Dolt, Stupidhead, Lord Cool, and Evette had likewise decided that alcohol was in order, and had chosen a relatively quiet table in the Tavern of the Rising Sun.
"And so zat is how I came to be 'ere," concluded Evette over a pitcher of beer. Talking about Elsie had been difficult, both emotionally and because her English was limited.
Dolt said, "Your Elsie sounds a lot like my..." He glanced at Stupidhead, still unsure of Elsie's standing with him. "...er, our Elsie. But that's impossible."
"I don't know," mused Stupidhead. "My memories are fuzzy, but a lot of strange things have been happening. It's possible that Elsie..."
"Can't you two see that talking about Elsie is painful to her?" interrupted Lord Cool, hoping to change the conversation to a direction that would lead to Evette going upstairs to one of the tavern's private rooms with him.
"No," said Evette. "I am okay. You are kind, and thoughtful, so like mon Elsie amiee." She looked up at Lord Cool with grateful green eyes.
"Heh, more than you can ever guess," muttered Stupidhead, smiling into his beer.
"Who's Elsie Amy?" wondered Dolt.
"I know how to make it better," suggested Lord Cool. He was on a roll. "Why don't we go upstairs where I can slip you a Little Cool."
Evette looked puzzled. "I do not understand. What is zis -- 'ow you say? -- little cool?" she said. "Please forgive me. It was easier with Elsie; she spoke zee Francais."
"It can be easy with me too," Cool assured her.
"It's true," affirmed Stupidhead patting Cool's hand and batting his eyelashes at him. "He's quite easy."
"Gah!" cried Cool jerking his hand away. This time he was doing it on purpose! "Can I have a word with you in private?" he hissed at the old Sorcerer.
"It is okay," said Evette. "I am not offended by zee man-man love!"
Cool grabbed Stupidhead by the shoulder and marched him into the corner. "What the hell/hell are you doing?" he wanted to know. "Why won't you tell her we're not gay?"
Stupidhead straightened his robe. "My friend, I am far too old to care what some green-eyed, silky skinned love goddess from another dimension thinks of me," he said. There was a twinkle in his eye. "However, I'm just immature enough to care what she thinks of you!" He reached down and pinched Cool's butt.
"Gah!" cried Lord Cool.
"C'mon," grinned Stupidhead. "Who's your Stupidhead?"
"Stupidhead?" shouted Lord Cool. "I'LL GIVE YOU STUPIDHEAD!"
The tavern fell silent and Cool felt the eyes of all its patrons burning into him.
"I'd like some stupid head too!" yelled someone from the back of the bar.
Sugar entered the tavern just in time to overhear what Lord Cool had shouted at Stupidhead. Her first thought was, "Well of course, what other kind could he give?"
Her second thought was: "Omigod! You're alive!"
Deathspit was slightly quicker on the uptake than Sugar and tore across the tavern to his master. He skidded to a halt at Lord Cool's feet and wet the floor in excitement, leaving a smoking hole in the floorboards.
"Deathspit!" cried Lord Cool picking up the puppy. He was careful not to let the dog lick his face. That was the sort of mistake that even Lord Cool didn't make more than once. "Deathspit!" he cried again. "Who's Daddy's good widdle puppy-wuppy?"
Once again, Cool felt the stares of the people around him. He set Deathspit down on the table. "Ah... good dog," he said in a deeper voice and scratching the puppy's ears.
Then he noticed who was standing in the doorway. "Sugar!" he cried. It seemed there was an echo in the bar. Then Cool looked around and saw Dolt Lungren already racing toward her. Thinking quickly, Cool stuck his foot out to trip the Barbarian Warrior, but misjudged the length of his stride. Dolt's foot hooked underneath Lord Cool's knee instead of at the ankle and both men tumbled across the floor to rest at Sugar's feet.
"Beloved!" cried Dolt. "You're safe!"
"Hey, baby!" said Lord Cool regretting that, from his vantage point on the floor, he could almost, but not quite, see up her skirt.
Sugar looked down at the two men. On the right, was the tall, dark, handsome, and well-muscled Dolt Lungren. On the left was Lord Cool, trying to crane his neck to look up her skirt without looking like he was craning his neck to look up her skirt. His monumentally comic effort to do so brought an instant smile to her lips. Sugar studied her two would-be suitors, immediately recognizing the potential complications that lay ahead. She had spent some time with Dolt and found him to be aesthetically pleasing and earnest, if somewhat clumsy, in his affection for her. He was quite inexperienced, but she considered him trainable.
On the other hand, there was Lord Cool. Living with him had turned out to be impossible, but she still had very fond feelings for him. There was something about him that she couldn't quite put her finger on... Actually, she could put her finger on it, but she wasn't about to in the middle of a bar full of witnesses. Lord Cool had the enthusiasm for her of a fourteen year-old experiencing his first piece of tail. Regrettably, he also had the expertise of a fourteen year-old, and never seemed to get any better. She shuddered, remembering the belly-button incident. Still, each time with Cool was like deflowering a virgin. It was never very good, but it was always memorable.
Fortunately, neither of the men was that bright, and the fact that this triangle was starting out with both of them on the floor at her feet was definitely a promising indicator. "Boy, am I thirsty," she commented, and then watched as Dolt and Cool scrambled to their feet to get her a drink. Nope, this wouldn't be too bad at all.
Behind her, Mini-E was wringing his hands anxiously.
Dolt beat Cool to the bar despite taking an empty pitcher to the back of the head. As Cool pondered the broken pitcher in his hand, Evette caught his eye. "Who is zis?" she asked, nodding at the approaching Sugar. She was followed by Mini-E, Ichabod, CowLad, Solo, Ubet, and Jay.
"Oh, she's my wifaaahhhhsister," answered Lord Cool, recovering nicely.
"'Wifazister'? I am sorry, I do not understand zis word." She shrugged and waved at the approaching party to join them.
"Gonnard? Is that you?"
Stupidhead looked around to see who had spoken.
"Down here!" said Ubet. "Great Mana! It is you! Geez, it's been a dog's age!"
"Ubet Choas!" cried Stupidhead. "I can't believe it!"
"You two know each other?" asked Solo.
"We apprenticed together in Lut Gholein, under his father, Heekikt," said Stupidhead rising to meet his old comrade. Stupidhead and Choas slapped hands, spun once, touched elbows together twice, hopped on one foot, belched three times and then smashed their foreheads together.
"That secret fraternity handshake didn't used to hurt so much," commented Choas when he regained consciousness.
"We were much younger and drunker then," agreed Stupidhead. He held out a hand to help Choas up. As Choas stood, he let out a high, piercing shriek. While Choas had been out cold, Stupidhead had performed the Super Secret Sorcerer's Robe Wedgy on him. Just like in the old days.
Choas wiped the tears from his eyes and proceeded to extract from between his buttocks about three feet of fabric and his pointed hat. He sniffed his hat gingerly and then put it back on his head. "You old son of an acid hound," said Choas. "Still up to your old tricks."
"Every chance I get," smiled Stupidhead. "Remember when I did that to Drognan?"
"What a screech," chuckled Choas. "Lysander's ears are probably still ringing. Now then, I do believe that tradition dictates the you owe the wedgy victim a drink."
"I thought it was the other way 'round," said Stupidhead, "but I'll play along."
With that Choas jumped up on the table and shouted, "Hey everyone! Drinks are on Gonnard!"
The tavern erupted in cheers and Stupidhead shot Choas a dirty look.
Lazarus wasted no time moving back into his old lair on Level 15. The Chamber of Bone was a dump and he was glad to move his team out of it. With the CowLord 2000 obediently doing all the heavy lifting, the move was quick and effortless. He took advantage of the relative peace and quiet to evaluate his team.
Spite was still in her human form, and she and Sister Twisted were seated at stone slab that had served as his sacrificial altar when he served Diablo. Arch-Mage Suave was once again looking both arch and suave after his sessions with Multi and her duplicates. He was supposed to be monitoring the scrying mirror for any sign of their enemies, but it was obvious that he was just preening.
"CL2K? Please get Mr. Suave back on task," said Lazarus.
The CowLord 2000 clanked over to Arch-Mage Suave and poked him with the exposed wiring of its severed right wrist. Suave jumped, nodded politely to Lazarus, and resumed scanning the Catacombs for any unauthorized movement.
Lazarus noted that Suave had swapped his silken sorcerer's robes for a pair of tight, black leather pants and an open-necked white shirt. He was still sporting the short horns, bat-like wings and pointed tail as part of his NQBus motif. There was also a glowing blue gem embedded in the flesh at his throat. It didn't look like a soulstone, and Lazarus wondered if it served some purpose or was just another affectation on the part of the vain sorcerer.
On the subject of dressing up, Multi had discovered the wardrobe of outfits left behind by Lazarus's harem of succubi. She and a few of her duplicates were entertaining themselves by dressing up in the scanty demon hide outfits and, of course, undressing. That reminded Lazarus of the last surviving member of his harem.
He left the main chamber of his lair and walked down the hall to the cages, the CowLord 2000 clanking along behind him. Red Vex looked awful. Her normally porcelain skin was dishwater-gray and her red hair was matted and soaked with perspiration. She was covered with bruises from her many fainting episodes. Her ribs showed. Lazarus wondered how long it had been since she'd last fed. The way time and Continuity had been jumbled up lately, there was really no way to tell. But since succubi fed by draining the life force from their prey during the act of sex, it was certain that she'd received no nourishment since her traumatic encounter with Lord Cool.
"What a sad sight you are, my once-beautiful Red Vex," said Lazarus. "It pains me to see you like this."
She looked at him with hollow eyes and shuddered violently. "Then kill me," rasped Red Vex.
"Wouldn't you rather be made whole again?" offered Lazarus.
"Hole?!" Red Vex fainted.
Lazarus sighed. "CL2K, wake her please."
The giant machine stuck its wrist between the bars and jolted her awake.
"Get a grip on yourself," ordered Lazarus.
Red Vex visualized getting a grip on herself, and fainted again.
After the CowLord 2000 had jolted her awake, Lazarus ordered it to go and fetch a Multi. "If you don't feed, you will die," Lazarus told Red Vex.
"I know," said Red Vex bitterly. "But I can't feed, thanks to that cursed Lord Cool." Just saying the name made her feel woozy.
"Then you'll simply have to learn again," said Lazarus.
"I can't!" insisted Red Vex.
"When I was a boy, my father taught me how to swim by throwing me into the deep part of the pond," said Lazarus. "Either I'd learn to swim or I'd drown."
The CowLord 2000 came clanking down the hall with a Multi tucked under its left arm. "What's up, boss?" asked Multi. "Hey, did you know this thing vibrates?"
Lazarus ordered the CowLord 2000 to put Multi down. She was wearing one of the succubus outfits, or at least, part of one. Red Vex moaned and averted her eyes.
"Multi," said Lazarus. "Red Vex's frigidity is killing her. Help her..." He paused. "...overcome it."
Multi smiled wickedly. "My pleasure." She split herself into a trio of Multis. "And believe us, it will be." Red Vex shrank into the corner of her cell in terror.
"Either they will restore you or kill you. Welcome to the deep part of the pond," Lazarus told Red Vex as he and the CowLord 2000 left.
Solo studied the group gathered around the table. Sugar sat between Lord Cool and Dolt while Mini-E hovered anxiously behind her. Dolt was busy flexing and telling her about one of his adventures while, at the same time, Lord Cool was attempting to arouse her with naughty limericks. It was clear already that Sugar was not enjoying the competing affections of the two men as much as she thought she was going to. Served her right.
"...And so I felled the beast with a mighty blow of my great axe," Dolt was saying.
"There once was a girl who raised piglets..." Lord Cool was saying, Deathspit napping contentedly at his feet.
"I have an idea," suggested Mini-E, barely audible over the other two men. "We could do each other's nails and trade gossip!"
There hadn't been any milk in the tavern, so the barkeep had sent CowLad/Wirt out to the pasture to get his own. He'd been gone for a while.
Meanwhile, Evette was telling Ichabod about the world she'd come from via Elsie's improvised Horadrim Portal generator.
Finally, at the far end of the table Journeyman Jay listened as Ubet Choas and Stupidhead the Weak reminisced about old times. Although she was interested in hearing about Evette's world, there was something familiar about Journeyman Jay that nagged at Solo. So she edged toward his end of the table.
"So anyway," Choas was saying, "We figured anybody crazy enough to pull off a stunt like that must have balls the size of boulders. That's when everyone started calling him Gonad the Great."
Jay laughed and Solo smirked. No way would she ever be sharing how she got her nickname!
Choas turned to Journeyman Jay. "I've been meaning to ask you, young man," he said. "Where'd you get the Compelling Orb?"
"Huh?" Jay was startled. "What Compelling Orb?"
"Oh, come on. Don't try to kid a kidder! I saw you use it on those creatures in the caverns," said Choas. "My father had one, but no one ever knew what became of the other two."
"Your father had one?" asked Journeyman Jay.
Choas nodded. "Sadly, it was out of charges and nobody knew how to recharge it."
Stupidhead chortled. "That's just what he told you. I happen to know for a fact that it worked just fine."
"How?" asked Choas. "I've never heard about this."
"I, er, borrowed it one weekend and took it to the Harem Guild's headquarters," said Stupidhead smugly.
"No..." said Choas.
"It's true," affirmed Stupidhead turning to Journeyman Jay. "And when I got back, his father..."
"Heekikt Choas?" supplied Jay trying to remember the man's name.
"Like you would not believe," concluded Stupidhead.
"Well, as long as you already know about it, I guess there's no harm in showing it to you," said Jay. "I got it from Journeyman Kay, who got it from his order. I don't know much about it myself. I don't even know how to undo its effects." He reached into his night-black cloak and drew a small metal ball set with a glowing blue gem.
"Well, as far as I know, you can't undo its effects," said Choas.
"That's why I'm forbidden from coming within 5000 feet of the Lut Gholein Harem Guild or any of its members," put in Stupidhead.
"Although sometimes a sufficient trauma will do the trick," continued Choas.
"So what makes it work?" asked Jay. "This glowing blue gem?"
"That's its power source," nodded Choas. "The orb itself is primarily a handle." He reached over and put his hand over it. "See, you twist it like this to prime it."
"You!" cried Solo jumping up and pointing at Jay. "Now I remember! Because of you, I almost wound up married to Biff!"
"Oh, yeah. Sorry about that," said Journeyman Jay.
"Look, I was only trying to be nice," protested Jay.
"Well, if you think it's so nice, why don't you marry Biff?"
The Compelling Orb gave a flash of blue light and Jay's expression went blank for a moment.
"Uh-oh," said Choas and Stupidhead together.
"I don't think I really meant to do that," said Solo lamely.
"Well, lucky for Jay, Biff's probably not within a thousand miles of..." began Stupidhead.
"Pretty friend Solo!" boomed Biff coming through the tavern door.
"Moooo!" complained Bossy the cow. She'd been increasingly agitated since seeing Stupidhead. He never called, she complained.
Well of course not, said Bessie the cow.
He's human, you're a bovine, agreed Agnes the cow.
No, wailed Bossy. What we had was special! We were meant to be together! I know it!
Bossy, cautioned Bessie.
He'd know it too if it wasn't for that Lord Cool! Bossy spat out her cud for emphasis.
This is really not good for you, counseled Agnes. You've got to move on; find a nice bull.
I don't want a bull! I want... Bossy stopped. Wirt, a.k.a. CowLad, was making his way through the pasture toward them.
That's one of his friends, whispered Bossy.
So? asked Agnes.
I need you to help me keep him here until Lord Cool comes to rescue him, said Bossy.
Then what? asked Bessie.
We kill them both so my beloved will be free to return to me, said Bossy.
You are one mad cow, commented Bessie.
Will you help me? pressed Bossy.
Agnes gave a great bovine sigh. OK.
But only because of our herd mentality, added Bessie.
The three cows quickly surrounded the human and glared at him with their big brown eyes.
"Holy..." began CowLad, and then finished weakly. "...cow."
"Look out! It's Dr. Bruce!" cried Solo drawing her swords and casting a Mana Shield.
"Pretty friend Solo not hurt cute, puny Dr. Bruce!" warned Biff stepping protectively in front of his counterpart.
"You stay away from me!" Dr. Bruce told Biff. He had been trying to keep Elsie between himself and Biff all morning.
"It's all right!" shouted Elsie. "He's with us now!"
There was a prolonged silence as the two groups regarded and reacted to one another.
The newcomers made no impression on Mini-E. He was busy mourning the truth that Sugar would never notice him with a couple of big, stupid jocks like Dolt and Lord Cool vying for her attention.
The last time Lord Cool had seen Elsie, she'd been naked as a jaybird and promising him that she was coming. He giggled.
Elsie stared at Lord Cool. She felt a pang of attraction toward him, but was able to dismiss it as simple narcissism. In fact, it was a little startling to realize how uncomfortable the fact that he'd seen her naked made her. Knowing, firsthand, exactly what was going through his mind didn't help matters any. Especially since what was going through his mind was politically, factually, and anatomically incorrect on every single point. She suppressed the urge to shield her belly button.
Dolt Lungren caught his breath. Elsie looked more radiant than ever in her skintight blue body suit and gripping her war staff. He was thankful that Sugar and Evette had stepped out to powder their noses. How could he choose between Elsie and Sugar? Short of convincing them to duel one another to the death, he had no idea. Nonetheless, he had to go to the beautiful Elsie.
Deathspit started to run to Elsie, and then stopped and looked back at Lord Cool. Then he looked at Elsie. He wet the floor in confusion, leaving another smoking hole.
Ichabod noted the arrival of Biff, Elsie and Dr. Bruce and waved before turning back to his drink. He'd been listening in as Stupidhead and Choas exchange lies about girls they used to know. It was fun; it reminded Ichabod of hanging out in the tavern with Zhar and Cain countless Continuities ago. He also wondered what was keeping Wirt. Even with the CowLad persona impressed on him, Wirt was far from stable and probably should not have been left unattended for long.
Stupidhead and Choas were busy with their own conversation, but Stupidhead wondered if Elsie was still hung up on Sugar. If so, would the two of them get together? And if that were the case, would they let him watch? If not, well, that's what scrying mirrors were for.
Journeyman Jay's jaw dropped. Biff, with his rock-like muscles, many scars, and masculine odor, was the most magnificent man he had ever seen. He wanted to say something but his voice came out a hoarse whisper.
Solo was still suspicious. "How do we know he's on our side?" she pressed.
Elsie started to answer, but was forced to admit that was a good question.
At that moment, Dr. Bruce noticed Biff edging closer to him and leaped away with a scream. "Thanks to the Adversary," he panted. "That malodorous lummox wants to play snugglebunnies with me! Believe me when I tell you that I have no intention of serving the entity who created that situation."
Solo could sympathize with that, probably more than Dr. Bruce knew. She looked guiltily at the smitten Journeyman Jay.
To Jay, it was clear that Biff only had eyes for Dr. Bruce. He felt his heart breaking. Why couldn't the innocent big lug see that Dr. Bruce had nothing but contempt for him? He reached inside his cloak and carefully thumbed the blade of his King's Dagger of the Heavens. One way or another, he'd free his sweet, gentle Biff from Dr. Bruce's unholy hold.
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