Chapter Twenty-Five – Food Fight!

Somewhere, Elsewhere, Somewhere, there was a comfortable deck chair with a spectacularly tasteless floral pattern. Imagine, if you can, a figure with purple hair (clashing even more horribly with the chair) and his feet up on a footstool, a deluxe box of popcorn in his lap.

"Well," Xellos murmured to himself, "it would seem they defeated Typhon. I owe myself 78464 billion credits, 25 million dollars and fifty thousand pounds. Alas, poor Typhon, I hardly knew thee – nor had any wish to. Hah!" And with that, he settled back to see what happened next, chuckling merrily to himself.

In the worldlet, quite a few others were not chuckling at all. In fact, some were as far from it as could reasonably be imagined.

"We have to get them back now!"

"Danel, calm down," Imran said, trying to ignore his own worries. "Panicking won't help anything."

"I'm not panicking!" Danel took a deep breath of air, and tried to continue in a more reasonable tone. "I've only just found Ana. I don't want to lose her."

Imran looked at him. "We all agree. None of want to lose any of them."

"I know. I'm sorry for..." Danel sighed. "We were so close to victory!"

"I thought we'd won, but everyone's gone." said Xeffy, and she seemed scared. She had good reason to be.

"Okay, then." Danel's tone was flat, calmer now, but anger boiled behind it.

"What I know is this. For the last countless millennia, my Muse has been being digested. She's been sucked away by the same creatures that did that to her, along with the others muses. I'm not very happy, and I'm not going to accept this.

"We will get them back, even if I have to tear apart every Chaos Creature between me and Ana to do it. Anyone who wants to come with me is welcome."

There was a brief silence, then Alryssa spoke. "I don't think that will be necessary... Xeffy, Ayna? Do you think you could summon them back with a song?"

Both Xeffy and Ayna looked up, eager to bring their family back, and mentally kicking themselves for not thinking of it earlier. Danel looked at them.

"If you do this..." he began, then cleared his throat. "If you bring Ana back, I will be in your debt for the rest of my life."

Ayna looked uncomfortable. Xeffy filed it away as 'information that could be useful later'.

Before they began, Gray looked over. "'Though I too am eager to begin this, I can only hope that we do not inadvertently drag more of the Chaos Creatures over with them. We should be ready to stop them if they do, indeed, appear."

Everyone nodded, and then the song began.

If Danel could have seen inside Ayna's mind, he'd have been even more disturbed.

Xeffy would never try something deliberately... but she could always slip up, miss out the critical part of the song.

Miss out the part that summoned Amber.

...which wouldn't have worked. Ayna fully intended to summon them all back.

If Xeffy had done that... Ana would have lost Amber.

Lost her sister. Again.

Ayna wouldn't have wished that on her worst enemy.

And Ana was a long way from being her worst enemy, no matter what she thought of Electra/Amber.

But then...

...she'd seen the spark in Xeffy's eye when Danel had made his offer.

She knew her twin.

And saving Amber would mean Amber would at least feel obliged to Xeffy...

She closed her eyes, and kept singing.


...Allie froze.

"What is it?" Ana said.

"We're being called back... Xeffy... no, no, Xeffy and Ayna... it's both of them..."

The void trembled.

"Take my hand." Allie said. "Focus on me."

Around them, the infinite regard darkened.

"I think they've just noticed..." Ana observed distantly.

The tremble became vibration.

The serpentine form encircled around Amber's world raised its head. Dark, venomous will focused on them.

"No..." Ana whispered. "No, not again..."

"Hold on!" Allie told her. "Hold on, they can't stop this!"

The vibration became tone, a pure, clear, line of sound.


A lifeline flung into the void. Reaching for them.

Gaining solidity with every moment.

Pulling at them, pulling them back...

A way home...

And Allie opened herself up to it, flowing with it, letting her sisters' song bind her, take hold, letting it fill her mind, her surroundings fading before the strength, the wonder, of the call –

Then –

– the infinite, terrible, brilliant light –

– hold on... –

A speck of light hanging in the air.

A speck –

– exploding, flooding the world with light –

And when it faded...

...the Ten and One were back.

Xeffy and Ayna blinked their eyes open, closed their mouths, as the muses adjusted to their sudden return.

"We're..." Ana looked around herself, at the castle, at her body, as if seeing all of it for the first time. "We're... back?"

"We're back," Allie said, grinning her head off. "We're back!"

She let Ana's hand go, and headed for her sisters, as Danel hurried over to Ana.

"Hey, you." Ana said, smiling.

Danel couldn't keep down the flood of relief that swept over him. "Hey, you."

Ana tipped her head, regarding Danel. "You didn't do anything stupid while I was gone, did you?"

"Er... no, nope, nothing." Danel said as innocently as he could.

Ana raised a suspicious eyebrow. "Uh-huh."

Danel lowered his voice, so the others couldn't hear. "I'm finally certain of something, though."

Ana looked at him, a Dawn-esque expression of assessment on her face. "Go on..."

"I am never, ever, going to let you get lost, or taken, or digested, or whatever else someone comes up with, again. And if anyone tries, nothing's going to stop me coming for you."

Ana looked at him for a moment, and then hugged him tight.

"...Ana ...can't ...breathe..."

Danik, who had been unhappily hovering on the sidelines, caught as he was in the situation he most hated – nothing to do save wait and watch while others, better-qualified, took the risks – was scanning the rest of the group anxiously. The Ice Queen, warmed now to honey-gold, but queenly still. Hungry-eyed V, sliding her smoky gaze around the crowd. Tessa's red curls and ready grin, as Alryssa started towards her in relief. Trader Gray with his muse clinging against his side, as if to make certain she was really there. Dreamy Cassie, unperturbed –

Oho. So that was the way the river ran, was it? Osman, watching, concealed a grin behind his hand as his friend, having clearly found what he was looking for, advanced courteously and murmured a few words in English. The Muse's smile dawned gently as Danik bent for a moment over her hand.

"Uh-uh." Xeffy said, trying to fend off Allie's approach. "Not the hug. Not the hug!!"

"ERK – !"

Unfortunately, she was distracted by Dominic bear-hugging Ayna from behind.

"Er, Allie-mmmph!!"

<Well, they're certainly... affectionate.> Ned observed to Sandra.

"Tell me about it..." Sandra said, grinning.

"...Allie ...can't ...breathe..."

"Dad?" Ayna said.

"Yes, sweetheart – " Dominic stopped and stared down at her. " – ZEUS'S BALLS!!"

Morgan looked up. "Where?" she growled, reflexively clenching her hands into fists.

Ayna grinned. "Surprise!"

The others jawdropped as it sank in.

Ayna wasn't singing any more.

She was talking.

She was actually talking.

"What's wrong with you guys?" Ayna said, raising an eyebrow. "Anyone'd think you'd never heard a Siren talk before..."

"Wh..." Xeffy got out. "Wh... Wh...?"

"What Xeffy's trying to say," Allie said, taking a deep breath, "is 'WHAT THE HADES?!'"

"Something in the air, maybe?" Ayna said, grinning mahoosively. "It's my Siren thing. I got the Siren gift – and the Siren curse. I couldn't talk, I could only sing..."

:::Goddess...::: Eloise murmured. :::The myth-engine?:::

Sweetheart looked almost stricken. :::I... I don't know. I don't know. Banishing Typhon... Amber's power could easily unleash that kind of magic, magic enough to break Osman's spell, but the myth-engine... if it has this power disassembled...:::

:::A spell is a matter of intent...::: Eloise breathed. :::They wanted something, they wanted Typhon banished... if the Sampo affected their spell, then... who knows what it'd do?:::

"Err, guys...?" Yokoi said. "We've got incoming."

She pointed at the space the muses had materialised.

A speck of darkness hung where the light had been, pulsing.

Amber turned to the Maiden. "The Sampo, now!"

The Maiden nodded. "Come with me."

"I'm coming too," Eloise said firmly.

"Me too." Joe put in. "Gotta see what happens next. V, you take care of things here."

V snapped off a perfect salute. "Jawohl, mein herr!"

"Xeffy?" Maid Tardis said, holding out her hand.

Xeffy blinked, then realised what Sweetheart meant. She reached into her coat pocket and handed over the crystal key.

Maid Tardis clutched the key in her fist, for a moment, as if she were trying to staunch the bleeding of an open wound. Looking up into her eyes, Eloise saw that they had gone dark – hollow – the spirit behind them having retreated to an earlier time and place. Then, just as swiftly, she was back.

She handed the key to Amber. "This belongs to you, Milady," she said.

The muse accepted it with a smile. "Thank you," she said.

Sweetheart nodded, briefly, and turned to lead the way to the Sampo.

"Hey, wait!" Yokoi said. "What about the nasties? What if they get through?"

The Maiden almost smiled. "Zaqqum empowered me with her attack and defence routines... and my choice it is how they should appear."

She gestured, and baskets of zaqqum-fruit appeared in the courtyard.

Xeffy and Ayna were the first to catch on to Sweetheart's meaning – they'd been doing it when the adventure began, after all.

They looked at each other, not quite concealing their mutual smirks.

"Ready?" Xeffy said.

"Always." Ayna said.

As one, they chorused:


As if summoned, typo gremlins appeared almost out of thin air, swarming around the heads and shoulders of the hoedowners like oversized moths, ready to add their own peculiar magic to the battle against crawling chaos.

Magnus: "Marcus give me that gadget."

[Marcus started to refuse only to find it gone from his hand as Varne stretched an arm out. ]

Varne: "Here you are Lord, but I thought you could not use the SKoLD."

Magnus: "I can't, but with this I can tap it for energy, enough to stop whatever comes through changing shape. Whatever they come through with, will be what they are stuck with. As for the pair of idiots I hope they have suitable weapons. Speaking of which."

[ Magnus moved over to what was left of the weapons pile and picked up a stubby two barrelled gun in his left hand. His right hand held the power rod. A shimmering field of energy formed in front of the gate. Marcus gave his boomerangs a quick once over and Jason pulled a gleaming mirror out. Where Varne had been an indistinct cat like figure appeared, about the size of a tiger. ]

The 10 Doctors conferred briefly, deciding whether they would rather be in on the fight, or witnessing a mysterious, metaphysical machine they'd never seen before. As one, they chose the latter. Amanda, determined never to let Albert/the 5th Doctor out of her sight again, naturally went with them. "Besides," she said to everyone and no one in particular, "this is one engine I am most curious to see."

Danik – the only one among them, Osman remembered, who had even seen the Sampo – looked for a moment as if he would very much have wished to follow. But his eyes had returned again to the pulsing darkness at the centre of the courtyard, rippling now as if it had begun to swell. With a tiny sigh, such as only long years of friendship could have perceived, he turned back.

The two young girls had their hands full of fruit already, laughing and calling to each other. Stooping, Danik caught up one of the baskets entire in the crook of his arm and held both hands out to Xeffy in invitation, swinging her up to a lofty viewpoint on his shoulders with ammunition close at hand.

He glanced across at Osman, eyes dancing as if the moment's regret had never been. "Erinnerst du dich, alter Freund – ?"

Osman's own grin widened as he nodded. He did remember. Oh yes, he remembered all right.

First snow in the courtyard, back in Bad Hortig. Himself, fresh from the village and unsure of his place, a skinny boy edging out from the kitchens to grab a breath of fresh air.

And the snowballs that had come flying through the air to take him by surprise in expert ambush – on one side, the Graf's own son; on the other, skirts kilted up and kerchief flying, the youngest of the chambermaids. Respect for persons had held him back for precisely twenty seconds – the time it took before Danik's second snowball hit him on the ear...

Ten minutes later, he and Magda were pelting the young Count-to-be with snowy missiles as he clung to a ledge halfway up the gatehouse, returning fire with a withering shower of fresh snow while the two of them scrabbled below to scrape up handfuls from the trodden crust. Tall and slim, she'd been then, with a coltish grace and wild roses in her cheeks from laughter as she dodged and ran at his side – until she and Danik made common cause once more, and brought the newcomer to bay in honourable truce, all of them so out of breath that it was all he could do to slide an arm around Magda's waist to keep her on her feet.

A softly curving armful she was now, and Evgenija, their youngest, rising three – but the roses in her cheeks were as fresh as ever. Magda could still twist him round her little finger with a single smile, and he didn't care who knew it. Osman smiled again, thinking of his wife., and held out his arms to Ayna. "Komm, liebchen..."

The little Siren stared at him, wide-eyed. Doubtless she would have preferred the parrot. Osman made his voice gentle. "You must on my shoulder now, sweeting, for my time to ride on yours is gone..."

He mimed clumsy wings on the parrot's unsteady perch until she laughed and held out her hands to be lifted up. She weighed no more than little Jenija – all wing and bone.

He settled her firmly on his shoulders and grinned across at Danik, who was busy prancing charger-wise, to Xeffy's great delight. The Chaos Beasts were hardly going to know what had hit them; he only wished he had Magda here – she had lost none of her skill with a swiftly-flung snowball, as his own daughters could ruefully attest...

Then the black sphere burst, sending outward a dozen flying monstrosities, and Ayna bounced with excitement as fruit began to fly. Danik did his best warhorse impression, snorting furiously.

"For the honour of Ruritania!"

"For the 'Avalanche'!" Osman echoed, scoring a direct hit as a black shape swerved towards them. The two friends and their gleeful riders launched themselves joyously into the thick of the battle.

Danel grabbed a few Zaqqum fruit, then looked at Ana for a moment. "Help me?" he asked, and she nodded regally, as if to say, 'Of course, stupid.'.

Danel began to juggle, and as he did so, he chanted.

  "Zaqqum fruit, of ancient power,
help me now in this desperate hour.
Chaos hounds us, harsh and cruel,
I summon thy power as my tool.

Lest the demon hordes attack,
With thy power only can they be pushed back,
I call upon thee in our hour of need,
For on our power would these hell-fiends feed.

Zaqqum Fruit! I call thee now!
To force them back, to stop them, how
can I channel thy strength true?
By distilling it down to a potent brew!

Zaqqum punch is what I require!
To help these and my muse is my desire!
Summoning! Binding! Brewing! Aye!
To help us now – now zaqqum, fly!"

So saying, he threw the fruit high into the air.

"Well, it's better!" reviewed Allie as she and Imran ran past, chasing another creature with a handful of fruit each.

"Thanks!" replied Danel, then looked up just in time to catch a bowl of glowing punch as it fell down once more.

"Lucky..." said Ana, then grabbed one of the bowl's sides. Together, they hurled the large liquid-full receptacle at a gaggle of chaotical beasts, and watched the assorted effects with an appraising eye.

"I think I may have used too much sugar."

"Nonsense! Danel, it needed more alcohol."

"It was non-alcoholic! No, it needed a little lemon."

"Or a grapefruit?"

"Grapefruit? Grapefruit!?! Grape – "

"Danel not Six."

"Sorry, Ana. I've just started doing that, more and more..."

"Danel, you don't need silly 'issues'. So stop, okay."

"Yes, Ana."

High time Graf Danilo did his duty by the House of Schelstein and produced a few children of his own, his loyal subordinate considered, watching Xeffy blossom beneath his friend's teasing just as Osman and Magda's own youngsters did.

Not that the old Gräfin, his mother, didn't already live in terror of her wayward son's bringing home some dusky beauty with a dowry of coral and shells, in place of the well-bred little Komtesse or Baronesse to whom his station in life entitled him. Following the direction of Danik's gaze as Cassie drifted past, dream-fruits swirling into substance at her fingertips as fast as Cameron could throw them, Osman couldn't repress a chuckle at the thought of the Gräfin's reaction if Danik should after all capture this Dornröschen of his and bring her home. As well, perhaps, that this beauty, sleeping or not, showed no signs of yielding passage through the hundred-years' thorns that defended her heart. He suspected sometimes that his friend harboured an irresistible attraction towards the unattainable.

Osman glanced across again and found Danik cheerfully wiping zaqqum-fruit from his eyes with what looked like Xeffy's handkerchief, though the young Siren herself was for the moment nowhere to be seen. By the evidence of Danik's clothing, the two had come under heavy friendly fire; and judging by the giggles coming from his own shoulders, he much feared Ayna had not proved entirely innocent...

"Enough of this – " Ayna wriggled, and he paused, stooping, to let her slip down. "Go you now to find your friend, liebchen, and I will to mine – "

A positive fusillade of fruit pieces, whistling overhead at this point, answered the question as to the other Siren's whereabouts. Instinctively, they ducked – but not quite quick enough.

A spluttering Osman turned to see Xeffy at the edge of the courtyard. She waved to Ayna, grinning widely. In her other hand was a vast and complex catapult device that bore all the hallmarks of being of Varne's providing.

"I would not care to have the schooling of those two," Danik remarked, arriving quietly at his side with a grin, and handing him the handkerchief. Osman mopped his face, laughing, and tossed the fruit-sodden cloth at the nearest Chaos-beast; which promptly bloomed bright pink, sprouted tail-feathers, and began to carol out a rollicking country air.

Danik raised an eyebrow – then joined in.

All over the courtyard, similar transformations were taking place. Black Things were falling out of the air left, right and centre in a positive rainbow of colours and scuttling back towards oblivion, embarrassed, as fast as their newly-transformed legs would carry them.

Imran staggered past, with a miniature blue whale slung over his shoulder, and both Ruritanians double-took.

"Don't ask..." Allie said, looking up as she tried to keep the tail from dragging on the ground. "You should have seen the trouble we had with the bowl of petunias..."

As chaos minions swarmed into the courtyard, Paul raised the GREP Gun and hit the activation button.


There was brief pause, in which beams of green light conspicuously failed to leap from the end of the gun.


"Hey-ho," said Paul resignedly. He dropped the GREP Gun and headed for the stockpile of zaqqum-fruits.

"I don't like this," Arthur said, gremlins all over him.

"Their to clothes too hit<" Lancelot complained, ineffectually hefting a couple of zaquum creme pies amongst a cloud of the airborne quasidemons.

"Ill get you'res, you get mine," Arthur suggested

The noise of the battle roused Ingo, le singe bleu, in the small side room in which he'd been put to be out of the way. Protected from nasty after-effects by his thick skull, he wasted no time clutching his head and moaning. Immediately on the alert, he jumped to his feet and headed off to see what the noise was about.


"Ha, missed!"

Gordon popped his head up over the table. "You couldnae hit an elephant's arse with a banjo!"


"Lucky he's trying to hit you in the face with an ICBM then." Yokoi observed.


Gordon wiped the sticky material from his face.


"Intercontinental Ballistic Meringue"


"Here," Yokoi offered Gordon two large custard pies. "Which topping would you like? Strawberry or chocolate?"

"Is one inherently aerodynamically superior to the other?"


"I'll take both then."

Gordon popped his head up again to take aim, only to be hit in the face with half-a-dozen chocolate donuts. He fell over backwards, muttering darkly.

"If he tries that again, I'll run over there myself and lick his arse..."

"You'll what?!?!?!?!"

Gordon shoved a typo-gremlin out of the way. "Kick his arse! Kick!"

He decided not to bother with aiming and flung both custard pies over the table in random directions.


"Any idea what I hit?"

"The T-Rex in the corner."


"They don't seem too bothered, they'll have to clean those guitars though."

Gordon had to think about that one for a minute. As he did someone ran past screaming, something about being chased by armoured dil...

Gordon picked up the nearest typo-gremlin by the scruff of the neck, he turned it round and pinged its nose. "Behave." He looked round to see a herd of armadillos rampaging across the room.

"That's better."

He looked across the room to see that certain lunatic individuals (Xeffy and Ayna if we want to be specific) were loading large cream puffs into the end of a large fluffy pink elephant's trunk. Ayna shouted "FIRE!!!" and Xeffie hit the elephant's arse with a banjo, sending a rain of cream puffs hurtling around the room.

"This is getting silly..."

"Would you want it any other way?" asked Yokoi.



Seemingly endless numbers of chaotic creatures swarmed through the gateway to Places Beyond.

One, a demon lord from one of the more cliché-ridden places Beyond, paused just inside the threshold and struck a villainous pose, framed by a large and billowing red cape.

It held the pose for about a second before its knees buckled and it collapsed under the weight of a large and bellowing red ape.

Ingo, le singe bleu, hurled himself at the great ape.

Beneath the two of them, the demon lord attempted to struggle to its feet.

Unfortunately, the ape's weight made this rather difficult.

Ingo chittered angrily into the ape's face, as the ape struggled with the little annoyance clawing at it.


Ingo suddenly found himself struggling with a pile of jam doughnuts.

And the demon lord erupted forth from the pile of doughnuts, clutching Ingo in one clawed hand.


Zaqqum-fruit clonked the demon lord, splattering it with zaqqum-juice.

Ingo fell to the ground.

As did a rather dazed African Grey parrot, covered in juice.

From somewhere in the crowd, Osman was sure that he heard Ayna's distinctive cheer. Now that she had her own speaking voice, she was using it to great effect.

"Crap." Danel said, watching all of this. "I thought he really was a demon."

"No such luck." Sandra said.

Ingo blinked in confusion.

And where he'd been standing was...


"Now there's a surprise," Danel observed, as Ringo headed for the T-Rex in the corner.

"Well, it does explain a few things..." Sandra commented, levitating a zaqqum-fruit at an unfortunate Hound of Tindalos, which immediately found itself turned into a set of Tupperware.

"It does?" Danel said.

Sandra considered that. "Actually, now you mention it... it doesn't, does it?"

"This was basically just an excuse to have a Beatle playing with T-Rex, wasn't it?"

"It's about as sensible as anything else we've seen so far." Sandra pointed out.

"Good point."

Somewhere, Elsewhere, Somewhere, Xellos chuckled appreciatively. "Oh, Bravo!" he said, between munches of popcorn.

"Hah! What say'st thou to this, foul fiend?"

"Nay! Naaaaaay!!!"

The foaming, charging My Little Pony took Fastolf's double handful of zaqqum-flavoured Oatso Simple full in the face, causing its instantaneous transformation into a Garfield fridge magnet. The ever-courteous Terileptil stepped aside with a bow, never having been one to stand boorishly in the path of a lady – least of all when the lady, as in this instance, was a High Priestess of Ultimate Evil Barbie tumbling through the air at no few miles per hour.

"Bad, badly badding frog-faced bad person!" wailed Barbie approximately as she crashed to earth, her spike-heeled boots sinking deep into the soft turf.

Amanda shook her head. "Bad language won't help one bit." She was instantly attacked by an androgynous, international-beige coloured Auton dancer in poncey black leathers, which Albert was obliged to drive off with a small hand-held dessert of unclear nature.

"Smear the bitch, Amanda!" yelled V.

"THAT BRITNEY SPEARS?" trumpeted a deep voice, resonating as from the bottom of some mighty cosmic barrel.

Amanda whirled around, just in time to whack a female Hound of Tindalos with her slice of bread-and-zaqqum-jam. This one transformed, not into Tupperware, but into a matched set of Ann Summers stock which caused the young engineer to blink in astonishment for a fatal second.


"I'm bad! I'm bad!" wailed the leather-clad apparition, assailing Albert Campion with an enormous treacle tart.

"You're certainly no better than you should be," Albert allowed, retaliating with the small hand-held dessert. This transformed the media tart into a pile of pop videos, though at the grave cost of our hero's getting the treacle tart full in the mush.


"Oh, bravely done!" boomed Fastolf, now Danishing his way in frantic hand-to-hand through a gang of the invisible seven-foot Zog-lizards from Icke II. "Hast o'erthrown a Titan of Tack with but some brandished dessert of unclear nature, scorning the stripes thy audacity earned thee in the hard hand-play!"

"HARD HAND-PLAY? EH?! SOUNDS LIKE A RIGHT LOAD OF TOSS TO – " At this point several Doctors and the MuseCops converged on the trumpeting monstrosity in sheer self-defence, and it was obliged to direct its shining wit at them instead.

"Oh, it was just a trifle," murmured the modest Mr Campion, cleaning the worst of the treacle from his face and jacket with his pocket-handkerchief. Then he caught sight of his wife, and his jaw dropped.

Evil High Priestess Barbie had not missed the opportunity afforded by Amanda's Ann Summers-induced distraction. Her Wand of Malefic Makeovers had struck swiftly, primed with a Vintage Sacrificial Bondage number well-calculated to take the fiery-haired little aristocrat painfully out of the action. But even as the silken ropes flew about her arms, Amanda had managed to flick a dollop of jam onto her floozificatious foe, thereby transforming her into a black plastic clothes-horse. The half-formed bondage-gear disappeared instantly, but was sadly not replaced by anything else, thereby depriving its victim not only of her mechanic's overalls but of much of her upper costume. Which is not what a nice young lady from the 1940s is best keen on. Amanda's face flamed, but she reached with grim determination for her pot of zaqqum jam. And it was in this state that her husband now set eyes on her.

"Er – excuse me, old thing, but whatever – ?!"

A Colour out of Space swept gallantly down upon her, flowing over her shoulders and sparing her any further blushes by transforming itself into a decent (if hardly ladylike) article of clothing.

"That's my Bounder Jacket!" Albert exclaimed, and tried to make his way back through the press to her side. But:

"Jim heres hottest stock tip, dont tell anyone!"

came from over his shoulder, along with a foul and all-too-familiar porky fetor; and he was compelled to look to his own defences against the slavering Spamite. The jacket, meanwhile, continued to shield his lovely wife's modesty with all the velvet slinkiness it could manage, as she teaspooned purple preserve at incoming demons with near-schoolboyish force and accuracy. Ned, you jammy bastard!


Fastolf swung round in a rage, cracking together the pseudo-encephalisations of a flying Hoover polyp and a Basil Copper Lovecraftian knock-off best left undescribed (especially by Basil Copper) before ramming both of them face-down into the punch-bowl. "Who dares abuse the name of my fair Dame Bel-Phoenix?"

The answer to this, on inspection, appeared to be a monstrous beast twelve feet high at the shoulder. Something like a wild boar, it was; but it had the raptor's beak of a griffin, the scales of a serpent, the quills of a porcupine, and a thick prehensile tail somewhat like an elephant's trunk. From this last came its jests, or whatever is the correct term for the buggers.


Shut up! You are telling a completely different mangy pseudo-joke at this point. Let us hastily fast-forward towards the end, at which point the laws of fiction will make it easier for someone to kick your tusks in. Your verbing tusks, even!


[Far away, Xellos choked on his drink. "Be sure and kill a good throwaway line absolutely dead, won't you, dear boy?"]

Several Doctors, Nyssaias, and Embericles had rallied round to banish the thing with many forms of fruit-flavoured missile; but all had so far proven in vain, as the demon was intercepting all their projectiles – and even keeping its opponents pinned down – with the previously-mentioned volleys of poisonous shining wit which whooshed ever and anon from its posterior trunk. It should be pointed out that the shining wit in question had been subject to that typo-gremlin-collision induced anomaly known to science as a Spooner Singularity, and therefore was all too rankly effective in its physical aspect.

"Thou!" cried Fastolf. "Thou Blatant Beast, thrice-curst demon of slander and ravisher of reputations, Arch-Foe of Courtesy! But stay thy bawdy tongue ere's ripped from its moorings, and give plain answer – "


" – what dost here, thus far and away from thy natural haunts? Art lately chicken-shitten of corporate lawyers or aught such, that thou once feared of all the world stand reduced to such puerile babblings as should scarce divert a Shagrat or a Gorbag?"


"Nay," returned the Blatant Beast, in this instance through its venom-dripping beak, "for my part, I be yet as mighty a ruler and destroyer of men as ever was. Yet with the rise of the British tabloid press was I deemed redundant lo, these many years gone; and in bitter despite and famine turned I to the end-of-the-pier comedy circuit, trusting thence to arise again as a student cult, and so gain mickle worship; until none shall escape from me wheresoe'er he goeth, and all shall hear my knob jokes and despair!"

"Well," said Fastolf, "and I am at feud with thee, for that thou hast sullied my Lady's dear name, and eke hurled thine envenomed cack-pies at my sweet nest-niece's own likeness." He waved an affectionate claw at the bush from behind which Nyssaias and Embericles were, rather intermittently, contributing to the food fight.

"Now," the great artist continued, "I see naught likelier rede for us both than this: whereas th'art plainly shent in the eyes of gods, muses, and mortals inasmuch as the most part of thine doings and sayings be now openly regulated by thy bum-brain; and whereas I this day did suffer great disgrace in being unluckily overborne by that mere sublimation of all apehood hellishly and hatefully named Ogre, I do challenge thee here and now to the duello, with no weapons nor wrastling between us, but only sharp shafts of wit. And whichever of us first shall make the other laugh outright, he shall endure and go his ways in this world; and whichever shall be joke-slain, shall go uncomplaining back to the metaverse in the other's place." Fastolf puffed himself up, his crests fluttering gaily. "Which course shall break this inglorious stalemate, and redeem the winner's honour most fully, all being staked on his prowess. Which if thou durst not, thou'rt eternally approved a manifest dastard!"


"Also," added Fastolf casually, "if thou 'scapest this our duel, other else renege when I defeat thy stale jests as shall surely be, thou must confess thyself doubtless yn schthesss an'tariina hkha-hsi rrunda ssuth-ri, ogi oj?"

Those Doctors engaged in the fight gasped in shock. This might have yielded unpleasant results given the kind of stuff that was flying around them, but it appeared ("I SAY, THAT'S A BIT STRONG, EH?") that the Beast's caudal brain was also somewhat distracted by the musical and super-poetic language that is the Terileptil Wonder-Race's inimitable contribution to the Cosmic All. Or something along those general lines, surely.

The Blatant Beast hissed, puffed up its quills, and spat killing venom over the grass. "Now must we jest for our place in the world, foul toad, for no more can we both abide in the starlit worlds. Call off now thy time-apes and their mushy fruit, and prove we now who among we elder races wields a keener word!"

"Yea, peace!" declaimed Fastolf. "For know that who comes between me and my foe by so much as a candied zaqqumzest-paring, such an one shall I – odd's claw, they be scarpered already! Well, Sir Blatancy: mine the challenge, so thine the first strike, and do thy worst!"

The ancient quintessence of spite and malice considered. Black rainbows swam in its great liquid eyes. And then it spoke:


Fastolf stared at his enemy, utterly nonplussed.

"WHACK-WHACK!" it trumpeted optimistically.

"O Blatant One," the Terileptil sighed, "herein meseems lies some textual joke, which perforce passeth through mine ears by high-speed express nor leaveth trace of its passing. Spell it me out, I prithee, that thy merry jibe shall have its fair chance against me. For great Fastolf scorns all such outrageous advantage, save where he cogs and plots for it a-purpose!"

Nyssaias and Embericles, who had covertly remained behind the bush with a view to ambushing the Blatant Beast in case their thespian ally drew the short plank (and certainly not for any other reason) exchanged brief groans. For that reason, and no other.

"I CALLS HER M-I-N-E-T-T-E! Minette! Geddit, eh? Eh?"

"To say sooth," Fastolf returned blankly, "not a whit on't. Or is't some slyly self-reflexive allusion to thy affectation and mine, of idiom most archaic as were the more propperly spelt with varius & inconstant orthographie, sumwhat lyke unto thisse? Indeed 'twere a pretty pleasantry, if scarce like to set me a-roaring my ribs out!"

"Nay," said the Blatant Beast wretchedly. "'Minette' is an obscure term for a mildly deviant sexual practice among the ape-kind, as witness the limerick about the Bishop of Wokingham. The implication is seen that she performeth such, likely by long habit."

Nyssaias got the joke at this point, and began to giggle uncontrollably, but was fortunately shut up almost instantly by Emby.

"'Tis a rare practice, then, and ludicrous in aspect?"

"Nay – 'tis likely as common as its absence."


"Aye," Fastolf yawned. There is something about the enormous, head-splitting, teeth-baring Terileptil yawn which tends to make even Blatant Beasts sit up and take notice. "Th'art prone to simiophilic bestiality, thee: I doubt it not an instant. But now's my turn to be pleasant, and thine to hold thy humour in, an thou canst: but forsooth, this one shall slay thee."

"Do thy worst, Fat-Man!"

"It's in the bag!" Nyss squealed gleefully in Emby's ear, apropos of the joke.

"That's the way I like it," Emby groaned back, apropos of something quite other.

"Marry, nuncle," Fastolf began, "it seemeth that on a fair May morning, an ape-maid fresh and frolicsome did fare forth to market, when she overtook a great glorious young drake of mine own Wonder-Race, a-singing When Lilith Came to Lullay Town and fluttering his bright crests in the breeze; yet was he bowed down with great treasures, and scarce might make any good pace, though strong and lusty was he. Wottest thou wherefore the ape-maiden did offer, of her great good-fellowship, to share his load equally, and fan his crests, and lighten his journey in what other ways he would – and left her own good errand go to the devil?"

"Marry, nevvy," snarked the Blatant Beast, "I wot not. What caused that?"

"For – " declared Fastolf, inflating his massive chest and drawing himself up to his fullest and hammiest height, before pausing as long as any entertainer could possibly hope to get away with before delivering the killing blow,

" – that she was well ware how all we hes of the saurian kind be doubly cumbered!"

"What?" breathed Nyssaias, again referring to the joke.

"I think it's called 'Seagull in the Coral Cave'," moaned Embericles, again not.

"What?" complained the Blatant Beast's head.

"THAT JOKE? NOUNING PLURALS, I CALLS THAT!" remarked the Blatant Beast's posterior proboscis.

"'Tis well seen," returned Fastolf, and threw a fruit at it.

Not a zaqqum-fruit.

Specifically, a cucumber.

"DOUBLY CUMBERED! YOU'RE A BIT OF ARTICLE ADJECTIVAL VERBING NOUN[1], YOU!" The Beast's proboscis vented its humour in a violent eruption of a kind that – whilst undeniably spectacular, potentially lethal, and definitely disgusting in the extreme – could not technically be classified as a laugh. A point which the front end was dying to point out, but was temporarily prevented from so doing by the necessity to keep its jaws clamped shut.

[1] Some readers may have doubts about the existence, even in principle, of an unprintable article. It's all in the way the Blatant Beast's bum said it, okay?

The Beast snorted black venom through its snout.

The Beast steamed green venom from its brow.

The Beast vented further venom by other means which may be readily deduced by any really competent mentality. Assuming, that is, that it can be arsed.

Fastolf tossed a second, and apparently even more humorous, cucumber. The posterior proboscis reared up to regale the author with witty raillery anent the previous sentence – but it was too late.

The Blatant Beast's clenched jaws sprang open, and it fell about in shameful hysterics. After about a minute of this, it staggered woefully to its feet.

(Nyssaias's brow furrowed cutely. "Did we miss something, Emby?"

"Well, you didn't miss anything, sweetheart."

"And nor did you, red hot chili pepper of my desire," returned Nyssaias, blushing. "Uncle Fastolf's joke must have been too subtle to follow while... you know..."

Embericles sighed unaccountably. "Er... yes, that would explain it, my sweet juicy sugar-plum in the great big booze-soaked pudding of life." And so forth.)

"I," the Blatant Beast decided, dejectedly, "shall keep my word forthwith. Never will I consent to inhabit a continuum that hath such a joke in it. – And about simiophily, too!"

"CONTINUUM?" bellowed the posterior proboscis. And, just as it was on the cusp of producing some world-shakingly witty variation on that very word, the Beast's hither end bit thankfully into the first bit of zaqqum-fruit it could reach.

The Blatant Beast turned into a blameless though equally silly-looking Questing Beast, and ran away with a sound like unto many mutts barking, in search of any minor Arthurian characters who might be inveigled into chasing it for the next decade to no obvious purpose.

The Blatant Beast's widely-scattered toxic dung turned into a large number of Windows ME CDs, thus proving that even Celia-Zaqqum's anti-demonic routines are helpless to alter some manifestations of metaversal evil.

Fastolf strutted triumphantly back into the increasingly one-sided food-fight, crests flying, and declaiming lines from Henry V as he went.

Nyssaias and Embericles, perceiving that they had got fruit juice, pulp, and other edible matter over themselves during said food fight, remained behind the bushes awhile to help each other remove it. This took some small while, as they were being very thorough.

And elsewhere in the food-fight too, lo, the forces of fun were prevailing....

Chapter Twenty-Six – Reunions

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