That’s what Chloe had screamed, as the car hurtled out of control, ploughing over the roadside barriers, and careening down the steep mountainside towards the rocks and crashing waves below.
“Nope,” said the voice next to her. “Just too Chosen. Assuming you look lively and use your powers, that is.”
Chloe looked over. A huge badger was sat in the passenger seat, regarding her with large, inscrutable eyes. Behind the badger, the rock face continued to flash by outside the window. Only it had slowed to a crawl. Something odd was happening with time. But that would have to wait. Right now Chloe had odd animals to deal with. She would move on to the odd other stuff in due course.
“Are you...death?” Chloe asked the badger.
The badger stared at her solemnly.
“Only to earthworms,” it told her. “Now come on. I’ve slowed time down, but there’s only so much I can do.”
“Hmm?” said Chloe, whose previous experience of talking badgers was approximately zero.
“Chop chop,” urged the badger. “Make with the powers, already. Unless you want to end up spread over this very pretty coastline, that is. Your choice.”
“But I don’t have any...” she started to protest.
“You don’t have any powers, yeah, yeah,” said the badger, sounding exasperated. “Honestly, that’s what your grandmother told me, and her grandmother before that; and with respect, they soon learned that their understanding of reality was pretty fundamentally flawed, and you will too, sweetheart.”
“Sweetheart?” she repeated, “Isn’t that a bit...?”
“Sexist?” said the badger. “Patronising? Yeah, maybe. But unless you pull out those powers, pronto, we’re not going to have much time to discuss the finer points of civilised conversation.”
“Look,” said Chloe, who was getting a little cross herself, “I don’t know what the hell you're talking about! I don’t have any powers! I’m just a normal twenty four year old woman, with normal twenty four year old problems! Like money worries, and relationship stuff, and...and...”
“And plunging over a cliff into fiery oblivion?” offered the badger helpfully.
There was an embarrassed pause.
“Ok, fine, not all my problems are ordinary,” Chloe admitted. “That doesn’t mean I can just, like, wave my hands in the air, and...”
Chloe waved her hands dramatically in front of her, and//
//and the scene of rapidly approaching rock-based death was replaced by an empty white space.
“Urgh,” said Chloe, who abruptly found that she was no longer sitting in a car, nor indeed plunging anywhere. This turn of event was distinctly discombobulating.
“I thought it better to come here first,” said the badger.
“Where is here?” said Chloe, trying extremely hard not to vomit.
“An in-between place,” said the badger, in a very final sort of way. Chloe wasn’t sure if the world was spinning around her. In the blank white emptiness, it was difficult to tell. She thought for a moment, and was then violently sick.
The vomit glistened for a moment, then dissolved into the blank whiteness.
“Where did it...?”
“No time for that,” said the badger, a shade briskly. “I can’t hold this for long, you know.”
“Hold what?” she demanded, thoroughly bemused now.
“Hold us here,” said the badger testily, as if she were asking the most stupid questions he had ever heard. “My, you don’t have much more sense than a goldfish, do you? No, don’t answer that. An insult to goldfish, I suppose.”
“Now wait a minute...” Chloe started to say.
“No,” said the badger, “more like twenty or thirty seconds, if we’re lucky.”
“Well...well you better make it quick then,” said Chloe, a little lamely.
“Finally, sense at last,” sighed the badger. “Listen: you are the carrier of a mystical energy. The latest in a long line of Chosen Ones, destined to help bring balance to the Storystream.”
“To the...Storystream,” Chloe repeated blankly.
“Exactly,” said the badger. “In rather small ways, I suppose, but not all Chosen Ones are chosen equally.”
“But what is the...” Chloe started to say, and at that moment the white blankness flashed away, replaced by//
//a huge dragon, red and silver scales flashing in the strange light of a distant purple sun. Chloe looked down. She was mounted on a large and vaguely fierce looking...badger?
The dragon stared at her, momentarily confused, she assumed, by the sudden and unexpected appearance of a young woman mounted on an enormous badger.
“Help!” came a high, urgent voice from the ground below.
Chloe blinked, trying desperately not to fall off her badger.
There was a brief pause during which no one did any helping.
The badger underneath Chloe gave a meaningful shake of its nose.
“Oh,” said Chloe, suddenly understanding that she was meant to be the one doing the helping, rather than the other way around. “Sorry. Right.”
She cast around in what she hoped was a generally helpful way.
“Help!” came the voice again, when it had worked out that Chloe probably wasn’t going to find it without extra input.
Chloe looked down.
Far below, so small she seemed no bigger than a tiny doll, a fantastically imperilled-looking princess was tied to a stake.
Chloe gave the woman a little wave.
“Hi,” she said. “How’s everything?”
“Oh, you know,” said the princess, with a slight brittleness to her voice which Chloe misliked. “Just hanging around waiting to be rescued. It’s great fun. I’m sure someone will be along any minute.”
A stab of guilt shot through Chloe...and came up hard against a slab of pure I’ve-taken-enough-crap-today shaped determination.
She felt herself going very still.
“Do you now?” she asked, looking down at the - very pretty, and Chloe was sure - entirely charming princess. “Must be hard work.”
The badger stirred uneasily beneath her, but Chloe had had about as much of the badger as she felt she could take, too, and she ignored it.
The princess glared up at her, eyes flashing.
For a moment she was speechless.
“How dare you?” the princess demanded. “You don’t know what it’s like! To be tied up here, awaiting almost certain devouring by Klaxor, here. He’s simply horrid. And his breath smells.”
The princess indicated the huge red and silver dragon, who made a hurt whining noise.
Chloe was beginning to get the distinct impression she didn’t like this princess. The princess reminded her entirely too much of some of the girls she had known at school. The overly-entitled ones. The snobbish ones. The ones who always had immaculate hair and makeup, and got what they wanted without having to ask, and...
“Psst,” said the badger, just a shade sarcastically. “FYI - this isn’t going quite according to plan.”
“Really?” said Chloe, who found that all at once she cared very little for plans. She had been subject to other people’s plans all her life. “How so?”
“Well, generally speaking you’re supposed to flit between stories, help them run smoothly,” the badger went on. “Here, for instance, it would be customary to rescue the princess from the clutches of the evil dragon.”
“Sounds pretty dull,” Chloe muttered. “And what’s happened to whoever was meant to do the rescuing, anyway.”
The badger gave a shrug.
“I suppose someone forgot to file the requisite paperwork,” it said dryly. “That sort of thing happens all the time.”
“Wait a minute,” said Chloe. “A moment ago you told me that I was...what was it? A Chosen One destined to bring balance to somewhere or other, wasn’t it?”
“Yeah, right,” said the badger. “You got a problem with that, sweetheart?”
“The latest in a long line of possessors of a sacred power,” Chloe went on, ignoring the patronising badger. “Isn’t that’s right?”
There was a pause.
“That’s about the size of it, yeah,” agreed the badger.
“And I’m meant to do that by rescuing overly-entitled recipients of inherited socio-political inequality from endangered species of spectacular flying reptiles?” said Chloe.
“More or less,” allowed the badger. “I mean, dragons aren’t reptiles, but yeah, basically.”
Chloe thought about this for a moment.
Then she sighed.
If she was the wielder of a vast and mystical power, then she was sure as hell going to do things her way.
“What a load of horse shit,” she said.
“What?” said the badger. It sounded genuinely shocked, as if it had been half asleep up until now.
“I’m not rescuing her,” said Chloe firmly, indicating the princess. “I know her type.”
There was a brief, enraged pause from down below.
“How dare you!” the princess yelled up at her, in very unladylike tones. “You stupid commoner! You ignorant whelp! You...!”
“Step on her,” Chloe ordered.
“What?” asked the badger once more. It sounded more shocked than ever.
“Step on her,” Chloe repealed.
“I can’t do that,” said the badger. But Chloe heard the faint wistfulness in its voice, and she realised with a jolt of satisfaction that she had won.
“Can’t you?” Chloe asked. “I am the wielded of strange and mystic power, after all.”
Down below, the princess was still spewing out a torrent of venomous words, unable to hear the exchange between Chloe and her badger.
The badger licked his lips, thoughtful.
Then he shrugged.
“When you put it like that,” he said.
The badger lifted one enormous foot.
“And another thing,” the princess shouted. “Do you have any idea the kind of stress I go through, wondering what sort of prince is going to turn up? Only to find it’s not a prince, just some silly chit of a girl riding a...riding...oh!”
The words faltered as the princess realised what was happening.
There was no time to scream.
The sound of a huge badger foot slamming into the mountainous terrain echoed solemnly across the world.
There was a long, happy silence.
“There, that wasn’t so hard, was it?” said Chloe briskly.
She looked over at Klaxor. The huge red and silver dragon gave her a nervous half smile. Chloe nodded at him.
“Off you go then,” she told the dragon breezily. “I’m sure this stupid story didn’t have much nice lined up for you. Better get going and make the most of things.”
She smiled to herself as the dragon gave a happy squark and launched itself off into the distance, wings flapping majestically against the purple sun.
“How’s that for bringing balance?” she muttered, half talking to herself.
“You know, that’s not how things usually go,” the badger told her thoughtfully. Chloe was pleased to note that it did not sound disapproving. Quite the reverse, in fact.
“No?” said Chloe. “Maybe it’s the way they should. Stories can be pretty stupid.”
Chloe nodded to herself, satisfied. As she did so, the world seemed to hum and shudder. A power was growing in her. An awareness. She could sense the flow of story around her, of narrative currents.
“Do you know,” said the badger, “you remind me very much of your great great great great aunt Margery. She was the first of your line. She didn’t take much nonsense, either.”
“Sounds like a sensible woman,” said Chloe. “What do you mean, first of my line.”
“Oh, she was the first possessor of the power,” said the badger. “It was she who won it. Got given the charter, as it were.”
Chloe could almost see the flows of it now: the glimmers of narrative potential which flashed through the world, the lines of force which held the story together. And, behind that, she could sense the thin places, too. The places where one might, with a little push, break through, from one story into another.
“The charter?” she repeated vaguely. “What charter?”
“Well, your charter, obviously,” said the badger, with a little of its previous condescension. “You are her now, after all.”
Chloe’s eyes fixed on a portion of the horizon. It was thin there. That was where they needed to break through. She wondered what story they would find next.
“I am who?” she asked, though she found that she knew already.
“The bringer of balance,” came the reply. “The fighter of wrongs. The squisher of overly-entitled princesses. The Power Badger.”
Chloe nodded to herself in satisfaction.
“The Power Badger, eh?” She said. “I like the sound of that.”
Then she urged her badger forward, and tore the storywall in front of her with one swift blow. She wondered where they would go next.
Wherever it was, she hoped they were ready for her.
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