Chapter 3, 47: The Pearl Harmony Sword
Charlotte looked up, feeling helpless. High above them, between two metal beams, the shiny, armoured form of Sovereign hung above them, his arms spread wide, like he was hanging from a cross.
Because of course that was how Sovereign copped attitude, Charlotte thought. Told you a lot about the jackass.
As though acknowledging the thought, which, because telepath, he might have been, Sovereign stared down at Charlotte, Eve and Tellus. He smiled, slowly, his face settling into smugness. His eyes sought out Charlotte’s. He opened his mouth, as though to speak, but his voice broke in the midst of the first syllable, and whatever word he meant to utter turned into a sigh.
Then, his face changed, his expression breaking up almost as though a crater had opened up in the middle. Like a ripple spreading outward, it rearranged itself into a grimace of pain. Another long moment. Then, he spoke. “But first. . .”
Still grimacing, Sovereign reached into a pouch at his belt. Eve threw her spear at him, hard and fast.
Sovereign continued to rummage around in his pouch with one hand, while the other came up in a casual, warding wave. The spear stopped in mid-air as though it had struck a force field, then clattered back to the metallic floor of the dimly-lit loading bay of the mysterious Drindrish starship.
The Mandaarian master’s hand found whatever it was it was looking for in the pouch. Sovereign pulled it free. It was a black rod, carved with weird shapes that Charlotte could not make out, though even the hints of form and intention made her sick in her stomach. He brought it towards the hilt of the Pearl Harmony Sword, still sticking out of his shoulder.
As the head of the staff got within six inches of the sword hilt, a blasting light suddenly filled the space. It came from a stream of power and energy that linked staff to sword. Charlotte’s stomach twisted again. The light was a bilious yellow, the colour of vomit, and black, clotted spots in the midst, somehow shining in spite of their blackness, flowed through the stream from staff to sword hilt. In the light, the shell-like, deep and lustrous white of the pommel of the Pearl Harmony Sword took on the yellow-and-shining-black light of the staff. Faintly, Charlotte could hear a horrible, painful sound, a nail on a blackboard echoing through a badly-tuned pipe..
It was the sound of things in pain, protesting the forces an uncaring world was bringing on them. The sound of an angry and drunk man ramming a 1968 Charger into the side of the abandoned mobile home across the street because police –and a big Indian man holding a stone-headed hatchet backing up the police-- had just been told that he could take his children away.
No! Charlotte didn’t want to think about that. Didn’t want to think about things breaking, things ending. Not the Pearl Harmony Sword! Not her Aunt Yili’s sword. Unbidden, she opened her mouth. Somehow, not caring what Eve thought, what anyone thought, Charlotte said the words again. “Saint Elizabeth and the Holy Sangha, pray for us.”
And, somehow, through the screech of metal, another sound. Protesting metal developed the plangent sound of strings and of chimes, and –there—a voice! The words at first indistinct, the melody remembered and kind. It was Stevie Wonder’s hit, Morning Has Broken, but, somehow, in the midst, with words giving way to her mother’s mantra, the one that Charlotte’s grandfather had taught her. And, at last, Charlotte recognised the voice.
Crying, she looked up at Sovereign. The smugness was well and truly gone. His face was racked with pain. The yellow-and-black light was retreating into the staff. The light that The Pearl Harmony gave off was white and deep again. A long moment, and the staff’s shining blackness gave way to the underwater light of the sword entirely.
But only for a moment, and then all the light, of either kind, was extinguished, and Sovereign’s face visibly relaxed. He smiled again. “Well, that’s an improvement, anyway. I was hoping to be done with this annoying trinket, but I was told that the charge on the staff might not be enough to break your sword. No worries, though, because there’s plenty more where that came from. I’ll have to see about it. After I kill you.”
“Mom?” Charlotte said. “Mom? Come back!”
“Are you crazy, girl?” Eve shouted.
Then Charlotte was suddenly reminded that her hand was still looped in Tellus’s reins. A horse pulling you into a wall at top speed will tend to do that.
Charlotte had time to vault onto her horse’s back and bury her face in his sweaty coat in the moments before impact.
But there was no impact. Again the feeling of passing through something suddenly not as solid –for her—as it ought to be, and the light changed again, this time to institutional bright and white.
Charlotte and Tellus were standing in a corridor, Eve was in front of them, her hand wrapped in Tellus’ bridle. Charlotte looked down at Eve. Tellus tossed his head, snaking it forward towards Eve as he did so. Eve let go, jumping back. “Let me alone, you stupid nag!”
“What are you doing?” Charlotte asked.
Eve took a long step down the corridor. “What does it look like? Running away!” Then she turned and ran.
Charlotte, not seeing anything better to do, urged Tellus after Eve.
The shaman girl was still fast, and took turns and cross corridors faster than a horse. Soon, Charlotte could tell that Eve was slowing up at the corner so that Charlotte could keep up with her. Three turns and Charlotte was hopeless lost. Then they came to a large opening, where seven corridors came together. In the middle was a big pool, with water bubbling up from a jet in the middle and slopping over the sides into a collecting trough. The water in the pool was tinged green and white by the rust and moss on the inside of the pool, but the obscene statues that stood on the plinth in the middle of the pool were green and rust in colour, too.
What kind of person, Charlotte thought, as she guided Tellus around the fountain after Eve’s trailing, bare foot disappearing down a corridor, designed a fountain to look dirty? A Drindrish person, apparently.
Then she was in the corridor, and hauling up on the reins. Eve was just ahead, frozen in place, her spear and shield up in front of her, warding off one of those walking giant statues the Drindrish favoured for their puny-human-smashing needs.
Tellus lunged forward on the reins, and before Charlotte could regain control, was standing right in front of the statue. While the stone head, sculpted face obscured by sculpted helmet, was still rotating away from focussing on Eve towards its new subject, Tellus reared on hind legs and smashed one foreleg right through the stone head, dancing back out of the way of the collapsing statue even before his front hooves touched the ground.
“Well, that’s one way of dealing with them,” Charlotte said, exhaling. “Maybe you shouldn’t get so far ahead of us while we’re going. . . “ Charlotte trailed off to make it a question.
“The middle of the ship,” Eve said. “It’s where the big, scary magic is radiating from.”
“And do you have a plan for dealing with said big, scary magic?”
“Do you? Apart from saying prayers and maybe singing Canto-Pop gospel music?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“That’s you and your brother’s schtick for dealing with mind control, right? Grab on tight to your magic sword and get all Holy Avengery? Eve’s voice took on a sneering, imitative tone. “By Saint Elspeth and the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch, blah blah bang a gong blah, right?”
“Not even close,” Charlotte said, trying to control anger and hot tears. She’d just heard her mother’s voice. What did this stupid witch know?
“Whatever. Is it going to work for you without your Security Blanket-By-Cuisinart?”
Charlotte thought about it. “No.”
“Thought so. That’s why we’re running away.”
“Not much of a plan.”
“Better ‘n you’ve got, I bet.”
“My friends…” Charlotte began.
“Can they get in here?”
“I… no. I don’t think so.”
“So we go to Trouble Central and. . . and. . .” Eve trailed off.
Charlotte didn’t need Eve to finish the sentence. “You’re hoping your Dad is watching.”
“Oh, hey, Miss Daddy Issues talks trash. Yours still henching for Takofanes, King of Ivory?”
“What?” Even looked cross now.
“If there’s magic that can counter the Pearl Harmony Sword, there’s magic that can counter Auralia.”
“The who now?”
“Not a who, a what. The sword that slew Kal Turak.”
“Not exactly getting any clearer.”
“Kal Turak was what Tacofanes was called when he was alive. Auralia was the sword that killed him.”
Eve held her fingers to her head like an old-time telephone receiver. “Hello, MacGuffin Customer Service? This magic sword you sold me doesn’t work. Well, it does work, but apparently the big boss only caught a mild case of death. Picked up some Neo-Citran and the first two seasons of Big Bang Theory and he’s back for more on Monday.”
“Auralia was also one of the Four Swords that killed Tacofanes for good at the end of the Old Red Aeon.”
“And by for good you mean?”
“Hey, seventy thousand lich-free years is a good run from where I am.”
“So, to summarise,” Eve said, “The current problem is that we have a bad old Mandaarian mastermind from the future rampaging around trying to kill us so he can hijack a spaceship.”
“And you’re worried about some bad guy from the past we haven’t even see yet, because some Big Boss-slaying magic sword, which, I presume is still some big quest chain away from being found anyway, might be countered by some magic we also haven’t seen work yet. Can I suggest: priorities, Wong?”
Charlotte wasn’t sure that she liked the way that Eve said her last name. “You’re the one who brought up my Dad.”
“And you’re the one who brought up mine.”
Same diff. Point is, your plan depends on us getting to the throne room or bridge or bloody tractor beam controller or whatnot and finding a grownup there to take care of Sovereign for us. Right?”
This time, Eve did not reply.
Charlotte looked down at Eve for a long moment. “Good plan.”
“With one revision. You find something in your magic bag of tricks to put the Pearl Harmony Sword back in my hands, and we’ll see if we need any grownups, or whether I can take out the trash myself.”
“For a kung fu girl, you’re way too dependent on that sword, Wong.”
Charlotte thought about that, and then put her hand on her phone. Pulling it out of her pocket, she swiped it open and turned her Uncle Henry app on. “I know.”