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September 13, 2012

I Hraet You (37)

Beat 37: Back to Reality…Tentatively Speaking

“Pardon me, but I’m afraid it’s not quite time to start our ‘battle’ just yet,” said Lloyd, pulling back his hand and laying it atop the kitchen table.  “I hope you haven’t forgotten our current state affairs…or to be more precise, the affairs of my kin.”

“Ah, where is my mind today?  I’m afraid I was just so excited to see you that I let that little bit of information slip my mind.”  Gaston stroked the tip of his masked chin with a few slinking fingers.  “Now then, let me see…where did I leave them?  I didn’t do something so cliché as throw them into a wood chipper or incinerator, did I?”

The corners of Lloyd’s mouth tightened.

“Oh, don’t you worry, Lloyd.  I was merely trying to get you riled up a bit; I so hate it when my enemies get too lax; staying in one’s comfort zone for too long breeds sloth and sluggishness, you see.”  He folded his arms and cocked his head.  “Your father has been left unharmed; I suspect that he’s gallivanting through town as we speak, trying desperately to find his son no matter the cost…though his noble efforts may very well make him his own worst enemy.”  He motioned with his head toward the hallway.  “Your guest should be very close by.  Though I wonder what you’ll do, in light of the glimmer of truth you’ve earned through that little demonstration.”

Lloyd’s gaze shifted for a moment.  He hadn’t forgotten about what Trixie -- one of the Trixies -- had said.  But since the show had ended, he couldn’t help but wonder just how it had happened.  He glanced at the den -- torn up from the thirty-woman brawl, with no sign of the real Trixie.  How on earth did that happen? he wondered, turning back to the Cheshire-faced Gaston.  What sort of powers does Gaston wield?  And how am I supposed to match them when I hardly understand my own?

“Ku fu fu…my, you’re looking a little tense again, Lloyd.  Perhaps you should take a break from this hero business.  Or rather, do yourself a service and get a massage.  The sheer amount of pressure escaping from your body is astounding.  Frankly, I’m surprised you can even move.”

Lloyd shook his head rapidly.  “Where is JP?”

“Oh, yes, the boy.  Well, I suppose you’re looking to obtain the full set, aren’t you?  To answer your question, JP is right behind you.”

Lloyd nearly leapt out of his chair as he turned about -- but to his shock, no one stood behind him.

“…Is what I would like to say.  But alas, the young prince is still within my grasp.  And I don’t intend to let him go anytime soon -- not without the proper coaxing.”

“Then speak.  What do you want from me?”

Gaston leaned forward and rested a forearm on the table; for a moment, Lloyd felt his body, and the room, grow a bit colder.  “I’m going to be in a certain place.  As will my associate.  As will your brother.  If you can come to that certain place and put an end to the performance before day’s end, then I swear on my life…”  He chuckled and glanced briefly at his chest.  “My un-life…that no harm will come to your brother -- and he will be returned to you without conflict.”

“And if I should fail?”

“I would prefer not to give you the gruesome details.”

“Fine.  If you would have me dance, then I have no choice but to dance.”  Lloyd stood up and pressed his hands against the table.  “Now, if your business is concluded, I’ll have to ask you to leave.”

“You’re going to throw me out?  Rather uncouth of you, monsieur.”  Gaston stood up as well.  “But in spite of your kind offer, I can see myself out.  I’m not quite as helpless as I appear, you see.  The same can’t be said for others in the room, but I suppose such inability is to be expected.”

“You give me too little credit,” said Lloyd, pressing a hand to his hip.  “Is it so wise to underestimate the one who will defeat you?”

“Defeat me? Lloyd, you poor sod -- haven’t you realized that you’ve already lost?  You may be the hero, but so long as you’re an actor in MY play, you’ll never have an advantage against me.  So just play along, do as I say, and enjoy the show until your blissful descent into the abyss.”  And with those words spoken, Gaston swept his cape over his body…and in the next instant, vanished from the kitchen.

Lloyd let loose a sigh that he’d been nursing for what felt like hours.  “This is going to be very troublesome,” he muttered, rubbing the back of his head.  But of course, his lethargy didn’t last.  “Ah, yes!  M-Miss Walters!  Are you here?  Are you hurt?  If you can hear my voice, give a shout!”   

“…Lloyd?”

The voice came from the hall -- and Trixie came from it not long after.  She pressed a hand against its corner, and massaged her head with slow, circular motions.  “Ah man…I’ve really been out of it, haven’t I?”

“No matter; what’s important is that you’re safe and sound.”  Lloyd clambered over the den’s wreckage to stand before her.  “You -- you ARE safe and sound, yes?  No harm has come to you?”

Trixie gave her body a quick survey.  “Well, my head’s killin’ me, but other than that I think I’m all right.  But how’re ya holdin’ up, pal?”

“My state of affairs is of no consequence,” Lloyd answered, waving a hand through the air.  “Considering what just transpired, I’m more concerned about you.”

“Uh…that’s real flatterin’ and all, but…”  She scratched above her ear.  “What happened now?”

“You mean you don’t remember?”

Trixie shook her head.  “Last thing I remember was that masked freak tryin’ to crush me and yer family.  And then after that…”  She looked around the house.   “I dunno.  I don’t even know how I got through the front door.”

“Is that right?”  But before she could say any more, Lloyd held up a hand.  “Wait.  So in essence, you’re saying that you just woke up a moment ago?”

“Guess so, yeah.  Sorry.”

Lloyd’s brow tightened.  “But when I was expelled, I ended up talking to you on the phone a short while later.  You were the one who told me JP was abducted.”

“Y-ya got expelled?!”  

“A delightful story, I assure you.  But that aside, you don’t remember our conversation?”

“Lloyd, I didn’t know we even had a conversation.”

“But…”  Lloyd shook his head, and pressed a few fingers to his temple.  “No.  I suppose that for the moment, details like those aren’t important.  We can discuss the particulars AFTER we save my brother; according to Gaston, he, his associate, and JP are still somewhere in Porbeagle.  If we can find them, we can save JP before any harm comes to him.”  He couldn’t help but break out a smile.  “Funny.  It seems rather odd that I have to explain this to you, given that you already explained it to me…well, so to speak.”        

 Trixie rubbed the back of her neck.  “Sure wish I could remember anything, pal.  Sounds like we need all the help we can get against this freak.”  Nevertheless, she shrugged and stared heatedly at Lloyd.  “But like ya said, that ain’t important right now.  We gotta find and save JP -- and the sooner we do, the sooner I can make Gaston eat that mask o’ his.”

“Spirited as always,” said Lloyd, hoping that Trixie didn’t pick up on his nervous quivering.  “At any rate, our first step is…”

“…Is?”

“I have no idea.”

“Dammit, Lloyd!  Get serious, will ya?”

“Actually, this is likely one of the rare moments when I am.”  He took a seat on the couch, managing a stable position in spite of it being flipped well off-base.  “On the one hand, I have a nemesis calling me to the battlefield -- a foe that knows my name and my abode, and has my brother in his clutches.  One would think that if ever there was a time to set aside fears and inhibitions, this would be it.”

He rested his chin atop clasped hands.  “And yet, I can’t help but feel as if I’ve failed before my adventure has already begun.  The evidence has piled up against me.  I’m a flimsy sap.  I’ve done more harm than good.  And in spite of my lofty aims, I haven’t made a single stride toward anything so far.  The most I can say is that I’ve helped two other students get expelled and brought a teacher…EX-teacher to tears.”  He lowered his eyes for a moment and took a slow breath -- and then, looked back to Trixie with a sheepish grin.  “So sorry to bore you with my angst, Miss Walters; I merely thought I should lay my thoughts bare.  I’m finding the truth to be a rather unsavory dish, you see, and…”

Lloyd’s eyes widened as he stared at Trixie.  He expected her to look down on him with a mix of disdain and pity, and maybe even turn her back on him.  But instead, she’s broken out into a smile -- one that grew wider and wider as she tried to stifle a laugh.  She started snorting, once, twice, three times…and then, the dam broke.  She burst into hearty guffaws.

“Did I do something wrong?” Lloyd asked, pointing feebly at her.

Trixie didn’t answer, of course.  She just kept rocking back and forth as she laughed, throwing a few tears into the air.  “Hahahaha!  Oh, jeez!  I just can’t believe how insane ya are, pal!”  She brushed a tear from the corner of one eye.  “Wow.  I haven’t laughed like that in a while.”

“So…I DID do something wrong?”

Trixie shook her head, and with a quick sigh got the last laugh out of her system; even so, she still wore a sizable smile.  “Lloyd, d’ya know how that power o’ yers works, exactly?”

“Ah -- well, frankly, no.”  He glanced at his palm.  “It seems as if there are a number of caveats and rules to learn.  And even then, I still don’t know its full effects…or the consequences therein.”

“Yeah, I figured as much.  I mean, ya only had it for, what, three days tops?”  Trixie took a seat next to Lloyd.  “I know I was pretty much yer first test subject, but I still dunno exactly what ya did, either.  But ya know, I’ve been thinkin’.”  She looked up at the ceiling and reared back a bit.  “Yer power’s all about helpin’ people -- makin’ ‘em feel better so they can do better in life.”

“I certainly hope that’s the case.”

 “I think it is.  I’ve had a crazy day so far, ya know -- actin’ like JP’s bodyguard, and then bein’ JP’s bodyguard.  He almost got shot at and burned alive, but I did everythin’ I could to make sure he got home safe.”  She looked around the ruined den.  “I screwed up, but at least I tried.  And ya know what?  I don’t think that I’d have tried at all if it wasn’t for a certain purple-haired dandy.”

“Y-you don’t mean me, do you?”

“Ya know any other purple-haired dandies?”

“Well, there was a TV series a while back where --”

“The point is, power or not, ya helped me out.  Ya let me believe that could do something important, and meaningful, and brave, and maybe even impossible, just because I was alive.”

“How so?” Lloyd asked.  Did she remember her time in the audition room?  Or maybe --

“I can’t say for sure exactly.  But thinkin’ about it now…I guess ya could say I owe ya one for showin’ me the way.”  She stared at him, still wearing a smile.  “Lloyd.  Yer an idiot.  Yer the stupidest damn dandy I ever met, and I still ain’t convinced yer not from a loony bin.  But that’s exactly why yer better than ya think ya are.”

“I’m afraid I don’t follow.”

“Ya may be crazy, but yer the right kind o’ crazy.  Always tryin’ to put on a show…always tryin’ to help others…always tryin’ to make people happy…even if ya screw up, yer always doin’ yer best.  And ya can keep on doin’ yer best for as long as it takes.”

She patted him on the shoulder.  “Now ain’t the time to feel sorry for yerself.  We got a punk-ass kid to save.”

Lloyd stared blankly at her for a moment, and then turned away.  He slid off the sofa, climbed to his feet, and started down the hallway -- all without a word.

“L-Lloyd!  Where’re ya…?!”  But before she could object any further, she sighed and rubbed the back of her neck.  “Agh.  Guess he needs a little time to think or somethin’.  Can’t be helped, I guess.  Just hope I got through that numbskull head o’ his.”

She looked around the den and groaned.  “Might as well clean up a little.”

TO BE HEARTINUED…    

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