Magical Scribe Eleanor Slam and the Squad, Part I: Complications

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The red and blue doll’s battle-axe goes flying thanks to a lucky parry from my spear. It turns its blank face away to follow its weapon’s plunk into the choppy black waters, and I press the advantage immediately. Its half-raised wooden shield finally splinters as my fist punches through it and the mannequin’s head. An oily red liquid erupts from the wound. I’m not caught off guard this time, though, or by the sound of a horn blaring from somewhere up above that, somehow, I can still hear over the shrieking winds and crashing waves. This time, I push the lifeless thing’s body off the side of the rail-less ship and into the depths. Its splash, and the motes of snow falling from the sky, are lit up by a shaft of light as a horse-headed cherub dives in after it instead of coming after me. The boat rocks a little as another wave hits it, icy water splashing onto the deck in front of me.

The clouds are still storming, the water is still churning, it’s still blizzarding, the wind is very loud, and there’s too much fog to see very far. Milly and Tanis have ganged up on one of the puppets and have it under control. So does Marina, even though she’s fighting off four at a time. Another beam of light is directed to the sea as Katt shoots an enemy off the deck. Her gun lights up and grows into a complex catapult-like shape as she once again tries to use a molotov to take out the other, burning ship that’s getting way too close. Without my glasses, I can’t really see what the fuzzy shapes are on the deck, but it’s obviously more mannequin things.

Like the one that I could barely see until it snuck up on Katt just now.

“Katt, behind you!” I scream over the battle and the blizzard, sprinting as fast as I can without slipping on the icy deck or being thrown around by the winds and arriving in an instant. Instead of running, she turns to face her attacker and gets an axe buried deep in her right shoulder. While she’s roaring in pain, I crash shoulder-first into the doll and spear it through the gut. Another horn sounds before I kick it and the pen over the edge, followed by another cupid chasing it.

"Fucker-” spits Katt, a growing patch of red overtaking the white color of her hoodie. I have to lean in close to hear her. “Can’t get any strength in my arm.” She glares at me, snarling, “Shoot it now!” and I pull back the piece holding the flinging arm back.

A “shunk” happens, and the device hurls its flaming payload into the blurry distance. It whips around in the air, then turns sharply and explodes against the sails of the other boat. Katt grimaces and pulls the axe out of her body, lightly tossing it at the face of a warrior doll trying to climb up the side of the ship. Both fall back into the churning waters as the other boat’s mast finally snaps and falls. Their boat is engulfed in light, followed by the animalistic screams of horse cherubs on fire.

Can’t sit and stare at it. Gotta keep moving. Keep the chill out, keep the dolls off the boat, keep alive. Keep alive. Keep everyone alive.

Tanis and Milly have joined up with Marina to flank the remaining dolls. Wait, no, there’s one more that just climbed up from the front. I rush over and strike it with my fist before it can get its bearings and push it back into the water. There’s another horn noise as the last puppet is killed and tossed away. Followed by a faint splashing sound as Marina leaps into the water herself. Followed by a dozen horns and shafts of light erupting in the sea around us in short order as the water churns into a froth. And then that is followed by several angel-horse-things rushing to their deaths in the depths.

Marina leaps out of the water, her fish tail tucking away beneath her dress. After finding no obvious threats, she settles down as the adrenaline wears off. Her face, though sharper than usual, takes on some of its usual slothful qualities, despite the constant chattering of her teeth. The most immediate danger seems to have gone. With the fighting done for the moment, I put on my glasses to see better, and they fog up almost immediately. Then defog, then fog up again, and so on. I take them off and put them away, they’re no help here.

That’s when it hits me. Only just now do I feel just how intense everything that happened was. I hadn’t even noticed how much my heart was racing until I tried to talk again. I’d probably be dead if we’d been doing drills earlier instead of splattering toads. Now I was just killing… other things. I, I killed things today. For real this time.

Taking huge gulps of air, I loudly ask the question that’s on everyone’s mind: “What the hell was that?”

Suddenly, Katt is up in my face. “A trebuchet!” she exclaims, showing more energy, animation, and actual cheer than I’d ever seen from her at this point, despite her still-bleeding injury. Tiredly I look at her, then at the thing she conjured, then back at her, and she takes it as a sign that I want her to keep going: “A medieval siege weapon that uses a counterweight to hurl its payload further than regular catapults and can launch heavy projectiles more than aAAAUGH-”

Katt’s spontaneous rant is cut short by Tanis biting her in the arm, the excitement flowing out of her along with her injuries. The cat-eared girl squeals in pain while the snake-bodied girl’s shoulder develops a gash deep enough to see through. I can see it starting to heal already, but it’s still uncomfortably slow and an uncomfortable thing to look at. I don’t feel like throwing up anymore, at least. I guess the training helped there, too. Katt quietly makes her device vanish, and I almost feel bad for her getting interrupted. But nobody’s in the mood for her to go off on a tangent about weapons.

The wind picks up again, and all of us pull out our emergency blankets. At least we were given these starter emergency kits even if we weren’t supposed to be in any emergencies. Everyone huddles up close, so we don’t have to keep screaming at each other to be heard. Tanis, probably because she’s part cold-blooded, huddles up right by me. Yeah, she’s… she’s really cold. This whole place is really, REALLY cold. Why the hell is it so cold? This is the first time I’m not pissed about having a coat for my costume and it’s STILL too cold! Another wave crashes into the boat, but without the confusion of a fight, everyone’s able to brace themselves against it. The boat rocks heavily until it settles back into its regular, less extreme swaying.

Oh, right. I try asking again, louder this time: “What I meant was, what the hell happened?” I look between everyone, trying not to sound as exasperated as I feel. “Is this a test? A joke? A, a mistake? Because this is a witch barrier, right? Something we’re not supposed to be doing yet, right?” Nope, I can’t keep the exasperation or anger inside. This is wrong, this is fucked up. This isn’t something I’m ready for. “Was this Crazy Cunt’s idea or, or…”

Marina, our chaperone until now, shakes her head. “This is… unexpected,” she drawls, her placid looks giving way to worry. “We wouldn’t force this… on a new team. It was supposed to be… like what we did earlier.”

Katt had herself cocooned in her blanket, not even showing her face. She still wanted to give her piece, and her muffled complaint was, “So we’re just going after bigger ‘invasive species’ now? Some ‘training’.”

This was supposed to be training. It was supposed to be training! Not the real thing! I was grouped with some other trainees to form a squad, we had Marina as a senior to give supervision, and we were given special tasks based on what we needed more training in! Some needed help with fitness, some got tasks based on survival, some did mock combat, and some practiced marksmanship. Tanis and I were put with a humbled Milly and the girl who stole my lunch money before - both of whom were let out of detainment on probation or something - so the latter two would learn teamwork. Yeah, I wasn’t thrilled, either, but at least Milly wasn’t pissy about it. Katt - Katherine, the cat girl - was definitely sulky about it, though. I told her I didn’t hold it against her, but she was still annoyed, so maybe being grumpy is just her thing.

Since everybody seemed to have a connection to me, I was appointed squad leader. Which is a first, considering I’ve never been a leader of anything, ever. But I said before I was going to try and do my best, and I meant it, so I rolled with it. Our task? Killing things to become accustomed to killing things. Yeah, okay, sure, why not? They called it “invasive species extermination” and tasked us with “culling the cane toad population” because it was “practical training with a purpose”. What it was, was toad guts. Toad guts on the butt of my spear. Toad guts on my boots. Toad guts on my fists. Toad guts as the rattling sounds of its species grew one voice quieter at a time. And I couldn’t block it out - in fact, I was told not to block it out.

“Think about it…” preached Marina, twenty toads skewered on her harpoon. “Think about… the taking of a life… the feeling… and try to understand… the weight of what you’re doing… without lying to yourself.” Well, I was thinking about it, and I hated it. I hated killing them, I hated the violence. But I said I was going to try harder, and so I agreed, and Marina promised to treat us afterwards. Normal food. Not poisoned food, not glassy food, not marmite food, actual, real food. And for that I could make an effort. Then the sky turned black-

“-and then suddenly we’re on a weird boat, with weird warrior puppet things that summon backup on death and have to be tricked into drowning themselves, and it’s cold, foggy, snowing, the boat’s rocking… did I miss anything?”

Milly pokes her head out of her blanket. The part-cyborg looks like her face is still fully human, and definitely flush with coldness. “There was supposed to be another group,” she responds in quiet, dawning horror. The morbid explanation for how we got here isn’t needed anymore. Now the question is, which of them is the witch? If it’s the chaperone, then they’re probably in worse shape than us, or even…

I glance up at the sky, then at the horizon. It’s fog. It’s all just fog, snow and water.

“Next, I think we need to know where we’re headed,” I say out loud. I wasn’t really trying to give orders just now, but I guess it came out like that, and I’m supposed to be leading. There’s no steering wheel, no rudder, no belowdecks, and I don’t think Marina should try to steer the boat with brute force. She looked cold after she climbed out, too. Colder than the rest of us. I think that if anybody else fell in the water they’d die from how icy it is.

“I can do some reconnaissance,” Milly volunteers, tossing off her blanket. As the only one here who can fly, it was inevitably going to be her, but I’m glad she’s showing initiative.

“Okay, come back in…”


“...How long have we been here?” I suddenly ask.

Tanis checks her phone, which doesn’t have any bars (of course) and squeaks, “T, two minutes.”

...Two minutes? All of that fighting and being lost and confusion and it’s only been two minutes? This has been the longest two minutes (and counting) of my life already!

...Okay, fine. I’m gonna put on a brave face; I’m the leader here, and I want to act like it. “Come back in two minutes at most,” I order Milly. She crouches down as her artificial wings unfold from her back, then I add, “and please stay safe out there.”

Milly, probably not used to that sort of consideration or kindness, looks at me incredulously. I shrug at her, and she smiles. “Understood, thank you,” she says back, then leaps into the air. The wind at her back, she zooms up and away, her strange machine wings giving her lift despite not flapping.

“It’s only been about two minutes…” I mutter in disbelief after Milly disappears. Too quiet for anybody else to hear. I gotta put on my game face and get to work, everyone’s counting on me. I look away from Milly’s retreat once she disappears into the fog, and put forward, “So our options are to wait for backup, find an exit, or kill the witch, right?”

Katt, still refusing to unbundle herself from her blanket, grumbles, “Pretty much, we’re fucked no matter what we pick.”

Marina isn’t optimistic either. “The Officio won’t even know… that anything is wrong... yet. Outbreak trackers… have been somewhat slow… since Walpurgis purged… so many people.”

“I really don’t think we can fight a witch, though. Not if what we’ve been up against is any indication,” I say, voicing what everyone else is probably thinking. If these are just the familiars, I don’t want to think about how strong the witch is. I even realize something important, blurting out, “We don’t even have a dedicated tank.”

This gets me blank stares. “Somebody who can draw aggr-,” wait, that’s not the right language, “um, somebody who can draw attention and, uh, keep everyone from getting hurt.” They still don’t seem to get it. “A dedicated Crazy Cunt.” Ah, now understanding dawns on everyone. “And I don’t think we can reach an exit like this. Not until we hit solid ground.”

“I suppose… not,” Marina confirms solemnly.

“So, we wait for backup?” huffs Katt, burrowing deeper into her blankets. “Suits me just fine. Less work.”

Marina nods sagely. “Seems like… a smart idea. I can’t protect… all of you… all the time.” She actually looks somewhat upset about this, sulking a little.

So, I try to cheer her up, saying “oh, well, you’ve done a good job so far, Marina! Don’t feel bad-”

“We’ve got big trouble ahead!” Milly yells from somewhere in the fog. A couple seconds later, she touches down, wearing a grim expression. She breathlessly relays her infodump: “We’re heading to a waterfall, less than half kilometer away. All the ships are falling over it, and I can’t even see the bottom for how deep it is. There’s a massive tree in the middle, about ten meters from the edge, but that’s all that’s there.”

Nobody’s panicking externally, but I can see it on everyone’s faces. If we fall over, we’re fucked. And one of Milly’s conditions for being allowed to work with us was wearing some kind of “power limiter” or whatever. Which means she can’t fly all of us at once.

Then I hear it. We all hear it.

A constant sound that is just barely recognizable over the winds. The sound of many horns blasting in near unison. Light flashes up ahead, visible even through the fog. And above that, the sound of the wind, and the crashing waves, is the sound of falling water.

The noises are getting louder and louder by the second.

Tanis is the first to panic. “Whawhawhat do we do?!” she exclaims, shuffling around and dropping her cold weather blankets like dead weight. “I can’t jump!” she adds, stretching for emphasis.

I hadn’t even thought of that. If Tanis can’t even jump… but then that’s probably too far for any of us to jump without slamming against the tree and falling to our deaths. We’d have to fly or get more speed... or launch ourselves. I get up in Katt’s face until she shrinks back, demanding, “Katt, can you make a catapult?” Before she can open her mouth all the way to go on another rant, I cut her off. “Just give us something that can fling us onto the tree!”

As everyone puts away their blankets, Katt conjures a simple catapult, the boat and the device creaking as it settles down. All of us pile into the arm bucket, a little cramped, and Tanis wraps her snake half around everyone to keep us from getting separated. The creaking worsens, but we don’t have the luxury of worrying about it. It’s not like we need the catapult to survive as much as we need ourselves to survive.

Then the fog starts to clear, and I can see we’re less than half a minute from going over the edge. Nearby are more boats with more figures. One ship tips over as it and its passengers plummet into oblivion. Off in the distance, past the flashing pillars of light and choirs of horses, a giant white tree canopy shape spreads out about level with us. It’s surrounded on all sides by the waterfall, which keeps dropping ships and summoning angels.

And on top of the tree, something big rears up from the center. Something dark and pulsing that contrasts with the snow-white tree. It bounds forward and lets out a terrible roar, easily audible over everything else.

Of fucking course.

“Looks like… the witch found us…” Marina confirms.

Tanis turns to me, almost on the verge of tears. “What do we do?” she asks imploringly, quivering enough that I can feel it.

I’m reminded of the horror of my first witch encounter. How absolutely helpless I was without somebody to save me. How powerless and fearful I felt. And I don’t feel any of that right now. What I feel is my teeth grinding instead of chattering. I feel my brow furrowed in anger. I feel my hands ball into fists.

I’m just mad. After all the bullshit that happened in just a scant few minutes, now I have to deal with this? I’m so fed up with everything trying to beat me down every time I think things are getting better! I’m sick of having no control over my own life! This time I’m taking the fight to whatever’s in my way, and I’m not backing down! If my life isn’t going to get better, I’m going to FIGHT IT until it does!

“Then we’re gonna kill it!” I exclaim, giving Katt the signal to launch. Her worried glance meets my resolute rage and she complies. And then we’re hurling through the air. And the monster waiting for us. The wind rushes to meet us as I’m gripped with deja vu again, and I yell out in defiance. Tanis loses her grip and we spread out, readying our weapons before we touch down right in front of whatever is trying to wreck our day. A sick animal that needs to be put out of its misery before it hurts someone.

We’re going to get through all of this. We’re going to be okay. I am taking my life back, starting now. En fucking garde!