It was dark, humid, and stank like nobody's business. But it was far too big a cavern to be underneath the Tristram outhouse. Besides, the big screen TV, couch, desk and soft crimson lighting certainly didn't belong. Cameron Diaz reclined luxuriously on the couch in a slinky red gown. Behind her was a mountain of paper.
"Where are we?" Rob wanted to know.
"Well, sweetie," smiled Diaz. "We're in a very special Hell for naughty writers who screw with Continuity. I'm Diaz, and I'll be your tormentor for Eternity."
"Have a seat. You need to fill out a character profile for every single character you introduced into Collaborative Carnage." She offered him a sheaf of paper the size of a Tokyo phone directory. On the cover, it read "Jigglypuff, Volume 1 of 3500."
"No!" wailed Rob, his eyes brimming with tears.
"If you prefer, I have the complete library of all my movies," suggested Diaz.
"Even 'Charlie's Angels'?" asked Rob weakly.
"Oh yes," said Diaz. "It's the special director's cut, starring Drew Carey instead of Drew Barrymore." She patted the seat next to her on the couch. "We could watch some of it and then make out."
Pale, Rob stomped up to her and snatched "Jigglypuff, Volume 1 of 3500" out of her slender hand. "What the hell/hell is Jigglypuff's favorite flavor of ice cream?" he asked.
The cow staring at Lord Cool smelled faintly of Stupidhead the Weak's aftershave. That's how Lord Cool knew, without a doubt, that he was back in Tristram. He sat up and tried to gather his thoughts.
It took awhile.
He remembered waking up inside a glass coffin. He had been freezing his ass off and his thoughts were disoriented: "If I'm in a glass coffin," he had reasoned, "I must be Snow White!" He then began singing 'Someday, My Prince Will Come' at the top of his lungs.
But that had seemed wrong after awhile. For one thing, he was pretty sure he didn't want some guy to come riding up on a white horse to kiss him. For another thing, the title, 'Someday, My Prince Will Come,' made him giggle. Finally, and most importantly of all, he really had to pee.
So, he got up, found a turbo-flush (he really had to get one of those for the house. Perhaps Stupidhead could help him build one), and began exploring. It wasn't long before he came to a brightly lit room where a busty, hot-looking blonde was doing stark-naked jumping jacks.
"Well, this'll do," thought Lord Cool, settling down for a good, long stare.
He continued staring even after the distant screams and explosions echoed down the corridor. "I'll have to check into that later," thought Lord Cool wisely. "It could be important."
Unfortunately, the blonde noticed the noise, and then noticed Lord Cool. She looked worried, grabbed him by the hand and said, "Come with me, if you want to live."
The idea of a naked woman saying "come with me" made Lord Cool giggle. But, seeing how the strange woman seemed to have no intention of putting any clothes on, he was more than happy to follow her.
The blonde seemed very confused on several points. At first she said that she was Elsie-6. Then she said she was really Lord Cool. For a while, she even said her name was Rob. Lord Cool took it all in stride. Women often forgot who they were in his presence. They also often had violent epileptic seizures or pretended to be dead until he went away. His own ex-wife, Sugar, had proclaimed him the 'World's Worst Lay' on their wedding night. The Hell Spawn, Red Vex, had gone even further and dubbed him the 'Worst Lay in All the Myriad Realities Throughout the Multiverse.' She was overcome with emotion when she told him this, so obviously she meant it in a good way.
"We have to get out of here," Elsie or Rob, or whoever she was had said as she led him to the escape pods. They arrived just in time to see the last one leave. "Damn!" swore LC6.
"Would it help if I took off my clothes too?" suggested Lord Cool helpfully.
"We'll have to use the Portal!" said Elsie.
That sounded good to Lord Cool, so he followed her again. He was disappointed to find that she had been talking about an ordinary Horadrim Portal in the middle of a room full of machines. Lord Cool guessed correctly that it did not lead to her bedroom.
"Where does that go?" he'd wanted to know.
"No time for that now," Elsie had said as she shoved him through.
"What about you?" he asked.
"I'm coming..." That was as far as she got, which made Lord Cool giggle again. There had been a massive blast of heat and light and the portal had snapped shut behind him. He'd had no way of knowing that CAIN had chosen that moment to detonate the anti-matter in LC6's chest and blow up the Azure Drake.
The longer Lord Cool tried to think, the harder it became to remember the details of his cross-Continuity adventures. Perhaps that was for the best. He struggled to his feet and wondered what to do next.
Across the pasture, a Horadrim Portal opened and a raven-haired goddess appeared. Lord Cool caught his breath. Then he caught his balance after skidding on a fresh cow patty while racing toward her. She was beautiful with her wind-blown hair, her magnificent satin-smooth thighs straddling some sort of softly growling two-wheeled machine. But there were tears in her emerald eyes, her face was forlorn as if she'd suffered an unimaginable loss. Lord Cool was not completely insensitive. He knew she needed a friend. She needed a shoulder cry on. She needed a little sympathy and compassion; she needed a little Cool.
Perhaps, thought Lord Cool trying to scrape the cow crud off his boot, she'll need a lot of Little Cool.
Lazarus watched as Spite limped into the Chamber of Bone and collapsed in a corner. She looked like she'd been through a meat grinder, which, for her, could have been an improvement. As he approached her to cast a Healing spell, a wave of nausea swept over him.
"Assume your human form, vile one," he ordered.
Spite regarded him balefully with a swollen red eye, and then complied. As she became human -- and a near perfect duplicate of Sugar -- her revulsion field shut down and Lazarus was able to look at her without feeling queasy.
Once he had finished the healing and Spite was resting comfortably, Lazarus regarded the remains of the Adversary's elite force. Their first mission had been a disaster! MadCow and Molt Lungren were dead, Lifesuck was missing, and Minimum Evil and Dr. Bruce seemed to have switched sides. Of his remaining forces, he was only sure of the reliability of Sister Twisted and possibly Spite. Arch-Mage Suave had returned with his pointy tail between his legs and obsessing over some mystery woman who turned out to be immune to his NQBus powers. As for Multi, her only loyalty was to her own pleasure. At the moment, she and three of her duplicates were in another corner noisily working on rebuilding Suave's confidence.
All they had to show for their efforts was a barely conscious Red Vex. An unmitigated disaster!
Lazarus smiled. An unmitigated disaster that the upstart Maximum Evil had been in charge of. It was time to go see the Adversary and underscore the absent Maximum Evil's shortcomings.
As he made the trek down to Level 16, Lazarus wondered just where Maximum Evil had disappeared. He wracked his brains. He remembered returning to the Chamber of Bone with Sister Twisted, one of the Multi's and the prisoner Red Vex. He also remembered the surviving members of the team trickling in to admit their defeats.
With a shudder, Lazarus remembered Maximum Evil's transformation into ULTIMATE EVIL, but after that, his memories were disjointed. It was as if history had disappeared and been replaced by a collection of bizarre and unrelated events. The more he tried to remember, the less it all made sense.
"Master!" he called out as he reached Level 16. "I need your guidance. Maximum Evil's bungling has cost us dearly."
"Has it then?" The towering obsidian figure of ULTIMATE EVIL stepped out of the darkness, his horns and teeth gleaming with cruelty. Lazarus felt his heart drop into his stomach as the front of his robe suddenly became warm and wet. "Then he has paid the price for his incompetence. Pray that you do better."
Lazarus put two and two together and a recollection rose above the fog of his hazy memories: The Adversary had forced Max out of the body of ULTIMATE EVIL and cast it adrift in the ether. Maximum Evil was no more!
"How shall I proceed, my lord?" asked Lazarus.
"The Boojum has sought to contain me by quarantining this Continuity from the other worlds of the Battle Net," said the Adversary. "That was a miscalculation on the Boojum's part. Now I will be able to consolidate my power more efficiently. However, I still need more time. See that I am not distracted."
"I will, my lord," vowed Lazarus. "However, Maximum Evil severely depleted our forces on his personal vendettas."
"I am aware of that," responded the Adversary. There was a whirring and clanking noise that drew closer. An armored, bovine-looking figure limped into the light. Its duralloy plating was scorched and even melted in places. The left half of its face was a mass of burnt wiring, steel and plastic out of which a luminous red eye shone. Its right arm ended in another bunch of sparking wires and it dragged its left leg when it walked.
"Behold one of the last remnants of a discarded Continuity," said the Adversary. "The CowLord 2000!"
"I am grateful, my lord," said Lazarus concentrating on hiding the doubt in his voice. "I am sure it will shore up our forces and serve you well."
"Despite its condition, the CowLord 2000 is a formidable foe. Its armaments include several weapons that are no longer part of this Continuity and that your foes will not be able to defend against. It is speechless and mindless and will obey your commands and yours alone," said the Adversary.
"I am gratified, master," said Lazarus with a bow. Maybe this pitiful-looking piece of junk had some potential after all.
"Lazarus," added the Adversary.
"The CowLord 2000 has a powerful explosive built into its chest. One powerful enough to destroy Tristram and the surrounding countryside. It will be in your best interests to use that weapon before you even think of disturbing me again," said the Adversary bending down so that Lazarus could look into ULTIMATE EVIL's eyes. "Do you understand?"
Lazarus swallowed. "Yes, Master. I will not fail you."
"Hi there, I'm Cool," Lord Cool told Evette.
Before she could respond, a Horadrim Portal opened and Stupidhead the Weak stumbled through. He looked dazed for a moment and then saw Lord Cool.
"Mana be praised!" he cried. "You're alive!" With that, he leaped up and threw his bony arms around Lord Cool.
This was not in the script. "Ah, Stu," said Lord Cool. "I'm really not comfortable with the way you're rubbing up and down against my thigh."
"I'm sorry, my dear friend," explained Stupidhead with tears in his eyes. "It's just that I saw an armored Plot Device blast you to smithereens."
"Well, I'm obviously okay," managed Cool trying to peel the old man off of him.
"I'm so very glad to see you, my friend," sobbed Stupidhead.
"I know," said Lord Cool. "And that's why I'm praying that's a wand in your pocket."
Inevitably, Lord Cool lost his balance, and he and Stupidhead tumbled to the grass in a tangle of arms and legs.
"Oh, I just can't believe this," wept Stupidhead.
Cool glanced up at the bemused Evette. "That's just what I was thinking."
Unnoticed by any of them, the cow that Stupidhead had not seen since Chapter Five of the original "Unlikely Heroes of Tristram" glared at Lord Cool with jealous eyes.
"Zere is no need to be ashamed," Evette assured Lord Cool, her husky voice thick with a sexy French accent that would have made a eunuch pant. "I too 'ave recently learned zee beauty of -- 'ow you say? - zee same-sex love." She thought of Elsie and gave a wistful sigh.
"Gah!" cried Lord Cool pushing his friend off his lap. "We're not gay! Stu! Tell her we're not gay!"
Stupidhead was still busy emoting and off in his own world. "I thought I'd never see you again. I thought I'd never get to tell you that you're the best friend that I've ever had and how much I truly love you!"
"Gah!" cried Cool. "In a manly way!"
"Please," Evette tried to reassure him. "I am completely comfortable with zee man-to-man love. I am Evette."
Stupidhead seemed to notice Evette for the first time. "Pleased to meet you. This is Lord Cool and I am Gonnard the Great."
"Everyone calls him Stupidhead," put in Cool. "But we're not..."
A Horadrim Portal opened and Dolt Lungren stepped through.
"'Allo," Evette said to Dolt. "I am Evette and zis is Lord Cool and Stupid'ead. Zey are lovairs."
"Noo!" wailed Lord Cool.
"Actually, I've already met them," said Dolt. "But I had no idea you two were... that way." He made the universal limp-wristed gesture.
"We're not!" shouted Lord Cool.
"Don't worry," said Dolt. "Many of the greatest warriors of my clan also shunned the company of women."
"Gah!" cried Lord Cool in frustration.
A thought suddenly occurred to Dolt. "Stu, if you and Lord Cool are... you know..." He made the universal wrist gesture again. "...that must mean you are no longer betrothed to Elsie!"
"Elsie?" asked Evette.
"Huh?" asked Stupidhead. He had forgotten about the rumors he had spread about himself and Elsie in a humorous attempt to annoy her.
"That's wonderful!" exclaimed Dolt. Then he hesitated, "No it's not! What am I to do? Now I will have to choose between the beautiful Elsie and my beloved Sugar!"
"Sugar?" asked Lord Cool.
Evette began to cry. "Elsie was also zee name of my lost love," she sniffled.
"Elsie was your lost love?" asked Stupidhead.
"'Beloved Sugar'?" repeated Lord Cool and frowning at Dolt.
"Moo?" wondered the cow, still glaring at Lord Cool.
LC3, Biff and Dr. Bruce stopped to rest near the bottom of the stairs three levels beneath the Cathedral. Biff sat down heavily on the steps and patted the seat next to him. "Cute, puny Dr. Bruce sit next to Biff?"
"Gah!" cried Dr. Bruce. "Stay away from me!"
Biff just shrugged and favored his counterpart with a gap-toothed smile.
"What is it with him anyway?" wondered Dr. Bruce.
"It's pretty obvious," said Elsie. "You were created to be Biff's exact opposite, right?"
"That is a known fact," affirmed Dr. Bruce.
"You have a built-in contempt of Biff, right?"
"I can't even bear the thought of touching him," said Dr. Bruce.
"Well then," concluded Elsie, "it follows that Biff has the exact opposite feelings toward you, and that he adores you and yearns to connect with you in a deep, emotional, and physically invasive way."
"Gah!" repeated Dr. Bruce when Biff winked at him.
"Gah!" echoed Elsie.
"What? asked Dr. Bruce.
"Omega Code. Continuity compression in progress. Emergency download," gasped Elsie dropping to her knees and clutching her head in pain. "Disturbance in the source... a dozen LC's cry out in terror and then cut off... CAIN offline... Tenez-moi, mon Evette aimee! ... COWLORD 2000 FEARS NOTHING! ... We'll have to use the Portal..." Elsie curled into a ball and began screaming as the fragmented memories of the other LC units, destroyed each and every one, burned themselves into her internal database.
As usual, she was aware of the lags when they occurred, and the last several had been big ones. But this was new: Somehow, when she had been between Continuities, CAIN had dumped all available data from the other LC units into her. A last desperate act before its own destruction. The data had been held in temporary storage while she was acclimating to the new Continuity, but now it was integrating into her conscious memories.
It was not a pleasant experience.
Elsie felt the confused and dangerously homicidal mind of LC1 being wiped so she could be cannibalized to create the CowLord 2000. She felt LC2's passion for Evette and her noble sacrifice to save her. She felt the sudden shock into non-existence when Captain Farnham detonated the anti-matter capsule in LC4's chest. It went on and on, right up to the last LC unit in production, destroyed without ever having been activated when CAIN ordered the destruction of the Azure Drake to thwart Maximum Evil.
Elsie was also conscious of the fact that her screams had attracted the denizens of the level. She saw Biff and Dr. Bruce fighting off skeletons and fallen, as well as odd creatures of indeterminate Continuity. The latter were obviously soldiers in the Adversary's Army of Things That Should Not Be. She also noticed other changes: Dr. Bruce's Continuity had been adjusted. He was now casting Fireballs and Chain Lightning rather than using the high-tech weaponry her fragmented memories recalled. He was now using a Mana Shield instead of the force field he'd originally had. Biff seemed unchanged, but smelled a little riper than she remembered. Her own sword had been replaced with a King's War Staff of Haste, and she now knew that Dr. Pepin had built a bomb into her. She also knew that despite Lord Cool's memories and certain aspects of his personality, she was not, nor would she ever be, Lord Cool.
"I am Elsie," she finally managed. "I am the last and only Elsie."
"The question is," said Solo, "What do we do now?"
She, Ichabod, CowLad, Ubet Choas, and Deathspit had materialized in the magma caverns near where Sugar and Mini-E had been wondering the exact same thing. There was no sign of Maximum Evil or ULTIMATE EVIL.
A few minutes later, they had encountered Journeyman Jay surrounded by a pack of bright yellow Storm Lords. They raced to his aid, but by the time they reached him, the monsters were peacefully wandering off. One of them said something that sounded like "puppy chow" or perhaps "peek-a-boo." Journeyman Jay had hastily tucked the Compelling Orb inside his black cloak and introductions were made all around.
"Do we continue searching for Maximum Evil and the Adversary?" continued Solo.
Ichabod shook his head. The visor of his mighty CowLord armor was up, which meant that the CowLord personality was down. "We've already accomplished half our objective," he said. "We've found Sugar and Wirt. Assuming a Town Portal will work, we should head back to the surface and regroup with whatever is left of our party."
"Can you tell us anything about what Max and the Adversary are up to?" Solo asked Choas.
The diminutive wizard shook his head. "While I was trapped in Life Sun, I was omniscient and omnipotent..."
"Holy Viagra, Choas!" said CowLad. "Stupidhead used to have the same problem, but then he started taking a potion for it!"
Choas shot the young sidekick a look of annoyance, but otherwise ignored him. "...I was omnipotent," he continued. "But here, I'm just an ordinary, but reasonably powerful, Sorcerer. If you need some Guardians or a Lightning Wall, I'm your man. And I can certainly whip up a Town Portal to the nearest bar." With that, he opened a blue portal to Tristram.
Ichabod said, "We're all together and nobody important is dead..." Journeyman Jay remembered Journeyman Kay sadly. "...if that doesn't call for a round of drinks or six, nothing does."
"Holy Fake ID, Cowlord!" exclaimed CowLad. "I'm underage!"
Ichabod rolled his eyes. "A round of drinks and some milk for the boy," he amended.
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