O Most Wonderful
He had no weapon. It was OK.
He was covered in bruises. It was OK.
He was stuck up a tree. It was OK.
He was kissing. It was OK… It was OK…
He was all too aware, from the long, smooth hair between his fingers and the aggression with which the girl was returning his kiss, that it wasn't Sheila. But then… it wasn't as if he was dating Sheila… and this felt good.
No… not good… It felt Bad. In a good way. It was raw and passionate and angry. The drastic, hard curves of the breastplate hurt as they pressed against his chest. The girl was clawing at his hair, pulling his head painfully into hers, biting at his lips, as though she were trying to consume him all together. It was desperate, and covetous and greedy…
It was… Oh God.
Hank opened his eyes, and all of a sudden the girl's sharp features were too familiar. Way too familiar.
What am I doing?
What am I doing?
Eric felt Jess freeze, mid kiss, and opened his eyes. Those eyes were staring at him. Those clear, bright blue eyes.
He pulled away from her, suddenly.
'Oh my God!'
Jess pressed her fingertips against her lips, her expression of horror mirroring his.
'What… what just happened?'
'I don't know… I just…' Eric pushed his free hand into his hair. 'It's not… it's not that I… y'know… I don't want to… y'know… or anything…'
Do I? Oh God!
'Do you suppose,' asked Jess, worriedly, 'that while we were… y'know… the others were… were doing the same?'
They both contemplated this. 'Ew.'
Jess shook herself out of it. 'So what do we do?'
'Nothing!' Eric could hear the rising panic straining his own voice. 'We do nothing. We never speak of it again. We ignore that it ever happened.'
'Well, obviously,' tutted the Blonde. 'But what do we do about the whole "weaponless and shackled up a tree above a hungry dragon" problem?'
Eric blinked down at the ground. 'Hey. It's gone.'
Jess squinted at the forest floor herself. 'Really?'
'Yeah.' Eric smiled a little. 'Little S.O.B. must've got bored and gone to look for breakfast someplace else.'
Jess frowned. Yes, the baby dragon was gone, but she didn't think that was anything worth celebrating. Not in a place like this.
'Something frightened it away.'
'Well, what just didn't happen was pretty Gross…'
'Not that.' Jess pulled herself back a little along the branch, so that she was at least partially obscured by foliage. 'Something else. It must have sensed something dangerous coming.'
Eric didn't even notice the shadow falling over him until it was too late. 'Such as?'
Hank tried to pull Bella into the leaves as Venger descended gracefully upon them, blocking out their sunlight with his large, outstretched wings, but it was too little, too late. The brightly shining armour of the Brunette had already been spotted, and a little greenery was never going to hide them. Bella screamed as their nemesis lashed out a fast hand and caught her ankle. Hank looked for a moment into the terrified face of the prone Cavalier, and then to the smirk of the be-robed tyrant, pulling the girl towards him, legs first. There was that look on his face. That look he sometimes got around Sheila that made Hank want to break things.
'Oh no you don't!'
'You will tell me where the others are,' snarled Venger, 'and you will tell me where your weapons are.'
'No! Put her down!' Hank tugged hard against the shackles that bound him to Bella, yanking the girl back towards him.
'We don't know where they are,' Bella gasped back at Venger.
'Then at least,' Venger replied, 'I can have the satisfaction of taking two of the Dungeon Master and Myra's little toys from them.' Venger gave Bella another hard pull, dragging both her and Hank along the branch towards him.
Hank saw Venger put a hand on the white skin above Bella's boot. He pulled back in retaliation, hard.
Bella screamed out again, this time in pain. 'Hank! You're hurting me!'
'Would you have me tear the girl in two, Ranger?' Venger sneered.
That only made the images in Hanks head worse.
'Don't you touch her.'
'…don't you touch him…'
Hank blinked, and frowned at the strange echo. One of those voices had been mighty familiar. Bella looked up at him in surprise as Venger relaxed his hold on her a little.
'That was Jess,' she breathed.
Hank darted a glance across to Venger. He was staring off into the forest, after the direction of the echo, his face as dark as thunder. His grasp on Bella had become so loose in his distraction that she was able to wriggle free from him.
'Myra…' muttered Venger, venomously. 'Curse you, meddlesome wretch!'
He held aloft a hand that sparked and crackled with his wicked magic. Off in the depths of the forest, something glowed. He hurled a ball of magical energy at the glow. A similar burst of magic careered towards them, smashing into the tree trunk, narrowly missing all three of them. With a furious growl, Venger took off; deftly skimming the treetops in pursuit of the attacker, leaving the teenagers perched on their branch. They watched as he clashed in the sky with another distant figure – tall, pale and winged like him, only with darkly shining armour and long, silver white hair.
'That's not Myra,' muttered Hank.
'It's Venger,' Bella added, 'my Venger.'
'Today's just getting weirder and weirder,' said Hank, 'isn't it?'
They paused, watching the battle begin to escalate.
'Do you think we're ever gonna find Myra?'
'Doubtful,' answered a serene third voice from the branch. 'You have to wait for Myra to find you.'
Hank and Bella stared at the third person. It had sounded like the Dungeon Master, but it looked like… it looked like everything, and nothing at the same time. It was tall and thin, that much could be ascertained. But everything else was… muddled. It seemed to be translucent, and comprised of layer after layer, each one different. It was very hard to say whether the figure was male or female. Not that it was 'androgynous' as such, it was simply that at some angles it appeared one gender, and at others, it was the opposite. Whatever it was, it appeared to be sitting on the branch, and smiling.
'And if Myra does find you,' added the figure, 'you'd better hope that you are Fun.'
Hank and Bella blinked at one another.
The figure's face split into a terrible grin. 'Congratulations. You were most amusing.' It nodded up at the fight in the sky. 'I think Venger's my favourite, though.'
'They think,' attempted Hank, 'that each other is you?'
Myra nodded. 'They know me to be powerful. They know I can play with the dimensions. That they are egotistical enough to believe that a great entity such as myself is bound to appear like them is their own lookout. Every time they come looking for me, they only find one another.' It sat back, enjoying the fight. 'I think it's very fitting, putting Venger at war with themselves. I trust that the irony is not lost on you, either.'
Hank and Bella exchanged dumbfounded glances.
'So…' continued Hank, gingerly, 'so the others are safe.'
'Your friends are very worried for you, ' Myra replied, 'but they are safe.'
'And the other… the other us?' Bella faltered a little. 'Jess, and, um…'
'Eric,' helped Hank.
'Yeah. Are they gonna be OK?'
Myra just smiled, serenely.
'They're sitting right here, aren't they?' asked Hank. 'They're sitting next to you, asking the same questions, in some other dimension or… or something…'
Myra nodded. 'Very good, Ranger.'
'Well, put us back!' Bella interrupted, with a sudden rush of aggression. 'Put us back in our own realities and give us our weapons back. And get us down from this tree!'
Hank held a calming hand up to the Cavalier. 'We don't know Myra has our weapons, Bella…' He trailed off, catching the smug glint in Myra's eye. 'Oh God, you took our weapons, didn't you?'
Myra shrugged. 'I thought it would make things more fun.'
'Fun?' It was Hank's turn to get mad. 'Us getting captured and beaten was fun? Getting shackled and chased up a tree? Bella getting attacked by those Wolfmen, and Venger? Anything could have happened to her! What if she'd been… y'know… would that have been fun?'
Myra leaned calmly in to Hank. 'You should have seen your face when she was in their clutches. So protective!'
'This was all about pushing us together, wasn't it?' Growled Hank. 'You put us through all that just to feed your own perversions…'
Myra sat back calmly. 'I merely noticed that you two had little love to lose as the same gender, but a lot to gain the other way around. Perhaps I gave you a little something to think about in the future.'
'Get real, Myra,' Bella scowled, 'you did this for kicks. Admit it.'
Myra said nothing.
'Well, if you won't admit it, would you at least put us back to normal?'
'But then what would you have gained?' Myra asked.
'A fine set of injuries and recurring nightmares to keep us awake for the next couple of months,' replied Bella.
Myra smiled, slightly. 'I will give you a choice,' it announced. 'Two portals. One – what you are asking for now.'
Myra indicated towards a space in front of it, in which opened an almost invisible portal. All that separated it from another patch of thin air was the faint reflection of the three of them, like ghosts.
'Or two –' Myra indicated to the right of the portal, and a second one opened up. This portal was all too familiar. The music, the laughter, the bright, twirling colours… the normality. The funfair.
'I can give you,' concluded Myra, 'what you came here in the first place to find.'
Hank could feel Bella tense up next to him when she saw the funfair. He could feel his own fists clench, and his mouth run dry.
'The others…' he managed.
'If you choose the Portal to your world, I'll send your friends back, too,' replied Myra, 'but you cannot go through both. It's one or the other.'
'Why?' whispered Bella, 'who says?'
Myra grinned. 'I do.'
'Why do that to us?' asked Hank.
'Because I happen to think you're better this way, if you must know.' Myra looked them both up and down. 'Lovely couple of couples. I'd sooner see the two of the two of you toddle off into the sunset together. I'm quite the romantic soul, truth be told.'
Hank averted his eyes from both Bella and the Portal home. 'We can't go home like this,' he muttered to the Brunette shackled to his side, 'that might look like your world, but it isn't. Your parents have a son. That's Eric's world, not yours.'
'You don't know that for sure,' interjected Myra. 'You may have swapped dimensions a hundred times and not known it. There are still two Vengers up there, after all.' It held a hand up to smouldering black cloud that was the Vengers' distant, raging battle. 'It may be you, Ranger, that is in the wrong dimension.'
Bella sighed. 'Lets face it, Blondie. Any dimension where you and me feel the urge to make out is gonna be the wrong dimension.'
Hank dared a glance over to Bella. She smiled a sad, resolved smile.
'I can't do this, Blondie. Not with you. Falling for you is officially A Step Too Crazy, even for me. So it doesn't matter whose world is the right one right now. I'm going home with Jess, not with you.'
Myra tutted in disappointment.
'Bella.' Hank cleared his throat. He knew that they were doing the right thing. He just wished that it didn't make him feel so bad. And the weird thing was he wasn't sure it was kissing goodbye to another portal home that he suddenly felt such a pang about.
'Bella,' he repeated.
'It's weird,' interrupted Bella, 'I think I'm gonna miss you, in a way. You're more aggressive as a guy. I kinda liked it.'
Hank shook his head. 'Not usually. You… affected me, Bella. No girl has ever made me feel quite like that before.'
The Brunette twisted her face. 'Is that a good thing?'
'Let's just put it this way,' grinned Hank, 'you are gonna make some guy very angry, very horny and very happy one of these days. And in that order. But I'm not that guy. I don't think I have the energy to be that guy.' He watched as she gazed down at her knees. 'I think,' he continued, 'you need someone bigger. Stronger. Mouthier. Somebody, perhaps, with toned, shining leg muscles and a taste in clothing that leaves nothing to the imagination.'
'…Skin like chocolate coloured velvet….' Muttered Bella. '…Moves like a Panther through the jungle… yeah…'
Hank bit down a smile. 'Gimme my Cavalier back, Myra. And our weapons. I guess we'll have to find our way home without your so-called "Help".'
Myra sighed as the clear portal drifted down to engulf Bella. 'Honestly, young people are no fun at all these days…'
Jess blinked at the Cavalier shackled to her wrist. Arabella Montgomery met her gaze with a small, embarrassed smile, and handed the Ranger her bow, which, like the shield, was suddenly in her hands. Jess accepted the weapon, smiling back equally awkwardly. Sure, it was a relief to see the old Cavalier back in her usual, non-threatening form, but there were still certain… issues. She wondered if her Bella and the male Ranger had suffered a similar lapse in concentration to her and Eric.
She was only slightly distracted from her difficult situation by the flaming branch that went flying over her head. Looking up, she could see that several hundred square feet of treetops beneath the battling Vengers was now aflame.
'Um…' muttered Bella in the general direction of Myra, 'I think they might be setting your forest on fire.'
'I know.' With swift, fluid agility, Myra stood up on the branch, craning its neck up to watch the fight. 'I suppose I should separate them before they do any real damage, really.' It looked down at the youngsters. 'You had better go if you want to avoid her. It is quite safe. Your friends are closer than you think. You should be gone from this whole forest within the hour if you hurry.'
'Uh-huh.' Bella lifted her shackled arm, glaring up at Myra with an arched eyebrow. 'And what are we gonna do about this?'
'I'm sure you'll think of something,' replied Myra, with disinterest.
'Let's go, Bella,' sighed Jess. 'I think we've already got all the help we're gonna get out of Myra.'
The Cavalier just flicked her hair a little at Myra and began, with difficulty, to clamber down the tree trunk with Jess.
Once on the ground, they picked their way into the relative safety of the undergrowth. It took surprisingly little time for Jess to find their trail from the previous night and they followed it swiftly. Still, Jess couldn't help but sneak brief, worried glances at the Brunette behind her as she led the way.
Bella frowned. 'What?'
'Is, um…' Jess nodded discretely at a dark mark on the Cavalier's throat. 'It that a Hickey?' Her eyes widened at Bella's guilty expression. 'Ah, Jeez, you too?'
'Whaddaya mean, "you too"?' Bella looked aghast. 'You made out with him? With me? Jessica Van Walwyck, how very dare you!'
'It wasn't like that… it was different…'
Bella's lip curled, cruelly. 'You said I affected you in a way no other girl could, didn't you?'
'"Guy", Bella. You were a guy. I said "Guy". Besides…' It was Jess' turn to smile smugly. 'You said you were falling for me.'
Bella flushed. 'No I didn't!'
Jess turned back to the trail. 'Don't worry, I'm not gonna tell anyone. But while we're still alone, just for the record, you're not too bad a kisser.'
The vegetation was thinning out already, and Jess could hear a faint explosion ahead of her that could only be Presto failing to Magic up something useful.
Hank held a branch up for Eric to pass under, and their voices faded in the forest as they walked out into the clearing.
'You too, Blondie.'
'Don't ever call me that.'