- SIMaS: Chapter 20 – The Raid
- SIMAS Chapter 1 – Link Moss and the Magic Hippo
- SIMAS Chapter 2 – In-Flight Memories
- SIMAS Chapter 3 – Link Moss: Devious Mastermind
- SIMaS Chapter 4 – Curiouser and Curiouser
- SIMaS Chapter 5 – Welcome to Megardia
- SIMaS Chapter 6 – So I Married a Supervillain
- SIMaS Chapter 7 – Little Talks
- SIMaS Chapter 8 – His Excellence, King Link
- SIMaS Chapter 9 – The Megardian Royal Family
- SIMaS Chapter 10 – How Double Lives Start
- SIMaS Chapter 11 – The Morning Report
- SIMaS Chapter 12 – Paradigms Shifting Without a Clutch
- SIMaS: Chapter 13 – Thunderstruck, Enlightening
- SIMaS Chapter 14 – Eris Lives
- SIMaS Chapter 15 – The Guardian Spirit of Megardia
- SIMaS Chapter 16 – Midnight Council
SIMaS Chapter 15 – The Guardian Spirit of Megardia
Unsurprisingly, almost a dozen members of the Sovereign Elite had been mustered to accompany Link and the King’s Guard on his fact finding mission. They very visibly covered the arched entryways to the exhibit: a permanent installation in the Megardia National Museum of Wold History, with the grim and determined ferocity of rebels awaiting the coming of a vastly superior force.
And Link found himself somewhere he never expected to be inside the borders of Megardia: sitting on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
It wasn’t the real one, or at least he hoped that his wife hadn’t recently ‘acquired’ the famous interior of one of Washington, DC’s most famous landmarks. But really, he couldn’t rule it out, because for the first few years after Nathan was born, they had lived in the District of Columbia, and Link did have a certain fondness, during that time, to go and visit his namesake.
Out of a new and rapidly evolving sense of credulity and suspicion, he looked up at the great, seated statue of the Great Emancipator and decided that no, this wasn’t the real deal. Honest Abe was slightly too small, as were the stairs. They were all built to fit inside the admittedly large special wing of the museum dedicated to the United States.
All the great and once-great powers of the world had one: Russia’s, which was split between the Soviet Era and Tsarist times, the British Empire, the Iroquois Confederacy, Austria-Hungary, all the way back to the Persians. It seemed wrong somehow for a nation like the media said Megardia was would have publicly displayed information on the French Revolution. And all of it, as far as Link could tell, contained more unvarnished truth than any of his history classes.
Something didn’t really click with the fact that Megardia was a nation under the thumb of a monarch and whose people had no freedom of speech or the press. And speaking of the First Amendment, Link realized that he hadn’t seen anything in the way of a church or temple in all Megardia. If he wasn’t a member of the Royal family and thus allowed to do whatever he wanted, he imagined it would seem like an alien planet.
There was a slight commotion at the archway directly in front of him and the Sovereign Elite parted before their Queen.
Amanda’s mask was up, but as she strode in, it folded up and disappeared once more into whatever space it resided when not in use. When she caught sight of Link, sitting on the steps beneath the statue of Lincoln, fiddling with some folded pieces of paper in his hands, her once purposeful stride broke and she came on with a more casual gait.
“Somehow, I knew you would find your way here.” She said, a smile tugging her lips.”
“I thought you had a tracking device or something you could have used.” He said glancing up. His own mood lightened when he saw her expression. There was no need to ask: everything was okay again, for the time being.
She nodded and mounted the steps, her mantle trailing up behind her like a bridal train. It was longer now, probably for the theatrics of it. “I didn’t need to use it though. I figured that since you were visiting the museums, you would hear about this and come here sooner or later.
Stopping in front of him, she looked up at the statue. Link turned and did the same. “I was pretty surprised to see it, actually. Did you have it built?”
Amanda shook her head. “That’s been around a long time before me. Megardians liked Lincoln, just not for the same reasons Americans do. For…” She wavered and Link realized she was deciding between saying ‘us’ and saying ‘them’. She settled on a third option, “Most Megardians, Lincoln embodied what it means to be our conception of the Philosopher King.”
“Plato right?” Link asked.
“He came up with it, but my ancestors polished it, removed some of the more egotistical parts of it, and made it into a functioning system. You see, laws lack wisdom. Hammurabi had a good idea, but a law is binary: ‘did you do X or didn’t you?’. It can’t tell circumstances or mitigating factors without becoming so convoluted that it’s easy to play the law like a game and when that happens, they become inherently unfair.
“Megardia’s Philosopher Kings were a line of people, both bred and nurtured to be wise whose word then became Law. We are charged to rule in wisdom and fairness and for the good of all Megardia. And that’s why we like Lincoln: he broke the immutable laws of the United States, violated the Constitution multiple times, not for personal gain, for for the good of his people and his union. Some say he was the first and only Philosopher King of the United States. Others had tries, by they were unfaithful to the good of their people: fighting for power, or resources, ideals, or vengeance instead.”
Link gaze her a curious look. “but the steward before you did the same thing, didn’t he? That’s why you came back to overthrow him.”
Amanda nodded and sat down next to him. “I’ll admit that the system isn’t perfect, but there are fail-safes, and he would not have lasted long if he took the source of our power from me.”
“Why’s that?” he shuffled the papers in his hand.
“I told you about the Guardian Spirit, right? The Source isn’t just how it grants power, it’s how it judges faithfulness to the people of Megardia. And if Titus tried to claim it with his own good in mind ahead of Megardia, it would have betrayed him to his death.”
He stopped playing with the papers and winced. “Harsh punishment.”
“Only for extreme cases. Luckily, most would be rulers are smart enough to abdicate if they know they can’t be true to the good of Megardia, and the Creche system makes sure there’s always someone qualified to take up the mantle of Philosopher King.”
Link frowned a bit at this new information. “That creche thing is what Mr. Cross was using to try and hook Nate up with that soldier girl, right?” Amanda nodded. “And she scored top of her class or something. So does that mean that if Nate doesn’t want to be King after you, she might end up as Queen?”
“Steward, but the principle’s the same.” Amanda nodded and put her elbows on her knees, one hand supporting her chin. “Because my family founded the country, the bloodline is always ‘first in line’, so to speak.”
Link didn’t know what to do with that. The more knowledge he gained about how Megardia worked, the less he understood. But it did raise an important question: “So this whole time, you could have walked away, right? I mean, the ‘creche’ would have had the country’s back with or without you after you took down the corrupt steward?”
It was as if Amanda was expecting it, as she didn’t stop to think about it at all. “Yes, I could have. Sometimes, I thought I probably should have because I was missing so much with you and Nate by being here.” She took a deep breath. “And I almost did step down when I had Chloe. It was just too much; I remembered how hard it was missing all of Nate’s special firsts and I didn’t want to do it again…”
And then her expression got suddenly tranquil. There were tears forming in her eyes, but they didn’t small as she looked Link in the eye and smiled serenely at him. “But now… now I’m so, so glad I didn’t.”
Link didn’t hide his confusion at that. “I… what are you saying, Amanda? What could have possibly happened to make that sort of thing okay? I mean, it’s hell for me knowing you didn’t get to see Nate’s first soccer game, or his Junior Prom—so I know what it must have been worse for you. So what happened?”
She took his hand, the one not holding the papers, in his and gave it a squeeze as she turned and looked out across the floor of the installation below them. “You remember when Chloe got sick?”
How could he not? It was the worst time of his life. All he could do was squeeze back and nod. Weakly, he added “That was a bad time. I don’t know what I would have done if…”
Amanda put a finger to his lips to silence him. They had never voiced that possibility. “I left. I just got up from that hard plastic chair by her bed and I left.” Now the tears did start to fall. “To this day, I have no idea how you didn’t hate me for that, because I deserved it, Link. You must have been thinking ‘what the hell kind of mother looks at her baby in a hospital bed, fighting for her… fighting to breathe and just… just gets up and walks out without so much of a goodbye.”
“You were scared.” Link said firmly, because that was the rationalization he’d used to avoid falling into despair when it happened. “You were scared a-and stressed, and couldn’t take being in that room any longer. So you ran. People run when they don’t know what to do, there’s no shame in it.”
Gripping his hand, she lifted it up to her face and touched it to her forehead as if seeking some kind of absolution. With her face hidden by the gesture, she spoke again. “I was scared, Link; worse than I’ve ever been, and believe me, I have been terrified in my life. I’ve been thrown toward the sun, trapped on a collapsing mining rig a mile under the ocean, abandoned with only a few hours of air in orbit of a distant star on the other side of the galaxy—but all of that was just mortal. It didn’t measure up to living on without my baby.”
She kissed his knuckles and drew his hand down to rest on her chest. “But that night, I didn’t run because I was afraid.” Her voice gained strength and the tears stopped as she recalled what she did after leaving. “I came back here, to the place where the Guardian spirit dwells, in the caves beneath the Palace.
“My ancestors, over two thousand years of the most wise and best educated men and women in outside of Kush and Persia, had written about how the Guardian Spirit if Megardia was once a natural spirit of the island, but the founders changed it, tied it to the people so that everything that any single person who called Megardia their home knew, it knew as well. And through this, it gained not only a unique and binding loyalty to the nation, but immense power. They said that now, it is capable of anything if the request is what’s right for Megardia and the world as a whole.
“I asked it to save Chloe, and in answer, it gave me an artifact that would cure her and gird her against all sickness. All I had to do was have her sleep with it.”
Link stared at her in stark disbelief. “The Hippo?!” He didn’t think to regulate his voice and it carried, echoing off the walls of the exhibit and made some of the Sovereign Elite glance up to make sure everything was alright.
Either because of pent up emotion or just amusement at his reaction, Amanda laughed long and loud, never letting go of his hand. “I told her the complete truth: that it was a magic hippo that would make her feel better. And you know what? She was four then, and now, she hasn’t been sick for more than a day at a time since.”
The nameless soft toy he’d been looking at the morning before they left on their trip. Chloe’s favorite stuffed animal among probably dozens. And all that time, it had been the thing that protected and preserved her. And not only that, but after months upon months of wondering what happened to Amanda and deep down in a place he wouldn’t admit existed, resenting her for taking off and leaving him with a daughter at death’s door and a son who was taking it even harder, he found out that she’d done it all to save Chloe.
Link found himself blinking rapidly and wondered why there were tears in his eyes. He withdrew his hand from Amanda’s grasp, much to her surprised and hurt expression, only to wrap her in a hug. It was just like the night after she returned with that miraculous bit of plush and the doctors told them that they would not be burying their daughter. There were tears of relief and joy and all other emotions spilling out.
He found his lips next to her ear, her face buried in the crook of her neck and he murmured, “I’m sorry.”
“For what?” Her hot breath touched him even through the dress shirt.
Drawing back, he gathered both her hands into his and rested his forehead against hers. “I… I was angry with you, Amanda. I felt betrayed that you would just take off like that and then never explain why. I mean, yeah, I thought maybe you were just ashamed, but I deserved something to explain it—at least I thought I did then.”
“You did.” She said quietly. “I just couldn’t give it to you. Not then. Not… right after we’d just gone through that. I watched you almost break, Link. I know because I almost did too. I couldn’t break you again.”
“I didn’t break this time, did I?” He asked. “I’m… handling it. The weird moral questions, the politics I don’t get just yet, even the…” He couldn’t actually say ‘assassination’, because that might make what had happened real, “What happened back there. I pulled through. I… survived.”
Amanda looked at him with glittering, loving eyes. “Yes, you did; maybe I was being a bit too protective of you, but on the other hand, we did have to uproot the kids and that’s never good.” She took back her hands and sat back, scrubbing her eyes with the heels of her hands while composing herself.
After clearing her throat a few times, she asked, “So: did you figure out what you were looking for?”
In reply, Link flourished the papers.
“And you couldn’t have just used the internet from safe inside the palace… why?”
Link unfolded the papers. “Because they might be monitoring the usual websites and search engines and I’m not a hacker. But I figured with all the focus on Philosopher Kings and Knowledge and all that, Megardia would keep a ton of useful information public. Speaking of which, why no library again?”
“The same reason we don’t have plastic: resources. We’re an island with very few trees and no trade. The moment it became possible to store content digitally, we digitized everything and recycled all but the first editions and rare books.”
“Which makes me wonder: where the hell do you get metal?”
“Mines.” She said with an eye roll, then smirked, “And a bit of sorcery. Aluminum and iron are present in magma, which we have access to in spades thanks to the volcano.”
Shaking his head, Link shuffled the papers. “I’m never going to get used to this place.”
“So what did you find out?” Amanda asked to change the subject.
Link showed her the papers: notes he’d taken on his royal tour of the city’s museums after hours. “Eris is a Greek goddess. The Goddess of Discord to be exact. Her motto boils down to ‘Chaos? Destruction? Mayhem? My work here is done’. Started the Trojan War by getting other goddesses to fight over a golden apple marked ‘To The Fairest One’. She’s not really good or evil just… shirt stirring.”
“Shit stirring?” Amanda held in a laugh.
“Best way to describe her. She like causing strife and she doesn’t care about to who. She’ll play every side against the center for the hell of it.”
“And that’s who wants me dead this week?” Amanda asked, “Not very original.”
Link shook his head and showed her another paper, this one a list of words. “Recognize these?”
“Hmm,” Amanda took a closer look. “Enyo, Bellona, Discordia… I don’t know. Should I?”
“Well for one,” said Link, “They’re all other names associated with Eris. But I remembered seeing these somewhere else too, and then I remembered our conversation tonight with Thunderstruck about another group that seems content to play both side of the superhero/supervillain community against each other, harder than they’d normally play things; and then I remembered:”
The next page he revealed was a print out of a news clip he’d retrieved from the Megardian Museum of National Pride and History’s extensive collection chronicling the many outings of their beloved Queen. It depicted a fully masked Amanda in flight, facing off against the superheroes Aero and Hypernaut as the former attempted a raid on an Extraordinary Response International Services aerial command center.
Link had paused it at a place where the hull of the massive craft was clearly visible, as were the twenty foot high letters painted on the side, bearing the flying fortress’s name: Bellona.
And from beneath that sheet, he produced other video stills, showing two other Extraordinary Response International Services command centers, the Enyo and the Discordia.
Staring at the evidence before her, Amanda couldn’t help but piece it together out loud. “Extraordinary Response International Services. E.R.I.S. Oh God… Eris lives. And they’re making all of us fight for their amusement.”
Bookmark the permalink.