Chan Chu burst out from the rock pile; too injured to stand he crawled out from the pile coughing out dust that had accumulated; such injuries included multiple fractures, broken ribs, broken wings, and a cracked beak. He also had various small cuts and bruises but they were irrelevant compared to his other injuries.
He looked upon the three that had defeated him. His loathed rival, a vagabond and a bus driver, all three of them were eyeing their fallen adversary having learned enough about Chan to remain cautious.
“How could I have been defeated?” He asked to no-one in particular, the question alone was not only physically straining, because of his injuries, but mentally straining, after all the adversaries he has fought over the years he could not imagine a less likely group to out-do him.
Harry puffed up his chest and pointed at Chan Chu before shouting “You foul criminal were defeated...” Harry then started to do some posing “... by the power of... TEAMWORK!” he finished off with an ostentatious pose.
Neko was tempted to berate Harry for his silliness but decided that he was actually right for a change and let it slide.
As Chan Chu soaked up the information, it dawned on him and he then laughed at the situation “Teamwork, yes I was defeated by your impeccable teamwork, but tell me where did it come from?”
The three of them cocked their heads unsure how to answer the question or even what he was really asking them.
“The synchronization you showed in the final minutes of our battle, there was no way you had time to plan that out. You all anticipated and improvised each other’s moves so perfectly. I have known demons that worked together for centuries that don’t work as well as you three just did. Yet you only knew each other for a day. How is it possible?”
“Sometimes a day is all that’s needed!” Morphan replied.
“What utter nonsense!” suddenly he activated his Worm-tongue sending it towards the nearest source of Aura, which happened to be Morphan. He didn’t honestly expect it to work but if it did the stolen Aura would heal his injuries and then he’d be strong enough to kill his enemies. Once they were dead he would rule Argus!
Quick as a bear-trap Morphan grabbed the Worm-tongue. With a sharp, piercing pain Chan Chu knew he was done for but refused to accept it. He used his tongue desperately, the three pronged limbs chomped away at Morphan in a sad attempt to get some Aura before finally falling limp in his grip.
Morphan covered his other hand in a thick blue Aura making it resemble a small blade, and he then cut the Worm-tongue in twain.
Chan Chu made an incomprehensible sound as the severed limb flailed about as did the remainder of his tongue, able to feel and taste the burning flesh. He fell on his back writhing in pain while Morphan and Neko stared indifferently.
Harry one the other hand was deeply disturbed by seeing the demon, even one as wretched as he, in so much pain “Uhhhh was that really necessary?”
“Yes!” Morphan said no hint of doubt in his voice; “This is how to survive in Argus!” he clarified.
Harry turned his gaze onto their adversary, the fallen Bandit Lord now lay on the ground in so much pain he was barely conscious “But I never had to resort to such methods.”
“Well bully for you and your happy sheltered life!” Neko Maneki unable to repress her disdain “I don’t brag about being mild-tempered, a lot of things anger me! But what really gets under my skin are demons like you!” She continued her rant marching onto a confused and frightened Harry as he back away timidly “Hellenites, and city dwelling demons in general, who don’t get enough sprinkles in their Ice-cream and then think they have the worst life in the world. Always complaining about how horrid your lives are without even the slightest clue as to what true misery is...” She then started banging her fists, had Harry not been so scared he would have noticed that she hit him far softer then she could have “... I HATE YOU HELLENITES! I HATE YOUR HOMES! I HATE YOUR FAMILIES! I HATE YOUR SAFETY AND YOUR WEALTH! I HATE HOW EVERYTHING IS HANDED TO YOU ON A SILVER PLATTER!”
“NEKO SHUT UP!” Morphan shouted.
Neko turned to glare at him, her teeth bared and her eyes watery.
“Harry has nothing to do with any of the things wrong with our life; taking it out on him won’t accomplish anything, least of all now of all times.” Harry couldn’t help but notice that Morphan was still holding onto the piece of tongue he cut off. He couldn’t help but wonder if he was going to keep it as some sort of morbid trophy.
Suddenly Chan Chu burst out laughing in some maniacal craze. The severed tongue and huge amount of saliva made his voice sound even more deranged than ever.
“The fight ended mere seconds ago and you’re all at each other’s throats already.” He continued to laugh “If that is all it takes to do away with your teamwork then you will never survive your quest to Mirabilis. YOU’LL ALL DIE BEFORE YOU GET THERE!”
He continued to laugh insanely, content in knowing that his enemies would fail in their journey despite all that they accomplished so far. As he laughed at their situation Neko stomped over to him and activated her Vorpal claws.
The Wonderland Conquerors heard the sound of screaming coming from the distance.
They all stood in front of the base clearing rubble away from the entrance partially out of boredom but more in the hopes of pleasing their new boss.
Wallmaker walked up to King of Hearts who was just staring off into the distance “So any idea what’s going on?”
King snarled in annoyance “I don’t have the power of Clairvoyance moron, though right now I regret killing that demon that did. All I can tell you is that the fight is over any minute now the victor is going to walk over here.”
“Speak of the Doom!”
The entire bandit trope gathered and silently watched as the Half-Breed her two companions paraded up to them. Neko was now holding the severed worm-tongue twirling it around swaying her hips in the smuggest manner she could. Behind her Morphan was marching solemnly holding a pair of black birds wings. Harry was dragging the now tongue-less and wing-less Bandit lord in a hair lasso through the dirt.
Once she was in front of the transfixed bandits she ordered Harry to slam Chan Chu on the ground in front of her.
She then leaned on her defeated opponent and looked around to see if everyone was looking at her. Everyone including her companions held they breathe curious as to what she would do or say next. Once she was sure they were she started to speak.
“Fellow members of the Wonderland Circus, or perhaps Wonderland Conquerors I’m not sure if that’s official yet. During my stay in this elitist bandit group, you have all spent your days looking down on me. WHY? Because I’m a female, because I’m a half-demon, because I have no powers? Whatever the reason I have endured much abuse from the fiercest and meanest bandits in the Null Lands, you TRIED to break my spirit, TRIED to assault me, TRIED to rob me, TRIED to do so many horrible things to me. BUT despite it all I triumphed and now here I stand, victorious. Today I orchestrated the attack on the base, I drove you all from your own base and I defeated not one but TWO of the gangs leaders, the former and the new. And here I stand haven risen above you ready to take charge as the NEW BANDIT LORD OF THE NULL LANDS!”
She then stepped forward the other Bandits as they backed off in terror, suddenly she activated a huge stream of burning yellow Aura which reached to the sky like an inferno “KNEEL BEFORE ME!” She ordered with a level of power not before witnessed.
The mighty bandit troupe did as she commanded got on their knees (save those without kneecaps). Neko was truly an ominous sight laughing gleefully while surrounded by an Aura resembling burning gold. Both Harry and Morphan were particularly disturbed by the way thing were progressing, even the usually stoic Morphan couldn’t keep a straight face.
“NOW AS THE NEW LEADER OF THIS BANDIT GANG I SAY...” she switched off her Aura suddenly and said “... Your all fired!”
There was a moment of extreme silence broken only by the sound of a breeze passing by. Everyone with the exception of Neko tried to process what just happened the bandits were just kneeling slack-jawed “OK since that wasn’t clear let me clarify, I’m your new boss and I’m firing all of you losers, so SCRAM!”
“Where will we go?” asked one the bandits.
“Don’t know, don’t care!”
“What will we do?” asked another.
“Join some other bandit troupe or something.”
“Can we get our stuff first?” asked another.
“Why should we listen to you?” asked King of Hearts defiantly. An action he quickly regretted as she marched right up to him till she was literally butting heads with him.
“Oh I’m sorry you want me and my subordinates to do to you what we did to Chan Chu over there.” She pointed at the now wingless, beaten, broken, tied up crow demon “Speaking of bird-boy take him off my hands for me will ya, do what want with him just get him out of here.”
Some bandit demons went to pick him up “Your really just going to let me go?” Chan asked full of surprise and suspicion.
“I’d hardly call this letting you go, but I really don’t want waste any more effort on the likes of you.”
“Do you think I’ll just disappear, what makes you think I won’t just come after you?” For Chan Chu what he just said was equal parts threat and question.
“To be honest I hope you do come after me all the times you want. I look forward to kicking your ass again and again.”
Humiliated, Chan Chu the last of mighty Chu Clan remained silent as the former bandits all carried him away into the distance. Soon the most elite bandits in Argus all left in disgrace till they were gone from view.
Neko sighed somewhat overdramatically; she then slumped down completely spent “By the Doom I am TIRED!”
“You just did a pillar of fire! Only really strong demons can do that!” Harry pointed out.
“Yeah I had to really squeeze out the Aura needed to do that but it was worth it to see the look on those bozos faces” she then started to laugh a bit to herself “ I wish I had a camera on me at the moment so I could remember it forever. Anyways I’m tired, it’s been a long day so I’m just going to go into whoever’s room and sleep, I suggest you guys do the same.”
So she and Morphan headed inside while Harry just stood looking to where the bandits just were and was silent for a moment “You know something...” Neko and Morphan stopped and stared at Harry eager to hear what he had to say “Those guys weren’t as tough as I thought they’d be.”
Neko and Morphan continued to stare at Harry a bit before starting to chuckle, then they giggled, then they laughed. Despite all the danger and stress recently overcome they just started laughing. Harry eventually got caught up in the frivolity and started laughing too even though he did not fully understand why. Truth be told none of them fully understood why they were laughing but Harry’s comment about how the stories of the supposedly fiercest bandits in Argus might have been blown out of proportion was defiantly the trigger.
Once they were done they continued into the base.
“Whelp I’ll go tell the slaves, I mean humans, what happened to their former masters. Oh they’ll just freak out when they learn.” Neko practically squeal at the notion of the humans joy “Anyways you two make yourselves at home.”
“OK me and Gale will hit the sack at the first room we can find.” Harry reached into his fur to pull out the shrunken bus which had miraculously remained unharmed through all the chaos; he went on his way cooing the little toy-sized bus along the way.
“Before you go there is actually something I’d like to talk to you about.” Morphan said to Neko.
“A little out of place but OK.”
“I noticed that when you cut off Chan’s wings it was with your Vorpal claws, instead of your regular ones.” Morphan stated.
“So what of it?”
“Well, it’s just that if you had used your regular claws he would have bled to death, but thanks to the Vorpal claws his wounds were cauterized so that he will live, crippled yes but still alive?”
“Are you suggesting that I mercifully and compassionately dismembered him?” Neko asked making sure to accentuate how silly it sounded “My claws are sharper when they are Aura infused that’s all. I genuinely don’t care whether he lives or dies... However the idea of him living his life as a broken crippled creature, doomed to forever remember how someone he spat on proved to be his better does have a certain... appeal... to it. Why are you asking this anyways?”
Morphan started to scratch the back of his head in a bashful fashion “No reason specifically I just wanted to get to know you a bit better.”
Neko actually giggled a little to his response but quickly composed herself “Thank Doom that no one else saw that, I’ve got a reputation to think of!” “On the subject of holding back I couldn’t help but notice the move you used to defeat Gobbling Crow what did you call Richter Punch Magnitude TWO?” she raised an eyebrow silently requesting an explanation.
Morphan relented “The Richter punches have levels like on the Richter scale. You know the scale for measuring earthquakes. In order to go up a level I have to charge a significant amount of Aura the higher the level the longer it takes, in that moment I am vulnerable.”
“Can you go up to level ten?”
“According to the one who taught it to me it could be possible, though I’ve never had too. And considering a level 10 earthquake is powerful enough to destroy a city I do not look forward to a situation where that kind of power is needed.”
Neko was intrigued at this point “You expect me to believe that you are powerful enough to destroy a city, just how strong are you?”
Morphan turned around and crossed his arms “I’m a lot more powerful than most realise, but every time I lose control of my powers...” Morphan hesitated a moment “...bad things happen.”
Neko wrapped an arm around his shoulder, an action that caught him off guard “Nothing you can do about it so don’t worry. Once you get to Mirabilis I’m sure everything will turn out great.”
Morphan didn’t say anything verbally but the grateful smile he gave said more than enough.
“Come on head to bed! I’ll talk to the humans.”
“Actually if it’s all right with you I’d like to be there when you tell them.”
“OK we’ll tell the slaves then we both go to bed.” She clarified.
“Correct!” Morphan grinned.
So they left to do just that.
When Harry awoke his whole body was as sore as can be. Now that the fight-or-flight instincts had gone his whole body ached in ways that haven’t ached in centuries.
“Oh I’m soooooo sooooooore! But it was worth it to get Gale back!” he turned to the night stand where he had previously put his shrunken bus only to find it was not there!
“Gale?” he started searching the place.
“GALE!” he started panicking throwing stuff all over the place in a desperate bid to find it.
“GAAAAAAALE!” he shouted so loud the whole base could hear.
He rushed all over the place in a tizzy, the sound of his frenzied searching could be heard from outside the base. He quickly found himself outside and spotted Neko minding her own business when Harry rushed up to her and grabbed her by the shoulders and started shaking her while shouting, Neko on the other hand tried to calmly diffuse the situation.
“Where is Gale?”
“Where is Gale?”
“Where is Gale?”
“Where is Gale?”
She banged him on the head before shouting “FOR DOOMS SAKE ITS RIGHT OVER THERE BALDY MAC-STUPID!”
Harry realized that in his blind panic he did not see the bus he was so passionate about. Without wasting another moment he rushed towards it and hugged it, all the while Neko scoffing at his silliness. Once Harry came to his senses he realised that the bus was not only back to its original size but also looked as good as new “Wow Gale looks great. Thanks Neko!”
“Oh don’t thank me it was the humans who used the shrink-ray to bring it back to size and it was the humans who repaired it, I guess all that time fixing those crooks airships paid off in the end.”
“Well where are they I’d like to thank them.”
“They are right over there actually.” Neko said while pointing behind him.
Harry turned around with a big wide grin on his face, his face quickly deflated when he saw how the humans were still as lifeless and gray as always.
“What’s the deal? Their oppressors have been vanquished they should be bouncing off the walls.”
Neko sighed and leaned on the bus “It was like this last night too, me and Morphan told them the good news and expected them to break into cheers, I thought such a proclamation would make emotions run high. But there was no emotions of any kind, positive or negative just the same depressed apathy they always have.”
“It will take time for the true impact of the news to hit them!” said Mad-Hat seeming to appear out of nowhere; shocking both of them (Harry was particularly shocked).
Harry tried to regain his composure “So Mad-Hat...”
“Melvin!” He corrected.
“My real name is Melvin, Melvin Madhatt.” For the umpteenth time Neko had no idea if Mad-Hat was serious or just screwing with them and decided to drop it.
Harry continued “Anyways Melvin, you sure you got things under control, I mean without the bandits income how are you going to survive, plus the security guns were destroyed by Gobbling Crow so you won’t have any defense if more bandits move in.”
“Oh it may take time but I’m sure we’ll be able to fix the cannons, as for food...”
One of the humans placed a single cracker on the ground and then activated the shrink ray setting it to grow mode causing the cracker to grow till it was the size of a person.
“We got that covered, besides thanks to our captors we are used to eating meager portions so rationing won’t be an issue. And if you’re worried about water don’t because this base has machines that absorb water from the air and recycles used water. Who ever built this place made it to be completely self sustaining. And the beauty part is...” before finishing up he gestured for Neko and Harry to come closer “... When you gave those bandits the boot they left without taking the Airships...”
“I thought I destroyed the Airships during my climatic battle against Carpenter?”
“DON’T INTERUPT ME!” shouted Mad-Hat after conking Harry on the head “Now turns out they hid some extra Airships in reserve, plus while ransacking through Jabberwocky’s things I found a map with the locations of back-ups bases and safe houses so if we ever run into trouble we can just fly away. SOOOO continue on your journey in peace and know you made our lives better.”
Harry whistled in awe “You guys did all this while I was sleeping?”
“It’s almost noon!” Said Morphan as he walked up to the bus carrying a huge bag of supplies “The rest of us have been up for hours!”
“Really aren’t you all tired from yesterday?”
“Nope!” said Morphan.
“No!” said Neko.
“Not really.” Said Madhatt.
“Turns out Morphan and I are early wakers!” said Neko to Morphan, he then smiled at her in return. Harry then realised that Morphan was actually in a good mood for once, possible the best mood he had ever seen him in. He then noticed the large amount of supplies.
“Is all of this necessary?”
“My mentor Siberian Jesus used to tell me that a real bandit is always prepared so that’s why I’m bringing all this stuff!”
“You know guys I just had a thought, why are we leaving?” everyone looked at Harry funny but he continued unperturbed “I mean the whole reason you two want to get to Mirabilis was to have a home, so why don’t you just live here I’m sure the humans would love to have you stay with them right Madhatt!”
“Great you two stay here I’ll head back to Hellengaruo, mon am I going have a story to tell my wait what!”
“The humans want nothing to do with Morphan or Neko!”
Harry stood rooted on the spot trying to rationalize what he just heard “But, but, but, but they SAVED the humans, the fought for them, almost died for them, uh YOU Neko didn’t you tell me that you tried to help the humans before or something like that?”
Neko responded by turning away grunting.
“We are half-demons anything else...” Morphan let out a long depressed sigh “Is irrelevant.”
“I can’t stand for this, I won’t!” Harry being utterly infuriated rushed out to meet the humans “Hey ingrates!” his angry shouts caused the humans (minus Madhatt, Miss Hare and Dormos) to all huddle together quivering “What in the name of the abyss is your problems!” as Harry continued his tirade the humans all got on their knees in an instinctive manner “These two save you from tyrants and you kick them to the curb WHY!”
“They are half-demons!” one of the humans practically whispered.
“Half-demons? HALF-DEMONS!” By now Harry was so mad that he started to stomp about “First that crooked representative Straight Arrow, then pretty much all those bandits now you humans too? Am I the only one in Argus who isn’t a half-hater?” Harry Aura started to go out of control causing his whip to involuntarily appear.
“I’m so mad I could just...” everyone tensed in preparation.
“...I could just...” Morphan and Neko prepared to stop Harry should he go too far!
“GRAAAAAAAH!” Harry roared a whipped a nearby cliff gouging out large chunks of it. Eventually he ran out breath. He then inhaled and exhaled and in so doing caused the seeping Aura to subside “I’m good, it’s all good, I’m still disappointed but I’m fine. Just needed to blow off some steam.”
No one knew what to think of Harry’s actions, but decided to just be relieved.
“Well time to hit the road!”
“WAAAIIIIT!” shouted the voice of a little girl! Everyone watched as Hedgehog ran towards Neko and held her with all her might.
Everyone gasped in shock and awe over the development “Hedgehogs a girl!” they all shouted.
“Well this is quite a surprise, now I feel silly for always referring to you as “he” Sorry about that Hedgehog!” Neko said sheepishly.
“My name is not Hedgehog its Alice, Alice Valemsheky Maliton sixteenth heir to the throne of Lunatopia.”
“Heir? She’s a princess!” Everyone gasped!
“Why are you telling me now?” Neko asked.
Alice stepped back and almost hissed “Because every time I spoke in Argus THIS happened!” She took off her oversized coat revealing her white raggedy undershirt she showed everybody her arms which were covered almost entirely in scars of every type.
Neko sighed and kneeled down so her hands were on Alice’s shoulders “Hedge...eh...Alice I would love to take you with me but let’s not kid ourselves, I’m a magnet for trouble can’t go anywhere without someone trying to kill me, or me trying to kill someone. You’ll be much safer here!”
“SAFE!” she roared “No one protected me when the demons came after me, the humans here all just stood and watched but you did, you saved me time and again! And not all of these scars are from demons!”
Alice then broke down and embraced her beloved Neko “please don’t leave me, I’ve lost everything! My family, my friends, my home, my beloved kingdom. I’ve lost my future, my dignity, my innocence. I can’t lose you too, I just can’t.” Unable to talk coherently anymore Alice could only weep with Neko doing her best to comfort her, if one looked real closely one could see that her eyes were watering.
The others could only watch in silence.
“This time will be different!” said Dormos, his deep powerful voice brimming with determination “We’ll look after her, we all will!” the comment seemed directed at the other humans who were true to form still cowering.
“I’ve always wanted a daughter” said Miss Hare.
“From now on we’ll all have to look after each other! Anything else would be madness.” Said Madhatt “we are after all the only free humans in Argus... or are we?”
Hearing this Alice stopped sobbing and stared at the three humans “hey Alice you want to know a secret?” Neko semi-whispered “When I was young I was adopted by Siberian Jesus and his bandit troupe, everyone in the troupe loved each other and helped each other out, even I a half-demon was welcomed as one of their own. THAT is what made us strong, so strong that even Argus Empire was scared of us. Everyone in the Wonderland whatever was in it for themselves and look how easy they feel apart. Jabberwocky wanted to know what made the Cats Meow Gang so strong it was unity. Of course when I told him that he laughed at me.”
All the humans let Neko’s words sink into them.
“All right everything is loaded up, lets head on out!” Harry said with his usual amount of giddiness.
Neko and Morphan headed towards the bus that they fought so hard for but before he could reach it Alice intercepted him.
“Morphan was it?” she asked.
“Promise me that you’ll protect her!” she asked/pleaded/ordered.
“I promise.” Morphan responded.
“Pinkie promise!” she held out her pinkie finger. Morphans stared at the digit in confusion “It’s kinda like the human equivalent to a blood oath.” She explained, satisfied with the answer Morphan did his best to wrap his large naturally armored pinkie with her small and frail one he then said “I Morphan Bjarnason, pinkie promise that I will protect Neko Maneki now and forever.” After the promise Alice’s whole body seemed to glow with happiness.
Once the task was completed Morphan got on the bus and as it started moving Morphan stared at his pinkie as Neko moved up to him “So Barn-a-son that your last name huh.”
“Fitting, so just so you know humans can’t use Aura so that pinkie promise is pretty much void.”
“Oh don’t be like that Neko it meant the world to that little girl!” Harry interjected.
“Funny coming from you the guy that almost whipped them.”
“WHHHHHAT, I was planning on hitting the rocks from the get go.”
“No you were defiantly planning on hitting those humans.” Said Morphan.
From outside the bus all the humans with Alice in the front watched as the bus drove off the sound of its passengers sibling-like bickering echoing throughout the Labirinth Canyon.
Till it and the sound was gone.
Suddenly a great gust blew forward carrying Alice’s discarded jacket into the air.
To be continued...