• 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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Three

III

"It'll never work," I told him.

"Ha!" Ahuizotl was clinging to one of the two-story tall pyramids he'd put together behind the house using nothing but firewood and rope from the shed. "Detail for me how many death traps you have ever built!"

"A valid point." I had to smile. "But I've still managed to dismantle every one I've ever come across."

He scowled. "You will see, Daring Do! This will be the perfect scene with which to end the third of our novel's five acts!" His tail hand began lashing more rope to one side of the thing.

Standing on the back porch, I shook my head. The past month and a half had been, well, fun for want of a better word. The most fun I'd had as myself in decades. Because yes, I loved venturing forth into the wild as Daring Do and living the civilized life as A. K. Yearling, but holing up in this cabin alone with my typewriter, that was what made me who I really was.

And yet? Having Ahuizotl curled up under the nest of blankets he'd made for himself in the spare room downstairs kept my nerves humming the way they only did when I was trying to untangle some ancient cipher or evading fiendish cultists bent on Daring Do's destruction. A. K. Yearling got to sleep in a familiar bed every night, got to eat three meals a day at the kitchen table, and got to engage in hours of conversation with a bombastic yet erudite houseguest. And working on a completely fictional adventure with one of the few other creatures in the world who knew what a true adventure was like?

It was scratching all my various itches at the same time and in ways that they'd never been scratched before.

We'd made good progress, too: hashing out plot points; arguing over the outline; scrawling thoughts and ideas and bits of dialogue on pieces of scrap paper that we then arranged and rearranged by pinning them to a section of the living room carpet. I did the actual typing—the machine wouldn't respond to Ahuizotl's touch at all, it turned out—but I recited the lines aloud from our notes as I typed them so he could shout his corrections from where he paced back and forth in the room behind me.

Was he annoying? Undoubtedly: the Daring Do in me had come close to exchanging haymakers with him on more than one occasion. But as I'd learned from Rainbow Dash and her friends last year, working alone wasn't the only way to work. And Ahuizotl had a gift for language that kept me grinning while I typed. A couple of times, I'd even almost asked him to call me 'Cricket,' the name I'd grown up with and hadn't heard spoken aloud since the horrible events that had sent me running off to reinvent myself as a pony who wasn't always cringing and weeping and—

"Behold!" the trombone blare of his voice announced, and I shook myself back to the present; he'd added what looked like octopus arms of rope to the tops of his two firewood pyramids. "This is the trap Ahuizotl will set for Daring Do amidst the bones of the ancient Land Leviathan!"

"Really." I stepped down from the porch. "Flick a match at it, and the whole thing'll go up like a torch, I'd say."

He gave a snort. "Exercise your paltry imagination if you can, Daring Do! The complex itself would be four times this size and built of solid granite!" He gestured to the ropes. "The trap would be fashioned from steel cables as thick as your leg and twice as supple! But once they have wrapped themselves around our hapless heroine, there will be no escape for her!"

I pursed my lips and thought back to the scene that had started this argument just before we'd taken our lunch break. "So, this would all be desert, right?" I waved a hoof at the patchy backyard, the forest pressing in along one side. "Land Leviathan's fossilized bones are scattered for an acre in every direction, and from what Daring Do understands of the prophecy at this point in the story, all she needs to do is find the one part of the monster that hasn't turned to stone." Nodding to his structure, I settled back to sit in the grass. "Why would she bother with something as obviously suspicious-looking as a double pyramid complex if she's got all this other ground she can search?"

"For one thing, she's not an idiot!" Hanging onto the top of the left pyramid with his tail hand, he folded his arms across his chest. "One would expect Daring Do to have picked up a bit of elementary knowledge during her career as a pseudo-scientist! She would therefore know that nothing of the Leviathan's physical being could've survived all these millennia without undergoing the process of fossilization!"

"Then what—?" An answer came to me, and I cocked my head. "Wait. In the legends Daring hears back in chapter two, you made sure I put in that line about Leviathan leaving its name and thoughts written across the landscape." I couldn't help surging to my hooves as if I really were standing out in a deserted field of bones. "You're gonna tell me these pyramids are built right over Leviathan's front paws or something like that. Right where the monster would've written its last words before the curse killed it."

Ahuizotl's teeth seemed to gleam in the early afternoon sunlight. "The one part of the monster that hasn't turned to stone." He tapped the side of his head. "Its final thoughts scrawled on the spot where it breathed its last!"

Almost tasting the dry desert wind, I half-closed my eyes. "The sun would be setting behind her, and Daring would be standing on the thing's spine, these mounds of stone jutting up from the silent sands. She would turn slowly, squinting into the sunset, and look up along the spine to where the skull lies." I stomped the ground. "We'll have its arms folded under its snout so its chin is resting on its front paws! And the pyramid complex will be sitting right there at the end of its nose! She'll have no choice but to investigate!"

"Excellent!" he shouted. "And then she will fall into the trap Ahuizotl has strung for her!"

"Ha!" I started forward, my senses sharper, I was sure, than they'd ever been. "The triggers are obvious: there, there, there, and there." I pointed a hoof at what had to be pressure points on the surface of the pyramids and the wooden plaza he'd laid out between them. "The doors are suspicious, too, so she'll head for the—"

Something clicked under my hoof; I leaped to the side, but not fast enough. Ropes sprang from among the lashed-together logs and coiled themselves around my legs and barrel. They tripped me, spun me sideways, and sent me skidding across the spintery flooring to bump my nose against the base of the pyramid on the right. "Ow," I said.

"Eloquent as always." Ahuizotl's voice came from above and behind, and I managed to roll enough so I could see him climbing down and settling into a squat beside me.

My throat wanted to tighten, but I wouldn't let it. "Huh." I blew out a breath like I wasn't lying bound and helpless in my own backyard before Daring Do's arch-nemesis. "I guess maybe that would work."

"Yes," he said, and just that one word made shivers crackle down my spine. "But now, you see, we come to the crux of our act three, the mid-point of the story, if you will, the climax toward which all the action so far has been rising." He reached down and stroked a finger, warm and gentle, along the side of my head. "For Ahuizotl has had Daring Do caught in his death traps before, but he has never done the one thing he really should've done the very first time." His finger moved to rest under my chin. "He has never simply wrapped his hands around her neck and strangled her, or grabbed her firmly below the ears and snapped her skull from her spine." The pressure of his finger forced my head up till I was looking into his narrowed eyes. "This has always seemed odd to me."

I made myself give as much of a shrug as I could while surreptitiously setting the Daring Do part of me to work stretching and relaxing my hind legs to loosen the ropes. "Art imitates life, I guess. I mean, I can't very well write that Ahuizotl kills Daring Do when, like you say, he never has."

He nodded. "Then why shouldn't he do it now? Yes, I know that in our plot outline, we have him and Daring Do reach an agreement to cooperate lest the Land Leviathan return to life and in its madness destroy everything they both deem worthwhile. And yes, the resurrectionists have thwarted Ahuizotl quite thoroughly throughout the early chapters of the book. But that doesn't mean he's incapable of stopping them on his own. He might get lucky." A second finger folded down to join the first crooked under my chin. "Luck is going his way at the moment, after all. Should he not take advantage of the situation in which he suddenly finds himself?"

Breathing in and breathing out, I kept Daring Do focused on stretching, relaxing, stretching, relaxing and wouldn't let even the idea of breaking eye contact with Ahuizotl cross any part of my mind. "Well, for one thing, he's not an idiot," I said. "He knows he's gonna need a very specific sort of pony magic to see this thing through, and we've already seen in the second act of the story how that sort of magic doesn't work for him. Besides, he wouldn't trust in luck. There's so much at stake here: why would he take the chance? Neither of them can do this alone, and while the rewards if he and Daring Do pull it off will be more than substantial, well, so will the penalties if they fail." The Kay in me started recalling the punitive sections of the contract we'd signed, but no way was I going to push this little discussion out of the realm of fiction.

For a moment, he stayed as still as a stone idol half-covered with undergrowth. "All valid points," he rumbled. "But you do see his dilemma, do you not? He has her right here." The pressure increased under my chin. "Right here."

The smile I gave him then was one of Daring's best: slow and sardonic and quite thoroughly practiced. "And he'll have her there again. They both know it. It's just that right now, they've got a bigger problem to deal with. And they can only deal with it together."

Another moment quivered in the air between us. "Yes," he finally sighed, and he pulled away just as the ropes around my hind legs loosened enough to let me spring into a sitting position. But by then, he had already loped halfway across the yard. "Perhaps we could take the rest of the day off!" he called without looking back, his voice tight and growling. "I fear I'm feeling somewhat uninspired at the moment!" And he vanished into the trees.

"Okay!" A few shimmies got the rest of the ropes to slide down my upper torso and midsection. "Bright and early tomorrow morning, though! I'll do a rough draft of the scene with the pyramid tonight now that we know how it goes!"

Only the chirping of the birds and the wind in the branches answered me.

Trotting onto the porch, I pushed into the kitchen, closed the door behind me, and collapsed into a twitching pile on the floor. For two seconds—two seconds!—I'd dropped my guard, had stopped being both Daring Do and A. K. Yearling, had truly revealed myself to someone I'd imagined might be a kindred spirit. And I'd come that close to literally getting my head torn off because of it! The fear and the hatred and the anger that had fueled the creation of my two alter egos all those years ago flooded through my mind—

And just like then, I clung to the emotions, breathed them in, breathed them out, and breathed them in again. I could draw strength from them, I knew, not just to keep myself safe from the world, but also in the book. In the scene where the resurrectionists finally realize that the Land Leviathan is going to make them its first victims, for instance...

Climbing to my hooves, I wrenched open the ice box and grabbed the pitcher of tea steeping there. I needed to get writing while it was all still fresh in my mind.