Xerox, The So-Called “Sorcerer’s World”
The stench of sulfur accompanied the loud explosion Nura Nal waited anxiously to hear. The sorcerers finally returned with their decision. Hopefully they chose their champion wisely. Mordru was an incredibly powerful foe.
When the smoke cleared, Nura’s delicate wisp of a sister stood alone outside the castle walls.
“Have they sent you to inform us of their decision?”Nura asked.
Mysa nodded. “They have.”
“And?” Nura asked.
Garth pushed his way to Mysa. “Please say they’ve chosen the Minotaur.”
“Mysa shook her head. “The runes have fallen upon me.”
“What?” Nura exploded “They’re one body short of a Carggite if they think I’ll see my sister slain for their cowardice!”
“Calm down, sister,” Mysa replied calmly. “Were it left to me I would not choose to face Mordru but the runes have spoken.”
“I typically disagree with Nura as standard practice but surely logic dictates another option,” said Dox.
“I have been chosen for this battle,” Mysa argued. “I will do my best to honor the faith placed in me.”
“Get one of those squajes out here now!” Nura demanded. “I will not have you sent to slaughter while your supposed teachers cower in the alconite towers of their castle!”
“Nura! They’ll hear you!” Mysa hissed.
“Good!” Nura shouted to the castle walls. “I want them to hear me! I want this whole bloody, backward mudball of a planet to hear me!”
A second explosion filled the air, this one rocking the ground. The elders were back and did not look pleased. The Dromedary who acted as their leader stepped forward. “You take issue with the choice, young woman?”
“You damned right I take issue with it!” Nura spat. Her meticulously-manicured nails dug into her flesh as she clinched her fists. “What chance does my sister have against Mordru?”
“That depends on your sister,” the Dromedary replied.
Rond Vidar pulled Nura behind him. “With all due respect, Nura’s concern for her sister’s safety is shared by us all. Perhaps you fail to comprehend the severity of the situation.”
“I can assure you we of Xerox comprehend the severity better than anyone but magic is not limited by the vessel whether Mordru or Mysa,” explained the Dromedary. “Can two beings submerge themselves in the same ocean and one rise wetter than the other?”
“Your cryptic Zen riddles do not impress me,” Nura answered. “I’m sure my sister is terrific with holo-card tricks or pulling tokens from the ears of unsuspecting children, but this isn’t a child’s birthday party you’re sending her to! Mordru has conquered worlds!”
“The runes have spoken,” the Dromedary answered. “To send another would deny Mysa her destiny.”
“As what? A martyr?” Nura asked as she pushed her way from behind Rond.
“Nura,” Mysa interrupted.
Nura pushed her sister aside and stood eye to snout with the Dromedary. “What about you, sir? Why can’t your old bones make the trip? Surely as leader of this cult you have the most power!”
“Nura,” said Mysa.
“Perhaps you hide in fear....”
“Not now Mysa. I’m trying to save your...”
Nura recoiled as the castle shimmered and transformed into a snarling dragon. The ghastly beast belched an inferno that consumed Nura without singing as much as a hair on her head.
Garth hurled a bolt of lightning at the beast. “Not today, Puff!”
The dragon howled as the fury of nature’s storm flowed through its body.
Garth looked pleased with himself.
“Puff?” Rond Vidar asked. “I find it curious a Winathian would cite an old Earth legend.”
“Winath is a colony world you know,” Garth answered. “Mom used to sing it to Ayla and me when we were little.”
The dragon shrugged off the lightning and whipped Garth with its tail, knocking him to the ground.
“Garth?” Salu shouted as she and Dox ran to check on him. “Are you okay?”
Garth sat up. “I’m out of breath, but fine otherwise.”
The dragon flew high into the air, spread its wings majestically, and released a bone-chilling cry before diving toward the ground. At the last second it pulled up and stretched its wings once more before settling where the castle once stood. It shimmered from view and was replaced by the castle.
“As I was saying,” said Mysa. “I can fend for myself.”
Nura was speechless. Her little sister’s power was impressive, but still she couldn’t shake the uneasy knot in her stomach. She needed to dream.
Somewhere in the Heart of Mordru’s Castle
Tenzil Kem struggled in the grasp of Mordru’s elite guards, but his resistance proved futile. He cursed himself for not taking better care of his body. He was hardly obese but would never be mistaken for a gene-blaster freak. Being a chef from a race of people who could digest any known form of matter blessed him with a metabolism one-hundred thousand percent higher than any other known race in the universe. So he couldn’t blame his current physical condition on overeating. Perhaps too many wasted nights with a big bowl of Radioactive Crunchies and the latest holovid were to blame? Damned Hollyworld zombie vids!
The guards led Tenzil to the edge of a large, dark pit.
“Ok, guys. I get it! No more rocks in the Dark Lord’s puppy chow!” Tenzil explained.
The guards inched him ever closer to the precipice.
“What say we give ol’ Tenz a mulligan on this one, huh?” Tenzil pleaded.
The guards shoved Tenzil toward the very edge of the abyss and became painfully aware of the heel of his right shoe dangling over the maw. A quick shove in his chest knocked Tenzil off-balance. He struggled to catch himself and for a brief moment hope flashed in his mind that he was not going to fall. Then his left shoe rolled over a small rock. Tenzil fell to one knee with his right leg dangling in the pit. He clawed furiously at the loose dirt for something to grab onto but found nothing.
Gravity was never Tenzil’s friend. “Sprockin’….”
The Bismollian plummeted into the darkness as his life proverbially flashed before his eyes. He remembered practical jokes and … well, even more practical jokes. Lest he forget there was lots of laughter. What could he say? He was a jolly soul. It would have been a pleasant ride down memory lane if the fragile uncertainty of his mortality were not part of some hellish vacation package deal. Surely there was nothing worse.
Then he landed and began rolling downward.
The Dungeon Below Mordru’s Castle
Once the dungeon door slammed shut above, Reep Daggle landed on the wall between the Science Police officers. He maintained the form of a common Earth housefly but morphed his head into his humanoid form. “To whom do I complain to receive such luxurious accommodations?”
“Who’s there?” the larger, dark-haired officer asked.
“Reep Daggle. I’m a Legionnaire.”
“Legion?” the officer on the right asked. “Aww, hell no! You amateurs are more trouble than Mordru! The last thing we need is to get messed up with you.”
“Looks like you’re in a quite a mess already,” Reep answered. “Suit yourself. You stay here while we save the day again.”
“Wait!” the dark-haired one interjected. “Please excuse my partner. His super-power is shooting off his famously big mouth! If you’re taking the fight to Mordru we want to be a part of it. How did you escape Mordru’s mind-control?”
“For some reason I’m unaffected,” Reep answered.
“Where are you?” asked the officer on Reep’s right.
“I’m here between the two of you - in the form of a housefly.”
“A housefly?” asked the officer on the right. “Come again.”
Reep laughed. “I’m Durlan.”
There was a long pause. Reep knew how most of the galaxy felt about his people.
The officer on the left finally broke the silence. “Gim Allon,” he said. “And the pain in the nass is my partner, Dirk Morgna. He gets like this when he hasn’t had his morning coffee. You don’t have a laser flint on you, do you? We can’t take the fight to Mordru if we’re hanging on the wall in the dungeon.”
“Sorry, the Legion doesn’t carry weapons,” Reep replied. “But I’m far from helpless.”
The Durlan transformed into a Halonian Scrap Lizard, a small reptile with razor sharp teeth and went to work on the devices that held the Science Police officers to the wall. In between bites, he made conversation. “Why couldn’t Mordru kill you?”
“How do you know he couldn’t kill us?” Dirk asked.
Reep spat a bite of metal from his jaws. “Because if he could you would be dead already. I assume there’s something special about the two of you, some reason why he wanted you out of the way.”
“You’d make a hell of a detective,” Dirk answered.
“We saw the inside of Mordru’s tomb,” Gim replied.
“Mordru’s tomb?” Reep asked.
“That’s right,” Gim answered. “A group of terraformers unearthed an ancient vault following the New Dehli quake and mistook it for an ancient treasure. Mordru was sealed inside sometime in the mid twenty-first century by an organization known as the Justice Society of Amercia. A doctor named Fate left detailed hieroglyphs inside detailing their final battle with Mordru and on how to defeat him. He’s powerless if surrounded by earth.”
“You can read twenty-first century hieroglyphs?” Reep asked. “No one has ever made sense of the languages that pre-date the Great Disaster.”
“They… transformed into Interlac before our eyes,” said Dirk.
“What were you doing in his tomb?” Reep asked.
“Some of the more greedy workers hoped to find treasure inside and blew it open. They found death instead. Mordru unleashed his rage on them. Poor saps never had a chance. Dirk and I were assisting the local Science Police forces with relief efforts when the call came in for backup. When we arrived on the scene the first group of SP’s fired on us while chanting praise to Mordru. Our guys scattered. It was chaos. We didn’t know who was affected and who wasn’t. Dirk and I took cover where we could find it – inside the sorcerer’s tomb.”
“It was partially blasted apart, like a razed building. It made a great shield,” Dirk explained. “The officers under Mordru’s mental command defeated our colleagues then turned their attention to us. Mordru ordered them to drag us out.”
“Why not kill you then?” Reep asked.
“And we thought Mordru was the vicious one,” Dirk grunted. “According to the tomb, this Dr. Fate placed a spell of protection over those who entered the tomb.”
“Assuming Mordru would be loose if someone was in his tomb and that the sorcerer would want to kill them because they’d know how to defeat him,” Reep finished.
“Exactly!” Gim added. “Fate wanted to assure the lives of whoever would have the information to defeat Mordru.”
Reep chewed through the dampener that bound Dirk’s right hand. The officer’s hand popped free.
“I can take it from here,” said Dirk. A small flame danced on his fingertip and lit the dungeon with its glow. He aimed it at the other dampeners that bound him to the wall and melted them to slag. Next he lit the torch left behind by Officer Erin then turned his attention to his partner’s bonds and cut him free.
“Looks like that’s not all that special about you,” said Reep.
“We’re full of surprises,” Gim answered with a sly grin as he rubbed his wrists. “What now, Legionnaire? Do you have a plan?”
Reep shook his head. “Unfortunately I don’t. I discovered you two by accident. We do need to get out of here though if we’re going to do some good.”
“Agreed,” said Dirk. “We’ll attract unwanted attention if we go out the way we came in.”
“What if we break through instead?” Gim asked.
“I don’t follow,” Reep replied. “Are you suggesting we tunnel our way out? It would take days to even break through the wall to whatever’s on the other side!”
Much to Reep’s surprise, Gim grew to double his normal size. It was a startling transformation. Soon he was so large he nearly filled the dungeon. “Maybe for someone else, but at this size it’s child’s play.”
His massive fist smashed into the wall, sending stone and mortar everywhere. A wall of earth lay behind it. Gim dug his massive fingers into the packed earth and removed more in one handful than a terradozer could in hours.
“Perhaps a Novian Shoveler would be of assistance,” suggested Reep. He transformed into a large bird with a shovel-shaped bill. His wings beat fast as a hummingbird. He scooped up a bill full of dirt and moved it out of the way. With the Legionnaire and the colossal Science Police officer working in tandem, a tunnel began to take shape.
When they dug far enough into the tunnel to risk a collapse, Dirk stepped forward. “Let me stabilize the walls with a blast of solar energy so it won’t cave in. Stand back! It may get hot in here and not in the Magz-Twins-in-a–hot-tub kind of way.” Twin blasts erupted from his hands and baked the earthen tunnel into solid rock.
As soon as Dirk finished and the walls cooled enough, Gim and Reep went back to work.
“Where are you from?” Reep asked.
“Earth, both of us,” said Gim.
“But your powers…” Reep protested.
“I got mine vacationing on Mars with my girlfriend. While riding hovercycles in the Badlands, we witnessed a meteor fall to the sky. I raced ahead to check it out, despite Gigi’s pleas to leave it alone. I found it glowing white and placed it in my pouch. Within hours I was so sick I could barely move. The radiation that caused the rock to glow somehow affected my cellular structure allowing me to grow to gigantic proportions at will.” Gim explained as he tore into the Earth.
“I nearly died getting mine too,” Dirk replied. “My dad is an engineer for Brande Industries. He was working on a project to refine the nuclear process in birthing Brande’s man-made stars. Dad’s former assistant, Dr. Regulus, who went to work for a rival, McCauley Industries kidnapped me and locked me in the reactor as revenge for dad laying him off two years earlier. He felt he should be in on the profits from the experiments. Somehow I didn’t die. Instead the incident left me a living solar reactor.”
On and on the work went, Reep and Gim digging into the earth and Dirk baking their tunnel to stabilize it.
“What’s the plan once we tunnel out?” Dirk asked.
“We try to free the minds of my teammates,” Reep replied. “They’re the only ones who can hope to defeat Mordru.”
“Now hold on one damn minute, Durlan!” Dirk exclaimed. “I’m not sticking my neck out for your fraggin’ Legion buddies! You ask me they’re as dangerous as Mordru. If we can make it to Science Police Headquarters in New Dehli...”
“There is no New Dehli anymore,” Reep replied. “Or Science Police. Earth is under Mordru’s control. Other worlds fall by the hour.”
“He may be right,” said Gim. “Perhaps the Legion is our best chance.”
“I don’t like it,” Dirk replied. “But keep digging big guy. Maybe we’ll come up with a better plan by the time we’re free.”
A Dark Pit
“Bloody nass!” Tenzil Kim cried. His curse echoed back to him as he tumbled down the not-so-gentle slope of a steep hillside. It could have been worse. The fall could have been a straight drop. End over end he tumbled before being deposited roughly on the ground in a cavern below.
Surely Mordru wasn’t that upset over a little mix up between their meals? Somehow he gave his own meal to the servant girl to serve to the Dark Lord. It was an honest mistake! Besides couldn’t Mordru just use his magic to make the rocks into whatever he wanted?
“Okay, you’ve had your fun!” Tenzil cried. “You can let me out now! Guys?”
Tenzil pushed himself up to his knees and brushed himself off. He wasn’t much worse for the wear other than a few bumps and bruises. He made a mental note to toast sloping cavern walls at the next Klordny festival.
Since he was in a cavern of some sort, perhaps there was a way out. Tenzil felt around carefully on his hands and knees and tried to orient his senses. He carefully tested each inch of ground beneath him before committing his weight to it. He inched along the cavern floor like this until his hand brushed against something. It felt familiar as was the smell.
Bones! That was it! And there was still warm meat on them, hence the smell!
An uneasy feeling settled in the Bismollian’s stomach - which was no small feat! “I’m sure it was just a small scavenger feeding on them. Probably just a … Whatever they call the Earth equivalent of a Nart Cat. At least I won’t starve.”
He was right. His world’s atmosphere was poisoned by a stray comet centuries earlier during the first wave of intergalactic colonization. The planet’s food sources died out and their soil was toxic, leaving the population in dire straits. Over time they adapted to the condition by developing the ability to digest all types of matter. Their unbelievably strong teeth and acidic saliva were able to break down mostly any matter.
Tenzil tossed the bones aside and continued feeling his way around the cavern until he reached a wall. “Now you’re getting somewhere Tenzil old boy!” Doing what Bismollians do best, he bit into the rock and attempted to tunnel his way out
“It has to lead somewhere. I hope.”
Space, Approaching the Sol System, Aboard the Legion Blackhawk
Mysa Nal studied her tomes carefully. Ever since her arrival on Xerox and her acceptance into the coven, she’d heard tales of Mordru’s evil. Even her teachers dared only to whisper his name in hushed tones. Once during a ritual in the Caves of Knowledge, one of her novice peers mentioned his name and the world quaked in response.
Her studies taught her Mordru was no mere sorcerer. He was an ancient Lord of Chaos. But it wasn’t his magic that scared Mysa. It was his ruthlessness.
The malevolent being was known to kill his foes and reanimate them for the joy of watching them die again and again. He tortured for the love of malevolence. He was evil incarnate.
She always felt pity for the poor fool the prophecies said would one day face Mordru’s rage. She never dreamed she would be the poor fool.
It was easy to convince her sister and her Legion friends of the formidability of her own powers, but a simple transference spell wouldn’t startle Mordru like it did them. How was she supposed to face the Dark Lord in battle? She couldn’t help but marvel at her role in the centuries-old drama.
“A credit for your thoughts.” The girl speaking was called Salu by the others.
Mysa appreciated her concern. “My thoughts are worth more than my life at this point.”
Salu took a seat in the chair across the table from her. “You’ll do fine.”
“I’m scared,” Mysa admitted. “Don’t tell Nura.”
“Your secret’s safe with me,” Salu answered with a compassionate smile. “I empathize with your feelings. I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to charging off into battle against the universe’s most notorious beings. I’m terrified every time.”
“Why do you do it then?” Mysa asked.
Salu pondered the question for a moment. “Who else will if I don’t?”
“You’re brave,” said Mysa.
Salu placed her hand on Mysa’s. “You are too. I hope I’m not interrupting your studies. I’ll leave you alone if you like.”
“Interrupting?” Mysa asked. She closed her book. “Not at all! I enjoy talking to you. It beats reading the same spells over and over again. And since my sister’s passed out in her precognitive state again...”
Salu chuckled and pulled her legs up to her chest. The heels of her boots rested on the edge of her chair, allowing her to rest her head on her knees. “Don’t worry Mysa. Your best is all you can do.”
Mysa gazed out the porthole beside her into the blackness of space. “I just hope it is good enough.”
Beneath Mordru’s Castle, The Pit
Tenzil Kem was tired of eating. He never thought he’d see the day he reached that point but it was true. And dirt wasn’t the tastiest treat. At least there was the occasional mineral deposit to tickle his palette. He wanted to quit but the stripped bones he found earlier provided plenty of incentive to keep eating.
Even after all his eating the dent in the wall was only a few lousy meters. A loud thump interrupted him. He looked up from his work. “Hello? Is anyone there?”
The silence wasn’t encouraging.
Tenzil gulped. “If someone is there, you’d better say so now! I’m not playing! Trust me. You do not want to see Tenzil-Kwon-Do up close and personal!”
A loud roar paralyzed the Bismollian and choked back his bravado. There was something alive in the Pit with him and it wanted to add him to its collection of bones.
A short, tense forever passed before Tenzil hit the ground hard. Some kind of beast was upon him. Tenzil instinctively shielded his face but the beast tore a chunk of flesh from his right forearm. He howled in pain, but there was no one to hear his screams.
The beast pinned Tenzil’s shoulders with its paws. No, they weren’t paws. They were... hands! What the flarg was he fighting? Whatever it was, Tenzil decided to put his mouth to better use than screaming. He bit off one of the attacker’s fingers.
The attacker rolled off him and screamed. “By Lord Mordru’s sandals! What have you done to me?”
“You can talk?” Tenzil asked.
“Of course I can,” the monster replied. “I prefer to eat.”
“A carnivorous monster after my own heart,” Tenzil mumbled as he munched on the finger. “Sorry, it’s hard to talk with your mouth full.”
“You will pay for injuring me,” the creature warned.
Tenzil tossed the beast the remainder of its own bloody finger. “No need for that. I’ll share if you don’t mind eating after me. I don’t have germs. Scout’s honor! But the acidic saliva can be a bitch.”
Again the beast was on Tenzil, but knowing the opponent was remotely humanoid eased his fears. At least he had a fighting chance, albeit a slim one. The creature was incredibly strong and obviously had no trouble with seeing in the darkness. It sank its claws into Tenzil’s shoulder. “Frag it! That hurts!” Tenzil cursed. “Sorry I gave you the finger!”
A second swipe of the claws severed Tenzil’s chest. His sensitive nose smelled the blood pouring from the wounds. This was not how he wanted to die. He always imagined he would be home on Bismoll, surrounded by friends and family. He preferred to think he would be older, that the family would be great-grandchildren. His remains would be for his friends and family to feast on, not some unknown monster in a hole on the planet Earth.
Tenzil managed to roll onto his stomach to protect his chest.
The beast bit into the open wound on his shoulder. “Your blood is delicious.”
“Have you tried Type Z?” Tenzil asked. “Now there is a delicious blend! It is an acquired taste though, a bit acidic for the common palette.”
Tenzil was getting dizzy from the loss of blood and hoped that talking would prevent him from passing out.
He forced his way to his feet and for once in his life got lucky. In rising he slammed the beast into a jagged wall behind them. It fell to the ground but still managed to slash the back of Tenzil’s left thigh with its claws. The Bismollian cried out in pain once more before things went from bad to worse.
The earthen stone behind him splintered.
“Now what?” Tenzil lamented. “Surely it can’t be worse than being eaten alive by a … whatever you are. Can it?”
Some questions were best left unasked.