The power went out rather suddenly last night, so I penned this installment hunched over my laptop in the dark, with my cat purring in my lap and thunder rumbling outside. Given the circumstances, I renounce all blame for whatever wild, maniacal ramblings ensued. That said, a drumroll if you please … Ladies and gentlemen, it is my great pleasure to present to you—only a trifle late—the next installment of When Destiny Comes Calling. And no, I do not intend to inform you which character or which setting won the vote last time. To discover that, my friends, you must read the next installment. I know … cruel, heartless me.
Smoke stung Alexander’s eyes and burned the back of his throat. He coughed—politely—into a woefully mud stained handkerchief and allowed the tavern door of the Plucky Lass by-the-Sea to swing shut behind him. Over Destiny’s shoulder, he caught a glimpse of a dingy, lamp-lit interior crowded with soldiers, sailors, and tradesmen grouped around tables or hunched over steaming pots of ale. At the far side of the room, a short, apple-cheeked girl bounced from table to table whisking away empty mugs and replacing them from a tray of full ones that she carried high over her head. The Plucky Lass herself, it seemed.
Destiny waded through the crowd toward the girl—and it seemed almost as if the crowd, tables, and chairs, anything that stood in her way shifted to clear a path. Alexander started to follow, but a word from Fate stopped him. He watched as the girl greeted Destiny with an ear-to-ear grin and a bob—did they know each other?—then motioned to an archway behind her. Curiosity had nearly gotten the best of him when Destiny turned and beckoned him forward. He strode into the crowd, and instantly had to dodge his way around a pair of massive sailors with fists the sides of his cannonballs, duck beneath the elbow of a soldier, and swing wide around a game of dice that had clearly gotten out of hand.
He was breathless, the blood roaring in his ears, when at last he stood beside Destiny … and she took off again, headed toward the archway the girl had indicated. Fate immediately followed, and Alexander—after much jaw grinding—gave in. What in the name of Corporal Sackinajaw Pickering was a high class woman like Destiny doing in a place like this? He caught his hand fondling his dueling pistols and sought solace in the protection both they and the three feet of cold steel belted to his side offered. And as the ogre had discovered, Destiny was not helpless when it came to a fight with her magically vanishing blades. But what of Fate?
Destiny halted just beneath the archway, and Alexander stumbled to a stop to keep from crashing into her. As it was, his boots knocked the backs of her heels and she shot him a glare. The room beyond was crowded with bodies and stank of salt and sweat and … sulphur. A low monotonous voice droned on and on, broken now and then by clapping, shouting, whistling, and hissing. Beside him, Fate stood with the baby Emperor tucked beneath her cloak, concealed from prying eyes.
Alexander leaned forward and whispered in her ear. “Are you armed?”
“Are … you … armed?” His harsh whisper earned another piercing glare from Destiny.
Fate’s brow took on the pinched look of disgust that it seemed forever furrowed Destiny’s forehead. “With a razor wit, my dear boy, and it is enough.”
There was a pop and a flash of light, and a man burst through the crowd with the ends of his hair aflame, face and clothes blackened with soot. Mouth stretched in a wordless cry, he pushed past Destiny and took off through the tavern. Raucous laughter chased him.
Alexander gulped a breath of air. “That wasn’t our … was it?”
But before Destiny could reply, a deep voice rang through the crowded room. “Doom! Doom is upon us. The omens speak clear. Peril and woe and the end of the world lurk upon the threshold in fiery waves. Yea, destiny knocketh at the door … and fate follows after!”
“That,” Fate said, “would be him.”
Alexander turned to Destiny, but she was gone. Vanished just like her mysterious swords. Then her voice came from the front of the room, and he discovered that if he stood on tip-toe and strained … just … so … he could see her standing on a sort of stage beside a large figure cloaked in midnight blue with a peaked hat so tall and a black beard so thick, one could make out very little else of him.
One corner of Destiny’s mouth tweaked up into that mysterious, knowing sort of smile that Alexander thought better befitted portraits and statues than living persons, and she spread her arms wide. “You summoned, Doomsday? I am here. What say you, wizard?”
How does Doomsday respond? Select your favorite option below and vote in the comments, then stop by next time to see how the winning vote changed the course of the story!
Option 1: The wizard stood stock-still for a moment, then flung back his arms and unleashed his stentorian voice. “Wizard Doomsday fears no man, woman, or child. Fear means nothing in the face of the terror that draws nigh. You would all do well to listen and be warned.”
A ribbon of smoke trailed from his wide sleeves and coiled about him on the ground in the shape of an enormous snake. Gasps of fear and awe rippled through the crowd, but Fate simply snorted—a most unlady-like sound—and clucked her tongue.
“Con-wizard Doomsday he means. There is a difference.”
Option 2: “Destiny …” The wizard’s voice cracked and he raised both hands to his peaked hat and lifted it from his head, revealing a wild, bird’s nest of black hair. His sorrowful tone and manner would have put any funeral-goer to shame. “Then the end is come. Just as I predicted.”
She nodded, brisk, business like. “Indeed. For once, it would appear, your predictions were correct.”
“For once?” Doomsday snapped up straighter than a sword and plopped his hat back on his head. “I’ll have you know that I am considered the best wizard in the entire land.” His voice fell again and assumed the mind-numbing cadence of a turtle in mourning. “Wretched, ungrateful world. You know what they say, you’re never truly missed until you’re gone.”
“Appreciated is the word I think you’re looking for. Of course you’re not missed until you’re gone. It wouldn’t make sense otherwise.”
Doomsday nodded. “Indeed. Never missed. Never appreciated. Never loved. Until it is too late.”
Option 3: At her voice, the wizard’s head shot up, and Alexander caught a glimpse of his eyes gleaming beneath the shadow of the enormous peaked hat. “No!” Doomsday gestured wildly and smoke belched from the wide sleeves of his robe. “No. Get back, foul creature of darkness! You shan’t take me!” He snapped both hands toward the floor, and there came a flash and a pop, then Alexander found himself blinking at Destiny alone on the stage. The wizard was gone.