Ian and the Call to War

by Anta Baku

Part 24 of The Cell Phone Towers of Elfland (Read Part 1)

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My kitchen table seats four people, which ends up perfect for a five-person council of war when one of the five is a living harp and she can just sit on the table like a centerpiece. I wasn’t entirely sure it was a good idea to have Harp there. After all, my brother-in-law had been watching her internet traffic and was convinced she was betraying me. But she had been indispensable in securing the help of her giant former employer, and I decided it was worth the risk. Besides, we didn’t have anywhere else to hold the council.

It may not have been the strangest war council ever held. I’m not an expert on such things. But I’m pretty sure it was the strangest war council ever held in a one-bedroom apartment overlooking Loring Park. To my left was the twelve-year-old Edward, Prince of Wales. He ought to have been Edward V of England but for his uncle Richard, who we were out to overthrow. To my right was the Big Bad Wolf, who had shown up on his own without any sign of trouble getting into the real world, or up the elevator. And across from me was Beth, who isn’t my girlfriend. 

I was the only one there who was born in this world, which was all right because we were planning to go back into theirs to participate in a final confrontation. Richard and the Pig Merchants’ Guild were ready to attack the Empire, and if they won that battle there wasn’t much holding them back from complete control of Fairyland. Against them was the Imperial Army, and the five of us. I wasn’t sure what we could do to make a difference, but all of us believed that Richard had to be stopped, and we were going to do whatever we could.

Unfortunately I wasn’t sure that was very much. The Big Bad Wolf looked like a good hand-to-hand fighter, and we both had reason to know Beth was, plus she still had the Fairy Godmother’s wand. Wales said he had begun training with the sword, but at twelve I didn’t expect him to be very effective. And then there was me, whose only battlefield qualification was being absolutely convinced of the rightness of our cause. 

None of that seemed like it was any good for going up against an army of pigs. Fortunately we expected to have an army on our side, as well. 

“We’re irregulars,” said Beth. “We go where we’re needed, add small bits of force where it’s most effective.”

That sounded like a good plan, I guess. I was out of my depth here, and I knew it. Wales approved, though it was always possible he was getting old enough that he’d approve of anything a pretty girl like Beth said. That was something I had to watch out for myself.

“The most useful thing is probably communications,” said Harp. And that was a place I had actually been useful, and I wasn’t above bragging about it.

“I hassled a couple of our installation teams to make sure we got towers installed on the island and in the Empire. We should have good connectivity on the battlefield.”

“And I’m going to stay here and direct everyone,” said Harp.

“Another world is safer for the boss,” said Wales.

“You all have cell phones now,” I said. I’d even dug up an old flip phone for the wolf, since he didn’t seem to be able to use touchscreens except with his nose. “We can all stay in contact with Harp, keep her up to date on what’s happening, and go where she tells us to.”

“Someone should stay with the command of the Imperial Army,” said Harp. “So that I can communicate with them.”

“I guess that’s me,” I said, even though I would much rather have been with Beth. But as the least effective fighter there, I was sure to be more useful behind the lines.

“It would be better if we stay in pairs,” said Wales. “We should each have someone to work beside.” 

“There are only three fighters,” said the wolf. “I can go by myself.”

“I have the wand,” said Beth. “You two should stay together.”

I could see that this had the potential for a significant argument, but fortunately it was cut off by a knock on the door. I wasn’t expecting anyone, and if it was a door-to-door salesman or a political canvasser he was going to get a Big Bad Wolf-sized surprise. 

Instead it was my sister Pol. Who I maybe should have invited to the council of war in the first place, except she lives six hours away in Grand Marais.

“I came as soon as I could,” she said. “Has the battle happened yet?”

“We’re just getting ready for it,” I said. She came in and hugged Beth, and I introduced her to the other two. “How did you know to come?”

“Because my brother didn’t think to ask me?” she said. “I had a dream. You remember the vision I had of the war canoes? Well, I just knew that now was the time. I hope you’ve got something planned for war canoes.”

“My brother has the water defense job,” said Wales. “But how are you in battle? Can you fight?”

I had to jump in quickly because I was pretty sure Pol was going to say yes to that, even though she’s no more a fighter than I am. Besides, I saw a way to get what I wanted. “She’s the perfect person to run communications for Harp,” I said. “Everyone likes Pol, she’s better at talking to people than I am, and I’m sure they’ll love her in the Imperial Command.” 

“There are four of us, then,” said the wolf. “That makes two pairs of two.” 

“You and the Prince can go together,” I said. “I’ll stay with Beth, and guard her back while she fights with the wand.” 

Somehow everyone thought this was a sensible order of battle, even though I really just came up with it to stay close to Beth.

“What about the giant?” she said. “You and Harp went off to recruit him, where does he come in?”

“He’ll be coming to use his weather control,” said Harp. “And fight if he needs to. Well, if I know him, he’ll fight even if he doesn’t need to.”

“A giant’s help could turn the tide of war,” said Wales.

“Maybe,” said Harp. “You haven’t seen him fight. There’s no intelligence about it. He just wades in.”

“You might not need anything else if you’re a giant,” I said.

“He will against an army,” said Beth. 

That did seem likely, but there wasn’t anything we could do about it. We kitted ourselves out as best we could, given that I don’t keep Fairyland-appropriate weapons around my apartment. Or any other kind, for that matter. We double-checked Harp’s internet connection, because it wouldn’t do to have it go out in the middle of battle, and made sure she could reach all of us on our phones. Then the five of us made our way to the portal.

We would have been more dramatic about it, except we couldn’t all take the elevator at the same time. The Big Bad Wolf is as big as his name implies. We also had to take both my car and Pol’s, so it wasn’t really a cinematic journey. I didn’t even get a few minutes with Beth to myself, as we ended up stuck with Wales in the back seat somehow.

We reconvened at the portal, and acquired an unexpected sixth member of the team. She said her name was Holly and she was a friend of Beth’s, and Beth didn’t seem too surprised to see her.

“When I got your texts I knew I couldn’t let you go into battle by yourself,” she said.

“She’s hardly by herself,” I said.

Holly looked me up and down, clearly getting an accurate assessment of how useful I was likely to be. She was more impressed by the wolf. 

“Holly is a self-defense expert,” said Beth. 

“And a librarian,” said Holly.

“We can use all the help we can get,” said the wolf. And he wasn’t wrong. I couldn’t justify not wanting another of Beth’s friends along, and if she could fight, she ought to be more than welcome. 

“Come along, then,” I said. I should probably have been nicer but I was not in the mood. “Beth can give you a connection to Harp at headquarters.”

“Headquarters is his apartment,” said the wolf aside to Holly, but I heard it anyway. 

I needed to get my mind back on the task at hand. We had an army of pigs to beat, after all. 

And it was an impressive army. There must have been thousands of them, all dressed up in colorful clothes for what they must have expected to be an easy victory. There was nothing like uniforms about them. Every pig seemed to have come in the color he or she most fancied. And they didn’t seem to have given any care to wearing things that would be easy to fight in. There were loose streamers of cloth everywhere, and almost no one was wearing helmets. That made quite a contrast to our side, where we were the only irregulars.

The Empire had gone all out in their uniforms, which I suppose I ought to have expected. Some enterprising soul from my world, and I’m not saying it was Angie but then again I’m not saying it wasn’t, had provided the Imperial designers with a photo of the Union Chasseurs of the American Civil War. And the Empire had loved it. They had bright red pants, and dark blue jackets, and they looked amazing in formation. Where the Chasseurs had worn caps, the Imperial Army had substituted leather helmets, but they were still bright red, and when I saw them closer I realized they were made out of pigskin, as a little touch to taunt the enemy.

We found our way behind the lines to the Emperor’s pavilion, where he and Wales took to each other instantly like only hereditary monarchs can. They both knew they were born to be in charge, and they recognized it in each other. That also solved the problem of our numbers being odd, since we had acquired Holly. The Emperor and the Prince would go into battle together. This was Fairyland after all, and it was narratively appropriate.

I’d like to claim that’s also why I ended up still partnered with Beth, while Holly had to go off with the wolf, but that was actually due to my scheming to make it happen. The idea of putting the two best hand-to-hand fighters together still made sense. I’m sure other things would also have made sense, but I leaned on that idea, and got my way. Holly looked disappointed, but she clearly didn’t feel like the newest member of the team should get to be in charge. 

As we were organizing, Richard came out to the front and addressed his army. Even in the midst of his own troops, he was surrounded by a personal guard of the tough pigs who had been masquerading as ice sculptors the second time we went to Cinderella. He wasn’t taking any chances. 

Once they made it to the front, two of the tough pigs lifted him up, and he addressed his army, loud enough for us to hear.

“Today we fight for all the pigs of truth!” he shouted at them. The pigs cheered. “I come among you here to live or die, together with the pigs who fight for me!” They cheered again. “By winning here today you show the world the last stage of perfection pigs can earn!” The third cheer was the loudest, and when Richard turned to point at the Imperial lines, the pig army began to advance. He and his bodyguard stayed where they were, the hunchback still held in the air, as the entire army marched through their position. Then they retired to a pavilion on high ground in the rear, rhetoric about coming among them to live or die notwithstanding. 

“Will you speak to your troops?” said Beth to the Emperor.

“They know their business better than I,” he said. “I’m not one of these warrior kings, and my army knows it. They will stand, for themselves and for their country, against all the pigs in the world. It would insult them to pretend my words could alter that.” 

I hoped his confidence was not misplaced. The advance of the pigs looked intimidating to me, though the Imperial Army stood impassively awaiting them. The Empire had chosen a slight rise of ground for their defense, so at least the pigs were marching uphill. 

The armies didn’t dash into each other like I was expecting from the movies. The pigs walked right up to the steady front of the Imperial Army, and stopped just out of sword-reach. A few skirmishes erupted, but mostly they just stood there, staring at each other, each waiting for the other to escalate the conflict. And neither side did. Perhaps it would have been different if either side had missile troops, but apparently bows-and-arrows weren’t a thing in these armies, and fortunately guns hadn’t arrived here yet.

I realized I should have thought to recruit Robin Hood and his Merry Men, and then wondered why Booker hadn’t. But this was set to be a hand-to-hand battle, and I wondered why the pigs weren’t anxious to start it. They were the invaders, after all. 

It didn’t take too long to find out. Richard’s front was just there to occupy the main force of the Imperial Army, and they could do that just as well by standing there and making faces at them as they could by engaging. His real attack was a flanking move across the lake, and that was where Pol’s war canoes came in. They were full of pigs, maybe not as tough as Richard’s personal guard, but they looked like tough pigs anyway. And the Imperial flank was entirely undefended.

Except for the Duke of York, that is. I’m sure the pigs in the canoes had never seen a seaplane before, so they had no idea what was coming at them. There was only the one, unfortunately. The Duke must have been unable to convince his squadron-mates, who were all pigs, to attack their own. I’m sure they were ready to defend the island kingdom against any surprise attack by Richard, but they were unwilling to help us directly.

That was all right, though, because one seaplane is plenty against a bunch of spear-wielding pigs in canoes. York didn’t even fire on them. He just swooped down and used the force of his passage to kick up bigger waves than the war canoes could handle. The first set of canoes went over, and their pigs were struggling to right them in the water as the Duke came around for another pass. But he stayed high this time, as the remaining canoes had backed water as fast as they could and were dashing back to their own side of the lake. Gradually the pigs in the water got control of their canoes, and followed their dry compatriots in retreat.

The seaplane waggled its wings at us and returned to the island. The flank up against the lake was secure. But the flank on land remained to be tested. 

The Imperial generals had set it up against a little stream, not perhaps the hardest to ford, but something that would be time-consuming for a pig to wallow through. They hadn’t counted on the Guild army having cavalry. 

At least I think that’s the right thing to call them, even though there were no horses involved. The landward flank attack came from a hundred pigs riding huge flightless birds. They were fast, and the long legs of the birds looked like they would make short work of fording the stream. I was going to relay that information to Harp, but I saw that Pol was already on it. And Harp, of course, saw what was also obvious to everyone there: it was time to call in the giant. 

Just before the bird-cavalry got to the stream, a thunderstorm rose up out of the clear blue sky, and a lightning bolt slashed down to strike one of the vanguard birds. It exploded in a cloud of feathers, and all the others pulled back in spite of the efforts of their riders. Out of a torrent of rain the giant stepped across the stream like it was nothing and started swinging his arms wildly at the riders. They pulled back farther and reorganized, and it seemed like they spotted what we had been worried about earlier. 

“The giant has no method to his fighting,” said Holly. “He relies on being large.”

“He’s very large,” I said.

“It won’t matter if the riders can get organized,” said Beth. “They’ll coordinate and bring him down.” 

And that was definitely what they intended to do. They spread out in a semicircle and approached the giant carefully, trying to encircle him. He lashed out wildly but didn’t even think to retreat to safer ground. They had him backed up against the creek and it looked like they would take him down and turn that flank. I got ready to run that direction, even though I didn’t know what good the six of us could do.

But pigs riding giant killer birds, however dangerous they might be in normal situations, don’t hold up well in flash-flood levels of mud. The giant had delayed them just long enough for his thunderstorm to make their footing treacherous, and all that weight on only two legs was a disaster waiting to happen. It happened to several of them all at once, some birds just getting their feet thoroughly stuck, others missing their footing and falling over on their riders. The smart pigs left their mounts intentionally and struck out against the giant within the wallow, where they were at home. But the mud was chaos, and the giant’s fighting style was suited for chaos. Without the ability to mount a coordinated attack, the pigs were fighting an even battle at best. They wouldn’t be turning that flank.

Both flank attacks had failed, and the center of the Guild army looked like they didn’t know how to respond. The Imperial generals were ready to take advantage. Horns sounded, swords and spears were raised, and thousands of bright red pigskin helmets went on the offensive. 

Finally I got to see a Hollywood-style infantry charge, though since the fronts were only about seven feet apart it was pretty slow and didn’t last very long. The Imperial Army surged forward, and the pigs attempted to hold their ground. They maintained order well, but were slowly pushed back. The Empire still had the advantage of attacking downhill, and it was making a difference. 

“Our army fights without us, friends,” said Wales. “Attack!”

And so we did. I might have been content to let the army do its job on its own, but the others, sensing that we were in a good position to win the battle, wanted to do more of it than watch. The Prince and the Emperor charged energetically down into the ranks of the army. The Wolf and Holly followed them with determination but a little less wild enthusiasm. Beth pulled out the wand and looked at me. 

“Let’s go make some hedgehogs!” she said. So I followed her down into the battle.

We didn’t get to make any hedgehogs right away, because just getting through the ranks of the Imperial Army was a challenge. They were maintaining good order, which didn’t leave a lot of room for us. We tried to follow the path the Emperor had taken, because the soldiers had to get out of the way for him, but it kept sealing up in front of us. 

Periodically I could see the lines of battle, just in front of us and downhill, even if we couldn’t get there. So I saw the moment the Emperor and the Prince broke through the lines and waded into the army of pigs. Wales may have been twelve, but he was better with his sword than I could have imagined, and the Emperor, despite his claims to military naïveté, was no slouch himself. They drove that section of pigs back a few feet all by themselves, and the Imperial Army gave a shout and redoubled their efforts. 

Things got a little easier for us as the army pressed forward. The Imperial front bulged as the pigs retreated, and the space between soldiers in formation got a little more navigable. 

Holly and the wolf were still ahead of us, and they used the extra space to break out against the wavering front line of the pigs. The Big Bad Wolf was frightening to me, and I can only imagine what facing him must have been like for his natural prey. Their lines fell back again, and almost buckled, but they put up a valiant resistance. The wolf and Holly fought back-to-back, working together in a synergy that looked choreographed. And while the wolf took down his share of pigs, they quickly learned to be just as frightened of the librarian. I could see why Beth had invited her.

Richard must have seen that the situation was desperate, because just before Beth and I got to the front, we heard horns coming from their command, and the Great White Boar and his personal guard joined the battle themselves. Or at least they pressed into the back of the Guild army, boosting their morale and causing them to press hard against the Imperial forces. I suspect Richard wasn’t intending to actually fight.

Of course, I hadn’t been intending to actually fight, either, and here I was. I’d much rather have been watching the battle from the rear, with my arm around Beth’s shoulders, as the Imperial Army was victorious. Instead I was in reality, with the pigs’ surge pushing the front lines of the Empire back, and our side needing every bit of power it could muster.

So when the lines fell back a little, Beth and I slipped through them, and she started laying about with the wand. I desperately tried to watch her back while watching my own at the same time. Within moments there were hedgehogs all around us where there once had been pigs, and the Guild army started retreating again. I could hear officers trying to convince their troops to make a concerted charge at us, because we couldn’t turn them all into hedgehogs before we were overrun. The troops didn’t seem to be very fond of that idea. 

Beth just kept pushing forward, turning the pigs in front of us into hedgehogs, and their lines turned into chaos as each pig tried to get out of the part of the front we represented. Suddenly there seemed to be a great enthusiasm for fighting Holly and the wolf. Sometimes pigs made feints at attacking Beth from the sides, but I only had to look fierce at them to turn them back. That’s the kind of fighting I like best. 

Unfortunately covering Beth’s back had made me less attuned to my own, until I got a call from Harp in my earpiece.

“You’re going too far forward,” she said. “You need to stay connected to the Imperial lines.” 

I looked behind me and she was right. We were getting out of touch with our allies, and were nearly surrounded by pigs. I grabbed Beth’s arm and tried to pull her back, then ducked as she reflexively tried to turn me into a hedgehog. If the Imperial troops had been right behind us she probably would have hit one of them, but instead she just got a pig.

The circle of pigs around us hadn’t been paying attention, with the ones closest to the remaining small gap concentrating on the Imperial soldiers in front of them. But turning that unsuspecting pig into a hedgehog got their attention, and suddenly they were aware that they had us surrounded. In moments all I could see of the Imperial line was the tops of their helmets. We were entirely behind enemy lines, and the two of us were all alone. The other two teams had sensibly stayed within contact of our army, and while they started to fight to get to us, they weren’t nearly close enough to matter.

One of the killer bird riders had made it out of the mud and joined the edge of the circle, his bird looking at us first out of one eye, then turning its head to look at us with the other. It was kind of creepy for about ten seconds until Beth turned it into a hedgehog. 

Then it was really creepy, or at least really scary, because it didn’t turn into a normal-sized hedgehog like every time she hit a pig with the wand. It turned into a hedgehog big enough to ride, and its pig was still on it, though he no longer had control.

Hedgehogs, when they’re scared, are supposed to roll up into a ball. That’s what I’ve been told, and up to this moment I had believed it. A lot of the ex-pigs had rolled up into balls when we went by. It seemed reasonable.

The giant hedgehog charged straight at me. 

Look, when you’re going into a battle, you think a lot about ways you could die in it. But most of my visions had been of getting cut down by pig-wielded swords, not of being trampled by the world’s largest hedgehog. I froze up, and it would have ended me if not for Beth pulling me out of the way at the last second. 

Then she grabbed the hedgehog’s collar, pushed off the pig who was riding it, hoisted me up into the saddle, and climbed on in front of me. This all took about two-tenths of a second, at least to my perception, although I wasn’t exactly a reliable witness at the time. By the time I stopped being stunned she had broken through the ring of pigs and we were well on our way to scampering to freedom.

Not back to our lines, though. I’m not sure how the Imperial Army would have reacted to the two of us charging them on a giant hedgehog, and I’m not sure if Beth thought that and steered us somewhere else intentionally, or if the hedgehog was just going where it wanted to go. But we dashed all the way through the Guild lines and out the back of their army. The hedgehog didn’t stop until it reached the edge of the lake, and then it stopped so suddenly we had to hang on tight to avoid getting thrown into the water. Beth’s powerful legs clamped on tight to the hedgehog, and I mostly held onto Beth. 

Maybe it was that almost-legitimate embrace, or the aftereffects of staring death in its beady little hedgehog eyes, except in this case they were pretty darned big beady eyes of death if I do say so myself. Or maybe it was just Ian being Ian. But that was the moment my mouth chose to move faster than my brain. 

“You saved my life,” I said. “I love you so much.” 

Now, if you feel the need to declare your love for someone when you’re not sure if they reciprocate it, in fact you strongly suspect that they don’t, but your feelings are so strong that you’re going to do it anyway, I recommend doing it sometime other than in the middle of a pitched infantry battle. It’s one of those things that seems obvious until you’re actually there, and everyone’s emotions are running high, and somehow you get confused about which ones you’re supposed to be using just then. 

But I figured once I was there, I might as well keep going. At least we had this private moment, while our friends and enemies were fighting each other behind us. 

“I’m in love with you, Beth,” I said. “I can’t stop thinking about you. Ever since you came into my life there’s nothing more important. You make me tongue-tied and awkward and if it weren’t for you I’m sure I’d eventually end up run over by a hedgehog even if it wasn’t today. And this was a terrible idea, isn’t it?”

My mouth was going fast but it had finally lost enough ground for my brain to catch up. And my eyes, which were watching the look on her face while I made my declaration. It wasn’t the look I had been hoping to see. 

“I think so,” she said, in the tiniest voice I had ever heard from her. Beth is bold and assertive and never afraid of anything, and I never thought to hear her as lost as she sounded at this moment. I certainly never wanted to cause it. I wished she had let the hedgehog run over me.

I should have apologized. It’s not that I didn’t know I should have apologized, but at first I didn’t have the words. And as I was struggling to find them, I was grabbed from behind by a big hairy pig who pulled me straight off the hedgehog. Beth was taken by surprise, too, and they took the wand from her before taking her prisoner. Atop everything else, I had distracted her while Richard’s personal guard snuck up on us. It was just a wonderful day all around.

We weren’t allowed to talk, not that I would have had anything worthwhile to say. The pigs argued for a bit about whether to try to haul the hedgehog back to the Great White Boar, but ended up deciding it was impractical and letting him go free. We didn’t have such luck. They hauled us to a small town behind their lines and locked us into a prison cell.

A single cell. Together. 

Then they left to go back to the battle, leaving us alone, which was exactly where I didn’t want to be at the moment. I wanted to be far, far away from Beth, surrounded by other people, so I didn’t have to think about what I had done. You can call that the coward’s way out, and I won’t disagree with you. But I was far too interested in having a way out to be afraid of being a coward. 

Instead here we were in a little room by ourselves, for who knew how long. If there was any way to pretend nothing had ever happened, this was the worst place to try to make that work. I suppose for narrative appropriateness it ought to have been a cell with only one bed, just to make it harder on us. But in fact there were no beds at all. If we had to sleep here we’d be sleeping on the floor, and you can bet it wouldn’t be snuggled up together. It wasn’t even cold enough to prompt that sort of thing. 

But we couldn’t get away from the fact that we were stuck here together. I couldn’t get as far away from Beth as I wanted in my embarrassment, and I expected she couldn’t get as far away from me as she wanted, either. I picked a corner of the cell and sat in it, trying to take up as little space as possible. 

At least she didn’t hide in the opposite corner. She stayed standing, staring out into space like she could still see the battle, even through the solid walls of the jail. We just stayed like that in silence for a while, until it became unbearable for me. I told myself it was time to keep my mouth shut, even though it was far too late. But my mouth hadn’t acquired an interest in listening. 

“Do you want to talk about it?” I said.

“We’ve lost,” she said. Which was not what was on my mind at all, and I wasn’t sure what to think from the fact that it was the first thing on hers.

“I thought the battle was going well,” I said. 

“The Empire might win the battle,” she said. “But Richard will survive, and we will be his prisoners. We’ve lost, you and I, however it comes out.” 

“I’m sorry,” I said. 

“There’s nothing left for us to do,” she said. “I’m no good at there being nothing I can do.”

My brain had a few ideas of what we could do, even on the hard floor of a jail cell. But I could still make it shut up that much. I just stayed in my corner. Beth stared out at the wall where the battle would have been some more. There was a long silence before she spoke again.

“I’m sorry,” she said. 

Why was she apologizing to me? That was backwards. “Why?” I asked.

“I’m sorry I don’t love you,” she said.

“You shouldn’t be sorry about that,” I told her. “I made an ass of myself. I’m the one who should be sorry.” 

“It would have made things so much easier, wouldn’t it?” she said. “We could have had each other, and left this whole world to its destiny.”

“And let Richard win?” I said.

“He’s going to win anyway,” she said. “The Empire can stop him once, but he’ll keep coming back. And they’re not a persistent people. They’ll neglect defense for fashion design, and he’ll overwhelm them eventually, if he doesn’t do it today.” 

“That’s a very pessimistic worldview,” I said.

“We’re in a prison cell,” said Beth. “We’ll be executed before long. There’s not a lot of room for optimism.” 

“We have to find some,” I said.

“I’m sorry I got you into this,” she said. “You wouldn’t be here if not for me.” 

“I’m not unhappy I followed you here,” I said.

“How can you not be unhappy? You’re going to die! And it’s my fault!”

“I’m responsible for my own choices,” I said. “Even when I make an ass of myself. Especially when I make an ass of myself.” She actually laughed a little at that, but there was crying behind it.

“I ruined your life,” she said.

“What life?” I said. “Where would I be without you? Coasting through making tower deals? Having Booker be my boss because I’m not good enough to beat him? Going to terrible basketball games with my terrible brother-in-law? I may be about to die, but at least it’s interesting.”

“You would have been happy with that before I came along,” said Beth. 

“I think it was past time I stopped being happy with that,” I said.

This is the part in the narrative where she sobs, and embraces me, and we kiss, and she pushes me against the wall of the jail where we find a secret passage to freedom, and it turns out she can fall in love with me after all, and we live happily ever after. I’ve seen that movie, I’ve seen a dozen of that movie, that’s what’s supposed to happen, and boy was I ready for it to happen.

So you can imagine how disappointed I was when Booker showed up instead. 

Beth spotted him first, because she was, you know, paying attention. 

“Have you come to gloat?” she said. “Or are you the one in charge of executing us?”

“Not at all,” he said. “I’m here to rescue you.” 

He was looking smug, which I guess was justified, but he also looked like he was holding back some sort of smart-ass comment about what the two of us had been up to. I got up from my corner. 

“Just say it already,” I said, bracing for whatever awkwardness his innuendo would bring. 

Instead he said “I’m here with Ben Kenobi.” Because I am not the only giant dork in this story. 

“Ben Kenobi!” said Beth. “Wait, who the hell is Ben Kenobi?” 

“I’ll explain later,” I said. “Right now we have to get out of here.” 

Part 25 of The Cell Phone Towers of Elfland is Morning in Fairyland

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