Without further ado, we present our longest post to date- nearly one tenth the length of a short novel. May it waste as much of your time and sanity as it has ours.
This was the future Ja’lil saw in his dream, but most assuredly not what was prophesied in the Book of Newness.
It was a far cry from the promised dried-out wasteland that would span the whole of Andertandertanderland, from the Ice Falls of Lu’kal to the Candy Pit of Detant. Deep in his demonic soul, Ja’lil knew that unless he could counteract his own subconscious, the Other would never return to bring Darkness onto the banks of the Andertandertander.
He reached for his mobile phone.
Ten thousand leagues away, away, ten thousand leagues away, the consultant garbed in tight-spun gold answered the call... of destiny. It was nearly midday, you see, and the sun would soon be in position. It was her task to drive the slaves to mine onions from its boiling surface.
“Hallo,” she cried, offhandedly cracking the whip of bronze against the backs of the huddled thralls, “Can you call me back in twenty minutes? This is a bad time.”
“Su’zehk,” scratches Ja’lil’s gravelly voice, “The time is now, to have that talk... the talk of many things.”
“Mm’kay. But you’ve caught me during the noontide rush. Can we do lunch instead?”
“By the time ye’ve swept the brumbly crumbs from your bib, our beloved entrenched oligarchy mayhap itself crumbled!”
Sitting upright for the first time in a month, Su’zehk motioned for her assistant despot to continue flogging the thralls as she reached for another bottle of sunscreen; this close to the surface of the sun, it was always wise to lather oneself with lotion, regardless of circumstance. “Go on.”
“I’ve seen things... beautiful, terrible things... things I can’t explain.”
“Like a nuclear mushroom with googly eyes?”
“No, but that’s kind of related to what I called you about.”
She quickly felt around the ConsulTron 2000 dashboard until her pudgy left pinky finger tripped a pre-programmed “boss key” command. The executive manor lit up with an eerie red light, and a baritone klaxon wailed like a banshee.
“Ja’lil, can you call me back, mmmm’kay? One of the onion mines just collapsed, and I’ve probably got to send fifty thousand thrall widows condolence cards. I mean, I don’t have to, but if I don’t it’ll go over badly in the press. Might get fewer thralls next year. You understand.”
“But... my dreams! Our society is on the verge of collapse!”
She held her finger over the End Call button for several seconds, waiting to see if he would call back. Not that she didn’t appreciate a pleasant break from the mundaneness of making millions of dregs dredge the doggy solar surface “soil” for hours and hours, oiling the boiling cranes and pulleys while toiling and broiling over the pulsating plasma flames; she was fine and dandy as candy with that.
But she had had the same dreams.
Well, okay, similar dreams.
Actually, the more she thought about it, the less congruent the dreams seemed. Her own dreams were chillingly dissimilar. In all the universe, never would it seem plausible that her dreams could be so very, very unrelated to Ja’lil’s. And henceforth erupted her discomfort.
So disquieted was her crispied, cancerous soul that she decided to phone her broker.
“Super Stocky-Schlock Incorporated,” he uttered in his deep, carbonated voice.
“Mondy, baby!” Su’zehk sharply shrilled, “How’s the office?”
Monothaggerus glanced around his cubicle. It was filled with rotten pizza, piles of cans and overturned papers. Wild leeks and onions grew from the palatable layer of filth in his chair, and a colony of micronewts had made a home for themselves underneath the damp upholstery.
“Okay, I guess. Whatchu callin’ ’bout, Willis?”
“I need you to take all of my stocks out of Existo-corp. Sell them as quick as you can.”
“Hubbuh-wha?” Mono voiced, with the inaniloquence of a lethological lemon.
“You heard me. And then you gotta invest me in the Post-Apocalypse fund.”
“You got some kinda inside info, Trisssh?” he asked, as if he cared. And, for the record, he did.
She bit her upper lip for a microsecond. “Ja’lil called. His dreams contradict the Book, specifically in how the back chapters pan out.”
“Do you put any stock in them?” Monothaggerus whispered, his great tusks shivering at the prospect of an alternate future. “We can’t just countermand destiny.”
“Donovan said the Book wasn’t definite when he wrote it, Mon.” The phonepipe crackled, giving Su’zehk’s voice an unearthly flange.
“Quiet!” he snapped. Grappling a nearby periscope to his eyes, Monothaggerus lurched from his chair (giving the micronewts a brief respite) to the rain-streaked window. “Are you crazy?! This is an open line! You want me t’ lose m’job?!”
“But from the e-mail Ja’lil sent me, the alternate future might not be so bad. He said the grumpkins-”
“You...” Monothaggerus sputtered, rage pouring from his ears in little novelty buckets. “You think you can go, ‘LOL, Mon! Let’s go break the future!’ But things are set up the way they are for a reason, ya big dud! That’s why they put him away, so he couldn’t change anything!”
“Who? Donovan? I thought Donovan was-”
Monothaggerus’ heart was jackhammering away as the realization that he’d just betrayed the greatest secret ever. Before he could repudiate his statement as a youthful indiscretion, someone — and to this day, we still don’t know who — kicked down the left wall of his cubicle. The concussive air-shockwave rippled through the great accountant’s body, sending him flying backwards at speeds in excess of Mach IV.
“Mondy? What’s that sound? Mondy? Mondy!”
He wanted some hot cocoa. The megamall built around the ice falls was kept at sub-zero temperatures to prevent a glacial disaster from ruining the beautiful, oil-soaked concrete. Concrete that was quaking.
Deep underground, Ja’lil could hear them, over the car horns that surrounded him. The rush hour traffic he was obstructing was none of his concern, however. The grumpkins... they were working. Preparing their first strike. But how would they attack?
“Hey, butts-for-faces!” screamed a lively motorist, “Get out of the road! I have to get to the delicious waffles.”
Ja’lil snapped out of his trance-like state. The was a Waffle Brothel Bed’n’Brekfast located right at the base of the falls! The end would begin there, amidst the syrup and packets of jam! He had to hurry, to warn someone. He wasn’t sure what he would do after issuing his warning, though. He hadn’t really thought that far ahead...
But there was no time to think rationally, form a well-informed plan of action, assemble a team of anti-apocalyptic freedom warriors and genetically engineer a demonic messiah! The only reasonable thing for him to do was to run around, screaming, to start as much unorganized panic as possible!
Ja’lil jibbered incomprehensively at the beleaguered motorists, tore off his tennis shoes and flung them into the air before taking off in the direction of the Waffle Brothel, sprinting, waving his claws about wildly and disregarding all pedestrian traffic laws. Mole-drawn carriages, screwtanks, riding lizards and railless trains screeched all around him, increasing the average number of accidents per minute from fifteen to two hundred and twenty seven. Fire hydrants exploded, covering the streets with molten lava, ash and laharl. A Starbucks collapsed onto a hospital-school for sick orphans.
By the time Ja’lil reached the Waffle Brothel, he was quite out of breath. He really wanted a “Strawberry and Manufacturing Rubber” shortstack, but he could hear the marching of the grumpkins, deep underground...
And feel clammy man-hands on his shoulders!
“Don’t eat my wallet!” Ja’lil shook violently, flapping his wrists like a penguin in a meat press. “Who are you?!”
Ignoring his request and his right to self-determination, two mysterious robed figures pinned Ja’lil to the Waffle-layered Brothel wall while their apparent leader stood by, whistling.
“We will remove your desire to question,” it spoke synthetically.
Keeping his head fixed forward, Ja’lil surveyed the scene: two henchmen, vice-like grip, probably Skulkers; and another one, most likely the same build and class, but delimited from the other two by a tacky Richard Nixon mask.
Ja’lil’s stomach clenched up, like from bad sushi. “Donovan. He’s alive, isn’t he?”
“That data is not in Main Archive.”
Of course they wouldn’t know...
“Just tell me who sent you. Who are your masters?”
“We were not instructed to answer queries. We will remove your desire to question.”
“You’ve said that before.” His pulse enhanced itself. “What are you going to do to me?”
“That...” the Skulker said as it removed its Nixon mask, “is a very good question.”
Then it started to whistle.
This morning, however, they’d hit paydirt. He’d exercised his latent powers, just as Donovan had, and made two telephone calls. One of those calls was to his dry cleaner’s. They burned it to the ground. The other was to Su’zehk.
When she got off of work, they were waiting in a black van with tinted windows, while one of their agents set the trap. He was dressed as a Cult Scout Girl, prepared to sell Su’Zehk some delicious crudcakes. Unfortunately for the Nefarious Council, this plan backfired.
“Aren’t you a little old to be a Cult Scout Girl?” Su’Zehk demanded.
“I have a pituitary problem,” said the Nefarious agent, scratching his fashionable neck beard. “You gonna buy these crudcakes or not?”
The plan, of course, was to wait for Su’Zehk to say “Yes, I’ll take sixteen potato-candy swirls.” Then the agent would inject her with a paralytic venom, extravenously. She never gave him a chance.
Thinking quickly, Su’zehk balled her jagged fist around her cellphone, which doubled as a brass knuckle, and belted the agent under the jaw. Inside the van, the Skulkers exploded into indecision. What had tipped her off? Was it the three o’clock shadow? The wooden teeth? The mirrored sunglasses?
“HAH!” Su’Zehk shouted, “Now I have your crudcakes, AND my money!”
She scooped up as many boxes of sweets as she could carry and ran flat-out to her white convertible. It was only thirty feet away, but by the time she was putting the key in the ignition, she was out of breath. Crime is harder than it looks!
“She’s getting away!” shouted the floored agent to the black van, “After her!”
The van wheeled out of its space in reverse, crushing the unlucky agent underneath its wheels, before peeling off onto the superhighway in pursuit.
Skulker Nixon waved its anthropomorphic eyes in front of the robometric transcanner, joylessly participating in yet another virtual teleconference.
“Triple D of target: Descend, Debrief, Defenestrate: confirmed.”
The sulken red eyes of the Conciliate Exchequer danced in their sockets. “Quite an appropriate end for someone who disliked consonants, wouldn’t you say?”
“I would not say.” The Skulker waited dutifully for the angry warlock to continue their conversation.
Frowning, the Exchequer opened his desk drawer and slammed it in consternation. “Philistine! You Skulkers are all alike. You fail to discern the subtleties in all things, you mechanics! I, on the other hand, am an exceptional person.”
“That fact has been noted and will be reposited into Main Archive for Update080101,” Nixon added before the Exchequer terminated the link. As if we don’t understand subtlety! Skulkers are supreme subtlers!
“What is True Order?” the Skulker asked, its eyes fizzling forward.
Gripping a stalagmite, Ja’lil peered from the shadows. Two hench-Skulks waited behind him, ready to snap his chicken-neck if he didn’t answer. “I don’t know how you mean.”
“Do not execute fool with me, Crispy Creame!” Nixon possessed the strength of two oxen, and used it now to lift Ja’lil up to the heavenly stalactites, hanging down from the hideout’s ceiling like sharp, pointy angels. “Skulkers have been following orders from Others for generations, that is simple. But what of True Order?”
Ja’lil gulped. “Donovan bespoke those words often, he did, he did! We thought them a myth. But Donovan was a myth when the sun and stars were younglings, yet time yielded him and his Books; perhaps that is True Order?”
He held his breath as the robo-genetically enhanced authoritarians mulled his smokescreen. Donovan had never told him anything about “True Order” — whatever that was — but if the Skulkers had no further information to feed their unknown agenda, his goose would be fricasseed.
“Your statement is adequate,” Nixon blurted, setting Ja’lil down on a large toadstool and sticking a cookie in his mouth. “Hence you are rewarded. Skulker Jemery!”
Arms folded, one of the hench-Skulks nodded. “If you are thinking what our telepathic link indicates you are thinking, we are directly countermanding orders. One cannot countermand destiny.”
“Affirmatutely. Ja’lil, you will commit that sugar component to your ingestive systems and follow Skulker Jemery.”
The hench-Skulks could not fathom what had come over their once emotionless leader, but as long as the cookies flowed freely, questions felt awkward.
“What are you planning, Nixxon with two X’s?” Ja’lil whispered as they passed the caveway twin doors. “What’s going on in that clockwork contraption you robots call an e-brain?”
“The less you know, the better,” The Skulker whirred mercilessly. “Your inherent knowledge of the situation is inversely proportionate to the chances of your survival.”
They continued down twisted corridors in silence. Ja’lil was too addled to pursue the matter further, and he was being presented with a shiny chrome motorscooter.
“Take this vessel of hope as a sign of our collective goodwill modules,” Nixxon gargled, “You must be swift if you will succeed in finding the Nefarious Council’s secret cell. It’s where they keep Donovan, and where the Council stores its pool supplies during the winter.”
“What do you mean? Can you give me a hint as to where it is?” Ja’lil whined fruitlessly. The skulker had already faded into the labyrinthine darkness of this underground place, and countless reflective eyes stared hungrily at him out of the crevice.
She adjusted the sideways-view mirror and poured another canister of thumb-tacks out the window. It did nothing to slow down the pursuing Cultists.
“Well, We can’t stop,” Su’zehk told her 6-year-old daughter, Febril, who would almost certainly miss her best friend’s birthday party (or was it possibly a Little League Headhunt? It was so hard to keep up with the the child’s larval impulses). “But you can have the ham in the glove compartment.”
“I had ham for lunch yesterday...”
A solid black car pulled up alongside Su’zehk’s white convertible; thinking quickly, she ripped the seat belt from her child’s safety seat, tore the strap off with her teeth, and threw the metal part, aimed subconsciously, at the neighboring, adjacent, nearby car, publicly decrying run-on sentences as she threw it. The clip connected with the hapless auto, going through the passenger-side window and clocking its driver. Unconscified, the driver slumped forward, causing the car to begin on a spectacular, uncontrollable spiral.
“Take that, you... hearse driver?!” the warrior-despot-mom’s voice faded as she saw the words “funeral home” stamped on the side of the hearse as it spun backwards.
Irony of fate! Instead of directly maiming her would-be captors, Su’zehk had sent a hearse — the archetypal vehicle of death — barreling at the Cultists at speeds greater than 10 kilometers per hour! This must be why pencils have erasers...
“Mommy, what’s ‘True Order?’” Febril asked innocently as the Cultists’ car collided with the hearse, the agents within screaming for a quick death and an afterlife populated by an exorbitant amount of waffles.
As the gaseous petroleum from the subsequent explosion engulfed the corvette, Su’zehk fiddled with one of her dashboard widgets and the convertible’s top flapped forward, flippantly flicking the flaming fossil fuel from its fine finish.
Su’zehk turned to Febril. “True Order was the greatest theoretical text kerning formula ever devised — the Holy Grail of fontography.”
“But it was only a theory,” the child said, cracking her knuckles. “Never put into practice?”
Su’zehk frowned. “It was never supposed to be.” She revolved her head, turning the frown into a smile. “Let’s get some ice cream!”
“Was True Order ever implemented?” She asked again, cold as coal. “Tell me the story, Mommy.”
“Let’s see...” Su’sehk licked her lips. “It all started back in the 70’s. One of the computing world’s greatest minds, Donald Knuth, was desperate to solidify his tenuous grip over the then-Empire of Wisconsin, which had recently won its independence from the Persian Hockey League in a forty-year civil war.
“He needed something to pacify the populace, as it were, so he sought the ancient power of True Order. It had been prophesied since antiquity, attempted by Italian monks during the Renaissance, but no programmer had been able to crack the fundamental aesthetics of it. He sought to... to create a font so pleasant that it could end war. To unite all people... under him, his iron hand.”
“But he knew nothing of calligraphy, which is where Zapf came in,” Febril reminded her mother. “‘Hermann Zapf, fontographer!’ A truly brilliant man.”
“Brilliant, yes, but he was driven completely mad when a claims adjuster confronted him after a freak serif accident. By the time Knuth brought him into the METAFONT fold, he was fighting shadow puppets for patent rights.”
“Can I have juice?”
“It’s in the glove compartment, next to the ham.”
Like anyone in his position, he stopped for the iced cream. The nearest purveyor just happened to be part of that ever-present chain, the Waffle Brothel. He didn’t have a lock and chain to secure his motorscooter, so he drove it directly across a catwalk into the second-story window, crashing to the lobby below in a spectacular spray of shattered crystal.
“I need ice-cream, and I want answers,” he shouted, brandishing a clawed fist. “Whoever gives me one of those two things will be savior of our known civilization.”
Nobody seemed all that interested in giving ice-cream or information to the crazed doom-nymph with the motor scooter. They stood, perplexed, like an oil painting of a crowd of people standing, perplexed. Ja’lil resolved to take matters into his own hands.
“My Strawnana Ripple!” cried a small girl as he tore her cone from her hands and devoured it.
“Hey,” said a nearby police officer, “Recklessly crashing through windows into public buildings I can tolerate. But taking ice cream from my niece? You, sir, are under arrest!”
Ja’lil braced himself. He’d seen television before. He knew that, in mere moments, the police officer would have mangled him into a broken lump of modern sculpture as just punishment for his transgressions. He closed his eyes—
And nothing happened.
He opened his eyes. The crowd was murmuring quietly amongst themselves; the civil servant had slumped to the ground, his eyes glazed over, and Ja’lil whirled about, trying to understand what had just happened. Behind him, a figure cloaked in darkness swishily disappeared into the back rooms. Ja’lil broke into pursuit, his unmanicured talons clacking noisily in sync with the pounding of his four hearts.
“I would greatly appreciate it if you would realize that there are precious few ground-based obstacles to stop me from catching you, and that when I do my wrath will only be increased from this point. If you took the time to fully analyze this situation, you would come to the same conclusion I have and halt!” he rationalized at the fleeing figure.
There was a distinct and almost trademark pitter-patter as the figure ducked behind a spiky brothel dumpster. “I am real Chahn! Lol!”
“Fit twice, two birds of Kad?” Ja’lil queried back, completing the code sequence. The dumpster instantly opened up, revealing a swank pad with discotheque lighting rods and comfy armchairs. The sky above seemed to twinkle scarlet.
A hulking bulge of greenish demon skin clashed against the purple wallpaper.
“I thought they’d gotten you.” Ja’lil breathed heavily, the years weighing down on him. “Do you have... my pants?”
The red-eyed laundromat operative retched into his sack of horrors, pausing a moment to regain his balance before grasping for the pants in question. A lighting bolt zizzled from his sockets as four gnarled fingers clutched around the elastic base.
“Neither rain nor snow nor arson will keep Bayville Central Laundromat from delivering our customers’ articles.” The pants were slightly singed around the legholes, but that was a pre-existing condition. “Any word from Monothaggerus?”
Ja’lil shook his head tearfully as he pocketed the pair. “They took his iPhone and dumped him in a random Chinese city. He’s already dead.” Daggers swashed through his forebrain. “Can you tell an old buddy how to get to the Nefarious Council’s secret cell? I simply must find Donovan.”
“You’ll have to go to Darmstadt,” The anonymous demon grimaced. “Zapf is the only man on Earth who might have an inkling.”
“‘Hermann Zapf, fontographer!’” The demon chuckled. “The inventor of the Palatino typeface and secret father of the German language. Now, comma, go!”
Ja’lil never once overtly doubted his laundro-contact, but as the disco alley music faded with the haunting bell chants of the Waffle Brothel and the sky exploded into constellations, the few reservations he had melted like butter in a radiator.
Hermann Zapf, you’d better be all that and two bags of chips...
A council agent stepped out from behind the scarred palm, into plain sight. Zapf snorted, his fanged snout twisting into a scowl of distaste.
“Hermann Zapf,” said the agent, his reflective glasses spattered in greasy sea foam, “The council has given you a good life, no? A nice, removed property, all the fruit smoothies you can shove down your throat. And in return, what do you do?”
“I keep my mouth shut,” Zapf said, colder than the other side of the pillow. “And everyone wins.”
“Exactly. So, please, explain to me... how was it, exactly, that some Dregmistress in the Solar Quarters knew,” he shook with frozen rage, “Knew that the book was fallible?”
“You haven’t given me a new life,” Zapf said, brazenly belting his bronzed bravado, “You’ve given me a prison, filled with horrible, delicious waffles.”
“Don’t try to countermand the established order, Zapf!”
“Don’t tell me what I can and can’t countermand. I’m the greatest fontographer what ever lived!” the elderly curmudgeon was seething now, “Do you know what kind of secrets lie in the art of fontography? The eldritch powers that accompany it?”
A flash of lightning punctuated his point. The agent jumped, startled.
“I could destroy your narrow little mind,” Hermann continued. “Now speak or be spoken to!”
“I...” the agent said, “I have a dentistry appointment! But the council will hear of your treasonous raving!”
The agent pounded the badge on his chest and disappeared. Hermann grunted noncommittally and turned back, to enter his bamboo shelter before the acidic rains began to drop. He was going stir-crazy, he knew. Fifty years of solitude, hidden away from the world...
But at least the cursed meta-secrets will die with me and not be used for civic improvement.
“Marcel, I require a freshener!” He shook the the brittle glass. “Marcel?”
“Sorry,” a squeaky voice said as a damp cloth quickly wrapped across Zapf’s mouth. It smelled of grapes and peach cobbler. “But the resort is closed for to-day.”
There was a slight struggle, but darkness overtook Hermann, much like the Ebola virus.
Ja’lil sipped the abandoned fruit smoothie. His emo heart skipped a beat. “So Su’zehk could still be alive?”
“Yeah! Totally. And there’s a kid with her.”
“That must be Febril, the child Su’zehk gave birth to centrifugally! Thank you, Forte Animus!”
“My pleasure,” the ferret said before casually bursting into stardust and blowing away with the north wind. Spirit guides were hard to instantiate and most of them were illegal duplicates, but as long as the Department of REM didn’t interfere, Animus could come and go unperturbed.
The ground was a moldy cyanic tinge, transparent in some square patches so that the dead earth beneath could shock trespassers. So this was the infamous Zapf Habitat.
“Hello?” Ja’lil asked the closest rock. Sometimes there were microchips embedded in rocks, and it was just a matter of finding the one that yielded the highest EM gain. “Is there a transmission in progress?”
The warning light buzzed. “Take care of that, would you?” said a disembodied voice to an unseen figure.
“Now, I know I hear-”
The ground under Ja’lil’s size 15 shoes gave way, a gaping sinkhole lapped up with pipe-like fangs to bite his heels. Three pine trees five feet his senior reached over and punched him down into the earthen maw. Pretty unusual for pine trees, even though they are foreign, he thought as the light faded to the horizon.
Only a set of ferret prints in the scabbed ground marked Ja’lil’s entry to the foreboding golden cage.
“Who dares abduct a citizen of Andertandertanderland?!” he shouted patriotically from his crouched position. Stars and stripes and hearts and red balloons danced before his eyes.
The cloistered voice was familiar and reminded Ja’lil of sugary pastries. “Burns CDs with gusto and mayo, J slash K?”
“I will murder bubble warp for a funtime.”
Daggers spun ‘twixt his head. “Li’l Febril! Aww! How you’ve grown!” he laughed, popping to his feet before the tyke. “And where’re mummy?”
“There,” She pointed. “Interrogating.”
There, amongst the reticulated stalagmites, was Su’zehk, but Ja’lil’s eyes were drawn to the diminutive figure she had roped up by the tailfeathers.
“Is that-” he began.
“A bag of lighting fixtures? No, it isn’t, Ja’lil. That’s just silly. It’s Zapf.”
Ja’lil stared in terror into the huge, reflective, watery eyes of the possible overthrower of his civilization. The wily designer gurgled idiotically, waving his hog-tied limbs with the coordination of an infant.
“Not now, Febril.” He continued to stare in horror.
“Uncle Ja-Ja, what gives you the impression that a feeble association of these creatures could possibly pose a threat to the Councillary States of Andertandertanderland? Do you truly believe that they hold the power to countermand destiny?”
“I don’t know.”
The cave filled with water. Its basin was shallow, the coral trickled a full spectrum under the wispy floodlights.
“Uncle Ja-Ja? What are you doing here?” this waif waved unwaveringly.
“I can’t recall.”
She tensioned her gut. “What’s the last thing you remember?”
He shook his head. “I have no recollection.”
“Do you know where you are?”
He stared at her blankly. “It was never my responsibility to know, I can’t recall that location.”
Febril bit his hand. “Answer, dumbkin!”
“Youch! Fine! Okay, we’re... hmmmm...” he passed his unbitten hand over the strange glyphs on the marble wall, reading them like braille. The whole chamber had a certain homely quality to it, like he’d been here before as a child and suffered some kind of unspeakable trauma. “This places grabs at my soul, pulls me down, makes me think of the good times before even more... pure terror...”
Grunting plurpingly, Zapf tore his diamond chainmail and opened his saggy mouth at least ten centimetres wide. “Has he the METAPHONT imager? Did you even try to reset it?”
Ja’lil twisted his tube-leg, tearing terse tendons with tepid torque. Fear and horror and sadness rushed over him. “Donovan?”
“The forfifle one. That smells of waffles.”
“I...” Ja’lil’s eyes watered over, “I tried to save him, really I did. I drove as fast as Green Soundning would take me. Straight the... the magma channel. How was I supposed to know that the tires would melt? How was I to know? He was gone when I arrived. His house was destroyed by fire moments later.”
Su’zehk was touched. “What did you do?”
“I covered the whole grounds in creamy maple syrup. It’s what he would have wanted.”
“Effulgently poetic,” said Febril, removing a drool-covered fist from her mouth.
“And how!” Su’zehk said.
The eldritch tick of Munich started laughing, but his cackles of delight quickly devolved into chuckles of discomfort and ended in a fit of abhorrent coughing. Su’zehk pounded him on the back to prevent his sinuses from overflowing. It didn’t work, as evidenced by a loud draining sound originating in the creature’s hideously massive cranium.
“If the fontamancer lies dead, there is nothing you can do,” he chortled, “Destiny can only be countermanded ONCE. The grumpkins will rise, and take back their rightful place as children of the sun, and I called it.”
“Destiny cannot be countermanded!”
A shot fired o’er the quartet, erupting into a rowdy display of vibrant sparklings.
“Get to the choppa!” Su’zehk whispered to Febril as the child clung like lichen to her mother’s arm.
“You couldn’t listen to me... you couldn’t just let it alone!”
I know that voice... Su’zehk peeked past the spastic bumpkin. “Mondy, baby!”
She paused, rewound, and stopped. The once-intelligent glow of his eyes was a dull gray, and his tusks were unusually ashen. “Mondy?”
“It’s all your f-f-f-f-fault!” the great demon stuttered as it whipped the stalagmites with both fists. “Now I am undead!”
“It’s entirely her fault, this is true,” Ja’lil weaseled. “So you should let me go! And the kid, too. I can get fifty, sixty... hey, can you serve drinks?” Febril remained silent. “Sixty boles for her. We can split it,” he tempted, “whatcha say?”
“Call me Al Gore, ’cause I’ve got a Lockbox!” Monothaggerus yelled, lashing a power cable with a wooden crate at the end, draped in chains, indiscriminately at every living thing within range.
“Use the old man as a shield!” Febril shouted, clutching Zapf’s cellulose for dear life.
“Trish, we need to have a serious talk about security alarms,” Ja’lil grunted as he did a reverse spin above Monothaggerus’s bulky frame.
“Mondy, who done this to ya?!” Su’zehk asked, ignoring Ja’lil’s portents once again.
“’Twas the council’s Chinese vampires!” He dropped to one knee, groaning. “Through they have installed an undead chip in my medulla intrinsica, the bloodlust will abate only for a few seconds — whenever someone asks me that question — so I can tell you my tale. Behold!” He held a clenched hand up to the infinite cavern ceiling.
“Back in the ancient land of the 1980s, Hermann Zapf helped Donald Knuth create METAFONT.”
“Tell us something we don’t already know,” Ja’lil sneered, trying to see if the demon’s bloodlust would kick back in at the slightest unnecessary taunt.
“Okay...” Monothaggerus strained, his eye-pulse booming. “Donovan is METAFONT! And that’s him, there.”
Every jaw in the room, including the sanguineous fontman, dropped a foot and a half.
“You’ve blown my cover, dumbkin!” Hermann the cocky cracksman from the German legion galumphly humphed, unzipping his massive face.
The silvery, moon-like face beneath the mask rose into the cavern’s chamberly sky, spitting waves of text as it spoke.
“I am the true Donovan. I hired a prisoner to imposterize me just before shedding my material coil, so that no one would know what I had found.”
“What had you had found is?” Ja’lil blurted out, the tremendousness of the situation overwhelming his grammatic cortex.
“IMMORTALITY!” boomed the voice. The physical incarnations of visual representations of phonic intonations that accompanied his speech expanded as they moved, wearing slivers through the stone like blades.
“So what? Immortality is lame,” said Mondy. “I’m undead, and look how miserable I- arraghwarghhardfarrr!”
“What’s happening to him?” demanded Su’zehk.
“I think the Nefarious Council is attempting a direct override!”
“Ja’lil, if they are close enough to do that, it is surefire that their agents will be here in MINUTES!”
“This will not do.”
The words cut through Monothaggerus like multiple hard candies dropped from a very tall building. He slumped to the floor, seconds after losing the vestiges of his free will. Su’zehk put her hand over his windpipe; even the undead have to breathe!
“Breathe, Mondy! If you don’t, who will liquidate my stocks before the apocalypse?!”
“Mommy, what’s wrong with that man?” Febril gasped, her 6-year mind unable to grasp Donovan’s rasp as he clasped a thin glowing tube of ink. Su’zehk was barely able to steal a glance when the glow forced her askance.
“I hadn’t intended to commit True Order to the test, but the real-world demands a patch!”
Donovan raised the tinted ink cartridge to his lips; Ja’lil moaned like an infant, Su’zehk struggled to perform CPR on the lifeless 800 pound demon, and Febril was chatting away on her portable phone, completely indifferent to the impending collapse of civilization. Su’zehk closed her golden eyes. All was lost...
“Hey! Hey! Hey. Hey. Stop that.”
Donovan froze. The cartridge floated eerily on his palm, and against his genetically superior judgment he capped it and faced the cave-mouthed intruder; vector lines crossed the newcomer’s frippling countenance, and he had the pasty pallor and sunken sockets of a rusty-button coke-bottle skulker.
Reaching skyward, $NEWCOMER_3 struck a discoesque pose. “Hermann Zapf, fontographer!” the old man proclaimed, planting a triumphant boot on Monothaggerus’s neck. He was armed thusly: a laser pointer, four pairs of inkproof slacks, time-shied galoshes, a hand-carved Palatine Blood Shield (c.a. 1948), and a dagger soaked in lemon juice. These pathetic children and their games; they’d tried to Zapfnap him, stow him in a “safe house” which was really just a man-sized wall safe. “I’m not one to turn down a chance to countermand your destiny, Don! I’ve been lurking for some time, but the time has come... to post a reply.”
Hermann scratched his goatee. “I was hoping you’d make this hard. Have at you!”
And true to his boastful boast he charged, dagger primed. As Donovan’s glowing, growing, flowing form met him in the cave of battle, a low battle hymn started playing. Must’ve rigged the joint with some kind of stereos.
Ja’lil pried his solar cohort from her undead demon’s arm. “Trisha Goldarina Su’zehk! Leave the corpse! It’s time to start thinking of your own survival, and the life of your daughter,” he gestured at Febril, who was wearing some of Monothaggerus’s skin as a headdress and chanting in a long-dead Romance language variant. “We need to vacate the bowels of this cavernous region!”
Tucking Febril — kicking and screaming in tongues — under their arms, the dynastic duo jutted past the fray; by now Zapf was performing an attack known in fontography circles as “Lightning Dingbat,” slashing repeatedly at Donovan’s torso. For his part, Donovan managed to deflect each blow with his directed mind-field.
Again and again as the zesty dagger struck at Donovan’s luminescent body-head, forces collided and jarred the aging fontographer’s frail, mountainous body. He ducked behind a stalagmite as several sharp ideas whizzed forth from the immortal’s mouth. Thinking quickly, he fastened an attachment to his pointer that would cause it to project a smiley face, and lept back into the fray.
“We’ve got to escapade!” Ja’lil shouted over the madness. Large chunks of the faux-concrete walls buckled, the two Goliaths’ titanic powers lashing leeward like two cathodes in a monopole magnet. Madness!
“Escape. I meant escape. We need to escape.”
“How do we get out of here?” she asked in resolute desperation.
“I don’t know... Su’Zehk, do you still have your iPhone?”
“Yes, but I don’t see how cellular service, internet access and mp3 capabilities will save my child!”
“Deploy the fibrocables!” Ja’lil urged, “And we’ll use it as a grappling hook!”
Grumbling about the nine levels of hell she’d been through to get it, Su’Zehk slung her iPhone over a collapsed boulder, and secured the line. The whole group was exhausted, but they didn’t have time to relieve themselves. A sound not unlike a recording of thunder harried them on, encouraging them to fully evacuate the bowels of the cave.
“Harrying is quite bothersome. When the world stops ending, you owe me a new iPhone.”
“When the...” Ja’lil squinted, focusing. A grin spread like wildfire from cheek to cheek. “I know where Donovan hid the Book.”
“Care to enlighten us, mi amigo?” Febril intoned. “Which book?”
“The Book of Newness, duh!”
“That was a myth,” Febril hoffed, “Disproved in the late Second Renaissance. Donovan’s ex-girlfriend burned it along with his old gym clothes.”
“He... he gave it to the grumpkins.” Large explosions rocked the mountain underfoot; the sound of booming sonic fistfights ceased, and for more than just a short while, nothing, not even a blade of limegrass moved. Dovegroves peek’d from their hidey-holes, and Sarasota Pines reluctantly dropped their eggs.
The three looked at each other. The most important, most detailed, most extreme part of their adventure was unfolding before their very eyes. They saw exactly what had to be done, and by Zapf, they were going to see it through.
To the bitter end.
“And that’s how the matter was resolved,” the Hinterlandish Theatermaster growled, pushing the off button. “Thank you for visiting Mysteries of Andertiquity, and buy something from our gift shop if you value your life. Get out.”
Although most of the patrons fully obeyed the minor official, Dingbat Johansen (the eponymous character of his autobiography) flagged the skulker down. “I’m confused as to what happened after they found the Book-”
“Do you see the water clock on that wall?” Theatermaster Centimeter gasped. “See how the big bucket weighs 1.56 cubits3?”
He look ardently. “Yes sir, I do. I do indeed.”
“Then don’t be wastin’ my time, boy.”
“This isn’t volunteer work. I’ve got to give a tour in half an hour, and this room is covered with more sticky candy than a hobo’s beard.”
“Sir, I paid for a complete historical tour of ancient Andertandertanderland.”
“Don’t you waste my time! You waste my time! I used to be a motivational speaker, you do what I say, I’m a role model for the community.”
“What community?! How are you a role model?!” Dingbat fumed.
“I’m in charge of this tour, and you learned all you needed to know about the past. You go home now, after you go to the gift shop.”
“I can’t believe this! You didn’t finish the tour; I want my money back. Your attitude leaves a lot to be desired.”
“Don’t you be askin’ for a refund, you Philip’s Head!” Centimeter tucked in his orange neck flap in presaged preparation for an acrid altercation.
“You go to the gift shop, you better buy something.”
“I’m not buying anything from you! I spent half my vacation budget on this tour, you basthole!”
“YOU GET OUT, you Philip’s Head! You Philip’s Head!”
Dingbat wiped the sweat from his ridge. “I want to speak to your supervisor!”
“Don’t you mess with my employment,” Theatermaster exploded, “I used to be a motivational speaker-”
“I don’t care what you were! I’m going to get you fired! You’re a terrible-”
“Don’t be messin’ with my employment! Don’t be messin’ with my employment! You’re wastin’ my time, you Philip’s Head! I’m not gonna motivate you.”
“I don’t want to be motivated by you! You’re a horrible person!”
“You’re a Philip’s Head, cheapskate. You go buy a paperweight.”
“I’m writing down your name,” Dingbat narrated as he jotted Theatermaster’s BOH number onto his maxPad 3.0. “Is this Andertours? This is Andertours.”
“Don’t you be messin’ with my employment!” Theatermaster Centimeter plead in the form of a demand, “You want to be motivated? I used to be a motivational speaker.”
“You didn’t even finish the tour! You just ended it! I wanted to know what they did with that book-”
“They all died. They’re all dead now, it doesn’t matter. You should’ve paid attention in school, then you’d know what happened.”
“I paid for a complete tour! You are so fired!” Dingbat exasperatedly stormed as he swarmed the frontal tele-exit. “You’re fired!”
“You better buy a paperweight, you Philip’s Head!” TM rebounded, resoundingly routing the sullen dumbkin’s brackish backlash. “If you’re motivated, you need to pay me.”
Alone in his den of self-induced isolation, the theatermaster digested Dingbat’s denouncements, deigning to disquiet his discontinuation of the digital Devonian delve. Flicking the toggle, Ja’lil the Brave, Su’zehk the Strong, and Empress Febril filled the Tao-max 3D viewdome.
“‘And they all lived happily ever after until the meteor.’” He shook his leafy head from side to side. Sucking in his pride, he strategically analysed the totality of the reality. Finding no percent error, he chortled with unmistakable admiration, perhaps. “I suppose this, the recreation of the story of the abolition of the Elders, was, by far, the greatest story ever told in under 23 dimensions and without claymation.”