Workin' For a Living.
This may take a little explanation. In the inimitable Kryalla Orchid's multi-fic saga, The...
piss. She hasn't given it an overarching title yet. The stories are called Touch, Masks, and Promises, and if you don't read them then a: you are a goddamn idiot, and b: you might have trouble with the setup for this little tale. The bare-bones summary is as follows- Galfore has stepped down as Grand Ruler of Tameran, and due to Tameranean law he has to leave the planet. He gets a job as head of training for the Justice League, and that image just would not leave my head.
Sorals are from Kryalla Orchid's other, older series, 'the E'ara Universe', better known as 'the series with all the pie'.
Oh, and Starfire's pregnant. And if for some reason you aren't reading Galfore's dialogue in the voice of Brian Blessed, then I have done something very wrong.
"Bruce. A word?"
"It's about this guy you brought in as a trainer."
"What's the problem?"
"It's just... he seems-"
Batman abruptly stepped to the side, flattening himself against the wall. Superman did the same, operating on the reasonable assumption that if Batman were to do something, there was probably a good reason why, and it couldn't hurt to emulate him.
And right on cue, there was a thunder of feet on metal, and a squad of League members charged past, in varying states of dishevelment. Huntress was loping along in long, easy strides, but the same could not be said of the Atom, who was sweating profusely. The Question, as ever, was an enigma- he was keeping pace, in three-piece suit, dress shoes, and trenchcoat, but of course any sign that he might be suffering was hidden behind his utterly implacable mask. Booster Gold was suffering the most obviously- huffing and puffing like a man that had had his flight ring confiscated for the first time in years, he fished in a hidden pocket and furtively produced a small bottle of water.
Which was slapped out of his hand by an enormous orange man. Booster looked up to find himself confronted by the bearded visage of the former Grand Ruler of Tameran, Galfore.
"WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU ARE DOING, BOY?"
"...water. Need water."
"YOU HAVE HEARD MY OPINIONS ON EARTH MEN AND THEIR SO-CALLED 'NEED' FOR WATER. YOU WILL DRINK WHEN I TELL YOU TO DRINK. ANY LESS IS AN UNCONSCIONABLE BREACH OF DISCIPLINE, AND WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU LOSE DISCIPLINE?"
Clark was impressed. He had never seen anyone bellow quite so expansively, especially not while they were sprinting and simultaneously slapping another runner around the head with every other word.
"I ASKED YOU A QUESTION!"
"...you said... when you lose discipline... you lose... you lose... your self-respect?"
"...and... something about hubcaps? The enemy'll feed me my own hubcaps?"
"KNEECAPS, IDIOT BOY! KNEECAPS!"
"...that was it."
The troupe moved on, charging down the corridor and out of earshot- although the Tamaranean's exhortations echoed down the hallway for some time after any other noises faded into nothing.
"-a little abrasive, doesn't he?" Superman ran a hand through his hair, shaking his head just slightly.
Batman didn't react. "He'll be good for the League. Give them a few practical lessons."
"...Not to sound insensitive, but do you think that finding out that our new head of the training department- who is, in fact, the entire training department- doesn't have a particularly clear grasp of human anatomy is a particularly... valuable lesson?"
Bruce didn't even blink. "Teach them to appreciate cultural differences."
"What, 'we shouldn't judge the man that's screaming about how weak we are for needing to breathe, because he's from a species that doesn't'- that kind of thing?"
"You can't expect our enemies to have the same levels of endurance we do. You can't expect them to understand that, either. It's an important lesson."
"This is because I told Selina the story of the time you tried to make a soufflé, isn't it. You're just trying to make my life difficult."
"Believe whatever you want to, Clark. Now if you'll excuse me, I have work to do."
After he was gone, Superman sighed, and carried on down the hallway. Three floors down, Galfore could still be clearly head, disgust and condescension dripping from his bellowing voice.
"YOU CALL YOURSELVES WARRIORS? IF SUCH PATHETIC WASTES OF SPACE WERE ON TAMERAN, I WOULD HAVE CALLED A QUARRANTINE, IN CASE YOUR UTTER INEPTITUDE COULD SOMEHOW INFECT THE COMPETENT FIGHTERS! YOU WILL ALL PRESENT TO ME THREE-THOUSAND WORD ESSAYS ON THE IMPORTANCE OF NOT GIVING IN TO THE PATHETIC NEED FOR PROPER HYDRATION WITHOUT THE EXPRESS ORDERS OF YOUR COMMANDING OFFICER. …EXCEPT YOU, THE QUESTION. YOU WERE ACCEPTABLE. THE REST OF YOU PATHETIC WASTES OF YOUR HUMAN OXYGEN, ESSAYS ON MY DESK BY DAWN TOMMOROW. WHAT MAKES YOU THINK I CARE THAT WE ARE IN SPACE, YOUNG BOOSTER OF GOLD?"
Superman sighed, and massaged his temples. He should have known that Bruce would get him back for being cordial with Catwoman.
For all that Booster Gold didn't like it when Galfore was shouting, he was beginning to suspect that the Tameranean was even worse when he was talking at something approaching a tolerable volume.
He was in the dojo, with the other members of his training group- Huntress was leaning against the wall, arms folded, with her boyfriend hovering near her. The Atom was sitting on the bench, watching their instructor intently- no doubt hoping to find out more about the nature of the lesson before it was his turn to be brutalised for an hour. All four of them were wearing judo gis, with their masks. Except the Question, who had declined to disrobe- something about how exposing his skin to the artificial gravity of the space station was as good as mailing a photo of himself to the evil space hamsters that controlled the world's taco supply or something. He had, at least, removed his trenchcoat, and put on a gi jacket over his suit.
Their trainer had arrived stripped to the waist, which was somehow the most goddamn terrifying thing Booster had ever seen, and he'd gotten in a fight with a human black hole. Galfore had had over his shoulder five massive halberds, one of which he had tossed to Booster with an evil grin, before distributing the others to the other trainees with surprising reverence.
"This," he had explained, "is a soral. It is the traditional weapon of my people, and if you cannot master at least the basics of this weapon, then there is nothing I can teach you. It is an ancient weapon, and you will be introduced to it with the ceremonial words that each Tameranean warrior is told when receiving their soral."
Reflexively, Booster found himself standing to attention as Galfore drew himself up to his full, terrifying height, and fixed his eyes on a point millions of miles away and thousands of years ago. A chill ran down Booster's spine, and he suddenly remembered that the warrior before him was a man that had ruled an entire planet.
"This," he boomed, "is your soral! It is your first line of defence, your primary weapon, your personal trainer, and your best friend from this day forward! HAND you will eat with hit, HAND you hwill sleep with hit, and by X'Hal hif any of you sorry sacks of mucus hever finds hyourself hwith a woman hyou will damn well MAKE LOVE HWITH HIT."
It was too much, and Booster let slip a strangled snort.
"OH, hwe has a comedian, then. HWELL, let me tell hyou, boy, hif you roll hover one night to find that your woman has a dagger hand she's helping a squad hof assassins climb through hyour bedroom window, hyou had DAMN WELL better hope that hyour soral his within heasy reach!"
Booster had to ask.
"Is that... a common concern? When it comes to Tameranean women?"
Galfore was suddenly in front of him, squatting down until the two were eye-to-eye, close enough that Booster could smell the peculiar bouquet of oranges and dijon mustard that laced Galfore's breath and see every hair that sprouted from the alien's nostrils. He had to fight an overwhelming urge to gag, and an even more overwhelming urge to run screaming from the room.
"X'hal willing, boy," Galfore rumbled, low and dangerous, "hyou will never have the opportunity to find hout."
"Noted," Booster squeaked, and with that Galfore withdrew, seemingly satisfied.
"Now," he continued, in his normal accent. "The lesson begins. First, you will all lift your sorals above your heads, with both hands."
Okay, that couldn't be too bad. It was just weightlifting, right? He did that all the time. How heavy could this thing be?
He took a deep breath, and lifted with a grunt of exertion. His eyes began to water.
Hawkgirl shuffled out of her room early one morning, and slunk to the cafeteria. Usually there would be a couple of people already up- or people who had simply not gone to bed yet- to talk to, if she felt like it.
This morning, though, only the giant Tameranean trainer was there, devouring his breakfast with obvious satisfaction.
On reflection, Shayera considered, this might be the reason why everyone else was gone. The alien was devouring what looked like a bowl of dried figs and ham, covered in orange juice and topped with lashings of what looked like but surely couldn't be tabasco sauce. At his side stood a large mug, filled with mustard, into which he would periodically dunk an entire rolled-up pancake, which would be devoured in one swallow.
She shrugged. She'd seen stranger.
"Morning," she managed, cup of coffee in hand.
"Salutations, Girl Hawk."
"Of course, Hawkgirl Shayera," he said, booming. He boomed whenever he said anything, but this time he seemed to be booming... differently. Cheerfully?
Whatever, it was too early in the morning for this.
Walking by, she suddenly blinked, and stole a second glance at the gargantuan warrior.
For whatever reason, he seemed to be floating a couple of inches off the ground.
"I'm telling you, man, he's scary, sure, but don't you think you're, I dunno, getting stronger? I know I feel better recently. I mean, now all the bruises are starting to fade and my leg's out of the cast."
Booster Gold was trying, and failing, to hold the attention of the human enigma known as the Question.
"Don't you think, huh Q?"
It seemed that the Question blinked and looked up, although that was conjecture on Booster's part, due to the other man's mask.
"Don't I think what?"
"That these Tameranean training techniques are really starting to pay off!"
Now Booster imagined that the detective was frowning.
"Yeah, you know, Galfore? The alien that's been teaching us kung fu?"
"...You seriously believe he's an alien?" The Question sounded somewhere between pitying and amused.
"...You think he isn't?"
"Please. Alien from another world that just happens to have almost the exact same features as a human being. Occam's Razor would tell us that he's likely nothing more than a metahuman with brain damage and a bad tan."
Booster blinked. "...You do know the guy who's in charge of the League, right?"
Then, all of a sudden, the object of their discussion appeared, striding down the corridor with a wide grin plastered all over his face. As quickly as he appeared, Galfore was gone, and instantly Booster Gold made as if to follow him.
The Question hadn't moved. Booster was incredulous.
"What? You're easily the snoopiest man in the League, and you don't want to follow him? Come on, he's never that cheerful! We need to find out what's up with him!"
The Question shook his head.
"What makes you think I need to follow him to find out what he's cheerful about? You might want to check the guest registry."
And with that, the Question was gone, leaving Booster shaking his head.
"That guy is no fun at all," he commented to himself, before setting off to follow his mysterious sensei.
In the room, the world was soft, and hushed. Koriand'r, his little bungorf, grown into a fine young warrior- and now-
A kick, almost imperceptible, knocked softly against his massive, callous hands, and he fought to keep his feet on the ground.
"Do you know the gender?" he asked, softly, and Koriand'r shook her head.
"It is to be a surprise," she said, and in spite of everything- every nightmare she had revisited, every monstrosity she had faced down over the past few months, in spite of everything and anything the Universe had thrown at her, tried to drag her down with...
He had never heard her sound so at peace.
Kneeling down in front of her, he stared solemnly at her midriff, staring where he knew her child was growing. Placing his hand back on her belly, he spoke, as soft and as low as he could.
"Greetings, little one. My name is Galfore, and I am going to be your Grootak'norfka, X'Hal willing. You may not know this yet, so I shall tell you. No matter who you are, no matter what you look like, I promise you this.
"You will be the greatest warrior of your generation. Your enemies will break and flee before you. You will have the strength to crush all who would threaten you and yours, and you will have the grace and wit to use it with wisdom. You will, of course, take after your mother, in that regard.
"You shall have the strength that comes from the head, for that is your father's gift. You shall have the strength that comes from the heart, for that is your mother's gift. You shall grow tall, and walk with pride in the light of X'Hal. And wherever you go, whatever paths you shall follow, no matter what dangers you face, you shall never walk without another spear at your back. You shall never forsake your companions, and they shall never forsake you. These are the lessons your family has learned, and will teach to you.
"And, if your parents allow it, and if you wish to keep a little piece of Tameran in your hands and in your head, perhaps this old man shall one day teach you how to wield a soral."
He looked up, and Koriand'r's eyes were shimmering. Without a word, she pulled him to his feet, and embraced him as a father.
And then he heard the distinctive sound of someone trying very hard not to be heard.
He grinned. Contrary to popular belief, many people had seen Galfore grin. The Grand Master of the Fighting Monks of Nezzachar, for example, had seen Galfore grin, moments before Galfore had dashed his brains against a rock. And the Fang Beast of Betelgeuse Seven had seen Galfore grin, seconds before he detonated the explosives that brought the monstrosity's hive crashing down upon it.
And Booster Gold saw him grin now.
"Greetings, student," he said, terrible amusement dancing in his eyes. "Is there a reason you are interrupting me?"
"I- I- I just w-"
"You just wanted to do a little more training? Well, I am hardly about to deny you! Such commitment! Go, collect your soral. I believe it is time you began to run laps while carrying your weapon."
As Booster Gold scampered away, and Koriand'r chortled behind him, Galfore exhaled, very nearly content.
He supposed that there were worse ways he could spend his retirement.