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January 23, 2013

Spirit Showdown α: The Prince

“Look, I don’t see what you’re so mad about.  Coyote-boy gave us an out, and we got it.  So how about you give the raging a rest?  You’re gonna give yourself wrinkles -- and I don’t think you can afford to look any worse than you already do.”

Beat drove a foot through the virtual platform, digging up a splash of pixels and numbers.  “Well, yeah, but -- wait, what was that about my looks?”

“What?  I didn’t say a word…”  Tony glanced aside, his usual scowl tightening even further.  “Lousy sasquatch wife,” he muttered.

“I’m just gonna pretend I didn’t hear anything, because that’s the only way your head won’t get smacked right off your neck.”  She folded her arms and groaned, standing her ground in a most-unladylike stance.  “It’s just that that guy -- FX or whatever -- he just pisses me off so much!”

“What doesn’t?”

“Unicorns and rainbows.  Obviously.”  Beat looked around a bit, taking note of the orange-rimmed platforms and tessellated cubes drifting through the air around them.  “So what’re we supposed to do now?”

“Hell if I know.  The way I see it, though, coyote-boy gave us an out so we could go do something.”

“So what, you’re saying that he’s on our side after all?”

“Maybe.  More on our side than blob-boy back there.”

“So he pretty much sacrificed himself to save us?  And with his dying breath, he wants us to put together the pieces to beat that sack of black pixelly gooey bits and save the world, right?”

“Probably…but I’m about ready to blow him off.”

“Wow!  You’re a terrible person!”

Tony looked back at her over his shoulder.  “Good.  You know how I work.”  He went back to his business, crouching low to the ground and running his hands about.  “Crap.  I bet I know how this works; we don’t get to leave until we do something…”  His beady eyes rolled around in his head.  “Heroic.  God, why me?  I just wanted my vacation…”

“Hey, Tony?”

“What?  Can’t you hear me lamenting my life?”

Beat scratched at her temple.  “Is it just me, or does something feel…different?”

“Yeah, it does.  Now gimme a hand here; if we have to dig our way out, it’d be good to have an extra set of hands.”


Lloyd adjusted his glasses for the eighteenth time that minute, his mouth opened wide enough to let in the average rhinoceros horn.  “By the arrows of Artemis!  I seem to have stumbled into some manner of digital wonderland!  Could I have been summoned here by some manner of goddess?  If so, I would very much like to meet her; I can appreciate a divine form more adequately than most my age, I’d wager.”

FX managed to keep a smile on his face as always, but the sight of that purple-haired loon made his muscles strain.  And here I was, thinking that everything would go exactly as planned, he thought as Lloyd danced across the platform.  I should have known better.  I overestimated the blog’s ability to act rationally; it isn’t out to do the most beneficial thing as it is to provide a cheap laugh.  And because of it, the worst-case scenario has come to pass.

His red eye swiveled about.  Lloyd has been summoned.  But if he’s here, then where exactly is --

Lloyd moved FX’s tail up and down like a pump.  “So it really IS a werewolf -- albeit a docile one,” he reasoned.  “Interesting, indeed.  The virtual world is full of such wonders.”

“I would prefer if you kept your hands to yourself,” FX said as he craned his neck around.  “Otherwise, I might have to get a little violent with you.”

That got Lloyd moving; with a yelp, he leapt back a full six feet, and held his hands up in defense.  “So the werewolf speaks -- and has quite the violent streak!”  He patted down his pockets.  “Damn.  If this were a perfect virtual world, I would have come equipped with some manner of revolver and silver bullets.”

“Let’s try to focus a bit, shall we, Lloyd?”

“Foul lycanthrope!  I’ll not take orders from you!”

“I’m not your enemy.  If anything, you and I are --”

Lloyd gasped.  “Inconceivable!  You’re…you’re my long-lost brother that I’ve never heard about until this very moment?  Then this meeting…surely, it is the work of the fates!”

“How on earth did you come to that conclusion when --”

“So my brother is a werewolf nestled away in a virtual realm,” Lloyd thought aloud as he stroked his chin.  “And by the sound of things, his penchant for violence is a result of him being abandoned by all that would love and honor him…an intriguing state of affairs, to be sure.”

It’s as if I’m talking to a rock, FX thought.  A verbose rock, but a rock all the same.

“Ah.  Lord Wolfington.  An inquiry, if I may.”  Lloyd pointed to his right.  “Would you care to explain what that might be?  I’m afraid with all the excitement of finding another brother I let the more obvious matter slip past me.”

FX followed Lloyd’s finger.  He had every reason to be wary; a massive chunk of the platform, and the space around it, had its colors inverted.  Rays of light formed a cage abstract enough to make Picasso proud, with white particles shifting between each beam.  And the reason for that cage?  To hold in some writhing mass -- currently a searing shade of white, but no doubt a black blob in its standard form.

“Ah.  That is a very unwelcome guest around these parts,” FX explained, taking a step towards the cage.  “It’s because of him mucking around that you’re here in the first place…so to speak.  Honestly, I think it’s a joke on all of us that you --”

“An intruder, eh?” Lloyd asked, stepping cautiously toward it (and ignoring FX’s blooming annoyance).  “What does he want here?  Is there a fortune here that needs defending?”

“Relatively speaking, yes.  But he isn’t here for gold coins; what he’s after is knowledge.  Information that’s more or less woven into the fabric of this space.”

Lloyd stared at FX. 

“Let me explain.  The creature that floats before you is incomplete -- and to become complete, it wants to absorb the positive thought energy here and…Lloyd, is any of this sinking in?”

“…Not particularly.  I’m sorry, I was just wondering what would happen if I scratched behind your ears.”

“Let’s try to focus a bit here, shall --”

“Do you ever get fleas?  Are you afraid of vacuum cleaners?  If a doorbell rings, do you start barking and run toward the door?  Do you enjoy the occasional treat, or are you trying to watch your weight?  I hate to keep interrupting you, but I just have so many questions!”  Lloyd clapped a fist atop his palm.  “Oh!  I just realized that if I want the proper answers, I should ask questions in regards to your transformation into a werewolf!  So allow me to start again with this: do you ever get fleas?”

FX just stared blankly at Lloyd.  “How…how are you even alive?”

“Heh heh heh…oh, this is rich.”

FX and Lloyd turned back toward the cage.  “And here I was, thinking that you had everything under control.  Now look at you -- one little mishap is all it takes to break your façade, isn’t it?”

The smile on FX’s face stretched a little wider, but with no shortage of tension.  “This is nothing.  Before this day is done, I’ll have you shattered and your pieces flung across space.  You just watch.”

“I’m starting to doubt that.  In fact, it’s obvious that you can’t stop me; you admitted as much yourself not too long ago, and I doubt there’s a single person in this world or the next that can do any better.”  The mass started to rumble, sending shivering ripples across the cage.  “I’ll take what’s mine.  But before I do, I think I owe you something.”

“And what would that be?”

Tendrils shot out from the mass, and hammered the cage.  Before FX or Lloyd could even register the motion, the cage shattered, returning both the space and the mass to normal.  “Isn’t it obvious, my dearest friend?  I owe you a slow and painful death.”

FX glanced upward and sighed.  “It just gets better and better,” he mumbled.  “Lloyd.  Listen carefully.  If you’re looking to survive, then move exactly as I say.”  He looked to his side…only to notice that Lloyd had left it long ago.

He didn’t go far, of course.  He stood his ground between FX and the intruder, his eyes drifting up and down the mass at least twice his size, and less than half that distance away.  “So I take it you have some sort of grievance with my lupine brother.  Well then, why don’t you and I sort it out?  I would hope that we can discuss things like gentleman and not have to come to blows.”

“Out of my way, you idiot.  If you don’t move, I’ll gladly go through you.”

“I would do what he says, Lloyd.  You don’t have anything even close to power -- and picking up your pieces isn’t something I’m about to do anytime soon.”

Lloyd laughed to himself.  “I know.  I may not have power or speed, or even skill.”  He looked back at FX with a pleasant smile.  “But as your older brother -- as a comrade by nature -- I’ll gladly step in and take action.  Especially if it’s to resolve an unnecessary conflict.”

“A comrade by nature, huh?  Interesting…so, another interesting human appears before me…”  But before he could get too wistful, FX snapped his eye back toward Lloyd.  “Did you say older brother?”

“Well, of course.  You’re a half-foot shorter than I am, and your voice lacks a certain masculine element.  Isn’t that the case?”

“…Did I say ‘interesting’?  I’m sorry, I meant ‘annoying.’”

“Ah, just like a little brother -- always resenting his kin!”

The intruder, of course, scoffed at the very idea.  “Is this some kind of joke?  Is your plan just to delay me to death?  I don’t think either of you are getting how far out of your depth you are; all I need is one second to turn either of you into piles of gored meat.  Or would you prefer it if I slashed you both to pieces?  Or maybe just sucked up and reduced to nothingness?”

Lloyd raised an eyebrow.  “Is everyone in this dimension always this needlessly violent?”

“I don’t care.  And in a few seconds, you won’t either.”

“Why are you so eager to kill me?  Ignoring the fact that I’ve caused you no harm -- and as you and my brother have said, I can cause no harm -- I earnestly don’t see a reason why we have to have conflict.  Nor do I quite understand why, exactly, we have to be enemies.  Surely through cooperation we can come to some sort of compromise.  Or at the very least, we can become deeply-entrenched allies.”

“’Compromise’?  ‘Allies’?  Are you THAT stupid?”

“That much should be obvious by now,” FX said in the distance.

“I don’t need you, or anyone else.  The only one that matters is me; that’s how it’s always been, and that’s how it’ll always be.”

“Why?” Lloyd asked.

“Because all I want is to be complete -- and if that means tearing apart everything around me to have it, then so be it.”

“Hmmm…”  Lloyd tilted his head and folded his arms.  “…I’m sorry, but I’m afraid I don’t quite understand your argument.  Why, exactly, does your happiness have to come at the expense of everyone else’s?  You’ll forgive my ignorance, I hope; extra-dimensional relations are not a subject I’m familiar with.”

“Why…?  Because if I don’t have things go my way, then I’ll never be complete.  And I will be, soon enough.”

Lloyd tilted his head in the other direction.  “And then what?”

“What do you mean, ‘And then what’?  I’ll be complete, and then I’ll be happy.  I’ll have a form, an identity -- everything I’ve ever wanted.”

“Are you sure?  I always figured that to define oneself, one would have to be defined by others.  A sort of ‘the company you keep’ situation.  But if your actions will put everyone and everything but yourself -- or perhaps even yourself -- in jeopardy, then wouldn’t that mean you’d be no closer to gaining an identity than you are now?”

“No, of course not.  Because I’ll have all the data I need.”

“But…I still don’t understand.”  Lloyd furrowed his brow and scratched his head.  “How exactly does absorbing the data left by others give you an identity?  If anything, aren’t you just copying their thoughts and ideas and substituting them for your own development?  Can you really say it’s your identity then?  From my perspective, it seems like you’re just trying to wear the clothes of others because you don’t have any of your own.  There’s a notable lack of thought processes to give you that unique element.”

FX smirked. Well, well…

“Are you calling me an idiot?” the intruder snapped.  A half dozen tendrils burst from its core and rocketed towards Lloyd; four of them hovered inches away from his body with their edges sharpened to a fine point, while the remaining two looked ready to chop at his neck like a pair of hedge clippers.  “I’m warning you.  You DON’T want to test me.”

But Lloyd merely smiled as if he’d heard a good joke.  “No need for worry.  I have no intention of testing you or your resolve -- and as I understand it, I’m the last person allowed to start tossing around words like ‘idiot’.”  He held out a hand.  “Rather than decry your resolve, I merely wish to redirect it; I want to repurpose it, so that the pain you’ve no doubt borne for ages can be lessened.”

The intruder grunted.  “You have a way with words, but that’s all you’re good for.  You can’t possibly do anything worthwhile; you can’t even protect yourself.”

“I know.  No one knows my weakness better than I do.  But I have ways to circumvent that weakness, and I can assure you it’s possible without harm to others.  It’s quite the opposite, actually.”

The tendrils around Lloyd’s neck started to spread apart.  “What do you mean?”

“It’s as I said.  I’m weak and stupid, but I’m constantly surrounded by people who are stronger than me.  Faster than me.  Smarter than me.  Better looking than me.  Kinder, wiser, braver, all that and more.  But even so, there are people who consistently need help to realize their nature, and the potential they’ve willingly overlooked.  To that end, I offer up myself as tribute; I exist as a means to serve others, and move them towards their zenith.”

“And why is that?”

“Simple.  Because this passion that flows through me would allow nothing else.  For the sake of a world overflowing with love and joy, I, Lloyd Beatrice Hoigleheimer, will campaign for as long as my body and mind will allow.  And I will move ever onward for that goal -- for a harem without limits!”

The clippers tightened once more -- and this time, they hovered mere centimeters from Lloyd’s throat.  “Of all the worthless…!”

“Are you jealous?”

FX took a few steps forward, his shoulders jostling with each quiet chuckle.  “For someone who’s effectively undefeatable, you’re looking a little feeble there.”

“You’re next, you worthless mongrel!”

“Oh my, oh my.  This IS a delightful turn of events.  Look at you, getting all flustered over such a simple matter!  Or is it the fact that Lloyd here has a spirit -- and a fierce one, at that -- and you don’t?”

The intruder -- tendrils and all -- started to tremble.  And even with such a dire threat beside him, Lloyd looked backwards to FX.

“It seems as if I was mistaken.  I would have figured that defeating you would come down to using the most powerful weapons we could muster against you.  But I was wrong; leave it to a mere human to show me the way.  The key to defeating you is --”

“I’ve no intention of defeating anyone.”

Both FX and the intruder froze as Lloyd held out a hand.  “I’m sorry.  But even if our guest here is unwelcome, and more than a little rude, I see no reason why we have to dismiss him without giving him something substantial.  Something to put his heart at ease.”

“Not exactly the best course of action, Lloyd,” FX warned.  “Have a look.  Does that look like something with a heart?”

Lloyd looked at FX.  He looked at the intruder.  He looked back at FX.  And then, once more, he turned to the intruder -- and he flashed the brightest smile he could muster.  “There’s only one way to know for sure.”

He spread his arms out wide.  “I’m in your hands, dear guest!  Absorb me as you see fit!”


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