Shushiriken

The target drinks miso soup. This lightens the target’s heart and buoys their senses.

The target takes a bit of wasabi and puts it in a bowl. The target adds soy sauce. The target stirs until the wasabi is evenly distributed through the soy.

This is the correct moment in which to throw unagi shushiriken.

Unagi shushiriken uses electric eel. It may therefore electrify the target. The target convulses. One hand dips into the wasabi-soy mixture. Lightning plays across the surface of the soy. Then the target slumps.

It is traditional for the target to refresh themselves at this point with a bite of pickled radish, but it is also impossible.

If you use tamago shushiriken the target will have egg on their face.

Sometimes a ninja will have no access to sushi. In such a case it is traditional for them to go into a fit of rage and bread everything around them. This is known as a tempura tantrum.

Performed on a lover, this is instead tempura tantrick. It is called a trick because we do not bread the ones we love.

Some ebi shushuriken still has the head of the various shrimps attached. It is traditional for the ninja to remove the head of the shrimp and then the head of the target. If this order becomes confused comic eventualities may ensue.

A ninja may lose face by using dynamite roll shushiriken improperly. In such a case it is best to attach a new face using sticky rice and sometimes seaweed. Attaching a new face without using rice is the affair of sashimurai and is not appropriate for ninjas.

Fatty tuna shushiriken batters the target with blunt force. There is a widespread social prejudice against fatty tuna shushiriken. Certain ninjas believe that this emerges from unrealistic norms and a positive social delight in demonizing others. Other ninjas disagree. Both are in any case ruthless killers.

Mekajiki shushiriken is as sharp as a sword. Some ninjas use mekajiki shushiriken to kill their targets. Others say, “Wait, why not just use a sword?” This is the heart of most of the great ninja philosophical arguments. The remaining great ninja philosophical arguments concern brains in vats on trolleys making decisions through veils of ningjorance.

California roll shushiriken is not thrown. Rather it is rolled along the floor to the target. This shushiriken works best for assassinations in California. If you were to use california roll shushiriken in Montana everyone would look at you funny.

Mirugai shushiriken employs surf clams to ensure that a target either surfs or clams up. The other role is taken by the ninja. This is another form of shushiriken best employed in California, but the requirement is less strict.

Tako shushiriken is actually a Mexican ninja weapon. Every now and then a Mexican ninja must travel to Japan to show disrespectful gringojin clans the true way of the tako shushiriken. The lesson is spicy but soon forgotten.

Tai shushiriken is made from sea bream. Often the target will not know they have been killed by the shushiriken for many days. Instead they walk around in a daze and wonder if it was all just a beautiful bream. Then they realize the truth and plummet dead into the sea. This is known as the “death touch,” but the ninja will not actually touch the target. That would be considered “unhygienic” and would detract from the target’s delicious shushiriken experience.

Everyone should have as delicious an experience as possible before they die, particularly if they are being killed by traditional Japanese assassins. That’s the firm resolution of a shushiriken ninja!

An Unclean Legacy: “And As For Montechristien Gargamel”

In the corner of the room are one hundred golden men: one hundred golden corpses, stolen from the world by Montechristien Gargamel.

They were the blue essentials.

They’d lived in peace in their mushroom village, despite a power in them that could shake the world; a power only surpassed, in truth, by God.

They had not used it.

They could have been mighty angels, commanders of the hosts of Heaven, but they had agreed instead to follow in their Papa’s footsteps, to live their lives as fallible, pitiable beings in their mushroom homes. In the end they chose that weakness even over life itself. Now they are dead and made of malleable gold, their power a gift to whoever can bear the weight of it—the weight of blood on the hands of Gargamel who slew them.

“See, if I step forward to claim them,” Tomas says, “I get murdered from behind.”

“That’s what it means,” murmurs Francescu, “that you gave up the ways of our childhood, and I did not.”

Sophie and Christine are watching one another, carefully, while avoiding any overt glances.

“I would do poorly,” Manfred says.

He sighs and lowers his head, releasing an old ambition.

And now and again, her siblings look to Violet, whom they have always thought the likeliest of all to claim them, to use them wisely, honestly, and well.

“You . . . do know that I’d make myself an all-powerful goddess-queen, right?” Violet asks.

In a time of wizards and kings, one name stood above the rest. He was Montechristien Gargamel.

He seized from the mushroom village one hundred of the blue essentials and transformed them into gold. From that time on his power was limitless. He broke the world and repaired it again. He dispensed terrible destinies and powers as if they were the most ordinary of gifts. And as the time of his death approached his children came to his Castle to dispose of the matter of their legacy.

Violet, his eldest and most dear, whose suitors and lovers and seducers are yanked from her and threshed by the machine in Gargamel’s tower.
Francescu, the deathless sorcerer, who had turned his back on the affairs of the world.
Manfred, the fallen knight, whose strength was legend and whose spear was magic’s bane.
Tomas the cruel, who had looked in his tenth year upon the face of God.
Christine, the mad sorceress, who wandered the world in her living house.
Sophie the skinchanger, soulless and Devil-tainted, and once the one Montechristien loved best.
Elisabet, the Devil’s child, a creature as much of shadow as of life.

In the hour of the end, each turned their hands against each other, and the halls of Castle Gargamel ran with blood. This is the final installment of the story of that time.

“Eh?” Montechristien says.

“Well,” says Violet, “it’s not— I mean, it’s not that I’m greedy. It’s just, why not? I mean, you have limitless power, it seems like you should make yourself an all-powerful goddess-queen. Unless you’re a boy, in which case some slight modifications to the formula are acceptable.”

“I see,” Montechristien says.

“I can pretend that I’ll be good and just use them for special occasions until you’re dead,” Violet says.

“Heh,” snorts Montechristien Gargamel.

Softly, Elisabet says, “Thresh them.”

Violet looks to her. “Hey,” she says brightly. “You’re awake.”

“Would you really just take them?” Elisabet asks.

“Someone has to,” Violet replies.

Elisabet is half-sitting now, insofar as a protoplasmic shadow-creature can half-sit. She is desolate and alone.

Her protoplasm blows in the wind.

“Is that what the family Gargamel is?” Elisabet asks. “Is it so impossible for us to escape our legacy?”

Snow falls gently around her.

“Are we nothing but killers, brutal men and women, who will live up not to the greatness of Montechristien Gargamel but to his shame? Is there no hope that we may find a narrow and difficult path away from the sins and crimes attendant on our births?”

Elisabet bows her head. She squeezes her eye shut.

“In these final days,” she says, “every hand has turned against every other; and even I have striven pointlessly to kill. Is that who we are? Is that the family Gargamel?”

The snow is lessening now. Elisabet’s shoulders sag.

She says, “It is unclean.

A short silence follows, as has followed every monologue of Elisabet’s since her tenth birthday.

“It’s not even winter,” Manfred mocks.

An Unclean Legacy


“Finale”

Elisabet blushes furiously. She throws a shuriken at Manfred. He catches and crushes it with one hand.

“Bastard,” she says.

Sophie says, “She’s right.”

Violet frowns.

“You’d wind up killing us, Violet,” Sophie says.

And there’s a terrible truth to that, not the kind of truth that’s certain but the kind of truth that’s scarily possible, and Violet flushes and jerks her head away.

“Fine,” Violet says. “We can thresh them instead of making me a goddess-queen.”

And Tomas comes to the strange realization that everyone is staring at him, staring at him on the assumption that he is the least likely to consent; and his nostrils flare and he looks down and he says, “There are worse outcomes.”

He hesitates.

“Six of them, apparently. So, fine.”

“No,” Montechristien says. He is weak. There is a burden that has been on him for more than twenty years, and it is lifting, but he shakes his head to deny himself its peace. “No. Someone must take them. It is decided.”

And Violet walks forward to the little golden men and gathers them in her arms; and she makes herself defenseless in her heart; and she says, softly, to one and all of them, and with infinite regret:

“Come away with me; for I could love you, I could love you dear.”

And for a moment, the haze of his damnation lifts and Montechristien sees in Violet what the Papa would have seen: a girl wicked and broken, made not by clean blue alchemy but by Gargamel and Yseult; but more, a girl who despite the sinfulness of her origin was capable of redemption, glory, and even a place among the blue; and for a moment, to Montechristien, the limning on Violet’s black hair is gold.

“I could love you—”

There is a churning in the tower. There is a spinning. Tendrils of power seize the little golden men and whisk them all away.

The blades of the threshing machine whine with the fury of their turning.

And coming to her senses, suddenly; desiring to save the gold men, suddenly—Violet shouts, “Wait!”

But it is too late.

Driven by the power given unto Violet by Gargamel, the golden men rise upwards among the blades and the blades shear through them, once, twice, ten thousand times and more.

A series of great levers yank themselves downwards.

“. . .,” sighs Violet.

A great and driving wind blows upwards from the hole in the floor below the threshing machine.

Driven by that wind, the remains of the little gold men rise.

They are a mist now. They are a shimmering golden vapor that rises and hangs over Castle Gargamel in great brooding clouds. And from it the wind cuts away grains of sparkly dust to fall onto the world below: onto the grave of Rachel Saraman, onto the web of the spinach-spider, onto the gallows of poor Meagle and the paths that Santrieste ran; and in every place it lands—from then to now, for the wind still carries bits of it—there are miracles upon the earth.

It is beautiful.

It is magical.

It is something eternal and good.

And as for Montechristien Gargamel, he is damned; and with the breaking of the eidolons the power of blue over red passes away; and his years come down on him like the hammer of the Heavens, and his mortal vessel passes away and into dust and no more does the murderer Gargamel mock the Devil by walking upon the Earth.

An Unclean Legacy: “Way of the Ninja”

Yseult is dying.

She is dying in childbirth.

She clutches at Montechristien’s hands. She says, “Oh, love, do not forsake me.”

And Montechristien holds her hands tight.

“I see angels walking towards me,” Yseult says dreamily. “On a path of gold.”

Everywhere there is blood.

Yseult frowns. It is a distant, worried frown. She says, “Wait. Wait.”

“Hm?” says Montechristien.

“Why do I see angels, love?”

Montechristien glances towards the bowls of water and the towels and a wet towel flies through the air undripping to brush gently against Yseult’s brow.

“Why are there angels coming for me when my Gargamel is damned?”

“Peace,” says Montechristien. “Do not become upset.”

“No,” says Yseult. “No. I must go downwards. They tell me I will forget. That this will pass from me. I do not want to forget, my love. Shake them from me. Drive them forth, my love. Send them forth with broken wings and tattered robes.”

“I would not do that,” says Montechristien. “Even were I God.”

“Tell them,” sobs Yseult. “I have always been evil. I have slept with elder things. I have consorted with sorcerers. Tell them I have always been evil, my Gargamel.”

“Love,” says Montechristien, “in our lives we transcend such small and barren categories. In your life you have been nothing more or less than my Yseult.”

And Yseult lays back and there is another rush of blood and the child is born in it.

And slowly the life passes near from Yseult’s eyes.

“Oh, love,” says Montechristien. And he starts to close her eyes.

That is when Yseult wrenches herself back nearly from the grave and rises on her elbows and tries to see the child she has given; and seeing Montechristien’s face instead a terrible fear and anger grow in her and she points at him and cries, “Gargamel! Gargamel! Do not you blame the child!”

Then she dies.

And Montechristien looks down at the child, still unslapped, and this is what he sees: a creature of protoplasmic shadow, its tendrils flailing still about, extracting gently from the vaginal tunnel the cord through which it drained its mother’s life. He sees the product of Yseult Saraman’s black blood and the seed of a soul already dead and damned: a creature as much of Hell and Montechristien’s own doom as anything of Earth.

His face twists.

Slowly, he picks up Elisabet. Slowly, he cradles her in his arms.

That sphere of shadow that most resembles for Elisabet an eye turns to study him. A mouth gapes. The thing in his arms says, “Father, I am scarcely born; why do I know you?”

And “What am I, father?”

Montechristien Gargamel thinks. He walks the child about the room, rocking it gently. He thinks further.

And he hears in his mind: “Gargamel! Do not you blame the child!”

“Father?”

Montechristien looks down at her with his long nose and his thin hair.

“It is because you are a ninja,” lies Montechristien.

“A ninja?”

“A mystic warrior of the far east. Trained to hide in shadows and throw shuriken and—”

He held out a finger and black tendrils wrapped around it.

They are like sharkskin. His finger is bleeding, just a little, into his daughter’s unformed shape.

“—and to kill those who must be killed.”

“It is hard,” says Elisabet, “to be born a ninja, and to kill your mother with your birth.”

Montechristien clenches his teeth together. He hyperventilates to hold back tears.

“It is a great gift,” he says. “And a great curse. But you must be worthy of the sacrifice she made.”

“I promise, father.”

And it is not until Elisabet is safely in her cradle with a magical bottle and a blanket once made for Violet that Montechristien screams and from his tower splits apart the world; and then, on hands and knees, with tears and mumbled apologies to the Lady Yseult for all his clumsiness, knits the Earth carefully back together at its seams.

We do not know how Montechristien Gargamel came into his power. His origins are a mystery. How such an ungainly, strange, and immoral man could rise so swiftly to prominence puzzles even the greatest scholars of our time. Of his life once established in Castle Gargamel, however, certain facts are known.

He took to wife the Lady Yseult Gargamel, one of the great beauties of his day; and though many a rival pressed for evidence that he’d bewitched or stolen her, none was ever found. They had and loved six children of their flesh, until the seventh, Elisabet, killed Yseult with the complications of her birth. Each of these children was a prodigy, possessed of astonishing talents. When at last Montechristien stumbled towards the grave, the talents of his children turned against their siblings, every hand against the other, until at last they could dispose of the matter of their legacy.

This is the eighteenth installment of the story of that time.

Montechristien is dying, and his seven children have gathered to his keep.

Elisabet is walking the halls and she meets Tomas.

“Hi!” she says.

Tomas looks at her. His eyes are cold and severe. Elisabet shivers.

“What would you do,” Tomas asks, “if father named you his heir?”

“I hope he doesn’t,” Elisabet says.

“Hm?”

“I know who I am,” Elisabet says. “But having near-infinite power—that would mess everything up. I wouldn’t even really know which fork to use for the salad any more. Also, I think maybe the little gold men make their owner shriveled up and cranky. You?”

“I would use them for good works,” says Tomas. “I would clothe the naked, feed the hungry, tend the sick, and wipe away the unworthy.”

“That is a fine ambition.”

Tomas is looking at her.

“I should kill you,” Tomas says. “Here and now. I should destroy you and leave nothing. But it is hard for me because you lie so well.”

An Unclean Legacy


Way of the Ninja

Elisabet fades into her shape of shadow, but she does not retreat.

“Why do you think I’m lying?” the shifting inhuman Devil’s child asks.

“When I was ten,” said Tomas, “I looked upon the face of God. I saw the order and the purpose to which this world is arranged and the glory and the honesty of it.”

“That is as may be.”

“You are no part of that, Elisabet.”

Elisabet furrows.

“Ninjas are forgotten of the Lord?”

“You aren’t a ninja,” says Tomas. “I don’t even think there really are ninjas. It’s just something father made up.”

“Oh,” Elisabet says.

“You’re a child of that shadow that came to Castle Gargamel that night,” says Tomas. “A protrusion of Hell and horror into this world.”

Elisabet is in her human shape again. She is shaking.

“Everything else,” says Tomas, cruelly, “is a lie.”

“Do you think that you can kill me, Tomas?”

“No,” says Tomas.

He turns and walks away.

“I think you will,” he says, as he departs.

And Elisabet falls to her knees.

There is a blade in her hand. She’s not entirely sure where it came from. Possibly from Hell.

“Father says seppuku is just a myth,” she reminds herself. “So I shouldn’t.”

But the blade is there.

Just in case she’s someone who should die.

“Tomas is lying,” says Elisabet. Her voice trembles. But she knows better. She’s always known better, or at least ever since she was six and found Montechristien’s copy of Mysterious Oriental Ways: How Ninja Techniques Can Help You Catch Blue Essentials!

“I wonder if it matters,” she says, distantly. “I wonder if it can even hurt me. I wonder if dying changes anything for me.”

The blade shines.

“Oh, well,” says Elisabet, and the blade moves in her hands.

Hop hop hop! Hide in shadows! Blood is red!

That’s it for now for Elisabet’s story, but tune in tomorrow for the next exciting chapter of An Unclean Legacy: “The Spear Named Cursebreaker”—also called: “Francescu’s Answer!”

An Unclean Legacy: “How Elisabet Saved Christmas”

Once upon a time, Montechristien traveled to where his brother worked.

Montechristien leaned upon a heavy staff as he walked. Rain dripped through his thinning hair.

He pounded once, twice, thrice on the door of Baltasar’s tower.

And Baltasar answered.

“Brother,” said Montechristien. “I have come to beg.”

Baltasar sneered. “As you have always done.”

“I know what sorcery you plan to work,” said Montechristien. “I cannot let you do this thing. Please stop.”

Baltasar rose to his full height in anger. His teeth clenched. Lightning flashed.

“Gar-ga-mel?” he asked.

And Montechristien found himself fighting not to cringe, for all that years with Yseult have given him some strength.

“You plan to summon and bind the tripartite God,” Montechristien said. “It is madness.”

Baltasar turned aside, as if he did not object to Montechristien’s defiance. He gestured his brother inside.

“I told your woman,” said Baltasar, “that the two of us share a soul.”

Montechristien brushed the mud from his feet. He walked inside.

“I told her that it would do her no harm to sleep with me,” said Baltasar. “For when two men share a single soul, they share a single seed—and, in fact, that that seed is mine. So why refuse me? I asked. When you have borne me six children already?”

Montechristien held his face tight against anger.

“They are your children as well,” Montechristien agreed. “You should visit them.”

“She did not believe me,” said Baltasar. “She shouted, ‘I can’t have had your children! You’re weird old Baltasar!'”

Montechristien started to grin. But Baltasar’s eyes flashed and thunder boomed and the smile vanished from Montechristien’s face.

“Then she shouted, ‘Ack! Yagg! Igg! Ptui!’ and began to spit.”

“To . . . spit?”

“. . . I don’t understand why she thought it would help,” Baltasar confessed.

Montechristien nodded.

“So she hurt your pride.”

“She inspired me,” snapped Baltasar. “She showed me how low I have fallen—I, whom you once called your master! So I will redress this. You will have your pathetic golden eidolons. I will infuse myself with God!

“I could stop you,” said Montechristien.

“You won’t!” said Baltasar. Then he spun on Montechristien. He thrust out his palm. Montechristien, on ancient reflex, flung himself back into the corner and cowered.

From Baltasar’s outthrust hand a mandala of energy grew. Then seven more formed around it. Each touched the others; each orbited the others; each served as the center of the pattern. Among them were faces, wings, fires, jade, and gold.

“In truth,” laughed Baltasar, “I have waited only for your arrival. I have learned to manifest it, brother! The one pattern that can bind even God Himself—the Wheel of Enoch!

Montechristien feared his brother of old. But for Yseult’s sake, he marshaled his own powers.

He was too late.

Baltasar flung back his head. His eyes went white. There was a great wind before the throne in Heaven and the seraphim cried out. The sun and the stars and the planets froze in their procession. The whole world shook.

But Baltasar did not summon God.

From above him, below him, around him, from the center of the wheels, hands stretched for Baltasar, red and black and burning hands.

They seized him.

They clawed at him.

They carried him screaming away.

And three days later Montechristien returned to Castle Gargamel and said disconsolately to his wife, “Now I am damned.”

“Pookie—”

Yseult touched Montechristien’s hands, his arms, his face, but it took warmer measures to console him.

Thus did Montechristien and Yseult conceive the ninja, Elisabet.

We do not know how Montechristien Gargamel came into his power. His origins are a mystery. How such an ungainly, strange, and immoral man could rise so swiftly to prominence puzzles even the greatest scholars of our time. Of his life once established in Castle Gargamel, however, certain facts are known.

He took to wife the Lady Yseult Gargamel, one of the great beauties of his day; and though many a rival pressed for evidence that he’d bewitched or stolen her, none was ever found. They had and loved six children of their flesh, until the seventh, Elisabet, killed Yseult with the complications of her birth. Each of these children was a prodigy, possessed of astonishing talents. When at last Montechristien stumbled towards the grave, the talents of his children turned against their siblings, every hand against the other, until at last they could dispose of the matter of their legacy.

This is the seventeenth installment of the story of that time.

A magical reindeer flies down from the sky and lands before an fifteen-year-old Elisabet.

Its nose shines red.

It says, “Elisabet Gargamel?”

Elisabet has been practicing with her shuriken. She ceases, now. She turns, and fades into human shape. She smiles at the reindeer, charmed.

“Yes,” she says.

“You are needed at the North Pole. Christmas is in danger!”

“I am a ninja,” says Elisabet.

“Yes?”

“Please forgive me,” Elisabet says, with an unusual formality. “But I must explain that I cannot box presents or make toys or cure a sick Santa or see through fog. The duty of a ninja is to kill those who must be killed.”

The reindeer tilts its head to one side. “That is not exactly the Oriental tradition….”

Elisabet shrugs.

“Well,” says Santa’s reindeer, “in any case, there’s killing to be done.”

“Yay!” says Elisabet. “I can save Christmas!”

She looks around.

“And you don’t want Manfred? Or Tomas? Or anything?”

“I was sent for you.”

So Elisabet gets a wide smile and says, smugly, “Cool.”

“Come on,” says the reindeer.

So Elisabet gets on its back and rides the reindeer up into the sky.

An Unclean Legacy


How Elisabet Saved Christmas

“Why do you want me?” Elisabet asks, as she rides.

“You’re nice,” summarizes the reindeer.

“Wow,” says Elisabet. She blushes a little.

“There aren’t many supernaturally-effective killing machines on Santa’s nice list,” the reindeer explains.

“It’s because of the life,” Elisabet says.

“The life?”

“Daddy says that Yseult gave me all her leftover life when she died. That I’m more like her than anyone else. And she was really cool, although she wasn’t a supernatural killing machine.”

“She was on the nice list too,” the reindeer agrees.

Elisabet giggles.

“But she always tried to shake down Santa for coal instead of presents,” the reindeer reminisces. “She’d set traps for him, you know. He was too nimble! She couldn’t catch him.”

“Hee hee,” laughs Elisabet.

The reindeer is arcing down now into a land of snow and tinsel. The air is cold and Elisabet’s breath puffs out black. The great candy-cane marker for Santa’s workshop is ahead. But the reindeer does not land there. Instead, it lands on a field of ice nearly a mile and a half from the north pole.

Elisabet gets down.

“I don’t get to see Santa?”

“There’s no time,” the reindeer says. “The centipede is almost here.”

Elisabet looks to the west. She sees it there: a great hundred-legged monster, shrouded in shadows and in fire, eight feet wide and two hundred feet long.

“That?” she says.

“It is the child of a centipede and the Devil,” says the reindeer. “So naturally it wants to destroy Christmas. Each day, it comes for Santa, and we lose more lives holding it back.”

Elisabet steps away from the reindeer. She stands there on the ice, desolate and alone.

Her bangs blow in the wind.

“Is this the destiny of Christmas?” Elisabet asks.

Snow falls gently around her.

“Does even the innocence of the holidays draw to itself the sorrow and the pain of all this troubled world? Will there ever be love and peace that is not transient? Tinsel that is not stained with blood?”

Elisabet bows her head. She squeezes her eyes shut.

“I don’t know what to say,” the reindeer admits.

Elisabet sets her jaw. She opens her eyes. She puts her hands on her swords. She dissolves her human shape and becomes a thing of shadowy protoplasm.

“I am ready,” Elisabet says.

Then the air is hot and smoky. The centipede’s great head comes down towards her. But Elisabet has already leapt into the sky. A dozen blades wing from her hands and burrow into its flesh.

“Rowr!” shrieks the centipede, and it flails for her. It catches her with one great limb but Elisabet dissolves around its touch and leaves behind only a poisoned needle that numbs it.

The ice grows hot with their battle and turns to water. The tinsel-coated trees fall down. There is thunder and heat all across the northern wastes.

Hours pass.

The centipede strikes at Elisabet in the air. Elisabet twists with the unnatural dexterity of her shadowy form and catches the end of its limb. She drags it after her using a force-redirection technique. The centipede falls onto its back. It lands amidst the melt of their battle, and she stands on its chest and stares at it with creepy ninja eyes.

It stops moving. It is chilled by what it sees in her eyes.

Slowly its head sinks back beneath the water.

Let me go, it pleads.

It cannot move. It is drowning.

I will spare Christmas. I will live in peace. I will serve you.

Elisabet does not relent.

The centipede thrashes once, twice, three times, and then it dies.

And that’s how Elisabet saved Christmas!

Wasn’t that a heartwarming holiday tale?

Check back on Monday for the conclusion of Elisabet’s story: “Way of the Ninja!”

An Unclean Legacy: “The Soulless Girl”

“Hop hop hop!” says Elisabet.

Elisabet hops.

“Hide in shadows!”

Elisabet deforms into a protoplasmic blob of murky substance that flails its way into a nearby shadow and is gone.

Then she emerges from the shadow, taking form as herself again.

“Hop hop hop!”

Elisabet hops.

She walks into the room at the base of Gargamel’s tower. It is a room with many entrances. The entrance opposite her is a door, which opens. Manfred stands there, silhouetted against the light.

“Ack!” shrieks Elisabet. She flails back towards the entrance, eight shuriken winging from her hands towards Manfred. She stumbles a little, because the room has an unexpected gutter around its circular edge.

Manfred slams the door. The shuriken stick into the wood.

There’s a pause.

Slowly, Manfred opens the door again.

Elisabet waits there, tensely, afraid.

Manfred sighs. He shakes his head. “I’ll visit father later,” he says.

He closes the door. His footsteps loud, then ever softer, he walks away.

An Unclean Legacy


The Soulless Girl

Christine and Sophie meet along the road from Tantrevalles to Gargamel.

Sophie is trudging, slowly, with a travel bag over her shoulder. In the distance, behind her, she can hear a clamoring and clanging as of smith-gods on their anvils. In between the bursts of metallic sound there is the silence of the night and an occasional high-pitched whistling scream.

It is getting closer.

“Heck,” says Sophie.

She steps to the side of the road, but she does not step off of it.

Soon Christine’s house hoves into view. It runs clangorously on its three great iron legs. Steam pours from its chimneys into the cloudless night. The lights through its windows are red.

There is a fourth limb, a sickle-limb, crooked and sharp. When there are branches that overhang the road, it cuts them down and knocks them out of the way. When trees pack too closely around the road, it severs them at the root.

As the house passes Sophie, its sickle-limb cuts down the tree to Sophie’s left, the tree behind her, and the tree to her right with one great sweeping blow.

And . . .

Once upon a time there was a girl whom the Devil liked.

There aren’t many girls whom the Devil likes. Most people have a calling to God and a fear of the Pit. No matter what he does, there’s always the taint of good clinging to their souls. But this one didn’t even have a soul.

Her name was Sophie.

Her family kept her safe from the Devil’s whispers for many years. They taught her goodness. They turned away the Devil when he called.

They gave her guidance, but they always wondered:

Is that what’s best for her?

Is there a point in saving a soulless girl for God?

One day Sophie rejected them. She turned her back on her sister and her kin and went out to meet the Devil on her own.

Her siblings tried to kill her, sometimes, the soulless girl. They didn’t want the Devil to win. But Sophie was different now, and she just wouldn’t die.

Sophie flickers as the sickle-limb passes through her. For a moment she is not herself. Then she is standing there, pale, in the wake of the blade.

The house shudders to a stop. It hunkers down.

Christine opens the front door.

“Sophie,” says Christine flatly. She’s wearing an apron over her dress. She has flour on her sleeves. She flicks her eyes up and down Sophie’s unhurt form. “I didn’t see you there.”

“I’m all right,” Sophie says.

Christine shakes her head, just a bit, as if resigned. “Going to try for the old man’s legacy?”

“He invited me,” Sophie says.

Christine steps down to the ground. She marches up to Sophie. She taps Sophie’s chest, just under the neck. “You want the power,” she says. “You want the secrets that he’s hoarded all those wicked years in Castle Gargamel. But you won’t ever claim them.”

Sophie’s eyes shift. She looks uneasy. Then her chin comes up and her jaw tightens.

“That’s a mighty high horse you’re on,” Sophie says. “You think you’re going to get his legacy?”

Christine laughs. It’s a disdainful laugh. She steps aside.

“Come in,” she says. “It’s faster than walking.”

They enter the house.

“Sit down,” says Christine.

She gestures at a chair. So Sophie gathers up her skirt and sits.

There are tiny flecks of ash on almost everything in the house—the furniture, the walls, the tapestries. It is surprising to Sophie that none of it is burned. There is palpable heat pushing against her face.

“I have food,” Christine says. “Bread, cake, other things.”

Sophie looks up. “Why would you feed me?”

“Because you’re my sister,” Christine says.

“Bread,” Sophie says.

Christine heads deeper in the house to fetch it.

“I didn’t,” says Sophie, to the empty air. It’s like she’s rehearsing. “I wouldn’t. I don’t have to—”

But there’s just defiant silence left to her by the time Christine returns.

Christine’s house begins once more to run.

What is Christine cooking?

What is Sophie’s secret?

Does Montechristien Gargamel have any mysterious threshing machines?

Don’t forget to read the first three installments of this story, and tune in tomorrow for a must-read Unclean Legacy flashback: “The Blessing Beyond Price!”

An Unclean Legacy: “Glorious Unicorn Santrieste”

Once upon a time, they say, Gargamel the sorcerer bound the Devil between five peaks.

The people of that mountainous region were not well-pleased. Once-fertile land lay now permanently in shadow under the Devil’s back. His thrashing brought earthquakes. His cords and tail cut scores across the land.

The locals were human.

They adapted.

They built a new city on the Devil’s rich stomach. They used his bonds as bridges. They learned to tune out his tempting whispers, his ear-piercing wails, his threats and his promises.

Life went on.

Then Santrieste the unicorn came.

He was beautiful, was Santrieste. His eyes were the color of smoked glass. His mane was wild and his heart was clean.

His feet clicked and clacked on the stone as he walked along the mountain ledges.

“Free me,” said the Devil.

Santrieste twisted his head. He eyed the Devil. His nostrils flared, as if to say: Why should I do that, enemy of the world?

“It is not right,” said the Devil, “that any being should be thus chained.”

The unicorn hesitated. These words struck him as terribly just, and it was not in his nature to flee from the truth. He lowered his head. He whuffed.

There is a price for all such acts, he said. Why should I pay it?

And the Devil’s answer was cold and clean and it cut the unicorn’s soul down to the bone: “Because you are here, and because you can.”

So Santrieste reached the bond on the Devil’s left arm, and with one stroke of his horn he cut it away.

We do not know how Montechristien Gargamel came into his power. His origins are a mystery. How such an ungainly, strange, and immoral man could rise so swiftly to prominence puzzles even the greatest scholars of our time. Of his life once established in Castle Gargamel, however, certain facts are known.

He took to wife the Lady Yseult Gargamel, one of the great beauties of his day; and though many a rival pressed for evidence that he’d bewitched or stolen her, none was ever found. They had and loved six children of their flesh, until the seventh, Elisabet, killed Yseult with the complications of her birth. Each of these children was a prodigy, possessed of astonishing talents. When at last Montechristien stumbled towards the grave, the talents of his children turned against their siblings, every hand against the other, until at last they could dispose of the matter of their legacy.

This is the third installment of the story of that time.

It is Manfred’s tenth birthday.

The children stand in the old cathedral by Castle Gargamel.

Manfred strives to look solemn as Tomas sets new armor on him, piece by piece. Yet when the sunlight bursts through the broken roof and gets into his eyes, he loses his composure. He casts his still-naked arm before his eyes and he looks down. There he sees Elisabet, who is seven, staring up at him in awe, and he cannot resist a tease.

Ninjas don’t get to wear armor, you know.”

Elisabet, in her capacity as a ninja, really wants to say something. She really wants to tongue-lash him. But this is Manfred’s day. So she doesn’t. Instead she turns as red as a beet as she keeps all the words she’d like to say inside.

“Hee hee,” says Manfred. Then Tomas cinches him with the padding straps. Manfred’s eyes bug out. He sticks out his tongue at Tomas, retracts it, and reassumes the saintly demeanor in which he was becoming armored.

“You’ll have to make an oath,” Tomas says.

He is looking in a book. It is an old book of spells.

“An oath?” Manfred says.

“Something to tell the world who you are,” Tomas says.

“I will not shed innocent blood,” Manfred says. And there is a shine to him as he speaks.

“So be it,” says Tomas.

He affixes the white brassards to Manfred’s arms. They glow with the seals of saints and demons as they close.

“The rest you may remove,” Tomas says. “But these shall never leave you, nor let you break your oath.”

And Manfred lowers his eyes.

“Oh!” cries Elisabet, and looks south towards the door; for there, in the entrance to the cathedral, walking gently and clickily on the broken stone, there is the unicorn. He has come in answer to the ritual that Tomas has worked; in response to the summoning magic of Montechristien Gargamel; and in payment for a debt.

He is the most beautiful thing that Manfred has ever seen.

The unicorn ignores Elisabet, save for a sidelong glance and gentle whicker. He walks past Tomas without a glance. He pushes with his great head (but not his horn) against Manfred’s side.

“He’s mine?” Manfred asks. His heart is in his throat. His voice is yet unbroken.

Tomas looks in the book again. He skims it for any contraindications.

“He’s yours,” Tomas concludes, and he slams the book shut.

Looking into the unicorn’s eyes, Manfred knows his name.

Santrieste,” Manfred says.

And Manfred swings up onto the unicorn’s back, and he rides out into the lands of fable; and the unicorn is swift and Manfred’s heart leaps seven times with glee; and he casts an exultant glance upwards to the angel that sits on his right shoulder, proud of what he has chosen to become.

The angel is frowning.

“What?” Manfred says. He laughs. “I’ve won!”

“There is no virtue in you now,” says Manfred’s angel. “Only chains.”

An Unclean Legacy


Glorious Unicorn Santrieste

It does not sink in for Manfred for some time what he has done.

It is more than eight months later that Tomas, in a fit of rage, shoves Manfred from his chair. Manfred rises.

Manfred is thinking: I must not hit him. Tomas is fragile. His nose will explode. It’s funny but it’s bad when someone’s nose explodes.

And then it is with a strange sick feeling that Manfred realizes that he has no choice. He has given himself to a unicorn, bound himself soul to soul to something holy, and he is bound forever by his oath.

“It doesn’t matter what I decide,” says Manfred.

Tomas looks blankly at him.

Manfred walks out. He goes to the stable. He finds Santrieste. He stares at the unicorn, face to face.

The unicorn tosses his head.

Shall we ride?

That’s what Manfred thinks the unicorn is saying. He’s a ten year old boy, and not the Devil, so his grasp of equine is not perfect.

It’s sunny out, indicates Santrieste.

“How could you?” Manfred asks.

There is a pause.

“How could you?”

And now Manfred is crying.

Tears blind him.

He does not see the reaction of the glorious magical beautiful unicorn Santrieste, which is, quite simply, Huh?

Thus we have seen the truth of Manfred before his fall; and something of him after. But he is not the only troubled heir returning to Castle Gargamel.

Tune in tomorrow for the next breathtaking chapter of An Unclean Legacy: “The Soulless Girl!”

An Unclean Legacy: “The Fallen Knight”

Bent and hunched and frail is Montechristien Gargamel. His hair is gray. In a mere few days, he will be dead; and no longer can he keep the power of Castle Gargamel out of his children’s hands.

“They are like maggots,” says Gargamel.

He holds his spyglass to one eye. He stares off into the woods with it.

He is watching for their arrival.

“Maggots, gathering to the body of the dead.”

His daughter Violet is with him already. She has been with him since the omens began.

“Are they here?” Violet asks.

Violet looks out into the woods. She has no spyglass. She can see nothing.

“If I did not need them—” mutters Gargamel darkly.

He sighs. He shakes his head. Then he nods.

“They are coming,” he says. “Each and every last. I will be in the tower. Keep them from killing one another, Violet. Keep them alive, until the Devil comes.”

Violet squares her shoulders. She lifts her chin. She grits her teeth.

“I will,” she promises.

“Huh,” snorts Gargamel. The subtext is “Good luck!”

The old man half-stomps, half-shuffles off.

An Unclean Legacy


“The Fallen Knight”

The first of the six is riding from the forest now. His armor is white save for the arms of it. Those are stained crimson. His face is austere. He rides a beast that is both like a horse and like a serpent. Its head is scaled and its ears are flat. He carries a spear with a wrought iron head. His name is Manfred.

Violet descends from the battlements of the castle. She walks down the winding steps. She reaches the gate.

The tops of the trees are shifting and moving in an irregular fashion. This catches Violet’s attention as Manfred rides closer.

Violet lifts a finger. “Ah—”

The second of the six is in the trees. She is colored as the shadows of the autumn, seven shades of dark that shift among themselves. She is not human in appearance, but rather amorphous, with twelve great long limbs that lengthen and shorten as she moves. She has no face. Her name is Elisabet.

Manfred sees her reflection in Violet’s eyes.

Two of Elisabet’s limbs rush past Manfred. They anchor in the ground with an audible “thoock” noise. They begin to pull her closer.

Three of her limbs still cling to trees in the forest behind them. The trees bend down, like apostles bowing before their God.

Seven limbs rush for Manfred, falling towards him in that very fashion that shadows stretch at night.

And . . .

Once upon a time, there was a glorious and noble knight named Manfred. He wore white armor and he rode a unicorn. He wrestled evil and often he would win; but never would he kill.

He did not kill because of an oath that bound him. It was an oath inviolate by sorcery. It was an enchantment woven into the brassards that he wore and that he could not remove. It was an oath that made him safe.

And sometimes he would tell the women who swooned for him, “I do not wish it so. For it is one thing to be a man who will not kill, and another to be a man who can not. And my arms are far too heavy in our bed.” But what is done is done. What is true is true. He could not kill.

One day, Manfred left the world for a time, and worked great and horrid magics there. Now the oath is gone and the unicorn has abandoned him and Manfred has learned to kill.

Manfred is broad but he is quick.

As Elisabet plunges towards him, as Violet lifts her finger in dismay, Manfred raises his spear and sweeps it around. He tangles it in the shadows and the shadows with it. He slams it forward into the ground, dragging Elisabet along, and as she thumps into the earth Elisabet yelps loudly. Tiny stars and birds spin around the lump that is her head.

“Ninjas,” curses Manfred.

He spits.

“!” says Elisabet, angrily. Her forward tendrils relax their grip. The trees behind Manfred draw straight. They pull Elisabet back, yanking Manfred and his spear into the air with her. The horse-snake rears and screams. Elisabet wraps around Manfred, drowning him in black.

Violet has time to say just one thing, but it is fortunately well-spoken.

“Father would just resurrect him, you know.”

There is an outraged spluttering sound from Elisabet. Her grip grows slack and Manfred becomes visible through the shadow.

“But he is—”

Manfred sets his palms against the shadow and extends his arms. The crimson brassards glow red. Elisabet decoheses and Manfred falls to the forest floor.

He stands up, creakily. He dusts himself off. He picks up his spear.

Manfred looks up.

Elisabet is still sputtering. “Look at him,” she says. “And his horse!”

Manfred grunts.

“It is our father’s wish,” says Violet, “to have seven living children when he dies.”

Elisabet sulkily gathers herself into the shape of a black-clad woman. Her skin and eyes become visible as her ninjutsu fades.

“Fine,” she says.

“Fine,” Violet agrees.

“You’ll regret it,” Elisabet says, “when he kills everybody and takes father’s power.”

Manfred walks back towards the castle. After a moment, Elisabet hurries after him. When Manfred reaches his steed and takes its reins in his hand, he stops for a moment. He turns. He asks Elisabet, in the low thunder of his voice, “Is that, then, what you would have me do?”

And Elisabet flushes, and her face works through many emotions, and she looks very young.

“And won’t you?” she says.

Manfred tugs on the reins of his horse-snake. He walks forward towards the castle.

“Not today.”

Is Elisabet really a ninja?

Was Manfred actually a knight?

Was his unicorn named something cool or was it one of those stupid ‘Pennyflowers’-type names?

Tune in tomorrow for an Unclean Legacy flashback that you can’t afford to miss: “Manfred’s Day!”

Oublient: “The Dream of Faith”

The S. S. Oublient rocks and weaves in space.

Candace’s fingers dance over the controls. “It’s the comet, Captain,” she says. “It’s spamming our navigation servers with a denial of service attack!”

“Damn it!” snaps Captain Bart. “Throw up a firewall and take course alpha!”

Candace hesitates, then slams her fist down on the red glowing FIREWALL button. There is a clunk and a clank deep in the ship.

“It’s jammed! We’re losing web presence!”

“Roll!”

Candace spins the ship. It rolls in a great arc through space. Bart and Candace are slammed back and forth. Sparks jump from the control panels.

“We’re almost out of its gravitational well,” Candace says.

Bart grips the arms of his chair.

“Pull!”

The ship wobbles away from the comet and towards a great blue-and-orange world.

Slowly, Bart and Candace relax.

“Damage report,” Bart says.

“It’s bad, Captain. We’re going to need to put down on the planet for repairs.”

“Impossible,” says Bart. “The Prime Directive—”

Candace looks wry. “Captain, I use the word ‘need’ advisedly.”

“Ah,” Bart says. “Landing inevitable?”

“Landing inevitable,” Candace agrees. “Power cells are rapidly approaching deprecation.”

“Right,” Bart says.

He straightens.

“Dress uniforms, then. Let’s look sharp for the natives.”

Time passes.

“I’ve got the planet on the line, sir.”

Bart stands. His shiny blue carapace-like uniform gleams.

“Citizens of Cebulai,” he says. “I am Captain Bart of the starship Oublient. Requesting permission to land.”

There is static.

“Working on visual,” Candace mutters.

A mellifluous female voice answers. “Oublient, Oublient, permission denied. This is a class-A restricted planet. Unbelievers are forbidden diplomatic and other contact.”

“This is an emergency situation,” says Bart.

“Permission denied, Oublient.”

“If you will not grant us permission to land,” says Bart, “we will be forced into landing without it. If diplomatic contact is forbidden, surely diplomatic incidents are even less desirable?”

The static on the viewscreen momentarily resolves into the image of a breathtaking woman in one of the demure, modest outfits prevalent in the distant future. Raven hair hangs down her back, and her eyes are green.

“Captain Bart, we cannot comply.”

Bart gives her his best Captain’s smile. “Surely—”

The woman bites her lip. He can hear her indecision in the static as the image flickers out.

In a soft, low whisper, she says, “Coordinates beta-alpha-78-odango. Tell no one of this.” Then, louder, she says, “Oublient, Oublient, permission denied.”

“Well,” says Bart, smoothing his uniform. “Let’s go—landing!

The ship plummets through the sky onto a landing pad. It burns red, then white, then red, then ceases to burn; and its landing is almost gentle, though the whole ship shudders.

“What’s the web like out there?”

“Primitive, Captain,” Candace says. “Spam subintelligent, micropayments inactive, and an extremely high signal to noise ratio. It is not yet September.”

“Local adware contained?”

“We’re not going to leak, Captain. No worries.”

“Then let’s go—diplomacy!

The e-ramp descends from the ship. The lights of the landing field flick on. Captain Bart descends, with Lieutenant Candace behind him.

There are military and diplomatic personnel gathered in the launch area to greet them. Bart scans the group. The woman he saw earlier stands among them, but has shrunk back in silence.

One man steps forward. He is clothed in formal black.

“I am Spaceport Reverend Price,” he says.

“Captain Bart,” says Bart. “I apologize for this intrusion upon your world. If you give us an opportunity to make repairs and download updates to our power cells—”

S.R. Price holds up his hand.

“It is of no matter,” he says. “I see that you are unenlightened folk. Be welcome to our world. Perhaps you shall be the vehicle by which the Good News spreads to your people.”

“Pardon?” Bart asks.

“In our Utopian society,” S.R. Price explains, “we long ago realized that accepting the basic premises of fundamentalist evangelical religion was best for believer, nonbeliever, and agnostic alike. We are a futuristic planet in this regard.”

“Oh!” says Bart, surprised. “I see.”

“It is our highest mission to bring all peoples into alignment with the love and mercy of God.”

There is a burst of static from S.R. Price’s lapel. There is a silver button there. Price presses the button and listens.

The button is a transceiver. Someone on the far end says, “I believe that God has spoken to me. I believe that He knows, as I know, as you know, that it is time for the wickedness of New Babel to end. Please, if you are a good and just man, you know that you must launch the spaceport missiles at once.”

“Of course,” S.R. Price says.

He gestures to one of the waiting crowd, who scurries off.

“It has led to a creation of an enlightened moral culture where all people come together under the blessed love of the Almighty,” S.R. Price says.

“We are eager to know more of this culture,” says Bart. “On Earth, there have been many attempts to realize a practical fundamentalist evangelical government, but they have so far proven unsuccessful.”

“Excellent,” says S.R. Price.

Bart looks at him. He looks at Bart. There is a silence.

S.R. Price says, “One of the principal moral tenets of our religion is the understanding that first contact is only acceptable for purposes of reproduction.”

“Ah,” says Bart.

Music begins to play.

Boom-shaka-boom-shaka-shaka-boom-alleluia.

Boom-shaka-boom-boom-shaka-shaka-boom-shaka-gloria excelsis!

“May we, um, I mean, do we, um, who?” Bart ventures.

But two of the crowd are already advancing towards them. One is the raven-haired woman, smiling softly, and even now taking Bart’s hand. The other is a rugged square-jawed military hero. He smiles at Candace.

Candace, fiddling with her iCorder, does not notice the advancing man. She mumbles, “I’m not picking up any missile launch, Captain—”

Then she looks up.

“Oh!”

Candace’s eyes are round, and not displeased.

“Let’s go—smoochies,” suaves Captain Bart.

Boom-shaka-shaka-boom-all-e-e-luuuu-ia.

The woman leads Bart into the spaceport seraglio. She closes the door behind them, in a room filled with sparkly silver pillows and gossamer curtains.

“Do you need me to introduce you to the Earth-concept called love?” Bart asks. “Or is your culture . . . advanced?”

“Shh,” the woman says, flatly.

She takes out a small device. It has antennae. It beeps twice.

“All right,” she says. “We’re safe here.”

“No smoochies?”

Bart’s voice is profoundly disappointed.

“My name is Jasmine,” the woman says. “I am part of the space rebellion. I stood up for you. I guided you in. I will be punished for it in due course, no doubt—but what is done is done. You are here. Therefore, I must beg your help.”

“You’re . . . not a fundamentalist evangelical?”

There is the edge of a growl in her voice. “I’m Baptist,” she says. “I’m one of the real fundamentalist evangelicals. I believe in the real Bible that our civilization has so totally abandoned. The so-called Christians running this planet have begun reading their own beliefs into the Bible, completely forgetting its true meaning. That’s why they think Satan lives in the heart of this planet, when in fact he lives in the hearts of those who have forsaken God!”

“Oh,” says Bart.

“There are not many of us,” Jasmine says. “We are oppressed and must practice the art of Baptist ninjutsu to survive. For our holy war against evil, they curse us as enemies of the state. We need you, Bart. We need your technology. We need your space empire. Let us be frank. We need your nuclear robots.”

Bart looks sad.

Bart sits down amidst the shiny silver cushions.

“I knew this civilization was too utopian to be true,” he says. “But . . . I can’t help you. The Prime Directive insists on a strict separation of Church and Fleet.”

“Nothing?”

“No robots. No technology. I can only give you smoochies,” Bart says.

Jasmine looks down.

“I do not smooch those who are so mired in secular ways that they will not fight for Christ,” she says. “Though I wish . . .”

Jasmine shakes it off. “We must pray that this first contact miraculously results in a child without our actually having sex,” she decides. Then she walks out into the dark.

“But I like sex with alien women,” sulks Bart. He sighs. He waits a while, then stands up, and goes back to the ship.

“Hi, Bart!” carols Candace.

“Don’t rub it in,” he says.

“These are the sexiest fundamentalists ever,” Candace purrs. “So . . . confident of the will of . . . God.”

“Fine.”

She looks at him. “Aww,” she says. “No blessed event?”

“We totally sexed up the first contact for reproductive purposes and without sensual pleasure,” says Bart. “She’ll probably have octuplets. Babies everywhere. They’ll call me Great Father Bart. What’s the patch status?”

“72% complete—hey.”

“What?”

Candace points. Bart turns.

Jasmine is out on the landing field. There are other ninjas with her, most likely ninjas that accepted baptism as an adult and joined the priesthood of believers in accordance with Biblical law. And striding towards them is a man clad in the robes of the federal judiciary.

“It’s always this way,” sighs Candace. “We’re a flashpoint for cultural tension.”

“I am Judge Simeon!” declares the judge. “For your erroneous teachings God has delivered you into my hands!”

“We have never deviated from the law of God!” shouts Jasmine defiantly.

The judge falls into stance. He channels his Chi through his lifetime tenure—an impeccable defensive power! “I will show you my judicial activism fist!”

“Status?” Bart snaps.

“92% complete,” says Candace. “And frozen.”

“Hurry it up,” Bart says. “Hit the side of the ship or something.”

Candace thumps the console. “Download accelerating! 93%! 94%! 95%!”

Three ninjas circle the judge. (They are not here referred to as Baptist ninjas, because, while they consider themselves Baptists, Jasmine’s ninjas are hardened assassins who do not believe in justification by faith. That disqualifies them!) The ninjas employ their ninja magic without success. They attempt a united attack; Simeon, contemptuously, casts them stumbling back.

“She’s going to die,” Bart says.

A cold wind blows.

One ninja leaps. Judge Simeon puts his fist through the ninja’s brain.

“Damn it,” Bart swears. “The federal judiciary is completely out of control!”

“96%. 97% . . . 96%. 97 . . . 96%.”

“Damn it.”

Another ninja dies. Bart has a look of agony. Then he steps forward. He takes the blaster from his side. He concentrates. He takes aim.

“Captain,” Candace says. “The Prime Directive . . .”

Sweating and trembling, Bart fires. The weapon disrupts Judge Simeon’s Chi aura, stunning him for almost a second.

“Run, Jasmine!” Bart shouts. “Run!”

Judge Simeon’s war cry shakes the spaceport. Several ninja freeze in fear.

“97%. 98% . . . There!”

“It just skipped over the last two percent?”

“Come on! Let’s go!”

The S.S. Oublient lurches upwards into the air. Judge Simeon leaps after it, jumping onto a wall, then a girder, then the roof of a building, and finally leaping with one fist extended before him towards the ship itself.

Engage hyperdrive!” snaps Bart.

Candace presses a button. The ship zooms away.

“What the hell kind of name is Oublient?” shouts Judge Simeon, as he falls back towards the planet.

Bart sits, limply.

They fly in space.

“It tested well against focus groups,” Bart says, after a while.

They fly in space.

“Was it worth it?” Candace asks. “To violate our most sacred oath, just to save a woman?”

“I don’t know,” Bart says. “She . . . made me wonder, you know. For a while, I thought . . . maybe there is a God, and maybe he does call people to fight against a Satan who lives not in the center of a planet but in people’s hearts.”

“Maybe,” says Candace.

There’s a space phenomenon ahead. Comets are flying from all over the sector to smash together into an ever-larger and ever-hotter mass.

“It’s the birth of a sun,” Candace says quietly.

“Wow,” says Bart.

“Google page rank, totally off the scale. Network activity, practically at sigop levels. Cold fusion is go,” Candace says. “I’m kicking the readings into a log file for the Fleet.”

Machines click. The iCorder whirrs. Something, somewhere, beeps.

Whoosh! The new sun ignites.

Bart and Candace stare out the window of their space ship for a while, and wonder.

The Weather Channel Goes the Way of MTV

The ninjas ghost across the screen. They run on rooftops under gray skies. They wear black.

Each ninja is labelled. One ninja has the current weather in Ontario on his chest. He is the 23 degrees fair ninja. Another ninja has the current weather in West Palm Beach. He is the 38 degrees sunny ninja.

West Palm Beach ninja looks, as he runs from roof to roof, like he would rather be the 23 degrees fair ninja, but then a ten-blade menorah sword rises through the roof under the 23 degrees fair ninja and murders him bloodily. Then suddenly being 38 degrees sunny is not so bad.

“I am Kang,” says Kang, casting the ninja’s corpse off of his ten-blade menorah sword as if it were no more than a single drop of blood. “Let me show you my invincible—”

Dubbed over him, “TORNADO WARNING”

“fist.”

“No,” says a voice. It is Ayela, stepping forward. She is the 42 degrees rainy ninja queen.

“No?” Kang asks. “You do not wish to see my invincible—”

Dubbed over him, “TORNADO WARNING”

“fist?”

“We studied from the same master,” says Ayela. “But he taught me the”

Dubbed over her, “FLOOD ALERT”

“style.”

“It is a powerful style,” concedes Kang. “Let us fight to determine whose style is a more accurate severe weather outlook for the people of New York City.”

“I cannot,” says Ayela. “For if I should kill you, then I would kill the only living master of the”

“TORNADO WARNING”

“fist, and then my own style would be forever incomplete.”

Kang considers.

“I cannot let your ninjas run over the rooftops like this indefinitely. It is keeping me awake.”

“I did not intend to disturb your rest,” says Ayela. “That is why my ninjas run so quietly.”

“To a master of”

“TORNADO WARNING”

“kung fu, even the tread of a mouse makes an appalling racket!”

“Hm,” says Ayela. “Then I do not see how removing the ninjas would improve your situation.”

“It is true,” mourns Kang. “I was merely lashing out. It was a desperate cry for attention. I did not mean to deprive the citizens of Ontario of their regular weather update.”

“Death is as light as a feather,” says Ayela. She goes over to the fallen ninja, whose mangled chest now displays 24 degrees badly hurt. “Duty is heavy as a mountain.”

The ninjas run across the screen, but now Kang runs with them.

The Lake in the Office

Shelley is an ordinary person. She stands thirty feet from the shadows and forty feet from the lake of honey mustard. She has a gun.

There’s a blur. There’s a masked shadow. She points the gun. “Freeze, ” she says.

The ninja freezes.

“Jump,” she says. “Backwards. Into the honey mustard.”

The ninja hesitates. Then he leaps, somersaulting backwards, and falls into the sauce.

Time passes. It happens again.

“Dunking ninjas into delicious sauces,” explains Dr. Morgan, on the television above, “is an enjoyable but strenuous activity.”

A ninja appears. Shelley’s eyes glint. It does not wait for her to speak. It jumps back into the sauce.

“It’s profitable,” Dr. Morgan says, “to consider the equilibrium point at which dunking ninjas returns as much energy—in terms of enjoyment and added company productivity—as it consumes. If your company dunks ninjas more often than this, the dunking is actually a net drain on your company’s wealth and human resources. If it dunks ninjas with less vigor, one incurs an important opportunity cost.”

There’s a fierce squawking. It’s a parrot. It’s on a pirate’s shoulder. He’s sailing the lake of honey mustard sauce. There’s the creaking of the ship and a distant, ominous shuffling. Shelley raises her voice a little. It’s flat. It’s bleak.

“Don’t come any closer,” she says. “I’m way past my ninja equilibrium. I don’t have time for pirates.”

“Arr,” whispers a voice. It fades into the distance.

“Or zombies,” she says.

The shuffling recedes.

“The traditional method for dunking ninjas,” Dr. Morgan says, “involves a gun. One points the gun at the ninja. One tells the ninja to jump. This is a hazardous method and is not appropriate for children under eight.”

A ninja appears.

Shelley says, quietly, “How old do I look to you?”

The ninja hesitates. His voice is night and poison. “Thirty-eight,” he says.

Her hand trembles.

“But I can’t see too clearly, ma’am,” the ninja hastens to point out. “On account of the mask.”

She looks down. “Pathetic,” she says.

The ninja inches closer. The gun rises like a prayer.

“Just jump,” Shelley says.

The ninja jumps.

“The maximum dunking rate for this method,” Dr. Morgan says, “is three ninjas per two seconds, but this is not sustainable. The risks are too great. The rewards, too small. An employee forced to dunk ninjas at this rate is certain to crack. The proper dunking equilibrium for this method is seven ninjas per hour.”

Shelley smirks.

A ninja appears. The gun snaps up. Shelley is wild-eyed.

The ninja licks his lips. “We could work out some kind of deal,” he says. “I could teach you ninjutsu.”

“Jump,” she whispers.

“This should be sustained,” Dr. Morgan advises, “at most three hours in a workplace environment. If one assumes a five-day work week and two weeks of vacation per year, this yields a solid 5250 annual dunkings per employee—although a serious hobbyist, working from home, might manage as much as five times that.”

A ninja flickers into existence.

“Please,” he says. His accent is light. “I’m allergic to honey-mustard. I just want to go home.”

“Home.”

“I have a home,” he says. “It has great ninjutsu power. I keep my swords there. And my two children. And my ninja cat.”

“How many times,” she asks, “have you . . .”

Then she shakes her head. “No,” she says. “Jump.”

He says, quietly, “Seven hundred and thirty, this year.”

He jumps.

“There are more efficient methods, of course,” says Dr. Morgan. “If you have serious ninja-dunking needs, you might consider the Ninja Slide. This distorts that strange space that ninjas teleport through. The ninja slides into the tangy sauce, throws down a pinch of powder, and vanishes! The cycle then repeats. Ninja Slides repay two minutes of weekly maintenance per dunk with a continuous harvest of pleasure, allowing for more than 62400 dunkings per year regardless of the ninja supply.”

Shelley’s hand trembles.

“You look tired, ma’am.”

“Jump,” she says.

He jumps.

A girl-ninja appears. She jumps.

A ninja appears. He jumps.

A ninja appears.

“Damn it,” shouts Shelley, and the gun begins to fire, and it does not stop until there are black-clad corpses everywhere and she is sobbing on the floor and a ninja’s hand is cold and gentle against her neck.

“It is all right,” he says. “Madness is a thing all people know.”