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October 11, 2012

I Hraet You (45)

Beat 45: Okay, NOW the Clima-Wait, What?

It didn’t take long for Lloyd to reach his destination.  The doors of the auditorium stood before him -- normally, they would have beckoned droves of students within its walls for a scream-heavy pep rally, or the best performance the band (bless their hearts) could muster.  But now?  Lloyd could only wonder what horrors hid inside.

If I’m right, Gaston has the power to create illusions -- albeit in an enclosed space, he thought, covering his mouth.  Which means that the moment I step inside, I could fall prey to some heinous hallucination.  But as long as I keep my wits about me -- as long as I remind myself that it’s an illusion, and nothing more -- I may be able to disrupt his hold on me.  And the sooner I do, the better a chance I’ll have at saving JP.

He pushed the key into the slot, and jiggled it about until the door gave a loud click.  “Seems as if it worked,” he said with a quick nod.  “At long last…it’s finally time to bring this struggle to an end.”  He glanced aside and giggled to himself.  “Heeheehee, I feel like such an important person all of a sudden!  My heart is all a-flutter!  Is this how it feels to be an action hero?  Ah, to think I could be a part of such a pantheon without gaining a hundred pounds of muscle!”

Lloyd raised his eyebrows.  “Who am I talking to?  Gracious, it’s hard to be endearingly haphazard when there’s no one around to listen.”  And with that, he opened the auditorium doors and stepped inside.

And lo and behold, there it was.  For what stood before him didn’t betray a single expectation -- he had entered…

…Well, the auditorium.

It wasn’t quite the auditorium he knew, though.  A state of flux had overtaken it -- dust and gravel and plaster debris covered most of the seats.  Piles of bricks, several of which stood taller than Lloyd, littered the room and had started tumbling toward the stage.  Pipes small and large -- some metallic, others plastic -- had been thrown atop rows of uprooted chairs.  Ladders and wires remained abandoned, leaning against whatever surface they could find.

Not that Lloyd paid much mind to the surroundings.  He kept his eyes on the stage the moment he’d entered the room.  Not just because said stage had hardly been touched; no, that was where JP had been forced to kneel, with yards of rope wrapped around his body.

And with a shotgun barrel hovering inches from his head.

“Lloyd!” JP yelled, squirming a few millimeters closer.  But of course, Mrs. Overdose wouldn’t let him get too far; she tugged him back, and nearly threw him onto his backside.

“JP!  It’s good to see you again, brother!” Lloyd called out.  “It feels like it’s been forty chapters since the last time we talked to each other!”

“Hey!  HEY!  A little focus here would be REALLY nice right about now!  ‘Cause my day’s been kind of crap right now, and I’m pretty sure that having my brains splattered everywhere is just the thing I need to cap it off.”

“Don’t you worry, I’ll have you free and at home wrapped in your blankie soon enough.”

“Who says I have a blankie?”

“Eh?  You mean you don’t?  What sort of neglected, loveless child doesn’t have a blankie?”

Mrs. Overdose groaned and glared at the ceiling, gnawing on her reed all the while.  “This is the guy you’re after?  I’ve seen salads more dangerous than this kid.”

“Ku fu fu…now, now, madam.  Don’t let his foppishness deceive you -- I wouldn’t have chosen him as my rival if he was anything BUT a threat.”

Lloyd gasped and turned to his right -- and there, sitting atop a downed pipe, sat his adversary.  “Gaston Leroux…we meet again!  And this time, I’ll be certain to end this battle before your machinations even begin to take root!”

Gaston chuckled, and spread his hands wide.  “Really, Lloyd?  Really?  You honestly think that you’re in a position to make such hardy claims?”  He swept a hand before him, fingers squirming as he moved his gloved palm through the air.  “You’ve no idea how I’ve even begun to affect this town, yet you assume so hastily that you can prevent it?  I appreciate your earnestness -- if only because your despair upon defeat will make it all worthwhile -- but come, come now.  You can barely handle a handful of people, much less save an entire town.”

“That may be true.  But even if it is, that’s no reason for me to refuse to try.”  Lloyd thrust a finger at Gaston’s chest.  “For the sake of this town, and all the people within it, I will defeat you!”

Another biting chuckle.  “How?”

Lloyd dropped his finger, but continued to stare at Gaston.

“Pardon my assumption, monsieur, but I daresay you hardly seem like the fighting type.  If your intention is to defeat me, then how will you manage the task if it comes to blows?”  His fingers started to crawl along the hilt of the knife in his chest, squirming about like the legs of a spider.  “You’re only a half-step above the average mortal.  All it would take to silence you -- to close the curtain on your unappreciable charade once and for all -- is the speeding of a blade across your heart.”

Rather than object, Lloyd just gave him a simple nod and smile.  “True, I am only human.  And given your…”  He glanced at the knife.  “Disposition…I should likely assume that you’re a cut above the average man.  But there are more ways to defeat an opponent than with brute force alone.”

“How so?”

“Material advantage.”  Lloyd held out a hand.  “If my assumption is correct, then you have an impressive number of forces on your side -- innocents transformed into your unwilling soldiers, by way of your illusion and manipulation.  It’s enough to make me think twice about even raising a hand against you.  But…”  He clamped his hand into a fist.  “If I take away your soldiers and add them to MY camp, then your chances of success shall dwindle as quickly as water down the drain.”

Gaston cocked his head.  “Ku fu fu…so, you would build an army in the hopes of defeating me?”

But Lloyd just shook his head and smiled.  “Not an army.  A harem.”

“Ku fu fu…Keh heh heh heh heh…heh HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!”  Gaston reared back and laughed, pressing a hand to his mask as if worried his guffaws would blast it off his face.  He slammed a heel against the pipe, and it looked as if he might tip over the edge several times.  But he didn’t, of course.  He just laughed, and laughed, and laughed…and when he finally came to a halt, he began staring smugly at Lloyd all over again.  “Oh ho…yes.  Yes, yes, yes, that’s it, Lloyd!  THAT’S why I’ve chosen you as my rival!  Because you are simply so, so…ENTERTAINING!”      

He ran a finger across his mask, as if to wipe a tear from his eye.  “What I find most delightful about you, Lloyd, is that you actually think you stand a chance against me.  You, a jester and nothing more, think you can overtake my magnificent self.  You’re even more delusional than I thought.”

“You speak of delusions while creating illusions.  How charming.”

“Well, what good is an actor if he doesn’t have a proper stage?”

“To sway one’s heart with words and motions alone -- surely we can agree that is vital to those of the profession?”

“Hmph.  Fair enough, Lloyd.  And with that in mind, I wonder…can you actually stop me, given the chance?  Can you, fool that you are, rout me in this one instance and bring our play to a premature end?”

Lloyd nodded slowly.

“Very well, then.  I’ll give you the opportunity to make good on your words.”  Gaston gestured toward the ceiling.  “My powers work best within an enclosed space -- indoors, so as to make sure my performance is as captivating and immersive as possible.  But the effect weakens in the presence of the sun, or the moon, or even a star twinkling in the sky.”

“And that means?”

“Twenty-four hours from now, my hold over the people you’ve touched -- your brother, your father, and the fair maiden of the south -- will completely vanish, as long as they spend enough time outdoors.  The same holds true for anyone else you manage to convert to your cause.  The bonds you forge will become your strength…and perhaps build a force that can upstage my own.”

“And why would you tell me all this?” Lloyd asked, with any traces of a smile now gone.  “What do you stand to by revealing your weaknesses?”

“Weaknesses?  These are merely facets of my power -- inconsequential, at worst.  And momentary, should my plans come to fruition.  I have no weaknesses…though I wonder if the same can be said of you.”

Lloyd winced.

“Oh, but I didn’t answer your question, did I?”  Gaston’s shoulders rocked as he laughed to himself.  “Simple.  Because I’m sure I’ll win.”

He tapped a finger against his wrist.  “It won’t be long now.  Soon, the students of L. Bernstein High School will be free from their cages, shuffling about to their next cells.  But in that interstice, who knows what could happen?  Why, word is that a fight is certain to break out between two rivals.  And that fight could turn into a struggle between two factions -- one that quickly spreads from a quick skirmish into a school-wide war.  Or at the very least, one localized in a certain area.  And anyone who’s ill-equipped to handle themselves amidst such a battlefield is sure to be…oh, what’s the phrase I’m looking for?  Ah, yes.  Trampled to death.”

Lloyd gasped.  “You can’t mean --!”

“My powers work best when they’re indoors.  That includes any space indoors, over any distance.   Like the trumpet of war beckoning for battle, my call shall resound from one end of the school to another.  The students, enraptured by my voice, shall engage in a battle the likes of which no town has ever seen before.  And in the ensuing chaos, you, and your brother, will lose your lives.”

Gaston tapped his wrist again.  “Fifteen minutes.  In fifteen minutes, the battle -- the show will begin.  If you have a plan to stop me, I strongly suggest you start acting on it.”

Lloyd clenched his teeth.  Fifteen minutes to save JP, stop Gaston, and escape with their lives…it all seemed too convenient, too elaborate.  Gaston wasn’t just out to defeat him; he wanted to test him, humiliate him, and break him -- literally, if it came down to it. 

But those clenched teeth quickly turned into a bold smile.  Gaston had made yet another error.  He’d underestimated Lloyd far too much -- because as it turned out, the prince had long since formulated a plan.

He turned toward the stage.  “Mrs. Overdose!” he called out.  “Join my harem!”


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