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  #1  
Old 01-17-2014, 01:17 PM
rand rand is offline
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Default The Marzipan Cookbook of the Fallen

Hey everyone. After writing a parody of WoT a while ago (like 6-7 years ago lol) I wanted to try another one. I've always really liked writing parodies for whatever reason, and this time I wanted to make one of Malazan. So, if you haven't read it, this might not make much sense (it's based on the first book, Gardens of the Moon).

I'll post the prologue in a little bit and then I'll get around to the rest soon hopefully. I'm actually done writing most of it. Maybe I'll post this over at malazanempire too at some point.

Anyway, hopefully you like it. Let me know what you think!
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Old 01-17-2014, 01:35 PM
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Prologue

1154th Year of Bum’s Sleep
96th Year of the Marzipan Empire


Ganos Stabros Paranos stood on the south-facing roof of Sock’s Hold, once the premier sock manufacturer in the entire Marzipan Empire, and now just a rundown factory in the backwater Marzipan City. The sock factory stood on a cliff overlooking the city and its bay, and Ganos Stabros Paranos laughed as smoke rose from the Louse Quarter.

“What’s there to laugh about on a day like this, boy?” came a gruff voice from behind Paranos. The nine-year-old turned to find himself staring at a grumpy old man with distinctive insignia on his armor.

“You’re a Fridgeraider, an elite. An officer in the Marzipan Army.”

The man shrugged.

“Is it true then? Is he dead? The First Sword of the Empire, Dusty Ulcer. Is he dead?”

The Fridgeraider blinked in surprise and turned to face Paranos for the first time. “Hood’s Blimp, boy. They’re still searching for his cooling body back in that frat house in Seventy-Two Cities, and here you are, some snot-nosed noble brat from the capital six-thousand miles away, and you know more than I do.”

As the officer finished talking another, younger Fridgeraider approached the two from across the roof. This man had a saxophone strapped to his back.

“Captain Vodkajoe.”

“Yes?”

“I’ve been informed that the army has put out ninety percent of the gas grills in the Louse Quarter. You can still see the smoke from here.”

“Very good, Saxophonist,” Vodkajoe replied. “That will surely teach the bastards not to grill hot dogs again, though why Swirly—”

“My reasons are my own,” a new voice said, this one a woman’s. She was plain-faced and green skinned. “Don’t dare defy me in this, Captain. Too long have the presumptuous residents of the Louse Quarter sought to supplant our marzipan sales with their sausages. I will not allow such filth in my city.”

You’re city, Swirly?” Vodkajoe asked.

Swirly’s lips crept up into a slight smile. “That is no longer my name. I have changed it to Latrine.”

Everyone stared at each other for a few seconds.

“Bwahahaha,” cried Latrine, as she turned and left the three alone on the roof once more.

“Latrine, huh?” mused Saxophonist. “Napakin word, that. Means—”

“It means ‘Thronemaster,’” Paranos cut in. “My tutor’s Napakin,” he explained.

There was another, longer silence, before Vodkajoe sent Saxophonist out to see if he could save any hot dogs before they were all destroyed. After a while, Paranos looked up at Vodkajoe’s grimy face.

“I want to be a soldier one day.”

“You’ll grow out of it.”

“Yeah, that’s what mother always tells me when I say that I’ll wear my Lynyrd Skynyrd t-shirt for the rest of my life.”

Vodkajoe shrugged. “Well, I gotta go somewhere…”

“Okay,” said Paranos. Then he sniffed the air and smiled. “Bacon! The bacon factory’s on fire!”

“Whatever, kid.”

Last edited by rand; 01-18-2014 at 10:33 PM.
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  #3  
Old 01-17-2014, 01:59 PM
rand rand is offline
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Chapter 1

1161th Year of Bum’s Sleep
117th Year of the Marzipan Empire
3 Years Since the Events of the Prologue


Ganos Stabros Paranos sat back on his horse and sighed. It had been nine years since that fateful day meeting Vodkajoe on the roof of Sock’s Hold, and he still had little idea where his life had taken him since then.

Today, evidently, it had led him to a scene of slaughter. The bodies before him were piled high, two and even three deep in places. The ground was black around them, as though enormous amounts of blood had been spilt, only to be absorbed into the ground. Seagulls were doing unthinkable things to the bodies. Missing eyeballs, torn flesh…

Paranos shuddered and turned away, toward the officer standing next to him.

“Horrible things, Black Fridays at Wal-Mart.”

“Aye,” the officer replied, spitting to one side.

The entire entrance to the department store had been clogged with corpses; clearly the shoppers had all murdered each other in a mad stampede to see who could get inside the store first. Paranos noted with horror that the automatic door was still rhythmically opening and closing on one dead customer’s neck, gradually decapitating the poor woman in minute increments. A most macabre scene indeed.

“Well, I’d best be off,” said Paranos. “I’ve been assigned to a squad of Fridgeraiders in the Jellibopin Campaign. Smell you later.”


***


A few moments later, after both Paranos and the other officer had caught their respective taxis, two shadowy forms appeared in the middle of the parking lot. The first, hunched over and clutching a short cane, chuckled with glee at the sight of slaughter.

“See what we have done, my dear Balls! All our plans are going according to plan!”

“Indeed,” replied the second man, Balls. “Remind again, though, Shallowthrone. What did we seek to accomplish by unleashing the Zebras of Shallow on these poor people?”

Shallowthrone stammered for a moment. “Why, personal amusement of course, what else?”

“There is no deeper plan here?” Balls asked. “Nothing that will, perhaps, lead to getting our throne back from Latrine?”

“That time is long past, my friend Balls. We are the masters of a true throne now.”

“Ah, yes. The Throne of Shallow. Tell me, what shall we do with such a device of unspeakable power?”

“Very little, Balls. But I swear to you, it will be mildly amusing and offer you some much-needed light comic relief.”


***


“Just go straight down Exposition Street,” Paranos commanded the taxi cab driver. “I need to get to the capital city of the Marzipan Empire, Boonta, in the next half hour before my boat leaves.”

“Sure thing, pal,” the cab driver said, pulling onto Exposition Street. The man turned around. “You should know first, Ganos Stabros Paranos. I know you. My name is Tippler. Do you recognize that name?”

“Nope,” Paranos replied. “I owe you something?”

Tippler smiled. “Well, no. Not exactly. You see, I am the Flawmaster.”

“The Flawmaster?” Paranos cried. “Not the master of all the Flaws himself, and the heir to Swirly, former Flawmaster, who is now the Empress of the Marzipan Empire after her botched assassinations of Emperor Melonhead and his assistant Dances?”

“The very same.”

“Hood’s milk in a cup!” Paranos cried. “Are you here, then, to make a botched assassination attempt against me, as is the goal of the Flaws?”

“Alas, no,” replied Tippler. “I am here to take you through the Empirical Warren, so that you may reach Boonta on time.”

“But we’re only ten minutes away from Boonta, the capital of the Marizpan Empire, home to Empress Latrine and seat of power for—”

But Tippler had veered sharply off Exposition Street and Paranos’s mouth snapped shut instantly. In fact, they were no longer driving in the real world at all, but traveling across a barren landscape filled with nothing but stale, faded M&Ms.

Tippler waved a hand dramatically out the window. “Alas, this desolation is all that remains of a once great empire. All good intent and integrity has been destroyed here, and the immutable passage of time has quenched the fires of advancement. Inimical forces have obliterated this land with dread efficacy.”

“Say what?”

“Never mind, Paranos. We have arrived.”

All of a sudden their taxi was speeding through the streets of Boonta, and they were approaching the palace gates. Tippler didn’t slow down, however, and the taxi crashed through the enormous front doors and finally slowed to a stop in the middle of the throne room.

Empress Latrine stood from the grand Porcelain Throne and strode down the steps of her raised dais to greet them.

“Ah, Paranos. It has been a long time.”

“Indeed, Empress.”

“You have been assigned to Jellibopis, as you know. Sergeant Vodkajoe’s squad. You will not be on your own, however. I am sending my personal aid, Adjunct Loon, to assist you. And, of course, to accomplish her own nefarious, clandestine affairs. Report everything to her. You are dismissed.”

Paranos walked down a hallway and then up the steps of the tower that housed Adjunct Loon’s apartments. He rushed over and opened the door. He walked in and immediately flushed with embarrassment, moving hastily to step out and close the door.

“Oh, come in,” the Adjunct said. “I’m not one for modesty.”

Paranos sat down in a chair and watched uncomfortably as Loon finished up. Finally she was done and turned off the vibrator.

“You look tired,” Loon said, climbing from the bed and storing the vibrator in a drawer. “You’ll have to leave soon, so I’ll make this quick. The ship will take you to Methilab, a port city on the west coast of Jellibopis. From there you head south to Pail. Understood? I’ll meet up with you there.”


***


Paranos was standing at the dock waiting to board the cruise ship ten minutes later. With only a minute or two left until boarding time, Paranos remembered he had promised to call home before leaving. He walked to a nearby phone booth and dialed his home number.

“Hello? Paranos residence.”

Damn. It was his hated sister, Travork.

“Uh, hey, Travork. It’s Ganos.”

“Oh, you insufferable big brother! What are you up to this time? Did you beat up a homeless hooker again? Did you—”

“No, Travork, I’m fine. I’m leaving for Jellibopis, remember?”

“Oh, right. Well, goodbye and good riddance.”

“Hey, wait!” Paranos cried. “Is Felicitous there?” Paranos had always enjoyed the company of his youngest sister the most.

“No,” Travork replied. “She’s out at one of those dreadful poetry slams again, the bitch. Kids these days…”

The cruise ship began honking its horns, and the other passengers started boarding.

“Well, I have to go,” said Paranos. “Say hi to everyone for me, will you?”

“Sure, Ganos,” Travork answered. “Well, have a good life.”

Last edited by rand; 01-20-2014 at 02:38 PM.
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  #4  
Old 01-20-2014, 02:38 PM
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Chapter 2

2347th Year of Bum’s Sleep
94th Year of the Marzipan Empire


The sorceress Bladdersnail lounged in a hammock strung between two palm trees on a hill outside the city of Pail. The great city, made out of sand as if by giant buckets and pails, had finally fallen to the Marzipan Empire. Violently.

Sipping her martini, Bladdersnail fondly recalled the fell events.

Her lover, Carrot, had been killed. Which was good, all things considered. He’d been only seventeen, and with her at the age of two-hundred and seven, uncomfortable questions may have soon arisen. Yes, she was certainly glad the High Mage Tastechicken had offed Carrot. Though why Tastechicken had done so still troubled her slightly. The High Mage was, supposedly, a great ally of Empress Latrine. It was therefore rather rude of the man to kill, not only Carrot, but the rest of her mage cadre as well: Harlot, Ak’crak’cro’krys, Bellydrum, and Nightkrill. But, he had spared Bladdersnail herself, and that was all that really mattered. The battle was won, Pail was theirs, and the giant floating mountain, Goon’s Pawn, had fled to the south, likely retreating all the way to Karugyzstan.

The Marzipan 23rd Army had done well, all things considered. The mysterious Lord of Goon’s Pawn had thrown heavy sorcery down at them, but he was apparently no match for the High Mage Tastechicken. Kojak Threearms’s Host had had precious little to do, though Bladdersnail had heard of some kind of trouble with the Fridgeraiders. Nothing serious, surely. She reclined back in the hammock and closed her eyes.


***


“There’s one of them mages now. Let’s go kill her!”

Hold on a minute,” Sergeant Vodkajoe said, holding out a hand to stop Saxophonist from attacking the woman in the hammock. “We don’t know that she’s involved. Yet.”

“Fine. I’ll go get the rest of the squad.”

Vodkajoe studied the sorceress in the hammock for a few more moments until Saxophonist returned with everyone else. As usual, Corporal Konan and the mage Lickety Split Nick were arguing about something. Saxophonist didn’t seem very happy with his fellow sapper, Wedge, for some reason. Their healer Mullet, sporting his bizarre hairdo, seemed lost in thought. Bringing up the rear was Snotts, an exiled Barfmask warrior.

The Sergeant turned to stare up at the city of Pail as his squad approached. Three years they’d been trying to besiege the damn place, and now it was done in the span of a half bell. And so, it seemed, were the Fridgeraiders. All twelve squads of the elite force had been underground searching for buried treasure when Tastechicken had begun his assault on Goon’s Pawn and its mysterious lord. And now, more slaughter would follow. Vodkajoe watched as the army of Coranth Beauticians, allies of the Marzipan Empire, marched into the city of Pail to knock down all the sandcastle-like structures. The Coranth Beauticians, it was said, hated sand.

“Lickety Split, get up here,” Vodkajoe commanded. The squad mage hurried over, and the sorceress Bladdersail finally turned and took notice of them.

“Sergeant Vodkajoe,” she said by way of greeting. She tried to sit up on the hammock, but it tipped her over backward. Standing up, she brushed herself off and faced the squad of Fridgeraiders.

“Bladdersnail, this is my squad mage, Lickety Split Nick. And Corporal Konan. We are under the belief that High Mage Tastechicken has conspired to murder all the Fridgeraiders.”

“That’s preposterous,” Bladdersnail shrieked. “But okay, I’ll look into it.”


***


The next day Bladdersnail was called to a meeting in High Fister Kojak Threearm’s command tent. There she found, beside Threearm himself, High Mage Tastechicken and Sergeant Vodkajoe. The latter two were arm wrestling at a card table in the corner.

“Ah, sorceress,” said Kojak Threearm, giving Bladdersail a two-handed handshake while clapping her on the shoulder with his third arm. “We’ve just been discussing the Lord of Goon’s Pawn. It’s possible that High Mage Tastechicken has discovered who he is.”

“Indeed?” said Bladdersnail.

“I believe so,” Tastechicken said, as Vodkajoe beat him at the wrestling match. “Do you recall the mage named Bellydrum?”

“The one you betrayed and killed yesterday?”

“Yes, that’s the one!”

“What of him?”

“Well,” Tastechicken continued, “he was doing some research for me a few months ago up in the grand library of Methilab. He was supposed to be researching the play Gobbo’s Foolery for me, but instead the stupid man got distracted and brought me a poem by Fisher kel Price.”

“And your conclusions?”

“Just this. The Lord of Goon’s Pawn is none other than the Son of Dorkness, Anomander Hoe himself.”

“Anomander Hoe!” Bladdersnail cried. “The Ascendant? The lord of all the Teeste Andiii on earth?”

“The very same, I’m afraid,” Tastechicken continued. “I’m lucky I beat the son of a bitch so easily.”

Suddenly Vodkajoe stood from the card table. “Enough of this. Goon’s Pawn has fled to Karugyzstan, so what does it matter who’s flying the damned thing? This Anomander Hoe is gone, but what of his allies? Have the Beavi peoples of the plain fled, too? Have the Mauve Sentinels abandoned their posts? Has Caliban Prude packed his bags and left? I think not!”

“You’re absolutely right,” Kojak proclaimed, waving his three arms through the air. “These people should be our first priority. Therefore, I will completely ignore them all, and in the meantime I am sending you and your squad to Karugyzstan so you can single-handedly take it over.”

“Well, okay,” said Vodkajoe.
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Old 01-20-2014, 03:41 PM
rand rand is offline
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Chapter 3

Ganos Stabros Paranos rode toward the city of Pail. His cruise ship had arrived at Methilab a week ago. The journey had been fraught with breakdowns, crashes into icebergs, and power outages. Then again, it had been a Carnival cruise.

And now, as he approached the city that looked like a monstrous sandcastle, a rider was beating a swift path toward Paranos from Pail. Paranos noticed the man’s ravaged face as he reigned in.

“Hood’s blimp, man,” Paranos said. “You have two eyes.”

“So do you.”

“Oh, yeah.”

“I’m Tic Toc Junior,” the rider said. “The last surviving member of the Flaws on Jellibopis. Come along, Captain. I’ll escort you to the city.”

“Tic Toc, huh?” Paranos mused as they neared the gates of Pail. “Your father…”

“Aye, everyone’s heard of Tic Toc Senior. Bastard disappeared when I was just a wee lad. Most say he’s dead, assassinated by Empress Latrine, but I don’t think so. Something tells me he’s still out there, just biding his time.”

They rode through the warren of streets and eventually made it to the Marzipan barracks. A few Fridgeraiders were milling around outside the doorway. “That’s Corporal Picker,” said Tic Toc, nodding to the woman picking her nose. “And the other one’s Sergeant Antsinpantsy. You’re with Vodkajoe’s squad, though, right? I’m sure they’ll be around later. Well, see you around, Captain.”


***


Bladdersnail stood on the wall above the city gates of Pail, watching as Tic Toc Junior and the new Captain rode through. It was a fine day. The sun was shining, the birds were chirping, and the smells of burnt flesh and human decay were mostly gone by now.

“Eh hem,” someone coughed behind her.

The sorceress turned to find Tastechicken standing at her shoulder. The High Mage was looking at her expectantly. “I was wondering, sorceress… could you give me a reading?”

“Sorry, the wind was blowing, couldn’t hear that last part. You want me to give you a what?”

“A reading. Of the Deck of Flagons.”

“Oh yeah, right. Sure.”

They moved over to an overturned barrel and sat to either side of it. Bladdersnail reached into her cloak and pulled out a deck of cards. She flipped the top one onto the barrel.

“Seven of Clubs. Oh, wait, wrong deck. Hang on a second, High Mage.”

She pulled a second deck of cards from her back pocket. Again, she whipped the top card off and set it before them.

“Jigglypuff. Oh, damn, wrong again…”

Bladdersnail stuffed her hand down the front of her shirt and, after a moment, pulled it back out to reveal a third deck.

“This has got to be it. Okay, High Mage. Ready?”

Tastechicken lifted his gaze from Bladdersnail’s chest. “I, uh, yes, yes, certainly…”

The top card was again thrown onto the top of the barrel.

“Aha, it worked!” Bladdersnail cried. “The first card is an unaligned. Zorb. Okay, that’s boring, let’s see… Second card, Virgin of High House Breast. Not sure what that could mean.”

Tastechicken lifted his eyes again. “Uhh…”

“Third card, Ass of High House Shadow. Huh, that’s interesting. The Grope, Patron of Asses. Okay, next card. Hood’s milk, it’s Poponn, the twin clowns of fate. And I hear something…a coin, a spinning coin!”

“What does that mean?” Tastechicken asked hungrily.

“Look for yourself, High Mage. A nickel just fell out of your pocket. Here let me get that for you.” She bent forward to retrieve Tastechicken’s coin, revealing more of her bosom in the process. Finally she straightened and handed him the nickel. “Here you go.”

Tastechicken feebly put the coin back in his pocket.

“All right, fifth card. Another unaligned one, Frown. How boring. Oh well, that’s all I can do for now.”

“What…what do you mean, sorceress?”

“I charge a dollar per card after the first five.”


***


Sergeant Antsinpantsy and Corporal Picker had directed Paranos to a nearby inn that Vodkajoe’s squad, the ninth, normally frequented. He picked them out of the crowd easily enough: four soldiers sitting by themselves in a corner, one of them playing solitaire with a Deck of Flagons. Paranos made his way over to them.

They looked up as he approached, each one displaying a hostile stare.

“Hi. I’m Captain Paranos. I’m taking over your squad. Mind if I have a seat?”

One gestured to a chair. Paranos sat down, then immediately jumped up in pain. He reached behind him and pulled a thumbtack out of his rear end.

“Oh now, really!” said Paranos, rubbing his behind. “That was uncalled for. Now that I’m captain, things will be changing around here.”

“You’re right, Captain,” said the man who’d pulled the chair out. “I’m Wedge, a sapper. This here’s my fellow sapper, Saxophonist. And those two are Snotts and Mullet. Go on, Captain, have a seat.”

Paranos sat in the next chair provided, this time to the sound of a whoopee cushion.


***


Humiliated, Paranos slammed the inn’s door behind him in disgust. The nerve of that squad, making fun of a respectable authority figure such as himself. Well, he’d show them. Once they got back to the barracks, he’d be waiting for them, and then they’d be…

A shadow moved in the alley he was walking in. Paranos stopped for several heartbeats, then, seeing nothing more, continued on his way.

Yes, those bastards would get what was coming for them soon enough. Hopefully Vodkajoe wasn’t as bad. He’d met the man once, but he’d only been seven at the time, after all. And Vodkajoe’s corporal was said to be an assassin from Seventy-Two Cities. Such people were…

This time Paranos heard a noise behind him. He turned just in time to see a shadowy figure with a missile strapped to his back standing on a fire escape above him. The stranger shot a poisonous dart into Paranos’s neck and, just as he was losing consciousness, Paranos saw the figure activate a jetpack and fly away.
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Old 01-21-2014, 12:37 PM
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Chapter 4

Sergeant Vodkajoe was having a tea party in Bladdersnail’s apartment with Corporal Konan and Lickety Split Nick when Saxophonist burst into the room.

“I’ve just sensed something, Sarge! Something nasty. There’s blood out there in the streets.”

Vodkajoe chugged the rest of his tea and set the cup on a small table next to his chair. Konan and Lickety Split Nick did the same.

“Sorry, but we’re gonna have to cut things short,” Vodkajoe said. “Our place next time?”

“Sure, sure,” Bladdersnail replied. “No problem.”

And so she finished the rest of her tea in morose solitude as the squad rushed out her door.


***


Paranos slowly opened his eyes. He was lying on the ground before the entrance to an enormous milk carton.

Hood’s blimp! he thought. This is Hood’s deathly milk carton itself!

A monstrous, undead milkman emerged from the portal in the milk carton and slowly shuffled his way toward Paranos with groping hands and a hungry look in his eyes. Paranos tried to recoil in fear but found that he couldn’t move.

There was a poof sound from behind him, and moments later a pair of conjoined twins stepped around Paranos’s body to intercept the demon milkman. The two were joined at the hip, making their walk rather awkward.

The milkman stopped in his tracks.

“Damn you, Poponn, you miserable vermin. Can’t you see I’m busy?”

“You’re not Hood,” the male Poponn said. “We need to speak with him.”

“The master is busy,” the milkman replied. “I take care of the gate while the master is away.”

“Fine,” the female Poponn said. “We have a request to ask of you, then.”

“You want me to send this man back to life. What do I get from that?”

“My dear demon milkman,” the male Poponn said. “You have it all wrong. You see, this man here once spit in one of our temples. As punishment, we request you give him some form of unending torment.”

Paranos shrieked and, with a surge of will, rolled away from the trio. He only had time to see a portal before him, presumably the one that Poponn had just emerged from. He went through it and all went black.


***


Vodkajoe, Konan, Lickety Split Nick, and Saxophonist stared down at the body in the alley for a few moments. Finally, the Sergeant spoke up.

“So…who the hell is this guy?”

“Captain Paranos,” Saxophonist replied. “You met him in the prologue, remember? He was supposed to take over the squad from you.”

“Oh, yeah.”

Everyone stared at Paranos a moment longer.

“Well,” said Vodkajoe, “let’s get on with it and cremate the bastard.”


***


Sergeant Antsinpantsy and Corporal Picker had just finished pouring lighter fluid all over Paranos’s corpse on a bed back in the barracks. Picker pulled her finger out of her right nostril and grabbed the nearby gas grill light.

“Hey, Sarge. Remember when they outlawed these things in the Louse Quarter?”

“Enough talking there, Corporal. Light ‘im up already.”

Picker flicked the gas grill lighter on. Holding it out with her right hand (and probing her left nostril with the other), Picker lit the toe of Paranos’s boot on fire. The flames swiftly swept up the Captain’s leg. Then…

“Arrggghhhhh!”

Paranos jumped to his feet and started to brush at the flames climbing up his legs.

“I’m not dead, you fools! Put this out!”

Picker dashed off to find a bucket of water. Antsinpantsy could only watch in horror.

“But, but…they said you’d been poisoned!”

“Well, I think I’m getting better.”

Picker raced back into the room and threw the water, bucket and all, straight at Paranos. It hit him in the stomach and he doubled over, falling back onto the bed. The fire, thankfully, had been put out. The Captain lay motionless on the bed.

Picker glanced over at her sergeant. “Can we still cut off his head or something?”

“I’m not dead!” Paranos mumbled.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, I’ll be just fine.”


***


Bladdersnail, alone in her own apartment, decided to play with her Deck of Flagons again. Pulling the cards from her bra, the sorceress began to lay them out in a spiral pattern on the small table before her. Each card was placed upside down until only one remained in her hand. Bladdersnail flipped in over and set it in the center of the spiral, revealing the image of a pack of zebras.

“So,” she mused to herself. “Zebra of High House Shallow. Just as I suspected.”

Suddenly the door crashed in. Vodkajoe and Konan were carrying an unconscious man between the two of them. They dumped him unceremoniously on Bladdersnail’s bed.

“Hi,” said Vodkajoe, “this is Paranos, he’s our new captain, but we don’t really want him, so we’re just gonna leave him with you. Okay, bye.”

And with that, they left.


***


A half bell later, Vodkajoe and Saxophonist emerged at the top of a tower to await High Fister Kojak. It was a miserable, rainy night, with a cloudy sky and no stars in sight.

“I always hated this damned thing,” said Saxophonist, pulling out his sword and chucking it over the wall. Far below they heard a faint scream as the sword impaled someone.

“Careful, Sax. Don’t forget what happened last time.”

“Oh, Hood’s punctured blimp, Sarge. I kill one politician in Boonta and no one ever forgets it. I’m just not cut out for this soldiering stuff. I used to be a stoner back on Marzipan Isle. Just like you, right? And then one day I had to make a choice. I could be a soldier, or I could be a bum who hangs out with a wasted girlfriend in a crappy apartment playing video games and eating cheese puffs for the rest of my life, only, I’m not gonna pay bills with no job, so that girl, she’s gotta work at some run-down corner store, and probably sell drugs on the side, just so we can—”

“I, uh, get the picture, Sax.”

The trapdoor banged open and out climbed a bloody Kojak.

“Dammit, Saxophonist!” he growled, handing the sapper his sword. “You almost took my third arm off!”

“Greetings, High Fister,” said Vodkajoe.

“Greetings my second to the left arm. Well, you’re here, at any rate. Listen, I’ve been thinking. About your mission to Karugyzstan. Why don’t you just blow the whole place up? That way we don’t need to worry about besieging that city at all.”

“Just blow the whole city up?”

“Sure, Vodkajoe. Now, the Coranth Beautician’s Curls will be here soon to fly you over to Karugyzstan. Good luck, men.”


***


A thunderclap sounded overhead as a shaggy zebra materialized in the middle of a crowded street. Its name was Beer, one of the Zebras of Shallow. The civilians around the dread creature cried out in surprise. Those cries soon turned to screams of horror, but it was only moments later that the Zebra Beer left the now-bloodstained street in silence.


***


“Time to mount up, boys,” Vodkajoe said, as the last of the Curls landed on the tower. They were immense, winged beasts that the Coranth Beauticians used to covertly move their hair care products over long distances. Vodkajoe turned to the nearest Coranth Beautician who, like all members of their race, hid his head under a paper bag in shame of a bad haircut.

“There was one among you,” Vodkajoe said. “A warrior with a mangled arm who was awarded for valor. Tell me, does he still live?”

The Coranth Beautician stared at Vodkajoe for a few moments before he slowly lifted a mangled arm into view.

“That’s me, you idiot. Now get on your stupid Curl.”

Shrugging, Vodkajoe mounted up and, after the rest of his squad did the same, they took off into the dreary night sky.


***


The two guardsmen outside the Imperial Barracks stood no chance. The Zebra of Shallow was upon them before they could even utter a single comical invocation. The Zebra tore the first man’s head off, powerful jaws mashing through the weak flesh. The striped beast clamped onto the spinal cord and vertebrae and proceeded to pull the whole length out, from the cervical bones all the way down to the coccygeal. The Zebra of Shallow turned on the second man and, quick as lighting, bit into his stomach, revealing the man’s spleen and several feet of the jejunum. After a quick feast, the beast sniffed the air and raced off toward a certain apartment where it could eat again.


***


Bladdersnail was sitting by the fireplace knitting some underwear for Paranos when the Zebra of Shallow blasted through the door, sending a rain of slivers across the room. Its gaze latched onto her immediately, ignoring the unconscious form of Captain Paranos on the nearby bed.

Fear coursed through the sorceress’s body. Waving her hands, she tried to access her Thyrsty warren but found it kept slipping away from her. Hope, too, slipped away. The Zebra was rearing back, and then it began to crouch. It pounced at her, and…

A sword flew from the side to embed itself in the Zebra’s neck. Blood spurted out. It thrashed about for a few moments, reared its front legs again, and took off back out the door. The sword clattered to the floor in its wake.

“Ta da,” said Paranos. Then he fell back asleep.
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Old 01-21-2014, 02:08 PM
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Chapter 5

Green light bathed the city of Karugyzstan in an otherworldly, ethereal glow. Some said that this was caused by the street lamps being fed from underground pockets of natural gas, but most scholars knew that the true cause was the high level of radiation found in Lake Azul to the north of the city. This theory was supported by the number of mutant sea monsters that attacked the city each year.

The young thief Crapsalar cared little for such ideas. He was on his way to rob an estate, and mutated fish rising from Lake Azul to attack him were the least of his worries.

The youngest daughter of House D’Arle, Wendy, had recently won the lottery, and it was rumored that she had received the winnings in cash and kept them stashed away in her room. It would be a big night for Crapsalar if his plan worked. His uncle Marmot had promised to give Crapsalar a cookie if he completed this assignment for the cabal of criminals that secretly ruled Karugyzstan, of which Marmot was a prominent member.

Approaching the D’Arle Estate Crapsalar ducked into an alley beside the estate’s walled garden. He pulled out a grappling hook, threw it over the wall until it stuck and, with a sharp heave, pulled a small section of the wall down. Hoping he’d gone unseen, Crapsalar hurriedly scrambled through the opening.

He scanned the estate before him and decided that Wendy D’Arle’s room was likely on the third floor. There, that one with the balcony! Crapsalar retrieved his grappling hook and stowed it safely in his pack before he began the arduous climb up the building’s wall. He reached the balcony out of breath.

A quick glance around him revealed various tripwires, booby traps, and alarm systems. Shrugging, Crapsalar flung himself at the glass sliding door and fell through in a rain of glass shards.

He looked around for Wendy, but thankfully she was still asleep in her bed. And… Hood’s soggy cereal, she was naked! Crapsalar snapped a few pictures to post on Facebook, then set about finding the fortune.


***


D’rul’s belfry stood in a temple nearby the D’Arle Estate, with only a pharmacy and a pizza restaurant in between. The last monk of D’rul had died decades ago in that bizarre roller derby incident, and it was said that D’rul, the Elder God himself, had died centuries earlier.

Mallo Krafter was climbing onto the roof of the pizza restaurant, just a simple delivery man setting out across the roofs to give someone their pizza. Thus, the crossbow bolt punching into his left thigh took him by surprise. Groaning, Mallo pulled the bolt out and threw it to the ground. He looked around, and, seeing D’rul’s Temple, decided the belfry there would be the perfect spot for a little retaliation.


***


“Dammit. Uncle Marmot’s gonna kill me.”

The rumors had been false. Wendy D’Arle had indeed won the lottery, but all that was left in the hidden safe behind a Justin Bieber poster was twelve dollars, seventeen cents, and a paperclip. Grabbing the paperclip, Crapsalar swore and dashed back toward the sliding doors in front of the balcony.

Exiting, his foot caught on a tripwire and he plunged forty feet to the garden below.


***


Mallo Krafter heaved himself over the wall of the small belfry and lay staring up at its roof, motionless and barely conscious from blood loss.

Be a pizza delivery man, they said. It will be fun and rewarding, they said.

Well, so much for the stupid opinions of his friends and family. He’d better get a free stuffed crust pizza out of this when he returned later tonight.

There! Movement on a balcony at the D’Arle Estate. The figure looked suspicious, even as he tripped and fell off the balcony. There was his would-be assassin. Mallo craned his neck enough to see that the assassin had fallen into an in-ground pool below the balcony. The man would surface any minute.

Thankfully, the pizza restaurant at which Mallo Krafter worked understood the dangers of the delivery job and equipped their employees accordingly. Mallo pulled the sniper rifle from its harness on his back, took aim, and, as the assassin surfaced, fired.


***


As Crapsalar surfaced from the conveniently located pool, his foot caught on the pool vacuum and he was jerked to the side. A loud bang sounded as if from a gun, something whizzed past Crapsalar’s hair, and behind him an inflatable duck pool toy exploded.

“Oh, Maui,” Crapsalar implored. “I’m caught in a clan war of the Pizza Guild.”

He climbed out of the pool and dashed out of the garden through the hole he’d made earlier.


***


Mallo cursed and made to reload his rifle, then remembered that delivery workers were only allowed one bullet this early in the night. Well, there was more than one way to kill someone. Struggling to his feet, the delivery man put one leg over the wall of the belfry. He was just about the slip the other leg over to climb down when a pizza wheel cutter slashed at his neck. He fumbled uselessly at the torn flesh for a moment before he lost his balance and fell sixty feet into a dumpster below. And so Mallo Krafter died.


***


Crapsalar looked up and saw the silhouette of D’rul’s belfry in the moonlight. A figure was falling from it, and a second, shadowy figure stood in the belfry. And he was looking directly at Crapsalar.


***


The mysterious figure hitched his mysterious cloak tighter about himself. His mysterious companion approach.

“Did you feel it?” the first mysterious figure asked. “There was a parting of realms. An Ascendant has meddled tonight.”

“Yes,” the second mysterious figure replied. “I smell Poponn’s stink all over this.”

“Really?”

“No, but that sounds intriguing. Shall we follow this thief and kill him for no particular reason?”

“Indeed. Let’s be about it, then.”


***


Crapsalar raced toward his own tenement building. He figured he could lure the pizza assassins inside and get them to go after his Uncle Marmot by mistake. The thief dashed through the door and up the stairs, racing around a group of children who lived in the hallways of the building. He burst through the door to Marmot’s apartment and, without pause, crossed the room before his uncle’s desk and jumped out the open window into the nearby tree.

There. The foolish assassins were even now likely cutting his uncle to pieces. There would be no need to tell Marmot of his failure at the D’Arle estate.

Crapsalar sauntered down a few more streets until he reached the welcoming lights and open door of the University of Phoenix campus in Karugyzstan. He walked into the familiar reception room and bathed himself in warmth. He could see his friends at a coffee nearby table, but before he could greet them Silty, the Adjunct Advanced Biochemistry Professor, placed a shot glass of tequila in his hands.

“Rough night, Crapsalar?”

The thief downed the drink. “No, nothing special.”
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Old 01-21-2014, 03:21 PM
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Chapter 6

Geezer, patriarch of the Grand Crows living on the sides of the floating mountain Goon’s Pawn, flew down toward the greenish-tinged city of Karugyzstan below him. He ignored the desperate calls of his kin as he soared by them.

“Feed us!”

“We’re starving, father!”

“Help us! Please! Mercy!”

Geezer pushed all such petty thoughts from his head. He needed to find something for the Son of Dorkness this night. Something in the city. There! Geezer swooped down and made his way toward a building bathed in a strange glow. There was sorcery down there, and Geezer was drawn to magic as if it were crack.

With a cackle, he flew down to make the invitation on behalf of his master.


***


Fusspot’s Barbecue was publically known to be the oldest restaurant in Karugyzstan. When it was built was anyone’s guess, but it was said to have involved warrens, sorcery, and an ingenious barbecue sauce recipe. The interior was filled with nooks and crannies and secluded corners to dine in. As such, it was a popular location for clandestine meetings.

Such as the one that Triangle Destroyer, a waiter at Fusspot’s Barbecue, was witnessing now. As usual, Councilman Turban Burban had the upper hand in the conversation. At one point, when his fellow councilmember had reached for the last diner roll, Turban Burban had stabbed the man’s hand with his fork.

Triangle Destroyer replaced the rolls at once, but he would have to remember this detail so he could tell his master: the Seal himself, Karugyzstan’s master spy.

After their meal was done, Councilman Turban Burban paid for the check himself (including a generous tip) and the two councilmen were soon on their way. And so, too, was Triangle Destroyer on his way, to report these nefarious goings on to the Seal.


***


The sinister leader of the T’urgid Cabal and librarian for the University of Phoenix, High Archivist Baloop was standing in his kitchen toasting a Poptart when his phone vibrated in his pocket. It was a rather simple message from Triangle Destroyer, on behalf of the Seal: “Councilman Turban Burban stabbed Councilman Jones in the hand lol.”

Well, Baloop thought, perhaps more interesting things will happen this night. He was still unsure who the mysterious Seal was. A master spy, collector of intelligence, and manipulator, to be sure. But who could the man be? If he even was a man and not a woman. Baloop found himself looking at everyone askance. Why, that man who’d come in to mop the bathroom floor of that sleazy Chinese restaurant while Baloop was at a urinal—he’d been rather suspicious, had he not? And then there was that woman in the alley who'd tried to sell Baloop the pickled left testicle of the Marzipan hero Dusty Ulcer.

Archivist Baloop was carrying his Poptart back upstairs to his office when he heard a crash in that room. Throwing the Poptart down, he raced into the office in time to see an enormous, decrepit crow flapping about on the floor amidst a pile of broken glass from the window it had just flown in.

“Now, see here,” Baloop started, but he got no further.

“I am Geezer,” the crow cried. “The patriarch of the Grand Crows of Goon’s Pawn. My master, the lord of Goon’s Pawn, would like a word or two with you.”

“Indeed?”

“Yes. Prepare yourself, foolish mortal. Anomander Hoe is coming for you.”


***


Fallick Tom, a professor of microeconomics at the Karugyzstani campus of the University of Phoenix, was late for a business appointment. He was unused to being out in the streets of Karugyzstan, as, indeed, he was unused to being outside at all. So, heaving his briefcase over a shoulder, Fallick Tom climbed a gutter and made it onto a rooftop. Surely he could find a shortcut to the Microeconomics Fair Awards Ceremony here.

He heard a noise to one side and glanced over to see two figures on a balcony. He recognized the first immediately. Lady Stemcell. She was almost eighteen now, but about three years ago she had seduced Fallick’s friend, Professor Moll. The cops had been about to put Moll away for life, but the fourteen-year-old had given an evil smirk and explained that she’d settle for suing Moll for every penny that he owned. Moll had been fired from his job as Professor of Advanced Calculus 2 at the University of Phoenix, but having no money, he still slept in the campus’s lobby.

And now, Fallick Tom saw that Stemcell was at it again. This time, she was making out with Councilman Jim on her balcony.

Well, Fallick Tom wouldn’t let another man suffer the same fate as Moll. Fallick pulled his crossbow from the briefcase, aimed, and fired.

The force from the crossbow bolt at such close range (twenty yards or so) was enough to rip Councilman Jim’s head from his shoulders. Stemcell was clearly startled, as the head she’d just been kissing was now impaled against the wall of her house three feet away. With a shriek, she dashed back inside.

Fallick snickered before he set out again. If he didn’t hurry, he’d be late.


***


Archivist Baloop looked up from his pocket calendar of fiendish plots to see Geezer standing at attention, staring at the doorway. The Lord of Goon’s Pawn must be approaching. Baloop snapped the calendar shut. Then he heard a noise coming from beyond the door. A terrible, groaning noise. Like a rusty gate hinge. Like chains…

The door burst inward and a tall figure wearing jeans, a purple t-shirt, and a propeller hat rode into the room on a bicycle.

“Hello, my dear Archivist!” the man said brightly, riding about the room in circles. “I’m Anomander Hoe. Sorry about the squeaky bike. Must get that oiled soon, eh?”

Anomander Hoe vaulted off the bicycle and let it crash into a nearby wall. He strode straight to Baloop and vigorously shook his hand. “Well, well, well, well, well. How are you this fine evening? Gum?”

He held out a packet of gum.

“Uh…no, thank you,” Baloop replied. “What brings you here my, uh, Lord?”

“What a funny thing to ask,” Hoe replied. “My bicycle brought me here.”

“Well, yes, of course. But what do you want to talk to me about?”

“Oh, nothing much, don’t you worry. I simply have a few questions. Which flavor Skittle is your favorite?”

“Well, I…I don’t know that I really—”

“If you were trapped on a desert island and could only bring one person with you, who would it be?”

“Well, I…”

“Would it be me?” Hoe cried. “Oh, please let it be me. Take me, take me!”

“Okay, fine then. I’d take you.”

Anomander Hoe slapped Baloop across the face. “But that’s not a very practical choice, now, is it? Why wouldn’t you take a professional swimmer who could swim out and save you? Or a doctor? A lifeguard? An ingenious inventor? But me? Oh now, really.”

“My Lord, would you not care to discuss matters of more immediate import? Such as the impending Marzipan attack on Karugyzstan?”

“Oh, who cares about all that. Don’t worry.”

“Then the Marzipans won’t attack us?”

“Of course they’ll attack you,” Hoe replied. “I’ll be long gone, though, so they’ll be no need to worry about me. Now, how ‘bout some Xbox, bro?”


***


Later that night Fallick Tom rushed into the lobby of the University of Phoenix to find his friends all seated around their usual coffee table. Moll was asleep on the couch behind them. The thief Crapsalar called out to Fallick and waved at him enthusiastically, but Fallick was already on his way over.

“Krepe,” Fallick called to the janitor. “Krepe, I have dire news. I believe I have done something quite terrible.”

“Well,” said Krepe, dressed as ever in a three piece suit, odd as it was for a janitor. “Well, friend Fallick, tell us what you have done.”

“So you see, I’d just finished assassinating Councilman Jim when—”

“You assassinated a councilman?” Fidellio exclaimed. A Professor of Accountancy, Fidellio had the opposite problem of Moll’s. Every year, Fidellio kept a tally of how many students he could talk into his bed before the semester was out.

“Yes, but that’s not the bad part,” Fallick Tom replied. “Later at the Microeconomics Fair Awards Ceremony, Billy Smithson won first prize. Only, I never liked that kid, so I read my speech wrong and gave the first prize to someone else. I gave Billy second prize, and spit on his trophy, too.”

Crapsalar, Krepe, and Fidellio all looked up at him with horror painted across their faces. Even Moll stirred for a second to give Fallick Tom the finger. Then they all sighed and turned back to their game of Go Fish.
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Old 01-22-2014, 02:16 PM
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Chapter 7

Krepe the janitor, long a chronic sleepwalker, found himself outside the city halfway down Butter Cake Road. He was mildly alarmed, as this was the furthest he’d gotten yet, barring that time he’d hijacked a fishing boat in his sleep and woke to find himself miles into Lake Azul near the port of Grubrisen.

He was about to turn back to Karugyzstan’s Harsh Gate when sudden music came to his ears. Curious, Krepe made his way over a nearby hill to reveal a man wearing bell bottoms, a tie-dye shirt, and a headband listening to the rock music pounding from a boom box.

Krepe approached the fire the man sat beside. The figure turned down the music’s volume and offered the janitor a joint.

“No, thank you,” said Krepe.

“That’s far out, man.”

“Who are you, if I may ask?”

The man’s eyes slowly came to focus on Krepe’s face. “I’m one of them Elder Gods. D’rul’s the name. Groovy night, huh?”

“Yeah, sure,” Krepe replied. “Listen, D’rul. Why are you here outside Karugyzstan?”

“Blood’s been spilled in one of my temples here, yo. Not cool, man. Not cool. So I’m gonna sit out here until something happens.”

“Okay,” said Krepe. “Well, good night.”


***


Triangle Destroyer walked through the Slice Quarter, Karugyzstan’s primary butcher district, on his way home from Fusspot’s Barbecue. It had been another long night, this time with no appearance from Councilman Turban Burban. He watched the ships off in Lake Azul for a time, traders just in from Callous, Ellensbarf, and Kuiper’s Sprite. He’d always enjoyed watching the various craft in the harbor, ever since he’d been a little boy. Triangle Destroyer could remember marveling at ships from such exotic ports of call as Textile, Fort and Three-Eights, Dead Man’s Chest Hairs, and Pyongyang.

He shifted his gaze back toward the city, to the hill of government on which stood Travesty Hall. The city was all a-talk today on the deadlock in voting created by the assassination of Councilman Jim. Yes, it seemed as though the fine people of Karugyzstan would have to wait a bit longer to find out if public urination would be legalized in certain, extreme circumstances.

Triangle Destroyer sighed and trudged back to his tiny one-room apartment.


***


Lady Stemcell paced across the room to look out her window. Aside from the assassination of Jim the other night, everything was going according to plan. Soon, she would be eighteen, and she would host a birthday party the likes of which Karugyzstan had never seen. Something caught her gaze in the street below, and she called to the man in the bed behind her.

“Can you stand and come?” she called.

“Hood’s rancid milk,” Councilman Turban Burban replied. “We’ve done it four times al—”

“No, you fool. Stand up and come over here.”

The Councilman walked over to stare down at the street with her.

“Do you see him?” Stemcell asked.

“Berdpu fend, I do,” Turban Burban replied. “That man at the popcorn stand looks exactly like a young Jeff Goldblum.”

“No, no, no. Over there.” She pointed.

“Oh. Hey, it’s that Fidellio guy.”

“Exactly. He’s in league with Moll, I’m sure of it. I want you to…take care of him. Take care of them both, in fact. And everyone else around them.”


***


Fidellio walked into the house and was immediately met by Councilman Turban Burban’s wife. She raced forward to embrace him.

“Ah, at last. My little accountancy tutor has come for me.”

“Alas,” said Fidellio, “before we get to that, I must ask a favor of you.”

“Anything, Fid.”

“I need two tickets to Lady Stemcell’s Birthday Party.”

“The one she’s holding on the Feast of Pepperoni?” Lady Turban Burban asked.

“No, the one near Christmas. Yes, the one on the Feast of Pepperoni!”

“Well, fine. I’ll do my best, Fid. Now, let’s go practice those, ah…taxing forms again, hm?”


***


Fallick Tom sauntered down the street, bow tie straight and briefcase swinging in his hand. The head of the economics department, Professor Outlet, had commanded Fallick to display the fact that he was a microeconomics professor for the entire city to see. He wasn’t quite sure what this would achieve, but if the words came from Professor Outlet himself, then he would obey them to a T.

A figure scurried across the street and caught Fallick Tom’s attention. The professor straightened his glass for a better look. Yes. He knew that man.


***


So, Crapsalar thought, this is Turban Burban’s estate. There must be plenty of gold in there. A man could make himself pretty rich just stealing the gold-leaf toilet paper.

At a noise behind him, Crapsalar turned to see his friend Fallick Tom approaching. The microeconomics teacher bashed Crapsalar in the side of the head with his heavy briefcase.

“Hey, watch it, Fallick. What’ve you got in there anyway, a bowling ball?”

“Just a candlepin one, but that’s not important now,” Fallick replied. “This is Councilman Turban Burban’s estate. Don’t try to rob it, Crapsalar. It’s not worth getting caught.”

“All right, all right.”

“Listen,” Fallick Tom continued. “You should really consider getting a degree, you know. The University of Phoenix offers so much in the way of—”

“Yeah, yeah, okay, I get it,” Crapsalar said. “Now get out of my way, I have somewhere else to be.”

He shoved Fallick Tom into a puddle and ran away laughing.


***


Rold Gold’s Round surrounded Tinkle Tower, the most haunted building in all of Karugyzstan. The Round that encircled the tower was now home to various food stands, most of them selling pretzels. The pretzel stands formed a circle that completely closed off Tinkle Tower from the public.

Fidellio approached one such pretzel stand. Fallick had better be right about this, he thought. This vendor had better be a secret agent for the school of microeconomics.

The accountancy professor approached the stand and rang a small bell. A moment later, a disheveled man appeared, metal club in hand.

“Hello, my good man,” Fidellio started. “Would this be the pretzel stand of Newt of Talent, by any chance?”

“Might be.”

“Might be? Aren’t you sure?”

“Fine. I’m Newt.”

“Okay then,” Fidellio said. “In that case, I’d like to examine your new honey mustard flavored pretzels.”

“I’m afraid we’re fresh out.”

“What do you mean?” Fidellio asked. Fallick had said this was the secret phrase that would allow him through to the back of the store.

“I mean we don’t have honey mustard flavored pretzels.”

“Okay, how about those great big ones? Know what I mean?”

“Yep.”

“Can I have one?”

“Sorry. Fresh out of those, too.”

“How about those pretzel sticks that come in a box?”

“No.”

“The ones that look like rings?”

“No.”

“The little round ones with cheese inside?”

“No. You didn’t ask about the crunchy miniature sized ones yet.”

“Okay, I’ll take those.”

“Sorry, no. Delivery didn’t make it in today.”

Screaming, Fidellio pulled out a gun and shot the man in his head. Newt of Talent dropped out of the way, and Fidellio jumped past him and out the back of the shop. Before him rose Tinkle Tower.

“Psst!” Fidellio turned to see Fallick Tom crouched in the shadows of Tinkle Tower. “Do you have the tickets?”

“Right here,” Fidellio said, passing one to Fallick.

“Listen to this, Fidellio. I just caught Crapsalar trying to break into Turban Burban’s estate. You know what this means?”

“Hood’s blimp, yes,” Fidellio exclaimed. “He must have fallen in love with Wendy D’Arle, the maiden he met several nights ago!”

“Exactly. We should talk to his Uncle Marmot. Between him and the University of Phoenix, I bet we can teach the lad enough so he won’t make too much of a fool of himself in front of the D’Arle girl.”

“Excellent plan.”
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Old 01-22-2014, 02:26 PM
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Chapter 8

The Curls dropped them off on the north shore of Lake Azul and then flew away.

“Thanks a lot, you jerks,” Vodkajoe yelled, shaking a fist at the diminishing Coranth Beauticians astride their flying mounts. “You could’ve dropped us off a bit closer to Karugyzstan, you know. Jackasses…”

Corporal Konan walked over to Vodkajoe’s side. “What now, Sarge?”

“Well, I’m changing our plans anyway. We’re not going to blow up Karugyzstan.”

“We’re not?” Saxophonist and Wedge said simultaneously, obviously saddened. Damned sappers.

“No,” Vodkajoe replied. “Men, the Fridgeraiders were nearly wiped out at Pail. I mean to see us survive this mission. So, instead of blowing the place up, we’re all gonna have ourselves a nice, two week vacation in Karugyzstan.”

“Yay,” said the squad.


***


A few minutes later, after Lickety Split Nick had returned from going to the bathroom behind a bush, the squad was ready.

“Okay, lads,” Vodkajoe called. “Let’s move out.”

They all stared for a few seconds at the enormous lake separating them from Karugyzstan.

“Yes, well…we’ll just…look, there’s a boat!”

The squad followed Vodkajoe’s pointing finger to see a fancy yacht a few hundred yards away.

“Okay, everyone, play along,” Vodkajoe said. He began jumping up and down and waving his arms above his head. “Over here!” he cried. “Help us! Help us!”

Corporal Konan, Lickety Split Nick, Saxophonist, Wedge, Mullet, and Snotts all did the same. Before long the yacht pulled up twenty yards off shore.

“What is the problem, my good men?” said a rich looking man in a tuxedo, one arm on the ship’s steering wheel and the other around a beautiful woman in a white dress. “I say, are you stranded here? Well, come on then, hop aboard.”

“Now!” Vodkajoe cried.

Instantly his squad fired their crossbows, killing the man, his wife, their butler, their two children, and the three other crewmen on board.

“All right, climb aboard,” Vodkajoe said. “Time for our vacation in Karugyzstan!”
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  #11  
Old 01-22-2014, 03:14 PM
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Chapter 9

Tic Toc Junior sighed. The Adjunct Loon was late, leaving him standing here like an idiot for three days straight out in the Beavi Plain. At least there were no enemies around. The Beavi peoples worked for Caliban Prude now, but the Coranth Beauticians said they were far to the north east, for some reason.

Tic Toc walked over a hill and tripped over something. Twisting around after the fall, he noticed a gravestone sticking up from the grassy plain. In fact, there were several such gravestones surrounding him. Tic Toc went around to the front of the one he’d tripped over and read the engraving: “Here lies Fred, bodyguard to Adjunct Loon.”

“Damn,” Tic Toc Junior swore. The Adjunct’s guard had been almost completely wiped out. Someone had attacked her. And now Tic Toc needed to find her, and fast.


***


Adjunct Loon climbed the hill, positioning herself between her two remaining, expendable bodyguards. Barfmasks. They were being attacked by Barfmasks of all things. Well, it was said that Caliban Prude had an alliance with the Algae Clan. This must be them. The three Marzipans held the high ground, but there were at least six Barfmasks swiftly closing in. One of them was a mage, but that meant little to Loon, for she held an Otmealio sword, which negated magic.

A blast of vile sorcery struck the hilltop, disintegrating the two remaining bodyguards and sending a charred Adjunct Loon flying thirty feet through the air. Stupid sword, she thought. Just as the six Barfmask warriors closed about her, there was a swirl of dust which coalesced into a desiccated skeleton of a man. An undead T’ling Imus warrior. Using a massive flint sword, the warrior quickly and bloodily took care of four of the Barfmasks. A soldier swiftly approaching the hill fired two arrows from his bow on the run, both hitting their marks.

The T’ling Imus pulled the arrows from his chest and proceeded to dispatch with the remaining two Barfmasks.

“Ahhh! A monster!” the soldier cried, halting before Adjunct Loon.

“No, Flaw. This is a T’ling Imus warrior. Oboe t’Coolant is his name, I believe.”

The undead warrior bowed slightly. “Yes, that is my name. Sorry I arrived so late, Adjunct. You wouldn’t believe how much traffic there is in the southbound dust highway today.”

“Wow, is that a real flint sword?” the Flaw asked.

“No, it’s a fake sword from QVC. But it works well enough for me.”

“Oh. I’m Tic Toc, by the way. Tic Toc Junior.”

“Well, Tic Toc Junior,” the Adjunct said. “I’m late enough as it is. I’ll ride my horse on to Pail. You can walk, right?”

“Well, I suppose so, Adjunct. But wouldn’t it be kind of fun it I road behind you the whole way?”

But Adjunct Loon had already vaulted onto her horse and was galloping away. The T’ling Imus, Oboe t’Coolant, shrugged and turned back to dust.


***


Captain Paranos paced in the narrow room. This was madness! Seventeen times he’d tried to beat the last level of Guitar Hero on expert, and seventeen times he had failed miserably. Sighing, he threw the plastic guitar into a corner of Bladdersnail’s room.

The sorceress herself had been unconscious since the Zebra’s attack, but the sound of the smashing guitar stirred her awake. Paranos really didn’t even know her yet. He walked over to the bedside.

“Hi, I’m Paranos. I’m a boy.”

“I’m Bladdersnail. I’m a girl.”

“We should be in love.”

“Okay.”

They stared at each other for a few more seconds, then Paranos dove at Bladdersnail just as the sorceress lurched up toward him. They had mad, passionate sex for the next three hours.


***


Adjunct Loon was greeted at Pail’s north gate by High Fister Kojak Threearm himself. He shook her right arm with two hands and her left with one.

“Adjunct, you’re injured. I have a High Denial healer with me. Here he comes now.”

“Thank you, but no,” Loon replied as the healer rushed up to her. “Sorcery no longer works on me, what with my Otmealio sword and all.”

“There, all fixed,” the healer said, before he scurried away again.

Threearm led her back to his headquarters building. On the way he stopped at a large courtyard and gestured to it.

“As you can see, we’re culling the nobility today.”

Adjunct Loon watched as several more nobles were thrown onto the massive bonfire that dominated the square.

“Have you followed Empire policy and killed off six out of every ten?” Loon asked.

Threearm blushed slightly. “Well, we might have gone a tad overboard.”

“How many?”

“Well, there’s still one left, at least. I think…”

The High Fister’s headquarters were located in a now-abandoned supermarket. Kojak walked Loon over to the produce section for their meeting and rounded on the Adjunct.

“So,” he began. “How many legions will I be receiving next year?”

“One. And a half.”

Kojak sighed. “Empress Latrine is a fool, then. By this time next year, Caliban Prude will have retaken Pisst, Snapple, and One Nostril Moose.”

“That’s your problem, High Fister, not mine. Now, I’ve heard tell of a Zebra of Shallow loose in the streets of Pail. I trust you had the problem under control?”

“Of course, Adjunct,” Threearm said, blushing again. “Killed the son of a bitch myself, I did.”

The automatic door slid open and in walked High Mage Tastechicken.

“Well, High Fister, I must speak with the High Mage now,” Loon said. “We’ll have a feast tonight?”

“How ‘bout Olive Garden?”

“Oh, sounds lovely.”

Kojak Threearm left, and Tastechicken stepped into his place.

“So,” the Adjunct said. “I’ve heard of your little debacle with Goon’s Pawn. Taking out the Teeste Andiii lord wasn’t enough for you, eh? No, you had to assassinate a few of our own mages at the same time. And for what? Kicks?”

“Well, it was pretty awesome, yeah.”

“Very well. And what of Captain Paranos? He has arrived, has he not?”

“In a manner of speaking, I believe, yes.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Loon snapped. “Did you assassinate him, too?”

“No, but I believe him to be dead.”

“Why?”

Tastechicken grabbed a Pail Times from a nearby newspaper rack. He riffled through it and eventually showed the Adjunct Paranos’s obituary. Loon snatched the paper and skimmed the article.

“‘Nuclear physicist’…‘won the Nobel Prize for Literature’…‘survived by sixteen grandchildren’…this isn’t him, you idiot.” She glanced at the name at the top for the first time. “This is the obituary for Billy Paranos.”

“Oh, sorry, Adjunct. He may be alive and well then, I suppose.”

“One last question, High Mage. The sorceress Bladdersnail. How good is she?”

“Oh, she’s pretty good, if you know what I mean,” Tastechicken replied.


***


Bladdersnail looked out the window of her small room. Captain Paranos was seated on the bed behind her, oiling his sword. The doorbell rang, and the sorceress went to answer it. A marine stood outside.

“Greetings, Sorceress. High Fister Kojak Threearm has asked me to formally invite you to a feast tonight at the Olive Garden, located on…Hood’s curdled milk, what’s that man doing?”

“Oh,” Bladdersnail replied, looking back at Paranos. “He’s just oiling his…Hood’s blimp! I thought you meant…never mind. Thank you, sir; I’ll be there.”

She slammed the door and spun to face Paranos.

“No see here, young man. Just because we did this once doesn’t mean—”

She was cut off as Paranos grabbed her and pulled her into the bed. A minute later they were both naked and at it again.


***


Exhausted from the long walk, Tic Toc Junior trudged into Pail later that night. It was all he could muster to make it to the nearest restaurant, an Olive Garden. At least he’d have some peace, quiet, and, most of all, relaxation.

He opened the door and was instantly showered in confetti. Adjunct Loon, nearby, blew a party horn noisemaker into his face.

“Glad you could make it to the feast,” Loon said. “Our table will be ready any minute now.”

Seated on a bench next to the Adjunct were Kojak Threearm, High Mage Tastechicken, and the sorceress Bladdersnail.

“Philip,” the woman behind the front desk said.

Tastechicken stood up. “That’s my first name,” he said, in answer to the inquiring looks everyone was giving him.

Soon they were seated at a table and on their second round of wine and third round of breadsticks.

“I hope my Tour of Korelri gets here soon,” Kojak Threearm said.

“Hey,” said Loon, looking across at Bladdersnail and waving a mostly empty wine bottle in her hand. “Wait just one stinking moment. I know you. You’re the bitch who pushed over my daddy’s gas grill in the Louse Quarter eight years ago. And you stole our hot dogs, too!”

“Now, now,” Bladdersnail said, holding up her hands palms out. “You must be thinking of a dif—”

But Loon was already diving across the table. She smashed the glass salad bowl over Bladdersnail’s head, showering the table with lettuce and croutons. The sorceress stood up, grabbed her chair, and brought it crashing down across the back of the Adjunct, who was lying face down on the tabletop. But Loon sprang back up and kicked Bladdersnail in the shin, then whacked her in the head with the wine bottle she still held. The sorceress straightened and broke Loon’s nose with a vicious blow to the face. The Adjunct grabbed a fork while Bladdersnail was fumbling for a butter knife.

Finally, Kojak sighed and pushed back his chair, but Tic Toc touched him on the shoulder.

“I’ll handle this,” the Flaw said.

Tic Toc Junior approached the struggling women and, setting himself in an ancient Flaw stance, prepared to execute a rare Flaw attack that would take out both combatants at once and—

He was pulled into the fray by both women, pummeled to the ground, and left forgotten and unconscious beside the on-going fight.

“Hood’s milk,” Kojak Threearm said. “Check, please!”


***


The next morning, Bladdersnail staggered out of the police station and back to her apartment building. What a fine night she’d had! Most charming woman, that Adjunct Loon. Most charming. She eventually opened the door to her room. Paranos was sprawled out on the bed.

“Hey, Bladdersnail, guess what?”

“What?”

“I just checked Adjunct Loon’s Twitter account. Looks like she isn’t here alone. And there’s more. I don’t think she’ll be with us much longer. She’s heading for Karugyzstan soon.”

“Damn that woman,” Bladdersnail said. “I must go after her now.”

“Oh, and, sorceress?”

“Yes?”

“Wanna do it again?”


***


Adjunct Loon rode her horse out Pail’s eastern gate well before dawn, a raging headache building in her skull. Well, she supposed she’d gotten a little carried away last night. Still it had been a fun change of pace.

A few miles out from the city, the dust swirled nearby and the T’ling Imus Oboe T’Coolant appeared. Loon shrieked in surprise and fell off her horse.

“Dammit, Cool. Stop doing that!”

“Cool. Yes, I will accept that name. It is, after all, quite…cool.”

They rode in silence for a time before the Adjunct’s curiosity got the better of her.

“Cool, where did you T’ling Imus guys go during the Marzipan takeover of Seventy-Two Cities? You just kind of left us and marched west.”

“Adjunct, we had found a hidden enclave of Jagoots, our mortal enemy which we have vowed to destroy.”

“How did you find this secret, hidden enclave?”

The T’ling Imus cocked his head. “An interesting question. One to which I do not know the answer. Thus, I shake my head in puzzlement at you, Adjunct.”


***


The Grand Crow Geezer soared through the air across the Beavi Plain. Anomander Hoe was not his only master. No, Caliban Prude held that ominous distinction as well. Thus, he flew to a summons. Ahead, the Stairway to Heaven Forest spread out below him.
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  #12  
Old 01-23-2014, 02:11 PM
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Chapter 10

Tic Toc Junior walked into the Pail Ale House. The note had been specific: he was to meet someone here. He just didn’t know who. Who did he know in this city, anyway? Certainly no one who would frequent this seedy dive.

“Hey, High Fister,” Tic Toc said, clapping Kojak Threearm on the shoulder as he walked by the man.

No, most Marzipans wouldn’t be caught dead in a place like this, risking their lofty reputations and all.

Tic Toc waved to High Mage Tastechicken, who was dancing shirtless on a nearby tabletop, and made his way to a booth near the back of the room.

“Hey! Tic Toc!”

Tic Toc turned around to see Captain Paranos sitting in the booth behind him. The Flaw got up and moved to the captain’s table.

“I thought you were dead,” Tic Toc said.

“Maybe,” Paranos grunted. “Listen, I have a favor to ask. About a week ago Sergeant Vodkajoe headed down to Karugyzstan. Shortly after, Adjunct Loon arrived and went out to follow Vodkajoe. She has a T’ling Imus following her. And now Bladdersnail is following them both.”

“So what do you want, Captain?”

“I want to follow Bladdersnail. Can you get me horses?”

“Aye, Captain. But…can I follow you, too?”

“Fine,” Paranos said. “Let’s get going.”


***


Bladdersnail was making good ground on the Adjunct, but that would not last. She’d been traveling at speed utilizing her Thyrsty warren, but now something was blocking her from using it. The influence of the T’ling Imus, she suspected. Her warren had become narrow, choked with obstacles. After swinging across a pit filled with poisonous snakes and dodging several darts shooting out at her, Bladdersnail deemed it safer to travel normally.

She released her warren and felt the warm sunlight assault her, exposed as she was traveling east across the Beavi Plain. The Adjunct was still half a day ahead. And here Bladdersnail was, alone, out in the middle of nowhere, no food, no shelter, no bedroll, no clothes, no—

The sorceress tripped on a loose rock, fell, hit her head against another rock, and was killed instantly.


***


“Well,” said Adjunct Loon, as she snuggled up against the undead warrior lying beside her in the sleeping bag. “Could you tell me more about your people, perhaps? Maybe a little about the Elder Warrens as well?”

“Very well,” Oboe T’Coolant said, putting his arm around Loon’s shoulders. “The Elder Warren of Fire, the warren of the T’ling Imus, is named Tellanphone.”

“That’s a stupid name.”

“I did not claim to have made it up, Adjunct,” Cool said. “It is, in truth, a corruption of the name my people came up with for—”

“Yeah, yeah, okay, I got it. What about the other ones?”

“The Teeste Andiii employ the Elder Warren of Dorkness, which they call Kernel Galing. The Jagoots use the Elder Warren of Ice Cubes, called Obtuse Phlegmack. And of course, there is the first warren, Buffet, from which all others were born.”

“I never knew about all this,” Adjunct Loon said, her hand slowly creeping deeper into the sleeping bag toward Cool. The stars were shining brightly overhead.

“Indeed, Adjunct, the warrens can be most interesting. Why, just the other day I came across a rare spell that appeared to involve the Thyrsty, Denial, P’iss, and Tennis Warrens. All younger warrens, of course, but for all that they aren’t half…Adjunct, are you touching me?”


***


Geezer swooped down to land before Caliban Prude’s command tent in the middle of the Stairway to Heaven Forest. The old crow took a quick look at the camp around him. There were quite a few Teeste Andiii hanging around—that was assuredly good. There were no Beavi peoples present, but that was not surprising as they tended to stay on their plains. And off to one side was the camp of the Mauve Sentinels, under the command of the deposed Prince K’azz D’Spazz. Squawking, Geezer flopped through the tent folds and into his master’s lair.

Caliban Prude, called the Warthog by his men, stood examining a map table. Short and rather slim for a soldier, the Warthog still had his infamous screwdriver strapped at his belt. It was said that terrible things happened whenever Caliban Prude unleashed his mighty screwdriver.

“Oh, hi,” said Prude, glancing up. He wiped off his glasses on his shirt and walked toward Geezer, tripping on a table leg in the process. “Oh, stupid things…”

“I have news, great one,” Geezer said. “Anomander Hoe is sending his best mage assassins into Karugyzstan, with the sole intent of murdering every pizza delivery man in the city.”

“Oh, my. Why would Hoe do such a heinous thing?”

“This is Anomander Hoe we are talking about, after all.”

“True, true,” Caliban Prude mused. “Very well. I’ll have Prince K’azz D’Spazz send some of his best Mauve Sentinels down to protect these delivery men. Several of his Allowed should do, I think. Now, shoo.”

Geezer flapped his way back outside.

“Colour,” Caliban Prude called, once he was certain the stupid bird was gone. “Mr. Colour?”

A tall man in a brightly flamboyant tie-dyed cloak entered the tent from the back entrance. Colour, Calidan Prude’s second-in-command.

“You called, my lord?”

“Yes. I just wanted to inform you that I’m sending some Allowed down to Karugyzstan.”

“Well, whoopdee dippity doo, my lord.”

“Yes, thank you.”

“I should tell you,” Colour said. “You would do better to destroy Anomander Hoe. One sight of that screwdriver of yours, and the Son of Dorkness will be pissing his own pants. He is too dangerous to keep alive. Consider this my last warning, for this evening at least.”


***


Captain Paranos and Tic Toc Junior dismounted from their horses upon arriving at the horrible scene. Paranos could barely think, the physical tears in his eyes seeming to blot out all thought going to his brain. There was only so much, so much horror one could take in a single lifetime, before the walls of one’s self came tumbling down, crashing inward as if—

“What an idiot,” Tic Toc said. “Tripped over a stupid rock. Well, now what?”

Paranos stared down at the lifeless body of Bladdersnail for a few more seconds. Finally, he collected himself.

“We follow the T’ling Imus. Only then can we follow Adjunct Loon, and then we can follow Vodkajoe’s squad of Fridgeraiders.”

“So, onward to Karugyzstan, Captain?” Tic Toc asked.

“Looks that way.”
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Old 01-23-2014, 03:24 PM
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Chapter 11

This time Krepe had wandered all the way around Lake Azul and into the Beavi Plain by the time he awoke. Tall grasses swayed to the gentle pre-dawn light all around him. Ahead stood several figures. There was a man, a doctor judging by the stethoscope around his neck. There was also a woman with no arms and no legs lying on the ground beside the doctor, and a woman in a hospital bed before him.

Krepe walked up to the trio, straightening his suit and brushing off the dust of the road. He walked over to the doctor.

“Hello, my name is Krepe. I’m a janitor.”

“Greetings, Krepe the janitor,” the man said. “My name is Dr. Prune Chew. Would you like to help me deliver this woman’s baby?”

“Sure,” Krepe replied. “A somewhat random request, but I guess I can help. Who’s that other woman with no arms and no legs?”

Dr. Prune Chew shrugged. “Shall we begin?”


***


Crapsalar strode down the middle of Triblet’s Walk. The first early signs of the Feast of Pepperoni were emerging on the streets of Karugyzstan. The balloons were being filled, streamers splashed the sky with color, goats were being sacrificed in temples, dogs were having their genitals mutilated in dark alleys, and the intestines of executed criminals were being strung across the streets like clotheslines, dripping unholy blood onto the unsuspecting passersby below.

The thief was bored and still thinking about his robbery of the maiden Wendy D’Arle. Who knew? Maybe he could smarten up a bit. Study a little, pay some dues, and maybe he’d get in her pants one day. He swung around and headed toward his tenement. Uncle Marmot could surely help his nephew out. He was a Professor of History at the University of Phoenix, after all, though this semester he was on sabbatical.

Crapsalar found Marmot’s pet flying armadillo outside his uncle’s door. Crapsalar grabbed the wretched creature and stuffed it inside its small cage in the corner.

“Stupid armadillo,” Crapsalar muttered. “You can just stay in that little cage, okay, Toby?”

He walked in on Uncle Marmot hunched over his desk, staring intently at the screen of his laptop. Some sort of video was playing, which Marmot hastily closed.

“Uh…heh…uh, Crapsalar, my lad. How are you, my boy? Tea?”

“No thanks, Uncle Marmot. I was wondering if you could teach me a thing or two? A history lesson, perhaps?”

“Why, of course. I’m delighted, Crapsalar, truly I am. Now, where to begin? Ah, yes. There were three great founding races on the earth, before the rise of humanity. Well, actually there were four such races, but one just looks like dinosaurs and I’ve always considered them to be rather silly. Anyway, these three races all warred for dominion over our continent, Jellibopis. The Spoonful Assail bowed out early, so we won’t worry about them either. They’re called the Krussail nowadays anyway. Oh, wait. No they aren’t. Ah, well, no matter. The second group was the Jagoots, who today we call the Shurl. Well, not really, but you get my point. The Jagoots warred with the T’ling Imus peoples, the third founding race. Now, the Jagoots were normally nice, companionable people. But understand, Crapsalar: not all Jagoots are good. Some of them go bad. And a few hundred thousand years ago there was one Jagoot tyrant that went as bad as you can go.”

“And what happened to this Jagoot tyrant?” Crapsalar asked, intrigued.

“He tried to enslave his own people, but they revolted against him and trapped him in a barrow not far from here, in the Adobe Flash Hills. Some say he died in that barrow. Cadswallop, in my opinion. I reckon he’s still in there, too tired to break out. But one thing’s certain. The rumors about the vast treasures in his barrow drew peoples from northern Jellibopis down here. They came and looked for the treasure, and when they failed they got mad, killed off all the native peoples, and built Karugyzstan over sacred grounds. Isn’t that wonderful?”

“Born on a rumor…” Crapsalar muttered absent-mindedly. Maybe if he managed to tie the D’Arle maiden down first, he could…

“Well, that’s enough for one day, don’t you think, Crapsalar?”


***


An hour later Crapsalar was approaching the entrance to the University of Phoenix. Shocked, the thief discovered a body lying in front of the doorway. He quickly collected the man’s wallet, watch, and shoes before rushing into the university lobby.

“Gentlemen!” he said. “Chert has died!”

“You don’t say!” someone said.

Half a dozen people raced outside, only to return a few moments later.

“Damn,” one of them said. “Someone’s already got his wallet.”

“And his watch,” another moaned.

Smiling inwardly, Crapsalar approached the vending machine in the corner, where he found Scurvy. Scurvy was a smelly, old homeless man who lived in the university’s lobby and made money by charging people to use “his” vending machine to get drinks.

“Hey, Scurvy,” Crapsalar said. “I think I’ll have a Diet Coke today.” He handed the man some money.

“Sure thing,” Scurvy said. He pocketed the money, pressed the button combination for Diet Coke on the machine, and kicked it vigorously. A Diet Coke popped out moments later, which he handed to Crapsalar.

“Thanks,” the thief said. He went off to join his friends Krepe, Fallick Tom, Fidellio, and Moll at their usual coffee table in the center of the lobby.


***


Lickety Split Nick sat alone on the bed in the hotel room. Konan should be back soon, at least, but for the moment he was by himself. Vodkajoe had taken the rest of the squad down to the nearby public swimming pool. Something was troubling Lickety Split Nick and Konan, however.

The door banged open and Konan walked in.

“Any luck?” Lickety Split Nick asked.

The assassin shook his head.

Damn, Lickety Split thought. They’d been trying to order a pizza for the past three days, but the Pizza Guild seemed to have gone underground. There wasn’t a pizza restaurant open in the whole damned city. Odd, what with the Feast of Pepperoni approaching and all.

“We’ll just have to keep looking,” Lickety Split Nick declared. “In the meantime, I have an idea.”

“Oh?”

“I used to be a priest of Shallow. I’ll enter the Realm of Shallow and see if I can get an audience with Shallowthrone. He’s an odd sort of fellow, maybe he’d know where we can get a pizza.”

“As long as it’s not some frozen crap,” Konan growled.

Lickety Split Nick grinned. He closed his eyes and began to meditate.


***


“Well,” Fallick Tom was saying, “I for one will be glad when this Goon’s Pawn thing is gone. It’s quite alarming, just hanging there and such. It makes me shiver all over, did you know that? Makes me shiver like a madman.”

He shivered for effect.

“What’s it doing here anyway?” Fidellio asked. The Professor of Accountancy got up and stretched. “Bah, what’s it matter, really? Well, I’m off guys. Got Suzy Smith on my list tonight. Cute girl. Bit of an idiot, but I can live with that.”

Krepe spoke up as Fidellio sauntered away. “Any word of the Council’s attempts to contact the Lord of Goon’s Pawn?” He straightened his tie. “You’d think we’d have heard something by now.”

“Uncle Marmot said the plan to shoot someone out of a cannonball at the mountain didn’t work,” Crapsalar replied. “So they’ve run out of plans, and now Councilman Jeff is dead. I wonder who lives in there, anyway?”

Moll stirred from his sleep on the couch and bellowed, “Five purple dragons!” before falling asleep again.


***


Lickety Split Nick staggered over rough, parched earth. Well, damn. He’d made it to the Warren of Shallow after all. He wasn’t sure he’d be able to. Well, here goes.

“Shallowthrone,” Lickety Split Nick called out. “Lord of Shallow, I am come to your realm. Um, hi. Mind if I visit for a sec?”

From the hills came an answer: the roaring of angry Zebras.
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Old 01-23-2014, 04:05 PM
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Chapter 12

Krepe, being the studious, scholarly janitor that he was, sat in Marmot’s office, poring over old manuscripts.

And after he was called down, the Nipple God was pierced, and thus chained to the earth. Pierced and chained was this god, and thus he is called the Pierced One as well. The land was blasted by the fall of the Nipple God. Things were created, things were destroyed. There were many present at the Piercing. Hood was present, as was his then-servant Dysenterae. Present too were the Queen of Creams, the Bacon God Fender, D’rul, Poponn, Rolypoliel, George Foreman, John and Kate Plus Eight, Kim Jong-il, the Dalai Lama, Queen Latifah, Boba Fett, Kevin Bacon, Pope Innocent LXIX, and Greg. Furthermore, also in attendance were…

Krepe skimmed through the next few pages of boring lists. Finally, he found a reference to Moll’s odd exclamation from the night before.

The Teeste Andiii were present too, of course. Among them was the Son of Dorkness himself, Anomander Hoe. He traveled down from Goon’s Pawn with his five purple dragons, and one red one, named Filandah. With him were thirteen-thousand two-hundred and twenty-one lesser Teeste Andiii. Their names are as follows…

Krepe threw the heavy tome down and wiped his hands clean of the dust. Well, he had what he wanted. There were, indeed, dragons living in Goon’s Pawn it seemed. Though how Moll came to know such a thing was beyond the simple mind of Krepe the janitor. He straightened his tie as Marmot walked into the room.

“Tea, Krepe? I’ve been wondering, too. Have you seen my nephew, lately?”

“Crapsalar?” Krepe asked, accepting the tea.

“No, Steve. Poor lad’s had the flu. Though now that you mention it, how is Crapsalar?”

“Funny you should ask,” Krepe replied. “The boy seems to be infatuated with something. Fidellio and Fallick Tom seem to believe the lad has been smitten by the D’Arle maiden, Wendy.”

“Indeed, that is curious,” Marmot said. “Why, only the other day Crapsalar had me begin tutoring him in history. Well, what do you know! My young nephew has decided to really take charge of his life after all. Why, I bet in a few years, he’ll have learned enough to get a seat on the Council, threaten, bully, and assassinate enough councilmen to gain complete control of the city, marry Wendy D’Arle, and take over the world. Ha. And here I thought the lad was just a lazy bum!”


***


Archivist Baroop returned from the bathroom to find the Grand Crow Geezer in his study.

“Good evening, Geezer. What can I do for you?”

“It has come to my master’s attention,” Geezer squawked, “that the Marzipan forces are searching for something in the Adobe Flash Hills. Some device of power, it would seem. Do you know what this could be?”

“Hood’s Two Percent! The barrow!”

“Barrow?”

“Yes,” Baroop said. “There is a Jagoot tyrant buried in the Adobe Flash Hills. No one knows precisely where. But if the Marzipans somehow know…”

“What could they do with such knowledge?” Geezer asked.

“Well, they’d free the tyrant, for one. Then they’d send him straight to Karugyzstan. Oh, Hood’s milk. The calamity! With his Obtuse Phlegmack Warren, he could level the city just by sneezing at it.”

“What can we do?”

“I’ll think of something,” the Archivist replied. “But really, Geezer. I must speak with your lord again at once. I’ve only had one meeting with Anomander Hoe so far. We need to speak again, and soon.”

Geezer stared at Baroop for a second then, without reply, the Grand Crow flew out the open window into the night.


***


Lickety Split Nick was soon surrounded by the Zebras of Shallow. He recognized them all. Dumb, Duran, Khan, and Dong. Well, four of the seven were present, at least. Beer, the one that had appeared in Pail, was not here. Neither were Lood and Gonad.

The Realm of Shallow was a nasty place, and Lickety Split Nick recalled the desolation well. The entire world was filled with a shallow ocean, only two or three inches deep. How Shallowthrone’s feet hadn’t rotted off long ago was beyond the squad mage.

After trudging through the stagnant filth for a half bell, they eventually reached Shallowkeep. The Zebras led him to the main throne room, in which Shallowthrone sat, unsurprisingly, on the throne.

“Speak, mortal,” Shallowthrone hissed. “I am very busy, as you can see. Make it quick.”

“I was once an acolyte of your temple,” Lickety Split Nick began.

“Indeed. And why do you think I would look kindly on such a…deserter of my faith? Why did you leave?”

“I converted to Buddhism,” Lickety Split Nick replied.

Shallowthrone shrugged. “Very well. Now, what do you want?”

“I am in a bit of a predicament, in the city of Karugyzstan. There is a Pizza Guild war occurring there, and as such, my friend and I can’t get a pizza delivered to our hotel room.”

“That is a conundrum,” Shallowthrone mused. “Very well. Leave me, and I shall attend to the matter accordingly, in due time.”


***


Krepe appeared in Baroop’s office a few hours later, after having received a summons from the man. Still looking immaculate in his suit, the janitor sat down across the desk from the Archivist.

“I have a request, Krepe,” Baroop began, but Krepe raised a hand.

“A moment, please, if you will,” the janitor said. “I have been told to bring you a message on the way to your house. It is, it would seem, from the Seal.”

“Go on, then. What message?”

“There are Marzipans. They are here, in this very city. They have infiltrated Karugyzstan.”

“And does the Seal know where they are? What they plan?”

“Not as such,” Krepe replied. “Perhaps he will inform us eventually. In the meantime, what is your request?”

“What? Oh, yes, that. It has come to my attention that the Marzipans may try to free the Jagoot tyrant buried in the Adobe Flash Hills. I need that barrow protected, Krepe. Therefore, I want you and a few of your friends to do so. Fidellio and Moll should be able to help. Take Crapsalar, too. Marmot’s nephew. I’ll let you know when to leave. It should be quite soon, I think.”


***


Lickety Split Nick returned to the real world. He turned to smile at Konan and give a thumbs up sign, but the assassin was sleeping on one of the beds.

“Wake up,” Lickety Split Nick shouted, shaking the man. “I think our plan worked. Shallowthrone seemed amenable, at least. Hopefully we get our pizza soon.”

The door banged open and Vodkajoe stepped in. He was wearing nothing but very short swimming trunks, still dripping wet from the pool. Saxophonist stepped in behind the Sergeant. The sapper wore his bathing suit as well, along with floatation devices strapped around his upper arms.

“I think I may have a pizza man,” Vodkajoe said. “Wedge followed him to the University of Phoenix.”

“You think it’s legit, Sarge?” Lickety Split Nick asked.

“Knowing Wedge, I doubt it. Still, no harm checking it out. Well, me and the rest of the squad are gonna go check out the arcade down by the water. Man, I hope they have Space Invaders.”

“Oh, and Asteroids!” Saxophonist said as they left.


***


Fallick Tom looked up from the coffee table to see two foreigners in Hawaiian shirts, shorts, and sandals enter the lobby. Oh, Hood’s blimp, he thought. These must be the directors of the microeconomics board, just in from Seventy-Two Cities. And here I am, sitting right in front of them, and I haven’t passed my latest microeconomics teaching test!

Fallick Tom stood up, hastily throwing on his best tweed jacket. He grabbed his briefcase and bolted for the back door, knocking over a Pizza Hut delivery man in the process. He had to let Professor Outlet, the economics head, know about this!


***


“Hey, look!” Konan pointed. “That guy back there’s running away. He must be our delivery man. Come on, Lickety Split. We’ll teach him to run!”

The two Marzipans dashed after Falliack Tom, trampling the Pizza Hut delivery man in their haste to reach the back door.


***


Fallick Tom found Professor Outlet skulking around the back alley, as usual.

“Professor, I have a problem,” Fallick cried. “I’ve been found out! The directors of the microeconomics board are here, and they’ve got blood on their minds, I could tell. My blood! They’re here, right in the lobby. I looked back and saw one of them pointing at me. They’re coming, Professor!”

“Calm down, lad,” Outlet said. “I’ll gather the other economics professors. Macros, I think, for this. We’ll take care of ‘em for you. No go, get out of here, quick.”

Fallick Tom ran into the night.


***


Crapsalar stood outside the estate, looking up the wall. He’d have to use his grappling hook again, as they’d repaired the wall since last time. Hood, he must be pretty stupid to return to the D’Arle Estate like this. He thought he was ready, though. Uncle Marmot had taught him so much in those ten minutes he’d spent with him the other day. He was an educated gentleman now. He could do this. Grinning in anticipation, Crapsalar readied his grappling hook.
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Old 01-24-2014, 03:54 PM
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Chapter 13

Konan and Lickety Split Nick pelted after the man at full speed. The man they were chasing carried a briefcase against his chest. That must be where he kept the pizza. Well, he wouldn’t get away from them now.

“Hood’s milk in a cup,” Lickety Split Nick swore.

Konan looked up to see their quarry climbing a drain pipe to the roof of a nearby building. They’d lose him quick if they didn’t follow.

“Okay, how but some magic,” Lickety Split Nick said. “I’ll make myself invisible, so he won’t see when I sneak up behind him. And I’ll make you lighter, so you can jump and float straight up to the top of that building.”

“Fine,” said Konan.

“All right, it’s ready.” Lickety Split Nick had suddenly disappeared next to him. “Now jump on up there, I’ll climb up right after you.”

Konan took a great running leap, flew high into the air, and—smashed into the side of the brick building five feet short of the roof. Dazed, the assassin slid down, but only to land on a fire escape. Konan regained his bearings and climbed the rest of the way to the roof.

“There he goes,” said Lickety Split Nick’s voice from beside him. Konan saw the pizza man a few roofs over.

After a daring chase across the rooftops, which resulted in only two broken bones on Konan’s part, they finally came to a roof and saw that their target had paused on an adjacent building.


***


Fallick Tom crouched at the edge of the roof when he heard a low voice call to him from below.

“Psst! Fallick! It’s me, Outlet.”

“Oh, hi, Professor.”

“Uh, hi. Listen, we’ve got those two creeps surrounded. You can go home, Fallick. We’ll show these guys what’s what. Mess with one of us, and you mess with all of us, right?”

“Sure,” Fallick Tom replied.

“Okay, go get some rest,” Outlet said from below. “Make sure to check them obituary pages for two economics board members tomorrow morning, eh?”


***


Archivist Baloop was watching his computer screen. He was flying his remote control toy helicopter over the city tonight, and he’d hooked up a camera to it, which displayed its recordings on his monitor. Usually he used this device to spy on Councilmen (and their wives) or other such endeavors, though recently he’d tried to see inside Goon’s Pawn with it. Tonight, though, something was wrong. Baloop could tell something important was going to happen in the city tonight. So, here he sat, hands at the controls of his toy helicopter, eyes watching his computer monitor for anything that might be awry.

Suddenly, figures appeared on the screen. They were falling from the sky! Slowly descending, Baloop amended, as he watched the figures drift down to the rooftops below. They were each clutching an open umbrella. The camera suddenly jerked and the image turned to gray snow. One of the figures had grabbed his helicopter.


***


“Something’s not right, dammit,” Konan hissed. “Come on, Lickety Split. Let’s get out of here, fast.”

“Hang on,” said the mage’s voice. “I sense something coming.”

“In that case, we should definitely get out of—”

But men were climbing up over the edge of the roof all around them now. Men in suits. Damn. It seemed as though the pizza man had friends. Were they all rogue pizza delivery men?

They lunged forward as one, all twelve of them, but before Konan could blink they were being slaughtered by yet another group of people, this one descending from the sky on umbrellas. The assassin squinted. They were Teeste Andiii!.

A battle erupted on the rooftop around them. Teeste Andiii fought rogue pizza delivery men, and there was mayhem on all sides. Lickety Split Nick was nowhere to be seen, the bastard.

A Teeste Andiii turned to Konan and advanced on him. Swearing, the assassin pulled out a dagger, only to fumble and drop it. He bent to retrieve it just as the Teeste Andiii swung a sword through the space where Konan’s head had been a moment before. He sprang back up and stabbed the Teeste Andiii in the eye. Blood and guts spilled out, a massive deluge of gore and gray brain matter, bits of organs and bone, stomach acid and intestinal fluid, all soaking the front of Konan’s Hawaiian shirt.

He turned just in time to parry the attack from a pizza man. Konan sliced low, cutting open the man’s stomach. Every organ the man possessed spilled out onto the rooftop, but the man fought on. Konan grabbed the pizza guy’s intestines and wrapped them around the man’s neck, strangling the hapless fellow with them.

Konan looked around him. The fight seemed to have moved on, spread out onto the adjacent rooftops.

“Lickety Split? Where are you?”

No answer.

“Aw, man.”


***


Fallick Tom crouched motionless on his own rooftop, too entranced by the battle to move. Suddenly, he heard a small footfall behind him. He wheeled around. Instinct alone made him open his briefcase and pull out the standard economics professor issue crossbow. He spun and fired, killing the man behind him instantly.

“Oops,” Fallick said, as the elderly mayor of the Karu District dropped dead with a bolt in his forehead.

“What’s going on over here?” a voice said. Outlet.

“I’m, uh, fine, Professor,” Fallick Tom said. “Just killed one of the bastards myself.”

He hastily picked up the body of the mayor and threw it off the roof as Outlet stepped into view.

“We’re pulling out,” the professor said. “We’re only teachers, for Hood’s sake. We don’t get paid enough for this. Come on, Fallick. I’ve already told the others to retreat. Let’s get going.”


***


He avoided the tripwire this time, and then Crapsalar was in. In the girl’s bedroom, which he had visited once, what seemed so long ago. Wendy D’Arle was sleeping again, which was good. She was naked again, too, which was even better.

Crapsalar hurried toward the bed, but he tripped over her bundled clothes and fell face first onto the bed right next to her. She woke up instantly.

“Thief!” she cried.

“No, wait,” Crapsalar said, holding up his hands in defense. “I brought the paperclip back.”

“Oh,” Wendy D’Arle said. “Well, in that case, put it back where it was.”

Crapsalar did so. He returned to the bed and sprawled out next to the maiden’s naked body.

“I also wanted to say that I didn’t post the pictures on Facebook,” Crapsalar said.

“What pictures?”

“The ones I took of you naked.”

“Oh, you malodorous pervert!” Wendy shrieked.

“I also have to say that I’ll marry you one day,” Crapsalar continued.

“Wait, what?” Wendy asked. “Who the hell are you?”

“I know things now. I’m smart. The Jagoots are called the Shurl now, but not really.”

“What? Listen, get out of my room, you idiot.”

“There’s also a Jagoot tyrant thing buried in the Adobe Flash Hills.”

“What’s your name, anyway?” the D’Arle maiden asked.

“Crapsalar.” He stared at her for a moment longer. “So, you wanna do it, or…?”

“Guards!” Wendy D’Arle cried out. “Guards!”

Crapsalar swore and dashed out through the balcony window again. He could still hear Wendy calling behind him. “Guards! There’s a burglar pervert guy in my room! Guards!”

Well, that hadn’t worked out quite how he’d planned. Too bad he’d forgotten the ball gab and the rope. Oh, well. There was always next time.


***


Konan was still looking around for Lickety Split Nick when the mage appeared before him, not ten feet away, struggling to fight a pizza man to the ground.

“And—I—want—extra—cheese—!” Lickety Split was screaming, punching the man full in the face between each word. Finally, the delivery man was dead.

“Well, that’s the last of them,” Lickety Split Nick said. “No pizza for us tonight, I guess.”

“Behind you!” Konan cried. Five Teeste Andiii had appeared on the rooftop, umbrellas in hand.

“Go on, Konan,” Lickety Split said. “I’ll stall ‘em.”

“Fine,” said the assassin, diving head first off the rooftop.


***


Lickety Split Nick pulled a small vial from his back pocket. It was a wonder he hadn’t broken it yet. He threw it to the ground, releasing the demon within.

“You are not Master Tastechicken,” the demon said, upon seeing Lickety Split Nick.

“Yes I am.”

“No you’re not.”

“Yeah huh.”

“Nuh uh.”

“Fine, I’m just his friend,” Lickety Split said. “I need you to kill those five Teeste Andiii over there.”

“Very well. My name is Earl. What is yours?”

Lickety Split Nick hesitated for a moment. “Nick Adenoid Dollop. You’d better hurry, Earl. There’s more Teeste Andiii coming.”

They looked up in the sky to see more shapes descending from umbrellas. And, there was one more among them. This one descended from a parachute, and he was, for some reason, completely naked below the waist.

“Do you see that last one, Nick Adenoid Dollop?” the demon asked. “You send me to my death.”

“Better you than me,” the mage said, then he jumped off the roof to join Konan.


***


Fallick Tom trudged slowly home. Outlet had gone to see Professor Dvorkin, the President of the University of Phoenix campus in Karugyzstan herself. Fallick didn’t envy Outlet that conversation.

“Oh, hi, Mrs. President. Yeah, about tonight. Sorry, I killed off half our macro economics department. Won’t happen again!

Hood’s blimp, Fallick would probably be in trouble, too. He was the reason the macros had joined the fight in the first place, after all.

He approached the entrance to the University of Phoenix and saw Crapsalar approaching from the opposite direction. Well, there was someone he could bully, at least.

Fallick Tom rushed over and grabbed Crapsalar, dragging the boy into the nearby alley. He slammed the lad against a wall.

“Stop being a thief!” Fallick yelled. “It’s too dangerous. There’s assassins and things out there tonight. Stop being reckless. Okay, now give me your lunch money, you little punk!”


***


Anomander Hoe sheathed his sword and shivered. The idiots should have known he’d been sleeping and wouldn’t have time to fully dress. He wished he’d chosen his pajamas with the feet for this night.

“I believe we have lost some of our warriors,” Hoe said, looking around at the Teeste Andiii gathered about on the rooftop. “She-rat. Tell me, how many have we lost? Does Brother Orfantal still live?”

“She does,” She-rat replied. “She’s right over there. We have lost four tonight, my lord.”

“Well, that’s not too bad then, eh? Come on, we’ll go back up to Goon’s Pawn and have a little party. Orfantal, my good man, break out the drinks up there, will you?”

“Aye, my lord,” the woman replied.

“I’ll follow you in a bit,” Anomander Hoe said. “I have a little matter to attend to first.”

He left the rooftop as the other Teeste Andiii floated into the sky behind him, rising up on their umbrellas.


***


Konan and Lickety Split Nick returned to the hotel room to find Vodkajoe and the squad sitting around the television. Snotts was playing a video game.

“Damn campers,” the Barfmask warrior yelled. “Team killing pieces of sh—”

“Ah, you’re back,” Vodkajoe said, sitting with his legs up in a reclining chair. “Did you get the pizzas?”

“No,” Lickety Split Nick moaned. “The pizza delivery guys turned on us and tried to kill us. Then some Teeste Andiii floated down from the sky and tried to kill them. Then they tried to kill us too. So we sent a demon to kill them. But they killed it. Then we left and came here.”

“Hood-damned stupid son of a bitch team killers!” Snotts screamed at the TV. “I’ll own you all, you noobie pieces of motherless—”

“So, what do we do now?” Vodkajoe asked. “That pizza… It’s so delicious…”

“I know, Sergeant,” Lickety Split Nick said. “We still have that deal with Shallowthrone. Maybe he’ll think of something and come through. That’s all we’ve got for now, I’m afraid.”

“Damn you to hell, you spawn camping retards!” Snotts yelled. “Stupid son of a bitch bastard turds!” He hurled the controller at the TV, smashing the screen.


***


There was a knock at the door, and Archivist Baloop looked up from his desk. A visitor? At this hour? They knocked again.

“Who is it?” Baloop asked.

“It’s me.”

“Come in, then,” Baloop said.

Lord Anomander Hoe walked in, a still-open parachute strapped to his back, the baggy end of it trailing out into the hall, down the stairs, then out the front door and halfway down the street. The Son of Dorkness carried a smashed toy helicopter. Something else was wrong, too…

“Hood’s blimp, you’re not wearing any pants. Uh, my lord.”

“God lord, no,” Hoe replied. “I like a nice breeze at night. This yours?” He held up the mangled ruin of the helicopter.

“Yes, yes,” Baloop said, grabbing the toy and throwing it in a corner. “We need to talk. The Marzipans plan to unleash a Jagoot tyrant of unspeakable power on the city.”

“Indeed? How interesting.”

“Interesting?” Baloop said. “Well, I suppose. But it will kill us all, Hoe! Destroy the city and everyone in it! That Jagoot has the power to destroy this entire continent if left unchecked.”

“Well, it’s not a very nice continent, at least,” Anomander Hoe said.

“Dammit, Hoe,” Baloop said. “We need your help!”

The Teeste Andiii lord blinked. “My help? What do you want me to do? Fight the thing for you?”

“Well, yes, if we can’t stop the Empire from freeing—”

“Ah, don’t sweat it,” Hoe said, dismissing Baloop’s comment with a wave of his hand.

“So you’ll help us?”

“Of course not,” Anomander Hoe said. “But don’t sweat it, ‘cause you’ll get all stinky if you do.”


***


Krepe woke from his latest sleepwalk to find himself a few thousand yards outside Karugyzstan’s Marsh Gate. He looked around and saw a familiar fire nearby. D’rul’s fire.

The Elder God was taking LSD when Krepe approached.

“Drop some acid, man?” D’rul offered as Krepe sat beside him.

“No, thank you,” Krepe said. “D’rul, strange things are happening in the city these days. Any idea what’s going on?”

“Sure, friend, sure. The Son of Dorkness is here, man.”

“The Lord of Goon’s Pawn?” Krepe asked. “In the city? Where?”

“In it. Around it. Above it. If ya know what I mean.” D’rul winked.

“Not really,” Krepe replied. “What else?”

“Something’s stirring in the Adobe Flash Hills. Something nasty.”

“A Jagoot tyrant is buried there, I believe.”

“Out of sight!” D’rul said. “Well, that’s all right then. That’s all I know.”

The Elder God vanished, leaving Krepe alone by the fire.
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Old 01-24-2014, 04:13 PM
rand rand is offline
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Chapter 14

As the days passed, Adjunct Loon and Oboe t’Coolant made their way across the Beavi Plains and into the Adobe Flash Hills east of Karugyzstan. Loon was becoming concerned, however. If no one had ever found this Jagoot barrow in the past centuries, how could they possibly hope to find it now? She posed the question to Cool.

“The Jagoots who imprisoned this tyrant used their Warren of Ice Cubes, Obtuse Phlegmack. My Warren, the T’ling Imus Warren, is Tellanphone, and it touches Obtuse Phlegmack.”

“In a dirty way?”

“Oh, yes. So you see, Adjunct, I can use my Warren to find this barrow, where no one else could.”

“And how do we control the tyrant once it gets out?” Loon asked.

“We don’t,” Cool replied. “Once freed, the Jagoot tyrant will attack all in its path. Our only option will thus be to run and hide, with our arms flailing about like madmen.”


***


Krepe, Crapsalar, Fidellio, and Moll set out through Karugyzstan’s eastern gate early in the morning, heading toward the Adobe Flash Hills and the tomb of a Jagoot tyrant. Baloop had given them a van, at least. Fidellio inwardly wondered what a university professor, a janitor, a thief, and a bum could hope to do against the Marzipan forces seeking to free the tyrant. He wasn’t sure why he was there at all, really. The Professor of Accountancy would much rather be crossing Jane Davidson off his list right now. Yes, that one that sat in the front row, short skirt, legs uncrossed…

“What are we even doing out here?” Crapsalar implored of his friends from the backseat. “What are we trying to do? Who sent us here?”

“We’re protecting something,” Krepe replied from the driver’s seat. “A barrow, to be specific. And we were sent by Archivist Baloop.”

“Baloop?” Crapsalar mused. “The University’s librarian?”

“Ah, well, yes,” Krepe said. “He does that, too. But Baloop is also in charge of the T’urgid Cabal, the secret criminal rulers of Karugyzstan. You must know all about that, though, lad. Your Uncle Marmot is one of them.”

“Yes, that I know,” Crapsalar said. He put his forehead against his window and lapsed into silence. The hills drifted by slowly outside.


***


The Adjunct knew they were getting close when they passed the billboard advertising “Free Ice Water at the Secret Jagoot Barrow.” They crested a hill and then saw it. Gathered on a flat-topped, barren hill were hundreds of people, all standing around a tall pillar of stone that rose from the center of the pavilion. Several Beavi and Adobe tribes people had set up souvenir stands encircling the hill.

“It’s a bit more crowded than I would have imagined, Cool.”

“Indeed, Adjunct. The location of the Jagoot standing stone is well known and is, as is clear, something of a novelty, roadside attraction. But the barrow itself is safe. It is located in another dimension, in fact, which only a T’ling Imus such as myself is capable of accessing.”

As they approached, Loon could see a young boy gesturing at a hole he’d dug in the ground beside a fry bread cart.

“Hey, mom! Look what I just found in this hole!”

“Well, perhaps we’d better hurry, Adjunct,” Cool said beside her.

The two rushed up the hill and into the pavilion. Oboe T’Coolant pulled out his phony flint sword and commenced to slaughter every man, woman, and child on the hilltop.

“Well,” Cool said after the fight. “Perhaps it wasn’t as hidden as I’d thought. Tomorrow, Adjunct, I will lead you into the hole this child has dug. Then, we free the Jagoot tyrant."
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Old 01-27-2014, 02:47 PM
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Chapter 15

Lickety Split Nick sat in the hotel room with Snotts this time, as Konan had wanted to try out the pool for himself. The Barfmask warrior still seemed upset at his video game experience, and even more angry that the television set was broken. Things were getting desperate now. Still no pizza.

The mage clambered onto the bed and began to meditate. It was time to check in with Shallowthrone and remind the god of their deal.


***


Captain Paranos and Tic Toc Junior were narrowing in on the Adjunct. Paranos could feel it. He loosened his sword in his scabbard. Chance, he’d named it, as it was purely chance that he’d won it that day playing cards back in Boonta twelve years ago to that old lady with the peg leg and one kidney. It was ironic, too, that he’d had a nasty encounter with Poponn, the Twin Clowns of Fate and Chance. He planned to draw them into the coming confrontation and kill them if he could.

For confrontation it would be, he decided. He had nothing against the Adjunct, really. Heck, they’d been pretty good friends. But sometimes you just had to buck up and kill someone, as his father used to say. And this was one of those times. For some reason.


***


Lickety Split Nick acquired a mental link with Shallowthrone after only a few minutes.

“What, what? Who’s this? I’m taking a bath, I’ll have you know.” Shallowthrone sounded quite perturbed at the interruption, but Lickety Split Nick ignored that.

“Shallowthrone, it’s me. Remember the deal we made? I need you to send pizzas to the Gadrobi Dash Hotel. Immediately. Got it?”

“Yes, yes,” Shallowthrone replied. “Send Zebras to the Adobe Flash Hills immediately. I’m right on it. Well, talk to you later.”

“Wait, no!” Lickety Split Nick cried. “That’s not what I said at all!”

But the King of High House Shallow had already ended their mental conversation.


***


Adjunct Loon wandered across the nearby hills in the night. She couldn’t sleep. She knew, now, that what they were doing was wrong. They shouldn’t free this Jagoot tyrant, they should help secure its eternal imprisonment. Instead Empress Latrine wanted her to dig the Hood damned thing up and have it attack Karugyzstan. And she would. Loon was the Adjunct. The Adjunct, sworn to obey the Empress and the Empress alone, to revoke all former bonds of friendship, to forget her old life completely, for it no longer mattered. She was the Adjunct, and no longer a girl name Loon, with the flowing brown hair and the quick, sure smile who’d lived by a lake far away in another land, so very long ago.

She crested a hill and was immediately run over by a van.


***


“We hit something back there, Krepe?” Fidellio asked.

“Of course not,” the janitor replied. “I’m a professional driver. Are we getting close now?”

Moll pulled out his map from where he sat next to a sleeping Crapsalar in the back seat. “Yep. Another hill or two and we’ll be there.”

There was a loud bang and the van swerved into a ditch.

“Dammit, Krepe!” Fidellio swore. “Now what?”

“Blown a tire out,” Krepe said. “Well, we can fix it sure enough, but it’s too risky to drive on a spare for very long. Looks like we’ll have to turn back.”

Crapsalar stirred a bit. “We were so close, too,” he said groggily.

“I’ll change the stupid tire,” Moll said, getting out. After fifteen minutes he was done, and throwing the tools back into the trunk and slamming the hatch.

“Sounds like we’re all fixed up,” Krepe said. “Onward, then, to Karugyzstan.”

They sped off into the sunset, singing songs and being merry. Baloop was still going to pay them, after all, even though they’d done no work. It was a glorious day.

Moll, still standing dumbfounded in the dusty hills by himself, was less enthusiastic.


***


Adjunct Loon slowly crawled back to their camp. She was bruised from head to toe, but there didn’t seem to be any broken bones. Well, she’d probably be dead by tomorrow morning anyway. Quietly she crawled into the sleeping bag beside Cool and wrapped her arms around him.


***


All of a sudden they heard the roaring calls of zebras. No, Paranos thought. Not zebras, but Zebras. A moment later a rent opened in the air itself. A Warren. From it, the Seven Zebras of Shallow emerged in fury. One of them randomly grabbed Tic Toc Junior in its teeth and flung the helpless man back through the closing gateway, where he disappeared.

“No!” Paranos cried. He unsheathed his sword, Chance, and turned to the Zebras with hatred in his eyes. He didn’t know what he could do, but he’d try to avenge Tic Toc’s death as best he could.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” a voice said from some distance behind Paranos. The captain wheeled to see a tall man hopping over on a pogo stick. “These are the Zebras of Shallow, you know.”

“I do know,” Paranos said. “Who in Hood’s soggy cereal are you?”

“Well, excuse me. I am Anomander Hoe.” The Teeste Andiii lord reached Paranos and continued to hop in place on the pogo stick right in front of him.

“Hoe, huh? Why are you here?”

“Well,” the Teeste Andiii said, “I’ve recently acquired this magic chainsaw that supposedly sucks anything it kills into some sort of bizarre, hellish Warren. So, I want to test the sucker out on these Zebras. I caught whiff of them all the way back near Karugyzstan and I just had to come over and see.”

Anomander Hoe started up his chainsaw and, still hopping on his pogo stick, bounced over to the pack of Zebras and decapitated two of them. The headless corpses instantly dissolved away to nothing, leaving only a small pool of blood each. Anomander Hoe hopped back over to Paranos.

“Well, hot dog! It worked!”

But a new figure had just materialized nearby.

“No!” he cried. “Not my precious Zebras! Oh, Dong and Gonad! Oh, the madness of it all! We’ve killed and mutilated so many people together…”

“You were warned, Shallowthrone,” Anomander Hoe said.

“No I wasn’t! When?”

“About a second ago. Now, begone from this place, or I shall smite you to death.”

Shallowthrone glared for a moment at the Son of Dorkness, but eventually he disappeared, along with his five remaining Zebras. Paranos and Anomander Hoe were alone now. A long silence enveloped them.

“Well, I gotta pee,” Anomander Hoe finally said, and he headed toward a nearby clump of bushes.


***


Now, Paranos was a rather stupid sort of fellow. He tested the sharpness of knives by stabbing himself, shined flashlights into his eyes, and tested potentially poisonous drinks by chugging them down. It should be no surprise, then, that the good captain walked over to the spilled blood of the two Zebras and started licking at it like a dog.

Instantly he was transported to that strange Warren Anomander Hoe had mentioned. Before him was a huge crowd of people, stretching miles long. Each and every one of them was chained to an enormous plane behind them. A Boeing 747. It was like one of those World’s Strongest Man things. Curious, Paranos walked around a bit, unchained as he was. He spotted Rosie O’Donnell at one point, and Jar Jar Binks a little bit beyond her. He moved around Dr. Phil and saw the entire Kardashian family pulling at their chains. A little further on Paranos spied the cast of Jersey Shore and Sarah Palin.

Then he saw the two Zebras of Shallow, Dong and Gonad, chained in line. The captain went over and laughed at them. Stupid Zebras.

“Interesting,” said a voice from behind Paranos.

He turned to find a chained prisoner walking beside him.

“My name is Raccoonus,” the man said. “I made this stupid chainsaw millennia ago. Dragnipoo is its name. And now I am just one more soul trapped within its Warren.”

“Can’t you just stop?” Paranos asked. “Stop pulling the plane, I mean? It must be heavy.”

“Heavy? Yes, it is. But look behind the plane at what chases us.”

Paranos turned back and saw, to his horror, storm clouds brewing on the horizon, clearly moving toward the Boeing 747 and the slaves chained to it.

“Oh my goodness,” Paranos shrieked in terror. “There’s a storm. You’ll get all wet.”

“Yes,” Raccoonus replied. “That is a fate we would avoid at all costs. There are few among us with jackets or ponchos, after all.”

“Man. Well, I’d best get going,” Paranos said. “Smell you later.”

And suddenly he was back on the plain where he had been moments before.


***


“Hey, wait a minute,” said Crapsalar, three hours after the blown tire. “Hold it, Krepe. Where’s Moll?”

“Moll?” asked Krepe, slowing the van to a halt. “Oh, yes. Him. Um…”

“Isn’t he back there with you, Crapsalar?” Fidellio asked.

“Know. I guess he hasn’t been since he changed the tire for us. We must’ve left him back there.”

“Well, he’ll find his way home,” Krepe said, accelerating once more.
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Old 01-27-2014, 03:03 PM
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Chapter 16

Adjunct Loon rose early the next day, as dawn’s first light broke the horizon. She sighed and disentangled herself from the undead T’ling Imus sleeping beside her. The pavilion was still deserted around them. This was good. She’d feared they’d have kill more people today.

“Are you ready, Adjunct?”

She turned to find that Cool had risen behind her.

“Ready as I’ll ever be. Will my Otmealio sword prove a hindrance?”

The T’ling Imus barked a laugh that he quickly turned into a cough. “Uh, no, Adjunct. I would think not.”

“Okay, lead on then.”

They jumped into the hole the boy had dug yesterday. Kid must’ve been a Hood-curdled mole, Loon thought. They found themselves in a long, descending passageway. The temperature plummeted rapidly as they went down. Loon pulled on her hoodie, and Cool tried on the sweater Loon had knitted for him a few nights ago. Eventually, they made it to a large, round chamber.

“I shall begin to free the tyrant,” Cool announced, “though I estimate that this may take a chapter or two to accomplish. Prepare yourself, Adjunct.”


***


“I spy with my little eye something…chartreuse.”

“Look, will you shut up, Crapsalar?” Fidellio snapped. “This car ride’s stupid enough as it is. I could be showing Jenny Harrison my rapier right now, if you know what I mean.”

“Well, I’m just bored,” the thief said. “I hope Moll’s all right.”

“He’ll be fine,” Fidellio said.

There was a brief silence.

Then Crapsalar began to sing: “Ninety-nine bottles of beer on—”

“Hood’s blimp, no!” Fidellio cried. “Krepe, help me out here. Talk some sense into the lad. See if you can…Krepe? Krepe? Hood’s milk, he’s driving in his sleep!”

“See if you can wake him up,” Crapsalar called, panicking.

Fidellio hesitated, though. “He’s a pretty bad driver, kid. Let’s just leave him alone for now and see how he does.”


***


Captain Paranos was now deep in the Adobe Flash Hills. He expected to run into the Adjunct and her T’ling Imus friend at any moment. He’d made good time since the Zebra attack, all things considered. The loss of Tic Toc Junior still hurt, but he’d get over it soon enough. He’d been attacked by a Beavi tribe and their herd of Bhederimthenme, but with a little luck and quick thinking Paranos had killed the tribe’s chief, scaring the others away with the herd.

He rode over the next rise to see a tourist pavilion sprawled out across the next hill over. The place was littered with the corpses of butchered tourists. Wait. One man still lived. He was crawling, agonizingly slow, over to an overturned Beavi Taco cart. Paranos rode over to meet the lone survivor.

“Hello, citizen. My name is Ganos Stabros Paranos.”

“Water!” the man cried dryly. “Water…”

“Certainly,” said Paranos, dismounting and handing a water bottle to the man. “What’s your name?”

“Moll,” he eventually replied between sips. “Just outta Karugyzstan. Damn friends—former friends—abandoned me out here.”

“Karugyzstan, eh? I’m headed that way myself. Fancy sharing a saddle with me?”

“Ah, why not?” Moll replied, standing for the first time. “You can’t be worse than my friend—former friend—Fidellio when it comes to sharing a saddle.”

The two shared a quiet supper of Beavi Tacos and fry bread.

“You down from Pail?” Moll asked.

“Yes, though I missed the battle. Lovely place, really, if you look beyond the bloodstains and stench of burned flesh. What about you? What’s Karugyzstan like?”

“You know, crowded and stuff,” Moll said. “Goon’s Pawn is there right now, making things a bit tense. Everything’ll be good during the Feast of Pepperoni, though. Wild and destructive, but good.”

“Sounds like fun,” Paranos said. “Well, let’s rest here tonight. We can head out first thing tomorrow.”

“Aye.”
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Old 01-27-2014, 04:34 PM
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Chapter 17

Fallick Tom was heading for the doorway to the University of Phoenix when he was stopped by Silty, the Adjunct Professor of Advanced Biochemistry.

“There’s a man looking for you, Fallick. Asking for you by name, he is.”

“Thanks, Professor Silty,” Fallick Tom said. “Where’s he sitting?”

“Inside.”

“Oh, okay.”

He headed in and found the stranger at his own customary coffee table. He sat down opposite the fellow.

“I’m Fallick Tom.”

“Yeah, and I’m the Emperor of Marzipan. Now go away, I’m doing a crossword.”

Fallick looked around and quickly spotted another stranger, this one sitting in the corner by Scurvy’s vending machine. The microeconomics professor walked over to the man.

“Fallick Tom, I presume?” the stranger asked as Fallick approached. “Please, sit down. My name is Triangle Destroyer.”

“What do you want from me, Mr. Triangle?”

“Nothing. I bring only information, a message from the Seal himself. Councilman Turban Burban has contacted your economics department. Seems he heard they stood up reasonably well against an attack from Teeste Andiii the other night. Well, now he’s hired one, on behalf of Lady Stemcell, to assassinate Moll when he returns to the city.”

“Which one?”

“Karugyzstan.”

“No, I mean which member of the economics department?”

“Oh. Outlet,” Triangle Destroyer said. “Furthermore, the Seal wishes you well, should you attempt to intervene. Good night.”

Fallick Tom was left alone as the mysterious man drifted away through the crowd. Eventually he bought an orange soda from Scurvy. Then he sat back down to think.


***


Archivist Baloop gnawed distractedly on a Snickers bar. He was trying to keep patient with this Teeste Andiii Lord, he really was, but the Son of Dorkness was just so, so…

“High score!” Anomander Hoe screamed, jumping up from the couch and throwing his Game Boy to the side. “Well, very good then. Now, you wanted to ask me something, Archivist?”

“Uh, yes. The barrow in the Adobe Flash Hills. Your Grand Crows have seen the Adjunct and her T’ling Imus enter, correct?”

“Right-o.”

“Well then…you must be planning to do something?”

“Certainly, Baloop. I plan on hitting a few clubs later on. Checking out the night scene in Karugyzstan, taking a few women back to my, uh, place.”

“Yes, but what about the Jagoot tyrant?”

“What about the little bugger?”

“He’s coming!” Baloop cried. “He’s going to level Karugyzstan without your help. Please, Anomander Hoe. My lord. I’m begging you, help us!”

“Hm, well, I’ll think on it.”

“Fine,” Baloop said. “That’s good enough for now, I suppose. I require your knowledge elsewhere, tonight. I fear it has to do with that tyrant still. Do you recall me mentioning the Historian Marmot to you?”

“Not really.”

“Yes, well… He’s here in my house. H came over the other day and then…well, I’ll show you.”

Anomander Hoe followed Baloop down to the basement, the Teeste Andiii playing with a yoyo on the way. They reached a door at the bottom of some damp, stone stairs, and the Archivist unlocked and opened it. He lit a match to reveal the naked, crumpled form of Marmot lying in a corner.

“He came over to borrow some sugar,” Baloop explained, “then he promptly collapsed. I didn’t know what to do with him, so I just threw his body over there.”

“He’s been trapped by the T’ling Imus’s ritual to free the Jagoot tyrant,” Hoe said, calmly spinning his yoyo around. “He’ll not come ‘round until he and the Adjunct have left the barrow. Additionally, the tyrant will likely enslave this man’s soul and use it to destroy the entire city. Well, I’ve got some clubbing to do. See you around.”


***


The ride back into Karugyzstan proved uneventful. Krepe (still asleep) dropped Fidellio off at Jenny Davidson’s home before heading for Uncle Marmot’s tenement building.

“Well, here we are lad,” said Krepe, groggily, as he woke up. “Wait, where am I? I thought we were in the Adobe Flash Hills?”

“You slept,” Crapsalar replied. “See you later. And thanks for the lift.”

He entered the building and went to Marmot’s apartment, but it was locked. Crapsalar kicked down the door. Toby the flying armadillo had destroyed most of the furniture, and of Uncle Marmot there was no sign. Strange. Usually his uncle hardly ever left the room except to teach a class, and now that he was on sabbatical…

Crapsalar heard a creak on the floor in the hallway and turned in time to see two women enter the room. It was Mouth and Rosalita, the two professors who taught a Psychology class together.

“Better stay cooped up here for a bit, Crapsalar,” Mouth said.

“What? Why? Where’s Uncle Marmot?”

“Not sure about your uncle, lad,” Rosalita said. “But the D’Arle estate’s looking for a man who fits your description. Or you fit the description. Whatever. The D’Arle maiden Wendy’s claiming you tied her up and tried to rape her.”

“Hood’s milk,” Crapsalar shouted. “Fine, I’ll try to lay low for a couple of days, all right?”

“Sure,” Mouth said. “We’ll keep an eye on you here. Just stay hidden, okay? They’re talking about that newfangled electric chair for you.”


***


The Teeste Andiii assassin She-rat stood poised on the roof opposite the tenement building. She watched as the two women left. The boy was alone now. She’d heard the rumors. This was a wanted man. She wasn’t sure why, but it must mean he was a pizza delivery man, and Anomander Hoe wanted them all dead.

She-rat pulled out her sniper rifle and took aim at the lad’s window. She waited a moment. Yes, there he was. A head shot, nice and clean.

Something smashed into the side of her head, almost rendering her unconscious. She-rat looked around, but all she saw was a baseball bat lying before her.

“Forget the pizza guys,” a disembodied voice said. A practitioner of magic had attacked her, then. “They’re under protection of Caliban Prude and the Mauve Sentinels.”

She-rat grunted. They didn’t scare her. Much. Still, she’d wait a little bit until she tried again.


***


Fidellio rolled over in the bed. Young Jenny Davidson was asleep beside him, the sheets only half covering her exposed flesh.

“Oh, Pepperoni,” he muttered. “Praise you and Chess and Overuse and all the gods and goddesses for my life. He prepared to drift into a dream himself, but his cell phone vibrated. Annoyed, he hastily scanned a text message from Krepe:

Hey can u get me a invite to stemcells bd party 2? Thx

Fidellio sighed. Sure, he replied.

Then there came a knock against the glass window. Getting more annoyed by the second, Fidellio rose and opened it to reveal a man standing on a branch outside. Apparently he’d climbed a tree to get to this third-story window.

“Fidellio?” the man asked.

“Yes. Who are you? How’d you find me here?”

“My name is Triangle Destroyer. My methods are my own. I come bearing a message from the Seal. Ready?”

“Hold on,” Fidellio said. “Let me get a paper to write on. Okay, ready.”

“The message concerns Councilman Turban Burban…”

“The—message—concerns—Councilman—Turban—Burban—dot —dot—dot,” Fidellio repeated as he wrote it down. Okay, got it. Thanks, Triangle Destroyer.”

“Any time.”


***


Fallick Tom returned home from the grocery store. He had to stop Outlet. Kill the man, in fact, to stop him from assassinating Moll. But Outlet dabbled in sorcery in his spare time, so Fallick had to prepare. Baloop had told him once that there was a magic-deadening substance that existed. Fallick couldn’t remember what it was called, but he thought it was oatmeal. So, he’d gone to the store and bought three dozen boxes of the stuff.

The microeconomics professor undressed as he cooked all the oatmeal. When he was ready, he smeared his entire naked body with oatmeal.

“Hope this stuff works,” Fallick Tom grunted. Hood’s blimp, the oatmeal was hot.

He’d head for the belfry at D’rul’s Temple, he decided as he left the house. It would provide Outlet with the best shot at Moll as he returned through the eastern gate. Ignoring the stares from people in the streets, Fallick Tom headed east.
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Old 01-28-2014, 01:04 PM
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Chapter 18

“Think you’re up to it?” Vodkajoe asked Konan. Gods, the man looked terrible. They all did. Exhausted and, more importantly, starving. The squad was all sitting around the hotel room, bored with their vacation already. The pool was being cleaned, the arcades were closed from an anthrax scare, and the television was still broken. Saxophonist, Wedge, Lickety Split Nick, Mullet, and Snotts all sat around staring at the smashed TV screen, drooling slightly.

“Aye, I’ll try to contact the pizza guys one more time,” Corporal Konan replied. “Not sure what good it’ll do, though. They’re gone, plain and simple.”

“Just give it your best shot,” Vodkajoe said. “If you can’t get us some pizza tonight, then tomorrow it’s retaliation time. Saxophonist, Wedge? Everything ready for tomorrow, just in case?”

The two sappers nodded gleefully.

“Right. If we fail tonight, tomorrow we blow up every pizza joint this town has to offer. We’ll see who’s laughing then.”

Everyone laughed.

“All right, Konan, get going.”


***


Paranos and Moll were nearing Karugyzstan’s eastern gate, but Moll was looking pretty bad. Paranos probably shouldn’t have eaten all their food that first night after Moll fell asleep.

“Don’t worry, Moll,” Paranos said to the man dying of thirst and starvation behind him. “I’m sure the gate guards will find you a doctor or something soon enough.”

“No doctor,” Moll mumbled, barely able to open his eyes. He was hunched over severely in the saddle. “University of Phoenix. Take me to the University of Phoe…of Ph…of…”

The man’s voice faded away as he lost consciousness and fell off the horse. Well, Paranos would be damned if he let his new friend die here. He jumped off the horse after Moll and started to drag the man across the gravel toward the city’s gate.


***


Fallick Tom was exhausting himself quickly. The climb up the side of D’rul’s belfry was taxing enough under normal circumstances, but to do so naked and covered in oatmeal was a tricky thing indeed. Not to mention the city watch had chased him most of the way here, yelling things like “pervert!” and “indecent exposure!” at his back.

Well, he was almost there. Ten more feet to go. He could only hope that Moll hadn’t entered the city yet.


***


Moll entered the city dragged behind Paranos. The captain rushed over to a nearby guard.

“What’s all this, then?” the guard asked upon seeing Moll sprawled unconscious across the cobblestones of the street.

“His name’s Moll,” Paranos explained. “He’s sick, I think, but he wants to go to the University of Phoenix. Please, won’t you help us?”

“Moll?” the guard mused. “Moll…. not Moll Jammin’, of House Jammin’?”

Paranos shrugged.

“Well, come on then. We’ll get a nice cart and bring Moll wherever he wants. I’m Villain, by the way.”

“Paranos,” the captain replied. “Please hurry.”


***


Fallick Tom raised himself over the edge of the belfry to find it empty. He glanced around and saw Outlet on a nearby tower, already taking aim with his crossbow and firing. Fallick Tom looked down. Moll was below! He would be… Safe! The arrow harmlessly hit and killed a pedestrian on a bicycle, leaving Moll alive for the moment.

That wouldn’t last, though. With a wordless cry, Fallick Tom flung a grappling hook at Outlet’s tower, swung over, and climbed up before Outlet could get another shot off.

“Curses!” Outlet cried. “Fallick, you traitor! How dare you try to stop me? What the…is that oatmeal you’re covered in?”

As a response, Fallick Tom punched his boss in the face, shattering his nose. Outlet swung back at him, but Fallick grabbed the arm and shoved against the elbow, snapping it clean. Outlet kicked at Fallick’s chest, but the professor grabbed Outlet’s ankle and brought his other arm’s elbow chopping down against the man’s knee, shattering it. He punched Outlet in the stomach with all his strength, and when the man doubled over he kneed Outlet in the face. Fallick Tom hoisted Outlet up and threw him off the side of the tower, where he fell to his untimely death.

Fallick Tom doubled over in exhaustion. He wiped at his sweaty brow and decided to rest up here a few minutes longer.


***


The guard Villain found a small cart. They loaded Moll into it and, after that little incident with the bicyclist was all cleaned up, set off for the University of Phoenix.


***


She-rat crouched by the chimney of the boy’s tenement. It led straight to his apartment. This plan would assuredly work, she kept telling herself. The Teeste Andiii assassin pulled out a stick of dynamite. She paused for a moment, then lit the stick and dropped it down the chimney. There. The boy was as good as dead.

She sat back and put her fingers in her ears to deaden the noise. But just then, the stick of dynamite came sailing back up and out of the chimney to land at her feet. It exploded. She-rat lay unmoving, cut up and bruised, momentarily blinded and covered in soot.

“Nice try,” said a familiar voice beside her. “But seriously, stop trying to kill the boy.”

Gods, how she hated those Mauve Sentinels.


***


Mouth stood posted outside the door to Marmot’s apartment, where Crapsalar was currently sleeping soundly. She was glad the lad could get a little rest. The gods only knew what she’d be like under threat of execution.

Her phone rang and she answered on the first ring.

“Mouth? It’s Rosalita.”

“How’re things back at the University?”

“Strange, at the moment,” Rosalita said. “Guy came in a few minutes ago. Foreigner, by the looks of him. And he was carrying Moll in. And Moll’s all tired and starving. We’re not quite sure what to do. We don’t have any food, and Scurvy’s vending machine just broke. Ha, you should’ve seen him, punching and kicking at the stupid thing.”

“Anything else to worry about?” Mouth asked.

“That’s all for now, chief.”


***


Paranos sat at the coffee table of the University of Phoenix lobby. Man, what a bummer, he thought. Since joining the army I’ve killed Bladdersnail and Tic Toc Junior. Now it looks like I’ve killed Moll, too.

“Captain?” a voice beside him whispered.

Paranos turned up to see an unfamiliar man. “Yes…who are you?”

“Corporal Konan, sir. Of your squad?”

“Hood’s blimp!” Paranos cried. “I didn’t expect to find you guys so soon. Listen, I need you to do something right away. Find some food, any food, then come back here to me. There’s a friend starving to death in an office down the hallway.”

“Uh…well, Captain, that’s just it,” Konan replied hesitantly. “I’ve just called the rest of the squad over here. I just found a box of pizza, cooked and piping hot and everything, and we’ve been waiting so long for…oh, all right. Where is the bastard?”

The door opened and in rushed the rest of the squad, hunger writ plain on their faces. Vodkajoe leaped a plush chair in his haste to reach them.

“Hold it, Sarge,” Konan said. The corporal looked close to tears. “We can’t eat this. There’s a dying man needs it more.”

Vodkajoe and the other soldiers acquired murderous glares, and they didn’t improve when they saw Paranos standing there.


***


A few minutes they all stood around Moll, who was lying on a teacher’s desk eating the pizza.

“Mmm…nom nom nom. Oh, tha’s goo,” he said around a mouthful of pizza. “Tha’s some goo pia righ there. Nom nom nom. Mmm.”

Paranos glanced up at the squad. His squad, he reminded himself. They were all staring at Moll and the pizza, horror and anguish on their faces. Saxophonist and Wedge were clinging to each other as if to comfort one another. Mullet was openly drooling, and Snotts had tears streaming down his face.

“Ooh, goo pepronis too,” Moll continued. “So goo, oh yeah, nom nom nom. Wiss you could hav some, guys. But I’m so hungwy. Mmm.”

And just like that, all eight slices were gone.

“Well, thanks, everyone,” Moll said, wiping his face with a napkin. “Thought I might starve to death back there for a while.” Then he passed out.

Lickety Split Nick snatched the pizza box and started licking it, but he was soon fighting with the whole squad over it.

“I have something to tell you, Sergeant Vodkajoe,” Paranos said.

The sergeant spat out a piece of cheese-coated cardboard and cleared his throat. “Yes?”

“It’s the Adjunct. Loon. She’s in the Adobe Flash Hills right now, but she’ll be coming here soon enough. And she wants you, Sergeant.”

“Ooh,” said Vodkajoe, winking.

“Not like that. She wants you dead, Vodkajoe.”

The sergeant stared for a moment, then swore and pulled out his cell phone.

“Hello? Threearm? Hey, how’s it going…what?...no, I’m not in jail. Listen, we’re in Karugyzstan. Captain Paranos just made it here, too. First of all, what’s the situation in Pail?”

There was a pause.

“Bladdersnail’s dead? Tic Toc Junior, too? Damn, that sucks. Tastechicken’s livid, eh? Serves him right, the bastard. What’s this now? Seventy-Two Cities in a rebellion? You don’t think you’ll be sent there, though, right? Okay, we can talk about that more later. Paranos? Yeah, he’s right here. I’ll put you on speaker.”

Vodkajoe pushed a button and the High Fister’s voice came out of the phone.

“Hello? Paranos, you there? Can you hear me? Hello?”

“I’m here, High Fister.”

“I just wanted to say I’m sorry Tic Toc died. He was a good man. But enough of that. Vodkajoe, how’s your mission going in Karugyzstan? Got things under control?”

“Well, as to that…” Vodkajoe hesitated. “Sir, we’ve decided to abandon the Empire and live here for a while. We’re having a bit of a vacation before we all settle in, find jobs and such.”

“Dammit, Vodkajoe,” Kojak Threearm said. “You better not be pulling my leg.”

“Of course not. Listen, High Fister, it could just be temporary.”

“Ah, well. No matter,” Threearm replied. “I’m planning on abandoning the Empire, too. Getting impatient in my old age. Not enough action fighting up here in Pail. So, me and some of the other officials thought we’d take a crack at the Panera Seer.”

“Who’s that?” Paranos asked.

“Some nut who’s starting a holy war to the south. Should be messy, I hope. Well, anything else, Vodkajoe?”

“That’s it for now, High Fister.”


***


“There,” Oboe t’Coolant announced. “The ritual is complete. Even now, the Jagoot tyrant stirs. It will be slow to awaken, however. Then it must take a shower, read the paper, and have a cup of coffee before it is truly ready to break free.”

“How do we get it to attack Karugyzstan?” Adjunct Loon asked, getting up and stretching. She’d fallen asleep in a corner of the burial chamber.

“We must steal its Finest Finnest,” the T’ling Imus said. “The sources of the Jagoot’s power are stored in Finnests, with the greatest amount stored in the Finest Finnest. You must take that one and bring it with you to Karugyzstan.”

Cool gestured to a table filled with a random array of objects. “Choose,” he said simply.

Loon looked at the bizarre collection of objects. A toilet seat, a frozen waffle, a large wad of chewed gum…

“I…I have no idea which one is the Finest,” the Adjunct said. “Choose for me, Cool. You must know which one it is.”

“Very well.” The T’ling Imus walked to the table and picked up a stapler. “This should be…ugh!” He dropped the stapler and started shaking violently. “I have chosen poorly!” he cried, before disintegrating to dust before Loon’s shocked eyes.

More apprehensive now than ever, Loon turned back to the table of objects. After a moment’s study, she reached out and grabbed a teddy bear. She waited, and when nothing happened, she jumped up and clicked her heels in glee. Then she scurried from the chamber back out into the light.
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