359: Tank Top

The dragon thing wasn’t really a viable threat. Sure, they could do a lot of damage once they got here, but how long would that take? It was more of a way to distract Richina so I could get into the shrine and find out what had happened to Wesley.

Richina obviously knew I was capable of shifting to the adjacent world, so I was expecting her to have a way to stop me. And if not her, Arthur would be waiting. I didn’t feel confident just barging in. I’m English, we prefer to RSVP well in advance.

I switched out to the adjacent world to find out if I could bypass the girl in the way. I could not.

Richina, standing in front of the entrance to the depths of the shrine, was immobile. When I tried to slip past her, though, I found she filled the doorway completely, leaving no way for me to get by.

It wasn’t like she was literally blocking the way — she was standing in front of me, and the entrance was behind her — but every time I moved to one side or the other, she remained directly ahead of me.

Some kind of optical illusion? More likely a special countermeasure prepared by Arthur. I could go in any other direction perfectly fine, just not the one I wanted to go in.

Not a complete disaster. It just meant I’d have to move her out of the way the old fashioned way.

“I need somewhere private,” said Laney when I returned to my body.

“Okay.” It couldn’t hurt to have a few dozen dragons on the way. I looked around. Islanders looked back from every direction. “Um, can you all move to one side?” I asked them. I was no longer their president, but I felt they would still respect my legacy. Nobody moved except for Damicar, who sidled up beside me.

“I don’t think they’re going to listen to you. Should I go get Captain Somya and his men?”

It was a nice idea, but I couldn’t see him getting very far.

“Hey, President Firebird,” I said, “do you think you could give us a little space, out of professional courtesy?”

Richina, who was standing apart from her subjects, smiled in the irritating way I loathed so much. “You wish me to aid you in bringing destruction to this place?”

“Destruction is coming whether you help or not, I’m just asking you to avoid me having to kill a bunch of fuckers before it arrives.” Big talk, but you get to the point where negotiations require you to do something horrific to prove you could do something even worse.

Of course, if I was a proper badass, people would take one look at me and know not to piss me off, no need for me to prove anything.

“All of you should get away from here, as far as possible. Trust me, it won’t be pretty once the dragons arrive.”

No one even raised an eyebrow. Even though I’d done plenty of terrible things, there was always the suspicion that it had been more luck than judgement. Somehow, I’d stumbled upwards into a position of power, and my turn to tumble back down was imminent.

The galling part was that it was a pretty fair assessment. If ever there was someone who looked like they had no idea what they were doing, it was me. I used to think of it as an asset, a way to be underestimated, but these days people insisted on calling my bluff, over and over.

I turned back to Laney. “Can’t you do it here?”

“Certainly not. There are some things a princess does not show in public. And if people don’t show her the loving respect she is due, then she is very likely to show them what loving respect looks like when it’s hanging from the end of a sabre.”

Laney was the sort of badass people accepted on faith, but in this case the islanders were mostly confused by her speech.

“I think,” I said, in an attempt to clarify things, “Her Royal Highness means she’s hidden something in her knickers, and she doesn’t want all of you looking at her minge while she retrieves it.”

Laney did not look very pleased by my interpretation. “That is not what I meant.”

“Oh? You stuck it in the other hole?”

Laney’s eyes narrowed and seemed to glow red, which may have been a trick of the light. “Your impertinence is encouraging me to switch sides. Is that what you wish? Me as your opponent?”

That was not what I wished. As difficult as she was to have around, I’d rather have her attacking away from me than towards me. Then again, judging by the looks on the islanders’ faces, they weren’t all that keen on having her as an ally, either.

“Then I guess we’re going to have to start killing a few of these walking beanstalks until they learn some royal etiquette, your majesty.” I drew my little wooden sword, which was another of my less than impressive moves. It must be nice to unsheathe a giant legendary two-handed claymore that everyone ogles at. No, not a euphemism. Or maybe it is.

Laney swished her much more impressive blade around a bit. “The things a lady has to do for a little privacy.”

I didn’t think most ladies would consider mass slaughter as a way to get a little me-time, but then Laney was no ordinary lady.

“Are you really going to summon a flock of dragons?” said Richina, the smile on her face crooked with disdain like the mean girl asking her fat friend if she really thought Brad Jenkins, captain of the football team, would ever ask her out. Why couldn’t my life be more like an 80s teen romcom? I could pay the cool kid to help reinvent everything about me and then I’d be popular and treat my old friends like shit. The End, no redemptive third act.

The thing about Laney, though, was that she wasn’t the sort of girl who would sleep with the captain of the football team to prove you wrong. She was much more likely to put a saddle on him and ride him around the school, and then make him eat the football.

“It’s not a flock of dragons,” I said to Richina, “it’s a herd, you ignorant slut.” Was it necessary to resort to sexist name-calling? No. Was it fun? Absolutely.

“But how long will it take for them to get here?” Richina had come to the same conclusion I had. It wasn’t like the cavalry was waiting over the hill, ready to ride to my rescue.

“They’ll get here quicker than you think,” I said, with absolutely no evidence to back me up. “Why don’t you let the princess summon them, and then we’ll see?”

Richina shrugged. “Very well.” She signalled to the islanders with a twirl of her hand. They responded by turning their backs on us.

“Ahem,” Laney said to Richina, who slowly turned around, the smile sliding around the back of her head to maintain maximum uptime on smugness, it felt like.

Laney didn’t give me the same treatment, but I turned around anyway, Damicar following suit, rather more slowly. I think he had a thing for the princess, which wasn’t creepy because it was normal for his culture to fancy nutters. I was curious to see what she had brought to contact Flossie with, and where she had it hidden, but not enough to end up on a register. Instead, I would use this time to figure out the best way to move Richina. A simple frontal assault seemed the obvious choice, so couldn’t possibly be correct.

There were some sounds of buttons and buckles unbuttoning and unbuckling, followed by the slither of garments falling.

It wasn’t until Laney shot past me that I realised the crazy minx had no intention of popping an antenna out of her hoo-ha — it was one of many possible options — and her real goal had been Richina.

She jumped onto Richina’s back wearing only a white vest and large frilly knickers, and wrapped her arms around the not-so-smug-now git’s throat. I’m not much of a wrestling fan — hitting people over the head with a chair doesn’t seem like a move a reputable governing body like the WWE should be condoning — but I supposed Laney considered it easier to take down Richina in minimal attire. Freedom of movement, or something.

At first, it seemed strange Laney wouldn’t use her sword, but then I realised killing Richina wasn’t the aim. She would just come back in a couple of seconds. Plus, this way, Richina was unable to call out. The islanders might hear some grunting and heavy breathing, but they would probably assume that was Laney extracting an emergency flare from her jacksie — another possible option.

Even though the only thing Richina had shown was her aptitude for dropping dead at the first opportunity, that didn’t mean she wasn’t capable of more — I still didn’t know why she was called Fire Bird. Laney clearly wasn’t going to underestimate her. I guess her long-standing relationship with Biadet had taught her to not take these deadly constructs in the shape of little girls too lightly. A lesson we could all do with learning.

I just had to wait for Laney to get her away from the shrine and I could slip inside. Waiting around while others got on with the physical stuff was right up my alley.

Richina staggered around a bit, slapping at Laney as best she could. I could have joined in, but I didn’t want to intrude on what looked like a private matter. Very private.

“This is really quite stimulating to watch, isn’t it?” said Damicar. He was breathing rather heavily for someone standing still.

Girls fighting, especially when they’re not wearing much, is supposed to have an erotic quality to it, even though no men are involved or likely to be. Men have a tendency to treat lesbians as not really meaning it, like they’re putting on a show to get things started. Probably doesn’t help that they use dildos shaped like penises, rather than shaped like long feminine fingers or a pumice stone in the shape of a tongue. It’s like vegetarians who want their food to taste like meat — instructions unclear.

I can assure you I found nothing erotic about watching Laney clamber all over Richina while she choked her out, but maybe I’m not the right guy to ask.

“Inspires me to make crab spider cake,” said Damicar. “Moist but firm.” He apparently was the right guy to ask. “I just wanted to say, whatever happens, it’s been a pleasure, Victor.”

“Actually, my name’s Colin.”

“I know, but I think Victor suits you better.” It was the nicest thing anyone had ever said to me.

The islanders continued to act like they had no idea what was happening behind them. I say ‘act like’ because if they were truly all one under the soil I would have thought merely turning around wouldn’t have made a difference. Perhaps they didn’t like Richina all that much. When does anyone really like their boss? I’d been a boss, and no one ever liked me — mind you, they weren’t particularly fond of me before or after, either.

Richina was doing a good job of staying on her feet. Laney had her legs clamped around Richina’s waist and was proceeding to squeeze her from both ends. If the stranglehold could put her to sleep, we might be able to get some shit done around here.

“You… realise…” Richina’s voice came croaking out of her throat, “this will change nothing.”

“Ho ho, we shall see. This would be over much sooner if you weren’t protected by that layer of blubber around your throat.” Girls can be so mean.

The islanders were resolutely ignoring the conversation which they had to have heard, making it even more likely they weren’t big fans of the current president. Well, they shouldn’t have voted for her then.

“I will only come back stronger,” said Richina, which I felt was creeping awfully close to copyrighted territory.

“Not if you don’t die,” said Laney. “Perhaps I’ll chop off your arms and legs and keep you in a fish tank, hmmm?”

The panting and heavy breathing were slowing down and the two girls staggered about, and then Richina stopped moving. She stood there with Laney bouncing up and down on her back trying to force her to go down. Richina didn’t seem to notice, but she did start to get redder. A lot redder and a lot hotter.

Laney held on but she was in obvious pain. The heat was scalding her skin, making it steam, but she refused to let go. The islanders held hands now, I noticed.

I did the only thing I could think of, I put my hands on Laney’s back. She let out a squeal which I did my best to ignore, and used my healing powers to counter Richina’s harmful effects.

I could feel the heat through Laney’s silk top. My healing energy reduced the pain, but the heat kept rising.

Neither side seemed able to get the upper hand. I could switch to my sword and take Richina out that way, but it wouldn’t stop a new one coming through to keep the entrance blocked. I felt like slipping into the adjacent world and calling it a day. It wouldn’t achieve anything, but I could do with a break.

The cavalry arrived.

Not the dragons — we hadn’t even managed to send out the call yet.

It took a moment for me to see it. The islanders ringed around the clearing began dropping, one after the other like dominoes. They fell like scythed wheat.

As more of them fell, Richina stumbled. Her red skin started to return to a more presentable lobster pink. Then she fell, with Laney still holding on.

I backed away as the two of them lay on the ground, Laney underneath, arms and legs wrapped around top and middle. Slowly, Richina’s strength gave out and her eyes closed. She went limp. Laney continued to hold on, just in case.

All the islanders had been cut down by this time, revealing the person responsible. Biadet stood leaning on her tall stick. She looked terrible, her skin almost green, her face twisted in pain.

“Now…” she mumbled, “we’re even.”

“Even? Even? Fuck you, Biadet. You’re the one who put me in this position. We aren’t anywhere close to even.”

Her lips parted, one last chance to say her catchphrase, I thought. “You’re welcome.” Biadet smiled and slumped to the floor. It would be just like her to get in the last word by dying.

It was a shame we’d never gotten a chance to give the holy trinity a shot, tank, healer, DPS. I feel like the three of us would have been quite a team.

Laney let go of Richina and rolled out from under her. “Ah, finally.” She was acting like Biadet on the floor was exactly what she had been waiting for. She stepped forward, grabbed the stick that was still standing vertical, and yanked it out of Biadet’s grip. “Here we are, time to send the signal.” She shoved it into the ground.

“That’s how you’re going to call the dragons?”

“Yes. I was told I just need to leave it like this.”

“So Biadet had it the whole time?”

“Had it but didn’t know it,” said Laney with a grin. “She’s never been able to compete with me mentally. People think I’m just some empty-headed beauty, but up here…” She tapped her forehead. “Solid muscle.”

I wasn’t going to argue.

Laney nudged Biadet with her boot.

“Is she dead?” I asked.

“Not yet. It’s my fault, you know. I never should have let Uncle Peter have her. He said it was the only way to save her, but this is no way to live. I should have put her out of her misery a long time ago.”

Letting Biadet go would take one major piece off the board... but I couldn’t resist the urge to give her one more chance. One more chance to fuck me over, probably. I kneeled down and began to heal her. It was more than likely a mistake. She would end up showing me her gratitude by ruining my life, again. But it’s hard to not do what you feel is the right thing to do, especially when you think of yourself as so much better than the fuckers you’re surrounded by.

“How long will it take for the dragons to get here, do you think?” I said as I pumped my life force into Biadet. Not a euphemism.

“Not long,” said Damicar. “That looks like them over there.”

I looked up. The sky was full of dragons.

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