Also, Clark speaks Chinese. Hunh? Hunh? Learning languages is hard. For example, French-English, pomegranate-hand grenade.
Book 5, 37: When Your Breakfast Smells of Hand Grenades
Yep. Mars hit you in the feet just as hard as Earth did. So that part of John Carter was a lie, and all you were left with was dreamy Taylor Kitsch and imagining that you were Lynn Collins and he was kissing you and OMG that harness, like he took his shirt off, only it was totally polite and legit, because Mars.
That was what Charlotte was thinking in the moments after her boots hit the Martian concrete at the bottom of this giant silo-dome-thingie of alien base that was all concrete on the ground except a little dias in the middle with what looked like a barbecue under a tarp on it. She was thinking it because her reflexes were taking over and dropping her into a roll, and the thing about reflexes was that you didn’t want your thoughts getting in the way of the reflexive reactions that were letting you break a ten storey fall without smashing every bone in your body. Which left the rest of your brain trying to focus on something that wasn’t how much it hurt to smash into the concrete after a ten storey fall, even on Mars. Thinking about how awesomely cute Taylor Kitsch was, was way better than thinking about how much her feet and the rest of her right up through her hips and her stomach and her back and her neck and her head and everything in between hurt, and how she could taste her nose, which was usually a good way for the body to tell you that you were going to hurt even more when you got around to noticing.
Next up also hurting, her shoulder, when it smashed into the concrete with the roll. And then also with more hurting, her arm as she rolled over it; and for extra-credit pain points, the bit of her left wrist where her fatigues rode up on account of her bracelet, exposing bare skin to scrape on the concrete. Mars road rash, it turned out, was just as bad as Earth road rash.
And then she was up and somersaulting and dropping onto her feet, and if she fell now, it would be to do a face plant right in front of Li Chun the Destroyer, and that would be a really, really bad idea, and Charlotte didn’t want to do it, and so, somehow, she managed to dig in and not do it.
“Way to stick the landing, Char Char,” Dora shouted. Charlotte’s ears burned at the praise, but she was also very pleased with herself. To reconcile the two emotions, she drew the Pearl Harmony Sword and swung at Li Chun’s blue, qi-crackling ankles, just to see if an immortal demon possessing a Daoist monk could be hamstrung.
Unfortunately, it turned out that the demon wasn’t as into the experiment as Charlotte was, and he jumped free, high and soaring.
Right into the arms of Deloss the Wanderer. “I told you children to stay clear while I dealt with this—“ The thing about being able to project telepathic messages was that you could lecture people a lot in a very short length of time. The reason that Deloss didn’t finish his sentence wasn’t that he ran out of time.
Well, okay, he ran out of time in the sense that that was how long it took for Li Chun to twist in his arms, grab him in a Mantis-style lock, and break his neck with a crack you could hear, even through the thin, Martian air.
“Hey, that’s my cousin!” Twelve, you could also hear despite the thin air, but in this case it was because he was being really shouty as he smashed into Li Chun and drove him into the concrete of the arched walls of the great, Sirian dome.
Charlotte, looking up to focus on the impact, saw dust the walls puff a cloud of dust the colour of old blood. She also saw Li Chun twist, get his arms out and around Twelve’s somehow, saw him shift his weight—
--And saw Dora’s aureole fury punch the demon in the gut with a battering ram of golden light. The demon’s arms splayed wide, but, somehow, he already had Twelve by the throat, and now the young Empyrean’s burly frame dangled from Li Chun’s right hand as the demon monk hung, somehow suspended, in mid-air. (Or whatever you called air when it was on Mars. Charlotte wasn’t sure. Science-talking people were always using weird words for Martian stuff, like Areology, and maybe there was one for air.)
Li Chun reached down to pull Twelve back up into his arms, but then threw them back up to shield his eyes as Brian lit off the Lights of Luathon in his face. A magical light, whatever Professor Paradigm said, the Lights could blind Li Chun without affecting the rest of them.
That was why Rose could come running in the air, just over Chun’s body, kicking sideways to knock Twelve free before landing with both feet on the Destroyer’s head, like the world’s fastest and meanest hop-scotcher. Well, no rhymes about Li Chun’s Mom being a waitress, so not the meanest hop-scotch player that Charlotte had ever met, but mean enough, what with the head kicking and the Li Chun-flying-into the-ground and everything.
At that, Charlotte reminded herself that if Li Chun was going to hit the ground, he was back in play, and since he definitely needed a good stabbing, Charlotte did a Leaping Tiger lunge straight at him, while Ginger flew overhead, cawing in triumph.
Hunh, Charlotte thought, in the frozen moment in time when she was in mid air and it was too late to react as Li Chun landed, bounced, faster than gravity should have let him, and came up in a rebound, so that he was floating in mid air, but not floating in a gravity defying way, but coming down, his legs neatly extended in pointe so that he could take a perfect parry position. One of his hands held a construct of extended qi that formed a sword-breaking blade, perfectly poised to take the Pearl Harmony. His other, absurdly enough, gathered a handful of his blue, Daoist monk’s robes, so that they wouldn’t trip the demon-monk as he fell.
On another occasion, Charlotte might have laughed at the demon holding his robes like a lady holding her gown. On this occasion, she wasn’t laughing, because she was pretty focussed on her point, which was that Charlotte was in trouble, and her pet crow was sounding a bit overconfident, it looked like. Maybe, given that she was a spirit guide who could just pop up on faraway planets whenever she liked, and caw so loud she could be heard through a Marian atmosphere, Ginger could maybe think about getting Charlotte out of this mess that she’d gotten herself into?
And then Bruce was there, sweeping the leg like he’d been paying attention when Uncle Henry told them that the most colossal giants were often built too quickly, on a weak foundation, and that the best manoeuvres were often the quietest.
It was the kind of thing that Uncle Henry would say, but it was also true. The Demon Monk’s leg went out from under him, and even though, as he fell, he was already twisting to get a hold on Bruce, it was too late for him to not get shot in the face by a crossbow at point-blank range.
Conga-rats to the monk, then, that he still had it going on enough to take an arm-breaking lock on Bruce’s extended arm. Unfortunately for the side of him, the pride of Tatammy High still had a millisecond to make everything right, Charlotte thought, so it wasn’t luck, but just plain good tactics that she was a half-millisecond away from skewering him with the Pearl Harmony Sword.
It seemed like only an instant since Dora’s golden aura had smashed Li Chun in the middle as Dora’s impassioned power saved her boyfriend. Probably because it was only an instant. Now, it was happening again, because the triumphant Pearl Harmony Sword was giving off its trademark aura, the nacreous glow of swimming pool lights seen from deep underwater, when you had dived so deep that your hands slapped off the bottom of the pool, and you were rushing back up to the surface with all the speed of your buoyancy behind you, and the water was rushing by you.
It’s only an analogy, Charlotte thought to herself. Because you probably shouldn’t stab people right through the gut at the municipal pool. Not even if they were demon monks, because demon monks should be allowed to have a nice swim, too. As long as they weren’t trying to break Bruce McNeely’s arm.
If they were trying to break Bruce’s arm, then the razor-sharp point of her sword should be sliding right through them, and Charlotte should be wondering if she needed to yell, “Smite Evil” to get her bonus damage, and the white light should be pouring from her blade, and her crow should be circling her head, screaming in triumph. Because that’s what they deserved.
“For St. Elizabeth and the Holy Sangha,” Charlotte realised that she’d yelled. She made a note to kick herself. People tended not to like all that religious stuff. It felt right though, watching Li Chun fold up into his wound and disappear.
Then she sheathed her sword and ran over to Deloss’s still form, cradled in Twelve’s arms, his head dangling on his neck in an angle that made Charlotte sick to her stomach just to look at it. Except that she had no time to be sick, because maybe she could still help him, if she could just summon up the healing power. Unfortunately, though, Charlotte had felt the rise of the healing power in her often enough to know that it was not coming this time. That welling of boundless love and understanding that made her smile even though she was sad, and drove her to reach out to comfort, as though hands that stroked and loved really could make pain go way. It wasn’t there this time.
But. “He’s breathing!” Twelve yelled.
Deloss’s arms reached up, and, just like her Grade 2 teacher, Mr. Jerrold, who used to crack his neck, Deloss took his chin firmly in one hand, and the curve of the back of his head in the other, and firmly snapped it back into place.
Then he stood up. “It takes more than a broken neck to stop me!” Then he paused to let the telepathic phrase sink in dramatically. “But not much more than that. If he’d managed to sever my spinal cord that high up, I’d be a goner. I owe you children my thanks for assisting me in my sacred duty.”
Charlotte cocked her head close to Bruce, noticing how close he was standing to her, and willing herself not to stand even closer. Close enough that their helmets touched. But that totally wasn’t leading him on, which would be wrong, Cousin Jenny said, if there wasn’t anything going on. Which there wasn’t. Even though she really wanted to rest her head on his shoulder. Because Scout was her boyfriend. And Bruce wasn’t Scout! Probably. And he was mean! She reminded herself, so that she didn’t, you know.
Also, the stupid helmets wouldn’t let her put her cheek on that massive shoulder that she totally didn’t want to rest her head on, anyway. Unless he was Scout. “Good thing you have a crossbow and not a gun. It’d be tricky to shoot those holiness grenades of yours out of a gun.”
Because, you know. Scout was all about the guns, and Bruce wasn’t.
“Actually, I originally meant to fire them from an M204 grenade launcher I attached over-under to a Springfield .303. Then I realised it would be awfully out of character for me to start running around with a rifle in combat, so I redesigned them as a crossbow loadout.”
Charlotte drew back, took a half step around Bruce, and looked him straight in the face, trying to tear the bland, straight, I’m-being-totally-serious expression right off his pretty face and make him be admitting to—
Admitting to what? He was mean. He said that he was never going to be her boyfriend. If he was Scout, didn’t that mean that she and Scout were over? Charlotte was so confused. And she definitely didn’t want to be over Scout. Totally didn’t want to be over Scout.
A squorking sound introduced Charlotte to the fact that Ginger was still around, hadn’t headed off to the spirit realm or wherever, like she normally did when there were no MacDonald’s’ fries or Burger King onion rings on offer. She gave her bird a sidelong glance.
There was a long moment, and a tiny little life support bubble appeared over Ginger’s head. Charlotte narrowed her eyes at her bird and mouthed some kind of threat about nothing but bird seed for a week. Unfortunately, Ginger didn’t actually need to eat.
“Did anyone see where the demon went?” Deloss asked, interrupting all the drama.
“He just disappeared,” Rose said. “Probably teleported away.
“Hopefully, he had no time to damage the alter.” Deloss walked over to the exact centre of the dome, where there was a barbecue under a tarp. Charlotte checked her watched. Thirty minutes before they had to be on their way back to Earth, or they’d all have a tardy slip for being late for their next class. No time for a barbecue, even if she was suddenly hungry.
So it was probably lucky that what was under the tarp proved to be a thin, narrow table, shaped almost like an upright piano, and not a barbecue, after all.
“Is that the altar that the Martian sleep demon is trapped in?” Rose asked.
“Yes,” Deloss said, shortly. Bruce strode forward at the word, to look for the clues that would hopefully lead the team to Auralia. As the distance between them lengthened, Charlotte’s right side felt cold. Almost. Metaphorically speaking.
You, Charlotte thought, are the most pathetically boy-crazy would-be detective that ever lived on two planets. Maybe three, if those theories about Venus were right. Or four, if the theories about the asteroid belt, or then there was Europa, and that city on the Moon. Anyway! The point was, would Buffy the Vampire Slayer get all confused about an investigation just because Michael Boreanaz was involved? Actually, stupid question, because Charlotte was midway through the second season in reruns on Syfy and actually Buffy totally would. Well, maybe Charlotte could do better!
“Is it supposed to be blinking like this?” Bruce asked.
“What?” Deloss said.
“These. . .
“Hunh. Sorry.” Bruce turned his head to look at whatever he’d been looking at, sideways. “These weird designs that I can’t look at for very long because they remind me of an Elven soul-trap, and you probably shouldn’t, either. Brian?”
Charlotte craned her head in close. Elven soul traps were one of Talantassar the Gray’s favourite demonstrations of just how dangerous magic could be. She’d hand out plain old Xeroxed pages that looked like a complicated but slightly smudgy maze, and you’d look at it, and your brain would be off in Lala Land until she took the traps away from you. John Roy was always warning everyone who’d listen that the old Martians were into them, too, and that you should be careful not to pay too much attention to strange designs on Martian ruins without taking the appropriate precautions.
Problem was, appropriate precautions were all mental exercises that anyone with a brain much smaller than John or Rose’s took four years of Talantassar’s classes to learn. Charlotte had been about to ask Rose to take over the investigation, but, apparently, Bruce had got a headstart somewhere along the way. Maybe because he hung out with elves at home? It was a very interesting little mystery, she thought to herself.
Brian stepped forward. This was “Don’t worry, I’ve got this” thing. Just to be dramatic, or maybe because he needed to, he did a Dr. Strangey-thing with his hands and then bent down to look at the altar. “Yep. Soul trap, but turned inwards to hold the demon. I’ll just. . . “ He paused, his voice sounded strained, and then he drew a block of stone out of the altar, trailing some kind of black connecting rod behind it. “There. It’s temporarily neutralised.”
“What?” Deloss shouted, psychically. “You silly boy! The altar is what is keeping the demon trapped!”
“Yeah,” Bruce said, “But that’s not what that trap is for. It’s supposed to keep people out, and you can tell that it’s not working from the fact that Li Chun the Destroyer is in there with the demon. I don’t know about you guys, but I tend to think that that’s bad news, and that we probably need to go in there after him before they negotiate an agreement to conquer the universe. Or do some insider trading. Whatever.”