I forget why I wasn't going to post every chapter on here, but as this blog is my main outlet for "for fun" writing, I figured I might as well. So every week from now on I'll post up a chapter from my JUNO experiment; it's not finished yet or anything, but there are still quite a few chapters to go before the blog will be all caught up. Feel free to critique (such as my ending sentences in prepositional phrases, or splitting infinitives unecessarily) as I want this to be all finished and nice and neat, so I can read to my little cousins during the holidays.
For anyone interested, read Chapter 1 here, Chapter 2 here, and Chapter 3 here.
A Tale of Unlikely Magic and Wonderful Adventures
Chapter 4: Back to Life
Adele’s eyes felt crusty. She blinked hard a couple dozen times, waiting for them to adjust. Nothing made any sense. Just moments — or was it years? — before, she’d been floating, peacefully drifting in or away or on to some place she did not comprehend, nor need to. Then, just as she’d been floating away or beyond, she felt herself returning, in a manner of sorts, for an unknown reason, for a reason that did not matter, for it was not for her to know or to question, because she was dead. And now?
She looked to her left and right, where the wolves and the Red Ninja were just beginning to come-round. Dead, living — fire is fire, you know.
“Fire, quick,” she cried, though it sounded more like a rasp. She sprang up. At once Pete tried to get within the bounds of the circle, but went shooting backward in a burst of white light when he tried to cross, knocked flat and out cold. The wolves and the ninja struggled to their feet. They looked quite comical, staggering around like that, covered in blood, giant holes in their paws and hand, a thin sharp blood line across their necks knitting into hurried scars … Adele’s hand went to her own neck. There, between the gape of skin not yet closed she felt the cool, slow pulse of blood through her arteries. That was … wrong, wasn’t it? Isn’t blood supposed to be warm?, she wondered. Then she looked at the others in horror as the skin began to knit itself closed around her fingertips, which she hastily pulled back. She stumbled backward, tripped, and fell over another body. When she stood, she saw it was an old woman, crumpled into rags. The lump of rags appeared to be crawling, heaving, trying to stand, and then, with one last heave, she simply splatted on the ground.
That’s when Adele felt it, the incredible rush of immortality.
That’s right. Because the old witch had tried to reanimate not one, but six, the strain had simply crushed her. The bond between animator and zombie is tricky: The living must give life to the dead. That’s just the way it goes. The trade off, of course, is that the animator gets a hefty portion of control over the reanimated body. Enough to make the zombie do the dishes, darn socks, assassinate political leaders (in fact, this had been Mrs. Olwitch’s specialty)—whatever the animator wants. Problem was, that no matter how handy six zombie slaves would be to have around, age is a huge factor in the career of a measly reanimator, otherwise known as a wicked witch. And Mrs. Olwitch, why, she was practically ancient, and it just plumb did her in. It was a metaphysical kerblooey kind of mess.
You see, when a reanimated body ceases to exist, the strain can cause some serious issues with the animator. Death, dismemberment — that sort of thing. But when the reanimator is the one who ceases to exist, well, quite the opposite happens. The so-called undead zombie gets a new stab at life—but they can’t really die again, so they’re all set for a long, long, long, long and quite possibly healthy life. Long as in, well, immortal. How would you kill something one-part-zombie, one-part-woopsy-magicked- living?
The answer is, you wouldn’t. Because you can’t. They are immortals. Basically.
If you are going to sigh, now would be the time to do it, because it took them quite a long while to get everything sorted, including seven full-out sob fests thrown by our kindly troll, two ninja attacks, and exactly eleven games of beast-and-huntsman. But finally they had all their i’s and t’s in a row, and all their ducks dotted and crossed, and begin once more on their trek to Promethia.
First, though, they had to go to Pete’s. All the ruckus had made everyone hungry.
After they’d all gotten to know one another —being dead can jolt the memory something fierce — and gotten good, full bellies, they all piled into Pete’s colossal, overstuffed armchairs. Though he was not as fastidious of a housekeeper as Rahhh, his home under the surface of the Land of Pain and suffering was very … lovely and home-like, full of extremely large, dumpy furniture and lots and lots of good things to eat (for Pete had a very large appetite to feed). With their full bellies and half-opened eyelids aflutter, they fell first to discussing what to do with Mrs. Olwitch.
“ But she killed us!” Rahhh repeated sensibly, raising her paws in a shrug as she sat on the sofa, beside the dozing pups.
“And turned us into zombies,” put in the Red Ninja.
“You… stay… out… of… it!” Pete had not quite gotten over the whole Red-Ninja-trying-to-kill-him thing.
“Now, let’s be fair,” Adele said, remembering to be noble, “she also brought us back. Mrs. Olwitch
“Yeah,” put in the Red Ninja, “but only by accident. It’s not like she wanted to make us immortal, after all. She wanted us for her slaves.”
“Now…. Wait… a… minute!” Pete said, waving his hands through the air. “Wait… just… a… minute… …I… like… Mrs…. Olwitch… She’s… a… kind… good… old… witch… … Retired.”
“A retired wicked old witch, Pete.” This from the Red Ninja, whose name, as it turns out, was Steve.
“You… know… what… Steve?... A… lot… of… us… have… … … pasts… that… don’t… look… so… good… in… the… light… of… day… … … Did… you… ever… think… about… that?”
Rahhh put her head on her paws as she hung over the arm of the couch.
“I agree with Pete,” Adele added. Her voice was as firm as any grown-up’s at bedtime. “I trust his judgment. I’m betting he’s got a knack for those sorts of things. Anyway, seeing that she gave her life to us, it’s the least we can do to try and find a way to bring her back, don’t you think?”
“So long as it doesn’t harm any of us in the process,” Rahhh said warningly, eyeing her sleeping pups. Softie Pete’s eyes gooed over as he looked at the puppies sleeping on his couch. He nodded vigorously in agreement.
“Okay,” said Adele. “How do we pull off that?”
More silence. And then—
“We’ll bribe him. The Necromancer, I mean,” said Steve, formerly the Red Ninja. “It’s the only way.
Before you misjudge Steve for trying to kill Pete for a casino CEO, attacking Adele, fighting Rahhh and the pups, and then automatically suggesting bribery as their ideal course of action, there’s something you must know about him, something which can turn even the sweetest person’s choices afoul: prior to his brush with immortality, Pete was very, very slowly dying of a broken heart.
Long, long ago, Steve took a long, long walk. He was a very young man then, a fine, kind, intelligent young man with the whole world and his whole life ahead of him. And so on and so forth. The day was a long one; it was summer and it was hot inside the cottage of his then still-living parents, so he told them he was going out for some fresh air. On his walk, Steve crossed meadow and wood, until finally the trees met the beach and the beach opened to the wide, rolling sea. The beach was gold, the sky was blue, the sea was green and the wind that blew was sweet with future. And there, so far down the shoreline she appeared to be nothing but a swatch of white, like a cloud or a feather blowing in the wind, was a very young woman. This young woman was one of the first and foremost princesses of all the realm, known to be both beautiful and good, with a temperament of a babe, the voice of a bird at dusk, and a smile that could stop any hatred in its tracks. But Steve didn’t know this about her; all he saw was a beautiful, lovely young woman in a white dress, walking towards him, and he towards her. When finally their paths met each other, the wind rejoiced, and blew so sweetly against the beach that even the sand began to sing, so wondrous was this meeting.
Never before in the history of any realm has there been such a pure and true love. It may seem like a simple thing, true love. It’s not. It’s a lifetime in a moment and a moment in a lifetime. It’s the sand singing a symphony just for you. It is a someone—a dream, an idea, a hope, a faith turned into human breath and flesh and longing, created just for one other someone. It’s meeting that someone, at just the right time and just the right place, in just the right mood, with just the right amount of gazing, and conversation, and hinting, and leaving and sighing, and oh, just a thousand other things. It must all be just so, otherwise none of it works.
“Hello, “ she said to him. It was clear up close that she was not a feather and not a cloud but a princess. She extended her hand to Steve, who took it.
“Hello,” Steve said. He bowed to kiss her hand. When his lips touched her skin, their old worlds crumbled and their new world together, began. They looked at one another in wonderment. There on that beach, at that very moment, they knew the truest true love, and they (being young and rather foolish) gave freely exactly one-half of their heart to the other, so that no matter what, their love would always live within them. It was very romantic. I won’t go into the details, but yes, very romantic.
What Princess Charity and Steve did not count on was that at that moment, an entire country was planning her capture, and ultimately, her death. Out of the darkness of the distant woods rode a horde of soldiers on horses. These soldiers were from a faction of rebels of a very distant land—they hated Princess Charity, for her smile was known to have ended wars, and in fact had ended the war between their master and their foe. Without war, they were nothing but men in funny armor on big horses, so they tracked her down, stole her away, and killed her.
By the time they’d returned to their distant lad, the tale of Princess Charity’s untimely death was spread far and wide, and Steve? Well, he’d gone around the bend, as they say. He’d lost half his heart, lost his one true love, and with it went all that was good within him.
And that is the story of how the Red Ninja came to be, only not quite.
It took a long time for Steve to harden into the Red Ninja. Becoming a ninja is no quick matter, surely you understand this. It takes years. Decades, even. A lifetime. And to become a master? A master so powerful, so potent, so panic-inspiring as the blood-soaked Red Ninja? Well, that takes dedication beyond imagination.
Which is exactly what Steve had in spades; dedication. First, he used his brains, to figure out who captured and killed his beloved. This took 38 years. Then, he used his brawn, to train into the most fantastic ninja warrior his realm had ever known. This took 192 years. Finally, he combined his brain with his brawn, and became the Red Ninja we know today.
Sad part is, he’d quite forgotten all about who he was before, and how the whole point was to seek vengeance for his lost love and his broken heart. It’s easy to understand when you think about it; he only had half a heart as it was, and that one half spent an awful lot of time in misery. It’s no wonder he turned out the way he did, wandering around in a costume coated in the blood of other men’s deaths. The half of his working heart just decided to go on permanent vacation, and viola! Steve turned bad guy, and when that happens, well, you’re done for. Bad-guy-ites will kill you as sure as you stand. It’s only a matter of time.
It happens to the best of us.
Steve took off his ninja mask and wiped his forehead, sure (with all his brains) that the rest would disagree with his whole bribery thing.
“It’s like this,” he stated calmly, before Pete or Adele had a chance to start in on him, “we have something the Necromancer wants.” Steve paused, looking at the map now lying on Pete’s low tree-stump coffee table. “And the Necromancer, why, he has what we want.” Everyone in the room except the wolf-pups (who, it must be admitted, were now thoroughly asleep), looked confused. “The ability to bring back Mrs. Olwitch, exactly as she was—not as a zombie, but as her.” He paused again. “He’s the only one trained long enough to do it! He has to do it! It’s the only way,” Steve repeated.
“But…” Adele said, untucking her legs as she thought aloud, “say we do chose to do this, which I’m not saying we should … Well, if the Necromancer is so powerful, then how come I got his map in the first place? The map he created … I mean … it just doesn’t make sense. If he’s so very powerful, does that mean he sent the map away in the first place, only to have it brought back by someone? And if it does mean that, doesn’t that mean he’ll have a way around any kind of bribe?”
Rahhh cleared her throat.
“Ahemm,” she cough-growled, “I believe I can answer that.”