"And when we burst into the room, there were three of them, and George and Stupidhead went and hid under this table, holding each other in their arms and screaming, and I stepped forward and said, 'Fear not faithful sidekicks, I will dispatch of these bad men."
"Your companions are fortunate to have a true hero like yourself as their friend," said Starshine.
"That's what I'm saying," said Lord Cool. "Then the bandit king, he yanked out this sword and started swinging it, and George wet his pants."
"He does it all the time," said Lord Cool. "That's why we like to call him stinky-pants George."
"These stories of yours are nonsensical and preposterous," said Stupidhead. "There is no possibility of a person who has known you and your outrageously high and improbable incompetence to believe any of what you have said, now or ever, regarding our journeys together or separately."
"What about Steve?" said Lord Cool. "He liked my stories. He said he was going to record them for the anuses of history."
"Who's Steve?" said Starshine.
"An out of work scribe we met in a bar a while back," said George. "He seemed to like Lord Cool a lot. He followed him around for days talking to him."
"He was just another hack, but of innumerous ineptitude," said Stupidhead. "He produced solely escapist type literature without the faintest hint of anything resembling artistic merit, and it was decidedly unenjoyable literature at that."
"But he sure was fond of Lord Cool," said George.
"Which only goes to prove his complete lack of taste," said Stupidhead.
Lord Cool started again, "He wrote this one story where Stupidhead had a ten-inch long talking-"
"How many times has Stu asked you never to repeat that story again?" said George.
Stupidhead leaned over to Starshine and said, "Steve knew nothing of what he wrote. It doesn't talk, and it's far greater than a mere ten inches."
"What didn't talk and was greater than ten inches?" said Starshine.
"Don't either of you two further poison her mind by answering that," said George.
"'A hack,' huh?" interjected the Deus ex Machine seated at the end of the bar. "There's gratitude."
Stu, George, and Starshine looked around startled. Cool had spotted a barmaid in an extremely low-cut dress and focused his attention there. "I thought we were in a forest," said George.
Stu skimmed back over the text. "No, it doesn't say we're in a forest," he admitted. "It doesn't say we're in a tavern either though."
"It does mention a table," pointed out Starshine.
"All right, so the setting is ambiguous," said Stu. They did appear to be seated at a round wooden table with a toasty campfire, half-empty mugs of slimy pond water and a basket of acorns. A few yards away was a full bar manned by a half-orc barkeep who was, naturally, cleaning a beer mug with a rag. There were other tables and chairs scattered about, one with a dozing drunk and another with the aforementioned barmaid serving drinks to a family of squirrels. The tavern lacked walls and a ceiling and the floor was a carpet of dirt and dead pine needles. The place had more trees than tables and a small brook ran down the center of the bar. The squirrels chittered angrily at the barmaid and gestured at the empty acorn basket on their table. She smiled with forced politeness and took the empty basket to refill it. Her smile vanished as she turned and stepped in a huge pile of what a bear does in the woods. This was a big turn-off for Cool; he wasn't into dirt games.
"I can fix that," offered the Deus ex Machine. A panel in its armored chest slid open revealing its continuity wave generator.
"No! Don't!" cried Stupidhead as the hum of the continuity wave generator built to a high-pitched whine. "Oh hell!" He covered his eyes.
The continuity wave generator released a single pulse.
When Stu opened his eyes, he, George, Cool and Starshine were seated at a round wooden table with a candle, half-empty mugs of ale and a basket of crackers. A few yards away was a full bar manned by a half-orc barkeep who was, a bit more originally, cursing to himself and sweeping up the shattered remains of a beer mug. There were other tables and chairs scattered about, one with a dozing drunk and another with the aforementioned barmaid serving drinks to a group of townspeople. The tavern had wood walls decorated with a few hunting trophies and the odd water stain or ten. A wrought-iron chandelier hung from the ceiling and cast soft orange light on the wooden floor which seemed to be making up in dirt what it now lacked in pine needles. The trees and brook had all removed themselves to some other continuity. The townsfolk at the other table complained at the barmaid and gestured at the empty cracker basket on their table. She smiled with forced politeness and took the empty basket to refill it. Her smile vanished as she turned and stepped in a huge puddle of what a drunk does in a bar. She sighed. Some nights, a girl just couldn't catch a break.
"Better?" asked the Deus ex Machine.
Starshine took a sip from her mug. It beat pond water.
"Whatever," grumped Stupidhead.
"I don't see why you're all bent out of shape," continued the Plot Device. "I thought you made out pretty well in Collaborative Carnage."
"Just Plain Carnage," corrected Stupidhead.
The armored behemoth shrugged. "Let's see: you saved the day several times, got the better of Cool on multiple occasions, you got a past in which -- by most accounts -- you were pretty cool, oh, and you got laid. That never happened when Rob was writing you. Unless you count the time you did it with that cow."
"Eww! You did it with a cow?!" exclaimed Starshine sliding her chair away from the sorcerer.
"I thought you said we were never supposed to repeat that story again," said Cool.
"He did it with a cow?" Starshine asked Cool.
At that moment, the barmaid came up to the table. "How may I be of service?" she asked.
Lord Cool had prepared a list of suggestions in advance and read them to her.
The barmaid slapped him and stormed away.
"No tip for her," said Lord Cool.
"Cool, on the other hand, came across as a good-looking, juvenile moron who earned the title of 'World's Worst Lay,'" added the Deus ex Machine.
"Is he?" asked Starshine.
Cool shot her a wink and a smirk. "There's only one way to find out, baby."
Starshine slid her chair away from Cool only to realize that would put her closer to Stupidhead again. She excused herself to go powder her nose.
"I didn't mean for you to go read about it on the bathroom wall," complained Cool. "Nuts."
"Oh yeah? What about that whole Smarterhead fiasco?" pressed Stupidhead.
"Like you and Cool didn't spend the whole of UHOT thinking with your genitalia in the first place," argued the Plot device.
Cool giggled. "He said 'hole.'"
Stu sighed. "Point taken. Where is Smarterhead anyway?"
"I don't know. That's still up to Rob. I don't really have any jurisdiction here. I'm just doing a cameo for a little extra cash," admitted the Plot Device. "I haven't had steady work since JPC wrapped up."
"Sorry to hear that," said Stu.
"It's okay. Steve just finished reading Jasper Fforde's The Well of Lost Plots and I'm submitting an application to Jurisfiction. With my experience, I figure they'll either hire me right away or try to have me killed," the Plot Device shrugged again. "It's about time for me to be on my way. Let me pick up your tab for you."
"You're out of work," said George. "You should not have to do..."
"Not a problem," the Deus ex Machine assured him. With that, it fired a beam of energy at the tavern door.
The door swung open and a portly merchant stumbled in. "Stu! Cool! There you are!" he cried. "You never collected your reward after you saved my caravan from those bandits." He passed Stupidhead a bag containing just enough coins to pay for their food and drink.
"That's it?" asked Stu counting the coins and wishing he'd ordered the steak after all.
"Well, there weren't that many bandits and you did set three of my wagons on fire in the process of fighting them off," said the merchant. "But thanks anyway." He continued on to the bar.
"Continuity is served," said the Plot Device vanishing in a flash of light.
The bar also vanished and the three of them found themselves back in the forest, seated around a campfire.
Starshine came out of the bushes and looked around puzzled, shrugged her shoulders and picked up where she'd left off: "Don't poison my mind by telling me about what?" she insisted.
"By telling you that we've always found the whole concept of 'continuity' highly overrated," Stu told her.
"Seriously," agreed Cool.
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