Note: read “Your Biggest Mistake” first.
As Victor and Scarface enter the entrance hall from the sitting room, they see former employees escorting a feral herd into the hall, around the other former employees who are carrying their loot out the open doors.
“Am dis da whowe housie?!?”
“Dis am su big!”
They see the chubby chef laughing as he redirects the herd around two burly groundskeepers, carefully carrying either end of a crystal statue out.
“Haha! Nope! This is just the entrance hall! Hey, anyone got a copy of that map? Maybe we should make a few copies!”
A handyman replies, as he puffs on a Cuban cigar, sips on brandy, and shares a bag of expensive artisanal chocolate chip cookies with a couple of the feral fluffies. They’re sitting off to the side, watching people take turns sliding down the banisters of the grand, sweeping stairs.
“Barry’s using the copier right now!”
“He’s photocopying his ass, yes!”
“Ha! Too bad we don’t work here anymore, that’s one for the Christmas newsletter!”
“Hey, I’m gonna try to keep in touch! I hate the Club, but I made a lot of friends here!”
“Me too, man! We could start our own club, and Eli and his pals aren’t invited! And I’m gonna open a restaurant for people with fluffies, and everyone who was here for this eats there for free!”
Everyone in earshot cheers, especially Victor, who will hold the chubby chef to that.
And as Victor and Scarface see the men currently calling themselves Reaper and Magus walk in, they smile.
“Guys, you’re here! Glad you could make it! Welcome to the party, take a seat!”
“Victow meen dat wit-uh-wawwy.”
“Do I know how to start a party, or do I fucking know how to start a fucking party?”
“Dis am way mowe fun den sippin bwan-dee an smokin sig-aws awound da fiyah.”
Magus waves his hands and mutters a word, protecting the four of them from being overheard.
“It’s good to see you too, but I’m more than a little perplexed about the circumstances.”
Reaper turns off his photonic scythe, and it retracts. Like an umbrella, using it indoors can be really bad luck.
“So how much of this madness is your doing, Fenrir? Really, you haven’t even been here an entire day and everything goes to Hell? You’ve set a new record, my friend!”
“I do believe that I’ve won our little wager, Reaper. And you said that Fenrir could go a full twenty-four hours without getting himself into trouble.”
“I know, Magus, I’ll pay you later, now shut up. Seriously, Fenrir, what happened?”
“Fenwiw? Dat am Victow. Yu am hu Scawface fink yu am, wite? If yu am, yu shud knu Victow namesie.”
“You know I’ve used a lot of names, Soul Brother, and these two have used a few too. Honestly, guys, I just told the staff to grab some free expensive shit and get out instead of impaling themselves on my sword. Didn’t know they’d take it this far.”
“You didn’t even bring a–”
“I just grabbed one off the wall, Reaper. And I didn’t tell these dudes to bring all of these fluffies in, that’s their idea, but I like the initiative they’re showing, and now I wish I had told them to do that. So did you guys bring the goods?”
Magus pats his shoulder bag.
“I’ve got them, Fenrir. Do you need a place to change, or are you going to strip naked in public again?”
“I know where a bathroom is.”
In the bathroom where Victor and Scarface discussed immortality the night before, Victor gets changed, the others waiting outside, conversing through the ajar door.
“I tell ya, it is so good to see you guys here, it has been crazy. The Trinity of Terra, back together for one last ride! Don’t tell me you guys aren’t enjoying this.”
Magus chuckles. He is enjoying this, more than he should.
“So how much progress have you made since our last communications?”
“Well, Perenna is… I couldn’t save her, the Countess is dead, the Baron is dead, and Eli and… Dorus, right? Right. I’m used to calling him Mr. Gris. Anyway, they ran off after Eli put a dart in Scarface.”
“An Scawface am pist abowt dat.”
“And we took a quick look in Eli and Gris’ rooms, so I think I might know how to access their secret rooms and eat all of their Lucky Charms. They really shoulda invested in better locks, you’d think they’d have the money for it.”
“Dey knoo dat yu haf wock-piksies.”
“Right? What, did they think that was another roll of condoms? It’s covered in black velvet, have you ever seen black velvet on a condom wrapper? That’s the kind of condom you’d use, Reaper. Probably costs like a thousand bucks apiece, but of course, that’s just pocket change to you.”
As Reaper facepalms, thankful that the others can’t see him blushing, Scarface sighs.
“Awn da stweetsies, yu am wucky if yu onwy see da wappuw.”
Victor’s laugh echoes from the bathroom.
“Yeah, aren’t you glad you gotta house now? Okay, I’m done.”
He opens the door.
The tuxedo, top hat and dress shoes he was wearing, he hands to Magus, who delicately holds the tuxedo with two fingers as he reluctantly puts the discarded clothing in his bag.
After all, he knows that his friend went commando in that tux.
The tuxedo has been replaced with a black battle suit, with gloves and boots, and all of the wearer’s belongings have been moved into the pouches on the suit, his gun and knife holstered on his hips.
He took the boxers off, and clogged the toilet by flushing them. Just to preemptively add insult to injury.
He’s wearing a black hooded cloak, much like the one Magus wears.
And a silver skull mask, like the one Reaper wears. It’s disguising his voice, too.
He looks like Death incarnate, and Reaper fights down the impulse to give his photonic scythe to his friend to complete the look.
That’s another reason Reaper retired this identity. A certain tall, thin someone lodged a complaint about the unpermitted use of his image.
And that gentleman knows how to make a point.
He doesn’t mind if the elements are used separately, it’s when all of them are put together that he objects.
Yes, Reaper has a cloak like that too. But he’s pushing his luck as it is, so that one is staying in the bag.
That tall, thin gentleman has already threatened to smack Reaper if he pushes his luck too far, and Reaper doesn’t want to find out if that’s a bluff.
Scarface smiles up at his owner.
“Wookin gud, Victow!”
But the hooded, masked man raises a finger, actually waggling it.
“Ah-ah. Victor isn’t here at the moment. Fenrir Houndstooth is in the house now.”
“Su wut abowt Scawface? Scawface nu haf a code-namesie. Ow a dis-gais.”
Magus chuckles again, reaching into his bag.
“Oh, we thought of that.”
Reaper chuckles too.
“I was able to throw something together quickly before we moved out. I hope you like it.”
Magus pulls a fluffy-sized silver skull mask and black hooded cloak out, handing them to Fenrir.
“Get these on him quickly, Fenrir. And don’t waste too much time thinking of a codename!”
Fenrir ushers Scarface into the bathroom.
Five frantic minutes of bickering later, Fenrir steps out of the bathroom with his disguised fluffy, handing the bowtie to Magus.
“Okay, boys, say hi to Montana. Montana, the boys.”
The temporarily rechristened Montana speaks up, his voice disguised like his owner’s.
“Dis am Scaw-- Montana fiwst time duin da whowe code-namesie fing, su gu ee-zee awn Montana if Montana fuk dis up. Montana, Montana, Montana, Scawface-- FUK!!!”
Fenrir gestures proudly at Montana, as the disguised fluffy keeps trying to memorize his new alias.
“See, guys, this is what the Trinity was missing all those years: a wisecracking animal sidekick!”
“An Montana am nu Cuzin fukkin Owi-vew. Ay, Montana gut it dis time. Hoo, dis am gittin ee-zee-yew, Montana hope Montana nu fowgit Montana weaw namesie.”
“I’ll remind if you forget, Soul Brother. Ha! See? See, guys? Do you see? This is gonna be great! Alright, now it’s time! For the Trinity of Terra (and Montana) to hunt the other half of the Eternal Gentlemen’s Club down, and make the first part of the name a dirty lie! Come to think of it, it’s already a dirty lie! So come on, let’s finish the job! Who’s ready to go fuck some shit up like old times?”
Reaper and Magus stare blankly at Fenrir, before turning to each other, and it’s like each of them knows what the other is thinking.
They have a clue about what their friend has gone through here, and can’t blame him for cutting loose and having a little fun with this.
They haven’t seen him this exuberant for a while, and feel like he deserves this.
They nod, and turn back to their friend.
“We’re with you until the end of the line.”
“Reaper and I are in agreement with you. What Eli and his compatriots have done is unforgivable.”
Magus holds up his hands and wiggles his fingers, mysterious energies crackling between them.
“They think they know every move we can make. I say we prove them wrong.”
Reaper holds up one of his silver hands, which turns into an arm cannon. He’s holding the deactivated photonic scythe in his other hand.
“These imbeciles just aren’t on our level. They aren’t even on Hans’ level.”
Fenrir laughs again.
“I’m pretty sure that hack is working for the Order now. Taking orders from the Darkest One. And the three of us are the only ones who know how funny that really is.”
Reaper dramatically points his arm cannon down the hall.
“We’ll deal with that lot later. Let’s take care of the rabble here first.”
Magus nods, raising his hands in casting position.
“Lead the way, old friend, and we shall follow!”
Fenrir draws his gun and knife.
“Now that’s what I wanted to hear! You ready, Montana?”
“Montana am weddy!”
“Then let’s get this party really started!”
“An kiww dem bitches owd stywe!”
“Oh, and one more thing…”
Fenrir extracts a dart from one pouch, and hands that to Magus too.
“Take a quick look at this, will ya? Luckily, you’re wearing gloves too.”
The Trinity of Terra (and Montana) moves on, to find their quarry.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in the manor, a broom closet door creaks ajar, and Eli and Dorus quickly peek out of the closet, watching their employees abscond with their stuff, and fluffies run rampant through their home, before withdrawing just as quickly.
Eli’s white hair is a mess, and Dorus’ grey suit is still covered in coffee stains.
“No sign of them, Eli. Ugh, I hate these little rooms. I don’t even know what any of these things are for. What is this… blee-ah-shay stuff? Are the help hiding wine in here? And they didn’t share with us? Let’s get a whiff-- eurgh, it smells ghastly, I think it’s gone off!”
“Well, we’ve usually got people to clean up for us. And don’t drink that bleach, it’s supposed to smell like that, just close it and put it back. But look at this. They’re cleaning too much up!”
After some fumbling, and spilling some of the bleach on his clothes, Dorus manages to close the bottle, putting it back where he found it.
“I know, they’re picking the place-- what did that blee-ah-shay do to my clothes?!? Oh well, they were already ruined…”
They clamber out of the closet, seeing a couple of colts run past, their splorin babbeh urges too powerful to ignore in a place like this, and a maid following the colts, to make sure they don’t run into trouble.
“Babbeh am spwowin babbeh! Chirp!”
“Babbeh cud neba stawp spwowin in a pwace wike dis! Peep!”
“Yes, but do be careful, young masters! It’s still a bit busy around here…”
Eli sighs, him and Dorus unnoticed by the passersby as they creep past, their backs pressed to the wall.
“And who let all of those in? I swear, you let one in, it invites all of its little friends in, they start going at it like rabbits, and before you know it, the whole place is crawling with the vermin! I tried so hard to get rid of those little bastards, you know. I didn’t want a repeat of The Incident.”
“More like you had people trying hard for you.”
Eli turns to Dorus and snaps at him.
“What was that, old boy?!? I didn’t see you offering to help when the staff were marching into the woods with traps and poison, Dorus! As I recall, you were watching them from the comfort of a deckchair!”
“And you were in the deckchair next to mine, Eli!”
Eli opens his mouth, closes it, closes his eyes too, and takes a deep breath.
He exhales, and opens his eyes, much calmer and solemn.
“We shouldn’t be fighting like this, Dorus.”
Dorus calms himself too.
“You’re right. It’s just stress, is all. I’ve always wondered what stress feels like. Honestly, I’m not a fan. So what’s the plan, Eli?”
“Well, we just need to get to our respective chambers before he catches on. You grab your things, I grab my things, and we get out of here without being caught! That’s the plan!”
The duo starts running, or rather, walking as briskly as possible.
They aren’t used to running. In their opinion, running is for people who can’t afford to take their time.
But right now, they can’t afford to take their time, so their opinion on running is changing so fast it’s close to breaking the sound barrier.
And they’re quickly being reminded of the toll of their luxurious lifestyle, as they’re outpaced by the employees they depended on so much, and, to their shame, even some of the fluffies.
The original position fallacy giveth, and the original position fallacy taketh away.
They take a quick break, both of them slumped against the wall as they catch their breath.
“But Eli, look at the place! The Countess is dead, so’s the Baron, and the help is robbing us blind! They aren’t even paying attention to us as they do it!”
Unbeknownst to the two, a lot of their former employees are deliberately ignoring them.
They’re biding their time, and they’re kind of busy right now.
The fluffies don’t even know what these two are doing here, and don’t realise that it’s these two they have to thank for the free room and board.
“But we’re still alive, Dorus! And we know what we have to do to stay that way!”
Dorus gets to his feet, and offers a hand to help Eli up.
“So should we split up?”
“No! Getting your things is a two-man job! We get mine first, and get yours on the way out! How much will be enough, you think?”
“How much of what?”
“How much of my you don’t need to know the specifics, you already have a clue!”
“Oh. Oh! Depends on two things, Eli!”
“And those are?”
“One: how long it takes us to set up shop somewhere else!”
“And the second one, old boy?”
The duo start briskly walking again, wondering if they should take the risk of jogging.
“Two: whether or not we get out of this mess!”
The Trinity of Terra (and Montana) reaches an intersection of hallways.
Fenrir consults the map.
“Eli’s room is down the left hallway, Dorus’ is down the right hallway. Who do we go after first?”
Reaper steps up.
“We can go after both, old friend.”
“We’re not splitting up, Reaper! I just managed to get the band back together!”
“Montana fink we shud gu af-tew Ee-wai fiwst. He am da baws hewe.”
“See, that makes sense! Getting outpaced by a fluffy here, guys! Gotta step up your game, Mr. Smartest Man Alive! Look, Eli’s probably gonna try to save his goodies first, right? This whole racket was to benefit him! For him, saving his buddy’s goodies is just an afterthought! So let’s go left first! We ain’t got time to argue if we want to win this race, guys!”
“Eli’s chambers first, then.”
The quartet runs down the hallway to the left.
Eli and Dorus pant as they climb a narrow staircase, knowing they’ve still got a couple of floors to go, wishing they’d taken a service elevator.
Like running, they used to think that elevators are for people who can’t afford to take their time on the stairs.
Now, they regret a lot of their decisions in architectural design.
“So, uh, Eli. Where are we going if we make it out of this?”
“At first, anywhere that isn’t Massachusetts! I’ve never really liked the climate here anyway! I’m thinking somewhere warm and sunny! With white beaches, blue seas, and drinks in coconuts! And with no shitrats crawling around!”
“I don’t think there’s a lot of places without shitrats anymore, Eli. Antarctica, maybe.”
“What, Massachusetts wasn’t cold enough for you? At the very least, somewhere nobody complains if you have those shitrats lethally removed from your property!”
“See, that I like the sound of!”
The duo reaches their floor, quickly walking through the door to the hallway beyond.
They pass through hallway after hallway, reaching a door labelled “𝓔𝓵𝓲 𝓚𝔃𝓱𝓪𝓻”.
It’s ajar, the door picked open.
“Now, maybe they couldn’t find it, Eli…”
They push past the door, into a small sitting room with three more doors.
The door to Eli’s bedroom, the door to his study, and the door to his private bathroom, all picked open.
And they see the smarty of the herd that has been graciously invited into the manor against the owner’s will, squatting over a pile of Eli’s favorite clothes unceremoniously dumped onto the sitting room floor, and glaring up at the newcomers as he squeezes out a chocolate log.
“Du yu mine?!? Smawty am twyin tu make poopies hewe! At weast nok fiwst, dummehs!”
Eli and Dorus barely register him, as they have more pressing concerns than a smarty dropping a deuce on Eli’s Sunday best right now.
Eli, feeling a horrible hunch, walks into the study, Dorus following him.
“Hey! Hey, smawty am tawkin tu yu! Ah, neba mine. Yu bettah wun!”
So far, the smarty feels like this has been a very successful day.
As the duo enters the study, Eli’s spirit sinks further.
It looks like the place has been quickly searched, books and papers flung haphazardly across the room, the desk turned over, dripping ink.
Eli always insisted on handwriting letters with an old-fashioned quill and ink well. As you’ve seen, they’re a bit out of touch here at the Eternal Gentlemen’s Club.
And the secret door in the bookcase is wide open.
Eli’s jaw drops.
“How did he even know?”
Dorus picks up one ink-stained book, the title still legible.
He gets some ink on his hands and cuffs, but he’s already gotten coffee thrown in his face, spilled bleach on his suit, slipped in fluffy feces at least three times on the way here, and accidentally sprayed himself with Febreeze in the broom closet, so in for a penny, in for a pound.
He raises an eyebrow when he reads the title.
“The Lusty Hydroxian Maid? Why do you have a copy of this, Eli? Where did you even get it? And since when is there an English translation? Most people don’t even know there are Hydroxians on Earth, they think they’re just mermaids, or the Creature from the Black Lagoon! Wait a minute, I know this handwriting! This is your handwriting, you translated this! You never told me you’re fluent in Hydroxian! When did you learn it?”
Eli doesn’t answer those questions, as he has other matters on his mind.
He runs into the secret room, a room that looks like the bastard offspring of a mad scientist’s laboratory and a wizard’s study.
On one wall, a copy of Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man hangs. On another wall, there hangs a drawing of a grotesque, diminutive humanlike creature, with monstrously large hands and lips. On a desk, next to a preserved fluffy fetus in a jar of clear fluid, there’s a stack of papers, and on the sheet at the top, there’s an unusual symbol: a circle, in a square, in a triangle, in a bigger circle. And next to the stack, there’s a box of darts, a bottle, and a couple of blowguns.
One closet is open, immediately drawing Eli’s attention, and the padlock appears to have been melted off with something very hot and precise. The shelves of this closet are usually occupied by many identical bottles, opaque white long-necked ones.
But all of the bottles lie empty on the floor with the corks, their contents, a mysterious red glowing fluid, poured out in a massive puddle, that is fading to dark reddish-brown as it loses its potency.
Eli checks a secret drawer in the bottom of the closet, finding it to be empty, save for a folded-up piece of paper and a still-fresh fluffy turd.
He unfolds the paper, seeing just two words:
And a crude drawing of Eli with a farting butt where his face should be.
Eli falls to his knees in the puddle, dropping the paper, feeling like he’s lost.
“Good game, old boy, good game–”
Then he realizes something, and his eyes widen.
Something is missing.
Well, a few things are missing, but he’s just noticed one more.
He knows exactly how many bottles are supposed to be in that closet.
And he’s a fast counter.
He mumbles rapidly under his breath, his eyes raking the bottles.
As Dorus walks in, he looks around at the room, he sees the puddle, he sees the bottles on the floor, he sees Eli from behind, on his knees, mumbling to himself, and Dorus connects the dots.
“Damn it, the Countess was right. Guess I owe her-- oh, right. Look at that, a silver lining.”
He draws the conclusion that Eli has finally cracked, and is considering slowly backing away.
“E… Eli? Are you alright, man?”
Eli slowly gets up, but doesn’t turn around.
Dorus cautiously tiptoes over to him, splashing through the puddle, and places a hand on his shoulder.
Eli slowly turns to Dorus.
Revealing a wide, victorious grin on his face.
“There’s one missing. There’s a bottle missing! And I think I know where it is, old boy!”
He storms out of the room, checking his pocket watch, swelling with exuberance.
“Or rather, who has it! They are challenging us, I know it! We still have time, Dorus! Quickly, to your chambers!”
Dorus sighs with resignation, his handsome, disheveled head hung low as he follows Eli out.
“It’s not like I’ve got any real choice here, is it?”