“THIS IS FINE!” I scream again, my brain trying to decide if it’s time to panic or time to have a meltdown. The part of me that doesn’t like the idea of being cooked alive in a Tim Hortons has me wanting to sprint from the building, but the part of me that fears sirens and fire-breathing spider queens is fighting equally hard to curl up under a blazing table.
Thankfully/regrettably I don’t have to make a choice as Ben grabs my arm and drags me from the building. Outside the centaurs-not-centaurs are screaming at each other in French, and while I don’t understand them at first, I realize Claude is giving them attack orders. A cluster of them shoot a wave of arrows at the siren queen, while another group of them—this one flanking to the right of the spider-beast—takes aim.
“I thought you didn’t like human inventions,” Ben jokes to Claude, nodding his head at the shiny metal hunting crossbows that the piaffhommes are using.
“Aren’t caribou supposed to be vegetarian? Wouldn’t you be against hunting weapons?” I mutter to no one in particular.
“I also don’t like humans, and yet here we are, saving your town—”
“Our town,” Ben corrects.
“—from the threat of extermination.”
The grizzled piaffhomme says something else, but it’s lost in the shriek coming from the massive siren. Most of the arrows are now lodged in her front right leg which, unlike the rest of them, is frantically beating the ground in pain. The force of her movement sends tremors through the ground and everyone, save the piaffhommes, find themselves struggling to keep their balance. Fred and I topple over, narrowly missing our newly recruited serpentine heroine, and crash onto the ground by the building. There’s a loud crackle followed by a deep groan as the roof of the building next to us caves in. Embers and flames shoot out the top of it as the support beams crash through what used to be the meeting spot of the town.
Claude shouts to his men, some of the younger men prancing anxiously beside him, and the left flank of the piaffhomme army loosens their bows, arrows now burying themselves into the other front leg of the enormous beast. She screams again, her voice so high that my eardrum shrieks in pain, and spits more fire at us. Fred and I scramble to move out of the way in time, piaffhommes and the rest of us trying to move out of the way. The fire slams into the building, blowing down an entire wall from the sheer force of her breath, and sending some of the molten debris spitting out into the parking lot. There’s a loud crash of something metal, and I can see Ben’s eyes widen in anger.
“Not my damn truck!” he shouts in dismay. “Aww, shit…”
I glance over to where he’s working and, with a sense of dread, realize things are making their way across the parking lot. No, not things.
Hot chicks in bikinis.
Hot chicks in bikinis singing Nickelback.
“Everyone,” I scream over the vibrations and shouts of the siren queen, “the sirens are coming!”
Ben and Fred scramble to cover their ears, with Fred going so far as to rip off his t-shirt and use it as extra insulation against the vocal onslaught. I begin singing loudly to myself, hoping my voice, the noise of the war behind me, and my fingers are enough to block the sound out. I look over my shoulder to see how the rest of the gang is doing, and watch with satisfaction as the half-caribous launch another wave of arrows at the queen, trying their best to bring the monster down. I turn my attention back to the horde of sirens, trying to figure out a safe way for Ben and I to get Fred out of there, when the trees at the edge of the parking lot begin to move and shake.
Through the centre of them bursts Rosaline, with Priest and the other quantling who enjoys stabbing people armed with little spears and sitting on her back. They run towards the sirens, catching up to them quickly, and launching into battle. Rose bucks at them, kicking hard with her back feet and slapping wildly with her human arms, while the rats hiss and jeer with an underwhelming vocabulary as they stab at the sirens (not landing any fatal blows but definitely poking them hard enough to bruise). As they fight, if that’s what we’re going to call it, a pack of rat-people carrying spears and banners draped in instant noodle wrappers begin creeping out of the tree line and entering the fray. They’re not especially fast, but there’s enough of them that the sirens look a little worried.
While Rose and the rats are enough to slow some of them down, there’s still a decent number of sirens racing towards us, with no signs of slowing down. Behind us, the queen lobs another fireball at the building, flames erupting from the broken windows and sending smoke billowing into the air.
“We need to do something fast,” I scream, forgetting that none of the other men can hear me.
But the gorgon does.
“I’ve had QUITE ENOUGH!” she says, or that’s what I assume she says from the way I read her lips.
She moves towards the siren horde, rips her scarf from her head and pulls her sunglasses off and stares at the crowd. Admittedly, it’s a little less dramatic than I think we were all hoping. About half of them turn to pudding which gets sloppy fast, thanks to the heat from the blazing fast food fire. A couple of them turn into what looks, from a distance, to be plaster of Paris. And, incredibly, one turns into stone (although it’s one of the quantlings so that’s probably not too good for us).
The remaining sirens cover their eyes and begin walking slowly, cautiously, towards us as they sing. Except for one woman. She keeps running at us with her eyes shut, but just rushes straight past us into the flames.
Over my shoulder I can see Fred muttering to himself as the piaffhommes shoot more arrows at the queen, who looks like the unintended result of a giant spider and a porcupine having sex.
“ENOUGH!” she screams, fire shooting from her lips and the force of her words bringing me to my knees in pain. “WE WILL RAZE YOUR VILLAGE TO THE GROUND. WE WILL BURN YOUR PEOPLE ALIVE. WE WILL MAKE YOU SLAVES TO OUR WILL, UNLESS YOU GIVE US THE WIZARD.”
“There are too many of us. We’ll stop you. You’re outnumbered!” Claude shouts back.
The siren queen opens her mouth, and I flinch in anticipation of her voice. But instead she makes a gagging sound, a horrible heaving noise, as a grey sack falls out of her mouth and slaps onto the ground. It pulsates and moves on the ground, before it rips open and more sirens—these ones naked and genderless—crawl out. For a split second they look inhuman, but soon this new swarm of them looks like scantily-clad women to me.
“THERE WILL ALWAYS BE MORE. WE WILL ALWAYS BE YOUR BETTERS. WE WILL ALWAYS WIN,” she screams. “GIVE US THE WIZARD. YOU HAVE ONLY A MOMENT TO DECIDE, OR WE WILL DECIDE FOR YOU.”
Ben, Rose, Claude, the snake lady (thankfully covered up once more), a few of the rat-people, and I form a quick circle.
“So we can just give ‘im and be done avec cela?” Rose asks.
“Rose, we can’t—” I start.
“Yessssssssssssss,” Priest and the other rat say in unison.
“I don’t like it, but maybe they won’t hurt him. And it would only be on the condition that she leaves here and doesn’t destroy the world?” Ben offers.
“Yeah, works for me,” Claude says with a nod.
“But he makes such good coffee…” the snake woman says.
“Your latte is an acceptable casualty,” someone calls back. She purses her lips, but the dark glasses stay on.
“Uh, excuse us,” Claude calls to the Siren Queen, “but if we give you Fred—”
“Yeah, that’s who we mean, could you promise not to destroy the universe?” Claude asks.
“And release the people of the town from the sirens’ hold,” Ben whispers.
“Yeah, yeah, and release the people of the town from the sirens’ hold?” Claude calls to her.
The queen has to think about it for a while, but gives us a toothy smile and nods her head. “WE CAN AGREE ON THE TERMS OF THIS PACT. GIVE US THE WIZARD. WE GIVE YOU PEACE.”
“Done!” Claude shouts back enthusiastically. He grabs a complacent Fred by the arm and hauls him off across the parking lot, leaving him at the feet of the queen. She grabs the wizard quickly with her fat, arrow-covered hand, and shoves him in her mouth, swallowing loud. She turns away, her front legs moving shakily as her thorax drags slowly behind her. We all stare after her as she makes her way back down the road from the flaming restaurant, into the woods, and out of sight.
“Oh.” Ben says.
“Anyone else feel horrible that we gave a teen to the siren bitch?” I ask. Ben nods solemnly, but the others kind of shrug halfheartedly.
“‘E was kind of ennuyeux. I thought I was going to sleep whenever ‘e spoke,” Rose admits.
“Heeeeeee waaaasssss duuuuuulllllllll,” Priest says as the other rat pokes me about.
“Ha, ha,” a voice says beside us. “Way to tease me, guys.”
With a small POP, Fred appears next to us.
“Fred?” everyone says together in surprise.
“Uh, yeah,” he says slowly. “Obviously it’s me. You guys were amazing by the way. Trusting me to make a copy of myself like I did with the rats in the bathtub. You guys putting your faith in my abilities really gave me the confidence I needed to pull that spell off right the first time. Thanks guys!”
“No, uh, no problem,” Ben coughs.
We stand awkwardly in a circle until, eventually, the woman pulls out a small notebook from her purse. “So,” she says with a grin, “can I get your email addresses for the monthly meet-up mailing list?”
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