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Still no heat in the little Victorian house that could, but that will hopefully change this afternoon. Meanwhile, enjoy.

Tom stared in fascination at the view from her former bird-eyes displayed on the screen. There were people on horseback everywhere. All the horses were white, and about half the people were wearing silver armor with blue bits on, and the other half were... assorted. She thought she recognized some of them from the hunt. The Witch-Queen had swung herself to the top of the fence, where she was balancing precariously in her froggy wellingtons and gesticulating wildly.

The Dean muttered something, yanked some wires out of the box she was holding, and pushed about half of them back in. The view jumped and swung as, presumably, the raven-robot turned its head. Suddenly sound was being transmitted from the mess Tom supposed she ought to call a battle.

Although it might have been a little over the top to call it a “battle,” as it mostly seemed to consist of people riding in circles, shouting, and only occasionally hitting one another.

“You! Call out my warriors!" the Witch-Queen shouted at her minions. "You! Fetch my staff! No, not the castle staff, you IDIOT, I mean my spellcasting staff!”

There was a lot of miscellaneous noise, and then Tom heard Christopher say, in an undertone designed to carry only to the raven he was doubtless still assuming was Tom, “Neither side looks very effective to me. This isn’t much like a storybook battle.” He sounded disappointed.

A number of tall figures (whether human or robot it was not possible to tell) in appropriately spiky black armor marched up just as a panting servant appeared with the Witch-Queen’s carved and jewel-encrusted black staff. She grabbed it and swung it, nearly pasting the servant in the face.

Colorful lines of sparks snaked along the ground, exploding when they hit a number of the knights in silver and blue (and, to be honest, a couple of the Witch-Queen’s hunters as well).

Christopher said, “That’s more like it.”

The black knights waded into battle. Tom thought armored knights looked rather silly, to be honest, but then there was blood and she felt sick.

The silver knights pulled apart -- like a dance move on stage, thought Tom -- and the silly Prince, mounted on a palomino the size of a Shire horse, rode through. He was wearing more expensive-looking armor and his helmet showed his face, which was pale but set. He pointed his sword at the Witch-Queen.

The black knights froze in place. A couple of wounded hunters and silver knights continued to moan, but the scene was quiet for a moment.

The Prince said, “I have been sent to retrieve the stag and the raven.”

The Witch-Queen responded, with an eyeroll, “Obviously.

“You may as well give them up,” said the Prince. “Good shall prevail.”

“Bullshit,” said the Witch-Queen. “And you know it.”

The Prince was silent for a moment, on the back of his impassive, massive steed. “I cannot stop,” he said, finally, and his voice sounded terribly young. “This is my only narrative.”

“Narrative sucks,” said the Witch-Queen, extending her staff at him.

The Prince’s horse took a pace forward, seemingly of itself. “I have no other story,” he said.

“Too bad,” said the Witch-Queen, but the hand holding the staff trembled.

The Prince’s horse paced forward a few more steps. He continued to point his sword at the Witch-Queen.

The Witch-Queen said, “Cat got your tongue?”

He replied, “I’m out of lines. I’m glad.”

“Oh,” she said, staring.

He raised the sword above his head, his face set, and dug his heels into the sides of the horse.

As the horse started to flow forward into a canter, the Witch-Queen threw her left arm across her eyes and pointed the staff. There was a flash of light and the usual explosion.

The Prince was flung from the horse to the ground like a doll and his right arm torn mostly off. Tom found herself thankful that his face was turned away from the bird’s vision. He didn’t seem to be breathing. His horse, part of its hide scorched from the blast to a suspiciously shiny undercoat, stood over him, lowered its head, and froze like a statue.

The Witch-Queen threw down her staff and vomited over it.

The Dean chose that moment to drop the control box and pull Christopher up and out of his coffin. She slapped him once, briskly, and he started coughing.









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