Princess Maple took the news of her father's disappearance at the Battle of Victoire stoically.
"There is no time for tears," she said, "If Father is truly dead, then I shall be Queen. I have to show my people that I am ready for that, even if I am confident in his safety."
"Why are you so sure he's OK?" inquired a Maar Sulais maid.
"He's terribly smart," Maple replied. Then, a moment later, amended. "For a Scun."
Outside, a throng of agitated Scuns waited for a speech.
"You're on, Highness," said an aide.
"One moment. Maid, fetch me two pencils and my underpants."
Puzzled, the aides looked on as the vertically-challenged Princess of Scundia stretched a pair of underpants over her head and inserted two pencils into her nose and marched out to meet the waiting crowd.
"So how will we know that we've reached this... time machine?" Refan huffed. "I'd hate to be buried alive so I sincerely hope you're not pulling our leg, professor."
"Don't worry. The TARDIS is quite easy to spot. It looks like a phone booth," the Lindworm replied.
The thief blinked. "A what?"
"A phone booth. It's short for a phonetics booth which is used in grammar schools. People enunciate in the booth; it was originally built for Scuns who had trouble pronouncing words properly."
Refan rolled his eyes. "I know what that means; my brother used to joke that if I didn't learn to pronounce 's' and 'r' properly before I went to school, I'd end up in a phone booth with Scuns. But what does TARDIS stand for? It sounds like 'retard.'"
"You're half correct. The name itself has nothing to do with retards but its designers, the Scuns, could be classified as such as they gave it quite a... unique name. TARDIS is short for Traumatic Ass-Raping Discontinuity Isolator-Stripper. I'm sure you understand why we prefer to abbreviate the full Scunnish name and just call it TARDIS in academic circles."
"That name makes no sense! What the hell does a stripper have to do with discontinuity?" Refan gasped. "Wait! You're just joking, right? There's no logical way that idiots like Scuns could've created something so advanced... unless the future has gone straight to hell."
It was then Raul's recognizable voice suddenly spoke, interrupting the girl's thoughts. "Haruko, I've got a man here who would like to ask you some questions for him and his fellow's research into your family, we're trying to trace what happened to them," he said. "Are you decent?"
Haruko glanced at her white kimono, noticing to her surprise that she hadn't quite tied it up properly when she had exited the hot spring in a hurry and that it was showing some cleavage.
"Me? Sure. I'm... decent," the girl answered Raul's inquiry and quickly adjusted the kimono to cover herself up properly while trying to ignore the accusatory voice in her head, the voice which made her heart ache all of a sudden.
"What do you have in mind, Master Balthazar?" Councillor Gertrude asked. "This magic spreading from the cleric will soon grow too strong for even us to handle even though Councillor Malek is doing his best to keep things under control."
"I've experienced a similar phenomenon in the past when I worked in the Grey Cult. Although I've seen the light since those dark days, High Prophet Xerathas did teach the cult some useful tricks, one of which should help us today," Balthazar replied. "All high-level mages here must pool their magic together into a single beam of mana and shoot it at the cleric."
"That's presposterous! Every mage worth his license knows that one should never cross the beams!" Councillor Malek gasped. "It would cause untold destruction if so many high-level mages tried to do that!"
Arrival of the Destroyer:
The crystal shook all of a sudden and shattered. The warm liquid touched Ronald and Mary, and the pair turned to see what was going on.
A man emerged from the shattered crystal and walked towards them. He stopped in front of the naked pair, and his dark eyes focused on the girl.
"Are you a god?" the man asked.
"Uhh... no?" Mary muttered, confused by this sudden turn of events. She blinked and quickly added: "My Pa makes some godly fried chicken though—"
"Then... DIE!" the man growled in response and drew out his sword in the blink of an eye. Before the pair could react, he decapitated the girl with one clean swing.
"Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Leraje: a fellow of infinite bravery, a most excellent opponent," Ronove heard himself saying as he gazed into the eyes of a severed warrior's head which he held in his hand.
The tattooed man, Leraje, rolled his eyes. "Why do you always have be so fucking melodramatic every time you kill someone you deem 'worthy'? You're embarrassing me!"
Khalid's eyes moved from the grisly scene to the massive army of undulating red that stood there in the horizon like a force of nature. Then he turned to Razoul, tears filling his proud eyes perhaps for the first time in a long while as he realized the futility of it all.
"You're a monster," the Sultan whispered to the black man, his voice cracking. He clenched his fists and had to lean on the wall for support.
Razoul's fingers wandered absent-mindedly on the surface of his father's bloodstained Ebony Helmet. "I am what I am. Someone has to be," he muttered and turned to the guards.
Jono let out a loud shush, and shook his finger vigorously in a random direction. He could imagine his companion off to the side, shaking like a girl, weeping silently and biting his nails. The sad bastard. He guessed it was up to him to save the day once again. It was then that he reached out with his senses, tapping into the strangest facet of his Innate Ability, a more powerful connection to the supernatural plane than your average joe. Searching through the voices of the dead, he tried to pinpoint one to come to his aid in this nefarious contest. Suddenly he was touched by the voice and shade of noble lady, her aura enveloping Jono in warm sensations. She whispered in his ear, and he repeated aloud:
Want your bad romance."
After several minutes more of this poetry, Jono slowly felt the lady leave him. He was alone in silence until he heard the Lindworm sniff, and begin weeping.
"It's so beautiful! My apologies, friends. No one with such genius could be a thief."
"What do you want?" Izael hissed, careful not to raise his voice.
Thrax smiled. "Oh, it's the other way around, Izael. The real question is: what do you want? Follow the Master's orders to the bitter end, or live happily ever after with your true love?"
Izael bit his lip but remained silent. Thrax always turned questions upside down, and the most unnerving thing was that he always hit the mark, finding your weak spot.
"Good. That's all the information I need," the Totenkopf said. "You may keep your lips sealed, but the rest of your body has betrayed you. A pace, a glance, a turn of the head, the flash of your throat as you breathe... even your way of standing perfectly still—they were all my spies."
Besides, there was one more, far more weighty reason for the greater demon to stay put. He knew from experience that if he left to do some chores while his orbs' channels were showing interesting stuff, he'd end up missing the good parts. After not being able to watch the final vision of "Lost (and Regained) Memories" which had provided some crazy plot twists late in the summer season (black smoke be damned!), he had made sure not to repeat that mistake again. More than almost anything, he wanted to see events unfold in the prime time slot and be the first one to tell the juicy news to others immediately afterwards.
Zib was walking through the large mansion of DreadlordRonove, doing his duty. That is, he was collecting garbage. It wasn't a proud job, or so the high class demons seemed to remind him every day, but it was a necessary one. Do any of them even know how much garbage they create? Zib was tired of it all, yet he would do his duty, one gnawed bone and cake boxes at the time.
There did seem to be an awful lot of cake boxes left around lately. He idly wondered from bin to bin as he suddenly heard a sound.
"Sneak.. Sneak.. Sneak.."
When the demon looked around the corner he saw a wooden box. Now this wasn't out of the ordinary, but there was something different. the box was moving in the direction of the dreadlord's room, and the sound seemed to be coming from the box.
"Sneak.. Sneak.. Sneak..", the girlish voice came from the box.
"You know..." said Zib slowly, "I don't think you're supposed to say sneak."
The box squealed in surprise and the movements seemed to quicken.
"Sneak sneak sneak sneak sneak sneak."
Well, at least it was less loud. He should probably raise the alarm, and then they would question and mock him for doing nothing himself. Was he even getting paid enough for this?
...Wait, was he even getting paid?
"Screw this," Zib said and went off to do his daily round to collect the trash that seemed to accumulate near that one exited little demon's catapult.
Refan closed in on Ax with inhuman speed, and before the warrior could step back, he grabbed and squeezed her arm until she released her grip from the sword. When Ax tried to move her knee to kick the half-demon in the groin, she suddenly felt some strange power preventing her legs from moving.
"I've learned my lesson from last time. That trick won't work on me again," Refan whispered. He pressed his lips against Ax's, and slowly but surely he felt her fierce resistance dropping as his demonic power oozed into her. It was as if time stopped, but he eventually he let her go reluctantly. "Too long you've wandered in darkness, far from my far-reaching gaze. You resist, but we both know your heart obeys. Don't betray your feelings for me!"
Khalid's reunion with "Ax":
"What I want is to be with you, Khalid," Ax whispered, gently moving her hands from his shoulders up to his face. "I couldn't say it last night, I was so afraid of it, so afraid of what it meant...but I'm not afraid anymore. Khalid al-Saif, I...love you."
"You're not a monster, Khalid. You can make me happy...and I could do the same for you, should you let me," Ax said with tear-filled eyes.
Khalid drew in a shaky breath, relishing the scent of her. She was so close now, so warm and inviting, so beautiful. "I don't deserve...I...this makes no sense. I must be dreaming."
"If this is a dream, my love, then let us abandon thought...and let the dream descend," Ax said breathily. She felt Khalid's resolve falter, and drew him towards her in a passionate embrace. She moaned softly as their lips met in a fervent kiss, and for a mere instant, hereyes flickered red in elation.
Mel Gibson popped out of a tent, accompanied by a pair of lawyers. "Um, excuse me," he began, "But you can't say that, it's a famous line from my—"
Maple cut him off with a snarled "Incende!" and Mel and his lawyers burst into flames.
The sky sparkled with magic above the western lands of Libaterra, in the area controlled by the Crimson Coalition. A shining, projected image of Commander Glaurung Losstarot appeared above the awed people all around the countryside. She was clad in full green armor and helmet and looked more menacing than ever before.
"Greetings, brave men and women of the Coalition! I have grave news that I wish to share with you: my son, Hannibal Losstarot, was kidnapped for ransom a few days ago, and our enemies in Alent and Maar Sul collaborated in this foul deed," she said, and a drawing of Hannibal appeared next to her. "This is a recent sketch of my son. Sweetie, if you're watching this,I love you."
Then the magical image expanded, showing Glaurung standing in a room full of gold coins, jewels and other valuables. "And this... well, this is what waits for the bastards that took my son away from me. This is your ransom. Two million gold pieces, just like you wanted. But... this is as close as you'll ever get to it. You'll never see any of this money, because no ransom will ever be paid for my son. Do you hear me? Not even one coin!"
Glaurung held a dramatic pause before she continued. "Instead, I'm offering this money as a reward on your heads, dear kidnappers. Dead or alive, it doesn't matter. Congratulations, you've just become a two million gold piece lottery ticket... except the odds are much, much better. Do you know anyone who wouldn't turn you in for two million gold pieces? I don't think you do. I doubt it. So, wherever you go and whatever you do, this money will be tracking you down for all time. And if I ever get my hands on you bastards, I'll make you wish you had never kidnapped my son!"
"But... and this is your last chance... if you return my son alive and uninjured, I'll withdraw the bounty. With any luck you can simply disappear. Understand this... you'll never see this money. Not one coin. So, you still have a chance to do the right thing. If you don't, may the gods be with you, because nobody else on this world will be!"
The magical image of Glaurung disappeared, and the skies became still once more.
"Take one more step and you'll regret it!" Jason shouted, doing his best to protect his wounded brother.
"Regret is such a funny word. Only weaklings have regrets!" the man growled. "In my life I've learned this much: take what you can when you can! And if you all stand between me and my wench, I'll just take your lives as compensation!"
Qadohi raised her hands in the air as she addressed her kin. "Behold! The tailless ones have chosen to walk down the Path of Blood! Now they shall face the ultimate challenge, the one who is known as Deathfang, Terror Incarnate, Eater of Souls, Doomgaze, Sharpclaw, and Beast of the Bottomless Abyss!"
The ground shook, and the heroes drew their weapons as they saw the glowing, blue eyes glowing brighter and brighter in the shadows. They could see something dark emerging from the gate, and they prepared themselves for battle.
Qadohi's voice grew louder. "Step forth, you who are the deadliest creation of Lord Shakkan, you who are his pride and joy, you whose true name is..."
Khasra blinked in disbelief once the black creature had fully emerged from the shadows of the gate. "What the hell? That's a facking—"
"...PLUSHIEBUNNY!" Qadohi concluded her speech triumphantly.
Greg rubbed his wrists and walked towards the cute, ordinary-looking black bunny which had appeared. "I was afraid of THIS? What a joke! This cutie couldn't even hurt a fly!"
"Keep your distance!" Ariadne ordered and closed her eyes when she saw Greg take the bunny in his arms. She waited for an agonizing scream of death, but she heard nothing so she opened her eyes and gasped. Greg was unharmed.
"Come on, Ariadne! You're overreacting! Shakkan's just making us look like fools, that's all!" Greg smiled and turned his eyes to Plushiebunny. "Look at him! The little fella's all scared! Don't worry, Uncle Greg won't harm you—"
The air became heavier as dark magic concentrated around Leraje's body. It was then that the fiend transformed, his armor adapting to his true, malevolent form. He grew twice as tall, and his big, now-demonic body looked intimidating with its tattoos and muscles. The Dreadlord's horns were long and gruesome, and his wings looked huge and spiky. His tail was pointy and looked powerful enough to pierce any armor. His sharp claws and teeth looked ominous under the sun, but the most dreadful things were the red eyes which burned with pure malice.
The fiend cut down six Black Guards effortlessly and grinned. "What? Is this the best you can do? Where's that confidence of yours now?" he laughed with his deep, demonic voice and gleefully tore apart any nearby Sarquil and Blades that got in his way. "You can round up a million maggots to try to defeat me... but you'll still all just be maggots!"
As the rowboat's occupants cowered, something circled in the water near the downed ship... something big. With a huge splash and one mighty gulp, the giant red fish swallowed a nearby survivor and disappeared beneath the waves.
Zenobia gasped. "You mean he let the Omari fish loose?"
The two lovers stood at the bow of the ship, one behind the other, pressed gently to the railing. Fingers intertwined, they raised their hands until they were standing with arms outstretched on each side... like wings, perhaps. When they tilted their heads a certain way, there was nothing in their field of vision but water. It was like there was no ship under them at all, just the two of them soari—
At last, the Sinlarine man's guests got up and left. Relaxing a bit, Ax sauntered to the table and plopped down, her half-finished mug of ale sloshing about wildly. "A Sinlarine, a Fraquid and a dwarf walk into a bar...sounds like the start of a lousy joke," Ax snickered, leaning back in her chair. "And oh, can't forget the loud asshole in shining armor. Who was the big ugly bastard, anyway? Swinging around a sword that big...gotta be compensating for something, don't ya think?"
Corwin's gloomy expression made it clear that he was not in the mood for joking. "You shouldn't concern yourself with these matters, Ax. But that man is known as the Destroyer, or Gilgamesh. Supposedly a warrior without equal."
Ax snorted, her drink still sloshing about, threatening to spill at any moment. "A warrior without equal, eh? Never heard of him. What do you think? Should I hate him?"
"You don't even know him," Corwin said flatly.
"Yeah, but there was just something about him. Something around the eyes...I don't know, reminds me of..." Ax trailed off, suddenly sitting up straight. "Me. No, I'm sure of it. I hate him!"
Sergeant Lahey met Corporal Randy at the docks of Scundor. "Did you find anything in Carriage Park?"
Carriage Park was the neighbourhood in Scundor which consisted of carriages parked next to one another. It was basically a slum where the less fortunate Scuns, or bums as Lahey liked to call them, lived in. Lahey and Randy had been instructed to keep things in order in that neighbourhood, and they had recently traced the origin of certain drugs to that area.
"Nope. The place was clean like a newborn baby's ass, and Julian and his pals were nowhere in sight. I suppose they got wind of the raid and took all the evidence with them before I arrived," Randy sighed, scratching his big, hairy belly. He never wore a shirt for some reason. "Are you drunk, boss? We're on duty, y'know."
"Damn those Carriage Park Boys! Sexian is hot, but even so it's illegal to smuggle drugs into this city. I'm gonna catch him in the act someday, just wait and see!" Lahey hissed, his face turning bright red. "And I'm not drunk! I've only had two drinks, that's all!"
Randy knew better, though. Lahey always said he had "only had two drinks", but the actual number of drinks was often much greater than that. Lahey was an alcoholic, and it should have been Randy's duty to take him to the authorities, but Randy loved him passionately, and he could never betray his lover. However, Randy did not like how Lahey was so obsessive about catching Julian (or Sexian as Lahey usually called that handsome drug dealer). So far Julian and his friends, who ran a drug business somewhere in Carriage Park, had eluded them, but sooner or later that so-called Carriage Park Boys gang would run out of luck.
Randy frowned all of a sudden as he smelled the air. "Oh, sweet mother of mercy! What's that foul stench coming from the sea?"
Lahey gazed on the horizon, and he had a weary, knowing look in his eyes. "It's the wind of shit, Randy. The wind of shit."
Nina smiled warmly but that smile felt like someone was stabbing your heart a hundred times. "So you have heard about us? I'm flattered," she continued. "I wanted to talk to you personally to congratulate you on a job well done."
"Well, the portal's closed, and your plans have failed. Illunii won't be invaded anytime soon," Vitani grunted.
"The portal is only a minor loss in the big picture. What I got instead will be much more useful for my horde in the long run," Nina said in a mocking tone. "The poor Sinlarine girl aided my cause without knowing it by shattering her magical scepter with hopes of stopping my minions; instead she caused something beyond her imagination. Jezebeth's scheme involving her was only the icing on an already delicious cake which I had baked long in advance. The scepter she shattered had an exact copy in Thanatos's laboratory, but neither she nor the elven fool realized the true meaning behind the term Twins and what powers one scepter would possess if its twin was ever destroyed. They thought the term Twins either referred to two powerful shades or the two books of prophecy... exactly as I planned."
Xolkai hurried to the bookshelfs in the laboratory, searching for the scepter... but found nothing. "What have you done?" he hissed.
"Do you seriously think I'd explain my masterstroke if there remained the slightest chance of you affecting its outcome?" The archdemon raised her arm, revealing the distinct form of a scepter, the exact twin copy of the one Deidra had once held. "I had another minion in the Barca manor, and she delivered this scepter to me four days ago." She had a warm, motherly smile on her human face, which was a creepy constrast to her burning demonic eyes.
As Signan droned on, Vaetris surveyed their surroundings. She could've sworn she'd heard a rustle of sand, but perhaps it was just the wind.
She held up a hand to silence Signan. There it was again... definitely not the wind.
"Ax!" she whispered harshly. "Something... something's up ahead!"
"AAAAAAAIIIIIIIIIII!" came an unholy screech. A lump popped up in the sand, then burst through, a deadly-tipped spear swinging around wildly. Then came another, and another. Soon, nearly twenty of the creatures had broken through the surface, each with a spear and shield pointed at the group.
As the dust cleared, the creatures became visible. Squat, sturdy, pallid-skinned... things covered in strange tattoos. They wore strange masks and loincloths that reminded Vaetris of the jungle folk she'd seen so long ago... though the jungle folk hadn't been nearly so... so...
The heroes paused, some drawing their weapons. Rhylian tentatively crept forward, bow at the ready. "Sirithai...?"
Ax was pale, nearly as pale as the strange creatures before them. "No. Hephaestus help us, they're goddamn sand gnomes!"