• Published 26th Nov 2014
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Collaborators - Baal Bunny



Ahuizotl threatens to sue A. K. Yearling for libel unless she stops writing the Daring Do books. She makes him a counter-offer.

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Two

II

Even with all the times Daring had been ambushed there, beaten and robbed and left for dead, my cabin in the woods was the only place that could really make the tightness in my stomach relax. Here, I didn't have to worry about being Daring Do or A. K. Yearling. Here, I could just be quiet little me.

"That?" Ahuizotl sputtered. "That's a hovel, not a home!"

"It's where the magic happens." I kept my voice light, but the sight of the cabin this time wasn't relaxing my stomach at all. "Come on in, and we can get started." Grateful for the chance to finally stretch my wings, I flapped over to the front porch, pushed the door open, and gestured with a hoof for him to precede me.

Sniffing the air, he did, and I frowned at his back. Not my best idea, offering to let him co-write the next book.

In my defense, the Kay in me had never expected him to accept. I'd purposefully started with that absurd proposition and had expected to haggle with him till we reached something that appealed to the trifecta of his vanity, his greed, and his lust for power: a cut of all future earnings from the series, for instance, and a public apology where A. K. Yearling admitted her wrongdoing and announced how sorry she was for tarnishing his sterling character. Give him a little speech and some money, I'd thought, all very simple and meaningless, and I could head back home to write without having to worry about his ugly mug till the next time Daring foiled one of his stupid schemes.

But the look that had come over that ugly mug when I'd suggested that he drop his legal claims in exchange for collaborating with me on the upcoming Daring Do novel, the way his long, tooth-filled jaw had dropped and his little, beady eyes had lit up, I'd suddenly felt too cold and too warm at the same time. "Yes," he'd said, his voice deep and rumbling. "My name and likeness beside yours on the cover." He'd slapped the table, Red and Jacket and the other ponies jumping as the crack echoed around the room. "We have a deal!"

The two lawyers had clearly been unhappy, but they'd still drawn up the contract there and then. I'd set the Kay part of my brain to glancing through the usual boilerplate but had slowed down to read the new language for divvying up the profits and the credit and all. My insistence on a 'no pets' clause had come close to sinking the deal, but the Daring Do in me had been adamant: this whole situation stank enough without adding Ahuizotl's herd of cats to the mix.

With a phony smile, then, I'd signed the copy I'd been examining and had passed it over to him. Always the supercilious egomaniac, he'd signed all three copies without bothering to read them, but the way his smile hadn't seemed phony at all had rustled the fine hairs along the base of my mane. Traveling north by train over the next three days with the big lummox in the compartment next door, I'd found more and more doubts cropping up. He'd agreed to this so readily, I couldn't help but wonder what he was up to.

As with most of Ahuizotl's schemes, though, I was pretty sure the easiest way to get to the center was to fall in and then let Daring find a way out. That was how it always worked, after all. So we'd gotten off the train at Lone Pine and had walked from there to the cabin: almost two hours on hoof without a word passing between us.

"Do you ever dust?" Ahuizotl was asking when I followed him inside, one finger of his tail hand clearing a track along the top of my desk.

"I've got better things to do." A quick glance around the room showed that none of the tripwires had gotten sprung while I'd been away, so nothing had likely been stolen.

Of course, the creature responsible for most of the thefts I'd experienced over the years was currently sitting and blinking at my writing desk. "I have never understood," he announced, that overly-theatrical voice of his filling the air like molten wax oozing into a candle mold, "how these typewriting mechanisms you ponies employ can possibly function."

"They're magic." A shake of my head dislodged Kay's bonnet; I caught it in my teeth and tossed it across the room to its hook beside the door. "You think of the letter you want, push down the proper lever, and it gets printed onto the paper. The left lever does the first half of the alphabet, the right lever does the second half, and for a capital letter, you push and hold down the opposite lever first. For punctuation, you—"

"Cease!" His ears had folded practically flat against his long, narrow head. "I shall allow you the honor of recording my immortal words for posterity, then."

I couldn't help laughing at that. "The way most pony magic ends up exploding in your face, yeah, that's probably a good idea."

He scowled, and I did the same sort of flip and fling with Kay's shawl to snag it on the coat rack. "Besides," I went on, "we've got a lot of work to do before we start any typing." I set Kay's glasses on the desk and trotted toward the kitchen door. "You want anything to drink? I've got water, cider, iced tea, or I can put the kettle on if you like."

"Drink?" His shout bounced around the walls. "We stand upon the precipice of a literary masterpiece, and you prattle on about beverages?"

With a sigh, I kept trotting. Amateurs... "Fine, then." I pulled the icebox open, grabbed the jug of iced tea, and set it on the counter. "You got a plot in mind?"

"Of course!" He squeezed through the doorway, a giant smile on his face. "This shall be the book in which—!"

"Ahuizotl beats Daring Do, right?" I shook my head and let the Kay part of me rise to the fore. "Dust Jacket'll never go for it no matter how many lawyers you throw at him."

He stood frozen in place for a moment, his mouth open and one finger raised. Then his jaw snapped shut, and his scowl came back. "Your publisher seemed quite spineless to me. I'm certain Codicil can frighten him into doing my bidding once again."

Flapping up to the high cupboards, I took out a flower vase, one big enough to fit around that snout of his. "You'd be surprised how cut-throat Jacket can be when profits come into the picture. And a book where Daring Do gets beaten? That won't just lose him money; that'll lose the series some fans." I filled the vase with iced tea and pointed a hoof at it. "This stuff's pretty strong, so let me know if you need more sugar or anything."

His snort puffed against the back of my neck, but the gentle airflow over my wings told me he wasn't leaping for me. "Your readers fear being challenged, do they?"

"It's a fine line." Grabbing a normal-sized glass, I glanced along the counter to see his tail hand wrapping around the vase. "In a series like mine, you want to push things just a little with each book, show the audience something that's new enough to fit in with their own ideas about the characters but not so shattering that they feel like you've blown all the stuff they love to smithereens."

He grunted this time, squatting on a stool at the table, an oily but thoughtful look sliding across his face. "As in book four, for instance," he said, tapping a finger against the vase. "Introducing Compass Rose allowed you to shift perspectives ever so slightly, giving new readers a way into the story while shaking the series dynamic up a bit for the old readers."

I almost dropped my glass. "You said in Jacket's office that you only found out about the books last week."

His ears folded again, his cheeks darkening with an unmistakable blush. "Well, now!" I gave a toothy smile of my own, all kinds of things coming clear. Gliding over to the table with my glass, I settled onto a stool across from him. "You're a fan, aren't you, Ahuizotl?"

Swigging a gulp of his iced tea, Ahuizotl grimaced and reached for the sugar bowl. "That fool Caballeron brought me the first book ten years ago while I was recovering from the burns I suffered during our encounter at Mount Salamander. I think he expected that I would tear it to shreds in rage, so to spite him, I read the whole thing from cover to cover. Although I found the characterizations laughable and the writing pedestrian, my featured role in the proceedings made the experience not entirely unpleasant." He dumped about half the bowl into his drink and began stirring it with a finger. "You treated me with more fairness than I would have expected, all things considered, but still, having finished the book, I became even more determined to destroy you and everything you stood for."

Wariness tensed my muscles, but I was sure it didn't show. I've had plenty of practice hiding my true reactions, after all. "You always know how to make a girl feel special, Ahuizotl."

He dabbed his finger against a napkin. "As you continued ruining my plans, I continued going over your novels as sort of 'after action reports.'" Sipping from his glass, he smacked his lips and drained it dry. "Finally, it occurred to me that I could strike at you using this art of yours as a weapon, upending your life, then finishing you off while you reeled in confusion." He set the glass down. "But when you offered this collaboration, I felt that it would prove much more satisfying to force you into plotting your own demise, as it were." His mouth went sideways. "Failing that, however, perhaps I can console myself with the cartload of money I'll be making from this partnership."

Slowly and carefully, I took a mouthful of my own tea, cold and bitter and just the way I liked it. "And there's our plot."

His brow wrinkled. "A cartload of money?"

"A partnership." Pushing both the action-oriented Daring Do and the business-focused A. K. Yearling completely aside, I rolled the idea around in my mind and liked the way it fit. "Daring and Ahuizotl are forced to team up against a bigger enemy that's threatening them both. That way, you get a notch in the win column, and I still don't get any notches in the lose column."

He arched an eyebrow. "A bit of a cliché, isn't it?"

I shrugged. "That's how things get to be clichés, pal: they work."