The Diamond Kingdom was a land of many faces, from the young and beautiful to the old and ugly, and home to a multitude of different cultures. The resource-rich territory spread out across fertile agricultural lands and lumber mills. And in the center of the considerable labyrinth of developed residential and commercial property was the neon purple beam shooting from the top of Diamond Castle.
The flashing police siren painted the empty streets blue and red as it raced down the asphalt. Alex sat in the back seat of the Knight’s cruiser, fighting the nagging feeling that the masked driver was glancing at her in the rearview mirror. It was a fight she would win. If she couldn’t handle this small modicum of stress, she had little hope of overcoming any real pressure, and then she would be no good to those who counted on her the most. Since he took command of the military, new faces had entered Drake’s increasingly tight army, and with them an increased sense of rigidness she didn’t recognize. She was glad that her escorts hadn’t confiscated the .357 or its canister- it meant they either didn’t respect her, or were secretly allies that knew what she could do with it. She knew that not all the Diamond Knights had betrayed her but that you couldn’t simply determine a person’s allegiance by looking at them. She occupied her mind by focusing on the Chatter.
As if a stream of consciousness from many minds, she heard “they have her” and “‘Bout time the cops did something right” and “Spoiled Princess, what’chu gonna do now?” all relayed to her in sequence. A single calm voice broke through the chaff. “She’s not like that. She saved my boyfriend and me. If she hadn’t shown up when she did, I don’t know what would have happened to us.” But that was almost immediately drowned out. “Hahahaha” and “Yeah right, shut up” and “kill yerself”. Alex turned tiredly to the window and the passing streets.
With every second they drove, the purple beam became larger, splashing the sides of the buildings with the warmth of royal light for more than a mile around.
The cruiser pulled up to the castle’s grand entrance. Alex stepped out and looked up at the place that had long been her home, following the majestic beam until it penetrated the cloud cover blanketing the night sky.
Alex was ushered in through the front halls to the throne room, the .357 canister in her hands. As the large double doors were thrown open, she was hit by the neon purple light that radiated from the glass floor in the center of the room through the same at the ceiling. Dozens of people wrapped around the walls, anxiously awaiting their turn before their new king. On the squared throne’s armrest, Alex could see a steel helmet given a serpentine flair thanks to the protruding chin and two sets of rubber tubes running from the back across the cheeks. A motherly-looking woman stood tall and addressed the throne.
“I swear to renounce my faith in the traitor monarch,” she said, trying her best to sound obedient when it was never demanded of her before, “and pledge loyalty to my new king.”
The Knights stopped Alex a few feet away from the crystal seat in the center of the beam.
The first time Alex had met Drake was after his predecessor’s funeral when she was thirteen. Magnus Zwei had introduced him and listed his many military accomplishments, from safeguarding the scabs during the Bowler Strike to rallying a defense for the Siege of Clay. What struck her was after the professor had finished, Drake threw in one more of apparent personal importance. The name of the battle wasn’t what lodged it in her mind, but the feeling that, despite its already considerable length, he needed to add one more item to the list, hoping that would be the one to finally impress the young princess with more important things on her mind. Seeing the pathetic theater before her, Alex couldn’t help but feel it again, that strong sense that Drake fought for respect, a consolation prize for winning love.
Drake sat on the throne, the gold crown atop his disfigured head. Upon seeing her, he casually interrupted the woman’s pledge.
“I‘m not detecting sincerity here,” he said callously. “Maybe if you’d started with respect for my position.” He motioned to two Diamond Knights standing off to the side. “Help her find some.”
“What?” the woman asked, looking to Alex for the power to overrule Drake’s command. Though that hope wasn’t able to stop the guards from dragging her out of the room, the “No!” she let out when it was dashed haunted those that heard it longer than it took for its sound to fade away.
Drake turned to Alex. “Welcome home, Princess,” he said smugly. “We missed you. Where have you been hiding?” He eyed a camera ten feet in front of him.
For years, King Diamond had addressed the kingdom through the broadcasting equipment installed across from the throne. Without needing to be told, the operator turned the camera on and pointed it their way. Everyone’s phone beeped for the public broadcast.
“Why would I hide?” Alex asked undisturbed. “I don’t fear criticism.”
“You don’t heed it either,” Drake said, standing abruptly. He walked to her, around her, the sword sheathed at his belt clanking against his armor the entire way.
Alex refused to be intimidated by his intense scrutiny, staring ahead at the steel helmet sitting on the throne’s armrest, thinking it suited him more than her father’s crown.
“Then tell us,” she suggested, “how will you make it so that when the sun rises next, everyone will be happy?”
Drake caught himself at the question, as if he never believed he’d have need for an answer.
“Fine,” she said generously, “how about a thousand sun rises? Ten thousand?”
Drake walked his broad chest directly into her view, as if trying to prove his dominance by shoving his Diamond Badge in her face, the only in the kingdom to have a gold star on home plate. Intimidation was apparently the only tactic he knew.
Alex could hear the Chatter react to his silence. “Doesn’t he know? – Not again! – Answer her!”
Alex looked up into his emerald eyes. “Think carefully, I’ve seen the consequences of failure.”
Fast as lightning, she hit Drake in the gut with one end of the canister, then into his chin with the other, causing him to stagger back towards the throne.
“You don’t know what they really think,” Drake said, rubbing his jaw. “You haven’t heard their voices.”
Alex’s black hoodie hit the ground. In a red tank top, she held the canister and popped the lid.
“All I hear are their voices. Hear mine,” she said, putting her hand to the bat’s black rubber grip. “I’ll die protecting them from you.”
“You will,” Drake said, “and for nothing.” He picked up his helmet from the pedestal. “They’ve abandoned you.”
Alex drew the bat, taking an end in each fist and holding it in front of her like a shield.
“They’re good people. I’ve put my life in dozens of their hands and am still alive to stand before you.”
No sooner had she said this than Drake rushed her, his helmet on with crown on top. He caught his hands on the middle of the bat’s shaft so close he could talk into her face.
“You should be bowing so everyone else knows what it looks like!” he spewed furiously. The helmet gave his voice a metal tint.
“Never!” she rebelled.
A mechanism on Drake’s chin clicked, producing a small flame. She recognized the metal grinding sound immediately – she would never be able to forget. Reacting quickly, Alex ducked for leverage underneath the bat and thrust it up under Drake’s jaw, just as the small tubes along his cheeks blast gas into the flame, focusing a jetstream of fire. Putting all her strength into her legs, she forced his head back. The geyser arced in a line from the far wall up until it was roasting the ceiling above them.
Alex grit her jaw so tight that she could feel her teeth scraping all the way up in her temples.
The geyser stopped. Drake reached down to his belt and whipped his sword out from its sheath, barely missing Alex jumping back. Just as she landed, a fireball lit up the room and flew at her head. She fluidly rolled away, continuing in a curved sprint towards Drake to avoid the missiles flying her way.
The audience scurried away from the blasts as Alex closed in, putting all her momentum behind her bat. Unconcerned by the attack, Drake threw his clawed glove forward and snatched her by the neck, lifting her so high the toes of her sneakers dangled a foot off the ground. He jabbed the tip of his sword into her thigh.
Alexandria Diamond screamed.
“You can’t win,” Drake said and threw her to the ground.
Alex grimaced and clutched her leg. “I don’t need to,” she said through the pain, pushing herself up. “I just have to show people what can happen when you put too much power in one place.” She nodded to the side. Drake turned in its direction.
The camera was staring directly at them, its bulbous lens capturing every frame.
“Then they’ll rise up again,” she whispered.
An elderly woman along the wall couldn’t contain herself any longer. “My God,” she said. “He’s a monster.”
Alex heard something in her headphones. “It’s inexcusable what happened to your family – I don’t know how we got so lost – I’m so sorry, Princess Alexandria…”
“If you’d just bowed at the start,” Drake hissed, “it wouldn’t have had to end this way.” He blew out another stream of fire.
Alex pushed away and somersaulted backwards under the geyser. Catching the balls of her feet, she pushed forward and thrust the bat into Drake’s stomach, doubling him over to the loud crack of a gunshot. She hit him in the leg to bring him lower, another gunshot. She hit him in the chest to knock him onto the ground. Gunshot.
Drake fell to his hands and knees and struggled to look up. He became uncomfortably aware of the people around the room staring at him. His embarrassment made him panic.
“Look away!” he ordered pathetically. “Anyone that watches this will rot in the prisons! Anyone that speaks of it will swing from the gallows!” The flame on the front of his helmet flicked on again.
Alex stepped in front of him, shielding everyone in attendance from his fury. She went through a deliberate sequence of moves she had long ago mastered; she set her left foot out, twisted her waist so the foot rolled onto its toes, and brought the bat back so it ran down the length of her shoulders behind her head. She had locked and loaded her batter’s stance.
“You wanted an audience!” she screamed.
And then the Diamond Princess pulled the trigger.
Snapping her body back, she swung the .357 out with the force of a locomotive. It struck Drake’s metal face.
A gunshot rang through the throne room. The gold crown hit the far wall.
As the ringing fell away, it was replaced by Alex’s heavy breathing. The audience looked at her in stunned silence as she fell to her knees in exhaustion.
“I know you’re angry,” she managed to say between breaths. “If it’ll give you the peace you need, I offer myself.”
Alex held her bat across her hands, presenting it to the room.
“Strike me down.”
But no one dared move.
Then “I accept your offer” came from a voice breaking the spell.
All heads looked around in confusion. “But everyone else will pay first,” the voice said menacingly from a small display on Drake’s forearm.
It was a young Drake with a full head of hair, sitting against a sterile white background that could only have been a government office. The video cut to a presentation he was giving to a military base auditorium, bald again. “You can’t stop the progress of time.”
Alex looked at the lifeless body with the caved in head. “You’re dead,” she said to the screen, mortified.
The video cut again to a heavy set man weeping in a courtroom.
“You’re right,” he sobbed.
“I am,” a blonde woman carried on.
“Dead,” giggled a boy being tickled on a green lawn. Alex recognized him from the crowd. She looked up to find him staring at his phone, scared but unable to understand why. Alex pulled her own from her pocket.
It showed a video of her standing at the crowded entrance to the Diamond Kingdom’s stadium, her denim shorts and slim white t-shirt bright and airy. It closed out the bleak montage.
“I just don’t know it,” she said, and the stream went dead.
© Dane Ian Thomsen 2016
Cover photo © 2016 by Dane Ian Thomsen