In our previous chapter, many of our heroes tried to get laid. Despite (or perhaps because of) a combined libido rivaling most junior high school locker rooms very few of them succeeded. Next up: Saving the Universe....

Mutation 35: Orbquest Begins

Solo felt refreshed and better rested than she had in months. That nice, quiet cottage and some time to herself had been just the ticket. She had even slept in a little. After all, she reasoned,if one was going to save the universe, one ought to at least be well-rested.

Upon entering the Tavern of the Rising Sun, it became immediately clear to Solo that she was the only one who'd gotten a good night's sleep. Her first impulse was to turn around and walk out the door, and she would have obeyed it if Conjurer Ichabod, nursing a hangover, hadn't spotted her first and waved her to come in and take a seat.

Solo sighed and sat between Ichabod and Ubet. "What's with the eye patch?" she asked the diminutive sorcerer.

"I don't want to talk about it," grumbled Ubet.

Further down the table, Dr. Bruce sat on Biff's lap, his face bluish and trying to peer over the massive triceps wrapped around him. He caught Solo's gaze with desperate eyes. "Kill me," he gasped. "Please, kill me now."

The only person who looked more unhappy about the situation than Dr. Bruce was Journeyman Jay. The man in black sat next to them, staring and unable to look away. He was plainly heartbroken. For a moment, Solo felt guilty, but then heard Dr. Bruce's spine cracking as Biff cuddled him harder. That could have been her!

Mini-E, still scorched, stained, and bruised from the evening's mishaps, sat on the other side of Journeyman Jay. He was wringing his hands and trying to get a word in edgewise to Sugar, who was seated next to him.

For her part, Sugar was pointedly ignoring Dolt Lungren, who was standing behind her trying to apologize for last night. The barbarian warrior had finally succeeded in impressing her, but had been so exhausted after his many battles that he'd fallen sound asleep the moment she'd gotten him into bed. Frantic and frustrated, Sugar had gone back to Elsie and Evette's room, but they had locked the door and weren't interested in inviting any additional playmates in. Even now, the blissful glow had not entirely faded from Evette and Elsie's faces, which irritated Sugar all the more. She had even gone so far as to seek out Lord Cool, but he had been nowhere to be found.

Currently, Lord Cool was seated on the other side of Sugar, determined not to let Dolt show him up and, as usual, missing the point entirely. "I battled monsters all night for you too," he boasted. "I was even wounded! See?" Cool was sporting a black eye and his arm was in a sling.

Cool's tale of heroic monster-slapping was, of course, a gross exaggeration. Only the fact that a monster had been peripherally involved in his minor injuries prevented it from being an outright lie. What had happened was that Deathspit had eaten most of the horned demon Dolt had killed and then became very ill. The puppy had puked on the floor at the bottom of the stairs, leaving a large smoking hole in the floorboards. Cool had come down the stairs and promptly proceeded to fall into the hole, and spent the remainder of the night unconscious in the basement.

Solo looked around the table again. Wirt and Stupidhead were missing. She was about to ask if anyone had seen either of them when Stupidhead came through the door. His new outfit was enough to bring the various conversations at the table to a temporary halt. He was wearing what appeared for all the world to be a gigantic hoop skirt.

"It is good to see you have zee courage to come out of zee closet," Evette told him.

"Gonnard's gay?" wondered Ubet.

"Enchanted," corrected Mini-E.

Stupidhead opened his mouth to explain, but then decided it would be easier to just give up now. He took the vacant seat on the other side of Ichabod. Between the giant skirt and the magic staff of power it hid, sitting down in a chair took a complicated effort.

"Nice outfit," said Solo, feeling like she should say something.

Stupidhead just shook his head tiredly. He had spent the night in hiding. "It's a long story," he said.

"If you'd like, later on I can tell you exactly how long," came a muffled voice from under the skirt.

Solo stared at the skirt.

"All right," said Ubet climbing up on the table so everyone could see him. "It looks as though everyone is here. Except Wirt, who I'm told is now calling himself Dances With Cows and has developed some odd vendetta against Gonnard."

"Just call him Stupidhead," advised Lord Cool. "Everyone else does."

"Ah, bite me," retorted the voice from under Stupidhead's skirt.

"Shh!" hissed Stupidhead frantically.

"What's up with you anyway, Stu?" wondered Lord Cool.

"Funny you should ask," said the voice from under Stu's skirt.

"Will you shut up?" Stupidhead told the voice.

"That's a fine way to talk to your best friend," pouted the voice.

"Hey!" said Cool, "I thought I was your best friend!"

"You imbecile," snapped Stupidhead. "This is partly your fault anyway." He started to stand up and then remembered how much trouble it would be to sit down again.

"What? What'd I do?"

"Look," said Stupidhead to everyone. "Don't mind me. I'm enchanted, that's all..."

Mini-E nodded wisely and made the universal wrist gesture.

"...it's nothing I can't handle," he finished.

"Heh, you mean it's nothing you wouldn't like to handle," added the voice.

Stupidhead just sighed. "Can we get on with this?"

"Yeah, let's get it on," sang the voice.

"All right then," agreed Ubet. "Let's review where everybody's going and what everyone needs to do. The fate of the world lies in our hands, and we cannot afford distractions."

"Beloved," Dolt was saying to Sugar. "Surely I've proven myself to you."

"Bull!" snapped Sugar.

One of the tavern's wooden walls imploded as a trio of cows burst into the room.

"It's the Schlitz Malt Liquor bull!" cried Mini-E.

"Give me Stupidhead!" ordered Dances-With-Cows, astride the center bovine.

"I'd like some stupid head too!" shouted the same drunk from the afternoon before.

"Will you shut up?" Lord Cool yelled at the drunk.

"But it's my only line!" whined the drunk.

"There you are!" said Wirt, spotting Stupidhead. "Are you ready to step forward and do the honorable thing?"

"Oh no!" cried the voice from under Stupidhead's hoop skirt. "There is no way I'm going back in there again!"

"Eww!" said Evette.

"This is my fault," said Ichabod standing up and lowering his visor. "I HAVE ALLOWED THIS TO GO ON FAR TOO LONG! With a gesture of CowLord's great gauntlet, a small mask materialized and wrapped itself around Wirt's head.

"Holy Three Faces of Eve! What happened? And why am I on this cow?" asked CowLad, the Dances-With-Cows persona receding to his complex sub-conscious.

"FOOLISH BOVINES!" chided CowLord as CowLad climbed down from the cow. "YOU ARE NOT MADE FOR THIS MISADVENTURE! RETURN TO YOUR PASTURE IN PEACE."

The two flanking cows turned and exited through the hole in the wall. The remaining cow stood her ground, her big brown eyes fixed on Stupidhead.

"GO!" ordered CowLord.

Slowly, the cow backed out of the tavern, for even her jealous fury was no match for the Master of the Pasture.

CowLord sat down again and lifted his visor. "That takes care of that nonsense."

"Holy dangling plot thread!" exclaimed CowLad. "I never got my milk."

"Let's just pretend you did and leave it at that," suggested Ichabod.

"Can we focus now?" asked Ubet. "Jay, Biff, Dr. Bruce and I will leave for Lut Gholein immediately and return here with my father's Compelling Orb, hopefully within a few days time." He addressed Solo. "Solo, you, Sugar, Evette and Elsie will go borrow the Horadric Mallus from the Sisters of the Sightless Eye."

Ubet turned to Ichabod. "Finally, you, Cool, Stupidhead, Dolt, CowLad, Mini-E, and Deathspit liberate the last Compelling Orb from NQ-Bus and secure the labyrinth for our final assault on the Adversary."

"Wait!" interrupted Dolt. "I must go with Sugar to prove my worth to her!"

"Hey! I wanna go with Sugar too!" said Lord Cool.

"Me too!" added Mini-E.

"Yap! Yap!" barked Deathspit.

"Well I don't want any of you goons coming with me," retorted Sugar.

Lord Cool giggled.

"But beloved," began Dolt.

"Don't you 'beloved' me!" snapped Sugar. "Nobody falls asleep on me!"

Solo had just about heard enough about Sugar and all her suitors. "Why don't you people take your soap opera outside, so the rest of us can get on with the business of saving the world?"

"It's not my fault these..." Sugar began and then noted the glare Solo was giving her. "Uh, let me know when we're ready to go see the Sisters." She got up and left the room. Immediately Dolt, Cool, Mini-E and Deathspit followed her.

"Sweet Zakarum in a Barrel!" swore Solo once Sugar and her entourage had left the room. "What the hell/hell is it about Sugar anyway? What's she got that I haven't got?"

It was a rhetorical question, of course, but the way the eyes of every man at the table (and Evette and Elsie) flickered toward her chest provided an obvious answer.

"That's it!" shouted Solo. "I need a smoke."

"I didn't know you smoked," said Ichabod.

"I might start," snapped Solo. With that, she stomped toward the back door, muttering something about how she should have stayed with the tribe of bisexual Amazons when she'd had the chance.

Out at the fountain, Mini-E had gotten Dolt and Lord Cool to actually warm to the idea of dueling to the death for Sugar.

"Or maybe you could have a contest to see who can kill the biggest dragon without armor or weapons," suggested Mini-E.

Dolt and Cool both nodded. That did seem like the definitive way to prove their manhood.

"And while they're gone," Mini-E said to Sugar excitedly, "I can do your toenails!"

Sugar had heard just about enough. "Are you all insane?!" she shouted.

Cool and Dolt looked at one another, each trying to judge the sanity of the other and finding the results inconclusive. Mini-E began to cry.

"And you," snapped Sugar, "stop your blubbering!"

"I can't help it," wailed Mini-E. "I'm the exact opposite of Maximum Evil."

"Oh, you are not," scolded Sugar. "The exact opposite of Maximum Evil isn't Minimum Evil; it's Minimum Good."

"It is?" asked Mini-E drying his eyes.

"And, semantically, Minimum Good is the same as Maximum Evil," added Sugar.

"So it is," said Mini-E thoughtfully and standing up straight. "Why, you're absolutely right!" Far out in space, many continuities away, the oily black essence of Maximum Evil responded to this revelation and made a beeline to its one true host. Minimum Evil's brown eyes changed to black and his all-cotton, pastel-colored outfit likewise changed to black leather.

The last words Sugar heard were the last three words she would ever have expected to hear from Dolt Lungren and Lord Cool: "Sugar, you idiot!"

Evil dudeMaximum Evil switched on Auto-Kill, and Dolt, Cool, Deathspit, and Sugar collapsed like marionettes with their strings cut. He knelt next to Sugar's body and was surprised to find a pulse. "Must be losing my touch," he said. "Ah well, it's for the best." He picked her up in his arms. "I guess I get to do your toenails after all. After that, we'll just have to see what else I 'do.'"

Solo came around the side of the Tavern of the Rising Sun just in time to see Maximum Evil laugh maniacally and teleport away with Sugar in his arms.

"Not again..." she groaned.


"If he hadn't just been coming out of his Minimum Evil phase, you boys would be toast," Stupidhead told Dolt and Cool. "Don't expect to be so lucky a second time."

"I guess this alters our strategy," said Ubet. "No doubt you two will need to try and find and rescue Sugar."

Dolt looked at Lord Cool. "We will put aside our differences to rescue my beloved."

Cool shot him a devious look. "If you'd like, I can even cower in the background while you die heroically. That'll impress her."

Dolt nodded. "You are more generous than I was willing to give you credit for."

"Another change in strategy," said Elsie. "I can't trust you clowns not to get yourselves and Sugar killed. I'm coming too."

Lord Cool giggled, but Evette looked troubled. "I will come with you, my love," she told Elsie.

Ichabod shook his head and lowered his visor. "NO! ONLY COWLORD HAS THE POWER TO FACE THE MALEVOLENT MIGHT OF MAXIMUM EVIL, OR FOR THAT MATTER, TO EVEN FIND HIM!"

"Hmm, he's got a point," conceded Stupidhead.

"Luckily his helmet covers it," snarked the voice from under Stupidhead's skirt.

"I AND MY TEENAGED SIDEKICK WILL LIBERATE SUGAR FROM MAXIMUM EVIL'S SINISTER CLUTCHES!" volunteered CowLord.

"Holy Dynamic Duo!" exclaimed CowLad. "To the Cowmobile!"

The statement failed to even draw blank looks from the rest of the group.

"All right then," said Ubet. "Then Dolt, Cool, Evette, Elsie, Stu and Deathspit should head down into the labyrinth, deal with NQBus and the other evil twins, secure the last Compelling Orb and mop up any other minions the Adversary has running around. If we're going to face the Adversary in final conflict, the last thing we need to do is tire ourselves out slogging through the ranks of the Army of the Things That Should Not Be."

"Looks like you're on your own to go see the Sisters," Elsie told Solo.

"Suits me," replied Solo. She'd had just about enough of her companions for the time being.


"Ah, Hell hath no fury like a bovine scorned," mused Red Vex as a cow with a glower on her face ambled past. The Hellspawn had fed on a couple of innocent bystanders during the night and was feeling more like her old self.

The cow looked at the demoness resting in the shade of the crypt just beyond the cemetery fence.

"How would you like a little R-E-V-E-N-G-E?"

"Moo?" The cow took a step toward Red Vex.

"I thought so," smiled Red Vex. "Let's go and see the Adversary."


NEXT: More zany homosexuality in Lut Gholein in Mutation 36, "The Boys are Back in Town."

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