Chapter 18: Heart-Shaped Box
The admiral gently pried the mermaid’s jaws open, releasing his shoulder from her death grip. He flicked his wrist and cast her severed head aside as he leapt from the ship down to the ground below. The Lazy Orca had carved a path nearly a mile long in the black, volcanic terrain before finally coming to a halt. He would have to figure out a way to get it back on the water, but first he would have to figure out where he was and if he could find a new crew here.
After several hours of wandering, he came upon a small mining town with several shops and warehouses surrounding one large apartment complex. The town was completely empty, but the faint sounds of music came from within the apartment. As he approached the building, a wave of dizziness washed over him and he struggled to stand. He looked down at himself and he realized how badly he was injured. In addition to the self-inflicted knife wound, he had countless bite marks and gashes from the mermaids. Worst of all, he was covered in glitter. He sank to his knees. His vision blurred as he reached for the door. His vision went black and he faded from consciousness.
Khvarikx opened his eyes and coughed violently, spewing a mist of blood. He found himself in a white room with various medical instruments and trinkets. Sitting on his left were two nearly identical women. Both had silky black hair, bright aqua-green eyes, smooth pale skin, and toned athletic bodies. The only discernible difference was in their choice of clothing. One was dressed as a police officer/ninja assassin while the other was dressed as a nurse. Seeing that their guest was awake, the nurse cursed and opened her wallet. She smiled wryly as she handed a small stack of black paper currency with red markings to her twin.
“Told you he was going to make it!” The officer grinned proudly and crammed the bills into her bra. She directed her attention to the admiral. “So, stranger, would you mind telling us who you are and what happened to you?”
“Wait, did you seriously make bets on whether or not I’d die?”
“Excuse me, I’m asking questions right now. Tell us who you are,” The officer snapped.
“Okay, fine. They call me Admiral Nelson. My flagship is the Lazy Orca. I was leading a fleet on a mission to hunt down a dangerous individual, but two of my ships were stolen and a mermaid army devoured the crew of my flagship. I barely escaped and now I’m looking for a new crew to help me continue my quest.”
The two women went from wary and guarded to hopeful and excited in a split-second. They looked at each other and began making various birdcalls and dolphin squeaks while frantically waving their hands around in some sort of secret sign language. After a thorough discussion, they returned their attention to the admiral.
“Is this individual a vampire?” The nurse asked.
“Yes, the first vampire. Do you know anything about him?” He studied them, trying to decide whether to trust them or kill them before they could alert their superiors.
“Yes. His name is Lord Dracul and he is the ruler of this land.” The officer explained as she pulled the currency out of her bra and showed it to the admiral. Sure enough, on the center of the bill, the vampire’s face was printed in fine red lines. On either side of the portrait, the vampire’s hands were depicted in decorative rings with the middle fingers extended. “His castle is a few miles from here on another island, but we have no ship, so we can’t go there. This town is a secret base where we’ve started to mine metals so that we can build a ship like the ones you and the vampires use.”
“How many vampires are there?” asked the admiral.
“Hundreds at least,” chimed in the nurse.
“There are more everyday. They infect people they bite and the victims get some sort of weird hive mind. Every time we fight the vampires, we lose people and their army grows. We can’t fight a defensive war because of the werecoyotes and the yeti lizards that are always killing our people. However, now that you’re here, we have a chance!” The officer stood up and began to pace across the room.
“Yes! There are also swamp shades, tentacle monsters, and either mantis demons or demon mantises,” the nurse casually listed off the inhabitants of the barren hellscape.
“Or mantis demons! We’re not positive which one it is,” clarified the officer, staring out the window.
“I’m really not sure if I--”
“I HAVE A PLAN!” The officer jumped back from the window with a start and eyed it warily. “We have a rap battle between our two best generals and the winner’s division becomes your new crew!”
I’m the toughest motherf***er on the seven seas
You piss your pants when you feel a light breeze
You’re annoying like a never-ending sneeze
Step the f*** back before I make your face bleed
F*** you bitch and f*** yo bitch
cry me a river while I f*** yo bitch
walk in on us and you try to go and snitch
but even the hot cop lady wants this d***
The large ebony behemoth let his words sink in as he stared down the shorter, yet equally muscular blonde viking across the stage. Both competitors were fully clad in battle armor and their freshly-polished metal suits reflected the spotlights with burning intensity. The viking adjusted his decorative horned helmet and began his verse.
Yo, you say you’re tough, but you’ve never had it rough
you’re such a p**** f*** g*** that your squad calls you snugglepuff
f**** f*** pull**** asht**** a**** you had enough?
**** **** th** z******** **** just admit that you suck!
Don’t try to step up ******* because I will ****** f****** bi**** r*** orange
wh*** I will f*** crush your ***** d****** **** **** ***** porn
and when you die, ***** x**** j***** **** not a single soul will mourn
it’s time for you to realize that the devil aint the darkest motherf***er with horns
The admiral sat with the twins in their suite above the main stage in the center of the apartment complex. The building was set up so that each suite had a window facing the stage due to rap battling’s pivotal role in the community.
“Why is everything censored?” asked the admiral.
“The vampire uses censorship to make a point about how much our freedom of speech is limited and then rub it in our faces,” replied the nurse.
“Failing to censor the signal that goes to the rooms would be a declaration of war. If the vampire traced the location, we’d all be screwed. The only people that can hear the unedited version are the people down in the courtyard by the stage,” continued the officer wearily.
The rap battle became a steady monotone of 440 Hz as the dark knight brutally insulted the viking with merciless, relentless vulgarity. In an instant, the competition devolved into a wild fist fight. Spectators took to the stage, but they were no match for the raging bulls pummeling each other. Bodies flew from the stage into the crowd and briefly crowd surfed before getting back on their feet and resuming their peacekeeping efforts. After a few minutes, the two agreed that they had beaten each other enough and embraced briefly. Then they poured each other drinks, high-fived, and patiently waited for the judges to declare a victor.
“So, Admiral, LeShawn Murderfist or Olaf Bloodmurderkilldeathkill?” asked the policewoman.
“Olaf is savage as hell and he had some nice burns, but LeShawn has that smooth, chocolate-y voice and those tight rhyming patterns. Seriously, if Billy Dee Williams put on a hundred pounds of muscle and became a rapping, hammer-wielding black knight, it would be this guy. I’m gonna have to pick LeShawn.”
The policewoman nodded to the nurse and opened a hidden panel in the wall. The nurse approached and in unison, the two activated fingerprint scanners and typed in a secret code.
“So how big are their divisions?” asked the admiral.
“9 and 7,” responded the nurse absentmindedly.
“Ahem.” The officer punched her sister in the arm.
“Oh. Sorry. 14 each.”
“Why can’t I have both teams?”
The sisters looked at each other, made a few penguin noises and turtle hisses, and waved their arms like they were directing a fighter jet’s landing. They fell silent, stared at the admiral for a few moments, then resumed their chatter. The noises became more docile as they seemed to reach agreement.
“No reason. We can make it work,” they chirped simultaneously.
“Good. LeShawn will be the captain and Olaf will be the first mate. Now! I’d like to meet them.” He turned and quickly walked to the door. As he reached for the handle, he heard a soft and gentle, yet firm knock.
“Greetings, good sir,” from the other side of the door came an elegantly warm, yet cold and calculated voice. “I am the keeper of this estate. Would you like me to escort you down to meet the generals?”
“Wow! That guy is good! How did he know?” The admiral bubbled with admiration.
“DON’T OPEN THE DOOR! WE DON’T HAVE A BUTLER!” screamed the nurse.
“Indeed, I daresay you have seen through my ploy once again, milady. Nonetheless, I shall quite inevitably prevail in the end...” The voice paused before switching to an amused and disturbingly flirtatious tone. “...despite your most excellent efforts to evade me. I bid you good day.” Loud rapid footsteps echoed in the hallway before fading out.
“We haven’t had a butler since the demon mantises killed him,” whispered the nurse nervously as she crept to the door and double-checked the locks. “It’s probably still standing right outside our door, waiting for us.”
“Most impressive! I am beginning to believe you might be catching on to my tricks.” The voice changed tone to that of a strategic warlord tolerating acceptable losses in the pursuit of a victorious outcome to end the war. “I’ll have to retreat and redouble my efforts. This time, I am actually leaving. Farewell!”
A half-hour later, they were outside the suite that the two generals shared. The lights in the hallway flickered. The interior of the building was ornate, clean, and fresh, but old and rotten at the same time. The paintings on the walls were all smiling like the Mona Lisa with an added hint of hunger for human flesh. A vase of flowers fell off a table and shattered on the floor. Out of the shattered pieces emerged a brutal one-sided struggle. A black rat snake strangled a bundle of roses and bat orchids, scattering the flower petals across the floor.
“We have to go in now,” said the nurse with a gulp as she watched the snake murder the innocent flowers. “That sound attracts the mantis demons who live here. They are very neat and tidy creatures. We need to hurry after we knock too. That’s pretty much a dinner bell for them.” She knocked quietly.
Almost instantly, every candle went out in the hallway. The sounds of many rapid footsteps started faintly and rose in volume and frequency. A pig squeal mixed with a rattlesnake’s hiss echoed from seemingly everywhere at once. The officer pushed her sister aside and pounded on the door. A screech of attack rang out like a buzz saw ripping through scrap metal. On both ends of the hallway, moose-sized black praying mantises scurried around the corners, clattering across the floors and ceilings alike, driven by glorious delicious purpose. Suddenly, the door swung open, revealing a finely-dressed pale butler with slick black hair, bright turquoise-green eyes, and a trail of blood running down his lips.
“Welcome to the abode of my masters. May I have the honor of taking your coats?” he asked with a graceful bow.
“I should’ve known you’d try something like this,” growled the officer as she pulled the admiral through the door.
“Stay away from us,” snapped the nurse looking past the butler at a doorman tied to a chair and several dismembered bodyguards crammed into a closet.
“Very well, I shall depart immediately.” He rose and slipped out into the hallway and quietly closed the door behind him.
“Tough break, Jed,” said one of the several other well-dressed pale gentlemen standing in the hallway. “Tough break for us too. If you hadn’t been here, we would have had a tasty three-course meal.”
“Lucas, I will have you know that if you so much as look upon either of my daughters...” He wrapped his fingers around Lucas’s neck and slammed him through the empty table, pinning him on the floor in a pile of shredded flowers, shattered ceramics, the broken mahogany of the table, and one homicidal vegetarian rat snake. “I’ll bury all of you, regardless of any treaties we have signed together in the past. Also, see to the cleaning of this mess. It’s repulsive.” Jed released Lucas as he morphed into a metallic black, mutant emperor scorpion of similar size to the mantises and stormed off, trailing a glowing cloud of possibly/probably-toxic, aqua-green smoke.
“Where will you bury us? Next to where you keep their mother’s ashes in that tiny, heart-shaped box?” Lucas prodded as he floated to his feet in ghastly fashion, trying to set off the minor demon’s temper.
One-by-one, the gentlemen transformed and quietly returned to the walls and crept away. Soon, it was just Lucas standing in the rubble of the plant fight and the table fight sequel. He snatched up the snake and gazed into its eyes lovingly. It coiled its tail around his arm and looked around, flicking its tongue, undoubtedly searching for more flowers to kill.
“Someday, I’ll have my tasty snack and this time, you won’t get in my way.” He bit the snake’s head, crushing its skull. He slurped it up and swallowed it like a spaghetti noodle.
“Someday, I’ll have my bittersweet revenge.”