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

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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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10,811 posts

The Judge be Judged

It was as appeared on TV and in the movies. Endless waves upon waves of people, yelling and waving placards and pushing and jostling each and every way. The chaos, the noise filled the heavy brick confines of the ArmorGames court complexes to bursting. The occasion? A corrupt mod was being brought to justice!

Through the midst of all this, Strop wove a meandering path. Today he wasn't the Strop the ninja horse, but rather, Strop the defendant, his ninja suit adorned with the finest tie and jacket in his wardrobe, in tune with the delusion that any presumed criminal could improve their chances with the jury if they looked presentable. That said, Strop was painfully aware of just how tight and restrictive the tie was, and felt a familiar tingling on the back of his neck. Who was it that he had forced to wear a suit for so many months again...? But there was no time to think about such things, he had his own problems right now.

Flanking Strop was an unlikely companion, last seen in the throes of drunken defeat. Yet Strop hoped that the fishman Manta would be able to turn the tides in this debacle with a replica of his statement, this time not as one laughing at Strop's misfortune, but to help him rectify it. That was if the fishman was even willing to do so now, and given the sulky look he sported, Strop had his doubts.

"Strop, did it have to be TODAY?" Manta whined, tugging at the collar of his suit. "Why not tomorrow? Or the day after?"

"If I had a choice in the matter Manta, the time I'd prefer to do this would be 'never'," Strop grumped. "What gives anyway? What's so bad about today?"

"Well, it's just that I'm missing out on The Sorority Show."

Strop blinked. "The what?"

"Today's episode is Wet T-Shirt Car Wash on Candid Camera. And I'm missing it. Because of this stupid court appearance thingy."

Strop began to make a >:O face, when he realised this was pretty par-for-the-course for Manta, so he stopped. "Look, just consider that part of your punishment. Yeah. That punishment for trashing the tavern last week, remember?"

Manta said nothing. His lengthy pout was interrupted by a zealous protestor taking a swing at Strop with a large "MODS SUK" sign. Without blinking, Strop ducked it.

"If you want to blow off some steam, you could get rid of the protestors blocking our way," Strop suggested, perhaps a little improperly.

"And you're not going to 'unish' me this time around?" Manta shot back.

Strop shrugged, "Unlike the previous incident, I hardly think it would be counterproductive."

High up on the steps of the greatest of the court houses, the Armor Court of Great Justice, one had a view of the whole complex, swarming with people. Suddenly in the distance, users started flying, or rather, were violently ejected from the crowd into the sky before falling back into the masses. This fountain of users progressed, making a beeline for the stairs until Strop and Manta emerged, Manta still swinging his fists threateningly at anybody who wandered too close. For a moment, the crowds at the top of the steps near the entrance to the great courthouse drew back, and Strop and Manta plunged into the gap and through the doors, just as the crowd surged forward again.

Strop slammed the doors shut and Manta and Strop stood, backs plastered to it, breathing heavily.

"There you have it," Strop quipped. "A day in the life of a mod."

"Hells bells," Manta swore, before shushing himself. "If I'd known before..."


"All rise, for the Honorable Justice Moegreche".

In a cacophony of shuffling and stifled coughing, everybody rose. Justice Mogreche was the most venerable and venerated of justices in the city, one of the original Moderators. He was the one who engendered the notion of rational justice in the city of ArmorGames, in its early days- Strop remembered it was not a month after he himself had arrived. Shortly after, the courts had been built with the unlikely aid of Devoidless the Ancient, and Strop himself remembered testing the courts, participating in several debates, culminating in the giant Star Wars nerd-off in which Devoidless had earnt the nickname of Darth Voidy, for his knowledge of the rare properties of unique lightsabers was bordering unholy. All in those carefree days before Strop had taken on the moderator mantle...

Wheeling the famed brain-in-a-jar on his red chuck wagon, was the normally taciturn spaminator robot Flipski, but given that he was the security in today's session, Flipski was obligated to make the calls. Clanking over to the judge's booth, Flipski lifted the jar onto the counter and draped the judge's wig over the top.

"Please, be seated", Justice Moegreche grated in his electronic monotone. Flipski pressed a button on his chest console, and a scratchy recording played back from Flipski's speakers:

"Now calling into session the case Secret Society of Armorgames Representing Victims of Moderator Abuse versus Moderator Strop."

Strop, sitting in the defendant's box, felt hundreds of eyes boring into him. While as a rock-star ninja, he enjoyed great popularity, and he would liked to have think that he did his best to be congenial, fair and equitable... he knew that nobody was perfect... he also knew that this Way Of Moderation tournament was really eating into his duties... and that simply by virtue of being a moderator he was automatically an enemy of many. As to what proportion of people were here to support him, and what proportion were to see him lynched, well that just might be answered before the session was out!

Strop cast his eyes over to the plaintiff's side of the court, to find several shady hooded figures huddled over a table with a stack of folders, glaring back at him. He dreaded to imagine the contents of the folders, so he shrank back and gazed down at his table, empty save for his briefcase. He snapped open the case and took out a stack of papers. Atop the stack was a post-it note, and on that post-it note, in cursive scribble: "I prepared some notes for you."

Oh, bless his troubled heart! Strop thought to himself, once again feeling a rush of mixed thankfulness and guilt... which turned into a plunging, queasy rush of his stomach dropping through the floor as he flipped through page after page of complete blank. Save for the last page. Upon which was written, in that rounded cursive: "Sadly, I don't have resources to actually research anything due to the utter lack of payment. Good luck."

Desperately hoping this was just a practical joke, Strop flipped the page over, to find another note: "P.S. Sai made you a sandwich. But I ate it. -C."

Strop screwed his face up, trying to move the raging FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU building up in him to a parallel dimension where he could conveniently forget about it.

"Moderator Strop, do you have legal counsel to represent you?"

"Uhh." Strop, being a moderator, was stuck in an unusual situation. Normally when a complaint was processed against a moderator, it would go to the administration and be independently reviewed by an omniscient entity. Failing this, another moderator would investigate and act based on the evidence garnered. However, in this case... Carlie was away and nobody really knew what happened, hence the purpose of this trial being to present said evidence... but more importantly for Strop, it meant that nobody could represent him, except...

"I'll be representing myself, Mo- your Honour."

Judge Moegreche didn't blink, but then again that would have been because he didn't have eyes, though as to how he knew who was addressing him was- anyway. "I will take the liberty of presuming that you have pleaded Not Guilty."

Strop sighed. "Yes, your Honour, but seriously, couldn't you just have thrown the case out? Manta here is missing out on his fanservice TV and I've already obtained statements to the effect that-"

Flipski banged his cannon arm on the counter to counteract the roars of indignation arising from the stands. It was just as well that the cannon wasn't charged, which made Strop wonder how further and more extreme outbursts might be handled. "Thank you, Flipski," Moe intoned, before adding, "Moderator Strop, as you would well appreciate there is much more at stake than a simple verdict, thus this trial will be run in its due course."

"Pfffft" Strop muttered to himself. Here he was defending himself against a charge of a crime he didn't even know the details of, allegedly taking place at a time he didn't even remember. All he had were a few names and some dodgy 'confessions', going up against some consortium of users who made it their job to take moderators to task for failing to adhere to some arbitrary level of perfection that probably involved being a mindless robot (Flipski, of course, didn't count, as even though he was a robot he also had a mind of his own... a dangerously erratic one.)

In short, he was screwed. "Very well then, let's get this over with", he said to nobody in particular and sat down, arms folded.


"So let us recall the facts of the case," spoke one of the hooded plaintiffs, pacing to and fro in the space between the judge's bench and the stands. "On a Winter's night some two months ago, henceforth to be named 'The Night of the Incident', there was a certain Rap Battle, held as part of the Way of Moderation Tournament, which is directed by The Defendant, hence The Defendant is responsible for the events that happen within..."

Strop's eyelids felt like they weighed a ton, which was bad for Strop because he never did any eyelid training. Consequentially he was finding it extraordinarily difficult not to close his eyes and fall asleep. He had hoped that his opponents would consist of kids and noobs whose opening oration would go something like "Mods r suck, they r corrupt and will rune you're akknt," but it figured that they had to be a little older than that to think that authority was their natural enemy. Oh! Adolescent angst! Whatever the case may be, though, Strop simply had to stay awake long enough to discover what the plaintiff's actual argument was, and how they were planning to support it.

"...some hours after the event ended, we allege that The Defendant loosed an arrow from his own bow, and pierced the tournament contestant known as Chill, Grandmaster of George, henceforth known as The Victim. The Victim was seriously wounded, and on the basis of The Defendant's behaviour for the duration of The Way of Moderation Tournament, we will establish that The Defendant is in fact corrupted and seeking the destruction of the City of Armorgames itself, along with the attempted murder of The Victim!"

Wait, what? Strop's ears pricked and he sat upright, and not just because the atmosphere in the room seemed to have chilled a few degrees. This didn't sound at all like what he'd come here to defend... and it certainly didn't sound like a valid opening oration, in fact it sounded more like inciting a riot!

"OBJECTION!" Strop jumped to his hooves and brandished his index finger. His cry rang around the chamber, before settling atop a pregnant silence.

"Strop, you realise that objections only apply to arguments and witness questioning?"

"But... but that opening oration, that's not a prosecuting me, that's character assassination!" Strop flailed.

"Naturally the defence would object to the plaintiff's opening oration; if they did not, there would probably be precious little in the hearing." Strop resumed his seat, cheeks burning. Moe paused, a few bubbles forming in the vat. "Will the member of the prosecution please restate the charges they are arguing?"

"Your Honour, we contend that The Defendant attempted to murder The Victim by firing an arrow from his bow through The Victim."

"Good, let us proceed from there." Strop winced; the damage was already done, then paled as Moe continued. "Would the defence please present their opening statement?"

Oh crap, Strop hadn't prepared any opening statement. He fumbled with the blank sheets of paper, stalling for time, only to be shoved from the stand by an enthusiastic clap on the back from Manta: "Go get 'em, ponyboy!"

Dusting himself off, Strop opened his mouth to speak, for the first time in a long while feeling truly out of his element as the audience crucified him with their glare. What was he going to say? "Ladies and Gentlemen, what you are seeing here is a witch-hunt!?" Oh, that would go down well. Or, "Ladies and Gentlemen, I have no idea what happened that night, but I swear I didn't do it!?"

This day was only going to get worse.


"The Prosecution would like to submit this evidence, henceforth known as Exhibit A."

A box was passed up to the front of the room and laid on a long flat table. The box was unwrapped to reveal Strop's (extremely long) longbow and quiver. Strop's eyes widened.

"OBJECTION!" Strop found himself on his hooves again, that same finger pointed at nothing in particular.

"What is it this time, Moderator Strop?"

Strop started pointing in multiple directions, trying to find the legalese to substantiate himself. "I, uh, your Honour, I call Fruit of the Poisoned Tree. This evidence was improperly requisitioned, therefore I move that this case be dismissed on the grounds that any case built on this evidence is also improper!"

"COUNTEROBJECTION" the prosecution roared, falling over themselves before one got up. "The bow was confiscated in the interests of the safety of the public immediately following the Incident!"

"Overruled," Moe decided. "Given that Exhibit A is the weapon of the alleged attempted murder, you would have to disprove the charges in order to establish that the taking of the evidence was done improperly, Moderator Strop."

"But it's not a we-" Strop started, then facepalmed, trying to mask his rising panic. His bow! Ever since it had gone missing and the first of those suspicious letters had landed on his bed, he had found it difficult to believe that it would come to this, yet he'd found it impossible to shake that suspicion that something sinister was afoot. Registering an inquiry with the "Lost and Found" was useless (which really he shouldn't have expected anything, as it was something he'd told the post-office gremlin to do as lip-service, given that the Freemarket yielded a plethora of minor hiccups and complaints of the sort and the moderators had the power to do jack-all about it,) and given that even the veteran Crimson didn't have any leads, naturally there was nobody else to turn to except the other moderators, and they didn't know anything either...

Eventually a nice little array of exhibits had been lined up on the table, Exhibit B being pictures of the hall (presumably after The Incident), still decked out in Firefly's street do, but empty save for a small bloodstain and a chalk outline (Strop had OBJECTED again, arguing that chalk contaminates the crime scene, but was shot down as it was for "demonstrative" purposes only since Chill hadn't actually died, so he OBJECTED to the fact that the chalk outline denoted a spreadeagled figure, and for once it was sustained... so the exhibit B was replaced by exhibit C, which was a closeup of the bloodstain, which made Strop go >_&lt. Exhibits D, E and F were all "expert analyses" on the fingerprints on the bow, the trajectory of the blood stain, and a simulated reconstruction Strop didn't even think possible given the technological level of the largely non-existent forensic facilities of ArmorGames (i.e. magnifying glass and torch), which pretty much said "Strop obviously did it." And to top it all off, there was Exhibit G, which, crucially, was the blood-stained arrow.

When all the exhibits were in, everybody waited for Justice Moegreche to make the next motion. But nothing happened.

"Your Honour?" Strop called out.

"'s all so cruel." Moegreche said. "So cruel!"

Strop boggled, another niggling notion in the back of his head rising to the fore. "...are you okay? You haven't... felt different since the past... few months, have you?"

There was a pause. "I don't know. Lately I've been feeling all these strange feelings, and it's hard to think straight, and sometimes I just want to shoop on people... and you need to address me as 'Your Honour' or I'll book you for contempt of the Court."

"Sorry, Your Honour." Great. Strop adjusted his collar, watching the pieces of his doom steadily falling into place.


"The Prosecution would like to call Moderator Strop to the stand."

"Moderator Strop, would you please take the stand."

Strop sighed. This was the worst part. He could see absolutely no way he could make himself look credible, let alone good. But it was too late to think about stuff like that. So he trudged up and laid his hand on a tatty leaflet titled "Rules and Guidelines of ArmorGames", swore his oath, and sat in the stand.

"Can you tell me in your own words what happened on the night of the Incident?"

"Errr." Strop chewed on his bottom lip, not sure how to go about this.

"'Errr' is not a valid response, Moderator Strop," Moegreche pointed out.

"Well, umm. I don't know." Strop wished that a hole would open up beneath him and drop him to where most of his other internal organs had already gone.

"And why don't you know?" The hooded Secret Society members leered at him as one.

"...I don't recall..."

From somewhere in the stands, somebody yelled out "Say it again, Clinton!" Flipski preemptively banged his cannon arm on the counter, this time leaving a rather noticeable indentation on the woodwork. "Continue, Moderator Strop," Moe said when the ruckus died down.

"...I don't recall anything from that evening."

The prosecution let that sink in for a minute. Then they resumed their questioning.

"You are a moderator of ArmorGames, are you not?"

Strop rolled his eyes, but had no choice but to answer. "Yes, I am a moderator of ArmorGames."

"You are the chief host of the Way of Moderation Tournament, correct?"

"That is correct."

"Can you tell me how the fights in the round of 8 were decided?"

Strop knew that Cen had faithfully documented the whole process and it was sitting, very trackable, in the archives, so again he responded truthfully, despite really not liking the direction of this line of questioning. "I decided it myself."

"Who was Chill scheduled to fight in the round of eight?"


"And who is fighting in the final round?"

"Leon McAcid. And Crimsonblade. Oh come on guys, that's just not crick-"

"Please limit yourself to the question, you'll get your turn later," Justice Moegreche reminded Strop. Strop sighed, and rested his chin on his hand.

"Let us now talk about your handling of the Way of Moderation tournament, such as the complete and utter destruction of such venues as Firetail's mansion, ArmorCastle, the blowout in admissions and budgeting of Armor Hospital, the-"

"OBJECTION! Come on, Your Honour, that's not even relevant to the charges."

Mercifully, Justice Moegreche agreed with him. "Sustained. Stay on topic please."

The prosecution chuckled among themselves, before turning to the front. "No further questions, your Honour."

Justice Moegreche mulled over this, before declaring, "You are now in the unusual position of having to cross-examine yourself, Moderator Strop. Proceed when ready."

"Right! Well, first I'll start by saying-"

Justice Moegreche cut him off: "You still have to follow the format, Moderator Strop."


"You still have to ask the defendant a question and then answer it."

Strop cringed. "But that's gonna make me look like an idiot!"

"You're forgetting to call me 'Your Honour' again."

"...sorry, your Honour >_<"


"So, Moderator Strop, tell us a bit about your longbow."

"Sure thing Moderator Strop, well, you see..."

Strop figured that by this point, there was nothing left to lose as far as his dignity was concerned. So for the sake of a convincing performance, he had brought out the ultimate prop: the Strop-on, as crafted by that perennial pervert Zophia. Originally intended as a, well, a 'Strop-on', it just happened to also be in the likeness of his Ninjaness, and given that Strop could actually fit his arm into it (it was one hell of a Strop-on), also served as a fantastic hand-puppet. Which Strop was now using. To play himself. Questioning himself. While sitting in the witness box. Of the Armor Court of Great Justice. In front of several hundred anti-mod conspiracy-theorists. Who doubtless had now confirmed beyond any shred of doubt that he was a complete nutjob.

"...the longbow is not one of my moderator tools. It's been with me ever since I determined to follow the Path of the Rightful Way."

The Strop-on waggled. "What is the Path of the Rightful Way?"

"It is the continuing quest For Great Justice. Its central tenets are that violence and aggression is weakness, and for that reason the bow may be a natural weapon but I have sworn an oath never to target a living being with this bow."

"And have you ever fired and pierced anybody using this bow?"

"No, I hav-"

"OBJECTION!" It was the prosecution's turn to brandish their fingers at Strop.

"Sustained," Moe intoned. "Please rephrase your question so as not to assert the verdict, Moderator Strop."

"Fine," Strop gritted his teeth, picking the Strop-on up again. "Before 'The Night of the Incident', have you ever fired and pierced anybody using this bow?"

"No, I have not."

"What is the significance of this not being a moderator tool?"

"It means that others can wield this weapon and, if they possess the strength and skill, could use it."

"Let us," the Strop-on mused, "talk about the round after The Round of Eight. How was the match-up decided there?"

"I let the four of them work out their teams of two by themselves. The team that won would be the two to face-off in the finals."

"So you could't have predicted that Crimson and Leon would eventually end up facing each other in the finals."

"That's correct, Thoad and Frank were just as likely to have a shot. That was the idea."

Suddenly the Strop-on rounded on Strop. "And that was a really good idea wasn't it? Now that you've got a deranged murderous nut in the finals, you really wish you had manipulated the matchups in your favour, but no, you had to do it fair-and-square didn't you! You thought it would work out in the end if you let everybody showcase their abilities and teamwork and now look what you've done, you fool! LOOK WHAT YOU'VE DONE!!!"

Strop attempted to peel the Strop-on from around his neck, shooting a desperate look at the Judge's box. "Your Honour, my lawyer's harrassing me D:" Strop whined.

"...need I remind you that you are your own counsel, Moderator Strop?"

Strop blinked, then looked around sheepishly at the people on the benches, all boggling at him. "Oh... yeah."

The Strop-on piped up: "No further questions, your Honour."


As precocious as he may have been, Chill was still a young boy of twelve, maybe thirteen. He looked several sizes smaller than that, sitting in the box with a bunch of hooded figures standing around him protectively. From his perspective, Strop, naturally, saw differently.

"So, Chill, Grandmaster of George, you are a contestant of the Way of Moderation tournament?"

"I was," Chill corrected.

"Until!" pounced a hooded prosecutor, "Until you were eliminated by Crimsonblade! Isn't that correct?"

"Well, yes... I was..." Chill shot a quick look at Strop. Strop frowned and looked back before averting his gaze. Chill was definitely paler than normal, occasionally playing with his fringe, rubbing his head, before setting his hands back down on the counter and fidgeting. To be looking at him like that, would only be interpreted as...

"You must not be afraid to reveal the truth!" In sync, the prosecutors turned to glare at Strop.

Strop glared back, then raised his finger. "OBJECTION!"

"Sustained," Moe declared. "Please get on with relevant questions, members of the prosecution."

The prosecution glared at Strop, or at least Strop imagined they were, for their faces weren't visible from under their hoods. "Well then!" they huffed, "Chill, Grandmaster of George, did the injury you sustained on The Night of the Incident affect your performance during your duel with Crimsonblade?"

Strop facepalmed. He thought he had demonstrated earlier that this so-called agenda the prosecution was saddling him with was a load of horsecrap, but evidently they didn't think so, or, rather, they thought they had a chance to undermine him further by using their key witness to suggest... but what about Chill's own statements to him earlier, as corroborated by Manta's statements!? Strop narrowed his eyes at Chill before he remembered this would proably make him look like a big meanie, so he looked away again. But not before noticing that Chill was noticibly tremoring.

"Uh, uh actually," Chill started, glancing at Strop again.

"Please, go ahead and answer the question, we're all here so it's okay!" The prosecution crowded in around Chill, partially blocking his view from Strop, leaving Strop free to narrow his eyes again.

"...yes." Chill looked down, rubbing his head, and the prosecution eased back. Strop openly stared at Chill, gears ratcheting in his head until he noticed something very strange.

Chill did not have a mug of coffee in his left hand. In fact, there was no cup of coffee to be seen at all. The gears ratcheted a little more, until it clicked.

Coffee addict + no coffee = caffeine withdrawals = headaches, tremors and agitation. Along with Chill's strange reactions, those sneaky secret society scumbags had to be withholding Chill's essential beverage for their nefarious purposes!

"That's it!!!" Strop jumped up and slammed his fist down on the table in a spectacular Eureka moment, only to realise, too late, just how bad his timing was.

As if to drive another nail into Strop's coffin, Moe's computerised voice cut through the murmurs: "Please, Moderator Strop, resume your seat."

Cheeks burning, Strop slumped into his chair and slunk as low on the table as the table would let him. Being ninja didn't quite afford him the gift of being able to transcend the material realm, thus the hole in the floor he had been increasingly desiring, would not come to claim him.

Just then, a female voice whispered above him, "Cheer up, Stroppykins, we're still rooting for you!" It was quickly rejoined by another very familiar voice: "You should refrain from using such double-entendres, they are distasteful."

Strop looked up.

"Woah, what are you doing here guys!" Strop whispered incredulously. "And where did you get those horns from, Strip?"

Manta reached over and punched him in the shoulder. "Oi ponyboy, you talking to yourself?"

"I suppose I am," Strop mused, before continuing. "And the trident. And the wings."

Miniature-Strip fluttered a little before switching poses. "I'm your conscience!" she announced.

"More like your sins and temptations," miniature-Cen countered, "Which makes me your real conscience." He ruffled his angel wings, and Strip blew a raspberry at him.

"Cen, why are you my conscience? That's kinda disturbing."

"Yes," Cen remarked dryly, "It is, seeing as it probably means that you don't even have your own conscience anymore."

"Hey!" Strop cried indignantly. "That's not true!"

"It doesn't matter," Miniature-Strip cut in, "If he's being mean to you, you can just listen to me!" As if to emphasise her point, she tightened the grip on her trident... by squeezing her ample cleavage around the shaft. Strop automatically wiped his nose. "So, uh, what did you guys want?"

"What else!" Strip flounced, "So you've discovered the prosecution's plans, and realised Chill is suffering from caffeine-withdrawals!"

"...which means you're going to have to decide how to approach the cross-examination." Cen finished.

"...don't you think it's time for some coffee?" Strip winked at Strop. "But I don't drink co-" Strop began, before he understood, and raised his hand.

"Yes, Moderator Strop?" Justice Moe asked.

"I would like to request a toilet break, your Honour."

Justice Moe pondered. "Now that you mention it, I've been feeling the urge for quite a while. Let us adjourn, reconvene in fifteen minutes!"

Strop decided not to ask what kind of toileting urges a brain in a jar could possibly have.


"So, Chill, Grandmaster of George..."

Strop paced in front of Chill, steaming polystyrene cup of coffee in hand. He had, naturally, no intention of drinking any of the coffee, because that would probably have caused his heart to break some kind of world record, followed thereafter by him doing something incredibly dangerous, which he could not possibly afford at this juncture. However, as to exactly what he was going to do with it...

"Look at the poor kid, Strop. Maybe this isn't such a good idea, tormenting him like that..." Miniature Cen tut-tutted at him.

"Uhhh, as I was saying, Chill, Grandmaster of George, as you are aware, you are the prosecution's key witness, as you are the subject of the charge which is being laid against myse- I mean my client..."

"Are you going to get on with it?" Justice Moe interrupted before the prosecution could even raise a hand in protest.

"Yes, um, right away your Honour," Strop bit his lower lip. Miniature Strip nudged him with the pointy bits of her trident. "Go on, ask the question, just make sure he can smell the aroma of that niiiiiiice coffee! ^_^" She then proceeded to poke him multiple times, causing the hairs on the back of his head to prickle somewhat fierce. Strop looked back at Chill.

"Really, Strop, this is no better than the shameful behaviour of the prosecution," Miniature Cen lectured him. "You should just give him the coffee and end his suffering, who knows, maybe people might think you were a bit nicer for it."

Strop rounded on Miniature Cen in protest: "But if I do that, the prosecution will accuse me of bribing Chill!"

Miniature Strip joined in, shaking a finger at Miniature Cen, "Besides, what does it matter if he can obtain a retraction and end this whole case right here?"

"But that wouldn't work either, and you know it!" Somehow impervious to Miniature Strip's charms, Miniature Cen was now engaging her in a rapidly emerging argument.

"If you are going to delay the court with your silence," Justice Moe cut in, "We'll have to assume that you have no questions to ask the witness."

"Hang on, hang on, give me a minute!" Strop squeezed his eyes shut and pummeled his head.

"That's the third time you forgot to call me 'Your Honour', Moderator St-"

"Just give me some time to think!" Strop yelled, a collective gasp rising in the court. Justice Moe's monotonous calls for "Order. Order." did nothing, so Flipski banged his cannon arm on the counter again, this time splintering half the top with a resounding crack. Over this, Miniature Strip and Miniature Cen were now yelling at each other.






Strop parted the warring miniatures with his hand. "Please, guys, if you don't mind I'll just begin..." and he turned to Chill, coffee still in hand.

"So, Chill, Grandmaster of George. I only have one question to ask you. And that is, did I, or did I not actually shoot you with my bow on The Night of the Incident?"

The whole courtroom gasped, and held their bated breath. Chill, tremoring more than ever, hesitated, his eyes darting from the prosecution to the coffee in Strop's hand. Beads of sweat collected on Strop's brow.

"If you're feeling that bad, just give him the kitten-huffing coffee, Strop!" Miniature Cen tugged on Strop's ear.

"No, drink the coffee, pile on the pressure!" Strip called into his other ear.

Strop had had enough. "Look guys, can't you settle this some other way? Like rock-scissors-paper or something?"

"Oooh good idea," Miniature Strip squealed, clapping her hands. "I can't lose, with the luck of the Devil on my side!" And before Miniature Cen could agree or disagree, she had rounded on him and the match had begin!

Miniature Cen beat Miniature Strip.

"Best of three!" Miniature Strip clearly did not like losing, and shook her fist again.

Miniature Cen beat Miniature Strip again.

"I meant, first to three!" Steam was now blowing out her nostrils, and Strop started feeling a little nervous at the possible outcomes of his little idea. But it was too late, the third round was underway.

Miniature Cen beat Miniature Strip for a hattrick.

"Ooooh, you cheated!" Miniature Strip fumed.

"Actually, no, I am simply ninja," Miniature Cen folded his arms. But Miniature Strip wasn't done!

"WINNER TAKES ALL ROUND!!!" Miniature Strip grabbed Miniature Cen's hand and...

"So just give him the coffee, Strop." Miniature Cen demanded. Strop started reaching out, then stopped. Then he looked at Chill again, whose tremoring had gone from Californian to East Asian magnitude.

"You need to answer the question, Chill, Grandmaster of George" Justice Moe prompted.

The prosecution stood poised, ready to object but not quite sure how to go about it, so they leaned on the threshold of their desk, jostling, itching but not quite speaking out.

"Give him the **** coffee, Strop." Miniature Cen demanded, a few shades more insistently. Strop looked over at Miniature Strip, but she had her back turned, obviously sulking.

Chill's eyes darted back and forth, and he had started hyperventilating. Strop realised that in his brief, Chill had described himself as prone to anxiety, and grew panicky at the notion that he might actually pass out on the stand.

"Answer the question, Chill!" Justice Moe repeated.

The prosecution was now jumping up and down on the spot, still powerless to speak.

"THE COFFEE. NOW." Miniature Cen bellowed at Strop, kicking him in the back of the head.

Strop caved in.

"Look, Chill, I think you might be needing this," he said, slamming the coffee cup on the witness stand. Chill looked like he didn't know whether to faint or cry.

"OBJECTION!!!" The prosecution triumphantly fell over themselves and the table. "THE DEFENCE IS BRIBING OUR WITNESS!!!"

"Care to explain why you are offering the witness coffee?" Justice Moe asked Strop.

"Your Honour," Strop said, "it is my expert opinion as ArmorGames' resident doctor that the witness is suffering from caffeine withdrawal and is medically unfit to serve as a witness."

"Is a caffeine dependency documented?"

"Why yes, in fact, it's in the archived participant files. The initial candidate briefs."

"You can't be serious!" the prosecution protested. "Your Honour, this is tantamount to the submission of evidence we were hitherto not informed of prior to the commencement of this trial, hence it should be inadmissable!"

If Moe had a glare, it would have been withering, and it was just as well he wasn't shooting laser beams out of the jar. "Members of the prosecution, be advised that I am prepared to accept that the witness is suffering from a medical condition that renders him unfit as a witness, further to this I am under the impression that this is a condition you should have seen fit to manage appropriately prior to the trial. I hereby declare that all statements in this session made by the witness Chill, Grandmaster of George, inadmissable. You are dismissed."

Visibly relieved, Chill chugged down Strop's coffee and left the stand. "Thanks, Strop," he muttered as he passed.

"Unfortunately this does mean that you cannot ask this witness any further questions either, Moderator Strop," Justice Moe informed Strop.

"Yeah... I figured," Strop muttered under his breath, before returning to his own box. While Chill's testimony was out of the picture, this also meant that Strop wasn't able to extract a retraction from him, and therefore had nothing to support him, and still had several testimonies and pieces of evidence fingering him for the crime. The score still stood at Strop: 0, Anti-Moderators: >9000.



The audience had been on a steady simmer for most of the morning already, while the prosecution had presented their case. Now their venom started to come to the boil, as Strop's turn to present his defence rapidly approached. Frustrated, Strop jiggled his blank sheets of paper, wondering why Cen had chosen such a time as this to play such a mean trick on him. He couldn't help but wonder why Cen had gone so far as to give him a whole briefcase worth of blank paper. Maybe it was symbolism of just how much paperwork he'd been saddled with? Maybe it was for another purpose. Or maybe Strop was reading into it too much.

"Would the defence call its first witness please."

Strop looked around the room, fretting. There was no way he was going to be able to mount a complete defence, meaning that all his plans were really stalling for time, for an eventuality that was more of a liability, given he didn't even know if it was going to eventuate, or whether he even wanted it to eventuate. But alea jacta est, and que sera, sera. While he was at it, he might as well throw in a Ave, morituri te salutant, though he would have much preferred a hakuna matata, despite the latter not even being Latin.

Amidst general coughing and muttering, Strop stood up. "I would like to call Manta to the witness stand."

"BOO-YAH, HERE I GO!" Manta yelled, pumping his fist and springing into the box in a single bound.

It was a less than desirable start.

Having done away with all the preamble, Strop opened the questions. "Manta, please state your relation to The Way of Moderation Tournament."

"I," Manta opened grandly, "The fishman from a small village in the Wilderness, some way from the City of ArmorGames, was a participant in the tournament, for my name, in my native tongue, means 'he who is destined to strive for great things, and may sometimes fail-"

"Good, good," Strop hastily cut him off, leaving Manta in shocked indignation (>:O ha, the shoe's on the other foot now isn't it!) before following with his next question: "And you were present at the Way of Moderation Rap Battle, weren't you."

"Yeah, and I was getting all my verbal stylinz down like mad, and I won this!" Manta produced a diamond studded pendant. Made with paper and gems of congealed glue. With the inscription "WINNAR" on the medallion.

Strop was starting to wish right about now that he hadn't decided to make the whole round a parody.

"Well, yes. Yes, you did. So can you tell me what happened after that?"

Manta took a deep breath, trying to get serious. "Well, after the battle was over, you went to buy a drink from Hermit's stand. Then you passed out. Then, uhh, we decided to play a few tricks on you."

The muttering increased in intensity.

"Okay, okay," Strop said, trying to steer the questions in an organised fashion. "Who is 'we'?"

"Well, everybody present at the battle. Okay, not everybody. Actually it was just my idea to shave and tie-dye you, since you shaved me... and my hair's finally grown back thank you very much!"

Strop was overtly aware of the people behind him exchanging glances and imagining what he would look like shaven and tie-dyed. But he had to get on with the more important questions.

"So what happened to Chill at this point?"

Just like in the interrogation, Manta shrugged and deadpanned, "Oh, well, Leon picked you up and put the bow in your hands, then he shot Chill."

And the crowd went wild.

"Order." Justice Moe called, but was drowned out by the cacophony. "Order. Order? Is this voicebox even working anymore? Darn these cheapskate manufacturers, I specifically asked for a volume control..." Flipski's cannon arm started glowing and crackling, and the crowd very quickly went silent, more out of rigid fear than anything else.

"So," Strop said. "Could you describe this incident in more detail?"

"Well," Manta said, "More like Leon said 'I have an idea that will get Strop into trouble!' and so he got Chill to stand against the wall and use his magic to prevent him from getting hurt too bad when he got shot. So that's why only the tip of the arrow went in. We thought it was a pretty funny prank."

Evidently scandal was more effective at lubricating tongues than fear of Flipski's cannon was at freezing it, for the gallery was getting loud again.

"To ask directly, did I, I mean my client, shoot Chill?"

"Well, technically speaking you did-"

"I'll ask that again. Did I or did I not shoot Chill?"

" You didn't."

"No further questions, your Honour."


"Manta, could you please explain to us what happened on the night of the Round of Eight, in which you were defeated by Thoad?"

Strop raised his hand. "Objection, your Honour, this isn't relevant to the case."

Justice Moe paused. "...I'll allow it. Mainly because I've always wanted to say 'I'll allow it.'"

Strop flailed, "Aw come on, Moe, what-"

"'Your Honour!'"

"Sorry, your Honour..."

The prosecution stood expectantly. Manta scratched his head one way, than the other. Then both ways at once.

"Honestly, I don't recall."

"Then let us refresh your memory." Thus Exhibit H was submitted, it being an article on a certain fishman who had trashed the Tavern while pretending to be a moderator. A very drunk moderator. Featuring a photo of Manta. Poised to throw a barstool at the hapless reporter while flipping them off.

"Is this you?"

Manta squinted at the article. "Why I guess it is!"

A murmur rippled around the room. "So you admit to being drunk and disorderly on that night?"

Manta shrugged again, "Yeah, I guess. I mean that's why I'm here after all. It's punishment. You know I'm missing out on The Sorori-"

Manta only stopped because he had spotted Strop making zigzagging motions across his neck with as much suppressed vigour as possible. But it was too late.

"...punishment? What do you mean by punishment?"

"Oh," the clearly straightforward Manta answered, "coz I, well, trashed the tavern, Strop decided my punishment would be to testify on his behalf. Here, today. Otherwise he woulda banned me for sure. Guess I got off pretty light, huh?"

Strop's head hit the desk with a thunk.

"I put it to this court, then," the lead prosecutor said smugly, "that The Defendant has used his powers improperly to distort the course of justice."

And with that, Manta's testimony was, for all its truthfulness, blown out of the water.

10,811 posts

The Judge Be Judged cont.

"Crap crap crap," Strop stood outside the doors of the court room, in the lobby. His tie was in disarray, hanging loosely over his suit, and for some reason he was significantly sweaty. His modphone poofed into his hand and with trembling fingers, he punched several numbers with increasing desperation.

"Why is nobody picking up!? Oh, Zophia, hiiii! You don't have some kind of hidden camera around that could possibly have filmed some kind of evidence in my favour, do you? ... What do you mean you don't know what I am talking about? You know, I am being prosecuted today! ... Yes, it is today... I have been using the entire morning on this, so I am pretty sure it is today, yes. ... Well, of all the things you could do, couldn't one of the things have been to have put up a hidden camera in the great hall? ... Because it seems like a thing you would do? ... Uhm, okay... Thanks..."

Strop stared at his phone for a moment, while dialling some more numbers. "I need to go check my bedroom after this... Cen? I really need your... Cen? Are you there? Helloooo! Come on, you can't pull something like this after that stunt with the blank papers, it isn't fair! Hello? Hello?! ****."

Evidently Cen was still pissed off.


"Do you have any more witnesses to call, counsel for the defence?"

Strop, now alone on the defence side, rubbed his head, trying to hide his complete lack of plan. "Well, uhm, I do... is what I would LIKE to say, but, uhm, well..."

"If you do not have any more witnesses," Justice Moe lectured Strop, "We should hasten to the closing statements."

"Hey, now," Strop protested, "I didn't say I didn't have any more witnesses, but, well, it's just that he hasn't arrived yet." Strop hastily appended: "Your Honour."

"Be that as it may, you still have to nominate a witness in order to continue your defence."

Strop cast his eyes around the court room, studiously ignoring the glowering poses of the Prosecution. After Manta's spectacular fail ("Well, that's what you get for cutting me off when you did!&quot, Strop felt like his first, second and third leg had all been cut off. He would have liked to be as optimistic as the Black Knight ("It's only a flesh wound, HAVE AT IT!&quot, but, well, he really didn't know what to do now, and he was probably going to get banned, and fired, and...

It was at this point that Strop noticed something highly irregular from the back of the gallery. That was to say, he noticed a haze of smoke obscuring the back wall. Which seemed to be emanating from one point. Which meant that just maybe there was one last trick card he could play.

"The defence would like to call Hectic Hermit to the stand."

Everybody looked at each other, confused. Justice Moe's wig slipped off. Then suddenly, everybody turned to the back as a rumbling voice piped up: "Here I am!"

In the middle of a clearing cloud of smoke, the bushy bearded man dressed in bits of tree appeared.

"We protest," protested the Prosecution, clearly unsettled by this unexpected turn of events. "This witness does not even meet the minimum dress code requirements for this court, he isn't wearing shoes!"

"Please," Justice Moe cut in, "I have suffered enough frivolities today."

Hermit lumbered around to the front of the court, and sat in the middle of the floor. "Give it your best!" He instructed.

"Hectic Hermit, you need to be sitting in the witness box to testify."

"Is okay, I bought my own Bible, I'll just do the oath here," Hermit assured Justice Moe.

"The witness box!" Strop mouthed. "Get in the witness box!"

Naturally, Hermit couldn't lip-read through his curiously herbal haze, so Flipski simply reached over, picked him up and plunked him in the witness box.

"Right," Strop said, wiping sweat from his brow. He stood and walked to the witness box to begin his questioning, increasingly aware of the faintly sweet smell emanating from Hermit... faintly sweet but laced with a whole complex of various spices and aromas and odours and things that Strop doubted there even existed words for.

"Hectic Hermit, please state your occupation."

Hermit blew out a puff of smoke without even taking a drag from anything. "Herbalist", he uttered. "And purveyor of all substances natural and homegrown."

Strop ignored the scandalised hushing from the gallery. "And where were you the Night of The Incident?"

"The world affords us many incidents, thus I am everywhere and nowhere all at once."

"Let me rephrase," Strop struggled to maintain his tenuous composure. "Where were you on the night of the Rap Battle of the Way of Moderation Trials, otherwise known as the Night of the Incident?"

"You know, you need to tighten your sentence structure, my friend. It was incomprehensible."

"Hermit is your ally, Hermit is your ally," Strop mumbled to himself as a mantra, beating down the urge to let fly with a "NO U". Instead, he said, "Where were you on the night of the Rap Battle?"

"Why, at the Rap Battle of course."

"And what were you doing there?"

"I was being myself. You shouldn't try to be anything else." Hermit puffed another plume of smoke.

"And what were you doing there?" Perhaps persistence would be key.

"I was selling herbs. From my POWRADE stand. Fifty cents for any item."

"Right," Strop said, digging around in his suit and handing up a picture of Hermit's stand that he seemed to keep handy for reasons previously unknown to himself. "I submit this for consideration, it is a photo of Hermit's Stand." Sure enough, it showed Hermit sitting in his stand with his HTOWN belt on, and his Rasta cap. With this done, he continued.

"And what were you selling? Specifically, what was it that you sold me?"

Hermit scratched his beard, before grinning. "Good stuff."

Strop facepalmed. "Can you remember what I asked you before you gave me this 'good stuff'?"

In a rare moment of lucidity, Hermit quoted, "You said 'Hit me up with some juice.'"

Strop nodded. "That's correct. So what WAS the 'juice' that you provided me with?"

Several seconds passed.

Strop waved at Hermit. "Hermit?"

Hermit shrugged and grinned again. "Good stuff!"

"Nevermind..." Strop muttered. "Can you tell me what the effect of said 'good stuff' was?"

This was a crucial question for Strop's campaign... but it also proved to be his biggest mistake. Hermit spread his arms wide, his various branches rustling. "When I say 'good stuff', I mean 'stuff that takes you places.' And when I say 'laces', I mean 'on awesome trips'. Awesome trips can not be described by the mere confines of this language, no, it requires inventing a new language, for language is so limited to describe our experiences, with all its useless complexities... see, life is so simple, all you need is going places..."

"Please stop," Strop begged Hermit. "Can you please just tell me what happened after I drank your 'juice' and passed out?"

"Do you mean what you did, or what was going through your mind?"

Strop didn't even bother thinking about how Hermit could know what had gone through his mind after he passed out, seeing as he didn't remember any of it himself. "I just need the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth."

"What is truth!" Hermit declared, not as a question, it seemed. "To say one thing or another, when the truth, it can be bent, it can be molded, it is as this smoke I am blowing, I do not know where it comes from but it is there, or is it? Because I don't know where it comes from, maybe I am just seeing it and you see it too, you tell me but you are only telling me that you see it, how do I know you are telling... the truth?"

Before Strop could lose the last of his patience, the prosecution did it for him. "Your Honour, I think we've heard enough. This witness is clearly baked."

"...your point being?" Justice Moe asked.

"He's not!" Strop asserted, not really knowing if he was even correct. "He's just... a difficult historian."

"No, he's baked, blazed, off his tree, under the influence, high, off with the fairies, on the chuff, toked, in lah-lah land... What we're saying is that he's on drugs and you have hit a new low, allowing the use of drugs in this sacred land!"

"Order." Justice Moe bleated, to no avail as the noise levels rose around him.

"No," Strop threw caution to the wind, marching to the prosecution's bench. "You have all been acting low this whole time. I've had it with your White-Knight crusade, your manipulations and exploitations of public opinion and of the witnesses for your own disgruntled agenda, you have absolutely no idea-"

"Moderator Strop, if you do not desist harrassing the prosecution, I will have to throw you out of court and award the case to the plaintiff." Moe's lack of volume control once again let him down, for his voice was lost to the hubbub. So too, was Hermit's advice, "You all need to chillaaaaax."

"YOU ARE A CORRUPT MODERATOR!" The prosecution were all climbing over their bench to get at Strop. "AND WE WILL SEE TO IT THAT YOU ARE REMOVED!"


Shouts erupted from the gallery, piling one over the other until the whole court was awash with noise. The shouts turned into screams and a mad rush for the exit as Flipski raised his cannon arm, arcs of lightning shooting out of it, an electric whine piercing the room. "HE'S GONNA SHOOP," somebody yelled, and all of a sudden the aisles were packed, and nobody could move anywhere. Meanwhile, the hooded prosecution were all rushing Strop, trying to grab him, and Strop, abandoning all pretense, ripped his tie off, reached up and poofed his banhammer.

"Stop." Justice Moe pleaded, "You can't use that now." But of course nobody was listening. Strop reached up, lifting the hammer high as the half-dozen prosecutors lunged for him...

Flipski swung his cannon arm down and let forth a mighty blast, an arc of pure obliterating energy lancing out, set to vaporise the entire room in an instant.

...Strop swung his hammer, twisting at the last minute to slam the charged end of his beloved Thor into Flipski's laser bolt.

There was a thunderous crash, and every brick, every fiber of every being shook... and then fell silent. The prosecutors, frozen mid-dive, fell in a heap upon the floor. Strop watched as the business end of his hammer glowed an incandescent white, then gradually faded to its usual black. Then a heavy shroud of stillness settled over the court.

Strop was the first to speak. "Moe, what was that all about?"

"I, I... I..." For a moment Strop feared that the massive electromagnetic flux created by Flipski's discharging capacitor had disrupted Moe's vocal circuits, but fortunately he managed to choke out the next words. "I don't know! It's never happened before, but I... I'm the judge and you shouldn't be asking me questions! And you forgot to call me Your Honour again."

"What.. what are you..." Strop screwed up his face in frustration, his suspicions becoming clearer and clearer. "This is nuts, I just saved everybody's life here. Shouldn't that be enough? Can't you just call the friggin' case off already, could you?"

"Due process is due process, you still need to finish your defence, otherwise things are frankly not looking good for you." Justice Moe's defence, evidently, was offence, and this departure from his usual analytical, unflappable character, could not have come at a worse time for Strop. "Call your next witness."

This was it. Strop was backed up as far against the wall that he could go. And he still wasn't here yet. There was only one thing he could do now, and that was to make the call and hope, against all hopes, that he could somehow transmigrate through walls or was disguised as somebody else.

"The defence would like to call upon-"

Suddenly the doors to the courtroom burst open, blowing the two posted guards away. Everybody gasped, turning to the back, to see a tall, raggedy silhouette filling the doorway.

Leon McAcid, seven feet of towering gnoll, strode up the aisle in the center of the gallery, amid dead silence. A baby started crying, the noise echoing through the room, and everybody else tensed up. Leon whipped around, shooting the baby a withering glare.

The baby shut up.

"Is this your next witness, Moderator Strop?" Justice Moe asked.

"I shot Chill the Grandmaster of George!" Leon McAcid barked without waiting for Strop. He strode all the way to the pile of prosecutors, still huddled on the floor, and glowered at them. "What'cha gonna do, cry about it?"

Strop almost fainted on the spot, his life flashing before his eyes. Well, not really his life, but the brief few seconds in which he had spoken to Leon about this day in court.

"As you may know," he had said, "I have to appear in court on charges of attempting to murder Chill. A matter you are likely familiar with."

Leon had bared his teeth, probably in mirth.

"And it's going to be a real problem for the tournament if I'm found guilty and get sent to prison for it, you understand?"

Still baring his teeth, Leon had replied: "Oh, prison's not all that bad. Just don't drop the loofah. And if you do drop the loofah, remember, always lift with your knees."

And ever since then, Strop's stomach had been churning with the uncertainty of whether Leon had even understood what he had just requested of him. But evidently he had, seeing as he was announcing the real culprit of this mess for all and sundry.

"Are you willing to restate that for the record, Leon McAcid?" Justice Moe asked.

Leon scratched his head. "I'm not overly familiar with the court system of this place. Are there takesy-backsies?" He then let loose a madcap hyena laugh, causing the prosecution, and at least the front half of the gallery, to shrink back.

"No. There are not." Justice Moe informed him.

"Then let it be stated for the record that, uh..." Leon wrinkled his brow in thought, "That my evil twin brother, Skippy, did it!" Turning to Strop, he winked, "Don't wanna get kicked out of the tournament now, do I?" Strop said nothing.

Needless to say, Justice Moe was unimpressed. "Leon McAcid, does your twin-brother happen to also have a left foot that belongs to a female striped Gnoll? I find this to be highly improbable."

"YOU'RE DESPICABLE!" Leon shouted, leaping into the front benches of the gallery amid cries of horror. "THIS IS RACIAL DISCRIMINATION!" He then drew a nasty-looking knife from his belt and waved it around, eliciting more cries of horror, then snatched up several bystanders sitting in the benches, eliciting even more cries of horror. Leon then realised that the cries of horror were corresponding with his actions, so he then decided he would swing his new hostages around like he was conducting some bizarre orchestra of screams.

Almost too late, Leon noticed something large, white and metallic hurtling towards him. It was Flipski, who had recovered from his massive discharge just minutes earlier. "Well, it's been fun, see ya!" Leon quickly called out, bounding over the benches just as Flipski crashed into them. He then scrambled up the wall and jumped through the nearest window. Flipski's hot pursuit was sharply truncated by the fact his cannon arm did not fit through the window, and he wedged fast, causing spider cracks to appear in the brickwork all around the window frame.

"That's coming out of your salary," Justice Moe remarked, before adding, "And Moderator Strop, you're right. This case is a complete farce. It's clear to me that this case purported to be about restoring justice but the aim and means to do so were instead themselves a series of perversions of justice. It should never have come this far, therefore I am throwing it out and recommending an independent review of user-based secret societies. Case dismissed." Flipski banged the counter (very lightly, this time), thus sealing the judgement officially.

Strop boggled. "You gave me a hard time all day to make a judgement that you were originally going to make anyway?"

"Hey," Moe reminded Strop, "Justice in civilised society is all about observing due process. And you should be happy. You're free to go."

"Oh yeah," Strop realised. "In that case, TAKE THIS YOU STUPID CASE" he picked up his suitcase, threw it in the air, and kicked it with all his might. Predictably, it blew apart into a million pieces. At the same time, some more sheets of paper spilled out and fluttered to the ground.

It was at this point that Strop realised that the sheets were coming out of a hitherto undiscovered part of the briefcase. And that these sheets actually had writing on them. Cen's characteristic handwriting. He picked up a sheet and started reading.

"...these are the real notes I have compiled for you, if you use them, you should have a good chance of winning the case..."

Strop's utterances over the next two minutes had to be completely expunged by the court sternographer.


As The Days Went By (end)



With a long sigh, Strop lay back in his bed, back propped on the wall. The last few days had felt like a nightmare, a strange sequence of half-baked happenings that made little sense to his overloaded brain. At least this one problem was over, all he had to think about was the much larger one looming just around the corner. It was all fun and games at first, seeing as the whole purpose of the city was for people to get together and have fun, but then the fun and games seemed to take progressively nastier turns... which was all the worse seeing as they weren't even derived from his sense of slapstick sadism. This was the nature of competition, and he was just going to see it through and hope something good came of it. Because if it didn't kill him, it would be all good.

Just then, Strop heard a familiar voice. "Congratulations on winning your case." His head snapped to the trapdoor at the far end of his room, but nobody was there. He went back to staring into space and froze.

Miniature Cen was standing on his nose, looking at him with a neutral look on his face.

"YOU!" Strop gasped. "You've got some nerve, pretending to be my good side then almost screwing me over at every turn in that court case. And you kicked me in the back of my head too. We're going to have words buddy, we're going to-"

Miniature Cen bowed and poofed out of sight.


"Aww, maybe Stroppykins should calm down a little."

This time it was a sultry female voice that pricked Strop's ears, and sure enough, miniature Strip peeked over his nose.

"It's not good to get angry at something that isn't there," Miniature Strip simpered, fluttering her wings and rising a little before draping herself over the bridge of Strop's nose. "Perhaps you should blow off some steam some other way," she winked suggestively.

"I'm not sure I even have enough energy for that," Strop replied flatly.

Miniature Strip pouted for a moment, then batted her eyelashes.

10,811 posts

Round 10: Reckoning

"Please, be seated."

Crimsonblade, one of the two finalists of the many hundred who signed up for the Way of Moderation Tournament, sat in the small, secret room located in a secret underground section of ArmorGames. Strop figured that Crimsonblade would likely have already known about the location, and Leon wouldn't, so it would be the easiest way to hold this secret final pep talk before the final event of the tournament. In four hours' time.

"How are you feeling now?" Strop asked Crimson. Crimson shrugged.

"I'm sure you know, back in the day," Strop reminisced tangentially, "Of a time when a certain user once almost became a moderator. Or so it appeared that way."

"I do," Crimson replied simply. Strop had to assume that they were in fact talking about the same person, and went on.

"At least, it appeared to the users that he was the perfect candidate for the job, but I take it that you yourself already knew otherwise."

"Maybe I did." Crimson's chiselled stony features gave nothing away. "But it was public knowledge anyway."

"Correct," Strop held up a finger, "So I also take it that you appreciate the difference in the perspectives between the users who approved, and the moderators who didn't."

"He didn't become a moderator and was banned after terrorising the forums, so obviously there was a difference."

Strop decided he didn't need to push the point any further. "Well... yes. The moderators' concern was that he turned out to be very dangerous, very dangerous indeed. And yet the difference between a good candidate and a bad one was very subtle. And that," Strop spread his hands, "Is the situation we find ourselves in today."

"What do you mean?" Crimsonblade asked. "Are you talking about Leon McAcid?"

Strop coughed. "In a manner of speaking." He coughed again. "...yes."

"I don't understand," Crimsonblade frowned ever so slightly (thus proving to Strop that his face was not paralysed by botox). "Leon McAcid doesn't even resemble that case." He hastily added, "Obviously I don't mean physically."

"The situation has certain parallels," Strop explained. "On one hand you have a user who appeared to be good, and was thus considered set to become a moderator... and on the other you have a complete nutter who appears set to become-"

"Are you saying that you think I won't win?" Crimsonblade stiffened slightly.

"Er, no. No no no!" Strop backpedalled, before admitting. "Well, on paper, the betting odds are stacked against you. I mean, people knew you were hurt and Leon wasn't, and-"

"They should let the contest be the judge of that," Crimson cut in cooly. "After all, I have prepared very thoroughly. So long as the battle goes to the Wilderness-"

Strop held up his hands. "That's what I was getting to. There will be a round in the wilderness." He paused. "Things must be decided in that round... if you know what I mean."

Crimson, the cloaked master of the magical blade, studied Strop for a long moment. "I'll do my best."


"Please, be seated."

This time, Strop sat Leon McAcid down at a table in a (very) quiet corner of the Tavern. Probably quiet because the tavern regulars had long learnt to avoid the gnoll. Or perhaps avoid anybody who would be speaking to Strop, since Strop usually visited the tavern just before, during, or after some serious trouble that usually involved the trashing of the Tavern's interior and usually several of its patrons.

"What can I do for you this time?" Leon flashed his teeth in that sardonic smile Strop could never quite read. "Have you another favour to ask me?"

Strop opend his mouth to speak, before pausing and changing tack: "Actually, I suppose you might consider it one, but maybe not."

"Interesting," Leon mused, "Given the tournament's but maybe three root beers and two trips to the commode away. What manner of 'maybe favour' might this be?"

There was another pause. Clearly the favour was either an awkward, a delicate, or risky one. Finally Strop spoke: "It's more of a mutually beneficial proposition. Do you remember the time you were turned female?"

Leon blinked. "Yeeeessss," he let the sibilant tail slither through his teeth and trail into nothing, not sure what to make of this yet.

"Well, do you remember what it was like? That week or so you were female?"

"I do, actually." Leon did remember, it was hard not to. "I remember being basically better at everything and feeling pretty good about it too."

"Good." Strop said, folding his hands on the table. "So how would you like to turn female should you win the tournament?"


Now it was Strop's turn to blink. Once again, when he least desired a direct answer from the evasive Leon, he got one.


"See this foot?"

For a moment, Strop was afraid Leon was going to channel Klaus. "...yes?"

"This is all the female I'll ever be, thank you very much."

So much for that idea.


Unforgotten, Unforgiven

It was hardly the place for a dwarf. With all the flashing lights, neon, and various unedifying activity, Dank had always held NewGrounds in somewhat distasteful regard. Yet on the other hand, there was something about its irreverent perversion that held a certain charm... if one stuck around long enough to tolerate it. Obviously some of it had rubbed off on Dank, seeing as he kept a herd of penicorns.

Studiously ignoring everything that went on around him, Dank strode down the drag, a large, circular package hoisted over his back. If he delayed his return to ArmorGames long enough, perhaps by dropping by Devoidless to hammer on his crag again, maybe he might miss the tail end of that idiot horse's tournament and everything would blow over and things would return to normal. He'd never much liked the idea of a tournament to decide the next moderator, but then again he had always figured that was because he never really liked anything much, with the exceptions of his hammer, hammertime, and of course, his herd of penicorns. Chiefly because they had properly punished that idiot horse for blundering onto his land.

Thinking about it was making his anger levels rise again. He decided maybe he should swing into the nearest establishment. That was probably a poor choice of words, because it was quite likely that the establishment he had just stepped into was in fact a swingers club.

Fortunately it was not (it was merely a H-club), so Dank ignored the "under 18" warning, sat down and ordered a glass of milk, then thought the better of it and ordered a glass of water instead. While he was waiting, several noisy patrons burst through the doors. Dank knew they were underage because their voices kept breaking every three words, and was about to blast them for being annoying twerps when he heard what they were saying.

"...that furry thing that started the flamewar and had the moderators lock down the whole place a few months ago?"

"Yeah! I heard she's actually from ArmorGames."

"What, that place? But it's full of f*****s!"

"And not only that, 'she's' actually a 'he' who crossdresses!"

"roffle that makes sense, I mean," and here they all chanted together, "THERE ARE NO GIRLS ON THE INTERNET!"

"Ahahaha, what a f*****", one of them rejoined.

"Freaking /b/tards," Dank muttered to himself, trying to go back to ignoring them while he nursed his water. But it was impossible as there were so many of them and they were all so darn loud.

"Yeah well I heard that AG's bigger than NG now!"

"TRAVESTY!" they yelled together. "WE WERE HERE FIRST!"

"And that half their moderators are, like, furries."


"Let's raid them and show them who's boss!"




Amidst the various irrelevant warcries, Dank's frown deepened. This didn't sound quite par for the course, in fact it sounded potentially troublesome. He tossed back his water and stumped back outside, and his blood ran cold.

It was immediately apparent that the teens in the H-club were only the tip of an iceberg. The streets were chock full of people marching, some in troll masks, some in Guy Fawkes masks. Others were riding the NewGrounds tanks and trading gay jokes. This was far bigger than just a group of teens from a single cell of /b/ or some anti-furry trolls on 4chan or something deciding to hold a grudge, this was...

Moving as fast as his stubby legs would allow him, Dank rushed back to his apartment, where his penicorn was leashed (...leashed?) and leapt aboard. The penicorn reared, kicking the air, then took off, blazing a rainbow trail towards the land of ArmorGames.


Day of the Finals

The Amphitheatre. Where everything (from the perspective of this tournament) had begun, and where it would also end. That would be as the public saw it. But as for the perparations and the consequences... they stretched far beyond the public eye either way. This was, after all, the event to herald a new moderator, thus this was hardly an end, but rather, a new beginning.

Outside, the benches were filling, hundreds upon hundreds of people streaming through the main archway and going up the stairs and through the back passages up to the very brim of the structure. As the minutes ticked by, so too did the rising excitement. Today was going to be a big show, maybe even the biggest in what was already the biggest tournament in the history of this land, and what's more, it would all culminate in the crowning of a new moderator!

In the wings of the backstage, Strop wrung his fingers together. He had woken up feeling ill, and this feeling had persisted all through the day, despite his desperate hopes that it would go away, just like everything else. "Calm down," he muttered to himself. "It's not like this is worse than an exam." He took a few deep breaths, then looked around again.

Save for him, the wings were empty.

"Darn it all, where are they? It's already time!" Strop cast his mind over the list. Moe had withdrawn to contemplate things after his series of unusual outbursts during the court case, and naturally Flipski would have accompanied the brain-in-a-jar. Carlie was still "on secret business", likewise Dank was running an errand. Devoidless was moping in some undisclosed location (which had since been disclosed to him but he wasn't curious enough to find). Nemo was still Nill, speaking of which, Ubertuna was... well Strop hoped that the tentacle hadn't had its way with him, and Zophia was probably either working on that or had forgotten about today, though she had left him some handy projector screens and along with that camera he'd found hiding in the corner of his room (God forbid he ever find out exactly what Zophia had seen, though he could already imagine...), that was at least the AV technical aspects covered. But otherwise, he was completely alone on this one, with the possible exception of-

Strop noticed a silent shadow suddenly appear next to him. With a mixture of relief and further stress, he noted that it was Cenere. Briefly he also noted that Cenere's face was no longer bruised, rather, it had resumed its mask-like quality. "Ah, there you are, let's get to it already shall we?"

For a moment, Strop wondered whether Cen would dissent, but this was not a moment that he had. Barely waiting for the imperceptible nod, Strop emerged from the wings to the stage with Cen in tow. Strop felt a little numb as the roars of the several-thousand strong crowd buffeted them, but nonetheless he raised his arms, waiting for the gradual quiet, before he began to speak through the 'fone.

"Welcome, all, to the final round of the Way of Moderation tournament!" The crowd roared again, and Strop had to wait a little while longer to resume. "This is the culmination of over a year of thrills, of spills, of growth and frustration, of triumph and defeat, and now, of the ultimate test. So now it is time, to meet your two finalists! MAKE THEM FEEL WELCOME, CRIMSONBLADE AND LEON MCACID!"

Strop surreptitiously slipped some ear plugs into his sensitive horsey ears before he was deafened by the crowd. Cloaks trailing behind them, the two finalists strode to the stage. Crimsonblade, as always stern and collected, his gloved hand resting atop the scabbard of his eponymous sword, was shadowed by the hulking Leon, seven foot of drooling, gnashing, maniacal gnoll, who had certainly dressed for the occasion, with silvery breastplate and gauntlets and Imperial blue cape, not to mention the new acquisition of a straight sword... Strop did a doubletake as he realised the parallels to the province's heraldry, and his hairs stood on end. Certainly he knew Crimson had done his preparations, and thoroughly at that, but in the case of this makeover, Strop was left wondering.

Calm down, he told himself. These past few days he had been getting far too ahead of himself in condemning Leon. After all, he repeated, Dank was grumpy and belligerent, Devoidless was a capricious pyromaniac, Zophia was a pervert, Nemo was often in it for teh lulz more than anything else... the no-nonsense Crimson he had felt would be... a safe, competent choice to be sure, but Leon may have seemed more the part what with this oddball collection of crazies. That was what he would have liked to think, if Leon didn't continuously give him the creeps. And the last person to give him the creeps turned out to be one of those dreaded impostors, but that was another story for another time...

Better get on with it.

Strop held the 'fone to both finalists. "Have you any words to share before we proceed?" He asked them.

"Like my new cape?" Leon offered. "It was very expensive, or rather, it would have been if- well let's just say it's very valuable and I hope you like it." He flashed a toothy grin that set the tips of Strop's ears a-quivering.

"Uhm, thanks Leon. How about you Crimson, do you have any words for the audience?"

"Yes." Crimson said. Then he added, "That was it."

Strop's ears flattened for a moment, then perked when he realised that he could now just get the pleasantries over with and move along to the part he didn't have any control over. Cen stood stony still right beside him, saying and doing nothing that would possibly hinder the cause of hurrying-the-heck-up-so-he-could-go-back-home-and-forget-about-life.

"Right then. WELL!" Strop raised his voice once more. "This marks the beginning of the final round of the Way of Moderation Tournament! As such, this final, to decide a winner, must decide which of these candidates is most suited to the way of moderation in the land of ArmorGames! We have tested the various attributes of moderators many times, with increasing difficulty and competition as the rounds have worn on, thus this final test will bundle everything into one. There will be," he held up his fingers, "two rounds! One will be right here, on this stage, representing conflict within the city, and the other will be in a clearing in the wilderness, for a moderator has to be able to weather both."

For the next part Strop had been especially careful to plan such that every contingency had been covered, so he picked his words carefully. "The first round, on this stage, will be contact sparring to submission or to first clean hit, which will be awarded one point. The second round, in the wilderness, will be full combat using full environs to surrender, which will also be awarded one point. At the end of the second round, if the scores are tied, the event will repeat in order again until the scores at the end of the second round is broken. Killing the opponent in either setting will result in disqualification. Finally, you are allowed to use everything that you carry on your person, but under no circumstances may you use bystanders or other persons," with this he shot a glare at Leon, who whistled nonchalantly and looked in another direction. "And this time, causing excessive collateral damage may result in deductions."

Strop swallowed and cast one final look at the audience, then the finalists, then Cen (the latter had still not moved, and Strop was beginning to wonder whether he'd switched with the cardboard cutout again). Then he raised his hands high, and proclaimed: "I now declare the first round OP-"

"STOOOOP!" a cacophony of shouts sounded from stage left. Shocked, Strop whirled around to find a gaggle of hooded figures clambering onto the stage. As hooded figures went, it was hard to tell one from the other, but this lot seemed familiar...

"In the name of the Secret Society of Armorgames Representing Victims of Moderator Abuse, we protest! This tournament is a sham, for the Moderator who runs it is corrupt, therefore we can't accept any result!"

After a moment of shocked silence, the benches of the amphitheatre erupted in noise. There were cheers, boos, calls of "get off the stage!" and "stop trying to be mini-mods!" Amidst the noise, Strop was contending with a million different voices in his head. One was telling him that maybe he could turn this to his advantage and delay or even force the closing of the tournament. However the other nine hundred thousand, nine hundred and ninety nine were telling him this was absurd, and what's more, everybody was here and watching his every move and these guys had to be dealt with and-

"ENOUGH!" Strop shouted so hard that he ended up whinneying instead. Even with the awesomesauce power of the megamegafone, he was unable to get anybody's attention, so instead he produced his banhammer and slammed it into the stage so hard it cracked. Everybody froze mid-protest and stared at him.

"Good," Strop muttered, before picking up the 'fone again. "Look guys, if you have a complaint about me, I suggest you forward it to the administrators, and they'll-"

"No, that won't do, you'll just censure us again like last time! We brought a legitimate complaint and all that came from that was that crazy automaton threatening to 'shut us down' if we didn't shut down our group. That is injustice, it is totalitarian, and we won't stand for it!" The hooded antagonists turned protestors folded their arms and, apparently literal-minded as well, emphatically sat down on the stage.

Strop's ears twitched at the onslaught of complicating factors. "Need I mention that you're disrupting some major proceedings with actions unrelated to the event, and this is expressly against the rules of this city?" he gritted through clenched teeth.

"We're not moving anywhere until you address our complaints. Even if you use your brutal tactics or threaten us with your banhammer. Especially so, in fact!" the protestors huffed defiantly.

Strop raised his banhammer. This was, after all, a bannable offence. But then again... he felt several thousand eyes staring at him, waiting to fulfill that carefully crafted prophecy of these protestors... he desperately wanted to say, "And this, ladies and gentlemen, is the true way of moderation, dealing with **** like this." but this would hardly go down well, so he simply had to find the best other solution...

"Look," Strop said, "You're going to have to use the appropriate avenues to file a complaint, otherwise it will simply not be addressed. Now please leave." He pointed to the grand door, hands on hips, and, as expected, was met with silence. He looked at the finalists, who both stared back at him. Leon put his hand on his sword suggestively, Strop blanched and waved him down.

"Very well then, in that case I'll just have to make you leave myself." With that, Strop marched up to the nearest protestor, and picked him up by the arms. Predictably, the protestor started kicking and screaming and generally flailing all about, so Strop quickly grabbed one of his arms and locked his wrist as gently as he could. Thus immobilised, the protestor was reduced to simply screaming and flailing with one arm, so Strop went to take the other arm in a similarly non-violent manner, only to have the protestor start flopping about like a fish. Grunting, Strop went for the full body grab, and somehow the protestor managed to likewise wrap himself around Strop, where they swung around in an ungainly waltz. In the process, Strop noticed that the protestor's hood was gradually slipping off-

"NO!" another protestor yelled, abandoning his seated pose and rushing at Strop, but too late, the hood was off, and now all the protestors were charging at Strop but not before everybody saw-

"OH TEH NOES, TROLLS!" Sure enough, the real reason the protestors were hooded was revealed in all their tusked, green, stubbly inglory. Strop could hear the rising hubbub as he was involved in a ten-way battle to control a bunch of trolls who were trying to pin him down as well as futilely keep their hoods on. By now he was quite sure that he had used all the pacifism the public would expect, and were he to neglect pragmatism in the interests of crowd control the event could quickly become chaotic, or, at least, far more chaotic than he had planned. Again.

"That's it," he declared to the maurauding trolls, "You're now attempting to directly harrass a moderator!" And with that, he brought his banhammer to bear.

Ten seconds later, the trolls lay in a dazed heap in the middle of the stage, and all eyes were fixed on Strop once more. All eyes, except, that is...

"Hey, Cen, a little help here. Could you get all these trolls somewhere secure?"

Cen was still staring blankly into space, probably hoping that last request was a mistaken artifact of his hearing, and that the event would go on without a hitch.

"No seriously Cen, I can't leave this amphitheatre, I need you to take these trolls out so I can start the round." This time, Cenere glanced at him. Then the trolls. Then back at him. Then he went back to his vacant stare. Strop waved at him, but elicited no further response: just a set jaw and steely stare somewhere that was not Strop.

In the back of his mind, Strop heard an echoing: "He's being insubordinate... and you know it." The echo made his hairs prick, and he swatted at his head, but to no avail, it only got louder and louder until suddenly Strop was recollecting a certain imaginary conversation he had the previous day...

"He's being insubordinate," Miniature Strip had said to him. "How else do you explain all the absences... and how else do you explain the notes in the court case?"

Strop swore he could feel bubbles forming in the stirring current of his blood. Oh yes, there was that...

"And think of how embarrassing that day was! It can't have been good for your reputation..." Miniature Strip absently twirled a lock of her hair while rattling off the various examples, rubbing Strop's loss-of-face in his face, "...and to top it all off Cen even kicked you in the back of the head!"

"But that's not Cen, it's..." Strop stopped, frowning.

"There's a reason Cen is your 'conscience'. He's the one who made you give that coffee to Chill. And he's the one who hung up on you when you needed help the most." Miniature Strip tilted her head and stared meaningfully at Strop. "Think about it, will you?"

Strop did think about it, and it was starting to confuse him. "But Cenere was so diligent and hardworking, how, why, I mean... he didn't even complain about- he couldn't possibly-"

Miniature Strip leaned up close, her bust almost spilling out from between her folded arms. "There are other ways to express feelings and attitudes other than words. And I think you need to say something about it!"

And right when it seemed her ample globes were about to spring right into Strop's face, she poofed in a burst of fire and smoke, a fading giggle the only remaining sign of her presence.

Back in the present, Strop put his hands on his hips. "Look Cen, this isn't the time for dilly-dallying. It's not like you're going to get ANOTHER black eye from this lot, they're all already dazed. They just need locking up, and I just need to get on with this tournament, okay?"

Cen shrugged and spread his palms open slightly. He wasn't moving. He wasn't about to help Strop here. In front of all these people, even more than in the Great Courts, he was showing Strop up. This was beyond simple unwillingness now, beyond doubt, it was...

"Cen," Strop started walking towards him. "I thought you were starting to grow a little spine after all those months of training. All those months of time invested and that work you put in, I thought it was doing some good. But if such a simple task as this is beyond you, I don't know what to say."

Strop said this all quietly, after all, everything was on display, and he just wanted to spring Cen into action, somehow, yet somehow it was like talking to a brick wall. What was one to do when talking to a brick wall?

"Come ON!" Strop raised his voice slightly. "Be a man would you? When you got a girlfriend I thought things were going in the right direction, I was even prepared to overlook the absences because you were still getting the paperwork done... but now she's gone and you're just standing there moping like you can do nothing about it? Where's the man in that, huh? Even without saying anything, all you're doing is wallowing in your own self-pity, and now you're going to let that take over your life, instead of standing up like a MAN and actually doing something productive?"

In Strop's increasingly cloudy vision, he thought he might have seen Cenere twitch, but ultimately all Cenere did was to avert his eyes and look down. This was not the desired effect at all... even though it was what Strop should have expected, but this only served to inflame him further. Even if his voice was still not audible to everybody, his increasingly wild gesticulations carried plenty of volume.

"You can't be serious! I can't believe I've wasted so many months on this! I honestly thought you were better than this, Cen, but you're as hopeless as before this tournament began!" Now Cenere was definitely twitching, if almost imperceptibly, in his arms, maybe his thumbs. Strop barrelled on, swinging his arm up to point accusingly at Cenere: "And another thing, I've noticed you've been slacking off lately. Sure the paperwork gets done, and the absences because of Sai are one thing, but running off right before the semi-finals? Those notes you wrote in the court case? What were you trying to pull there, huh? You trying to screw me over or something?"

"I..." It started barely as a squeak, and ended in a blend between a sigh and a gasp, perhaps. Cenere looked away, still staring at the floor, but now his chest was starting to heave. Strop's ears pricked at the little vocalisation, but all too briefly it was cut off, heightening his frustration. Typical Cen, to harbour his own thoughts like this, and it was getting in the way. "Well come on man, spit it out! You can't keep wanting to say something and then not saying it because you're afraid of taking responsibility for your words!"

"It's not..." Cenere struggled to keep the frustration from breaking across his face, pressing one fist against it, eyes shut tight. Then he looked up, sad somehow. "You never listen anyway..." He averted his gaze again, his jaw set.

Strop boggled, then scoffed. "Never listen? NEVER LISTEN? Well, if you're going to say that, SAY IT NOW." He placed his hands on his hips, tossing his nose defiantly, daring Cen. "Come on, I'm listening. What do you have to say? Huh?"

Cenere merely shook his head. "It's no use... Can't we just get this over with...?"

Strop noted the most minor of victories; Cen had actually spoken a single sentence! Yet again, it was merely to voice his lack of voice, now it was up to Strop to crack open that reticence once and for all. "We'll get this over when you start speaking for yourself, Cen. No more deflections, no more opening your mouth, saying 'nevermind' and carrying that face of yours that always looks like the world's failing you. So what's your problem? What's the responsibility you're afraid of facing?" Strop cocked his head, glaring at Cen, searching him for clues and hoping for some progress.

There was a pause, and a hand once again found its way to Cenere's forehead, slowly pinching his brow, then going faster until it was, little more than a nail pricking the same spot over and over. He forcibly let his hand drop, staring directly at Strop with an expression of... fear? Sadness? Sorrow. "Are you even listening to yourself...?" It was a simple, quietly spoken question.

"Just answer my question." Strop folded his arms.

"Answer your...?" Cenere frowned, moving his head a little. "What responsibilities...? You can't see it anymore, can you?"

Still in the same pose, Strop cocked one eye. "See what?"

"What you are doing..." Cenere paused, before breaking the stare and moving towards the door. "I can't..."

Quick as a flash, Strop held up a hand, almost as if ready to literally grab Cen by the collar should he hope to escape. "You started saying something, now say it! What is it you think I can't see?"

"Anything." Cenere lowered his head and continued moving.

Strop hesitated a moment, but in a fateful moment, he reached out and firmly grasped Cen by the shoulder, saying, quietly: "You're not leaving without explaining that, Cenere."

All of Cenere jumped, not so much in surprise as like he had been stung, muscles stiffening under Strop's grasp. Still stiffened, he began: "And you won't listen anyway. It has been months on months, as yet.. there is no progress...." Now it was Strop's turn to stay silent, but his grasp on Cen's shoulder was no less firm for it.

"You want to choose a moderator that can help out, be just and can handle the population. And yet... You ask them to fight. You ask them to..." He shook his head, unease once again overcoming his voice.

Strop frowned, wondering if he had, in fact, uncovered an objection far deeper than he expected. "You think this is... unnecessary?"

This time, Cenere's fearful, sad soft tones were replaced by harder, louder and firmer. "I think this is stupid, Strop." He glanced over his shoulder to catch Strop's eye, then started to move out from under Strop's hand. But Strop deftly tugged Cenere's wrist, making him turn about face to face him once more. "Stupid, huh? Pray tell, how is it 'stupid'?"

Cenere stared at Strop a moment. "... If users fight, they get warned or locked up. If users attack a mod, they have three seconds before they are immobilised. And yet, here we are having people hurt and broken, all to get a chance, a mere chance, of winning. Of all I know, you should be the one to see how fighting can lead to no good."

"Oh right, I see now." Strop let go of Cen's shoulders and returned to his hands-on-hips pose. "You think this is just about fighting. You weren't listening to all those times I explained how this is about dealing with conflict, and you've conveniently forgotten how I set out the rules of this tournament to be compatible with the rules of this city, huh? Or do you think that we can all get by without standing up for ourselves?"

"How have anyoner ever successfully dealt with conflict by punching someone in the nose?" Fingers clenched, then unclenched, and Cenere's jaw was now set so hard his lips were starting to peel back in a snarl. "Or have them flying all over the place in some weird attack combo that belongs somewhere in the Wilderness? Or have their pet attack them for that matter? How can fractured skulls, broken bones and open wounds contribute to a peaceful environment? More so, how the HELL isn't that against the rules??!"

Meanwhile, the audience has become entirely silent, fixated upon this now increasingly loud argument between the two hosts, for it seems the fate of this round almost hangs in the balance of the outcome of this exchange.

"What, you think there are no rulebreakers in AG? You think that banhammers weren't designed to hit people? You think that people can simply deal with confronting situations when they've never dealt with danger before? Get real! Have you seen what this world is like? Do you really think that you can just tell people 'live peacefully' and they will, and that peace is some kind of natural state of our being?"

"Fine. Punch me in the face, and let's see how that solve this 'conflict'." Cenere folded his arms, looking more disapproving than ever before. Yet his expression was mirrored by Strop's.

"Now you're just being obtuse. Or maybe it's because you've been spoilt by the mollycoddled confines of ArmorGames, this place we've worked hard to instill a culture of lawfulness in." Stop paced around the stage, scuffing dust up with his hooves. "Perhaps I should be a little pleased, even, that you are so **** NAIVE. Or perhaps you should have paid attention to some of the REAL lessons in this tournament and grown a spine, instead of whining and rolling over every time somebody gave you a black eye. Ever thought about that huh?"

Cenere laughed, a dry, short and joyless laugh. "You really do think this, huh. That this represents reality, and that this will lead to something good? I am baffled. You really think it will solve the issue, and leave it at that? I knew you had doubts, but that those are so easily ignored on behalf of 'the culture and lawfulness', it's amazing. Heh, what if we had been standing with two other users here. The one with the fake smile or the journalist? You would have thought it was just right there, wouldn't you, have thought that because they have succeeded in YOUR tests, they would become the perfect mods. We both know the nature of those two, but if they had not been exiled, you could have been standing with them not, at this moment and preaching for me how I am naive for thinking that you have falling back into a state of 'everything is going to be fine'. ... First now I understand why you needed me. Not for the paperwork, not for recording... But because you are too **** full of your own ideas, that you can't see clearly. Too bad you never listen to reason."

A loud gasp rippled through the audience, followed by outbursts of hushed muttering. Strop, too, was shocked, reduced to a temporary silence, and were it not for his ninja mask, one could tell he was gaping a little. Then he clenched his fists and rounded off on Cenere. "Who's the one here who has problems that they do nothing to solve? I thought for a moment you could provide me with some insight but now all I see is thoughts from somebody mired in their own defeatist attitude they wouldn't see the light if I pulled their own head out of their butt!"

"Oooh, personal attacks. Way to change the subject from your selective blindness to my lack of self esteem. Now, tell me, is this where I should solve the conflict with my fists, or would I have to wait for you to do it, oh greatest mod?" Cenere moved around while talking, gesturing and grimacing wildly, ending up with a harsh, fake smile. The pair circled each other, drawing closer as their voices rose and their expressions contorted more and more.

"How about pot calling the kettle black, huh? And what's this rubbish your talking now? You wouldn't know a punch IF IT HIT YOU IN THE FACE."

"Boohoo, no better retorts? And I thought you knew how to debate. I guess you have tired of rational thinking."

"As if this was a debate in the first place, even when you had something to say all you had was a load of BAWW. There's no reason to reply with if all I have is rubbish you know."

"Oh yes, the 'bawing' of concern for your mental stability. You started as a nice guy, riiiight up here, and then. You sunk. Like a rock. Or a dead carcass, whatever you think fits. Which I believe is the carcass, as first it sinks and then it is filled with gas."

"Oh yeah, and you're continuing to be reeeeeal helpful here, Cen. Why don't you take a look at yourself these past few months and then see who the carcass is!!!"

By this point Cenere and Strop had walked in ever decreasing circles to the point where their faces were now barely inches away from each other, shoulders squared off, openly staring and snarling. "Let's see. I do your paperwork, even the one regarding your business as a moderator, shoveling out money for further information. I watch as you destroy half the city and how you enjoy it and the contestants' reactions. There were a hundred times where you should have stopped and thought, but you didn't. And then, just as think we might be over it all, you decided they have to fight each other, with their little manic expressions and all the hope in the world that if they push just a little harder, and dance on the edge, they might see it through as a victor. And yet here you are setting up the final round, biased towards one. How is that lawful or fair? We both know that if Leon wins, you will find a way to disqualify him, even if he follows all your rules, and becoming a mod perfectly legit. Just because you know you have made a mistake. I just don't understand why you don't face it." The rage that burnt briefly sputtered, then dimmed into a slight mix of anger, disgust and- sorrow.

Strop was utterly appalled. Not just because of Ceneres's scathing assessment, but worse, because he happened to make it in front of the several thousand people watching, including the very two finalists, who were now looking at each other, then staring at Strop. Strop opened his mouth to speak, then closed it, then clenched his fists. Then he opened his mouth again and roared:

"HOW DARE YOU, HOW DARE YOU MAKE SUCH UNWARRANTED COMMENTS!? I would do no such thing to violate my integrity, yet you would stake your objection on the basis of this presumption? And you act obstructive like this without consulting or voicing your concerns at a time when they could have been addressed, and bring them up in this place at this time? That is the worst of all!"

"I know." Cenere looked at Strop calmly, right in the eyes.

Strop stared right back, transfixed by the steely cool. But Strop himself was anything but cool, for it was as if Cen had just dropped a big red hot boulder on his crotch. Oh no, such an insult of great proportions could not go unaddressed, but Strop had completely run out of words.

Before he even knew what he was doing, Strop took one quick step and drove a left hook into Cen's face.

Out of both shock and force, Cen fell over, staring up at Strop with a terrified and curious expression. He shook his head abit, opening and closing his mouth, but nothing came out. Strop stood over Cen, also slightly in shock, but the massive overwhelming shock reverberated throughout the arena. Time dilated almost to a standstill-

Strop was the first one to snap out of it. He was sick of everything, he just wanted to sever everything and be done with it and tear it all down. Starting with this- "YOU'RE FIRED, CEN. MAN UP, GO AND SORT OUT YOUR OWN PROBLEMS BEFORE YOU START COMMENTING ON MINE." Strop pointed to the grand archway of the Amphitheatre and planted his other hand on his hip.

In a blink, Cenere jerked to his feet. "What the ****! YOU CAN'T FIRE ME, YOU SHOW PONY!"




Cenere straightened, drawing his head back a little, while an eerie chuckle escaped him. "If I leave, I bet this place will be destroyed before I come back." He laughed a little more, shaking his head, his expression twisted and unreadable besides that smile.

"Fine then!" strop gestured to the door again. "Run along then, see if your girlfriend's gonna take you back!"

Cenere's expression stiffened. "**** you."

Strop straightened, and completely abandoning decorum, he flipped the most vulgar bird he could think to do at cenere. "No, **** YOU! Seeing as your girlfriend won't!"

Cenere pulled back in anger and disgust, gritting his teeth. There was a pause, then he turned and walked off the stage. "As you wish." He removed the jacket, the vest, seemingly feeling nothing but disgust even touching it, and by the door, turning towards both Strop, the contestants and the audience, his fists clenched and his body tense, taking a moment to say goodbye to it all, perhaps, or to pity not only the contestant, the audience, but also Strop. Then he snorted loudly, and yelled out "GOOD LUCK -" the last of the sentence was lost as he vanished in a poof of light grey smoke.

All eyes settled on Strop once more. Strop stood there, blinking, looking every bit as blank as the audience, the finalists, even the unconscious trolls still piled up on the stage. Just like that, at this crucial stage, Cenere, one of the unsung pillars of the tournament, was gone. To where, nobody knew, and as to whether he would ever come back, nobody, especially Strop, could say.

Right at that moment, Miniature Cen wandered into Strop's peripheral vision. "Nice going," he deadpanned. "You probably shouldn't have done that. Oh well. Good luck."

Then he poofed too.

With all his might, Strop resisted the urge to let loose a few choice expletives. Instead, he huffed, and pondered the situation. Cen wasn't coming back for now, that much was certain. He'd just have to ignore the trolls for now, as they were the least of his problems. In fact-

"Well, the show must go on!" Strop shrugged and clapped his hands. He breathed a few times to blow off the tremor in his voice, before picking up the 'fone again. "Finalists! Are you ready?"

The finalists looked at each other, before subtly stepping back, and nodding. In response, Strop raised his arms high.

"In that case, I now declare this round OP-"


Strop whirled around at the second interruption, ready to give the offender a good blasting, but stopped short when he realised it was Dank, astride a puffed-out penicorn, its tongue (and appendage) flopping around limply. "THEY'RE COMING," he bellowed again, "SAVE YOURSELVES!"

Strop was about to ask him what the hell he meant when his blood ran cold. Hot on his tail, and charging through the grand arches, was a crowd. But not just any crowd. Even visually challenged as he was, Strop recognised several of the figures in there: a father-son duo of spandex-clad chainsaw maniacs, a sadistic satyr with hooves that could outrun even Strop's, several kung-fu stick figures, along with a stickslayer, robots and cyborgs, a bunch of gun-toting and knife-throwing schoolkids, a throng of pimply teens wielding various nasty implements of flame and destruction yelling various internet slogans, agnry faices, and of course, in the background, those monochrome tanks and those dastardly tankmen who spoke purely in homoerotic double-entendres.

There was only one possibility, and only one response, and this one response was only possible if the innocent citizens of AG remained calm. "Everybody stay calm-" Strop began, only to be drowned out by cries of "RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!" Next thing he knew, Strop was swarmed under as everybody vacated their benches, swirling around, past and over him in a tidal wave of bodies and sound. He struggled against the current, trying to keep from drowning, but was dragged to the bottom and trampled upon by countless pairs of feet, until the only thing he felt or heard was a constant dull roaring, so he could do nothing but curl up into a ball and hope he didn't die.

The as suddenly as it began, it was over. Slowly, Strop opened his eyes, and stood up, peering through clouds of dust.

The Amphitheatre was completely empty.

"...hello?" Strop ventured. "Anybody?"


When Strop finally collected himself enough to run out of the Amphitheatre, the sinking feeling in his gut worsened. The whole street was engulfed in generalised melee. All around, users were fighting, running around blindly and falling. In the distance, he could hear explosions and plumes of smoke began to rise, blending with the heavy, dark, brooding clouds that hung over the city of ArmorGames.

A Newgrounds raid!? None of it made any sense, but then again, the law of Internetland itself was not to make sense. But Strop knew two things: a coordinated, city-wide raid was among the worst things that could ever happen to a city in Internetland, and that for these raiders to have stormed the Amphitheatre with such ease, on the far end of the city from the one and only gate, meant that there was possibly nowhere, nowhere at all, in the whole city of ArmorGames, that was safe anymore.

10,811 posts

The following sections are written by the respective players of their characters


Part Ten Part One: Metal Hyena Man

"Now everybody-" Strop is talking but Leon can't hear him. A screaming drowns out the sound. Leon's ears flatten. He has half a mind to join the torrent of people fleeing. He pushes past them. Flames streak overhead. Leon stands looking over the scene. Flames, fighting, everywhere. Leon darted into a house. Knife clutched in his hand, he sought solace in the burning building. His eyes widened as he realized he was not alone. A man with a fierce spear stood in the doorway between the atrium and the kitchen. Leon searched for an exist as the man began to turn around. With a deep breath, he pounced on the man, screaming. Someone throws a punch at Leon. Leon breaks the offending arm without a second glance. As Leon runs off. Young man collapses on the ground. A screaming pierces the air. Raiders throw objects at Leon. Sticks, stones, flames break harmlessly against metal. Leon takes no notice of the attack or maybe he doesn't care. His focus is elsewhere...
He pulls a boy in a black, flaming shirt to his feet. HE looked over to see Armor Gamers fighting raiders: A kid in a cowboy hat takes down Guy Fawkes with a Mongolian bow and arrow. A twirling revolver takes down two more raiders bang bang as Leon calls for his hyena. The hyena bounds up and licks Leon's hand. Leon stroked Marley's fur. The vigilant hyena rubs his head against Leon's hand. The gnoll pulled his hand away and indicated a target some thirty yards off. Leon continues to ignore blows to his armor as he watches the hyena duck through the crowd. An inflatable clarinet is beating against Leon's back, but he is focused on disarming the attacker in front of him. Leon grabs the pipe, but the raider's grip is tight. Leon tries to wrench it from his grip, but the raider pulls his elbow into his body. Meanwhile, the clarinet begins to bop Leon on the head (squeak! squeak!). Rolling his eyes, Leon breaks the raider's arm. He tosses the pipe on the ground haphazardly. Bop bop. Squeak squeak. Leon is getting kind of annoyed now. His knife is ready, but he doesn't want to stab anyone yet. He leaves his knife in a stick man's chest and shoves the clarinet troll to the ground. He vaults over contorted grappling, running for the exit, perhaps to escape. Or maybe he wants to help stem the tide of invaders?
He stopped and looks at a group of black-coated trolls. These elite raiders are hurling fearsome spells, freezing users, bolstering raiders, collapsing entire buildings. They are in the center of a firestorm. "Stop feeding them!" Strop shouts but the Armor Gamers are to vehement in their attempts to save the city. The flames run along the trolls' magical shield, funneling into an open maw. The troll grows larger and larger as the flames pour into its mouth, dwarfing its friends, Leon or even Bullman. That one is running through the streets swinging a stick.
Leon fires an arrow at the well-fed troll, but it doesn't seem to care. As Leon nocks another arrow, he sees Strop running. He leaps through the air, swinging Thor at the head of the defenseless troll. Squeak squeak. It strikes his head. At the moment of impact, Leon whips around, smashing the troll with a backfist. He tackles it as it stumbles. Hand clutched around its neck, Leon begins to punch the troll. It throws up its hands as the metal glove slams into its face. Leon soon smashes its guard out of the way and breaks its nose. It lets out a roar. Leon keeps punching. Leon feels the skull cave in under his fist. He continues to pound the bloody mess as shards of bone and nervous tissue coat the ground. The trolls body has stopped twitching. It holds the clarinet limply in its hand as Leon further reduces the structural integrity of its visage. Leon shouts as he continues the assault.
"Leon!" Crimsonblade dances over to the hyena's side. Metal hyena man bounces to his feet, shaking his bloody knuckles. The troll's face is unrecognizable, but its flesh is already beginning to regenerate as Leon turns to Crimson. He glares at him. He responds with nothing but a quiet nod, eyes still locked. Leon grabs his bow, Crimson raises his sword. Leon averts his eyes and fires an arrow at a raider. Crimson jumps into the air and casts a rocket spell. He blasts behind Leon, fending off a mob with a wide jet of flames. The two of them stood back to back, daring the hordes to advance. An armored man with a spear rushed them. Leon's companion sprung into action, knocking the spear to the side with an outside twist kick. Leon slams his shoulder into a raider. A quick swipe of the knife is enough to get the raider to back down. Fall down. Crimson parries a tire iron and sends the kid flying backwards with a side kick. Leon throws a stick man to the ground as he smashes the face of a many-armed demon with his steel glove. He follows up with a palm strike to its sternum as it raises its tail, dripping with poison. Leon is about to jump when Crimson slices the tail from the beast with a lazy cut. As it howls, Leon delivers a close punch to its abdomen. It lunges at him, trying to bite. Leon dodges to the side and grabs one of its pincered arms. He breaks it as he twists it behind the demons back, spinning it to the ground. As Leon sets to work stabbing the demon, Crimson fires a cloud of blue energy at an oncoming steam punk. He slips falls backwards as the cloud strikes him in the chest. The raiders are forming a circle now, surrounding Leon and Crimson. Leon and Crimson stand back to back, weapons at the ready, eyes glancing from raider to raider. The raiders stand around them, holding chains, barbed-wire bats, and flames of pure malice.
"Well if it isn't emo kid and the fur***." a raider says. In his left hand he holds a long chain. In his right, he lugs a claymore to large for one hand. In both, Leon sees the beginnings of flames. A skull mask covers his face. Leon shivers involuntarily. The skeleton raised its chain above its painted head, thrusting the red hot whip at Leon. He dodged out of the way as it swung back, leaving shallow scores in the earth. He fired two shots rapidly from his bow, but they sailed uselessly past its pulsating heart. It raised its claymore and stepped towards him, fire in its eyes. Leon catches the chain and yanks the skull-masked raider forward. A quick kick breaks his knee as Leon throws him to the ground. Another raider loses a hand as he attempts to rush Crimson. The raiders push a black-hooded hooligan towards Leon. He tries to rejoin the circle, but his comrades keep him out. Leon raises his hands in front of himself and steps forward growling. The hooligan glances back at his friends before he charges Leon, swinging a lead pipe. That one blocks the pipe with his left forearm, punches the raider in the face with his right hand and delivers a left-handed close punch to the gut. As the raider doubles over in pain, Leon throws a hook punch to the head with his left hand, sending the raider sprawling across the ground.
"Anyone else wanna try it?" Leon growls, drawing his knife. As it so happened, others did want to try it. Together, a horde of trolls and raiders rushes in, weapons swinging. Leon punches one in the neck as he knocks a fist out of his way. He blocks a knife thrust with his empty hand and slices at the wrist of the offending appendage with an upward motion of his knife. He brings the knife back down into the raider's elbow. As the raider howls, Leon brings the knife up before thrusting it into the side of the raider's neck. He yanks the knife out and prepares to confront the troll in front of him. Meanwhile, Crimson is running a troll through. He pulls his blade out quickly to block an incoming spear. He grabs the spear and pulls on it, swing the sword back in front of him. The spear-wielding troll yanks back, trying to hold on to his spear. Crimson raises the sword above his head. Suddenly, he thrusts the spear back at the troll, hitting him in the side. The troll falls forward, clutching the shaft. Crimson neatly decapitates him. Leon takes down two more raiders with quick punches. He dodges a board with a nail in it as he delivers a quick punch to the raider. Crimson hurls a smoking orb with his left, sending a raider spinning. With his right, he fires a glob of quintessence, which bowls into a group, sending kids flying, shredding stick-men and scorching a troll's flesh from his bones. "You're gonna get creamed!" A hulking tank man steps over Leon as he is throwing yet another attacker to the ground. Crimson springs to Leon's aid. He sweeps at the tank man's feet, running the crimson blade along the ground. Sparks erupt into flames as Crimson pirouettes through the air, flaming blade creating a spiral of fire behind him. The flames pull the tank man up as the spinning blade strikes him. Drawing his bow, Leon takes a knee as Crimson reaches the zenith of his jump. Crimson runs the blade, now totally wreathed in flame, along his back as Leon nocks an arrow. Crimson swings his blade around, striking the take man and sending the flames flying from the blade. Having drawn his bow fully, Leon looses the arrow. The flames solidify, taking the form of three golden long swords as they fly through the air. The swords strike the ground, neatly pinning the tank man as Leon's arrow hits a white-hooded teen in the chest, knocking him off his feet. Crimson lightly falls beside Leon. Around them, the circle has been decimated. Remnants of stick men, injured raiders and maimed trolls lie in various states of twitching and agony. Panting, they raise their guards again as the trolls begin to regenerate.
"We can't kill 'em all, Leon!" Crimson shouts
"Not if they keep regenerating anyway." Leon says slyly.
"We have to do something." Crimson sets a particularly close troll alight with a spell.
"Find their leader, or something that can kill them." Leon looks around the battlefield with a trained eye.
"There!" Crimson shouts, pointing to a green-faced troll in a dark, pinstripe suit. The troll struts through battlefield, head held high. He glances around as he draws a mini-Uzi from a pocket inside his jacket. Crimson uses his rocket spell to blast past the crowd. Marley ducks through legs and under fights. Leon runs through the crowd, knocking people out of his way fast and hard. He does not have time enough to check if they are Armor Gamers or raiders. Swift-footed Crimson closes in on the suit-wearing troll before Leon. He blocks a burst of Uzi fire with his sword (assisted by magic). The force of the bullets causes him to stumble, falling. He regains his composure for only a moment, but it is enough for him to throw his blade straight through the troll's chest. The troll stumbles backwards, apparently more shocked than harmed by the blade lodged in his chest. Crimson falls face first on the ground. The successful troll, successful in warding off Crimson, turns his gun to Leon. That one grabs the weapon and strikes the troll in the neck with a knife-assisted hammerfist. He twists the gun out of the troll's hands as he stabs him twice more in the neck. He smacks the troll across the face with the butt of the Uzi before turning to Crimson.
"Hey! Stay with me, kid!" Leon shakes Crimson's shoulders. "Will you be alright?" Crimson reaches for the Uzi. "I'll be fine. We need to worry about this troll." The troll was beginning to stand up, brushing off its suit with flaming hands. Crimson quickly casts a spell, slowing the troll to less than five frames per second.
"There we go." Crimson shrugs, but the troll in already speeding back up. Leon breaks its neck, slits its throat and throws it to the ground.
"We need to take care of this thing permanently." Leon stomps on the regenerating troll.
"It only gets stronger when you attack it." Crimson informs him.
"What else should I do?" Leon snaps.
"Hmm... I may be able to stop it temporarily with a spell. But I'll have to keep recasting the spell. Only a moderator can really stop it."
"Sounds like a plan. You keep it down, I'll go get Ed." Leon nods.
"Who?" Crimson begins to lag the troll with a fancy program.
"Strop. The moderator. Any idea where he is?" Leon asks. Without waiting for a response, Leon scampers towards the sounds of bannings.

Strop is waving his arms and telling a mob to remain calm. Meanwhile, their panicked screams lend power to a group of blood-thirsty trolls.
"Strop!" Leon calls, running up to him. Strop glaces at Leon. He does a double-take, seeing his blood-stained armor.
"Not now, Leon. I'm busy!" he sends a spammer bouncing down the road with a spinning back kick and trots towards a throng of civilians.
"Wait! It's about Crimson!" Leon shouts.
"Not now, we're in a state of emergency, at least we WILL be once I figure out what's going on!" Strop shouts over his shoulder as he pulls a kid from under a tank "No time to argue about fighting."
"We found one of the leaders." Leon growls, putting his hand on Strop's shoulder. "I killed him, but he won't stay dead." Strop continues working. "We need you to ban him." Leon adds. Strop rolls his eyes.
"Let's make this quick." Leon begins pushing through the crowd without waiting for Strop. Leon has no trouble seeing where he is going over the crowd, so Strop follows him. They trek undisturbed until Leon greets a gangly kid with a metal fist to the face. His friends are displeased with Leon's conduct, and begin to attack him with anything readily available. He blocks most of the attacks and throws quick punches at his attackers. A hulking tank man swings an enormous fist at the side of Leon's head as he snaps his jaws at a ninja Guy Fawkes. Strop deflects the punch with a circular kick. He taps his hoof on the ground before throwing a front kick, sending the tank man stumbling backwards. Another runs forward, trying to grab Strop. The pony slides under his legs and delivers a back kick to the tank man's spine. He stumbles forward into Leon, who delivers close punches to his gut. Strop knocks a stick man down with a roundhouse kick and uses the momentum for a spinning back kick to the chest of a teenager. He adds a front kick for good measure before turning back to Leon.
Leon is throwing a raider to the ground while supplying one or two punches to the face. He has evidently made a habit of this, as three other raiders lay on the ground by him, clutching their well-punched faces.
"McAcid! Excessive force!" Leon looks up.
"Behind you!" he punches the raider's face. Without looking to see what exactly is behind him, Strop jumps up, spinning through the air. He sticks his leg out, whipping it into the troll's face. He lands facing Leon.
"What were you saying?" Leon asks cheerily, stabbing a teenager in the side.
"I said-" Strop knocks a grammar Nazi down with a side kick "-no excessive force." Leon looks genuinely confused.
"I thought 'excessive force was a directive." Leon pulls the knife out with a twist.
"I can see that." Someone leaps in front of Strop swinging a torch. Instantly, Strop reacts with a quick cross-leg kick to the knee. He looks over his shoulder and throws a high back kick to a troll's face, having seen him over his shoulder.
"My bad." Leon shrugs, returning to a fighting stance.
Strop throws two rapid fire kicks to a raider before turning to the next. A roundhouse kick to the face carves their path. Leon bounces forward and bowls one over with a fist. When the raiders press in on them, Strop becomes a whirling dervish, legs of swinging legs and tornado kicks. Leon takes down a hulking enemy with a rock-solid assault. They are making fast progress towards Crimson, but as they go, they earn more attention. Strop fires an arrow that explodes in a net, ensnaring entire circle of troll magicians, but another phalanx of green-faced, purple-tongued monsters stands between them and Crimson. These ones have formed a defensive wall with their shields, and are brandishing gladii at passersby. Leon fires his bow with practiced precision, sending arrows whistling through the gaps in their shield wall. They reel back in confusion, shield wall faltering. Strop slides towards the confused squadron, throwing fast, spinning sweep kicks. As the trolls are knocked off their feet, Strop rolls his weight onto his hands and shoulders and begins to spin around, legs extended. He knocks trolls flying as the weaponized windmill twirls its way through the horde. Strop springs up to his feet as Leon takes down the stragglers.
Only two hundred feet away, they resume sprinting towards Crimson, Strop taking in deep breaths through his nostrils, Leon opening his mouth wide to force air into his lungs. Their swift steps falter slightly a pair of huge, jackal headed men appear in their way. Each stands at least nine feet tall and wears only a loin cloth, muscular red body exposed. Leon lowers his body, barreling forward with a galloping gait. Strop steps forward, light on his feet. He begins to turn as he runs forward, sinking after a revolution. He jumps as he shifts his weight to his front foot, sending himself flying. His legs kick out as he twirls through the air, hands extended swinging to give him momentum. Sprawled out against the sky like an anesthetized patient on an operating table, Strop sails towards the second jackal man. As he nears him, his right foot swings from an oblique angle, catching the jackalman on the side of the head. The force of the blow sends the jackal flying, Strop bounces back to a standing position as the jackal demon bounces to a stop some twenty feet away. Strop straightens and turns back to Leon. Metal hyena man pounced on the jackal man, coming up from below. He bowled the jackal over with the ferocity of his pounce and has pinned the jackal to the ground. He is now punching it, but he'll stop when he sees Strop has defeated one of the jackals. Together, the two of them walk the last nine yards to Crimson.
Green light is flowing from Crimson's hands into the troll when Strop arrives.
"Watch yourself." Strop instructs as Thor appears in his hands. Crimson backs off as the hammer falls. The troll's suit is the first to go, but soon the rest of the furry monster is knocked into the stratosphere. Crimson will be disappointed to discover that the mini-Uzi has disappeared with the troll, but he makes no mention of it. He hasn't noticed yet.
"That's all?" Strop asks.
"Yeah. Now it's just me and Crim-" Leon sees Crimson rocketing his way down an ally, away from the trolls. "Guess he has more important things to do."
"Yeah, speaking of more important things to do..." Strop steps back a little and poof.
"Go ahead, Strop." Leon growls as Marley bounds to his side. "We'll be alright."

Leon gazed across the battlefield, reflections of flickering flames dancing in his eyes. He smelled the blood and the flames as they seeped across the landscape. He clutched his bow. Black figures fought blackness, occasionally lit by the burning buildings or the scorching light of the seraph. From his high roost, he saw confusion, frenzy, death and destruction. The all-consuming chaos of war. And nothing else mattered.



Round 10 Part 1: The Great Escape

Crimson didn't want to leave Leon behind, but felt that he stood very little chance against the army that was attacking the city, at least without one of his own. He had to get to the wilderness and quick, and lead as many trolls into his trap as he did so. He already had a few tailing him, but it was not enough to make a decent impact. He shot another rocket spell, and looked through his scrolls to see what he could do, realizing that a few more trolls were now following him. He pondered for a second then simply stated to himself
"That's it!" he shot a fire ball straight into the air mimicking a flare, and another into the air directionally towards his destination. The trolls wanted only one thing when they went into a raid, and that was the flames of their enemies, regardless of how they got them. As he shot more fireballs into the air, and shot more rocket spells to keep flight, more trolls followed. He managed to gather a small horde as he finally reached the entrance to the wilderness. As he landed he knew he had to act quick if he wanted his plan to work. He pulled out one of his summon scrolls, attached to his belt in a batman like fashion, and went on to create a wall of Sasquatchs who converged to the side, trying to attack the weakest enemy.
"I suppose my weak code is coming back to haunt me now!" Crimson commented as he pulled out his other summon scroll attached to his belt in a similar fashion, and with it he summoned 300 Crimsons ready to fight, die, and respawn at his command just as the trolls finally reached them, taking care of the Sasquatches along the way. Crimson stood firm, and raised his sword to the virtual heavens.
"Crimsons prepare yourselves, for TONIGHT WE DINE IN HECK!" he bellowed before adding
"or maybe the tavern, if that's-" stopping after he realized that he was literally talking to himself, or really himselves if that is a real word(it's not). As the trolls lined up in an expected disorderly fashion, the Crimsons prepared themselves for a true battle to the end, or until one of the moderators got around to helping them out at least.



The Pen is Mightier

KingRyan was once again resting his head on his rather comfortable wooden desk. At least it was actually early morning, so he wasn't missing anything...yet...

As the room turned from black to grey, a bird chirping outside the window woke him from his slumber. He blearily sat up and rubbed his eyes, a flash of his youthful fire flickering before it was replaced by the dull glow of old age.

Standing, he stretched his arms, feeling his elderly body screaming in complaint. Sighing, he set about finding some breakfast before glancing at his calendar to see what the day might hold. It came up blank.

It was only then that he heard the faint noises of a megaphone coming from the Ampitheatre, which was some distance away. He knew that he should probably be there, but this morning he just didn't have the energy. So he simply sat down at his desk and pulled out a blank piece of parchment.

Writing with a careful hand, he began to write about the times that once were - times of the past; early ArmorGames, the first Beta, and even of times before that. His youth, what was just a few years ago, before he settled in the Armorlands.

An hour or so passed, until he noticed a strange rumbling. It seemed to be coming from all around his cottage. He quickly stood, sat back down again as his muscles protested, then slowly stood. He moved to the window, where his favourite spying post was and looked out.

What he saw was simply chaos. There were people running everywhere, peaceful citizens of Armor City being chased by menacing figures. These strangers seemed to be lighting fire to anything that could be lit, and he knew they may soon notice his humble cottage.

With a speed which betrayed the age of his body, he moved to the corner of his room and moved a stiff wooden crate. He then pulled out a flat stone from the floor and revealed a metal lid. Pulling a key from around his neck, he opened it letting light into the small metal box below for the first time since the cottage was built.

Rushing to his desk, he collected all of his papers from his draws - all off his files. Every single piece of work was collected, countless documents, manuscripts, poems and histories. Bundling them all together, he placed them in the metal box neatly. Standing once more, he glanced around his beloved cottage at his numerous books and other possessions. He knew that there would not be much room for anything else, so he simply collected a few certificates from the walls and added them to the box.

KR sighed and closed the lid. He locked it and placed the stone over the top. Then, pulling his quill from his robe, he traced the stones outline. Once the rectangle was complete, the whole tile glowed bright green, before fading to normal. Quickly pushing the crate back into place, the old man collected a jar of tablets prescribed by Doctor Stroppykins and tucked them into a pocket in his robes. Then, he headed out the door.

Outside was now filled with more chaos than before. The streets were on fire, houses burning and people were screaming. Lifting his robe up from the ground, like a lady might hitch her dress, Kingryan exited the cottage and ran as quickly as he could towards the Library.

It was simply instinct that directed KR there, and his love for everything held within that building. Something told him that he could not let the strangers destroy all the books; precious, beloved books. And so, he ran as fast as he could, which was suprisingly fast.

When he finally reached the building, he was suprised that it seemed rather quiet. He was sure that they would have targeted it first, since it was so precious to him. It was only then that he turned and looked back over the city. There was smoke and fires everywhere. The biggest seemed to be around the Tavern and Ampitheatre. His mind flitted briefly to thoughts of the Moderators - what were they doing to help? How could this happen? If only that blasted Way of Moderation Tournament had been more productive. KingRyan had only payed slight attention towards the whole tournament since he was eliminated due to health risks - he had been more engrossed in the topic of AG3.

As he stood on the porch of library lost in thought, he saw them coming. There were three of them, wild looks on their faces. Each held a flaming torch, and he knew what their idea was. KingRyan did not have much time to decide what to do, his thoughts regressing to situations when he had fought before, times in the WoM Tournament - but he was not sure if had even fought in that. He just remembered water, lots of water, and a some fish., he did like that for dinner once in a while. Although he did prefer chicken...

'OUT OF THE WAY OLD MAN!' cried one of the strangers, snapping KR back to the present. Acting out of instinct once again, he whipped out his quill and without any thoughts he drew the handle and blade of an elegant, light and razor sharp. He did not know what he was doing, his mind was elsewhere as he placed the quill back in his pocket and wielded the sword.

'Oh, we're like, totally scared of you' laughed the vandals, but this comment flitted from KR's mind. He jumped from the porch with suprising agility and swung the sword at the three. It was a direct hit, but with suprising effects.

It seemed to slice right through them, halving them, but then nothing happened. They laughed at him, before looks of horror spread accross their faces. Then, very simply, they began to flutter to the ground head first, as they turned into pages upon pages of writing. When the process was finished, the pages were bound with dark brown covers, leaving three nondescript books on the floor at KingRyan's feet.

He collapsed to the ground, in shock. He didn't know what had happened, or why. He had not anticipated the sword, nor had he premeditated the effect of the sword. In the end, it had just seemed to happen and he was just as shocked at the books on the ground before him as the books themself which looked up at him. You could say the looks were blank, but the pages were filled with writing.

Kingryan sighed and then looked towards the approaching mob, a fiery glint in his eyes.



Work Experience

Student teaching experience gives great insight into what the classroom experience will be like. Sadly though Goumas had no teaching experience whatsoever, he didn't even have a teaching certificate. So he wasn't very certain that the job suited him, however he was certain that he had to give it his best shot, the ex-alchemist didn't want to disappoint Strop (he couldn't forget that he owed his job to the Moderator).

Even so he knew (thanks to a Website) that teachers plan their lessons before they teach and that they use games, videos, computers, and other tools to teach children different subjects. He didn't like very much the latter, so he focused on the first. His planning wasn't always great, nonetheless he was quite fond of his job.

After a while he gained confidence, his student's seemed to learn and there were no complains at all against him. Sometimes teaching lots of students can be stressful and teachers have to deal also with children who misbehave, but not in the Armor Academy, there the students were mostly agreeable.


It was the Day of the Finals, Goumas wanted to go to the amphitheater, but he couldn't. Seeing as Dank had left he had a great opportunity to prove himself. Responsibility is one of the most important qualities a person/employer can have.

He wore his best black business suit, a red necktie (with several pac-man-like figures), his gold watch and lastly he even wore a grey Homburg style hat. Proud of his clothes Goumas went to the Armor Academy.

When he arrived to his classroom the teacher noticed quite some nasty looking teens. They didn't look at all like his students, but perhaps their unpleasant appearance was due to some flu or something. Its common knowledge that schools are full of viruses.

Goumas was worried, so he asked:
-Children, how are you? Are you feeling well?
-ITS NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS "PROF.", the teens at the same time answered yelling.

That flu was definitely serious Goumas thought, so he shouldn't really argue with them. He had to respect their condition.

-Kids..., he started started saying, but he was interrupted. One of the students had screamed at the top of his lungs "WE AREN'T KIDS IDIOT!"

- OK, I apologize if I offended you. So ... gentlemen (there were no ladies) today we are going to ...

- We aren't gentlemen either, said the same kid as before, we are Rude-men!

That joke was rather blunt, so Goumas decided not to answer to him.

-Anyway, our lesson today is about Organic Chemistry. Organic chemistry is the study of the structure, properties, composition, reactions , and preparation of carbon-based compounds. So as you understand Carbon is as important in Organic Chemistry as a coach in a Soccer team.


The public stopped booing and hissing after at least five minutes. They truly didn't like the metaphor.

-Ahem, pardon me ... Do you happen to know what's the name of the molecular formula C4H8? Hint:Its a quite famous alkene, is present in crude oil ...

- STFU! Do you ever stop talking!, said somebody, probably the leader of the pack.

- Please calm down!, said Goumas

- Let's trash the school!, continued the person who has spoken before

- YEAH! LET'S TRASH THE SCHOOL!, the public said unanimously

They ignored Goumas's desperate cries not to trash the school and they started breaking, biting, kicking and punching everything that they could see or smell.

The mob soon found out that destroying inanimate objects wasn't very fulfilling and entertaining, when there is real people to assault. So they started marching towards their "tutor".

- People, I warn you that if you don't stop I will have to expel you!

They didn't stop.

- Don't take an other step forward! This is my last warning!

Still they didn't stop.

Goumas decided that it was time to change tactics, he grabbed a pen and screamed with a squeaky voice:

- Everybody get down on the ground or I will shoot you!, and he waived the pen.
- Liar! That's no gun!, said their boss
- You are wrong, this is a laser gun! One click and I will burn you all!
- Don't underestimate our intelligence, its not wise.

It was time to change tactics again. Goumas threw in the air his wallet, his golden watch, his cellphone, his hat, his tie, his bag, several books and chalkboard chalk. The rain of objects distracted the rabble. Goumas started running as quickly as he could. He ran so hastily that he managed to leave the building.

Later, when he looked back he didn't see anyone. He had escaped.



Resident New***

Thoad awoke from yet another nightmare. Whenever he tried to sleep he was constantly reminded on how he had lost. False memories of armorgames users laughing at him as he lay unconscious on the floor haunted his dreams. The light from his broom closet porthole came into the world again. Thoad felt his sorrow once more and put his hand on his forehead.

"You know, you actually did good out there," said a nurse who came to check on Thoad's IV. "I know that I"m just a faceless user to you," She looked up and smiled at Thoad. A girl on the internet? On Armorgames of all places? Absurd. Her face was cute, it had dimples and was fairly pale in the face. Her hair was of a dark brown, slightly more brown than Thoad"s. Her eyes were a warm hazel and her voice swam through the air in a graceful and beautiful fashion. To be complimented from such a beauty was an honor to Thoad.

Then Thoad"s sense of "reality" came back to him. "You"re kidding, right? I lost. I lost. That was my only-" he was cut off by the lady.

"That doesn"t matter. Think of what you"ve done. Think of your handicaps. You"re inexperienced and fairly scrawny, yet with wit and with enthusiasm, you got to the semi-freaking-finals. Most people were eliminated in the very first round." She started strong, but after she said "freaking" she became a little bit more quiet. Thoad found it apparent

Thoad looked downward, trying to take it all in. He sighed an appreciatively started to say that the nurse had helped him, but was quickly cut off. The nurse anticipated Thoad, thinking that he would protest and say otherwise, being stubborn as he usually is.

"Now you listen here, you should be thankful you"re as good as you are. Believe it or not, I bet you could be a mod, if you really set your mind to it, and became more mature-" This time, she was cut off by Thoad.

"Hey, I got the message. You"re right, I should be impressed by what I"ve done so far. I"m not being thankful to myself enough, I"m sorry," Thoad said in defeat to the nurse. An awkward silence fell over the small broom closet that Strop improvised into a care unit. "So, what"s your name, lovely nurse?"

"Just call me Rose. It"s nice to see an AG celebrity. Though not in this condition'?¦" she told him. Thoad was flattered from the statement, and looked the other way for the time. He couldn"t help but to stare at her chest as any horny teenager would do. He tried his best to be polite, but it ended up being in vain. Thankfully she didn"t notice.

Then, another nurse, blonde with blue eyes burst into the door, "ROSE!" she screamed, "NewGrounders have broken through the gates! They speak of flaming and destruction! What are we to do?"

Nurse Rose stood there and put her delicate hand on her chin. She grumbled, as she wasn"t too great in survival situations. Thoad was already up and pulling his I.V. along outside the door. "Barricade all windows, use tables or beds to cover the bulk of them and use some form of sturdy triangle to wedge them in. I"ll gather some suitable tables and beds in order to make a wall for our last stand. I"ll be setting up tripwires and pitfalls in the mean-time. I"ve met NewGrounders before. They"re either full of themselves ore they"re stupid as hell. Or a little of both," Thoad was caught in his Zombie Survivor Trance mode. Speaking only of possible strategies and what everyone should do, their best weapon provided the situation, etc. Thankfully ArmorHospital was devoid of all life save for 5 nurses, 4 of which were female, and Thoad.

He marked a big red X on the places he wanted pitfalls. The pitfalls were made mostly by him, his sweat poured into his eyes, but he didn"t care. The ill zombie slayer"s head-flap had flopped about and slapped at his brains. He tried his best to ignore it as he continued digging with a jerry-rigged shovel made of boards and a mop. The pitfalls weren"t deep whatsoever, not any more than 3 feet. But it would be more than enough to stop any floods of AgnryFaices that may invade. The main concern was the front door. The traps were set, Thoad"s eyes were filled with sweat + eyes induced tears, and all the windows had been barricaded in Thoad"s fashion.

"Okay, now I need a ranged weapon. Get me onto the roof and-" Thoad was cut off by Rose. She was starting to annoy him, for whatever reason, Thoad liked it..

"Thoad, all of your weapons have no ammo, you need to rest anywa.-" Rose was cut off by Thoad. It was starting to turn into a chain of cutting off.

"But surely I-" Thoad continued, but was cut off by Rose once more.

"No, get in your bed. you have to rest." She told him. She even had the gall to point a finger as she said it. Thoad grudgingly accepted, knowing that if he persisted Rose would have likely been more focused on her nursing duties rather than dodging the imminent flames the Newgrounds Users would bring.

So Thoad sat there in his bed, staring up at the concrete ceiling, waiting for the flames. The NewGroundians should have already gotten there, but the hospital was still as always. Thoad went out to investigate. The 5 nurses were staring at the door, waiting for the moment. Rose noticed Thoad and her nursing alarm went off. Rose ran towards the only awake patient, flailing her arms about.

"I SAID GOTOBED, WE"LL HANDLE IT!!!" Rose yelled. Thoad was tired due to lack of sleep, and didn"t respond. Rose continued to flail around and such when a thumping was heard on the ArmorHospital.

"They"re here; do you know what to do, Rose?" Thoad wanted to prove his point by using the "****"s hitting the fan and your head is up your ***" tactic. Rose calmed down and stood there. She was still thinking when the front door burst open. A newgroundian burst in, the unlucky sucker to have to take point. The look of it was horrendous. It looked like a mix between trollkin and new***. It"s constant "dat*ss" face was green and had horns in places they shouldn"t be. Brass piercings in the eyelids, horns on the bottom lip, nothing about it looked right. Oh, and of course the new*** just HAD to have a boner in its pants at all times.

Rose automatically let out an "EWWWW", and the other 3 nurses followed suit. Thoad went into Survivor Mode, and told the one male nurse to get something blunt and heavy for Thoad. While he was doing this, the first trap was set off. The (currently unused) water heater swung on a chain towards the front door. The first Newgroundian made an odd noise. It was a mix between "oof!" and a "GRAKLFKALFKL". Its body was thrown out the frond door.

A screech of a hundred Newgroundians was to be heard. A horrendous combination of sounds, claws grinding on metal, nails on a chalkboard, screes from octopi, and the sound of a kitten in a blender were heard from the area around the ArmorHospital. Thoad was starting to get a bit ecstatic, almost brave. "SH*T JUST GO REAL, YO!" he yelled, picking up a rock as a temporary weapon.

At least 10 more Newgroundians swarmed through the door. Their gnarling mouths spat bodily liquids all over the floor. The first trap slowed them down a bit- the boiler was in their way- and the second trap was set off. Probably one of the simplest traps in the book had been one of the most effective. The trap was nothing more than a simple metal tripwire. For the weaker newgroundians, the wire had managed to cut off some of their feet, leaving the poor sods writhing in pain and blood on the floor. Luckily, they were in a hospital.

The next trap was set off. They were still a great deal away from the barricaded hall where Thoad and the other nurses was holding out. The third trap was a pitfall. Still only about 3-4 feet deep, it could only keep the weakest inside. The newgroundians who had their feet cut off were starting to recuperate, and crawled away, defeated. The nurses regretted not jumping into the fray to help them, but it was unlikely they were going to die anyway. The pitfall worked in tripping a few of the taller ones, and the smaller newgroundians managed to fall into the pit. Some had the enthusiasm and valor to climb out, but most stayed in and sat defeated. By this time, the male nurse managed to get a big metal rod from a hospital bed to come off. It flew towards Thoad.

The fourth and the fifth traps were pitfalls as well, and were working about as well as the last one. During this time, Thoad was able to think about what he"d do once they got to their current position. Would he fall back? Would he fight them off while the others worked upon barricading a position? There weren"t many options for a non-mod. All he could do is incapacitate or divert the flow of the Newgroundians. He scratched his chin. He"d have to try and divert them for now.

"Rose!" Thoad called, for one reason or another, she gave her full attention to him. "Get the rest of the nurses to my quarters, Tell them to barricade themselves in. I am fairly sure they don"t really know how to fight," Thoad turned toward the only male nurse, "Do you know how to fight?" He nodded and didn"t say a word. He picked up a few rocks.

Rose crossed her arms and asked in a snide tone, "And exactly what makes you think that I can fight?!"

Thoad smiled warmly and told her, "Well, with a physique and face as beautiful as yours, you must have fought off a large amount of suitors." Rose responded with a scrunched up blushing face. "Your silence is a confirmation," he looked the other way and started in a mind-debate. The one thing he learned from Newgrounds may have been his savior.

The pitfalls had been filled by the weaker Newgroundians, and only 25 or so of them were left. Or at least, only 25 were in view of Thoad, Rose, and the faceless male nurse. The remaining 25 were even uglier than the rest. Their brass jewelry had been gold, and they wore garbage whistles around their necks. For whatever reason, they constantly had the whistles in their mouths, blowing furiously. There was only a fragment of the human side which was left. It was likely the fake lump that was in their pants.

Finally, the last trap was set off. Thoad wasn"t exactly proud of this trap, but it was his best bet on weakening the strongest Newgroundians to a beatable level of troll. It was a custom flame-trap. They were difficult to make in order to affect Newgroundians. Thoad had spent many hours in the forums of Newgrounds, and tried his best not to show it. This flame trap was a horrible construct in which came from those days of sorrow and flaming. Blue flames bursted from the trap"s nozzles, coating the Newgroundians with insults and belittling phrases. Their nails-on-a-chalkboard screeches filled the halls of ArmorHospital.

Thoad used the pole from the bed to smash at the ground, causing a cracked, usable tile to form. Picking it up, Thoad closed his eyes and thought of an insult. The tile became warm to the touch, a simple "Your mother" would be a decent finisher. The zombie slayer brought the tile behind him, when it suddenly burst into an incredible white flame. The heat was too much, and he dropped it.

"Let me handle the flaming, noobsauce," Rose said to the zombie slayer. She picked up the tile and chucked it at a Newgroundian. The flame trap was out of insults by now, and they were starting to proceed down the remaining feet of the hall. The tile hit the Newgroundian in the face, and his feelings here hurt beyond any repair. Not even "You"re the best around" could possibly make him feel better. He cried and ran out the door.

Rose gave a smug smile and said to Thoad, "Now then, don"t make me do that to YOU" The boy with half a head hung his head and got the message. The male nurse seemed to have been the only person with enough sense to actually remember the other four Newgroundians going in on their position.

"Guys, I would appreciate it if you guys STOPPED BEING STUPID, and actually GOT THESE GUYS OUT OF HERE," the male nurse called to them. He had made his own red-flamed rock, and chucked it at the Newgrounds users. A direct hit to the left leg didn"t do much in order to defeat it.

Rose continued to chuck her white-flame rocks at the users, and the male nurse was doing what he could. Thoad was thinking on what to do next. He ducked under a table which he was using as cover. He pushed it onward towards the Newgrounds users, hoping they would be dumb enough not to use their long-ranged flames. The heat of the battle became stronger, and Thoad almost wanted to cry due to the heat. A single white flame was going to be all that he needed to fend off the Newgroundians. One last flame would be able to take them all out. Thoad crafted one last insult, an insult so cold that Thoad hated himself for making it. He endowed his metal rod with the flame.

With one final yell, he jumped from behind the table. He was met with heat from all sides. The Newgroundians began shooting their own blue-yellow flames at Thoad. The metal rod flew through the flames, and hit the Newgroundians on the head. The final 2 which were not hit were quickly dispatched by the male nurse and Rose.

They ran, falling several times on the way out. Thoad smiled warmly and slowly walked back to Rose. "Right then. I"m going to go lay down," He told her. He straightened up as he remembered something. His safe place- the clearing with the Tangleroot tree and the glowshrooms was in danger!

"I have to go!" Thoad shouted, running past the pitfalls and the tripwire with precision. He had to go and find his special place again. Hopefully it wasn"t totally destroyed. Rose gasped and dashed ater him. Thoad was too headstrong, too focused in order to not think about getting to his safe place. He completely ignored any and all of the Newgroundians in the streets, and Rose barely managed to keep up.

All during so, she would call out to Thoad, "Wait! Wait Thoad! YOU DON"T HAVE HALF OF YOUR HEAD!"



Fish Sticks

I was finished. End of the journey. Beaten by a kid. Reduced to beating up jerks in a local bar and screaming and breaking stuff like a madman. I'd been through so much. I had narrowly avoided being pummeled and destroyed Armorland's most expensive real estate district in the process. I'd sped through a death trap obstacle course and defied the tunamancer, just barely making it out. I'd rhymed my way through a rap battle. Chrissakes,I was a woman. One with a great rack, mind you. And I lost.
I lost to a kid. A demented, twisted kid, but still, a kid.
But, you know, I loved every second of it. From the twisted self-attraction-that-still-managed-to-be-somehow-straight while I was a woman to the many, many, many near death experiences. But oh maaaan I loved it.
Of course, I had... well, thrashed the tavern. It was all pretty funny actually, I was such a bad-***. They called me "Manta Man" 'cause of how manly I am, no one could touch me! But... tavern-thrashing is still bad. And I was punished for it. By Strop. I missed Sorority Sisters because I had to show up at Strop's freakin' court case because he shot Chill. Well not really, but you know what happened. But my time on the stand was up (TAKE THAT, I would like to have said to Strop, pointing my finger at nothing in particular and slamming my fists onto the stand. But I'm pretty sure he didn't want me to talk again at all.) and the final round was fast approaching.
I was on my way home to see my friends and family again, once more before I went to watch the finals. I trudged through the wilderness, back to Armorlake.
But I heard this crunch, crunch over to my left, through some trees. I peered through. and what I saw... was horrifying.
"Oh great, newf*gs!"
But these were no ordinary newbies. They traveled in a pack, armed with torches, spears, swords,... raid weapons.
But they heard me. Even I knew better than to take on a horde of raiders. Well, a horde that big. I ducked into the bushes. They stopped for a while, but moved on. "Chyeah! Manta: master of stealth" I whispered.
The raiders were headed towards the main gate of Armorcity. But even I couldn't take them alone. I'd have to gather help... but could I panic the Armorites? Probably. No doubt I already had. Either way, I was already too far from the gate to turn back and warn everyone. I'd need help holding them off while someone warned them.
And so it came to me.
"The fishpeople!"
The raiders stopped in their tracks. I clasped my hands over my mouth and stood very still. They moved on again. They were clearly very stupid.
"I've gotta tell them..." And so I ran ever faster towards home.



Not half a minute after Strop left Leon and Crimson to their own devices, were his priorities set for him, for right before his eyes, the Armorbank, bastion of the economy of Armorgames, was under seige. Row upon row of monochrome tank was lined up, rumbling towards the pillars of the front entrance in droves, missiles streaking towards its walls. Upon the levels, from the walls, snipers shot from the windows, makeshift turrets had been set up hailing down everything from rocks to rockets. And the noise! Oh, the deafening racket of explosions was all around and there was nowhere to run from it for like the bullets that twanged all around his ears, the sounds richocheted every which way. Strop thanked his lucky stars (which had mostly deserted him, what was it that panda said again!?) that he hadn't bothered removing his earplugs, but there was no time for that, he had to find a way to secure the bank!

When he reached the entrance, quite a sight met his eyes:

"Oh good," Strop thought to himself. Between some inspired heroics and defense skills, perhaps he did have a moment to think about how best to tackle the problem, which, really, would be to find out its extent and purpose. This was a most confusing situation, after all, whilst Newgrounds was the mother of all cities in this region, there was quite a great deal of overlap between the two cities, in fact one might have even called the two sister cities, seeing as the legendary developers of ArmorGames also occupied similarly esteemed roles within Newgrounds. For that reason Strop had always thought the two were on good terms, but on the other hand, thinking about the citizens themselves, well, there emerged the point of difference! Strop himself could attest to the source of the hostility from a time he would rather forget-

An ominous rumble, distinct above all the noise filtering through to his stoppered ears, alerted Strop. That wasn't the mechanised rumble of caterpillar treads, but the sound of tanks exploding with a frequency only achievable with one contraption, one contraption that should have been property of ArmorGames but-

Strop glared at K1aus. "No, seriously, Klaus, what the hell are you doing here. You were permanently banned from ArmorGames, remember?"

"Ahhh, do you know how good that felt?" Klaus stood atop the Indestructotank with his hands on his hips (wherever those were). "It was like taking a massive dump." As if to emphasise his point, he let out a big sigh of relief.

"Klaus, are you even listening to me?"

"I mean, I really hated that guy. He was such a twerp."

"You didn't ev- KLAUS!" Strop finally jolted from the rhythm of saying random stuff. "Are you blazed again? It's like talking to a brick wall."

Miniature Cen poofed into view just over his shoulder. "Now you know what it's like talking to you."

"SHUT UP," Strop swatted at the miniature Cen, but he had already poofed out. He turned his attention back to Klaus, only to find the bear's head was now enveloped in clouds of smoke emanating from his oversized pipe. "Alright Klaus, now out with it! What's the meaning of all this? Is the raid your doing?"

Klaus took another dramatic puff, the haze lighting up and flickering around him from all the flames and explosions, casting a bear-like silhouette. "Strop, my dear ninja horse, you know me for my epic exploits. I've created many great works and they've all been popular, isn't that right?"

Strop said nothing.

"Of course it is! Because I know the secret to making epic. And I know the secrets on how to improve a place like this, but did any of you listen to me?"

"Klaus, you know very well that we're not in contr-"

"No!" surprisingly agile for a bear of such bulk, Klaus jumped off the truck and strolled towards Strop. "None of you listened. And the administration did nothing. So I sat here and watched this place rot. ROT, Strop. And you watched too. And that's why I left."

Strop ground his palm into his forehead. "Klaus, you 'left' because you went on a drug-fuelled rampage. And you ate the Banana King."

"I DON'T EVEN LIKE BANANAS", Klaus shouted, coughing on his pipe.

Strop ground his other palm into his face. "Klaus, for the third time, why are you here?"

Klaus recovered from his coughing fit, and rose to his full height. "The leadership of ArmorGames is incompetent!" he declared. "I love you Stroppy, but that's just how it is. So I'm merely, shall we say, fast-forwarding the inevitable outcome."

The lull in the conversation was filled with shouts, gunfire and more explosions as the walls of the bank began to crumble. Realisation started dawning in Strop's eyes. "Did you just circumvent a permaban to coordinate a raid on ArmorGames?"

Under the Cyclops visor, Klaus' eyes were unreadable, but it would hardly have been necessary. "Oh, I wouldn't say 'coordinate', Stroppy. Just like capturing the hearts and minds of the folk here... all you need to do is start the ball rolling."

At that moment, the entire ground shook, and under the heavy banks of black clouds, a red tinge spread as fire bloomed into the sky in the distance. A great thunder roared, shattering windows, cracking the pavement, and slowly, horrifyingly, a mushroom of incandescent destruction bloomed.*

"Ah, that would be the Freemarket," Klaus grinned maniacally. "Now as useless as it has ever been."

When Strop finally uncovered his ears, he raised his hands, and the black wisps of smoke poofed into the form of his legendary banhammer, Thor. He hefted it in his hands, then raised it high, ready to strike.

"Don't resist, Klaus, it'll only go harder for you."

* And this is where SOAD's Tentative should start playing!


Dank swung off his penicorn and slapped it on the rump, sending it homeward. It cut a swarthe of rainbow sparkles through the fire and smoke and eventually disappeared. Dank set his hammer upon his shoulder and stumped his way through the chaos. It was hard to believe that a bunch of teenaged boors would have the capacity to coordinate an attack like this... and it was just as hard to believe that the Anonymous Legion would truly find a worthy cause in destroying this place. Either way he had to set some kind of priority, but it was hard to decide what to address first seeing as the whole city was going up in smoke.

"Mister Dank!" Dank spun around, to find a well-dressed (but slightly bedraggled) man weaving a jagged path through the debris towards him. "Mister Dank, thank goodness you have arrived!"

"What is it, man, who are you!" Dank barked at him.

"My name, sir, is Goumas-" Goumas began. Dank frowned, his beard and mighty brow scrunching up. Now where have I heard that name before he pondered. Seeing the frown, Goumas rushed on.

"I am a scientist but I have had to work as an alchemist for many years until I started working as a teacher, you have my deepest thanks for this oppor-"

"Will you shut up for a minute?" Goumas stopped while Dank finished his recollection. It had something to do with Strop poking his oversized nose in his affairs... "Alright then, get to the point!"

"Well, you see, sir, this morning I was trying to teach my class as usual but they had turned into horrible teenagers overnight, and, well, and they chased me out of my class." Goumas bit his lip, fearing the reaction.

"You WHAT?" Dank roared. "And what's going on in the Armor Academy now?"

"It's, it's been completely overrun sir." Goumas cowered, trying to hide behind an invisible wall.

In the distance, a shockwave boomed and fire bloomed into the sky. Dank stared at Goumas for a moment, then shoved him aside. "Move it, I have to get to the Academy!" He had run barely a minute when another resounding crash sounded, this time much closer, and the ground shook so severely he was thrown off-balance. Scrambling to his feet he stumbled along, fearing every of the thousand fates that could have already befallen the Armor Academy.

Meanwhile, back at the bank

When The Smoke Cleared

"Hey, how long you gonna lie there you dumb-***?"

Strop blinked and rubbed his head. He had a splitting headache, as if something very large and very heavy had just pounded him into the earth. Then he realised who was calling him, and he sat up with a start.


Dank snorted and rubbed his beard. "Yeah look, you could have, you know, not gotten flattened by the McFisty thing?" He grunted again and looked a way. Strop could have sworn he was a little misty-eyed, but that couldn't be right.

"Ugh... what happened?"

"I thought I just told you. I suppose it's just as well you're so dense, you coulda been killed. They've got some nerve, exploiting infrastructure loopholes to import game objects through the walls of..." Dank trailed off, muttering.

Slowly, Strop peeled himself out of the Strop-crater, looking around at the curiously quiet courtyard, punctuated by the occasional person running by holding various bits of furniture and other vaulables. It all looked a bit suspicious, as if... as if everybody had reached the conclusion that- "I, um, thanks?... oh crap, the bank!?"

Dank sighed. "Eh, too bad about that. The AP's valueless now. Word's getting around... judging by the looting it's just about reached the Shopping Quarter now."

Strop sprang out of the crater, wincing temporarily, then shrugging it off. "Oh no! Dank, you gotta help me, we gotta do something about this!"

"I already am. Apparently I have to go save the Academy. So I'll be doing that then." Dank wheeled around on his heel and ran off as fast as his stubby legs would take him.

"Wait, but... argh!" Strop slumped on his haunches "What am I gonna do now..."

10,811 posts

The Sacking of ArmorGames


A Man's Duty

Goumas decided to go home to read the newspaper and perhaps watch a few matches. He honestly thought that Dank could easily deal with the rising, hence he wasn't really needed there. Nevertheless after a few moments he changed his mind, as a teacher Goumas had to fight for the Armor Academy and assist the headmaster. Plus, it was unquestionably a great opportunity to dazzle Dank.
So Goumas started cautiously and watchfully walking, around him there was still warfare going on, towards the Academy. Near the entrance of the establishment there was a teen. The adolescent was one of the phony students. Actually he was their alleged leader. They stared at each other for almost a whole minute, then the stripling ran into the Academy. The alchemist followed him right away.
The wannabe coach chased the lad into a classroom, the exact same classroom where they first met. The schoolroom was falling apart. Candidly it was quite hard to believe that a dozen or so teenagers could cause so much damage.
Goumas had warned them that if they weren't obedient they were going to go to the principal. It was time now to substantiate his threat.
- Come with me. We are going to the principal's office, Goumas said to the teen.
But it wasn't needed going to the principal, the principal was already there. Dank stealthily and quickly as a bearded dwarfish ninja had immobilized the "suspect".
- Dank since when you are so sneaky? And I had the situation under control. I was going to bring the perp to your office, Goumas told him.
- Frankly at the present time I can't be at my office. But ... do I know you from somewhere? Quickly ID yourself, I don't have time to waste.
- I am a teacher here ...
- Oh, yeah ... now I remember you. You are Strop's clotheshorse! Gogol, right?
- Eh .. no ... my name is ...
- Bye. Enough chit-chat for today, said Dank and left the room running like a duck.

Anyways, everything went well. Goumas was quite satisfied. He had done his duty. Besides finally secretive-Dank -almost- knew him. He could now go home righteously watch soccer.




The attackers from Newgrounds had left the city in chaos, and KingRyan had barricaded himself inside of the Library, somehow managing to push one of the bookshelves in front of the door.

He would have fought them, but their numbers were too great; and even with his new found ability he wouldn't have been able to fight them as he was just not agile enough.

Chest heaving and breath coming in and out of his body in wheezes, he tried to think of something that he could do to somehow save himself as well as the library.

With a flash, he remembered a fragment about something to do with his ranking. He had been ranked in the Top 100 users of Armorgames for...well...years, so it had to mean something. Thinking about his ranking, he then remembered his status of Prince. It wasn't a real status, as KingRyan knew that he was a King (a mighty one at that), but it did give him some extra benefits.

It was only after he got excited that he realised that this only have him a good house, and nothing else. He sighed in frustration.

Then there was a noise, a ZOMBAMMMM! The ground around him seemed to shake, and the books began to fall off of shelves. They hit the ground, some opening on their way down - crumpling pages, causing KingRyan to wince in pain.

Abandoning his position, KingRyan raced for the stairs as fast as his old body would let him. He took them two at a time, managing to get halfway up before he fell fowards after tripping and then tumbling back down the stairs.

Nursing a bruised body and pride, he slowly climbed the stairs, clinging to the handrail until he reached the First Floor (the one below it was the ground floor). He moved as fast as he could towards the nearest balcony, pushing through the wooden door and looking out over the city.

If he thought it had been in chaos before, it was worse now. The sky was thick with smoke, and hundreds of fires raged. But the biggest clouds of smoke came from where the great ArmorBank should have been. KingRyan couldn't see through the smoke, but a gut feeling told him that something wasn't right.

The gut feeling developed and KingRyan picked two choice words to use - "Oh, s***" - before running to where the nearest restroom was.

Emerging some minutes later, he shook his head and grumbled.

'Too much prune juice,' he told himself, before returning to the balcony.

During the time when he was out of action, KR had though of a slight idea which might help buy him some time. He looked down at the milling rioters who were currently trying to batter the door down with some strange object. He shuddered to think what its actual use was, before turning to the nearest bookshelf and reaching to grab a book.

He was about to grab the nearest book when he paused and read the spines. He could not decide which one he could sacrifice - he loved them all. Hand hovering over 'The Life and Times of Muffin; List of AG Users; and AG Terms and Conditions: Expanded Edition,' KingRyan almost broke down with the thought of what he might be about to do. He closed his eyes and recomposed himself, grabbing a tome and heaving it off the shelf.

With some difficulty, KR carried the heavy volume which was titled, 'The Tolkein Suit,' he walked over to the balcony and promptly dropped it off.

It fell towards the ground, landing with a thud on one of the attackers. He fell to the ground, stunned, causing the others to look up at the balcony.

"Hey! We could get up there! That old coot just let us in! Awesome!" they shouted, and KingRyan felt his hopes plummet.

Suddenly there was a shout in the distance.

"AP IS WORTHLESS! Quick, grab whatever you can! We can sell it in other cities and make a killing!'

The library's attackers turned and began to run towards the Shopping district leaving KingRyan sighing in relief. The he realised his bigger problem.

With AP now worthless, the city would be in mass panic. Looking out once more at the city, KR clearly saw this and was filled with worry. AP had never really concerned him, yet he was proud of his ranking, and his merits. All thirty six of them.

He thought about his small cottage, and hoped that all of his documents would stay safe. There was one folder in there that he knew might be needed soon, possibly even by Strop.

The city was still in chaos, and KR felt powerless - knowing that he could do almost nothing to save his beloved city.



What do you mean you're LEAVING?!

Time passed as Thoad rushed to his special place. The determined Rose trailed Thoad, hoping that her calls and reason would knock some sense into the half-skulled lad. "Dammit Thoad, stop running!" She yelled, trying to keep up. Thankfully her nurse shoes were comfortable enough to let her continue running through the bulk of armorgames.

The haunted section of the user interface was in sight. Thoad knew that his special place was likely found. He hoped, deep in his heart, that this was not true. He made a pact in his heart that he'd kill any newf*g that might be desecrating his only holy sanctum. The mere thought that a newf*g might be destroying his special place infuriated Thoad, giving him a sudden adrenaline rush. His already quick run turned into a full on sprint. Rose followed suit, doing her best not to be left behind.


Minutes passed by the time that Thoad and Rose got to the special place. Thoad had been a good 10 meters in front of Rose, nothing she couldn't handle. By the time Rose got into the special place via the hole in the ground, Thoad had been seen beating a newf*g within an inch of his life.

The grotesque half-troll like creature bled from several orifices. Most of the bleeding orifices were newly made. Bashes and welt were covered around the cheeks, and the forehead appeared to be bleeding from a cut. It was clear that this newgroundian would not be alive for very long if Thoad continued to beat him.

"Stop!" Rose yelled, grabbing Thoad's arm before he was able to deliver a finishing punch. "Just what the hell are you doing?" she scolded him. She didn't wait for an answer and slapped Thoad right across the face. This slap brought the sense back into Thoad's mind. His eyes returned to normal and he softly set down the newf*g. His mind was fuzzy. As his senses returned to him, the air became electric.

The newf*g cackled and coughed as he let out a gurgly cry, "You... you are all..." He paused, holding onto his life and breath, "...dead. " Then, a rumbling was heard throughout the special place. The rumbling turned to an extreme heat. The tangleroot tree in the middle of the special place was singed; it's root-like bark was turning slightly brown. Thoad had to think for a second before he realized it.

"Sh*t! Get down!" he yelled towards Rose. Hours of playing HellMOO (OOC: Don't google it, it is NSFW) and fallout taught Thoad that electrified air, a rumbling, and heat generally meant that some form of nuclear device had hit. Thankfully, knowledge of the cold war had also allowed Thoad to know the duck and cover strategy. If they were far enough from ground zero and it wasn't a very powerful weapon, it wouldn't actually harm them too much. He didn't speak, he simply covered Rose's skin, and kept his own skin from being in open air.

The clothes that Thoad and Rose were wearing nearly burst into flames, the heat around them encased every inch of their bodies. If any bit of skin was left in open air, a first or second degree burn would be imminent. Thankfully, Thoad had managed to cover both his own body and Rose's body. Rose was still confused as to why Thoad covered her face with his helmet, and was furious that Thoad had stuffed his face in her chest.

When the heat finally passed, the two got up. "Just what the hell was that?!" Yelled Rose.

"A nuke fell!" Thoad was still surprised that the nuke had fallen, and didn't take into account his face had been previously buried in Rose's chest.

"No, not that you idiot! You stuffed your face in my chest!" Rose's face was beginning to get red with rage. Thoad had simply stood there blank-faced before Rose slapped him across the face once more.

"OW! Sweet JESUS that hurt!" Thoad yelled. "Don't you know the duck and cover? GOD," Thoad was vigorously rubbing his cheek with his good arm. Another minute passed before a silence fell over ArmorGames. During this silence, Thoad looked about his happy place. The one place where he truly felt safe and loved. He looked at the glowshrooms. Most were stained with some form of white ooze (Thoad didn't investigate further), others were crushed. Only a small crop of 4 or 5 glowshrooms stood untainted. The grass was stained with white ooze and the walls of the haunted houses were nearly completely broken. Most were caved in.

Thoad fell silent, his goofy side left him entirely. The defeat on the last round, and now the destruction of his sanctum. It was a slap to the face after a slap to the balls. He picked the last few glowshrooms with his hands. They were almost crystalline in nature, any bit of light reflected off it's surface while casting a blue glow. Placing them gently in his pocket, Thoad began crawling out of his hole.

Rose watched him during all of this, and followed through the hole. Thoad was slowly walking away, towards the gate. "Where are you going?" Rose called. Thoad didn't stop, but he did slow down his pace. With a sigh, Rose tried to reason with the crushed user, "I'll remind you that you only have half of your skull on!" Thoad didn't stop.

"No. I'm not staying. I-" Thoad was having difficulties talking, for whatever reason. "I can't stay here. I'm leaving, hopefully for good," Thoad got back to walking.

Rose caught up to Thoad, attempting to reason with him once more. Her caring, nurse-like tendencies were taking over her, "Just what do you mean you're leaving?"

"I'm. Leaving." Thoad wanted to stay as far away from the city as possible.

"What about your head?" Rose was trying to get thoad concerned about his health.

"I'll have a replacement attached in Kongregate or something," Thoad hung his head, and his scalp-flap slid downwards a little bit.

Rose was outraged. "Thoad, I've been a long-time member of AG and know of it's rivalry with Kongregate. I am appauled that you would even consider going there!" Rose waited for Thoad to respond. He didn't. "How long have you been here? 1 year?" she raised her voice as she mentioned the year.

"About one and a half, yes," Thoad continued to half-sulk as another bomb dropped in the far distance.

"That's longer than most users. And I've seen you around quite often. Even though you don't speak up, I see you lurking these streets!" Rose was trying to keep herself from yelling. It wasn't working. "You can't let your home city fall like this! Not to Newgrounds! Never!" Rose shook her hands as she exclaimed. "You should be on the frontlines! You should be helping with this last-ditch defense... do... DOITF*GGOT," Rose had finally reached her peak. She snapped like a twix bar.

Thoad heard that last strew of words and finally considered something. The reason why Rose was able to use such hot flames, her knowledge of the internet, it made sense now. The nurse was now leading into a strew of memes and /b/ related chatter. It had become clear that she was from /b/ before her time in ArmorGames. "You're a /b/tard?" Thoad was almost wanting to laugh.

Rose finally had her senses flow back to her, "Wha-? No! No I'm not!" Rose looked as if she was in denial. A pedobear like stance came out of her, however, "I'm simply a bit thirsty." The retort didn't make any sense. It appeared as if Rose's logic was completely gone.

Thoad snickered. Rose's idiocy had managed to pull him out of his bad mood. He wanted to burst out laughing. More explosions were to be heard, it was apparent that rioting was going on, considering that people were running away with expensive looking furniture and other such pieces of crap. He pulled grabbed a user running away with a vase, "Hey, what are you doing running around with something so pricy looking?"

"Get out of my way, idiot! The AP is useless, get everything you could possibly carry! Go you stupid!" The user yelled. Thoad stood with another blank face.

"What's the big deal? AP isn't an item!" Thoad exclaimed towards no one in particular.

Rose thought this was a chance to get Thoad to help defend armorgames, "This is your chance! People are rioting and newf*gs are attacking! This could be your chance to become a mod!" Thoad perked up and immediately knew that Rose was right. Even if he didn't' become a mod by teh end of it all, he would have served his home city armorgames, and that was what he always truly wanted to do.

"Right! Where to first?" Thoad asked Rose, his voice filled with enthusiasm.

Rose stood silently before getting a cheeky smile, "I'm sure my house needs defending!" Rose certainly didn't let her nurse like caring get in front of her humanly selfish desires.

Thoad blindly smiled, "Yes! Of course!" and he set off towards the residencies. He would incapacitate the newgroundian to the best of his ability, and lock them in a haunted house, with no chance of escape. Not even the best escape gamers could have figured out Thoad's half-insane puzzles. It was like the impossible quiz, only instead of multiple choice, it was short answer.



Part Ten: Metal Hyena Man Part Two: Somebody to Leon

Leon pulled his hood up. He hadn't even noticed that it was down,but it he knew it had to be up. With a sigh, he slid down to a sitting position. His back was rested on a wooden pole, looking at the sky. The clouds above him glowed gray as they rolled lazily through the air. He looked forward, allowing his hood to protect his visage. The city of Armor Games lay in shambles. Many buildings had been destroyed while others burned beside them. The muted colors stood starkly under the overcast sky, every devastated detail exposed. Only a few travelers scurried through the debris-strewn streets. Few remained in the open for long.

His eyes soon fell on a group of people standing around a singed wagon. There seemed to be some conflict between a few of the people. Leon watched in silence. After a few more seconds of observation, he determined that it was two versus four. More specifically, two people were holding off two others while the final two unloaded packages of meat from the wagon. Leon considered the situation as he drew his bow. He was going to shoot someone, he knew that much, he just hadn't decided who. His targets were at least a fifty yards off â?" so far off, he realized, that Ed wouldn't even be able to feel their presence. With the distance in mind, he decided he would hit who he hit. Carefully considering his trajectory, he fired an arrow into the air. It arced through the gray glow, planting itself firmly in the chest of a meat bearer.
"Guess he won't be bringin' home the bacon!" Leon chuckled to Marley. The hyena didn't seem to understand the pun. Leon's smile faded. The humans feel into disarray, looking up for the source of the arrow. Leon fired another, which shattered harmlessly on the ground. A third shot served as cover fire as Leon rushed down the crumbling stairs. For a moment, he was gripped by indecision: He wondered whether he should leave through the dilapidated doorway or the gaping hole in the wall. He quickly decided screw it and jumped out of a window. Marley coyly tottered out through the door behind him.

Leon dashed to the end of the street. Stopping only to look both ways, he crossed an intersection. Twenty yards off, the group of people seemed to have banded together to hide under the meat wagon. Firing one more arrow for style, Leon trotted over to the wagon, hyena in lockstep by his side. The group huddled closer together as Leon stepped calmly over a corpse wearing an royal blue hoodie. He picked up a package from the wagon.
"Alright," Leon said, tearing into the white paper wrapping, "someone explain what's going on here." Leon examined the chunk of meat before tossing it to Marley. After some hesitation, a blue hoodied kid pulled himself from under the wagon, eyes on Leon's. Leon extended an armored hand. The kid looked away and pushed himself to his feet. He stood, starting at the towering figure in front of him. Leon teetered impatiently for a moment.
"Hey, kid, hurry up." Leon snapped, "Story time."
"These good people of Armor Games," the kid whined, "have been transporting these supplies away from the city in a time of disaster."
"Seems logical." Leon shrugged.
"Logical for users to save themselves in AG's darkest hour? Logical for us users to abandon our city when it is in greatest peril? We say NO! We are not logical!" The kid squealed, "We will continue to fight for the users of AG rather than the good of any one person! We at the Society for Halcyon Occupants and Population Society believe that, to help the users, we must help our-"
"Wait, the Society for...?" Leon interrupted.
"Yeah, we were kinda rushed for an acronym when the raid came." A second teen piped up as he crawled from under the wagon.
"So let me get this straight." Leon sighed, "You have a group to protect the interests of the users, which you preserve by haranguing passersby and trying to take their stuff."
"Exactly!" the new kid exclaimed. Leon raised an eyebrow.
"Look, I don't care if you're the members of the society of... whatever, unless you want to end up like your boy over there, you'll leave this meat wagon alone." Leon jerked his thumb back, indicating the dead man behind him. "Now get out from under the wagon." The AGers slowly crawled out, trying to shake the rain water from their clothes.
"Thank you, kind furry." said a woman wearing a butcher's apron, "You saved us from these hooligans. How can we ever repay you?"
"Oh, don't worry about it. It was no biggie, really. I was just passing through, and- *****, did you not hear me?" The woman turned back to stare at Leon as she began to push the wagon.
"Um, what?" she seemed confused.
"I said, if you don't wanna end up like your boy over there, you'll lay off the wagon." Leon explained.
"But he's not my boy." she pointed out.
"Look, whatever, it doesn't even-" Leon started.
"SHOPS will rise again!" the blue-hoodied kid screeched, throwing a punch at Leon without warning. Leon blocked the punch and drew his knife with one motion and put the knife to his throat with the next. He stared daggers at the kid. The kid tried to pull away. Leon let him drop to the ground.
"Alright," Leon brought his hands together with a clang, "where were we?" The woman slowly backed away from the wagon. "Right." Leon said, "Take care." He selected a few choice cuts of meat and started off under the clouds.

Leon trotted down another street, munching on a piece of meat. He passed looted out buildings, dislodged rubble and refuse, and a few bodies in varying states of consciousness. He waved as he saw a tall man with an afro scurry past him. The man didn't acknowledge Leon.
"Nice to see you again!" Leon called after him. Leon chuckled, looking around. He was on a small road, passing the construction yard. The tower on which he had confronted The Bullman had fallen. Instead of workers, groups of teens stood around the ruins, burning whatever happened to be around for fun or profit. Leon considered confronting them, but from his distance, he couldn't tell if they were Armor Gamers or raiders. Leon walked on, blue cloak keeping him hidden under the iron-gray sky. He padded past a chuck of concrete tubing as he swallowed his last bite of meat. His hyena followed behind him, slinking through the rubble. Soon, he rounded a corner onto profile lane. It was not in the best of conditions. Most of the windows were broken and many buildings were burning. Light refuse tumbling in the thin wind was the only sign of life among the looted houses. Marley pushed up against Leon's leg as he strode down the center of the gray, cobble stone street. The houses rose high on either side, their glass jaws gaping with neither hunger nor carelessness. Leon listened to the sound of the wind, trying to ignore the shouts and bangs permeating the city.

He reached for his knife as the shouts got louder, ready to confront whatever happened to be causing the commotion. He stalked around a house into a debris-strewn alley off the main lane. There, his eyes fell upon a group of humans engaged in fisticuffs. Two for two. Upon closer inspection, Leon concluded that neither faction was raiders. A blonde-haired pimply faced boy in a crisp, blue and white jacket punched at a blue-hoodied kid with imprecise ferocity. Beside him, a soft-faced Mexican sporting a mustache, green officer's outfit and a buzzcut threw a solid punch to a second kid. Leon chuckled as the blonde boy screamed with rage, punching and clawing at one of his attackers. Two SHOP kids tried to pull him off as he mercilessly pounded the reeling teen. Seeing a lull in the action, the mustached kid reached for his belt. He pulled a knife from an unseen sheath, threatening the SHOPS members.
"He's got a knife!" one shouted.
"Get him!" another barked, turning to run. In moments, they scattered, except the one being beaten by the blonde kid. The Mexican sheathed his knife as the blonde threw him to the ground. Sitting on his chest, he begun to punch him in the face. Leon took that as his que. He dashed through the alley, armor clanking.
"Kid," he said, putting his hand on the blonde kid's shoulder "what do you think you're doing?"
"He attacked me!" the kid shouted with a Texas drawl, eyes fixated on the knife in Leon's hand. Leon stooped over and picked up a chunk of rubble.
"This'll be faster." he growled. The Mexican turned away. Leon threw his arm in front of his face as blood flew through the air. The blonde dropped the rubble, panting as the SHOPS member lay bleeding. Leon inspected his arm. His left vambrace was spattered with blood, but it was nothing that a little polishing wouldn't take care of. He turned around to see the Mexican kid facing away from the grisly scene, hands over his ears. Leon tapped him on the shoulder.
"Maybe you should let him carry the knife." Leon said as he yanked his knife from the blonde kid's hand. "What's going on here, anyway?"
"We were on our way to the Amusement Park when these *******s jumped us!" the blonde snarled.
"Said they needed our stuff." the Mexican added.
"Yeah, said it was the good of AG." the blonde spat. Leon raised an eyebrow.
"Said that they use resources to help, so all things being the same, they should have any resources they come across." the Mexican stated. Leon thought for a moment.
"Wait..." he said slowly "what's at the Amusement park?"
"We heard they had some pretty good flame bunkers there." The blonde perked up.
"All the paranoid types hang out there." the Mexican explained. Leon narrowed his eyes.
"Stay safe, kiddies." he laughed suddenly, darting away.


Round 10 Part 2

After fighting for what seemed like hours, the trolls all of a sudden turned around and started heading away from Crimson. He shot another flame in the air to get their attention, but they all seemed to ignore it. He saw them all converging back into the city towards a center point. He pulled out his map to try and figure out where they were headed. He put away his scroll quickly after realizing what was going on, and with a rocket spell he was off to his house, for he knew that soon it would be in danger. As he returned to the Aristocrats Alley his fears were only confirmed as many users and raiders alike were on the streets burning and ransacking the manors, and castles, and from what Crimson could tell even some of the aristocrats were helping with the ransacking as well, but the scene was too chaotic for him to be sure of anything. He shot himself over towards his keep which was "conveniently" half-way down the alley. He sent a few of his mini-Sasquatch's at some of the raiders who were attacking some of his friends houses to help them out before he reached the doorstep. His keep was left in good shape since it was built for this sort of situation, but it wouldn't stay that way, so he had to act fast. He walked into the door, with it turning to liquid around him, and then immediately solidifying behind him. He opened his chest of supplies that he kept near his bed hoping to find something that could help.
"Good thing I held on to this one" He said as he pulled out a scroll. He ran up the stairs to the roof, unraveling the scroll as he went. Making a small gesture, he summoned a small army of gunmen from storm the house 3, who had been modified to protect his keep in case of emergency. With this done he used a play sound spell which turned on the song Weredragon by Burn7 as his battle music(which incidentally he got from newgrounds in the first place). The raiders came forth in large numbers, done raiding many of the others homes in the alley. Crimson had very little trouble dispatching these raiders with his offensive spells, and gunmen to protect the keep, taking down multiple at a time, before the tankmen rolled in. He had very little that could damage their tanks directly, with even his most explosive spells only being fragmentary, throwing smalls shards at the thick tank armor. He pulled out a fresh scroll that was on him, and scribbled down a quick spell to deal with them, and with his best efforts he put together a small shoop da whoop laser since it was the first thing he could find on google. Aiming his hand at the tank, he simply blinked with a sudden
"IMMA FIRIN MA LAZAR" shouted from his palm which immediately let out a blast of blue energy that demolished one of the tanks that was attacking his keep. He summoned a small group of Sasquatch down at ground level to keep them busy while he made a modified version of the gunmen code, while shooting a LAZAR or two from time to time to slow down the tanks. What he came up with were a squad of rocketmen who could deal with the tanks for him. His defense force at this point seemed capable of dealing with most raiders, with all of the trolls concentrated elsewhere from what he could tell. He knew he would be needed elsewhere, and with another shot of his rocket spell he was off towards the bank to see what the situation was, and if he could help out with anything.


Mea Culpa

The City of Armorgames was burning. The Freemarket had been nuked. The bank had fallen, and with that the very foundations of activity in the city, nay, the whole land, had been destroyed. For better or worse, the Armor Point was the motivator, the catalyst, the source of meaning to the day-in-day-out toil that was the life of any Armor Gamer who ventured within the city's walls.

Strop stood, lost, amidst the wordless noise of streets being torn apart. A disparate bunch without their leader, the moderators were either missing or completely overwhelmed, so without anybody to look to, the folk of AG were convinced that doom was nigh. Strop felt like turning his back on everything and disappearing somewhere, far, far away, perhaps even leaving this universe behind and staying entirely in the 'real world'. That was what his mother would have wanted. It was what he once did, a long time ago, when as a much younger, less assured little colt, some kids had kicked him out of their playgroup. Some kids from Newgrounds.

"Hey guys," he had said to the five or so kids he had encountered, while they plotted to start some kind of clan. "Can I join in?"

"Oh look," one of the older kids said, "It's a thing. Let's destroy it!"

And about three seconds later they all had various rockets and grenades and explosives in their hands, which they then proceeded to toss at the hapless Strop. At the time he thought they were just playing, so he kept coming back. But again and againd they shoved him aside with new ways of 'killing him', until he could take no more and collapsed on the ground, at which point they ignored him and went back to plotting their imaginary empires. When he finally had the strength to crawl away, he just locked himself inside his own room for two days, and silently, as a ninja does, slipped away into the darkness.

Funny how things turned out, however unrelated, the nightmare would come back to haunt him. Only this time he was Strop, the moderator. He had responsibilities to claim, too many of them to count right now, but at least he could start with one. If only he had a way to communicate to everybody...

...he vaguely remembered leaving the soopahdoopahawesometasticmegamegafone behind in the rush to escape the Amphitheater.

Minutes later, a black blur bounced between the walls of the ghettos and soared over apartment rooftops. Ears pinned back from the wind, Strop kept his head down and galloped as fast as his limbs could take him. Surely some of the places would be less susceptible to the onslaught of trolls and new***s, and if he knew this city, the Atrium would be one of them. With no administrator access, the communications and news broadcast tower would be off-limits to him, but they did leave the ban scaffolding right where it had been erected.

Strop clambered atop the scaffolding and peered across the Atrium. It was, thankfully, largely intact, despite the influx of trolls trying to disrupt the preexisting combative activities that went on daily within its walls. Some of the trolls had been engaged, most obviously by the white knights who took great pleasure in denouncing trolls, others by the hapless newbies who couldn't tell 'srs biznis' from 'lulz'. But many others had been baffled by the relative lack of impact their arrival had made, and stood, sullen and wilting, on the sidelines, trying to bash at the walls but finding them fairly flame and idiot proof, they barely chipped the paintwork.

Strop raised the 'fone, and took a breath. "Ahem." There was no response. Strop peered at the 'fone.

"Oh, I forgot to turn it on," he muttered, flicking a switch, keying the trigger, then taking another breath. "Attention everybody!"

Even above all the noise of panic in the city, Strop's mega-amplified voice penetrated the Atrium, stunning everybody within into silence. Now that he had their attention, Strop realised that the users in this venue would be among the most hardened, the most involved of AG citizens, and most of them were still here for they cared not about the AP nor its demise. Many of these users were made of the mettle that he might be able to depend on to make a stand in these times.

Or rather, that he might have been able to depend on were the situation not so far gone. "As you know by now, the city of ArmorGames is under attack. It affects most, if not the entire city. The ArmorPoint is indeed valueless. There are no administrators around to deal with this problem, but we are trying to contact them."

Inwardly, Strop cringed, because he knew there was no real way to contact them. It was only the AG moderators' traditional secrecy about the moderator operations that prevented the users from understanding the true direness of the situation.

"In the meantime, I'm sure many of you would want to know why this is happening. Some of the sequence of events is still unclear. But what I can say as that of the parts we know, some decisions were made and actions taken that turned out to contribute to this adverse outcome. For those decisions, I take responsibility."

There was a collective gasp, and now all eyes were fixed on Strop. He took a final breath before declaring:

"I have shirked my responsibilities as a moderator and have failed to act in a way that ensures the safety of the citizens of ArmorGames. This is not befitting of the way of moderation. Thus effective immediately, I tender my resignation as a moderator, to be verified formally by the administration as soon as is possible."

Amidst the sound of explosions, flames and crumbling brick, there was a shocked silence. Then the users started yelling protestations, outrage, indignation.

"Whaddya mean retire Strop, we need you now!"

"Yeah, if you made this mess, at least fix it!"

"I want my mommy!"

As one they all surged forward, shaking the scaffolding, rattling its flimsy joints. Strop struggled to keep balance as the platform lurched from side to side, until with a creak, then a series of snaps and clangings, the scaffolding gave way entirely, platform and all.

"OSHIIIIIIII-" Strop yelled into the din as he plummeted into a massive splintering of wood, the ringing of rivets and crossbolts, and a cloud of splinters and sawdust. He rose from the wreckage, coughing, trying to clear the dust, only to find the crowd, trolls and users alike, had circled around him and were closing in. Once again, Strop was completely unsure about what to do with himself, and considered resigning himself to whatever fate the mob might bestow upon him. So he did the one act left to him, which was to curl up in a fetal position and cover his head with his arms.

"BACK OFF YOU SILLY BUGGERS," an almighty cry arose from the rear, and ragdolls started flying left and right. Strop uncovered his head and peeked up, to see everybody else turning around, trying to spot the source of the new ruckus. All he could discern was the heavy thwack of the flat of a very large blade slapping bodies aside, and, he could have sworn, the hair-raising snap of a whip and riding crop.

Suddenly, the ring of people around him buckled and broke, and in strode two very familiar figures.

"Asherlee? Dragonmistress? Is that really you?" Strop felt it necessary to ask, despite the fact that there really weren't any two characters quite like the two that stood before him now.

"Heya, Strop, long time no see," the eight foot burly Amazon (or was that Spartan?) woman boomed, clapping Strop on the shoulder so hard it sent a cloud of dust flying from his suit. "Looks like quite the pickle you've landed in, huh?"

"You really have been a naughty pony haven't you?" the dominatrix chimed in, waving her riding crop in front of Strop's face. Inexplicably, Strop broke out in a cold sweat.

"Yes, yes, in a manner of speaking," he stammered, glancing around at the crowd of users and trolls, still surrounding them, but not quite sure what to make of this development. Both Asherlee and Dragonmistress placed their hands on their hips and laughed, a deep, sonorous evil laugh right from the secret order of Breakfastarians that rattled through his ears and would have shook Strop's brain to bits, had he not been familiar with the evil laugh technique. Shakily, he stood, and saw that apart from himself and the two ladies, everybody else had been reduced to a writhing, frothing mess on the floor of the Atrium.

"Well, that should buy us some time," Asherlee said, scraping the blades of her swords on each other. "We should go somewhere else."

"That is, somewhere else that hasn't been burnt down or blown up," Dragonmistress rejoined, glancing significantly at Strop.

"Uh. Yeah. Nice to see you guys too. I'll, uh, fill you in on the way I guess." Strop glanced at the whip and riding crop. For some reason, they made him very nervous.


The newly united trio wound their way into the deep and dark alleyways of the forgotten rows of apartments, all inhabited by the lurkers and layabouts who cared not about the affairs of the city at large. Here, at least there was some peace and quiet.

"So you don't know where any of the other moderators are?" Asherlee and Dragonmistress both wore concerned looks on their faces.

"Well, I know sort of where some of them are, and I know what some of them are supposed to be doing, but we're all over the place. So I guess no, not really."

The two women turned to each other. "It's always been a problem, hasn't it. But I thought with all the bustling and activity that something else was going on."

"Uh," Strop ventured. "We were trying to fix that problem, actually. We held a tournament."

"A tournament? To find a new moderator? What happened to the Wheel of Moderation?"

Strop shrugged. "'voidy broke it."

"Is that why he isn't around?" Dragonmistress felt the need to ask.

"Oh that, no, Dank said he just up and left. Something about relationship issues."

"So, what happened to the tournament?" Strop knew what they were actually asking. He sheepishly waved his arms around.

"This happened. And we still haven't found a new moderator."

Asherlee and Dragonmistress stared at Strop for a long second. Then they burst into laughter.

"Hahaha, that's messed up." Asherlee hooted. "You'd better get it all under control before Carlie gets back, otherwise she's not gonna have a city to ge-" she was suddenly cut off by a sharp elbow from Dragonmistress.

"Nobody's supposed to know about that yet!" Then they tried to straighten their faces, and ended up giggling instead.

Strop cocked his brow. "To what?"

"Oh, to come home to," Dragonmistress replied, putting on her best innocent face, which, considering she was a dominatrix, wasn't very innocent. "But more importantly this problem needs to be dealt with."

"I know," Strop lamented, wringing his hands. "But there's just too much going on and I'm fresh out of ideas. I hosted a tournament to find a new moderator and the city got blown up. I tried to save the bank and it was taken. Now the town's being sacked and burnt and I don't know where most of the moderators are. I even tried retiring and you can see how that went." He threw up his hands and looked forlorn, until a giant fist clocked him upside his head, sending him into the nearest wall.

"Silly Stroppy," Asherlee chastised, cracking her knuckles. "This isn't the ninja horse I know. The real Strop would have simply gone and done something anyway."

Strop peeled himself off the wall, rubbing his nose. "Well, that's what I was doing and look where it got us. I'm a joke as a moderator." The same giant fist sent him into another wall.

"Now lookie here Stroppy," Asherlee lectured him in her sternest tone (which was frighteningly stern), "It's not in your nature to think like that, so don't start now. And besides, we got your back now."

"And if you ever doubt yourself, I'll whip you until you stop." Dragonmistress twirled her whip menacingly.

"Thanks guys, this is actually the first time I've received positive feedback from anybody in months." Strop sniffed and wiped a sentimental tear from his eye. Then his eyes cleared, he punched his fists together with a bone-crunching crack. "I need you guys to go check out the situation at the bank to see if we can take it back."

Asherlee and Dragonmistress bumped fists. "We're on it!"

"Great, I really appreciate it. I'll swing by as soon as I can," Strop called over his shoulder, already running off.

"And where are you going?" Asherlee bellowed after the rapidly disappearing ninja.

"To find the other mods," Strop managed, before he bounced around a corner and out of sight.



The following was written by Hectichermit

Hectichermit stood in the shadow of tree lazy deep in thought about a forgotten place, A low echo rippled across his ears as minutes passed the echo grew into a beating thunder until his concentration could no longer ignore the sounds the green vast country around him disappeared in a puff of smoke and a cold dull gray walls of a round room.

The hermit wandered towards the doors of the Imaginarium when a bang shattered the crystal glass entry, a feature there for others to view ones thought projections now scattered into shards across the floor. There stood the simplest crude creatures in the world of Internetland they are everywhere showing off by constantly fighting....Stickmen. The hermit knew of their insidious appetite for battle so he did the one thing they couldn't understand become motionless.

As they stood looking upon Hectichermit their confusion grew into an agitation an angry they infuriated them they charged towards the hermit but as they approached they crossed the Threshold. As the stickmen approached the hermit the world around them grew into a black void, dazed by the sudden changed in the world around them, their sight fell upon a small light in the distance they walked towards it. A pearl sized gem glowing with a soft light one of them picked it up and was attacked by another stickman.

The hermit sat in the shadows watching them hover over the gem one by one, he projected the image of himself onto each stickman right at the moment they saw each other eventually they killed each other from these illusions. The last one picked up the gem from what he thought was the hermit but was actually his friends cold dead body. When his blood stained hands touched the gem the room returned to normal. While the last stickman looked upon his fallen comrades, the hermit thrusted a syringe containing a powerful drug into his back that knocked him out cold. Hectichermit escaped threw the Imaginarium doorway before reinforcements came...


Smoke and Mirrors

A wall of fire, in all its blazing glory, greeted Strop from afar. Sitting atop the chimney of a gutted house, Strop could already feel the heat from the conflagration that used to be the Freemarket. As many acres as it had covered was now the largest bonfire in ArmorGames' history, eclipsing even that of the giant tower that was mostly-Gail's-shopping-frenzy.

Strop sighed. In a manner of speaking, Klaus had been right. Originally the bastion of people-powered free-market idealism, it was supposed to be the place for trade and community-based improvement. Supposed to be. He hadn't been up this way for so long he didn't even know how long it had been, and that said as much about what this area had become as anything else. But now none of that mattered. Every stall that sold every worthless trinket in a neverending stream of unrequited hopes had gone up in flames and the smoke that rose in giant plumes to merge with the great banks of black storm clouds that hung menancingly over the city.

Keeping low, Strop bolted through the infernal corridors, trying not to think about whether everybody had evacuated in time. His purpose now lay ahead of him, and he had to at least first finish surveying the extent of the chaos, if he was to even begin figuring out what to do about it. Pushed by an ever-growing urgency, his legs carried him as swiftly as the unicorns, and soon he was racing through the stricken streets that were the shopping quarter, headed towards one of the busiest areas of them all, the Tavern.


Cops and robbers

The following was written by Efan

The room was a dark, grotty affair, one grimy window, one falling apart bed. Efan was the unrecognisable pile of orange fur on the ground, next to the bed. Without warning he sprang upwith a start.

"CRAP! "I'm late". Efan grabbed his keys and shoved them into his pockets and pulled on his apron, the apron smearing his tousled fur with last nights vomit and spit. The floors gave their usual creak when he noticed a distinct lack of sound; namely the snoring from all the drunks he "forgot" to force out of the bar room. Efan went and stood behind his usual spot in the bar and waited. And waited. And - "CRASH"! A large red tennis ball broke through the window to his right and landed in he fire place. Watching too many action movies, Efan soon recognised this as a grenade; or at least he did after the **** thing exploded.

When Efan regained consciousness his left ear heard the screams and the sounds of deranged laughter. He wiped the grit from his eyes and staggered behind what was now half a bar and tried to make sense of the goings on. After regaining some strength from some nuts and a shot of whiskey he peered outside. The carnage wasn't hard to see as the entire street had been devastated by an attack of mass destuction. There was group of soldiers at the edge of the street laughing, as Efan crept closer he thought. There is only one force that consists mostly of greasy, high pitched teens: NEWGROUNDS. Efan had known that the tension between Armor games and newgrounds had been high for a long time, but they were invading? Glaring at the soldiers, Efan decided to teach those scrawny punks a lesson. For now more then ever, was a chance for Efan to be a hero, someone of recognition.

It was a total of twenty two minutes before Efan was ready, armed to the teeth with three Molotove cocktails and a medium sized bottle opener, he walked into the street and yelled, "Hey"! "suck on this losers"! Lit a cocktail and threw it, where it was shot out of the air by one of the teens.

"Is that all you've got"!? Yelled one of them, showing of his pathetic cliche.

"**** kids and their first person shooters"! Thought Efan as he fumbled with another one.

As he did so, the newgrounds "soldiers" were wondering what to do. "I think we should shoot him Mikey"! said the youngest.

"Shut up"! "You have to call me by my user name"! Said the eldest, a skinny lad that had clearly never held a weapon before.

"Okay killer awesome dude, do you think we should shoot him"?

A third one piped up: "but we've never shot anyone before"!

"Well this is our chance"! "come on"

"I'm sure I doused this cloth properly" Efan muttered as he tipped the bottle upside down."There we are" *He looks up to see them surrounding him and trying to look menacing*

*With a sudden cloud of smoke, a moving blur appears out of no where dishing out punches and kicks. Strop appears with a stressed look upon his face surrounded by moaning newgrounds soldiers*

"This isn't a good time to play hero, I need you to get as many people as you can to the Amusement Park."


Don't Feed the Trolls

With the Tavern temporarily safe, Strop knew that at least there was some chance to organise an evacuation, starting with what would most likely be a safehaven: the Armusement Park. Seeing as it was the designated no-commerce zone, the collapse of the AP was utterly irrelevant to its goings on. Likewise, the regulars who actually inhabited the area were largely carefree folk whose aspiration in life could be summed up as to count sequentially to a hundred without being interrupted by a moderator (something the moderators found endlessly amusing, and therefore felt the need to constantly interrupt them). So long as the adjacent areas remained safe, Strop could at least attend to as many other matters as possible (whatever those were), and let the word of the temporary safe-have spread virally, as it always did.

There was an almighty crashing, the horrendous sound of brick walls collapsing and stone being crushed under the weight of an incredible stampede. Then the ground started shaking violently, throwing Strop to the ground. Covering his ears, he turned around and felt his blood freeze. Rushing past, were a horde of trolls. But not just any trolls, gargantuan beasts at least one thousand times their original size, each standing taller than most of the buildings, walking through them with their incredible bulk as if they were nothing. Each troll bore the scars of previous burns, and Strop realised that they had been flamed by some desperate fool, or even fools. And that was why one should never feed the trolls.

"Looks like I spoke too soon," Strop muttered to himself, before he realised that this utterance was also premature, for if anything, it seemed these mutant trolls were making a beeline for the biggest objective of them all: Armor Castle. Which meant that they would be mowing down the Armor Courts next.

What started off as a plan loosely based around a hunch turned into a worst-case scenario, and winging it on a prayer. But before he could even think about defending the Courts, Strop had to beat the mutant horde there first.


Round 10 part 3: Timothy 6:10

When Crimson arrived to the bank, the situation was worse then he had expected. The area had been completely captured and fortified by raiders and trolls. At this moment in time he realized that he could do nothing more here, and that his abilities would best be served elsewhere, but before he took off, he saw in the corner of his eye two people standing on a rooftop, on the opposite side of the courtyard in front of the bank. He pulled out what could be described as a teleportation spell, and with what looked like a gang sign he appeared slightly in the air behind them, falling then immediately toppling across a number ceiling tiles, before being grabbed by his throat.
"Whose are you!" the burly one assertively whispered.
"well actually I was wondering the same about you bu-" Crimson tried to explain.
"Just tell me who you are!" she demanded abruptly.
"Crimson, Wood King" he answered.
"A veteran eh?" she said as she let go of him.
"If that's what you want to call me." he stated, adding" If I'm not mistaken you two must be AsherLee and DragonMistress then?"
"What gave us away?" AsherLee asked.Crimson couldn't tell whether she was being sarcastic or not, so he responded anyways.
"last time I checked 8 foot tall women and dominatrix's are in short supply around here"
"How about we save the introductions for later?" DragonMistress interjected, gazing at the army below them.

10,811 posts

When I'm Gone

For all his agility, a man-sized ninja horse who had to bounce over buildings was easily matched by a building-sized mutant troll who could walk straight through them. Strop raced over the rooftops but frustratingly, he could barely keep the backs of the troll horde in sight. Frustration turned to desperation as they neared the courts, for if nobody was there to stop them, they would simply walk all the way through the Courts, then up to the Castle, and then-

The farthest troll suddenly reared back, roaring and clutching its face before crashing to the ground, flattening a nearby shop. The other mutant trolls stood their ground, forming a circle, the momentary pause allowing Strop to scramble up the nearest building, then up the leathery arm of one of the giants. With a confused grunt, it turned its knobbly head just in time for Strop to spring off its shoulder, rising up to eye-level, summon his banhammer, and slam it directly into the troll's temple. As it fell, Strop rode the bumpy length of its body until he slid off the troll's toes and landed in the middle of the courtyard of the Great Courts, where he came face to face with the spaminator bot, Flipski, laser ready to shoop again.

"YOU SHALL NOT PASS", Flipski blared, firing more bolts at the closing trolls. Yet as quickly as he felled them, the trolls merely shook their heads, stood back up and resumed their inexorable advance.

"Flipski, they're mutant trolls." Strop yelled. "They must've been flamed and come back, now even a perma won't stop them, they keep coming back for more!"

"BANNING," was all Flipski said, before he fired again. Scratching his head, Strop racked his brains for any more effective solutions but since this was the end result of feeding the troll, the only hope they had was to keep banning the trolls until they gave up. That was when he spotted the brain in a jar, in its habitual chuck-wagon, nestled behind Flipski's leg.

"Moe!" Strop almost fainted with relief. "We could use some help!" If there was a coolest head in the moderation team, it had to be Moe, and not just because of the hydro cooling system for his nutrient goop, which was normally reserved for supercomputers. If anything, he was the one who built the Courts, he of all mods would be the best equipped to save it. "Can't you get out here and use telekinesis or something?"

The trolls advanced another step forward, now threatening the first of the Court houses. The valves on Flipski's shoulder started whistling, steam blowing out of them. "He's overheating!"

But all Moe could manage was a monotonous, "I can't."

Strop threw a glance over his shoulder, and saw a troll take a clumsy swipe at Flipski, the massive hand scraping up cobblestones and almost blowing him over from the force of the wind. The troll stumbled, and leant against a Courthouse, causing several windows to shatter and part of the wall to cave in.

"Moe, this is no time for stage-fright!"

Moe still didn't budge. "I'm sorry Strop, I can't. I've lost my powers."

Flipski let loose another volley into the nearest troll, but the shot faded, the blow-off valves already glowing red. The other trolls picked themselves up again, and advanced, shoulders clashing with each other. Around them, the Court houses started crumbling, crushed under the legs and bodies of the trolls.

"What do you mean!?" Strop screamed, almost incoherently, as bricks and shards of glass fell around them with an almighty clatter.

"I can't do anything. It's been this way for months. I hoped the problem would fix itself before anybody found out, but..." Moe stopped, partially drowned out by the thunderous footsteps of dozens of trolls standing around them, not a hundred paces away. A sickening realisation hit Strop, all the worse for the fact that it was too late to do anything about it now.

"Darn it!" he shouted. "Darn it, darn it, darn it! If only I'd taken the time to act on my suspicions sooner."

"And what is that?" Moe asked.

"Where were you at the time Zophia threw the F-bomb at me and enacted rule 63?"

There was a moment's pause punctuated by a cheyow and a resounding crash. "Of all the things it could have been," was all probably-female-Moe could manage. "No wonder I had to take a break from my thesis."

"Great. And I don't even know how Zophia and Ubertuna are doing." Strop scuffed the ground with his hoof, every major organ in his body sinking. "Well, we've got until Flipski's laser gives out. Then-"

"OVERHEATED. COMMENCING COOLING CYCLE," Flipski blared, shaking his laser cannon arm futilely. "You got any other tricks, Flipski?" Strop pleaded. Flipski shook his head. Strop gritted his teeth, wielding that banhammer that had served him through thick and thin, Thor.

"Then I guess we'll just have to do as much as we can. At least die trying!" he muttered, preparing to make a last-ditch dash at the nearest troll, already lumbering towards the trio. But a massive metal arm barred his path.

"HALT." Flipski instructed Strop, who turned to him confused. Wordlessly, Flipski lifted Moe's jar from its wagon in one gauntleted mecha-hand, and handed it to Strop.

"Flipski, please don't do this," Moe begged.

Around them, the trolls jostled, all trying to be the first one to make it past the other. The ground shook with their struggle. Flipski was already drawing a circle around the ring placed squarely in the middle of his chest. The one that was surrounded by the black and yellow danger stripes, that had written, in ALL CAPS, the very clear instruction "DO NOT PRESS". With a faint whirr, an almost invisible covering over the shiny red button retracted, and Flipski placed his hand over it. Moe immediately redoubled the pleading.

"Flipski, aren't we best friends? Weren't we going to take a trip up the coast after all this was over? Just you and me and the chuck wagon? Who's going to pull the wagon if you go? What will I do without you?"

"TAKE CARE OF MOE," Flipski instructed Strop, who could only blink at Flipski with a frown of concern. "Flipski, what are you doing?" he protested. "There has to be another way." Flipski shook his head. Moe protested also, but Flipski just kept shaking his head. One of the trolls braced, causing a great crack to appear in the cobblestones, and shoved the other trolls to the side, sending them into the courthouses on the side, reducing them to rubble and clouds of dust.

"THIS IS THE ONLY WAY. NOW GO," Flipski said, turning his attention to the breakaway troll, covering the gap to them in two great strides. Strop had just enough time to swing his banhammer upwards with one hand, barely deflecting a meaty fist ten times his size, sending it into the ground where it burrowed so deep the tiles around it splintered like chalk. Strop cast one final look over his shoulder, to see Flipski standing there, stock steady, hand poised, as the other trolls started to move also, coming for Strop and Moe, for Flipski, and past him, towards the greatest court, and the gateway to Armor Castle. Then, cradling Moe's jar in his arms and ignoring his bleatings of "Do not want", Strop dug his hooves in, and ran.

With a resolute finality, Flipski pressed his DO NOT PRESS button.


There Was Nothing We Could Do

The scene Strop returned to was worse than he imagined. The bank, wrath once raining down upon invaders, was once again doing the same, only now upon the straggling defenders still in the area. The whole courtyard was ablaze with wrecks and incendiary bombs. The acrid fumes almost overwhelmed Strop as he staggered between them, trying to make sense of the situation. "Ash? DM?" he called, futilely, his voice drowned out by the roar of fire and explosions. Then he looked at the pillars, and saw some familiar figures.

Asherlee lay slumped, propped against the base of the pillar. The Dragonmistress was frantically dabbing at her face, an unusual gesture, then alternatively slapping her across it, a gesture far more familiar. Above them, another hooded figure stood, attention focused wholly on the grand double doors. Strangely, it seemed it was now trying to keep things from coming out.

"Ash!" Strop ran over as fast as his shaky legs could take him, before he realised why DM was dabbing at her face. Blood ran freely down it, following the ridges of her angular cheekbones and dripping from her chin.

"There's too much!" DM yelled, turning to Strop. "You're a doctor, aren't you?"

Strop took another breath, trying to clear his head. "Wait, what's the situation?" he asked. He took another look at the hooded figure, and made a guess as to who it was. "Crimson, is that you?"

"I can't hold this door for much longer!" Crimson shouted, not turning from the door. "I'm running out of scripts!" Immediately Strop knelt, brushing aside Asherlee's hair. "Ash, can you hear me?" Ash only moaned, her eyes barely flickering. Strop simultaneously rejoiced that Ash was at least alive, and cursed his lack of pen torch, but quickly moved to his next priority. "What happened, DM?" he asked while combing over Asherlee's scalp.

"I don't know, you tell me," DM shrugged. "We were making a charge when in the distance there was a giant explosion, everything just shook so much... we thought you were gone. And then when I looked back, everybody was coming out and we... there was nothing we could do."

Strop shook his head. "There was nothing I... nevermind." Strop stood back up. "It's okay for now, it's just a cut from the edge of her headband."

"What?!" DM stared, and pointed, "But there's so much-"

"It's fine, scalp bleeds always look worse than they are! Just apply more pressure!" he grabbed DM's hanky and stuffed it under her headband. "She's probably had a concussion." Strop looked around, biting his lip. Reassuring as that news might have been, the situation was still dire. Crimson's defences were going to give out any minute. He didn't know whether Asherlee was going to wake up or when, or whether her spine was still intact. The last thing he wanted was to render the formidable Amazon (or was it Spartan?) paralytic for life, yet if he didn't do something soon, it wouldn't even matter.

"Asherlee!" he yelled. "Can you hear me?"

"I already tried that," DM informed him, unnecessarily.

"I know!" Strop snapped back, "But do you have any other ideas?"

"I'm not even a moderator!" DM's voice went up a notch. "If you'd remembered that before sending us here, perhaps Asherlee wouldn't be like-"

"That's not fair, DM," Strop cut her off. "Everybody is going through hell out there. I'm only alive now myself because Flipski is d-"

A burly hand clapped over Strop's mouth. "Shaddup, girls," Ash grunted, heaving herself into a seated position. Instantly, DM and Strop were back at Asherlee's side. "You're okay!"

"Of course," groggily, Asherlee tried to stand, but fell over again. "Nuts, can't feel my legs."

"Easy, Ash, you've had a concussion." Strop propped himself under one shoulder, DM sliding under the other. "Let's get outta here before we decide the next move."

Ash hung her head. "I won't accept this defeat, it's shameful."

"Hush, Ash," DM chided. "It's not defeat until we're all dead."

"Darn straight," Ash laughed slightly, then coughed. "Crimson!" Strop shouted, "We're moving out!"

"About time," Crimson shot back. "I'm outta barriers!" He threw one last scroll at the doorway, before bolting away from it. Moments later, the doors exploded outwards in a ball of fire and smoke.

"LET'S GET OUT OF HERE," DM shouted. "Crimson, see if you can get them off our tail!"

Crimson frowned, then sniffed in disdain. "Don't know if I can, but I'll try. What next?"

Strop spent one crucial moment thinking. Then he declared: "Round all the civilians up, and get them to the Armusement Park. We're gonna evacuate AG."


Bruised, battered and burnt, a motley bunch of moderators and ex-moderators poked their heads over the fence surrounding the estate that held the Armor Academy. The once pristeen grounds were scorched and littered with debris, the fixtures vandalised beyond repair. And surrounding the main campus building was a rampant crowd, at least two score thick. They beat futilely at the walls, throwing rocks and burning trash at the windows, in an effort to break in.

"My bet is that Dank is in there," Strop mouthed to the others. The others nodded (except for Moe, who was still too torn up by Flipski's deed to do anything). Then they frowned. "You want to get in?"

Strop stared at them. "What, don't you?"

Dragonmistress shrugged. "Sure we do. It's just, how?"

Strop blinked at the impenetrable mass of people. "We bust through."

"And how do you plan to get out?"

"Oh," Strop waved his hand dismissively, "I've planned for that. It should be just fine." He cracked his knuckes, then swing his arms around. "Right now, it's time to break out an ability I thought I'd never use seriously."

DM and Asherlee stared at Strop, who was now stretching his legs and stamping on the ground. "Are you serious?" Then they burst out laughing, "You can't be serious. That's a joke so old we can't even remember who started it!"

"Well, you weren't around to see what I did with it after you left!" Strop raised his arms and lowered his stance. "All aboard!"

Then, precariously holding everybody atop his back, he uttered the magical phrase: "I AM MODMOBILE!!!"


With a smash, a crash, and a thunderous cloud of people and brick, the modmobile plowed into the wall of the main campus, blasting straight into the corridor. Inside, it was strangely quiet for a few moments, the sound of the siege outside muffled by the thick stone.

Asherlee was the first to recover, picking herself up and inspecting the wreck. "Hey, you guys okay?"

Dragonmistress was next to emerge from under a pile of bodies, holding Moe's jar up. "Yeah, Moe's jar is fine too. Strop?"

But Strop lay sprawled on the floor, unresponsive. Evidently being the modmobile, he took the brunt of the impact, and had knocked himself out.

Around them, the invaders started stirring, and now that they had woken, more invaders from outside realised that there was now a convenient hole in the wall, and were streaming in towards them. "That's not good," Asherlee said, picking the horsey ragdoll up and draping him across her shoulder. "C'mon, let's find Dank's office!"

With Asherlee carrying Strop and DM carrying Moe, they bolted down the corridor, the raiders in pursuit.


The women found Dank, looking about the same as he always did, holed up in his office, brooding. But as soon as he spotted them, he leapt down from his high stool faster than should be considered possible for a man of his stature.

"WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE" he roared, before he recognised the faces. "Oh hi you two. It's been a while." Then he roared again, "AND HOW DID YOU GET IN HERE?"

"Nice to see you too," Asherlee grinned, dumping the limp Strop in front of him. "This guy helped us break in, and now we're going to break out."

Dank froze, his bushy eyebrows twitching. "What do you mean, break in?"

"As in literally," DM elaborated. "Through a wall." Dank promptly flew back off the handle.

"DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT YOU'VE DONE!?" he roared, turning purple before he went ashen and started mumbling what sounded very much like rapid prayers.

"Yeah we kinda figured that out when the raiders started pouring through the hole in the wall," DM said. "So let's pack and go!"

For a moment, Dank said nothing, and in the background the sound of approaching footsteps reverberated through the hallway. "A good captain goes down with his ship," he finally declared.

"Don't be silly, Dank," Asherlee implored him. "We need you, we need everybody now."

"And how are we supposed to get out?" Dank flung his arms to the side. "Do you know how many hundreds of people there are? We can't handle them all!"

Asherlee prodded the limp Strop with her foot. "Ponyboy has a plan."

Dank turned Strop over, then, without bothering to take off his heavy plate gauntlet, he slapped Strop across the face with a resounding clang.

Strop twitched, the sat bolt upright, rubbing his face. "Was it something I said? Oh, hi Dank. Deja vu huh?"

His monologue was abruptly cut off by Dank grabbing him by the throat and vigorously shaking. "YOU IDIOT, WHY DID YOU HAVE TO BUST IN THROUGH THE WALLS?"

"It seemed like a good idea at the time," Strop protested, between shakes.


Outside, the haphazard drumming of feet running helter-skelter, punctuated by whoops and the tinkling of broken glass and spreading fire grew steadily louder.

Strop looked around the room. "Hm. Come to think of it, I asked them to come but I never specified how. That might be bad."

"Who?" Dank shook Strop again.

Strop looked blankly at Dank. "Who else?"

Outside, the heavy oak door to the office started bouncing on its hinges, assaulted by a dozen fists and feet.

"In half a minute, your 'lan' is going to be for nothing," Dank warned Strop. "So you better come up with something else, or we're all going down with this ship."

Strop wrung his hands, before punching them together. "No, we have all trodden the moderator's path. I placed my trust in the teamwork that kept this place running in the hardest of times."

"Look where that teamwork has gotten us!" Dank retorted.

"Everything will be fine!" Strop shot back, looking like he was convincing himself as much as anything else. The pounding went up a notch, and cracks started appearing in the door.

Suddenly, there was a new tapping noise, from inside the room. It was coming from behind the life-size hanging wall portrait of Dank, that sat behind his desk. Dank's shoulders slumped, his face falling as if all the air had been let out of him at once.

"No, could they have found the secret tunnels? Thus marks the doom of ArmorGames."

"Wait, that's probably," Strop started, but before he could finish, the painting fell off the wall with a clatter, and a familiar fish face poked out the hole hidden behind it.

"TADAH," Ubertuna cried. "I'm here to save the day!" He fell facefirst out of the hole, landing on the floor in a sprawling heap, and Zophia poked her head through, brandishing a crumpled note.

"You're lucky we were in when this landed," Zophia told Strop, who looked the most relieved out of all of them.

"Thanks for coming guys," Strop said. "Where's Nemo?" Zophia shrugged.

"Dunno. Still Nill, I'm guessing. We had to deal with the tentacles first."

"Let us not speak of the tentacles," Ubertuna shivered, picking himself up.

"What the hell has been going on?" Dank cocked one eyebrow. "Sounds like I missed something good."

Just then, a fist broke through one of the oak doors, sending splinters into the room. Everybody whirled around. "We gotta get outta here!"

Dank rushed to one of the cabinets, smashing it open with his hammer and bringing out a large box. "This oughta hold them up for a while," he declared, fiddling with its contents before pointing to the hole. "Go on then, let's git!"

More fists pounded through the door, and then the entire door itself crumbled, reduced to kindling. Sensing victory, the raiders on the other side roared triumphantly.

"A little help here?" Ubertuna pleaded, half-in half-out the hole, legs flailing uselessly in the air. Asherlee sunk her oversized sandal into his posterior, sending him tumbling. Then before anybody could react, she picked everybody else up one by one and threw them in. The raiders started filling the room, charging towards Asherlee. She looked down at her feet, and saw wisps of smoke emerging from the box.

"Hasta la vista, chumps," she called, smashing the hilt of her broadsword on a few skulls as she clambered into the hole after the rest, and falling to the sewers below.

A moment later, the chute filled with smoke and the roar of a mighty blast.


Don't Wait For Me

The growing crew, now consisting of Strop, Asherlee, Dragonmistress, Moe, Dank, Ubertuna and Zophia landed in knee-deep water at the bottom of the chute. Some silt and dust trickled down from above, and then there was only the occasional drip which echoed endlessly down the twisting tunnels. It was dark, almost completely black, with the exception of the occasional slit of light from the grates on the surface of the street.

"Everybody okay?" Asherlee called, to a bunch of male, female, and mechanical sounds of confirmation.

"Can you levitate?" Strop asked Moe.

"I try, but I still can't," Moe replied. Strop scooped up his jar. "Don't worry, we'll figure it out soon."

"Where are we going now?" Zophia asked.

"Armor Castle," Strop declared. "We'll regroup there, assess the situation properly and come up with a plan. Okay guys?"

"Sounds good," everybody chimed. Then everybody turned to look at 'tuna.

The fishman looked blank for a moment, until something clicked. "Ah yes, I, master of these sewers, will take you safely to the castle!" He whirled his cape around him, then spun and splashed up one of the tunnels. "Follow meeeee!"

To travel in two or three in the sewers was already difficult enough, but a whole group of seven created an indecipherable racket of sounds and splashes that overloaded the senses. Yet wading through the variable depths, they did their best to keep up with the fishman, who, having made these secret tunnels his home for years, knew them like the back of his flipper.

"We're nearly there!" he cried out, after an indeterminate period of time. Nobody could really tell what he meant, either, and they informed him to that effeect.

"No I mean it!" Ubertuna waved his arms around. "All you need to do is go left at the next intersection, take this exit and go that way and travel until you find the funny-shaped brick, then climb upwards!"

Before anybody could say anything else, there was a rumbling, then an avalanche of water as, inexplicably, a giant shark leapt out of the water, snatching 'tuna up with its jaws.


Dank lunged forward, swinging his hammer, but was hampered by the water and hit nothing but air. Similarly, the other moderators attacked, but could do nothing to match the shark, who was already swimming down the most watery part of the tunnel and fading from sight.

"DON'T WAIT FOR MEEEEEEEEE!" was the last they heard of Ubertuna, before he disappeared out of sight.

Dank picked himself up and rushed forward, but was held back by the others. "Don't!" Dragonmistress admonished. "You'll only get lost." So he kicked at the water, shouting various curses. Zophia stared blankly at the depths of the tunnels, and they all listened as the splashing faded into the distance, until it stopped completely.

Strop took a deep breath and looked at the others. But he didn't need to say anything. Everybody was thinking the same.



Nobody spoke. In the background, even several hundred metres above, the sounds of a city falling were inescapable.

"Is everybody present?"

Strop did not bother to check who spoke. He could not be bothered to remove his face from the cradle his hands formed, propped on his elbows which in turn were propped on his knees, as he sat, cross-legged, on the floor of his room. "That's kind of the problem," he mumbled bitterly. "There's not many of us to be present right now."

"Darnit Strop," Dank snarled, "That's not funny."

"You still remember that?" Strop smirked to himself. "Was a year ago, about."

"A year ago we had a shortage of moderators. Now we have an even bigger shortage of moderators. Yeah, good one." Dank swatted at the floor with his gauntlet in disgust."

Strop opened his mouth to speak, then shut it. Then opened it again. "I'm going to assume that you are being your angry self in general. Yes. That's what I'm going to do."

"Hey, can it boys," Asherlee rose slightly, before groaning and sinking back, rubbing her head, whereupon Dragonmistress resumed applying cold compresses. She in turn shot Strop and Dank a glare. "This isn't the time to argue."

Dank jerked himself to his feet, which was to say he wasn't much taller than he already was seated, but the gesture stood nonetheless. "Then what time is it? Time to sit around doing nothing? When out there, everything-" Dank waved his arm out the window, where the burgeoning clouds were tinged with the orange of the fires below, "is burning up to hell? My academy. I had to blow my academy up!"

Strop now removed his face from his hands to glare at Dank. "Dank, you're not the only one who suffered a loss today."

At this, an eletronic moaning started sounding from the voicebox of Moe. Strop winced, but Dank, oblivious, baralled on.

"That's precisely my point! How did it get like this, you tell me? How is it that a moderator would perish, like that?"

"Come on now," Dragonmistress chided Dank. "What happened to Ubertuna was unexpected. Or maybe not unexpected, but we couldn't have stopped it."

"We are moderators!" Dank started pacing back and forth. "We are defenders of the order of this land, and when even we are overwhelmed..." he choked up and went red, "Don't you see why-"

Strop rose to his feet.

"I'm going to be blunt Dank. You're not saying anything new here. We're all tired because we've been running ourselves ragged over the entire city while you've been sitting in your Academy."

Dank went from red to puce, bits of spittle frothing in his beard. "How could you be so ungrateful? I saved your life, you dumb***!"

Strop leaned over Dank, trying to press his height advantage to get Dank to shut up and listen. "You fought for and lost your Academy, but we fought for and lost everything else. The Market. The Bank. The Atrium. Even the Courts. All captured and mostly reduced to rubble. And why would that be, when we are moderators? Because we had no teamwork!"

Dank flinched, then came back stronger. "What teamwork is there to be had? It was everything I could do to make it to ArmorGames. You saw it yourself, I was chased all the way from Newgrounds! And I think it's rather rich that you would accuse me of not being a team player when you hijacked the Way of Moderation with that-"

"QUIT IT." Asherlee lurched back upright and banged the hilt of her sword on the floorboards with a massive thump. "It's already obvious. We got beaten up because we didn't have teamwork. None of us. But we need to move forward."

"How? HOW?" Dank pointed at each and everyone in the room but got no answer. "Ash, you say these things, but can you see nobody knows what to do next. Do you?"

"That's not a fair question." Asherlee bristled. "We're not even moderators right now."

"Great." Dank threw his hands up. "Just great. So who DO we have here who is a moderator?"

"Were you involved in the whole community for the past year, you shouldn't have had to ask that, Dank," Strop icily shot at him.

"Well, I'm here, now, having served in the area that nobody else touches because they're simply not equipped to!" Dank riposted, standing higher and higher on tippytoes until he was almost at Strop's chest. "And now you want me to be part of a team to solve a problem that I had nothing to do with in the first place. Do you have a suggestion for us? Do you?"

"Dank, I-" Strop started, his ears flattening.

"DO YOU, STROP? DO YOU KNOW HOW TO FIX THE MESS YOU STARTED?" Dank asked him, point blank.

"I DON'T KNOW." Strop yelled, shocking everybody into silence. "I don't know," he repeated, more softly, looking away.

Several moments passed, heavy, timeless moments that sank deep into the guts of everybody present.

"Nicely done," DM eventually muttered at Dank. "That was real helpful."

"Shut up," Dank muttered back. "Unless you got a better idea."

"How about you think up one for a change then? Instead of hiding behind criticising others?"

"Speak for yourself! You haven't put forward a single suggestion. What were you doing before the idiot horse destroyed my school?"

"We were getting hammered trying to recapture the bank! All that barely after we even arrived for a visit, too!"

"Well a fat lot of good that seems to have done-"

"You're a great guy Dank," Asherlee groaned as she rose to her full height, "BUT NOW YOU'RE WAY OUTTA LINE."

"Guys, could we just-" Strop started, but had no heart to finish.

Dank became, obviously, even more furious than he was already: "Don't patronise me just because you're three times my height!"

Between a concussion and several dispirited mods, Asherlee had endured quite enough: "Don't make me spank you, kid."

Dank attempted to roll up his armored sleeves and the two of them drew closer even as DM tried to pull Asherlee back and Strop decided to simply step between them. "You asking for a piece of me?" Dank grunted, trying to push past Strop.

"ALL OF YOU SHUT UP!" The command came from a completely unexpected angle, shocking everybody into silence (except Moe, who was still moaning). It had issued from Zophia, who, up to this point, was sitting with her arms hugging her knees, but had now peeked her face over to yell at everybody, her tail thrashing around. "You're all arguing uselessly, but nothing is being actually said!" Everybody looked down. Zophia looked around the room, as if surprised at the result, and more surprised at the fact that she now had control of the situation. "Uhm. Could somebody tell me what is going on? Please?"

Dank, Ash, DM and Strop looked at each other. "Since... when?"

"Since about the time 'tuna came up to me asking whether I could turn Nill back into a man."

Strop attempted to fill the confusion with the pithiest summary he could muster. "Well, we got up to the final round of the tournament. Then we were invaded by trolls and /b/tards from Newgrounds. We've lost most of the city because there's not enough people to cover everything."

"Where is everyone else, in that case?"

"Speaking of which, where is Devoidless?" DM paced to the window. "I didn't see him at all this whole time we were here."

"He has issues," Dank snorted. "Said he couldn't be here for a while."

"You already know that Nemo is Nill now, and presumably still so..." Strop shot a quick look at Zophia.

"Hey, I didn't know that we'd be in this much trouble so many months later, okay?" Zophia answered defensively.

Strop backpedaled: "No no, moreso the fact that, well, Nemo wasn't the only one inadvertantly affected."

Zophia frowned. "Huh?"

Strop pointed at Moe, whose eerie electronic moaning had not given out. Zophia blinked, not quite sure what to make of it. Then her ears flicked. "And where's Cen?"

Strop fidgeted. "He's... out of town. He left. After an... argument we had during the finals."

Zophia said nothing, but her withering glare told volumes. Strop shrunk back, and bowed his head, arms folded.

"Has your voicebox broken down or something?" Dank, finally sick of the noise, whirled around to face Moe. "Come on, what the hell is wrong with you? Apart from being a woman, that is."

"Get a grip on yourself, little man," DM and Asherlee rounded on Dank. "You might be angry, but you can't go around saying things like that."

"Don't you start with me again," Dank blustered. "You know full well what I was saying! Besides, it was Zophia who did it in the first place!"

"Don't drag me into your argument, the f-bomb was in good fun and has nothing to do with this mess!" Zophia's tail kinked in irritation as the situation started spiralling out of control again. Strop kept his head bowed, as there was nothing positive he could contribute to the exchange. The voices grew closer and closer, starting to overlap, until-

"Flipski is gone," Moe blurted suddenly.

Everybody stopped arguing mid-syllable.

"Gone?" Asherlee and Dank asked. "That can't be right, he's our staff-moderator. The most powerful of the mods."

"Gone," Moe repeated. "And there was nothing I could do to stop him."

"Wait, what happened?" mixed confusion and horror laced faces.

"Flipski sacrificed himself." Strop finally spoke up. "Somebody fed the trolls, and we were overrun at the courts. Flipski helped us get away."

"It's all my fault Flipski's dead," Moe lamented. "If I was able to use my powers, it wouldn't have happened like this. If I weren't affected like this, I would have been able to fire my laser..." Moe's voicebox started to static over, almost as if it were sobbing. Everybody exchanged uncomfortable looks.

"You can't blame yourself Moe." Strop placed a hand atop the brain jar. "Everybody is to blame. That is to say, nobody is." To the rest, he said, "I accept responsibility for my part in all this. I mishandled the tournament. I did not pay due attention to my responsibilities and the risks generated in the name of fun. I don't know how to fix the problem that faces us now. And I'll apologise properly later, if and when we get the chance. But this mess is too large for any one to tackle."

He took a deep breath. "Now, I need all of your help. Because the land of ArmorGames itself needs our help more than ever. The castle is still ours, for now. From this point on, is where we either turn things around, or lose everything we ever worked for in this place."

"Yeah, that sounds more like it," Asherlee smiled, faintly, but it was a smile nonetheless. "I don't know what you have in mind," Dank echoed, "But we have to start somewhere."

Strop scratched his chin. "It'd be nice if we had Moe and Nemo back for starters. Zophia, what kind of progress did you make with the f-bomb antidote?"

"I don't think we're going to have time to change them back now, if that's what you're asking," she offered. "But I have a better idea."

Everybody looked to her. "Let's hear it, then."

10,811 posts

Be Ready

Lights flickered threw out the day in the distance from where Armor Games was located as Hectichermit sat upon the mountain top thoughts pondering about what he will due until the time came. He looked at the parchment again, it was a note written by a well known ninja pony who disappears from time to time just as the hermit does himself but rarely he conveyed such a notice written in the simplest of words "Be Ready" so as the dark clouds hover over the city of Armor Games he sits on this mountain top waiting for Strop to return.

Flipper & Snelly were too afraid to continue in the tournament after the explosive destruction of the obstacle course during the Steeplechase. Besides, they never really knew what the Way of Moderation was anyway, and were quite content to fish around in the moat, oblivious to Ubertuna's presence, or as it were now, absence.

Round Eleven: For Great Justice

Get Your Punch-ON

Asherlee's oversized fist sank into the face of the unfortunate New*** who happened to be standing right where she landed. Limbs flailing, he flew back, smashing a path through the swarm. Before they could surge back, Zophia lashed out with her brush, sending forth a wave of paint, and Dank drove into the gap, battering random raiders with his giant hammer.

"I thought they'd see us coming!" Strop, still airborne, shouted. A thousand snarling faces rose to greet him, so he met them with the head of Thor. It crackled and snapped menacingly as it arced through the air and slammed into the ground, sending out a shockwave that buckled the ground and picked the rioters up and flung them away. "Wait up, I have to sever the rope, cover me!"

Already some of the rioters had spotted the rope attached to the giant arrow lodged firmly in the ground, and were attempting to form a human wall around it while some brave (or stupid) rioters had already started climbing the rope.

"Oi!" Strop called, "Get down from there, it's... it's dangerous!" But above the mighty cacophany of the wrath of thousands, he might as well not have spoken. He tried to break through the wall, but it was a surprisingly cohesive wall, and he merely bounced off. Without hesitation, he brought Thor to bear. "You all face banning!" he yelled, only to be met with defiance and disregard.

"I thought as much," he said to himself, and started indiscriminately slamming rioters with his banhammer. The head drove into a rioter's head on the left, he sank like a deflated blow-up doll. Pivoting on his hooves, Strop turned his shoulders sharply, the oversized tonfa curving in a broad circle ending in another rioter's face, sending him flying like a rag doll. Switching directions, Strop hammered furiously at the wall in front of him, but he had already been singled out and the wall closed around him, people beating at him on all sides. As puny and ineffective as their strikes were in such close quarters, Strop found himself completely unable to move. "And to think I'd have to use dirty boxing," he thought to himself, dispelling the hammer in a puff of black smoke before driving his elbows into the rioters holding him from either side, before landing some heavy liver blows to the rioter in front, then whipping his head back and clocking the rioter behind. Even as he fought, he could see the rioters climbing the rope inching higher and higher...

"STROP, JUMP!" came the call, far too loud to be from anything but the Soopahdoopahawesometasticmegamegafone. Batting away the arms pawing at him and using the bodies pressing against him as footholds, he scrambled up just in time to see Zophia, being defended by Dank, pitch the 'fone into the air. From the middle of the seething crowd, there was a muffled grunt and a burly pair of arms flung something black into the air, which uncurled into the latex-clad Dragonmistress, carrying a large... something. Twisting in midair, she unfurled her whip, and the something spun its way in Strop's direction before catching the 'fone. Strop stamped at the hands grabbing his legs before bounding atop some heads, kicking some poor sod right in the face and angling sharply upwards to catch the... object. Still sailing through the air, he glanced at it, and felt his blood run cold.

"FIRE IN THE HOLE!" Dragonmistress called before she was grabbed by the burly arms and swallowed back into the crowd. Thoughts scrambling, Strop wondered what the rest of the team intended for him, before he ran his fingers over the strangely bulky cylinder and a suspicion tugged at his gut.

Without a second thought he turned over and pitched the bomb at the rioters surrounding the rope.

In slow motion, a hundred eyes went wide, and a mass cry of "BOMB!" went up, rippling through the crowd until there was nothing but a mass of screaming and people falling over each other trying to get away from the falling bomb. The human wall buckled and scattered. Even the climbing rioters dropped from the rope and scrambled away, leaving some clear space behind the stampede. Space where the bomb would fall and blow Strop to smithereens when it landed. "It did seem like a good idea at the time," Strop was vaguely aware of thinking, then being aware that he had now entered that out-of-body experience which signalled his imminent death.

The bomb hit the cobblestone with a glassy "ka-tunk", rolled to one side, and lay still.

Strop landed on the road, dashed to the rope, summoning his banhammer and smashing the cobble stone, exposing the giant arrow lodged in the ground. Then he whipped an incendiary arrow out of his quiver and struck it against the ground, and was rewarded with a flash of fire, which he touched to the frayed end of the rope. Immediately, fire streaked up the length of the rope, a blazing dot advancing into the distance until all he held in his hands was a blackened husk of what was once a strong cable. Taking the briefest of moments to watch the irrational stampede try to distance itself from him, without much success. Then he bent over, and picked up the bomb.

"Can you see through all that paint, Moe?" Strop asked, vaguely recalling the time he dressed a certain somebody from head to toe in plaster so that he might pose a similar question.


Silently, Strop thanked Zophia's creativity, but was interrupted by her call over the 'fone. "A LITTLE HELP, STROPPYKINS?"

"I should return the favour!" Strop said to nobody in particular, slinging Moe over his back and sprinting for the nearest apartment block. He hit it at a gallop and scrambled up it as far as he could go, all four limbs madly clawing at the pitted walls and shattered windows until he could see what was going on.

The stampede had converged upon the rest of the moderator team, and for all the power of Dank's hammer, Asherlee's dual broadswords, DM's whip and Zophia's brush, they were making no headway for there was nowhere to go.

In the thick of it, the quartet were facing the crowd on all sides, pressing in on them so hard their backs were in turn pressed to each other. Asherlee's swords were locked together, held firmly by a dozen hands heedless of their sharpness or the fury of the woman who wielded them. Dragonmistress herself had no room to swing a cat, let alone space to wind up her whip. Dank couldn't swing his hammer without hitting Zophia, and Zophia couldn't move because she was engaged in a tug of war with her precious brush in the middle.

"Isn't that Strop up there?" Dragonmistress noted.

"Wherever he is," Dank growled, too short to see anything, "He better think up something smart soon."

Indeed, Strop was hanging on the windowsill, trying to think of a smart idea.

He couldn't think of any.

"Oh well, I guess things can only get better from here!" he said to himself, before pitching himself off the sixth storey and towards the crowd.

Dense as the crowd was, nobody was quite stupid enough to support the endeavour of crowd surfing from twenty meters above. A black mass hurtled into the ground with a thud audible even over the roar of a thousand voices calling for blood. A startled gasp went up, and the crowd swelled back from the likely-corpse.

Strop rose to his hooves, rubbing his nose. "That's the last time I take the fall with a giant jar on my back," he muttered, before settling into a stance. Rioters surrounded him, warily, keeping at least an arm's length from him, not sure what to make of his apparent lack of dying. Guessing where the others were, he advanced aggressively, pulling people away and tossing them behind him, until Asherlee's towering figure became visible.


"I'm not that stu-," Strop started to retort, before remembering that landing on one's face from such a height would indeed be considered monumentally stupid. "I'm here now!" was all he said. Fortituously, his spectacular re-entry had distracted the crowd from the moderators enough that they were all looking at him and his 'bomb', not sure what to make of the suicidal horse-thing. Strop made a couple of sudden moves at the nearest rioters and they shrank back. Zophia was able to yank her brush away, and she promptly painted a wall around the little space they had. Immediately, a papery banging noise bombarded them from all sides.

"Well, for all these shenanigans, at least we're alive." Dank grunted. "What now?"

"We need a quick trick that we can cast in these, uh, cosy quarters," Strop explained, trying to push the paper back out where it was starting to cave in.

"Count me out of that," Asherlee said, flexing her biceps. "I don't have any powers apart from these guns."

Strop chewed his lower lip, trying to ignore the ferrous taste from what was no doubt his bloody nose. "Dragonmistress, now might be a good time to call Devoidless."

"Yeah probably." DM reached into her belt, and drew out a thin tube. She raised the tube to her lips and blew.

Devoidless was nowhere to be seen.

"I don't think he's coming back anytime soon," she remarked. "I can't even feel his presence."

Strop turned to Zophia. "Draw a bird and hoist us out of here?"

Zophia whipped up another coat of paint on the cracking wall. "I can't do that and reinforce this wall at the same time. And I can't reinforce this wall much longer either, the brush is drying up," she added.

Dank smacked his hammer against the floor. "Fine. I'll have to do it," he said, clearly looking unhappy.

"Do what?" the others asked in unison.


"Which magic?"

"The one type I can do in this space: a windspout."

With that he twirled the head of his hammer at the top of the circular wall, muttering under his breath. Glowing figures appeared and swirled around and around, gaining more letters and semicolons and line-breaks, until it became a veritable storm of characters.

"</mx:Application>" he declared, before stamping the handle of his hammer on the ground. "EXECUTE!"

Immediately, a horrible shrieking arose, and a current picked the lot of them up and spat them out of the crumbling wall.

As they flew up, turning over and over, Strop shouted, "Great, Dank, what next?"

"I dunno!" Dank shouted back, "You guys improvised so well earlier, I figured you'd know what to do now."

Still flying upwards, the rioters below but a mass of dots, everybody turned the best they could to look at each other, slight confusion and horror writ on their faces. "This script expires soon, by the way."

Dragonmistress flicked out her whip, curling the end around the lot of them and grabbing it, drawing them closer together.

"I don't suppose you can draw that bird now, could you?" Strop asked Zophia as they reached the apex of their upward rush.

"There's nothing to paint on," Zophia pointed out, as they started to fall again.

"Now would be a great time to rediscover your telekinesis," Strop begged Moe.


"It's on me, then," Strop concluded, obviously, pulling out the biggest exploding net arrow he could find, praying it was large enough. Mustering all his strength, he nocked the arrow (which more closely resembled a ballista crossbolt), and drew it back as far as he could, before shooting it towards the ground.

"I don't suppose you have a 'arachute arrow' handy?" Dank shot as they plummeted back to ground.

"Shut up," Strop grunted, nocking four bolts at once and firing them after the net, praying that they would fly true. Dragonmistress tightened her grip on the whip's rope, and as they picked up speed, they all started screaming.

"If this doesn't work, I just wanted to say it was a pleasure working with you guys!" Asherlee bellowed, barely audible over the howling wind and the screams. Even at that speed, it was clear that the rioters had all turned their eyes to the spectacle, and were trying to shuffle away from the modly projectile's projected point of impact. Masses of colour became discernible figures, became wide open gaping horrified looks, and the ground came rushing up to smash them all.

A great force grabbed them, slowing their advance before stopping it altogether, just inches from the cobblestone. They collectively groaned involuntarily as their organs were squeezed to breaking point by the gargantuan deceleration, causing their eyes to bulge out. Then the pressure eased, as the net, permanently stretched, tried to regain its original shape but ended up sagging, leaving them suspended high above the ground.

There was a moment of stunned silence, then the crowd roared back to life with a universal cry of "GET THEM!", and they started swarming into the apartment blocks.

"Nice save," Dank admitted, gasping for air.

"Thanks. That bought us about two minutes!" Strop similarly panted.

"Then let's get outta here, what say we split?" DM and Asherlee finally managed between the two of them.

Strop helped the others off the sagging net, onto the nearest rooftop, noting as he passed the extent to which the supporting bolts had bent. "Good idea guys. Let's meet at the Armusement Park," he said, before setting off.

"Where are you going, Strop, the Armusement Park is thataway," Zophia pointed in precisely the opposite direction to the one Strop was facing.

"...I have some business to do. I'll see you there," was all he said, before bounding off the rooftop.


Miracle Drug

Despite the all-out assault on the whole of the city, the Cathedral still stood intact. Whether one would call it a miracle, a selective kind of divine intervention, or simply the fact that nobody cared about the antiquated piece of Gothic architecture enough to lob rocks at it when the Aristocrat Alley was ripe for the ruining just a stone's throw yonder...

The air hung cool and heavy, with the same timeless, and empty quality as always. Over and under the pews, saturating the felt carpet that lined the aisle all the way to the lectern, and behind that, the sacred altar. Or, at least what was left of it, for the giant clocktower bell was still lodged mightily in the ground where it used to be, for none of the self-titled monks that kept the Cathedral were capable of lifting or working out how to lift it out of the ground and repair the damage wrought all the way back from the dodgeball round...

A shadow crouched before the bell, its head bowed, hands clasped, mimicking the clasped hand of Mary in the stain glass window, bowed before Jesus on the cross. Then its long, pointy horse ears twitched.

"Dan," Strop began, then straightened. "Naw. That would be blasphemy. But," he mused to himself. "We could all do with some divine intervention right about now. Divine intervention in our favour, that is. But would it really work-"

Just then, another shadow emerged from the recesses of the vaults.

From The Shadows- by HecticHermit

"Talking to yourself, ponyboy?" the always-grubby Hectichermit said. "Although technically, one could never really talk to themselves because they are... themselves."

"Let's just get to business," Strop said, in no mood to humour Hermit's ramblings. "Did you get the message?"

Hectic bowed slightly, drawing closer to Strop until both shadows stood before the giant silhouette of the bell. "If you seek, I shall provide."

"Good," Strop said. "In that case, do you remember that, uh, 'good stuff'?" Strop started fidgeting, clearly uncomfortable with the combination of the venue and the subject matter.

Hermit spread his hands. "All my stuff is 'good stuff', my good man, err, horse. Speaking of which, how do you know if the stuff that affects you one way would affect others the same way?"

Strop was about to grind his fist into his head when he suddenly realised that Hermit was making a lot more sense than his convoluted grammar suggested. "Wait, what?"

"You're a horse," Hermit explained. "Or maybe you are a man. Or maybe you are a horse-man?"

Strop shook his head rapidly, then lifted his nose defiantly. "I don't know what the effects will be. But being the herbalist, I trust you would."

Even as he said it, Strop could not ignore the chill passing across the back of his neck. He swatted at it, trying to convince himself that it was merely the weight of the air. "So. Back to the original question. Are you ready?"

"As ready as can be, which is to say-" Hermit began. Strop cut him off with a palm.

"I need you to get as much of that crop as you can to the Armusement Park."

Hermit was not done asking in riddles: "When you say as much of that, how much does that really mean?"

Strop turned and started walking out of the Cathedral, fading into the rows of pews. "Enough for a million people."


by Cen

Strop stopped abruptly in the alley, starring out at the chaos the city had transformed into. That mess out there resembled his mind more than he would like to think about, and more than he could ever show to anyone. If the ditz of ArmorGames suddently fell depressed, who knew what beating the already low spirit would take.
More so, would he even be able to pull himself back on his own legs as he sunk deeper into the reality of what was going on?
Strop whinnied shrilly and charged out from the alley, after his collegues that had almost disappeard down the street.
For now he would keep up the facade, even if it was simply to keep himself going.


The Value of Folly

Statistics never lie. They may be omitted, misinterpreted, or even misleading but data is as data always was: raw information. The Aristocrat Alley may have stood as the pinnacle of the individualistic desires of the aspiring AGer, but the truth of the matter was that it was the figures that nobody cared about that spoke the strongest. In fact, most of the deeds and happenings in the city at its prime, had nothing at all to do with the exchange of currency.

And that was why the Armusement Park was the location of choice for an evacuation in an emergency such as this. Being utterly unproductive, it had been completely overlooked in the raid. Now, though, it had taken on a new life as a refugee camp. The vast expanses of grassy greens and trees just starting to regain their cover had been swamped by tents, people and animals, all looking lost and forlorn as they milled around in disorganised swirls. The occasional motivated person flitted from place to place trying to be helpful... but the doldrums were just too overwhelming, and those bright sparks were swallowed up in a sea of malaise.

To this scene the moderators eventually arrived, convening at the top of a small hill that overlooked the entire park. Stealthily, a scaffold was set up, some canvas thrown over the top, so they could look out without being looked in on. Perhaps they were even trying to wall themselves from the oppressively despondent air that gripped the place.

Huddled around a single lantern, the silent six sat, twiddling their fingers. For seconds, minutes, so uniformly did the moments pass that it was impossible to tell, they didn't utter a word. Occasionally, one would lean over, peel the flap of the tent aside, peer out, then look back in.

Finally, the dwarf broke the silence. "What happens if he doesn't come?"

The Dragonmistress hunched defensively. "He will. There's no way he won't hear my call."

Dank seemed to engage in some internal struggle for a moment, before peering out the flap in the tent again. "I don't mean to be a downer, but you do realise that time is run-"

A meaty hand shot out. "It's okay, Dank. We know. But we have to be as patient as we can for now," Asherlee reminded him.

"But the rains..." Dank trailed off into meaningless gesticulations.

"If it makes you feel any better, I can try again." The Dragonmistress sighed, bringing a small metallic whistle to her lips.

Right at that very moment they were alerted to a sudden outburst of screams and cries from outside. Fearing the worst, they rushed out of the tent and saw thousands upon thousands of people, their eyes and pointed fingers glued on a rapidly growing black mass in the sky. At first nearly indistinguishable from the storm clouds from which it emerged, it soon became apparent that this mass was far blacker, more sinister, more positively evil than any cloud could ever be. And when it coughed, and blew a giant plume of fire that singed the hairs of many an AGer, there was no more doubt as to its identity.

The horned Western dragon, Devoidless the Ancient, landed directly on top of the mod tent, crushing it into the hilltop, settled on his scaly posterior, and took a drag of his cigarette.

"You guys make too much noise, you know?" was all he said.

"Well how nice of you to show up," Dank grumped, obviously remembering their previous meeting. "Did you finally get over yourself?"

"Say, I think I've gone a bit deaf in my old age," Devoidless shot back, "Was that the wind I heard?"

"Is that a tear in your eye?" Dank pointedly asked.

Devoidless did not reply, but a quivering slowly became apparent. It originated from his lower lip, then migrated to his whole jaw, then neck, then sholders, until he looked like his own seismic tremor. Then he threw himself wholly onto the Dragonmistress.

"I thought I'd never see you again!" he choked out between sobs. "The first time you called I thought I was hearing things!"

"You were, you big lug," DM said, chuckling a little as she attempted to fend off his crushing embrace. "You're never out of range of my whistle." Strop couldn't help but notice that despite her words, DM's expression was that of relief.

"And Asherlee too! That makes two of my favourite people in the whole wide world!" Devoidless suddenly dragged the lot of them into a giant group hug, where they all suffered each others' BO, plus abrasions from the dragon's scaly plates.

"If you please," Dank interjected, extricating himself. "Everybody is staring."

"Yes," Moe added," I expect they want us to say something, now that we've been noticed."

Indeed, the spectacle of their reunion had drawn the attention of most, if not everybody at the park, meaning some hundreds of thousands of people were now staring at them (or at least looking in their general direction trying to figure out what they were looking at). Each and every one of those people looked on, hoping for some direction or anything they could latch on to other than the thought of impending doom.

"Well," Zophia shrugged. "We should at least tell them something." With that remark, she raised the 'fone to her mouth and cleared her throat. "Ahem." Then she announced:

"Hi guys. This is the one safe place left in the whole city. Stay put until the trouble dies down."

Then she clicked off the 'fone. The announcement, predictably, was met with a large round of confusion.

"Well, what else was I supposed to have said?" Zophia protested, before finally rolling her eyes and clicking the 'fone on again.

"What I mean is, we have a plan. But it's dangerous out there so the best thing for you to do would be nothing. We'll let you know when it's safe again."

Then she clicked it off again. "Guys? We do have a plan, right?"

Strop scratched the back of his head. "Well, seeing as 'voidy has returned to us in our hour of need, we can proceed, I think."

"Proceed with what?" Devoidless asked.

"In case you haven't noticed," Strop waved his arms around, "The city's in a spot of bother. We're going to save it."

"And we need you because we can't leave this place without getting swamped by rioters and looters." Zophia chimed in.

"Wait a minute," Devoidless growled. "I don't like the sound of where this is going."

"That's right!" DM announced. "You're going to be our taxi."

"I'm a dragon!" Devoidless immediately objected. "Not a-" He stopped just as quickly when DM whipped out her whip. "You're not going to make me do that are you?"

The great dragon Devoidless bowed his head. "No, mistress."


Arms folded and slumped against a tree, Nill had been silently observing the spectacle of the moderators at the Armusement Park, and their eventual departure on the back of Devoidless. She wasn't particularly impressed.

"I can't believe they'd ignore the users like that," she muttered to herself. "Whatever happened to people power?"

That said, one glance around the perimeter of the park said it all: there wasn't much power in the people. Not the way they were, anyway. This served only to infuriate Nill further. How could everything crumble so badly in the face of one emergency? That a change in circumstance could change a people so thoroughly, she could not accept it. All that it would take would be their attention and some choice words, and they would be well on their way to seizing their fate from the jaws of death. Only it would be all the harder for the fact that, in her current state, she was not a moderator.

But she didn't need to be.

A young man passed by her field of vision and she did a doubletake. He looked more alert, more motivated than most of them, and she could have sworn that he was asking people if they needed help. One man among hundreds of thousands offering help was nothing more than a drop in the ocean, but if they could be organised somehow... thinking about it some more, she realised that she recognised him as a contestant in Strop's godforsaken tournament that arguably caused every single trouble she could think of at this moment. Not just that, but a contestant who had made the final four. Surely there was a resource just waiting to be tapped!

"You, yes, you!" She pointed directly at him, and he looked up, surprised. "You interested in helping out? There's something I need you to do."


The Fellowship of the Banhammer

A blast of fire was enough to convince the stragglers casing the innocuous looking H-shaped brick house to scatter. With a thud and another roar of flame, followed shortly by a round of coughing, Devoidless landed at the front entrance.

"Right kiddies, off you get," he grunted, shrugging his passengers off his shoulders. Strop, Zophia, Asherlee, Dank and Moe all tumbled down, but DM managed a more graceful landing. "And be darned if you get me to do that again."

"Uh," Strop started, before Devoidless threw him off with a burning glare. "I don't mean to impose but it's kind of a really important part of our plan," he managed to squeak.

"What do you mean, important-" Devoidless was about to square off on Strop when DM wrapped the whip around his neck and tugged him towards the doors. "Let's continue this inside."

Much pushing, pulling and cursing later, the crew managed to squeeze Devoidless through the front entrance, effectively hiding him from view. "Actually, first up," he said, his face uncomfortably close to the rest now that he occupied most of the lobby, "Why did we have to come here in the first place?"

"There are two reasons," Strop enumerated with his fingers: "One, it's safe. This building houses a non-profit organisation, so it was surprisingly immune from the rioters and looting, like for the Armusement park. Two, it's close to everything that's important right now."

"And that is...?"

Strop started counting on the fingers of his other hands: "First there's the castle. You may have noticed that all that's left of the courts is a pile of smoking rubble."

"Yes, I did notice that," Devoidless mused. "A shame that, we worked hard to get it built, right Moe-"

"Anyway," Strop glanced hastily at Moe while cutting Devoidless off. "What's important is that it's hot now but the coming rains will cool it right off, meaning that the castle will be open to attack, and if that happens..."

"So we need to find a way to defend the castle or else solve this riot problem before it rains?"

"Kind of," Strop made a box with his fingers, as if about to outline his big plan (which was precisely what he was doing.) "We already had enough trouble keeping a single crowd of maybe a thousand rioters under control. There's maybe a hundred times that from our neighbors, plus half our own citizens running amok and looting everything in sight. We needed a temporary solution that would neutralise everybody long enough for the administration to bring in the backup."

"And that is...?" Devoidless could have sworn he just asked that question but being so far behind the times, it was not a relevant concern.

"We're going to put everybody to sleep." Seeing Devoidless' look of bemusement, Strop was compelled to explain further. "As in, literally to sleep. If everybody's asleep, nobody's moving, nobody's rioting."

"You have a plan to make that happen?"

"Yes. Yes, we do."

"Does this plan include avoiding putting ourselves to sleep too, just in case something goes wrong?"

At this everybody started coughing and looking slightly nervous. Strop stopped in his tracks, then waved his hand dismissively.

"I have it all figured out: don't ask questions! Zophia, are you ready?"

Zophia produced a dangerous-looking box. "Carlie would have to be blind to miss the distress signal this bad boy's gonna produce."

"Good." Strop nodded slowly. "Remember guys, as soon as that thing goes off, every troll, looter and miscreant in the land is going to know where we are, and it'll be safe to assume they're going to be gunning for us. Our mission, however, is a cargo run. Our friend the Hermit has our salvation gathered in a private field well hidden away outside the walls of the city. Devoidless, you'll be flying DM and I there so we can cover you while Hermit loads you up. Once you've done that, fly over the giant fire that is the Freemarket, drop it, scatter and pray for a miracle. Sounds simple but I know for a fact the raiders have aircraft. Can we count on you?"

Devoidless stared at the rest of the crew for a very long moment, before realising that this was not a joke. His eyes narrowed as the gravity of the situation finally sunk in for him. "What will the rest of you be doing?"

Zophia raised her hand. "I'll be making as much chaos as possible with these fireworks. The one you need to watch out for will be in your likeness, that'll be the drop point."

Asherlee raised her sword and banged the hilt on the floor. "The rest of us will run cover until the drop is made, then we skedaddle too. I'm on melee duty, just like old times." She laughed, short and harsh.

Dank smirked. "Certainty of death, small chance of success, what are we waiting for?"

Finally the faint creases of a sardonic smile appeared on Devoidless' visage. "What can I say, this sounds like more fun than I've had in a long time."

Strop smacked his fists together with a resounding crack. "Alright. Let's do this."


A plume of red fire shot into the skies, penetrating the clouds and far beyond. Sparks trailed behind it, and its distinctive whine echoed over the lands. Suddenly, an unholy thunder rumbled through the sky and the clouds themselves were lit up red, embers spreading in a spherical formation before fading and eventually dispersing entirely.

"That was one hell of a firework," Devoidless muttered, smashing his way back through the front entrance of the building.

"And that's just the first one," Zophia exclaimed, slinging her brush over her shoulder. "We should get moving, the raiders will be here any moment now."

"Yeah," Strop said absently, sniffing the air. "We better hurry."

"Come on then," DM called him over, already straddling Devoidless' neck and grasping his horns. Strop scrambled up his scaly hide and sat himself between the spines on his back. "Keep it steady, 'voidy," he quipped, "I'm your tail-gunner today!"

Devoidless was heard to mumble something vaguely grumbling as he coiled up and took off, clambering into the sky until they disappeared among the clouds.

As the wind started to pick up, Asherlee strapped the brain-in-a-jar Moe onto her back, before stretching and twirling her swords twice.

"Sorry," Moe said suddenly.

"Sorry for what?" Asherlee frowned.

"I haven't been myself lately, and now all I am is a burden to everybody."

Asherlee tilted her head back, gazing at the brooding clouds. "Moe, I never understood how one couldn't be themselves. You may have changed, but you're still you, aren't you?"

"I percieve an undeniable difference, and I have justified knowledge of its origin," Moe argued.

"But," Asherlee slid the swords back into their sheaths at her belt. "You can't directly compare the experiences as you live a singular existence, right?"

Moe did not reply. Asherlee smirked. "No need to bother," she murmured. "You taught me that yourself."


10,811 posts

"The Feeld of Goodness"

(Mostly by Hectichermit)

As faint rumbles of the chaos that reigned in the distant city of Armor Games, the hermit fiddles with a new contraption he managed to piece together looking like an overlarge bagpipe with spindles of hoses connected to a humming munchanism that puffs white smoke. Grabbing a sack of these "Good Herbs" he thrusts a pipe into it and it begins to suck out the plant matter, a wheel spins and cranks churn the munchanism lets out a squeal of smoke that hisses, taking a deep wiff of the alleviating cloud the hermit mumbles "Ahhh, what a fine sample", normally those first exposed to such a strong anesthetic would pass out into a 2 day coma. But more then a decade of exposure and experimenting with mind numbing and distorting concoctions the hermit has developed an extreme resistance and mental stamina that an allure of toxins seems to radiate from his body, which tends to mask him an miasma. A few seconds pass and a green and orange tablet pops out of another tube that feeds into another but far smaller sack that rattles with at least 2 dozen other pellets.

The hermit looks across the field that stretches nearly half a mile across and wonders if he'll ever collect enough in time. As he begins to refill his empty sack he hears something barking from the the other side of the shrubs, another good herb, "Where is this hermit of yours Strop, Rawr", a kindling of spit fire burns a hole in the bushes which the hermit spies a large dragon, a purple cloud waifs towards him. Uninterested in his previous work, and irritated enough by the flagrant destruction of his precious garden the hermit marched towards the Dragon threw the growing cloud enveloping his hedgerows. The hermit reaches into his pocket and pulls out a small vial of blue green liquid and pops open the cork. A flurry of energy engulfs the cloud and it turns from a meandering purple to a crackling thunderstorm of white energy.

As the others stare at the mysterious phenomena before them, the cloud rises into the air booming with lightning and sparking electrical maelstroms, a tornado forms at the center of the miniature hurricane and at the base holding up the vial the hermit smiling a scorning laugh "Hey YOU! DRAAGONE!", the hermit pops the cork onto the vial and throws it towards Devoidless, "Catch." The vial splatters across the hard scales of the dragon and seeps into his body. With a white flash the dragon is turned into a Dwarf, one thing dragons hate is dwarves because of the long history they share of fighting each other for gold and other trinkets. With a wicked grin the hermit struts towards the group.

"Hermit, what the hell!? I asked you to prepare the 'good stuff', not turn our transportation into a dwarf." Strop was clearly unimpressed, hands on his hips, fairly shouting while DM and Devoidless were still trying to figure out their new relationship dynamic now that the latter was no longer a dragon. "How are we going to fly back to the city now?" Devoidless found his voice, which was several shades softer and lighter than his original gravelly dragon grunt, so in trying to emulate his former glory, he ended up rasping like he was afflicted with laryngitis.

"Humph, What Kind of Ally is this Strop!? Attacking a moderator with such a device.", strop utters "Umm", the hermit interrupts "A Mod you say, well I though you were just a grumpy ole dragon who had stumbled upon my modest abode and decided to Burn thing, that is what dragons do, anyways I don't think mods from Armor City have much authority here so far from their niceties." Devoidless immediately started protesting, but Strop held his hand up, anxious to resume proceedings. "He didn't know, you were probably away on one of your trips when he arrived." Strop regains his previous train of thought, "Well what about the plan, Hermit?" the hermit remarks "O well this is not a problem, there is always a remedy, I am sure we could use another pair of hands and having a dragon huff and puff around the field isn't a good thing." Devoidless scorns the hermit, "Why you crazy little man if I wasn't in this despicable form I would show what a true fire was."

The hermit guides the others to a small shed next to a rickety cottage that had more plants and vines growing forth from it. Opening the shed with a word, "A magic Seal" the hermit remarks to the others, "if it were to be opened by others it would lead to unimaginable things." Waving a finger towards Strop beckoning him in, he walks a little hesitant towards the door, wondering what sorta things the hermit had stored there. A warm candle lights a room twice as big as the shed seems to be, the walls a solid stone, not a flimsy wood as the outward appearance looked the hermit taps on another door and a column of hanging contraptions fling out, "With these we can make these" pulling out a green and orange tablet, "These are a concentration of the Good Herbs, about 25 to one, so we don't have to carry tons of the plant. I think that a hundred should do for the size of Armor City, I have about 25 already" looking at a map on the wall, one of the ninja pony's own designs.

A few minutes later Strop goes and explains the contraptions to the others, Devoidless still trying to manage his new form, falling every once in a while, guess dragons are not so good on two legs. Strop continued onto "These things are suppose to keep us from passing out from the smoke exposure that the machine tends to release" Holding out what looks like to be pink goo" the hermit said that if you chew this it will counter act the intoxicating effects, he also mentioned it might have a slight(under exaggerated) numbing effect to taste for a few days"

After about 20 minutes of trial and error everyone began to understand the operation of the 'Autopillator', not long after they were steadily gathering samples from the field, as directed by the hermit they were suppose to collect the "Green Cabbages", though there seemed to be more then twenty other plants, some lovely some grotesquely abominable. The hermit had warned that the prettier ones tend to be more potent... as DM found out, not in being rendered unconscious, but suffering the side-effect of her hair turning a rather luscious shade of green (Strop elected not to notify her until after everything was over). After nearly an hour of hasty work they seemed to finally have more then enough of the pellets.

"Well," Strop said, dusting his hands. "I'm impressed, Hermit. You've really outdone yourself with that pill machine. If we live through this remind me to thank you more adequately."

After they return to the glade where the hermits cottage was the hermit offers a brew of murky brown liquid, some decline but the hermit insisted Strop has had it its more underdeveloped stage. Warily, Strop drank it, belatedly realising that he couldn't taste anything anyway, but noticing that he did feel a little revitalised. The hermit pours a red drink that smells of sulfur for Devoidless, not wanting it the hermit hearty laughs "I guess you like being a Dwarf?" Devoidless instantly snatched it back and chugged it down, and a moment later in a puff of smoke and a thunderclap he was his dragon self.

"Why you little-" he began, reaching for Hermit, murder in his eyes. This time DM, back in her former role, snaked the whip around his claws and pulled them together. "We don't have time for that, 'voidy."

"No, especially not now," Strop said, peering out the window. "Look."

Over the horizon, in every direction visible from that window, people, vehicles, even planes approached. It seemed safe to assume that they were also coming from every direction not visible from that window.

"Great, we're surrounded," DM remarked dryly.

"Not to worry," Hermit assured her. "I have herbs for every occasion."

"Do you mean herbs for them, or herbs for yourself?" Devoidless snapped.

"How about you go, and I'll handle this lot," Hermit shrugged, rising. "I am the herbalist, you should not underestimate me."

Strop opened his mouth, about to say something, before clenching his fist and rising. "We should go. They're probably going to follow us anyway."

"You heard him 'voidy," DM said, cracking her whip. "Time for a running takeoff."

As they taxied onto the dirt path in the field, Hermit stood by the hut, watching the raiders close in. There were too many to count, surely if they all converged on the field there would not be room to even move. Strop tried to ignore the sinking feeling in his chest.

"Good luck," Hermit said. Strop settled himself onto Devoidless' tail, and readied his bow.

"Good luck and godspeed." With that, DM cracked her whip, Devoidless lumbered, then galloped down the dirt path, leapt up and with a mighty beat of his wings, pulled away into the clouds.


Mod Brawl

Barely had Devoidless and his two passengers disappeared from view of the Help Center than the raiders came, converging from all sides. At first it was the noise of thousands of feet, and the chanting and rankling cries filled with malice. Plumes of smoke from burning torches, fashioned from the remains of furniture and ruined buildings rose into the air, joining the larger clouds, lost to the searing haze that permeated the air, fighting the humidity that hung heavy over it.

"Here they come, bringing their hate with them, such is the way of this world." Asherlee sighed. "So how shall we go to meet them?"

"I hope you're not about to say with love and rainbows and all that hippie crap," Dank muttered. "Because all I have is this hammer, and the urge to whack."

"That's just fine." Asherlee adjusted her grip on her swords. "Sometimes kids just need a good whacking."

The voices drew closer and the first of the twisted teens came into view, emerging from a shattered storefront just a block away. "They're here! You ready yet?"

"Just a sec... got it!" Zophia finished fiddling with her fireworks and stood back up, hoisting the back on her back. "Fuses all set to go!"

"Not a moment too soon," Dank growled, raising his hammer. "I don't like running but it looks like we don't have much of a choice."

Indeed he was right, but in addition to that it seemed whichever way they took, they would have to fight a path of their own, as all too quickly the yelling and the bloodlust was all around. Once again they were outnumbered and surrounded.

"Zophia," Asherlee reminded her, "The rest of us can't cover you if you're not running."

The disordered conglomeration of raiders and trolls formed ranks as they closed, shoulders bunching together until they formed an impenetrable semi-circle around the team, daring them to make a move.

"I... am ashamed to admit this," Zophia said shakily. "But I think I've forgotten how to run."

"Come on," Dank groaned, stamping the handle of his hammer on the ground. "What's so different this time from the last one?"

"I don't know, I don't know! If my legs would move, I would run but, as it is..." Zophia trailed off, her voice catching slightly, her feet still firmly rooted to the ground even as the raiders leered on.

"It's about the plan isn't it." Moe's mechanical voice startled everybody. Asherlee tried to turn but since the brain in a jar was strapped to her back, it was impossible. "Ever since I lost my powers, I've had time to think... in a different way," Moe explained. "Surviving is one task, but it's harder to do things when there's something to lose. Like failing a plan."

"But what do we do then?" Zophia whined slightly, thrashing her tail. "I don't like feeling like this!"

"Asherlee, unstrap me."

The other three blinked in shock. "Are you sure?" Asherlee said.

"I know what it is to feel helpless, so do we all. But to do something about it, the hardest part is starting." Moe's mechanical tone never changed, but the words themselves were clear. Asherlee hesitated a moment, then sheathed her swords and undid the sling over her shoulder.

Dank was still hesitating. "Moe, with all due respect, is such a gamble nec-"

"We must trust each other. At the end of everything that is all we have. Strop, Devoidless and the 'mistress trust us to support them. Our citizens have no choice but to trust that we will succeed. There is no viable alternative, any other strategy will net a loss."

As the moments passed, the raiders, having somehow stopped a distance short of the team, started muttering amongst themselves. Strangely enough, it was the lack of movement that compelled them to stop, but now they grew restless, growing more confident that nothing was going to follow. And yet more time passed, meaning less time until the other team returned, and doubtless they, too, would be pursued.

"Alright," Dank said. "We've come this far anyway. But how do you know what's going to happen?"

"Technically I don't," Moe admitted. "But my power comes purely from knowledge and experience. To turn my back on those things due to belief in an intangible possibility was my undoing."

"You know what," Zophia looked at them, bemused. "I actually feel a bit better for that. But... we're still trapped. Actually, I think they're getting closer..."

It was true. While they were absorbed in their conversation, the raiders started edging forward, initially held back by a mix of confusion and trepidation, it had been eroded away by impatience. From further up the street the cry of "LET'S GET THEM ALREADY" rang out, and suddenly the whole block was a wordless roar as the raiders stampeded into action, closing the little remaining distance to them.

"Asherlee, I would like you to throw me upwards."

Setting her jaw and shoving any further concerns aside, Asherlee flicked her wrist and the sling whisked upwards. Moe was sent flying, creating a parabolic arc as he spun through the air. Almost within striking distance, the charging raiders hit the brakes, pausing for just one crucial moment to stare upwards as Moe hit the apex of the arc.

Then there was a blinding flash, and the haze lit up, searing thousands of eyes. Everybody reeled back, grabbing their faces and yelling in pain. Through the glare, Asherlee and Dank saw Moe descending, saw the raiders writhing all around them, and knew that one moment was their chance.

Dank picked up his hammer and slammed it into the nearest raider, a non-descript pimply teen like so many others. He could barely make out his features as they distorted from surprise and having the wind knocked out of him, before his body was sent flying in a straight line, plowing into and picking up several other bodies seemingly in slow motion.

Then the light stopped. "GO!" Dank yelled, as several pairs of hands immediately seized him. He knocked them off roughly with his free hand and slammed his hammer on the ground, toppling them from the shockwave. Asherlee immediately dove into the gap, sprinting towards Moe and diving hands outstretched to catch him.

Free for a split second, Dank turned and shoved Zophia, sending her stumbling. "Now your legs are moving, keep running!" he shouted, as he squared off against another group of teen mooks who doubtless hadn't seen a girl on the internet. Eight of them dove in, trying to find purchase on his armor, but he gave a mighty heave, picking two of them up and using them to blow the rest away. Zophia, her arms full with the fireworks, lurched to each side in a desperate bid to avoid the snatching hands of the horde. Asherlee, her arms full with Moe's jar, ran alongside, booting everybody in the face, the chest, the groin, anywhere she could reach. But they were two amongst many, and Asherlee was tripped, and went sprawling. Right away, a raider jumped up, fist poised to strike, and without thinking she held Moe's jar up. Panicking, the raider froze mid-air and Asherlee rolled out of the way just before he crashed into the ground awkwardly. Seizing the moment, she kicked him in the gut, hard, and he skidded away, felling another three. Even then more raiders took their places, succeeding in grabbing Zophia, trying to wrestle the fireworks away from her. Asherlee and Dank charged in, Asherlee flipped Moe's jar over to Dank, then let loose a devastating flurry of jabs and hooks around Zophia, knocking them over. She staggered as a larger grunt landed a blow on her back with a baseball bat, but she promptly turned around and clobbered him with an uppercut.

"I still got your back Zophia!" Asherlee shouted above the din. Zophia nodded, tucked her head in and made a beeline for an abandoned shop front. With just one free arm, Dank managed to connect cleanly with his hammer, sending a whole bunch of raiders flying into the wall, where they cracked the brickwork and crumpled into a heap. In the opening of that moment, he waddled up and dove through the broken window of the shop. Zophia and Asherlee were already making their way up the stairs and through the corridors towards the back. Dank climbed the stairs as fast as his stubby little legs could take him as the raiders piled in behind, all struggling to fit past each other to get to the narrow staircase.

Dozens of feet tramped through the second storey of the building, causing the wooden floorboards to creak dangerously. At the rear, Dank turned around, facing the advancing raiders, and smashed a hole through the floorboards, causing part of the ceiling to collapse. Up front, Asherlee blindly charged at the wall in front, slamming into it with her shoulder. The wall exploded outwards, bricks clattering to the street below, and in the same movement she leapt the gap in the alleyway, aiming for the window of the building opposite. At the last minute she crossed her arms over her face and in a shattering of glass and splintered wood she burst through and rolled back to her feet.

Zophia baulked, feet skidding to a stop with her toes dangling off the edge of the new hole. Dank couldn't stop himself in time, so he did the only thing he could think of.

"ZOPHIA, BOOST!" he shouted, bringing his hammer to bear. Zophia barely had enough time to drop the fireworks and bring her paintbrush out before the head struck her, lifting her bodily through the air with a startled squeak and across to join Asherlee. Having bought himself some time, Dank then pitched the pack of fireworks through the window.

"Can you fly yet?" he asked Moe.

"Still working on it," Moe replied. "It's like learning to walk. If I had legs."

"Better work fast," Dank quipped, before jumping down and hoping for the best. Alas, the best was not to happen, and Dank left a small posterior-sized crater upon landing. He cursed, realising that the raiders were back onto him, and attempted to resume the previous tack of running through buildings to thin them out. Above, he heard a loud whistle and a bang, and several sparks lit up high above, and even in the heat of the action, he was slightly relieved.

"I can do the flash again," Moe suggested, as the raiders swarmed in from both ends of the alleyway.

"Sounds good," Dank said, throwing him upwards and covering his eyes. Having just come in around the corner, the raiders were again unprepared and were all momentarily blinded, allowing Dank to pick up his hammer and cast a small typhoon, blowing the raiders over and back. Then he leapt into it, grabbing Moe on the way and was promptly flung onto the rooftops of the back alley buildings. The landing was more luck than intention, and he sprawled flat, shattering the tiles beneath him. Breathing hard, he scanned the horizon looking for the smoke that would signify the burning Freemarket, but not before quipping to himself: "ha, who says you have to be ninja to run on rooftops."

"We've lost Dank and Moe!" Asherlee shouted over her shoulder at Zophia, who was by this point panting heavily as they ran a meandering course up and down stairways, inside and outside.

"It's okay," Zophia replied between gasps, "I'll leave a trail of fireworks, that'll guide them." With that being said, they burst through the door of one shop, and while crossing the street Zophia yanked the fuse on another firework and tossed it behind her, causing the pursuing raiders to fall over themselves trying to get away from it before it exploded. They disappeared into another building just as it went off, and by the time the smoke cleared they had disappeared. Undeterred, the raiders swarmed back, and realising the trick, broke up into several groups, kicking down every door in the street so they might seek and destroy.

Zophia bundled herself into a darkened room in the house and collapsed, clutching her side. Asherlee swung in, and shut the door as the heavy footsteps echoed all around them, getting closer.

"Stitch," was all Zophia could manage, and after a little pause, "So, unfit."

Asherlee crouched down beside her, and managed to hush her voice. "You've done well so far. Just a little longer."

Zophia shook her head. "Leave me here. Take the fireworks and go."

"No way," Asherlee hissed. "We need everybody."

Zophia winced as the footsteps came even closer, up the stairs onto their floor, along with the sound of wood splintering as doors were kicked in. "No point saying that if we all fail because I failed."

Asherlee looked at Zophia for a long moment, realising just how serious she was. "Just remember what Moe said!" she muttered, picking the fireworks up, standing and placing herself next to the wall, listening intently. Outside, the raiders could be heard calling out "clear!" and "next room!", followed by another splintering. Asherlee's muscles tensed up as the voices approached their door.

Suddenly, with a battlecry, Asherlee rushed to the wall and launched both her feet at it. The dropkick decimated the wall, and it plowed into the raider at the head of the pack, crushing him against the far wall. Seizing the element of surprise, Asherlee scrambled to her feet and rained blows in every direction, forcing them back with sheer mass and ferocity. But the raiders were coming from both ends and without even enough room to turn around or take a proper swing, Asherlee's size proved to be a disadvantage, and as soon as she threw a punch at one end, she was being tackled from the other. Eventually the bodies were piling on top of her and she started to stagger, eventually being overwhelmed and sinking to her hands and knees.

"I'm not done yet!" She pulled out a firework, setting her teeth around the fuse.

"No, not inside!" Zophia tried to call out in warning, but too late. Resolutely, Asherlee gave it a yank, and the firework was live.

The explosion sent a shockwave through the hallway, shattering the windows, causing all the framed pictures in the hall to fall and break on the floor. The flames licked at the walls, engulfing everybody, singeing hair, setting clothes alight. Bodies reeled and flailed everywhere, beating at fire and dust as the firework itself continued to whine and spit sparks over everything.

"Asherlee!" Forgetting her exhaustion, Zophia scrambled to her feet and ran into the corridor, trying to see through the pandemonium. She tripped, and looked back to see a familiar hulking body, trademark red tunic looking much the worse for wear, blackened hands clapped over ears. "Asherlee!"

"I'm fine," Asherlee gritted, looking anything but. "I'm fine. We gotta keep moving."

But while the firework had taken out all the raiders on that level, it had also attracted the attention of everybody in all the other levels and buildings, and once again the shouts rose and the tramping footsteps drew closer, this time a multitude of them. Zophia attempted to hoist Asherlee to her feet but was completely ineffective. She fumbled at the other firework packages, counting them. Apart from the sinister-looking red rocket, she had just two regular fireworks left. That wouldn't buy them much time. Zophia glanced at her paintbrush, sure she could paint a few walls perhaps, but they wouldn't hold out for long either, and she didn't have enough time to draw anything that could really get them out of trouble.

She picked the paintbrush up anyway, armed with a fresh dab of whitewash. "Let's hope Moe's right!" she said, to a weak thumbs up from Asherlee.

The raiders, smelling their quarry, were positively baying by the time they reached the burning level of the townhouse. But Zophia took the initiative, flicking paint at them and wiping them out with violent strokes of her brush. Muted, they fell one by one, but with more piling up behind them, Zophia knew she couldn't hold out much longer. Then the fateful moment happened; a raider slipped past her guard and grabbed her brush, immobilising it. She tried to tug it away but it was far too large and bulky to be effective in such close quarters. She could see the raider's sneering face, mouth slightly open as he reached up-

Right above them, the roof caved in, tile, boards and detritus raining upon them. With a shout, Dank crashed through, the head of his hammer glowing with a charged spell, which he then unleashed through the corridor. A spout of water erupted from it, washing raiders both fallen and active away and back down the stairs, starting off a waterfall that would result in a tidal wave that gutted the entire half of the town house, spitting the raiders back out the front door. No sooner than this had started, Dank promptly wheeled around, using Zophia's body as leverage, and hurled Moe's jar at the nearest raider on the other side. It connected with a thunk, and left the raider glassy eyed. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the raiders on that end of the corridor were picked up and shoved, hard, sending them back down the other staircase to join the tidal wave.

In the stunned silence that followed, Moe spoke. "Now that's an improvement."

"Asherlee!" Zophia finally recovered enough to remember the situation. Asherlee struggled to her feet, leaning against the wall. "It's fine, really. Just singed hair, palms, and my ears are ringing." Asherlee looked down, then added, "And my clothes are shredded."

"I wouldn't have found you if it weren't for that firework," Dank said. "As crazy as that was."

"And we wouldn't be alive if you and Moe hadn't shown up like that," Zophia said, relief evident in her voice.

"We'll have time to thank each other later guys, but we got to finish this job." Asherlee tore another strip off her tattered shreds, wrapping them around her singed palms. "We made it this far, it's just one sprint to go."

"They'll be all over us as soon as we exit," Moe cautioned. "I can help a little now, but it still takes a lot of concentration."

"It's fine," Zophia said. "I feel better now."

Dank smashed another hole through the back door, and they all hit the ground running. Sure enough, the raiders quickly spotted them and started running after them. Zophia quickly pitched the last two regular fireworks, setting them off with a whiz and a bang, and tightened her grip around the sinister red rocket. Over them, the great black pillar of smoke billowed, and the heat from the flames was getting stronger.

"Just a block to go!" Asherlee said, but too soon, for a wall of raiders blocked their path, and the ones pursuing from behind were catching up. The closer they got, the more it was apparent that they had figured out the direction of this breakaway team, and had purposefully set out to stop them, for the wall was very deep and very solid.

"They've got us!" Zophia said, crestfallen. "We can't bust through that."

"Hand me the firework, then," Asherlee said, holding out her hand. Wordlessly, the rocket was passed between them. As the raiders formed another circle around them, Asherlee cocked her arm back, leg raised, and pitched it as hard as she had ever thrown anything. It soared into the air, lost to the haze, and even as the raiders closed in again, they all counted the seconds, waiting for it to go off.

In a bloom of evil red fire, the firework exploded, and from a single wisp, the apparition of a giant dragon's head rose, shining so brightly it was visible for miles around. Even the raiders stopped to watch in wonder at the spectacle.

"Mission accomplished," Moe said.

"Well, guess the small chance was good enough," Dank chuckled wryly. "Too bad I'm probably right about the certain death."

"We'll just have to take as many with us as we can, right?" Asherlee picked her swords up again, and clanged them together ominously.

"Then I guess I better say my thanks now," Zophia said. "It was good working with you guys."

"It's not over yet," Asherlee said. "We'll just have to hope that the others make it back in time."

With that uncertainty hanging over them, the four stood back to back, seeing murder in the eyes of each and every one of the members of the horde as it regrouped.


The Alleyway Run

A sense of nervous anticipation electrified the air rushing over Strop and DM as Devoidless picked up speed, streaking away from Hermit's "Feeld". Strop, riding tail-gunner, peered back at the converging crowd, and knew that Hermit was in for a world of pain. Somehow, though, he'll be okay, Strop tried to reassure himself, as he fiddled with the string of his longbow, mentally counting the stock of arrows in his quiver. Up front, DragonMistress, steering with her thighs, clutched in her hands a small pouch, tightly shut with a drawstring. In it, were the hundred odd pills, the fruits of Hermit's labour, the key to their salvation.

In the distance, Strop could see the explosions beginning, and the sound of gunfire and artilliery mounting a full assault on a single hovel boomed through the Wilderness. As the twisted trees of wasteland yet to be reclaimed blurred by beneath, Strop closed his eyes, trying to relax for the moment of respite they had miraculously gained.

"Hey, did I ever mention that I'm afraid of heights?" Strop quipped, half-jokingly.

"I don't recall, but now's not really a good time to mention that," DM replied, tersely.

"It begs the question," Devoidless grunted, between flapping his great wings, "as to why you chose to live in that rickety tower for all this time, instead of that nice place at No. 15, Aristocrat Alley."

"Well, I've always made it a habit to confront fears... sometimes they never go away, but you get used to dealing with them." Strop mused.

"I still don't understand," DM looked back, easing for just a moment. "You're a ninja, aren't you?"

Strop laughed. "I'm a horse. Horses like their hooves on the ground. It's... strange, isn't it. Like I was defying my nature."

The relative silence of the howling wind prevailed, and the burning city of AG grew ever closer. Behind them, Strop could see hordes of little flying dots peel away and reform in rows, then grow at a disturbing rate.

"We've got fighters coming in," Strop relayed.

"So it begins," 'voidy murmured, a strange glint in his eye. "Will we make it?"

"They're coming in too fast!"

"Copy that," DM said. "'voidy, think you can shake them in the alleys?"

"Are you kidding?" 'voidy grunted, "It'll be just like the Craglands Canyon back home!"

(0:09) As the wall drew closer, the towers on the walls and the windows in the buildings just behind them erupted in flames and muzzle flash, and suddenly all around them was fire and missiles.

"Well, 'voidy," Strop sang out, his blood once again heating up. "Alot's happened since our lightsaber battle in the courts, huh?"

"It has been a long time," 'voidy roared back. "You'll have to tell me your stories when we get back, alright?"

"Yeah, you bet!" Strop said, nocking his first arrow in preparation. "We're a couple of shooting stars that can't be stopped!"

(0:22) "Let's do this!" DM yelled. They approached from low, skimming over the trees and snapping the tops of their rotting branches in their wake. The trees splintered and exploded as near-misses shot by all around them. At the last minute, DM leaned all the way back, and 'voidy pulled up. Strop's face almost dropped off his skull as he was ground into 'voidy's scales from the intense G-forces. At the top, 'voidy twisted around, and with a fearsome roar, issued a great fireball that completely roasted the facade of the nearest building. It burst into flames. Sooty scales glowing red in the light, Devoidless faced the onslaught, then leaned forwards, diving radically. "I'm going in!"

DM's vision blurred in the face of the dragon's sudden acceleration. "'voidy, pull up!"

But it was too late, and thirty tons of draconic brawn smashed through the corner of the building, showering the alleyway with flaming bricks. Coughing, DM and Strop dusted themselves off, then had to duck as the barrage renewed itself. Impenetrable walls of sound were all they could tell of the projectiles the raiders hurled at them as they wove their way through the alleys.

(0:39) "How many guns do you think, DM?" Strop called out over the screaming din.

"I'd say about twenty guns." DM shouted, her teeth gritted as she guided the dragon through the inferno, still heading full throttle for the walls. "Some on the wall, some in the windows."

No sooner had he said that, then a curtain of silence descended upon them. Strop rubbed his ears, convinced that he had gone deaf, but realised that the rushing wind was still there.

"The guns... they've stopped!" he exclaimed, more as a query than a statement.

(0:47) "Guard the rear Strop," DM called, "And watch for enemy fighters."

Her deduction was crucially accurate. As they barreled down the next alleyway, Strop saw an assortment of three, four, no, six aircraft drop down into the alley behind them, all guns blazing. Immediately, Strop loosed the first arrow, shooting it into the prop of a simple biplane. Smoke billowed out of the fuselage, and engine sputtering, it dropped, crashing to the cobblestone pavement below. Before he could celebrate, even more planes rolled in to pursue them, until Strop's view was even more crowded than the Enigmata Boss Run.

"It's getting toasty back there!" Devoidless warned, as flames licked and bullets pinged off his scaly hide.

"You don't say!" Strop muttered, loosing arrow after arrow, some explosive, some incendiary, watching plane after plane peel off, spouting smoke and flames, only to be replaced by even more, tougher, more advanced models. "I can't hold them off much longer!"

(1:02) "Loosen up, Mistress!" Voidy shouted, his flight growing shaky, his wings grazing the walls as he tried to jinx his 30 ton bulk this way and that in the narrow confines of the alley walls. DM responded by pulling back, and they lifted up and soared into the sky, braking hard before 'voidy reined in his momentum, clambering to the skies once more.

"We'll have to face 'em here! It's time to fight!" Below them, several fighters were taken by surprise, and pulled up too late, lazily looping directly into the dragon's line of sight, where he promptly toasted the lot with a fireball. Strop, hanging for dear life to his tail, whooped. "Nice shooting 'voidy!"

(1:13) "Don't get cocky," DM warned, "There's still more of them."

Sure enough, the three dozen or so aircraft that trailed behind made their way back out of the convoluted alleyways, until the skies were rocked with an aerial battle in full swing. Strop shot as many arrows as he could until his drawing finger grew tired, but even as his arnament of fire, explosion, flashes and nets started running out, to his horror, he found that since no shop was available to upgrade his equipment on the run, he was rapidly getting outclassed. Even as a dozen new plumes of smoke, complete with accompanying parachutes floating towards the ground, punctuated the city's landscape, more planes, with sleek armored shells, masses of gun barrels and whole racks of missiles and bombs, rose up seeking to destroy them. He loosed another arrow, and this time it merely pinged off a fighter jet uselessly. The horror was evident in his eyes, but he knew that somehow, it really shouldn't have come as a surprise.

(1:33) "Take evasive action!" Strop hollered, as sinister sounding bolts of energy started whizzing all around them.

"I'm trying!" DM called, as 'voidy tried to maneuver his ungainly bulk upwards in as erratic as possible a pattern without literally falling out of the sky. Fortunately, having wings that flapped, he was able to control his flight far more than the planes that circled them. One dived too close, and he suddenly lashed out, cutting its hull with the spikes of his tail. But the sheer numbers was starting to wear him down, and a missile he couldn't see or dodge slammed into his flank. He lurched, roaring in surprise, and DM and Strop scrabbled, trying not to come unstuck.

"Go for the clouds," Strop urged, his face mashed into dragonhide. "They can't see us there."

(1:44) With renewed resolve, Devoidless surged upwards again, the ground dropping away. Strop made the mistake of looking back, and felt his stomach wobble. "That's right, I love jumping, but I hate flying!" he shouted to nobody in particular, which turned into a rising moan as the dragon pulled a tight loop and flattened out, spearing straight through a plane that happened to be in the wrong place at the right time. The resulting explosion blinded the pilots right behind, and Devoidless took the opportunity to claw the rest of the way until they plunged into the dark stormclouds gathered above the land of AG.

(1:54) Nestled in the layers of dark cloud, the aerial team took stock. Devoidless coughed several times, trying to catch his breath.

"Are you okay, 'voidy?" Strop called, replacing his now obsolete bow.

"I got a little cooked, but I'm okay!" Voidy called back. Strop poofed his medical kit, seeing if there was anything he could apply to 'voidy's singed hide, but, as expected, a dragon's requirements far exceeded anything his meager first aid could provide.

"Besides, I'm more concerned about getting lost, coz we can't see and all, you know." Anxious seconds passed as they drifted, not sure whether to chance their navigation up above, or brave the predatory craft below.

(2:18) At that moment, as if on cue, there was a faint but distinctive glimmer, and now that the sound of aircraft wasn't constantly screaming in their ears, they heard it very clearly: the whining and subsequent pop and crackling of a firework.

"The fireworks!" They exclaimed at once. DM tightened her grip on 'voidy's neck with her thighs once more, and Strop cracked his knuckles. "Let's finish this!" Devoidless wound up his wings, pitching over and diving once more into the clouds.

(2:28) "They'll be all over us once we break through!" DM warned.

"At least we have the element of surprise!" 'voidy reassured.

"I'll think of something," Strop said, chewing his bottom lip. In his hands, wisps of cloud coalesced to form his banhammer, though he was uncertain as to its usefulness. Still, he had to try.

And then they were through! The city below them beckoned, and they saw the sparks settling barely a few miles away. Devoidless immediately changed course and headed straight for them, and they all prayed that they were heading towards the Freemarket, for at that altitude it was impossible to tell which fire was what.

But no sooner had the view become clear to them than they had become clear to the enemy. Once again the fighters swooped in on them, afterburner trails blazing across the sky, bringing with them the sound of fire and brimstone.

(2:45) "Stay on target," DM admonished 'voidy. Strop, tweaking his ninja senses to the maximum, attempted to fend off tracer bullets and plasma bolts with his ban hammer, but could barely cover the dragon's flanks. He ducked as a fighter jet screamed directly over head, peeling back and coming around again. He covered his ears, and almost dropped his hammer, struggling to bring it to bear as it made another run.

"Stay on target," DM said again, feeling 'voidy twitch as his scales took a few hits. Then he wobbled crazily as a tracer round brushed his right wing, setting it alight.

"STROP!" he roared, "See if you can put that out?"

Cursing, Strop dispelled his hammer, crawling his way along the spines of 'voidy's back as he struggled to maintain control through the onslaught. Grabbing the thumb horn of his wing, Strop managed to swing himself around, and with one hand, started beating at the flames that threatened to ruin 'voidy's lift.

He saw it too late. A rocket, launched from one of the fighter planes, was on a direct collision course for the already weakened wing, with Strop on it. Acting purely by instinct, Strop leapt off 'voidy entirely, summoning his hammer and throwing himself behind it-

The rocket slammed into the hammer, exploding in a spectacular fireball. The shockwave threw Strop's hands off the hammer and winded him, and he fell, turning end over end, towards the ground below.

(3:05) "STROOOP!" Devoidless roared again, this time with much more anguish in his voice. Gritting his teeth, he tucked his head in, ignoring his burning wing and the stinging of his hide. It was near certain death to fall from several hundred feet, and even for a horse of Strop's ability, to take a direct hit from a rocket and then survive that would surely be impossible. When the fighter returned to finish the job, he rolled over, lashing out in fury, and tore the jet to pieces with his bare claws.

"We're a couple of shooting stars that can't be stopped!" he muttered to himself, a solitary tear squeezing out of his eye, before accelerating even faster, trying to put some distance between himself and the remaining three jets, but being jets, the effort was futile, and they formed up on his tail, ready to send him and DM to join Strop in oblivion. The middle one opened fire once more, green bolts of death lancing out-

"No, look!" DM suddenly called, pointing. Behind them, the jet on the left suddenly broke apart, leaving its pilot with nothing but a chair. The rightmost one, caught off-guard wobbled, and then swerved, colliding with the middle one, denting its tailfin and sending it into an endless spiral.

(3:20) And then, floating into view holding a steel bolt almost as large as the bow itself, was the lunatic ninja horse, yelling "Yahoooooo!" Then he started flailing as soon as he realised he had already passed the apex of his flight. Instantly, Devoidless slowed down, reaching out and catching Strop in both arms, as the debris of the last fighter plane slowly scattered to earth.

(3:31) The three, their trial now nearly over, breathed a sigh of relief, turning to watch the blossoming of the great dragon head firework that shone through the smoke. "Look, they did it," Strop breathed.

"No, we did it." DM corrected him. "We all did it."

"Now let's blow this thing and go home!" Devoidless wheeled around, and set forth towards the marker. The escape, the evacuation, the herbs, the marker, somehow, working together, they had achieved great things against greater odds, and, Strop thought to himself, still shaken after his death-defying impression of aerial Tarzan, maybe they might get through this day and save AG after all.

But he didn't want to jinx it.


The Way of Moderation Part Ten: Metal Hyena Man Part Three: The Sound and the Leon

The Ferris wheel and roller-coaster stood against the darkening sky. They appeared to be intact from Leon's angle, but given the state of affairs, it was impossible to be sure. He walked through the dilapidated gates, eying up the park for signs of people. He glanced warily at a pair rooting through the deep freezer of a half-collapsed hotdog stand, but paid them little mind. He watched as one of the annoying blue-hoodied brigands emerged from a poorly-concealed hiding place. The kid stalked over to the looters with an air of cool confidence. He seemed to be addressing them, but Leon was too far to make out his words. Leon shrugged and walked on. He hadn't made it twenty paces when he heard the shrill human voices behind him raise to an impassioned squeal. Flattening his ears, he turned around. Taking care that his armor clanked as much as possible, Leon stomped back to the trio of humans.
"Who are you?" The SHOPS member was first to address him, stopping mid shout.
"Shut up." Leon barked. "I'm trying to have a stroll."
"I'm just trying to stop the looters!" the kid whined.
"Stop? More like rob!" one of the looters piped up. The SHOPS member opened his mouth to reply, but Leon was faster:
"If he takes your stuff, it'll be in the hands of SHOPS. SHOPS will use it for good, so all things being the same, he'd better take it." Leon explained.
"Uh... yeah." the kid agreed. "How'd you know?"
"Basic logic and reason, how about?" Leon scoffed. The kid gawked, eyebrow raised, but said nothing else.
"Righto, carry on, then." Leon waved.
"What?" a looter demanded. "You're just going to let him rob us?"
"Sure am!" Leon gave him a little thumbs up. "I mean, his logic is sound." The looter seethed in silence as the SHOPS member gathered the cans of peaches from the ground. "I mean, you're welcome to take a contrary position if you'd prefer." Leon added. Instantly, the two looters opened to forum for discussion with high-pitched protests and accusations of despotism. With a brief nod, Leon launched into action. A second later, the SHOPS member was laying on the ground, clutching his nipples.
"Hard to get a good grip with these gloves." Leon explained. "Meant to rip his pectoral muscle clean off." Leon made a clawing motion to emphasize his point.
"What was that for?" the kid demanded, rubbing his chest.
"Can't grab cans 'til we sort this out." Leon said, twisting to a sitting position. The SHOPS kid had other plans. He fished a whistle from his pocket. As he brought it to his lips, Leon snatched it. Without a second thought, Leon blew the whistle. He heard the sound of his breath rushing through it.
"Huh." he said, regarding the whistle. He looked up to see the two looters, hands over their ears, faces contorted. The SHOPS member had pulled his hood tightly around his head.
"God that tone's annoying!" one of the looters whined. Chuckling, Leon pocket the whistle.
"Right." He reiterated. "Where were we?"
"You were explaining to this punk why stealing is wrong." the first looter said smugly.
"Now I remember! You were explaining to this punk why stealing is wrong." Leon nodded.
"Uh, me?" the looter seemed a tad confused.
"This is your fight." Leon said. "As your mediator, I'm just here to make sure your discourse remains productive and civil."
"A what?" the SHOPS member looked up at Leon.
"Discourse." Leon stated. "It has to remain civil."
"No, the other thing."
"Look," Leon growled "are we gonna talk about our problems or not? Because the alternative is that the three of you fight for my amusement and the survivor gets the peaches."
"Well," the second looter started "we were picking up some peaches, minding out own business, when this jerk-"
"Cut the hostility." Leon advised.
"Fine, this guy-"
"Please, call him Andy." Leon added.
"My name's Norman." the SHOPS kid said.
"It's not your turn to talk." Leon snapped.
"Norman came and-"
"Andy." Leon corrected. The looter rolled his eyes.
"ANDY came over and started giving us beef about how it was our duty to help the city of AG." the second looter finished.
"Norman, what's your position on this?" Leon asked amicably.
"You over there! Freeze!" A nasal voice screeched from somewhere behind Leon. With a sigh, Leon got up.
"Looks like my friends are here." Norman said smugly. Leon turned to face the cloaked rabble.
"I'll just see if I can do something about that." Leon growled darkly.

A few minutes later, Leon sat again, SHOPS members and looters forming a cross-legg'd circle around him. He wasn't much worse for wear, though his left gauntlet, vambrace, and rerebrace were neatly spattered with little flecks of blood. A bloody-lipped SHOPS member sat across from him, trying his best to look indignant past the hand covering his eye.
"Are we all going to be good now?" Leon asked.
"Yes, mom." Norman sighed.
"Don't you backsass me!" Leon commanded. "Now."
"You realize SHOPS will never let you get away with this." the bloody faced one growled.
"I can see where such discussion would be contrary to their motives." Leon said calmly. Before anyone had a chance for rebuttal, he tossed his head back and cackled. His mouth snapped shut.
"Right. So where were we?"
"These jerks have been walking around like they own the place!" the first looter shouted suddenly.
"We're patrolling for raiders!" a SHOPS member countered.
"But you run away when you find any!" the second looter exclaimed.
"For your own good!" the SHOPS member jumped to his feet.
"Hey dude, like, relax, and stuff." Leon protested feebly.
"And you!" the SHOPS member sensed his advantage "Waltzing in here trying to make us talk how you want! What do you think you are? Some kind of moderator!?" The kid advanced, gesturing sharply. Leon jumped to his feet, holding his knife hidden behind his wrist.
"Come on, let's talk this out." Leon growled, slipping into a fighting posture. Without a second word, the kid began to attack. Leon flashed a toothy grin as he watched it all unfold. The kid raised his arm, forming a fist as he did so. Leon began to sidestep lightly as the kid began to swing, elbow extending ever so slowly. In an instant, Leon moved. He stood just out of the punch's path, his knife buried in the attacker's neck.
"Trust me, kid." he growled. "I'm no moderator." The kid fell, emitting a feeble sigh. Leon's cold yellow eyes remained locked on the kid as a spatter of crimson arched across the sky. It came to rest on Leon's cuirass as he wretched the knife from his neck.
"Now then, are we good?" Leon said brightly. He looked around. The SHOPS members stood around him, cracking their knuckles and swinging various weapons presumably drawn from the ether.
"Mother..." Leon swore.

A few moments of sadly necessary violence later, Leon stood panting. The first of the looters sat by, staring at him. Leon turned to him.
"Does this mean I can have the peaches now?" he asked meekly. Leon made a quick but threatening motion.
"Running now." The looter hopped to his feet and joined the rest of the fleeing rabble. Leon looked around him. Four bodies lied around him, ranging from lightly bashed to stabbed in the neck.
"Come on, Marley." Leon growled. "We'd better make our getaway too."

He crossed the threshold of a building, passing under a vandalized sign reading "jewelry 'tore". The building was torn apart, trash strewn across the floor. Leon stepped through the dark refuse, standing above a smashed display case. He pushed the refuse out of the way, looking for anything of value. A fire opal caught his eye. Leon judged the bright stone to be rather low quality, but he felt the inexplicably urge to pick it up. As he was about to lean over, he heard a noise behind him. He whipped around. A demon-faced raider sprung from a dark corner of the room, brandishing a club. Leon quickly dodged to the side, breaking the raider's club arm. As the raider reeled back in pain, it let out a piercing screech. Leon quickly drew his knife and planted it in the raider's chest. A jet of crimson spurted from from the wound, dousing Leon's arms and armor in hot blood. Leon reeled back, allowing the raider to slump to the ground. Forgetting about the fire opal, Leon searched the troll's body. Finding nothing of worth, he stepped back under the pregnant sky. He looked up as he heard a resounding clap of thunder. All at once, the rain began to fall, a single drop followed by a great deluge. The sound of rain filled the air as Leon pulled his hood over his head. His cape was soaked in an instant. His armor gleamed silver as a red torrent of blood and water flowed in a trail behind Leon. As he walked, the bloody water flowed into a stream forming beside the curb. As the rain fell, the water diluted the blood until the thick red became a few vespers of pink in the water. Finally, it disappeared completely as the liquid flowed down the stream.

10,811 posts

Mission Failed

"No! It's too soon!"

Strop looked up, aghast, as raindrops splashed on his nose. In the one second it took for his brain to process this development, the clouds stopped hesitating, and in the next moment he was soaked to the bone. So too was Devoidless, and Dragonmistress, who had frozen, seeds of salvation still in her hand, poised to throw into the great inferno below.

But the inferno of the Free Market was already changing. The billowing black clouds of smoke had turned white as great plumes of steam replaced ashes. Before their eyes the fires were dying, as were their hopes.

"ABORT THE MISSION," Strop screamed at DM and Devoidless.

"But the fire isn't out yet!" DM protested. "We still have time!"

"No, that's not it!" Gesticulating wildly, Strop struggled to rein his brain back in time with his mouth. "The fumes won't do anything. Only the rain from the clouds that carried those fumes!"

Even as the rain pounded down heavier and heavier, DM stared blankly at Strop, blinking droplets of water out of her eyes. "You mean to say... why would... but what was the point of all that?"

"I- I-..." Strop's mouth gave up. "I'll tell you later, if we live!"

"Excuse me," Devoidless grunted. "If you wouldn't mind telling me what we're doing now then?"

Strop took a deep breath. "The pills won't work properly in these conditions, they'd be wasted. Keep them for another time."

DM, understandably, still looked confused. "What time is that?"

"I don't know!" Strop shouted in exasperation, for the umpteenth time that afternoon. "I don't know."

As the rain beat down on them, the only sound left was the waves of rain striking the dragon's wings as they beat upwards. Everywhere below, confusion reigned. The cobblestones became slimy and slippery, and the debris and dust from ruins mixed with the running water and mired everything in layers of sludge that stuck to legs and sloshed around as everybody waded in to do battle, and soon, the sounds and cries of mortal mudfighting reigned. Fighting, Strop thought. But isn't everybody supposed to be at the Ar-

The three thought the same thing at once, and collectively their breaths caught. "The other mods!"

Devoidless didn't even need any telling. In an instant his wings were folded, and he rolled into a headlong dive.


Asherlee gnashed her teeth, "Will it ever end!?" With a roar, she threw her arms up, driving an entire line backwards.

Still panting heavily, Dank leaned on his hammer and watched the raiders pick themselves up and charge in again. "Guess it's just certain death then." Great splashes and trails of droplets arched through the air as shockwaves rippled outwards from his hammer. As his name suggested he was perhaps the only one left who might actually have been strengthened by the rain, but even he looked overwhelmed, his eyes staring vacantly even as he fought on.

"I'd rather not die, thank you!" But even as she said it, the cold of the wet chilled Zophia, stiffening her muscles, slowing her down even as she flailed with her brush. The paint was diluted and streaked, washing off and undoing her work, freeing her opponents to claw at her and try to rip her brush away. But since the handle itself was so slippery that she herself could barely grip it, her assailants all slid straight off, stumbling and falling over themselves on the pavement. "We need a plan!"

"There is no plan," Dank murmured. "Not anymore."

Zophia tried to shut his words off, scrabbling for her palette, only to find that she had run out of paint. A raider, who had snuck into the blindspot, reared up, club poised to strike, but was miraculously knocked back with a glassy thunk.

"Moe! You flew!" Zophia couldn't help but point out the obvious.

"I can't control it very-" Moe paused a bit, wobbled, then clattered to the ground. "Well. And it's as best as I can manage. But, at least this way, I could die not being a burden anymore."

"You're thinking about something like that at a time like this!?" Dank spluttered, but he was cuffed on the back of the helmet by Asherlee, who promptly spoke over him. "We'll get through this. We have to live."

"That's all very well and good," Dank piped up from under Asherlee's suppressive cover, "But how do you propose we survive this?"

Asherlee looked at the raiders, now close enough to see the features of their expressions, even as each one was another member of a faceless, restless mob of wanton rage. Their eyes burned with a hatred beyond all comprehension, multiplied by the thousands of disparate wills that bundled into one. In the face of all this, Asherlee shrugged. "I dunno."

And with that utterance, the four lowered their weapons, not even thinking what might happen next, not even thinking to await death, but simply to wait, come the inevitable, or miracle.

The sea of raiders parted, blown violently apart by an unseen gust. The streaks of rain scattered, waves of droplets pattering against the facades on either side of the street. Then a black cloud swooped down, sending bodies scattering, before sliding to a stop directly in front of the four.

"Get on!" Dragonmistress shouted.

Wordlessly, the mods stared at each other, then made a break for it. Ungracefully they struggled atop the great dragon's spines, and promptly fell over as Devoidless launched himself into the air. Everybody sat back up, gripping whatever they could as he flapped, hovering menacingly over the street of people who glowered back.

"Since everybody is still awake, I take it the plan didn't work," Moe suggested. Strop hung his head.

"Yes. We've failed our mission."

"I never would have thought," Dank snorted. "We failed, but somehow we're still alive. So is there a plan B or are we all doomed?"

"Does it involve burninating everybody here while we still can?" Devoidless asked, blowing a few small licks of fire at the more daring punters among the largely cowed crowd who had seemingly never been so close to a live fire-breathing dragon.

Strop rubbed his head. "No, no, no. AG isn't doomed. Not yet. Not while our castle still stands. But that castle is in danger now, because the courts are gone, and as soon as people figure out that they can cross through there, then we'll have trouble."

"Defend the castle huh?" Asherlee stretched her broad shoulders, then tilted her head back to look at the endless black and the falling rain. "It sounds like another last stand in a series of last stands doesn't it."

"At least we can hope that we survive until the administration arrives," DM said, unconvincingly. "At least, assuming they saw the distress signal."

Even in the chaos that enveloped them, they shared a single moment of clarity, the reflection on the irony behind the whole tournament and its course, and the problem that they faced but no longer felt capable of containing. In that moment, the true nature of their problem was revealed, a nature beyond anything that the Way of Moderation could ever have hoped to address.

"It's simple, really," Strop concluded. "Either we survive, or we fall. Until we find out, we'll just do what we can."

"Agreed." DM reined Devoidless around, pointing him in the direction of the castle. Even as some of the raiders tried to follow, and others fled, they set off towards the courts, half-hoping to see the end of the day, and half-dreading what might otherwise happen.


Enter the Fishman

(The following was written by Manta)

I had my team set up.

14 fish men, all armed to the teeth with weapons, weapons as far as the eye could see, amazing, deadly...

well, truth be told, there are only about 27 fish-men total, and the weapons and armor were made of fish-bone and seashells and some limestone. honestly, we were a sorry looking bunch. Plus, we had been partying for about 4 months before we even tried to get this together. Squid ale s great stuff.

But if fish-people were anything, they were resilient! They could adapt to any situation, and my peeps here were gonna do the best with what they had.

I led the charge. "Charge!" I yelled to my charge.

Silently as possible, all my fishy comrades grouped together behind the raiders, weapons at the ready. Once we were in range (with the group of raiders taht was for some reason still in the forest after these four months), I yelled the signal.


Now, what you may not know, is that fish-bone, when tempered in a certain way that only fish-people know about, is a ctually a very tough substance. Extremely, really. Which is one reason I can take such a beating, seeing how I have fish-bone.

And, ho boy, you should have seen us out there. Bone arrows piercing the chests of evn the biggest internet-tough guys, Fish-swords knocking cavalry off their horses and bleeding to death on the soft ground.

And then there was me. Because I'm awesome. I was at the front lines, no armor, no weapons, just me. I was raping out there, literally.

Because raping doesn't always mean what one thinks it means, it just means "to dominate," pretty much.

So I was dominating.

Like usual.

"Men! Hold your attack!"

The scene was grisly. Dozens of fallen raiders, all within a few hundred feet of the town gates.

"...we... we've done it!"

The cheers roared through the forest.

But... wait... "HEY!" GET BACK HERE!"

One scout managed to escape towards the gate. I chased, but the little bugger was fast. He climbed the gate and opened it up before I even got a chance to catch him.

And what I saw was horrifying.

"Chrissakes..." The whole of ArmorCity was under attack.

"Hey, uh, Manta, I don't think that did anything."


I stood shocked, mouth agape. All I could think to do was ask the only person I could think of who knew what was happening what the hell was going on.


10,811 posts

Call to Arms

Even through the driving rain and oppressive grey that seemingly obscured anything and everything, Strop's ears pricked. "Did I just hear my name?"

This was met with general sounds of apathy and non-commitment. "I dunno, my hearing isn't that good." "You can't possibly hear that through all the rain." "Maybe you ought to see a psychiatrist."

Strop gave Devoidless a dirty glare in return for that last jibe. "Look, just keep flying, we gotta get to the Main Street and set up a perimeter."

"Is that even going to work?" Ever the skeptic (for good reason, it seemed), Dank clung to his security hammer. "There's, what, seven of us and what, a million of them? And even if the courts are the main entry point, Ubertuna's gone so his 'magic-shield-we-never-really-tested-but-probably-didn't-work-anyway' is definitely not there anymore, meaning if they find their way through the forests... or worse yet, those giant mutant trolls..."

"Okay, shut up now," Strop rubbed his head. "If we just had a little time, we could figure something out, right?"

The sound of rain was the only reply.

"I know I heard my name," Strop said to himself, folding his arms. Just then, his ears pricked again. "And there it was again. Except louder this time, and HEY WHAT THE!?"

Devoidless' passengers were almost thrown off as the dragon suddenly banked and dropped, and not a moment too soon. Just where they had been earlier, several missiles and cannonballs streaked through the air, and exploded somewhere in the distance. Below them, the street was full of people. Wet, slipping over each other in a squalid tangle, smashing everything in their path indiscriminately. And behind them, a writhing mass pushing relentlessly forward, until it engulfed the people in front like a wave, no, a tsunami of stampede. And that was when the mods realised that this was already the Main Street, and time was not on their side.

Instinctively, Devoidless let forth a mighty fireball that engulfed the front of the wave of rioters, causing some of them to panic and curl up, but they were merely buried under another wave of scrambling rioters. Dragonmistress yanked back on his top horns, yelling "It's no use in this much rain!"

"This isn't a good place!" Strop shouted as the rising tide of people threatened to swallow them, "Voidy, get us up and back to the castle stat!"

Devoidless hissed, itching against his better judgement to get stuck into the rioters, "Here's as good as anywhere else!"

"It's different! They're running from something, and at this rate they'll be at the castle in just over minute!"

Gnashing his teeth, Devoidless blasted off again, and as they rose, Strop peered towards the gates, muttering to himself. "What could they be running from though..." but being a horse, he couldn't see. Asherlee, with her soldier's eyes, however, could. "Are those fishmen? Huh. Bet they'd be handy in these conditions."

Strop froze, and inside, the penny finally dropped. "MANTAAAAAAAAAAAA!?!?!?!?"


From the other end of Main Street, Manta heard the voice reply to him, and his heart immediately pumped harder, stirring his blood up. "Hear that men?" he called. "That's the sound of a certain ninja pony in need of help! We'll meet them in the middle and crush the lot, and then it's glory and fame for all of us!"

It sounded like such a great idea, that nobody could think of any other way to respond. "TO ARMS!" the cry went, and with a great roar, they all shook their bones and took off in pursuit of the rioters.


"Uh, I think the fishmen are coming this way too," Asherlee stated, looking back over her shoulder.

"Ugh, and this is why we wanted to users to stay put," Strop facepalmed. "We- we, uh..." for some reason he couldn't finish the sentence.

"We were doing fine by ourselves?" Moe finished it for him, and for a little twist, added "How ironic that the one thing that might save us now is the same thing that exacerbated our situation."

"I'd say you were joking, Moe, but I know you better than that. In which case, you must have gone crazy."

"Maybe that's why the tournament hasn't gone over so well for you."

Strop was about to reply, but then decided against it. Defeated, he looked the other way. "Devoidless, could you put us down at the courts?"

"You mean this crater that used to be the courts? Right here. Now everybody off." With that, everybody tumbled off, landing in the giant, shallow crater. Now that the rock had been cooled off, it had ossified, morphing into a strange trabecular honeycomb that made stepping on it a hazard. Strop prodded it with his hoof, and found it as sturdy as it was hazardous to run across.

"That'll slow them down a bit, at least. Now, if we could set up some kind of defence..."

"Uhm," the others asked him. "What kind of defence are you talking about?"

They all looked around them. They had no equipment, no supplies, and the bricks that lay scattered about were only useful for throwing. All they had was themselves, their banhammers, their flagging powers, and one minute before the end of the world descended upon them.

Strop glanced down at the unobtrusive pouch tucked away into his ninja suit, and considered. "Well, guys, I think this really might be our last stand."


The mods whirled around.

"You didn't think we'd let you go down by yourselves, would you?"

Emerging from the curtain of rain was a young man with an odd bald patch on his head, a rifle casually slung over his shoulder. With his head bowed, his face was but a shadow, until a bolt of lightning arced across the sky overhead, ending with a thunderous crash. In a single, illuminating moment, Strop realised who it was and why he didn't recognise him.

"Thoad! Where's your helmet? And what are you doing here?"

"We're defending our city. And saving your sorry *****." Thoad smirked. The lightning struck once more, and behind him, in front of the walls of Armor Castle, complete with barbed wire, caltrops, mounted sniper posts... it was a veritable defence wall, and even as the moderators looked at it, heads popped over the edge, cheering and waving banners and the flag of Armor Games. Amongst them, Strop could see several familiar figures, including the ever forgetful KingRyan, and the ever reticent Crimson.

Strop was rendered almost speechless. "But... how?"


People Power- a flashback

"Wha?" Thoad said, surprised that somebody (other than Rose) was actually addressing him. He could have sworn that he recognised the wolfskin, but something wasn't quite right. "Nemo? No wait, last I remember, Nemo didn't have boobs. Speaking of which, nic-"
"That doesn't matter," Nill said, cutting him off. "What matters is that I know you. You're one of those final eight guys from that Way of Moderation tournament, right?"
"Semi-finalists," Thoad specified. "I made it to the last four-"
"Yeah whatever," Nill said, again cutting in. "I remember you also have a big mouth."
Thoad bristled, unfamiliar with speaking to somebody even more blatantly offensive than he tried to be sometimes: "Hey, what are you saying? It's not like Leon, Crimson or Frank-"
"Which is why I need that big mouth of yours."
"Huh?" Thoad could have sworn that missing part of his scalp also deprived him of part of his brainpower, until things clicked. "Oh! Right. You won't find a bigger mouth than mine!" he proudly proclaimed.
Ten seconds later, several familiar users had gathered, including the few veterans who had hung around from the days of old, and some of the other notable candidates from the tournament.
"What's the noise about?" Chill asked, nonchalantly sipping his coffee and watching the crowd gradually grow around them.
"What noise?" Kingryan croaked, "I didn't hear anything."
"If you didn't hear anything, then how come you came over so quickly?" Chill interrogated Kingryan, but the old man had already fallen asleep on his feet again.
"Right," Nill said. "I have stuff to do. You have fun, okay?"
Thoad whirled around, "What, aren't you going to stick around and help out? Weren't you a moderator before?"
Nill shrugged. "I'm not one now, and frankly, I'm more useful elsewhere." She turned and started threading her way through the gathering throng. "Leadership, problem solving, courage, charisma. A moderator needs these things, but these things aren't reserved to moderators alone. You've always been waiting for a chance to prove yourself, so why not now? Realise the meaning of people power, instead of entrusting your fate against your will to some ditzy ninja pony."
"It did seem like he had a plan," Chill offered, still remembering that strange favour said pony had asked of him.
"But not one for us," Thoad muttered, Nill's words sinking in.
"Well, I trust you'll take the matters into your own hands, then, instead of waiting for your demise," were Nill's final words before she vanished into the flow of the congregation.


Thoad stood in a courtyard of unorganized loons. His fists were clenched, his arms were flexed, and in his mind was only the thoughts of the darkening horizon. He could only think of the approaching doom of the raiders. The fires within the city that raged fueled his growing anger, until it became something he couldn't bear. With gusto, he stomped onto the cobblestone floor under him. He yelled into the air, "LISTEN UP, I'M THE ONLY ONE HERE WITH AN ACTUAL PLAN!" he screamed, releasing a portion of his rage into the air.

It took a good ten minutes of our sweet, precious time to calm down and gather around. Thoad found a box- it looked like it was filled with junk someone looted- and stood on it. Thoad, be it his imagination or real life, heard someone yell "My box of soap!" Thoad sighed, and let his aching, shoddily-pieced-together head hang. He inhaled deeply and brought his head up.

"Are we really going to let someone like this win?" Thoad called into the crowd. People stood bewildered, as if they were promised a plan and instead got a braveheart moment. "We've been losing to a bunch of green kids who don't know how the hell to beat Electric Box? We're losing to guys who couldn't write a good review if their lives depended on it?"

A random AG user called out, "We're losing to ourselves?"

Thoad didn't regard him, "We're losing to the scum of the internet? /b/ is better than these guys!"

A different AG user yelled, "And /b/ sucks!"

Thoad remained serious, "Even though I cannot voice my opinion about /b/ without thinking that they're going to sick lulzsec on me, we will not allow ourselves to be slaughtered and herded like chickens- which is to say, to no avial- by such complete pieces of unmitigated crap. Are we going to stand for this in our very homes?!"

No one was getting into it yet. Thoad pointed to a boy in the audience who didn't seem to enthralled, "You! Would you allow your obnoxious 8 year old cousin to go into your room, take a dump on your pillow, and then let him kick you in the shins?"

Another user interjected, "His shins!"

To which Thoad quickly corrected himself, "kick you in your shins?"

The user in question jumped in newfound excitement, "Hell no!" he screamed.

Thoad threw his arms in the air, "You're going to let these people do this to us?" He did a 180 on his box full of soap, and pointed to one of the few female users, who was hiding as a male (Read: dressed in drag) "Are you going to let this happen?" Thoad pointed at users everywhere in the crowd around him, "Are you? Are you going to let the worst people that anyone's ever known take a dump on your beloved pillow, the one that granny spent hours knitting just for you?!"

The crowd threw their arms in the air and cheered, "Hell no!" they all screamed.

"God as our witness, we're not going to let these horrid atrocities go un-noticed!" Thoad yelled out.

A user from the world politics/religion forum yelled back, "God doesn't exist!" Several other users were quick to correct him, and a small argument took place amidst a debate.

"Unimportant! What does matter is that it is here," Thoad stomped on his box, "Amidst the cobbles of the greatest icon we could ever have, that we will not take this sitting down! We will not allow these new***s to break out borders, and we will not rely on our protectors. We are the men and women of armorgames, and we will fight!"

The crowd began to cheer, and were full ready to do whatever necesarry to defend their beloved AG. Even the anti-religious and religious nuts had agreed to set their theistic beliefs aside in order to defend their precious icon of fortitude. "Here's the plan!" Thoad roared, "It's got a total of 4 steps to it! First step, I need a big trench around our draw-bridge. That'll trap some of the little ones. I need a team of 10 to work on sharpening sticks, becuase we're going to be putting those at the bottom of that trench!"

Someone asked in the crowd, "Won't that kill them?"

Thoad remarked, "We have no mods, who's going to stop us from properly defending what we so rightly own? This is our house, they're going to learn why they shoudln't intrude in our house." The crowd cheered some more.

"Step one and a half! Who here has caltrops?" A few users ninja-trainee users stepped up and raised bags high above their heads before disappearing back into the crowd, "And forum gamers, who has d4s?" A few users stepped forth with large bags of d4s- like true ninjas. Thoad laughed heartily, "Good! I'll be pitching in a bag as well. I want these caltrops lining the area to the drawbridge. Now then, Crimson has left us-"

Users became shocked, as a collective gasp surged through the bulk of the crowd. Thoad was quick to set their fears to rest, "He hasn't abandoned us, he's out to go get somethign to help with the second part of my plan. He's getting a spell to make a large wall sprout from the ground. In the mean-time I need you folks to ready bows, find battlestations, and raise a zipline pole. To jury rig a zipline you just need to use some of the ropes around here and have a nice sturdy but smooth cloth to zip down in. I need the zipline to end here, in this courtyard."

The users remained silent, and were excited to hear more instructions, "I also need a team of people to gather throwable objects from the castle. Don't break anything that looks important or take anything in glass. Just because it's shiny doesn't mean its good to throw. I need things like scrap pieces of wood we couldn't use for spikes and rubble or cobbles that are falling out," Thoad took a breather, and allowed people to understand what he was talking about, "Come to think of it, save some of the wooden spikes for the base of the wall too, that'll stop some of the raiders from charging it."

Thoad stepped down from his box full of soap, which was then pulled into the crowd to its rightful owner, "Folks will be up in the towers throwing the junk down on the raiders, what won't kill them will knock them out, while brave fighters on the ground will lure the raiders into accessible positions. When the situation is compromised and you are all tired, we're going to escape here..." Thoad walked to the far side of the courtyard, in a side-man-hole seen in the renaiisance era of Roma. "This leads to a sewer system that probably has a large conduit. I'm going to be setting traps down there while all of you are doing your jobs. You'll find riddles to get past the traps I'll be setting. The conduit inside will allow escape if necesarry, but the remaining fighters would be able to easily knock the new***s into the sewer water. Got it?"

Thoad waited for no answer before running off into the castle to gather trap-making supplies. The boy searched frantically for threads or thin wire, fishing wire, hell, even a cheese wire would be okay. He looked for springs, sprockets, spare parts, tiling, anything that coudl coneivably be made into a proper trap. After gathering enough materials for a good six traps, he was ready to go. The crowd remained cheering, and by forum, they split up. Through their own accord, the people of the forums gathered into groups and each set upon a task set by the questionable zombie survivalist.

His first trap was fairly simple. Using a block of charcoal "borrowed" from the shiny large chimminey in the main hall, Thoad scrawled an easy riddle on the side of the rock, "The English Seven Sins shall lead you to the river of styx." Thoad then de-cobbled the french-styled sewers. In each 8th spot where a cobble would be, he took did not place a rod meant to trigger a pressure plate. To the left, he dug and placed a mechanical spring large enough to push the cobblestone blocks held by more mechanical rods. A flag at the top left of the set of cobbles would show where to start. Turns out, the armorgames workshop held a lot of nice puzzle solving materials.

Each cobble was roughly the size of a foot, so it was greatly conveinent that Thoad was able to set this trap up. Each 8th cobble would be the safe way of passage. Any new*** who hadn't read the riddle would be pushed into the waters or blocked by the spring, and would have to rip off the trap.

"Alright, next!" Thoad got up from his shoddily made work, and continued through the sewers. Every so often, there would be a stream of light on the small walkways. The smell was as pungent as Thoad's gratuitous sweat. Running from half-trolls and struggling to not kill those who deserved it was oddly hard. The men and women (Read: Men pretending to be women) rioting in the streets paid no attention to the boy running from the fires. The ex-ZSC member, caked with fire of trolls and actual fire, encountered a mugger. He held a bandana with an armorgames logo tagged on.

Needless to say, the recently hardened boy was in no mood for dealing with people. He appeased the man by giving him the few bits of valuables he had on him, namely his helmet with gold ZSC letters on it. Soon after, the survivalist took his belongings back with a hearty choking. The boy hadn't done it all too often, but he was fairly sure that he wouldn't die.

Thoad set out to make more traps, each one more elaborate and seemingly insane than the last. Surely the only person who would be able to understand the lecherous clues to get past would be a qutie smart fellow or someone who knew Thoad incredibly well. There were a total of six traps- one painfully easy, the rest painfully difficult.


Tower Defence

"That's incredible," Strop said, shaking his head slowly. "If I had known, no, I should have known."

"There there," Moe verbally patted him on the back. "Now that you know, we can all move on."

Thoad guided the moderator squad through the labyrinth of traps, emerging from the moat onto the yard not fifty yards from the castle, at the base of the wall, complete with a makeshift trench surrounded by obstacles and caltrops and other spiky objects of doom. As hastily constructed as it was, the wall couldn't have been more than ten meters high. But, standing right at the bottom, such that it actually obscured the view of all but the highest tower of the castle, it seemed almost substantial. A rope ladder tumbled down, and they clambered up, to be greeted with raucous cheers and backslaps from the volunteers clad in makeshift armor from helmets to saucepans and trash cans. As surreal and illogical as the whole mess was, everybody allowed themselves the indulgence of basking in the warmth of the moment.

But as moments went, this moment wasn't to last very long. From this vantage point, it was plain to see that the rioting mob was recovering from the chaos of Manta's dash and their sudden encounter with the treacherous crater, and were picking their way towards the first of Thoad's traps. Strop motioned to Thoad. "Quickly now, what do you have going here?"

"The traps are set to go, Crimson's manning the siege defences, seeing as he was the one who made the wall. Chill's next to him, on buffs and enchantments, that'll slow the new***s up a bit. And then we have a thousand battle ready AGers ready to defend this castle to the death!"

Strop nodded in approval. "That's good. That's really good. Now, what's-" He stopped suddenly as an old man stumbled into him and groped his muzzle. "Hm, that feels like a certain bogan horse-"

"Let's not start that now, Kingbogan," Strop chided the amnesiac archivist. "And what are you doing with that sword?"

Kingryan swung it around feebly, almost knocking his crown off in the process. "I'm here to fight off those young whippersnappers..."

"No you're not, not in this way, you aren't," Strop steered him away from the wall's edge, where he was more than a little worried the veteran might topple over the edge. But with a sudden burst of strength, Kingryan shook him off.

"How dare you treat me like that, you're but a young whippersnapper yourself!" he rasped. "First you won't let me participate in the tournament despite my efforts, now you won't let me defend my own city!? They burnt down my library. My library, the archives that I kept since Beta! Now, all I have is this sword. And... these books, that people turn into when I hit them with the sword... but this is my own body, I'm my own person, and you should at least grant me that right in this time to do with it as my convictions compel me to!"

Standing before the old man, Strop actually took a step backwards. He saw a fire in his eyes he hadn't seen in any citizen since the fires started consuming the city, including his own. But if anybody would know best in this time, it wasn't him, no, it was the veterans who had been around since the very beginning. He put a hand on the old king's shoulder, partially to steady him, partially to appease him.

"It's not that," he said. "I told you we needed your archival skills, now I ask you to lend us the power of your quill."

"Well now that you put it like that," KingRyan grunted, "What would you have me do?"

"Ever heard of a command console?"

"A what?"

"A command console. Your quill would be perfect for setting one up and you could update it with all the info from the upcoming battles."

"What battles?"

Evidently the fires weren't particularly sustainable, Strop thought to himself. "Look, gimme a moment," he said, turning aside so quickly he didn't notice KingRyan promptly falling asleep on his feet, in time to see the other moderators getting mobbed by the volunteers on one side, and Manta and his fishmen charging (completely oblivious) towards the traps attempting to ambush the raiders trying to cross the crater. But first things first, "Guys guys guys, give them some room... and take a breather."

"What, now?" Asherlee asked him. "This day isn't close to over."

"No it isn't, but nothing's going to be any good if we all pass out from exhaustion, right?"

Zophia, Asherlee, DM and Dank looked at each other and shrugged before they nodded, a little tension easing out of all their shoulders. This left one dragon and one brain-in-a-jar, and the dragon was busy smoking a cigarette, or more accurately alternating between attempting to light a cigarette (and failing) and coughing his lungs out. As quietly as he could, Strop addressed Moe, who was quietly propped on the wall.

"Look, I know the whole taking on everything myself is a problem, but you need to take five too."

"It's okay," Moe said. "I've had problems too."

Strop crouched until he was at the level of the jar. "Regardless of your state, you're the most powerful of all of us. We've all known that from the beginning. But I think what you need is just a little extra time to rein in everything that's going on."

"It's different, but it's starting to make more sense now." Moe confirmed. "Five minutes. I'll work something out."

"Alright, good man, er... brain." Strop awkwardly corrected himself, before rising. "Devoidless!"

"I'm still good to go," Devoidless grunted, blowing fire on his soggy cigarette one last time before thoughtlessly crushing the butt against the helmet of a passing volunteer.

"That's good, because I need to borrow your wings again," Strop said, clambering aboard without waiting for permission. "Guys if you're ready, the other users could use some platoon leaders." He didn't really need to say anything, for the other mods had already peeled off and had started dividing the volunteer army up. Strop nodded to himself, then kicked the dragon's flanks.

"Right 'voidy, we're gonna net us some fish."


Fish net

"Chaaaaaaaar- oh what the f-"

Manta, in his youthful enthusiasm (a phrase often attributed to Strop but Manta was probably Strop's junior by quite a margin), hadn't appreciated where he was going or the consequences of his blind charge, so intent was he on leading his men against what he could see of the enemy that he didn't realise he was running straight into tricky terrain until his foot got caught in the vulcanised rubble, as did everybody else's. Then it was suddenly a matter of gingerly extricating their feet from the ground before swinging wildly at their similarly trapped opponents. It was a squalid affair: with everybody almost rooted to the spot, trying to grab each other but slipping and sliding off in the pouring rain, it almost looked a bit like an ice hockey match.

"I can't even use half my power, men, this won't do!" Manta yelled into the din.

"You're telling us! What do we do now?" one of his fellow tribesmen yelled back at him while gouging the nostrils of some hapless troll. Manta thought about this a moment, took a swing at the nearest target, then thought some more.

"I don't know! Men, we chaaaaaar-"

A bandaged fist clocked him upside the head, sending him reeling, then teetering back and forth as his feet lodged in the ground again, planting him firmly down. "Hey, what was that for!"

"You idiot, Manta, we wanted to keep the raiders away from the castle, not chase them to our doorstep."

"Strop? Strop!" Manta slicked back his sopping wet hair. "Aw come on man, I'm happy to see you too! And here I was thinking you'd thank me for whoopin' these guys, but no, you gotta ruin the moment!"

"Hey," Strop backpedalled, "I am glad to see you and your, uh, fishman friends here, but I'd be more glad if you hadn't sent an entire stampede towards the castle, if you know what I mean."

"Oh hey, sure, the castle probably can't stand up to much right now, I get it." Manta was quick to realise and quicker to speak. Strop doffed him on the head again.

"Could you like not broadcast that to the entire world while you're at it? Look, I need you to divert as many of these rioters from the crater and down the side streets. Taunt, melee, make noise, do what you do best, okay? Buy us some time, coz when it comes down to it, you're the one who's gonna be on the frontlines at the moat."

Manta nodded enthusiastically. "Got it."

"One other thing," Strop held up a hand, "I've sent for Chill, he'll temporarily provide you with some ranged backup. Kingryan will relay your route to you, you'll see instructions when they come. There's a wall on the other side of this crater, don't try to cross the ruins of the courts, Thoad's set up traps there. Crimson's built a wall at the moat, the rendezvous point is there. Try to stay fresh up to that point, and good luck. I'll see you at the wall."

With that, Strop tip-toed along the craggy ground, before jumping up onto the remains of a brick wall. The rain seemed to stop for a moment, then a great wind swept over everybody as a big black silhouette swooped low, snatched Strop up, and rose into the sky again.

Manta summoned his leader voice. "RIGHT MEN, LETS FALL BACK!"

Five Minutes

With the addition of a few veterans and leader figures, the wall was looking slightly more organised. It was still a crowded chaos, but there was some method to the madness. Now everybody seemed to have some kind of weapon in their hand, and positions were filled strategically. Under the sound of the pounding rain, a quiet undercurrent of uneasiness ran, and everybody hunkered down, like Rebel troopers on a Corellian frigate.

Strop landed back on the wall with a tap. "Thanks 'voidy."

"I'm going to run reconnaisance. And shred any airborne hostiles."

"Sounds good, I'm going to put Kingryan on a tactical vantage point in one of the castle guard towers. If you could relay extra info to him that would be good."

"Roger that." In a rare display of camaraderie, the two bumped fists, awkwardly. Devoidless turned and crouched, ready to spring into the air, but was stopped.

"A question, 'voidy."

"I'm all ears, ponyboy."

"...will you be doing any more burninating today?"

There was a long pause. "I don't think so."

"I thought as much," Strop nodded. "Still, it goes without saying. Engage at will."

"I would have done as much anyway," Devoidless grinned sardonically, before taking off. Strop jumped up onto a makeshift wall tower, scanning for familiar faces. Having spotted the unmistakeable figure of the larger-than-most Spartan, he jumped down and found a small conference.

"Oh hi Strop," Thoad grinned, obviously enjoying the new dynamic. "We were just inventorising and delegating."

Strop cast his eyes around, and realised there was one notable (but unsurprising) absence. "Has anybody seen Leon?"

Thoad scowled visibly. "No, he hasn't been around since all this started. What good would he be?"

Strop shrugged the question away and changed the topic. "Nevermind then. I'm going to send KR up to the North guard tower. Dank, you've got the skills, so do you think you could set him up, then replicate his setup here, and set up a remote interface between the two locations?"

Dank made a show of looking reluctant, but his words suggested otherwise: "Seeing as desperate times call for desperate measures, I'll do it."

At Thoad's raised eyebrow, Strop explained. "How'd you like a virtual interface that shows you everything that goes on in this battle, so you can send commands to any unit?"

Thoad brightened visibly. "Command any unit? Hell yeah!"

"Good," Strop said shortly. "You can do it then, coz I suck at RTS."

Then he turned and started sifting through the crowd, calling for Kingryan.


Meanwhile at the other end of the wall, a crisis was unfolding. Several users were running around with their hands in the air, their heads in their hands, and various other variations of distress and despair.

"What's going on?" Zophia asked.

"We've just discovered we have precisely enough munitions to defend against about five minutes of sustained assault." Crimson explained dourly. "That is to say, once my scrolls run out, which they probably will, the wall won't last much longer."

"Hm," Zophia chewed her lower lip. "That's not good."

"No," Crimson agreed. "It really isn't."

They stood around, watching the users panic for a few seconds. Then Zophia remembered she was holding the 'fone. She raised it to her lips.


As expected, practically everybody was now staring at her, a familiar sight whenever she used the 'fone. "Well, uh, we're about to embark on the most critical battle yet, to defend the castle." There were some cheers, but they did little to ease the tension. "Thing is, we might, uh, be running short on munitions." A definitive ripple of consternation spread through the ranks at this, but Zophia hushed them all. "What we need are some brave volunteers to travel to the Wilderness to collect two items, gems and arrows. Some volunteers? Any volunteers...?"

Alas, nobody stepped forward. Rather, they all stepped aside, one by one, the crowd parting like the Red Sea, until a lone figure stood isolated in between all of them. Belatedly, it realised its position, but by this point it was too late.

"Well what do we have here," a familiar ninja horse, attracted by the noise, strode onto the scene.

"A volunteer for the munitions run!" Zophia chirped. Strop looked the figure up and down, a lean, young man dressed so unobtrusively in faded clothes and cape it looked as if he was trying to blend in, slouched, head slightly bowed, and now shifting a little uncomfortably since Strop was almost literally breathing on him. In reflex, he tightened his grip on his satchel and bow. Finally Strop nodded approvingly.

"Fancy that, a runner and an archer! You look just the man for the job... er... what was your name again?"

"Maverick, sir, and it's an honour to meet you." Maverick stammered, still slouched.

"Believe me, the honour isn't in the meeting, it's in serving alongside your fellow AGers!" Strop riposted. "And you've done us all a great honour, volunteering for this mission!"

"Well, I didn't really vol-"

"What we need!" Strop obliviously continued, "Is time. Time is of the essence, here, so really, what we need, are Arrows of Time! Being an archer I know you'd know where to get those, yes?"

Slowly, it dawned on Maverick that volunteer or not, he was going on this mission, and he could not fail. "Yes. Yes I do." he declared, drawing himself to his full height. It was at this point that Strop realised that Maverick was actually taller than he was, which was slightly awkward.

"Well, right. Good, er, man," Strop said, slapping him on the back. "In that case, go now, and God speed, Maverick, God speed."

Maverick needed no further reiterations. With newfound admiration, along with the hopes and expectations of a city on his shoulders, he set off for the wilderness, and soon slipped behind the curtains of the rain.

Strop watched Zophia go back to attempting to mix her paints while preventing them from running in the downpour. Even now, he couldn't tell whether things were coming together, or falling apart. One way or another, by the end of the day, it probably wouldn't matter.


The Way of Moderation: I Dream of Leon

A crystal drop of water feel from the sky. A perfect sphere of clarity, the liquid fell as though frozen in time. Leon watched as it joined a murky puddle below. He watched it ripple and fall silent. For a moment, he felt the infinite blackness below him. Glassy-eyed fishermen and tentacled horrors flitted below him. But from that darkness Edward had risen. There was a silvery flash as Leon drew his blade with cutting speed. He thrust his blade up through the dark wetness as though to pierce the heavens themselves. The gnoll stood, wrapped in gleaming armor, shining sword penetrating the downpour of gray and black.
Leon's ears flattened as he heard the deafening sound of metal on metal. He held his sword half-heartedly aloft, tail tucking between his legs as the earth itself heaved below him. There was an awful crunching of concrete as the street exploded. A geyser of sewer water spurted from the heaving earth as a massive metal thing raised itself from the dark. It pulled itself up, supported on three spindly legs. Caked dirt and concrete fell from its electrum plating as it turned its unblinking eye away from Leon. Its pupil dilated, mighty blue iris vanishing as an enormous red beam carved a line of steam through the thick gray sheets of rain. It struck a building, instantly resulting in its fiery destruction. Iris returning to normal, the tripod thing rolled its bloodshot eye back to Leon. The gnoll, of course, bravely turned his back and ran. He courageously spent a breath whistling for his hyena companion, as though it would need instruction to flee. The tripod leaned the bulk of its body forward and hopped. Its base began to spin, allowing it to land on its next spindly leg, which too hopped forward. So it propelled itself, hopping one leg at a time, leaning forward and twirling its yellow-gold legs. It fired beams of fiery death, keeping pace with Leon as it wantonly obliterated buildings and turned sidewalks into smoking craters. Thanks to the tripod's hilariously inefficient mode of transit, Leon had time to steal a glace at the growing conflagration behind him. Just another day in the life.
Leon tried to dodge down the occasional alley, but the tripod jovially smashed through the flaming wreckage of whatever building Leon had used to cover his escape. Between the heat ray and the thick rain, building after building was reduced to little more than a pile of steaming logs. Leon, out of breath in his heavy armor, had long since slowed to a gentle jog. The thing, he concluded, was incapable of sight while attempting to fire, making it ideal for frenzied pursuit but unsuited for actually achieving anything. Leon smiled at their unlikely kinship. The tripod apparently felt no such brotherhood, as it sent Leon running with another steaming ray.
Chill watched the clouds of black smoke with a growing sense of dread. The blaze was approaching the castle. They had faced many a flamer, but no single enemy comparable to whatever was causing the blaze. Whatever it was, it was a being of utter chaos. If not powerful, it possessed enough bad attitude and moxie to produce a similar effect. Besides, something capable of such destruction was surely â" at that moment, Leon and Marley burst from an alley, taking in huge breaths with every stride.
"Figures." Chill sighed.
"Leon!" Manta yelled, bounding towards the armored gnoll. "What do you think you're doing? And how!?"
"Running!" Leon shouted. "What, you think I did that!? I can't set a fire on a rainy day!" Leon stopped to pant. "A desert village on the other hand..."
"Then what in the name of Queen Carlie caused that blaze?" one of Manta's fishmen asked. Leon laughed.
"Oh man, you guys should see this thing. It's so freaking stupid! It hops around with its big giant eyeball--" Leon stretched out the skin under his eye to emphasize the point â" "But it can't hit the broad side of a ****** Nazi." Leon cackled as the ragtag band looked up at him. "Oh, it's quite proficient at obliterating everything in its path though. You might want to watch out for that. Toodles!" Leon resumed his mad dash towards anywhere else, cape weighed down by rain, as the yellow tripod burst through the same burning alley from which Leon had emerged.
Its gaze instantly shifted to a new target as Leon streaked off towards safety. For once in its existence, it fired a dead on accurate shot, directly at Chill. Without hope, the boy threw up a wall of ice. To his surprise, the beam reflected off the shining ice, bouncing towards Leon. The ray of fiery karma failed again, however: Leon's cape billowed out of the way just in time. The beam reflected again off his shining armor. The proximity to the beam instantly dried Leon's cape, but the gnoll himself, while wrapped in steel, was as wet as ever.
The beam bounced from the ice sheet, to Leon, then back to the tripod thing itself. Leon winced at the boom. He watched the rainbow of colors dancing across the sidewalk and stared in awe at his elongated shadow, the only sliver of darkness in an otherwise phantasmagorical display. The actual explosion was surely more glorious, but Leon turned around only in time to see the smoking remains of the tripod fall to pieces.
"I'm taking credit for that." he announced as he walked back to the others, brushing imaginary dust from his armor.
Thoad rounded on Leon, trance broken by the gnoll's arrogance.
"Credit for almost getting us all killed? Or credit for burning down half the city?" Thoad demanded.
"Well, if I hadn't bravely run to intercept the beam, that thing would still be standing. But can I take credit for burning the city? I didn't know that was an option."
"That's bull, man!" Thoad asserted.
"Metal Bullman!" Leon corrected, whipping out his sword once again. Thoad made a start for his shotgun, but Leon thrust it harmlessly up through the rain again. "I grabbed the bull by the horns on this one! I-"
"You talk tough, but you're no hero." a fishman interjected.
âPfft, shows what you know about being a hero. I've run away from more monsters than a fishstick like you has ever seen!â Leon eyed the fishman up and down. He didn't look like the type, but Leon couldn't be too careful. Fishman warriors, in his experience, came in two varieties and this one wasn't carrying sharkbones.
âRun away? Ha, you're just a coward.â the fishman replied, incredulous.
âLook,â Leon said frankly âI'm not necessarily that I blocked that laser on purpose. I'm just saying that my immense capacity for bull**** extends beyond the verbal realm, and you guys should credit me for that.â
âI can't believe this guy!â Thoad exploded. âYou talk about all the great adventures you have, but the only thing you've ever done to HELP any of us involved trying to leave us to die!â
âNonsense!â Leon declared. âI helped Crimson beat the stuffing out of you!â
âThat's another thing! As soon as we actually get to a fight, you make your partner do all the work! You're only even in this tournament because of Crimson, and YOU were the one who didn't get hurt! You didn't even DO anything!â
âThat's not true! I maimed a fourteen year old boy.â Leon pouted.
âNo, your pet did that. And by the way, I looked it up, and hyenas aren't dogs.â Leon's ear twitched.
âI'm sorry, do you have a pet hyena? Did you grow up around hyenas? Were you raised by hyena men? Are you the freakin' Metal Hyena Man? No? Then I think I know a bit more about what is and isn't a dog, than you do, Thoadsy.â Leon growled.
âThis, this right here, is exactly what I'm talking!â Thoad shouted.
âYou know,â Leon mused âif I didn't know any better, I'd say you were a wee bit bitter.â
Thoad opened his mouth to reply, but his words were washed away by a boom. The wave of sound flooded the ears of the ragtag group, broken only by the sound of steal slicing the air.
âAlright everyone.â Leon barked âtime's a-wastin'. Battle stations.â As Leon marshaled the forces, a horde of koalas poured through a newly-created gap in a building. Each wore a gray uniform, complete save for boots. Some sported red armbands adorned with swastikas. Most were armed with carbine rifles. A few held grisly knives or vintage submachine guns. The one closest to the group turned its smoldering red eyes towards them and opened its terrible beak, letting loose a blood-curdling screech.
Leon wasted no time.
âNazi beaked koalas. I've seen this before.â he stated. âThoad, I want you to man the traps. You can hold them off in the trenches. Crimson, hang back with Thoad. You're pulling double duty to reinforce defenses and protect Thoad. Chill...â Leon paused in consideration. âJust rework the tapestry of creation according to your whim. Manta, you're with me. We'll lead the fishman squads. Keep the koalas apart. Tight-knit groups will attract fire.â Leon stood, wrapped in steel, blade in hand. The koalas surged forward like a tsunami of white supremacy.
âWe're outgunned and outmanned. How are we going to defend the castle?â A nagging voice asked. Leon's steely eyes were fixed on the wave of koalas. Leon raised his sword.
âWe pray for heaven and fight like hell!â


Monday Bloody Monday

Mav ignored the blood dripping into his left eye as he scanned the mist around his hide out. Tucked between the roots of a fallen tree, he gripped and ugripped his re curve bow in an attempt to get the blood flowing in his hands again. He crouched, motionless, and flicked his eyes through the shadows once more. It seemed clear, so he broke and sprinted for the next piece of cover.

As soon as he moved, a piercing banshee-shriek ripped through the air like a ragged knife through a cotton sheet. Mav pushed himself further, ignoring the sharp pain in his side as his lungs sucked in air. The cry sounded again, this time much closer. The pounding of his feet against the soft loam of the forest was soon joined by the deeper, harder sound of his pursuer's own feet.

As he ran through the mist, his goal finally came into sight. His house peaked out of the mist, and made itself clear to him. It was a rather run down affair, with a single sturdy door and a small window emerging from the hillside it was built into. Judging by the closeness of his attacker's footsteps, Mav made the quick decision to leap through the window, rather than risk being killed as he attempted to unlock the door.

With a final burst of speed, Mav ran the last bit and leaped at the window.

"Holy shi-"

The moment turned surreal, and Mav saw from the corner of his eye the mottled green flesh and dark eyes of his opponent burst from the left, and leap to intercept him in his momentary flight.

Time realized it's mistake, and sped things back up to normal. With a meaty slap, the beast rammed its shoulder into the midsection of Mav. His breath left him in a forcible 'WHOOOOSH!'. The arrows already embedded into the beast's throat and chest stuck into Mav's gut, and then snapped off from the pressure. With a thud, Mav fell to the the ground and was pressed into it a further six inches as the brute rolled off him and gallumped off a few feat.

Rib creaking in protest, Mav turned over and inhaled in an attempt to cease the spinning motion of his world. He sat up and drew an arrow on his bow, which was slightly splintered but otherwise none the worse for wear. He pulled back the string, and wheeled the deadly tip around to face the beast. It turned, and reared up onto it's hind legs, and screamed again. With his ear-drums thrumming, Mav got his first good look at the monster.

It was big. Very big. Bigger than big. Enormous. As if in direct compliment to its size, the beast wore a wicked grin plastered onto its face, as if to say 'I'm badder than you, and I know it. Ready to die?'. Its black eyes held a half insane glint, no doubt bought about by the numerous 'NG' brands on its hide and the broken chain still attached to the collar at its neck. Its green flesh was stretched taunt over its frame, and its rib cage was clearly visible. Short, black spines poked out at intervals from it's spine, and the remains of four heavy iron arrows were embedded in the soft area above the collar bone and below the throat. Overall, a very ferocious beast indeed.

At the conclusion of the cry, the beast fell back to its fore-legs, and charged. Firing quickly, Mav shot off another arrow, and it joined its friends inside the beast throat. It flinched slightly, and continued closing in the distance.

100 yards... 75 yards... 50 yards...

Aiming carefully, Mav fired again, and the arrow sped through the air. It struck its mark in the beast's shoulder, and the beast collapsed with a roar. It rolled once, twice, then regained its feet and continued charging.

40 yards... 30 yards... 20 yards...

Mav scrambled backwards until his back was up against the thick oak door to his house. He drew again, and waited.

15 yards... 10 yards... 5 yards...

With a yell, Mav unleashed his third arrow. With a hiss, it flew through the monster's lower jaw, and pinned the tounge down. Blood splattered onto his face to compliment that from the gash above his eye, and Mav tucked down and rolled away from the door.

With a crash, and a showering of mortar from the frame, the beast crashed through the door. Mav ran in behind it, and drew two arrows on his bow. The brute was momentarily stunned in the remains of a bookshelf, and Mav put his boot to the troll's head, and fired point-blank into its spine.

With a shuddering scream, the beast sank further to the floor, and spasms of death wracked the body. Mav ran quickly down into his cellar. Unlike the rest of his house, no brackets for torches were in this room; they had been removed shortly before the invasion so that its contents could be safely housed. Imported from a backstreet dealer from Kong, the barrels contained a coarse black powder which reacted violently when put to flame. Mav had been interested in flight for as long as anyone could remembered, and had been shown an ancient manuscript which showed flight powered by this same power, rather than that powered by man or by a complex system of gears and pulleys.

However, such a moment required the greatest of sacrifices. All four barrels would have to be set on fire, to ensure the death of the troll that had hunted him. Pulling a cord and matches from his satchel, he set one end on fire, and draped the other into the nearest barrel.

Climbing quickly up the ladder into the main room, Mav blew through the ruined room like a whirlwind, and sprinted ouot the door. The troll had managed somehow to crawl out of his house and left a trail of deep crimson blood as it slowly pulled itself back to the city. A milky film had settled over its eyes as death slowly set in, though Mav did not notice this as he sprinted towards the road, Seeing the ditch, he through himself into it and pressed his face into the muddy contents of its bottom. Thankfully he kept his mouth closed, though any prayer of thanks was drowned out by the suddeness of the explosion. The explosion was so bright that it seared through Mav's eyelids, though his face was pressed firmly into the ground.

After a moment of gaining back his sight and hearing, Mav spared a glance over the edge of the ditch and saw that his hill-side home had been entirely blown away by the force of the explosion. A smoking crater was all that remained, and the rain sizzled as it began to fall.

Mav checked his pack to ensure that its contents, so dearly won, were still there. Opening it, he saw that it was still there: The explosive homing arrows were still secure in their bundles, and the fist-sized gems still glowed in their pouch. Mav sighed thankfully, and began the long journey back to the City, or whatever remained.

----------Some Time Later----------

Mav looked ahead, and wiped blood and rain from his eyes. He re-adjusted the straps to his pack and satchel, and crested the final hill. He breathed in deeply, and smoke caught in the back of his throat. With a cough, he reached the top, and looked down into the city and the horrors that awaited there.


The Way of Moderation Part Eleven: A Portrait of the Swordsman as a Young Leon

Leon sent the last marsupial back to hell with a twang! of his longbow. The fishman squads secured various entry points as it fell to the ground, clutching its pouch. The frosty halo around chill subsided as the koala uttered its final heil. Leon's sword ran red, blood seeping into the steel. A little dip in the rain water washed it clean. Leon sheathed it with a grimace.
"I guess that's the-" he never got to finish his sentence. Predictably enough, the peace ended as suddenly as it began. A roflcopter crashed somewhere behind the wall as horde of bloodthirsty aliens poured through the alleys toward the rag-tag defenders. Manta was the first to grasp the situation:
"Leon!" He grabbed the gnoll's shoulder, breaking Leon's trance. "Your squad! Go now! Crimson, you're with me!" Manta, Crimson, and a few fishmen ran towards the frontline. Leon shimmied along the outskirts of the battle almost reluctantly, trying to remember what he had been thinking about. A bolt of fiery energy alerted him to his opponentâ??s ranged weaponry. Leon coolly slid behind a chest-high wall. He glanced up at the fishmen. It was no good: only Crimson could hold off the alien menace, and only for a short time. He and Manta were cowering behind a wall of reflective steel Crimson had conjured while the fishmen tried to flank them. He rifled through his memory for some precedent. Fishmen, he knew, had the greatest monopoly on energy weapons, so it seemed that, with luck, they would be able to devise a strategy against them. Further, he reasoned, both space aliens and fishmen were famed for their psychic powers. Thus a correlation between lasers and psionics. Cause and effect were harder to nail down.
Leon leaped to his feet, nocking an arrow. The bug-eyed space beasts formed a semi-circle around Crimson's shield. He fired. Every time they met any fishmen with lasers, they ran away. Leon barked an order to Marley, forming a double flank as his arrow struck down an alien. Leon realized he had exchanged a bow for a sword as he charged the disrupted aliens. This wasn't particularly worrying. Marley, and a rank of fishmen, formed a nice meatshield. Nevertheless, Leon maintained an air of contribution, lazily firing arrows into the mob of hostiles. He gesured sharply at Manta, who replied with a nod. Together, the two teams of fishmen easily flanked and pushed back the menacing hordes.
Their work was not over, however: No matter how many they defeated, they could not seem to stem the tide of trolls. Leon scampered around the outskirts of the battle field, Marley in tow, pestering the aggressors with blade and bow. Occasionally, he shouted key advice to Manta: Demons resist fire, flank armored cavalry, rock beats scissors, ect. A few flamers surrounded Leon, chucking political and religious statements alike, their searing ignorance missing him by inches. He gracefully disarmed the first with his sword, armor protecting him from counter attack. His sword dance chnged from graceful to desperate as the trolls mobbed him. His sword cut shallowly into their armor, steel flashing through the air. He whipped around to see a hulking monster before him, about eleven feet tall, garbed in black armor. Instantly, he struck at it with his quick sword, but each blow glanced off its towering black shield. Try as he might, he could not penetrate its defense. With a swing of its massive steely fist, Leon went flying. His sword slipped from his hands, clattering to the ground some fifteen feet away. Lip curled into a snarl, Leon began to crawl towards it. The black knight delivered a kick, sending Leon rolling the opposite direction.
He panted, looking around desperately for any weapon, sword far out of reach. Finally, his eyes fell on something: A length of dark wood, dripping with rain and blood, connected to a shining metal ball by a length of chain. A flail. His flail. Teeth bared, he lunged for it, slippery wet wood secure in his steely grip. He jumped to his feet, spinning 180 degrees. He smote the black knight across the helm with his sudden attack. It raised its shield, but Leon's assault was unrelenting, chain allowing the metal ball to strike its foe from any angle. Within moments, Leon dispatched the knight, howling with primal fury. He charged the flank of the bulk of the trolls, flail flying through the air. Leon struck down foe after foe, efficient and merciless as he fought. The flail came from all sides, breaking any defense, all the while held firm in his iron palm.
As the trolls became aware of Leon's reinvigorated efforts, they devoted more resources to attempting to halt his progress. These he greeted with a howl of bloodlust, drawing his knife with his free hand. Both weapons in hand, he eroded a path through the enemy force. He threw his dagger, catching a small lizard monster in the eye, taking up an Armor Games flag as an improvised polearm.
Leon soon cut through the flank, meeting up with the defenders. He stood, bloodied, tattered banner at his side, flail in hand.
"I think" he panted "we should reevaluate our strategy. We can't hold them off for long." Leon let the flag fall, turning buck to the advancing hordes.

10,811 posts

Watching from above...

A gentle wind ruffled KingRyan's hair as he stood at the top of the tower. He looked down upon the streets of his beloved ArmorCity and wondered how things could have come to this. Why, it seemed like just last week when he had strolled into the city during the private land sales after receiving an invitation from The Great DanMcNeely himself...surely that wasn't years ago!

Shouts from below woke him from his reverie. He quickly surveyed the placement of the enemy below and made accurate adjustments on the screen he had been given. By now he had managed to control the screen; earlier he was heard to be cursing at the 'newfangled piece of technology.'

While he worked, KR thought about the long scroll he could add to the archives. Ah, KR the archiver. Although...isn't it really archivist? His thoughts trailed off as he noticed larger enemy units arriving in the distance.

'That looks like trouble,' he murmured to himself. They weren't an immediate threat so he quickly sketched in the closer wave of light, ranged units. With a beep the information was sent down to the defensive wall.

Over the next few minutes KingRyan sent details of the next waves of attackers so that the defenders could be more prepared.

After some time he made a side note on one of the transmissions asking for a cup of tea. He was rather disappointed that none came. With a sigh he continued on in his work.

The waves of newf*gs kept on coming; flamers, griefers and trolls in the dozens. His arms began to tired as he moved his frail hand across the screen. Soon the work became monotonous and his mind really began to wander. His arms drooped to his sides as his eyes closed, and he soon let out a loud snore.

'WAKE UP YOU BOGAN!' shouted an automated recording of Strop's voice from the screen as the Sleep-Defence Mechanism picked up his change of heartbeat and breathing. KR jumped in alarm and looked around mumbling something like 'I wasn't sleeping, merely resting my eyes...' His words trailed off as he realised that no one was around. A few things flashed on the screen, so he checked them out and then looked out at the battlefield.

All looked normal - waves of enemies swarming in, pitiful attempts at defense and a lot of mud. At the back he noticed some of the biggest trolls he had ever seen, so he quickly transferred that down to the defenders. In the back of his mind he wished that he could help them out somehow other than this menial task. But the rest of his mind was relieved that he was away from the action.

Something else in KR's mind told him that he should be panicking about the defenders getting overthrown, but something within him was keeping him calm. He then reasoned that it was probably one of the tablets he had taken just before.

More and more giant trolls were starting to appear in the distance, so he once again transferred the data to the defenders. He then saw a single troll break off from the group and start to fly towards him in the tower. In epic style he pulled out his sword and leapt from the top of the tower. Using his robes he glided towards the troll with his sword held high, before bringing it down in a clean sweep. The sharp blade connected with the trolls head, and in a POOF of magic it turned into thick tome and began to plummet towards the ground. It was then that KR realised that he was also plummeting towards the ground, and he began to panic. The ground got nearer and nearer and-

'WAKE UP YOU BOGAN!' shouted pre-recorded Strop once more. KR jumped again and drew a sharp breath as he looked around. Glancing down at the battlefield, it seemed like the amount of trolls and other enemies had increased dramatically. KR rushed the enter the data in as more and more waves streamed in - now it seemed that the medication was wearing off; his heart pounded in his ears.

There was an explosion from down at the defensive wall, but KR did not even want to look there, and he didn't really have the time.

An intercom buzz rang from the screen (it was a crude buzzing; unlike in the lands of Facebook Skype had yet to be integrated) when KR answered it some part of Devoidless filled the screen as the dragon tried to fit himself into the range of the webcam; without being too far away. Eventually he settled for one of his nostrils. The sound of fighting could be heard in the background.

'Err KR, just letting you know that the giant mutant trolls have made a comeback and are probably going to attack the castle, you may want to ah- ah- ACHOO!'

The screen went black in response to the incineration of the webcam, and then disappeared behind the normal battlefield interface. KR sent the information from Voidy to the defenders before scanning the battlefield himself.

Everything had gotten a lot worse and the constant stream of internet scum could now not be differentiated - it was just a mass of moving bodies. KR thumped the screen and then cradled his face in his hands, it seemed like things were going to get a lot, lot worse.


Black Wall Down

Down below, the swarm continued to innundate the defenders down below, each fighter completely surrounded. It was the leftovers, who now numbered more than those fighting, who were throwing everything they had at the wall, be it fists, stones, or even the more explosive kind of projectiles. The traps had long been sprung, and the caltrops, while they served their purpose in slowing everybody down, had been trampled down and sidelined.

In the din of the brutal assault the wall had been sustaining, the subtle warning signs were not apparent. But soon, the spider cracks and the chips of mortar flying off became giant fault lines and massive chunks. Atop, the very floor started to lurch this way and that as the integrity of the wall progressively failed. The defenders were literally thrown into panic, some of them finding the nearest rope or ladder and shimmying down as fast as they could. But as traffic jams formed at the escape points, others simply resorted to jumping off.

"No!" Thoad yelled, commandering the 'fone. "This is our time of greatest need! Maintain a tight formation!"

It was not to be. Even Crimson and Zophia, each leading the disorganised remnants of their divisions, almost bowled him over in their haste to exit the now definitely unstable wall.

"I'm out of paint!" Zophia explained, as she jumped onto the nearest guy rope, holding her brush over her head as she slid down.

"The plan was to fall back!" Crimson cautioned, before he, too, vanished over the wall with a swirl of his cape.

Up above, the sounds of the battle mixed together into one neverending jumble of ear-grating noise, lain over with the static of the persistent showers. Trying to focus on the data, Kingryan pored over the figures on his virtual screen. A whole lot of red dots and numbers were cropping up, and he struggled to make sense of them, not least because he was red-green colourblind. Dank, however, was not.

"This is very bad," he stated sufficiently. "Very bad." This was punctuated by Thoad's tinny, panicked voice buzzing through Dank's (magical) uplink. "Kingryan! I need reinforcements!"

Kingryan threw his hands up. "What do I tell everyone! There ARE no reinforcements! And when everybody retreats to the castle, we won't have anything left to fight them off anyway, and the castle isn't invincible and it'll fall, and-"

Dank cut him off before he asphyxiated from the length of the run-on sentence. He then opened his mouth to say "We need a new plan," but was cut off in turn by a poof of black smoke, which coalesced into the form of a ninja horse.

"We need a new plan," said Strop.

"A fine time for you to say that!" Dank said. "But what?"

"Well," Strop poked his fingers together. "I was thinking that wall isn't gonna hold up much longer, and when it falls, the castle is next."

"We were just saying that!" Dank could barely contain his exasperation.

"But the bigger problem is, well, literally bigger. It's... well, those."

Through the haze of the pouring rain, the looming silhouettes of the approaching mutant giant trolls were growing by the minute. And it was becoming more and more obvious that each of them was at least the size of the castle, and then some.

"By the stubbly beard of McNeely," Dank cursed. "We knew about those too! No amount of wall or tower defense will stop those things!"

As if to make things worse, a huge X appeared on Kingryan's virtual map. The three of them peered over the battlements just in time to see the wall collapse into a million useless fragments of stone, and formerly brave (but now completely disheartened) defenders of AG scattering in every direction away from the circle of raiders, which basically meant towards the castle, but, of course, the castle gates were locked and therefore nobody could really go anywhere.

"Oh, great," Dank muttered. "Not only are we screwed big time, but all the small fry are gonna die too."

Strop grabbed Dank by the shoulder plates. "Don't be so negative! I mean, we're in a bad situation, but it's ... it's still not constructive!"

Dank threw Strop's hands off his stubby frame, "What do you want me to do? Magically save AG?"

"Yes!" Strop shouted. "Yes, well, if you could! That would be great! If you could!"

"Of course I could!" Dank shouted back. "I always have, but real powerful magic, it takes time to code and compile! I thought you would at least understand that!"

"You know very well that I don't understand any of this stuff!" Strop was by this point yelling and gesticulating wildly. For a single instant, Dank remembered the one time Strop attempted to enroll in one of his classes back at the Academy.

"If I may," Kingryan interjected. "I don't think now is the time to be reminiscing about how Strop sucks at magic."

"Shut up, Kingryan," Dank snapped. "Fine. I've got an idea. It won't save AG by itself, but it'll buy us some more time. But to get it going, YOU need to buy ME some time. Ten minutes. I need at least that much."

Strop was already standing on the wall. "I'm on it."

"And I also need every magic user we've got left."

Strop nodded, and prepared to jump.

"And Moe. Get Moe for me."

Strop jumped.


You Won't Get Me Alive

Back on the ground, the riot had turned to a rout. Manta's men continued to fight bravely, but their skirmish was of increasingly paling significance as more and more raiders reached the remains of the wall. Strop arrived just in time to see Thoad standing defiantly atop the rubble, brandishing the 'fone.

"You think this is it?" He yelled at the approaching horde. "You think we're defeated? Well you don't understand a thing!"

Peeking out from a bush, all ninja-like, Strop shook his head. Surely this was suicide, after all, the raiders who could hear Thoad were now forming a circle around him. Four mods, even with their banning powers, had trouble holding them off. One kid with a big mouth and a bigger megaphone... Already the horde were preparing to strike him down.

"Like I said," Thoad said, a demonic smile forming on his face, "You don't understand a thing. You won't get me alive!"

Strop's blood ran cold. Surely he wasn't planning to-

There was a huge bang, a flash of light, and an explosion. The shockwave ripped outwards, blowing the raiders back, falling over each other like dominoes. Even in the bush, Strop had to brace his arms over his face, but as soon as it had passed, he ripped his way out.

"No!" he yelled, though he didn't even realise it. He pawed his way through the smoke, towards the epicenter of the blast, but there was no trace of Thoad to be found. Except lying, in the spot where he was last seen standing, was his ZSC helmet.

It was no time to grieve, but Strop still found himself standing still, hand pressed to his face. One by one people were falling, sacrificed to a pointless conflict. Yet for some reason Thoad's departure was more poignant, perhaps because he was younger, with his ambitions as unfocused and brazen as the shotgun he carried, his dreams unrequited, yet still formed. And now, in one single move, they had all been wiped out.

"Come on, time to haul ***!" A furry, spotted paw swiped at Strop's shoulder, yanking him out of his daze. It was Leon, albeit a sane-looking one, although that could quite easily have been the effect of the altogether insane day. "Manta's lot are done for, so we're making a tactical retreat!"

"Where are you retreating." It was a question, but Strop was feeling strangely numb, rending his affect flat and lifeless.

"The castle, of course! We'll all die if we stay out here."

"And we'll all die if we don't at least hold them off before they turn the castle to rubble. Dank has a plan and we need to buy him ten minutes."

Leon shrugged. "Look, I'm not sticking around to argue. You do what you have to do, and I'll do mine, which is getting all these blithering idiots to the safest place, and that happens to be the castle. Why? Because the only reason it's the main target is because it's the only thing in a mile radius that's still standing. And if your plan works, then we can back you up from the castle. Anyway, bye."

And he left, taking with him the few hundred demoralised, disoriented former fighters of AG, leaving the several thousand invaders eyeing the castle hungrily. And between them, stood Strop.

A ninja may have been powerful, but this particular ninja, along with his compatriots, had been fighting a losing battle all day. What he wanted to do was the sensible thing, paradoxically, which was to turn tail like Leon so he could eke out the bitter last for a few more minutes. But Leon had done that only because he was trusting the task of doing the actually, utterly, stupid to somebody else. Somebody whose nature it was to actively be the hero and save the day, even when it was impossible.

But in this darkest of moments, Strop honestly didn't feel like he was that hero anymore. If the events of the past day had taught him anything, it was that he had strayed from the Way of Moderation so much he was truly not worthy of being a moderator.

Well, nuts to all of that. As ten thousand pairs of feet marched towards his doom, he shrugged his shoulders. If it was just for a few more seconds, he'd go down brawling, since nothing mattered anymore.

Something heavy and hard smacked Strop in the back of the head, sending him sprawling. Rubbing his head, he dragged himself to his knees.

"You really are dense, aren't you," said a familiar voice. Strop blinked, then turned his head upwards, to stare at the figure dressed in a hoodie, inspecting his now visibly dented baseball bat.

"Cen!" Strop's shock was palpable, and a hundred conflicting emotions stifled his tongue. He finally settled on "What the hell was that for!?"

Cen pointed to his jaw. "See this bruise? You want to know how I got it?"

"Fine fine," Strop conceded. "I probably shouldn't have done that. I'm so-"

"Can it," Cen commanded. "You have things to do, right?"

Strop was lost. "...what?"

"There's no point in you dying here. I'll handle this." Cen squared his shoulders and turned his back to Strop.

Strop blinked, not sure whether to faint from shock, or cry tears of joy. Was Cenere turning into the hero he had so desperately tried to mold through countless hours of blood, sweat and character building? Or had he really gone crazy from the stress and he was talking to an imaginary version of Cen?

"Cen," Strop sniffed. "You... you are a real he-"

"Just go." Cen didn't even turn to look at Strop, he just said it in his deadpan voice, baseball bat slung over his shoulder.

Scrambling to his hooves, Strop took a few tentative steps, then burst into a run. "Cen, please... don't die!" he called back.

Cen didn't answer. Instead, his eyes were fixed upon the horde, who, having seen the exchange, had their eyes firmly fixed on him as their new target. He dragged the end of the baseball bat along the ground, drawing a semi-circle in the puddles, before tightening his grip on the handle.

"This is really stupid," he muttered to nobody in particular.

10,811 posts

What if I said I'd never Surrender

Cen stared at the masses, rushing towards him. There wasn't anything else he could do, a cold fear having numbed his limps entirely that very moment. He really needed to throw up. It felt like something had lodged itself in his throat, either fear or his heart trying to abandon ship while it still could.
This was utterly moronic. This was insanely stupid. This was something only Strop could pull off, and here he stood, essentially because of a weak moment of 'it seemed like a good idea at the time'.
Well, it still did. Except for the aspect of sudden, violent death he was looking at with the storming raiders all heading for his neck in that slow motion run he wasn't sure whether to assume came from some comical effect of the situation, or his mind simply going into overdrive. In this very moment, it could be anything. Fairies. Unicorns. Dragons. Sexy librarian chicks. Anything.
But hell, there was nothing to do about it, and even if he could, it would most likely be at the expense of someone else.
Can't have that.
Cen let out a roar of suppressed emotion and swung the baseball bat hard at the nearest raider.


"He's doing better than I expected," Strop mused, body half turned, watching Cen face the charge with an extraordinary lack of self-regard. Then a voice in his head, as well as the thousand bodies hurtling in his direction, reminded him of the urgency of the situation. Hesitating one moment more, he summoned the biggest poof he could manage, throwing up a mighty curtain of black, impenetrable smoke.

Godspeed, Cen, he thought, not wanting to acknowledge the next part, but knowing anyway: you're on your own now.


But Cen was in the company of many. The smokescreen clouding everything beyond him, it was just him, his baseball bat, and every eye in the vicinity locking onto him and heading towards him.

The bat made no noise as it sunk into flesh and rearranged faces. Every sound was just a jumbled, dull roar drowned out by the rushing of blood through Cen's ears as he waded through the sea of arms and fists pummeling him from all sides. His hands were numb, even the burning in his arms as he swung the bat indiscriminately left and right. As if in a daze, he watched as the bat slammed into the face of a complete stranger, probably about his age, who had no reason to hate or wish harm on him specifically, until that very moment where he swung a baseball bat into his face. He watched as the features distorted, cheeks flapping as the stranger went limp like a ragdoll, a bit of spittle and a bloody tooth flying out as the head snapped to the side, eyes crossed, only to be replaced by another five faces screaming wordlessly.

Cen felt something hit him in the side, and his body buckled. But strangely he felt no pain, he merely turned, his right hand dropping the bat only for the left to pick it back up and sling the head into another face. He pulled back on the bat, but it was held in place by a pair of hands, tugging away from him. Without even thinking, his foot lashed out and he felt something give, and the hands flew away.

Then more hands rushed in, grabbing him, his hoodie, his ponytail. The binding came loose and his hair came free, pulled in all directions. Somewhere, somehow along the way he had lost the bat after all, so he swung blindly with his fists, raindrops spraying out in arcs as his arms windmilled wildly. Possessed by the strength of a beast, he battered everything, drove them back, the fingers that tried to pull him by his locks slipping away. In irritation he flicked his head, hair fanning out before tangling in wet clumps over his shoulders and covering his face, save for his wide, unblinking eyes and bared teeth.

Something hit him from the side, hard. His knees buckled as he was carried, arms firmly wrapped around his waist until he fell against the horde pushing from the other side. When his fists had no effect, he started driving his elbow into the dome of the tackler until they collapsed, but arms had already looped around his chest, locking him in place. Snarling, he shook from side to side but the hold was firm. The body of the man who tackled him was trampled under as more raiders crowded in to claim their pound of flesh, and with nothing left to do, he stomped hard, driving his heel into the foot of his persecutor. As the grip softened he wrested himself free, and was met with fists, many fists and feet, digging into him and driving him back and down. At first he heeded them not, sending his own fists back, but eventually their numbers overwhelmed him and gradually, he saw himself going down, doubling over, until everybody was piled atop him in a mass of wet clothes and flailing limbs and bunched fists pummelling him awkwardly from all angles, none of them causing any pain but all of them stopping him from rising. Even as he was being crushed into the cold hard wet cobblestone, he reached out, clawing at exposed ankles and latching onto legs with his teeth, until finally, with a sigh, the last vestiges of his inhuman strength left him and he himself went limp, sprawled out on the ground, able only to feel the rise and fall of his chest as he breathed.

Vaguely, he felt the toe of a boot prod him in the ribs, but after that, nothing else came, and his vision faded to the impenetrable dark grey of the clouds and the driving rain, and just beyond that, the vague silhouette of the castle.


"No!" Was all Strop could manage when he saw the raiders regrouping and charging towards the castle gate, with no sign of a Cen to stop them. He turned to the last few dozen stragglers, trying to manhandle them through the gate. "Hustle hustle hustle, nobody gets left behind!"

And then they were all around him, the raiders, not even paying him or his compatriots any attention, just charging past them and through the open gates of the castle. Armor Games' Castle.

"MAN THE GATES!" Strop yelled, "SHUT THE BLOODY GATES!" Gathering up the last of the stragglers he picked them up and bolted through the door, fairly surfing the wave of invaders deep into the dark main corridor of the castle. Far behind him, he heard a merciful clang as the gates slammed shut, followed by a loud rattling that echoed down the hall incessantly.

Then he was deposited on the ground, the wave of invaders dispersing as they ran amuck, branching into every corridor and room of the castle in their quest to destroy everything they saw.

Standing slowly, Strop collected his thoughts, listening to the rattling of a hundred hands tugging at the shut gates. The castle was sturdier than the makeshift wall, he knew that much, so maybe it could even withstand assault from the outside for the nine or so minutes Dank needed for his grand plan... how many had passed the gates? Maybe a hundred or so, or maybe even two hundred, before it shut? How much damage could that many people cause to the interior of a castle?

He had a more pressing concern to attend to, though. Dank needed every mage he could find, however he could find them. He just hoped that somebody else would be around to bring some order to the rest of the chaos, before it consumed even the castle itself.


The Way of Moderation Part Twelve: Leon McAcid

Written by Xzeno

A single torch burned in the dank hallway. Dark wrought iron claws held it in place, burning above the rubble to which the rest of the hall's furniture had been reduced. A gray and white striped foot tip-toed over a fallen hat stand. The blue-hooded gnoll followed, white bow drawn and hyena in tow. Leon grimaced as he tried to make out what was beyond the torch's glow. Vague, dark silhouettes slid in and out of reality, as though beckoning him to join them.
"Marley, go ahead." the gnoll growled, gesturing towards the darkness with his head. Some ten feet behind his companion, Leon carefully crossed the cluttered hallway, holding an arrow between his front two fingers. His steel armor clinked as he entered the darkness, ears perked up, ready to react in an instant. On his left, he heard a breathy hiss. He whipped around, arrow at the ready. Marley snarled, adopting an aggressive posture as he peered into the darkness. Leon lowered his bow. Just the sound of the darkness slipping through the cracks in the gray stone. Leon moved on.
He passed from the dark, tight hallway into a dim, tight foyer. A chandelier, knocked to the ground by some event or another, lit the room with, albeit lazily. He saw motion on the balcony. He clanked up the nearest flight of stairs, stepping over a burning support beam. The fire roared behind him, but his focus was on the figure. Down the dark hallway he saw...
"I thought I saw..." Leon started, turning to Marley. The hyena's nose was in the air, and its eyes burned with determination. "Bullman..." Leon whispered. He started down the hall in pursuit of the image. He barreled down a dark hall, passing wooden doorways on either side. He saw the hulking figure turn down a corridor, silver armor glinting in the light of a candle. He turned down the corridor and into the light.
No sign of the minotaur. Instead, he saw a hallway glowing with the light of programming magic and flame attacks. Four trolls, armed with black hoodies and Guy Fawkes masks, hurled fireballs at a a group of three Armor Gamers. One of them wore a torn blue SHOPS tshirt, but the other two seemed normal enough for Internet furries. Leon nocked an arrow. He saw a fifth attacker: It was a silver steel machine, rolling on a pair of treads, with a boxy body and a square, vaguely pig-like head. One of the Armor Gamers, a penguin, caught a troll's fireball and hurled it at the pig, but it seemed immune to flames.
Leon let his arrow fly, catching one troll in the base of the spine. He flipped through the air and fell, shouting. Leon nocked another arrow and fired without hesitation. The remaining two trolls whipped around, hurling fire. One of the Armor Gamers, a rather buxom fox took one troll from behind as Marley pounced on the second. Marley defeated his easily enough, but the fox merely forced the troll to his knees.
"Surrender!" the fox demand, deep voice resounding through the hall.
"Never!" the flamer shouted. Leon took him at his word and fired another arrow. Only the pig remained, shooting cylindrical meat at anything that moved. It wasn't as deadly as the flames, but it sure was annoying. The SHOPS footman jumped the pig, punching its ugly metal face. Instantly, it wrapped its arms around him. He began to scream in pain as the pig mumbled incoherently about (dot) and (at). Leon drew his flail. The sharp clang of metal on metal filled the hall. The pig fell, headless. The SHOPS kid stood, coughing. He looked up. Silvery metal streaked his face, and one eye glowed a mechanical red.
"Are you alright?" the penguin squeaked.
"Yeah, I'm fine." he groaned. "I just have to..." He threw up a pink paste.
"You sure?" the penguin mused. Leon tasted the pink glop.
"Spam." he growled. "He's been infected."
"We need to get him to Armor Hospital." the fox said, deep voice booming. Leon looked up and down her exaggerated curves.
"There is no Armor Hospital." the gnoll growled.
"What, then?" the penguin asked. Leon fired a forth arrow and moved on in silence, hyena in tow.
A steel hand wrapped around a burning torch. The darkness melted before as he penetrated the dark castle. Leon held the torch high. The shadowy halls snaked in all directions.
"I'll never find that bull at this rate." he growled. Right on cue, the wall behind him exploded. There stood a hulking figure, even taller than Leon and at least three times as wide. Shining plate armor flowed from a silver steel helmet with massive bull horns. Beneath the helmet was nothing. No glistening skin showed through the *****s in the armor. It was just the shell of steel and then nothing. Leon wasted no time in dashing away. He dodged down the dark halls with wild abandon. The living armor pursued heroically, crashing through wall after wall as it jammed its body through the tight passages. Leon panted for air under the stifling weight of his steel, rounding a corner into a burning orange room.
Leon blinked. To his surprise, the room was largely intact. The orange glow came from one of the palace's many furnaces. Though the dwarves who tended the smeltorium (technical term) had long since escaped, the furnaces still burned with stocks of coal and lava. A chandelier, lit with burning candles, completed the mood lighting and generally made the room unbearably hot.
"Marley, here!" Leon called, beckoning to his hyena as he scanned the room for genre conventions. One appeared in the form of a hook to which a rope was tied. Leon didn't even bother to see what the rope was attached to. Leon nocked an arrow. As the living armor crashed through the door, Leon fired. His shot severed the rope. Needless to say, this somehow led to he chandelier crashing down around the steel monster. As it stumbled, Marley leaped at it from the side, knocking it off balance completely. It fell, crashing into the furnaces. It threw up its arms in a silent howl as molten metal and burning coal cascaded around it.
A metal clang filled the hall as Leon clapped his hands together.
"That's that then." the gnoll declared as he watched the flames consume the steel shell. Giving Marley a pat on the head, Leon turned to walk away as the shell melted completely in he flames, leaving only the emptiness inside.
Leon stepped out of the black hallways and into a dilapidated courtyard. He blinked. The courtyard, surrounded by walls, had no ceiling. It was open to the air. Yet the darkness did not relent: night had fallen, with only the moon and stars lighting his way. Leon stepped over a broken fence as his eyes adjusted to the dark. At the center of the courtyard, surrounded by rings of sad looking flowers, was a half-collapsed gazebo. Leon paused briefly to wonder if a half-collapsed gazebo was safe, and to reflect on how it became night so quickly.
He decided not to worry about either affair. He dodged past a fallen column and entered the gazebo. To his vague surprise, he found he was not alone, and not in the many-toothed horror way he expected. A young woman sat within the gazebo's wooden frame, looking a little on the terrified side.
"So you're an evil demon." Leon announced.
"What? Me?" she sobbed. "No I'm... but it's out there. Prowling this courtyard. There were three of us, but it hunted them down. Like a pack of hungry jackals." Leon raised his eyebrows incredulously. She paused briefly before continuing. "It trapped us here, took us out one by one, and left me, to toy with me, and..." she looked up at Leon, eyes wide as a tear slithered half-heartedly down her cheek. Leon remained unmoved. "Alright, so I'm an evil demon. You just had to ruin the surprise. I bet if you were on a date in San Francisco-"
"Get to the point." Leon growled.
"Point..." she drifted off for a moment. "Well, I was going to lull you into a false sense of security and then devour your soul. But you just had to ruin that. First part, at least." She and Leon stared each other down for a moment.
"So the first item is..." Leon began.
"Definitely still on the menu, yes." the demon announced. Leon made a leap for a nearby shrub as the demon blasted out of the wooden structure in a ball of flame.
"You seemed like the man of steal type!" she screeched as she hurled plumes of fire after the gnoll.
"Well, maybe I've turned a new leaf." Leon shot back as he crawled through the bushes. Leon felt the heat of the flames through his steal armor as he rolled from shrub to shrub, but had no interest in a more direct approach. The demon snarled, then let out a primal howl. Within moments, she was joined by a chorus of savage calls.
"Great," Leon muttered "now I'll be hounded by all sorts of spirits." He made a dash from his bush for the gazebo. A jackal, its edges glowing bright blow as the faded and diffused into the matter around them, charged from Leon's left, snapping at his heels.
"Quit dogging me!" he shouted, swinging a metal fist at the beast as he ran. He dived behind a shattered bench and surveyed the battlefield. The spirit-jackals were everywhere, prowling around in the darkness.
"She can really pack them in." Leon observed to Marley, who cowered beside him. As the jackals hedged him in, he hopped to a nearby hedge.
"Get him!" the demon ordered, her jackals running towards Leon, paws silent in the night.
"Time to make a split-second decision." Leon announced. He and Marley darted from the bush in opposite directions. The jackals jumped and howled, running into each other as they bumbled after him. He slid down the side of a mucky trench, branches and leaves poking him as he his in the ruined foliage. Leon had a moment to think as the jackals hunted Marley like a dog. They passed his hiding place again and again, failing to see him each time, until, by some unfortunate accident, he flexed his left ankle, joint cracking, just as one passed. Its ears perked up. It stiffed. It let out a howl. Instantly, the demon was at its side.
"Did you really think you could hid there?" she demanded.
"It was a last-ditch effort." he admitted.
"My jackals may have failed, but you know I have other assets." she cackled.
"You are pretty hot." he conceded as he dodged a ball of flames. He bounded towards the wooden gazebo, only to be cut off by flames and spirit-jackals. He turned back in the direction of the smeltorium, but was cut off similarly. He dived for a birdbath, but he wasn't even granted that luxury. He turned face to face with the demon. Marley skidded to his side, kicking up dirt.
"Sorry it has to be this way." Leon shook his head.
"It doesn't, though." the demon giggled. "You and I could do this all night. You can dodge but you can't hurt me." She took a few steps towards him. "Come now gnoll, can't you think of anything better we could spend all night doing?" She walked toward him as she spoke, hips swaying. Her nose was barely an inch from his as she whispered the last word. His eyes sparkled, the bushes and branches reflected in them. With a sly smile, she threw back his hood. At the moment, Leon took a stab at solving the problem. He moved in a flash. His metal fist clasped tightly around the wooden shaft of an arrow, which protruded from her neck, blue fletching illuminated by the flames.
"How did you..." she sighed as her burning blood bubbled from her neck. Leon turned tail and ran, hyena at his heel, as the demon fell to the ground in a pool of her own flames.
Leon and Marley skipped through the darkness of Armor Castle, eyes peeled for Bullmen and Bullman-related products. As they rounded a corner, Marley tripped over something and Leon tripped over him. Leon looked up to see the vague utline of a person.
"Trippy." Leon said in awe, trying to see through the darkness.
"Do you have any idea who I am?" the figure said promptly.
"I'm in the dark." Leon shot back.
"Allow me to illuminate the situation." The figure clapped its hands. Instantly, every torch, candle and lamp in the room lit itself, throwing the figure and the room into a warm light. Leon was standing in the ballroom, but not as he knew it: instead of disorginized wreckage, there were tables set out neatly, with silverware and diners. Instead of a food fight, there was an assortment of fine wines and gourmet dishes. Instead of screaming, there was music, and instead of bloodshed, there was dancing.
"I can't be party to this." Leon complained.
"Come now, you must dance. We all have to dance eventually." the figure Leon had tripped over in the darkness extended a gloved hand to him. It was wearing a tuxedo, a tophat, and a mask carved crudely in the likes of a white rabbit. With a start, Leon realized all the dancers wore animal masks, though most were elegantly formed.
"Bullman." Leon growled, pushing past the rabbit. A mask in the likeness of a dairy cow sat delicately on a woman's nose as she danced across the floor.
"Holy cow!" Leon exclaimed as he saw her partner: a short man with a strange green mask, with huge black eyes. He fidgeted nervously as he danced, lips moving to create half-formed words.
"Cowabunga!" Leon shouted, slamming into the boy from the side. He imediately formed the vague semblance of a waltz frame and attempted to dance with the woman.
"Hey." Leon said simply. The woman made no reaction as she continued to dance, her mask staring at him expressionlessly. "So this is the legendary Armor Ballroom in its full glory." Leon observed. "Nice to finally see it without all that fighting, huh?" The cow's blank eyes hovered in front of him, unblinking and unfeeling. "Cud you at least say something?" Leon pleaded.
"You're really milking this." she observed.
"Didn't mean to offend." Leon cackled. "I'm udderly sorry." With that, Leon got the slap he deserved and went off to sample the drinks. Leon took a sip of a fruity drink, wincing.
"Packs quite a punch." he observed, looking to the center of the floor. There, a woman in a red fox mask bounced across the floor, dancing from partner to partner and power move to power move.
"Way to be, girl!" Leon called across the room. She grabbed the white rabbit, dancing with him excitedly. She took the lead, maneuvering him around the floor. She kept herself between him and Leon, blocking his view of the rabbit with every sway. Finally, she twirled away from him, leaving him standing alone at the center of the floor. Wordlessly, he removed his mask. A blackness poured from behind the mask, swirling and taking shape as the dancers danced away from it. The tuxedo elted into the darkness as it took form. It stood as tall as a man, lanky arms hanging at its sides, its body tapering into the floor. Swirling tentacles of darkness hung from its face, but beyond these it was featureless. As Leon approached it, he saw pinpoints of light near its base, twinkling in the infinite blackness. He looked into the swirling darkness, seeing equal parts history and prophecy in its depths. The dancers reeled away, but Leon paid them no mind.
"Six..." he mumbled, extending a steely hand. He reached towards it slowly, fingertips extending. The octopus-headed blackness made no motion to respond, billowing like liquid smoke. He touched it. Instantly, the darkness vanished. The torches were gone as quickly as they had come. The ballroom was the same disorganized mess he had first seen. The music had been replaced by commotion. Each dancing couple revealed itself to be a dueling pair, Armor Gamers and trolls locked in battles to the death, or at least that's how they seemed to see it. Everyone was on one side or the other, save one Ager who was, blunt in one hand glock in the other, caught between loyalty and trollish nature.
But Leon still had no mind for them. In the center of the floor, embedded in the stone, where the darkness had been, was a sword, light glinting off its handle. Not just any sword, his sword. He wretched from the stone, whipping around the room. Marley at his side, he held his sword high. Flail in one hand, sword in the other, Leon and his hyena charged into battle. Leon smashed into his opponents like a rolling wave, his weapons branches of steel whipping about in the wind. He bowled over Armor Gamers to get at his enemies, striking them down with blade and flail. His wild eyes glanced around the room, falling on a familiar figure.
"Strop!" he shouted as he slashed a troll to the ground. The ninja pony turned to back to Leon mid leap, landing elegantly on a table. He stood slowly, catching the gnoll's eye. Leon panted, eyes locked with Strop's as he batted at a few attackers. Then, the pony gave Leon a quick nod, flipping away from the battlefield. Then, a knight with a tower shield smashed into Leon from the side.
The gnoll's face slammed into the ground, but he whipped around. The knight raised his shield, fending off Leon's sword strike. He swung his flail, sending it over the knight's shield, bashing his helmet. The knight raised the shield and Leon thrust into his newly exposed midsection. Leon turned, swinging his sword at a pimply teen. He blocked the sword and Leon struck him in the side with his flail. He leaped as a table slid towards him, rolling along it as three trolls charged. He struck one with each weapon as he landed, dodging the third sending him flying into the jagged, broken table with a shove. Someone screamed as a support pillar cracked, sending a chandelier swinging through the room. Leon shoved a troll in its path and dashed into another group. He slid across a wall of ice as it drifted lazily through the room and bowled over a pair of trolls.
"It's coming down!" A troll shouted, pointing to a growing crack in the ceiling. Leon ran him through with a sword as he watched in horror. Trolls and Armor Gamers both stopped fighting, lowering their their weapons as they watched the ceiling crumble. Leon continued to hack and bash through the trolls even as they tried to have a moment. While everyone else tried to dodge the falling rubble, Leon tried his best to shove trolls into it.
"Mages! Go now!" someone shouted. Water surged through the cracks in the pillar, snaking its way through the ceiling. As the water froze, Leon slashed three more trolls aside. For a moment, the ice held, keeping the building intact. Then, a deafening shatter filled the room.
"Everybody out!" a wizard called, indicating a frozen tunnel he had created over the door. Trolls and AGers alike charged for the new opening. Leon tripped one, cackling as he swung his flail. The ceiling began to fold in on itself, collapsing as the support pillars shattered. Leon glanced up, then turned for the exit, shoving people out of his indiscriminately. As he neared the ice tube, he turned around, drawing his bow. He fired a few arrows into the oncoming trolls, calling to the Armor Gamers. His steely gray eyes surveyed the battlefield, coming to rest on Marley, who stood growling at the center of a circle of trolls. Dropping his ivory bow, he charged into the room. Leon crashed through the trolls, scooping the hyena up and tossing him over his shoulder. As he began to dash for the exit, he looked up. The ceiling was falling, chunks of stone and steel surrounding him. With a roar, he hurled the hyena through the opening in the ice. Sword in one hand, flail in the other, Leon glared up, eyes burning as the building fell around him.

Strop stooped down.
"Nice bow." said a tall kid in a cowboy hat, leaning against a shattered support beam. Strop brushed the dust off of the longbow's white wood, examining it.
"This looks like it, boy." Strop said, absent-mindedly scratching Marley's ears. The hyena hung its head, poking his nose at a pile of rubble.
"I told you, it collapsed on him." the age from the ballroom said, brushing his blonde hair out of his eyes. Strop lowered the bow with a sigh.
"It's a little long for me." Strop said matter-of-factly. "One for the Armor Museum."
"Strop..." the kid in the duster began. At that moment, the rubble began to roll down the pile. Sure enough, a dented, dusty steel gauntlet burst through the stone and wood. Leon pulled himself from the rubble, detritus rolling off of his gleaming armor. He was covered in dirt, chunks of ice frozen into his fur. He brushed a twig away with his metal gauntlet, snarling. His grimace became less regal as he patted out a few flames near the base of his cape, and immediately turned back to Strop, grimacing regally. Strop stood tall, the wizard and the cowboy dwarfed next to him, despite the cowboy's great height. Only Leon towered over him, stepping down from the pyre of broken castle.
"I believe you have my bow." Leon announced, yellow eyes glaring down at Strop. Strop looked up at him. He turned his head to the side, seeing his own reflection in Leon's eyes. "Seriously man, you don't separate a gnoll from his bow. That's, like, some serious... history... cultural... give me my bow."
"How are you still alive?" Strop asked coolly, handing the gnoll his bow. Leon reached his metal hand out, taking hold of the white wood as he pulled his hood up over his ears.
"You know," Leon said "that was never adequately explained."

10,811 posts

The Final Countdown

"Well, Leon, I honestly didn't think I'd ever come to say this, but thank you." Strop dusted his hands and his ninja suit off, surveying the rubble that was previously the Great Hall. "I didn't expect a being of chaos to make order through chaos."

"Don't mention it," Leon said gruffly, examining his bow and trying to wipe invisible ninja horse fingerprints off the lacquer. "Maybe that's why you're having such a hard time."

Strop cocked his head. "Pardon?"

"I mean," Leon pulled the string back and released it with a twang, causing him to grit his teeth in irritation and fiddle at the ends. "You're chaotic too, you know that? But all you've done is try to be all orderly and stuff. Maybe it's the way you're going about it. It doesn't quite, you know. Mesh."

Strop scratched his head, not sure what to make of the comment, and so decided to ignore it. "Can I rely on you to keep this place in lockdown? Kingryan's position needs securing, so everybody else can remount their defense from the battlements."

Now that his bow was in good order again, Leon nodded, all businesslike: "Consider it done." Briefly, both of them reached out, Strop's bandaged fist and Leon's gauntleted one bumping with a metallic clash. Then with a whirl of his cape, Leon turned, bounded through the rubble and was gone.

Strop turned to the young mage next to him. "I'm glad you made it Chill. We need you and your colleagues most of all."

Ominously, there was a loud, deep thud and the castle walls shook. A bit of loose dust rained down upon them from the ceiling.

Chill nodded cooly. "What would you have us do?"

Briefly, Strop weighed up the situation. Enough damage was done to the castle as it was, would it be worse if he created more, or risked the inefficiency of them getting lost in the sewers? "Freeze the back wall of the hall. I'll blast a hole through it. If you have a signal to gather all your colleagues, now's the time to use it."

"Roger." In a matter of seconds, the wall had frozen over, and Strop had blown yet another hole in the castle with a mighty sidekick. "Dank's waiting for everybody at the Aristocrat Alley." He took a deep breath, and sighed. "He has a plan."

"And what will you do?" Chill stood in the icy portal, a slide of ice forming to the ground below.

Strop looked around, suddenly feeling all forlorn and empty inside. "I will... stand here and wait for the world to end."


Black Tuesday

Written by Maverick

From atop the hill, Mav could see clearly the destruction that hounded the city. Thick, black, oily smoke was going up from the city from several raging fires. The facades of several burnt-out buildings stood above the streets, like the blank stare of a once mighty face. Even as he watched, one of the hulks collapsed into the street, throwing up rubble and dust into the alreadly clogged atmosphere.

'I suppose global warming is the least of our worries.' He said, to no body in particular.

An odd sound struck Mav's ears. Or rather, it was the lack of sound that caught his attention. An eerie silence had settled upon the city, much like the quiet before the storm. Upon closer examination, Mav could see small figures scurrying about, all heading towards one section of the town: The Castle. The Alamo of the city, it would seem that the remaining defenders hoped to make their last stand here.

Knowing the importance of his mission, Mav realized that he would have to get to the Castle. And the longer he waited, then the more NGers he'd have to go through. He began to jog down the hill, and towards the city.

Mav soon reached the outer walls of the city. They were strong, tall, and well-built. The Gates of the City still hung securly in their place. However, a large rift had been smashed through the wall, and blocks weighing several tons had been scattered about like so many tinker-toys. After a few moments of cursing, stubbed toes, and clambering over the rubble, Mav entered into the city.


Testing out

Five dozen mages. It was a paltry number in the context of the million strong population of AG. And it was barely a fraction of the number of students who attended his classes at the Academy, but he spotted in there some of his brightest and most capable. And it was nearly five dozen more than a single mage with a scheme so big he could not do it alone.

It just might very well be doable, Dank thought as he clanged his hammer down onto the cobblestone of the top of Aristocrat Alley, trying to make himself heard above the din of the downpour. "Students!" He called, and they turned to him, their headmaster. He cleared his throat and subtly employed an amplification script to up his volume.

"This will be your final class for the semester. It will also be your final exam for the semester."

Everybody looked at each other, confused. Why was he talking about school at a time like this?

"This is because the Armor Academy has been demolished due to, uh, well as a consequence of recent and ongoing events. It will take the rest of the semester to rebuild it."

Murmuring rippled through the crowd, but was quickly hushed as Dank slammed his hammer down again, splashing rainwater everywhere. "Listen carefully! I want you to cast your mind back to the course on defining objects, moving objects and collision detection! Because these will be the subjects on your final exam! What is it!?" He barked at the raised hand somewhere up the back.

"What do you expect us to animate?" a reedy voice whined.

"This!" he announced, gesturing to all of Aristocrat Alley. When all he got was blank stares in return, he clarified: "I need you to uproot every mansion and castle on this alley."

The class burst out in a tumult of protest. "What do you mean all of them? There's a hundred houses and sixty of us!" "They're too big!" everybody clamoured. Dank slammed his hammer down again, turning up his volume further.

"What do you mean too big!? Size matters not! Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hmm?" Everybody subsided, looking a bit forlorn and scared of making an inadvertant dwarf joke. Dank scowled.

"And well you should not. Because this is a group exam, so you all either pass or fail. And if we fail, we'll all either be dead, or homeless. So failure is not an option."

Dank looked at the group again, confusion now being replaced by consternation. This wasn't exactly the pep talk he had imagined in his head, or maybe this what he always looked like as a teacher? He shook his head, trying to clear his head. After all, Strop and everybody else somehow managed to get this many people here, and the castle was still somehow standing. It wasn't over yet.

"Okay let's begin. We have a five minute deadline! Start by lifting the houses from their foundations, and we'll go from there. Once we've put everything togehter, my supervisor will coordinate object movements.

Everybody looked up. "Supervisor?"

A familiar brain in a glass jar popped into view, hovering on nothing but the power of its own telekinesis. "Greetings, class. Please do your best."


Like Taking a Potato Gun Against a Tank

"HOOOOOOOOOOOOOLD! HOOOOOOOOOOOOOLD!" Kingryan croaked at nobody in particular. Not like anybody could hear him: the few hundred AGers who had taken control of the wall were busy dumping everything they could get their hands on at the invaders trying to break down the gate and generally tear the castle apart. Occasionally, an explosion erupted, shaking the walls and sending several people flying to the ground to take cover as chips of mortar rained down upon everybody.

But even as their defense was valiant it was also ineffectual. Looming into view, the first of the giant mutant trolls had come crashing through the ruins of the Armor Courts. Only this time, from Flipski's last-ditch self-destruction, they had morphed yet again. Even larger, they stood well over a hundred meters tall, and seemed to have melted into monstrous hybrids of organic and inorganic material, having merged with various buildings and pieces of technology, like a T-1000 in a steel mill, or rather, like Tetsuo* gone out of control. And they were all back, hell-bent on crushing AG into oblivion.

"What can man do against such reckless hate?" Kingryan breathed.

"Ride out. Ride out and meet them," an anonymous ranger with a black beard declared.

In the midst of all the action, everybody stopped and stared at him incredulously. "Are you stupid? We just came IN here to get away from those lunatics!"

"Well do you have any better ideas!?" the ranger yelled back.

Nobody did. And the trolls came crashing even closer.

* from Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira. That is one messed up movie. I recommend you watch it. But maybe nowhere near or during mealtimes.



Strop sat, alone, on the ruins of the Castle Hall. He was still breathing hard, and with each passing moment, he could feel his suit, saturated with sweat and rain and caked with dirt and dried blood, sticking to him. He couldn't feel his mouth and was pretty sure he at least had a split lip. All the little and big hits he had taken were starting to mount, and his muscles were all sore and cramping.

How long had this battle been going? It was impossible to tell what time it was, through all the clouds and the rain. It could have been six hours, it could have been more than a day. Despite knowing he shouldn't stop to reflect lest he lose the will to start again, Strop felt it was too late for him. He was spent, and he couldn't think of what he had or hadn't done and what was to happen next.

The shaking of the castle became even stronger and more incessant, causing him to shake as his balance shifted. He looked up, squinting through the hole in the ceiling, and froze. The mutant trolls had reached the castle, bigger and meaner than ever. Even Flipski wasn't able to completely contain them. And this one already had its fist poised, ready to crush the castle with a single blow. And Dank was still nowhere in sight.

And in a few seconds, it would be all over.

Strop dug around in his suit, and brought out a bunch of narrow glass vials. The vials that Chill had given to him a while earlier. The boy genius had taken the trouble to concentrate only the most potent of potent caffeine for use in the most desperate of times. These times being even more desperate than that, Strop considered the sinister black powder. There was a reason he never drank coffee, banned himself from drinking it. The last time he had a mild instant coffee he had palpitations and couldn't sleep for two days. Something like this, then, he knew, would undoubtedly have far more dire consequences. But it was now that he had to make a choice, if only in his intentions: his body, or the city of AG.

Flicking the end off a vial, Strop grimaced and downed the contents of one.

Nothing happened.

Well maybe his body was too far gone to respond to even this deadly concoction. He sighed. While he surely enjoyed protection of the cartoon ninja gods, his constitution was still not quite like, say, that of Phillip J Fry and his unusual ability to drink a hundred coffees to boost his...

...maybe he hadn't reached the critical point of overload yet.

There was a giant crashing and a huge fist the size of a house drove its way into the castle, almost flattening Strop as it ended up where the Great Hall once was. Strop fell off the pile, almost spilling the rest of his coffee everywhere. When he looked up, the giant trolls were standing in a circle all around the castle, slowly but surely drawing back their fists. Even after the miracle of the first fist somehow failing to completely demolish the castle, it was now an imminent inevitability.

"Ah **** this ****," Strop muttered, and downed the other nine vials.



The End of the World

in 8-bit

Power coursed through his body, filling him with a sensation of rushing that made him want to explode. Yet at the same time, he was calm. Everything made sense. All was right with the world.

Strop looked around. Even the rain had frozen in place. Slowly, he reached out and touched a droplet, watching it ripple then explode. He turned his head upwards and saw one of the mutant troll behemoths, its eyes glowing ominously, fist telegraphed and prepared to obliterate the castle in its entirety. Suddenly, he knew exactly what he had to do, and how to do it.

In the next instant, he was outside, surveying the chaos of the castle's surrounds. He plucked his way through the thosand strong crowd hammering at the walls, and nodded at the frozen figures on the castle battlements, arms poised mid throw, projectiles turning slowly end over end as they were suspended mid-fall. A little ways from the action, Strop saw a familiar figure, a tall young man, looking perplexed as he watched the scene, several precious arrows in hand.

Maverick stood there, jaw gaping as the mutant trolls wound back, ready to crush the heart of AG once and for all. Before he could even think his next thought, a black blur rushed by.

"I'll be needing those, thanks," Strop gabbled as he plucked the Arrows of Time from Maverick's limp-wristed hand. In the next instant, he was gone, a black blur disappearing into the sky.

His nerves conducting electrical impulses even faster than the speed of light, Strop had transcended even instinct. In a single motion he had loosed eight arrows, each finding their mark, causing the trolls to momentarily stop altogether, their fists just metres away from their final destination. Legs pumping, he rushed up the side of the nearest troll, launching high into the air, preparing to summon the greatest of his ban powers, when he looked over in the direction of the Aristocrat alley, and screamed-



In mid-flight, Strop had half a second to wonder whether Flipski had miraculously resurrected as he had simultaneously shrunk to Lilliput proportions, before what looked suspiciously like Firetail's castle flew past him and directly into the face of the nearest mutant troll. The troll reeled back, losing its footing and flattening several dozen shops on the main strip as it fell with an indescribably loud, earth-shattering crunch. As if in slow motion, Strop looked at the castle, now much the worse for wear after the mighty impact, as it continued its path, seemingly attached to pylons and fences and girders and wires and bits of mortar fashioned to form an arm, an arm that was attached to a giant mech-like figure standing right next to the castle. Even through the pelting rain, Strop could have recognised bits of several of the other houses that used to line Aristocrat Alley in its structure.

Strop grabbed a loose piece of pipe now hanging off the arm, before pulling himself atop it. Dank's final request to him echoed in his head, and he had his suspicions as to how this castle-saving intervention had transpired.

Suddenly, the wires and structures started realigning themselves, wrapping around each other and reforming. With a giant lurch, the castle suddenly retracted along the arm, splitting into several sections and forming a crude fist. The pipe Strop was holding onto whipped back and sent him bundling along the arm up towards the shoulder, where he could make out a hulking head and, to one side, a light that looked very much like an eye. Except, when he got closer, it wasn't just an eye, but Moe, strapped into a command room, streams of virtual text whipping around his jar in a blur. Moe was concentrating so hard that the entire room had lit up with an unholy glow.

"Evidently I need more practice" was all he would say, before the mech gave another great lurch, pitching Strop off and into the air again. Below, the other trolls were coming back to their feet, leaping at the mech, arms outstretched in a tackle. A swathe of forest was felled as the mech braced, part of the body shifting and opening up until it stood on four legs, holding the trolls at bay. On the ground, the castle gates had opened once more, the citizens of AG charging across the moat to meet the hordes of invaders once again. And as he nocked his bow with a grappling hook, Strop saw some specks on the horizon, converging on the fracas on both sides. Friend or foe, he couldn't tell, but he knew that the final victory or defeat would be decided in this battle.

"**** just got real," he muttered to himself.


On a Wing and a Prayer

Frank grit his teeth, thoughts flying through his head thick as the rain that battered his oilskin coat. Armor Games had been an interesting place, sure, but it was just supposed to be a holiday stop for him. Just another stepping stone while he gathered his thoughts about what to do next.

But then what? Where would he go after that? Somewhere else where his thoughts about unfinished business and unsavoury pasts would doubtlessly follow him? After this much time, he knew that it wasn't moderation that he sought. Or maybe it was, but not for moderation's sake itself.

Frank shook his head: that part still didn't make sense. What was moderation for moderation's sake anyway? The tournament itself was a distraction and good for some fun and some fights, at least. Fights that he could approach as a warrior, with no holds barred yet no complaints and a kind of justice. Yes, the justice that he felt lacking in his heart, because a community built upon working and living and laughing and fighting together was what he missed. Or so he thought. How could he have forgotten that these were the things that tied him to his old comrades from the air pirate brigade? Was it that his goggles had become so stained in blood that he lost sight of it? Or was it that he had lost sight of the reasons he once gripped with such desperate fury, to hurl himself from the heights of high society into the tempestuous storms of strugglers and mercenaries? No words came to mind to answer his questions, yet, in the very moment and place he inhabited, the answer already existed.

Behind him, there they were again. They were the lost three-hundred wandering the unruly skies. And after everything had been thought through and all the words had been said, they had forgiven his departure and his absence, their prodigal son, their prodigal leader. And it was only through the things that he had learnt and come to terms with that he was able to talk the brigade into coming along with him on this crazy kamikaze mission.

"On the condition", his first mate quipped with a toothy grin, "that there's sufficient compensation of the fiscal variety."

And that was what was bothering him. He had made that promise to his crew and off they went, but he knew nothing about how to fulfill that promise. He suspected, even from a distance, that Armor Games was ruined to the point it would have nothing left to offer them.

"You look rather lost for somebody whose destination is so obvious."

The voice was startingly close, making Frank jerk his throttle lever and almost spiral out of control. When he recovered, a familiar fai- pixie swooped into view.

"Steady on, ol' chap." Pixel quipped in his characteristically officious tone. "When I heard you bowed out in the semi-finals I thought you were gone for good."

"I guess we were both wrong," Frank shot back with a wry smile. "But I'm sure glad I ran into you."

"Oh?" Pixel looked quizzical. "If it's another fight you're after, maybe it could wait until, well, you know." He tilted his head to indicate the bedlam below.

"Yes, of course, but, well..." Frank trailed off before clearing his throat. "My friends here, they're, shall we say, business people who ordinarily won't have any business with these affairs, if you know what I mean, and, well..."

Pixel stared at Frank, slowly comprehending the air pirate's insinuations, before he burst out in a roaring, ungentlemanly laugh.

"Oh, you rascal!" he managed between laughs. "Normally I would say my money is my money, but in these circumstances, I suppose I could set you up with a loan."

Frank's relief was palpable. "Thanks, that's much appreciated." Pixel blinked at him, partially blinking rain out of his eyes, partially blinking in thought. "And here I was thinking that if I said no, you'd just fly away..."

Frank shifted uncomfortably in his harness before staring dead ahead. "Right now we have something important to deal with, so should we?"

"Indeed," Pixel simply said. The two slapped their mitts together, and the deal was sealed.

Frank triumphantly raised his sword, rallying the troops onward, and in a deafening roar of propeller engines and warcries, streams of air pirates charged towards the fray. Gunning his own engine, Frank set off, riding in Pixel's slipstream.

"By this way, I charge interest," Pixel reminded Frank.

"You rich *******," Frank countered, before pointing towards the battling magic stone golem and the giant mutant trolls pounding the mortar out of it. "On second thought, maybe we should talk about loans later... wasn't your house supposed to be there somewhere?"

Pixel peered down, noting first that Aristocrat Alley had completely vanished, then noting the suspicious composition of the stone golem.

His bloodcurdling scream continued all the way down to the battlefield.


Courage Under Fire

"Come on, darn you idiots, don't you have any teamwork!?"

Dank slammed his hammer down in frustration, splitting his abuse evenly between the code he was yelling out, and his students. In the distance, the stone golem was being broken apart, pummeled by eight pairs of giant fists, just as it tore into the trolls with equally magnificent brutality. As it crumbled, bits and pieces cascaded down, only to be picked up by magic and reattached to the main body. Only Dank was not at all satisfied how the golem was regenerating, for due to the chaotic nature of sixty mages trying to work on one thing at once with not a moment to actually talk to each other, the golem was changing characteristics at an alarming pace.

Dank finally capitulated. "Fine, do what you want! Stick any bloody brick anywhere you want, as long as it can still move!" He resumed yelling out more code to try and right the many wrongs of the situation, but was interrupted by a very wet black body smacking him in the face, which promptly sprang back to its hooves.

"You dumb ***!" Dank yelled, but this time the ninja horse completely ignored him, as if in his own little world.

"Go on, get aw-" Dank started, but stopped when he realised that he was far too late: thanks to the wayward fists of a mutant troll and the trajectory its unfortunate target took, his band of mages had been spotted. With an earth-shaking roar, it scraped the ground, picking up hundreds of fighters from the battlefield, and without thought, bundled them towards their hasty lack-of-fortifications.

But Dank didn't even have to speak. Dank looked on, trapped in a surreal moment, as he nocked his bow, and as if on cue, was wordlessly joined by two more archers. Without a moment's hesitation, they opened fire.

A withering storm of arrows sailed forth, cutting into the ranks of the displaced raiders. Confused and disoriented, they wheeled about, turning back and clashing into the vanguard. Seeing this, Strop emptied his quiver, indiscriminately firing at the crowd, and discarding it, brandished his bow as a club and dashed towards the mess, hooves kicking up mud high into the air.

By the time Dank looked back, the gnoll and the man had also vanished. Despite himself, his brow furrowed and he found himself pausing a moment.

"But what about your vow?" he mouthed after the departed horse.


A Home to Come to


The voice was unique, female, but booming and deep and distinctly unfeminine for all the power and aggression that it carried.

Her swords long broken, Asherlee sank everything she could, boots, fists, her head, into every wimpy and puny foe who flung herself at her. She fought with a power far beyond that which a simple five minute breather could have ever restored, sending bodies flying as if they were simple trash. Likewise, the Dragon Mistress was rejuvenated, coiling her whips and ensnaring every noob her eyes set upon, before hurling them out of the fight. Around them, heroes rose and little-known legends were born as spirits lifted for a last great desperate hurrah against oblivion.

"We must preserve this city, preserve it so our royalty, so Queen Carlie might have a home to come to!" Asherlee roared.

"No matter how long it takes, hold until that moment!" Dragonmistress echoed.

Above them, the air pirates had engaged in earnest. Some split into squads and swooped low, distracting the raiders and herding them into waiting traps, dividing them further to be set upon by fishmen eager to redeem themselves. Others still swarmed around the giant mutant trolls like angry bees to a bear, figuring that they had a much higher bounty, peppering them with musket shot. They took no notice, initially, until the airships weighed in with their great hundredweight cannons, which blew great grooves in the variegated flesh of the mutants. Ineffectually they swung about, batting at the stinging pests, and Moe in the golem pressed his new advantage, charging forth and driving them away from the castle. The heavens rung and the rain blew away as shockwaves from the impacts rippled outwards.

Not content with duking it out, the mutant trolls threw more and more soldiers into the woodworks and the ever changing structure of the golem itself, until it was crawling with the ants that sought to dismantle it from within. Even as their last hope was under threat, the brave soldiers who fought for AG's sake could not disengage in order to prevent the sabotage from taking place, so they watched helplessly as smoke and static started blowing out of the golem as pipes burst and wires were severed, and the hydraulics cobbled together from bits of boiler from many a house started to creak dangerously.

"FLY LIKE SUPERMAN", a maniacal voice cackled, and overhead, a shape dashed along a ridge on one of the giant's bodies, and shot impossibly straight into the belly of the golem. Sailing through the shifting gaps with suicidal recklessness, a ninja blazed through the levels, taking out any enemy he laid eyes upon, before bursting out from the shoulder of the great golem, laughing like a madman the whole time.

Oh how I wish I had more time to draw action pages. And more scenes without Strop in them. But I gotta move the plot on, so...

Through the air he sailed, burning the dregs of his coffee euphoria, no longer caring for anything but the culmination of all experiences, where every other moment that he had lived came to that one very moment, the singularity that gave way to the next, to the next, to the-