Since I did promise to be nice to these two very eccentric individuals, I'll be more tame with my announcement of their grand bitchfight.
Although the details weren't exactly known what led up to this prolonged grudge, there were rumors floating around that Cel just had a desire to enact some good ol' limb chopping after having played through several hours of Fear and Hunger (really don't play that game unless you're a masochist that likes pain simulators or your average Slav). Well, the victim turned out to be none other than Sent, the site's favorite penguin.
Sent, let's see, there are simply too many words to describe him. One might say that he's the ambassador of eating raw carrots, sharing the same sentiment as councilman Flappy the rabbit who resides in Sherb's backyard. Something something about finding the one sweet carrot as if that red vegetable stick shares the same amount of reverence as Excalibur from the Arthurian legend. Other people might say that he is a penguin of great character, but don't say that to his face because he would otherwise claim that he's not like the other penguins because he's actually an alien from some decades old pew pew laserbeam space series that no one has heard of.
And because I certainly wasn't paid or anything to say this: Sent's writing is even better than sliced bread. His words are more convincing and healing than the average televangelists. Stone hard serial killers will repent and show remorse whenever they finish one of his stories. Babies will cry of joy. His stories about racism, inequality and acceptance had become South Africa's greatest inspiration. His romance novels have the power to make straight people question their sexuality. His speeches about peace caused the split of Sudan. Truly, all of his sentences are imbued with magic.
Then in the other side of the arena resides Cel. Despite the ongoing rumors that a certain Serbian car boinked him so hard that he's forever tied to a wheelchair, he has by now recovered and received the awesome upgrade of not getting to use the disabled parking spaces anymore! Now with the rage of someone that played the wizard game, pathologic AKA pain simulator 2.0 and Fear and Hunger in his free time, he is more than ready to create his own version of Crime and Punishment for everyone who unfortunately is born with a pair of functional eyes to see. No one would really be surprised if the end result turned out to be an incestuous version of the chainsaw massacre with some good ol' Slavic existential dread. I bet that this work would certainly be a cult classic among the other degenerates like Cel and the queer community :) (The ven diagram of their tastes in media is basically a circle).
But you know what. Cel is the second best Serbian writer of this entire site, a very impressive accomplishment you see. So there you go Cel, a compliment.
Well, that's enough introduction for these folks. Let the blood match begin!
The prompt was: haunted mountain. Any genre.
(BTW. both seemed to be very keen on the other party doing stuff with their bumhole. Yeah, their submission titles were certainly an interesting read. Never in my life have I seen so much sexual tension flying off two people since Top Gun)
Seventy years ago, in the early days of the Samrican Civil War, Fort Drampton at Mt. Ephesus was to be the wall that kept the Union Army out of the western Confederate Territories. This plan proved unspeakably tragic for both sides.
Amidst the horror and grueling bombardment of its first and final battle, an errant spark in the fort’s upper powder magazine caused a blast so powerful, it split the tall and narrow crown of the already damaged mountain down the middle, shattered the largest portion of the pass's foundation, and buried the surrounding battlefield in an avalanche of rubble and dust. In a moment, the fortress at the Ephesian Pass was subsumed into a dry and unyielding grave-- And those who had died or were yet fighting, became entombed forevermore.
These days, rumor kept that the cacti growing up on that hill had roots reaching down into the bodies beneath the rock. On warm summer nights, they ventured, you could still hear the faint rasp of snare drums and the call of bugles in the air. But tonight, the only sound was that of distant thunder and thrumming engines, as a clandestine legion had chased other ghost stories to this place-- these visitors had not come to pay respects to the lost, and they listened not for songs on the tumultuous wind...
With mechanical efficiency, the road through the Ephesian pass was blocked by chain link fences at either side. The ruined hillock over the fort's remains was now a makeshift checkpoint, guarded by a Sozial-Soldat of the RSNAP. It was unusual to see an enemy soldier this deep into the states. Well, it was unusual to see them at all, but history hadn't quite been the same ever since they began to pour in from the parallel earth- The one that had not been invaded by Star-creatures and shattered. But that was another story, of another war.
This guard cursed his luck. Another goddamn night out in this cold, guarding a pile of rubble from jackrabbits and gophers! When was his relief going to get here, anyway? His gloved hands fumbled for a pocket watch to check. Before he could comprehend where the arms were pointing, his eyes darted to something in his periphery. Before its first few ticks met his ear, he started turning to another sound- A shifting of gravel? A phantom boot? A dull, wet, crunch. What should have been a shout of alarm escaped as a shuddering gasp, and the man fell forward, clutching in vain at the painful intrusion in his back.
"Damn it, we're too late, Dixie!”
Orville, the professor's chauffeur, pried the pickaxe point of his entrenching-tool out of the Rhazi's bubbling wound.
"Freiherr Von Niederträch and his men are already here for the Confederate Gold-- God, they might have even found Blade of Ephraim! This is a job for the military, not an anthropology professor!"
Dixon, the slighter fellow, lifted the brim of his hat and fixed the birdman with his one remaining eye, "After what we've seen, Orville, do you think it matters? Putting the blade in the hands of Federal agents would be almost as bad as the Rhazis getting it! How could we expect them to keep it safe? How could we expect them not to use it?
What we have right now is the battle map from the general's tomb, that's the piece of the puzzle the RSDAP is missing!"
"And we've brought it right to them!"
Dixie quickly began to frisk the sentry’s body, and strip off his Party identification and armband.
"We also brought a shovel and a shotgun! Now hurry up and put on that Rhazi sallet before anybody finds out you're not one of their master races!"
From one side of the pass was a trail leading from the entrance to the Rhazis' excavation site, burrowed precariously into the side of the hill.
Here, a flying concrete monstrosity, the so-called ‘Schloss Von Niederträch’, hovered over a hastily cleared landing platform and was drawn to the ground by its retractable bridge. The flying fortress’s portcullis yawned before the tunnel exit like a fanged maw, track-tilled dirt and dusty footprints spilling out. Most of the excavation team had gone inside to avoid the impending downpour, but a handful of guards remained at the perimeter near the road, manning the sandbags. Guns carefully tracked two figures as they approached from the mountain's scar.
The pair hardly matched these orderly entrenchments-- an SS Soldier in a disheveled and tight uniform, escorting a smaller man with a long coat and armband both outsized for him, but a suitably intimidating eye patch.
"Identifizierin sie sich!" Called one of the gate guards.
Dixon ran through all the Rhadenian he knew in his head, "Ah, ich bin der Hundeklipper, das ist mein Leibwächter."
"Was zum teufel ist ein Hundeklipper?"
"Ich klip den Hund. Zu lange haare." Dixon made a few demonstrative scissor movements with his fingers, and helpful sound effects.
The Rhazi guards seemed to laugh to one another, "Ahh, der HUND den du klippest? Bitte hier entlang!"
The gate opened before them, and the duo were allowed into the wide dusty yard ahead of the castle gate and the cave entrance leading below Ephesus. Orville's curiousity got the better of him as soon as they were roughly out of earshot of the men at the gate.
"What the hell did you tell them!?"
"I told them I was here to give the dogs a haircut."
"How'd you even know Niederträchtich had dogs?"
"He's mentioned fox-hunting... Other blood sports before, and we've seen a pretty big kennel area in the blueprints of that castle. I think it's reasonable to assume he hires a dog groomer from time to time."
The conversation was drowned out by the rattling of wind in the fences, and the gate sentries stepped under their tarps for shelter as the abrupt darkness approached... The archeologist and company took the opportunity to slip into the mouth of the cave, which was considerably less guarded. This was a good sign, perhaps- If they'd found the Cursed Gold of General Ephraim, this area probably would've been crawling with SS men- Not just unmanned half-tracks, parked trucks, and wheelbarrows of dirt.
It was a long way down, past rows of support beams, but they found the remains of the old battle. Ancient cannon and gatling guns were strewn about in pieces, dusty skeletal hands from the walls and floor clutched rifles and swords like fields of crops. Dixon reached into his shoulderbag to retrieve General Ephraim's battle map, to see who was who among the sand-flooded earthworks.
"Did they find the sword yet?" Orville piped up.
"I'm worried that they did," said the professor, "The General was entrenched somewhere in the range of this digsite here, close to the original hill. That was when he was forced to eject from his harness and retreat from the battle to a medical camp somewhere. He would have left the sword-"
Dixon followed the parallel lines of petrified wooden barricades and east-facing troops over to a large pit, where it seemed a twisted mass of gray-painted metal with brass badges had been painstakingly unearthed.
Dixon looked down at the thing with peevish resignation, "Well, the bad news is, they found the cursed sword."
"That's the one thing we really didn't want them to have!"
"Yes, but they didn't find the cursed gold!"
"What difference does it make!? There'll be a damn Rhazi Sorceror attacking Samrican cities with a necromancer's sword tomorrow!"
Dixon thought for a moment, "Unless we can somehow counter the curse?"
"Have you also been a professor of wizard bullshit this whole time!?"
"No, but I do know history! And I know that Birdmen who enter the military have an ancestral oath where they promise to protect their land and people even after they're gone."
Orville lifted the visor of his helmet, just to make sure Dixon was aware he was being looked at like he was deranged, "Dixon, that's, like… That's a prayer! That's figurative! I recited it during the Invaders' War, it's just for your morale!"
"Didn't knights rise out of the ground to defend the mountains from Star-Worms and those Cosmic Vampires?"
"I wasn't on that entire continent during the war, so I can't say. But my ancestors aren't knights! My family has been in Werscoggins since before it was a state."
Dixon grinned, "Werscoggins, you say? You mean, where the Iron Volunteers were from? The same ones who pushed into the trenches down here?"
"Were there Birdmen in the Iron Volunteers?"
"Let's find out- Do you know how to petition your ancestors for aid?"
"I told you, Dixon, it's like a prayer, this isn't some kind of summoning ritual!"
"Have you ever tried!?"
Orville's brow furrowed, and he threw up his hands, "Well of course I've tried! Everybody's been 12 on Halloween once!"
"Well maybe it only works when there's an impending battle?"
"You're not suggesting we just assault the Rhazi fortress, are you?"
"Who knows? What if there's a lot of them?" Dixon grinned with a sort of mad excitement, following the map to one of the far corners of the mine, "The place that the Iron Volunteers would've charged to before the landslide should be somewhere behind this wall. Maybe address your call over here?"
"I can't believe this," Orville unbuckled the sallet and bevor and took off the Rhazi helm, before staring, with consternation, at the dirt wall.
"Well?" Asked Dixon, "Aren't there, like, special words?"
"I'm thinking them!" Said Orville, matter-of-factly.
"You can't just think them! It's a recitation!"
"If ghosts are real they'll probably be able to hear me thinking them!"
"Ew, no! You don't want ghosts to be able to read your thoughts, do you? They could be anywhere! Whatever you're thinking at any time! Your aunt could just be listening in!"
"No! It's different! I'm thinking the words loudly!"
"Just not loudly enough to make noise, huh?"
They were interrupted by an ominous rumbling and a displacement of dust, as cracks formed in the compacted sand before them. A great iron fist, clad in scratched indigo paint, punched through the wall and stuck out between them.
"Son of the Mountains, your petition has been heard!" Rasped a voice, somehow through the wall and yet also surrounding them.
Dixon was amazed, practically hopping up and down as he heard the voice and saw the giant fist punch its way out. Whoever this was, they said the same thing that the undead ancestors used to say in the old poems when fulfilling the Oath! Well, the English version, but still.
Orville, on the other hand, was horrified. Partially because he was hearing a ghost, and partially because the potential reality of what Dixon had suggested just hit him now, "What the fuck! Did you actually hear my thoughts!?"
"You were thinking… Loudly," Said the voice. It sounded like it was smiling.
"Hail, Ancestor!" Dixon cried out, "Who answers the call?"
"Captain Laurence Fraechag answers!" The voice became more fluid and lively as it introduced itself, "Unit Captain and Pilot for the 8th Werscoggins Volunteers!"
The machine waved its watermelon-sized fist, widening cracks in the wall, "I've driven this Steam Harness through many an earthworks fortress in my time. Surprised she still runs! But, enough about me. What threatens my land and people, young lady? Are men yet free in Samrico?"
Dixon looked at the hand indignantly, "Young lady?"
It took a second for Laurence to realize, "Oh, a thousand pardons! Your voice sounded higher than the other through this wall, and I didn't recognize either of you… Truth be told, I'm not sure any of us are blood relatives, strictly speaking. I only heard you two conversing from within this cave afore I 'woke up', as it were. I can only assume I was brought back to fulfill my oath!"
"Understandable," Said Orville, "His voice is a little weird, but you get used to it."
Dixon pointedly ignored Orville, and focused on what he was going to say next- There was so much he wanted to ask a genuine ancestor about his life and times, but he decided against it. Other things were far more pressing at the moment! And besides, after six years studying and practicing the science of archeology, asking a ghost about all the details just felt like cheating.
"The states are united again, Laurence," Said Dixon, "And several more have been added since! But there's a new threat hanging over us right now. An equally large threat to the rights and freedom of men- Even the right to life itself."
"Good God, man! Are the Britonians coming back again?"
"No, it's hard to explain, but it's something like that. An evil king has taken power over the states of Rhadeny, and one of his subjects has arrived with a fortress and a platoon of men to dig up the blade of General Ephraim."
"No!… They didn't unearth it yet, did they?"
"Well, uh… That's really how we got down here."
The wall shook in front of them, before the pilot withdrew the harness's arm back into its crater, "We've got to stop them! Ephraim was a delusional necromancer, and his Devil Blade made chattel of the souls of men! His whole brigade has been trapped here on mortal earth with that sword, awake, for God knows how long! I can feel them all screaming through the ground!
If another enemy of this Union got their hands on that thing, god… The bombardment here, it lasted for weeks! It lasted until the mountain crumbled from shelling, because the Dead still held the walls and trenches long after we had chased off the generals! And here they all still are..."
Orville piped up, "How are we supposed to take on Rhazis and Confederate ghosts between the three of us?"
"I suggest we don't," Said Laurence, reaching his metal hand out again. This time, it was holding something, an ancient, weathered banner, all folded together, "I don't know if there's an Ancestors' Oath for the races of Men, but I do know that we all swore an oath to this Union. And if you were to raise this flag over the enemy fortress by some means, it may compel those yankees resting here to fulfill their final orders- And occupy the Fort at Ephesian Pass."
Orville hesitantly accepted the flag, and the young Professor came up with a plan. They would continue to infiltrate the Fort under the guise of the Mad Baron's dog groomer and his bodyguard. Orville was confident he could get to the top of the castle tower disguised as an SS grunt, and Dixon was confident that he could find enough vaguely dog-groomer-like tools in his archeologist's bag to convince onlookers he was here for the job. Even after the professor and his driver split up, it seemed like things were going almost too well. In fact, when the Baron's assistant, Frau Strauss, didn't seem to recognize him, even despite their complicated history, Dixon was downright suspicious. But he couldn't just blow his cover- not when he was being escorted by two guards to the place where he was supposed to be working! Concrete hallways and industrial steel doors gave way to some kind of portcullis gate, which raised itself automatically as Strauss and the group approached it.
"And this is the Castle Atrium," Frau Strauss said. It was hard to tell if the shimmering brass elf was being more smug than usual, as this was always how she seemed to talk, "The place where Gruppenfuhrer Niederträchtich watches his animals hunt various game- Pheasants, foxes, bears, and also goblins, dwarves, and other filth."
She gestured around the room. They had seemingly walked into a pit filled with sand- the real "floor" of the atrium being some 8 feet above them. Forebodingly, a heavy-duty steel pole was positioned in the center of the sand circle, with many shackles chained to it.
"The gate across from this one leads to the kennels," Said Frau Strauss, as the first gate closed behind the little tour group.
The elven woman turned toward the professor, as did the guards on either side of him, "But this, Dixon, is as far as you'll be going!"
Laughter rang out from the circle above them, and Dixon turned his head to see the hideous baron leaning on the railing with a sort of childlike glee.
"If it isn't our guest of honor, the little professor! I was starting to wonder if raising Ephraim's Lost Brigade would even be the same without you here to FAIL TO PREVENT IT! What city do you think I should storm first? Atlantia or Chicalgari?"
Dixon looked up at the Baron in shock. It was all he could do to bolt for the middle of the circle to avoid being immediately grabbed by the guards on either side of him.
"Don't let any worries about your friend distract you from your consideration, Professor! I assure you, your pigeon creature is in good hands!"
"Oh! Gerhard! What a surprise to see you again!" Orville laughed nervously, as a massive pair of hands gripped him by the straps of his armored vest, "You really, uh, cleaned up nicely after that motorcycle chase, huh?"
Half of Gerhard's face was an unmoved mask of hate- But he might have found it at least a little funny, because the other half was grinning like a madman! Or, well, it was missing most of its cheek, and much of his ear, eyebrow and nostril were lost to the road rash, but…
"Look, I didn't mean to swerve into you! It was just, the train was coming, and…"
The man who was taking up most of the cramped spiralling hallway *lifted* Orville up three stairs and slammed him shoulderways into a window, showering the both of them in glass.
"In the world I came from," Gerhard struggled to pronounce, "Bird men fly. They come in many colors, and they fly like any other birds."
"That sounds very nice, Gerhard!"
Orville was forcibly leaned against the window sill, the remaining glass cracked underneath him. Gerhard stared Orville straight in the eye, and a long string of drool formed at the base of his exposed teeth, "You, black and white birds, don't even have any wings, and you have so small feathers. But you will fly now."
Orville had frantically gripped the sides of the window, and planted his feet on the stairs, trying not to be pushed an inch further back, "Heh, well, you know, my friend's an Archeologist and he says we used to have both kinds of Birdmen! It's actually really an interesting story."
The Rhazi's duelling expressions didn't change, his voice became contempt itself, "Why are you still here?"
"Nobody knows, but I think it might have something to do with THIS!"
With all of his limbs, Orville pulled himself forward, jamming his beak into Gerhard's bald head. Blood flowed readily, and Gerhard let go of him with one hand in order to keep it from dripping into his eye. Orville instinctively wailed on Gerhard's extended elbow, politely convincing his other hand to let go, and kicked the Rhazi down the stairs.
Loudly thinking that must have bought him some time, he hurried his way up- There couldn't have been many more floors, right?
"Damn you, Von Niederträchtich!" Dixon spat, "How did you know!?"
The Rhazi shrugged, "Oh, it certainly helped that 'Hundeklipper' was obviously some bullshit word. But, what really tipped me off was the notion that you were a dog groomer in the first place!"
He smiled, a grin with entirely too many teeth in it, all bleach-white enough to make his own skin seem almost flesh-colored by comparison, "I think you will find, Doctor Dixon, that I'm more of a cat person!"
The Baron erupted into hideous laughter, as the gate to the kennels began to rise behind an increasingly uncomfortable Frau Strauss.
"In fact, Dixon," said Niederträchtich, "I think you will find that my interest in Samrican history goes back much further than just your civil war! I have always been fond of this continent- And I think it will be quite the feather in my cap when The Fuhrer leaves me in charge of it!"
Strauss's ears pricked up as she seemed to hear something behind the second gate, and she looked up at the Baron with utter shock and betrayal, "Gruppenfuhrer! Please! You can't leave me down here to get butchered with these..."
Niederträchtich merrily ignored the elf, and made kissy noises at the shadows of the arena gate, "Oh Felix! Come here, schnucki! Abendessen!"
The massive, shimmering, thing that poured out of the shadows did take the familiar, effortless strides of a big cat, utterly silent except for the jingling of a collar. Much about it was familiar, but it was quite a lot different from any feline Dixon had ever seen. Its head hung low from humped shoulders. It prodded the ground with heavy, muscular forelegs, larger than a grizzly's. Its ears were rounded like a lions', its fur glistened like a jaguar, and it had a dull brazen hue, darkened by mottled rings. Golden, ember-like eyes glanced up at them from black-rimmed lids, scanning over the group with an appraising demeanor. With the gate closed behind it, it began to pace around the perimeter, encircling its visitors. As if bored by nonmoving targets, it lifted its head for an impossibly wide yawn. This, of course, alerted Dixon to exactly what this thing was.
"You… You have a SABERTOOTH!?"
"I have raised him from birth! They are such intelligent, sociable beasts."
"You fiend! Surely that's not legal, or else I would have done it!"
The two Rhazi guards that had escorted Dixon this far weren't sure what to do with themselves, but the idea seemed to occur to them that if they threw Dixon to the animal, it would consider them one of its trainers rather than one of its toys. They tried to approach the anthropologist without making any sudden movements or turning their back on the cat, but this, fortunately, led to one of them turning his gaze away from Dixon, who took a step forward to kick the fellow in the shoulder and send him to the ground.
Excited by the action and the panicked shout of the man who fell, Felix rolled the man's head over with a powerful paw and pulled on the tail of his sallet helmet. The 600 pound animal snapped it off like a pop top, and the claws that followed behind in the same movement pulled ragged chunks from the back of his scalp. This probably wasn't the first time Felix had toyed with a wayward castle guard. This particular guard immediately screamed incohately and tried to crawl away on all fours, but was pushed into the dirt again and rolled around, his arm was forced up over and behind his head with a crunch, and giant teeth made their way into his heart and lungs through his ribs and armpit, safely avoiding the bulletproof chestplate.
Niederträchtich's hearty laughter echoed through the room, "As much as I would love to stay here and watch this all play out, I have a sword to unsheathe, and an army to command! Auf wiedersehen, Professor. With any luck I'll be back in time to catch the end of this!"
Footsteps on metal flooring clunked their way over to a door. The cat, evidently not appetized by the Rhazi's clothes, continued to collapse and dismantle the man like an overcooked lobster. Dixon took the opportunity to back up and nudge the other Rhazi, who was frozen by the sight.
"Fritz, do you speak English?"
The man's voice was shaky inside his helmet, "Ja, a little…"
"I'll give you a boost out of this hole if you promise to help me up. Deal?"
'Fritz' did not need to be told twice! He went over to the opposite wall with more than a spring in his step, and Dixon crouched down and offered his hands as a step, which Fritz dutifully took, before-
BANG! An ear-ringing gunshot rattled off the hard metal walls of the place, and Fritz crumpled to the ground.
"TRAITOR!" Shouted Frau Strass, holding her pistol out. She then started to approach Dixon, training it on her new target.
"You *idiot!* You just scared him and called his attention to you! Don't get near me!"
"I don't need to worry about him- I'm getting out of here the old-fashioned way," The elf shot a glance at the horizontal bars of the nearest portcullis- Then, her voice became decidedly more sultry as she got close, "I just needed to give you one final goodbye…"
"You're insan-UFF!" Dixon let out a burst of air as the Rhazi woman's knee jammed itself hard into his crotch, and Strauss bolted for the gate behind him.
"And also make sure you're a slower runner than I am!" Strauss cackled, before realizing, to surprise and horror, that the anthropologist had bolted practically right after her and was now intent on wrestling the gun out of her hand.
"DONNERWETTER!" Cried Strauss, "WHY ARE YOU NOT ON THE GROUND WRITHING!?"
"Look, it's a long story," Dixon said, "My real name is Roxanne, but they weren't going to allow a woman professor in the anthropology department! Orville's bad at keeping secrets, so I just change around and he thinks I'm two different peop-"
Strauss didn't particularly care to hear the long story, she just looked at the other woman with shock and horror, "You… SICKO! WE KISSED!"
"You thought I was a twink, I thought you weren't a spy for the Rhazis! We all made mistakes that day! Now gimme that!" 'Dixon' twisted Strauss's arm, forcing her to give up the pistol, then swung her around and onto the floor- In front of, she realized, the cat that had been quietly approaching them…
"No-" Strauss looked up at Death licking its chops, "NO, NO, NO! NOOOOOO!!!"
Roxanne had broken the one rule and turned her back on the sabercat to climb her way out of the pit, but she could hear the screams fade to gurgles behind her, which then gave way to the softer sounds of ripping fabric, and skin pulled to snapping. She grabbed the hand railing and pulled herself up onto the upper floor, then made her way toward a door to the castle battlements- only to hear a heavy thud behind her. Roxanne turned her head for a moment to see.
Part of somebody's torso, (probably Strauss!) had been dropped on the floor near her, and Felix sat down behind the offering, licking gore out from where it had gathered over his claws.
"Awww," Rox managed, for politeness' sake, "What a… Uhh… Good kitty!"
She holstered the gun, and slid around as quickly and quietly as possible. With the metal door between her and the smilodon, she took a deep breath of the windy outside air.
But that brief moment of relaxation felt immediately wasted as she heard Niederträchtich's electrically amplified voice over a speaker, and the whine of heavy servo limbs, "That gunshot I heard BETTER NOT HAVE BEEN AT MEIN CAT!"
Oh. There were many more floors. Orville came to the dizzying realization that the top of the tower was high up- so much higher up than he thought it was from down there. Hell, the floating castle itself was high up, and here he was, even higher, on top of it! It felt like he could see the entire desert from here! This was a sad realization to have for someone nursing a swollen eye and multiple bruises, who was even higher than he would ordinarily be, on account of the fact that a 7 foot tall Rhazi was holding him overhead and about to hurl him over the concrete crenelations.
"Slippery bird!" Gerhard hissed, tightly gripping Orville's throat and leg, "You will fly to the damn ground!"
"I prefer the floor I was laying on, thank you." Orville said, still dazed.
But his request fell on a single, deaf, cauliflower ear. The giant hoisted the feathered man up off his shoulders and dropped him over the edge of the tower. His chest scraped against the slope of the pointed embrasure on the way down, and his hands only just managed to grip the flat side in time.
Gerhard, simply, could not have been less pleased by this development. He wasted no time in putting an end to the idiocy, drawing his reich dagger and stabbing down at one of Orville's hands, forcing him to withdraw it! Then the other! Then the first one again! Then- Wait, the other one was already gone? Orville had swung back and forth from hand to hand until he had enough momentum to jump across the merlon to the next opening, and he began to climb his way back to safety! Gerhard really didn't like that, either. In a long stride, he moved to jam his knife right through the birdman's back, but he managed to get to his feet, grab the Rhazi's arm with both hands, and slam it, elbow-first, into the flagpole. Gerhard roared in rage and agony, and the knife went skittering across the floor. The colossal fascist swung wildly at Orville with his unharmed arm, a heavy blow that still hurt quite a bit even though his forearm caught it. But Orville didn't let the pain distract him from his task- He gripped both of the man's lapels with all his might, braced one leg against the parapet, pulled Gerhard forward with all his might, and then with his whole body, pushed his shining skull into the flagpole.
Once, twice, three times, each with the dull muted ring of a frying pan slamming into loose dirt. Orville dropped the man on the ground and steadied himself against the merlon, catching his breath.
"Look," Orville panted, "How about… You and me… Call it even? Y'know, peace…?"
Gerhard, without saying a single word, dragged himself forward, alongside the flagpole.
"It doesn't have to be like this… Right? I'm sure we can find common ground… I mean, I love pretzels, and bratwurst, and…"
Orville realized that Gerhard had partially entangled himself in the ropes, and was reaching as far as he could for that dagger.
"Oh c'mon, asshole!" Orville said with a punitive kick to Gerhard's side- Then he knelt down, to strangle him with the pulley.
With the shoulder-mounted machinegun of an armored behemoth pointer at her, Roxanne felt somewhat obliged to remain still. She eyed Freiherr Von Niederträchtich with a bitter glare through the rows of windows on his Diesel Harness. They were small- Better for looking out than for looking in by design- but she could see down into the 12 foot tall steel body that the baron was sitting in. She could see the Baron's icy eyes, the mahogany-paneled interior of the little office-cockpit he was sitting in, the edges of his hands filling a glass with scarlet liquer.
"Felix is fine," said Dixon, begrudgingly, "Ms. Strauss wasn't happy about being left down there, is all."
Niederträchtich's eyes tightened again with sadistic joy, "Ah, women!"
The Baron's laughter was quiet, but the speakers still seemed to pick it up, "Well, at any rate, I'm glad to be rid of the Elvenkind. They are so ostentatious, don't you find?"
"Oh, yeah, absolutely."
The single massive desert raincloud that had been dragging itself across Mt. Ephesus was really moving in now. Errant sprinkles and unsettling, sandy wind had given way to a downpour that was visibly crawling over the castle gate and making its misty way further and further into the courtyard. Dixon brisquely steadied her hat with a hand.
"Well, isn't this some egg on my face!" Niederträchtich remarked, "I feel so rude! You're out there, in the rain, and I can't even pour you a glass of cherry schnapps to celebrate the occasion! Men, seize him."
Dutifully, Dixon was grabbed at each elbow by the pair of men who happened to be manning the wall closest to the tower.
"Nonetheless, Professor, I must commend you on coming this far! I'll allow you to witness the birth of an invincible Samrican Reich. I believe you've earned that much at least."
The diesel mech reached a massive hand to its hip, and with little difficulty, lifted the fabulously engraved, if still ancient, scratchy and worn, scabbard of a military sabre, with an elaborate, though rusted, brass guard. It was longer and no doubt heavier than a man. Dixon eyed the artefact with a mixture of awe and horror- Knowing what it was capable of, did such a thing even belong in a museum?
"Well, since it is such a special occasion, do you mind if I smoke?" Asked Dixon.
"Let the man smoke one last time," Said Von Niederträchtich nonchalantly to his guards, "The rain is coming in anyway."
One guard obligingly loosed Roxanne's right arm, allowing her to reach into her jacket. While fumbling around through the pockets, she leaned over to one side- For a better angle with which to stomp the back of the left guard's knee. As he shouted and sank to the ground, she drew Strauss's pistol from her coat, and loosed three rounds through the right guard's back and shoulder into god-knows-where. She then turned and aimed to put down the other struggling Rhazi who was reaching for his submachine gun, but the muffled sounds of gunfire hardly seemed to surprise or alarm the baron sitting inside of a bulletproof black knight. No, he was too busy slowly unsheathing the sword, admiring the wavy crystalline patterns of weld-forged adamantium. The occassional bullet that splattered and sparked off the diesel harness was scarcely distinguishable from the clanking of hail amongst the rain now on him.
Within the comfort of his mobile office, Niederträchtich unlatched a special panel, and retrieved a needle attached to a long tube. Swirling the cloying schnapps in its glass, he took a drink to steel himself, jammed it into his arm, and began to draw his own blood up into the machine.
"Aperanzil, King of the Ursine Star, prisoner of the blade! Your former master is dead. Henceforth, you are now the servant of Freiherr Rikard Von Niederträchtich, Baron of the Fourth Reich!"
The Baron took the sword in one mechanical hand, and with a nozzle extended from the other hand's fourth finger, drenched the rain-soaked edge of the blade in blood.
There was a sudden screaming of wind, a crash of lightning close enough to feel the castle itself shudder… And, as Dixon was pulling away the ammo magazine off another dead Rhazi on the wall- She felt a hand reach out to stop her, and saw a pair of baleful eyes glow pallidly from within that helmet…
An inhuman noise, seemingly from within and somehow beneath the gales- Deep and loud enough for everyone gathered to feel in their chest, spoke through the sword.
"IT IS DONE, AS YOU HAVE REQUESTED IT."
Orville had finally managed to take down and untie the Rhazi flag from the ropes, and, now that he had the hang of such things, exchanged it with the old Samrican flag. This was difficult to do in an abject downpour with fickle, belligerent winds. Orville was starting to feel ever so nervous about the lightning, but he did his level best to do it quickly… Which, wasn't that quick- His feathers were waterproof, but his soaking wet clothes were not, so he was starting to shiver.
Orville had hardly heard the commotion going on down there amid the deafening lightning- And with the acoustics of the mountain, distant gunfire and nearby thunder were a little hard to distinguish when you weren't paying attention. In fact, Orville was so focused on the task of raising the flag that he didn't hear Gerhard's corpse rousing back to concsiousness. In fact, he didn't notice movement until Gerhard's body twisted around to sweep the birdman's legs out from under him.
"DIIIIIIEEEE!" Screamed the agonized giant as Orville scrambled away. He knew the look in his eyes, or the pale, shining lack of one, from those rather upsetting old photos of confederate soldiers missing faces and organs, still holding the battle lines of General Ephraim and his cronies. It was too late. Orville hadn't been fast enough- But in a situation as dire as this, it was far better late than never!
Gerhard got up- Or tried to get up- At around the same speed Orville did, but the ropes interrupted him. His various movements left his neck entangled, and when he reached up to try and pull them away, he found his fingers entangled too! Frantically, with his whole body, he tried to brute force his way through the pulley's… Newfound resistance.
One, two, three, pull! One, two, three…
With choking sounds of hate and wildly swinging feet, Gerhard slowly rose up past Orville, face contorted into a hideous cry of rage all the way. Gradually, the flag of the United States, and one lynched Rhazi, rose all the way to the top of the flagpole.
The whole of the mountain shook shortly after Niederträchtich completed the ritual. Whoops, hollers, and hellacious screams filled the air surrounding the castle. In seemingly slimy strings, flourescent smoke seeped out of the hill on both sides, and rose in enormous pumpkinlike clouds from the pass, seemingly unaffected by wind. Faces, grotesque faces, leering, laughing, grinning and screeching, imprinted themselves in fleeting detail in the sand, twisted and knotted themselves into the flesh of the cacti, formed and unformed themselves in the towers of smoke.
The sentries in their booths trembled at this strange vision, but almost before any of them could ask what was going on, translucent visions of men in gray uniforms started passing through the gate between their rain-battered shelters.
"WE'RE FREE!" came all the various cries from these illusions of men in various states of mutilation and decay, dancing, leaping, flying in circles and fading to thin air, "FREE! FREE!"
"WE'RE FREE!" Cried a bearded soldier, gripping the face of a screaming guard, "WE'RE FREE AS THE WIND! WE CAN GO, WE CAN GO!"
The ghostly flesh of the soldier holding the Rhazi's cheeks began to slough off in thick chunks, its pieces splattered on the floor into thick, sputtering clouds of moths which disappeared, until quite nothing was left of the vision at all.
But the worst vision of all was the hoarse and raspy whisper of the last celebrant to pass through the earthly gates. As he tipped his hat, his only words were "Farewell, gentlemen. And good luck."
With a knowing laugh, he melted upward until he too had vanished, and only the echo stayed behind.
Somewhere, high above, lightning struck the flagpole, singeing the clothes and further melting the skin of the undead man on the rope, and wreathing him in luminous witchfire.
As if by response to a bugle call, the hill began to shake and collapse-- and skeletal hands with dark blue sleeves began to claw their way to the surface.
"RAISE THE DRAWBRIDGE!" Niederträchtich had watched these events with growing dismay through the castle gate, and he had seen enough, "Raise or detach it, I don't give a damn! We are LEAVING! NOW!"
With splashing footsteps, Dixie dashed across the castle walkway as fast as she could. Niederträchtich took aim with his shouldergun, but the machine gun rounds buried themselves in concrete as Dixon ducked into the castle gatehouse.
"AND GOTTDAMMIT, SOMEBODY KILL THAT MAN!"
The Rhazi soldier sitting at the gate controls was quite surprised to see Dixon burst in with a pair of submachineguns. He was even more surprised, and screaming in agony, as she pointed them down to his lower torso and emptied both magazines, putting enough scalding lead through his bowels for him to slide in half. With mounting horror, the man felt his legs get up and run away from the professor- And that he was fully conscious… And though his blood pooled and grew cold, it wasn't ending. Without missing a beat, Dixon dropped her guns, took up his, and dropped into his old seat order to reach the controls. She made sure the drawbridge stayed down, and the castle stayed anchored in its place...
And she was just in time, too!
"Alright, men!" Called Laurence, "Fire at will and fix bayonets, one more time!"
Gunmen at the parapets of the castle fired uselessly at a hoard of blue-clothed skeletons pouring continuously out of a collapsed and shifting hill. An ancient mortar shell tore through the machine gunner at the western gatehouse tower and sent the back of the concrete structure cascading, waterfall-like, into the courtyard where Niederträchtich was standing. Musket fire of enormous caliber gnawed through the merlons chunk by chunk, and left gaping wounds in men who found themselves quite unable to do anything but fire back, wildly and with smaller bullets. Hollering jubilantly, brandishing their swords and repeaters, flying cavalry with skeletal horses leapt weightlessly to the walls, firing pistols and lever guns into the black-suited hoards.
"WHAT ARE YOU IMBECILES DOING!?" The Baron cried, "PULL UP MEIN SCHLOSS IMMEDIATELY! GET US OUT OF HERE!"
But there was only the creak of stressed steel as an impossibly heavy vehicle made its clomping way up the drawbridge, and gradually, pushed itself through the closed portcullis, sending rivets pinging off and bars snapping apart and clattering to the floor as if snapping the joints of a graham cracker.
With a dragon's plume of steam rising behind it, the dark blue, brass-adorned automated armor of the Volunteer Captain stood across the way from Von Niederträchtich.
"You're the new holders of Ephesian Pass, are you?" Laurence's voice echoed from ancient, enchanted amplifiers, "Here to violate the sacred rights of Men?"
"I am here to cleanse the filth of your degenerate nation, swine! I would not expect one from your foolish union to understand!"
The Rhazi Baron charged forward with his sword, but he was stopped in his tracks by a great iron ball that glanced off his armor's shoulder and buried itself with a spectacular crater in the nearby wall. Then, he was knocked backward by a second one, landing square upon his heavy breastplate and sticking halfway out. The shoulder-mounted three-pounders of the Steam Harness lifted themselves away.
"I don't expect to understand either, sir," Said the captain, hoisting the bayonet of a truly massive rifle, "But I have a peaceful rest to return to… And you have disturbed it."
With surprising celerity for its ancient design, the Steam Harness creaked forward in three jerky, bounding steps, and slammed the bayonet through one of the view ports, then pulled the trigger. The blade was inches from the Baron's face, but he leaned away with a high-pitched yelp just in time. Reflexively, he shut his eyes at a blinding flash, shielding his them from a biblical conflagration of smoldering powder. He did not, in time, shield his ears from a literally deafening CRACK!
Even though the musket ball had missed, the Baron's body was wracked with splinter shrapnel, every surface of the once beautiful office was blackened by stinging, burning, acrid gun-ash. There were glowing embers in his clothes and in his skin, and his face was slick with blood and lymph from the lesions the burning had left.
Von Niederträchtich could hear only silence, but he could feel himself screaming with incohate rage as he wiped the ashes off his viewing ports and poured machinegun fire into where he felt the steam harness should be, until he could no longer sense the recoil of the gun at his harness's shoulder.
The entire armored dome at the top of the Steam Harness was white and gray with craters of splattered lead. Had the captain still had any flesh, the heat might have made him very uncomfortable! But Laurence held steady, pulling the great Wall Gun out of the enemy machine. He wasn't ready, however, to parry the blind, feral swipe of the Adamantium Blade, which cut right through the gun with a horrible shower of sparks. The captain dropped his rifle and unsheathed his own saber, but he knew it was a merely defensive measure. Mere steel couldn't cut through steel! Adamantium given the proper momentum, on the other hand...
Laurence shook the idea of that thing sparking its way into his cockpit at once, and moved to quickly catch the Baron's sword with his own, binding it before any such momentum could be built! But the more advanced mech was swift, and well-articulated. Whenever Laurence managed to catch his blade, the screaming mad Baron could rotate his wrist with a sophistication that the steam mech simply couldn't, and swing at him as if he hadn't parried at all! Several close calls had been made, and several clean cuts of metal had been shorn from the plating of the steam harness. The captain was backing away, all but sure that he was fighting a losing battle, until the formation that followed him intervened.
"Aim at the viewports, men!" Came a call from the other volunteers.
Then, from an opening to the right, an upward rain of musketfire spilled in its fiery way up into the expressionless, torso-bound "face" of the Diesel Harness. The intent may have been to shoot *into* the office. After all, tank glass hadn't exactly been invented when these men last served, but at the very least, the baron's vision was obscured in many windows by cracks, craters, and splattered lead. Sensing the presence of a nearby infantry formation, however, the vile baron turned away from the captain momentarily, and aimed his *other* shoulder-mounted weapon. To the panicked shouts of upstanding Samrican Skeletons, they found their formation soon dissolved by a stream of perditious napalm. Those who did not flee were soon cremated.
At the horror of seeing his men heartlessly immolated like this, it now it was Laurence's turn to be enraged. And in his rage, he realized something he didn't quite have words for.
The diesel mech was more nimble than his, but when they met blade-to-blade, he could tell it was easier to push around. It had freer joints, and more fingers… But more potential points of failure. Its engine was no doubt faster, it might even have had more horsepower, but the Diesel Mech was easier to push around despite its mass. And if there was one thing steam engines could generate a lot of, it was almighty torque!
"Have at you, you fucking meater!" Laurence barked, charging into the baron's sword-arm and knocking him to the ground.
He threw his own sword aside, and with tremendous force, wrapped his iron claws around the baron's elbow, twisted, and pulled. He wanted nothing to do with the blasphemous blade that went sailing over his head in a disembodied hand. He reached straight for the dieselmech's shoulders, slung its writhing body overhead, and charged heavily at the nearest wall, smacking the dieselmech again and again until concrete cracked away, and twisted rebar began to show. The way he jerkily percussed the wall had built up a most familiar rhythm to Laurence's ancient ears, and, given the spirit of the moment, he couldn't help but sing along in his head.
He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat! He is sorting out the hearts of men up on his judgement seat. Be swift, my soul, to answer him! Be jubilant, my feet!
A great hole was eventually punched through the wall, which now sagged in on itself and began to crumble. But Laurence didn't really let up. In fact, with a primal cry and the many tons of momentum between the two steel titans, Laurence was intent on charging them both straight through the wall of the flying castle, and apparently piledriving the enemy engine into the dirt so many, many feet below… If the Baron had not been broken and shaken to pieces by the force of the crashing, surely this would do it!
This particular adventure of Orville and Dixon's began to draw to a close here. Roxanne had gradually gained the trust of Felix, and rescued him from the battle. Orville managed to make his way to a control room and set the castle on a crash course with the mountain itself. The munitions storeroom was rigged to explode by nostalgic yankees, and all at once, they were buried again in the rubble of fortress and stone, under a drastically changed landscape.
Some people still tell ghost stories of Ephesian Pass- But others insist that the old signs of the paranormal are no longer there. The ghosts who used to inhabit the place have certainly moved on, at any rate. But there is yet some truth to the tales of spectres down there, buried under the second avalanche. Until the sword is called by a new owner, or the Demon is is finally freed, thoss Rhazis still live on… Just as those Confederates did. Awake in dead bodies, screaming into the earth, forever.
“What’s up, my friend?” Nicholas enthusiastically greets you after you open the door. “I’ll tell you what’s up, it’s time to get ready for the best trip ever!”
“SEVEN-THIRTY!?” you yell at him in disbelief. “ YOU WOKE ME UP AT SEVEN-FUCKING-THIRTY ON MY DAY OFF!?”
“Yeah, I know you take a while to get ready,” he grins at you. “And I wanna make sure we get there before sunset.”
I could fucking kill you right now...
Grabbing your face in anger, you unleash the yawn you've been holding in. Then you lower your voice, taking on your usual, more sarcastic tone:
“Ah yes... the trip. The trip to a creepy mountain nestled inside an even creepier forest...”
“Murder Mountain' is a cool mountaintop deep within a kick-ass for—” Nicholas tries to interrupt.
“...filled with god knows how many deadly animals...”
“The animals aren’t that dea—”
“...stuck for three days with no internet and no signal, with a group of people I don't even know.”
“You know me!”
“Yeah, one person out of the entire group. Niiice…”
It's not just that you barely know anybody that will be there, or that you don't really like going into the wilderness without a way to contact anybody... Trips with Nicholas usually turn out for the worse.
“Wasn't there like, a massacre up there about fifty years ago?” you ask, rubbing your temples. You’ve got a really bad headache.
“Well calling it a massacre is a bit harsh, don’t you think?”
“A bit harsh? A deranged cultist leader brutally dismembered and sacrificed a whole bunch of people to his moon good.”
“I think the massacre actually happened in the nearby village, not the mountaintop itself,” Nicholas tries to get your mood up. “And I’m pretty sure that guy’s been arrested and executed.”
“Oh, well that makes it soooooo much better.”
Your rub your forehead as your head begins pulsating from the headache, and start getting ready.
“Why are you so hung-up on going to this place, anyway?”
“Well, ya know, ‘Murder Mountain’ is a popular tourist destination, despite the name...” Nicholas fixes his gaze downwards as he anxiously taps his foot. “…I'm hoping there's gonna be some really hot babes there. Two of the girls coming are chicks I knew from high school and they're pretty hot. And there were always a ton of rumors at my school about certain girls being kinda loose. It's been a while since I've scored, ya know...”
Of course he’s thinking with his dick again… How very Nicholas-like.
You accept your fate and continue getting ready. Today is going to suck.
“Fluffy, be quiet back there!” Nicholas yells to the back of his van.
“Remind me again,” you give off an exasperated sigh. “Why exactly did you take the dog?”
“Chicks dig cute puppies, you should know that. I want every advantage I can get!”
“Well you’ll need to actually get there, for starters…”
The two of you just reached the tail of a very, very, long line of cars, all going up to Murder Mountain. Guess Nicholas was right for once, it is a popular tourist destination.
“Maaaan… we’re never going to get there at this rate!” he pouts. “Wait, I have an idea!”
He switches the gear to reverse and starts turning around.
“Your ideas never turn out well, Nick.”
“Not to worry, I know a shortcut!”
“Oh, a shortcut. Isn’t that just great.”
“Not much of a shortcut now, is it?” you taunt as you stare at your watch. It’s currently 6PM and you’ve been driving the entire time.
“Well it’s a big mountain, I must have taken a wrong turn somewhere, don’t be so nega—”
You brace for impact as a large animal suddenly appears in front of the van. Nicholas crashes into it and swerves out of control, the van sliding all over the road. Then he hits a tree and comes to a stop. Good thing you wore your seatbelt.
“Whoa, that was a close one, eh?” he grins. “Let’s see how bad the damage is.”
“Yeah, sure… as soon as I can stand up again…”
“Oh don’t be such a baby, let’s go.”
He gets out and you reluctantly do the same, as Fluffy barks loudly from the back. The van doesn’t look too beaten up, barring the animal chunks all over the hood, and the bump from the tree impact. You pray that’s all there is when...
“Dang it, we’ve got a couple of flat tires.”
“Don’t you have some spare ones?”
“Nope, there was no room, what with all the booze and all.”
You grit your teeth and clench your fists, trying desperately not to hit him. But then you hear a howl out in the distance.
“That was a wolf we hit, and the howling must be coming from the rest of his pack,” Nick says. “We better fix this van quickly, or we’ll be in trouble.”
“How do we do that when you forgot to bring a spare tire?”
“Oh hey, look, there’s a settlement of some sort over there, perhaps they can help us.” he says and rushes off ahead before you can stop him.
I think the massacre actually happened in the nearby village, not the mountaintop itself...
“Of course,” you mumble and chase after him, cursing your sedentary lifestyle for running out of breath so quickly after you begin to run.
Gasping for air, you hold on to the village gates and read the dusty sign hanging off them.
INTRUDERS WILL BE SHOT
SURVIVORS WILL BE SHOT AGAIN
Of course he didn’t stop and read that. That would be like expecting the sea not to be blue. You halt for a second to catch your breath and rub your temples again. Your head still fucking hurts.
As you enter the village proper, you see countless dilapidated buildings, probably built over a hundred years ago. Nature has reclaimed most of them, and you wonder how they still stand. Another thing of note is that there are absolutely no people here. Well, there is one person here; in the center of the village you spot Nick waving at you.
“How weird, everyone must have taken a vacation at the same time!” he yells out. “Anyway, I think this building over here is a storage shed, we’ll probably find a spare tire or two here. I’ll leave the villagers some money for ‘em!”
He runs into the run-down shack and you start heading towards it.
Then you hear him scream.
A normal reaction to another person screaming would probably be to hurry up and help them, but Nicholas has always been a bit melodramatic. Still, you quicken your pace.
Upon entering the shed you spot him cowering in the corner, pointing towards something. You follow his finger to the middle of the room and spot...
Holy shit, is that a...
Before you stands... or rather, floats, a transparent ghostly visage. The only identifier that the ghost is female are two large protrusions in the chest area, as it is missing a head. It must have been brutally severed, as a stream of blood is constantly pouring out from the gaping wound on the neck. As the blood drips down the red-stained white dress it hits the floor and just disappears into nothingness.
The spectre is also brandishing a large bloody knife, which it is waving around haphazardly.
“Ooooooohhhh you cursed mortals,” she starts wailing, despite lacking a visible mouth. “You, who enter this god-forsaken village to pillage and plunder, even though we’ve got nothing... You shall pay the ultimate pri—“
You’ve already had quite enough of this and approach the ghost, ignoring Nick’s desperate pleas against doing such a thing.
“...what the hell are you doing?” the dead woman asks you, stopping her screaming.
“What does it look like I’m doing?” you respond as you get within arm’s reach. “I’m trying to see whether you can actually be a threat, being a ghost and all”.
You reach out to touch the ghost and... your hand just goes through it, partially distorting its body.
“Ha, I thought so. You’re not dangerous at all. You can’t interact with reality, can you?”
The woman starts screaming bloody murder and slashing her knife at you, but it just warps into smoke when it touches you. You laugh in her face (or lack thereof) and grab a nearby broom, which you start swinging in her general direction. She begins to swirl around, distorting into funny shapes.
“Come join me, Nick, this is fun!” you call out to your friend, who has calmed down in the meantime. He gleefully gets up, grabs a second broom, and starts mashing the ghost, as well.
“Yeah, you’re right, this is fun!” he laughs.
The ghostly screams of anger turn into wailing that you're being mean as the ghost turns around and floats through the wall.
“That’s right, shoo!” you triumphantly yell. “Now, where were we? Oh hey, I see a bunch of tires over there.”
Nick spends some time rummaging through the tires and finally finds two that seem to fit. He leaves the building ahead of you, carrying one tire, as you follow along with the other.
“OHMYGOD!” you hear him scream yet again. A loud thump is heard, signaling that he dropped the tire.
What is it this time...
You exit the building and determine the source of his fright. Rather than just one ghost, it seems the entire village has now gathered in front of you. Many are missing limbs, heads, and various body parts. Hell, some aren’t even visibly human anymore. It’s a pretty gruesome sight, but not one you intend on staring at for too long.
“Aaaah, blasted mortals!” comes a voice from the ghastly crowd. “You intrude upon the very grounds we were once massacred on! For this grave sin, you must now help free us of this eternal torment, lest we curse you forever!”
“Wha... what do we have to do?” Nick asks before you can say anything.
“We demand penitence from the one that did this to us!
“Uh yeah... about that...” you growl, rubbing your temples again. “He’s been executed a whole lotta years ago.”
The ghosts get silent for a moment, but then one of them speaks up:
“He’s gotta have a relative or something. The only way we can be freed from roaming these lands is through an honest show of penitence!”
They all start chanting in unison:
“PENITENCE! PENITENCE! PENITENCE!”
Your head is still hurting and this entire day has been nothing but horrible. You finally snap.
“WILL ALL OF YOU SHUT THE FUCK UP!?”
You manage to outscream the ghosts, and they actually listen.
“I DON’T FUCKING CARE THAT YOU’RE DOOMED TO WANDER HERE OR WHATEVER!” you continue screaming. “I DIDN’T WANNA BE HERE IN THE FIRST PLACE! MY HEAD HAS BEEN FUCKING POUNDING SINCE SEVEN-FUCKING-THIRTY THIS MORNING, AND I JUST WANNA GET TO FUCKING MURDER MOUNTAIN, DRINK A PAINKILLER, AND GO TO BED! SO GO FIND SOME OTHER FOOL TO FULFILL YOUR STUPID QUEST!”
You ignore their protests and walk straight through one of the ghosts.
“Nick, come on!” you yell for your friend, and he reluctantly follows. You can hear him stammer a mild apology to the ghosts behind you.
There’s an awkward silence as you walk back to Nick’s van. He tries lightening up the mood with some jokes, but you’re in no mood for those.
When you finally reach the van, Nicholas gets to work replacing the tires.
“Can you check out the back? Fluffy’s awfully quiet” he politely asks.
You stomp around the van and open the back doors.
A stench of death assaults your nose as you notice Fluffy’s mangled cadaver. A noticeably bigger canine is slurping up his insides. It must be the mate of the wolf you ran over.
It raises its head and meets your gaze, preparing to pounce.
When I started working for the ministry of defense I was only concerned with being the best soldier, the most versatile puzzle piece, the strongest cog in the machine. I had a passion for teamwork and a competitive drive to improve.
Nowadays I work alone.
It's better that way.
The kind of people who can keep up with me are the kind who end up in positions of leadership, but I lead nobody into this abyss except myself. You see, as of a couple years ago, right after I got this scar - I was transferred to this tiny department. A department with records kept in the back of a broom closet and a budget to match.
In the more militaristic side of the ministry it wasn't unusual to get orders from higher ups, but at least back then I had an idea of what they looked like. My orders come through this little device now - nice and simple. I like when things are simple like that. I used to enjoy being able to tell my men the facts in a simple way. It feels good to understand every detail in a way that the big picture becomes clear and intuitive. Lately I've been noticing a trend I don't like.
You see when I started this, my reports were simple. I kept it brief, "Hoax - Perpetrator in custody" or "Natural phenomenon - Local superstition remains" or in many cases "False report." Recently my reports have gotten a little long-winded for my liking. And right now, as you stumble around catching your breath with that hole through your head, you're really out to make my next report a serious pain in the ass. Especially since you're not my list.
You know, out here, in this wilderness - up on this little mountain you got here, the natural wildlife is scared of gunshots. These rocky hills really carry an echo to them. I'm sure anything that's supposed to be here is long gone by now or hiding away under rocks and in caves. Which means that those calm footsteps approaching our little bloody patch of dirt from up the trail are probably caused by something on my list. You seem like the sort of thing I can chop up and carry down with me when I'm done. I hope our watcher is the same way - to keep things simple.
"You're a bit too large for a wolf, don't y'think?" The steadily approaching wolf-like creature didn't flinch from the bullet. Its eyes gave an unnatural glint in the moonlight. "You a skinwalker? I'm with the ministry of defense, here to ask you some questions." Taking out a badge for the department of paranormal activity wasn't likely to do much, but the formality might be recieved well.
As the creature got within striking distance it growled and gargled to speak in a broken disjointed manner. "gah ruh sho leh heh mmm"
"Right...how about you come sit with me and my new friend here and we'll get this over with?" The skinwalker did not seem to want to sit kindly and chat. This led to some coercive action for it to stay put. With the situation stable a fire could be started and various tools and instrumentation was laid out upon the rocks between the three.
I have to keep him down until I figure out what his deal is, I hope you don't mind. Well, not like you can do much anyway. You know, I always played pin the tail on the donkey for my birthday when I was a kid. That was a long time ago now, but I suppose you had some bad luck running into me - as I'm sure you can tell, I'm quite talented when it comes to that sort of game. Don't give me that look. I gave you the chance to sit on that log peacefully. You have only yourself to blame for the steel in your gut...or whatever you have under that stolen visage.
The fire is warm tonight. You probably never get to experience this sort of thing, living secluded up here and all. We have one more guest I'm waiting on tonight. You see these iron tools? I made them myself. Picked up a little blacksmithing on a previous job. They snuggle right into the center of the fire where they turn a wonderful red hue. I can't understand your snarled words just the same as I can't understand why that thing behind you is still moving after all the lead it's eaten. But I'm quite studious you see, so I'm sure I'll come to a simple explanation before long. Something that will make my report a little shorter. I'm hoping you can help me with that.
Before I started my hike up here, I met with a few of the folks who know the land and the sort of oddities that can sometimes inhabit it. After a few days discussion, one of the more useful sources gave me this and said you might recognize it. I see in your eye that you know this kind of feathered jewelry. Do the colors bring back memories? Do you still remember anything from so long ago? I'd like you to answer these questions and more. This necklace should help me understand you better.
"I'M GOING TO RIP YOUR THROAT OUT AND KILL YOU."
You sound much more human with such a stylish work of art around your neck.
"I WILL CHEW YOUR INNARDS."
I'm sure once we get to know eachother a little better we'll be good friends. But let's meet our other guest first. A little birdy told me it enjoys the screams of humans, but my voice is sore from the elevation change. Oh, my tools are ready. Let's put your mended vocal tract to work. Ah, I didn't forget about you either my unexpected friend - please stay put upon that tree just as you've been doing.
Those eyes do not seem very grateful for all the generosity I've given you. Here, have a closer look - isn't the red glow beautiful?
"AAAAHHH'M GONNA FUCKING KILL YOU!!"
Those teeth could certainly shred my clothing. I like that big one the most. Fortunately for us I made this one in the shape of a dental pick. It glows more whitish yellow on the end due to it being so thin but, well, you'll just have to take my word for it and maybe imagine it's the appropriate shade of red.
Despite your gums causing it to dim, the bright side of things is you don't have to worry about bleeding out - if your sort even have blood to begin with. This is a nice tooth, but it kinda looks fake. Do you brush?
I'm hardly to blame for the tardiness of others. You should've screamed louder. I guess we'll keep with teeth until he shows up. Don't worry though, I'll let you keep enough to talk. We do need to wait for the dental pick to reheat though. Tell you what, for every question you answer of mine, I'll spare a tooth. Deal?
You'll need to answer faster than that or you might lose something precious.
"AAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!!! FUCK! FUCKING! FUCK!! FUCK YOU!"
Do we have a deal?
"YES! DEAL! JUST PLEASE - PLEASE - PLEASE NOT MY BALLS!"
Looks like our last friend is close thanks to our teamwork, cooperation, and friendship. Let's be sure to give a warm welcome. Or cold...my notes are unclear on which one he prefers. Don't worry about him targeting you though. I'm the most human looking of us here on the mountain.
Wait hold the match, it seems like another contestant has entered the arena. Donning a cowboy hat, his face was mostly shrouded with shadows, except for the large pornstache above his lip. Sitting on a wheelchair and with a giant rifle strapped to his back, he had wheeled himself in.
"That Cel is an impostor." He bellowed. "I'm the true Cel."
The other Cel stared at him with a confused look.
"No, I'm the true Cel."
"NO I'M CEL."
"NO, I'M CEL."
Cel turns to the audience and points at the other Cel with furious indignation.
"Kill the impostor."
The other Cel copied his move immediately soon after.
"Nah, kill him."
The audience unfortunately is facing quite a hard predicament. Who's the true Cel and who's the impostor they got to kill off. Couldn't they just kill both of them?
WHO IS THE MYSTERY CONTESTANT AND WHO IS THE TRUE CEL.
I would feel kinda bad if I were to reveal them since they were private messages, but if Sent and Cel agree to it, then I'll post them in a sec. They were very funny.
I would be fine with it after the voting period, just because I feel like my message might reveal which one mine is :^)
Gotta go with C. I like the rhythm in it and it builds up the atmosphere quite well.
Terrible. Terrible! I don't even need to read them to know which one my vote is going to. The only one I liked was Story A, but that's disqualified for the word count. Story B's layout is horrendous. Too random. Too much use of bold text. Too vulgar for my poor teenage girl eyes. Story A was glorious! Glorious! Oh, if only the word count limit didn't exist! Thus, I am subjugated to mid.
Story C it is.
Then, as long as it's allowed, I'd like to change my vote to story A.
All three stories are strong entries. No major SPAG errors jumped out at me and all three stories held my interest throughout.
Far exceeds the word limit. The early reference to Dixon as Dixie was a little confusing until the gender twist is revealed. The concept of an adventurer trying to sway the outcome of a multi-reality war is engaging and fun, although somewhat confusing at the outset as the flood of references at the beginning feel a little overwhelming.
Really loved the whole bit with the ghosts. The overall tone is very funny, which makes the sudden turn at the end even more of surprise. My only real complaint is that I want to know what happens next.
The choice to use an onomonopoetic as a actual story beat is interesting. There are still some questions as to exactly how the skinwalker works and whether the protag is shooting the skinwalker, the body, or both.
Overall i would vote for Story B
I had this in mind for a long time, but of course, the dome hadn't yet ended so I wasn't able to mention that "Dixie" being a potentially feminine form of Dixon hadn't occurred to me! In fact I picked Dixon because it could end with an -ee sound as a nickname, like a certain other wacky anthropologist... Only to promptly forget to use the names interchangeably. In my mind, Orville still doesn't know that Dixon and Roxanne aren't different people.
That's funny, drawing a connection to a certain Indy with that never even crossed my mind either.
Wow, very very well written - it's almost beyond my paygrade, I had to re-read a few parts of it over and then backtrack a little to try and see if I missed any details (and I often did), I realize this story went wayyyyyy beyond the allotted word limit, but man was it a ride. Ghosts, Confederates, "Rhazis" - birdmen, a protagonist pulling the old Mulan trick, collosal fascists. Just, excellent. I saw very few SPAG errors which is astonishing for a story of this length that was written for a comp. The story itself flowed perfectly, the way each subplot got somehow tied to the main plot reminds me of certain categories of films - very very well done. If anything, the only complaint I can really think of is some parts werent suuuper clear, though that could just be my brain needing to go back and reread some parts to understand. That and maybe the length, which is hard to judge by because for a regular story I wouldnt even care, though this is obviously for a competition with word constraints.
Admittedly, I didnt hate it like a lot of people in this thread seemed to. I will say, the biggest crux of this is that the story didnt really seem to go anywhere. I understand it was limited by a word count but even so, Story C seemed to do a fine job working within the count and still going somewhere with the plot. This just seemed to bounce from one thing to the next, and the biggest weakness of it by far was the writing. It was funny, enjoyable at some parts, and not terrible. But man, tone it down a bit with the expletives. Not cause of over-sensitivity or whatever, it just comes off as less creative. Cursing is perfectly fine, but sentences of ALL CAPS FUCKING CURSING are overdoing it to a point. I found the part where the main character gets tired of the ghosts' shit and walks through them, but then the ending seemed to be a rushed "they all die" ending which I feel you may have done to sorta twist the narrative or give it a bit of a plot twist (PLOT TWIST - they DONT die to the ghosts in this story, they die to a wild animal instead!) - but I feel like it seemed a bit thrown in there. Not a bad outline for a story but would do a lot better with some cleaning up and maybe a bit of a change to some parts of the narrative.
I feel like I dont have too much to say about this one. It's a well written story with a creative plot. I really have no complaints about it, I was a little confused about which perspective I was reading this story from but otherwise I had no issue reading this story and it was enjoyable. The setting being as secluded as it was, a short backstory written within the story itself to add a bit of familiarity. All in all - a very solid story.
Honestly, I enjoyed reading all three stories but it came down to A and C for me. Admittedly, I felt the need to vote against A for the length of it, but I simply judged these stories individually and didnt try to take all that into account for my verdict. Story B was solid but definitely needed far more work than A or C. Story C was great; solid, no complaints. However, I felt the same about Story A - and I felt that a bit moreso with Story A. And thus, I feel relatively confident giving my vote to Story A. Great work to the competitors here, and thank you for giving me something to read on my Sunday evening!
>:( Who the hell hates Story B!?!
I may have extrapolated from one comment I saw and perhaps part of another. I dont know, but I didnt hate it! I thought it was fine and just needed a bit of editing. I tried to be fair with my ratings and not just critique for the sake of finding critiques.
Well, I wonder if that's giving away who wrote B.
I wanted to throw people off so that there'd be less bias!
I have just fought through many layers of cobwebs and dust to cast my vote for Story A.
Cel's dead, pretty sure Sent wins by default.
Announcement: thank you Sent for bringing attention to this relic of history.
Ahum, it seems that End's hunch was right, because Sent has indeed won. This gargantuan monstrosity has kind of beaten every other entry by a long shot.
Story A, the winner is Sent
Story B is Cel
Story C is Ford
Yep, so Sent has crushed it with his big story energy. Give him a standing ovation.
It's about time haha.
Congrats Sent! You blew us out of the water with your entry.
Also - Cel, Ford, shame on you.
Wow, I really didn't expect Ford to be the mystery contestant! He even voted on this one to throw us off the trail.