"Dang. Steve and Rob sure have raised that bar pretty high," Stephen muttered.
Eyes fixed on the sheen of metal in the distance, he broke into a run, leapt . . . and mashed his nose painfully against the cool metal. "Yeargggg!!!" he cried as he fell to the ground in a heap. "Bugger!" he fumed.
He picked himself, brushed himself off, and walked back to the start of his run-up.
Turning, he pushed off and starting his run-in again . . .
by Stephen van Ham
"Oh, master." The player killer Maximum Evil, standing within the confines of the once bustling town of Westmarch, sighed adoringly, staring in wonderment at the stirring, godlike presence.
The dark cloud was everywhere. It was here, it was there, to the left, to the right, up above, down below, but never slow! Max stared at its malicious magnificance. "Mindy has nothing on you . . ." he breathed, his blood lust curdling within him like cows milk going tepid in the hot sun. He felt the sudden need to don richly embroidered robes of black and to grovel at the foot of some unholy altar, a book of demonic scriptures in his trembling hands.
"Snap out of it, my little man!" boomed the cloud, lowering further until the evil PK was surrounded by its burning, churning, seething, breathing mass.
Exerting its evil influence, the cloud sent tendrils of probing fog wafting into Max's ears, questing for the evil PK's brain.
It was a long search.
But, finally, it's probing found the pure essence of evil that it had sensed from a great distance. It discerned a discord. Grabbing two knotted synapses, it pulled, sending blood spurting as it straightened the mental threads and realigned Max's psychic equilibrium. Restarting in town always did strange things to mortals, the cloud thought.
Maximum Evil's face fell. "Uhhh, right." He pulled himself together. The PK checked the buckles on his armour, adjusted the fit of his helm and drew his blood stained sword. He admired his stirring good looks in its reddened surface. "Oh yeah, I'm THE MAN!" He dropped to one knee and looked up into the boiling putrescence. "I am your willing servant, unholiness." A fervant tear rose in his eye. He brushed it away in irritation - he was no girly-man-child to be crying like a baby! "Guide me, unholiness. Show me the way of the true dark path. Show me the way to the foul, back-stabbing Dolt, to Stupidhead the addled wizard, and to that little sniveler Lord Cool." He smiled to himself. "Show me the way to that wicked temptress Sugar, so that I may SCORE! Although she is no match for your magnificance, I feel the need to discharge myself of my mortal burden . . ."
"SCORE?!? MORTAL BURDEN?!? BAH!!!" the dark cloud bellowed, sending a massive wave of sound rolling out into the atmosphere. It gave Max a mental slap on the head.
Maximum Evil bowed his head and murmured "Forgive me unholy one, for I am but a man, made of flesh and blood, a weak mortal, whose life beats for but a brief instant of time before it is snuffed, like a candle." He raised his head, eyes fixed forward in a chill stare. "But, this day, let my candle flame ever higher, let the heat of my soul rise and burn away all that stand in my path!"
The cloud rumbled approvingly. It would enjoy pulling this little puppet's strings! "Arise, my little Lordling of Lag, go forth and multiply the madness of our king, the Boojum".
Max's breath caught in his throat. "The . . . Boojum?!?" he gasped. "Truly, a great destiny befalls me to be selected to join the Boojum's army." He bowed to the cloud and then raised his sword to the heavens. "I will not fail thee!"
With a ghastly smile on his lips, he clicked his heels together three times, and, from out between the shattered shells of two of Westmarch's buildings (a bakery and a marital supplies store) came an unholy stallion. It was twenty hands tall and strutted confidently on powerful legs, its massive head raised arrogantly. Its coat was as dark as coal and smooth as velvet, and the unholy red of hellfire burned in its eyes. Seeing Max, its eyes glared balefully, but, nevertheless, it bowed its great head in servitude.
As the cloud watched Maximum Evil mount and gallop his way south, it knew that this Knight of the Boojum would soon earn his spurs in a battle to save (or destroy) his very soul.
Finally, as Max disappeared from view, the seething mass gathered the wind, the thunder, and the darkness around it, sending its magic winding its way over fields and through forests. Soon it found its brethren, and they entwined themselves in conversation.
Aboard the starship Azure Drake, Captain Farnham watched as the Terran battleship was beset in a life and death struggle with another dark cloud of foreboding. He watched the ship's phasers lash out into the boiling mass, then watched in distracted horror as the beams of light were reflected back towards the hull of the ship. With a flash, the beams hit the struggling craft, surrounding it in a harsh glow as the metal of the hull superheated and started to blister and crack. "Oh shit", Farnham murmured. He put his hip flask to his lips and took a swig, face twisting into a grimace as the strong liquid coursed down his gullet.
"Captain . . ."
Farnham sighed at the interruption. "Can't a fellow get a moment's peace?" he whined as he turned and glared at Dr. Pepin. "Report!" he ordered the Chief Medical Officer, a slight slur in his voice.
Pepin bowed. "Lord Cool is resting comfortably, sir. But it took six times the recommended dose of sedative to calm him. I doubt he'll ever wield his sword again." His stood silently, expression sad, then smiled, rubbing his hands together. "Secondly, work goes well on the android. We're almost ready to begin user acceptance testing . . ."
Farnham glowered. "Can't you put the research off for just a few minutes, officer Pepin? One of our ships - the ship that PROVIDED you with the blueprint for your creation, I might add - is under attack out there. It is our duty to fly to its rescue. Now, get all thoughts of statuesque blondes with big knockers out of your head and give me some ideas!"
Pepin sputtered in indignation. "I'm s-sorry, Captain, I-I was just doing my duty as a h-health professional . . ."
Farnham groaned. "Well, Mr. Health Professional, we'll certainly need your services once that . . ." he gestured out the porthole to the pitched battle lighting the night sky, " . . . THING out there is done with us!" He brushed his hand across his eyes. He needed a plan, and this country bumpkin healer obviously wasn't going to be forthcoming with one . . .
Dropping his hand, he continued to glower at Pepin, idly wondering if he needed to take another shot.
Pepin wilted under that dull eyed gaze and looked ready to crawl back to his shack, clean the Mud Runner blood off his front door and start replanting his herb garden. His bottom lip trembled. "Reach for the stars," the flyer for the fictional character exchange program had said, he remembered gloomily. "Explore new horizons. Meet new people. Learn the mysteries of the universe. Tell bad jokes!" the pamphlet givers at the front door Tristam's town hall had said. Being ordered about by the town drunk and devoured by the very embodiment of evil sure hadn't been on Pepin's agenda.
Farnham and Pepin both jumped as they heard a loud BOOM. They grabbed for support as the ship tilted in a crazy angle, a rolling backlash washing over it. As the ship righted itself with a heave, they rushed to the porthole and watched, in awestruck silence, the demise of the Terran battleship, a chain reaction of explosions rocking its surface as it fell from the sky.
The last thing they heard from the doomed ship was the wailing voice of McCoy saying, "It's worse than that, we're dead Jim!"
The CowLord was working himself into a frenzy. "WE GO FORTH TO BATTLE THE BOOJUM!" he yelled over and over. He strode forward eagerly, but the visor obscured his vision and he bumped into Biff, who turned and raised his club menacingly. "Hey! You not food!" the balding warrior yelled. "Biff NEED food! Biff mighty 'ungry!" he bellowed. "I smash and I bash 'em. Wayhay!" He swung his club Little Thumper round in an arc, building momentum for a swing that would send the CowLord halfway across the world to Baal's submerged prison.
Solo, silently witnessing the exchange, slapped Biff on the rump with the flat of her Dragon's Sword of Vampires, then grabbed his burly shoulder and shook him fiercely. Biff subsided and started to pout, whining to himself about the pretty bats.
The bard sighed. Oh how she'd missed the infighting, the bickering, the comradery, the slogging knee deep through much and gore . . . NOT! She wished for a moment that she was back in the library, immersed in a good book, or back barding over on the west coast. But it's just not to be, she reflected.
It was then that the tall barbarian Dolt Lungren and the rogue Sugar popped through a portal. As the portal disappeared behind the oddly matched pair, Solo saw that they were hand in hand, faces dreamily turned to each other. The barbarian was regaling the young woman with stories of his many battles over the years. "Cleaved the Zerg right down the middle I did," he was saying, his face split in a wolfish grin. He made a chopping motion with his hand. Sugar's lips parted in a smile. "Marvelous, truly marvelous" she murmured. Then she turned and saw the rest of the group. She waved. "Hey!" she greeted. She looked around, petite brows furrowed. "Where's Cool?"
Solo shrugged, keeping one eye on Biff and the CowLord, wishing she had a couple of Collars of Submission handy. She jerked her thumb towards the sky in answer to Sugar's question. "Up there, somewhere, I guess." Her face fell sadly. "It's a pity," she continued, "we sure could have used his help. The enemy is so huge and powerful, and we're such a tiny group to try and face it . . ." She almost felt a ballad coming on.
From somewhere behind the bard, Red Vex moaned again. "SO TINY?!" she whispered in a broken sob. She fainted (again).
Wirt grinned, reaching into one of his many pockets. "Tiny, huh? I can help you with that." He rummaged around for a bit and then drew forth a small bottle, smiling in triumph. "Here! Only fifty gold to have a look . . ."
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