20. Not a Damsel in Distress
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Leaving magic class, I was grateful that none of my classmates followed me to subterfuge. Having to face anyone who'd seen me naked so soon after it happened, would have been unbearable. There was one teeny tiny problem however, I had to walk the hallways by myself, and who knew what Micheal or his friend Victor would do.

Sure my friends might not be able to do much compared to a lot of the students in Doom Valley, none of us except Ivy were great fighters, or knew a lot of magic, but I'd have felt better simply having someone with me. Safety in numbers and all.

So it was just my luck that Victor and one of his minions were waiting for me as I came through a secret entrance into a broom closet.

As soon as I looked at Victor I started thinking he was really cool. If I'd been even a quarter of the man he was, I'd have never been tricked by Micheal. He had the muscles I always wanted, the confidence, the smile that made people want to believe him. He was great, so much greater than me.

I found myself looking at my feet. I wasn't worthy of looking him in the eyes. I was weak, incompetent and useless. Maybe if I was really, really lucky, he'd let me tag along with him. Then at least I'd have a chance at becoming better, and people would think I was a little cool.

A tiny voice in my head spoke up. This was Victor, I'd beaten him up with a lunch tray. How cool could he be if a worthless idiot like me could knock him down and keep him there?

“Petra,” he said.

Why did he sound so awesome? Why couldn't I sound like him? It wasn't fair. I started to see red.

“Petra, pay attention. I want- URK!”

My knee introduced itself rather violently to his crotch.

The psychic creep doubled over, giving off a high pitched wheezing.

His minion stared at me in surprise, too shocked to do anything. Taking a lesson from Ivy, I went for his throat, punching him as hard as I could in his oversized Adams apple. He went down gasping for air.

I really wanted to do more damage, but I couldn't be late for class. And I knew I'd gotten lucky, catching them both by surprise. If one of them recovered while I was beating up the other, it could get bad really fast. So I did the smart thing and took off running.

The bell rang just as I got to my desk. Gasping for air, shaking from adrenaline, I couldn't help grinning. I'd gotten my first real victory all by myself. More importantly I hadn't embarrassed myself. There'd been no helpless damsel in distress, no fear, no thinking I was about to die, or anything.

Actually as I thought about it, the first time I'd hit Victor I'd done pretty well there too. This was really my second flawless victory at Doom Valley. Maybe I wasn't so helpless after all.

“What are you so happy about?” Clarice whispered.

“Tell you later,” I whispered back.

Bob stopped talking and glared at me from his podium. “Petra, what did the philosopher El Im G'rak say about the truth?”

Desperately trying to remember what I'd read the night before, I slowly stood up, hoping to buy some more time. “He said, 'Truth, is in the eye of the beholder. I never tell the truth because I don't believe there is such a thing.'”

The Dwarf nodded. “Correct. While there is truth, it's a lot less common than most people believe. And it's possible to change it a bit if you look at it the right way. To be successful in the art of subterfuge you need to learn how to look at things in different and often uncommon ways.”

Sitting back down, I quickly started writing.


“You punched out Victor?!” Clarice asked, sound astonished.

“No I kneed him in the crotch. I punched his brainwashed minion,” I corrected her, polishing my nails on my shirt.

“Good work,” Honey Creeper said. “He's got half the boys in our dorm too scared to go near him because of his mind control.”

“What about the other half?” I asked.

“They punch him or throw lightning at him when he starts talking.”

“Smart and effective.”

We reached my secret passage. “Are you worried about Micheal?” Clarice asked.

“No. If I see him I'll tackle him and start punching. Violence seems to work,” I said, trying to look more confident than I felt.

Saying goodbye and wishing each other good luck, we parted ways. This time instead of going slowly and carefully down the creepy tunnel, I jogged along. Buoyed by my victory over Victor I was ready for anything.

So I was actually a little disappointed when nothing happened. I made it safely to history and was able to sit beside Ella with absolutely no problem whatsoever. Strangely that made me more nervous than I had been.

“I set things up with Blood Wing,” I whispered.

“Excellent. Any problems this morning?” Ella asked.

“Victor tried to mind control me, it almost worked. But before he could do anything I hit him and his minion, then ran for it. They weren't expecting it and couldn't do anything but whimper.” I beamed as I told her.

She got out of her seat to give me a hug. “Good work. Between my plan and your fists, we're going to show them not to mess with us.”

Ms. Parch strode into the classroom, motioning for silence. Waving her hand, a large tome appeared, opening itself on her lectern. Taking her place at the front of the class, the minor goddess began her lecture, her scratchy voice filling the classroom so everyone could hear.

“Today we're going to discuss the break up of the First Arp Empire of 360 BP. First how did the Empire break apart?”

Ella of course raised her hand. Ms. Parch passed her over pointing to a boy at the back of the class.

“The Mad Immortal Emperor lost his empire in a poker game.”

“Did he lose all of his empire?”

The boy thought for a moment. “He kept the Imperial City and a hundred kilometres of farmland around it.”

Ms. Parch nodded, her parchment-like skin rustling oddly. “Correct. Next question, how was the empire divided?”

Again Ella raised her hand.

Another student answered. “It was split into five parts, each part going to one of the other poker players. The God of Thunder gained the Dragon Spite Mountain range and highlands. The Great Bird Spirit of the Southern Isles took the southern region. The north went to the Demon of Bitter Cold. I believe the West was taken by the Goddess of Fertility. And the East, which was the smallest part, was given to the Dragon Warlord.”

“Very good. Now why did he loose his empire.”

Ella raised her hand once more and was passed over.

“Because he tried to bluff on a pair of twos,” a girl said.

“Essentially correct, but why did he risk his empire? Ella?”

“There were three reasons. The most important one was The Immortal Emperor decided he needed a vacation. The second one, was that his subjects were getting annoyed and thought they could do a better job of ruling than he could. Finally the gods, demons, spirits and other rulers were getting worried about how big his empire was getting. He decided to kill three birds with one stone and threw the game after betting his empire against the combined wealth of his opponents.”

I waited for the goddess to tell Ella she was wrong. I knew the Mad Immortal Emperor was mad, it was in his name, but that was insane.

“Correct. And what happened afterwards?”

“Daddy took a break for a hundred years, then slowly began making deals to regain control of his old territory. It took him a few centuries, and The Pub Crawl of Chaos forced him to slow things down for a while, but he now has most of his old territory back. And after dealing with gods, demons, spirits, all of which don't know much about ruling, and war happy warlords, the people are mostly happy to be back in the empire,” Ella said.

My friend sounded quite pleased with her father, and honestly I couldn't blame her. The whole thing didn't sound quite so crazy now.

“Very good. Now lets get into the details about the event and the results,” Ms. Parch said.


Leaving history class, I tried to work some feeling back into my cramped hand. Ms. Parch really liked making us take notes, which made sense since she was the goddess of written history. I wished I could afford one of the new phantom pens, they were supposed to be capable of writing down whatever someone said to them. The older ones had problems with writing down everything they heard, but the new and improved ones could be made to focus only on one person.

Unfortunately they cost a fortune, and after buying all my basic school supplies, I was broke.

Ella and I got to the cafeteria, I didn't even bother going to the counter to collect my barely edible lump of food. Taking a seat I thanked my friends who each handed over a dish or drink and started eating. Maybe on the weekend, I'd have the time to figure out what was going on with my food.

Garth sat down beside me as usual, but this time he was particularly close. In fact our legs and arms were touching. I scooted to the side to get a bit of space.

“I had a run with Victor,” I said, once everyone was there. “I'm not sure what he wanted, but he tried to mess with my mind. I beat him up before he could do it.”

Naomi grimaced, reaching for her spear. “I really want to stab one of those guys so they know to leave us alone.”

“If you do, try not to miss,” I grumbled, still annoyed about the other day.

That made her blush in embarrassment. “I'm getting better,” she said.

“Was anyone else bothered?” Ella asked.

There was a round of 'no's' and the shaking of heads. Garth didn't say anything, but he did get closer to me, once again touching my arm and leg with his. And he put his hand on my hand.

“You're beautiful,” he said.

“Uh, thanks,” I said, leaning away from him.

Most of the table smiled, Clarice actually giggled and whispered something to Gold, kissing him on the cheek as she did. Naomi frowned and handed her boyfriend Antoine some money. Ivy ignored us, too busy eating her raw cow leg to pay attention to anything. Ella looked at us, concern plain in her eyes.

“I want to be with you forever,” Garth said. He was looking at me like I was the most beautiful person in the world. “I'll do anything you desire. Climb the highest mountain, slay a dragon, conquer a kingdom, if you'll simply say you'll be mine.”

Raising my hands to keep him back, all I could say was, “WHOA! WHOA! WHOA!” My brain didn't want to work, too shocked and a little disgusted to form proper words.

“Garth, did you see Victor?” Ella demanded.

Grabbing my hand, my wannabe boyfriend stared deeply into my eyes, not seeing the mortification I was feeling. “Petra, you're my sun, my goddess. Give me a kiss and I can die a happy man.”

I decided to try to figure out what was going on. “Garth, did you see Victor?” I asked, repeating Ella's question.

“I think so. But he didn't do anything to me. I was thinking too much of you. I want to kiss your sweet lips, and hold you to my chest forever.” He pursed his lips together, leaning in for a kiss.

My friends had stopped laughing a while ago. Gold and Antoine got out of their seats and pulled Garth away from me. Calci poured some water into her hand and splashed it in his face.

“Wh-what?” Garth said.

“Garth, do you still want to kiss Petra?” Ella asked.

“Yeah,” he said, shaking his head. “But not like I did a minute ago. Gods, I've got a headache.”

Ella made a fist and hit the table. “So that's what Victor wanted to do to you Petra.”

I shuddered at the thought of throwing myself at Garth and kissing him. If I hadn't been quite so stubborn, I'd be playing the perfect little love struck girlfriend.

Looking at my friends, I was determined to have my revenge. “Micheal and Victor are going down!” I vowed.