Hold On To Your Muffins, True Believers! This is the Big One! When Titans Clash! (Special Collector's Edition with ten different covers and free trading cards! You don't want to miss this one, Collaborites and Collaboroids!)
Elsie (now LC3) had expected everything to go blue. She expected to feel an agonizingly long moment of disorientation and nausea as she merged into the timeline of her doomed successor, LC4. She even expected that the world might not appear exactly as she expected or remembered it. She knew she'd replaced LC4 shortly after their battle with the smurfs. Everyone had returned to town and she had gone to see Adria to buy some magic items. Beyond that, Elsie knew that just about anything went.
She did not, however, expect to find herself in a room above the Tavern of the Rising Sun with a stark naked Stupidhead. The sight of his wrinkled brown hide draped over that scrawny skeleton of his would have given the most desperate nymphomaniac pause. The blood drained from her face.
"I love you," Stupidhead was saying. "I long for the taste of your sweet lips. You will bear my child. Come and take off that skintight body suit that we may make passionate, sweaty love and embrace our naked destiny together."
Somewhere, Red Vex fainted.
Elsie didn't feel so good herself, but heaven only knew what would happen to her if she lost consciousness here and now. Actually, she knew exactly what would happen if she pulled a Red Vex, and, knowing this, she deliberately brought her hand to her mouth and sank her teeth into it.
Unable to control himself any longer, Stupidhead the Weak... laughed his skinny ass off.
"Oh, Cool," he wheezed when he was finally able to speak. "You should have seen your face!"
Elsie tapped into her vast database of the knowledge of thousands of years of human history across a dozen realities. "Duh?" she said.
"'Let us make passionate, sweaty love!'" guffawed Stupidhead. "Hoo hoo! 'Let us embrace our naked destiny together!'" Tears were streaming down his face and forming actual puddles on the floor.
Eventually, Stupidhead settled down enough to get dressed again.
"How did you know?" Elsie wanted to know.
"Oh, come on: L.C.? Elsie? Duh! Give me a hard one," said Stupidhead. "Plus, there was the way Deathspit reacted to you. Your new body didn't fool his canine instincts for a second."
"Where is my dog, anyway?"
Stupidhead waved his hand dismissively. "Probably out destroying something that you'll have to pony up some gold for, as usual." He wasn't finished boasting about how clever he was. "But what really gave you away is the fact that you can barely go ten seconds without fooling with your chest."
Elsie dropped her hands guiltily.
Stupidhead chortled. "We don't have to meet the others at the Town Portal for another hour," he said. "Why don't we go downstairs, have some beers, and you can tell me how you got into this mess."
As he turned to go, Elsie gripped him by the shoulder and squeezed hard to make sure she had his attention.
"Hey!" protested Stupidhead.
"Who else knows?" Elsie wanted to know.
"Just me, as far as I can tell," said the wizard.
"Good," said Elsie. "Let's keep it that way."
Stupidhead just nodded and smiled. Personally, he wouldn't have had it any other way. There was far too much fun to be had at his old friend's expense without letting anyone else in on the secret.
For example, when Stupidhead and Elsie reached the top of the stairs, the tavern below them erupted in cheers and hoots. Stupidhead merely smiled and bowed. As he descended the stairs he waved at the patrons like a champion returning from battle.
Elsie looked puzzled as she followed Stupidhead down the stairs. "Stupidhead, why are these people cheering?"
"They're glad to see us," replied the wizard.
Elsie noted that a number of their fans was making suggestive gestures at her. She looked at Stupidhead and then looked down at the tavern patrons. An unusual amount of money was changing hands.
"Stu, did you tell those people anything before I went upstairs to meet you?"
"Of course not," lied Stupidhead.
"You didn't tell them..." She gasped. "Eww! They think we did it?!"
"Don't be silly," Stupidhead assured her, bellying up to the bar.
"Afternoon, Stu," said Han Solo, who had replaced Ogden several lags back. "What can I get you and your lady today? Fresh sheets?"
Elsie's jaw dropped.
"Just a couple beers," nodded Stupidhead. He shrugged at Elsie. "Honestly, I don't know where he gets such ideas."
Behind him, Elsie saw another bar patron making the universal hand gesture for "getting some" at her. She closed her eyes and clenched her perfect teeth.
The new barmaid, Gilbacca, brought their beers. "Gronk!" bellowed the Wookie, winking broadly at Elsie.
Red Vex was lying face-down under a tree near the graveyard. She felt woozy. This was no way for a self-respecting succubus to exist. She spat out the dirt and grass that had gotten in her mouth when she fainted and scooped a fistful of dead leaves out of her cleavage.
"Yours is a difficult path, my child." There was a nun sitting on a tombstone and looked down at her. The nun's face was hidden in the shadows and by her habit.
Red Vex's eyes widened. Here was a woman who had devoted her life to purity and chastity. Easy prey. What sport it would be to tempt her to... Red Vex felt queasy and dropped to her knees again.
"Take some deep breaths, dear," suggested the nun, seeing Red Vex's distress.
She did so, but seeing her firm, round bosoms heaving as she did only made her dizzy again. She worked some long division in her head until she felt a little more able to cope.
"Gods and demons damn me!" cried Red Vex. "I can't take it anymore!"
"You have sinned, child," the nun told her.
"Duh, do you think so?" snapped the demoness.
"There is but one way to end your suffering."
"Yeah, yeah. Renounce darkness and walk the Lighted Path," replied Red Vex. "Get bent, sister. I've got serious problems here."
"You don't know the half of it," replied the nun. With that, a halo of white flame erupted around her head and lanced out at Red Vex.
Red Vex dodged the purifying flames by a hair's breadth.
"Walk the Lighted Path, or the Lighted Path will walk you," the nun advised her, sidestepping Red Vex's retaliatory salvo of Bloodstars.
Once again, the Holy Flame lanced out at Red Vex, this time blistering her skin and singeing her hair.
"Who are you?" panted Red Vex seeking cover behind a tombstone. "Only an Archbishop or a Paladin can have the power of Holy Flame."
The nun stepped into the light so that Red Vex could see her face. It was her own face peering down disdainfully from within the habit. "I think that you can see who I am," she replied, "and why I will inevitably triumph over you. But if it eases your passing to know me by a name, you may call me Sister Twisted!" She gestured and the tombstone Red Vex was hiding behind shattered. A blast of Holy Flame followed.
When the pure white smoke and flames cleared, Red Vex was nowhere to be seen. Cautiously, Sister Twisted advanced a step.
Red Vex dropped on top of her from the branches above, slashing at her opponent with claw-like nails and hitting her with point-blank Bloodstars. Sister Twisted screamed, unable to shake the demoness off her.
"I don't care who you are or why you're wearing my face, because all you are to me is prey, sister," hissed Red Vex. "Pray, sister. Get it? It's a pun! Yuk it up!"
Sister Twisted dropped to her knees, her habit in tatters, and too stun locked to generate the blast of Holy Flame that would end her torment. Red Vex refused to let up.
"Oh, Vexy..." It was Solo's voice. "Look at this!"
Red Vex glanced up and saw what Solo was doing. She felt the ichor rush from her head and her vision blurred. "Curse you," gasped the demoness and fainted.
"That was easy," said Solo's doppelganger licking her fingers and stepping back into her trousers, "but then, so am I."
"Tie her up," ordered Lazarus stepping out from behind the tree and helping Sister Twisted to her feet.
"Oooh, kinky," said Solo, "but why don't we just kill her?"
Lazarus shook his head impatiently. "You're new at this villain business aren't you?" He cast a Heal spell on Sister Twisted. "Killing Red Vex while she's unconscious lacks style. Besides it would not fit in with the plan."
Solo just shrugged. It didn't make any difference to her.
That is, thought Lazarus with a tight smile, killing her wouldn't fit in with my plan.
Solo cast a Mana Shield and braced herself. Surely, this would be the greatest challenge of her life.
"But Biff not like to bathe!" whined the giant Barbarian.
They were standing on the riverbank, just downstream from Tristram. "Look, Biff," she tried to reassure him. "It's just water, it won't hurt you." She waded in up to her knees. "See?"
Biff shook his head violently. "Biff not like water!"
The wind changed and Solo caught a whiff of her companion. The stench of rotting smurf eggs made her eyes stream. "Please, Biff," urged Solo, trying not to gag. "We've got to get you cleaned up at least a little bit. Just enough to wash the smashed smurf eggs off of you."
"Da yolk's on Biff!" he said gleefully.
Solo sighed. "That's right," she said. "And you've got egg on your face too."
The Barbarian scratched his head. "Biff not get it."
"Never mind. Look, just come here and rinse yourself off."
"Biff not bathe!"
"If you do, I'll buy you some cookies."
"What kind cookies?"
"What kind do you like?"
"Biff like all kind of cookies."
"Well, that narrows it down. I'll see what I can do," promised Solo.
Biff took a hesitant step toward the water and then stopped again. "No! Biff not bathe!"
"Dammit, Biff!" Solo tried to swear, but only got as far as "Duh." She was interrupted by a concussive blast that caught Biff square across his broad back and sent him face first into the river. Solo looked up the bank and saw that the source of the attack was a slim brown-haired man. A flexible metal nozzle protruding from his backpack glowed with residual heat from the blast.
"A pleasant afternoon to you, Lady Solo," called the man. "My name is Dr. Bruce and I'm here to kill Biff. Please stand aside, I have no need to harm you."
Solo didn't waste time with a snappy retort. Instead, the readied a Lightning Bolt. The flying kick to her side caught her off-guard and sent her sprawling into the mud. "Brucy-pie may have no need to hurt you, but this girl just wants to have fun!"
Solo looked up and saw herself, swords drawn, standing over her. The other Solo licked her lips. "As tempting as it is to come down there and wrestle around in the mud with you, the Big A says I've gotta finish you off quick. I'll try to make it as painful as possible."
Solo sprang to her feet and drew her own swords. The clash of their swords echoed up and down the Talsande.
"Biff hates water!" growled Biff rising from the river like Godzilla from Tokyo Harbor. Another concussive blast knocked him down.
"All too easy," said Dr. Bruce shaking his head as he circled around the dueling Solos. "On your feet, you ridiculous lummox. I want to knock you down again!"
Biff leaped to his feet and instinctively recognized his foe. "You!" he cried. "You are the one Biff hates most of all!"
"The feeling is mutual, you accident of evolution." The nozzle sticking out of Dr. Bruce's backpack spat energy again, but this time, Biff got out of the way.
"Biff will smash puny Dr. Bruce!" roared Biff leaping out of the water at him.
"I doubt it," replied Dr. Bruce coolly as Biff slammed into the protective force field surrounding him.
As might be expected, Solo and her counterpart were evenly matched. Neither was able to secure any advantage over the other. Then the other Solo took a step back. "By the way, I never introduced myself to you," she said with a smile. "I'm called Multi." There was a flash of light and suddenly there were two duplicates of Solo standing on the riverbank. Then there were four, and then there were eight. "And do you know why we're called Multi?" they asked.
Solo got that sinking feeling. "Because you're a one-woman army?"
"Well," replied the Multi's, "we would have said orgy, but that's close enough. You are so dead, sweetie."
Outnumbered eight-to-one by swordswomen, each of whom was literally her equal, Solo raised her swords. She might die here, but she was going to take as many of these cheap knock-offs as she could with her.
Even with her artificial metabolism, the alcohol was starting to affect Elsie. She was despondent. "What am I going to tell Sugar?" she wondered. "She'll never take me back looking like this."
Stupidhead finished another beer and belched. "Elsie," he said, "I have four words for you: Hot girl-girl action."
"That's only three words," said Elsie.
"No, no, no. You're not grasping the concept," explained Stupidhead. If he could get this point across to Elsie, and then she worked on Sugar, maybe they'd let him watch. Before he could go any further, Ichabod joined them at the bar.
Elsie's enhanced senses perceived B/F particles as a foul smell, and Ichabod -- or at least the creature who was posing as Ichabod -- smelled like a huge steaming pile of dog droppings.
She slashed with her sword with blinding speed, but Ichabod was quick enough to avoid decapitation. "Well, there's no fooling you," he said leaping backwards and landing on a table. There, he underwent a startling transformation. His mass doubled and he ripped his robe off. Black-and-white hair covered his body in a Holstein pattern and his feet turned into heavy hooves. Behind him, his bovine tail snapped back and forth.
"A werecow!" gasped Stupidhead as the tavern patrons scattered for the exits.
"Call me MadCow," snorted the werecow. "I'm the best there is at what I moo." There was a staccato 'snikt' as curved horns popped out of the sides of his head. "And what I moo best isn't very nice." He charged.
Stupidhead and Elsie leaped out of the way as MadCow turned the bar into so much kindling.
Stupidhead hit him with a Lightning Bolt as he turned for another charge. The stale air of the tavern filled with the smell of burnt cow hair, but MadCow seemed to shrug the attack off. He turned and charged at Elsie.
Elsie could have jumped out of the way easily, but a puddle of beer on the wooden floor was her undoing. MadCow caught her in the midsection and she flew backwards out of the tavern. She landed near the fountain and was startled to see a harem of succubi staring down blankly at her.
MadCow followed Elsie outside. Stupidhead followed MadCow, and then stopped just outside the door. Stupidhead saw a younger and much better looking version of himself standing atop the fountain. The other Stupidhead also came equipped with sleek bat-like wings and tiny curved horns protruding from his forehead. Gathered around him was a bevy of succubi. Elsie stood amongst them, looking dazed. Crazy music filled the air:
"I'm too sexy for my staff / too sexy for a laugh / too sexy by a half...."
"I've got the girl under control," the other Stupidhead told MadCow.
The werecow snorted his disappointment, but stood down.
"Allow me to introduce myself," Stupidhead's counterpart addressed him. "I am Arch-Mage Suave, or if you prefer my nom de guerre, NQbus. But you may call me Master."
"No man is my master," retorted Stupidhead. "Least of all, a cheap doppelganger like yourself."
"I beg to differ. No man can resist the power of NQbus, just as no woman can resist his will!" boasted NQbus, speaking in traditional villain third person proper. "Show him, ladies."
The music grew louder...
"I'm too sexy for my OBZOD / Too sexy for my rod / I'm sexier than God...."
...and Elsie and the glassy-eyed succubi lunged forward, ready to dismember Stupidhead at their master's command.
Meanwhile, Dolt had gone to Wirt's old spot hoping someone would be there to take the Cardboard Sign of Slaughter off his hands and sell him a decent axe. However, there was no sign of the kid who had taken over Wirt's business. Instead, there was a zombie trying to resurrect itself by bypassing some inertial dampers and rerouting a stream of neutrinos through a warp containment field. Mercifully, Dolt swatted the wretched thing into the river with his Cardboard Sign of Slaughter.
As he stood on the riverbank, watching a school of giant pike hungrily devouring the zombie, Dolt saw a very strange sight: It appeared to be himself coming across the wooden bridge. The other Dolt Lungren had a battle-axe instead of a cardboard sign, and he had blond hair, but other than that he could have been Dolt's twin. He also had Sugar over one shoulder. Dolt ran and intercepted the stranger in the middle of the bridge.
"Who the hell/hell are you?" Dolt demanded of the other.
"I'm Molt Lungren. The Adversary created me to be your exact opposite," said the other Barbarian.
Dolt looked puzzled. "Blond hair makes you my exact opposite?"
Molt looked annoyed. "Look, it's not my fault that you have so little personality that it was nearly impossible to create an evil twin for you!"
"That was an insult, wasn't it?"
"It sure was, you dolt."
"You just said the magic word," grinned Dolt. "DOOOOOLLLLTTTT LUUUUNGGGEEEENNNN!!!" He charged waving his Cardboard Sign of Slaughter.
Molt laid Sugar down and charged at Dolt. "MOOOOOLLLLTTTT LUUUUNGGGEEEENNNN!!!"
Molt swung his axe high.
Dolt swung his sign low and caught Molt across his sizable gut. As Molt doubled over in a doomed attempt to keep his innards in their original locations, Dolt followed through with a boot to Molt's ear.
The river turned red when Molt hit the water. The giant pike were on him in an instant. Dolt picked up Molt's axe and watched the fish tear the great white carcass apart. "He wasn't so tough."
Sugar moaned. Dolt looked around. In the excitement of the battle, he'd forgotten about his beloved!
"Sugar!" he said kneeling next to her. "Are you all right?"
"I'm fine," said the Rogue. "But I'm not Sugar." She pierced Dolt with a baleful yellow-eyed glare. "I'm Spite!" With that she ballooned into a 500-pound warty monster. She seemed to be part toad and part warthog. So hideous was she, that it took all Dolt had to keep from screaming like a girl and blowing chow. Defending himself was simply not an option.
A massive fist ("It must be a fist," reasoned Dolt, "it's at the end of her arm") caught Dolt in the stomach and knocked him across the bridge.
"My revulsion field will immobilize you while I feast on your succulent man-meat," boasted Spite.
At that point, Dolt didn't care whether she was talking about an act of cannibalism or something even more unsavory. He shut his eyes, held his breath, grit his teeth and charged at the monster. He caught her about the middle and found that touching her was even worse than looking at her. It made him feel shaky and nauseous. It was like reaching into your lunch bag and belatedly realizing that it wasn't your lunch bag, but rather, the bag you'd been carrying when you were walking the dog.
Somehow, Dolt managed to get some leverage (and keep his lunch down) and raised Spite high over his head. He intended to throw the evil thing as far and as hard as he could. "Duh-die, vile creature!" he stammered.
"Yap! Yap! Yap!"
Dolt glanced down. "Not now, Deathspit!" he grunted.
The puppy ran up and bit him on the ankle. Suddenly, Dolt felt the strength drain from his limbs. "What the...?" He dropped Spite into the river and collapsed.
The puppy, Lifesuck, howled triumphantly.
Biff bounced off the force field and landed on top of Multi, Multi and Multi, squashing them. The other five Multi's hesitated, giving Solo a chance to catch her breath.
"Puny Dr. Bruce is making Biff angry!" bellowed Biff.
"Let me guess," replied Dr. Bruce coolly. "I wouldn't like you when you're angry. Big deal. I don't like you now."
"Biff is the strongest one there is!"
"If you're talking about your B.O.," said Dr. Bruce, "I concur."
"Biff will smash!" He prepared to leap, but Solo stopped him. She had been a Bard long enough to know that in every super-powered evil twin story ever told, there was only one sure way to triumph.
"Biff," she told him. "We have to switch opponents!"
"Duh?" questioned Biff.
Solo didn't bother to explain to the giant Barbarian. Instead, she charged at Dr. Bruce, her swords flashing, and knocked him off his feet with a Telekinesis spell.
"Looks like we've switched partners," said one of the Multi's. She stabbed Biff in the butt with one of her swords.
"Oww!" complained Biff. "Why pretty friend Solo try to give Biff boo-boo?"
"For heaven's sake," shouted Solo, who was unsuccessfully trying to hack through Dr. Bruce's force field. "They're not really me! Fight them!"
Biff was fending off Multis' swords. "But, Biff can't hit girls!"
"Sweet Zakarum on a pony!" cried Solo. "Then don't hit them! Sit on them! Buy them flowers and take them to dinner, but do something!" She wasn't having much luck getting through the force field. She wondered if Stone Curse would work.
Biff scratched his head. One of the Multi's drove her sword through his thigh and Biff howled. "Bad Solo!" he yelled, picking her up by the arms. He drew his massive fist back to knock her block off, but stopped at the last second. "Biff give Bad Solo head noogie!" He tucked her into the crook of his arm and rubbed her head vigorously.
The Stone Curse didn't work on Dr. Bruce. However, it did work on his force field. Solo found herself standing before a giant stone sphere. Almost immediately, it began to roll down the riverbank. She could hear Dr. Bruce inside, cursing and trying to get his high-tech wonders to bail him out. The great ball of rock hit the water like a granite marble and floated almost as well.
"Hey! Cut it out," complained the Multi on the receiving end of a Biff head noogie. "You're messing up my hair!" Apparently, she didn't realize how well off she was. The typical Biff head noogie ended in a concussion. This one, however, resulted in a spark of static electricity and Multi vanished.
Although most farm animals (including poultry) could have given Biff a sound thrashing in a battle of wits, Biff was combat-seasoned enough to recognize an advantage when he saw one. He grabbed two more Multi's and rubbed them together (which they seemed to enjoy, strangely enough) until there was another spark of static electricity and they too vanished.
The remaining two Multi's realized they were in trouble and began duplicating themselves in a desperate attempt to regain their advantage.
"Biff! Get down!" shouted Solo.
Biff had worked with enough Rogues and Sorcerers (and had been hit in the back with enough arrows and Fireballs) to understand the importance of 'Biff! Get down!' So, Biff got down.
Solo unleashed a Chain Lightning spell at her counterparts, and the Multi's vanished in puffs of smoke.
"No one makes a dupe out of me," smiled Solo.
"Biff not get it," said Biff, standing up again.
Behind them, Dr. Bruce's escape pod rocketed out of the river and disappeared over the horizon.
In the river on the other side of town, Spite faced a dilemma. In her monstrous form, her revulsion field kept the giant pike at bay, but she couldn't swim. If she changed back to human form, the giant pike would make short work of her within seconds. Given the choice between the sure chance of drowning and the very slight chance that she could avoid becoming fish food, Spite took human form and swam for it. The pike came straight for her.
Meanwhile, on the bridge above, Deathspit found Lifesuck standing over Dolt's paralyzed body.
"Growl bark yap yap!" challenged Deathspit. (Translation: "So, at last we meet, my evil double!")
"Ruff yap yap bark!" answered Lifesuck. (Translation: "Perhaps, but which of us can truly define the nature of evil?")
"Bark bark whine growl," suggested Deathspit. "Yap yap ruff!" (Translation: "You pose an interesting question. But was it not Nietzsche who said, 'When you look into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you?'")
"Bark bark bark bark whine growl yap yap ruff whimper bark bark bark," said Lifesuck. (Translation: "Indeed.")
MadCow turned and joined the Elsie and succubi as they charged at Stupidhead.
Stupidhead braced himself. A mob of scantily clad demonesses and a werecow, he thought grimly. There were worse ways to go.
Elsie, hanging back near the rear of the pack, reached into her belt pouch for one of the Greater Runes of Lightning she had purchased from Adria. She set it off at the feet of MadCow and the succubi. The resulting electrical blast annihilated the demonesses and left only MadCow standing, barely. "You can't defeat me," he gasped. "I'll regenerate! My mutant vealing factor will... d'oh!" The last came as Stupidhead incinerated him with a Fireball.
Seeing that MadCow was fit to be served with a side order of fries, Elsie turned and faced NQbus.
"N-no," stammered NQbus. "No woman can resist the will of NQbus. You must obey me!"
Elsie advanced on him. It was clear obedience was the furthest thing from her mind.
NQbus hit her with the full force of his mind controlling power:
"I'm too sexy for my GPOW / Too sexy for a cow / I'm sexier and how!"
Even Stupidhead's eyes began to glaze over.
"You will be my slave," insisted NQbus. "You cannot resist the desire you have for me!"
"Yeah, I've heard that line before," said Elsie. Actually, she'd used it before too, on the bearded lady in Lord Cool's home village. The bearded lady had merely laughed, stuffed him in a barrel and rolled him down the main road. So Elsie could sympathize (to a point) with the disappointment and confusion NQbus was feeling.
Elsie lunged sword-first. Being nobody's fool, NQbus teleported the hell out of there. "You will be mine, whoever you are," came the echo of his parting shot. After he rejoined Lazarus and the other Anti-Heroes in the Chamber of Bone, they'd be able to plot their revenge.
Elsie climbed down from the fountain and saw Stupidhead staring blankly. She started to slap him out of his trance, but then thought better of it. She kneed him in the groin instead.
"How were you able to resist him?" asked Stupidhead much later, after he was finished lying in the mud and groaning in pain. "He said no woman could resist him."
"First of all," said Elsie, "technically, I'm an android, not a woman. Second of all, I've got a man's brain. And thirdly, the more he used his power, the more B/F particles he put out, and the more he smelled like a wiener dog farm two hours after bran muffin night."
Even though he was paralyzed, all the barking was giving Dolt a headache. It felt like Deathspit and Lifesuck had been yapping at each other for hours.
"Bark bark yap whine, ruff ruff arf!" said Deathspit. (Translation: "Therefore, in the multi-linear string theory paradigm suggested by your argument and supported by Kleimboldt's Dynamic Universal Host, or DUH, Theorem, God must exist!")
"Whine," said Lifesuck rolling over on his back and exposing his throat. (Translation: "You have vanquished me with your superior logic. I yield and will trouble you and your cause no further.")
"Arf arf bow-wow!" said Deathspit graciously. (Translation: "Go in peace, my friend. You debated courageously and have no cause for shame.")
Lifesuck got up and trotted off upstream, wagging his tail.
Deathspit wagged his tail too, and then sat down next to Dolt to wait for his paralysis to wear off. Soon, they would rejoin the others at the Town Portal and resume their quest to rescue his beloved mistress, Sugar.
A handful of crewman was gathered around the cybernetics lab's observation window. Dr. Pepin sighed. She was at it again.
"Have you nothing better to do?" he snapped at the crewmen irritably.
There was a chorus of embarrassed, semi-audible mumbling in response to Dr. Pepin's rhetorical question.
"Return to your duties and consider yourselves all on report," said Dr. Pepin.
There was some more semi-audible mumbling and the crewmen made themselves scarce. Dr. Pepin looked through the observation window. As he had guessed, LC5 was on the other side doing nude jumping jacks.
He glanced at the quadracorder readings next to the window and nodded. LC5 was ready for deployment, if they needed her. He looked back at LC5 and sighed. From the expression on her face, she was as fascinated watching her reflection in the one-way glass as the crewmen had been watching her.
"What a hopeless, clueless, shallow..." He was going to say "boob," but decided against it. Women like LC5 made Dr. Pepin glad he was gay.
"Hello my friend," came CAIN's voice. "There is a priority alert for you from the cryogenics lab."
"The cryogenics lab?" pondered Pepin, and then he felt an ironic chill. "I'm on my way CAIN."
In order to continue using Lord Cool's brain as a template for their LC units, they'd been forced to clone him another body. It was the only way to prevent the brain from deteriorating beyond use. Having Lord Cool up and running around the ship and screwing things up (not to mention possibly attracting the Adversary's attention) was not an option. So they'd put him in suspended animation.
If something had happened to Lord Cool, the current generation of LC units would be the last. That might be okay, if the LC unit in the field was able to complete her mission. But if things kept going as badly as the last attempt had.... Dr. Pepin shivered and hurried to the lab. Pathetic as it was, Lord Cool was still their best hope.
Dr. Pepin steeled himself for what he thought was the worst-case scenario. If the cryogenic equipment had failed and Lord Cool was dead, they still had plenty of LC units in development. They'd manage. They were TUFF Worlders, after all.
When Dr. Pepin reached the cryogenics lab, the sight he saw left him queasy. It was worse than the worst case scenario. The cryo-pod door was ajar and the chamber interior temperature was 16 degrees Celsius.
And Lord Cool was gone!
The last lag had displaced Conjurer Ichabod. He had been in town after his epic battle with the smurfs and then -- CRASH! -- he was suddenly wandering around the Hell levels under Tristram.
Like Elsie, Ichabod was aware of the lags when the occurred. Unlike Elsie, Ichabod retained full memory of everything that happened between each lag. The last one had nearly been terrifying enough to drive him into the shelter of his CowLord persona. There had been something particularly unsettling about those three guys in the park. He shuddered.
Once again, Conjurer Ichabod was a man hanging on to sanity by a thread.
He heard the echo of a constant distant scream. Beneath it, he could catch just a hint of a vaguely familiar tune. Having no place better to go and nothing better to do, he followed the noise.
"Da-da-dee-da-da-da Duh-da-da-da-da-duh." Ichabod sang along absently. "Dah dee-da-da-da-da-da-dah da..."
There was something familiar. Like something horrible and slimy nagging at the back of his mind.
And then he recognized the tune.
"I'll be there for yooooo! When the rain starts to fall...."
And the thread snapped.
"COWLORD FEARS NOTHING!" he thundered, lowering his visor. The invisible studio audience went wild. Boldly, CowLord flew to the source of the evil song.
He came to a large cavern where he found a bleeding and abused Wirt chained to a stalagmite. A small stereo blasted pop drivel at him as he screamed himself raw.
CowLord hit the stereo with a Cudstar and merciful silence reigned in the underground.
"Cuh-cuh-CowLord?" wheezed Wirt. "Is it really you?"
"I HAVE COME TO SAVE YOU!" announced CowLord, breaking Wirt's chains and freeing him.
Wirt tried to stand and teetered a little on his good leg before collapsing. Wirt began to sob inconsolably. "He-he duh-did awful things to me," bawled the boy. "He made me watch 'Big Brother 2.' He made me read the entire 'Hey!' thread! Twice!"
"THAT FIEND!" swore CowLord. Somewhere in CowLord's fragmented psyche, he knew that Wirt was doomed unless he did something to restore the boy's shattered mind. He'd been through the same thing himself. There was but a single hope for salvation for Toby Wirt. CowLord began morphing the tattered remains of Wirt's clothes.
"Wuh-what are you doing?" asked Wirt.
"YOU HAVE BEEN EXPOSED TO FORCES FROM BEYOND THE WORLDS OF THE BATTLE NET," explained CowLord. "THINGS THAT NO MAN SHOULD BE MADE TO ENDURE. THINGS THAT, IN FACT, ONLY ONE MAN EVER HAS ENDURED AND LIVED TO TELL OF IT. I AM THAT MAN."
Wirt's clothes changed into a bright orange cape and yellow tights. A small black mask covered his eyes.
"I WILL HELP YOU. YOU WILL LEARN FROM ME," said CowLord. "FROM THIS DAY FORTH, YOU SHALL BE..." He paused dramatically. "COWLAD!"
"Holy Secret Origins!" gasped CowLad standing up and striking a pose.
"COME COWLAD," said CowLord. "THERE IS MUCH TO DO. EVIL IS AFOOT."
"Holy Podiatry, CowLord!" gasped CowLad. "The Adversary is a foot? I thought it was the sentient embodiment of Battle Net corruption!"
Before CowLord could respond, Maximum Evil ran into the cavern.
"SO! WE MEET AGAIN, SERVANT OF EVIL!" boomed CowLord, readying a barrage of Firebulls and Cudstars.
"Oh my goodness!" squeaked Maximum Evil.
"Wait!" cried Sugar hurrying into the cavern behind him. "Don't shoot! This isn't Maximum Evil, it's his opposite, Minimum Evil! Mini-E for short."
"Holy Shagadellic!" exclaimed CowLad.
CowLord held his fire for the moment. "IF YOU ARE SEEKING TO DECEIVE THE MASTER OF THE PASTURE..." he warned.
Minimum Evil fanned himself with his hands. "Oh, I feel faint!"
"Will you ease up?" snapped Sugar. "You're going to make him cry again!"
"WHAT ARE THOSE BIG BROWN SENSITIVE THINGS ON HIS FACE?" questioned CowLord, still not reassured.
"Those are his eyes," said Sugar, and then to Mini-E: "There, there. CowLord didn't mean to frighten you. He hollers at everyone."
"There's so much rage in him," said Mini-E.
"Holy Sensitive-Kinda-Squishy Guy, CowLord!" said CowLad. "She's right! This can't be Maximum Evil!"
"No duh, Wirt," said Sugar glad to be making some headway at last.
"Holy Secret Identity, Sugar!" exclaimed CowLad. "Call me CowLad!"
"Must I?" groaned Sugar.
"IF THIS IS NOT MAXIMUM EVIL, THEN WHERE IS HE?" CowLord wanted to know.
"Present," said Maximum Evil from the other side of the cavern.
Everyone turned to see the arch-villain stride confidently into the chamber.
"An escape attempt," he mused. "Well, if that's not an excuse to kill every last one of you, I don't know what is."
"YOU KNOW YOU ARE NO MATCH FOR THE DIVINE BOVINE!" boasted CowLord.
"Perhaps," said Max, "but you see, I found this talisman. I don't know where it came from, but it's got some interesting qualities."
Inside the CowLord armor, Conjurer Ichabod's eyes widened in horror. He recognized the black stone in Max's hands from that horrific last lag.
Grinning like the demented fiend he was, Maximum Evil drove the Dark Stone into his own forehead and a burst of energy shot through his body. He felt a surge of power coursing through his veins like he had never felt before. His body grew breaking through his armor. His hands stretched down to his feet with his hands holding black long nails at the end. His head grew enormous, roughly the size of what his entire body used to be. His eyes went a dark black. His entire body turned black. When he was done he stood thirty-eight feet tall looking down at the insignificant heroes. He said, "I AM BEYOND THE POINT OF MAXIMUM EVIL. NO LONGER SHALL THAT BE MY NAME. FROM NOW ON, I SHALL BE KNOWN AS..." He paused dramatically. "...ULTIMATE EVIL!"
"Holy Blatant Diablo Clone!" gasped CowLad.
"Somebody needs a hug," chided Mini-E gently.
"ARROGANT PRETENDER!" boomed CowLord. "ONLY COWLORD MAY SPEAK IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS!"
"We are so screwed," moaned Sugar.
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