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The Duck, the Princess, and the Lightsaber

by on May 5, 2011

This story was written for Prompt Number Eighteen of the Chrysalis Experiment. For previous episodes in the Caitlin Chronicles, see here.

After Charles had been killed by Princess Caitlin and trapped in the Plain of Minions in Character Hell, he had not taken the chance to reflect upon his life choices. Instead he had set about finding the weakest minions and dispatching them one by one as a way of venting his frustration. He had just smashed a startled Orc in the head when he felt a slight tap upon his shoulder. Charles, like an idiot, turned around to see who it was. Red plasma filled his vision. The next moment, Charles was lying scattered about in pieces, and Princess Caitlin was standing over him. Her lightsaber blade vssh-ed away into nothingness. Behind her, Susan began a slow clap.

“Bravo,” Susan said. “You passed the second test. Let me tell you, surviving the Plain of Minions is no easy task. I don’t even like to mingle down here that often. Mostly I watch from a safe vantage point. But you kicked minion butt. Bully for you, as Theodore Roosevelt might say.”

“Who?” Caitlin asked, her voice still about an octave lower than it should be. “No, wait, I don’t care. Next test. Now.”

Susan snapped her fingers. The Plain of Minions abruptly melted away around them like a chocolate bunny to which someone has put a blowtorch. They were now standing in a vast stone chamber with an imposing door at one end. Before the door stood a duck. It didn’t quack, or flap its wings, or do anything. It just waited, looking impassively at them both. A dim white light shone about it, but not the shiny pure white of the moon or a tasty vanilla cake, no, this was a twisted light, more like the color of bad milk. Caitlin sensed there was something very sinister about that duck.

“Your final test,” Susan began, “if you want to go that route, is to face me in battle. Defeat me, and you’re home free. I should warn you, though, as the Mistress of Character Hell I have the power to summon the weapons of any villain trapped here. Lightsabers, battle-axes, AK-47s, laser rifles, Swords of Power, Rings of Power, Random Magic-y Objects of (you guessed it) Power, whatever. All you have is that one red lightsaber, and you hardly know how to use it. You don’t even know the power of-”

Caitlin launched a flying kick that caught Susan off-guard, slamming her bodily back into the nearest wall. “OW!” Susan yelled. “Let me finish, will you? Oy!”

“So finish.”

“Okay, okay. Here’s the deal. You can fight me as your final test, and lose, and stay here forever, or…you can fight the duck.”

“The duck,” Caitlin repeated, glancing at the small glowing waterfowl.

“Exactly. See, that duck isn’t an ordinary duck. It’s a mystical duck spirit guardian. It guards the one room in Character Hell that I’ve never been able to get into. I’ve tried to get past the duck before, but…I can’t. Failed every time. You know how humiliating it is to lose a fight with a duck?”

“Oh listen, that’s the world’s teeniest little violin and it’s playing a sad little song just for you,” Caitlin said. “You want to talk humilation, Suzie? I’ve been zombipenguinified. I’ve been killed. Twice. I’ve been informed that I’m a mere character in someone else’s story. I didn’t even know my own mother’s name until the fifth episode. So, let’s cut the whining and get to the point. If I kill the duck and help you, what’s in it for me?”

“How’d you like to be the Mistress of Character Hell yourself?”

Caitlin gasped. She honestly hadn’t expected that. Susan went on. “Look, I didn’t plan on doing this gig forever. It gets boring after the first couple thousand years. I’ve been looking for a successor so I can retire, but so far no dice. Not till you. You beat the Plain of Minions, you survived “Friday”, which is more than I did. All you have to do is get past the duck and open that last room, and I promise you I will retire and let you rule over all Character Hell. What do you say?”

The princess considered. At that moment a tiny little glowing figure materialized on her shoulder. It looked almost like Caitlin herself, except it had little white wings and a faint sparkle of a halo. “Caitlin!” it chirped. “Verily! Thou art in grave peril! For surely thou art facing grievous temptation; if peradventure thou should-”

“Excuse me, ” Caitlin interrupted, “English, please?”

Her shoulder-angel looked a little put out. “That was English!”

“Conceded. So, can we try the American dialect? Not…whatever that was?”

“That was classic medieval English, which you’re supposed to be speaking because you’re a medieval princess!”

Caitlin rolled her eyes. “Yeah. Remind me to take that up with my author. I’ve been speaking modern-type English since day one; you’d think I would at least throw in an archaic idiom or something, but nooooo. I get no respect.”

“Well,” the shoulder-angel said, “to put it in modern terms….OMG! Like, dude, Susan’s, like, giving off totally uncool vibes! It’s, like, bad, for realz. So, like, you should definitely not, like, go after the duck. It’s totally wacked, dude.”

“Now you’re just being snippy.”

A little cloud of smoke puffed into existence on Caitlin’s other shoulder, drifting away to reveal Caitlin’s shoulder-devil. It too vaguely resembled a miniature version of herself, except it had the standard Yellow Eyes of Evil, and of course a tail and horns. “You’ll notice that Shiny-Pants over there didn’t really say why you shouldn’t take Susan’s offer,” the shoulder-devil said, its tiny voice dripping with contempt. “Let’s put it in perspective. If you fight Susan and if, by a miracle, you win, and if you get safely back to your own proper world, all you’ll be is the same princess of the same tiny country that you were before. However, if you fight the duck, you could become the mistress of all Character Hell. Which sounds more cool?”

Caitlin’s shoulder-angel came back fighting. “Which sounds more wrong? You’re talking about Character Hell! Does the word Hell indicate anything to you about how this might not be the most fun place to spend all eternity?

“Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven,” the shoulder-devil rejoined.

“Milton. Good show. Except as I recall the devils in Paradise Lost had the nasty habit of turning into snakes or centipedes or some form of creepy thing. Caitlin, you want to spend eternity randomly transforming into a centipede?”

“Look at her!” the shoulder-devil said, pointing at Susan. “She hasn’t transformed into a centipede!”

“Not yet, she hasn’t! But she could!”

“You can go on saying that for a thousand years, but the point is, she hasn’t, and she won’t, and that’s the end of it. Besides, even if she did, would that be so bad? Think of the trade-off! Think of the power! ”

Caitlin’s eyes flashed almost as yellow as her shoulder-devil’s. She had suddenly recalled that Vladimir the Marauder was likely in Character Hell. If she ran the place, she could get back at him for his not inconsequential offense of killing her the first time, not to mention…It was at this point that her shoulder-angel became desperate and played the only card she had left. “Caitlin, think of your mother! What would she think of you if you stayed here? Would she be proud that her daughter’s gone to hell and then decided to rule it?”
The shoulder-angel hadn’t known that Caitlin’s thoughts were trending towards vengeance, or she probably wouldn’t have played that card. Caitlin’s lightsaber blade ignited, its red light flaring ominously across her face. “There’s a man down here who killed me. Also, he killed my mother. I think it’s time for payback.” As her shoulder-angel disappeared in glowing disappointment, and her shoulder-devil dissolved in a puff of triumphant smoke, Caitlin launched herself at the duck, lightsaber blade spinning. All at once the duck suddenly morphed into a gigantic mutant duck with slavering jaws and wild eyes. The duck breathed a blast of sickly green fire at Caitlin, who flung up her left hand instinctively to block it. Something dark flowed through her then, something that blazed with sheer power, and the duck’s fire-blast smacked into an invisible wall. “Hm,” Caitlin thought. “How interesting.”

Instinctively she pushed her hand outward towards the duck. A spider-web of blue lightning lanced out from her fingers, lashing into the squalling mutant duck. Caitlin pushed harder, focusing all her hate and all her frustration on the duck, and the lightning intensified into a storm. The giant mutant duck let out one last horrible quack of pain, and then exploded in a burst of feathers and ash.

“There,” Caitlin said, powering down her lightsaber, “your duck is gone. I shall claim my title now as Mistress of Character H-”

WHAM. 

The princess blinked very hard, turned slowly around to face Susan, and opened her mouth. What she was going to say went unsaid, as she promptly collapsed. People generally do tend to collapse when they’ve just been walloped over the head by a shovel. Susan tossed the shovel aside without a second thought.

“Oh, you poor thing,” she cooed, stepping lightly over Caitlin’s fallen form, “you’ve hit your head. I think you should lie down and take a rest. You won’t miss much. Just the end of all fictional realities.”

Susan wondered whether she should deliver the traditional monologue, but then decided that there wasn’t really a point. Caitlin couldn’t hear it, and in a very short time, neither she nor Susan nor any other fictional person would exist anyway. Susan already knew why and how she’d won; she didn’t need to rehash it. She knew by heart the ancient prophecy which said that only a person who entered Character Hell with a pure heart could defeat the duck and claim the mystical treasure  in the secret chamber it guarded. Since a person had to be a villain or villainous minion in order to get into Character Hell in the first place, Susan had despaired of ever getting past the duck. Then Caitlin had come along, the last piece of the puzzle. “And what an interesting puzzle piece you are,” Susan commented. “You moron.”

Susan had been behind the whole thing. Years before she’d sent Vladimir the Marauder to assassinate Caitlin’s mother, knowing that Caitlin would grow up with a desire to bring him to justice. She’d bet, and rightly, that if Caitlin got killed she wouldn’t want to stay dead, and she’d try to get back. The Zombie Penguin Apocalypse had been terribly amusing, but a sideshow. Since Caitlin had left heaven on her own accord, when she had died again the only place left for her was Character Hell. Thus she got in by default, which meant she didn’t enter as a villain. That meant she could beat the duck. And that meant…

Susan pushed the door open and stepped with high anticipation into the chamber. It was much bigger than it seemed on the outside, so big that she couldn’t even see the far wall; the floors and ceiling stretched away beyond her sight. A spotlight from somewhere above helpfully illuminated the item she sought. “Oh. Speaking of puzzles…”

Before her, on a vast wooden table which also disappeared across the horizon, was a ginormous puzzle, each piece covered with little golden dots, each dot representing a fictional world. There were zillions of them, uncountable, infinite. Susan checked; each piece was in fact made of plain cardboard. Susan smiled and delivered the requisite Evil Laugh. Then she reached into her pocket and drew out a little steel lighter. She flicked it open, watching as the blue flame danced sinisterly before her eyes. Susan paused for one delicious moment. She could already picture it; the blue fire lighting one piece, then another, sweeping across the vast puzzle until every piece and every world was ablaze. All the uncountable fictional realities would be wiped out. Masses of fictional characters would be erased from existence, heroes and villains alike.  Everyone from Batman to Lucy Pevensie to Edward Cullen to Katara of the Southern Water Tribe to Carmen Sandiego to Darth Vader. Narnia, the Shire, Redwall, the Hundred-Acre Wood, Agrabah, all these places and a trillion more, all flashed before Susan’s eyes as she condemned them to oblivion. “This is going to be fun!” Susan exclaimed as, finally, she lowered the flame towards the puzzle…

TO BE CONTINUED.

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8 Comments
  1. I much admire and enjoy your madcap creativity. I thought I should say that once in awhile. ❤

    • Thanks! And props on the word “madcap”, by the way; a great word, that. 🙂

  2. Moral of the story – NEVER trust a character called Susan in a Chrysalis story! 😀

  3. ‘Tis, ’tis… isn’t used nearly enough.

  4. Kudos not only on the story but for causing me to have a full English-major geek out during the middle. Plus, a duck.

    Like, totally, OMG! For realz…

    !

    • Thanks. I don’t think I’ve been the cause of an English-major geek out before. 🙂 In the words of my generation, sweet. Totally.

  5. Well done!

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