Chapter 3, 9: I Don’t Care What Anyone Says, I Know Trouble When I See It
In the darkness of the Landing night, they were backlit by the hissing gas lights at the intersection of the Valley Highway with the road that came down off the bench through the tall, black cottonwood to the wharf. It wasn’t an ideal place to be, Charlotte thought. She could see just fine, but the over-matched cowboy beside her needed to see to shoot.
Scout crouched and fired. The muzzle flash lit the night, almost blinding even Charlotte’s Eight Spirit Dragon-trained senses. That was not, Charlotte thought, going to help, unless he was smart enough to bring silver bullets. Did they even have werewolves on Landing? They probably didn’t have weird, super-strong ninjas, or psi-magic cavegirl shamans or mysterious girls who fired energy out of their hands, she figured. He definitely wouldn’t know how to handle them.
As though to prove her point, the three werewolves that her cousin Amy (and her boyfriend) had got kicked off the Tatammy High football team came lunging up the road. Slower, at a human speed, the Black Ninja followed, throwing a grenader-shuriken as he moved. Charlotte slitted her eyes and lifted the Pearl Harmony. The other two Paradigm Pirates were probably coming up the flanks through the trees. Not much that she could do about that, till they engaged. She needed her speedster and her blaster. Where were the girls?
And then Scout fired eleven more times in the second it took her to take in the scene, and a massive branch tore free of the largest tree beside the narrow dirt road, and came sweeping down.
“.44s: Ain’t too fast, but make big holes.”
The weres were quick enough to avoid it, but it caught Black Ninja square in the side and swept him into the brush like a doll. The shuriken arced lazily through the air, and Charlotte pulled her sword slightly from its deadly arc to bounce it back in the direction of its owner.
A frozen moment, with the Pearl Harmony arcing. The smell of the tar on the road filled her nostrils, almost crowding out fresh scent of summer flowers. Then the shimmering light of her sword flared as it bit through a werewolf’s muzzle. Blood and teeth sprayed.. The wolf kind continued its leap, but now boneless and unmoving as it crashed into the pavement behind. It wasn’t a fatal wound, and the werewolf would probably be okay in a day or two, but take a hint, doggie, Charlotte thought. You’re outclassed against a friggin’ magic sword.
She swept the sword on, and the second werewolf, seeing the bloody result of the first cut, broke its bounding pace in a frantic scrabble, like a big old Golden Retriever scrabbling on the linoleum, realising that it had run into the kitchen too fast, just too late to miss a collision with the cabinets. This wolf, though, was good enough to swap ends. Or the smoothly packed, oil-dressed gravel offered enough traction. Either way, half of a wolf’s tail went looping through the air after the bloody flesh of the first wolf’s jaw.
But that left one more wolf that had hurled itself on Scout. She was too late, and he was a regular human, with regular human reflexes. One bite, and it would be too late, and Charlotte felt fear, and anguish so sharp that she could almost cry.
Then, from the flurry that was a human, even a big human, trying to wrestle a wolf that was even bigger, came the least expected result she could imagine. Another werewolf turning tail, this one with the high, piercing whimper that the neighbour’s dog sometimes gave when the Captain trotted by, desperate and slightly crazy.
Charlotte moved towards Scout, relief washing over her until it seemed that her legs would not move. He held up a fist. Shiny, silver disks stuck out between his knuckles, and blood ran on his fingers.
Charlotte gasped, her hopes dashed. “Are you hurt?” She remembered to say.
“Werewolves, right? Being bit is bad? Well, ain’t mine. Lucky I brought lunch money, though.”
“You’re lucky you rednecks use silver dollars.” Charlotte answered. “Now watch it. There’s at least two unaccounted for.”
Overhead, Ginger screamed and dived at something she couldn’t see. Warned, Charlotte spotted a shuriken arcing out of the foliage as she spoke, and Charlotte dived, grabbing Scout by the midriff to take him into cover. Three.
“Stupid bird,” an unfamiliar female voice said, and a gout of energy arced up from the bush on their side of the road, just uphill. It missed, of course.
Scout, Charlotte thought, as she landed on top of him in the ditch, had a familiar, solidness to him. He reminded her, she thought, of when she was trying to throw her uncle. Except that he was firmer, more like Jamal. And, for some reason, the comparison didn’t make her squirm inside. Or any one of her other, younger sparring partners, admittedly: Graydon, her cousin Jason, even Bruce.
Scout was quick, too, rolling back to his crouched feet, his pistol in his hand, as soon as the burst of the shuriken was past. “Outnumbered,” he said.
At which point a streak of motion came running up from the dock, with a golden meteorite keeping pace from the air. “Eve, your 10; Ninja, twelve; unidentified, your 3. That Scout?” Her wristcom said, in Dora’s familiar voice.
“Ninja’s ours,” came Rose’s voice. “You guys get each other’s backs.”
“Hee,” said Dora.
“Tactics,” answered Rose. A gout of gold fire erupted on the other side of the road, directly ahead of Charlotte. Her twelve. Ginger cawed again, and Charlotte turned to face the bush, just in time to deflect a spear thrust out of the darkness. Damn. Sword versus spear called for an athletic style. She wouldn’t be able to cover Scout’s back if she were jumping around to keep out of a spear’s threat angles.
On the other hand, Eve was at best a passable hand-to-hand fighter. Charlotte’s main problem would be the same as with the werewolves: she needed to not kill Eve. She probably hadn’t figured out how to fight without her sabretooth cat sidekick/Dad. Of course, she was trying to kill, but she was one messed up girl, so that didn’t count.
Sigh. Charlotte sheathed the Pearl Harmony. It was overkill. A jump, a seemingly-casual step on the spearshaft itself, and she delivered a snap kick that cleared Eve’s rising shield and landed, half-pulled, in the bikini-wearing red-head’s face. As with the wolves, Charlotte was ending up sending a message. Eve could be dangerous, Charlotte figured, if she just hauled off and used her hoodoos. What was the RPG line that Jason and John liked to use, “Cleric of Doom?” Even a weak sauce fighter could be threat if they had the juice to put some buffs on themselves.
But since right now, Eve was busy flying backward through the bush, it was either time to close and hose, or to check out Scout. Charlotte turned back. And saw that Scout was gone.
There he was, a few steps up the road, crouched over the energy-throwing girl. Charlotte went up to him. “Did you shoot her?” She asked. The thought was horrifying.
“Creased her skull,” Scout explained. “Unconscious. Was getting embarrassing. If I could throw energy out my hands, I’d do a bit of target practice. Your friends?” That was a good question, considering that the tinny sound of “Only Girl in the World” from a phone speaker was coming from the road.
Charlotte peered out. It looked like a fight. Kind of. Black Ninja was chopping sword blows, fast yet deliberate, alternating sides, shuffling his massive feet so quickly that he was half way to krunk, while Rose was blinking, swerving , almost jiving. A pale gold light washed the scene, Dora hanging over the scene arms out, legs dangling, her phone in her outstretched right arm.
To be fair, Charlotte thought, trying to control her anger at her flighty friend, it wasn’t like the Maid of Gold could do much in a fight between a speedster and a martial artist. Too much risk of handing down the needfire on the wrong target. Well, she and Scout were another matter.
But then, “I think you got this,” she head from behind her. Charlotte looked back, but Scout had vanished. Stupid Batman trick. It wasn’t the first time she’d seen it done. The McNeelys actually practiced it. She’d watched Graydon pull it at the mall, so she even knew how it was done. It didn’t make it any less creepy.
Okay, it was just the girls. Still more than enough to take out the Black Ninja, even if he was two grades higher than them.
Only just at that moment, the familiar white flash of a teleport effect washed over the Black Ninja, and he vanished.
“Damn it!” Rose shouted. “We had him!”
“More like,” Dora answered, “You were grinding him.”
“That’s not funny! I can’t go toe-to-toe with him like Charlotte! I’m a speedster.”
Dora settled to the ground. “I’m sorry, Rose. I was just kidding. I was feeling the teleport effect build up over the needfire, so I thought, you know, the fight’s basically over, these pieholes are getting away, time to lighten the mood, you know?”
“Okay,” Rose conceded, “It was a little funny.”
“Did you see his feet going?” Charlotte asked. “’Step it Up V: Superbattle!’”
“A crew of impossibly attractive young people dance, dance, dance, to a very expensive soundtrack and ten minutes of obligatory plot-related activity. Now with superheroes!” Dora said.
“That actually sounds disturbingly plausible,” Rose admitted. “Bet it turns out to be better than ‘Green Lantern.’”
“Us flying energy projectors never get a break,” Dora conceded.
“It’s because you can’t dance,” Charlotte explained.
“I can dance just fine!” Dora said. And then she let her shoulders drop with dramatic exaggeration. “Okay, if I want that to sound a little less pathetic, I have to find BFFs who aren’t speedsters or Kung Fu Girls.”
“You were a great disco ball, though,” Rose pointed out.
“I was an awesome disco ball! With extra saviourificness, I might add.” Dora said, holding out her arms again to illustrate the way that her flight posture had mimicked a crucifix.
“Disco,” Charlotte sighed. “Now with extra sacrilege.”
“Don’t tell Father Asplin?” Dora asked.
“Deal. Now let’s get home.”
Of course, once they were flying through the air in Dora’s bubble, the conversation turned to Scout, and Charlotte had to deny that she had a crush on the mysterious stranger three times. Wasn’t there a rule about that?
The next morning, they had a frustrating meeting with John the Ostler, who borrowed their phones to talk to Rosa. Because her asteroid was out of conjunction, she could only text them and send them analysis of the Mandaarian surveillance device data. They provided more than enough data to show that the Paradigm Pirates were still on their prison island. So they told the story of the fight, slowly and clearly, each one of them, separately, for John, while he took notes on an honest-to-God little paper notebook.
Then he brought them together, asked a few questions, and then he separated them again. Charlotte, and presumably Rose and Dora, had to tell the story over again, while John questioned every inconsistency.
Finally, after almost a whole morning had been wasted, he brought them back together again. “I’ve fought the Paradigm Pirates enough to know their M.O.,” Charlotte insisted, as the girls sat with John at a picnic table amidst the trees, in the park-like area formed in the angle between the two bunkhouse lines and the dining hall. In the trees above, Ginger cawed at squirrels.
“Yes, but isn’t that why all you Big City folks wear your costumes and have your secret identities?” John asked. “You can’t be sure that these were the Paradigm Pirates.”
“Who else could they be?” Dora asked.
“I know the Black Ninja’s style,” Rose said. “That was him.”
“But,” John said, “It couldn’t be. Not if this Mandaarian data is accurate. And you said that the Mandaarians have pretty hot tech.”
“Next best after the Malvans,” Charlotte admitted. “and those decadent weirdoes aren’t usually the sneaky types. I stand by my question, though.”
John shrugged. “Shapeshifters? Three of them were lycanthropes, you said. Wargs?”
“Even wargs usually have a fixed number of shapes they can shift into,” Rose pointed out.
John shrugged. “Illusions, then? Outside of novels and domestic crime, police work doesn’t usually lead to easy answers to hard questions. Thanks for our cooperation, girls. I’ll be in touch.” As he got up to go, a chunk of bread smeared with jam fell on the picnic table.
Charlotte looked up. Ginger was perched above them, a half-sandwich in her beak. From the other side of the far bunkhouses, Charlotte heard Tiffany, or possibly Tiff, yell, “The birds got my sandwich!” Despite herself, Charlotte grinned.
John had rowed out to the island on a canoe, so when the sound of a power boat penetrated the walls of the dining hall, Britany, Britt, Tiffany, Tiff, Kendra and Ken (recovered from her bout of fever, but her face still showing pale, with a distinct yellow-green tinge), they must have known that someone was arriving on the island. And, from the way that they ran outside to the dock, that it was someone popular.
Charlotte, Dora and Rose followed them out into the bright sunshine of the Island dock. It was hot, and after jut a moment, Charlotte was wishing she were back in the shade and regretting the burnt-orange slacks she’d chosen in case they finally got to do some horse-riding today. They’d been in camp two days already!
The chances weren’t very good, though, because it was Mr. Diavolo who was docking, and Miss Jane and Dr. Cambridge were on the dock to meet him, like he was a Very Important Person. Crows called, cawing piercingly, from the trees overhead.
Well, he certainly wasn’t a Very Importantly Dressed Person, Charlotte thought. Today he was wearing a bright yellow tank top, and bizarre four-colour jeans in vertical blocks, with regular blue-jean colour around his fly and then successive rings of mottled darker yellow, new-jeans colour dark blue, and then regular blue at the ankles. The style didn’t seem to scream out for a hat, but he wore one anyway: an Australian-style bush-hat with a bright pink triangle badge.
This time, Mr. Davolo brought a driver, if that was what you called the guy who, uhm, drove the boat. He was a scowling guy, tricked out like an old-time movie chauffeur. Well, Charlotte thought, at least he didn’t have to wear all those weird colours.
The driver made no move to get out of the boat, but Mr. Diavolo did, hopping up onto the wharf with one hand holding his hat on. Which was just as well, because a big, black crow came fluttering out of the sky in a stooped dive, wings lightly beating the brim of Mr. Diavolo’s hat at the bottom of the dive.
Mr. Diavolo hurried down the dock towards them, careful not to look up, trying to get under the shelter of the dining hall’s wide lakeside verandah before the crow turned around for another dive. Except that it wasn’t the first crow that he should have been worried about, as another one came in from the side. This one let its talons slide, not quite engaging, over the crown of the hat at the bottom of its dive, and came away with the badge clenched in its grip.
“Everyone’s a critic,” Mr, Diavolo muttered as he reached the verandah, “Now how are my favourite ladies?” He asked, as he air kissed Miss Jane and Dr. Cambridge in succession.
“Mr. Diavolo,” Miss Jane thrilled. “Will you join us for brunch and cocktails at the Counsellor’s Lounge?”
“Well, I do have business with my Peach Festival Queen contestants,” Mr. Diavolo protested.
“Oh, them?” Miss Jane asked. “They’re taking an arts and craft day, I think.”
“Splendid! It’s settled. But only if I get to mix!” Mr. Diavolo gestured, and his chauffeur got out of the boat with a duffle bag over his shoulder. Even forty feet away, Charlotte could hear the clinking sound of bottles knocking together.
Well, that settled that, Charlotte thought. Adults drinking meant kids wasting another day. That was a trailer park lesson. I want ponies! Her eyes, somehow, were drawn to the nearby trees, where Ginger perched. Her eyes were fixed on Mr. Diavolo. You don’t say, Charlotte thought at her spirit guide. Ginger cocked her head and dropped a wing, the crow way of saying, “You’re welcome.”