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The Chosen One: 12 Step Support Group

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CHAPTER 1

The Bard checked the piece of paper again: Room 124. He verified the plaque by the door and knocked.

The voice of a teenage boy with a British accent called out "It's open!" The door creaked as he opened it.

Inside, there were people seated around a circle of folding chairs. The most prominent was a tall, strong looking man in obsidian black armor. The face plate of his helmet somewhat resembled a stylized skull, and he breathed slow, heavy, ponderous breaths. Whhhhhh pahhhhhh... Next to him, a dignified man with brown hair in a tight-fitting leather suit. His eyes glowed blue, and regarded the Bard suspiciously. Next to him, turned around in his chair to face him, a teenage boy with dirty-blond hair and a gun holstered inside his bluejeans waistband. Next in the circle, a younger, jovial-looking boy in loose-fitting clothes with the design of a blue arrow tattooed on his bald head and down his arms. A staff leaned casually against his shoulder, and he smiled hopefully. Completing the circle, a handsome boy with unruly black hair, spectacles, robes like a judge, a garish red and yellow striped tie, and a scar on his forehead in the shape of a lightening bolt.

The bard sighed. "Is this the...er...the Chosen One's...thing?"

"Yes it is," said the boy with the lightening scar, apparently the one with the British accent. "Welcome. Have a seat."

The Bard considered making his case now, that he wasn't really a Chosen One, but good ol Bodb back in Kirkwall warned him that denial was the first sign of a problem. He took a seat between Arrow Boy and Gun Kid.

Lightening-boy gestured to Blue-Eyes. "Please, continue."

Blue eyes nodded once. "...And so I..." he stopped, seeming to consider his words carefully, "I yelled at him. At Stilgar. My right hand man, my best friend, the man who saved my life. I yelled at him for something that could not have been his fault. I know he hates the Guild as much as I do. I know he didn't tell my mother about my drinking, but...I yelled at him."

"And then?"

"That night Chani confronted me about it. She...she told me I needed help, that I was letting my destiny go to my head." He turned away, a look a shame on his face. "That's why I came here."

Black-armor patted him on the shoulder reassuringly. Gun-kid nodded and said. "Wow. That's some tough shit, man."

Lightening boy smiled. "But you've come clean about that now."

Arrow boy chirped up. "Doesn't it feel good to get that off your chest?"

Blue Eyes grumbled. "No. No it does not, and do you have to be so damn cheerful all the time?! What part of this do you think is easy?!"

Arrow looked hurt. "Sorry. I was just trying to help."

"Well don't! I didn't come here for advice from some pubescent monk!"

Gun kid leaned in. "Hey lay off, alright? Aang's a Chosen One too. He knows what it's like."

Lightening Boy silenced them both with a placating gesture. "It's alright, John." He looked to Blue Eyes. "Paul, we do understand your anger, and you have a right to be angry. You wouldn't be here if it weren't for the pressures we all face. Just please consider what is the real source of your anger."

Paul glared at Lightening Boy. For a moment, The Bard wondered if this was about to turn interesting.

But before it did, Paul burst into tears.

Black Armor put a comforting hand on his back. In a deep raspy voice he said, "It's alright. Let it out..."

"Me, alright?! I'm angry at me!"

The others in the circle nodded solemnly.

"I let it get to me! I'm supposed to be the savior of the universe! My name is a Killing Word! I'm supposed to be strong! But I let it get to me..."

Aang, the arrow-tattoo boy, leaned forward again, and started to speak, but both Lightening Boy and John silenced him with an urgent look and a head-shake. He sat back, nodding. Black Armor pulled a Kleenex from a box by his chair and offered it to Paul, who took it with a grateful nod.

"We'll Give Paul time to compose himself," Lightening Boy said, then smiled at The Bard. "Everyone else want to introduce yourselves to the new guy? I'll start. I'm Harry, and I'm a chosen one." He offered his hand, which the Bard shook.

Aang raised one hand. "Hi. I'm Aang, and I'm a chosen one."

John offered his hand. "Hi. I'm John, and I'm a chosen one."

Paul quickly composed himself with a resolute look on his face. "I'm Paul. I'm a chosen one."

Black Armor raised one hand. "Hello. I am Anakin, and I am a Chosen One." Whhhhhhh pahhhhhhhh...

The Bard nodded and to follow suit. "Allo, I'm...The Bard, and I'm..." He sighed, trying to get it out. "I'm..." They stared at him, especially Lightening Boy.

He sighed, and threw up his hands. "Oh, bloody 'ell, what am I even doin' 'ere...I'm no chosen one! I ran across a dozen dead ones just in the last fortnight! I'm not real! I'm--"

The door opened, and a man with green hair and demented clown makeup leaned in tentatively. "Oh, I'm sorry."

Harry said, "Super-villains is down the hall. 143."

"Ah. Thank you, my fine funny friend." He closed the door. Harry looked back to The Bard.

He sighed. "Look. Chosen ones don't work the same way in my world. They're a lie, a manipulation."

Paul huffed. "So was I in my world. Bunch of manipulative nuns made it all up, I was just in the wrong place at the right time."

Harry gestured to the Bard, "So what brought you here then?"

"Well people believe that shyte, don't they? everywhere I go, it's Ohhh Bard, please save us from the evil wizard, and the dragon, and the vikings, and the ancient demon woman who...lies to you and...rips out yer fockin' heart..."

"Lead our people to victory." Paul said.

"Restore balance to the Cosmos." Whhhhhhh pahhhhhh...

"Live like a Navy SEAL on a mission, learn to survive nuclear war and fight armies of cyborgs." John added bitterly.

"Give us something to believe in." Aang nodded solemnly. "Be perfect for us. No time to actually grow up."

"And god help anyone who actually believes in you because they're even more buggered than you are." Harry added. "Right? Any of that sound familiar?"

The Bard sighed. "Yeah..."

Anakin offered his hand to shake. "We feel your pain."

The Bard studied the black gloved hand, then shook it. "Alright. Yeah. Hi. I'm the Bard...and I'm a Chosen One."

They all chimed in at once. "Hi, Bard!"

It was going to be a long meeting.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER 2

"Hi, I'm the Bard, and I'm a Chosen One."

Like clockwork, they all answered back. "Hi, Bard!"

He sighed. "It's been...two months since I saved the world." He sneered, "Since I 'saved' the 'princess' from her imprisonment by 'evil' druids." He made scare-quotes in the air at the appropriate places. "You know, I really don't ask for much, but a little truth now and then would be appreciated. Am I right? Everyone thinks they gotta lie to the 'Chosen one.'"

Anakin sniffed behind the face place of his helmet. Whhhhhh pahhhhhh SNORT...

Paul nodded. "So what else is new."

Aang gestured to Paul. "Shh! Paul, let him get this out. This is important." He turned and smiled up at the Bard.

The Bard conceded a smile back. "Thanks, kid. Anyway...Well..."

Harry studied him. "How did that make you feel?"

That one was easy. "Well it was a waste, wasn't it? I mean, all that work, scourin' the countryside, dodgin' trow, butcherin' these druids by the score, talkin' to untold legions of Bodb, tryin' to 'talk' to McRath, if that's what you call what he was doin', and..."

His heart wrenched as he thought of the last detail. He looked away as a tear came to his eye.

They all leaned forward, watching him.

"My...My dog..." He sat down, and cried into his hands. He could still remember that vacant, happy face, with that ridiculously long tongue hanging out...

Without looking, he accepted the Kleenex offered him by Anakin. "Thanks, mate." SNOOOORRT!

Harry said, "It's alright, Bard. Take your time. meanwhile, er...Has anyone seen John?"

Aang brightened up. "I could go look for him!"

"Errr...no, that won't be necessary, Aang, thank you."

Anakin shrugged. "I sense his presence. He is in the building."

Paul groaned. "I hope he didn't end up in the Deranged Cultists meeting on the roof. It's a full moon tonight."

Harry winced. "Oh gods. Hey, don't suppose anyone noticed if any of them had any skull and snake tattoos on their arms? I have a restraining order against them if they do."

At that time, the door opened. John strode in, unshaven, yawning, his clothes unkempt, and his gun in his hand as he fumbled to tuck it into his waistband. "Sorry guys. My mom's a little psycho today." He sat down.

Anakin asked, "Are you alright?"

"Yeah, I'm fine, it's just she panics over every little thing! She can't leave me alone! I mean how the hell am I supposed to be this 'great military leader' if she won't fucking let me live my life?!"

Th door opened. A disheveled, rugged man in medieval clothes and carrying what was obviously a legendary sword leaned in, and blinked. The Bard noted that some strange, Wagnerian music began to play from somewhere.

Harry pointed. "Kings and Scions is third floor, room 318."

"Thank you, young friend." He shut the door, and the music stopped.

John sighed. "Anyway, she thinks she saw--"

"I hate to interrupt," Harry said, "But you actually came in as the Bard was having a breakthrough."

"Oh!" John looked embarrassed. "My bad."

"No no..." The Bard waved at him. "Go ahead. I need to get myself together anyway..."

Harry nodded a concession. "Oh. Alright then." He indicated John.

John rubbed his face. "Point is, she's paranoid."

"Umm," Paul held up one finger. "Aren't they actually out to kill you? The Cyborgs I mean?"

"Well...yeah, but, I mean..." John fished around for the right way to express it. "Okay. Like this one time, she fell asleep watching War Games, right? She wakes up screaming, and I swear to God, we're halfway to Tulsa before she comes to her senses."

Aang squinted. "So what was she doing this morning?"

"Watching the news. She swears she saw a Terminator involved in a bank-robbery."

Aang gestured hopefully with empty hands. "Well...she didn't bolt you off to Oklahoma. Maybe she's being more careful."

John snorted. "Yeah right."

Anakin said, "John, your mother loves you. She may have a strange way of showing it, but she does. Mothers are precious. Take it from me, I know."

Paul snorted a laugh. "You don't know mine."

Anakin loooked at him with a distinctly confused tilt of his black helmet.

Paul waved dismissively. "Oh sure, for a while she was all Oh woe is me! My poor brave husband murdered in a cowardly ambush!' But it was around a week before she was all 'bow down to the mother of the Kwisatz Hadderach, you plebes! Whahahaha!' Gods what I wouldn't give for her to find a hobby..."

The door burst open, a lean, disheveled woman with long brown hair and rifles slung over her shoulder leaned in, glaring at John with the fire of the end of the world in her eyes. "Now, John!"

"Mom, I'm in a meeting!"

Harry raised one hand. "Ms. Connor, I've asked you repeatedly not to interrupt the meetings--"

"John, they're coming! Get your ass downstairs to the car NOW!"

"No, mom! Not this time! I want proof it's a terminator first!"

She looked absolutely shocked. "John, you are too important to gamble your life!"

"Mom, stop it, I know how important I am!"

"John, they are COMING!"

"It's always like this with you!" John began to pace. "Remember that time you shot a Dalek at that Sci-Fi convention?!"

"Kyle never told me how big HK's were, he just told me what they look like!"

"That was a guy in a costume mom! You killed someone!"

Paul looked surprised. "Okay, I concede. That is a little messed up."

John gestured to Paul. "See?! Even he thinks you're crazy!"

The Bard could not help it. He burst out laughing. He found himself joined by Harry's stifled giggles and Aang's snorts.

Paul looked taken aback. "Hey!"

Ms. Connor sighed angrily and rubbed her forehead. "John, I'm not crazy. You know that."

"Yeah. I do. But I also know you don't respect me. I've got to have a life, mom!"

A large, hulking figure in sunglasses appeared in the door. He leveled an AK-47 right at John. In a deep, Austrian accent, he said, "John Connuh?"

Anakin gestured with a wiping motion. The Terminator flew backward against the wall, spread-eagle, and dropped his gun. Anakin said, "Shhh! They're flowing! Do not interrupt!" Whhhhh pahhhhh...

John and his mother both blinked at the Terminator, then at Anakin. His mother said, "Did you...just..."

John recovered first. "See, mom? I'm in no danger here!"

Harry raised one hand again. "Uh, point of fact, Anakin, you're breaking the sixth rule."

The Bard blinked. "What? No slammin' robot assassins against walls with magic?"

"Must tuhminate John Connuh."

Harry sat up resolutely. "No. Everyone repeat rule number 6 please."

John and Paul both sighed and rolled their eyes. As one, they muttered, "Our destiny is our own, and we must face it ourselves."

Anakin shrugged, a little hurt. "I was just keeping him from interrupting the meeting."

"Would like to tuhminate John Connuh now."

Johns mother gestured to Harry. "See? They won't protect you."

"I'm finishing this meeting, mom." John sat down. "I have a lot of issues to work out, and if we run, I won't ever find help like this again."

"John, he just said it's against the rules! They can't protect you!"

"Uh, point of fact," Paul raised one hand, "We can. We just have to break rule 6."

"May I tuhminate John Connuh now? Please?"

Harry groaned in frustration. "Paul..."

"No. It's easy. Watch this." Paul stood up. The Bard watched with interest.

Harry stood up. "Paul, don't."

Paul squared off with the Terminator and drew a strange device on his wrist."Muuuuaaaad DIB!" BAM!

The machine's head and torso shatered in a shower of metal and sparks.

Aang's eyes went wide. "That is so cool!"

John chuckled and offered a hi-five. "Thanks, man."

"No problem." He hi-fived John, and sat down. "Now. Can we get on with the meeting?"

Harry face-palmed.

John looked up at his mother.

She nodded. "This is important to you."

"Yeah. It is."

She nodded. "Alright." She gave him a smile. "I'm proud of you."

He smiled back. "Thanks, mom. I love you."

Anakin stood up, his arms wide. "Awww! Group hug."

"Alright!" Aang stood up with them and joined in.

Harry sat back in his chair and shook his head. "I really do try to run an orderly meeting..."

Aang said, "Hey! Anakin, you gotta do the thing!"

"What thing?"

"You know, that thing!"

John brightened up. "Yeah! The thing you do!"

"Oh that! really?"

"Yeah! Do it!"

"Okay, okay." He made a sound like a swamp-gas pocket clearing its throat, and then clenched his fist. With ominous seriousness, he pointed sternly at Paul. "Do not be too proud of the technological terror you wear on your wrist. The ability to destroy a robot's head is insignif--" But he then degenerated into laughter, along with Aang and John. "I'm sorry! hahaha...Ohh, I can't finish it..."

Harry sighed. "Alright you lot. Same time next week. And remember--"

They all chimed in with him. "One day at a time!" He turned to go, kicking fragments of Terminator out of the way.

The Bard followed suit, exchanging quick fist-handshakes with John, Aang, and Paul. He felt so good he even indulged Anakin in a hug. These meetings were turning out to be pretty good.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER 3

The Bard sat back comfortably in the folding chair, as Harry took his turn.

"Hi, I'm Harry, and I'm a chosen one."

As one, they all said, "Hi, Harry!"

"It's been...over a year and a half now since I saved the world!" He smiled. The Bard, and the others, clapped. "I uh...I haven't had the urge to save anyone in..." he counted silently, "384 days. My life at home is--"

The door opened. A muscle-bound African American man with mohawks on his head and gold chains around his neck like a pharaoh at a Mardi Gras parade leaned in, squinting suspiciously.

"Oh! uh..." Harry pointed. "TV-Land heroes and Good Role Models is first floor, room 33."

The man smiled. "Thanks, man!" He waved a two-finger salute on his way out.

John sighed. "You really oughtta let me put a sign on that door."

"John, we've been over this. A sign makes us look exclusive and discourages people from stopping in who really may need our help."

Paul scoffed. "So far the only help they've needed is directions."

The Bard sighed. "Look, as much as I hate to be the voice of common sense, we really need to do somethin' about this. I mean, they are disruptin' the meetings."

Anakin shrugged his black-armored shoulders. "I don't know. I think it's an interesting way to meet interesting people. Remember when Ted McGinley stopped in?"

John squinted. "Who?"

"Okay." Paul sat forward in his chair, turning his blue-glowing eyes to Anakin. "Remember when Pikachu stopped by?"

Aang grinned. "I liked him."

Paul pointed to Aang with a smug, twisted half-smile. "It took us two hours to find Aang the Last Wind-breaker here and bring him back."

"Air-bender," Harry corrected.

"I know what I said."

"Hey," Aang squinted at Paul. "He was trying to teach me to bend lightening."

"Oh really." Paul turned to Aang. "Does lightening-bending look like cuddling a cute furry mouse?"

Anakin gestured with open hand. "He was pretty cute."

Paul, John, and Harry all turned to look at him.

Anakin shrugged. "What?"

The door opened. A sullen-looking, Asian teenage boy with a black top-knot, a nasty burn-scar on his left eye, and a diadem in the shape of a flame leaned in.

Harry sighed. "Brooding anti-heroes is first floor, room 56."

"Oh...thanks."

Aang brightened up. "Hey, Zuko!"

Zuko smiled. "Hey! How's life, Aang?" He stepped in, and exchanged a quick ritualistic fist-shake with Aang that ended in them both pointing at each other and puffing a small burst of fire out of their fingertips.

Aang said, "Flame-yo, Hotman!"

Zuko laughed, and turned to go. "Take care, man." the door shut as Zuko left.

Paul gestured incredulously to Aang. "What the hell was that?!"

John laughed. "Brooding anti-heroes, huh? He didn't look that brooding to me."

Paul went on. "'flame-yo hotman?!'"

The Bard sighed, and shook his head.

Aang shrugged. "What? It's what they say in the Fire Nation."

"You're an enabler!" Paul pointed at Aang. "You facilitated him interrupting our meeting, and with stupid juvenile hip-speak no less! 'Flame-yo hotman?' Do you even know what it means, or do you just say it when you think it makes you look slightly cooler?"

John gestured to Paul. "Hey. We don't get onto you about that 'Fear is the mind-killer' thing."

Anakin nodded. "It's part of Aang's culture. We have to be sensitive to each other's cultures."

Paul scoffed. "Like you were with the inhabitants of Ryloth during that so-called 'uprising?'"

Anakin jerked back in surprise. He pointed at Paul. "That is out of bounds!"

The Bard caught the motion of Harry popping the top of a Tylenol bottle and dry-swallowing three.

"Guys!" John made a motion of quietening down. "We need to be a little more constructive here."

Amazingly, Paul and Anakin backed off of each other.

Harry sighed. "Now. Where were we?"

Aang said, "Your home life?"

"Right! Yes. My home life is...well...You know ever since Ginny got hired, even the money is looking better. You know, we put a down-payment on a flat in Cheltenham--"

The door opened. Everyone, including the bard, groaned.

Paul pointed. "Constant annoyances is 11th floor, about three-hundred feet that way."

"Paul!" Anakin swatted his arm.

a disheveled, goateed beatnik in a green shirt and flanked by an oversize Great Dane leaned in.

Harry said, "Bumbling Everyman Adventure Magnets is third floor, room 305."

"Haha! Like, thanks, pal!" He shut the door.

Paul stood up. "That's it! That is IT! I'm not taking it anymore!"

Harry sighed. "Paul--"

"No! This will not continue! Either you let John put a sign up, or I am leaving in protest!"

The Bard leaned over to Aang. "I thought this building only had ten floors."

John leaned over almost across Aang. "He meant the roof. and 300 feet that way is a walk off it."

Aang scowled. "That's not nice."

Meanwhile, the argument continued. Harry stood up. "Oh you want to leave do you?!" He pointed squarely at Paul. "Well the door is right there, not that you haven't got that memorized as much as it bothers you!"

Paul rose, and puffed up. "Are you about to pretend you aren't bothered by it?"

"I may be bothered by it, but that's the price we pay for being open and accepting!"

"Okay, okay." Anakin stood up, putting a hand on each of their shoulders. The Bard silently wished he'd just let them have at it so there could be peace. Anakin said, "Take a deep breath. We don't want to end up like Link."

John winced. "Ohhhh yeah."

Paul and Harry nodded. Harry said, "Right. Yeah." He stepped back.

The Bard leaned over. "Who's Link and what happened to him?"

Aang shrugged. John leaned over and said, "It involved a bomb, a Buffalo Chicken pizza, and three days without sleep." he shuddered.

The Bard nodded, suddenly glad he didn't have anymore details than that.

Harry sighed. "Alright. We'll do something about the traffic. But meanwhile--"

The door opened again. A blonde cheerleader with a wooden stake in one hand leaned in, with a lanky dark-haired teenage boy behind her.

Anakin gestured with a wiping motion. "This is not the meeting you're looking for."

"Sorry, Darth Lame, that only works on the weak-minded. Hi. My name is Buffy...?"

Harry squinted, then his eyes brightened up. "Oh! Yes! You're in the right place, actually!"

She smiled. "I am?"

Paul squinted. "She is?"

Harry beamed. "Welcome to the Chosen one's meeting! Come in and sit down!"

"Oh no, I'm not here for the chosen one's meeting." She pulled her friend in. "This is Xander. I'm helping him find the Comic Relief's meeting?"

The Bard groaned, and he and the others practiced a round of synchronized face-palming.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER 4

"Hi, I'm Anakin, and I'm a Chosen One." Whhhhhhh pahhhhh....

The Bard, along with the others, answered back, "Hi, Anakin!"

"It's been four months since I saved the galaxy. I've...reconnected with my family, finally talked to my son again...He's a grown man now. I'm proud of him. A Jedi, just like his old man." Anakin dabbed with a Kleenex at the eye-coverings on the face-plate of his skull-like helmet. "My daughter's still not talking to me though."

Harry nodded. "How do you feel about that?"

"Well..." He shrugged. "I can't really complain, I mean I have made some bad choices in my life but...Luke tells me she is about to marry a Corellian smuggler. I know she has always been a rebel, but she really could do better, you know."

The Bard shrugged. "Oh, scoundrels aren't all bad."

Paul said, "I do hope you aren't holding yourself up as the counter-example."

The Bard smirked. "I have been known to chivalrously chase rats away for frightened barmaids."

John snorted a laugh. "Yeah, but you create them first. That kinda doesn't count."

The Bard grinned. "Details details."

The door opened. In staggered the tiredest, raggediest looking sorry sap The Bard had ever seen: he was no taller than 5'7", lean and wiry, his brown leather boots clomping on the wooden floor. A forest-green tunic stained with dirt and blood covered his torso, a matching cap over his dirty-blond hair and framing thin, pretty-boy face. A sword and shield hung on his back--the former of which bore ornate workmanship and the glow of magic. The young man looked right into the Bard's eyes with icy will.

John, Harry, Anakin, and Paul all stood up, looks of wide-eyed recognition on their faces. John shouted "Link!"

Link looked around uncertainly, and waved timidly. He looked to Harry. "Harry?"

John and Aang both stepped forward to support the newcomer, as Paul, Anakin, and Harry stopped their advance to let them. Harry said, "I'm here, mate."

"Got any of those pills?"

Harry patted his robes, but Anakin telekinesed the red and white bottle out of one of the pockets. Harry popped the top off and poured three tylenol into his hand before handing them to Link. Link swallowed them whole, as John and Aang guided him to his seat.

Link sat down stiffly, with a pained wince. The Bard thought he faintly heard a beeping sound. Beep-beep, beep-beep, beep-beep...

Aang squinted. "He doesn't look well. Maybe we should find a healer."

Anakin straightened up. "Oh my god! He's beeping!"

Paul rolled his eyes. "Oh for gods' sake..."

John patted the side of Link's face. "Link!? Come on buddy, look at me!"

Link's head rolled a little, and he looked into John's eyes.

John gave him a stern look. "You gotta stay with us, man. Alright? Stay awake."

Harry stood up. "He needs hearts! Aang, go find him an easy enemy!"

The Bard looked to Harry. "What's wrong with him?"

Aang jumped up, ran to the window, opened it, and took a flying leap out with his staff in hand.

The Bard blinked. "Never a dull moment around here, is it?" He turned his attention to the green-clad newcomer. "You know if he's hurt, I got somethin' that might help--"

Anakin knelt next to Link. "Tell us what happened, Link."

Link looked to him, and gestured up over his left shoulder to the hilt of his sword.

"You got in a fight?"

Paul face-palmed. "Alright, here's a hint. When was the last time any of us fell down the stairs?"

THUMP!

The Bard turned toward what he thought had to be the largest bird ever to hit a window, but instead saw the dazed form of Aang and his staff-glider splayed against the glass. He started to slide down with a squeak, but Anakin reached out and stopped him with a telekinetic reach of his hand.

Harry sighed, and pulled out his wand, giving it a flick toward Aang. "Infenestrato." The window opened, and Aang fell in unceremoniously.

Link blinked tiredly. "Why didn't...he use...the..." He started to slump off the chair.

"NO!" John reached for him to prop him up, as did Anakin.

"Oh Hell..." Harry reached in to feel his pulse. "His beep is getting weaker!"

The Bard sighed. "Look, I got this song--"

Aang rolled over. "I got out there and realized I didn't know the area. Where are all the bad guys?!"

Anakin pointed out the door. "Did you try the Dark Ninja convention in the ballroom!?"

Harry pointed at John. "Call 911!"

"Right, like they know how to treat a magical elf!"

The Bard sighed, and unslung his Shadow Axe. The electric tones of a haunting melody filled the air. All attention went to him. As soon as the last note faded, a bright circle appeared in the center of the room. In the middle of it stood a short rotund trollish woman with green skin. She smiled. "Someone in need of healin'?"

The Bard pointed at Link. “Wouldjou mind?”

She turned to him, raising her hands over her head. "HEALLLIN'!" She thrust them forward with a spray of magical sparks.

Link tensed and jolted, his eyes wide, his face a look of surprised horror. He shook violently.

When it was over, he looked around uncertainly, and with shaking hands, pulled himself up to a seat. He turned to stare at the hag, and then at the Bard.

"Thanks."

"No problem, mate." The Bard played another quick tune, and the hag disappeared. He slung his Shadow Axe back up over his shoulder.

Paul raised one hand. "Um...why didn't you do that earlier?"

Link leaned over with his head in his hands, looking for all the world like he might throw up. Anakin put one hand on his back. "Easy, there. It's alright. You are among friends now."

John patted him on the shoulder, laughing. "Man do you know how to make an entrance."

Link looked up at John uncertainly. "John?"

"Yeah! Yeah, man. It's me." He nodded.

"...Oh. Well...how's your mother?"

John, Harry, and Anakin all laughed. Link blinked at them, confused.

Paul shook his head. "Welcome back, my friend."

Link nodded. "Thanks." He looked to Aang and The Bard curiously. "Hi. I'm Link..." He took the glove off his left hand, and held it up, showing them the glow of a golden triangle just under the skin. "...And I'm a chosen one."

The Bard nodded. "Hi, Link."

"And it's been..." He glanced at the clock. "fifty one minutes since I last saved the world." He smiled faintly.

A stunned silence settled over the room.

Harry nodded solemnly, and leaned forward, patting Link's hand. "You got a long road ahead of you, mate."

Link nodded. "Don't we all."

Chapter Text

CHAPTER 5

"Hi. I'm Aang...and I'm a chosen one."

By now, The Bard had the routine down. "Hi, Aang."

"It's been six months since I saved the world. Man, you should see the place now. Omashu and Ba Sing Se are rebuilding, Zuko's done wonders with the Fire Nation, and...oh yeah! Sokka and Suki are getting married!"

Anakin clapped his gloved hands together. "That is wonderful! when?"

"In September. Zuko's offered them the royal palace for the ceremony, but...I got no idea what to get them for a present. They've both got the best swords money can buy, and The Earth King has made sure they have the best place to live. What do you get two heroes who have everything they could ever need?"

"Well you know," Harry said, "Wedding gifts aren't about need, really. You want to give them something that will...show your support to the union."

The Bard sneered. "It's only not about need to the rich and powerful. To everyone else it's to make sure they can start a household without dyin' in the first year."

Paul shrugged. "On Arakis, it's easy. for a wedding: Water. And for a birthday? Water. State functions? Water. Tuesday? Water." He smiled. "Simplicity has its perks."

Anakin said, "Well...maybe something to remind them of you. Maybe a souvenir from your days fighting Fire Lord Ozai?"

John grimaced, and seesawed his hand in the air. "Ehhh...Come on, do they really want to remember being on the run from relentless pursuit, hiding out alone in a strange land..." John's face took on a gray palor, and his eyes a frightening defocus. "...never knowing if...the enemy was...just around the corner--"

Faster than The Bard's eyes could track, Link's left hand flew out and slapped John up the back of his head. John jolted forward under the surprise. Sheepishly, John turned to him. "Thanks."

"Break-state. Navi does that for me all the time."

The door opened, and a two foot tall creature with wrinkled green skin and batlike ears leaned in on a gnarled wooden cane. "Hrrrm?"

Anakin slumped down in his chair and hid his helmet-covered face behind a Time magazine.

Harry pointed. "Magi is seventh floor, room 713. Say hello to Professor Dumbledore for me."

"Hrrrm! Hrm hrm hrm!" He ducked out and closed the door.

Anakin lowered his magazine. Paul sighed. "They're doing this on purpose now."

"He was too short to read the sign," Link said, turning to Aang. "Baby bassinet."

"What?"

"They need baby supplies. Your world is devastated by a war of attempted genocide. The Southern Water Tribes are well into their survival threshold, and they're about to have to start breeding with outsiders to come back to steady-state population. In fact, if they want to preserve the genetic base for Water-Bending, they're going to have to take non-bending mates and hope for the best. Do you happen to know if Water-Bending is a dominant trait?"

Aang squinted. "What?!"

"Just something to consider. Also, the Fire Nation is above its own carrying capacity. You're going to see a lot of migration, and therefore, you're going to see Fire-Bending start appearing in the other cultures. With the Water-Tribes looking for mates and fire-nation looking for places to live, you're about to see the Earth Kingdom become a very eclectic place. An economic center, a cultural hub...In fact, I'd look for your next despotic attempt at world domination to start in Ba Sing Se, probably from an Earth- or Water-Bender looking for revenge against the Fire Nation."

Aang blinked, leaning back in something like confused horror. The Bard looked to Harry hopefully, but Harry just shrugged. When he looked to John, John looked as confused as Aang.

Paul raised one finger. "You were talking about baby bassinets."

Link nodded. "Right. Since Sokka and Suki are heroes to this era, having been major parts of ending the war, and the world is having to recover from the devastation of said war, there's going to be a lot of pressure on them to produce healthy offspring as token of symbolic victory. Focus your gifts on that idea. Fire Lord Zuko and the Earth King are going to make sure they have the best medical support available, you just see to the moral support. Let the world see that The Avatar cares about the impending baby boom."

Anakin sat forward in his chair. "That is...brilliant."

John looked mortified. "It's insane!" He looked to Link. "You don't know these people! You don't just talk about their families like that!"

Link shrugged. "It's a pattern, just like everything else. Look, John, you're going to have to deal with this too--"

"Shut up."

"--When you face your fate, one of your chief problems is going to be to make sure that enough healthy adults of breeding age--"

John shot to his feet and balled his fists. "Shut up! What the hell is wrong with you?!"

Link sat back a bit, watching John curiously.

Harry raised one hand. "Link, I'm going to have to ask you to respect John's boundaries."

John went on. The Bard thought he detected a hint of impending tears in John's voice. "You're talking about the fate of the human race! It's not a fucking math problem!"

Anakin nodded. "Link, John takes his destiny very seriously. He bears a heavy burden on his shoulders. We all do."

Link nodded. "When I was seven years old...my mother told me that raising me was like making sure I was outfitted for war. She had to make sure I had a breastplate, greaves, pauldrons, a helmet, and if she accidentally sent me into the world without gloves, and I got my hands cut off, that was on her."

Anakin glanced at his right hand, clenching and un-clenching a fist.

Link looked to him, then back to John. "I've spent my life gathering tools of all kinds. If I have gloves for any of you..." He pulled them off his hands and tossed them onto the floor in the center of the circle of chairs. "They're yours."

John sat down. "My mother's taking care of that. I come here to get help with this crap, not live it all over again."

Aang smiled wanly and sat down. "I think a baby bassinet is exactly the right message to send. If the world is rebuilding, we'll start with the people."

But The Bard could see that John was not okay. He sat slumped in his chair, his head in his hands.

Paul leaned forward, as if trying to see his face. "John?"

John sobbed loudly.

Anakin tilted his helmed head. "Oh John..." He reached for his Kleenex box.

John shuddered. "So many people...They're all gonna die..." He looked up. "It's not so simple for me. Every week you all come in here and you've already saved the world. You're past the trauma and the hell. I can't say that. It hasn't been a week, or a month, or a year, for me. I haven't done it yet!" He fell into himself again. "I have the future deaths of millions on my mind! I can't stop it!"

Harry nodded. "John, that's what we're here for. Look around you. We all feel it."

Paul put one hand on his back. "John? Listen to me."

John looked up into his blue-glowing eyes.

"When it's all over, and you've helped ensure the survival of the human race, you'll give someone a baby crib for a wedding present."

John nodded. Paul pulled him into a hug.

Anakin stood up, walked over, and joined the hug. With one hand, he motioned everyone over. "Come on."

Harry rolled his eyes, but smiled warmly. The Bard groaned theatrically. "Ohhh, if we must." And without reservation, he joined the hug.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER 6

The Bard found them all a nice booth in the corner and scooted in. The others soon followed suit. Aang coughed in the dimly lit haze of cigarette smoke while another drunk patron wailed about standing by her man from the karaoke mike.

"It smells like an opium den in here." Aang waved his hand back and forth in front of his face.

A blonde waitress in a black apron walked up. "Okay, I'm going to need to see ID's from you, you, you, and you." She pointed to Aang, John, Harry, and Link.

Anakin gestured with a wiping motion of his right hand. "You don't need to see their identification." Whhhhhh pahhhhh....

"I don't need to see your identification." She waved dismissively with a smile.

John grinned at Anakin. "Thanks, buddy."

The waitress flipped open a notepad. "So what'll you have?"

Harry looked to The Bard. "This was your idea. What do you recommend?"

The Bard said, "Got Stromness Stout?"

She thought for a moment. "We got Guiness."

"That'll work. We'll have seven." He smirked to Aang. "It'll put hair on your chest."

Aang chuckled. "Alright! Finally, I can impress Katara!"

Paul arched one eyebrow at the young monk. "You mean she's not impressed by your utter mastery of the four elements and saving the world from a despotic dictator?"

Harry sighed. "It is a rather unfortunate side effect of our nature," he said. "No matter how many epic battles of good and evil you fight..."

John chuckled and finished the thought. "...It don't mean a thing if you ain't got that swing."

Harry laughed, and offered a high five, which John indulged.

Anakin looked at the next guy up to sing Karaoke. "We both lie sound asleep in the dead of night...and though we both lie close together, we feel miles apart inside..."

The Bard groaned and covered his ears. "Not this crap..."

Anakin said, "Do you think they'd let me sing?" Whhhhhh pahhhhh....

The Bard looked to him hopefully. "Absolutely, mate! Go up there and get your name on the list!"

Anakin giggled frighteningly, stood up quickly and hustled over to the karaoke DJ.

The waitress returned with a tray of drinks black as tar. She began to distribute them. "Alright, seven Guinesses."

"Thanks." The Bard gave her a winning smile. She blushed, and grinned back as she departed.

The Bard took a deep drink. As he did, he heard several gags, exclamations of displeasure, and one surprised spit.

Aang looked at him dubiously. "I don't think my chest can handle this much hair."

Paul took another cautious drink, then shrugged. "Well...it's the first drink I've had in a while that didn't have spice in it. Guess I get to be hung over tomorrow." He took another sip.

Link set his pint down. "I can dance."

Harry squinted at him. "What?"

"It don't mean a thing if we ain't got that swing." Link shrugged. "I can dance. The Gorons taught me."

John grinned. "Alright. Maybe you can show us a few moves?"

"No. It's ceremonial."

The Bard grinned at them all incredulously. "You mean you lot don't know how to dance?"

Harry blushed. "I can waltz. Sort of."

Paul shrugged. "Caladanian court dances. To do them properly you have to have a stick up your ass."

Aang brightened up. "Katara and I taught a school full of Fire-nation children to dance!"

The Bard chuckled, and thumped his pint down. "Come on. I'm about to show you all how the zombies stomp the dungeon."

The Bard led them to the dance floor in the middle. He limbered up with a few quick turns and spins. "Alright. Now--"

"Hey watch it, asshole!"

The Bard turned toward the commotion in time to see John jerk back from a bald, tattooed, musclebound man with a pool-cue, who had apparently been made to miss his shot by John's carelessness.

John held up both hands. "Whoa, sorry there, man."

"You made me miss my shot!" He pounded one fist into his hand as he advanced toward John, who backpedalled quickly. "I had fifty bucks riding on this game! You got fifty bucks, douchebag?!"

The Bard saw Link's eyes take on a narrow, almost predatory focus toward the man. Paul clenched his fists, and Harry went for his wand, leveling it on the man. "There a problem, gentlemen?"

The man stared at Harry, then burst out laughing. "What are you gonna do, turn me into a newt?"

Aang sauntered up, blowing on his fingernails. "No. He's too honorable." He grinned at the man. "But I'm not."

"Stay out of this, kid. This is between me and douchebag here."

John smiled, surveying both friend and foe alike. "Okay everybody just calm down--"

The man jerked back his fist, but The Bard heard some quiet, indistinct vocalization from Paul. "Saaaa SA!" The man jerked back just a few inches under a non-lethal but annoying impact.

Paul lowered his wrist-device, glaring through his blue-glowing eyes. "I'd think real hard about that if I were you."

The man gave Paul a look to match his killing-word name.

"Say." The Bard swaggered up. "You gentlemen dance?"

"Not with you, fairy." The man's friends chuckled derisively.

Link looked at The Bard curiously. "You have fairy blood in you?--"

The Bard motioned him quiet. "I propose a dance-off to solve this little altercation. If you win, we leave. If we win, you leave us alone the rest of the night."

The man appeared to be thinking about it. He looked to his friends, and then back to the Bard. "Alright. To what song?"

A sound like a swamp gas pocket clearing its throat sounded over the microphone. A deep, gravelly voice rang out. "This is for my friends on the dance floor."

The Bard smiled, as a bass guitar and drum picked up a lively beat, followed by epic synthesizer. "They sentenced me to 20 years of boredom...for tryin' to change the system from within...I'm coming now, I'm coming to reward them..."

The Bard turned to the rest of the crew. "Everyone follow my lead." He grinned. With that, he turned, and began to stomp the yard, zombie style.

"First, we take Manhattan..." Whhhhhh pahhhh.... "THEN WE TAKE BERLIN!"

-------------------------------------

It would have gone so much better if the others could dance. It must have truly been a sight to behold--and laugh at--from the sidelines. The Bard did his zombie crumping well enough, but the others just could not follow. Paul did some weird robotic thing with jerky movements, John did something with moving his hands back and forth over his knees, Harry tried to headbang, of all things; Link must have lapsed into his Goron dancing, because what came out was some kind of bizarre interpretive ballet. Aang arguably acquitted himself best, with some combination of martial arts moves that came out not unlike The Bard's own crumping moves. In the end, a circle cleared for him on the dance floor--but it ended when he tried to walk like an Egyptian.

In the end--The Chosen Ones got served.

Harry sighed in the cold night air with the bar behind them. "Well that was...interesting."

Aang grinned. "That was great! Can we do that again sometime?"

Anakin nodded, his breath fogging in the cold in front of his face-plate grill. "I agree. Relaxation was just what we need."

Paul smirked. "Maybe we'll get some next time."

The Bard smirked. "Oh, the night's not over." He motioned to follow. "Come on. I know a few places that are still open."

"Alright!" "Yesss!" "Lead on, hotman!"

And so the Bard led them on, to happen to many more people that night.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER 7

The neon sign flashed "THE OASIS." This was no ordinary bar.

But that was how The Bard wanted it. It was time for his brothers in the esteemed trade of Chosen One heroism to really stretch themselves, to reach out with their feelings, as Anakin would say.

Paul did not wait for instruction. He smiled, adjusted the lanyard on his stillsuit, and walked right in. But not everyone was so enthusiastic.

"Oh no. I'm not going in there, mate." Harry Defiantly came to a dead stop.

"I don't know," Anakin said, uncertainly, watching two pretty young college girls walk in. "I am no spring chicken, you know. More machine now than man, if you get my meaning." whhhhhhh pahhhhhh....

Aang looked positively intimidated, and exchanged uncertain glances with Link. John sighed with a wince. "Maybe another night, Bard."

"No." The Bard straightened up. "You all need this, more than you realize. Now come on. I'll be your wing-man."

Harry looked at him incredulously. "You're gonna fly wing-man for six people."

Link looked cautiously at John. "What's a wing-man?"

John answered. "You don't want to know. Bard, come on. This is just gonna embarrass us."

"I've got a wife back home." Harry regarded The Bard sternly through his bottle-green eyes and round frame specs. "So does Paul. and Aang's got a girlfriend."

Paul leaned out the door. "And two concubines. They don't care." He grinned, and disappeared back into the bar with a wiggle-fingered wave.

Link gestured to the door of the bar. "He is reprehensible."

Aang arched one eyebrow in disgust. "I think he's just bad."

"The word you're looking for," The Bard said, "Is incorrigible. Now listen. You don't have to take anyone home, you don't have to fall in love, produce offspring, get married, kiss, or even give her your real name, but you do all have to do one thing."

Harry sighed. "What's that?"

"Relax." The Bard smiled. "Have a drink, chat some people up, and get these burdens off your shoulders." He gathered them all around. "Now listen. The world is counting on you. The lives millions hangs in the balance, on each of your shoulders. You represent the best qualities of life. Courage. Steadfast faith. Enduring gentleness. Love. Forbearance--"

Whhhhhhh pahhhhhhh....

"...and...um..." The Bard looked to Anakin. "...And...and forgiveness. The ultimate balancing. You are larger than life."

Aang looked horrified. "That's supposed to relax us?!"

"No." The Bard grinned. "That's why you have to relax. The world needs you. What happens if you flip out? Really?"

They all glanced at Anakin. He looked away as if distracted by something.

The bard looked serious. "Yeah? You have a duty to your worlds." He gestured to the door. "Let's get to it."

Aang sighed. "Katara's gonna kill me."

Harry shook his head at the Bard. "You are one slimy snake. And I've known a few."

The Bard clapped him on the shoulder. "Just talk, mate. Just make friends." He led them into the mouth of The Oasis.

-------------------------------------

As they walked in, Paul had already helped things along. Surrounded by three young ladies in jeans and college teeshirts, he raised one hand and smiled. "And there they are!" He motioned them over. "Ladies, my good friends. The Bard, Harry, Annie, John, Link, And Aang. Gentlemen, this is Julie, a political science major at Pacific City State, and her two friends Nina and Candi."

The Bard smiled. "Ladies. It's a pleasure."

Nina waved seductively. Candy sized up Anankin. "Nice costume."

"Thanks. I...try to blend in." Whhhhhhh pahhhhhh...

The Bard chuckled, in an attempt to cover him over.

Julie looked askance at Link. "So what, is there a sci fi convention in town?"

"Not that I know of." Link answered matter-of-factly. He gestured uncertainly toward the door. "Why? Do you want to go to one?"

The Bard hurt inside. He laughed out loud. "Oh Link. Such a kidder. Say. Why don't we all get drinks and have a seat over in that booth, and we can...while away the night."

Paul grinned. "That sounds like a lovely idea. Bard, if you would handle the tab?"

The Bard snarled at him as he smiled. "Certainly."

"Cute kid." Julie waved to Aang as Paul led them toward the corner booth. Aang blushed bright crimson.

"Oh yes. He's a very well respected man where he comes from..."

The Bard turned back toward the bar, about to hand some money over to the bartender, when he heard a gruff voice say, "Disgraceful this is."

The Bard looked to the stool to his left, and there saw an old, wrinkled green-skinned creature with large batlike ears and a gnarled wooden cane.

The Bard narrowed his eyes. "Got a problem with us havin' a night out old man?"

The creature gestured with hi cane. "Chosen ones they are. Study they should. Discipline they must master. Not this crude pastime. You are reckless." He prodded The Bard with his cane.

"Yeah," The Bard sat down next to him. "Because you obviously did such a good job with yours."

Yoda looked sad. "His choices he made."

"Yeah, funny how that works." The Bard glared at him. "He succeeds, you taught him well. He fails, and he made bad choices."

Yoda looked to The Bard with something like an offended scowl on his wrinkled face.

"That's the problem isn't it," The Bard went on. "The previous generation fucks it up with their carelessness and myopia, and so you gotta lay it on the next. And you lay it on good and thick, don't you?" The Bard turns away. "Never occurs to Earth that we just might not make an army of killer robots. We need them to fight Russia. Never occurs to Hyrule to stop fucking about with the power of the gods. Never occurs to to Ministry of Magic to stop sorting kids at birth for their place in life and damning a quarter of them to be ambitious sods and another quarter to be janitors. Never occurred to you lot--" he pointed at Yoda, "--to be honest about real power."

The Bard shook his head. "So you put it on us. Hey kids, we fucked it up, and if you don't clean it up, you're a failure at life. And by the way, you're special. You have all the power of our hopes and fears, just like that runaway magic and our army of robots. Just like we built them, we built you, so no life of leisure like we had. That was for us. You have to pay for it."

Yoda scowled. "Careful. To a dark place your accusations lead."

"Oh I know. You and yours did the best you could with what you had, right? Couldn't foresee the consequences. Couldn't predict the backlash. Right?" The Bard shook his head. He gestured toward the table, where Julie rolled her eyes at something John was saying. "You all could have taken on the responsibility for your grand social experiments. Those men at that table are gettin' snubbed by the next generation of you."

Yoda sighed, and shook his head. "Little will this blame count when all comes to fruition." He jumped down. “Rising, another is. Train him you must. Hopefully not this whining, hmm?”

“What...”

The old mage scowled at him once more, and hobbled out.

The bard turned to finish his business with the bartender.

He felt a hand on his shoulder and turned. Harry's green eyes questioned him.

The Bard nodded. "It's a thankless job you do. I just wanted you to have some thanks for it."

Harry turned up one corner of his mouth in a smile. "For what it's worth, I already knew we deserved to be loved."

The Bard nodded, and then, against his will. He sobbed.

Harry put one hand on his shoulder.

The Bard hitched a breath. "You didn't deserve what they did to you, mate. Look at the damage they did. People have died of what they did to you."

Harry nodded. "I know." He guided The Bard back to the booth. "That's why I run this thing. I take children who were taught they were special and just teach them that they deserved love. Come on. Bambi's askin' about you."

Chapter Text

CHAPTER 8

"Hi, I'm The Bard, and I'm a Chosen One."

As one, they all answered, exactly as he had come to expect. "Hi, Bard!"

He took a deep breath. "Well...It's been six months since I last saved the world, and you know...I think I feel pretty good."

Harry nodded, smiling. The Bard glanced down at the young Airbender next to him. Aang grinned up at him proudly.

"It won't last you know," Link said, matter of factly.

"What? me feelin' good?"

"I meant the world being saved." Link shrugged. "Just one of those things. When the world is set up to be saved by one of us, it doesn't stay saved for very long."

Paul smirked. "That's why you have to do it good and hard when you do it. They're not going to want another Kwisatz Hadderach for a while because of me. Or look at Anakin." Paul gestured to the tall black-armored form next to him, wheezing through his helmet respirator. "Are they going to ask for a balancing of the Force any time soon?"

Anakin shrank down a bit.

Aang glared at Paul. "That's not nice, Paul."

"What? It's a survival instinct. The only way to make sure they don't call on The Chosen One too often is to make them think twice about it."

The Bard hated to admit it, but that was a tactic of choice for him. He wondered if his land would ever fall for The Chosen One again, next time some evil witch decided to use it for her ends.

Harry was about to speak, probably to chastise Paul, but the door opened. John staggered in with a visible shiver to his walk. Aang and Anakin both got up to support him.

Harry squinted. "John?"

"Yeah..." He sat down hard.

Aang said, "What's up, buddy?"

John lifted his head. The Bard could tell he was pale, and the bags under his eyes told of many sleepless nights prior to this meeting.

John took a deep breath. "It's uh...it's time. I'm...I'm going."

The Bard took a moment to process that, and saw that he was not alone. Harry's face went pale. Aang went wide eyed. Paul just nodded, smiling.

Link thought for a moment, then arched both eyebrows. "Oh...I see."

Anakin sighed. "Oh, John..." Whhhhhhh pahhhhhh...

"I don't know what to do..." John rubbed his face. "My mother has been training me for my whole life, and I don't know what to do..."

Paul got up and knelt next to John, putting one hand on his shoulder. "Hey. take a deep breath, and relax."

Anakin joined him. "You will do fine, John. You are better prepared than you know."

Aang looked to Harry. "We can help him!"

"No." Harry shook his head sadly. "John has to face his destiny alone."

"Well bugger that." The Bard reached into his pack and pulled forth a bottle. "John, you need this."

John studied it. "what is it?"

"Stromness Stout. Use it when your courage goes."

John sighed heavily. "Thanks, man." He took it.

"I sense much fear in you." Whhhhhhh pahhhhhhh... "I can say from experience that you should not be afraid. Your destiny is what it is."

John snorted a violent laugh. "There's about to be nuclear war. Millions are gonna die."

"But not you, and not the ones you save." Anakin reached into his cape. "Here." He handed John a small crystal.

"what is it?"

"A Holographic Recorder. We will not be there, so talk yourself through it, one day at a time, just like we do."

John smiled a little. "A holographic journal. Thanks, Annie."

Paul nodded. "And this." he undid a belt on his stillsuit and unslung a small sheath with a white-handled dagger. "A Crysknife. The mark of a man. You earned it."

"You mean I'm about to?"

"No." Paul narrowed his eyes. "You've been in the desert your whole life. The time you've spent with a tribe is the exception, not the rule." He nodded once, authoritatively. "Well you're gonna be alone out there. I want you to always remember someone knows who you are."

John nodded. "Thanks, Paul."

Aang reached into his robes. "here." He furnished forth a small wooden tile painted with a symbol that The Bard could not read. "It's a White Lotus tile. Anyone who carries this will have friends everywhere he goes."

John smiled. "I know I do. Thanks, man."

"Enough sentiment." Link reached into his pack. "You're going to be leading frightened survivors into battle against killing machines." He pulled out a pair of black lace-up boots. "Make sure you can walk or run safely anywhere you need to. The terrain will be covered in broken glass, fragmented concrete, shards of metal, and bone fragments."

John's face took on an ashen palor.

Link took the glove off his left hand and showed him the glowing triangle. “Courage. Focus.” He touched John on the shoulder, and some of the golden glow washed over him. John took a deep breath, and the color returned to his face.

Link pushed the boots into his hands. “Your prowess is your footwork and your survivability is your mobility. Protect your feet.”

Aang squinted. "You were carrying a pair of army boots?"

"How do you think I climbed Death Mountain?"

John tilted his head to one side. "Where did you get those?"

Link shrugged. "The Lion's Head Fortress, third floor treasure room."

Harry quirked an eyebrow. Paul said, "The...Lion's head..."

"Yes. Where the eighth piece of triforce was? It was guarded by Gannon's elite Ironknuckle Guard and three undead wizards."

Anakin tilted his black helmeted head to one side. The Bard raised one hand. "Wait just a minute. The treasure of Lion's Head Fortress was a pair of army boots?!"

John bent over and began to unlace his sneakers. "These are army boots from Hyrule. They're probably magical or something."

Paul rolled his eyes. "Oh for Shai Hulud's sake, he got them at a Surplus store! he's pulling your leg!"

Link looked confused.

Aang said, "That still doesn't explain why he had them."

"He's Link! He uses rubber bands and wadded up receipts to slay evil...moths, or something!"

Link pointed to Paul. "It worked. I cleaned out that closet in five minutes, and she gave me a purple rupee for it."

Harry sighed. "Alright. Fine." He reached into his robes. "John, you need these more than I do. Or at least you will." He tossed John a red and white bottle.

John caught it. "Your aspirin?"

"Yeah. Keep your head clear, mate. we'll be waitin' for ya." Harry smiled.

John nodded. He took a deep breath, and stood up. "Thanks. All of you."

Anakin patted him on the shoulder. "May the force be with you, John."

John nodded. He started to speak, but even The Bard could see he was about to cry.

Anakin did not let it get that far. He pulled John into a hug. Aang quickly joined, as did Link, and even Harry.

Aang said, "Take care of yourself."

Paul reached into the cluster and rubbed the top of John's head. "You'll do fine. Just relax, and let it flow."

"When in doubt," Link said, "Empty yourself, and trust the gods."

"Make friends quickly," Harry said. "They'll save your bacon faster than anything else will."

"Ay." The Bard clapped him on the shoulder. "You're a good man, mate. The surviving Humans should be so lucky."

John nodded. "Thanks...hey," He pulled a pair of sunglasses out of his pocket and put them on. "I'll be back."

And with that he turned to go.

The door slammed with an odd finality.

Link turned to Harry. "Harry?"

"Yeah?"

"Hi. we're all chosen ones, and it's been two seconds since we last saved the world."

Harry thought for a moment. "Yeah...yeah, it has, hasn't it?"

The Bard smiled. "How do you feel?"

Harry chuckled. "Ummm...we need to take shelter from Nuclear bombs, don't we?"

Aang's mouth fell open. The Bard blinked. Paul slowly turned and looked out the window. Link took a red tunic out of his pack and began to put it on.

Whhhhhh pahhhhhh, "Well fuck."

Chapter Text

CHAPTER 9

"Hi, I'm Paul, and I'm a Chosen One."

The Bard nodded sullenly, and answered with the others. "Hi, Paul."

"It's been...about a year since I last saved the world." He grinned.

The Bard clapped politely. He fought a yawn, but failed miserably.

Harry, smiling somewhat, said, "You seem to be in a better mood than yesterday."

"Well..." Paul smiled slyly, "I finally resolved that little animal-control problem I was having."

Aang, the young monk seated to the left of The Bard, brightened up. "You convinced Stilgar to let his pet worm go free?"

Paul considered his response. "Not exactly. I kinda set it free myself."

Anakin gasped behind his black armor-mask. "Paul! That's cruel! Your friend deserves better than that!"

"Very practical, though," said Link, the elf seated between Paul and Aang. "You have to see it from every angle. There are larger public health concerns, and great ecological balances that Paul has to deal with. Besides, there were issues with space."

Aang squinted. "With a pet worm?"

Paul's face took on an almost horrified look. "You don't understand worms on Arakis. Yes, trust me, we had a space issue."

The Bard smirked, hazarding a glance toward Harry and knowing he was about to get on the young wizard's bad side. "Well I for one admire you takin' the initiative."

Harry looked to Paul disapprovingly. "Paul, you know we don't get to throw our weight around like that. We bear too great a responsibility to misuse our power."

"Well why the hell not?" The Bard faced him fully. "Our position is one with no real perks, isn't it? And sometimes, you do have to take a heavy hand--"

The door opened. A tall, majestic figure in long glowing white robes leaned in. The Bard could hear some manner of choir singing behind him, and great white eagle-wings flapped just a bit from the man's back.

When he spoke, it was with a voice like honey and thunder. "Excuse me. Is this the Chosen One's meeting?"

Harry blinked. "Yes?"

"Excellent. I do hate to interrupt, but...We need your help."

"Oh. Well..." Harry gestured to the circle of chairs. "Er...Come in. What can we do for you?"

"Ohhhh no." The Bard held up one hand. "That's how it always starts, isn't it? What can we do for them. I'm not doin' this."

Aang blinked at the Bard. "But...We don't even know what he wants."

Paul, picking up the Bard's thread, squinted at the angelic figure as he took his seat. "I'd say that one's a no brainer. We are chosen ones. He wants us to save the world." Paul smirked at him. "Don't you?"

The figure sighed. "Welll...yes and no..."

The Bard snarled. "Out with it!"

The figure glared at the Bard indignantly. "I am Arcadian, messenger of Light. Once in a thousand years, a man is born who will lead the forces of light against--"

The Bard threw up his hands just as Paul rolled his eyes and Harry and Anakin both facepalmed. "Oh for the love of--"

Arcadian looked around, confused. "What?"

Link raised one quieting hand. "Bad past experiences. Go on."

"Er...well...We found him, and...he's er...He's not having it."

The Bard smirked. "Well good on him. One of us finally showed some backbone."

Aang narrowed his eyes in a look of determination the Bard knew well. "Why not."

"He won't say." Arcadian shrugged.

Link nodded. "So we have to find the right person to talk to him. Once we ascertain that, we get his terms. Then it's a minor matter of a side-quest to fill those terms and get him moving. I have a lot of experience with this sequence."

Paul smirked. "I hope he's holding out for something worthwhile."

"Well I know I am." The Bard turned to face Arcadian fully. "What's in it for us."

Anakin raised one black-gloved hand. "Bard, please! There could be lives at stake."

Paul snorted. "When are there not? Isn't that how they always get us? Sorry, guys, I'm with The Bard on this one."

The Bard continued to glare at Arcadian. "Our kind has worked for free long enough. What do we get."

Arcadian looked at The Bard hopefully. "You get to do great good for your fellow man."

The Bard's face twisted in anger. "Yeah. I loved that feeling. When I thought it was real!"

Harry cracked one knuckle rather loudly. "You know," He stood up. "Just because you came from a world where the Chosen One was a lie and you were being used doesn't mean we all did."

The Bard stood up to face Harry, looking the young wizard right in his green eyes. "It's not about me. I really did love that feeling."

Harry studied him in surprise.

The Bard went on. "I'm not gonna help this pious bastard drag another innocent down to where we are. I want him to understand that what he's sentencing this poor sap to comes at a cost to him. And then I'm only gonna help so we can see he gets what he needs."

Harry started to speak, but the angelic voice answered, "We know."

The Bard turned to look.

Arcadian shook his head sadly. "We know what it is you do. This," He pointed to the Bard, "This is why I came to you all. I know what a sacrifice it is I am asking you for. The world needs you again. But more than that, this boy needs you."

Aang stood up proudly and created a gust of wind that sucked his glider-staff into his hand. "I'm in."

Anakin sighed a rather horrifying sound from under his obsidian helmet and stood up. "The poor boy must be so frightened. I will help."

The Bard nodded at Arcadian. "You met my terms." He turned and jammed his finger right into Arcadian's chest. He was surprised to note a pleasant warmth. "But so help me, if you're lyin' to us or jerkin' us around, I've slain meaner and darker things than you."

Link said, "It's true. The dancing dungeons of the Undead quake at his name."

The Bard glared at Link.

Link stood up. "We'll need to secure proper weaponry and tools for his journey. It's dangerous to go alone."

Paul sighed angrily and ran his hands through his hair. "Good god you people are cheap. Fine." He stood up. "I'm with the Bard. I hear the clank of one chain being yanked, and you will never feel the end of it."

Harry smiled, and stood up. "Reset the count, everyone. We're about to save the world."

The Bard smiled and cheered. Aang let loose a "Yeah!" and raised one fist. Anakin...made one of those sounds he made, but clenched both fists in front of his chest.

Arcadian smiled, clasping his hands in front of his chest. "Thank you all."

Whhhhhh pahhhhhh "I have waited long to do this."

Harry looked at him curiously. "To do what?"

"This." Anakin tapped a button on his chestplate, and a rousing, dark, Wagnerian march began to play in minor key. He strode out, his cape billowing behind him.

Paul nodded. "Hey, that's catchy. Dunh dunh dunh dun de-dunh, dun de-dunh..." He followed Anakin out.

Aang grinned. "Hey Bard, you should learn to play that." He turned to follow.

Harry nodded. "Maybe we should make that our theme song."

The Bard nodded once to Link, and the two brought up the rear. The Chosen Ones were on the march.

And even the Bard had to admit--it felt pretty good again.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER 10

Harry led them out onto the roof of the Hotel. The Bard blinked in the sunlight, and quickly moved into the shade of the three-winged Imperial shuttle parked between the giant furry sky-bison and the flaming sting-ray form of the Bard's unholy mount.

Harry flicked out his wand. "Accio Firebolt!" a sleek black broom flew to his waiting hand. "Arcadian, lead the way."

Aang beamed, running to the giant furry beast like a child to an oversized teddy-bear. "Who wants a ride on Appa!"

Link started to answer, but was interrupted when Paul raised his hand, an enthusiastic and sarcastic gleam in his blue-glowing eyes. "Ooh! Ooh! Not me! Anybody but me!"

The Bard walked to the flaming giant stingray, patting its head. It seemed as content as ever, and gave him a look that said it desperately wanted to eat him. He was used to that. The Bard turned to smirk at Paul. "The alternative is me, mate."

"Like hell it is. I'm going with Anakin."

Anakin clicked his keyring and there was a short, stifled beep as the ramp of his shuttle lowered with a smoky hiss. Whhhhhh pahhhhh "You know, we really ought to carpool. There's plenty of room on the Tiderian."

Link frowned in disappointment. "I wanted a ride on Appa."

Harry held his hands up. "Sh!"

The roof went silent and tense. Link's hand immediately went to the handle of his sword. Paul crouched, drawing his wrist-weapon onto his hand and a worm-tooth knife in the other. The Bard unslung his Shadow-Axe and waited. In the distance, the steady rapid-fire thud of the rotors of a helicopter grew closer.

Anakin looked about curiously. Whhhhhh pahhhhh "I sense something. A presence I've not felt since--"

The helicopter drew closer. It proved to be a beaten-up US gunship with a scorched and faded Tech-Com sigil on the side. With a gesture of his glider-staff, Aang redirected the wind from the rotors around them. As it lowered, a woman jumped out of the side. The Bard could not help but think she looked familiar, though he couldn't place where he had seen her before. She was lean, her brown hair tied behind her head in a pony tail, and two assault rifles slung over her shoulders. She surveyed the group with the fire of the end of the world in her eyes.

"John couldn't make it." She smirked. "He said you needed a mother's touch for this job."

Aang's face brightened. "Ms. Connor!" He ran to her and gave her a big hug as the helicopter took off. She oofed under his impact, but then gave his bald head a playful rub.

Harry smiled, walking toward her. He gave her a serious salute. "Welcome aboard, ma'am."

Link smiled. "Good to see you again, ma'am. How is he?"

She strode right for the ramp of the Tiderian. "They hit a main Skynet hub yesterday and almost lost him. They found Kyle."

Anakin clasped his gloved hands together as he led them up the ramp. "That's wonderful! When do you see him again?"

"About fifteen years ago."

"...Oh. Right. Sorry." Whhhhhh pahhhhh...

The Bard could not help a snigger. Harry just shook his head.
--------------------------------------------
Arcadian took a seat in the co-pilot's seat, next to Anakin. "I will guide our flight."

Anakin sat down and began hitting buttons. "By the way, there's a bar in back. Just some stuff I get on Coruscant. Paul, there's purified spring water if you want a couple of bottles."

Paul's face lit up. "Anakin, I love you. Will you marry me?"

"Awwww. I love you too, Paul." Whhhhhhh pahhhhhh.... He guided the shuttle up into the atmosphere.

Harry got into the mini-bar and tossed Paul a couple of bottles, and one to Aang. "Just in case."

Aang smiled. "Thanks, Sifu Potter!"

Harry squinted at one of the bottles left in the bar, then to Link. "There's Tatooine moonshine here, the label says it's pure grain alcohol."

Link's eyebrows went up. "Oooh. Very flamable. I'll take it."

Harry smiled. "Thought you might." He handed it off. Link held it over his head in both hands, then secured it in his pack.

"It's also good for cleaning wounds," Ms. Connor said darkly. "Don't burn it all. We got a first-aid kit in this rig?"

The Bard smiled, patting his Shadow-Axe. "Yeah. Matter of fact, I can summon a healer anytime."

Paul sat forward, smirking. "What else you got in that thing?"

The Bard ticked them off on his fingers. "Behemoth, war-wasp, nocker, thunder-spider, rat, assassin, knight, explorer, brute, heroine, bodyguard, mercenary, fire-elemental, sorceress, and light-fairy."

Ms. Connor let out a low appreciative whistle.

Paul said, "So that's how you survived in that world of yours."

"Ay." The Bard shrugged. "Why do work you can let others do?"

Paul laughed and offered a high-five. "Up top!" The Bard obliged him.

The Bard added, "I can also play that song of Anakin's, I think, but I got no idea what it would summon."

Harry thought about that. "Best to save it then."

"Or test it," Link said. "Anakin, can you find a nice secluded spot to land us? We need to conduct an equipment-check."

Aang smiled. "This'll be fun! It'll be like learning a new skill!"

"Well," Anakin studied the heads-up display. "We're in the middle of a city, but I think I can find us a park."

Arcadian pointed. "There. No one will see us."
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They disembarked in the middle of a small wooded park. Anakin looked around, and said, "I sense no observers."

The Bard unslung his Shadow-Axe. "Alright, everyone. Stand back." As they obliged him, he let the lone, sorrowful, electric chords of Anakin's march ring out.

A bright ring of light appeared on the grass. The Bard watched carefully, anticipating his new Servant. Would it be one of Anakin's ancient order? A warrior from one of the many worlds subjugated by Anakin's armies of clones?

Might it even be...Anakin's old master, the one he turned against to save his only son?

What appeared in the circle of light was a man, wearing the customary blue pants of this world, and red plaid button-up shirt. Thick white hair covered his head, and a neatly trimmed beard and moustache over his face. He looked around blinking.

"Can I...help you?"

Anakin's head cocked back in surprise. "Who are you?"

The man saw Anakin and nodded as if in recognition. "Is this a fan convention?"

Aang scratched his bald head in confusion.

The man looked around. "Nice costumes, by the way. You guys really went all out." He nodded to Ms. Connor. "Linda. Good to see you again." Then to Harry. "Mr. Radcliffe. Love your work." He sighed. "Okay. Who do I have to sign autographs for so I can get back to my ranch?"

The Bard looked at Anakin confused. The old Sith lord just shrugged. The Bard exchanged similar questioning looks with the other Chosen Ones, but they were all as clueless as he was.

Ms. Connor said, "Who's Linda?"

The Bard nodded in defeat. "Great. Well, I had to find a dud sometime." The Bard turned to the man, and said, "Sorry mate. We'll get back to ya." He played the rest of the song, and the bright circle appeared again. The man vanished, his hand raised as if about to protest.

The Bard shrugged. "Sorry, guys."

Harry put one hand on his shoulder, smiling as he guided him up the ramp of the Tiderian. "Don't worry. I'm sure he'll come in handy one day."

"Yeah, but..." Aang turned back toward the patch of grass where he appeared. "Who was he?"

Paul waved a dismissive hand. "Probably nobody. Let's go."

Chapter Text

CHAPTER 11

Anakin brought the Tiderian down to a landing on Oak Lawn Drive, right in front of #3317. He turned over his shoulder to the rest of the crew and said, Whhhhhhh pahhhhhh "This is your captain speaking. Please remain seated with your seatbelts securely fastened until I have turned off the fasten-seatbelt sign. We know you have a choice when you fly, and we thank you for choosing Air Imperial."

Arcadian stood up. "The boy's name is George Jameson. He's 13 years old."

The Bard rose and stretched his legs, feeling them pop inconveniently. It sounded like he was getting old, and maybe he was. But that didn't mean he had to like it. "Alright. Let's get this thing goin'."

Ms. Connor stood up, unslinging her rifles and dropping them down to her seat. She pointed to Aang, Harry, and Link. "You, you, and you, fall in. The rest of you cover us."

Link stood up, pulling his gloves on a little tighter. "What have you got in mind?"

Ms. Connor put her sunglasses on. "Harry and Aang and I are going to the front door to talk to them. You're going in covertly to talk to George yourself and find out what we need to do."

Link nodded coolly. "Yes Ma'am."

The Bard smirked. "So we get the easy job, ay?"

Paul sat back, folding his hands behind his head. "She doesn't want our cynicism screwing up the diplomacy."

"Exactly." She pointed at Paul as she hit the button to lower the ramp. "I want your cynical baby-blues watching for signs of trouble, from here." She turned to walk down the ramp.

The Bard looked at Paul, then at Anakin. And they looked at each other again. Paul snapped his fingers and clapped once.

Anakin said, "So who wants to play Connect Four?"
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Mrs. Jameson sighed when the doorbell rang. At this rate she would never get anything done. She put the plate she was holding into the dishwasher and grumbled, resolving that if it were those so-called Messengers of Light again, she was going to go get the shotgun and then call the police again. Whether they were some kind of demented brand of Whoever's Witnesses or some outrageous brand of child predator, she didn't care. Some things just didn't fly.

She opened the door a crack, and was surprised to see a woman in her early forties, lean, long brown hair in a pony tail, sunglasses, dressed in black cargo pants and a coal gray tank-top. Next to her stood a boy of 13, dressed like a Shaolin monk except for the blue arrow on his bald head, smiling up at her with a staff in his hand. Behind them, the pleasant face of a handsome boy with dark hair and glasses, a lightening shaped scar on his forehead, black robes, and a garish red and yellow striped tie.

The woman smiled. "Hi. You don't know me. I'm Sarah, I live down the street. This is my son Aang--"

The boy raised one hand. "Hi!"

"--and my nephew Harold, from Surrey."

The nephew nodded, smiling pleasantly. "Ma'am."

Mrs. Jameson studied them carefully. There was still some feeling out to do, and while this little troupe wasn't the strangest thing she had seen today, it was in the top ten. "Carol Jameson."

Sarah smiled. "Nice to finally meet you. Listen. I got a question. Have you seen anyone unusual in the neighborhood lately?"

Carol narrowed her eyes. "Like what."

Sarah shook her head. "Well, Aang says he was approached by a guy dressed like an angel, claiming he was some kind of chosen one." She made scare quotes in the air. "I've been to four other houses so far and no one knows anything. I'm just trying to find out if I should be concerned or not."

Aang squinted in distaste, and looked somewhat sheepish. "He kept saying there was, like, one of me born every thousand years or something."

Bingo. Carol felt a twisting in her stomach. She quickly unlocked the chain and pulled the door open. "Thank God. Come in. We need to talk."

Sarah beamed.

Carol squinted at Harold as he came in. "Nice costumes, by the way."

Harold smiled. "You like it? Aunt Sarah made them for us. We went to a fan convention today."

"Ohhh. I bet that was fun." She glanced at the enormous thing parked in the street in front of her house, and blinked in surprise.

"No. I must be halucinating." With a shaking hand, she shut the door.
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Link tossed a chunk of filet mignon laced with sleeping potion to the barking dog. It went right for it and was not long for consciousness. He looked up.

The second floor rear window.

If Link were going to protect a child, putting him high up made sense. It took longer for people to get to him. Given the size of the house and its shape, he anticipated one room, heavily guarded as a decoy, with a secret compartment in the cieling. Since the guards were neutral, he would have to deal with them non-lethally.

He reached into his pack and grasped the handle of his little friend, the hookshot. With a slinging motion, he sent the hooked chain up to the wooden frame of the window. It yanked him up at rocket speed, and he finished by planting his feet against the side of the house.

He looked in the window. It was an opulent bed-chamber decorated in beige and off-white, with an ornate vanity on one wall.

But no guards. Luck was on his side. He extracted the glass-cutter he picked up in the Serpent's Tower, and etched a quick circle. With a thump from his left hand, it fell out silently. He reached in and flipped the window latch.

Once inside, he withdrew a wooden boomerang from his pack and listened at the door. It was silent. A quick peek into the hallway confirmed that there were no guards, a surprising development. He momentarily wondered if it were a trap.

He tiptoed down the hall, and spared a peek into the lavish garderobe. It smelled of perfumes and deodorant. A panel on the ceiling told him where the secret space was. He sighed and shook his head. The architects of this house weren't even trying.

Finally, he came to the only other door, and listened at it.

The room was silent. Strange for the bedchamber of a child.

He pushed the door open gently. "George?"

No answer. The lump under the bed-covers did not move. There was no way a 13 year old boy was asleep at this time of the afternoon.

"My name is Link. I just want to talk."

The room lay strewn about with an abundance of toys: small, colorful figurines and vehicles to match, vehicles and buildings made of lumpy blocks, a computer terminal like the one John sometimes used, and above it, a glossy tapestry showing what looked like a moblin in spiked armor.

He put up his boomerang. "I came here with some people who can help you. Will you talk to me?" He stood over the bed. Still the lump did not move.

Link knew this ploy. He reached for the covers. When he pulled them back, he nodded to the carefully arranged pillows and orange ball, entirely unsurprised. "I see."

He looked to the window. It was unlatched. A quick inspection told him that, unless this Chosen One had super-strong legs, he didn't leave that way--there was no trellis or anything to break his fall, and no sign of anything used for a ladder or rope.

Link nodded. "Alright. Plan B."
--------------------------------------------
"Oy!" The Bard pointed down the ramp as Link jogged up. Paul, Anakin, and Arcadian all stood up.

Link took a moment to catch his breath. "He's not inside that house. Not in his room, or any of the secret spaces."

Arcadian looked down, sadly. "He has run away."

"No." Link looked him in the eye. "No child makes that clean an escape. Either they've sent him off to be hidden somewhere, or he's been taken."

Chapter Text

CHAPTER 12

Mrs. Jameson's house was immaculate, to the point of being dead. It looked like a showcase, not a home. Kitsch adorned every exposed surface, and photos on every table showed three people, a happy family. In a way, Mrs. Jameson lived one of Sarah's dreams, but also, one of her nightmares. Sarah always wanted a normal life. All the Chosen Ones did. But none of them really did. Life had some funny dualities.

Ms. Jameson stared intently into her mug of coffee. Aang watched her with the frank curiosity that only a child can truly manage. In some ways, he did kind of remind her of John when he was younger. Harry, on the other hand, kept an admirable deadpan considering his youth. He had a skill, Sarah thought, that belied the fiery temperament of his reputation: upstart, rebel. Chosen One. The fight in his world had honed him, tempered him, as had the fights for all the Chosen Ones, each in their own way.

Some things truly were universal.

"My husband..." Ms Jameson said, "...He got sent to Iraq. He kept telling me he was in the Green Zone, but I knew better. He was Delta Force." She blinked, looking away. "He...was supposed to be retired, but there's a little clause in the contract. Once you sign on with the US Military...they own you."

Sarah nodded. "I'm sorry."

"George loved him. He was devastated when I had to tell him..."

Sarah reached out and put one hand on hers. "It's okay. You don't have to talk about it."

"No, it's just..."

Sarah thought she saw Aang look away in sorrow. She wondered how, after the death and destruction he had seen on his own world he could still feel. Somehow, he had come through it with his heart intact--a blessing, and a curse, just like his opposite in The Bard and Paul. Harry did not appear to react, at first, but Sarah could tell--he was thinking about his own parents.

Sarah said, "My husband...Aang's father..."

"I know." Mrs. Jameson wiped a tear from her face. "I know what it looks like. I can see it on the three of you." She laughed tensely. "Well, anyway, George has always been special. He's...It's hard to describe. It's like he can mimic the voice and motions of anyone once he's met them. He's got a photographic muscle memory for some things--he and his father once stayed up late watching a Bruce Lee movie. The next day, he was doing all the fancy kicks and punches, and the nunchucks..."

Sarah took note of that. Aang and Harry exchanged interested looks.

"But more than that, he...he actually mimicked Bruce's voice. It's been a little scary sometimes."

Aang looked up at her again. "Your son has been given a great power, Mrs. Jameson."

Sarah closed her eyes, wondering how odd it would appear if she told Aang to shut up now.

Mrs. Jameson looked at him in shock.

He stood up. "I have to show you something." He went into the kitchen and turned on the water in the sink.

Mrs. Jameson got up, looking after him in alarm. She turned back to Sarah. "What is going on."

There was the sound of swishing of water. Harry and Sarah both stood up to see over the bar.

Aang danced. That was the only way Sarah knew to describe it. It looked for all the world like the flowing motions of a Tai Chi class, except that over his head hovered a blob of water that would easily fill a 5 gallon bucket. He moved with it, flowed with it, dancing it to the ends of his fingertips and around to the other side, up over his head, stretching it like a slinky and swirling it like a ball. As the water poured out of the faucet, he beckoned to it with absent, fluid gestures. Blobs of water joined the one he played with.

Mrs. Jameson looked on in horror and wonder.

Harry stepped up behind her. He said quietly, "We can teach your son that, and more."

She turned to look at him.

He smiled, pulling out his wand. He gave it a flick toward the water. "Wingardium leviosa."

Aang stopped moving, and hunched over, panting. Harry levitated the water over to the sink, and gently lowered it. When it was in, he gave his wand a flick, shutting off the water.

Sarah took her opening, and stepped forward. "We aren't with the Messengers of Light," She said. "We're an independent support group of people who have all been where your son is now. He has a destiny. It's a hard one. An unfair one. And both sides are going to keep coming after him." She narrowed her eyes angrily. "One side until they absorb him, heart and soul, like the Army did your husband. The other...until they destroy him. With what we can teach him, neither side will succeed."
----------------------------------------------------------------
"You go after her." Paul pointed to Bard.

The Bard squinted, somewhat annoyed at being given an order. "Are you nuts? Whaddya want me to do? Go up and knock on the door and say, 'Ay, by the way, our elven spy tells us your son is missing?'"

"Well I'm not going in. Ms. Connor's a mean little bitch."

"Oh, so you want me to risk her wrath." He evaluated his options and settled on a good one--he pointed to Link. "I think Link should do it."

Link's eyes opened wide. "Um..."

The Bard smiled. "You're the Chosen of the Goddess of Courage, right?"

Anakin fiddled with the controls. "I am detecting unusual space-craft activity over a mall not far from here."

Arcadian hit some of the controls, bringing up a freeze-frame image of a ship, sleek and black, with red lights pulsing along its seams. His face went pale. "It's the Obsidian Guard. We have to move fast."

Paul looked to him, then urgently back to the Bard. "Do it!"

"You do it! I'm not gettin' shot over this!"

Paul rolled his eyes. "She is not going to shoot you, you fucking coward! She left her guns here!"

Link sighed harshly. "Fine. I'll go get her. When this is over, I'm beating both of you stooges senseless." He stormed down the ramp.

The Bard watched him go. When he was gone, he turned to Paul.

Paul eyed him. It was kind of intense, with his eyes glowing blue like that. He looked away.

Turning back to Paul, he said, "I am not a coward."

"Uh, yeah. You kinda are."
-------------------------------------------
Link rang the doorbell, and took a moment to straighten his forest-green scrub-fur tunic. He checked his breath, though not really certain for what. He imagined it smelled like normal breath, and stood up straight. In a moment of urgent thought, he quickly snatched his green stocking cap off his head and held it to one side.

The door opened onto a middle-aged woman with thin features and haunted eyes. "Good afternoon. I'm a friend of Sarah Connor. May I speak with her please?"

The woman nodded slowly, and gently opened the door. Sarah jogged up behind the woman. "What's up?"

"We have to go. Now."

She turned to the woman. "Think about it. We'll be back."

Harry handed her a piece of paper. "Call this number."

Sbe looked at it. "What is it?"

Harry smiled. "It's my cell-phone." He turned to go.

-----------------------------------------------
The Bard waved them in as they mounted the ramp of the Tiderian. When the last one was up, he hit the button to raise it. One by one they all took their seats.

Whhhhh pahhhhh "Now hold on to something." He grabbed the joystick and started to take them up.

But nothing happened.

Link raised one hand. "Um..."

Anakin jiggled the joystick. "Oh for pete's sake..."

Still nothing Happened.

Ms. Connor smirked. "Would it help if I got out and pushed?"

Arcadian pointed to a dial, looking sheepishly at Anakin. "You um...forgot to get gas, didn't you?"

Anakin's black-armored shoulders slumped. "Sorry."

The Bard facepalmed with a fury hitherto unseen. Paul actually growled. "I am not fucking BELIEVING THIS!"

Aang smiled. "I could airbend us up!"

The Bard, along with all the others, turned to him in unison. "No!"

Aang flinched. "Okay, okay!"

Link looked down. "Lower the ramp again. There is one solution."

The Bard looked to him.
---------------------------------------
Mrs. Jameson answered the doorbell with trembling hand.

It was Sarah again, and the wizard and the...water...guy. This time, however, there was more: A man in a tight brown leather suit with eyes glowing in blue, a boy dressed as a video-game character, a scruffy man with a black electric guitar on his back, and a man dressed up like Darth Vader.

And with them was Arcadian, the Messenger of Light she had argued with earlier.

They all looked sheepish, except the blue-eyed man and Sarah, who looked exasperated and angry. Sarah said, "Hi. Us again, sorry." She ran a tense hand through her brown hair. "We're...out of gas. May we borrow your minivan?"

Chapter Text

CHAPTER 13

Aang bounded over to the passenger side, happily. "I got shotgun!"

"No you don't," Ms. Connor said, putting on her sunglasses, "In the back. I'm riding shotgun."

The minivan, sleek, black, and shaped almost like a bullet, reminded The Bard of the ships Anakin had seen on the screen of the shuttle. By now, The Bard had become somewhat accustomed to the marvels of these worlds, and they held no more wonder for him--when you had ridden on one impossible magical vehicle, you knew them all.

Anakin telekinesed the sliding door open and held it for Aang. The Bard squoze into the back, happy to be forgotten for once. Aang and Anakin squoze in next to him, with Arcadian practically having to fold himself in half to sit on the floor next to the middle row.

Paul glared at Ms. Connor. "Why do you get shotgun?"

Mrs. Jameson handed Ms. Connor a long, black, menacing firearm. Ms. Connor pumped it once, CLACK-CLACK!, and turned to face Paul, looking him in the eye.

"Oh." Paul nodded once, and got in the side door, stepping over Arcadian. He seated himself next to Link and Harry.

Link snapped his seatbelt into place. Harry, seeing it, followed suit. "Good idea, mate."

Aang gave his a tug, looking at it as if he were trying to figure out which way was the right way around. "Hey, could one of you help me? We don't really have cars in Ba Sing Se."

Whhhhhh pahhhhh... "Here. I got it." Click.

"Thanks, buddy."

Ms. Jameson slammed the driver side door and turned the engine over. "So let me get this straight." She pealed out of the driveway with an angry revving engine and squeal of tires. The Bard, along with Paul, Aang, and Harry, all cried out in surprise at the sudden application of force. The Bard slid hard in his seat, but Anakin pushed him back upright and buckled him in.

Whhhhhh pahhhhh "Really, Bard, you need to be more careful."

The Bard glared at him.

Mrs. Jameson went on. "While you three were talking to me, you sent that one in to find my son," She pointed back over her shoulder to Link, "and he found him missing."

Harry took the lead. "Yes, Ma'am. That's er...that's rather the gist of it, I'm afraid."

She shook her head, and pounded the steering wheel furiously with the palms of her hands. "Jesus Christ! Don't any of you play by rules?!"

Link cocked his head to one side. "What rules?"

Ms. Connor turned to Mrs. Jameson. "Right now, we're trying to save your son's life, and his future. We'll apologize later."

"And I thought you said you weren't with him!" She pointed to Arcadian.

"We're not," Harry said, firmly. "We're here to mitigate the damage his side doesn't realize it will do."

Arcadian grumbled, "We do realize."

The Bard rolled his eyes. "Well that makes you worse!"

Arcadian turned and craned his neck over Anakin's knees to see the Bard. "Don't any of you stop to think that this is your world, too? Don't you have a stake?"

Paul narrowed his blue eyes at Arcadian. "Equal stake with everyone else."

Arcadian regarded him firmly. "Really. The Kwisatz Hadderach feels he only has equal stake."

The van went silent. All eyes turned to Paul. The Bard could not help but hope, almost pray that he had an answer.

But he didn't. Paul glared daggers at Arcadian, then looked forward.

Arcadian looked to Aang. "What about you, Avatar? Do you feel your burden is disproportionate to your say in the world?"

Aang shook his head honestly. "No."

Arcadian turned to Anakin. "Lord Vader?"

Anakin slowly swiveled his black-helmed head to Arcadian, and said slowly, seriously, "That name no longer has any meaning for me."

"And your answer?"

Whhhhhh pahhhhhh... "No."

Arcadian craned his neck over Paul's lap. "Hero of Time? Boy Who Lived?"

Link shrugged. "I get along."

Harry kept his deadpan gaze forward. "What happened happened. I've moved on." He nodded to Ms. Connor. "Now ask the mother of Humanity's Last Hope."

Ms. Connor's predatory eyes scanned the road as they drove. "I'm not getting into this. It's unproductive." She glanced at Mrs. Jameson. "We need to focus on what's at hand."

The Bard nodded in silence, remembering how he voiced that very sentiment to the villagers of Finnsdale, over-run by Vikings. Not that there was much of any of them left to hear. In his experience, that was a sentiment expressed too late in a losing battle.

Still, he hated to see the conversation conceded so easily. The Bard had expected Paul to protest, to demand that Ms. Connor tell her tale and put Arcadian in his place, but he was beaten to the punch. To The Bard's surprise, Link cleared his throat. "Even so, I think Harry and the others agree it might be therapeutic for you to have your say. Like it or not, you are one of us."

The Bard thought he saw Harry turn and smile at Link.

"No." She kept her eyes forward, scanning, sweeping. "The Chosen Ones' support group is not in session. This is a mission, and we focus on the mission."

Link looked down. "You...remind me of my mother."

A few eyes, the Bard's included, turned to look at him in sad curiosity.

Mrs. Connor grimaced and said dryly, almost sarcastically, "Well we'll all go out for pizza later. Until then, keep your eyes open. An attack could come from--"

POP! ROAAAAR! The van lurched hard to starboard.

"Whaaaah!" Aang ducked and covered. Paul drew his crysknife and his wrist-module, ready for action. Harry had his wand out, and down at his side. Link pulled an unlit bomb and a dagger from his pack, looking left and right. Even Anakin telekinesed his lightsaber out to his hand, but did not activate it.

"Ohhh great." Mrs. Jameson pulled the van off the road. "Of all the times for a flat tire."

Paul sighed angrily. "We don't have time for this!"

Harry said, "Everyone focus, we'll get through this. Everyone out."

Ms. Connor set Mrs. Jameson's shotgun in the floorboard as she disembarked. "It won't take all of us to change a tire."

Harry smirked. "Chosen Ones, raise your hand if you've ever changed a tire before!"

The Bard snickered as, predictably, only Ms. Connor raised her hand.

Harry turned to her, smiling. "How many of us do you need?"

Ms. Connor sighed. "Alright. This is a '97 Ford Windstar! The spare is under the carriage, tools in a compartment in the back! Someone find the tools, someone find the nut holding the spare! It'll be under the carpet in back!"

The Bard followed Paul to the back end, where he lifted a handle and raised the rear door. It took a few seconds of fiddling, but the Bard did indeed find a hidden compartment in the plastic covering.

Aang's face appeared over the top of the rear seat. "I found the nut!"

The Bard grumbled, "I know where 7 more are..." He reached into the space, but came up with notably nothing. He leaned back around the side of the van. "Ay! No tools!"

Link stepped up. "What do you need?"

Ms. Connor climbed in with Aang, feeling along the floor where he indicated. "A tire-iron and a jack."

Link reached into his pack and furnished forth a tire-iron. "Here you go."

Paul squinted. "You had a tire-iron?!"

Link shrugged. "Yeah."

Paul gestured wildly in utter disbelief. "Why the hell--where did you even get that?!"

"Darunia Fortress tool-crib. The Goron engineers loaned it to me."

Paul narrowed his blue eyes, pointing at Link. "Okay, now I know you're fucking with us! The Gorons don't even have cars!"

Ms. Connor leaned up across the rear seat and grabbed the tire-iron impatiently. "Give me that. You two do something useful."

The Bard squinted at Link. "Okay, I'll bite. You got a jack in there?"

Link looked sad. "I have to bring the tire-iron back to exchange for it."

"Oh." The Bard nodded, pretending that made any amount of sense to him whatsoever. "Okay. I can see that. Sort of."

Aang said, "What's a jack?"

Mrs. Jameson leaned over to him. "A device for lifting the car so we can change the tire."

"Oh." He squinted. "Then...how are we gonna change the tire without it?"

Anakin put one finger up to the faceplate of his helmet. Whhhhhh pahhhhh "If only we knew someone who could lift it with his mind..."

Aang thought for a moment, then his face brightened. "Hey! You could--oh." His face fell in embarrassment.

The Bard laughed, and gave the top of his head a playful rub.

WHUMP. Ms. Connor leaned out the door again. "Tire is down! Someone unhook it from the cable and pull it out!"

All eyes went to Anakin.

He made a sound like a swamp gas pocket clearing its throat. "Right then." He gestured. They heard a dusty dragging sound, and then a metalic clunk.

"Uh..." He gave the tire a telekinetic jiggle. It clunked some more. "It's stuck."

Ms. Connor stepped out, and sighed in exasperation. "You have to unhook it first!"

Paul sighed. "Harry, would you mind?"

Harry indicated a couple of pedestrians who had stopped to watch curiously. "I'm not allowed to work magic in front of muggles."

Paul threw up his hands. "Oh, well don't let our emergency influence your decision in any way!"

"Oh for pity's sake!" The Bard got down and crawled under the vehicle. Gravel and dust scraped against his leather vest, and he thought he heard a twang of a guitar string as his Shadow-Axe scraped against the undercarriage of the van. He reached into the center of the wheel, feeling for the cable and how it was hooked. "We should already be at the mall!"

Several of his brethren crouched to see under. Ms. Connor said, "At the end of the cable, there should be a flat steel bar. Just turn it on end and--"

It felt like something bit him. "Ow!" He jerked his hand out and stuck his fingers in his mouth. They tasted oily and dirty.

Aang's voice. "You alright?!"

"I've almost got it!" He reached in again. His fingers almost found the iron bar, but it slipped from his hand again. "Gah!"

Paul sighed. "Anakin, just rip the cable out!"

Ms. Jameson's voice. "Uh, no!"

Finally, he found the bar again, and with a scraping of knuckles on steel, pulled it free. "Got it!" He wriggled out, pulling the tire with him. Four pairs of hands hauled him up.

Ms. Connor pointed behind her at Anakin. "Now, we need about eight inches of clearance!"

"As you wish." Anakin stepped back about eight inches.

Ms. Connor sighed. "The van! Raise the van about eight inches!"

Whhhhhhh pahhhhhh "Oh. Sorry." He gestured with his hand, and the van lifted up, hovering on nothing. Ms. Connor hooked the tire-iron onto one of the nuts and leaned against it, but the tire turned under her force.

"Gah! It's free-wheeling."

"Here." Aang unscrewed the top of his water bottle, and with a gesture, it neatly projected out and onto the axle, where it froze solid. Vapors wafted off the ice.

"Thanks." Ms. Connor went right back to work.

The Bard stepped back, nodding appreciatively at the display of teamwork.

And backed right into someone. "Oh, sorry--" he turned to look.

The two spectators from before had become quite a crowd, watching the farce with morbid curiosity and more than a little wonder. A few had their cell-phones out, and had no doubt filmed Aang and his display of water-bending--to say nothing of the van hovering by telekinetic will.

"Er, Harry?"

Harry raised one hand, watching Ms. Connor intently. "We're almost done."

A little girl in the crowd snickered.

Ms. Connor got the last of the nuts off. Paul set the spare upright and rolled it over, just as she got the shredded flat off.

The Bard just shrugged and tried to ignore the growing tide of attention behind him. It was a really creepy feeling.

Ms. Connor got the nuts back on, despite Paul's best efforts to help. "Look, if you just--" "Just let me do this--" "Would you back off?!" She slapped his hand.

"Ow!" Paul jerked back. "Alright! Jeez!"

Finally, with one last torque, Ms. Connor stepped back. "Clear!"

Anakin sighed in relief as he dropped the van. He rubbed the small of his back. "The force is not strong with me today."

"Mount up!" Ms. Connor turned back around. "Let's--"

She froze. One by one, the other Chosen Ones turned to look.

The Spectators. It started with one slow clap. Then, others joined in. Soon, there was cheering and applause.

The Bard smiled, and took a flamboyant bow. "Thank you! Thank you!" He blew a kiss to the crowd.

Aang smiled, and started forward, but Link and Paul both grabbed him and hauled him to the van. Ms. Connor kept her head down as she ducked into the passenger side again. Anakin stared, non-plussed. Harry looked to the Bard.

"Uh...Bard?"

The Bard smiled, and said quietly, "Just play cool. Get in the van." He waved to the crowd. "Thank you!" He pointed. "And remember, the 7:30 show is completely different from the 10:30 show!"

The crowd cheered.

He laughed, and got in, slamming the sliding door shut. Mrs. Jameson pulled them back out onto the road rather abruptly.

The Bard sighed. "That was close."

Aang's eyes went wide. "I forgot to get the water back!"

Paul handed him one of his bottles. "Don't spend it all in one place."

Link's eyes scanned rapidly back and forth as he thought. "I just hope the ice on the axle doesn't--"

CRUNCH! The van jolted hard and leered to starboard again.

"Oh for fuck's sake!" "Not again!" "What is it with us and vehicles!"

It was going to be a long trip to the mall.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER 14

The high-arched entrance to the mall loomed tall and silent. The image brought back flashes of delving into the darkness of McRath's Dungeon, a festering tomb of undead. The Bard took a deep breath. A fortress was a fortress, and he had stormed many in his time. This one would be no different.

Ms. Connor's orders had been simple: "You all do something about those alien craft. Bard, with me."

Well he had no intention of arguing with her, especially when she carried the magic shotgun of command +3. He fell into step with her, just a touch more obediently than his pride would have liked.

They passed a group of teenagers on their way out as they entered the mall. Several of them did a double-take seeing her so armed in public. The Bard tried to ignore their trepidatious stares, and quickened his pace. He stepped up next to Ms. Connor. "You're gonna get killed carryin' that around like that."

"Then you keep the law off me." Her head swiveled slowly as she scanned for any threat, her long strides almost leaving the Bard behind. "I brought you as a distraction."

He nodded sarcastically. "Right. That'll be easy. After all, I'm bullet-proof."

"You also think fast on your feet, so quit whining."

Sure enough, they didn't get around a Macy's corner before a fat blue-uniformed man went wide-eyed and started talking into a device on his shoulder. One hand went to a gun at his hip.

"Shyte." The Bard closed distance quickly and laid him out with a punch.

He turned to look at Ms. Connor as she strode past, glaring at him.

The Bard returned her glare impatiently. "Oh, I'm sorry. Did I mention how I thought fast on my feet in McRath's dungeon?"

"Just focus!" She led him on.

The Bard heard the pounding of feet behind him and turned to look. Link ran up and skidded to a stop on the tile floor, bracing himself up on his knees and panting. "Appa's been shot down and Harry is wounded. The others retreated in and are pinned down in the Sears Automotive department."

Ms. Connor cursed under her breath. "Let's move! We have to find him!"

Link pointed to an FAO Schwartz. "I'll catch up! I need a slinky and a bag of marbles!"

Ms. Connor squinted as he ran toward the toy store. "What the hell do you need a slinky for?!"

The Bard glared at her. "Oh, so you understood the bag of marbles then, did you?"
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The Obsidian Guard really were a lot tougher than they looked. Anakin peeked up from behind a row of washer-dryers and immediately ducked back down as several plasma bolts flew over his helmeted head.

Whhhhhhhh pahhhhhhh "Well fuck."

Aang stomped the floor, sending a wall of solid granite up into the path of the biggest laser blast Anakin had ever seen. the rock shattered under the impact, and Aang sent a whirling jet of flame toward his foes. the flames dissipated against shimmering shields, but succeeded in catching a rack of all-weather tires on fire. "Anakin! Use the force!" the young monk dove down a hardware aisle as plasma bolts ripped through metal like it was paper.

And those shields were the real kicker. They were psychic energy, somehow. They were like the force, and so Anakin could not telekinetically strangle them, or throw them. Harry, bloody and huddled under a pool table, threw spell after spell after them, but to no avail.

They were protected from energy. They would need close-in, physical attacks.

"Protegio!" The young wizard barely got a shield up in time for the volley of fire.

Paul's cover, an ATV on display, ripped apart explosively. He dove into a roll and came to a stop behind Anakin's washer-dryer. "Got any ideas?!"

Anakin sighed throatily and pulled out his light-saber. It came to life in red with a sharp electric hiss and a low hum.

Paul nodded. "The old fashioned way, huh?" He drew his wormtooth knife. "Alright. Let's do it."

Anakin pressed the button on his chestplate, and stood up. From the speakers in his chest emanated a rousing war song as he parried a volley of plasma bolts. He cocked his head to the left, the right, and the left in time with the music.

"I like big butts and I cannot lie! Them other brothers can't deny!..."

Two of the obsidian order charged him. He cut them down with two quick strokes. A third tried to flank, but Paul ducked low and disemboweled him with one stroke of his crysknife.

"When a girl walks in with an itty bitty waist and a round thing in your face you get sprung!..."

Paul stood back to back with Anakin. Anakin deflected three more shots back at his attackers, and reached for a rack of gardening implements behind the foe. They shot forward under his telekinetic impulse, spearing two more Obsidian Guard. Behind him, Paul vocalized into his wrist-module, shorting out some of their shields with low-level electric bursts. Soon, Aang joined the dance, blowing them back, trapping them in stone, and clobbering the fire out of them with his staff.

The tide was turning.

Until they saw Harry again, in the arms of one of the Obsidian Guard, a plasma pistol pointed at his head.

A deep robotic voice said, "Stand down, or I kill him."

"...my homeboys try to warn me but that butt you got makes--" Anakin clicked off the music.
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Link discarded a plastic slinky. "Nope." He dug through a pile of toys in the bargain bin. "There's got to be a metal one in here somewhere."

"Dude, your costume is so awesome!"

Link turned around. A chubby, pimple-faced boy of no more than sixteen years grinned at him.

"Oh. Uh...thanks. So is yours."

The boy laughed.

"hey uh...have you got a metal slinky?"

"I sure do!" He leaned in conspiratorially. "It's the last one! I was saving it for myself, but if you got rupees, I'll give it to you."

Link nodded. "How much?"

"Got a red rupee?"

Link dug in his pouch. Yellow, yellow, blue, blue, a whole pile of greens...."Ah. Here it is." He pulled out the red rupee.

The boy laughed. "Awww man! This is so cool!" He reached out to take the red crystal, grinnning like he had found a piece of the Triforce. He held up one finger to Link, and ran to the desk with the cash register. He grinned at Link like a man with a great secret.

From under his desk, he produced a small box with a metal coil inside.

Link approached, and took the device gingerly. He held it up over his head in gratitude to the Trinity.

The boy sang out, "na na na naaaaa!"

Link looked at him curiously.

"So what does the Hero of Time need with a slinky?"

Link quickly concocted an excuse. "I...have heard legends. That it goes down stairs, alone or in pairs."

The boy grinned. "It's a secret to everybody. ...right? Right?"

Link nodded slowly, and backed out.
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The Bard scanned the sea of faces in the mall food-court. "So how are we gonna recognize this kid?"

Ms. Connor said, "Think I don't know what kid looks like when he knows he's being hunted?" She beelined for one table in the middle.

The lone boy at the table looked up in horror.

He couldn't have been any more than 13. dark hair hung messily about his head, and eyes of gray peered at them, open wide.

The Bard leaned on the table. “Ay! So, kid, you're in danger. We're here to--”

And then, they heard it: The air filled with the sounds of electric zaps as black holes opened in reality around them. They expanded to fill the shapes of men, and then solidified into the forms of black-armored soldiers carrying large, menacing weapons.

Sarah raised her shotgun. "Protect him!" She pulled the trigger with one loud, decisive BANG. The head of one of the foes exploded in sparks and metal.

Something hot seared the Bard's leg. He collapsed with a scream. When he looked up, he found the muzzles of several pistols pointed at him.

He raised his hands. To Ms. Connor he shouted, "Any ideas?"
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Link wrapped one end of the slinky around the hilt of his sword and jammed it into the light socket. He peeked up over the Marble Slab ice cream bar. So far, the enemy had not noticed him.

Two young employees watched him in horrified curiosity from their hiding places with him behind the ice cream counter. He gave them a diplomatic nod as he worked. "Don't worry. I'm a professional."

They nodded slowly.

He quickly attached the other end of the slinky to his boomerang, said a silent prayer to Nayru, and let it fly.
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Ms. Connor turned in place, leveling her shotgun on each foe in turn. They were not cowed, and instead closed the distance slowly, eerily similar to another invincible foe she had faced once.

She began to breathe quickly, in short, panicked breaths. She even thought she saw a pair of their eyes glow red.

"No..."

And then, something spun in out of the corner of her eye, wrapping around her enemies. with...

Was that a slinky?!

There was a pop like lightening. She flinched away. The Bard came up with his Shadow-axe, taking the moment of distraction to smash two of his captors away. They tried to recover, as their cohorts slumped to the floor, but their feet flew out from under them--

--as they stepped on marbles.

With a roar, the Bard smashed his prone enemies, and the ones by Ms. Connor who had been electrocuted.

The Bard saw danger, and tried to point over Ms. Connor's shoulder. "Uh!--"

"YAAAA!" Something short, green, and Elven flew in from over the ice-cream counter. The look on Link's face was one of pure, primal, elven-chosen-of-courage kill-Ganon-and-turn-his-head-into-a-flower-vase rage. The poor Obsidian Guard couldn't even get his pistol up fast enough before several flashes of steel turned him into sparking metal Hylian sushi.

Link flourished his sword and sheathed it behind his back. Looking to Ms. Connor and the Bard.

The Bard nodded. "Not bad, mate! Not bad at all!"

Link looked to Ms. Connor. "We need to dig the others out."

"Go." She pointed to the Bard. "You stay with me."

The boy, hiding under a long table, glared up at them with a familiar defiance--it was one the Bard had seen on all their faces in the meetings, as they recounted the horrors of their enemies. He saw it on Harry's face as he told the story of the duel with Voldemort. On John's, as he talked about the coming apocalypse. On Aang's, as he recounted the battle of Sozin's Comet.

He imagined that, if he had looked in the mirror when he and his cohorts were trapped in Mangar's throne room, as the paladin Isli shed her final tears to break out and warn the rest of the city, he would have seen the same face.

This was the look of a Chosen One, facing his own death with sheer defiant will.

Ms. Connor knelt next to him, extending her right hand to the frightened boy. "Come with me if you want to live."

Chapter Text

Chapter 15

"Who the heck are you people?"

A simple question, The Bard thought, but with a very complex answer. His mind raced through possible answers as he limped on a wounded leg on one side of the kid while Sarah Connor pulled him along by his other arm. They attracted stares both curious and frightened from the normal people in the mall food court around them.

"Well..." the Bard said, "Ever eat too much meat and cheese and bread right before goin' to sleep, and you can't quite get to sleep, but you can't really wake up either, so you toss and turn and hallucinate really bizarre repetitive dreams all night that you can't really control, so you just hope for some rest before the sun rises?"

The kid squinted at him. "Yeah..."

"That's our life. Welcome to Hell."

Link chimed in. "Their guards use psycho-kinetic shielding that seems to be vulnerable to basic electric discharges. If we can short out their shields, we can hit them with ranged weaponry."

The Bard squinted. "You mean all we need is to shock them?"

Link looked at him curiously. "Yeah. Why?"

The Bard smiled, and unslung his Shadow-Axe. "Stand back. The Maestro is about to conduct."
---------------------------------------------
Anakin sensed much fear in Harry. Harry said, "Feel free to have an idea, guys."

Paul kept his crysknife at ready stance as he eyed the other guards with predatory focus. "Yeah, we're working on that."

"Silence." The Obsidian Guard jostled Harry, making him flinch a little. The noose tightened as six more Obsidan Guard closed in around Anakin, Aang, and Paul. "Surrender now."

And then, Anakin heard the strangest sound he had heard in a long time: it was a tiny little male voice, singing.

"...branch on the tree and tree in the hole and the hole in the bog..."

And it was getting closer.

"...In the bog down in the valley-oh! Rare ho the rattlin' bog, the bog down in the valley-oh..."

A little man, approximately a foot and a half tall, wearing a gray toga and carrying several metal rods, walked into the middle of the fray, and, in an Irish accent, said, "Here, hold this, boyo." He handed one of the rods to the first Obsidian Guard. "You too...and one for you..."

Each guard took a rod and examined it curiously. Paul and Aang glanced at each other in trepidatious curiousity. Anakin just watched the little creature.

"Everybody gets one...There we are!" The little homonculus raised one hand--

Anakin gasped--which really hurt through a robotic respirator. Lightening shot out from the creature's hand into each of the iron rods held by the Obsidian Guard. As one, they shuddered--and Harry with his captor--before falling to the floor in a smokey heap.

Paul nodded. "Okayyyyy... I don't think any of us were expecting that."

Harry groaned. He coughed a puff of smoke and wheezed. "I hate you all."

The sounds of an electric guitar drifted to them, and a bright light appeared under the little lightening-creature. He vanished in a magical glow. Link ran in, followed by a limping Bard, Ms. Connor, and...

"Ooooh. The Force is strong with that one." Whhhhhhh pahhhhhh...

Aang grinned. "Is that him?"

Ms. Connor checked the fallen Obsidian Guards with the muzzle of her shotgun. "That's him. Let's go!"

Aang's face clouded. "Appa's wounded! We have to help him!"

Link handed Harry a bottle of red liquid. "Take a swig."

Harry did not question. He pulled the cork and turned the bottom up.

His eyes went wide, and he coughed. "Oh my god!"

"Yeah, I know." He took the bottle back and handed it to the bard. "You too."

The Bard squinted suspiciously. "Yeah, after he nearly choked like that? I wanna see if it works first!"

Harry gingerly stood up, then nodded. "Yeah...yeah mate, it works." He took a few experimental steps, and then relaxed.

The Bard sighed. "Well, not like I haven't drunk bad booze in my time. Up the rebels." He took a swig.

He looked studious for a moment, then shrugged. "Tastes like cherry vomit."

The boy looked around at them, horrified. "Who ARE you people?!"

Paul put one hand on his shoulder. "You know that person you never notice who cleans up the mess when the children spill paint all over everything, and has to fix the toilet when the child tries to flush a live trout and then took a dump afterward? And he still does it, day after day after day?"

"Yeah..."

"That's us. Welcome to the suck."

The boy just nodded.

Ms. Connor stepped up. "We can't stay here! Let's go!"

Harry pulled out a cell phone. "Hold on. I know a guy. We can hide out at his place."

Link tilted his head curiously. "Who?"

"One of us." the phone began to ring.
-----------------------------------------------
Paula giggled. Ness loved it when she giggled. He kissed her some more, braced himself up on the dusty couch, and smiled down at her.

"Should I take the hat off?" He smiled, fiddling with the brim of his red Onett Orioles baseball cap. An ocean breeze blew in the still-missing back wall of his house, carrying with it the sound of waves. All was peaceful, and all was right with his world.

She giggled again. "No. I think it makes you look heroic."

Now that was an answer he liked. He bent down to kiss her again.

The phone rang.

Ness and Paula both sighed angrily. Ness reached for it, telekinetically calling it to his hand. "I really hope that's not Dad again..." He hit the talk button. "Hello?"

A familiar London accent said, "Allo, mate."

Ness blinked. "Harry? Is that you?"

"Yeah! We're all here! Link, Annie, Paul, Ms. Connor's here instead of John, he's busy now--"

Ness beamed. "Yeah, I saw the movie! He's doing alright, huh?! Kickin' Skynet's butt!"

"Yeah! And there's a few new faces here, too." Ness thought he picked up a cautious tone to Harry's voice. He was talking just a liiiiitle fast. "Hey, Ness, I got a favor to ask."

Ness smiled. "What's up?"

"Can we, er, crash at your place?"

"Well..." He looked around at the old dilapidated house with the missing back wall as Paula buttoned up her dress again, watching him curiously. "I don't have that much room but--"

BOOM!

Something hit the ground outside. "Oh crap. Look I'll talk to you later I got a thing--" He hung up and reached for the baseball bat mounted on the wall, telekinetically calling it to his hand. Paula reached toward the kitchen, summoning a 14 inch Lodge cast-iron skillet.

The doorbell rang.

Ness and Paula squinted at each other suspiciously. He could feel the air get cold as she readied a freeze spell, a habit from that year, and one he hoped she would one day let go of.

But today, it seemed appropriate. He took a deep breath and reached for the door, opening it.

Paul smiled. "Crisis-gram!"

Ness could clearly see the others, tattered and worn, armed for bear, and clearly protecting a kid who looked Like Ness imagined himself looking ten years ago.

Paula jumped up, alarmed. "Oh heck no! Are you all saving the world again?!"

Harry led them in. "I'm sorry, Ness. I didn't know where else to go."

Anakin looked around. Whhhhhhh pahhhhhhh... "Nice house. I love the rustic look."

A young bald teenager with a blue arrow tatooed on his head ran in. "Wow! Nice view!"

"No." Paula shook her head. "No no no no no, Harry, it's been ten years! We've been on the wagon for ten years! Do you know what that means?!"

Ness looked at Paul, a little older, a little less hard in the bright blue eyes. He still wore that desert stillsuit and carried his weaponry. Ness looked him honestly in the eye. "What's up, man?"

Paul guided the young American kid and a very worried woman who was obviously his mother to the forefront. "We got a new one. It's bad. They're coming for him and he doesn't know anything."

The kid was just about hyperventilating, with his mother doing everything a mother can to keep him steady. "A new what!"

Ness knelt to see the kid's eyes. He smiled a little. Over his shoulder he said to Paula, "Call Mach Pizza. Tell 'em we need three large."

"No!" Ness felt the air get colder. Paula brandished her skillet with a fiery look in her eyes. "We're not doing it again, Harry, and you shouldn't be either! Now get out!"

Harry squared off with her. "We're trying to help him!"

Ness shivered at the bitter chill rolling off of Paula. Her eyes narrowed. "I'm going to count three."

Harry looked to Ness. Ness sighed, and stood up. "Paula."

She ignored him. "One."

Harry drew his wand. "Paula, don't force me."

"Two."

The kid turned to his mother and Ms. Connor. "What's she gonna do?!"

"Nothing." Harry stood ready.

frost began to form on the metal surfaces, and Anakin's helmet. He wiped his eyes. Whhhhhhh pahhhhh "Paula, please--"

"Three." Paula's eyes glowed as she thrust the skillet forward. "PK THUNDER!" Lightening arcked out of the iron implement.

"Protegio!" It bounced off Harry's shield and right back for her.

Wide-eyed, she shouted, "PK SHIELD!" The lightening bounced off her and caromed out the back toward the ocean.

"Expeliarmus." With a flick of his wand, her skillet went flying, but not very far as she telekinetically called it back and leveled it again, her eyes still glowing fiercely.

Ness knelt next to the boy. "Watch carefully. Who are you betting on?"

The boy's breath calmed a little. "Harry Potter."

"Why?"

"I've read the books and I know what he can do."

Ness patted his shoulder and smiled. "Just watch."

Harry and Paula circled into the living-room, her testing him with quick feints that left doplar images of herself, and him eyeing her coolly, not going for the feints. Finally, as she pulled back, he flicked his wand.

"Rictusempra!"

"PK SHIELD!"

The magic bolt bounced back and hit Harry squarely in the chest. He flew back, laughing uncontrollably.

"PK FREEZE!" There was a flash. Harry's body froze solid.

Paula charged in, skillet raised above her head for a killing blow. She roared in fear, in pain, in some darkness left over from a world-bending battle ten years ago. Ness stood up and gestured with his bat, telekinetically catching her.

Ness stepped in and grabbed her shoulders. "Easy..." He glanced back to see the young monk using some psychokinetic powers of his own to thaw Harry out, as Link poured some red potion into his mouth.

The boy looked to Ness. "Who are you people."

Ness kept both hands on Paula's shoulders as she came down from her PK high. When she started to sob, he pulled her in close. To the boy he said, "What did you learn from watching that duel?"

"You're all afraid for me." A tear came to the boy's eyes. "You're all super heroes and you're all afraid for me. You're afraid you can't help me."

"Am I?"

The boy studied him for a moment. "No. You're not afraid of anything."

"Know why?"

"Why?"

Ness pulled back and looked Paula in the eye as he spoke next, both to her and to the boy. "Because our world is saved. We did our job."

Paula stared back, eyes full of tears, and nodded. Ness smiled at her. He let go of her and turned back to the boy. "So are all of theirs. It was a hard battle for each of them. Some of them didn't do so well."

Anakin bowed his head. Paul looked away.

Ness knelt next to the boy. "It's a hard road. But we're the ones who have walked it. We know what's on it, and we're going to teach you how to do it better than we did."

The boy nodded.

Harry sat up. Ness flashed him a smile. To the boy, he said, "That's who we are. Welcome, Chosen One." He offered his hand.

The boy sighed in relief, and even smiled a little. He took Ness's hand.
-------------------------------------------
The Bard walked over to Harry, being tended by Aang and Link. Paula sat down against the wall next to him. "Harry, I am so sorry."

Harry coughed and sat up with help. "No hard feelin's, Paula." He offered his hand. "You still hit harder than Voldemort ever did."

She chuckled.

The Bard sat down with them. He offered his hand. "Hi, I'm The Bard, and I'm a chosen one."

She clasped hands with him. "Hi Bard. I'm Paula. I'm a chosen one." She wiped her eyes. "It's been ten years since I last saved the world..." She sighed. "And...I'm terrified again. Seeing you all...that boy...brought it all back..."

The Bard nodded. "Yeah. It does that to us, dunnit?"

Paula gestured over to Ness, showing the boy a few martial arts tricks with a baseball bat while his mother, Ms. Connor, Paul, and Anakin looked on. "he's so young!"

Harry looked grave. "That's what's got you."

She looked at him.

Harry nodded. "He's the same age you and Ness were."

"Yeah..." She nodded. "Harry, we can't go with you. It's been ten years. We have a life now. He plays for the Orioles. I'm a teacher. He doesn't know I know but he bought a ring."

"I know. I won't ask it. We just need a place to hide out tonight."

She nodded. "We can do that."

The Bard watched as Ness played with the young hero. Slowly, it seemed, the boy forgot why they were there, and just started playing. Soon, he was laughing.

Paula smiled. "There's hope for him."

The Bard looked away as Ness rubbed the top of the boy's head, neither showing any sign that the world was any different for them, one a seasoned hero, the other still yet to face his destiny--but it was the seasoned hero who had the Bard's attention. Ness looked happy.

The Bard said, "Maybe there's hope for all of us."

Chapter Text

CHAPTER 16

George Jameson.

The Chosen One.

The Bard twisted the knob on the end of his Shadow Axe, plucking the g-string until it sounded right. Nearby, Anakin helped Harry and Ness levitate a large folding table into the middle of the empty house while Link attempted to improvise seats for everyone. A stiff ocean breeze blew in the missing back wall.

The Bard watched the new kid as he sat deep in thought on the couch, largely ignored by the others for now. He looked alright, to be sure, probably still processing everything he had just been told.

A litany of names scrolled through the Bard's head. Ogun. William Hatcher. Mere children, the same age as this one, lied to during their idealistic youth, just coming into manhood where they felt they had nothing to lose and everything to prove.

All decoys for The Bard himself, and they had served that evil bitch's purpose for them: The Bard had found far more dead "Chosen Ones" on his quest than live ones he could talk down.

He shook his head. "Gods damn you, Calleigh, wherever in Hell you are..." He plucked the g-string with a horrific off-tune Twanngg.

And those memories led to others.

A desperate battle in a locked antechamber. A weathered old lord with the look of death in his eyes as he made a last stand with his hand-chosen band of heroes. Ghaklah the sorceror beginning the spell of unweaving, Isli the Paladin, crying her final tears, and hugging Lord Garrick, the man who had been like a father to them.

His hand stopped on the knob of his Shadow Axe. He closed his eyes.

She might have survived, if she hadn't handed him her amulet before she left.

“Oh gods, Isli...”

And then, Ms. Jameson's voice by the door. "Alright, it's here!"

By the front door, Ms. Connor took the stack of pizzas as Ms. Jameson thumbed through some cash. They paid the Mach Pizza deliveryman and shut the door.

Ms. Connor set the pizzas down on the table and opened the top box. "Alright, we got half peperoni, half mushroom and black olive." She handed that to Harry. "We got half canadian bacon and pineapple, half sausage and mushroom." She handed that to Paul, who motioned to Aang. "We got half veggie-lover's, half buffalo chicken."

Link reached, but almost immediately, Harry sprang forward with an alarmed look on his face. "No!"

The pizza levitated under the impulse of Anakin's gesture. Whhhhhh pahhhhhhh "Got it. It's alright." Link reached, but grasped only air as the pizza floated gently over to Ness and Paula.

Aang squinted. "What?"

Harry looked at Link seriously. "No buffalo chicken pizza for Link."

Link looked sullen. "You remembered."

George blinked over the top of Ness's couch. "Link can't have buffalo chicken?"

Paul smirked. "He had a thing."

The boy made scare-quotes in the air with his fingers. "He had a thing?"

"Yeah." Paul patted link on the shoulder with a better luck next time squeeze. "It exploded."

Link sat down, arms crossed. "In my defense I hadn't slept in a few days."

Harry looked at him in almost parental scorn. "Well I warned you not to stay up watching the history channel."

Aang handed Link a slice of Canadian bacon and pineapple. "It's alright. We all have our...things." He smiled big.

"Yeah, but let me reiterate," Paul said, sitting down and taking a slice of buffalo chicken off of Anakin, "His exploded." He took a big prominent bite and chewed victoriously.

"Alright, I got it!" Link took a defiant chomp of pizza and chewed it menacingly at Paul.

George watched the exchange with a bemused nod. "Oooookay then."

The Bard chuckled, offering him a slice of something random. "You get used to it, mate."

Whhhhhhh pahhhhhh "You really ought to be nicer to Link. He's very good at what he does."

"Alright, enough." Ms Connor sat down at the table. "We need a plan. George, your mother tells us you have photographic muscle memory."

He shook his head. "No. I just learn to do stuff by watching people."

Paul snorted back a laugh. Ms. Connor blinked in confusion.

Harry squinted in thought. "That's..."

Ms. Connor waved him down. "Okay. You learn to do stuff by watching people. What do you know how to do already?"

George shrugged. "Everything my dad taught me. Plus whatever it is Bruce Lee does. I watched a bunch of movies. Some olympic sports, football, baseball, guns, whatever Arnold Schwarzenegger was doing in the Conan movies, Karate Kid, some Capoeira, parkour--"

Ms. Connor went wide eyed.

"--I can drive my mom's van, and a tractor, and a semi--"

Ms. Connor raised her hand. "Okay. I think a better approach to this is what don't you know how to do."

He shrugged. "Well there's lots of stuff you guys do I don't know how to do."

Link raised one hand. "Don't get too caught up in combat-related skills. They're useful, but they're not everything. Sometimes simple things can save your life."

Aang smiled. "Like dancing!"

Paul smirked. "Or changing a tire."

Whhhhhh pahhhhh "Singing karaoke."

Harry nodded to Paul. "Lying by telling the truth."

Paul smiled.

The Bard stood up, smirking studiously at George. "Know how to play an instrument?"

George smiled. "Yeah! I been to lots of concerts."

The Bard handed off his Shadow Axe. "Show me."

George took it with a smile.

Harry raised one hand. "Bard, are you sure he should be using--"

"Here's a theme from one of my favorite movies!" He played a quick, adventurous set of chords. Almost immediately, a bright circle of light appeared in the center of what would be the living room.

In it stood a seven foot tall velociraptor. It lowered its head right to George, who froze in terror.

Harry nodded in defeat. "Yeah, that's...rather what I was afraid of."

Paul immediately drew his wrist module, but Aang grabbed his arm. "No! It's okay." He picked up a slice of pizza and moved toward the monster, who snorted a blast of steamy breath right into George's face.

Aang held the slice of pizza out. "Heeeeere monster monster monster...good monster..."

Harry pulled his wand. "Aang, I think you need to get clear."

The Velociraptor turned to follow the scent of the pizza, watching it with an intensely single-minded focus.

Paula and Ness began to circle, baseball bat and iron skillet in hand. Once again, a chill air rolled off of Paula. Ness raied one hand. "We got this."

"The hell you do." Ms. Connor pumped her shotgun and raised it, drawing a bead on the monster.

And then, it happened: The beast bit the pizza. And Aang's hand. And most of his arm. It's jaws latched onto the young monk like a bear-trap.

"AAAAAAGGHH!"

BOOM! The shotgun went off like thunder.

"PK FREEZE!"

"SAAAAA SA!" Paul dropped into a low stance and let a shot fly.

"PETRIFICUS TOTALUS!" A bolt of magic flew from Harry's wand.

With a gutteral shout, Link let fly his boomerang. Anakin extended his hand in a gesture of using the Force.

And knocked the monster back as it ducked under the startling blast of the shotgun, releasing Aang, and knocking it clear of Paula's spell, which hit Ness instead, freezing him solid with his baseball bat raised for a strike. Aang tried to recoil, but jerked right into the path of Harry's spell. He might have stayed on his feet, but for Paul's stunning shot, which knocked him over like a book-case.

The raptor took off out the back wall. The Bard sighed, and shook his head.

Harry grumbled a blasphemous curse and pointed his wand at Ness, thawing him out.

Paula ran to Ness. "Are you alright?"

Ness shivered. "We have to catch that raptor. Onett is a peaceful town."

Link raised one finger. "Ness, you should--"

WHAM!

The boomerang, on its way back, caromed hard off of Ness's head, sprawling him to the floor of his own house.

"...duck."

"Ow."

The Bard smirked, clapping his hands together slowly. "Good job, everyone! Way to show the newbie how it's done. This is why we were so good at changin' that tire this morning."

Harry glared at him. "I didn't hear you offering any helpful advice."

The Bard matched his glare. "You didn't? Oh my! Well maybe that would be cause I didn't offer any helpful advice."

Ms. Connor rolled her eyes. "Oh for God's sake..."

Ness struggled up, one hand raised. "I think now would be the time to show the newbie how it's actually done." He put one hand on Harry's shoulder, and one on The Bard's. "Right?"

The Bard Maintained eye contact with Harry, but only for a second or two longer. It didn't take long for the wizard to remind him why he was such a charismatic leader back in his own world. Behind those green eyes was the power that brought down a great evil in the unseen depths of England.

Of course, that same boast was behind almost every set of eyes in the room right now. Sarah Connor had it by virtue of the existence of her son. Aang did it without killing. Paul regularly told quarter-mile long sandworms that could swallow buildings where they were going to take him and his friends. Link? Link had been around the block more often than any of them. Even Anakin, behind that black mask of his, told you by his posture that he had wiped out races, blown up planets, and finally threw a powerful old wizard down a maintenance shaft to save his son. There was some real power in this room.

That was the company the Bard kept, and he knew it. He had put Calleigh in her place, and set right a world gone horribly wrong. Jaded he may be, cynical, in some situations even downright malicious, but he was competent, and powerful.

But The Bard knew when to give. By his own choice, he was the first to look away.

They all three looked to George.

George looked down at the Shadow-Axe, then up the Bard, wide-eyed. "Holy sh--"

The Bard smiled. "We'll work on it." He reached for the Axe. "Let's go chase down a monster, ay?"

George beamed. "Alright!"

The Bard led the way, not caring who followed him.

But he was not surprised when they all did.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER 17

MEANWHILE, ABOARD THE CARRIER TANHAUSER...

Lord Obsidian stared out the bay window at the blue planet before him.

It was...blue.

He absently fingered the black ring on his left hand with his black gloves.

No eyes on this pitiful planet would see his ship, black, against the black of space. As was his gathered fleet. He rested a scepter across his shoulder, black, a rod of solid obsidian tipped in...in...

Oh those jokers. He picked the purple gem out of the tip, laughing, and replaced it with a polished gem of solid black. He'd have to have a word with his minions, after torturing them a little, those scamps. Why, just last week, they brought him coffee with cream in it. But he liked his coffee like he liked his wenches:

...with just a little bit of sugar.

The voice of Inez behind him. "Lord Obsidian. Your guest has docked."

Obsidian smiled. It was time to meet his old friend.
-----------------------------------------------------------------
The ramp of the shuttle lowered with a hiss. Six men in bright red robes carrying force-pikes emerged and stood silently in two rows, his friend's guards. Not that he needed them--behind Lord Obsidian stood two companies of the Obsidian Guard. Still, he felt it better to humor his friend.

Then, a hunched, aged figure in gray robes emerged, scowling from a wrinkled face.

Obsidian opened his arms. "Sidious! How have you been?"

Sidious answered with a cracking croak. "Dead. Yourself?"

"Oh, I've been worse."

Sidious did not answer at first. But after a few steps, the old Sith said, "And now I sense a new conflict. Tell me, are you conquering this pitiful planet?"

"Not yet. It seems the Order of Light has found a chosen one to oppose me."

"They usually do."

"And he has help," Obsidian said. "A desert prophet, a young wizard, a troubador, a monk, an Elven warrior, a mercenary, and one of your former students."

"It is of no concern," Sidious croaked, "I have gathered many allies in my exile. They will be joining us soon."

Obsidian smiled. "You brought friends."

"Indeed. I attend a weekly 12-Step program for people like ourselves, Obsidian. You should attend. It will take your mind off your stresses. Does you a world of good."

Obsidian squinted. "But...then, aren't you falling off the wagon to help me?"

"That is the nature of Balance, my young friend. When the Chosen Ones fall off, so must we. And now, Young Obsidian, let us take our ease. Tell me. Do you play..." he turned to look Obsidian dead in the eye through his horrible visage, "...Connect Four?"

--------------------------------------
"Are you sure we're doing this right?"

"I'm telling you, that's what the recipe book says." Storm Trooper 67-B showed the book to the others in his unit. They leaned in to look while 85-X continued to stir the cauldron. Thick black liquid bubbled within, billowing steam onto the metal floor.

Storm Trooper 23-G looked up from the book. "Yeah but...the blood of his most hated enemy?"

"Yeah," 55-A said, "Ever try to get blood from Harry Freakin' Potter?"

67-B shrugged. "Look, I'm just telling you what it says."

"Well we're going to have to find a substitute," 23-G said, "Because I am not going after Harry Potter."

85-X grimaced in frustration. "Can you guys pick up the pace? My arm's gettin' tired."

67-B sighed. "Alright, what have we got?"

The storm troopers all looked at each other, until 55-A said, "Well...I got this vial of Angelina Jolie's blood I took off Billy Bob Thornton once."

23-G shuddered. "Oooh."

"That's not bad," 67-G said, "Nobody likes her. Throw it in."
--------------------------------------------
The hatch of the ornithopter opened. Feyd gave his brother Rabban a shove out into the docking bay of the Tanhauser. He stood tall, and took a deep breath. Rabban coughed, and tried to lean on him, but Feyd pushed him away.

"Ay. Don't stand so close to me."

"Sorry." Rabban dusted himself off. "So is this the place?"

"This is what the old fart said."

"Better be worth it," Rabban said. "I had a date tonight."

"Well I guess she'll have to refund you then." Feyd took off at a stride. "Let's find this Lord Obsidian."
-------------------------------------------
"...And that's when I fired my PR man. If you control the entire galaxy and still can't get a headshot that doesn't look like fossilized prune, than something is truly wrong."

Obsidian shook his head, and dropped a checker in, creating three in a row. "I understand, Sidious. I truly do. It's so hard to find good Henchmen--"

"Lord Obsidian."

"Ah! Speak of the devil." He turned to Inez.

"We're being hailed by a fleet of robots."

Sidious smirked. "They're with me."

Obsidian smiled. "Patch it through."

He turned to a large screen. On it appeared a tall strong man in black leather with short spiky hair and black sunglasses. In a thick accent, he said,

"Awaiting instructions."

"Ah!" Lord Obsidian beamed, opening his arms. "Welcome, soldiers of Skynet! First, let me extend my compliments. I am a big fan of your work. Please dock in Docking bay 7. My men will see to your needs." He turned to Sidious. "Well done on that one. I've been trying to get in to talk to them since--"

The Terminator on screen said, "This had better be worth ouah trouble. We abandoned a trap to catch John Connuh to be here."

"Absolutely, sir. When this is over, I personally guarantee we will help you with your little annoyance. Obsidian out." He closed the screen.

Sidious scowled. "Yes. I saw the movie. They really aren't doing very well these days."

"Indeed. Well they have my sympathies."

"Mmm." Palpatine nodded.

The click of boot-heels on the metal floor. The accompanying voice was a fit male in his thirties, with just a hint of serpentine upperclass-ness. "Sidious, why have you summoned us here?"

Lord Obsidian turned to look. There stood a tall, slender man in Royal, Asian-cut clothes, his long black hair falling behind his head, the rest held in a topknot by a diadem in the shape of a flame. Next to him, a slender girl with a predatory smirk, and a tall strong bald man with an eye tatooed in the middle of his forehead.

Obsidian went wide-eyed. "Is that--"

"Ah. Ozai. Welcome. We've never actually met. I'm Darth Sidious. Azula has told me all about you." Sidious stood up. "Azula. Good to see you again."

"The pleasure's all yours," she drawled.

Sidious studied Ozai carefully. "Your voice is familiar. Have we perchance met before?"

"It is the voice of royal command." Ozai began to pace. "No doubt you are accustomed to hearing it from your own lips. Lord...Obsidian, is it?"

Obsidian beamed. "Yes, Your Majesty. And may I say what an honor it is to--"

"Yes, yes, we can get to pleasantries later." Ozai gave a dismissive wave as he stood before the bay window. "I've had my spies look into your little problem. These are no mere Chosen Ones we face. These are Chosen Ones who have emerged victorious. They've already defeated us, and come into their own power."

He turned to face Sidious.

"Tell me who else you have contacted."

Darth Sidious grinned hideously. "Only the best."
-----------------------------------------------
"Careful with that, you fool!" Gannondorf gave the moblin a slap up the side of his head. "That's an antique! It's older than your family!" Two Moblins carried the statue of Din off the shuttle, grunting under the weight.

Behind him, a wraith-wizard glided up. He spoke with the hiss of the undead. "Sire, the local guardsmen are helping to unload our cargo."

"Excellent. See that that statue is presented to Lord Obsidian as a gift. Do you have Sidious's present?"

"Yes Sire." He proffered a box of Legend of Zelda Monopoly. "Collector's edition. It awaits only your autograph."

"Perfect. Hold on to that for me." He looked around at the shuttle bay, spying two men he knew well, young red-heads in desert stillsuits. "Aha! Feyd! Rabban!"

Feyd grinned. "Gannondorf! You old blackguard, how the hells are you, mate?!" He took Gannondorf's hand and pulled him into a manly hug.

"Splendid, Feyd. Splendid. And your uncle?"

"He couldn't make it. He's gettin' his skin done."

"Oho. I see. Well I'm glad to see you in any case. Shall we go see about this friend of Sidious's?"

"Absolutely!"
-------------------------------------------
"You couldn't get the Baron." Ozai glared at Sidious.

Sidious scowled. "The Baron is incompetent. His nephews--"

"His nephews are inexperienced! Baron Harkonnen may have been physically inept, but he was a brilliant strategist!"

"Well what do you want me to do, Ozai, barge in and drag him out by his hover belt?!"

Ozai sighed and turned away. "At least tell me you got Princess Calleigh."

"No."

Ozai sighed peevishly. "No."

Sidious grinned.

Lord Obsidian turned toward the click of a staff on his floor. The figure moved in shadow at first, but soon emerged.

Sidious said, "I found one of us who was not defeated."

The staff was held in the hands of a tall, slender mage with a bald head and a short white beard. Arcane symbolds covered his robes.

"Lord Obsidian, Phoenix-King Ozai, may I present, the only man to defeat The Bard."

The old mage grinned. He spoke with a voice smooth as silk. "I am called...Mangar."