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The Duel of the Ages

Chapter 5

By David J. Parker

He was running. Running through the woods of his familiar dream, running away from the pack of dogs. Except this time it wasn't a pack of dogs. It was a big, black, silent something that stalked him, kept pace with him no matter how fast he ran.

There came the familiar sequence of events; the failed attempt to look back over his shoulder, then tripping on the tree root and falling flat on his face in the mud. Frantically Darius scrambled over onto his back, turning to face the black something that was silently chasing him.

Out of the trees came a dark form. It was humanoid-shaped but did not walk. Rather, to Darius' extreme horror, it seemed to float about a foot off the ground. A black velvet cloak stretched from head to nonexistent toe, and out of one loose-fitting arm hole protruded a skeletal hand, a hand that clutched at a razor sharp scythe. Darius swallowed hard. He remembered the sword blow he had received (rather unexpectedly) from the new body that the Laglamynian knight had somehow acquired. Now he realized that the blow must have been slightly worse than the mere pinprick it had felt like.

"Stand, Darius Longshore," the Grim Reaper commanded in a raspy, deep toned voice. Darius felt compelled to do as Death required. He stood, knees shaking slightly as he did so.

"Not long ago," the Grim Reaper began, in an almost casual tone that Darius found strangely comforting, "there came to my domain one whom I think you are familiar with. He went by the name of Blood Drops. Do you know of this man?" Darius nodded, and Death continued.

"He is a powerful man, as I think you know. He has come to my realm twice now, both times coming here by your capable hand. Both times, the swine somehow managed to leave again without my approval." The skeletal hand that held the scythe was joined by its twin. The two hands gripped the haft of the weapon tightly. "That makes me look bad." The Grim Reaper swung the scythe suddenly, and Darius blanched, thinking the strike was meant for him. Instead of taking his head off, however, the scythe blade instead arced into a tree to Darius' right. The blade passed easily through the trunk of the mighty tree, shearing it down with a single blow. Darius stood in awe after the tree had crashed down beside the two of them, making no sound (there was, after all, no living person around to hear it).

"I don't like to look bad," the Grim Reaper continued. "This man must be stopped before he can cheat me anymore. If he passes on his secrets, nobody will stay in my realm long, and I'll be out of a job."

"What do you want me to do?" Darius asked after Death paused for a moment, seemingly lost in thought.

"I'm going to send you back, Darius Longshore," Death said, after another second or so of silence had passed following Darius' question. "And I want you to find this Blood Drops and send him to me a third time. I have every confidence in you, for this Blood Drops is a feeble old man living a dream. Only his powers of resurrection make him at all unusual. Oh, certainly," Death chuckled, a hollow sound coming out of a throat of dry bone, "he believes that he wields some sort of magic, but I assure you, it is nothing more than the delusions of an old man."

"Why should I help you?" Darius asked, suddenly skeptical.

1 Another Princess Bride reference.

2 An obscure Steven King reference, from the unabridged version of "The Stand."

"Did I make it clear that my JOB is at stake?"1 Death asked, "Don't you care at all about my wife and three little ghouls at home?" Darius looked unsympathetic. "Ok, ok," Death said, "If you help me, I'll make sure you live a super extended life of extreme joy and happiness and all that happy crappy.2 Ok?"

"Now you're talking," Darius said with a smile. "But before I go, do you think you could do something about this?" He asked, holding his hand out to show his missing fingers.

"Ooo, nasty paper cut," Death remarked. Releasing the scythe with one bony hand, the Grim Reaper wiggled the bony fingers of the free hand at Darius. Before Darius knew what was going on, his fingers were back again.

"Thanks. All set," Darius remarked.

Death reached into a previously concealed pocket and pulled out a device that Darius did not recognize. It was made of metal and folded in two like the pages of a book, except the hinges were at the top instead of on the side. The device gave a strange beeping sound as Death flicked it open with one bony hand and proceeded to talk into it.

"Ok, Scotty, prepare to beam him down," Death said into the machine before folding it back up and replacing it back in his pocket. He noticed Darius' quizzical stare then and remarked, "What, you didn't think I ran this place all by myself, did you?"

Darius had no time to reply before Scotty energized the transporter, and his body was broken down into its constituent molecules. There was a faint sensation of nothingness for an instant, and then he was re-materializing on the trail between Larosis and the mountains.

Darius looked down at his stomach when he was back together again. The wound the knight had given him was completely healed. The old man, cloaked in a perfect copy of the body that Darius had been guarding, had surprised him and run him through with his ancient sword before Darius had time to react. Then the old man had stood there jibbering to himself as Darius bled to death, seemingly carrying on a conversation with himself. But all would be righted soon enough.

Thoughts materialized in his mind that were not his own; Death was communicating with him. He took in the Grim Reaper's instructions and directions as he walked down the path back to the city. So much he wanted to do and so little time.

Darius was standing at the hole in space that Blood Drops himself had vanished into not two hours ago. In the big warrior's hands were two sacks, both dripping wet. One squirmed around violently; the other was completely still. On his back, he wore an old rucksack slung over his scabbard. Darius had his instructions, but he planned on settling a small personal matter before he carried them out.

Darius followed the instructions Death had given him and jumped through the void. Just has he had been told, he soon found himself standing in an ill lit room in a decaying stone fortress. He put the two sacks down and drew his sword quickly, in case the old knight had been waiting for him. He needn't have worried.

Blood Drops was squatting down in front of two decaying corpses that sat not far off from the spot where Darius stood. Blood Drops appeared to be trying to converse with the two dead humanoids. Darius approached the senile old man slowly.

"Come on you two, I've got the ring, let's get out of here!" the old knight said to the two corpses. Darius watched as the old Llagimlnian shook the larger of the two rotten corpses forcefully. The head of the creature came off and fell with a plunk into its lap.

3 At the time we wrote this, Dave had read my first novel but not my second. He didn't know the name of my Ogre, so he put a blank there, and I filled it in for him.
"This is no time to lose your head, Jalt,3 we have to get over to the Gwuillian Civilization as fast as we can!" the old knight said. Darius chuckled at that, and Blood Drops turned at the sound.

"You?" the old knight sputtered, "But I killed you! I...You...But... What I mean is....When, how?..." Darius let the old man sputter for a few minutes before replying.

"Two can play at the old resurrection game, my friend," he said simply as he unshouldered his backpack. From the pack, he withdrew a few lengths of rope and proceeded to tie up the old man. The ancient knight was too stunned to resist; he only sputtered on and on, jibbering nonsense now. Soon Darius had Blood Drops' feet and hands tied firmly behind his back, forcing the old man to kneel in a none-too-comfortable position with his back against the stone wall. When he was done, Darius retrieved the two sacks he had put down and brought them over before Blood Drops. He set the sacks down again and then reached into his backpack once more. From the pack he retrieved a wooden sculpture of a fat white rooster standing up like a man and placed it directly in front of the tied up knight.

"This is Foghorn Leghorn, as I'm sure you know," Darius said, gesturing towards the wooden rooster. "I love him dearly, that fat old rooster," Darius continued, in a soft voice, "but the poor old buzzard wasn't always right. Observe." The big warrior picked up the squirming, soaking wet sack and held it out for the awe-struck knight to see. "This is a sack of wet mice. According to our beloved Foghorn, a sack of wet mice isn't very sharp. Would you like to find out exactly how sharp a sack of wet mice is?" Darius asked the knight innocently. Blood Drops didn't respond; his eyes had gone glassy long ago, and he only stared off into space, unresponding. Darius took that as a yes and kicked the old man over so that he fell on his face, knocking over the wooden statue and sending it skittering across the stone floor. Darius then got astride the old man's back and kneeled down with both knees just under his victim's armpits. He then grabbed the stringy white hair of the knight and yanked his head clear of the floor, then opened the bag and stuck the old man's head into the squirming bag.

Darius held the bag closed over the knight's head. In an instant the starved mice succeeding in coaxing the first intelligible sounds out of the old knight that Darius had heard since he got here.

"AAAH!! Darius, let me go! They're biting me! Please Darius, let me go! AAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!" The big warrior held on as the old man squirmed feebly underneath him. He held the bag tightly closed around his neck as the once intelligible screams turned back into incoherent babbling again. He held on for another three or four minutes after that, then relented. He shook the mice back into the bottom of the sack and quickly withdrew it from the quaking knight's head.

Blood Drops' face was a gruesome sight to behold. Blood flowed from the tiny bite wounds that marked up nearly every exposed patch of skin on the poor man's head. One extra hungry mouse had nibbled most of his right earlobe off, and another had taken a big chunk out of the top of the left ear. Darius pulled the old man back into a kneeling position again so that he might converse with him once more.

"I'd say that under the right conditions, a sack of wet mice can be pretty damn sharp, wouldn't you?" the big warrior asked of the shivering knight. Blood Drops didn't respond; he had reached a nearly catatonic state now.

Darius tied up the bag of mice and tossed it aside, then picked up the other bag and held it in front of Blood Drops.

"Now this here is a sack of wet rice." Darius violently swung the bag around and cold-cocked the old knight on the side of the head. Blood Drops fell over with a sickening thud, unable to use his bound hands to save him.

"Now that wasn't very sharp, was it?" Darius asked innocently. "Hard, yes, but not sharp at all." The big warrior cocked one eyebrow at the unresponding knight. "Don't believe me? Well then, let me give you a better demonstration."

A few minutes later, Darius was once again sitting astride the old man, this time shoving his face into a pile of soaking wet rice. Blood Drops was choking on the rice, gagging and groaning as Darius shoved his face down into it again and again.

"See how un-sharp that is?" Darius asked in a happy voice. "You'd almost think that you were gagging on cotton, wouldn't you?" Blood Drops gagged in response.

The big warrior continued this for a while longer, until he finally grew tired of it and got up off the knight, picking him up again into a kneeling position. Blood Drops spit out a mouthful of drenched rice and then gasped for air, his rice encrusted, bloody face a sight to behold. The once white rice had turned a brilliant shade of crimson because of the blood of the knight; it looked almost as if a million red maggots were eating at his face.

"Now that you have experienced both, do you understand why I altered dear old Foghorn's punch line slightly?" Blood Drops nodded his head almost imperceptably. "Good man. I knew you'd understand things once I cleared everything up a little. I love dear old Foghorn as much as anybody else in the world, but that love does not include repeating his punch lines that just don't ring true."

Darius stood looking at the old knight after he stopped talking, and suddenly he grew weary of his revenge. It was time to do the job he had been sent here to do. He would not sully his sword on this worthless man again. Instead, Darius retrieved the small statue of Foghorn Leghorn and bludgeoned the old knight to death once again. Once the deed was done, Darius sat down again and waited to see what would happen next.

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