Baron Samedi was surprised when I arrived for game night. Argu, the aliens six-pointed starfish god, was there as well, along with Reed, the ancient agriculture god. “Hey, guys,” I greeted the room as I walked in.
We were meeting in a special back room of the Back Room Voodoo Bar, a magical villain bar normally only accessible from Memphis, Tennessee. I’d missed some sessions, and tonight it looked like there were a few games ready to pick from. “Hey guys, been a little.”
There was a round of hellos, with Argu throwing in, “We thought you weren’t coming!”
“Oh yeah?” I asked, settling down. I eyed Betrayal at House on the Hill.
“Samedi said you were trapped,” Argu said.
The Baron shrugged. I gave him some sideeye, but just said, “Really? Didn’t realize y’all knew about that.”
“I believed you would get out,” Samedi explained.
A door opened and a man walked in with a rolling cart of snacks on it. “Hey guys, I brought some chow,” he said in a distinctive gravelly voice. Tom Waits turned around and took another seat that had been left at the table.
I glanced at Reed, Baron Samedi, and Argu, and decided to do a telepathic conference call. “Uh, is Tom Waits a god?”
“I don’t know,” Argu answered.
“Not that I’m aware of,” Reed said.
Baron Samedi responded, “He wandered in earlier, and I don’t know if he knows who or what we are.”
As one, we all shrugged and dropped the call to concentrate on our game.
“What’s it like being trapped?” Argu asked, a ring of eyes surrounding a mouth of pointed teeth.
“Trapped?” Tom Waits looked between Argu and myself. “Who’s trapped?”
I gestured to myself. “I’ve become trapped by the Madstone, which tries to hold me in it. I know enough about the technology used to hop dimensions that I keep getting out, but it still has a hold on me. It’s like my sense of gravity or balance is off and I’m constantly pulled toward it, with a feeling of being wrapped in chains and a constant bout of anxiety over being away from it. On the plus side, I can nab lovers for conjugal visits, or even create them myself in there if I so choose. I’ve created a few minions to go out and help me, actually.”
Silence followed my answer.
“I think I’d like to play Sushi Go,” Reed said.
“I’m up for whatever, guys. Whatever and one of these boiled eggs,” Tom Waits cut in.
I nodded toward some cheese sticks, “I’ll take the fried mozzarella.” Tom handed a basket of them over. Cheap bar food, but it’s hard to make fried cheese that actually tastes bad. It’s a testament to the cleverness of humans that they figured out a way at all. With the food fresh on our minds, we went for Sushi Go first, with Reed ordering some carryout and Baron Samedi magically conjuring it. Seafood isn’t my thing, but I figured I might as well try it. It’s still not my thing, but I’m hardly going to die of sushi eating nowadays.
After that, we nearly considered Munchkin before Tom decided that’d be too risky. “Cheating’s allowed in the rules if you don’t get caught,” he warned.
So it was on to Star Trek: Five Year Mission instead. The Baron’s curiosity got the best of him then. “So what are you doing about everything?”
Aside from going to game night, I was keeping a close eye on the situation with Max and Clara, who I like to call Pestilentia. They hadn’t yet discovered that the Madstone could tap into my powers. I wasn’t so much worried about Max there as I was almost everyone else on Earth. I didn’t mention the thing about tapping into my power to the group of gods and Tom Waits, whose status as a deity was still unknown.
Max might be more attached to the booty than he is to me. That’s why I planned to just kill her off and not bring him in on the whole thing. Friends don’t let friends fuck goddesses of disease. With her gone, I’d deal with the Madstone at my convenience.
It wasn’t tough to find her, either. The pair were still in Empyreal City, beating the crap out of the Greens. The gang had been an environmentally-conscious street gang that dealt a lot of pot back before they got into some chemicals that mutated some of them into a beastlier appearance. Oh, and it’s been spreading plant growth over the city. Trees and vines and bushes all over the place. Abundant, verdant life.
Finding Pestilentia was easy. She’d left a trail of rotting vegetation into Green territory, setting up shop in an old building with a bunch of melty, gooey plant debris outside. The sidewalk was splattered with brown goop, too, but that might have just been Empyreal City.
I walked right down the street, hopping easily out of the way of cars passing by. I was invisible this time, as opposed to just the drivers being assholes. Some of them wouldn’t give a damn, except I would dent the car. The Greens were keeping lookouts watching the house as well. I saw some of the low level members of the gang hanging out. They were on edge, as much because of the danger as for having to stay sober for lookout duty while some of their enhancement was in the car, waiting to give them strength.
Most of the animals that had started to live in the Green Zone were avoiding it, even as the gang itself made their territory a haven for them. The exceptions included a brown bear with a beer cap on feeding him strawfuls of honey out of the honey bears in the cupholders, and a cyborg deer with laser cannons and serrated steal antlers. I offered Winnie some upgrades, but he Poohed all over the idea. Grateful for the hat, though.
“Whatever else, get the Madstone. Capture it,” I ordered them. Bambi nodded and clip-clopped off. Winnie was slower to loaf off. Once they were mostly out of sight, I went visible. A car screeched to a halt right near me.
“Hey, you stupid My Little Pony bitch, get outta the road!” the driver called out.
“Hit it!” I pointed to the car without looking. The radio went haywire under my control and started playing Bad Guy. A pair of drumsticks appeared in my hands and I began to bang the car’s hood in to the beat. The guy tried to put it in reverse, but a particularly hard hit wrecked the engine. He got out and ran instead. I just stared at the building, mouthing along to the words and shaking my ass with an angry expression on my face. Inside, water sprayed down on everything. I didn’t have to know where she is to dump water on her. She appeared at a window, staring down at me with hate in her eyes and a bow in her hand.
Pestilentia notched and fired a poisoned arrow at superspeed. I saw it coming, of course. Instead of dodging or blocking it, I turned the asphalt into a humanoid creation that took the shot square in the chest and scoffed at it. All around me, things changed. Some bricks became a brick monster. A motorcycle transformed into a robot riding a unicycle. Most of what I got out of it were asphalt creatures. And I gave Pestilentia a smile.
She launched herself out of the window, her clothes became partially shredded as she jumped through the glass. It was more magic’s doing than glass when I watched the ribbons appear waving behind her in the air. She had more arrows of her own, missing me entirely but hitting the muck around her house.
Mushroom people, slime molds, and rotting humanoid compost creatures all rose up to face my armor of inorganic minions.
“Hon?” Max said at the window, walking over. He was wet as well, but drying himself off by spreading some goo onto his face and hands that soaked up the water immediately. “Oh, hey Gecko!”
“Holy shit, a bear!” he called out, turning toward a roar.
“Talk to you later, Max,” I said, turning back to Pestilentia as she sped up and tried to jab me with an arrow. I bonked her with drumsticks and sent her flying through a building, flying after her. I caught up and punched her through another building before flying around to the side to catch her by the legs and swing her down through a bodega and into the sewers below the city.
Behind us, more of her rotty minions and my inorganic ones sprouted up to fight. One of my favorites was seeing a vending machine turn into a robot with an arm that could rapid-fire drink cans into things, but the computers turning into wiry octopi were fun, too. People didn’t fair well in the crossfire. Pestilentia generated a deadly cloud of microbes everywhere she went and people were rapidly feeling the effects. I healed as many as possible, but I couldn’t play cleric the whole damn fight.
The clouds went dark and the word “Enough!” was punctuated by lightning and thunder. Two men floated in the sky: one fair skinned, balding, with a long grey beard that stood out incongruously against a torso covered in red and gold tights that revealed every bit of the muscles beneath, white and gold cape fluttering in the air. The other darker skinned, hair pulled back into a ponytail, with gold tights, a red cape, and red accent marks, including the red sideways lightning bolt on his chest.
Captain Lightnings I and II, here to do me a disservice.
“For the good of everyone you claim to protect, you must stop!” Captain Lightning declared. He conjured his staff to his hand and raised it as if it gave him some sort of authority over me.
“I respect you, Captain. Don’t mistake that for authority over me,” I warned him.
Pestilentia erupted out of the sewers in a geyser of what could only be called water in the same sense that a Bichon Frise is a wolf. And joining this conversation on animals came a congregation of undead alligators climbing out of the sewer crater to fight my minions and anything else they saw around. Pestilentia grabbed three arrows from her quiver and raised them to the bow, only this time the weapon and its ammunition shifted into that of a trident. A cloud of spores erupted from her, obscuring her from my vision and her presence. It’s like every piece of the cloud was her.
Captain Lighting II dove at me, which was worth ignoring. The old gods who empowered them didn’t give them enough power to overtake them, and I could take any of those deadbeat deities nowadays. Instead, his mentor said something and Pestilentia appeared from where she’d shrunk. I stopped before I could doubleteam her and looked around for the main Captain Lightning.
He was flying off in the direction we’d come from, blasting the warring minions with lightning. It was taking a lot out of him. I decided to check in with my other minions, the henchanimals. Telepathic conference call time.
“Bambi, Winnie, report,” I said. In the middle of the fight between Pestilentia and Private Lightning, one of them flung the trident at me. I ducked to the side and grabbed it. Increasing its size and mass, I then tossed it back at the pair, causing both to separate momentarily while it blew up a gas station being swarmed with undead gators.
“Your friend tried to melt me,” Bambi said. “I don’t think I hit him, but we are each hunting the other.”
“Cool. Now remember the non-vital parts we talked about if it comes down to it. A missing foot won’t kill him, but it’ll slow him down.” Max can grow those back. “Winnie?”
“Igh ot it! Igh ot it!”
“Why are you thinking like your mouth is full?” Bambi asked.
“Bambi, rendezvous with Winnie. Both of you get out of there.”
“Ugh oh,” Winnie said. “That nice old man I gave honey to is here.”
I teleported there and smacked into an invisible magical barrier. I shattered it and speed to the spot, hitting more and more barriers that slowed me momentarily. Finally, I came to the neighborhood this all started in which had been wrecked. Pestilentia’s minions and my own were still fighting, now with the Greens joining in and the police starting to arrive. The apartment lacked a couple of floors at the top, and a bear was now hanging onto the fire escape. Captain Lightning I floated nearby, the Madstone floating in a purple lattice of magical runs as he did something to it.
I stopped near him. “What are you doing, Captain?”
The old man sighed, his shoulders slumped. “It’s the best path forward, for peace.”
He was strengthening it. The grip the Madstone had on me increased, tugging harder on me. The same moment I made up my mind to kill, he turned and raised a hand. Lighting arced out toward me. I floated forward, horn lighting up with a ray of light that pushed back on the lightning. More struck him from the sky, empowering him further, but that did nothing to hold me back. If anything, his beam grew weaker.
But being a god is no time for hubris. My omniscience told me he was putting almost everything he had into the enchantment, shoring it up, reprogramming it you might say. His plan was a permanent trap, not only refusing to ever let me leave in any way, but to trap me in a fantasy. As far as I’d know the Madstone would be the real world. And I’d never see my loved ones again.
I lunged forward, my hand in his chest, pulling all of the power out of him and leaving him a wrinkled, frail old man with a torn out heart. I’d stopped him.
I appeared back in the Madstone despite that. There was something more firm about the place, but I knew it wasn’t real. It was more fake than ever. The sunlight was too bright and too yellow. The sky was a whirling mass of purple that began to settle down and fade away into a blue that was overly vibrant.
I looked down at the heart of Captain Lighting, a man I had respected. Tossed it away.
“Goddess, the other lightning man took the Madstone,” Bambi informed me. “There are alarms everywhere. Your rock men are falling apart.”
The portals worked just fine to bring them home. They let me back out. I thought I’d done it. Floating in the sky above the trashed neighborhood below, I tried to reach my mind out and find Pestilentia. It took awhile. The tug of the Madstone distracted me, tickling at the edge of my perception. My omniscience also alerted me to a threat. I was being drained of power, slowly becoming less powerful. A hasty precaution taken by the late Captain Lightning, whose frail old body was cradled below by his successor.
I didn’t let the other gods know that part either, at game night. The distraction of it all helped me lose pretty badly.
“Better luck next time,” Baron Samedi said.
“Yeah, don’t worry about it man. You’ll win one of these days,” Tom Waits reassured me. “I better go. I got this thing I gotta do.” He stood up, shaking everyone’s hand.
“We’d love to have you back,” the Baron said. Reed and I nodded. Argu tried his best as a symmetrical alien sea creature.
“I better go too,” I said. I’d been out too long and I needed to get back in my Madstone. And yes, I stewed over that compulsion that gripped me when I returned to it. If only Captain Lightning hadn’t made me kill him.
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