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Adram cleared his throat. "I'm Adram Alek, and I'm here to ask you a question: is a man not entitled to the sweat of his own brow? No, says the man in Maar Sul. It belongs to the poor! No, says the man in the church. It belongs to the memory of Cardia! No, says the man in Remonton. It belongs to everyone! I rejected those answers. Instead I chose something different. I chose the impossible, I chose... Ravensworth!"
Princess Maple took the news of her father's disappearance at the Battle of Victoire stoically.
"There is no time for tears," she said, "If Father is truly dead, then I shall be Queen. I have to show my people that I am ready for that, even if I am confident in his safety."
"Why are you so sure he's OK?" inquired a Maar Sulais maid.
"He's terribly smart," Maple replied. Then, a moment later, amended. "For a Scun."
Outside, a throng of agitated Scuns waited for a speech.
"You're on, Highness," said an aide.
"One moment. Maid, fetch me two pencils and my underpants."
Puzzled, the aides looked on as the vertically-challenged Princess of Scundia stretched a pair of underpants over her head and inserted two pencils into her nose and marched out to meet the waiting crowd.
"Wibble," she announced.
Then she vomited.
"So how will we know that we've reached this... time machine?" Refan huffed. "I'd hate to be buried alive so I sincerely hope you're not pulling our leg, professor."
"Don't worry. The TARDIS is quite easy to spot. It looks like a phone booth," the Lindworm replied.
The thief blinked. "A what?"
"A phone booth. It's short for a phonetics booth which is used in grammar schools. People enunciate in the booth; it was originally built for Scuns who had trouble pronouncing words properly."
Refan rolled his eyes. "I know what that means; my brother used to joke that if I didn't learn to pronounce 's' and 'r' properly before I went to school, I'd end up in a phone booth with Scuns. But what does TARDIS stand for? It sounds like 'retard.'"
"You're half correct. The name itself has nothing to do with retards but its designers, the Scuns, could be classified as such as they gave it quite a... unique name. TARDIS is short for Traumatic Ass-Raping Discontinuity Isolator-Stripper. I'm sure you understand why we prefer to abbreviate the full Scunnish name and just call it TARDIS in academic circles."
"That name makes no sense! What the hell does a stripper have to do with discontinuity?" Refan gasped. "Wait! You're just joking, right? There's no logical way that idiots like Scuns could've created something so advanced... unless the future has gone straight to hell."
Leon leaped back in alarm as the snowman suddenly smiled and began to dance around.
"Hi, everybody," it said in a cheerful voice, "I'm Fro--"
"HOLY SHIT, IT CAME TO LIFE! SHOOT IT! SHOOT IT!" shouted Leon in panic.
"Wait," it said, "I'm a friendl-- AARGH! MY EYE! MY FUCKING EYE! Augh! No! Stop shoot--urk!"
As soon as Frosty hit the ground, Leon started kicking snow all over the place, and lit the top hat on fire.
It had been a close call.
"Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Leraje: a fellow of infinite bravery, a most excellent opponent," Ronove heard himself saying as he gazed into the eyes of a severed warrior's head which he held in his hand.
The tattooed man, Leraje, rolled his eyes. "Why do you always have be so fucking melodramatic every time you kill someone you deem 'worthy'? You're embarrassing me!"
Khalid's eyes moved from the grisly scene to the massive army of undulating red that stood there in the horizon like a force of nature. Then he turned to Razoul, tears filling his proud eyes perhaps for the first time in a long while as he realized the futility of it all.
"You're a monster," the Sultan whispered to the black man, his voice cracking. He clenched his fists and had to lean on the wall for support.
Razoul's fingers wandered absent-mindedly on the surface of his father's bloodstained Ebony Helmet. "I am what I am. Someone has to be," he muttered and turned to the guards.
Jono let out a loud shush, and shook his finger vigorously in a random direction. He could imagine his companion off to the side, shaking like a girl, weeping silently and biting his nails. The sad bastard. He guessed it was up to him to save the day once again. It was then that he reached out with his senses, tapping into the strangest facet of his Innate Ability, a more powerful connection to the supernatural plane than your average joe. Searching through the voices of the dead, he tried to pinpoint one to come to his aid in this nefarious contest. Suddenly he was touched by the voice and shade of noble lady, her aura enveloping Jono in warm sensations. She whispered in his ear, and he repeated aloud:
Want your bad romance."
After several minutes more of this poetry, Jono slowly felt the lady leave him. He was alone in silence until he heard the Lindworm sniff, and begin weeping.
"It's so beautiful! My apologies, friends. No one with such genius could be a thief."
"What do you want?" Izael hissed, careful not to raise his voice.
Thrax smiled. "Oh, it's the other way around, Izael. The real question is: what do you want? Follow the Master's orders to the bitter end, or live happily ever after with your true love?"
Izael bit his lip but remained silent. Thrax always turned questions upside down, and the most unnerving thing was that he always hit the mark, finding your weak spot.
"Good. That's all the information I need," the Totenkopf said. "You may keep your lips sealed, but the rest of your body has betrayed you. A pace, a glance, a turn of the head, the flash of your throat as you breathe... even your way of standing perfectly still--they were all my spies."
The dark-haired man blinked. "I've never seen you before! Get out before you get hurt!"
"Was I so insignificant back then that you didn't even bother to memorize me even though I told you that this day would come? Very well, Wanderer. Let me introduce myself once more. Listen closely, because the following words will be the last ones you'll ever hear," the count said and pointed his staff at the man. "Hello. My name is Belial de Ardyn. You killed my brother. Prepare to Die!"
Elsewhere, a six-fingered man suddenly snapped, "Will you stop saying that!?!?"
His companion looked puzzled. "Saying what?"
"Never mind, it just seemed like the right thing to say at the time. Fancy some more magic mushrooms?"
- During the duel between Maple and Glaurung:
Maple faltered briefly, but then resumed her magical attacks. "I know nothing about your brat, only that you've upset some very powerful people and they want you dead."
Every attack was countered in turn by Glaurung. "You think I'll believe that? You don't know who you're fucking with. Take this back to your masters: You kill him, you kill yourself, you motherfuckers! GIVE ME BACK MY SON!"
Mel Gibson popped out of a tent, accompanied by a pair of lawyers. "Um, excuse me," he began, "But you can't say that, it's a famous line from my--"
Maple cut him off with a snarled "Incende!" and Mel and his lawyers burst into flames.
- Glaurung's message:
The sky sparkled with magic above the western lands of Libaterra, in the area controlled by the Crimson Coalition. A shining, projected image of Commander Glaurung Losstarot appeared above the awed people all around the countryside. She was clad in full green armor and helmet and looked more menacing than ever before.
"Greetings, brave men and women of the Coalition! I have grave news that I wish to share with you: my son, Hannibal Losstarot, was kidnapped for ransom a few days ago, and our enemies in Alent and Maar Sul collaborated in this foul deed," she said, and a drawing of Hannibal appeared next to her. "This is a recent sketch of my son. Sweetie, if you're watching this, I love you."
Then the magical image expanded, showing Glaurung standing in a room full of gold coins, jewels and other valuables. "And this... well, this is what waits for the bastards that took my son away from me. This is your ransom. Two million gold pieces, just like you wanted. But... this is as close as you'll ever get to it. You'll never see any of this money, because no ransom will ever be paid for my son. Do you hear me? Not even one coin!"
Glaurung held a dramatic pause before she continued. "Instead, I'm offering this money as a reward on your heads, dear kidnappers. Dead or alive, it doesn't matter. Congratulations, you've just become a two million gold piece lottery ticket... except the odds are much, much better. Do you know anyone who wouldn't turn you in for two million gold pieces? I don't think you do. I doubt it. So, wherever you go and whatever you do, this money will be tracking you down for all time. And if I ever get my hands on you bastards, I'll make you wish you had never kidnapped my son!"
"But... and this is your last chance... if you return my son alive and uninjured, I'll withdraw the bounty. With any luck you can simply disappear. Understand this... you'll never see this money. Not one coin. So, you still have a chance to do the right thing. If you don't, may the gods be with you, because nobody else on this world will be!"
The magical image of Glaurung disappeared, and the skies became still once more.
Qadohi raised her hands in the air as she addressed her kin. "Behold! The tailless ones have chosen to walk down the Path of Blood! Now they shall face the ultimate challenge, the one who is known as Deathfang, Terror Incarnate, Eater of Souls, Doomgaze, Sharpclaw, and Beast of the Bottomless Abyss!"
The ground shook, and the heroes drew their weapons as they saw the glowing, blue eyes glowing brighter and brighter in the shadows. They could see something dark emerging from the gate, and they prepared themselves for battle.
Qadohi's voice grew louder. "Step forth, you who are the deadliest creation of Lord Shakkan, you who are his pride and joy, you whose true name is..."
Khasra blinked in disbelief once the black creature had fully emerged from the shadows of the gate. "What the hell? That's a facking--"
"...PLUSHIEBUNNY!" Qadohi concluded her speech triumphantly.
Greg rubbed his wrists and walked towards the cute, ordinary-looking black bunny which had appeared. "I was afraid of THIS? What a joke! This cutie couldn't even hurt a fly!"
"Keep your distance!" Ariadne ordered and closed her eyes when she saw Greg take the bunny in his arms. She waited for an agonizing scream of death, but she heard nothing so she opened her eyes and gasped. Greg was unharmed.
"Come on, Ariadne! You're overreacting! Shakkan's just making us look like fools, that's all!" Greg smiled and turned his eyes to Plushiebunny. "Look at him! The little fella's all scared! Don't worry, Uncle Greg won't harm you--"
Plushiebunny's jaws suddenly opened wide and swallowed Greg whole. The creature rapidly grew into its true, gigantic form and turned its blue, sinister eyes to the heroes. It burped and grinned evilly, and then it attacked.
Titaniel crapped his pants.
Suddenly Jacob smiled. "I know you are in there somewhere, Axikasha! Since you have been so kind as to help Me reach My goals today, I shall let you in on one more secret. Remember that girl, Shyla? What if I told you that she is still alive and waiting for you? I figured out that it was she who was originally meant to have Dawn. Yes, you are not the Chosen One, after all! Your only purpose is to deliver Dawn to Shyla, and I assure you that I will make it happen. You shall be forced to confront the shadows of your past, so remember these words!"
"Before you continue your boring speech, can I ask a favour?" Ax muttered.
Jacob sighed. "What do you wish, fool?"
"I wish you'd shove it. You know where!" the female warrior chuckled.
Meanwhile, Ax was locked in a duel to the death with her own worst nightmare, the Soap.
She laughed harshly as her blade finally met Soapflesh, cleanly slicing it in half. "Take that, you bastard!"
The two halves sank to the ground slowly... then, to Ax's horror, rose up again, swiftly growing to form two complete Soaps.
Ax narrowed her eyes. "Oh, give me a break! I'VE HAD IT WITH THIS MOTHERFUCKING SOAP IN THESE MOTHERFUCKING RUINS!"
The air became heavier as dark magic concentrated around Leraje's body. It was then that the fiend transformed, his armor adapting to his true, malevolent form. He grew twice as tall, and his big, now-demonic body looked intimidating with its tattoos and muscles. The Dreadlord's horns were long and gruesome, and his wings looked huge and spiky. His tail was pointy and looked powerful enough to pierce any armor. His sharp claws and teeth looked ominous under the sun, but the most dreadful things were the red eyes which burned with pure malice.
"Don't let him intimidate you!" Khasra barked to his companions. "We'll--" His sentence was cut short when the Dreadlord punched him in the face with blinding speed, sending him tumbling down.
The fiend cut down six Black Guards effortlessly and grinned. "What? Is this the best you can do? Where's that confidence of yours now?" he laughed with his deep, demonic voice and gleefully tore apart any nearby Sarquil and Blades that got in his way. "You can round up a million maggots to try to defeat me... but you'll still all just be maggots!"
As the rowboat's occupants cowered, something circled in the water near the downed ship... something big. With a huge splash and one mighty gulp, the giant red fish swallowed a nearby survivor and disappeared beneath the waves.
Zenobia gasped. "You mean he let the Omari fish loose?"
The two lovers stood at the bow of the ship, one behind the other, pressed gently to the railing. Fingers intertwined, they raised their hands until they were standing with arms outstretched on each side... like wings, perhaps. When they tilted their heads a certain way, there was nothing in their field of vision but water. It was like there was no ship under them at all, just the two of them soari--
"What the hell are you idiots doing?" an annoyed female voice demanded.
Startled, the two men stumbled backwards sheepishly. Jose blushed. Rack managed to stammer, "My apologies, Captain. We were just... ah... testing something."
Ax raised an eyebrow. "Testing something, you say?"
"Yes, Captain," Rack mumbled. "We just--"
"Oh, stop," Ax interrupted. "I don't even want to know. Just get out of here already."
With a sigh of relief, Rack and Jose scrambled away. Ax shook her head in amusement.
Sergeant Lahey met Corporal Randy at the docks of Scundor. "Did you find anything in Carriage Park?"
Carriage Park was the neighbourhood in Scundor which consisted of carriages parked next to one another. It was basically a slum where the less fortunate Scuns, or bums as Lahey liked to call them, lived in. Lahey and Randy had been instructed to keep things in order in that neighbourhood, and they had recently traced the origin of certain drugs to that area.
"Nope. The place was clean like a newborn baby's ass, and Julian and his pals were nowhere in sight. I suppose they got wind of the raid and took all the evidence with them before I arrived," Randy sighed, scratching his big, hairy belly. He never wore a shirt for some reason. "Are you drunk, boss? We're on duty, y'know."
"Damn those Carriage Park Boys! Sexian is hot, but even so it's illegal to smuggle drugs into this city. I'm gonna catch him in the act someday, just wait and see!" Lahey hissed, his face turning bright red. "And I'm not drunk! I've only had two drinks, that's all!"
Randy knew better, though. Lahey always said he had "only had two drinks", but the actual number of drinks was often much greater than that. Lahey was an alcoholic, and it should have been Randy's duty to take him to the authorities, but Randy loved him passionately, and he could never betray his lover. However, Randy did not like how Lahey was so obsessive about catching Julian (or Sexian as Lahey usually called that handsome drug dealer). So far Julian and his friends, who ran a drug business somewhere in Carriage Park, had eluded them, but sooner or later that so-called Carriage Park Boys gang would run out of luck.
Randy frowned all of a sudden as he smelled the air. "Oh, sweet mother of mercy! What's that foul stench coming from the sea?"
Lahey gazed on the horizon, and he had a weary, knowing look in his eyes. "It's the wind of shit, Randy. The wind of shit."
As Signan droned on, Vaetris surveyed their surroundings. She could've sworn she'd heard a rustle of sand, but perhaps it was just the wind.
She held up a hand to silence Signan. There it was again... definitely not the wind.
"Ax!" she whispered harshly. "Something... something's up ahead!"
"AAAAAAAIIIIIIIIIII!" came an unholy screech. A lump popped up in the sand, then burst through, a deadly-tipped spear swinging around wildly. Then came another, and another. Soon, nearly twenty of the creatures had broken through the surface, each with a spear and shield pointed at the group.
As the dust cleared, the creatures became visible. Squat, sturdy, pallid-skinned... things covered in strange tattoos. They wore strange masks and loincloths that reminded Vaetris of the jungle folk she'd seen so long ago... though the jungle folk hadn't been nearly so... so...
The heroes paused, some drawing their weapons. Rhylian tentatively crept forward, bow at the ready. "Sirithai...?"
Ax was pale, nearly as pale as the strange creatures before them. "No. Hephaestus help us, they're goddamn sand gnomes!"