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Patrick Stevens

Former mathematics student at the University of Cambridge; now a software engineer.

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Wherein I dabble in parodic fiction. The title refers to the TV Tropes page on Plot Armour, but don’t follow that link unless you first resolve not to click on any links on that page. TV Tropes is the hardest extant website from which to escape.

Jim, third-in-command of the Watchers, ducked behind the Warlord’s force-field, desperately trying to catch his breath in the face of an inexorable onslaught. His attackers, the hundred-strong members of the Hourglass Collective, had never been defeated in pitched battle. As testament to their ability, two thousand of the finest troops the Watchers had to offer stood motionless around him, suspended in time; even now, even with five of the most experienced Watchers still fighting, the Hourglass forces were calmly and efficiently slitting the throats of the frozen soldiers. Skilled in cultivating terror, they were working in from afar, and it looked to Jim as though he would have to endure another half-hour of helplessness before they got to him at last. Jim and the Warlord had only survived this far by virtue of an accidental and uncontrollable burst of power from the Founder of the Watchers, released at a fortuitous moment to counter the time-suspension channelled by the Hourglass. That had given the Warlord time to protect five people, before the Founder had collapsed.

Sophia, the Second Vigilant, most powerful of the Watchers, the Founder’s first recruit, was still fighting. She had been the recipient of the Warlord’s first force-field, naturally, and she was using her borrowed time well. Jim was recovering, moving nearer to her, and her power waxed correspondingly: he was exerting his power to heal her and to fuel her efforts. She began to glow, first dimly but soon as bright as the moon and then as the sun on a cloudy day, and as her light fell on the ranks of the Hourglass, all movement across the battlefield stopped. Sophia gently closed her eyes; in response, threads of light began to take shape around the Hourglass, weaving a net to contain the enemy. Too slowly: a pulse of power blasted forth from the Collective, tearing through the weave and ripping away the Warlord’s force-fields. Sophia teetered on her feet, her power spent, but Jim was too far away, having been frozen in place by the calm Sophia had laid on the battlefield. She fell even as he ran towards her, his healing power growing as he did so, but he was too late to stop her from falling unconscious.

Three remaining Watchers, against a hundred of the Hourglass. The Warlord had used everything he had to create his force-fields. Jim had no offensive abilities at all. That left Christine, who (as the recipient of the Warlord’s final, weakest, force-field) had been badly affected by the Collective’s retaliation. Even with Jim’s presence already staunching her head wound, her skill of intuition was still very much off-kilter. Her mind was sluggish, the chains of correlation and causation drifting to her as through treacle.

After far too long, the first key insight came to her.

“Warlord! Jim! Do you remember anything at all from before you threw up the force-fields?” she whispered to him, with as little voice as she could manage. Even that would have been audible to some of the far-away Hourglass, such was the eerie silence over the battlefield.

Her two comrades stared at her in confusion for ten seconds. At last, the Warlord’s furrowed brow cleared, and he announced proudly that he could recall the whole series of events in perfect detail. Jim nodded along.

Christine closed her eyes. She, too, could now remember the assassination, the declarations of war, the summoning of the Watchers, and the start of the battle. Odd - but the exchange slipped from her mind as she made another connection.

“Since when could anyone stop time?! How can the Hourglass possibly have the power to suspend an entire army? How come you can heal us, Jim? These aren’t normal things for humans to be able to do!”

At the edge of her mind, she could feel an explanation forming, but she was thoroughly spooked by now, and she squashed the nascent reasoning. The final piece clicked into place.

“Jim - say something. Anything - recite the first ten digits of pi, in as normal a voice as you can,” she ordered.

“Three point one four one five nine two six…” Jim recited. He was beyond thinking that Christine was being weird, requiring the value of pi with an army advancing upon them - he had long since learnt to go with her requests for information, as you could never tell which piece of data would cause everything to make sense to her superhuman intuitive powers.

“No - can you say it more normally?” Christine clarified, cutting him off.

In a monotone, Jim reeled off “Three point one four one five nine two six…”

That was all the confirmation Christine’s inductive power needed.

“OK. This will be a shock to you both, Warlord, Jim, but we’re in a story. We’re fictional. This situation we’re in makes no sense at all. We had no backstory until I explicitly requested it, and it took a little while to come to us. And no-one seems to be capable of just saying something! Every time, we’re ordering, or clarifying, or reeling things off, but never saying! We are fictional, and our author is not particularly competent to boot. That gives us a way out of our conveniently dramatic Dire Straits.

“Author! We’re three of the most powerful members of the Watchers, and we’ve been the entire focus of this short story. There are no other plausible protagonists. You must find a way for us to survive, or else the story ends and you will have wasted all this time on another creative endeavour that came to nothing!”

The Hourglass were approaching faster now, provoked by Christine’s loud outburst. Only thirty feet away, then twenty, then ten.

The front runner drew a dagger, and slit Jim’s throat, then the Warlord’s, then Christine’s.