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The Continuing Adventures of Rack and Ruin - Story Thread
#21
Tibbs' eyes narrowed in an accusing look towards the nonchalant Vandalian laid beside the rifle and his big sidearm.
If Mucklebones' belief of demons had any merit -the small man thought, those devilish creatures resided in that altered
pistol because Ninurta's mind was too-scary of 'em.

Inwardly correcting his grammar, Tibbs continued with his story.
.................................................

With the quantum mechanics being finally understood in the Mainyu's universe, Ba'al's scientific bodies told him of the
theoretical  possibilities that other universes could exist. Thousands of years had passed and under the great Ruler's
hand, traditional sciences and esoteric religions had combined to offer evidence that Ba'al's hunger to become more
than the deities of worship, was nearing point of certainty.

Still, running a multitude of star-systems was no easy task. Generations of of his family had assisted and sometimes
when the last of the ambassadors and emissaries had left the Palace and the sun that warmed his planet of birth had
moved low in the sky, the imposing emperor-of emperors would muse on what may lay outside of this reality.

Priests would timidly speak of heavens and enclaves of Gods, scientists would relate possible dangers of entering
places unimagined and meeting monsters without conscience. And all the while, Ba'al would listen to these serious
articulations until his own inner-voice drowned them all out, that mocking murmur that burns in all great beings souls.

'Will you never meet him...? Will the bars of this cage prevent your confrontation?'

Great Sages from Bylazcka had told Ba'al that somewhere out there in the unseen firmament was a mirror of himself,
a being as great as he -although they never said that part specifically and the sole reason was that nobody can walk
alone, nobody is ever truly only one.

Those seven wise men never made it back to their home-planet for some reason.
Time moved on.

Huge powerful empires placed strategically across the thousands of galaxies enjoyed a rich and fulfilling existence.
Technologies eased the trillion-or-more citizens of Ba'al's dominion and war became a forgotten word. Death was rare
and a choice, disease became a mere ghost-story to be told by those who remember such days of physical ailments
and when the King gazed out at what he'd built, he saw that it was righteous.

But at night in his sleep, the same monarch-of-all would hear that taunting voice in his dreams, a jeering echo that
boasted that Ba'al was merely peerless because of his failings to fly higher, to find the one who waited on the otherside.
.................................................

When his scientists collapsed two whole star-systems, a wormhole-like aperture existed in their king's universe for
approximately several of our seconds. It was this that began the rejuvenation of what he proclaimed as 'The Final Mainyu'.

Leaving the billions that perished during the initial test -aside, the academics informed their majestic leader that evidence
indicated that another 'something' could-well lay beyond the short-lived rolling clouds of substance we call 'gas' and the fleeting
cascades of disappearing light.

With a verve last seen during his eons-ago pillaging years, Ba'al instructed his people to focus on this latest project, a new
way to be more than they are. Planets were emptied of populations and valuable resources, special facilities were hauled
across the cosmos to arrange experimentation and the very essence of the Mainyu people strained under their sovereign's
demands.

As information was gathered surrounding the crumpled remains of that part of Ba'al's domain, new materials were
discovered and physical particles existed where they never had before. Decades of examination and research began
and for a thousand years, the substances were analysed with hopes of understanding what might lay beyond that
ephemeral Delphic crack in space.

And during that chiliadal of time, that voice, that offending night-uttering in Ba'al's sandman-hours... went quiet.
.................................................

With the hour late, Tibbs decided that sleep -the action that the character in his story had struggled with, would be a wise
notion and assuring his audience of... he was sure Ninurta wasn't totally asleep, three -that the tale would be finished in the
light of day, he pulled his robe closer and bedded-down for the night.

The night-sounds continued with the campfire morphing into glowing embers and as the troop snuggled in the arms of Morpheus
-except for Boy In A Dress (which is a long story), images of snorting stallion-faced tyrants wearing golden crowns galloped along
the synapses of the sleeping Tibbs and Mucklebones.

Whether Ninurta browsed such shelves of baroque imagery isn't known, for that wide-rimmed hat wasn't for telling.
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#22
Ninurta awakened next morning, and as was his habit he didn't stir until he had scanned the area around from beneath the brim of his hat. He never really slept thoroughly. There was always some sensory part of him sampling his surroundings, scanning for dangers, even in the deepest sleep he could muster. It had become habit when he had been mortal, and now that he wasn't, well, it was habit already.

Finally, satisfied that all was well, he stirred from his supine position and poked the fire back to life with some of the firewood that the Boy in a Dress had gathered the night previous. Mucklebones andd Tibbs were entwined in a lump of arms, legs, whiskers, and disheveled blanket, appearing to be pretty soundly asleep. BIAD was nowhere to be seen. Thinking back to their first meeting, Ninurta mustered a grin and decided the man-girl was probably out and about scaring up some food to be in place before the rest awoke. That one was all efficiency, in his own scatter-brained way. You just never knew what he would do next, or where his seemingly random thoughts sprang from. There was always a logic to those thoughts, but at times you had to really dig to find that logic... but it was always there. He merely thought in a different manner from everyone else, but the thoughts were always solid if one cared to dig deeply enough into them.

Ninurta rose, grunted, and set about making more coffee, lost in thought about Tibbs' fable of the night before. So "Old Horse-Face" had a mirror image, somewhere, did he? Generally speaking, a mirror image is exactly the same, but entirely reversed. Exactly the same, but exactly opposite. Ninurta filed that thought away for future use. If there were anything to Tibbs' Tale, finding that individual who was the mirror image of Ba'al would probably be a good idea. You don't fight fire with fire, you fight it with water. Having Ba'al's precise opposite on the payroll would be a good thing for anyone endeavoring to counteract his inimical adventures.

Then there was that business of destroying entire solar systems for just a few seconds of worm hole. Clearly, creating a wormhole under the laws of physics extant in Ba'al's dimension required a great deal of power. that's probably what kept the rest of the multiverse safe from his depredations. How would one ever get into such a universe... and perhaps more importantly, how would that one get back OUT? It seemed to Ninurta that because of those considerations, the rest of the multiverses ought to be fairly iron-clad safe against Ba'al - so why the ruckus?

Muckebones coughed and scratched an exposed part of her anatomy that had gotten thrown out from under the blanket, breaking Ninurta's train of thought. He fleetingly reflected that it was a good thing that Tibbs and Muckles had found one another. Tibbs, for all his genius, probably would not have survived the multiverses without Mucklebones' homespun brand of "street smarts".

If Ninurta were running the show in any hunt for Ba'al, he would first find Horse-Face's mirror image.  After that, Nin thought, the best way to stop an unstoppable horde was similar to the best way to stop a snake - you cut it's head off. Once any body of anything lost it's thinking and directional apparatus, the rest generally became useless, milled about, and then dissipated into harmlessness. So, after finding the mirror image, Ninurta would then figure out a way to find where Ba'al's breakthrough into another universe was going to occur, and he would then position that mirror image at that point and set an ambush to take out Ba'al himself. The followers would become useless and without direction after that.

The trick, of course, would be in locating the Mirror, and then locating the breakout point.

What he wouldn't do would be to go into Ba'al's home universe. That would be too dangerous, given the energy requirements to get back out again. One might get in, vanquish Ba'al in his own den, and then discover he could not escape that cage himself.

Ninurta shook his head as if to banish such thoughts. Why would he be planning a solution to a problem only found in a fable? It was just his way. When presented with a problem, he usually started planning a solution to set the universe back to right as "right" existed in his way of thinking. Just a habit, and one - like most of his habits - that he found difficult to shake away. The problems with Ninurta's plans always came in with his final solutions. Being drafted into the position of "god of war" by sheer happenstance, his solutions generally involved a lot of bloodshed and explosions. Like it or not, that sort of solution was usually terribly final. If it worked, it worked very, very thoroughly, and if it didn't, there was generally more bloodshed and explosions until it DID work.

Which almost always left a mess... but a solved mess.

Just as Ninurta was reaching to pour a cup of the now finished coffee, there was a tremendous crash somewhere behind him. Startled, he reacted as always - swiftly and with gun in hand by the time he had stood and spun to face the menace. The crashing noise had occurred as BIAD exited the spacetime craft and dropped a tray of what Ninurta presumed was unidentifiable foodstuffs.

BIAD was chasing an insect resembling a butterfly across the meadow in which they were encamped. Ninurta swore he heard the man-girl in the red frock gigging as he ran after the intruder.

Ninurta grinned, shook his head, and returned to the coffee pot. Eating could wait, he supposed. A man has to set his priorities, and at the moment his friend had set his in catching a flitter-fly.

.
" I don't mind killin' a man in a fair fight... or if I think he's gonna start a fair fight... or if there's money involved... or a woman... "

 - Jayne Cobb, Hero of Canton
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#23
In the dream-world of Tibbs, a centuries-old war was coming to an end. It was an icy-cold morning as the diminutive gore-
spattered Time Manager stood between the two leaders of the terrible conflict and watched as they cautiously reached out
their respective hands to acknowledge the abeyance that would save millions-upon-millions more from spilling their blood
into the battlefield's mire.

The landscape was covered with destroyed bodies, steam from the recently slain hung above the torn corpses like reluctant
ghosts and the smell of exertion and fear percolated with the scent of death everywhere. Midnight-feathered crows gingerly
pulled at skin and beaked soft-matter from sockets and wounds from a mise en scène that Dante would have applauded.

Jack Frost was trying to adorn the abhorrent scene with his white-glinting crystals and as the Vithian turned to once more
survey the horrors of what supposedly-civilised entities can do to one-another, the panting Boy In A Dress -who was carefully
bringing a tray of two goblets of wine towards the hesitant pact, stumbled and clattered his burden onto the...

With a jolt, Tibbs sat up and rubbed his weary eyes.

Through the knee-high grass and after placing his spectacles on his red-marked nose, he saw the same character from his
dream gamboling after a flying bug of some-sort. Slowly taking stock of his surroundings, Tibbs saw that his wife was stirring
from her sleep and the Gunman was treating himself to a mug of coffee coaxed from the flames of the rebuilt campfire.

Resisting a greeting that involved asking whether Ninurta had shot anybody yet, Tibbs murmured "Good morning" towards
the lean figure idly monitoring the Man-Girl's antics. The metal cup beneath the brim of his hat may have stifled a response,
but the slight nod was enough for the Vithian to accept an antiphon.

He didn't do it much, but Tibbs felt a light subconscious slap across his intellectual reasoning with a wee-voice adding that
he shouldn't look on the man before him in such an inflexible manner.

Ninurta travelled his road his way and even though some might think a certain favourable hand of cards had been given to
the grizzled loner, Tibbs could evenly answer those envious ones that Ninurta took from the immortal deck by simply using
his steel-will and determination to decide his path. His path, his way and God forbid anyone who blocked that trail.

It wasn't right that he should perceive the Vandalian in the way he spoke to him. Granted, most of it was done with levity,
but how many times had that strange weapon on Ninurta's hip spoken and how many times had its voice saved Tibbs?
Even in the harshest of realities, the man across from him that seemed at peace with himself would ratiionally fall under
the heading 'a friend'.
And those are far-and-few-between Tibbs solemnly concurred.

Mucklebones moaned that she was also surfacing from her own nursery of chimera and leaving the screaming hordes that
bayed for her stake-burning, she cursed them all and turned towards the place we seem to believe is 'the real world'.
"Ah' feel like someone's took a dump in me-mouth" she whispered and with her eyes still closed, she pushed her torso from
the flattened-grass she'd called a bed.

The high-moral and deep reflection of her husband fluttered away like the creature the Man-Girl was pursuing as he offered
a disapproving-look towards the odd-looking alien who had stolen his heart. "Please dear..." he hushed "...your language"
and leaned over to kiss where the alleged night-intruder had defecated.

Boy In A Dress returned to the squatting time-machine and collected the debris -or breakfast supplies, that he'd involuntarily
jettisoned to capture the blue-winged butterfly. The beautiful insect had out-witted its hunter by hiding itself among the bloom
of a stretch of bushes near the edge of the wood.
That cunning thorax of skinny legs and alluring flappers had known the petals of the florets were also blue, the foiled-BIAD
was certain of it and from under that mat of black hair, he surprisingly conceived a plan.

Adjusting the plucked flower that he'd placed in his cleavage, the weird hermaphrodite picked up the wax-papered bundles
and took them to where his companions resided. "Sorry about the noise" BIAD said apologetically and focused on changing
the contents of the parcels into a hearty meal.

"What's with the flower?" Muckles said after using a minute to gather herself. Her green poncho had doubled as a quilt for her
slumber and now,  ignoring the probable stares of lust from the males around her, she donned the well-worn carrier of her magic
-instruments and rose to clear her bladder.
"Tell me after I've had a pi... when I return" she corrected herself and smiled meekly at her frowning man. "Sorry my-love" she
added and wandered off to perform her ablutions.

BIAD fried bacon and after tipping a small portion of beans onto the three plates with the rashers, that seemingly-rarely-used
brain of his pondered whether a forage for staver-peas would have enhanced the meagre meal.
Ninurta took the grey-metal platter and muttered a thank you towards the grinning maniac-come-morning-chef.

The Witch of Carbiox and the Time-Herder addressed the situation in a similar manner and has Muckles tucked into the hot
fare, she lightly repeated her question about the indigo-toned blossom between Boy In A Dress' boobs.

Later, Tibbs would reflect on what BIAD said and ponder whether it's a natural phenomena when thinking-beings look for
resolution or something more mystical. Initially, the bearded-man in the monk's robes had looked on his wife's belief-system
as just another way of perceiving science from her less-sophisticated angle. But over the years, he'd have fallen off to sleep
in their bed with thoughts that there may be a mentally-whispered plan of numen, a way that speaks to the id in all of us.
But that was later.

Boy In A Dress placed three mugs -one a refill of course, beside the customers of 'BIAD's Diner' and related his Machiavellian
strategy. "It's all about bringing the prey to me instead of the other-way-around" he said softly with a faux-menace.
Ninurta silently wagered to himself that BIAD would once again, insinuate a path of rationale in his own bizarre fashion that
would not only succeed to acquiring his immediate quarry, but point a hypothetically-red-nailed finger towards their larger goal.

"...If the butterfly searches for these..." Boy In A Dress continued and pointed at the richly-painted foliage resting on his gravity
-defying bosom, he ended his speech with "...he'll fall into my trap and be mine" and stretching his crazy grin, waited for the
applause from his friends.

Mucklebones wiped her mouth with her forearm and cleared her throat. "What will yer' do with yon flutter-by when yer' catch
it?" she said, the plate was empty. The lack of a sober answer hinted that BIAD's plotting was also empty of a reason too.

"Well, I could..." he began and then turned his head to each of his listeners in his confusion, the logistics of the hypothesis
had enchanted the Man-Girl enough without contemplating the possible result.
"Er" was his next word before Ninurta rode to his rescue and Boy In A Dress' gratitude was obvious in the movement of his
tranquilizing shoulders.

"I think what our insightful cook is sayin' is that instead of racin' around the meadow in search of his goal, gettin' the thing
the butterfly wants the most is the smart thing to do" the Gunslinger said softly. "Maybe like findin' yer' Ba'al's supposed
indentical-twin?" he formed his last sentence as a query and aimed at the little man staring up at him.

"Billy-be-Jezzus" he's a smart-one is our BIAD..." Mucklebones said absently as she held out her empty cup towards the
now-beaming singularity of time and space. "...We can dry-ass this big-time hoss-head by usin' his own ego" she added
as the old crone accepted the refill.
.................................................


The last of the flames died as Ninurta kicked ash and some dirt over the area where they'd bivouacked and after checking that
no sign was left to indicate who'd spent the night in the meadow, he turned to watch Tibbs, Mucklebones and Boy In A Dress
pack the last of the campsite back into the cramped, spine-festooned machine that cheated time.

Tibbs had mulled on Ninurta's interpretation of BIAD's insect-catching tactic and after pressing some buttons on his enigmatic
handset he'd fished from his pocket, agreed that locating the 'mirror' of the Mainyu's leader would be an excellent plan.
They'd all had another cup of the cocky hermaphrodite's hot coffee and began to physically and mentally prepare to undertake
the idea.

Rolling a cigarette and picking up a smouldering stick, the Gunslinger blew a plume of smoke that wasn't too-distant from the
colour of BIAD's liberated butterfly. "Onwards, Ah' guess" he said to himself with a lop-sided smile.
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