“First of all, I think all my movies are funny.” – David Cronenberg

16 09 2014

This from the director of “The Fly” and “Videodrome” and “A History of Violence.”

A thousand times yes!

No matter what the content of the amount of goo, I see jokes in everything I write.





My First Advice For Writers

14 09 2014

A good story is nothing if it does not surprise and innovate.
Familiar characters doing familiar activities leading to a comfortable resolution?
Why do that?
Life is uncertain. A writer’s life is more so.
Not to be rude, but what qualities does “story quality” have?
“Twilight” had a plot that a lot of people found compelling.
We could all name a story whose characters were likable, yet with an ending that fell flat.
For me, “innovation” means that past a good character, past a strong plot, there ought to be surprise. A new take on the genre, or on a magic system, or an extrapolation on a science that hadn’t been considered before.
There’s only so much that can be done within a culture or language, yes. But each of us as writers has a universe of unique experiences and interpretations which we can bring to bear on a work of art.

 





Ten Books That Stayed With Me, or A Collection of Weird, Childlike White People

5 09 2014

1. “Monty Python’s Papperbok” by Monty Python (read with my brothers)
2. “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” by H.P. Lovecraft
3. “Without Feathers” by Woody Allen (his obsessions seem oh so obvious in hindsight)
4. “The Mad Scientists’ Club” by Bertrand R. Brinley (small-town boys making UFOs and building submarines!)
5. “Shogun” by James Clavell (read during Summer of my freshman year in high school)
6. “The Hobbit” by JRRT
7. “The Silver Crown” by Robert C. O’Brien (read to us in 7th grade. Dark and paranoid and mysterious stuff by the “Rats on NIMH” writer)
8. “High School Yearbook” by National Lampoon (Christmas of sophomore year!)
9. “I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream” by Harlan Ellison
10. “Cat’s Cradle” by Kurt Vonnegut (way, way too much Vonnegut, and yes there is such a thing as “too much Vonnegut”)





“MAD EARL FAZ” CHAPTER 29 (THE RIPPING CONCLUSION!)

27 08 2014

The rickshaw driver set his harness down with a clatter of wood and came around behind his vehicle; he was a large grim man, shoulders surprisingly round for his job. He held up his hand to block his sight.

He said, “I do not want to know a blessed thing of this. Not one blessed…”

That voice!

The Earl felt Calzjha startle as well.

It was the ward captain that Fazgood’s sister had prevailed upon.

And behind the ward captain’s rickshaw, there waited two other rickshaws. Both had drivers were grim, and unusually well-dressed for their task.

The rickshaw’s drape pulled aside, and in simple housewife dress sat Fazcelestial.

She hissed. “Put him in, dolts! Stand close with that other dolt and keep gawkers away! Keep the blanket on his head! Fazgood, this is just like your mess in the Three Cities! Could you not destroy a place where I live, just this once?”

Fazgood was lowered into the seat beside his sibling. He could see her hands unrolling a fresh cloth bandage. The Earl felt a scrabbling in the floor by his right foot. Poked under by his feet were black eyes wide with alarm and glistening with tears.

[Oh! My liege! Your legs! Oh!]

“Never mind me. The Dropsy is dead, and the Inspector is dead, and ruined as well. But the General is rampant.”

“Be out of the way, weasel!”

[I am sorry, Goodwife! The General is not captured? Surely he would be long away from here!]

“He is not –“

Calzjha whispered from outside the drape. “Fazgood, you did not say that you had contacted your sister.”

[The Earl did not want that known, in case there were problems.]

Salve slathered on his legs; even as the touch stung, the burns cooled.

Again Calzjha: “Goodwife, how did you know to bring medicine?”

She began wrapping the Earl’s right thigh and hissed loud. “I tell you, doxy, that I have tended to my family’s headlong flights since I was a girl. Stay with my brother and you will stitch an army.”

Came a cautious whisper from the left side of the rickshaw. “Will he live?”

“Is there anything we can do?”

It was Obdurate and Respiration.

Fazgood slapped the bandage in frustration then held back a shriek. “Does no one pay heed to any plan I make!”

He pulled the blanket from his head and saw Respiration’s head not a hand’s width away. “We could not stand to leave without knowing your fate!”

“Our fate,” grimaced the Earl at more salving, “is still uncertain until we step off the boat onto a new shore! As for now –”

Over the calls of the crowd came:

“I knew you!” the voice resounded.

“Fluxion!”

Fazgood flung the blanket from his head and tore away the drapes. Between Obdurate and Respiration, he could see the tall form of the General advancing through the parting crowd. His stance, his voice were all nearly like the man who so moved the crowd in Greatsergeant Square. But his shoulders heaved with desperation. His eyes showed wide with frenzy.

The General mocked. “Captain! Adjutant! I realized you were to be conspiring! Yet, captain! You were the one with my wife! Think you could keep this from me?”

Respiration called, he still several steps away and outnumbered. “Say nothing, Allotropic! Why cause anymore harm?”

“You betrayed me for a number-mop! You would have ruled with me, and you gave it up for a clerk! How the ages will remember this moment, wife! How I will relish your misery!”

Obdurate had enough, and the blood of the fight within the keep was still roaring in his veins. He stepped in front of Greatsergeant: “Traitor! You would murder the city! One word to the Royal Family would have stopped this destruction!”

Greatsergeant sneered. “It belongs to me! To me! My family died keeping that secret for me! So that I could rule!”

“They kept it,” called the Earl, “so that they would not lose their position, you puppet-show!”

He pointed at Fazgood, bandaged and immobile in the rickshaw. “Do you think to sweep me away, broom? Oh no! I will sweep all gone!”

Fazcelestial spat. “A general! Can you never anger someone simple!”

“I would not have caused this!” Greatsergeant continued. “It is my wife who brought this upon this city! I would have ruled all whole and flourishing! Now, what is left for me but to tell all the truth? You have destroyed all! Let that be upon your souls! And wife, I want to watch your face as I tell all and destroy the Compact!”

The Earl tried to rise, but his legs gave out.

“Make way,” he hissed. “I need a straight aim at him! Sister, have you a knife!”

Greatsergeant looked to the curious crowd creeping down the street toward them. He turned and thrust a finger at the keep.

He said to them. “Oh! How I will tell you good people about that man, my grandfather!”

Obdurate looked back to the Earl, and saw the man tearing apart the rickshaw to find sharpness anywhere.

“Listen, all!” Allotropic cried to the crowd, the trees, the sky, the spirits. “What my grandfather accepted for his victory at Lanthornmount –“

A fist cracked against his jaw!

Obdurate punched again! The General fell to the bricks! Obdurate fell upon him, his hands around Greatsergeant’s throat! Surprised by those two blows, Greatsergeant fought back. The men wrestled and struck.

People dashed forward and seized the captain.

“No!” cried Respiration to the people. But no attention was paid to her; the captain’s hands were pried from the traitor’s throat and he was dragged from the fight.

Calzjha and Respiration pressed into the crowd. Fazgood could not see and struck the rickshaw in frustration.

Where are you, you damned Royal busybodies?

Hands held back Respiration. Calzjha pushed and pressed, but made no headway through the well-meaning civilians.

Allotropic Greatsergeant rose and pushed assistance away. “I will tell! My grandfather! My grandfather –“

Spoke a voice fluid and melodious, “You spoke of ownership for something distressing. As you are such a good friend to the nation, I fetched from far Alpia for you!”

Beside the General stepped a figure in a brown robe. A small, glittering blue hand seized his. The hood pulled back to show a tall, slender youth.

His hair was thick black waves, and his eyes shone black and piercing as if only through great concentration he could see before him. He looked like a Human boy, but his skin was the lightest blue.

Who did not recognize from their shrines their quarter-divine Prince Thousand-Eyed Storm? All in the square who saw him fell to their knees.

At last!

And of what the Prince said? Alpia was over a week’s journey away. The Royal Family could move through the spirit world as one walks through doors. From over a thousand miles away, the Prince had heard the General’s boast and stepped as easily as if from across the street.

General Greatsergeant puffed with amazement and defiance. He wrenched at the seeming fragile grip, but was held fast as if by iron. “I will tell! They will know!”

The Prince’s voice was like a small child speaking from under windchimes. “I do not know what it is you would tell, but as one of your sovereign, I should have first privilege to hear. Let us go to privacy, for however long that should take.”

The General’s anger drained into pale desperation. He knew the Royal family did not reckon time as mortals did, and that his time among mortals was now over.

He yelped to the crowd: “That demon! That mask –“

“Be at ease!” and the Prince whispered a strangely resonant coo. Greatsergeant’s voice stopped in his chest and choked his throat.

Prince Thousand-Eyed Storm brought Greatsergeant’s hand down and pulled to lead him. The General took faltering, hesitating steps forward, but he followed. He looked to his wife, but her eyes were averted and tearing with pity and rage. Fazgood glimpsed him before the Earl too dropped his gaze; the General’s eyes were saucers of horror.

Despite his loathing, the Earl felt a chill at the sight: Wherever the General could possibly be sent, he would be without army or aid, without status or command, perhaps even without physical form, for who knew what happened to those quarantined by the Royal Family? Any future that Allotropic Greatsergeant had was now cold, quiet, and obediant. He would be nothing, yet brought lower still for his memory of his insane aspirations. He was being led to his special Hell.

The crowd parted for the Prince and his horrid charge. The demi-god and the pariah walked until they were lost to sight.

So passed the mortal existence of Allotropic, last of the Greatsergeants, paragon family of the Kingdom.

The fire in the keep still flickered, but smoked in thick black plumes; the water was dampening its fuel.

Fazgood went back to the bandage, and tucked away the remainder at his toes, [Where do we go, squire?]

Stunned, Warren gave the instructions.

Fazgood nudged his dazed sister: “Bandage me, you!”

Fazcelestial gawped at his efficiency even in the extremity of the incident mere strides from them. “How… how can you be so fixed…I do not want to know. Get out of my city.”

Hands trembling, she resumed bandaging.

[Did you know] Warren wondered, [that the General was going to confront his wife here? That the Prince would come in time?]

“The General was to have been silenced in the square by Public Works, but he fled. The secret route of escape is the first place he would think to go. He knew I had no intention of dying. Do you see why I plan? Does anyone see why I plan? Then why do they not listen to my plans?”

“Shut up,” said his sister.

Obdurate struggled up from the still-cowering and bowing throng. He held his hand under his armpit.

Said the Earl. “At least that was well-punched, captain.”

“I think I broke my hand,” said the officer.

Said his love, close behind. “You saved a kingdom; do not expect pity and praise.”

Hearing his craft mentioned, Yet-More-Muscular twitched into the circle. “How is it – I do not mean to interrupt, but…how did you know I –“

Fazgood gathered Warren to his side and waved the rickshaw driver to his place. “Who else knows those details, but not the important stuff? And can write in Rahsic? And has trust and influence enough to be given leave by the guild?”

“Im – important stuff?” the brother-in-law’s eyes widened.

“Do not even think of asking me a question.”

“No. I will not.”

“Away with us!” said the Earl. “To your rides! We need distance and water under our feet.”

The others scrambled to the other near rickshaws, pulled by other guildsmen who Fazcelestial must have had mighty leverage upon.

“Go!” that goodwife snapped to the hapless driver, the ward captain.

He was quite energetic for a large and older human.

When comfortably underway, Warren wriggled under the Earl’s arm, [If I may, my liege, it makes me very happy. I have always thought of the Earldom as home.]

“Indeed. I know you missed it. Some pretender has claimed my land? Let us hope they have plenty to drink in the cellar, because when I arrive it is all mine.”

The rickshaws passed along streets bustling with pedestrians. Snatches of chatter sprang though the whirr of the grooved wheels:

“Such a tragedy!” “All in the keep were lost!” “None was left of the Inspector but a hollow Harmonite shell!” “General Greatsergeant was led off by the Prince, what of that?”

Almost at their peak above the bowl of the citadel, golden Rezhalla had almost caught little red Minque, it seemed; however, even children knew that only happened once-in-more-than-a-lifetime, and this was no such celebrated night, and so Minque would elude yet again.

The richshaws traveled far round to the north side of Harmonium, and over the bridges of canals. They disembarked from the sullen, leveraged rickshaws and stepped into others drawn by men who did not bother to see their passengers, who only took the money from Yet-More-Muscular’s hand and took the passengers to the Customs Houses.

At the docks of the Customs Houses, they found the Blue Swords: a fenced compound whose gate allowed them entrance. The rickshaws clattered inside the fence and the gate secured. A young embassy underling extended the ambassador’s regrets at not being there in person, which Fazgood saw fit to snort at despite his pain. The passengers disembarked. The Earl rose to greet his sister for their traditional farewells:

“Stay away from my city, brother,” she said.

But this time, he replied. “This time, sister, I promise I shall.”

Fazgood put arms around Fazcelestial, who sighed with annoyance and gave a perfunctory pat.

He gave his brother-in-law a vexed half-wave and was carried by Obdurate and Calzjha to the waiting merchant bark. The silent crew of tall, red Birqmuirish untied the ship. A river whale towed the craft until the wind caught the sails. Once at sea, the sailors spoke in whispers, but demanded no lights be lit.

They also claimed no tzeimprhoazk was on board, but the Earl beseeched as a man injured in battle against lout scout brigades, that the Imperial Blue Book did state that all men wounded by evil should be given charity. A few choice reminisces of beautiful nights in the fjords of Meilentach and of heroic families, and tzeimprhoazk was brought out and shared.

Calzjha never left the Earl’s side. Her slim form was never more than an arm’s reach, helping him stand, steadying him, taking the bottle when the pull went too long.

“Such dedication demands reward,” slurred the Earl.

“Does it,” Calzjha licked her fingers and wetted her eyelids to stay awake.

“You are promoted from the rank of ‘bodyguard.’”

She leaned close, and the most profound skepticism broadened her brow. “What is my…new title?”

“You are now ‘Chief Warden of the Earl’s Wellbeing.’”

Calzjha blinked. “What does that mean?”

“It means that when we gain more bodyguards, you will be in command of them.”

“It is an awesome responsibility. Castles tend to burn down around you. Look! I believe you can see the glow of the last one.”

Fazgood looked to the bow of the boat. Obdurate was trying to place his maroon soldier’s coat around Respiration’s shoulders.

“How that smells!” she said and she pushed it away, and pressed instead into Obdurate’s arms.

“How we both stink!” and she wiped a tear from her eye, and Obdurate wiped one from his. The sweaty, smoke-ruined pair clung to each other, their past irretrievable, their future disconcerting.

They will become accustomed to it, he thought, then spat and circled his face to ward away Zhazh.

On the rail, Warren looked to shore, alert and keen.

Home is where you are least likely to be killed in your sleep, thought the Earl and grunted in approval.

Beside him, Calzjha sat forward watching Obdurate and Respiration, rapt.

All she did was slow me down and complicate things. If I hadn’t brought her, would the Dropsy had still gotten me? Saved me from her own blunder is all. I have enough to worry about. And half the time she unnerves with her beliefs and testicles –

The pain and the alcohol and his thoughts alloyed into a bleakness, a sword-edged bleakness that he had not felt in years.

Fazgood looked over his shoulder to make sure no one saw, then touched Calzjha’s black hair, lightly so she did not feel it.

His hand felt like lead and his heart pounded.

As she was sitting and watching the lovers, and he leaned forward and pressed his nose to the locks and smelled smoke, the sea, and of her smell like the tropic forests she called home.

 

END

 





“MAD EARL FAZ” CHAPTER 28 (ESCAPE?)

20 08 2014

The second bullet strike swallowed the cries of the fight. It was a buzzing that shook the floor beneath Fazgood’s shoes.

The buzzing! If I recall the Three Cities, that bullet will reduce its target into its granular essence. The General will shoot that near the door, so he can enter easier.

But it was in the middle of a wall, near the floor, where the stone had become yellow and glistening, and trickled. A hysterical whine pierced the shouting.

Fluxion! Were any touching that wall when it struck?

Varalam and Calzhja fought with deputies charging up the stairs. One who staggered up was a small, sharp man, who wailed at the white, flaking sculptures at the ends of his arms, mashed together in disbelief.

No more casual bashing for Tlezjoy, recognized the Earl, though he will have no worries about how to salt his soup.

Fazgood looked again at that trickling span on the wall where the bullet struck.

Sand will not hold the weight of the stone above!

There was a wink of billowing spray before blocks scraped together and tumbled into the anteroom. That wall collapsed and deputies sprang away.

Greatsergeant is barely bothering with the pretense of rescue. He will order this keep brought to rubble, kill us all, secure the mask, and endure the outcome.

I thought I would have to set the place on fire myself, but if the General wants to help, let him. Seems I had those combustibles cast about for no reason.

On the landing, Obdurate searched for an opening; a knife plucked from the floor gleamed in his hand, his eyes gleaming wet with fear and passion. He slashed at a human deputy, who slashed back with a sharp length of ablewood. The soldier buried the knife in the deputy’s thick chest and with a sick grimace pushed the deputy back down the stairs.

The Earl cast his mind to Warren: [Has the Dropsy come through the passage yet, squire?]

[I have smelt its sulfur since before the activated bullet, my liege!]

[Do not worry about this assault. The brigades will need some new deputies, but the keep may hold for hours yet.]

[Do you see? The Dropsy comes!]

Through Warren’s eyes, from Warren’s hiding spot beside the bedstead, the Earl saw the still-opened lacquered door lit from the flickering varicolored lights within the secret room. A darkness swelled from the gap. It probed the air, swaying back and forth like a whisker-stubbled tongue.

Fazgood felt a shove, and his concentration was broken. The Inspector’s hot breath was in his face.

“What is at you?” said the man. “This is no time for shock!”

The Earl looked into those panicked eyes and laughed. “’Shock!’ Show me something to be shocked about.”

He bent to the bottom of the wall and snatched up — one-two-three — three paring knives. To his right was the balcony rail overlooking the anteroom. Before him was Varalam snarling in front of the steps leading up.

At the side of the landing beside the rail, Calzhja struggled with two deputies. Calzhja ducked a skullwarmer swung by tall Bookwright, and thrust Hand Position Three into the man’s armpit. The deputy yelped and collapsed.

A flapping! A Exult with plughat and magnate’s colors lit on the rail!

The Earl swore and shoved the Inspector before the Exult’s face! Hissing, the tottering deputy tried to claw around his superior. Mehzadapt screamed and squirmed, talons and toothy beak flailing past his cheeks and ears. The Earl seized the hair on the back of the Inspector’s head and butted the Exult. It pinwheeled back into the anteroom.

The Earl pulled and tripped the Inspector to the floor. “Stay down, you!”

Fazgood looked and saw the captain was beside the gate latch and winch, as he had been earlier instructed. The Earl strode to the top of the stairs.

Varalam carried a squirming junior deputy by the back of his coat and flung him down the stairs. The Earl crouched down below the rail.

“Pull now, Respiration!” yelled the Earl in Adanikarese. “All should please cringe!”

Calzhja and Obdurate ducked to the floor. Respiration pulled down the release latch.

Oiled gears and chains rattled. The metal gate swung crashing down upon the stone parapet. It caught Varalam at the back of the head and sent him sprawling down the steps. A grate slid down and struck the stone floor with a deafening clang!

On the stone floor Mehzadapt lay, scuffed and bewildered.

An odd thought struck the Fazgood: To think if I stayed with the scouts, or if the circles had succeeded, I could have ended up like him! A pathetic!

He cast the thought aside and contacted Warren, [Squire, I pray you are not eaten!]

[Ha! Yes! You would know if I had been, but this creature is unsettling and revolting and it is creeping across the ceiling in a most unsettling and revolting way and I --]

[Has it seen or smelled you?]

[It does not behave as such because it just icks along very revoltingly to the door and I do hope you will be arriving soon though please be careful and --]

[It is as confused as the rest of the deputies. More so!]

The Earl looked to the landing. The air tingled. His hair bristled.

He announced in a sing-song cheer: “Lightning!”

The bolt can only strike the walls, and make a lot of noise.

He covered his ears and stepped away from the metal gates.

A blue flash from under the keep door. All sound seemed sucked away.

Thunder slapped the ears and slammed the air.

He peered through the bars and saw the deputies reeling. Now the cries were broad and lowing, as the deputies could not hear themselves or each other. Somewhere, someone made nerve-shriveling shrieks.

That goes well. And I should put that screaming fellow on the payroll.

Obdurate and Respiration clung to each other exhausted and shaking.

Calzhja picked herself up from the floor laughing, eyes glittering. “ The citizens… told me…this is a peaceful city!”

Fazgood shouted. “I thought Greatsergeant would have evacuated the square before firing or using lightning! My apologies!”

Calzhja leaned upon the Earl. “You are apologizing? What a unique evening!”

Heart thumping at the weight and smell of her, despite himself, the Earl brushed at a bruise under her eye. Her gaze followed his hand.

[My liege!]

“Yes!” called the Earl and he dropped Calzhja , who landed upon her hip.

[It seems to know the intention of the assault! It has icked its way out into the hallway. I can still smell it, so the all-disgusting is just outside the door!]

[Follow it!]

[What?!]

Ignoring Calzhja’s glare and feeling a profound sense of relief, he looked over the railing. In the anteroom, the bottom of the keep door was twisted and blackened. Still, it held.

From that gap came Greatsergeant’s call: “Surrender, scouts! Surrender, Earl Fazgood!”

Another bullet thundered! A roar of a rushing river filled with banging porcelain.

Crockery!

A cloud of dust billowed through the windows. Three paces worth of the wall facing the Square shattered into white, tinkling, brittle shards! The ceiling nearest the wall dropped bricks, and overhead a beam snapped.

Mehzadapt reached for the rail and pulled himself up, gasping.

Fazgood went to the lovers on the stairs and said. “Go to the common room. Listen close. If the keep door is opened, call upstairs. Wait for Warren to arrive or my call to go upstairs. Stay away from the windows! Greatsergeant wants to kill us all!”

Respiration trembled. “Can we not leave now? Why can we not leave now?”

“There is a creature in your room. I must draw it out.”

Obdurate swallowed. “It is that thing when, when –“

“The creature we encountered when we found you is upstairs. I will draw it out. Either Warren or I will come to get you.”

Calzhja hissed. “I will not let you risk yourself –“

“You will not argue! It has to be led away! No one else can do it!”

“But I am your bodyguard.”

“Ah! Today you are my bodyguard! Today I need no guard. Respiration and Obdurate do. Keep a fire handy near your door. The creature will respect that.”

He led the three to the common room. Beside the door, he stooped and picked up a jug shaped as a rosebush by its neck and shook it. Fazgood listened to the comfortable deep slosh.

As the trapped deputies howled and cursed, the Earl walked back to the Inspector leaning upon the iron bars.

Mehzadapt called down to his injured followers. “You will hold the wall! You will make your ancestors proud! I will gain the evidence and the general will be prosecuted!”

“Open that portcullis, inspector!” called Varalam. “We have no chance against those weapons! We can guard as well behind that gate!”

“You will hold the wall!”

The others wailed. “That Cumulid holds above us! They ready another bullet! Please, Inspector!”

Through the smoke and fear, said the Earl with enthusiasm. “Deputies! Citizens! Please! This is not the first time your Inspector has been trapped by the army. He got out just fine. I am certain he will guide you well.”

Mehzadapt gasped at the more overt accusation and looked to the Earl. Downstairs, the cries turned to silent puzzling.

“What does he mean, Inspector? When was this?” called a deputy.

The Earl seized the Inspector’s arm, the jug in his other hand. “Follow, Inspector. We go to your evidence.”

“Yes!” stammered Mehzadapt. “Note, scouts, I go to the evidence! The General will pay for your injuries! He will pay!”

“We do not have much time. Hurry!”

Fazgood glanced back at the floor, and how the Inspector laid his blazer out, arms out and neck towards their destination, so that the Dropsy may know their location.

He led the Inspector to the guest room.

More shouts from downstairs: arguments; Varalam calling for the Inspector; and the one useful deputy shrieked in a most demoralizing way.

What a feeble lot! Back at the Earldom, my lot did not start shrieking until after the frontal assault!

The guest room had been emptied. The rolls of rich cloth had been placed downstairs. The bottles of perfumes and unguents had been poured out in the anteroom. The bottle of relish was in Fazgood’s blazer pocket.

Around the bed rest the three black wooden secretaries.

Fazgood went to the window. He could not see the mural from this side, but the police had pushed the crowd to shelter along the far buildings.

[Warren, are you following the Dropsy?]

[Yes. It makes a sick, sticky sound as it crawls along.]

The Earl perceived what Warren sensed. The Dropsy flowed along the ceiling around the corner and down the stairs. Its stench was like close rot, and its movements crackled like the sound of a bloody fist opening.

[When it approaches the guest room, get Calzhja and the others from the common room and take them upstairs.]

[But my liege, what of you?]

[I will be ready for --]

“What do you see?” the Inspector pressed.

People in the crowd pointed at their window. Soldiers scuttled across the square and peered.

Bellowed the Earl. “General Greatsergeant! General Greatsergeant!”

Mehzadapt started at the thunderous volume of the small man’s voice. In the square, in a knot of soldiers, a tall man with a high forehead directed the other soldiers’ attention.

“General Greatsergeant! Allow your wife and captain safe leave! Have compassion!”

The megaphone raised: “You seize them and call me for compassion!”

Hands trembling, Mehzadapt pulled the Earl away. “Stop! Stop! They will fire again! Where is the evidence?”

The bottle sloshed in the Earl’s hand as he pointed. “In one of those secretaries. I do not know which. Greatsergeant! You are foulness and we have your secret!”

A cry escaped Mehzadapt’s lips. He fumbled at a secretary and opened it.

Within was a bundled swatch of diaphene cloth, radiant like crumpled mother-of-pearl. The Inspector clawed at it. Within its folds, nothing.

Mehzadapt threw the box aside and clambered to seize another. He tore open the folds. Empty.

A stink of rotten eggs rose in the room.

Fazgood set the bottle beside the bed. His fingers tightened on the last box.

Now you decide not to shoot, Greatsergeant, you dawdling wretch!

Scrabbling fingers unfolded. Nothing.

A faint crackling permeated the room.

The Inspector saw what the Earl held close. “Give me that box!”

“Just take it,” Fazgood said slyly.

Eyes squinting, Merhizadapt sensed betrayal. “No! You! You open it!”

The Earl made himself brighten. “Very well!”

“No!” snarled the Inspector. “Give it to me!”

The Earl opened. Within the mask laid, copper-flecks sparkling. The Earl seized it by its edges and picked it up.

“This is the device. Do you want it?”

“Give it to me!”

The Earl flung the mask to the wall facing the Square.

Mehzadapt scrambled after it. The Earl sprang across to the door.

“How does it work?” asked the Inspector.

“You just put it on. Wait!”

“A sap then, and a sap still,” sneered the Inspector as he put the mask on his face. “Cornpudding, kill him.”

Something dark and stinking squirted from the top of the doorframe.

The Earl ducked.

From the window came the call. “Surrender, scouts! Surrender, Earl Fazgood!”

The demon-disease struck the wall by the window.

So shoot, you ill-met!

The writhing blotch sprang.

A honking like that of an immense goose. Dust flew from the window.

Talcum!

The wall turned alabaster. A choking billow of white dust, and the wall thundered and separated from the floor.

The wall was ruined. From corner to corner was bright green-night and the crowd across the square. There was no sign of the Dropsy.

I will not, Fazgood blinked, even think of, or consider, or question, or name that turn of event.

From behind him came a voice, saying:

“This is…singular.”

“Now comes the difficult part,” Fazgood whispered.

He turned around. In the green-night, surrounded by ruin, the swirls of choking white dust glowed, making Fazgood think of dawn would be like in the Hell of the Olivine Demon.

Mehzadapt stood in the doorway, stopped in mid-step, as if arrested by a realization. His fingers had stopped halfway from placing the mask on his face.

The copper gleam of that peaked mask cut through the green gloom, and spread. Mehzadapt’s human flesh took the metallic sheen of Harmonite. His blue blazer and colored cravat remained; a seeming mockery of what he had been. Mehzadapt’s eyes – sharp, watery – remained.

The Earl stood, waiting.

And all I have is an almost-empty bottle of condiment in my pocket, and a mostly-full bottle of tzeimprhoazk.

It was the calmest he had felt in months. His smile was so wide, it made his cheeks hurt.

The floor trembled again; somewhere another part of the keep crumbled further. Outside, across the square voices cried commands, pleas to stop, brash commands and counter-commands. Wind whipped the dust away.

A voice rang from the Inspector like a gong, his voice but not his:

“Where…is…my body?”

The crowd heard this unnatural intonation, and silenced.

The mask has a sympathetic attachment to the Triumph.

The creature looked at Fazgood. The Earl considered options.

He pointed to the opening. “Out there.”

It asked again. “Where…”

The demon that Mehzadapt had become stepped with locked-knees, like an awkward toddler, across the bed.

The citizens saw what stood in the destroyed room.    Across, members of the military, and the police, and the Public Works gathered. Only a minute before, the Earl supposed, they were debating who controlled the situation while the General ordered activated bullets into the keep, daring all to stop his august person. Behind them, even Booloobs hovered, their awesome wrath awaiting a mandate from an authority.

Then citizens screamed. “Demon! Demon!”

For who could not recognize a creature devoted to the Satirist! It was on the very mural behind them, the mural where they had seen Greatsergeant’s grandfather smite day after day.

From the knot of soldiers cried a voice: “No!”

Screamed a voice that used to be sonorous, but now cracked like that of a despairing child. “No! You are mine! You are to be mine!”

Without the mask, any claim the General could make would be mere controversy.

“I will! I will…”

Then Allotropic Greatsergeant looked around him to the Public Works masters and the constable captains, who had all heard him.

The creature looked right to glimpse the Triumph.

This demon said, its voice ringing. “There! I see it.”

It raised its right arm.

The ground shook.

To the right, the great Secure trembled. The center of it seemed to bend and flex, as it was a great neck.

The demon mask stretched and engulfed Mehzadapt’s body, becoming a giant face of the Inspector.

Fazgood seized the bottle of relish from his pocket, then picked up a broken brick. He stepped around the left of the demon and smashed the bottle upon its forehead. Searing relish trickled into its eyes.

It yowled. The trembling ceased.

Fazgood stepped behind, put his foot to the fiend’s rump and pushed. It flipped onto the pile of rubble one floor below.

Beyond, stunned soldiers and officials dropped their gaze to follow the creature down.

The Earl stepped carefully to the edge and looked over. On the stones and shards, the translated Inspector scoured at its eyes and squealed in pain. The neck of the Secure thrashed.

A graybeard in brown robes pointed to the demon, who had just staggered upright:

“See, all! Its eyes are flesh! Aim well!”

Five soldiers carrying a long device swept around to face the new foe. A row of rippling bubbles advanced from the citizenry, their trembles becoming tighter and more acute. The Cumulid flashed in its wispy depths.

Above even the Cumulid, the Earl saw a great sweeping in the mist, as if that of a great hand, the hand of the Temporary God revealed to him by Hrikinik. The sweep gathered into a great poking finger.

What used to be Mehzadapt heard and gave small shrieks.

The Earl leapt back and away into the hall. “Piss-flicking…!”

He turned back inside and sprang across the ruined bed.

“Almost lost you!”

He snatched up the rosebush-shaped bottle and dashed.

Behind, the doorway erupted. Lightning flashed and exploded. Activated energies sang and screamed and transformed. Piercing and interjecting, the most focused Booloob screams swept matter itself into an odorless, gagging wind. From the spirit realm, the Temporary God mashed with coruscating ectoplasm, obliterating even the demon’s soul.

To behold such a fright, and have it so disabled so quickly, this thunderstruck even the screaming populace. Silence dropped upon the thousands.

Came the cry of a citizen:

“Hurray for the Mad Earl!”

The crowd roared its relief and approval! Fazgood crept back to the doorway, now opening onto a pile of rubble facing the square.

The populace of the Kingdom cheered Fazgood. Textured Fabri, feathered Exult, rippling Booloob, Adactoid of all shapes and sizes, humans Theirhe and Rahsic; when all realized who had dispatched the grotesque, all cheered their acclaim.

Fazgood waved, Today it is ‘Hurray for the Mad Earl!’ Tomorrow it will be go-risk-your-life-fetching-my-cat-out-of-the-Pit-of-the-Unnamed.

Then the Earl looked to the General.

The General stood surrounded by officials darkened by dismay and disgust. All had heard Allotropic Greatsergeant’s suspicious exclamation of ownership for that vileness just slain.

Fazgood turned. At the top of the stairs, Varalam and two scouts had lifted and secured the gate. But now they stood in shock.

The Exult said. “I know my eyes. It was the Inspector I saw through the crack in the wall. The Inspector was…changed!”

The scouts shook their heads and protested.

“Believe, deputies!” said the Earl. “You heard them outside! I just pushed him from the room just down the hall, and I tell you! Your boss was a demon!”

They roused enough to be appalled.

Coughed a young, scratched Therihe. “But how could he have been? He has been in service for years!”

“Obviously, he had the ability confound sophisticated determinations! And he out wiled all deductions!”

Another bruised smart-his-betters looked to his peers. “But surely someone would have noticed something foul! Did anyone?”

Fluxion, you give some a path to an excuse, and still they expect you to draw a map!

The Earl thrust his finger through the bars at the churls. “Listen, you! The Inspector led you here!”

He thumped the iron bars of the portcullis. “Into a charge of high treason on false pretenses! He obviously had the power to muddle minds! Unless…you committed high treason while thinking clearly?”

They looked to each other in astonishment. “A demon!” “It explains so much about him!” “Muddled, I was! Muddled!”

“Then scour your memories! I am sure there were many times you suspected he was foul! When Public Works questions you, present even your suspicions with confidence! It is that way that you help your nation! Now speak among yourselves to get your details straight!”

So passed Mehzadapt, and his reputation.

The deputies staggered back down the stairs.

Said the Earl. “Get you gone, citizens!”

“They may still try to shoot us or –“

“If there were a fire, would you flee?”

All whining louts looked around the dark room. “Are we on fire?”

Muck up my plans, will you!

Tucking the precious bottle under his arm, the Earl growled and walked back to the ruined common room. He found a lantern still lit, dusted the rubble from it, and still growling walked back to the top of the stairs. He cranked at the pulleys and raised the gate. Whereupon, he raised the lantern and threw it down in the farthest, still-oil-soaked corner.

Orange flame burst as tall as a man!

Said the Earl. “Indeed! There is a fire! Get you gone, citizens!”

“He is mad!” they cried as one. “The portcullis is raised! He may be at us again!”

The deputies scurried to the front walls. The pickpocket Bookwright was dragged by a stretcher made from blazers and shards of wood; his legs were startlingly askew, showing the end to his bump-and-theft career.

Flickering orange shining upon their backs, they gathered at the chinks of green-night and crawled away:

“We surrender! Have mercy! Do not shoot us!”

Last to leave was Varalam, who pulled bricks and rocks from the top to widen the hole enough to crawl out. Before he made to crawl, he turned back, the scars on his face loose from perplexion. He looked back to the Earl, looked to ask a question.

“Deputy,” Fazgood said while dusting off the bottle. “never let questions get in the way of living a happy life.”

The Adactoid took note of those words, and the scars tightened again. He tucked his hat upon his brow and clambered out.

The flames spread across the floor as if to follow the deputy. Black smoke added to the dust and tingling ozone and heady fumes from the assault. The Earl walked upstairs. He pulled the wax stopper from the Birqmuir spirit and took a breath.

How would a dusk thicket tale write such an end?

He muttered to himself: “She is gone! My love! My Respiration! No. No. She is dead! My love! My Respiration! Greatsergeant, you have killed her…yes. That will do. Wait! What of the captain? Crushed! Yes, that works well.”

Fazgood flung himself to the doorway and cried to the square: “She is dead! My love! My Respiration! Greatsergeant, you have killed her!”

The populace, who had been chastising the deputies with words and thrown objects, looked to the window and pointed and gasped!

Wrist to his eyes, the Earl called. “The captain is crushed! Vile pride has caused such a tragedy!”

People never look so honest as when they are in dismay.

So were the countenances in this throng. They pointed and clung to each other in compassion and dissolution over the Earl’s declaration. Fazgood did not see the General; indeed other soldiers looked about then in confusion.

Fluxion! He got ahead of me again! I have to end the play quick!

“Our love was never meant to be! How cruel to learn this lesson! On the bier of my life, on this pyre of my love, I declare to you, citizens!”

I must be quicker!

“Never-yield-to-selfish-interests-and-never-yield-in-your-love-of-the-Kingdom-for-you-have-something-I-could-only-yearn-for;-a-steadfast-home-and-sacred-reliability!”

It struck the Earl at that moment that up until a few days ago, he did begrudge this city depriving him of those very virtues. Now he felt the most gratifying sneer building. He summed up:

“Long-stay-the-Concord!”

He had almost lost the crowd through the smoke pouring from the second floor, but he could hear their dismay and…Was that weeping?

The sobbing built. “Long stay the Concord!”

Not a bad death speech this time, he took a drink, I’m getting better at them.

That satisfaction did him in.

It just slipped from his lips.

He put the wax stopper back in the bottle, turned back to the secret door and declared this:

“Everything is sorted out.”

His hand was on the door. He groaned and grimaced and spat and wiped to ward off Zhazh, but he knew it was too late. He looked back at the window, at the thickening smoke and the hallway brightening with orange. He sucked his lip, head down and nodded.

He huffed. “Ah just go ahead!”

A dark shape like a wet, prickling blanket swung from the ceiling. It slapped him back to the window. Tucking and rolling, Fazgood protected the green bottle in his grip. He recovered to his feet. The Dropsy arched onto the floor between the Earl and the secret door.

“Did you not hear, you earless snot? Your boss is dead!”

Its oozing was slow, careful, crafty. It feinted to the left.

Fazgood realized: “Ah! You want to brag to all the other phlegm that you ate the Mad Earl!”

It hopped forward, looking to press the Earl into the far corner. Fazgood’s eyes stung from the thickening smoke. He crouched low to breath clearer.

“You snot-bubble! I have dodged assassins of more shapes than you can imagine!”

He hid his hands as he wrested the stopper from the bottle. It gurgled.

I’d just pour the tzeimprhoazk on myself and tackle the Dropsy! But if I miss, it would just slip out the window and into the city!

It feinted to the right.

Fazgood shook the bottle’s neck at the Dropsy. A glistening stream sprayed. The formless thing cowered. Fazgood sprang after the stream to flank the Dropsy away from the window.

He shook again! Again! He backed the Dropsy away from the window and against the bed!

Choking from the thickening smoke, the Earl wiped the sweat from his eyes.

The cunning germ leapt between the shakes. It swung from the right. It knocked the Earl onto his back beside the bed. The Dropsy collapsed upon his legs.

His flesh seared.

It eats!

Fazgood screamed and flung the bottle at the ceiling above them, intending to break it and have the liquor shower upon the monster.

As it arced, drops sparkled from the bottle, but not many.

The bottle made a sharp thump against the ceiling! Then it fell upon the bed, intact, far from his reach.

The creature writhed and shuddered as the few drops fell on it. But it crushed Fazgood in its digestive grip.

All this, he thought, just to be brought down by flu!

A sharp cry! The crack of wood! The heap of Dropsy rose from his legs and swung around backward. The pain in his legs dimmed.

He opened his eyes.

Calzhja stood over him. She wore simple workman’s clothes, and held a shattered piece of furnishing, her face lit by a lantern she held. “What do I do?”

“Kill the god-poxied thing!”

She sprang into the room out of Fazgood’s view. The Dropsy hurled itself against the secret door, and bounded in pursuit.

Fazgood seized the mattress and pulled himself up. In the center of the room, Calzhja had gotten close to the Dropsy and bashed it with the lantern. Its fuel trickled out upon it. The disease swung around again.

“What kills it? I thought alcohol! It is a disease!”

The Earl gasped in pain. “Does that…look like ordinary flu? Get the god-poxied bottle of tzeimprhoazk! It’s from holy springs!”

The demon-germ struck Calzhja in the hip and flung her away from the bed.

She crumbled against the wall. “Where is the bottle? Where?”

“It is on the bed!”

Again! I have to draw maps!

He pulled himself onto the bed and saw the bottle. Its contents surged from the neck. The sheets were wet with the liquor.

His left thigh found the puddle. Every nerve and muscle scorched with pain.

He screamed, grabbed the bottle and rolled off the bed toward the fight.

The Earl struck the floor and found the pain paralyzed him.

The Dropsy lunged. Calzhja sprang out of the way to the door. She caught a gout of smoke in her lungs and fell to her knees choking.

The demonic disease rose to engulf her.

Fazgood cried out. His legs gathered under him and he stumbled forward.

Calzjha staggered forward and seized the wet bedsheet. The Dropsy sprang. She spun and pulled the sheet. The Dropsy lunged into the cloth.

Wrapped in the cloth soaked with blessed alcohol, the Dropsy cringed and wrestled away across the room. The creature’s back melted. Stinking slime sprayed the room.

Its insides spilled; objects tumbled. A shriveled and broken bone, a pitted and slimed metal scabbard for a dagger, the eroded bowl of a human skull; anything that was too large for Cornpudding to cough or eliminate from years of victims.

Laying beside the bed, Fazgood looked at his legs.

The cloth of his pants was eaten away under his thighs, and his shoes were smoking tatters. His flesh was raw, wet and bleeding. He tried to sit up, and skin on his right thigh sloughed away. His face grew cold.

I cannot go into shock!

Fazgood cursed and took a breath, so that he would not pass out.

Calzhja crawled to his side.

The Earl gritted his teeth in pain. “I accept your petition for employment.”

She shook her head and wiped tears from her eyes. Her voice was hoarse: “Up!”

She tore the shoes away and eased him to his feet.

The Earl clenched his jaw and screamed. “I paid good money for those shoes!”

“I will buy you another pair!”

“With my money!”

They staggered into the secret room, past the disjoint vault, dark and dead.

“Close the door! To delay the smoke!”

Calzhja wrestled to do so while carrying the Earl, but did so, and pitched the room into darkness.

Calzjha climbed down first, with the Earl’s feet upon her shoulders. Fazgood supported his weight in the handholds.

He cast his mind, [Squire! Is our escape ready?]

[It is, my Earl! They have been waiting! Calzhja insisted on going to get you! Did she get the way again?]

The Earl’s grip slipped on the ladrail. Pain shot up his legs. Calzhja’s shoulders kept him steady.

[She is actually proving quite useful.]

[Are you well?]

His grip tightened within the next limbhold, [I have seen better health.]

[I will have all prepared.]

Calzhja reached the bottom of the ladrail. With a warning to the Earl, she dropped to the sewer floor. The Earl mustered all of his strength to lower himself by his hands and drop. Calzhja and another set of hands caught him. The water splashed his feet and seared as if it was boiling. He gasped and cried out again.

Beside them sat a mass of skin, trembling, eyes rolling in consciousness. Only the ascot and moustache told that it was Cornpudding. The entire of Cornpudding’s insides comprised the Dropsy and now the deputy was dying.

Hands grabbed Fazgood.

Helping him to his feet was a dark, frail Rahsic. He was bald, with a sharp nose and a thin, greying goatee.

Growled the Earl. “Greetings, brother-in-law. What a story will this make in your book.”

Fazgood’s brother-in-law, Yet-More-Muscular whimpered, but held his grip on the Earl’s arm. “I did not want to cause you a bother! Did I cause you a bother? I am sorry!”

“Take me along, wretch. Obviously your wife got my note.”

Calzjha lifted Fazgood’s other arm. She and the brother-in-law carried the Earl.

“What do you mean ‘what a story?’” she asked.

The Earl grunted. “You look upon Fazcelestial’s ink-stained husband, … the god-poxied writer of ‘The Nimblest Man’.”

The man cringed and nodded. “Yet-More Muscular Claimant. I believe you have met my wife. But I presume! Or perhaps you did not meet her and that was someone else who did.”

“Oh! That was me!”

The Earl cried. “Hurry, you two! We do not have time for introductions!”

They struggled up the side of the canal. Greatsergeant Keep was engulfed.

The smoke was dark slate above, swirling with flames. Fire jetted from its murderholes and windows, like hellish vents in the Black Cliffs. As in the square, arcs of water sprang and twinkled into the flames, raising gouts of steam.

They carried the Earl through the backyards.

In Cliffside-Bastles, the residents crowded the street.

The brother-in-law produced a towel, which was placed over the Earl’s head. The street was thick with gawkers.

Said Yet-More-Muscular. “Ple – please! St- stand aside! Please!”

The Earl bellowed. “Burned man, damn you! Burned man needing access, you heartless louts! Stand aside! Aside or I’ll punch your souls!”

People sprang away. Fazgood peeked enough to glimpse brown robed figures around a corner fountain, beseeching and wrestling a column of water from within to fly at the keep. Yet-More-Muscular led them down a street away from the crowd and to a covered rickshaw.

Calzhja whispered. “Was this your plan?”

“It is close enough,” the Earl said. “There lays one last step. Keep alert.”

 

 





“MAD EARL FAZ” CHAPTER 27ish (VICTORY, ALMOST)

13 08 2014

The second bullet strike swallowed the cries of the fight. It was a buzzing that shook the floor beneath Fazgood’s shoes.

The buzzing! If I recall the Three Cities, that bullet will reduce its target into its granular essence. The General will shoot that near the door, so he can enter easier.

But it was in the middle of a wall, near the floor, where the stone had become yellow and glistening, and trickled. A hysterical whine pierced the shouting.

Fluxion! Were any touching that wall when it struck?

Varalam and Calzhja fought with deputies charging up the stairs. One who staggered up was a small, sharp man, who wailed at the white, flaking sculptures at the ends of his arms, mashed together in disbelief.

No more casual bashing for Tlezjoy, recognized the Earl, though he will have no worries about how to salt his soup.

Fazgood looked again at that trickling span on the wall where the bullet struck.

Sand will not hold the weight of the stone above!

There was a wink of billowing spray before blocks scraped together and tumbled into the anteroom. That wall collapsed and deputies sprang away.

Greatsergeant is barely bothering with the pretense of rescue. He will order this keep brought to rubble, kill us all, secure the mask, and endure the outcome.

I thought I would have to set the place on fire myself, but if the General wants to help, let him. Seems I had those combustibles cast about for no reason.

On the landing, Obdurate searched for an opening; a knife plucked from the floor gleamed in his hand, his eyes gleaming wet with fear and passion. He slashed at a human deputy, who slashed back with a sharp length of ablewood. The soldier buried the knife in the deputy’s thick chest and with a sick grimace pushed the deputy back down the stairs.

The Earl cast his mind to Warren: [Has the Dropsy come through the passage yet, squire?]

[I have smelt its sulfur since before the activated bullet, my liege!]

[Do not worry about this assault. The brigades will need some new deputies, but the keep may hold for hours yet.]

[Do you see? The Dropsy comes!]

Through Warren’s eyes, from Warren’s hiding spot beside the bedstead, the Earl saw the still-opened lacquered door lit from the flickering varicolored lights within the secret room. A darkness swelled from the gap. It probed the air, swaying back and forth like a whisker-stubbled tongue.

Fazgood felt a shove, and his concentration was broken. The Inspector’s hot breath was in his face.

“What is at you?” said the man. “This is no time for shock!”

The Earl looked into those panicked eyes and laughed. “’Shock!’ Show me something to be shocked about.”

He bent to the bottom of the wall and snatched up — one-two-three — three paring knives. To his right was the balcony rail overlooking the anteroom. Before him was Varalam snarling in front of the steps leading up.

At the side of the landing beside the rail, Calzhja struggled with two deputies. Calzhja ducked a skullwarmer swung by tall Bookwright, and thrust Hand Position Three into the man’s armpit. The deputy yelped and collapsed.

A flapping! A Exult with plughat and magnate’s colors lit on the rail!

The Earl swore and shoved the Inspector before the Exult’s face! Hissing, the tottering deputy tried to claw around his superior. Mehzadapt screamed and squirmed, talons and toothy beak flailing past his cheeks and ears. The Earl seized the hair on the back of the Inspector’s head and butted the Exult. It pinwheeled back into the anteroom.

The Earl pulled and tripped the Inspector to the floor. “Stay down, you!”

Fazgood looked and saw the captain was beside the gate latch and winch, as he had been earlier instructed. The Earl strode to the top of the stairs.

Varalam carried a squirming junior deputy by the back of his coat and flung him down the stairs. The Earl crouched down below the rail.

“Pull now, Respiration!” yelled the Earl in Adanikarese. “All should please cringe!”

Calzhja and Obdurate ducked to the floor. Respiration pulled down the release latch.

Oiled gears and chains rattled. The metal gate swung crashing down upon the stone parapet. It caught Varalam at the back of the head and sent him sprawling down the steps. A grate slid down and struck the stone floor with a deafening clang!

On the stone floor Mehzadapt lay, scuffed and bewildered.

An odd thought struck the Fazgood: To think if I stayed with the scouts, or if the circles had succeeded, I could have ended up like him! A pathetic!

He cast the thought aside and contacted Warren, [Squire, I pray you are not eaten!]

[Ha! Yes! You would know if I had been, but this creature is unsettling and revolting and it is creeping across the ceiling in a most unsettling and revolting way and I --]

[Has it seen or smelled you?]

[It does not behave as such because it just icks along very revoltingly to the door and I do hope you will be arriving soon though please be careful and --]

[It is as confused as the rest of the deputies. More so!]

The Earl looked to the landing. The air tingled. His hair bristled.

He announced in a sing-song cheer: “Lightning!”

The bolt can only strike the walls, and make a lot of noise.

He covered his ears and stepped away from the metal gates.

A blue flash from under the keep door. All sound seemed sucked away.

Thunder slapped the ears and slammed the air.

He peered through the bars and saw the deputies reeling. Now the cries were broad and lowing, as the deputies could not hear themselves or each other. Somewhere, someone made nerve-shriveling shrieks.

That goes well. And I should put that screaming fellow on the payroll.

Obdurate and Respiration clung to each other exhausted and shaking.

Calzhja picked herself up from the floor laughing, eyes glittering. “ The citizens… told me…this is a peaceful city!”

Fazgood shouted. “I thought Greatsergeant would have evacuated the square before firing or using lightning! My apologies!”

Calzhja leaned upon the Earl. “You are apologizing? What a unique evening!”

Heart thumping at the weight and smell of her, despite himself, the Earl brushed at a bruise under her eye. Her gaze followed his hand.

[My liege!]

“Yes!” called the Earl and he dropped Calzhja , who landed upon her hip.

[It seems to know the intention of the assault! It has icked its way out into the hallway. I can still smell it, so the all-disgusting is just outside the door!]

[Follow it!]

[What?!]

Ignoring Calzhja’s glare and feeling a profound sense of relief, he looked over the railing. In the anteroom, the bottom of the keep door was twisted and blackened. Still, it held.

From that gap came Greatsergeant’s call: “Surrender, scouts! Surrender, Earl Fazgood!”

Another bullet thundered! A roar of a rushing river filled with banging porcelain.

Crockery!

A cloud of dust billowed through the windows. Three paces worth of the wall facing the Square shattered into white, tinkling, brittle shards! The ceiling nearest the wall dropped bricks, and overhead a beam snapped.

Mehzadapt reached for the rail and pulled himself up, gasping.

Fazgood went to the lovers on the stairs and said. “Go to the common room. Listen close. If the keep door is opened, call upstairs. Wait for Warren to arrive or my call to go upstairs. Stay away from the windows! Greatsergeant wants to kill us all!”

Respiration trembled. “Can we not leave now? Why can we not leave now?”

“There is a creature in your room. I must draw it out.”

Obdurate swallowed. “It is that thing when, when –“

“The creature we encountered when we found you is upstairs. I will draw it out. Either Warren or I will come to get you.”

Calzhja hissed. “I will not let you risk yourself –“

“You will not argue! It has to be led away! No one else can do it!”

“But I am your bodyguard.”

“Ah! Today you are my bodyguard! Today I need no guard. Respiration and Obdurate do. Keep a fire handy near your door. The creature will respect that.”

He led the three to the common room. Beside the door, he stooped and picked up a jug shaped as a rosebush by its neck and shook it. Fazgood listened to the comfortable deep slosh.

As the trapped deputies howled and cursed, the Earl walked back to the Inspector leaning upon the iron bars.

Mehzadapt called down to his injured followers. “You will hold the wall! You will make your ancestors proud! I will gain the evidence and the general will be prosecuted!”

“Open that portcullis, inspector!” called Varalam. “We have no chance against those weapons! We can guard as well behind that gate!”

“You will hold the wall!”

The others wailed. “That Cumulid holds above us! They ready another bullet! Please, Inspector!”

Through the smoke and fear, said the Earl with enthusiasm. “Deputies! Citizens! Please! This is not the first time your Inspector has been trapped by the army. He got out just fine. I am certain he will guide you well.”

Mehzadapt gasped at the more overt accusation and looked to the Earl. Downstairs, the cries turned to silent puzzling.

“What does he mean, Inspector? When was this?” called a deputy.

The Earl seized the Inspector’s arm, the jug in his other hand. “Follow, Inspector. We go to your evidence.”

“Yes!” stammered Mehzadapt. “Note, scouts, I go to the evidence! The General will pay for your injuries! He will pay!”

“We do not have much time. Hurry!”

Fazgood glanced back at the floor, and how the Inspector laid his blazer out, arms out and neck towards their destination, so that the Dropsy may know their location.

He led the Inspector to the guest room.

More shouts from downstairs: arguments; Varalam calling for the Inspector; and the one useful deputy shrieked in a most demoralizing way.

What a feeble lot! Back at the Earldom, my lot did not start shrieking until after the frontal assault!

The guest room had been emptied. The rolls of rich cloth had been placed downstairs. The bottles of perfumes and unguents had been poured out in the anteroom. The bottle of relish was in Fazgood’s blazer pocket.

Around the bed rest the three black wooden secretaries.

Fazgood went to the window. He could not see the mural from this side, but the police had pushed the crowd to shelter along the far buildings.

[Warren, are you following the Dropsy?]

[Yes. It makes a sick, sticky sound as it crawls along.]

The Earl perceived what Warren sensed. The Dropsy flowed along the ceiling around the corner and down the stairs. Its stench was like close rot, and its movements crackled like the sound of a bloody fist opening.

[When it approaches the guest room, get Calzhja and the others from the common room and take them upstairs.]

[But my liege, what of you?]

[I will be ready for --]

“What do you see?” the Inspector pressed.

People in the crowd pointed at their window. Soldiers scuttled across the square and peered.

Bellowed the Earl. “General Greatsergeant! General Greatsergeant!”

Mehzadapt started at the thunderous volume of the small man’s voice. In the square, in a knot of soldiers, a tall man with a high forehead directed the other soldiers’ attention.

“General Greatsergeant! Allow your wife and captain safe leave! Have compassion!”

The megaphone raised: “You seize them and call me for compassion!”

Hands trembling, Mehzadapt pulled the Earl away. “Stop! Stop! They will fire again! Where is the evidence?”

The bottle sloshed in the Earl’s hand as he pointed. “In one of those secretaries. I do not know which. Greatsergeant! You are foulness and we have your secret!”

A cry escaped Mehzadapt’s lips. He fumbled at a secretary and opened it.

Within was a bundled swatch of diaphene cloth, radiant like crumpled mother-of-pearl. The Inspector clawed at it. Within its folds, nothing.

Mehzadapt threw the box aside and clambered to seize another. He tore open the folds. Empty.

A stink of rotten eggs rose in the room.

Fazgood set the bottle beside the bed. His fingers tightened on the last box.

Now you decide not to shoot, Greatsergeant, you dawdling wretch!

Scrabbling fingers unfolded. Nothing.

A faint crackling permeated the room.

The Inspector saw what the Earl held close. “Give me that box!”

“Just take it,” Fazgood said slyly.

Eyes squinting, Merhizadapt sensed betrayal. “No! You! You open it!”

The Earl made himself brighten. “Very well!”

“No!” snarled the Inspector. “Give it to me!”

The Earl opened. Within the mask laid, copper-flecks sparkling. The Earl seized it by its edges and picked it up.

“This is the device. Do you want it?”

“Give it to me!”

The Earl flung the mask to the wall facing the Square.

Mehzadapt scrambled after it. The Earl sprang across to the door.

“How does it work?” asked the Inspector.

“You just put it on. Wait!”

“A sap then, and a sap still,” sneered the Inspector as he put the mask on his face. “Cornpudding, kill him.”

Something dark and stinking squirted from the top of the doorframe.

The Earl ducked.

From the window came the call. “Surrender, scouts! Surrender, Earl Fazgood!”

The demon-disease struck the wall by the window.

So shoot, you ill-met!

The writhing blotch sprang.

A honking like that of an immense goose. Dust flew from the window.

Talcum!

The wall turned alabaster. A choking billow of white dust, and the wall thundered and separated from the floor.

The wall was ruined. From corner to corner was bright green-night and the crowd across the square. There was no sign of the Dropsy.

I will not, Fazgood blinked, even think of, or consider, or question, or name that turn of event.

From behind him came a voice, saying:

“This is…singular.”

“Now comes the difficult part,” Fazgood whispered.

He turned around. In the green-night, surrounded by ruin, the swirls of choking white dust glowed, making Fazgood think of dawn would be like in the Hell of the Olivine Demon.

Mehzadapt stood in the doorway, stopped in mid-step, as if arrested by a realization. His fingers had stopped halfway from placing the mask on his face.

The copper gleam of that peaked mask cut through the green gloom, and spread. Mehzadapt’s human flesh took the metallic sheen of Harmonite. His blue blazer and colored cravat remained; a seeming mockery of what he had been. Mehzadapt’s eyes – sharp, watery – remained.

The Earl stood, waiting.

And all I have is an almost-empty bottle of condiment in my pocket, and a mostly-full bottle of tzeimprhoazk.

It was the calmest he had felt in months. His smile was so wide, it made his cheeks hurt.

The floor trembled again; somewhere another part of the keep crumbled further. Outside, across the square voices cried commands, pleas to stop, brash commands and counter-commands. Wind whipped the dust away.

A voice rang from the Inspector like a gong, his voice but not his:

“Where…is…my body?”

The crowd heard this unnatural intonation, and silenced.

The mask has a sympathetic attachment to the Triumph.

The creature looked at Fazgood. The Earl considered options.

He pointed to the opening. “Out there.”

It asked again. “Where…”

The demon that Mehzadapt had become stepped with locked-knees, like an awkward toddler, across the bed.

The citizens saw what stood in the destroyed room.    Across, members of the military, and the police, and the Public Works gathered. Only a minute before, the Earl supposed, they were debating who controlled the situation while the General ordered activated bullets into the keep, daring all to stop his august person. Behind them, even Booloobs hovered, their awesome wrath awaiting a mandate from an authority.

Then citizens screamed. “Demon! Demon!”

For who could not recognize a creature devoted to the Satirist! It was on the very mural behind them, the mural where they had seen Greatsergeant’s grandfather smite day after day.

From the knot of soldiers cried a voice: “No!”

Screamed a voice that used to be sonorous, but now cracked like that of a despairing child. “No! You are mine! You are to be mine!”

Without the mask, any claim the General could make would be mere controversy.

“I will! I will…”

Then Allotropic Greatsergeant looked around him to the Public Works masters and the constable captains, who had all heard him.

The creature looked right to glimpse the Triumph.

This demon said, its voice ringing. “There! I see it.”

It raised its right arm.

The ground shook.

To the right, the great Secure trembled. The center of it seemed to bend and flex, as it was a great neck.

The demon mask stretched and engulfed Mehzadapt’s body, becoming a giant face of the Inspector.

Fazgood seized the bottle of relish from his pocket, then picked up a broken brick. He stepped around the left of the demon and smashed the bottle upon its forehead. Searing relish trickled into its eyes.

It yowled. The trembling ceased.

Fazgood stepped behind, put his foot to the fiend’s rump and pushed. It flipped onto the pile of rubble one floor below.

Beyond, stunned soldiers and officials dropped their gaze to follow the creature down.

The Earl stepped carefully to the edge and looked over. On the stones and shards, the translated Inspector scoured at its eyes and squealed in pain. The neck of the Secure thrashed.

A graybeard in brown robes pointed to the demon, who had just staggered upright:

“See, all! Its eyes are flesh! Aim well!”

Five soldiers carrying a long device swept around to face the new foe. A row of rippling bubbles advanced from the citizenry, their trembles becoming tighter and more acute. The Cumulid flashed in its wispy depths.

Above even the Cumulid, the Earl saw a great sweeping in the mist, as if that of a great hand, the hand of the Temporary God revealed to him by Hrikinik. The sweep gathered into a great poking finger.

What used to be Mehzadapt heard and gave small shrieks.

The Earl leapt back and away into the hall. “Piss-flicking…!”

He turned back inside and sprang across the ruined bed.

“Almost lost you!”

He snatched up the rosebush-shaped bottle and dashed.

Behind, the doorway erupted. Lightning flashed and exploded. Activated energies sang and screamed and transformed. Piercing and interjecting, the most focused Booloob screams swept matter itself into an odorless, gagging wind. From the spirit realm, the Temporary God mashed with coruscating ectoplasm, obliterating even the demon’s soul.

To behold such a fright, and have it so disabled so quickly, this thunderstruck even the screaming populace. Silence dropped upon the thousands.

Came the cry of a citizen:

“Hurray for the Mad Earl!”

The crowd roared its relief and approval! Fazgood crept back to the doorway, now opening onto a pile of rubble facing the square.

The populace of the Kingdom cheered Fazgood. Textured Fabri, feathered Exult, rippling Booloob, Adactoid of all shapes and sizes, humans Theirhe and Rahsic; when all realized who had dispatched the grotesque, all cheered their acclaim.

Fazgood waved, Today it is ‘Hurray for the Mad Earl!’ Tomorrow it will be go-risk-your-life-fetching-my-cat-out-of-the-Pit-of-the-Unnamed.

Then the Earl looked to the General.

The General stood surrounded by officials darkened by dismay and disgust. All had heard Allotropic Greatsergeant’s suspicious exclamation of ownership for that vileness just slain.

Fazgood turned. At the top of the stairs, Varalam and two scouts had lifted and secured the gate. But now they stood in shock.

The Exult said. “I know my eyes. It was the Inspector I saw through the crack in the wall. The Inspector was…changed!”

The scouts shook their heads and protested.

“Believe, deputies!” said the Earl. “You heard them outside! I just pushed him from the room just down the hall, and I tell you! Your boss was a demon!”

They roused enough to be appalled.

Coughed a young, scratched Therihe. “But how could he have been? He has been in service for years!”

“Obviously, he had the ability confound sophisticated determinations! And he out wiled all deductions!”

Another bruised smart-his-betters looked to his peers. “But surely someone would have noticed something foul! Did anyone?”

Fluxion, you give some a path to an excuse, and still they expect you to draw a map!

The Earl thrust his finger through the bars at the churls. “Listen, you! The Inspector led you here!”

He thumped the iron bars of the portcullis. “Into a charge of high treason on false pretenses! He obviously had the power to muddle minds! Unless…you committed high treason while thinking clearly?”

They looked to each other in astonishment. “A demon!” “It explains so much about him!” “Muddled, I was! Muddled!”

“Then scour your memories! I am sure there were many times you suspected he was foul! When Public Works questions you, present even your suspicions with confidence! It is that way that you help your nation! Now speak among yourselves to get your details straight!”

So passed Mehzadapt, and his reputation.

The deputies staggered back down the stairs.

Said the Earl. “Get you gone, citizens!”

“They may still try to shoot us or –“

“If there were a fire, would you flee?”

All whining louts looked around the dark room. “Are we on fire?”

Muck up my plans, will you!

Tucking the precious bottle under his arm, the Earl growled and walked back to the ruined common room. He found a lantern still lit, dusted the rubble from it, and still growling walked back to the top of the stairs. He cranked at the pulleys and raised the gate. Whereupon, he raised the lantern and threw it down in the farthest, still-oil-soaked corner.

Orange flame burst as tall as a man!

Said the Earl. “Indeed! There is a fire! Get you gone, citizens!”

“He is mad!” they cried as one. “The portcullis is raised! He may be at us again!”

The deputies scurried to the front walls. The pickpocket Bookwright was dragged by a stretcher made from blazers and shards of wood; his legs were startlingly askew, showing the end to his bump-and-theft career.

Flickering orange shining upon their backs, they gathered at the chinks of green-night and crawled away:

“We surrender! Have mercy! Do not shoot us!”

Last to leave was Varalam, who pulled bricks and rocks from the top to widen the hole enough to crawl out. Before he made to crawl, he turned back, the scars on his face loose from perplexion. He looked back to the Earl, looked to ask a question.

“Deputy,” Fazgood said while dusting off the bottle. “never let questions get in the way of living a happy life.”

The Adactoid took note of those words, and the scars tightened again. He tucked his hat upon his brow and clambered out.

The flames spread across the floor as if to follow the deputy. Black smoke added to the dust and tingling ozone and heady fumes from the assault. The Earl walked upstairs. He pulled the wax stopper from the Birqmuir spirit and took a breath.

How would a dusk thicket tale write such an end?

He muttered to himself: “She is gone! My love! My Respiration! No. No. She is dead! My love! My Respiration! Greatsergeant, you have killed her…yes. That will do. Wait! What of the captain? Crushed! Yes, that works well.”

Fazgood flung himself to the doorway and cried to the square: “She is dead! My love! My Respiration! Greatsergeant, you have killed her!”

The populace, who had been chastising the deputies with words and thrown objects, looked to the window and pointed and gasped!

Wrist to his eyes, the Earl called. “The captain is crushed! Vile pride has caused such a tragedy!”

People never look so honest as when they are in dismay.

So were the countenances in this throng. They pointed and clung to each other in compassion and dissolution over the Earl’s declaration. Fazgood did not see the General; indeed other soldiers looked about then in confusion.

Fluxion! He got ahead of me again! I have to end the play quick!

“Our love was never meant to be! How cruel to learn this lesson! On the bier of my life, on this pyre of my love, I declare to you, citizens!”

I must be quicker!

“Never-yield-to-selfish-interests-and-never-yield-in-your-love-of-the-Kingdom-for-you-have-something-I-could-only-yearn-for;-a-steadfast-home-and-sacred-reliability!”

It struck the Earl at that moment that up until a few days ago, he did begrudge this city depriving him of those very virtues. Now he felt the most gratifying sneer building. He summed up:

“Long-stay-the-Concord!”

He had almost lost the crowd through the smoke pouring from the second floor, but he could hear their dismay and…Was that weeping?

The sobbing built. “Long stay the Concord!”

Not a bad death speech this time, he took a drink, I’m getting better at them.

That satisfaction did him in.

It just slipped from his lips.

He put the wax stopper back in the bottle, turned back to the secret door and declared this:

“Everything is sorted out.”

His hand was on the door. He groaned and grimaced and spat and wiped to ward off Zhazh, but he knew it was too late. He looked back at the window, at the thickening smoke and the hallway brightening with orange. He sucked his lip, head down and nodded.

He huffed. “Ah just go ahead!”

A dark shape like a wet, prickling blanket swung from the ceiling. It slapped him back to the window. Tucking and rolling, Fazgood protected the green bottle in his grip. He recovered to his feet. The Dropsy arched onto the floor between the Earl and the secret door.

“Did you not hear, you earless snot? Your boss is dead!”

Its oozing was slow, careful, crafty. It feinted to the left.

Fazgood realized: “Ah! You want to brag to all the other phlegm that you ate the Mad Earl!”

It hopped forward, looking to press the Earl into the far corner. Fazgood’s eyes stung from the thickening smoke. He crouched low to breath clearer.

“You snot-bubble! I have dodged assassins of more shapes than you can imagine!”

He hid his hands as he wrested the stopper from the bottle. It gurgled.

I’d just pour the tzeimprhoazk on myself and tackle the Dropsy! But if I miss, it would just slip out the window and into the city!

It feinted to the right.

Fazgood shook the bottle’s neck at the Dropsy. A glistening stream sprayed. The formless thing cowered. Fazgood sprang after the stream to flank the Dropsy away from the window.

He shook again! Again! He backed the Dropsy away from the window and against the bed!

Choking from the thickening smoke, the Earl wiped the sweat from his eyes.

The cunning germ leapt between the shakes. It swung from the right. It knocked the Earl onto his back beside the bed. The Dropsy collapsed upon his legs.

His flesh seared.

It eats!

Fazgood screamed and flung the bottle at the ceiling above them, intending to break it and have the liquor shower upon the monster.

As it arced, drops sparkled from the bottle, but not many.

The bottle made a sharp thump against the ceiling! Then it fell upon the bed, intact, far from his reach.

The creature writhed and shuddered as the few drops fell on it. But it crushed Fazgood in its digestive grip.

All this, he thought, just to be brought down by flu!

A sharp cry! The crack of wood! The heap of Dropsy rose from his legs and swung around backward. The pain in his legs dimmed.

He opened his eyes.

Calzhja stood over him. She wore simple workman’s clothes, and held a shattered piece of furnishing, her face lit by a lantern she held. “What do I do?”

“Kill the god-poxied thing!”

She sprang into the room out of Fazgood’s view. The Dropsy hurled itself against the secret door, and bounded in pursuit.

Fazgood seized the mattress and pulled himself up. In the center of the room, Calzhja had gotten close to the Dropsy and bashed it with the lantern. Its fuel trickled out upon it. The disease swung around again.

“What kills it? I thought alcohol! It is a disease!”

The Earl gasped in pain. “Does that…look like ordinary flu? Get the god-poxied bottle of tzeimprhoazk! It’s from holy springs!”

The demon-germ struck Calzhja in the hip and flung her away from the bed.

She crumbled against the wall. “Where is the bottle? Where?”

“It is on the bed!”

Again! I have to draw maps!

He pulled himself onto the bed and saw the bottle. Its contents surged from the neck. The sheets were wet with the liquor.

His left thigh found the puddle. Every nerve and muscle scorched with pain.

He screamed, grabbed the bottle and rolled off the bed toward the fight.

The Earl struck the floor and found the pain paralyzed him.

The Dropsy lunged. Calzhja sprang out of the way to the door. She caught a gout of smoke in her lungs and fell to her knees choking.

The demonic disease rose to engulf her.

Fazgood cried out. His legs gathered under him and he stumbled forward.

Calzjha staggered forward and seized the wet bedsheet. The Dropsy sprang. She spun and pulled the sheet. The Dropsy lunged into the cloth.

Wrapped in the cloth soaked with blessed alcohol, the Dropsy cringed and wrestled away across the room. The creature’s back melted. Stinking slime sprayed the room.

Its insides spilled; objects tumbled. A shriveled and broken bone, a pitted and slimed metal scabbard for a dagger, the eroded bowl of a human skull; anything that was too large for Cornpudding to cough or eliminate from years of victims.

Laying beside the bed, Fazgood looked at his legs.

The cloth of his pants was eaten away under his thighs, and his shoes were smoking tatters. His flesh was raw, wet and bleeding. He tried to sit up, and skin on his right thigh sloughed away. His face grew cold.

I cannot go into shock!

Fazgood cursed and took a breath, so that he would not pass out.

Calzhja crawled to his side.

The Earl gritted his teeth in pain. “I accept your petition for employment.”

She shook her head and wiped tears from her eyes. Her voice was hoarse: “Up!”

She tore the shoes away and eased him to his feet.

The Earl clenched his jaw and screamed. “I paid good money for those shoes!”

“I will buy you another pair!”

“With my money!”

They staggered into the secret room, past the disjoint vault, dark and dead.

“Close the door! To delay the smoke!”

Calzhja wrestled to do so while carrying the Earl, but did so, and pitched the room into darkness.

Calzjha climbed down first, with the Earl’s feet upon her shoulders. Fazgood supported his weight in the handholds.

He cast his mind, [Squire! Is our escape ready?]

[It is, my Earl! They have been waiting! Calzhja insisted on going to get you! Did she get the way again?]

The Earl’s grip slipped on the ladrail. Pain shot up his legs. Calzhja’s shoulders kept him steady.

[She is actually proving quite useful.]

[Are you well?]

His grip tightened within the next limbhold, [I have seen better health.]

[I will have all prepared.]

Calzhja reached the bottom of the ladrail. With a warning to the Earl, she dropped to the sewer floor. The Earl mustered all of his strength to lower himself by his hands and drop. Calzhja and another set of hands caught him. The water splashed his feet and seared as if it was boiling. He gasped and cried out again.

Beside them sat a mass of skin, trembling, eyes rolling in consciousness. Only the ascot and moustache told that it was Cornpudding. The entire of Cornpudding’s insides comprised the Dropsy and now the deputy was dying.

Hands grabbed Fazgood.

Helping him to his feet was a dark, frail Rahsic. He was bald, with a sharp nose and a thin, greying goatee.

Growled the Earl. “Greetings, brother-in-law. What a story will this make in your book.”

Fazgood’s brother-in-law, Yet-More-Muscular whimpered, but held his grip on the Earl’s arm. “I did not want to cause you a bother! Did I cause you a bother? I am sorry!”

“Take me along, wretch. Obviously your wife got my note.”

Calzjha lifted Fazgood’s other arm. She and the brother-in-law carried the Earl.

“What do you mean ‘what a story?’” she asked.

The Earl grunted. “You look upon Fazcelestial’s ink-stained husband, … the god-poxied writer of ‘The Nimblest Man’.”

The man cringed and nodded. “Yet-More Muscular Claimant. I believe you have met my wife. But I presume! Or perhaps you did not meet her and that was someone else who did.”

“Oh! That was me!”

The Earl cried. “Hurry, you two! We do not have time for introductions!”

They struggled up the side of the canal. Greatsergeant Keep was engulfed.

The smoke was dark slate above, swirling with flames. Fire jetted from its murderholes and windows, like hellish vents in the Black Cliffs. As in the square, arcs of water sprang and twinkled into the flames, raising gouts of steam.

They carried the Earl through the backyards.

In Cliffside-Bastles, the residents crowded the street.

The brother-in-law produced a towel, which was placed over the Earl’s head. The street was thick with gawkers.

Said Yet-More-Muscular. “Ple – please! St- stand aside! Please!”

The Earl bellowed. “Burned man, damn you! Burned man needing access, you heartless louts! Stand aside! Aside or I’ll punch your souls!”

People sprang away. Fazgood peeked enough to glimpse brown robed figures around a corner fountain, beseeching and wrestling a column of water from within to fly at the keep. Yet-More-Muscular led them down a street away from the crowd and to a covered rickshaw.

Calzhja whispered. “Was this your plan?”

“It is close enough,” the Earl said. “There lays one last step. Keep alert.”

 

 





“MAD EARL FAZ” CHAPTER 27 (THE BIG FIGHT SCENE)

6 08 2014

Across the square, under the visage of Greatsergeant’s grandfather clobbering the demon, Mehzadapt watched. He wore a merchant’s blue suit and went bareheaded.
Outside the keep, some twenty paces away, three soldiers had been waiting and watching the passing citizens.
From the western arterial came startled calls, a disturbance in the foot traffic.
The co-conspirator captain and a woman he did not recognize dashed to the keep, opened the door and slammed it shut. The soldiers turned to each other in puzzlement, then walked to the keep and, subtly, tried the door.
And stayed standing on the threshold.
Locked? The guards are locked away from the Earl?
The Inspector growled, Pompous idiot soldiers! But what of Fazgood’s note? And how did the General know my name? Fazgood’s playing at something!
The three soldiers looked around the courtyard at the passersby. When no one was looking, all three shoved at the door. It did not budge.
General Greatsergeant strode across the square. Heedless of passersby, he berated the men
Mehzadapt laughed out loud.
There! The window at the second story – the contemplation room, so the Inspector had been told – there a human waved in broad, inviting strokes.
Arrayed around the square in disguise were nine of his deputies; led by the three most capable deputies (sadly for the Inspector’s temper, they were now the three most unruly); In the far corner, Bookwright stood still as a post, expectant. Before the postings of stories and events, Tlezjoy bobbed on his feet; Varalam delicately cracked one knuckle at a time, the sound lost among in the murmur of early evening perambulations.
This is the most important moment of my life, the Inspector thought, and then thrust that thought away.
“Come!” he said, and he strode to the keep. The others joined his walk, matching his pace. Nearer, the soldiers showed the shoulder braids of a sergeant and two corporals; and on the fourth the Greatsergeant brow was now obvious. Doubtless the other three were baggage carriers, restrainers for the Earl, and bodyguards for the General. Just as the large sergeant made to speak, the Inspector stopped, drew his hat from under his blazer, and placed it carefully on his head. The deputies did likewise.
The sergeant sneered. “I told your sort that the General wants you away!”
Drawing breath to imply tolerance for a dullard, the Inspector said. “You are a dupe in a conspiracy against the Kingdom. Stand away and let me pass or you will be charged will low treason.”
Nearer the door, the General stepped before the Inspector. “What say you, vermin-herder?”
Though Mehzadapt often referred to himself such the same, the contempt in that voice made the Inspector’s jaw clench.
“Am I speaking to General Allotrope Greatsergeant, the man?”
The General said. “We are on a mission of honor. We have no need of your assistance.”
“So,” observed the Inspector. “we Scouts are unable to assist in honorable dealings. Is that what you say?”
“I say that we need no assistance.”
“That is good, for we offer no assistance. We investigate. Please stand aside or be arrested.”
Greatsergeant stepped close. “Your name is Mehzadapt.”
The Inspector thought, Fazgood has been talking to the General. People dashing in unexpected; what brews here?
Posturing for the gathering onlookers, the General declaimed loudly. “Leave my family alone, scout! Have we not sorrows enough?”
“’Sorrows’!” spat that scout. “you live with a fine wife and servants. Your sorrow is that you could not keep her from dallying! With a foreigner!”
The General’s dark skin darkened further, and he pointed in Mehzadapt’s face. “Leave, you!”
“Dallying with a foreigner!”
Behind them, a rumble passed through the crowd.
“Leave! Leave while you still have your rank and vocation.”
“Deputies,” said the Inspector. “break them.”
Varalam’s great hands pushed the General aside. The other deputies produced skullwarmers and attacked the two subordinates. Cries of alarm rang across the square. From their posts at the corners and at the arterial entrance, police officers ran forward to help, but there were only four of those police.
When they hesitated, the Inspector called to them. “Let us do our task or you will be charged with low treason.”
The police knew the Inspector and noted his seriousness.
One called: “Public Works will be notified! You had better adhere to the Uniform Guild Protocols!”
“Article Seven, you rogues!” yelled another. “You will answer for those soldiers if no offense is found!”
Greatsergeant sprang from the beating and sprinted to the eastern arterial, toward the Plaza of the Superb and his headquarters.
The two soldiers were unconscious. Deputies whooped and moved to pursue the General, but the Inspector called. “Leave him! Let him bring more! All the more to help arrest him when the time comes!”
The Inspector tried the door. Barred.
The bar behind the door rattled, and the door opened. There stood someone with a searing, direct gaze, and a buoyant and vigorous bearing. It took Mehzadapt a blink before he recognized Fazgood’s face.
“Inspector!” called the Earl. “Good! You brought overwhelming force! Enter!”
Then he vanished within. Mehzadapt growled under his breath and waved the deputies to follow him.
The anteroom was dark to a sickly gloom. Broken furniture littered the anteroom. Across the shambles, the Earl trotted up the stairs.
“What stinks?” said Tlezjoy.
“Shut up, you,” said the Inspector, but Tlezjoy was correct. A cloying, flowery stench filled the air; at another turn, the nose stung from lantern oil.
“The Goodwife knows all is lost, and has taken a hand at decorating. It does not matter.”
The Inspector remembered the rejoinder at the end of the Earl’s message. His pounding heart chilled.
Is this a trap?
“After him, you!” and Mehzadapt sprang over the furniture and trotted to the bottom of the stairs.
The Earl’s voice rang. “Do not panic so! I bring you to Greatsergeant’s treasure!”
“Where is the Goodwife? Where are those two who ran in?”
“All upstairs! You can catch and arrest them all!”
A deputy blurted. “Are you truly the Mad Earl?”
Fazgood looked to the subordinates and raised a brow to the deputy. “I am certified so by Public Works.”
“How far away is the College of Incorrigibles?” asked Tlezjoy.
Another asked. “Why did you leave the Earldom? What a grand job!”
“Shut up, all of you!” yelled the Inspector.
All the deputies did shut up, and the hard resentful looks returned.
The Earl looked upon back down at them with amity. “Deputies! Good citizens all! I will be glad to have a good talk later, over something good and malty. Mehzadapt, I would like to take time with you to reminisce. I could start with the Eleven Circles!”
The deputies looked to one another with disdainful snorts. “Those scum! Those rebels!”
The cold leaked into Mehzadapt’s bowels.
He looked close at the Earl; The vague softness of the man the Inspector had obligated was gone. That man looked down from the top of the stairs at Mehzadapt. His stance was straight and seeming unbudgeable. His dark eyes glinted with an unseemly amusement.
Just a few steps ahead on the stairs, and a floor above was the evidence that would save Mehzadapt from a life of paving roads, and fulfill dreams of triumph.
What has given Fazgood this new wind? Would he assassinate me as we go up the stairs? But he would never escape.
And just a few steps away was the prize that would secure me the magnateship, and keep me from a life paving the Royal Road.
Cornpudding is on his way, Fazgood, you treacherous and naïve wretch. But we cannot have witnesses for whatever you may say upstairs.
He looked to his underlings and said. “You stay downstairs, Make sure that the general does not obstruct us further.”
Varalam rumbled and stepped, looming up the stairs. “There are others up there, Inspector.”
The Inspector watched Fazgood for the comforting cringe that Varalam’s scarred menace invoked.
Remarked Fazgood. “The inspector is more than enough for those citizens, deputy.”
The Earl looked from the Inspector to the massive Adactoid, and his mocking smile did not falter. Even Varalam betrayed hesitancy at that with a slight scuff of his step.
After scorning it for so many months, now Mehzadapt wished he had read “The Nimblest Man”.
He said to his deputy. “Come, Varalam. The rest of you search the downstairs and mind that door.”
The hulking Adactoid trotted up the stairs to join the Inspector. The two trudged up to join Fazgood at the top of the stairs.
Fazgood whispered to Mehzadapt. “Can you trust those deputies? I have heard that skinny one call you some hard names.”
Mehzadapt glanced back down at his subordinates and grimaced. He growled. “Where is it?”
“Ah. Up these stairs, in the master bedroom with the others.”
They trotted up the stairs to the great room on the second floor.
The door was open. Arrayed about the room were the conspirators: Captain Childteacher by the window swelling with rage at sight of the Inspector, the goodwife beside him holding his arm, and the girl in the ragged-hemmed purple wrap. She crouched with hands open and flat, and dark eyes challenging.
At the opposite wall, where a lacquered panel should have been, was an opening dim-lit with a white glow.
Fazgood smirked. “Here are our guests! Be polite everyone! We are all friends!”
The girl stood eased from her crouch, her eyes wary.
“Inspector,” said the Earl. “you have met the goodwife and you have tortured the captain. I present my associate the Foofaloof.”
Though not buxom, most of the girl’s breasts showed and thus confirmed her sex.
“The Foofaloof!” said the Scout. “This is no man!”
Muttered the Earl. “Just wait a day or so.”
The Inspector ignored that confusing comment. He and the deputy strode into the room. “You three are all under arrest by the Scout Brigades! You will show me the loot that the General has hidden! Is the money in there?”
He moved to the opened panel. He peered inside.
The glow peeked from a gap in a black cloth cover, like that of a small tent. Pushing the gap further, the white light showed it was actually varicolored. Clawing his way through brittle and dazzling diaphene, he found a black box, empty.
Wiping his face and brow, the Inspector withdrew and reeled on the conspirators.
“A disjoint vault! What in Enthus’ name has been kept here?”
Obdurate’s rage bordered on feral. Still he managed a sneer. “It is not money, you fool! It is a magic device of great power.”
The goodwife said. “We should use it!”
“What use is stealth now?” snapped Fazgood. “It is too late to go sneaking about! Where would any of us sneak to? What a sum we could have made from its sale!”
“Where is it? What does it do?”
The Earl made a sour face. “It…is an Ijkallan enchantment. It baffles sight, but only at night. At day, it is useless. It only works for its wearer. But it is silent! It needs no incantation to maintain its effect!”
“Do you see how valuable that is?” said Varalam. “If we give it to the police, they will –“
Shouted the Inspector. “Shut up! Where is it?”
“It has been moved downstairs, safely. I know a way to make movable disjoints.”
Varalam sneered. Noting that, the Inspector also made mock. “Leaving the city? Where is the device?”
“In one of four boxes in the guest room.”
The scouts looked to each other in puzzlement.
Explained the Earl. “To make a disjoint shipment is tricky. Even if you line a box with diaphene, and a spirit cannot see diaphene, an inquired spirit could point at the box and say, ‘This box came from the disjoint in the keep.’ So I got three boxes alike in every way. I took them within the disjoint. I cut and folded diaphene from the disjoint and filled the secretaries within the disjoint box. Into one is placed the device, a mask. The diaphene keeps the spirits from seeing within the boxes. So I pack up the boxes while in the disjoint, and hand them out to the Foofaloof, who arranges them downstairs in the guest room, not on the ground floor where the deputies are, so that I do not know which box I handed out and when. Ship them separately to the same location, and there you have your device transported, and the spirits stay confused.”
Mind reeling, Mehzadapt snapped at the goodwife. “Is this doorway a passage to the canal?”
She startled. “It is.”
Cornpudding may not yet be in place! Even if he was ready, he would still hide to avoid all these witnesses! I must get these people out of this room for him to –
Fazgood said. “What are the deputies doing? I hope they are not opening the keep door!”
Heart pounding, the Inspector seized the excuse and waved. “Come downstairs, all of you!”
None moved.
The hulking Adactoid made to seize the Foofaloof’s wrist. The girl slapped the heavy paw away with a sharp blow.
“Come all!” declared Fazgood. “There is no need for rudeness, deputy! We will come!”
All filed out the door, leaving both the deputy and Inspector blinking.
Who commands here?
They went down to the floor with the common room. They looked over the anteroom. The door was still barred. The deputies looked out the windows.
One called. “There are soldiers gathering!”
“There are more coming every moment!” another yelped. “They are shoving against the door!”
Sneered the Inspector. “Let them break their shoulders! Those iron bonds in the door will hold! The walls are as thick as you are tall! Deputy Varalam, take the detainees to the common room!”
The deputy glowered and motioned. From halfway down the hall, a deep murmur came from the common room
All ran into the room and looked out the window. At the far side of the square, citizenry swarmed, their perimeter defined by a thin, harried line of police. Beneath their window, heads and maroon-covered shoulders scurried around the base of the keep.
One held up a megaphone: “Push!”
All heaved back as one and swung forward. A crash against the door.
Fazgood commented. “Look at that! The General is laying siege on his own home with a ram!”
More crashes in rhythm to the commands! Cries of alarm echoed through the keep!
From the hallway came the Inspector. “Hold the wall, deputies! The door doesn’t even twitch!”
He strode across the room and shoved everyone away from the window.
The Inspector cried out to the massed soldiers. “You are a traitor, Greatsergeant! We have the proof in your secret room!”
The megaphone tilted up: “Surrender, you vermin-herds!”
The phone turned to the waiting crowd. “The Inspector is deluded! Surrender, Earl Fazgood! I know you made threats to kill my poor wife!”
“What have you in the secret room?” called the Inspector.
“The Inspector is deluded! Push!”
The deputies cried out, but less so then before.
“Call out, goodwife!” snarled the Inspector. “He would hold his assault for your sake!”
The Goodwife looked to Fazgood, who nodded. She stepped to the window and called. “Husband, I am hostage! You are being rash –“
“She is under duress!” sang out the General. “She is under duress from the traitor Inspector and the stranger Fazgood! They told me they would kill her! For your love of my family, push! We will avenge them!”
The Inspector felt the heat drain from his face.
He means to kill us all, to eliminate witnesses to his corruption!
“Push! Push!”
From downstairs came mocking laughter from the deputies.
Varalam looked in from the doorway. “The door holds fast.”
The Earl noted. “That ramming makes no dent, but much noise. That is his intent! So that we cannot call our tale to the public! Clever man, but how can he keep up the noise?”
The crowd across the square had grown to hundreds. They called and shrieked, but as they were Harmoniads, they did not press the row of police who cordoned them.
The Inspector made out some of their cries between the blows of the ram: “Surrender, good Fazgood!” “ Be noble, Earl!” “Do not go further mad!”
Mehzadapt’s jaw clenched: Do they not care for my welfare? Support the tradition of the Scout Brigades?
The Earl seemed equally angered. “’Further mad!’”
Out the window came the call. “Soldiers, withdraw!”
The soldiers trotted away from the door to the far end of the square. The crowd quieted.
“Ah,” said the Earl. “It is never good when that happens.”
Mehzadapt started. “What? Why?”
A rush of sound, like a chorus of tuned rattles. A blue flash flickered the square. Thunder rolled through the keep. Dust billowed. A shriek swept the crowd.
The deputies wailed. The Inspector dove to the floor. Varalam had crouched to cover the Inspector with his body. Meanwhile, Fazgood had merely taken a step back from the window.
Noted the Earl. “Activated bullets! I have not heard one since the Three Cities!”
Mehzadapt seized his hat from the floor and struggled to stand. “No one has shot activated bullets here since the siege!”
A shrug: “He wants to kill us.”
From the stairs, cries and running! Varalam and the conspirators stood; all gawked at the Earl’s good cheer.
He said. “Your deputies are coming upstairs! If they get upstairs to the master bedroom and find the secret way, off they go with anything they can stick in their pockets. I have been through a siege; you have my sympathy.”
“Deputy Varalam!” Mehzadapt pointed at the door. “Get them back downstairs! Tell them I have the evidence!”
Fazgood said to the girl. “Calzjha, go help the deputy.”
She asked. “Are you certain? Will you be safe?”
“I will be well. Go, you.”
She sprinted out the door.
“You send that girl to stop my deputies? Are you mad?”
“Varalam is not that large. She should have enough space to stand.”
Across the room, Respiration stood in shock, the Captain holding her close.
The Earl did tell me the captain was having the affair with the goodwife. This makes sense, of all this.
“Obdurate!” shouted Fazgood. “Keep Respiration on the stairs! Calzjha needs your help!”
Mehzadapt stepped to the captain. “I command!”
“Those reminders,” the goodwife’s eyes burned. “should prove helpful to someone!”
The Earl guffawed.
The soldier brought the woman to the door. He looked to the hallway, then called back. “The deputies are at the top of the stairs!”
Mehzadapt sprang to the window. He followed Fazgood’s gaze to the clouds over the citadel. A rolling nimbus swelled toward the square. The wind whipped in the room.
By the Compact! That is the Army of Invitation’s Cumulid! It could persuade lightning to strike us!
He seized the shoulder of Fazgood’s blazer. “Upstairs! Get me this device!”
“The deputies first! Come!”
“Varalam can handle –“
But the Earl walked to the door in measured, energetic steps, whistling a sprightly tune. Mehzadapt gaped at the relaxed demeanor when came another resounding noise, a popping and buzzing that deafened. Varalam shouted all to hold fast. Then the second bullet struck the keep door.








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