Book 5, 29: Damsels in Distress
Charlotte’s head swam in the light. It turned out that coming to was nothing like in books. Her head hurt, and she felt like throwing up. It’s going to be hard, she thought, to make clever quips while I’m being tortured when I feel like this.
Oh, and she was slung over Eve’s shoulders, her arms and legs were very painfully tied up, and Eve was running. Very, very fast. And that hurt, too. And blindfolds were hot and stuffy. Who would have figured? Charlotte’s respect for Wonder Woman went up a few notches.
Charlotte tried to summon her Eight Spirit Dragon strength, but it was . . . nowhere. Then she clenched her hand, tried to will the Pearl Harmony Sword to her. That didn’t work, either.
Then Eve stopped, and her arms reached around to sling Charlotte down from over her shoulder. A finger pushed up the blindfold. Then, fingers snapped, and Charlotte felt air in her lungs again. Not that there wasn’t air in them before, but, somehow, it was like she could do stuff with her breath again.
Like scream? Charlotte gave it a whirl, but nothing came out but an airy gasp, like those moments in a dream when you wanted to talk, but somehow couldn’t.
“None of that,” Eve said. “The spell will let you talk. Quietly. Look around you. Do you know where we are?”
Charlotte gave Eve her best cock-eyed look. “Hi. Pleased to meet you. I’m Charlotte Wong. I’m sure you’ll see the confusion when you get to know me better.” Sick to her stomach as she was, it turned out that that burn came out all right.
Meanwhile, she was glancing at her bracelet, for signs that its Ur-Elven sorceries were fighting Eve’s magic/psionics. Well, she thought. Eve had her father and Professor Paradigm behind her. You had to figure that if anyone could get spells that could counter her bracelet, her psi-shield, and her sword, it would be Eve.
Who was looking mad. Eve held her fingers up, and rubbed them together, and with that, if Charlotte had felt hurt and sore before, she suddenly realised that she’d had nothing to complain about.
Eve looked at Charlotte. Charlotte tried to look at the ground, because the light in this bare, concrete hall, was suddenly too bright for her. And she really wanted to throw up, to the point where her body had decided not to breathe until the throwing up was taken care of.
Somehow, that was worst of all; worse than even the pain. Bad enough that Charlotte actually considered telling Eve what she knew about where they were, which was nothing.
“Damn,” Even said. “Should have figured I wouldn’t get anything from you. I guess I’ll just have to settle with torturing you for fun, then. Meanwhile, who puts all this underground space beneath a mansion?”
“I mean, there’s some kind of real life Batcave down here, right? But it’s big enough for planes and cars and computers, and even spaceships. Why some concrete tunnel? “It’s not just bare corridors like a mall loading dock. Unless there’s a secret door or something. Which there should be. Only I can’t find it. Can you help me? Because if your friends catch up with me, they’re not getting you back alive.”
Rosa wasn’t in Goblin Deep! Duh. But Charlotte didn’t feel in a smartypants mood. Let Eve figure it out for herself.
Eve cocked her finger again, and the pain in Charlotte was like when you want to throw up and can’t. Only painful. That wasn’t a very clear analogy, Charlotte thought, when she could think again.
“That was fun,” Eve said.
Charlotte looked at Eve. Eve looked back. “Yeah, no.” Charlotte said. “You’re not enjoying this.”
Eve crooked her finger again. “I am so! You hate me! You hate my Dad.”
Charlotte thought about that. “Yeah. I do hate your Dad. For what he’s done to you.”
“Wait.” Eve answered. “You hate MY Dad for what he’s done to ME? Hypocrite much, Wong?”
And Charlotte couldn’t breathe again. But not because of pain or magic. Eve was going to go there? Charlotte couldn’t. Just couldn’t. She had to escape.
Eve looked at Charlotte, and smiled. “Oh, yeah. We’re going to go there. Char-Char.”
“Down here!” Charlotte heard Rose yell, her voice echoing in the corridor. In a minute. . .
“Damn it. . .”Eve’s voice trailed off. “Yes!” She threw some stuff on the floor against the wall, and a hole appeared in it. A hole with sparkling edges that you couldn’t see through, so a magic hole, but a hole. Eve threw Charlotte over her shoulder with her amazing Empyrean strength.
Once again, Charlotte’s breath was pushed out of her by Eve’s bony shoulder blade. But this time, her wrist was trapped against Eve’s sternum by her body, jolting bone against bone, and, what was worse, pinching skin between her bracelet and Eve. More pain. Charlotte tried to focus on a mantra, but was distracted by the incredible view of walking through the hole, of the gray and ghostly space between space that she associated with hyperspace and now Elven magic.
Then she had an amazing view of the hole sealing up behind them, which was not Elven, but much sparkly. With the Kirby dots of Empyrean power, even. It was weird how much Empyrean power effects looked like pulson blasters. Or maybe not so weird. Charlotte wondered for a moment who invented pulson blast, anyway.
What she didn’t have was a view of the room that they’d walked into, so she had no idea what Eve was gasping about until Eve lifted her and deposited her back on her feet again.
“What is this?” Eve asked.
Charlotte looked around. The room was hangar large, with glistening pads of white concrete on the floor, and a spiraling ramp leading down and out, like a parking garage but a lot better finished. The actual parking space, which they were standing in, was a lot less cramped, too. It had nice, tall ceilings, and plaster over the walls, instead of rough concrete.
And the vehicles were parked on pedestals. One, two, three, four, five motorcyles, all hog-style, with forward raked wheels and banana-seat backs coming up to sissy bars, and those hanging handlebars. Charlotte recalled her brother saying that that wasn’t actually a safe way of building a motorcycle, but considering the bladed scythes on the wheels and the machine guns slung under the handlebars, maybe that hadn’t been the top of the list for the guy who modded them.
Behind them, on the wall, was a glass cage containing a costume that was halfway between that Village People guy and a Mad Max extra. More spikes, more leather, and a nice hat. Charlotte squinted, called up her Eight Spirit Dragon senses, felt enormous relief as her eyes focussed in on the little plaque on the bottom of the case all the way across the parking space. She read aloud. “Hotwheel and his Devil Dogs. Hey. Wasn’t Devil Dog a superhero back in Chicago a few years ago?”
“I don’t know,” Eve said, sounding peeved. “This looks like crap out of that old Batman TV show.”
“With more spikes,” Charlotte agreed. “Well, the old Hobgoblin had a long career, and he did keep trophies, so you’ve got to figure there’d be a lot of them down here. I mean, you should know. You’re old enough to remember that stuff, even if your Dad. . .”
Part of Charlotte wondered why she brought it up, but it was like when your teeth were sore, and loose, and you couldn’t stop running your tongue over them, just to see if they still hurt.
Eve twisted Charlotte around and grabbed her wrist, twisting it up. Through the pain, Charlotte wondered whether Eve had forgotten about the crooked-finger-of-pain, or just wanted to go with the physical touch. “You!” Even hissed. “You tried to stab your brother to save your Dad. Your creepy supervillain lich Dad.”
There was a tiny part of Charlotte that took time out to notice that her wrist still pinched. The rest of her was hot anger and shame and more anger. “I did not!” The world shrank around her as her senses diminished to normal.
“Yes, you did. You were in the past, you were watching your Dad and his sister, and when Chris tried to stop your Dad from killing your sister, you tried to stab him!”
Where did, what the? “I did not!”
“You tried to stab him! I know that! I probed his girlfriend!”
Charlotte didn’t want to make excuses. It was so lame, and it never worked with her parents. She’d learned that early. But, at last, she couldn’t take it any more. “I wasn’t trying to save my Dad. I was trying to save my Aunt! Chris wanted to let her die!”
“She had to die. She did die! That’s history! And if she lived, she would have caused the Apocalypse Plague to break out. Somehow.” Eve sounded confused about that last part. Charlotte didn’t blame her. She was confused about how that worked, too.
Charlotte didn’t say anything, though. “I probed your friend, Rose, too. Do you know how many billions of people would have died if your aunt had lived? You’re supposed to care about that sort of stuff!”
That was too much. “I do!”
Eve reached into her bag, pulled out a seed pod of some kind, and crunched it between her snapping fingers. The concrete air of this underground parking lot-turned memorial for a forgotten camp supervillain turned orange, with just a twinge of gas and oil, like someone had run a motorcycle in here recently.
Eve’s face, through the orange, was red and baby-like with anger. “Then why was it so important to save your aunt? And tell me true. This is an epiphany of Truth!”
Charlotte was going to try to lie, anyway. To Eve. To herself, she realised, as the truth came tumbling out of her instead. “So my Dad wouldn’t be a murderer!”
Eve pulled painfully at Charlotte’s wrists until she spun like a top, grabbed her shoulders, pulled her in like she was going to bite Charlotte in the face. “Your Dad is a murderer! Even back in the Depression, he was a killer! Enemies, paid hits, probably hookers and stuff. And family! Every person who stood to inherit that precious little ranch of yours, he’s either killed or tried to kill. You and your brother? Your turn was coming, too!”
And that was true, too. Charlotte could feel it. Magic sucked.
“Talk to me!” Eve screamed. Charlotte felt a twinge, like it was an order that was meant to be obeyed. She clenched her mouth.
Eve looked at her, dangerously. “Talk to me!” She said again, more calmly, and more dangerously.
“If he’s a killer, he can’t be my Dad!”
Eve’s shoulders sagged. “Oh, girl. He’s not your Dad. I mean, he made babies with your Mom, but he’s never going to be your Dad.”
And, with that, Charlotte started crying. She was angry at herself, because she’d held it together this long, but that didn’t mean that she could stop. Crying, that is.
Eve reached in, awkwardly, pulled Charlotte close, hugged her like someone who’d never hugged anyone before, and wasn’t planning on doing it again. “Oh, hon. It’s okay.”
Then she drew back. “One more question: how did you guys track Auralia to the Old World.”
Orange dust was beginning to flutter and fall, but Charlotte couldn’t help answering. “We didn’t. Some guys from the Old World have been trying to kill us –me.”
“What?” Eve asked. “Why?”
“Mistaken identity, we think,” Charlotte said, trying desperately not to say more than she had to. The last thing they wanted was for Professor Paradigm to know that they were hiding Rafaella King from her uncle. Uncles, aunts, Dads. It was all family, in the end.
“No,” Eve said. “It can’t be that simple. There’s infinite dimensions. It can’t be a coincidence. Even if there are assassins from the Old World working this dimension, there’s a reason their target is here. Or that they think it is; and that reason is related to Auralia’s disappearance. Just on the odds.”
Whatever, Charlotte thought. The air was clear of orange, now.
Eve noticed it, too. “Damn,” she said, then looked at her wrist, in the universal sign of time’s-up. “I guess your friends are going to be here any time now. They’re annoying that way. And my spell is used up.” She paused. “So. Good talk. Now I’m going to kill you.”
Eve’s spear appeared in her hand, out of nowhere, just like the Pearl Harmony Sword did for Charlotte. She thrust, hard.
Hoping that the pinch on her wrist was more than just physical discomfort, Charlotte tried to summon the Eight Spirit Dragon power, and pulled at her bonds.
They shredded like paper as Charlotte brought her hands around, clapped them on either side of the spear, and used her leverage to swing around the spear. Her sword appeared in her hands in mid-air, and by the time she landed, she had sliced through the bounds on her ankles.
And cut herself. Ouch. Going to have to work on that move, she thought, as she brought up her bladed in a European fencing-style guard position.
“Who would have thought some imitation Batcave would have an Elven ward in its walls?” Eve asked. “I was hoping you wouldn’t figure it out and counterspell me, but I guess it was too much to hope for.”
Charlotte shrugged, wiggling her wrist and willing her bling to be visible. Because, one, credit where credit was due, and, two, it was a really nice bracelet, and Charlotte really liked wearing it. Plus, it always reminded her of Scout.
“Yeah,” Eve said. “Much as I’d like to stick around till your cronies show up, I think I’m out of here.”
Charlotte went in, sword leading. Crony? She wasn’t even sweet sixteen!
“So boring,” Eve said. And disappeared. Leaving an elephant in her place. An angry elephant. Also, one that hadn’t had a haircut in ever. Which, unless elephants got haircuts, meant it was some kind of woolly mammoth, and Eve was playing to her gimmick again.
Charlotte continued her lunge, just till the mammoth was committed tusk and trunk to the fight. Then she slipped low, razor sharp blade held out to hamstring the giant beast. She hoped that her healing powers would work on a magic mammoth, later.
Turned out that that wasn’t much of an issue, because the mammoth was fast, dodging away from the sword blade and bringing its feet down with a mighty stomp that caught Charlotte’s sword under it.
Charlotte, not wanting to be elephant pancake, let go of her sword and tumbled for all that she was worth, coming up free of the mammoth.
Too bad about the cat, then. Hot, stinky, catfood breath was on her neck, and the pain of the fangs that had penetrated her skin was real pain and more painful for it. Charlotte crouched, and threw, all her strength put into overcoming the big, stinky cat’s natural advantage.
A tawny cat flew over her shoulder, to twist in mid-air and land on its feet, facing her, snarling.
Right beside a crocodile –or maybe it was an alligator, who could tell—that had just appeared out of nowhere. Somehow, Charlotte got the feeling that instead of conveniently buggering off like a supervillain was supposed to do, with a good old fashioned “Curse you, meddling kids!” Eve had stuck around, invisible, and was just going to keep on spamming Pleistocene megafauna until someone died.
Specifically, until Charlotte, little Miss Cand-Dish-It-Out-About-Your-Daddy-Issues-But-Can’t-Take-It, was dead. And Charlotte would deserve it, she thought to herself, as she remembered every mean thing she’d ever said to Eve about Noatar.
But she’d been trying to help! Charlotte thought. Just like Dora was trying to help, as she came flying into the room in a wave of gold, shouting, “She’s down here! And she’s free!”
Just before the giant, golden hawk-like bird that was probably, like, some super-condor came out of nowhere, swooping down at Dora.
Suddenly, Charlotte realised that these high ceilings were a bad idea, after all. Probably made the place a lot more expensive, too. Just how rich was the old Hobgoblin, anyway? Charlotte scrambled to one side, dodging a cat rush in one direction, and just clear of Babar-the-Stone-Cold-Killer in the other. Rich enough? Well, it was an idea, anyway. And she needed ideas. Or her sword back.
Dora, meanwhile, dodged down and away, just missing the razor-sharp talons that were just looking for something nice and meaty to carry home to the nest. Too bad that there was a python on the ground now. Which reared high enough to wrap Dora in its coils.
“I hate snakes,” Dora said, her breath protected by the golden nimbus of the needfire.
For now, Charlotte thought, vaulting on the nearest bike. She hadn’t the faintest clue how to hotwire it, but, as she’d hoped, the keys were in the ignition. I mean, where else would you keep them if you were going to take it out and ride it every fifty years or so? Even a museum couldn’t keep track of its keys that long!
Hand trembling in haste, Charlotte clicked the key while kicking the kickstart frantically. The engine caught first go, so probably not actually every fifty years. Remembering the totally-illegal lessons her brother had given her, Charlotte clutched in, kicked the bike in gear, opened up the throttle, and dropped the clutch.
Now, Charlotte thought, as the bike leaped off its podium with a stomach-dropping acceleration, would have been a bad time to find out that there was a lock on the wheels.
There weren’t. The brakes were powerful, though, she discovered as she deliberately skidded the front wheel scythes right through kitty’s front left paw. Oops! She thought. Well, I’m still bleeding, and so should you be.
The surprised mammoth skittered aside, and Charlotte turned into her corner to aim at Dora and the snake, picking up the Pearl Harmony Sword as she went by. It wasn’t much of a riding trick, to be honest, considering that the weapon came to her hand, but it still probably looked badass. At least, Charlotte hoped that it did, and that Eve was still around to see it.
Then, with regrets after discovering that while there was gas in the tank, there wasn’t ammunition in the machine guns, the bike rammed right into the python.
Surprised, it uncoiled from around Dora, and Charlotte reached out and grabbed her friend, who swam down a beam of golden light to seat herself behind Charlotte. “Where are the others?” Charlotte screamed.
“They can’t get in!” Dora yelled.
“What about Bruce?” Charlotte screamed back.
“Something about the wards!”
“How did you get in?” Somehow, they were boxed into one corner of the room. Charlotte put her foot down, pivoted the bike.
Charlotte revved the bike. Just to let the two –no, three—mammoths, tiger, gigantic wolf, sabretooth tiger, python, and two alligators/crocodiles know that she could –overrev a Harley engine at them if they didn’t behave. Yeah, no, Charlotte thought. That’s not that intimidating, and even if it were, they hadn’t found out just how many creatures Eve could spam out yet.
So she turned over her shoulder to Dora. “So teleport us out of here now!”
“You don’t understand, Char-Char! I can’t teleport!”
“So not the time for a conversation about this, Dora!”
And, with that, a golden nimbus flashed around them, and they were . . . elsewhere.
Tron-world, was Charlotte’s first thought. Only the weird grid was of glowing gold, and it was most certainly not a boxy room full of lightcycles, but rather a huge and airy space of gold traced light structures, full of stars and dominated by the biggest, brightest Milky Way that ever shone through some walls.
“I’m sorry, Charlotte,” Dora said. “I really am.”
“What?” Charlotte asked.
“Welcome to the Pale Cathedral. Well. Its porch, anyway.”