pt 4: The Youngling and the Elements
And I-I would walk five hundred miles, and I-I would walk five hundred more, just to BE the one that walked a thousand MILES to fall down at your door, ta-"
Twenty voices in unison turned towards Mina, shouting.
Mina pulled off her headphones, giving her entire class a very innocent grin.
Don't you guys like The Proclaimers? You got no taste...
Smiling to herself, she leaned back, moving her crutches to the side so they wouldn't jab her in the spleen or something. Singing badly at a loud volume always seemed to annoy people. Which was why she did it. She didn't even have a tape in the Walkman, but she didn't have to tell anyone that...
They were on their fourth school trip, this one to Greece, she guessed it was okay, if you liked lots of tourists, ruins and goats everywhere...they'd visited the Acropolis this morning. And as usual, the little pathetic cripple had to stay by the bus, since "it was simply too dangerous for her among all that debris" ...bullshit. They just didn't want her dad suing their asses if she fell over. Still, she had her little ways of revenge. Annoying everybody was fun. It wasn't as if she couldn't sing or anything,. she could, she just...exaggerated...for the sake of annoyment. "Annoyment"? She wondered if that was a real word...
Okay everybody, we've reached the Caves of Kaliparnassos, everybody walk out of the bus in an orderly fashion, one at a time...
The teacher's eyes paused when they came to Mina. Who instantly recognized it. It was the "...and you can't come with us"-face, the one she always got when there was anything fun going on. To be honest, even though she was used to it by now, she still got pissed whenever they assumed she wouldn't be able to hop ten feet without breaking her neck.
Sitting staring out the bus window, she noticed that it was snowing. Weird. High summer, in Greece, and snow. Oh well. Not her problem...
She sat up, wide awake.
No reply. Then, again:
Okay, this was getting creepy.
Who's there? Bobby, if this is one of your stupid jokes again, I swear I'll...
She grabbed her crutches, and hopped out of the bus, her lame right leg dragging behind her. Whoever was out there wasn't gonna scare her, no fucking way...
This isn't funny!
And again, that soft, beckoning voice, and...she couldn't help it. She had to go to it. Hopping down the path, away from the bus, she noticed the mouth of a small cave, she supposed that was where the others had gone, but she went past it, around the bend, and...another cave opening. But this one was smaller, barely big enough to admit a human of average height, not that this mattered to her, a five foot one scrawny little cripple...and she had to go inside.
It was incredibly warm inside the cave. The snow on her clothes and in her hair quickly melted, soon mixing with her own sweat and grime, as she forced herself through narrower and narrower passages, finally having to leave the crutches behind, crawling on all fours, still hitting her head on the rapidly lowering ceiling. Her clothes scraped away against the sharp rock, until her school uniform was in minuscule rags wrapped around her, but she kept on, that voice calling out to her, forcing her ever deeper into the ground.
Finally, she saw a dim red light ahead, she pushed herself the final few feet, through a tunnel that barely let her through, having to use her weak left leg to press herself out since her arms were locked to her sides by the narrow tunnel. For a while she just lay there on her back, staring into the ceiling that loomed impossibly high above her. Then she sat up, tending to the cuts and bruises she had acquired on the way. Hm. Basically, all that was left of her school uniform were a few ragged pieces of her skirt and her underwear. Not that anyone knew how she looked anyway, the school uniform she had always worn was loose and baggy, to hide the misshapen right leg and her thin body.
So. I thought you had it in you to make it all the way down here.
She looked up, and for the first time saw her surroundings. The cavern she had come to was huge, with small islands of rock immersed in bubbling lava, and on the largest island, the one in the middle, with the thick, natural stone bridge leading to it, was what looked like a Greek temple from ancient times. Only this temple was in perfect condition, and standing in front of it was a tall man dressed in a plain earthy brown robe, his face older than time.
My name is Petro. Then again, all the Priests of Gaea have been named Petro, so this is really nothing to be proud of. He smiled, a kind, friendly smile. Come here, child. The Goddess wishes to speak with you.
Mina tried standing, but fell over, her weak left leg not enough to carry her weight. The old man walked up to her and helped her up, allowing her to hold onto his shoulder for balance. While they made it into the temple, he kept talking about this and that, and she started to realize this man had been down here for a long time.
How is the war going? Have the Germans been defeated yet? Or the Japanese, I heard rumors of that...
Well...uh, the Second World War ended more than fifty years ago...and yeah, the Germans were beaten...how old are you?
The old man smiled, opened a large, iron bound oak door, and helped her inside.
More than seventy years, if what you say is true...but this doesn't matter. Behold...The Mother.
She followed his gaze, and felt her jaw drop open. Sitting on a throne, at the back of the room, sat...well, it was womanshaped. But it was so...female...that she felt herself wondering if she should get a sex change. And when it spoke, she cried, because it spoke to her in a voice she recognized far too well.
WELCOME, MY CHILD.
She dropped to her knees, as did the old man, averting her eyes to avoid the pain she felt when looking at this perfect being. After a while, she felt a soft hand touch her cheek, caressing it.
YOU ARE NOT WHAT I EXPECTED. THE LAST HOST OF THE YOUNGLING WAS A MAN, BUT THIS...WHAT A SPLENDID JOKE ON THE OLD CONSERVATIVE GODS, A CRIPPLED GIRL WITH NO BATTLE SKILLS WHATSOEVER...WELL, PERHAPS THIS IS WHAT THE WORLD NEEDS, AFTER ALL, THE OLD HEROES OBVIOUSLY PLAYED OUT THEIR ROLES LONG AGO...
None of what the goddess said made any sense to Mina, but she would listen, she would do anything for that voice to keep talking to her.
TELL ME CHILD, WILHELMINA BATSON, BY WHAT NAME DID YOUR PARENTS CALL YOU?
Mina struggled to make a sound, any sound, and finally got out a weak little croak.
Muh-my dad always called me Mina, buh-but my mom...mother always called me Billy...
And the goddess laughed, and when she laughed the earth shook, and on some basic level Mina understood that this woman, goddess, was the Earth.
VERY WELL, "BILLY" BATSON...IT IS MY DUTY TO INTRODUCE YOU TO...THE YOUNGLING...
Mina looked up. And saw...herself? It was....a perfect version of herself, a tall, slim beauty with short, wavy black hair that went to her shoulders, a tanned skin (no bikiniline!) that simply cried out "silk", smoldering icy blue eyes, a perfect Cupid's bow for lips, a slight hint of strong, wiry muscle that when it moved would make other muscle move out of the way, like icebergs...she and then her eyes stopped at the breasts whoever had created this being had had a highly interesting, to say the least, view of what size a woman's chest could be before causing her to develop serious back pains. Then again, the being's waist was almost thin enough to be reached around with a pair of big hands, and the hips and buttocks...well, let's just say she thought they would make a plastic surgeon hand in his scalpel and start farming. She slowly reached out a hand towards it, not surprised when the creature opposite her did the same, as a perfect mirror image (and she was the imperfect image), until their fingertips touched. And it spoke, smiling, in her head: Do you accept me?
Mina smiled. And then nodded, answering with her now cracked voice.
And then a blinding flash broke the spell, she fell backwards, into the arms of the old man. Who stood her up.
Welcome back to the world, Youngling...little marvel of godly power, our champion of mortals in a world of gods sprung to life...
And Mina felt herself answer, with a voice that was hers and not hers.
Tyra wiped the sweat off her face, dropped the long, white, frozen arm she had been using as a weapon, and sat down. This was hopeless. They could keep fighting the ice giants forever, since each time they killed one, another two or three came lumbering, they spawned themselves easily in this weather. Their secret was simple, since the ice giants were made of ice and snow, they could create new ice giants by letting a few drops of frozen red blood hit a gathered up mound of the stuff. The one who had best success against them were the young firebird, his waves of heat and flame melted the brutes before they got close, and when they did manage to touch him or hurt him, they melted instantly. Still, with this weather, the battle might go on forever. She wished they had more allies. But Kara had been frozen in mid-air, and apparently she had a weakness against magic, which would explain why she lay still in a huge block of ice a few miles down. They had tried to free her, but whatever the ice was made of, it resisted any attempts at removal.
Mina took the cup of tea the old man offered her and rank gratefully.
Thanks. So, how many goddesses do you date on a regular basis?
To her surprise, the old priest blushed, fussing with the hem of his robe.
Um, I am but the priest of Gaea...she commands, I serve...
Patting him on the back, she stood up, walking over to the far end of the dais where they stood, gazing out through the wicker-woven window onto the lake of fire.
I feel so...strong. Why is that?
The priest, getting up (had he fallen down?), smiled at her. Then he motioned towards a door on the other side of the great hall.
Your answers are in there. Go. See. I will prepare for your...training.
She gave him a curious look, but said nothing. Instead she walked over to the room, opened the door and stepped inside. At first, she saw nothing. Then, when her eyes started growing accustomed to the gloom, she saw again that perfect version of herself. Strange. What did he mean? All her answers...her eyes bulged (and so did the mirror image's), and she whirled around, opening the door wide to let in the light from outside.
It was her mirror image. That was...her.
Oh wow. That's me? I've changed!
The priest came in, smiling.
Yes, it is you. And it is not you. This is the you that is the Youngling, a power that has gone from hero to hero since the dawn of time. You have, quite literally, been given the Strength of Heracles, The Speed of Hermes, the Stamina of Hephaestos, the Eyes of Artemis and the Wisdom of Pallas Athena. Of course, you can look like your old self, whenever you wish it. Simply summon the part of you that is Mina Batson, and you will become her. And when you wish to become the Youngling, you summon it instead.
This is so cool...so what the hell do I do now, go fight crime or what?
The priest shrugged.
If you wish. You might find that your powers are far beyond their scope. You can always try to right the trouble the world is in right now...
Oh, nothing much...just an ancient firegod who has risen in the middle of California, threatening to destroy the world...
It took her a while to realize he wasn't joking. And when she did, she immediately made as to run off, but a slight cough from the priest made her pause.
The priest pointed at her.
Don't you think you should dress appropriately first?
She looked down. Her underwear, which had fitted perfectly on her thin, bony physique earlier, were extended to the point of breaking, and the remains of her skirt now more resembled a small loin cloth. She grinned.
Uh...maybe you're right. What do you have in mind?
He waved towards a closet at the back of the room. She opened it.
Inside hung what looked like old pilot's uniforms, of a very retro appearance, they were all a deep crimson red, with a white cape attached, but they were also all made for a man. She pulled out the smallest one.
That won't, ah, fit you. I assure you. A larger size, perhaps?
She gave him a wide grin back, and shook her head.
This'll do just fine...got any scissors?
After a severe butchering of the garment, she took a look at the results. And smiled. Why not flaunt it when you got it? Ignoring the shocked gasp of the old priest, who turned away shielding his eyes, she pulled off the remains of her skirt and underwear, dropping them in a neat pile on the floor. She struggled into the uniform, wondering how she would explain this to her class, or to her dad for that matter...then she stared critically at herself in the mirror.
The uniform jacket, which was of the old variety that buttoned over the right side of the chest, had been stripped of its sleeves, and the front had gotten a huge hole showing enough of her cleavage to make Cher look like a prude. Juvenile, but satisfying. The collar was left as is, buttoned up it only made the already struggling fabric of the jacket strain across her chest. The black pistol belt had been refurbished, now it was a thin black belt slanted across her wasp-thin waist, which brought one to the leggings. What had surely been a pair of baggy uniform trousers of the jhodpur variety now fit snugly over her muscular hips and thighs, or rather, hip, since she had cut completely away the right leg, and made rounded, neat holes that revealed most of her left thigh. On her feet and calves were the knee-high black leather boots of an era when uniforms had style as well as conformity, but the end result of all this was: a uniform unlike any other. Apparently, the old priest thought it revealed far too much skin to be decent. She didn't care. If she was to do this gig, she might as well have fun doing it.
The old priest lead her into what looked like a vast hangar, where hundreds of old German tanks and other military vehicles stood piled against the far wall.
These are the remains of the vehicles used by those men who attempted to attack and defile our sacred temple. I took care of their drivers personally.
She gave him an inquisitive look.
You're not the first to utilize the powers of the Youngling, child...I filled one of the uniforms out there during the Second World War, when I fought the Germans and their alien allies...
Alien. That would explain the gigantic saucer-shaped craft at the far end, the one with a black eagle or something on a red field emblazoned on the sides.
So, what am I doing here?
The priest motioned towards the crafts.
As you would put it: go nuts! Let loose on these symbols of an evil that unfortunately hasn't been totally extinguished...
She turned back. Really? Tentatively, she walked over to an old tank lying on its side. The vehicle was in good shape, nothing, except for the priest, seemed to age in this place. Well, why not? She raised a fist, aimed, and punched. And to her own surprise, her fist went straight through the inch thick steel armor like a hot knife through butter. She pulled the hand back. Not a scratch. Way cool. She grabbed the gun turret with both hands, wrenching it loose with a screech, and then proceeded to crumple it into a small ball the size of her fist. She dropped the lump of useless metal, not noticing how it sank a foot into the ground from the sheer weight, and continued on.
Passing a huge tank she wrenched loose the gun barrel, and almost absentmindedly, holding one end in each hand, bent it across her chest, leaving a perfect imprint worthy of a plaster mold.
Finally she came up to the gigantic spacecraft, and grabbed the metal. It didn't yield. Annoyed by the setback, she strained more, until finally she managed to rip loose a huge chunk of hull. By then she was sweating. Still with that absent look, she attempted to fold the metal, and barely succeeded, the muscles on her entire body bulging until they almost ripped apart her clothing. Finally she stepped back, dropping the piece of alien metal on the ground.
Turning, she saw the priest nodding, his entire being beaming with encouragement.
So, I'm real strong. What else?
The old man pulled out what looked to be a thin rod surrounded by heavy copper disks, she recognized it from the alien ship, there were several attached to the sides of it. He made a small move underneath the rod, and a beam of red light hit her square in the chest. When the smoke from the ensuing explosion cleared, she was unharmed. The uniform hadn't even been singed.
Uh, I can understand that I'm invulnerable, but what's with the outfit? It's just cloth!
The priest nodded, dropping the gun.
It takes close combat to even rip those garments, not because of what they're made of, but because whatever the Youngling wears becomes invulnerable with him...her...and the strength needed...is rare. Fire, lightning, man-made weapons, none of these hurt the Youngling. In fact, lightning is the Youngling's true element...aim your hand at that tank over there, if you will?
She did, and felt an automatic reaction in her body. A tingling sensation that went from her head to her toes, strongest in her outstretched hand.
Now close it.
She did so, and flinched when a massive bolt of white lightning burst forth from her fist, literally disintegrating the old tank.
In fact, I think it's time for our last lesson...flight.
She stared at him.
He shook his head. He wasn't.
It was an hour later. The old man had taught her to restrain herself, so as not to overdo anything, and promised to make a replica for her school uniform until she came back. She made as if to leave, but halted, a small, quizzical smile on her lips.
So what do I call myself? The Youngling? It doesn't really have a ring to it, does it?
The priest looked a little shocked, but then shrugged.
Use whatever name you want. The Youngling won't mind, after all, you are the Youngling now...
She thought long and hard, and finally gave a broad grin, her pearly white teeth gleaming in the dull red glow of the cave.
Yeah...now I got it...
With a small silvery laugh, she leapt into the air, flying out through a hole in the ceiling...
To Be Continued...