Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Book 5, 40: Red Shoes, Blue God

The original disco super-person. Chokers are back (although I haven't seen any inch-wide ones made of tinfoil yet), but not the eye-makeup. At least, not yet.

Book 5, 40: Red Shoes, Blue God

Charlotte put her hands carefully on the shoulders of the folded sweat, pulling it up to her and shaking it out as she did so. Don’t worry, she said in her head to the clerk, whom, she knew was glaring angrily at her back, I’m going to fold it up again. 

To Dora, she said, “Do you think that Scout would like this?” She looked around as she said it, but, for some reason, saying his name didn’t just make him magically appear. In at least that one respect, this had been a pretty lame shopping expedition.

“You,” Dora answered, “Are a cliché right now.”

“If I wanted to go shopping with a cranky old man,” Charlotte answered, “I wouldn’t be able to, because he wouldn’t come, because he would be too busy going on the Internet and telling everyone they wre doing it wrong.”

Dora cocked her head. “Your point?”

“Only that we just had a five-minute conversation about whether you could wear one of the sweaters on the markdown table if you bought it for Twelve.”

“Geometry is a harsh mistress,” Dora conceded.

“Wow!” Rose said, from beside them. “That really brings out your eyes, Char-Char. And it would work with Scout’s bandanna, too!”

Charlotte couldn’t help dimpling with pleasure at the confirmation of her mad fashion skills. “Thanks, Rose.”

“Are you not, Rose, and you don’t have to answer this if it’s too personal or anything, but are you not, this very moment, supposed to be studying at home?” Dora asked.

“I am!” Rose protested.

“Actually, no. I can see how you could be confused, though. You are at the American Apparel at the Panther Heights Mall.”

“Not that we’re not glad to see you,” Charlotte talked over her friend to add.

Rose, though, actually blushed at the correction. “I’m downloading a big database, so I thought I’d run over and hang out for a sec. Because, you know, speedster.” She gave a mock shrug of mock modesty.

“How do you know when it’s going to finish downloading?” Dora asked, suspiciously.

“Aren’t you just a killjoy, Dora?” Rose poked her temple with her right index finger. “I’m downloading it direct to my brain. I’m doing an essay for biology about the reproducibility crisis in psychology, so I thought I’d review the statistics for a few hundred studies and see what I could find.”

“For Grade 9 Biology.” Dora said.

“I can’t help it if the state curriculum is unchallenging for super-geniusses,” Rose pointed out. “It’s a thing, and you never complain when I coach you guys.”

“True,” Dora said.

“So, what about the shoes?”

“Oh, oh, the shoes. They turned out wicked awesome!” Dora’s voice brightened as she separated the flaps of the bag from the dry cleaners to show Rose. Meanwhile, Charlotte folded up the sweater and put it back, along with the ones that Rose’s speed gust had knocked off. Unfortunately, she’d already spent too much of her allowance for this week. Auntie Ma said that she could get a job next year, if she was all caught up in school; but until then she wasn’t exactly rolling in it. 

“Wow,” Rose said, awestruck. “I love the two-tone. And half-boots. For a bridesmaid’s outfit. So cool. Where did you get the applique?” 

“My Mom found it,” Dora answered. “See? Kinda Aztec, kinda Chinese? Both sides, right?”

“Now we just need something Viper-y,” Rose said. On account of Brad Neilsen’s Mom being a Viper Nest Leader and all.

“Not to worry,” Dora said. “I’m sure there’ll be an army of Viper mooks at the wedding. That sort of thing’s traditional at superhero weddings, anyway.”

“Yeah, who wouldn’t want to be part of the security detail at a double superhero wedding. Say, if Doctor Destroyer and Takofanes appear at the same place and time, do they cancel out or blow up?”

“Actually, I think they just team up and kill everybody. That’s when you’re lucky you have a friend who is a supergenius and has come up with a plan to prevent that from happening in the first place,” Dora answered.

“Oops,” Rose said. “Did I just accidentally stick a knitting needle in my head and stir my hippocampus? Duh. Suddenly, I am so dumb that I like pro wrestling!”

Dora glared at her friend for referencing her secret shame. 

“Hey, that reminds me,” Charlotte said. “Sucker Punch is playing this week. Only five bucks for the afternoon showing, We could go this weekend!”

“What’s the double bill?” Dora asked.

“I don’t know,” Charlotte answered. “Let’s go see.”

The mall cinema, and the library across the hall, were the only things still open on the first floor of the Panther Heights Mall. Actually, they were on sort of a mezzanine at one end, which is why neighbourhood kids could sneak in and skateboard at the other end without being spotted by anyone except Price Rite employees sneaking out of the loading bay for a smoke break, now that it was too cold to do it outside. 

The girls walked down to the east side escalators that led down to the mezzanine level. “Saw VII,” Dora read. “Okay, we’re never going to get permission from the parental units to see that. But we could get tickets to Sucker Punch and then sneak into the theatre . . . “

“Yes,” Charlotte answered. “We totally could, because Auntie Ma was just born yesterday.”

“I thought she approved of kids sneaking out?” Rose asked. 

Charlotte looked at her friend, who was sweet, but sometimes thought in a bit too binary a way. “No, she approves of kids succeeding at sneaking out. She definitely tries to stop us, and how hard she tries to depends on how much she disapproves of what we’re doing. Hanging out with our friends, skateboarding, pulling pranks on Bruce’s Dad –that stuff she almost approves of, so, you don’t have to sneak too hard. Watching a Saw movie? Not so much.” 

“I can’t believe she’s so cas about going to see your boyfriend, though?”

“Well, she ran away from home to be with her boyfriend when she was fifteen, and thanks to it getting written up in the Book of Tang, everyone knows about it, too. So I guess she figures that even if it wasn’t a good idea, she lived, and so will we.”

“In the movie, didn’t she die?” Dora asked.

Charlotte shrugged. “Dived off a cliff into the clouds. It’s, you know, allegorical. But, yeah, I think Zhang Ziyi was allegorical strawberry jam on the rocks. Because the movie is based on a novel that was inspired by the story in the Book of Tang, it incorporates the original ending, which is a big old moral about how it’s a bad idea to disobey your parents for love. Uhm, by the way, spoiler for, like, all of classical Chinese literature.” Charlotte didn’t add that the story in the Book of Tang was wrong in other ways, too. That didn’t need to get out in the world. 

“Hey, guys?” Rose asked. “Should there be a blue glow coming from the abandoned end of the mall?”

Charlotte’s head snapped around. A blue glow could mean a Blue God, and the only Blue God they knew was active was Kilbern. There was nothing to see, but Rose had accelerated vision. She clenched her hand, and the Pearl Harmony Sword appeared from its interdimensional resting space in her hand. Charlotte had frankly no idea whether she had innate magic resistance when she was holding the sword, or whether the occasional manifestations she’d had before were just some kind of side-effect of getting all Holy Warrior of Justice-y, which she wasn’t feeling particularly right now. If anything, she was feeling a little guilty about spending the afternoon pining for Scout and a lot guilty about maybe thinking about Bruce’s beautiful eyes and curly hair in ways she shouldn’t. 

But, guilty thoughts or not, the moment her palm gripped around her sword, the blue glow snapped into focus. And more than that, oddly muffled, she could hear ---gunshots! Scout was in trouble.

“I’m going down there,” Charlotte announced, dropping her bags (please don’t let anyone steal these while I’m superheroing, she thought) deploying her fatigues and drawing her sword as she ran to the edge of the mezzanine. Ignoring the yellow “out of bounds” tape and “Hazard” signs, she vaulted over, landing crouched on the neglected old tiles five feet below. The familiar slight buzz of the futuristic gyros in her boots reassured Charlotte that she could still do martial arts in her high heels. 

From here, she could make out not only the gunshots, but an eerie, pulsing whine. 

Also, and this wasn’t actually that hard to pick out, all other things being equal, Maddie Chung in a silver lame top with plunging cleavage and gold lame short-shorts riding half-way up her rear, wearing inline skates and headed straight at her while taking aim at Charlotte.

Charlotte dodged the first blast, but had to take the second on her sword. 

And got knocked on her keister. Darn it! Maddie had had another power-up! 

“End of the line for you, Wong,” Maddie said, and formed a ball of chaos energy between her hands. Was it tinted blue? Oh, for crying out loud, Skyfather! Charlotte thought. Sure, the old chief Good god of the Old Red Age was probably a little senile with age after seventy thousand years, but the last person he should be powering up was Chaos Girl! 

Nevertheless, blue-tinted or not, Maddie cut a tight turn on her skates while laying the energy ball underhand straight at Charlotte. 

Charlotte pulled up her Eight Spirit Dragon shield, hoping against hope that it would hold. Otherwise, she was about to get her keister kicked some more.

Then a golden glow settled around her as Rose’s arms lifted her and carried, almost too quick to be credited, out of the way of the blast. 

“Hey, Maddie,” Dora said. “Love your extra-curriculars. Disco dancing’ll get you into Evil College for sure!“ 

“If it isn’t the principal’s daughter. Think I’m afraid to take the three of you on at once?” Madison asked.

Rose stopped running, but continued to vibrate in place. “Well, you should be, but you’re crazy, so who knows?”

“I don’t have time for this. I’ve got Wong’s loser boyfriend to kill,” Madison said. She pivoted on her skates as if to head back to the end of the mall. But, as she turned, she waved her hand, laying a foggy, blue curtain in the path of the team. (Maddie’s fingernails were done with sparkle appliques, too. Trust Maddie to take the theme all the way. Or most of the way. A real old-time disco dancer would wear slacks with major flare. Madison wouldn’t have any problem carrying off the fashion, but she’d never do it because it would mean not showing off leg.)

When you thought about it, Charlotte thought, that could be a weakness she could use some time. She plunged into the curtain, the Pearl Harmony Sword in front of her. It had been a Holy Avenger of a champion of the Blue Gods, back in the day, so maybe it could pass the barrier unharmed.

Or with reduced effect, anyway, Charlotte thought, since when she encountered the veil, she got hit with the wallop of a horse kick. But it wasn’t enough to stop her or even slow her down, and with Eight Spirit power flowing through her, Charlotte was right on Maddie’s tail as they reached the far end of the mall and dropped down another quarter level. 

And wished she wasn’t, as she ducked away just in time from slashing claws on a leathery wing. 

A bat. She was fighting a giant bat. “If that thing gets in my hair, Madison, you’ll be too stiff to sit down next class.”

Jokes aside, it was cocking its head to . . . scream at her? Charlotte had a gut hunch that being in whatever cone of effect the bat’s voice produced would be a bad idea, and dodged into a roll. 

That was why it only caught her legs. It was enough, though, because when she came up and over and landed on her feet, her feet wouldn’t do landing. Charlotte had barely enough time to bring her left hand up in a break fall and roll over to meet it. 

Allowing her to be lying on her back with her sword up, so that she could try to fend off the sonic-screaming, razor-taloned, giant bat with her sword. It also gave her a view of Dora, surrounded by a golden field, fighting another giant bat in mid-air. And wherever Rose was, Maddie was in the wind, too. Looked like there wasn’t going to be a rescue this time. Just not her day. 

At least, until Scout vaulted onto the back of the bat and fired a pistol round into its skull. The bat collapsed, as Scout hopped off, landing crouched at Charlotte’s side.

“Did you. . . “ Charlotte began, afraid to finish the question.

“Didn’t kill it,” Scout said. “Creased the varmint’s skull with a .41 magnum round. Cain’t be good fer it’s brain, but it’s breathing, anyway.” He put his hands on her left leg. “You lame, Miss Wong?”

Well, feeling was coming back to her legs, Charlotte could tell from the red hot, flushing, pulsing feeling emanating from Scout’s strong, yet surprisingly gentle touch. “No,” she said, willing herself to jump to her feet and back into the battle, because her friends were in danger. “I’m not. Now let’s kick giant bat rear end.”

As she said it, though, she caught a glimpse of a glint of gold around the bat’s throat. She reached over, took a firm grip, and pulled. Feeling a slight give in the resistance, she pulled again. And was holding a torn torque of soft gold.

“Well,” she said. “This is going to help us hit our wealth per level guidelines. Well, everyone except Bruce. He’s rich, not that you’d know anything about that.” Charlotte looked at Scout, willing him to show embarrassment or something that would tell her what was going on. 

He just looked blandly back at her, and put out his hand. Charlotte put it in his grasp, while scanning the horizon for more bats or Maddie. There was a limit to what she could see due to the darkness and the magic and the bulk of the fallen bat’s giant, leathery wings, but there didn’t seem to be anyone or anything sneaking up on them. They could take a moment to see if this was going to be the key to this boss battle. 

“Look familiar?” Scout asked.

Charlotte looked back at the beautiful piece of bling. Yes, it did. “It’s Ur-Elven.” 

Scout nodded. “Giant bats are a Dark Elf thing,” Charlotte said, remembering not to say “Drow,” in case copyright lawyers showed up out of nowhere, like in Order of the Stick. “Not creatures you’d expect to obey Kilbern. But. . . “

“In the days of the Ur-Elves, before the sundering of the clans,” Scout answered. . . 

Abruptly, another, much more lively bat’s head showed itself above the first one. Knowing what to look for, Charlotte could see its torque. “Let’s see what happens when we collect another one,” she said.

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