The cave levels behind them, Stupidhead, Smarterhead, Elsie, Evette, Solo, Sugar, Deathspit, and CowLad ventured into scorched realms of the Hell levels. The traditional bone-blood-and-ash decor was littered with cross-continuity flotsam and jetsam: Rusted hulks of military hardware from a hundred centuries and a thousand worlds, crushed and torn boxes from the shelves of long-abandoned K-marts, burnt stumps of prehistoric trees, and the shredded remains of a million unfinished Diablo and Diablo II fanfics. The latter floated down out of the tainted sky like a bizarre snow.
"What a dump," commented Solo quietly.
"Holy It's Good for the Bottle, It's Good for the Can!" exclaimed CowLad stumbling over a trashbag full of old aluminum cans. He paused reflectively upon regaining his balance. "What a stupid slogan."
A few pages of a fanfic got caught in Elsie's hair. Irritated, she crumpled it up and started to toss it away, then she took a moment to skim over it, folded it in half and tucked it under her belt.
Solo looked curiously at Elsie and snatched a few pages out of the air. "This is terrible," she grimaced after reading a few paragraphs. She was about to ask Elsie about the pages she'd tucked under her belt when the group was attacked by an armored creature that appeared to be part horned demon and part SUV. Engine revving and horn blaring, the vehicle demon swerved and bore down on Stu, Evette, CowLad, and Elsie. Stu grabbed Evette and CowLad as Smarterhead wrapped around some overhanging wooden scaffolding and they all swung to safety.
That's a relief, thought Elsie as her super-human reflexes carried her out of harm's way. That was five whole paragraphs without a tacky sexual reference or us being attacked by a monster. I was beginning to think the laws of Continuity had broken down completely.
Deathspit hit their attacker in the right front tire with an acid ball and caused a blowout. The vehicle rolled over twice and lay still, a crumpled wreck.
"Is everyone okay?" asked Stupidhead as he, Evette and CowLad swung back to the ground.
Evette just nodded.
"I got splinters like you would not believe," complained Smarterhead.
CowLad winced and crossed his legs in sympathy.
Sugar just stared at Smarterhead as it snaked back under Stupidhead's skirt. "H-how long is that thing?" she gasped.
"You're a woman of the world," chided Stupidhead, reveling in his newfound ability to shock Sugar. "Surely you know that size isn't as important as how you use it."
"Then you'd better get ready to use it some more," warned Solo casting a Mana Shield. Another horned SUV creature was speeding toward them. On its back and hood were dozens of Fallen dressed in three-piece suits and armed with briefcases. A pack of rabid scare bears flanked them and oozing along behind them was a hippo-sized creature that looked to be half-squid, half-armadillo, and half-gun show.
Remembering how effective Deathspit's attack on the tires of the other vehicle had been, Evette loaded her crossbow and aimed for the front wheels of the new SUV-beast. She missed and the bolt embedded in one of the headlights. The SUV slowed and its vicious passengers hopped off.
Solo let a Chain Lighting loose among their attackers and succeeded in shorting out the SUV's electrical system. In response, the squid-beast flailed its tentacles and returned fire sending bullets flying in all directions. Everyone hurried to find cover even as the Fallen and the scare bears took the brunt of the friendly fire.
Elsie used her staff and Solo used her swords to keep the Fallen and scare bears off of Evette and Sugar as they shot at the squid creature.
"You'd better make with the magic," Smarterhead advised Stupidhead. "I'll deal with our foes on the ground."
"Are you sure you can fight without disrupting my concentration?" Stu wanted to know.
"Have I ever let you down?"
"Only every night for the last thirty years," commented Stupidhead.
Lacking shoulders, Smarterhead didn't shrug. "Things are different now." With that, Smarterhead shot out from under Stupidhead's robe and began fending off the Fallen, clubbing and throttling them with ruthless efficiency. It was a little difficult for Stupidhead to concentrate, but Smarterhead seemed to be running on auto-pilot, freeing up enough wit for Stu to cast spells. He lit a Fire Wall under the squid-creature.
Elsie glanced over at Stupidhead in time to see Smarterhead wrap around a Fallen and snap its neck before hurling it at the scare bears. Elsie shook her head. "This isn't a battle, it's bad hentai."
Meanwhile, CowLad and Deathspit crept out to the squid-thing's flanks and hit it with multiple acid balls and several brown runes from CowLad's utility belt. "Holy who cut the cheese!" cried CowLad discovering he was downwind of his own handiwork. His nose hairs curling and his eyes streaming, CowLad failed to see the flailing tentacle until it was too late. "Holy hurt!" cried the Boy Bovine as the blow smacked him square across the chest. "That's going to leave a bruise!" The impact sent him flying into the side of a burned-out concrete bunker. As he tried to get up, thirty gallons of cream cheese came out of nowhere and adhered him to the wall. "Holy does a body good!" exclaimed CowLad. "I'm trapped!"
Despite CowLad's new predicament, his brown runes had done their job. The squid creature, enraged, distracted, and no doubt grossed out easily fell before the combined onslaught of Sugar, Evette, Solo, Stupidhead, and Deathspit. At the same time, Elsie and Smarterhead were making short work of the scare bears and Fallen. As the last of their enemies expired, Elsie held her hand up for a high-five and Evette slapped it, so did Sugar. But when Smarterhead slapped her hand, Elsie looked at her palm and grimaced. "Never do that again," she told Smarterhead.
"Why don't you come back inside and take a rest?" suggested Stupidhead to Smarterhead.
"Fine," huffed Smarterhead disappearing under Stupidhead's robe. "There's gratitude for you."
"I didn't mean to hurt his feelings," started Elsie awkwardly.
"He'll get over it," Stupidhead assured her, and then added, "After all, it's not like this is the first time you've spurned him."
Elsie's jaw dropped as she remembered that strange and humiliating encounter with Stupidhead in one of the rooms above the Tavern of the Rising Sun. Fortunately, it had all turned out to be part of a practical joke on Stu's part. Nonetheless, Elsie shuddered.
A bloodstar burst at their feet and they turned to see Arch-Mage Suave, a.k.a., NQBus, standing on the roof of a squat concrete structure. He was flanked by fifteen glassy-eyed succubi.
"You!" seethed Stupidhead, taking in his counterpart's youth, full head of hair, and superb physique.
"Is that any way to greet one's evil twin?" asked NQBus looking hurt. He hopped down from the roof, his bat-like wings helping him to a gentle landing. "Besides, I found something of yours." He snapped his fingers and MadCow swooped low over them, her leathery wings beating furiously to keep her roughly in one spot. In one hand, she held the battered, milk-soaked body of Dolt Lungren by the ankle.
"Dolt!" cried Sugar.
Something slipped from the small scabbard at Dolt's ankle and fell toward Sugar.
"Red! Satin! Crotchless!" shouted Sugar bobbling the Exposition Stone.
NQBus snatched the Exposition Stone out of the air. "You cannot hope to defeat me!" he boasted.
"You'll pay for what you did to my Dolt," hissed Sugar through clenched teeth.
"Perhaps," laughed NQBus, "but I won't be paying you, for no female can resist the will of NQBus, a.k.a., the Arch Mage Suave, and Adversary-generated counterpart to Stupidhead the Weak."
The strange music seemed to come out of nowhere and everywhere at once. "I'm too sexy for Jordan's Stone, too sexy for a bone..." and immediately, Sugar, Solo and Evette froze in their tracks, their faces blank.
"Your power can't control me," Elsie rushing at him with her staff.
"That is because you are little more than a walking blow-up doll," sneered NQBus. "But control you, I can." He glanced at Sugar and Solo, and instantly, Solo had her sword at Evette's throat and Sugar had nocked an arrow and was holding it to Evette's temple. "Better stand down, Tin Woodswoman, or I might end up with one less girl to control."
Elsie lowered her staff and stepped back, defeated. Deathspit swallowed the acid ball he had prepared to spit at NQBus and belched loudly.
NQBus laughed the laugh of a villain holding all the cards in one hand and an Exposition Stone in the other. "You see, when the Adversary created me to be a counterpart to Stupidhead, it made me his superior in every way. I'm smarter, handsomer, younger (note the full head of luxurious hair and bulging pectorals), and at the peak of my magical powers. No woman can resist me, while you, Stupidhead, get snubbed by cattle." He glanced up at MadCow. "Except this one, of course. That reminds me, in the extremely unlikely event that something happens to me, MadCow will be free to have her way with you. Since this is Hell, and she is a bovine scorned, I'd say things look pretty grim for you, old man."
"I may be old, but I've got skill and experience that you won't be able to touch for another thirty years," said Stupidhead, and then an idea occurred to him. "Thirty years... and I've still got it where it counts. I can satisfy a woman in ways you can't even dream of."
"Liar!" shouted NQBus, dropping the Exposition Stone near Deathspit.
"You talk the talk, but you know you can't walk the walk," said Stupidhead. He gestured at the burned-out bunker. "Why don't we go in there and let your harem be the judge."
NQBus laughed. "If you wish to be humiliated before you die, then so be it. But if there are any tricks..." He spared Elsie and Deathspit a glance, and also to CowLad who was still struggling in his cream cheese trap. "...Your friends will kill each other."
"Tricking you would be far too easy," said Stupidhead. "I can beat you fair and square."
NQBus grinned. "Very well, after you then." He followed Stupidhead into the structure, and the succubi followed them. The battered steel door slammed behind them.
Sugar and Solo didn't move from their positions, and neither did Evette. If she knocked Solo away, Sugar would shoot Evette. If she disarmed Sugar, Solo would cut Evette's throat. And if she tried to move Evette out of harm's way, she'd probably resist long enough for Sugar and Solo to nail both of them.
Elsie consulted her internal chronometer several times as the hours passed. MadCow dropped Dolt's body, landed, and began chewing her cud. Deathspit had been barking continuously the entire time. CowLad finally squirmed free of his cheesy bonds.
More hours passed. Even though the bunker was heavily sound-proofed, Elsie thought she heard a scream and the occasional moan from within. Once, she heard a noise that she absolutely couldn't identify. Having nothing better to do, she compared it to the millions of sounds archived in her internal database. After a long search, it turned out to be the sound of an industrial lubricant being sprayed from a high-pressure hose into a wicker basket full of underripe bananas. Elsie shuddered, tapped into another one of Lord Cool's repressed memories, and shuddered even harder.
Lord Cool followed Red Vex into Lazarus's lair where Lazarus was watching events unfold in the scrying mirror.
"Hey! That's Sugar!" said Cool looking over Lazarus's shoulder into the mirror.
Red Vex swallowed and exasperated sigh and went back to whisper something nasty in Cool's ear. Lord Cool had nowhere near the willpower to break her spell over him, but his attention span was so short that she was having to re-establish control constantly. Lord Cool grinned dopily and Red Vex directed him to go sit on the altar and wait for her.
"Trouble with our A.D.D. hero?" asked Lazarus without looking around.
"Nothing I can't handle," Red Vex assured him.
Lazarus strode over to have a look at Lord Cool.
"You were supposed to bring a sacrifice to open the portal to the final level," commented Lazarus.
"I've got one," Red Vex answered.
"Well, we can't use Lord Cool," he said. "We need him for..."
The first bloodstar burst against the back of Lazarus's head. The ones that followed tore through his face from the back before Lazarus crumpled on top of the altar next to Lord Cool, who yelped in alarm and revulsion.
"What was the line?" wondered Red Vex as the blood of Lazarus ran down the sides of the altar and opened the portal to the final level. "Oh, yes. 'Your madness ends here, betrayer.'"
As the Arch-Bishop Lazarus's brain pan emptied onto the cursed black stone slab, stab of panic poked through the lust-induced fog that clouded Lord Cool's mind. Then Red Vex glided over and sat on his lap. "It's almost time for something special," she told him, running her fingers through his hair. She glanced back at the scrying mirror. "Almost, but not quite yet."
Deathspit's non-stop barking was giving Elsie a headache. The fact that she was an android made this obviously impossible, but nonetheless, her head was pounding. Nothing she said or threw at the puppy was able to interrupt the steady barking. She considered shutting off her audio sensors, but that seemed unnecessarily risky. At least it wasn't getting any worse. Maybe she'd just get used to it.
Then CowLad started barking back at Deathspit and Elsie squeezed her eyes shut.
She opened them in time to see the bunker door swing open and watch a familiar scrawny wrinkled figure stagger out. He looked frail and wizened even for Stupidhead. All he was wearing was sheet around his waist and an expression of utter defeat. "Stu!" cried Elsie.
"He was inhuman," the old man wheezed, falling to his knees. "I thought I could..." He coughed. "I couldn't keep it up...I mean I couldn't keep up... I didn't.... He... they..." He collapsed face-first, gurgled a couple of times and expired with a convulsive twitch.
"Stu!" Elsie took a step toward the body.
Elsie looked up and saw Stupidhead the Weak standing in the doorway calmly refastening his gigantic hoop skirt. Elsie did a double-take, looking from Stupidhead to the body and back again.
"NQBus," answered Stupidhead. "Not so arch, and not so suave anymore. He bragged he was at the peak of his magical powers. What he didn't know is that when my magic powers topped off is when I started having other, er, difficulties."
Behind her, Sugar, Evette and Solo were starting to come out of NQBus's spell.
"Feel free to take all the credit for yourself," remarked Smarterhead from under Stu's robe.
"It was a team effort," admitted Stu. "Couldn't have done it without you."
"What happened to all the succubi?" asked Solo.
"Oh, they're still inside," said Stupidhead moving away from the door and popping the top off a Mana potion.
Solo peered through the doorway, then came back to where Sugar, Evette and Elsie stood with a shocked look on her face.
"What...?" began Sugar.
"They're all in there," said Solo. "Singing 'You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman.'" She paused. "In harmony."
"Perhaps it would be immodest of me to say so," said Smarterhead, still under the robe. "But once you've had Smarterhead, you never want any other kind."
"Man," breathed Sugar straining to hear the musical praise of the succubi. "I have got to try some of that."
Elsie and Evette were staring at her aghast and a look of dismay fell across Sugar's face. "I said that out loud, didn't I?"
"Oh by the way," Stupidhead was telling Solo, "I got..."
"Mooo!" Great beefy fists grabbed Stupidhead by the shoulders and lifted him into the air.
"Holy dangling plot thread!" exclaimed CowLad. "We forgot about MadCow!"
As the flying cow demon carried Stupidhead away, they heard Smarterhead say, "You'd better let me handle this."
"Eww! I do not think I want to watch zis," gulped Evette.
MadCow circled overhead with Stupidhead for several minutes. Finally, she set him down some distance away and flew through a Town Portal that he opened for her.
"What happened?" Solo asked when Stupidhead returned.
"Duh?" replied Stupidhead.
Smarterhead answered the question. "We talked. Luckily, I speak the language of bovines. Basically, I apologized for Stupidhead. I told her that we had been young and that what we had had together was beautiful, but just wasn't meant to be. Stu was afraid of his feelings for her and that was why he'd been avoiding her and never called, and that the way he'd treated her was inexcusable. The I told her that she was young and attractive and she'd have no trouble finding someone worthy of her. Finally, I kind of improvised a sonnet. No big thing."
"You never improvised a sonnet for me," Evette teased Elsie.
A succubus darted out of the bunker and slipped a piece of paper into Stupidhead's hand. "Call me?" she asked shyly.
"I'll see to it that he does," Smarterhead assured her.
They watched the demoness skip back into the bunker. Suddenly, Elsie giggled.
"What?" asked Sugar.
"Watching Smarterhead upstage Stu reminded me of a joke in my database," laughed Elsie. "What do you call that useless piece of skin at the end of a penis? A man!"
They were silent for a beat and then all four women fell apart with laughter.
"Holy right over my head!" exclaimed CowLad. "I don't get it."
Elsie, Evette, Solo, and Sugar just laughed harder.
Stupidhead shook his head and rubbed his eyes trying to clear the mental fog. "What's so funny?"
"A man!" gasped Sugar, her eyes streaming.
"Er, right," said Stu, "I was just going to say that I got the Compelling Orb from NQBus." He held up the glowing blue stone for everyone to see.
"Well, I've got the Horadric Mallus," said Solo still chuckling. "If Ubet and Jay get back here with their Compelling Orbs, we'll be set."
Exactly on cue, Biff, Dr. Bruce, Journeyman Jay, and Ubet Choas stepped through the Town Portal left open by MadCow's exit.
After greetings and stories were exchanged, Jay said, "With all three orbs, we should be able to compel the local monsters to leave us alone."
"Good that'll save us from having to wear ourselves out fighting all the way to the Adversary," said Solo.
"What's Deathspit barking at?" Ubet wanted to know.
Elsie shrugged. "Just a dog thing, I guess. He's been yapping away ever since Stu's, um, duel with NQBus."
"Let's go," said Solo. "I'll imbue the orbs just before we reach the Adversary's lair.
"Wait a second," said Sugar, "What about my Dolt?"
Guiltily, Solo glanced back at where Dolt Lungren lay. "I don't think there's anything we can do for him, Sugar."
"We can't just leave him here," insisted Sugar.
Ubet opened a Town Portal and Biff carried Dolt through. When he returned, he told them, "Biff left friend Dolt with Pepin." The giant warrior sniffled. "Poor Dolt."
"We'll see to it that he gets a decent burial when we return," said Solo.
"Assuming we don't end up in need of funeral arrangements ourselves," muttered Dr. Bruce.
"I wonder where Cool is?" said Stupidhead.
Sugar frowned. "Either dead or chasing some piece of tail." She paused and acknowledged their surroundings. "Or both," she said coldly. "Let's go."
Coming Up Next: The final battle with the Adversary or "Wasn't this supposed to be a Diablo story?"
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