Heroes of Legend -- The Hardest Part
The mighty sea otter walked slowly into his audience chamber and slumped towards his throne. His crown. little more than a golden band across his brow, hung slightly ajar. He leaned on his trident as he trudged. At last he took his throne. Another otter, an Atlantean like the king, set a cloak of royal purple over his shoulders, but it covered his shivering form more like a blanket than the vestments of a demigod.
"Hail, King Poseidon,” the attendant said, then quickly withdrew, the ritual as complete as it needed to be.
Poseidon, Lord of Atlantis, stared blankly forward, his mind’s eye fixed on some torment that he was powerless to turn away from. Over and over he mouthed a word, “Beloved.”
Two other heroic figures stood in the doorway to the chamber; a monkey in a white ascetic’s robe and a figure in full metal armour, generally raccoon-shaped, his face mask a permanent scowl. They watched Poseidon as the functionary approached them.
"Lord Hanuman?” she asked the monkey. "Otterly, our queen, is it true?”
The monkey nodded. "I am very sorry. She was still nursing little Otor,” he added.
"Our second prince, he’ll need a wet nurse! I know where to look for them." She bowed and left at once.
"He's in pretty bad shape,” said the armored figure, nodding towards King Poseidon.
“No, really?” the monkey replied, drily.
"What’re we gonna do, Han?”
“I will go and talk to him. I will try to get him to lie down at least.”
“I'll go with you…”
“No, Murphy,” the monkey replied, putting a paw to the raccoon’s titanium alloy chest. "He still has his trident. If he mistakenly activates it, your mortal power armour would not shield you.”
“And you… oh yeah, Hindu deity.” He gave a deep sigh and turned towards the door. “Well, no point standing around doing…”
Then he pointed towards the side of the wide doorway. A small figure was poking his nose around the frame.
"Oh no, Han,” Murphy exclaimed quietly, around a sudden frog in his throat. "Lutra!”
“Little prince, come here, please.”
An otter pup came cautiously out from hiding. At Hanuman's beckoning, he approached. "What's wrong with Daddy?” he asked. “Where’s Mommy?”
“Murphy, you must tell him.”
“Me? Hang on, he's Poss’s kid…”
“Poseidon is in no shape to tell anything to anyone. Lutra needs to know what is going on. Putting it off until Poseidon is better will only force Lutra to live in fear for who knows how long. Poseidon needs me now. I am sorry Murphy, but that leaves you.”
“Couldn't I just… take my chances with the trident?”
For a moment, the Monkey King smiled a little, knowing smile. "This will be your first time telling somebody that a relative is gone. It will not be the last time. If it helps at all, it will be the hardest thing you ever do, although the next time will still be far from easy. And Murphy,” he added, as he turned towards the throne, “please take off your helmet. It scares most people. That is not appropriate right now. "
"Oh, yeah. Helmet detach,” he added. The head of his armour turned left and lifted a little. He reached up and lifted it a little further. The face plate pivoted up and in. Murphy pulled it back and off. He set it on the floor as he knelt before Lutra, rubbing his now clearly raccoon ears. The fur of his black mask had been damp and showed something dried in it.
"Mr Metal Coon,” Lutra said, "why did Lord Hanuman say that Mommy is gone? When is she coming back?”
Metal Coon opened his mouth and choked. He closed his mouth and swallowed. He looked Lutra in the eyes, shuddered and looked away. "You just had to be adorable," he muttered. "We're not sparing me any punches at all today, are we.”
“I want Mommy. "
Metal Coon took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He tried to look Lutra in the eye, settled for the general vicinity of his face and tried again.
"Lutra,” he said, "I'm sorry, your mommy can't come home. A bad man did a terrible thing to her and now she can never come back.”
“Why? What did he do? Where’s Mommy? I want to be where she is!”
“You can’t, Lutra, she isn’t anywhere anymore… I’ll just tell you what happened.
“The bad man’s name… I guess we’ll never know his real name now… He called himself Dementia. He was crazy, but he was always escaping from insane asylums and trying to destroy everyone and everything. I don’t think he even had a reason, it was just what he did. And he got out again and built this contraption that would send fusion plasma into the atmosphere and set it on fire. He was convinced he could do it, we didn’t think it would work, but you never knew with him. The asylum just wanted the Heroes of Legend to bring him back.
“Dementia gave us an idea where he was. It seemed like an accident, but now I can see this whole thing was a trap for one of us. Probably just any of us. Your mommy had to help search for Dementia. Your daddy didn’t want her to, but she promised to just find him, then stay away and call us to come and get him. And she did! And we came right away! But then Dementia started turning on his death machine and she was afraid it might actually do something. You know your Mommy could control waves, make them do what she wanted. So she got close to the machine and tried to drown it with waves.
“And Dementia waited until we were close enough to see… and he turned on the machine… and the plasma hit your mommy… her whole body was just gone in maybe three seconds, burned up by all that plasma…” Murphy shuddered violently and swallowed hard. ”And that’s why your mommy can never come back, Lutra. I’m so sorry…
“Lutra, after that, everybody kinda went crazy, too. Your daddy raised his trident and brought lightning down on the machine, over and over. Mr Silver Back, you met him, the big gorilla, he threw missiles at it from his mini-copter and I shot everything in my armour until all I had left was my shock pulse gun and I kept shooting and shooting at it. We could see Dementia in his control room in the middle of the machine, we kept shooting that. Then your daddy’s lightning… The machine put out two beams of plasma, one up and one down, I guess for balance. Your daddy’s lightning put out the one going up and the other one started acting like a kind of rocket. The whole machine ripped right out of the ocean and just jumped into orbit. If Dementia was still alive by then, he must have been crushed by the gee force. Then the air force shot a missile at it and blew it up with a nuclear bomb, just to make sure. So don’t you worry about Dementia, he’s gone for good this time! Oh no, Lutra… kid… prince… uh….”
Lutra started keening, high and loud. Tears wet his cheek fur. He slowly waved his arms up and down as if he didn’t know whether he wanted to be held or to run away. Metal Coon looked beggingly at Hanuman.
"What would you want in his place!” the monkey king cried.
Murphy held begging hands to the monkey king. "Is that all you got?” he mouthed. Hanuman turned away and held Poseidon's shoulders instead. Murphy turned back to Lutra.
"I want Mommy!” the boy cried.
Murphy stroked Lutra’s wet cheek. "I wish I could give her back to you,” he replied, his voice starting to choke. "Your mommy was the best person I ever met… she was smart and kind and… p-playful… and everybody loved her!” Murphy grabbed Lutra in a tight hug, his tears joining the boy’s in their cheek fur. "I'm so sorry... I'm so, so sorry!”
They held each other for a while, lost in thoughts and feelings.
"I'm going to kill all the bad people!” Lutra said, at length. "I'm going to take daddy’s trident and kill them all!”
“...one day… What?” Murphy replied. "No! Lutra, don't even think that!” He pulled away enough to look the pup in the eye. "Now you listen to me! Your mom was kind and gentle! She knew when she had to hurt someone and she saw… tons of bad things happen to good people, but she never, ever let it make her hard! We can't turn hard either, your mom would never want that! Okay? We have to… uh…”
“We must keep our hearts open for your mother's sake,” Hanuman said, “and not let ourselves become hard, like the bad people.”
“...what the monkey said,” Murphy added. "Are you with us?”
Lutra nodded, then hung his head and started keening again, but not as loudly. "I want Daddy,” he whimpered.
“Well y’see, your daddy’s not feeling so good right now….”
“It's all right, Murphy. Please bring my son to me.”
The two looked up at Poseidon. He was looking back at them, not into the middle distance, smiling a little sheepishly. "Well spoken, hero,” he added.
"That's a good sign,” Murphy confided. "C’mon, champ. Let's see how your daddy’s doing.”
“Are you all right now?” Hanuman asked.
Murphy took a swig of his beer, rubbed the fur of his tummy and sighed. "Better. I'm still trying to get my head around the idea that I'll never see her again. She's… she was… you know. Do you have to do that?”
Hanuman climbed a tree that wasn’t there and sat above Murphy’s in-ground pool on a branch that wasn’t there, either. “I know that she cared about her family first and everybody else equally and in turn. I know that her affection for you was genuine. She told me once that she thought you are cute. If she had met you first, she might even have given you a roll in the hay, but of course that ship sailed a long time ago.”
“I… no… Hey! Quit reading my mind!”
“I am reading your feelings.”
“Well… okay, you can't help…” Murphy grunted and looked away. (Hanuman chuckled.) “D’you think Poss’ll be okay?”
“Never,” Hanuman said. "He can function, he will improve in time, but he will never be truly happy again, not until he rejoins Otterly in the next life. For now, he lives for his children.”
“Poor Lutra!” Murphy sighed. "I hope… Han, you're a god, can I pray to you?”
Hanuman descended stairs that weren't there to the patio. “You can if you wish, but I am not the kind of god that grants wishes. Perhaps you should just say what is on your mind, man to man.”
“It's just, I really hope I never have to do that again!”
“But you did it so well!”
“I am not joking. You did exactly what Lutra needed you to do. You did an excellent job with him.” Hanuman gently touched Murphy's arm. "And you will have to do it many times. It is the hardest part of being a hero. I am so sorry, Murphy, so sorry.”
Copyright © 2016 Allan D. Burrows, All Rights Reserved
17 March 2016 at 02:33:02 MDT
I created the Heroes of Legend for the Furnal Equinox 2016 ConBook. (The theme for 2016 is superheroes.) I sent them a story titled "Origins -- Metal Coon." (Naturally I'm not posting that anywhere, yet.) It took three tries to get a story short enough for their 1,000 word limit. I'm posting my other two tries now.
In this "episode," recent inductee Metal Coon learns the hard way that being a super hero takes more than guts and a suit of power armour. Sometimes it takes compassion. And sometimes you have to hurt somebody who doesn't deserve it.
The thumbnail is just something I slapped together. I can't afford to buy one. Too bad.