Rage and malice given physical form descended on Barrelbottom. The great lidless Eye glared at the army.
Captain Sterling was missing. The hero had been on a mission to the Stained Glass Mountains. We sent word, but we didn’t know when he would return. We organized our defenses as best we could.
The pulp heroes charged first. General Conquest’s biplane shattered in the hurricane winds the Eye unleashed. Professor Invention’s gooditron shook to pieces. Darius Strong’s fists could not break through the evil.
Every bad character that had ever been rejected flocked to the battle. Mad scientists, dinosaurs, cultic leaders – they chose this moment to attack.
I stood atop the Library. Buildings burned all around me. Golden sunlight lit the edge of the horizon as dark clouds churned above us. “This is bad,” I intoned.
The strong form beside me nodded. “The archers are ready, but even enchanted arrows won’t be able to take on the Eye.”
“Of course not. The author who rejected it conceived of it as a creature without weakness. A great evil who, once united with a certain object, would become unstoppable.” I leaned the brick lip lining the roof. “Barrelbottom’s doomed.”
“Not while I yet have breath in my body.”
“Then your body won’t have breath long,” I answered. “We might be able to delay its advance. Its goal is total dominance. Nothing else will do.”
Far to my left, an army of archers loosed their deadly missiles into the air. Sparks and rainbows and wooden shafts rained down on the Eye.
It glanced their way. Bodies flew into the air. Screams filled the sky.
Griffins plummeted from above, diving into the swirls of air surrounding the enemy. They hurtled away, wings broken in the gale.
“There is no weakness in it?” His voice was soft.
I shook my head. “It’s one weakness remains in the story.”
“Then we must go to the author and retrieve the element.”
“I will dive into the swamp. I will find its author. I will search his imagination and bring that element here.”
I closed my eyes, searching the Eye’s backstory. “You look for a ring. A plain gold band.”
“I will return as soon as I can.” He turned to me. “Brarrian, if I fail –“
“You will not, Aragorn.”
He bent over, his lips brushing mine. “I will see you soon, my love.”
I smiled. “Yes.”
And then he was gone, running over the rooftops, his ancient sword in his hand. Off to the swamp, off to his quest, to find the one thing that might defeat the Eye.
I heard its voice in my head. It whispered such darkness at me. It crept closer, its baleful gaze filling the sky, its mere presence melting the buildings around it.
Wave after wave of defenders smashed against its form. The Boy Mercenaries. The Married Men. The Amazons of the Nile. All fell. Broken bodies littered the streets. So many dead.
I heard the whistling from the sky. Where? There. A bright red light – no, a person, shooting down from the heavens. Captain Sterling, the superhero, plummeted from above, his fist pointed toward the center of the Eye. The sonic book shook the rooftop. He closed his eyes and whispered one final prayer. His bright yellow cape whipped behind him.
Every battle stopped. Every eye looked up. Every faithful person joined in the Captain’s prayer. Everyone breathed in and waited.
Flames burst where he struck. A burning cloud swallowed the land. I fell in the tremor. With a shaking hand, I lifted myself and turned my eyes.
The Eye still glared. On the ground before it, a broken form lay in a crater. Captain Sterling shook himself once. He raised himself from the ground and lifted his eyes to the Eye. He hovered for a moment.
He flew as far and as fast as he could away from the Eye. Every eye on the battlefield followed him. In the silence, he did not speak, he did not scream.
I have never seen him since.
Those few still standing joined a panicked retreat. No more war. No more chance to stand against the darkness. Merely panic.
I sobbed. The clouds above reflected the Eye’s fiery light. The ground shuddered under its terrible weight. The heat against my skin grew.
At that moment, the Eye ceased to exist in Barrelbottom.
He was gone.
Only I knew what had happened. Only I knew how he had been defeated.
Aragorn made it. He traveled through the swamp again. He found the author. He didn’t steal the artifact from the author’s mind… he used it. He summoned the Eye back to the author’s story.
And then he added himself.
Aragorn never returned to Barrelbottom.
I have been alone ever since.
This is the tale Brarrian tells Black-Note Benny and White-Note Wanda, begun in At the Misfit.
Black-Note Benny’s tale continues in Welcome to Barrelbottom.