Super Sunday Smackdown: Hero vs. Witch
After a long absence, Super Sunday Smackdown returns to debate the utterly pointless questions you never thought about considering.
So today the battle comes from Chapter 13 of Imperfect Love, Tales of the Scarlet Knight Volume 5, wherein I pit my heroine the Scarlet Knight against a witch.
Here’s the breakdown of the combatants:
Emma Earl, aka The Scarlet Knight
Special abilities: Magic armor allows her to deflect bullets, jump long distances, and augments strength and speed. Magic cape allows her to turn invisible. Sword of Justice can cut through any materials.
Weaknesses: Magic armor is resistant to magic and holy weapons.
Sylvia Joubert, Witch
Special abilities: A specialist in offensive magic, Sylvia is well-versed in summoning fireballs, static charges, and ice among other things. She also can use her magic for telekinesis, teleportation, and levitation. As well she has access to wide variety of magic potions.
Weaknesses: Sylvia has access to magic, but she is otherwise a normal human. She bleeds just like anyone else.
So, who wins? Here’s the answer!
The gravel yards were on the waterfront, near the cement plant. While many industries in Rampart City had moved overseas or closed down entirely, the cement plant remained as vital as it ever had. People always needed cement for roads, buildings, and so forth. Ships would bring in the gravel, which would then be taken to the cement plant and come out as bags of dry mix or loaded into mixer trucks.
If Emma were going to lay a trap for the Scarlet Knight, the gravel yards would be as good of a place as any. The mounds of rock made for ideal cover, behind which Sylvia could ambush Emma. Or she could bring one of those mountains of rocks down on Emma to bury her. Going there would be suicide, but at the moment Emma didn’t see much choice.
“You can’t actually go there,” Marlin said. “It’s obviously a trap.”
“I know. And I’m sure she knows I know.”
“That she’s not going to do anything so obvious as hide behind a pile of rocks or rig one to fall on me. She’ll probably stand right out in the open to ask me for the armor.”
“And when you say no, then she’ll bring down a mountain of rock.”
“If I say no.”
“You can’t give her the armor. You don’t have any idea what she’ll do with it.”
“She’ll barter it to get Tim released from whoever at TriTech is holding him.”
“TriTech? That place you were watching last night?”
“The one where Sylvia was last night too.”
“Bugger all. Why don’t you just break into that place and get him out?”
“Because we don’t know what we’re dealing with,” Emma said with a shrug. “If I just go busting in there, they’ll kill Tim. And then Sylvia will go over the edge.”
“I’d say she’s there already.”
“Not yet. If Tim dies, though, there won’t be anything holding her back.” Emma looked down at the river of sewage running through the pipe. “Then I’ll have to put her down. Or her coven will. She’s already done something to Aggie and Akako and kidnapped Becky and Dan. I’m sure she’ll be in pretty deep trouble with them already.”
“Too bad the bloody coven doesn’t have a number in the Yellow Pages. We could let them deal with this mess.”
Emma stood up and started down the pipe, towards the nearest ladder to the surface. “There’s no time. I’ve got to go and see if I can reason with her.”
“Oh yes, that worked so well before, as that pier can attest to.”
“I didn’t say it was a good idea. There’s not much we can do in the amount of time we have,” Emma said. She began climbing up a ladder.
“If she’s really standing out in the open, then just chop of her damned head with the Sword of Justice.”
“I can’t do that. You know that.”
“I was hoping maybe you’d decided to see reason for once.”
Emma pushed aside a manhole cover to find herself in the middle of an empty road. Mack Avenue if she was right. The gravel yards were only a block or two away. She could make it there easily enough in ten minutes. The question would be what she did then.
“If I kill Sylvia then Tim will die too.”
“So, what, you’re going to give her the armor? Let some maniac do God knows what with it?”
“Maybe we can work something out.”
“We don’t negotiate with the villains.”
“Sylvia isn’t a villain. She’s just trying to save her fiancé. You would do the same for Beaux if she were in trouble.”
“She would never need my help,” Marlin said. “And anyway she’s been dead for over three millennia.”
“You know what I mean. You loved her—in your way. I’m sure you would have done whatever you could to keep her from harm.”
“It doesn’t matter why she’s doing what she’s doing. The point is what she’s doing is wrong,” Marlin said. “If you don’t know that by know, maybe you’re not the one who should be wearing that armor.”
Emma ended the argument by charging the boots to launch herself into the air. She landed on her feet and then took off running. She still had seven minutes to reach the gravel yards. She couldn’t help thinking of what Marlin had said, though. Maybe she was letting her feelings color her judgment. Maybe she wasn’t much better than Sylvia, Becky, Marie, or Ian. Maybe the line between good and evil was a lot thinner than she had ever thought.
Entering the gravel yards, she knew she would soon find out.
As expected, Sylvia didn’t spring any traps as Emma walked past the office of the gravel yards and the first heaps of rocks. Nothing came tumbling down on her and no arrows fired at her. From what Emma could see through the helmet’s visor, no assassins lurked among the piles either. She wasn’t sure whether this boded well for her or not.
Also as expected, Sylvia stood in the center of the gravel yards, empty hand—and claw—on her hips. “You’re just in time. You always were punctual,” Sylvia said. “Now are we going to do this the easy way or the hard way?”
“I want to help you, Sylvia. Just tell me what’s going on. I know it involves TriTech. I saw you there last night.”
“You were spying on me?”
“Not on you specifically. They were located near where the bomb that almost killed Jim went off.” Emma grimaced at the thought that had popped into her head. “You didn’t have anything to do with that, did you?”
“No. He did that all on his own.”
Sylvia’s face contorted in irritation. “It’s not going to do you any good. I already know what you’ll say. You’ll say we should try to give them a fake set of armor. Or after Tim is released then you’ll call it back. Am I close?”
“Those ideas did occur to me.”
“And you don’t think he’ll notice?”
“I don’t know. Will he?”
Sylvia looked down at her feet. “Yes. He’ll know. I don’t know how, but he knows about magic. He can’t do it himself, but he knows enough that he’ll know if we try to con him.”
“So what are you going to do, Sylvia? If I give him the armor, what will you do?”
“I’ll wait until he gives Tim up and then I’ll take it from him. Piece by piece.”
“And you don’t think he’ll be expecting that?”
Sylvia looked up at Emma, her face red and eyes flashing. “He won’t be able to stop me.”
Emma wanted to reach out and put a hand on her friend’s shoulder, but she knew such a gesture would only make Sylvia angrier at this point. “Between the two of us I’m sure we can work something out. We can find a way to stop Mr. Ward.”
“How do you know it’s him?”
“Lucky guess.” She flipped up the visor so that Sylvia could see her eyes. “He has to have some kind of weakness. If we put our heads together, we can find it. First you need to tell me what you know. That’s the only way I can help.”
“How you can help is to give me that fucking armor.”
“Damn it, shut up! I don’t want to hear anymore of your bullshit. You’re always trying to make these plans like life is one goddamned big equation you can solve. Well it’s not. Life is messy. Some things you can’t solve.”
“I know that,” Emma said quietly. She only had to think of her mother lying dead on the pavement to know how messy life could be. “That’s no reason for us to do something we’ll regret later.”
“Last chance: give me the armor or I’m going to have to do something to Becky.”
“You wouldn’t hurt Becky.”
“Are you sure about that?” Sylvia reached into her pocket, taking out a pink vial. “I pour this down her throat and she’ll be going through the terrible two’s again. Maybe you can change her diapers.”
“I wouldn’t do it? That’s what you think, isn’t it? All I have to do is vanish myself from here and five minutes later she’ll be wetting herself and crying for mommy.”
“I don’t think you’re going to do it,” Emma said. “I think if you really were going to do it, you would have made her drink it first and then traded the armor for the antidote.”
“Good idea. Maybe I’ll go do that. While I’m at it, maybe I’ll give some to Dan too.”
Emma studied Sylvia’s face, trying to gauge whether she was lying or not. From the way Sylvia’s left eye kept twitching, and given her haggard appearance, Emma decided Sylvia wasn’t lying. She was at the breaking point, where emotional stress and a lack of sleep were threatening to push her over the edge of sanity. Emma held up her hands. “All right, I’ll do it.”
“Good. Just take a couple of steps back and drop it in a pile right there.”
“First I want some reassurance that you’ll let Becky and Dan go.”
“I’ll tell you where they are. You can free them yourself. After that, make yourself scarce until I send word. And don’t even think about trying to call the armor back, or else I will hunt you down and finish you.”
Emma considered this for a moment. She nodded slowly. “Deal.” As she took off the helmet, she noticed movement behind Sylvia. If she could keep Sylvia focused on her a little longer, then help would arrive.
She carefully set the helmet down on the ground and then began pulling off her left glove. “Can’t you go any faster?” Sylvia said.
“I was trying not to make any sudden moves,” Emma said.
“Just take off the fucking armor.”
“What about Becky and Dan?”
“They’re over at his house. You know, they’ve become quite the couple. I think he’s going to pop the question pretty soon.”
“You’re lying.” Emma watched as help drew closer, to within just a couple of feet. Just a few more seconds—
“No, I’m not lying. It’s my fault. When I switched bodies with Becky, he and I…did it.”
“You? With him?”
“Yes. It was a mistake.”
“I’d say. Now he’s fucking Becky instead of you.”
“I hate to interrupt,” Marlin said from over Sylvia’s shoulder. “What’s going on here?”
“You don’t think I’m going to fall for that again, do you?” Sylvia said. “You really aren’t giving me much credit.”
“On the contrary,” Emma said just as Jim struck. He had traded in his suit in favor of his rat fur coat, so that he looked like a huge animal as he leapt on Sylvia’s back, shoving her to the ground.
Emma knew that wouldn’t hold the witch for long, but it was long enough for her to pull the Sword of Justice from its scabbard. She raised the blade just as Sylvia’s body turned white-hot. Jim howled in pain and then rolled onto the ground. Before Sylvia could get to her feet, Emma sprang on her, the armor protecting her from the heat radiating from the witch’s body. Putting the Sword of Justice to Sylvia’s throat, Emma said, “It’s over now. Take me to Dan’s house and after we release them, we’ll find a way to save Tim.”
Sylvia began laughing, a mad cackle like a wicked witch in a movie. “You really think it’s over? You think you’ve won?”
“Nobody’s going to win here, Sylvia. I’m only trying to help you.”
Sylvia laughed again. “For a smart girl you can be really dumb sometimes.”
That was when Emma heard the rumbling coming from the gravel piles.
She only had a moment to curse her stupidity in not seeing it before. It was easy enough for Sylvia to rig the piles of gravel with explosives to create an avalanche and then trigger them at the right moment. The witch didn’t have to worry about being caught in the rockslide because she could easily levitate into the air or vanish herself entirely. By holding on to Sylvia, Emma would be saved as well, but there was nothing she could do for Jim.
The piles of rock began tumbling down, gathering speed as they went. Though she didn’t have the exact weights and measurements, Emma was certain there was enough stone in the gravel yards to cover the entire place by at least a foot. By the time she would be able to find Jim, he would probably be dead already.
“You’d better hurry if you’re going to save him,” Sylvia said.
“I could knock you out right now. Then all three of us would go.”
“But you won’t. You can’t. You’re the Scarlet Knight.”
Emma knew the witch was right. She couldn’t leave Sylvia to die any more than she could leave Jim to die. She could only shove Sylvia to the ground and then jam the Sword of Justice back into its sheath. The stones continued tumbling down, threatening to bury her and Jim in less than a minute.
There was no time for subtlety. She picked Jim up by the front of the shirt while charging for a jump at the same time. She leapt into the air, the magic soles of the boots propelling her into the air, over the crumbling piles of gravel, but not far enough to carry them out of the avalanche’s radius.
“I’m sorry, Jim,” she said. He was still stunned from Sylvia’s attack, but alert enough to nod to her. At the apex of her jump, she threw him forward, the augmented strength of the armor giving the throw enough range to get Jim clear.
As she plunged back towards the ground, she watched him fly the opposite direction, landing in the Dumpster behind the office. Emma had time enough to smile at the appropriateness of this before she slammed onto the ground on her back. The armor protected her from being badly injured, but it didn’t matter at this point as the avalanche continued.
Before she could move, a wave of rocks covered her body, leaving her head exposed just long enough for her to take one last breath. Then she was plunged into darkness. She flailed around to free herself, but it did no good. The rocks kept coming. Her lungs began to burn from a lack of air. Armor or no, the strength faded from her muscles.
Then there was only silence.
Sylvia watched the rockslide from above, hovering in the air. She watched Emma sacrifice herself to save the Sewer Rat, exactly as she had predicted. If little else was certain, she could always count on Emma doing the noble thing. That was why she had been given the scarlet armor in the first place.
A flick of Sylvia’s wrist made sure the Sewer Rat landed safely in the Dumpster. She could have killed him then, but there was nothing he could do to stop her. Him or all his little friends. The armor was hers and soon Ward would have to release Tim. Then no matter where that little creep went, she would hunt him down and chop off his fucking head to repay him for what he’d made her do—what he was making her do.
She watched the spot where Emma had landed, watched as the Scarlet Knight tried in vain to fight against the tide of rocks burying her. Sylvia took no joy in watching Emma’s limbs slow and then stop completely. Despite everything, Emma was still her friend, someone she’d come to see as her favorite niece. She took no pleasure in watching her suffer.
Once the movement stopped and the rocks around the area went still, Sylvia finally swooped down. She used a Pile Driver spell to brush aside the gravel until Emma’s still form was exposed. The girl wasn’t dead yet, just unconscious. In a couple hours she would recover.
The question became what to do with her. Sylvia had hoped she could convince Emma to simply hide for as long as it took to get the armor back from Ward. She always knew that would be a long shot given Emma’s penchant for nobility, but she had hoped she might be wrong. Now that she knew she wasn’t, she had to decide how to dispose of Emma for a few days or weeks.
She couldn’t simply throw Emma in with Becky and Dan. Emma would be able to wake Dan up and then the three of them could find some way to escape. Thinking of the vial in her pocket, Sylvia considered forcing it down Emma’s throat. But even if Emma was a sniveling toddler, she could still break the spell over Dan Dreyfus. And being in diapers again still wouldn’t stop Emma from conceiving one of her convoluted plans to escape—or get help.
Reaching down to pick Emma up from the ground, Sylvia thought of another way. She dropped Emma on top of the rocks and then began hunting for the helmet and left gauntlet Emma had taken off already. A mortal might have needed a metal detector, but Sylvia could sense the magic radiating from the armor well enough to find both pieces.
She put both of these on Emma before slinging the unconscious Scarlet Knight over her shoulder. She flew over the ocean of gravel, landing at her pickup truck. Sylvia gently set Emma down in the bed of the truck, tying her down with a couple of heavy chains that wouldn’t last more than two seconds should Emma awake.
The streets were quiet now that it was almost midnight, enough that it didn’t take her long to reach her salon. The building was of course dark, the last of her employees having gone home six hours ago. There would be no one to see what she was about to—or almost no one.
Looking around, Sylvia searched for the rats she knew would be hanging around. The Sewer Rat had a crush on Emma, proven by his coming to rescue her, and thus so did all his little playmates. They were probably casing the place right now, getting ready to send word back about Emma’s location.
A Pied Piper spell would take care of them. She began the chant, belting it out as loud as she could. Within a few seconds, the first of the rats crawled out from their hiding places. She counted eighteen in all lining up to follow her.
It might have been easy to kill them, just as it would have been easy to kill their master. As with the Sewer Rat, Sylvia decided to avoid bloodshed. She simply led the rats into an alley, gathering another dozen or so in the process, and then summoned an invisible glass box to form around them. The rats bumped up against the box futilely, hissing in frustration. “Don’t worry, you’ll be out in a couple of hours with good behavior,” she said.
She was relieved to find Emma still unconscious in the back of the pickup. After unfastening the chains, Sylvia hefted Emma over her shoulder again. The awkward part came in reaching into her pocket for her keys; she couldn’t bring herself to break the lock on her own shop—a new padlock would run her at least thirty bucks and in the meantime leave the shop vulnerable to thieves and vandals.
With a grunt, Sylvia dropped Emma into the nearest styling chair—Val’s chair. Then she began the somewhat awkward process of stripping the armor from Emma’s body. She was relieved to see that Emma was at least wearing a slip beneath the armor in addition to her bra and panties; Sylvia had little interest in seeing her favorite niece naked.
It didn’t surprise her when Marlin showed up at this point. “What do you think this is going to accomplish?” he asked.
“I didn’t want to do it. She didn’t give me a choice.”
“When she wakes up—”
“Let me worry about that.” Sylvia reached into her pocket for a chicken bone. On the surface it appeared to be the leftovers from someone’s lunch, but Marlin lurched back as if she’d punched him. “You know what this is, don’t you?”
“You and your bloody charms,” the ghost said. “You can banish me, but I’ll come back. Whatever you do to her, I’ll find her and then we’ll make you pay, you treacherous old slag.”
“I’m just getting her out of the way for a few days. Then you can have your precious Scarlet Knight back. Until then stay out of my way or you’ll be seeing your girlfriend on the astral plane again.”
“This isn’t over,” Marlin grumbled before fading from view.
Sylvia tucked the bone back into her pocket. Then she checked on Emma, making sure the girl was still unconscious. So far so good, Sylvia thought glumly. She certainly didn’t feel good, even though she was very close to getting Tim back. When all of this ended, she just hoped everyone would forgive her.
In her office safe, Sylvia kept some necessary business papers, a small amount of cash, and a half-dozen tiny vials like the brown one in her pocket. These were potions she’d taken from Aggie’s vault, just in case she should ever need them. Despite the number of weapons on the premises, Sylvia felt it best to be prepared for all contingencies. Now that preparation was paying off.
Scanning the bottles, she found what she wanted in a turquoise vial at the back. In Aggie’s beautiful calligraphy was written one word: Brainwashing. That would be the perfect potion to keep Emma Earl out of her life for a few days, so long as it worked. Like the Sleeping Beauty potion she had never tried it herself before; she only hoped the side effects weren’t so severe.
The question then became what story to plant in Emma’s mind. Without that story, Emma would either become a vegetable staring at a wall or she would simply revert back to her normal self, making the entire process moot. Sylvia hadn’t planned for this contingency; she looked helplessly around the salon for help. She couldn’t use someone famous or someone Emma would be likely to run into over the next few days. Her eyes seized upon a flyer someone had tacked to the bulletin board, a flyer for a missing girl. “Bingo.”
Applying the potion was the easiest part for Sylvia. She simply had to rinse Emma’s hair in the sink and then rub in the shampoo like any client. The only difference was that her client was unconscious, wearing only her undergarments, and the shampoo smelled distinctly like burnt coffee grounds.
As she rubbed in the shampoo, Sylvia repeated the information on the flyer over and over again so that it became a sort of mantra. She couldn’t be sure that Emma really heard her, at least until she saw Emma’s hair lightening from its usual orange-red to gold and then finally to a white-blond. Turning the chair to face the mirror, Sylvia watched as the features of Emma’s face began changing as well, her nose shrinking, jaw narrowing, and cheeks inflating a bit. Sylvia had always thought Emma was too pale and yet somehow her skin turned even whiter, to the point Sylvia thought she might be dead—or possibly undead. She put a finger to Emma’s shorter neck to feel a strong pulse.
Turning the chair back around, Sylvia rinsed out the last of the shampoo. The last suds were draining down the sink when Emma sat upright in the chair. Her eyes opened wide, still blue but a lighter shade than before. She looked around the darkened salon, finally turning to Sylvia. “Where am I?” she asked in an unfamiliar voice, one even softer than her usual one.
Sylvia forced a smile to her face. “Well, young lady, I think we’re all done here.” She spun the chair around so Emma could face the mirror. “What do you think?”
Sylvia had expected a scream or a gasp; she didn’t expect Emma to start hyperventilating. The girl’s face began turning red and then purple as she wheezed, struggling to breathe. Her hands clawed at the armrests of the chair, threatening to tear them off. Sylvia put a hand on Emma’s shoulder. “Settle down. It’s all right. Just breathe slowly.”
“Inhaler,” Emma said through her wheezes. One hand went to her throat, as if trying to tear it open to let air in.
“Oh shit,” Sylvia said. She hadn’t planned for this contingency. While Emma’s face started to turn blue, Sylvia tried to think of a spell that might work. None came to mind to cure an asthma attack. Then she looked back at Val’s workstation and remembered Val had asthma too, though not this serious. Sylvia put a hand on Emma’s shoulder, giving it a squeeze. “Hold on. Just hold on.”
Sylvia broke open the box containing Val’s personal items. She rifled through bottles of perfume and tubes of lipstick before finding the inhaler at the bottom. She held it aloft as if it were the Holy Grail. “Here you go, sweetheart,” she said, pressing the inhaler into Emma’s hands. “Come on, now.”
Emma’s hands gripped the inhaler like a life preserver. She brought it to her lips and then squeezed it. For a few seconds Sylvia thought nothing would happen, that she had doomed her friend. Then Emma’s breathing relaxed, her face slowly turning back from blue to purple and finally back to its normal pasty white.
Then Emma sagged in the chair, the inhaler falling on the floor. Sylvia picked it up, deciding she had better get the girl home as quickly as possible.
OK, it was kind of a cheat, wasn’t it?
Tuesday I advise you to Stay in Your Lane…