Eagle Perfect: Legend of the First is a parody of dystopian young adult novels, in which two ‘chosen ones’ vie for the status of world-saving protagonist. New readers should start at Chapter 1, or you can consult the Table of Contents.
Chapter Nine: The Lyceum
Eagle cringed as the towering Knights continued to crack every joint in each other’s body. It was both a meticulous warm-up and an interesting anatomy lesson.
“How would they know if I had evil intentions?” Eagle asked Frumf, before realising the question made him sound guilty. “Hypothetically, I mean,” he added, before realising that sounded worse.
“They magically peer into the depths of your past,” Frumf whispered, “probing for your most blackest lusts and desires.”
“And if they find anything, they’ll kill me?” Eagle guessed.
“Course not. I will. You’re a decent lad, but I don’t waste a good excuse for a killing.”
Great, Eagle thought to himself, and presumably to Viper Sloen, if she was listening through the mauve crystal. This power of the Sir Barretts was not only inconvenient, but creepy, and made creepier because they were twins. Twins were mistrusted throughout New Pangaea. Yes, the Administration wanted everyone to be equal, but twins took the idea to an eerie (and in Eagle’s opinion, unsavoury) level. As a result, twins in New Pangaea were often separated at birth so they wouldn’t disturb the normal people.
The Sir Barretts completed their warm-up with a crisp crack of each other’s ankles. They replaced their boots, then virtually covered Eagle’s head with all four of their huge palms.
Eagle closed his eyes.
At first, he felt only the press of the Sir Barretts’ hands as he looked into blackness. Then, images began to appear. They were half-thought, half-dream: inside his mind, but beyond his control.
Greens and yellows washed and swirled across his vision, gradually coalescing into fields and pastures. He was back in Pastoral Sector BZ4, but hovering above the ground. He looked down at his hands, but found he had none. He had no body at all. Instead, he looked down on a handsome boy, feeding pigs in the sector’s principal feeding yard. After a moment he realised: the boy was him. There he was, adjusting feed quantities for gestating and lactating gilts and sows, and carefully managing the starter diets of the early weanlings and the newly farrowed. He felt a deep admiration for his talent.
The scene changed. He was outside his assigned sleeping quarters, playing a lively game of “Good Children’s Non-Competitive Ball Bounce” with Fawn and Collie. They were keeping to the Administration’s rules - the scores were even - but he could not fail to notice his own grace and skill.
Then he was climbing the tallest tree in his sector - holding on even as a roaring wind shook the boughs. He saw himself falling and recuperating in bed, then learning from Frumf about his importance. Meeting, and killing, Coordinator Nicer. Then duelling Viper Sloen, magnificently. The moment was approaching when she would hand him the mauve crystal. That would condemn him. But watching the highlights of his own life was absolutely the way Eagle wanted to die.
Then the images stopped.
“That’s enough!” the first Sir Barrett boomed.
Eagle opened his eyes with a start. Both Sir Barretts were puckering their lips in fierce disgust. They glared at Eagle, but berated Frumf.
“You would bring this boy here?” the Sir Barretts asked, each taking turns to say a word. “He is arrogance incarnate! A danger to the Lyceum!”
“Phwhat?” Frumf replied in disbelief. “I carried him halfway here in a sack with no explanation. How dangerous can he be?”
He patted Eagle on the shoulder with a closed fist, very hard. Eagle assumed it was affectionate and supportive.
The Sir Barretts were unmoved.
Frumf sighed. “But I guess it’s your call. Sorry, lad. I liked you.” He drew his handmusket and vanished.
Frumf’s words took a moment to register. Eagle had no idea where Frumf had gone: and if he couldn’t see him, there would be no crucial time channeling flinch, and that would mean…
A barrel-chested laugh filled the air. It wasn’t a normal laugh, like Frumf’s dusty wheeze or Eagle’s own masculine chuckle. There was something about it that spread through Eagle’s body, tickling his nerves until he, too, laughed freely. Frumf materialised, also laughing. Even the Sir Barretts enjoyed the non-existent joke.
Eagle turned and saw the iron gates swing inward. A carefully groomed man smiled at Eagle with teeth so straight and white that Eagle wanted to offer to chew his food for him to preserve their condition. He wore the livery of a magic knight, but was unarmed save for a slender metal spike hanging from his waist, and several handmuskets and a mace.
“Eagle Perfect,” the man said, warmly. “I am so pleased to meet you. I am the Schoolmaster, and that is how you may address me.”
Eagle felt warm, as though he had just met… himself? But that wasn’t right. He had just met the Schoolmaster, hadn’t he?
“I must apologise,” the Schoolmaster said. “You were almost killed merely because the Sir Barretts hate manifestations of ego. They sensed arrogance, not ill-intent. So, I’m sorry.”
“I’m sorry, too, Schoolmaster,” Eagle said, suddenly feeling apologetic, but unsure as to why.
“We also apologise,” the Sir Barretts added, in freaky twin unison. “We’re prejudiced against arrogant people.”
Just like twins to be prejudiced, Eagle thought, but otherwise he felt deeply confused. The Schoolmaster ushered him and Frumf through the gates, and the trio walked side-by-side-by-side through the Lyceum’s forecourt, past stone figures and ornate fountains. Eagle had never seen a statue or a fountain, but he knew what they were called because of the helpful labels placed on them for new arrivals.
“I am excited,” the Schoolmaster said, sending an exciting energy coursing through Eagle’s own body. “I have a plan to make New Pangaea great again. To end the oppressive reign of equality and save humanity. And I believe you can help me.”
They approached the main building. Beside it, he noticed a small shelter, barred by an iron grille, that appeared to lead underground. It was guarded by a teenage girl in a red tunic and pigtails.
“That tunnel leads to the Railweb,” the Schoolmaster explained. “Sealing it would create a spiritual blockage that might destroy the whole Lyceum, so it stays open. But that means any kind of horror could emerge at any moment. So young Daisy disintegrates anything - or anyone - that comes out.”
A harmless insect flew out of the grille. Daisy pointed a finger and annihilated it, before giving the Schoolmaster a cheery wave.
“It’s a happy coincidence you arrived on Orientation Day,” the Schoolmaster said. “Your first task will be the Classification, a simple enrolment ritual in which new students are categorised according to their dominant personality traits. Before you save humanity, you must learn who you are. Then what you are. And then why you are.”
Eagle wondered why that was necessary. Why not start with saving humanity, since that seemed a bit more important, and then he could learn the other things? But then he found that he wanted what the Schoolmaster wanted, and that was the Classification.
They stopped at a high, oak door with an impressively large lock, the kind that could protect impressively large secrets. It was the Schoolmaster’s office. “Frumf will take you to the Classification Arena,” the Schoolmaster said. “Your ears may be miniscule, Eagle Perfect, but your promise is great.”
The Schoolmaster shook Eagle’s hand and disappeared through the oak door.
Frumf led him along a helpfully labelled colonnade, lined with helpfully labelled frescos. Eagle had been feeling a rich sense of gravity and purpose, but with the Schoolmaster out of sight, it evaporated. His presence had somehow altered Eagle’s mood, and now it returned to normal by a circuitous route. It bounced through envy, delusion, suspicion and complacency before finally settling on passive-aggressive resentment toward Frumf.
“So it looked like you almost killed me back there,” Eagle observed.
“You’re not going to harp on that, are you?” Frumf said, prematurely exasperated. “I can’t help being gruff and heartless any more than you can help being … whatever you are, personality-wise. I haven’t noticed.”
Eagle remained sullen. Frumf saw it and tried to cheer him. “The Schoolmaster stopped me, though, didn’t he? And he loves you! He thinks you’re going to save humanity! Surely that cancels out a little attempted killing from me?”
Eagle reluctantly agreed. The Schoolmaster’s approval had been gratifying at the time, but now that he was gone Eagle felt uneasy.
“The Schoolmaster… he controls your mood?”
“Oh, aye, that little power of his. It’s not invisibility or time channelling, but I’m sure it’s good for something.”
“So if there’s something he wants you to do, you want to do it, too, even if it’s a bad idea?”
“But all he wants is to save humanity, like the rhyming prophecy foretells. Don’t you want that?”
Eagle nodded. He thought so. But he wasn’t sure he knew what it meant.
He resolved to discover the Schoolmaster’s aims, a resolution Viper was no doubt glad to hear. The situation reminded him of Administration Chess. Both sides were using him as a pawn, but since that was the only piece in Administration Chess, he didn’t have anything else to aspire to. So he would keep moving forward, one square at a time.
The colonnade descended and became a cool, dark tunnel, filled with the hum of voices. As they approached a light at the other end, he saw that the tunnel opened onto the stage of an amphitheatre.
It seemed every child in the school was here, seated around the semi-circular arena. They murmured at the sight of him, and although murmurs are notoriously hard to understand, Eagle detected tones of approval, jealousy and raw captivation. The smell of the fine, yellow sawdust covering the stage assaulted his nostrils, but it was mingled with something else - a familiar scent he couldn’t quite place.
Frumf led Eagle to the end of a row of boys and girls spanning the length of the stage. Each was about his age, and each looked both prepared and frightened.
Frumf looked Eagle in the eye, wished him luck with a left hook, and took his place in the front row. Eagle’s breathing became shallow. He wished that, just once, someone would take five minutes to explain properly what was about to happen.
And with a blast that would have deafened normal-sized ears, the sawdust erupted.