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November 5, 2012

I Hraet You (52)

Beat 52: So This Here’s the Falling Action, Right?

Mrs. Overdose jerked her hand back, as if she’d just been stung by a wasp.  “What in the hell was that?!” she yelled, eyes wide; if not for the shotgun in her opposite hand, she would have taken to nursing her palm.  “You some kind of wizard or somethin’?”

Lloyd stroked his chin and nodded, with a huge smile plastered across his face.  “Well, I suppose that’s as fitting a title as any.  For you see, by many accounts you could call me the wizard of lo-”

Mrs. Overdose readied her shotgun.  “Let’s see if you wizards know how to deal with bullets.”

“Keh ha ha ha ha ha!  That’s quite enough for now, madam!”

Lloyd, Mrs. Overdose, and JP all turned to the pipe in the distance -- to the clapping Gaston seated atop it, his body thumping with each guffaw.  “You’ve no need to stain this hall of the arts with such heated blood -- especially given that you are, ultimately, the loser of your little duel.”  He cast a hand carelessly through the air.  “I would have assumed that in the end, you would have triumphed…but I DO have a habit of underestimating people.”

“I lost?”  Mrs. Overdose raised an eyebrow, and glanced at Lloyd.  And with her shotgun still more than ready to be fired, Lloyd could only freeze and hope he didn’t get to see it in brain-splattering action.

“Of course.  Can you earnestly say that you could shoot Lloyd, having experienced what you have?  Can you bring yourself to do any harm to him?  Or at your basest, decry his delusions of altruism?”

Again, she glanced at Lloyd.  Her finger slid across the trigger, but it only grew looser as the seconds ticked past.  Lloyd relaxed, sensing that the threat had long since diffused; Mrs. Overdose lowered her gun and sighed, and pressed a palm to her temple.  “I dunno why, but I guess I can’t,” she muttered.  “Looks like the kid’s got me under his spell.”

“Spell?  Seriously?”  JP squirmed toward Lloyd.  “What the hell did you do?” he whispered.  “All you did was stand there and hold hands!”

“Well, that is usually how I operate,” Lloyd whispered back.

“So what, is she on our side now?”

“Ah.  That…I do not know.  I certainly hope so, given my efforts, but --”

“You know I can hear you two, right?” Mrs. Overdose asked.

“And the same goes for me,” Gaston said with a friendly wave.  “If it’s loyalty you wish to test, why not allow me to be the judge?  Surely one as affluent as I can offer a proof, hmmm?”  He reached into his cloak and pulled out another stack of money, and tossed it onto the stage.  “A promise is a promise, my dear; that money -- and more -- will be yours if you depart with me at this very moment.”

JP’s eyebrows shot way up.  “How much money does he have on him?  He’s like a walking wallet!”

But no one paid him any mind.  “Ku fu fu…come come now, madam; as you can likely ascertain, I am a dreadfully busy man,” said Gaston, engaging in his usual grand gesturing.  “So if you wouldn’t mind making a decision as quickly as you can, it would be much appreciated -- and if you make the RIGHT decision, perhaps you’ll have a bonus awaiting you.”

“Ha!  You’ll not sway her with money alone, Gaston!” Lloyd declared, raising a fist at his nemesis.  “Mrs. Overdose and I are connected now -- bonded by ties that you could NEVER hope to comprehe-”

“How big a bonus?” Mrs. Overdose asked.

“M-Mrs. Overdose?!”

“’Cause if there’s anything else you want me to do while I’m up and about, and I got these boys right where I want ‘em…well, now’s your chance to say somethin’.”

M-Mrs. Overdose?!”

“Ku fu fu…very well, then.  Money is no object in my eyes; so long as you continue to entertain me, I’ll see to it that you’ll be well-fed until the day you die!”  Gaston spread out his arms.  “Now then, choose.  Would you side with the future king of this world…or the jester doomed to be crushed by the weight of his own shoulders?”

JP rubbed a foot against Lloyd.  “All right, you.  You got her to calm down a little, so whatever you did to her head, do it again.”

“I’m afraid it’s not that simple,” said Lloyd, quivering a bit as Mrs. Overdose alternated between eyeing the boys and her shotgun.  “I’ve already taken her to the threshold.  As far as I know, I can’t even activate my powers again on her, much less elevate her.”

“Damn it, I knew your power was useless…”

“Now hold on a minute.  I believe I have everything I need to carve out a victory here.”

“You’re sure?”

Lloyd knelt down and ran a hand through JP’s hair.  “Leave everything to your dear big brother, all right?  Just this once.”  Before JP could sink his teeth into Lloyd’s hand, he stood up and stared down Mrs. Overdose.  He advanced slowly towards her, meeting her gaze and hoping that he wouldn’t have to look at that gun of hers any longer than he needed to.

Mrs. Overdose cocked her head.  “What?  Gonna preach at me some more about love?”

Lloyd stood his ground, and his lips started curling into a smirk.  And then…he fell to his hands and knees, and slammed his forehead against the stage.   “Mrs. Overdose!  Let me become your servant!” he yelled.

JP’s eyes nearly shot out of his head.  Even Mrs. Overdose’s bulged a bit.  Even Gaston might have needed a trip to the optometrist after that outburst.

“Forgive me, but I cannot offer you the money that Gaston has literally thrown at your feet,” he said, raising and lowering his head like a pumpjack.  “So instead, I will offer you something with as much meaning as I can muster.  I give my life, and my well-being, to you -- without pay, without compensation, without consequence!  Any task you require of me will be done!  Any favor, completed to the best of my ability!  If you take me as your aid, then I promise that your will shall be done!”  He brought his forehead down on the stage with a resounding thump.  “All I ask is that you act as a kind and gentle master…but even then, my request is not a requirement.  For I would gladly do your duties, if only for the chance to be with you!  Even if it’s just for a moment longer!  Let me be with you!”  

Mrs. Overdose reared her head back while Lloyd kept his grounded, with his eyes clamped shut and his fingers digging into the stage’s wood.  For a moment she wondered how much damage he’d do to his nails if he kept it up, but set the thought aside; she just snorted and turned her head aside.  “Give it a rest already.  Jeez, do all your conversations end with you breakin’ into song and dance?  You’re gonna wear yourself out with all these theatrics.”

She shook her head and sighed.  “I guess if I’m gonna be your master, I’ll have to teach you right and wrong.  And a whole lotta other things, by the looks of it.”

Lloyd lifted his head, eyes wide and gleaming.  “M-M-Mrs. Overdose…!”  He leapt to his feet and seized her in a hug.  “Mrs -- no, LADY Overdose!  Thank you!  Thank you for giving me this opportunity!  I swear, by the blaze within my core, that I will do all I can to --”

Ka-REJECTION OF GOOD INTENTIONS!

Mrs. Overdose pulled back her shotgun after clubbing Lloyd with it.  “Rule number one,” she announced as she prodded him in the ribs.  “No hugging.  Ever.”

“Duly noted.”

JP’s brows twitched.  “We’re sure this is a good thing, right?”

Before Lloyd could give an answer, Gaston leapt of his pipe and started toward the stage, laughing and clapping grandiosely all the while.  “Very good…very good indeed, Lloyd!  It would seem that you’ve eked out a victory on this day -- a narrow one, but a victory nonetheless.  What once was mine is now yours; what minor element I had is now the strongest weapon in your arsenal…in more ways than one.” 

He trotted up the far staircase, forcing the trio to tense up (and Lloyd to finally stand back up).  “Well then, madam.  I do hope you don’t come to regret that choice; I know how flighty the opinion of the fairer sex can be at times.”  He walked across the stage -- but rather than strike out against them, he just scooped up the money and slit it inside his clothes.  “Choosing fools over funds…it would seem that a revolution of the heart has begun within you.  But where will this change lead?  To greater highs than you’ve ever known?  Or despair now eager to invade your open heart?”

Mrs. Overdose just shrugged.  “Whatever.  I was gettin’ tired of bein’ your workhorse anyway.  I like money, but I got my limits.  And I’m pretty sure you can’t pay the amount I’d be askin’ for.”

Lloyd took a step forward.  “We’ve played your game, Gaston -- and you have lost.”

“Yes, I suppose I have.”  Gaston tossed the key into Lloyd’s hands, and turned his back on the trio.  “Well then.  I suppose I’ll be bidding you farewell for now -- and rest assured, your friends and family will be of no more threat to you.  I’ve released my hold on them, so you won’t have to worry about any midnight shenanigans.  Just be wary that I won’t show the same kindness if they come near me again.”

“A strange display of philanthropy,” said Lloyd.  “What for?”

“For a job well done, obviously.  The victor deserves a trophy, and I’m happy to offer it.  Your comrades shall see no more harm -- for the moment -- and as it’s of no more use to me, I see no need to visit your home ever again.  So build the best base you can, while you can.  You’ll need it.”

“And as for you…?”

“As I said, I would prefer not to be in this room when the festivities begin in earnest.  I’m of such a frail constitution, you see.”

“And where do you think you’re going?” JP shouted.

“Wherever I please.  After all, none of you can stop me.  No one can.  Everything from here until my destined victory is little more than a game -- the lead-in to my masterwork.  And who among you can prevent my advance with your limited means?”  He glanced over his shoulder, the smile on his mask seemingly stretching a bit thinner. “What are you going to do?  Kill me?”

None of them answered.

“Come come now, surely one of you can…oh, I suppose you can’t.  The boy would sooner slay a dragon than stop me.  My dear madam would do well to stay her weapon, unless she desired a sound thrashing from the authorities.  And you, Lloyd…what chance do you have?  As you are, your powers are useless on me.  And I would assume -- quite rightly, I’d wager -- that you could never stain your hands with the blood of another man, no matter how much you’ve been wronged.”

“I may not be able to harm you,” Lloyd admitted.  “But the police can --”

“You assume that I don’t have them on my side already?  And besides, what makes you think you can hold me in place long enough for them to take me away?  With a snap of my fingers I could have Mrs. Overdose shatter all three of you into dozens of pieces.  Surely a fate you wish to avoid, yes?”

All three of them reeled -- a motion that drew another cold laugh from Gaston.  “You want to know what you should do next.  Well, I’ll gladly tell you what you WILL do.  You’re all going to let me go and do as I wish.  To do otherwise would be…ku fu fu…less than ideal.”  And with his shoulders jostling, he started for the door.

Lloyd winced.  Gaston had walked in with zero chance of defeat.  Even if Lloyd had managed even a slight victory against him -- even if he had won Mrs. Overdose to his side -- her mere presence offered the ultimate countermeasure.  And even if it didn’t the threat of that impending brawl could do the job just as well as a spray of bullets. 

“JP.  Lady Overdose.  We have no choice but to fall back for now,” Lloyd said at last.  “It’s as he says.  To strike him now -- to even approach him -- would invite catastrophe.”

“You have got to be…”  But noting his state of affairs, JP could only nod.  “Yeah.  For once, you’ve got a point.”

“Lady Overdose, I trust you have no objections?”  He gave her a slight smile.  “It’s the servant’s duty to protect the master.”

“Tch.  Sure, whatever.  Just don’t get in the habit of givin’ me orders.”

“Of course.”  Lloyd watched as Gaston waltzed out of the auditorium.  The masked man turned towards him one last time, smiling and laughing, before closing the door and vanishing from sight.  “We need to go.  I think it’s time for us to begin planning our own offense.”

TO BE HEARTINUED…

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