The Grammarian screamed with rage and dove for the Avante Guardian's neck, his powerful fingers outstretched.
Surprised, the Avante Guardian's reaction was not as lightning-fast as it could have been. The Grammarian actually got his hands near the Guardian's throat before they were batted away so vigorously that he was knocked backwards over Professor Verbosity's equipment. It all came falling down with a crash on top of the Grammarian. The residues of the sentence-memes that still clung to his costume were electrostatically sticky, and the electronic components hung onto the Grammarian like ornaments on a horribly sloppy Christmas tree.
The Avante Guardian had the good manners to hide his smile behnd a hand, but Idiom Boy openly snickered.
"Listen, Grammarian," said the Avante Guardian, "I don't know why your upset. I just rescued you from Professor Verbosity, for pete's sake! I'd have thought you'd be grateful."
"I had everything under perfect control! I didn't need you crashing in here messing things up." As he spoke, the Grammarian pulled the sharp-edged bits of circuit boards and sub-assemblies from his clothes. A high-density capacitor snagged on his cloak and caused a small rip in the smoky gray fabric.
"It sure didn't look like you had things under control," said Idiom Boy. "In fact, it looked to me like you were on the losing end of the stick."
The Grammarian put a hand to his forehead and rubbed it. "It appeared that way to you because neither you nor your employer have Professor Verbosity as an arch-enemy, while I have been battling him for years. He's planning something big, something whose scale is far beyond anything he's attempted up to this point. I was trying to learn what it is, and the only way to do that is to trick him into revealing it."
The look of confusion on the Avante Guardian's face was complete. "But you were losing."
With difficulty, the Grammarian took a deep breath and counted to ten before speaking.
"I lost this fight on purpose. I couldn't make it look too easy, or Professor Verbosity never would have fallen for it." The Grammarian sighed. "I will admit that the verbal bonds he used on me were much closer to flawless than I expected, but that's beside the point. He never would have let me die; I'm too important to him as an audience, the braggart." Another capacitor was badly snagged on the Grammarian's titanium flexalloy shin guard. He pried it off with a screwdriver from the Professor's workbench. "Once it was clear to him that I was helpless, he would have taken me to the location of his latest project, shown it to me and explained it in excruciating detail. Yes," he sighed again, "excruciating, and in the literal, not the figurative, sense of the word. Still, it would have been worth it to crack this case. Now the work of months is completely undone, thanks to you two." He scowled, checking himself for remaining bits.
"Oh." Avante Guardian stood, thinking. The effort was plain on his face.
"Is that really how you work?" said Idiom Boy. "You track people down for a long time before you move on them? That doesn't sound like much fun."
"As opposed to the 'smash in the window without a second thought' modus operandi of you and your cretinous employer?"
"He's not my employer, he's my partner. And he doesn't even like croutons." The Boy paused. "Uh, do you, boss? I mean, partner?"
"Do I what?"
"You mean those little bread cubes on salads?" The Avante Guardian considered for a moment. "Yeah, I like them sometimes, if there not too garlicky. The cheese ones are OK."
"Really? You like croutons? I could have sworn you didn't. That one time when we were at lunch, over at Manzolini's, that Italian place on 14th? You told the waitress -"
"BE QUIET!" Both Idiom Boy and the Avante Guardian jumped at the Grammarian's shout. "I said cretinous, not, not... the English language doesn't even have an adjectival form of the word crouton! How could you confuse cretinous for -" He stopped himself, clenched his fists and took another deep breath, then still another as he counted to ten, twice. When he opened his eyes, the other two heroes were standing awkwardly, exchanging glances.
"I'm leaving." said the Grammarian. "I have a lot of work to do, or rather work to re-do, thanks to your exploits of this evening." He swirled his cape around himself, the nanofabric rippling into a perfect camouflage. To the unaided eye, it was as though he began to blur, fading into invisibility, all except for a large, irregularly shaped patch around his knees. Small sparks were crackling around the hole torn by the Professor Verbosity's capacitor, and the invisibility effect was flickering like a bad fluorescent light bulb. the Grammarian gritted his teeth.
The Avante Guardian said, "Hey, Grammarian?"
Near the doorway, a dim, shimmering outline with a big flashing patch at its knee paused, as if waiting to receive an apology.
"If you were going to be wrapped up and helpless when Professor Verbosity took you to his secret hideout, then how would you have been able to escape once you were there? What would you have done?"
From the outline came the sound of someone drawing a deep breath, holding it, then exhaling quietly.
"I would have thought of something, Guardian."
With a whoosh (and a slight crackle), he was gone.
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