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 Three: The Magic Knight
“You’re a Magic Knight, aren’t you?” Eagle chirped as the Stranger half-dragged him from bed. It was the only explanation for the Stranger’s vanishing act.
“I’ll ask the questions,” the Stranger muttered, “and I have no questions. So move.”
Eagle could see the Stranger clearly now. He was grey and threadbare, with wild brows and a crumpled face. Eagle thought he looked like an old sock that had been brought to life and felt quite upset about it.
“Sorry,” the Stranger apologised, after Eagle had stared an uncomfortably long time to come up with the sock analogy. “I realise I come across gruff. I’m working on it. Call me Frumf.”
Frumf did look gruff, but also nervous. And he had magic powers and a formidable arsenal dangling unsafely from his belt. What was he afraid of?
“You’re asking me to trust you with the most important life in the world. Why should I?”
“Because if you don’t, I’ll kill you myself.”
That seemed excessive. Eagle had only expected a promise.
Frumf produced a hessian sack. It smelt of pork. “Climb in here. You’re now a dead pig. Make any sound other than the ‘oink’ of a deceased pig, and I’ll punch out your kidneys.” Frumf checked his gruffness. “Gently.”
Eagle held back again. He looked Frumf in the eye.
“Peeking over a fence is one thing,” he said. “You’re asking me to crawl into a porky old hessian sack and leave everything I know - my assigned sleeping quarters, my artificial familial unit, my scheduled work duties - with virtually no explanation.”
“Yes. But it’s your only hope of becoming humanity’s only hope.”
Eagle sighed. He hoped humanity would be grateful.
* * *
In the tales taught at school, Magic Knights were mystical servants of the Administration. Each knight exemplified a particular virtue. Eagle recalled Sir Peregrin, who represented the virtue of gratitude to the Administration. His only words were ‘thanks be to the Administration’, which he uttered using a range of intonations to convey different emotions and ideas. He had always liked Sir Illian, who followed any order no matter how senseless, illustrating the virtue of obedience to the Administration. The virtue of loyalty to the Administration was embodied by Lady Mercia, who nobly used her mind control powers to amend unlawful thoughts of potential dissidents.
But now Eagle had met a Magic Knight, and something rang false. If Magic Knights were loyal servants, why was Frumf smuggling Eagle through Administration checkpoints as a pig carcass? And why had he said that everything Eagle had heard about the Administration was wrong? Was the Administration really not what it seemed? Or was Frumf lying? What if the whole world was full of people whose exterior masked a slightly different interior? Or if everyone experienced ongoing internal conflict, such that their actions were not entirely consistent or predictable? Eagle was grappling with some big questions.
At least one part of the stories was true. Frumf rode a motor-horse, a two-wheeled mechanical contraption that roared and puffed white smoke. Eagle had long imagined riding one, though not slung over the back of it in a hessian bag. He was thankful when, well after sunset, the engine cut out. Frumf dumped Eagle onto a concrete laneway and heaved him up by the collar. Eagle eagerly drew in a breath of non-porky air, and discovered the laneway was more or less a rubbish dump.
Frumf waved a hand over the motor-horse and it almost vanished.
“This pus-filled carcass of a latrine is Hospitality Sector TZ33,” Frumf explained. They reached a broad street. “Curfew’s in ten minutes. We need to find an inn, hotel or B&B.”
Eagle squinted. “Literally every building is an inn, hotel or B&B.”
“That one,” Frumf said, pointing out an inn exactly like the ones either side of it.
“I’ve never stayed at an inn,” Eagle said as they approached. “What do I do?”
“Follow my lead,” Frumf suggested. “Unless what I do is stupid. No need to be an idiot.”
Frumf shoved open the oak door and the warm of a glowing hearth poured over Eagle. The innkeeper, a ruddy, sweaty man, scrubbed at a streaky stain on the arrival desk. Frumf, and in turn Eagle, coughed insistently.
“Sorry, chaps,” the Innkeeper said, looking up briefly. “The Administration only appointed me manager this afternoon. ‘Ave to clean up the previous manager’s brains ‘fore I can focus.”
“Something Unusual happen?” Frumf asked, casting his eyes about.
“No, no!” the Innkeeper chortled. “The manager and ‘is ‘elpless young daughter were shot, but it was all Administration-approved.” He shuffled through some papers. “There was a rumour the manager’s son’d killed the Sector Coordinator, but then the Sector Coordinator showed up ‘ere later on and did some executin’! Been quite the day, I tell you.”
He handed Frumf an old copper key. “Upstairs on your left.”
Frumf reached into his pocket and drew out a gold mark, the most valuable coin in New Pangaea. The manager’s eyes glittered as Frumf held it by his face.
“If anyone comes looking for an old man and a boy,” Frumf whispered. “You’ve not seen us.”
The manager nodded conspiratorially.
“Or I’ll come down here,” Frumf continued, “and jam this coin through your eye socket.”
Frumf pocketed the money. Eagle shrugged in apology and followed Frumf upstairs.
Their room was furnished with a double bed and prints of two of the 16 Administration-approved watercolours. It was stuffy and windowless.
“I’ll let you have the floor,” Frumf said.
Eagle spread his hessian bag out on the hardwood boards. “I deserve to know why I’m here,” he said. “And where I’m going, who exactly we’re hiding from, and probably a few other things.”
“Hmph,” Frumf replied, undoing his weapons belt. “Where you’re going? It’s like a school.”
Eagle winced. He’d hated Agricultural Operative School.
Frumf tossed Eagle his cloak for a blanket. “Not a normal school. But similar enough that you’d identify with it if you’d been to normal school. You’ll learn what makes you important. And who we’re hiding from? New Pangaea’s deadliest Magic Knights.”
“Magic Knights? You mean you’re not all on the same side?”
“The world’s more complicated than you know, farm boy. Not everyone spends their days feeding pigs. Some people torture pigs. To get what they want, they’d torture a million pigs. That’s why we can’t let anything slow us up.”
“I really think—“
Two soft taps at the door. Frumf put a finger to his lips.
“Open up, in the name of The Administration!” called a voice outside.
“Magic Knights?” Eagle whispered.
Frumf shook his head. “They wouldn’t knock.” He edged toward the door and looked through the keyhole.
“Can’t see hardly anything,” he whispered to Eagle. “It’s a keyhole.”
Another knock. More insistent.
Frumf picked up his handmusket and pointed it at the wooden door. Turning the knob, he stepped to one side.
Outside stood a man with long, blond hair, turquoise eyes and healthy skin. He was flanked by two Guardsmen with crossbows. Eagle was unfamiliar with hospitality, but this didn’t feel like part of the service.
“Good evening, weary travellers,” the blond man said in a hushed voice. “I am Sector Coordinator Nicer. I hope you’re enjoying your stay. May I join you?”
Frumf relaxed visibly when the blond man introduced himself. “You shouldn’t,” Frumf said. “But you will.”
“Indeed,” Nicer replied. One Guardsman levelled his crossbow and Nicer stepped around Frumf. The other made a show of searching the room, despite the obvious lack of hiding places. Frumf tucked his handmusket under his shirt.
Nicer plumped the mattress and sat. “Something’s wrong here, gentlemen,” he said, eyeing Frumf, then Eagle.
He patted the bedsheets. “Look! Queen-sized linen on a double bed! Some imbecile’s prank, no doubt.”
Eagle faked a loud, genial laugh until Nicer hushed him with a hand. Eagle looked to Frumf, who was still strangely at ease.
“Please remain calm as I give you this frightening news,” Nicer continued. “But a criminal element is at large.”
The Guardsman at the door lowered his crossbow and unrolled a poster. It depicted a teenage boy with enormous ears and a vacant expression. He had an inconsequential quality about him.
“That boy,” Nicer said, “is Legend Faramiah. This was his family’s inn. I was asked to question and execute him in relation to a highly Unusual situation. He stumbled in as I executed his sister, but in the twelve seconds it takes to reload a handmusket, he ran away.”
“You think he’s doubled back?” Eagle suggested. “He does look dense.”
“His only other option is to hide underground in the Railweb. And that would be suicide, but worse.”
“All clear,” the searching Guardsman said, completing his charade. He had moved Frumf’s weapons well out of reach.
Nicer nodded in acknowledgement and stood. “Now, if there’s nothing I can do to improve your stay, I have just one more question.” There was a hint of menace.
“If you ask it,” Frumf said, upping the menace ante, “you won’t like what happens—”
“You think I wouldn’t hear a motor-horse in my sector?” Nicer asked Frumf. “I can’t stand loud noises. And the innkeeper said you threatened him. And you’re hiding something under your shirt. Oh yes, my Magic Knight and my mysterious, handsome boy. Something is afoot.”
Eagle looked to Frumf again. Frumf winked.
“I don’t know who you are,” Nicer said to Eagle, really nailing the menace again, “but I suspect you are even more important than Legend Faramiah, as well as taller. I’ll detain you until you explain yourself.”
In a flash, Frumf’s hands went for the nearest Guardsman’s crossbow. It fired wide. Frumf hit the Guardsman in the head with the other Guardsman’s head.
Nicer sneered and drew a handmusket. For a hospitality expert, he was lightning with a gun. He aimed it at Eagle. Eagle flinched and shut his eyes.
For the second time in a week, he was looking death in the eye. Not directly, of course, because he’d flinched again. But the sickening feeling was familiar.
The next sound was Frumf laughing. Eagle cracked open an eyelid.
Coordinator Nicer was gone. Tendrils of smoke rose from the floor where he had stood.
“Where did he go?” Eagle asked.
“That’s not the question,” Frumf replied smugly, stepping over a limp Guardsman. “The question is when did he go. You’d also be right to ask whether he’s dead, ‘cause he is.”
Eagle’s mind set to work, trying to understand. It didn’t stand a chance.
“What I mean,” Frumf said, “is he’s magically gone backwards in time, along his own timeline. Not the gentlest process, hence his death. See, when he stepped through that door, I remembered the rumours of him being found dead, then I thought of you, and I knew how it’d all play out. He was found dead earlier because he was dead, though he also wasn’t.”
“You did this?” Eagle asked. “You can send people back in time?”
“No. Not me. It was you.”