ForumsArt, Music, and Writing[ARCHIVE] The Way of Moderation

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Strop
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This thread is for people who want to keep up with the actual story material of the contest without having to wade through several hundred user posts in between. It is presently solely kept by me.

I actually have an external website on which I hope to more properly archive the happenings of the WoM.

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FOREWORD

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---

The land of ArmorGames holds many people from many lands, each with their own story, whether they be wanderers, questers, or seeking to rule. It is the latter people who are noticed the most, or so it seems, for they are the ones with the most ambition and are the most active, or so it is thought. But as to whether they are the ones who do eventually come to favor of the legendary masters of the land, that is another question altogether.

Many more still have speculated upon what it means to become a ruler of the land. Whether it comes with deeds, or whether it comes with reputation. Some of these people are daring enough to approach the so-called rulers, the hallowed moderators of ArmorGames, to ask them directly. "How does one become a moderator", they might ask. "Do I become one when I am rich enough?" "Do I become one if I report many crimes?" "Must I be courteous, polite and speak properly?" Long since have the moderators grown weary of these questions, because the legend of the Wheel of Moderation should be common knowledge (but that is another story for another day). In the meantime, these questions are like a duty they must endure, such is the nature of living beings and their curiosity.

But the ultimate answer, it seems, is obvious to some and eternally foreign to the rest. "It only depends", remarks one of these mysterious moderators, "on whether one follows the Way of Moderation."

Strop
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Part 0: Recruitment Drive

ArmorCity lies at the heart of Armorgames. It is the scene of great hustle and bustle, of lively trade and transactions and sometimes heated battle, depending on where one might find themselves. Since the days of Beta, it has grown and evolved into a place of over a quarter of a million residents, with a plethora of different venues and a rich history to match.

As such, roadways and passages have been built over others, and as the urban edifice mounts, so too do the secrets, known only to a precious few. The rest will only hear through the filter of rumour and whispers, debating on the existence and the whereabouts of these routes, whether they might even lead directly to Armor Castle itself, or beyond, whatever that might be.

It is these secrets that, ironically in the days where a transparent democracy is fairly demanded, allow for the smooth running of any true administrative regime. And so it is that the abandoned routes that run beneath the city might come to be used in this capacity.

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There was a pause. Then another voice piped up:

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Carlie rested her chin on her folded hands, peering quizically at the ninja horse. "What do you mean, Strop?"

"Well," Strop explained, "Asherlee is on indefinite hiatus, the DragonMistress has retired, Calm simply disappeared without a trace..."

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Strop paused for a second for this to sink in, then continued:

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"...and among those of us who are here," Strop continued obliviously, "We aren't here very much! Moe, for example-"

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Strop scratched his head, obviously getting flustered at the interruptions: "And Flipski..."

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Strop rubbed his ears tenderly, before shaking his muzzle. "...Nevermind. Zophia," Strop threw a quick glance to the silhouette playing with its own reptilian tail, "...is pretty much the only one here on a full time basis, seeing as my own missions are becoming more difficult. Nemo, naturally, being Nemo, is always here and not here." Likewise, the vagrant in the wolfskin sitting on the windowsill had nothing to say. "Dank, on the other hand-"

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"Alright, moving right along," visibly sweating now, Strop cut to the chase. He spread his hands as he turned once again to address the head of the chamber: "Well, Carlie, you yourself would know the demands of commitments abroad."

There was a small drawn breath, and then silence, save for the sound of fingers tapping on tabletop. Finally, Carlie spoke.

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"Time for what?" was the uniform chorus.

"Time," Carlie paused, perhaps in hesitation, perhaps dramatically, "To choose a new moderator!"

The reaction was immediate, but if any one of them had feared of dissent or outcry, it was not to be:

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rose the familiar, celebrated anthem.

But then, Moe's Hawking voice cut through with a shattering reality: "We can't use that."

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"If you recall, somebody got too excited and broke it when they spun it last time."

There was a shifting sound as everybody turned to stare at the hulking figure slouched in the corner.

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Devoidless fidgeted, grinding his claws together.

"Shaddup, I just don't know my own strength, I guess..."

"So much for firing up the Lear jet," Ubertuna lamented.

"And the burnt offering," Nemo chimed in.

"And the week-long holiday in the six-star island resort," rejoined Dank.

"And the all night partying." Even Carlie mercilessly piled it on.

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Devoidless thrashed his tail, dislodging Nemo from his perch, where he fell from view with a yelp and a crash.

A few awkward moments passed. Then Strop spoke: "So then...what is to be done?"

---

With a new day comes a new scene, yet we all grow accustomed to the ways of our world. And so it was that the users of AG went about their daily business, trading, spamming and throwing flames at each other. None knew of the tumultuous occasion that would soon change the face of ArmorGames forever...

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...and it seemed that despite the best efforts of the moderators, none were going to know either. Sometimes even the worst-kept secrets and the most heavily publicised events pass right under the noses of the people without so much as a sniff.

Or in this case, high up above:

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"What the fluff!" Zophia flicked her tail, and it kinked in irritation. "What's it take to get their attention these days!?"

"Try this-"

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Zophia picked up the soopah-doopah-awesometastic-mega-megafone, staring at the unfamiliar piece of technology. Then she smiled kittishly:

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The sound ripped through the land, assaulting every set of eardrums within the land of ArmorGames. Surely there was no way that anybody could not have noticed now. Not even deaf people.

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Part 1: The Invitation

From the skies, the leaflets rained. Posters were stuck on the wall for all and sundry to see. Crowds flocked and chattered amongst themselves, all those users with those secret desires finding a new glimmer of hope, speculating and perhaps fantasising. There was a buzz of excitement in the air.

"Che-" Nemo spat as he plastered up another poster in the recesses of a dark alleyway (of all places), "There they all go, getting worked up because they think they'd make a good mod."

Ubertuna flopped next to him, leaving a trail of water that must have been dripping from some indeterminate location beneath his robes. "This mightn't seem like the best idea," he grated, "But I'm sure we could have some real fun with it."

Nemo tugged on the ear of his wolfskin cape nonchalantly. "Do I smell rotting fish?"

Ubertuna cringed and seemingly shrivelled up inside his cape: "That hurt my feelings..."

Nemo turned and flung a wad of posters in Ubertuna's face: "Then quit moping around and get back to work, otherwise go back to your moat!"

Ubertuna completely shrivelled up, then suddenly turned and flopped as fast as his fin-feet could take him, bawling.

"And say hello to your shark buddies for me too!" Muttering, Nemo turned back to the poster he was plastering. The top corner had somehow peeled off again, stubbornly refusing to stick to the wall. "Zophia drew out the posters. Dank's in charge of the ampitheater. And Strop and Carlie are both planning out the tournament as we speak. And here I am... poster duty. Why? Because it suits my way of life...tssk."

Just then, a giant tail swung around and dislodged the corner of the poster again. Nemo looked up, ready to spray the culprit with vitriol, to find a dragon head hovering so close to him the red goatee hairs were scratching his nose.

"Why so serious?" Devoidless quipped, engulfing Nemo with puffs of smoke. "Like the scaly manfish said, we could be having fun with this..."

Without another word, they disappeared down the alleyway, the poster stuck to the wall the only evidence of their presence.

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Following Part One: The Invitation...

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At this point I would have included the arc about Strop visiting Cen on August 4th (for the umpteenth time) and finally persuading him to officiate for the WoM.

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Part 2: Welcome

The amphitheatre was one of the monuments to ArmorCity's history, being not only one of the most ancient buildings but also the earliest, having occupied that very place within the walls since even before the Great Reshuffle. It had borne witness to many a public performance and drama, the scene of frequent double-bookings, and even now it was active as ever, arguably central to all those who had working eyes or ears (or both, as would imaginably be the case for most citizens of AG). It was for this reason that the administration had decided to hold the inaugural ceremony of the Way of Moderation Trials here.

Thus is was not without a certain sense of awe that each and every citizen and hopeful that passed through its grand arches, crowds filing into the semi-circular rows of stone, looking down upon the hallowed stage upon which epic awesome had been, and was to be enacted.

The rising hubbub echoed down stone walls and passageways, down into the basement and through the backstage, where the moderators were performing their stage checks. Rumor had it that Queen Carlie herself would make an appearance on the stage. Flipski had tightened his security settings to the maximum (Strop had his doubts as to whether this was actually desirable). Zophia had what she called "a special surprise" prepared, to be accompanied by some of Ubertuna's self-styled 'masterpiece'. Dank, satisfied his wiring job was complete, leapt from the backstage scaffolding, landing on the ground with a mighty crash, turning on his heel, his armour clanking as he disappeared once more into the darkness, giving but a single brief nod to another shadowy figure in passing.

But Strop barely noticed, for he was busy briefing the to-be-official officiator of the event.

"Now Cenere, this is probably not the best time to be asking, but...you don't suffer from stage fright do you?"

"... I think I need you to define 'Stage fright'..." Cenere was slightly pale. Just slightly.

Strop scratched his head, "Well, you're not going to, you know. Freak out and fluff up, or pee your pants, or vomit...it's only a few..." Strop peeked through a crack in the curtains, "...thousand people out there."

"Wonderful..." Cenere took a deep breath, pushing the glasses back on place. "Just like ASC judging, just with your words, and a lot of people. No problem."

Strop clapped his hands together, oblivious to Cenere's tone: "Yes, precisely! That's the spirit. Now...just in case you forget...I've written your lines out on these cards..." Strop fumbled in some indeterminate location within his ninja suit, and produced some palm-sized cards with scrawl on it. "Please excuse my do- I mean ninja handwriting. Should be legible though."

"Hmm..." Cenere seemed rather nervous, and didn't even look at the card. "Tell me again, why I agreed on this instead of staying home and ignoring it..." It wasn't so much a question as speaking to himself.

"Aw come on." A bandaged hand squeezed Cenere's shoulder, shaking him about like a ragdoll. "It'll be great fun! Now-" Strop steamrolled on, "here's how it'll go. Once everybody is seated, Zophia and Ubertuna have a special introduction planned. Then Carlie will speak, then I'll speak and introduce you. When I call you out, you come out from the side, okay? Cenere? You listening? 'coz I can't remember what I just said."

"... Zophia has a special intro planned, Carlie speaks, you speak and introduce me, I get out from the side, and read from the cards, and then I can leave again. Right?"

Strop blinked confusedly for a moment, then lit up. "Yes! That's precisely right! I mean NO!" Strop shook his head: "You gotta stay around for registration! You know, just a little bit of paperwork...shouldn't take too long." Strop trailed off, inaudibly mumbling, "Maybe only about six hours or so..."

"Sounds great." Sarcasm was plenty evident in the young man's tone. More deep breaths. "Does it have to be this warm around here...what does Zophia have in mind? And why me..."

"Because you're special. Oops, here we go!" Strop danced off to the side of the stage, craning his neck around the curtain to catch a glimpse of Zophia's and Ubertuna's handiwork.

The hubbub rose a notch in intensity as restlessness swept in waves through the crowd, impatience mounting. Suddenly, a massive explosion resounded through the amphitheatre, and a few screams echoed around. These were drowned out, however, by wondrous sighs at the dazzling lights shooting high into the sky, crackling all the way. Before they even faded, more explosions rocked the stands and lights of all colours flashed, drawing sparkling patterns in the air. Then from all corners of the amphitheatre, the music began, loud, booming and triumphant, swelling and overwhelming. The crowd gasped again, for now a dragon out of light wove its way through the audience, spiralling up as the music rose higher and higher still until with it disappeared with the biggest explosion of all and the music cut out, leaving the audience seemingly blinded and deafened from the sudden silence.

As the remnants of the fireworks fizzled and the smoke settled, sight and hearing slowly returned to the members of the audience. The first thing they saw was the figure in the poufy dress and tiara, standing on the stage as if she had been there the whole time. So stunned was the audience, several seconds passed before they spontaneously erupted into roars and applause.

"It's Queen Carlie!" was the universal cry. Queen Carlie smiled self-effacingly, curtsying and giving her subjects a regal wave before taking the microphone magically floating in front of her. On cue, the crowd fell silent.

"Hello, and welcome!" was as far as she got before the crowd started hooting and stomping again. Carlie raised her hand and the crowd silenced again, though still buzzed with an edgy energy.

"Welcome to the inauguration ceremony of the Way of Moderation Trial!" While most of the audience was left scratching their heads at the big words, Carlie continued. "Thank you for coming to this historic event. I must also extend a special thank you to Moderator Zophia, who arranged the fireworks display, and Moderator Ubertuna, who wrote the music, and Moderator Dank, who provided the technical expertise. Wasn't that a wonderful show?"

The audience rose as one in ovation. Behind the heavy stage curtain, Ubertuna positively tingled with delight. "Oh, glorious, glorious accolades!"

Carlie's face changed, and the crowd was immediately silenced. "What you are about to witness," she intoned, "Is an unprecedented development in the history of ArmorGames! We have heard your calls for a more objective manner in which we assess candidates for the role of Moderation. The Way of Moderation Trial heralds a new era in which this is made possible. To explain to you the process, I now introduce to you the one and only ninja horse of ArmorGames, Moderator Strop!"

Amidst the resounding cheers, Strop could not contain the celebrity vibes from getting to his head. He burst through the middle of the curtain, leaping into the air and flipping end on end before landing next to Carlie in a deep bow, milking the crowd's reaction for all it was worth. Carlie returned the gesture, then hitched her skirts and walked back offstage. Strop stood up, surveying the crowd as the noise dwindled. Then he held up his hands and the noise stopped altogether.

"Yes, it is I." Strop nodded emphatically, drawing a few laughs from the audience. He dropped his stiff posture and started pacing along the stage. "You may be wondering what this Way of Moderation is. Many of you here have asked me, personally, how one becomes a moderator, and I have simply told you that you must follow the Way of Moderation. But do any of you know what it means?"

Strop stopped and turned his gaze back to the front. "This is what we shall test! We shall test your determination, your mettle, your aptitude and your nature all! To see if you can follow the Way of Moderation! A series of trials you will face, and only one of you, should you choose to participate, will pass. So I ask, who among you is up to the task? Any of you at all?"

There was a hushed muttering as the members of the crowd conversed amongst themselves, possibly speculating more on how much coffee Strop really had before taking the stage.

"But enough of that, we shall reveal the stages to you as they come. For instructions on what to do next, however!" Strop held up his finger. "I shall introduce you to our independent observer and judge of this contest. Many of you will already know him from his previous judging roles, including the illustrious Art Skills Contest, as well as the maintainer of the Announcements Board in the News Tower! I hardly think I need introduce him any further, so here he is, Cenere!"

Once again the crowd roared, but nobody appeared on stage. Strop blinked a moment, then tapped his hoof. "I said...Cenere!"

There was an awkward pause, then Cenere shuffled on, blushing and adjusting his pants. "Can't give me even a second here?"

Strop turned, then strode to the back of the stage, slapping Cenere on the back as he passed. "Mic's all yours, Cen."

Cen gagged, then shot Strop a dirty look before shuffling his papers and clearing his throat. "Ahem." Cenere squinted at the pages. "Before I begin, there is something Strop wishes me to tell you." Cenere squinted at the pages again, before reddening and turning to look at Strop. "No."

The crowd blinked uniformly, now looking at Strop, who was doubled over in laughter. "Please, Cen...please go on..."

Cen sighed, "As usual, why me..." before shuffling his papers again and reading: "The purpose of this inauguration ceremony is to register for the Way of Moderation Tournament. Today is the one and only time it will be done, so if you wish to join, you must do so immediately after the end of the ceremony. You should form a single line up to the stage, and I will endeavour to process all your forms as soon as possible. With that, I bid you all a good day and...Strop, what do you mean 'I'?"

The members of the audience were already rising and scrambling towards the stage, jostling madly to try and gain the first spot. Cenere repeated his question. "Strop, what's this?"

Strop looked sidewards shiftily. "What's what?"

"It says 'I will endeavour.' Why not 'We?'"

"Uhm. I have things to do. And this is...your duty!" Strop started edging away.

Cenere barely resisted the temptation to reach for Strop's neck and give him a few good shakes. "What do you mean! Do you realise how many people there are in the queue!"

Strop was now at least halfway across the stage and not even facing Cenere, but this didn't stop him from throwing over his shoulder, "Don't worry, it'll only take a few hours!" before disappearing through the grand arch of the Amphitheatre.

While they had been talking, Dank had dragged a table and a stool in the stage, before walking off. "All yours" he curtly said before stumping off.

"Wait, wait, come back here you-" Veins pulsated on Cenere's head and he rubbed it. He had a headache, he still had stomach cramps from the stage fright, his cheeks were still burning from the prank Strop had played on him, and now this. He gazed dolefully at the line of impatient users, then at the forms. There had to be at least two hundred users there, and three forms each- one for their personal details, another for their curriculum vitae, and an extra large one for "indemnity purposes".

There would be words when he was done.

Strop
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Strop
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6,360

Some time after the Opening Ceremony

A veil of dust hung over the library shelves, blanketing the rows upon rows of unread volumes, their contents a mystery, and likely to remain that way, for they were in such condition that if one were to pick them up they were likely to collapse into dust themselves. This was a corner of the Library & Archives where nobody, especially not the narcoleptic Kingryan, would ever tread.

Except one particular by the name of Cenere. With librarian blood flowing through his veins, Cenere somehow lived on the smell of musty books and faded carpet, so often, as an addict goes back to their syringe or as a hog goes back to its own excrement, did Cenere come back to the library, the one of a rare handful.

This time, though, as he shuffled past the shelves, musing on how the light filtered down to these dark corners, he noticed a darker-than-usual shadow. Peering further, he noticed it was moving. After wiping his glasses from the dust and grime that had accumulated, he saw...

http://i428.photobucket.com/albums/qq1/Cerene_Cerine/ambush7.jpg

...a familiar ninja horse sitting at a card table, tossing slips of paper into two bins.

Cenere coughed. "What are you doing, Strop?"

There was no reply for a moment, then Strop broke out of his trance with a startled whinney. "Oh! I'm... going through the registration forms." He ranted on: "Can you believe it? All these victestants are either boring, or they're crazy! I haven't come across a single set of answers that I would consider moderator material!"

Cenere was suddenly bombarded with unpleasant memories of having to process several hundred impatient people on a hot Summer's mid-afternoon with a headache while wearing a stuffy three-piece suit. He was then suddenly subjected to an overwhelming urge to throttle Strop, but figured he would probably die if he did so, and somehow suppressed it.

"Also, did you know that more than half the victestants don't wear underwear? I never knew we had such a high proportion of commandos in this town. Creepy."

"Better than what you- uh, so... what kind of answers would you consider mod material?"

Strop blinked. "I don't know."

Cenere facepalmed.

---

http://i438.photobucket.com/albums/qq105/strawpony/Way%20Of%20Moderation/2-1.jpg

"Did you hear what Strop was planning for the first trial?" Nemo scratched at the dirty tiles with his stick.

"Why yes, yes I did," Devoidless murmured, his hulking body curled up on the roof of the cathedral spire. From here, they had a marvellous view of a great portion of the city, blocked only by the ArmorCastle. It was an unusual location to hold a conversation here, but Nemo had his reasons. Namely, there was no way Ubertuna would be able to get up here, or so he thought.

"Well, any ideas?"

Devoidless took a drag of his cigarette, then stuck his head in the spire window and blew large quantities of smoke down the staircase. "Maybe we could tinker with his balls."

Nemo frowned "Like how?"

"I dunno. Spit on them? Puncture them? Grease them up so he won't be able to handle them properly?"

"Nah, that's too...crude." Nemo made a face. "And probably a bit too obvious, too."

They were interrupted by a series of hacking coughs echoing through the spire. Just then, a fin poked out the window.

"Aw man, not again!" Nemo slapped his hand to his forehead.

"You know," Ubertuna huffed, as he clambered onto the roof, "It's rude to go around your friends when you're planning something fun."

"But I'm not-"

"You can thank me later, my good Nemo," Ubertuna simpered before drawing up his faux-villain airs. "For I have a plan that is guaranteed to be, as you say, fun."

---

"Just how many rooftops do you plan to cross? This suit is...restrictive."

Strop didn't reply. Perhaps it was because he couldn't hear anything above the clatter of hooves across the tile. Wait- that couldn't be right: hooves or not, Strop was a ninja, and had mastered the art of silent running. Cen's shoes, on the other hand, were really heavy the soles were really hard. And running in them was loud. And painful. Increasingly so.

"Besides, Strop, I don't understand why we have to run on the rooftops, when there's a perfectly good street* below..."

Still no response, for Strop had just leaped into the air, seemingly gliding across the space between the rooftops before landing (again, soundlessly) on the other side and taking off without pause. Cen had just enough time to realise that he was going in the same direction as Strop, and therefore was going to have to jump the same gap or suffer a smearing fate on the walls of the housing commission flats of the low-ranking residential areas of AG.

Without even pausing to consider why he was bothering to follow Strop in this lunacy in the first place, Cen jumped. Arms and legs flailing as he wobbled over the street, a good six storeys below, he suffered a terrible stomach-dropping moment before he landed, face-first, on the roof of the opposite block. His brain couldn't decide which was more remarkable, the pain or the miracle of not dying, so it elected to continue talking:

"And how come I'm the one who has to carry the sack..." Cen shrugged the massive burlap sack off his shoulders. It was surprisingly light and even, perhaps, buoyant, which might have explained how he managed to jump a ten meter gap in suit and dress shoes without dying.

Slowly, Cenere peeled his body off the roof and dusted off his suit. Trying to ignore the Cen-shaped pattern of crushed roof tiles, he scanned the area for Strop, but as usual, the ditz had run off without him. He sighed and rubbed his forehead with the complimentary handkerchief that came with the suit, realising, in the process, just how sweaty he was.

"And my feet are completely covered in blisters, too," he mumbled to himself.

Just then, a bandaged hand clapped down on his shoulder.

http://i438.photobucket.com/albums/qq105/strawpony/Way%20Of%20Moderation/2-2.png

*Strop has received the comment "What's wrong with the stairs?" too many times to count.

---

http://i428.photobucket.com/albums/qq1/Cerene_Cerine/fb.jpg

---

With a new day came a new hope, a new hope that Strop might come down with a terrible lethargy that would prevent him from getting up at the crack of dawn with the insatiable desire to jump and run and all that stuff.

No such luck, yet anyway. But ever the optimist (who was he kidding), Cenere noticed that Strop had, for once, deigned to walk the same ground as the mere mortals who used feet for walking and hands for handling things, and not all four limbs for hurtling oneself around at life-threatening speeds. Why would this be, though?

Cenere adjusted his glasses disapprovingly. "Strop, is this one of your errands again? I have exams coming up, you know."

"I know, I know, this'll be quick. I got an urgent message to come to the bank, so after this we'll get back to the business of throwing sh- I mean examining the victestants."

"Right, right..." The cool air of the bank engulfed them as they walked through the door. A relief, too, because it was shaping up to be another blazing late summer's day. The interior of the bank looked, even felt green as always, as if there was some calm yet crisp air of business and capital gain. Such an edifice, with its classical pillars and chandelier adorning the vast hall spoke of the modern attributes of the land of ArmorGames, namely, its ArmorPoint economy.

Strop strode to the counter at the yonder wall. Cenere glanced around- it sure looked far to the entrance, almost a mere speck of sunlight. Strop, meanwhile, leaned on the counter casually.

"Hi, I'm here to follow up a summons?"

Cenere, his back still turned to the counter, saw it coming. The red carpet being laid out, and what seemed to be an entire battalion of trumpeters emerge from the depths of the shadows and most importantly-

The sudden fanfare caused Strop to jump, the look of a spooked colt plastered across his ninja eyehole. The shrill brass melodies resounded through the bank, causing just about everybody to drop everything- except Cenere.

"Huh?" Strop rubbed his smarting ears and shook his head, recovering just in time to see a page in a wig standing before him, bearing a crown upon a cushion.

"By the powers vested in me, acting in my official capacity, I hereby crown you, Moderator Strop, an Iron King of Land of ArmorGames! All hail the king!"

"What? Huh? How-"

The page then smartly plonked the iron crown atop Strop's head and dropped to one knee. A mighty cheer went up, and then everybody in the hall of the bank did the same. Except Cenere.

Strop boggled. "I... uh, all rise? If you will, I must take my leave..."

With that, Strop made a beeline for the front door, Cen in tow being blasted by the trumpeters from both sides.

The hot air of the midmorning hit them again as they emerged. Strop wiped his brow.

"Some rock-star ninja you are." Cenere smirked slightly.

Strop pouted. "Hey, the one thing I'm not proud about is how many AP I have. It... it just reminds me of all the other things I should be doing with my life..."

"What's that supposed to me- nevermind." Cenere suddenly had visions of his deadlines approaching. "What will you do with the crown?"

"Oh, that." Strop looked up at the crown still perched atop his head. "I don't know, I never bothered to wear all the hats... it'll probably end up on the floor of my closet."

Just then, Strop's ear flicked to the side, just in time to catch the tail end of a remark: "-but it's not worth filching if it isn't gold."

Strop and Cenere looked down. Sitting, in their customary spot next to the entrance of the ArmorBank, were the street-kids, Richard and Garrett.

http://i438.photobucket.com/albums/qq105/strawpony/Way%20Of%20Moderation/2-3.png

Part 3: Dodgeball

"Oh, fancy meeting you here, err..." Strop scratched his chin, then glanced questioningly at Cenere. Cenere rolled his eyes and flipped a few pages on his clipboard before prompting him: "Richard and Garrett."

"Ah, right, Richard and Garrett!" Strop nodded back at the duo, who glowered back at him from the ground. "I understand you are candidates in the Way of Moderation Trials?"

"Well," sneered Garrett, flexing his muscles ominously, "we ain't heard about it for so long we figured it was a sham."

This was met with an indifferent silence, for Strop was busy fishing around the burlap sack. Then he drew out his arm, holding up a curious object: it was a ball, except divided into four quarters of red, yellow, green and blue. A Compulse ball, to be precise.

Strop hefted it in his hands.

http://i438.photobucket.com/albums/qq105/strawpony/Way%20Of%20Moderation/2-4.jpg

The ball flew straight through the air and smacked Garrett in the face. It bounced off harmlessly, leaving a shocked Garrett in its wake.

"Hey, what the he-"

"You're supposed to dodge. This is a test of your agility!" Strop laughed, before tossing another ball in the air and kicking it at the pair. This time, the ball hit Richard in the face. Richard flailed and fell over with a startled "Ow!"

Garrett saw red. "Nobody hurts Richard!" he roared, and charged at Strop.

http://i438.photobucket.com/albums/qq105/strawpony/Way%20Of%20Moderation/2-5.png

"Oh now, that won't do at all!" Strop lectured. "You attacked me, and that's hardly becoming of a moderator."

"SHADDUP!" Garrett roared, his face a splendid shade of red. Strop merely cinched his arm higher, and the roar turned to a squeak.

Cenere coughed. "Ahem."

"What, Cenere, you know full well I'm acting in self-defence!" Strop pouted.

"That's not what I meant." Cenere pointed at Richard, who was valiantly kicking at Strop's shins. Strop, however, had failed to notice this, but being alerted to the situation, picked Richard up by the scruff of his neck. "That's a ban, young man!"

"Not fair!" Richard gritted, "You provoked us first!"

"I'll have you know that being provoked is something one must tolerate, no matter if you're a regular or a moderator! Now, off to the ArmorCourts we go!" And with that, Strop started frogmarching them along Index Road. "By the way, Cenere, could you pick up the balls? Thanks."

---

"For Great Justice" was a popular motif of internet crusaders everywhere, but nonetheless the motto applied especially to the ArmorCourts. Like the gateway between government and the public that was law and jurisprudence, the ArmorCourt of Great Justice may have resembled the other district courts but in fact stood as the barrier between the rest of ArmorCity and the hallowed ArmorCastle. The only ones who had ever stepped through the barred doorway behind the judge's bench to the path leading to the moat of ArmorCastle were the Administrators, the Moderators and the legendary head developers that had built and were building the lands of ArmorGames as everybody knew it.

So it was with a mixture of amusement and horror that Strop arrived at the court to find several dazed and unconscious guards at the entrance, and, upon rushing inside, a giant banana standing on the bench, spitting on the back door.

"I'll show you!" The banana grunted between spits. "I'll become the true king of ArmorGames and you'll all become my slaves!"

Strop hastily directed Richard and Garrett to the witness stand. "Cen, could you watch these two?" Without waiting for a reply, Strop leapt onto the bench.

"What do you think you're doing?"

The banana whirled around and shot Strop a glare of disdain. "Don't interrupt me, peon. I'm claiming my rightful title."

Strop then noticed the crown on the banana's head, and put two and two together. So this must be the evil creation of the legendary god of madness, Zega. "Banana King, I presume. I knew you would come for the tournament."

Banana King drew himself up with an air of conceit. "Naturally you would recognise me for my birthright to the throne."

"Actually your reputation just precedes you." Strop held out an arm and his trusty Thor materialised in a puff of black smoke. "Come with me. We have a special place reserved for you. On the psychiatric ward of Armor Hospital, that is."

Suddenly, Banana King collapsed. Or rather, his skin collapsed. No sooner had Strop realised that the banana had slipped his peel and split than a voice outside thundered:

http://i438.photobucket.com/albums/qq105/strawpony/Way%20Of%20Moderation/2-6.png

Strop's reaction was immediate. He poofed his modphone: "Hi, yeah, this is Strop. Could you be on the lookout for a naked banana? Yes, naked banana. Wearing a crown. Yes. No, I'm not high. Thank you. Bye."

He then dispelled the phone, and turned to the witness stand. "Right, Cen, looks like- what the hell happened to you?"

With a split lip and a marvellous black-eye forming, Cen looked rather the worse for wear. More importantly, there was no sign of Richard or Garrett.

"Aw geez Cen, looks like you got owned. Do you need some ice for that bur- I mean, the swelling?"

"A holiday would be nice", Cen remarked drily.

Strop poofed his trusty white first-aid crate and started digging through it. "But school just started again! Anyway, this should help." He handed Cen a pack.

Cen eyed it. "Don't I get painkillers?"

"I don't carry painkillers," Strop responded. "Pain builds character."

Thus Cen's suspicions that Strop's blood consisted of pure adrenaline as opposed to a mere stimulant were engendered. "Anyway, we better get going. I'd like to get through everybody before the end of next week."

Yes, a holiday sounded wonderful right about now.

Strop
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Strop
10,841 posts
6,360

Shortly after the Incident at the Armor Courts

http://i438.photobucket.com/albums/qq105/strawpony/Way%20Of%20Moderation/2-7.png

'Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz' was the sound coming from KingRyan as he slumbered on the library desk. He lay on top of an open book, which was titled: The History of Every Brick of ArmorCastle...some light reading he had picked up for the day. The page that he was on contained this picture:

http://i296.photobucket.com/albums/mm193/kingryanv/brick.png

So, as you can imagine, KingRyan was fasssst asleep.

Suddenly, there was a creak from the other side of the room. And footsteps. Of course, who could it be but Moderator Strop and his side kick Cenere. The dubious pair tiptoed up to where KingRyan sat asleep, Strop giggling like a little girl.

After stealing right up to where the geriatric sat, Strop pulled out a piece of paper and stuck it to KingRyan's back.

'Is that necessary?,' remarked Cenere in a snide voice?

Strop just giggled more and pulled out a small and colourful ball, before replying:

'Meh, its KingBogan, he deserves his title....now, do you think we should wake him up first?'

This question was answered for him as KingRyan gave one last grunt and then abruptly sat up. Noticing this, Strop leant forward and tapped him on the shoulder.

'ARGGGGHHHH!!!!!!!! WHAT? WHO'S THERE? SHOW YOURSELF!!!!!!' screamed KingRyan.

'Calm down bogan, its only me!' replied Strop.

'HOW DARE YOU SCARE ME LIKE THAT! I COULD HAVE HAD A HEART ATTACK, YOU SHOULD KNOW THAT BEING A DOCTOR AND ALL!!!!!' ranted KingRyan.

'Meh, lets get this over and done with...' commented Strop calmly before jumping into the air and performed a manouver something like this:

http://i296.photobucket.com/albums/mm193/kingryanv/throw.gif

The ball flew through the air and hit KingRyan deftly in the forehead with a resounding 'whumph.'

'What...did...you...do...that...for...?' said KingRyan with increasing rage, a red mark already forming on his forehead. Seeing Strop pull out another ball, KingRyan grabbed his quill and quickly drew a square shield in the air. As he finished it, he tapped the middle with his quill causing it to become solid, floating in mid air. The ball hit it and fell to the ground..

'That's not going to save you old man...' commented Strop, as he motioned to Cenere to throw some balls too. Well, ditch not throw.

KingRyan knew he was in trouble, his shields of ink would not be able to withstand the onslaught, so he turned to the desk and picked up the book he was reading earlier.

As he turned around he heard the whoosh as the balls flew through the air at him, so he began to swing the book around to hit the balls just like a cricketer.

*CRACK* The book fell out of his hands as KingRyan fell to the ground in agony. The crack had come from somewhere in his lower back, rendering him immobile. If there was one positive to come out of this situation, he dodged both balls perfectly.

Strop and Cen now advanced, wielding two colourful balls each.

'Come on guys...is this necessary?' whimpered KingRyan

'Of course it is!!' was Strop's reply, somewhat manically.

'Oh...ok...why though?' questioned KingRyan.

'Err...umm....err...well...you see...Cen will explain it.'

Once again, Cenere was put on the spot...and this time he had no cue cards.

'Well, as you can see...this is clearly a test for the Way of Moderation' gabbled Cenere, before adding, 'So shut up and lets get this over with.'

And then, quite meanly, Strop and Cenere proceeded to ditch balls over and over at KingRyan from about a metre away.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Waaaaiiiitttt!!!!!!!!!!! Oi, you, yes you...out there...Writing this stuff...It's KingRyan, your character. Remember me? You're not going to just have me lay there and get pelted with those balls are you? That isn't very nice! Write something better....

~~~~~~~~~~~~

As Strop tapped KingRyan on the shoulder, KingRyan spun around screaming and punched Strop in the face. He then jumped into the air and fly kicked Strop in the face, knocking him into a bookshelf. The bookshelf teetered for a little bit, before falling down and crushing Strop all the way to Newgrounds.

Cenere stood by with a amused look on his face, until KingRyan did another fly kick and got him square in the gut. Happy at his efforts, KingRyan sto~

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Ok, do you want to win this competition or not? I really think that being that strong against Strop isn't a good idea, and since when could I fly kick? I'm an old man for heavens sake! Just scrap that idea and finish the first one...*sigh*

~~~~~~~~~~~

As KingRyan lay on the ground groaning, Strop and Cenere left the library. Not much was out of place, except the heavy volume KingRyan had used to defend himself, which lay open on another page which held a curious illustration of several Admin staff making the bricks of ArmorCastle...

But that, is another story...

---

"Did you have to do that?" Cen's face was visibly twitching as the pair meandered through the back streets of the Art Music and Writing sector of Armor City.

"Do what?" Strop was being his usual oblivious self. Or maybe that was pretending to be oblivious. Cenere could never quite tell.

"Wreck the library. It's literary blasphemy," Cenere disapproved.

Strop gave a short laugh, "Let's just say that there comes a time when even archives need reformatting. I merely provided KingBogan with the incentive to do so!"

Cenere was about to retort when Strop suddenly stopped, causing Cenere to collide with him. Readjusting his glasses, Cenere glimpsed a familiar figure, ruminating over the great brass plaque affixed to the wall of the Imaginarium. "He's... big."

Strop held out a hand. "There's no telling what this guy will do... but don't worry. I have a plan. Stay right here!"

"But-" was all Cenere could manage before Strop whisked the bag off his shoulders and sprinted into the open.

---

http://i438.photobucket.com/albums/qq105/strawpony/Way%20Of%20Moderation/2-8.png

"Hello, Stallion Man," the Bullman said when he saw the black-clad anthrohorse standing in front of the domed Imaginarium. He realized his mistake too late when he saw, through the hole in the mask, that the horse in front of him was bay and not black-and-white. This was the other horse from the Amphitheatre that did gymnastics, which was no different to the ballet that Stallion Man employed. Just because they're fast, they think they can show off with their fancy acrobatics. Perhaps he had made moderator already and "Strop" was here to inform him.

"This is the first trial. Your challenge, 'The Bullman', will be to dodge everything I throw at you."

"Easy enough," the Bullman replied confidently. Any challenge from a horse was going to be easy.

"Furthermore, the Imaginarium is chaotic, so the stuff I throw at you turns into random objects."

Without warning, a ball revamped ball shot through the Imaginarium wall and instantaneously exploded into a fine mist. This pathetic attempt amused the Bullman until the fog expanded and engulfed him so that he could see no further than a few feet in front of his nose ring. He reached for his rubber ducky. Showers of rubber duckies pummeled him and knocked out the one he was holding. He searched along the ground for his weapon but all her found were squeaks. It all seemed too organized to be random. Overhead, he could've sworn he heard a train pass, if his mother had not taught him that swearing was bad. The loud crunch that followed strengthened his belief.

A stapler struck him on the head and luckily it was pointing the other way. There was no conceivable way for the Bullman to complete the challenge. Not only was he twice as big as most of the contestants, he was also four times as slow. He was genetically predisposed to fail. His mother never let him take Pilates or whatever it was called. He recoiled in disgust as a horseshoe rounded his horn. If he hadn't, he would've been stricken with grief.

The Bullman took another hit to the head, this time a physics dissertation on d-branes, before giving up his search. He stumbled around trying to dodge the objects flying at him through the thick fog. A typewriter caught his left hoof and he slammed into a railroad car. It definitely was a train that flew overhead. The Bullman stood and twisted his body to barely scrape by a balloon.

In a blaze of confusion he managed to tackle himself or rather, a doppelganger tackled him. An explosion rocked the two and the doppelganger dissipated into a thought. A broach bounced off his chest, as did a calculator, a wooden spoon, a double-paned window, and bowling pin. He rolled to a sitting position before being knocked down again by a sewing machine. With a grunt, he heaved the sewing machine into the fog, hoping that it would hit Strop and maybe end the barrage. A lithograph of a rabid squirrel carrying a bowl of spicy chicken curry shot out from the fog, followed by a rabid squirrel carrying a spicy chorizo. The lithograph momentarily blocked his vision before he caught the squirrel by the chorizo and tossed it aside.

Determined to complete the first trial, the Bullman started off the ground with a burst of strength before being hit by failure. And then a ball revamped ball, and a ball revamped ball, and another ball revamped ball, and another ball revamped ball, and one final ball revamped ball. It was over. It had to be over. The Bullman rolled up once more to a sitting position.

When the fog cleared, the damage was more apparent. The train wreck had taken out a portion of the southwest corner of the library. Several buildings around the Imaginarium were on fire, one of which belonged to that rabbit guy who wrote of his grand exploits. The Bullman could only guess what happened to those buildings, but the blackened and burning objects (ten times more objects than he had seen) between him and the Imaginarium left little to the imagination. He was bruised, but not too badly. While equine acrobatics could've helped with the challenge, he thought that he could take on Strop in combat if he wanted to even in his current condition. A guttural groan escaped the Bullman's lips as he leaned against the side of the train.

"Don't worry," Strop said. "I'm a healer... in training."

---

The Bullman's injuries were found to be more the product of a bruised ego than anything else, so Strop had him dispatched for admission to Armor Hospital for a mild case of shock and referred him to the psychological counselling services (or at least wrote it in the order- there were no psych services in ArmorGames). Then he surveyed the scene with a mixture of morbid fascination and glee.

"Well, we've gone off to a smashing start!"

"I see you managed to smash the library some more. And my studio, too", remarked a dry voice.

It was true. Along its way to the library, the passenger carriages of the train had plowed through several studios, including the modest shack that belonged to Cenere.

"Whoops," Strop said. Then after a little pause, "If it makes you feel any better, I also smashed mine."

That, too, was true. Strop's own studio, originally far less modest, had a giant hole carved right through its center, the probable victim of a ball that had transformed from revamped to cannon. "Meh, I'll fix it later, we must press on!"

"If you don't destroy the whole of ArmorCity before then..."

"Shhh, don't jinx it!"

---

http://i438.photobucket.com/albums/qq105/strawpony/Way%20Of%20Moderation/2-9.png

Crimson was still waiting preparing to enter again into the ASC after Zophia said it was OK when he saw a colorful ball coming towards him. In the Community Hall this could mean anything, but he found out quickly that it was a threat when it him his arm that he used to guard his face from it. The ball ricocheted off of his arm and bounced on to the floor like an under-inflated basketball would. He had a small glimpse of it and realized it was one of Johns creations. He didn't quite understand what this was, but just assumed it had something to do with the WoM. He took a look at the ball to make sure it didn't have any type of special message on it like the way ninjas typically give out messages, but of course instead he got hit upside the head with another ball. It was at that point that he figured out this was actually a test. He took out his blade and prepared for another one to come after him. He saw it and swatted it like he was playing a deadly version of racket ball, but of course since it was created through a spell made by one of the administrators. It was destroyed, but simply respawned and and hit him in the face again.Destroying them was simply not going to work. So at this point he probably wouldn't be too surprised if he got a bloody nose from this.

"Time to change tactics". He looked around and saw the next one flying at him. He did a gears of war style roll out of the way, and saw it hit a stick figure entry off its pedestal....maybe for the better I suppose. He looked back in front of him to see two of these things headed towards him. He dodged the first to only put himself in front of the other. This one hit his foot somehow stubbing it in the process. After jumping around for a couple of second he saw OVER 9000!!!!! more of them coming at him. So he did what anyone else would do in the same situation. Thats right hide behind the art comp pedestal where the winning art is, and hope they can't hit him there. He ran towards the pedestal at first almost getting tailgated on his way there. He hid behind it when all the balls flew around him. Then came the one thing he forgot. The balls could change direction. The magical arrows appeared all around him, all pointed in his direction.

"I never liked that game anyways" he jumped out of the way as they all hit the back of the pedestal almost knocking it over. The art pieces including his champions exhibit got knocked over.

"Good thing that was a replica". He realized though that these projectiles could be manipulated, and he had basic knowledge on how to use Armor Magic 3.0 so he came to the quickly conclusion that he would have to try and create his own directional arrows to send them in the opposite direction. He grabbed two of his old art pieces and used them as shields.(somehow they are more effective then his sword against admin magic which is sad). He got into a corner of the community hall and put the pictures in front of him having them pelted instead of him, and he used this defense to give him time to created a spell to counter admin magic. He created a simple arrow not even knowing the class of spell that he was trying to counter. He threw it up towards the balls outside of his shields. The balls just went straight through the arrow like it didn't exist. He realized then that compulse balls ran on old magic, also known as Armor Magic 2.0 so he would have to make his spell using a form of magic he didn't know well enough. He had only one choice...Google Magic!!! He pulled out his Google scroll and asked it for an Armor Magic 2.0 directional arrow spell. It gave him what he wanted after first telling him that he should go buy 15 different products first. He grabbed the spell and threw it at the compulse balls. This time with success, but some were still getting through and he couldn't hide forever, so he had to make an escape. He brought out his map of tunnels in AG. He found one in the community hall that had yet to be patched up yet. It allowed him access to areas that were not opened up yet because they were under construction, and so all he had to do was get to this tunnel. He grabbed his "shields" and threw a few more instances of his directional arrow spell up into the hall. He looked around as he ran towards the tunnel that the whole hall had been totaled and people that he forgot were even there were all over the place either knocked out because a ball hit them accidentally or were freaking out because they thought a hacker was attacking the hall. A majority of the art was knocked over, had footprints on them, and for some reason some of them were even being set on fire.

"Nothing new here really from what I can tell" he finally got to the tunnel and jumped in at the back of the long hall. From this area he could crawl his way out of the hall back into the main area of the site. He had to think of the one place where he could escape and be safe from these things....

"To the Crimson Keep!!!"

---

Strop and Cenere searched for the mysterious Crimson but he had well and truly given them the slip. "That's actually quite impressive," Strop said. He knew full well that Crimson, being one of the original veterans of ArmorGames, alongside the likes of King "Since Beta" Ryan, knew the ins and outs of the city as well as the secrets buried by a city's constant evolution. Thus it would have been far too much trouble to scout him out for the sole purpose of pelting him with more balls.

The sun started to set on this day of the trials, and Cen and Strop retired to the tavern, for even a ninja horse with caffeinated blood had to eat.

"Weren't you a judge of the ASC once?" Cenere felt his insides twist at the recollection of the scene that had taken place earlier in the day.

"Yes, why do you ask?"

"You... just wrecked the ASC." Cenere could not explain himself. Nor did he feel he had to, surely the horror at the travesty was plenty apparent in that statement in itself.

"Not really. I mean, by the time Zophia gets to it, it won't matter!" Strop giggled. "Not that I was much better, I mean that's why I quit..."

Zophia had gained the reputation for her flexibility over deadlines, but in the face of such callousness, Cenere found himself compelled to speak out. Once again, he held his tongue.

They found themselves outside in the (thankfully) cooling air, staring at a high tower of ice. At least that's what it looked like, a scaffolding of ice encasing a tall spindly structure nearly as tall as Strop's tower. And hammered into the grass at the base: "DYSTOPIA".

"I'm pretty sure that's a violation of building codes," Strop muttered, probably more worried about such a structure blocking his view of ArmorCity, or, worse, somebody being able to actually see directly into his room.

Cenere was already flipping through his notes. "That belongs to Chill, Grandmaster of George."

"Oh really now?" Strop rubbed his hands together. "Then I guess we might as well pay him a visit now."

"Can't it wait?" Cenere had barely started on his meal.

"Better we do it now. I... have my reasons."

"And what might those be?" A hungry man was a grumpy man, after all, and this was about as querulous as Cenere was going to get.

"Well, see, he got banned in an infraction some months ago...while registered for the WoM. So as, er, punishment I laced his coffee with senna and LSD today. A lot of it. It should be kicking in about now."

Cen didn't bother asking why or how Strop got his hands on an illegal recreational drug, mainly because he didn't want to become an accessory to a crime he didn't commit. "Fine, let's go then," he sighed.

---

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Coffee. He needed to finish his coffee.

Sip, sip, sip. He finished the cup quickly, before returning to work on Dystopia 2. He had to finish. With haste.

A knock came at Chill's door. He got up to answer it, before falling to the floor. His stomach tightened like a thousand microscopic boa constrictors were squeezing it. He got up, a soft 'urgh' escaping his lips, and he opened the door.

He did not like what happened after that.

The Compulse ball flew forward, smashing into his shoulder. A well-dressed, blond man caught it, and greeted him surprisingly cordially.

"Hello, Chill." The man said, sounding Scandinavian.

"You must be Cen . . . ."

"You're right about that."

Cen's arm went back as he was about to make another throw - but then, seemingly out of nowhere, Chill was hit again. An expert shot flew over Cen's shoulder, catching Chill square in the gut. This brought on yet another cramp. After he had recovered from the potshot, he noticed something. The wooden floors were ablaze. He jumped up, backing against the wall . . . before lurching forward at the site of the razor wire he was leaning up against.

A meteor exploded from Cen's hand. Chill ducked, dodging it, then he bolted. He was headed for the 98th page. For Mr. Gnome.

A ninja dropped in front of him, wearing A mardi Gras mask and an LGBT rights T-shirt. He was holding a rubber band ball, and appeared to be walking with pixie sticks for legs. He proceeded to toss the rubber band ball - a simple matter for some frozen air to stop. Chill grabbed Mr. Gnome, using his lazor to seal the fire escapes and other exits besides the one he was taking. After this surprise, Chill ran again, down tro the Heart of the dystopia - the final boss floor.

the staircase was a centipede - grabbing at Chill's legs, making him jump and tumble down the steps. He was almost there . . . pushing through the anthropomorphic door, he made it into an open room.

An army of hamsters. Barreling to him. They knocked hi m down and strated jumping on his stomach. "Stop! Ow!" His stomach cramped as they kept on pounding the center of his digestive system. To make matters worse, the lights were shining excruciatingly brightly . . . .

Chill froze a dome over his prostrate form to block the Compulse balls from Cen and Strop, before stopping to attempt thinking. He knew enough of the structure of the place to know that the main support was in the center . . . .

Suddenly, the ice dome was shattered by a hooved foot. Getting up, Chill continued to run, still being chased by ninjas and hamsters.

He was tripped up by yet another spherical object - he couldn't tell what it was - and he fell on the floor. He was so close . . . .

He stumbled to his feet, backing up, before looking down. The wood floor appeared to drop off into a slick, white nothingness - a linoleum chasm. With Cen and Strop closing in on him, he had nothing else to do . . . he folded his arms to his chest, closed his eyes, and fell backward into the chasm.

. . . KONK . . . .

Jolted from his induced serenity almost immediately, Chill sat up, only to be knocked down again by a ball to the face. He was now bleeding both from the back of his head and the depths of his nose, lesving a trail of lukewarm pain behind him as he continued to flee.

Chill was relieved and frightened - he was in the heart of the dystopia, but he coulkd barely see a thing. Everything was scrambled . . . except for one statue. The Alt statue, the pin holding all of Dystopia together - it stood firm to Chill, probably because the gold body, platinum pants, silver underwear, Taffeite eyes, and woven adamantium clothing all cost about 200,000 AP in donations and his own money.

And so, it was all he could do to escape. He had no choice.

He ran, even while the hamsters continued to pound on his stomach, to the Big Red Button of Eternal Woe.

He pressed it.

From there, the statue groaned, before collapsing into a fine powder, which materialized inside a freezer bag. Taking the bag, Chill ran for the fire escape. He had to get outside, and fast.

Stepping into the eerie stillness of the Armusement Park at night, Chill hoped for the best. He dodged Compulse ball after Compulse ball, biding his time. Then, it came.

"Just as I thought would happen . . . ." Chill said as the entire Dystopia structure veered to the right and snapped. It fell right where Chill thought it would . . . the biggest thread in Armorland history. The "Rate the Above 'User's Fame" complex. All 1370-some pages of it.

The RPG building speared through the main core of the building, smashing the key supports. Some flame Magik alighted the facade, burning it away quickly. (the fire burned at OOOOOOOVVVVERRRRR 9000!!! degrees Kelvin). The remaining supports of the building went molten, and then Strop, Cen, and Chill all saw the most chilling, fantastic sight in Armorland history.

Millions of AP, almost 1400 thread pages falling to the ground at freefall speed . . . the largest thread and the largest RPG lay ion ruins, expelling a wave of dust which knocked them all down to their backs, and into the realm of unconsciousness.

When he woke up, Chill could see clearly again. The sun was at its apogee, and he was covered in footprints. Sitting up, he woozily asked a passerby " . . . did I win?"

---

Strop
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Strop
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"Can't we take a break? It's really hot."

Strop looked at Cen incredulously. "But it's only just past noon!"

Looking at him, Cen could not understand how the ninja horse had not passed out from heat-stroke. Not only did he have fur, but he was wearing black coveralls and a mask and he had been running and jumping non-stop since after breakfast.

"Come to think of it, I might need to trim my summer coat again, but..."

Well, that was one question answered. Cen wiped his brow, flicking the sweat of his hand. "But what?" he automatically replied.

"But these clippers have been reserved for another use today." Strop nonchalantly twirled two battery-operated razors in his hand. Cen found his hands reflexively going to his ponytail. It was still there.

"Right, I wonder... anyway, care to tell me why we are sitting in the middle of the bushes?"

"What- oh, yes." Strop whisked out a pair of binoculars from his ninja suit. "It's an ambush."

"Huh?"

"As you know, several of the victestants live on Aristocrat way... the poor devils." Strop sniffed away an imaginary tear before continuing. "These misguided souls, do they not yet know of-"

The Armor Madness of Aristocrat Alley

Aristocrat Alley was the Lombard Avenue of San Fransisco, the Mayfair of London, the Hollywood Heights of Los Angeles, the high end of town in any and every way. A winding cobblestone path of precisely one hundred houses, each more opulent than the last until the proverbial Neverland ranch of the recluse known as Firetail. The residents here were the who's who, the bees knees, the rich list of ArmorCity, and as such there was much talk, much suspicious talk of exactly who did what to get where. In the past it was well known that many of these figures, now departed of course, had secured their place through less than scrupulous means: the founding of dummy companies and ghost accounts through which they laundered their ill-gotten gains. The covert spamming and organised identity fraud, the threats and the Jekyll & Hyde behaviours... all these had been firmly cemented in the long-tarnished reputation of this land. All these had come to be collectively known as the Armor Madness, which, like the fires of Sodom and Gamorrah, consumed all in the path of decadence. As to whether it was the place itself, or the allure of the place, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us*, or the people that were drawn to it, nobody knew but since the supposed suicide of Starscreamer and the razzle-dazzle antics of KoG, there was no doubt that the residents of this alley were touched, touched by an insanity that made mere mortals clamour to them just as much as, in their hearts, they knew to stay away.

"So basically you're going to wreck Aristocrat Alley now?"

"Yes. Except there is not a single Lot, nor his wife and daughters, among us."

Cenere swore that it was the grin of the devil that Strop wore under his mask.

* Please, somebody tell me they know this quote!

Gametesta:

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"Ah. That was a nice nap. And hey! Everything is still here! This is just great", i thought. I slid my right sword through the loop of my Iron Prince crown And slipped it on my head. That way i would be treated with respect! Although some how I knew I would have no such luck. I walked outside into the hot summer air. "Maybe I should go back into my air conditioned suite...."I thought. Then I noticed how hungry I was. I needed to find a restaurant.
I walked through the gates of Aristocrat way when suddenly I was hit in the back with what felt like a ball.(Obviously the crown wasn't working) I quickly turned around. I had no time for this non-sense. I needed ki- I mean eat, and then go to the library to find information on this "NonameC68". "Who is there?" I said with a firm voice. "Well it's me and Cenere." a dark, muffled voice said. Suddenly the bushes started moving, and out them came two figures. One was a horse like figure in ninja clothing. I had come to know him as the moderator Strop. The other was a young man in a suit with glasses and fairly long hair. "Why are you here?" i asked. "This the first trial of WoM. Agility." Strop said in a proud voice. And on that note he reached for the burlap sack Cenere was carrying and pulled out a ball. He threw it at me quickly. I hit the ball with my sword. It popped easily, but once again he had another ball and once again he threw it. This time i sidestepped it, but as i did this he grabbed another ball and threw it. This time it hit me directly in the stomach. I went flying into a fruit stand. "You want to play games with me? Then lets play games." I said in an annoyed voice. Strop threw another ball. He was laughing so hard his accuracy dropped a 100th of a fraction and barely missed me.
I flew up into the air to avoid any more bruises from dodge balls. I landed up on a rooftop and tried to relax. That didn't last very long. Strop was climbing the building at an incredible speed. Crap. He chased me with the burlap sack on his back. He launched about three at me 1 hit me. The other two popped. I was screwed."Come on Gametesta! Show me your agility!!!" Strop yelled. I thought he was mad and again launched two balls at me as i flew in the air. He threw balls in 3's and 4's.. I dodged them all. I was getting tired. I needed to stop this. I stopped my wings and zoomed straight for the burlap sack as a fell. I cut it open with my swords and all the balls came rolling out. Strop quickly picked them up and as he came up the tip of my sword was an inch from his face. "Good job" Strop said"Now why don't you help pick up these balls." Then he glanced at my swords. Then he said. "On second thought...."
By the look of Strop's face I could tell he wasn't liking being held hostage by two swords.

"Woah there Edward, let's just talk for a minute?"

I narrowed my eyes. "How convenient, that's exactly what I was hoping to do. Now why are you throwing balls at me?"

Strop gave me a look as if i was stupid. "Are you not interested in the Way of Moderation?"

"Not as interested as I am in some of the moderators. Who is NoName and where is he?" I twitched my swordhands menacingly to shake him up a bit.

"Nemo? What do you want with him anyway? I can't allow foul play you know." Despite the situation, Strop was still a moderator himself and i couldn't help but to recognize the responsibility he had to stop trouble even in a life or death situation.

However i was growing tired of not getting answers. "What if the foul play were done by a moderator?"

"I have no idea what you're talking about." Strop replied almost automatically. "If you have a formal complaint, please lodge a claim at the Armor Court of Great Justice."

I stifled a groan and gritted my teeth. "Never mind, then. Just tell me what you know about the Wilderness."

Strop scratched his head. "What about it, it's the area outside Armor City... always undergoing development, having new sections added to it.... it's said there's major ch- what's it to you anyway?"

Well at least i was getting somewhere now. Maybe i had instilled fear in him. "Who's responsible for what goes on out there?"

"McNeely, of course, along with John, Krin, JoeyBetz, Tony, ConArtists... say, these are very strange questions you're asking, Game...testa."

Hmm.... Perhaps i was wrong. Maybe this McNeely character is the one I'm looking for. Maybe I have a lead.

The next moments happened all too quickly. Out of nowhere, Strop's banhammer had appeared and was swinging right towards my chest. So much for holding his neck hostage. Then there was a blinding flash of blue light, and both Strop and I catapulted backwards. For once, that damned curse worked for me. Thank god i remembered i had it. Strop, taken by surprise for once, fell on his butt and sprung back upright, this time pointing an armed bow at me. Did he not just learn his lesson? I now know i have it. I can use it as a please. The time it takes for him to knock an arrow my shield can recharge...... maybe.

"Care to explain that contraband hardware you have there?"

Oh crap. This is not good. Sure i may be able to deflect every shot he has, but if i get into legal trouble, it's bye-bye aristocrat way. "It's not mine! I mean, it is, but I didn't want it. I mean, it's a curse."

Strop didn't move. "I've heard that one before."

"I'm serious!" I pleaded. Strop need to understand I'm not a bad guy! "NoName has enslaved me to be a Game Tester, and I want freedom!"

"That's pretty hard to believe", Strop twitched his ears before adjusting his aim. "What grounds do you have for making such a claim?"

"I... uh, I... um, his name... is no name... anyway, I've risked too much even saying this!"

Strop lowed the bow and dispelled it. "Fine. I'll look into it. Meanwhile, I recommend you just carry on in the tournament as usual, okay?"

I could tell Strop had just ended the conversation. I saw no other option but to leave and go to the library. "Fine. I'll see you next round then." And with a mighty flap of my wings, I took off. I looked back and i thought i heard Strop say:

"Oi, Cen, you done with those balls yet? The bag needs stitching!"

Manta

It was hot outside. The heat beat down on my back like so many sun baked rivets. But I was bored; I had nothing else to do, as I had just woken up the fourth time that day and trained rigorously all week long. I sat over the edge of my mansiopool and dangled my legs, kicking the edge of the water. "When will round three start?" I thought to myself.
With that I heard a "click," followed by a "bzzzzzz..." Turning over my shoulder, I saw... who else? Nurse Stroppy McCrossdressingninjahorse. And he was holding... "Is that a vibrator?!"
"Oh, God, thatâs a ban" emanated from Armor Castle, barely noticeable.
Strop waggled his finger. "Tut, tut. Youâre in enough trouble as it is, Trout Face.." Upon closer inspection, he was holding an electric razor. He reached into his one piece ninja outfit (I could help but notice bright pink frills whilst he did so) and pulled out a second one. "Did you think Iâd forgotten about your little ban a few weeks back?" He turned the other one on. "Click, bzzzzzz..."

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Strop always HAD been jealous I could have both an awesome dorsal fin and luscious locks of hair. (Lies! -strop)
"Câmere you little carp!"
"Hey! Iâm almost as tall as you!"
Like a ninja horse, Strop thrust his arm forward, razor in hand. Instinctively, like a kickboxing fish, I swiped at the razor, sending it flying as a result. It flew over and clipped the tip off of Cenâs (whom I had just noticed was standing there) ponytail. He frowned a Cen-ly frown.
Strop flexed his fingersâ"unusual for one with hooves. "Fighting back will only get you b&, Manta. Submit to the power!"
I froze. Seriously, ice and everything. Mustâve been a mod-power. "Câmere!" Strop lunged. Flexing every muscle I had, I shattered the ice and sent it hurling in every direction somehow. The crystalloid shards smashed the fronts of several mansions and took out a series of pillars on the front steps of another. The other aristocrats of Aristocrat Way stood in shocked horror, and I froze, In the metaphorical sense, this time. "Um... I didnât mean to?"
Strop chuckled. "Fine. I might as well introduce youâ¦" I then noticed Cenere had a large burlap sack. He tossed it to Stroppykins and Strop pulled out a large rubber compulse ball. "...To your next challenge first." He chucked the ball at me, quite hard I might add. As it neared me, I flipped backwards onto my hands and kicked it straight up into the air.
It landed with a "ping!" and left a crack in the sidewalk. Then it bounced up and crashed through the roof of one of the houses. It ricocheted around the inside with repeating "Pings!" and eventually started bouncing around the inside of the house so fast that the pings became a resounding "Squeeeeee!"
And then I watched the abandoned old mansion come crashing to the ground, completely leveled. All that remained was debris and dust. The ball rolled out of the devastated pile of house parts and stopped by Stropâs feet.
"Well, well, well. I see youâre putting up a fight. This will be fun!" Strop reared his arm back, ball in hand. I closed my eyes and braced myself, but while I wasnât looking, I heard that familiar buzz and felt my hair come falling off in piles. I reached up in horror and felt the stubble where my hair used to be.
Then I stopped. Strop grinned. I ran. Strop threw. I ran faster. The ball kept up with me. "Run, fish-boy, run!"
So I ducked, and watched in amusement as the compulse ball took out a stone wall surrounding the boundaries of Aristocrat Way. It collapsed and fell over onto an elderly man (he was alright, he just seemed... geriatric).
Strop pulled out three more balls and gave chase, throwing them as we went. The first one, I sidestepped to the left and watched as it took out three windows in quick succession. The third one was low; I jumped over it and grabbed it between my feet, tossed It in the air, and head butted it straight up. Once again, it destroyed another old mansion. I turned around and caught the third one, and it sent me sliding back a few feet. I traded stares with Strop and the dodge ball, and after a short lapse of awareness, served the ball overhand at Strop.
Of course, being a ninja, he easily volleyed it back to me. It seemed we were playing volleyball now. I dove, narrowly knocking the ball back at him. He slapped it back at me and I punched it with all of my strength. Strop had to dodge this one. He flipped out of the way and the ball demolished the foundation of the house behind him, sinking it underground.
He pulled out one more ball and tossed It into the air. He back flipped and kicked the ball at me, so I ran as fast as a land-fish couldâ"faster than it sounds. Unfortunately, the ball was faster, and I was forced to somersault forward, and as my balance shifted back to my feet and I was righting myself, I kicked the ball with the back of my heels. The already great force of the ball, combined with the force of my own kick, created devastating results. It was speeding right for Firetailâs super-ultra-mega-luxurious-villa.
The ball hit Armor Landâs second most expensive piece of land with a tremendous "bwoooooom!"
Through yet another circumstance I wouldnât ever understand, the ball created an awesome mushroom cloud as it hit the house, utterly annihilating it and the six houses on either side of it.
Firetail wasnât home, and I knew he could afford another. The others... meh. They had insurance.
I was blinded by the black smoke. Strop picked me up by the scruff of the neck and horse punted me through the air. He then donned a targeting visor and held another ball. "Steady... steady..."
He chucked it straight after me and did that triple-clap "Iâm done here" thing and turned to Cenere. "Come on, Cenny Cen Cen! We have to find more victestants!" He heaved the sack over his shoulder and trotted off.
I sailed for a good minute or so before finally landing in the Haunted District of the Residential Area, destroying a straw shack. I looked up and saw a spinning, multicolored streak hurtling right at my face.
Unable to do anything else, I rolled to the side and jumped to my feet. The streak landed with an enormous "PING!" The result was an incredible shockwave that took out every haunted house in the Haunted District, along with several trees, stones, and a certain fish-boy.
I stumbled before finally falling to the ground and waited for the tremor to subside. When it finally did, I stood up, blinded by the dust and debris. All I could see for miles were piles of shattered glass, splintered wood, twisted metal and crushed brick. But who really cared? This was the district where only the ghost accounts lived.
My eyes were wide and I was shocked. With no alternatives, I collapsed onto my back and closed my eyes. Hard to say if I was unconscious or just sleeping, but either way, I couldnât be bothered with waking up.

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"Well, maybe we can take five minutes off."

Cen couldn't quite believe his ears. He turned to Strop. "What?"

"I said, we'll be taking a break now!"

Just then, in the distance, the cathedral bell sounded once, twice, three times. It was now the hottest part of the day, and even while sitting in the shade of the bushes, the heat seeped between the branches, emanating from the ground, encasing them in an oppresive caldor.

Also, though Strop wasn't about to admit it, that Manta guy was good. Better than most, even. Good enough to puff him out, because if he hadn't gotten serious, he might have taken a supersonic ball to the muzzle and that probably would have looked bad. Oh, and really hurt. Among other things, Strop's nose was sensitive.

"Sandwich?"

Cen, having been denied breaks for several weeks now, had the presence of mind to bring his own lunch. Strop glanced over. That was awfully nice of Cen, but...

"Does that bread have butter derived from animal fats? I can't eat that kind of stuff, you know."

Cen frowned. "I have no idea what you're talking about."

Strop shook his head, "Well nevermind then. It is said that the Dragon Warrior can survive three months on a single ginkgo leaf and the energy of the universe alone!"

"Uh, right." Cen just stared at Strop. "But you're not a-"

"Okay, let's go!" Without another word, Strop leapt up and started hurtling through the trees again. Several seconds passed before Cenere realised that if he didn't start moving, he would lose sight of Strop altogether, and then Strop would probably find some new horrible way to wake him up in the morning.

Eating sandwiches while running through trees wearing a designer suit. This was going to be fun.

Pixel

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The sun as beating down on yet another hot day in the world of Armor Games. Even the lake too Pixels left seemed hazy with the evaporation of its water. "This is a Bittersweet Symphony this life; try'in to make ends meet your a slave to money then you die#... murmered Pixel, despite this area of the Amusement Park being all but deserted he still kept his voice down. The hard, knarly bark of the oak tree he had perched on was almost perfectly complimentary too his arching spine. He had been laying there for hours whiling away the day sifting through songs and pondering the world. In the distance the hubbub of Armor City could jsut about be heard like a moth flitting through the air.

"Yeaucchh... it is getting very hot now" moaned Pixel. It was almost noon now and the hot sun beated down everywhere. Even the shadows in the branches of the tree were getting hot. Pixel heved up his small frame, supporting himself on the above branches and fluttering his wings gently. After a morning of sitting in the same position his whole body resisted the movement which felt like a comparitive marathon to the sedate few hours it had now been accustomed too. He jumped out of the tree floating the 20 or so metres to the ground. In a storm many years ago the tree had caught alight. Though the fire washed out relatively quickly it left a large hollow in the old tree (though enough wood survived for it too live on and thrive). Within was a dark shade and the cool are was refreshing on Pixels cheeks. He took a drink from a bottle he'd been sipping since he left the castle; though warm the sweet taste still helped. Just as Pixel nestled down in the coolest corner a shadow flashed past the entrance.

"Hellooo..." said Pixie trailing off to a yelp as a small ball twatted him on his arm. "Hey, what?... Who?... Wait; Cenere?!?!?"
"No, do you really think I would do this kinda thing?" Cenere nodded his head to the left. Pixel shifted his gaze to see the crouching figure of Strop. Pixels mind flashed back to the stories he had heard about other members being "attacked" by these two and rememberd laughing at the rumours. "Toss me another ball" ordered Strop and Cenere obediantly reached itoo a bulging sack and tossed one to Strop.. With barely any pullback to give Pixel a chance to dodge Strop launched the ball at lightning speed. It slapped Pixel on the calf knocking his leg back but before he could recover he heard the shout of Strop "Quickly Cen, quickly pass me another...".
"Hey look a new guy is drowning in the lake!!!" shouted Pixel. In the split second the conscientious duo wurled round Pixel ran for the opening to the hollow. He had seen Strops escapades on the roofs of Armor City and decided it would be best not too make a run across open ground; instead he decided to hover up into the trees branches. Almost gaining a strangle hold on Pixels ankles Stop leaped from the hollow after realising there was no emergency from the lake. "You can run but you can'... oh wait you can fly" said Strop. As Pixie swished in and out of the branches of the tree Strop started jumping up the limbs with an an odd elegance. Cenere meraly say himself on the bottom most branch ready to throw up some more balls if Strop threw all the ones he had grabbed from cener on the way out of the hollow.

With the branches thinning Pixel knew he just had to reach the sky and he would be safe (for now at least) in the thin wisps of cloud now encircling the atmosphere. Strop and Pixel made their respective last gasp lunges simultaneously. Pixel got away with, just, and was able to turn and watch Strop clinging on to a thin branch with an old trainer clinched in his left hand. Pixel looked down to see his de-shoed foot wriggling its toes back at him and shot high up into the sky. Cenere was now stood on the ground beside the great tree shaking his head in his hands at the site of Strop danglin by a mere grasp of a twig.

After 30 minutes of relaxing on a cloud he looked down at the ground to see if the coast was clear and slowly drifted back to his home bruised but hopeful this was the start of the Way of Moderation.

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"Okay," panted Strop, "I think that's enough hiding in the bushes for now."

"Good."

Strop
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Strop
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"In the name of McNeely, halt!"

"Is that any way to address a moderator?"

A deep lush red carpet blanketed the aisles, lined with heavy oak pews, and the stage, adorned by a pulpit, altar, and sculpture of the crucifiction of Jesus. Behind it, the light from the afternoon sun was filtered into the many brilliant colours of the enormous stain-glass windows (rumour had it that Strop had crafted it but Strop maintained he was crap at crafty things like stain-glass), framing the giant 9001 pipe organ that took up nearly the entire rear wall of the leviathan hallway.

The Armor Cathedral was in main a tribute to the faith of one of the great creators of ArmorGames, the legendary Daniel McNeely. It was said that he had not made an appearance in ArmorCity for many many eons, such that only the most aged of veterans would remember his presence, prompting others to be skeptical of his existence, others still to cram spam into his PO box (in a location undisclosed), even others still to create cults based on the legend of the so-called god of ArmorCity.

Jesus would have wept.

In the main aisle of the Cathedral, Strop and Cenere had come face to face with a gaggle of these monks. At least, they certainly looked like the Byzantine monks of old, with their brown robes and motley look, sporting an expression of righteous horror worthy of one who had been put through the wringer in The Name of the Rose.* The monks were fearfully, yet determinedly trying to block Strop from nothing in particular, because they did not yet know where he was trying to go.

"Stop, you are desecrating the holy carpet of McNeely! We forbid you to proceed any further!"

Strop snorted and shifted on his hooves. "This is a place of worship of God, not of idolsatry," he muttered under his breath before raising it. "McNeely commissioned this church to be built; he is not the keeper of this Cathedral! You still answer to me!"

It was hard to imagine the huddle of purportedly pacifistic monks putting up a fight, but just in case, Cenere found himself pointing out the sign of the cross over his body. He then spotted a motionless figure on the ground- it was Vise, lying just where Strop had said he would be. Cenere made the cross sign again.

"We cannot allow this abuse of power-"

"Good heavens, don't tell me the parameters of my job!" Strop blustered in disgust and barged through the monks, Cen in tow. "Can't you see this man needs medical attention?"

Cen perked up. "Medical attention? You mean he's not fit to go through the trial?"

"I said nothing of the sort, my dear Cenny Cen Cen!" Strop smirked. "I'm just in the mood to try some complimentary therapy."

Cen was about to ask what that meant, but he already knew. Strop had already picked up a Ball Revamped and had punted it directly at the motionless Vise.

Some doctor Strop was shaping up to be.


* Historical crime-thriller featuring a monk whose powers of observation and deduction were similar to that of Poirot, set in the time of inquisitorial brutalities. Most of the characters suffer a range of horribly tortured deaths over the course of the plot.

---

"That was rude"

I woke up on the ground to a dodge-ball barely missing me. I got up to see Cenere and Strop several feet away (strop wearing a silver kings crown that looked pretty silly with a ninja suit.)

"So this is the first test? What a time to be aching in all my muscles." I said trying to stay standing. I was no use however as I was knocked to the ground by another dodge-ball, "ow my feelings!"

Yet another one flew at me but I was ready, I unsheathed my sword and hit the ball to the side. I looked over to see it crash into a stained glass window, but I was pelted with another dodge-ball seconds later.

"Now that's not very nice" I stood up and held my sword at my side, "those hurt."

Strop threw another dodge ball but I ducked out of the way and it hit some candles along with an alter, the monks, by now, had left. I ran around in a circle to dodge the volley of projectiles smashing an awful lot of pews, stands, and windows (some were by the dodge-balls some were from his sword.) For the sake of dramatic/mildly amusingness I stayed ran my sword along the organ pipes along with some ricocheting dodge-balls to make a tune. But I got to self confident and was slaughtered when strop actually started throwing them and not friendly little tosses.

I looked around the wrecked cathedral and was a bit proud of the collateral damage, and I was about to say something but got hit in the face and collapsed, for a joke I said, "That crown looks great on you strop" before I passed out...again.

---

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Parsat's cell phone suddenly sprang to life, vibrating frantically. It was the alarm he had set for 4:58. Getting up from the stool he was sitting on, he stretched a bit before heading under the bell. Odd...there was no rope to grab onto. His eyes slowly traced up along the inside of the bell until he reached that "OSHI--" point of terror--

WHAP.

The compulse ball hit him straight between the eyes, and he staggered back, hitting his head on the rim of the bell and causing the bell to gong oh so lightly. Although his head hurt like the Dickens, he jumped up as fast as he could with a boost of adrenaline and stopped the bell from vibrating, falling back down onto his back.

"Bob Saget, Strop, Bob freakin' Saget."

The ninja horse was holding onto the rope, a burlap sack slung about his back.

"Confucius say think twice before eating yellow snow."

Parsat slowly got up. "Yeah, and Confucius also say he who thinks by the inch and talks by the yard deserves to be kicked by the foot."

As he was replying he grabbed onto a very thick bell rope, pulling himself up and setting his feet in a noose on the bottom so that he was in effect standing on the rope..

"Touche," said Strop. "You and your comprehensive knowledge of the ancients. So what did Confucius say when he was asked, 'Dodge this?'"

"Wait, wha--?"

The second compulse ball came whirling forth. This time Parsat had seen the move, but he quite forgot that he was on a bellrope with a noose over it. He might have hit the ground hard, but thankfully he only had to hang upside down from one leg with a tightened noose around his ankle. Thankfully. The stuff in his pockets dropped like stones onto the ground, and all he could do was watch them clatter on the ground forlornly. If the blood hadn't been suddenly rushing into his head with such force that he was getting a nosebleed, Parsat probably would have chewed him out a lot worse.

"STROP! You hay-eating..." he gurgled as the blood started to come out of his nose.

With a light motion the ninja horse jumped off and landed without a sound on the ground. He had another ball in his hands, poised to throw it, and just as Parsat thought he was going to get one to the face (his vision was getting blurry now), he saw Strop lower his ball with a smirk.

"No, that would be too easy. Have to give you an honorable chance first."

Ninja suits never had pockets, but somehow the horse was able to pull a very keen knife out of nowhere, putting it into Parsat's hand. With all the strength he could muster, Parsat started to hack away at the rope.

"Hurry up, willya? I got plenty of people to peg." Strop was leaning on the bell now, busy admiring the view from the steeple. He turned around to check Parsat's progress, when his face fell.

"PARSAT, STOP!"

"Wha--?" The Chinaman woozily gazed at Strop, upside down still, and unable to stop in time, sliced the last piece of cord that suspended the bell to the ceiling. Before he knew it the bell was plummeting down the steeple and the wooden levels below, splinters flying everywhere. Parsat shut his eyes and hoped that the end would be quick. Suddenly he felt the noose seem to give way, and realizing with a jolt he was going to fall upside down and break his neck at this rate, quickly grabbed the rope and righted himself.

The bell seemed to decelerate as it crashed thorough each successive layer. Finally it stopped with a resounding crash that was heard throughout Armor City instead of the five chimes that should have gone off.

When Parsat had made sure that the bell wasn't going down any further, that it wasn't a bad dream from his MSG-laden lunch, and that he was really still alive, he hopped down, landing on a large pedestal of some sort, which he realized was the altar. It was pitch black and stiflingly hot, and if he didn't get out in time he would suffocate.

Crap...Confucius says I'm royally screwed.

AN: Cliffhanger!

---

Strop and Cen looked at the altar with a expression of slight disbelief and much horror.

"Hm, looks like you're going to hell for the destruction of a sacred object." Cen muttered.

"Maybe I shouldn't touch it for now... come along, let's go!" Strop briskly turned and strode away.

"But what about-"

"I'm thirsty. How about we get a drink? Like, right now."*

"But... okay."

* True story- I used this exact line once. I was using university facilities to practice a piano duet with my brother as we were performing it at a big concert the next day. While he was in the restrooms, I decided I'd try and copy Sam from Siphon Filter and tried to scale the walls by jumping between them. What I didn't realise was that one of the walls was plasterboard, so when I hit it I went straight through it and left a foot-sized hole in it.

Then when my brother came back, I told him we had to leave. Because I was 'thirsty'. He did see the hole, though, and we 'agreed' to wrap up practice for the afternoon.

Part 3: If You Can Dodge a Leon, You Can Dodge a Ball!

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"...so there we were, cornered." continued Leon to the few who were listening. "Not like, really cornered. We could have left through the door, but metaphorically cornered, 'ya know what I mean. So anyway, Ed tried the old 'fileter mind trick, but it's awful hard to convince someone you didn't kill a guy when you've got hi head roasting over their firepit. So we did the only thing- what on earth was that?" Leon had just felt something hit the back of his head. He was about to ignore it when a multi-colored ball sailed past his head. Leon wheeled around:

"You missed, mor-" but another ball hit him square in the nose, sending him stumbling backwards.

"That one was just to get you to turn around!" said Strop gleefully.

"Do you want to die?" asked Leon, grabbing a bottle from the table. He made to throw it at Strop but that one was too quick: Another ball knocked the bottle from the gnoll's hands. Leon went for another bottle but the horse hit him twice more. Realizing that he was starting to look more like a generic goon than a plucky protagonist, Leon decided to switch the roles. This would be accomplished by a bit of obvious subterfuge. Strop threw another ball; Leon batted the ball away from him, causing it to hit a hapless tavern-goer.

"Who did that?" shouted the now irate victim.

"That jerk!" said Leon point at no one in particular. Leon hoped it worked as he ran for the bar; Strop was now throwing balls more vigorously. Leon felt a few more balls as well as something harder hit him as he jumped towards the bar. As he vaulted over it, he grabbed the head of a tavern patron and slammed it into the bar on pure instinct. He realized that this was not necessarily a good idea only after he had taken cover behind a very confused bartender. Strop continued to hurl objects at Leon with increasing force. First some balls, then a mug, a bottle, a stool, darts (board and all), a few coins and a hyena. Leon was hit as often as he dodged, but he didn't care: He had a plan. Not a non-violent plan, a good plan.

"Cause a distraction!" Leon shouted to his loyal hyena. That one obeyed by jumping up on the bar and causing the most damage he could. Leon, meanwhile found the nearest person still drinking. It was a man sitting at a low round table drinking what appeared to be a bottle of marmalade. Leon tapped him on the shoulder and quietly said:

"Excuse me sir, but could I trouble you to smash that bottle 'geinst the side of your table and threaten me with its jagged edges?"

The man immediately smashed his bottle and whirled around to face Leon shouting: "You feel lucky, punk!?"

The denizens of Armor Games where very helpful. So helpful, in fact, that they saw fit to attack the man they saw as attacking Leon. A good sumritan ran up and tackled the bottle-wielder, not an abnormal response. What was abnormal was that this another person jumped on the back of the first helper and began beating him around the head and ears. The newcomer was finally thrown of, but another newcomer attacked the second-most-recent addition to the fight. So it continued, those new to the battle attacking those who entered directly before them for a few moments before joining the brawl in full. All in all, it looked something like a cross between a conga line and a writhing ball of blood-thirsty snakes. Leon stood, transfixed. He felt an object hit him in the side. He ignored it. Another and another. Finally, a large, heavy object struck him on the side of the head. He steadied himself and tore his eyes from the contorted grappling to look for his attacker. He saw a man. Or a horse-man. Or maybe he was just a horse. He was Strop! Leon realized. Leon didn't much like that one; he was throwing stuff at him. Only then did Leon remember his mission: Cause chaos and panic. He turned and saw another regular running towards the mosh pit of violence. Leon punched him in the face, bringing him down with one clean blow. With that, Leon moved towards another group with murder in his heart. Meanwhile, the bar brawl escalated. People were mostly fighting one another but occasionally groups would run and hide under or behind tables, declaring them "spam-bunkers" and throwing flames at anyone nearby. Leon decided that breaking a chair over such a table was a logical course of action and immediately did so. One of those hiding jumped out and attempted to punch Leon. ille deflected the blow and struck his attack with a back fist. Another came out, presumably to fend him of, but Leon pre-empted him throwing him to the ground. Leon turned to make good his escape but saw someone else running at him. Leon ducked at the last moment and tossed his opponent over his back. Leon laughed like a hyena as he saw more attackers coming his way (or maybe they were just innocent people; it didn't matter to Leon); he was in his element. He strode through the bar, casually deflecting (or, more likely, being hit by) blows and missiles. He decided that random bystander No. 27 was as good as any other so he picked him up and threw him down on a nearby table, smashing it. He paused to admire his handiwork for a moment before moving on. Leon punched a guy in the gut without provocation. That one responded by trying to do the say to Leon (except he was provoked, obviously) but Leon blocked him and sweeped his legs out from under him. Leon loved fighting against incompetents. He could mix and match wacky and otherwise ineffective moves (as demonstrated by the flying uppercut he performed on a waiter) into hilariously inefficient methods of killing, or, in this case, subduing.. He was entertaining himself by trying to get each of his opponents to do a backflip (not of their own volition, of course) before bringing them down when he was struck on the back of the head by a plate of food. The plate smashed from the force, sending Leon stumbling into a stool, which he tripped over. Oh, yeah. Strop. Why did Leon keep forgetting about that guy? A few people took this as an opportunity to kick him, which he more or less expected. After about ten seconds, he was about to actually do something about his situation when his hyena jumped to his rescue. It landed on one of his attackers and growled menacingly at the rest, who sort of shrugged and wandered off. Leon was wishing it would have bit someone when he saw why it hadn't: A turkey drumstick was in his mouth. [PSA]: Knowing that cooked turkey or chicken bones could kill a dog or hyena, Leon took the leg. As he ran from nothing in particular, Leon it someone in the crotch with the turkey leg. Hilariously inefficient. Leon-style. Thinking about doing things Leon-style, Leon himself looked around the bar. All in all, it was a disappointing affair. Only a dozen stools and chairs were smashed; only three tables. Most everyone was fighting someone but nothing was burning. Oh well. The night was still young. Leon walked towards the center of all the commotion, idilly knock bottles and mugs from tables or the bar to the floor, smashing them. He pulled a stool out from under what must have been the only man who was, until then, sitting. Leon set the stool down on the man and broke a leg off. Stool leg, that is. He used this new weapon to fend of incoming balls or unfortunate passersby. He hopped up onto a table, kicking a mug at someone for kicks, and tried to get Strop to throw balls at him. Their impromptu game of baseball was all fun and games until Strop threw a fork into Leon's leg. Leon let out an unflatteringly girlish scream and ran.. Strop followed him and threw more balls at him. Leon ducked under a table, darted around a chair, dashed along the bar and dived through the crowd, but Strop was persistent. Leon knew he couldn't take Strop in a head on fight, so he devised a clever plan to defeat him: He would get his hyena to distract Strop and then jump out a window and run off into the night with his tail between his legs. The hyena, however, seemed to be on to this sort of plan (having narrowly escaped a group of beaked Nazi koalas a few months before) and was already jumping through a window. Leon sighed and followed suit. Strop hurled one last lit oil lamp at Leon as he went.

---

"So how are you differentiating between victestants getting disqualified because they ran away and people passing because they ran away?"

"No idea. It's a gut-feeling. But you have to admit, that was pretty funny."

At least, it was about as funny as a tavern gutted due to a violent brawl could get. Most of the users had cleared out because if they hung around, they ran the risk of a lecture, or worse, the banhammer from Strop. But Strop didn't seem to care about that. He'd only made several public announcements to that effect, too. Kids will be kids after all.

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I sat in my poorly lit hidey hole, staring at my pants. "To jerk or not to jerk....." I mumbled under my breathe. I looked in the corner at my .22 rifle and wondered if I should polish it and go bullseye a few zombies.. I blinked and looked around, and finally rested my eyes upon the hole in the ceiling. It's light was glimmering down on the small sapling, right below it. "Looks like it's noon," I said to myself. Standing up and grabbing my small coin pouch, I was about to set out to buy a few bags of beef jerky when I saw it.
A huge block of rubble, in the exit to my hidey hole. "Huh?" I mumbled, looking closer. it was there alright, not a mirage or my mind playing tricks on me. Back-crawling out of the small hole in and out, I saw the vague image of Cen sticking his head in my hole; with the usual cynical "I don't want to be here" face.
"The first round of the Way of Moderation (TM) is of agility," Cen monotonously told me. "Please prepare to be pummeld by..." Cen looked outside the hole and I could faintly hear strop saying something. But I was not sure. "Oh c'mon strop, you made me say the (TM), are you really going to...?" Cen was suddenly cut off and looked back down the hole. "Strops awesome balls...." Cen raised his head out of the hole for what I could only be a quadruple facepalm..
Strop yelled "HERE IT COMES!" In a rather happy and excited voice. A compulse ball went headstrong into my hidey hole, destroying many glowshrooms. "What the hell Strop?! How'd you know where I was, no one knows this place!" Strop remained silent and kept trying to hit me with his balls. Looking around frantically, my mind automatically turning on to "zombie attack" mode, I ran for the nearest window and tried to fit in. I couldn't. There was no escape, except for the hole, which would probably make me lose.....
Suddenly, I came to an idea I haven't had since the Moderation Wars. I'd blow a hole through a few houses! "Of COURSE!" I yelled, seeing about 3 or 4 compulse balls bouncing around in my hidey hole. I raced towards one of the balls and hit it straight and hard with my fist, hoping that I didn't break it. Extra momentum ran through the ball and it quickly crashed into one of the nearest haunted buildings. Rubble flew everywhere as I made my escape. Strop, being as persistent as he is, jumped into the hidey hole and followed me. Cen, unwillingly, followed.
Turning a corner and rushing through about 3 doors, I came upon another dead end. Fear of losing the Way of Moderation and the excitedness of being slapped by Strops balls made me yell out in a "HATESPAM" kind of voice, "WHO PLANNED THESE APARTMENTS!?". Turning, I saw Strop readying his balls in order to pummel me. "Oh cra-" Before I could even finish my curse, he had hit me so hard in the head, I was "jellyfaced". My helmet fell off and I flew a good few feet backwards. Another ball hit me right in my abdomen, which hit me even harder, to a point where I broke through the rotting wooden wall behind me.
Crashing into the street, with a few people screaming in fear (for some whatever reason), I felt humiliated. I felt like I had just been kicked in the nuts and spat on. I felt beyond rage, I felt beyond calm rage. I felt like I was going to kill strop. Getting up in a cliche slow fashion, I started grunting and eventually it turned into a yell.. Strop saw this moment as one for joking, and quickly suggested something to Cen. Cen looked forward and immediatly turned to Strop. "You're kidding..... c'mon strop I've already done you enough favors." Strop looked at cenere's face and tried to pursuade him. "C'mon Cen! It'll add effect, it might even catch him offguard!" Strop insisted further, until Cen finally said "Vageta, what's the scouter say about his..." Cen's voice suddenly went a little lower in embarassment. "Power....level...."
Strop looked at me, and pulled a compulse ball out of his pack. "It's oVER NIINETHOUSAAAAAAAAND." His compulse ball snapped easily, and broke into a few amusing, shiny, multi-colored shards. I paid no attention to this, and ran headlong at strop, about to attack him for knocking off my helmet. He countered by throwing another compulse ball at my face, but I just head-butt it out of the way. He threw another one at my crotch, and I jumped over it.. Any balls he tried to hit me with were missing. Finally, with a running jump, I hit him in the face, so hard that he flew back a good 2 yards, and onto an old, decrepit table. "HAY, No attacking me!" He yelled at me.
I didn't pay attention though, and continued to wail on him. By now he had gotten mildly upset, and pushed me off. Like a wrecking ball filled with karma, the simple dodgeball competition turned into a brawl with me, Strop, and his shiny balls. I would telll you exactly what we did, but I might get banned.
Panting, and on my hands and knees, I had several red marks across my face, and one small shard of Compulse Ball that had just disintigrated from my eye. "Okay okay strop, I give!" I ... begged strop (much to my dismay). "I suppose I'm the first to go in the Way of Moderation, right?"
Strop had a much better condition than I, and wiped off his bandaged hands. "We'll see thoad, we'll see. I'm pretty dissapointed in you, attacking a mod like that." I looked down, making a complete OTL, and grunted, "You took my helmet....." Of course at this time I had ran back and gotten my helmet by now, but I'm sure that I'll continue to hold my grudge against Strop. Strop simply made a "tsk tsk" sound and ran off, Cenere barely able to keep up.
...."F*ck."

---

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It was a bight morning when Cholo and George wake up a few days later.. Gathering their belonging they get ready to head into town, Cholo hopped on Georges back, and the pair walk through the do. They had completely forgotten all about the Way of Moderation until...
"HYYYYAHHHHH!!!" Suddenly a ball out of nowhere, smacked Cholo in the face, with such force he was launched off Georges back, and slammed into the door. Not much damage was done, but Cholo was dazed and there was a brand new dent in the door the size of his head.
George was standing still only his eyes moving at the speed of light, a duck with a purpose, a goal. He was to achieve perfection. Cholo walked up next to George and SMACK, right to the side of the beak. He fell over on his side and started flailing all around as if he was trying to deflect any incoming balls. He finally came to his senses and got into a stare down with Cholo.
This entire time Strop was sitting in a near by tree, very amused, Cen next to him. However Cen lost balance and fell back first, hitting the ground with a loud smack. Just as Cholo and George looked over, Strop then jumped out and landed next to him.. Strop looked down and said with a wide grin on his face,
"Nice one Cenny Cen Cen, mind tying my shoes while you're down there?"
Cen got to his feet and simply responded "Hmph."
Strop quickly did a 360 and out of nowhere again, 5 multi-colored balls sped towards George and Cholo with tremendous speed. Cholo dove behind George grabbing on to his feet to prevent him from moving while maintaining cover, getting pelted by all 5 balls George squatted a little, spread his legs and let out a tremendous roar right onto Cholos face.
Cholo jumped with the speed of light out from behind him, only to shake faces with another ball. But this time the ball bounced off Cholos noggin and smacked Cen. With a grunt, he dropped to his butt. By this point Strop was giggling uncontrollably.
Taking advantage of Strop letting his guard down, Cholo picked up the ball by his foot and whaled it at Strop. Bulls eye! Right on the side of nose. Bad move. Strops giggling stopped, and he turned his head to face the two, but he did it slowly for added drama. His eyes squints, Cholo made a pellet.
Strop held out his hand and a ball poofed into it, George took off at full speed for the house, but the ball beat him to it. The ball flew past his head and bounced off the door, and greeted him between the eyes. But before he could respond to the previous fail, 3 more balls decided to get to know the back of his head. He stepped on one, and smashed into the ground. He could hear more smacks coming from behind him. followed by Cholo landing next to him.
The pair were in shock, they were no match for Strop. So the two did the only thing they knew best. Hide. Strop whipped 2 more balls in their direction, Cholo turned and braced for impact, the ball that hit him bounced off in the opposite direction, by a stroke of luck, it hit Cen in the gut, which once more caused him to fall onto his butt. Cen obviously upset mumbled under his breath,
"Ugh, forget this. I'll see you back in town."
He then went walking for the gates. Strop watched Cen take a few steps, when he looked back at George and Cholo, he saw nothing. The two had managed to get away. Strop jumped up into a tree to wait for them, but after an hour he got tired and dozed off. Once he came to, he realized he was tied to a tree with a plate of carrots placed in front of him.
Rather flustered, and hungry after the 3 hour nap, he decided to grab a plate, he needed a lunch. He was rather disappointed that the two had ran away, this meant they were disqualified. He easily got lose from the ropes, leaned over, and picked up the plate of carrots, releasing every ball he had thrown from a net above him. He said to himself,
"Darn."

---

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Goumas was in the help center. He was reading calmly simultaneously two books, Vladimir Smirnov's Course in Higher Mathematics and Tony DiCicco's Goalkeeper Soccer Training Manual, both books were very interesting. He was reading about the goalkeeping sessions when a ball hitted him right in the face. This made him very angry, though it wasn't the first time he got hitted by a ball and this particular one wasn't heavy, but it's always very annoying when you have to stop reading captivating books.
Goumas looked up and saw a black zebra. No, it wasn't a zebra he thought, zebras are black and white, not only black. It was Strop the ninja-horse concluded.
While he was wondering why did the horse hit him Strop fired an other shot aiming again his face.. This time the alchemist was more prepared so he managed to use the Course in Higher Mathematics as a shield. It's a fact that heavy science books are very effective as shields, so this one was too.
This situation reminded Goumas one of his best coach sessions. He had a goalkeeper who wasn't good at all, the only way to make him improve was very intense training. He bought a cannon and after making some changes to it he started firing football balls at his goalkeeper. The keeper did not play again badly never again, though the truth is that he did not ever played again a football match. But that's irrelevant.
Back on topic, somebody gave to Strop a new colorful ball Goumas this time was ready to use all his goalkeeping knowledge and the math-shield book to avoid getting hit. Strop as a good ninja noticed the movements of his opponent and this time he aimed a bulletin board, the ball ricocheted and hitted Goumas's back and went right in the help canter. A football commentator would have said: "the ninja scored a very lucky goal , the goalkeeper was beaten because of the crossbar, you never know where the ball will go after hitting the goalpost."

Strop left he did not have anything else to do here he had just won the match 2-1.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
The guy who gave to Strop the ball was still there, so Goumas approached and asked him:
-hello sir, do you have a mobile phone with you, cause I have to phone a friends of mine.
The guy answered:
-Sorry no.
-OK, thank you mister, said Goumas, though he really did not wanted to say it.
So Goumas did not manage to phone to his friend, who was a well-known football scouter and that horse with the awesome strong long-rage shot did not become a professional footballer. The sport lost a huge talent.

---

Strop's ears twitched.

"What's the matter?" Cen asked.

"I don't know. I just felt like an alternate reality just disappeared."

Once again, Strop didn't make any sense, but what was new?

"So who's next?"

"Oh, let's see, ah. The dude abides."

"What?"

"Yes, that's right. The dude. The cleanup of ArmorCity continues!"

"What?"

"Uh... oh crap, you did not hear that!"

---

http://i438.photobucket.com/albums/qq105/strawpony/Way%20Of%20Moderation/2-19.png

So I was out, hawking my thread, when I serf ran up to me, red in the face and out of breath. "Goumas told me to warn you that Strop and Cen are coming with dodge balls! You need to defend yourself!" He weezed. I pondered this. Why would a serf be in the AMW section? Rare. But, he just joined, so he is probably eager to get some street cred around here. Moreover, I sincerely trust Goumas. So I thanked him, and ran inside.

Inside my mini-library, I ran my hand through records, until I found what I was looking for. Fractals. My vibrant creations are sure to distract a horse and his helper long enough for a escape! So I put the fractals in strategic places, and then, while in my backyard, make a silent escape towards Armor U. They would never expect me there. Foolproof, right?

---

"So this is Dudeguy's thread?" Strop scuffed his hoof on the wall, and a bit of paint flaked off. "Poor guy, guess not everybody can be popular."

"But where's Dudeguy?" Cenere's feet were starting to hurt already, and it was barely ten o'clock in the morning. Plus, the swelling may have subsided somewhat but waves of throbbing pain still ebbed through his entire head.

Strop scratched his head "I dunno, he was sighted here last- ooh, pretty!" His eyes sparkled, reflecting the kaleidoscopes of light whirling away from the inside of the building.

Cenere squinted at it momentarily, before clearing his throat. "Strop... focus..."

But it was too late. Strop was now wandering amidst the fractals, talking to himself. "I see now! The spartan nature of the setup is deliberate, contrasting with and therefore accentuating the purity of the beauty in the geometric permutations of light, thus appealing more directly to our pattern-seeking behaviours..."

Cenere quickly concluded that Dudeguy had never intended to have balls thrown at him in his own thread, and as such, his plan had worked beautifully for he was nowhere in sight.

"Dudeguy is nowhere in sight". Strop took the opportunity to state the bleeding obvious.

"I can see that." Cenere saw no reason to break the trend. "But where is he then?"

"He can't be far," Strop said with an air of certainty that actually made Cen doubt that the statement was actually as obvious after all. "And how do you know that?"

"Because these fractals aren't placed in any organisational order. This looks like a rush job."

Moments like these had Cen feeling both confused and glad at the same time- confused that somebody could be a ditz and a genius at the same time, and glad that he wasn't like that.

"...not to mention the trampled grass and scrub out the back..." Maybe not genius, after all. "If we're fast, we can catch him."

That could only mean more running.

---

Whew. Armor Academy Is up in the distance. But I don't plan to go there. Getting my face out of the blazing mid-day sun, I make a U-turn and head back toward my thread. I plan to tire Cenere out, and It will be a showdown between me and Strop. Hardly tired, I remembered how I got 5 miles in under an hour* At the annual AG road race. On the outskirts of AG, I see two shadows in the distance, perpendicular to me. Crouching low, they pass, probably thinking I'm at Armor U. My feet are blistering, better hurry...

*True story..

---

*Weez* Weez* Ok, I'm back at my thread, and I plan to use my fractals again, but not as distractions, as lethal vein-ripping blood-splattering weapons. 2 figures coming up on the horizon now, although one is at least 100 yards back. I put my hand in my pocket, rub my knife....

Griping onto my rainbow toxin tightly, I see Strop jump my picket fence. *gulp* Cenere was nowhere in sight, so it was a duel. "Nice thread ya got here." He said. I remained silent, part fear and part jealousy. "Nice fractal, too." That makes two of you, remembering back to a comment about this very fractal by zilth. Then, he pulled out a compulse ball, emotionless. He winded back, and threw a fast ball aimed at my gut. With the fractal be almost as tall as I am, I was shocked almost as much as the horse to see that the ball simply disappeared into the fractal, leaving a mere ripple. I say through his eye holes that he knew this would not be a long fight. Pretty soon, every single compulse ball was lost in an alternate universe. Cenere finally got to the fence, gasping, uttered, "What did I miss?".

Strop
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Strop
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Where the Wild Things Hide

"Well, I'll be darned", mused Strop. "Between us both, we've only got four balls left."

Before the joke sunk in, Strop just had to twist the knife: "Well, at least two, far as I know."

"Thanks." Was all Cen could manage, still being out of breath from running a lap around town in his personal best time since Strop had started dragging him out of bed at the crack of every dawn.

"No, seriously though, we gotta get some more. Do you know what that means?"

Cen groaned, but feigned ignorance, in the hope that Strop's ditziness would win over and he would forget: "No."

Alas, to no avail: "It means we have to get more balls from the Wilderness! Now, the Ball Revamped collective is in an old sector of Armor Games, in the Puzzle and Skill region, so you better be ready for a real trek!"

Did Cenere have a choice in the matter? Could that last question be anything other than rhetorical?

---

http://i428.photobucket.com/albums/qq1/Cerene_Cerine/ambush4.jpg

Night fell and the air mercifully cooled in the darkness. A light breeze blew through the barren branches of the wasteland of the Wilderness, an eerie orchestra of flutey pipings accompanying the endless treading of shoes on hard dirt.

Cenere was sorely tempted to tug on Strop's sleeve and whine, "Are we there yet?" repeatedly. They had somehow managed to get lost in the Sport section because Strop had somehow managed to get distracted by the sounds of the Crunchball arena, which resulted in his being roped into a game...

The upshot of this was that while Cen donned a reaper's costume and snuck off to kill cute fuzzy creatures of matching colours, Strop had managed not only to emerge wearing the ridiculous Crunchball League uniform, but came back with not the light bouncy Revamped balls, but the heavy steel Crunchballs. Cen was already uneasy about the destructive power of flying balls but this was another matter altogether- outside the futuristic reinforced walls of the Crunchball 3000 arena, the largely anachronistic mortar and wood architecture of Armor City could hardly withstand such an assault.

Strop scratched his head again, looking as clueless as ever. "We're lost, aren't we," Cen groaned.

"Er, no... we'll just have to, uh... see, there's this shack, and..."

Yes, they were lost.

---

http://i428.photobucket.com/albums/qq1/Cerene_Cerine/ambush6.jpg

After his escaping of the twisted monochrome realm, Frank had set off to one of the many random spots he deemed suitable as hunting grounds. What he hunted was whatever he crossed, whether it be a rare cake-addicted rabbit, or one of the many small blue elephants that roamed the forest. As he stalked through the foliage, Frank heard what sounded suspiciously like an anthro horse piloting a bi wing. He turned around and confirmed his suspicions. It was Strop, laughing maniacally. In a bi plane. One that looked a lot like the Red Baron's.
"What the hell...?" The plane, now overhead, opened it's hatch, and out fell what appeared to be compulse balls. Compulse balls that were hurtling towards the earth, or more accurately Frank, at alarming speeds.
"Oh... This can't be good..." The balls fell, leaving no trace of where they had landed but a light, hollow ping. Ping, ping, ping, falling closer and closer to the still unmoving sky pirate.
"I should probably run..." Making a mad dash for the cover of the trees, he tried to asses the situation.
Okay... Frank thought to himself, I need a battle plan. He pulled out his cutlass, making a diagram in the sand.
Okay... So if Strop is flying at approximately..... Fifty miles per hour, and I time my shots right... Oh, where am I going with this? Might as well just go out and face him.
And so he did.
"Hey McHorseGuy! Over here! Come and get me!"
The plane made a sharp right, diving in towards Frank's position, all the while dropping what seemed to be an endless amount of balls.
Upon reflection... Maybe I should just run. But it was too late for running. The mad pony was nearly upon him, a raw carrot with avocado dip in mouth. At the last minute, Frank strafed left, diving out of harm's way. Strop, not able to pull up fast enough, hit the tree Frank had been in front of three seconds ago.
"Whew.... That was close..." Frank panted, removing his bandanna to wipe his brow. Then, he felt someone tap his shoulder. Turning around, he saw the mad pony, a ticked off expression on his elongated face.
"Oh, not good..." Strop inhaled, and raised his left leg into prime kicking position.
"GTFO!" He shouted, horse punting Frank halfway into next week.
"Ohmaigaaaaaawd!!" He screamed, rather girlishly, as he soared through the air. His flight came to an unexpected halt, landing him in the top most branches of a tree. Frank saw a slightly agitated young man walk to the base of the tree, preparing to strike. His well-placed kick sent Frank tumbling down, hitting every branch in his way. The man backed away as Strop picked him up by his jacket collar, bringing the pirate up to eye level.
"Now, that wasn't very nice, making me hit that tree. I think the proper punishment should be administered, don't you?" Frank, not knowing what might happen if he refused, nodded slowly. The young man who, now that Frank could see properly, looked strikingly similar to the desk attendant he had met at the Amphitheater some time ago, chuckled in amusement, which seemed rather out of character.
"Very well, then." Strop removed his ninja suit, revealing a nurses uniform underneath. He snapped his fingers, and poofed up a very large hypodermic needle, filled with compulse balls.
"Oh, god..." Frank whispered, sweating through his clothes. Strop threw Frank in the air, and aimed the needle's tip at the point where he would be within the next few seconds. When the pirate was in sight, Nurse Strop shoved with all of his might on the end of it, sending a spray of compulse balls in Frank's direction. All of which mde their mark. Nurse Strop picked up one last ball, and, aiming high, kicked it towards the sky pirate. A tremendous bellow could be heard throughout ArmorCity, and a tiny figure could be seen sailing through the air.
"AAAAAUG- Oof... Ooooooer..... Oh, my head... Where am I?" Frank stood up, looking around. He appeared to be in the unicorn stables. Standing in feces.
"Oh, gross!! Dammit!" Through his curses, Frank heard a clipity clop. He turned around, facing the rear end of a white unicorn. It reared up on it's- His back legs, and, with a mighty whinny, kicked Frank over the fence and through the wall of some poor old man's house. Frank stood up, wobbled around for a bit, managing to trip himself on the way out of the gap, and stumbled off in search of the Armor Hospital.

http://i438.photobucket.com/albums/qq105/strawpony/Way%20Of%20Moderation/2-20.png

Frank walked up to the attendant's desk, paying no heed to those who were already in the waiting line.
"Hey! Somebody... Somebody get over here and attend to me... Ungh...." Frank fell to the floor with a thud, just as a nurse walked through the doors to the waiting room.
"Oh my, what have we here? Looks like you need immediate attention!" The nurse picked Frank up and took him to the medical room. Frank woke up in a daze, staring into the most beautiful big blue... Strangely horse-like eyes he had ever seen.
"Are you... An angel...?" Frank managed to whisper.
"Hey, no homo, man. I'm just yer friendly neighborhood ninja pony/healer."
"N... Ninja pony....?" Frank's eyes widened, and he was suddenly fully awake. He was strapped down to an operating table.
"What the hell are you doing?!" Frank struggled to reach his cutlass, but it wasn't there. The young man who had accompanied Strop on their previous encounter, chuckled again.
"Just administering the proper medication. No need to worry." The pony looked him over.
"Hm... Looks like you've got a pretty bad scrape on your left arm.. Looks infected, too." The nurse dug in a cabinet, removing a bottle of liquid and a hypodermic needle.
"I'm gonna have to ask you to stay calm. It's a lot easier on me if you don't scream in pain." He filled the needle, tested it with a quick squirt, and walked over to the table...

Five hours later, Frank woke up behind the Tavern, his jacket missing.
"Ugh.... My head... I can't remember what happened..." He looked around, dusting himself off.
"Oh well. Better head back home... It's getting late, and I don't really feel like meeting any of the... Nocturnal citizens." And with that, Frank ran off, back to Profile Lane, blissfully unaware of the previous day's happenings.

---

Crunchballs littered the landscape, as did pieces of crunchball uniform, bits of prop plane and a reaper's scythe. Way over to the east, the dawn sun peeked over the horizon.

Cenere looked Strop tiredly- he had had quite enough of running for one day. And one night. In fact, bed would have been lovely. But Strop seemed to run on the energy of pure lulz, for he showed no signs of stopping. "What next?"

Just then, a glimmer of luck shone upon Cenere, for Strop's stomach grumbled. Strop blinked, then looked down. "I'm out of carrots."

But Cenere was too jaded to be anything other than cautious: "What does that mean?"

Strop stared at Cenere, "It means we go back to the castle! I have a stash." Then Strop mumbled, "But I don't feel like legging it all the way there...I mean we're in the middle of the wilderness and..." Strop poked his fingers together, "I don't even know where we are."

Cenere fought the urge to facepalm, before realising that there was no need for that, so he facepalmed anyway. "Great... so what are you going to do about it? One of your magic ninja poofs?"

Strop blinked again, then perked up, "That's precisely what I'm going to do! However did you know?"

Cenere was about to comment, but held his tongue and changed tack: "But I can't poof..."

There was no time to think about it, for Strop had already smacked his palms together. "It's no problem, just do what I do!" And with that, he poofed into a cloud of dissapating black smoke.

"Oh, why me..."

---

The dawn glimmered over the horizon, the fiery hues reflecting off the water. A few ominous bubbles burst at the surface. Just then, a red round head surfaced. Or rather, a penguin head wearing a large red crash helmet.

"Jackpot!" Flipper cried, swallowing yet another fish. It didn't matter so much that the fish was a bit smelly or old or rather... already dead, because there were tons of them!

A pair of beady eyes was watching him from the murky depths. Those eyes belonged to a certain keeper of the moat, but on this occasion, he was a fish. And that penguin was eating fish.

http://i428.photobucket.com/albums/qq1/Cerene_Cerine/fearwaswritten.jpg

Nobody heard Ubertuna flap, screaming, into the distance and out of sight.

---

"I can feel it coming in the air tonight, oh lord
Ive been waiting for this moment, all my life, oh lord
Can you feel it coming in the air tonight, oh lord, oh lord"

http://i428.photobucket.com/albums/qq1/Cerene_Cerine/flip.jpg

Snelly was spinning around singing the O so familliar song by phil collins. It was a beautifull day, or as beautiful as a day you can have right next to the smelliest and nastiest moat the world may have ever known.

Flipper had made a make shift drum set out of diffrent size fish, and each made diffrent pitches. So before he enjoyed them he decided it only proper to play along with one of snelly's better singings. He had caught so many fish i nthe moat, he really didn't need these ones. Under the layers of dead fish were tons of fish, and a very large few, which he never did catch.

There the two were, right next to the moat, Snelly for once in her life was htting notes, and skipper was actually full.

*Thwack*

'BOOM, HEADSHOT!" strop had just pelted a ball straight into Flippers head, causing him to backflip into the moat.

"Flipper who liked the water found it much safer to swim around there then to come up and risk another hit. He found the ball nearby in the water and sat on top of it, and of cousre falling off and ending up swimming.

'Strop, you could have warned the little penguin first......' Cen who was holding the tattered ball sack over his shoulder, was rather tired, and not in the best of moods.
'well I let him finish the cool part of the song!' Strop cryed out in deffevense looking for simpathy which cen would never give him.' Well let's get phil collins down from there.' Strop jugled the ball with his feet for a second before kicking the ball straight toward Snelly who at that moment decided it needed to start acting like 'snoopy and the red baren' And the ball missed hopelessly..

Snelly however noticed the ball flying past. *mic noise* 'This is flight eleventy twelve we are taking enemy fire, will be engaging enemy.' Snelly dogged the next few balls strop chucked towards her and manged to catch one, she dropped into a dive bomb and came straight towards strop, who simple side stepped, leaving Cen directly in the line of fire, and was then smacked in the face with the "Atom bomb" from snelly.

'Why is it always me?' Asked cen to no one inperticular and not bothering to stand up.
'Well, it's becuse you simplie havn't honed your reflexes yet.' Strop explained.
'I wasn't expecting an answer' Cen mumbled from the ground

Strop wipped a ball up at snelly, and smacked her in the left wing.

'MADAY MADAY!!!! ADANDON MISSION! WERE GOING DOWN!'

Snelly spiraled down to the ground and fell into the moat, a few feet from Flipper.

'O hi flipper, funny thing, were getting attacked by Japanes!!'
'That's just strop and cen'
'you mean not wwll soilders?'
'no'

With that flipper took his skate board and pulled him self out of the moat. He kicked off, and started turning around strop. He picked up a ball, and tasted it, not the best tasteing thing, expecially when you consider it came from a sack on cens back. He threw the ball away in disgust and it landed square on cen's stomach.

'I give up!' Cen cried, slowly crawling away to curl into a ball.

Strop in turn wipped a ball at flipper, who pulled off a 180 over it scooped up another ball, jumped off the board, and landed on his belly. he did a front flip, and shot the ball at strop. Strop who was more ammused by the impressive agility of a fat penguin was hit square i nthe jaw.

'ouch! well, thats a game then!' Good job you to! ...cenere? Can you collect the balls?'

cen crawlded out from under a bush and looked at all the balls floating on the murky water of the moat. His nose wrinkled in disgust.

'Very nice fish drums you got there flipper, tah twas impressive!' Strop said patting the little penguin on his head.

'thanks' was all skipper said and jumped back in the moat, were he should not have been, but strop thought better of jumping into the water."Ceeeennnn?"

Cenere, meanwhile, was struggling into a wetsuit, trying not to puke at the thought of the task ahead, relieving himself by thinking of all the things he would love to do to Strop in his sleep. (See picture)

http://i428.photobucket.com/albums/qq1/Cerene_Cerine/moatcopy.jpg

snelly paid no attention to it, and started singing "we are the champions" By queen.

Strop
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Strop
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http://i438.photobucket.com/albums/qq105/strawpony/Way%20Of%20Moderation/2-21.png

Perverts'r'Klaus

Strop flopped in the middle of his room, in the abandoned clocktower of Armor castle and took a moment to stretch. It was a strange place to call home but having furnished it himself, it wasn't too much of a stretch anymore. He was about to start rummaging for his carrots when a rather annoyed Cenere appeared through the trapdoor. Even a ninja mask couldn't hide Strop's obvious surprise.

"Oh hi there, Cen, glad you could make it."

Cenere didn't speak, but sniffed. "Does something smell funny to you?"

Strop also sniffed, but almost didn't have to. There was definitely a distinct odour in the air. Not to mention that Strop's closet door was open (he always closed it), and so too was the door to-

Strop bolted into the ensuite latrine, which, in the style of medieval castles, consisted of a hole in the floor that emptied directly into whatever was below it. Which, in this case, was the Armor Moat. But one should not dwell on that fact... More importantly, somebody was squatting over Strop's latrine. A large brown furry somebody, who, on several occasions before, had broken into Strop's room, but this-

"KLAAUUUUUUSSSSSS!!!" Strop roared. "WHAT ARE YOU DOING IN MY TOILET."

As if to answer, Klaus the bear looked up at Strop and grinned, and dropped another load. Plop.

Strop, in a display rare to a ninja horse of his calmness, freaked out. "THIS TAKES THE CAKE! YOU'RE DESECRATING MY INNER SANCTUM!!!" Strop held up his hand and in it appeared his feared weapon of moderator bandom- Thor. Perhaps it had something to do with a phrase he was so fond of saying- that the key to a man's health were truly his bowels.

Just then, Cenere held up a hand. "Hang on a minute." His eyes wandered downwards, downwards further still until they were at Klaus' ankles. "Look."

Strop looked. There appeared to be a thin band of pink stretching between them. Then the penny dropped.

"KLAUUSSSSSSSSS ARE YOU WEARING MY PANTIES!?!?!?!?!?"

Shamelessly, Klaus flashed Strop a grin and snapped him two thumbs up. "A hundred percent cotton! Real nice."

Cenere looked slightly ill. Strop boggled, too furious to even be embarrassed about keeping panties. "NOOOOOOOOOOO THOSE ARE MY FAVOURITE. TAKE THEM OFF, YOU'LL STRETCH THEM!"

Still straddling the latrine, Klaus looked down, "Oh, I think it's a little too late for that."

It was right about this moment that Cenere knew that God truly had forsaken him, for in the little blessing, of not having to run, that had been bestowed upon him minutes earlier, he was now stuck in an impending brawl between a rabidly angry cross-dressing ninja horse with caffeine for blood, and an eight-foot tall bear wearing said ninja's favorite (now ruined) panties. Inside a crowded abandoned clock-tower three hundred feet high.

Things could only get worse from here.

---

S***tin' Bricks

Strop didn't even bother to wait for Cenere to pass him a ball. Instead, he snatched the whole bag from Cenere and pegged the lot at Klaus.

"OH SNAP" Klaus yelped and danced to the side as quick as his bulk and (Strop's cotten panties) would let him. The bag glanced off his shoulder, then split open along the seam Cenere had stitched the previous day. Several dozen Ball Revamped balls burst out, ricocheting between the walls, enveloping Cen, Klaus and Strop in a technicolour bubble pit. Klaus tried to waddle away, but being unable to even see his feet, he did not see them stepping onto a sea of balls, causing him to lose his footing.

Klaus flailed and fell back, legs kicking. Balls and residue fecal matter sprayed through the door of the latrine, along with Strop and Cenere. Klaus surfed the technicolour wave involuntarily, until he spilled in a heap at Strop's hooves. With the dawning sunlight spilling through the semi-circular window behind him, Klaus swore that from this angle, Strop looked like he was glowing. With incandescent rage. Furthermore, Strop was wielding something long, shiny and very sharp. That wasn't his banhammer, no. It was a katana.

"This isn't grounds for banning, Klaus." Strop said in a dangerously calm voice. "This is grounds for slicing off your balls." And with that, Strop raised his sword and with a shrill whinny, swung it downwards.

"YOW, THAT'S NOT MY BALLS!" Klaus did his trademark lightning sidestep, ordinarily used to cover up after he fell flat on his face, but in this case, it saved his balls. Or rather, his head, because the katana flashed through the space it had occupied a millisecond earlier and gouged a gully deep in the wooden floor. With a grunt, Strop jerked it out and swung the katana back, murderous intent in his eyes.

"On second thought, I really like my balls where they are, thanks," Klaus managed before scrambling up the bookshelf just in time to avoid Strop's second swing, this time aimed directly at his crown jewels. However, even fully laden, Klaus was at least half as heavy as the shelf again, so with a comical creak, it teetered back and fell with a resounding crash on top of Klaus, books, penicorn plush toy, horsey figures and all. The shelf broke, sending clouds of sawdust and wood splinters up that parted to reveal a cowering Cenere in the corner, muttering a very fast prayer.

"Third time's the charm," Strop cackled, kicking pieces of shelf off the dazed bear, before raising the hilt of the sword high, tip pointed downwards, and plunging the blade at Klaus' crotch.

Ridiculously enough, the blade snapped in half with a metallic ping. Strop's eyes bulged out. Klaus regained his senses, and grinned. "Can't be Klaus without balls of steel, amirite?"

Strop discarded the broken katana and lunged for Klaus, but he sidestepped again, reappearing on Strop's bed. "You are so dead," Strop gritted before bending down and hurling everything in his reach at Klaus. Stryer's Textbook of Biochemistry 5th Edition mercifully whisked past Klaus' ears but the Kandell & Schwartz Principles of Neural Science 4th Edition nailed Klaus on the nose. Klaus teetered backwards, his hindpaw catching on the windowsill, but he caught himself just in time to avoid a stack of giant ringbinder folders (one for each semester), full to the brim with notes. As Klaus weaved and ducked, other books, box sets of DVDs, folders, the horsey figures and even the penicorn plush toy shot out the window of the tower.

Klaus wiped his brow. With the exception of the neurology book, somehow he had managed to dodge most of the really heavy stuff, so naturally he was feeling a little pleased with himself. Just then, something sharp whizzed over his head, slicing off the tufts of his headfur. He yelped and rolled off the bed, smashing into the desk as his legs got tangled in his panties, but he kept on rolling anyway, a string of shuriken lodging into the wall just behind him. Then he lunged for the closet and slammed the door shut just as several darts and knives slammed into it.

Breathing heavily, Klaus couldn't help but sniff. "Are those fresh panti-" was as far as he got before the door was suddenly ripped off its hinges. Without even pausing to contemplate that his "non-regular" posters previously posted to the inside of the closet door were now being exposed to the world, Strop swung the door at Klaus. It shattered into splinters and sent Klaus through the side of the closet, where he bounced over several stray balls and caromed headfirst into the stone wall. While Klaus wasted valuable moments swatting at the birds tweeting around his head, Strop picked up his oriental weapons rack in its entirety, so that when Klaus finally faced him, he had him well and truly cornered.

"Dodge this", Strop said, before hurling the entire rack at Klaus. Ninjato, sai, Shaolin halberds and tasseled spears all simultaeneously launched from the rack as it flew towards Klaus, who did the only thing he could do: freeze.

All the weapons lodged into the wall around Klaus, tracing out a bear shape in the wall. The rack bounced off Klaus' ample abdomen and clattered to the floor.

"OH FFS HOW LUCKY CAN YOU GET!?" Strop yelled. Klaus extricated himself from the wall as fast as he could, but was hampered by the panties which were still around his legs. He looked around only to be smashed for a homerun by Strop's workdesk. This time, he saw stars as he collapsed onto a pile of fresh panties. He tried to get up, but the scent of the panties overwhelmed him, and he went limp.

Breathing heavily, Strop strode over to Klaus. Once again he held out his arm and Thor poofed into it. He raised it high.

"You'll thank me for this later," Strop said, as Thor began to glow with the charge of its banpower.

"Strop, no!" With an uncharacteristic burst of speed, Cenere shot from the corner towards Strop, but it was too late. Strop was already swinging downwards with all his might. Cenere collided with his shoulder, knocking him off course.

"Wha-" was the last thing anybody heard before the head of Thor plowed through the floor of the clock tower. The supporting struts that held the clocktower together splintered into smithereens, and the very stones of the tower shook and cracked with the shockwave, all the way through the three hundred feet of tower and into the base of Armor Castle. Horribly, inexorably, the tower fell apart, the rumbling building until it was deafening and the room itself split into several pieces.

"OH SHIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII-" everybody collectively yelled as the clocktower, Strop's private room, disintegrated and plunged into Armor Castle, blowing through the ballroom, the kitchen, and finally the dungeons, destroying everything along its way. Then the walls of Armor Castle itself, the home of the creators of the land of Armor Games, caved inwards and fell with a final crunch.

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A stony silence pervaded the ruins that was Armor Castle. Surely of all the architectural calamities ArmorGames could suffer, this was one of the worst. Now when the users of ArmorGames looked up, it seemed no longer would they envisage the silhouette of the castle hidden by fog, kept distant by the secret forest that surrounded it. Not even the developer's pavillion had escaped the destruction, for it lay completely flattened under a giant cornerstone.

Just then, a bandaged hand broke through the top of the giant rubble heap. Strop hauled himself out, dusting himself off before standing and looking all around. He slapped his forehead.

"Aw man, I knew it. I think I'll go tender my resignation now."

"Naw, surely it's not that bad?" The voice was muffled by several layers of brick, so Strop stooped down, digging through the wreck before hauling Cenere out. Cenere glanced around, before adjusting his glasses. "Actually, it really is that bad."

Strop sighed. "Seriously, how am I going to explain this to the administration?"

Cenere was about to remind Strop that he wasn't thinking about any of that when he was off wrecking just about every other venue in ArmorCity, but decided now was possibly not the best time to do so.

"Besides, why did you deflect my shot? Not that it matters..."

"Well, it's just that he didn't actually break any of the rules of the city, so banning him would have been inappropriate..."

Oblivious to everything, Klaus stretched as he climbed out of the hole Strop had dug. "Man, that was the most awesome dump ever."

A pair of hands wrapped themselves around his neck and lifted him up. Klaus gagged, then his eyes bulged as his neck started cracking from the pressure.

"This is your fault, you little s***," Strop snarled. "So here's how you make it up to us- you're going to rebuild ArmorCastle. In fact, you're going to fix everything that got wrecked in the course of this trial, starting with the Castle. And it had better be picture perfect, or I'm going to shove the head of Thor up your rear end so hard you're going to think you were reamed by a draught horse. Got that?"

At this point, Klaus was oxygen starved, so he was hardly equipped to consider the intricacies of Strop's very plausible threat, so he just squeaked "Yes."

Strop let Klaus go, and Klaus collapsed in a heap, gasping. With that, Strop suddenly looked a whole lot less angry. In fact, he just looked tired.

"Right, well, I think that's a wrap. Thanks for the help, Cen, you can take a break until the start of the next round."

Cen sighed with relief. It was still baking hot and the suit (and his body) had suffered far more abuse than he imagined possible in the space of a mere week. Now he could go home and soak his feet again, and maybe even study for his impending exams. Just...

"Strop, where are you going to sleep now?"

"Oh," Strop waved dismissively. "I'll figure something out." Cenere figured there was nothing more to be said, so he nodded a brief, "See you later," then walked across the drawbridge- the only surviving piece of ArmorCastle, and through the gates of the Armor Court of Great Justice, and out of sight.

Strop similarly began walking away aimlessly, but turned back to the recovering Klaus. "By the way, Klaus?"

"What?"

"You better replace my panties too."

---

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Cenere stared at his image in the mirror. This was one of the times he had simply zoned out, and thus had been standing like that for the past five minutes before actually blinking. At least it felt like five minutes. Or ten even. He gave the image a look before starting to investigate a few of the cuts and bruises on his right arm.
It had already been a long day considering he had not slept for what slowly became the 30th hour. Besides having followed Strop around since the morning before, he had simply refused himself the sleep when he finally got home at dawn. It did not seem important, and it would just ruin his sleep pattern if he went to sleep in the middle of the day anyway, so instead he had been trying to clear out the mess of his room. This in basics consisted of kicking dirty clothes around the room, before pushing it under the bed, and remove all drawings and papers that Strop most likely would look through if, or rather when, he had the chance. After that he had used his time on staring emptily at himself for no other reason that his brain seemingly restarting.
Most of his body had gone into a state of numb pain like his usual headaches, so it was relatively easy to ignore, but a few bruises cut through the defence and troubled him. His right shoulder, for example, had a massive bruise from a panicing newbie that had rammed into him while fleeing the overly entusiastic ninja pony. It probably wouldn't have been a problem if that particular newbie had not been wearing a homemade plate armour, and in general just had been twice as big as Cen. Twice as big in this case meant twice as heavy, and sad to say, much of that heavy came from muscles.
The young man sighed, moving the shoulder a bit. This 'WoM' had become tiresome really fast, and Strop's hyper active behavior actually made it worse. Not because of how he acted, but how he acted around the contestants. Many seemed to be newbies trying out to get a good position in the city, and most of these were not familiar with the ninja horse and his habits of sneaking in on people and violently attacking them with those blasted balls. This unfamiliarity had lead to incidents and destruction, and Strop seemed to enjoy it more and more. Not the destruction, of course (At least Cen hoped it wasn't the destruction), but the chaos and the screams and the fleeing.
Cen wondered for a second if he could find a way out of being Strop's ... slave, but then again, a promise is a promise, and a promise is to be kept... No matter how much trouble it was.
What he really needed now was a good shower and something to eat, before he began his highly neglected homework. The young man turned his gaze to the showerhead on the wall, and he was quite sure that it laughed evilish at him. Besides it always being either too warm or too cold, it usually had a habit of having too much pressure, which made the water hit like hail during a storm: Hard and just about everywhere...
It didn't seem like the best of ideas to use it with a back full of bruises. There must be another way...

"It's open!" Zophia yelled at the door, while making her way out of bed. It was too warm to be outside, even for a half reptile, so she had made a nest in her bed, complete with juice and peaches and of course a drawing pad. She mumbled a bit over the disturbance until she saw exactly who had knocked on the door. "Cen? What are you doing here?" She tilter her head questioningly, actually finding it strange to see him at her door, instead of the other way around.
"Sorry if I am to any trouble, I.." He trailed off, frowning.
"Oh, you're not!" She smiled widely, almost pulling him inside. "I wasn't doing anything important anyway, so it is just fine with some company."
"Well, technically just here to ask if I could borrow your bathroom for a while? My own is - acting up." As usual.
Zophia looked at him for a while, seemingly trying to read his mind (or just looking like it), before nodding. "Sure. I have some towels somewhere, if you.."
"I have brought my own along, it is okay..." Cenere mumbled. This was.. embarassing, to say the least. But still better than knocking on Thoad's door to ask for the same. The endless jokes would be, well, endless. "Uhm, thanks..." He made his way into the bathroom before Zophia could reply, and closed the door.
It was actually quite a nice room, a bit bigger than his own (which wouldn't be hard to achieve), and not as warm as everything else. This might even prove to be a good idea.

---

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Strop strolled down the alleyways of the housing commission quarter, complete with dingy apartments and trash thrown out over the street. It may have offended his nose and been a suspicious area of high crime, but Strop was always confident in his ability, hence naturally nobody would bother him.

Except not this time. A shadow crossed his path from one side. Then the other. Then from behind, a massive darkness loomed, towering over him. While Strop pondered whether he could believe his eyes, something hard smacked into his face and bounced off.

"Wha-"

Another one caromed off his face and bounced away with a "toc" noise. As it emerged from the shadow, Strop instantly recognised its technicolour quarters.

"Hey, why are you-"


That was as far as Strop got, for a veritable barrage of objects, revamped balls, crunchballs, dead fish ("fish!?" Strop thought), bits of furniture and mortar hit him from all sides. Strop tried to fight them off to get a view of his assailants but there was just too much, and he went down flailing. As he lay buried under several tons of rubble, he heard voices, and a familiar draconian chuckle punctuated by phlegmatic coughing, fade into the distance.

"Heh, you were right, that was pretty fun."

---

"That doesn't look good..."
Cenere looked up at the dryohr as he exited the bathroom, now nice and clean and with fresh, albeit quite short sleeved and -legged, clothes on. "Uhm, sorry, what?" He paused for a moment to look questioningly at her over the glasses.
"Your.. legs, arms... I bet what I can't see is even worse..." She rose from the couch, while he (panicking) zipped his backpack, and moved towards the door.
"I.. dun kno what'ya talking about..."
She grabbed his hand even before he made a move to open the door. "This. Looks like someone has beaten you up or something."
"It's nothing, really... Zophia, I have other..."
"Have you even cleaned them?"
"I just took a shower..."
"Not what I meant. Come here." She pulled him towards the couch and made him sit. "Stay."
He glared blankly at her, having given up the fight even before it began. Well, it was not really possible to neglect the homework more than he already did.
Zophia's puppy trotted up to him, wacking its tail sleepishly, before jumping up beside him and going to sleep again, resting its head on his thigh as if to tell him, he should start patting it. When he didn't, it simply looked up at him with sad puppy eyes, and drooled a bit on his shorts.
"... 'nd I can't believe you don't stand up to him or anything, when he is treating you like... Cen?"
The young man gazed up at the dryohr, not quite sure if she had been talking to him, or - talking at all. "Mm..? Sorry, I am a bit..."
"Sleepy? Tired? Exhausted? Beaten up?" She moved har tail a bit, frowning with concern.
"Mm.."
She sighed, then got the dog to move a bit, making enough space in the couch to be able to sit beside him and be able to have the first aid kit in reach. "Let me see..."

Zophia smiled to herself, patting the puppy. Cen had been... quite easy, just a bit of head scritching and he had fallen asleep. He probably hadn't slept properly for days, but it was still quite a satisfactory achievements to her. Besides, it had given her the opportunity to actually bandage him up, instead of simply going along with his "It is all fine, it does not even hurt...". At least she did not have to look at them any more. Just too sad she hadn't got the chance to bandage more than his arms a legs. But then again, it hopefully was worst there.
She patted the puppy again, but a leash on it and went for a walk.

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"Darn it all... Bloody... Ind i... Hvorfor...." He mumbled to himself, fighting his way up they stairs. It had been an unusual long way home because the fact that he had slept or relaxed, even, had made most of his muscles stiff and given the bruises the time for them to become bigger. He was still dress in bandages, mainly because he had not cared to fight the band aid and duct tape Zophia had used (he wondered why she had used duct tape, but then again, it was Zophia). At least he could cover it up by wearing the jacket and pants of the suit. It was still filled with dust and probably needed to get cleaned, but it was better than having people to stare even more because he was looking like a butt...
He opened the door and threw his bag on the kitchen floor. All too long day, and his homework...
"Hi Cenny Cen Cen!"
He swung around to look at the ninja pony that sat on his bed. "Wha...."
"You weren't home, so I took a nap." Strop smiled widely (or it seemed to be widely) at him, before picking up a piece of paper. "Who is she?"

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A day after the conclusion of Dodgeball

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"Moe, fancy seeing you here!"

The brain in a jar perched precariously on a stone at the side of Armor Moat. "I would be inside except there's no inside. Anymore."

"Aha, yes, about that..." Strop scratched the back of his head and felt the sweat beading on his forehead despite the fact it wasn't a particularly warm morning. "It's all... under control."

Moe's voice didn't change a decibel in volume nor an iota in tone, though that was more to do with the fact he was using a Hawking voicebox than anything else. "And how is that?"

"I... well, I've made arrangements." Strop didn't dare mention the detail of the arrangements, because as far as he could remember, he essentially entrusted his future tenure at ArmorGames on the hands of the most notorious prankster in town.

"Well, I trust that the castle shall be restored in a timely fashion. Now how come you called me out in private? It had better not be to ask me to fix Armor Castle."

"Ah yes." Strop fiddled with his fingers. "It's not about Armor Castle, but rather, a smaller, more temporary structure..."

"What might that be?" It was like some kind of karmic justice, that Cenere spent his life wondering what horror Strop would unleash upon him, and now Strop was wondering whether Moe might suddenly decide to paralyse him with some crazy telepathic trick if he didn't like what he heard.

"Well, an obstacle course. Nothing too fancy. You know me, so something that I could do but the others..."

"Couldn't?" There was a long pause and a few bubbles formed and burst in the nutrient fluid of Moe's vat. "You know, I could do with a break from my thesis."

---

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"Cenere, fancy seeing you here!"

Cenere facepalmed. "You called me out here."

"I know, but I expected you to sleep in until-"

"How can I sleep in when you're sleeping in my bed? And need I mention the bathroom incide-"

Strop held up his hands, "A guy's gotta do what a guy's gotta do, yeah? Let's just leave it at that!"

Cenere sighed. At least it was a cooler morning now that Summer was fading, and since he was off-duty he didn't have to wear that stuffy suit, and they were actually at a nice little cafe called Flippo's boulangerie, in the nice part of the shopping quarter, and Strop was shouting Cenere's meal. once. But still, it was a perk, even if it was only to get him to whine a little less. "So what are we here to discuss?"

"The next round, of course!" Strop produced a rolled up piece of paper and slapped it on the table.

"What is that?" Cenere rubbed his glasses.

"It's a schematic. Of an obstacle course. Which everybody's going to run. Moe's building it as we speak."

Cenere craned over, trying to make out Strop's doctor handwriting. "It's in the moat."

"Precisely! So if the victestants fall off... also it's supposed to give them a view of the castle from the outside but, well..."

Strop trailed off. "Cen, do you get the feeling somebody's watching you?"

---

"Okay! I AM gonna expose the truth this time!" said a man leaning over a desk, "The world shall know of the Homosexual Horse... STROP!" the mans eye's gleamed with happiness, "Ever since that day, that I saw you exit that poor man's house, I knew there was something different about you..." the man picked up a photograph of a horse ched for the door handle, and opened the door, he walked out of his house, and headed towards The Tavern. His favourite place to pick up gossip. He walked around, and around, and around, looking for something to help his article along, he continued to walk, until he came across the Ninja horse, talking to a man in a suit, they were really chummy, and looked to be best friends, but Gabriel didn't see it that way, he watched the two talk, and kept thinking he saw them rub each others arms, and make casual flirtatious movements, such as the man curling his hair, or the ninja groping the man's chest, Gabriel thought he was seeing definitive proof, and started writing it down. He continued to watch them with his eagle eye's, continuing to write down what he saw, finally, the Ninja looked around, and said "Um... Cenere... I think that creepy guy over there is watching us..." the other man looked behind strop, and said, "Hm... I think you are right... Oh well, doesn't matter, he's probably just another one of your fanboys." the ninja laughed and said, "I don't have that many..." the other man looked at Strop and sighed, "Doesn't matter, let's get going, we got more contestant's to go through." as those words left the mans mouth, Gabriel thought to himself, "Hm... Must be a contest on who get's to be the Ninja Horses lover... I better stalk~er follow and investigate."

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The scene is a darkened room, where the only thing visible are shadows, from a light cast by a solitary window. From the darkness somewhere around the head of the room, a fishman in a black cloak spoke.

"So is everybody present?"

"Knock it off," Nemo grunted. "If you want to be like Carlie you'll need to start with deodorant."

"How about you both knock it off," Devoidless rumbled, snuffing out the brotherly spat before it could start. "We're here to discuss our 'concerns'."

"Ah yes, our concerns," Ubertuna echoed, before he paused with a blank look. "What concerns are these?"

Nemo mashed his palm into his forehead. "You idiot, you're the one who keeps saying you are 'concerned' about the Way of Moderation."

"Or should we call it, 'Strop's powertrip'." Devoidless rejoined. "Have you seen the way he's been treating his... bellboy?"

"Oh yes," Ubertuna mused. "That is most concerning indeed."

Both Devoidless and Nemo turned to face Ubertuna expectedly. Ubertuna spluttered, lost for words. He turned to the easiest option:

"The answer is... is obvious! We need to obstruct Strop's attempts to enslave the whole of AG!"

"And how do you propose that? Strop's more powerful and persuasive than all of us."

"Not I-" Devoidless began before he doubled over, coughing wretchedly. The room filled with soot stirred up both from the Ancient's lungs and the dust in the room, much to Nemo's annoyance.

"Well, this morning, I was rudely awoken by intruders! When I surfaced-"

"Not another penguin, I hope?" Nemo smirked. Ubertuna, in the throes of dramatic storytelling, ignored him.

"When I surfaced, I saw Strop and Moe building a curious construct... over the moat!"

"And what was this construct?" Curiosity may have killed the cat but evidently not the wolf, the dragon nor the fish.

"Come see for yourself!" Ubertuna cried, before disappearing from the room, the only evidence of his presence a loud splash and fading paddling noises.

---

Caught up in the creative freedom from his thesis, Moe had outdone himself. Not only was the course worthy of a true ninja warrior, but with corkscrews, sheer towers, precipitous jumps and tight turns an octopus would have difficulty negotiating, Strop wasn't even sure he could complete the course.

"So how are the victestants supposed to appreciate the castle while doing this course again?" Cenere asked drily.

Strop scratched his head sheepishly. "I don't know. I didn't build the course."

"That's if the castle is even there..."

Strop peered across the moat. The sound of steady hammering on mortar was ever present, and through the fog, it seemed that the bricks were indeed piling up. As to whether it would ever come close to resembling the original Armor Castle remained to be seen, though.

"Well," Strop cracked his knuckles. "No time to sit and wonder, I'm going to try it out!"

And with that, he took off.

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And blah blah...yeah, it's not finished. I'll finish it later.

Strop landed in front of Cenere, who had a bit of a sickly look about him.

"It works great, why don't you give it a shot Cen?"

Strop had that roguish grin on him that clearly announced his expectation to laugh. Cenere straightened his jacket.

"Let's see," he simply said.

Several seconds later:

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Strop had to manually re-hinge his Tex Avery jaw before he could speak: "How did you do that!?"

"How do you say it," Cenere muttered, still dusting off his jacket. "I am ninja?"

---

From behind the bushes, three pairs of eyes bored holes into the ninja horse and suit.

"Can you believe it!? My home, turned into a plaything!?" Ubertuna thrashed and frothed at the mouth indignantly. "I have half a mind to throw dead fish at the candidates when the blasted day they will run that course comes!"

"Wait." Nemo held up a hand. "There's an idea for you. Let's take a walk and I'll explain on the way."

"But I don't like walking-"

"Shut up, 'tuna."

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Interlude: Whodunnit?

One week later:

Flippo

As I woke up this morning, I had slight deja vu. Well, I had it yesterday too. Everyday is the same, it seems. I started my morning listening to "Eye of the Tiger". It always gets my adrenaline pumping. As I threw on my clothes, I looked at myself in the mirror. Love handles, double chin, thunder thighs... I'm- I'm, BEAUTIFUL! I can totally tell why everyone's so jealous. As I walked out the door of my two room apartment, I grabbed my keys and my baguette. Time to start another day at the bakery.

I walked three blocks down to the bakery, as usual. I haven't got around to getting my Corvette out of the shop yet, so I normally walk. While I was walking I noticed everyone was smiling and pointing at me more than usual. "I must be extra sexy this morning", I thought to myself. When I got to the door of the bakery I realized that my fly was down. I quickly zipped it up. "People are so distracted by my beauty that they didn't even notice that my zipper was down", I mumbled to myself smiling.

As I walked in the door, I could already smell the sweet fragrance of French bread. I had kept up a pretty sturdy business at Flippo's Bakery, but things have started to slow down. I haven't had a customer in a week. Usually people are on their knees begging for my delicious bread. "What has happened to all my customers?!" Then I remembered. "It's that **** contest", I said with a vicious tone, "Everyone must be so interested in it that they don't have time for ole' Flippo anymore." I personally think that I would be the best choice for the job, but they said that I would do such a great job that I'd make all the other moderators look like pansies. I couldn't blame them. I would be pretty awesome at it. I guess they'll have to settle for one of the untrained, unexperienced and worst of all, non-French losers they call users. I don't know where this city's going anymore...

---

Cenere

Strop strode onto the stage watching the last few contestants settled in their seats and went silent. The ninja pony took a moment to look out on them and conclude... That they still looked either boring or crazy. Many of them the latter. Then he began speaking.
"Now, you all know why you are here. Throughout the last couple of weeks you have been trialed and waiting, and I have the results here!" He held up a few papers and the crowd clapped loudly and cheered.
"So, you want to know?" The crowd cheered louder and more impatiently, stomping.
"Okay, I will tell you." He smiled through the mask, and looked at the papers.
"The result is..."
"WHO DUN IT!?!" A hippo in a striped shirt shoved the pony to the side and yelled into the microphone. "WHO DUN IT??!!"
"Uhm, I am sorry, sir, but..." Cenere got violently stopped by a shove and the hippo grunted with anger.
"I, the marvellous Flippo le Hippo, the most famous boulanger in this city... 'as lost my wonderful boulangerie to those... Those...." He took a deep disapproving breath.
"Lost your... What?" Strop stood out of reach for the hippo, so Flippo just gave him a huff.
"My bakery. It exploded. With me in it, and I am sure one of those are the offendure." He glared out on the crowd, but due to the lack of light he could not make anyone out clearly.
"Uhm, were you in it?" Strop looked at Flippo.
"Of course I was in it! Can't you not see how my perfect clothes has been ruined?!"
Strop saw nothing but dirty spots, but concluded it might not be worth commenting on in front of the baker.
"I barely managed to escape, and only because I was so clevur and fast, I came out alive! With people cheering at my 'eroic act! I even saved a child!" Flippo looked rather proud of himself, while the contestants simply stared in disbelief. "But my boulangerie is still ruined..." Flippo changed his expression to a dramatically sad one in seconds.
"I guess we need to solve this..." Strop looked a little sad that his suspense had been broken so brutally, but on the other hand, this seemed like the perfect time of a "Detective story..." He mumbled with stars in his eyes.
Cenere, who had finally gotten enough breath to stand up, gazed at him. "Strop..."
"Okay, listen people! No one leaves before we have found the one who blew up this guy's bakery!" Strop grinned, getting an approving, but rather hard clap in the back by the hippo.

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Round Four- Steeplechase

"Well, that's that." Strop dusted his hands, before drawing back his hoof in preparation to kick Cenere, only to be frozen by Cenere's baleful glare.

"What's going on now?"

"Dudeguy's getting lynched." Strop casually pointed to the mob advancing upon the hapless (yet somehow still culpable) Dudeguy, barrels of tar and feathers at the ready.

"Will he make the next round?"

"Sure, why not, but he won't have time to clean up before it starts, because we're going to the castle now!"

"But is it-"

"That's what I want to find out. I'll go ahead, you just... stay here and make sure things don't get too out of hand!"

Cenere folded his arms. "You know there's no way to cover up the inevitable in the time you're giving yourself, right?"

Strop glared at Cenere, then turned and dashed away.

---

"I don't believe it."

But seeing was believing. Before them stood the majestic Armor Castle, resplendent in all its glory, just as legend had it before its destruction and subsequent reconstruction at the paws of Klaus the bear.

"Well, how'd you like them apples!?" Klaus puffed, slinging a oversized mallet over his shoulder.

"Like I said, I don't believe it," Strop repeated. "How did you do it?"

Klaus rolled up the fur on his left arm. "See this scar?"

"That's real informative, Klaus."

"No, seriously! I got this scar while taking an oath with the Freemasons. Taught me everything about masonry they did!"

Strop shook his head, grinding his palm in his face. "Well, how about you show me around then."

Klaus did his best pedobear impression: "What, don't you love me?"

Strop punted Klaus in his ample rear end: "Stop being gay and do it already."

---

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It truly wasn't a half-baked job. Klaus really had recreated Armor Castle, brick by brick, just the way it had been. Without all the castle feasts in between, as had been archived by KingRyan.

"Well, I'll be darned Klaus, you really did it." Strop said while trying to hide a sigh of relief.

"Am I awesome or what?"

Strop glanced around. Even the tower had been rebuilt, including the lack of stairs, and the clock tower itself had been restored along with its furnishings.

"It was hell but I dug all of it out of the rubble and restored it with these two paws."

And, as a finishing touch, sitting on the laundered bedsheets was a set of pink cotton panties.

"Well, that's touching Klaus. Thanks." Strop said, before adding: "No homo."

Klaus smacked his paws together. "Yeah, moderatorship here I come! So when's the next round?"

Strop cracked his joints ominously. "Ah yes, about that. See, I'm afraid there's a problem with that."

"What do you mean!? Are you being a dirty ninja again!?"

"Dirty? No. I'm just being pragmatic." Strop held up his arm, and Thor poofed into it. "Truth is, despite your excellent work, the results of your actions indicate you are a high risk to the tournament and the city. Therefore it is my duty to ensure the safety of the folk of Armor Games. See you next week."

Before Klaus could even gape in shock, Strop swung the banhammer with all his might. The head connected cleanly with Klaus' gut. He was catapulted out the window in an instant and flew higher and higher until he disappeared among the clouds.

"NO HOMOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO." Klaus screamed as he went, his voice fading and eventually lost to the winds.

Strop waved his arms and Thor disappeared, then he furtively glanced out the window. Cen had not arrived yet. Which means it was unlikely he saw what had just transpired.

Good.

---

http://i438.photobucket.com/albums/qq105/strawpony/Way%20Of%20Moderation/3-5.png

Through the great iron gate at the back of the Armor Court of Great Justice the victestants filed, looking awestruck at the significance of their privilege. For until now only developers, admins and moderators could pass through these gates. However these warriors on the Way of Moderation who now tread the hallowed grounds of the embankment of the moat that surrounded Armor Castle were the cream of the cream, they had made it this far-

"Okay, now to be clear, Dodgeball was a warmup round." Strop clapped his hands together. Everybody turned towards him, a blank look on their faces.

What met them was a horrifying construct:

http://i438.photobucket.com/albums/qq105/strawpony/Way%20Of%20Moderation/obstacle.jpg

"Great," Kingryan muttered. "This is going to be bad for my back..."

"Before we begin, I've got a few announcements to make. You know, the ones I was going to make before we were interrupted."

Dudeguy coughed out a few feathers and shifted miserably. Everybody took a moment to snigger at him before Strop resumed.

"I have some results for you. Cenere?"

Cenere shuffled through his clipboard and produced some fancy looking certificates. Strop called out to the assembly, and the named people shuffled forward to receive their award with a bemused look on their faces.

"First in Best Dressed: Goumas
Moderator's Pet: Parsat, The Bullman
Last One In Is A Rotten Egg: Frank
Cenere Disapproves: Gametesta
How Did You Get There omghax: Klaus"

There was a pause, for Klaus was absent. "Oh, yeah, about that... Klaus is-"

Cenere nudged Strop, "Did you-"

"Not now Cen! Anyway-"

"Wrecking Ball: Manta
Meatshield: Kingryan"

There was a smattering of applause as well as a good deal of giggling. Strop held up his hands and silence fell gradually. "I've also got some scores for you. In alphabetical order:"

With his nose buried in the notes, Strop read:

Bullman- 95
Chill- 30
Crimson- 0
Dudeguy- 20
Flipper- 60
Frank- 75
Gametesta- 50
Goumas- 25
Kingryan- 70
Klaus- 100
Leon- 85
Manta- 55
Parsat- 80
Pixel- 35
Thoad- 90
Vise- 5

Everybody looked at each other, confused. What could these scores mean?

Strop looked up again. "These are your idiot scores."*

Before anybody could react, he kept talking:

"So this round is the real deal. It's called steeplechase. Does everybody here know what a steeplechase is?"

From the general muttering all around, Strop had to conclude that most of them didn't, and even if they did, they were more interested in finding out what an idiot score was. He sighed and resumed. "Steeplechase is a footrace through an obstacle course. Most courses aren't as... strenuous as this..." He took a moment to glance at the bed of spikes before turning back with a glint in his eyes, "...but being a moderator involves, uh, being very agile?"

Cenere facepalmed.

"The basic idea is this. Follow me. Try to keep up. Try not to die. Ready, set go!"

And with that, the ninja horse bounced away like a flash and disappeared into the wooden corkscrew. The victestants fell over themselves in a delayed reaction, trying to catch up, and soon pandemonium ruled over the course.

http://i438.photobucket.com/albums/qq105/strawpony/Way%20Of%20Moderation/3-6.png

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http://i438.photobucket.com/albums/qq105/strawpony/Way%20Of%20Moderation/3-9.png

http://i438.photobucket.com/albums/qq105/strawpony/Way%20Of%20Moderation/3-10.png

http://i438.photobucket.com/albums/qq105/strawpony/Way%20Of%20Moderation/3-11-1.png

http://i438.photobucket.com/albums/qq105/strawpony/Way%20Of%20Moderation/3-12.png

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http://i438.photobucket.com/albums/qq105/strawpony/Way%20Of%20Moderation/3-14.png

Back at the Steeplechase

"This is getting ridiculous!" panted the Bullman to nobody in particular.

Indeed, it was rather more than ridiculous by this stage. He had traversed the entire course, in its increasing stage of destruction, thrice already, and this was no mean feat for such a bull as himself. The faster competitors, especially those sneaky flying types, must have done at least twice as much. And yet there was no signal to stop, not even any indication of how long they would do this for.

"Agility schmagility," Pixel rejoined. "How about endurance!?"

In fact, by this time, the only people who hadn't gone around the course multiple times were Kingryan, who, between his advanced osteoarthritis and osteoporosis, was destined to fall into the moat, and Dudeguy, who managed to go around once without trouble but had somehow also managed to get stuck to the wall of the Armor Court of Great Justice. Strop, meanwhile, had other things on his hands.

"STOP IT DEVOIDLESS", the ninja horse yelled vainly at the rampaging dragon. Ninja he might be, but a horse was not much of a match for a forty foot tall dragon.

Devoidless had now successfully smashed several gaping holes in just about every structure so masterfully and sadistically crafted by Moe. Each pound of the fist, each splintering of the wood pierced Strop's heart. Cenere had taken one look at it and told Strop, correctly, that there really wasn't anything he could do. And went back to reading.

At least Strop could be thankful that none of the victestants had been taken out just yet. Though it was mystifying- if Devoidless was really that keen on destroying the course as he seemed to be, he could have just set the whole thing on fire... unless...

Right at that moment, Strop spotted Nemo:

http://i438.photobucket.com/albums/qq105/strawpony/Way%20Of%20Moderation/3-15.png

http://i438.photobucket.com/albums/qq105/strawpony/Way%20Of%20Moderation/3-16.png

http://i438.photobucket.com/albums/qq105/strawpony/Way%20Of%20Moderation/3-17.png

Then the debris fell and smoke and dust, once again, enveloped the entire precinct.

Coughing, Strop flapped his arms, trying to dispel the haze. "Is everybody okay?"

A deadly silence ensued.

"...anybody?"

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