Xeno didn’t get Ben. One minute he’s a fancyrobes ladies’ man, the next; he’s got himself involved in the action. Xeno’s action.
Admittedly, the action hadn’t been all he’d hoped. Gah, this time crap was horrible: No time to get anything going, no time for a gnome to find his feet and really get down to the business of acquiring interesting trinkets, making savvy real-estate investments and hurting people who annoy or inconvenience him. Instead, he’d been dropped into one mess after another, losing the cube, missing a prime opportunity to blow Fundus to smithereens and all the time in the back of his head, increasing concern about Object and the Cargo.
Now Ben had yanked him into a gray netherland, with some sort of bullshit about the shoes of time being on the wrong feet. And of course, Xeno was going to have to be the lace gnome. “Blah blah blah…easy way or hard way,” someone said. It was a little hard to concentrate with the world going all gray and funny around the edges like that—a new healer was No. 1 with a bolt, as far as Xeno was concerned, although he’d had some ideas about trapping a quality healing spell in a disposable object, much like an explosive rune; for some reason, his thoughts had uncharacteristically been turning to healing quite a bit lately—and there was a sort of ringing in his ears, not to mention the common, persistent scent of burning hair, but he picked up enough to say “Easy way!” Not that it mattered. Apparently, they were heading toward the orb that contained that freaking temple in a time-like bubble, anyway. “Toward the temple? Are you insane?” Xeno asked. “Don’t worry,” said Ben. “We’re not actually going in, we’re just taking a look.”
He almost sounded like he actually believed that, thought Xeno. He looked around; amazingly, even Xoe was heading that way. Really? The rest of these stiffs I can buy, but she’s not…she is! I forget—she has this irrational liking for Ben. I wonder if he digs the short chicks…That line of thought was interrupted, however, as what had just a moment ago seemed like an innocuous little marrowbonejellybean of doom suddenly swelled into something enormous and foul. By Nebelun’s Bag, he thought. That can’t be good! And that stupid ringing in my ears isn’t going away.
“Does anyone else hear that?” he asked. Ben whirled around. “What do you hear?” he asked. “There’s a new kind of ringing noise,” said Xeno. “Kind of like when you get a cauldron stuck on your head? And then some idiot, who shall remain nameless, Saladin, gets the bright idea to bang on it with a mallet? Like that.” As he spoke, he noticed Ben’s eyes growing even wider than usual, and he seemed to be getting…smaller. No, that wasn’t right—he was running away. ‘First smart thing he’s done in a while, thought Xeno. I can run, and “from” is good. “To” usually takes care of itself.
“Timestorm!” cried Ben, as a gray sheet materialized in the distance, and began sweeping closer. “Run for it!” The looming side of the Temple’s enclosure was soon paralleled by a crag of sorts, and as they fled into the narrow passage, the gray sleet resolved itself into a downpour of…numerals? That can’t be right, thought Xeno.Still, better out than in. Then, pelting along the canyon, he heard Xoe yell a warning: “Hit the deck, Ben!” Ben obliged, but was struck by what Xeno recognized as a cogwheel. Hey, I could use one of those, he thought, but was disappointed to see it vanish, as Ben, motionless, was enveloped by a golden glow. Whirling around, Xeno was confounded by the sight of what appeared to be a clockwork golem atop the crag, seemingly preparing to deliver another gear from a process developing in its arm. Now that’s what I’m talking about! he thought. I have GOTS to get me one of those. Oh well; now that he’d seen it, he was sure he could put some drawings together later. In the meantime, it was as usual up to Xeno to save the day. And if I know how to do anything, it’s how to fuck up machinery.
Dropping ever so slightly to one knee, he invoked an ioun stone, thinking, Now would not be a good time for butterflies. It wasn’t.
“Ha! Taste the freezing wrath of Xeno!” he shouted, as a terrible cone of energy streamed out from his extended hand. Immediately, the spinning mechanisms of the weird figure started creaking and grinding slowly, as its movements became jerky and uncertain. Slowly, it began to slide toward the edge of the now-slick surface toward the edge of the crag. Xeno was still trying to figure out how to ascend to deliver the coup de grace when a large shape surged into the air next to him. “Super Grow Power!” It was Takemiya, and for once he wasn’t in the mood for polite discussion. With one mighty jerk, he grabbed the sliding being and dashed him toward…Xeno?
Sure. You couldn’t punch him? Swat him like a bug? Just freaking grab him? All you had to do was finish him off but noooo, you had to throw him into the middle of…” Xeno didn’t get to finish the thought. The being exploded into a million fragments on contact with the ground, one of those turning itself into a gnome-seeking missile. Huh, that’s about a No. 4 eccent... URK!
Xeno’s fading vision showed the world turning sideways, as another flying piece of the mechanism tore itself into the side of the Temple enclosure like an attack sausage. He was immediately sucked through. “I TOLD you idiots this would happen!” he screamed as the world went black. “Why does no one ever listen to meeeee…..?”
Waking up was not much more fun than blacking out. While Xeno didn’t exactly know where he was, soup to nuts it was that fucking temple again. Xoe and Iryien were next to him, but the rest of the vast amphitheatre in which he found himself seemed to be filled with a large variety of familiar and half familiar figures, all in some stage of fight or flight. Sounds good to me, he thought. And as after today he was no longer alright for fighting, time to make with the skedaddling. To the left—three nubile, but clearly combative advancing figures. Behind…ah. Another Iryien and a dragon. Ooookay then. Right side it is.
Bounding gazelle-like through the heaving sea of bodies, Xeno was at the open passage before his shadow knew he was gone. Turning the corner, he heard a strange ripping sound, and glanced over his shoulder to see what appeared to be himself, Xoe and another figure emerging from the wall. Yeah…no, he thought, and accelerated down the hall. The “to” will take care of itself.
As the veil parted, Xeno realized that they could finally put this evil to rest. The False Ones—there they were arrayed before him, like so many canapés. The only question: Which one to eat first? Well, family first, mother always said. With one bound, he was at the False Xoe’s throat. “I am totally going to enjoy this, sis,” he snarled, fangs flashing toward her dainty little carotid artery. Is that right? he wondered, as the rich, unlife-giving fluid poured into him. I could never keep them straight. Let’s see…it’s “cut the carotid, jack the jugular,” right? But what does that mean?
Waking up was not much more fun than blacking out. There was a familiar sense of his head banging against a solid object, and then he was on his feet. This time, the world wasn’t gray—it was distinctly red. And while Xeno didn’t exactly know where he was, soup to nuts it was that fucking temple again. There was giant Takemiya, there was Xoe…bleeding from a cut on her forehead? There was Kobayashi standing next to him, there was…also Takemiya?
Oh, hells no.
Sometimes, a gnome has to take a stand, such as it is. For too long, Xeno had been the universe’s punching bag. It was clear that the Biggies’ gods didn’t give a crap about anyone under four feet tall. He could live with obscurity; that was fine, that suited his very particular needs well, in fact. But when someone else’s deities appeared to take an active, malevolent interest in him, when the Multiverse went out of its way to make life unpleasant? Well, it was time to learn that Xeno wasn’t from around these parts.
The red closed in.
It was no longer Kobayashi standing next to him—that was freaking Pomegranate Shen. “Why can’t you people stay dead when I kill you?” Xeno shrieked, suddenly appearing level with and closing fast on Kobayshi’s forehead. And that giant, pasty thing over there? That was his old Master. “Unnatural? Unnatural? You wouldn’t even be alive now if it wasn’t for my unnatural ways!” So what if he was forty feet tall? That just leaves that much more forehead exposed, and apparently, makes a much more satisfying crunch when it falls.
But that, that was definitely Takemiya. “You’ve got this one coming!” screamed the enraged gnome, covering the distance before the monk had a chance to react. “All you had to was finish it off!”
Looking around wildly at the head of a trail of dazed and bleeding bodies, Xeno didn’t see anyone else he recognized, but really, at this point one erect body was as good as any other. And there were three, three he didn’t know, which meant they probably came with the temple, which meant they had to go downtown.
Two did, quickly, but the third took advantage of her comrade’s fall to grab Xeno in a leglock about the neck. In other circumstances, he might well have come up with a more entertaining means of egress—or not—but not today. Unluckily for the acolyte, Xeno’s arms were on the same side of her legs as the rest of his body and thus, short swords. The first one she stopped, but the second hit something. Xeno didn’t stop to wonder what and as soon as her grip loosened, he was past her heading into the hall and sweet, sweet freedom.
SNAP. The lights went out, and came back on almost instantaneously. What fresh new horror is this, Xeno wondered, as a fresh new horror stepped out in front of him, a clearly undead, partially eviscerated female figure lurching toward him with GBH on it’s mind. It’s not a good day to die, but what are you gonna do? he thought, and prepared to send a storm of acid arrows on their dread way.
SNAP. The lights went out. Barely checking his wand in mid-deployment, Xeno then found himself side by side with his compatriots—all of them, including a disheveled Longbottom, facing a complimentary row of large, colorfully ornamented skulls. “Why have you come to our temple?” one intoned.
“We didn’t exactly come,” Xeno said. “It was more of a kidnapping, style of thing. Of us, I mean. We were trying to locate one of our companions, who I see we’ve now found, so if it’s all the same with you, we’ll be on our way now.”
“There will be a testing, first,” stated another skull. Are you kidding me? thought Xeno. I’m feeling pretty damn tested already, as he surreptitiously began preparing his favorite prying-the-eyeballs-from-skulls dagger.
“Do you know where you are?” asked a skull?
“I don’t know, and I don’t particularly care,” Xeno answered. I think I can make it in one jump. If Saladin follows my lead—and knowing Saladin, he will—he can take those two while I gouge the whateverthehellstheyare from the eye sockets of mine, and that just leaves one for Xoe and the rest to handle.