From terrible, too much, much more terrible
A cheer of the blood chilling variety was heard from the stands. The real Master of Evil was back and he looked like a twelve-year old girl. It would take some getting used to but it was not the oddest thing a Master of Evil looked like. There was Farnkon, Balor-Nar’s great, great, great, great, great, great grandmother who was want to appear as a fifty-foot tall, mauve budgie. This was briefly a subject of amusement, until it was demonstrated that the beak of a fifty-foot tall budgie could bisect a man with both rapidity and a certain savage grace. Gold trim became the fashion after that to complement Farnkon’s plumage. Going forward, no one questioned what appearance the Masters and Mistresses of Evil chose, which had worked out very well for all concerned.
To get back to the cheering, one of the reasons it was so blood-chilling was of course the fact that it was being done by a large group of people who could accurately be described on a sliding scale from “Diabolically Wicked” to “Purest Evil.” The subtleties of which are only of interest to those who would be described as such. For most of the Land, suffice it to say, you would be unhappy to meet any of them under any circumstances.
For Hubert, this was a turning point. Up till the reveal, he was deeply afraid of what would happen next, mostly because it was unknown, which is worse than any monster or curse. In the interest of full disclosure, monsters and curses are quite frightening, but you can prepare for both. Now that he knew what had been going on he was furious. He started to make sounds like an angry badger passing a steam kettle. No one other than Garfan heard, due to the cheers of the crowd, but they continued to issue forth nonetheless.
Garfan, who was not as emotionally invested as Hubert was, simply said, “Okay…”
It was at this point that the Master of Evil looked at them both and smiled. It was happy smile but one unlikely to warm the cockles of the heart. This was the smile of pure malevolence, the sort that would be the last seen by a mouse before the cat pounces.
With a theatrical wave of his/her hands, there was an audience after all, the Gurmer’s Choice began to roll towards the center of the hexagon. Both men had to jog to keep from getting crushed/perforated by the huge wheel, which generated quite a bit of laughter from the crowd. Both men were undaunted, Hubert because of a righteous fury, and Garfan, because he was the Chosen One.
Balor-Nar turned to the assembly of evil and said, “My predecessor made a certain promise, and as a gesture of good faith, I feel obligated to fulfill them,” he/she smiled at that and of course it got a laugh. The Master of Evil could distinguish between sycophantic laughter and the genuine kind, but at the end of the day, all that mattered was that they laughed.
“Typical,” said Hubert.
The Master of Evil ignored his son, a skill he excelled at and finished his announcement, “The Death of the Chosen One!”
Cheers, screams of delight, whoops of joy and many, many other appreciative sounds filled the huge chamber and the evilest man in the world, who now was in the body of a tween girl, drank it all in. It did take a few minutes for things to settle down as Balor-Nar took to the air and took several victory laps replete with displays of intricate magic that only made the vassals more enthused. A chant of “Balor-Nar, Balor-Nar” started and kept things going a while longer. Finally the Master of Evil quieted the crowd and landed right in front of Garfan.
“So hero, how would you care to die?” asked Balor-Nar.
“Really!” said Hubert through the spokes of the death wheel, “Are you just going to ignore me? It’s the story of my life!”
“Please Hubert, men are talking,” his father replied.
“Really one man, actually,” Hubert pointed out.
“He’s not wrong,” agreed Garfan.
“You had me prepare all this so you can live again in the body of this child?” Hubert asked in, what he felt was, a justifiably outraged tone.
“It’s clear that if I left the Citadel of Darkness in your hands it would soon be nothing but a pile of broken rubble,” said Balor-Nar with a sneer.
“You never had any confidence in me!”
“Are you upset that I didn’t possess your body instead of this child?” inquired his father.
“No,” said Hubert not altogether convincingly.
“Try not to take it personally. This girl’s Fell-Wizardry potential was astounding,” said the Master of Evil with a dismissive wave.
“And you didn’t feel it necessary to inform me of your plan?” asked Hubert whose feelings were not helped by this revelation.
“Really, not everything is about you.”
“Clearly it’s all about you,” said Hubert with a sniff.
“You are so like your mother,” sighed the Master of Evil.
“Unlike Mother, I am still here,” Hubert said defiantly.
Balor-Nar, again, sighed wearily. In his original body or even as a spirit, it would have been melancholy and maybe even a bit tragic. In his current physical incarnation, it came off a bit on the petulant side.
“Things between your mother and I were…” Balor-Nar trailed off.
“Unbearable?” asked his son.
“No! Its com-“
Hubert cut off his father, “Please, do not say complicated.”
“That is pretty weak,” chimed in Garfan.
The most powerful tween in the Land scowled at them both petulantly and said, “I should just kill you both right now.”
Garfan smiled, “You’re not going to do that.”
“And why should I not?” asked the Master of Evil.
“Well, for one, you promised all those terrible folk a show,” said Garfan who gestured to the stands. More of a slight of slight inclination of the hands than a proper gesture, but he made his point.
“Indeed,” admitted Balor-Nar.
“And I am your son, you won’t just kill me outright,” pointed out Hubert.
Balor-Nar fixed him with a gaze that suggested that it would simplify his life greatly to do so.
“I did swear to your mother that I would never harm you, it was a binding pact,” said his father.
“Really, what do you call the last few weeks?” asked Hubert irritably.
“An inconvenience, at worse,” Balor-Nar said.
“I have to-“ started Hubert.
“You are still alive, I would put that in the win column, were I you,” replied the Master of Evil.
“First of all, Hubert standing up to the old man, good for you!” interrupted Garfan.
“Thank you!” replied Hubert with a fair amount of pride causing Balor-Nar to roll his eyes.
“Secondly, are you both done?” asked Garfan.
“Yes,” said the father.
“No,” said the son.
“This is not the place or time for this sort of thing,” said Balor-Nar.
“It’s never the place or time!” said Hubert, who raised his voice. He had up till now never raised his voice to his father, it was both terrifying and exciting.
Balor-Nar looked at Garfan and said, “Never have children.”
“I’m soooo sorry, Father, am I causing a scene?!” yelled Hubert who was quite enjoying this whole telling off his father thing. Inspired, he began to shout out to the vassals, “Do not believe a word this man in the body of a young girl says! It is all a lie!”
This did cause a bit of appreciative murmuring, but as Hubert was too far and didn’t really know to project his voice, all they heard was “It is time for pie.” No matter how dark someone’s soul is, stained with evil acts or infernal dealings, most everyone liked pie.
With a wave of his/her hands, Balor-Nar conjured a band of iron over Hubert’s mouth, which muffled but did not completely silence his son. The tirade continued, but it was much quieter.
“Now, Chosen One, while I could easily dispose of you with the merest gesture, that would be unsatisfying,” mused Balor-Nar.
This was the part in which the villain would spell out his or her plan. There was something compulsive about it from the pettiest hedge witch to the Master of Evil they all did it. And it always ended the same way.
“-and this passage in the Prophesy, In the hex, friend will become foe and darkness will encompass one thought it not,” quoted Balor-Nar.
Garfan wanted to point out that he’d been quoted that same passage by Huftom, the bee-keeping assassin, who had bred bees with bears to make a monster that he knew would slay the Chosen One once he trapped him in the massive hive. After a very sticky fight, all that Hufton had was a ton of honey that no one would eat as it had too much bear fur in it. If you wish to know how much bear fur it takes to ruin honey, the answer is one hair and there were many, many hairs in it.
“So, what am I going to fight? A Dragon? A Devil? A Devil made up of smaller dragons?” asked Garfan.
“You are very confident,” said Balor-Nar. “You’ve slain many monsters and foes, have you not?”
“Is this the feast day of St. Mooonpar, patron of the rhetorical question?” asked Garfan as Hubert added, “Mupfttgnnnrt!” for good measure.
“In spite of your impudent attitude, I’ll strike this bargain with you, all you have to, is knock me out cold Then you and your friend can go free. You can even take my disappointment of a son with you,” he added.
“Humpthshdfhhdnnnt!” interjected Hubert but the long entrenched dynamic with his father precluded any acknowledgment of his feelings on the matter.
“Out cold,” mused Garfan. “Why not kill you?”
“You did swear bring this child back to her father, did you not?” pointed out Balor-Nar.
“I did,” admitted Garfan.
“So, shall we?” asked Balor-Nar.
“Let’s go,” answered Garfan.
Balor-Nar waved Caliric over, “Hand me my things, sweetie,” he said to the young squire.
“Sweetie?” thought Garfan, Caliric, and Hubert simultaneously.
“Here, you…” said Caliric as he handed the things over to Balor-Nar, who paused and shook his/her head slightly as he/she put the magic accessories back on.
“Now, never let it be said I didn’t give you a fighting chance,” said Balor-Nar as he gestured and Garfan’s chains fell off him and then processed to wrap around Hubert who had this to say, “Tpppgetdbnmmpht!”
Another gesture sent the Gurmer’s Choice rolling across the hexagon and parked it, obscuring the view of those in the front row. The Goblins who knew they would have to put it away prepared for the long complicated and very dangerous process of putting it in storage and every one of them hoped that the Master would not change his/her mind as soon it they got it to the basement. It had happened before.
With a whoosh and clang, a sword flew and landed at Garfan’s feet. Balor-Nar stepped back and opened his/her arms.
“Proceed,” Balor-Nar said.
Garfan pick up the sword, it seemed to be a good sword, it was not Alacritas, but it was good to be armed again. The braziers in between the statues flared up and sent sinister shadows that suggested inhuman figures that shifted from one horror to another flickering across the room. Everything was bathed in a red gold light that gave the proceeding a hellish motif, which was no accident. Evil vassals love theatricality as much as they love to kill, maim and plunder, so you can’t lose when combining the two.
“Behold! The Chosen One will attempt to strike me down! But this will be his Final Battle!” projected Balor-Nar who knew how to play to the back of the house.
Garfan found this performance over the top but had to admit, the Master of Evil knew his audience. The crowd was going insane with excitement. For some of them, Mhut the Mad to name one, it was a not a lengthy journey as he tore his hair out in clumps, something he would later state “Was totally worth it.” Even though after that he sported a Lizard-Man skull as a hat and would not take it off, even when in bed, much to the consternation of this wife, Amruk the Exasperated, nee Amruk the Ardent.
“Come, Chosen One, you need only strike me insensate to be victorious!” called Balor-Nar, “I will not use any magics Fell or Virtuous against you!”
It was patently obvious that this was a trick. Everyone in the stands from the cleverest mage to the dullest warrior was waiting for the pay off. Even the Goblins knew. And of course, Garfan knew.
So, he whirled the sword through the air in an impressive way that served no purpose other than to look impressive. If they wanted a show, he’d give them one. He moved towards the Master of Evil at a run and raised the sword to strike with the flat of the blade and was parried, enthusiastically by a double-headed battle-axe.
Tarnah, bathed in lightning, then reversed the weapon and struck him with the long oak handle sending him ass over teakettle across the floor. This was greeted with much hooting and hollering from the audience, as this was clearly now a show.
“How ironic that the two lovers should do each other in,” shouted Balor-Nar to the crowd.
“We’re not lovers!” Garfan and Tarnah said simultaneously.
“That is too bad, you’d make a handsome couple, in what moments you have left,” said the Master of Evil.
Garfan rolled to the left, just in time to avoid being chopped by Tarnah, and leapt to his feet and said, “It’s not like I never thought about it.”
“I too have looked at you with longing,” Tarnah admitted as she parried a blow from Garfan who slipped to the side.
“Oooooo!” exclaimed the crowd.
“Shut it!” yelled Garfan.
This only made the audience laugh, but it was to be expected. Garfan and Tarnah locked weapons and leaned in close.
“Kiss him!” cried a Pain Sorcerer while he tightened his iron breach-cloth.
“Kill her!” screamed a Necro-Knight who liked that sort of thing.
“Express your true feeling!” shouted a hulking Half-Giant who was a secret romantic. This drew more than a few odd stares until he added, “So we can make mock you accordingly! Whooooo!!!”
“So, when we’re done with this,” Garfan said as he dodged her battle-axe, “do you want to do something?”
“A Quest! We can brave danger and death for a noble cause!” she replied with a wide smile as her collar shocked her.
“Yeah, we could do that, but I was thinking more like dinner, alone?” Garfan replied as she began to choke him with the haft of her weapon.
“I would like that,” she said as he flipped her over his shoulder and slammed her into the floor.
“Sorry,” he said, wincing.
“Tis no matter,” Tarnah replied as her eyes briefly went out of focus.
“You two are well suited for each other,” observed Balor-Nar who discreetly wiped a tear from his/her eyes.
“Didn’t you swear not to use any magic against me?” Garfan asked the Master of Evil.
“I am using it against her,” smugly replied Balor-Nar. “So I have not broken my vow.”
Garfan went pfft, and nearly lost his head.
“Forgive me!” yelled Tarnah who had gotten back on her feet with remarkable quickness.
“You recover quickly,” Garfan observed.
“You noticed,” she blushed as she replied.
“Yeah, no…” he verbally stumbled, “That’s great.”
“Do I intimidate you?” she asked, her tone cooling a bit as the blows heated up.
“You did just almost cut my head off,” Garfan pointed out.
“I am being sorcerously compelled,” Tarnah shouted. “Or had that eluded you, oh Chosen one?”
“Trouble so soon?” enquired Balor-Nar.
“No one is talking to you,” said Garfan as dodged a wide sweep of Tarnah’s axe.
“This is a private conversation,” Tarnah bellowed. “Your council is neither needed nor wanted!”
“I’m sorry, it’s just that you’re giving me a run for my gold,” said Garfan.
Her eyes sparkled, “You see me a worthy foe?”
“Yes,” he said it not just because it was what she wanted to hear but also because it was true.
“I have longed to hear that from you!” Tarnah sweetly said as she pressed her advantage and forced him to back away quite quickly.
The battle got more intense after that, each doing their best to defeat each other. Lunges were parried, attacks counterattacked, as they moved about the room. The calls from the crowd grew fewer and fewer until the only sound was clang of weapon on weapon. It was like a dance, if dances ultimately lead to someone’s death. Which they do, in the far off city of S’Tonvak, whose fighting techniques incorporate intricate choreography. Their warriors are well known for their graceful prowess but are rarely, if ever, invited to fancy dress balls.
After a lengthy duel, Tarnah was knocked to the floor, and Garfan raised his sword above his head. They locked eyes and the room held its breath. As he swung down, she blocked his blow, shattering his blade. He stood dumbfounded, in a flash she hooked her leg around him suddenly he was flat on his back.
Tarnah leapt on him and leaned in with the edge of her battle-axe on his neck. Her auburn hair, which had been pulled back, fell like sheave of russet silk in front of both of their faces. A muffled sob, soft and low, echoed through the room, breaking the heart of the secretly romantic Half-Giant. The Axe trembled, then rose and was about to fall, one last time when Balor-Nar called, “Halt!”
All froze. This was what they were promised, and those behind the Gurmer’s Choice strained to see what was going on.
“Bring him to the center,” commanded the Master of Evil.
Dragging the Chosen One’s unconscious form, she dropped him at Balor-Nar’s feet. Everyone was riveted. This was the best thing they had seen. Anywhere. Ever.
“Now, take his head, the one man you love,” he/she said.
Tarnah, tears flowing freely, said, “Please forgive me, there is no choice.”
Reversing the grip on her battle-axe, she swung an intricate pattern to build up speed and the struck.
The shouts and cries were deafening. That was because she had cold cocked the Master of Evil with the oaken handle of her battle-axe which is more than enough to knock a twelve year old girl out flat.
“Nice job,” said Garfan who twirled the collar around his finger.
Tarnah grabbed him and kissed him deeply and thoroughly. From the side Caliric thought, “That is what making out looks like.”
As they broke their kiss, she looked out at the crowd and proclaimed, “I will not bow to darkness!”
Which why it could be said without question, that she did not know her audience.