In ancient times, back in that epoch when New Nublar was still known as Old Nublar, grandmothers used to spin tales of terror to entertain the village children as they drifted off to dreamland. In hushed and prophetic tones they spoke of conspiracies and controversies… of a future age, when the Great God of the North would do battle with the Fire Wielding Demon of the South.
What crazy road had brought our two priests, men of the modern age, rational in their ideology, residents of industry and progress, to this place where they’d become the protagonists acting out this primitive island’s apocalyptic bedtime tale?
Down the steep steps of the opposing ziggurats the two combatants descended; down to the field of battle to carry out their celestial war in the world of mortal pain. The multitudes had parted, freeing the entire area of the Great Square in order that the two New Babbage brothers might to do battle unimpeded.
On the north we have Martin Malus, tall and lean, his sword gleaming in the late afternoon sun. On the south we have Dominic Lapis, compact and solid, his chest hideous and scarred with fearsome burns. His sword less ornate than his opponent’s, perhaps in need of polishing, but no less deadly. In silent concentration they approached the center of the square until they at last come face to face. A slight nod from Lapis; a slight sneer from Malus and the battle is about to begin.
Though they glistened with perspiration, panting with sustained effort, Emerson and Junie pushed on. They were so close… just a little bit more and they would be there. Jungle drums drove them on, setting a pounding rhythm with their frantic beats. They couldn’t see up ahead through the lush foliage but they felt a rush of adrenaline knowing it was all about to come down to this moment. Digging deep they maintained their pace until they heard a great cheer. Only then did they slow somewhat, drawing deep breaths. Clearly some moment of climax had occurred.
“Emerson, look at the crowd up ahead.” Junie said slowing from a run to a walk. “I think we may be too late.” Suddenly they heard the crowd cheer once more. Even at this distance the sound of steel clashing with steel rang out. “By the Builder Emerson, they’ve started. We’ve got to do something. We’ve got to help Lapis, don’t you think? What other way can there be for us all to get away safely if Lapis doesn’t win this?”
“Well,” Emerson hedged, “I’ll concede Lapis has grown on me since you and I tossed his guitar over the side of the Indiscretion and blamed it on Kerchak. But I still like Malus. He and I went through a whole adventure on our own remember; I hate seeing things go south for him like this.” Emerson paused, his lungs burning from the run. He noted with relief the Sagrada Lucia he’d clenched in his teeth since back at the hut was still burning. After relishing a few puffs he continued. “It must be rough losing an empire and a godhood all at the same time. Besides, you just know he’s going to be over-the-top sullen and derisive after he gets his ass kicked.”
As they neared the square, Junie and Emerson noticed island villagers exchanging necklaces and other items of barter. “Incredible,” said Junie somewhat shocked, “I think they are betting on the outcome.”
They continued to press through the crowds, trying to break through in case they might be able to take some part in shaping the outcome. Alternately they could hear the crowd gasp and cheer but for whom they were cheering remained unclear.
“Look,” pointed Emerson as he and Junie found a slightly less dense area of the crowd. “It’s Gadget…. ” Junie followed Emerson’s point to see Gadget riding atop the shoulders of one of Malus’s men, formerly of the Queen’s Guard.
Gadget, catching sight of Emerson and Junie waved them over with great excitement. “The two misters is fierce at it Sir Sir.” he said with great excitement before glancing back towards the field of battle.
“Oh Mister Brother’s down!” Gadget shouted pointing out over the top of the crowd. “Down… OH COR this is good! Mister Brother’s back up he’s spinning and jumping and bugger if that wasn’t close ! OOOOOOHHHHH…… “ Gadget lost himself to a series of colourful expletives as he started to bounce with excitement atop the soldier.
“Your footwork has improved somewhat. It’s not as,” Lapis paused, as if searching for the precise characterization… “chaotic as it once was.
“You must be senile old man. To disbelieve what is so plainly on display before you.” And then Malus paused before saying with a familiar sneer. “Clearly I am the master now.”
“Such a claim requires proof.” replied Lapis.
“If it is proof you want it is proof you shall receive.” Malus lunged and thrust. Lapis shifted and though the strike had shot wide it was closer than it should have been. “Your powers are weak old man.”
“You see only with a superficial eye. I would have expected something more elegant from a god.” Lapis found an opening and struck, slicing a shallow cut into Malus’s side.
Malus looked down, then looked up with a look of utter loathing. “That,” he paused, “was a new shirt. You shall pay, oh yes, you shall pay dearly.”
Malus pressed the attack, each thrust easily parried by Lapis.
“Surely I taught you better than to employ the Moonwall Maneuver,” scoffed Lapis, “Such a lack of finesse.”
“Are you really that forgetful? You were the one who discovered that the Moonwall Maneuver when combined with the defensive stance of Scorpio’s Hammer Feint improves one’s chances of prise en fer when engaged with one of disadvantaged height.”
“Your flourishing tongue is as bad as your flourishing hand.” said Lapis. “It’s a shame you were apparently napping when I explained that the success of that combination falls apart when employed by a natural left-hander such as yourself.”
Yet Lapis was not afforded an opportunity to capitalize. As he backed up he stepped on a child’s wooden toy dropped when the crowds had taken to the margins of the square. Lapis’s stumble, combined with an opportune push from Malus, sent him over backwards landing him on the ground. The crowd appeared equally divided between cheers and gasps as Lapis rolled, narrowly avoiding being stomped on as Malus sought to take advantage of Lapis’ misfortune.
“Emerson,” said Junie, “can you think of any positive outcome should Malus win this?”
“I have to admit I am a bit stumped. It would seem the only way for Lapis to save Malus is to kill him.”
“OOOOHH…” Gadget pointed “Sir Sir, Miss Missus, Mister Brother’s down again.”
Emerson and Junie finally managed to work their way to the front of the crowd. They ran across the field of combat as Lapis, lying on his back upon the ground, appeared to be at the mercy of Malus.
“He wouldn’t dare… would he?” called Junie as she and Emerson continued to run.
“You’re lucky I am merciful old man.” said Malus, his sword held steady and unwavering the blade tip mere inches from Lapis’s throat. All I need do now is declare victory as the last one standing.” Malus raised his voice for the benefit of the crowd. “Let it be known! I am…” but Malus’s proclamation remained unfinished.
“MARTIN!” a commanding baritone voice called out.
Malus’s eye’s widened as if struck with a great jolting shock.
“MARTIN!” the voice called out once more, sending shivers down the spines of all who heard. All eyes shifted to the Temple of the North.
Perched upon a bust of Malus just above the temple door sat ART Hoo. The clockwork owl regarded Malus for a minute, its eyes appeared to see deep into his soul to a distant time of suppressed memories. He remained silent for what appeared an eternity before his fish lips once more became animated and he spoke with the commanding voice of Elvira Foehammer.
“Martin, you were always such a good boy for mama. Martin, what happened? As if running off with that beatnik Lighthouse wasn’t enough of a blow to your poor mother’s righteous pride.They tell me now you have taken up a life of deviance, full of hedonistic indulgences of such vulgarity that I refuse to give voice to such perversions. Marty, my dear, dear little Marty… come home to mama.”
“Mother, puh-LEEES! Can’t you see I’m winning?” said Malus, looking quite bewildered by this unexpected turn of events. Suddenly he staggered nearly losing his balance. “What’s happening?” he asked to no one in particular. He staggered again and barely managed to remain on his feet. Suddenly he understood. He glanced at the cut along his side.
You!” he wheeled around and pointed an unsteady finger at Lapis. “You did this!” his sword dropped from his hand. He turned again and staggered back towards the steps of the ziggurat only to stumble again. He would have fallen had he not chanced to grab a torch, planted at he base of the steps, for support. He appeared to watch the torch for a moment, flickering wildly as the flame caught the air’s eddies. Pulling it from the ground he then staggered back to where Lapis lay.
He hesitated as he heard Junie Ginsburg say. “They would have slain you Malus had you won.”
Lapis did not waste the moment of Malus’s distraction. Swinging his leg, he caught him just behind the knee. Malus’s dropped to his knees. He glared at Lapis as he struggled once more to rise. But it was futile. He went down on his face in the dirt. He made one last effort to rise when Lapis rolled on top of him, grabbed him by the pony tail and slammed his head into the ground. The crowd silenced instantly. “Your proof has a big fat hole, Squire.” said Lapis as he looked down at the still body of his former student.
“Cor!” Gadget exclaimed, as shocked as anyone by the turn of events. “I think Mister Brother just killed Squire Brother.”
The next series of events unfolded very quickly.
“Look,” pointed Gadget, “There’s that nasty bugger wot got me with the soap.” Gadget jumped down from the shoulders of the soldier who’d been his perch and ran across the field to join Emerson and Junie. The large islander was shouting to the people who responded with joyous cheers.
“What do you think he said?” asked Junie.
The Queen’s Guard who had been supporting Gadget had joined them. “I am familiar with their tongue.” he said. “That big man is the former chief of these people. He said: ‘All ye bare witness. The Great God of the North has defeated the false god, known to us as The Malus. In truth, The Malus was the Fire Wielding Demon of the South come to beguile us. All praise the true god whose blood shall bring our people prosperity.’”
“Well this is an unexpected turn of events.” said Emerson. They watched as the former tribal chief, along with two of his brethren, grabbed a struggling Lapis. holding him securely they started dragging him up the steps of the ziggurat, to the Temple of the North and its sacrificial altar.