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5/27/2011 9:48:09   
Crystal Lion
Member

Comments go here?

In which a damsel is distressed.

It was a hot sunny evening when it all began, when a pair of young twins began to discover a hidden legacy in their pasts...

"We're home!" two young women shouted happily and barged into a house. They looked and sounded almost alike with black ringlets, pale skin and low voices, save for the fact the red twin had much shorter hair and wore sports clothes.

The white-clad twin put her shoes aside neatly, but her red twin left her shoes lying in a mess. The red girl laughed and waved her arms, "We're free for two months!"
"Attie, you do remember what our mom wants us to do?" the white twin asked.
Atroxia sighed, "She wants us to get part time jobs. Easy for you, you've got skill in art."
"Surely with your skill in sports, you could get a job as well?"
"I don't like people, remember?" Atroxia groaned. "And most jobs need me to deal with them."
"Girls!" their mother shouted. "Get some dinner for yourselves?"
"Yes mum!" the twins said and looked in the fridge. There were some bags of food. Artisa picked up the lasagna while Atroxia chose the herbal soup.

After dinner, the twins were in their bedroom. Artisa was using her laptop to look up new painting techniques, while Atroxia sat on her bed and stared gloomily at her skates. "The brakes have worn out," she said.
"Get some new ones then," Artisa remarked. "We'll go to the city some time."

"Could you two go to the city tomorrow?" the twins' mother said, as she looked into the room. The mother, Ami, had long curly hair with a spiky fringe.
Artisa looked up from the online art magazine she was reading. "Yes, mom?" she asked. "Why?"
"I need you to pick up some groceries in the city. Here's the list," Ami said and gave a paper to Artisa. "Get your sister to follow you," she added. "Isn't it time for you two to sleep?"
The white twin stood up. "Ah, right. Good night, mom."
"Nights, mom," Atroxia mumbled, and snuggled into her bed.

The next morning, the twins were up and ready for their errand. Artisa put on a long white blouse, a belt, black leggings and a white sarong. Atroxia put on her red and gold sports sweater and her grey track bottoms. They left the house and started walking along the river. Soon, they approached the bridge to Super City. "What's going on?" Atroxia asked as she noticed a large crowd huddled near the bridge.
"Well, let's find out," replied Artisa. The twins ran to the crowd.

"Robber! Robber!" several people jumped up and down in fright as the twins arrived.
"What's the matter?" Artisa asked quickly.
"He robbed us and kidnapped one of the new bank tellers!" a man replied and pointed down the river. A big round machine was whirring about crazily. The machine had two long arms, one of them holding someone with dark brown hair. The other arm looked like a drill. The lions ran up to the machine and looked, there was a very swarthy man with a mohawk in a black and purple suit. His wild laughing could be heard through the thin glass panels. Atroxia looked up, the bank teller was being gripped by the huge clamp.

"Someone please help me!" the bank teller yelled, struggling against the clamp. "Mr. Purple robbed the city bank and took me hostage!"
"If you attack, I'll clip your wings, and kill this girl too!" Mr. Purple threatened the twins through telepathy.
Artisa jumped up, but Mr. Purple's ray went boom! It hit both the lions square in the face. "Now you don't have any wings!" Mr. Purple cackled. "Minions, attack!" he shouted. Three robots with purple insignia clattered up and the madman drove his round vehicle away, the bank teller yelling for all she was worth.

"Oooh," Artisa groaned and tried to stand up. Her knees buckled and she landed plop on the grass. "How's you feeling, Attie?" she said in a slurred manner. Atroxia emptied her drinking bottle on Artisa's head in reply.
"Hey! My hair!" the white twin yelled crossly and shook her mane out. She blinked and noticed the robots. "Oh."
"Do we or do we not kick some robotic back end?" asked Atroxia.
"I say we do."

Soon, the three robots were lying in a pile. The twins ran further down the river bank as the crowd gawped in surprise. "They've got guts, they're mad, they're throughly insane if they think they can fight Mr. Purple!"

"You again!" the purple villain yelled when he saw the twins. "I thought the robots dealt with you!"
"They didn't," Atroxia snorted. The bank teller continued to shout at the top of her voice, she managed to pull out one of her arms from the clamp by then. Mr. Purple tightened the clamp around the bank teller again. He promptly drove the ball at the twins, who jumped out of the way. Then he swung the drill arm at them. The twins dodged again and Mr. Purple ended up losing control of his machine. It went spinning about.
"Let's kick the ball!" Atroxia thought to her twin. They kicked at the same time when the machine spun near them, and ended up kicking a hole at the bottom of the round vehicle Mr. Purple was trying to control.
"Curse those black eyed fellows! I'm outta here!" cried Mr. Purple when his machine landed on the ground. He jumped out and ran away with the bags of money.

"Quick! It's gonna blow!" Artisa shouted at her twin, who kicked the arm holding the bank teller. The brown-haired woman fell down with a loud shout. "Catch her, fool!" Artisa yelled just as the brunette landed smack in Atroxia's arms. She hugged the red lion as the latter hopped down from the machine and ran away as fast as she could. The big round machine exploded just as the three women got away to a nearby field.

"Help! Now where can I put this woman down? She won't leave my arms!" Atroxia thought to her twin sister. "Yah! She's heavy!" the red lion grumbled to herself, walking unsteadily on the grass.
"Well, stop walking around, I think you're making her seasick!" Artisa snapped when she saw the teller's face, which had a green tinge. Atroxia stopped in her tracks and dug her heels into the ground. The bank teller opened her eyes, swung her legs down, and stood up. Her face no longer looked so green.

"Oh, thank you," she said. "Thanks for saving my life."
"You're welcome-ack!" Atroxia exclaimed as the bank teller hugged her again. "What's your name?" the red twin asked in a muffled voice, as the bank teller's hair brushed her nose.
"Melissa," the bank teller mumbled and nuzzled Atroxia again.

"Let go of me!" Atroxia yelled and tried to pull Melissa's arms off. "Eee, could you kindly not nuzzle me?" she said peevishly as Melissa continued to press her face against the red lion's.
Artisa laughed, "Looks like you've charmed someone alright."
Atroxia sulked as Melissa purred contentedly. "My hero," the brown-haired bank teller sighed happily.
"Look! New heroes!" a reporter shouted. Soon, a mob of people surrounded the twins, all shouting for their names and eyewitness accounts. Artisa waved her hands in a royal manner, while her twin rolled her eyes.
"I don't recall being royals in this place, Artisa," Atroxia muttered. "Can somebody call Melissa off?"

One of the reporters squeezed through the mob in front of Atroxia. "Boy?" he asked.
"I'm not a boy," replied Atroxia.
"So, why is she sticking to you then?" the reporter pointed at Melissa.
"Why ask me? Ask her!" Atroxia exclaimed, still trying to pull the bank teller off her.

Far above on the rooftops, a gray-haired teen was observing the whole incident. He rubbed his forehead and sighed, "So the Lions walk the earth once more? Dad was right. What is with the fangirl, though? Last I checked, the lion-fangirl had long goldenrod hair and green eyes, not brown hair."

A young black-haired, tanned woman with a feathered hat, a purple robe and blue pants trotted up to him. "Hey, Janey," the grey teen muttered.
Janey flopped down and asked, "What's going on down there?"
"Janey, do you believe in lions?"
"Sure I do! Would be silly not to."
"What would you say if I told you those fellows there are lions?"

Janey rolled her eyes. "Oh really? Lions? I thought the last real Lion died two hundred years ago, and Crystal Lion lived eight hundred years ago."
"I knew your ancestor, Janey, she'd know what a Lion would be like."
"Sure you do, Ez, you're a living legend. What is a Lion like anyway?"
"I can't believe you! They have long puffy hair, are brave as can be, and are very charismatic even when they don't mean to be. See that brown-haired lady?"

Janey looked at where Ez was pointing. She promptly giggled, Melissa still didn't want to leave Atroxia. The red lion still looked very cross and kept trying to push Melissa away. "She seems to really like that red woman."
Ez nodded and looked up at the bright sky. "Yes, she does. You can make all the jokes you like about that. Just don't spout them to me," he said. Janey watched as the police surrounded the remains of Mr. Purple's round machine...

"Paper! Paper's here!" yelled the newsgirl as she tossed the daily news in front of a house with a metal scrap pile beside it. A dog darted from behind the house and the newsgirl ran away in fright, since the dog was a rather large one. The dog paid no heed to her, but grabbed the newspaper after sniffing it. It pricked up its ears and ran back into the house.

The dog with lots of spots and pointy ears scurried into the living room with the paper in its mouth. "Thanks, Nightshade," said Herakaris. She took the paper and read it. "The Lions walk the earth again," she read the headlines. "30 May, Super District, New York: Two brave women took on the notorious supervillain, Mr. Purple, as he was trying to make a getaway in his big round vehicle. The twins, Artisa and Atroxia Lion, were passing by when they saw him with a hostage," Hera continued to read the paper. "So my school friends are the stars of a news story, huh? Didn't think they had it in them to be like the Lions of ages gone by. I guess the age of legends is starting again."

Meanwhile, at the Lions' home, Ami was shouting at her twins. "Where are the salad ingredients I asked you to buy yesterday, you dummies!"
The twins didn't dare say a word.

End...

< Message edited by Crystal Lion -- 8/6/2011 1:58:05 >
AQ DF MQ AQW Epic  Post #: 1
6/7/2011 8:49:52   
Crystal Lion
Member

One sunny morning, Ami went up to her daughters' room. She looked in. There were two beds, one with black and white covers, and another with red and gold covers. The red and gold bed was occupied by Atroxia, who was snoring away and wiggling in her sleep. "Hey, get up," Ami snorted and went over to her younger daughter's side. She shook Atroxia awake.
"But mom..." Atroxia complained and blinked her black eyes. "It's Saturday, I want to sleep in..."
"Get up!" Ami yelled and pulled off Atroxia's blanket. The red lion grumbled and tried to pull the blanket back up. Ami snorted and pushed Atroxia off the bed.
"Don't come back until you find a part time job, you lazy girl!" Ami shouted at her daughter, who scuttled out of the door while rubbing her bumped head. "Don't forget to change clothes!" Ami hollered after her.

Artisa was waiting at the foot of the stairs when Atroxia hopped down them. "Mom got you out of bed alright," said Artisa.
"Guh," Atroxia snorted. "I hate it when she does her whole push-me-off routine."
"Well, mom did tell us that we're supposed to look for jobs today," said Artisa. "I heard that the Corporal building is looking for new recruits. Let's try our luck, shall we?"
"Eh..." Atroxia looked bored.
"Of course, you can't go for an interview in soccer-themed pajamas, much less Manchester United ones," Artisa stifled a laugh at her twin's sleepwear. Atroxia rolled her eyes and went back up to their bedroom.
"Huh, I don't want to go for a boring old interview, I want new brakes for my skates. Then I can run around all day!" Atroxia thought as she put on a red sweater with an eight on it, then her trackbottoms. She went back down after shaking her hair out. Artisa had already worn her fashionable blouse and black leggings.

Soon enough, the twins were in the streets of New York again. They saw a glass and brick building in the distance. "That's the Corporal office," Artisa said, pulling her twin along. Atroxia frowned, for she was already bored out of her mind. The twins saw a tanned man with reddish hair and a bandana over his mouth standing beside the door.
"Hey," the man waved them over. When Artisa approached him, he whispered, "I'm investigating this place because Doctor Insecro plans to rob the bank there. Could you go inside and ask if the people in there have seen anyone suspicious? Careful, you shouldn't scare them senseless."
"Sure," Artisa whispered.
The man nodded. "Call me Llussion," he said. "Now hurry!"

The twins entered the building. Atroxia mumbled sleepily, "Good day," as she walked by the clerk sitting in the lobby. He waved at her and turned on a radio sitting on his desk. It began playing a tune with a girl singing a love song. Atroxia put her fingers in her ears crossly.

"Morning, Arnold," Artisa greeted the clerk.
"Good morning, miss, and master?" the clerk wondered, staring at Atroxia. The red lion turned her back on him with a huff.
"My twin's rather touchy," Artisa explained. "We're sisters. So, anyway, have you noticed anything strange lately?"
"You should ask around the bank, they're the closest to the lobby," said the clerk. "I haven't seen anything unusual."
"Thank you," Artisa said and poked her twin. "Let's go."
Atroxia snorted and walked after her twin. The twins walked by some citizens. A black-haired woman wearing gold bracelets and a blood-red blouse with black jeans smiled at Artisa. The white twin said, "How's the yachting going, Moira?"
"Great!" Moira exclaimed and turned back to the redhead she was talking to. The other lady fidgeted with her groceries.

"Oh dear..." groaned Atroxia as she noticed a brunette with a purple hairband sitting on one of the couches, reading an economics magazine. "Deja vu, or is that someone else?" she thought to her sister. "I think it might be that awful Melissa again. Yuck, she's like glue or a hairball, won't go away."
"Don't bother me, we have a mission here," Artisa thought back. She turned to face a bank teller with bright red hair and red lipstick. "Hello, Kiera," Artisa said. "Seen anyone unusual or suspicious lately?"
Kiera put her hands on the counter. "Nope, haven't seen anyone suspicious around the bank lately," the redheaded bank teller said. "Why?"
"Never mind," said Artisa. Just then, an enormous bang was heard. A giant rhino beetle smashed a hole in the wall and trotted in. Some giant ants followed it.

"Pardon the intrusion, but I believe introductions are in order. My name is Dr. Insecro," two voices said at the same time. Atroxia looked at the rhino beetle robot's chest. A display with a green alien with four eyes and insect claws was speaking.
"Two voices?" the red twin scratched her head. "Wow, you sound like a girl, Insecro."
Insecro continued, "My robotic insect beauties will be removing all the money from this bank. Kindly move to the back room, and nobody will be hurt, for now. Also, punk with black eyes, I'm not a she."
"So?" Atroxia snarled. "You want to get tough?!"
Insecro laughed scornfully, "After the humans, my ants!"
Everyone else screeched in fear and ran into the back office. Artisa yanked her twin by the arm and the two lions tumbled in. An enormous ant scurried after them.

The group of citizens shivered in fright at the big ant. Atroxia roared and pounced on it. The two creatures rolled around on the floor, trying to scratch each other. Artisa stood in front of the citizens in a bid to protect them. The ant seemed to be getting the upper hand and just as it was about to sink its jaws into Atroxia, a white blur knocked the red lion out of the way. The ant chirruped angrily and got a blob of paint in its eye for the trouble. Artisa boxed the head off the ant as it tried to clean itself up.
"Oh, thanks, my lady!" said Moira.
"You're welcome, ma'am. Now let's catch that rhino beetle, Attie!"

The said rhino beetle was pacing around in the lobby. Kiera shivered under the table, praying that it wouldn't kidnap her. As the twins ran out of the door to the back room, the beetle pricked up its feelers and hissed. Atroxia dropped into a fighting stance, and Artisa followed suit.

Just as they were about to start beating up the beetle, Llussion hopped in through a hole he smashed into the wall. A stone fell on his head and he shook it off. The swarthy fellow nodded at the twin lions, then they shifted into position. The beetle exclaimed, "Uh oh!"
It turned around and noticed Melissa hiding behind one of the potted plants!
"Eek!" Melissa squealed as Insecro's Beetle Basher cast a laser cage around her.
"After that thing!" Llussion yelled. "The rhino beetle thing, not the ants!"
The twins darted off after the enormous beetle, who trotted past the door to the stairs and climbed up them.

The twins climbed up after the beetle, but Atroxia tripped and they fell down the stairs. "Get off me, clumsy!" Artisa exclaimed and shoved her twin off. Atroxia stood up and ran up the stairs. She saw the glowing laser cage disappear behind a wall of fire. When she walked over to the table, a woman in a business suit, red lipstick and pulled back brown hair bowled her over.

"Fire! Fire!" the secretary yelled and waved her arms about. "Water! Water! From the vending machine!" she continued yelling at the twins. Atroxia dashed to the vending machine and stared at it. Her twin dropped in some coins and three bottles of drinking water tumbled out.
"Take the bottles, I think you know what to do," said Artisa. Atroxia did as her twin said and walked up to the huge wall of fire. She opened one of the bottles and poured the contents at the bottom of the fire.

The twin heard some loud hissing noises. "The ants are coming!" Atroxia exclaimed and ran forward to the next wall of fire. Artisa painted a giant net in front of her and threw it on the giant ants. They hissed crossly as their thin legs were stuck in the net. The artist then followed her twin, who managed to put out all the fires along the corridor. The twins saw the beetle trotting as fast as its legs could go.

As the beetle trotted away with the Lions in hot pursuit, Llussion jumped up and headbutted the laser cage. He grabbed Melissa and landed on his head. The brunette fell over her own thin legs. The beetle laughed loudly, "You'll never catch me!" It then tossed a huge table it had picked up.
"C-can't move..." Llussion groaned as he saw the table flying towards him. Melissa cowered beside him.
"We're finished!" she thought in panic.

Atroxia jumped up and kicked her left leg high, splitting the table into two. Artisa shattered the half that flew towards Llussion with her bare hands. The twins grinned and started pacing towards the beetle. It smashed through the window and leapt out on the balcony. Melissa stared as the twins ran after the beetle and climbed carefully through the hole in the glass. Llussion helped her up.

Insecro shivered like a jelly. "Lions! Beasties who are the kings of other critters! I'd better leave!" the alien continued to shiver.
"Oh no!" the beetle yelled as Insecro flew out of its chest and away in a very tiny spaceship. Artisa smirked, her long teeth shining in the midday sun. She took out her paintbrush, a palette, and started painting a long rope at top speed. When she was finished, she flung the rope at the beetle. Atroxia caught it and trussed up the beetle. The twins dragged the unhappy beetle back to Llussion. Melissa was standing beside Llussion, wringing her hands and wiping her forehead.

"Don't go near me," Atroxia snorted at Melissa when she got a good look at her. "Bad luck is contagious!"
"Hey!" Artisa snapped telepathically at her twin. "That was very low of you, to mock a damsel."
"So? Surely she must have terrible luck if she gets caught twice!" Atroxia replied out loud. Melissa gulped and put her hand to her eyes.
"Now look at what you've done, Attie..." Artisa groaned. "Why can't you think before you go and open your big mouth? I think you've hurt her feelings."

The brunette howled and ran away, sobbing loudly. Llussion looked at the twins. "What?" he asked.
Artisa smacked her head. "My twin's loud mouth, that's what," she said.
"Only good thing I can say about him is that you both managed to foil Insecro's plans," Llussion said. "At least, for now."
"Um, my twin sister," Artisa said.
"My apologies," Llussion bowed.
"It happens," Artisa replied. "Anything else?" she wondered.
"I'll stay behind and help clear up this mess," Llussion replied. "Thanks again for helping me."
"See you around!" Artisa said and left the office with Atroxia.

As the twins got outside, Artisa's phone rang. She answered it, "Hullo? Who's there?"
A shrill voice replied, "Hi, Artisa!"
"Hera, I see? Been singing the high notes again?"
The voice on the other end coughed and spoke in a lower voice, "Yup. Want to meet in Liberty Square later for lunch?"
"Sure, let me call home first," Artisa said.
"Call back if you can make it!"

Artisa called home, and Ami answered. "Yes?" said Ami.
"Mom, Hera's asked us if we want to have lunch with her. May we?"
"Oh, sure, Artisa! Call me when you're coming home, will you? Have you managed to get interviewed yet?"
Artisa bluffed, "Not exactly."
"Oh? Try a bit harder, can't you? You two should really get to know what work is like," Ami sighed. "Enjoy your lunch, ok?"
"Yes mom, bye." Artisa ended the call. "Darn it!" she thought to herself. "I really should've asked if the Corporal was holding interviews today!" she continued to think, until her twin shook her arm.
"What did mom say?" Atroxia asked.
"We can go meet Hera. It's been months since we last spoke," Artisa dialed Hera up again.

Later, the twins and Hera met near a street vendor in Liberty Square. They bought something for themselves. Hera had brought her dog along for a walk. "Nightshade's just as fluffy as ever," Artisa said, and knelt down to stroke the spotted dog's pointy ears.
"Of course, she's one of those dogs who keep a long coat all year round," Hera remarked and the trio walked on the sidewalk.

Nightshade wuffed and looked up at Herakaris. "That must have been quite an adventure, Lions," Hera grinned, after listening to the Lions' recount of that morning.
Atroxia muttered, "And all I got out of it was a crazy fan."
"Look, any superhero is going to get a few crazy fans after them eventually, Attie."
"But that soon? Besides, I don't want a fan, I want a part time job. Or else, my mom will be furious. She thinks I'm lazy enough."
Hera began laughing. She gasped through her laughter, "Being a superhero is a job, Attie!"
"That doesn't seem to count, mom said," Atroxia frowned and looked away, taking a bit out of her hotdog.

"Speaking of crazy fans, Attie just brushed Melissa off," Artisa frowned, while chewing a french fry.
"Oh, what did she say?" Hera asked. Nightshade sat at her feet, hoping for a little snack. "Melissa who?"
"I think you might have read the paper, Hera," Artisa said grimly. "The one where we were mentioned for fighting Mr. Purple. Melissa was the hostage. And Attie right here told Melissa to go away, she doesn't want to catch bad luck from her."
"WHAT!" Hera shouted in surprise. "Oh no! Attie! You can't just go and say someone is jinxed. That's as cruel as your name."

"Why can't I? I thought saying you don't like someone will make them stop chasing you."
"Oh, you silly, silly Attie!" Hera cried. "Lovesickness is not cured by telling one to go away."
"So? What happens when you're lovesick?" Atroxia snorted.
"Oh, they can't sleep, they can't eat. Some can't even think!" Hera recited.
Artisa rolled her eyes. "Get to the point, Hera."
"And some even go mad..." the swarthy woman sang. "Do you want to be responsible for another mad villain in the streets? Rejecting someone harshly can do that. Make a vendetta..."

--------

The following weekend, Ami went to Titanium Threads to buy some cloth. The old lion greeted the Harts waiting at the counter, "Good morning."
"Hello, Ami," Samantha Hart replied gloomily. Her husband looked worried.
Ami noticed that Samantha had sunken eyes this time, and her hands were unsteady as she pulled out a measure of cloth. "So, about that satin cloth with the brocade I've ordered last week?" Ami asked the saleswoman.
Samantha gestured to Ami to go to the store room while John spoke to another customer who had entered the clothes shop.

The saleswoman looked up at Ami after the old lion entered the storeroom. "Give my thanks to your son for saving my daughter from Mr. Purple and Dr. Insecro," she said.
Ami's eyes widened and she hurriedly explained, "I don't have a son. I have twin daughters. You probably meant the tomboyish one."
Samantha gulped and bowed apologetically, "I'm so sorry, madam Lion. You see, Melissa has taken a fancy to her hero. I thought she was starting to be interested in men now."
"Then?"
"She's miserable. She kept howling for your tomboy daughter in her sleep."
"Lovesick?"
"Not only lovesick! Your tomboy told her to go away and leave her alone. Said she was jinxed, or something."
"I'll have to give Atroxia a good talking to when I get back home," said Ami. She clenched her fists and shivered in rage. "I can't let her go around shooting her mouth off at people. That will be the end of her one day."
"As you wish, madam," Samantha shivered, handing out the cloth that Ami had ordered.

Ami came back home from Titanium Threads in a very foul temper indeed. She saw Artisa sitting in an armchair in the living room, drawing something with her pencil. "Hey, Artisa?" Ami snapped.
Artisa looked up from her sketch. "Where's your twin?" Ami inquired, trying not to snap at her older daughter.
"Out on the back porch, mom," was Artisa's reply. Ami turned and walked out of the back door.

"Attie," Ami called her daughter, who was paying more attention to her skates. "Atroxia Lion!" she yelled when the red twin still didn't look up.
"Yes mum?" Atroxia shivered in fright.
"Why didn't you tell me that you and Artisa fought two bank robbers and rescued Mrs. Hart's daughter twice?"
"Be-because I thought you'd be furious. You said we shouldn't be doing heroics and all."
"That's because if you two were killed, who's going to inform me? As it is, you have two women after you now."
"Two women?"

"Yes, what did you do, dress like a boy? For goodness sake! Can't you stop confusing people for once in your life? I felt so ashamed when I had to explain that I didn't have any sons! Even if Mrs. Hart's feeling more ashamed about her daughter right now."
"Why?"
"Melissa is not interested in men, not in the friendly sense, nor in the bawdy sense. Surely you could've guessed?"
"Ugh..."
"Don't ugh at me. If I knew anything about you, your options are open to both male and female. Just like a hyena! Can't you learn to shut up! Lazy bum, bad mouth, brainless!"

Atroxia said glumly, "She wouldn't stop sticking to me like glue."
"Then tell her nicely to stop that! Why did you go and say she was jinxed?"
"Because I had to rescue her two times in the same week!" Atroxia shouted.
"Don't yell at me!" Ami roared. "Being in danger twice in Super City doesn't mean one is jinxed! It might be coincidence for all you know! Bank tellers have the highest risk of facing criminals while at work next to the police! As for her sticking to you, she's got puppy love! You shouldn't be mean to people with a crush."
"Pah," Atroxia snorted.
Ami growled, "Don't snort when I'm telling you something. You and Artisa are very fortunate, you've never been victims. Don't get so proud, there might be someone out for your blood."

"What do you mean?" Atroxia wondered.
"It's a curse, the other woman after you two. An old curse from the days of your ancestor," Ami replied, pacing on the porch. "There was a mad woman with long blonde hair and green eyes who took a big fancy to Crystal Lion. When she married your wolf ancestor, the blonde was so angry, she swore that she would follow any lioness to the end of the earth; as long as Lions walk the world."
"What's so dangerous about that? Surely she must be dead by now?"
"She's a witch, and she wants lions as her slaves. If you had been a boy, your days would be numbered, for she hates all man."
"I thought you think our legends are just that, old wives' fables," Atroxia rolled her eyes.
"No, this thing about the witch is real. But that's not the main thing I wish to tell you. You can't just scold somebody you have done a favor for, even if she seems weak. Melissa could bear a grudge against you for that remark on her luck, as words are cutting things," Ami spoke at length.

Artisa shook her head as Atroxia staggered into the living room. "Wow, mom really yelled your ears off, didn't she?"
"She certainly did."
"Now, what do you plan to do?"
"I'm not sure about that."
"Apologize, dummy! Artisa cried in annoyance and poked her twin's nose. "Go to the Harts' place and apologize!"
"When?" Atroxia looked at her hands.
"When, you big lug? Tomorrow is Sunday! Go then!" Artisa continued to shout at her twin. "I'll accompany you."

That Sunday, the twins went over to the Harts' home, after getting directions from Ami. They knocked on the door and waited. Samantha answered the door and let them in. "Wait here, I'll get Melissa," she said and went upstairs. Samantha sighed, Melissa was still howling in her sleep for a lion. When she was awake, Melissa looked sick and sad, even paler than usual. Samantha could hear Melissa crying softly as she approached her daughter's room.

"Go away," Melissa groaned softly as Samantha knocked on her door.
"Your hero's here," the older brunette whispered.
"I can't face her, I'm not good enough."
"Please stop thinking like that, she's waiting for you," Samantha remarked. Melissa came out of her room. Her eyes were red. "Shouldn't you wash your face?" Samantha asked her daughter, who walked back inside. A few moments later, Melissa came back out, still looking rather gloomy, then went downstairs. The brunette sat down on the couch facing the Lions, then looked down at the ground.

"Er, uh," Atroxia fidgeted. Artisa sighed.
"Just say you're sorry," she thought to Atroxia.
The red lion swallowed, then said, "Sorry, Melissa. I really shouldn't have said you were full of bad luck."
The bank teller sat in silence. The twin lions started to worry when she didn't say a word. Artisa leaned over and whispered, "Hey, my sister apologized."
"I know," Melissa groaned.
"It's just that my twin can be rather tactless at times. She's not used to the idea of someone being close to her besides me."
"So? I'm not good enough, apparently. I'm nothing but trouble."
"You're not."
"But...You had to save me twice, Atroxia."

Atroxia thought to herself, "I can't say it was nothing," but said out loud, "I was just tired because my mother kicked me out of bed that day, and I was snappy from lack of sleep."
Melissa giggled. Artisa thought, "Good, at least she's not in a black mood any more."
"Got up from the wrong side of bed, didn't you?" the bank teller continued to giggle.
"Miss white lies," Artisa thought to her twin. "At least you cheered her up."
"That was an accident," Atroxia thought back.
"It's a good accident," Artisa smiled, while Melissa continued to laugh to herself. Samantha looked on and sighed in relief. "Well, Melissa, take things easy when you try to get close to my sister, ok?" Artisa said to the brunette bank teller. Melissa nodded happily.
Atroxia leaned back against the couch as her twin thought to her, "As for you, Attie dear, you should be a bit less touchy if anyone tries to be friendly to you, alright?"
"Yes, sister," Atroxia thought back.

End...

< Message edited by Crystal Lion -- 6/10/2011 11:44:45 >
AQ DF MQ AQW Epic  Post #: 2
7/3/2011 8:40:38   
Crystal Lion
Member

In which the big fight stops.

The twins were watching television one day. The news reports were talking about the chaos in New York, of robots running all over the place and mechanized battles in the streets. Ami came into the living room and muttered, "It's not exactly the best time to leave our homes, isn't it?"
"Yeah," Atroxia replied.
Ami sighed, "Good thing we live away from the main part of the fight, in the suburbs." She then left the room. Artisa's phone rang shortly after, and she answered it.

"Go to Aurora Park, quickly! The fight in the park is reaching its zenith!" Antares said anxiously into her phone. "Demolicious needs your help! Say that Antares sent you if she asks."
"Alright, we're going," Artisa said. The twins then crept out of the living room and changed their clothes, but Ami saw them just as they were leaving the house.
Ami shouted after her daughters, "Come back, you fools! It's dangerous to go running about!"
Atroxia and Artisa continued running away, much to Ami's annoyance. "We'll be back later!" they exclaimed.

The twins ran to Hera's house on the hill and knocked loudly on the door. Nightshade barked loudly and Hera ran to open the door. "What's the matter?" she asked with concern.
"There's a fight in the park, we need backup!" Atroxia said in a rush.
"Who?" Hera asked.
"Demolicious needs help, according to the call."
"Fine, fine, I'll go soon enough," Hera groused and shut the door firmly. The twins shook their heads, then went on their way to the park.

As the twins entered the park, they saw a slim girl in a black leotard with black gloves, black boots and a balaclava covering half her rather chubby face. There was an old man who stood up straight, with green and white hair, wearing a suit of robotic armor. He had one red eye and one orange eye. The girl had enormous cat's eyes that glowed purple.
"I'm Isabel, and this is my twin, Attie," Artisa introduced herself to the leotard-wearing girl.
"Go away! I'm in the middle of a battle here!" the girl shouted grumpily and glanced at the female droids further up the path. Some of the droids sang and summoned wrecking balls.
"What fight?"
"The fight!" the girl replied. "So stop lazing about and help!"
"Why?" Atroxia asked and yawned.

"What rock did you come out from, moron!?" the balaclava-wearing girl shouted crossly. "Anyone would know that Pandora was the protector of the whole world! She made the biggest sacrifice when she fought the one who consumes worlds!"
"So?"
"Idiot! I don't have time for this!" Demo shouted, and went back to shouting insults at the stripy-haired old man. "Old stripes!" she said.
"You're a fool, Demolicious!" the old man yelled back. "If you knew anything about recruiting, being rude to them is the worst idea ever!" he continued. "Now, you two," the old man glanced at the twins. "Join me, Luigi DaVinci, and I can get my brother back."

"Is your brother stuck in there?" Atroxia asked.
Luigi frowned at her question. "He's a goner," the man muttered. "See that statue over there? It's said to contain Pandora's heart, and with it, I can revive my brother."
"Don't support him!" the balaclava-wearing girl shouted. "The heart's a national artifact! I've sworn to protect it, and I'm not letting old stripes here get his paws on the heart!"

"Well?" Atroxia thought to her twin. "Who do we support?"
"But Antares said we're supposed to help Demolicious. She looks a bit strange, I can say that much," Artisa thought back. "Antares sent us," she said.
"Oh?" Demo asked. "Then why don't you make yourselves useful and chase away some of the killbots swarming about, huh?"
"Why, are you ever rude!" Atroxia said.
"You're one to talk!" Demo snapped.
Luigi sighed and shook his head. "You two should just up and leave, now," he said. Atroxia made faces at him. "Go on! Go on, but I warn you, you'll be beat one day, boy!" Luigi snarled at her.

The twins went up the path, and encountered one of the female droids. She had only one eye and long purple hair in a bun, and she wore shorts as well as a scruffy shirt. "Good day!" the she-droid said. "I take it you've met Demolicious, aye?"
"Yeah," Atroxia snorted. "She's rude."
"She can't help it," the droid sighed. "Anyway, I'm one of her divas."
"But who are you, exactly?" Artisa asked.
"I'm the first diva, Code Maru. Ok, so my band and I ran into Demo when she was bashing some bots. We've been following her since."
"How many of you are here?" the twins asked.
"For goodness sakes! You'd better not ask so many questions. There's lots of us, but DaVinci has even larger numbers," the diva said and pointed at a group of brown robots up ahead. "Don't let them clap hands on you, that much I can say. Good luck!" the diva said.

The lions looked at the brown robots. They all had one arm and one mace each, had big feet, and resembled scraggy orangutans. "What was he thinking when he made them?" Artisa groaned. "They look terrible."
The brown robots beeped and trundled to the twins. "Turn back!" Luigi's voice came from the robot facing Artisa. "Demo's a liar! Return to me after you have beaten up as many of her divas as you can."
"Oh, shut up!" Atroxia kicked the robot in its middle. "You're not getting your hands on the heart if I'm having any say!"
"Beep beep!" the robots said crossly and tried to swing their mace-arms at the same time. The mace arms bumped into each other, and Atroxia managed to scramble away. One of the robots grabbed Artisa by her arm.
"Help! Attie!" the white twin yelled, while trying to pull her own arm out of the robot's grip. Atroxia ran back and punched the arm holding her twin. The robotic arm came off and its grip loosened. Atroxia grabbed the detached arm and held it up as a weapon.
"You ok?" Atroxia asked her twin, who nodded. "Let's kick some robot butt!" the red twin grinned. Artisa rubbed her arm and smiled back, as the other robots continued to beep angrily.

"Take that!" Atroxia snarled and slashed wildly with the robot arm. Artisa drew a mace and pulled it out of the wall behind her, then joined her twin in the resulting destruction. Soon, the brown orangutan-like robots lay in pieces. Maru jumped over the wall and looked at the twins.
"That was impressive!" she said, leaning on her hammer. "I'll tell Demo about your progress."
"Right," said Artisa. "I don't feel so heroic."
"Aw, come on," Maru said. "You're protecting a national artifact. There's nothing wrong with that."
"Guess you have a point," Artisa muttered. "I noticed that there are a lot of people supporting Luigi, though."
"Don't give up now!" Maru exclaimed. "Just do your best! I'm not sure how Luigi managed to convince half of Super District to fight for him, but at least not everybody agrees with him. It's probably best that you go back to the main gate, though."

The lions and Maru walked to the main gate, but Demo wasn't there. Another diva with a long curly ponytail wearing a corset and short shorts was waiting. "Yon, where's Demo?" Maru asked the other diva.
"She's breaking the rewired cameras," Yon thought back to Maru. "She'll be back quick."
The two lions sat down and looked at each other silently. They didn't notice when a cloaked figure with a long nose walked by them, not until the figure spoke to Luigi.

"So you got the supplies, did you, Sini!" Luigi snorted.
"Yarh," the villain mumbled, as if his mouth was full of gum.
"What a joke!" the stripy man sneered. The long-nosed person shook his head. "Oh, you're serious?" Luigi asked.
"Yubb," the villain mumbled. Artisa drew two fake eyes and put them behind her head, closing her real ones. She pretended that she was arranging her hair as the long-nosed villain continued to whisper. "So, if I have to fight Demo, what should I do?" the long-nosed villain whispered to Luigi.

Luigi whispered back rather loudly, "If you want my advice, use ESP on Demolicious, she's just a naive teenager. She might have an attitude like those Lions, but she's easier to break than them."
"Uh oh," the twin lions thought to each other. "Shouldn't we warn Maru?" Atroxia thought.
"Yeah, we should," Artisa thought back, dismissing her fake eyes. Just before they could say anything, Demo ran up, dragging her wrecking ball behind her.
"Yon! Maru!" she shouted. "DaVinci's hacked the police bots to fight for him! You know what to do!"
The divas nodded. "Isabel! Attie! Get the patrolmen outta here!" Demo ordered. The twins and the divas ran into the park, towards the statue of Pandora.

"What's with the patrolmen?" Artisa asked Maru as the group ran on.
"They're police volunteers who are helping us protect Pandora's heart," Maru replied.
"The heart?"
"I don't know much about it, to be honest. You should ask Demo."
"She wouldn't say much, really," Atroxia interrupted.
"Just like her," Maru sighed. "Takes her a while to warm up to new people, unless you've done a favor for her."
"Look, over there!" Yon pointed at the hacked police bots. The aforementioned bots were fighting with some patrolmen. The group ran over to them.

The patrolmen looked weary, having to fend off the enraged bots. "Oh dear, we need assistance," one of the patrolmen said. Maru and Yon leapt into action, swinging their hammers at the hovering robots.
"Come on," Artisa urged the patrolmen. They followed her, and Atroxia went behind the group to urge the stragglers on. Maru and Yon continued to fight with the robots as the twins got the patrolmen to safety. They heard a very loud bang at the moment, and saw an enormous tank with orange and grey insignia on it.
Demolicious frowned when she saw the tank. "Looks like we've got no choice but to face DaVinci head on," she spat. "How did he get so many supporters anyway? Go on, you twins."
Artisa and Atroxia went towards the tank, but Maru was already there.

The diva landed with a bump on the path, when Luigi fired at her with his tank. "Maru! Oh no!" the twins yelled and ran over to her. "You ok?" Artisa inquired, trying to help the diva up.
Maru lifted her head off the ground. "Sorry, bud, but I'm finished. Can't get up. Don't let him get the heart," she groaned, then her eyes went dull. The diva flopped back to the ground.
"Ha!" Luigi laughed. "I said you'd be beat one day! Would've been so much easier if you two just supported me."
"Never!" Atroxia snorted at him. Luigi frowned, and aimed a laser mounted on the tank at her. "Ow ow ow!" Atroxia shouted when the laser beam struck her foot. She hopped around in pain as Luigi laughed his head off. Artisa frantically drew a picture of her twin's foot with her paints.
"Quick, kick this!" she thought to her sister, who hopped over and put her foot on the picture. Atroxia felt the burning sensation in her foot disappear.

"Now, let's do what we did to Mr. Purple," Artisa thought.
Atroxia grinned and paced about, "We kicked it, that's what we did."
The twins snuck up behind the tank, then approached its left side. They kicked the tank at the same time and darted away. Surprisingly, it didn't burst. "My tank isn't like Mr. Purple's inferior creation!" Luigi laughed loudly. "I'll squash you two, like the fleas you are!"
"Run, you pea!" Artisa thought to her twin, as Luigi drove his tank towards the red lion.

Atroxia jumped out of the way and Luigi ended up driving through the wall. The stripy-haired man looked about, but Atroxia was nowhere to be seen. Yon threw her hammer at the tank, the sparks from the hammer lit up the gas leaking from the dents in its sides. The tank exploded and Luigi landed on his bum. The twins popped out of their hiding places and approached the burnt tank.

"Black eyes!" Luigi shouted as he looked at the wreckage of his tank. "Curse you, black eyes!" he continued to yell as he waved the steering wheel about.
"Yeah," both twins said, turning to face him. "You look very silly without your machine."
"Am I hearing double?" Luigi asked.
"No, we're twins!" Atroxia snapped.
"That explains the voices," Luigi snorted. Several killbots trotted up and surrounded the twins. "But not your looks," he continued, as the twins looked about in fright. "What are you? Brother and sister?"
"Why should I-" Atroxia began, but Artisa thought to her to shut up. "You shut up!" Atroxia shot back.
Luigi thought the red lion was yelling at him. So, he shouted at his killbots, "After them, you stupid drones!"

The twins jumped up and ran for their lives, as the killbots trundled after them. When the twins reached the main gate, they saw a scrawny and swarthy figure in blue clothes with long black hair balancing on the wall. The swarthy figure began chanting and the killbots stopped in their tracks. Then, they clapped their claws to their heads and fell to pieces. "Hera!" Artisa gasped in relief. The giantess waved her gloved hands and hopped down.

"Oh man..." Hera shivered as the killbots continued to surround them. "I can't keep singing forever," she thought to the twins.
"Think I should paint a rainstorm?" Artisa whispered to Atroxia.
"There's no space to paint even a little puff of cloud," Atroxia replied. "Looks like it's up to me," she continued.
Hera began to fret, "Lure them away? Are you nuts, Attie? You can't take them all on alone. We've got to work together."

The killbots began to step in, nearer and nearer. Just as Atroxia prepared to strike, some of the killbots were knocked away by a wrecking ball. Demo leaped through the gap just as more killbots closed in. "Why are you here?" Atroxia snorted.
"Why not?" Demo shot back. "Stick together!" she shouted, as the killbots resumed their advance. Artisa moved back and started drawing a shield as well as a staff, Hera breathed deeply, and Atroxia dropped into a crouch. Some of the divas started distracting the killbots away from the group.

Yon picked up her hammer from the remains of Luigi's tank. The diva sighed, "I'll remember you, sister Maru."
She looked at the battlefield, her fellow divas were scattered all over the park. One of the killbots stood near Luigi, driving off any diva who tried to approach him. The killbot cheered, "We're going to win!"
"Numbers are key, as you can see," Luigi laughed in reply. He looked behind him, four women were fighting with all their might. "Darn it, the brutes," he thought. "Lions, dog and a wrecking-ball-wielding kid."

"There's too many of them!" Artisa shouted. One of the killbots swiped at her but she ducked, jamming her staff into the killbot's middle. Hera waved her hands about wildly, shouting things in a foreign language. The killbots appeared to be hit by invisible strikes as Hera ran about.
"Get out of here!" Demolicious ordered, swinging her wrecking ball. "I'm not letting more people get hurt because of me!"
"Fat chance of me leaving, Demo!" Atroxia said. "We've gotta bring Luigi down."
"Fine, be that way!" snarled Demolicious. When the twins and Hera were close enough, she swung her wrecking ball at them. The trio landed in a pile some distance away.
"Darn you!" the three women yelled crossly and shook their fists. Then Artisa and Hera realized that they were sitting on Atroxia.
"I don't make a cushion, you know," Atroxia sulked.
"Nor do you make a pin cushion, Attie," Hera remarked as she rolled off the pile. Atroxia drummed her fingers on the ground.

"You're going down, DaVinci! For good!" Demolicious yelled as she leapt in front of a line of her divas. Luigi grinned, and the purplish divas exploded. As Demo looked in surprise, a killbot grabbed her by the scruff of her leotard and another killbot wrapped its fingers around her left arm. The killbot holding her leotard then grabbed her right arm. The robots pulled Demo up to her feet and dangled her in midair.
"Hey! Put me down!" Demo snarled.

"Silly child," Luigi snorted. "We both want to use the heart for our own ends. It's just that you wouldn't admit it, and my purpose was a purer one. The best intentions win, you see?" he rubbed his head. "I bet you never told those brutes how you didn't actually want to protect the heart. You fooled them, but not me."
"Shut it!" Demo shouted and tried to squeeze out of the killbots' grip.
"So? You wanted to sell the heart for your own desires. Quite selfish for a hero, right?"

"You don't understand! It's not me!" Demo shouted, as the killbots tightened their claws on her bare arms.
"We should have made a deal if you wanted the cash that much, and saved all the time spent on fighting," Luigi remarked. "Even if it's much more interesting to see you fail, mia bella* Demo," he continued nastily, pointing out the fallen robot women around the park. Demolicious hung her head in shame. "Finish her," he said. The killbot on her right kicked Demo like a ball and she landed with a thump on her head outside the park. "Oh, and the beasts too, in good time," Luigi added.

The said critters hid behind a tree. Hera turned bright green and made gagging noises. "Did you hear what Luigi just called her?" the swarthy gigantess choked. "Ew! Someone choke me up!" she thought to the twins, who also turned pale.
"Eeee!" Atroxia squealed. "He's into teens younger than us!? He's about as old as mom! Or our dad for that matter!"
"Told you he's a creep!" Hera continued to choke.

Meanwhile, DaVinci leapt onto the statue of Pandora and chuckled, "Thanks for the support! Now let's get what we've been fighting for all this time!" and smashed a hole in the base of the giant statue with a laser knife. Then he took out a big lump of teal. The lump beat like a living heart. Hera could hear Luigi gloating, "The heart, at last! Brother, you'll be back before you know it!"
The dark-haired villain tied the heart into a bundle of cloth, and put the bundle around his neck. Hera noticed a golden glow around Luigi's mouth. She rubbed her eyes and looked again, the glow was still there.

"Why are you staring at Luigi?" inquired Artisa. "Aren't you scared he'll spot you?"
"Oh, I forgot you two can't see auras," said Hera. "But DaVinci over there has a literal golden tongue if I do say so myself. Remember how he recruited almost all the super fighters in New York to fight for him? He claimed he had a dead brother that he wants to bring back."
"Why would they believe him?" asked Atroxia.
"You know how sob stories make people interested? Except people like your mother, the biggest cynic I ever did meet. As if she'd believe DaVinci!"
"She'd ask him what his brother's name was, how old he was, that sort of thing," Artisa remarked.
"You certainly know your mom better than me. But that's obvious, you're her daughters," said Hera, as Luigi walked out of the park with a big grin on his face. The three women waited until he left the park.

"The heart's too much for mere humans, or even us animals, to handle for that matter. Should've left it in the statue where it belongs," Hera groused as they walked out of the main gate to the park. Atroxia suddenly stopped and knelt down, taking a deep breath.
"Blood," she hissed. "Someone was badly hurt," the red lion pointed to where several small splashes of blood could be seen on the ground. Artisa sniffed about as well.
"Looks like someone had a big fall," Artisa said. The trio followed the splashes of blood until they reached the Power Academy. The bloodstains got smaller as they approached the training center, and there was no more blood when they stopped in front of the academy door.

--------

"Now where are those two?" grumbled Ami. She walked up and down the front porch anxiously. As she peered into the distance, she saw the twins coming back with Hera. The next thing Ami did was to start shouting at the top of her voice, "Why did you three go to the park even when it's been a war ground for the last few months!?"
"Well, Mrs. Lion, thing is, we got a call for help from the park, and we went to investigate."
"Investigate? Hera, you should know better than to go running around doing heroics. I've been telling my twins not to, and now you're doing the same."
"Ma'am, do you realize that with Pandora's heart, the legends are rising from the graves? We're all getting some sort of power from the heart's explosion. Now the heart's gone!"

"What rubbish," Ami snorted. "I heard that the little kid with the wrecking ball was some liar, saying she wanted to protect the heart and then she didn't."
Artisa poked her twin. "She means Demo," the white twin whispered.
"Mom, I admit, we don't know why exactly Demo wanted to sell the heart. Luigi's not a nice guy though. He gives me the creeps," Atroxia said to Ami.
"Just how exactly is he creepy?" the old Lion asked.
The twins and Hera started shouting all at once. Ami only heard something about robots, mockeries, cheesy nicknames, and disgrace. "Slow down, you three! Start from the beginning and don't rush the story."
So, the three told Ami what they had seen.

--------

Atroxia and Hera sat on the front porch later still, talking to each other. "I wonder if we could have changed the tides of the fight in our favor?" Atroxia asked.
"We might have been able to, but we did all we could, anyhow. We can't dwell to much on what has gone, we need to get a plan to take the heart back."
"How? You saw Luigi, if we go near him, he'll just have his robots kick us out. I'd guess that he stored the heart in a place only he knows," Atroxia said. "Besides, you said the heart is too much for anyone to handle."
"I meant in the long run. If we find a safe place to keep the heart and never touch it again, it will be fine, I should say. We should ask the residents of Herospire for help."

"How do we get there?" Atroxia asked her friend.
"Think happy thoughts? Hey, you dummy! Fly! Flap your arms or do a huge jump, or something."
"But lions don't fly," Atroxia rolled her eyes.
"Come on, almost every super fighter in New York can fly, and we're among them."
"You forget, Artisa has heavy feet and can't jump very well."
"She seems to be jumping fine today," Hera retorted.
"Huh," Atroxia snorted.
"I'm sure you'll get up there somehow," the swarthy giantess said. The two sat in silence.

"You know, war never changes. No matter who fights, there's only one outcome. Only one victor, and that victor will be the one writing history," Hera said solemnly, after a while.

End.

*Italian: My beautiful.

< Message edited by Crystal Lion -- 6/18/2012 1:03:37 >
AQ DF MQ AQW Epic  Post #: 3
7/31/2011 9:55:54   
Crystal Lion
Member

In which a landlord's troubles are resolved.

The next morning, the twins stayed at home. Atroxia watched the television gloomily, as a news report of the fight in the park was being broadcast. "How could the vigilante, Demo, who had sworn to protect the heart, have failed in her mission?" the reporter said. Atroxia picked at her hands out of boredom.
The phone rang, and the red lion answered, "Hello? Who's there?"
Antares spoke quickly on her side of the line, "Hey, Artisa, get your twin to Herospire, would you?"
"Why?" Atroxia mumbled, flopping down over the sofa. "It's her twin here."
"Oh, sorry!" Antares exclaimed. "You sound alike. Wait, are you her brother?"
"No," Atroxia snorted and handed the phone to Artisa, who had come downstairs.

"Antares, that was my twin sister," Artisa explained. "Why are you calling?"
"We need more help, friend," said Antares.
"More help? What?"
"Someone was badly hurt, and the Herospire medics have their hands full."
"Who's this somebody?"
"Can't tell you right now," Antares gulped.
"Look, we're not very skilled at first aid, either, I'll have to call up another friend of mine," Artisa said. "We'll be there in about half an hour."
"Please hurry, friend," Antares said. Artisa put down the phone.
"Let's go," she said to Atroxia. The red twin stood up and the duo went to Hera's house.

"Hello! Herakaris!" Atroxia yelled when she reached the front door. She could hear Nightshade barking loudly. "Let's go to Herospire!" Atroxia yelled again.
"Quiet, girl, quiet!" Hera's voice could be heard from behind the door. Quick little footsteps approached and Hera opened the door. She rubbed her head when she saw the lions. "So you want me to follow you on a jumping trip, until we reach Herospire?" the giantess inquired.
"Jumping? Didn't I tell you about Artisa?" Atroxia asked.
"Attie, we don't have to go jumping, I could call someone to take us there," Artisa said and typed a number into her phone. "Hello?" she said into the phone.

"Herospire Hotline here. How may we help you?" an automated voice replied.
"Please get someone to teleport me, my twin sister, and a friend to Herospire."
"Names please, as in the database."
"Artisa Lion, Atroxia Lion, Herakaris."
"You will be sent to your destination in ten minutes regardless of location. A message will be sent to your phones before you are teleported."
"Thanks," Artisa said. The line stopped.

"Artisa, you know my full name," Hera sighed.
"It turned out to be much too long when you tried to sign in to the database, remember?" the white twin answered.
"Oh, right. So, why do you need me to come along?"
"You're the one who knows first aid here," Atroxia replied.
"We were asked to help treat somebody at Herospire, but Antares refused to tell us who," Artisa explained. At this, Hera went back inside.
"Well, seems she doesn't want to help," Atroxia grumbled to herself.
"Hey, I heard that!" Hera barked and came out of her house with a white case in her hand. "What's this?" she wondered when her phone beeped. The twins took out their phones as well.
"It's the teleportation message. Ready?" Artisa asked the others, who nodded. The trio tapped at their phones, and disappeared in a flash of light.

Antares sighed, "The lions are taking a bit too long to show up."
A flash of light appeared in front of her, and she covered her eyes in surprise. "Talk of the devil! You're here!" she shouted. "Thank goodness!"
"So, where's this injured fellow?" Atroxia snorted.
"She's waiting for you, near the dorm," Antares pointed to her left. The three in front of her went off.

"The dorm, huh?" Atroxia wondered. As she walked ahead, she saw a young girl in a purple leotard with a badly wrapped leg. The girl's eyes were closed. "Demo?" the red twin asked.
Demo tried to run to the three, but tripped. She pulled herself up and limped unsteadily, dragging her wrecking ball behind her, still with her eyes closed.
"Hold still," said Hera. "You've hurt yourself."
The younger girl sat down on a nearby bench and Artisa saw the stained bandage on her leg. "Why, how? I thought Herospire has a hospital?" Artisa asked, remembering the bloodstains at the park.

"They're out of commission, friend," Antares said as she approached them. "The mess in the park has to be cleared. What with the failure to protect the heart and all," the tanned tomboy said, frowning at Demo. "Try to treat her if you have any idea how. I'm no medic."
"Artisa, I take it you know how to draw a crutch?" Hera asked, putting on the rubber gloves she took from the white case. Artisa nodded and knelt down. She started drawing on the pavement with the paint she carried, while Hera unwrapped the bandage. The swarthy giant wrinkled her nose, the edges of the wound were swollen and reddish.

Hera then thought to Atroxia, "Get water. I need to clean out this wound."
The red lion darted off, while Hera spoke to Demo, "So, who are you, really?"
Demo's reply was extremely soft. Hera leaned in and Demo repeated her answer, "Toriko..."
"Little bird?"
"No...It's from torikowashi."
"Doesn't that mean destruction?"
"It's a long story," Demo replied.
Atroxia came back with some water and cloth. Hera dipped a clean cloth into the basin of water and wiped the wound gently. "You didn't break anything, did you?"
"I didn't..."
"And how would you know?" Atroxia snorted. Hera pressed Demo's ankle after wiping the wound.
"Any pain here?" Hera thought, squeezing Demo's ankle. The purple-haired girl shook her head.

"For goodness sake, can't you open your mouth?" Atroxia groaned. "And your eyes too, for that matter."
"She's too ashamed of herself, friend," Antares said. "Oath of silence and blindness and so on."
"If you said what you actually meant to do with the heart in the first place, you wouldn't be so beat up now!" Atroxia spat, wanting to say her thoughts. "Look at you! If only you admitted whatever you planned to..."
Hera rolled her eyes. "Attie, stop scolding her," she said. "Ok, you can yell at her after she gets better, but not this time."

"Please take off your boot," Hera asked. Demo shook her head. "It looks quite bad, you might end up with one useless leg if you behave like this," the swarthy giantess advised. Demo still shook her head. "Look, wearing your boot is going to cut off circulation to the wound and such."
"No, not here," Demo gulped.
"Fine, roll it down then. Artisa, how's the crutch?"
The white twin pulled out the drawing of a crutch from the ground as Demo rolled down the top of her boot. Demo winced in pain as Hera put some antiseptic in the wound.
"Give me something to numb the pain, Attie," Hera ordered.
"What, are you nuts!?" Artisa yelled. "Attie only carries poison!"

"Solanum-based poisons can numb pain, if you've got any. Otherwise, you'll have to bear the pain, Demo."
Atroxia took out a vial with a deep brown liquid. "It's mandrake poison. Don't use too much, Hera."
The swarthy giantess poured out some of the liquid on her hand, and pressed it on Demo's thigh, avoiding the gash. Demo looked relieved and stopped wincing. Hera placed a gauze over the gash and bandaged it firmly, then gave the crutch to Demo. "Could we talk somewhere else?" the purple-haired girl said. Hera and Artisa looked at Atroxia meaningfully.

"Oh no, oh no!" Atroxia shook her head. "I am not carrying that!"
"Why?" Hera and Artisa asked.
"The last time I did, everyone, from Louie Lee in her fortune telling tent, to the shopkeepers in the street, made jokes about it!" Atroxia replied. "Besides, I can't carry Demo when her leg is injured like that."
"There's another way," Hera said, helping Demo up. "Lean on you?"
"Alright," Atroxia sighed, and let the shamed girl lean on her.
"It's my fault," Demo sighed. "I don't know how I'll be able to help my dad now."
"Dad?" Atroxia wondered. She grumbled to herself, "Why must I be the one carrying injured or troubled people?"

Demo explained while leaning on Atroxia, "He's sick, the last time he was sent to the hospital, all the hair fell off his head."
"Cancer?" Atroxia asked her twin, who was walking beside her.
"Likely," was Artisa's reply. "Should ask Hera, she seems to be the medical expert here."
"Thank my mom? She's a doctor," Hera said. "That sounds like chemotherapy, alright."
Demo continued, "It's probably wrong of me to try to sell the heart, but I needed money for my dad to continue his treatment. There's no way we can afford it otherwise."
"Why so?" Artisa asked.
"I didn't care who would end up with the heart, it might have been DaVinci eventually. All I wanted was to help my dad get better, but I was selfish about it. I'll need to find a more honorable way to help him now, I'll not steal and tell lies any more." The group stopped near a quiet corner of the floating city. "Thanks, could I get down now?" Demo asked.

"Yeah, being Robin Hood certainly isn't you," Atroxia snorted as Demo stood up and limped to the wall. Just then, Demo's phone rang.
"Hello?" Demo asked. "Franklin Street Apartments? I'll be there."
"Whoever's on the line, you sound drunk!" the caller exclaimed.
Demo nearly dropped her phone in surprise. "But I am Demolicious!" she said loudly.
"You still sound drunk!"
Hera rolled her eyes. "I hate to sound like a naggy mother, but you really shouldn't go jumping around until your leg gets better."
"I've gotta do something for New York, and protect those who cannot protect themselves," Demo replied. "Don't just stand there?"
"She's cuckoo," Atroxia thought to her twin, who nodded. "But what can you expect when you've failed your oath?"
Hera thought to herself, "Surely she can't have just hurt her leg? She's a bit too unsteady. Don't tell me she hit her head too."

--------

The man walked up and down the sidewalk in front of the Franklin Street apartment block. "Oh dear, why did the hotline have to connect me to a drunken hero?" he muttered. He saw four people walk up to the apartment block. The tallest of the group, in a blue dress, was helping a leotard-wearing girl with a long purple ponytail and a crutch. Two people who looked almost alike, with their black hair and black eyes, walked alongside them.
"Young ladies, young man, help!" the manager shouted in fright. "Which one of you is the drunk?"
Atroxia strode up to the manager, then lifted him into the air by putting her hands under his arms. He shivered in fright as the red twin snarled, "I'm no man! I'm a lady! I'm not drunk, either!"
"You're freaking him out! Put him down!" Hera exclaimed. The red lion put the man down after hearing her friend's order. The manager still shivered in fright. "Now you've scared the voice out of him," Hera sighed.

Artisa approached the manager and spoke kindly, "Uncle, don't be afraid, that was my twin sister, she's very touchy. None of us are drunk."
The man stammered, "You don't look anything like sisters."
"Twins don't always look so alike when they get to our age," Artisa explained. "Now, what's the matter?"
"Robot orangutans with claws instead of fingers!" the manager shouted. "They have lion's paws and stripy gargoyle's heads with shark's fins!"
"What?" Hera, Artisa and Atroxia wondered at the same time.
"Destroyers," Demo said. "Davinci's drones are here."
"Oh, so you're the drunk one!" the manager exclaimed when he heard the balaclava-wearing girl.
"Hey, she isn't drunk, either," Hera grumbled. "She hit her head, so her brains are rather rattled," she thought to the manager.

"Well, Demo, I don't think you should be jumping about here," Hera said. Demo nodded her head and waved her hand, then sat down. She put the crutch across her lap.
"Still not going to say many words, are you?" Atroxia wondered. "Do you mean you're going to sit here?"
"I'm not dumb," said Demo. "I will stand guard here," she muttered, tying the rope of her wrecking ball to her hand this time.
"Should've done that earlier," Atroxia remarked.
"What?" Artisa asked.
"Tying your weapon to your paw?"
"You should've said that to her earlier, not now," the white twin muttered, as Demo leaned against the wall.
"As for those orangutan monsters," the manager shivered. "Please, please cut off their claws so that they can't scratch anything! I'm no electronics expert, but you should be able to disable them by taking away their power sources. They're on every floor."

Hera and the twin lions began walking towards the apartment's main door. "Wait!" the manager shouted. He twiddled his fingers. "And another thing, I was supposed to pick up the rent today, but what with those orangutans wreaking havoc, I can't go back in there," he said.
Atroxia rolled her eyes. "So you want us to pick up the rent for you, is that right?"
"Yes, all my tenants use bank checks, so you should find it easy."

"Beep beep!" the brown robots yelled as the three women walked into the apartment lobby.
"Why, these guys are shrunken," Hera remarked. "They don't even reach up to my head."
"Beep!" one of the brown scavenger robots exclaimed, and rushed at the trio. Atroxia and Hera kicked its chest at the same time, sending it backwards. The robot landed smack on another orangutan droid, who beeped and stood up.

The two robots strode towards Atroxia and Hera. "Take this!" Artisa yelled and handed a water gun to Hera. The giantess aimed at the robots' heads, then pulled the trigger. A spray of water shot out and soaked the robots, who went haywire and ran about wildly. The women stepped out of the way, waiting for the robots to stop moving. After a few minutes, the robots keeled over with a loud clang.
"Well, looks like those two are out of commission," Hera said, cutting off the claws from the robots. She picked the batteries from the robots' chests as well, and put the parts into a nearby plastic bag. "The manager said we should take out the robots on each floor, if we can," said Hera.

"Where are the stairs?" Artisa asked. "It's risky to use the elevator right now."
"You're right. It might get stuck for all we know," Atroxia replied. "The stairs are right behind you, Artisa."
"Oh," said the white twin. "Let's go," she said, waving to her twin. Hera followed the lions upstairs to the second floor.

"Should we enter?" asked Atroxia, when they were outside one of the rooms. "I thought entering without permission is against the law."
"Well, we have to tresspass if we want to get those rent checks," Hera answered. "I'm sure the manager won't mind."
"Then again, it's weird that none of the tenants locked their doors," Atroxia remarked.
"Attie, if robots attacked your house, what would you do?" Hera asked. "Assuming you had no powers, of course."
"Run."
"Exactly. You wouldn't stop to do much else unless you had no life instinct," Hera snorted and pushed the apartment door open. "Oh bother, another shrunken orangutan," the giantess muttered.
The robot appeared to be inactive, so Atroxia crept towards the rent check lying on the desk in the corner of the room. She picked it up and scurried back out. Hera sprayed the robot with her water gun, but nothing unusual happened. She cut off the claws and picked up the battery again. The three women left and went on ahead, doing nearly the same things in each unlocked room.

It wasn't until they came to a room on the third floor that something unusual happened. Hera opened the door, and saw a dreadful sight. The room was full of dead bodies!
"Eeek!" Artisa yelled when she saw the scattered bodies in the room. Hands, legs, heads and other assorted parts lay everywhere. Hera sniffed the air, but didn't smell any rotten smell.
"I'll say," the swarthy giant remarked. "Demo was wrong about her helpers after all. They're just plain robots."

Atroxia poked about for the rent check, and saw it under a diva's arm. "Azimoff, Room 303, Franklin Street Apartments-" the red twin tried to read it but Hera cut her off.
"Attie! We don't have time to waste reading about the tenants," said Hera, dragging Atroxia out of the room. "Keep going!"

A long-nosed villain stepped in after the three women had left, and picked up two of the divas' eyes. "Now my twin can see," the villain muttered and walked off with the eyes in his pocket.

Much later, the trio got all the rent checks and cleared out the brown robots, and met the manager outside the apartment. "Here are your checks," Hera said, holding the stack of envelopes out.
"Oh, happy day!" the manager cheered. "Not a single check is late! What about the robots?"
"Here's proof?" Artisa held out the claws, which had been tied into a large bunch. She pulled out the soaked batteries as well. The manager took the soggy batteries and examined them.
"I guess these things are worth something, after airing them out, that is," he muttered.
"Suit yourself," Atroxia snorted.

"Ever heard of post-robotic invasion insurance?" the manager asked, putting away the checks.
"Nope," Hera shook her head. "When did such a thing exist?"
"Since when? Never!" the manager exclaimed. "Could you stop by Boomingdales and get an Afterboom kit? They cost quite a bit, though. Unless you have at least a thousand bucks on you, I wouldn't want to trouble you."
Atroxia rolled her eyes, but the manager continued, "I can cover half of that price if you don't have that much."
"Deal?" Atroxia muttered. Artisa and Hera nodded. The red lion sat down and began tying roller skates to her boots. She stood up when she was done.
"How are you going to pay?" Hera thought to her.
"With debit." Atroxia thought back. "I'm going," she said out loud, and zoomed off on her skates to the eastern part of Main Street. Artisa and Hera sat down to wait.

Ten minutes later, Atroxia returned with a large box under her arm. She skated up to the manager. "Here," Atroxia said gruffly and gave the repair kit to him.
"Oh, thank you, ladies!" the manager exclaimed. He avoided looking at the red lion.
"Well, you certainly made him fear you, Attie," Artisa said.
"How much did she pay?" the manager asked the white twin.
"I paid one grand for this thing!" Atroxia roared.
"There's no need to yell," Hera groaned. "Mister manager, maybe you should keep your word," she continued.
"Oh, I shall," the manager said, counting out five hundred dollars. He handed the money to Atroxia, who stuffed it into a pouch attached to her bullet belt. She began untying her roller skates.
"Let's go back to Herospire?" Artisa asked.
"We'd better get Demo up first," Hera said, walking to the side of the apartment building.

"Hey, wake up," Hera said to Demo, who was snoring while sitting against the wall. "Uh oh," the swarthy giantess thought when Demo didn't respond. "I can't shake her awake," she said to the twins. "Now what?"
"Get Nightshade to bark at her?" Atroxia suggested. "You know how loud your polka-dot-socks dog is."
"You bark at her, Attie! Calling my dog polka dots indeed!" Hera said crossly and pushed her friend in front of Demolicious.

"Fine, fine," Atroxia snorted. "Hey, wake up, Robin Hood!" she shouted right in Demo's ear.
The poor girl nearly jumped out of her skin. "What? Who where? Robin Hood?" Demo asked in a rush, wide-eyed with fright. She quickly closed her eyes when she saw the others.
"Attie! When I said wake her up, did I say scare the wits out of her? No!" Hera scolded the red lion. "Now, if she's deaf in one ear, you know who's to blame."
Artisa asked Demo, "Who are you?"
"I'm not Robin Hood," Demo replied.
"I didn't say your name was that. What is your name?"
"It's Demolicious... Can I go home?"
"Well, she didn't lose all her wits, at least," Hera said to Atroxia. "Let's go home," the swarthy giantess said to Demo, holding out her hand. The younger girl took Hera's hand gratefully.

--------

"Thanks. You can call me Toriko if you like," Demo said as they returned to Herospire, and finally opened her eyes.
Antares watched them and rolled her eyes. "Just one set of deeds isn't enough to get rid of disgrace," she remarked.
"Oh, brother," Hera groaned. "Of course redeeming one's own self isn't easy. But it's a start, I would say."
As Demo limped off to the dorm, Antares replied, "Failing to protect the heart is quite a serious matter. It will take a long time before anyone respects her again."
Hera looked down at her shoes. "Sorry," she said.
"It's not your fault. Now, what can I do for you, friend?"

"I have a favor to ask of you," Hera said.
"What is it, friend?" Antares asked back.
"Can you make sure that Demo doesn't go jumping around for at least a week?"
"Yes, but why?"
"You know that she hurt herself, right?"
"Everyone in this fortress knows that," Antares sighed. "How bad is it?"
"Well," Hera looked down at her feet. "Actually, I think she may have bumped her head and lost most of her wits, besides a hurt leg."
"What? I'll certainly make sure she stays in, then."

"Ok, so, if she starts acting cuckoo or differently from her usual self, and none of the Herospire medics are free; call this number. It's my mom's clinic number. She knows about the super fighters. Ask for Doctor Susan Richardson," Hera gave the redheaded tomboy a note as she said this.
"Why didn't you just call your mom in the first place?!" Antares asked in annoyance when she read the note.
"She can't fly! Besides, I thought Demo only hurt her leg!" Hera replied snappishly.
Antares snorted, "Fine. I hope Demo gets better. I'll call your mother if she doesn't."

--------

"Hey, where's my first aid kit?" wondered Hera's mother. Hera entered the living room, and the older giant asked, "Have you seen my kit?"
Hera gave the white case back to her mother. "Why!" exclaimed Hera's mother, when she opened the case. "You used up the whole bandage roll, half of the disinfectant too! Who did you try to treat?"
"Mom, don't be angry," Hera said in a tiny voice.

"I won't be, whoever you tried to save must have been seriously injured. Why didn't you just call home?"
"Because you were working?"
"Hera, you know my hours. I only start work in the afternoon," the doctor sighed. "Now, tell me, who needed that many bandages?"
"Ok, mom, you know about the super fighters, right?" Hera said and sat on the floor.
"Yes, so?"
"Mom, you heard that Demo failed to protect the heart, didn't you?"

"Everyone's talking about it, something about a guy named Luigi stealing the heart and blackmailing Demo? Seems everyone has a low opinion of her right now."
"Thing is, he actually made his robots claw her and throw her out. She had large scratches on her thigh, and I think she may have a concussion too."
Susan sighed, "You should have called me earlier when you suspected a concussion. I have to go to work now."
"Er, I only gave your clinic number to Antares in Herospire. Don't be surprised if you're called there."
"I shan't be," Susan muttered and left the house. "Take care!" she called back to Hera, who nodded and waved at her.

Meanwhile in Skulldeep, Luigi howled his head off in a fine temper. "This heart doesn't work like it's supposed to! Augh! Stupid artifact!" he shouted and stomped his foot. "I need further experimentation for my creations..." he said glumly. "Oh, right. Azimoff will do, since I've found out his new location!" he cheered up at the thought.
The long-nosed villain asked him, "What?"
"Shut up, Pinocchia! You might have been useful so far, but I'm not going to answer you! Can't let my enemies know about my plan just because of your curiosity!" Luigi snapped and clapped his hand on the villain's long nose.
"So?" asked the villain. "Don't shut me up, psycho!" he said indignantly, pulling his nose out of Luigi's grip.

"Are you so blind that you can't see a genius right here, Sini?" Luigi shouted. "Once my brother comes back, he will revel in my magnificence, just like all of you will! Even those accursed black-eyed twins and mia bella!"
"Did you just spout Italian?"
"You heard things, chump!" Luigi scolded the villain.
The villain ran off, rubbing his nose and wondering to himself, "Who are those twins and Luigi's bella?"

End.

< Message edited by Crystal Lion -- 8/19/2011 10:22:50 >
AQ DF MQ AQW Epic  Post #: 4
9/6/2011 8:34:37   
Crystal Lion
Member

In which an enormous ape arrives.

Far above the skies of Earth, in deep space, a spaceship appeared from the darkness. Two aliens were looking at a monitor in the cockpit. "My liege, the test is ready to be deployed," the first alien said, pointing to a diagram on the screen.
"Excellent, the source should reach its zenith soon," said the other alien. It resembled an insect.
"When that happens, we can invade Earth and begin to feed?"
"Yes, pet. We shall descend on the next solar eclipse."
"The people hunger, my liege. I don't know how much longer they can wait."
"We all hunger, pet. Soon..." the alien lord said. "Release the test!"
"Long live the Oblivion!" the rest of the crew shouted.
"Next stop, NYC, as the humans say," the alien assistant said and twiddled its claws.

It was another fine day in Super District, and our heroes were taking a stroll around town. Such peace never lasted long, however, as the three women would soon find out. The townspeople ran helter-skelter, shouting their heads off, for there were giant insects running everywhere!

Samantha screamed her head off as she saw the giant bugs running in the streets. "Fleas! Fleas! Dozens of them!"
"Bugs, bugs everywhere!" Artisa squealed in fear. Some super fighters were wrestling with the giant insects.
"They're going after anybody, they don't seem to care if the victim's a super fighter or an ordinary," said Hera.
"Where'd the big gross bugs come from?" Atroxia wondered. Artisa shivered and hugged her twin in fright. Atroxia snorted and let her twin continue hugging her.
"Well, if it was an army of miceys, I'd be freaking out like anything," Hera remarked. "But these obviously aren't mice!"

Then the earth shook. "Did you feel that?" Atroxia asked.
"Yep," both Artisa and Hera said. They looked up, and saw an enormous ape with four green eyes, red fur, and the size of a skyscraper.
"That's the second biggest space monkey I've ever seen!" Atroxia shouted in surprise.
"Where's the tail?" Artisa gulped, as the giant ape roared in reply. "Monkeys all have tails! This one doesn't."
"What's dropping off it?" Hera spotted some off-white dots falling from the giant ape's fur.

"Good gosh, yuck!" Atroxia exclaimed when the dots turned out to be giant fleas.
"Well, his fleece has fleas, alright," Hera tried to joke. "They don't look very bouncy."
"I think he's heading to the Yercom research center!" Artisa exclaimed. Carmen's Habanera played at that moment, so she fished about in her pockets for her phone and answered it. Ami was on the line. "You go first, I'll catch up with you soon enough," Artisa said to Atroxia and Hera, who scurried off to the research center in the distance.

"Hello mother," Artisa said.
"Girl, where are you?" Ami asked worriedly.
"Mom, we told you, we're walking around New York. We saw a giant ape! As tall as two hundred Heras!"
The ape growled as if he was answering the white twin. "Make that five hundred Heras," Artisa said into her phone.
"Stop exaggerating," Ami snorted. "How can a gorilla be as tall as five hundred Heras!?"
"It's no ordinary gorilla, mom. It has four eyes, red fur and antennae on its head! It seems to be trying to attack the Yercom research centre."
"Since when did gorillas have four eyes, much less antennae on their heads! Come home at once! If this tall tale is real, I hate to think what will happen to you three! Why, I never-" Ami yelled as Artisa shut off her phone and ran to the research center.

Meanwhile, Atroxia and Hera were looking about. "I guess the giant ape went back," Atroxia said. A man with an enormous moustache and wild black hair in red clothes fell on top of the red twin.
"Oops," Hera said. "Now he's in big trouble," she thought as Atroxia pushed the man off in a temper.
"Thanks for breaking my fall, mister," the mustachioed man said.
"Do I look like a trampoline!?" Atroxia scolded the man in red. "I'm not made of rubber, I'm not a piece of cloth, I'm not a cushion! I'm not bouncy! I'm a miss, not mister!"
"Attie, calm down!" Artisa and Hera exclaimed. "That was an accident."
"Anyway, who are you?" Artisa asked.
The man answered, "I'm Martin Plummer, my brother and I are scientists working for Yercom."
"Deja vu, anyone?" Hera wondered.

Martin continued, "We were about to finish a weapon to beat those fleas and that big monkey when I was thrown out of the building. Then I fell on you, missy."
The ape roared crossly. "He'd rather be called ape," Artisa said.
"I'd rather he go away," Martin groaned. "What did you say your name was, miss?" he asked Atroxia. "Attie?"
"Atroxia," the red twin snorted. "Don't call me Attie until I say so."
"Cruel?"
"Seriously, ask my mom what she was thinking. I"m still not made of rubber."
"Shut up about not being rubber already, you pea. Everyone knows that lions are made of guts," Hera said scornfully, poking Atroxia's stomach. "Now what, Martin?"
"Find my brother, Larry, he should know what to do next. By the way, he's not as brave as a lion, just to warn you."
"Definitely deja vu," Artisa remarked. Atroxia rubbed her stomach. "Plummer brothers? Yep, very familiar, I'd say," the white twin remarked.

They saw a man that looked like Martin, but he was thinner, wore green clothes and his hair wasn't as messy. "Hurry! Hurry!" said the green-clad man. "Meet me on the second floor, we don't have time to waste!" he shouted, then darted up up the stairway. The women followed him, but they saw a little girl in a pink dress with brown hair and green eyes huddled in the corner. Artisa went over to her, knelt down, and asked softly, "What's the matter?"

The kid grabbed at Artisa's smock, crying, "My dad! He's stuck downstairs! Please help him!"
"Alright, alright, please don't cry," the white twin said. "My sister and friend will get him for you."
"I thought that was your brother?" the little girl asked.
"Pah!" Atroxia snorted, and Hera glared at her.
"Shut it, Attie," Hera snapped and poked the red lion's nose. "Let's get the man out of the basement," the swarthy giantess said and walked downstairs.

"Help..." the man groaned and waved his hands weakly. Atroxia walked over to the pile of stones on the man. She picked them up one by one and tossed them aside.
"Watch where you're throwing those things!" Hera exclaimed, as one of the stones nearly landed on her foot. Atroxia finally got all the stones off the man and Hera helped him up with her long skinny arms. They got the man up the stairs, where the little girl and Artisa waited.

"Daddy!" the small kid yelled and leaped into the man's arms. She nuzzled her father happily, purring all the while.
"You'd better leave, sir," said Artisa. "I'll show you the way out."
"Thanks, miss," the man said, hugging his daughter. As the white twin walked out, the man and the little child followed her.
"Run for safety, Will!" Marty shouted when he saw the man. Will nodded and sprinted off with his daughter in tow. The mustached man turned to Artisa and said, "Thanks for saving his life. You should get back to Larry, I'm sure he's wobbling with fear by now."
Artisa nodded. "I'll go," she said and went back inside. She climbed up the stairs.

"You know what those fleas ought to fear?" Larry said to Hera. "Insect spray. We just made several buckets worth of extra-strong spray before my brother fell out of the window."
"So, where are those buckets?" asked Hera.
"They're scattered throughout the building, on this floor and the ones above, from what I remember."
Atroxia yawned and walked away from the green-clad man. "Where's Artisa?" she thought to herself. She fidgeted on the second floor just as her twin finally got there. "It shouldn't have taken you so long to run up a fight of stairs," the red twin grumbled.
"Not everyone can run double-quick like you, Attie!" Artisa replied peevishly, dusting off her smock off.
Larry turned to Artisa, asking, "What took you so long? Was it the little girl downstairs?"
"Yes," said Artisa. "Her dad too," she puffed.

Larry nodded. "Good for you, but you have to move fast," he remarked. "Wait, I think the super-strength insecticide is on the third floor, not this one."
An enormous flea scuttled right up to Larry after he said that. He stared, then fell down with a plop. Atroxia grabbed a piece of stone and slammed it on the flea's head. It screeched and turned to her. Hera pushed Artisa aside, pulled out her shotgun, and fired at the flea's body. Goo dribbled out of the shell as Hera's shots cracked the flea's body open. Artisa knelt on the floor, drawing a giant blade. She grabbed it and hopped towards the flea, groaning at the weight of the blade.

Atroxia let out a yell of surprise and darted away from her twin and the giant sword. Artisa lifted it up with a great effort, then let it go. The blade landed on the flea's middle and the flea split into two. The halves thrashed about wildly as goo poured out of them. Atroxia began punching Larry awake. "Ouch, stop hitting me!" Larry exclaimed. He sat up as the red lion continued to hit him. "Stop it!" he yelled and ran to the stairwell. Atroxia followed him as Hera and Artisa scurried after her.

"Help!" Larry shouted in a fright when he saw Atroxia right behind him.
"Attie!" Hera barked. "Stop beating him up! He's obviously conscious!"
"I'm not beating him now, am I?"
Artisa smelt a sharp stinging odor and looked about. "Bug spray?" she asked.
"Ah, yes!" Larry shouted, when he saw a bucket of pitch black liquid. "That's the extra-strong brew my brother and I made! It could knock down bugs the size of me."
"You should cover it," said Hera.
"The buckets have lids attached to them. Pull the lids over the top of the buckets and press them down," Larry explained. "This will stop the pesticide from spilling over."
Hera gingerly took the lid of the bucket and closed it according to Larry's instructions. She picked up the bucket by its handle and gave it to the green-clad scientist. "I've only got two hands, miss," he said. "The weapon Marty made needs at least five buckets of Insecticide X to work."
"There's more of the black stuff!" Atroxia shouted from outside the stairwell.
"Get the buckets here!" Hera shouted back.

The twins picked up the buckets after closing them, and carried the buckets to the stairwell. Hera took the buckets Artisa was carrying, then went upstairs. Larry went after her. "We should test out Marty's weapon in the anti-gravity chamber, on the fifth floor..." he said.
Atroxia took out six vials and dipped them into a vat of insecticide after Larry went up. She looked at her gloves and sighed, "Now I have to wash them again."
Artisa looked at her twin's gloves, the dark blue gloves had black patches on them. "Wow, Larry was not joking about the extra strong brew," she said. Then the twins heard a loud squeal. "Hera!" Artisa shouted. "Attie, give me the buckets! Help her!"

Atroxia rushed up the stairs, and saw Hera shooting wildly at two fleas. The fleas had cornered the giantess and Larry. Larry shivered in fear, holding the bucket as tightly as he could. "Don't ask him to throw it! I can't aim right with the bucket in my hand either!" Hera squealed. The red lion snorted, then kicked one of the fleas in its rear. The flea squealed and flailed at her. Atroxia punched its head. The flea swung its front leg and flung her to the other side of the room.

"Attie!" Hera shouted in fear, but Atroxia hopped to her feet. The red lion snarled and jumped onto the flea's back. "You pea! What are you doing?!" Hera asked in surprise, as she continued shooting the remaining flea. Atroxia saw a crack in the shell over the flea's head. She opened one of her vials and poured the contents into the crack. The flea screamed and thrashed about, throwing Atroxia off. The red lion landed on her feet and put her hand down to support herself. She looked up as the flea fell over.
"What are you? A poisoner's son?" Larry asked in fear.
"I'm she!" Atroxia roared back, then added, "My parents aren't poisoners either!"

Hera shot at the remaining flea, whose outer surface was riddled with holes. Atroxia walked up to the flea, then slammed her hand on a holey patch of shell. She continued tearing at the shell until the flea's insides could be seen. Hera immediately shot at the insides and the flea fell with a plop. The spent bullets dribbled out along with the insides. "That's quite a mess," remarked Artisa, who had stayed back from the fight.
"Yep, a mess," the others replied. They slowly climbed up the stairs to the fifth floor.

Larry pointed to a white door with 'Anti-Gravity Chamber' written on it. The group approached the door. "I have the keys," Larry said as he put down his bucket and unlocked the door. They went in, then Larry leaned out and grabbed his bucket. He closed the door behind him.

"I feel light," Atroxia remarked. "Maybe I can perform better stunts in here."
"This is no time to show off," Artisa hissed. Larry took a big gun from a corner of the chamber and carried it over to the three women. He put the gun down, took the bucket he was carrying earlier, and emptied the bucket into a tank attached to the gun.
"Miss blue eyes, help me fill this up," said Larry. Hera picked up a bucket and the two continued filling the tank up. As the last bucket was emptied, Larry sighed in relief, "I was right, five buckets is enough to fill this up."
"Now what?" asked Hera.
"Shoot with this. It should be easy for you, miss blue eyes."
"Right," Hera replied, standing behind the gun. She pushed her fringe out of her face and tucked the hair behind her ear.

"Help! Somebodies! Anybodies!" the scientists hollered as they ran all over the zero-gravity chamber. Hera took aim. A giant flea scuttled across the room, and the giantess fired. The flea keeled over as a black cloud hung around it. "God save us from the fleas!" another scientist screeched, another bug in pursuit. It went on, until dead fleas covered the room.
"So it works!" Larry cheered. "Let's get to the roof!" He picked up the gun, then frowned. "I can't carry this alone outside the anti-gravity chamber," he said.
Atroxia put her hand on her chest. "I'll help," she said, and helped the scientist to carry the gun up to the roof.

After Larry and Atroxia put down the gun, they looked around. There wasn't any sign of King Zong. Hera came up and leaned over the wall. The giant gorilla was trying to shake off several helicopters surrounding him. Then he glanced up and saw the blue-clad giantess. "Oh goodness!" Hera exclaimed and hid behind the gun. King Zong stomped over to the Yercom building and glared at the people on the roof. Larry sat with a plop again as Hera aimed the big gun. She fired and a big cloud surrounded King Zong's head. He looked dizzy and his head disappeared from view.
"Now get him!" Larry stood up and shouted. "Down that ladder!"
"Why don't you follow?" Atroxia snorted.
"I'm scared of heights," shivered Larry. The red lion rolled her eyes and climbed down after Hera. Artisa ran up to the ladder, then climbed down slowly.

The three women saw the ape. He didn't look very happy, and a black cloud of poison hung around his head. "So, what?" Atroxia wondered. "Do we beat him?"
"Well, Attie, maybe we could coax him into leaving, then you can put something to knock him out in his mouth. But we need to grab his attention," Hera whispered.
"If we know anything about animals, one way to their hearts is through their stomachs," the red lion whispered back.

Artisa turned her back on her twin and drew on the wall. A bunch of bananas fell out of the wall when she put her hand on the stalk. She then offered the big bunch of bananas to the ape, who took it and popped it into his mouth. He chewed, then bared his teeth.
"Just what did you think your painted bananas would do?" Hera wondered. The giant ape roared and spat out gobs of yellow paint.
"A little snack for an ape?" Artisa shivered.
"That won't work," Hera groaned and slapped her forehead. "You're not Ma Liang! Not yet, anyway."
The giant ape growled and swung his fist. "Back, back, you two!" Hera squealed and dashed backwards. The twins jumped backwards just before the giant fist slammed into the building.

"Whoa!" Larry exclaimed. "He's got a fight left in him," he shivered. "I hope the three women can beat him."

"Brace yourselves!" Hera squealed, just as King Zong punched the building again. "Stand back, Artisa," she thought to the white twin. "You know the drill?"
"I stand back and paint, you shoot, and Attie bashes up?"
"Most of the time," Hera thought back. "Strategies aren't always the same."

The ape opened his mouth and a green beam of light appeared. "It's hot," Atroxia remarked, walking backwards.
"Goodness, laser spit! What next?" Hera wondered as the enormous ape continued to roar. The giant ape glared at Atroxia, then slammed his hand on her. "Attie!" Artisa and Hera screamed. The ape took his hand away and left a winded red lion on the balcony. Artisa scurried up to her twin and pulled the red lion away.

"We need another plan," Artisa said, propping her twin against the wall.
"When fists fail, it's time to get out the big guns," Hera replied, taking a rifle out.
Atroxia shook her head and got to her feet. "Careful, Attie," said her twin.
"I was!" said the red lion. "Hera has a point, I can't exactly punch an ape as big as five hundred of me, not without falling to the street."
"Wait, if you feed insecticide to that big guy, will it be more effective?" Artisa inquired, looking at the vials strapped to her twin's bullet belt.
"Yep," was Atroxia's reply. "I'll tell you why poisons are more effective when fed when we get home."

Hera aimed the rifle at the giant ape's forehead and pulled the trigger. The ape snarled as the bullet bounced off his head. "Pass me the insecticide, Attie," the blue woman said. Atroxia obliged and handed the vials to her. Hera waited until the ape opened his mouth, then threw the vials right into his maw. King Zong swallowed by mistake. His red face blanched and he grabbed at his throat. "It's working! The extra strong insecticide works on him!" Hera shouted excitedly.
"He's not really an ape, that's for certain," Artisa cheered.
"Part bugs are suspect to insecticides, right?" Atroxia scratched her head.

The ape then landed with a crash on the road. The citizens gathered around, pointing and shouting at the giant body. Some of them pointed at the three women on the balcony. "Look, two crazy ladies and one young man!" one passerby shouted, waving at the three.
"I am she!" Atroxia roared down to the street.
"Is that your battle cry?" Hera asked. Atroxia shook her head.
"Might as well go back up, there's no way to get down from here," the red lion said. So the three women climbed back up the ladder. A grinning Larry waited.

"Thanks so much for finishing King Zong!" the green scientist shouted.
"You're welcome, Larry," Hera replied.
"After all, who else could finish off an ape as big as five hundred of me," Atroxia boasted. "Besides us?"
Larry rolled his eyes at the red twin's boasting. "Oh yes, where did you whip out that enormous sword from?" he asked. "I don't recall any of you carrying it around until you, in the black bodysuit with short hair, began hitting me."
Atroxia replied, "Short story is that we're super fighters."
"That doesn't answer the question," Larry scratched his head. "But certainly explains why you could finish King Zong off."
"You'll understand where the sword came from if you ever heard the story of the magic paintbrush," Hera blurted, ushering her friends down the stairs. "See you, mister."

As the three passed by the giant ape's body, the lion twins took out their phones and quickly snapped several pictures of him. Hera took out her pocket camera and did the same. They saw a group of reporters sticking around the giant body. "Let's go home, I don't want to be mobbed," Atroxia said to the other two women.
"For all your showing off, you just can't stand people, can you?" Artisa asked, as they scurried out of Liberty Square, along the river, and back to the suburbs where they lived.

Later that evening, Ami returned from her work. "What's all this about you two finishing off a King Zong?" she asked, putting her bag on a table. Atroxia got up from the couch she lay on and walked up to her. "Well?" Ami asked her daughter.
"It's a long story, but we have pictures," Atroxia said, guiding her mother to the couch. The old lion sat down.
"Artisa wasn't telling tales when she said there was a giant ape with four eyes and antennae," Atroxia said, showing Ami the photos of King Zong on her cellphone. "Larry worked at Yercom, he asked us and Hera to fight King Zong. We finished it by feeding insecticides-"
"Looks like someone staged these photos," Ami said scornfully. "No animal is dumb enough to eat poison!"
Atroxia groaned to herself, "Mom... Really, Hera put insecticide in his mouth and he went plop."
"Don't you mo-om me!" Ami snapped. "Do you have any manners?" Atroxia kept silent. "Well, let's have dinner and not talk much about this tall tale," Ami said. "Call your sister."
"Artisa!" Atroxia yelled up the stairs. "Dinner time!"
"I know!" the white twin shouted back. She turned off her laptop and scurried down the stairs. The three lions went to have their meals.

--------

A week after King Zong was beaten, Ami went out to buy some groceries. When she got to Liberty Square, she saw an enormous flea! The flea had its back turned to her.

She took one look at the giant flea, then stepped back. When she had taken about twenty steps back, she turned tail and ran away, swearing at the top of her voice. She ran all the way to Susan's clinic.

"I'm going mad," groaned Ami. The old lion shut the door behind her and sat down on a chair.
Susan sighed. "Ami, you're not dreaming. Fleas as big as four Nightshades are running around New York!"
"I thought fleas went bouncing, not running," Ami groaned again and felt her own forehead.
"No, you don't have a fever, and your brains look fine to me," Susan said.
"How would you know? You didn't even examine me yet."
"Oops," Susan thought to herself. "How did I know that Ami's fine?" the doctor wondered, before continuing out loud, "From the looks of things, I'll check you just to make sure."
"Alright," said Ami.

"By the way, your twins and my Hera were responsible for beating King Zong, even if they haven't removed the fleas in Liberty Square," Susan said.
"Bah, I doubt it. How can three young women beat a giant ape, much less one with four eyes and two antennae?" Ami grumbled, as Susan put a thermometer in the elderly lion's ear.
"I'd tell you but you're just as cynical as you were almost forty years ago, back in high school," Susan replied, and looked at the thermometer. "You don't have a fever."
"Thanks, doctor," Ami snorted, and left the clinic. Susan sighed.

End.

< Message edited by Crystal Lion -- 9/6/2011 8:54:08 >
AQ DF MQ AQW Epic  Post #: 5
9/23/2011 8:16:01   
Crystal Lion
Member

In which there is a trial by fire.

One fine day, Hera strolled by the river with her dog Nightshade. She did not know that a shadowy figure waited for her at the bridge to the rest of Super District. "You!" the figure shouted as Hera approached. Nightshade barked her head off in fright. "Yes, you, with the blue eyes and dog!"
"The reaper!" Hera exclaimed. "Oh, our father who is in heaven, please don't let me die!" she prayed.
"No, woman, you're not dying, not yet, anyway," the reaper explained. "Hera's grace has a long way ahead of her, if you agree to do some favors for me."
"How do you know my name's meaning?" Hera stood with her skinny legs apart, her fringe covering her scared face.
"Oh, the reapers keep databases of the dead, just like you living ones keep records," the shadow said and pulled up his hood. He had a skull with red eyeballs instead of a face. "By the way, you can call me Koschei."
"I thought you weren't the reaper," said Hera. Nightshade whimpered.

Koschei lowered his scythe. "I was cursed to be this way, after Ivan slayed me once," he explained. "I used to be coated in skin like you living ones, but it fell apart after the old reaper's curse."
"How?"
"To keep it short, I fought the previous reaper, who found my spirit needle again. I defied his order to die, so he got very angry and cursed me to replace him. I've been forced to watch the dead ever since."
"Why are you here, instead of being in the underworld?"
"I've got an opportunity to break my curse, Hera's grace," said Koschei. "But I need your help," he continued, picking at his gold teeth.

"With what, exactly? Besides, who's going to watch over the dead if you break your curse?"
"If you can prove yourself through my trials, then the underworld council will let me roam among the living ones as a fellow super fighter."
Hera frowned slightly, and Koschei continued, "The trials aren't too dangerous, but they're taxing. You can bring some friends if you like. I'm phoning the celestial agencies for my replacement."
"I'll think about it, Koschei," Hera said, and let Nightshade lead her away from the reaper.

--------

"So, our current reaper quit his job of overseeing the dead?" Atroxia said, as she and Artisa had a drink with Hera. They were sitting at a roadside shop.
"Think of it as a job change, Attie. He's been phoning the celestial companies for a replacement, if his tasks are completed," the blue-eyed giantess said. "He's thinking of a career in super-fighting, anyway."
"If this Koschei is immortal, and becomes a super fighter, he'd be hard to beat," Artisa remarked.
"Yep," said Hera. "As such, lions, are you willing to help me with my four labors?"
"Why not?" said the twins. Hera took out her phone and rang Koschei up.

Koschei answered his phone. "Hello, is this the Celestial Labor Union?" the ex-reaper asked.
"Not quite, just Herakaris here."
"Ready for the tasks, I presume?" Koschei asked.
"With two friends."
"Alright, meet me at the bridge to Super District," said Koschei, and he ended the call.

The twins and Hera paid for their drinks, and walked to the bridge. Koschei was waiting for them, twirling his scythe around. "So, Hera's grace, or should I say miss Hercules?" Koschei began, before the giantess cut him off.
Hera squealed, "Do I have to fight hydras and lions and man-eating horses?!"
Koschei stared. "No, Hera's grace, you'll be doing three times fewer tasks than he did. No hydras, no Nemean lions, and certainly no man-eating mares here."
"What then?" asked Hera.
"First, you'll be tried by fire!" Koschei exclaimed. "Yes, even ice giants can be tried by fire, if you ask me."
"Wait, what do ice giants have to do with Hera?" Atroxia inquired.
"Her great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great, heck, many more greats, uh... I meant that her many great-grandpa was an ice giant. Only they have such chilling blue eyes."
"Been snooping about in the records of the dead, I see?" Atroxia added. Koschei nodded, and his skull went a little red.

"Now, mister," Koschei said, putting a bony hand on Atroxia's shoulder. She pushed his hand away with a loud snort. "I see that you have quite a camadrie," Koschei said.
"Death, that's my sister," Artisa remarked.
The former reaper rubbed his eyes. "A girl? But she has a boy's body, boy's legs, boy's everything."
"I assure you that I'm a she," Atroxia sneered. She put her right hand on her chest. "And my chest is tres exotique*."
"You're the ugliest girl I've ever clapped eyes on, but you'd be one great-looking young man," Koschei muttered under his breath.
"Hey, I make for a very handsome wolf," the red lion snorted. "You can ask my pediatrician if you don't believe that I am she."
Hera rolled her eyes. "She-wolf, more like. You're not your twenty-fourth-great-grandpa. Also, don't you dare mock mother!"

Koschei added, "You are a very strange woman, proud of your lack of chest?"
"You should look at all of me!" Atroxia exclaimed. "My front is unique, n'est ce pas**?"
"No thank you, I've had enough of women in general, especially tomboys who boast about their lacking!"
"Would you stop spouting dad's language every time you want to boast about yourself?" Artisa reprimanded her twin. "Show-off," she thought to herself.
Koschei tapped the ground with his scythe. "Ready for your first task, ladies?" he asked. Hera nodded, and Koschei waved his scythe to open a swirling portal. "There's a volcano that popped up like a wart in Super District," Koschei said. "Your task, miss Hera's grace, is to remove it by any means possible. Best if you find the thing responsible for it."

The three women walked through the portal as the ex-reaper said, "Good luck. You'll need it."
When the trio got out of the portal, they saw a volcano spewing smoke and lava. There was so much smoke that the trio couldn't see very far ahead. Atroxia peered through the smoke, she thought she saw a piece of fire in the shape of a person. "Hey, fire person," she said.

"That's Hottica to you, voice!" the person-shaped fire said loudly. "Before you accuse me of anything, I did not put a volcano in the middle of the street!"
Another voice added, "She's right, although she's a villain."
"You'd better keep your glacier of a mouth shut, Arctikiller," Hottica snorted. "I could never stand goody-two-shoes from Herospire myself!"
"Can't see them too well," Atroxia muttered. The three women walked up to the arguing elementals. They saw an ice golem squabbling with a swarthy woman. The swarthy woman had burning hair.
"Ach, she sure needs a decent hair conditioner, for all that hair," Hera said.

"You're an oddball, all the other women in Super District are heroes, but you?" Arctikiller asked.
"Hey, must I be a hero because I'm a she? I like fire, lots of it! Being a hero doesn't give me as much fire as I like," Hottica retorted.
"Freak! You're the only female villain around here, you know! That means Pandora's heart didn't affect you?"

"Like that purple executioner with a wrecking ball managed to protect that green lump? Serve her right for being Robin Hood!" Hottica snorted.
"Don't you dare insult her!"
"Yeah, like she actually meant a word she said? Robin Hood told a whole bunch of lies, remember?"
"I think you got the wrong story," Hera remarked. "Robin Hood was a thief who stole to help the poor, or so they thought. He wasn't a fibber," the giantess continued. "Although we're really going on a tangent here. What about that big volcano? Do you know who put it there?"

Arctikiller paused, and looked at Hera. "It's the work of an evil mage. Not Hottica, though, I did mention that."
Hottica tossed her head, and her fiery ringlets flew behind her. "If anybody's going to burn down this city, it is I, not some volcano mage!" she exclaimed, facing Arctikiller.
"I'm not letting you or anyone burn Super District to the ground, for that matter!" Arctikiller retorted. As the two elementals insulted each other, the twins and Hera looked around.

"That's one big volcano!" Hera exclaimed. "For one sitting bang in the middle of Super District, anyway."
Then, a crab made of very hot stone scurried up to the three women and the elementals. "Your hair's like a burnt rat's nest!" Arctikiller shouted.
"Yours is like a popsicle!" Hottica replied snappishly.
"Shoot it!" Hera screamed, as Artisa began shivering in fright. Atroxia snorted and put a hand over her chest. She crouched, the crab ran up to her, and she kicked at the underside of its shell. The crab stopped in surprise, Hera fished out her shotgun and shot at the crab's legs. She managed to shatter all four of its limbs, leaving it to thrash about in pain.

Artisa looked at the crab. Hera and Atroxia said at once, "Get something to cut it up!"
The white twin drew a mighty blade on the road, and pulled it out. She handed the blade to her twin, who struck the thrashing crab with it. The crab then burst into bits.

"Just how are we supposed to pick up bits of lava?" Atroxia snorted, when she saw the bits of the lava crab scattered on the ground. The two elementals paused, and went up to Atroxia.
Arctikiller took one look at the bits and said, "Get some fire extinguishers, young man."
"I am she!" Atroxia snarled.
"Alright, She, go find some fire extinguishers."
"No, what my twin meant is that she's a woman, not a man, Arctikiller," Artisa explained.
"I see," the ice elemental said. "Could you fetch at least ten fire extinguishers from the APB bots? They're patrolling on the other side of town."
"Just how do I talk bots into giving me their extinguishers?" Atroxia rolled her eyes.
"You have quite an attitude, lass," Hottica said. "Put that attitude to use!"
"You're just like everyone else from Skulldeep, fight first, questions later," Arctikiller snorted.

Atroxia rolled her eyes and walked away from the two squabbling elementals. She walked westward, and came to the Super District police station. The APBs standing guard at the police station's doors beeped loudly. One of the APBs said, "What's the trouble, young man?"
"Man?! I'm a woman!" Atroxia roared. "Do you have any fire extinguishers?"
Hera watched from a distance and smacked her forehead. "Silly, silly Attie. They won't give her fire extinguishers just because she asked. I'll have to pickpocket them."
Atroxia continued to argue loudly with the robots, so Hera slowly approached the group. By then, more than ten robots had surrounded Atroxia.

The robots discussed among themselves, "Why is this woman sitting here asking for fire extinguishers, yet doesn't want to call the fire service?"
"Ah, they've got fire extinguishers on their arms," thought Hera. She reached out with telekinetic hands, and quietly removed the strapped extinguishers one by one. The robots continued to beep at each other as Atroxia glared at them.
"You aren't a volunteer firefighter, miss Atroxia," one of the APBs said. "We can't loan you our fire extinguishers just because you claim to be holding a firefighting demonstration."
Atroxia leapt up and grabbed at the APB's arm in a temper. "Restrain her! Raving lunatic!" the robot beeped in a panic.
Hera heard the commotion and quickly thought to Atroxia, "Run, you little idiot! I've already taken their extinguishers!"
Just before the other APBs could clap their hands on her, Atroxia climbed onto their heads and hopped off. She ran down the street as the ten APBs scurried after her!

Hera returned with the extinguishers. "Where's Attie?" Artisa wondered.
"Being chased by APBs down the street," Hera sighed. "Silly woman lost her temper and tried to fight them."
"Oh, Attie," Artisa groaned at her twin's antics. She looked at the still-warm bits of crab on the road. "Now what do we do?"
Arctikiller picked up one of the bits and looked at it. "Could you spray the fire extinguisher on my hand?" he asked.
Hera picked one of the fire extinguishers up and obliged. Foam shot out of the hose and covered the ice elemental's hand. He wiped the foam off, revealing a strangely-shaped stone. "This is just the right shape to block off the lava flow," he said. "Now, I'll drop the bits of crab in the lava streams, one by one. Cool them with the extinguishers until a plug forms."

Hera and Artisa picked up the extinguishers, then approached the volcano. They began sweating profusely as they got closer to the volcano. "Arctikiller," Artisa said. "I hope this works."
"It should," the elemental said, dropping a large bit of lava crab into the first lava stream he approached. Hera sprayed the fire extinguisher on the crab bit, and it cooled down to a black lump. Arctikiller went on ahead, dropping crab bits, as Hera continued cooling them down.
Just as they finished blocking the last stream of lava, Artisa shouted, "The plug's melted!"
Arctikiller dashed back and stared in dismay at the lava streams. The plugs had dissolved from the heat.
"So, what's your plan B?" asked Hera.
"THAT was plan B," the ice elemental groaned. "Looks like my initial theory about a magician was right after all."
"What now?" Artisa and Hera wondered.

"The thing that caused this volcano to appear must be in its crater. Maybe you should try climbing up it," Arctikiller said. Hera stepped back, then took a running leap towards the side of the volcano. She smelt something rather like cloth burning, then gasped, looking at her skirt. The edges were burnt. The giantess quickly hopped down and shook her head.
"I tried climbing it as well, but it's too hot for me."
"What can we do?" Artisa inquired.
"Martin Plummer told me Yercom had finished research on an internal air-conditioner. Makes your body capable of regulating temperature like a reptile's," Arctikiller answered.
"We should be off to Yercom, then," Hera said, and the two women went off to the research centre.

"Good day, ladies," Martin said, as Artisa and Hera approached him.
"Have you got the internal air-conditioners?" Hera asked.
"You're in luck, miss. I do have some," Martin took out a bag of what looked like pills.
"Pills?" Artisa said in surprise.
"What did you expect when you heard 'internal air-conditioner?'"
"Never mind that, are we supposed to swallow these?" Hera wondered.
"One is enough," Martin remarked. "Yes, you need to swallow up."
"How long does one last?" Hera inquired.

"It'll stay in your guts for a week," Martin said. "Useful if you want to cool down quickly after exercising in the hot sun."
"How cold can it go?" asked Hera.
"Cold enough to walk through fire, without you burning up," Martin replied. "Wait, that fellow looks like he needs some serious cooling down. Did he run a marathon?"
Artisa looked at the person Martin mentioned. The person had thick black hair and wore a black bodysuit with a swallowtail pattern, and a bullet belt across the chest. "Attie!" she cried. The person looked up, then shuffled towards the white twin. Atroxia fell over with a plop after getting close to her sister. Artisa took out a fan and flapped it at her. "You're very clammy," Artisa said, seeing her twin's drenched bodysuit.

Martin took a pail of water and poured it over Atroxia's head. The red lion sputtered and got up. "How did you end up here?" Artisa asked in concern.
"I had to climb up to the rooftops and keep jumping away from all the APBs. They were chasing me all over the district."
"Well, who asked you to fight them, you silly?" Hera groaned. "We're going to find whoever's behind the volcano," she thought to the red lion. "Take one of the air-conditioning pills."
"Alright," said Atroxia. She picked up one of the pills, then put it into her mouth and swallowed it. Artisa and Hera followed suit. Marty gave Hera a small packet.
"There are some more of these pills in there, just in case you need them," he said.
"Thanks," Hera said, and the trio made their way back to the volcano.

When they got there, Hottica and Arctikiller were squabbling again. "So much for an ice golem! Is the volcano too much for the little ice boy?" Hottica sneered.
"Why don't you just go up the volcano yourself? Wait, whoever's up there would just knock the stuffings out of you!"
"Don't you dare make fun of me!" Hottica shouted.
"I guess those two wouldn't be much use right now, if they keep squabbling like this," Atroxia snorted. The volcano rumbled, and the trio clung to each other in surprise. "The earth's shaking!" the red lion shouted. Hottica and Arctikiller looked around in surprise, and saw a huge swarm of lava creatures coming out of the volcano!

Arctikiller cast a spear of ice and threw it at the lava creatures. The spear went through a row of the creatures, causing them to keel over. Hottica stood aside, as a magma scorpion rushed at her, she struck its chest, pulling out its beating heart. The fire elemental grinned, and the fiery heart vanished. Her burning mane became slightly longer.

The American Lions gulped as the rest of the magma creatures approached them. Hera tried singing, but the magma creatures continued advancing. Artisa quickly drew several baseball bats and handed them to the others. "It's swinging time, am I right?" Atroxia remarked.
"Sure is swinging!" Hera quipped, and slammed the bat on a scorpion that ran up to them. It hissed and tried to strike with its tail, but Atroxia broke its tail by swinging her bat at it.

Artisa was busy clobbering a lava blob that tried to attack her. It leapt up, trying to grab her smock, as she kept it at arms' length. After Hera beat the scorpion up, she hit the blob very hard. The blob went flop. The three women continued to beat up the lava critters, as the elementals in front of them held off most of the beasts. After a while, the swarm of lava creatures became smaller, and the last of them were eventually finished off.

A gigantic blob of magma stood at the top of the volcano. Arctikiller shaded his eyes and said, "That big guy looks like the source of the volcano. The Cinder Bender, that's his name."
Hottica gestured to the three women, her hair glowing very brightly. "It's time to get rid of him, once and for all. You've got a way to get up the volcano," she said.
"Good luck," said Arctikiller.
The three women climbed up the sides of the volcano, avoiding the lava that dribbled down it. They saw pieces of rock floating on the lava in the crater, and got onto the biggest one. The giant blob of magma sloshed over to the three women, who shouted in a panic. "Row away!" Hera yelled, waving her hands about. In the resulting panic, Atroxia fell into the lava. Artisa screamed, but her twin popped out of the lava without any burns on her.

"That air-conditioner is really effective!" Hera gasped. Atroxia grabbed at the golem, who roared and tried to throw her off. Atroxia continued to climb up onto its shoulders, then wrapped her long legs around its neck. It snarled and shouted as Hera started shooting at it. Artisa drew a halberd on the rock platform, took it out and swung at the golem's middle. The golem flinched, trying to throw the red lion off its shoulders.

"Smash its head, its head!" Hera exclaimed. Atroxia clung on with her legs and struck the golem's head with her hands. One! Two! The golem's head had two big cracks in it. The red lion stuck her hands between the cracks and forced the edges apart. The golem let out a loud screech as half its head was torn away. Then, Atroxia jumped off the golem and waded to the stone platform. The three women watched as the Cinder Bender fell over dead.

"Hey, what's that shining thing?" Hera wondered, using her telekinesis to pick it up. She examined the shining thing, it was a large glowing piece of stone with a very smooth surface. The three women climbed down the volcano, to the delight of the waiting elementals.
Arctikiller took one look at the smooth stone in Hera's hand and said, "That's a very special volcanic cinder, blue one. It's what jewellers call a sunstone."
"A sunstone?" Hera gasped.
"I could carve it into a brooch, to commemorate your courage," Arctikiller said. "How does a rose sound to you?"
"Fine by us," said Hera and the twin lions. The ice elemental worked on the sunstone, and shaped it into a rose. He gave it to Atroxia.
"Thanks for helping us get rid of the volcano," he said. Hottica snorted and looked away.
"I guess I should be thankful I'm free to burn up this district again," she muttered. The ice elemental rolled his eyes as the three friends walked away.

"I think you should have this brooch, Artisa," Atroxia gave the rose-shaped brooch to her twin.
"Thanks," Artisa said, and put the brooch in her pocket. "We have to ask a jeweller to stick a pin on it," she said. Then a swirling portal opened up in front of them. Koschei popped his head out of the portal.
The ex-reaper grinned when he saw Artisa's fire brooch, "Looks like you have a nice new memento. On the first task, no less!"
"Well, yeah," Hera said. "How did we fare?"

"Very well, Hera's grace," Koschei replied. "To be honest, I hadn't planned all your tasks. All I know is that you're doing four of them."
The three women looked at each other. Koschei continued, "I'll inform you when I have your next labor ready. For now, you should be going home."
"Alright," said Atroxia. Koschei disappeared into the portal, and the three women made their way back to their homes.

End.

*French: Very exotic.
**French: Isn't that right?

< Message edited by Crystal Lion -- 12/5/2011 3:47:37 >
AQ DF MQ AQW Epic  Post #: 6
11/7/2011 8:47:34   
Crystal Lion
Member

In which there is a trial by jelly.

"I'm going to bed now, mom," Hera said to Susan, who made soft noises and turned back to her computer game. Hera walked down the hallway to her room, which was at the end. She took the clothes hanging over a chair in the bedroom, then shut the door. Hera removed her blue vest and skirt, put on her sky blue pajamas and turned off the light. She walked in the direction of her bed. Bump, bump, she walked right into the end table beside it. "Ouch," Hera groaned, and sat with a plop on the bed. "My poor knees," she thought, and rubbed them.

Hera undid her hair ribbon and snuggled into her bed. She drifted off soon enough. As she slept, a green portal opened in the middle of her room, and a scraggly figure in a black robe stepped out. The figure tapped Hera on her shoulder, but the swarthy woman muttered, "Go to sleep, Nightshade."
"Jelly jelly jelly," the figure whispered. "Wibble wibble wibble."
"Nightshade, don't be silly," Hera said sleepily. The figure snorted, then pulled Hera out of bed. The swarthy giantess landed with a bump on the floor. She nearly jumped out of her skin when she saw a skeletal figure in a black robe with a scythe in his hands.

"My next trial is by jelly!" Koschei waved his bony arms around.
"Jelly?" Hera stared. "What are you talking about? Why are you in my room?"
"Simply put, there was a jelly meteorite passing by Earth, and someone who-shall-not-be-named nudged it just a little bit. Your grace, I came to your room to tell you this."
"Koschei, you really should stop putting Super District in danger, even if you've set four labors on me."
"Do you know your fairytales?" the former reaper asked.
"Course I do!"
"Then you'd know that I used to wreak havoc whenever I was in them," said Koschei. "The four labors of Hera's grace were the least dangerous things I could think of. Call me when you're ready."
Hera hurried off to the bathroom to change. She put on her blue skirt and vest, and tied her hair up again. When she got back, Koschei was gone. Hera scratched her head.

Meanwhile, Atroxia and Artisa were snoring away in their beds. Koschei turned up, then whispered into Artisa's ear, "Jelly belly wibble wobble."
The white twin waved her hand as if she was going to smack someone. Koschei shook her awake. "Stop talking nonsense!" Artisa shouted, still not quite awake. Her twin sat up suddenly at the noise.
"The reaper!" Atroxia howled in fright, not recognizing Koschei right away. "He's come to take us away!"
"No, I'm not here to spirit you away, ladies," Koschei explained. "There's an invasion of jelly monsters in the mall. You and your blue friend have to clear them out, like you did for the volcano. One hint, guns won't work at all. Tell your blue gunslinger that, would you?"

Koschei opened a portal and waited for the twins to get ready. And that was how the three friends found themselves at the Super District Mall at midnight. Atroxia took a piece of blackcurrant-filled bread from a vending machine and chewed on it, as she followed her elder twin and Hera. They turned a corner, and saw a translucent blob sitting right in front of the stairs. The blob wibble-wobbled, and slid a few inches.

Atroxia looked at the wobbly jelly monster in front of her, then at the bread she was holding. She frowned at the bread and tossed it behind her. "I'm never eating blackcurrant breads again!" she shouted in disgust.
"You just wasted a perfectly good snack," Hera sighed, tucking her fringe into her new beanie.
"But it's pink!" Atroxia bawled, pointing at the jelly monster.
"Where are your eyes, Attie?" Artisa asked. "That jelly looks purple to me. Like grapes."
The monster wobbled at them, so the animals scattered. Atroxia fled for the lobby and stumbled near a swarthy short woman. The woman had a lightning bolt in her hand and wore a red leotard. She had a very wide grin and wore red sunglasses, while her black puffball hair was held back by a red band.

"Related to Zeus by any chance?" Atroxia snorted.
The short woman shook her head. "Before you say anything, no, I'm not related to that old goat," she said. "I was struck by lightning fifteen times in one day, that's what happened."
"What about the jelly monsters?" asked the red lion. "Who are you?"
"The lightning-bolt woman replied, "They're smart buggers, no voice, no mouth, no ears, yet they know what to do, to mess up the mall. They came out of that big rock over there. I'm Electina."

Then, a man in black armor decorated with sickly green horns clanked to the lobby. "Ahem!" the man coughed.
"Lokos," Electina frowned.
The man drew himself to his full height and spouted, "The only reason I'm in this dinky little establishment is to make sure there's people for me to scare half dead."
Electina twiddled her finger, Atroxia knew she meant that Lokos was well, loco. The man frowned and lowered his head so that the horns pointed right at the women. "If you dare laugh at me, I'll butt you!" Lokos threatened.

In the meantime, Artisa and Hera were hiding in a clothes store, out of sight of the jelly that chased them up the stairs. Hera, being the skinny giant she was, stood like a mannequin. "Don't you dare take pictures of me to laugh at!" she thought to Artisa. The white lion was also posing like a mannequin.
"As if I could, the jellies seem to be using vibrations to find out where we are," Artisa thought back to her friend. She heard loud, heavy footsteps coming upstairs.

"Attie! The jelly monster!" Hera squealed, when the jelly slid over to Atroxia. The red lion's heavy footsteps could be felt by the jelly, which slid and wibble-wobbled over to her. Atroxia stopped in her tracks, and stood still. The jelly paused. Atroxia stomped loudly on the ground, took out a vial of concentrated salt water and emptied it right where the jelly monster was about to slide. The jelly couldn't stop in time, so it became really sluggish, then shriveled up. "Must be quite a weak jelly," said Atroxia.
"Are you showing off about hypertonic solutions now?" Hera quipped. Atroxia decided to take the quip seriously, and nodded. She saw another jelly sliding by, so she pulled at Hera's vest. The giant took one look at the monster, and began singing.

"Fly away now, Fly AWAY!!" Hera sang at the top of her lungs. "Fly away now, fly away now, fly away!"
"Why are you singing songs from that dirty show?!" Atroxia yelled. The giant ignored her and continued singing at the top of her voice. "Heart stood still, when we first met, thought we'd be, together yet, you're using me for your own gain, now I never feel the same."

"Shut up!" Electina and Lokos yelled when they heard the loud howling from upstairs. "Go home and sing to your faucet!"
Lokos added, "Nobody wants to hear your singing! You suck at it!"
Hera drooped when she heard the insulting remarks. She looked at the twins, who were both as red as beets. "Well, mom's always watching that bawdy show, and listening to the soundtrack at full blast, so those songs were the first things I thought of."
"Sing Bad Romance or the Habanera, not Fly Away!"
"Then what do you expect me to sing? Elvis Presley? Love me tender? Eeeee!"
"No, at least sing something like: I want your love and I want your revenge, you and me could write a bad romance! Ga ga roma-ah... And so on," Atroxia explained.

"That young man sings better than whoever was howling 'Fly away!' at the top of her voice," said Lokos. "Even though I can't stand Gaga."
Electina went upstairs, and walked right up to Hera. "What did you think your singing could do?" the short swarthy woman asked the giant.
Hera fidgeted, then answered, "I thought they'd burst from how loud I sang. Attie here said that guns don't work on jellies."
"You'd be bursting people's ears for nothing," said Electina. "I saw some jelly eggs on the way up here. You know what happens if you break eggs?"
"No more new critters," Hera and the twins replied.
"Exactly," said Electina. She turned around and went back downstairs. The three women went to the stairs.

"What kind of name is Duck Fart for a beauty parlor?" Artisa wondered, as they passed by a stall with a gold-lettered sign above its door. "That's a rather unclassy name."
"Look! The jelly eggs!" her twin sister shouted. Atroxia ran up to the green eggs sitting by the stairs, and kicked one of them around like a ball. She bounced it, she threw it at the wall, but the egg didn't even crack. Atroxia continued bouncing the egg all over the place, until it slipped out of her hands, bounced off the meteorite downstairs, and landed bang on Lokos' head.
"Yeeow!" the armored villain shouted at the top of his voice. Electina watched as the egg continued bouncing, and rolled to a stop. She poked it with her lightning bolt. Lokos continued muttering insults under his breath. The three critters came down the stairs.
Electina thought to herself, "These jelly eggs have quite a tough shell. Bouncing didn't even crack them up. Doesn't this mall have an invention shop? Last I heard, there was a new weapon that could obliterate jellies being sold there."

Electina told Hera, "There's a stall selling a Slimilizer. Get one and come back here. It's on the left wing of this floor. It's a silver hand-cannon."
The friends went off. Sure enough, there was a silvery hand cannon lying on a table outside the stall. Hera grabbed the gun, and with the twins following her, ran back to the lobby. She gave the gun to Electina, who tried turning it on.
"Where's the batteries?" the lightning-bolt woman asked.

"What, no batteries!" yelled Hera.
"Didn't you see the sign?" asked Atroxia. "Free sample, but batteries not included."
"If everything went to plan right from the start, would there be a need for super fighters in the first place?" Electina asked rhetorically. "Now, we have to find some batteries. Look about, or have you never come to this mall before?"
"Not when it was jellied," Atroxia replied. Hera smacked her forehead.
"I don't think she meant you to answer that last part, Attie," said Artisa. "Anyway, the battery stall shifted to the first floor, right wing. Let's go."

--------

When the trio got to the battery stall and looked inside, the shelves were empty, and a young woman with black hair was hiding behind the counter. She looked over the counter and shivered. "It's alright, we're not jellies," said Artisa. "Where are the batteries?"

"The jellies ate the batteries!" yelled the black-haired woman, still hiding behind the counter. "I thought jellies are eaten, not eating things!"
"Jellies ate batteries?!" Atroxia exclaimed.
"Those aren't any ordinary jellies, miss," said Hera. "They're monster jellies."
"Whatever those things are, I quit! I wanna go home!" the store attendant cried.
"She won't be much help..." Artisa whispered, and the three women left.

--------

"The jellies ate the batteries? Then get them out!" Lokos glared at the four women. "Should be obvious enough."
A jelly wobbled by at that moment, and Hera saw a battery in its middle. She reached out with invisible hands, and plucked the battery out of the jelly. "AA, standard size," she said, pulling the battery towards her.
"This hand cannon needs eight of them batteries," said Electina, taking the battery from Hera's gloved hands. The lightning-bolt woman wiped the battery, then put it inside the Slimilizer. Needless to say, Hera pulled out seven more batteries from the jellies around the mall. Electina turned on the cannon, and grinned. "It's zapping time!" she laughed. She fired at a jelly, and the jelly burst into bits.

After five shots, the gun no longer worked. The lightning-bolt woman handed the now-useless Slimilizer to Hera, then remarked, "Seems those jellies are weak to electricity, besides a whole host of other things."

"What's your plan now?" asked Hera.
"Get some generators from the electronics shop upstairs, would you?" At this, the three women went there. The shop was closed, though.
"Anyone home?" Atroxia yelled loudly.

"If you're a wibbly-wobbly jelly, don't even bother!" the man shouted from inside his shop.
"But I'm not a wibble-wobble! I'm a lion!" Atroxia yelled.
"Help! Wild animals and wibble-wobbles! Someone call the zoo!"
"You do realize that people still fear lions, don't you?" Hera groaned. "Besides, jellies don't talk."
"The best way to get him out? Show him that the jellies won't eat him?" Artisa began planning. "We'd better clear out the jellies nearest to the store. Do you have any more salt water, Attie?"
"I could mix some more with acid and alkalis..." Atroxia replied, as she fiddled with her bullet belt.
"Now, hold on a minute, Attie," Hera put her hand on the red lion's shoulder. "Try pouring some alkali on the jellies first. I mean, aren't jellies acidic?"

Atroxia uncorked a vial of clear liquid, labeled 'Sodium hydroxide,' and poured it over a nearby jelly. It wobbled about and turned to attack her. Before it could engulf her, half of it dissolved, and the other half became a puddle of horrid-smelling jelly. The red lion repeated the process on the other jellies around the electronics shop. As she finished the last jelly, the shopkeeper finally looked out of his shop. "The jellies barged into my store," he stammered. "Ate the generators. Oh me..."
"The jellies are no joke, mister," said Hera.
"I'm going home, what with jellies slithering all over this place. Thanks for helping me. If you can get the generators out of the jelly monsters, help yourselves!" the shopkeeper said, then left the mall in a hurry.

"I underestimated them," said Electina, when Hera told her what happened at the electronics shop. "Those jellies are smarter than they look, and they just ate the generators, knowing that we were planning to use them. I'm hazarding a guess that they'd take apart what they can, too."
"How do we get the generators out of them, I mean, sodium hydroxide might burn through the parts as well," Atroxia wondered.
"I think we'll just have to cut them out the old-fashioned way," said Hera.
"A jelly knife should do the trick," Artisa drew on the floor as she said this. She took out three long knives from the floor, and handed two of them to the others.

--------

After cutting up several jelly monsters, the three critters managed to get five generators in working condition, after cleaning them up and fixing them. Hera, having a mechanic for a father, was more knowledgeable about some of the circuitry in the generators. "I wish I could call dad here," the giant said to herself, but she had to soldier on. When the last generator was fixed in place, Electina walked over to the generator closest to the meteorite, which had been chosen as the main.

"Finally!" Electina hooked the wires from the main generator to her lightning bolt. "Bolts away!" she quipped to Hera, who turned on the machine. Soon, the lightning bolt turned bluish-white instead of its previous yellow glow. "Keep it on..." said the short swarthy woman. The bolt turned pure white, and Electina grabbed it. "One, two," Electina raised her lightning bolt. "Three!"
She threw her overcharged lightning bolt at the meteorite in the middle of the mall. Boom! A big hole appeared, and jelly poured out of it. The lion twins and Hera looked inside.

"Oh my god," the trio said, when they saw the enormous jelly monster in the meteorite. It was a blob that had a mouth like a leech and two skinny little arms.
"Do jellies have ears?" wondered Atroxia, when the jelly didn't seem to react to her voice.
"Jellies don't have ears or eyes, you pea!" Hera exclaimed. "Mouths...Yes, monster jellies have mouths. Now, what's your plan?"
"I shall neutralize him!" Atroxia began showing off.
"What are you spouting about?"

"Sodium hydroxide is an alkali, so it should work on that big acidic jelly monster over there," Atroxia continued to show off. "Because he'll be neutralized into a puddle of nothing and-"
"There's no time for a chemistry lesson, Attie!" Hera panicked. "Besides, where can you find more sodium hydroxide in a mall?! You used up your own supply back at the electronics store."
"Easy," Atroxia put her hand to her chest. "Drain cleaner solution."
"You go find it and stop showing off your knowledge of chemistry! I've always thought you have too many brains!" Hera exclaimed. Atroxia ran off. "So... while we wait for miss scientist to come back, how about preparing some more weapons? Your painted ones don't last too long right now," Hera said to Artisa.
"We're going to need something enormous to cut through this jelly," Artisa replied, drawing a large, lightweight sword on the floor.

Lokos watched the white twin as she continued drawing. "The last time a villain tried to force a magic painter to work for him, the painter tricked him. Only thing Skulldeep can hope for is that this young woman betrays everyone and comes to us! Then we can use her magic paintings to launch attacks..." the wicked knight thought to himself. He wasn't so dumb as to expose his thoughts, though.

Atroxia came back with a bottle in her hands. She and Hera managed to loosen the cap on the bottle of drain cleaner. "Ready?" Hera asked. "You two stand back, I guess."
Artisa gave Hera the sword, and Hera trudged through the slime to the big jelly monster. One slice, and the jelly had no head! It wibble wobbled everywhere, and Hera sloshed as fast as she could to the hole in the meteorite, hoping that the headless jelly would keel over.

But, the jelly monster just grew its head back after a minute. "Now that is certainly the tale of Hercules and the Hydra all over again," said Hera, as the twins looked on.
"His helper burnt the stump of the Hydra's necks so that the heads won't grow back," added Atroxia.
"So, you should know what to do with the drain cleaner solution, right, Attie?" Hera asked her scarlet friend. The red lion certainly knew what to do, as she poured the drain cleaner on the slime lord when its head got cut off the second time. The jelly didn't dissolve as expected, but lunged blindy at the three friends. The big jelly monster and the women fell out of the meteorite, in front of Electina and Lokos. Hera squealed and held up the blade in front of her out of instinct. At that moment, Electina jammed her lightning bolt and burnt the jelly leader. A horrible smell rose from where the electric bolt burnt into the jelly's flesh. Slowly but surely, the jelly burnt into nothing, and Atroxia poured the drain cleaner over the last of the jelly, to make sure it really was dead.

When the jelly lord was vanquished, a swirling green portal opened up, and Koschei put his head through. "Hi," he said. Lokos snorted and turned away from the deathless one, while Electina gulped and pulled at the collar of her leotard. Hera looked up from where she was on the floor. "Anyone want a peanut-butter-jelly sandwich?" Koschei joked, and held up the aforementioned confectionery.
Atroxia made a face. "I don't want to see another grape jelly in my life ever again," the red lion groaned. Koschei looked sadly at her.
"Maybe if you had put chocolate jelly, Attie here wouldn't be so grossed out," said Hera. "Seriously though, you said I didn't need to fight a hydra. Why does this trial have regenerating monsters?"

"You weren't fighting the Hydra in the sense of a many-headed snake. But I didn't say your trial didn't involve rengenerating monsters. Good thinking of you to try burning the jelly lord, though," Koschei grinned. "Chemically, that is. Still, very good, very good. I'm sure you are tired by now."
Electina took out her phone and looked at it. "It's 1 a.m," she shivered, still worried about the sight of Koschei. "How can those three be so casual in front of the Reaper?" she thought to herself.
Atroxia yawned loudly, and the ex-reaper looked at her. "Oh, my poor son," he quipped.
"I'm she! Besides, Koschei never had kids!" Atroxia said snippily.
Koschei saluted Electina and Lokos, then remarked, "Well, the modern Herculeses have to be getting home, I did turn them out of their beds for this trial."

As the three women followed Koschei through the portal, Electina wondered, "Why, why, why, is he so friendly to them?"

When Hera got back, she took one look at herself, and sighed. "How am I going to explain jelly down my front, jelly down my back, jelly in my skirt and every bit of clothing on me?" she asked herself. She decided to toss her clothes in the laundry pile, after washing away as much jelly as possible. The giant put her pajamas back on, hopped into her bed, and fell into a sleep filled with jellied dreams.

End.

< Message edited by Crystal Lion -- 11/8/2011 0:53:02 >
AQ DF MQ AQW Epic  Post #: 7
12/1/2011 5:12:48   
Crystal Lion
Member

In which there is a swim.

"Nice day for a sail, isn't it?" Atroxia said, looking out at the river, where it flowed into the sea. She took a deep breath. "Especially when class is out."
Artisa replied, "The river's been nice ever since the district launched a 'Save our River' campaign years ago."
"I wish I could go for a sail on a yacht," said the red lion. "The last time I wanted a ride on Moira's yacht, she kicked me off."

"Obviously she'd kick you off her yacht, you tried to get on it without asking her permission."
"But Moira said I could stop by any time."
"She probably meant when she's around!" Artisa retorted. Just then, a starfish flew out of the river and landed on her twin's big nose. Some kelp landed on Artisa's head, and she shook it off.

Atroxia started swearing loudly after she got the starfish off her big nose. "You think my nice nose is a target!? I'll show you a target, I'll knock your stupid head!" she yelled as Artisa tried to grab her arm. Then Atroxia noticed a fish's head in the water.
"Yikes!" said the head, and it ducked under the surface.

"Fish! Talking fish!" Atroxia yelled at the top of her voice. "The fish can talk! The fish has a voice!"
"I'm not a fish!" said the green river-thing, looking through the surface with orange eyes as big as saucers.
"That's a mermaid!" Artisa yelled. "And I thought fairy tales were dead!"
"Nope! I'm an Aquatian!" the green river-thing popped her head out of the water. There were long guppy-fins trailing behind her head. The green river-thing saw the twins fall over each other in surprise.

"Ouch, mom was right, you need to eat a bit more," Artisa groaned.
Atroxia sat up. "What do you mean?" she asked.
"You have the most stabbing elbows I've ever felt," replied the white twin. Atroxia stuck her elbows into her twin's stomach in reply. "Stop that!" Artisa shouted. Atroxia snorted, and got up, poking her elbows into her twin again as she did so.
"Alright, fish, or whatever on Earth you are," Atroxia snarled at the green thing.
"For the last time, I'm not just a fish!" the green thing replied. "My name's Malandra, I'm the chieftain of the Aquatian Empire!"

"I must be dreaming, you're an underwater thing-"
"Yes, I am," said Malandra.
"But you're not a fish-"
"Correct."
"Yet you look like an overgrown guppy," Atroxia said. She turned to her twin, who was waving her hands frantically. "Yeah, what?"
"Could you quit insulting other beings? She's not a fish," said Artisa. The twins began chattering at length.
Malandra shook her staff. "Um, excuse me?" the Aquatian said. "We haven't got all day, land things. I think it's better if you follow me into the water."
"If you say so," Atroxia snorted, then walked close to the riverbank.

"Wait!" Artisa shouted, after her twin jumped into the river, feet first. The white twin waded into the river, took a deep breath, and swam to the bottom of the river.
"Can't see," thought Artisa. A large bubble appeared around her head, and Atroxia got a bubble around her head as well.
Malandra lowered her staff and said, "You'd better follow me to my secret garden. I'll tell you more there."
The twins nodded, and swam after the green river-thing. After some time, they arrived at a shelf of rock covered in coral. Malandra swam to a large piece of pink coral and floated near it. "The Aquatian Empire has never needed to rely on the help of outsiders, much less land things," she said. "This time, though, is a special exception."
"Why so?" asked Artisa.

Atroxia stared very rudely at the green river-being. "That's one drab giant guppy," thought the red lion. "Or she could be an oddity like the she-guppy I once had, that guppy had a polka-dot tail. Anyhow, Malandra has a very flamboyant set of fins for a she-fish, etcetra, etcetra, etcetra."
She missed what Malandra said next. The guppy-woman had said, "A machine landed in the water last week. Our empire's bravest scouts and fighters went out to investigate, but when they came back, they were changed, or infected, rather."
"What makes you say that?"
"The scouts who returned didn't seem to know friend from foe, and anyone unfortunate enough to be struck down acted the same way," Malandra explained. "If I could, I'd keep the bubble spell on you for longer so that you land things could help, but my power's not as strong as it used to be."

"What is the machine like?" the twins wondered.
"All I know of it is that it's nothing like what the land things throw into the river. Garbage is usually dead or broken, but this thing, whatever it is, is still working."
"The land things, as you call us, do have a way to breath underwater, but we'll have to go back on land to fetch it," Artisa said.
"Thanks for saving me the trouble, I'll keep the spell on you long enough to get out of the water," Malandra said. As the twins swam back to the surface, the green river-being followed them. When the twins got out of the water, Malandra swam back into the deep.

Moira, who was loitering about on her yacht, saw the twins walk out of the river with completely soaked clothes. "What did you two jump in for?" she asked.
"Scuba lessons," Atroxia snorted. She shook herself and water drops landed on Moira.
"Hey, I don't need watering! I'm not a shrub! Go home!" Moira shouted. The twins left for their home. Their mother, Ami, had already left to work at her pet shop, which was also run by their twin uncles.

The two lions went up to their room, and dug about in the wardrobe sitting in a corner. "Don't throw your clothes everywhere!" Artisa exclaimed, when her twin tossed out several tee-shirts and shorts on the floor.
Atroxia snorted, then pulled out a black bodysuit with a red pattern over its chest. Artisa facepalmed, then looked carefully through the clothes in the closet. She took out a bodysuit, which had a light gray pattern over its chest and stomach. The lions changed into their wetsuits, then put on shirts and trousers over them. Artisa took a rubber bandana, while Atroxia picked up two sets of scuba equipment from the attic.
"At least the scuba equipment won't go to waste," the red lion remarked. "Rented it from the university's scuba club after all."
"Check the air, would you?" Artisa said. Her twin looked at the gauges, the tanks were full of breathable air. She shouldered the things, and went downstairs.

The twins left their home, with Atroxia carefully carrying the scuba equipment all the way back to the river. When the two lions got to the river, Atroxia put the scuba things on the grass.
"Alright, time to get back to Atlantis," the red lion quipped, as she pulled off her shirt and pants and put on a pair of scuba goggles. Artisa pulled her hair back and took out the bandana.
"Hold my hair for me, would you? I have to put this bandana on," the white lion said. Atroxia helped her twin, and tied the bandana neatly when Artisa pulled the cloth into place. Artisa then put on her goggles. The twins put on their breathing packs and flippers, hooked weights to their middles, and waded into the river. They swam carefully to the coral garden Malandra had showed them earlier.

"So you've returned," said Malandra, when she saw the two. "All suited up to boot."
The twins nodded, they couldn't say a word because of the breathing apparatus attached to their heads. "You can't talk with these things?" the green being asked. The twins shook their heads.
"Land things need to use these to breathe underwater?" The twins nodded. "Not like words would help the infected right now," Malandra sighed. She pointed to a ruined archway with a dragon painted on it. "The strange thing landed past this archway," she said. "Could you look along the seafloor for anything fishy?"
The twins nodded and swam off. "I hope these land things can help..." the chieftain thought to herself.

The two black-haired lions came back some time later. They both carried large piles of mud. Malandra examined the mud. "Bones, bones, bones, did you stumble into the graveyard?" the green being asked. As she spoke to herself, she caught sight of a piece of metal. "Where did you get that?"
The twins looked at each other, then mimed fighting. "You fought someone? Who?"
Atroxia grabbed a stick and wrote in the sand, "Fish-person, shadowy fish person, green eyes. Ambushed, choked fish-person, it swam off."
Atroxia paused, and Artisa added to the writing, "I took metal piece that fell from its forehead. The Aquatian wasn't shadowy after we fought it."

"That doesn't make any sense," Malandra said. "Violence isn't the solution to aggressive behavior! Still, if you feel that fighting every single one of the infected Aquatians will snap them out of it, you can try. Are you sure you tried other ways to calm the infected one down?"
The twins nodded. Malandra groaned, "Then, there's no other way. All I request of you is not to kill them. They're my fellow folk, after all."

The two women swam off, and spotted another shadowy guppy-person in the distance. The guppy turned around and saw them. It hissed and swam at the twins, who splashed out of its reach and hid behind a large piece of rock.

"Can't kick, can't punch, can't clobber underwater because we're lions instead of fish," thought the red lion. "Unless I was a lionfish. I'm not full of poison, yet."
"What can we do?" Artisa thought to her twin, although her message was slightly jumbled when the red lion picked up on it. Atroxia mimed pulling on a rope. Artisa shrugged. The red lion mimed choking, and Artisa swam over, concerned.

Atroxia shook her head, giving her twin the okay sign. Artisa shrugged again, and Atroxia mimed the white twin painting. "Cloth," she thought to Artisa, then mimed choking at her twin again, who immediately looked for a flat piece of rock. Artisa looked at the rock and felt its surface. She took out a few underwater pens and drew on the rock. Atroxia splashed over to her twin, as the latter drew a piece of cloth. Atroxia nodded approvingly as Artisa continued drawing. The white twin held onto the edge of the cloth and pulled it out of the rock.

The light gray cloth was very, very long. "Good for choking," Atroxia thought to her twin. Artisa nodded. "Wool?" the red lion asked. Artisa nodded again. They swam off. The shadowy guppy was still there. The guppy looked about suspiciously, then stood upright. Atroxia held out her hand, and Artisa placed the cloth in it.

Atroxia waited, stroking the cloth and holding its ends in her hands. She leapt off the rock, swimming above the guppy, who had its back turned to her. The guppy turned around and swung its staff, but Atroxia dodged the blow and threw the cloth over the guppy's head. The guppy bubbled and grabbed at the cloth, as Atroxia wrapped the gray piece of wool and pulled tightly on the ends. The guppy tried to hit Atroxia, who quickly moved behind the guppy and kept her grip on the cloth. The guppy gasped for water, and the shadows on its body began to fade. As soon as the shadows went away, Atroxia unwrapped the cloth. The guppy flopped into a heap, and the red lion swam away.

Needless to say, the same procedure of strangling the Aquatians was repeated many times. Sometimes, Artisa had to strangle the more alert ones when Atroxia distracted them with a face-to-face fight. The twins found a strange scale when they strangled a lionfish. The scale looked like a radioactive piece of nacre. The lions swam back to Malandra and showed her the sickly-looking bit of nacre. The chieftain examined it. "It's not something that comes from any underwater creature, especially not in this color," she said. "I think it's alien in nature."
She looked at the two lions. "Meet me after the big cave up ahead, I've found out the machine is there, while you were 'treating' the people," Malandra swam off after saying this. The twins swam after her.

When the lions got into the cave, they blundered about for a while, then got out of the cave. A dreadful sight met their eyes as they got out, for Malandra had become a shadow of herself. The chieftain's orange eyes had turned light green, and her green body darkened. Malandra hissed and cast a green bolt at the twins. They swam aside and the bolt struck a pillar. A chunk of stone fell from it. Malandra snarled and swam up to the twins. "Run!" Atroxia thought to Artisa. "I'll handle her!"

The chieftain swam after Artisa, but Atroxia punched her shoulder. Malandra swam after Atroxia, who swam all around her, as Artisa drew frantically in her hiding place. "A bomb!" she thought, and sketched a simple grenade. The grenade came to life. "This is so dangerous," thought Artisa, as she swam close to Malandra. Atroxia saw the grenade in her twin's hand and swam away as fast as she could. Artisa pulled the pin, shoved the grenade into Malandra's hands, and swam off after her twin. Malandra dropped the grenade and chased the twins.

Bang! The grenade went off, and the shock could be felt by the twins although they had made it back to the coral garden. Malandra was hit by most of the shock, and fell to the riverbed. The shock continued, as the twins hid under a shelf of rock. It wasn't until the water stilled again that the twins went back for Malandra. The chieftain's color had returned to its normal pale green. Atroxia mimed, "Is she dead?" and made a slicing gesture across her neck for emphasis. Malandra sat up.

"That was drastic," Malandra said. "I fear that I'm not strong enough to resist the infection. I was near the source when I couldn't remember what I was doing any longer. I felt a nasty blow before I could regain my senses."
Artisa made a gesture that meant an explosion.
"It seems that the infection is inevitable," Malandra groaned. "Only you land things are immune to it. I have to ask of you, please disable the machine and take a sample of it to me. Only then will peace return to the empire."
The twins swam off, and saw the machine. There was something that looked like a lamprey attached to the machine. The lamprey looked stunned. Artisa drew a sword, then gave it to her twin, making a chopping gesture. Atroxia nodded, swam up to the lamprey, and cut off its head. She smashed the machine into bits for good measure. Artisa picked up a small piece of the broken machine, and the two women swam back to Malandra, who was resting at the coral garden.

"Thank you," said Malandra, when she received the broken piece. "I'll start researching it immediately, to make sure this infection never happens again. If I need your help again, land things, I'll send for you," she continued. "What are your names, by the way? I didn't have the chance to ask."
The twins wrote their names on the sand, and Malandra remarked, "Strange names for land things. Are you sure your many great-grandparents were human?"
"Far as we know, yes," Atroxia wrote on the sand.
Malandra clasped her hands. "Thank you, thank you again for helping us."
"What now?" Atroxia wrote.
"I hope that Velonius and I can compromise for the sake of Aquatia. You two have been so helpful. I'll send for you again once we need your assistance. I'll send you home."
The twins looked at each other, then at Malandra. The chieftain swam to the surface, and the two went after her. The three stepped onto the river bank, and the twins waved goodbye to Malandra as she sank back into the water.

--------

"That was a surreal adventure," Atroxia said, later that evening. The twins had put their scuba equipment to dry.
"Did you see what the Aquatian architecture looked like? Beautiful! If it weren't ruined, that is."
"They'd be inspired by the coral, after all," Atroxia leaned back in her seat. "Weird, though. I never thought a society of fish was living right under our noses."
"They're not fish, nor mermaids."
"Different name, but they still looked like fish."
"It's a good thing our family never eats fish," said Artisa.
"Yep. Can you imagine the awkwardness if we did?" Atroxia replied. Her phone rang at that moment. "Hello?" said Atroxia. "Hera? Yes, I'll go, but I'll ask Artisa too. Hold on, please."

"Go where?" Artisa inquired.
"Koschei's got another trial ready next week. Want to help Hera out?"
"Of course, she's our oldest friend!"
Right," Atroxia picked up her phone again. "Yeah, Artisa's coming along."
"Koschei said it's going to be a fast-paced, time-turning trial," Hera said on the other side of the line. "I've been up all night wondering what he means, but he won't tell me any more until you two lions show up at the bridge next week."
"Uh huh. Is that all?"
"Yes, that's what I wanted to tell you. So, take care, Attie."
"Goodbye," Atroxia said, and Hera ended the call.

End.

< Message edited by Crystal Lion -- 12/1/2011 8:21:16 >
AQ DF MQ AQW Epic  Post #: 8
12/16/2011 9:33:49   
Crystal Lion
Member

In which a trial by time begins.

One afternoon in July, Hera was lying about in her house, listening to some music. She heard Nightshade bark loudly, and she sat up. The big black, brown and white dog was pacing around the mailbox, still barking away. The blue giant got up and went to the mailbox. When she got there, she saw that Nightshade's spotted paws were unusually soggy. "I didn't take you swimming," said Hera. The dog wuffed and wagged her white and brown tail.

Hera then looked at the sidewalk, there were puddles of water leading away from the mailbox. When she looked up, she thought she saw a woman in sports clothes with dripping wet hair running at top speed. The mailbox, oddly, wasn't wet at all.

She looked at the address on the envelope. It read, "Hera's grace, house-on-the-hill, Super District outskirts, New York City."
Hera then took the letter out of the envelope and read it. The letter went like this:

Dear Hera's grace,
I didn't want to turn up in your room in the middle of the night like the last time, so I've sent you this note. Come to the bridge at four in the afternoon on the sixteenth of July, and I'll tell you more about your third labor. Although I called you on your phone last week, I just want to refresh your memory.

Sincerely,
Koschei.


"Today's the sixteenth of July," said Hera. She took the note, went back inside with Nightshade, then wrote a note for her mother. After that, the sky-blue giant called up the Lion twins, Atroxia and Artisa. The three women met up at the bridge and waited for Koschei. Sure enough, at four o'clock, the old mage turned up. The three women looked at him. The former reaper teleported himself and the women into the spirit realm.

--------

The trio and the old mage walked through the ethereal land, until Koschei reached a place where a portal should be. There were long sharp needles arranged in a circle. Koschei stepped into the circle of needles and slashed the air with his scythe. A large rip appeared, then slowly grew into a large swirling portal. Koschei beckoned to the three women, then stepped through the portal. The lions and Hera followed him. They ended up in what looked like a meeting room.

The meeting room had a large map of the Earth displayed on a stand. There was a round table sitting in the middle of the room, as well as a television. A pile of paper was on the table, near a large chair. Koschei sat down in the big chair and began sorting the papers. "Lots of letters," the old magician said.
Hera asked, "Who helped you to deliver the note? That errand-person left soggy footsteps all over the sidewalk."

"Oh, I asked a rusalka to deliver the note for me," Koschei said. "Took her a while to understand where I wanted her to go, until I showed her a map."
"How come?"
"She didn't seem to understand where the house on the hill in the outskirts of Super District was. That's your house, right?"
"Koschei, my house isn't the only house on the hill," Hera explained.
"I can't remember addresses too well. Enough about that, I'll tell you about your third trial, your grace."
Hera knew better than to press the skeletal sorcerer about his bad memory. Koschei continued, "This trial takes place after an Armageddon brought about by one of the most dangerous things on this planet."
"Earthquakes?" Atroxia guessed.
"Climate change?" Artisa tried.
Koschei shook his head. "Humankind itself brought about the Armageddon. Now they have to start all over. You, women, will have to help them free themselves from a tyrant who has taken advantage of the situation. Firstly, I'll have to give you a special treatment to make it a bit easier for you."

"Huh?" Hera said, before Koschei used a spell to immobilize her head. The old mage approached Hera and pressed his bony fingers against her forehead. When Koschei pulled out a long bright blue needle from Hera's forehead, the giantess squealed in a temper and tried to grab at the ex-reaper's hands. Koschei kept her at arms' length by jabbing the handle of his scythe on her chest. "That's your spirit needle, Hera's grace," said Koschei. "This trial would be fatal if I don't do my special needle technique to keep your souls safe."
"Give it back! I don't want to be like the giant with no heart in his body!" Hera squealed. Koschei shook his head.

"Now, look here, Hera's grace. Have you forgotten the reason I can't die?" the ex-reaper asked.
"You put your spirit needle in an egg, in a duck, in a hare, in a box, in a tree, in a river, on the isle of Buyan," Hera replied sullenly. The former reaper nodded and lowered his scythe. He put Hera's spirit needle in his left sleeve. Then he waved at the twins and drew out long needles from their heads. He kept the blood-red and pearl-white needles with the blue needle in his sleeve.

"Well, you all have very long lives if the needles are any clue," Koschei remarked, after keeping the needles. He handed the trio some masks.
"Why?" Artisa asked the skeleton.
"The air of the future is bad for you, ladies," the former reaper said.
"How bad?"
"You'll cough and choke, even if you're from the big city," said Koschei. Atroxia looked at the gas mask. It looked like a balaclava with eye covers, and a hose for a snout. The red lion quickly pulled the mask over her head. The mask felt heavy with the snout attached to it. Hera paused, then pushed her fringe under her beanie and undid the blue ribbon in her hair. The swarthy woman put the gas mask on, then retied her ponytail. Artisa tucked the curly tendrils of her fringe behind her ears and wore the gas mask carefully. When the three women were done, Koschei opened a portal and sent them through. A soaking wet woman with dripping green hair looked into the hall at that moment.

"Dosvidanya, strangers," the soggy woman said, but the three women had already left. Koschei turned to the soggy woman.
"Hullo, Kalyna," he said. "What do you want now?"
The soggy woman replied, "I thought, since you're walking around in the land of the living, could I roam there on my own?"
"If you can stand the idea of everyone thinking you want to drown them," Koschei laughed, rather scornfully.
"I don't! I didn't throw the drowned ones in. I pulled them out, but they jumped in after me again!"
"I guess the only way to stop people from jumping after you would be to hide your big green eyes," the deathless one snorted. "Now, if you'll excuse me, Lyna, I have a blue giant to watch over." He heard the rusalka sigh loudly. When the deathless looked up, Kalyna had gone.

--------

The three women stepped out into a desert. There were junk piles lying everywhere, and the few people they saw were sickly, or clad in worn-out armor. The trio saw a man in sky blue armor with white trim. The man had a helmet that showed only his face. The three women approached him, still with gas masks on. "Isn't that man from Herospire?" Atroxia wondered as they got near to him.

"Who are you?" the blue-armored man asked. "Take off your masks!"
The trio obliged and pulled off their gas masks. The armored man looked carefully at them.
"Black hair, black eyes, pale bodies," he said as he looked at the twins. Then he looked at Hera. "Black hair, and what-"
"Blue eyes I have," Hera finished the man's sentence, rolling her eyes.
"Yes, blue eyes. With a skinny brown body to match," the armored man said. "I'm General Smash. You all, what are your names?"

I'm Hera," said the giantess.
"Atroxia and Artisa," the lion twins said. Then the general rubbed his head in surprise.
"Are you both girls?" he asked.
"Yes, I'm she!" Atroxia yelled right at him. Artisa put her hand to her forehead in annoyance.
"Really, I thought you were he," said the general. "Are you from China? Do you speak Mandarin?"

"Je ne parle pas mandarin," Atroxia replied. General Smash tried to make sense of her.
"Attie! Parle anglais*!" Artisa snapped at her twin.
"Fine, I don't speak Mandarin," Atroxia repeated.
"Why didn't you just say that in English?" asked the general.
"She keeps showing off about how she can parle francais, or speak French," said Artisa.
"Your sister's language skills won't be of much use in this place," the general sighed. "There's one thing I don't get, why is it forbidden to chew gum here?"

"Wait, what happened here? Is this Fallout?" Hera asked.
"I guess Singapore took over," Atroxia remarked.
"What has Singapore got to do with it?" the general asked.
The red lion replied, "It banned gum, so you can't chew it as you please."
"Wrong guess. A nuclear war broke out and destroyed practically everything," General Smash smacked his hand and grumbled. "Those Soviets!"
"No, seriously, what happened?" asked Hera.
"It's a nuclear Stone Age. I mean, those who have the resources, rule the place. You mentioned the Fallout game, didn't you, blue eyes?" Hera nodded at the general. "Maybe you should be glad because the game has become all too real," the general muttered.

"I suppose we had better find out who the current chief of this place is," Atroxia said.
"Maybe you'd have a better chance of getting answers, since you're women," the general replied. "Those wastelanders are very wary fellows, they tend to prefer hiding in their hovels. I don't blame them, this place is scorching hot. Oh, by the way, if you see a crazy man in black talking about ruling this place, don't speak to him, and don't go near him."
The three women looked at the large archway made out of scrap material. "On we go, into the Pitt," Atroxia quipped, as they went under the archway. They passed by some more wastelanders, who wore tattered clothes and old gas masks.

Artisa took off her mask and carried it in her hands. A trader went up to her shortly after. "BlasterMaster runs this place. You'd better leave before he spots you, lass," the trader remarked to the white twin, then left hurriedly. The trio walked up to a metal building, which looked rather like a giant scaffold.
"The Dome's the place to go if you want a show!" another trader standing beside the metal structure shouted, waving his hands about. The three women walked on after he said that.
"What does that man mean, before the BlasterMaster spots me?" Artisa wondered.
"I'd put the gas mask back on if I were you," Atroxia thought to her sister, who obliged and pulled the mask back over her head. "He might take a fancy to you, is what I meant."
Artisa made a face, and felt glad that the mask hid her rather unladylike action. "So, we know that the BlasterMaster is chief, but what exactly is he? Is he a giant, is he miniscule? Is he a lion gone mad?" the white twin mused to herself, and the trio soon came to a high cliff overlooking a sandy plain.

The three women saw a very sad wastelander sitting on the ledge. "If I jump, will anybody hear me?" the unhappy man sighed.
"Mister?" Artisa asked.
"Don't bother me," the man groaned. He stood up, and took an unsteady step off the ledge.
"Stop him!" Hera screamed, just as the man fell off. He landed with a loud splat on the ground below.
"Well, he certainly got his question answered," said Atroxia. "He made quite a splat!"
Hera shook her head sadly. "There's nothing we can do, aside from wishing him well in the afterworld," she said. The twins and Hera turned away from the cliff, and walked until they entered a neighborhood. They saw an old man with short black and gray hair, which was falling off in clumps. The back of the old man's head was shiny, and the old man stood near a ramshackle little building made of scrap parts.

"Greetings, uncle!" Artisa said to the old man. He turned to look at her.
"Who are you?" the old man asked. "It's not a safe place for a young lady like you, especially not one who's not from around here."
"Uncle, we wish to know what the BlasterMaster is like," Artisa said. Hera and Atroxia nodded in agreement.
"Hush, hush!" the elderly trader exclaimed, and urged the three women onto the porch of the hovel. "You can't ask such questions out loud here. Though you certainly are not working for him if you're asking questions."
The trio looked at each other, then back at the old man. "My word, I forgot my manners," he bowed. "I'm Curb," he said. "Actually, the BlasterMaster is a very, very bad man," he whispered, after gesturing at the three women to come closer.
"Any witnesses to back you up?" whispered Atroxia.
"Yes, I do. They're both under my care," the old trader said. He stood up, and shouted, "Stick! Stone!"

Two kids as like as peas came out of the hovel, or adults who were shorter than the American Lions.
"Um, hi?" the small trader on Atroxia's left asked in a thin, high voice. The little trader wore a wilted flower in her hair, while the other had pulled back their fringe.
"Ah, that must be a kid," thought the red lion. "Well, who runs this place?" she asked.
"A great big monster and a tiny man!" the flower-wearing trader said. "No food, no gum, no nothing! He grabbed them all!"
"Sorry about that," the old trader said, putting a hand on the little girl trader's hair. "What Stick means is that the BlasterMaster has control of the town's resources. The lion's share, so to speak," he explained, and his brow furrowed. "That wretch believes that might makes right, and nobody has the guts to defy him," he hissed. "I've been trying to rally people to rise up against him, but the BlasterMaster has the rest of Trader Town in his grip. He's got goons to bash and murder anyone who dares to disagree with him."
"So, your revolution has to be kept under wraps?" Hera thought to Curb. The old man nodded, then wondered how Hera could speak without opening her mouth.

The other little trader opened his eyes. He groaned, "The women are not spared by the BlasterMaster. Only the little girls are left."
"Then?" Atroxia pointed to the flower-wearing trader.
"Stick's twelve, too young," Curb explained.
"Stone, we saw something terrible, didn't we?" the girl whispered to her twin brother. Stone nodded.
"What terrible thing?" asked Hera. Stick gestured at the giantess to lean down.
"A young woman got hanged for refusing the BlasterMaster," Stick whispered to the giantess, after the latter knelt down. Hera blanched as Stick continued, "Before the BlasterMaster got her hanged, there was a crazy man hanging around."

"Crazy man?"
"He keeps saying that he will rule Trader Town," Stone whispered in Hera's other ear. "Before the stranger lady came, he was muttering about how a gift would soothe the BlasterMaster," Stone explained. "He mutters and grumbles a lot. He's got a bad name too."
Stick hissed, "The hanged woman, they say she was the niece of that crazy man."
"What does the crazy man look like?"
"Long black hair down to his toes, black clothes, a bad back, and big cats' eyes!"
"Stone, not so loud," Curb hissed. "What if he hears you?"
"Sorry, uncle," the little boy looked down.
Hera tapped his shoulder. "What did the hanged woman look like?" she asked.

"Black hair, big cats' eyes, she looked like a skeleton. Only lasted one day in this town before they put her in a tree," Stone replied.
"What is the BlasterMaster interested in, besides, well, women?"
"More gum, more manpower."
Curb added, "Having your own vehicle would attract his attention. I'm not sure if you've heard the rumors, but he rides a giant. If you've got something better than that, he'll set his goons on you."
"What would be better than a giant?"
"A car. Nobody has even seen one for the last four hundred years. Stuff of legends, it's claimed," Curb said. He lowered his voice, "Cars do exist, I have the salvaged plans for one although the BlasterMaster confiscated all the rest of them. You might see his goons riding trucks in the plains."
The twins and Hera were silent, until Curb said, "I hope that you three understand that overthrowing the BlasterMaster is not easy."
"We do, and we'll help in our own way," said Hera.

"Do you think might alone makes right?" asked Curb, looking intently at the blue giantess.
"Might must be tempered by justice and selflessness, or else, it will crumble," Hera replied. "Just like a blade that has not been tempered, might alone will not last long as a weapon."
Curb smiled. "Clever women," he said. "I don't know where you are from, but if you have the courage to help us, may the ancestors bless you."
"You said we should build a car," Atroxia whispered to Curb. The old man nodded turned to the little traders.
"Stick, Stone, help uncle find the car plans. These three want to help us," he said to them. The two traders went back into the hovel, and minutes passed.

Eventually, the twin traders returned, carrying two halves of a manual. Curb tenderly put the manual back together, then offered it to Hera. The giantess placed the manual in the pocket of her trousers, under her skirt. Hera and the lions bowed to Curb, then made their way back to the outskirts of the town, where General Smash waited.

"Got any answers?" the general asked when the three women came back. The three women whispered about Curb's plan to overthrow the cruel BlasterMaster to him, and Hera showed him the car manual. The general suddenly stiffened, and looked around. He frowned and warned the three women not to speak any more about the plan. The trio did as he said, as a strangely dressed figure approached.

"Goodness!" Hera exclaimed, when a hunchback in a black robe with black hair down to his toes hobbled by them. "That's a lot of hair!"
"Take a wild guess as to who he is," the general snorted. He glared at the hunchback, who happened to have gray stripes in his hair. The hunchback had a snub nose and small ears with very big, stubby hands.
"Igor?" Artisa wondered.
"Nope. Not Quasimodo either."
Hera scratched her head. "He's got cats' eyes," she said, when the hunchback raised his head.
"Who has cats' eyes back home?" Atroxia asked. The other women looked at her in surprise.
"Are you implying something, Attie? I'd say he's more of a giant," Hera covered her mouth in shock when she realized what she had just said. "Yuck, what did I just say, to smear the reputations of giants and felines in one blow!" thought Hera.
The hunchback gripped his walking stick and raised it, muttering something unintelligible. The three women and the general stepped back warily, but the hunchback hobbled on his way.

When the hunchback was out of sight, the general snorted, "He looks like the kind to suck up to might, and then betray said might and gain the power for himself."
"Yeah," Atroxia replied. "Wouldn't like him to be the one to overthrow the BlasterMaster."
General Smash took out the car manual, and said, "There's a list of parts we need to make a very basic vehicle. Spark plugs, an alternator, a twelve-volt battery, and so on. I'll help you find some of the parts."
"What do you think we should try to get first?" Hera asked the general.
He replied, "Small things like the spark plugs, engine oil, brake fluid..."
"Where are we going to find those things?" Atroxia snorted.

"The waste piles, dummy," Hera whispered, rather annoyed. "If you ever really played Fallout, you'd know that we have to be scavengers in this place."
Artisa copied the list of car parts into her phone as reference. "What about the car's body?" she wondered.
"That's the elephant in the room I've been wondering about, myself. There might just be one car body in any of those waste piles. I'll search the waste piles for the parts. You try to get the other stuff from the traders, alright?"
"Yes sir," the trio said.
The general stood up. "Good luck," he said, and walked off. The three women went back to the wastelander town.

--------

"Oh, hello there," a very plump man in a wooden stall greeted the three critters as they walked by. He was wearing round sunglasses and a white shirt. A few clumps of brown hair remained on his head. "Need any goods?"
"Got any spark plugs?" Atroxia asked the man.
"Yeah, I do. Other car parts too," the fat man replied. "What can you offer?" Atroxia handed him some dollars. The fat vendor stared at the green bills.

"Crazy! That's useless bits of green paper!" he exclaimed. "If you want to get anything from here, barter with gum!"
"Gum?" the three said as one. "Why gum?"
"Gum's made of butylated hydroxytoulene!" said the vendor.
Atroxia sputtered, then managed to say, "Can't be so! Butylated hydroxytoulene's found in fuel and rubber!"
"Speaking of rubber, gum can stand for elastics in a pinch. Did you know that?" the fat man asked. "Seriously though, where are you from?"
"Don't tell him the whole thing," Hera warned the twins.
"Not from around here," Atroxia snorted.
"Looks like your brains are fried from fallout," the fat man remarked, then shook with laughter. Atroxia's face turned bright red under her gas mask, and she growled. She saw a trick gun sticking out from under Hera's jacket.

"Gimme that," Atroxia said, and picked the trick gun from Hera's belt. She pointed it at the man, who continued to laugh.
Bang went the gun, and the man had a face of soot. He leapt up and ran away, yelling his head off. "What did I say about scaring people out of their skins, Attie?" Hera asked.
"He laughed at us!" was the red lion's reply.
"That's no reason to shoot him! Now we can't get anything from his shop!" Hera ranted, waving her skinny arms about.
"We could take the five-fingered discount, or do the more respectable thing and ask Curb for help."
Artisa piped up, "I say we ask Curb, if we try to take things from the stall without the fat man around, that will come back to bite our back ends."
"Bite us how?"
"Nobody likes a Robin Hood," Artisa said cryptically. Atroxia rolled her eyes, and turned away with a huff. The three women finally went off, towards the neighborhood Curb lived in.

"Hey, I was jesting about being Robin Hood back there," Atroxia said to her twin, when they got to the hovel.
"Hello again, uncle," Artisa greeted Curb, pointedly ignoring Atroxia's remark.
"I hope you didn't lose the car manual. That was the last copy I could give out freely," the old man whispered.
"It's not the car manual," the white twin whispered through her gas mask. She continued, "There was a very fat man who would only trade car parts for gum, and my twin scared him off by accident. What can we do now?"

Curb facepalmed, then answered, "The barter guy will be back soon, he knows that he can't leave his stall unattended for too long. Don't let your twin go near him again, she might scare him off."
"Right," Artisa said. She then turned to Atroxia. "Keep a good distance behind me when I speak to the fat man about the car parts, ok? I've got the list."
"But what about the gum? He won't accept money, you heard him say that," Atroxia said.
Curb took out a bag. "My savings," he said. "They may not be enough to pay for all the car parts you need, but they should help ease the burden."

"Thank you, uncle," Artisa said, taking the bag. "We need all the help we can get, to help you."
"By the way, where are Stick and Stone?" Atroxia asked Curb.
The elderly man replied, "Scurrying around the wasteland, they want to help you as well. There's another stranger in sky-blue and white armor, by the way. Seems to be a general of some sort."
"We know him, he wants to help you as well," said Hera.
"If you see him, tell him that Curb sends his regards."
"Yeah, we will," said Atroxia.

--------

"I wonder how many car parts those three women have found," General Smash mused to himself. He looked at the engine, inner tubes and fuel tank lying on a large cloth behind him. The parts were worn out. "They're holey. I need patches of some sort."
Two little shadows loomed over the general, so he stood up and faced them.

The general saw a pair of twins in wastelander's clothes looking at him. The black-haired, dark-eyed and tanned kids looked a lot like each other, the one on General Smash's left wore a dead flower in her hair, while the other twin had a pulled-back hairstyle. "Need some help, mister?" the flower-wearing twin asked.
"Yeah," said the general. The twins hopped onto the scrap heap and poked around.

"The crazy man with hair to his toes wants our town," said Stick. "You seem like a good guy, mister, would you help us make the crazy man go away?"
"His many great-grandmother was Robin Hood, we've heard," Stone said. "He won't talk about her."
"Since when was Robin Hood a woman?" the general asked in surprise. "Do you mean Robin of Sherwood, or somewhere else?"
Stick explained, "The woman was called Robin Hood. If Robin Hood wore purple instead of Lincoln green with hair all down to the toes."
The general pondered, then felt disgusted when he figured out the answer. He went back to finding car parts, anything to get his mind off the awful thoughts that swarmed him. He eventually fished out a car battery. After examining it, he decided that it was fit to use, and placed it beside the other parts. When he stood up, he saw a strange thing in one of the nearby dead trees.

It was a skeleton hanging by a rope around its neck. The skeleton had the remains of a shirt on it, and appeared to have extremely large eyeholes. "The crazy man's niece," Stone explained, when the general asked about it.
"What was she hanged for?"
"For refusing the BlasterMaster," Stone replied. The general sighed and bowed to the skeleton, as the wastelander twins stared at him.
"The dead deserve respect," General Smash said. Stick hopped down from the scrap pile and poked about at the engine, inner tubes and fuel tank. "Have you got patches?" the general asked the little girl.
Stick shook her head. Before the general could say anything, the small trader said, "I know where to get some patches, though," and spat out a gob of gum after removing her gas half-mask. She applied the gum over the worn parts of the inner tubes. The general felt a bit ill. Stick took out a magnifying glass and held it over the gum. The sun's rays that shone on the gum helped the gum to dry up. Stick took away the magnifying glass and tested the dried gum, it was now the texture of new rubber.

Stone leapt down from the scrap pile, an alternator in his arms. He checked it, the alternator seemed to be in good condition. "Mister, you should get some weapons for the car," the boy said.
"So I expected," the general replied. "What kind would you recommend?"
"Guns, sir. Any sort of gun. Uncle's got some gatling guns and small cannons."
The general arranged the collected parts and wrapped the cloth around them. He picked up the bundle. "Lead me to this uncle of yours," he said. The two little wastelanders scuttled as fast as their spindly legs could take them.

--------

Needless to say, all the necessary parts had been collected. General Smash, Curb, and Hera began working on the car, after the general and Curb found a suitable car body to be used. The wastelander kids and the lion twins helped out as much as they could. After several hours of hard work, the car was finally assembled. Curb remarked, "It's a Dollarean, a keyless-entry car. Built to be a dune buggy with the creature comforts an ordinary sedan can provide. However, the company that made it went bankrupt before the Ashen War."
"Why?" Atroxia asked.
"Before the Ashen War, nobody wanted a dune buggy. That simple."
General Smash tested the car, and drove around the neighborhood. "It works well," he said, when he drove the car back. He looked at the back seat. There were some weapons stored under the seat. Guns, and a spiked meteor hammer. "Who on earth would use that?" the general wondered when he noticed the meteor hammer. He got out of the car.

Just then, a young trader ran up to where the group was gathered, huffing and puffing. "The BlasterMaster's up to his mean tricks again! His goons are driving off a family to throw them into the north sea! He said, he said, he didn't like the look of them, that's why -huff- he's doing this," the man panted and puffed. "He's heard about the new strangers, he said, if they're so great, they can try to stop him from killing the family..."
"Sump," Curb said. "We can't stand idly by anymore. Today, we shall show our revolution." Curb turned to the three women. "Prove yourselves," he said. "It should take an hour to drive to the north sea."
"It's a red truck," Sump said. "The truck has two gun turrets on top."
"But," Atroxia said, before Curb cut her off by chasing her into the car. The red lion found herself at the driver seat. Artisa and Hera hopped in after her.

"Drive, man! Drive!" Hera yelled, putting on her gas mask. Atroxia turned the key and stomped on the pedal. The car jerked forward and Artisa was flung against the back of her seat.
"Hey!" Artisa shouted. "The gear, Attie!"
Atroxia shifted the gear, then stomped on the gas pedal again. The car sped off into the plains. General Smash looked at the car as it drove off, then saluted.

The car drove on under the scorching sun. Hera stuck her head out of the rear window and looked around. Nothing but sand and more sand, for a while. When the former Blue Mountains were in view, a group of motorcycle riders appeared out of the dust. "Riders!" Hera shouted and squeezed out of the window, after grabbing the gatling gun and pushing it to the roof.

Hera stepped onto the top of the Dollarean, then aimed the heavy gun at the cars following them. The twins could hear loud gunfire. The wastelanders shot back at Hera, who panicked and thought to the twins, "I need backup out here!"
Artisa and Atroxia glanced at each other. "I'll go," Artisa said. Her twin shook her head.
"Driving at breakneck speed's easier than aiming a gun," Atroxia grumbled and climbed out of her seat. Artisa shifted to her sister's place as the latter picked up the morning star hammer. The red lion climbed out of the window, and onto the roof. Hera was shooting frantically and had crouched as low as her gigantic frame would allow.

Atroxia ducked beside her giant friend, and threw the spiked meteor hammer at the goons closest to the car. Some of the goons could be knocked away easily, but Atroxia missed a few times. She managed to knock down most of the goons, and Hera picked off the rest with several well-aimed shots, as the blue giant was no longer afraid. Artisa pressed her foot on the gas pedal, and the car continued at top speed. The car eventually caught up with a large truck with two turrets on top. Hera's sharp ears heard the crying from the back of the truck. She tapped Atroxia's shoulder.

Atroxia and Hera turned their weapons on the driver. "Take out the guns!" Hera ordered. Atroxia threw the hammer as hard as she could. One, two, a gun went down. Hera shot at the other turret, and it went down too. The blue giant aimed her gun at the truck's wheels, and the tires burst with loud bangs. The truck screeched to a stop, then the driver jumped out and ran away. "We did it!" Hera shouted, as the Dollarean turned around and braked beside the truck. "Attie?" Hera wondered, and looked around. "Attie!" the giantess howled when she realized that her friend was no longer on top of the car.

She scanned the sandy plains for her friend, then leaned on the windscreen. "Attie's missing!" she said to Artisa.
"No!" Artisa cried. "How did she go missing?"
"I really don't know, honest! Should we help the victims or Attie?"
Artisa mulled over the question, then got out of the Dollarean and drew five dogs on the truck. As the dogs leapt to life, Artisa ordered them to search for her twin sister. The dogs ran off, noses to the sand... Hera took several deep breaths, then thought to Atroxia, "I hope you'll make it."

To be continued...

*French: Speak English!

< Message edited by Crystal Lion -- 2/19/2012 4:28:04 >
AQ DF MQ AQW Epic  Post #: 9
12/29/2011 9:19:42   
Crystal Lion
Member

In which a trial by time continues.

"Get off of me!" Atroxia snarled, and kicked a big, grinning goon off. The aforementioned goon had tackled her and sent her flying far behind the car. The goon snorted, got up, and began throwing punches at the red lion. The red lion countered with several blocks, but couldn't attack, yet. "As if poison would help at a time like this!" she thought to herself.

The goon then grabbed at Atroxia's head, but ended up putting his hand on the snout of her gas mask. As the two continued to fight, the goon tore the snout off. Atroxia sputtered as she smelt the dusty air, then sank her teeth into the goon's arm. The rowdy ruffian screeched as Atroxia worried his arm like a chew toy. The ruffian let go of the red lion and tried to push her off. The red lion grabbed his neck and choked him, still biting the goon's arm. She let go of the arm and tried to get a better grip on the goon, but he reacted quickly for his size.

The goon lunged at her, and Atroxia jumped away. She dropped to a crouching stance, ready to spring, when she felt her left leg being grabbed. Next thing she knew, she was wrong side up. "Oi! Abruti*! Put me down!"
The goon drooled, "Lunchy?" Atroxia kicked the goon's arm with her free leg, but he didn't budge.
"I'm dead meat if I don't get down from here!" thought the red lion. The goon raised his arm until she was face to face with him. Atroxia saw a gunman in the distance, and was about to shout at him when the gunman raised his weapon to fire. Bang! The goon's brains dribbled out of a few large holes in the side of his head. The goon groaned and landed on the sand with a crash. Atroxia pulled her stuck leg from under the remains of the goon.

Atroxia looked up at the gunman who had shot the goon. She spat at the ground, then got into a wide-legged stance, ready to lunge at him. "Hey! Is this how ye respond to a rescuer?" the gunman exclaimed crossly.
The red lion asked warily, "How do I know that you're not trying to take advantage of this?"
"Do you know somebody named Curb? He told me about your almost-suicide mission to get those slaves back. Besides, I'd have shot ye first thing if I supported the BlasterMaster," the gunman dug his foot into the sand. "You do realize I just saved your back end, right?"
Atroxia looked around worriedly. "That goon knocked me off when we caught up to the truck carrying the slaves."
"Your team's car should still be heading north. Come on, we'll get back to your team," the gunman offered his hand. Atroxia snorted and looked away. "Fine," the gunman said. "Follow me."

"Alright," the red lion replied, and followed the gunman. "Seriously though, how can you prove that Curb sent you?"
"He told me the direction that three young women in gas masks sped off to in a rebuilt car. That two of the three women were a pair of twin sisters, and one of the twins was a tomboy in a black suit. Since the other search party hasn't come back, he said I should go after you three."
"You got one of them, the tomboy."
"That much is obvious."
"Still, I'd better get back. Artisa must be worried sick by now."

The two misfits heard a lot of barking, and five dogs charged at them. The gunman fired, and hit one of the dogs. The dog merely got up and continued running. Paint dribbled out of a hole in its body, over its brown fur. "She's sent them to look for me," Atroxia gasped.
"Who?" the gunman asked gruffly, gun still aimed at the dogs.
"My sister, Artisa," the red lion replied. The dogs slowed down as they approached Atroxia, wagging their tails. They jumped up and down, and scuttled ahead of the red lion.
"How did she find dogs in a place like this?" the gunman asked, as he got up and followed Atroxia.
"Doesn't look like she found them, they're made out of paint."
"Paint?" the gunman pinched himself and winced. "So I'm not dreaming, then."
"Right, come on," Atroxia waved to the gunman, and they followed the dogs up north.

Artisa and Hera had tried almost everything they could think of to get the back door of the truck open. Artisa had tried drawing a crowbar, but she only managed to force the door a little way. Hera also tried to pry the door open with the crowbar, but she couldn't open it any further. "I wish Attie could help," Artisa said, and sat on the plain, wiping her forehead.

Just as Artisa finished wiping her forehead, she saw her twin, the group of dogs, and a sandy-haired stranger run up to the truck. The stranger was carrying a gun, and his hair had small silver stripes running through it. Artisa stood up and hugged her sister for a moment, dismissed the dogs, then asked the red lion to open the truck's door. Atroxia obliged, and the gunman helped her. They eventually got the truck door open, and the group helped the captured slaves out. There were three slaves, two adults and one teenage girl, who was carrying a small child.

The three women, the gunman, and the rescued slaves then piled into the Dollarean in a hurry. The gunman decided to sit on the roof to give the slaves more room. Atroxia followed suit and climbed up on the roof of the car. Artisa drove the Dollarean, with Hera sitting beside her.

"So, you're a fellow revolutionary of Curb's?" Atroxia said to the gunman.
"Yep," the gunman replied briskly. "Why did you three ladies go after that truck?"
"Cause we couldn't just stand by and let the Blastermaster be mean," Atroxia snorted.
"He's been doing this for ages. Nice to see that somebody's got guts to do something about it, though," the gunman said.

Atroxia didn't know what else to say to the gunman, so she fiddled with her gloves, then looked up at the plain. The gunman also looked away from the red lion. The Dollarean eventually returned to Tradertown, and the rescued slaves were helped back by some revolutionaries. As the slaves were helped away, the three women looked at each other, and decided to tell Curb that their rescue mission was successful.

--------

"Don't ye dare thank me in a dramatic way now, lassie," the gunman remarked to Atroxia, as he accompanied the three women to Curb's hovel.
"Pah! I don't do that kind of thing!" Atroxia said rudely. "Take me for a softie, would you? Humph!"
"Thank goodness, I'm not fond of damsels in distress myself," the gunman said, then looked at Artisa and Hera. "It's not over yet. There's a lot more we have to do."

"Oh, such as?" Atroxia asked, still in a very rude voice.
"Mutants," the gunman replied flatly. "They look like a monster movie that's come to life."
"They're not skinny as me, I hope," said Hera.
"Nah, more like juggernauts," the gunman answered, looking at his gun. "I'll explain more once we get back to Curb's."
"What does Curb have to do with you, anyway?" Atroxia wondered.
"Besides me being his right-hand man in this hellhole?" the trader looked at her. "He looked after me when I was younger," the gunman continued in a whisper. "Much like those two kids hanging around him now."
"I see," the red lion said quietly.
"We'd better get moving," Hera urged, waving at the lion twins and the gunman. The group walked on in silence until they got to the neighborhood where Curb's ramshackle hovel was.

Atroxia slowed down and walked beside the gunman. She smiled at him. The gunman noticed, as did Artisa. The white twin waited until her sister walked beside her, then asked, "You sure you're not going to be a lone wolf any more?"
"What makes you say that?" was Atroxia's reply.
"You don't usually smile at other people, much less complete strangers."
"Hey, I don't feel that urge, and I'm willing to bet that it won't show up for a long time to come."
The gunman added, "She's just glad that she's alive."
Atroxia said solemnly, "I was nearly a goon's luncheon back in the plains, if it hadn't been for that gunman over there. Doesn't mean I'll be all soft, humph."
"There's still a lot to do, anyway," Hera interrupted. "Keep on moving."

--------

Curb was sitting on the porch of his hovel when the ragtag group arrived. "Welcome back," he said, and stood up. He bowed to the gunman. "Hello, Mo," said the old man.
The gunman replied stiffly, "Hey, Curb."
Artisa stepped in front of the elderly wastelander and said, "Mister, we've saved the slaves."
The gunman nodded. "Followed them back when they drove away from that prison truck," he said.
"That will certainly attract the Blastermaster's attention," Curb said. "It is time we showed him the revolution's true colors."
Mo approached the old man and said, "Curb, let me explain the next part of the plan to those ladies."
Curb nodded, and went back into the hovel, and the gunman spoke up, "As I mentioned earlier, there are things in the sewer. Big things. Ugly things. They're the things that the Blastermaster uses as his workforce."
"I don't suppose they're unstoppable, are they?" Atroxia remarked scornfully, looking right at Mo.

The sandy-haired gunman rolled his eyes. "If they were stoppable, would we even need to start a revolution in the first place? We could've just chased the Blastermaster away the first day he came here," he spoke in a very sarcastic voice.
Artisa tried to calm the gunman down. "There has to be a way to take the mutants down," she said.
Mo said peevishly, "You're welcome to try, but don't risk your necks!"
Hera thought Mo's tough impression wavered as he said that, but before the blue giant could say a word, Mo's expression turned stern again.

Mo apologized, "Look, I didn't mean to be so harsh. It's just that the revolution didn't really kick off until you three came here to help us. If you three get killed now, the revolution would fall with you."
Hera replied, "Mo, if that's your name, we'll just be very careful, and take note of any weaknesses the mutants have."
Mo sighed, "Get back here after, if you even can, take out one of those overgrown lumps."
Atroxia hesitated, as her twin sister and Hera went on ahead to the sewers. The red lion called out after them, "I'll catch up with you soon!"

Atroxia turned to Mo. "See here, mister, I want to thank you for saving my hide back in the desert."
Mo said, "You don't have to be so formal. I try to get everyone to call me Mo, but you can call me Timothy. Just not in front of everyone else."
The red lion nodded. "Got it."
"Anyway, an enemy of an enemy is a friend, miss... Well, I didn't really get your name either."
"I'm Atroxia, you can call me Attie."
"I suppose that nickname's only for a few," Mo smiled slightly when he said this.
Atroxia smiled back at the gunman. "The few that I trust," she said.
"Fine. I'll be frank, I am getting a bit soft on ye, but that's because I care," Mo said, and went closer to Atroxia. He continued, "So, be careful at the sewers, ok? I wouldn't like you or the other two to be the mutants' next meal."
Atroxia shook hands with Mo, and said confidently, "Don't worry, we can handle this, somehow."
"Good luck to ye, you'll need it," said Mo. He waved at Atroxia as she strode off, and thought to himself, "I'd hate to lose her so soon."

--------

Soon, the three women were standing near a narrow rusty pipe on the ground, just as wide as half of Hera. The pipe was one way to enter the sewer. "I'm going to have a look," said Hera. She knelt down and stuck her head into the pipe. "Flashlight please," she said, her voice echoing in the pipe. Artisa drew a flashlight and gave it to her. Hera shone the flashlight down the pipe, into the sewer. She then wished she hadn't, because she saw several misshapen giants in the sewer, along with some pigs.

The giants appeared to have things welded to them, and black unkempt hair stuffed into topknots. They each had one big hand and one small hand. Hera noticed that the mutants had third hands, when they turned slightly. The blue giant quickly pulled her head out of the sewer, looking rather ill under her gas mask.
"What did you see?" Atroxia wondered.

"Stick your head in there and see for yourself. Is there a broodmother creating all these things?" Hera groaned.
"When did Fallout have a mother of a thousand young? Shub-Niggurath?" Atroxia mumbled as she looked into the sewer. Like Hera, she looked ill shortly after. "Seems these monsters are stoking the furnaces."
"Better take some photos, but how can we make sure the monsters don't come out to attack us when they see the flash?" Artisa pondered the question.
"Doesn't your camera have a flash option?" Atroxia snorted. "I mean, flash options and zooms are standard nowadays."
"But my camera clicks," Artisa fussed.
"Clap a muffler over it? We're talking out here and the mutants haven't turned to us. I'm guessing they don't attack as long as we don't strike first," said Hera. "There's some loud hissing in there, from the furnaces, I'd say."

Artisa nervously looped the cord of the camera around her wrist, then put the camera through the sewer's opening. She aimed the camera at one of the mutants, waited until the display showed said mutant, and pressed the button. Click went the camera, and Artisa quickly pulled it out. Atroxia and Hera looked at the picture. "Clear," Hera said. "Needs more of them, though. I'll snap the next few ones."
The white lion was glad to let the sky-blue giant handle the picture-taking. After some time, Hera stood up and looked through the pictures. The giant nodded as she examined the pictures, her long black ponytail swinging from side to side. "Should be enough proof," she said. "Come on, let's get back to Curb."
The twins stood up and followed Hera back to the neighborhood.

--------

Curb said to General Smash, "Now see here, you're just one general! The others don't exactly know you. How do you expect to rally us when you're not too sure of the situation here? The tyrant's not just any old tyrant you can shoot down, his bodyguards are monstrous. Speaking of which, the three beasties should be back right about now."
The three women did return, as Curb said. The general decided not to reply, instead, he turned to the three ladies and bowed to them.
Hera went up to Curb and gave him Artisa's camera. "Mister Curb, we've got some pictures of the monsters in the sewer. I say we should all work together to get rid of them," Hera said to the elderly trader.
Curb gestured to Mo, who was sitting nearby. Mo went over to Curb, and the latter whispered into his ear. Mo nodded and ran off. "Got him to call the others," Curb said quietly. "They should be here soon."

About fifteen minutes later, ten or so traders arrived, each carrying a gun. The traders stood in front of Curb, who ordered them to sit. "Was he an army major?" General Smash wondered when the traders sat in a neat formation.
Mo rolled his eyes at the general. "No, just a man who has a way with words," he replied.
There was a projector, linked to a card reader, and a large cloth draped in front of the projector. Curb took out the card from the camera, and placed it in the reader. He tapped at the reader's buttons until he got to the first picture of the sewer mutant. Curb then asked Hera to control the slideshow, as he began to speak to the other revolutionaries.

Seeing that Curb was now engrossed in his presentation, Mo took the chance to get closer to Atroxia. The red lion merely looked at him. The sandy-haired trader stood beside her in silence. When Curb spoke about organizing an attack on the mutants out in the desert, General Smash spoke up. "Isn't there someone who can lure those things according to your plan?" the general asked the old man.
"Trina Tuner," replied Curb. Without missing a beat, he continued, "The Blastermaster locked her up, which is unfortunate."
The revolutionaries shuddered when Curb mentioned Trina's imprisonment. Atroxia whispered to Mo, "That bad?"
"Believe me, Attie, he's horrible to everyone, especially the women," Mo replied quietly.
"Why women?"
"They called him a chump, a loser. Though his fortune turned upside down when the Ashen War was all said and done. Now he's exacting his revenge," Mo sighed heavily.
"I shouldn't have asked," muttered Atroxia.

One of the revolutionaries, who had scars all over his forearms, raised his hand. "What do you have to say?" Curb asked him.
"I heard that Trina's stuck in the Blunderdome right now," the revolutionary said. "Saw more guards hanging around than usual."
"Thanks, Striker," Curb said to the scarred trader, who sat down. "As you can see, the plan might just become easier if we can get Trina out of the Dome," Curb told the rest of the audience.
Mo coughed, and Curb turned to face him. "I volunteer to help Trina," said Mo.
"Us too," Hera, Artisa and Atroxia remarked. Curb shook his head at Hera.
The old trader explained, "It's nothing personal, but you're a bit too large, blue-eyes. The best way to save Trina is the stealthy way."
Hera wasn't too pleased, but she knew better than to meddle with Curb's strategies. She sat down and fiddled with her own gun.

"You may leave unless you also want to volunteer for this rescue mission. If not, then prepare for the mutants' eradication," Curb then addressed the audience. The group of revolutionaries left. Curb said to General Smash, "You can help out when the attack on the mutants begins."
The general saluted Curb, and went after the other revolutionaries. Curb turned back to face Mo. "You've heard Striker mention more guards around the Blunderdome, but I'd like to know if you have any ideas," Curb said to the gunman.
Mo replied, "The guards are obviously hiding Trina."
"Besides that? If we rescue her, she'll be helpful in the next plan of attack, but this could very well be the last straw for the Blastermaster," Curb said. "How do you want to go about it, though?"
"We'll have to take out the guards first, or things would turn bad before you can say your ancestors' names," Mo explained.
"You've got a good plan so far, but what about the weapons?"
Mo replied, "I'll show the newcomers where we keep our weapons."
Curb answered, "Good. Be careful out there, alright?"

Mo said to the lion twins, "Come, I'll show you where the weapons are."
The twins went after Mo as he walked into the storeroom behind Curb's hovel. He opened the door and entered quietly. "You might find something you like in here," he said. "Though you might as well try to find something quiet, since we need silence for this rescue." Artisa and Atroxia came into the storeroom as Mo remarked, "We don't have all day to save the starlet, though."
"I'll show you what I find, if I get something," Artisa said, then walked to the far side of the storeroom. As the white twin went off, Mo gestured to Atroxia. The red lion went over to him.
Mo whispered, "I'm glad you two volunteered to help Trina, but I didn't expect it."
"It's not like we can do much right now without a powerful lure," replied Atroxia.

"You're right, but there's another reason I felt glad when you volunteered," Mo said.
"What is it?" Atroxia tilted her head in confusion.
"That I could be near you."
"Duty calls, first of all," Atroxia retorted.
"I hear you, but I wanted you to feel a bit better," Mo answered, taking the red lion's hand.
"We'd feel even better if the Blastermaster was down for good."
Mo laughed scornfully. "Anyone with half a brain would realize that," he chuckled. "Not just us, though. I'm willing to bet that everyone in Trader Town would be glad once that shriveled tyrant's down," the gunman continued. He soon looked solemn, and remarked, "We still have to be careful, in case that despot's got a trick up his sleeves."
"You're right," Atroxia breathed deeply.

Mo looked around, but Artisa wasn't anywhere nearby. The gunman whispered to Atroxia, "I don't know about you, but would you agree to kiss me?"
"A good luck kiss?" Atroxia rolled her eyes. "I don't feel like admitting Artisa's right, yet."
Mo smiled. "You could keep it a secret, just like I am," he said.
"Alright," Atroxia then held Mo and pressed her lips against his. They kissed for a while, until they heard faint footsteps. The red lion quickly pulled herself away from Mo as Artisa came near.
"Mo, is this any good?" the white twin asked, showing Mo a rifle. The gunman examined the rifle and nodded.
"Bit rusty, but it can still take someone out," he said. Artisa remained silent, so Mo continued, "Let's go."
The twins followed Mo out of the storeroom, and passed by Curb. "I wish them luck," the elderly trader thought to himself.

"Now, don't sneak to the dome. Just walk normally. I'll keep an eye out," Mo said to the lion twins when they saw the Blunderdome in the distance. They nodded. The group walked across the stretch of land without drawing any undue attention.
"Ok, what now?" Atroxia whispered to Mo. Artisa leaned close to her twin.
The gunman replied quietly, "Seen the way the Dome is made? It's just a metallic mesh with large holes in a dome shape. The holes are big enough for us to get through."
"Right, but what do we do with the guards?" Artisa wondered.
Mo answered, "Kill them and make sure there's no sound at all."
"I suppose I shouldn't fire the rifle, then," Artisa whispered.
"Exactly. Use it as a club," Mo said. He peered into the distance. "Three of them right now," he remarked. "We'll each take on a guard. When I close my hand like this, finish them off," Mo said, showing the twins his signal. Atroxia patted the poison vials strapped to the bullet belt across her chest, while Artisa drew a piece of cloth and took it out from the nearby stone. The guards paced about, they didn't notice the three fighters hiding in the shade.

Mo hissed, "You two ready?"
"Yes," they whispered at once. When the guards stood still, the fighters crept up behind each of them. Mo took out an old, sturdy knife, and raised it, while Atroxia pulled out a vial of sleeping poison and opened it. Artisa held the rifle like a bat, and raised it to shoulder height. Mo closed his left fist, and the twins promptly attacked. Atroxia forced the contents of the poison vial down her guard's throat and choked him, while Artisa had smashed her guard's neck with one strong blow from the rifle's butt. Mo slit his guard's throat and covered the dying man's mouth, as Artisa stuffed the cloth into her guard's mouth.

"Good job," Mo said, looking at the very dead guards. The lion twins looked around. Atroxia noticed a slight movement in a dark corner of the dome. The three of them appproached the corner. A dark-skinned woman with sunken eyes and white hair in a sparkly green dress crouched in the corner of the dome. "Trina?" Artisa asked softly. The white-haired woman nodded.
Mo said to the starlet, "We'll get you out of here, miss Trina."
Trina stared at him, then gasped, "Tim, you're alive!"
"Yeah, I did volunteer to help you out, though I didn't expect it to be in this sort of situation," Mo replied.
Artisa said hurriedly, "We can catch up on the past after we get out of here, Mo. Trina, can you run?" The starlet nodded. "Good. Now's the time to split," said the white twin. Trina stood up, and they quickly made their way back to Curb's hovel.

--------

When the lions, Mo, and Trina returned, the wastelander twins were scuttling around the hovel. "Look! The star's safe!" Stone pointed Trina out.
"Thanks to us," said Mo. "She's safe and sound for now."
"Ooh, sorry, Trina, but our home's not exactly much," Stick apologized to the white-haired starlet.
Trina sighed, "It's better than the Blastermaster, at any rate."
"He's been horrible to you, right?" Atroxia asked pointedly. At the red lion's question, the wastelander kids started fidgeting and fussing for Artisa, who escorted them away.
"The Blastermaster's so mean, I don't think we want to hear what he did to the ladies, uncle Curb's told us he's very, very bad. Death's better than going through what he did, uncle said," the wastelander twins' fussing could be heard in the distance.
Trina remarked, "The kids are right. Sometimes, I wished I could just die. Believe me, you're better off not knowing."
"So, do you know if the Blastermaster's weak to anything?" Atroxia wondered, as she decided not to press Trina any further.

Trina replied, "Which? The chump himself, or his pet beast?"
"Both," said Atroxia.
"Ok, the chump is nothing without his pet hulk, but the hulk itself is weaponized. I'd take out the hulk if I were you."
Mo rolled his eyes. "Come on! I'm sure that pet hulk would be as tough, if not tougher than the mutants working for the chump!"
Trina looked at him, quite surprised. "I thought the mutants were dealt with!" she said.
Curb came out of the hovel at that moment. "That's where you come in, miss Trina," said the old man.

"Me? But what could I do?" the starlet was still very surprised.
Curb clasped his hands. "I was thinking, after a good rest or so, if you'd be willing to record a brief singing performance for use as the mutants' bait. You weren't called the Silver Nightingale for nothing."
"I'm willing," Trina replied. "As long as I don't have to face the Blastermaster again."
"You won't, that's our promise," Curb bowed, then ushered the starlet into the hovel. Mo and Atroxia could hear the old trader explaining his plan to Trina.

Mo stretched and remarked, "I'm getting a little tired myself, Attie."
"It wouldn't do to be tired," replied Atroxia.
"There's a tree that I sleep in if there's nothing to do in the afternoon. I'll show you the way."
"After you, Mo," Atroxia said, and followed Mo. They soon arrived at the tree, and Mo let Atroxia climb first. When the red lion was up in the tree, Mo swung himself upwards so that he was on the same branch as her. "Might as well sleep first," Atroxia murmured.
"You're really getting comfortable, Attie," Mo said, but they curled up and soon fell asleep.

--------

In the hovel's main room, Curb told the wastelander twins to get something for Trina to eat and drink. The kids darted off, and returned with a packet of crackers as well as a bottle of water. Artisa sat in front of Trina and asked, "What's the deal with the Silver Nightingale?"
Trina replied, "A nickname the paparazzi coined, but that was long before the Ashen War began."
As the starlet poured the water into a cup and drank it, Artisa wondered, "Could you show me how you sing?"
Trina put down the cup, wiped her mouth, and nodded. She said, "I'll sing you an old favorite of the pre-Ashen times."
The wastelander twins came into the main room, as did Curb. Trina started singing about a warrior who took up their father's mantle and did battle with a beast, then the wastelander twins joined in. They continued singing until the song ended. Artisa rubbed her hands. "That song sounds familiar."
"Good music is timeless, you see," Curb said.

Trina looked at Curb and asked, "Have you got any recording equipment? Some players, anything?"
"I certainly do, my friend," Curb said and took out three very tiny square things. "These are music players," he explained, as the square things rested on his palm. "They can record your singing, too. You need enormous speakers if you want the wasteland to hear the music," the elderly man continued, taking out some long wires. "These are the wires for the speakers and the music players," he said, giving the things to Trina.

Hera squeezed into the hovel at that moment. "Oh, hello," she said, when she saw Trina. "What's the plan now?" the blue giant asked Curb.
Trina answered, "I'm providing my voice as bait for the attack later this evening."
"As... A recording, right?" asked Hera. Trina nodded.
Curb stood up. "Trina, perhaps you would like to start recording your music now? You can do so in the dugout," the old man waved at the star to follow him. Hera tagged along, and Curb showed them a trapdoor. "That's the dugout I meant," he said, and pulled up the trapdoor. Hera shrugged, but Trina entered the dugout.

As soon as Trina entered the dugout, she called out, "It's fine, you can come in too, well, miss."
"Hera," the giant said her name, and clambered into the dugout.
Curb smiled. "I'll leave you to make some great recordings," he said, and went back to the main room.

Hera turned on the light, Trina struck a pose. "When I say I'm ready, press that record button, and I'll rock!" Trina said.
"Don't you need music?" Hera asked the starlet.
"I can sing without music," Trina explained. "I was once called a nightingale for my singing."
"I see," Hera replied, fiddling with the music players. "Ready to record, Trina," she said.
"Ok, I'm ready to roll! When I hold up my hand, stop the recording, cause that song's done." Trina said. Hera pressed the record button on each music player, and Trina began singing at the top of her voice.

Several songs later, Trina took a breather from her singing. Hera took out the headphones of her music player and connected them to one of Curb's players. "Just testing the recording," the giant said. She let Trina listen to them. The starlet smiled, the recordings of her singing were loud and clear. "Think we should make any more recordings?" asked Hera.
"You can never have too much of music, that's my motto," Trina replied. "You know what to do now, don't you?"
Hera nodded, and they continued making all sorts of recordings. The duo probably made about twenty recordings when they were done. They tested the new recordings, and found them satisfactory. The two went out of the dugout, and told Curb about their recordings. The old man nodded approvingly.

To be continued...

*French: Stupid!

< Message edited by Crystal Lion -- 12/30/2011 2:50:25 >
AQ DF MQ AQW Epic  Post #: 10
2/4/2012 8:05:44   
Crystal Lion
Member

In which a trial by time still goes on.

In the meantime, Atroxia woke with a start and looked about. It was mid-afternoon. Atroxia stretched herself, and Mo woke up soon after. "The battle!" Atroxia exclaimed.
"It's starting soon," Mo said. "Let's get back."
"Right on," replied Atroxia. The two fighters climbed down from the tree and began walking back to the neighborhood.

As Mo and Atroxia walked, the red lion asked him, "Aren't you worried about this battle? I saw the mutants, they don't look easy to fight, at all."
"Worrying won't do you much good," Mo replied. "All you can do is be careful. Curb's idea was to take them out at a distance, basically."
"Mo... I've got to say this," Atroxia paused. Mo looked at her as she gathered the courage to speak. "It would be a pity if you got killed in this battle."
"Same if you were dead."
"What do you mean?" Atroxia wondered, her large black eyes fixed on Mo.
"It's sappy, but I'd be in a living hell if you were dead, as well as the rest of the town."
"Because the revolution would be over before you know what's next," Atroxia sighed. She looked up at the sky. "I don't want all this effort to go to waste."

"Where are you from, anyway?" Mo asked bluntly.
"You know I'm a stranger," Atroxia replied, stopping in her tracks. "Ok, would you believe me? My story is too bizarre."
"I'd ask for proof."
"Don't be too shocked," said Atroxia. "I was sent here, with my sister and the tall blue lady, by a sorcerer to help your town out. Being the Hercules of our time, so to speak."
"Hercules had to perform more than one task back then, didn't he?" Mo said in surprise.
"It's our third task. The sorcerer only gave us four tasks to perform," Atroxia explained. "Please don't think I'm a goddess, or anything like that."

Mo folded his arms. "I hope wherever you came from was much nicer than this wreck, Attie," he said.
Atroxia swallowed, and said, "You'd probably consider my time heaven."
"Better than this wasteland, at any rate. If you were a goddess, though, you'd just appear when you felt like it, or have stopped the Ashen War in the first place!" Mo said bitterly. "You're not a goddess, obviously, if you needed the help of a mage to send you here. The fallout hasn't fried my head yet."
"I wouldn't make a great goddess anyway," Atroxia muttered, and kicked at the sand with her foot.

Mo clenched his hands, then relaxed. "I wonder, could you show me what the past was like, after you save this town?"
"What about Curb? I don't think he'd want to see you go so soon."
"No, I'm not, I'm not going to abandon him. He's been practically a father to me after the Ashen War. I'm sorry if I made you think that," Mo looked down at his feet in shame.
Atroxia went up to Mo and put a hand on his shoulder. "Tell him if you still want to follow me back. I hope he understands," she said.
Mo looked up at the red lion, hugged her, and said, "He might, but I don't want him to think I'm the kind to run away."
"If you've been helping him all this time, he hasn't got much reason to say that you're a coward," said Atroxia. "Still, we'd better get back before the others start looking for us."
"Can't exactly distract them with our newfound closeness, can we?" Mo quipped, and Atroxia chuckled softly in reply. The two thin fellows let go of each other, then scurried back to Curb's hovel.

--------

Mo and Atroxia got back to Curb's hovel, just as Artisa went out to look for her twin sister. "You're back!" Artisa shouted, waving her arms. "Quick, get inside!"
The gunman and the red lion promptly entered. Curb was there. The old man now had armor made from old metal scraps covering his torso. "I hope you had a good rest, Mo," the old man said.
"I did," Mo replied. Atroxia tried to act her usual tough self.
"That's good. We're going to launch the attack at five p.m," said Curb.

Hera looked into the room. "Got speakers?" she asked. "Preferably big ones!"
"Striker has some," Curb replied. "Mo, could you go ask him for the large speakers?"
"Alright, Curb." The sandy-haired wastelander got up and left the hovel. Hera squeezed into the room and sat on the floor, just to avoid knocking her head on the ceiling.

Moments later, Mo returned and said, "Striker can help us set up the speakers in the desert by the Ridges, but he needs transport to help carry the speakers there."
Curb looked at the lion twins and Hera. "Time for the Dollarean," the old man said.
The twins went over to him. "Can we come?" Stick asked.
Curb replied, "This battle's a bit too large for you to get into."

"But uncle," Stick whined in a wobbly voice. "We wanna help!"
Her brother looked up at Curb, with big, big eyes. The old man patted the kids' heads.
Mo spoke to the kids, "This isn't a game, and Curb's right, it's too large for you to help out."
The kids looked very sad, and sank to the ground. Atroxia patted Mo's shoulder, and he turned to look at her. "What is it, Attie?" he asked.
"Couldn't they help out at the end?" the red lion asked him. The wastelander kids stared at her.
"But they're kids! What can they do?" Mo protested.
"If they don't fool about, they can help throw grenades, or keep an eye out for the mutants," Atroxia said. She felt that was the most she had ever said, then she began to feel very foolish.

"Please, uncle, we promise we won't be silly," Stone pleaded and tugged on Curb's shirt.
"I know you two won't be, I'm just worried that someone will have to look after you if you can't help out in the battle."
"Well, sir," Atroxia began. "They could help by throwing grenades at the mutants?"
"We'll be really careful, we'll stay close to you!" Stick cried and looked at the old man. She looked with puppy eyes at Mo, who relented and nodded.
"Alright, then, kids. You can follow us to the battle," Curb said.

Artisa looked at her twin sister. "How did you get a way with words?" she thought. "Or is that a way with kids?"
Mo put his arm around the red lion's thin shoulders. "Hey, don't do that," Atroxia hissed at him.
Mo quickly took his arm away. "Just wanted to say you're a good friend," he said. They heard loud shouting from outside.

"Who can drive this?" Striker shouted from outside the hovel. Hera squeezed out of the hovel and saw the scarred wastelander pacing beside the Dollarean.
"I know someone who can. Three, in fact, though that doesn't include me," Hera said, and squeezed back into the hovel. She called to the lions and General Smash. They followed her, and Curb did too. Mo and the wastelander kids looked out curiously.

"Get everyone here, for one last briefing," Curb said to Sump, who had just arrived at the hovel.
"Yes, sir," Sump replied and ran back to the neighborhood. Striker began loading the parts for the sound system into the back of the Dollarean. General Smash, who had just turned up, began helping the scarred wastelander to load the parts.

--------

Finally, the wastelanders who had volunteered for the battle were gathered in front of Curb's hovel. The lion twins, Hera, Mo, and General Smash were sitting next to Curb, while the other wastelanders were sitting and facing the elderly man. "Look, this is the final briefing of our plan of attack for the mutants in the sewer. I suggest that you pay attention," Curb said to everyone, even the two wastelander kids walking nearby. "We're going to draw the mutants out of their main entrance in the Ridge Valley."

"Now, it would be best if the fire was lined up all along the valley. I suggest that all of you get into groups of two or three, and each group lines up along the valley like this..." Curb began explaining to the audience, pointing to the diagram he had drawn once more in the sand.
"Shouldn't there be something to slow the mutants down? We can't afford to have them run all the way to the end of the valley and try to climb up," Sump remarked.
"Scatter mines here, as I mentioned before," Curb said and pointed at the large arrow in the middle of the diagram. "We'll have to set up everything, leaving the sound system for last."

"Curb, who's going to attract the mutants, if Trina's singing is not loud enough to do that?" Mo asked the old man. Curb looked concerned.
"I don't want to risk any of your lives, we need all the hands we can get," the old man said quietly.
"Ask that woman in the white shirt and black pants?" Mo whispered to Curb.
"You, miss?" Curb immediately asked Artisa, who stood up.
"Yes sir?" she asked.
Mo whispered to Curb, "She could make things come to life, just by drawing them."
"Really, now?" Curb whispered back. He spoke loudly to Artisa, "What can you do to help, by drawing, or anything else?"

Artisa shifted on her feet, and said, "I might not be a very good shot, unlike Hera, but I could draw something that can distract the mutants from attacking us."
"That's fair enough, but can you throw well?" Curb asked.
"I could, sir."
"At least you could do something," the old man said, and began talking about the mines. In short, he said that after placing the mines, the mine-men should quickly find sniping positions along the ridge, in small groups like the rest of the wastelanders.

After the briefing, the volunteers got ready to leave. Striker brought some irradiated potatoes in a sack. "You can't eat them!" Atroxia snorted in annoyance, though the scarred wastelander stuffed the sack into the boot of the Dollarean.
"Attie, those are a source of electricity," Mo explained to her.
"I don't see how," Atroxia retorted.
"Kind of a long story. If we ever get out of here alive, I'll tell you more."

"Hey! Get a move on!" Hera shouted. She squeezed into the car with some difficulty. Mo and Atroxia leapt onto the top of the car, and hung on there. The sandy-haired wastelander checked that his trusty gun was with him. Artisa climbed into the back of the car, and had no choice but to lean partly on Hera, and sit on the floor. Everyone else was ready to go.

--------

The Dollarean drove over the plains, with General Smash at the wheel. The lion twins, Mo, and Hera were piled in the car, as well as Striker. The rest of the wastelanders rode their motorbikes, keeping up with the car. Curb and the wastelander kids rode their motorbike in the middle of the group. Trina stayed behind with the other traders that didn't go.

It took some time, but the entourage arrived at the Ridge. Everyone got down or out from their vehicles, and the six men who had volunteered to scatter the mines did just that. The mine-men crept close to the sewer's larger entrance, and began placing the mines. The mines were buried with a thin layer of sand over them, to hide the mines from the mutants' eyesight.
"Not like they had much to see with, in the first place," one of the mine-men whispered.
"Quiet!" another mine-man hissed. "Do you want to ruin the plan?" he whispered harshly. The first mine-man shook his head, and they continued their work.

Mo bowed his head to Curb, who was surveying the valley. "I'm going to the part of the ridge closest to the entrance, with Atroxia," he said. The old man nodded and waved him on. Curb continued directing the wastelanders to their positions. In the end, the ones who could shoot better were concentrated on the middle ridges and the end of the valley. Mo was the only sharpshooter assigned close to the sewer entrance.

"What about us?" General Smash asked, as Artisa stood behind him.
"Find your own place after setting up the sound system," Curb said. "Or, go as close to the sewer entrance as you can. On the ridges, of course."
"Okay then," the general replied, and strode off. Curb looked at Artisa, then asked her to follow him.

As the other wastelanders settled into position, General Smash and Striker carried the heavy speakers, one by one, to the ridge overlooking the end of the valley. Hera followed suit, carrying the music players containing Trina's latest singing, as well as a CD player and some CDs with Trina's singing before the Ashen War. General Smash went back to the Dollarean, and took out an amplifier. The two men and the giant began setting up the sound system. When it was done, Hera placed her hand on the remote control, ready to turn the system on...

"Wait a minute!" Curb shouted to Hera, just before she turned on the speakers. The giant put down the remote control. She saw Artisa standing beside the old man. Curb turned to Artisa and began speaking to her, while he waved at Hera to lay her hands off the remote. Striker got ready to fire, and sat close to the sound system, while General Smash made his way towards the sewer entrance.

"They like Trina's music so much that they'd lumber out as fast as they can," Curb explained. "So draw something that can slow them down for a while, we want to save those mines."
Artisa nodded, and turned to the rocky cliff behind her. She felt about for a smooth rock face, and took out her paintbrush as she did so. Eventually, she found a suitable rock to paint on, and she started on her decoys.
"Now, blue lady, you should only start the music after your friend's finished her thing," Curb said to Hera, who waved her hand and nodded to show that she understood. Curb went back up the ridge as quickly as he could. "Age certainly is getting to me," the old man puffed, and he slowed to a walk. He saw the wastelander kids waiting on the ledge, a pile of grenades sitting beside them.

The kids waved to Curb, and he smiled back.
"Look, uncle!" Stone pointed at the figures Artisa was drawing. "Funny men!" he said.
"Those aren't men! They're imps!" his sister remarked.
"Imps aren't that tall!" Stone retorted.
"Are too!"
Curb kept watch, knowing that the attack would begin as soon as the music started. The children continued arguing about the figures.

General Smash was sitting on a rocky outcrop, also near to the sewer entrance, but the general could only see up to a large piece of rock that hid Mo from his sight. The general saw Atroxia run up to the large piece of rock and go behind it. "What is she doing?" wondered the general, but he decided he could ask later.
As the white twin painted the strange creatures with twiggy legs, thin arms and little heads, Hera set up the speakers with Striker's help. Artisa started on the beasts' bodies, which looked as if they had their backs smashed into a pulp and forced into squiggly shapes, so that their bellies and back ends stuck out and their chests were sunken.

At the ridge near the sewer entrance, Mo gave a shotgun to Atroxia. "I hope you know how to shoot," he said. "I know you didn't get to take a gun with you."
"I'm not Hera, that's the big blue gunslinger!" Atroxia snorted. Mo smacked his forehead in annoyance.
"Quickly, now, hold it with your hands like I'm doing," Mo said to her. Atroxia held the gun so that her left hand was on the trigger. "Left-handed, huh?" the sandy-haired man remarked.
"Indeed. Fully loaded, I hope?"
"I have the ammunition for it. Have you ever handled a gun in your life?" the sandy-haired gunman asked. Atroxia shook her head again.

Mo sighed. "Looks like I'll have to show you how to load that shotgun," he said. "Now look here, that small red button under the trigger is the safety. Press it..." Mo said, guiding the red lion through the loading process. She eventually managed to open the chamber of the shotgun without dropping the whole thing. "I'll cover for you when you're reloading," Mo said, though not unkindly. "Remember to release the safety when you're done."
"I should've taken Hera's offer of shooting lessons," Atroxia thought to herself. She wanted to take off her gas mask and wipe the few beads of sweat off her forehead, but she was a little afraid that Mo would shout in fear or laugh at her appearance.

Back at the end of the valley, Artisa sent the twenty strange beasts towards the large cave opening in the distance. The creatures wobbled along on the sand with their back ends swaying about, making Stick and Stone giggle. Curb wondered if the grotesque creatures could do the job. Then he noticed the spindly claws sprouting from each of the figures' hands.

He saw Artisa run quickly up the slope, and the men stationed there block the path after she got through. So Curb told the kids, "Get ready to throw stuff at the monsters, okay?"
"Yes, uncle!" the kids replied.
Artisa shouted to Hera to turn on the music, and made her way to the giant's side. She quickly drew some more grenades, and added them to the pile close to Striker.

"I want you, to make believe it's the first time ever..." the speakers blared after Hera fiddled with the volume. The stick men that Artisa had cast continued scurrying to the sewer. They honked, they chirped, and made all sorts of silly noises, waving their claws about. A mutant poked its head out of the sewer, and the figures pounced on it, screeching and clawing at its great fat body.
"Weird things for my sister to make," Atroxia said.
"As long as they work, who cares what they look like?" Mo asked rhethorically.
"Wastelander survivalism, right?"
"Yeah..." Mo sighed.

The mutant grabbed one of the stick men and threw it down, but the stick man hopped back up and sunk its claws into the mutant's topknot. Then more mutants rumbled out of the sewer. The figures chirruped and some of them rushed onto the mutants, making the behemoths lumber about in confusion.

"Stay your fire, Attie. I want to see if the landmines affect those beasts," Mo said. A mutant with two stick men clinging to it stepped onto a landmine sticking halfway out of the sand, and its lower half was blasted into bits. The stick men clinging to the remains cheeped, unhooked their claws, and went to annoy the mutants wandering around outside.

"Quickly now," Mo said to Atroxia, and he got ready to fire at the mutants. The red lion followed suit and managed to shoot one of the mutants in its neck.
"Not bad at all. Aim higher the next time," Mo remarked. The red lion snorted in acknowledgement.

The overgrown lumps of flesh had enough of the stick men, and lumbered further away from the sewer. They heard the speakers blaring, "Make believe it's the... Make believe it's the... Make believe it's the first time."
The mutants lumbered in the direction of the music. The gunmen stationed along the ridges began firing, yet the mutants lumbered on. However, the stickmen caught up to the overgrown mutants, and the ugly clawed figures began fighting with the mutants, giving enough time for the wastelanders to shoot the fat three-handed creatures.

A mutant that managed to evade the stick men shuffled along the valley and was nearly at the end when Hera saw it. "Fire!" Hera shouted and raised her gun. The blue giant hit the mutant square in its head, and the monster's brains dribbled out. The monster keeled over with a rather loud thud. Striker looked at her in surprise, then quickly readied his gun in case more mutants got to the end of the valley.

Stick threw a grenade at another mutant that lumbered along the valley. The mutant looked up and swallowed the round thing. Stick and her brother stared at the mutant as its head exploded into pieces.

"Love will find a way and it's always true," the speakers continued blaring. By this time, Mo had run out of ammunition for his gun. Atroxia's shotgun was out of ammunition as well. The two thin people looked at each other.
"This is it... We're both out of ammo," Atroxia muttered.
"I hope the others all make it," Mo said. "Though with your sister and the big blue lady helping, they should be able to."
"They should," Atroxia sighed, then unconsciously fiddled with the torn edge of her gas mask.

"I've been wondering what you look like under that broken gas mask," the sandy-haired gunman remarked.
"Mo, look, I'm not very beautiful," the red lion protested. "Everyone thinks I look like a boy, and I have to tell them I'm she..."
Mo chuckled lightly. "You can't be looking any worse than the mutants in the sewer. Prove it."
Atroxia sighed heavily. "Get ready, then," she muttered, and pulled off the gas mask in one swift moment. Her thick black hair puffed out around her head, and she pushed it back into her usual style.
Mo stared at the black-haired woman in front of him. "You're not too bad," he said, feeling rather surprised. "Why do you keep bringing yourself down over that?"

Atroxia looked away, then said quietly, "Each time I told anyone my real gender, they all thought I was the ugliest thing since a Gorgon."
"You can't turn people into stone with one look, or I'd be a statue right now," Mo quipped. That made Atroxia look at him. "Seriously, though, looks aren't any good if you don't have a good heart. There could be a girl that was Venus' double, but she could be mean to everyone she met."

General Smash watched the sewer carefully, until he was certain that there were no more mutants in there. He shouted to a sniper sitting quite a distance away from him, "Pass the message: They've all come out!"
"They've all come out!" the sniper yelled to the next one up ahead, and so on, until the message reached Curb at the end of the valley. The old man quickly ordered everyone to unleash all their might. The wastelanders began shooting, while the little kids and Artisa flung the grenades at the mutants.

Atroxia looked away. "You're a great shot, Mo," she said.
"I had to practice for a reason," the sandy-haired gunman replied. "Our lives here have been a nightmare ever since the Ashen War ended."
"I'm going to stop it, I swear!" Atroxia placed a hand on her chest.
"Even if it means we might never meet?" Mo asked her.
Atroxia hesitated. "Even then," she replied, her voice a little harsh from holding back her tears. "If stopping the war means that my only chance at love is gone..."
"Then stop the war anyway. Nothing's worth the nightmare of a nuclear armageddon," Mo sighed. "Not even our love."
"I will, I promise," the red lion's voice was husky. Atroxia took several deep breaths, then spoke in a calmer voice, "Might be a bit early to give you a memory of our love, but..."

"But what?" Mo asked her. "What are you thinking of?"
Atroxia promptly hugged the gunman and kissed his cheek. "Something along those lines," she said. "Go ahead and kiss me."
Mo closed his eyes, and leaned towards Atroxia. The red lion held his head gently, and pressed her lips against his. She purred as she kissed the gunman. Mo put his arms around Atroxia and stroked her back, feeling the rumbling near his heart from the lion's purring.
"So this is what I've been missing all along," Mo thought to himself. He could feel Atroxia's soft thick hair brushing against his face as he kissed her. The gunman then leaned away from the red lion, pulling his lips away from hers.

The music stopped at that moment, as Hera turned off the sound system after all the mutants were killed. Artisa dismissed the ugly stick men, and they faded into nothing.

Atroxia began nuzzling Mo when he stopped kissing her. The gunman stroked the lion's thick black hair, liking how it felt under his fingers. After a few moments, the couple stepped back from each other. "Let's get back to the others," Atroxia said. "I want to know if they managed to finish off the mutants."
Mo let go of her and stood up. He gave the broken gas mask back to Atroxia, and she quickly put it on after pushing her fringe out of the way.

The pair went to the end of the valley, where the other wastelanders had gathered. Atroxia quickly let go of Mo's hand before she greeted the others.
"We did it!" Sump shouted happily. "Now the Blastermaster's workforce has been taken care of, we can face him on!"

Curb looked sternly at the excitable wastelander. "Don't get too jumpy now, the Blastermaster's not an easy thing to dispatch," he said.
"Curb, if we can take out the hulk, the gnome would be easy to finish off," Mo said, looking at the old man.
"Just how do you plan to take him out?" Curb asked the sandy-haired gunman. "Snipe him? Won't exactly be an easy feat to accomplish."
Hera raised her skinny arm. "Mister Curb, I think we'd be able to plan better at your place," she said.
General Smash added, "Might as well, there's nothing more we can do here."

"Right then," Curb replied. "Get the sound system back to the town!" he ordered everyone. The wastelanders, the general, and the three women began helping to dismantle the sound system, and pack it back into the Dollarean. The people then went back to Tradertown on their vehicles, without any incident.

--------

Later that evening, Curb, the three women and Mo were poring over plans of attack in the old man's hovel. Trina was there as well. The singer described the Blastermaster as well as she could. The little wastelander twins were chattering away in the bedroom.

"You can't even get close to the Blastermaster's pet hulk," Trina said nervously. "It's got two massive arms, one with a chainsaw attached."
"The other arm?" Atroxia wondered. Artisa was making a pencil sketch of the monster based on Trina's description.
"It uses a truck tire as its knuckle guards. Even if you could get close to it, it's as big as four of you," Trina said in reply to Atroxia.
Mo asked, "What's on its head?"

"A spiked leather harness when I last saw it. The hulk's body is huge! Five times more muscle than the big blue lady over there, twice as tall to boot. It's got car parts as its armor too."
"I'm not much of a muscle-lady, nor an Amazon," Hera said. "Any other things we should look out for?"
"There's a seat for the gnome himself to sit on. He's tamed the hulk so well that it won't throw him off, as long as the harness remains on it."
Artisa had finished sketching the monster, so she placed the paper on the table. "I hope I got the monster right," she said.

"Considering you three ladies never saw the monster, I'd say that's a pretty good picture," Mo said, then looked askance at Atroxia. The red lion snorted and looked away. The gunman realized that she was simply acting when he saw a faint red tinge to her face.
Just then, there was a knock on the door to the hovel. "Yes, who's there?" Curb asked loudly. He said to Mo, "Take a look, would you?"
The gunman made his way to the door and peered out. It was Sump, and he held an envelope in his hand. Mo said, "It's Sump. Should I let him in?"
"Alright, if he's by himself."
Mo opened the door, but Sump simply put his head around the door. "Ah... A letter for the three strangers, Curb sir," Sump said and held out the envelope. Atroxia strode to the door and took the envelope from the fidgety wastelander's hand. Before the red lion could thank Sump, he left, shutting the door behind him.

Everyone in the main room of the hovel crowded around Atroxia. "Open it!" Artisa urged her twin.
"Alright, alright," the red lion replied, tearing the envelope open. A folded piece of paper fell out, and Hera picked it up. The letter, which had a date on it, read:

Greetings, three stoogettes!
So you think you can beat me just because no man can? Ha ha, I meant no human being can beat me, not only male humans, but females too. I challenge all three of you to battle me at the Dome the morning after you receive this note. You'll be mincemeat and all will see my might!

P.S. Swallowtailed stranger, don't think I have no idea of what you truly are!


"I'm not a stooge!" Hera shouted. She glared at the note. "Who sent this?"
"Sounds like the Blastermaster to me," Mo said grimly. "He's the kind to duel unfairly with anyone who tries to fight him. So far, he's won every single match, no thanks to his hulk helping."
The lion twins looked worried, as did Hera. "A big monster, with arms as wide as two of me, and twice my height..." Hera shivered.
"You three should follow the crowd that will be heading to the Blunderdome tomorrow," Curb said. "If only to hide for a little while before the challenge... I'll inform the others. If they can't do anything to help in the fight, the least they can do is to help boost your morale."

At that moment, Stick and Stone looked into the room. They saw Hera sitting cross-legged with her head in her hands, and the lion twins shivering as they stood next to each other. The kids quickly went back into the bedroom, and pretended to be fast asleep. They could hear the others discussing among themselves, and soon fell asleep for real.

Curb came back into the hovel after informing the other rebels about the duel. He said to the others, "You might as well get some rest. Trina, you'd better get back to Striker's. Be careful, alright?"
Mo got up. "I'll make sure she gets there safely," he said. Atroxia felt a sour sting in her heart as the sandy-haired gunman said this, though she kept quiet. Curb observed the red lion silently as Mo and Trina left the hovel. Time passed, and Mo came back. He nodded to Curb, to say that Trina was still safe and sound at the other rebel's home.

Hera said, "There's not much use staying up and worrying about the battle. Lions, you might want to get some rest. I'm going to."
Curb replied solemnly, "I'm afraid you'll all have to rest here. Our room's too small to hold everyone."
"That's alright, mister," Artisa said, as she began drawing mats to place on the floor.
Mo asked the elderly man, "Is it alright if I sleep out here with them tonight?"
Curb could guess why Mo wanted to do that. He replied, "Yes, you may. Though you don't usually sleep in the same room as the kids anyway. Sleep well."
By then, Artisa had finished creating the mats, and some pillows. She laid the bedding out on the floor. Hera quickly lay down on the oversized mat made especially for her. "Thanks," she said.

Artisa looked at Mo. "Want any bedding?" she asked.
"I'd like that. Thank you," he replied. The white twin quickly made a mat and a pillow for the gunman.
"No wonder you're a sorceror, miss," Mo said. "Things appearing as soon as you draw them."
"Only if I color them," Artisa replied. She yawned, then said to no one in particular, "I hope you sleep well."
Atroxia snorted softly in reply, while Hera raised her hand to acknowledge Artisa's remark. Soon, the four people were lying down in the main room, trying to sleep. Mo looked longingly at Atroxia, and she looked back at him. "If you look at me like that, you might have a hard time sleeping," she hissed at him.
"It could be the last time we ever meet," Mo sighed, but he turned on his side and closed his eyes. The red lion placed her arm across her eyes soon afterwards. It took a long time, but the four finally drifted off to sleep, dreaming about battles.

Atroxia woke up sometime before sunrise. She crept over to Mo and patted his shoulder lightly. When he opened his eyes, Atroxia quickly placed a finger over her mouth, and motioned to him to leave the hovel. The pair quietly got out of the hovel, and into the storeroom. They shut the door behind them and looked at each other.
"Well, this is it..." Atroxia said fearfully. "I might not see you again, Mo."
The sandy-haired gunman quickly hugged her. "I'm afraid for you too," he whispered. "You've done so much for Tradertown already."
"We've got until sunrise for this," Atroxia muttered. Mo placed a hand on the red lion's head. "I can't fail us now, not when I failed once before in my own time."

"What do you mean?" Mo asked curiously. "You failed one of the trials before this?"
"No... It was a battle to protect an important artifact in my time," Atroxia explained. "The nasty old man who tried to steal the artifact succeeded by a landslide, and he claimed that one of the fighters wanted to sell it. Everyone turned on her then. I should have said something, but I didn't know what to say to stop him."
Mo looked at Atroxia seriously. "You can't change the past, but you could make up for it if you win this duel," he said.

"My mother said only villains ever win. What if she was right?" Atroxia snarled, looking as if she was about to cry.
"There's nothing I can do if so," Mo sighed. "Though I hope she's wrong about that, for everyone's sake."
Atroxia looked at him, then replied, "Thank you." She then leaned against Mo, who stroked her back awkwardly. "Mo... Just in case I don't come back, can I kiss you again?" the red lion whispered. Mo nodded, and the red lion leaned towards him after taking off her gas mask. They kissed, and Mo could feel a stinging at the back of his eyes. Without realizing it, both of them began shedding tears.

A while later, they parted. Atroxia sniffed and wiped the tears from Mo's face. The sandy-haired gunman placed a hand under the red lion's chin and made her look at him. He then wiped the tears from her cheeks and they hugged each other again. Atroxia began purring as Mo hugged her, and closed her eyes. Mo just waited. When he saw the faint hint of golden light shining under the door, he patted her back.
"Hm?" Atroxia looked at Mo.
"The sun's nearly up," replied Mo. "Good luck."
Atroxia stood up and put on her gas mask. "So be it," she said. "It's do or die."
"Let's get back before the others wonder where we are, and make ridiculous assumptions about it," Mo said. Atroxia took his hand and they walked back to the hovel.

The red lion let go of the gunman's hand before they reached the hovel. When they got back, Hera and Artisa had just woken up. "Where'd you go, Attie?" Artisa asked sleepily.
The red twin bluffed, "Oh, I was just leaving for the storeroom to take a gun."
"Better to be prepared," Hera yawned. She checked her own gun to make sure it was fully loaded. Curb entered the main room at that moment and looked at the three women.
Curb said, "If you're ready to leave, then go. Good luck."
Hera stood up slowly. "I'm ready, sir," she said. "What about you, lions?"

Artisa had drawn a staff with a curved blade at its tip. "I'm ready," she said, waving the staff around slowly.
Atroxia looked at the ground, then up at Hera. "Give me a moment," she said. "I want to pick out a gun to shoot with."
"But, Attie, you can't shoot very well," the blue giant said in concern. "I don't like to ask this of you, but do you think you're up to running and distracting the Blastermaster so that your sister and I can take down the hulk? If you could poison him in the meantime, that's a plus."
Atroxia hesitated, then placed her hand over her heart. "I can do that much."
Curb bowed his head. "Again, good luck."
The three women replied, "Thank you!" and went out of the hovel to wait for the crowd heading for the Blunderdome. When the aforementioned crowd appeared, the three women held hands, then slipped into the mass of people. Curb and the wastelander kids joined the crowd some time after.

"Where's Mo?" Stone whispered to Curb. "Uncle? Is Mo coming with us?"
The old man replied quietly, "He's coming, but not so soon."
Sure enough, the twins and the old man could see a head of sandy hair with gray stripes at the very back of the crowd. Mo followed the crowd, thinking to himself, "I really hope whatever Attie said about villains always winning is wrong, at least, just this once."

To be continued...
AQ DF MQ AQW Epic  Post #: 11
2/5/2012 5:06:44   
Crystal Lion
Member

In which a trial by time ends.

So the crowd got into the Blunderdome, and made for the benches on a patch of dirt and sand that served as the spectators' area. The three women looked around, the arena now had a rope fence just in front of the spectators. Hera checked her gun one last time, and Artisa stretched her hands. Atroxia acted rather nonchalant, crossing her spindly legs and uncrossing them again. She glanced at her poison vials as Curb, the wastelander kids, and Mo squeezed through the crowd and sat on a bench close to the front row.

"He's here," the wastelanders whispered fearfully, as loud footsteps approached. Thump, thump. The three women stood up and made their way to the edge of the fighting pit. Thump, thump, the huge footsteps continued, and the trio looked up.

They saw a hulk and a tiny fellow sitting on the hulk's back. The hulk was as tall as two Heras. "Which one of you is the BlasterMaster?" Hera asked. The tiny man put his free hand on his chest and mumbled. "What?" said Hera.
"He says he is the BlasterMaster," one of the wastelanders said. Hera glanced at the tiny man. He wore a cat's mask stained with blood over his face, and his hair was done up in a way that reminded the giantess of a samurai. The tiny man had a potbelly and crooked yellowish teeth.

"You might look like an ancient warrior, but you're not half as noble!" Atroxia yelled. Then she felt two rough hands grab her shoulders. She quickly glanced at the person behind her, it was a tall thin goon. Atroxia turned as red as a beet, then spat at the goon who held her shoulders. "Don't jump into my space!" she roared, and pulled her arms away despite the grip on her shoulders.

"Ouch!" the goon shouted as Atroxia stuck her elbows into his middle. She followed up with a reverse kick to the goon's stomach.
"Thanks for telling me about those elbows," the red lion thought to her twin, as she stumbled away from the goon. She stood up, took a deep breath, then strode right up to the BlasterMaster and his pet giant.
The BlasterMaster spat, "So you rose to the challenge, skinny?"
The giant he rode on reared up, and the red lion stepped aside. "We sure did!" she retorted. "Tyrants don't last very long!"

At the red lion's remark, Hera and Artisa got ready to attack. "You'll regret those words, swallowtail!" shouted the BlasterMaster. He patted his hulk and the beast thundered after Atroxia. The red lion darted away, and Hera began shooting at the hulk.
"Stay beside me, Artisa," Hera thought to the white twin. "Swing and strike true when that beast comes by us."
Artisa gripped her staff tighter, and watched her twin anxiously. By now, the scarlet lion had run all the way to the end of the pit, and was clinging for dear life onto the metal scaffolding.
Just as the BlasterMaster's hulk struck the scaffolding with its chainsaw arm, Atroxia leapt off and ran for the audience, turning aside at the last moment. The hulk thundered after the thin lion on all fours, and Hera saw the chance to fire. The hulk thundered by the blue giant again, chasing Atroxia. The red lion stopped in her tracks, turned around, and leapt onto the hulk. Hera immediately stopped firing until Atroxia got out of the range of Hera's bullets. Then the blue giant fired again.

As Hera continued to shoot at the hulk, Atroxia clambered up it, right up to the seat welded in the hulk's back. She saw the gnome, who snarled at her. The red lion snarled back, just as the hulk reared up once more. Atroxia grabbed on to the things welded on the hulk and waited for it to hunch over. When the hulk dropped to its normal stance, Atroxia clambered up again and punched the BlasterMaster in his eyes so that he lost his grip on the harness. She tossed the gnome down, and the hulk became wild when his rider was removed. The red lion did not try to jump off as the hulk was moving too fast for her to do so. She nearly lost her balance as the hulk stomped across the ring, passing in front of the other two beast-women.

Artisa managed to swing her naginata right at the hulk's head, at the same time Hera shot at its heart. The hulk finally fell with a loud crash, stirring up a large cloud of dust. "Attie!" Artisa howled, as soon as she realized that her twin couldn't be seen.
Mo shouted, "Atroxia! No!"
"Nobody can survive that. That hulk's as big as four of that swallowtailed stranger," the other wastelanders started whispering. General Smash stared blankly at the ring.
"She's so gone..." Hera whispered, and bowed solemnly.
"I don't believe it," Artisa sank to her knees, plop. "My sister's a goner."
Stick and Stone hopped up to where the white twin was kneeling. Stone tried to peer through the settling dust cloud. "The hero always lives, doesn't she?" Stick tried to cheer Artisa up, but the white twin merely stared at the dust cloud.
Artisa sighed, "Stick, I'm afraid nobody can live through being smashed like that."
"Say it isn't so!" Stick cried. Artisa shook her head, as Stone couldn't find any trace of Atroxia. Mo stood up, walked past the little kids and the two women, and headed towards the cloud of dust.

Mo thought he saw a familiar spindly figure standing on top of the dead hulk. He rubbed his eyes. The figure sneezed loudly, then jumped off. It strode out of the dust cloud, waved to the crowd, then blew its nose.
"Save your cheers," Atroxia said, and promptly sneezed. "I've got a gnome to handle. Now, where is he?"
"Over there! Go for it!" the wastelanders yelled excitedly, pointing at the far side of the ring. The BlasterMaster, with his very long arms, big hands and short fat legs, looked for all the world like a lost praying mantis.
Atroxia turned and strode off to where the BlasterMaster sat in the dust. The red lion strode up to the gnome as he tried to clear his vision. "Your biggest mistake, pal, was to rule this place badly," Atroxia snorted, then grabbed the gnome by his shoulders. "You don't even deserve a good sendoff!"

Mo walked up to the red lion as she continued chewing out the gnome, and took out his rifle. "I don't think you can live here anymore!" the red lion ranted at the BlasterMaster, dangling him by his long arms. Mo fired, and the gnome's limbs became useless stumps. The gunman kicked some sand at the hanging gnome, and Atroxia handed him a vial of poison with a slight grin on her lips. "A slow, burning death," she said.
"Very appropriate," Mo replied, uncorking the vial. Atroxia dropped the BlasterMaster on the ground and Mo threw the poison over the gnome. The pair grinned nastily and held hands for a while, then Atroxia knelt down and picked up the gnome.

The last thing the tiny BlasterMaster saw was a jagged grin. He got a mighty kick on his chest and was sent flying out of the dome. "He won't be bothering us ever again," Mo said. "He can't even move by himself."
Atroxia dusted her hands and struck a pose. The other wastelanders stared at her, then chuckled. "What's so funny?" she snorted.
"That half-a-gas-mask doesn't suit you, young man! Take it off!" one of the traders shouted. Atroxia frowned, although the eye covers hid her scowl, and yanked the mask off. The wastelanders crowded around her as she lowered the mask.
"Hey!" Atroxia snarled. "What's so odd about me?"
"Are you a lad or a lass?"
"If that's a lad, why, he's got very long eyelashes."
"Look at her chest, it's a lass alright," Atroxia turned beet red again at this. "I tell you it's one handsome man, though," said yet another wastelander.
"I'm she!" Atroxia shouted. The wastelanders backed off. "Now you know."
Mo grinned. "I already knew that, Atroxia," he said. "Even if the BlasterMaster didn't get the chance to spread what he knew about you."
"At least it's safe for everyone to know who I am," Atroxia placed her hand on her chest again.

Mo addressed the crowd, "Now that the tyrannical BlasterMaster's finished, who do you think can run Tradertown?"
"It's Curb!" one wastelander piped up.
"Let him lead!" another shouted. The rest of the wastelanders looked at each other.
"Curb for chief! Curb for chief!" they screamed and waved their hands. Curb walked to the centre of the dome, stood on the dead hulk, and bowed.
"Thank you," the elderly trader said. "As we all know, this age is where the mighty stand tall, and the weak are left to die. No more!" he boomed. "From this day onwards, all of us should work together, and rise from the ashes of our ancestors' mistakes. We must never repeat what they have done. Peace, might to keep said peace, and justice, are the ingredients for a successful civilization."
The wastelanders let out a mighty cheer at Curb's speech. "Long live the chief!" they shouted.

The goons who were formerly under the BlasterMaster looked afraid. Curb looked seriously at them, then held his arms out wide. "If you had no other choice to follow BlasterMaster back then, let it be known that it will take some time before we accept you," the old man said. "We're not unreasonable, however."
The goons quickly lowered any weapons they held, pulled off their headgear, and bowed to Curb. The old man strode in front of them, touching their shoulders with his shotgun, and bidding them to stand up. Meanwhile, the three women tried to leave the Dome without much fuss. The wastelander twins saw them go, and quickly ran after the trio.

"Wait, strangers!" Stick and Stone grabbed Atroxia's hands when they caught up with her. "Can you stay?" they pleaded, putting on puppy eyes.
"We're not your kind," Artisa said gently, taking the little kids' hands from her twin's. "We helped you overthrow BlasterMaster simply because might doesn't make right if not tempered by justice."
"That gnome wasn't exactly the avatar of justice, so to speak," said Hera. "Sure, he had plenty of power, but in the end? He wasn't just. He forced your town to suffer."
"Well, uncle's been chosen by everyone to lead us now," Stick said.

Hera remarked, "He's very wise, you know. Pay more attention to him and how he leads."
"I wish your uncle Curb luck in being chief," Atroxia said. The trader twins smiled widely and hugged her.
Hera added, "One of these days, you'll have to take over from your uncle, if he can't lead anymore."
"We'll be the best leaders ever, we promise!" Stick and Stone exclaimed. "We'll help uncle, we'll learn how to have might and justice and everything nice at once."
Artisa said, "We might as well tell this to Curb himself before we go home." She smiled knowingly at her twin sister. Atroxia rolled her eyes. "Come on, it's quite clear that you fell for Mo," Artisa said. "I didn't want to say anything about it at the time."
"Fine, you got me. I didn't want you and Hera to make fun of what I said about being a lone wolf long ago."
"True love!" the kids piped up.
Artisa laughed softly, "Stick and Stone are already doing that for us."
The scarlet lion was as red as could be as the kids giggled, "Kissy kissy? Fairytale love came back?"
"Let's go over to Curb's first," Hera said, and walked in the direction of the old man's hovel.

--------

General Smash was talking to Curb when he saw the three women arrive, with the wastelander kids in tow. "Just saying, mister Curb, if you need to train your men to fight better, I can help," the general said.
"I'll consider that offer," Curb replied. "Who would've thought that strangers from another time would help us to get rid of a tyrant?"
"I don't think anyone would have thought of it," Artisa said in reply. "Mister, we're going back to our own time."
"I hope you can come back soon. I have many plans for this town, to make it prosper after the Ashen War," Curb looked solemn. Atroxia thought the old man looked rather sorrowful when he glanced at her.

"What's the matter?" Atroxia thought to Hera. "Why was Curb so sad when he looked at me?"
"If I may guess, Attie, he's sad because Mo might never see you again," Hera thought in reply. "Be honest, can you bear to stay here?"
Atroxia shook her head silently in reply. "I promised Mo that I'd take him back to our time," she thought to Hera.
"Wouldn't know if Curb would agree to that. I mean, Mo's one of his trusted men," Hera thought. "I'll ask Koschei to help arrange things for you to visit each other, if Mo doesn't really want to go right now."
"It's going to be a really long story to explain to him," Atroxia thought, and her face went red again. The little kids giggled at her, but went out of the room without a peep when Atroxia frowned at them.

In the meantime, the general bid farewell to Curb, and remarked to Artisa, "When you're ready to go back, find me at the town arch, alright?"
"Yes sir," was Artisa's reply, as the general left the hovel. She looked at her sister and Hera. Atroxia clasped her hands and followed the other two women out of the hovel, and the trio made their way to the entrance of Tradertown.

--------

Shortly after the three women and General Smash left Curb's home, Mo ran across the sand and looked at the building. The sandy-haired gunman took a deep breath, and made his way to the hovel. He knocked on the door, and Curb said, "Yes, come in."

"Curb," Mo said as he entered the ramshackle hovel. "I want to follow the three women who helped us back to their own time."
"Why?" asked Curb. He was reading some blueprints, but turned to face the younger man.
"I want to help make sure that the Ashen War never happened. Who knows if the very first seeds of the war were sowed back in their time?"
"It seems you have another reason for following those women back," the old man remarked, when he noticed Mo's slightly flushed face.

Mo looked around to make sure Stick and Stone weren't anywhere nearby, and turned away from the new chief. "Atroxia... The swallowtailed stranger, I... I love her!" the sandy-haired gunman shouted and looked at Curb.
"I knew it," said Curb. The old man smiled and stood up. "You have my blessing to follow the swallowtailed woman back," he said kindly. "Don't forget what you said earlier about stopping the war."
"Thank you!" Mo bowed down to Curb.
"Good luck," Curb said, then placed his hands on the sandy-haired man's shoulders. "I have faith in you."

--------

"By the way, good work, lassies," General Smash clapped his hand on Atroxia's shoulder. The red lion glared at him. "Now what's gotten into you?" asked the general.
"Do you think my shoulders are made of brick?" Atroxia sneered and pushed his hand off.
"Well, you're the only person that anyone could bear to clap hands on. Your blue-eyed friend is too tall, and why should I clap on your sister?"
"Ugh," the red lion groaned. "I'm not letting anyone clap hands on my twin either."
"I'll let your disrespect slide just this once, since you did make the future much brighter."
"I couldn't have done it without my sister, nor Hera."

A swirling green portal opened up in front of the archway to the town. "At least Koschei keeps his word," said Hera. "Well, lions? You first?"
Atroxia looked back at the town anxiously, and shook her head at Hera's remark.
"You can go first if you like, sir," Artisa said to the general.
"Thank you, but ladies first is one of my rules," General Smash replied.

"Wait up!" someone yelled in the distance, just before the three women could get through the portal.
Atroxia turned in the direction of the yelling. "Mo!" she exclaimed. The sandy-haired man ran up to the red lion and they hugged each other.
"Curb gave his permission for me to go with you, Attie," Mo said joyfully.
"Really? I'll have to ask Koschei to let you go back and see how Trader Town's getting on," the red lion replied.
"Oh, do hurry," Hera fussed. "I spy that hunchback with big cat's eyes coming!"
"His name's Dyintime," Mo said, before the general cut him off.
"Be a loverboy when we get to the other side, lad!" General Smash said to Mo, while Hera ushered the lions through. The general and the sandy-haired wastelander jumped into the portal just as the hunchback turned up.

"Curse you! Curse you to my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-aunt's grave!" Dyintime yelled and shook his walking stick at the portal. Before he could finish his remark about his many great-aunt, the group was gone.

The portal appeared in Koschei's meeting room, and the three ladies came out. The general and Mo hesitated. Koschei was sitting in a chair, reading a celestial newspaper. A strong stench filled the air, and the skeletal old man stood up. He saw the three women first.

"Phew!" Koschei waved his bony hands. "You three lassies need a good scrubbing all over, or two!"
"Are you saying we stink?" Atroxia snarled. General Smash and Mo came out of the portal at that moment.
"To be frank, yes. You smell worse than Yergen's llama spray." At Koschei's remark, Atroxia went bright red with rage and tried to leap on the ex-reaper. Koschei shouted and held his scythe across his spindly chest.
"Stop, stop! Attie!" Hera exclaimed, grabbing her friend by her coattails. She managed to pull the red lion down, and the blue giant threw her tiny friend onto her backside.
"My twin has a dreadful temper," Artisa said to Mo. The gunman said nothing, until Koschei noticed him.
"A new souvenir?" the ex-reaper asked jokingly.
"He's not a thing!" Atroxia roared crossly and stood in front of Mo.

"That's one fierce lion, for sure," Koschei said. He tapped his head. "Now, what was I supposed to return to you three?" he wondered.
"Our souls?" Hera remembered. She took off her gas mask, and the lions did the same. The trio gave the gas masks back to Koschei.
"Thanks for returning my things. Ah yes, your souls are yours again," Koschei said, taking out one red, one white, and one blue needle from his sleeve. "Stick them in your wrists," he explained, holding out the long needles. Each of the three women took her own spirit needle, and stabbed it into her wrist. The needles dissolved into bright patches of light that vanished into the women's hands. Mo stared at the magic happening in front of him, until Atroxia moved to his side and looked at him.

Hera explained, "Long story short, my friend fell in love with a local during our trial."
The old man thought it over, then replied, "She deserved a big reward like love for helping the revolution. Not that you didn't help, of course."
"Seeing the tyrant's rule end was reward enough," Artisa said. "At least Tradertown will flourish without the BlasterMaster hogging everything."
"You're right," said Koschei. "Hera's grace, do you have anything to say?"
"I've got quite a bit to arrange with you," Hera replied. "Such as letting Atroxia's new love go visit his time once in a while."
"Oh, that's easy enough!" Koschei exclaimed. He turned to the new couple. "Any time you want to go back home, just call me, alright?" Koschei said, and gave Mo a piece of paper with his phone number on it. "I'm available any time, any day."

"This is the sorceror who sent you to Tradertown?" Mo whispered to Atroxia.
The red lion replied, "Yes. Actually, he's the Grim Reaper as well, though he wants to quit that job soon."
"He seems very friendly," Mo remarked.
"Not as fierce as people expect him to be, at any rate."
While the two lovebirds were talking about Koschei, the old sorceror opened a portal for General Smash to get back to Herospire. The old sorceror looked the lion twins, and waved his scythe around idly.

"Lions, you'd better get home before your mother wonders where you are," Koschei said. "Oh, first, I think you'd better help your faraway prince settle in Super District."
Mo looked embarrassed at being called a faraway prince, and Atroxia rolled her eyes. "You can be sure I'm helping him," she snorted. Koschei then opened a portal that led back to Super District's bridge, and the lion twins went through it. Mo followed them, and the portal closed up. Hera and Koschei looked at each other.

The old mage spoke first. "Why is one of the gas masks torn up like that?" Koschei waved Atroxia's torn gas mask in front of Hera.
Hera replied, "Well, she had to fight off a goon, it must have gotten torn in that fight."
Koschei sighed. "Looks like I'll have to fix it again," he said.
"Koschei, did you have anything to do with the wasteland we saw?" Hera asked him rather suddenly.

Koschei fidgeted. "Yes, I made your world into a wasteland as part of your third trial, Hera's grace."
The swarthy woman sighed and put her head in her hands. "Koschei, you're still behaving like you're in a fairytale."
"Even then, your grace, you braved this trial very well, as I said before."
"Were you playing Fallout?" Hera asked. "This trial reminded me a lot of that game. I used to play it last year."
"Smudgen showed me the game, and it gave me a good idea for your third trial, Hera's grace."

"Please stop calling me that. I don't call you the deathless one."
"Your name means Hera's grace, right?"
"Yes, but it's strange to keep calling me my name's meaning. Just call me Hera."
"I prefer the sound of Hera's grace," Koschei replied. Hera sighed.
"Well, I think there's nothing much I can do here, Koschei," she said.
"Hold on. I'll have your fourth trial ready in a month or so," Koschei said. "Do take note of that. I'll call you a week before I can actually unleash the trial."
"I'll keep that in mind. Good day, Koschei," Hera replied, and went through the portal the reaper opened up for her. Koschei saluted the giant as she left his ethereal realm.

--------

In the meantime, it took General Smash a long time to stop thinking about a purple Robin Hood being Dyintime's many great-grandmother. He couldn't bear to look at her in the meantime, and turned his head away every time he had to pass by her up in Herospire.
"I'm never going to get that remark out of my head," groaned the general.

End.

< Message edited by Crystal Lion -- 4/3/2012 10:37:29 >
AQ DF MQ AQW Epic  Post #: 12
5/22/2012 10:22:34   
Crystal Lion
Member

In which a trial by ice begins.

"Today's the day, isn't it? The one where you finish your four trials and Koschei makes his decision," Atroxia remarked and folded her arms as she waited in the ethereal room with her twin sister Artisa and her close friend Hera.
The giant nodded and looked around the room. "He should be here any minute now," she said.

True enough, a skeleton in a black robe carrying a scythe walked into the room. Koschei grinned, "Hera's grace, are you ready for your last task? You'll be in the Himalayas for this one." Before the three women could say anything, the reaper continued, "No, not quite Mount Everest. Somewhere near India, last I checked. Uttarakhand, that's where it is."

The reaper handed the three women some heavy fuzzy winter coats. "Put them on," said he. They did, except for Hera. "Oh, right, you're just like your many-great-grandpa, all ice, and barely anything nice," Koschei said. "Your ancestor was very cynical."
Hera snorted softly and looked at where Koschei was opening a portal. The skeletal mage ushered them into the portal, and wished them luck.

--------

The portal opened over a snowy mountain range. Atroxia looked out, then leapt down onto the snow. Artisa waited until her twin had gone ahead, then jumped down. Hera was the last to leave the portal.

"Brrr," the twins shivered, despite wearing thick mountain coats. A skinny young woman with a very curly brown ponytail, dark eyes, and a coil of rope in her hands gestured to them.
"Ni hao ma, ni yao se mo?" said the woman.
"Huh?" Atroxia wondered. "What are you saying?"
"I think she's spouting Mandarin," Artisa whispered.
The woman continued, "Vaazhga! Nienga engirundhu varrienga?"
"Er, miss, we speak English," Hera said, as the woman continued spouting Tamil remarks and pointed at the giant's forehead. "We're from the United States and my name is Hera," the giant said quickly, before the woman could spout more Tamil remarks.
"Oh, sorry!" said the woman. She bowed to the giantess. Hera saw that the woman had a piercing with an emerald on the left side of her nose, and she wore a shirt that displayed quite an ample front.

"Well, why can't I speak French to that brown lady? See if she can understand what I say?" Atroxia snorted at her twin.
"You're just annoying people if you try showing off."
"So is she!"
"Now you know! Serve you right, dummy!" Artisa looked away with a satisfied expression.

At that moment, a robed man with a silvery helmet over his head approached the twins. "That petite Punjab over there is absolutely panicky," he said. The twins turned to face him. Atroxia wrinkled her nose when she smelt a faint sulfurous smell, but the man with the helmet disappeared before she could say anything. "I'm Charries, by the way," the tenor voice said in the twins' minds.

"I'm Illinois Johnson," the woman said to Hera. "This is near Nanda Devi, you know."
"Who?" Atroxia asked and shrugged off her mountain coat, thinking that it was too thick for her liking.
"No! Not who! Nanda Devi is the peak of this mountain," Johnson replied. "Before you ask, there's no Shangri-La either."
"Well, miss Johnson, I'm Artisa, and that's my twin sister Atroxia," Artisa gestured to Atroxia, who rolled her eyes. "What are you looking for on Nanda Devi?" the white twin asked.
"I'm looking for evidence of the Ingiru civilization."
"Come again?" the three beasts asked in surprise.
"A race that has been mentioned in Indian legends," Johnson said. "Go ahead and ask, big one."
"Explain, please," said Hera. "I don't think we've heard of them."

"It is said that the Ingiru were much more advanced than our ancestors, and the Ingiru were very, very reclusive."
"Could they be from Lore?" Hera wondered to herself.
Johnson continued spouting, "The Ingiruns were related to the Atlanteans. Cousins, so to speak. As in distant, long lost cousins. According to local legends I have found, the last stronghold of the Ingiru was underground in India, linked to the other settlements by an extensive network of tunnels."
"You're telling me that Nanda Devi could be where the last stronghold was?" Atroxia snorted.
"You guessed right," Johnson replied. "I'd like you to investigate that there cave to see if there are any traces of civilization."
"Why not?" Atroxia shrugged. "I'm guessing there's plenty of hidden lore and treasure too."
"I suppose you'd be more interested in the potions," Johnson chuckled when she noticed the vials strapped to the red lion's chest. Atroxia nodded. Johnson then added, "Well, then get going, and be careful in there, ok? There might be other explorers who aren't as careful as I am."

--------

"Achoo! Achoo!"
"Oh, pipe down, Attie," Artisa whispered to her twin. "Do you know what things live in caves?" she asked as the twins followed Hera.
"Cave'sh shmelly. Batsh?" Atroxia replied.
"Yes, bats are a possibility," Hera added. "But we aren't bat-hunting, we're looking for signs of civilization."
The trio stopped at the end of the passageway, and looked. The passage opened into a wide cave with a high ceiling. "Now, what would be one indicator of civilization, besides ruins?" Hera asked.
"Traces of art?" Artisa said. "Every civilization has some kind of symbolic or decorative stuff."

They heard a loud snuffle, and what looked like a white gorilla shuffled into view. The three women shrank back as the thing stood on its hind legs and snorted crossly. After a while, the thing shuffled off into the darkness of the caves. The three ladies blinked as all kinds of wild ideas entered their minds.

"Yetis?" Artisa whispered. "I thought they were just stories!" She saw a miniature temple dog on the ground, and picked it up. The statue had a gem embedded in its chest. As the three women looked at the temple dog, the ground shook. Hera squealed and dragged the twins back into the passage they had come from, and they watched as part of the cave's floor sank out of sight.
"We've got one bit of art so far," Hera said. "I'm sure Johnson would like a look at that."

The three critters scurried out of the cave and gave the miniature temple dog to Johnson, who was waiting at the entrance. She looked at the statue, turned it upside down, poked its belly, then wiped its back. A bunch of squiggly writing was shown on the back of the temple dog. "What language is that?" asked Hera. Johnson was deep in thought, so Hera repeated her question.

"You're going to have to catch some locals," Johnson said. "I'm not so well-versed in Indian languages besides Tamil. These squiggles look like Vedic Sanskrit."
"What makes you think the locals would know Vedic?" Atroxia rolled her eyes.
"India has many languages, and most locals know more than one Indian language. Me? I only know Tamil and a little bit of Telugu, but not enough to talk in the latter," Johnson spoke at length. "By probability, those locals might have some clue of where to get better translations of the Vedic Sanskrit writings I've found."
"Where can we find the locals?" Artisa asked.
"Oh, they're just common hooded bandits hiding in the caves. They might be useful though, even if they can't speak English," Johnson remarked. "I'd use force if I were you. Meet me at the camp, it's to the south of this cave entrance."

--------

"I don't like how Johnson was so casual about using force on the locals," Hera said to the lions. Artisa nodded in agreement.
"The locals might not speak English well, and we don't know any Indian languages," Atroxia said with a shrug. Artisa drew some torches and handed them to the others, remaining silent in the meantime.
"How about pictographs and body gestures? I hope that works," Hera said as they continued down the passageway. When they reached the end, a group of people wearing very thick mountain coats, oxygen masks and hoods confronted them with pickaxes. Neither the lions nor Hera could see the people's faces.

Artisa quickly drew a tiger to help defend her group, and the tiger jumped out of the stone with a roar. The four hooded people shouted in surprise and retreated further into the cave. "That sounded like Hindi!" Hera exclaimed. "Follow them!"
The tiger strode into the darkness, and the three ladies followed its slightly luminous figure until they stopped at a wooden barricade. The orange and black creature took a deep sniff, then growled when it smelled the hooded people. It barged past the makeshift wooden barricade into a small side chamber of the cave. The four hooded people shivered in fear as the tiger growled at them. One of the bigger figures in a pink coat threw a lighted stick at the tiger, who simply stepped aside.

The other people, who were wearing various shades of blue, brandished their pickaxes, but the tiger broke their handles with a single blow of its paw. The hooded folk continued shivering in fright and one of the smaller figures ran out of the chamber. The tiger roared and pounced on the others, knocking them into the wall. Atroxia gave chase to the runaway local, trusting Hera and her twin to follow her. The other two women quickly tied up the unconscious hooded bandits, and Artisa told the tiger to keep watch. The tiger nuzzled her hand and sat so that it faced the pile of bandits. Hera and Artisa quickly left in pursuit of the remaining local.

The white twin paused in her tracks to draw a length of rope, and pulled it out of the stone. The giant took one end and tied into a lasso. "We're going to need a wide space for this," said Hera. The duo moved to another chamber which was wider than the others. Just then, they heard Atroxia shouting, "Stop there!" and a small dark blue figure darted by Hera with Atroxia in hot pursuit.

Hera threw the lasso and it fell around the small local's body. The giant pulled on the rope and the local tripped with a shrill yelp. Atroxia leapt onto the local and pinned her down so that she couldn't wriggle away. Artisa drew some more rope and passed it to her twin. The red lion quickly tied the smaller woman's hands behind her back. The local began struggling and insulting the three women with some very choice foreign words as she was picked up and carried unceremoniously back to where the other bandits were dumped.

--------

"That tiny local was very fast, I tell you. Faster than I could go," Atroxia said.
Artisa replied, "Probably because Pandora's heart reached this part of the world, it blew up about ten years ago."
"If the heart has reached the Himalayas already... That means we'll have a world of supercharged fighters someday!" Hera exclaimed as they brought the trussed up locals outside the cave. The twins dragged the three unconscious locals to Johnson's tent, and Hera put the smallest local down gingerly. Johnson walked over to that particular local, who looked ready to run back down the mountain path despite having her hands and legs tied together.

"Wo bu yao jiao!" the local shouted in a temper when Johnson was right in front of her.
"What's she saying?" Atroxia wondered and scratched her head.
"She said, I don't want to talk!" Johnson explained.
"Wo pu tong ni!"
"Now what is she going on about?" Artisa asked, surprised.
"I'll beat you up!" Johnson translated again.
"So friendly," Hera snorted. "Then again, what do you expect when she's kicked you dozens of times?"
"Ni hui jiao ying wen ma?" Johnson asked the local.
"Yes, I speaks English," the local replied peevishly, with an Indian accent. "I don't know where the treasure is! Leggo!"

"I was asking you about the Ingirun language, not the treasure!" Johnson looked irritated. "I'll let you go if you tell me what you know about the language."
"Oh! The codex was destroyed, the scraps are somewhere in the caves. I tell you the Ingirun language sounds like Sanskrit and Mandarin," the local chattered at top speed, so quickly that neither Hera nor the twins could hear her clearly. Atroxia looked around, and spotted a silvery helmet in the snow.

The helmet wobbled slightly and the red lion heard a light tenor voice in her head. "I'd rather smash through that gate in the cave, but that would spoil the treasure too," the voice said, and the helmet ducked out of sight.
Johnson asked Hera to untie the young local's hands, and Hera obliged. The local looked up at her and muttered about how she would like to cut the foreigners into two bits, see how they like it, and other such threats.

"Take off your mask! We can't hear you," Johnson said peevishly to the local. The local took off her gas mask, pulled down her hood, and shook out two long braids of pure black curls. The local had very large black eyes and a pierced nose with a blue stone on her nose stud. She also had a black dot on her forehead and a gold hoop in each of her ears.
"What's your name?" Johnson asked the local.
"Gayatri," replied the local. She tried to put the gas mask back on her head, but Johnson reached out with her left hand to stop her. Gayatri looked very offended, but Johnson didn't apologize. The brunette archaeologist did take her hands away from the local, however.

"Why did that local look so cross about left hands?" Atroxia whispered to Hera.
"Left hands aren't regarded as clean hands in this part of the world."
"Then remind me not to put out my left hand too much, Hera."
The local girl kicked the lasso away from her legs and stood up. She made a point of ignoring the three ladies as she looked solemnly at snow.

"Suresh!" Gayatri cried when one of the locals stirred. She limped over to him and knelt down. "You okay, anna?"
"Gaya, where's akka and tambi?" Suresh asked.
"Akka Kumari? Ram?" Gayatri looked around for her other siblings. At the sound of her voice, the other two locals slowly moved their heads to look at her.

"Tangai! You okay!" the pink-coated local said and rolled over onto her side. "Why strangers beat us with tiger?"
"Akka, we can speak in Tamil," Gayatri said. She immediately explained the situation in their mother tongue and tried to untie her siblings at the same time.
Johnson said, "Well, they won't give us any trouble if you really showed them your might."
"I think an apology would be better," Artisa said, giving Hera a drawn knife. The giant nodded and went over to the piled up siblings.

Gayatri looked up at the tall lady and asked peevishly, "What do you want, dumby?" She still tried to untie the rope pinning Suresh's limbs together.
"Sorry," Hera said, and put a hand on her heart as she bowed to the siblings. She then took out a knife and cut Suresh free. He reached for his waist-pouch and got his own knife, which he used to cut Ram and Kumari free.
"At least she not kill us," Kumari muttered and rubbed her forearms, despite her mountain coat cushioning most of the rope earlier. Gayatri stood up and unconsciously copied her sister's action.

Then Johnson walked up to the dark-skinned people and poked Gayatri's big nose. The Indian girl sneezed and stared balefully at the brown-haired explorer. Ram moved in front of his sister and said, "Miss, don't treat us like savages or pokey puddings. Akka Gaya and I can speak your tongue."
"Right," Johnson looked rather doubtful. "You wouldn't happen to understand these squiggles, would you?" She held out a booklet for Ram to examine.

The young boy read the first page of the booklet. "That's Sanskrit, miss," he said. "But an old form. Why, you want us to translate for you?"
Johnson nodded. Ram continued, "We don't have the whole Ingirun codex either. Just bits of it concerning basic nouns and grammar. Anyway, Ingirun is rather like Vedic Sanskrit, except for having bits of Mandarin and Tibetan, from what we found in the bits."
"Clever boy!" Gayatri smiled proudly at her little brother. "Miss Johnson, if you and the three foreigners don't treat us like nuisances, we'll help you."
The three beasts immediately bowed in apology to the Indian girl and her siblings.

"Alright then," said Ram. "We'll help you translate those Ingirun scriptures you found, miss Johnson. But why are the three funny ladies here?"
"We're on a trial," said Hera. "A magician sent us here to prove our worth."
"Crazies," Ram whispered to his sister.
"We've got no choice but to help them. You saw that magic tiger, Ram," Gayatri whispered back.
"Alright," said Johnson. "We'll work on those Ingirun scriptures in my tent," she said, and went inside. The Indians looked at each other, then went inside as well.
"I don't think Johnson would like us butting in," Atroxia said.

--------

About an hour or so later, Johnson poked her head out of her tent and called to the three critters.
"What did you find out?" asked Hera.
"Plenty," said Johnson. "I hope you weren't too bored."
"No, we weren't," Hera said and looked at the twins. Atroxia was playing a skiing game on her phone, while Artisa was playing a series of puzzles on hers. Something about living gumballs. "So... What did you find in those scriptures?" the giant asked again.
"A legend that isn't exactly very well-known in mainstream Hindu mythology," Johnson said. "Those locals said it was about an incident on Nanda Devi back when the Ingiruns were still alive."
Now, the three Americans were curious to hear about it.

"Thing is, they claim a priestess of Kali and Shiva was entombed in the statue for her own hubris. She said she was the daughter of those two deities, called herself Kalshiva," Johnson said, rolling her dark eyes. "Surprising that such an advanced society could believe in that sort of fairy tale."
Artisa turned pale. "She was buried alive?" the white twin gasped.
"From what the locals claim these scrolls say, yes. Reminds me of when I read about how Vestal Virgins were executed," said Johnson. "People can be cruel, if your sister's name is any indication," she continued, when she saw Artisa's pale face.
"Just because her name is Latin for cruel-one doesn't mean she is!" the white twin defended her sister.

"What happened to the statue after Kalshiva was stuffed into it?" asked Atroxia.
"Gayatri said that the statue was sentenced to watch over another entrance to Ingiru inside this very cave. Actually, it was more like she recited her village's tales and a similar story was in that Ingirun scripture."
"I don't suppose they're still translating the scriptures, are they?" the red lion wondered.
Johnson nodded. "They are busy, indeed. Oh, yeah, the siblings translated a scripture about how to enter Ingiru."
"How?" the critters asked.
"Stop asking so many questions and see for yourself!" Johnson gave them some papers with hand-written English. Hera and the twins read the papers.

"My, so those temple dog statues are the key, huh?" said Atroxia.
"Looks like it," Hera said. "Got to put those temple dog gems on the gate too."
"The gems are fortune, piety, tolerance, truth and loyalty," said Artisa.
"The temple dog statue you found?" Johnson said. "It's got the gem of fortune. However, I'd prefer it if you picked up the temple dogs, since the gems are rather small. I don't want you to smash the temple dogs into bits trying to get the gem-keys out."
"What about the guardian statue?" Atroxia still couldn't stop thinking about that stone effigy. She imagined that the statue must be very, very ugly. Probably as tall as two Heras, no, ten Heras! A lot of Heras, anyway.
"Pah!" snorted Johnson. "You think the statue will come to life? What time do you think this is? The age of devas? No... It ended long before we were born. I've never seen any magic spells. None of this abracadabra hocus pocus stuff."
The red lion bit her tongue, wanting to say that yes, she had seen magic spells after Pandora's sacrifice. But what was the use of arguing the existence of magic with someone like Johnson, who already doubted religion?

As Atroxia steamed over the questions she wanted to spit at the cynical archaeologist, Hera spoke up, "It's dark in that cave, miss Johnson. I'd say we need a lot of torches if we're going to find out where exactly that entrance to Ingiru is."
Johnson shrugged. "You're on your own about that," she said.
The crunch of snow boots on stone wasn't noticed by the brunette, until a somewhat shrill voice spoke, "Miss, I can help get torch materials."
"But what about the scriptures, young lady?" Johnson turned to address Gayatri.
"My siblings are better at Sanskrit than I am, they can manage," said the Indian girl.
"I'd better get back to work on translating those scriptures," said Johnson. "As for you, big one, do inform me if you come across a gateway or something like it, alright?"
Hera nodded, and Johnson walked back to her tent.

"Can you use your magic and make torches?" Gayatri asked.
Artisa shook her head. "It's not that simple," she said. "My particular brand of magic doesn't extend to making flammables, or edibles for that matter. My twin knows how to hunt, if you tell her what sort of things to catch."
Gayatri promptly replied, "Catch a yeti."
"What?!" the three Americans exclaimed. "Are you nuts?"
"No... The yetis here are like fat white gorillas as tall as the big lady here."
"I'm. Not. Fat!" Hera grumbled and folded her arms across her chest.
"One yeti has enough blubber to make a week's worth of torches, misses," said Gayatri.
"Right. So, how do you go about catching a yeti?" Atroxia asked the local.
"Oh, trust me, if you follow my advice, you'd get quite a few in almost no time."
"We're listening," the critters said. So Gayatri did her best to explain yeti-hunting to them.

"Do you get it?" asked Gayatri. Hera and the twins nodded. "I think I'd better follow you in there, just to be on the safe side," the local said.
"Better that way," said Artisa. She had drawn some hunting gear according to Gayatri's instructions, and each of the women took at least one of the tools. The group then went into the cave.

To be continued...

Glossary.
"Ni hao ma, ni yao se mo?": How are you, what do you want? (Mandarin)
"Vaazhga! Nienga engirundhu varrienga?": Welcome! Where are you from? (Sanskrit/Tamil)
"Anna": Big brother. (Tamil)
"Akka": Big sister. (Tamil)
"Tambi": Little brother. (Tamil)
"Tangai": Little sister. (Tamil)

< Message edited by Crystal Lion -- 5/22/2012 10:26:58 >
AQ DF MQ AQW Epic  Post #: 13
10/10/2012 9:53:21   
Crystal Lion
Member

In which a trial by ice ends.

"Good hunting, that was," Gayatri said as the group came out from the cave. Atroxia and Hera ended up dragging the two fat yetis they had killed earlier.
"If you let me use my sleeping poison, it would be so much easier," Atroxia groaned at the weight of her yeti. "But no, you said I should fight head on with it," she continued, letting go of the dead yeti to rub her arms.
"Your sister said, I quote, you can hunt. Poison would spoil the meat and make surplus killing, wasteful. Two fat yetis are sufficient for our needs, you're not the only one who had to fight the yetis, if you've forgotten."
"Food, I presume?" Atroxia said, raising one of her eyebrows at the Indian girl.
"Were you paying attention, pale-face? The main thing we need is fuel for wooden torches. That's why I asked you to catch fatties!" Gayatri flung her hands upwards in annoyance. "Now, are you going to ask me dozens of stu-u-pid questions, or do you know how to prepare animal carcasses?"

"Oh, we do know," said Artisa. She helped her twin with the yeti corpse and laid it out on the ground. Hera laid her yeti corpse next to the one the lions placed earlier.
"Knife, please," Atroxia said, and walked around the yeti corpses lying on the ground. Artisa held out a skinning knife, and Atroxia took it. She skinned the fattest yeti corpse, and looked at the blubber under its fur. "Greasy," she said.

"Yeti blubber makes great torch fuel out here," Gayatri said. "Ram's good at taking those things down, as I am. Too bad your magic tiger gave my siblings quite a thump."
"If you and your siblings hadn't been so aggressive, that wouldn't have happened," Atroxia snorted. "One great fat misunderstanding," the red lion said. "We didn't know you could speak English."
"We thought you were going to wreck the shrine."

"Shrine?"
"Oh, the people in our village think that Ingiru is one of Kali's shrines," Gayatri explained.
Atroxia didn't ask the local girl who Kali was, guessing that she was some kind of deity. The red lion scooped the blubber into a big pot that Gayatri brought with her. Gayatri covered the pot of blubber and balanced it on her head, and the two women walked away from the skinned yetis.

"So you're a super fighter? I read about them in the news," Gayatri made small talk as they made their way back to Johnson's tent.
"Yeah, I am," Atroxia said. "The big lady and my twin are too."
Gayatri still chattered on, "The New York Times had an article about super fighters a few months back, and it said that the magic stone that made super fighters was stolen by a robotic mastermind, and he ended up seriously injuring somebody named Delia."

"Wait, you have internet?"
"Oh, we do have internet cafes. Rather slow though, being close to the Himalayas and all. Actually, when the big lady said 'Pandora's heart,' I was sure that you were super fighters, or knew some."
"The big lady's name is Hera. I'm Atroxia, and the disgraced fighter was Demolicious, not Delia. And you might want to hug the pot instead of putting it on your head."
Gayatri stopped in her tracks, and ranted, "Hey, stupid! That's how you carry pots! The traditional way! And you have some nerve...! We don't all have piped water..." The Indian girl continued ranting at Atroxia all the way back to camp, the pot of blubber wobbling dangerously all the while. "I do have a computer, but no internet, dad said it's not much use when the signal is so bad on Nanda Devi, he said I should go to a city like Mumbai if I want fast net..." Gayatri still chattered at the top of her voice when she noticed her siblings sitting around a portable campfire.

The other Indians were enjoying a thick spicy orange soup. "Canned curry," Ram said. "Want some, misses?" he asked Artisa and Atroxia. The twins looked at each other, then back at the boy, and nodded. Ram scooped out two bowls of curry for the lions to try.
"Thanks," Artisa said as she took the bowl of curry. "Curry's nice on a cold place like this."
Atroxia sniffed at her bowl of curry, then took a tiny spoonful of it. "Not quite herbal soup," she muttered. "But it will do, boy."
"Hey, we like it strong," said Ram.

Artisa noticed that Kumari had a trishul drawn on her forehead, instead of Gayatri's simple black dot. "Maa Kali is akka's patron, and mine too," Gayatri replied when Artisa asked about the trishul.
"What about your brothers?"
"Oh, Ram's patron is Brahma, and Suresh's is Parvati. They can't pray to Maa Kali because their horoscopes don't match with hers."
"By the way, Gayatri, we squeezed as much blubber as we could out of the other yeti corpse," Artisa said and pointed to the three pots of blubber near Johnson's tent.
"Can't carry much, huh?" Gayatri joked. "Still, it's enough blubber for what I have in mind."
"Torches?"
"Yes, torches."

--------

The Lions, Hera and the Indians got busy, tearing scraps of cloth to tie around sticks.
"Wasn't this meant to be firewood?" Hera asked, looking at one particularly knobbly branch.
"That's in case our portable stove doesn't work on the mountain," Ram said. He tied some bandages on his torch. "Now we can spare firewood for this project."
"I suppose those torches are in case the electric ones fail," said Artisa. Suresh nodded. After some time, the torches were ready, and the younger Indians stuck the torches into the pots of blubber, cloth ends first.
"Rags soaked in oil will burn for a long time," Johnson said, looking at the sticks stuck in the blubber.
"You're stating the obvious, miss Johnson," said Ram. He looked at his watch. "They should be ready in twenty minutes."

--------

Johnson took out a lighter. "You smoke?" Hera guessed. The brown-haired woman nodded, then tried to flick the lighter. Surprisingly, no flame appeared.
"It's out of gas!" Johnson exclaimed in disgust and glared at the lighter. Hera badly wanted to tell the small part-Indian lady to snuff out her smoking habit, then thought of how tactless such a request would be.
"What should I say if she comes to me complaining about tarred lungs?" thought the giant.

Atroxia took the magnifying glass from Johnson's tent, then held up the makeshift torch in front of the glass. The sunlight on Nanda Devi narrowed through the glass, and lighted the torch in the lion's hand. "Time to get an enlightened cavern, huh?" the red lion quipped. Gayatri and her siblings rolled their eyes.
"Not funny," said Ram. "You might be magicians, but that's no reason to show off."
"Hey, stupid, do you think the sun shines in caves?" Gayatri snorted. She took out a flint and steel set and waved them in the air. "You should get these. Flintstone's Flints, guaranteed to work, rain or shine."
Now it was Atroxia's turn to roll her eyes. She walked off with her lighted torch to where her twin, Hera and Johnson waited.

"Good luck, Gaya," Suresh said and hugged his younger sister. "We'll keep watch over the cave entrance."
"Sure, bro," Gayatri said and hugged Suresh back. She then scurried to the entrance of the cave, where the other explorers were waiting.

Atroxia passed her torch from one hand to the other in boredom. "Ready yet?" she yawned.
"Yes, we are!" the other women replied. Gayatri lighted her torch with the flint set and took the lighted torch.
Atroxia and Gayatri walked ahead, holding their lighted torches up. Johnson walked next, carrying her notes and the miniature temple dog in a bag, an unlighted torch in one hand and an electric torch in the other hand. Artisa and Hera walked behind, carrying the remaining torches.

They arrived at a big pile of rocks. Gayatri passed her electric torch to Atroxia and took the lion's wooden torch in return. Atroxia climbed up the pile and looked around. It appeared to be a wide chamber with a gateway at the end. There were stands for wooden torches lining the way to the gate. Atroxia thought she saw a pattern on the gate, but looked down to see whether it was safe to climb down. It was. She climbed back and said, "It's safe to go over."
"We'll have to leave the torches here," Johnson said. "Look, aren't those torch stands over there?"
Gayatri and Atroxia looked at where Johnson pointed. "Hey, you're right," Atroxia said, taking back her wooden torch from the Indian girl.
"Well, we can light up more torches with flint," Gayatri said as she put her torch in a stand. Atroxia and Johnson placed their wooden torches in the other stands. The five women then climbed over the pile of rocks and started lighting new torches.

The twins and Hera fixed the torches on the stands so that the entire chamber was lit up. Johnson then began reading the last page of the prophecy she managed to translate. Her face turned ghost-pale as she read it. "What's the matter?" Artisa wondered. Johnson shivered and didn't reply. "Hello?" Artisa tried again, as her twin and Hera approached.
"Quick! They say if you don't return the statue's artifacts, Kali will rise and wreak havoc on the world!" Johnson shouted suddenly. "Find them, fast!" she cried, and fidgeted. The trio stepped back in surprise.

Gayatri gestured to the three friends to follow her. When they were out of Johnson's earshot, she whispered harshly, "She's nuts, I tell you!"
"Johnson? How exactly?" Atroxia asked the local explorer.
"Look, she thinks she can barge in here and search for artifacts, and she doesn't even respect our religion! I heard her say that the story of the proud priestess was fake. No, it's true," Gayatri chattered at top speed. "I wouldn't be surprised if she thinks Maa Kali is a demon! Just like those British colonials of centuries ago!"
"Well, we don't," Hera said. Gayatri smiled broadly when she heard the giant's reassuring voice.

"So, what now?" the three friends asked each other.
"Hey, if you can help me find the other gems to unlock the door, I'll get the artifacts back..." Gayatri trailed off when the Americans glared at her. "Oops."
"You stole the artifacts, huh? You remind me of-" Atroxia shouted, but Artisa clamped a hand over her mouth and pulled her back. "Mmph mmf!" the red lion exclaimed.
"Sorry, Atroxia's rather judgemental about stealing," Hera apologized.
"It's not stealing if you're trying to keep them safe, idiot!" Gayatri shouted. "I wasn't even thinking of selling them, cross my heart and strike me down!"
"What do you mean?" Artisa asked, still holding her hand over Atroxia's mouth. Atroxia pulled her twin's hand away and sputtered.

"Okay, my siblings and I tried to hide the statue's artifacts in all sorts of places. Why? Who knows what someone like Johnson would do with the things. She doesn't seem like she respects her ancestors' culture very much," Gayatri said.
"What makes you think she doesn't respect Indians much?" asked Hera.
"Ram said Johnson thinks Kumari's an idiot for not speaking English well..." Gayatri said with a sigh. "Only Ram and I had the chance to go to an international school. India's not as stable as America is. Doesn't mean Kumari's unwilling to learn, she just speaks Tamil better."

"Hiding your patron's artifacts isn't exactly the right thing to do either," Atroxia said.
"I know, we mean to put them back after Johnson's gone off," Gayatri replied. "There's five things in the Ingirun shrine of Kali. An urn, a dagger, a stone tablet, a helmet and a goblet. Special offerings, if you will."
"And five gemstones," Atroxia added with a snort.
"Miss Johnson's already got one," Gayatri sighed. "I don't know where the other gemstones are."
"We'll help you," said Artisa.
"Thanks, I guess."

--------

However, it was easier said than done to pick up the bejeweled temple dogs. Each time any of the trio tried to pick up the temple dogs, something happened. Stalactites fell, the ground cracked open, and even flies buzzed out angrily. It fell to Hera to fetch the temple dogs through telekinesis, and the group ran away before anything else could happen.

The group sat down to catch their breath, until Atroxia noticed the last temple dog statue nearby. "I can't feel my legs, all this running..." Hera huffed. The group went over to look at the statue anyway. Before they got too close, Gayatri held up her hand to tell the trio to stop, and she walked over to the temple dog statue. Unlike the other times Hera had tried picking up the temple dogs, nothing happened when Gayatri picked up the small statue. "An old blessing to walk freely in any devi's shrine," she explained, as the others gaped at her.
"How about those artifacts?" Atroxia tapped her foot.
"Easy as pie, Atroxia," said Gayatri. "Easy as pie..."

--------

A yeti lumbered by when the group went into another chamber of the cave. It snorted at the group and shuffled on.
"Come back here!" Gayatri shouted at the yeti and leapt on its back. She poked about in its fur and pulled out a goblet.
"Wait, how come that yeti didn't snap at you?" Hera asked, staring at the Indian girl as she climbed back down.
"It's used to us," Gayatri said simply. "The rest of the artifacts are easy to find," she continued. "Follow me, I'll show you."

Hera, Artisa and Atroxia followed Gayatri as she picked her way across a pile of boulders. The Indian dug around and pulled out a helmet shaped like a skull. She then took out an urn and a stone tablet. "Where's that blasted dagger?" Gayatri hissed, poking around in the cubby hole. "Darn it! I covered it up good because it's so shiny, now it's gone."
"Is there anyone else in this cave?" asked Hera.
"No, not legally, anyway. You have to get a pass before going up Nanda Devi, and it's not easy. Only living things here are yetis."
"Do yetis like shiny things?" said Atroxia.
"Yeah... Oh no! That wavy dagger could be anywhere now if a yeti grabbed it!" Gayatri almost tore her curly black hair out with worry.
"When did you hide those artifacts?" the trio asked.
"Two days ago, argh!"

Atroxia climbed over the boulders and crouched in front of the cubby hole. She took in several deep breaths and climbed back out. "What a nutso," Gayatri muttered as she saw the red lion run off into another part of the caves.

Atroxia continued sniffing around for the dagger, she expected it to smell of yeti. She eventually came across a huddle of sleeping yetis. She looked around and saw the dagger on a ledge just above the biggest yeti's head. When Hera and Artisa arrived, Atroxia put a finger to her lips. The other two moved quietly. Atroxia gestured to Hera to pick up the dagger, somehow.
"I don't think I can reach that far, Attie," Hera whispered.
"Here's the plan," Atroxia whispered back. "Artisa? We need you to drag the dagger so that Hera can grab it without waking the yeti up."
"Of course," Artisa said and began drawing a very, very, very long fishing rod with a magnet at the end. She inched the magnet close to the dagger, and the dagger flew up. Clink! The dagger was stuck to the magnet, and the yetis shifted around. They didn't wake up, and the magnet with the dagger floated back until Hera could grab it with her long arms. They hurried back to Gayatri.

"You found it! Oh, thanks so much!" Gayatri said. "As much as I don't like the idea of Johnson near a shrine, we do have to humor her. Play the role of helpful little natives," she made a face at the last sentence. The Lion twins and Hera didn't know what to say. Soon, the women all walked carefully on the wooden bridge on the way back to the gate, and climbed across the pile of rocks in the way.

Johnson looked up when she heard footsteps. "Oh, it's you," she said. "And you got the artifacts too. You might just stop a crisis right in its tracks."
"Uh, thanks?" said Hera.
"Put those artifacts near the big statue by the gate, would you?" Johnson asked. Gayatri nodded sullenly and went over to place the artifacts. The twins and Hera went to see the statue Johnson mentioned.

"Kali wasn't a kentaurides, was she?" Artisa said in a tiny voice when they saw the statue near the gate. It looked like a centaur with a temple lion's upper half and huge paws with a lizardlike tail.
"You're thinking Greek, not Hindu," Hera whispered. "Kali was the night-mother. The destroyer, they called her. She was horrible to look at, like Medusa," the giant made an ugly face. "She hafh a big mouff like Fenrir," Hera pulled at the sides of her mouth. "She had ten hands like my many-great-grandpa, as bloodthirsty as Sekhmet, she-"
"Bah, you know who is the most like Kali back home?" Atroxia snorted.
"Shh!" Hera and Artisa shushed the red lion.
"If you're going to say that New York's Robin Hood is Kali, keep that thought to yourself," Hera thought to Atroxia. "Robin's got a fat head and hair down to her middle, not ten hands and Fenrir's mouth!"
Johnson called out, "Come over here and open the gate." The trio went over to have a look.

Hera observed the drawing of the woman on the door. "Saraswati?" she asked. Johnson turned to look at the blue giant. Hera said. "That's the first four-armed goddess I thought of."
Johnson rolled her eyes and replied, "No, four arms are a thing amongst devas and devis. I say that drawing on the door is Kali. See that stance?"
Hera nodded.

"She's standing over a man's corpse. Saraswati would be sitting on a lotus and playing a veena," Johnson explained. "Now, put all those gems in. That should unlock the door."
The twins looked at the faded drawing while Hera reached up to put the gems in the drawing's bracelets and on its forehead. They could make out the ugly hanging tongue and the wild long hair, along with the four arms of the destroying goddess.
Atroxia remarked, "That picture's got long crazy curls too."
Her twin simply rolled her eyes in reply. "They're black curls, Attie, not purple curls."
"Still a whole lotta hair," said Atroxia. Artisa agreed with that.

When Hera placed the red gem of truth on the drawing's forehead, a loud rumbling could be heard. The statue's eyes opened with a blue glow, and it yawned.
"The statue's waking up! Hide! Hide!" Gayatri exclaimed and jumped behind a nearby pile of stones. Johnson was scared out of her wits, and didn't object when Gayatri popped out to get her to safety.
Hera quickly pulled the lions back behind a rock wall to the south. They watched as the monstrous statue stomped around the gate.

Atroxia climbed over the pile of rocks she was hiding behind and strode over to the statue. She whistled sharply and the statue turned its head to look at her.
"Who dares to disturb the holy grounds of the stone mother?" the statue boomed.
"You speak English?" Atroxia asked the statue in a rude voice.
"I speak the mother of all tongues!" the statue shouted. "You shall not pass!"
"Are you really Kali's kid?"
"Yes," said the statue. "Enough talk! You have fouled the holy grounds of the mother!"
"You have a one-track mind," Atroxia folded her arms across her chest. "And bad hair," she added when she saw the stone ringlets on the statue.

The statue growled and stomped over to the red lion, who jumped away from the statue's feet. The statue roared and tried to stab her with its dagger. Atroxia rolled away from the deranged statue until she bumped into a pile of stones. Kalshiva snarled and stomped on the pile with all of her limbs. "That pesky thing!" she thought. "I'll squash her for fouling my mother's holy ground! Where's she?!"
"Oi! Up here!" Atroxia made silly faces at Kalshiva from a tall rock. Hera poked her head out of the pile of rocks she was hiding behind, and aimed her gun at the statue. Artisa shivered, hoping that the simple plan would work. Atroxia dumped several vials of acid on Kalshiva, who swore at the top of her lungs and tried to wipe the acid out of her eyes.

The statue reared up on its small hind legs in a bid to grab Atroxia. Hera quickly shot the legs, and hit the one on the left, which shattered from the force of the blow. The statue wobbled and Atroxia stayed still on the rock she had climbed up.

The statue fell over on its side and a crack appeared in its middle. A skeleton fell out of the crack and flopped to the floor in pieces. "So that story of the priestess was a hundred percent real after all," said Hera. Johnson and Gayatri stepped out from behind the rubble they were hiding behind earlier, and the brown-haired woman approached the skeleton. The skeleton was wrapped in the remains of a highly brocaded cloth.
"A sari," Johnson said, after examining the cloth. "Standard formalwear for most Indian ladies."
"But of course, miss Johnson! We don't wear saris all the time," Gayatri interrupted.

"You probably don't know much of Hindu legends, but Kali is supposedly unbeatable, since she's the ultimate reality. The representation of the end. That's why she looks so fierce and has a bloodthirsty temper, she cleanses the world of evil and is supposed to scare evildoers," Gayatri explained.
"I knew that much," Johnson muttered. "I know you've read the Ramayana and all those other Vedas and scriptures, but you don't have to show off."
"Then again, big lady didn't really beat up Maa Kali, she just beat up a monster claiming to be her."
Atroxia rolled her eyes as if to say that she was the one doing most of the work. Hera looked at the gate, which had swung open during Atroxia's fight with the giant statue. "Surely there's a city behind it," the giant said. Johnson's eyes brightened, and she sprinted past the open gate. Gayatri followed suit, muttering about having to make sure Johnson didn't get into trouble. Hera and the twins looked at each other, shrugged, then walked to the gate, expecting to see grand ruins beyond it.

Charries turned up in the chamber and picked up the skull of the priestess. "Maybe I could get the memories of this so-called daughter of Kali and Shiva," the masked man muttered and put the skull in his pocket. He saw the withered braid of black curls lying beside the broken skeleton, and picked it up. He waved the dried ringlets about. "Oh, there's some DNA in those old curls," he said to himself as he put the braid into his pocket and strolled to the gate.

--------

"At last, at last!" Johnson was on cloud nine as she pranced past the gate. "Now I can prove that the legend of Ingiru had some basis in reality..."
Gayatri whispered, "There's only a room here, and a tiny one at that."
Johnson looked around, her mouth hanging open in surprise at the small room she was in right now. "Oh, well, there might be a secret entrance or two," she laughed nervously and paced around the room. "Who's Yergen anyway?" she wondered as she walked around.

Time passed, and Johnson grew impatient when she couldn't find any secret entrances. Just as Charries walked in, she lost her temper and swore at the top of her voice, "Muttal Yergen! He'll pay for this! Where's the rest of the city?!"
Hera and the lions walked cautiously into the room and looked around, while Charries shook with laughter.
"Who's this Yergen von Shmergen fellow?" Atroxia snorted in surprise when she saw the graffiti in the room. Hera looked at a pedestal in the middle of the room. The only thing on the stone was a pair of paws! Charries laughed and rolled on the floor until he ended up gasping for air, and Gayatri glared at him.

Johnson continued ranting, "I was stupid, stupid, stupid! A real sucker! I should've realized that the Ingiru civilization was a fraud! No other civilization ever mentioned a society that was as technologically advanced..."
"Well, miss Johnson, was there something wrong with my forehead earlier?" Hera asked the furious archaeologist.
Johnson looked Hera in the eye and replied, "Where's your pottu?"
"I'm not Indian," Hera said in surprise. Johnson hit her own head in disgust and muttered something about going blind.
"Well, go. You've done all you can here," the explorer grumbled and walked around the room.

"All those years of looking up evidence of the Ingiru civilization, wasted! I'll be nothing but Saraswati the Stupid from now on!"
The lions shrugged, and the three left Johnson to sulk and steam over her disappointment.

--------

"My very best friend, Yergen is!" cried Koschei, after he summoned the three ladies back to his realm. "So what about him, Hera's grace?"
"He's stolen the treasure of Ingiru, or rather, the key to uncover the rest of the city," said Hera. The reaper sighed and put a hand to his eyeballs.
"Thanks for pointing that out, Hera's grace. I'll have to talk to him about that."
"Were you watching Atlantis, the Lost Empire?"
Koschei nodded in reply. "What? Can't an old man enjoy Disney movies?" the deathless one asked.
"It would be more weird if you were pony-mad, Koschei," replied Hera.
"Horses? I prefer looking at deer," said the deathless. "You did well, even though Illinois Johnson's now a nervous wreck."
"What can we do about her?" asked Hera.
"Let time heal her wounds. Maybe your new friend in India can help her out."

--------

Meanwhile on Nanda Devi, a brown-haired archaeologist was pacing around, muttering about wasting her life's work. An Indian girl waited nearby. "I was so dumb," Johnson groaned and sank to the ground. "My faith in this world's gone, all gone! I wanted to prove that legends could be real, and what do I get? An empty room with grafitti for all that trouble."
At this, Gayatri approached Johnson and held out her hand. "I'm sorry for making snap judgements of you. I thought you were an emotionless person bent on her own glory. Didn't know that you wanted to prove that legends exist."
"If I did say that, all the other historians would chuckle at me. I can't stand being made fun of, young lady."

Gayatri smiled and shook hands with Johnson. "I'll help you believe again, miss Johnson," the black-haired mountain girl said.
"But what about the legends? If we don't search for proof, how can we be sure that the legends really existed?"
"The legends were just a guide for everyone to live peacefully, miss Johnson. The way you're searching is too impatient. You won't find the truth if you're not willing to take it slowly," Gayatri replied. Kumari, Suresh and Ram looked on.

"You can call me Sara," Johnson said. "It's part of my real name, the goddess of knowledge in India."
"And you can call me Gayatri. If you ask me, Saraswati wasn't a stupid lady. No, ma'am, I'm sure we can find Ingiru someday. But you need both faith and reason, or you won't find it at all," Gayatri said.

The End.

Glossary.

"Maa Kali": Mother Kali, a Hindu goddess who took on a monstrous form to defeat evil. (Tamil)
"Muttal": Stupid. (Tamil)
Pottu: A decorative mark on one's forehead, usually a red or black dot. (Tamil)

< Message edited by Crystal Lion -- 10/10/2012 9:55:03 >
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