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 Seven: The Journey Ends
Employ me? Eagle thought, both to himself and to Viper Sloen. Job interviews in Pastoral Sector BZ4 involved simple behavioural questions and answers, and always resulted in the candidate’s continued employment as an agricultural operative. They never involved a mind reader holding the candidate at dagger-point.
Viper’s gaze, which mixed menace with a dash of impatience, silenced his thoughts.
“We have two minutes,” she said, glancing at her pocket watch.
Before? Eagle asked, confused.
“Before Frumf rides around that corner and ‘rescues’ you.”
Eagle was more confused.
“He’s taking you to the Lyceum, the Renegade Knights’ stronghold beyond the Great Wall,” she explained. “That is what I want.”
Eagle tried harder to communicate his confusion to Viper using only thoughts, because she didn’t seem to be getting the message.
“He’s told you that you’ll be safe from the Administration there,” Viper continued. “That we want to hurt you, and that you must be trained there because only you can save the world.”
At last, something Eagle understood. In fact, the last part was so obvious he considered a sarcastic jibe about Viper being a mind reader, then thought better of it, then realised she would already have heard the idea. Her professionalism impressed him as she stayed on topic.
“I will tell you something you don’t know. The Knights at the Lyceum would destroy our society. They want to take the place of the Administration, but instead of ruling with kind words and gentle floggings, they would have everyone bow down to them.”
What does that have to do with me? Eagle asked, partly out of ongoing confusion, but mostly because he wanted to talk about himself.
“Every time we torture a Renegade Knight,” Viper replied, “they spout some nonsense about a prophecy, which they seem to believe simply because it rhymes. It speaks of a youth they call ‘the chosen one’: a magnificent hero who will travel through time and save the world from a great oppressor. Frumf thinks you may be that youth.”
Eagle nodded. The prophecy seemed understated, but broadly correct.
“It’s a lie,” Viper said, “and one that could cost lives. Most importantly, yours. The Renegade Knights are arrogant, selfish and reckless. They would train you, flatter you, use you and discard you.”
And you won’t? Eagle thought-asked, trying hard to achieve the rising intonation.
“No, I won’t train you,” Viper answered. “But you are powerful and significant and The Administration needs your help for this one thing.”
She reached into her tunic and drew out a glorious, mauve crystal, about the size of an egg. Eagle’s jaw wanted to drop at its magnificent lustre, but it wasn’t quite worth being impaled on a dagger for.
“This crystal retransmits my abilities,” she said. “Wherever it goes, I hear the thoughts of those around it. Take it into the Lyceum. I will learn what the Renegade Knights plan to do with you, and we will stop them together.”
It sounded simple, but Eagle felt the beginning of a qualm.
“You are about to have qualms,” Viper observed. “While I have not experienced qualms, I understand they can be unsettling, like ill children or super-intelligent mice. But I know your heart, Eagle Perfect. When you meet the Knights of the Lyceum and learn of their aims, you will want to help the Administration. And if you do this, the Administration will make you a real Magic Knight. Now have your qualms, but be prompt.”
Eagle’s instincts told him not to trust Viper Sloen, but he wasn’t sure why. Was it the way the mountain birdsong had died and turned to mourning at her presence? Was it the foul blackening of the sky that proclaimed her malevolence? Was it her evil-sounding name, or the ‘X’ shaped scar on her forehead that reeked of madness?
All of these things were superficial, Eagle realised. He shouldn’t judge Viper Sloen by her appearance, especially not when she had offered him a Magic Knighthood. If he took the crystal, he could be special and important, without any of the responsibility of saving humanity.
The now-familiar sound of skull striking skull came from behind the hut, and Eagle thought of Frumf. Taking the crystal would betray Frumf’s trust. Frumf, who had saved his life and abused him only a bit while not brutally killing very many innkeepers.
Eagle couldn’t decide, but then he realised he didn’t have to. He could take the crystal, he told himself, then make his decision later. He could discard the crystal any time he pleased. His options would be open.
“Then we have a deal,” Viper smiled. She pressed the crystal into Eagle’s hand. “But in future, please try to expedite your needless internal debates.”
She relaxed the pressure on the dagger as a motor-horse thundered from behind the hut. Within moments Frumf skidded into view on Viper’s motor-horse. It reared onto its hind wheel as Frumf whooped like a lunatic before barrelling toward Viper and Eagle.
Viper dove clear as Eagle caught Frumf’s outstretched hand. After some awkwardly intimate manoeuvring, Eagle was mounted on the rear of the motor-horse, his arms encircling Frumf’s waist. It wasn’t elegant, but it wasn’t a hessian sack, either.
The motor-horse swerved onto the mountain track, kicking up plumes of dust as it climbed. Eagle looked back and saw Viper feign a brief, futile foot chase. Up ahead, two more Guardsmen blocked the way, crossbows raised. Frumf waved a hand and the Guardsmen almost vanished. Eagle could just make out their translucent forms as they dropped their crossbows and stared at their hands in confusion. It seemed a humane way for Frumf to defuse the situation, until seconds later when the motor-horse ploughed straight through the Guardsmen.
Eagle tightened his grip as the motor-horse gained speed. Ahead, stretching directly across the road, was the Great Wall that marked the border between Mining Sector 8B2 and the Unsectored Lands. That enormous concrete wall, and the platoon of Guardsmen on top of it, were all that stood between them and their journey’s end.
In a rare display of prudence, Frumf pulled the motor-horse over. He and Eagle gazed at the wall together.
“There’s no climbing that thing,” Frumf observed, spitting out some earwax that was unaccountably in his mouth.
They needed a way past the wall, Eagle knew. Viper was his friend for now, but that friendship was conditional. If he couldn’t get to the Lyceum, she would have no use for him. “Minkrat had a way through,” he suggested.
“And we were paying her for a reason. Keep thinking.”
Eagle tried. They were out of options.
Frumf picked nervously at his ear. He must have been even more worried about the Administration than Eagle. “What would you say to the Railweb?” he asked.
Eagle shook his head so hard it would have fractured a lesser neck. “You may be suicidal, or worse,” he said. “But I have to live.”
As Eagle reflected on the soothing sound of his own voice, he had an idea. “That’s it!” he exclaimed, still sounding terrific. “I have to live!”
* * *
Eagle twisted the throttle, and the motor-horse rumbled in reply. He squinted as he leaned over the handlebars, hoping to affect a look of steely determination. Frumf hugged his waist from behind, dribbling warm saliva on his shoulder. It still wasn’t an ideal vision of heroism, but it was improving all the time.
The Great Wall approached. Eagle had to admire it. It really was a fine wall, twice the height of the wall that surrounded Pastoral Sector BZ4. The Guardsmen atop it didn’t fire. Perhaps they were confused because Eagle and Frumf were riding full speed toward the wall and certain death.
But Eagle had a plan. Twice before, when he had felt he was about to die, Eagle had flinched and his time channelling powers had saved him, as though working through instinct. They hadn’t failed him yet, and he had been able to convince Frumf it was worth a try. As the wall grew closer, he remembered his powers had actually failed him once, something two bitter squirrels at the dawn of time could confirm, so maybe the plan was not a guaranteed success.
Eagle could see nothing but concrete now. He braced. He shut his eyes. He squealed and waited for the impact.
And with an anticlimactic pop, he time-channelled a motor-horse sized piece of the Great Wall into the distant past.
* * *
The Unsectored Lands were a disappointment. Strange, wasted plants lined the rough-hewn track. Eagle had been hoping for a crowd of unadministered common folk eager to catch their first glimpse of the chosen one. And worse than that, outside the Administration's jurisdiction, Frumf suddenly felt comfortable engaging in the crime of mockery. He openly ridiculed Eagle for squealing earlier, re-enacting the moment as he swigged liberally from his hip flasks.
As they drew near to the Lyceum, Eagle found the air full of possibilities, making it harder than usual to breathe. High in the mountains and cloaked in cloud, the building looked much like Eagle’s agricultural school, but with a sense of mystery and two enormous, identical Magic Knights guarding the closed, wrought iron gates.
Frumf introduced the twins as he and Eagle dismounted. “This is Sir Barrett, and this is also Sir Barrett. It’s their job to screen you for evil intentions.”
Eagle felt the weight of the crystal in his pocket as the twins cracked each other’s knuckles in preparation.
He braced for the search.