Author's Note: When paraphrasing directly from Peel's original work, I will include the page numbers in (#).
Book of War Revisited
Score yawned over his bowl, waving his hand absently as he transformed the simple slice of bread into his favorite breakfast meal: Frosted Flakes. Ah, magically induced, artificial sugary goodness was the best way to start the day. For some reason, magically transfigured food always tasted better if the conversion was between similar matter; it avoided the occasional aftertaste of the original item.
Score turned his head to gaze at one of the castle windows. It was just before noon. "Heh. New record," he thought to himself. Normally he slept in until one, being the last awake of the trio. It was Score's happy preference to stay up late and sleep in. Helaine, however, was one of those early-to-bed, early-to-rise types Score could never understand. She made use of her early start by following a strict physical regimen of exercise, martial, and swordsmanship training. Helaine believed strongly in maintaining her fighting shape, despite her more than adequate skills at magic. Score couldn't really chide her for it; her blade had saved his bacon more than often enough.
Pixel, Score thought amusingly to himself, was probably the most "normal" in terms of his sleeping habits. He was usually awake sometime after Helaine, but before Score, depending on how many old book tomes he had discovered in the library the night before. Pixel's daily routine mainly involved exploring everything about the Diadem, especially their current home-world of Dondar. If Helaine was unavailable, Pixel would usually rope Score into exploring with him. The blue Calomir was a very social creature, and although Score was an independent needs-no-one loner (as he liked to think of himself) it was better to keep Pixel some company than deal with those sad puppy-dog eyes begging for some companionship.
Most of the time – if not off on his own dragging back items from Earth to make the castle a proper home -- Score would join Helaine. The opposite of Pixel's sweet, but clingy and needy habits, Helaine understood the need to stand on one's own feet. In the past year, they had learned to deal pretty well with one another: he'd tease her, she'd threaten to beat him up – it was all in good fun. Helaine was even starting to understand his sarcasm!
If not out hunting, exploring or doing any other macho-chick activity, Helaine would often go visit the unicorns and her friend, Flame. Score would even join her sometimes, just to say hello to the grouchy Thunder – leader of the local unicorn herd and Flame's father. They, too, were friends, in a way. Unlike Helaine's touchy-feely relationship with Flame (Score always marveled at how the unicorn managed to get Helaine to put aside her tough-girl exterior), his relationship with cynical Thunder was simply talking (and mutual teasing).
Score sighed. Friends were such an alien concept to him, and not something he liked to dwell on. Sometimes he wondered if it was even worth having them. Hanging around people who knew him and had expectations, who actually cared about his well being – it was just making his life more and more complicated. He was a loner, right? He didn't need anyone and no one needed him! Well, at least it used to be that way. Now, Pixel looked to him as if he were his brother. Joining Helaine on her visits to the unicorn herd was as comfortable and habitual as breathing. Eating together, spending time together, being there for one another, he was actually starting to enjoy the strangeness of it all – and that frightened him. He was getting tied down and worse of all – he wasn't entirely sure he minded anymore.
Score pushed the thorny thoughts out of his mind. Complicated friendship issues aside, life was pretty good on Dondar. For the past few months, nothing nasty had happened. No tyrannical body-snatching wizards, no crazed reincarnated enemies kidnapping his friends, no mind-sucking planets that transformed nightmares into reality, and no up-start magic-users attempting universal domination.
Things were finally starting to be relaxing.
Which is why when Pixel came bursting into the dinning hall, clearly out of breath with his blue face almost indigo from exertion, Score really didn't want to pay attention. How many times was he going to have to save the world (or rather worlds) this year? He wasn't even done with his cereal yet!
"Score!" the pointy eared, skinny Calomir was holding out a piece of parchment in his left hand, waving it in front of Score's face with great expectation.
"What? A spell to remove zits?" Score joked, hoping it was nothing more than Pixel discovering some interesting magic, but he knew better. Pixel's face was not lit up with his usual excitement of a new discovery, but narrowed with concern and… fear?
Pixel shook his head. "No. Helaine's gone! And she left this."
Score put down his spoon and took the offered piece of paper. The script was clearly in Helaine's handwriting, though less ornate than her usual medieval-style print.
Score and Pixel,
I am visiting Ordin to resolve some unfinished business. I plan to return shortly. Please tell Flame not to worry.
Score scoffed softly to himself. It was just like Helaine to act so impetuously. The girl was incorrigible when she put her mind to something. Score stubbornly pushed aside any worrying thoughts. "So? She said she'll be back. Even I take off to go to Earth now and again."
Pixel shook his head at Score, both as a sign of disagreement and disappointment. "You don't get it. I think Helaine is in trouble."
"Relax, Pix. Helaine can handle herself. Ordin's her own world, remember? Now, if she thought she could tour New York City by herself again ---"
"Score, this is serious! Isn't it unusual for her to take off so abruptly, without telling us in person?"
Score paused a moment, not wanting to admit Pixel had a small point. Even he usually notified Pixel or Helaine when he was taking an off world trip. Still, he could almost understand Helaine for not telling them – she wasn't under any obligation to tell them up front, was she? At least she had written a note.
"Helaine's a big girl and can take care of herself. Just 'cause you have a crush on her, doesn't mean you have to freak out when she leaves for a little while."
As planned, Pixel's face turned from blue to deep purple as he blushed. "I do not!"
"Oh please," Score rolled his eyes. Not that he wanted Pixel and Helaine to actually get together – the thought made him cringe, though he wasn't sure why – but the boy was just so obvious about it, and Helaine equally oblivious. It made Pixel a wonderfully easy mark to tease. Score knew it wasn't that Pixel liked Helaine necessarily, as much as he liked the fact that she was a girl. Pixel was always falling for anyone who was female, it seemed. Ironically amused, Score remembered how Pixel had become smitten with the girl Destiny while on Earth, only to later find out she was an insane megalomaniac out to kill them. Even after that souring experience, Pixel was still crushing on any girl he met. Truly, Pixel was a hopeless romantic.
"If you're so worried about your sweetheart, why don't you go visit her?" Score's voice was in an annoying sing-song that managed to make Pixel's already purple face turn black.
"She's not my sweetheart! Besides," Pixel coughed pointedly. "I would think you of all people would be concerned."
"Me?" Score squeaked, unsure of why his voice suddenly jumped an octave.
"Yes, you." Pixel reiterated. "I won't deny I'm attracted to Helaine, but you two are the ones who are dating."
"Dating!" Instinctually, Score had jumped to his feet and unwillingly his voice had continued to rise in both pitch and volume. It took a moment before he could forcibly bring it back down. "You're insane. Sure, we hang out a little, but she's still the bossiest person in the Diadem. For crying out loud, Pixel..."
Score shook his head hard, shocked that Pixel would even think such a thing. As far as he was concerned, Score never wanted to have a girlfriend. Not that he wasn't attracted to girls; he openly fantasized being with them (he was a straight, teenage boy after all), but actually dating one was another story. From what he had seen on Earth, having a girlfriend meant being told what to do and being forced to do it. Score was determined that nobody was ever going to rule his life. He had dealt with that for too long under his father, Bad Tony Caruso, the New York City mobster. Bad Tony expected every command he uttered to be obeyed – and he wasn't above beating his son to ensure it was carried out. To this day, Score was sure his father played a direct hand in his mother's death, though he still didn't know the exact circumstances. Regardless, Score was now free from his father, and he intended to stay free from anyone ruling over his life. (#10)
Helaine, of all the girls Score had ever known, was a professional at giving orders. It came naturally, he knew, because of her family background. Helaine was not only a trained warrior, but the daughter of a high noble, Lord Votrin. She had been both expected and raised to give orders since birth. In turn, she had grown accustomed to her every command and wish being instantly obeyed. Although worlds better than the haughty, stuck-up, condescending brat she was when they first met, there was no way Score would allow himself to entertain the idea of dating her. It didn't matter that they enjoyed each other's company, or that beneath her warrior exterior she was a loyal friend, kind, good looking – Score forced himself to stop that dangerous train of thought. She was just a friend, he firmly told himself. He was too smart to get romantically entangled with anyone.
"Anyway," Score continued, hoping to dispel the strange, unreadable look Pixel was sending him. "Helaine knows how to handle herself on her own medieval muddle planet."
Pixel actually rolled his eyes at Score – a habit he had picked up from his Earth friend – before clearing his throat. "You're missing the point, Score. It is her world, the one Helaine wanted to leave and never return to. You know how she had trouble with her family, and she never received any real freedom or respect because she was a girl."
Score felt his eyebrows begin to furrow despite his attempts to put aside all worrying. Ordin had strict customs and laws restricting the behavior of women. Helaine had never been able to stand it. "Yeah, but Helaine had loads of fun when she disguised herself as a boy. Not that she could pass off as one anymore," Score chuckled to himself, recalling the embarrassingly funny moment Helaine had cursed up a storm when her armor no longer managed to effectively hide her feminine curves, "but with her magic – "
"Magic that is drastically reduced," Pixel interrupted. "Ordin is on the Rim. As it is, she would need someone else -- not on a Rim world -- to cast the Portal to leave again. But she didn't even ask us, or even take the time to tell Flame!"
Score felt himself fidgeting under the smaller boy's intense glare. Pixel paused, letting his argument sink in. "Helaine wouldn't return to Ordin -- so suddenly no less -- unless there was trouble."
Score sighed and stood up from his seat at the table. Pixel had an uncanny knack for solving hidden meanings, agendas, and well, anything for that matter. He was always seeing the problems and solutions to a situation as easily as breathing. Although a bit of a worry-wart, there was no denying the logic behind Pixel's concerns.
"What the hell?" Score mused, trying his best to sound nonchalant. "It's been boring on Dondar, anyway."
Pixel's face beamed. "Then you'll come with me to Ordin?"
"What? Pass up a chance to tease Helaine? I bet her room really is all lace with pink and cream." Score grinned wickedly. "Besides, the surprise on Helaine's face will be worth it."
- - - -
Author's Note: School work is kicking my a$$, so I don't have a lot of time for writing. But, never fear! This project will not be abandoned. I already have the entire outline written out! I just need to flush it into its final form.