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The Duel of the Ages

Chapter 6

By Samuel Stoddard

The periodic crunching sound of boots on gravel entered his mind from somewhere. They disturbed his thoughts.


Where did this voice come from? Who owned it? What was the name he called?


There it was again. The name sounded vaguely familiar, but he still couldn't place it.


He jumped then, jolted out of his dreams. A familiar figure stood over him, shaking his shoulder.

"Would you cut that out, Gestald?" Darius whined, bringing a hand up to hold his aching head. "I feel like hell."

"You look like hell. Where have you been?"

"At death's door."

"Of course."

Darius stumbled to his feet, squinting in the bright light. Oh, how bright it was!

"Say what happened to you?" Gestald asked, concerned. "You need any help--"

"No," Darius said, cutting him short. Cutting him shorter by four whole feet, as a matter of fact. Darius looked down at the little man, now only slightly taller than his knees. "I don't need help. I'm on a mission from Death."

"Well, ok," Gestald said hesitantly, blowing on his thumb to restore himself to his former size.

"Wait," Darius said, snapping his fingers. "Get me a sack of mice and a sack of rice."

"What?" Gestald said, crackling his hands.

"You heard me," Darius said, popping his knuckles. "And soak them in water."

"Have you gone mad?" Gestald snapped.

"I certainly have not," Darius crackled.

"Are you sure?" Gestald said, popping the question.

"Of course I'm sure! Now go get me what I asked. A wet sack of mice and a wet sack of rice crispies. Rice Crispies? What on earth made me say that? No, a wet sack of rice, and make it quick! And a statue of Foghorn Leghorn. Oh never mind, I'll get them myself. Yes. Yes, it shall be just as I imagined it!"

With that, Darius turned absently and plodded down the road toward Larosis, leaving Gestald confused and befuddled.

When Darius recalled his dream-like confrontation with the Grim Reaper, he shivered. Conversing face to face with Death was not generally a pleasant experience for anyone. However, this one had been all the worse, for Death had commanded him to face once again the mighty warrior from Lallygymlagyn1. The odds were stacked firmly against him. King Ibex's entire army was almost a match for Blood Drops alone. It would not be easy.

1 I got tired of spelling it correctly, too.
But his hatred of the knight was what drove him. In the dreams that had come upon him during his journey back from Death's domain, he had envisioned his revenge on the knight. So help him, his revenge would be exactly as he imagined it would be. Darius almost chirped with wicked delight as he envisioned the dastardly knight's head, drowning amidst a collection of swimming rodents that would make Indiana Jones himself cringe.

He reached Larosis and, still mesmerized in his imaginations, unwarily entered not through the main gate, but the Gate of Despair.2 The folks on the wall could tell from his clothing and the lack of a stone on his forehead that he was not a wizard -- he was also too puny -- but they figured, what the heck, and spit on him anyway. Darius, however, was oblivious to it all; by the time he made it into the city, he was dripping in clotted, tobacco-stained goop.

2 This is reminiscent of the Princess Bride's "Pit of Despair"; however, the interesting thing here is that the "Gate of Despair" is the true name of the gate in the "real" Larosis. Wizards, a mistrusted group, are forced to enter by this particular gate, where people like to spit on them as they pass through.
He worked his way through the crowd of people in the center of the city and reached a familiar table with a familiar woman in a familiar chair.

"Marion, I need something," he said.

"Besides a bath?" Marion said, her voice crackling.

"I need a couple of wet sacks--"

"Hold on there sonny, I don't deal in that kind of--"

"No, no, a sack of rice and a sack of mice. I'm going to give a little demonstration to an old friend of mine. A very old, old, old friend."

"Is he cute?"

"Not after I'm finished with him."

"Oh, it's that way, huh? Well, it so happens that I have a couple of sacks right underneath the table here." Her chair creaking as unsteadily as her voice, Marion leaned forward and lifted up the tablecloth. "Right under here," she repeated, and, in wavering grasps, produced two sopping wet sacks, one pulsing and squealing, the other limp and silent.

Darius took them, one in each hand, and peeked inside. Perfect. Absolutely perfect.

"You got a statue of Foghorn Leghorn on you?"

"Why as a matter of fact I do, right here in my pocket." Another shaky motion produced a figurine of a white rooster which Darius took with his third hand and stuffed into his backpack (which he was holding with his fourth).

"Thanks, Marion! I'll pay you back soon!"

"Yeah sure," she said rolling her eyes.

But Darius had already turned away and was struggling to make his way back out of the crowd.

"Excuse me...pardon me, it's important...Marion, please...?"

3 A Princess Bride reference.
Marion smiled, and then, in a loud, scratchy, caterwauling voice, "Everybody MOVE!"

"Thank you."3

Just jump into the void, Darius thought to himself. As he stood before the black space in the ground, hidden by the bushes, he was having second thoughts. Who knows what could be in there? What if there were monsters or barbarians or cannibals or -- heaven forbid -- snakes?

He had almost convinced himself to let the knight go when he recalled the ghostly form of the Grim Reaper. Oh how terrible he had been! He sure was scary!

And he thought of the Misses and the three little ghouls who would be starving to death if Mr. Reaper lost his job. The poor critters.

That settled it. Darius would brave any monster, any barbarian, any cannibal...and...hope that there wouldn't be any snakes.

He took a deep breath, then plunged into the hole. Almost instantly, he fell against a coarse, rugged cloth.


There was a rustling sound, and the walls, the floor, and the ceiling shivered and shook. Suddenly, blinding light poured in from overhead, and a gigantic face loomed into view.

"Darius?" it boomed. "What are you doing in my bag?"

4 A reference to one of Dave's short stories about a man with a sack that can hold heavy objects without making the sack any heavier to carry. Dave's story concerns the explanation behind such a sack -- that a portal to another world is within the sack, and objects it holds are shoved just inside this other world. The character who owned the sack, in Dave's story, was also named Gestald, so I thought it fitting to connect the two stories and the two Gestalds somehow.
"Er...sorry Gestald...wrong hole,"4 Darius answered and stumbled out again. Searching through the brush some more, he found a second hole, dark as the first -- this one was the one Blood Drops had entered -- no doubt about it. Breathing deeply once more, Darius plunged in.

And promptly exploded from the vacuum.

"What are you doing here again, Darius?" the Grim Reaper sighed.

"Well, I just went into that hole," he whined.

"That hole is a bridge to another dimension -- one where there is no air. You have to get in a space suit or cast a force field spell if you want to get through there alive."

"Oh," Darius said, feeling foolish. He abruptly noticed an assortment of mice scrambling around at his feet. Apparently, they had exploded too. He felt even more foolish at the Grim Reaper's inquiring stare.

"Wasn't quite like you imagined it, was it, Darius?" the Grim Reaper mocked. "Beam him down, Scotty," he said to his odd little book thing, "and his little mice, too." Then, turning again to Darius, "This time don't come back unless you bring the knight with you."

Once again, Darius stood before the hole. Should have asked Marion for a space suit, he grumbled. Then he peered at the sacks in his hands. This should do, he thought.

He put the sack of rice at his feet and stepped into it. The sack was large; he covered himself up to his hips. Then he took hold of the sack of mice, closed his eyes, and pulled it over him. Tucking himself in at the waist, he rolled over to the hole and toppled in.

The ride was amusing, to say the least. The wet rice provided no special thrill, but Darius rather enjoyed the sensuous touch of the million tiny furry wriggling bodies so close to his face. Warm fluid seeped over his skin -- what was it? Could it have anything to do with the cuts and scratches and scrapes that were being inflicted on the upper half of his body at an alarming rate?

He felt a thud. The drifting sensation faded. His journey was done.

Untangling himself from the sacks and the mice and the rice, he thrashed to his feet and looked around. Blood Drops, an Ogre, and a Goblin stood looking at him quizzically, one with a cocked eyebrow, another with a slack jaw, yet another with an confused frown.

He felt compelled to offer some sort of explanation, but could only utter a few choice words of reassurance. "The hole, and the big...Gestald... he, I went to, and the crowd was, but Marion went, and they moved, and I didn't, but Foghorn Leghorn said...but that isn't right, and I had...and it exploded...uh, me...and the mice, uh rice, uh...."

So with that matter cleared up, the Goblin and the Ogre turned to leave -- yet unbeknownst to them (but knownst to us)5 Blood Drops did not follow.

5 A Spaceballs reference. (Nothing like parodying a parody.)
"You don't know when to give up, do you?" Blood Drops said smoothly.

This was it. This was Darius' big moment to exact his revenge -- just as he had envisioned it.

"Two can resurrect at that playing game, my--I mean, two can be friends at that resurrecting play, my game. I mean...oh dear, I forgot my lines.... AACK!" Darius noticed, with sudden horror, that the mice had escaped the sack and were skittering all about the chamber. Quickly, Darius took hold of the mouse sack and started picking up the rapidly dispersing mice, one by one, and plopping them back in the sack. It was difficult for they were very slippery. The mice were wet to begin with, yet Darius was also contending with spit from the Gate of Despair and blood from the injuries the mice had inflicted.

"This is Fogleg Hornhorn," Darius said, scrambling about on the floor. Mice were crawling up his legs and over his back now. "I mean Hornleg Foghorn, as I'm sure you--" Darius paused to brush a mouse off his face. "It's the fat old rooster I'm dearly in love with," he continued, pausing in his mouse chase again, this time to fling a white statue across the floor in Blood Drops' general direction.

"The old poor buzzard -- ow! -- wasn't always right, because -- ow! --" (one persistent mouse kept trying to crawl up his nose) "he didn't know that...would you like to -- AACK!" (another mouse had scampered almost the whole way up his pant leg) "would you like to --"

"You want some help with that?" Blood Drops offered.

"Hey, SHUT UP you," Darius threatened, straightening defiantly, pointing an accusing finger at the other, who remained unfazed. "OW!" Darius howled again and kicked at one of the grey furballs at his feet.

He stooped once more to gather more mice but finally decided he had enough to do the job. He approached the regal Llagimlian and, spitting a mouse out of his mouth, presented the half-full sack of mice to him in a triumphant gesture.

Composing his voice before he spoke, he said, "Would you like to know how sharp a sack of wet mice is?"

"I would indeed!"

"You do? Oh cool! Let me show you." Darius stuck his hand inside. "Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow!" He withdrew it. The water, spit, and blood on his hand coalesced and hung from it like seaweed. "See? That's pretty sharp, isn't it?"

"I'll have to admit, that's pretty sharp," Blood Drops conceded. "Heh. Show me that again."

"Sure!" Darius said, and thrust his hand in again. "Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Pretty neat, huh? I can do it with my head, too. Wanna see?"

"That's quite all right."

"And here's the sack of wet rice," Darius continued and attempted to swing it at the man, but it was too heavy and somehow landed on himself, knocking him to the floor.

"Amusing," Blood Drops marvelled.

"Yeah," Darius laughed. Then his face turned hard. "All right, then. I shall exact my revenge." He snatched the statue of Foghorn Leghorn and swung it at the knight. But Blood Drops extended a hand and cut short the blow.

"I don't think so, Darius," Blood Drops said. "Your insufferable flounderings have continued long enough. Your crimes against humanity warrant eternity on the Machine, with the pain lever at the jillionth setting.6 But since I don't have a machine, I'll exact my own punishment."

"Wha-wha-wha-wha-wha-wha-what's that...?"

6 The Machine, in The Princess Bride, is a torture device. The lowest setting is portrayed as unspeakably excruciating, let alone its highest setting, 50.

7 The beginning of a rather long reference to The Princess Bride.

8 While most of the surrounding dialogue is from The Princess Bride, this one line is from Looney Tunes' Marvin Martian.

"I'll explain. And I'll use small words so that you'll be sure to understand -- you warthog-faced buffoon."7

Darius staggered backward, shocked. "That may be...the first time in my life...a man has dared insult me. That was not a bit nice."8

"The first thing you will lose will be your feet below the ankles." With a swift motion, Blood Drops' sword ripped through Darius' feet as he stood. He collapsed on the spot.

"Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow!" (The mice were crawling in the wounds.)

"Then your hands at the wrists..." The sword whistled twice more, and his hands dropped limply in a pile of rice.

" your nose..." An instant later, Darius' central facial feature was sniffing the floor with intimate closeness.

"And then my tongue, I suppose?" Darius spat angrily.

"Good idea," Blood Drops said and severed it from his mouth. "And I'm not finished. The next thing you will lose will be your left eye, followed by your right." True to his words, two moist globes rolled away from Darius' diminishing body.

"A en myy eear, I unnetaa, ett get o wif i."

"Wrong! Your ears you keep, and I'll tell you why. So that every shriek of every child at seeing your hideousness will be yours to cherish. Every babe that weeps at your approach, every woman who cries out 'Dear God, what is that thing?' will echo in your perfect ears. I leave you in anguish, wallowing in freakish misery forever."

"I fik yuur buffig."

"It's possible, pig. It's conceivable, you miserable vomitous mass. But I wouldn't count on it."

"NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!" Darius cried out, tears streaking down his face to mingle with the water, spit, and blood. Sweat trickled from his forehead to join the party too. He rolled about on the floor, quivering and convulsing in excruciating pain.

The Grim Reaper drifted in from behind, and the pair of them glared mercilessly at what once was Darius.

"You have done well," the Grim Reaper whispered at last. "I knew if I sent him to you, you would find a way to get back at him for me. Dear Blood Drops, you would not believe what this man has put me through. He has killed so many in his lifetime that I've been working long hours, long weeks, long years ever since he was born. Then, when you killed him, I couldn't bear to see him drift to a peaceful, painless death. For all the trouble he caused me, he wasn't going to get away without paying. Not while I had any say in it."

Blood Drops turned, then, and faced Death. "We're even, now. You let me live in exchange for a favor which I have just now completed. Had he been anything but a cruel braggard who deserved such misery, I would not have taken you up on your deal at all."

"You're not afraid of death, are you?" the Grim Reaper asked, intrigued.

"I am not."

"You realize I could take you right now, and there wouldn't be a thing you could do about it, not with all your magic magnified a hundredfold. You realize that, don't you?"

"I do."

The Grim Reaper smiled faintly. "Good bye, Blood Drops. We will meet again, but not for a long time." With that, the black apparition vanished.

"Aauuuuuuuuuuuuggggguuaaaaaaaaaaaawwwwwwwww," Darius gurgled.

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