Kill The Messenger-Part Three

As promised, here is part three of Kill the Messenger, where our hero‘s mettle is tested and the fight betwixt Classical and Abstract art continues. Please enjoy!

This is dishonorable!” said the Amber Thane, much too loudly, in Paul’s opinion.

You must admit, it’s damnably clever,” appropriately whispered Dominic.

How else can we move around the camp?” asked Paul with a lopsided purple mouth.

They shambled amongst the Abstract troops who were loping, oozing, hopping, shuffling, and otherwise moving towards the sounds of combat.

Paul thought it was damnably clever of him to disguise all of them as Abstract troops. His less than classical training in art assured them that they would not be recognized. Dominic was impressed with his ability to ape their enemy’s style, and Paul was thankful that his lack of rendering skills had a practical application.

Where did they take your blade?” Dominic asked the Amber Thane.
The Knight scanned the camp with his asymmetrical eyes, squinted and pointed to a large tent-like structure in the back of the camp.

It must be there!” he declared.

Thinking of the Thanes’s terrible eyesight, Paul asked, “Are you sure?”

Do you think me a fool!” challenged the Amber Thane.

Fool was not the first word that sprung to Paul’s mind but Dominic quietly interjected, “I’m sure your squire but wishes to speed your return to the front.”

Of course! I was about to say something very much like that,” said the Amber Thane.

What are you three doing?”

They turned to see an Abstract, it was difficult to tell if was an officer, Paul wondered if they even had any like a chain of command. In any case, this one was large, easily eight or nine feet tall. All of them froze, unsure of what to do, though Paul saw the Thane’s fist, or what passed as a fist curing up.

We’re about to fold the edge of the inside layer,” croaked Paul in his raspiest voice, the one he used when there was no caller ID on a call and wasn’t sure if was someone he knew.

The large figure stared at them, or it would’ve if it had a face, for a beat and said, “Then get going.”

Yeah,” Paul wheezed as they moved on to the back of the camp.

An entrance as a challenge to find but they soon did and slipped in. The Amber Thane’s sword was leaning against something in the center of the tent. This was something non-abstract and definitely not impressionistic. It was a glass sphere, fitted on bottom and top with metallic caps and filled with a clear liquid with a pale yellowish tint. Attached to it was an a tangle of what looked like cables connected to a clock face that was draped over a tree.

By the canvas…” said Dominic in a hushed voice.

What?” asked Paul and the Thane simultaneously, though for different reasons.

It’s Hieronymus’ Solvent,” replied the soldier.

Whose what?” asked Paul who looked closely; there was a subtle scent of pine and licorice.
Dominic looks at his companions, his vertical eyes gone wide, and said, “The jar from Hieronymus Bosch’s lost painting, Revelations.”

And…” inquired Paul.

The jar was held aloft in the hands of the Four Horsemen,” said the Amber Thane softly, as he looked closely at it, squinting his one tiny eye and the other lopsided one.
That chilled Paul, not from what was said but the fact the Amber Thane did not shout.

So, what’s in there, a mix of plague, war, famine and…” he asked.

You are a simple soul, the last one is pestilence,” remarked the Amber Thane as he patted Paul on the head.

No one knows, but it is said that whatever it contains, it means the end of all things,” replied Dominic.
They all stood there for a moment, just staring at each other. Finally, Paul spoke.

Well, there’s only one thing we can do.”

Agreed,” said the Amber Thane.

We need to steal it,” said Paul, while the Amber Thane said, “Enter the battle and die as men!”
“What?” they both said to each other.

It is the only honorable course!” proclaimed the Amber Thane.

How is it honorable to let everyone die?” countered Paul, who thought this a very fair question.

There is nothing to be done in the face of this infernal device! Better to die in combat than wait submissively for oblivion to take us all!” said the Thane and with that he took up his blade, unsheathed it and electricity arced along the edge.

Paul feeling as though he had nothing to lose at this point (quite true) felt it was time for a bold/foolish action.

I didn’t think someone like Major Veronika would love a coward,” said Paul with more confidence than he truthfully felt.

The sharp end of the power blade didn’t pierce his throat but it certainly could move into that neighborhood with little difficulty.

A poor choice of last words,” said the Thane.

Dominic held his hands up and suggested, “I think, perhaps, that the

stress of the situation has addled his brainpan.”
Paul breathed in and said, “No, it hasn’t. You want to run away and die, then don’t call it bravery. We need to do something about this jar, if we’re going to die either way lets try to save everybody.”

This last statement hung in the air. Sounds of distant battle could be heard, with the tick tock of the draped clock moving in inexorably towards their own doomsday. The Amber Thane sheathed his power blade and nodded.

You are far more daring and less simple that I gave you credit for my Squire,” pronounced the Thane.
It was both praise and an insult, but Paul also knew it was not the time to quibble.

What is the plan?” asked Dominic.

First, they shed their abstract disguises, the Amber Thane was especially pleased to do that, and they looked at the tangle of cables connecting the clock to Hieronymus’ Solvent. The Amber Thane wanted to cut them all but both Paul and Dominic persuaded him that would likely set off whatever the Abstracts has set up.

Paul had seen enough movies to know that choosing the correct wire to connect was tricky business and often was cut in the last few seconds. But the characters in those movies were often experts in this sort of things and had the good will of the screenwriter on their side.

Paul’s only experience with explosives was throwing firecrackers as a boy and he was fairly certain that if he had some mysterious creator who was ultimately in his corner, he or she was of a mercurial nature as her or she put him in increasingly dangerous situations.

So moving it is as dangerous as severing those tendrils?” asked Dominic.

I don’t really know, but probably, yeah…” replied Paul.

Damn those Gloppy Devils!” cried the Amber Thane, “They vex us even in their absence!”

It was at this point that three abstract fighters entered the tent, they resembled armored figures but their proportions were decidedly asymmetrical.

Seize them,” said the middle one with a voice like wood breaking in an echo chamber.

Whatever Paul thought of the Amber Thane, he was a furious warrior, he leapt into action before the enemy warrior ended his somewhat predictable command. Electricity could faintly be heard sizzling bellowed alternating war cries and insults as he sliced through his foes.
It was so impressive, that it had the unfortunate, in Paul’s opinion, of attracting more Abstract soldiers. While it might worry Paul, and it did, it seemed to delight the Amber Thane who was jubilantly carving up all comers. He spread oddly hued viscera everywhere, and grinned while doing it.

Dominic grabbed Paul by the shoulder and said, “Whatever plan you have, now it the time to set in motion, your Thane can only last so long!”

Indeed, while the Amber Thane was clearly having the time of his life, numerically, it was simply a matter of time before the Abstracts overwhelmed him. Paul looked at the rat’s nest of cables and wished he could know which one to cut. If they only have something to move it…

Dominic, paint a steel ball around all this,” Paul said, waving his hands to indicate the jar, wires and clock.

But that won’t protect us!” replied the artist solider, “It’s simplify blow apart!”

Trust me!” Paul said a grin.

Dominic quickly and expertly created an iron sphere around Hieronymus’ Solvent, the snarl of cables, and the droopy clock. The metal had a grey metallic sheen, symmetrically spaced bolts. It radiated strength and heft and looked as if it had always existed and always would.

It will not hold for long,” said Dominic as he shook his head.

It doesn’t need to,” said Paul who took out his own brush.

While ray guns were his favorite thing to draw as a boy, there were several other things that filled the margins of his school notebooks and he now painted one of them. The tent ripped and tore as the thing Paul created stood. Paul knew that he would never be the artist that Dominic was but if there was something he knew how to render, it was a robot.

Candy apple red and silver, it stood fifteen feet tall with antennae on its head that arched electricity back and forth.

Clearly, this did not go unnoticed. Dominic’s eye went wide. The

Abstracts froze, fighting stopped and craned what passed for their heads up. Even the Amber Thane paused, though he saw an opportunity to take several heads and did so, but he did so without any martial proclamations.

RX-13, the name he gave to his creation, reached down and picked up the iron sphere and spun his arm round and round until it was a blur.

Five, four, three, two, NOW!” shouted Paul!

On NOW, RX-13 released the payload and it shot straight into the air with the sound of loud whistling that faded as it got smaller and smaller until both object and noise disappeared. A pause followed, then a thundering explosion. What, at least to Paul’s eyes, looked like a glorious sunset blossomed, though it was very high in the sky and not at the horizon, but no less glorious for being in the wrong place.

The Amber Thane, and Dominic mopped up what was left of the Abstract forces around them. Paul did little actual fighting, but directed RX-13 who took care of a large share of the foes. As the Forty Seventh Pigmenteers over ran the camp with a great variety of weapons (too numerous to list here), the battle and day was won.

Paul, Dominic and the Amber Thane fielded many congratulations from the troops, and RX-13 was justifiably ogled and inquired about, what

was it exactly, how did he think of such a weapon, would he teach them to make one?

The sounds of celebration suddenly faded and Major Veronika parted the troops and approached the Amber Thane. He smiled and it was the happiest Paul had ever seen him. Leaning in, the Major whispered something in his ear. The Thane went a little pale.

Are those terms acceptable,” said the Major. It was clear that there was only one possible response.

For you, and you only,” he replied.

And with that they kissed and there were many cheers, hats tossed in the air and huzzahs.

RX-13 faded, as creations that are made in battle were want to do, their purpose fulfilled. The camp was soon made classical, as Paul was told not to say it was non-abstract, and things settled down.

Until, of course, the celebration. Huge kegs of beer and wine were created, long tables, bent under the weight of delicious food and songs were sung. A huge bonfire was lit and everything was cast in a warm orange glow.

Paul was enjoying telling the story of Hieronymus’ Solvent, not for the first time that evening when Dominic tapped him on the shoulder.

The Major wants a word with you,” Dominic said, as he led him to the command tent.

Major Veronika and the Amber Thane stood with goblets in their hands and Paul and Dominic were each handed one.

I wished to thank you both personally, for your daring and innovated rescue,” she said as she raised her wine, “To perspective!”

To perspective!” everyone echoed and drank.

Veronika glanced at the Thane, who sighed.

Squire, you have proven yourself beyond what could be asked of you, I must confess, far more than I had any reason to expect,” said the Amber Thane.

It was, without question, a backhanded complement, but it was perhaps the kindest thing the Amber Thane had ever said to him so Paul murmured, “Thank you.”

Such gallantry warrants reward,” said the Major.

Yes of course,” harrumphed the Thane, picking up a scroll from the table.

Unrolling it, he squinted, making an unpleasant face. Major Veronika cleared her throat; a small sound, Paul nearly missed it. However it had a visceral effect on the Thane. He sighed and produced a brown leather case, opened it, and put on a pair of black rimmed, round spectacles.

The Major smiled and it looked as if the Thane blushed. Paul thought that such an absurd notion that it must be true, as most things in the borough were. Clearing his throat, the Thane spake, “Kneel, Paul of the Borough.”

I’m sorry, what?” asked Paul, who could think of no happy outcome of such a request.

The Thane’s eye narrowed and awkwardness flooded the tent with a preternatural rapidity. Paul glanced at Dominic who gestured a discrete downward motion. Hoping for the best, Paul knelt.

I, the Amber Thane, Guardian of the Labyrinth of the Inner Realm, Slayer of the Nine of the five Chimeras, Defender of the Lost, ennoble the Squire before me,” intoned the knight.

These are the last blows you must endure without recourse or revenge,” said the Amber Thane as he stuck Paul on the shoulders and neck with the flat of his blade, (happily, without electricity surging through), though Paul thought could have been gentler.

Now arise Paul, to be henceforth known as the…” the Amber Thane turned to Major Veronika and loudly whispered, “Must I? It seems cruel”

Paul, who was mid-arising, did not like the direction this was heading when the Major replied, “Quite.”

Very well,” continued the Amber Thane, “Arise Paul, to be henceforth known as the Clever Thane.”

Thank you,” Paul replied and he finished standing.

You’re first quest as a Thane will be to find your weapon. It is a sacred and peril filled task, but…” the Amber Thane paused, “I’m assured that you are up to the challenge.”

Okay, great…” said Paul who was not sure how to react to such nonplussed encouragement.

Major Veronika looked at him and said, “And since you enlisted as a Squire and have been elevated to Thane, you are Most Honorably Discharged.”

Until this very moment, Paul hadn’t given much thought about how long he would have to spend in this painting and found great relief in the knowledge he would be returning to the Borough. There was a twinge of regret mixed in, the 47th Pigmenteers were a decent group, but there was still much of the Borough to explore (he had absolutely no idea of how much) and he wanted to return.

With a smile, Dominic saluted smartly and Paul returned in kind. That set off a round of saluting that seemed as if it would go on forever until the Major spoke up

Private, would you do the honors?” asked the Major.

Yes ma’am,” he replied.

After that there was a round of saluting, which went on too long, until the Amber Thane bellowed, “Enough!” There was one more round of saluting, which thankfully ended quickly, and Dominic led Paul to a clearing a short distance from camp, avoiding the feast, as they both knew that farewells would go on forever.

Well my friend, it been an honor serving with you,” said Dominic.

You too, thanks for putting up with me,” replied Paul.

There was nothing to put up with.”

Paul looked around the clearing and asked, “So, do we need to paint a door or stairway or something?”

Or something,” said Dominic as he quickly painted a brass telescope and handed to it to Paul, “Just look up. But don’t blink.”

All there was left was to shake hand and say thank you, both of which were done, and then Paul gazed skyward. At once he was flying through the magic spin art tunnel as he flew upward, and after an eye watering trip, found himself parting a velvet curtain and was once more in Mrs. Po’s art shop.
“Ah, you’ve returned,” remarked Mrs. Po, “Come along, let’s get you sorted out, Clever Thane.”

Wait, how do you know about that?” asked Paul.

She fixed him with a look that conveyed pity and contempt in equal measures.

You’ll need to stop asking foolish questions like that if you wish to avoid mockery,” she said as she opened her ledger.

After making some notes, she turned it around and instructed Paul to sign it in three separate places, after which she took a lockbox out from under her desk and counted out a pile of coins, placed them in a small pouch and handed it to Paul.

You are now officially mustered out,” she said.

Right,” said Paul.

They stood there for a moment, looking at each other.

That means you can and should leave,” Mrs. Po said.

Paul did so, if only to avoid mockery.

Rather than going straight home, he stopped in a café a few blocks from his apartment, ordered a coffee and pastry called a Blue Forest Blob, which was neither, blue, forest themed nor blob shaped. It was square, filled with a creamy almond paste and made him happy.

As he drank his coffee and enjoyed his Blue Forest Blob he noticed people giving him sidelong glances. He looked to see if he got any almond paste on his shirt (it had happened before), but he was free of crumbs or goop. Finishing up, he signaled for the bill.

The Waitress came over and said, “It’s been taken care of.”

Who…?” asked Paul.

On the house,” she said with a blush and rushed off.

Paul didn’t understand, a feeling he was well acquainted with but instead of asking questions that he knew would present more questions, he left a too large tip and went home. Just before he opened his door, Parsnip and Looseleaf’s doors opened and he was hustled inside with a “Hurry up,” from Parnsnip and a “Many thing to discuss!” from Looseleaf.

It was less of a discussion and more of an interrogation. There were questions, counter questions and many clarifications. Finally they were satisfied, or at least as satisfied as they got and let him go to bed.

If he had been less exhausted, he might have noticed that there was an addition to his front door. But he shambled off to bed. Anyone would’ve with a day like the one he had, and it was only a day, in spite of all that had occurred. So Paul may justifiably excused from noticing the addition of a shield shaped, metal plaque with the image of a robot holding two rayguns and on the bottom, a blue badger.

Or perhaps, it was a cat.

Kill the Messenger Part-Two

Paul looked all around him. The Amber Thane was nowhere to be seen.

“Son of a bitch!”

“Hey! Knock it off! No swearing in the Forty Seventh Fusiliers!” snapped the soldier.

“Uh, sorry, sir?” said Paul.

The soldier laughed, “I’m just funnin’ you, swear all you want. One of the few rights we have, that and complaining. Just don’t do either around the Major.”

“Major Veronika?” asked Paul.

“The one and only.”

It turned out, fortunately, for Paul, that the Major insisted on meeting each new recruit personally. The soldier, whose name was Dominic DéMarche, brought Paul to her tent. There was a meeting going on, officers stood around a table, there was a heated discussion going on when they entered, which stopped as soon as they entered.

Dominic saluted sharply, in contrast with his informal demeanor.

“Major! New recruit!”

Paul tried to mirror the salute but it lacked the polish of his new companion.

The officers parted, and revealed the Major. Wearing a burnished breastplate over a red jacket, tight blue breeches with a gold stripe up the side, polished black boots, and a pelt of what looked like a leopard, if leopard spots were bright yellow, blue, green, pink, red, orange and purple on a black background.

She had chestnut hair, skin like honey and dark eyes with copper flecks. There were crinkles at those eyes; she had the worries, the responsibility of command. There was an air about her, it wasn’t just that she was gorgeous(she was) but upon meeting her, Paul had this sudden urge to make her proud. There was a great stillness about her, not that she was inactive but more as if she would always be there, whatever came and that inspired an instant loyalty.

Dominic nudged Paul, who stepped forward.

“What’s your name son?” she rumbled.

“Paul, Ma’am, Major, Major Ma’am,” stammered Paul.

She smiled indulgently, “Welcome to the painting forty seventh. Private, sort him out.”

“Yes Major!” barked Dominic.

“Excuse me Major,” said Paul.

Everyone froze. Paul knew he had made a faux pas, but it was better to get this out.

“Yes?” asked the Major, which was laced with an undercurrent of ‘this better be good’.

“I came here with the Amber Thane.”

All the others were dismissed and exited quickly. Paul explained how he had delivered the letter from Looseleaf and Parsnip, his subsequent squirehood with the Amber Thane, and trip trough the painting.

“Damn his eyes!” said the Major as she pounded the table.

“He was very excited about seeing you,” added Paul.

“Too excited to get spectacles!” she replied.

“I’m sorry?” asked Paul who didn’t understand how those two things were related.

“His eyesight is ghastly! But he’s too vain to get the help he needs! Now, who knows where he ended up!”

Paul, who learned to deal with all sorts of oddness since moving to the Borough, still hated listening to someone rant about their significant other.

There was no right thing to say, so after trial and error, mostly error he had to admit, he found the best course of action was to nod periodically and make small agreeing sounds.

“Of course, he does have such lovely eyes,” said the Major as she smiled.

“Hmmm?” offered Paul.

“You are a fine squire, Paul of the Borough, I thank you for bring me this news,” she said.

It occurred to Paul that he had very little choice in the matter but he saluted anyway, which seemed to please her.

“I need to send out scouts, if I can find him before the enemy, we could-“

The rest of that thought was cut short as Dominic entered.

“Begging you pardon Major, but a messenger has arrived,” the private said.

“Bring him in,” she said.

Two other soldiers, one in arctic cammo, the other, a woman dressed in Greek Hoplite armor escorted the messenger in. It looked like an abstract impression of an avocado colored man, or woman, the gender seemed, like it’s appearance, a matter of perspective. One leg was much longer than the other, it’s arms undulated like silk scarves in the wind and it had two eyes on one side of its head, which seemed to be two dimensional, or at the least, very flat

“Major Veronika, I come with a gift,” it said in a voice that sounded like it was speaking though echoey mesh.

It opened what could have been a sack or a lumpy smudge and produced the helmet of the Amber Thane.

Paul looked at the Major, if she felt any fear or shock; it was simply evidenced by a minute flaring of her nostrils.

“What are your terms?” she asked the abstract messenger.

“Leave the Umber Valley or we will be forced to make the Amber Thane a palimpsest,” said the messenger.

“Damn your same sided eyes!” shouted Dominic.

“Calm yourself private,” said the Major evenly.

“Sorry Major.”

Walking up to the messenger, the Major regarded it with a quiet contempt.

“We will not surrender one inch of canvas, not one classically rendered tree or bush. We will not rest until this painting has been restored to its former glory, and your ill-rendered rabble has been wiped clean from this classic masterpiece.”

Paul began to clap, her delivery was so moving, but he quickly stopped when it was apparent that no one else was following suit.

The messenger made wheezing, rattling sound, and shook its head.

“The brave and valiant Major Veronika, so dedicated to her cause that she’ll sacrifice her one true love for her ideals. You didn’t even hesitate, we will have to tell the Thane as we scrape the pigment from him and make him one of us. His rage will be unquenchable. Perhaps your death at his hands will silence his scream. For a while.”

“Lock this thing up,” ordered the Major.

Dragged from the tent, it made the same wheezing rattling sound. Paul thought it might be laughter.

“Private, inform my officers that we must prepare to move ASAP. Take the squire here and begin the lantern light maneuver,” said the Major as she moved to the table and rolled out maps.

Dominic grinned and saluted, “Yes Major, right away!”

He clapped Paul on the arm and said, “Lets get you some weapons,” as he lead him to another tent.

Weapons, as it turned out meant a bandoleer of brushes and a belt of paint bottles.

“So no real weapons?” asked Paul.

Dominic laughed, “My friend, theses are better than any gun or knife. With those, all you can do it kill. But with this,” he said, twirling a brush with panache, “you can create anything!”

Paul thought that a philosophical attitude for a solider, which spoke well of Dominic’s mental state, but gave little confidence to the future of whatever the lantern light maneuver was.

“Hmm,” mused Dominic, “We need to get you into a proper uniform.”

“Do you have a spare?”

Holding out his thumb at arm’s length, Dominic regarded Paul, quickly dipped his bush into a jar and started flicking paint at him. Paul felt as though he has been suddenly doused in cold syrup.

“What the-“

“And there!” interrupted Dominic.

Paul was about to give his new friend a good yelling at, or at least let him know that he was not happy about having paint flung at him, when the sensation faded and he felt normal. At least as normal as he got these days.

“You look a proper solider now,” said Dominic with a smile, “Look.”

Dominic pulled a drop cloth off a mirror, and Paul looked at himself. He now wore a uniform like Dominic, ironically minus the paint splatters, but with a tall fur hat, with brass accessories.

“But you just waved the brush around, how…”

“It’s all the mind’s eye. If you can think it, you can make it.”

Paul, whose artistic endeavors were strictly of the stick figure school, had his doubts that he could create anything even close to realistic. But

Dominic assured him that it was easy as he lead him to a wooded area just outside the camp.

A clump of bushes were pushed aside to reveal a tunnel leading downward,

Dominic lit a lantern and they entered. The light was warm and bathed everything in warm light. It made Paul feel as though he was looking through a windowpane made of pale honey. The tunnel was painted in rich dark brown tone, which evoked damp earth, held up with wooden beams rendered in glowing detail, Paul could see the swoops of the grain and the pegs that were fitted with great skill.

“Did you make this?” he asked his companion.

“I did the beams,” said Dominic with a smile.

“They’re very good,” said Paul.

“Thank you, I’ve quite proud of the way they turned out, it’s a pity so few will see them.”

“Because?”

“It is a secret tunnel after all!”

“Right, yeah…”

They continued in silence for a while, until Paul asked what he was thinking.

“Uh… Where are we going?”

Dominic stopped and shook his head, Paul was afraid he asked a stupid question.

“My friend, I must apologies, in my haste I forgot that you had only now joined us. You must think me a fool!”

“No, you’re not a fool, it’s just that I want to be able to help, so… if I knew what the plan is…”

Dominic clapped him on the shoulder and grinned, “I would expect no less of the squire of the Amber Thane! You’re raring to get right to the action!”

“Right!” said Paul with considerably more enthusiasm than he actually had with regards to action.

“This is of course, is a rescue mission, this tunnel leads directly under the enemy camp. Once we reach the end, all we need do is paint a tunnel up and we rescue your master.”

Paul didn’t think of the Amber Thane as his master, but this was clearly not the time to bring that up. Dominic continued down the tunnel and Paul hustled to catch up.

“Do you have a map of the enemy camp?” asked Paul.

“That would be worthless, it shifts according to their whims, Abstract Dogs!”

“But how do you know we’ll come up in it?”

“The location is fixed, it’s the layout that changes.”

“Right…” said Paul “But there is a plan?”

“Of course! We tunnel up, find the Thane, and escape, while the Major leads the rest of the 47th Pigmenteers in an all out assault!”

Paul didn’t think that was a plan, so much as a hopeful wish, but Dominic seemed quite confident, so he continued onward.

After a period of time, it was difficult to gauge, what with no sun, and his phone saying that time was old, they arrived at the end of the tunnel.

Dominic took out a paintbrush with a flourish and began to create a ladder.

Not a crude sketch, but a solid oaken affair, the joints were joined with cuts in the wood that clearly needed no nails or studs. It was one of the sturdiest things he had ever seen. Paul had once put together a bookcase from Ikea and he felt fairly handy afterwards in spite of the handful of bits that he was left with and was unable to identify.

“That’s very… good,” Paul said quietly.

Dominic smiled a smile that said, ‘I know, right?’, but he managed a slightly humble thank you.

“Now, it’s your turn, when we get to the top of the ladder, you will create something to break through the topsoil,” said the artist warrior.

“Are you sure you don’t want to do it?” Paul asked, “Those stairs are really good.”

“You’ve very kind (I am an excellent artist), but I couldn’t,” insisted Dominic.

“It’s okay, I don’t mind (I’m not really any kind of artist),” Paul said with no trace of false modesty.

“No, I literally can’t, when two soldiers collaborate on a mission, they must both contribute,” explained Dominic.

“Right…”

Dominic clapped him on the shoulder and grinned, “Just think of something that can dig and still be silent.

Paul thought about that conflicting set of requirements. Everything that came to mind that could dig was by definition, loud. Bulldozers, jackhammers, even shovels and picks made noise. A few weeks ago, he had seen something that was called a Geo-Pinnace, a cylindrical tube with a huge drill bit on the front, or the prow, as he had been corrected by the pilot. It had cut through earth and stone like spoon through flan, again as described by the pilot, but it had made a hellishly loud racket and even if he could paint it (doubtful), he had no idea how to start, let alone steer it.

Paul’s mind began to wander as he racked his brain trying to find a solution.

He thought of his Aunt Natalie, who loved two things, baking and puzzles, both physical and mental, mostly mental. When he would visit, she would give him a riddle, which he had to solve before she would give him some of her excellent cookies. This was just the sort of thing she’d test him with, and when she’d eventually told him the solution, which she often did, as she was fond of her nephew and ultimately a bit of a soft touch. But if she took it easy on Paul, she was at war with Josiah, the cat that lived next door, who clearly was born only to drive Aunt Nat to distraction and destroy her small garden.

Josiah, who was gink-toed, could dig up a garden with infernal glee. Nat swore he tunneled in under the fence. Paul had once seen him pop up from under the earth and then leap across the yard pulling a long tomato vine and winking just before he escaped to the safety of his own yard. Paul wasn’t sure if he had imagined the wink or if it was a story that Nat had told but that cat could dig…

“I got it,” Paul said.

The dirt shifted and Paint Josiah emerged into the Abstract camp. Paul and Dominic followed, they were shielded by two large crates but they could as easily been any large…things.

“Very clever, painting that badger in an abstract style, if someone sees it they will won’t know we’re here,” whispered Dominic.

“It’s a cat actually,” said Paul quietly.

“Right,” replied Dominic with a knowing wink.

Creeping around the ‘crates’, they saw six Abstract soldiers standing in a circle at attention, though their bodies seemed to be fidgety. Arms, legs other parts stretched or shrunk with no real pattern, at least that Paul could see.

“What are they doing?” asked Paul in his softest voice.

Dominic didn’t reply but tapped Paul gently on the shoulder and looked up. Hanging, from an absurdly long chain was an even more absurdly large birdcage. Inside, however, was not an absurdly large bird, but the Amber Thane.

“Blaggard! Let me loose at once!” bellowed the imprisoned knight.

“You’ve been asking that since we put you in there, what makes you think that we’ll change our minds now,” asked one of the guards in a hollow, echoey voice.

“I will never give up! I will fight till my last breath and beyond!”

“Can he do that?” asked the largest guard breathlessly.

“Dunno,” replied the first guard, “but it won’t matter in a bit.”

“Ha! You have a broad yellow stripe running down your back!” sneered the Amber Thane.

It was true, there was a long splash of bright saffron along his back.

“Yeah, so?” asked the guard.

Dominic pulled Paul back behind the undetermined things.

“We must act swiftly, these abstractoes are about do something terrible,” whispered Dominic, “I’ll tackle the guards, you free the Amber Thane.

“What should I-“ said Paul but Dominic painted a large armored tiger with a saddle, leapt upon it and road off to attack the guards. The great cat savaged the guards with claw and tooth, and Dominic unsheathed a saber from the saddle and slashed away. Paint was splattered everywhere.

Paul, who was not at all prepared for this, or any battle if he was being honest, tried to think of how he would open a giant bird cage that was twenty feet or so above the ground. Hook and ladder, cherry picker, giant robot claw? He had little confidence of being to able to paint any of those and unsure if they would work. A cat that resembled a badger was one thing.

“Now my friend!” shouted Dominic, whose tiger had herded what remained of the guards directly under the hanging cage.

Pulling up memories of doodling in elementary school, Paul created his favorite thing to draw.

PEW PEW PEW, went the laser pistol, severing the chain and sending the cage, with the Amber Thane within, to squish the last of the guards.

“Well done!” cried Dominic.

The Amber Thane picked himself up from the floor of his cage and bellowed, “What new impressionistic deviltry is this?”

“It’s me,” said Paul as he moved up to the cage.

Whatever else he had to say was cut off by the grip of a resin gauntlet encircling his neck and lifting him off his feet.

“If you think you can play dice with my sanity, you will die with that as your regret!” said the Thane.

Dominic leapt off his battle tiger, rushed up and said, “Amber Thane, we’re been sent by “Major Veronika!”

“Where is she?”

The sounds of battle could now be heard in the distance with ever increasing volume.

“Hah! Of course, she leads the attack!” said the Amber Thane with a wide grin, “Let us now join the fray!”

Paul, whose vision was fading into a grey haze, croaked, “Let. Me. Go.”

Squinting, the Amber Thane pulled him close and said, “It’s you,” and released him.

Dominic helped Paul to his feet.

“My temper got the best of me, I did not meant to strangle you,” said the Amber Thane with little regret.

“We should join the rest of the regiment,” suggested Dominic.

“Not before I recover my blade and helm!” insisted the Amber Thane as he strode towards the exit.

“Your… Helm is back at the camp, they sent it to show that you had been captured,” said Paul, “Dominic can paint you a sword, right?”

“It would be a honor!” Dominic said.

“Nay, it must be my own blade, it was gifted to me by the Azure Thane upon my ascension to knighthood,” declared the Amber Thane.

“Of course,” deferred Dominic, “you need say no more.”

Paul, however, thought that some explanation was in order, but since he was in the minority, he pushed his concerns down, something he found himself doing more and more since moving to the Borough.

“A frontal assault is the best course of action!” declared the Amber Thane.

“I have an idea,” suggested Paul.