“How did I get them?” asked Judy, with a wry smile, “Why, I own them. They‘re mine, Olive. One of my, ah...loyal subjects brought them to me.” She touched Wanda‘s arm, and smiled. “Someone more loyal than you, not that that‘s such a high hurdle. Ha!”
Dame Branch seemed to have temporarily lost the ability to form a sentence. She stormed up to Wanda and gave her an angry look that demanded an explanation. Jillian was not really sure what was coming unraveled here among the leadership of Haffaton, but she watched it with fascination. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Banhammer and the others moving closer to the unfolding scene.
The Croakamancer did not flinch. She looked straight at the Florist, her expression betraying nothing. “Findamancy,” said Wanda. “You should have hidden them in another city.”
Dame Branch did flinch then. Her neck and shoulder twitched in a way that Jillian recognized as the sudden suppression of a very great desire to hit someone. “Judy, you don‘t need them!” she said, turning to the Overlady. Her tone was stern and matronly. “They‘re dangerous. We‘ve discussed this.”
“We‘ve discussed a lot of things, Olive.” said Judy, stepping forward. “Haven‘t we? All kinds of different things, through the years.” Much like Judy‘s word “kill,” Jillian had never heard the word “years” before, but she somehow understood its meaning. Why would you need a word for a period of 365 turns, though? Stupid. “Anyway. The shoes are not dangerous. We both know what they do.”
“What do they do, Overlady?” said Banhammer, stepping forward gracefully and bowing his head ever so slightly, no doubt displaying the exact degree of respect appropriate to their relative stations and the situation. Jillian could imagine him working it out in his head beforehand. “Forgive me, my hostess and soon-to-be Ruler. But I have never before seen an Arkentool.”
Judy tilted her head and returned the nod in kind. “King Banhammer. Belated, I suppose, but welcome to Haffaton.” Judy held out a foot to show off one of the red shoes. “The ‘Shoes give you unlimited move, if you are attuned. Which is handy enough.”
Jillian balked at the concept. Unlimited move? Holy crap! On your own turn, or anyone‘s? She stared at the stupid, garish red slippers, suddenly wanting them more than she‘d ever wanted a physical thing.
“But they do one other thing, that I know of,” said Judy, “they can send you home.”
“You are home,” snapped Dame Branch. “This is where they sent you the last time you used them.”
“Yes, but...back then, there were people here I loved, people who loved me,” said the Overlady. She turned away from the Florist and looked at the metal golem, standing impassive and motionless behind her. She touched its cheek, looking sad. “I think that the ‘Shoes send you where you belong, is what it is. That‘s how the Wizard put it, at least. And he'd know. Charlie knows everything, doesn‘t he?”
Jillian blinked at Charlie‘s name. He was ‘the Wizard‘ of Efbaum? All the weirdness was getting dizzying now. She could almost believe that this was all a flower dream, if it weren‘t for her intense need for a flower. The one in Judy‘s hair looked stale, but that one in Wanda‘s...
“It was my choice to stay in Erfworld that day,” said Judy. “Not the Arkenshoes‘. That‘s what I think. And maybe it was the right thing for me then, or maybe I should have wished myself back to my world. But things are different now. I don‘t belong here anymore. This isn‘t home without my friends. And I don‘t want to be here.”
Dame Branch shook her head. Her fists were balled up in a very un-Hippiemancer way. “Fine! Try them!” she hissed. “But if you do, and you stay here, then we keep doing things my way. We‘ll absorb the Court of Faq and conquer the world for peace. And you‘ll give me back the Arkenshoes to protect!”
Judy gave the Florist a sad little smile. “If the ‘Shoes keep me here, then all right. But that won‘t happen. I‘m going home. And what will you do after that, Olive? What will you do as Overlady?”
“The same thing!” said Dame Branch. She turned to Wanda with a show of teeth, “Except that first, I‘ll disband this one.” She then turned and pointed a stiff arm toward Jillian. “...and croak that one! So go ahead, Judy. Reward your loyal subject. She‘ll be alive for five seconds after you‘re gone.”
Olive crossed her arms, glaring at the Lady Firebaugh. But Judy was also looking at the Croakamancer and smiling, even giggling a little, with her fingertips covering her mouth.
Wanda raised her eyebrows questioningly. “May I now, Overlady?”
“Haha, I suppose,” said Judy, grinning. “Yes. You‘re a good one, Wanda. Whatever anyone says about you. Do it, kid. With my blessing and my thanks.”
“Thank you, Overlady,” said Wanda. She stepped forward, shouldering her way past the Florist.
“Do what?” said Dame Branch, following uncertainly behind Wanda. Lady Firebaugh walked slowly toward King Banhammer, who watched her approach with a furrowed brow. She knelt before him.
“On orders from my Ruler–”
“Oh. Oh no you don‘t,” snapped Dame Branch. “Loj, don‘t let her do this.”
“...and with my full personal consent, I hereby pledge allegiance to the side of Faq, and its Ruler, for all the rest of my turns,” said Wanda.
King Banhammer‘s neck bent back in consternation. “Well, I mean. I... I don‘t exactly see the logic of such a...such a move.” He glanced at Orwell, then Marie and Jack. “Not when our intentions are to–”
“We accept!” shouted Jillian. “I accept this unit‘s turning, as Chief Warlord of Faq!”
“Princess Jillian!” shouted Banhammer angrily. But the Croakamancer‘s robes were green now. The right shade of green. She rose, and gave Jillian a meaningful little smile.
Dame Branch, now narrow-eyed and quiet, took a few steps in Judy‘s direction. “I don‘t know what you think that accomplished...”
“I don‘t care,” smiled Judy. “She wanted it. It‘s your problem now. The turn‘s about to start, and it‘ll be your first one as Overlady. Hope you‘re ready for it.”
The Florist shot another nervous glance at Jillian, then retreated swiftly to the dais and snatched up her Chillaxe.
King Banhammer hesitated for a moment, then followed her. “I‘m sorry, Olive. I couldn‘t... I don‘t understand what has happened here.” He turned up his palms helplessly.
“It can be undone, Loj,” said Dame Branch, softly. She stared at Jillian and readied her fingers on the instrument. “It‘s all right. It just makes things harder.”
“Okay, let‘s do it,” said Judy loudly, commanding the attention of all in the room. “If this is goodbye, then don‘t remember me fondly. Don‘t remember me at all. Forget me fondly, haha! I‘ve had enough of this rainbow boop.”
She clicked the heels of the Arkenshoes together, and red sparks flew. “There‘s no place like...eugh, Kansas.” She shouted, and clicked again. “There‘s no place like flat, windy, pig-boop smellin‘ rural Kansas!” She clicked once more.
“There‘s no place like home!”
There was a small clap of thunder, as if the air where Judy was standing had slammed together and made her implode. Pieces clattered to the marble floor: the tiara, the anklet, the broomstick staff...
But not the shoes.
Jillian looked over at Dame Branch, holding the Chillaxe. Her eyes were closed, but the woman‘s eyeballs were darting around behind the lids. Getting acclimated to a ruler‘s special senses, she guessed. She breathed deeply through her nose. The room held a weird, respectful silence.
After a few more moments, she opened her eyes. She looked around at each person in the room, then settled on Banhammer. “It‘s glorious, seeing the whole side like this,” she said, her eyes wide. "It's overwhelming."
Banhammer nodded. “It is. You carry a burden now. Once I lay mine down, you‘ll need my help and wisdom to shoulder it.”
She looked at him, doe-eyed and meek. “Then you‘ll still stay? You‘ll serve and help me?”
“Help you conquer the world for peace, as you said,” said Banhammer, nodding. He tried to take Dame Branch‘s hand from the Chillaxe, but she held it there in place.
“Wait,” she said.
The air was suddenly pierced with a shrill whistle. Jillian and several of the others clapped their hands over their ears, and turned to the source of the sound.
It was the tin golem. Steam was shooting from the tip of his conical hat, the signal for the start of Haffaton‘s turn.
“No-one move,” said the Overlady Olive, as the whistle died out. She fingered a chord and made a strumming motion over the strings of her instrument. But no sweet sound was produced. Her mouth opened. She strummed again, but no sounds came. She let out a tiny shriek of frustration, as the instrument vanished from her hands completely.
“Oh!” said Jack Snipe, stepping beside Jillian. From behind his back, he pulled the Florist‘s instrument. “I took the liberty.”
“You have my axe!” shouted Olive Branch, her voice high with panic, she started off the dais toward him.
“Here now!” huffed Banhammer.
“Jack...” said Jillian, her heart soaring, “Take the liberty of throwing it as high in the air as you can.” Because she‘d said it as an order, he was already heaving it upward before she was done with her sentence.
“No!” shouted the Florist.
Chief Jillian caught it on the apex of a sword arc that started with unsheathing Three-Edged from her back, and ended with clacking its point off of the marble floor. The instrument splintered with a sound like the end of all music.
Olive Branch stood still in her tracks, open mouthed.
Jillian kicked a piece of the instrument aside, raised her sword to ready, and took one deliberate step toward the Ruler of Haffaton.