Game of Drones: The Most “Explosive” Episode Yet! (There’s an Explosion)

Reader:  “5098 words?!   You can’t do that!   You CAN’T…DO THAT!”

James:  “I refuse to edit!  BWA-HA-HA-HA!”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

JAMES:

Baron von Wardstein walked amongst the troops who had died of exposure, malnutrition, suicide, and all manner of “social disease,” examining their feet closely. He was always on the lookout for a quality pair of shoes or boots, and this sorry lot no longer had need for them. Unfortunately, his tiny size six feet made this a fool’s errand, and he contented himself in finding the odd coin.

Sir Kyle rambled into camp in the Archduke’s “colours” – bright blue. He wore a small cap to disguise his enormous helm. Back from two days’ leave, he had taken the blonde to a wedding. She lollygagged behind him on a leash that kept her within a short distance, muttering and pointing at things. She had embarrassed him terribly, which was no small feat, given his strange new appearance. It was true, the knight’s entire family was either dead or missing, but he enjoyed going to the ceremonies of strangers in local villages for a taste of the everyday. He missed it.

________________________________________________________________________________________

WARDO:

“Ahoy-hoy,” Von Wardstein called. He was suddenly cheered by what he thought were a vintage pair of boots that would suit his interests perfectly. “How was the furlough, Sir Knight? How your head gleams in the morning sunshine!”

Sir Kyle yanked his leash angrily, in response to the cur who would not walk fast enough. “Don’t ask, don’t tell. A triple play this weekend, to be sure. My “headgear” “arouses” only mockery in the enemies I would prefer to be terrorized. This female, as is her wont, embarrassed me, again. And not to mention these fruity blue shirts the Archduke asks I wear everywhere might as well advertise all the shortcomings a man might possess.”

Von Wardstein bellowed laughter. Not unlike the Archduke, he did enjoy reveling in the misery of others. He wondered briefly if he should brag to Sir Kyle about the harem he’d spent most of the weekend enjoying.

________________________________________________________________________________________

SIR KYLE:

Waving haphazardly, Sir Kyle left the others and retreated to his camp with the air of a man who was nearing the end of his rope. He could hear Wardstein chuckling still, the grating sound slow to fade with distance. Once they were out of sight from the others he turned and dropped the leash at the his companions feet. She quickly unsnapped the collar and rubbed her neck gingerly.

“Sorry about that, but you did insist that I make it look real,” Sir Kyle said to her.

“Not a problem, I assure you. Do you think we fooled them?” she asked. Now that she was not pretending to be simple-minded, she spoke with grace and authority, which Kyle thought was pretty sweet.

“I think a small, well-trained monkey could fool them into thinking they were the King of Siam. Why just last week the Archduke promoted a medium-sized, moderately trained monkey to Master Accountant.”

“Is he any good?”

“He just throws feces, mainly. But he is very good at that.”

The woman nodded brusquely. Her manner was so noble she made you almost not notice her attire. The smell was pretty bad, though. She had first dropped the guise of a simpleton to Sir Kyle on the return journey yesterday, much to Kyle’s surprise. They had been on a small path and reached a clearing. She had ran in front of him and forestalled him with a hand.

“Stop, Sir Knight!” she had said, but not expecting actual words he had simply walked by, pushing her slightly on his way by to make a point. But she had persisted, catching him up once again.

“Sir Knight, stop! We must discuss things before we get back to camp.”

“Huh?” Sir Kyle had said.

“Please, listen. I am not what I appear to be. We must discuss a way to turn you back and restore your humanity.”

“Did you have, like, a reverse stroke?”

“No, I didn’t. Look, that man the other day, he took out too much of your person. You are in danger of losing your soul.” She had looked pretty serious.

“So will I need to find my twin soul?”

“What? No. What are you talking about?” She had looked more confused, then.

“This guy in the desert, he was with this other guy looking for cactus’ and blathering on about the West. He had cool shades.”

“I don’t see how that is relevant.”

“I was wearing these pants… And he was talking about a snake. The other man had a neat hat.”

“Are you done?”

Sir Kyle had shrugged.

Back in the present, she was pulling some of the more prominent knots out of her hair and washing her face.

“Look, we need to get the Archduke to tell us about McStogie,” she said to him. “He is the only one who can turn you back.”

“Why do you care anyway?” Sir Kyle asked.

In response the woman’s eyes went out of focus, and she began a deep, hearty laugh that teased the edges of sanity. She walked further into the wilderness, still chuckling.

“I probably shoulda asked you that sooner,” Sir Kyle said to no one in particular.

________________________________________________________________________________________

WARDO:

“So then I said to the guy, ‘better get out that prayer mat again if you have anything else you feel like confession – other than apologizing for that horrible beard of yours,’” Wardstein said.

James laughed hysterically. “That’s awesome! Always with those ugly beards! Why can they not trim them neatly like we do? And how they smell! I’m glad you got rid of those guys for us.”

“I know. Huh. Sir Kyle has been in his tent a while, what’s going on, do you think?”

“Well, he DID have her on a leash,” James remarked. Wardstein stared into space, suddenly realizing he wanted to eat some bacon.

________________________________________________________________________________________

JAMES:

The urge for bacon was a painful one Wardstein reminded himself to suppress. His upbringing in the far off lands they marched towards now seemed clearer in his memory, and he instinctively kissed the pendant that hung round his neck, suddenly breaking into a quiet chant.

“Haruch-oon—saveht-nannnn!!”

The Archduke looked at him, confused.

“Hey!” he shouted, snapping his fingers. “What the heck was that?”

“—oh!” Wardstein replied with a start, tucking the medallion back into his chest hair. “Don’t worry about it.”

“Annnnnnyway,” said the Archduke, signaling to the tent with his eyes. “You’re right, they have been in there a while. Sir Kyle, being as noble as he is, probably won’t think to touch her, given that they are not married, so…we’d better see what’s up.”

________________________________________________________________________________________

SIR KYLE:

The two men entering the tent startled Sir Kyle, and he hastily covered over the map he had been perusing.

“Nothing to see here,” he proclaimed needlessly.

“Well that was needless,” Wardstein said.

“And incorrect,” the Archduke chortled, “Your head is in the shape of a phallus. If that isn’t something to see I don’t know what is.”

“It’s very tender,” Kyle pointed out.

“What are you doing back here, anyway?” Wardstein inquired.

“Meditating. …I mean plotting. …I mean praying. Yes. Only like prey-ing. Yeah?”

“Shut up,” James said. “Where’s that wench you were dragging about?”

“Who knows with that one. She is mostly nuts.”

“It seems like I should say something, now. I am a man of action.” Wardstein punctuated his statement by punching the air rapidly. Sir Kyle was moderately impressed.

“So what’s with that McStogie? What is his deal, am I right?” Sir Kyle said, mentally congratulating himself on the seamless transition.

“Him?” James waved his hand dismissively. “He was like, last week’s thing. He’s a fine doctor, I was assured. By him. No, I am not concerned with McStogey. I am concerned with you, Sir Kyle. Both of us are.”

Wardstein looked over from where he was rifling through Kyle’s belongings. “What?” he said. “Oh, yeah, whatever.”

“Well…I- uh, that is to say…” Sir Kyle panicked a bit, inwardly. The ear flaps on his helmet were causing him to sweat profusely. Those aren’t ear flaps, Wardstein had said a few days ago, nearly choking on his hot dog. Kyle still thought of them as such, though.

“Spit it out, man. Use your words.

Sir Kyle needed to say something, something to get them off his back. “You guys missed my birthday,” he said. “I didn’t want to say anything.”

“Well you should have!” James exclaimed. “We shall celebrate!” He spun on his heels and made to leave the tent.

“Wardstein!” he called. Wardstein looked up from inside the woman’s clothes chest with a murderous glare.

“…as you were.”

________________________________________________________________________________________

WARDO:

Sir Kyle had been poring over his maps for a few days now, wondering why Wardstein and James had apparently decided to take the <>. They’re stakeholders in this, he thought. Don’t they care? What about the mission and values statement they’d come up with months ago around the campfire, did all those drunken words mean nothing?

At that moment, Wardstein burst into Sir Kyle’s tent, actually looking pretty immaculate for once. “Hey-hey!” he erupted. “Hope you didn’t think I forgot about you in here, I had a busy week. I had to meet with all the capos. BIG meetings and all,” he rolled his eyes expansively, knowing Kyle had no idea what he was talking about.

“Whatev,” Sir Kyle sniffed. “I had my maps and woman, what else do I need?”

“Right, right,” Wardstein mumbled, no longer listening. He’d spent too long listening to the various bootlicking capos this week and had grown tired of the political nonsense. He wanted to be out on the field! With a sudden surplus of energy, he kicked a nearby mannequin.

Kyle turned back to his maps. “Okay, so like I was saying, before you guys just took off. All we have to do is follow this road here, and we can meet up with the forces of King Paulus The Goodheart. Uhm, pretty much as fast as we want to, actually. It will be like no time passed at all.”

Wardstein shrugged agreeably. “What about James?” he screamed. “And – if it’s one road, why did you need all those maps?”

Sir Kyle winced at the outburst. Exposed! What to say? “I’m the only one in this camp who can read the notations.”

James slipped into the tent. “The Great Wardstein returns!” he seethed. “Where –“

“We’re hitting the road, tell the guys to pack up. Make sure those banjo guys are near our wagons this time, I kind of liked the effect before. It gave the illusion of speed,” Wardstein barked.

The Eminent Archduke James glared at Sir Kyle. “You heard the man, let’s rock!” He flipped him the bird, just because.

________________________________________________________________________________________

JAMES:

Although the camp had been steadily dwindling in population from the moment it first set out on the crusade to lands unknown, it still took a surprisingly long time for it to pack up and move out. This was partly due to the fact Archduke James did not give his troops any advanced notice regarding such matters, and partly because he had a habit of interrupting the chores to play various games, such as Manhunt.

A total of eleven men had been hunted down and killed.

En route now, James sat at the front of an ornate stretch-carriage, slowly making its way down the dusty road.

“Archduke, was that delay really necessary?” Sir Kyle asked from the seat beside him.

“Oh, certainly not. But you’re a sports fan yourself, Sir Kyle! Why, you personally hunted down and crushed all eleven of those men! Though, I hardly think the ‘Auto-Locate’ setting on your Phal-Helm there was very sporting.”

“Look, if you didn’t want me to use it, why the hell did you—-“

“—HEY!” the Archduke yelled, ignoring the knight and looking behind him. “Quit kicking my seat, Wardstein!”

James brandished a crossbow ornamented with gold, sapphire and topaz and pointed it at him threateningly.

“But I gotta go!” Wardstein said, squirming.

A young maiden, daughter of a wealthy but rather old nobleman back in the Archduke’s lands, scooted away from the Baron and rolled her eyes at this. She looked through the dust clouds on the opposite side of the carriage, hoping to see something interesting.

“Did I not ask you if you had to go before we LEFT?!” James demanded.

“Nuh-uh!”

“Nuh-uh?! Pffft! Hey Maiden, did you NOT HEAR ME ask Wardstein if he had to go before we left?”

The maiden glanced at the Archduke.

“Your Grace, I don’t even have an opinion.”

James scoffed.

“Well naturally! And I normally wouldn’t even ask, but in this case you’ve got to have an opinion! I mean, do you think that—-“

*THWOCK!!*

James’s crossbow, newly fitted with a hair trigger, suddenly discharged, sending its bolt right through the girl’s forehead, killing her rather…predictably.

“WHOAAAA!” yelled Sir Kyle. “GOT DAYUM!!”

“Awww man!” said James. “I—I shot Maiden in the face!”

“Well why the fuck’d you do that!?” Sir Kyle demanded.

“I didn’t mean to, it was an accident! We must’ve hit a bump or something!”

“We didn’t hit no muthafuckin’ bump!”

“Well I…wait a second, why am I worried? I’m the Archduke! Von Wardstein, boot her corpse out.”

There was no reply.

“Uh…Wardstein?”

The Baron still said nothing, causing James and the knight to turn around and look at him.

“…I just pooped,” Wardstein said sheepishly, avoiding eye contact.

________________________________________________________________________________________

WARDO:

Sometime later, the army was encamped yet again around a fire. Something different, for a change.

“Baron, your modesty is truly something to behold,” Sir Kyle enthused, his helm glowing a deep reddish-purple in the firelight. “You shouldn’t feel bad about earlier, you couldn’t have known that the Archduke’s private collection of timepieces was in that particular gigantic solid-gold chest you decided to relieve yourself in.”

The great Wardstein shrugged. “Truly, an accident I am ashamed of. Some fabulous Swiss ornaments – foolish though they are, as we have all agreed – have now been corrupted. If only I hadn’t eaten tacos the night before.” He shook his head sadly.

The retarded blonde who had recently accompanied their gang for no apparent reason piped up. “Ah think you should relax, Wardstein, and stoap greetin’ like wee bairn. Yer the biggest lad I ever met, man up, likesay!”

Wardstein straightened. “Too right!” he bellowed. Restored, he began looking around for something to eat.

“That accent,” James hissed from his portable throne. “A scullery maid if I ever heard one! Speak the King’s English or I will have you dumped into a sack! Of – I don’t know. Snakes! Yes, that would be quite terrifying.”

“With all due respect, my lord,” Sir Kyle jumped in sassily. “The only reason we are on track to meet King Paulus as fast as we are is because of the fine maps we are following – penned by the hand of this fair maiden, who as it turns out isn’t actually retarded. We just thought she was because she’s from really far away and all, and well, as we all know people who are different from us are complete morons.” Sir Kyle unfurled a fabulously painted map, complete with little ornamental sketches of trolls and dragons in various places.

Wardstein smiled admiringly. “Wow! I didn’t know a woman could possess actual skills. Those maps are way better than those stick figures I saw James doing in his spare time on the wagon.”

James grew cold, realizing he was unable to draw troll pictures as good as he was seeing. But now that the blonde appeared accepted by the men, how could he ditch her now without creating a mutiny? Heaven knew what the unpredictable Wardstein and moody Kyle might do if provoked sufficiently.

The blonde woman belched, and the men roared laughter at the unexpected outburst, and James grew colder still.

________________________________________________________________________________________

JAMES:

Two men on horseback moved in tandem through the dark wood, enveloped by the orb of light from a single torch.

“Where did you say this shoemaker lived again?” Wardstein asked impatiently.

“I told you to be patient!” Archduke James hissed, flicking his torch just shy of the Baron’s face. “Ha! Two for flinching! Bonk!-bonk!”

“OWWWCH!”

“Ha! I don’t even know why I’m making such a nice gesture. You pooped on my watches.”

“I told you already, it was Sir Kyle who did that!”

“Don’t be ridiculous! Ever since his upgrade, Sir Kyle derives his all his essential nutrients from that gross-looking paste you’ve seen him eat! And there were chunks of hotdog in that box!”

Wardstein looked away.

“…I just want my shoes, that’s all. I told you, I want them to be the shiniest and prettiest in the land!”

“You know, I’ve never met a man so obsessed with shoes, Wardstein! Even the Retarded Blonde has less in her—”

“—is that the place?!” the Baron interrupted.

The men looked down from their embankment on a clearing where there stood a small cottage. The windows glowed a peaceful orange light and a pleasing smell of a roast wafted from the chimney and into the night air.

“That’s it, all right!” said James. “That’s where the cobbler lives. It’s said his shoemaking skills are almost supernaturally good! He’ll make you the finest—hey, what’s that? Why are you carrying a bowl of creamed corn?”

Wardstein chuckled.

“I thought it’d be funny to dump it on this guy’s head and yell, ‘Ha-ha! Corn on the cobbler!’”

“Wardstein, you want this man to make you a good pair of shoes, don’t you? That might persuade him to…you know, not do that.”

“Yes, good idea,” said the Baron, chucking the bowl into the darkness. “I must admit, Your Graceness…sometimes I don’t think things through. But what I lack in wits, I make up for with STRENGTH!”

With this, Wardstein punched his horse in the head, killing it instantly.

“Why?” asked the Archduke. “Just…why? You know what, never mind. Just let me do the talking.”

James dismounted, walked up to the cottage’s door and knocked. Wardstein stood just behind, wringing his hands nervously.

The door swung open and a curious looking man looked out at the visitors. His hair was dark, curly and in tangles. His face was stubbly and he wore strange, tattered clothing.

“Archduke!” the man exclaimed excitedly. “Always a pleasure, Your Grace! But I don’t believe I’ve met this large fellow with you!”

“Wardstein,” said the Baron, stepping forward.

“I’m McStogie!” said the man taciturnly and really melowy. “I’m the crazy bastard who fucked up Sir Kyle!”

There was sudden bright flash of sparks and embers and the Baron collapsed to the ground, landing flat on his face. Archduke James blew on the torch he had just struck the Baron in the head with, trying to coax the flame back.

“You weren’t supposed to say anything!” he snapped.

McStogie looked up at the Archduke.

“Dammit man, I’m a fake doctor, not a—“

“—yeah-yeah, just get to work on him,” James said, throwing him a deer-skin pouch. “You know what to do.”

________________________________________________________________________________________

WARDO:

Wardstein is strolling down a wide, sweeping boulevard, of the likes he’d seen long ago in some conquered heathen city. The road curved , juxtaposed through deep, seemingly endless forest. Lampposts of silver illuminated spots on the cobbles as he walked, and presently he came upon a capering dwarf.

“Wardstein, you’re here, you’ve arrived!” he cried happily.

The warrior took measure of the dwarf, who was immaculately tailored. “Where?”

“Why, the place you’ve always dreamed of. The Land of Shoes! Just look around and see if it isn’t so!”

Wardstein did, and he saw that beautiful handcrafted shoes were hanging from every tree. Growing in bunches from the delightfully-manicured gardens. A giant shoe with legs walked by. “Why, hello,” he welcomed Wardstein sonorously.

“Good lord, it’s true!” Wardstein yelled. Calliope music began to plan for no apparent reason, and he began to skip down the road, looking for a shoe store that might sell something in a vintage Cordovan.

“Wait, don’t forget your umbrella, the rain of shoe polish is about to begin!” the dwarf called after him.

Wardstein ignored him, singing along with the music.

***

McStogie heard something, and turned around. Wardstein was slumped on a nearby cot, a smile spread across his features. “La-la-la-la!” he mumbled.

McStogie shrugged and went back to his business.

Without warning, a blast shook the quiet cabin, as the heavy oak door exploded into splinters. Stepping through the massive hole came Sir Kyle.

The guard McStogie maintained beside the door for unknown reasons jumped from his easy chair. “Hey! You –“ But Sir Kyle leveled his heavy crossbow and unloaded a bolt into his knee, which detonated pinkly. The guard commenced to shrieking, spinning absurdly on the floor. Sir Kyle was nonplussed. “He’ll live,” he remarked robotically.

On his cot, Wardstein began to stir, and McStogie calmly took in the scene, understanding that after risking the odds so many times, he was finally finished. He picked up the detonator he always kept on his workbench for emergency suicide reasons, and duct-taped his hand to it – the moment his living hand relaxed, the cabin would cease to exist.

Wardstein sat up. “What’s happening? I don’t see shoes anywhere! Wait, there are my boots. But I expected so much more!”

Sir Kyle turned to Wardstein. “McStogie had plans, under the direction of the Archduke, to alter your DNA. Like he did with me. I am now supernaturally powerful, but not my authentic self. I calculated that I could not permit this to happen to you.”

“But why?”

Sir Kyle pondered this for .146 of a second. “A remnant of my human values mayhap compelled this action. But it ends now.” He gestured to the table, where McStogie’s DNA gun, which looked a lot like a bathtub caulking applicator, rested. The indicator light blinked green – ready for DNA injection. McStogie had helpfully labelled the tube ingredients: “CHIMPANZEE DNA.”

Re-energized, Wardstein snatched the applicator, and squirted the contents into the fire. McStogie grunted in annoyance. It had required two hundred chimps to suck out all that material – oh well.

Outside the rear window of the cabin, the three could see James capering around with some servants – they seemed to playing some kind of children’s game. James laughed the carefree and gusty chortles of a boy who had everything in the world. He was wearing his favourite cape – light blue – and it billowed lightly in the forest breeze.

Wardstein took it all in, and formed a plan.

“Quick,” said Sir Kyle, “we must depart the cabin before the detonator—”

Wardstein jammed the DNA applicator into his own thigh and retracting the plunger, filled the barrel. He raised it for scrutiny. It would do. Wouldn’t it? The light blinked green. It would do.

McStogie, accustomed to drifting in the current of the plans of others, innately sensed this shift in direction. “You’d better hurry. I don’t know how much longer I can hold this,” he said, raising his hand.

Wardstein took another look out the window and saw it was hopscotch James was playing. It was time for that lad to cowboy-up, he thought. “Understood, McStogie. Sir Kyle, let’s beat it.”

Both men strode from the cabin, and McStogie watched them go, relaxing. His lifelong vision would be realized, though not in the manner he expected. Duct-taped fingers squashed the detonator.

________________________________________________________________________________________

SIR KYLE:

After the explosions stopped, Sir Kyle uncovered his ear flaps and looked towards Wardstein, who shrugged.

“I wouldn’t have thought the explosions would have been so violent,” Kyle said. “He must have had some pretty volatile stuff in there.”

“Methinks it ‘twas a ruse,” the as-yet-unnamed, previously-thought-to-be-retarded woman said, striding into the clearing suddenly and looking at a time piece. The air smelled strongly of bleach. “McStogie is a crafty SOB. I don’t think we have seen the last of him. Uh…nay.”

“No, he’s dead,” Wardstein said. “I saw chunks of his torso flying past. I think that is one over there,” he said, pointing.

“Mayhap it is the torso of his guard?” she countered.

“No, his is here,” Kyle piped up, kicking at a charred pile of something on the ground.

“’He’ll live.’ Ha.”

“Oh yeah. Heh heh.”

“So,” Wardstein said, still seeming a bit groggy. He looked directly at the woman. “You uh…kinda saved me back there.”

“Who me?” Sir Kyle asked.

“Grown-ups are talking,” Wardstein admonished, then continued to the woman. “I know this one is useless without guidance, and plus he can’t track for anything. It must have been you to spur him to action. And then also to lead him here. And then probably to tell him what to do.”

“I wanted to knock!” Kyle said happily. “Manners and all. My mo-“

One of Wardstein’s patented murderous glares cut him short. “I am in your debt, unnamed women.”

“’Tis nothing. I am sure you would do the same for me, if the situation ever arose.”

“Oh. Ummm…yeah. That is to say yes,” Wardstein said more or less straight-faced.

“McStogie is dead!” Sir Kyle exclaimed, and buried his helmeted head in his hands. “I’ll never get back to normal now!”

“Have you tried taking the helmet off?” Wardstein asked.

“Off? But then I’d be…inferior.”

“No, you wouldn’t,” Wardstein said soothingly. “It is not the size of a helmet that defines a man. Ask the lass, she’ll tell you.”

“I’m, not getting involved in this,” she said. And with that she disappeared from whence she came.

“You just want me to take it off so you can steal it! I have seen the way you look. You have helmet-envy!”

“That’s not a real thing!” Wardstein said, reflexively reaching up to adjust his smaller helm.

“Do you promise you won’t steal it?”

“I thought you wanted to be rid of the thing?!”

“Well…it’s still mine. Do you promise you won’t commandeer it?”

“I do. Well, not permanently. I do want to put it on for a time. …just to see how it feels.” He closed his eyes for a second and smiled. “Also I need to go kidnap the Archduke, and it will be very helpful in that.”

“The Archduke?!”

“This isn’t Scooby-Do. Don’t say things like that. Yes, kidnap the Archduke. I owe him. Big time. He tried to turn me into a monkey!”

“Well technically a chimp.”

“Whatever! I have just the thing for him. All delicious irony. And also likely partially chimpanzee.”

________________________________________________________________________________________

JAMES:

Sir Kyle approached Wardstein’s tent and parted the curtains of the entrance, but just slightly. He then entered, but only with the peak of his helm.

“Uhnnn! Baron, how are you feeling? You in the mood for a morning ride?”

Inside, Wardstein sat up from his bed and began clapping his hands and giggling excitedly at what he was seeing.

“ERNFFF!” Sir Kyle grunted loudly. He was hunched over at a ninety degree angle and now rhythmically backing up and then forward one step. Nearby, a peasant covered from head to toe in filth stood slack-jawed and shook his head in disgust.

Moments later, Sir Kyle and Wardstein marched briskly towards the tent of the Archduke. The Baron was holding his syringe and still chuckling.

“That was actually pretty funny, Sir Kyle! I didn’t know you had it in you!”

“Well, initially that display certainly wouldn’t have been in my character. McStogie took more liberties than you may realize and installed a Crude Humour app. Anyway, I’ll certainly make you aware of all of these ridiculous mods in time, but only as our crazy little situations call for them. Anyway, that’s not important now, Baron. As you know, for the past week the Archduke has been turning away all visitors, but he has finally agreed to see us.”

The men approached the tent and two sentries with pole-axes stepped aside to let them pass. Inside, James lay on a lavish bed, but would not look at his visitors.

“Hey there, Archduke,” Sir Kyle cautiously ventured. “How are you feeling? I’ve heard that despite the injury you suffered in the explosion at McStogie’s cottage, you’ve refused all pain medication?”

“Huh?” said James, confused. “Who told you that? I’m on ten times the medication they thought was safe! I feel pretty amazing right now, but I’m still a little depressed because I lost a fingernail in the blast.”

He then turned to Sir Kyle and Wardstein and held his pinky aloft for them to see. It was true, the nail was missing and looked slightly infected, but not really. Additionally, exactly fifty percent of James’s face had been incinerated in the blast. Half of him was his normal good-looking self, but the other was all scabby and gross now. Despite the horrors they had seen on the battlefields, Wardstein and Sir Kyle recoiled and cringed at one another.

“It’s not that bad, you girly-men!!” said James, scrutinizing his finger carefully, then blowing lightly on it.

“…I don’t think anyone’s told him about his face,” Sir Kyle whispered to Wardstein.

“What was that about my face?!” James said, sitting up. “What’s wrong with my face!? Give me a mirror!”

Wardstein picked up a hand mirror but hesitated in handing it to the Archduke.

“THE MIRROR!” James demanded.

Wardstein handed the looking glass—as he realized he should probably be calling it—to James, who then examined his reflection and laughed.

“Wait till they get a load of—wait, we already did that. Hey, what’s with the big ol’ syringe, Wardstein? Looks like McStogie’s.”

“It’s for you, Archduke! We have a score to settle.”

“Tell you what Wardstein,” said the Archduke. “I have no interest in needles or inferior chimp DNA, so I’m going to flip this coin here to make this sporting. Heads, you use the syringe. Tails, you leave me be.”

The Archduke flipped the coin in the air and let it fall into his hand. Heads.

“…best two out of three, big guy?”

________________________________________________________________________________________

WARDO:

Sir Kyle grabbed the coin mid-flight on the second toss. His reflexes were astonishing. “It’s tails,” he said.

He snatched the needle from Wardstein and plunged it directly into James’ belly and pushed the plunger home.

“NOOO!!!” The Archduke James screamed. He felt a warmth begin to spread upward from his belly, and it was not pain medication.

________________________________________________________________________________________

SIR KYLE:

Just then the Archduke appeared from behind a curtain.

“Ha!” he exclaimed. “My body-double worked perfectly!”

“So did my syringe-double!” Wardstein proclaimed, stabbing the plunger he had hidden behind him deep into the Archduke’s flesh.

“Nice,” said Sir Kyle, nodding.

________________________________________________________________________________________

JAMES:

Oh come on!   I already voluntarily wrote that half my face got burned off!

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