Summary: As it turns out, young boys don't respond well to the magical girl formula....
A Tale of Two Knights
It's funny how a completely normal day can be turned on its head so quickly. One moment, one is sampling a fine filet mignon cooked by one's personal chef, and the next moment one is receiving notice that one has become bankrupt and all of his or her worldly possessions are to be repossessed.
Such is the life of some of the more fortunate, but for ordinary people… well, sometimes things become much more complicated, particularly when the people in question are in a world where anything is possible. But that's jumping ahead of the story.
One such "lucky" person was Toby Blythe. Toby Blythe was your average American kid – a good student with a love of baseball, he was the model of an All-American. Or he would be, once he graduated Jr. High for Sr. High. At only thirteen, his teachers had high hopes for him once he got into the world.
Some of them had higher hopes than others. "Toby, may I see you in my office for a moment?" Coach Sparda, the baseball coach, requested of the young man on his way out the door from practice.
He was surrounded by a group of his friends and a few of them bumped into him as he stopped. "Yo, Toby, man," one of them hissed. "Did you do something to piss off Coach?"
"I don't think so," the bewildered teen mumbled back. He ran a hand through his curly red hair nervously. "I'll be right there, Coach!" he finally called back. "I'll see you guys later, all right?"
"Okay, then." "See you later, Toby." "Good luck, man!" There was much back-slapping and well-wishing before the crowd finally left the young boy alone to talk with his teacher.
"Have a seat," Coach Sparda offered, pointing to the chair across from him. Unlike the offices of some teachers, everything was stacked and organized neatly on the desk and shelves. Since the office was a subset of the locker room, the smell of male sweat and soap and shampoo was strong in the air, but given how much time the both of them spent in the locker room, they barely noticed it. "Toby, how have you been this year? Doing well?"
"Yes, sir," Toby replied, squirming under the intense gaze of his baseball coach. "Is there something you needed me for?"
The coach was silent for a moment, watching Toby intently as he seemed to formulate what he was going to say. "As a matter of fact, yes. Toby, I've been your mentor for some time now, right?"
"Since I entered Jr. High," the redhead confirmed. "You've been a lot of help to me, sir."
Coach Sparda nodded distinctly, still looking as though he had something else on his mind. "And you know that I would never lie to you, right?"
"Sir, is this going somewhere…?"
"I have a story to tell you, Toby, and I need you to know that every word of it is true. You need to hear all of it."
That got the teacher a confused look, but Toby nodded all the same. "I'll right, if you really want me to, then I'll listen."
Coach Sparda smiled. "Thank you. I suppose I should start at the beginning… Well. The first thing that you need to know is that there is intelligent life in the universe, besides you humans. In fact, on a scale of intelligence, humans hardly rank as a one. A long time ago, before the most recent common ancestor of apes and humans began to split into different evolutionary branches, the intelligent life of the universe at that point had something like a summit meeting."
"Those were dark days. Much as the different human cultures warred against each other in the past and continue to do so now over the differences in their beliefs, the many races that had been developing since time immemorial warred against each other similarly. Entire civilizations were wiped out in the name of expansion and glory, and of the millions that had once teemed the universe, only a few hundred were left."
"A number of races agreed that the fighting was leading nowhere. They made up a peace treaty, and collaborated to create a sort of policing organization to prevent further unnecessary aggression. This organization was gifted with certain abilities to aid them in their fight for justice. The upper house of the organization, called the Major Arcana, oversaw events and managed peace treaties and border policies. The lower house, the Minor Arcana, was essentially assigned to do work as foot soldiers to head off and prevent conflict."
Coach Sparda finally fell silent, waiting for Toby's response. The young boy was just staring at him. "You… sound a lot like my father, Coach," he said finally.
The older man chuckled. "Your father is more correct about the universe than he will ever know, Toby."
"Right… well, sir, it's a nice story, but why are you telling it to me?" Toby asked, shifting in his seat again.
"Periodically, the members of either group must choose a new member to which they pass on their knowledge and abilities before retiring. I am a citizen of the planet Ixion and the holder of the position of Knight of Swords, Toby, and I have chosen you to succeed me in my duties," Coach Sparda finally came to his point.
Toby blinked. "…Hahaha, very funny, Coach. Seriously, what did you want me for?"
"I'm quite serious, Toby. It's been decided that humanity is beginning to grow into a formidable race, and your idiocy along with your power is a dangerous mix. I would like to induct you as my successor so that you may learn and pass on your experiences to the rest of your race, so as to prevent trouble in the future."
The redheaded boy shook his head. "It's a nice story, Coach, but seriously. Come on. There's no way there's aliens." He picked up his backpack. "You'd be a great writer."
"I'm not joking, Toby." The coach moved out of the young boy's way regardless. "Consider it, would you?"
"Yeah, yeah…" He ducked his head and left the office, feeling his coach's stare piercing him from behind.
On the way home, Toby was wondering about what he had just sat through. Coach Sparda had to be joking, after all. There was no way there was any such thing as intelligent life outside of Earth, despite whatever his father may say.
“Maybe Coach Sparda’s one of those Area 51 people,” Toby thought aloud as he continued walking. “Area 51 is where they keep all the aliens, right? Still, that doesn’t explain why he think he’s an alien… Man, why did I end up picking a crazy teacher for a mentor? I really know how to pick ‘em…” He sighed to himself.
It wasn’t long before he arrived home. The inside of the house was covered in a fine layer of dust, a sign of neglect from both the owner and his son. Given that the house was dark and there was a whining in the air, Toby was pretty sure that his father was working in his lab in the garage and took the opportunity to go to his room unmolested.
It was an ordinary boy’s room – posters of sports figures on the walls, an unmade bed by the window, a desk for doing his homework with a light, and everything in scattered everywhere. There was a box of baseball cards left on the bed with the contents scattered around it; it was promptly knocked off by Toby launching his backpack into its place, the box banging off the wall and the cards covering the floor in a blanket of colorful pictures.
Toby sighed to himself before walking over and picking up the box. He knelt down and set it up right beside himself before beginning to pick up the cards and sort them. “All right… Phillies… New York Yankees…” he muttered to himself.
A moment later, the door banged open and he jumped in shock. “Toby?”
His heart was beating like a rabbit’s. “Yeah, Dad?” the redheaded boy asked as he turned back to look his father, Jacob Blythe, in the eye. “What is it?”
“I went into the kitchen for a drink and I heard something hit the wall.” Then, “Tobias Blythe, what has gotten into you? Look at this mess! It looks like a pigsty!”
“I haven’t had time to clean it between school and baseball, Dad. I’ll clean it up this weekend, I promise.”
“You're usually so neat. This isn't like you, Toby. If your baseball team has been taking up too much of your time… If you don’t have it cleaned up by this weekend, I’m going to have a talk with your school about the policy for sports teams,” Jacob told him, frowning. “It’s irresponsible for your baseball team to occupy so much of your team that you fall behind on your other responsibilities in this household.”
“No, Dad, please! I promise, I’ll make sure to clean up my room this weekend. It’ll be sparkling,” Toby assured him desperately. “It’s not because of baseball, I just have a lot of homework to do and it takes a lot of time to do, that’s all.”
Jacob’s frown became deeper. “If you’re having trouble with your homework, why don’t you ask me for help?”
“Dad, do you know how embarrassing it would be to tell my friends that I have to get help from my dad on my homework?” Toby asked him before sighing. “I’ll just work on it myself, okay? Don’t worry about it.”
His father’s expression didn’t lighten significantly, but he nodded. “All right, but remember – if your room isn’t cleaned by this weekend, I’m pulling you off of the baseball team,” he told him. “Now, I’m going to start getting dinner ready. Do you want pizza or Chinese?”
“What kind of toppings do you want on it?”
“All right. I’ll order up and it’ll probably be here in about half an hour – in the meantime, why don’t you work on your homework?” Jacob suggested, giving his son “the look.”
As he began to leave the room, something in Toby made him yell, “Hey, dad, wait!”
His father poked his head back in. “Yes?”
Toby hesitated, realizing what he was about to ask… But the question was on the tip of his tongue, and it didn’t take much for it to spill out of his mouth anyway. “Dad, you know how you go on about aliens all the time?”
That got an annoyed look from Jacob. “It’s my life’s goal to prove aliens exist, Toby. Don’t talk about it like it’s just some hobby.”
The teenage boy held back an eye roll. “Right. Do you think you can explain it to me a bit?”
Jacob looked at Toby hard and the redhead began to squirm unconsciously. “What’s the sudden interest?”
“No reason, I just heard some kids at school talking about how it might be possible and I thought that since you study it, you’d probably be able to explain to me better,” Toby lied. “Would you?”
“If you’re really interested… Work on your homework for right now. We’ll talk about it over dinner, all right?” Jacob offered.
Toby nodded. “All right.” With that, Jacob left the room again and Toby continued to pick up his baseball cards. He continued to sort them – he had already started putting them back; there was no reason to just leave the job half-finished, and if he spent enough time cleaning, then he’d be able to put off doing his homework for a while longer, at least.
Besides, the mindless work gave him the opportunity to think about what he was going to ask his dad, and on this topic, he really needed to get his thoughts in order. ‘The last thing I need to do is get him angry,’ he thought to himself. ‘Then he won’t help me at all.’
Jacob and Toby having dinner at the same time was an uncommon event; the both of them having dinner at the same time at the dinner table was like the Boston Red Sox winning the World Series. And yet there they both were, sitting as far away from each other as they could while still within reach of the pizza box and without making eye contact, silently reaching for slices of pizza.
Before long, they had eaten their fill. Jacob wiped the grease from his fingers and from around his mouth, though he didn't take much care in making sure he had wiped all of it from the scraggly beard he was growing out of neglect for his appearance.
Toby's father didn't share his red hair; instead, he had brown hair that was rather long – again, out of neglect. Both father and son had brown eyes, though, and both also had a wiry build. Jacob was far taller than his son, but there was every chance that the young boy would grow to compete with his father's height when he was older.
"Now, Toby, was there something specific that you wanted to know about aliens?" Jacob asked, leaning back into his chair and finally giving his son his full attention.
Toby nodded, thinking of what question he wanted to ask first. There was, of course, the obvious one – "What made you start to believe in aliens?"
"Simple. Your mother."
His son's eyes widened; it was an unexpected answer. Toby's mother had died when he was a child. His father had said it had something to do with being in the wrong place at the wrong time for her job as a reporter. He hadn't elaborated, and Toby never had the nerve to ask. It was a fine status quo.
Or so he had thought. "You mean that Mom believed in aliens?" he asked, still disbelieving.
"I mean that your mother was an alien," Jacob corrected. Toby, who had been taking a drink of Coke, choked and started coughing like mad. "Toby?!"
"I'm fine, I'm fine, Dad," Toby managed to get out between coughs, covering his mouth with one hand and waving his father off with the other. "Just give a minute."
Jacob nodded. "I realize that this is a shock, Toby, but it's true. Your mother was from another planet, a completely different civilization from out of this world."
"H-how can you be sure?" Toby got out, still coughing. It was beginning to ease up, though. "Are you sure she didn't tell you she was an alien as a joke and you just took it seriously?"
"That's definitely not it," his father responded. "I didn't come to that conclusion lightly, Toby. Your mother offered herself to me for experimentation as proof, and as I tested her, I became more and more convinced that she was telling me the truth."
Toby jerked away from his father, a disgusted and angry look on his face. "You experimented on MOM?! What's wrong with you, Dad? You cut her up for the sake of science? Is that how she really died – did you kill her?" Toby demanded.
That was more than Jacob could bear, apparently, and he slammed his hands on the table. "I would never hurt your mother," he roared. "Your mother had to insist over several days that I do it, I was so opposed to the idea, and even when I consented to the tests, I refused to do anything more invasive that drawing blood or examining skin cells. Never accuse me of that again!"
Toby cowered a little under his father's anger, but his hysteria had been scared out of him. "I… I'm sorry, Dad. I wasn't thinking. But you always go on about how much you want to study aliens, and if you thought Mom was one…"
"Your mother was the exception to many rules," Jacob told him sternly. "I loved her dearly. I may be enthusiastic about my studies, but I would never attack her under any circumstances. Don't even think about it."
"Yes, sir. …So, how was she different from humans?" Toby asked, curious.
"Well, her body regenerated faster than humans did – faster release of platelets, faster generation of scar tissue… she also had denser bones, which caused her to weigh more; she couldn't swim because of that. There also were some minor cosmetic differences between her bones and the bones in our skeleton," Jacob finished. "She was definitely an alien."
"All right, then. Um.. wait, if she was an alien, then why didn't she look like an alien?" he asked suddenly as the thought occurred to him.
"Evolutionary theory. The life form best equip to deal with the environment is the one that the species will eventually adopt as a whole." Jacob nodded to himself. "If where she previously lived had conditions similar to ours, or if they needed to evolve to fill an identical niche, then it wouldn't be stretching things to say that they would look very similar to us. And they did, so."
"So… where did Mom come from?"
"From Ixion," came the reply. Toby barely managed to hold back the twitch at that name. "She was a Ixionite. She was from this solar system, at least."
"Okay… um. This… this is a lot to think about," Toby said weakly. "Um… thanks, Dad. I think I'll just… do my homework or something." With that, he got up to take his plate to the sink.
"All right, then. Good night, Toby," Jacob said, doing the same. "I'll see you in the morning. Son…"
"Yeah, Dad?" The redhead wasn't looking at him, just filling the sink up a bit so the grease-covered plates could soak. He wasn't sure that he would be able to keep his cool if he looked at his father.
"I'm glad I could finally talk to you about this." Jacob's hand clapped heavily onto Toby's shoulder, and the young boy visibly was knocked down a bit by the weight.
That didn't seem to be the response Jacob was expecting, since the hand froze on Toby's shoulder, but Jacob gave it another brief pat. "Wash the dishes before you go to bed."
"I will. Night, Dad."
Toby left the dishes to soak and went straight to the bathroom. With all of this new information to chew over, he needed a long shower to get his head straight. Under the steady rhythm of the water, he began to relax; take deep breaths and try to organize everything that he had learned in the last few hours.
'All right,' he began, 'Mom was an alien. She was from Ixion, which is where Coach Sparda said he was from, and he wants me to be a police officer… no, too much. Mom is an alien. If she and Dad really made me, then that means that I'm half-alien. Half-alien… should I feel different from other people, then? I guess I wouldn't notice…'
'Okay. Coach Sparda is an alien too. He's part of a police officer-type of thing, and he had to choose a successor. He chose me. …That might have to do with me being half-alien, especially since I'm half-whatever it was that Dad said Mom was. Ixionite?'
'So, if everything is real, then that means that the offer is real. Then I guess I need to figure out whether I'm going to say "yes" or not… What am I talking about?!' He shook his head, sending drops of water everywhere in the already wet shower stall. 'There's no way I can say yes! I'm just a kid, and besides, I have my own life! How I am supposed to be going around and stopping people from making wars or whatever when I can barely catch flyballs? Nope, it's not happening.'
'I mean… well, maybe if I was bigger and older… Coach Sparda said he'd train me, right? So they obviously don't want me to start right away… But maybe I'd have to leave everyone. I don't want to leave my friends, and my dad… well, we have our rough spots, but I don't want to leave him alone either. There's no telling what would happen to him.'
‘I don’t know. Maybe I can ask Coach Sparda for more information about what I’m supposed to do? That can’t hurt, and it’s not a yes.’ He nodded to himself, his resolve firming. ‘I’ll ask him after practice about it tomorrow. Practice… oh, great. What am I going to tell the guys about why he wanted to talk to me?’ With a sigh, he turned off the water and stepped out of the shower. “All of this is really a pain in the neck,” he said aloud to himself.
He did come up with an answer to what to tell the guys, at least. “Yeah, Coach said that my dad had called the school about me starting to fall behind with chores at home, so Coach wanted to talk to me about getting my priorities in order or something like that,” he explained as he switched some of his books out in his locker.
“Man, that sucks,” his friend, Richie, responded. Richie was a short but stocky kid that was on the baseball team with Toby, playing as the second baseman. He had neatly trimmed brown hair that always seemed to be tangled up in defiance of whatever neatness his parents tried to instill in him and also a pair of glasses. For an active kid, he was lucky enough not to have broken his glasses in baseball yet. “So what’s going to happen?”
“Well, my dad talked to me when I came home and I have to get all of my chores done this weekend or else he going to pull me off of the baseball team,” Toby said to his friend. He sighed. “I guess I ought to thank Coach for giving me a heads-up about this…”
“Your dad’s not actually going to do it, right?” Richie asked. “I mean, he’s not really going to pull you off the team just for that?”
“You don’t know my dad,” was Toby’s response. “He wasn’t happy about me joining the baseball team in the first place. He’s afraid I’m going to get hit in the chest or on the head with a baseball and I’ll just fall over and die.” He slammed his locker closed with more force than was strictly necessary.
Richie stared at his friend. “…Your dad’s kind of a freak.”
“You have no idea…”
After getting showered and redressed after practice, Toby knocked on the frame of Coach Sparda’s office door. “Coach? Can I talk to you in private?”
The baseball coach looked up from some paperwork and nodded, waving the young boy in. “Of course. Come on in; close the door behind you.”
Toby did so and went over to the seat he had been in just the day before. “So… Okay. I believe you about the alien thing. I want to know more about this job that you’re trying to give me.”
“The job’s already given; you just haven’t accepted it yet,” Coach Sparda corrected him. “Now, what is it that you wanted?”
“I’m not the Knight of whatever,” Toby said. “I haven’t said yes to anything yet.”
“It doesn’t matter if you say yes or no; you’ve been chosen, and your occupation is a fact. Now, what did you want to know?”
“I’m not - ! Argh, it’s not important. What I wanted to asked was what I would have to do if I accepted this job,” Toby told him, finally deciding that arguing would be a waste of time.
Coach Sparda gave him a look that seemed to say he had been waiting for Toby to make that connection. “Well, once your training is completely and you are fully inducted as the Knight of Swords, you would be expected to be available for peace-keeping at any time and in any place,” was the response.
“Peace-keeping… meaning fighting?”
“Sometimes,” Coach Sparda acknowledged. “Other times it might mean simply acting as a diplomat between nations. It varies according to the situation.”
“All right. Um… would I have to leave Earth?” Toby asked nervously.
Coach Sparda nailed him with a hard gaze. “You would if you were required to,” he said calmly. “You wouldn’t have a choice. You would either come when you were called, or you would be dragged over kicking and screaming. Which would you prefer?”
“So I don’t have a choice if I’m going to be this Knight thing, I don’t have a choice of when I want to do this Knight thing… do I have a choice of where I can live?” Toby asked irritably.
“You could remain on this planet when you were not working, if that’s what you mean,” Coach Sparda replied. “It is inadvisable, of course – after all, if you simply remained at headquarters, then it would be much more convenient to contact you about your work and send you out.”
“I don’t care, I’m not moving if I don’t need to,” Toby told him. “What about this training thing? What’s that?”
“Before you can be fully trusted with your powers, you will have to be trained in the use of them,” the older man began. “I will be your trainer in both the use of your powers and in diplomacy and whatever other skills you will need as the next Knight of Swords.”
“How long will that take?”
“That depends entirely on you. If you devote yourself completely to your training, you will be ready in a few short years. If not, then it could take as much as a decade,” Coach Sparda said.
“And they’ll let you off for that long?”
“Time is not consistent in the universe. Your Albert Einstein proved that with his theory of relativity, didn’t he? A few years here is a few seconds to the rest of the universe. Or it can be.” The baseball coach shrugged. “I’ll stay here as long as it takes for you to come to your senses and accept your training.”
“Why are you even here? I end up going to this school and you just happen to be here?” A thought occurred to Toby. “Have you been following me?”
“We’ve been watching you for a long time, Toby. We had to know more about you to decide whether you would be an appropriate replacement.” The older man sounded almost apologetic. “It was a gross violation of your privacy, but it was necessary, I assure you, and we do it to all candidates. You weren’t singled out.”
“That doesn’t make it right!” Toby yelled. “Never mind this, I don’t want to do any of it. You chose me, and you can go ahead and choose someone else.”
“I told you it’s too late for that – “ the coach began to say, but Toby had had enough and he just stood up, put his stuff over his shoulder, and marched toward the door. “Toby, wait!”
“Just keep away from me!” Toby yelled before opening the door and running out.
For the next couple of days, Toby avoided Coach Sparda as much as he was able, considering that he had both a PE class and baseball practice with him every day. Still, he managed to avoid getting into any long and involved conversations with him, so he considered his efforts a success.
It was on Friday, a few days later, that he had his next encounter. “Here, you can carry this,” Jacob said, handing some kind of sensor device to his son. “We’re just going to try and get some readings to see if there’s any kind of abnormal radiation coming from the roof.”
“What did they say was going on here?” Toby asked, nodding toward the dilapidated building whose parking lot they were standing in. “It doesn’t look like anything would want to stick around here.”
“There’ve been reports of bright lights over this building. It might be that there are spaceships beaming aliens down here or something.”
“Come on, Dad, beaming down?” Toby made a face at his dad. “Mom didn’t beam down, did she?”
“No, but your mother doesn’t represent every kind of aliens there is. It could be that there are aliens like the ones from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and they’ve made this place their base of operations,” Jacob offered as an explanation. “There’s a lot of things that it could be, and we won’t find out until we look.”
“Fine, but… if they’re using this as their base, doesn’t that mean that we might run into them while we’re trying to get up to the roof?” Toby pointed out.
“Well, we’ll deal with that when he have to,” Jacob waved the question off.
Toby sighed. “We’re going to get anally probed or something, I just know it…”
“Oh, don’t be so worried. Scientists would have achieved nothing if they had allowed their fears to control them,” Jacob said, picking up some machinery of his own out of the back of the car and slamming the door shut with his foot. “Now, come on. There’s work to be done!”
“Daaaaaaad,” Toby whined. “Come on, are we even allowed on this property?”
“You know, Toby, given that you now know you’re a half-alien, I’d think that you’d be a lot more interested in what we’re doing right now. Maybe we’ll find another Ixionite and we can learn more about your culture,” Jacob pointed out.
“Well, I am interested in learning more… But I don’t want to get arrested or something while we’re doing it,” Toby argued.
“Just relax. I promise, I won’t let anything bad happen to you. Look.” He held up his sensor so that Toby could see the screen. “This is an infrared sensor. There’s nothing with a high temperature in the building, nothing bigger than a raccoon or something. Don’t worry about it.”
Toby sighed. “If you said so,” he said, trudging along after his father as they headed into the building.
Jacob had decided to do their little excursion at night so no one would notice they were there, reasoning that made Toby all the more certain that they weren't supposed to be there in the first place. The building, which of course had no lighting, was only very dimly illuminated by the half-moon outside, and so Jacob fished out a headband that resembled the headgear worn by doctors. "Here, use this," the father said, putting it on Toby's head and switching on the light. A bright beam of light fell on the air directly ahead of him.
Jacob put on a similar device and switched on his light as well, so both father and son could walk independently and see what they were going to walk into. "Come on, the stairs should be over there," Toby's father said, pointing out the direction with his light.
The building wasn't exactly full of debris, but it was obviously falling apart. Toby could see several points where the ceiling had collapsed to the first floor, though due to termites, water damage, or something else, he couldn't tell. Pipes stuck out into the missing sections of roof. "How old is this place?" Toby wondered aloud.
"I'm not sure. I think the report said that it used to be a research center sometime in the fifties, but it was abandoned and it hasn't been used since then," Jacob said, sounding distracting. "Toby, come here so I can see if there are any readings coming from the building materials around here. A baseline of radiation would be helpful."
"Yes, Dad." He dutifully trotted up – as well as he could with his arms full, anyway.
"Turn it a little… there we go. Hm, barely a tick," Jacob noted. "Well, that's good for us, but it's not very promising… Here are the stairs, let's go."
"Dad, can I put this down for a bit?" Toby begged. "It's really heavy."
Jacob gave his son a thorough going over. The boy's arms seemed to be trembling… "All right, we'll take a break on the staircase for a moment."
"I can wait by myself. A bunch of raccoons aren't going to scare me," Toby mumbled, feeling a bit nettled. "Go ahead on up to the roof, dad, I'll catch up once I catch my breath."
"Toby – "
"Dad, come on. It'll only be for a few minutes. I'm not going to get myself killed in a few minutes. You said yourself that there was nothing here," his son pointed out.
Jacob hesitated for a moment more before nodding. "All right. But come straight up to the roof when you catch your breath. No dallying or poking around," he instructed sternly.
"Yes, sir." With that, the father went up the stairs and Toby put the sensor down and nearly flopped down on the ground.
A few minutes later, Toby felt relaxed enough and he got up and picked up the sensor again. That was when the building began to vibrate and a strange light could be seen from outside, above the building, through the gaps in the ceilings and in the walls. And then there was a male scream, long and loud. "DAD!" Toby yelled, dropping the sensor on the stairs, where it broke, and shot up the stairs. He reached the door to the roof and burst through, only to be blinded by a white light. Something stuck him in the neck and he fell unconscious.
When he came to, he was staring up at a bright white ceiling in an equally bright, sterilely white room. "Wha…" he mumbled groggily.
"Toby?" came his father's voice. Toby flinched and turned his head to the side to see that his father was strapped down to what looked like a medical bed. "Toby! Are you all right?"
"My head hurts," Toby mumbled, squinting. The light was making his head throb. "Where are we?"
"We've been taken prisoner by the aliens…. I'm sorry, Toby. You were right. We shouldn't have come here."
His dad apologizing? That was enough to wake him up. He tried to push himself upright, but he found himself unable to move. Looking down, he could see that he was bound to a medical bed just as his father was. "Dad! I can't-!"
"I know. I'm so sorry, Toby. I shouldn't have brought you here."
"Where… where is here?" he asked, licking his lips. His mouth was beginning to go dry.
"I think we're on board the spaceship, though I have no idea where the spaceship is. Perhaps still outside of the building." His father's voice was becoming dull and lifeless.
"We have to find away to get these things off and get out of here," Toby insisted. "Come on, Dad, help me!"
It was then that a door on the far wall slid open and some vaguely cockroach-looking creatures skittered through. They had the six legs and the abdomen was low to the ground, but the thorax and head of the aliens were upright. They looked as though they were about the same size as a small human. Attached to the thorax were two sets of jointed, chitinous arms that ended in lobster-like claws. The entire body had a copper-colored exoskeleton with thousands of tiny hairs covering it. In short, the aliens were human enough to be recognized as such, and to make their appearances even more disturbing than they would have been had they merely looked like an insect.
The biggest alien, which walked in front, skittered over to Toby and hung over him. Its mandibles clicked repeatedly just above his face and the redhead tried to squirm away as much as he was able. The alien banged his claws together and pulled back to allow its antennae to feel up on the young human. After a few moments of this, it pulled away and turned to Jacob.
"Get away from him!" Toby immediately burst out. He struggled to break free of his bindings as the cockroach felt up his father. Jacob seemed equally disgusted with the insect-like alien, and what little color he had drained out of his face as the rest of the aliens began to gather around him.
Toby struggled against the manacles futilely once more before finally giving up and lying exhausted on the bed. Tears began to prick at his eyes as he watched them begin to set up what appeared to be a large saw above his father’s body. His father watched the blade calmly. “Dad…” Toby croaked out.
“Don’t look, Toby,” Jacob said. “Just look away.”
“…Okay,” Toby sniffled.
“I love you, son.”
“I love you too, Dad.”
There was a skittering around with the cockroach aliens and they cleared the way for their leader to use its claws to begin cutting away the fabric of Jacob’s clothing. As Toby watched, he heard a voice in his head ask, “Will you accept your powers now?”
“Hello, Toby. You seem to be in some trouble.”
“Get me out of here!” Toby yelled, uncaring of whether the aliens heard him. There was the sound of something revving up, but distracted as he was, Toby didn’t look to see what it was.
“You’re beyond my reach. The only hope you have is to accept your powers.”
“Screw you! You got to this planet and now you can’t board the spaceship? I don’t want to do that job, now let me go!”
“If you refuse to accept your position, then I will have to pick someone else – “
“- And to do that, I would have to wait for you to die,” Coach Sparda’s voice continued.
“Your opinion is duly noted. Now, what’s your choice? That bone saw must be getting close to your father’s chest at this point.”
Startled by the last comment, Toby turned to see that, yes, the saw-like instrument had been revved up and was now lowering toward his father’s unprotected abdomen. “Dad! I… All right, I accept! Now what am I supposed to do!” he shouted, finally giving in.
“Pledge yourself to the Minor Arcana. I’ll tell you what to pledge yourself to, but you have to come up with the words yourself. Just mean them sincerely!”
“I pledge myself to the Minor Arcana…”
“To your duties to protect and serve, to the suit of Swords, and to your king.”
“I pledge to do my duty to protect and serve. I pledge myself to the suit of Swords. I pledge myself to my King.” Watching the saw come ever closer to his father’s body, he meant every word. Please let this work…
“Now declare yourself!”
“I am the Knight of Swords!” As the last words left his mouth, he felt his body overcome by incredibly delicious warmth, as though he were a baby in the womb once more. For a moment, time seemed to stop as his body relaxed and accepted the new strength it was given.
Then the moment was over and Toby found himself not only freed from his bindings, but standing on the ground before the cockroach aliens, who were now quite a bit more interested in the figure glowing with power before them. Their antennae was waving around wildly, their claws were snapping open and closed… and their attention was finally off of Jacob. The saw was only a few inches away from his torso, but it seemed to have been stopped in place, though the blade was still running.
Toby was no longer in his street clothes, but was now wearing a light armor made of leather, very similar to the kind worn by the Roman Legionnaires. There were greaves covering his shins and an armlet on his right forearm. His left forearm was weighed down with a round metal shield. In his right hand was a short sword alight with fire, and he could feel a helmet surrounding and weighing on his head.
He pointed the flaming sword at the aliens. “Let him go!” he bellowed at them.
The cockroach aliens, despite his change in wardrobe, didn’t seem particularly impressed. With the way that their mandibles and claws were clicking, in fact, they seemed more angered. They began to advance on the new Knight – bad news for Toby, but better news for Jacob, who seemed to have fallen unconscious at some point during the proceedings.
Toby backed around the medical bed, keeping his eyes on the aliens. “What do I do now?”
“Well, I suggest setting them on fire. It tends to be a very successful deterrent,” came the dry answer. “I also think that you might want to position yourself so the attack won’t disturb your father – that set-up over there seems to be very delicate.”
“Oh, yes, real helpful,” Toby snapped. “Why don’t you tell me how to set them on fire, then?”
“…You have a flaming sword. How do you think?”
“You mean I have to stab them?” As terrible as the aliens were, the idea of, well,, trying to kill them was…
“You can either stab them with the sword, set them on fire, and use that distraction to get your father out of the way, or you can just stand there like an idiot and get both yourself and your father killed. It’s entirely your decision.”
“You’re such a jerk,” Toby muttered. Steeling himself, he lunged toward the alien closest to him with a war-cry, sword outthrust. Either the cry or the action startled them, and the alien didn’t move in time. The sword slid into its chest with a loud, crisp crunching sound, and in moments it was lit on fire. He pulled the sword back out.
It might have been burning, but it wasn’t dead yet, and the alien back to flail and begin running around, reason lost in the instinct to find something to put itself out with. The other aliens scurried away, scattering and trying to stay as far from the burning victim as they possibly could. Toby took advantage of the distraction to sprint to his dad’s side. “Dad, wake up, come on,” he said, shaking him. “Wake up!”
“Hm?” Jacob slowly came back to consciousness. “What’s going on? Toby? Is that you?”
Toby nodded. “Yes; we need to get you out of here,” he said, eyeing the cuffs holding his father to the bed.
“Toby, just get out of here, all right? Don’t worry about me and save yourself,” Jacob ordered.
“No way, I’m not leaving you behind. I already lost Mom; I’m not going to lose you too!” Toby yelled. He set down the shield and moved so that he had a mostly clear target. “Dad, I’m going to try and cut these things off, okay? So don’t move.” He took a deep breath before grasping the hilt with both hands and raising the sword over his head.
“Toby, don’t – no, Toby, don’t – Toby, just – TOBY!” The last word was nearly a scream as Jacob involuntarily flinched away from his son as the blade was brought down.
By some miracle, Toby managed to cleave the cuff in two with a diagonal cut. He pulled the sword and began working to pull the rest of the cuff off when Jacob warned him, “Behind you!” He spun around, sword raised, to have the blade of his sword caught between both claws of the biggest insectoid alien thing.
The alien squeezed its claws tightly around the blade, preventing Toby from removing the sword from its grip, and continued to increase the pressure on the blade, causing the blade to tremble. Just as Toby was beginning to fear that the blade would break, the sword glowed brighter and the claws of the aliens were caught on fire.
Unlike the other alien, this one did not run about in a panic. Instead, its antennae seem to feel out for Toby and, once it had completed whatever check it had in mind, it promptly cuffed him in the face without releasing the sword. Toby was forced to let go or have his neck snapped with the amount of force that the alien had applied to its blow.
The alien moved to strike Toby once more, but the new Knight grabbed the shield from off the shield and used it to block the blow. He was bumped back into the medical bed that his father was lying on, but took no damage. He got his feet under himself and, with another yell, lunged forward at the alien with the shield in front of him. The alien swung at him again, but Toby had moved quickly and managed to get under his guard and knock into his body.
Being that the alien had six legs and was bottom-heavy, Toby wasn’t able to knock him over. He did, however, knock the breath out of him, and that gave the redhead the chance to simply beat it over the head with the shield until the alien’s head had taken enough punishment and simply came off. The body continued to move, but the grip on the sword had loosened significantly. Toby now was able to retrieve his sword, though he had to careful of the alien’s now entirely burning body. Still, the sword was as cool as ever in his hand and he picked it up and brought it back over to his dad.
Three more slices and Jacob was freed from the bed. Father and son immediately embraced as best they could. “Toby, you look… what happened to you?” Jacob asked, bewildered.
Toby coughed. “Um… it’s a long story, Dad. I’ll tell you when I get home? We need to get out of here first.”
“Right…” Jacob looked around and began to head for the door, but stumbled on the first step. Toby managed to catch him before fell to the ground.
“It’s nothing, Toby. When the aliens took us, they injected us with something – it was probably a sedative. It hasn’t completely worn off, that’s all.”
“A sedative?” He frowned. “Then why don’t I feel it…?”
“…Toby, you’re half-alien. Remember?”
“Oh. Right. Um, so, just lean on me and we’ll get out of here, okay?” Toby said, looping his father’s arm over his shoulders. Jacob leaned over almost double on his much shorter son, but the two were coordinated enough that they were able to walk out of the room.
Outside of the room, a very loud klaxon was blaring and the lights were flashing from nearly blinding to almost pitch dark. Toby looked around. “Where do we go…?”
There was a sudden silence and the lights returned to normal. Then, over the PA: “This ship is acting in violation of the peace treaty set for any civilizations of the Milky Way Galaxy and has been detained by order of the Emperor. Knight of Swords, report to the bridge. You should find a map near the laboratory; use it to guide you.” The voice, which sounded female, had a sort of military tone to it. The announcement was cut off with a loud screech that made both Jacob and Toby attempt to cover their ears.
“They’re aliens and their PA system is still noisy,” Toby grumbled. “Let’s hurry and get to the bridge. Do you see the map anywhere?” he asked, avoiding his father’s curious look.
“Oh, look, there it is. Let’s see… we’re here, so…”
“And the bridge is over here, so we just need to head down this corridor past three intersections and take a left…”
The thirteen-year-old looked at his dad guiltily. “Yeah?”
“What is all of this? What is she talking about? What’s this ‘Knight of Swords’ thing, and why are you acting like she was talking to you?” Jacob demanded, each question following the other so that it nearly became an incomprehensible stream of words.
“I told you, Dad, I’d explain it to you once we got home-“ Toby began to say, but Jacob cut him off.
“No, Toby, I want to hear an explanation now! What have you gotten yourself into this time?” he demanded.
“What do you mean ‘this time’? It’s not like I always get myself in trouble!”
“First your baseball practice gets in the way of your chores at home and now you’re wearing some kind of armor and setting things on fire! Not only that, but you seem to know what’s going on around here, and you’re being called up by other aliens? I want an explanation now, young man!”
Toby, tired and sore after his exertions, gave his father a dirty look. “You want to know? My coach is an alien from the same planet Mom was from, and he made me into this Knight thing –“ here he pointed to his armor “-and now I have to go save the universe whether I like it or not, OKAY?!” he finished in a yell.
Jacob stared at his son in shock, whether because of the outburst or because of the contents of the outburst he was unsure. “…Wow.”
The thirteen-year-old suddenly felt bone-tired and wanted to just go home and sleep. “Can we go up to the bridge now and get this over with?”
“…Right.” Toby went over to his father and began to support him once more as they walked through the corridor. It was some time before they got close to the bridge, given that Toby was already exhausted and Jacob was still feeling the aftereffects of the drugs, but they got there before whoever it was on the PA called them again.
Of course, said exhaustion and drugging were no protection once they arrived on the bridge. “So, you finally made it,” a stately woman in armor similar to what Toby was wearing. She had red hair in a bun that peeked out of the bottom of her helmet, and tanned skin. There was a thin rapier strapped to her side, a buckler on her arm, and she looked like…
“Mom?” Toby yelped.
“Tobias. It’s been such a long time since I received any word of your condition,” the woman said calmly. She cast a disdainful look at Jacob. “It’s not your fault, of course. However, I am not your mother.”
“You’re… not.” A part of Toby felt a swell of intense disappointment, but another part of him felt, well, relieved. His mother coming back from the dead probably would have been the straw to break the camel’s back and send him into la-la-land for the rest of the night.
“I’m not.” She continued to coolly regard his father over himself. “Jacob. You don’t look well.”
“Mildred,” Jacob spat out. “Come to meddle where you’re not wanted again?”
Toby pulled himself out from under Jacob, who leaned against a table to support himself. “Wait, wait, wait. This is my aunt Mildred? My aunt that you hate and refuse to talk about, and whenever I bring her up you get angry and send me to my room? That Mildred?”
“Yes,” was Jacob’s answer before “Mildred” snapped at him.
“My name is not Mildred. I am Mardyrdia of the noble House of the Hart of Ixion. I am the Queen of Swords, and therefore your superior, nephew,” was her retort. “Come here. We have much to discuss.”
Toby hesitated before beginning to walk over, but a hand on his shoulder kept him from going any further. “Toby is my son,” Jacob grit out, flat-out glaring at his sister-in-law. “No one is going to take him from me, superpowers or otherwise! Especially not you!”
“He would be lucky to be taken away from you,” Mardyrdia said with a snort. “I would be able to bring out his full potential, not let him waste away to nothingness as you have done.”
“I have done the best that I could with him! I have protected him from the dangers out there; I won’t let him turn out like his mother!”
“At least his mother had courage. You’re crippling him if you teach him to run scared at the slightest of dangers.”
“If he runs scared, then at least he will survive. I’d rather that then just let him die like his mother did – for poking her nose where it wasn’t wanted,” Jacob finally said.
“If my sister died for any reason, it was because she wanted something and she wasn’t afraid to reach out her hands for it. She had a sense of justice that wouldn’t be put off by anything. I am proud to have been related to her.” She turned to Toby. “Toby, come here. From now on, you are under my direct command, as well as the command of my King of Swords.”
“Aunt… er… Mildred…” Toby began hesitantly. “It’s nice to meet you finally, and that you’re interested in helping me, but… Well, I want to stay with my dad. I’m going to stay with my dad,” he corrected himself.
“Tobias – “
“You can say whatever you want, but I’m staying with my dad,” Toby repeated firmly. “You’re not going to change my mind. I didn’t want any of this, but you all put me through it anyway – especially Coach Sparda. I still don’t want any of this, but it’s too late for me to get rid of these powers. I’m still going to stay home, though, and you can’t make leave,” he finished, backing away.
Mardyrdia had one hand on the hilt of her sword, and a look on her face that suggested she wouldn’t mind using it. “Tobias, I understand that you have some attachment to your father. That’s only natural. But it would be better for all involved if you came over here now,” she said, measuring out the last four words of the sentence.
“No.” He continued to back away, keeping his eyes on her the whole time.
The Queen of Swords made to move toward him, but a new voice made her pause. “My liege, don’t be so hasty. You know the rules as well as I do,” Coach Sparda said from behind both Blythes. He patted Toby’s shoulder in passing as he walked forward; Toby recoiled and glared at him, as though the older male were trying to infect him with something. Coach Sparda let out a loud breath, but had no other reaction as he continued to approach the Queen of Swords.
Upon reaching his destination, he sank into a low bow. “Rise,” Mardyrdia ordered, making an impatient gesture with a hand. “Knight of Swords the greater, what are you doing here? I alerted you that I would be taking care of this matter; there is no need for your presence.”
“Be that as it may, my liege,” Coach Sparda replied, “I believe that it was best that I came. You know as well as I do that you are not authorized to remove the Knight of Swords the lesser from his home if he does not wish it so. That is an edict directly from the World herself.”
Mardyrdia scowled. “Are you declaring your allegiance to your ward, Knight of Swords the greater? It’s unbecoming to align yourself with someone of a lower rank.”
“I retain my allegiance to the King and Queen of Swords, and will do so until I am officially retired,” Coach Sparda replied. “But I must have my ward’s best interest in mind and I believe that those lie with the wishes of his father, not you.”
The scowl deepened. “Careful where you tread, Pirithous, or you may find yourself in hot water – and I don’t mean only figuratively,” Mardyrdia hissed.
Coach Sparda – Pirithous – closed his eyes and took a long, deep breath before speaking again. “My lady, I mean no offense. However, I would remind you that as the direct predecessor of the Knight of Swords the lesser, I have the final say in who ultimately has my successor’s best interests. I am concerned that you are merely doing this to take him from his father.
“Humans age faster, but they mature more slowly,” Pirithous continued. “Thirteen years of age is a tender age yet. I believe that to take him from his home and everything he has known at this point in time would cripple him and make him ineffective as the next Knight of Swords, and I would rather not have innocent blood on my hands solely because of a hastily-made choice which should have been put under careful consideration.”
“Are you saying that I am being impulsive, Knight of Swords the greater?”
“I am merely saying that, at this time, I believe that it would be best for Toby to remain here. Other arrangements can be made and considered later on, once he matures, but for the time being, I hesitate to interrupt his growth,” Pirithous replied.
Mardyrdia looked over Pirithous long and hard for a moment before turning her face away and making a dismissive gesture. “Your appeal is heard and granted. Now get out of my sight.”
“A moment more, my liege.” The baseball coach knelt down on one knee and bowed his head. “I have one other suggestion.”
“As Toby will eventually be sent to Ixion, whether by choice or by duty, it would be best if one should educate him in our etiquette and cultural. I ask that you would be the one to tutor him, my liege, and possibly convince him to adjust his plans to arrive… earlier.”
“Hey – “ Toby began to protest, but he fell silent at the poisonous look that Mardyrdia sent him.
“Again, your suggestion is heard and granted. Now, perhaps you will escort my nephew and brother-in-law home. No doubt the long day has taken a toll on them, and they would wish to rest,” she said.
Pirithous nodded. “Yes, my liege.” He stood and headed back to the two Blythes. He supported Jacob’s weight and the three began to move for the door when they were stopped by Mardyrdia speaking again.
“Oh, and Jacob?”
The scientist turned to look at her only slightly. “What.”
“You need to teach my nephew some manners. He should know that it is rude to interrupt when adults are speaking. Though,” she added, a small smile spreading across of her face, “I suppose that he can only learn so much from example.”
Jacob let out a growl, but Pirithous elbowed him in the gut to cut him off. The three men resumed their traveling.
“Well, thanks a lot, Coach,” Toby snapped as soon as he was sure that they were out of earshot of his aunt. “Now I have more classes or whatever it was you just signed me up for.”
“Be grateful,” Pirithous retorted. “If I hadn’t stepped in, your aunt would have abducted you from your home and taken you to Ixion to complete your training, whether she had your consent or not.”
“Over my dead body,” Jacob broke in.
“I don’t think she would have been against that, Dad,” Toby said. Trying to absorb everything that happened gave him both a headache and nausea. “Oh, god…”
“What is it?” Pirithous asked. “What’s wrong?”
“I just… can I go home? I want to go home and take a long shower and just forget any of this ever happened,” Toby sighed. “I’ll deal with this in the morning, but not right now.”
Pirithous nodded. “Fair enough. My pod is in the docking bay; I’ll drop you off at your home before heading home myself.”
“Your pod?” Now that they were out of danger and away from his aggravating sister-in-law, Jacob was beginning to regain his interest in aliens. “Do you mean a small spacecraft?”
“Yes. How else would I be able to move from a planet to outer space?” Pirithous asked, giving Jacob a look as though he were particularly.
“Please. Those are still only a theoretical application,” the alien scoffed.
“…By the way, Coach. Why did Aunt Mildred call you ‘Pirithous’?” Toby asked suddenly as he remembered more of the conversation.
“Because it’s my name,” was the simple answer. “Peter Sparda was the name that I chose for my persona to get closer to you. I’ve been waiting for a long time to tell you about all of this and have you accept your responsibilities.”
“…That’s really creepy.”
“So… now what’s going to happen?”
“Well, you’ll have most of your free time not occupied by school and baseball taken up by lessons in everything that an Ixionite knows, starting with language, and I will begin training you to fight without getting yourself killed,” Pirithous answered.
“And what if I say that I won’t allow him to learn all that?” Jacob demanded.
“Then Toby’s abilities to wilt away until he’s helpless and an easy kill. And people will want to kill him, I guarantee you,” Pirithous answered.
“So he’s stuck between a rock and a hard place,” Jacob concluded.
“More or less.”
“Because you put me there,” the thirteen-year-old muttered petulantly.
“Stop complaining. The sooner you accept all of this, the sooner things will be easier for you,” Pirithous told him.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah…”