The Crown of Fools, Chapter Twenty-Seven

The outward appearance of decadence, royalty, and any sort of regal dignity was immediately dispelled when Petka got his first sight- and scent- of what lay before him.

Now, granted, this was the first time he had actually set foot inside an otherworldly, mist-veiled kingdom’s throne room, but when it came to castles and royal chambers he had certain…expectations. Petka, through all his wanderings had visualized a common paradigm shared by adults and children alike, typically gleaned from years of reading, and being read fairy-books.

Petka had visualized a long, cathedral like room, with an equally long, lush, gold-fringed red rug leading to an elegant and grandly appointed throne, upon which would sit either a kindly, sage-like, wizened old Queen, or a beautiful, silk-attired Princess with a smile and a gleaming crown. Perhaps she would be flanked by a court sorcerer on one side, or a fool or harlequin on the other. Further, he expected a small collection of clerics, leaning upon silver staffs, whose towering, round hats and white and red caps made them look and sound like chittering chessboard rooks; in soft voices they would argue theologies and politics while reading ancient paper scrolls. And perhaps, a true neighboring kingdom would have sent a true emissary with a true gift- an elephant or an emu- something grand to add to what would have to be a fantastic menagerie located in the palace gardens.

In fact, with the sole exception of the initial perception of the sheer size of the throne room, and the fact that there were two visible Otherworlders (Petka and Raksha) bearing the gift of an “Alsacian Quiver Cake” (as if such a thing existed), the room was nothing as Petka had imagined or expected.

Sure, the bare bones of luxury were present- there a vaulted ceiling and marble columns, but everything was off-color and greasy to the touch. The enormous size of the hall had been greatly reduced by clutter and filth- stacks of discarded cookie and pizza boxes, numerous dirty magazines (all with the eyes cut out, creepily enough); partially finished and rapidly ripening chicken fingers littered the ground like so much rotting gravel– though perhaps the worst of all was the smell- imagine a melange of grilled cheese and body odor served in a loaded diaper, and you would be nowhere close to its true, eye, tongue, and skin-burning pungency.

Aside from the noxious mix of rotting food odors, mingling carelessly with the sickly sweet-scent of empty cartons of frosting, Petka imagined (and for no specific reason) that this was the smell of when clowns go bad. Now clowns are unpleasant enough creatures- painted faces, tattered clothes, reeking of hooch and huffing ether– and besides, they handed out candy, which had been so prevalent in Petka’s surroundings that he had no desire to eat sweets…and further, is candy not just empty calories? And speaking of empty calories, Petka saw the physical manifestation of empty calories sitting- or rather pouring out of the creaking throne in front of him- whether it was one clown who hailed from and entertained in the city of Dis (where all clowns are born), or a hundred clowns all gone terribly wrong, piling into a human suite like a tiny car, stink and all, Petka could not be sure.

There was no Girl Next-Door good-looks fairy-book princess with a diamond-studded tiara, clothed in flowing silks, nor some handsome, elderly queen whose eyes- despite her age- were as sharp and beautiful as cut sapphires, dressed in royal garb, with laugh lines and a kind heart- there was only…it. And it was a behemoth.

The ample girth that had forced itself into the throne, causing its sides to bulge and wheeze in agony, inspired in the viewer a sad case of animism– that with even the smallest wiggle or stirring of the meat-mound which sat in the embrace of something once lovingly carved, one half expected a single tear to fall from the face of one of the stretched beyond recognition cherubs that once fluttered carelessly in the wood. Had the throne been sentient, surely it would have begged for the sweet relief of death.

The Queen -or rather, what had taken the true Queen’s place- eyed Petka the baker, Raksha the barber, and the “Alsacian Quiver Cake” (to which the Big Round its eyes seemed to spend the most time)  through narrow and unwavering, cruel little lizard eyes. But before Petka could fully appreciate his predicament, he felt his eyes magnetically drawn to what was ostensibly once a human being, or something of his ilk.

Instead of a golden, jeweled crown or diamond studied tiara, a gingerbread pillbox hat sat askew on a tangled mess of greasy red hair (though the black roots of what was clearly a long-neglected dye-job had grown a quarter of the way out, very much in style resembling the hide of a neglected goat– the bird’s nest of tangles occasionally permitted a few greasy strands of hair to fall onto her broad, pimply forehead and hold fast to the unpleasant cratered surface with sweat, beads of which were constantly forming from over-large pores, as if simply being sentient and sedentary required some level of athleticism that was taxing her ample frame.

The Queen’s nose was comically, and quite ironically turned upwards (to such a degree that it could almost be said to be bordering on upside-down), and her nostrils flared and she sucked down an entire eight foot tube of raw cookie dough with vigor unparalleled. Thick, greasy lips coated with a caked-on, purple lipstick with the consistency of acrylic paint matched her clumpy, running mascara (the combination of which lent her teeth the spectacularly yellow color of fresh corn which likely caused by the fact that her off hand contained a lit cigarette between each finger, and some poor bastard “cigarette minion” was charged with replacing the smokes after they were sucked down to the filter within seconds. For sure, it could be a dangerous job, for whether by accident, intent, or pure carelessness, this massive fleshy boulder of a wisp-queen name of Scott, would occasionally ingest a cigarette– and there was no telling (given her general lack of awareness) when she might consume the poor little pig which shook like a leaf, clutching onto a carton of cigarettes for dear life, cringing every time a full mouth belched the words, “Another Smoke!”.

Instead of the typical gown of sewn velvet and silk so often associated with royalty, she wore the aforementioned demoralized muumuu, butter yellow at the pits and wrought with food stains and small, circular cigarette burns. If he squinted his eyes just right, Petka thought he could just make out the blur that had once been a royal crest, though its individual symbols could not be derived for the abuse they had taken by the relentless stretching of the fabric- every stitch of the garment was wailing in protest, in a hopeless war of attrition in trying to keep the rippling flesh it was forced over held in place. Worse still, it only went down to just above the “Queen’s” knees, leaving very little to the imagination. Her breasts were mournful, and had at some point pancaked and sagged to the place where the muumuu could only just travel to.

Interestingly enough, there was but one dainty part of the porkish lass who had finally sucked down the rest of the cookie dough and along with it a half-lit cigarette (once finished, she belched a cloud of acrid tobacco)- no, the term dainty was not to be used to describe the woman’s ears or fingers, which were the size and shape of sausage patties and links, respectively, but her feet.

This is not to say that her feet were “pretty” (are feet ever?), for sure they were a horror show in and of themselves. The foot from toe to heal was thick with dirt, and long, yellow, toenails hung loose atop her toes- it’s just that her feet were small, as if the absolute onslaught of glutenous fat couldn’t quite make it past the ankle and into the foot proper. Given the condition of the anatomy of the being that owned these feet, they were clearly unprepared to handle the incredible weight that would be placed upon them. Perhaps it was some natural form of protest- the exact reason for this “daintiness” was not clear, but it rendered the throne-bound creature completely immobile, save for what little inches the wheezing steam powered scooter throne could eek forward. In any event, the whole sight was quite disturbing for Petka; even Raksha gagged a bit.

“Visitors!” belch-cried the entity in a surprisingly high and feminine voice, “Please, I beg you excuse me for a moment.”

With one fist, the size and texture of a cooked ham, she banged on the wall closest to her and shouted, “PB&J! Use toaster tarts this time instead of bread! No…NO! Cherry of course, everybody knows Grape is gross! That’s why you always- gods help you, always use apricot jam! Why do we have them? Because I want options ever in I don’t like the option! And make it quick, I can’t eat an excuse! And make it a triple-decker or, you know, the sentence is death.”

Sure enough and shortly thereafter, there came a clutter from a series of twisted, brass pipes, which had been haphazardly attached to the ceiling and wall with bailing wire and duct tape; it resembled something very much like a big Suessian trumpet, and from its large bell fell the requested triple-decker toaster tart Peanut Butter & Apricot Jam into the queens ample lap, and with the same unfettered vigor displayed when she consumed the cookie dough, the toaster-tart flavored diabetes-vehicle vanished into the Queen’s mouth (with yet another lit cigarette); as she chewed, she again addressed Petka and Raksha.

“So sorry, my dears, but you’ve arrived during brunch,” said she; her voice was disgustingly muffled by her full mouth, and crumbs along with partially masticated breakfast treats spattered dangerously close to Petka’s group.

“Excuse me,” said the queen as she belched and farted for an impressive thirteen seconds (Chaim counted, and nearly threw up when he hit that unlucky number). She then stretched her long, thick, equine lips around a second tube, and made loud sucking sounds, viscous little rivulets of custard streaming down her multiple chins.

Creme brulee,” she said with ill-concealed pride, “The caramelized crust only slows me down.”

Petka simply muttered a noncommittal, “Yeah, sure.”

“Anywho,” she added- though the words has harshly distorted by another thundering belch, “I can assure you that your quivering cake has my undivided attention- why look at it quiver so!”

“Why, uh, yes!” said Petka with feigned enthusiasm, “It’s an Alsacian Quiver Cake! And this (he gestured to Raksha and Chaim) is Fredo, a world-renowned barber here to tend to your Majesty’s every need for, umm, hair… beautification of hair.”

“Oh, goody!” said the queen, clapping her flabby flesh-mitts together rapidly, “Dessert AND a makeover? Why, I must be in some kind of paradise!” here she emitted a high pitched giggle. “I know you can’t tell because of my exceptional grooming, but the hair on my palms and back is getting a bit unruly. So from what kingdom do you come from?”

“Oh, a small hamlet known as Alsace,” replied Petka.

Then noise, muffled voices, and even violent shaking of the cake erupted, as though Petka raised his voice (and Raksha whined) to drown out the sound, it was fruitless.

“I say, baker, is that cake arguing with itself?” asked the queen, leaning her head forward as far as the lack of neck would permit, squinting her beady eyes.

“Why, um, y-yes!” said Petka, “We’re a very progressive kingdom. What you are hearing are the tiers of the cake arguing over who gets to be eaten first. It’s the latest in cake technology. A feast for the senses, truly.”

“Ooooh, goody!” replied the Queen with her rapid, muffled claps, “That means it will have that wonderful, sentient tang.”

Then, as if the cake had simply had enough, it exploded, and out toppled Finnen and Anais, both red faced; the sweating, angry, and quite bald Irishman picked up his rifle, and the taller, slightly gibbous knight stood next to him, her oddly squarish sword pointed at the porcine queen. Aside from being red from the heat, their lips seemed to be oddly puffy. Chaim, at this point took the opportunity to buck Raksha from his shoulders, gasping for breath. He looked over at the wolf, who was still in costume, and had to admit that she really wore it better.

“Seven minutes in heaven you two?” shouted Chaim, “I thought we were on a mission to save a kingdom, but let’s all just make out!”

“What is the meaning of this?” barked the queen, “And just what the in the name of marzipan happened to my cake?!” And did the ass of that barber just remove itself and speak?”

“Quiet, Canid!” shouted Finnen, rifle shouldered and at the ready, “My face is red because I spent 30 minutes in a cake, and received a rifle butt to the face with every bump!”

“Oh,” said Chaim (it seemed that everybody had ignored the queen’s asinine questioning), “And I bet the rifle gave you that hickey too, eh?”

“As a matter o’ fact, it did! Not that it’s any of yer business!”

“Then why are your hands in each others pockets?!”

Anais and Finnen exchanged worried glances, and (now ignoring Chaim) retook their battle stances. Chaim laughed to himself, and the mustachioed Raksha was licking her paws nonchalantly.

“Well, well, well,” said Lady Scott with a chubby giggle (yes, even her words carried weight, though literally and not figuratively), which sent unsettling ripples down her many chins, through her ample frame, and eventually through every limb, “I always thought you were quite the ass, Chaim- funny that you should stroll into my throne room playing the part- oh, and it suits you quite well.”

Everybody snickered.

Chaim balled up his fists in anger then, out of agitation, Chaim as well as Raksha (as if responding to the same canine influence) shook themselves thoroughly.

“’Lady’ Scott,” said Chaim with a deep, angry tone, “I was hoping to never see you again. Was being Queen of the Wisps not enough for you? Well I see you’ve really GROWN into your role!”

Here Chaim looked around for laughs, found none, and muttered, “Really you guys? Come on…”

Petka smiled, “It was more clever than funny, Chaim, in a way it’s a complement. And it certainly gave us a lot to think about.”

“Oh, ah, well…” Chaim hemmed and hawed, I suppose I can be rather clever.”

“Also,” began Petka, twisting his beard, “Shouldn’t this wisp queen be a little more…wispy?”

“A fair question. Paradoxically, the queen of the wisps is actually sort of semi-human, able to change to a degree when the situation demands-“

“Quiet, ape!” Croaked the Queen, “I’ll tell the story – I’m quite a good story-teller, hee hee!” She undulated with glee. “I came to tell the tart that I and my piggy wiggy army were coming to conquer her dumb-dumb kingdom, and as a queen myself, I couldn’t have been all translucent, so I made myself denser, more human. I met her under the pretext of trade, when she handed me a piping hot tea-cake drizzled with chocolate sauce. That. Changed. The. Game.”

She was salivating over the memory.

“I had never had something so…fulfilling. And, well, I had to look human so I demanded more. Deep fried pie dipped in heavy syrup with a fondant filling. A boar stuffed with a deer stuffed with a goose stuffed with a duck stuffed with a chicken stuffed with a quail stuffed with a hardboiled egg wrapped (here she trilled and flourished her finger) in sausage”

“You ate 10,000 calories in a sitting and lost your figure, yes?” clucked Chaim in disgust. “I think we get it.”

“Lost!?” Bellowed the Queen, “Gained, you mean! I’m voluptuous! Then my plan changed… and also I had this horrorshow delicious tuna grinder with melted gruyere only sandwiched between 2 doughnuts instead of bread and-“

“Wait love-” Finnen coughed and addressed Anais over the description of the fateful sandwich, “I mean Anais, didn’t you say the pigs have sort of a hive-mind?”

“Yes you cretinous pig-dog,” replied Anais unconvincingly as she winked at Finnen, “They were able to conquer us because the seemed to all be aware of every part of the battlefield; like they all shared the same pair of eyes.”

“Exactly,” said Chaim, “Such is the natural way of the Wisp- a shared mind- a hive mind.  Just as I suspected…when she waddled into power, she rallied the pigs, likely having previously ousted whatever god they worshiped. All that would have been left was to impart a ‘gift’ to all of her subjects. Knowing her, it was probably something like an Wisps-y colonic.”

“Wrong, you filthy dog!” shouted the queen, “I’ll have you know it was an open-mouth tongue kiss! And I hated every sexy minute of it! Butt-stuff was a formality!” Then she sighed, “But, heavy is the head that wears the hastily baked gingerbread cap of absolute authority.”

“Oi, you oval bitch, where is Queen Olivia?” shouted Anais, armor clanking as she approached the throne, sword drawn. “You took her seat! Where is she you gluttonous egg?!”

“Man,” said the Lady Scott as if in a dream, “Have you guys ever rolled Kielbasa in a combination style pizza?” the queen purred in the pleasure of some far-off gastronomical memory.

“Hey!” shouted Finnen, “She asked you a question you jagaloon oaf!”

“Rude!” belched the queen, smacking her lips, “If you must know, my taking of the throne was quite easy indeed. After your royal guards were dispatched- I mean I ate them, bones and all, and the knights enslaved by my piggy-wiggy soldiers, all I had to do was take my rightful seat on the throne and wait for the clawing to stop!”

“Christ on a bike!” shouted Finnen, so horrified that he pulled Anais two steps back from the throne.

“Oh… I’m going to lose it!” shouted Petka, wretching. Raksha licked his hand to comfort him.

“Don’t throw up, or I will!” shouted Chaim, doubled over, a furry, clawed hand over his canine snout, “And if I lose it, there’s a good chance big’un will lose it- imagine a dam breaking! Remember the antediluvian world? Of course you don’t! Let’s not let history repeat itself!”

“She’s still under you?!” shouted Anais, sheathing her sword, and producing a repeating crossbow.

“You bet,” said the queen, sucking on her pointer finger, ostensibly to remove some microscopic morsel from under the nail, “I figure there’s either a skeleton back there, or I absorbed her via osmosis. Anybody’s guess.”

“That’s it!” shouted Anais, “Fire at will!”

Clouds of smoke filled the room as Finnen fired Creighton’s service rifle, Petka fired buckshot from that strange, steam-powered repeating-blunderbuss, and Chaim fired into the pink, fleshy mass with green plasma from his strange Big Tungsten Gun, until all the ammunition the group had brought was spent. Also, Raksha barked a lot, for what it was worth.

When the smoke finally cleared, they found a perfectly intact queen, greedily tucking into a two gallon tub of Moose Tracks ice cream, origins unknown.

“Oh you foolish, stupid, dumb…stupid…dummies,” said the queen, but was interrupted by Chaim shouting,

“Oh, get a Thesaurus!”

“I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that,” said the queen, mouth now full of candied pecans, origins unknown, “While it’s true I would die if you destroyed my sexy, sexy body, but I have a distinct advantage! When you can’t walk, your body begins to take the shape of an egg, then you roll everywhere. And when I could still roll, I developed a thick callus all over my, again, sexy, sexy body! So you see Chaim, there isn’t a bullet or a bolt that can pierce my three-inch thick hide! Bwa-ha!”

“Well, shit.” muttered Chaim, now crestfallen.

“Ahhh, don’t take it so hard Canid,” said Finnen in a consolatory tone, “I’ve seen horrors in my day, but coulda never predicted this.”

“Yeah,” sighed Chaim dejectedly, “I guess.”

“Well, what now?” asked Petka, petting Raksha, whose heckles were up as she growled.

“We have to dispose of her somehow!” shouted Anais dispassionately, “Hive mind, remember? Cut the head off the top-pig, then we can mop up the rest of them!”

The Queen merely laughed.

“Unfortunately, you bony strumpet, you will never have the chance. For attempted regicide, your punishment is death. Guards!”

The queen pounded a ham-fist against the nearby wall, sending thundering reverberations through the room.

The two doors to the throne room flew open, and what seemed like a hundred human soldiers, all dressed in identical red costumes, wielding long-swords, stood stock-still and at the ready.

The queen thickly thundered, “Kill the interlopers! Then put them on my lap so I can do things to their bodies!”

The guards scowled at our heroes, got their swords at the ready, and began to circle around, occasionally grunting or cursing. Finnen took the lead, rifle butting one in the face, causing his head to almost completely disintegrate. Finnen then proceeded to dismantle the entire soldier with rifle strikes, before it even had time to react.

“What is this, balsa wood?” asked Finnen, holding up an arm, still moving at the elbow, “Chaim, quick! Use your hex! The fire one!” shouted Finnen

“Got it!” said Chaim, and clearing his throat chanted,

A Dragon’s Breath!

A Volcano’s Wrath!

Middle, Middle, Middle,

Hear my plea, O living flame’

Set ablaze these walking fiddles!

And with a snap of his fingers, the entire army of wooden, clockwork soldiers were reduced to ash.

“Middle, middle, middle?” asked Petka shaking his head.

“Well, as it turns out, Hexes aren’t all that discerning with words. We can argue semantics, or appreciate the results.”

“Noooo!” moaned the queen in between bites of her “everything” Stromboli, origin unknown, “My clockwork army! And, for your information, it wasn’t balsa wood, it was particleboard! The finest in all the land!”

“I don’t get it,” mused Petka, now sitting next to Raksha on the least greasy part of the floor, “Why wouldn’t you have actually strong pig-guards here, you know, to kill intruders like us?”

“Oh, pigs are not permitted in the throne room- well save for my cigarette minion,” said the queen, “I find them to be disgusting.”

And with that comment, a dead, palpable, heavy silence hung in the air.

“There are…no words…” muttered Petka.

“Oh that’s where you’re wrong, you bearded fool!” shouted the queen, “and they are ‘I’ and ‘do’!”

“How do you mean?” asked Chaim, still proud of his hex-work.

“Well, you defeated my army, and earned the prize! Which one of you virile gentleman will be my husband? They way you men beat down those clockwork guards got my perpetually racing heart all a flutter! A Queen simply needs a King, and we shall produce an heir! We will consummate our marriage immediately! Now, will the lucky bachelor approach approach the throne, and lift the royal mu-muu? Quickly now, one of you must deflower me, and be ushered into royalty with a technique I like to call ‘the musky thrust!’”

Not a split second went by when Finnen piped up in his heavy Irish brogue:

“Well, Fawcett, you’ve earned her mitt in marriage. Congratulations on an adventure well done.”

“Sorry Finnen,” replied Petka in a somber tone; Raksha began to growl, bearing her fangs at the Irishman, “I consider you a true friend Finnen,” said Petka in an earnest tone, “I’d venture to say that I love you like a brother. The problem is that Raksha here hates you more. And though I hate to say it, if you were take a step towards me, Raksha will take off your boot and the foot within it.”

The look on Petka’s face offered a mixture of pity and relief.

“Ho-Kay,” said Finnen, “Why don’t we just make Chaim do it?”

Chaim chirped in almost immediately, ‘Ha! Can’t! Ghost, and therefore sterile!” here he leaped into the air, clicked his heals together, and began laughing in a maniacal, unhinged way.

“Sterile?” said the queen, “No, that won’t do. No, Sir, won’t do at all.”

“Today’s really coming up Chaim!” shouted the Spirit of the Lonely Hollows with jubilation.

Now the queen eyed Finnen hungrily.

“Come hither, baldy, and prepare yourself for Carnal Magic.”

Finnen let out a long, anguished sigh.

The queen smiled as wide as a Cheshire cat and whispered, “You’re a screamer, aren’t you? I could tell when you burst out of that cake…”

Now Finnen, who had thus far shown nothing but sheer bravery, had true, animal panic in his voice.

“Petka! Fawcett! Please, for tha love o’ Jesus, don’t let her take me! Oh what, you lost your hearing now, Fawcett? At least look at me! Are you…are you whisltin’ a tune? What is that? Oh Christ, no- is it ‘Nearer My God to Thee?’

Petka looked up with a frown and asked, “Would you prefer I sing a hymn? Perhaps ‘Abide With Me’?”

“Y-yes,” replied Finnen, his shoulders slumped almost impossibly low.

Swift to it’s close ebbs out life’s little day…”

“Wait!” cried Finnen, “Canid, I mean Chaim- you can things to ash- things like me!”

Chaim merely shrugged and replied nonchalantly, “Sure, when I’m properly motivated.”

Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away…”

“Oh, what-” said Finnen, spitting as he yelled at Chaim, “Yer not properly motivated to now?”

Chaim let out a hearty belly laugh, and said with a sardonic smile, “Oh, no, no, no. You see Finnen, I find the world infinitely more interesting with you in it. Now go and accept your musky, and likely oily fate with at least a shred of dignity.”

Change and decay in all around I see…”

With another thundering belch, the queen threw aside the empty package of now consumed thin mints, origins unknown, and bellowed, “Enough dawdling! EnterM yKingdom!”

Oh, though who changest not…”

Running out of ideas, Finnen turned to Anais.

“Hey Anais, this is gonna sound strange, but hear me out-”

But his words were cut off by a falcon-punch to Finnen’s jaw, courtesy the lovely lady knight.

Abide with me…”

Anais stomped her armor plated foot in pure frustration.

“You idiots! Aside from the fact that she couldn’t possibly be ambulatory, and that you, Finnen, would have to willingly walk into her meaty, flabby piggy-arms to start the horror show that would be coitus with such a creature, let me draw your attention to the gaping, circular hole in the ground!

“Hey,” said Chaim with curiosity, leaning dangerously over the large pit which glowed as if a small fire were burning at the bottom, “There does seem to be a seemingly bottomless hole here with a dim glow and some kind of hellish screaming emanating from within. Hmm, if that’s not the damnedest thing.”

Now, no longer eating, the queen focused purely on smoking a long, thick, foul-smelling cigar which was attached to the end of a longer, ivory cigar holder. Petka, making note of the apparatus, guessed it was employed to prevent the Wisp Queen from eating the cigar, accidentally, or otherwise. And he guessed right.

“Oh, never you mind that silly old hole,” said the queen in a corn-syrupy sweet voice whilst blowing smoke rings, “It’s just a pit of eternal sorrows. I had it installed when I took the throne. Oh, Baldy, you just wait for the ecstasy you’ll feel when I get my rowing stick! Then you’ll meet my pit of eternal sorrows! I mean joys- I said joys. Pit of joys.”

“You’re crazy!” shouted Finnen.

“Pee on me!” retorted the queen.

The queen then began grunting and snorting, much to the piteous groaning of the tortured, warped throne as she tried to reach a sturdy, long, wooden oar that was just out of reach of her three foot plastic gripping claw; it was, evidently, her only mode of locomotion.

“Oh, well this is embarrassing, and I do hate to ask…but would one of you be a lamb and get my rowing oar? It’s just out of reach of my grabby, claw-y thing.”

Apparently, still not grasping that the flabby meat-thing in the vocally shuddering throne required willing assistance in order to actually capture Finnen. The Irishman and the Spirit of the Lonely Hollows immediately began to argue over who would be the unlucky soul to retrieve for the Queen her “paddlin’ oar”; Petka, on the other hand, was playing Tug of War with Raksha with a well-worn piece of rope.

Anais, seeing the absurdly obvious opportunity to end this madness, formulated a quick plan.

“Petka,” she yelled, then louder, “Petka!” But he simply humming a tune, and continued to play with his lupine companion.

Petka Fawcett!” she shouted at the top of her lungs, partially to get his attention, and partially to overcome the grunting and groaning of the so-called Queen and the increasingly absurd argument between the Irishman and the Spirit of the Lonely Hollows.

Oh, I’m sorry miss,” said Petka, rising to his feet, and releasing the toy to Raksha, “I was miles away.”

“Look,” said Anais, “It seems like you and I are the only ones here with our heads screwed on straight,” here, she motioned to Chaim and Finnen playing their 20th round of Rock, Paper, Scissors; soon after they agreed to a staring contest, but when that was deemed impossible by the ubiquitous, toxic stink, they entered into a, quote, “No Holds Barred, All-Out Thumb Wrestling Match”. Chaim painted his hand in gnome’s blood, and in a rare moment of cooperation, the Lady Scott agreed to act as the referee, while eating a potato sack-sized bag of popcorn, origins unkn- well, you get it.

“Petka,” said Anais, with a long sigh, “Will you help me push this (she pointed at the queen) into that (here she referenced the pit of eternal sorrows).”

“Why, of course,” replied Petka with a thin smile, cracking his neck and knuckles, “I am always happy to help.” His manners were impeccable even in this bizarre circumstance; “But what if she doesn’t fit?”

“I will make her fit,” replied Anais, fire in her eyes.

“Right,” said Petka, nodding with a smile- authentic, but a little worried, as the Queen outweighed even the stone Pachyderm whose idea of a good time was a dead-shot dragon-kick to the grapes he had so long ago made the acquaintance of. Fortunately, it seemed, that there was an ever-so-slight slope leading to the Pit of Eternal Sorrows. This was good news for Anais, Petka, and even Raksha who, paws on the Throne, pushed the beyond obese Queen, who should have certainly feared regicide a bit more when hiring the enslaved humans to install the aforementioned Pit of Eternal Sorrows, as they were likely a little…”miffed” at the change in “management”.

There is an old saying that goes, “ What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?” The question, under normal circumstances, is rhetorical as absolutes typically cannot exist in the physical world- the concept of these two impossible entities meeting is more of an exercise for the mind to ponder the clash of great forces. The circumstances that our heroes found themselves in, however, were far from normal- if there was ever an immovable object, it was the Lady Scott- fortunately for Anais, Petka, and Raksha, the small, but impossibly sturdy all terrain wheels (normally to be used in conjunction with the rowing oar) enabled the three of them to ever-so-slowly, inch by inch, move the queen closer to the Pit. Oh, she hemmed and hawed, alternating between promises of riches, and/or death, all the while peppered with oaths and curses.

The queen and her demoralized throne were finally pushed into the Pit– and while the throne fell immediately towards the depths, the Queen predictably got stuck around the middle. Her cries of triumph were, however, quite short lived as a few strong kicks from Anais seemed to send the naturally lubricated flesh-beast plummeting (ostensibly forever) towards her death by starvation, likely thirteen eons from now, as the pit was supposed to lack a bottom.

When the weeble-wobble false monarch’s screams finally subsided to nothing, the heated argument between Finnen and Chaim came back into focus, and the content was quite absurd.

Chaim shouted, “Face it Irish, you lost! Just get her the oar already! Hey, I know, maybe you can get your girlfriend to suck on your neck while you do it!”

Finnen spat his reply, “Oh, jealous much? What you wouldn’t give to have someone suck on your neck!’

Chaim took a stunned step back, looking extremely wounded by Finnen’s comment. The Ghost Wolf-Man then whispered, “Dirty pool, Irish. Dirty pool. Fine. I’ll get the stick. Hey, if I’m lucky, she’ll confuse me for a tiddy-oggie or something and eat me. Let’s face it – I’m gruesome.”

“Don’t say that, Canid! You’re a…fine modern gentleman!” 

“I hate to interrupt, but we defeated the queen. It’s over.” Petka said, again sitting on the floor, cross-legged, scratching Raksha on the belly.

“Oh!” said Finnen with surprise, “Just how did that happen exactly?”

Anais whose palms were pressed against her golden eyes as if to ward off the frustration whispered, “We just pushed her in the hole.”

“Oh well, isn’t that something,” mused Finnen, and Chaim nodded in agreement, as if the previous argument had never occurred. It was truly a bromance for the ages.

“Well,” said Anais, “I will leave you two to suck on each others necks. Petka, Raksha and I are going to go liberate the town.”

The three began to walk out; the now useless, weapons, forever out of ammunition, were discarded (though Finnen held fast to Creighton’s old rifle). Anais drew her oddly squarish sword, and Petka nocked an arrow in his longbow.

“Wait! We’re comin’ too!” said Finnin as he and Chaim picked up a long-sword each.

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