[Writing] Dark Lord Rising, Final chapter (22 Aug 2015)

Started by Tapewolf, March 27, 2015, 04:15:12 PM

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Okay, this is a new short story, probably about 8 chapters long.  It is, for the most part, a comedy inspired by Lord of the Rings but set in the DMFA/Project Future universe around the time of the Epsilon Project.

There will be some violence, but to be honest I'm aiming more at comedy here.

Have fun!

EDIT: 10 chapters in total.

Dark Lord Rising, Chapter 1

"In times long past," the snow leopard began, "A great battle took place between the forces of Darkness and Chaos, and those of Good."

Sven spun around, dropping the cloth he was using to polish the furniture.  Before the cloth touched the ground, his shortsword was already at the intruder's neck, long muzzle drawn into a menacing snarl and his ears pinned back.  The leopard raised his hands in surrender.

"Dammit Keller, stop doing that!" the fallow deer demanded, sheathing his sword.

"But this is important," the snow leopard protested, lowering his hands again.  As he did so, a silver knife fell from the sleeve of his voluminous mage robes and clattered across the ground.

"Stop doing that too," Sven said.

"As I was saying," the leopard continued, " a great battle was fought between Good and Evil."

"Good and evil is rather relative," Sven objected, retrieving the cutlery and putting it back in the drawer.  "I go around beheading people, and they call me a hero for it!  And then there's you, and your... problem."

"Fine," Keller scowled.  "The forces of Darkness and Chaos vied for supremacy with some other guys who were a bit less Dark and Chaotic, but figured that the other guys were going too far."

He sighed.  "You know, thats's probably nearer the mark anyway, but it just doesn't sound as good."

"Whatever," Sven said, sitting down in a nearby chair.  "Did you break into my house just to give me a history lesson?  I hope you're going to pay for the lock as well."

"A broken lock will be the least of your worries if the Dark One returns to power," Keller said.

"Bullshit," Sven retorted.  "That was a very expensive lock!"

"And it wasn't that much harder to break than the last one.  The Dark Lord will have no trouble with it.  Look, Sven, I'm sorry, okay?  I'll buy you a new one.  Listen, Sven... the Dark Lord is returning!  Something needs to be done about him!"

"I'm not falling for that one again, Keller."

"But it is true!" the mage insisted.

"Prove it."

"Very well," Keller sighed, and pulled a tablet device from his robes.

"That's mine too," Sven said, snatching it back.

"Shit, sorry!" Keller said, looking surprised.  "I was wondering why my unlocking code didn't work on it.  You know, maybe I need to see someone about this."

"Yes, you do.  What were you going to show me?"  Sven asked guardedly, holding the device so that Keller could use the touchscreen, but firmly enough that it wouldn't end up back in the Mage's possession.

"Go on Witter.  Search for #darklord."

Sven made a scornful huffing noise.  "Be serious.  The Dark Lord is not going to announce his plans on social media."

"He is!  He's posting as @DarkLord679."

"Hmm," the deer said, raising an eyebrow.  "He's got a lot of followers.  Posted a lot of Weets too.  Let's see... 'Fortress of Doom refurbishment completed.'  'Had to call the plumber back because the shower was leaking.'  'Anyone know a good interior decorator?  Must have experience with torture chambers and execution methods old and new'."

"What did I tell you?" the mage insisted.  "The Dark Lord has returned and is regaining strength!"

"This has got to be some kind of joke account," Sven retorted.  "If I was an evil Demon in service to the Dark God, I would not post my every move on Witter for all my enemies to see."

"And if it's not?  Would you take that chance?"

The deer sighed.  "I suppose you're right.  At the very least we need to pay a visit to the Fortress of Doom.  We'd better fetch the others."

"Indeed," the mage said.  "There is no time to lose!"

"There are two things we need to do first," Sven pointed out.  "First, I'm going to call a locksmith."

"I'll go on ahead," Keller said eagerly.

"Secondly," Sven continued, "I'll need to search your person."
Keller emitted a short wail of despair as the burly warrior took a hand-held metal detector from its charging point on the kitchen work-surface and began frisking him thoroughly.

* * *

"Welcome, gentlemen.  And Yvonne," Keller began as the new arrivals made themselves comfortable in Sven's kitchen.  Besides the deer himself, there was a jackal, muscular of build but with blue fur, a broadsword strapped to his back.  He was followed by a female mountain lion, clad from the neck down in a very tight outfit of some shiny black material.

"You could have just phoned us," she complained, leaning against the fridge and brushing her long hair in a devastating manner.

"Wallace wasn't available for this mission," Keller said.  "He's on a skiing trip, so we needed to find a replacement at very short notice.  This is Reeves," he continued, gesturing to a solemn-looking wolf in a grey business suit.  He lifted his bowler hat in a gesture of greeting.

"Reeves, you've already met me.  I'm the mage.  This is Sven - Barbarian, Jason - Paladin, and Yvonne - skilled archer and rogue.  We were very lucky to find Reeves.  He will be the party stockbroker.  I mean healer," he added rapidly.
"Thank you," Reeves said.  "I am fully qualified at advanced healing, though that's not my day job.  And unfortunately I have been called away in the middle of an important business transaction, so please bear with me."

"Now that you've met the entire team, do you have any questions?"

"One," Reeves said, glancing at Yvonne.  "Yvonne, wasn't it?  Pardon me, but I'm kind of curious how you are able to do the whole sneaking and shooting arrows thing dressed in a catsuit like some kind of succubus."

"Frankly we don't know either," Jason shrugged.  "But she's very good at it."

Yvonne just smiled.  As she touched a stud on her outfit, a small pair of horns and a large pair of leathery wings appeared behind her back.  "I'm older than I look," she said.  "I hope you don't mind working with a Creature."

"No, I have worked with Creatures before," Reeves began.  "So long as you don't harm anyone's soul.." the wolf broke off as his phone started to ring.  "Excuse me," he said.  "Yes.  Buy Jycorp...  Sell FaeTech..."

The others looked at him curiously.  Keller began making notes as the stock transactions played out.

"I beg your pardon," Reeves said.  "Anyway, you need a healer, and I can do that.  I can also act as party treasurer if you usually have such a thing."

"Actually, I'd be happy to..." Keller started.  There was a clang from behind his head and he promptly keeled over.

"Reeves, you're the treasurer," Sven decided, sheathing his sword.

The wolf sighed, crouching over Keller's prone form.  "Did you have to hit him that hard?" he asked the deer.  His hand touched the snow leopard's head, and a glow washed across the dazed feline's features.

"What happened?" Keller asked.

"Sven knocked you out," the stockbroker said.  "Normally you'd still be in a state of concussion, and unable to remember your own name.  But I am, if I say so myself, quite good at healing people."

* * *

"So," Keller said, palming a coin off the table while the others were distracted.  "The situation is this.  The Dark Lord has returned, and has once again taken up residence in his Fortress of Doom."

"We think," Sven said.

"Whatever.  We must go to the Fortress of Doom and confront the Dark Lord, that justice may be done upon him."

"Yeah!" Sven said eagerly.  "I love a good beheading!"

"So I've noticed," Jason scowled.  "But please try to remember there is more to justice than knocking off heads.  Also, there's a reason we don't speak the Dark Lord's name.  He has great power, and many allies.  He has eyes all around, and it's more than likely your head would be knocked off before you even got close to him."

"Talking of which, the Fortress of Doom is nearly five hundred miles away," Yvonne pointed out.  "It will be many days march."

"Maybe you shouldn't have worn stiletto heels," the deer snickered.

"If you could kill people in a less messy fashion, I wouldn't need to wear wipe-clean outfits," Yvonne returned coolly.  "Though to be fair, I would anyway.  You only get to look sexy for a thousand years... better make the most of it while you can.  Besides, Demons don't get sore feet like that."

"Doesn't matter," the snow leopard interrupted.  "We won't have to walk.  Meet me at the local supermarket."

* * *

"I didn't know you had a car," Yvonne said, as Keller pulled up in the supermarket car-park and gestured them in.

"Um," Keller said, and took off.

"Great," Jason snarled.  "You hotwired it.  Now we're all going to be arrested.  Again."

"I'm only borrowing it," Keller said, affronted.  "It's not like I'm going to set fire to it or something.  We'll leave it in a car park somewhere and take another one..."

"A proper mage would have teleported us to the Forbidden Lands," Sven growled.

"The effort would kill me!" Keller whined.  "You lot don't know how much energy teleportation takes!  It would take ten years off my life!  Now a Demon," he added, glancing at Yvonne.  "A powerful Creature like you might be able to do it purely from their mana pool.  And even if you can't, what's a decade off your life when you live to be 1500?"

"I've never been to the Forbidden Lands," Yvonne replied.  "I can't easily teleport without knowing where it is.  Besides, I'm not a pure-blood Demon.  I thought I'd made this clear before.  I don't have the invincible skin, and I don't know if I'll live as long as a full-blown Demon either.  I certainly have no intention of casting such energy-hungry magic when we could use a mundane means of travel."

"Hence the car," Keller said.

"We didn't have to steal one!  We could have hired one.  We could have gone by air and got there faster than any car," Yvonne pointed out.

"But a road trip is more fun!" Keller insisted.  "And considerably cheaper."

"Ah, I see.  They won't let him through security with such a large bounty on his head," the puma smirked.

"Actually, he stole one of the X-ray machines," Reeves said, glancing up from his newspaper.

"How did you know about that?!"  Keller yelped.

J.P. Morris, Chief Engineer DMFA Radio Project * IT-HE * D-T-E


*snickers* I was wondering when Jason would finally show up.

By any chance, have we seen "Keller" before? >3


Quote from: CubiKitsune on March 28, 2015, 12:26:50 AM
*snickers* I was wondering when Jason would finally show up.

By any chance, have we seen "Keller" before? >3

He's not appeared in a comic, and at the moment he's not scheduled to, though that may change.  He did appear in one of the older stories in the CJP.

J.P. Morris, Chief Engineer DMFA Radio Project * IT-HE * D-T-E


Quote from: Tapewolf on March 28, 2015, 05:13:14 AM
Quote from: CubiKitsune on March 28, 2015, 12:26:50 AM
*snickers* I was wondering when Jason would finally show up.

By any chance, have we seen "Keller" before? >3

He's not appeared in a comic, and at the moment he's not scheduled to, though that may change.  He did appear in one of the older stories in the CJP.

Heeheeheehee, that's what I thought.


Chapter 2

Some hours later, with only a short detour to avoid the police blockade, Keller spotted a service station and turned off.

"Let's stop here," he said, parking carefully.  "I'm hungry, and we should probably swap cars while we're at it."

"Good idea!"  Sven said eagerly as they piled out of the car.  "I could do with a St. Donalds!"

"But I'm a vegetarian," Keller complained.

"Actually, I fancy a sandwich," Jason said.  "So we could just split up, and meet back at the car around, say... quarter past?"

"No," Yvonne said, looking around to ensure they were unobserved.  "The Dark One will have agents everywhere.  Hopefully he is not yet aware of us or our designs, but I don't think we should take the chance.
"I strongly suggest we stick together.  If we split up, there is a risk, however small, that one of us might be waylaid by an incubus or succubus in the pay of the Dark Lord.  As you may know, they can read minds, and sometimes steal the identities of their victims.  If one of us was compromised, the others might never know until it was too late."

There was an awkward silence, various party members glancing at each other nervously and wondering if any of the others were 'Cubi in disguise.

"I think there's a Happy Eater at this services," Reeves said quietly, shattering the paranoid mood and drawing a couple of incredulous looks.  "That should cover most of our bases."

* * *

The service in the Happy Eater was quite brisk.  While a meerkat Being took their orders, Keller played absently with the basket of little salt and sugar sachets, which somehow gradually became emptier and emptier each time the waitress had turned her back.

"I'm afraid we don't seem to have any salt," he said politely, gesturing to the now empty basket.  The waitress returned shortly with some more and the perfomance began again.

At last the food began to arrive.  Sven had been watching the kitchens to see when their meal would be arriving and was now practically bouncing up and down in his chair.  Yvonne glanced at Jason, who glanced back.  The jackal sighed as the sickening feeling slowly enveloped him, some premonition that their peace was about to be shattered.

"What's this..?" the deer demanded, pointing suspiciously at the burger as it was placed in front of him.

"Uh, a quarter pounder, with cheese and onion rings," the waitress replied nervously.

"I ordered a half-pounder!" Sven yelled.  There was a flash of silver and the waitress' head landed neatly upon Keller's garden salad.

"Oh my gods," Jason said.  "You've murdered her!"

"Oh shit," Sven said softly.  "Yes.  I think I have."

Silence fell as the unfortunate waitress' body slumped upon the couch, a mist of blood coating the dining table.  Sven's sword flashed again, shattering the window and he leapt through it in a single bound.  Keller had already disappeared.  Jason and Yvonne sat back in their chairs, arms folded, waiting for the inevitable arrest.  A kangaroo in grey body armour was already making his way towards them.

Reeves finished his tea and stood up.  "What a mess," the wolf said, propping the meerkat's decapitated corpse on the spot freshly vacated by Sven.  "Looks like I'll have to administer first aid."

"First aid?!" the kangaroo exclaimed, approaching the table.  "That crazy deer just beheaded her!"

"Last aid, then," Reeves said, casting a couple of spells on the unfortunate Being's corpse.

"Are you security?" Jason asked politely.  "Are we under arrest?"

"I'm the manager," the kangaroo said, glancing at the waitress sadly.  "It can be a rough job here.  I guess we'll have to roll the body armour out to the serving staff as well..."

"Quiet please," Reeves said, and closing his eyes, he lifted the severed head up and held it over the corpse as if he was trying to reattach it to her neck.

"Stop that!" the manager demanded.  "You're interfering with the evidence of a murder!"

Reeves turned, and fixed the kangaroo with an expression of slight disapproval.  "Shut up," he said quietly.  "I need to concentrate."

His hands glowed with a soft, pale light that seemed to dance before the eyes of the onlookers.  When it was gone, the meerkat lay whole, though covered in a substantial quantity of her own blood.  His hand moved to one of her breasts, causing the manager to get agitated again.  There was another glow, causing the waitress' body to twitch and jerk as the heart restarted.  His other hand clutched a jug of water that had been on the table, the fluid rapidly evaporating.

"Get her to hospital as soon as possible," he advised.  "She's lost a significant amount of blood and the injuries to her spinal cord will take a year or so to be fully regenerated.  But with prompt medical attention, she should pull through.  There will be no charge," he added, folding up the newspaper and preparing to leave.

"Come along," he said, gesturing to Yvonne, who was staring at the waitress in a look of disbelief.  "She's... alive?!" Jason exclaimed, the pulse registering very faintly to his touch.

"Of course.  I healed her.  That's what you hired me for."

"You can't just leave after..." the manager began.  Reeves silenced him with another look.

"If you need to contact me, use this number," he said, handing the kangaroo a business card.  "Right now, my colleagues and I are very busy.  We have urgent business in the Forbidden Lands... an errand we dare not delay."

"I'm so sorry about this, "Jason said, handing the manager a card of his own.  "This is my card.  Our adventuring guild's contacts are on the back."  As he left, he caught Yvonne emerging from the ladies, her catsuit dripping wet where she had washed the blood off.

The car pulled up almost as soon as they entered the car park.

"Where the hell have you been?!" Keller demanded frantically, opening the doors for them.

"Fixing Sven's mess," Reeves said.  "Where is he, anyway?"

"He's hiding in the trunk," Keller said.  "I guess he'll have to add Curtasia to the growing list of territories that'll behead him on sight."

"I am not convinced they will," Reeves said.  "I healed the girl, so it's only attempted murder and that doesn't fetch the death penalty here.  That said, he'd still be looking at a decade or so in jail, so he probably should stay in the trunk."

"Wha...?  Did you say you healed her?!" Keller gibbered.  "After Sven dropped her head in my lunch?!"

"It was a very draining operation," Reeves said, and collapsed in the back seat of the car, his head resting on Yvonne's shiny black arm.  "I must sleep now," he continued.  "Do not disturb me unless the Zinvth 500 Index drops below 6000 points."

* * *

"We're almost at Zarchester," Keller said at last, a nervous expresion playing across his features.  "This is as far as I dare go."

"Any reason?" Jason asked, looking worried.

"They have ANPR there," Yvonne said.  "Automatic Number Plate Recognition," she clarified.  "They'll be able to tell the car was stolen."

"Borrowed," Keller insisted.

"The police will call it stolen," Sven said.  "He's right.  We'll have to leave it here."

"The MCP Multistory car park," Reeves suggested, opening an eye.  "Buy a one hour ticket and walk away.  When the staff realise it's overstayed they will quickly find it's been reported as... uh, borrowed, and the owner will be reunited with it in due course."

"What about us?"

"We could just hire a car, you know," Reeves pointed out.  "It's not that expensive.  Or a minibus.  Actually, I'm rather fond of motorcycles.
"Either way, I suggest we consider our options in the morning.  I am still a little drained from repairing that unfortunate waitress' nervous system.  I need a place to 'crash' as the youth say."

"There's an adventuring lodge nearby," Sven said.  "The Mental Shepherd.  We've used it before."

* * *

The Mental Shepherd was a medium-sized inn with a stables, thatched roof, home-made food and free WiFi.  The decor was themed around the titular shepherd, chiefly portrayed as an Alsatian hound chasing a group of terrified bandits with his crook.  In some depictions he had head-wings, and the bandits were often sheep.

There were comparatively few people in the common room; a kangaroo rat had clearly had rather too much to drink and was dancing on the table, occasionally vanishing and reappearing elsewhere.

"Cheap trickery," Keller grunted.

"You are adventurers, yes?" a voice called.

Sat by the fire, a grim-faced ranger was looking at them.

"Do I know you?"  Keller asked.

"I am called Strider," he said.  "Take me with you on your journey."

"No," Sven said.

"Oh.  Alright."

"Shouldn't we at least find out what his skill set is...?"  Jason asked.

"Tomorrow," Reeves said.  "Right now, I need to rest.  I suggest we retire for the night."

* * *

Jason turned over and over, unable to sleep.  At length he got up and began flicking through TV channels, catching up with Witter on his phone as he did so.  Finally he decided to go for a stroll.

Outside, a number of dark figures on black motorcycles pulled up, their hydrogen-electric drives silent in the dark.  They left the bikes with the stable-boy.

The doorbell rang once, and was answered blearily by the landlord, a large bear.

"Evening," the shadowy, winged figure said.  "Black Riders."

"Save us!" the landlord cried.  Evidently the name was known to him.

"Are you the owner and proprietor of the Mental Shepherd?" the rider asked, removing his helmet to show a vulpine face with small horns on his head, trimmed to stumps to allow his helmet to fit easily.  The landlord stood petrified with terror and did not answer.

"Don't worry, we're not here for you," the Demon soothed, proffering his ID to the quaking bear.  "We've been sent to... question... some of your guests.  Sorry for any inconvenience, we're just doing our job.  Compensation forms enclosed within," he added, handing over a large envelope.

Oh shit, Jason thought.  He made to turn around but then stiffened as the muzzle of a gun pressed hard into the nape of his neck.

J.P. Morris, Chief Engineer DMFA Radio Project * IT-HE * D-T-E


Good grief. How is Sven not a target for adventurers, let alone employed as one himself... :erk


Quote from: CubiKitsune on April 06, 2015, 12:34:15 AM
Good grief. How is Sven not a target for adventurers, let alone employed as one himself... :erk

Like Dan, it's a question of who you ask.  In some places Dan is considered a useless idiot, in others a hero of the highest honour.
With Sven it depends on who he's killed.  In some places he's the hero who slew a rampaging demon or rescued the princess - in others he's wanted for murder.

J.P. Morris, Chief Engineer DMFA Radio Project * IT-HE * D-T-E


Quote from: Tapewolf on April 06, 2015, 06:00:41 AM
Quote from: CubiKitsune on April 06, 2015, 12:34:15 AM
Good grief. How is Sven not a target for adventurers, let alone employed as one himself... :erk

Like Dan, it's a question of who you ask.  In some places Dan is considered a useless idiot, in others a hero of the highest honour.
With Sven it depends on who he's killed.  In some places he's the hero who slew a rampaging demon or rescued the princess - in others he's wanted for murder.

Heh, I can see what you mean. I bet my own character would be considered a menace in some parts. ;)

Still, I wouldn't want him in my guild...


I know I've told you this but I may as well post it here too - I love this story, it makes me laugh, and I'm  very interested to see where it's going!


I should probably go slower on the updates, I still haven't finished chapter 6.  But I just know that if I update fortnightly instead of weekly, I'll forget to update altogether.

I still feel strangely pleased with the food in this chapter.

Chapter 3

Sven woke with a start as the door to his room was kicked in, a crowd of figures in black body armour and riot gear quickly surrounding his bed.

"BLACK RIDERS!  FREEZE!" a voice yelled and an assault rifle hovered in front of his face.

"It's him," the leader confirmed.  "Sven Wilcox, you are under arrest for murder."

"Again?" Sven grunted, as they cuffed his hands, using enchanted bracers just in case he wasn't a Being.

"This will be your last time, I'm afraid." the leader said.  "There's a warrant for your execution."

"Do we shoot him now, sir?" one of the Riders asked.
"NO!" the leader snarled.  "Orders from the Tower.  We have to bring him in alive!"

"They'll just behead him in the square, captain.  Shooting him in the back of the head will be more merciful..."

"...And the landlord will have a fit if we get brain all over his sheets," the captain retorted.  "Listen, you maggots!  He is to be brought in alive and unharmed!  Those are our orders."


"What about a trial?" Sven growled.

"You were tried in absentia last month," the captain informed him.  "But yes, there are formalities to go through first.  Our lord obtained an extradition treaty with Curtasia, just to get his mits on you.  We'll need to be sure we're giving him the right head before he cuts it off."

He glanced around as the door opened.

"These are the others, sir," a Rider informed the captain.  The leader glanced around, taking in Yvonne, Keller, Reeves and Jason.

"Any outstanding warrants?"

"No, Captain."

"Good.  Just keep them under guard for now.  Nothing personal," he added to the group, "Sven is coming with us to pay for his crimes against our master.  You'll get your weapons back when we roll out."

"Sir, how are we going to take him back?" one of the Riders enquired.

"In the...   Are you telling me we didn't bring the van?!  Jones!  Why isn't the van here?!"

"Sir!" a Rider with a long-eared helmet and a coyote tail said, snapping to attention.  "It's in for service.  Overheating fusion plant, sir!"

"And why didn't you tell me?"

"I thought we were going to lop his head off and bring it back in the pannier!"

"You tart!  Idiots!  I'll teleport him back.  You guard my bike, Jones, and guard it well or I'll have your hide!"

"Excuse me," Jason asked, "You're agents of the Dark Lord, right?  We were heading in that direction and could do with a lift..."

"Dark Lord...?" the rider captain asked, taken back.  "That's a bit harsh!  Our master is a wise and kindly ruler.  Until someone does foul murder," he added, glancing at Sven.  "Then the shit really comes down."

"You don't serve The Pegasus...?"  Jason queried.

"Where are you taking him, you fiends?!"  Keller added.

"Fairwater," the captain said.  "This little oik offed one of the King's nieces.  It looks like his nibs wants to repay the favour.  And if someone else kills the target first, they are going to be explaining it to him," he added, glancing at his men.  "So we're going to bring him back intact."

"Right, girls," he said, "MOVE OUT!"

* * *

Apart from the Rider left guarding his captain's bike, the entourage had left.  Keller was seething with a potent mixture of rage and sorrow.

Finally, he seized a large poker from the fire and stormed outside with a murderous expression.  He took two paces and then suddenly collapsed.

Waking came slow.  He looked around in confusion, unable to remember his own name for a few seconds before everything flooded back.  Keller tried to stand up, but nearly fell off the bar stool on which he'd been propped.  Reeves put his hand on the snow leopard's shoulder, and his rage abated somewhat.

"Did you do that..?" he demanded sullenly.

"Of course," Reeves said.  "You were going to try and steal that bike.  Leaving aside the fact that a poker is barely going to make a dent on a military-spec helmet, assaulting a member of an armed response squad is a very, very stupid thing to do."

"But they're going to execute Sven!" the snow leopard snapped.  "They'll chop off his head!"

"I know, I know," Reeves sighed.  "But there is nothing we can do about it.  I'm sorry, Keller.  Attempting this kind of foolishness will only get you killed as well.  And who will stop the Dark Lord then?
"Consider also that this is the King's justice.   It is not for us to decide what law Fairwater exercises in his own realm."

"As for Sven, it's a sad fact of life that those who go around chopping the heads off people they meet tend to suffer that same fate themselves," Reeves said sadly.  "It is the path he has chosen."
"But he's my friend!" Keller sobbed.
"Those whom he has slain no doubt had friends too," Reeves pointed out.  "I know you were friends, and I realise that I find his callous disregard for life distasteful, but think about this logically.

"There is nothing we can sensibly do for him beyond pleading to the king for mercy.  Rescuing him is quite out of the question.  Fairwater is not a man to be crossed - it's said he has Daryil's favour, and even without that, he is powerful enough.

"Would you have the Black Riders after us too?  They are terrible.  All of them are Demons, and only the most formidable snipers make the grade.  We'd lose our brains before we even knew they were there."
"I know.  But it's not fair..."

"I'm sorry," Reeves said.

"And it's so hard to get a good berserker," Keller said sadly.  "We were lucky with Sven.  The interviews are the worst, especially the bit where they try to kill you if they don't get the job..."

"You're still shaken up," Reeves said.  "Do you want something to drink?"

Keller sniffed, blew his nose and looked up, a hard light entering his eyes again.

"We must go to Fairwater," he said.  "You said that we could plead for Sven's life.  You said that was the only possible way to save him.  So let's do that."

"I don't want to delude you into thinking that it would help," Reeves shrugged.  "But if you want to try, we'll have to set off soon.  Fairwater doesn't sleep, so I imagine the execution will take place in the morning."

"Yes," Keller said.  "But now you mention it, I am thirsty.  I'll have a Webb's Wonder."

"I'll get our things together," Yvonne offered.

Reeves waited patiently as the bartender mixed the cocktail, which was lime green and smelled faintly of lettuce.  When he got back, he found Jason lying sprawled on the couch.  Keller was gone.

"Shit," Reeves snarled.  He cast a hasty revival spell on the unconscious jackal and ran out.

"FUCK!" he yelled, and ran over to the crumpled heap lying next to the stables.

"Oh gods," Jason said.  "Is he alright...?"

* * *

Captain Zenner scowled as he materialised in the forecourt of an all-night garage.  As he did so, a number of customers and staff dropped to the ground and put their hands behind the back of their head.

"Carry on," he grunted.  "Jones!  What are you doing...?  Why isn't my bike at the inn, where I left it...?"

"Refuelling it, Sir!" the Rider snapped.

"Surely the ostler could have done that...?"

"No, Sir!  Mostly set up for horses, Sir!  Didn't think you'd be back this early, Sir!"

"Nevermind," the Captain growled.  "You've paid for the fuel yourself, so you can bear that cost and we'll say no more of this.  Is it ready to go?"

"Yes, Sir!"

"Then let's move out."

* * *

The fox demon turned off at the services and Jones followed suit.

As he approached the entrance, Captain Zenner began waving a large sign saying "Off Duty" and the panicking civilians quickly picked themselves off the floor and went about their business.

In comparatively short order, the two canid demons were sat at the Happy Eater, their orders being taken by a waitress in grey body armour.  Pricing data and cooking time estimates flashed across in the head-up-display in her helmet.

"A HeadBurger," Zenner said.  "Extra fries and onion rings."

"A glass of tap water, please," Jones said.  Zenner glanced at him curiously.

"Not hungry?"

"I already ate at the inn, Sir!" Jones said.  Zenner shrugged and began flicking through a newspaper.  At length, he sat up.

"You know, Jones," he began, "There's something I've been meaning to ask you."

"What's that, Sir!" the coyote asked crisply.

"At ease, Jones," the captain said, rolling his eyes.  "You see..."

He broke off suddenly as the food arrived.  A glass of water for the coyote, and for the captain, a colossal beef-burger the size of someone's head.

The captain lifted the tray of onion rings and such to his mouth and inhaled them all, his jaws separating oddly like a snake swallowing its prey.  The burger disappeared with just two bites.

"Anything else, sir?" the waitress asked calmly, indicating that the establishment was used to serving Demons.

"Yes," Zenner decided, glancing at the menu.  "Three Honeycomb Trifles and a Heart Attack Surprise with extra cream.  Anything for you, Jones?  The Death By Chocolate is quite good."

"I'm good, Sir!" Jones said and the waitress disappeared to fetch the orders.

"Are you quite sure you don't want one of my trifles?" Zenner asked casually.  "I really think you should have something.  I mean, even you are entitled to a Last Meal."

"What?!" Jones gurgled.  "Sir!" he added as an afterthought.

"But then," Zenner said, aiming the gun at his face, "Your kind don't usually eat, do you, incubus?"

"Incubus?!" Jones whimpered, blinking as the red dot of laser light hovered in the centre of his forehead.

"Succubus, then," the fox smiled.  "And now, that question I meant to ask you earlier.  Bearing in mind that you have committed attempted murder, theft, fraud and impersonated one of the King's Elite Guards, can you explain to me, in ten seconds or less, why I shouldn't spread your brains all over that window?"

"NO!" the manager wailed.  "We only replaced that window yesterday afternoon!"

"I'll call that a right answer," Zenner said, giving a venomous glance at the armoured kangaroo.  He flicked the safety catch and the red dot vanished.  Jones slumped back into his chair, breathing heavily.

"You may as well revert to base form," Zenner said.  "The real Jones called me en route.
We're going to see the King," he smiled.  "He'll want to decide your fate himself.  Assuming you're good, of course... in which case I'll teleport you there as soon as the bill is settled."

"And if I'm not good?"

"Then I'll go by bike instead of teleporting.  And your head will be riding pannier."

"I'll come quietly," Keller said, becoming a snow leopard once more.

J.P. Morris, Chief Engineer DMFA Radio Project * IT-HE * D-T-E


Whenabouts does this take place, anyway? After Project Epsilon?


Quote from: CubiKitsune on April 11, 2015, 12:11:50 AM
Whenabouts does this take place, anyway? After Project Epsilon?

Around that time, yes.  I haven't quite decided, and to be honest it doesn't really matter a huge amount because the main cast don't appear for the most part.

J.P. Morris, Chief Engineer DMFA Radio Project * IT-HE * D-T-E


Keller was led into the room by a Black Rider.  Flanking the gunman, and guiding the leopard by his shoulders were two royal guards.  Keller's arms were pinned behind his back with leather straps, the kind usually used for executions, and the guards' expressions were awkward, those of guards who knew they were leading someone to the guillotine and who would rather be doing anything else.

This is it, Keller thought.  I've finally bitten off more than I can chew.  I hope it's as quick as they say.

The door opened into a large, spacious room.  To his surprise, it did not contain any obvious instruments of torture or death, but his face fell as he took in the King, a broadsword in his hands.

In front of him, Reeves, Jason and Yvonne stood, their faces grim.

"They got you too?"  Keller said, with a sickly expression on his face.  "I guess we'll all lose our heads together..."

"No, Keller." Reeves said.  "We came here to plead with the King to show Sven mercy.  I hoped we wouldn't have to be pleading for your life as well, though."

"Keller, was it?" Fairwater said, glancing at the snow leopard.  "You're an idiot.  What you've done could be considered treason.
That said, you haven't done any permanent harm, so I'll let you off with a caution this time.  You're just lucky they didn't shoot you."

"Thank you, Majesty," Keller said, bowing.  The Rider let him go, releasing the straps that held his arms in place, but stood back in the shadows, watching Keller like a hawk as if waiting for an excuse to re-arrest him.

"Now," Fairwater said, "That brings us back to the unhappy subject of your other companion."

"Sven," Keller said, tears in his eyes.

"Indeed.  Sven is a murderer, and he has beheaded a number of people for basically no reason.  That is a fact."

"Murder is punished harshly in your realm, your Majesty...?"  Jason enquired.

"I'm afraid so."

"But surely, your Majesty..."  Keller wailed, "If it's wrong to kill, killing Sven must be wrong as well!"

There was an awkward silence.  Reeves looked shocked.

"What you're saying," Fairwater said, with an icy expression, "Is that I'm a murderer too."  The Rider stepped out of the shadows, glancing at the King for confirmation.

"N-n... I d-didn't..."

"That's perhaps closer to the truth than I'd like," Fairwater sighed.  "Contrary to my reputation as a skilled headsman, I don't LIKE killing people.  But I'm very good at it.  And I try to be fair.  I don't execute unless I'm convinced of their guilt, especially after someone was framed recently.
"I don't execute the insane.  I don't execute children.  I don't do that sick thing some states do where you sentence a child to death and then execute them as a special treat for their 18th birthday.

"For your information," he continued, "Murder isn't always punished as harshly as you might think.  I am an incubus.  I know all too well the regrets that a moment of madness can bring," he said, glowering at Keller, who took several steps backwards.

"A heated argument that gets out of hand would get you jailed.  A premeditated murder might get you life.  But then you have someone does something extra horrible.  Soul-stealing, murdering members of other races out of xenophobia, bridgands who kill to hide the evidence of their crimes, serial killers and suchlike.  Things that demand I make an example.
"People like that have to end up in the guillotine or kneeling in front of my sword," he sighed.

"Like the Wizard of Oz?" Yvonne piped up.  The others looked blank.

"What...?" Jason enquired.

"He was a notorious murderer," Fairwater explained.  "A Demon.  First he ripped out someone's heart, then he ripped out someone's brain.  His last words as he knelt upon the scaffold were words of regret - regret that he couldn't figure out how to rip out someone's courage as well."

The doberman sighed.  "I digress," he said.  "Listen, guys... The fact is, your friend murdered my niece.  I can't say I liked her, but there's a difference between not liking someone, and not caring if someone chops off their head.  More to the point, it's high treason since she was a princess."

Fairwater looked darkly at Keller.

"I am of a mind to give Sven the works.  A broadsword in the back of the neck in front of a cheering crowd.  Just like the Wizard of Oz.  Sven deserves it, and it would please Admaria much.  She's already chosen a trophy mount for him.  But you ask me to show him mercy, and I think I will."
"Really...?"  Keller asked hopefully.

"Yes.  I'll guillotine him in the dungeon.  A small, private affair, giving him a swift and dignified exit from this world."

"Your Majesty," Reeves said slowly, "We are most grateful to you for granting Sven a merciful death."

"I should hope so," Fairwater said.  "Admaria will be furious, and she's the head of our clan."

"It does, unfortunately, interfere with the quest,"  Reeves continued sadly.  "He was a top-notch berserker, and our quest is of vital importance to this realm and many others.  Perhaps you can lend us some of your Black Riders to replace him?"

"What quest is this?"  Fairwater asked, glancing around sharply.

"We have heard that the Dark Lord has returned.  Our mission is to investigate the truth of this matter.  If it is true, we must make a desperate attempt to slay him, or die trying."

"Urgh," Fairwater said.  "Just when I thought this was all wrapped up nicely...  Look, Admaria will have my nuts for this, but it's probably for the best.  Easier than resurrecting him if he's needed for the quest, I suppose."

"You'll pardon him...?"  Keller asked.

"Good gods, no.  Sven has been sentenced to death by beheading.  That sentence stands, but it is suspended for one month that he may accompany you on your vital quest.  If he murders again, if he escapes, if you fail to take down the Dark Lord, then that death penalty shall be carried out on him immediately.  And he will not get the swift mercy of the guillotine."

"And if we do slay the Dark Lord...?" Keller asked.

"Then your adventuring party will receive great honour, and Sven shall be pardoned as a hero of the realm," the King said, and smiled in a slightly worrying manner.

"A word of advice, 'Keller'," he began quietly.  "Your reputation as a conman precedes you.  Even before this nonsense about impersonating my Rider.  While I can't think that you would be so foolish as to try and dupe a powerful king who can sense thoughts and emotions, I shall need proof of the Dark Lord's execution.  And it will have to be more convincing than the head of the first pony Demon you happened to run into."

"What kind of proof do you need, Majesty...?"

"Earlier you asked if I could lend you a Black Rider to replace Sven.  So I will.  A Rider and one of my Black Minibuses, so there shouldn't need to be any more of this car-stealing business.
"But my Rider is also there to keep an eye on you.  He will report back to me.  And if Sven breaches the terms of his bail, my Rider will include his severed head in that report."

"What happens," Yvonne asked uneasily, "If Sven kills the Black Rider..?"

"For the sake of all concerned," Fairwater said, "I suggest you ensure that does not happen.  And now, I advise you get on with your quest, if it is really as vital as you claim."

* * *

"Halt," the guard said, as they approached the castle gate.

"What has he done now...?" Jason asked, glancing irritably at Sven and raising his hands over his head.

"The King has ordered I give this to you, that it may aid you in your quest," the guard said, handing Jason a piece of paper.  The young jackal's brows furrowed as he studied it.

"What's it say?"  Yvonne asked.

"It's a printout from an article on the Cubi News Network website.  Apparently there's an auction in Arlis tomorrow.  Listen to this...
'The star lot of the auction is an ancient Ring of Power, thought to have been wrought in secret by the Dark Lord Pegasus and containing a great part of his former power.  It's expected to fetch over a hundred million gold dollars...'

"Fantastic!"  Sven said.  "We go there, wait for him to bid on it, and then chop his head off!"

"Naughty," the Black Rider cautioned.

"He's right." Keller said.  "The risk is too great.  We could easily end up chopping the wrong head and then the King will have yours on his mantelpiece before the bidding is even finished.  No.  We must take the ring for ourselves... The Dark Lord must at all costs be prevented from regaining it!"

"We don't have that kind of money," Reeves said.  "There isn't time to float the adventuring group on the stock market before the auction and even that might not raise enough capital, especially not after Sven's death sentence."

"Leave this to me," Keller replied smoothly.

"Oh dear," the Rider said.

* * *

"How long do we give him...?"  Jason fretted.  "Will we even know if he's caught?"

"Patience," Reeves said.  "Burgling an auction house takes more than five minutes.  If he's caught, we'll know.  The Ring of Power is doubtless protected with a sophisticated battery of alarms.  The auction has only just opened, and the Ring is going to be left protected until the very last minute.  Otherwise it may be stolen."

"He's right," Yvonne said.  "I've seen it.  Keller will have his hands full getting at it.  But I think he will.  He's a far better thief than me."

"That's true, but..." Jason said.

"Fine," Yvonne purred.  "I'll go in and see what's happening."

Yvonne flowed through the crowd without drawing a single look.  It helped that most people were intent on the auction, but she fitted in well regardless.  There were a number of Creatures attending, bidding on various items of prestige and power.  Yvonne was just another face in a crowd speckled with catsuited demons, angels and the occasional 'cubi.

Finally she ran into Keller.

"Any luck?"

"Oh yes," Keller smiled, heading swiftly to the exit with the puma in tow.

Back in the minibus, Keller drew from his robes a large, leather purse.  Turning it over, he loosed the drawstrings and out of it fell an ornate gold ring.  And then another, until the back seat was covered in shining metal.

"You tit," Sven snarled.  "Couldn't resist working the crowd, could you?"

"I needed a substitute!"  Keller whined.

"You did get the Ring, didn't you...?"  Jason asked icily, struggling to remain calm.

"Of course I did!"  Keller protested indignantly.  "I just... don't know which one it is."

"Could we just wear them all at once and see what happens?"  Jason asked.

"Rings of Power tend to be incompatible with each other," Reeves said.  "Wearing several on the same hand is not covered by the warranty, it never is.  Also, they are usually enchanted such that only the owner can wear them safely."

"So we can't actually wield the One Ring once we've figured it out?"

"Such protections can be unpicked," Keller said.  "But it takes a lot of time and effort.  Doing it for one ring is fine, doing it for two dozen... " he shook his head sadly.

"You should return them at once," the Rider said.  "His Majesty graciously let you continue on this errand with your necks intact so that you can take down DP, not go pickpocketing random strangers.  I'll hand them all in to Lost Property."

"They'll arrest you," Reeves said.  "Black Rider or no, they'll take you in for questioning.  Fairwater won't be pleased."

"Give them to me," Yvonne sighed, clutching the piece of paper Fairwater had left them.  "We know what the Ring looks like.  We can narrow it down at least to a few rings.  I will return the others to their true owners."

"How?"  the Rider asked, raising an eyebrow.

"I'm a scout," she smiled.  "Stealth is my game.  I'm a dab hand at reverse-pickpocketing people."

"And once you've done that?  What next?" the Black Rider asked.

"Next... we make a call," Jason said, smiling evilly.

J.P. Morris, Chief Engineer DMFA Radio Project * IT-HE * D-T-E



I haven't been able to write more of these as quickly as I'd anticipated so I may have to switch to a fortnightly update.  Either way, there is likely to be a gap before chapter 7 is published.

Chapter 5

Jason stood back as the screen cleared.  It was a large videophone booth, but even so, Keller, Reeves and the Black Rider had had to wait outside.

"Who is it?" the equine Demon said.  His eyes and mane were red, his fur black.  Red tattoos covered his face.

"I am Jason, son of Edwin of house DaReal.  The sword I bear is the sword of Ti'Fiona, that opened your belly centuries past."

"Are you sure?  I don't remember that."

"It matters not.  I'm going to put on the Ring of Power now," Jason continued.  "And then I'm going to shove this sword right up your arse."

"Thanks for the offer, but I'm not gay," the Demon said.

"What?" Jason exclaimed.  "No!  We are come to do justice upon you for your crimes!"

"Are you from the council?" the horse said nervously.  "I already paid the parking fine."

"This is no parking fine," Sven declared, pushing in front of Jason.  "I'm going to hew that Demon head from your shoulders..."

"That's not a very nice thing to do," the horse objected.

"No, but it will be fun," the deer said, eyes blazing with eager glee.  "I'll saw your head off with my sword and then we shall parade it before the people as proof that the Dark Lord is no more!"

"Ohhh.  Sorry, you've got the wrong number," the horse said.  "I'm not the Dark Lord."

"And you expect us to believe that?"  Sven sneered.

"Do I look even vaguely like Johan Cross...?" the Demon asked.

"Cross has mended his ways," Jason said.  "We're after the other Dark Lord, he who may not be named!"

"Well, I'm not him either."

"These lies will serve you not, Demon!" Sven cried out.  "You shall pay for your wickedness when your evil head is hewn from your body, a fate you have long deserved!"

"I don't know," Jason said, looking at the screen thoughtfully.  "The horns don't look quite right.  And his fur is too brown."

"Oh, that?" the Demon said, a sudden understanding washing over him.  "The Dark Pegasus look is back in fashion this season," he informed them.  "If that's your way of locating the Dark Lord, you'll find dozens in every city."

"Let's execute him anyway!" Sven blurted excitedly, before Yvonne grabbed his muzzle and held him quiet.

"I'm really sorry we disturbed you like this," the jackal said contritely.  "I don't suppose you know the real Dark Lord's number?"

"No.  Just be more careful in future."  He hung up.  Sven stared at the screen's menu system with a thoughtful expression.

"You know," the deer began, "We do have the Dark Lord's username on Witter.  We should should post our message there!"

"Death threats are against the Terms of Service," Yvonne pointed out.

"But it's not a threat!" Sven argued.  "It's a statement of intent.  We ARE going to hack his head off and show it to anyone who'll look!"

"Whatever it may be called, you are not allowed to post it on Witter," Yvvone said tiredly as they left the booth.

"Well?" the Rider asked as the trio emerged.  "Your faces look grim.  Please tell me Sven didn't manage to kill someone over the phone..."

"We just made a death threat to someone who we thought was the Dark Lord but wasn't," Jason admitted.

"Nice going, Ace."

"We did apologise," the jackal protested.

"Anyway, he was just a Demon," Sven blurted.  "They like death threats!"  Yvonne glowered at him with disapproval.  The Rider calmly began unsheathing his katana.

"Easy," Reeves said, looking up from a financial column in the afternoon paper.  "Sven, stop annoying the man who holds your life in his hands."

"Sorry," the deer said sullenly.

*  *  *

"Semiconductors," Reeves was saying.  He wandered over to a wall of the car-park and sat down.  "We need to broaden the portfolio.  Increase the offer to YoyoDyne.  Yes, I have run it past Legal, and there are no anti-trust implications.  A wholly-owned subsidiary..."

Jason wandered back to Keller, who was still sitting in the back of the minibus and fiddling with the ring.  The snow leopard was wearing black rubber gloves to protect himself from any defences the ring might have, and was probing it gently with a screwdriver.  At one point runes appeared on it in fiery letters.

"Give that a go," the leopard said, handing the ring to Jason carefully.

As he placed the Ring on his finger, the jackal felt it shrink slightly, fitting perfectly around his finger.  A warm glow began to envelope him.

"Be very careful," Keller cautioned.  "The Ring is a fell weapon of the Enemy and may twist your mind if used for long periods."

The blue jackal nodded solemnly and glanced around the car park.  He aimed at a round sign enforcing a 5mph speed limit, and there was a glow as the ring surged with power.
The others stood back in alarm as something small and vaguely pink began to emerge from the ring.  It fell down onto the tarmac and wriggled around blindly.

"What the hell was that...?" Sven gurgled.

"That is a worm," Reeves said, pocketing his phone.  "Lumbricus terrestris."

"Why?!  What kind of weapon fires worms?"

"A high-velocity worm cannon could be pretty deadly," Reeves said.  "But this thing isn't firing worms them so much as... well, dribbling them."

"The ring must be broken," Keller said.  "Let me have it back."

"Do I have to?"  Jason asked.  "It feels nice."

"Remember what I said," Keller warned.  "It may twist your mind, and this might be a sign of that.  Taking it off is probably wisest."

"I guess so," Jason said, and with great reluctance removed the precious thing from his finger and handed it back to the snow leopard.
Keller was still wearing his gloves and gingerly placed the ring into his leather purse to avoid touching it.

"When are we going to eat?" the Black Rider asked.  "I'm hungry."

"Yes," Reeves said.  "We need to... hold on."  He picked up his phone, and began muttering into it. "Buy a thousand of the Pangea Semiconductor."

He glanced around.  "Anyone fancy pizza?  There's a Pizza Shack the other side of town, conveniently enough in the same  direction as the Dark Lord's realm."

"Yes, yes!  Barbecue beef!" Sven said eagerly.

"Barbecue chicken," Jason countered.

"What's got the most calories?" the Rider asked.

"What are the vegetarian options?"  Keller asked, admiring the shiny black gloves he had used to protect himself from the ring.

"Um, why are you still wearing those?"  Jason enquired.

"Don't you think they suit me?"

"Usually it's Creatures who wear things like that," Yvonne remarked, eyeing Keller with a smile.  "A shiny clothes fixation is a typical sign."

"Gloves make me less likely to leave fur or other DNA evidence when I'm burgling places, okay?  Besides, what about him?"  Keller snapped, pointing at Jason.  "He's all blue and stuff.  He never wears a shirt but he is wearing leather pants all the time."

"That might simply mean I'm gay," Jason snarled.  "But if it's any of your business, these are adventuring pants, lined with armour and enchantments to turn blades and magical attacks."

"Look, does it matter if any of us are undeclared Creatures?" Keller asked heatedly.  "How you treat people should be based on what they do to others, not whether they happen to have wings or horns or like wearing latex,"

"Creatures kill people," Sven said.  "Especially Demons.  But 'cubi can be the worst, because they steal people's souls and take over their identities.  Then I chop their heads off and get paid for it!"

"Or sentenced to death," Jason growled.  "And lately that bit seems to be happening a lot more than the getting paid bit, so perhaps you should rethink your priorities."

"Pro 'Cubi, are you?" Sven said, eyeing Jason with a sneer.

"My master is 'Cubi," the Rider interrupted.  "Maybe there are still hick places out there where being an incubus or a succubus carries the death penalty, but in Fairwater's realm they are considered normal citizens and not to be murdered.  In any case a lot of this soul-stealing nonsense is pure scaremongering.  Psychologically, most 'Cubi are quite similar to Beings.  Many of them thought they were Beings at first."

"Barbecue chicken, barbecue beef, cheese and tomato..." Reeves said, interrupting the argument.

"Two Pepperoni for myself and Yvonne, and an Everything Special for the Rider," he continued.  "Just out of interest, is there a reason you're still wearing motorcycle gear?  I mean, that's understandable when you're biking, but perhaps less appropriate for driving a minibus.  In any case, since you're a Demon, arguably you don't need that kind of protection anyway."

"It goes well with my wings," the Demon said.  "Can you make that two Everything Specials?"

"Yes.  In any case we need to be getting on," Reeves said.  "We have the Ring.  Soon the winner of the auction will discover that their prize is a forgery, and we had best be far from here before that happens, Black Rider or no.  In any case, the laughter of the Dark Lord shall be our only reward if we fight amongst ourselves.  Let's get that pizza."

*  *  *

The Pizza Shack was a typical example of the chain.  Outwardly it resembled a huge, decaying shed, but this was due to a facade largely made from fibreglass.
The derelict look was continued inside, with some of the lighting deliberately made to flicker on occasion through computer control.

"Life must have sucked for adventurers before," Jason ventured, taking a bite from his pizza.  "Imagine... you'd have to carry your own rations or hope you found an inn.  You might even have had to hunt your own food.  Now there's a pizza place or St. Donalds in every other town."

"On the other hand, I'm not sure the fare is quite the same," Keller said.  "Good, home-made rations versus this sugary, fatty, processed stuff?  It's got a lot more calories.  On a mission like this where there's not so much legwork?  You'll get fat, and a fat adventurer is a dead adventurer."

"Unless you're a Demon," Sven said.  "Though they're usually dead anyway if I can get at them."

Yvonne glared at him.  "Less of that, Sven," she said curtly.  "Remember you're on probation."

"How about you, Mr. Rider?"  Jason asked.  "How long have you been a Demon?  Long enough to remember the bad old days?"

"Fortunately, no," the Demon replied.  "I'm just over 200, so I missed the worst of it.  They were bad old days, right enough.  My kind usually had to eat people to get enough calories.  Personally, I'm glad all this energy-rich stuff is available cheaply."

"I'll pay," Yvonne said, when they were finished.  She approached the checkout and completed the transaction, the others waiting close by.
Suddenly she paused, glancing at a large plastic donations jar just after the till.

"'Death Appeal'...?"  she said, staring at the jar with a surprised expression.  "What kind of charity is that?"

"In Old Saloth, where I live, a young family was viciously attacked," the waiter told them.  "The husband was brutally murdered, but the man responsible fled and is outside their jurisdiction.  So we are trying to raise money to hire adventurers to see justice done."

"I'm an adventurer," Jason said.  "What kind of justice are we talking here?"

"The traditional kind!" the puma said, eyes shining.  "They will bring back the head of Black Sven, scourge of the land!  It is an appeal for his death!"

"And beheading this man will bring the husband back from the grave?"  Reeves asked curiously, raising an eyebrow.

"No," the feline admitted, with a slightly crestfallen expression.  "But it will end Black Sven's reign of terror!  The people back home will be able to sleep soundly knowing that his evil is gone forever!"

"That does sound like a worthy cause," the Black Rider said, dropping a handful of gold coins into the jar.  Sven began to make little spluttering noises.

"Thank you kind... sir..." the cat said, quailing slightly in the Black Rider's presence.  "If there is anything left over after the justice has been carried out, it will go to the victim's family."

"I think it's time we had a little talk, Mr. Wilcox," Keller said, grabbing Sven by one of his antlers and leading him off.

J.P. Morris, Chief Engineer DMFA Radio Project * IT-HE * D-T-E


Sven is waaaay overenthusiastic, haha. And how many Dark Lords are there? Peggy, Cross, whoever else wants a cool bad guy name...


Sweet, sweet hypocrisy, with a dash of irony. So delicious, I read it a second time. xD

The only problem with this is the tomatoes on the pizza. Big no-no.


There is a reason I ran these weekly even though I knew I was using them up faster than they were being written, and that is that if I ran them every two weeks, I would forget.

So.  Here is the slightly-delayed chapter 6.  Chapter 7 is still WIP, so I'm not sure when it will be ready.  I think the story itself will run around 8 chapters in total.

Chapter 6

The group settled for the night in a large chain hotel.  As with many such establishments there was still a group discount available for adventurers, even though the trade had fallen off sharply as the relationship between Beings and Creatures continued to improve in the absence of meddling from more powerful races.

The tradeoff with an adventuring discount was that the party would typically be several to a room, but since adventurers often ended up sleeping together beneath the stars it wasn't considered a major hardship.

Jason sighed, remembering the arguments over who roomed with who.  In the end he had landed with Yvonne and Reeves, while Keller, Sven and the Black Rider had the other room.  This was the result of a compromise, since the Rider insisted on rooming with Sven to keep an eye on him.  Sven took this badly because the Black Rider had made several intimations that he'd like to remove the deer's head.  Keller was Sven's closest friend and it was only this act of balancing an enemy with an ally that made things in any way palatable.

Shaking his head, the jackal got up and made his way to the shower.  As he dried himself afterwards, he realised in a panic that his pauldron was still outside.  Draping a towel around himself he emerged, only to find Yvonne waiting outside the door.  He gave a yell of panic and the towel fell, exposing the yellow tattoo on his shoulder.

"I've not seen that before," Yvonne said, glancing at his arm.

"What...?  It's just a tattoo," the jackal said, smiling nervously.

"I know what that is," Yvonne said.  "It's a clan marking.  You're an incubus.  Or a succubus," she added as an afterthought.

Jason stared back at her, horrified.  "No!"  He whimpered, "It's not what it looks like!  I'm not in the pay of the Dark Lord!  I'm just... I couldn't...  It shouldn't have mattered unless anyone saw..."

"If you say so," Yvonne shrugged.  "'Cubi have a reputation for lies and trickery."

"And Demons have a reputation for unprovoked murder," Jason said bitterly.

"You can't always believe what they say," Yvonne said, noncommittally.

"Look," the jackal said desperately, "You know how a wild animal puffs itself up when it's threatened, to make itself look bigger and more dangerous?  We 'Cubi do the same thing.  We present a facade of evil to try and scare threats away.  It works well with Demons.  Less so with Beings," he sighed.

"Makes sense," Yvonne said.  "Where I come from, 'Cubi are considered a nuisance, but not usually dangerous unless provoked.  And their thought-reading powers can be useful for solving crimes.
"I know enough about 'Cubi to know that your lot had powerful enemies.  Enemies who were happy to spread lies and vilify you in the eyes of the other races.  The genocide that followed when things reached boiling point was a neat way to get their dirty work done for them.  I know that they even engineered war amongst yourselves to try and get you to commit racial suicide.  Clearly there have been a lot of lies and half-truths about 'Cubi, designed to alienate you from any potential allies.
"Listen, Jason, if that's really your name, so long as you're our ally and not a servant of our enemy, it doesn't matter to me what race you belong to.  Fairwater's an incubus and he's brought safety and prosperity to his kingdom.  Daniel Ti'Fiona was a widely-respected adventurer and he was 'Cubi as well."

"Don't tell Sven!" Jason pleaded.  "He hates 'Cubi!  He'll kill me if he finds out!"

"Would he?  The King would have him killed," Yvonne pointed out.  "One of the few crimes Fairwater still executes for is racially-provoked murder.  That Rider Sven is so afraid of is itching for an excuse to lop his head off, and would happily carry out instant justice."

"But I'll still be missing MY head!" Jason wailed.  "That he'll be beheaded too is no consolation!  I don't want to die... certainly not murdered by my own friends!"

"Remember the girl in the Happy Eater," Reeves said, appearing suddenly behind them and causing the the pair to jump.  "I can heal the dying, even the headless if I'm quick enough.  I'll have your back should Sven try anything rash."

"And if he beheads you first?" Jason snapped.  "Sven may be out of his gourd, but even he will eventually realise that you're far, far more powerful than you have any right to be.  What are you, anyway?"

"I'm a friend," Reeves said simply.  "Perhaps one day I will be able to reveal more, but today is not that day.  If you wish to think of me as an incubus, feel free."

"I'm not sure you have the crazy," Jason said bitterly.  "Most 'Cubi respond emotionally by default, makes us do all kinds of weird things that seemed like a good idea at the time.  We have to learn to fight those urges.  You... you're different."

"Yes, but I'm still a friend," Reeves said.  "Anyway, cover up that nice little Daryil marking before anyone else sees it.  A little blue dye might be a good idea too."

"What about Keller...?"  Jason mused.  "The King seemed to know him.  Seemed to think Keller is just an alias.  And you said he was likely a Creature."

"Being a Creature doesn't make him a 'Cubi," Yvonne said.  "They are still quite rare and more than one in the party would be quite a coincidence.  Besides, even if the King knows him from way back doesn't mean he's 'Cubi either.  He could be any of the longer-lived races.  Perhaps an Angel."

"I don't think so," the jackal said.  "He disguised himself as a Black Rider!  He knocked out that coyote and took his place!"

"Their visors are tinted," the cougar pointed out.  "A round feline head would fit inside a helmet built for a wolf or a coyote."

"But his tail!"  Jason protested.  "It's over a metre long and very fluffy!  He's not going to be able to disguise that!"

"Well, maybe he had a patch," Yvonne said uneasily.  "'Cubi have built-in shapeshifting but other races can do it with magical aid..."

"I think he's 'Cubi," Jason said firmly.  "How about you, Reeves?"

"No comment," the stockbroker said and went into the shower.  Shortly afterwards the sound of singing could be heard faintly above the rush of water.

*  *  *

"I'm going to get some breakfast," Yvonne said.  "Coming?"

"No thanks," Jason said, and sat on the bed reading the headlines of the Adventuring Times.

The jackal sighed, the words slipping through his mind like water.  He just couldn't concentrate for some reason.  In the back of his mind a longing had taken hold.

Jason glanced around furtively.  Yvonne wasn't back yet and Reeves was still in the shower.  He crept out the door quietly and carefully to avoid alerting the showering wolf to his absence.

He wandered nonchalantly down the corridor until he was outside the other room, and then he became furtive once again.  The hotel used magnetic cards to lock the doors, since they could easily be activated and deactivated from the central computer, something far harder to achieve with magic.  But it wasn't foolproof.
Jason put his own card in, swiped it, and sent pulses of magic into the lock.  Waves of transient errors randomly flipped bits in logic gates throughout its systems and eventually he hit the jackpot.  While the signals to and from the server were encrypted, the decision as to whether the key was valid ultimately came down to a single flag in the microcontroller's accumulator, and fault injection could force it into the desired state.  The lock clicked open.

Jason crept in very slowly and began rummaging around in Keller's things.  At last he found the ring, and placing it on his finger was once again rewarded with a pleasantly warm sensation.

At that moment the door clicked again and Sven entered the room.  His eyes bugged for a moment and then he lurched forwards with some kind of war-cry.

Jason instinctively raised the ring as a weapon and fired.  A worm dropped onto the carpet and began wriggling around.

Sven fell upon him and reached for his sword.  The Black Rider grabbed hold and pulled him off, the deer still raving and screaming about killing the intruder.

"Sven, Sven, it's Jason!" Keller said.  "Though I'd rather like to know what he's doing here.  Jason, you're not robbing me, are you?"

"Just a bit," the jackal admitted.  "The Ring... it was like it was calling out to me!  I couldn't rest, I couldn't help myself... I needed to get the Ring back!"

"That's worrying," Keller said.  "I'll have to look at it again in case there are still some defensive mechanisms active."

"No!  It's mine!" the jackal whimpered.

"It belongs to the Dark Lord and is altogether his," Keller said, and cast a low-level stun spell.  Jason fell into a stupor and was quickly relieved of his prize.

*  *  *

"This is as far as we can go," the Black Rider sighed as they pushed the minibus out of the mud yet again.  "The path is getting too treacherous as we approach the Forbidden Lands.  We will have to turn back."

"No!" Sven protested.  "We must confront the Dark Lord and end his evil!"

"I don't mean aborting the mission," the Rider said.  "But we will have to leave the minibus somewhere safe.  When I get back I will recommend to my Leige that he invests in a fleet of Black 4x4s as well."

"Where, then?"  Keller asked.

"Somewhere north of here is the Last Homely Car park.  It is one of the only buildings bordering on the Forbidden Lands.  We will leave the vehicle there and travel the rest of the way on foot."

"How's your craving for the Ring, Jason?"  Reeves asked.

"It's getting worse," the Jackal admitted.  "I see it now with my waking eyes... it's like a burning wheel of fortune."

"You've been watching too many game shows," Yvonne said.

"All the same, this is troubling," Reeves said.  "Look into my eyes, Jason."

So saying, he reached out towards the jackal and kissed him full in the mouth.

"What was that for?!"  Jason spluttered, pushing the wolf away.

"Magic," Reeves said.  "Of all the weird rumours and such about 'Cubi, surely you have heard that they can steal a victims's soul with but a kiss...?"

"Nonsense," Jason said, ruffling his fur slightly.  Yvonne and Keller looked at him anxiously, and then at Sven.  Fortunately the deer was sharpening his sword and the implication was missed on him.

"There is truth in it," Reeves continued.  "While a kiss alone cannot destroy a soul, it does provide the caster with a convenient shortcut to the subject's brain.  Especially useful for mind-control and similar magics."

"And what mind-control have you worked on me?"  Jason demanded.

"I am a healer," Reeves reminded him, completely unruffled.  "The spell should dull your need for the Ring, at least until after the mission.  We can get a specialist to look at it then - this isn't quite my field."

"Let's go," Sven said eagerly.  "The Dark Lord's stronghold is within our grasp.  With luck we'll be carrying his head back with us by morning!"

J.P. Morris, Chief Engineer DMFA Radio Project * IT-HE * D-T-E



Sudden urge to commission a pic of Jason acting/dressing like Gollum...


Sorry for the hiatus.  Work has been brutal and it hasn't been easy to get people to proof-read it either.  I'm not sure when the next chapter will be ready either, but things should start to improve after the 30th.

Chapter 7

The Black Rider parked the Black Minibus on the eighth floor of the Last Homely Multistory Car Park, the floor below the roof.
While it was almost completely empty, there had been a great deal of bickering over where to leave the vehicle.
When a vote failed, they had picked a number out of a hat.

"...and exactly what are the restrictions on my killing people?"  Sven demanded hotly.

"I was ordered to prevent you murdering people,"  the Rider said.  "So I don't want you killing anyone at all."

"But that's provably false," Sven said.  "Our mission is to mur- uh, execute the Dark Lord.  The King spared me in order to help with this.
So we've already established that I'm allowed to kill him.  Since he's going to have an army to defend the castle, logically I'm allowed to kill them too."

"I suppose so," the Rider admitted grudgingly.  "But if we find we're attacking the wrong castle, I'm not simply going to take your head back to the King, I'm going to cast spells on it first so you'll still be alive and conscious.  Understand?"

"Yes," Sven said, and brightened.  "So let us find a neck which is right to cleave!"

"Did you hear something...?"  Jason asked.

"Footsteps," Reeves said.  "No vehicle, though.  Probably one of the parking attendants."

"Hand over your money!" a voice said.  They turned around.

"Is this usual behaviour for a parking attendant?"  Reeves asked the newcomer.

"Perhaps she just really, really needs change for the meter," Yvonne suggested.

"SHUT UP!" the vixen demanded.  "We're bandits, okay?  Hand over your valuables."

"Can I kill them?"  Sven asked the Rider eagerly.

Reeves calmly stood in front of the bandit leader.  "We're adventurers on a mission from the King," he said.  "I'm the party healer.  I don't like killing people, but I'm
afraid we are NOT going to give you any money.  Please leave immediately."

"Fine," the vixen said.  "We'll loot your corpses."

"Are you mental?"  Jason asked, incredulously.  "You're going to take on six hardened adventurers, one of whom is a Demon soldier of the King?"

"I think you'll find it's three," the vixen smiled.  "And Demons aren't all they're cracked up to be.  Stun 'em while they're distracted, take their heads off and they're just as dead as anyone else."

Jason glanced around and to his horror, saw that Yvonne, the Rider and Keller were out cold, stunned from behind by another pair of bandits.  One of them had a longsword and was preparing to behead the Rider.

"So, are you going to pay up, or do you want to end up like the Demon...?" the vixen asked.

"When you put it like that.,." Jason admitted, "Look.  The King will kill us all - you included - if the Demon dies.  How much do you want?  We can pay up, leave quietly and everyone gets to go home."

"DIE!"  Sven screamed, launching himself at the bandit standing over Keller and the rider.  Soon the bandit's head was rolling across the floor, the body pumping blood across the concrete floor, tail still twitching horribly.

"YOU BASTARD!" the vixen yelled, launching herself at the deer.  Her backup glanced around, noticed that Reeves had somehow disappeared and strode towards Jason, swords drawn.

"Should have paid up," the wolf sneered.  "Let's stick his head on the parking meter," the doberman laughed.

"You'll have to get it first," Jason said.

The two clashed, steel ringing against steel.  A lucky stroke took the jackal off balance and he fell, the sword skittering away.

"Night night, pretty boy," the wolf said, looming over him and preparing to make the death blow.  "We're going to have fun with your corpse!"

Jason rolled over, his eyes flashing yellow.  The wolf froze, sudden fear taking root as the jackal's back sprouted a pair of two-tone grey wings.
The wings rippled, flowing into tentacles, each terminating in a miniature wolf head, their eyes glowing the same yellow as his own, teeth drawn in little grins of evil glee.

The wolf dropped his sword and fled, the Doberman following.  Jason bounded after them, vaulting through space on his tentacles and howling with demented laughter, gaining on them rapidly.  As he drew close the tentacles flattened out and became blades.  The bandits fell, tumbling over as their heads were snicked off and rolled the wrong way down the one-way ramp.

Jason howled again, this time with victory.  Two of the other bandits broke, fleeing for their lives.

Keller had regained consciousness and was battling the vixen, dodging her blows with deftness and skill.

"Why won't you just DIE?!" she screamed.

"Because I'm the protagonist!" Keller sneered.

The vixen looked at him, confused.  So did the other two bandits.

"I thought I was the protagonist!" she said.

"I thought it was me," Yvonne said.

"Shut up!" the vixen said.  "Bert, fetch me his head!"

"What the hell's going on?!" the Rider groaned, picking himself up.  He glanced at the headless corpse next to him, and Sven's blooded sword.
Calmly, the Demon unsheathed his katana and launched himself towards Sven, attempting a decapitating stroke.  Yvonne tripped him up.

Rolling, the Demon grabbed at his weapon and threw at Sven's exposed back.  A hand reached out, and seized the razor-edged blade in mid-flight.

"Never do that again," Reeves cautioned, handing the weapon back by the blade.  The Rider stared at him, scared.

"Sven just beheaded someone!" he protested.  "He's broken the law!  I'll tell the King about this!"

"It's self-defence," Reeves said.  The Rider snarled and tried to push him aside.  Reeves stayed put, effortlessly resisting the Demon's strength.

"What... are you?!" he whimpered. 

"There'll be time for that later," Reeves said.  "Bandits, please disperse.  Three of you have died already.  I'd rather that number didn't increase too much."

"Okay," the vixen said, stepping back nervously.  "Maybe we can just take half your money or something...?"

"How about I take just half your head?" Sven laughed, readying his sword.  One of the surviving bandits rushed him.  The Rider knocked Sven over and the feline bandit staggered.

He glanced around in surprise as Jason ran towards him, laughing insanely.  A wing-tentacle flicked out and the cat lost his head too.

"Stop that," Reeves complained, as if he was mildly irritated by something.  The surviving bandit routed, fleeing for her life.  Only the leader remained, rooted to the spot in terror.

Jason stared at the headless corpses in front of him, an expression of horror washing over him as his eyes faded back to their usual hue.  He sank to his knees, sobbing.

"DIE, MONSTER!"  Sven screamed, rushing towards the prone jackal.  Reeves glanced at him and the berserker froze in mid-stride, eyes bugging.

"When I awake, you will remember nothing," Reeves instructed and the deer collapsed into a heap on the ground.

Meanwhile, Yvonne had subdued the vixen, binding her wrists and legs.  She kept a watchful eye on her companions.  "Good idea," Reeves said.  "I'd prefer she remained alive... at least for now."

"Reeves...?  You... what... did...?"   Keller gurgled.

Jason sat up, glanced around and an expression of terror filled his eyes.  A figure dressed in arm length latex gloves and leggings had suddenly appeared and was making his way casually towards the stricken blue jackal.

"My child," Daryil said, "I think it is time we had a little chat."

"Yes, my Lord," Jason said reluctantly and followed the crazily-dressed fox towards the stairwell of the car-park.
Daryil held the door open and Jason walked through.  He glanced back in fright as he realised that he wasn't in the stairwell at all, but a plush office.

Daryil sat at his desk, and gestured for the young jackal to sit.

"Well, now, young Jason," he began, "Can I get you anything?  Tea?  Coffee?  Casual sex?"

"C-casual sex...?" the jackal whimpered.

"Good choice!"  Daryil said.  Jason shrank away.

"Just kidding," the fox said.  "I know you're still shell-shocked.  While I'm happy that's the case under the circumstances, it is going to make the conversation a little awkward.  In all seriousness, that offer stands.  I find it's an excellent way to loosen up.  I just don't think you're ready for it right now."

* * *

"Daryil's killed him!"  Keller yelped, and ran over to where the jackal was lying on the floor, mouth slightly open, eyes staring sightlessly at the concrete ceiling of the car-park.

"Daryil is powerful," Yvonne said. "If Jason has offended him sufficiently... well, it is not for us to question Daryil's justice."

"That may be true," Reeves said, "But Jason is not dead.  See?  His eyes are blinking periodically."

"Are you saying Daryil's brain-damaged him?  That's not much of an improvement."

"He is in a trance," Reeves said.  "Clan Leaders have advanced mental communication with their descendants.  It is likely that Daryil is talking to Jason as we speak, but the conversation is taking place inside his head.  More privacy that way."

"So what do we do?"

Jason's eyes flicked open.  "Carry Jason back to the car, or prop him up somewhere," he said in a strange voice.  "He'll snap out of it when I'm done.  This shouldn't take long."

* * *

"So it's true...?"  Yvonne asked, once the jackal was sat in the back seat of the vehicle.  "Jason Da'Real really is Jason Daryil...?"  Keller looked at them suspiciously.

"How is that a problem if it is true?"  Reeves asked.

"You saw what he did... he went mental," Yvonne protested.  "Sliced off at least three heads with those wings of his...  They say 'Cubi can go on deadly rampages and now I've seen it!  And Daryil clan is weird!  They've spawned numerous psychopaths like Johan Cross, Cass and King Werrew..."

"You claim to be part Demon," Reeves reminded her.  "Assuming you're not a succubus yourself, you have no right to judge him, or any other Daryil Clan member.  Part Demons tend to be worse than full-blooded Demons because they are considered failures by their family and tormented into acts of extreme violence to try and prove themselves.  It's rather sad, really." he sighed.

"And then there's Keller," Reeves continued.  "I'm sure if we strip-searched him we'd find a nice little marking somewhere, after that trick he did replacing the Black Rider."

"No..." the snow leopard said, a sickly expression on his face.  "Don't tell him... Sven... he'll kill me...  What do you want..?  Money?  Drugs?  I can get it..."

"What I want is for us all to get through this alive," Reeves said.  "It doesn't matter who is, who isn't or who might be a 'Cubi.  So we're all going to wait here until Jason is free and then carry on our merry way."

"But there's you as well, Reeves," Keller said.  "You know far too much about Lord Daryil."

"I'm his accountant," Reeves said.

J.P. Morris, Chief Engineer DMFA Radio Project * IT-HE * D-T-E


That's one hell of an accountant.

EDIT: I gotta say, I like the whole "modern-medieval" thing. I mean, parking garage bandits? xD


Got a bit stuck with this one, but I think I've got there in the end.  Looks like it's going to run to about 10 chapters.

Chapter 8

"So," Reeves said.  "In robbing us, you've left at least four of your comrades very, very dead.  Incredibly, you've tried to attack one of the King's secret police.
When he finds out about this he will have you publicly executed as an example to all,  and as a result of this, it's quite likely he'll bring back the death penalty for brigandry as well, something which Lord Daryil has only recently persuaded him to abolish.   He will not be pleased if that happens.

"In short, you've not only got your friends beheaded, but you've most likely won that same prize for yourself and all the other bandits in the realm, present and future.   Was it worth it?  Did you really need money so badly?"

"I have a debt to pay," the vixen said.  "If I don't, me and my men... we'll be dead anyway.  Beheading will be quicker and less painful."

"I'm sorry," Reeves said.

"Can I give her a mercy killing...?" Sven asked, sharpening his sword eagerly.

"At this point you'll be lucky if the King doesn't give you a mercy killing," Keller retorted.

"Then what are we going to do with her?!"  Sven snapped.  "We can't let her go - she tried to murder us!  She'll try again, if only to avenge her comrades!"

"We can take her with us," Reeves said.

"What?!  Drag a trussed-up bandit into the Forbidden Lands?!"  Keller queried as if Reeves was insane.

"Yes.  There are only a few possible outcomes, and pretty much all of them land in our favour," Reeves said.  "If she tries to escape, then Sven will behead her.  If she does escape, either the King or her creditors will dispose of her for us.  If she survives, she'll make a useful meat-shield when we take on the Dark Lord.  And if she survives that, I'll persuade the King to pardon her as one of the heroes of the realm.  Just like you, really.  And unless she owes the GDP of a small city-state, the reward should be enough to settle her debts."

"And if we fail to take the Dark Lord down...?"  Sven said.  "If we find that he's not risen at all and Keller has led us on a wild goose chase?"

"Then in that case, the King will publicly behead her for her crimes.  Just like you, really."

"Wonderful.  Jason will... wait.  Where is Jason?"  Sven asked suddenly.

"He's talking to Lord Daryil," Reeves said, gently touching the vixen on the top of the head and causing her to fall unconscious.


"His clan leader," Reeves said.

"You mean 'Jason' is an incubus?!" Sven screeched, reaching for his sword.  "That monster... I should have known!  I'll..."

"You'll remember nothing, Sven," Reeves told the deer, who promptly collapsed in a dead faint.

* * *

"How did you make your office appear in the car park?" Jason asked, staring at Daryil with a confused expression.

"I didn't.  You're not really in my office at all.  You're actually lying flat on your back in the car park."

"Then I'm... dead?"

"No.  Your dying would break the link to me.  And before you ask... yes, this IS a real conversation.  It just happens to be taking place inside your head instead of the real world.  Clan Leaders can do that."

"You made me collapse...?"  Jason looked mortified.

"Yes.  There's a nasty bruise swelling up on the back of your head.  It will hurt a bit when you wake up.  If you think that's harsh, consider that those people you just beheaded will never wake up again.  At least, not in this world."

"I'm sorry, Lord."

"I know.  I know that they wanted to kill you and have fun with your corpse.  And I also know that you went into emotional override, and that's what I'm concerned about.
"Look, Jason.  I've lived a long time, longer than my usual span, even before I ascended.  And during that long life I did quite a lot of things.  For a while, I was a soldier in King Harien's army.
"One day, I was given charge of six prisoners we had taken.  I think there was going to be some kind of exchange, but it didn't pan out so I was ordered to put them all to death.  What do you think I did, Jason?"

"Did you free them?"

"Sort of.  I took one of them aside, and made the others watch as their comrade knelt and had his head chopped off by my shortsword.  Then I beheaded the next, and the next and so on.
The terror, you see - seeing their friends die one by and and knowing that they'll get the same.  Some tried to hide it and went stoically to their deaths.  Others begged, pleaded and wept.
Their cries ended with a gurgle as my blade passed through their throats... and that made it all the sweeter.  Oh, Jason... watching their expressions as each head fell... it felt so good."

Jason stared, appalled.

"And that, you see, is exactly what worries me.  I don't want you to end up like that.  I know we're descended from predators, I know that hunting is an urge we haven't been able to suppress entirely.  But at the same time, I don't want you turning into some kind of psychopath who lops off people's heads because watching them die gives him a hard-on."

"I... I didn't..." Jason whimpered.

"I know.  And like I said, you weren't in full control of yourself.  But me...?  I've been a lot of things, my child.  I've been a hero and I've been a monster.  I am so very glad that I grew out of the monster thing in the end, that day I realised that what I was doing was.... nasty."

"What changed you...?"  Jason asked.

"I think it was news of a Jyraneth atrocity... and then I looked at what I'd been doing and I wasn't sure I could see the difference.  And I heard what they did to some of the Jyraneth they'd captured, and I realised I didn't want that happening to any of my clan.
"You see, Jason, some people talk about finding religion, pledging themselves to a god and trying to live their lives better as a result.  That happened to me, but instead of finding a god, I found my own conscience, long neglected and abused.  I think I stayed drunk for five whole days."

"Are you suggesting I get drunk?"

"No, but you are treading the threshold of a dark path, child.  Once you start going down that path it will be harder and harder to get off it, and in the end it will lead to your death.  The more heads you sever, the more people you're going to leave behind who want to take yours off as well.  Maybe someone wants to make you pay for beheading their brother, sister, son, mother.  Maybe you'll start out as an executioner, end up killing the innocent for the buzz, and find yourself on the receiving end of the guillotine.
Point is, at some point you'll slip and lose your head.  And I don't want that to happen to you, Jason... You're far too pretty and bish."

"I understand, Lord."

"I knew you would," Daryil said, hugging him.

"I think that's everything," the fox concluded.  "Unless you do want some casual sex.  Best place for it, in your dreams."

"Since it's not real," Jason ventured, "I'll give it a try.  But afterwards, I need to get back to my friends."


"And I'll think about what you've told me."

* * *

Jason opened his eyes and found himself staring blearily at the ceiling of what appeared to be a vehicle.

"Jason...?" Yvonne asked.

"I spoke with Daryil," Jason said, slightly confused.  "He gave me some lifestyle advice."

"Yes," Daryil said.  "Promise you'll try and remember it."

"No!"  Jason whimpered.  Daryil looked at him strangely.

"You've betrayed me!  Sven will kill me now he knows what I am..."

"Oh, that.  Sven's asleep," Daryil said.  "Reeves, take care of him, would you?"

"Yes, boss," Reeves said.  Daryil high-fived him and disappeared into thin air.

* * *

"The forbidden lands," Keller said.  "Blasted and dead, left destroyed by an evil that the Dark Lord did long centuries past.
Once this land was green and lush, part of neighbouring HollyAnn.  But something happened during his attempt to open the graves and raise an army of the undead, and that something has destroyed all life for miles around.  Including his own, or so they say.
"But his experiments in applied necrology had provided him a way to return from death.  Crude by today's standards, since this was before the Zalaman process was discovered, and so each resurrection cost him a fragment of his soul.
"It is widely held that the great warrior Daniel Cyra burned his remains to prevent his returning again, but some believe they were substituted.  If it is true that the Pegasus has returned yet again, he is likely to be dangerously insane and that is why the kingdoms fear him so."

"What are all these burger bars doing there?"  Yvonne asked.  "Isn't the fell magic that drains life going to affect them?"

"It's not strong enough to do much these days," Keller said.  "Obviously the remnants of the spell are ticking over, or vegetation would be starting to spread again.  But it's not dangerous unless you remain in the Forbidden Lands for an extended period of time.  The castle itself should be safe too."

"But what about the staff manning the burger places?  And won't the spell affect the taste?"

"They're automated," Reeves said.  "The burgers and fries are basically artificial, and thus not affected by the spell.  No organic matter to speak of, which is why they taste so awful."

"What are we likely to encounter in the castle?"  Jason asked.  "In times past he had metal servitors powered by souls of maidens, or the undead, depending on the period."

"I have no idea," Reeves said.  "As far as we are aware, he suspects nothing of our plans.  But I would expect at least a token guard, probably of normal flesh-and-blood minions."

"Not for long," Sven crowed, unsheathing his sword.  "I could really do with a good beheading!"

"I'll be happy to arrange one for you," the Rider said.  Sven glowered and replaced his weapon.

"Think," the Demon continued.  "Lord Pegasus is a powerful Demon.  It is quite likely that he will entrust the security of his castle to other Demons.  You can't take them all by surprise, and as soon as one of them is aware of you, he or she will harden their skin and after that, the only head that's likely to come off is yours."

"Okay," Sven said grudgingly.  "I'll just behead the first few.  That at least will help thin their numbers."

"They'll go around in pairs," the Rider sighed.  "If you do manage to kill one, his buddy will crush your head like a grape.
"No, we'll need a more subtle approach for this.  Yvonne can go ahead as a scout.  She's stealthy, and if she is caught, she's a Demon.  She can harden her skin in the same way."

"Sadly not," Yvonne said.  "I didn't inherit that power.  But hopefully I won't need it."

J.P. Morris, Chief Engineer DMFA Radio Project * IT-HE * D-T-E


Hooray, new chapter! It was interesting to hear some more of Daryil's past. Also Sven is the best, such focus (on murdering people, but still)!


Chapter 9

"I don't like this," Jason said, pacing around the burger bar which they had commandeered into a makeshift camp.

"What's that?"  The Black Rider said, gulping down a couple of Half Pounder Specials to help keep his Demon metabolism ticking over.

"Yvonne has been gone too long," Jason insisted.  "Something's gone wrong."

"Indeed," Reeves said.  "We should go in and rescue her."

"And if she's dead...?"  Keller asked.

"I don't believe she is," Reeves said.

"But if you're wrong, if we send someone else after her, then we'll be sending that person to their death!" Keller pointed out.

"We could send the bandit," Sven said eagerly.  "That's what we brought her for, right?  As the expendable member of our team...?  Heck, we might find a guillotine or something in the basement to do justice upon her!"

"Or do justice upon you," the Black Rider objected.

"She can't go in alone," Keller pointed out.  "She might run off, or she might arm herself.  She'd have to be accompanied by someone.  How about Mr. Rider?"

"Oh no," the Rider said.  "My job is to watch Sven.  I'm not letting him out of my sight."

"Send Reeves, then," Jason said.  "He's ridiculously powerful, whatever he is."

"I don't want to," Reeves said simply.

"What's the matter?  Scared?"  Sven taunted.

"Of course not," the wolf said implacably.  "But my job is to keep an eye on the rest of you.  What kind of healer would I be if I wasn't around to reattach Sven's head after the Rider removes it in my absence?"

"So we'll all have to go together," said Keller uncertainly.

* * *

"I don't like this," Jason said quietly, as they explored the empty halls of the castle.

"You said that earlier," Sven retorted.

"Jason," Reeves said.  "Can you sense anyone?"

A suspicious light appeared in Sven's eyes, dying swiftly as he collapsed unconscious.  The Rider caught him as he fell.

"Incubus thought-reading isn't that powerful," Jason said.  "It's quite short range and fairly easy to defeat.  There's a shitload of off-the-shelf magics that can shield the mind..."

He spun around.  "The bandit!" he cried.  "She's gone!"

"Escaped?"  The Rider demanded.

"No, gone," Jason said.  "No warning.  Either she was stunned or teleported away.  I'd have felt it if she'd shielded her mind..."

"What happened...?" Sven gurgled, climbing to his feet groggily.

"The Rider stunned you," Reeves said.  "You were about to learn something you weren't ready for.  Rest assured, you will be told in the fullness of time.  In the meantime, the bandit has disappeared."

"Typical," Sven snapped.

"No," Jason said.  "We can't keep stunning him.  Look, Sven, I'm really Jason Daryil.  I'm an incubus..."

"DIE!!" Sven yelled, and was quickly restrained by the Rider.

"Sven, shut up," Jason snapped.  The deer looked at him, surprised.

"Listen.  We're all adventurers, right?  Well, at some point we have to be pragmatic and decide what we're hoping to achieve.  Are we trying to protect people from harm, or are we simply trying to kill all Creatures we come across for no sensible reason?
If the idea is to protect people, then the most important thing is to recruit people who are GOOD at doing that, regardless of whether they have wings on their heads or not."

"I'm trying to kill all Creatures I come across for no sensible reason," Sven retorted.  "And if I live through this, I'll hunt you down like the monster you are!"

"That would be unwise," Reeves said.  "Daryil is very powerful, and he loves his children dearly.  There are witnesses here and he would have no trouble finding you if Jason was suddenly found headless.  Daryil would not be merciful."

"I might also point out," the wolf continued, "That Jason is largely based in territory belonging to King Fairwater, who already wants your head on the wall.  Must you give him any further excuses...?"

"Besides, most of us are likely Creatures anyway," Jason said.  "Even Keller..."

He glanced around.  Keller was gone.

"Don't..." Reeves began, but as they turned to face him, he winked out of existence.

"They got Reeves?!" the Rider wailed.  "We're doomed!"

"At last!"  Sven cackled, pushing the Rider away.  He grabbed hold of Jason and dived.

"Help!" the incubus screamed.  The Rider was gone.  Sven grabbed the jackal by his long, green hair, and raised his the sword high with his other hand.

"Time to die, monster!" he cooed, and brought his arm down.  Jason gave a yelp which turned into a horrible gurgle as the blade struck his neck, and then everything went black.

* * *

Jason came to woozily.  His back-wings and headwings were out.  He started as he remembered Jason's decapitating stroke.

"Are you feeling better...?"  Keller asked.

"Sven...?  He was trying to behead me..."

"He nearly did.  Didn't sever your neck completely, though.  You were just being teleported out when it struck.  Reeves fixed you up and while I'm sure he could have saved you like the waitress Sven beheaded, you should still consider yourself lucky."

"Daryil will be pissed..." Jason said, rubbing his neck.  It hurt a lot, but seemed to be intact.

"Where are we?  Are we prisoners?  And where is Sven...?  He hasn't been..?"

"In random order: We are prisoners, yes.  As for Sven, the Rider is just itching to lop off his head, but Reeves won't let him.  We're in the throne room."

"And Reeves...?" Jason asked, struggling to get to his feet.

"I'm here," Reeves intoned.

Jason glanced around.  They were in a spacious chamber where the Dark Lord had obviously held audiences.  It was brightly lit by an unlikely combination of light sources, ranging from magical to electrical and even plain old fire.
On a dais was a large, golden throne and upon this sat Reeves, clad in dark robes.

"YOU?!  You're the Dark Lord?!"

Sven gave a blood-curling, incoherent yell and ran towards the wolf, sword poised for a decapitating stroke.  Reeves made a casual shrug with one hand and the sword clattered to the floor.

"Do behave," Reeves said.

"You followed us... you spied on us, tried to sabotage our mission!  Learn our weaknesses!" Jason hissed, drawing his own sword.  "Your reign ends now, evil one!"

"I'm not the Dark Lord," Reeves said.

"You're not fooling anyone, you know," Jason snapped.

"I am not the Dark Lord.  YOU are," the wolf said, gesturing at the jackal in an offhand manner.

"ME?!"  Jason gawked, fluffing out in shock.  "You expect me to believe that?!"

"I'd worry more about whether the others believe it," Reeves said, smiling.

"DIE!" Sven screamed, snatching Jason's broadsword and preparing to strike off the unfortunate jackal's head once more.

"Naughty," Reeves said sharply, and the blade was suddenly at his feet.

"Sven, Sven.  Do calm down.  You've already earned an attempted murder rap for Jason once.  If you actually succeed in killing him, you'll have to explain that to Lord Daryil, who is very nearby.
There are no excuses.  Nothing you could possibly do or say would prevent him reducing you to ash where you stand."

"Is that it...?" Jason asked.  "Is Daryil the Dark Lord?  He didn't seem that bad to me..."

"No, he's not," Reeves said.  "I bought this castle myself.  It was cheap because it used to belong to the Dark Pegasus, and whatever he did here ruined the vegetation, i.e. created the Forbidden Lands.  There's no point asking full price for somewhere without a garden, and the owners wisely didn't.
"But with the power of the Ring, perhaps one day those blasted desert lands shall again become a garden of trees and flowers and bring forth fruit."

"What...?" Keller asked, agog.

"Don't you see...?  It's a gardening ring," Reeves said.  "It makes plants grow well.  That's why it was wrought in secret, you see.
Dark Peg was embarrassed that people might think he'd gone soft.  Either that or he was trying to make some kind of defensive plant fortress.  Or perhaps being resurrected so many times had damaged his mind.  I don't know."

"What you're saying doesn't make any sense," Jason whimpered.  "How can I be the Dark Lord?  Surely I'd know...?"

"Because the deeds to the castle are in your name," the wolf said.

"You made me a patsy!?  Used my details when you bought the castle as a scapegoat?!"

"No.  I will explain.  But first, I think we need to  be honest with each other."

"In what way?"

"No, I think you're good, Jason Daryil.  The Rider too, though it might help us to know his name."

"Captain Ernst Neckbreaker," the Demon said.

"Now, Yvonne?" Reeves prompted.

"What do you want me to say...?" the catsuited feline asked nervously.

"True form, and true name," Reeves said.  "I'd prefer you said it yourself, but if you can't or won't, I'll do it myself.  Show us your head-wings, child.  There's nothing to be afraid of."

"Yvonne Daryil," she said sulkily, revealing a pair of batlike head-wings.  "Student at SAIA.  As it happens I do like catsuits a lot - being a succubus and all - but they also help cover up my clan marking.  Which, in the presence of people like Sven, can result in decapitation."

"You deserve it, monster!" Sven yelled, struggling against his bonds once more.

"The bandit has no secrets of any note, so we'll skip over her," Reeves said smoothly.  "Keller..?"

"N-no..." the snow leopard said, looking terrified.  Reeves smiled encouragingly.

"Don't be afraid.  We're all friends here, Snell," he said.  Keller's face was frozen in shock.  Jason began laughing hysterically.

"Who's Snell?" the bandit asked, fearfully.

"Snell is an incubus," Yvonne said.  "A legendary master thief.  He put all his centuries at SAIA, the Succubus and Incubus Academy into mastering techniques of burglary."

"You lied!" Sven whimpered.  "You were one of the monsters all along!"

"So are you," Reeves said, "Everyone else has come clean, so you may as well drop the act."

"LIES!" the deer screamed, but there was a desperate note to his voice.

"You see, that's the reason he's so anti-'cubi.  Anyone that shrill is clearly hiding someone, like a king who has his subjects beheaded for homosexuality but is secretly banging the buff, handsome captain of the guard every night."

"It's more than just shrill," Jason complained.  "He decapitated me!"

"Yes.  There's a reason for that," Reeves said.

J.P. Morris, Chief Engineer DMFA Radio Project * IT-HE * D-T-E


Ooh snap. If Sven's really an incubus, wouldn't his actions get him in hot water with Taun?


...and here we go.  Sorry about the big gap in the middle.  Hope you've enjoyed reading it!

Chapter 10

"Okay," Jason said.  "Let me see if I've got this straight.  I'm the Dark Lord, even though I didn't know it and have no relationship to Dark Pegasus, blood or otherwise.  Our entire adventuring party was made up of 'Cubi who were all pretending to be Beings and were terrified that everyone else would learn their secret."

"More-or-less," Reeves said.  "Obviously the The Black Rider is a Demon and the bandit is, as far as I can tell, just a Being.  And right now terrified that we're going to descend on her and devour her soul.  Which we won't," he reassured her.

"But I like souls," Sven sighed, and turned into a lean husky incubus.  His wings and headwings were dark brown, almost black, and leathery.

"Amanti Keretuke-Jyraneth," he said, with a bow.

"Sven... He's a Jyraneth?!" Yvonne started, stepping away from him.

"Yes," the husky said, lip curling.  "I suppose I should apologise for nearly killing you, Jason.  You know how we 'Cubi sometimes go off on an emotional bender.  I fell into the role a bit too far, I think."

"But there's more to it than that," Jason said suspiciously.  "You're one of the Red Queen's Faithful...?"

"Not so much these days," Amanti sighed.  "But I was brought up as one, yes.  My mother was fanatical - centuries after the clan fell, she still believed it was our duty to slay Beings and devour their souls.  She taught me the clan's ways, and yes.  I used to eat the souls of Beings.  Until my mother died."

"I'm sorry," Jason said.  "How did she die...?"

"Her soul-slaying activities got out of hand and she wound up with a very substantial bounty upon her head.
And eventually the head in question was sliced from her shoulders by the sword of an adventurer.  An adventurer named Edwin D'Arill."

"Illiath's father," Reeves said.  "You've met him at the Clan Gatherings, Yvonne.  Jason knows him well."

"Do you mean you were trying to kill me out of some old vendetta?!"  Jason protested.  "I had nothing to do with it!"

"Not as such.  It was more... method acting.  The only way I could psyche myself up into suitable level of crazy for a berserker who hated 'cubi, was to remember her execution and channel all of my hate into that.  Not just 'cubi in general - Daryil clan especially.
"Edwin didn't slay her in the field, you see - he took her in alive.  But after her trial, he was given the 'honour' of executing her, once she was proven guilty.
"He used a broadsword.  Took off her head in the town square before a large crowd.  I was in it.  I couldn't let her die alone..."

"Oh gods," Jason moaned.  "That's horrible.  I didn't think Dad did things like that."

"He was just doing his job," Reeves said.  "Besides, this was long before you were born."

Yvonne looked at Jason oddly.  "Jason... are you saying you're Edwin's son...?" she asked.  "But he's married to a Taun!  How can you be a Daryil member?  Surely you should have been born into the more powerful clan?"

"My sister Illiath was," Jason said.  "But I was born out of wedlock, for that reason.  Dad wanted a son in Daryil clan, and he came to an arrangement with my stepmother, to find a surrogate mother who was a Being."

"Back to the execution," Snell said.  "If they hated 'cubi so much... what about Edwin?" Snell asked.  "If he's who I think he is, he's got the Daryil mark on his ear!  Why didn't they slay him, let alone hire him as executioner?"

"You misunderstand.  She wasn't executed because she was a succubus," Reeves said.  "She had to die because she had destroyed people's eternal souls.  It is the only crime which still carries the death penalty in Daryil's realm."

"That's it, see," Amanti said.  "Consciously, I know that my mother's crimes led her to that fate.  That it was her own... fault.  But deep down, on an emotional level, I still blame Daryil.  Daryil himself, for sentencing her to a public beheading, and the members of his clan who executed that sentence."

"But Daryil didn't," Reeves said.  "He hates public executions.  The Lord Daryil sentenced her to death, this is true, but it was to be swift, merciful and private.  But the thing is, she was proud, and a Jyraneth.  Her last request was that she be executed in public, as her clan would have done to her.  It was how she wanted to die - and Daryil couldn't refuse her that."

"So," Yvonne said.  "Let's get back to the part where you claimed Jason the Dark Lord. Clearly he's as confused as the rest of us.  I want answers."

"One more thing first," Jason said.

"You're not stalling, are you...?" the Rider asked, suspiciously.  "Because if you really ARE the Dark Pegasus in disguise, well, my leige will still want you dead."

"Reeves," Jason said.  "You've had us reveal all our secrets.  Now it's your turn.  What are you?"

"We kind of assumed that because you were Daryil's accountant, he had granted you special powers as a reward," Snell put in.  "You seem to know a lot about what He's doing and thinking, so you've got to be high up in Daryil clan.  You're Jakob, yes?  His right-hand man?  He's a wolf too."

"Daryil does his own accounts," Reeves said, and dropped his disguise.  He became a fox, and his hands flowed, coating themselves with shiny black rubber.  He cast aside the black robes, revealing three pairs of wings.

The Black Rider whimpered and the bandit leader fainted dead away.

"Fear not," Daryil said.  "Well, actually fear is kind of tasty, but there's a time and a place for everything.  Jason, son of Edwin, come here, my child."

"Yes, Lord," Jason said, stepping forwards reluctantly.  Daryil presented a sheaf of papers.

"Congratulations.  You are now the Dark Lord."

"But I don't want to be the Dark Lord!" the jackal said.

"Too bad, it's a condition of the deed.  It's one of the other reasons the place was cheap," Daryil said.  "But it's yours now, to do with as you see fit.  Happy birthday!"

"Hold on, hold on," the Rider said.  "Let's get this straight.  You've just made Jason Daryil the Dark Lord?!  But we were sent here to SLAY him for the King!"

"It's an honorary title," Daryil said.  "The owner of this land is known as the Dark Lord.  But really you're confusing two issues.
"What Fairwater and everyone else was afraid of was that Dark Pegasus had re-established his ancient stronghold.  And I can assure you that he has not.  The fact that I've just transferred ownership of said ancient stronghold to Jason for his 100th birthday is going to make it considerably harder for him to do so, even assuming that he is alive."

"You bastards!" the vixen sobbed.  "You dragged me here saying that once the Dark Lord was dead I would be pardoned!  And now it's all just a hoax!  And that Demon is going to drag me back to Fairwater's kingdom where he'll lop my head off in front of a cheering crowd!"

"Actually it's more likely to be a private guillotining," the Rider said.  "You'll be blindfolded and if you prefer we can put you to sleep first so you'll die without even knowing..."

"I don't want to lose my head at all!" the bandit leader wept.  "I wanted to die of old age!"

"If I'm the lord of this realm, can I grant her asylum?"  Jason asked.  "She's just a Being.  If she stays here and serves me in some useful capacity, it'll keep her out of harm's way.  She's just a bit-player, after all."

"Leave that to me," Daryil said eagerly.  "I'll give Fairwater the best night of his life and he'll happily give her a suspended sentence."

"I suppose you're right," the Rider sighed.  "In the grand scheme of things she's not that important, just someone who made some really bad decisions.
"But Sven isn't.  He's wanted for the murder of a member of Fairwater's royal family, and it's going to take a lot more than gay sex to drop the bounty on his head. "

"Wanna bet?"  Daryil asked.  "I'm very good at it..."

"I'm telling the King," the Rider said, pulling out a mobile phone.  Daryil looked startled and disappeared.

*  *  *

"All right.  What's going on...?"  Fairwater demanded as the warp-aci disappeared.  He was clutching the broadsword firmly and was shirtless, dressed in the kind of sparse adventuring outfit that he usually wore when carrying out executions.

"The Dark Lord isn't here," the Rider said.  "He never was.  The mission has failed."

"Dammit!  That means Sven is for the chop then," the Doberman sighed.  "Where is he?"

"That guy there," the Rider said, helpfully pointing at Amanti.

The King moved slowly towards the Jyraneth, distracting him while the Rider blasted a stun spell from the other direction.

"Dropped his disguise at last," he sighed, and raised his sword.  "The only thing I hate more than a beheading is having to behead a fellow 'Cubi.  Especially the pretty ones."

"Naughty," Daryil said, suddenly appearing in front of the King, who stared back at him nervously.

"He's been a bad boy," Daryil said.  "And arguably he deserves to die.  But I can't let you kill him without hearing the whole story.  You never know, it might change your mind."

"Fat chance," Fairwater said, but he sheathed the sword anyway.

"I guess we'd better explain," Amanti said shakily, after Daryil had revived him.  "Should I tell them...?  Or will you?"

"My words will carry more weight," Daryil said, giving the King a significant look.

"To recap, the man you know as 'Sven', despite his rabidly anti-'cubi stance, is actually Amanti of Jyraneth clan.
"I've often found the Jyraneth kind of fascinating," he continued.  "I've put a lot of effort into finding them, and neutralising them.
"Not by execution," he added hastily.  "But by putting them into a state where they're less likely to cause harm.  So in case you're wondering why I know so much about Amanti here, it's because we've had a lot of long talks together.  I guess it's because they remind me of how I was before I grew out of it.  So I'm trying to track them down and make them grow out of it too."

"You mean... you're going to put Sven under your protection?!" the Rider cried, aghast.  Fairwater stiffened.

"I can't do that," Daryil said.  "You see, Sven is dead."

"What?!"  Fairwater yelped.

"Is that so hard to believe...?"  Daryil asked, raising an eyebrow.  "One of the reasons 'Cubi have been hated and feared for so long is because they have been known to do this, killing a man or woman and taking their place."

"Yes," Amanti said.  "As you know, Sven was radically anti-'cubi.  A card-carrying member of an anti-wing group, in fact.  He saw my headwings and tried to kill me, so I killed him instead and stole his identity.  People don't like Jyraneth 'cubi, but no-one in their right mind is going to tangle with a borderline psychotic adventurer, so it made a really useful alias.
"I knew he had murdered many men, but I didn't much care because... well, I've murdered loads of people too, right?"

Daryil glared at him.

"I've got better," Amanit said, with a sickly grin.  "Besides, this was before Daryil started trying to make me, um, cut down on it."

"You have made quite a lot of progress," Daryil allowed.  "But you still have a long way to go."

"I only murdered 15 people this year," the husky said.  The Rider looked appalled.

"Not too long ago it would have been over a hundred," Daryil said.

Snell looked mortified.  "What are you saying?!" he wailed. "You murdered my friend...?  Our party berserker?"

"No, that was always me," the Jyraneth said.  "Sven died before we met.  What I didn't know at the time," he continued, "Was that the man I was roleplaying as was wanted for murdering royalty, that King Fairwater had a vendetta against him, and, naturally enough, assumed that I was the man who had murdered the princess.  And that made things awkward."

"I guess it makes things less awkward now," Jason said.  "Technically you can claim the reward for Sven's execution."

"The King'll be pissed," the Rider muttered anxiously.

"Damn straight," the Doberman said.  "But I can't kill him if he's not actually guilty of the crime.  I don't know how I'm going to break this to Princess Admaria.  She really, really wanted to watch Sven die..."

"There's not much we can do about that," Daryil said.  "Not without resurrecting the real Sven just so that a King can chop his head off again.  And I don't want to be awkward, but that's just not happening.

"Even if I wanted to do that, he died about 6 years ago - resurrecting someone who's more than a few months dead is incredibly difficult.  It used to be considered impossible, and it will be impossible unless Sven allows me to bring him back, which I assure you he won't if he's just going to be decapitated all over again out of spite."

"So, what do we do now?" Jason asked.

"Let's go and behead someone!" Amanti said eagerly, and then looked abashed.  "Sorry, force of habit."

"Well, seeing as most of us guys are shirtless," Daryil began, "I was thinking we could all have a casual sex party.  Dibs on the King," he added, and was hugging Fairwater seductively before the Doberman had quite figured out what was going on.

"I liked him better as Reeves," Snell said.


J.P. Morris, Chief Engineer DMFA Radio Project * IT-HE * D-T-E


Ugh, that's one thing I don't like about Daryil: he's a touch too merciful at times. I'm not saying Amanti has to die, but you'd think you could make it hard for him to kill people...

On a side note, Daryil's a better actor than I thought. I mean, how often is he actually calm and collected? :P


Quote from: CubiKitsune on August 23, 2015, 12:39:14 AM
Ugh, that's one thing I don't like about Daryil: he's a touch too merciful at times. I'm not saying Amanti has to die, but you'd think you could make it hard for him to kill people...

Yeah, part of it's the difficulty inherent in mixing black comedy with realism.  Interestingly, in an earlier draft of chapter 10, Daryil was less merciful, but I felt it was stretching his character a bit too much.

There are also some things which could have worked better if I had kept the whole thing to my chest and released it only after the writing was complete (which is what I did with Heads), but I kind of needed a deadline to keep it ticking over and even that failed when work went into meltdown.

On a side note, Daryil's a better actor than I thought. I mean, how often is he actually calm and collected? :P

Usually he doesn't need to and can let his hair down.

J.P. Morris, Chief Engineer DMFA Radio Project * IT-HE * D-T-E