Inside the mansion, the heroes caught
their breath. Kabed grumbled, trying with enormous difficulty to stand,
“Lucky for me, this tech armor is impervious to stun rays, even when it’s not functioning properly … you
maniac.” He laughed in spite of himself.
“You’re welcome, buddy,” Longshot answered
“I’m just glad you’re all right,”
Joryn said. “Both of you.”
“Yeah, man,” Longshot agreed. “Those
electrichauns don’t play around. Good thing they’re also insane idiots and probably forgot all about us as soon
as I closed the door.”
Kabed tried to take a step, but a surge of residual electricity
continued to wreak havoc with his armor, and he spun around instead. “This is bad,” he said simply.
“We can carry you if we need to,” Joryn offered.
“We just need to find a safe way to do it. We could use my cape as a stretcher.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Kabed grumbled.
“I appreciate your concern, but I don’t need to be carried around like an invalid. Incidentally, the armor is
safe to touch now. The excess electricity’s been absorbed into its systems. That’s the problem.”
“Well, we certainly aren’t going to leave you
here while we raid the mansion. What good will it do us to rescue Pumpkitina, only to have you captured in the process?”
Lowgun flicked his tongue nervously, smelling the air.
“We’re about to have company. Joryn is right, Kabed. We can’t risk leaving you behind. Put your arms over
my and Longshot’s shoulders.”
“Hey, wait a minute!” Longshot protested. “I
already saved him once in the last five minutes.”
“Grow up, sidekick.”
“I am not
“Guys,” Joryn said, “company’s
here. Let’s try to play nice.”
“What is that?” Kabed asked, incredulous. “A
The beautifully painted mechanical bird, decked out in
a velvet, burgundy leisure suit, cleared its throat and began warming up its voice. Then it sang, in a tremendously operatic
sort of way, “Welcome to Torakku N’obotto’s mansion.”
“Thank you,” Joryn said. “We’re
touring the Outback, and we wondered if we might have a tour here.”
Kabed took another step forward, and his arms began flailing
around helplessly under the control of another surge of residual excess power from the electrichauns’ assault. He swore
and growled, as Longshot and Lowgun tried to take his arms but were thrown back.
Joryn tried to retain his composure as he waited for the
The robotic bird continued its song, as if Joryn had said
nothing, “I am authorized to speak for our illustrious overlord, who has reigned here for millennia.”
Longshot and Lowgun each took one of Kabed’s arms
over their shoulders when he stopped moving.
“Well, this doesn’t seem so bad,” Kabed
said, nodding towards the bird. “Gotta wonder who wrote those lyrics though.”
“I regret to inform you,” the peacock sang
proudly, “that the master is not in.”
“No trouble at all,” Joryn said. “Do
you know when he’ll be back, or where we might find him?”
The peacock’s song continued, “I am now both
authorized and obliged … to kill you all, with a little help from my friends.”
Twenty more robot peacocks, painted and dressed as well
as the first, dropped on cue from the ceiling.
“Actually,” Kabed said, “pretty sure
I hate this song.” He pulled his arms away from Longshot and Lowgun to reach for his gun, but the legs of his tech suit
betrayed him, kicking forward and landing him on the ground. “I hate everything about today,” he moaned.
“Longshot, Lowgun,” Joryn said. “Get
ready.” He drew his sword.
The peacocks began singing the scales, higher and higher.
“Kill or no kill?” Longshot asked.
“No kill,” Joryn answered. “We don’t
know if these robots are sentient or not.”
From the ground, Kabed offered, “Well if I could
sit up, and if my tech armor weren’t malfunctioning, I could probably scan them and let you know.”
Longshot scoffed with a grin. “Your opinion on that
topic is highly suspect at the moment, buddy.”
“Why you … cocky … son of a …”
“Skeezworm. Yeah, I know,” Longshot finished
what I was going to say!” Kabed grumbled.
When the peacocks hit the high note of the scales for the
last time, their eyes lit up red, and they all launched fireballs out of their open beaks in the direction of the intruders.
“What’s happening?” Kabed asked.
“Stay down, Kabed!” Joryn ordered, as he lifted
his shield to block the fire.
Lowgun and Longshot managed to avoid the flying fireballs
and took aim with stun guns, hitting four of the peacocks, who simply vanished.
“Smokes! It’s a recycler system! No need to
hold back!” Longshot announced, as he shot down another two singing peacocks.
“Recycler?” Joryn asked.
“There’s a main processor in the mansion, a
central intelligence that prints these guys out. They don’t have their own minds, and when they get damaged or disturbed,
it just pulls them back into recycle. I’ve seen it before around these parts.”
“I need to be sure. Keep guns on stun, and throw
me one,” Joryn said.
Lowgun tossed one of his guns to Joryn, then grabbed Kabed’s
gun out of its holster with his tail and brought it to his hand to replace the one he had loaned out. Before Kabed could protest,
the reptisaur said, “What? You weren’t going to do anything with it.”
The peacocks started tap dancing.
“Oh, wow!” Longshot said. “I always wanted
to learn how to do that.”
“For real?” Lowgun asked, skeptically.
“A boy can dream, can’t he?”
Kabed managed to sit up. He hit a tiny button on the side
of his helmet, and a yellow light visor projected down over his eyes. “Longshot’s right. At least the scanner
seems to be working … mostly. These guys are just shells. No brains of their own. Obviously controlled by a central
mind somewhere else.” Kabed’s left arm flew into the wall then, cracking stone, and his legs kicked up, flipping
him over, end over end, landing him on his face.
The birds’ dance ended, and they returned to their
scales, firing again at the highest note of the octave.
“Good then,” Joryn said. “No holding
back.” He blocked fire with his shield while charging at the nearest robot and taking off its head with his sword.
Longshot and Lowgun continued to fire into the swarm, dodging
fireballs, and sending the enemies into the invisible recycler.
To the heroes’ dismay, more of the birds fell from
the ceiling to replace the ones who had fallen.
Lowgun noticed a glowing octagon on the far wall, by the
stairs to the second floor. “Joryn, do you see that light on the wall by the stairs?”
“Yes. What is it?”
Lowgun shot down another two peacocks, who were now tap
dancing, launching fireballs, and drawing swords simultaneously. “It’s a security system I’ve seen before.
If we can get to it, and hit it, the mansion will think the threat has been resolved, and the birds will stop falling in on
“On it,” Joryn said, as he continued to chop
through the lifeless machines.
“Wish I could help,” Kabed mumbled into the
ground. His light visor flickered, then disappeared. “Great. Now my scanner’s not even working anymore.”
“No worries, Kabed,” Longshot crowed. “I’ll
“Oh, shut up,” Kabed mumbled.
As Lowgun and Longshot continued to fire stun rays at the
birds, Joryn chopped his way through relentlessly, making his way to the wall. He noted, silently, that the robots never turned
to follow him, only seeming to be able to move in one direction.
The last bird blocked his sword deftly with a rapier, giving
Joryn a start. None of the others had seemed at all efficient with their blades.
Joryn backed up, blocked the next blow with his shield,
dropped the sword, removed the gun from his belt, and shot the robot right in the head. Free to strike his true target at
last, Joryn pressed in the octagonal light fixture on the wall, and it went dark, as the recycler was deactivated.
Turning around, he watched as his friends quickly eliminated
all of the remaining robot peacocks, and no more of the birds dropped from the ceiling to replace them. He tucked the gun
back into his belt and picked up his sword. “That was fun.” He walked over to join Longshot and Lowgun, beside
Kabed, as they were helping the tech wizard to stand.
“Sorry I was useless,” Kabed offered.
“Not at all,” Joryn assured him. “Your
scanner at least told us for certain that the robots were what Longshot suspected they were.”
Joryn handed the gun back to Lowgun. “Thanks.”
Lowgun nodded, tucking Kabed’s gun into his belt
and taking the gun from the prince.
“Still,” Kabed said, “I think I can—”
“Lose the armor, Kabed,” Joryn said.
“You need to lose the tech armor. It’s going
to hold us back and get somebody killed if we go on like this. We need to get up those stairs, search the mansion. We may
encounter more of those birds, or worse, for all we know. We need you to be able to hold your own in a fight.”
“But … I’m not wearing anything else.
I mean … there’s nothing under the tech armor.”
Longshot hooted with laughter. “Guess we’re
in for a show from here on out.”
“No!” Kabed protested. “If you maniacs
think I’m going to fight singing and dancing robot peacocks, while in the nude, you’re even crazier than the despot
who designed this place!”
Joryn puzzled over the problem. “I really don’t
see any other way. Maybe you could tie my cape around—”
“In case you hadn’t noticed,” Kabed informed
him, “there isn’t much left of your cape.”
Joryn pulled his cape around and noted the holes that had
been burned into it during the battle by close encounters with narrowly evaded fireballs.
“Don’t sweat it, buddy,” Longshot said.
“I’ve got you covered.” He started unbuckling his belt.
“Wait a minute!” Kabed shouted frantically.
“I don’t want to see you fighting weird peacocks naked either!”
“No, no. I actually wore underpants today. Lucky
for you. I’ll just let you borrow those. I prefer a little breeze in my britches anyway.”
“You have got
to be kidding me! You want me to wear your dirty, sweaty underwear?”
“Would you rather go naked?” Joryn asked. “Pick
one. That’s an order. Naked, or Longshot’s underwear. But you are ditching
the tech armor. We don’t have any more reasonable options.”
“Fine. I’ll wear Longshot’s underpants.
But they’d better be clean.”
Longshot shrugged. “Clean is relative, I s’pose.”
Kabed nodded, tersely. “If the gods were real, I’d
be asking why they hate me.”
Longshot laughed and continued removing his boots and pants,
revealing a pair of white undershorts with little red hearts printed all over them. He moved to pull those off as well and
was stopped by all three of his companions shouting, “No,” at the same time.
“What?” he asked with a grin.
“Turn around for that part … please.”
Joryn said, suppressing his own laughter at the whole situation.
Longshot shrugged, his grin growing. “Why? I got
nothing to be ashamed of.”
All three of his companions once again shouted in unison,
“Fine, fine,” he said as he complied. “Your
loss, your dollar.” He pulled off his underpants, covered from behind by his customary long, brown greatcoat. He pulled
his pants back on, zipped, buttoned, and buckled back up, and tossed the shorts over to Kabed.
Kabed looked to the reptisaur. “Mind helping me out
Lowgun nodded and started helping Kabed out of his faulty
armor. A button on the inside of the helmet switched the armor off, and Kabed was able to undress without further interference
from his own limbs. To Kabed’s regret, without being powered on, the tech armor he had designed was much too heavy to
maneuver in, or to finish taking off by himself, otherwise, he would have simply kept it on as if it were regular armor.
Everyone turned around, for the sake of Kabed’s dignity
(though Longshot needed some prompting), as the tech wizard changed from the waist down, out of his armor and into the little
white shorts, which fit his more muscular frame much tighter than they had Longshot’s long and skinny, not-quite-fully-grown
“All right,” Kabed said at last.
The group turned and snickered, more at Kabed’s discomfort
than at his actual appearance in the shorts, which was also amusing in itself.
“Nobody get excited,” he grumbled.
“Don’t be silly, Kabed,” Joryn said.
“You know I don’t see you that way.”
Longshot shrugged, a goofy, unabashed smile on his face.
“I do.” He winked at Kabed flirtatiously.
Kabed glared at Longshot. “I am not an object! And my eyes are up here!” He pointed, and he walked past his companions towards the stairs.
“Well, are we going or not?”
“Lead the way, hotshot,” Longshot said with
“Never mind. I’ll follow you three.”
“Dressed like that, I guess it’s only fitting
you take the rear,” Longshot quipped.
Everyone laughed, except for Kabed, who covered his backside
from view, as well as he could with his hands, and took a position behind his companions.
As Longshot and Lowgun walked on, Joryn put a hand on Kabed’s
shoulder, still laughing. “Don’t worry, Kabed. Things can only get better from here, right?”
“Well, at least I’ll agree they can’t
get any worse.” He followed Joryn up the stairs, to the second level of the
The heroes exited the stairwell on the second level to find a layout similar
to the first level, with a door at the far end of the long, rectangular floor. The only difference was that this floor was
adorned with a number of fairly large caskets.
“This looks menacing,” Joryn said.
“At least you shut off the security system,”
Kabed pointed out.
“Well,” Lowgun said, flicking his tongue nervously,
“on the first floor.”
“What, you mean we might run into more of those peacock
things up here too?” Longshot asked.
Everyone’s attention was drawn by the creaking sounds
filling the room.
“Tell me that’s a door,” Kabed said,
knowing it was wishful thinking.
“No,” Joryn said, with resignation in his voice.
He sighed. “It’s the caskets.”
“Ah, smokes, if it ain’t the truth.”
Longshot drew his guns.
Kabed reached over and reclaimed his own gun, which was
still tucked into Lowgun’s belt.
The four of them watched with dread, as the rotting remains
of forty very large rabbits staggered out of the caskets, moaning and shuffling right in their direction.
“Let’s not jump to conclusions,” Joryn
suggested. “The Outback is a very odd place, after all.”
“Are you serious?”
Kabed had no doubts that the emergence of giant zombie rabbits did not bode well.
Joryn, with sword and shield ready, lest diplomacy should
fail, stood before the hulking zombies with forced confidence. “Hello. We mean you no harm.”
One of the rabbits coughed out a cloud of dust, still shuffling
towards Joryn and his friends, then said, “Join us …”
Quietly, Joryn muttered to his friends, “Do you think
that’s a friendly invitation?”
The rabbit continued “… in the grave.”
“That answers that.” Joryn took a defensive
stance with his sword.
Longshot hit one of the zombies with a stun ray, and it
vanished the same as the robots had done. “Huh? I don’t get it.”
Lowgun hissed, “These things recycle too. Probably
“Who cares how it works,” Kabed said. “Shoot
’em!” He fired into the approaching zombies.
Then fifty robot peacocks dropped from the ceiling and
started warming up their voices.
“No, no, no!” Joryn said. “I don’t
see a button on the far wall this time!”
“Me neither,” Lowgun confirmed. “But
there are stairs over there. If we’re lucky, this is only the second level
defense, and we can fight through and get away by ascending the stairs to level three.”
“It’s all we’ve got to work with,”
Joryn agreed. “Let’s do it! I don’t know what to make of the rabbits, without Kabed’s scanner, so
I’ll focus on the peacocks. You three handle the zombies. Stun only.”
Kabed protested, as he shot one and watched it vanish.
“Kabed,” Joryn countered, as he ran his sword
through a singing peacock, before it could get to the high note on the scale, “last night, I poured a drink on a potted
plant, and it chewed me out and called me a tourist. I don’t know what counts
as sentient life anymore. As long as we’re in the Wyyrd Outback, it’s better to assume that everything is alive,
until proven otherwise.”
“But they’re zombies!”
“And you’re fighting them in Longshot’s
underwear, so don’t tell me to expect things to go the way we think they should in this place.” He slashed another
peacock across the chest and raised his shield to block an oncoming fireball. “And let’s not forget what was happening
to some of the patrons, when we left the Womp Shop last night.”
“Guess I’ll give you that one. By the way,
is it cold in here, or is that just me?”
“Pro’ly to keep the corpses fresh,” Longshot
fresh,” Kabed argued.
“Well, maybe fresher than they woulda been.”
The group shot and hacked their way through the enemy horde,
with more and more appearing after each one they took down.
“There’re just too many of them,” Lowgun
said. “We should retreat.”
“Not yet,” Joryn said, chopping the head off
of another robot. “There’s a casket at the end, by the stairs, that hasn’t opened up yet. If my guess is
right, there’s another off switch in there. The problem is …” He turned, as another robot dropped down behind
him, and he ran his sword through it, spinning quickly to raise his shield against the fireball being launched from the robot
on the other side of him. “… getting to it!”
On his arm, the shield started shaking and warbling again,
sounding angry, but not pulling Joryn’s arm as it had done in the cubek village.
“I don’t know what you’re saying,”
Joryn replied, “but if I throw you now, I won’t have any defense against those fireballs.”
“I don’t think it’s talking to you this time,” Lowgun said, as he stunned two more zombies. “Look at your sword.”
“What?” Joryn looked at his blade, seeing that
the lettering etched into it was glowing in response to the shield’s apparent criticisms. “That’s funny.
Do you think they’re talking to each other?”
“Can’t you call Libran or something and ask
him?” Lowgun asked.
“Sadly, no. At least, I don’t think …”
The shield started warbling more agitatedly, and the sword
lit up and pulled Joryn’s arm down to point directly in front of him. The white lettering along the blade turned a bright,
burning orange, from the hilt to the tip, and fired a massive fireball of its own all the way down the hall, taking out zombies
and robots alike.
“Yee-haw! How did you do that?” Longshot asked,
Joryn was stunned. “I have no idea, but I’m
taking advantage of the opening, and I think this proves the zombies aren’t alive. The sword wouldn’t take a life
on its own like that.”
“Like I’ve been saying,” Kabed shouted
after him, as Joryn ran to the end of the hall, “they’re zombies!”
Joryn reached the end of the hall, weary, as if the sword
had taken energy directly from him to summon the flames. He strained to push the lid off of the stone coffin, finding to his
relief that his guess had been correct. He quickly pushed the illuminated, octagonal button that he found on the floor of
the sarcophagus, and the robots once again stopped falling from the ceiling.
The remaining zombies abruptly stopped moaning, turned,
and shuffled back to their caskets.
“I don’t know enough swear words to properly
react to what just happened!” Kabed shouted.
Joryn laughed. “Probably no one in the whole Empire
“And your sword just shot out a fireball,”
“I knew a guy who had that problem once,” Longshot
said, with a wry grin. “But the doc cleared it up with some—”
“I don’t want to know that,” Kabed cut
Longshot only laughed, enjoying getting a rise out of the
Joryn considered. “I’ve got to learn all there is to know about these weapons, about their history, how they work, what they’re
capable of … when I get back from the Whispering Plains I mean.”
“You sure it can wait?” Kabed asked.
Joryn thought of Galen, of how long they’d been apart.
“It’ll have to. Now, let’s get upstairs and see what further horrors await us.”
“Can’t get any worse, which means it can only
get better from here,” Longshot said, as he followed Joryn up the stairs.
Kabed sighed, tiredly. “People keep saying that.”
Exiting the stairwell on the third floor of the mansion, all four of the heroes
were far more on alert than they had been on the second, knowing now that each level had its own security system to defeat.
Joryn surveyed the great hallway, before they went any
farther. “More caskets.” He looked up to the ceiling. “I guess we won’t see them until it’s
too late, but it’s safe to assume there will be more of those dancing peacocks coming from above.” He noticed
something new. “And no doubt those clay jars on either side of the caskets have some new nightmare to unleash.”
Nodding ahead, he said, “Judging by the size and grandeur of that door at the end of the hallway, I’d suspect
they’re about to give us everything they’ve got. Which is a good sign.”
“You’ve been spending too much time listening
to Longshot,” Kabed argued. “How is any of that a good sign?”
Joryn smiled. “It means they’ve got something
to protect, behind that door. Which means, maybe, we’re right where we need to be, if we’re going to rescue Princess
“Heck yeah!” Longshot agreed. “Let’s
get this party started!”
Joryn began moving forward, followed by the others.
“Hey!” A voice shouted. “You can’t
be in here!” A two-foot tall creature that was clearly half platypus and half scorpion jumped out of one of the clay
“Yeah!” Another voice chimed in. “Get
outa here! This is N’obotto’s place!”
“Those are—” Joryn began.
“Scorpioplats!” Longshot cut in. “Definite
life forms. N’obotto somehow won the loyalty of the entire species centuries ago. Now they serve and protect him with
Kabed shrugged. “Well, other than being unexplainable
freaks of evolution—”
An energy bolt flew from the tip of the first scorpioplat’s
tail, and Kabed had to duck to avoid it.
“They sting,” Longshot said.
“Still, they’re easy targets.” Kabed
took aim and stunned the offending creature, who fell down immediately.
Seventy-eight more scorpioplats then crawled out of their
clay jars. “He zapped Ollie! Get ’im!” one of them shouted.
“Oh, this day,” Kabed groaned.
The heroes found themselves dodging sting bolts left and
“Ow!” Joryn cried out. “I can’t
block them all at once!”
Kabed, Longshot, and Lowgun fired at the angry creatures,
stunning as many as they could.
“Is it bad?” Kabed asked.
“No,” Joryn answered. “Just irritating.”
“Yow!” Longshot yelped. “Got me! Ow!
Got me again! Here’s for that, ya little imps!” He fired wildly into the swarming team of scorpioplats, knocking
out another fifteen, before another stinger got through. “Smokes! Stop stinging me! There are four of us here, ya know!”
“Thanks for that,” Lowgun grumbled sarcastically.
“Any time, sidekick.”
“Don’t even start that.” Lowgun threw
Joryn one of his guns again, and the prince caught it. “Just hold on to that one this time.”
Joryn nodded and added his own fire to the battle.
When the scorpioplats were all stunned and lying on the
ground, the heroes breathed a sigh of relief. “Everyone all right?” Joryn asked.
Everyone mumbled more or less in the affirmative, in spite
of the stings they’d all received.
“All right then, let’s get to that door.”
The creaking of the casket lids sent chills down their
spines, as they realized it was not going to be that easy.
“Oh … smokes,” Joryn said. “Get
ready for it.”
Forty more of the seven-foot-tall zombie rabbits emerged
from the caskets, shuffling all around them. “Join us … in the grave.”
The heroes took aim with stun guns, vanishing the zombies
as they hit them.
Before they could get rid of them all, however, thirty
more robot peacocks dropped from the ceiling and started warming up their voices.
“Where’s that flame of yours, Joryn?”
Longshot wailed, as the zombies threatened to overtake him.
“I don’t know how to make that happen!”
Joryn answered, frantic.
“We’ve got more problems,” Kabed said,
The stunned scorpioplats began to quiver on the ground,
then rise back up to rejoin the fight.
“Those things don’t stay down,” Kabed
growled, trying to stun as many as he could before they could get all the way up.
“Flame’s out of the question now anyway,”
Joryn shouted. He turned and stunned two of the zombies that had surrounded Longshot. “Count of three, we run the gauntlet!”
“Then what?” Kabed asked.
“Then we hope that door’s just as unlocked
as the one outside was. Run and shoot, boys! One, two, three!”
Joryn led the charge, only bothering to shoot the zombies,
peacocks, or scorpioplats that were directly in his path, dodging fireballs and sting bolts as deftly as he could along the
way. When he reached the door, he turned and fired back at the enemies who were still giving chase, waiting until all three
of his friends had joined him. “Let’s go!”
He turned the knob on the door, and the four of them were
instantly sucked right off of their feet and straight into a cold, black chasm of utter nothingness.
Without having had time to get their bearings in the void, the unexpected impact
of a stone floor beneath them began to bring them out of their disoriented states.
Joryn blinked his eyes, standing uncertainly and trying
to take in their new surroundings. “This is a big, empty room.”
Kabed stood and laughed shortly. “You should have
been a scientist.”
“Sorry, Kabed. Just thinking out loud. I can’t
tell if it’s a prison, or … there’s another door over there. A smaller one.”
“Well,” Longshot asked, “What’re
we waiting for? That’s probably where they’re holding Pumpkitina.”
At that moment, thunderous, menacing laughter filled the
empty stone room, and a giant onion, ten times the size of the average human, floated down from the ceiling.
“What in the name of all of the—?”
Kabed’s words were cut off by the thing itself, which
landed on its enormous shod feet, opened its two bulbous eyes, and waved around its two gloved, armless hands in anger. Opening
its massive mouth, to reveal rows upon rows of viciously serrated teeth, it spoke in a booming voice, “I am Onion Master;
servant of the mighty Torakku N’obotto! And you shall go no further! Prepare to die!”
“No!” Kabed shouted. “That’s it! I can’t take this anymore! And
I refuse to stand here, in Longshot’s underwear, and fight a thing called
‘Onion Master!’ ”
Longshot winked at the disgruntled Deluvian. “You
can always take ’em off.”
“You wish!” Kabed snapped.
“Well …” Longshot considered. “…
yeah!” He laughed.
Almost quivering with confused reactions, not knowing whether
to laugh, or cry, and for some reason feeling tears well up, Joryn struggled to address the enormous vegetable. “Onion
Master,” he stopped, putting a hand to his mouth, faking a cough to hide his sudden laughter and wondering if he, like
Kabed, had finally seen too much of the Outback. Regaining his composer, he resumed, “Sir, we mean you no harm.”
He wiped the tears from his eyes, but more came. He suddenly remembered they were, in fact, in the room with a giant onion. He spared a glance to see his human companions likewise afflicted, wiping away their tears. “If we
could only speak with Torakku N’obotto, there is a matter we very much need to address.”
“Silence!” Onion Master bellowed. “Death
to you all!” Without warning, Onion Master began leaping around the room, back and forth in a zigzag pattern.
The heroes desperately moved their stung and weary bodies
to avoid being crushed beneath the monster’s giant shoes.
Wiping more tears away, and struggling to see through his
watery eyes, Joryn shouted, “Stun him!” He fired wildly into the air, never certain, through the veil of tears,
if any of his shots were hitting their mark.
“Fools!” Onion master roared with laughter.
“I am unkillable! My master’s nanites in my veins prevent me from dying … ever! Onion Master is forever!” He laughed some more.
“That science is legitimate!” Kabed shouted,
also firing almost blindly into the air.
“Good!” Joryn shouted. “Set weapons to
kill, maybe they’ll stun!”
The heroes complied with Joryn’s order, and everyone
fired into the air.
“Argh!” Onion Master cried out.
As the massive onion took a hit, his entire body lit up
“It’s working!” Joryn shouted. “Keep
hitting him!” He fired, making another direct hit.
“Fools!” Onion Master bellowed again. He opened
his mouth, releasing hundreds of normal sized onions that exploded in mid-air.
“This can’t get anymore idiotic,” Kabed
shouted. “I hate this place more than words can express!” He hit Onion Master with another blast from his light
gun, but the monster only laughed, continuing to jump around, trying to crush them, and to open his mouth, releasing onion
bombs into the air.
“He’s just a big onion, Kabed,” Longshot
teased. “What’re you afraid of?”
“I didn’t say I was afraid, just annoyed.”
“I know what’ll get him,” Longshot said
with a grin. “Why don’t you take off those underpants and throw them at him?”
“Will you …” Kabed fired again, moving
quickly to avoid being stomped by the beast. “… stop trying to get me out of your pants?”
“Would you rather I tried to—?”
“Just stop,” Kabed snapped. “Think about
Longshot laughed at Kabed’s disposition and went
“Told you,” Lowgun said dryly. “Flirts
with everyone.” The reptisaur unsheathed a sword from his back, flew into
the air, and landed several blows on Onion Master before his feet returned to the ground, causing the monster to light up
red, just as the light rays and lasers had done.
“Argh!” Onion Master bellowed yet again. “I
will not be defeated!” The villainous vegetable surprised everyone then by shooting two massive, red heat rays from
his eyes, incinerating Kabed where he stood.
“NO!!!” Joryn was horrified at the suddenness
of his friend’s death. Shock began to take hold of his body, as he went ice cold from head to toe.
Lowgun, likewise, was momentarily stunned to the point
that he almost didn’t move out of the way in time to avoid being crushed by Onion Master, who didn’t miss a beat.
Even Longshot had lost his humor, as he stared wide-eyed
at the pile of smoking ash that had only moments before been Kabed. He nodded, forcing himself to snap out of it. “It’s
… It’ll be all right. I’m …” His eyes looked upward, as if trying to see his own thoughts, while
he calculated something as well as he could. “Yeah … pretty sure.”
“What?” Joryn asked, too stunned to move, the
tears streaming down his face no longer entirely the work of Onion Master’s stench.
“Look out!” Longshot flew at Joryn, knocking
him out of the way, as Onion Master came crashing down with evil laughter, perfectly unfazed by the precious life force he
had just extinguished.
“Mourn later, if we’ve got to,” Longshot
said. “This fight ain’t nearly over!”
Joryn nodded, wiping the tears from his eyes and getting
back to his feet, firing fiercely at the relentless monster who had killed his friend.
Kabed found himself floating above the chaos, even more annoyed. “I’m
still wearing Longshot’s underwear? Is this how the spirit realm works?”
He sighed, looking down at the pile of ash. “If I’m going to continue my mission, this is going to take some explaining.”
He turned to leave, knowing where he had to go.
“Don’t be hasty, Son.”
“Father?” Kabed was overwhelmed with emotion.
“What are …? How …? Why didn’t you come back?”
The bearded, youthful looking man smiled sadly. “I
wanted to, Kabed. If you had more time here, you might come to understand. When I died, I saw into the future, all of what
was to come, regarding my own line. What would happen without me was far too important. You. Your mission. Your closeness
to the chosen of Libran. None of it would have come to pass, if I had returned. Your mother would never have—”
“But those … fingrins!” Kabed wept openly now. “They tore you apart. I was only four years old! I wasn’t
ready to lose you. I hadn’t been prepared that you might die some day! You
were the first of your line to die in over a thousand years. Please. Come with me.”
The man laughed. “Where, my son? To what end?”
Kabed looked down at his friends, fighting Onion Master
below; the pile of ash that had once been his own body. “You know where I have to go now. What I have to do.”
His father regarded him with the same kind, gray eyes that
Kabed remembered so clearly from his childhood. “Even if I wanted to, and I don’t, I wouldn’t be able to,
not in the way you want.”
“What do you mean? Why not? If I can go, so can you.”
“I’ve been to Merigo, my son.”
Kabed was stunned. “Merigo is … real?”
His father laughed. “We may have proved the existence
of the mind and spirit after the death of the body, Son, but we never fully quantified
the afterlife. Not really. In Merigo, all things are made clear, one becomes perfectly enlightened. I can visit you whenever
I like, go anywhere that I like, any time. But I will always be one with Merigo. It is the fate of all minds.”
“But, I … If you can’t join me, then
what are you doing here?”
“Making sure that you don’t rush off.”
“But I have to! My mission—”
“Is not in jeopardy.”
“I just got reduced to a pile of ash in front of my friends! How is that not—?”
“Sorry I’m late!” An overweight, bearded
fairy, no larger than Kabed’s head, wearing a pink tutu and a black overcoat, flew up to the two spirits.
“Who are you?” Kabed asked.
“Oh, the name’s Mel.” He held out a fey
hand. “Sorry I’m late, like I said. Cards got me distracted. Almost had a win, too. Anyway, I’m here now,
so, let’s get down to business.”
“Yeah, man, I’m a resurrection accountant.”
Kabed’s father laughed. “Son, remember where
“Yeah, I’m floating around in the spirit realm!”
It dawned on him. “In the thrice damned Wyyrd Outback.”
“Precisely,” his father said, a loving gleam
in his eyes. “Just go with it.”
Mel looked between the two spirits. “Is there a problem
here, guys? I mean, I can’t exactly come back later. I would if I could, but, policy … you know.”
Kabed just stared at the fairy, whose tiny wings didn’t
look physically capable of keeping him in the air.
“All right,” the fairy cleared his throat.
“Let’s see here.” He started counting coins, in the air, floating above Kabed’s head. He mumbled,
“Squidshrooms … right, right. Necklace … electrichauns … nasty little bastards … eighty …
ninety … two … three … eight hundred.” He lit up. “All
right! You’re good. I mean, it’s your choice, of course, but I gotta start the countdown. I’ve got other
places to be. Ten … nine … eight …”
“Good for what?”
“Resurrection, man. Only costs a hundred spirit coins.
Now, where was I? Oh, yeah …” The fairy counted in his head, trying to pick up where he should have been in the
countdown had he not stopped to chat. “Three …”
“Say yes,” Kabed’s father urged.
“Yes!” Kabed blurted, just as Mel counted down
“Done deal, man!” The fairy waved his wand,
and trumpet music filled the air, following the sounds of spirit coins clinking from one account to another.
Kabed felt himself falling, back down to the physical world.
He could still hear his father calling after him.
“I love you, Son. I’m proud of you! Complete
your mission. For your mother, and for—”
Kabed’s eyes popped open abruptly, cutting off his
father’s words, and he inhaled deeply, as if for the first time. He found himself standing on his feet, still wearing
Longshot’s underwear, and holding his gun. Not wasting any more time, he began firing into Onion Master’s massive
form once more.
Joryn stared in open-mouthed disbelief. He looked to where the smoking ash had been and found it was no longer there. He crowed
with laughter. “Is this real?”
“It’s real, man,” Longshot said. “Don’t
get distracted. Resurrection accountants always come around, if you’ve got enough spirit coins.”
“Resurrection—?” Joryn’s words
were cut off, as he dodged another crushing blow from Onion master’s feet.
“True story,” Kabed said. “The Outback’s
garbage, but the Pumpkin Patch Kids can stay.” He fired up at Onion Master, and the monster blinked red.
This time, Onion Master stopped, panting, trying to catch
his breath. There was no more bellowing laughter, no more bragging about his superiority. “Fools!” he said weakly.
“I think we’re wearing him down,” Longshot
speculated. “Even an unkillable onion can get beat down. Yee-haw!”
Onion Master abruptly perked up, laughing wildly. His jumping
grew much, much faster, and he launched more and more bombs out of his mouth as he went, firing death rays from his eyes at
“This ends now!”
Joryn shouted. He aimed his sword and shouted with the full force of his will, “Fireball!”
The Sword of Libran in his hands lit up as it had before
and launched a massive fireball directly at Onion Master, and Joryn again felt a drain on his own natural energy.
The villain cried out in horror as the flames engulfed
him, and when they subsided, he blinked red rapidly, until he fell to the ground, slumped in defeat. “No, no! You have
beaten me! No one has ever beaten me before!”
A holographic image of a robot’s head appeared in
the air then, and Onion Master quivered in fear. “Master!”
The rich, baritone voice of Torakku N’obotto stated
harshly, “Onion Master, my nanites report that you have failed to protect my mansion from intruders! Receive your punishment.”
The floating hologram vanished then, and Onion Master whimpered,
“No, no! Master! Please! Give me another chance!”
A massive trapdoor opened beneath his feet, and Onion Master
fell into the void below, crying out in horror.
The trapdoor closed behind him, and the heroes laughed
in relief at the battle’s long-awaited conclusion.
Nodding towards the little door in the wall, Joryn asked,
“Longshot? Would you care to do the honors?”
“You bet I would!” Longshot marched over to
the door and threw it open … only to find a stray Pumpkin Patch Kid sitting at a table, eating a sandwich, and reading
a newspaper. “What the smokes?”
“Huh?” The startled creature looked up. “What
do you want? Spirit coins? I don’t do that anymore. I’m just a groundskeeper now.”
Joryn and the others walked into the little room after
“We thought this was a prison,” Longshot said.
“No, ya big, human idiot! This is the break room.
The four heroes moaned, exhausted and frustrated.
“Thirty-five more mansions to go,” Joryn sighed.
“I can’t do that,” Kabed said. “I
can’t do … this thirty-five more times! There has to be another way.”
Still as determined as ever, Longshot insisted, “Well,
I’m not giving up! I’m going to rescue Princess Pumpkitina from Torakku
N’obotto’s clutches if it’s the last thing I do! Where’s that map?”
“Incinerated,” Joryn lamented. “All the
way back on the first floor.”
Longshot clenched his fists in frustration. “Ah …
we can find another one.”
“Excuse me, humans, but did you say Princess Pumpkitina
is in trouble?”
“Yeah, that’s right,” Longshot answered.
“Kidnapped by N’obotto a couple months back. The king and queen sent me to rescue her, and I’ll be damned
if I’m gonna leave Mech Valley without her.”
“Well,” the Pumpkin Patch Kid said, “in
that case, to hell with this lousy job! What kind of maniac builds a mansion and then fills it up with robot turkeys and giant
caskets full of zombies anyway? Do you know how hard it is to mop around here?
I was gonna quit anyway. And as it happens, I’ve got a map of Mech Valley right here!” He went to the wall and
lifted a panel, revealing an enormous, animated map of the city, with all of N’obotto’s mansions clearly marked
Joryn sighed with relief. “Thank you …”
“Paulie,” said the Kid.
“Thank you, Paulie.” He studied the map. “Closest
one is right there. Doesn’t look too far away.”
“If only we knew which mansion she was in,”
Longshot lamented. “And where N’obotto was.”
“Well, we’re just going to have to use our
heads and figure it out,” Kabed insisted. “There is no way we can go one mansion at a time until we find them.
We barely made it through this one alive. In fact, I died!”
Longshot laughed. “Aw, don’t be such a baby.
Everybody dies, man. Besides, even I don’t want to go through town one mansion
after the other like that. You’re right. We’ll put our heads together.” He shrugged. “Maybe Paulie
“Or,” Joryn said, putting a finger at the top
of the map, where an enormous mansion, surrounded by lightning and flying bats, silhouetted by the moon, was depicted, “we
could just skip the rest and go straight to this one.” He turned, grinning.
“What are the chances the one mansion at the top of the map, that stands out from all the others in its sinister visage,
could be the mansion? It’s absurd, I know, but—”
“Remember where we are,” Kabed finished for
him. “Sounds good to me.”
“But we’d have to walk from one side of the
valley to the other, without our steeds,” Longshot pointed out. “Plus, there’re squidshrooms and electrichauns
out there, and I’m still a wanted man, even with the sheriff’s protection. Someone’s liable to spot me and
turn me in to N’obotto, or shoot me on sight, just to cash in on a bounty, if we’re out there for that long.”
“Well,” Paulie spoke up, “there is a
“What kind of a shortcut?” Joryn asked, hopeful
“Follow me,” the diminutive Kid said proudly.
Paulie led the heroes up the stairs within the break room,
into another room.
“This is a toilet,” Longshot said.
have been maintaining this mansion for N’obotto for years,” Paulie pointed out, smugly. “Put a lot of touches
from back home into the operating systems.”
“You’re from Pumpkin Land,” Longshot
beamed. “That’s right! We’re in business, boys!”
Kabed looked at the commode, and his countenance fell like
a stone. “Pumpkin Land … inter-dimensional waste-disposal system.”
Joryn met Kabed’s eyes with dread. “They also
use it to travel.”
“Yeah!” Longshot hooted excitedly.
“I am not
traveling by toilet!” Kabed barked.
“You keep sayin’ stuff you’re not gonna
do,” Longshot patted him on the shoulder. “Then you keep doin’ it.” He stepped over to the commode,
looked to Paulie. “So, this thing can take us straight to the big mansion on that map?”
“It sure can!” Paulie proudly assured him.
“Let me just set the dial.” He adjusted a knob on the wall beside the commode. “There. Ready for travel.”
“Well then,” Longshot stepped up onto the pot,
splashing his boots down into the bowl with excitement, “let’s get moving!”
Apprehensive, Joryn asked, “How are we even going
to fit through there?”
“Psh,” Longshot answered. “It’s
a wormhole, man. Activates when you pull the lever.”
“I almost wish he’d said magic,” Kabed
groaned. “Wormholes are dangerous anomalies.”
“In nature,” Lowgun said. “But Longshot
and I have both traveled this way before. These wormholes are controlled, manmade portals. We’re perfectly safe.”
“But we’ll be in a toilet.”
“Only for a second,” Longshot countered with
a grin. “It’s fun. Come on.” He nodded to Paulie. “Ready as I’ll ever be, buddy.”
“Good luck! And long live Princess Pumpkitina!”
The Pumpkin Patch Kid pulled down the lever, and Longshot was sucked away instantaneously.
“But … okay …” Kabed was momentarily
nonplussed. “We just flushed Longshot down the toilet. I mean … we seriously just … flushed our friend down the toilet.”
Lowgun stepped confidently into the bowl next, and Paulie
pulled the lever, sending him on his way.
Kabed turned to the prince. “Joryn … I want
to go home now. Can I just … leave? Maybe even wake up from this and find it was all some mad dream?”
Joryn pinched Kabed, just over a rib.
“Ow! Why’d you do that?”
“To see if I was dreaming.”
“You’re supposed to pinch yourself, you demented mooncalf!”
Joryn laughed. “Well, at least we know you’re not dreaming.” He motioned towards the commode. “After you.”
“By your leave, my prince,” Kabed muttered
bitterly. He stepped into the toilet bowl, trying to imagine himself on a beach far, far away. “All right. Let’s
do this.” He pointed to Joryn, as Paulie pulled the lever, “I hope you get doo-doo on your—!” and
he was gone.
Joryn followed Kabed into the water-filled toilet bowl.
He looked to the Pumpkin Patch Kid. “We are in your debt, Paulie.”
Paulie nodded. “Just get my princess home safely,
sir, and all will be repaid.”
Joryn nodded with a smile, and Paulie pulled the lever
one last time.