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  The roar of the hill giants echoed through the castle halls as Marius Lightbringer, farm boy turned hero, yanked his sword from the stomach of the black-armored inhuman guard in front of him. As the disemboweled soldier collapsed to the ground with a choked-off cry, Marius ran a bloodied hand through his blonde hair. “You’ll need more guts than that to stop me,” he said wittily as he flicked gore from the blade of Evilsbane, the slate-grey holy sword humming with action.

  “Blergf,” responded the guard.

  He cast his blue eyes down the corridor and saw the entrance to the throne room, the double doors beckoning in the flicker of torchlight. Brandishing Evilsbane into the air, he gave a ferocious war-cry. “Feldspar Carolinas, your reckoning is at hand!” Despite his heavy golden armor, he charged down the hall only to skid to a stop as a seven-foot-tall, onyx-armored guard burst from the doors.

  The inhuman beast looked up, deformed mouth the only visible part of its face. The lips, such as they were, pulled down into a grimace. “What is it that you hope to accomplish?” it growled.

  “Freedom!” screamed Marius, leaping at the guard. Before the hulking monstrosity could react, Evilsbane found its mark and plunged wetly through the thing’s mouth. Marius dangled a few inches off the ground before losing his grip on the sword and collapsing to the stony floor. The hulk gurgled before collapsing backward, the blade jutting from its organic scabbard. The hero rose to his feet and yanked the sword free. “Good’s a mouthful, ain’t it?” he snarked as he entered the throne room.

  “TO WHOM DO YOU SPEAK, IRRITANT!?” bellowed a commanding voice. Marius looked up and set his sights on the evil one himself, General Feldspar Carolinas, leader of the thousand plagues, as he strode toward the hero. Dark purple armor, adorned with spikes, covered his body as a black cape fluttered in the night air. His helmet concealed his face behind that of a dragon’s, looking sinister under the torchlight. Behind him lay the throne, and further still an open balcony revealing the chaos the hill giants were causing below. “I TRUST YOU ARE THE ONE RESPONSIBLE FOR THIS?

  “The very same, fiend,” Marius snorted derisively. “And as it was foretold, I, Marius Lightbringer, shall bring you to justice for what you’ve done to this land!”

  Feldspar laughed, a booming roar that made Marius take a step back. “ARE YOU SERIOUS? IN GOLDEN ARMOR?

  Marius looked down at himself. He felt momentarily self-conscious. “Y-yeah. Why?”


  “Nuh-uh,” Marius said, defiantly. “This is sacred armor, from...”


  “You look like a total boob!” he snapped. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Look, asshole, the prophets of old decree that you would be slain by a simple farm boy...”

  More bellowing laughter cut him off. “REALLY? WH-WHERE DID YOU HEAR THAT?” Feldspar was laughing so hard that he was choking on the words. “OH, THAT IS RICH.” The armored hand pawed at his mid-section as guffaws echoed in the chamber. “W-WHEN DID YOU HEAR THIS ‘P-PROPHECY’?

  “A traveling prophet, one month ago...” Marius began wistfully before General Feldspar renewed laughing, throwing his head back as he gasped for air. “Will you shut up?” Now the general was hunched forward, hands on his knees, trying to stifle his enjoyment. Marius responded to this by shouting, “I am here to avenge our noble and generous king, who you assassinated like a coward!”

  Feldspar’s hands shot up, palms out. “WHOA, THERE, SONNY. DO YOU... HOLD ON A SEC.” He reached up and clasped his helmet firmly between his hands. The helmet lifted off his head, revealing an aged – and cloyingly attractive – face. “Sorry, I didn’t know you were going to be this gabby. Anyway, do you even remember life under the king?”

  “I will not hear your lies! Also, why are you so handsome?”

  “Excuse me?”

  “This!” Marius gestured to his face with a circular wave. “I was promised you’d be deformed.”

  Feldspar cocked an eyebrow. “I’m... sorry?”

  The hero’s eyebrows furrowed intently. “I’m pretty sure it was a part of the prophecy.” Marius snapped his fingers and pointed to his foe. “Magic! You’re using dark magic to muddle my mind! You’re just as hideous as your guards!”

  “Hey!” Feldspar snapped angrily. Even without the helmet’s amplification, his voice was pretty scary. “I took in those guards when your precious king kicked them out of the country for their so-called deformities.”

  “Lies! Wait... those things were human?”

  Feldspar briefly jammed his tongue between his lips and gums in annoyance. “Yes,” he grumbled, the word drawn out between gritted teeth. “I was saving up to give them cosmetic surgery if they wanted it.” He shook his head. “It’s going to be regular life-saving surgery after this, thanks to you, farm boy.”

  “I’m related to royalty by blood!” Marius snapped. “The old man told me so!” He gestured toward the hallway behind him with Evilsbane. “And those dudes were super fucked-up. Like the tall one back there with the lips.”

  “Gary?” Feldspar asked. “He had a cleft palate, you asshole.”

  Marius’s eyes went wide. He swallowed roughly. “Oh.”

  “What did you...” Feldspar leaned to the side to peer around Marius. The hero immediately stepped into his line of sight again.

  “Nothing.” Feldspar squinted. In a flash of movement, he shoved his way by Marius, slamming into his golden shoulder. “Ow, dick!” he muttered.

  The general stopped in his tracks when he saw the rapidly cooling guard lying face up in a spreading pool of blood. “Gary!” the General shouted. He turned back to Marius, shoving a finger in the hero’s face. “You prick, he had two weeks until retirement!”

  “He was in my way?” Marius asked.

  Feldspar glared for a moment. “Nice.” He shoved his way past the hero again, making sure to ram his shoulder into the other man.

  “Hey, man, stop it.” Marius looked down at his armor. “What the hell, bro? You’re denting my armor!”

  “You think?” Feldspar snapped, not even looking at him. “Gold is a fucking soft metal, you incompetent dink.”

  “But the goblin merchant...”

  “Probably sold you a line so he could move merchandise that literally no one would want.” He shouted in frustration. “What is it with this planet? You depose a despotic, unelected king with the idea that you’ll replace it with a republic...”

  “Wait, what?”

  “... and one month later every single poor farm hand with time to kill and the inability to spell the word ‘cat’ tries to take back the throne because of some prophecy or equally preposterous malarkey.” He unsheathed his sword and pointed it at Marius. “I am sick of it! You want kissing cousins to continue running your godsdamned country, fine! Let’s see how long you last when those hill giants get bored and start fucking your cattle again!” Thunk. Feldspar staggered as he dimly recognized the crossbow bolt lodged in his chest. Thunk thunk thunk tink thunk thunk. Five more slammed into his torso as one was spinning off his armor and onto the ground. He staggered momentarily before falling onto his knees. “Ow,” he said simply.

  “Got you, tyrant!” a woman shouted from above. Marius and Feldspar looked up as an elven woman leapt from the shadows and landed between the two men. A red cape and long brown hair fluttered behind her as her silver boots gleamed in the torchlight. That was pretty much all that gleamed, too – apart from the boots, only her breasts and hips/groinal region were sufficiently covered by what appeared to be rust-prone swimwear that had a series of purple runes painted on them. “In the name of my father, Godfrey the Anemic, I, Princess Arboles, shall slay you!” She looked over her shoulder at Marius as she brought her crossbow up. “Thanks for the assistance, pleb.”

  “The hell?” Marius asked. He stepped forward and put his hand on the woman’s shoulder. She immediately flinched and backed away from him.

  “By the moons, the poor touched me!” She started wiping her shoulder vigorously. “That is no way to touch the princess!”

  “I’m confused,” Marius said. “You’re the princess?”

  “You’re quite astute for one of the lower classes,” Arboles sighed. “Do you mind, I’m killing someone here.” She turned back to Feldspar, who had begun dragging himself backward.

  “Um, no,” Marius said, walking between them. “I’m killing him. You may have heard of a little prophecy...”

  She sighed. “A prophecy which said I will avenge my father’s death, yeah, I heard it.”

  “Wait, that you...”

  “I’m bleeding quite a bit over here,” Feldspar shouted. “Do either of you care?”

  “No!” the elf and the hero shouted in unison. They returned to staring each other down.

  “Look, I don’t know where you get off avenging your father, but I was told that I was to rise and kill the shit out of that guy because some dead dudes foretold it,” Marius said impatiently. “It’s all very official.”

  “Ha, right.” She jabbed a finger into his gold chest plate. “The prophecy says, and I quote, ‘Lo, the orphaned daughter of the deposed king shall slay the ignoble pigfucker.’” She looked him up and down. “Unless you humans really do all look alike and you just happen to be my long lost half-sister...”

  Marius folded his arms. “Excuse me! We do not all look alike!”

  She snorted. “Prove it.”

  “Carrying on your father’s legacy of racism, eh?” Feldspar coughed. “You’re a class act, Arboles.”

  “Alright, killing him now,” Arboles said, pushing past Marius.

  “Feldspar, prepare to meet your ma-ah, shit,” a man shouted behind them. They turned to see a battle ax-wielding, red haired dwarf stumble to a stop. Behind him, a tall-and-lanky, black-cloaked magician with a wreath of skulls around his neck charged in, red flares in his palms.

  “What is it, Archibald? Has...” the other man began before silencing. The blazing lights in his hands faded out with a pop. He ran a hand across his bald pate and hissed air between his teeth. “This is awkward.”

  “Hi,” Feldspar said, a dribble of blood spattering from his mouth. “It’s going to be a bit of a wait to kill me.”

  “You said you were gonna wait for us, Arboles,” Archibald said, spitting. “Why didn’t ya wait?”

  “Well, this chucklefuck had distracted him and I thought I’d take a chance,” she said, jutting a thumb toward Marius.

  “Maybe we just have to be in the same room as the others when Feldspar dies. Or maybe I can hit him with a psychic bolt,” the tall man muttered.

  Archibald nodded toward his compatriot. “And then I could run up and whack him with me ax... that could work.”

  “Excuse me, what are you idiots talking about?” Marius asked.

  “Laddie, we’re the heroes prophesied to bring this here lunatic to justice!”

  Marius and Arboles threw their arms into the air. “What the hell, man?” Marius shouted.

  “Are you telling me you came here because of a prophecy, too?” Arboles asked.

  “Aye,” Archibald said with a satisfied nod.

  “Still dying, over here. Kind of sucks,” Feldspar muttered.

  Arboles ignored the general. “Why didn’t you say anything?”

  “Didn’t think it was important,” the tall man offered. He walked toward Marius, hand extended. “I don’t think we’ve had the pleasure. Liam.”

  Marius took the man’s hand. “Marius Lightbringer.”

  The man looked down at Marius’s sword. “Oh,” he enthused with a hint of recognition. “Is that the ancient cursed sword Shadowphile?”

  Everyone looked at Marius’s weapon. Marius laughed nervously. “No. No. This is Evilsbane.” He coughed, hefting the blade to eye-level. “Pretty badass.”

  Liam shook his head. “No, that’s definitely Shadowphile. I studied the arcane weapons of the demons and that is definitely Shadowphile.”

  Marius shook his head. “No, it’s not. See, the old man told me that I was prophesied to kill ths guy, but first I had to travel to the Cavern of Light near the village of Runispar.”

  “That would be the Cavern of Infinite Darkness, lad,” corrected Archibald. Arboles and Liam nodded solemnly.

  “Yup!” Feldspar shouted. They looked at the general. “I had posted a contingent of men there to seal the cave and then someone slaughtered them all. I wonder who that could have been?”

  Marius chuckled. “No, it can’t be the same one. Because this one had Evilsbane and the old man told me to recharge it with the blood of the corrupted villagers of Runispar.”

  “That was you?” Arboles shouted. “You killed all those tourists in the world-famous Town of Everlasting Love?”

  Marius held his breath a moment. “Look, I know what you’re thinking, but it isn’t...” And then he started thinking. He did kill a lot of, in retrospect, innocent looking women and children. “Oh, dear.” He looked at the sword and threw it to the ground. “That does explain the voices telling me to kill everyone. And why I started making quips after feeding the sword blood.”

  Arboles shook her head in shock. “That didn’t seem odd when it happened?”

  “Well, in retrospect, I suppose!” Marius shouted.

  She huffed a laugh. “I am going to enjoy having you executed,” Arboles said, adjusting her metal bra. “For fuck’s sake, this is uncomfortable armor.”

  “You call that armor?” Feldspar muttered. “Oh, good. More blood. I was worrying I had run out.”

  Marius put his hands on his waist. “Well, it’s not my fault! What idiot puts a Cave of Infinite Darkness next to a Town of Everlasting Love?”

  “Her father,” Feldspar shouted, pointing to Arboles. “He also built the capital on top of a gateway to the elder gods’ lair, if anyone is concerned with one other mess I had to clean up.”

  “Hey, can all of you say you’re completely innocent in retrospect?” Marius shouted. Suddenly, the others’ eyes averted sheepishly. “That’s what I thought. Look. we all made mistakes here and there...”

  “Like lettin’ the hill giants loose,” Archibald said.

  Liam shuddered. “I fear for our cows.”

  Princess Arboles put a hand on her hips and cast a suspicious glance at the others. “Yeah, which one of you idiots let those things loose again?” she asked, gesturing widely with her crossbow.

  “The point is,” Marius insisted, eager to change the subject, “that we discuss the real issue at heart. That we’re all prophesied to kill this guy.” He gestured with sword. “So let’s do it.”

  “You picked up the cursed sword again,” Arboles said.

  “Fuck!” Marius screamed, dropping the weapon and kicking it away.

  “The psychotic lad’s right,” Archibald agreed.

  “Do I get to die now?” Feldspar asked dreamily. “Because that would be swell.”

  “I shall cast a mighty lightning bolt down from the heavens to end your reign!” Liam roared as crackling energy sparked around his hands.

  “Mine ax shall cut you in twain, foul usurper!” Archibald growled, hefting his weapon above his head.

  “My arrow will fly true to your heart, abomination!” Arboles said, aiming the crossbow.


  “Sword,” Arboles hissed.

  “Godsdamn it!” Marius shrieked and tossed the weapon away.

  “And then we shall celebrate our nuptials!” Liam said.

  “Yeah!” Marius shouted. “Wait, whose nuptials?”

  Everyone immediately turned to look at Liam. His face grew red. “Well... the prophecy... states that Arboles and I are to wed.”

  “The fuck we are, human!” Arboles roared.

  “That’s right!” Marius said, positioning himself between Liam and Arboles. “She’s mine by way of prophecy!”

  “Excuse me?” Arboles shouted.

  “It’s alright, babe, I got this,” Marius said over his shoulder.

  “I don’t know what you’ve been smokin’,” Archibald said. “But the dame is mine. It says so in the prophecy.”

  “Why anyone would want someone so inbred is beyond me,” Feldspar grumbled, his head lolling back slightly.

  Arboles shot him a nasty look. “It’s perfectly legal for second cousins to marry and webbed feet is just common in my family, jackass.” She turned back to the others.

  Liam threw his hands up in a gesture of peace. “Gentlemen, there is an easy way to solve this.” He looked at Arboles. “What does your prophecy say?”

  She rolled her eyes. “It said I will kick each and every one of you in the nuts. I am not a trophy to be won, you morons.” She gestured with the crossbow toward the general, who gave a meek wave. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I have done more to kill that guy than all of you, so I can do this just fine on my own.”

  Marius turned, a smile on his face. “Look, princess, it’s been foretold. Also, in that getup, you look like a trophy.”

  “This is magic armor, pig.”

  “Magically arousing, maybe,” Archibald said. Marius offered his hand for a low-down high five which the dwarf took.

  Suddenly self-conscious, Arboles covered herself with her cape. “I will admit that it leaves... something to be desired... but for some reason this is all anyone had for sale.” She jutted her chin toward Marius. “What about your armor, you sexist sack of shit?”

  He snickered. “It’s gold, heavy as hell, and awesome looking. It’s doing its job.”

  Arboles looked at him for a moment, deadpan. Without any emotion, she brought her crossbow up and fired from the hip. The bolt thunked into Marius’s abdomen, and he collapsed, screaming.

  “Oh, gods, what the hell? What the hell? This is terrible armor! Why? Why does this hurt so much?” Marius shouted as he squirmed on the floor.

  “Well, this fucking sucks.” Arboles kicked at the floor.

  Suddenly, laughter filled the throne room. Before any of them could react, a hunched old man sprinted by them, surprisingly quickly. He giggled inanely as he closed the distance on Feldspar and knelt by his side. “So, general, I bet you need my ‘Heal Wounds’ potion after all, eh?” Laughter peeled out of his relatively toothless mouth.

  Marius picked his head off the floor. “That’s the old man who told me the prophecy.”

  “Aye,” Archibald said.

  “Me, too,” Arboles muttered.

  “He looks good,” Liam remarked absently.

  “Who the hell...” the general muttered. Recognition flashed in his eyes “That’s what this...” Feldspar gestured angrily to others. “... is about?” He spat on the ground. “Because I wouldn’t buy your disgusting potion?”

  “That’s right!” the old man said, producing the vial of viscous blue fluid. “You were in such a rush you didn’t even give me a chance to sell me wares.” He laughed until he coughed. “So I gave you a situation where you’d need it.” He waggled the vial in front of the general. “Heals light wounds, good sir general! Guaranteed or your five copper back!”

  “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I have six arrows in my chest and a group of stupid adventurers trying to end my life.” He looked at the assembled. “No offense.”

  “None taken!” Liam shouted. The others cast him a dirty look. “No point being rude.”

  “I doubt whatever codswollop you’ve thrown together is going to really prolong the inevitable. Especially since, as I told you last time, this armor will just bring me back to life anyway.”

  “What?” Arboles shouted, clearly shocked.

  “Oh, death isn’t that big of a deal in this world.” He gestured to Liam. “Even our stupidest magic users can sneeze lightning from their fists. No offense.” Liam offered a smile. “I learned to self-resurrect when I was ten.”

  “Then is dad still alive?” Arboles said hopefully.

  Feldspar sighed. “My dear, his soul probably got lost on the way from the graveyard to his corpse. Even if he did make it... well, generations of cousins marrying each other has made your mental fortitude a little on the questionable side.” She stared at him. He rolled his eyes. “No, your daddy isn’t coming back because plot device.”

  “So, you’re not going to buy my potion, then?” the old man snapped. He pushed the vial into his shirt sleeve. “Fine. Then you’ll just have to get murdilated by these yokels instead of doing the murdering.” He looked at the heroes and clapped his hands. “He’s all yours.”

  Feldspar looked at the heroes, who looked at the old man. A few moments ticked by.

  “New plan,” Arboles said.

  “Yeah?” Archibald responded.

  “Oldy McOldguy is the new villain.”

  The old man squawked as a crossbow bolt shot by his head. He scrambled by Archibald and barely missed having his legs removed as a lightning bolt seared the top of his head. In a few seconds, the room emptied. The sounds of screaming and various clangings echoed off the wall. Finally, an inhuman “BEHOLD MINE WRATH, HUMAN WORMS, AND DESPAIR!” rumbled off the walls to the fading chorus, and the room was silent.

  With a sigh Feldspar shifted quietly. “So, I guess I’m still in charge, then?” he shouted to no one in particular. He hefted himself semi-upright as the castle quaked under the bellow of a hill giant. “Fucking heroes...” he muttered.

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