Chapter 1: Princes of the Universe
I'm a man that will go far
Fly the moon and reach for the stars
With my sword and head held high
Got to pass the test first time, yeah
I know that people talk about me, I hear it every day
But I can prove them wrong 'cause I'm right first time
- Queen, Princes of the Universe, 1986
They met with the client at a tavern on a backwater moon known as Neivis 6. A sign over the door declared the tavern’s name to be The Vengeful Spearfruit. Quill and his fellow Guardians of the Galaxy were just here to make a quick, quiet, and highly profitable deal. The client had requested that they retrieve an object from an archeological site. Apparently the guy couldn't just go get it himself because of some sort of territorial conflict, and so the Guardians, ever willing to assist someone in need, especially someone who paid in cash with half up front, had retrieved the item with very few complications. Now, after a discreet exchange of goods and money, the Guardians would be on their way. Perhaps it was time for a vacation. Only three jumps away, Palcade had a resort where you could bathe in pure moonwater under the stars, listen to bands playing music from all over the galaxy, and mingle with many attractive beings. Most of them even had humanoid forms. They'd have the money to visit a resort like that when the deal was done, even after paying for some well-needed repairs on the Benatar.
The tavern was dark, barely occupied, with a heavy scent of rot that the owners had tried to cover with smoke from smudge pots. Viewscreens flickered on the walls and the tables, some showing an old Kree documentary and the rest scrolling through a list of sports scores for the most popular games in the local star system. Which meant the owner hadn’t sprung for even a basic vid subscription, which meant he wasn’t going to get many customers during the game tonight, which meant this was the perfect place for a quasi-legal business transaction. And the spearfruit ale was pretty good.
Their client, a Rasathman called Mitrik Riit, sat at the end of the table. He was a grey reptile-man, who looked at them through slit pupils and spoke with a hiss in his voice. He had two humanoid bodyguards, one on either side of him, both in the same shade of grey, with visors across their eyes. They carried no visible weapons. Quill, on the other hand, had locked his pistols in a wall cabinet along with Drax’s knives, Rocket’s gun and some sort of bladed pistol belonging to Mitrik Riit. It was a show of courtesy, but just a show. The cabinet was made of plaswood and one good punch would crumble it. Most of the people in the room carried concealed weapons anyway. It was the way business was done.
When everyone had taken their seats, Quill lifted the preservation case and set it on the table. He straightened his back, tugged the lapels of his red leather coat, and said, with as much ceremony as he could, “Through great hardship and extreme personal risk, we have-”
“Just give it to usss,” Riit snapped.
“You know, I worked on this speech-” Quill looked at Riit’s expression and sighed. “Cash first.”
Riit took a unit card from his pocket, held it up. Gamora leaned over and scanned it. “Ten thousand units,” she said. Riit put the card flat on the table and covered it with one grey ridged hand.
“Shhow it to me,” he said.
Quill shook his head in disappointment. “No sense of style,” he said. He popped the catches on the preservation case, which let out a small hiss as the air escaped. He lifted a silvery cylinder about a foot long and half a foot in diameter. It was etched with the letters of a language he didn’t know and had indents around the edges at regular intervals, just the right size to hook a finger into.
“Here,” Quill said. “Just as requested-” He lost his grip on the cylinder and it slid from his hands. He grabbed for it, managed to hook two fingers in the indents, and lifted it up to show it to everyone. “It’s fine, nothing to-” He felt two clicks at the tips of his fingers and the world blurred and changed.
Peter pulled on his linen shirt, a Dwarven-made chainmail shirt, and a red velvet tunic embroidered with the Lion of Narnia in gold. He buckled on his sword belt and studied himself in the mirror. He wanted to show strength, but not aggression. He took off his favorite steel dagger and replaced it with another one that had jewels embedded all over the hilt. The blade was little better than tin, but it looked showy.
Peter looked out the window. The royal family had their own private tower and Peter’s rooms were on the top floor; a benefit of being the High King. The Calormene party was nowhere in sight. Good. Plenty of time, then. Several of the Magpies would be watching the sea and send word when Prince Rabadash’s ship was spotted.
He met his brother Edmund coming down the stairs. Edmund’s tunic was faded from washing and had been patched along one side. “Going to the salle?” Peter guessed.
Edmund nodded. “I’ve got a bit of time before lunch.”
Peter sighed. “You should be meeting with the Prince. You’re much better at diplomacy than me.”
Edmund grinned. “But you’re the High King, with all the rights and privileges thereof.”
The High King stuck out his tongue at his younger brother. “Practice well, then. I will meet you on the battleground tomorrow.”
“I will,” Edmund said. “Did you find a gift for the Prince?”
Peter stopped abruptly. “Oh, Lion’s Toes,” he swore. “I was going to ask Auntie Beaver and I forgot.”
Edmund frowned in thought, then said, “The Treasury. There’s some things that might do on the shelves near the back. Come on, we should have time to find something and give it a good dusting before they get here.”
"What about this?" Peter asked, holding up a necklace.
Edmund recoiled. "By the Mane, that's hideous."
"They outfit themselves in colorful garb, don't they?"
"Not quite that colorful. Besides, it's not a proper gift if we're trying to rid ourselves of it," Edmund said. He took an engraved knife off the shelf in the treasury. "What of this?"
"It's lovely," Peter said. "But I believe it's ill luck to gift a weapon to someone you wish to form a friendship with. Oh!" he exclaimed, pulling an object from behind a vase. "What is this?" He held up a silvery engraved cylinder with indents on the edges.
"How odd!" Edmund said. "Perhaps you use it in the kitchen?" He did not spend much time in the kitchen.
"Or hang it on the wall." Peter blew dust off of it.
"Maybe a weapon?" Edmund suggested.
Peter turned it over. "I can't see how," he said. He slipped his fingers in the indents. "Unless it's some sort of ma-" His fingers pressed something that clicked and Peter disappeared.
Another man appeared in his place. He had dark blond hair, a long, red leather coat and it had been a while since his last shave. "-worry about-" He stopped speaking and stared at Edmund. This man carried a cylinder identical to the one Peter had held. Even as Edmund watched, it crumbled into sand and sifted through his fingers to the floor. "Shit!" the man said. "That's ten thousand units gone. You got a dustpan?" he asked Edmund. "Maybe we can still get partial payment. Also, who the hell are you and where the hell am I?"
"You are in Cair Paravel and I am King Edmund," Edmund said. "What did you do with my brother?"
"Never touched him, I swear!" The man held up his hands. "We talked, that's all. Okay, we had a few drinks, got to know each other a bit, but it was all perfectly -" He frowned. "Wait, which one is your brother?"
"Peter," Edmund said, exasperated.
Edmund sighed, dragged his hand over his face, and said, very calmly. "With whom am I speaking?"
There was a moment of silence, then the man in red leather pointed to himself. "Oh, me? I'm Peter Quill, Captain of the Benatar, but you probably know me as Star-"
"Peter!" Lucy poked her head through the door at the top of the stairs. "The Calormen delegation will be here in half an hour. Are you ready? Oh, hello Edmund. Where is Peter?"
"That's rather the question of the hour," Edmund said dryly. He turned back to Peter Quill. "I'm sorry, please continue."
Quill sighed. "Star-Lord. Also known as Peter, also known as Quill, call me whatever because no one freaking listens when I talk."
"My deepest apologies," Edmund said. "This is my sister, the Queen Lucy. Will you please accompany me upstairs? We have food and drink, if you like, and we can sort this all out."
"Sure, I guess," Quill said. "Brother and sister, huh?"
Lucy smiled. "There are four of us who rule. We have another sister and brother, the Queen Susan and the High King Peter. Peter's the one that seems to be missing."
"Hey, if it works for you, 's all good." Quill looked around the treasury, with glittering jewels, swords and precious artifacts scattered on shelves and hanging from the walls. "So... is this stuff, like, for anybody?"
Edmund stared at him.
"No? Okay, that's cool." Quill said.
"Do you have a gift for the Calormen?" Lucy asked Edmund.
Edmund sighed. "Where's that hideous necklace?" He turned back to the shelf. Quill stepped out of his way and jingled slightly. Edmund frowned.
“Oh, this necklace?” Quill asked, producing it from the air.
"Use the tea set," Lucy commanded, pointing to a lower shelf. "We'll share a bit of Narnian culture and all that. Come on, we haven't much time!"
"Right." Edmund picked up the tea set and went upstairs. Quill left the necklace on a shelf and followed Edmund.
Edmund filled Lucy in on the situation as they walked. "He swapped places with Peter? Are you sure?" she asked
"One minute our Peter was there, and the next the Star-Lord took his place. As we haven't any wardrobes down there, I think we can assume it was the item Peter picked from the shelves that did the switch," Edmund said.
"Where is the item?" Lucy asked.
"It sorta fell apart," Quill said. He mimed brushing something off his hands. "Dust in the wind."
"Well, that will make things more difficult," Lucy said, chewing her lip.
"You think?" asked Quill.
“I'll fetch Susan and Sallowpad and Mr. Tumnus and we'll have a council immediately after Edmund's seen to the Calormen delegation,” Lucy said.
"I don't expect it will take long," Edmund said. "I'm just welcoming them to Narnia. We won't begin proper discussions until the dinner this evening." He looked down at his worn tunic. “Oh, blast, I’ve got to change. We’ll talk later,” he told Quill, and left them.
"Star-Lord Quill, I will take you to Auntie Beaver," Lucy said. "She'll provide you lunch and anything else you might need.”
“Sure,” Quill said. “Auntie Beaver.”
Quill expected a woman in a frilly apron, maybe with a scarf over her grey bun. What he got was… a beaver. Lucy led him to a kitchen where two very large mice and a badger chopped vegetables, kneaded dough and stirred a boiling pot of something that smelled really good. Auntie Beaver did wear an apron, though it was rather plain and covered with flour. Quill didn’t spot any cybernetic enhancements. It was probably rude to ask.
“Auntie Beaver, this is Star-Lord Peter Quill,” Lucy said. “Star-Lord, this is Auntie Beaver. She runs the household and we’d be utterly lost without her.”
“My Lord,” Auntie said, with a quick curtsy.
“Oh, I’m not-” Quill paused. Why couldn’t he be a lord, if he wanted? “-very formal. You can just call me Quill when we’re not being fancy.” He offered his hand and she shook it.
“Quill has arrived rather suddenly and with none of his belongings. Will you please assist him?” Lucy asked.
“Of course,” Auntie Beaver said. “Have you eaten today?”
“Just breakfast,” Quill said.
“Auntie, will you please make sure he finds his way to the parlor by one?” Lucy asked. “I’m afraid I’m going to have to leave you for a bit,” she told Quill.
“I’ll take care of him, don’t you worry,” Auntie said.
“You’re a darling,” Lucy said. She gave Auntie Beaver a kiss on the cheek and left the kitchen.
Auntie Beaver offered Quill a lunch of stew, fresh baked bread, grapes, cheese and wine and led him to a long dining hall lined with tapestries. It seemed to be the end of lunchtime, but a few diners still lingered, chatting. At one table, a Squirrel was arguing with a Centaur.
“Don’t mind them,” Auntie Beaver said. “Nibblestrip is convinced the Centaurs can control the weather, not just predict it, and nobody can convince her otherwise.”
Quill took a seat and picked up a hunk of bread. They’d been eating rehydrated frozen food packs for the last couple days, which were filling and allegedly nutritious, but not very good as a dining experience. "Thish-" Quill said, his mouth stuffed with bread, "-ish really good. Really good."
Auntie Beaver beamed with pride. "Thank you. How long will you be staying?"
Quill chewed and swallowed. "Don’t really know yet."
"We're a bit full up at the moment," Auntie Beaver said. "We've even opened the dungeons for sleeping space. Chained the doors open, of course, and hung up blankets for privacy. Dusted everything, beat the rugs clean, had to mend a couple of quilts because the mice had gotten in to play poker and they are careless with their pipes. But nobody’s complained.”
"I can sleep wherever, but I don't think I'll be staying very long," Quill said.
"Well, we'll get you sorted, don't you worry," she said.
After Quill had eaten his fill, Auntie Beaver lead him into a parlor. The parlor had stone walls and a stone floor, but a thick, burgundy rug covered the floor and the soft midday light filled the room from a large window overlooking the sea. Quill sat in a chair that was soft enough to be cozy but not so soft that he sank in deep. It was a very welcoming parlor.
Lucy joined him soon, and brought with her a huge raven and a man who had the upper body of a man and the lower body of a goat. His legs were so hairy that Quill thought they were pants at first, but he realized that the man was only wearing a long leather loincloth. A bold fashion choice.
Lucy introduced the raven as Sallowpad. The goat-man - a faun, Lucy said - was called Mr. Tumnus.
"Susan and Edmund should be here soon," Lucy said. "Oh, here they are." The door opened. Edmund entered first. He now wore a dark red tunic over a silver-grey shirt with flowing sleeves and had a gold circlet of braided wire with a ruby set in the front.
"Did it go all right?" Lucy asked.
Edmund sat down on a couch and tossed the circlet carelessly on the table beside it. "They weren't happy that Peter was absent. The Prince seemed to take it as a slight." He ran his fingers through his hair. "I made excuses as best I could, but I think Peter should arrange a meeting as soon as possible once he returns."
The raven croaked, and said, "It is as the old saying goes, 'It is easier to make a friend than to unmake an enemy.'" Quill jumped when he spoke; he hadn't expected the bird to speak. Fortunately, everyone was looking at the raven and didn't notice.
"Exactly," Edmund said. "Let's get Peter back, then, shall we?" The door opened again and a woman entered. She wore a long, green gown, laced in the front, with sleeves that fell to the floor. Unlike Lucy and Edmund, who were fair, this woman had raven black hair, braided in long strands and wrapped around her head, with flowers woven in. She was breathtakingly beautiful. Quill rose to his feet without thinking. Lucy let out an almost imperceptible sigh.
"Have I kept you waiting?" she asked. "I'm very sorry. There was a mix-up with the booths at the fair and three of the Badgers nearly came to blows with Flintmane."
"Hadn't started yet," Quill said. "You must be Queen Susan." He stuck out his hand. "Peter Quill. Called Star-Lord."
"It's lovely to meet you, Star-Lord," Susan said. She put her hand in his and Quill gave it a light kiss.
"Likewise, your Highness."
"Majesty," Edmund corrected quietly.
"Your Majesty," Quill said.
"I think we can begin now," Edmund said. Taking the cue, Quill and Susan sat down. Quill returned to his chair and Susan sat next to Lucy on a couch. Edmund turned to Quill. "What do you know of the device that switched you?"
"Well, we - my crew and I - were hired to retrieve it. It was in this abandoned ruin on this planet that had gone wild after a big earthquake a few centuries back. We're used to handling rough stuff so it wasn't a big deal." He shrugged, trying to appear effortlessly cool, like Don Johnson. He didn't mention that there had been someone else excavating the site when they'd arrived. Did that really matter?
"Planet?" Lucy asked. "You've been to more than one planet?"
"Sure, lots," Quill said. "Haven't you?"
Edmund, Susan and Lucy shared a look. “My sisters, my brother, and I traveled from another land to this one,” Edmund said. “We didn’t go by ship, though. We came through a wardrobe.”
Quill frowned. “What’s a wardrobe?”
“You hang clothing in it,” Lucy said.
“Like a closet?” Quill asked.
“Yes, exactly,” Lucy said.
“How did you steer it?” Quill asked. “What kind of fuel did it use? How did you all fit?” He looked at their faces. “You know, I really feel like I’m missing something here.”
“Magic,” Edmund said. “We went into the wardrobe, walked all the way to the back and walked out into a snowy forest.”
“That’s it?” Quill asked.
“That’s it,” Susan said.
“Can we use it?” Quill asked.
Susan shook her head. “It only goes one place, and you always get there at the time you left. I don’t think it would help us find Peter and I’m not sure if you could travel through it at all.”
"Do you think our Peter is in space?" Lucy asked.
"Probably," Quill said. "If he's with my crew, he's off-planet by now." There was a long moment of silent consideration, until Edmund spoke.
"Well, there goes my plan of sending a party to fetch him," he said.
“Is he safe?” Lucy asked Quill.
Quill shrugged. “Never know what you’ll run into out there. My guys’ll look after him, though.”
"Look, Su, is there an inventory of the treasury?" Edmund asked.
"Yes, of course," Susan said. "But many records were lost during the Hundred Years' Winter and I had to create new lists. We may not have more than a description."
“It’s worth a look,” Edmund said.
"There are books that contain myths about Men," Mr. Tumnus said. "Perhaps this has happened before."
"We should reconvene after we've gathered more information," Susan said. "Assuming the situation doesn't right itself before then. Star-Lord Quill, has Auntie Beaver found sleeping arrangements for you?"
Quill shook his head. "She just said the dungeons were full."
"I will speak to her," Susan said. "We're providing meals for all festival guests; Auntie Beaver can give you a schedule. I'll let her know that she's to help you if you need clothing or any other necessities. Please don't hesitate to ask for anything."
“Thanks,” Quill said.
They stood up to leave, and Lucy walked over to Quill. “There’s a party this evening for the festival guests and you’re welcome to attend.”
“Sounds good,” Quill said. “I’d love to. What’s this festival about, anyway?”
“The Crown Prince of Calormen - that’s south of here, past Archenland - heard of Susan’s beauty and he has come to court her and perhaps ask her to be his wife. We are throwing a great festival in his honor, with feasts and tourneys and a fair,” Edmund said. The corners of his mouth quirked up just a little as he watched Quill’s expression.
“She’s not available then,” Quill said, and sighed.
“No,” Edmund said. His smile faded. “And I would ask that, whatever your interest in Susan, you do not interfere-”
“Nope!” Quill lifted his hand. “Don’t worry. Not doing that again. Getting royally fucked ain’t worth getting royally fucked, if you know what I mean.”
“I believe I get the gist, yes” Edmund said dryly.
Lucy smiled. “You’ve come to Narnia at a wonderful time,” she told Quill. She bit her lip. “But I do hope Peter’s okay.”
“-gic-” Peter said, and stopped. He found himself in a room he'd never seen before. He stood at the end of a long table, built from battered metal with images etched in glass over the surface. The walls had a straight, even grain, too regular to be natural wood. The floor was covered in a rug worn thin and faded grey from long use. Other chairs and tables sat around the room, as battered as the rest of the room, but empty of people. The place reminded him of the Dwarven tavern in Glasswater, though the tools displayed on the walls looked like none he'd ever seen.
At the table in front of him, six people stared up at him. A frowning raccoon, a tree with a small device in his hands, and a pretty woman with dark hair and antennae rising from her forehead sat to his left. A large blue man with red tattoos and a green woman with red and black hair sat to his right. A grey-skinned man in a dark suit sat at the end a two grey humanoid figures with grey visors over their eyes stood behind him. Peter couldn't see their eyes, but they did not seem to be looking at anyone in particular.
Peter cleared his throat. "Hello," he said. "I am Peter, High King of Narnia. I seem to have encountered a strange bit of magic. Could you please tell me where I am?"
"You're in The Vengeful Spearfruit ," the green woman said. "Where has Quill gone?"
Peter shook his head. "I don't know who that is." He looked down at the object in his hands and lifted it up to take a closer look. At the first hint of movement, the object shuddered, and a moment later it shattered into pieces as tiny as sand and fell through Peter's fingers. The man in the suit stood up and slammed his hands on the table. The glass panels on the table turned blue and symbols in white scrolled rapidly across them. The suited man was short, shorter than Lucy, but stout. He had grey ridges running down his neck and across his hands.
"That iss my property you have desstroyed," the man hissed, and now Peter saw that he had a green forked tongue.
"I really don't think so," Peter said, taken aback by the man's intensity. "It came from the Cair Paravel treasury, which makes it property of-"
"Take them!" the grey man said to his grey servants. Peter drew his sword. The others jumped up from the table, though the tree took a few extra moments to tap something on his tablet before he got up.
The blue man smiled. "It will take more than three of you to defeat us."
“Groot!” the raccoon snapped. The tree slapped his device against his back and branches grew over it to hold it in place. At the same time, the tree’s branches extended, punched a cabinet on the wall and pulled out the weapons inside. He dropped them in the hands of his companions.
The grey man smiled. Both his guards stepped to the side, but left themselves standing in the same place. Each of the four humanoids took a step backwards, leaving their other selves standing in front of them. The green woman drew the hilt of a sword from under her coat and with a flick of her wrist, a blade extended. She thrust it into the nearest humanoid. The creature faded briefly and the sword passed harmlessly through it. It grabbed the green woman's arm and she screamed as grey steam rose from its hand. She twisted and knelt, pulled herself out of the grip and tried to kick its ankles. Her feet passed through it and she stumbled. She caught the back of a chair to keep herself from hitting the floor.
The eight humanoids spread out and duplicated again. The raccoon shot one with an enormous gun, but again the humanoid faded and the shot passed through it.
"I am Groot," the tree said nervously.
"Run?!" the blue man indignantly. "I don't think so."
"Let's call it a strategic retreat," the green woman said. Her arm had gone grey in the spot the humanoid had grabbed, but she ignored it. She dashed around the blue man and pointed her sword at Peter's throat. "You will come with us."
"Yes, ma'am," Peter said politely. It seemed the best strategy for the moment. He sheathed his sword.
"Follow Rocket," she said. The raccoon, who was halfway out the door, looked back at this. Peter guessed that was Rocket. The creature ran out the door and Peter followed. Once outside, he stumbled to a stop, agape. Buildings towered over him, lit with strings of lanterns in all different colors. Great glowing signs hung suspended on cables crossing between the buildings. Advertisements, Peter guessed, though he didn't know the language. Around him were all sorts of people, strange people in different colors and sizes, some with horns or scales, others wearing glittering glass plates or with what looked like armor fused to their limbs. He saw no humans, though, and no fauns, dwarves, or any of the other races from back home, except for the raccoon.
A hand slammed into his back. "Go!" the green woman yelled. Behind her, the grey humanoids duplicated and the grey man yelled in a language Peter didn't understand. Peter followed Rocket and nearly stumbled again when he saw where they were going.
An aeroplane! Peter marveled at the airships in front of him. He’d never been on an aeroplane. As a child, he’d dreamed of being a pilot, destroying German bombers and fighting for King and Country thousands of feet in the sky. But life – and Aslan – had a different path planned for him. He had once ridden a winged horse while leading a battle against pirates on the Eastern Sea, but that wasn’t at all the same thing.
Peter didn’t have time to admire the aeroplanes, though. He was shoved towards a blue and orange triwing plane, with a nose that dipped down like a bird of prey ready to strike. It was badly battered and covered in dents with the paint scraped off in some places, but it was a graceful thing just the same. Rocket leapt up the side of the plane and unlocked a hatch. It swung open. Rocket swung himself inside the hatch and kicked a ladder, which slid down and hit the ground on rubber feet. The green woman pushed Peter and he climbed into the ship.
Two curved knives were immediately pressed to his throat. “Who are you?” demanded the blue man. “What did you do with Quill?”
Peter held still. “I’m Peter, High King of Narnia,” he said carefully. “I don’t know anyone by that name.” They were in a large cockpit, with the open window looking out over the port. The raccoon took one of the pilot’s seats at the front.
“Hey, Drax, we go through liftoff like that and you’ll take the guy’s head off,” Rocket said. “All of you, sit down and buckle up.” There was a sound of scratching, of something crawling up the sides. Rocket flicked a plate of glass in front of him and an image appeared of the grey humanoids swarming over the wings.
“Sit,” the green woman said to Peter, and pointed to a chair. He glanced at Drax, who reluctantly let him go. Peter sat, and let her clip him into the safety harness, but put his hand over his hilt when she tried to take his sword.
“I will answer your questions peacefully, Lady, but you will not take Rhindon from me without a fight.”
“You named your sword?” Rocket said in disbelief.
The green woman just nodded. “Rocket, lock him in.” The raccoon pressed a button and the seat harness tightened with a loud click.
Drax reluctantly sheathed his blades. “We will continue this discussion later,” he said to Peter. He sat down and buckled in, as did the others. The engine thrummed beneath them and despite the uncertainty of his situation, Peter felt a thrill of excitement. An aeroplane! What a story he’d have to tell when he returned home!
The plane shot forward and Peter sucked in his breath as they flew directly at a tattered building, but Rocket shifted a gear and the plane curved up, and kept curving up until it looked as though its nose was reaching for the sky. The grey humanoids fell from the wings. The force of the lift pressed Peter back against his seat. He curled his hands around the arm rests and waited for the plane to level out, but Rocket shifted again and Peter felt another boost of power. This had to be faster than any plane in the Royal Air Force! He waited for the nose to dip and the plane to level out, but that moment never came. As the ship hurtled towards the sky, Peter realized that “aeroplane” wasn’t the right word for this vehicle at all.
The spaceship burst through the atmosphere and out into the darkness above. Peter stared in astonishment at the stars all around him and looked down to see the planet below. Fog – or perhaps smog, he thought, remembering London – covered most of the surface below, though lights shown through, casting a splotchy orange glow over the surface.
“There’s a jump spot fifteen clicks away,” Rocket said. He flipped a couple of switches. “I figure we should get some distance between us and them before we take a break.” He shifted a gear and they sped up again, until they reached a glowing net of linked hexagons. They burst through it and were abruptly somewhere else. The orange planet behind them had disappeared and two other planets were now in front of them, one that looked like red rock and another that swirled with blue and gold. Rocket flipped another switch and the ship settled into a soft hum, hovering where it was.
Everyone unfastened their harnesses and stood up. Peter pushed uselessly at the clip on his chest, but it was still locked. Drax pulled out his blades.
“Drax. Put your knives away,” the green woman said, and her voice held a note of command. The blue man lowered his knives, but did not sheathe them. It did not escape Peter’s notice that the woman’s own sword was still drawn. She introduced the crew briefly: Rocket the raccoon. Drax, the blue man. Mantis, the lady with the antennae. The tree was called Groot and the green woman herself was Gamora. “Where is Narnia?” she asked Peter.
“North of Archenland, by the shores of the Eastern Sea,” Peter said.
“What planet, genius?” Rocket demanded.
“I…” Peter said, and realized he had no idea. “We have no name for it.”
“Great,” the raccoon muttered. “What are the coordinates?”
“Coordinates?” Peter said blankly. He hated feeling stupid and feeling stupid with blades pointed at him was even worse.
“Can. You. Find. It. On. A. Map?” Rocket asked very slowly.
“Oh!” Peter said, relieved. “Yes, I think so.” Even if they had different names, he could still recognize the shape of the coastline. And they must have Calormen on one of their maps. It was too large to ignore, even if the small northern kingdoms could be overlooked.
“How is this relevant?” Drax demanded.
“You think they changed places,” Mantis said softly.
Gamora nodded. “I’ve seen something like this before." She put away her sword, took a small box from a cabinet and bandaged the wound on her arm.
Rocket swiveled a plate of glass towards Peter and jabbed some buttons. “We’ll start here.” He turned the sheet of glass towards Peter and a star chart appeared. “Point at anything that looks familiar,” he said.
Peter stared at him in disbelief. “Is this a joke?”
Rocket leaned over to look at the map, then looked back at Peter. “No?”
“Haven’t you got anything, er, closer?” Peter asked.
“Of which one?”
Peter stared at the image. He had to start somewhere, he supposed. “Try this one.” He tapped one at random.
“That one,” Rocket said.
“Yes,” Peter said. “Why not?”
Rocket dragged a paw over his face. “That’s a sun. It’s a sun. You’re saying you live on the firey surface of a sun in 10,000 degree weather?”
Peter stared at the map again, then pointed at a different dot.
“Also a sun,” Rocket said.
Gamora leaned over and tapped the screen. “Here,” she said, bringing up a surface map. “This is the planet we just left.” She showed him how to make the map larger and smaller and how to move around.
Grateful for the help, Peter studied the map, but finally he shook his head. “No. Narnia isn’t here.”
"What do you know about the device you were holding when you arrived?" she asked.
Peter shook his head again. "Absolutely nothing. My brother and I found it in the Royal Treasury and I picked it up to examine it. Neither of us had seen it before."
"So you stole it from the Royal Treasury and then what? How'd you make it do whatever it did?" Rocket asked.
"I didn't steal it," Peter said indignantly. "I'm the High King. The treasury belongs to my family."
Rocket put a hand to his chest and made a mocking half-bow. “ Well , then, your Maj-” He froze. “Wait, you have a whole treasury of your own?”
“I share it with my sisters and brother,” Peter said. “And the realm, of course.”
“Of course,” Rocket said. “And they’d be grateful to get you back, wouldn’t they? Could be a reward?”
Ah. “Yes, I believe something could be arranged,” Peter said, with a smile.
Groot looked up from his tablet. “I am Groot,” he said.
Rocket turned to Gamora. “We must get this man home safely.”
"You don't know anything and all we've got is a couple of surface scans." Gamora considered this. "We'll have to go to the Librarian."
“I am Groot,” Groot said.
“Chores before games,” Gamora told Groot.
“I am Groot !” Groot stamped his foot.
“Clean up where you shed,” Gamora said. “Ten minutes, that’s all.”
“I am Groot,” Groot grumbled. He shuffled out of the cockpit and down the ladder, stomping each step with a large wooden foot so the sound rang throughout the ship.
“I could do it,” Mantis said, after Groot was gone. “It would be very fast.”
Rocket sighed and shook his head. “He’s gotta learn.”
“Are you fostering him?” Peter asked, curious.
“He’s ours,” Rocket said curtly. He took his seat again. “Buckle up, everyone. We’re off to see the Librarian.”
Next: People Are Strange
When you're strange
Faces come out of the rain
When you're strange
No one remembers your name
When you're strange
When you're strange
When you're strange
-The Doors, People Are Strange, 1967
They arrived on the planet Vardent around midday of that planet's cycle. Both suns were high in the sky, but hidden behind thick, grey clouds. Rocket brought the Benatar close to the ground and steered it directly at a towering building made entirely out of open squares. Peter braced himself as the ship flew directly at the structure, but Rocket piloted it safely into one of the squares and docked it. Peter realized that the entire building was made of rooms designed to hold ships, rather like the part of the bay outside Cair Paravel where small boats were moored.
As they prepared to leave the ship. Peter came to a sudden realization. "I haven't any money." He rarely needed money at Cair Paravel as Susan handled most of the finances.
Rocket shrugged. "Sell your sword."
Peter clutched the hilt. "This is Rhindon, the sword given to me by Father Christmas, with which I slew the wolf Maugrim and with which Aslan knighted me and named me Wolf's-bane. There is no sum of money in the world that could part me from Rhindon."
"What about the dagger?" Gamora asked.
Peter looked down at his belt. "Oh, that's useless. I could sell that."
Rocket eyed the jewels on the dagger. "I know a guy that buys odds and ends. I could get you a good deal. Just twenty percent finder’s fee."
"I wouldn't mind a bit of help, I suppose," Peter said. "But I think ten percent should cover your assistance."
Rocket gave a long sigh, as of one who was at the end of his patience. "You're a stranger. You don't know the language. You don't know the currency."
"Units," Peter said, who had picked up on that much.
"And the exchange rate?" Rocket asked.
Peter paused. "Er. Look, if you tell me the price of bread, I'm sure I can calculate it from that."
Rocket shook his head. "You're hopeless." He threw up his paws. "You'll get half the value, if that. I'm a bargain, but if you can't see that, there's nothing I can do."
Peter considered his options and realized he had very few of them. "Twelve percent. I might only get half without you, but you'll get none without me."
Rocket nodded reluctantly. "It's a deal. I'm doing you a favor, princess, and don't you forget it."
"High King," Peter corrected. "I will remember."
"You should get a translator," Gamora said. She slung a bag across her chest.
"What, hire someone?" Peter asked, puzzled.
She shook her head. "An implant. They're not expensive and you'll be able to manage if we get separated."
Peter frowned. "But everyone speaks English."
"I am Groot!"
"Nearly everyone," Peter corrected himself.
"I am Groot," Groot said smugly.
"Yeah, he's special," Rocket said. “We all got translators. I can hear you, you can hear me. You think I wanna waste time learning Human?”
“I suppose not,” Peter said.
“I know a place. We’ll hit it after you get some units,” Rocket said.
“I’ll go arrange an appointment with the Librarian,” Gamora said. “There’s a diner on the south side of the lake, next to a grocery store-”
“I know it,” Rocket said.
Gamora nodded. “We’ll meet up there.” She turned to Mantis. “Why don’t you come with me, and Drax, you can go with Rocket.”
“I am Groot!” Groot insisted.
“Fine, you can go to the arcade.” Rocket sighed. “You wanna shoot asteroids, we could just go shoot asteroids.”
“I am Groot,” Groot said stubbornly.
“I said yes,” Rocket said. “Don’t spend all your units.” He flapped his paw at Groot and Groot grinned and dashed off.
Drax pressed a switch and a cabinet opened, filled with odds and ends. He took out three soft squares and handed one to Rocket and one to Peter. Peter unfolded it and realized it was a long jacket, thin enough to be nearly transparent, but with a tint of red around the edges.
“For the rain,” Rocket said. He was already wearing his. “It’s Quill’s. He won’t care.”
The rain here must be pretty light if a jacket like this was enough protection, but he put it on anyway. They left the docking room and went into a long hallway, painted in a forgettable beige, then got on a lift. Peter hadn’t realized it was a lift until the floor dropped. It stopped a moment later, in a surprisingly gentle landing. Drax pushed open the door.
It was, simply, the greenest place Peter had ever been. Moss covered the buildings, vines wrapped around the lampposts and grass stood waist-high all around. A pathway wound through the streets and forked off to the doors of the buildings. Peter stepped out of the lift and was hit by a deluge of water. He looked up to see where the waterfall was coming from and choked on the water that filled his nose and mouth. He spat. The water had an odd taste; something pungent and earthy. “Is it poisonous?” he asked, wiping his hand over his mouth.
“The rain pulls up fertilizers in the mountains and dumps them on the lowlands,” Drax said. “It is the reason for the virility of the plants in this region.”
“Really,” Peter said. He held out his cupped hands and let them fill up. “The crop yield must be incredible.”
“They provide most of the food for the star system,” Drax said.
“We have enough food for our people back home, but my sister Susan has been thinking we could export-”
Rocket cut in. “You two can stay here and chat vegetables, but I’m gettin’ out of the weather.” He stomped off through one of the pathways. When he turned a corner, the grass hid him. Peter hurried to follow.
He didn’t have far to go. Rocket stopped at a small shelter next to a raised track. He smacked a button on the side of the shelter and moment later, a small, yellow carriage slid down the track and stopped in front of them. It was rectangular, with rounded edges, and hung by a single arm from the track. It swayed a little when Rocket opened the door set into its side. “Come on,” he said. Peter and Drax climbed into the carriage after him. It had two benches built into the side of the that faced each other. No driver was in sight.The door snapped shut, Rocket tapped on a glass screen and the carriage shot forward. It slid smoothly along the track as the ground below them dropped slowly.
Peter eagerly leaned over to look out the valley below. A cluster of buildings in the center of the valley rose up from the greenery, vines twisting around them as if the plants were trying to draw the buildings back to the earth. Several of the buildings had murals painted on their walls. They showed people who were not human, but appeared to be held in high regard. They wore no crowns, but all had prominent jewelry of some sort and one was posed in front of a flag.
The track dipped down and stopped in front of a rain shelter on the top of one of the buildings. Rocket jumped out of the carriage and led them to another lift, which dropped them straight to the ground floor. Outside, the rain still sluiced down on them. Rocket led them to a shop on the fifth floor of another building, where Peter sold his dagger to a woman with tiny television screens embedded in her arms. Peter wondered if she was born that way (it seemed unlikely) or if she’d had them installed (a very odd choice, though they did appear to be useful) but he politely did not ask and no one offered an explanation.
Rocket then led them to a medical office in a different building. It wasn't a large office, but corridors led off to the right and left, presumably to other rooms. The floors and tables were white and polished to a shine. A desk faced the door and a woman with pink skin and brown hair sat at it, writing something in a ledger.
Rocket hopped up on the desk. "My friend here needs a translator implant." He waved at Peter.
The woman eyed him with distaste and tugged a stack of folders away from his feet. "Do you have an appointment?" she asked Peter.
"Er, no," Peter said. He glanced over at Rocket, who shrugged uselessly. "We've only just arrived here."
She sighed heavily. "We have a remote appointment site that you can connect to from any standard comm system."
Peter tried to act as if this made sense to him. "I'm sorry."
She sighed again and flipped open a different ledger book. "You're in luck. We had a cancellation. What's your name?" she asked Peter.
"I am Peter of Narnia," Peter said.
"Is that your full name?" she asked.
"No, but -"
"Your full name, please," she said, pen hovering over the paper. "It's regulation."
Peter unconsciously straightened his back and said, "I am High King Peter the Magnificent, Wolf's-Bane, Emperor of the Lone Islands, Lord of Cair Paravel and Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Lion." She blinked at him. "Pevensie," he added. She nodded and bent her head to write it down.
When he'd given all the necessary information, she pointed at a set of white chairs against the wall and said, "Wait there. The doctor will see you soon."
Peter, Rocket and Drax took their seats. Rocket took a handful of wires and metal plates from his pocket and began to fiddle with it. His feet dangled high above the floor. Drax picked up a magazine with a blue and gold woman posing on the cover with a large gun. Peter looked at the selection of magazines, but none of them were in a language he could understand.
"Is it a very painful procedure?" he asked.
"What is the worst pain you've ever felt?" Drax asked.
Peter thought about this. "I once took a spear to the belly and my brother had to carry me down a mountain in the middle of a storm," he said, then, "Wait, no, I took a severe burn on my left side when we drove a dragon away from the Lone Islands. That was worse."
"This ain't going to hurt as much as those things," Rocket said.
Drax looked him over. "You have no scars."
"I have a very faint one here, where the spear pierced me," Peter said, putting his hand over the spot. "My sister has a cordial with the juice of the fire-flower that heals all wounds short of death."
Peter sat for a silent moment as Drax turned the page in his magazine, then said, "Have you had any interesting wounds?"
"No," Drax said. "I don't get injured."
Rocket looked up from the project in his hands. "You got knocked out by Ronan and nearly drowned!"
"That doesn't count," Drax said calmly.
"What? Why not?" Rocket asked.
"I don't remember it," Drax said.
"Because of the head wound!" Rocket exclaimed.
Drax ignored Rocket and looked at Peter. "You should try not getting injured."
Peter waited, but Drax didn't add anything else. Peter nodded. "That's a good strategy. Thank you for the advice."
Rocket rolled his eyes. "Either of you got a battery?" he asked. Drax produced a small metal cylinder from his pocket and gave it to Rocket.
"Thanks," the raccoon said.
As it turned out, the procedure barely hurt at all. The doctor pressed an injector to his neck, just below his right ear, and pulled the trigger. It stung briefly and then the pain faded to a faint ache. The doctor told him that the ache would fade in a few hours. Peter touched the spot, but did not feel a wound or a bump.
"Here, read this," the doctor said, handing him a chart.
Peter stared at the strange words in foreign alphabets, then blinked and rubbed his eyes when the letters shifted and settled into the familiar Latin alphabet. He lifted his head as he heard a whirring sound. He touched the implant. Was it supposed to be doing that?
But the doctor was giving Rocket an odd look. "Is your pocket moving?"
"What?" Rocket asked. He looked down at the pocket carrying his project. "Oh, crap," he said. He left the room, and a moment later, they heard a muffled boom. Rocket returned, smelling of smoke. "It's all right," he said, to the faces staring at him. "I'm fine."
Peter looked at Drax, who seemed to see nothing odd about this. The doctor looked a little confused, but she tapped the chart he was holding. "If you could please read this?" She held up a small device and watched the screen.
"Certainly," Peter said. "'The rapid beige Ferex leapt over the laggard hound'," he read aloud.
The doctor nodded and put the device away. "Everything's in order. Do you want any additional language packs? 20% off if you buy them now."
"No, thank you," Peter said.
The doctor nodded. "If you come back here, it's 10% off for the life of your implant since you bought it from us. Any upgrade at any time."
"That's very generous," Peter said, but he expected he wouldn't be back after he returned to Narnia. It was a pity, really. He would have loved to explore this new world, but this unexpected trip couldn't have come at a worse time. The festival would bring people from all over Narnia and beyond and as High King, he should be there to meet them and speak to them, so they knew the High King would be on their side in times of trouble - and so he knew he could call on them when needed. Besides, he was missing all the fun! The merfolk would be singing for them, which only happened on rare occasions, and there would be a joust, and he and Edmund were to fight in an exhibition duel. He couldn't stay away for long. But perhaps this Librarian would have answers.
They met up with Gamora, Mantis, and a sullen Groot in front of the diner. "I am Groot," Groot informed them when they arrived.
"You spent all afternoon at the arcade. It won't kill you to spend some time with us," Rocket said.
"I called in a favor and we've got an appointment with the Librarian. We can get dinner after. Many of the places here are open all night," Gamora said.
Something cooking in the restaurant smelled delicious, but Peter nodded. Finding out about the device that had brought him here was more important.
Gamora led them to a building to the - well, Peter would have called it south back home, based on the movement of the sun, but with two suns here, he wasn't sure how it worked. Did they even use four cardinal directions? They must, right? In any case, she led them to a tall building that had a mural of a bookshelf covering an entire side of the building, with a shelf of books on each floor.
"The library's in there?" Peter asked.
"That is the library," Gamora said. Peter looked up and tried to estimate how many books were in that building. More than in all of Narnia. "It's not all books, of course."
"Oh," Peter said, surprised at his own disappointment.
"There's a floor for music and a floor for classes," she said. "The top five floors houses Special Collections. That's considered too dangerous to be open to the general public."
"Where are we going?" Peter asked.
Mantis pointed upward. "All the way to the top," she said.
This lift was slower than the others, because people got on and off along the way. When they'd reached the highest floor that the lift buttons allowed, Gamora swiped a card and the lift kept going up. It stopped at the top with a faint ding and the door slid open with a whoosh. They stepped out of the lift into a small office, where a blue man with green scales instead of hair sat at a desk reading a book. He looked up when they came in and raised a single, green-scaled eyebrow.
"Hello," Peter said. "I am Peter of Narnia, and these are-"
The blue man put up a hand sharply to stop him, then held out his hand. Gamora gave him the card she'd used in the elevator. He picked up a tablet, swiped the card along the edge, and read whatever appeared on the screen. Then he nodded. Gamora started to step forward, but he held up a hand again, still watching the screen. Finally he nodded again, pushed a button on the edge of the desk and a door behind him slid open. He swept his hand toward the door.
"Thank you," Peter said, but he'd already picked up his book again. Right, then. He followed Gamora into the next room.
The Librarian had eight (at least) tentacle arms stretched out around her office, tapping on keyboards and screens, calibrating instruments that didn't appear to be attached to anything and darting around to change places or type on a new screen. One arm brushed against a stack of books, but as it teetered on the edge of the table, another arm swept in and caught it, straightening the stack and giving it a small pat.
"Yes?" the Librarian asked. She wore a loose skirt and a sweater vest. A pendant hung from her neck in the shape of an eye, and Peter was wondering what it symbolized when it looked at him and blinked. He started.
"We need information on an item we found," Gamora said. She produced a small silver rectangle and handed it to the Librarian.
"'Found'," the Librarian snorted. She took the disk from Gamora delicately with the tip of one arm and slid it into a slot on the wall. An image of the device that had transported Peter popped up on the screen. "Where is the item now?"
"It is gone, my lady," Peter said. "It crumbled to dust."
"You used it, then," she said. "Where did you go?"
Hope bloomed in Peter's chest. If she knew what it did, she surely could reverse it! "Well, here," he said. "That's rather the issue."
"And you didn't bring the other along for a return trip?" All three of her eyes focused on him.
"I only had the one," Peter said.
"Our friend had the other," Gamora said. "We believe they might have changed places."
The Librarian nodded. "Yes, if they triggered the devices at the same time, that would happen."
"Where can we find another one?" Peter asked.
"You cannot," the Librarian said. She popped the disk out of the slot and handed it back to Gamora. "Only one set was made and the maker is long dead. I'm surprised these survived. I'd assumed they were used up centuries ago."
"But...," Peter said helplessly. "How will I get home?"
She shrugged. "Like anyone else, I suppose. Find a transport and plug in the coordinates. There are crews that will let you work for passage if you can't afford it."
"I don't know the coordinates," Peter admitted.
She raised three eyebrows. "How does anyone let you leave the house, boy?"
Peter's face burned. "I am no boy, my lady. I am Peter, High King of Narnia, and I did not travel here by choice!"
"And I am no lady," she smiled, showing teeth. "Narnia, then? Is that your planet?" She pulled up a keyboard.
"Country," Peter said. "I do not know the name of my planet, if it has one." He hurried on before she could comment. "Have you any references to Narnia? Calormen? Archenland? Telmar?"
She tapped at a keyboard, but shook her head to each of these. "Have you had any other identifiers?"
Peter shook his head.
"Well, then." She hit a button and the door behind them slid open with a whoosh. "Rufuz will validate your parking if you need it." She looked directly at Gamora. "My debt to you is paid."
And they were waved back into the lift and going down before Peter could think of anything else to say.
After a quiet moment, Mantis spoke up. "Perhaps Quill will find a way back," she said. She looked at Peter. "And you could do what he did, but in reverse."
"Perhaps," Peter said gloomily. Aslan wouldn't leave him lost here, would he? Surely not. Unless Aslan had expected this to happen. Was there another prophecy? A lesson he needed to learn? He wasn’t a tame lion.
They didn't speak for the rest of the lift ride, until they were out in the pouring rain. "Does it ever stop?" Peter said irritably. He tugged the hood of his jacket forward. In truth, he was entirely dry under the coat, but he was getting very tired of having sheets of water dumped over him.
"Let's eat," Rocket said, and so they went to the diner.
Peter's brief enjoyment at being able to read the menu diminished when he realized he recognized none of the dishes. "What would you recommend?" he asked his companions.
"This one," Rocket said. "I heard it's good for humies."
"He means humans," Drax explained. Rocket leaned close to Drax and said something that made both of them snicker.
"All right," Peter said. He supposed it was as good a choice as any.
Mantis looked at the menu item Rocket had pointed out. "Quill doesn't like that one," she said.
"Oh?" Peter said, without much interest. Right now, he didn't care much about Quill's likes and dislikes.
Mantis nodded. "He says it wriggles in your stomach."
That got Peter's attention. "Wriggles?"
"Yes," she said. "It's served live and you eat it whole."
Peter looked at Rocket. Rocket and Drax broke into laughter. "What does Quill like?" he asked Mantis.
She studied the menu, then pointed out an item. "He gets this at lots of places."
The meal Quill preferred turned out to be a slab of cooked meat and slices of fried tubers. He ate it with a beverage made of some kind of fruit, which Mantis assured him was a favorite of Quill's.
"How did you become King?" she asked him, as they were finishing their meal. "Was your father King before you?"
Peter felt better now that he'd eaten a proper meal. There had to be a way to get home, and he would find it. He shook his head. "No, my father was never a king. When I was fourteen, my brother and sisters and I traveled to Narnia," he began, and he told them the story of four children and a wardrobe, a Witch, and a Lion. He left out Edmund's betrayal, however. It was in the official histories in the castle's library, but when the story was told at the Feast of Aslan's Spring every year, the bards did not mention it, and the ballads that were sung across Narnia left that verse out.
Mantis listened to the story eagerly and Drax stopped him to ask more about the battle. Gamora stayed silent, though, until Peter had finished his story, and then said, "This Aslan. He took you away from your parents and made you into his weapon? He offered you the chance to rule in exchange for destroying his enemies?"
Peter didn't understand the sadness in her voice. "Yes," he said. "I suppose he did."
"I am Groot," Groot said eagerly.
"He wants to hear about the trees again," Rocket translated, so Peter told the story of the first Dryad he'd befriended in Narnia. Gamora did not say anything more.
"We should go back to the ship and get some rest," Peter said. "We can begin afresh tomorrow."
"Hey, we don't take orders from you," Rocket said. "I'm going to go back to the ship and sleep."
"I am Groot."
"It is not the same!"
Peter rolled his cup between his hands, watching the pinkish green pulp swirl at the bottom. Plink. Peter looked down in puzzlement at the thumb-sized silver disk that had attached itself to his shoulder. Plink. Drax got one, too. Plink. Plink. Plink. Groot, Gamora, and Rocket. Plink. Peter guessed that was Mantis, but he couldn't look because he found himself completely unable to move.
“We got ‘em!” an unfamiliar voice said. “Roll ‘em up, boys, we got a shipment for the Diamond.” A face with a green beard, gold eyes and a rather rank smell peered into Peter’s face. Peter tried to twist away, but he couldn’t even turn his head. “Gimme an extra zap on this one. Still got the lights on in here.” Peter tried to speak, but the silver disk on his shoulder gave him a strong electrical shock and everything went dark.
Next: Dancing in the Moonlight
We'll return to Peter Quill in the next chapter, which will be up in about two weeks. After that, I'm taking a posting break until after January 1, since everyone's going to be reading Yuletide and holiday exchanges for a while. Subscribe if you want to be notified when the next chapter goes up!
The playlist for this fic is up on Spotify and I'll be adding relevant tracks to it as I go.
Chapter 3: Dancing In the Moonlight
Lucy shows Quill some Narnian hospitality by taking him to a party in the woods, where he makes new friends.
This was supposed to go up on Dec. 16, but there's so much happening in December that I figured I'd post it early. So enjoy! Step away from the burning wreck of Tumblr, take a break from figuring out all the features in Pillowfort, and read fic for a bit.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
We get it almost every night
When that moon is big and bright It's a supernatural delight
Everybody's dancin' in the moonlight
Everybody here is out of sight
They don't bark, and they don't bite
They keep things loose, they keep 'em tight
Everybody was dancin' in the moonlight
- King Harvest, Dancing in the Moonlight , 1972
The party was several hours' ride up the coast to a small forest. Lucy rode a Horse nicknamed Brae, who she said was her usual companion, and they were quite good friends, sharing gossip along the road. Quill rode a Horse called Brrin-whinn-whinny-whooy-hay who refused to answer to any shortened versions of his name. Brrin-whinn-whinny-whooy-hay informed Quill that he was only providing this service as a courtesy to the Queen, and that Quill shouldn't expect any additional favors after this.
"It's really an honor for a Horse to agree to carry you," Lucy said.
"I appreciate it," Quill said. "It's very kind of you." He eyed the saddle the groom was buckling on the Horse. "How do I steer?"
Brrin-whinn-whinny-whooy-hay growled and Lucy put a calming hand on his neck. "He's new here. He doesn't know." To Quill she said, "You don't. Brrin-whinn-whinny-whooy-hay will take care of everything. All you have to do is hold on."
"I'm sorry," Quill said to the Horse. "I've never been on a Horse before. Or a horse." Even in his brief time in Narnia, he'd learned to hear capital letters.
Brrin-whinn-whinny-whooy-hay snorted, but Lucy said, "That's good. You won't have picked up on any bad habits. All you have to do is hold on with your legs. Squeeze with your thighs. You can do that, can't you?" She gave him a sunny smile.
"Oh, yeah," Quill said. "I have very strong thighs." He winked. "What if I squeeze too tight, though?"
Brrin-whinn-whinny-whooy-hay eyed him. "Your human legs cannot possibly do me any harm."
"Yes, they could!" Quill protested, then reconsidered. "If I wanted them to, which I don't."
Brrin-whinn-whinny-whooy-hay yawned. "Squeeze as tight as you like. If I feel any discomfort, I shall let you know. But," he added sharply. "if you dig your heels in, I will throw you in the dirt."
Quill looked at Brrin-whinn-whinny-whooy-hay and turned to Lucy. "Maybe I should walk," he whispered.
"You'll be fine," she whispered back. "He's a sweetheart, really."
Quill looked back at Brrin-whinn-whinny-whooy-hay, who grinned, showing teeth.
Despite his threats, Brrin-whinn-whinny-whooy-hay carried Quill gently. The road was smooth and well-traveled, so the trip went by quickly. They took a wide path into the forest and the Horses stopped by the bank of a swiftly flowing stream.
Lucy dismounted easily and helped Quill slide off of Brrin-whinn-whinny-whooy-hay. He stumbled a little when his feet hit the ground, but kept himself upright and did not knock Lucy over.
"I shall see you later, my darlings," Lucy said to the Horses, stroking each of them on the forehead. Brae nudged her affectionately and the Horses trotted off.
"Where are they going?" Quill asked.
"The Deer are having a get-together and they were invited. It's not far. They'll come back for us later," Lucy said. "Come along!" She pushed through the trees and they came to a large clearing, full of dancers of all kinds of species. Dryads danced with each other, with Satyrs and Fauns and the occasional Dwarf. Smaller creatures, like Rabbits and Squirrels and Foxes and Hedgehogs, danced with each other and wove in and out of the Dryads' dances in time with the music, and in such a graceful way that no one was tripped or stepped upon.
Lanterns hung from branches, grapes grew from all the trees, and barrels of wine were stacked at one end of the clearing, with goblets and bowls beside them. Quill watched as a Fox filled two goblets and gave one to another Fox resting beneath a nearby tree.
A band played a fast, upbeat tune. A Rabbit played a wooden trapezoidal instrument with strings stretched across it longways. His paws danced over the strings, plucking and strumming the tune. A Dwarf played a fiddle, a Faun played a pan flute, and a Horse stood on a wooden platform made of multiple kinds of wood pushed together, with cowbells nailed to the sides. She stamped the platform to the rhythm of the music and kicked the cowbells with perfect timing. Her dancing drove the music and all the other dancers followed her beat. A Raccoon at the front of the band sang a tune. Quill couldn't make out the words, but it sounded old and strong and joyful.
Quill held out his hand to Lucy. "Dance with me?" he asked.
She smiled up at him. "I'd love to." She wore her hair loose, except for a few thin braids woven with ribbons and wrapped around her head. Her dress was made of panels of green and gold with short sleeves and loose skirt panels that flew out when she spun, like the petals of a flower. You didn't need to know the steps to this dance. The music swept you up and you just had to keep your feet underneath you. Quill and Lucy wove in and out of the other couples, dodging and spinning and laughing for the pure joy of the dance.
Finally the music stopped and the musicians put their instruments aside to have a little wine and catch their breath. "Do you want something to drink?" Lucy asked.
"Sure," Quill said. She went to fetch them wine and Quill tugged the lapels of his red leather coat back in place. He wandered over to the band. "You guys are really good," he said.
"Thank you," the Rabbit said. "This is Janet," he pointed a paw at the Raccoon, "Neehy-Priehy-Winny-Brieny-Heeh," he pointed at the Horse, "Briflkin, and Darrus," he said, indicating the Dwarf and the Faun. "And I'm Clover." He stuck out a paw.
"Star-Lord. Peter Quill," Quill said, shaking the paw. "Hey, do you take requests?"
"Perhaps, perhaps," Clover said. "What would you like to hear?"
Quill fumbled in his pocket and brought out his Zune. "Here, you put these in your ears," he said, showing Clover the earbuds. He demonstrated how to work the music player and queued up the song he wanted. "How about it?"
Clover held an earbud in his ear with a paw and nodded. "I like it. We'll see what we can do."
Lucy returned with two goblets of wine. "What's going on?" she asked.
"Sharing tunes," Quill said. He accepted the goblet she offered.
"Come, I'll introduce you to some of my friends," Lucy said. She linked her arm in his and led him away from the band.
As they left, Quill heard Clover say, "Don't worry about me, I have perfect recall."
"And I have perfect pitch," said Janet the Raccoon.
"We know," the Dwarf and Horse said in weary unison.
"Uh-oh," Quill said, glancing back.
"Oh, are they bickering again?" Lucy said with a sigh. "Don't worry, they'll make up before the next set. Oh! Tumnus!" She let go of Quill and ran to embrace the Faun, nearly spilling her wine.
"My dear Lucy!"
"I thought you wouldn't be here," Lucy said.
"Wouldn't miss it!" Tumnus said. Quill walked over slowly, not sure if this was a private moment. But Tumnus turned to him. "I must apologize, Star-Lord," and here he dipped his head respectfully. "I have found no answers yet."
Quill tried to squelch the weight in his chest at that news. "It's all right," he said gamely.
"I have not finished looking, though!" Tumnus said. "My cousin is arriving tomorrow and I have tasked him with bringing a number of books from my home. I am certain I have a book of legends about King Frank and Queen Helen and I think one tells the story of how they arrived in this world."
"Cool!" Quill said. "I mean, you guys have been super, but..."
"But you miss your home." Lucy smiled. "I understand. We are eager for the return of our brother, as well." She linked her arm with his. "We'll find the answer, I promise."
"Daena asked about you," Tumnus told Lucy.
"Oh, yes, I must say hello! Where is she?"
"She's with Greea in the upper clearing," Tumnus said.
Lucy gave Tumnus a lingering kiss on the cheek. "I must go greet them. I will find you again soon."
Quill heard a strong drumbeat as they went up the hill to the other clearing. This party had no lanterns, just the moonlight streaming through the branches of the trees. The musicians played no melodies and when Quill stepped into the clearing, he realized why. The band consisted of three trees dancing at one end of the clearing and using their own branches as instruments. One shook thick bunches of dry leaves like maracas.
Quill thought he was used to walking, talking trees now, but Narnian trees were nothing like Groot. They were beautiful people in human form; willows with long, flowing leaves for hair that hung below their knees, tall, barrel-chested oaks with layered beards of green leaves and small acorns, slender birches, with limbs as thin and pale as bones, and others Quill couldn't identify. They laughed and flirted and entwined limbs. The trees weren't the only creatures there. Quill saw several Fauns and a Centaur. One Dwarf appeared to be having an intimate conversation with an oak.
Lucy caught sight of someone on the other side of the clearing. "There's Daena and Greea! Come, I'll introduce you." She linked her arm in his and they wove through the dancers to meet Lucy's friends.
Lucy introduced him to Daena and Greea. Daena was a willow. Her long leaf-hair flared out as she moved and made Quill think of a cape. Greea was a birch and her bone-white limbs had a light dusting of green blossoms. There was a third woman, as well. Nacila had a soft, rippling voice, like a flowing river on a summer day. She looked as though someone had poured water over a human woman and taken out the woman, leaving only the water.
"Where did you find this one?" she asked, barely loud enough to be heard above the party.
"He showed up on our doorstep," Lucy said with a smile.
"He's lovely," Nacila murmured. She touched his cheek with a cool, damp hand. Lucy explained that Nacila was a Naiad, a water spirit. Quill could feel the gentle touch of her skin under the water. Nacila turned to Lucy. "May I borrow this one for a bit?"
"He is free to go where he wishes," Lucy said. She looked at Quill.
"I would be honored to spend time with you," he said, with a little bow.
"Have a good time," Lucy said. She kissed his cheek and let his arm go. Nacila took it up.
"Would you like to see my pond?" she asked.
"Absolutely," Quill said. "Is that where you live?"
She led him away from the party and along a path through the trees. "You could say that."
"What would you say?" Quill asked. They came out of the forest and the moonlight let Quill see the pond clearly. It was about fifteen feet wide and fed from a small waterfall a little taller than Quill himself. A dam kept the water in and the overflow poured into the stream below. Nacila dove into the water and disappeared. Quill tried to see her under water, but he could only see rocks. Then she surfaced and Quill saw her take shape as she pulled the water into herself. "I am the pond," she said. Her self flowed like a wave to where Quill still stood on the shore. She stepped out of the water and cupped his cheek with a translucent hand. She kissed him. "Can you swim?" she asked.
"Yes," Quill said. He touched the drops of cool water that remained on his cheek. "If I'm in the pond, am I in you?"
She rested a hand on his chest and thought for a moment. "Yes," she said. "But it is an embrace, not penetration." She slid her hand lower. "I can only be penetrated in my human form."
"Does that mean-"
Nacila shut him up with a kiss. "I can tell you," she said softly, "or I can show you."
"I'm a visual learner," Quill said.
"I am a tactile teacher," Nacila said. She grabbed the lapels of his jacket and fell backwards, pulling him with her.
From down the hill, Quill could hear familiar music.
I love rock and roll
So put another dime in the jukebox, baby
I love rock and roll
So come and take the time
And dance with me
A couple of hours later, Lucy found him asleep, lying next to the pond as the water lapped gently against him. She knelt down and shook his shoulder gently until he woke.
"It's Rocket's turn," he muttered, and threw his arm over his eyes.
She shook his shoulder again. "Quill, it's Lucy. The Horses are here. If you don't want to walk back to Cair Paravel, you need to come with me now."
Quill slowly opened his eyes. "Narnia," he said. He dragged himself to his feet.
Lucy nodded. "Here. Clover asked me to give this back to you." She pushed his Zune and earbuds back into his hand. He slid them in the pocket of his jacket, then grabbed a handful of his shirt and tried to squeeze the water out of it.
"Don't worry," Lucy put a hand on his arm. "We can get you dry clothes at the castle."
"Thanks," Quill said. He knelt down and put a hand in the water. "Thank you. That was awesome ," he told the water. He stood up again and said to Lucy, "Seriously, that was incredible."
Lucy giggled. "I'm glad you could share company with Nacila. I think she gets lonely up here sometimes."
"Any time," Quill said. "Seriously. I mean it." He looked around. "Where are the Horses?"
Brrin-whinn-whinny-whooy-hay took one look at Quill and said, "No. Absolutely not. He's drenched. He'll ruin my saddle."
"You've worn that saddle through thunderstorms," Lucy said.
"With a rider over it," Brrin-whinn-whinny-whooy-hay said. "He'll get water under the saddle and it'll chafe. He'll have to walk."
Brae stomped her foot. "Oh, stop. I'll carry him. Brrin-whinn-whinny-whooy-hay, you can take the Queen. There. Let's go home. I'm tired and I want to be in bed before the wine glow wears off."
And so it was settled. Lucy and Quill mounted the Horses and rode back to the castle.
Lucy walked arm-in-arm with Quill up the staircase of the royal tower of Cair Paravel. "You can dance if you want to," Lucy sang. "You can leave your friends behind. Because your friends don't dance and if they don't dance, well, they're no friends of mine." She leaned against Quill. "It's a bit mean, isn't it? I'd never send a friend away because they refused to dance."
"But you could leave them behind and go off to dance in the woods for an evening." They reached a landing and Quill twirled her.
"I had a wonderful time," Lucy said, with a happy sigh.
"So did I." Quill grinned.
"Come, this way," Lucy said. "You're staying in Edmund's quarters, I believe. I'm sorry we couldn't find better accommodations, but we're packed. We've even had to put people in the dungeons."
"Yeah, your... uh... aunt? mentioned that."
"'Auntie Beaver'. It's okay to call her Auntie Beaver. It's her name."
"Oh. Okay," Quill said.
"Beavers only share their real names with people they're very close to," Lucy explained. "For everyone else, they use titles similar to human ones. Mr. and Mrs. Beaver were two of the first people I met in Narnia. Auntie Beaver is Mrs. Beaver's sister. She's marvelous. I don't know what we'd do without her."
"She's super nice," Quill said.
"We're in the family tower now," Lucy said. "That's our sitting room." She pointed to a door as they went up the stairs. "Then my rooms, and Edmund's above that, then Susan's, and Peter's got the top floor." She gave Quill a slightly guilty look. "Peter's bed is empty, but it doesn't feel right to let a stranger to use it, do you?"
"I know I'd feel weird if it was my bed," Quill said.
They reached the landing on Edmund's floor and Lucy knocked on the door. A moment later, Edmund opened it. He wore soft breeches and a loose shirt and his fair hair hung loose to his shoulders. "Oh? Oh, yes. Come in." He held the door open to let Quill and Lucy in. "Why are you wet?"
"Nacila took a liking to him," Lucy giggled.
"She was amazing," Quill sighed happily. "I have hooked up with quite a variety of chicks, but wow , she was something else."
"Mm-hm," Edmund said. "Do you want something dry to wear?" They were in a living area, with a sofa and a couple of chairs arranged around a low table. To the side stood a bookshelf. A fireplace was set into one wall and a large, framed map was mounted above it. Quill saw the names Narnia and Archenland and Calormen. One end of the room had a cot set up, with pillows and a blanket piled on top of the mattress.
"Yeah, that's be great," Quill said. He adjusted his pants in a way which might have been subtle if everyone in the room wasn't already looking at him. "These are getting a little uncomfortable, if you know what I mean."
"Not a problem," Edmund said, declining to confirm if he knew what Quill meant. He went into another room and returned with a towel and clean clothes. "You can change in there, if you like," he said, pointing at the door.
Quill took the towel and clothes and went into the other room, which turned out to be a bedroom with a dresser, a couple of chairs, a four-poster bed, and enough bookshelves to cover one wall. None of the candles were lit, but the moonlight through the window made it bright enough to change. He went back into the other room.
"You can hang up your wet things on the coat rack," Edmund said, so Quill did.
"I'll let Auntie Beaver know, and she can find someone to clean them in the morning," Lucy said.
There was a knock at the front door of the suite and Lucy ran to open it. "Su! Come in!" Susan wore a dressing gown over a long nightgown and her hair was braided back in a single plait that hung down her back. "Did we wake you?" Lucy asked, closing the door.
"I was up," Susan said. "I wanted to see you. Oh, this is where you ended up!" she said to Quill. "I'm sorry our hospitality is so poor."
"No, no, we're cool," Quill said. "I appreciate you putting me up."
Susan sat down on the sofa. "Well, tell me about the party!" she said to Lucy. She patted the spot next to her. Lucy took the seat and gestured for the men to join them. Edmund and Quill sat down in the chairs opposite the sofa.
"Oh, it was marvelous!" Lucy sighed. "Brrin-whinn-whinny-whooy-hay and Brae carried us to the forest, though we separated at the bottom of the hill. They had their own party, you know."
"I did hear that," Susan said. "Heny-Neeny was thinking of going and asked if I needed a ride."
"Why didn't you come?" Quill asked.
"We had another engagement," Edmund said. "Would anyone like some wine?" There was general assent, so he got up to fetch a bottle and four goblets.
"Prince Rabadash of Calormen has come here to court me," Susan explained to Quill. "We've written to each other, but this was the first chance we've had to meet."
"Tell me everything!" Lucy exclaimed. "How was the fabulous Prince?"
"Oh!" Susan laughed. "He was lovely. He brought me lilies-of-the-south - did you tell him they are my favorites?" she asked Edmund.
Edmund shook his head. "Not I." He poured the wine and brought the goblets to his guests.
"Well, someone must have, because he brought a gorgeous bouquet." Susan went on to tell them of the Prince, of the stories he told of his great battles and his travels around the Calormen Empire.
"What did you think of him?" Lucy asked Edmund.
"A handsome fellow, and one very taken with our Susan," Edmund said.
"Edmund spent the whole time talking to one of Rabadash's ministers about imports and exports," Susan confided to Lucy.
"Oh, Ed," Lucy sighed.
"Not the entire time," he protested.
"At the next ball, I shall hire mice to watch you and alert us if you start to talk business," Susan said.
They chatted for a bit longer, but when the women had finished their wine, they decided to retire to bed. When they'd gone, Edmund went to extinguish the candles and Quill said, "Why don't you like this Rabadash guy?"
Edmund stopped. "What makes you think I don't?"
"You evaded when Lucy asked," Quill said. "He's 'very taken with our Susan'. What's wrong with him?"
"Nothing," Edmund said.
Edmund shook his head. "I don't know. I cannot find a single trait or action that disturbs me, yet I am uncomfortable at the thought of him with Susan." He scratched the back of his head. "It may be that this is the usual reaction of a younger brother facing the possibility of his sister permanently leaving the household."
"Uh-huh, sure," Quill said. "Or he's a dick and she doesn't notice because he's turning on the charm for her. Why don't you just say something?"
"It has to be her choice," Edmund said.
"What if it's the wrong choice?" Quill asked. "Some people - not me - make really terrible choices in relationships."
"I had better take my rest now," Edmund said. "I have a full day tomorrow. You're welcome to keep a candle if you wish to read."
Quill shrugged. "Your family," he said. He went to the cot and unfolded the blanket. Edmund put out the candles and went to bed.
Next chapter in January! Thanks for reading! Comments are always love. <3
Chapter 4: Renegade
Peter Pevensie discovers that traveling with the Guardians of the Galaxy can be hazardous to one's freedom.
The jig is up, the news is out
They finally found me
The renegade who had it made
Retrieved for a bounty
Nevermore to go astray
The judge will have revenge today
On the wanted man
- Styx, Renegade, 1978
Peter Pevensie woke to find himself lying on a cold stone floor. His head spun as he sat up but he quickly found his balance. He groped for his sword, but it was gone, along with his mail. He was in a cell with Rocket, Drax, and two green creatures with red nose-horns. Those looked at him, snorted, and returned to whatever conversation they'd been having.
The room had three stone walls and one that looked like smoked glass. Peter didn't see a door. "Where are the others?" he asked.
"Being processed," Drax said.
"Where are we?" Peter asked.
"The Diamond," Rocket said with glee.
Peter looked around. "It looks like a prison," he said uncertainly.
"It is," Drax said. "Toughest prison in the galaxy."
"That's why it's called The Diamond," Rocket said. "No one can break it." He grinned. "Yet."
"You're going to try to -" Peter ran his hand through his hair. "Let's go back a bit. Why are we in prison?"
"Oh, 'cause of the thing," Rocket said, waving a paw as if this wasn't important. "The thing that brought you here."
"What about it?" Peter asked, then realization dawned. "It was stolen?"
"We-ll." Rocket waved his paw side-to-side. "It's not like anyone was using it."
"It was just sitting in a cave with a bunch of other useless stuff," Drax said.
"Useless," Peter said.
"Nobody'd touched it in thousands of years!" Rocket said.
"Right," Peter said. He scratched the spot between his eyebrows. "And you dug it up."
"We-ll...," Rocket said.
"There were already people digging stuff up," Rocket said.
"We let them help us," Drax said.
"Did they know-"
"Nah, we didn't want to disturb them. They were looking at the other things," Rocket said. "It's okay! We were getting paid to st-" he coughed. "Retrieve it."
The pieces were coming together. "The man you were negotiating with when I appeared."
"Riit? Yup," Rocket said. "We think he tipped off Nova Corps about the, uh, retrieval. 'Cause of how he weren't all that happy last time we saw him."
"How much did he pay you?" Peter asked.
"Ten thousand units in advance with another ten thousand on delivery," Drax said.
"Can you give it back?" Peter asked.
"Hey, we earned that money!" Rocket said. "'Retrieving' is real work!"
"We spent most of it on ship repairs, anyway," Drax said.
"We had a bit of an incident-" Rocket began.
"Crash landing," Drax said.
"Barely a crash! Barely! We would've been fine if not for the laser cannons!"
"If you didn't get the second half, maybe we can negotiate-" Peter sighed. "What?"
Rocket had his paw over his mouth to hide a giggle. "I took the ten thousand unit card during the fight."
"You did?!" Drax exclaimed, and laughed loudly. The red-horned people at the other end of the cell turned to stare.
"Don't matter anyway," Rocket said. "Nova Corps got us and you can't bribe Nova Corps. Not from here, anyway."
"I didn't mean bribe-" Peter began, but part of the smoked glass wall slid aside and two armored men with large guns stepped into the cell.
"You," one of them said, pointing to Rocket. The raccoon was lifted by his arms, over his objections, and taken out of the room. A little while later, Drax was taken as well, though he walked out on his feet, surrounded by guns.
A while after that, the same guards came back. "Humie," one said. "You're next."
It took Peter a moment to realize that was him. Another armored man stepped into the cell and hauled him up by the arms before he had time to stand up on his own. He was escorted briskly down a hallway and shoved in front of a processing desk. A gun hovered behind his shoulder blades.
A woman of a vaguely froggy species stood behind the desk, wearing a fuzzy blue sweater and glasses on a chain. "Name?" She didn't look at him, just at the screen in front of her.
"Look, I think there's some mixup here. I haven't committed any crimes," Peter said.
The woman gave a long suffering sigh. "Name?"
"It seems my friends have caused some trouble, but if I could speak to someone in authority, I may be able to negotiate-"
The guard behind him jabbed him with the gun so he stumbled forward. "Do what the lady says and we won't have any more messes to clean up today." Peter looked down. They were standing on a grate and bits of something slimy and red were clinging to the metal.
"Peter, High King of Narnia," Peter said wearily. The guard behind him snickered.
"Is Narnia a system, planet, satellite, space station or other, and if other, please explain," she recited.
"A country," Peter said.
"What planet is it on?" she asked.
"I'm afraid I don't know the name of it," Peter said. "We've never had reason-"
"All right," she said. She nodded at the guard on Peter's right, who grabbed Peter's arm and pressed his hand flat on a piece of glass on the desk. A light flashed under his hand. The guard kept holding his hand down until a needle shot up from the glass, stabbed the heel of his hand and retracted.
"Ow!" Peter exclaimed. A grey band spat out of the glass, looped around his wrist and sealed its ends together. Now the guard let him go.
"Decontamination," the woman said, jerking her thumb to the left. The guard on Peter's left shoved him in the way she'd pointed.
He arrived at a glass room with sliding doors on opposite sides. "Remove your clothes and enter the chamber." the guard said.
"Absolutely not," Peter said. The guard jammed his gun into Peter's ribs. He would have bruises.
"The guy this morning took more than ten minutes to melt," the guard said. "I don't have time for that. Wanna make it easy on us both and do what you're told?" Peter considered his options and reluctantly removed his clothes. The guard shoved him into the chamber and the door slid closed. Peter slammed the heel of his hand against the door, but it was useless. Valves opened up all over the chamber and sprayed him with a fine, damp green sand. He closed his eyes, covered his face with his hands and tried not to breathe it in. The sand stopped after a moment and then warm air blew over Peter's whole body, smelling of some unknown flower and stinging slightly. Finally the other sliding door opened and he was handed a grey uniform.
Once he was dressed, one of the men grabbed Peter's arms, wrenched them behind his back and cuffed them behind his back. He grabbed the back of Peter's neck and pointed a pistol at his head. "Walk," he said, pushing Peter toward the door.
"I would like to speak to-" Peter began, but the guardsman clamped his hand down on Peter's neck so hard that he gasped. The guardsman pushed Peter into a room and chained his wrists to a table in the center of the room. He was allowed to sit on a stool that was bolted to the floor. He had no idea where the others had gone.
After what seemed a very long time, but was probably only half an hour, a woman came into the room. She had blue skin, green eyes and rust-colored hair tied back behind her head. She wore a uniform similar to the guardsmen that had arrested Peter and the others, but had several patches and ribbons on her sleeve. Peter guessed those indicated her rank. A nametag said GT Aldworth.
She sat down in the chair behind the desk. "What's your name?"
Peter sat up as straight as he could with his hands chained to the desk. "I am Peter, High King of Narnia."
"Mm-hm," she said. She tapped a corner of the desk and an 8-inch square lit up with text. "And where is Narnia?"
Peter shifted in his chair. "Our planet has no name," he said. "We've never seen the need." He vowed to find a name for it when he returned. This was getting embarrassing.
"Mm-hm." She scrolled through the text. Peter didn't recognize the script, though, and had no hope of reading it upside-down. "What are the coordinates?"
"I-I'm not quite sure," Peter admitted.
"System?" she asked. "Sector?" He shook his head to both.
"Well," Aldworth said. "You are 'High King' of a country that nobody can locate on a planet that nobody can name. There is no record of your existence before you got a translator implant yesterday. They overcharged you, by the way." She swept her hand over the square and it disappeared. "I think I understand."
Peter frowned. "You do?" It would be nice if someone did.
"You're a kid from a small planet who's dreamed of adventure his whole life. These 'Guardians' showed up - crash-landed, I expect - and offered you a chance to see the galaxy. You took them up on it and here you are. But Peter, your new friends are not a good crowd. They're trouble, always have been. They've already gotten you in here," she tapped the table, "and there's plenty worse than this."
"Thank you," Peter said, "I will take your words into consideration."
"This doesn't have to be the end of the line for you, Peter. You're young. This is your first offense. We could be lenient on you. You might even leave here with a clean record."
"What am I being charged with, again?" Peter asked politely.
Aldworth smiled. "That will depend." She swept open another square, this one in front of her. "Tell me what you know of Peter Quill."
Peter shook his head. "I've heard of him. I haven't met him."
"Yet you share a name," Aldworth said.
"It's not a rare name," Peter said.
"My database would say otherwise," she said.
"How is this relevant?" Peter asked.
"You and Peter Quill share a name, you share nearly 50% of your genetic material, you are traveling in his ship with his companions and you say there is no connection between you."
"Yes, I am traveling in his ship," Peter said. "I don't know anything about 'genetic material'. I joined his companions after he disappeared."
She tapped her screen and read what was on it. "Peter Quill is a con man and a thief. He's a member of the roughest criminal gang in the galaxy, the Ravagers. He has a history of stealing, swindling, grift, and," she frowned at the screen, "seducing a member of the royal family of Askos."
"That's a crime?" Peter asked.
"On Askos, it is," Aldworth said. She swiped that line item off her screen and looked up at Peter. "Is this a man you want to protect?"
"I'm not trying to protect him!" Peter protested. "I don't know him. I have nothing to tell you." He wished Lucy were there. She had a gift for making friends in the oddest of situations. She would charm this woman and convince her to let Peter go. Or Susan would be sensible at GT Aldworth and make her see what nonsense it was to let this continue. Edmund would find out the rules and argue until he found a loophole, or until Aldworth got tired and gave up. (No one had ever made Edmund give up, not even that centaur from Galma.) But he was just Peter. The High King. The Magnificent. His talents were giving orders and being a figurehead that people could rally around. Neither would do him any good here. "Find a different question and I will endeavor to answer it," he commanded.
Aldworth jabbed a spot on her screen and the chains on his handcuffs were abruptly sucked into the desk, jerking Peter forward so his elbows hit the edge with a force that jarred him to his toes. "This is not 'Narnia', your Majesty," she mocked. "Remember that."
Peter tasted blood where he'd bitten his lip. "I am unlikely to forget it," he ground out, keeping tight control of his anger.
She ignored his response. "We are looking for an object. If you can lead us to it, we may be lenient."
"What object?" Peter asked, already dreading the response. Your irreplaceable antique crumbled to dust in my hands, ma'am. I can tell you where you may find the remains. I doubt that establishment sweeps its floors very often, so it is probably still there.
She tapped the screen and a carved wooden box a little bigger than a grapefruit appeared in the air over the desk. Peter wondered how it stayed in the air, then realized with amazement that it was only an image. He tilted his head a little, trying to see how it worked. Some sort of cinematic projector, perhaps?
"Tell me what you know of it," Aldworth said.
Peter blinked and looked at Aldworth. This was the object she thought he'd stolen? "Nothing," he said honestly. "I've never seen it before."
"Perhaps you spotted some scans on the monitor? Or heard someone speaking about it?" Aldworth asked.
Peter tried to shift his shoulders to ease the cramps, but his chains didn't have enough give for him to move. "No," he said.
She leaned back in her chair and looked him over, then said, "Peter of Narnia, you are charged with theft, movement of stolen property, intent to sell stolen property and," she looked at the screen on the desk, "traveling in a ship with insufficient signal lighting. Do you wish to plead guilty?"
Peter stared at her in astonishment. "I wish to speak to counsel."
"If you plead guilty, the court will assign you a lawyer," Aldworth said.
"I'm not guilty!"
"No one ever is," Aldworth said. "You think things over for a bit, okay? I still could make a deal, if you bring me the right information."
"I don't know anything," Peter said, keeping the barest amount of control on his temper. He tugged at his handcuffs, trying to stretch his arms, but he couldn't get any give.
"Normally, I'd believe that. Tell a guard if you want to see me again," Aldworth said. She stood up. "Of course, we do make special arrangements for heads of state. Have the Narnian Embassy call me." She smirked at him, and left the room.
Peter's jaw ached from clenching his teeth. He sat there, chained and trapped in that empty room for long enough that he wondered if he'd been forgotten. But eventually guards with guns came in, unchained him from the table and took him upstairs.
The guard opened a door and shoved him into a short, whitewalled hallway. The floors and walls were made of a synthetic white material which was scuffed and filthy from the feet of hundreds - thousands? of prisoners. Peter turned back, but the door behind him had slid shut. He looked forward and the door at the other end of the hallway slid open. He walked toward it. A massive, yellow-scaled man stepped in front of the open doorway, blocking Peter’s path and most of the light. “Who are you?” he asked in a low, rumbling voice.
Peter stalked towards him. “I am Peter, High King of Narnia, Wolf's-Bane, Emperor of the Lone Islands, Lord of Cair Paravel and Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Lion and if you do not get out of my way, then by the Mane, I will move you!”
The yellow-scaled man stepped back to let Peter through. “Just asking, jeez.” In the room, Peter saw dozens of grey-uniformed prisoners, some going about their business, others staring at the man who had just arrived.
“I’m sorry,” Peter said with a touch of guilt.
“Nah, I get it, those guys are assholes.” The man nodded toward the door behind Peter. “Don’t blame you for being in a bad mood.” He stuck out his hand. “I’m Kurok.”
“You can just call me Peter,” Peter said, shaking his hand.
“Good to meetcha,” Kurok said.
“Have you seen a raccoon and a big blue guy with red tattoos?” Peter asked.
“Oh, Rocket and Drax? Sure, I think they’re on the eleventh floor,” Kurok said. "Stairs are that way." He pointed.
“Thank you,” Peter said.
“No prob,” Kurok said. “Welcome to the Diamond!”
"Er, thanks," Peter said.
"I'm sparkling," Drax said, examining his arm. The Guardians had claimed a room on the eleventh floor. Mantis and Groot were playing a card game. The room had two side walls, one interior wall with a sliding door (which was open) and an outer wall which was transparent from ceiling to floor. That wall was frosted and cold to the touch. Directly opposite the prison was a mountain frozen in a crust of ice. Or perhaps it was an iceberg caught on land. The setting sun hit the mountain and reflected a blinding glare back at the prison.
Peter stepped forward to look down. "Oh, Lion's Mane!" He took a deep breath and resisted the urge to back up very quickly. The prison was on the edge of a cliff and the chasm below fell so low that no light reached it. For all Peter knew, it didn't have a bottom.
"Yeah, that's what Groot said," Rocket said. "Well, not that, but kinda. It's going to fall down sometime. You can see bits falling off if you watch for a while."
"We won't be here that long," Gamora said firmly."Yes, Drax, we all sparkle." Peter looked down at his own arms and pushed up his sleeves. He held them out in the light from the window and indeed, they shone as if they'd been dusted with glitter.
"What is it?" Peter asked, turning his arm in the light.
"It's from the decontamination," Gamora said. "It'll come off after a couple of showers."
"You took a long time," Mantis said, looking up from the card game. "Did they ask you a lot of questions?"
"She's looking for a box," Peter said. "Did you, er-"
"We did not steal it," Gamora said firmly.
"I told you guys we should've taken more stuff," Rocket said. "Bet that box is worth a fortune. Those stupid circles probably didn't do anything."
"None of our translator implants could read the writing," Mantis said. "It must have been very old."
"They were probably expired," Drax said. "Like milk."
"I don't think magic expires," Peter said.
Rocket snorted. "Magic! Ain't no such thing."
"I got here by magic," Peter pointed out. He sat down in front of the outer wall, but felt the chill before his back touched it. He shifted to the side and sat crosslegged next to Groot.
Rocket waved a paw. "Just 'cause you don't know how it works don't make it magic."
"I am Groot?" Groot asked.
"I don't know," Rocket said. "We ain't got it, so what's it matter?"
"Maybe it has a smaller box inside it," Drax said. "And a smaller box inside that, and a smaller box inside that, and a smaller box inside that."
Mantis looked at him, fascinated. "What's inside the smallest box?"
"Perhaps it's a tiny man," Drax said.
"How would he breathe?" Peter asked, curious despite himself.
Drax looked thoughtful for a moment, then said, "Very slowly."
"Okay," Gamora said, putting out her hands to stop the conversation. "We need to get out of here. It doesn't matter what the box does."
"It grants wishes," a woman said. They all turned to look. She was bald, with blue skin and a purple streak down her face. She leaned against the doorframe with her arms crossed and said, "Hello, sis."
Chapter 5: Obsession
Quill visits the streets of the fair and encounters Queen Susan's fiancé, Prince Rabadash.
I will have you
Yes, I will have you
I will find a way and I will have you
Like a butterfly
A wild butterfly
I will collect you and capture you
- Animotion, Obsession, 1984
Quill ate breakfast in the Great Hall and, having nothing else to do, decided to visit the fair. Canopies and open tents dotted the lawn on the west side of the castle. A faun juggled at the end of a row of tents. Quill stopped for a few minutes to watch him. The balls he used had a strange shape to them, but Quill couldn't identify why, until the faun tossed the balls up and threw his arms wide. The "balls" somersaulted in the air and landed on his shoulders and head. The hedgehogs - for that is what they were - unfolded themselves, produced tiny, brightly-colored balls of their own and the three began juggling in perfect sync. Then they tossed the balls between each other. At last, they tossed the balls into the faun's hands and all four took their bows, with the faun being very careful to keep his head and shoulders straight even as he dipped his knees. The audience applauded and Quill cheered, because damn, that had been a good show.
"Come back after tea!" the faun called out. "We'll be joined by two of my brothers and Giant Tumblelink!"
The audience dispersed once the performers left, and Quill walked up a row of tents. He passed clothing merchant, a boot seller, a beaver selling carved wooden whistles, and a deer offering to read your future based on star charts. (A centaur walked by this booth, snorted, and kept walking.) At the end of the row, Quill found Clover sitting on an apple box, singing and playing his dulcimer. "So you think you're a Romeo / Playing a part in a picture-show / Take the long way home / Take the long way home."
Quill waited until the end of the tune before greeting the Rabbit. "Clover! My man! How goes it?" Quill asked.
"Star-Lord!" Clover said. "It goes well. I've booked a job to play a Hedgehog wedding in two week." He played a couple of chords, then leaned in a little. "I'm not a musician full-time," he confided. "There simply isn't enough work. But it's about the music, not the money."
"All about the tunes, yeah? I get you," Quill said. "I'm no pro, but I sing a little and one time, I saved the galaxy by dancing." He did his best Michael Jackson spin, his jacket flaring out, and threw out his arms at the end with a "Whoo!"
"That sounds like a mighty tale!" Clover exclaimed. "Tell me it sometime, and perhaps I will write a ballad."
Quill's eyes widened with excitement. "Yes!" He pointed at Clover. "You should do that. I'd make a great ballad.." He straightened his jacket. "Do you write a lot of ballads?"
"Oh, yes," Clover said proudly. "Six about the High King alone. The story of how he led the Battle of Beruna and defeated the White Witch, of course, and one about his victory over the Hags at Grey Man's Pass, and how he won a truce with the Black Dwarfs..." He counted on his paws. As he only had four paws, he had to reuse them when he ran out.
"He sounds like a real swell guy," Quill said, with faint sarcasm. "Probably rescued a virgin from a dragon, too."
"Oh, yes!" Clover said, missing the sarcasm. "When Priny-Whoony-Brieny-Hoony-Heeh's youngest filly was stolen by a Wyvern, the High King raced to the rescue and brought her home safely."
"Wow," Quill said.
"Do you want to hear it?" Clover asked. He plucked a couple of chords on his dulcimer.
"You know, I'd love to, but I had dragons for breakfast," Quill said.
"Excuse me. Son of Adam." Quill and Clover both turned to look. A black-haired Dwarf stomped over from a booth across the way. "What is that?" He pointed at Quill's midsection. The Dwarf's head only came up to Quill's waist.
Quill was taken aback. "Well, it's a piece of anatomy that's very dear to me and I'd like it if you stopped staring at it."
The dwarf scowled. "Not that, you faun-brained fool. That." He poked Quill's belt buckle.
"It... holds my pants up?" Quill gave Clover a confused look. The Rabbit shrugged, looking just as perplexed.
"The metal," the Dwarf said. "It's nothing forged in Narnia, I know that."
Quill looked down. "I dunno. I won it off a guy in Xandar in a game of cards."
"What did he tell you?" the Dwarf asked.
"I don't know if I should repeat it here-"
"About the buckle!"
"Nothing, man! I just thought it looked cool," Quill said.
The Dwarf twisted the end of his beard. "How much?"
"For the belt buckle?" Quill asked.
"Five Lions," Clover said. He looked at Quill, who had no idea what the money here was worth. He shrugged.
"Five!" the Dwarf snorted. "For a sample that tiny? I'll give you three, and I'm being generous."
"Three?" Quill feigned offense. "Three? The only metal of this sort on this entire planet and you're offering me three-" he looked at Clover, who mouthed "Lions". "Three Lions?"
"You can tell me nothing of the provenance!" the Dwarf protested. He sighed. "I could throw in a Tree."
"A tree?" Quill said, puzzled. Was he being offered a plant? But Clover nudged him and made a circle with his fingers and thumb. Oh. A type of coin. "One tree's not going to cut it, man. Tell you what, I'll knock it down a bit. Five Lions minus two Trees."
“Four Lions and two Trees,” the Dwarf said with a scowl. “I’ll go no lower.”
“It’s worth twice that, but I like your face. I guess we can do business,” Quill said. He removed the belt and fumbled with the buckle until he'd pried it off the belt. He handed it to the Dwarf, who gave him the coins, and they shook hands.
"I had no idea that the High King treated his guests so poorly that they had to sell the clothes off their back," a man said behind Quill. Quill pivoted around, his coat flying out behind him. He was a handsome man, with dark hair past his ears and a trim mustache. A white tunic richly embroidered with gold thread hung past his knees and he wore a sleeveless jacket embroidered in a different pattern of the same materials and length. Under the tunic he wore slim pants and he had leather sandals on his feet.
"Oh, no, he just thought the metal was cool," Quill said, pointing his thumb over his shoulder at the Dwarf, who was returning to his booth. "Have we met?"
"I am Prince Rabadash of Calormen," the man said.
"I am Star-Lord Peter Quill," Quill said solemnly. He stuck out his hand. The Prince gave it a curious look, but shook it nonetheless.
"'Peter'?" Rabadash said. "Are you kin to the High King?"
"Nope, just happen to have the same name," Quill said.
"But you are a guest of the Royal Family, are you not?" the Rabadash asked.
"Yeah, just a guest," Quill said. "I'm not related."
"Oh, we are causing congestion," Rabadash said, looking at the other fairgoers milling around, although there wasn't a great amount of traffic. "Will you not come sit with me? We are having cakes and sherbet."
"Sure," Quill said. "Catch you later, Clover," he said to the Rabbit.
"We'll talk about the ballad," Clover said. He returned to his dulcimer.
The Calormen party had a large tent set up at the back of the fair, out of the traffic and bustle but near enough to go in and out. The tent had the front wall drawn back so it was really only three sides and a roof. Great patterned rugs lay inside the tent and on the grass outside it. In the center of the tent stood a round table with several chairs around it. Rabadash led Quill to the table and they sat down. A man in a tunic with a similar cut to Rabadash's, but with a much simpler pattern, brought out a tray with two glasses of sherbet and several round cakes with white frosting.
"You've got a nice set-up here," Quill said, tapping the rug with his toe. He glanced sideways at the fair. Clover seemed to have gone; maybe it was his lunch break.
"We've got rooms in the castle, of course, but it's lovely to be out in the fresh air," Rabadash said. He picked up his cup of sherbert. "You are staying with King Edmund, are you not?"
"Yes, the dungeons were full." Quill sipped the iced beverage. It tasted of pomegranate, with the hint of an unfamiliar spice. He took a longer drink, savoring the taste on his tongue.
Rabadash laughed. "So I've heard. Do you know the king well?"
Quill leaned back in his chair. "Not yet, but he's a good guy, you know?"
Rabadash nodded. "And the Queens?"
"Awesome ladies, and not bad to look at, right?" Quill said.
"The Queen Susan, the light of my eyes, the diamond of the North, has a beauty that has not been seen in a thousand years and will not be surpassed in a thousand more," Rabadash said. He picked up a cake and sank his teeth into it.
Quill blinked. "Yeah, that's... sorta what I said."
Rabadash settled back in his chair. "But here I am doing all the talking. Tell me about yourself."
"Isn't much to tell, really," Quill said. "Left my home at a young age to seek my fortune in the world, like so many before me."
"Tell me of your home," Rabadash said. "Is it very far?"
Quill picked up a cake and bit it. Vanilla, with a hint of cinnamon. "Thesh are good," he said, then swallowed. "Rab - may I call you Rab?"
Rabadash's smile was tight. "I'd prefer you called me Prince Rabadash, as it is my name."
"Right, sorry," Quill said. The Prince wanted something and Quill wasn’t sure what it was. He didn’t want to accidentally betray his new friends, so he pulled out one of the classics. "Can I tell you a story, Prince Rabadash? A little something from my homeland?"
"Of course," Rabadash said. He took a small spoonful of sherbet.
"Once, four travelers crossed a strange land together, seeking help and wisdom. One sought courage, one sought love, one sought wisdom, and one sought a way home."
"Four travelers?" Rabadash asked. He raised his eyebrows.
"That's what I said," Quill said. "They searched for someone who could give them what they desired. They had many great adventures and at last they arrived in the famed Emerald City." He said this with a flourish of his hands. "They asked the Great Wizard for-"
"There was a wizard?" Rabadash asked sharply. "What is his name?"
"Hi, I'm telling a story here!" Quill said. "He's Oz. The Great and Powerful Oz."
"Ahs," Rabadash said thoughtfully. "Does he go by other names?"
"Maybe? It’s not important. Our travelers went to Oz for help.. But he said they had to bring him the broomstick of the Wicked Witch of the West before he’d do them any favors."
If Prince Rabadash had been interested before, now he was fascinated. He uncurled like a snake ready to strike. "A Witch?"
"A mighty dangerous one," Quill said, deepening his voice theatrically.
"Hm," Rabadash said. "Go on."
Quill told Rabadash how the travellers fought their way to her castle and destroyed the Witch.
“But how did they defeat her?" Rabadash asked urgently. "Were they great warriors? Magicians? What powers did they wield?"
"None," Quill said around a bite of his cake. "They melted her."
"Melted," Rabadash said, savoring the taste of the word. "Like snow in the spring?"
"...sure?" Quill said.
"With a dragon? Boiling oil? Flaming arrows?" Rabadash asked.
"Nah, just a bucket of water. You see," Quill said, leaning in a little, as if imparting a great secret, "witches melt."
"Yes." Rabadash gave Quill a conspiratorial smile. Quill leaned away from him. "I suppose they do."
"So they went back to the Wizard -"
"To give Asl-, er, Ahs her wand?"
"Broomstick," Quill corrected.
"Yes, yes, of course," Rabadash waved a dismissive hand. "They put her 'broomstick' in the hands of the most powerful wizard of the land?"
"Yeah, but here's the thing - they went in to claim their prizes and the wizard's all, 'too bad, so sad, you get nothing' because he was a fake. Total fraud," Quill said.
Rabadash's grin was a bit frightening. "I knew it."
“What, really?” Quill asked, disappointed. “That was supposed to be the big twist!”
Rabadash shrugged. “One in my position learns to spot a fraud.”
“Great,” Quill said, nodding quickly. “Great! That’s very useful.”
Quill sighed. “Anyway, it turned out they didn't need him. They had the magic with them the whole time!"
"Very interesting," Rabadash said thoughtfully. "Very interesting indeed."
A shadow crossed their table and both men looked up. It was King Edmund. "Hello," he said, with a smile. "I was out in the fair and thought I'd come to greet you."
"Your Majesty," Prince Rabadash stood up and gave Edmund a respectful nod. Edmund lifted his eyebrows, but did not demand that Rabadash bow. "Come, sit down and join us." Edmund took a seat at the table. "My beloved tells me we are to cross swords in the morning."
"Yes, Susan thought it would be good entertainment," Edmund said. "I hope we don't disappoint." Quill noticed that Clover had returned from his break and hammering away at his dulcimer again, playing a simple instrumental tune.
"You usually do an exhibition duel with the High King at festivals, do you not?" Rabadash asked. He gestured to a man dressed in a pale green tunic, who brought out a serving of cakes and sherbet for Edmund. "You do not expect him to return by tomorrow?"
"He was not certain how long his business would take," Edmund said.
"I thought Archenland was only a short ride from here," Rabadash said.
Edmund smiled. "Your royal highness, if I wished you to know the place and nature of his business, I would have told you already."
Rabadash smiled back, though there was not much humor in it. "I had expected to meet the High King on arrival."
"Do you find my sister such poor company that you are still grieving the absence of my brother?" Edmund asked. He took a bite of one of the cakes and watched Rabadash.
"When I am in the company of the Queen, I care for nothing but her face and her sweet voice and the touch of her hands on mine," Rabadash said, turning to face Edmund. "The sun could grow dark and music fall silent; all the food could crumble to dust and all the wine turn to vinegar; yet a single kiss from her and I would be happier than a man who had been given all the fruits of Paradise."
Quill looked over Rabadash's shoulder and mouthed DICK. Edmund scratched his upper lip with his thumb and did not change his expression.
"And when you are not in her company?" Edmund asked.
"She is always in my thoughts," Rabadash said, "and our hearts can never truly be parted."
"Women's hearts can be flighty things," Edmund warned. "It may be that she will not choose you."
Rabadash waved a hand. "Oh, women do not speak of love the way men do, it is true. But great love can weather the winds of a woman's fancies as a schooner weathers a storm. You need only to wait for the clouds to pass." He picked up his cup and ate a spoonful of melting sherbet. "I still wish to meet the High King. Tell me of your brother."
"Peter?" Edmund sat back and considered this. "He is unflinchingly honorable, even in times when most men would eschew honor for survival. He is devoted to his people and his family and bears the burden of being High King with clarity and grace."
"He is quite dear to you?" Rabadash said.
"He is my brother," Edmund said. "I would defend him even unto death," then added, "even as I would my sisters."
Rabadash smiled. "Well, soon you will not need to stand in defense of my beloved, as I will protect her from any that try to part us. Once she is in the heart of the city, it would take an army to reach her, and Tashbaan has not fallen in a thousand years."
"I hope you will allow her to return home for visits," Edmund said dryly.
"I will not prevent her from traveling as she chooses," Rabadash said. "But in truth, many who visit Tashbaan feel no need to go elsewhere, as the joys of the city are many and varied. But you will see when you come for the wedding." He looked at Quill. "Have you a beloved?"
"Me?" Quill pointed to himself. "Oh, no, I'm not married."
"But surely there is someone you cherish," Rabadash persisted.
"Oh, lots!" Quill said. "I have cherished sooo many people, sooo many times. I really like cherishing."
"But you do not have your eyes on a wife," Rabadash said.
"Nah," Quill said. "Plenty of time for that, you know?"
"Well, you must come to Tashbaan for the wedding," Rabadash said. "The most beautiful women in the Empire come to Tashbaan. I will select the loveliest, most talented, most skilled of all of them so that neither you nor the King may lack for company."
"I can 'select' my own companions, thank you," Edmund said dryly.
Quill looked at Rabadash, looked at Edmund, hesitated, then said, "Well, it couldn't hurt to say hello," he said politely. "But I'd have to see how we like each other. It's funny, but there are some women that don't get me."
"Ah, well, I have never had that problem," Rabadash said. He ate a bit of sherbet. "We also have many great storytellers in Tashbaan. You would be welcome among them."
"I think of myself more as an adventurer than a storyteller," Quill said.
"Why not both?" Rabadash asked. "Adventurers have the greatest stories. And I would hear more tales of this 'Emerald City'."
Edmund's eyebrows shot up. "Emerald City?"
Rabadash turned back to Edmund. "Yes, Star-Lord Quill told me a tale of a wizard and the Witch of the West. Do you know this tale?"
"Oh, yes," Edmund said. "I have heard it many a time."
"Then perhaps you know what power was used to melt the Witch of the West?"
Edmund gave Rabadash a thoughtful look, then said, "It is only a tale."
"Tales often have meaning," Rabadash said.
Edmund shrugged. "Did he tell you the fate of Witch of the East?"
"He did not," Rabadash said, turning to Quill.
"Perhaps it is not a tale for a lovely spring day," Edmund said. He stood up. "Thank you for your hospitality, but I cannot tarry here. There is much to be done."
"Yeah, same," Quill said, standing up. He offered a hand for Rabadash to shake, which he did. "These cakes are really good. Really."
"Yes," Edmund said. "Perhaps your cook can give Auntie Beaver the recipe."
"Then how will I lure Narnians to my table?" Rabadash asked, smiling. "Star-Lord," he said, nodding to Quill. "Your Majesty," he nodded to Edmund. "We shall see each other soon."
They returned to the castle at a brisk walk. Once they were away from Rabadash's tent, Quill started to say, "Was he-" but Edmund lifted a hand to quiet him.
"Not now." Once they were in Edmund's rooms with the door closed. Edmund turned to Quill. "Wizard of Oz?" He was trying very hard not to laugh.
"He was trying to pump me for information! I figured I'd distract him with some bullshit," Quill said.
"That you did," Edmund said. "By the Lion, he'll be chewing on that for a while!"
"Yeah, what was the deal there?" Quill asked. "'Cause there was definitely some subtext I wasn't getting."
Edmund took a bottle of wine and two glasses from a cupboard and let Quill to the sitting room, where he poured drinks for them both. "Once, not long ago, an evil enchantress called the White Witch ruled Narnia. She blanketed it with ice and snow for a hundred years and decreed that it would always be winter, never Christmas."
"Harsh," Quill said.
Edmund nodded. "She did terrible things, but I will not discuss those now. It is enough to know that when my brother and sisters and I arrived from the other world, her power began to fade. With the grace of Aslan, my brother Peter led our army into a great battle and she was defeated. With her power broken, winter melted to spring and we were crowned Kings and Queens at Cair Paravel, as had been prophesied." Edmund looked at Quill. "I am condensing this a great deal, of course."
Quill nodded. "Rabadash thought I was talking about this Witch?"
Edmund nodded. "The Witch was extremely powerful. Her curse protected Narnia from without while it destroyed Narnia from within." He put down his wine and stood up. "Come see." Quill, carrying his goblet, followed Edmund into his office, where a great map was pinned to the wall. "This is Narnia," Edmund said, pointing to a land near the North of the map. "Archenland is below it and then the Great Desert. And this is the Calormen Empire." He used both hands to indicate that land.
"So it's big," Quill said. "Size isn't everything."
"It's a lot," Edmund said grimly. "The Tisroc's standing army is greater than the population of Narnia, and that counts every citizen down to the youngest mouse. And here is my fear," he said. He pointed to a province in the southwest. "One hundred and fifty years ago, this was an independent country. Now it's an imperial province." He tapped another region in the southwest. "Conquered one hundred twenty years ago." He tapped one in the northwest. "Conquered seventy years ago."
"You think they're looking at you guys next?" Quill asked.
"Possibly. But they believe that since we defeated the White Witch, our power is greater than hers and so we are to be feared," Edmund said.
"Is your power that great?" Quill asked.
"We have Aslan on our side and that is no small thing," Edmund said. "But we are not the magicians they fear us to be, and discovering that may make them bold." He touched Narnia, then slid his fingertips lower. "The desert would slow them for sure. Archenland would join with us, and we them, for if one of us fell, the other certainly would also. Our warriors are great, though our numbers be small. They might find they'd bitten off more than they could chew. But the cost to our people would be devastating." He went back to the sitting room and Quill followed.
Quill frowned. "He thought I was giving him a clue about your power?"
Edmund nodded. "Hopefully it'll keep him busy."
"Okay, so, question," Quill said. "Who is this Aslan guy?"
"Oh," Edmund said, surprised. "Right, you wouldn't know." He paused for thought. "Well, he is the King of the Wood and the son of the Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea."
"I thought you guys were the Kings and Queens," Quill said.
"We are," Edmund said. "He's a different sort of king."
"And he's a wizard?" Quill asked.
Edmund shook his head. "He has power, but not like that. Oh, he's difficult to describe. You'll understand when you meet him."
"You got some weird politics here, man," Quill said, shaking his head.
Edmund laughed. "They are a bit different. You're only here for a short visit, though, so I don't suppose any of this will affect you."
"Yeah, I do not get involved in politics, and if you've heard anything, it wasn't my fault and there's two sides to every story," Quill said.
"It's festival-time, in any case," Edmund said. "I doubt anything will disrupt the celebration."
Chapter 6: Jailbreak
The best thing to do in a prison is break out.
I've wanted to come back to this for a while, but what gave me a boot to the butt to actually do it was seeing how many people had subscribed to this fic. If you guys are still around, thank you! And for everyone else, welcome!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
He said "I ain't spending my life here
I ain't livin' alone
Ain't breakin' no rocks on the chain gang
I'm breakin' out and heading home"
Gonna make a (jailbreak)
And I'm looking towards the sky
I'm gonna make a (jailbreak)
Oh, how I wish that I could fly
- AC/DC, Jailbreak, 1976
“Nebula,” Gamora said sharply. “What do you mean it grants wishes?”
Nebula shrugged. “It would grant my wish. It takes you to any person or place that you want to be. Past all the doors, the shields, the guards, and the great expanse of open space, and they’ll never see you coming.”
“Thanos,” Gamora said darkly.
Nebula nodded. “Dear old Dad.”
“You want to rescue your father?” Peter asked. He touched where the hilt of his sword ought to be, remembered it was gone, and let his hand fall away.
“I want to kill him,” Nebula snarled at him. Peter took a step back.
“He’ll kill you,” Gamora said flatly. “Or worse.”
“I’m going to take him out before he does," Nebula said.
“They have some complicated family issues,” Rocket said in an aside to Peter. Mantis nodded fervently.
"I will be the one to kill Thanos," Drax declared, clenching his fists.
"We'll draw straws when the time comes," Rocket said. He winked at Nebula.
Nebula gave him a confused look. "Why are you doing that with your face?" she asked Rocket.
"He intends to rig it in my favor," Drax told her.
"Hey, you weren't supposed to see that!" Rocket said to Drax.
"Enough!" Gamora said, before anyone could reply. "We'll all work together, and we'll discuss Thanos later."
Peter turned to Nebula, he said, “Could that box take me to a land that no one can find and no one has ever heard of?”
“Then it would grant my wish, too,” Peter said.
“Great!” Rocket said. “Could it grant my wish of a very large number of units?”
“Once I am done with it, you may sell it to whoever you like,” Nebula said.
“Wishes all around!” Rocket said.
“I am Groot,” Groot said hopefully.
“We can buy that with units,” Rocket said. “What’s the plan?” he asked Nebula.
"First," she said, "We have to get out."
"I've been thinking about that," Peter said. "We need to talk to the guards individually. Ideally we'll find one with a sense of honor that will deliver a message out of courtesy, but I feel that the chance of that is low, so we may have to resort to bribery. But I -What?" he asked, because they were staring at him again.
"What nonsense are you babbling?" Drax asked.
"We need a solicitor," Peter said.
"No, we need to get out of here," Rocket said.
"Right," Peter said patiently. "A solicitor can get us out."
"I can get us out," Rocket said. "Trust me. You may be King of your little patch of wherever, but I am King of prison escapes. I've escaped twenty-six prisons," he said proudly.
"If you're so clever," Peter asked, his tone even and polite, "how do you keep getting locked up?"
"You know what, don't worry your little furless face about my escape plan, 'cause you ain't invited," Rocket said.
"Rocket-" Gamora said warningly.
"No, he's right," Peter said stiffly. "I'll find my own way out, and my own way home. I wish you all the best of luck." He added, under his breath, "You'll need it."
"I heard that," Rocket said.
"So did I!" Mantis said eagerly.
"My ears are keenly attuned to the quietest of voices," Drax announced.
Peter turned on his heels and stalked off. He very soon regretted his tantrum. He ached with exhaustion, but there was nowhere to lay down. Anything even in the region of comfortable had been claimed, plus the prison had a deep chill that even hundreds of living bodies couldn't warm. In the cell, with the others, he'd had a chance of sharing warmth, but out here, the only inmates who looked interested in making new friends were the sort Peter felt would be best to avoid. He'd done enough hunting and fighting to know predator from prey and he knew which side of the line he wanted to stay on.
He finally found a corner where he could sit peacefully if he pulled his legs up to his chest. The tile beneath him had painful lumps, the wall that he leaned against chilled him like the Witch's winter, but exhaustion won out and he fell asleep.
Peter woke up to find the prison awake around him and his knees cramping painfully, and pain became agony when he tried to stand up. He leaned against the wall and took short breaths until the pain eased and his legs became useful again. A large figure came between himself and the nearest lamp and Peter shifted to a defensive stance. He relaxed when he realized it was Drax. "Hello," he said.
"We have had a discussion and we are in agreement that you should rejoin us," Drax said.
"Oh," Peter said, trying to hide his relief. "Thank you."
"You will need to apologize to Rocket," Drax said.
"Ah," Peter said. "In that case, I think I will find my own way."
Drax looked around. "Which way are you going?"
"I don't know, but I will find one," Peter said firmly. "This is hardly the worst position I've been in, you know." But even as the words left his mouth, he realized it was a lie. Yes, he'd been hungry, he'd been injured, yes, he'd been surrounded by enemies, but he'd never been alone. Even in the disastrous campaign against the Southwind Bandits, when he'd taken a dagger to the gut, he had had Edmund to carry him down the mountain to where a squadron of their own people were waiting to take him to safety. And now he was turning away help and companionship because of childish pride? In a world where he had nothing and no one? Aslan would not praise him for his pride. Peter let out a long sigh. "On second thought, perhaps it's best if we aren't separated just yet. Where is Rocket?"
Rocket was in the cell, tinkering with something that sparked while taking bites out of something that might have been bread, as made by someone whose only knowledge of bread was passing by some once in a dark alley. Peter took a deep breath. "Rocket. I'm sorry. My words were careless and rude and not at all suitable for a man of honor."
"Nope," Rocket said, not looking at him.
Peter frowned. "Are you agreeing with me?"
Now Rocket looked up. "I am rejecting your pathetic attempt at an apology.”
“‘Pathetic’?” Peter asked, confused.
“Yeah, that's what I said,” Rocket said. “You come back here being all royal or whatever and expect me to believe you mean it. Well, I ain't as stupid as you think I am.”
Peter took a deep breath and tried again. “I am sorry if my words have given offense-”
“Nope!” Rocket said. “You're still doing it.”
Peter threw up his hands. “Then what do you want from me?”
“I don't want anything from you,” Rocket said. He slammed his tool down on the thing he was working on. Sparks flew. “An apology was their idea.” He jerked his paw toward his friends, waiting outside the cell.”As previously mentioned, you are not included on this expedition. Go find your solicitor.”
Peter swallowed. “You’re serious.”
“You got some idea you can walk in here and replace Quill. Well, you ain’t him and we don’t need a replacement. You’re not one of us and you never will be.”
“I’m not asking to be one of you,” Peter said, wondering how things had gotten so far out of control. Rocket was right; getting a solicitor - if he could - was useless. Navigating the system could take years.
“We got experimented on, and tortured, and watched our families slaughtered,” Rocket continued. “We’re losers, all of us and all we got is each other. You- you walked through a door and they handed you a sword and made you a king. Didn’t they?”
“There was a battle,” Peter protested, trying to rally a defense.
“One battle,” Rocket said. “Now you live in a castle with your family and a big treasure vault and you get to sleep on fancypants microply sheets and have people cook for you, don’t you?”
“The sheets are silk,” Peter said weakly, but came back with, “I have thousands of people that I have to protect and care for.”
“Oh, boo hoo, you have a day job,” Rocket said. “I bet they do just fine without you.”
Peter was silent, because they probably were doing fine without him. Susan and Edmund and Lucy were more than capable of keeping Narnia safe.
“You’re one of them,” Rocket said, pointing vaguely in the direction of the prison administration. “Go get them to let you out.”
“I am a 'loser',” Peter said quietly. “I've lost everything. I have nothing left, not even my clothes.” He gestured at the prison uniform. “The castle’s gone, the bed’s gone, the treasure’s gone, and in truth I would be happy to give those up and live in a bare hut with naught to eat but turnips if I only had my brother and sisters with me.” He took a breath. “But that is not a trade I have been offered. What I have is myself begging you for the most basic of things a man can have.” In a low voice, he said, “Please, help me win my freedom.”
Rocket examined him for a long moment, then said, “I suppose you want us to keep you on the ship, too.”
"This box of wishes seems my best chance of getting home," Peter said. "But I will work for my passage."
“You still ain’t Quill.”
“I know,” Peter said.
“No giving orders. You are the bottom link in this chain,” Rocket said.
“You gotta learn stuff so you can be useful. Wavin’ that knife around’s good, but you need to diversify.”
Rocket shook his head and sighed. “All right. If the others agree, I guess you can stick around."
“That’s fair,” Peter said.
Rocket offered his paw. “Welcome to the crew, loser.”
Peter shook it. “Thank you.”
"I think I'm better suited for a warrior's role," Peter argued.
"The plan is the plan," Rocket said. "You don't like the plan, you want to do a different plan, then you do your own plan."
"All you have to do is create a diversion," Gamora said. She tucked the loose cuffs of her jumpsuit pants into her boots and folded back the cuffs of her sleeves.
"Harass the guards," Drax suggested. "Make them grow red with anger."
"Isn't that dangerous?" Mantis asked, looking at Drax.
"He's tough! He can take a few zaps," Drax said. "Can't you, Low King?"
"High King," Peter corrected.
Drax held his hand up flat and compared the heights of the two of them. "Low King," he repeated.
It was an indignity, and he ought to argue, or possibly explain his title, but it was the least of indignities today and he had other concerns.
"Pick a fight. Something interesting," Nebula suggested. "Old Mukclaver's in here somewhere. He's about twelve feet high and vivid pink. You can't miss him."
"Isn't that... also dangerous?" Mantis asked tentatively.
"I've fought giants," Peter said, a little testily. "I think I can handle this Mukclaver."
"Don't let him sneeze on you," Rocket advised.
"Is it poisonous?" Peter asked.
"No, it's just gross," Rocket said.
"I am Groot," Groot snickered.
"We've talked about this, Groot," Gamora said sternly.
"I am Groot," Groot said sullenly.
It didn't take long for Peter to find Old Mukclaver. The man was not only vivid pink, but he had scales on his shoulders like armor, and he sparkled from the decontamination. He towered over a little purple fellow in a very threatening manner. Peter stepped between the two men, and the small one took refuge behind him. Peter Pevensie was not a small man, but Mukclaver stood nearly twice again Peter's height.
"No," Peter said. "I shall not permit any creature's torment while I am standing."
A couple of bystanders chuckled. Mukclaver said, "Who the hell are you?"
Peter took a deep breath, put out his chest and appeared to gain another inch in height. "I am Peter, High King of Narnia, crowned by the hand of Aslan and sworn to protect any that need it." More chuckles.
Mukclaver shrugged. "I can squash you as well." He stepped to the side to go around Peter. Peter stepped to the side to block him.
"What harm has he done you?" Peter asked.
"Little fucker stole my blanket," Mukclaver growled.
"I see," Peter said. "I see the cause of your fury, but truly, sir, your quarrel is not with the man behind me."
Mukclaver looked puzzled and wary. "But he stole my blanket. I saw."
"Yes," Peter said. "But he was cold, just as you were."
"So neither of you should be cold," Peter said. He gestured towards the door of the prison. "Are there not blankets aplenty just beyond that door?" He raised his voice, and he was not shouting, but his voice carried throughout the room. Prisoners halted their conversations and laid aside their cards and turned to see what was being said. "Is there not food, palatable food, food that does not ooze and does not crack? Is there not clothing for our backs and socks and shoes for our feet, clean and well-fitting, just out of our reach? And water! Sweet, clean water that runs clear as a mountain stream." Heads were nodding. "But they withhold it. They want us to fight amongst ourselves so that we forget," his voice rose a little more, "we forget the world outside, we forget we are men, and not dumb animals and they live easily while we freeze and starve." More heads were nodding and there were a few calls of "Yeah!" and "Right!"
Peter took a deep breath and continued. "They have failed in our responsibility to us, but we need not fail each other. Together we can eat! Together we can keep warm! Together, we can - ow!" He looked down and the little man behind him had bitten into his calf, tearing part of his flesh loose. The man grinned up at him with jagged, pointed teeth covered in Peter's blood and laughed. "You Tash-blasted little-"
"Hey!" Mukclaver said. "The High King was talking!" He shoved Peter aside and ran after the little guy. Peter landed on a table so hard that it cracked and the men playing cards stood up and started yelling at him. Meanwhile, Mukclaver shoved aside two more men, who flew into others, who struck back with their fists. Men up on the catwalks cheered and yelled and threw things at the crowd below and the ones below that weren't fighting each other ran up the stairs to fight the men on the catwalk.
Peter evaded the card players, who got bored with him and decided to punch each other. He tore a strip of fabric from his shirt and bound the wound on his leg as best he could. He heard Rocket above him and looked up. "Hey. 'Your majesty'. Want out of here?"
"Yes, please," Peter said. The stairs were full, but it was a simple matter to climb up the railings as if he were scaling a wall. Rocket and the others were on the third level.
Drax slapped him on the back. "That was a real nice speech you made."
"It was," Mantis said earnestly. "I had never considered a prison in that way."
"Almost bought it myself," Rocket said. "Perfect distraction. Well done." He led them to the corner of the room, where there was a narrow wedge between cells. Groot stood just outside the wedge holding a round metal plate that he'd clearly just pried up.
"I hadn't quite intended-" Peter said, but stopped when he saw the hole in the back of the wedge. "That goes outside?" He walked up to it, sniffed, then drew back.
"Yup," Rocket said. "There's a garbage collection shuttle at the other end. We get out of here, we get back to the Benatar and boom, we're outta here."
"I need my sword," Peter said.
"Any planet with a spaceport has a weapons maker," Nebula said. "You can get another one. Something better."
"There is none better," Peter said. "It's Rhindon, gifted to me by Father Christmas, with which I slew-" Drax shoved him, and Peter fell forward into the garbage chute. He wisely stopped speaking, closed his eyes and held his breath.
"Earthers," Rocket sighed.
They did find a garbage shuttle at the end of the chute. "Aren't you going to mention trash compactors?" Drax asked.
"Trash compactors?" Peter asked, puzzled.
"Quill does it," Drax said. "Every time we make an escape through a garbage chute, he expresses relief that the sides of the garbage room do not close in on us. I thought it was an Earther tradition."
Peter stared at him in disbelief. "'Every time'?"
"It is best we not stand here for long," Gamora said. They loaded up into the shuttle and Rocket steered them around the satellite and docked.
"Right, now we gotta get our stuff," Rocket said.
"Good," Peter said, relieved. "What is the plan?"
"Easy peasy," Rocket said. "Just go up the chute there, retrieve our belongings and come back down. Only takes one of us, so... not it!"
"Not it," said Drax, Gamora, Nebula, and Mantis. Groot said, "I am Groot." They all looked at Peter.
"I'm not familiar with that ritual," Peter said.
"Quill taught us," Rocket said. "Don't be a sore loser."
Peter hesitated. Gamora sighed and said, "I'll do it. I can't get more filthy and we have no time for arguments."
"No," Peter said quickly. "I cannot ask a lady to take on a task that I will not do myself."
"Good man," Rocket said.
Gamora rolled her eyes. "Fine. Go. Now."
"We can get you to do what we want just by having a woman say she'll do it?" Drax asked.
"No, that's not-"
"'Low King, if you do not want to do this task, this woman will do it instead' and you'll volunteer?" Drax asked.
Peter took a long, patient breath and immediately regretted it. He flicked a lump of unidentified slime from his arm. "This is the chute?"
"Yeah," Rocket said. "About halfway up it'll curve to the left. Comes out in the employee lounge so you gotta listen before you pop the cover off. Storage is two doors to the left and the bin labels match our wristbands." They all held out their wrists and Peter studied them.
"Have you any paper so I might mark them down?" Peter asked.
"Nope," Rocket said. "But if you find yours, ours should be the bins right after."
"Right," Peter said. He thought about tying something over his face to protect his nose and mouth, but he had nothing that wasn't as filthy as what was in that garbage chute. "Right," he said again, and hoisted himself upward. Climbing up this chute was thrice as hard as sliding down the other. The contents were just as terrible, but now he had to pull himself up a steep incline. The walls of the chute were slippery and not made for climbing, and more than once, Peter slipped and dropped down several feet before he could catch himself. But he made it to the top. At the hatch, he listened, but did not hear any movement. He popped the cover out carefully and lowered it to the ground, then eased out of the hole. He was not alone.
A guard sat at one of the tables, staring at Peter. He was eating noodles from a paper cup and had frozen in place, noodles dripping from a fork. The guard was young; his uniform still creased with the wrinkles of clothing fresh from the package. "You're - you're not supposed to be here," he said.
"What's your name?" Peter asked calmly, taking a ready stance.
"Junn," the guard said. "I think you need to go back there." He pointed toward the main room of the prison. "Wait," he said suddenly, lowering his noodles. Peter's hand went automatically toward the hilt of a sword that wasn't there. "You're the King, aren't you? The High King?"
"Yes," Peter said cautiously.
"That was good what you just said out there," Junn said. "True. Real true. Makes you think, you know, about inequality and artificial scarcity and what we're doing in here. Why're you back?"
"I need my belongings, and those of my friends," Peter said.
"Those guys you came in with?" Junn asked. "Yeah, I can get those for you."
Peter frowned, suspicious. "You can?"
"Yeah, they're in the storage room. Stay here," Junn said. He held out a hand to keep Peter from moving. "I'll be right back."
Peter, waited, very unsure of his good luck. He looked around the room and identified four possible items he could use to kill someone with if Junn came back with a pack of guards. To his surprise, Junn did indeed come back with their belongings, bundled tightly with their clothing on the outside. "Thank you," Peter said. He dropped each bundle down the garbage chute, keeping only his own bundle, with his precious, much missed, sword inside. "This is much appreciated."
"I'll give it to you straight," Junn said. "You're right. There's more of you than there are of us. It works just fine long as nobody thinks about it too much. Guy like you comes along, starts making people think, starts making things change, well, lotta people don't like that. It's why we have orders to kill you on sight."
Peter groped for his sword.
"Nah, man, I would've killed you already," Junn said.
"I am not so easy to kill," Peter said.
"Sure," Junn said, nodding. "But I mean, we gotta lot of ways to kill people here. A lot. But I like you, and you're leaving, so I don't think it's worth doing all the cleaning and paperwork. Just don't come back around here," he said. "You won't survive decontamination again."
Peter climbed back into the garbage chute, a task made more difficult with the bundle in his arms and his unwillingness to take his eyes off Junn. But once inside the chute, gravity took hold and bore him downward.
Everyone had their bundles loaded in the shuttle by the time his feet hit the ground. He threw his own bundle inside and climbed in. Rocket released the anchor and sped off toward their ship. Peter watched the prison grow smaller in the distance.
"Peter?" Mantis laid a hand on his arm. "Why do you feel guilty?"
Peter said nothing for a moment, then turned to look at her. "Because we left so many behind."
"You wanna go back?" Rocket asked. "When we get to the ship you can bring the shuttle back and tell them you're sorry for leaving. I'm sure they'll be real nice about it."
"There are vile, murdering, terrible people in there," Gamora said.
"Like us?" Peter said mildly. "There are innocents locked in there, too. Probably more than we know."
Rocket snorted. "'Innocents.'"
Peter shrugged. "My brother says that everyone deserves the chance to change."
"Your brother's a moron," Rocket said. "Hey, if we get you home, what kind of reward are we talking about, 'your Majesty'?"
"That," Peter said, shaking bits of garbage out of his hair, "depends on the condition I arrive in."
Next: Peter Quill!