Dirk Blackpool was annoyed.
Not that this was a singular event, mind. Blackpool's moods tended to run a
fairly predictable course. "Annoyed and glowering" accounted quite nicely for
approximately 70% of the time; "Oozing fury" worked for around 20%; and
"Approaching a Nirvana-like state of sensual ecstasy" applied to the remaining
10%, usually the result of envisioning the defeat of Greystone, or savoring the
results of a particularly nasty and novel form of torture. That pretty much
represented the sum total of the rather limited emotional spectrum with which
Dirk had been gifted.
What made this particular fit of annoyance notable was its cause. His poem,
"Ode to My Enemies," had just been rejected for publication by the _Aperanian
Herald_. He had, of course, submitted it under a pseudonym. The relatively
transparent "Dagger Darkpond," to be specific. Unfortunately, assuming it to be
a prank, the editors had felt free to be excruciatingly honest in their
response, drowning the parchment in both red ink and comments speculating on the
probable present state of the author's sanity. Blackpool now sat speculating on
the probable future state of the editors' mortality. As he was wont to do when
mulling over mayhem or pondering pain, he reached up to absently finger the
monocle dangling from his chest by a slender chain. The tangible talisman of his
stolen power, the monocle tended to have a soothing, sedating psychological
effect on Blackpool when touched.
Imagine his shock, then, when the monocle, utterly without warning,
disappeared under his very fingertips in an exceedingly rude fashion. For just a
fraction of a second, Blackpool groped frantically in search of that which was
no longer there.
"Annoyed" skyrocketed to "Oozing fury" in record time. His screech echoed
through the stone construction of Castle Blackpool with an acoustically
Deep within the bowels of Castle Blackpool, Vector looked up from the vision
scope into which he had been staring with a desperate intensity, and winced at
the sound. By the eyes of Kaltrinnia, what in Aperans was he going to do?!? His
latest disastrous attempt to wrest the monocle away from Blackpool had left him
too weak to teleport without the aid of one of royal blood; he briefly
contemplated fleeing on foot, but one glance downward at his short, stocky form
and cumbersome robes made him dismiss the notion in disgust.
Before the wizard had a chance to do more than look about desperately in
search of some elusive inspiration, the door to the chamber burst open with a
shuddering smash, literally wrested free of both locks and hinges. In the
passageway, the shadows cast from the guttering torches seemed to coalesce and
take shape into a deeper darkness, the hulking form of the very irate Blackpool.
Stepping from the shadows, Blackpool regarded Vector, who was doing his best
"deer-in-the-headlights" impression, with his most ominous glare and no preamble
whatsoever. "Where . . . is . . . it?" Enunciating every word with exquisite
clarity, his voice was deceptively quiet.
Vector attempted to look both innocent and astonished in one expression, and
failed. Swallowing hard, he tried for righteous indignation, but his nervous
stammering rather spoiled the desired effect. "Where is wh-what, my l-lord . . .
Wh-what do you mean b-by this intrusion? I've n-no idea what you're t-talking
about . . . ."
In mid-stutter, Vector suddenly found himself flat on his back upon the long
wooden table that had once held his vials, his potions, and his magic charms,
all of which had now been smashed to the floor in one sweep of Blackpool's
leather-clad arm. He looked up to behold the point of a dagger pressed to his
throat, the force barely restrained enough to avoid breaking the skin.
"I am not in the mood for games this time, Vector, as you can see. The
monocle is gone. You're the only one who could have contrived its disappearance;
both of us know that. If you had it in your possession as a result, you would've
engineered my destruction instantly; both of us know that as well, never mind
that "wizards can't kill" nonsense. The fact that I am here is a clear
indication that you have bungled yet again in one of your pathetic attempts to
steal it back from me. Now, tell me where it is or I shall see if wizard flesh
makes as enjoyable a dining experience as lightning hawk. I do believe I have
even saved a nice Chianti and some fava beans, fresh from the kitchen garden,
that should complement the entree to perfection." He made an indescribable yet
effectively terrifying noise with tongue and teeth.
Sweating visibly, Vector sagged under the assault. "I assure you, my lord, it
was not my intention, it was just an accidental side-effect of a spell I was
casting to . . . ." He gasped, his words abruptly cut short, as Blackpool
increased the pressure of the dagger by an excruciatingly calculated fraction.
"Save the excuses, Vector, I'm not the slightest bit interested in hearing
your protestations of innocence this time. Just answer the question!"
"My lord, I don't know. . ." He cried out in earnest as a tiny spot of blood
began to well about the dagger's tip.
"Wrong answer, Vector. Try again. And I warn you, further mistakes will be
"I swear, my lord, that is what I was looking in the vision scope to
determine when you rushed in on me! Just let me look, and I'll tell you!" An
edge of panic tinged his tone.
Blackpool's eyes bored into Vector for a moment, then he slowly withdrew the
dagger. Vector sighed in relief, rubbing his throat warily, but his respite was
brief. The dark prince grasped him roughly by the shoulder and shoved him
forward towards the vision scope. "No wizard tricks, Vector, or they will be
your final actions. Understand me?"
Vector touched the nick on his throat gingerly. "Perfectly, m'lord."
As Vector stared into the swirling mists of the vision scope, he suddenly
grew even paler, if possible, than when he seemed fated to be a main course. "By
the eyes of Kaltrinnia, no . . . ."
Blackpool gestured impatiently with the dagger. "What is it? What have you
Vector turned to him with the look of a man who knows he has had his last
meal -- and is about to become a last meal, to boot. "How to explain this . . .
You see, your majesty, it is a little-known fact that magic is not an inanimate
force, but rather a living . . ."
Blackpool interrupted the oration with a homicidal expression. "Save the
Magic 101, Vector. Get to the point! WHERE IS IT??"
Vector swallowed hard, and took a last look around him. A song echoed softly
in his mind. *We had joy, we had fun, we had seasons in the sun . . .*
"The List has it, my Lord."
Blackpool almost dropped his dagger. "What did you say?"
"I said, the List has it." *Goodbye, my friends, it's hard to die . . . when
all the birds are singing in the sky . . .*
A new emotion was added to the Blackpool lexicon at that moment -- complete
and total flabbergasted astonishment. "Wha .. how . . . explain yourself!"
Vector could not resist a small barb. "That is what I was trying to do,
m'lord, but you seemed to have a distinct aversion to any attempts at
explanations." Observing Blackpool renew his grip on the dagger, he swiftly
abandoned any attempts at sarcasm. "As I was saying, magic is a living thing. It
has a memory, the same as any other entity. During my last spell, when the
monocle was teleported from you, quite unintentionally, I assure you," (he
ignored the skeptical grimace this discourse upon the purity of his motives
elicited from Blackpool) "the magic sent it to the last dimensional location
residing in its memory. If you recall, the last teleportation action which I had
attempted was the transport to Aperans of those wretched Wizards and Warriors
List Members for that ill-fated April Fool's Day prank."
It was now Blackpool's turn to swallow hard. "The List members." A tsunami of
hideous memories of hormone-ridden women relentlessly pursuing him at the
Festival of Fools rushed unbidden upon him. The way that entire affair had
turned out . . . Greystone and company would be laughing for years. He should've
killed Vector right then if he'd had an ounce of sense, but had been convinced
of his continuing need for a wizard's aid by some fast and glib persuasive
speeches by Vector.
"All right," he whispered, his voice returning to dangerously controlled
mode. "Which one of them has it?"
Vector paused before answering. "All of them, my lord. Or at least most of
"WHAT?!? Have you lost your mind? How can one monocle be possessed by that
many people unless . . ."
Vector finished the unwelcome thought for him. " . . it shattered in transit.
Which it did. The pieces are now in their possession -- although I believe they
are as yet unaware of the fact. If all of the pieces can be collected, however,
the monocle will re-form itself, none the worse for wear."
Blackpool digested the revelation for a moment. "Is there no way for you to
just . .. teleport the pieces back?"
Vector shook his head regretfully. "If only I could. First, I lack the
strength. Secondly, since it is in pieces, the monocle will resist any attempts
to move it by magic."
"So the only way to retrieve it is . . ." Blackpool trailed off in despair.
Once again Vector filled in the terrible blanks. " . . . to go to their
dimension ourselves and retrieve it in person, I'm afraid that's correct, m'lord."
Blackpool gazed vacantly at the mists which swirled within the vision scope.
"If you will please excuse me for a moment." Slowly, like a doomed man walking
to his execution, Blackpool trudged out the chamber door and disappeared from
view. Abruptly, the sound of a head repeatedly being slammed into an unyielding
stone wall filled the chamber; Vector cringed involuntarily at the sound of each
unseen blow. After a moment, Blackpool returned, just as slowly, but with
renewed resolve and a growing bruise upon his forehead only half-hidden by his
voluminous bangs. "Thank you, I feel much better now." He gazed into the vision
scope again, then spoke. "The longer we wait, the better the odds that Traquill
and Greystone will discover our little predicament. I sincerely doubt, for all
his vehement claims to a nobility and moral code far superior to mine, that
Greystone will pass up the chance to attack while I'm at my most vulnerable."
"And Traquill certainly won't; he is far more . . . practical, shall we say,
for all his white magic?" Vector interjected. A renewed wave of fear washed over
him; he'd forgotten about Traquill! Dirk's dagger was nothing compared to what a
wizard could do to him without the protection of a monocle in Dirk's possession
. . . .
"Are you strong enough to transport us now?" Dirk's tone implied that it
would behoove the wizard to profess unparalleled vigor.
Vector closed his eyes for a moment, feeling the flow, testing his limits.
The sensations were not encouraging. "I shall try, my lord, but it would help if
. . ."
At that moment Geoffrey bounded down the stairs like an overenthusiastic
puppy, tripping over the wreckage of the door before he noticed it. "Whoa, bro,
what's behind Hurricane Blackpool here? What's all the ruckus about?" Oblivious
to the tension in the air, as he was oblivious to most things, he playfully
punched his brother in the arm.
" . . . if I had another of royal blood along." Eyeing Geoffrey with obvious
distaste, Vector sighed in resignation. "However shallow the gene pool may be in
our present specimen."
Blackpool buried his face in his hands. As if facing the "Lustians" again
wasn't bad enough . . . No, he was a Blackpool, he was strong enough to face
anything. Even this.
"Geoffrey," he said with forced cordiality, "how would you like to go on a
little trip with Vector and I? You could see Jennifer and June and all those
other . . . charming . . . women again."
"Cool!" Geoffrey enthused. "Just a sec, gotta dress to impress here. Let me
just change into my black leather underw--"
"NO!" Blackpool cut off a sentiment that was better left unexpressed. "I
mean, there's no time, Geoffrey. It's rather an emergency visit. You see, they
have something I need very much. We'll be leaving right now."
"Well, sheesh, ok, but you don't have to be so darn cranky about it. I see
how it's going, you want to be the only one in black leather. It's just not
fair, Dirk, I mean, it's easy for you, they were all over you!" Geoffrey pouted
petulantly like the mental child he was, arms crossed sulkily.
Blackpool eyed him incredulously. "Do you think I LIKED being pawed like
Geoffrey stared at him with equal incredulity. "Sure, who wouldn't?"
Blackpool sighed. "All right, Geoffrey, just go with me now without any more
fuss, and when we return you can have my second-best suit of black leather armor
to wear whenever you want, all right? Impress the chambermaids with it, I don't
care. Is it a fair deal?"
"All RIGHT! You betcha!" Geoffrey was all smiles again, acting his
omnipresent role as the sun to Dirk's shadow.
Shaking his head in exasperation, Dirk joined hands with Geoffrey and Vector
and gave Vector a final look of warning. "You had better hope this works. If I'm
destroyed, so are you. You'd best remember that."
Vector nodded solemnly. "How could I forget?" As all three closed their eyes,
a soft glow illuminated the room. Then, where once three dark figures had stood,
there was only space and silence.
Anna sat staring at the computer screen in her office, trying desperately to
wrest the meaning out of the Spanish legal contract she was translating. "Ok, 'gravamenes,'
I know I've seen that before . . .. " She thumbed through a well-worn bilingual
dictionary in exasperation. "Ah, 'liens,' that's it!" She returned to her swift
Suddenly, over the crisp clicking of the keys, she sensed someone standing
behind her. Assuming it was her boss, she spoke without ceasing her typing.
"It's almost done, Steve, you'll have it in a half hour."
"I'm afraid I want it now." The voice that answered her was indeed colored by
an English accent, as her London-born boss Steve's voice was, but its darkly
silken, musically malevolent tones were by no means Steve's.
Anna whirled around in her chair, unable to believe the vision which greeted
her eyes. The Dark Prince himself, flanked by a stone-faced Vector and an
idiotically grinning Geoffrey. "Blackpool!" She rubbed her sore eyes with
vehemence. "I knew I'd been working too hard . . ."
Stubbornly defying her attempts to dismiss him as a delusion, Blackpool
continued to speak. "I have no time to chat. Where is your portion of the
"What on earth are you talking about, Blackpool? I'll have you know that I
just spent an obscene amount of money on therapy to convince myself that our
little April Fool's Day interlude was merely the result of an unhealthy
combination too much caffeine, sugar, fanfic and online time. I refuse to
acknowledge your existence. Bye." Resolutely, she turned around and began to
type again, hoping against hope that the vision would disappear.
Roughly, he grabbed the back of her chair and spun her around, placing his
face inches from hers. "I'm afraid I will not be dismissed." Drawing his dagger,
he placed it to her throat.
Vector interrupted Blackpool with an unobtrusive cough. "Yes, what is it?"
Blackpool snapped irritably. "I'm afraid, m'lord, that the same rules apply this
time around . . . different dimensional transfer, same results. Simply put, you
can't physically harm any of them this time, either. Terribly sorry that I
forgot to mention that."
Anna slapped the dagger away. "Of course you can't harm me. You're merely a
figment of my imagination, a Prozac moment. You have no power over me! Oh,
whoops, wrong fandom."
Gritting his teeth, Blackpool returned the dagger to his belt. "All right,
what can I do to prove to you that I'm really here?"
As if on cue, her boss Steve entered, eyes fixed on the papers in his hands.
"Anna, I hate to do this to you, but we've got another document I promised we'd
get translated today, but it's really pretty short and . . ." He halted both in
mid-step and mid-sentence as he looked up to see Dirk, Geoffrey, and Vector all
glaring at his unwelcome interruption.
Silence reigned for a full ten seconds. Steve was the first to speak, when
his legendary British sense of politeness and propriety won out. "Um, hello, I'm
Steve, and you are . . .?"
Blackpool began to advance on him, a threat on his lips. Moving quickly, Anna
leapt from her seat to stand between them. "Oh, Steve, hello, how rude of me not
to introduce you, it's just that I wasn't expecting them and I'm still sort of
shocked myself by their sudden arrival. Guys, this is Steve, my boss. Steve,
these are . . ." She thought frantically for a moment, then remembered a recent
discussion thread from the list. "These are friends of mine that work at a
Renaissance Faire going on right now in . . . um . . . Mesa. Decided to surprise
me by showing up in full costume, what jokers they are! Steve, I'd like you to
meet Dirk, Geoffrey, and . . . um . . . Victor." As Vector glared at her for her
corruption of his name, Steve shook hands in a friendly fashion all around.
"Anyway, Steve, that extra translation'll be no problem. I'm almost done with
this one, in fact. I'll just take a minute to catch up on the Renaissance Faire
gossip with my friends, here, and then I'll finish up."
"No problem, I just need them by the end of the day. Take your time. It was
nice to meet all of you." He turned to leave. "Oh, by the way, Victor, that's a
great hat." He walked back to his office, chuckling softly to himself. Anna and
her bizarre friends. What a riot she was.
Vector raised his arms threateningly at his departing back. "Great hat, eh?
I'll turn you into a tadmon, you little . . ."
Dirk interrupted him impatiently. "We have neither the spare time nor the
spare magic to placate your hurt feelings, Vector, and right now, to be
perfectly frank, your feelings are not high on my list of priorities
regardless." He turned his attention back to Anna. "Well, are you now convinced
that we exist, and are standing here before you?"
Geoffrey, heretofore silent, grinned widely and waved from behind Dirk.
"Yeah, a delusion can't dance like I can! I hear you hit it off pretty good with
Marko - but trust me, I can dance circles around that jerk. C'mon, what's a nice
girl like you doing in a dump like this?" He extended his hand gallantly. "Let's
go dance the night away -- for starters."
"Was it really necessary to bring him along?" Blackpool hissed at Vector.
"Do you think I'd bring him just for the 'fun' of it?" Vector hissed back.
Blackpool silenced Geoffrey with a look. "As I was saying before I was so
rudely interrupted, I trust that you are now convinced that we are not a mere
delusion. You seem like a bright enough girl; I sincerely doubt that your
delusions could be stupid enough to conjure up anything resembling Geoffrey."
"You have a point," she laughed. "Good lord, so you're real! I can't wait to
talk about this on the list -- I thought the last fanfic was a collective
psychotic episode. Anyway, what brings you here? If you're looking to hit the
leather specialty shops, you'd be better off trying Los Angeles or Hollywood
rather than Phoenix. By the way, what on earth happened to your forehead?" She
pointed at the blossoming bruise.
"Never mind my forehead. I'm here to collect something that belongs to me.
Vector, does she have it?"
As Vector closed his eyes and muttered a few magical words, something hidden
in the pocket of Anna's slacks began to glow with a soft, steady pulse. "What
the heck is that?" she mused, reaching into her pocket to withdraw a small
crystalline shard which emitted an eerie blue stream of light.
"That's it!" Dirk shouted in triumph, and grabbed for it. Anna, however,
quickly clutched it in her fist and held it behind her back. "Uh-uh, not until
you tell me what is going on here. And don't bother to threaten me, I heard the
hatless wonder over there, any attempt to stab me will be just as unsuccessful
this time around as it was last time."
Dirk spat out a few new Karteian curses (his vocabulary of expletives had
increased astronomically out of necessity since meeting the Listians) and strode
away in fury. "Tell her, Vector, I lack the patience."
Vector, mincing few words, brought Anna up to date on the Monocle Disaster of
'98, once again declaring his innocence, and once again being met by skeptical
looks, this time by Anna and Geoffrey as well as Dirk. "So that's what this is
all about? Why I oughta . . ." Geoffrey's threat trailed off as he shook his
fist at Vector. Somehow Vector was rather less intimidated by Geoffrey than he
had been by Dirk.
"So, you need the monocle back, do you?" Anna stared at the glowing shard in
her hand with a thoughtful smile.
"My, my, you do catch on quickly. Your intellect is thoroughly dazzling."
Blackpool stared daggers at her.
"Sarcasm will get you nowhere, my dear prince. All right, you want it back,
you can have it back. But I get something from you in exchange."
He looked at her with distinct discomfort. "What? You want to run your
fingers through my hair again?"
"Nope, been there, done that. Actually, I'll need a little time to think it
over; I'm a little busy with translating right now. Tell you what: you say that
all the other Listians have bits of this thing? Well, go collect them first. I
trust they'll have demands to make as well. After you finish with them, come
back to me and I'll give you the final piece -- once you meet my request. As
list admin, it's only fitting I wrap this up, anyway. Sound fair?"
"Hardly," he seethed.
"Good, then it's appropriate. When have you ever been fair?"
"How do I know that I can trust you to keep your word?"
"You don't. You'll just have to trust me, what choice do you have? However, I
assure you that it's in our best interests to return it to you. A monocle-less
Dirk would not only upset the delicate balance of good and evil on the show (as
one perceptive Listian has observed), but it would also make for very boring
fanfic in the long run. Don't worry, we'll give the pieces back. Now, you'd
better get going. This document isn't going to translate itself, and as much fun
as it must be just standing there and glaring at me, and as much fun as I admit
it is watching you do just that, I'm afraid that the more time you waste, the
more likely it is that Greystone and Traquill will find out what's happened. Who
knows, some talkative mouse in Vector's lab could rat on you to Marko." She
laughed loudly (albeit alone) at her own bad pun.
"Very well, Anna, I shall 'trust you.' However, betray me and I assure you
that I WILL find a way to harm you. Understood?"
"Yeah, yeah, whatever. Save the menace, Dirk, you've got a lot of people to
visit. Bye." With one parting Karteian curse, Blackpool and company disappeared.
Anna turned back to her computer, a self-satisfied smirk on her face as she
fired up her e-mail. She just HAD to take a second to let everyone on the list
know about this little development . . .
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