Gentle reader (if you'd care to drop the pitchforks and torches, hehe), to avoid some degree of confusion, I thought I'd lay it out clearly. This is a Non-Con Fic (DUNDUNDUNN!), meaning- a Non-Continuity Fic (even greater DUNDUNDUNN!). Each chapter or Slice is an individual story about our lovable monster hunter and friar, and (hopefully) some colorful behind-the-scenes personalities involved in the Order and their missions. As the title and chapter labels say, it's a "Slice of Life" thing. (winks)

Rasinah: Thank you so much! This chapter is pretty much Carl- centric, but chapter 3 will show more of Van Helsing (promise! ). There's a guest monster here that's familiar to Baldur' s Gate2 addicts such as myself, but I hope I'll be able to describe the creature clearly this time.

Random-Battlecry: Thanks, fellow Fazgul! Hehe. Nothing can ever take the place of "Standards" (so aptly titled for its sheer genius). My little ficcie is but a humble tribute unto it. And Yay(!) for this "Slice" is full of Carl! XP

Alli Kat: Thank you, thank you, thank you! D Glad to have made thee laugh much. D Your wish is mine to dole out! Say, dare we expect an update for Green Eyed Monster soon? D

SilverFlover: Thank you very much! D What we lack in numbers, we make up for it with the magnitude of our Inanity (winks at Random-Battlecry).

Sariyuki: Haha! Thank you very, very much! Evil cannot remain shackled for long! I agree that Van Helsing was Evil(!) in the First Slice. He must be punished! (snickers) Remember the "Friar's Underwear" question? I hope this "Slice" gives a bit of enlightenment for thee later on.

A Wee Little List of Things I Don't Lay Claim To Here:

1.Anything/one that looks like it's/they're from Van Helsing

2.Anything/one that looks like it's/they're from Baldur' s Gate 2- Shadows of Amn (Beholder & idea for the story)

3.David Wenham (sighs… Life is Cruel…)

Have fun! Chew first before you swallow. ;

A Splice of Life

Second Slice- The Semantics of Contracts (part 1 of 3)

As worded by: Nikoru Sanzo

If Carl had unwittingly found his way into the Holy See' s wine cellars, unwittingly emptied an eighth of a barrel of the Cardinal's finest wine, and perhaps, even unwittingly stumbled into the apothecary's lab and unwittingly munched on some vision- inducing herbs, then he would've found the wits to blink and giggle at the strange sight that now floated before him.

But Carl was very much sober and the ten eyes that blinked and the three-foot, fang- filled maw that giggled at him effectively chased away any wit that could've prompted him to make a decent anecdote out of this particular encounter.

Trapped in a small and rocky valley, miles from any form of help, the friar gulped and strained his back against the wall of limestone. Even as he struggled to mumble a string of previously- forgotten prayers to every saint in heaven, he took note with undisguised awe the form of the rare and terrible Beholder monster.

The creature was bereft of a body but frighteningly blessed with a huge floating head crowned by ten eyes attached to their respective arm- length stalks. Upon its face rested a single eye twice the size of a man's head and a large mouth that showcased rows of fangs whose properties Carl did well not to imagine in great detail. Especially if all he had was a tiny vial of useless holy water and a little chicken tucked under his arm.

The monster had no arms and legs, but what could be gleaned from the Order's libraries told him that the Beholder could cast a host of nasty defensive and offensive spells. Tales had been told of this creature, so powerful that not a single adventurer who dared to cross its path has ever returned to tell of the battle.

Then where the bloody hell did the stories come from in the first place?

The momentary questioning frown that broke the mask of fear on Carl's face seemed to snap the Beholder from its own observation of the human. The creature hovered closer and thrust forward five of its tentacle eyes inches away from Carl's.

"Would you care to humor me, little human? Can you provide a reason for me not to fry you, melt you, disintegrate you, turn you into stone, or perhaps transmogrify you into a frog?" Each of the five eyes blinked as their tentacles wriggled hideously at the mention of each choice of punishment.

A half- smothered eep managed to escape the friar's lips. Carl smiled anxiously as he pitched his words and a silent prayer.

"D-didn't your granny ever t-tell you that it's rude to t-torture visitors before you've had the ch- chance to ask them why they've dropped by? F-for all you know, my friend here (Carl held up the little chicken) and I could've just been passing by and fell into this big hole and-"

His words were interrupted for the Beholder threw back its head and laughed. But as sudden as the display of mirth was, the creature quickly turned serious again.

"Do not take me for a fool, little human. I did not spend three centuries in this infernal gorge just to entertain pests who feign ignorance of the Great Artifact over which I stand guard!"

"You mean overwhich you hover guard," Carl corrected him.

"What?"

"Hover… float… drift… glide… flit around… You obviously lack the use of legs and so I'm inclined to point out that the term standing guard hardly suits you, "Carl replied as he made sweeping gestures with his free arm and flicked his fingers.

The Beholder growled and moved closer. Carl squeaked, "I- I m-meant that as a c-compliment!"

"Oh!" the creature exclaimed. It floated a few steps back and smiled, its dreadful fangs peeking through its fleshy lips. "I suppose standing should be attributed to your feeble kind. Hovering, indeed! Come to think of it, that's all I've been doing down here!"

Carl pulled the chicken close to his chest. His little companion clucked in seeming protest but Carl shushed it. He tried hard to keep his voice from shaking, lest a show of fear remind the monster what they had previously been discussing.

"Pretty lonely here, don't you think?"

The Beholder sighed. "I would say! The first hundred years, I amused myself with frying the rats and snakes that scurried around me. When cooking these little moving targets ceased to be entertaining, I resorted to the occasional vulture and scorpions. Now I only have the rocks to tell tales with."

The friar looked around with an approving air. "So that's why it's er, clean here! None of those offending droppings to litter the floor, yes?"

When the creature didn't answer, Carl boldly took a few steps forward and prayed that his robes hid the uncontrollable shaking of his knees. "And the next two hundred years? Did you find a suitable er- form of entertainment then?"

The Beholder tilted slightly to its left. "Well, I played Pretend-I-Didn't-Notice-The-Hapless-Adventurers-Dropping-By-Until-They-Came-Too-Close, but hapless adventurers are a rarity. They only come here every fifty years or so, seeking buried treasure or the Great Artifact."

Carl sat down on a rock and stroked the chicken's wing. "Then what do you do when there aren't any," he gulped nervously, " hapless adventurers to torment?"

"I put up a little puppet show with my tentacle eyes." The monster wriggled two of its lesser eyes and raised the pitch of its voice just for effects. "Hullo, Mr. Eye! Hullo Mrs. Eye! You are looking fine today, Mrs. Eye! You are the prettiest and handsomest little eye I ever did see! Why, thank you, Mr. Eye! Same to you too!" The Beholder giggled, pleased with itself.

Carl made a wry face.

Splendid! Not only do we have a chatty Beholder who takes pleasure in torturing living creatures, but also it has to have a sick sense of humor. Or lack thereof.

"Would you wish see my tentacle eyes act out the Battle of Salamis? The drowning Greek and Persian soldiers were a tricky but nice touch. How about The Crossing of the Red Sea?"

Carl pleaded, "N-No thanks. I'm sure it would've been er- profoundly inspiring."

The Beholder pouted. "Hmph! That is all you selfish, greedy fortune hunters want! Just a piece of the treasure and whatever your grubby little paws can grab! You cannot even spare a little quality time for the poor and lonely guardian!"

It was Carl's turn to be indignant. He got up, causing his little chicken friend in his arm to flap his wings and squawk. "Now just a minute here, Mr. Beholder! We are no selfish, greedy fortune hunters! We are under the service of the Holy Order to secure the Great Artifact hidden here by a malevolent wizard who defied the Vatican three hundred years ago and see to it that the relic doesn't fall into the wrong hands!"

With a sharp intake of breath, the friar quickly clamped his own mouth shut, but it was too late. He closed his eyes and waited for the inevitable even as he covered the chicken's head with his hand.

An eternity passed by, but nothing happened.

Slowly, Carl opened his eyes and he took a deep sigh of relief to find that they weren't standing before St. Peter and the Pearly Gates yet. Unfortunately, he and his little chicken friend were still standing before the Beholder.

Surprisingly, the monster only shot him a scornful look. It floated towards a deep chasm at the far side of the small valley. A narrow stone bridge crossed the ravine and led over to a solitary stone pillar on which stood an ancient metal chest.

The Beholder took its place at the foot of the bridge. "I was beginning to like you, little human. It has been a while since I last had a normal conversation."

Carl grinned nervously. One that didn't involve torturing your victims as they begged for mercy, I'll bet.

The Beholder eyed him seriously. "No matter. I am here to watch over the Great Artifact that you seek. And in compliance with my contract, I will do as my master told me three hundred years ago: I will not let anyone cross this bridge to get to the Great Artifact on yonder stone pillar."

Carl felt somewhat hopeful. "Are you sure your master was referring to that stone bridge? Maybe he was on another bridge somewhere in er- Paris?"

The Beholder narrowed its central eye. "I am no fool. I do not need all of my eleven eyes to tell me that he was referring to this stone bridge!"

And to lay emphasis on the gravity of its task, the Beholder tilted and shook itself as if it were on the verge of death, changing its tone to imitate the raspy breathing and unsteady voice of a dying man giving out a last command:

"Listen to me, ye foul beast! I have summoned thee to perform one last task. Do not let anyone cross this bridge to get to the Great Artifact, and thou shalt have all the adventurers and treasure seekers thou wouldest desire to torture to thy heart's content…"

The Beholder finished its dramatization and gave a slight bow as the friar clapped his hands.

"At least your master fulfilled his part of the bargain." Carl shivered at the sight of a dozen or so skeletons scattered about, their armors rusting and leather jerkins rotting in the dust.

"True. But you have absolutely no idea how lonely it is here. I would give anything to be free of this ridiculous task." The creature sighed.

Carl kicked some pebbles in front of him. "Have you ever tried to leave this place of your own accord and take the Great Artifact with you? I know the idea isn't helpful to our cause, but didn't it enter your mind at all?"

The Beholder shook its head. "My contract was worded very clearly. As with all indentures between a wizard and a magical creature plucked out from its own happy existence to fulfill the slightest stupid request, as I was, there are consequences for breaking the contract."

"Such as?" Carl asked.

The monster replied unexcitedly, "Take your pick. A lightning bolt strong enough to fry me into a giant meatball, an invisible force field that only I cannot penetrate thus preventing me from escaping my duties even through teleportation, or a wart the size of Mt. Vesuvius. The list goes on."

Carl's face fell in genuine sympathy. "That's awful! I would never wish such fate upon the worst of my enemies. Well, except for that horrid Dominican gunpowder expert who scoffed at my Glycerin48. Or maybe not. In either case, I don't think anybody deserves such a sad lot in life."

Was it just Carl's imagination or did the way the Beholder looked at him seem to be full of sorrow and tenderness?

"At least you understand my situation. Well then, I have decided to grant you a boon, little human. I will spare your life as long as you never try to set foot on this bridge. This little meeting is becoming too much for me to handle. Now go! I hate teary goodbyes!" And the Beholder turned its back on Carl and began to sob piteously.

Carl stood there, a mixture of compassion and exasperation threatening to overwhelm him. He wasn't about to give up and return to the Vatican as a failure. No, Van Helsing wouldn't have admitted defeat, whatever the circumstances.

Even if he was transmogrified into a cow or chicken.

But to go against the Beholder, though he was to arm himself with every sharp and pointy thing in the Vatican, would be pure madness. And for the first time in his life, Carl doubted that even his Glycerin48 would work, if he had any on him right now.

In his heart, Carl felt pity for the poor creature. Condemned to stand, or rather, hover guard over some selfish and evil man's treasure. He cast a sigh and a glance at the sight of the unattainable metal chest on the stone pillar.

Carl whispered sadly to the chicken. "Just like what his master said. One foot upon that bridge and we're meeting with St. Peter up there… Now just hold on a minute!"

A knowing smile formed on Carl's face. The idea was devoid of certainty, but he was desperate to try anything.

TO BE CONTINUED IF THE WORLD DOESN'T END TOMORROW (OR THE DAYS AFTER THAT) BEFORE 5PM…

-----------------------------

Yes, yes, I didn't forget what I meant earlier about each chapter/Slice being a finished "mini-story", but this particular Slice was so lengthy, even my eyes started to water as I was proofreading it. (Or maybe it was just really sad?)

I thought it best to divide it into three posts and I'm still tweaking the rest of it.

I understand that a Beholder monster might be difficult to imagine, so I made the next worst thing- draw a picture of it! XP

It's in my photobucket album (see Author's Profile) under "Van Helsing" and titled- "Cutest Li'l Bugger!"

Feedback would be very much welcome. There might be some Errors that have escaped me and wouldn't it be fun to feed them to a pool of sharks? ;P