Me and Marley run through the streets of Dragonheart, the city now in a state of open rebellion.
The Order of the Dragon crawled out of the woodwork, and are fighting the guards, buying time for any bystanders still in the city to escape, and trying to non-lethally subdue the guards who had to be brainwashed into serving Dehak, while showing no mercy to the ones serving him willingly.
Lorik always insisted that guards wear helmets that expose the face, so the guards wouldn’t be just a faceless horde of goons to the people. He always says that there’s a big difference between a guard and a soldier.
Something John agrees with, regarding cops. John will correct any cop who he catches calling non-cops civilians, because he doesn’t like the implications.
And you probably know Gene’s opinion on the matter, regarding the Intergalactic Patrol.
Of course, a faceless horde of goons is right up Dehak’s alley, so the guards are now wearing black armor, with helmets that cover everything.
So it’s hard to tell which guards are which.
There’s a lot of people yanking helmets off.
The two of us leap over the fighters, towards a particularly tall building, running up the wall, onto the roof.
We’ve been training in parkour. Victor insisted on it. We gotta be able to fight like normos, and move like normos.
Once on the roof, we jump from rooftop to rooftop, taking quick looks up at the battle above us, Edward trying to recover the Lamp from Erebus, our other allies blasting the small skulls out of the sky.
We haven’t seen those big red skull beams since we entered the city. And I can probably guess why.
It’s obvious, Niv. Dehak won’t take that risk with the Lamp out of his hands.
As Konba’s spaceship flies overhead, we leap…
…fire webs at it, and swing to the next rooftop.
Which was COMPLETELY UNNECESSARY, because you can both FLY.
Does that mean we aren’t allowed to web-sling, Niv?
Nah, it’s fun.
And flying may not be the best idea, with those skulls flying around.
Yeah, leave them for the others to deal with. Pierre and Deston can call for backup if there’s too many.
We’ve got our own mission.
We were expecting Dehak to throw an army of somethings at us, and we were expecting the possibility of Calvin Impact going down, so things are, more or less, going according to plan.
It’s just a few of the finer details that we weren’t expecting.
And the devil, as they say, is in the details.
As we drop into an alleyway, we find Sir Peter, Alex, Panthera in his beggar disguise, Nocturne, and Dharin waiting for us.
I know it’s them, I can feel their life forces. An impostor’s gotta try hard to fool me these days.
Peter smiles, offering me a handshake.
“Cal, good to see you in the flesh again.”
After putting a universal translator on Marley’s ear, I accept the handshake, and Marley runs over to hug Alex, the fluffy, or woolly equivalent to a handshake.
“Likewise. Alright, Dehak doesn’t have the Lamp right now, so we need to get into the Tower before Erebus can fix that.”
As I shake hands with Panthera and Dharin next, Marley looks up at me.
“Daddeh, wut if Ewebus yoos da Wamp himsewf?”
That depends on whether he KNOWS how to use it. I was paying attention when Dehak wished for you to ask about the fourth wish, Cal. I’m pretty sure that you have to rub it in a specific way to make a wish.
And you remember how he rubbed it, right?
If someone asked, you could show them, couldn’t you?
Using the Lamp against Dehak may not be ideal, but it might be our only hope of winning.
Honestly, I’ll be happy if we just put a stop to his wishing spree.
Like I said, I don’t want to become a wishoholic too.
Then we’d be right back at Square One, but with a different ass occupying the throne.
So would YOUR tower look like a gigantic bong?
Look like a bong?
It would be a bong.
If ANYONE can take a hit off a bong THAT big, it would be YOU.
I kneel down, petting Alex, and scratching Nox behind the ear, just the way he likes it.
“Mar, Erebus might not know how to use that Lamp, and if he did, he would have used it by now.”
Nocturne purrs in agreement.
“I think he’s under orders to return it to Dehak. Oh, you’re a natural at this, Cal.”
“I’ve been expecting one of Dehak’s cohorts to make a play for the Lamp any day now. It surprises me that they’re working together so well, considering their… well, their lack of moral fiber.”
Alex looks up at the wizard in disguise.
“Dewe may be a wee-sun fow dat.”
“See, Mawwey haf bin finkin da same fing.”
I nod, since I’ve been thinking it too.
“For all we know, Dehak wished for the others to remain loyal to him. And if he did, do they know that? I mean, those guards are blatantly brainwashed, so they probably know.”
“We’re trying not to kill anyone who didn’t choose to serve Dehak, Cal. But with that wish in effect, there’s effectively no difference between the guards being forced to serve Dehak, and the guards serving him willingly. They’re both trying their damnedest to kill us.”
“Right, but the question is, have Dehak’s buddies in the inner circle been brainwashed the same way, and if so, do they know that? Or are they legitimately working together with him?”
“We haven’t been able to infiltrate the Tower of Tyranny to find out. Anyone the guards bring into the Tower won’t come out again. But Dehak’s friends have been coming out for various reasons. The man in black armor destroyed a village the other day, he’s been wreaking havoc since he first arrived here. The red and black gestalt fluffy has been hunting feral woollies, so has the walking skeleton, and their vampiric friend has been sighted feeding a couple of times. I didn’t recognize him, but I am relatively sure that he is a wizard. It takes one to know one, as they say. I’m sorry, but we don’t have much more intel to work with. Our attempts to break the rightful rulers out failed, again, for various reasons.”
Dharin looks up at the Tower of Tyranny, towering high above every other building in this pseudo-medieval city.
“I hope they’re doing alright. If they’re dead, I’ll kill Dehak myself.”
Gotta admire the balls on that guy.
I turn to look up at the Tower too.
“We’re pretty sure they’re not being kept up in the big skull. From what our drones could show us, they’re being held about halfway down the tower.”
Did you really think Eddy would have plowed through the skull if Nadia was up there, dear readers?
“So they’re still… relatively safe, at least until Dehak gets the Lamp back. Breaking them out just isn’t an option if he has it.”
“Cuz it nu mattuh whewe we bwing dem, Dehak can jus wish dem back hewe.”
“Exactly, Mar. But we need to get them out of there anyway, in case Dehak’s en route to kill them. Panthera, you’re up.”
Panthera prepares to cast.
“The Tower’s teleport-proof, but I can get us to the front doors. Whys!”
The seven of us vanish.
The Helios blasts a skull, the resulting explosion taking several more out.
“GODDAMN, HOW MANY OF THESE THINGS ARE THERE?!?”
“As manee as Dehak can wish fow, wite?”
The Star Chariot zooms past, chasing Erebus.
“I don’t think Dehak’s got the Lamp right now, Soul Brother! Dragon Guy’s got it!”
“You could see that? All I saw was a white blur chasing a black blur!”
“Why do you think I’m such a good sniper, Dave?”
“Victow haf gut daddeh dewe. Su wen am Swayew gunna git tu du Swayew fing? Swayew speciaw wumps am gunna tuwn bwue if Swayew gutta wait much wong-uw.”
“When Dehak starts throwing monsters at us, I think that’ll be the signal to do your thing.”
“Swayew stiww wan a tuwn wif Dehak.”
Meanwhile, up in the Tower of Tyranny, God-King Dehak, carefully drawing the Circle of the Devourer on the floor, turns to the Hungry Rider.
“I think Erebus is going to need some help.”
The Rider nods, raising a black bony hand.
When he snaps his fingers, his motorbike appears in a puff of black smoke, and he gets on, revving it up.
As the engine roars to life, black fire spewing out the tailpipe, the wheels are wreathed in black flames too.
And two large shadowy wings appear on the motorbike.
“If only I could do this LAST time.”
He drives out through one of the gaping holes, taking flight, leaving a burning black trail behind him.
The Many turns to God-King Dehak and Archmage Umbra.
“Bai da way, speek-in of wast time: Mawwey can ess-pwode an wee-fowm. Su, uh, yu gutta wotch owt fow dat. Nu wet him git tuu cwose, dat am ouw ad-vais.”
Archmage Umbra nods.
“Thank you, Many. You know that he can turn human too, yes?”
The Many winces, remembering Marley trying to pry the gemstone out of their forehead.
“Oh, we knu.”
Edward keeps chasing Erebus, hellbent on getting the Lamp back, while Mr. Dragon-Soul, wielding a bow, takes aim.
He made that for the occasion too.
He has very deep pockets.
The arrow strikes Erebus in the side, and he roars in pain, yanking the arrow out with one hand, holding the Lamp’s chain in the other.
“THAT HURT, YOU KNOW-- WAIT, IS THIS DRAGON BONE?!? YOU SHOT AN ARROW MADE OF DRAGON BONE AT A DRAGON?!? OH, AND PEOPLE COMPLAIN WHEN I SKIN HUMANS ALIVE TO MAKE A COAT!!!”
The next arrow breaks the chain, sending the Lamp falling.
But the Rider swoops in, catching the Lamp with a bony hand.
“Got it! Erebus, keep them busy!”
As the Rider drives back towards the Tower, Erebus grins, turning around to face Edward.
“Nice try, whelp. But you can’t beat me–”
Edward drives right past Erebus, going after the Rider, wiping that grin off Erebus’ black face.
The Dark Dragon in human form turns around again, pursuing his pursuer, his expression more annoyed than angry.
“Excuse you?!? Hey, I was talking to you, whelp!”
The third arrow strikes his leg, and Mr. Dragon-Soul, now back-to-back with Edward, fires a taunt as he reloads.
“You’re looking like a snack, buddy! By the way, my bow and sword are made of dragonbone too! So’s this fetching number I’m wearing! That’s how many dragons I’ve killed!”
“WHAT IN THE NAME OF THE DEVOURER IS WRONG WITH YOU?!?”
As me and Marley run up the Tower of Tyranny, we see the Rider getting closer, the Lamp in one hand, his motorbike somehow able to fly now.
SINCE WHEN CAN THAT THING FLY?!? OH MY GOD, IT JUST BECAME EVEN COOLER!!!
And an even bigger problem.
Fuck. We were on our way to bust the hostages out, Peter’s group is making their way up on the inside.
Most of the guards are in the streets now.
But I guess we’ll have to take a detour–
No, Mama! He was MY dog! I’LL do it.
Alright. Half power, let’s see if that’s enough.
Me and Nivlac split, and as I keep running up with Marley, Nivlac kicks off the wall, taking flight.
Meanwhile, at the base of the Tower, the hooded figure runs through the open doors, punched open by Calvin and Peter, stepping over several unconscious guards, also punched by Calvin and Peter.
One of them was one of the bandits who stole that golden claw, so Calvin punched right through his chest.
Calvin is, after all, a man of his word.
He did give those bandits fair warning.
Marley added insult to injury by urinating on the corpse, recognising the bandit as the one who insulted Piccolo.
Marley’s only regret is that he only had to pee.
Nivlac makes a beeline for the Rider, eight black tendrils extended.
“OI!!! I CALLED DIBS ON THAT BIKE!!!”
The Rider steers left, away from the Tower, his winged motorbike swerving to and fro as he dodges Nivlac, the tendrils trying to grab the Lamp.
“CALLED DIBS?!? I DIDN’T AGREE TO THAT!!!”
“I was gonna ask you if I can have it, but then Cal stomped on your skull! So yeah, it’s mine by right of dibs, Freddy–”
“DO NOT CALL ME THAT NAME!!!”
“Oh, goody! You still hate that! FredFredFredFredFredFredFredFredFredFredFredFredFredFredFred–”
Nivlac grins audaciously as he summons eight more tendrils.
“So do you still hate puns too, FREDDY? Because I know a lotta RIB-TICKLERS!”
“I HATE YOU SO MUCH RIGHT NOW!!!”
Both of us clinging to the wall halfway up the Tower, I turn to Marley.
“You feel it too, right?”
“Dey am awive in dewe.”
“Kinda thought this Tower would be made of multidimensional metal, but maybe Dehak’s never heard of it.”
“Wud Umbwa knu abowt it?”
“I dunno. We didn’t really start dealing with the damn stuff until after the World Revolution. But what this means for us is that we don’t have to melt our way in.”
“Hee hee hee! You’re not getting in anyway, Caaaaal!”
I leap off the wall, taking flight, acting on pure instinct, and as I turn around, I see a black energy blast whizz down the Tower, right through where I was a second or two ago, exploding when it hits the ground.
Unfortunately, those guards we knocked out by the front doors were in the way.
Damnit, only one of 'em had it coming, and he was already dead.
I see the fucking Dark Demon, flying towards me on his stolen hoverboard, Marley flying after him.
“Deedee! Aren’t your energy blasts supposed to be red?”
“Hee hee hee! That nickname was never clever, Caaaaal!”
“Neither were you, Deedee!”
“Ha! Good burn! But that’s the closest thing to damage you’ll be doing today! So where’s Scotty, Caaaaal? I’ve got some new tricks to show him!”
He holds up a hand, a black ball of energy appearing above it.
Then he squeezes the ball, and it…
Forms itself into a black sword.
“Like this! I don’t need your nerd bitch friend’s laser swords anymore, Caaaaal! HAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAAAA!!!”
I draw the Sword of Kings.
And shift to Luminary Form, the Sword of Kings glowing white.
It actually feels very pleasant.
I smirk at the Dark Demon-- snrk– and Marley flies up behind me, as I point the blade at the armored prick.
“And I don’t need Scotty’s help to kick your ass, Deedee.”
Sir Peter leads his group up a winding staircase, carrying Alex in his arms.
Dharin, as the largest member of the group, is at the rear, several brainwashed guards following them up.
As the group reaches the top, Panthera waves a hand at the staircase and mutters a word.
The steps flatten, turning into a slippery slide, and the group hears the guards sliding back down.
And a muffled whump when the guards slam into a wall at the bottom.
“Good riddance. I recognised that lot. They weren’t my boys, they were all doing hard time before Dehak threw the prisons open. Not guards, just thugs with badges.”
As the group walks down the next hallway, Peter shrugs, putting Alex down.
“It is hardly as if the guards loyal to the rightful ruler could resign this time. They are victims too, just like the innocent people brutalized by those felonious frauds.”
“But awwa dem gawds am fite-in fow Dehak, daddeh.”
“I know, Alex. As I told Cal, we’re trying to subdue those who aren’t serving him of their own free will, but… there’s going to be a lot of bloodshed by the time this is through. Drakonia may never fully recover from the wounds which Dehak has inflicted upon the land. This isn’t a dungeon crawl, Alex, this is war. And war isn’t something to be glorified, it’s something to be avoided whenever possible.”
“As a cat, I would much rather be napping in a nice, warm, sunny spot than fighting. If I wasn’t a familiar, this conversation wouldn’t be happening, not only because I probably wouldn’t be able to speak Human, but also because I would be nowhere near this horrible place. I’m only here because Pan-Pan thinks we’ll need to do the thing, and my trust in him is absolute.”
“Wut fing, Nocks?”
Nocturne turns to grin at Alex.
“I could tell you, but it’ll be funnier to see if you can figure it out on your own.”
He casually flicks his tail in his master’s direction.
“All the pieces of the puzzle are right there.”
As Edward tries to give Erebus the slip, Mr. Dragon-Soul firing arrows at the Dark Dragon in human form, Edward holds his magic mirror in one hand, Erdrick poking his head out of the bag.
“We’ve run into a snag, we’re going to need backup! Get here, as soon as possible!”
The Star Chariot narrowly swerves around Pinto’s biplane, the celestial motorbike’s aura obliterating the skulls chasing Pinto as they slam into the Chariot.
Unfortunately, Edward drops his magic mirror in the confusion, and it falls towards the streets below.
“Mebbeh daddeh shud haf spawes.”
“A bit too late for that idea now, buddy! Now get back in there, before you fall! I can replace the mirror, but there’s only one Erdrick!”
Edward gently pushes Erdrick’s head back into the bag, ignoring his complaints.
Meanwhile, the other five members of the Octovirate watch the mayhem unfolding in and above their city.
Calvin, locking swords with the Dark Demon, the Wings of Time trying to reach them through a swarm of skulls.
Nivlac, trying to catch the Hungry Rider.
Edward, trying to get away from Erebus to help Nivlac.
The others, decimating the flying skulls.
Archmage Umbra looks up at God-King Dehak.
“Shouldn’t you order another round of Death Beams, Dehak?”
God-King Dehak grins maliciously.
“Didn’t you hear Chaos at the Festival, Umbra? Timing is everything. And I don’t want to risk my precious Lamp getting caught in the crossfire.”
“I’ve never liked that clown, but he’s right about that.”
The Many watches Pierre’s car shoot down another skull.
“We am wunnin owtta dem boney heds.”
God-King Dehak shrugs.
“If Erebus and the Rider can recover the Lamp, I can wish up more Tower Guardians.”
Archmage Umbra waddles over to the arcane circle.
“Yes, but that troublesome knight and his friends got into the Tower. I don’t know if they’re here to liberate our guests, attack us, or do both. We’re going to need reinforcements, since most of our guards are fighting down in the streets.”
God-King Dehak nods, walking over to the circle.
“Indeed. The Dark Demon did not know this, but do you three know what happens when a Seed of Darkness isn’t implanted in a host?”
The Many, Shaun, and Varney all shake their heads, and God-King Dehak grins even more maliciously.
“You’re about to find out.”
He sweeps his arm.
A black portal opens in the arcane circle, and the horrid voice echoes out.
This time, a pillar of black energy doesn’t erupt out of the portal.
Instead, something crawls out.
Something humanoid, and black, and slimy, like someone distilled the pure essence of darkness, and let it congeal. Its build is willowy, its body hunched over, the arms hanging loose as it shambles forth, sharp claws instead of hands.
The creature has no nose, and no ears, just eight black eyes, surrounding a gaping maw full of sharp teeth, like a lamprey.
And the creature has eight black, writhing, slimy tentacles extending from its back.
God-King Dehak gestures at the horrific creature, a smug smile on his face, as a second creature crawls out of the portal, identical to the first, and a third, and a fourth.
“This. This is what happens.”