Roxy's legs. Mantis caught the spell his absorbent armguard, spun his body through the air towards David and, with a while of silk and steel, landed behind Roxy and at David's feet in a low bow.
“I shall protect you beyond my last breath, my Prince,” he said, and then, rising, “And I too can chew through ropes.” His brown eyes twinkled from within the layers of silk wrapped around his face and hair.
“Our newest friends may not recognise Mr. Mantis. He has travelled with me many times before. He was a close childhood friend. He and Colonel Glowfist once saved all of France from the Dark Spaniards and he fought with 2X heroism at Normandy and now he is ready to join the Adventure Team once more.”
“A pleasure to meet you,” Roxy said coldly. She did not think it had been necessary to scare the boy like that, but held her sharp tongue for fear of what the King had said about Adventure Friend fighting against Adventure Friend. “And what have you planned for the rest of us, Your Highness?” she said to the King. Colonel Glowfist was the one to respond.
“Cherished one, you will head up a sneaky undercover team to the Server that provides Europe with its connection to the magical aether.”
“Why is this thing in Ireland of all places?” asked Bernadetta Leathervest, shifting her massive new hammer from one hand to the other. She was quite bored of all the yakking.
“Ireland used to be part of Europe,” growled the King. “My grandfather ruled over both nations as one. But then – betrayal, blood, an iron storm, a report that rung across the heavens.” He paused for so long that everyone had thought that he'd stopped talking. “Even now, eight hundred years later, I can close my eyes, search my hearts and feel the pain dealt to Europe on that Day Of Separation.” The King did in fact close his eyes right then and he checked if the pain was still there. Yep, there it was.
“Not a physical separation,” grinned Colonel Glowfist. “That was not done until much later, back when I was -” The King's eyes snapped open, a fresh film of ancestral pain clinging to his orbs.
“Yes, now is really an appropriate time to tell everyone how awesome you used to be, Colonel,” he scowled. Colonel Glowfist shuffled his remaining foot and his stump capped off in bronze, admonished.
“I will be more awesome in future, Your Highness,” he said. The King clapped a wooden hand on his shoulder.
“I know you will, my friend.” Glowfist put his hand on the King's and smiled. “Please continue,” said the King.
“Roxy, your team will be made up of yourself, Cajun, Bernadetta, Astrid and Flightfeather. You'll need to travel to Jerusalem first to fetch Ba'al,” said Colonel Glowfist. Cajun moved his glasses around on his face to show that he wanted to talk.
“With respect to the other considerable abilities in his profile, Ba'al Hadad's modus operandi would appear, in my assessment, to be incompatible with the low-visibility parameters of this operation,” he said.
“That is an excellent point, Cage-O,” said Colonel Glowfist, getting a feel for his nickname. “One that we had our friend Father Dominoes think about. He told us about these two scrolls we found in the library, you see...” The King was already rummaging under his pillow as he said it. He pulled out two old coffee-coloured scrolls and handed them to Roxy Tripfoot.
"The first one you are to read when you meet Ba'al in his cave outside Jerusalem. The second, you are to keep in the deepest, safest part of your inventory, where it shall remain, until the time is ripe." Roxy did not fully understand but the King looked at her and th look told her that she would.
Then he hugged her and everyone applauded, and, when the hug was complete, the King was crying and there was a note in Roxy's inventory. After three sobs, the King spread his arms big and wide and cried, "I'm going to miss you all so much!" This was the signal for a Group Hug. Everyone crowded in, even Colonel Glowfist, who was fat. Raw love crackled in the air and, at the peak of the embrace, everybody's everything went up by one.
That night was hard for David. He could not bear the thought of being separated from his father once more, and of being pushed to become all the stronger and more hardcore by the pressures of travel and the random encounters and sub-quests he would surely experience along the way. He cried all night there in Roxy's bed. He was far too young for lovemaking, so instead she held him and stroked his hair and tried to soothe him with her closeness.
"He loves you, he loves us all, he just has to do this one thing and then we'll all be together," she sang into the sniffling darkness.
"I wanted to have a birthday party!" David cried inbetween his inarticulate sobs. "Everyone would come! Everyone would see."
Scruff whined at the foot of the bed. The sun rose.
End of chapter 97