Eagle Perfect - Chapter Twelve: Homecoming

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 Twelve: Homecoming

The girl with the pigtails started to shake. Her outstretched arm went slack at the elbow, and her eyelids retreated so far there was more white than iris on display.

“I’m not going to hurt you,” said Eleanora.

The girl opened her mouth to scream, but no sound came out. She coughed into a handkerchief, cleared her throat, and tried again. This time, a shriek of intense terror hit Legend front on, piercing his vision and ricocheting off the ceramic walls behind him.

Having exhausted her supply of oxygen, the girl turned and sprinted in the direction of the smoke.

Legend braced against the pain of his distant Guardsmen, and slowly assembled the strength required to ask Eleanora why the girl had been so afraid. Due to Legend’s weakened state, this took several hours, during which the sun advanced a considerable distance across the sky. Indeed, he was only halfway done when the girl finally returned, shielded by a carefully groomed man with straight teeth like those Legend had seen in the Railweb.

Eleanora turned and ran. Or rather, she turned and stood still, but in a way implied a desire for a rapid departure.

“Eleanora Dant,” the man beamed.

“Schoolmaster,” Eleanora replied, frozen in place.

“I didn’t expect to see you again – at least, not here. But I am glad you have returned.”

Legend also felt glad, and was confused when he saw the sweat dripping from Eleanora’s forehead, and her jaw locked shut like a petty cash tin. Why wasn’t she glad like he was?

“You have grown impressively along the physical dimensions, but I fear your magical development may have languished over the years.”

Legend feared the same thing, not in the sense that he was scared of Eleanora’s languishing talents, but rather that he was genuinely concerned for her personal development.

“Worry not, for I held your place at the Lyceum on the chance that you might one day decide to complete your education. You want to complete your education, do you not?”

Legend certainly wanted her to complete her education, but Eleanora still seemed to be grinding her jaw and sweating. Perhaps she was hoping to obtain a uniform set of teeth to match the Schoolmaster’s?

“N---” she sputtered, before doubling over and gasping for air, taking huge mouthfuls of the stuff as if her sweat had somehow submerged her, and now she had reached dry land.

“I said,” the Schoolmaster said, “You want to complete your education, do you not?”

“Yes,” said Eleanora, turning to face him for the first time. “I would like that very much.”

“That makes me happy. Please, put this on.”

He reached into his robes and withdrew a silver necklace, with a small mauve crystal set into the pendant. Eleanora, still short of breath, took it from his hand and fastened it around her neck.

The Schoolmaster smiled, and with a flick of his wrist, the grille disappeared.

“Return to your dormitory and change into your tunic, then present at the Amphitheatre with the rest of the students.”

Eleanora nodded meekly, and left.

The Schoolmaster finally turned his attention to Legend, although Legend did not realise this as he had felt embraced by the man’s presence from the moment he arrived.

“Legendiah Obadiah Faramiah the First,” he began, “yours is the most exciting arrival of the year so far.” An energy of superlative excitement coursed through Legend’s 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, moreso than any other student who enrolled today.”

Legend felt special, which made him uncomfortable. But for some reason the latter emotion wouldn’t stick, and he soon reverted to feeling special.

“You’ve had quite the trip, haven’t you? The Railweb is draining at the best of times, I can only imagine what it must have been like with two familiars in tow. Nurse Butcher is the best there is, however, she’ll set you right again.”

Legend felt relieved, and not in the way he’d recently been feeling things. This sensation felt like it came from within, as if he were its cause.

“Of course, Nurse Butcher can do nothing until you are classified.”

“I’m already classified,” said Legend, “I’m an invoicing operative.”

The Schoolmaster laughed.

“That is what the Administration would have you believe. They like to assign roles, to tell people what to do. Classification is different. Classification assigns a personality, which tells you who you are. Do you see the difference?”

It seemed to make sense, so Legend nodded.

“Very good. Follow me.”

Legend followed the Schoolmaster past all sorts of peculiar—but helpfully labelled—architectural features. At one point, Legend spotted the earless farm boy, chains around his wrists and ankles, being marched towards an oubliette by a red-headed girl and a tall man with bright green skin.

“Pay no attention,” said the Schoolmaster, and Legend soon found the spectacle unworthy of further regard.

Passing by one colonnade, multiple frescos, a cool dark tunnel, and a dozen magnificent caryatids (which less perceptive boys his age might easily have missed, but which were nonetheless present), Legend found himself on the sawdusted stage of a vast amphitheatre. In the audience sat more children than Legend had seen in his life, all staring at him, and all murmuring. Realising that murmurs are notoriously hard to understand, and that any attempt to do so is likely to reflect one’s own feelings rather than the content of the murmurs, Legend simply stood and waited to be classified.

“Standing before you,” boomed the Schoolmaster, “is Legendiah Obadiah Faramiah the First. Legendiah is late, meaning we are now running late for our next appointments. For this, he must be humiliated.”

Each member of the crowd began slapping their hands together to create a raucous din. An elevated sign, illuminated by a candle, suggested this might be called applause. Legend had his own word for it: hunger. These people were desperate to see him suffer. They leered at him with horrid faces, laughing and snorting and stomping their feet.

He spotted Eleanora soon enough, sitting on her own to one side. She had changed into a multicoloured tunic, and was slapping, laughing, and stomping like everyone else.

In fact, so preoccupied was he with Eleanora’s transformation that he barely noticed the potbelly stove waddling towards him across the stage, sparks and embers sloshing onto the sawdust with jolly abandon. It caught his eye eventually, of course.

“The name’s Iron Joe,” said the stove, “and no hard feelings or nothin’, but you’re about to be humiliated.” (Or at least, that’s what Legend thought the stove said. Being a stove, it had a hard time enunciating its consonants.)

“Reach into Iron Joe’s mouth,” boomed the Schoolmaster, “and you will find your greatest humiliation.”

Reaching into a raging potbelly stove for the purpose of extracting additional punishment would normally have struck Legend as a bad idea, but with the Schoolmaster around it seemed inevitable. The crowd had gone silent, leaning forward as one, eagerly awaiting whatever carnage was to come. Legend opened Iron Joe’s front hatch and calmly placed his hand into the contained inferno. The flames tickled, but surprisingly, they did not hurt.

“Hkukkee Ukk!” said Iron Joe. “Orr hckokin ee.”

Legend rummaged in the coals until his fingers found an envelope, which he extracted and opened:

Legendiah Obadiah Faramiah the First. As punishment for being late, you must read the following text to the assembled students in a clear and audible voice.

Legend scanned down the page, and his heart sank. The Schoolmaster had said that Legend would be humiliated, but surely this was taking things too far.

Iron Joe’s hatch slammed shut, and he started hopping from foot to foot.

“Read it, boy, read it,” Iron Joe insisted.

Legend took a deep breath.

“At the age of eleven and three quarters, I became the youngest ever invoicing operative in Hospitality Sector TZ33.”

Legend wanted to climb inside Iron Joe and close the hatch forever. The statement was true enough, but lording such an accomplishment over his peers was precisely what Legend’s eighteen months of Corrective Affirmations had been designed to prevent.

Unfortunately for Legend, it didn’t stop there.

“I am wanted by the Administration for the killing of Sector Coordinator Nicer.”

Gasps and faint murmurs rang out through the audience. Despite his earlier level-headedness, Legend concluded that everyone in the audience (and most people not in the audience) despised him. What choice did they have? Legend had allegedly committed a horrible deed, and now here he was, boasting about it!

“I have not one, but two familiars, and they are Administration Guardsmen who were sent to kill me but succumbed instead to my preternatural magical power.”

The gasps gave way to applause, but there was no laughter or stomping this time. Legend kept reading. It would be over soon.

“I journeyed on the Railweb with both familiars, and lived, before even learning about telekin-- telekina--”

“Telekinaesthesia,” Iron Joe offered under his breath.

“Before even learning about telekinaesthesia.”

The children continued applauding, but now rose to their feet. “Makes sense,” Legend reasoned, “to kill me they must first walk to the stage, or more likely run, and to do that they must first stand.” But they remained standing and applauding, and neither walked nor ran. Perhaps they had not heard him over the sound of their hand slapping.

“I did all this after surviving eighteen months of Corrective Affirmations--”

The children began to whoop and holler, a battle cry of vengeance no doubt. Legend’s proclamations had violated the very foundations of civilised society, clearly he must be brought to justice. Somehow, the applause got louder. Several candles fell from their mounts, suggesting that the volume and intensity of this display was far greater than any applause that had rung through this space in recent memory.

“--a punishment I received for...”

Legend stopped. The words were legible, but they were wrong. They couldn’t be true.

“Keep reading,” said Iron Joe.

“A punishment I received for defeating Viper Sloen in battle.”