Tuesday whistled appreciatively. "Ho-leee shit."
"I'm inclined to agree." Dan said, looking up at the citadel towering above their heads as he ambled down the loading dock.
The obsidian tower was a mess of spikes and spirals, reaching up to the sky and piercing the eternally grey clouds above. The base of the citadel seemed to stretch over the entirety of the faraway dwarf planet that laid just outside of the solar system Morteria was located in, dark roots digging deep into the grey-brown ground below, making it impossible for any other life to exist there.
It was a place that simply screamed 'EVIL LURKS HERE' at ear-piercing volume.
"Well, I'll say one thing about Nox," Andromache remarked as she exited the ship, her form graceful as always as she landed on the ground. "He takes the 'Lord of Chaos' thing and runs with it, doesn't really beat around the bush. I can respect that."
"You remember that you're complimenting the guy who kidnapped my betrothed and your best friend, right?" Thatcher snarked as he departed the ship with all the elegance of a young elephant, his steps loud and uncoordinated as his feet touched the ground.
"I said that I liked his style. Completely different from actually liking the man."
The prince regent rolled his eyes. "If you say so."
Andromache simply chuckled, pulling out her sword as Awesome stumbled down the metallic walkway, groaning as he arched and stretched his back out.
"Have a nice nap, boss?" Dan asked with clear amusement, Tuesday snickering next to him.
The captain glared at him. "Remind me again again what you promised me in exchange for me not firing you or keeping your share?"
The Taurisian rolled his eyes, reaching down and opening his knapsack, pulling out a garish yellow-and-green knitted cap with two long ends that had yarn balls hanging off of it, putting it on his head without missing a beat.
"... Wow. That's, that's um, quite a hat, Dan." Sylvia stated as she walked off the ship, clearly barely holding back laughter.
Corsair snickered. "Yeah. Man wears a hat like that, people know he's not afraid of anything."
"Damn straight." Sylvia managed to say before busting out laughing, Corsair joining her soon after. Even Thatcher couldn't help but chuckle a bit at just how ridiculous the muscular alien looked in the hideous hat.
Dan simply rolled his eyes. "Go ahead, yuk it up. I'd rather keep my job and my share."
After a little while, the laughter died down, Awesome clearing his throat as he walked over and turned to face all of them.
"Alright, then. Now, we'll cover more ground if we split into teams, so Tuesday and Dan, you take to the west. Sylvia and Bones can take the east, and Her Majesty, myself, and Revolutionary Girl Cortana here will take the top floors. We clear?"
Before anyone could answer, Awesome had pulled out a communicator and started talking into it. "Cash, I want you to listen to me very carefully. If we aren't out in two hours, I want you to get Lia, break into Dan's weapons bunker-"
"Find the biggest, most destructive guns you can carry, and come rescue our sorry asses, do you understand?"
"Loud and clear, Cap."
"Good. And no toys, you hear me?"
"They aren't toys!"
"Do I look like I give a shit?"
There was a short pause from the other pirate. "Sir, I can't see you from where I am. I have no idea if you look like you give a shit or not."
The captain rolled his eyes. "You know what I mean. Awesome out."
He put the comm away, looking back at the group. "Alright. Let's go best the shit out of the Demon King, shall we?"
Though there was some discontented grumbling (mostly from the king-to-be and the captain of the guard), the party seemed to be in agreement, all of them following the captain as he lead them towards the citadel.
Suddenly, a terrified scream came out of the ship, the whole group turning to look as two small figures ran out.
"I'm sorry! I'm sorry, please don't kill meeeee!"
"Che divolo stai facindo sulle mia navi si strena creaturo bulbo oculari?!" Lia yelled as she chased the other around, clutching a wrench in her hand.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa!" Awesome cried as he grabbed his ward, holding her off the ground while she swung her legs erratically. "Lia, cosa sta succediendo?"
"Che cosa è un clandistino! Ho trovoto nascasto nel veno motori!"
"I'm sorry! I just wanted to help!" The other person, terror in their voice as they hid behind the captain.
Awesome frowned, turning around to look at the stowaway. "The fuck are you?"
The Watchdog quickly saluted, still shaking with fear. "P-P-P-Private W-Westley Fauchelevent, sir!"
"WESTLEY?!" Thatcher and Tuesday exclaimed, staring in shock at the tiny monocular alien.
"You know this guy?"
"He's Peepers' trainee!"
Awesome pursed his lips for a moment, trading Lia for the intruder, whom he picked up by the back of the collar of his jacket and studied carefully.
"Seriously? That old man decided to train this sorry-looking runt?"
"I can hear you, you know!" Westley stated indignantly.
"His dad is Peepers' boss." Thatcher explained.
"Ah. That makes a lot more sense." Awesome said as he dropped the tiny Watchdog, who landed on his backside with a grunt of pain. He turned to Lia, his hands on his hips.
"Lia, getturlo in cella por me, sarà vera? Non può averi une passevità come lui su quisto."
The young engineer rolled her eyes. "Non possimo uccidorlo? E 'fastidiso."
"No, non uccidore nessuno. Non simo pagiti pir uccidorlo."
"Non simo pagiti per tenorlo in vita, sea!" The girl narrowed her eyes. "Sei solo tenorlo in vita perché avite un debale por il suo capo?"
The captain flushed a bright crimson. "N... Non ho une cosa por il suo capo!" He insisted, folding his arms indignantly.
The young engineer rolled her eyes again, walking over and grabbing Westley by the arm. "Cierto che non lo fenno." She said as she started dragging the monocular alien towards the ship.
"H-Hey! Hey, wait a second, stop!" The Watchdog protested as he struggled to escape from the girl's grasp, finally freeing himself after a moment and running over to the captain. "I'm coming too!"
"Wh- Westley!" Tuesday chastised, running over to the Watchdog. "Westley, no, it's too dangerous!"
"I have to! The Captain is the only person I've met who doesn't think I'm beyond help!"
"... Seriously?" Awesome asked.
Westley glared at him. "Look, man, I don't know what your problem with my boss is-!"
"Oh, I can tell you that one. They have history."
The small Watchdog blinked. "Ancient, modern or sexual?"
"All three, it seems."
"WHY DOES EVERYONE KEEP BRINGING THAT UP?!"
"Because you're a pompous asshole." Thatcher responded, a smug smirk on his face.
"Shut up, Bones."
"You shut up! And don't call me Bones!"
"Regardless!" Westley yelled, bring attention back to himself. "It doesn't matter to me what you think of him! He's the only person who's ever believed in me this much, and I know that he'd do the same for me if the positions were reversed."
Tuesday, Thatcher and Andromache all shared a look.
"... Yeah, no."
"He'd leave you for dead."
Awesome chuckled while Westley fumed. "Glad we all know Old One-Eye so well."
"W-Well, I am not him! Even if he wouldn't do the same for me, I'm still going to save him!" He folded his arms stubbornly. "I'm going, and that's that!"
For a moment, everyone was silent, tension hanging in the air like a thick fog.
"Ore lo passo uccidorlo?" Lia asked after a minute, raising her wrench.
Andromache rolled her eyes, sighing. "Fine. It's clear we're not going to change your mind on this matter, Private, so..." She pointed at her daughter and Dan. "You can tag along with them."
"Aw, Mom! Why do we have to take him?" Tuesday complained.
"Because I know you two are better equipped to handle it if anything goes wrong, including any situation where you have to rescue his sorry tush." She smirked. "Besides, his presence will help keep you focused on the task at hand, rather than each other."
Both the princess and the pirate blushed furiously.
"Wh- MOM! I-It's not like that!" Tuesday insisted, her face bright red with anger and embarrassment.
"Oh, darling, don't think I haven't noticed the blooms you and Wander have been cultivating in that garden of yours are all native to Tauris."
Andromache laughed, and Thatcher once again tried not to notice how Dan perked up at the mention of the flowers.
"What happened after that?"
Gaia waved her hand, but this time the screen went dark, as if someone had turned it off like a television.
"What in the seven nebulae...?" Gaia wondered aloud, waving her hand again and again, but getting no response.
"What's wrong?" Wander asked.
"I... I don't know, this has never happened before!"
Suddenly, a menacing cackle reverberated throughout the room, the shadows on the walls dancing as the floor started to melt away.
"So sorry, my dear lady, but I'm afraid that I'm going to have to interrupt our regularly scheduled broadcast. You understand, don't you?"
"Y... You-! How did you-?!" The goddess cried, stumbling back as the floor around her recede, Peepers and Wander moving close to her.
"Ah-ah, ma'am. A good magician never reveals his secrets."
"Wh-?!" Gaia suddenly screamed in pain, the darkness swallowing her up and dragging her down until she disappeared into the abyss below.
"Gaia!" Wander cried, running over to where she had disappeared and finding nothing but what seemed to be solid ground.
"Oh, don't worry about her, she'll be fine." The smooth yet unnerving voice that seemed to be both everywhere and nowhere all at once assured them.
Suddenly, two bright lights shone on Wander and Peepers respectively, focused directly on them like two hot spotlights.
"I'm afraid I've been rather rude to you, little prince." The voice said, a sickly sweet tone in it. "But really, this is nowhere for us to get acquainted!"
Something grabbed Wander, covering his eyes and clutching his arms and legs tightly. When he tried to scream, he found that his mouth had been covered as well.
"How about you two wake up so that we can be properly introduced, huh?"
Wander woke with a gasp, jolting into a sitting position. His brow was cover in sweat, his heart beating a mile a minute, and the sleeves and bottom of his robe had been torn and had what looked to be scorch marks in places. His hair had long since been freed from the fancy style that the hairdresser had put it in, the braid loose and just barely keeping together as it swung behind Wander.
The prince looked over at Peepers, who was dead to the world, completely and totally unconcious as he laid on the cold, hard stone floor.
"Peepers!" Wander whispered urgently, running over and gently shaking the snoring Watchdog. "Peepers, wake up!"
"Mm... Gunter, ist es aufhöron zu spielin mit meinem Zauber nicht gud für junga Pinguina..." The captain muttered, turning onto his side.
"Wh-? Who the heck is Gunter?" Wander wondered aloud before shaking his head. "Oh, I'll worry about that later!" He shook the Watchdog again, this time a little less gently. "Captain, wake up!"
"Ja, Magnum, würdi ich gerna die Süßigkeit Britannin mit übernehman Sie..." Peepers responded, giggling and rolling onto his stomach.
Wander paused for a moment, then rolled his eyes, groaning in frustration.
"Sorry about this, Peepers!" He whispered as he raised his fist, hesitating momentarily before striking the Watchdog on the back.
"Gah! Geschäftsleate stohl meine Prinzessin orca und meine Hose!" Peepers cried as he awoke suddenly, lifting his head up with a panicked look on his face. He blinked, looking around the cell that he and Wander were in with confusion.
"What the... this isn't the Candy Kingdom!" He exclaimed, sitting up.
Outside the cell, someone chuckled. "Quite right, dear Captain. Farthest thing from it, I'm afraid."
The prince and the captain watched as a man came out of the shadows, Nox flicking his tail and grinning a sharp-toothed and unsettling grin at them.
"Allow me to introduce myself properly, Prince Wander. I am Nox, King of Demons, Lord of Chaos, Maker of Deals, et cetera et cetera. Sorry we had to meet under such circumstances, but I'm afraid I didn't have any other choice."
Wander stood up, never breaking eye contact with the Demon King. "What do you want with me?"
"With you? Not much." Nox said with a chuckle, pulling one of his starched white gloves off and walking over to the cell. "You see, you two have the Seal of Gaia on you, so..." The demon king reached out to touch them, stumbling back when his hand collided with what looked like a shield of green light. "Even if I wanted to, I can't touch you." He nodded at Peepers. "You, by the way, are now free, as I am sure Gaia has told you."
"That's... That's right!" Peepers cried proudly, standing up and puffing out his chest. "How do you like them apples, demon?"
Nox chuckled lowly, turning and putting his glove back on. "Truth be told, I've never been all that fond of apples. I prefer pears myself. But regardless, it's of no consequence to me whether I can use you or not. You're good with a sword, I'll admit, but I find you annoying. I'm rather glad to be rid of you. Besides..." He started as he turned to face them. "Even if I can't use you as my puppet, I can still use you as bait. Just like little Wander here."
"... Wh... What?" Wander asked, completely baffled.
The Demon King laughed loudly, the shadows on the walls shrieking with delight along with him.
"Oh, don't tell me you haven't figured it out yet, little prince!" Nox said, wiping tears of mirth from his eye. "It's obvious just how much he loves you! Of course you're the perfect little hostage to lure the dear king-to-be here!"
Wander's eyes widened. "Th... Thatcher?! What... what do you want with him?"
Nox smirked at him. "Dear boy, has no one told you where I get my power from? I'll tell you now: It's from darkness. And not just any darkness; no, I'm talking about the darkness in the hearts and souls of you mortal creatures. War, hatred, grief, all of the worst things in life are what give me power!" He grinned, snapping his fingers and bringing up a picture of Thatcher and Tuesday's father. "And this guy! He sucked. Seriously, even by my standards this guy was an asshole. Shitty king, shitty dad, shitty husband, just all around shitty. And... well, you've seen what the Rebel Queen tried to do." He licked his lips. "Best damn meal I've had since the Holy Wars."
Wander recoiled. "B... But you killed him! Peepers made a deal!"
"Yes, he did. I believe the asshole's death may have been some of my greatest work." He shrugged. "Even if it did lead to a little less unrest, putting a woman of the people on the throne." He grinned, snapping again and showing a picture of Thatcher, alive. "But I'm nothing if not patient. I waited for three years, watching and preparing for the day of your intended's coronation."
The Demon King snapped his fingers, and a chessboard appeared, and from the look of things the black pieces were winning. With a grin, Nox picked up the white queen, examining it. "Taking a beloved queen off the throne, one known and respected by the citizens of the empire, and in her place putting an inexperienced, unknown, and emotionally unstable little boy in charge?"
He looked down at the chessboard, smirking as he flicked the white king so that it fell over. "They'd go to war in no time at all. It wouldn't be long before a new era of darkness and despair would be ushered in, and I had no doubt that it would be the most heavenly- so to speak- meal I've had in ages."
He frowned, tossing the white queen over his shoulder and snapping his fingers to make the chessboard disappear. "Of course, then that little mess with the little boy's powers happened."
He sighed, forming smoke-like gray wisps into the silhouettes of Brad, Thatcher, and Tuesday. "That little knight- Starshine or whatever- nearly took care of the whole mess," The tiny Brad ran towards Thatcher, his sword raised. "The idiot truly believed he loved Tuesday, by the way; he just didn't see any room for a cursed brother in his fairytale." The tiny Tuesday ran over, grabbing the sword and knocking Brad out with a punch to the jaw. "So, with him out of commission," more figures surrounded Thatcher and Tuesday, tall and menacing. "I had to take matters into my own hands."
One of the taller figures raised his sword, moving to stab Thatcher. "But one little girl got in my way." The tiny Tuesday ran between them just as the tall figure was about to run Thatcher through, the sword piercing her chest.
The Demon King waved his hands, dispelling the smoke. With a snap of his fingers, there was a new image, one of Nox hovering over the younger Thatcher holding his sister in his arms, tears running down his face as he signed a golden, glowing contract. "But I got what I wanted in the end. The boy was so desperate to save her, to save his sweet little sister, that he signed his soul over to me in exchange for me bringing her back." The image faded away. "I'll spare you the gory details, but I'll tell you this- extracting a soul involves very powerful magic, sorcery that burns the skin and innards of a person away, leaving behind only-"
"A skeleton." Wander whispered, his hand flying to his mouth. "That's... that's what happened to him, isn't it?"
Nox grinned. "Yes, indeed. Sweet, stupid boy. Couldn't be more unlike his father." He sighed. "Unfortunately, what I didn't count on was the goody-good little earth goddess intervening. See, apparently someone- Jackson." Nox growled as he looked over at the wall, where a shadow seemed to recede with shame. "Didn't put in a clause about life magic in the contract. So the little king got resurrected, the little princess lived thanks to that little loophole about interference from a third party, and I got stiffed."
He grinned. "But... thanks to you, little prince, that's all about to change. The moron's already on his way to find you, and when he does..." Nox chuckled. "Well, then, I'll just lock him up too!"
"W... Why?! How could you possibly have anything to gain from it?! Gaia rendered the contract useless to you! Killing him won't help you!"
"Oh, I don't plan to kill him. In fact, he's bait too, for a much larger fish."
"... I... I don't understand."
Nox frowned, then grinned. "Oh, she didn't tell you, did she?"
"Tell me what?"
Nox laughed loudly. "Oh, dear boy, haven't you ever noticed? Whenever your intended is upset, don't you hear the thunder, see the lightning, feel the rain on your... fur? Gaia's not the only one looking after the bloodline, you know!"
Wander's eyes widened. "You... you don't mean-?!"
"Oh, but I do. The great King of The Skies and Storms himself." He grinned. "My dear, sweet, goody-goody brother, Ouranos."
"My, she really left out a lot of details, didn't she? Although, I suppose I'm not surprised. She really doesn't have time to explain everything."
"What do you mean?"
"Isn't it obvious? She's dying. Every day she grows weaker as more and more of her precious nature disappears." He grinned, waving his hand so that an odd-looking scepter would appear out of thin air. In the center were three gems, one dark as the void of space, another a dark, empty blue, and a third, grass-green gem, one that flickered at an uneven pace. "Soon, she'll simply fade away, and I'll be free to harvest her energy." He tapped the blue gem. "The only thing left to do after that will be to take my brother's power..."
"Why?! Why are you doing this?!"
"Weren't you listening? Once I've got your intended, his dear old ridiculous-amount-of-greats granddad will come rescue him, the sap! And then I'll finally have what I want: All the power in the galaxy. The scepter, the crown, the throne, all mine alone! The whole damn works!" He grinned. "But do you know what I want most of all? I want that brother of mine pinned and wriggling in my grasp!"
With a laugh, Nox made the scepter disappear. "I'm telling you, boys, the good times are coming back!" He glanced over at his prisoners. "Well. Maybe not for you."
"You'll never get away with this!" Peepers cried.
"Oh, captain, don't you see? I already have."
With that, the Demon King pulled out a whistle, putting his lips to it and blowing, the pitch so high that neither Wander nor Peepers could hear it.
For a moment, nothing happened, the room silent and still. Then, out of nowhere, a strange, black, spider-like creature dropped onto Nox's head, making the demon shriek with shock.
"What the-?! Get off of me!" He yelled as he pried the hellbeast off, throwing him to the ground. "Bad Tim, bad!"
In their cell, Wander and Peepers burst out laughing, delighted by how suddenly their captor had become unnerved.
Nox fumed, glaring at the creature he'd thrown off of him. "Stupid hellbeast! You made me look bad!"
The Demon King turned away, then whirled around, his face contorted into that of a nightmarish beast. "OOGA BOOGA BOOGA!"
The hellbeast let out a terrified whine, scampering over to the cells of the bar and pressing against them, quaking with fear.
Nox glared at him as his face returned to normal. "And what have I told you about that spider form? It's not scary, it's just disgusting! Change into your hound form, now!"
Tim let out a sad whine, but did as his master commanded, turning into a huge, pitch-black monster of a hound with blood-red eyes and razor-sharp fangs.
"That's better. Now, you be a good mongrel and guard these two. If you do a good job, I might let you have steak!"
The hound sat up, barking happily.
"No! Bad dog! No happiness!"
The hound let out another sad whine, turning around to face the prisoners as his master left.
"After all, what place does happiness have here?"