Dexterity kills it with her contortionist’s routine.
She gives the crowd the full Cirque du Solei, and considering the level of entertainment available to the people in this completely fictional but vaguely British middle-ages feudal-system type world, that means she blew their minds.
Not an easy act to follow. I hear my cue, but I do not want to go out there.
Faith shoves me up the steps.
I recover my footing and mount the stage. Tanil gets right to the sexual harassment, and I do the tittering behind my hand baloney, just as we’d planned. While Tanil is going on about my “milky globes” (which is just nasty, but this crowd loves it) I happen to look out into the audience.
Torvold is not happy. Tanil stares very pointedly at my cleavage. Torvold is crushing something in his hand. Tanil touches my arm. Torvold is on his feet and coming towards the stage.
“I think we’ve heard about enough out of this er—man, haven’t we, ladies?” I say broadly to the crowd. The ladies cheer. I turn away from the sight of Torvold rushing the stage like a bull and pull out a knife. “I think I should teach him some manners.”
I throw my fist knife, which pins Tanil to the scenery. I hear a few oohs from the crowd and turn back. Torvold has stopped, thankfully, but I can’t leave him there to be embarrassed.
“Our Good Sir Torvold would never allow a lady to be so insulted, even in jest. He is as gallant as he is brave,” I say, dropping my character for a moment and starting a round of applause for him. The crowd loves it and they cheer for Torvold as he returns to his seat with a bow and a blush.
“Now, what shall I do with this one,” I say, jerking my thumb back at Tanil. The crowd starts offering suggestions. Some of them are little graphic, to be honest. Sheesh. There are kids here. “Shall I see if I can cut an apple in half?” I ask, producing the apple.
The crowd doesn’t quite get it until I place the apple on Tanil’s head. Then they’re into it.
I turn my back to the audience to throw at Tanil, who is making a big show of pleading for his life, when I see something in the darkness behind the carts coming toward us. Fast.
I hear it thunk against the back wall of the cart. Then I hear a scrabbling sound as something climbs up it. Tanil gives me a worried look.
I throw my blade at it as soon as whatever it is pokes its head over. It tumbles back down behind the stage before I can get a good look at it, but I’m not an idiot. It wasn’t totally human-looking, so I’m guessing it’s a Thrall. I whirl to the audience and find Torvold’s eyes.
“They’re here!” I shout. “Everyone run!”
Torvold is up on his feet with his sword drawn. He looks, sees a target, and runs into the darkness even as people flee past him in the other direction. Rancor is making some kind of god-awful whinnying noise behind the stage.
I look down at the children sitting in the front row. None of them are with their parents.
“Rancor!” I call. I’m thinking I can put a few of them on his back and get them out of here.
I jump down and start gathering the children into a bunch. Before I can even get all them into a cluster, Rancor come ripping through the curtains. A cloud of cinders and soot puffs up behind him.
I smell something like fishy garbage and turn in time to see a Thrall about to jump on top of me. I throw a blade at it and hit it right between the eyes. The Thrall absorbs the impact, but that barely slows it down.
The only thing I’ve seen kill a Thrall was Calx. I throw my arms out wide to stop it from getting to the children when Rancor charges forward and impales it on his horn. The Thrall bursts into flames and disintegrates into soot. Apparently, unicorn horns are in the same “not of this world” category as Calx’s sky metal, which is an enormous relief, considering I nearly died.
“We have to protect the children,” I tell Rancor.
He tosses his head and starts trotting around us in a circle. The children are terrified, so I pull them together and get down on a knee.
“Do you see that cranky unicorn?” I ask them. They’re too frozen with fear to answer. “Well, he’s been looking for someone to fight all day. He’s so excited that he’s got all those nasty things to stick with his horn.”
I get a few of them to perk up, and that’s the best I can hope for, really. A team of Thralls are coming toward us.
I stand up and pull out a blade, even though I know blades are more like speedbumps than weapons to these guys. The copper pan worked a bit better, as I remember. I think I need something more bludgeon-y and less slice-y. I stow my blade and pick up a plank of wood from the shattered scenery. I wield it like a bat. I didn’t go out for softball in high school, but I remember playing T-ball at some point in my childhood. My dad is a huge baseball…
I think I’m losing my marbles because as soon as I think about going to a Dodgers game with my dad it’s like I’m seeing him. Scratch that. I am seeing him.
No. That can’t be. The grey-green creature with slits on it neck and the oozing body that looks like it’s turning into slime can’t be my dad.
“Princess! Get down!” Torvold bellows as he slashes through two Thralls at once, turning them to ash.
The Thrall that looks like my dad makes a phlegmy orca sound and lunges for me. The children behind me scream and I homerun it with my plank of wood. I look at him lying on the ground. This is impossible. My dad can’t be in Lucitopia. He lives in Santa Monica.
Rancor rears up next to me about to slash the Thrall with his hooves, but I turn in front of him and wave my arms.
“No, Rancor, get back! That’s my father!” I scream.
Rancor wheels his hooves at the last moment and throws his head in confusion as he lands next to my dad, but not on top of him. I hear the wails of other Thralls as Torvold makes short work of the rest of them with Calx. Ash from their burnt bodies’ is swirling and blowing in the breeze.
My dad writhes on the ground. He’s in pain.
“No, my princess! Don’t touch him,” Torvold says as he catches my waist in the crook of his arm.
“Torvold, let me go! You don’t understand—that’s my father!” I scream.
Torvold wraps me up in his arms, holding me back even though I’m trying to throw myself down next to my dad to help him.
“The king has been turned,” Torvold is saying desperately in my ear.
I’m fighting against Torvold, but he manages to spin me around to face him anyway. He’s wrapped both arms around me and he looks at me like something in him hurts.
“We told you, princess,” he says. “The king is a Thrall of Asphodel.”
“No, you don’t understand,” I wail. “He’s my father.”
Torvold pulls me against him in a hug. “I know,” he’s whispering in my ear. “I know.”
I’m sobbing. I’m past help. Because it isn’t the king of Lucitopia on the ground. It’s my real father. He’s a crappy father, but he is the only one I’ve got, and somehow, I’ve dragged him into this.
“What have I done?” I cry into Torvold’s shoulder. “He shouldn’t be here. If I’d been braver. If I’d climbed down from my tower sooner—”
“No,” Torvold says in my ear. “It’s not your fault. Asphodel is to blame.”
Rancor approaches my dad. I pull away from Torvold, scared that Rancor will gore him, but instead Rancor sneezes.
I giant gob of glittery snot sprays my dad.
Torvold and I are too stunned to do anything for a moment. Dex, Jackanet, Tudie, and Gertie come running up while we stare down at my dad, who is covered in unicorn snot. The snot starts to glow.
“Is that normal?” I ask Rancor. He tosses his head.
Under the glowing mucus, my dad starts to lose his fishy aspect. His bones seem to stiffen under his skin and the slits in his neck seal up. After one more bright flash, my father looks like himself again. Except he’s wearing a brocade doublet, tons of thick jeweled rings, and a big fat crown.
I step away from Torvold and kneel down next to him. I reach out my hand and touch his face gingerly.
“Father?” I say. He doesn’t move. I look up at everyone. “What’s wrong with him?”
Tudie and Gertie exchange a look.
“If a unicorn drinks the tears of a broken heart, he can heal any physical injury,” Gertie says, shrugging.
“Your father’s sickness isn’t in his body anymore, dearie,” Tudie explains kindly. “Asphodel still owns his soul. Without his soul, the king will not wake.”
“How do I get his soul back?” I ask.
“When I face Asphodel at Knob Knoll and kill him, all of the Thralls will be freed,” Torvold says. His eyes burn into mine. “I swear to you, princess, I will save your father.”
I can’t look at Torvold. I can’t look at anyone. I drop my head over my father and cry for him, and for Torvold, and for all the stupid things I’ve done.