JAKE AND THE DYNAMO Chapter 13

JAKE AND THE DYNAMO

CHAPTER 13: THE PALADIN

FIRST
PREVIOUS
NEXT

 

Jake couldn’t remember the last time he was this tired. They’d been hiking for hours, and the sun was dipping toward the west. His stomach ached, and the inside of his mouth felt rough and gooey. He hadn’t eaten or drunk anything since breakfast. His calves and the arches of his feet burned. His left foot swelled up, and his shoe felt tight. He limped, and every step sent a shock of pain up his leg. No matter how long he smelled it, he couldn’t grow accustomed to the fetid stench of rotting zombie flesh, which clung to the blood and gore covering Pretty Dynamo, and to the severed hand grasping his leg. Every once in a while, he fell into a fit of retching.

They had entered the financial district, where skyscrapers towered over narrow, canyon-like streets. Pretty Dynamo had dispatched several zombies and a few small Robosaurs along the way. Once, they found a horde of zombies swarming a panicked Kosmoceratops. They watched for a while from a concrete portico, and then Dynamo moved in to finish off what remained.

They didn’t talk much. Dynamo kept her back to him when she could. When she wanted him to go somewhere, to duck lower, to stay hidden in a doorway or around a corner, she said so curtly, in a low voice, or with hand gestures. He answered with short grunts.

It went on like this for hours. Jake didn’t know why she was being so distant, but he didn’t question it. She clearly didn’t want to speak to him.

He didn’t much want to speak to her, either.

They sprinted from doorways to alley mouths to blind corners, Dynamo always holding up a hand to stop him while she checked the surroundings. The sudden stops and starts exhausted him. He panted hard, and spikes of pain dug deep into his left hip.

While they crouched on the porch of a narrow, seven-story office building, she finally turned on him and, to his surprise, hissed, “What is your problem?”

“What? My problem?”

“Yes!”

They were both hunkered down, but he was still a head taller than she was. She had her jaw thrust out, her lower lip extended in a pout. Her green eyes flashed, accusatory. Her breastplate bobbed steadily up and down with her deep breaths.

But her ears were bright red again. She looked to him as she had when he first saw her: like a child pretending to be tough.

In spite of himself, he laughed. The red in her ears deepened and spread to the rest of her face. She said, “Don’t—”

Then she stopped herself, turned her face from him, and sulked.

He quit laughing immediately, and he felt heat creep into his face. His skin itched, so he rubbed a hand across his chest. Suddenly, he realized why she had avoided his eyes for hours: she had lost her powers in front of him, lost control of her bladder in front of him, and then had to undress in front of him. Even Pretty Dynamo would feel humiliated.

At least, if she and Dana were really the same.

“Who are you?” he asked.

She sat back against a brick half wall, pulled her knees to her chin, and made an irritated rasping sound in her throat. “Who do you think I am?”

“I don’t know. Dana says she’s not you.” With a groan, he lowered himself beside her and pulled up his own knees. “When you show up, do you stuff Dana in a box somewhere, or what?”

She sighed. “We’re not different people, Jake.”

“But she hates you.”

“Haven’t you ever hated yourself?”

“You have different personalities.”

“Are you sure?”

He didn’t answer. Instead, he scanned the concrete and broken glass littering the street.

“Are you the same person,” she asked, “when you’re happy and when you’re sad? When you’re strong and when you’re weak? When you’re brave and when you’re scared?”

“Yes.”

Her voice grew quieter, and a tremor entered it. “How do you know?”

“Well, I remember myself at those other times, so—”

“So it’s memories, then? Is that all it takes to make you, you?”

“I … I don’t know.”

Jake glanced at Tesla, who nestled in Pretty Dynamo’s hair. Tesla also avoided his eyes, and made a great show of wiping his glasses.

“I remember being Dana,” Dynamo mumbled.

Jake spun his thumbs around each other a few times before he said, “I want you to know, you don’t have to be embarrassed with me.”

The red in her face deepened. She said through clenched teeth, “What makes you think—?”

“C’mon. Everything that just happened. Anyone would be embarrassed. But it’s okay. I understand. Anybody could have done the same—”

She lowered her head and tapped her index fingers together. “I don’t care.”

“Good.”

“I don’t care what you think, or what you see, or what happens to me when you’re there, because I hate you anyway.”

“Right. Exactly. So don’t be embarrassed.”

“I’m not!”

“Good.”

A minute passed in silence.

The tremor in her voice increased when she said, “Y’know, I’m … I’m not gonna look like this forever.” She swallowed hard. “I’m gonna grow. I will. Really.”

Oh, Dana.

He again felt that strange urge to put a blanket around her shoulders.

 


 

They continued the starts and stops, the ducking and sprinting, until Pretty Dynamo finally halted mid-run in the middle of a narrow avenue and held up a hand. Jake ran straight into her back.

“What is it?” he whispered.

“Can’t you see?” She pointed.

A block ahead, two identical, glass-covered skyscrapers flanked the street. They were hardly different from most of the other buildings in the area, but had thick, rectangular concrete stanchions at their corners. Four stories up, resting on tripods atop the stanchions, were huge machine guns with thick water jackets and fat, wheel-shaped muzzle brakes. Sweat broke out on Jake’s forehead when he realized he could see directly down their barrels.

“They’ve activated the street-level auto-turrets,” Dynamo said. “Probably took a while to code ’em to the zombies’ chemical signatures.”

“They shouldn’t shoot us, though, right?”

“Well, no … but we’re covered in zombie juice.”

Jake’s throat tightened. “Should we run for—?”

“They’re probably not firing cuz they don’t have a perfect match, but if we move too quick, they’re more likely to shoot. That’s how their threat-detection thingies work. I wouldn’t mind if you weren’t here, cuz guns can’t hurt me—”

“What do we do?”

Dynamo tugged one of her pigtails. “Put your hands up. Slowly.”

Jake did.

From an upper story window, a man’s voice shouted, “Halt! Identify!”

They had already halted, but Dynamo called out, “Pretty Dynamo, magical girl! Jake Blatowski, civilian!”

After a moment, both of the machine gun turrets swiveled away from them, and then a four-man fireteam in combat fatigues and body armor stepped out of a nearby doorway. The team leader spoke briefly into a radio. As he did, the automatic rifleman, packing an intimidating M249 LMG, dropped to one knee, scanned the street, and waved Jake and Dynamo over.

“Keep your hands up,” Dynamo said. “These guys don’t mess around.” She walked toward the soldiers, and Jake followed. As she approached, she made the sign of the Moon Princess and said, “Corporal.”

The team leader was a young man with a clean-shaven face still boyishly round, but his gruff expression offset the impression of immaturity. He returned Dynamo’s salute and said, “Magical girl, sir. You’ve entered District 328, Detox Delta. It’s secure, sir.”

“Who’s in charge?”

“LPA. Command is for exorcists only, but you still outrank me, sir.”

Pretty Dynamo nodded. “Keep an eye on your turrets, corporal, or you’re gonna shoot up civilians.”

“Yessir.” The corporal scratched the back of his neck, making his helmet jiggle. He lost some of his formality when he added, “They’ve set the things on low suspicion, but I still don’t trust ’em. I wanted ’em off, but that decision’s over my head.”

“What did your exorcist say?”

“It’s over her head, too. Came from the Fathers, maybe, or the Priestess. Couldn’t tell you which. They want to funnel any stray civvies through here, but then they turn on the auto-turrets and risk cutting ’em up. It’s the usual cluster, sir.”

“Where’s Delta?”

“Straight up the street two blocks, take a left. We got machine guns, snipers, and MPATs in place. The works. But unlike those turrets, they’re manned. Have your friend there keep his hands up. They’re under strict orders not to shoot until they I.D. the target.”

“Thanks.” She nodded to Jake. “Let’s go.”

 


 

After a couple more blocks, they turned a corner and discovered the collapsed body of a robotic Apatosaurus, its long neck and tail curved in a crescent that blocked the street. Nestled against its bulk was a pavilion where crowds of people, most of them looking battered and weary, milled about. A few men in hazmat suits stood in a cluster and conversed with firemen and police. Soldiers were here too, with submachine guns hanging from their slings, but they looked more relaxed than the picket they’d met before, and some were chatting with the civilians.

“Finally,” Jake rasped. “Civilization.”

Several men and women equipped with cameras, microphones, and press badges rushed toward them, shouting questions over one another.

“Here they come,” Dynamo muttered. “Vultures.”

“You there! Stay!” cried a strange voice. It was a strong voice, and pleasant, but neither low nor high. Jake looked around, thinking that perhaps a young boy had spoken. He heard the clop-clop of hooves, accompanied by a steady clicking. When he looked to his left, he jumped back in surprise. A huge eagle, taller than a man, walked toward them out of a narrow alley. The feathers of its head and neck were bright white, and its round yellow eyes were keen and fierce.

“Dynamo—”

Dynamo snorted. “Relax. It’s just Andy.”

Once the creature was out of the shadow of the buildings, Jake could see that it wasn’t an eagle at all: it had an eagle’s head, neck, breast, and wings, as well as its sharp talons, but its hindquarters were those of a horse. Mounted on the monster’s back was a girl in shining steel plate armor fitted to flatter her slender figure, with a high, broad breastplate and a tight, hourglass-shaped plackart. Jake wondered for a moment how well she could breathe with a sheet of metal wrapped so tightly around her waist, but then reminded himself that magical girls’ outfits never emphasized function over form.

Draped across her shoulders was a white cloak clasped with a golden chain. She wore an arming sword at her hip, and on her left arm, she carried a white heater shield emblazoned with a red cross. She wore no helmet, so her long, curly black hair was free to fall about her shoulders. She looked as if she’d stepped out of a painting of Joan of Arc.

“Stay, I said!” she cried, and Jake realized that the androgynous voice was hers. “Get back, knaves! Varlets! Villains! Back, I say, or you die this instant!”

She wasn’t shouting at Jake and Dynamo, but at the crowd of reporters.

In her right hand, she carried a staff topped with a golden cross. She held it high and cried, “Holy Light!”

The cross blazed. Everything turned white, as if Jake had stared straight at a flashbulb. His skin tingled, and the undead hand gripping his ankle at last released. He looked down to see the grim token of their zombie attackers bubble away: it turned to liquid and then evaporated, leaving behind nothing but a black stain on the asphalt.

“Sorry about that, my liege,” the girl said to him with a broad grin, “but I had to make sure you weren’t possessed.”

“What did you just call me?”

She rolled her eyes. “It’s my magical girl persona. I call most everyone my liege, except for these vermin.” She gestured toward the reporters. “It just sort of slips out.” Tapping her chest, she added, “By the power of God, possessed of the spirit of Bradamante, I am Magical Girl Lady Paladin Andalusia.” She patted her hippogriff. “And this is Frederick.”

“Call me Fred,” said the hippogriff in a low voice.

Andalusia flicked her wrist, and the pole of her staff retracted into the cross. She pressed it against her chest, where it stayed. Reaching behind herself, she rummaged in a saddlebag and pulled out a two-way radio. “Andalusia to Marionette, over.”

A voice poured from the radio, too quiet for Jake to make out the words. Andalusia listened and nodded.

“Cancel the patrol, my liege. I’ve got them right here. Yes, they just arrived at Detox Station Delta, and yes, they look all right, considering. The boy looks battered enough to be a zombie himself, but I think he’ll clean up okay.”

Again, the voice came from the radio.

“I’ll tell her.” Andalusia turned back to Dynamo and said, “Pretty Dynamo, Magical Girl Grease Pencil Marionette orders me to inform you that she greatly desires your butt.”

Dynamo crossed her arms. “Tell her she’s not my type.”

At those words, cameras flashed and reporters hastily scribbled in their notepads. Dynamo growled under her breath.

The voice burst from the radio again.

“What?” said Andalusia. “Hold on … she asks me to inform you that her exact words are, ‘Tell her that her butt is mine.’”

Dynamo snorted. “Yeah? You tell her, if she wants a piece of me, she can come get some.”

Andalusia nodded. “Marionette, my liege? Pretty Dynamo states that, now that she is aware of your desire for her butt, you may have a piece.”

More garbled speech.

Andalusia lowered the radio. “She says you’re not her type—”

“Oh, for cryin’ out loud, Andy! Gimme that radio!” Dynamo marched forward with a hand extended, but Frederick reared, and Andalusia held up her shield.

“Ah, sorry, my liege, but I can’t let you touch anything until you’ve been through detox. I can tell by the look of you, you have made contact with the unholy swarms of the undead.”

Dynamo tugged her pigtails with her grimy hands. “Fine. Let’s get it over with.”

Andalusia turned to Jake. “My liege, did the unnatural and unholy ones profane you in any way?”

“No,” said Jake. “Mostly just grunts and snarls.”

Dynamo sighed. “Jake, she means, did they touch you?”

“Oh. Well, one grabbed my ankle, and one kinda bled on my neck.”

Andalusia nodded. “Head to the tent, toward the right side, please. They’ll clean you up. I warn you, they’ll burn your clothes, and any possessions you carry are forfeit. The chemical bath is going to leave you with a rash, and you’ll have to wear a monitor for a few days.”

Jake shrugged. “Sounds great.”

“And you, Dynamo, what’s your heat tolerance?”

“Pretty high. Go ahead and torch me. Tesla, you better go with Jake.”

Andalusia waved a hand toward the tent. Three men in hazmat suits walked over, and the reporters, apparently afraid to get near them, made a wide berth. One carried an odd contraption, apparently some sort of gun, with a long barrel surrounded by a ventilated barrel shroud. The weapon had no buttstock and no magazine, but had a foot-tall canister standing on its back end.

One of the suited men pointed at Jake and then pointed toward the tent.

Jake glanced at Dynamo. She merely nodded, so he head in the direction the man pointed. As he walked away with Tesla trailing after, he heard a hiss and a roar behind him. When he looked back over his shoulder, he saw Pretty Dynamo standing with arms stretched out, engulfed in a raging fire spewing from the strange weapon.

“Holy—”

“She’ll be fine,” said Tesla. “It’s the quickest and surest way to destroy a zombie’s potentially infectious secretions. You and I, however, are in for more of an ordeal.”

 


 

Having no doubt been built in haste, the detox center afforded little privacy. With only a flimsy, wind-whipped curtain to hide him, Jake had to strip off his clothes and throw everything onto a smoldering burn pile. Then he had to stand with arms out as the two men in hazmat suits scrubbed him down with some foul-smelling green substance that irritated his nose and stung his skin. They let him stand for a few minutes, naked, cold, and slimy, before they scrubbed him again with soap and poured freezing water over him. Tesla got a similar, if slightly more delicate treatment. Once it was over, they let Jake slip into a jumpsuit of thick, cloth-like paper and a pair of flimsy slippers. A man in a lab coat strapped onto his right wrist a device that looked like a digital watch.

“Don’t tamper with it or an alarm will sound. Don’t try to take it off yourself. In three days, come to an official center. If you’re not infected, we’ll remove it.”

“And if I am infected?”

“Your girlfriend will kill you.” He slapped Jake’s shoulder for emphasis.

Jake thought about telling him that Pretty Dynamo wasn’t his girlfriend, but was too tired to bother, so he simply nodded. Shuddering from the chill, he sat on a bench under the tent where a volunteer handed him a water bottle, a cup of bitter coffee, and a bagel. He took them gratefully.

Then the reporters swarmed again. As they shoved microphones and cameras into his face, he drank his coffee, picked at his bagel, and did his best to ignore them. He answered no questions, in the hope that they’d get bored.

Soon after, Pretty Dynamo, surrounded by the strong stench of diesel fuel, roughly shoved a couple of reporters aside and sat beside him. The camera flashes and shouted questions redoubled.

Someone handed her a juice box.

Together, they drank in silence as if the reporters weren’t there. Jake fed Tesla chunks of his bagel.

“Pretty Dynamo,” a woman shouted, holding up a press badge as if it were a talisman, “where were you the last two days?”

Finally, Dynamo growled, “Fighting monsters. Where were you? Cowering under the kitchen table?”

More flashes, more scribbling.

“Pretty Dynamo,” said a man, “why didn’t you destroy the robot dinosaurs? Why did the Temple have to resort to the Weapon? Is it possible that your much-touted power is, in fact, overrated?”

“Pretty Dynamo,” said another woman, “some say you’re losing your edge. Is your new boyfriend to blame?”

Dynamo slurped the last few drops from her juice box and then crumpled it in a fist. Her jaw and the muscles of her shoulder tightened, so Jake laid a hand on her arm. At that gesture, the cameras clicked with even greater ferocity.

“Don’t,” Jake said quietly. “It’s not worth it. These jackasses want attention. Just ignore them, and they’ll go away.”

“Barfing Boy,” said another man who thrust his mike directly under Jake’s nose and blocked his attempt to take another sip, “is it true that you’re distracting Pretty Dynamo from her duties? Have you considered the possibility that your behavior has led, albeit indirectly, to the deaths of hundreds if not thousands of people?”

Jake put his cup down on the bench, slowly rose to his feet, shoved the microphone aside, and said, “Pretty Dynamo has been working like heck for two days, all to save your life, all of your lives, you miserable, princess-less little excuse for a human being. Now leave her alone!”

He gave the reporter a hard shove. More cameras flashed.

“Out! Out, vultures! Lickspittles! Vipers! Out!” Andalusia, now without her shield, leapt into the tent, grabbed two reporters by the backs of their coats, and yanked them out onto the street, where they fell to the ground. Pens and notebooks clattered against the asphalt. “I am in charge of this detox station by authority of the High Priestess, and until the Temple sounds the all clear, my word is law! I allow you to be here on one condition: you do not hassle the patients, and you most especially do not hassle my fellow magical girls!”

“That’s two conditions!” cried a reporter at Andalusia’s elbow.

In reply, she drew her sword. Immediately, the pressmen scattered.

With a contemptuous smirk, she slid the sword back into its place. “Fie. Sorry, my lieges, but those sorts make my blood boil. We magical girls have a saying: newsmen are good for just one thing—”

“Monster food,” said Dynamo. She and Andalusia bumped fists and laughed.

A chill ran down Jake’s spine.

“My liege,” Andalusia said to him, “there is a public shelter near here. That’s where you’re spending the night. It’s dirty, it’s crowded, it stinks, the air circulation system is broken, and I suspect bedbugs—but it’s safe.”

“Sounds fantastic.”

“That’s the spirit.”

“What about Dynamo?”

“She’s had her juice box. Now she’s back to work.”

“C’mon, she needs a rest—”

Dynamo held up a hand. “No, Andy’s right.”

Andalusia shook her head. “They caught us at a time when we’re short on exorcists. In fact, we’re short on magical girls all around—those Robosaurs hit us hard. I’d love to head back into the fray myself, but the detox stations need exorcists or they’re sitting ducks for demoniacs, and if we don’t funnel people through detox, we’ll just get more zombies. Last thing we want is an infected making it into a shelter.”

“We saw a demoniac back in Little India,” said Jake.

“Way ahead of you, my liege. Grease Pencil Marionette already sent Rifle Maiden and Voodoo Queen Natasha in there. They’ll have the whole district cleaned out by tomorrow noon, I’d wager. Natasha is more than a match for any demon, and Rifle Maiden loves a good zombie attack. She calls it ‘target practice.’”

Jake nodded. “I can imagine that.”

“Ah, you’ve met her? I’m surprised she didn’t snatch you from Dynamo. She has quite the reputation as a man-killer. Figuratively, I mean.”

“She tried. And Dynamo and I are just friends.”

Dynamo gave him a sidelong glare. “Acquaintances.”

Andalusia clucked her tongue. “Of course. I should know better than to believe what I read in the papers. Vultures! They’re liars and talebearers, too.”

She swept a hand through her thick hair before she added, “Pretty Dynamo, Marionette wants you to meet up with my counterpart in Little Europe. I suggest you do so without protest; it takes a lot to rile up the robot, but she’s absolutely livid.”

Dynamo twisted up her mouth. “Yeah, I’ll do it. Zombies are no problem, but I can’t fight a demoniac.”

“It’s good to know your limits.”

“I’m gonna take some time to get there, though. I’m ground-bound.”

“Really? Sorry to hear that. But I can help.”

She sucked in her lower lip and whistled.

Frederick, who had been lounging on the pavement a moment before, rose to his feet and trotted over. “Andy?”

“Pretty Dynamo needs a ride to Little Europe, Fred.”

Frederick snuffled and dug his hooked beak into the feathers under one wing. “Ah, wonderful. Perhaps we’ll get some bratwurst while we’re there.”

“No dawdling. Make contact with Nunchuk Nun and then come right back.”

“As you wish.” He lowered his belly to the ground. “Climb on, young Dynamo.”

Andalusia clapped Dynamo on the shoulder and gave her a wink. “It’s handy having a familiar who’s big enough to ride.”

Dynamo pointed up at Tesla, who had settled in her hair again. “I prefer the compact kind. But thanks for the lift.”

“Any time.”

Dynamo stuck a boot in a stirrup and easily swung herself onto Frederick’s back.

Andalusia made the sign of the Moon Princess. “God go with you.”

“Sure.” Dynamo gave Frederick a kick. He squawked, turned about, and galloped down the street. After spreading his wings, he flapped hard and soon lifted above the towering buildings. He wheeled out of sight.

Jake put his hands to his lower back and tried to stretch. “That nasty shelter of yours, when are you making me go there?”

“Nightfall. I’m not letting very many people out at once, or the station would get too crowded, and they’d be harder to guard. But as a favor to Pretty Dynamo, I’ll let you stay out until dark.”

“Thanks.”

“You’re going to have a bad night, but that jumpsuit you’re wearing is disposable, so you won’t have to take the bedbugs home. We should have this mopped up by tomorrow evening.”

“I think I heard this morning that you were supposed to have it mopped up today.”

“Whoever said that didn’t account for the demoniacs. If it makes you feel better, my liege, I’ll be up all night while you’re trying to sleep.”

“You got the energy for that?”

“We’ve a good supply of juice boxes here.”

“I hope you don’t mind my saying, but you seem very … well, very together, for a magical girl.”

She turned from him and laughed quietly. “I’m glad you think so. Not every magical girl’s persona is crazy.”

“Persona?”

“Indeed. Perhaps you’ve not had the chance to observe it, my liege, but transformation usually changes a girl’s personality. Sometimes it’s subtle, sometimes more dramatic.”

Jake thought for a moment about Dana curled up on the floor of the convenience store. “I’ve seen it, but Dynamo says she’s the same person as … well, the same as her alter ego.”

“Does she? I suppose there are different theories.” She walked to him and put a hand on his shoulder. “Let me ask you a question: how close are you to Pretty Dynamo? How close, really?”

He chewed the inside of his cheek. “I don’t actually know. Frenemies?”

She chuckled. “All right, now let me give you a friendly piece of advice. You can decide for yourself if it’s advice you need. Don’t ever fall in love with a magical girl.”

He didn’t answer her, but chewed his cheek again instead.

“You said you met Rifle Maiden, yes?”

“Yes.”

“And you say she, ah, made passes at you, yes?”

“Well, yeah—”

“This might bruise your ego, but Rifle Maiden does that to all the boys. It’s part of her persona. It so happens that I know her alter ego, and she’s nothing like that. Not in the least. But when she turns eighteen, Rifle Maiden will disappear. Only the real girl, by then a woman, will remain. To fall in love with a magical girl is to fall in love with a dream. We are fantasies, fancies.”

“You look real to me.”

“I am a little girl playing dress-up. That is all any magical girl really is.”

She stepped back from him and rested a hand on the hilt of her sword. “I don’t know Pretty Dynamo’s alter ego. Perhaps no one does. But I imagine she’s nothing like Dynamo. I also suspect she’s younger than she lets on: she seems awfully small in person.”

“She’s pretty young, yeah.”

“And how old are you? Sixteen? Seventeen?”

“Fourteen, actually.”

“Big for your age?”

“A little.”

“Hm.” She tapped her fingers on the sword’s pommel. “You might want to be a bit more reticent. You just told me that you know who she really is.”

His cheeks warmed.

“Don’t fret about it, but be careful. Nobody can tell who a magical girl is by looking at her face; that’s part of the magic. But people can put things together if you drop too many hints. Keep your wits about you and use caution.”

“Since you guys are celebrities, what’s the point of the secrecy?”

“We know not whom we fight, my liege, but we suspect some of our enemies have ears.” She inclined her head toward the men of the press, who clustered together in a group and scowled in their direction. “Besides, the Moon Princess encouraged it.”

After giving him a hearty pat, she returned to directing the volunteers and workers at the detox station. Jake leaned against the tail of the downed Apatosaurus and watched the thin ribbon of sky overhead turn from dark blue to purple and finally to black.

 


 

Matilda burst from her chambers and, with her long robes dragging behind her, ran down the hall to the Throne Room of Darkness where the Dark Queen languished on her obsidian throne, now with a cold pack on her forehead and a glass of Bromo in her hand.

“Your Darkness,” Matilda cried. “Your Darkness!”

“This had better be some very bad news, Matilda,” the Dark Queen grumbled.

“It is news most vile! Downright putrescent!”

The Dark Queen sat up and pulled the cold pack from her head, obvious interest on her face. “Yes?”

“I’ve got him!”

Matilda held out a miniature holographic projector. Into the air, it fired a golden beam that separated and then reformed into a rectangle containing a televised image of Pretty Dynamo and her mysterious paramour speaking to a girl in armor, the hated Lady Paladin Andalusia. At the bottom of the image were the words, “Pretty Dynamo and Barfing Boy Arrive at Detox Station Delta.”

The Queen raised one eyebrow. “You know where that is?”

“Oh yes, Your Darkness. Their news channels have faithfully broadcast the locations of the detox stations. They do it every half hour!”

The Dark Queen laughed. After swallowing her medicine in a single gulp, she leapt from her throne and pointed one razor-sharp fingernail at a huge, hulking troll with broad battle-axes hanging from his back. “You there! Go! Find this youth on whom my hated enemy has set her heart! Maim him! Disfigure him! Make Pretty Dynamo scream in horror when she sees him! But do not kill him, for it is she who must feel the pain of his torture!” She followed this up with a loud, hearty laugh.

Thanks to the Bromo-Seltzer, the laugh ended in an equally loud and hearty belch.

The Dark Queen clapped a hand over her mouth. “Excuse me,” she muttered as her face turned red.

FIRST
PREVIOUS
NEXT