|Erin Ptah (ptahrrific) wrote,|
@ 2011-01-23 04:47 pm UTC
|Entry tags:||story: castle down|
Pairings/Characters: Jon/c!Stephen, Olivia/Kristen, everyone and the kitchen sink
Warnings: Lots of fire, (skip) mortal peril
For the Report characters: They and their universe are property of Stephen Colbert, the other Report writers, and of course Viacom. Not mine. (Alas.)
And for the real people, the poem:
Please, make no mistake:
these people aren't fake,
but what's said here is no more than fiction.
It only was writ
because we like their wit
and wisecracks, and pull-squints, and diction.
We don't mean to quibble,
but this can't be libel;
it's never implied to be real.
No disrespect's meant;
if you disapprove, then,
the back button's right up there. Deal.
Pay no attention to the slapdash nature of the legalese in this part. (Hopefully you weren't reading this for the law drama, either.)
Decorative capitals are from Daily Drop Cap. For the rest of the story, see here.
ever, ever screw with a fire mage when they go Elemental.
To the four pairs of near-blinded eyes in the cell, Kristen appeared not as a human so much as a column of fire that happened to be vaguely human-shaped. The straw she had landed in had vaporized on contact into a circle of ash, while sparks had been thrown wildly to the ground, each birthing a bouncing infant flame where it landed. Every nick and jag in the stone wall cast a pitch-black shadow; the blue glow of the transportation spell was lost in the intensity of red-gold-white.
Two strangers threw themselves off Princess Olivia's prone form and plastered their bodies against the stone. It was a shame; part of her wished they had been stupid enough to put up a fight.
A trail of charred hay followed in Kristen's wake as she stepped aside from the path of the spell. Pointing one volcanic arm at the original circle, she intoned a single word, reverberating with the crackle of unseen blazes: "GO."
The would-be jailers nearly tripped over each other as they sprinted across the straw.
Once both their figures disappeared to the tranquil meditation-slash-interview room upstairs, furnished with comfortable chairs, a tiny burbling fountain, and a human-sized marble statue that Kristen was happy to continue referring to as a flower for the sake of her mental health, the flames vanished. Not the ones around the room; those had caught in the carpet of straw and were burning merrily away. Her body, though, that was flesh and blood again, with its original clothes not so much as singed.
Kristen wasn't nearly powerful enough to go Elemental yet. But she could damn well fake it long enough to bluff.
s the brilliance in the cell faded from searing to cozy living room hearth, Olivia dared to open her eyes. "Kristen? Is it really...?"
"Shhh! It's okay, it's okay." Kristen knelt at Olivia's side, smoothing down her skirt, drying her tears. "It's me. They're gone."
With a sob of relief Olivia threw her arms around Kristen's waist and clung to her like a life raft, or a favorite childhood plushie. "I wished—but I never thought you'd—"
"Of course I would!" soothed Kristen. She was warm to the touch, like she had just stepped out of an oven; either Olivia was delirious, or she even smelled like fresh-baked apple pie. "I would have come looking for you even without Her Majesty's orders backing me up. But it's good she made that order, because it means there's a bunch more good people upstairs, all in full-on capture-and-bring-to-justice mode! Or comfort-and-protect mode, when the situation calls for it. And it doesn't break down along gender lines, either."
She was babbling, but Olivia didn't care, would have been overjoyed to hear that birdlike voice read an almanac at that point. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
"Stop that! It's not your fault. Not in the least."
"You don't understand. There's so much else—"
Kristen wrapped her up in a reassuring squeeze. "We'll talk about it later, okay? I promise. Right now we have to get you out of here, because this whole room is going to be on fire in about eight minutes."
The part of Olivia that was a princess to the core, and would have remained a princess if she had been born in a gutter or raised by wolves, steadied itself. She could do this. She would rise to the occasion, even if it gave her vertigo. "O-okay. I'm ready. Except for the chain."
"Oh! Right! Just a second." Kristen waved a hand at the iron; one of the links glowed red-hot, and came apart when Olivia twitched her ankle, as easily as if it had been made of butter. Switching to Commedien, she added, "Stephen, hold still. How are you doing, by the way? Are you hurt at all?"
Stephen was curled up in the tightest ball possible, peeking out with one eye through a crack in his fingers. "Hi, Kristen," he squeaked. "I am okay. Can we go now? I doesn't like fire."
"Nobody appreciates art these days," sighed Kristen, repeating the pass with her hand. "Okay, give that leg a yank, and you should be good to go. Come on, Olivia. Lean on me."
For the first few steps Olivia's legs seemed to have the consistency of jello. The heat had intensified again, from comfortable to stifling; the broken end of the chain ignited bits of straw as she dragged it along, leaving a trail of tiny fires. Only the unexpected sturdiness of Kristen's elfin frame kept her going, until her feet regained their surety and her shoulders began to straighten.
With Kristen at her side and Stephen a few paces behind, she stepped into the faint column of the spell.
rowded into the formerly tranquil interview-slash-meditation room stood a powerful cross-section of Her Majesty's most loyal subjects.
Resident Expert John Hodgman was examining the statue, which Jon was determined to continue mentally referring to as a flower. The slightly singed women who had barreled out of the flower's opening now sat on the comfortable chairs, guarded by court magicians John and Larry. Jason, who was not currently known as Royal Detective but would probably be angling for the title soon, had gotten distracted looking for coins in the tiny fountain.
Jon himself stood before the statue, hands on the hilt of his sword: ready at any moment to defend his Queen, who waited calmly just behind him.
Kristen materialized in the heart of the flower petals with Olivia, shaken but very much alive, stumbling along beside her. "They're okay!" she exclaimed, executing a hurried sketch of a bow in Her Majesty's direction before pulling the princess forward. "Stephen's right behind us. The attackers ran out first, did you get—ah, I see! There they are. This is enough evidence to order up a truth spell, right?"
"Without a doubt," said the Queen grimly. "What are the charges?"
The two had a brief, whispered conversation; then Olivia relinquished her support and stood up straight, though her hand was still fast in Kristen's. In halting, accented Commedien, she said, "Kidnapping and sexual assault, Your Majesty."
Jon's heart did a tap-dance on his liver.
The Princess caught a look at his face and misread the concern there. "Stephen iz okay."
Whatever paltry attempt at condolence Jon tried to assemble, it was wiped away by the fresh tide of panic flooding his mind. He nodded in pained acknowledgment, then rounded on Kristen, dimly surprised at the way his voice cracked. "So where is he? If he was right behind you, why hasn't he made it up yet?"
Over on the comfortable chairs, one of the prisoners began to laugh.
esident Expert John Hodgman had a way of speaking that got your attention without ever raising his voice above the level of a librarian with a sore throat. He used it on this crowd, to great effect. "If I may?"
He didn't wait for the Queen's permission before continuing, although of course he never did, state of emergency or not. "It appears this teleportation spell has a complicated system of filters. Unidirectional, and calibrated with respect to an individual's gender identity. Or, to put that in more accessible 'pop culture' terms: men can check out any time they like, but they can never leave."
Kristen filed the Freudian implications of that setup in the increasingly overstuffed box of Things She Wasn't Going To Think About Just Then. Far more important: "He can't stay there! I set that room on fire!"
"He's panicking." Jon didn't seem to notice that he was clawing at the chainmail over his heart. "And now he can feel that I'm panicking, and that's only making it worse...."
"Feedback loop," observed Hodgman nonchalantly. "I keep telling the mole-men they need to put more failsafes in their soulbonds, but they never listen."
"You haz a soulbond?" blurted Olivia, goggling at Jon.
This stunned Jon enough to momentarily break the terror's grip, though his face was still twisted with pain. "You u-understand us?" he panted.
"If Stephen gets killed while they're in this state," continued Hodgman, as if nobody had spoken, "I estimate Jon has approximately an eighty-nine percent chance of not suffering instant and painful co-death."
"Featherwick!" ordered Her Majesty. The magician was at her side in the blink of an eye. "You don't need a beam to teleport. Get down there and fly that man out."
"I wouldn't advise it," said Hodgman. "All external teleport spells are blocked from the area."
"Can you undo the block?"
"Maybe," gulped Featherwick. "Given a few hours."
"You have six minutes," said Kristen. Olivia's hand on hers was cutting off the blood flow, but there was no way she was letting go now. "Less, if the fire decides to get feisty."
"Make that an eighty-six percent chance," added Hodgman, as Jon sank to the ground, gasping for breath.
lames to the left of him, fire to the right; and here Stephen was, stuck in the middle with a jar.
Once it hit him that the spell wasn't working, he had kicked and shoveled the remaining straw away as fast as he could, then crouched in his paltry circle of bare stone with Olivia's jug of water clasped in his arms. (He didn't care what the philosophers said—that jar was definitely half empty.) The heat pressed in on him like a blanket, smoke gathering overhead in ever-darkening swirls.
He had finally learned to defend himself, and it was all for nothing. Jon was leaving him to burn, just like Papa Bear had, and this time he couldn't even walk away....
But that wasn't fair, and Stephen knew it. He could feel Jon a mental hand's breath away, frantically trying to reach him, trying and failing to conceal that something had gone catastrophically wrong.
I don't want to die, sobbed Stephen across their link. I know you're not Papa Bear. You'll think of something. Don't let me die!
o you really want to add murder to your warrant?" demanded Her Majesty, in a voice that on anyone less royal would have been described as shrill. "As if it isn't long enough already!"
"At least he'll go to his grave having learned a valuable lesson," spat the taller of the prisoners. "Even if he is a little crispy."
Larry didn't scowl, not exactly, but he gave her a look of such withering dryness that it would have made a cactus cringe. "Can't we just dig there? You know, blast our way down to wherever the sealed cell is physically hiding."
"Probably not," said Hodgman. "There is no record of it on the mole-manic maps of the area, which means it must be far underground indeed. Seventy-seven percent."
"I'll go back down," said Kristen. "I'll take him the bracelet. It'll buy us some time. Jon! What happened to that bracelet?"
Jon, shaking so hard it rattled his mail, didn't answer. It was as if he hadn't heard.
ven with his eyelids clamped shut, Stephen could see the flames advancing behind them.
Maybe this is fate, he thought. My punishment, for what I let happen to Olivia. Maybe I deserve every minute of it.
He drew up his knees and bowed his head, in hopes of shielding his face from the worst of the heat. I won't be around to screw things up any more, Jon! You'll be able to protect Olivia properly now. Take good care of her. Just, please, tell her I'm sorry....
eventy-two percent. Do you know, I think it's accelerating."
Olivia wasn't listening. She was reaching out with the last of her severely depleted chakra, calling to anyone in range.
"Come on, Jon, snap out of it!"
It was the part of her heritage most likely to bring Gi Foar back into her life, and not in a metaphorical way. But if one of her fellow citizens had the skill necessary to help Stephen, she didn't care if it was the frakking Cultural Minister himself.
"Could one of us magic away the fire?"
To the untrained eye, jutsu looked like magic. To the trained eye, they were as different as apples and streetlamps.
"Oh, it's Kristen's fire. Never mind!"
In one of the room's few empty patches of air, a head materialized out of nowhere, followed by a neck and a pair of shoulders.
"Excuse me!" shouted Aasif over the commotion. "Did somebody call for a ninja?"
ine and a half seconds after stepping into the suggestive folds of the statue, Aasif rematerialized twelve feet away: coughing, covered in soot, and with a terrified Stephen wrapped around him.
Jon's head snapped up the instant he appeared, and Stephen half-leaped, half-fell across the distance between them, clinging to Jon as if fresh air were only the second most important thing his body craved just then. The cocktail of exhaustion and relief hit Olivia all at once, knocking her sideways into Kristen's arms.
Everyone else in the room burst into applause, except the two editors, whose scowls could have given the gargoyles on the Times building a run for their money; and Larry, who needed one hand to keep his wand trained on the two editors.
The grateful adoration reverberating between Jon and Stephen turned into a feedback loop of its own, pulling them out of the depths of despair into a state of normal human happiness. It might have gone farther if Hodgman hadn't traded his polite clapping for a demure cough. "I believe this means we have some charges to add."
Stephen didn't feel like putting so much as an inch between himself and Jon, and was a little shy of the Resident Expert in any case. He didn't look up until a familiar voice addressed him, in Commedian this time: "Stephen, these two citizens are under arrest, charged with kidnapping and sexual assault. Is there anything you would like to add? Personally, I'd run with attempted murder."
"Lizz!" exclaimed Stephen, weak with relief. "Attempted murder, yes, please. And—" He shook with a hacking cough, gulped some of the cool air, and pressed on. "What is the one you tell me about? The one where they write wrong things, and it makes bad things happen, and you are allowed to fight?"
"Libel," said Lizz gently, sounding it out so he was sure to pronounce it right. "We call that libel."
"Libel," repeated Stephen, arms locked around Jon, who seemed to be experiencing a whole new attack of nerves. "That too."
"He can't do that!" burst out the dark-haired editor, glowering at Larry when he turned his wand on her. "Oh, keep it in your robe. Legally, that man is still a slave! He has no standing to charge us with anything!"
Stephen's heart sank, but Lizz, who knew about these things, only raised her eyebrows. "Good point. Stephen, do you renounce all your allegiances to foreign powers, states, or sovereignties?"
"Already have," coughed Stephen. He was still loyal to Jon above all, but that was different.
"And do you swear to abide by the Constitution and laws of Commedia Central, and to defend it against all enemies?"
"And do you take this oath freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion?"
"Uh-huh," said Stephen. "And I will. When I do this for real, when the Queen asks me those questions, I will say exactly the same—"
Jon's open mouth and pale face confirmed his horrible suspicion.
"Oh," said Stephen, and, for his first act as a citizen, passed out.