GUEST BLOG POST: “Round Robin” by Benjamin Kissell!on September 27th, 2011
Congratulations on 5 Amazing Years! I couldn’t be happier to hae such a great webcomic to read and am immensely flattered to be a part of this celebration.
The tale of Dr. Rocket’s adoption of Ms. Missile
nee L’il Miss Missile nee Nadualia
by Benjamin Kissell
“So, Dr. Rocket, you never did tell me HOW you got away from the Carpathian Bug People. As I recall, they were pretty ticked at you after I exposed your plans to turn their underground city into a parking garage.” –Captain Spectacular
“Why, my dear Captain, it was simple. After I flattered their king and taught them my new world order, he rewarded me with a beautiful young princess and allowed me safe passage to the surface! Together we lived quite happily for years.” –Dr. Rocket
“You escaped from their prison with some gadget or other and kidnapped one of their young to raise as a protege, didn’t you?” –Captain Spectacular
“Li’l Miss Missile! So that’s why she had three eyes!” –Jerry
Darkness sizzled in the wan light of the smoky torches and lamps as Dr. Rocket stepped onto the lintel of a low-slung stone building. Deep in the hive-like caverns at the heart of the Carpathian Mountains, this cold – inhuman – community dwelt and thrived in the dank gloom of its reaches. Bowing his sweat-matted hair (thinner every day, it seemed) he crossed into the dampened storeroom. His plan was reaching fruition.
His contact, a citizen of unassuming means and manner, was to meet him here in this little-used granary and introduce him to the Lord Regent – Capcaun; brother to the King. These Hollow Hills would soon be his.
How he despised playing Machiavelli with these ‘people’. True, Nikola T. Rocket – once called Laban – had no compunction with manipulation and with duplicity (after all, how many years had he held his tongue in his friendship with Wilbur? How long had he hidden his love for Samantha?) but, something about putting himself into this internal conflict nagged at him. Playing at the spider within another’s web felt wrong. The sooner he achieved his goals, the happier he would be.
Their habits were rather unusual, their home unpleasant despite its sheer size, and he always wondered just what they were going to do if released into the Overworld. Despite all of this, he helped them.
No, helping is too broad a term. He was aiding them, true, but, not for their own purposes. He intended their gains to be only a stepping stone to his greater aims. They wanted, he needed and both parties’ desires mildly coincided. So, here he was; stooping in a little-used, uncomfortably musty and dark room waiting for the arrival of a fellow conspirator. Leaning against a small plinth, he sat down stroking Harvey’s fur. He would wait. Dr. Rocket, if anything, was a patient man – when needs-be.
Flying low and alone into western Romania, (“Some Commie-influenced name or another – I forget its name”), the locals had called The Society of Heroes to their town because two kids had seen Dr. Rocket in the mountains. Captain Spectacular dropped from the sky in a blaze of blue and yellow.
He met a perky and plump girl in the foothills.
‘She’s wearing one of those OktoberFest outfits, like some Miss Switzerland; a real shape on her,’ he thought to himself. ‘Not a bad thing at all.’
She plied the hero with sweetmeats and candied fruit and was soon pointing to a high rock on the mountain-top. Between mouthfuls he made out some of her words – “gibberish isn’t my language” – and two stood out: Bau-Bau and Dr. Rocket.
The Captain had come alone, leaving most of the Society back in the States – Mr. Crook and The Thrice Evil were rampaging in the mid-west robbing farms and turning the farmers into their own livestock with the Circe Stick. So, it was just him out here, stopping another one of his plans for global domination, petty spite or whatever it was on the plate today.
Alighting on grubby rock on a crag, Captain Spectacular stood at the entrance to a cave. It smelled rotten, like sun-baked vinegar and old blood. A shallow cave in a high-cliff wall; the perfect place for a trap – of course the Captain sauntered right on in.
Cold enveloped him; a chill ate through his light lab coat – he pulled Harvey close to his chest – and still they descended further. Deeper. Darker. Danker. Down in to the lowest catacombs of a city built around a honeycomb of warrens.
This was the capital: This was the City of Shadows, a dark reflection of the cities hugging the hilltops and valleys above and around. It had many names in many tongues – the Norse explorers who had stumbled into its depths (too few had escaped) named it Niflheim, for its cold misty lakes and dark hovels; Sheol by a small tribe of his fellow Jews who had passed the range and glimpsed its battered gloom issuing smoke from cracks and crevices; Erebos and Hell by the Romani tribesmen and natives who huddled at night by their hearths near the mountains; but, to the Folk of the Carpathian Mountains it was simply home.
He had lost count of the hours he sat in that dark gloom with his bearded contact, stroking Harvey’s softness in consternation waiting for this mysterious Lord Regent to arrive. In the end, he hadn’t. Another lanky, cold-eyed conspirator had. It was he who led them down into further depths of secret abodes and passageways.
Arriving at what looked little-better than a shabby cistern, they paused. Cobwebs and the faint drip-dripping of pooling water were their footsteps’ only company. How these bogeymen could tell one passageway from another in this murk, he’d never know. Even with the enhanced night-vision his glasses gave him they looked practically the same.
Standing around the stone and stave-work structure, Dr. Rocket took the moment to see if he could discern anything new about his ‘allies’. His contact stood apart from him; his arm-length beard swaying in the subterranean (unnatural) breeze. Short for his race (they usually stood a good hand’s span above Nikola), he was fidgeting and twitchy. Clothed in somber greys and black-greens he almost faded into the shadows. Except, of course, for his glowing three eyes and beard; he could never really disappear because of them.
Their guide leaned his long limbs on the edge of the cistern and tilted his chin upwards, long hair cascading and gleaming. Black-gold eyes glittered in the gloom; aloof, calculating and capable of anything, his whole body language screamed predator. A patient predator, but, a ruthless one, regardless. Waiting, how Nikola loathed waiting on others; being at their whim.
“Look,” his voice breaching the deep and cold silence, “how long are we supposed to wait for this Lord Regent? I’m a tolerant man,” they didn’t need to know he suffered fools and time-wasters with bitterness and would hold a grudge. “But, is there a point to my standing here, in the bowels and backside of the world … in the dark?” His voice creaked a little as he finished. He was beginning to feel an unease of allying himself with these beings.
Nothing ventured, though, nothing gained.
Amusement lit up their guide’s eyes (all three) and danger flowered in Dr. Rocket’s mind. These folk truly were not human, despite appearances to the contrary. Alien. Demon. Monster. Other. An alertness flared to life in his mind; putting together pieces of the story.
Held within a subterranean realm, calling itself the Hollow Hills; held to strictures tied to the waxing and waning of the moon; the kidnapping of children ; the preternatural otherness; their distinct refusal to give full-names … all bespoke of the Otherworld. No wonder The Thrice Evil had a connection with them. His shock of realization must have been readable, as their guide let out a bone-chilling chuckle. A mirthless laugh.
“You are here because we wish you to be here,” his voice held the timbre of cracking ice, “and because we are worth something to each other in alliance.” Straightening himself from languorous angles, their guide stood and slowly approached the doctor. Menace, ancient and blood-soaked, rolled off of him in waves. His fingers ended in fingertips pointed with claws. Draped in a black so pitch light shied away from it he stepped forward. No mere toss-away was this.
“You are aright, I can see it in your eyes good doctor. We are old, some of us ancient. I, myself, am such a one. You may call me Capcaun, brother to the king. Lord Regent of the Bau-Bau. It is through my offices and embassy you are come to us. You will forgive the simple test, but, I had to be sure of your quality.” Nikola fairly shuddered.
“Long have we waited; it was a blessing indeed that your protégé, what did you call him?” at this he turned to the bearded fellow who muttered in a grinding of snow and stone, “The Thrice Evil. It is by his natural connexion to us that we have called you here. No, good doctor, you are here to play a part for us and if we help you in return it is because we are simply, good neighbors.”
Captain Spectacular holstered the micro comm. device back onto his belt. No answer at the Great Hall of the Society of Heroes; everyone would still be out battling The Thrice Evil and Mr. Crook. ‘I guess I’m alone on this one; not even Jerry hanging on and tagging along behind me.’ He turned on his heel and strode purposefully, if not almost-arrogantly, into the open mouth of the cave.
If he’d been able to get through to Ninjana or anyone at the Great Hall, they could have looked in the library computer’s records and answered his question, telling him exactly what a “Bau-Bau” was.
Bau-Bau – (Bow-Bow) n. Romanian folklore; ‘The Black Man’, name for the Eastern-European bogeyman/men who would frighten and steal children away in the night: A type of malignant faery/demon of the night, sometimes called ‘The Sack Man’ or ‘The Bag Man’.
If he’d but known.
Instead, Cap snapped his bootheels along the stone corridor, his brightly colored costume garish in the dead-hued hallway, and made no attempts at hiding himself: Either supreme confidence, strong arrogance or steeped in ignorance, he was it.
His broad shoulders brushed the sides of the pathway, although he could have flown almost a full height above him. Pausing, he listened for one of Dr. Rocket’s telltale cackles. Some clue as to where he was lying in wait to spring some elaborate and overly-complicated trap. He always had one.
Like that time he’d chased Dr. Rocket across Tasmania because he’d set up a genetic lab making the Tasmanian Devils into actual monsters; or that time with the water trap in Siberia (which he should’ve known wouldn’t work, what with the friggin’ cold); and then there was that time in Madagascar with the lemurs, vines, and that ridiculous giant stone coin – what was that all about?
No doubt about it, Dr. Rocket always gave away his convoluted and petty schemes in a tirade or simple exclamatory tell. So, why wasn’t he doing so here and now?
“Sweet Satan’s Soul Patch!”*
“Heaven, nor Hell, hold a place with us, good doctor. I think you’ll find calling out to your GOD – or His foe – will avail you of nothing, save a hoarse throat and cracked lips.”
The simple honesty and menace scared him more than if he’d pulled a knife and leveled it at his throat.
All these months of secrets, contacts, vague promises and assurances had led him to this; a veritable deal with a devil. No, scratch that. A Faery: A very peevish, aggressive and lethal Faery. Could he blame this on The Thrice Evil? Hadn’t his demon-dimensional-spawned sidekick told him about this new ally? Hadn’t he pushed for it? True, he, Doctor Nikola Tesla Rocket had made the choice, but he had made it based on intelligence provided by his Lodge of Doom cohorts.
He had made the choice based on flawed information and skewed opinions. It wasn’t his fault, it wasn’t his mistake; but he would correct it. He would steel himself for it and he would make them pay for it.
“Forgive me; it was simply the shock of realizing what and whom I was addressing. As we’ve established, I am your agent and happy to do what I can.” The lie came readily to his lips, he would figure out a way to turn his plans against them and escape unscathed. But, first, he would have to learn what exactly it was they really needed of him. And for that, he would act the part of willing ally.
*Yes, I know it is historically inaccurate, as this is a period when he would have said “Sweet Satan’s Van Dyke”, but, that is by-far my favorite line ever uttered by Dr. Rocket [despite it being from Herman, his doppelganger] and I had to use it. The original instance can be found in SuperFogeys strip #32, Bingo Night Begins
The continuously weaving corridors of cut rock were starting to get to Wilbur’s nerves; his vaunted super powers seemed to have no effect in seeing any further around corners or through walls down here than a normal human’s. When it came down to it, he was a strutting target in bright yellow and blue spandex. A fact he was becoming consciously aware of.
How long had he been looking for Dr. Rocket now, hours? It certainly felt longer. The maze felt like a veritable labyrinth. He had to be coming nearer to the heart of it, didn’t he? It couldn’t stretch on forever, could it? The intermittent torches had to be a clue, right?
Smoke began to linger in the air; passing eddies seemed to carry it directly towards him with further snatches of torchlight. And voices; he could hear snippets of conversation – words.
“… good doctor,”
There! Something he could deal with; set his fists to. Picking up his feet, Captain Spectacular flew ahead, gaining ramming speed. Whatever nefarious, pointless plot Dr. Rocket was up to, he’d put a stop to it.
“Hear me, Dr. Rocket?” he yelled as he broke through the limestone wall, “Your scheme is over: Good will always triumph over evil!”
Over the weeks, Capcaun had not only revealed the depths of his plans and breadth of his scheming mind to Nikola, but, had revealed much of his world.
They were the Bau-Bau, a clan of beings – some would call them faeries, others demons – who for long ages lived on the slopes of the Carpathian Mountains. Centuries ago, the king, Amurghiuta, made a pact with the reigning king of Wallachia– Basarab I – after the bloody war of secession from Hungary. The Bau-Bau would pull back to the caverns and mountain hall holds deep within the Carpathians and, in a bond sealed by blood, would only be allowed to venture forth in small groups during certain periods of the waning of the moon. For the last six centuries they had been clapped into this miserable truce. Daily growing weaker, resentful and bitter; a broken race hidden in shadows.
Capcaun, as Lord Regent also acted as the head of their internal policing force, although calling it a brute mob would have been a fairer description to Dr. Rocket. Bullies, exercising their power over the weaker members of the Bau-Bau; they determined who would be allowed to venture forth during the brief windows. Those who didn’t gain that freedom grew frail and didn’t “draw a lot” for outside excursions and in-turn, became less: A vicious cycle which hardened his heart against them.
He couldn’t place it, but, something in the casual and pitiless manner in which most existed reminded him of Pilatius and the obscene way in which he had toyed with (and broken) the lives of Laban and Amram.
He would have grown to hate them all if it weren’t for the kindness of two members of Capcaun’s own household: his wife and daughter. Ieledoina, as mistress of the most powerful family – Amurghiuta being a perennial childless bachelor – had every opportunity to foster the cruelty and callousness her husband paraded, but, instead, eschewed it for a quiet dignity. She was often out amidst the denizens of the realm, helping in mundane and domestic chores most of her rank did their best to avoid. A kind word and a smile greeted everyone who crossed her path, including Nikola. She was lovely, he would never be able to deny that. Nor would he do anything because of it. Ieledonia was a woman of character and good nature.
A trait she instilled in her daughter, little Nadualia . A quieter and more polite little girl Nikola had never seen. She appeared no older than 2, yet acted will all of the acumen of a 9 year old. It was disconcerting, yet, her infectious grin tugged at his heartstrings.
By day – if one could account the hours of supernatural light cast by the large will-o’-the-wisps and corpse candles as day or night – he would get a little rest before being sequestered in planning and meetings with Capcaun, laying plans for the bloodied overthrow of his own brother (the vicious “Devil of Twilight”) or the use of technology and weapons he was ‘convincing’ the good doctor to produce. Their evenings would devolve into unpleasant diversions and entertainment, dances and courtier bollocks before snatching a few hours sleep to start the day all over again; life in the Court of the Bau-Bau was draining in the extreme.
One morning, some weeks into his stay, Nikola awoke in alarm – his dreams had been wracked in distress and left him uneasy, raw and open like a wound – and saw, perched on the bureau at the foot of his bed a bright-haired Bau-Bau, all long-limbed and lithe. His three eyes gleamed like burnished gold hidden in dark water, his clawed fingertips lax and splayed. Except for the hair color, he looked exactly like Capcaun. This intruder could be none other than the intended victim; Capcaun’s own brother – King Amurghiuta.
“Your pet,” he said, cocking his head so that the silver-gold of his hair fell to frame his face. “Is safe, he sits even now in the arms of Our niece, the Lady Nadualia, sleeping.” Where his brother’s voice was horrendously powerful to hear Amurghiuta’s was almost soft. A measured lilt in comparison. This was the monster Capcaun sought to supplant?
“Walk with Us.” It was not a request, as so little spoken by these people were ever put as such. Dressing in haste, his lab coat thrown over the dusky-silken sleep clothes he was wearing. They strolled down from the back of the stone palace which Capcaun had claimed and into a small garden of black nightshade (called Zarna by the Romanian peoples above).
“We know of your involvement with Our brother and his plans for Us. He intends to break the pact which has held Our folk in safety and these Hollow Hills from usurpers. He would see the caverns of Zarnavatra broken up and laid to the wicked sun. After 600 years, of being apart, he would thrust the Bau-Bau back into the world of men – to perish in a single generation. For many long years Capcaun argued with Us in publick and in private; pushing Us to remove the ban and end our internal exile. But, no: How how can Our people hope to survive in your world?”
Nikola had no answer to this. In the years as Dr. Rocket, Science Hero he had played at saving the world. Since then, as a nefarious villain, he’d come to know the underbelly of humanity, the carnage wrought by those who claimed they knew best for the world and the consequences be damned. It had left him with a hollow pit of antipathy and distrust. Perhaps this selfish trait of Capcaun’s is another factor which repulsed him.
“Even should Our brother succeed in wresting rule from Us with your aid, it would avail him not. The pact is indeed made in blood. The blood of our entire race. Should We lay slain, Our life’s blood ebbing upon the cold marble floors in a great fount, the pact would lay in the blood of all Our subjects and kin. It would change nothing, save mark Capcaun as Foresworn and Outcast.”
’And that very fact, which would negate the blood pact within him, is all he cares for,’ Nikola realized. The Bau-Bau be blasted, Capcaun worries only for is his own freedom and power. But, he wondered, how best he would be able to use this to his own advantage. Unfortunately, he didn’t get to muse on it for long. “We thank you, good doctor, for listening. We hope that this information, come newly to light, helps you to understand what best to do.”
Of course, that’s when the wall of limestone came crashing towards them in sharp fragments chips and hunks, followed by what distinctly sounded like Wilbur screaming “Good will always triumph over evil!” The world tilted sideways from the ringing in his head before it all went black.
‘Man, did it feel good to catch that slippery little jerk. Almost as good as it felt slamming him into the ground and pummeling his face. Of course that other guy who was talking to him was in the way. Obviously a bad guy, since he was here with Dr. Rocket – a swift kick to the gut should send him tumbling and out of the way.’
Launching his right foot out he caught the stunned figure in the sternum; but, even stunned the bogeymen are dangerous. Catching the Captain’s foot he pulled him off-balance and into an awkward dance before his guardsmen could approach. Leading the Night Guard was none other than the Lord Regent. Armed with spears and oddly double-bladed swords, the troop encircled the small raised level of flagstone and marble where they now stood.
Surprise was written all over the Captain’s face as he squared off against someone as seemingly tough as he. Surprise quickly gave way to a wry grin. This? He could enjoy.
Interceding, Capcaun launched himself at Captain Spectacular; his black-gold eyes glittering in blood-lust, his black-leather-clad form cast itself up reminding him of a large and vicious crow. The Captain’s flight did not lend well to this fight; close quarters and no matter how high he hovered the cadaverous villain sprang level to him. Their punches would have leveled buildings, instead they only served to produce grunts of discomfort from each other.
Capcaun would, and could, have happily kept up the fight all night. His benighted brother was there, injured not by his hand; the good doctor’s criminal enterprises would soon come to light (and his own dealings therein). His plans for the good doctor were being wrecked by this brightly colored interloper. He must put this hero down soon.
Of course, such things are easier said than done. Neither superhero nor demon of the night was holding back, their punches and kicks were meant to be lethal. A protracted battle would yield no winners, it seemed. Another course was called for.
Captain Spectacular, seeing the black-draped figure retreat, paused beside the unconscious form of Dr. Rocket, prone on the flagstone. Stepping between the two combatants, the softly-golden-haired figure stopped, his palms extended to each.
Such power and control was in that word that neither stood a chance against it, nor could they hope to gainsay it.
“We are King Amurghiuta, Lord of the Bau-Bau of the Kingdom of Zarnavatra – who are you to enter Our Dominions; accost Our Self and the form of Our guest, the good doctor?”
‘Crap. King? I just kicked a king in the chest? Crap. I didn’t know.’ Caught in confusion, the Captain fell back on what he was sure of: Dr. Rocket.
“Your Majesty, my apologies. My name is Captain Spectacular; I came here, as a member of The Society of Heroes, on a tip from the locals that renowned villain, Dr. Rocket, was here and plotting dastardly deeds. Under international law, it was my job to apprehend him. My apologies that you became involved; we can pay for the damages to your home.”
Sensing the perfect opportunity to cast the failed coup away and wash his hands of it, Capcaun’s agile mind spun a beautiful new web of lies.
“Sire, this hero is telling the truth. Only an hour ago did I discover the truth: The tales this man,” he pointed a long, elegant and talon-tipped finger at Dr. Rocket, who was slowly pulling himself into a sitting position. “Has been telling our court are nothing but fabrications and lies. He obviously sought to insinuate himself into our realm and in on one of his notorious plots.”
The Captain’s yellow cape lolled on the floor, pooling around his feet and framing the lank form of Dr. Rocket, recovering his senses, his sparse hair slicked to his bloodied and sweaty forehead.
“If this human is the villain you both purport him to be, what gain would he have of infiltrating Our Realm? The good doctor has neither given indication nor inclination of what he would gain from this. We find it difficult to believe such a convivial man is guilty of anything other than poor taste in acquaintances.”
In the silence following the king’s words, Capcaun ground his teeth in frustration and the Captain took a deep and steadying breath. His eyebrows twitched in frustration.
Which is why everyone was caught off-guard when Dr. Rocket’s shaky voice was heard, “I wanted to turn the whole blasted city into an underground parking garage. I’ve stolen quite a few extra cars and planes I need to keep away somewhere.”
The world swam in vortices and gyres; voices lapping at the edge of his consciousness and blackened pain threatened to overwhelm him again. But, he said it anyway. He knew that Capcaun had seen this as the perfect opportunity to throw him under and save face. Nikola knew that this was his chance as well: His chance to walk away from the whole sordid mess. King and brother alike.
Still crouching in pain, he craned his head toward Captain Spectacular. “I came down to the city of the Carpathian Bug People,” he flinched calling them this insulting name. “Under the guise of friend, all in hopes of tearing this place away and down. Arrest me, if you must. You’ve caught me fair and square.”
Tentatively getting to his feet, Nikola thrust his chin up in defiance. Expecting the usual ‘grab him by the shirt collar and take-off’ maneuver, he stumbled when Captain Spectacular took a step back from him. Angry blue eyes raked over him.
“Destroy an entire city of innocent beings? I knew you capable of some hideous acts before, but, this? Nikol – I mean, Dr. Rocket – this? Is a new low, even for you.” Pausing to let the stinging impact of his words sink in. His disgust coloring his tone, he continued. “Your Majesty, do you have a prison here? If so, I remand him to it. Let him stay here and do penance for a community he would have happily destroyed. Let him rot here.”
“We do indeed have a gaol, Captain.” The king intoned, his head tilted forward in a mild bow, his antennae gleaming in the low light. “If you wish it, we will hold him here, but, he is yours to retrieve to your own lands when you so wish it.”
A curt nod and salute were all the response he felt capable of giving. In a blur of cerulean and yellow, he was up, up and away from them all – flying through the passages. Barreling through rock and wall in an effort to leave the pain behind.
‘What. In. Blazes. Is. That. Blue-garbed. Buffoon. Thinking? Leaving me behind when it’s so obvious I want out. Take me with you, you great lummox. You’re supposed to be the hero, instead, you’ve let down the one person who needed you most here.’
Forcing aside the nausea and vertigo, Nikola Tesla Rocket stood tall and allowed the Night Guard to be his gaolers.
Leading him into the bowels of the city, again, he was left alone – Harvey remained with the little girl, Nadualia – in his cramped and unpleasant cell.
How long he was there, he was never certain. The unchanging light gave no pass of hours nor comfort of true dark. He languished in solitude and misery. No guests were permitted him. Truly, a misfortunate end for such a strong person as he.
Tedium quickly set in as well as its brother, ennui. A general apathy clouded Nikola’s keen mind and left him as dull as the grey corpse candle-light filtered in through the windows. Dr. Rocket had been beaten and jailed. Caught in a trap of his own design. Trust in others, that is what helped lead him here. Trust in his Lodge of Doom, his minions. Trust in his alliance with Capcaun. Trust in the quiet of Amurghiuta. Trust, even, that Captain Spectacular would listen and do the right thing. Trust failed him. Others failed him.
He woke one morning – it could have been mid-day or midnight for all he could tell – to a great screech, as if the very bedrock which comprised the walls and buttresses of the city and caverns was shaking itself off. Twisting itself into unnatural shapes and turmoil.
A great crack rent the floor near his foot, a chasm of a deeper black than even Capcaun’s heart (provided he had one). The wall near the window collapsed.
Shakily, he shuffled forward – his legs had seen little use while imprisoned. He stumbled over the impromptu threshold and landed, winded, in the arms of a ghostly-white woman.
“Good doctor? Do you remember me? Ieledoina, Nadualia’s mother.” She bent, clutching the frail man. Covered in limestone powder and fragments, she had come down to the gaol levels for him. “Sir, can you walk?”
Dried and sweat-caked lips broke as he tried to form the word ‘yes’. She must have gathered the meaning, as she half-pulled, half-supported him in run from the collapsing cell.
Tripping, stumbling, almost-falling they made their way to the main cavern, where chaos greeted them. “Capcaun succeeded in his coup. With a madness born of calamity – or sheer naked ambition – which I shall never understand, along with Barba-cot and the Night Guard he slew Amurghiuta, most of the royal court and many of the members of the royal crèche. I think he decided, that if he cannot rule us all he will kill us all.”
“Truer words, beloved, were ne’er spoken.” Like a tall, brooding and madness-soaked crow, Capcaun was there beside them; silently gliding across the broken ground. A crimson flash and the obsidian blade in Capcaun’s hand had left its taint and fatal mark across her tender throat. Ieledoina dropped to the ground in a thud of tangled skirts and dust, her hair radiating out in a matted halo.
“She was quite correct: If I am not to rule the Bau-Bau, then, I shall take my leave. Of course, any who oppose me are quite welcome to join their king – even now, he sits upon his throne. He shall never yield it, I think.”
A visceral disgust, born from the frustrations and hatred this bogeyman had pressed upon him all this time, blinded Nikola. In a rage comparable to Tangerine’s berserker nature, he leapt forward. Claiming the small pistol from the villain’s belt he pressed its barrel directly upon the black-robed shoulder and fired.
A scream torn from somewhere between evil and insanity greeted the action. In his greed for Dr. Rocket’s technology, Capcaun had taken blindly. Grabbing the few small laser pistols he had left in his chambers, Capcaun distributed them amongst his loyal followers. The one he’d kept for himself? An Absolute-Zero Ray. Infinitely more effective than any freeze-ray, it reduced its target to absolute zero, completely breaking apart the chemical and atomic bonds of whatever was so unlucky as to fall in its way. Dr. Rocket was still conducting experiments on it when he had been betrayed.
Obviously, it worked.
Casting it aside, next to crystalline dust which had once been the “Dog Head Ogre”, he knelt in splatters of ash and crimson holding the form of the Lady Ieledoina as she breathed her last.
“Please,” her whisper barely above a breath. “Find my daughter, take her away and raise her in honor.” An infant had more strength than she did, holding his hand.
“I promise, she will grow up, happy and safe. She will be as my own child – my own flesh and blood. I will do anything to protect her.” His eyes burned with soot and unshed tears.
“Thank you,” the breeze carried ashes weightier than her voice. “You are a good man, Nikola Rocket. A good man.”
He found the little girl, huddled in a corner of the collapsed house, clutching Harvey to her chest. It was obvious the rabbit already liked her and if Harvey liked her, that was good enough in his book.
Yes, he would take her away from this. She deserved better than such a betrayal. He would raise her to honor and obey. Trust; he would build their life on trust and no lies; because without trust it all falls apart and comes to naught.
Captain Spectacular and Dr. Rocket
“He rewarded me with a beautiful young princess and allowed me safe passage to the surface! Together we lived quite happily for years.” Herman/Dr. Rocket paused, leaning forward in his wheelchair and using his knight to take Captain Spectacular’s bishop. Ahh, chess – would the game ever tire him?
“You escaped from their prison with some gadget or other and kidnapped one of their young to raise as a protégé, didn’t you?” The Captain pushed backwards from the table with a knowing smile.
A brief cloud passed over Herman/Dr. Rocket’s memory – splatters of ash and crimson mingled with limestone dust. It would be so easy to hate Captain Spectacular for leaving him there, but if he hadn’t, Dr. Rocket would never have had the chance at raising his beautiful little girl. Instead of the bitter bark he felt, he mildly nodded in assent.
“Li’l Miss Missile! So that’s why she had three eyes!” Jerry popped up from the sidelines.
So many years after he left it, the passage-ways still have cascades of dust and ash kicked up with but the slightest breeze. He stood in the vast empty chamber which once held the foundations of the eastern half of Amurghiuta’s palace. He stood in the desiccated remnants of his black-nightshade garden and looked around. Even now, in the remote corner where the throne room lay under detritus, the king sat upon his throne.
“Harvey, I know I promised I’d never lie to her, but, I’ve got to keep her safe and this? Looks like the only way I can do that. Promising Dr. Klein a robot in exchange for getting rid of Tom Edson? A Fair enough exchange.” His voice cracked with grief and resentment – who was he trying to convince more, himself or his malevolent rabbit?
Harvey, after five decades of partnership knew to recognize that Nikola was fooling no one, least of all himself. Rolling his red eyes, he sighed and nuzzled his master’s shoulder. All-too-soon the cancer would cost him this life-long friend.
Together, they arrived at the upper levels where the equipment was arriving and, ignoring the irony of building the robot in the very cavern where he swore to never lie to his daughter, Dr. Rocket bleakly began its construction.
After all, promise is a promise.
Bau-Bau ~ in Romanian folklore, the Bau-Bau are the bogeymen, a type of ogre-like figure who kidnap children in the night, although they eventually return them (usually unharmed)
Capcaun ~ in Romanian folklore the “dog head” is an ogre who kidnaps young children Amurghiuta ~ “Twilight Devil” from the Romanian words ‘amurg’ (twilight/dusk) and ‘aghiuta’ (devil) – here given as the name of the King of the Bau-Bau
Barba-cot~ “Long-Beard” an evil dwarf in Romanian folklore (much like Rumplestiltskin), a figure of mischief – sometimes ascribed as a Bau-Bau
Zarnavatra ~ “Home of Black Nightshade” from the Romanian words ‘zirna/zarna’ (black nightshade – the plant) and ‘vatra’ (hearth/home/fireplace)
Ieledoina ~ “Nymph of Song” from the Romanian words ‘iele’ (literally “they”, but, the name for nymphs/female fair folk) and ‘doina’ (Romanian lyrical folk song)
Nadualia ~ from the Eirish ‘Fionnuala’ (a daughter of Lir) and the traditional name ‘Natalia’