Episode 18: Show Me The Receipts

Rib stood alone at the summit of Crevice Rock. Despite being closer to the sun, the area was unnaturally cool. A breeze blew by, causing his purple robe to flap brilliantly. He imagined his silhouette looked stunningly heroic from below. He took a moment to pose with his left hand, tipping his imaginary sombrero-type hat on the off chance that someone might see him and sketch a picture, cementing this moment in history. Unfortunately, the only person who saw him was Killít. 

“You being weird again?” she asked condescendingly. 

Rib sighed as he released his pose. Killít stood before him, seemingly coming out of nowhere. He hadn’t sensed her arrival or the method she used to get there. He wanted to ask how she came to be there at the exact moment, but what he saw next astounded him even further. Fox stood next to her looking very much alive, and very pissed off. His hands were bound by her whip; its magic rendered his useless, thus preventing his escape.

“What is he doing here?” Rib shouted, not able to contain his frustration.

Killít smirked and said, “You asked me to bring him, remember?”

“He was supposed to be dead when you brought him here. His limp, lifeless body was what I desired his state of being to be.” Rib’s eyes narrowed to slits, glowering at her with hatred seeping from them. “You know very well that he’s supposed to be devoid of life! He doesn’t look very dead to me.”

Killít looked Fox over and nodded in agreement. “Sharp as a tack, you are.”

She’s fucking with me! What is she playing at? “I paid you to kill him. He has yet to cease to be!”

Killít stroked her non-existent beard as she listened. She waited until he was done before she said, “See, about that. I got to thinking; this job started out alright, but then you asked for a very specific modification- to make it look like an accident. I thought, ‘Now why would someone want that?'” She noticed Rib’s anxious expression and knew her suspicions were correct. She continued. 

“It’s almost as if someone wanted to blame us for something that could have been prevented. You see what I’m saying.”

“I’m not paying you to think,” Rib said, shifting his weight and eye contact. “I’m paying you to kill people.”

“But you see, thinking is what’s kept us alive for so long.” Killít took two steps toward the purple clad man and smirked. “See, when someone hires us to do a job that they could easily do themselves with special accommodations, we begin to think we’re being set up. When the orders come from someone as powerful as the Skeleton King, you don’t want to fuck around. So, we came to the conclusion that Cal really wants this boy alive. Am I right?”

Rib didn’t like where this was going. He hadn’t expected his assassins to ask questions. They were supposed to just kill the Graveyard Fighters and take the money. Killít had a point he couldn’t deny. One did not cross the Skeleton King, so he begrudgingly respected her caution.

So, what’s this going to cost me?” he asked.

Fox scoffed. “Just your dignity, but judging by your attire, you lost that long ago.”

Rib scowled and shouted, “Silence, worm! The grown-ups are talking.” He returned his ire to the assassin and repeated his question.

Killít extended her left hand and said, “30,000 gold pieces.”

Rib choked on his spit as he gasped dramatically. “Excuse me?!”

She knew he was going balk at that. “You heard me, bitch. 30,000 gold pieces. And on account of us being such good friends, you get a discount.” She winked at Rib and watched him squirm. If she was going to risk her life defying the Skeleton King, she wanted to be well compensated. 

Rib fumed until his face almost matched his outfit. “That’s outrageous!”

“So you’ve said.”

“This is extortion!”

“I’m an assassin. This is on brand with my alignment.” Killít took another step with her hand still extended. “So, if you want this boy dead, you’ve got to pay up.”

Rib backed away and slapped her hand away. “Get away from me! I’m not paying that.”

Fox coughed. “Everything has a price.” While his life was on the line, he couldn’t help but enjoy Rib’s financial torment. He wasn’t sure if he should feel glad that the Skeleton King wanted him alive. What use could he possibly have for him alive? He supposed he was going to find out whether he wanted to or not.

Killít laughed as she withdrew her hand. She expected this response and wasn’t disappointed. While she enjoyed the drama of extorting him, getting Rib to pay for Fox’s death was not her goal. Now was the time to reveal her intention. “If you’re not willing to pay for the boy to be killed, how much would you be willing to pay to keep your true love from finding out you tried to disobey him?” 

The skin on Rib’s arms prickled as the threat landed. His face lost its lavender hue in favor of one akin to fresh linen. “You wouldn’t.”

“Feel free to test that theory at your own peril.” Killít reveled in the panic exuding from the purple one. She had his balls in the palm of her hand. Eww, she thought. There was not enough bleach in the world to sanitize that image from her mind.

Not wanting to be left out, Fox added, “Looks like she’s got your balls in a-“

“Dude, eww!” Killít shouted back at him. 

Rib sighed because as much as he hated to admit it, Fox was right. His balls were in a vice grip. If she somehow had a connection to Cal and told him of his plan to kill the boy despite his orders, he would lose favor with his beloved, and he’d never be queen. But if he allowed the boy to live, he’d risk being usurped and replaced, also losing the chance to be queen. At least he’d still be by Cal’s side, even if it was in a different capacity. He needed more time to think about this. 

“What about the other Fighters? Where are their corpses?” he asked.

Killít rubbed her nails on her chest. “My partner is killing them right now. I wouldn’t be surprised if he wasn’t already on his way with their bodies right now.” She glanced at Rib and saw his wheels were turning. He’s stalling. She wasn’t worried. She held his… cards- all of the cards.

“How do I know they’re not being held in a secure location alive and well? Huh? Your partner is probably making them breakfast and giving them foot rubs.” Rib wanted a foot rub. He briefly entertained a thought of Cal giving him one before he forced himself back to the present. “To what extent are you trying to screw me?”

“To the same extent to which you’ve tried to screw us,” Killít responded. “Don’t try to high road me, sorcerer. You may have magic, but I have brains and beauty. So, what’s it gonna be? Are you paying up or am I gonna have to send a message to our good friend?”

Accepting he’s run out of time, he resigned himself to his fate. He reached into his robe and pulled out his sack of gold. He had more than enough to buy Killít’s silence. He grimaced as he handed it to her, as if it physically pained him to be bereft of it. 

She snatched it greedily and hefted it slightly in her palm. She grinned as felt the weight shift. “Good. Good.” She promptly attempted to find a place to stuff it, but everything was far too large to accommodate a bag of that size. She cursed her greed and lack of pockets. “It was a pleasure doing business with you.”

“I’m afraid I can’t say the same,” Rib muttered bitterly.

“I know. The pleasure was all mine.” She tugged her whip, causing Fox to stumble forward helplessly. “He’s all yours.”

Rib, without thinking, lunged forward and caught him before realizing what happened. Their eyes met as if truly seeing each other for the first time. The moment felt like an eternity as they held each other. Neither could understand what this feeling of safety and warmth meant, but when Fox was righted, they quickly backed away from each other.

With a quick yank, Killít’s whip freed Fox’s hands. “The paralyzing effect of his magic will last for a couple more hours, so I suggest you poof away while the poofin’ is good.”

“What about your partner?” Rib asked.

“I’m going to check on him. I’ll update you on his progress.”

With a flick of her wrist, she spun her whip around her, creating a spiral of wind, and then she was gone. 

Both Rib and Fox were stunned by what they just witnessed. Rib took a moment to process this before he turned to Fox and said, “You know that bitch has hooves.”

“I don’t doubt it,” Fox replied.

In a flash of purple smoke they were gone. Not enough had dissipated before Creston and Peg arrived on the scene. They were out of breath and sweaty, which made their saddened expressions all the more painful as the realization set in.

Creston cried out in anger as he kicked a rock off the side of the cliff. “We just missed him! He was just here!” He sank to his knees and gripped fistfuls of dirt, allowing it to slip through his fingers, just as Fox had done. 

He didn’t know when they started, but tears streamed down his face. Instead of trying to stop them, he let them fall with the strong hope that if Fox senses them, he could use them to find his way back to him.

“Fuck! Why am I always too late?” He pounded the ground with no regard to the state of his hands. He would gladly break them again and again if it meant he could bring his best friend back.

Peg stood behind Creston, not knowing what to do or say to comfort him. His heart broke for him for he knew what it felt like to lose someone dear. He wanted to touch Creston to let him know that he wasn’t alone, but he respected the crying man’s space. While he also cared for Fox, he saw his love couldn’t match what Creston obviously felt for him. 

“We’re going to find him, okay?” Peg offered weakly. He didn’t want to make promises, but it was the only thing he could think of to say. “Based on who was just here, it’s pretty obvious where he’s going.”

Creston raised his head and gazed south. “The Bone Castle.” Peg was right. Fox would most certainly be there. Suddenly, he felt better. A new surge of determination pulsed through him. “We were going there anyway. He just got there first.” He dramatically stood up and made a fist with his left hand. “We’re gonna meet him there.”

Glad to see Creston’s hope restored, Peg said, “Damn right we will. He’s waiting for us. We can’t let him down.”

Creston kissed his fist. “Not again. Never again.” He withdrew his sword and uttered the spell to ignite its flames. “I swear to the gods above and below, we will rescue him, and in so doing, defeat the Skeleton King once and for all!”

Tears came to Peg’s eyes as he placed his hand over his heart. “We will be victorious or die trying.”

Creston turned to Peg, as if suddenly remembering he was there. “Die? That’s a bit much, don’t you think?”

Peg smirked. “You draw the line at dying? Man, you are a puss.”

“I’m not a puss! I’d just prefer breathing as opposed to not,” Creston replied, the wind knocked from his sails. “I mean, I’d do anything for him, but dying would just ruin my day.”

Peg shrugged and sighed. “I understand, but you’re gonna die someday.”

Creston returned his gaze southward, where the Bone Castle lay waiting. “Well, death is gonna have to wait until I get Fox back in my arms.” He realized what he said and stopped. He normally would have backtracked and covered up his true intent with something less mushy, but this time, he let it linger in the air. This time, he wasn’t ashamed. There was no time to put up a front. He had to rescue Fox, his best friend, and dare he say it, his… 

“Shall we get a move on?” Peg asked, patting his friend on the back. “Time’s a-wastin’.”

Creston sneered at him, resentful of the interruption of his character growth. “I guess so. Let’s go.”

The two of them began their journey down Crevice Rock to further their neverending quest to save their friend, and kill the Skeleton King.

End of Season 1

Episode 17: Rude Awakening

The neverending humming crept its way into Creston’s ears despite the gobs of candle wax shoved in them. The humming was persistent and rattled against the drums, perniciously gnawing its way through the membrane, hoping to find a way to his brain. He had been at the compound for a year at this point, but still couldn’t wrap his mind around its presence. It took all of the candle wax he could find to stuff in his ears at night to accomplish any amount of sleep. Sometimes he was successful, but tonight, he was not. 

As much as he hated it, he knew the humming was necessary to ward off prying spirits and hurtful spells from anyone who wished to do harm to the residents there. A line of vigilant monks sat along the perimeter of the compound every hour of every day creating a barrier with the harmonics of their hums. Every hour, one monk would be swapped out for another so as to not break the chain. Creston just wished that they’d all take a break and go knit or something. Why did it have to be humming? 

Creston opened his eyes and stared bitterly at the dirty ceiling of his cell. He longed for silence. If not silence, then another noise that would take his mind off the humming. He got his wish a second later. 

A loud bang on the door jolted him from his bed. He stared at the wooden door as it shook with tremendous force. That’s not right, he thought. That door shouldn’t be there. The cell has bars, and not the fun kind. 

Creston crept closer to the door with the intention of inspecting it, but another bang forced him back. As he marveled at the impossibility of it, the door shook harder and louder with each bang. Any minute it would succumb to the force behind it. 

Another sound entered the mix, a deep, guttural growl that matched the frequency of the impacts. Creston continued to back away as he realized that this wasn’t happening here, not really. He was having yet another dream about the compound, but an outside force was intruding upon it, trickling in bits of reality. Wake up!

Creston opened his eyes for real, just in time to see the inn door fly off its hinges and through the width of the room. It splintered against the wall near Peg’s bed, startling its occupant.

“Fuck!” Creston shouted as he leaped out of his bed. He was going to ask what the hell happened, but the answer walked in just as he was about to open his mouth. 

A shirtless, muscle bound man wearing really tight pants stomped into the room and growled menacingly. He stood at the foot of Creston’s bed and flexed, trying to look menacing, but this failed in part to the absurdity of his confused expression as he gazed at the two startled men, one naked as the day he was born, and the other in briefs. This was not how he envisioned starting this assassination. 

“You guys are still in bed? It’s like noon,” Brunt said condescendingly.

“No, it’s not,” Peg replied. “It’s barely seven.”

Brunt stepped outside to look at the sun and confirmed this to be true. “I stand corrected.” He stepped back inside and cracked his knuckles. 

“Who the fuck are you and what do you want?” Creston asked, irritated that his sleep had been disturbed. “I think it’s obvious you got the wrong room.”

“Nope. This is the right room. I’m looking for the Graveyard Fighters. This is where I found one of them.” Brunt gave Creston a thumbs up, obviously proud of himself. “My tracking skills are unmatched in the Seven Lands.”

“Your mother must be so happy for you,” Peg added.

Brunt nodded emphatically. “She’s my number one fan.” His joyful expression suddenly turned serious as it was time to get down to business. 

“My name is Brunt, one half of the Annihilators, assassins for hire, here to kill you. Prepare to die.” He quickly looked at Peg and then at Creston to determine which one would be the easiest to kill, and which one posed the greater threat. Judging by the plumpness of the naked one, he’d be the easiest to kill. He could crush him in a second and then move on to the heartier of the two.

He made his move toward Peg, but was immediately interrupted by Creston, who leaped onto his back. Brunt hated being piggybacked more than anything. This sent him into a violent flailing fit, hands groping hopelessly at his rider. His back was so broad that Creston was able to stay in the middle with no fear of being touched.

“Owie!” Brunt cried as Creston gripped tightly to his back copious strands of back hair. With each spin, Creston tugged just a little harder. He bucked forward, causing Creston to fly off his back and into Peg, but not without ripping two fistfuls of hair for his troubles. 

“YYYYYEEEEOOOOWWW!” 

Creston landed upside down with his back pressed against Peg’s chest. He was dizzy from his wild ride. When the room stopped spinning, he stood up and apologized to Peg for having his ass in his face. Peg didn’t see a problem.

Brunt’s eyes were laser focused on Creston. He had hurt him; he deserved to die, now more than ever. “You tore out my hair! I want it back!”

Creston glanced at his fistfuls of white hair and gagged. He promptly tossed them on the floor and rubbed his hands off on his chest. “Gross! What are you, a bear?”

Brunt blushed for a moment. His mama called him “her little Bruntie Bear”. This always brought a smile to his face.

Creston knew a full blown fight was about to happen. Brunt was a moving mountain. There was no way to fight him in hand to hand combat. He definitely needed his sword, which was hidden beneath his bed. He regretted not grabbing it before he leaped on Brunt’s back. It would have been much more useful than the clumps of back hair he acquired instead.

He must have been staring at the bed for a while because when he looked at Brunt, the giant smirked, having picked up on Creston’s next move. Great, he thought. It’s not like I don’t love a challenge, but really?

Creston flexed his fingers as he prepared to make a move. Brunt silently dared him to try. “Stay behind me,” he instructed Peg. 

“With pleasure.” Peg pressed his back against the wall and waited for his chance to hide.

Knowing that he might telegraph his moves unintentionally, Creston did his best to focus solely on Brunt’s barrel chest. He faked like he was going to lunge forward, but at the last second, he dove to the left, hoping to reach his bed.

Unfortunately, Brunt’s arms had incredible reach. He simply extended his right one and clotheslined Creston to the floor. “Access denied.” 

Before he could get up, Brunt pulled his opponent off the floor and threw him back across the room. He gave a satisfied grunt as he watched Creston crumble to the floor. 

The poor man shakily stood up and made another attempt only to have the experience repeated again. Creston moaned as he fell to the floor.

“Maybe you should try something else,” Peg suggested quietly.

Creston glared at him as he recomposed himself. “You think?” Peg nodded. “Well, I’m open to suggestions!”

“Just keep doing what you’re doing.”

Creston did a double take and shouted, “What? But you just said…”

“I got an idea.”

Brunt folded his arms and stared at them in confusion. “You know I’m standing right here. I can hear you plotting.”

“It’s not my fault you’re prone to eavesdropping. It’s very rude of you.” Peg wagged his finger at the burly man and frowned.

Brunt genuinely looked ashamed. “I’m sorry.” His cheeks reddened as he proceeded to plug his ears. 

Creston took this opportunity to make another dive for the bed.

Brunt realized that he’d been had and went to stop him, but received a whack in his gut instead. He looked down to see Peg had jabbed him with his walking stick. “How dare you?” Peg shrugged.

Brunt raised his right hand to smack him, but was halted when he received a fiery blade through the shoulder. He gasped, not only out of shock, but by the audacity. How dare they besmirch his gorgeous body? This deserved a death worthy of the most heinous. 

“How do you like them apples?” Creston asked.

“I don’t wike it!” Brunt replied. He growled and closed his eyes to concentrate. At first no one noticed anything, but suddenly the temperature of the room dropped drastically. It was chillier than the coldest winter the Seven Lands had ever encountered. Frost crackled as it stretched across the window and the furniture. 

Is it seriously this cold? Creston thought. He took a glance at his naked companion and saw that his nipples were so hard they could have cut glass. Okay, I guess it is. He would have taken a bit more time to acknowledge how attractive he found Peg’s body if it hadn’t been for Brunt grabbing hold of his blade and pushing it back through his wound. “The fuck?”

Brunt’s body grew so cold that the flames on Creston’s blade sizzled out of existence. Once it was free, the sword was impotent and would not reignite no matter how many times Creston uttered the activating spell.

“Bitch!” Creston shouted, staring incredulously at his sword. How could this guy do this? He didn’t have time to ponder this because he was punched within an inch of his life, causing him to be thrown into the wall by his bed. He wished that would stop happening.

Brunt was ready to attack Creston again but a hard bop onto the top of his head from Peg’s staff caused him to shut down. Due to a defect, the top of his skull never sealed as it should have, thus creating a soft spot. When struck, it acted as a reset button, shutting down every bodily function momentarily. It was an unlucky weak spot that he hoped no one would exploit. Today, he was bested by a naked fat man who had no idea this existed. His last thought before he lost consciousness was, I miss my mommy. All 300 plus pounds of him fell to the floor with a thunderous thud. Upon his unconsciousness, the room warmed up to  its previous temperature.

Creston recovered from his smack and stood up, dazed and confused. “What the fuck happened?” he asked, staring at Brunt’s body.

Peg shrugged. He didn’t expect that to work as well as it did. He was just as surprised as Creston. “I have no idea, but I’m glad it worked.”

Creston grinned. “Maybe you don’t need Fox or I to teach you how to be a badass after all.” He gave Peg a genuine wink, truly impressed. “You got game, man.” He winked at him. “You’re not as useless as you think you are.”” 

Peg blushed and smiled at this admission. “Thanks.” He didn’t want to let on how much that statement meant to him, so he suggested checking Brunt’s pockets for any useful information. 

Creston didn’t waste any time in doing so. He searched Brunt’s pockets and found a folded piece of parchment. He unfolded it and found a note written in the loveliest handwriting he’d ever seen. It was obviously written by a woman who valued the art of legibility. It read: “Once you have killed the remaining members of the Graveyard Fighters, meet me at the summit of the Crevice Rock. The boy and I will be there to confront Ribbyn Mordane.”

Creston read this and uttered, “Foxie.” He suddenly realized Fox’s absence. If this mountain of a man was only one half of a team, there was a good chance Fox was also a target, and Brunt’s partner might have captured him.

 “Can’t we just have one day where one of us doesn’t get kidnapped?” he asked, exasperated.

“Must be Tuesday,” Peg replied.

Creston nodded in agreement. “You can bet your bottom dollar that Fox is going to be there. We better get there with the quickness.”

Peg kicked Brunt’s body and marveled at its unresponsiveness. “What about this guy? Should we kill him?”

Creston knew he was going to regret this decision, but shook his head. “No. We only kill things that are already dead. We’ll just leave this guy here to take his nap.” He flipped over the parchment and saw a map of the meeting place Brunt was supposed to reunite with his partner. 

“Get dressed,” Creston commanded. There was no time to lose. They needed to get the rendezvous point before something happened to Fox. He couldn’t live with himself if it did. He had abandoned him before; he’d be damned if he did it again, not before he said what he needed to say.

Once Peg was dressed, the two of them left the room in extreme disrepair. Creston didn’t even bother to check out of the inn. If the management had a problem with the condition of the room, they could take it up with the Annihilators if they dared, which they probably didn’t. Creston was willing to leave a good review. That bed was the most comfortable he’d ever slept on in the past seven years. 10/10, would stay again.

Episode 16: Watch Me Whip

Fox opened his eyes as an idea jolted him awake. He had gone to sleep thinking about Peg’s concerns about being useless and couldn’t help but feel the same. It was apparent to everyone that his own powers were not on par with Creston’s or Rib’s. There was no way he would be able to increase his skills in time for the final battle. He would need a miracle. That was where Peg came in.

“Hey, Peg, you awake?” He waited for a response, which was a kick in the foot from Creston and a snort from Peg. Not wanting to be kicked again, he carefully got out of bed and went to Peg’s bedside. He gave the burly man a light shove, gently rousing him awake. 

Peg blinked lazily at Fox with a confused and concerned expression. “Are we under attack?”

Fox shook his head and reassured him they were safe for the moment. “You remember all the ingredients for that power increase potion, right?” When his friend nodded, Fox’s hopes raised slightly. “Good. I was wondering if you’d be willing to make it again, but this time, for me.”

Peg smiled adoringly at Fox and said, “Of course, Foxy! I’d do anything for you.” He took Fox’s right hand into his and stared into his eyes. “You just name it and it’s yours.”

“Thank you. I really appreciate it.”

Peg’s expression shifted to something more serious. “I must warn you, it might be too much for you to handle. It’s quite a kick in the pants.”

“Understood.” Fox didn’t care about kicks or pants. He didn’t plan on using much of the potion, just enough to give him a slight boost. He’d take anything he could get to be useful and efficient.

Peg sat up and motioned to be brought a quill and parchment. When Fox retrieved them, he quickly began jotting down the ingredients. “Now, keep in mind that this potion is going to work differently for you than it will for the sorcerer or the Skeleton King, who have innate magical abilities. You’re a mage who can tap into the magical lines around you. If you’re not careful, you could get more magic than you can handle.” He glanced at Fox to make sure he was listening. “You got it?”

“Understood and duly noted,” Fox replied sincerely.

Creston gave an irritated groan and said, “Hey fuck ducks, keep it down, will ya? I’m sleepin’ over here.”

Peg snickered quietly. “Sorry.”

Creston uttered a disgusted grunt before turning over.

Having finished the list, Peg placed it gingerly in Fox’s hands. “Now go get the stuff before something else happens.”

Fox stood and proceeded to leave the room when he remembered something. “Wait, what about the Elk Hoof Root? You said your village was the only place you could get it.”

Peg cheerfully snorted and said, “Oh, I just said that to get a rise out of Crustie.”

Creston muttered something that sounded a lot like, “Bitch.”

“You can get it anywhere. It’s really common.”

“Basic,” Creston mumbled.

Fox smirked at his weary companion and finally left the room. The crisp early morning air was a sudden slap in the face compared to the stuffy room. While it was refreshing, it stung just a little. If he wasn’t awake before, he was now.

Wide-eyed and alert, he was able to see just how much damage last night’s zombie attack had caused. While the bodies were no longer there, the victims’ blood stained the ground and the surrounding buildings, which were worse for wear. The blood appeared to seep from every crack and hole in the walls. The scene was too grim to see first thing in the morning. It reminded Fox why this potion was so important. 

He walked hastily the rest of the way to the marketplace, being sure to keep his gaze focused on the horizon and not the gruesome details all around him. He tried not to think about how long it must have taken the villagers to clear away the bodies before sunrise. He didn’t want to think about them mourning their loved ones who died needlessly. He attempted not to blame himself for possibly getting those people killed because he and Creston were there. He tried to do all of this, but as tears streamed down his face, he realized how badly he’d failed.

Despite all of the mayhem that transpired last night, the marketplace was still open and ready for customers to peruse the wares that survived the night. People moved slowly along the shaded tables and carts, scrutinizing every potential purchase. As Fox joined them, he thought to himself, This is what I’m fighting to protect. No matter what happens, life must go on. These people know that. I have to remember.

It wasn’t long after Fox began gathering the ingredients that he felt better about life in general. He was in a better position than the villagers simply because he was actively working to change their circumstances. With each item he bagged, the more confident he felt about the mission. Hope blossomed within his heart, which warmed him despite the cold.

With only the Elk Hoof Root to collect, Fox felt more optimistic about his chances of beating the Skeleton King for good. That only lasted a minute before he felt a dark energy. Danger was lurking closeby. He looked around him to see if he could spot the danger before it spotted him, but couldn’t pinpoint anything suspicious. That didn’t make him feel better. His danger senses suddenly spiked so intensely that his skin began to tingle. It’s really close, but where the hell is it?

That question was answered when he felt something sting his right arm, causing him to drop the bag of ingredients he was carrying. He looked down and saw a black cord had tightly wrapped itself around his wrist and forearm. Before he could try to remove it, it was pulled taut, dragging him up and out of the marketplace through several fruit stands. 

Fox fell to the ground face first when the dragging stopped. He coughed as the air left his lungs, sending up dust particles into his eyes, obscuring his view of his assailant. He sighed in relief as the cord loosened its hold and slithered away. The blood flow slowly returned, relieving the tingling sensation that had developed. 

“I must say, you’re much cuter in person,” a woman said. When the dust settled, the woman in black leather was revealed. Her whip finished coiling around her waist while she stared down at Fox. “So, let’s get the formalities out of the way. My name is Killít Goode, one of the Annihilators, assassins for hire, sent here to kill you. You have the privilege of being brutally murdered by one such as myself. I will give you a moment to bask in the glow of my magnificence.”

Fox stood up and returned the smirk. “You have that spiel down pat. You must know a guy in purple because you’re just as long winded.”

Killít chuckled. “We’ve met.” She tossed her hair over her shoulder and posed, hoping to up her majestic stance. “Shall we begin?”

“Let’s do this so we can stop doing this,” Fox replied. 

Killít grabbed her whip and let it crack twice, signaling the start of the battle. She leaped into the air and unleashed the whip toward her prey.

Fox was ready this time. He gathered the magic energy around him and created a sky blue shield around him, deflecting the tip. The sound of thunder shot through the air, unleashing mild shockwaves. The shield quivered like water as Killít continued the attack.

“You can’t hide in there forever,” she said as she returned to the ground. 

Fox wasn’t planning to. He lowered the shield and let loose a wide fiery blast in her direction, which she expertly dodged. He counted on that happening. With a thought, he bent the wave to chase after her. As hard as she fought, Killít could not evade it. She desperately waved her whip back and forth to diminish the impact, but still got hit pretty good.

When the flames died away, Killít brushed some of the ash off her shoulders and sighed. “I can see why he wants you dead so badly.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment.” Fox took this moment while she was standing still to cast a spell that immobilized her. She didn’t seem bothered by it and this worried him. He did cast it at a lower level in an effort to preserve some of his energy. He could use this time to escape.

Fox gave another glance at his opponent before he took the chance to run. She still didn’t look stressed about it. He turned around and made a break for freedom. 

It was then he realized why Killít didn’t look worried. Before he got more than five feet away, his legs were suddenly restrained, causing him to be reunited with the dirt. The whip wrapped itself around his legs and tightened its hold with each passing second. He forgot that it seemed to move of its own accord. Unless Killít willed it, it wasn’t going to let go anytime soon. 

The immobilization spell wore off allowing Killít to approach him and dig one of her heels into his back. She grinned as Fox’s painful groans reached her ears. “Boy, you are a feisty one.”

Fox rolled his eyes. “Is this how you kill your targets, with kindness?”

“Murder with a smile.” Killít clapped her hands and the whip squeezed the ever living life out of Fox’s legs. “Normally, this is the part where I kill you, but I’ve got something else planned for you.” 

“Oh goody,” Fox said, sighing in resignation. 

Killít picked the cropped end of her whip and dragged him away from the marketplace, taking pleasure in the pained moaning and scraping trailing behind her.

Episode 15: Assassin’s Greed

A few blocks away from the smoldering heap that used to be The Yard, Rib sat at a table at the Whistling Pig Tavern, waiting anxiously for company. From the back of the empty room, he could hear the wonderful sounds of mayhem as the undead ravaged the village. It appeared his beloved was testing his powers. He hoped the king planned to pace himself.

The screams crescendoed as the front door opened. A woman dressed in shiny black leather from head to toe entered. Her corset was adorned with velvet black rose embroidery and was cinched up just so that allowed her modest bosom to be displayed respectfully. On her right hip rested a thick black leather whip that looked like it had seen its fair share of use. Her hair mimicked the color of ravens, but Rib could tell even from his distance it came from a bottle; her blonde roots betrayed her image. Her snow white skin contrasted starkly against her dark attire, drawing attention to her slender arms, and well curated face, complete with pouty red lips, and stunning purple eyes. We won’t mention her fuck me pumps.

Behind her entered a mountain of a man who appeared to have lost his shirt somewhere along the way, revealing his barrel chest covered in white curly hair, which matched his long, stringy hair. His eyes were the color of glacial ice. His pants, what were left of them, hugged his tree trunk legs for dear life. While this outfit was more aesthetically pleasing to Rib, it was somehow more conspicuous than the woman’s. 

Rib stood up and waved them over. Upon realizing they were the only ones there, he blushed and quickly sat down. He took out his amulet and cast a ward around the tavern to prevent anyone living or dead from barging in on them with their nonsense. 

When his guests joined him, he addressed them with the most serious expression he could muster. “Killít,” he said to the woman. “Brunt,” he said to the man. “You’re probably wondering why I called you here this evening.”

Killít rolled her eyes and sighed. “You want someone dead, right?” The surprised look on Rib’s face confirmed it. “We’re assassins. Mystery solved.”

Deflated, Rib sank in his seat and low key sulked. “You must be real fun at parties.”

Brunt giggled, betraying the tough guy exterior his build portrayed. “Yeah, she’s the real death of the party.” Rib and Killít merely stared blankly at him, but he didn’t care. He enjoyed his joke.

“Who do you want dead and how much are you willing to pay us?” Killít asked impatiently. 

“What, you have somewhere to be?” Rib didn’t like how brusque the lady’s attitude was. He was trying to enjoy the moment, but she was ruining it. Maybe this wasn’t the best idea.

“If you haven’t noticed, the undead are causing a scene and I don’t want to get caught up in it.” She tossed her hair over her shoulder and sat back. “The sooner we get to business, the sooner we can get out of here.”

Rib leaned forward and held up his amulet. “As long as you’re with me, you’re safe. It would be in your best interest to take your time and enjoy yourself.” Having gotten his message across, he sat back and took a deep breath. “Now, where was I?”

Brunt clapped his hands excitedly like a child about to get a treat. “You were about to tell us why you called us here tonight!” His excitement simmered a bit when his enthusiasm was met with a stern look from his partner. He slumped his shoulders and sat back in the booth with his serious face on. “Proceed,” he said with a deep voice.

In a flash of purple light, images of Fox and Creston’s heads appeared in the center of the table. The heads floated and rotated as if on a spinning plate. Rib’s illusions captivated his guests as they studied their new targets.

“These are the Graveyard Fighters, the very ones who defeated the Skeleton King eight years ago.” The disdain in his voice was all too clear, which intrigued the assassins more. “The gods didn’t see fit to kill them during his absence, so now the job is yours.” He studied Killít’s face and saw her wheels were turning. 

“These are mere boys, Ribbyn. Surely you could wipe them off the face of the planet with a wave of a hand. Why have us kill them?” Killít’s light voice was heavy with suspicion, which irritated Rib, much to her delight.

“Because it is the master’s will,” Rib replied haughtily. “I have very important things to attend to if the king is to regain his hold on the Seven Lands.” He enlarged Fox’s and pointed at it. “He really wants this one dead. If you could, brutalize him harshly. Obliterate his pretty little face until it’s nothing but pulp! Leave no trace, not even a tooth! Salt the ground his mangled body lies on and burn it! And then…”

Brunt cleared his throat, interrupting the stream of violence. “You must really hate that guy. What did he do, fuck your mom or something?”

Rib gasped too dramatically and choked on the air for his efforts. “No! How dare you!” He glared at the beast of a man and mumbled something about his mother being a saint. “This boy was instrumental in defeating the king and for that he must be punished.”

“Fine, don’t tell us. I don’t really care.” Killít waved her gloved hands dismissively. She was ready to conclude this business. “How much are we getting paid? Let’s see the coins.”

Rib fished out a medium sized purple velvet pouch and set it on the table, going through Fox’s face. The clinking of coins was music to the assassins’ ears. 

“A thousand gold coins now, two thousand when the job is done.”

Killít and Brunt smirked at this. “Bitch, please. We don’t get out of bed for less than seven thousand,” she said, pushing the pouch toward Rib.

“Generally, we don’t like getting out of bed at all,” Brunt added with a chuckle.

It was Rib’s turn to balk. “Seven thousand? That’s outrageous!”

“Your outfit is outrageous, but here we are.” Killít watched as Rib took the jab at his fashion personally.

Brunt nodded his head. “It’s true. It’s truly, truly, truly outrageous.” Another withering look from Killít silenced him again.

“Look, do you want these bitches dead or not?” 

Rib’s face scrunched up as he reached into his robe and pulled out another pouch. He slammed it onto the table with attitude. He’d hoped he wouldn’t have to spend more than three thousand coins for this, but when one employed The Annihilators, one paid out the nose.

“Fine, three thousand now, five thousand when the job is done. Does this justify getting out of bed?”

Killít and Brunt exchanged glances before silently consenting to accept the offer. “It’s a start.” Killít grabbed the pouches and handed them to Brunt to hold. Stunning as her outfit was, it lacked sufficient pockets.

“I want them dead by sunset tomorrow,” Rib said, standing up from the table. “Oh, by the way; try to make this one look like an accident.” He waved his hand through Fox’s face, pretending to slap it. With a swish of his cape, he exited the tavern into the chaos still raging outside.

Killít waited to hear the screams to muffle a bit before she turned to Brunt and asked, “What do you make of him?”

Brunt looked back to see if Rib was really gone before he replied, “He really seemed to hate that one guy. Like a lot.” He glanced back at the table to find the visions of their targets had disappeared. “I think there’s more to this than he let on.”

Killít couldn’t agree more. The question of why Rib couldn’t kill these boys himself stayed on her mind. Why would he pay someone to do what he could do easily? And why did it have to look like an accident? If she didn’t know better she’d say they were being set up.

“I bet you a thousand gold pieces that the Skeleton King wants that one boy alive and well.” 

Brunt thought about this for a moment before he said, “If that’s true, then he plans on blaming us for his demise.”

“My thoughts exactly.”

Brunt watched as his partner’s expression suddenly became pensive. He knew this look well- she was hatching a scheme. He couldn’t wait to know what it was. “So what’s the plan, Killy?” he asked excitedly.

She gave him a sly look and said, “If Rib is willing to pay this much for the boy to die, I wonder how much the king will pay us for him to live.” She let the plan float between them before the laughing began. They both agreed the plan was brilliant. The potential to make enough money to buy that houseboat they’d had their eyes on made them giddy.

“How funny is it that we could get paid for not killing someone? That’s got to be a first,” said Brunt, bouncing the coin pouches lightly in his hands.

“Very funny indeed,” Killít replied. “We’ll be laughing our way to the bank.”

Episode 14: The Phoebe

The first thing Peg did when he and the boys got to their room was jump onto the soft bed. He buried his face into the fluffy pillow and allowed its coolness to soothe his forehead. For some reason, the three of them walked to The Wheel of Cheese Inn two villages away from Wilshire Village, causing them to over exert themselves. With the tracking spell broken, Fox thought it was alright to take their time getting there. Peg didn’t want to take his time, but he was outvoted. Being heavier than his traveling buddies, the journey took a harder toll on him. He wanted nothing more than to sleep the rest of the day.

Peg flipped onto his back and let out a sigh of relief and stared at the ceiling. It looked similar to The Yard’s ceiling. His heart skipped a beat when he remembered it no longer existed. He wanted to cry, but he convinced himself to wait until Fox and Creston were asleep to do so. He knew they were penitent about it, so he didn’t want to guilt them any further. 

That club meant the world to him and now it was gone. The Skeleton King had taken it from him. If Peg wasn’t invested in his defeat before, he sure as hell was now.

“Really? Only two beds?” Creston moaned. “We specifically asked for three.”

Fox placed his rucksack on the bed closest to the door and wiped the sweat from his brow. “I know, but they didn’t have any rooms with three beds available. You’re just going to have to deal with the fact that you might have to share a bed with one of us.”

Creston rolled his eyes and said, “I guess.”

Peg wasted no time in declaring he had no intentions of sharing his bed.

“I guess you and I are bedmates again,” Fox said.

Creston attempted to feign disappointment, but he wasn’t fooling anyone. His expression was as fake as his objection to the idea. “I don’t know how I’ll manage.”

Peg snorted at this. “Oh, I’m sure you’ll find a way. You’re very resourceful when you want to be.” He gave Creston a wink, succeeding in flustering him.

It was all fun and games until all three of their stomachs growled in unison. They all acknowledged the fact that they neglected to eat amidst all the day’s excitement. This had to be remedied at once.

“What’s even around here to eat?” Peg asked. “Anything vegetarian?”

Creston sneered at the question. “I knew there was something wrong with you. Meat is the best.”

Peg shook his head. “Meat is murder.”

“Fuck yeah it is. Delicious, delicious murder.” Creston licked his lips at the thought of a big and juicy turkey leg. “I’m in the mood for a big ol’ hunk of meat.”

Fox coughed. “I have a name.”

Creston’s face reddened as he sputtered to counter the comment. “Just go find us some food already!” He reached into his pocket and revealed a green pouch that jingled with the sound of coins within. “Go! Go!”

He couldn’t push Fox out of the room fast enough. Once this was accomplished, he slammed the door and leaned on it to prevent re-entry. He quickly realized his mistake when his eyes met Peg’s. Shit, now I’m alone with this guy. There’s no way this isn’t going to be awkward. He sat down on the free bed with his back to Peg, hoping to shut down any chance of conversation, but this was in vain.

“So, since it’s probably going to be a while before Foxy returns with sustenance, how about we get to know each other?”

Creston groaned as he turned his gaze to the floor. “Could we not?”

Peg sat up and faced Creston’s back. “Nope. You burned my club down. You owe me a conversation.” He let the silence linger, growing fat with the guilt he wanted to avoid mere minutes ago. “I mean, I could ask for financial satisfaction, but I’m willing to settle for satisfying my curiosity.”

This caused Creston to finally look back at Peg. “Curiosity about what?”

Glad that the bait was successful in hooking his prey, Peg launched his first question. “Why did you leave Fox seven years ago?” He could see Creston was caught off guard as his eye contact was suddenly hard to maintain. It was clear he hadn’t expected to be asked that so soon. “I mean, for someone who claims to care a great deal for him, you left without a word and didn’t write to him once.”

Creston didn’t want to answer that question when Fox asked it, he definitely didn’t want to answer it now to a stranger. “I did it to keep him safe.”

“From what?”

More silence. They let it grow thick with speculation and distrust before Creston seized the opportunity to satisfy his curiosity.

“Let me ask you then, what’s your relationship to Fox? Are you guys an item, or were you an item?”

Peg smirked. “Technically, that’s two questions, maybe three.” He watched as Creston’s expression turned sour. “Turnabout is fair play, Crustie. If you want to be evasive, that’s fine, but two can play that game. You can’t get something for nothing.”

Knowing that he was going to have to play fair if he wanted answers, Creston took a deep breath while he compiled an answer. “I felt the need to look into something we might have overlooked in the final battle with the Skeleton King. I was caught somewhere I wasn’t supposed to be and was arrested.”

Intrigued, Peg leaned in closer. “Ooh, you were being a naughty boy! Speak more words to my face right now.”

“There isn’t much to tell. I was arrested and thrown into a Galvadian prison.”

Peg quickly glanced at Creston’s right wrist before returning his gaze to his eyes. “Bullshit.”

Creston, caught off guard once again, blinked in confusion. “What do you mean?”

At that moment, they heard screams and panicked shouting outside of their window. Creston stood up to investigate, but didn’t even make it to the door before it flew open. Fox rushed inside and shut it behind him, bracing it closed.

“Rotters!” he shouted. “They just came out of nowhere! They’re trying to eat the villagers.”

Creston, thankful for the interruption, jumped to his feet and searched for his sword. “Let’s cut them up!” He found the sword by the foot of the bed. He must have just thrown it there when he got in. He picked it up and brandished it heroically, not daring to ignite the blade inside. He and Fox were about to leave the room when they noticed that Peg wasn’t following them. “Aren’t you coming?”

Peg snorted as he rose from the bed. “To do what? Without my ingredients, I can’t do anything.” He crossed his arms and pouted. “Foxy’s got magic powers and you’ve got a big, burning pointy thing that makes it clear you’re obviously compensating for something. I’ve got nothing without my potions.”

“Oh, that’s not true. I’m sure you could find some rocks to throw. You could be really resourceful when you want to.” Creston’s smug expression could not be understated. He was quite proud of himself for throwing that phrase back at Peg.

“Creston, come on!” 

Peg watched them leave the room to rush into battle. He made his way to the window and watched the two of them battle the corpses. He marveled at how well they worked together. They fought with their backs together, rotating in a circle, killing the rotties that dared to come for them. It was like a dance they’d danced a thousand times. He wanted to dance like that. 

As annoying as Creston was, at least he was useful. His fighting skills were impressive. Like, really impressive. Where did he learn to fight like a demon possessed? Peg wondered if he asked nicely, maybe Creston would be willing to teach him. Hopefully, he wouldn’t charge.

Fox threw lightning bolts at the approaching corpses and watched their rotting flesh sizzle and spark before it slid off their bones. Before he could enjoy his work, another group ambled toward him. He made quick work of them as well, this time with fire.

Creston spun through his enemies with his fiery blade slicing and incinerating them with the grace of a master in dance and fighting. He was clearly showing off, but damn if he didn’t look good doing it. 

As suddenly as it started, the fight was over. Piles of undead laid smoldering at the Fighters’ feet. The two of them panted as they admired their work. When it looked like the coast was clear, they re-entered the room.

Peg stared at them with stars in his eyes, dripping with admiration and envy. “I want to learn how to be badasses like you guys! I want to shoot lightning and cut through bitches like a hot knife through butter!” He got on his knees in supplication before them and bowed his head. “Please. I want to learn. I need to learn.”

Creston and Fox stared at him and immediately felt awkward. Were they responsible for making Peg feel this way? Without access to his potions and ingredients, had they stripped the poor man of his identity and purpose? They each silently agreed they had to do something to help him.

Creston was the first one to offer aid. “Look, what we know can’t really be taught fast enough for you to be proficient enough to help us fight the Skeleton King.” He knelt down next to Peg and lifted his head to look into his eyes. “Fox has magic. I have a magic sword that totally isn’t compensating for anything. You do potions; that’s your thing. We’ll help you get your groove back. I swear it.”

Peg’s eyes began to tear up as he saw the sincerity in Creston’s eyes. “You mean it? You’d really help me?”

“It’s the very least we can do since we burned your inventory to Hell,” Creston replied. 

“We’ll get it sorted in the morning,” Fox added. “Right now, let’s get some rest before another attack happens.”

Everyone was in agreement. They stripped down to their underwear, except Peg who didn’t wear any, and got into their respective beds. They were almost asleep when Peg sat up and asked, “Do you think those zombies were after you?”

“What?” Fox asked, hiding his irritation of being yanked away from the precipice  of unconsciousness.

“That attack, do you think it was targeted at you like the others?”

Creston sighed and replied, “No. They seemed to be mindless, without a purpose. I don’t think they were looking for us. I think they just happened to be in the area, still affected by the Skeleton King’s initial awakening. Can we stop talking now?”

“I guess.”

“And we’ll discuss your making up words that make no sense.” Creston turned over to face Fox.

“What, zombie? I figured it was an accurate word for them. They kind of just zomble about like a confused toddler. So, zombies, right? Yeah.”

Neither Creston nor Fox had heard of the words ‘zomble’ or ‘zombie’, but they weren’t interested in discussing how stupid it sounded. They closed their eyes and drifted off to sleep, leaving Peg to silently wonder what was next for him.

Episode 13: “We Appreciate Power”

Calavera stood at the window staring down at the Valley of Bones in wonder. It hadn’t taken him long to fill it with the bones of his enemies. The piles went on for miles, stretching from his castle to the southern tip of the island they resided on. 

When he awoke yesterday, he barely had the energy to raise more than a couple bodies, but after drinking the potion Rib procured for him, he felt the most powerful he’d ever been. Even the dull ache of his chest scar was less achy. He knew Rib would insist on waiting another day before trying out his newfound energy, but he couldn’t resist. 

With a wave of his left hand, he sent the command for his skeletal army to rise. The bones in the valley immediately assembled themselves the best they could, ready to be of service. This filled his heart with glee. I’m back, baby! He gazed lovingly at his bone army and felt his heart grow three sizes. He never thought he’d see something this beautiful again.

Should I make a speech? I feel like I should make a speech.

His army stared up at him expectantly with their empty sockets. When their king raised his hands into the air, they all bowed in reverence. They would have knelt, but it had been a long time since they had knees, so they were rather stiff. They clattered their teeth, their way of saying, “Speech! Speech! Speech!” Knowing his subjects demanded to be addressed, the king chose not to let them down.

“My friends, comrades, victims, I welcome you back to the world!” Calavera soaked in their bony clattering as the applause they intended. “Our plan for world domination was cut short last time. Eight years have passed since we roamed the planet, and in that time, our resolve has only strengthened. We have learned from our mistake and are now ready to reclaim what is rightfully ours! We will rise up from the ashes of our failure and take our rightful place in the sky! Our enemies, the Graveyard Fighters, have grown soft and complacent in our absence. This will be their downfall! We bring them to justice and crash down upon them with great vengeance! That is what I command of you now! Go out and spread chaos and fear! Kill everyone and everything in your path! Let the world know that the Skeleton King is back!”

The army showed their enthusiasm by rattling their bones and banging their rib cages with the bones that didn’t reanimate. They saluted their king and commander before marching out of the valley to fulfill his wish.

Calavera watched his army go like a proud parent dropping their child off at Kindergarten. The realization that this was really happening moved him to tears. The Second Bone Revolution was  beginning and there was nothing that was going to stop him again.

As his army emptied the valley, the king felt more power bubbling inside him. How much more could he do? How much farther could his power reach? He was gon’ learn today. 

He closed his eyes and sent his energy to the mainland beyond his island. He commanded the dead to rise up and serve him. He felt the corpses twitch with purpose in their underground resting places, but that was the extent of what they could do for the time being. This did not bother him because as his powers grew, so would the dead he touched. He gave them instructions to create death and destruction once they were ready.  That’s not a bad start, he thought. He supposed it would be best to conserve the power he had accumulated so far. He didn’t know the extent of the potion’s ability to recharge him, so it was best to play it safe. He smirked as he turned to face his throne, knowing that it wouldn’t be long before he had enough power to awaken his final weapon. All he had was time; the Seven Lands couldn’t say the same.

Episode 12: The King & I

After the kerfuffle at the cave ended with the escape of potion master, Rib wanted to scream bloody murder for his failure. He told himself it was folly to think he deserved to rule by his beloved’s side as his queen when he allowed the very person who could have saved his life to slip away. After all the work he did he had nothing to show for it. 

He sat down in the only chair in the cave, the one he strapped the master in, and sulked. He deserved to be tossed aside like so much trash after this failure. He reached into his pocket to throw away whatever tissues he might have stashed there and pulled out the grocery list. Suddenly everything that was wrong was right away.

“He was in such a hurry to escape that he forgot I had the list!” Rib giggled as he read through the list again. There were a lot of nonsense ingredients on it, he knew this now, but not everything was nonsense. He remembered he put the potion master under a mind control spell, so he had to tell him the real ingredients. He just had to whittle down the fake ones.

With renewed hope, Rib teleported to the Bone Castle and got to work on the potion. It took a few hours before he finally found the right combination of ingredients to perfect the potion. He made a mental note to copy down what he did later. But first, he bottled up as much as he could and raced to the king’s bedroom. He was disturbed to find him not in bed. He quickly raced to the throne room calling for him.

Calavera sat on his throne, still looking like death warmed over. He was reading a romance novel about gay pirates when Rib rushed in. Irritated by the disruption, he set the book on his lap and asked, “Are the Graveyard Fighters dead?”

Rib averted his gaze for a moment before admitting his failure. Before the king could voice his disappointment, Rib offered the bottle. “But I have this! Upon capturing one of them, I coerced him into creating this, a potion to restore your strength to its former glory.” He prostrated obsequiously and held the bottle above his head. “For you, Your Eminence.”

Calavera’s eyes looked upon his loyal servant favorably as he took the bottle. He eagerly chugged the contents, battling past the bitter taste, and tossed it aside, shattering it to pieces. He felt his strength returning immediately. His body warmed up from the tips of his toes to the very tips of his wispy hair. He flexed his fingers, feeling his powers pulse through every muscle.

“Yes. Yes! YES!” Calavera stood from his throne without so much as a snap, crackle, or pop from his knees. Whatever waning pain he felt earlier was now gone. “This is magnificent! I feel ten years younger!”

Seeing his love looking so happy made Rib’s heart flutter. This has to earn him a seat by his side as his queen for sure. 

“You are looking much better, sire. The color has returned to your lovely face. How rosy they are.”

Calavera descended the steps of his throne to touch Rib’s face, who was still kneeling. “Raise, Ribbyn.” His servant did as he was commanded. 

Rib stared into Calavera’s eyes and tried not to lose himself in them. They were two perfect black pools of darkness that expressed so much appreciation that he almost came on the spot.

“No one has served me better than you and for this you will be rewarded.” He softly caressed Rib’s face, causing the servant to close his eyes. “Whatever your heart desires shall be yours- once the Graveyard Fighters are dead.” He let his hands slip away. Rib’s head leaned forward without its support. “How those children keep outlasting you is beyond me.

Rib cleared his throat and replied, “But they’re not children anymore, sire. They are formidable men now.”

This piqued Calavera’s interest. “Men, you say?” Rib didn’t like the way he said that. “Show me these men.”

By bending light to his will, Rib was able to conjure images of Creston’s and Fox’s likenesses floating in the palms of his hands. Calavera examined them closely, neither impressed nor disappointed, or at least as far as Rib could tell.

Calavera lingered on Fox’s image the most. He remembered this man as the boy who cast the sleeping spell on him at the moment of his defeat. While he wanted to repay the boy for this, he couldn’t help being attracted to the man he’d become. 

After debating what to do, the king gave the command, “Kill this one,” pointing to Creston’s image, “But capture this one and bring him to me.”

Rib’s blood ran cold when he heard this. “Are you sure, sire?” If his blood wasn’t cold already, the icy glare his liege gave him froze it completely. “I’m sorry, milord. I guess I’m just confused by why you’d spare him.” 

Calavera’s expression softened to something akin to a mother adoring her son for asking a silly question. “Don’t worry your pretty little head about it. Just bring him to me unharmed.”

The Skeleton King returned to his throne and began reading his book again. He said nothing else and didn’t make eye contact again, signaling the finality of the conversation. 

There was no reason to remain unless he wanted to lose the ground he just gained, so Rib merely bowed and left the room. 

He stormed into his private room and slammed the door behind him. His blood was no longer chilled; it was boiling beneath the surface. He had never soared so high only to plummet so low so quickly. How could his beloved want anything to do with that young whelp? What did that boy have that he didn’t have? Youth? Maybe. Rib didn’t consider himself unfortunate looking, but compared to the Graveyard Fighters, he was no spring chicken.

He plopped down on his bed and fumed before his anger turned to sadness. I guess I’m not going to be his queen after all. He remembered what Peg said about the king not meaning what Rib wanted it to mean. Is he right? Am I twisting the meaning into what I want to hear? Then a thought came to him and slapped in the face like a wet fish: What if I’ve only been imagining that he loves me? What if he plans to have me by his side only to have me watch him make the very boy who tried to kill him his queen? 

The very idea saddened him. That couldn’t happen, right? No! It couldn’t happen. It won’t happen. In fact, I’ll make sure it doesn’t! Cal is mine!

The wheels in his mind began to churn harder than they’ve ever churned before. His love and position of queen was at stake. He had to protect what was his, and Cal was his, period. No upstart was going to usurp his place in Cal’s heart.

The plan was to capture the boy unharmed, but boys are scrappy, resourceful, and incapable of keeping still. Accidents are bound to happen when the target is unpredictable. There’s no telling what could happen when trying to capture an unwilling participant. Hell, depending on the location, one could accidentally take a long walk off a short cliff, or was a short walk on a long cliff? He didn’t know, but he liked the image it conjured. He was already planning what he’d say when he brought the lifeless body back.

Suddenly, Rib was no longer crestfallen, he was more inspired and determined than ever. It was time to put the plan into action! When he went to locate the Fighters, he realized that he couldn’t home on them. He gasped as he remembered he was surprised to see them at the cave. He had no idea they were there. How could that be? 

They must have discovered the tracking spell I put on them… And then it made sense why they went to the potion master in the first place. He must have told them how to break it. Now finding them is going to be much harder. Curse you, potion master! When we meet again, I assure you, you’ll never make another potion again! You’ve made a fool of me for the last time! I will break your hands before I wring the life from… Man, I really do go on a bit, don’t I? Get a move on!

In a poof of purple, Rib disappeared, eager to put things into motion, one way or another.

Episode 11: Pulling Teeth

Rib wandered through Otto’s Food and Herbs with the long list of ingredients the potion master needed. He was impressed that the man could remember every single thing. He glanced at the list and marveled at some of the things required: sheared wool of lamb, two quail livers, heart of a robin, a splinter from a wooden spoon made from a thousand year old oak tree, a dragon scale, tooth from a cow, two babies’ teeth, and a glass of orange juice, just to name a few. The list was from top to bottom, front and back. 

How am I ever going to find all of this? he thought as he scanned the store. Surely not all of these items can be found here. I might have to go to another store. Rib sighed and remembered who he was doing this for. His beloved king needed his help. As tedious as this was, it was for a good cause. 

He carried on shopping for more of the common items in Otto’s, so focused on his task that he didn’t realize that he could no longer sense the Graveyard Fighters’ location.

***

Fox and Creston arrived at the foot of a mountain and looked up at its peak. They knew that Peg was up there. Having spent a good hour and a half walking there, the idea of having to climb a mountain made them want to cry. Their feet angrily ached with each step they took. 

“Why didn’t we just take horses?” Creston whined. “I don’t see how people walked all over the Seven Lands to get places when there were perfectly good horses waiting to be ridden.”

“Indeed,” was Fox’s response. He waited a few seconds before Creston moaned in disgust.

“Oh, get your mind out of the gutter!”

Fox chuckled like a ten year old boy. 

They returned their attention to the summit and dread filled their hearts. So much so that Creston asked, “Like how important is this guy to you? Like, are you best pals or what?”

Fox shook his head disapprovingly. “We’re not going to leave him there. We burned down his club. It’s the least we could do.”

With his arms crossed, Creston muttered, “No it isn’t. We could do a lot less.”

“Quit your bitching and let’s go.”

Much to their feets’ chagrin, they begin the climb up the mountain to rescue Fox’s probably ex-boyfriend or whatever.

***

“Ma’am, I’m really sorry, but I just need one,” Rib pleaded. He stood before an angry mother clutching her infant daughter for dear life upon hearing his request for a tooth. “It’s of the utmost importance. You see, I have a sick friend who needs this tooth.”

“Damn right, he’s sick!” The mother spat at his feet. A nice juicy green loogie now adorned Rib’s right shoe. “Going around harvesting baby teeth is beyond depraved. You should be ashamed of yourself!”

“But-“

“But nothin’! If you don’t get the fuck away from me, I’ll kick yours!” The mother didn’t move, but the look she gave him told him she would make good on her promise if he continued to try her existence. 

Rib surrendered and quickly back stepped until he was no longer in her line of sight. When he felt it was safe to, he turned away and wandered back to Otto’s Food and Herbs. 

I could have taken her. I could have taken her and that tooth if I wanted. But he did want to and yet he couldn’t do it. He was having a hard time reconciling the thought. He had more power than both of them, but he yielded and withdrew. Why did he do that? Why did he hesitate? Could it be that he had limits, lines that wouldn’t cross? Was he not the complete monster he thought he was?

Rib also had to think about what he was doing. He had no problem laying waste to villages because he never had to look those people in the eyes while he killed them. But here, he literally needed permission to take a baby’s tooth. He’d never needed anyone’s permission before he killed them. Why was this happening now? 

The answer came to him as he watched a woman walk out of the store with a basket full of eggs. The potion master sent him shopping. He took the list out of his pocket and examined it thoroughly. It suddenly dawned on him that most of the items made absolutely no sense. Why would a potion need a single pubic hair from a twenty year old virgin man with red hair? That was oddly specific and a bit intrusive. This was obviously meant to embarrass him. 

Why did it take me so long to figure out? Rib thought angrily. Perhaps I was  so blinded by my desire to serve my beloved that all common sense left me. His thoughts drifted to the potion master, the one who sent him on this fool’s errand. He tried to make an ass of me. I bet he’s sitting in that cave laughing at me. I’ll show him! 

Rib jumped to his feet and disappeared in a puff of purple smoke, causing much commotion in front of the grocery store.

***

Contrary to Rib’s belief, Peg was not laughing at him. He was too busy trying to get free from his bonds. He was impressed that someone with such dainty fingers could tie a knot so tightly and effectively. Who would have thought? 

The more he wriggled his wrists, the tighter the ropes constricted them. Since he planned on using them later, he opted to give up hope of escape. He would just have to wait for the sorcerer to come back and maybe sweet talk him into letting him go. 

What could I tell him that would persuade him to let me go? He seems pretty sweet on the Skeleton King, so many I could offer him advice on how to romance the pants off him, you know, put in a good bone for him, or rather in him. Peg chuckled at this. 

What else could that guy possibly want that he could offer? He certainly didn’t feel like he could entice Rib with his masculine wiles. 

He was bigger than what most people would consider attractive, or at least that’s what he’d been told by men he’d tried to court. No one had really paid him much attention other than folks who only wanted to fetishize him. That didn’t feel good either. This was a common thing for him until he met Fox.

Fox came to Wilshire Village seeking a potion to help with an ailment of one of his friends. While preparing the ingredients, they got to talking about their lives and eventually the topic of relationships came up, like it does with people who’ve only met for the first time. Fox talked about how the love of his life just disappeared one day and hadn’t seen him since. Peg wanted to relate, but had never had anything like that. The more they spoke, the more Peg could sense himself falling for him.

Once the potion was completed, Fox had to go back home. Peg was sure they would never meet again, but Fox kept finding himself back at Peg’s potion shop every so often. Before long, they became fast friends, and…

Peg’s thoughts were disrupted when he heard the sound of approaching footsteps. The sorcerer made quick work of that bullshit list I gave him. Or maybe he realized it was bullshit and is coming to kill me. While dying would suck, it would be worth it to know that he convinced a grown man to ask a young man for a pube.

He braced himself for death when heard his name called from behind the purple curtain. How did the sorcerer know his name? 

“Peg? Are you here?” It was Fox’s voice. Peg hadn’t heard anything so beautiful in his life that wasn’t the words ‘free’ and ‘all you can eat.’

“Foxy! I’m here! Come get me out of here!”

Creston and Fox emerged from the curtain and rushed to his sides. They immediately got to work on the ropes, but found it difficult to untie.

“Foxy, Crusty, I’m so glad you’re here!”

“I’m glad one of us is,” Creston said, tugging at the rope on Peg’s right hand. The rope scraped the already reddened skin, causing Peg to grimace.

“Careful! I want to use that later!”

They attempted to be more graceful in their efforts to free him, but to no avail. 

Frustrated, Creston drew his sword and aimed the tip of the blade at Peg’s right hand. “Fuck this shit. We don’t have time for this!”

His friends shouted in alarm as Creston spoke the spell to ignite the blade. Peg stared at Fox hoping to quash what was about to happen, but it didn’t help. There was no time to stop him. A fireball shot out from the sword and burned the rope away, freeing Peg’s hand. He made short work of the second rope and the job was done.

Peg stood up and hugged Fox as tightly as his aching hands would allow. Creston rolled his eyes and shook his head. 

“Why you hugging him? I did all the work!” 

“Cuz I’m saving the best for last, you big lug.” Peg promptly gave Creston an equally tight hug. “Now let’s get out of here before-“

A gust of wind and bright purple light announced Rib’s arrival in the cave. He dramatically pulled the curtain away, almost ripping it off the wall, and stood in their way. His eyes widened when he saw Fox and Creston standing there.

“What the hell are you doing here?” Rib asked, unable to hide his surprise. 

Creston aimed his flaming sword at Rib and grinned. “What? You didn’t receive our RSVP?”

“What the hell is an RSVP?” Rib and Fox asked in unison. 

Creston stared at them with disbelief and then sighed. “Never mind. We’re here, get over it!”

Peg glanced at Rib’s face and was thrilled to see his irritated expression. “So, how was shopping?”

You bastard!!” Rib’s anger was immediate as evidenced by his reddened cheeks. His hands ignited into purple flames that seemed to be composed of both fire and ice. 

The hateful death glare he was giving Peg and Creston told Fox that they were going to die ten times over if they didn’t get out of there right now. With the sorcerer blocking the only exit, they were backed into a literal corner. 

Creston and Rib raised their respective weapons, prepared to fight to the death. They proceeded to shout as they raced toward each other, both of them ready to clash in the middle. 

Just when they were about to meet, Creston found himself facing a tree. He tried to halt his attack, but he had too much momentum built up, thus running face first into the tree. He gave a painful groan as he slid to the ground.

From the base of the mountain, Fox gazed up at the cave entrance to see if Rib had realized what happened and came after them. The purple sorcerer did not emerge. That didn’t make him feel better. “We should probably get going while the going is good.” 

Creston stood up to see that they were no longer in the cave, and all three of them were safe. He glanced at Fox sideways and scrunched his face. “I thought you said you couldn’t teleport.”

“I never said that,” Fox said innocently.

“I looked you right in the face and asked you if you could teleport and you said no.” 

Fox arched his brow and asked, “Do you want to do this right now? Riblet could come out and find us if you don’t keep your voice down. Do you want that?”

Creston crossed his arms and spat at Fox’s feet. “Fuck yeah, I do! I want to melt his fucking face off. I could have done it if we weren’t suddenly whisked away… I mean teleported away. You lied to me!”

Fox scoffed, insulted. “I’ve never lied to you. I didn’t say I can’t teleport, I just meant I couldn’t teleport to where Peg was from where we were.” He pointed to the cave and then pointed to their current location. “That is the extent of my teleportation abilities. Satisfied?”

Creston said nothing, but was visibly upset.

Peg cleared his throat, drawing attention to himself. “Well, I don’t know about you, but I could use a drink. Let’s say we all go back to The Yard and hash it out with some cute dancing boys and some cream quakes.” This elicited solemn looks from both Creston and Fox. Their sudden change in demeanor caused Peg to pause. “What?”

Creston exchanged a guilty glance at his best friend before resting an arm on Peg’s shoulder. He took a deep breath and let out a mournful sigh.

“I’m afraid The Yard burned down when Fox and I tried to make your Dispel potion.”

“What?! W-what happened?” Peg’s once manly voice cracked as the news sunk in. “But, my yard!”

“We’re really sorry,” Fox added.

“Yeah, really sorry that your cream quakes will never bring the boys to The Yard ever again.” Creston slapped the mourning man on the back a few times before saying, “The good news is that you’re probably going to need something to do to fill the hours. Welcome to the Gravy!” With that, he led the way back toward Wilshire Village for lack of a better destination, thinking about how this mission couldn’t have gone better.

Episode 10: This Shit Is Fire!

Creston and Fox returned to The Yard hoping against hope that Peg was there. Unfortunately, he wasn’t. The club dancers were still in the process of repairing the damage done by the sorcerer. The man Peg left in charge, Ceth, was delegating tasks to the dancers, who complained about how manual labor was not in their job description.

“So, what’s the plan?” Creston asked. “The whole point of coming here was to get Peg to make the potion for us, but he’s gone.”

Fox had been thinking about it on the way back from the store. His first instinct was to launch a rescue attempt first, but then Rib would know they were coming because of the blasted tracking spell. They needed Peg to quell the spell, but if they had him, they wouldn’t need to rescue him. There was no way he and Creston could make the potion themselves – or could they? 

“We’ll do it,” Fox said, responding to his internal monologue.

“Excuse me?” Creston was watching the nude dancers clean up and wasn’t paying attention.

Fox, assuming Creston had asked with incredulity repeated himself with more confidence. “We’re going to make the potion, break the spell, and then save Peg!”

Now Creston was incredulous. “We’re making it? How the fuck do you suppose we do that?”

Fox made his way to the bar, avoiding the cleaning dancers, and ducked behind the counter to look at the myriad of bottles below. He was sure Peg kept a book of recipes somewhere. Sure, Peg probably knew all the potions by heart, but he must have kept a book to refer to once in a while.

His hunch paid off. Behind a bottle of frogs’ tears and essence of vapor, (whatever that was), was an old book with a tattered brown leather cover nestled in the back corner. He grabbed and wiped the thick layer of dust off it, coating his hand. “Gross.” He quickly grabbed Creston’s shirt and wiped it off on him.

“Hey!” Creston protested.

The materials Peg used to make the potions that helped vanquish the ghosts were still out, so Fox started to gather them in preparation.

He tossed Creston the book and said, “Start looking for the Dispel potion and I’ll grab the ingredients.”

With his thumbs and forefingers, Creston carefully opened the book as if he expected it to crumble in his hands. The pages were golden brown, creased and crumpled from years, decades of use. He wondered if the book had been passed down from person to person over centuries. If so, it was time to put it to rest and make a new one. 

With tender care, Creston flipped through the pages until he found the potion they needed. As he listed the ingredients, Fox dove beneath the counter to retrieve them. The words on the page were hard to read. Much of the ink had faded or was hidden within the creases. Creston did his best to decipher the handwriting, hoping he had gotten them right.

When the list was done, Fox stood patiently for the instructions, but none came. He stared at Creston expectantly who only blinked in response.

“What?”

“Now read me the directions,” Fox replied with a hint of irritation.

Creston turned the page and frowned. “There aren’t any.”

“That’s impossible.” Fox snatched the book and saw for himself. The ingredients for the potion took the entire page. On the next one was a different recipe for something completely different. “How does this not have directions?”

Creston had the same thought and came up with the answer: “He wouldn’t be a potion master if he needed them, would he?”

Fox gave his friend an approving grin. “Look at you making sense.” He gazed quizzically at the bottles and sighed. “Maybe we’re making too big a deal of this. Maybe there’s no need for directions. I mean, if you need directions to pour liquids into a bowl, you shouldn’t be making shit. Am I right?” 

“You’re totally right! Let’s do this!”

The two of them wasted no time in gleefully pouring the ingredients into the pot. The mixture turned a dark brown and had an unpleasant odor of sweat and fetid water. Fox thought it could use a little sugar to sweeten it, so he poured three cups of sugar, which dampened the smell, but caused black smoke to rise. The dancers watched with concern.

“It’s missing something,” Fox said, staring at the brew in bewilderment.

Creston held up the fistful of Elk Hoof Root. “These!” He gleefully tossed the stalks in with reckless abandon.

Fox gave the brew a thorough stir and was unsettled by the increase in smoke. He sensed the dancers’ anxiety and watched them quickly exit the club.

Creston also started to back away. “I don’t think that’s supposed to happen.”

Fox shrugged. “We’re not potion masters. Maybe it is.”

It wasn’t. 

Without warning, a large plume of black smoke erupted from the cauldron and exploded into a giant ball of flame, setting the ceiling on fire. The flames spread across the entire ceiling like spilled water before raining down upon the tables, stage, and chairs below.

The boys could only watch in horror as The Yard was consumed as the fire hungrily ate away at everything. They bottled up what potion wasn’t burned away and made their escape.

They joined the dancers outside and watched the building collapse into a pile of charred cinders. When the fires died down a bit, Creston was the first one to speak.

“Looks like you boys are in need of work. Wanna join up with the Gravy?” The naked men glared at him before walking away, muttering curses under their breath. Creston looked at Fox and shrugged. “It was worth a shot.” This was met with an eye roll. 

With The Yard gone, they raised the bottle of Dispel potion and examined the now translucent green liquid. Despite it’s questionable and explosive creation, it looked pretty good. They couldn’t help but feel proud of their work.

“Should we give it a shot?” Fox asked.

“Bottoms up!” Creston said cheerfully.

“You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”

Creston’s cheeks reddened as his embarrassment betrayed his cool demeanor. “Gimme that!” He took two swigs and gave a surprised groan of approval as it tasted like cherry syrup. It was tempting to drink the rest, but he knew he needed to share. He passed the bottle to Fox and licked his lips. “It’s really good!”

Fox finished the bottle and agreed that it wasn’t horrible. “We did good! Maybe we should start making our own potions.”

A wood beam popped and cracked as it burned to the ground, voicing it’s vehement disagreement with the statement.

“Maybe not,” Creston added. “So, is the spell broken?”

“There’s one way to find out. Let’s find Peg and see if we get attacked on the way.” 

“And how are we supposed to do that? You can’t teleport.” Creston paused for a second before he asked, “Can you teleport?”

Fox shook his head. “I can do a location spell to find him. I just need something of his.”

The two of them braved the detritus of the building formerly known as The Yard to find something belonging to Peg. With the fire burned out only smoldering ashes and smoke remained. The boys did their best to see through the thick smoke. It was difficult as it stung their eyes, but it was not impossible.

Through it all, Creston stumbled upon something bright pink amongst the debris. As he got closer to investigate, he saw it was some kind of fabric. He reached down and pulled it up with his index finger and thumb. To his surprise, it was a bright pink thong that didn’t have a speck of dirt on it.

“I know I shouldn’t be surprised, but I’m surprised and disgusted,” Creston said, dropping the thong.

Fox quickly rushed to pick it up. He examined it closely before saying, “This is Peg’s! Great job, Cressie!”

Creston took a moment to appreciate the compliment, but then snapped out of it. “Wait! How do you know that’s his?”

Fox didn’t answer. He conveniently started using the thong to cast the location spell. He focused his thoughts and energy on homing in on Peg’s aura. He closed his eyes and drowned out all sound, which was just Creston demanding an answer. His eyes snapped open when Peg’s aura was found.

“I know where he is,” Fox said excitedly. “He’s not real close, but close enough to get there before nightfall.”

Creston pouted as he mumbled, “Bet you know his ring size, too.”

Fox started to head toward the village entrance. “I do.”

Creston smirked as he followed behind. “I wasn’t referring to his fingers.”

Fox looked back and said, “I know.” The flustered look on Creston’s face was worth it. He made a point to lock that in his memory banks forever.

The two left Wilshire Village a little worse off than when they arrived. The villagers were glad to be rid of them.

Episode 9: How Deep Is Your Love?

Peg awoke with a pounding headache, like he had been smacked on the back of the head with a wheel of cheese. He went to rub his head when he found his hands were bound to a chair. This was when he took in his surroundings. Was he in a cave? How did he wind up in a cave? And who decorated it? The cave walls were draped in purple velvet, and there was a small table covered with a red tablecloth with a lit candle in the center. Was the candle scented? Yes, a light scent of lavender and vanilla lingered in the air. Maybe that was why he didn’t feel panicked. 

The next question on Peg’s mind was, who brought him there? He didn’t have to wait long for the answer. The man who attacked his bar walked through the purple velvet curtain separating them from the cave entrance. 

“Oh, it’s you,” Peg said, rolling his eyes. “I should have known it was you.”

Rib scrunched his nose in confusion. “How could you have known it was me? We’ve never met.”

Peg snorted. “You seemed like the kind of guy who would whack a guy unawares with a cheese wheel.”

Rib was impressed by the accuracy of his statement. He did whack Peg with a wheel of cheese, but could he tell what kind of cheese? He might have to ask him later, but he had to get to the issue at hand.

“You’re probably wondering why I brought you here.” Rib smirked as he had always wanted to say that. 

Peg rolled his eyes and groaned as his headache pounded with each heartbeat. “Yes. I figured your beef was with Creston and Fox, but I’m flattered you’d include me. If you’re expecting a ransom, those boys are broke as a joke.”

“No, actually it’s not money I’m after. It’s your skill creating potions. I saw how quickly you whipped up a potion to thwart my ghosts and I was impressed. You are a true artist.”

Peg was truthfully flattered by Rib’s appreciation of his skills. He felt his face flush with pride, temporarily forgetting his predicament. “Thank you very much. I worked very hard to become the continent’s foremost potion master.”

“It’s because of this that I’ve captured you. I’m in need of your services.” Rib knelt down beside Peg and stared into his eyes. “My master has awakened weak from his slumber. With each attack, he weakens, depleting his reserves. I need you to create a potion that will allow him to regain his strength, or better yet, surpass his previous power level.”

Peg raised a bushy eyebrow and shook his head. “You must be out of your fucking mind if you think I’m going to help the Skeleton King. I’d rather die!”

Rib scowled as he rose, his face twisting in anger. “That can be arranged.” He reached out his hands as they glowed purple.

Peg’s eyes widened as the hands approached his throat. If he was going to live past this, he needed to think of something fast.

“Wh- what is your relationship to the Skeleton King anyway?” Peg saw Rib blink rapidly for a second, obviously caught off guard. It worked! Rib stopped his approach and stared at his captive.

“Excuse me?”

“I mean, you are willing to go to such lengths to chase down a couple of kids, terrorize a gay bar, and kidnap a potion master for this guy, but what does he do for you?”

Rib’s countenance changed when his thoughts drifted to his beloved. His body softened and his eyes sort of glazed over. This told Peg everything he needed to know.

“You’re in love with him, aren’t you?”

Rib’s glare returned. “I don’t see how that’s any of your business!” he said defensively.

“Does he know?”

“He must.”

“Does he, or does he just see you as a minion to do his bidding?” Peg watched Rib think hard about this, struggling with the seeds of doubt he planted. 

“He must love me, too. He said that I’m going to be his queen.” 

Peg couldn’t help but chuckle upon hearing this. “His queen, huh? I don’t think he meant it in the way you think he did.” 

“Shut up!” Rib’s open right hand struck Peg’s face with the force of a wheel of cheese. His hand stung but it felt good. “You know nothing about our love! He loves me. He truly does! I have been his faithful servant all these years and I will continue to be his number one.”

“Doubtful,” Peg replied. “You can be replaced.” Rib gasped at the thought. “There’s always going to be someone better just around the corner.”

Rib shook as the idea of being replaced bounced around his mind like a racquetball. The hairy man was lying, he had to be. Cal would never push him aside like so much garbage. Cal trusted him. Cal needed him. Who else could prepare his favorite breakfast of scrambled eggs and bacon just the way he liked it? Who else could tuck him in at the end of a long day of burning villages? No one. 

“Even if what you say is true, once I give him the potion you’re about to make, I’ll guarantee a permanent place by his side.” 

“I already told you I’m not doing that,” Peg said, glaring daggers at his captor.

Rib merely grinned. “That’s where you’re wrong.” He clapped his hands on Peg’s head, covering his ears, and chanted a spell. His hands glowed purple as the spell worked its way into Peg’s mind, warping his will. Peg’s eyes flashed purple as the spell settled in.

Rib released his head and stepped back to admire his work. “How about now?”

After a few blinks, Peg slowly nodded his head. “Yes. I believe I will.” The words spilled out as slow as molasses. 

“That’s more like it. Now tell me what you need for the potion.”

Peg took a deep breath and sighed. “You got a quill and parchment?”

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