|Summary:||In which RC 999 meets RC 1986 for a combined mission. With surprise guest appearances!|
|Source:||“The Dark Side” (deleted) by PlusClown, formerly The Insane Mellow, originally Crazy-Mellow-Chan.|
|Continua:||World of Warcraft and Fullmetal Alchemist.|
|Timeline:||Late summer, 2010; after “Warcraft Epic.”|
|Published:||August 11, 2010.|
|Rating:||PG-13/T - It’s all Barid’s fault.|
|Betas:||The combined co-writers.|
|Co-writers:||Phobos and . . . oooh, nice try, but no. It’s a surprise.|
Eamon Brightbeard moved the dubious food around his plate with a spork. He had been hungry when he had gotten to the Cafeteria, but he lost his appetite when he saw the food. He couldn’t even remember what was supposed to be in the gray pile on his plate, but he was sure it had winked at him a moment ago. Right now he’d give anything for a dragonfin filet or some mead-basted caribou.
He took a moment to look around the room. It was a slow time in the Cafeteria; most of the tables were less than half full. Brightbeard was amazed that some of the agents were smiling and laughing, until he realized that they only had Bloffee mugs in front of them.
I’ll ne’er understand how some people seem tae live on that stuff, thought Brightbeard. Got tae have something substantial in my gut. Not that substance does any good if ye cannae get it down. He continued to absentmindedly push gray lumps around his plate.
After a while, Brightbeard got tired of sitting around doing nothing. He took his plate to the counter and asked them to put it in a bag for him. He knew that, at the very least, Barid would eat it. Greasy bag in hand, he started to make his way back to RC 1986. He managed to get two turns into his trip when he was overtaken by a blur of blue and purple. It turned out to be his partner.
“Barid?” he asked. He then realized that his partner had not bothered to fully clothe himself before leaving the RC. The Troll had his favorite purple hat on, but his robe was hanging open, exposing far more than was decent. “Boy, what have I told ye? Shirt and pants in public at all times.”
“Sorry, mon,” said the Troll as he closed and tied his robe. “But we got a t’ing on de whatsit!”
Brightbeard stood for a moment, completely dumbfounded. “I’m sorry, Barid, I think I had something daft in my ear, could ye say that again?”
Barid obliged by saying exactly the same thing again. He tried to help out by adding odd hand motions to get the point across.
Eamon’s lips moved slightly while he tried to decipher what his partner had said. “All right, let me see if I’ve got this straight. We got a . . . message . . . on the console?”
Barid nodded. “Dat’s what I said, ain’t it? De Foxglove Official wants ta see us right away.”
“Well, why didn’t ye say that tae start with? We need tae get going.”
“Why ya t’ink I came lookin’ for ya? Come on, mon.” With that, Barid set off back the way he had come. Brightbeard followed.
They walked for a few minutes and, after rounding a corner, found themselves in a corridor where the walls were matte black instead of the gray they were used to. Brightbeard didn’t think much of it until Barid went up to a door and knocked on it.
“I thought the Foxglove Official wanted us,” said Brightbeard. “This is the Lichen’s office.” He was proven right when a voice that sounded remarkably like John Cleese told them to enter.
Ah, there you are, said the Lichen. I’d wondered when you would be showing up.
The Lichen was behind his desk and the Foxglove Official was off to one side, looking impatient.
The Foxglove spoke next. I sent that message well over an hour ago. Where have you been? He did not sound as though he liked to be kept waiting.
Brightbeard, being the responsible one, decided that he should probably do the talking. Unfortunately, Barid had decided start talking first.
“Well, ya see,” said Barid, “Dere was dis party in de Archives an I didn’ want ta be rude, so I stayed ta have a few drinks. Den I went back to de RC, but it was de strangest t’ing, none of my stuff was dere and it had de wrong number on de door. Well, de people in dere was very nice an’ told me where I was supposed ta be. Den when I found de right place I took a nap. When I woke up de screen was flashin’, and I couldn’ find my pants. So I put my hat and robe on an’ went ta find Brightbeard. An’ den we came ’ere.”
Brightbeard had opened his mouth to speak and then left it open for amazement. When he finally found his voice, he asked, “When did that all happen? Can I nae leave ye alone for five minutes without ye doing some fool thing? I’ll have tae send an apology to whoe’er it was ye disturbed. Do ye even ken where ye were?” By his reckoning, he’d only been gone from the response center for a little over an hour and had no idea how his partner had found the time to get drunk and sleep it off in that time.
Ahem, said the Lichen, who now seemed to be slightly uncomfortable. He looked to the Foxglove for reassurance. You are absolutely sure that these are your experts? No one else in reserve?
The Foxglove wilted slightly and sighed. Sadly, these clowns are the best we have. I can assure you that they do their jobs well. Amazingly well, considering their constant misbehavior around Headquarters.
Brightbeard, completely lost by this point, finally managed to get involved in the conversation. “What’s going on? Why are we in the DIC? Do we have a mission?”
I suppose you do, said the Lichen. Go get your gear and report to RC 999. They’ll brief you there.
“Brief” could have been used to describe Agent Supernumerary’s mood, but usually people chose brusque, irascible, testy, caustic, bad-tempered, peevish, etc. etc. Often all at the same time. On this occasion, however, the most apt would have been “inflammable.” If he paced the response center impatiently, liable to snap harsh witticisms at the least provocation, it was because he was very literally in danger of being set on fire.
Abruptly, he rounded on the cause. “Ilraen, will you stop fiddling with that thing? You’ll blow us to kingdom come!”
<I think it will work this time,> the Andalite replied cheerfully. He stood in front of a worktable installed against the wall across from the bunk bed’s foot, all four eyes intent on the collection of bits and bobs it took to make a Character Analysis Device.
Gathering up the set of tools needed to assemble the delicate pieces had taken over a year of searching during missions, either for the implements themselves or the wherewithal to trade for them. Quite a lot of wherewithal was needed: not many agents just happened to have these things lying around, and DoSAT couldn’t afford to part with theirs at anything less than cutthroat rates. Strangely, the CAD parts themselves were rather easier to obtain. <That nice Agent Tess in the Department of Sufficiently Advanced Technology gave me some spare parts from other malfunctioning CADs, and with the right tools—>
“What do you mean, malfunctioning?” Nume broke in. “You mean they’re all broken, too?”
<Of course not. The CADs they came from broke; these parts are in perfect condition, apart from a little charring.>
“A little charring?”
Ilraen smiled. It was almost imperceptible, especially from behind, but a moment of psychic silence spoke volumes.
Nume gave a ragged sigh, his expression collapsing from “Near-Panic” Eyebrow Level 3 to “You Shall Smart For This Later” Eyebrow Level -2. “Ah, yes, very funny. You Andalites aren’t supposed to have a sense of humor, you know. I should kick you back to FicPsych for remedial therapy.” Nume took a little remedial therapy of his own from the flask of Bleepka he wore at his hip.
<That would not be at all proper at the moment,> Ilraen said. <The Duty awaits. Our Prince has given us direct commands.> With a slender screwdriver, he poked at something in the CAD, which caused a loud spark. This may or may not have been on purpose.
“If the idiots we’re supposed to work with ever get here,” Nume grumbled.
This by itself was enough to provoke the Ironic Overpower in many instances. It probably helped that Nume also picked up a random book and sat heavily in his desk chair, preparing to read.
Of course, irony being what it is, it should come as no surprise that he ended up staying there, with only Philip Freedenberg’s Your Sanity and You between him and his partner’s tinkering, for another thirty minutes. Then, when the knock at their door finally came, it was with such suddenness and enthusiasm that it caused Nume to drop the book and Ilraen to mis-prod the CAD, which hissed ominously, as though it were trying to beep but had a scratchy throat. Oddly, the emitters that would have made this at all logical were on the other side of the table, not hooked up to anything.
“Shut that thing up,” Nume said automatically. Avoiding Ilraen’s tail blade, he crossed the room and opened the sliding, Trek-style RC door.
In the hallway stood Barid in his purple finery and Brightbeard in his best armor. Both wore their black tabards with the rubber Swiss-army knife of the All-Purpose Department. As soon as the door opened, Barid grabbed Supernumerary’s hand and shook it vigorously.
“It be a pleasure ta meet ya,” said the Troll as he walked past the stunned Nume. “Nice place ya got ’ere.” He began to dig around in one of his belt pouches.
“Ye’ll have tae excuse my partner,” said Brightbeard with a sigh; “haven’t been able tae house train him yet. Name’s Eamon Brightbeard.” He extended his hand to Nume in a much more civilized manner than Barid had.
“I know the feeling,” muttered the slightly shell-shocked Nume. He paused in massaging his hand long enough to gingerly shake Brightbeard’s. “Supernumerary’s me. Nume will do. That’s Ilraen.” He cocked his head toward the Andalite, who had managed to quiet the CAD and now turned to face the newcomers.
<Hello.> He peered inquisitively at the pair, lingering longest over the blue Troll. <Say, didn’t I see you at that party?>
Nume stared. “When were you at a party? Why does no one tell me these things?”
“I ken that feeling,” said Brightbeard.
Barid had stopped digging in his pouch when Ilraen spoke. “I t’ink I’m goin’ crazy. Dat party must have bin better den I t’ought if I’m hearing people talk dat don’ have a mout’.” He went back to digging.
<Oh, we Andalites speak using telepathy,> Ilraen explained. <You are not crazy; although I do remember that you got up and danced on the refreshments table. It was . . . > he trailed off. Barid had produced a shrunken head from his pouch. It had green skin and rainbow-colored hair.
He held it out to Ilraen. “A gift for ya ta remember our first mission by.”
Ilraen blinked. <Oh. It is very . . . uh . . . .> He tried to find words, but it is hard to be polite in the face of crudely preserved remains, however sparkly.
Brightbeard was quick to handle the situation. “Boy, put that away! What have I told ye about those things?”
“Ya tol’ me not to keep dem in de RC no more. Ya never said I couldn’ give dem away as gifts,” said Barid in a hurt tone.
“Never mind about that,” Nume said curtly, swallowing more than was strictly necessary. “Mission, remember?” He tapped the timepiece on his right wrist.
“Right,” exclaimed Barid, who actually had forgotten that they were in the middle of a job. “I’ll leave dis ’ere and we can do dis t’ing.” He proceeded to deposit the head on the one bed in the RC: Nume’s.
For a moment, Nume seethed much in the way of a collapsing star about to go nova, but abruptly he shook his head. “Right, well, I was going to do laundry anyway. Let’s get this over with. We’re going to a World of Warcraft and Fullmetal Alchemist crossover called ‘The Dark Side’. Bring your Star Wars jokes.” He gestured at Barid and Brightbeard. “One of you set the disguises; you’re supposed to be our continuum experts for World of Warcraft, which is where we’re going to be spending this lovely together-time, and it’s one of the very few things I am not at all familiar with. But believe me, any shenanigans and I’ll portal you straight into an Escher room.” For reasons he was precisely certain of, he did not trust Barid.
Barid was already moving toward the disguise generator. Brightbeard was faster, though, and planted himself between Barid and the controls. “Ye’ve lost yer privileges after what ye did tae me last time.” Brightbeard gestured toward the desk and said, “Stand o’er there and dinnae touch anything. Now, lads, any preferences for disguises? Human, Night Elf, Dwarf, Draenei, Gnome?”
“Why ya only list de Alliance races?” Barid asked indignantly. “Why don’ ya let dem know ’bout de Horde? Give ’em de whole picture.”
“Human,” Nume interjected firmly. “I’m rather attached to my species. I’ve had it my whole life.”
Either missing or ignoring Nume’s intent to ignore Barid, Ilraen inquired, <What is the Horde?>
“De Horde,” began Barid, drawing himself up to his full height of just over seven feet, “is de Good Guys. Dey are de noblest, de strongest, and de smartest. Me tribe is part of de Horde, along wit de Orcs, de Blood Elves an’ de Tauren.”
“Ye appear tae have forgotten the Forsaken,” Brightbeard offered with a glassy smile.
“I didn’ forget,” said Barid with a shudder. “Dose dead guys give me de creeps.”
<I think I would prefer to avoid that.> Ilraen scratched behind one blue-furred ear. <I suppose Human will do. I am used to taking a Human form at need.>
Brightbeard looked the Andalite up and down, frowning. “I think we can do better than that fer ye.” He pressed the buttons to set the disguises for his temporary partners.
Meanwhile, Nume had gathered up the messenger bag containing the disentangler’s kit, which he tossed to Ilraen, and his notepad and pencil. He also made sure to top off his hip flask. “Let’s get this carnival on the road. Places to go, people to avoid.” He slapped the button that opened a portal to the fic, which had been set for the last two hours, and strode through.
Brightbeard looked at Barid. “In ye go, lad. Don’t want ye destroyin’ anything in the thirty seconds that I’d be gone.”
Barid grabbed his things, turned up his nose in a gesture of proud indignation, and then promptly did a cannonball through the portal.
Brightbeard then turned to Ilraen. “I’ll leave ye tae be the rearguard. Have tae make sure my partner does nae break yer partner.” He planted his helmet firmly on his head and strode through the portal. Ilraen followed, speculating on the aptness of the term “rearguard.”
“Ow! What the hell?!”
“Oh, fer Light’s sake!”
“Am I still drunk?”
By the time Ilraen entered the world, the Words had been in effect for a few seconds. The fic was in first person; therefore, when the Words dictated that “We had fallen in Stormwind City,” the four agents abruptly tipped over. For the very same reason, just a moment later, they were sent to a place “outside of the Plaugue Lands, though it wasn’t called that yet.”
By the most direct route possible.
One mountain range, one blizzard, a collection of very confused Dwarves, one saltwater bay, a series of farms, and one more alpine blizzard for good measure, they landed in a confused tangle of limbs and gear. Nume brushed snow off himself while Barid pulled a series of skewered apples, corn, and, for some strange reason, a pumpkin off his intact tusk. Ilraen, now in Draenei form, spat out a fish, and Brightbeard chivvied one unfortunate Ironforge Dwarf in the direction of the nearest mountain.
“God damn it,” Nume groaned. At least, it was probably Nume. His voice was rather higher than normal. “The report didn’t say anything about first person!”
Brightbeard, when he had finished ushering his former comrade to relative safety, went to talk to Nume. “Welcome tae Azeroth. Now what, in the name of Kel’thuzad’s undead mother, just happened back there?” There was a beep from Brightbeard’s backpack. He reached in and pulled out what appeared to be a heavily altered and scorched CAD and looked at the read-out. It read, [First person detected. Revert agents to third person? Y/N] Brightbeard hit yes and a wave of renewed autonomy went through the party.
“I think I was blond and abnormally short for a few minutes,” the Human muttered, staring blankly at the sky. “Then dragged through several landforms and possibly a chicken. We can probably thank the Heisenberg uncertainty principle for the fact that we’re not dead.” He pulled himself painfully to an upright seated position and looked at Brightbeard. He squinted at the CAD. “Where did you get a DOGA-modified CAD? I heard they went out of production years ago.”
“When I first went tae DoSAT tae get me gear,” explained Brightbeard, “the lad down there gave it tae me out of a box marked ‘Refurbished’. He said something about its old owner nae needing it anymore on account o’ the fire.”
Nume blinked, then shook his head. “I don’t want to know. At least the fic won’t jerk us around anymore.”
Meanwhile, as Barid stood up, he noticed something dragging behind him, attached to the bottom of his cloak. When he went to investigate, he found that three place-minis, Azoroth, Azorath, and Plaugue Lands, had tagged along. The Wrath-cadets did not look as though they had enjoyed the ride. He handed one off to Ilraen for safe keeping. As Barid attempted to keep Azoroth and Azorath from hitting each other, he asked, “What we gonna do ’bout dese guys?”
Brightbeard stepped up to the embattled Troll and cleared his throat. “Right! Both o’ya, stop that right this instant or I’ll box yer ears fer ye and then I’ll really get angry.” He was glad to see that he had not lost his touch as the minis folded their little clawed hands and stared at the ground.
“Send them through here,” Ilraen suggested, opening a portal. “The Mini Adoption Center can look after them.” Brightbeard gestured them through, and they went.
Barid stared at his partner with his mouth agape. “How’d ya do dat? Dose t’ings never listen ta me!”
“Have some grandchildren and then we’ll talk,” said a slightly smug Brightbeard. He then stopped and thought about what he had just said. “On second thought, for the good of us all, don’t breed.”
Meanwhile, Nume had gotten to his feet and was inspecting himself and his partner. “I seem to have acquired the World of Warcraft equivalent of Edward Elric’s coat,” he observed. He cast a slow, bewildered glance up—really, really up—at Ilraen, who was now bipedal, behoofed, and betentacled about the face. But still blue. “What are you?”
“I have no idea,” Ilraen confessed. Even his voice was noticeably changed: a rich baritone with some kind of accent, Eastern European in inspiration. And, well, spoken aloud. But that was a given.
“Ye’re a Draenei, lad,” offered the Dwarf. “Consider yerself fortunate. Ye’ll not find a nobler race outside of Ironforge. I thought the hooves and coloration would suit ye.” He surveyed Ilraen and Nume for a moment with a slightly amused look on his face. “Well, this is a surprise. Supernumerary, ye should be dressed in plain, brown linen. And much the same fer ye, Ilraen. I wonder why ye’re in leather and mail, while Supernumerary appears tae have acquired a Mage’s robe.”
“’Ey Nume, is dat a wand in ya belt,” laughed Barid, “or are ya just happy ta see me?”
The look Nume gave Barid could have reduced the ambient temperature to subarctic. And, in fact, actually did in an area localized right around Barid.
“’Ey!” said Barid, very slowly. “Dat’s no fair.”
Ilraen stared. “I thought you didn’t know anything about this world!”
“I didn’t.” Nume grinned. He liked magic. It was the one weapon he could use without unintentionally maiming himself or his allies in the process. (Intentionally, on the other hand . . . .)
Brightbeard laughed at his slightly more blue than usual partner. “Looks like he got more than just the robe. I imagine that means Ilraen has found himself in possession of a projectile weapon of some sort and probably a pet, as well. Why not try tae call it, lad?”
“Oh. I’ve never had a pet before.” Ilraen opened his mouth, but no call came. “Er, how . . . ?”
“Never mind,” Nume said. “We could dick around with the disguises all day, but we have a job to do. Where are we, and where should we be?”
“Dat’s where I come in,” said Barid, who was already pulling a map out of his backpack. He unrolled it on the ground and held the corners down with the fruit he had earlier pulled from his good tusk. “We be right about ’ere,” he explained, pointing to the border between the Western Plaguelands and the Alterac Mountains. He struck himself on the head so he could get a look at the Words. (“Is that usual?” Ilraen wondered. “Nae, but it works fer him,” Brightbeard answered.) When his eyes uncrossed themselves he went back to the map. “We wanna be about two hundred feet in de air right ’ere.” He pointed out a new spot that was in the northern part of the Scarlet Enclave. “Acherus, de Black Hold.”
Nume stared. “Then why the hell are we all the way over here?” He looked at the Words himself.
Between the time the agents landed and the present, the misplaced version of Edward Elric they were after had covered an unnatural narrative distance. Not content to simply be captured and taken away in the first paragraphs of the story, he had instead been thrown in prison, turned into a Death Knight, entered the service of the Lich King and received an important assignment, dueled a bunch of other Death Knights instead but still got praise for it, and destroyed all but a few of the Lich King’s enemies.
“Isn’t he a little short for a Death Knight?” Nume quipped a la Princess Leia. To his chagrin, nobody laughed.
“Now wait just a minute,” started Brightbeard, an avid historian. “If Arthas is already the Lich King, then this should be the Plaguelands. But the Words say that this is nae the Plaguelands yet. Someone make note of that. Mucking about with Time is nae something that I tolerate.”
“Um, Brightbeard,” Barid interjected politely from a rock outcropping a few dozen feet away, where he had taken shelter with Nume and Ilraen. “Much as I like ta hear ya sound like me, ya might want ta move.”
Brightbeard looked up in time to see a ship sailing, straight at him, along the ground. He quickly scrambled to safety and watched the ship rumble past. The banner of the Argent Dawn whipped in the breeze as the ship continued east.
“I take it that’s not supposed to be happening?” Nume said, looking at the stunned expressions on the Warcraft agents’ faces. They shook their heads.
“None of this ought to be happening,” Ilraen remarked. “Did you see the line where he claims that he can’t remember anything? If he has no memory of these events, then how is he narrating them?”
Brightbeard recovered from his shock enough to mumble “Foul writing, that’s how,” before turning to Barid. “Lad, ye’re sure about that two hundred feet in the air, right? ’Cause we’re gonna have tae portal in there and ye ken none of us can fly.”
Barid stretched his back for a moment and looked up into the sky. He then shrugged and said, “Nope, but I’m sure it’ll be fun ta find out. Mage mon, open a portal.”
Nume grabbed the RA from Ilraen’s pack and, having no real clue where they were going, entered the coordinates for the Scarlet Enclave and adjusted for two hundred feet upward. The portal sprang open.
A short distance away, safely out of view of the agents, a shadowy figure watched the proceedings. When the portal opened the shadowy figure shook its head, cast a spell, and disappeared.
Brightbeard had a crawling sensation on the back of his neck. He looked around and asked the others, “Did any o’ ye feel like ye were bein’ watched?”
“No more than usual,” Nume muttered with a withering glance at the fourth wall.
“Don’ worry ’bout it, mon,” said Barid, rolling his sleeves up. “If I’m not back in a minute, bring a mop.” Before anyone could stop him the Troll had run at full speed through the portal. This proved to have been an ill choice when he fell right back, half in, half out of the blue hole in space-time. He looked up from the ground, slightly dazed, and smiled sheepishly. “Wall,” was all he had to offer as explanation.
Brightbeard hauled his partner to his feet, made sure he was all right, and then slapped him in the face. “If ye e’er try anything that woolheaded again, so help me, I’ll kill ye myself.” He then walked through the portal, still fuming.
Ilraen watched Nume go through, then addressed Barid: “I am not an expert on Human behavior, let alone Dwarven, but I believe that means he cares about you. My partner is the same way.”
Barid looked at Ilraen, expecting to see some indication that he was joking, but all he saw was sincerity in that blue, barble-adorned face. The thought of the Dwarf that had, only months before, tried to kill him in single combat caring made him a little nervous. It was unnatural in the World of Warcraft. “Um,” he managed, while sidling toward the portal, “t’anks?” He hopped through the portal with the certainty that, whatever atrocities were happening on the other side, it would be easier to deal with than this.
Brightbeard and Nume were hardly aware of Barid’s arrival (or Ilraen’s shortly thereafter). They were in a hallway, a short distance away from the portal, peeking around the corner at Ed Elric.
I walked to the chapel wondering what suprise they had for me. The Death Knight in charge of it there had told me to kill one of the humans there. He was a boy, why would a boy be in the Argent Dawn?
"Come to finish me off have you, hurry up now!" The boy yelled. I felt my heart beat faster than ever once I saw the face...
"What are you- Brother?" The boy gasped his grey eyes reconizing my pale face. My glowing blue eyes couldn't hide the bright gold that was behind it. I dropped my sword, it's glowing faded as I felt tears flow over.
“His skull is made of gold, then?” Nume observed. “‘It’ must refer to his whole face, that being the only singular object mentioned beforehand. Hmm . . . we should save that. It would go for a lot in trade.”
“I can help ya wit dat, mon,” Barid offered eagerly.
“No ye cannae!” growled Brightbeard. “We are here tae save those boys. Their skulls are staying put.”
“True.” Nume idly fingered his chin. “Pity, though. Waste of a good number agreement error.”
In the scene, Ed realized that he had been ordered to kill his own brother.
“Most unlikely,” Ilraen said. “The true Ed would die himself before letting any harm come to Alphonse.”
“You’re missing the fine print, pal. This is not a giant suit of armor you see before you. This would appear to be flesh and blood and stabable.”
Ilraen narrowed his eyes, which, due to his disguise, glowed pale blue. “So it would seem. That makes him . . . approximately eleven years old? And Edward is twelve?”
“The last time they both had all their squishy bits, yeah.”
The conversation was interrupted by one of the Death Knights, shouting at Ed. The agents turned back to the scene.
Al then seemed to make a desidion.
"Brother you're going to have to kill me." I gasped. My eyes set on the face of my brother.
“What?” Nume and Ilraen agreed. Nume squinted at the thing Al was making. “What is he—is that some kind of instrument?” The “desidion” looked sort of like an accordion, only a fair bit smaller and with strings.
Ilraen was more concerned about the characterization.
"If you don't they'll kill us both! Please brother, I don't want both of us to die here! But promise me this brother, fight him! Fight the Lich King, don't let him control you!" I nodded. I picked up my sword. Al nodded and I striked. He fell over dead.
“That is bullshit!”
The so-called Ed was occupied with feeling “tears pile over” in his eyes, not to mention the Death Knights who were watching him with a sadness totally inappropriate to mind-controlled undead warriors and urging him to move forward. For that reason, he didn’t notice the scuffle as three PPC agents shuffled awkwardly out of the room, barely dragging an enraged, straining Draenei between them.
“Jesus Christ, Ilraen!” Nume hissed through clenched teeth, using all his strength to restrain one massive blue arm. “What’s gotten into you?”
“Lad,” said Brightbeard to the struggling Ilraen, “ye need tae get a grip on yerself. If ye keep this up we’ll have every Death Knight in this Light-forsaken place down on us. And the Lich King himself, now that I think about it.” His tone became much more stern. “That is something that we do not want. Now control yerself before I have Barid mind control ye and march ye back tae Headquarters. Am I clear?”
After a moment the fight went out of him and he stood still. Nume let go, and the others followed suit. “That will not be necessary, Agent Brightbeard. I apologize. But as I said before, the real Edward Elric would never do that, even if Alphonse asked him to. He would never sacrifice their bond to save his own life.” He shuddered, recalling the abominable act. “This is not Edward Elric.”
Unbidden, Nume passed his hip flask to Ilraen, who downed a mouthful and handed it back.
“That remains tae be seen,” said Brightbeard, most of the edge gone from his voice. “And now is nae the time tae do anything about it if that were the case.”
“Of course,” the Andalite said stiffly. “I understand.”
Nume eyed him suspiciously. “You actually swore. You swore. That is disturbing.”
Ilraen only shrugged.
“By de way,” said Barid, who, having been accidentally struck on the head in the commotion, had a good view of the Words. “I got an answer ta de question ’bout him narratin’. He just got his mem’ry back for no apparen’ reason.”
“O frabjous day,” Nume stated. He rolled his eyes and, in doing so, glanced upward. “Oh, look. Chapter two.”
Oddly, the chapter heading, disclaimer, and author’s notes scrolled overhead much like the Star Wars opening crawl. They didn’t say anything interesting, though.
Suddenly, Ilraen cried out: “He’s getting away!” Before the others could lay hands on him, he bounded off after Ed.
“I got ’im,” said Barid as he literally leaped into action. One flurry of blue limbs later and Barid was hanging from Ilraen’s shoulders as the much larger agent continued after Edward.
A plothole formed in front of Ed, who kept walking and quickly disappeared through it, followed closely by Ilraen with his new, living cape. Barid’s feet had just disappeared through the hole when it snapped shut, leaving Nume and Brightbeard without their partners (but with Barid’s hat).
Edward Elric proceeded across the plothole-riddled landscape below at an unnatural rate, killing things as he went. Some of them were “dead things . . . that apparently came to life, but [he] didn’t care. They died again anyway.” Others were a part of the Lich King’s army—so many fell into this category, it seemed, that “he wasn’t going to win now.” How one person managed to so devastate an army that contained skeletal dragons and sundry grotesque horrors went unexplained, but it was not pleasant to watch. Ilraen was forced to slow down in order to avoid tripping over heaps of bodies, mangled in ways indescribable. Or just not described. Either way.
At about the same time, he noticed that he was carrying a Troll on his back. He had noticed when Barid jumped him, but that had been less important than keeping up with the target. Now, however, putting him down seemed like a good idea.
At about this time, Ilraen noticed the lack of Human and Dwarf in the party.
“Ya damn right, ‘uh-oh’,” Barid raged as he stood up and straightened his robe. “When someone jumps on ya back dat means ‘stop’. An’ where’s my hat?”
Ilraen looked around. “It must have come off when you, um, tackled me. It is probably with Agent Brightbeard and Nume. I thought they were following me!” he cried. This was not a good day. Any mission that started off dragging him across hundreds of miles with a sampling of the terrain along the way could not end well. “It is all the fault of this terrible Stu,” he growled, deciding in a rush of anger to ignore Brightbeard’s doubts about the matter. “We shall just have to catch up to him and . . . and deal with him ourselves, if we must. Nume has the remote activator; he should be able to meet us again when we get there.”
“Well, if ya want ta catch up we gonna need ta move fasta,” explained Barid as he started to move his hands in front of his chest. A few moments later there was a puff of smoke and he was suddenly sitting astride a purple, armored raptor. He looked down at Ilraen and said, “Well? Why ya just standin’ dere? Mount up!”
Ilraen moved toward the raptor, planning to climb on behind Barid, but the raptor turned to face him and let out a screech. It did not seem to like the Draenei disguise that Ilraen was wearing.
“Sorry, mon. She don’t like de Alliance much,” said Barid as he stroked his mount’s head. “She be an old fashioned t’inker. Ya gonna have ta summon ya own mount.”
“Um . . . .” He did his best to mimic what Barid had done with his hands. “Like this?” There were a few tense moments before Ilraen disappeared in a puff of smoke and reappeared on the back of what looked to be a small blueish elephant with back-swept horns as well as tusks, and a very small trunk. The horns were responsible for Ilraen staying on as he flailed about in surprise at the sudden change: he instinctively grabbed onto them and managed to regain his equilibrium. The elekk then tossed its head and threw him on the ground, trumpeting in irritation.
“Ow.” He ignored Barid’s raucous laughter and climbed back on. “That will do. Let’s go.”
They moved much faster now, and shortly made it to what should have been a mere chapel—Light’s Hope. Now, however, it was a temple. There was a ship parked on the ground outside, still flying the flag of the Argent Dawn. The agents were just in time to see Ed fight a bunch of random knights. It was a fairly boring battle; it more closely resembled a game of tag than an actual fight. Ed managed to make it through without being killed and without killing anyone else. He was “even almost killed by their leader too, I knew his name it just hard to remember at the moment.”
“’E just killed a bunch of stuff,” said Barid, “and none of it attacked him. Why would ’e not kill de ones dat do attack ’im? And I t’ought ’e got ’is mem’ry back, so ’e should be able ta remember de name of de leader. Dat’s just lazy.” He followed the group as they moved inside, all the while shaking his head and mumbling about not understanding the world anymore.
“It looks like he wishes to make friends now,” Ilraen observed as he and Barid secreted themselves behind a non-canonical (but very handy) pillar. “See, he is giving them information.”
"Hey, just to tell you, The Lich King guy is planning on raiding your little temple." I said to the guy who had his back to me. He didn't seem to like me, I could understand that. I was one of the Death Knights he was after before I kinda came here and said I didn't care for the Wanna-Be An-Undead-King anymore.
Barid stood there for a moment with his mouth hanging open. That anyone could be so casual about the Lich King was shocking. “Ya may not like de Lich King, but dammit, ya betta respect ’im or ya gonna find yaself in a world a’ dead.”
Ilraen scowled quizzically. “Edward Elric is not known for showing respect to authority. It pains me to acknowledge it, but this may be a step toward proper characterization.” He took the Canon Analysis Device from his bag, but hesitated to activate it.
The unidentified man Ed was talking to “turned around in slight confusion,” no doubt wondering where the hell the boy had come from and how he got there.
"What makes you say this?" He asked, gees, I wasn't going to kill you! He had his hand on the handle of his big sword.
"Well, I heard him say it before, 'After we attack from the skys we will go on foot to their temple and destroy it,' it was pretty clear from there." I shrugged.
“If they can attack from above, why bother to send ground troops?” Ilraen wondered. “Why not simply blow up the temple?”
The man seemed a bit surprised, how did I get this information? Well I was coming to report to the Lich King and since he was in the planning room well yeah you get it right?
“Did ’e just break de fourt’ wall?” asked a confused Barid. “I t’ink ’e just broke de fourt’ wall. Brightbeard, write dat . . . oh, right. Never mind.”
“Nume keeps our charge list, as well,” Ilraen muttered. “I wonder what is keeping them? They should be here.”
“Dey probably stopped ta have a drink,” said Barid, dismissively. “Dey know we can handle dis.”
Ilraen blinked. He was pretty sure Nume trusted him to an extent, such as the extent of carrying the supplies, but actual confidence in his ability was a new concept for him. “You think so?”
“Oh yeah,” said Barid. “Dey know dat we got raw skill. Give yaself more credit.”
“I am not sure that word means what you think it means,” said Ilraen, who was more familiar with “raw” in terms of “raw recruit”—especially when served with other uncooked items such as “green rookie” and “half-baked notion” (season to taste).
Further speculation on this subject was cut short when, due to a stray comma and awful paragraphing, Ed started talking to himself:
"Another question," I groaned. "Why would the Lich King make a Death Knight out of a child like you?" I was pissed now.
"ARE YOU SAYING I'M TO SMALL TO BE A DEATH KNIGHT!" I demanded my sword above his head.
“Why must you choose now to act like yourself?” Ilraen lamented. Fearing the results, he pointed the CAD at Ed.
[403.10 Error. Please reload universe and install character,] it said. Then, not knowing what else to do, it fizzed dangerously in preparation for an explosion.
“That will not be necessary,” Ilraen said through gritted teeth. It stopped fizzing, but with a defiant pop, the screen went black anyway.
“Huh,” grunted Barid. “Never seen one do dat before.” He looked from the CAD to the scene that was still going on.
A Night Elf had suddenly appeared on the scene and “was about to cast a spell.” The man under Ed’s sword was not worried because he had a helmet on under his hat, and “The others watched with amusement, they knew [Ed] wasn't really going to kill him.” Also, he had a helmet on under his hat. Which was funnier? You be the judge.
“Dat reminds me of a joke,” said Barid with a smile. “A Deat’ Knight walks into de Light’s Hope Chapel an waves ’is sword around. Den dey all kill ’im for bein’ a walkin’ abomination. At least, dat’s what should be happenin’ ’ere.”
“It’s funny cause de Deat’ Knight gets dead,” explained Barid with a chuckle. “Good joke, idn’t it?”
“Oh. I see.” He didn’t, but that was beside the point.
Ilraen took a moment to size up the situation. He was convinced that Ed had been thrown irrevocably OOC when he had killed his brother. Yet, thinking about what Barid had said about their partners trusting them made him uncertain. What if he was wrong, and it turned out he didn’t know what he was doing after all? Ed had seemed to come around in the last few paragraphs, and there was that odd CAD reading to consider. The fact remained, though: for some reason, Ed had killed Al. Just thinking about it made Ilraen uncomfortably tight and squirmy inside, like there was something trying to get out of him. Something with teeth. He didn’t like the idea of taking the initiative for the kill, but there was still no sign of their partners, and now looked to be the best opportunity they were going to get to carry out the Duty. So, lacking further guidance, he spoke to Barid again. “These people do not seem interested in Edward’s fate. If you grab him, I believe we can get him to a less crowded location with little difficulty.”
“Okay den. We wanna take ’im outside?” asked Barid. “’Cause I can get ’im to walk outta ’ere wit’out me havin’ ta get killed in de process.”
“How? He brutally murdered his primary motivator. What else is left?” Bitter? Meet sarcasm.
“Just watch an’ be ready ta do somet’in’ when dis is over, ’cause he is not gonna be happy.” Barid started to cast a spell. To the naked eye, very little happened. It appeared that Ed simply decided to put his sword down and walk out the door. Barid was frozen in his spell-casting pose.
Ilraen lost a few moments in concern for the suddenly unmoving Troll, but in the end the Duty won out. Barid probably knew what he was doing, anyway. Ilraen left the chapel and went after Ed. When the boy stopped walking, Ilraen took the opportunity to tie his hands behind his back. Shortly thereafter, Ed blinked and looked around. The boy’s eyes fixed on the chapel and, with a cry of rage, he charged toward it.
Of course, having one’s hands tied can upset one’s balance terribly. And so can running into a heavily muscled blue tail.
Barid came rushing out of the chapel just in time to see Ed fall face-down in the dirt. He quickly made his way to his temporary partner. He looked down at Ed and then at Ilraen. “You wanna do de honors?”
“I must.” He reached down with one massive hand and pulled the boy to his feet. “Gary Stu, alias Edward Elric, you are charged with crimes against writing in general and against the canons of Fullmetal Alchemist and World of Warcraft in particular. You will stand and hear your charges.” Ed struggled, but there really wasn’t anything he could do against a creature more than twice his size. It was like going up against Major Armstrong, only without the sparkles. Pretending to fight with him gave Ilraen time to remember the charges, though, which he rather needed. With neither the written charge sheet or Nume’s memory, he was on his own.
“On the authority of the Protectors of the Plot Continuum, I hereby charge you with appearing in Azeroth for no good reason; causing geographical aberrations in the form of plotholes that allow you to cross vast distances with no difficulty; causing Agents of the PPC to be forcibly dragged across aforesaid distances; causing the creation of mini . . . um . . . .”
“WHO ARE YOU CALLING TOO SMALL HE'D HAVE TO USE A LADDER TO EVEN SEE OVER A BLADE OF GRASS!” Ed shouted ungrammatically.
“Well, minis; failing to act in-character even when you make a belated token effort to do so; causing a ship to sail across the ground, which it has no business doing; being in places you have no business being; forgetting everything and yet still narrating about it before your memory returned; and most importantly, the murder of Alphonse Elric.” His eyes, already glowing naturally due to his Draenei disguise, flared as they narrowed in anger. “You do not seem to understand the nature of the bond between the two brothers. When you have a bond with someone, you do not break it. Ever. Even if your own life is at risk. With a bond like that, you do everything you can to protect that person, even if you die trying. You did not die before when you should have; therefore, it is my duty to see that you die now. Any final words?”
Death Knight!Ed just glared sullenly at Ilraen.
“In that case, unless I am forgetting any important charges . . . ?”
“Bein’ a pain in my ass?”
“Ah, yes: being a hemorrhoid. For this and your other heinous crimes, you are sentenced to death. Goodbye.” Ilraen pulled out the crossbow that had come with the disguise. For a moment, he hesitated, but he’d gone too far to stop now. He shot Death Knight!Ed through the neck, partially severing several important structures. Ed fell to the ground, and Barid moved in to finish severing the head.
Head in hands, Barid set to work on the grizzly process of removing the skin from the head, revealing the solid gold skull beneath the surface. “You can have dat,” said Barid, motioning to the skull. “I won’ be needin’ it.”
“Thank you. My partner will appreciate it.” Gingerly, he wrapped the skull in a swath of cloth torn from the deceased’s garments, unable to look at it directly. “Now . . . where are they?”
Brightbeard picked up the purple hat that was all that remained of his partner. “Well, that was unexpected. I’m nae sure who tae feel more sorry fer.”
“This is ridiculous.” Nume scratched the back of his head, scowling. “He’s never done anything like that before. He’s always been . . . biddable.”
“They say ’tis the quiet ones that ye must beware,” said the sage-like Dwarf. “In any case, we’d best nae leave them unsupervised.”
Nume lifted the remote activator. “Understatement. Colossal.” He set the portal to “Home in on Sue” and walked through—
—and found himself back where he’d been mere minutes ago, in the chamber where Al’s body lay. Brightbeard was right behind him and very confused.
“This does nae seem tae be the right place,” he said, a note of panic in his voice. He had just realized that he was standing mere feet behind Arthas Menethil, the Lich King. He motioned for Nume to be quiet and slowly edged toward the door.
Nume followed more casually, poking crossly at the RA. Not being familiar with the Warcraft Universe, he didn’t appreciate the gravity of the situation, and he trusted the SEP field to keep them from notice. “I set it right . . . I know I did. What the hell?” He threw his head back in exasperation and, once again, noticed author’s notes crawling into the established vanishing point.
Mean while with our really OOC Lich King who's a bit to occupied (or drunk) to teliport Ed back to that huge thingy in the air...
The Human’s mouth hung slightly agape. The Comedic Laws of Quoting Pop Culture saw an opening. “I have a bad feeling about this.”
“I’ve got more than a feeling,” said Brightbeard from the corner. “Take a look at the Lich King and tell me if ye see anything odd.”
“More odd than an author admitting to ignoring proper characterization?” Nume muttered, shaking his head. He gave the Lich King a look anyway. He tilted his head. “Is he supposed to have eyes that particular shade of Barbie pink?”
“Nay,” said the Dwarf gravely. “I think we may have found the problem in this fic.” Brightbeard watched as the Lich King walked over to Al’s body. A look at the Words made everything a bit clearer.
The reason left his mind, he didn't care.
“Holy Light,” said Brightbeard as realization dawned. “They’ve possessed the Lich King!”
“So we have two possessed characters, then. Great.”
“Nay. I believe it may be just this one,” said Brightbeard. “D’ye see the helm that the Lich King wears? That is the Helm of Domination. With that he can control almost anyone that he wants to—especially the undead.”
“And this is relevant?” Nume glanced at the scene. The Lich King ordered an attendant “Death Kight” to prepare Al’s body for a ritual. How the floating knight-shaped “kight” was going to manage it, the Human had no idea.
“Dinnae ye see? Ed is a Death Knight and Death Knights are undead. By makin’ him undead, the author-wraith has complete control over him through the helm.”
Gradually, Nume’s grey eyes widened. “Oh. Shit. Shit. I’m gonna kill Ilraen. Damn newbie finally shows some initiative and he’s after the wrong frelling target! When did he get so damned touchy, anyway?” He covered his eyes and shook his head, realizing that he was ranting pointlessly. “Well, we have to make sure they don’t do anything stupid.”
“Aye, we need tae find them and come up with a plan. But how are we supposed tae find them? They could be anywhere by now.”
“I believe that I may be of some assistance there,” said a high-pitched voice from behind the agents. When they spun around they beheld a female Gnome in bronze-colored robes. “I know where the Troll and Draenei are.”
Nume stared at the odd apparition, eyes narrowed. “Who the hell are you?”
“Allow me to explain,” began the Gnome. “My name is Voltarmi, of the Bronze Dragonflight. We have been monitoring this divergent timeline for quite a while. We were going to handle this ourselves until the inclusion of the two human children in the events. We were not sure where they came from until you showed up, Agent Brightbeard.”
“I . . . what?” Brightbeard was at a loss. He had never encountered a bronze dragon before.
“I must be losing my mind.” Nume took a quick pull from his flask, trying to gather his wits. Bleepka wouldn’t precisely help with that, but it did have little-remembered anti-anxiety properties, and it allowed him to play for time. He wiped his mouth before speaking again. “All right. First of all, any explaining you want to do should be as comprehensive as possible. A name and a faction I’ve never heard of aren’t gonna cut it. Second, and this really concerns me a lot more, how does the Dwarf coming on the scene tell you anything about those kids?”
“I apologize,” said Voltarmi. “I had not realized that you were unaware of these things. We in the Bronze Dragonflight are the keepers of Time. If a mage were to go back in time to make himself a king, we would have to step in to enforce the natural timeline. As I understand it, we do much the same thing that your PPC does.”
Brightbeard regained his composure at the mention of the PPC. “Now wait a minute. Ye should nae have any idea that the PPC e’en exists. None of this should be happening.”
“I can explain that, as well. We have been aware of the PPC since tracking a certain problem in Orgrimmar. I think you will recall the event, Agent Brightbeard, as it was also your first encounter with the PPC. We saw two strangely dressed women clean up a very glittery mess and cart you and the Troll off through an odd portal. Since then, we have moved in several times to fix divergent timelines, only to find that you and the Troll were already on the scene.” The Gnome smiled a little as she said, “I really must thank you, you’ve made our jobs much easier.”
Brightbeard had followed the whole explanation and, indeed, remembered the event of his recruitment. He managed a weak “ye’re welcome” at the last. Nume followed well enough, but he only folded his arms impatiently.
“Anyway, I haven’t answered your question yet, have I?” remarked the dragon in Gnome’s clothing. “I suppose the short of it is that when Brightbeard and Barid showed up, we knew that the children did not belong in this world and that they would soon no longer occupy it.”
“That is the plan,” Nume agreed cautiously. He knew that there were certain canonical beings in the multiverse that knew about the PPC, but he had never personally been confronted with any before, and having his customary anonymity suddenly revoked made him nervous. He also knew that the Flowers That Be preferred to keep the number of beings “in the know” to a minimum, and a whole faction of dragons in that category didn’t seem right. “And, you’d help us just because?”
“I would help you because we have the same goal. We both wish to return these beings to their rightful courses. Is that not a reason to help each other?”
“Aye, that is a good enough reason fer me,” said Brightbeard. He then turned to Nume. “We could use the help.”
“Hrm. I can think of a lot of things I could use right now,” the Human grumbled. A drink topped the list, followed closely by a break and another drink. “Even so: powerful, mysterious female appears out of nowhere, claiming to know things and offering to make our problems go away. Does this sound annoyingly familiar to anyone but me?”
Brightbeard looked at the toes of his boots. “Aye, a bit. But she may have information that could help us. We cannae turn that down, can we?”
“We’ll see.” Nume fixed the dragon with a look that brooked no bullshit. “If you’ve got more to say, let’s hear it.”
“Well,” began the dragon, “your partners have killed the Human child known as Ed.”
There was a brief moment of silence before the storm broke. Nume wasn’t particularly creative at cursing, but he made up for it with volume and enthusiasm. “I knew something was wrong with him!” he spat when he’d wound down enough to be coherent again.
“I sensed that it was not that boy’s time to die,” Voltarmi said sympathetically. “He has another destiny. I experienced a similar insight when Ed murdered the other boy. As it is too late to do anything about the deaths, I propose to take you back to an earlier time so that you may get the children back to their natural courses.”
Cue dramatic fanfare and cut.
“All right,” said Barid from his seat on a log, “ya gotta let de juju flow tru ya. Close ya eyes and t’ink a summomin’ ya pet. Let go’a angah and feah, feel de juju. Stretch out wit’ ya feelin’s!”
Ilraen closed his eyes, rocking backward slightly. “You know, I do feel something,” he said. “I can almost see the pet.”
“Dat’s good. Ya’ve taken ya first step inta a larger world.” Barid was about to continue the lesson when movement caught his eye. As it turned out, there was a very large dragon flying straight at him. He only had time to yell “Duck!” as he threw himself at the ground. Ilraen yelped and followed suit, diving behind the log for cover.
However, the dragon didn’t seem interested in chomping, flaming, or even squashing them. It landed a few feet away, and the worst that happened was that they got a light coating of dirt.
“Lads,” yelled Brightbeard from somewhere on the back of the dragon, “it’s time tae go. Climb up.”
Barid raised his head and looked at the dragon. He saw his partner and Nume sitting just forward of the dragon’s wings. They seemed to have made a crude harness of rope to hold onto. He looked into his partner’s eyes and yelled back, “What took ya so long? We bin waitin’ forevah!”
“You morons!” Nume shouted. “Do you have any idea what a mess you’ve made of things? Get up here, now!”
Ilraen got up and started toward Death Knight!Ed’s corpse, but Nume called for him to leave it. Confused and more than a little nervous around the large predator, not to mention his exceptionally pissed off partner, he scrambled onto the dragon’s back after Barid. Voltarmi beat her wings and leaped into the air again.
“What is happening?” Ilraen tried to ask. Nume said something in reply, but the rush of the air and the flapping of the dragon’s wings carried away all attempts at speech, so his words came out “Something something something ‘Dark Side’, something something complete—idiots!” Ilraen didn’t ask again. The look on Nume’s face, bright red from a combination of wind-lash and shouting, was enough to tell him that he was in trouble.
It was a quick trip and, when they had reached their destination, it was Barid’s turn to be nervous. They were back in Stormwind City, far too close to the palace for the Troll’s comfort.
Brightbeard jumped off the dragon’s back headed into the keep. He yelled over his shoulder, “I’ll be back. Stay put and keep Barid from doing anything stupid.”
Barid was about to yell something indignant back when he noticed a portal open about twenty feet away. All he could manage was, “Uh . . . guys?”
The three agents (and a dragon) watched as Nume, then Barid, Brightbeard, and Ilraen came through the portal and fell over for no apparent reason. Barid guffawed at the sight, it being much funnier now that it wasn’t happening to him. Nume groaned as he saw himself shrink in stature and sport a blond braid in the instant before the four were whisked off by the narrative.
“Isn’t this some sort of paradox?” Ilraen tentatively wondered aloud. “Are we in danger of losing our minds, do you think?”
“What you have just seen was a shadow of how the events unfolded before you were brought back to this point in time,” explained Voltarmi. “I am not entirely sure, but I believe that you exist outside of Azeroth’s Time, possibly by virtue of your status as non-natives. I will have to research this matter further.”
“But some of us do be natives,” said Barid. “I come from de Darkspear Tribe. I was born in Razorhill.”
“You may have given up your native status when you joined your PPC,” theorized the dragon. “As such you have lost much that once connected you to our world.”
“Also,” Nume added, “there’s a bit of technology in the uniform that specifically keeps canonical beings from re-assimilating with their continuum of origin, should they go there on a mission. It wouldn’t do to have agents wandering off to take part in canonical events because they suddenly think they’re random bit-characters again. Just think of the continuum contamination if they got killed, in uniform, with their PPC gear on.” Something about his tone when he said that last made the other two very glad that there were rules against leaving dead agents lying around.
At that point, Brightbeard came back from the keep. He was holding a book under one arm and stuffing another into a belt pouch that looked like it wouldn’t hold out much longer. “I got ’em. Now, let’s get this circus on the road.”
Nume gave the Dwarf an odd look, feeling certain he’d said something similar earlier. Brightbeard didn’t seem to notice.
Barid, who hadn’t heard anything about a plan, was quite confused. “Eamon, de trip ain’t dat long. Why ya need s’many books?”
Brightbeard scurried up to the dragon’s back, handed a book titled The Birth of the Lich King to Nume, and said, “We’re gonna exorcise Arthas Menethil.”
“Ya gotta be totally batshit, mon,” said the Troll with a laugh, sure his partner was joking. “We got Ed, why we goin’ tru all dis hassle?”
Nume sighed. “Because you weren’t supposed to kill him, you twit! The author-wraith is using the Lich King to warp things, so there was nothing wrong with him apart from being undead and mind-controlled—until you decapitated him, that is.”
Upon hearing this, Ilraen paled and shrank against the dragon’s back, no small feat in a disguise approximately the size of a tractor. So that was what Nume yelled at him earlier. He felt sick.
“So now,” Nume continued, “instead of trying to undo your mess on top of a bad case of zombie-ism, we’re just going to stop it all from happening in the first place.”
Voltarmi took that to be her cue and launched herself into flight. Though the possessed Lich King was their ultimate purpose, she took them first to the “place outside of the Plaugue Lands” where they had previously been deposited after being dragged halfway across the continent. This trip was much easier. When they arrived, they found Ed and Al shaking hands with members of the Argent Dawn. (Their big ground-sailing ship was parked nearby.) The agents had been too shaken to watch this part of the fic before, but they hadn’t missed much: the alchemists had simply stayed there until the Scourge attacked and captured Ed. However, that wasn’t going to happen this time.
As soon as the Scourge appeared, Brightbeard launched himself into the fray, his war-hammer laying waste to any undead mindless enough to come within range. Barid cursed under his breath at his partner’s reckless nature, completely missing the irony of this, and began casting a healing spell. Ilraen, who, like Barid, had no idea what the plan was, had to be instructed by means of a shouting Nume to provide cover fire with his crossbow. Meanwhile, Mage!Nume tapped into his mana with an ease that seemed almost instinctive. A few seconds later, shards of cutting ice and hail rained down on the undead, hampering their movements while slicing them to ribbons, making it that much easier for Ilraen’s arrows or Brightbeard’s hammer to fell them. After a few minutes there was a pile of broken undead and the boys were still where they had been before the undead had appeared.
“Well done,” called the dragon from where she was sunning herself atop the ground-ship.
“Ye could’ve helped,” said a sweaty Brightbeard. “I’m fairly certain ye could’ve saved us all a lot of trouble.”
“I suppose you are right,” conceded Voltarmi, “but I had every confidence that you had everything well in hand.”
“If ye’re not gonna help in the fighting, then at least keep an eye on the children while we go fer the Lich King.”
“I shall have no problem doing so,” said the dragon. She leaped into the air, swooped down, and snatched up the Elric brothers. Since they were under the dominion of the possessed Lich King—not as completely as they would be as Death Knights, but still—they didn’t protest. She deposited them on the ship and went back to sunning herself.
“Now that we’ve settled that,” said Brightbeard, “I think it’s time tae be on our way. Nume, if ye could open a portal to Acherus, the Black Hold, please.”
“Make sure to set it one hundred and fifty feet north of where it was the first time,” Voltarmi said lazily. “I had to shift it magically so that you wouldn’t need to learn to fly.”
The agents stared at her a moment, each with his own slightly glazed look of contemplating an untimely splatting. Brightbeard was the first to recover.
“That was ye, wasn’t it? I knew I felt someone watching us. I dinnae ken how it took me this long tae figure it out.”
“I would have saved us,” Ilraen said, bravely rallying the tatters of his self-respect. “There would have been time to drop this disguise and use my dragon morph.”
“I’ve no doubt,” said the dragon, “and a big strapping dragon you would make. I would very much like to see that at some point.” This was followed by a wink and the suggestion of a smile.
“The morph is female,” Nume growled. “And good luck explaining the subtext. I’ll be in Acherus doing my job if anyone needs me.” He walked stiffly through the now-correctly-oriented portal, leaving Ilraen looking at the others in mute appeal.
Brightbeard pushed Barid through the portal before the Troll could even attempt to explain anything to Ilraen. The Dwarf shot a slightly amused look at the poor Andalite before following his partner. Rather than remain alone with the winking dragon, Ilraen shook his head and went after the others.
On the other side of the portal was an empty hallway where Barid was trying to get some answers. “Is anyone gonna tell me what de plan is? How we gonna do dis? Please, for de love o’ everyt’ing dat’s holy, tell me we got more guys comin’.”
Brightbeard had switched out his war-hammer for a smaller, one-handed mace and a shield. “We’re going in there and we are gonna exorcise the Lich King. There are two things that are really going tae make this difficult. Number one: Frostmourne; that sword is dangerous. As I’ll be the only one stupid enough tae be in sword range, I’ll deal with it. Number two: the Helm of Domination; as long as he has that helm he can command all the Death Knights in this Light-forsaken place tae do his bidding. I’ll leave ye three tae get the helm off o’ him.” He made sure his own helmet was sitting securely on his head. “And it’s just us today.”
Barid fell silent for a moment and then turned to Brightbeard with a serious look that seemed very out of place on his face. “I guess dat means it’s my job ta keep ya bacon from fryin’. I’ll be de designated life support for dis evenin’.”
Brightbeard began to pray and a glowing symbol appeared above his head for a moment. A few seconds later a different symbol appeared over Barid’s head, then over Nume’s head. A third symbol appeared over Ilraen’s head. Not wanting to be outdone, Barid said a short prayer and made a symbol appear over everyone’s heads all at the same time. In turn, Nume waved his hands in the air and a stylized blue eye hovered over each of them.
Ilraen, feeling quite left out, scowled at his partner. “I cannot understand how you know what to do,” he complained. “You know no more of this world than I do, and yet . . . .” He gestured at the fading spell effect.
Nume glanced at the other two agents, considering his words. Then, making up his mind, he said frankly: “I can see the game interface. Just like looking at the Words. Only not.”
Brightbeard nodded for a moment and said “Clever, lad,” with a note of satisfaction in his voice.
Barid attempted to see the interface without the hassle of hitting himself in the head. He was not successful. Ilraen squinted and tilted his head in a similar effort, but had no more luck than Barid.
“Don’t let it distract you,” Nume advised. “You just set the exorcism circle as soon as you can and try to get that helm off him. Shoot it off if you have to. I’ll try to slow the target as much as possible to make it easier. All right? Are we ready?”
Brightbeard and Barid shared a look and nodded to each other. Brightbeard pulled his shield up to combat position and said, “I’ll lead the way.” He led them down a short length of hallway and, turning a corner, brought them to the “chapel” where the Lich King waited for Ed to be brought in.
Without warning, Brightbeard launched into the room yelling “For the Canon!” at the top of his lungs. As he did that, a glowing shield-figure shot out from his own shield and slammed into the Lich King. The battle was on.
The Lich King reacted violently and, though his erratic movements proved that he really was drunk like the last author’s note suggested, began landing blows on Brightbeard, who planted himself solidly before him and took the hits. Barid attempted to keep his partner from dying by pumping him full of as much healing energy as he could, and Nume bombarded Arthas with freezing spells that briefly immobilized him each time they hit, buying the others crucial seconds. Since there was no chance of isolating the Lich King in order to get a circle of chalk and candles around him, Ilraen was obliged to draw it around him and Brightbeard both, giving the combatants a wide berth and scuttling well back from the fight as quickly as possible.
As Brightbeard continued his war of attrition with the Lich King, he yelled over the clang of sword on shield. “The helm, lad. Get the helm!”
Rather pointlessly, Ilraen nodded, too breathless with nerves to speak. He lined up a shot with his crossbow and fired. The bolt clanged off the helmet and skittered away. It didn’t even make a dent.
Brightbeard was beginning to doubt that they could manage this at all. The Lich King, drunk though he was, was still far more powerful than they should be able to defeat. This was only re-enforced when the Lich King brought Frostmourne around in a vicious arc and shattered the Dwarf’s shield. Brightbeard had only moments to react before the next blow. He threw everything he had into one all-out attack; golden wings of pure, holy energy sprouted from his back and he brought his mace up to connect with the Lich King’s downstroke. When sword met mace the mace won, though its head was shattered beyond repair and the reverberations in the handle made Brightbeard’s hands go numb. Frostmourne was ripped from the Lich King’s hands and slid across the room to rest in a corner.
The Lich King was stunned for a moment. He should get his sword and finish this foolish Paladin for good, but, in his drunkenness and rage, he decided to kill him with his bare hands instead. He brought one fist back to level a blow that would split the Dwarf’s skull.
Nume’s latest spell fizzled, and Barid was devoting all his energy to healing the massive damage inflicted on Brightbeard. That left it up to Ilraen to stop the Lich King’s attack, and he was wholly without direction. The target hadn’t even noticed the shot bouncing off his head, and even a hit to his body wouldn’t arrest the blow aimed at the Dwarf. His instincts as an Andalite from a race of warriors told him to throw himself into the fray if he had to, and this he was prepared to do to save a comrade, but he was too far away. He needed help.
Help, he thought desperately, casting about with his mind. Anything!
And suddenly, his options were laid out before his mind’s eye, arrayed neatly in rows of colorful icons. He saw the one he wanted and selected it.
The Lich King began to bring the killing blow down. He stared hatred at the insignificant worm that had dared strike him. As his fist came into the truncated view that he had through the eye-holes in his helm, an orange-red blur slammed into his face. His punch was stopped in mid-strike as he tried to dislodge the beast from the front of his helm, but to no avail. All he could see was a confusion of orange-red scales and feathers through the holes in his helmet until, so quickly that he didn’t know what had happened for a moment, the helm was gone, carried away by the creature. He only had enough time to register the change before the Dwarf was in his view again and swinging something at his head.
“Avaunt!” yelled Brightbeard as he swung the book Civil War in the Plaguelands up into the face of Arthas. “Get behind me, spirit of bad writing! Begone, spirits of contrived plot devices and laziness! In the name of KOITER I command thee!”
As the Dwarf stopped to catch his breath, Nume stepped forward and brought The Birth of the Lich King down in a flurry of blows about Arthas’ head and shoulders. “In the name of ARAKAWA I banish awful characterization, improbable skeletal construction, and transdimensional snatching! No more shall ye drag canon characters from their home continuum without a bloody good reason, foul dwimmerlaik!”
A mist began to rise from the body of the Lich King, but clung stubbornly about him. Brightbeard took the opportunity to toss books to Ilraen and Barid.
Ilraen stepped up, wielding The Scourge of Lordaeron. “For the most heinous crime of inciting Edward Elric to murder his own brother against his characterization, I smite thee!” Eyes alight, he bashed Arthas solidly in the chest. The lich’s armor rattled.
Barid was the last to step up. He carried The Lich King Triumphant in his blue hands and found the irony to be wonderful. He slapped Arthas across the face with the book. “I call ta de spirits of timeline and geography; come back ta dis place. I banish all de bad storytellin’ and release dis world from deir grip. De power’a BLIZZARD compels ya! Get outta me face and outta me world!”
The author-wraith fully congealed into an urple cloud hanging over Arthas’ head. “Sorry I am sorta hyper and such,” it gibbered. “The strange Omake thing actually goes to my dad 'cause he came up with it. lol.” Ilraen shot a crossbow bolt through its face. It vanished.
Nume took control of the situation. He pulled a neuralyzer from Ilraen’s pack and, once the agents had their eyes covered, flashed Arthas before he could recover from the exorcism. He turned to his partner. “Ilraen, go get the helmet back from that thing. It’s yours, right? What is it?”
The thing in question most closely resembled a sea dragon. It had wings covered in translucent feathers and a beak that looked like it could do some damage, but no legs. It hovered protectively over the Helm of Domination and watched Ilraen for instructions.
“That is a dragonhawk,” said Brightbeard. “Very noble and majestic; especially that one. Did ye see the way it came out of nowhere and went straight for the Lich King’s eyes? Beautiful. Simply poetry in motion.”
“It came to me at the last second,” Ilraen explained as he lifted it onto his forearm, where it loosely curled its tail in a prehensile loop. He retrieved the helmet and handed it to his partner. “I finally saw how to call it—just like you said, Nume. It was all so clear for a moment.” He stroked the creature’s head thoughtfully.
“Well, don’t get attached, ’cause you’re not keeping it,” the Human said. “Shut your eyes again,” he added. The effects of the first neuralyzer treatment were wearing off, so he flashed Arthas a second time. “Right. Arthas Menethil, also known as the Lich King, it’s been a really normal day. Crushing foes, raising minions, whatever it is you do on a regular basis. We were never here, you’ve never heard of Edward or Alphonse Elric, and you never turned either one of them into a Death Knight. Oh, and should we happen to still be in sight when this wears off, you have better things to do than kill us, thanks.” He turned to the others. “Let’s not give him the chance anyway.” With a jerk of his head, he indicated that they should beat a hasty retreat back the way they came while he reset the portal.
On the deck of the ground-ship, suddenly freed from the influence of the possessed Lich King, the Elric brothers realized they were nowhere near anyplace they were supposed to be and had no idea how they’d gotten there. They might have taken it all in stride, except that they also realized there was a large bronze dragon nearby, watching them intently. This was rather unnerving.
The dragon, in an effort to ease their worries, smiled as only a dragon can. It did not have the desired effect. It did, however, have the effect of making the boys scream and pat their pockets in a hurried fashion, calling for chalk.
At that moment, a portal opened nearby and the PPC agents returned from their battle with the Lich King. They looked exhausted and Brightbeard was cradling the remains of what had been his favorite tanking mace. Ilraen released the dragonhawk to explore the ship’s deck.
“I am glad to see you return,” said Voltarmi. “I am very much at a loss when it comes to children. They seem to want to draw with chalk, if you have any handy.”
“No, we are not going to provide the budding alchemists with chalk,” Nume said wearily. “That would be a bad idea.” He tossed the RA to Ilraen and calibrated the neuralyzer.
“Wh—who the hell are you people?” Ed shouted, finding his voice now that it seemed the dragon wasn’t going to eat them on the spot. He thrust his brother behind him and faced down the agents. “Is this some kind of test? Do you work for Sensei?”
Nume paused thoughtfully. “Hmm. It might seem like the kind of thing Izumi would do, but no. We’re actually here to send you back to her. Ilraen, get out the decontaminator. Set it for . . . ” he rattled off a ridiculously complicated string of parameters that defined the character being scanned, their canon of origin, the exact time and place they were to be returned to by episode, and which edition of the canon material he was using as a source. The Anachronism Detector (as it was properly called) was proof, in the words of Despatcher Meg Thornton, that Makes-Things could be the Bastard Engineer From Hell, when it suited him.
Fortunately, Nume’s memory and Ilraen’s response time were a match for the device. Despite looks of deep misgiving on the part of the boys, Ilraen waved the wand over each of them and pronounced them free of cultural contamination. Nume neuralyzed them and informed them this had all been a very strange but ultimately forgettable dream; they were to go have a drink of water and get back to sleep. Ilraen opened a portal to Amestris and saw that they made it to their beds before letting it close.
“All right,” said Barid, “Now dat dat’s done, we can get back to de business of not doin’ work. To de pub! I know a great place in de sewers of Dalaran. Ya’ll love it.”
“Sewers?” Nume raised an eyebrow (“You’ve Got To Be Kidding” Level 2) and turned to Brightbeard, expecting a quick end to the matter. He was not disappointed, though not quite as relieved as he’d hoped.
“As much as I approve of that idea,” sighed the Dwarf, “the pub will have tae wait. We’ve got tae do something about this ground-ship and this dragon—and I need tae get my mace and shield replaced.”
“The armory in Headquarters might have those things,” Ilraen suggested. “I haven’t been there myself, but I have heard about it.”
“I suppose it might have them,” commented Brightbeard, “but I am not sure that they would be as effective as something from Azeroth. My old equipment had added benefits that ye cannae get just anywhere. I’d explain it tae ye, but it is all very meta.” He thought for a moment and said, “I know a guy in the Dwarven District of Stormwind City. He does good work, even if he is a Human.”
“Well,” said Barid, who was still looking for a way to get to a pub, “I can’ go wit ya if ya go dere. I guess I gotta go somewhere else for a while. See ya.” He started to walk away.
“Hold it, lad,” commanded Brightbeard. “While we’re in Stormwind, why dinnae ye take the ground-ship back tae Headquarters? It needs tae get tae the hangar.”
Nume made a sweeping gesture that caused his red robes to ripple elegantly. “What about her?”
“Oh,” said a startled Voltarmi, “I suppose I should be getting back to the Caverns of Time. I have to make my report, and I’ll have a new assignment waiting. There’s always someone tampering with things they ought not.”
Brightbeard looked to Nume for a moment, then looked back at the dragon and said, “I dinnae suppose that a neuralyzer would work on the likes o’ ye, would it?”
“It hasn’t so far,” said the dragon, who had neglected to shut her eyes during the neuralyzation of Ed and Al. Dragons were curious by nature, after all. “I am always able to see my past, present, and future. To me they are all happening concurrently.”
“How about,” Nume proposed, “you don’t make that report? In fact, maybe it’s best if you come with us. We really don’t need a whole faction of canon characters knowing about us. You’re not some kind of major player in world events, are you? That’s a whole level of awkward I do not need right now.”
“As far as the world at large is concerned,” explained Voltarmi, “the Bronze Dragonflight is little more than myth. There are those that know of our existence and have helped us in the past, but they are few. I am a minor member of the Keepers of Time. Little more than an enforcer. I will go with you, but I will require an office befitting my future position of Liaison to the Bronze Dragonflight.”
Brightbeard took a moment to process what had just been said. “Ye knew. Ye knew the whole time that this was coming. I’ll bet I know the assignment that’s waitin’ fer ye, too. Liaison to the PPC.”
“Had I told you what I knew, it would not have been your idea and it would then, likely, be rejected,” replied the slightly smug dragon.
“Fine!” Nume threw his hands in the air. “Fine. We’ll all go together, and Brightbeard can go get his weapons. You can make your own way back to Headquarters, right?”
“I almost forgot,” exclaimed Brightbeard, “I’ve got tae take the books back tae the Royal Library. It would save some time if I had a bit o’ help with that.”
Nume opened his mouth automatically to tell Ilraen to help, but then had second thoughts. Back to HQ, full of chaos, beeping consoles, a thorough chewing out for Ilraen, and electronics threatening to explode in his face . . . or a trip to a nice canonical library. No-brainer. “All right, I’ll come. You two,” he pointed at Barid and Ilraen, “don’t forget to warn DoSAT that you’re coming so they can tell you where to berth this thing. And you—” he looked up at the dragon “—the corridors weren’t designed with dragons in mind, and the bosses aren’t likely to be very understanding of anything that looks like a walking flamethrower. Got it?”
The dragon ceased being the size of a small house and took on the Gnomish form that she had used in their first meeting. “I believe I can manage.”
Brightbeard loaned Ilraen his combined CAD so the Andalite could use its radio function to call DoSAT, and Dwarf and Human disembarked from the ship. Now that everything was straightened out, Brightbeard pulled out his RA and opened a large portal to the HQ Hangar. Much to his dismay, it seemed that Barid had been chosen to captain the ground-ship. Ilraen and Voltarmi waved at them from the rail as the ship disappeared through the portal.
In one of the innumerable small streets of Stormwind, one of the crown jewels of the world of Azeroth, there was a weapons shop. It was determinedly, one might say suspiciously, unremarkable: there were no bright colors or unusual symbols on its façade, and the weapons displayed for sale were solidly made low-to-medium-level axes and maces with not much in the way of ornamentation. If quality was guaranteed, or a particular cleaver came with a bone-severed-in-one-swing-or-your-gold-back warranty, you wouldn’t know it.
As a matter of fact, the only noticeable thing about the shop was that, in a heavily Dwarven district, its proprietors were both Human. Suyzìd, who did most of the weapons-crafting, was a rather tall Human with heavily weather-beaten bronze-tinted skin and a rather disconcerting enthusiasm for stories of last stands and berserker charges. Rumor had it that the immaculately white leather quiver he carried was actually made of Blood Elf skin—a rumor which he subtly encouraged because, to be frank, there isn’t a much better form of advertising in an Alliance city.
His partner couldn’t have been more different: a short, perpetually frowning, brown-haired young woman by the name of Dia, who kept the shop’s accounts and had to go and have a lie-down whenever she saw any engravings of the former Paladin-turned-Lich King. According to Suyzìd, she suffered from a rare disease (he had only named it once—it sounded like “chronic married-shoedom?”) which was supposed to be treated with an unusual potion; lacking that potion, she opted to get stinking drunk whenever her voice became melodious or her hair started rippling in an uncannily pretty fashion.
Hardly normal, but then, hardly outrageous in Azeroth, either. Which didn’t quite explain the weapons-grade level of Coincidence that the universe was currently aiming at them.
After an entirely too short visit to Stormwind’s Royal Library, Brightbeard led Nume on a short walk that led into an area that smelled heavily of sulfur and burning metal. The look of the place was definitely shabbier than the rest of the city; most buildings had a fine layer of soot on them. Their path took them past an odd tunnel that seemed to be made of giant, spinning gears which Brightbeard said was the entrance to the Deeprun Tram. It was the most interesting thing to see in this district. A short time later, they came to the small weapons shop.
“This is the place,” said Brightbeard, as he walked up to the door.
Though the exterior was small, the interior was a little roomier than most Dwarf shops in the district. The weapons were ranged on racks and shelves around three sides of the shop, with the fourth side occupied by a small counter and a door. For the most part, the aforementioned non-notability was maintained; it might have been any weapons shop in Azeroth. An experienced eye, though, could catch the details. For example: to judge by its sturdiness and number of burn marks, the door behind the counter clearly lead to the place where manufacturing and repairs actually went on. Said door had also clearly been replaced several times. Somebody had carved “Thys ys madneʃʃ” into the latest one.
Two Humans were behind the counter. The shorter one, a woman with brown hair in a messy bun, was biting her lip as she knotted strings for one of the shop’s small selection of bows. Her companion—taking a break from the forge, from the generous amount of soot in his long gray hair—was chatting aimlessly about nothing in particular and perusing a cheaply printed codex full of risqué drawings of Draenei females.
Suyzìd looked up from his book as the door opened. “Brightbeard,” he said, closing the codex and discreetly stowing it under the counter. “You look like you picked a fight with a Tauren in mating season. What can I get for you?”
“Nay,” sighed the Dwarf. “Fought the Lich King and ended up shattering Sorcha in the process.” He held up the remains of the mace, now no more than a stick and some scrap metal.
The long-haired man whistled as he examined the wreckage of the weapon. “I’ve seen things like that happen before, but usually on some piece of gray crap. Come on, let’s see what we’ve got for you behind the counter. Do you want ’er fixed up, or were you thinking something new?”
“I think we’ll go with the new option,” said Brightbeard as he looked at his former mace. “The old girl has earned her rest and a proper burial. Let’s see what ye have behind the counter.”
As the weapon-smith showed off his merchandise, Nume looked around the shop. As someone who never used weapons due to an unfortunate tendency to do more damage to himself or his allies than his target, he made sure not to touch anything, but did pick up on some of the aforementioned interesting details, particularly the scrawl on the door. “But this isn’t Sparta,” he muttered to himself.
As he wandered, he noticed that the female proprietor was watching him rather more intently than he felt was strictly necessary. Eyeballing, even. He raised an eyebrow in her direction. She responded with an equally raised eyebrow, though perhaps a millimeter or two higher than his. That millimeter pushed it from “curiosity” into “I’m watching you, and don’t even think about filching the merchandise” territory. It was a look that had a lot to say for itself, albeit a lot that wasn’t polite in certain company.
This was clearly a challenge, and Nume’s eyebrows rose to the occasion with a rarely seen “Don’t You Take That Tone With Me, Young Lady,” Eyebrow Level 4. Hugo Weaving would have been proud.
The proprietress had a low hairline, and going any further upwards in eyebrow territory would have been hazardous to her health. However, she decided to make a tactical turn, and the eyebrows drew together in a narrow-eyed stare of “Excusez-moi, si’l vous plais, but I will kick the shit out of you if you cop that eyebrow-expression with me, mister.”
On the basis of hairline height alone, Nume clearly outmatched her, but intensity of glare put a different spin on things. Eyebrows were a matter of dignity; a staring contest was juvenile. Therefore, he rolled his eyes and turned to look at something else more worthy of his time. The bright white quiver hanging on the wall drew the eye and fit the bill nicely.
In fact, simply avoidance turned quickly to intense study when he realized it was a rather unusual quiver: about three feet long, with a wooden spine, and containing three of what were either rather short spears or very large arrows. As he looked at it, Nume experienced the unfamiliar sensation of his memory being jogged. It did not normally need jogging, but the particular memories being dredged up here were bad—the kind that soaked up Bleepka like sponges until they sank down into happy oblivion. There had been an assignment. He and his partner at the time had been dragged into it along with several other agents, most of which had not been seen or heard from since. But one of them had owned a set of weapons exactly like these. Suddenly, the slogan on the door made sense.
He turned to look at the gray-haired man displaying his wares to Brightbeard. He paled as recognition finally kicked in. “So. You.”
Suyzìd paused, his hand resting on the counter. “Me?” he said after a moment, looking confused and Bambi-innocent. “Sorry, were you talking to me?” He glanced back at Brightbeard. “Now this little number is named Stormseeker. I got it off a trader from the north . . . a little more expensive, but rare is worth it.”
Brightbeard took his eyes off the beautiful mace before him and turned to Nume. “I’ll just be another minute.” As he looked at his comrade he noticed that Nume’s usual cool demeanor was a bit shaken, and his pale skin was bordering on ghostly. “Are ye all right, lad? Ye might want tae step outside and get some fresh air.”
“I’ve had better air in Mordor,” Nume muttered. “But that’s not it. You. I know you. Suicide, wasn’t it?” He fixed the merchant with a dark stare that couldn’t be mistaken.
“Sorry, not a fan,” the long-haired man said. “Homicide’s more my bag.” He grinned a little, apparently unfazed. Not so with the proprietress; Dia had risen to her feet at the mention of the word, and her glare had notched up a couple levels of Weavingosity.
“If you’re not going to be buying anything,” she said to Nume, her tone well below 36 degrees Fahrenheit and falling sharply, “I’ll have to ask you to leave.”
“Come now, Dia,” said Brightbeard. “There’s nae cause tae be like that. The man is a friend of mine. He does nae mean anything by it, he’s just a bit confused. Too much arcane energy on the brain, ye ken how that can be.”
Dia subsided, but only slightly. “Well, that’s understandable,” she said, returning to the bowstrings. “Spend too much time up against Arthas and one’s bound to get knocked around a bit. It’s easy to get confused.”
“Yes, you’d know all about that, wouldn’t you?” Nume snapped, rounding on her. He wasn’t a fan of his sanity being insulted, thanks much. “Dried frog pills, right? Everyone heard about that.”
The proprietress’ round face turned bright red. “That’s none of your business!” she snapped irritably, fist clenching around the bowstrings. Suyzìd put a hand on her shoulder—partially comforting, but also partially restraining. She took a deep breath and narrowed her eyes again, but visibly forced herself to subside.
There was an awkward silence.
“Well,” said Suyzìd after a moment’s pause. “Fucking Universal Rules of Coincidence.”
“Quite,” Nume said coolly.
Brightbeard stared at the other occupants of the room. When he finally managed to get his voice to work, all he could say was, “Will someone please tell me what in the name of Illidan’s demonic undershorts is going on here?”
Nume nodded slowly. “Yeah. Why not? Brightbeard, meet Suicide and Diocletian, PPC agents in hiding. We were assigned to the same mission once. As far as I know, I’m the only one who came back under my own power. Everyone else took one look at Severus Snape’s perfect breasts and scarpered.” This was both an exaggeration and an understatement. The agents had vanished for parts unknown, but they’d stuck it out rather longer than Nume implied, and what had actually happened in the badfic was so very, very much worse.
The dark-skinned Suyzìd—err, Suicide—shrugged a little, apparently unconcerned with their “oops, you caught us” moment. “I’ve done my share of death-or-glory last stands,” he said, scratching aimlessly at a long scar on his chin. “There wasn’t really any glory involved in watching Dumbledore rape a hermaphroditic Potions professor. After a certain point—say, oh, the tenth chapter—that sorta loses its charm. And when Dio here—” he patted her shoulder in a comradely fashion “—starts twitching in that one special way, well, I don’t know what the consequences are for tearing out a noncanon’s throat with your teeth and I wasn’t really looking to find out. Consider it extenuating circumstances.”
He looked down at the mace, then back at Nume and Brightbeard. “So what now? It’s a fair cop, ya done me fair an’ square, give this message to me ol’ mam and don’t tell her I were caught?”
The dark-haired man visibly ground his teeth, left fist clenching as though in preparation for pounding the complacent attitude out of the older man. “At the very least, I’m going to report that the two of you have been hiding out here,” he stated. Then, abruptly hanging a conversational louie, added, “You do realize that thing is still out there, right? They never sent another team in. I suppose they were concerned with other things.” Crashing Down, power failure, macrovirus epidemic, Sue invasion, meatloaf night, et cetera.
Brightbeard had been absorbing the conversation up to this point and was shocked at what he had heard. That was a reaction that anyone could understand. He was also angry and ashamed. That was a little harder to figure out until he said, “I cannae believe that ye would abandon yer duty. I am appalled tae call ye my comrade. Ye can keep yer mace, I’ll nae buy from someone who would run away and leave others tae pick up the slack.”
Approximately an eighth of a second later, Diocletian attempted to break Suicide’s grip and launch herself over the counter. Suicide managed to snag her by the back of the dress before she got her hands on Brightbeard (Dwarves, if he recalled correctly, took offense at having their beards yanked) and pull her back safely behind the barrier. “See, that’s the problem with the PPC,” he said conversationally, pinning Diocletian against the wall with one arm. She was growling, and her eyes were glowing. “When I joined up, I wanted to die. Unfortunately, the PPC helps you find out that there are a lot worse things than death out there. Things like, say, sitting in a corner of a room disguised as house-elves while Dumbledore gets his rape on. Voyeuristic and terrifying. Sue me for wanting to keep the few brain cells I’ve got left.
“And if you want to spray attitude all over the place like some kind of . . . dammit, metaphor fails me . . . .” Diocletian gnawed on his hand, which made him wince slightly. “Down, girl. Oh, right. Stuff the morality crap. Think it didn’t hurt that we had to run? Sure. I didn’t even back down at Thermopylae, and some sixteen-year-old-girl’s creepy rape fantasy had me scurrying like King Xerxes with his panties on fire. But don’t make out like it was done on a whim.”
“I dinnae say that it was on a whim,” said Brightbeard, “but I know the difference between runnin’ away and regroupin’. Now, we’re gonna leave. It seems tae me that ye have two choices. Ye can either run away again and keep runnin’ forever. Or ye can come back with us and regain the honor that ye lost when ye ran before. I cannae make ye return, but I also cannae keep yer secret fer ye.” With that, the Dwarf turned and walked out the door.
Nume made to follow him, but paused and half-turned to address the rogue agents. “I don’t give a shit about honor,” he said. “But it sure as hell pisses me off that we let that thing go on living. If you find out it pisses you off, too, look me up.” And with a swish of his red robes, he was gone.
For a moment, there was silence in the little shop. Then Diocletian relaxed, and Suicide put her down.
“Y’know, Su,” she said, wiping the bloody foam off her mouth, “our lives got really dramatic all of a sudden.”
“Yeah, I hate it when that happens,” her partner responded, fishing under the counter. “Where is it . . . hang on . . . .”
“What the hell are you doing?” Diocletian said, crossing her arms. “You’re not looking for that old potion, are you? I told you, never buy something that looks like a Forsaken’s been sick in it—”
“Nah, it’s not that. I just didn’t want to miss the opportunity.” His voice was muffled as he rooted around under the counter. “I mean, here we are, a pair of rogue agents from a secret organization, hiding out in dangerous territory, having an incredibly coincidental encounter with current agents from said organization and being challenged to face up to a task we ran from a long time ago . . . aha! Here it is!” One long arm emerged from behind the counter, triumphantly waving a lampshade.
In spite of herself, Diocletian laughed. “Does that mean you want to go back?”
“Maybe, yeah.” Suicide crawled out from under the counter and set the lampshade on top of the discarded mace. “I kinda miss it, some days. No night or day in headquarters . . . the horrific food, the bizarre smells, the little minis sneezing fire and brimstone . . . it was like being in a permanent battle.”
“Same thing.” Diocletian sighed, leaning on the counter. “Well . . . we’re back.”
Nume and Brightbeard made it back to HQ without further incident—at least until they got there. Upon arrival, they found that Barid had run the ground-ship into one of the Sun Crushers, the dragonhawk had escaped into DoSAT, one of the technicians was on fire, and a single flaming tire had rolled away into a corner. (Where it came from was unclear, but Legal probably had something to do with it.) Meanwhile, Barid took advantage of the chaos and, cackling evilly, christened the ship the C.P.S. Darkspear with a scrawl of red paint along her side, then replaced the banner of the Argent Dawn with his own tabard bearing the sign of the Rubber Swiss-Army Knife.
Ilraen eventually caught the dragonhawk and, while no one was looking, acquired its DNA before sending it back to Azeroth. He seems to have a thing for draconic morphs in bright colors. Brightbeard extinguished the unfortunate technician and healed her burns, apologizing profusely and promising to personally murder his partner for the offense. The tire, ignored by everyone, extinguished itself in a huff, extremely put out.
Voltarmi got her position and her office, and all the paperwork that came with it. She can’t complain, though. She knew this would happen.
In a fit of uncharacteristic generosity, Nume decided not to tear Ilraen a new one over the Ed Elric fiasco. Ilraen clearly learned his lesson, and anyway, leaving him guilt-ridden and eager to deserve forgiveness means that Nume doesn’t have to do anything he doesn’t want to for weeks. For instance, disposing of that disgusting shrunken head that Barid left on his bed. Ilraen did insist on keeping the gold skull on his desk as a reminder, but it’s not like any of this is likely to come back to haunt them in any way. Yes, life is good . . . for now.
While Nume and Ilraen were conspicuously not settling back in, Barid had escaped the chaos in the hangar and made his way to the cafeteria. He was given some trouble at the door due to his status as a Troll, but through repeated use of the word racism he was allowed to enter. He promptly proved why Trolls should not be allowed in the cafeteria by starting a food fight. As he was escorted out, he noticed that the words “Especially Agent Barid” were being added to the “Don’t Feed The Trolls” sign.
Agent Brightbeard headed back to RC 1986, thinking about various ways he could make his partner accept responsibility for the destruction that he had left behind him. He hadn’t come up with a single reliable method by the time he arrived at the RC. So, instead of continuing to rack his brain, he did what he usually did when he didn’t want to think: he got a stiff drink, smoked his pipe, and hit large pieces of metal with a very big hammer until they resembled things that were actually usable. When his partner showed up covered in mustard, porridge, and other, more unspeakable things, he decided he would prefer not to ask questions. Instead, he put on his heaviest helmet to drown out whatever his partner might be doing, and went to sleep.
When Suicide and Diocletian turned up, still in their Azeroth clothes and hauling rucksacks, they were immediately pounced on and interrogated by the security dandelions. One does not simply walk into PPC Headquarters, especially if you’re a pair of formerly AWOL agents with more issues than a comic shop. Though they were threatened with both uprooting and depetaling, the ex-agents appeared not to tremble at these horrific threats, and were promptly passed upwards to the Marquis de Sod.
Nobody knows exactly what went on in those long hours, with two rogue humans and a dapper plant locked in that office. The Marquis’ secretary was sent for coffee, Jack Daniels, and once for mousetraps with extra cheese. In the end, though, the thoroughly chastised (and in Suicide’s case, lightly gnawed) pair were reinstated on a probationary basis, and returned to Response Center 2771a.
Mithiriel prepared a welcome-back meal. Ithalond gibbered and hid in the corner, but that was the way he greeted most people these days. Diocletian flopped down on their brand-new elekk-hide rug wrestled with Thiranduil, Narnia No-Longerfled, and the sentient microwave. Suicide proceeded to get stinking drunk and proposition every agent who passed the door, including the nonhuman ones. His success rate was possibly more disturbing than anything else that evening.
And the next morning, a parcel appeared at the door of RC 1986. It contained a very handy rare mace, a complimentary polishing kit, and a note, written in the slightly tentative hand of a man who has only recently learned to script proper English:
It was nice meeting you. The shop has been liquidated, but I took a few things from it before we sold it. This is one of them. Hope it works well for you.
P.S. You owe me 350 gold, 27 silver, and 2 copper.
Well! That was certainly fun. Slightly exhausting, with that many agents involved, but also very fun. We must do this again sometime. *cackles deviously* Oh, and the party that Barid and Ilraen were talking about at the beginning was my birthday party. Remember that? Back in June? . . . Two months may be the quickest I’ve ever gotten a mission out. O.o
Phobos’ Note: How on earth did this thing get so long (pause for laughter and “That’s what she said”)? This was a much bigger undertaking than expected, but I think it turned out well.
Tungsten Monk’s Note: Well . . . it’s nice to be back, everyone. I can’t promise I’ll be very active, or even funny, but I had to do something to get Suicide off my back! (In a non-pervy way, that is.)
Beta-read by us. Because there were three of us. So, yeah. Thanks, us!