Chapter Sixteen/The End of the Day
The roaring grew louder as they approached the throne room and Lilah jogged to the entryway. Inside, the smoking remains of the giant mecha dinosaur lay in a few pieces against the far wall and standing above this, bellowing victoriously, stood a thirty-foot red-and-black dragon.
“Is that…?” Mortimer gaped. “What’s happened to him!”
“N’Gretty!” Lilah called out to the dragon but it raged on, stomping on the remains of Becile automatons. Mortimer pulled her back around the corner with him. Quickly, his mime-half came to the surface again and he signed to her to stay hidden. “But…!” He shook his head and held her by the shoulders as the full extent of his powers were enabled. With red lips, Mortimer gave her a small smile. “Let me try?” he asked softly. She nodded and Mortimer jogged back toward the dragon.
“N’Gretty! Calm yourself! It’s over!” he bellowed. Lilah winced as the supernatural sound echoed through the chamber. N’Gretty turned his attention to the mime and roared back at him. His eyes were intense and animal-like with no recognition in them whatsoever. Realizing his mistake, Mortimer dashed back around the corner and hunkered down with Lilah and a fireball curled around the small doorway to their left.
“Ah,” Mortimer said and let his ability recede once more. “The beast cannot understand my words, and thus my powers cannot penetrate.”
Lilah gave him a wilting look. “Well, if you can do something that stupid, so can I,” she said and took deep breath before jumping up and running back into the throne room despite Mortimer’s protestations. The dragon had turned its attention back to the still-smoking remains of the mecha. Taking one of its limbs in its claws, it gnawed on it like a dog with a chew-toy.
“N’Gretty! It’s me, Lilah!” she called. The nearly six-foot long head full of sharp teeth swung down and breathed on her, snarling and dripping with drool and oil. “It’s ok. You did good!” Mortimer slowly and carefully emerged behind her, and as Lilah spread her arms out wide he did the same. “We’re your friends, remember?” she said, indicating to Mortimer and herself and smiling in a friendly manner at it.
The dragon took a long sniff then snorted, shook its head and started to shrink. Its features became more humanoid as it did and soon the dreadlocked half-dragon stood in the center of the throne room where the immense dragon had been only moments before. Lilah quickly averted her eyes and went crimson. Mortimer suppressed a surprised chuckle and advised “er, N’Gretty, humans aren’t accustomed to seeing other people stark naked. You might want to… er…”
The half-dragon looked down and shrugged. “Humans are weird,” he said, sauntered over to one of the many green-and-black banners hanging from the wall, yanked it down, tore it in half and tied it around his middle. “Better?”
“Lovely. Color suits you. Delilah, that was entirely foolhardy and incredibly impressive work.”
She grinned sheepishly and let out a relieved sigh. “Now, if only we can find your brother’s egg, we’ll be in good shape.”
His face lit up with joy and he pointed to a stand behind the throne. “He’s right over there!” He bounded off to collect the foot-tall black egg from its pedestal.
Mortimer turned to the young woman and took a deep breath. "Do you have a way to communicate with the allied forces?” Lilah nodded and held up her wrist to show him the communicator. “May I?” he asked while reaching out for it. She removed it and handed it to him slowly. “Thank you.” He took it and walked to the throne. “Oh, where’s N’Gretty gone again?”
Lilah looked around. “No idea. The egg is gone, too. Oh, dear…”
“If he’s up to no good, that’s just fine at this point.” Mortimer’s face turned white as he seated himself on the throne. In a few moments his lips were crimson again and he simultaneously pressed a button on the right armrest and the talk button on the communicator. “This is Mortimer Ignatius Becile, rightful King of Asininia speaking,” his empowered voice echoed through the hall. “I hereby surrender my kingdom. I urge the forces of Asininia previously following my late half-brother Eustace to stand down peaceably at once. I also pray the allied forces receive this message and also put down your weapons. Let there be no more meaningless bloodshed. I repeat…” he said and reiterated his plea laced with a benign command. When he had finished he stood, let his mime-half recede once more, looked around the room at the destruction and descended the throne—a tired, dirty, bedraggled man in tattered clothes who never-the-less exuded authority and righteousness. Almost instantly the sounds of fighting outside died down and the room was nearly silent. “My power is called ‘Undeniable Persuasion’. When engaged, the words I speak in that tone must be obeyed by all who hear them.” He rubbed a sore elbow nervously. “I dislike it, greatly.”
“Then you could have…?” she muttered. At any point, he could have used his power on her, on her friends, on the Cavalcadium, but he had refrained. Lilah’s communicator chirped urgently and when Mortimer handed it to her she silenced it.
“Morton… I mean, Mortimer, I…” she glanced away from him and trained her eyes on the floor.
“Delilah,” he said softly. “I’m still rather upset with you.”
She squeezed her eyes shut. “I am so sorry…” she whispered.
He balled his hands into fists. “I loved you, truly loved you and you said that you loved me, yet you couldn’t find it in your heart to trust me.”
She pursed her lips together before answering. “I can’t.”
“Even now? Even after knowing that I have been through seven years of hell?” His voice was calm, but edged with frustration.
Lilah turned and paced a few feet away. “I am so sorry that happened to you but there’s no way I could have known that that’s what happened. However...” She turned and faced him and he was taken aback at the smoldering anger she projected. “Our families have hated each other for decades because your family won’t let one man’s broken heart go. People have died and I have been raised to live in fear for my life of your name! And the worst part? You Beciles killed my best friends--my brothers! I was devastated when I lost them!” her voice cracked, “and I cannot forgive you or your family for that, ever.”
He raised an astounded brow. “We killed whom?”
The look she gave him could have frozen hell. “July twentieth, 1991,” she spat.
“‘91...” Mortimer stared at her, trying to think back. “Oh, the musical automatons?”
Tears came to Lilah’s eyes and she folded her arms around herself tightly. “They were my great-great grandfather’s love letter to my great-great grandmother, but more importantly they were my only friends.”
Mortimer frowned, remembering what she had told him seven years ago. “Your friends, the ones you lost… I’m so sorry. I can only say in my defense that it was not I who plotted to do so, neither was I involved in their destruction. My father was killed when…” he began to explain when they were interrupted by a loud clanging that echoed through the chamber. Their attention was pulled to N’Gretty, standing in the back of the room having come from a secret door which had slammed shut behind him. He had a large tapestry full of gold and gems tied up over his shoulder. His brother’s egg was carefully wrapped and nestled in a small gilt treasure chest slung around his neck in a sling of fine silk. He had a black, steel lock-box tucked under one arm and his horns stuck proudly through a platinum crown on his head. “What?” he shouted. “Hello? Dragon!!”
Mortimer waved his hand. “Take what you will.”
“I came only for my brother, but this was all where this was and it was calling out to me,” he said, hitching the steel box higher on his hip.
“You don’t need to excuse yourself, it’s no longer mine, anyway,” Mortimer tried to explain.
“I do not make excuses!” N’Gretty shouted, offended. “I’m telling you, this called out to me. ‘Help! Help! Get us out of here!’” he said in a small voice from the corner of his mouth. “Like that. Whatever is inside must be a rare magic item!” His eyes widened and he dropped the tapestry full of treasure on the ground with a loud jangling thud and turned his attention to the lock-box. Mortimer and Lilah approached him skeptically. “Let’s see... Hm, the lock is not enchanted. Easy!” N’Gretty flipped the lock open with one claw as if it were a twist-tie. The sight inside delighted him. “Oooooh, pretty! Whatever it is.” He turned the box around and showed its contents to the pair.
Lilah shouted in alarm when she saw the blue spheres nestled in black velvet, glowing brightly. She looked quickly to Mortimer who was just as wide-eyed and amazed as she was to see them. She reached out slowly, her hands trembling. Mortimer warned her not to touch them but she whispered that not only was she acclimated to Blue Matter from birth, but that she’d learned some new tricks thanks to the Cavalcadium’s Blue Matter Committee. Her hands hovered over the crystal spheres and she laughed through her tears. “I can hear harmony…” She sang softly. “That’ll be the way home…!” Lilah closed her eyes, rested her fingertips on all three of them and she glowed as the energy flowed through her.
When she opened her eyes, three amorphous forms floated before her in a blue haze. “Guys!” she shouted. “Jon, Spine, Rabbit!” As their names were called, they became a bit more solid, more humanoid. Their voices came to her as if carried on the wind, but she could hear them and identify them and her heart soared. “It’s ok. You’re safe. We’re going home!”
After only ten seconds Lilah pulled her fingers away and as she shook her hands out her body stopped glowing.
N’Gretty closed the lid and handed the box to her. “Looks like you found eggs of your own,” he said softly.
She nodded and hugged the box to her chest tightly. “Morton...”
He shook his head in disbelief. “I thought they’d been destroyed when my father was killed. Eustace must have stashed them in the treasury.”
“Killed? He tried to tamper with them? After what happened in 1950?”
Mortimer nodded. “He thought he’d found a way around what went wrong. I had a coughing fit, as I recall, and he shooed me from the lab. Damned affliction saved my life. Speaking of which,” he took a very deep breath, held it for a moment and let it go as strongly as he could. “N’Gretty! Is this permanent? I’ve not been able to breathe like that since… well, never, actually!”
He grinned wide and tapped the half-full bottle at his hip. “It makes you all better. Even old ailments.”
“Remarkable!” Mortimer stroked his beard and focused on the power cores again. “Delilah, do you think you can restore them to their chassis?”
Lilah nodded, grinned, and wiped tears from her face. Soon, the sound of many footsteps could be heard echoing through the halls around them.
“What now?” N’Gretty bristled and put his back to his friends.
“It’s alright, N’Gretty. Delilah?” Mortimer stepped toward her and his eyes softened. He spoke quickly and quietly. “The thing that kept you from opening your heart to me has been returned to you and you now know that I had nothing to do with this and that I have nothing against your family or its name.”
Lilah tucked the steel case under her left arm and nodded but kept her eyes on the floor. “It has, and I do. I’m so sorry I put you through all this.”
Mortimer touched her face and lifted her chin so that he could see her grey eyes. “I love you, Delilah Moreau-Walter,” he said quietly, “and for that reason I forgive you. I would very much like to win your love again, but…” he said and smiled wistfully, “I’ve also always wanted to do what was right.” He took his hand away slowly, caressing her cheek and wiping the tears with his thumb as he did. “And for the first time in my life, I will be able to act on that impulse.” Lilah trembled and clenched her jaw tightly as he raised his arms above his head. She stared at him, confused by the gesture of submission until the allied soldiers filed into the room, surrounded them and aimed their weapons at the King of Asininia.
N’Gretty pulled Lilah away from the scene as Georgia Jones pushed her way to the front of the wall of soldiers and shouted at a few who were handling Mortimer roughly. “You will treat this man with respect!” she barked. Her eyes glanced over to Lilah and N’Gretty quickly and apologetically. “King Mortimer Becile, on behalf of the United Forces Against Asininia, I place you under arrest.”
Mortimer lowered his hands and held them out for the restraints a soldier had produced. “I relent,” he said clearly.
N’Gretty walked with Lilah out of the throne room and comforted her as best he could. “That is a true man,” he muttered. “There is nothing you can do, other than be proud of him.” She nodded, clutching the box holding the souls of her best friends. “But there is this,” the half-dragon chimed as he hefted his sack full of spoils onto his shoulder. “We got treasure!” He patted the sling with his brother’s egg in it for emphasis.
“Yes,” she agreed, chin down, eyes trained on the carpet just ahead of her plodding feet. “I know.”
As they rounded a corner, their progress was impeded by a rather colorful contingent of soldiers from Merveilles. “Halt!” their captain shouted. N’Gretty snarled, but Lilah touched his arm to calm him and turned her shoulder to face them. “We’re with you,” she said, pointing to the Cavalcadium patch on her jacket.
“And stealing from the castle?” The captain raised a brow and only lowered his weapon when he spied something behind them.
“Cool your jets, the kid’s a dragon,” Jones barked as she approached them at a fast walk. “Under Kazooland law, if he wins a battle, he’s got a right to whatever he can carry. You lot head back where I came from, meet up with Echo Company. You’ve got investigators with you, right? Go check out the weapon, or, what’s left of it, anyway. I’ll be there in a bit.” The Captain saluted her and they filed past them and back toward the throne room. Jones then turned her attention to her friends. Her arm was in a makeshift sling but she looked no worse for the wear. She looked N’Gretty up and down and took in his ensemble. “What happened to your clothes? Wait. Ya know what? I don’t wanna know. You two head out and look for a ship headed for New Pieland.”
Lilah nodded. “Georgia, what’s going to happen to him?”
Jones smiled kindly. “Not entirely sure right now, but the council of nine will probably call some sort of tribunal. I’ll try to get on it. When you get to New Pie, stick around. I’ll meet up with you. Gretty, if you could give a deposition before you head out, it’d be really helpful.”
“Give you what?” he asked with an apprehensive sneer and clutched his treasure tightly.
“Testimony, er, I want you to tell the people who will decide what happens to Mort what you think of him. Especially that you gave him that potion.”
“Will this help him?”
“I’m sure of it.”
N’Gretty pursed his lips in thought for a moment and glanced over at Lilah who had lifted her red-rimmed eyes from the floor and was staring at him. “I suppose. I will speak and then leave immediately.”
“Sure, of course. Thanks!” Jones clapped her hands and noticed the case that Lilah held. She smirked and elbowed her lightly. “So you got some good stuff, too, huh?”
This took the younger woman by surprise and she blushed. “Oh! Yes! I’ll tell you all about it later.”
“You better! Hey, you gonna be ok?”
Lilah nodded. “I’m tired, hungry, and both elated and devastated. But I’ll be ok.” She was surprised again when Jones gave her a tight one-armed hug and promised her that she would see what she could do to help Mortimer before jogging back down the hall.
“She is also a true man,” N’Gretty stated. “Now, let us find a ship out of this terrible place. I will not go back through that shitty entrance!”
Lilah blinked at him and, remembering that Jones had taught him the curse word not a few hours before, she laughed as they walked out the front entrance into the stale Asininian air.