Bijoux: Finally, I've got off my lazy rump and presented this site with an update! Admittedly, it took me just over a whole year to get this chapter finished, and it's been written in segments at a time so…hopefully it all runs coherently.
Apologies to Chocolate Zombie, who was interested enough to remind me that I hadn't updated this in a long while. I told him I'd have a new chapter done soon…and that was eight months ago.
Anyway…here's the disclaimer…
Disclaimer: Jak and Daxter belongs to Naughty Dog, any other copyrighted material/references belong to their original and rightful owners.
Note: I understand I've referenced quite a few things in this chapter, and I'm hoping anyone reading will be familiar with said things, but if not, Google is your best friend, or you're welcome to drop a review and ask me.
Some "knowledge" that might come handy for this chapter:
The Fat and Skinny Went to War Rhyme:
Fat and Skinny went to war,
Fat got shot with an apple core.
Fat and Skinny climbed a tree,
Fat fell down the lavatory,
Skinny went down and pulled the chain
And Fat was never seen again.
The song "Bad Moon Rising" by Creedence Clearwater Revival is parodied. Having this song handy might make the joke better.
I'm not sure whether "Esky" is a common term anywhere outside of Australia. I imagine Americans might instead call an Esky a "Cooler". A big plastic box you keep food in to keep it cold/fresh…
Maccas = McDonalds.
Hopefully that's all, sorry to ramble!
Palace Stories – May Have Been Exaggerated
Big Boot's Mountain
Of the few, public eye-based, tag-along jobs that Erol had to do as Commander of the Krimzon Guards, the one he did on the first weekend of every month was perhaps his most favoured. A surprise to most, considering such a weekend meant he was to take the young, aspiring Krimzon Guard children up to the Precursor Mountains, for an overnight camping trip. It was to educate them in survival tactics. Hanging with snivelling brats had never really been Erol's thing, but the job was easy enough and the children treated him like a god. They looked up to him, admired him, and offered to let him have their share of marshmallows. Ah yes, the job was a sweet one.
So we join our Commander now, on the sunny afternoon of June the first, a Friday. He was relaxed, reclining comfortably on an old log, watching the little boys around him as they assembled their two large tents. They were doing it with an air of clumsiness and inexperience as per usual, but Erol figured they'd done this enough times to be fine without his help. They'd get there eventually, he told himself, lazily admiring his own tent which he'd expertly erected moments ago.
The sun was threatening to set at any moment before, finally, there stood three tents in the clearing. Erol eyed the children as they gathered around him expectantly. There were six of them in total. There was a short round one, named Hugo, who didn't properly fit into his Krimzon Scouts uniform. Another, Jon, was so tall and gangly that his shorts turned into hotpants on him. One of them, named Dott, had a mass of brown curly hair and a million freckles over his body. One child had large bucked teeth with skewed braces wrapped around them, whose name was Bucky. One of them was an avid Jak enthusiast, he had shaggy blonde hair, liked to colour his chin in with green texta, and had been ironically named Jayke. There was also a boy, Chester, whose head housed a forest of orange hair, whom Erol had christened his favourite the moment he'd met him several months ago.
"You, Hugo," Erol sat up, pointing to the rounded little boy, "Go get us some fire wood. And take Dott with you," he added, indicating to the speckled boy. The two toddled off obediently.
"What can we do, Mister Erol?" Bucky asked, looking too eager for his own good.
"Bring the esky closer," Erol replied, pointing over his shoulder to the large esky. The bucked-tooth boy paired up with the tall one, and they awkwardly carried the esky over, placing it next to Erol. He pried the lid off and placed it aside.
"Now, who remembers the Rations Ratio?" Erol asked. Each of the boys raised their hands diligently, much to his content. "Good, then you can set to work sorting your share into these," he said, tossing four small canvas bags to the children. He reclined back lazily once more.
"And remember, it's your share. No more. I don't want any Praxis servings. Especially you, Jayke," Erol glared towards the Jak enthusiast boy.
"Sir, is it true that if one of us accidentally makes a Praxis Serving, the Baron will come here, looking for it?" Bucky asked.
"Oh yes, Bucky, I fear so..." Erol warned with an air of mockery.
Without the ability to sense sarcasm the children were spooked by this warning, and so they carried out their work carefully. Eventually Hugo and Dott, as well as a large stack of firewood, rejoined them. As darkness fell, Erol constructed them a campfire and taught his favourite, Chester, how to light it properly.
The night continued on fairly uneventfully. Sitting around the campfire, Erol told the boys stories of his heroic deeds in both Krimzon Guarding and racing (the occasional heroic tale of him taming a rampaging Baron being spewed out too). He was having fun, gloating internally at their wide, worshiping eyes, but his ego was abruptly deflated when Jayke started up talking about Jak's manly exploits. The fire was hastily kicked into dying embers and Erol ushered the children grumpily to their tents so as to shut Jayke up.
Within his own tent, Erol nursed his bruised ego to sleep, wondering what was so great about Jak anyway. He drifted off into dreamland, fantasising about himself squashing Jak under a racecar and mailing his severed goatee to Jayke. But something interrupted Erol's dreams. Something...loud, something desperate, something...that was strangely familiar. It was heavy footsteps, laboured breathing, intent sniffing, a rumbling stomach and rustling food packets. Feeling groggy, though sensing he was in danger, Erol rolled onto his stomach and lay still. The full moon was casting a large silhouette on the side of his tent. A hefty figure, perhaps a bear, was hunched over the esky outside. Erol reached for his gun and lurched up onto his feet.
"Stop right there!" he yelled, thrusting his tent open and aiming his gun at the suspicious figure. The creature panicked and let out a sickening bellow. It went bounding off, much in the fashion of a startled gorilla, into the trees and out of sight. Shamefully, it had vanished before Erol could get a decent look at it.
"Bah, blasted animal!" Erol yelled, striding over to the overturned esky and inspecting the damage. "Damn it! He ate just about everything!" he concluded in rage. The children by now had emerged from their tents.
"W-w-was it him?" Hugo asked, quivering in fear.
"Who?" Erol asked, turning to eye the children, expecting to hear some drivel about 'Big Foot' or something.
"Baron Praxis," Dott answered. Ah, if only it were Big Foot.
"You idiot, Jayke! You must've made a Praxis Serving!" Bucky accused angrily.
"Did not!" Jayke whined in protest.
"Did too!" Bucky spat back.
An argument blossomed amongst the children at this point. Erol didn't feel particularly compelled to stop it, until Chester "tattled" to him that Dott had snuck a bag of candy onto the trip. Doubtless, Dott became angry at Chester, and Erol nearly missed preventing the punch that was thrown in his favoured child's direction.
"Stop, stop it!" Erol commanded, forcing the children apart.
"But Mr. Erol, he made a Praxis Serving, it's his fault!" Bucky argued, pointing accusingly at Jayke.
"No way! It was definitely Dott's candy bars!" Jayke protested.
"Shut up! That can't be right. It's not true. There's no such thing as a Praxis Serving, I made it up to scare you into taking fair rations," Erol intervened with frustration.
"But...then why did Baron Praxis come here?" Jon asked slowly.
"It wasn't him. It was just a bear or something, or a metalhead. Why would Praxis come all the way up here just to eat out of our esky? That's foolish, even for him," Erol sighed. The boys fell silent, perhaps seeing sense in what Erol was saying. "Now go back to bed," he instructed finally.
"What are you gonna do?" Jayke asked, while the others began to drag their feet back towards their tents. They must've decided along the way that they'd feel safer if they all crammed into the same tent, and so they did.
"I'll stay out here and keep watch. If that thing comes back, I'll shoot it," Erol stated with an air of bravery.
"Oh. Really? Coz if you were Jak, you'd hunt it down and-"
"Get out of here!" Erol bellowed, chasing Jayke away.
Living up to his promise, Erol settled himself by the esky and the dead fire and waited, gun in hand, for the potential reappearance of the creature. On the outside he was adamant that it was merely a bear, but something nagged, deep within him, that the boys were right. Maybe it had been Praxis. You might have assumed this would make the Commander more at ease; alas, it made him all the more nervous. Praxis moved in far more mysterious ways than any bear or metalhead ever could.
Erol's wrist watched ticked and ticked as hours dragged past. It was after midnight, he was feeling tired; threatening to drift off to sleep again, he began to imagine things. Occasionally there was a large shadow that floated past his line of sight in the forest, circling the camp in a predatory manner. Other times he imagined he could hear low whispered gibberish being cooed from the darkness of the woods. At one point, he would've sworn on his grandmother's grave that he could smell Praxis' bacon scented cologne wafting in the night air. When he briefly nodded off, his ears still picked up the sound of something eating another thing close by, and when he snapped awake, he mistook the howl of a distant wolf as a rumbling belch. This was all quite odd and Erol was understandably spooked. He bunched his knees up to his chest and rapidly fired his gun in the direction of any and all noise that he heard.
"He's here, I know he is, it has to be him..." he crazily muttered to himself, rocking backwards and forwards on his tailbone. Needless to say, the constant firing of Erol's gun kept the children awake and they lay in bed, wide eyes staring at each other fearfully. When one boy made the mistake of sneezing, a bullet tore through their tent and back out again.
The boys lay in fear for hours before finally Erol's random shooting ceased, as did his indecipherable, paranoid muttering. He'd nodded off to sleep apparently. And it wasn't until after the sun arose that he awoke again. The first thing he saw, from his position sprawled in the ash remains of the campfire, was his tent – torn to shreds.
"What the hell?!" he barked, lurching onto his hands and knees and racing to his beloved tent. "What happened?" he asked himself, looking through the shredded remains to discover that all his possessions had been vandalised in some way (predominantly chewed up). The strangest part of it all was when he turned to look at the forest and noticed that two large oak trees, spaced apart by two meters, were sharing his spare pair of underwear, their trunks having a leg hole each.
"How would you even achieve that?" Erol asked in bewilderment, "And why on earth would you want to?" He looked around the campsite, and noticed that other things were in disarray too. The logs and stumps around the campfire had been turned to splinters; the esky had been raided so thoroughly that it had a large hole in its bottom; Erol's gun looked as though it'd been melted by something; the esky lid was so dirty and scratched that it appeared as though someone had sat on it and ridden it down a hill; there were large footprints scatted all about the camp and the occasional butt-groove embedded in the dirt; and the empty boys tent was nowhere to be seen.
"What happened here?" one of the boys asked as they emerged from their unscathed tent. Erol turned to them solemnly.
"He was here," he uttered gravely.
"So Erol, how was your camping trip?" Veger asked the moment Erol walked through the Palace doors come Saturday afternoon.
"Horrible," Erol droned, his mangled possessions under his arms, "Simply horrible."
"Oh, really?" Veger asked, "I never would've guessed," he smiled mockingly, eyeing the shredded tent in Erol's armpit and observing the purple shaded bags under his eyes. Erol turned an exasperated face towards Veger, glowering at him. He geared up to bark something rude back at Veger, but was interrupted when Ashelin strolled into the foyer.
"Erol," she suddenly said, looking taken aback. "You're home early," she quirked an eyebrow at Erol and strolled slightly closer to him and Veger.
"Something unexpected happened. As you can see, my tent came off worse for wear," Erol mumbled tiredly.
"Oh...how awful," Ashelin responded vacantly, losing interest.
"What on the Precursor's green earth could've done such a thing, I wonder?" Veger mused, cupping his chin thoughtfully.
"It was probably just a bear or something. You're asking for trouble if you spend the night on those mountains. As if the threat of metalheads wasn't bad enough," Ashelin scoffed, dropping her weight onto one hip and crossing her arms sassily.
"True...true..." Veger pondered.
"You know, I thought the same thing," Erol spoke up, turning away solemnly, "At first."
"Hm, at first? Whatever do you mean?" Veger probed. Ashelin rolled her eyes.
"Well, call me crazy, but...I could've sworn that the creature that did this was...Praxis," Erol responded.
"What? Praxis you say?" Veger asked with a gasp.
"Yes, I mean...this thing, it was as destructive as an animal, but...it was shifty, smart even. It wasn't just a hungry beast, it was a hungry...Baron," Erol gushed, dropping his shredded belongings and striding closer to Veger and Ashelin, looking quite worried as he did so.
"Erol please, it was just a metalhead," Ashelin replied firmly.
"No, it wasn't. The metalheads are always in those mountains, but this, this was new. It's never happened to me before. Maybe Praxis saw the chef packing the esky yesterday morning and he saw something he fancied?" Erol suggested. Veger nodded his head thoughtfully.
"Fancied, FANCIED? Erol, this is my father you're talking about. Even if he fancied something in your esky, why would he bother to climb a mountain in the dead of night, just to eat it? He may as well raid the kitchen here. It's all the same food," Ashelin argued.
"Huh...I suppose you have a point. Still, it was odd. I could've sworn it was him," Erol mumbled in defeat.
"Maybe, maybe you are right, Commander," Veger mused, deep in thought.
"How do you figure?" Ashelin quickly asked, unimpressed.
"Well, we all know that Praxis' logic can be a little eh...skew-whiff, so maybe he did see something in that esky and came looking for it," Veger declared.
"You raise a good point," Erol nodded.
"Oh brother," Ashelin sighed, turning on her heel and quickly strolling towards the front doors. Standing before the doors, she suddenly turned back, "If you're so sure it's Father up in the mountains, then there's only one real thing you can do to pro- I mean, prevent it," she stated.
"Really? What's that?" Erol asked, eyes wide in wonder.
"Come July, on your next camping trip, take Damas with you. If Father does follow you up there he'll be too scared to get too close," Ashelin declared.
"And if he's still attacked by the beast?" Veger enquired.
"Simple. Then it's not Father," she said, strutting out the doors. "It's something completely different."
The time felt like it had dragged on endlessly, but finally the first Friday of July rolled by. Erol had confronted Damas a week or two prior and had gained his agreement to tag along. In all honesty, Erol had been expecting Damas to be difficult and that money would need to be involved in order to convince him to come, but on the contrary, he was easily swayed by the mere prospect of camping right from the get-go.
"No one ever invites me camping! It shall be a blast!" the Desert King had boasted. At first Erol was joyed; Damas was a tolerable enough man, and his presence would do much for his confidence – and perhaps he'd even teach the kids a healthy thing or two as well. Erol was in for an unpleasant surprise.
Damas showed up at the foot of the mountain ridiculously early (Thursday morning), and complained angrily when Erol finally showed up with the children. Thankfully Damas' mood lifted at the sight of the children, but only because he spotted Hugo and Jon and burst into laughter, chanting the "Fat and Skinny went to war" rhyme over and over again. Already, Erol was sick of him. The trek to the mountaintop was usually uneventful. Damas made it into an event. All the way up he bragged stupidly about his accomplishments. The children were impressed, Erol was not. Over and over Damas insulted the mountain, claiming it to be a sissy compared to the treacherous, mighty mountains, sand dunes, cliffs and Kleiver's beer belly of the Wasteland.
About midway up the mountain Damas noticed Jayke and, in a loud stupid voice cheered, "Hey! I didn't know my boy was on this trip! How have you been, Jak?!" he smacked Jayke "playfully" on the back and sent the boy toppling over, rolling violently all the way back to the mountain base. Erol watched in disbelief as all this unfolded and angrily commanded everyone to stay put while he trudged back down to retrieve Jayke. The whole escapade put them back about an hour, and, much to his horror, when Erol returned, Damas and the other children had not stayed put at all.
"Where the hell has that doofus taken them?" he ranted angrily. In a tizzy, Erol traipsed to the top of the mountain, dragging Jayke along behind him. He sought out their usual campsite and was moderately relieved to find them all there. He released Jayke from his sweaty grasp and stormed over to Damas, who was leisurely reclining against a log, fanning himself with a map. "Damas, I need to have a chat with you," he hissed through gritted teeth. Damas looked up at him, suddenly determined.
"And I you!" Damas snapped. He suddenly sat upright and looked very tenacious, "Why are there no ladies on this camping trip?" he demanded to know. Erol regarded him with a scrunched up nose.
"Girls are not suited for the Krimzon Guard," he responded matter-of-factly.
"You got it all wrong, there's a fury to a woman's wrath. Have you ever seen my lady Wastelanders before?" Damas interjected, a mild look of fear passing through his eyes.
"Girls are not allowed in the Krimzon Guard," Erol sighed, rolling his eyes.
"What about Ashelin?" Damas asked confusedly. Erol fell silent, his face going blank.
"Naughty Dog was too lazy to make a female mesh for the Krimzon Guard," he responded with the same tone of importance. Damas seemed to accept this answer; he shrugged and stood up, lumbering over to the boys who where unpacking their tents.
As the children began to construct their tents in the fashion that Erol had taught them, Damas roared "No, no, no! You're doing it all wrong" and began to undermine Erol's teachings by showing the boys how a "real man" constructed his tent. Erol remained silent, but seethed to himself as he set to work building his own (new) tent. When finally Damas had buffed Erol's method of tent construction out of the boys' heads and drilled his method of tent construction in instead, the Wasteland King strolled casually over to Erol, dusting his hands off.
"Yep, they're some fine tents," Damas declared proudly. He placed his hands on his hips and admired the two large tents from afar, nodding his head slowly.
"Hm, yes, speaking of which, Damas," Erol began almost sarcastically. "Where exactly is your tent?"
Damas turned to him with a blank face.
"Oh, I don't have a tent," he responded casually.
"What? But...but I told you-"
"I don't own one," Damas shrugged. "But it's not a problem, I'll just sleep in this one," he declared merrily, jabbing his thumb at Erol's tent.
"But...that's...my..." Erol trailed off, watching dumbfoundedly as Damas crawled into his tent.
Erol was furious but he settled to bottle his rage up. Dragging his feet stiffly across the campsite, he went into the forest to collect firewood. He spent ages out there and had collected a decent pile in his arms when he returned. But as he stepped back into the campsite, he smelt cinders and heard loud roaring. He peered around his pile of wood and nearly dropped it with shock at what he saw.
"Damas!" he yelled, hobbling quickly over to Damas. "What the hell is this?" Erol bellowed, indicating with his head towards a large fire that Damas had constructed.
"It's the campfire!" Damas cheered nonchalantly.
"This isn't a campfire," Erol yelled, "This is a bonfire!"
"You're right Erol, it is the bomb!" Damas yelled back happily, mishearing the Commander over the roar of the blaze. He turned to grin at Erol and suddenly noticed the stack of wood in his hands. "Hey! Nice work!" he bellowed, slapping Erol chummily on the shoulder. Before Erol could protest, Damas yanked the heap of wood out of his arms and hurled it all, unceremoniously, onto the fire.
Erol was speechless. He was so furious, he felt as though his head was expanding. He briefly wondered how Damas had even created such a fire with their limited supplies. His answer came quickly when Damas produced a large can of gasoline seemingly out of nowhere, splashing it on the fire whilst screaming "w00t". The fire sparked up and exploded in more flames. It suddenly dawned on Erol that he'd best check on the children. He scurried around the campsite. Three of the boys were standing a safe distance from Damas' fire, watching in awe. The others were in their tents, setting up their beds. Erol shuffled them out of the tents and towards the other three.
He returned to Damas, and was mortified to see that the Desert King had found his way into the rations esky. Without a single bother, Damas had helped himself to a packet of biscuits, and was chucking other packets of food to the boys from his spot seated on a rock by the fire.
"Damas!" Erol growled, a packet of chips suddenly hitting him in the face. He bent down to retrieve the chips from the ground and noticed that there were already many empty packets at Damas' feet. He stood up straight, growling Damas' name again. But the Sand King wasn't interested. He suddenly stood up too.
"You call this man food?" he bellowed disgustedly. "Where's the meat?" he ranted.
"There's dried meat at the bottom!" Erol argued. "Stay away from it, this food is to be rationed!"
"Rationed? RATIONED?" Damas hollered. "I'm a big man, Erol! A huge, gigantic man!" he patted his stomach meaningfully.
"Well you're going to have to learn to eat like a little man, aren't you?" Erol spat back.
"That's what you think," Damas sneered, a wicked grin coming to his face. "Come children!" he yelled. Six pairs of feet diligently scampered after Damas as he departed into the forest.
"Where are you going?" Erol yelled after them. With the children's respect for him now placed solely on Damas, he got no response.
In the time it took for them to return, Erol had taken to pacing the campsite grumpily, feeling it best to keep an eye on the fire.
"There you are!" he yelled the moment he saw shadows emerging from the forest. The sun had now set and it was dark. Hurled over Damas' shoulder was a huge, maroon lump.
"What...what the hell is that?" Erol blurted out, pointing questioningly at the thing on Damas' shoulder.
"Dinner!" Damas responded proudly. Stepping into the glow of the fire, Damas revealed a large boar-like metalhead slung over his shoulder.
"He hunted it with his bare hands..." Jayke whispered with wide eyes. Erol was not impressed in the least. He watched from the sidelines like an angry, neglected girlfriend, tsking and sighing, as Damas constructed and mounted the metalhead onto a spit. He remained at a distance, eating his "sissy" rations responsibly, even after the meat was served.
"Dirty cheaters," he hissed to himself.
When Damas and the Boy Scouts had finished their fill, the rest of the metalhead was carried, still on its spit, away from the fire, supposedly so Damas could eat the rest of it in the morning. Erol moved to sit with them around the fire, though didn't say a word. Eventually the bonfire began to settle down, perhaps running out of fuel, or perhaps Erol's soddened mood had dampened the air around it enough to diminish its enthusiasm for life. Either way it settled down enough that they no longer had to scream at the top of their voice to be heard over it. Damas sat on the esky and, in true camping spirit, decided to tell some scary stories.
He told many manly stories of heroic deeds, Wasteland hunts, coliseum battles and princess weddings, but the last story, or perhaps premonition, was what left a lasting impression on the boys and Erol alike. Damas leant in closer to the dying fire, his eyes wide and serious, his voice hushed.
"You know, rumour has it, there's a lot of talk about the world ending in 2012..." he whispered gruffly, mystically. The boys were riveted. "Yes, there's a lot of theories," he went on coolly, "Religious apocalypse, black hole, huge comet, nuclear apocalypse, World War Three, Martians, worm hole, sun explosion, super volcano earthquake..." the boys' faces grew terrified. "NO!" Damas suddenly barked, making even Erol jump. Damas' eyes were wide; they slowly scanned each face around the campfire a few times before finally, in a croaky voice, he said, "...Praxis." A collective shudder wracked the campsite.
The boys' heads were buzzing with fresh Baron based fears, but Erol ushered them to bed regardless, deciding it was getting late. When he returned from settling them into their tents, he discovered Damas was nowhere to be seen and had the unfortunate pleasure of finding him, already sprawled out, fast asleep and snoring loudly, in his tent. The Commander suddenly realized that perhaps there was a reason why no one ever invited Damas camping. Sighing in annoyance was all Erol had the energy for, so he merely stumbled back outside and fell asleep by the fire.
Ruckus was one way to explain what Erol awoke to later that night. "What's going on?!" he screamed, lurching upwards. Children were screaming and there was a loud thumping; a large shadow was lumbering around in the darkness. Erol scampered onto his feet.
"Children, stay calm," he called. The children heard his voice and rushed to his side. Erol noticed that both their tents had caught alight. One of them had collapsed under the flames; the other was drooping, but still standing. "Stay behind me," he instructed, to which the boys happily complied. He held out his pistol and aimed for the lumbering shadow. He fired at it rapidly but missed each time. The beast roared dementedly and bee-lined for Damas' spitted metalhead. In the darkness it feasted on it hurriedly, belching and snorting as it tore it to shreds. The flames licking the tents lighted up the area quite a bit, but the creature was smart; it kept to the shadows, careful, despite its chaotic lumbering, not to be seen. Once the metalhead was devoured, the monster belched mightily and directed its attention on the esky.
"NO!" Erol yelled, firing his gun again. "Damas!" he called desperately. "Where's Damas?" he asked, still frantically shooting. As if on cue, Damas suddenly burst from Erol's tent, still tangled in his bedding; he was screaming hysterically.
"Run, run! For the love of the Precursors, RUN!" he bellowed in pure terror. He ran, flailing his arms around crazily, right past the beast and into the woods, not once looking behind at Erol or acknowledging his plight. His frantic screams echoed from afar as he bolted back down the mountainside.
The children all screamed as the beast drew closer, eyeing the esky by the dead bonfire mound. Erol continued to fire his pistol, all the while backing away. Eventually the children lost faith in him and followed Damas' example, all of them fleeing into the woods, squealing and waving their arms around. Erol wanted to stand his ground, wanted to best the beast, wanted to put it in its place, but as it came closer and closer his nerve shattered.
"Save me, Jak!" he cried, dropping his pistol and running for his life. When he plucked up the courage to return to the campsite, in the bright of day the next morning, the destruction was worse than it had been the first time. Everything was totally annihilated...
When Erol returned to the Palace later that day, once again prematurely exempted from his camping trip, he immediately sought out Veger and Ashelin.
"I don't know, guys," he said in a hushed voice, "last night, that thing, it...it didn't care at all that Damas was there," he blurted out. "I...I don't think it's Praxis..." he admitted.
"See, I told you, Erol," Ashelin responded huffily. "Now if that's all-"
"Hang on a moment, Commander," Veger butted in. "Maybe you're being too hasty. Is it not just possible that Damas' presence wasn't apparent enough, and that the Baron didn't realise he was there?" he suggested. Erol pondered for a moment. Ashelin sighed irritably.
"No. You could definitely tell that Damas was there. He'd been making his Wastelander presence known all afternoon and all night."
"See, if it had been Father, he wouldn't have been so willing to cause a stir," Ashelin said.
"Exactly," Erol agreed. "Besides, Damas was horrified of that thing. Surely he'd sense it if it were Praxis and not act so scared."
"Case in point," Ashelin stated, "That thing you've been encountering is obviously just a bear or a metalhead – some wild animal. It probably lives up there, Erol. You're only asking for trouble if you keep returning to the scene of the attack."
"Hold on, Ashelin, I still remain unconvinced that this is not related to the Baron," Veger argued. Ashelin narrowed her eyes and dropped her weight onto one hip, glowering warningly at Veger. Erol remained quiet, brooding.
"Look, either way, my father or not, this thing doesn't want to welcome you onto its mountain. If you want to solve the problem then it's simple. Stop going up there," Ashelin ranted, putting her foot down. She turned afterwards and stalked from the room, looking very frustrated and muttering darkly about how stupid Erol could be.
Erol turned to Veger. "Maybe she has a point," he said, "But I can't let that thing walk all over me without even knowing what it is. I have to get to the bottom of this." And with that, Erol also stalked from the room.
"Indeed," Veger uttered after him.
To solve the mystery of the 'Precursor Mountain Beast', Erol formulated two experiments. First, he would subtly probe the Baron for any information. If that came back unfruitful, then he would return to the mountain in a week, set up a camp, and leave it unattended for the night. He would make sure the Baron did not know of this empty camp and would keep tabs on him all night. If he returned the next morning to find it destroyed, then Ashelin would have been right. If not, then the Baron would be suspect number one. Experiment number one came to clause immediately after Erol's conversation with Veger and Ashelin. He strolled casually into the Throne Room.
Once the greetings were aside, Erol casually asked the Baron, "So...what did you get up to last night?"
Praxis regarded him with his single beady eye for only a moment.
"Oh, the usual," he joyfully replied.
"Oh…and uh…what is the usual, Sir?" Erol asked.
"The same thing I do every Friday night," the Baron shrugged.
"And that is?" Erol became more impatient.
"Food…" Praxis shrugged again, furrowing his big brow. Erol sighed and rubbed some greasy sweat from his face. He tried to remain civil, but could not quite contain himself.
"Where were you last night, Baron Praxis?" he exasperatedly asked.
"Oh, the usual place."
"And, where is the usual place?"
"The same place I go every Friday night."
"And that is?"
Erol sighed with frustration.
"And what foods do you consume at this food place?"
"Oh, the usual."
"And what is that?"
"The same thing I eat every Friday night."
"And that is?"
Erol took in a laboured breath through his gritted teeth and massaged his temples.
"Baron Praxis, were you, or were you not, atop a great incline, last night?"
"Hmm…I can't quite recall. I think I was at the usual place…you know, eating food? At the food place? Food just magically appears at the food place…that's why I go there. To eat food." Praxis seemed particularly unfazed by the bombardment of questions.
"And this food place is located where?"
"The same place I go every Friday night."
"And that is where?"
"Oh, the usual place."
"And where is that?"
"The food place."
"The same place I go every Friday night."
"Oh, the usual place."
"Why…for the love of the Precursors, why…?"
"…To eat food…"
Erol put his head in his hands and groaned into them. He was tired of going around in circles, but it seemed as though the Baron was stuck in an impenetrable loop. The Commander grumbled to himself in defeat. Praxis shrugged and waddled off elsewhere, deciding that Erol was simply jealous that he'd missed out on "food night".
"Um, Commander, Sir?" the Throne Room guard piqued up, once the Baron had left.
"What?" Erol groaned agitatedly.
"Praxis was at KFC last night," the guard said. Erol's eyes immediately swivelled to him.
"What?" Erol asked desperately.
"Yeah, he's real secret about it. He doesn't want McDonalds to find out that he's two-timing…" the guard shrugged.
"How do you know this?" Erol demanded.
"Well, who would want their chick to find out they've got another girl across town…or in this case, two buildings to the left?"
"No, not that! How do you know he was there?"
"Oh, I uh…kinda work there at night. You don't pay me enough."
"So then, perhaps Praxis has an alibi…" Erol said to himself, ignoring the guard's last comment. He rubbed his chin thoughtfully and strolled from the room, deep in thought.
Whilst it was very possible that Praxis had been at KFC last night (and the frightful Friday the month before), Erol was not quite convinced that he was no longer a suspect. He could have, after all, strolled from KFC once it had closed and, desperate for more food, smelt and hunted the esky atop the mountain. So, his head abuzz with conspiracy theories and paranoia, Erol went with experiment two.
The next week rolled by, bringing with it a fresh Friday afternoon. Erol enlisted the aid of several underpaid Krimzon Guards and trudged up the mountain with new camping supplies. The Krimzon guards guffawed loudly and pointed obnoxiously when they spotted Erol's underwear still stretched between two trees at the edge of the forest. Erol glared at them to shut them up, and then proceeded to wonder why he hadn't removed the underwear yet. A strange inkling told him they were ill fated, and tied with his near future, but he ignored this feeling quickly, stupidly leaving the underwear be.
Erol and the guards set up the campsite just as it had been the week before, esky and all, and then left it all unattended. Erol kept tabs on his large Baron until Praxis's bedtime. But the Commander remained anxious all night, safe in his Palace bed, lying awake and wondering whether the camp was being ravaged at that very moment. By four o'clock in the morning, he had given up on rest and settled to investigate. It would be light by the time he arrived there anyway.
Whilst the campsite, much to Erol's surprise, was unmarred, he had a shock anyway.
"Ashelin?" he blurted out, spotting her poking around the tents.
"E-Erol!" she jumped.
"What are you doing here?" Erol asked suspiciously, strolling closer to Ashelin.
"I heard about your plan. I wanted to check it out," she shrugged.
"Everything is in tact…" Erol observed. Everything was as he'd left it; the esky hadn't even been opened.
"Yeah. I guess you were right, Erol, it must be…Father." Ashelin admitted.
"I'm still unsure of that. There's a chance he has an alibi. Maybe you're right. Maybe it is just some wild animal that doesn't like people on its mountain." Erol sighed.
"So…you'll stop coming here? You'll stop disturbing it?" Ashelin asked almost hopefully, with a quirked eyebrow. Erol was silent for a while.
"No," he stated. "I will not be bested by an animal," he declared proudly. Ashelin rolled her eyes.
"Well fine, if you want to be some big Macho-Man, then go ahead. But Erol, I have a suggestion."
"If you're still at least partially inclined to blame my father, then why not take him along next month? Either way, it'll prove whether he's the cause or not. And if he isn't, maybe he'll chase off whatever is."
Ashelin had planted a very dark prospect in Erol's mind. He wafted around the Palace halls with it ever present in his thoughts all day. Was it really the answer? Would taking the Baron solve the mystery? Was the risk really worth it? He was so lost in thought that he accidentally bumped into Veger.
"Watch it, knave!" both men instinctively barked before they'd noticed who they'd walked into. They backed off a step and relaxed.
"Ah, Commander, have you got to the bottom of your mountain monster?" Veger asked.
"No, not yet. Praxis might have an alibi. Ashelin suggested taking him with me next trip," Erol solemnly admitted. Veger looked aghast, wondering why anyone in their sane mind would suggest what Ashelin had. But with some deliberation, Veger's expression changed.
"Well, perhaps she's onto something. After all, what have you got to lose?" he said before strolling off, leaving Erol to his confusion.
With much thought and consideration to the pandemonium he could very well be walking into, Erol eventually decided that he simply could not resist solving this mystery, so he settled to do as Ashelin had suggested. However, he involved a twist of his own – the presence of Damas to help subdue Praxis on the trip.
Erol was certain that Praxis would want no part in the camping trip and that he would require bribing (or sedating), but much to his surprise the Baron was extremely eager. He squealed in delight the instant he had an inkling that he was being invited, and dashed off to his room to pack his new Dora the Explorer print pyjamas (which he excitedly tried on first, and paraded around the Palace in, for three hours).
The Commander was expecting Damas to be a little harder to convince this time around, what with his previous bad experience, but once more the Sand King was thrilled with his invite. He smashed open a window of his Throne Room with his bare fist and stuck his head out, slicing his ears on the jagged glass remains, and bragged condescendingly to the Spargus folk of his "camping engagement".
The Commander asked himself why Praxis and Damas were both so thrilled about camping. He pushed the thought completely from his head when the prospect of the two of them camping alone together fluttered into his imagination.
Needless to say, the children were not thrilled when they found out Praxis was coming along - which was precisely the reason why they didn't find out until it was far too late, when they were already traipsing up the mountainside. Damas had also been left in the dark about this crucial fact and chose to display his displeasure, not by doing the mature thing and going home, but by stating that Praxis was large and smelly – in far ruder words mind you – and demanding he receive a peg and some blinkers to accompany the Baron's presence.
Thankfully the two grown leaders held it together after this. Well…for half the duration of the hike. When the topic of 'Hannah Montana' was brought up by Hugo, Damas snootily declared that the episode entitled "Bad Moose Rising" was the best, and man tackled Baron Praxis to the unlevelled ground below when he disagreed completely and said iCarly would kick Miley Cyrus' arse. Gravity once again let Erol know how much it loathed him, by transporting the brawling Damas and Praxis down to the base of the mountain. Unable to leave the children unattended while he retrieved Damas and Praxis, Erol was forced to take them with him all the way to the bottom of the mountain.
Insult was added to injury when Erol reached Damas and Praxis and found the two of them sitting together chummily, as though they'd been best friends since the dawn of time. When Erol gingerly asked why this change had come about, Praxis pointed to his Dora PJs, which had exploded out of his bag (along with the rest of stuff), and exclaimed that Damas had called them "snazzy".
This bizarre little truce lasted – thankfully – to the top of the mountain. It quickly crumbled beyond that point…
"Ah, Damas," Erol commented as he spotted Damas putting up his own tent, "I see you remembered to bring your own tent this time around."
"Of course I did! Unlike Praxis," Damas declared childishly, sending a dirty glance over to Praxis who was sitting dormant a few feet away.
"I'll have you know," Praxis declared snootily, "they didn't have a tent in my size."
"Ha!" Damas laughed, finding much pleasure in Praxis admitting his hefty shape.
"…So I brought a pair of Kleiver's underwear instead," Praxis went on, ignoring Damas.
"What?!" Damas barked, instantly growing offended at what the Baron had implied of Kleiver's weight. "You leave Kleiver out of this!" he hissed defensively, standing upright.
Both Erol and Damas had assumed Praxis was merely joking about bringing Kleiver's undies, but, much to their surprise, the Baron unzipped his travel bag and extracted a large pair of slightly yellowed knickers. The letters spelling "Kleiver" along the edge were stretched incredibly wide as Praxis nailed the waistband to the ground in four different places, with the use of tent pegs.
"Hm," Praxis hummed snootily, once he'd manipulated the underwear into a pyramid shape with the use of a steel tent pole in the middle. The Baron retrieved another steel pole and harshly drove it into the ground in front of his tent. A large Genie Bra, also with Kleiver's name scrawled across it, was then pried from Praxis' bag and secured to the top of the pole as though it were a flag. He tossed his head backwards proudly and then crawled into his "tent" via the stretched out y-front opening. Erol shuddered involuntarily and quickly excused himself to find the first aid kit, and with it the Pepto-Bismol. Damas wondered why Praxis didn't just purchase a group-sized tent.
Judging from the erratic movements from within Praxis' underpants accommodation, Damas gathered that he was setting up his belongings inside. This was confirmed when Praxis began to grumble bitterly about there not being enough room for his bar fridge. Once the Baron re-emerged from his tent he uncharacteristically reported for duty, with much enthusiasm, to Erol. The Commander was enclosed by the Baron's large, rounded shadow from behind, and turned reluctantly to face Praxis.
"Commander, I'm here to work!" Praxis declared proudly, standing at attention. Before Erol could respond, Damas piped up from across the campsite.
"You wouldn't know work if it waltzed up and bit your nose off!" Damas spat in defiance. Praxis scrunched up his face in disgust and swivelled around, posing like a diva as he indicated to his metal nose.
"Been there, done that," Praxis replied sassily. Damas grumbled darkly under his breath and went back to minding his own business.
"Uh…you're looking to help, Baron Praxis?" Erol nervously asked. "Well that's…uh…great," he continued when Praxis nodded enthusiastically. Erol swallowed a nervous lump in his throat. Praxis helping would be worse than Praxis actually trying to make things worse. Erol panned the campsite, looking for something the Baron could do that wouldn't be detrimentally apocalyptic, but found no such task.
"Why don't you go…help the children with their tents," Erol stammered, suddenly willing to chauffer the Baron off onto anyone to get him away.
"Sir, yes Sir!" Praxis boomed, saluting Erol before he marched off towards the children. The children instinctively screamed when they noticed Praxis was looming over them, but the large Baron did not seem to register their terror. His stomach rumbled casually in retort to the delicious panic in the air, but that was as much as he responded.
"What?" Praxis boomed as he looked at the half erected tent before him. "No, no, no!" he raved as he advanced on the tent. "You call this a tent?" he barked.
The children did not dare respond.
"This isn't a tent! Where's the drawbridge? The mote? The steeple? Geez, no wonder you kids keep getting eaten on this mountain!" Praxis rolled his eye.
"Uhm…with all respect, Lord Baron, Sir…" Bucky spoke, "You seem to be describing a Castle," he twitched nervously. The Baron's large head swivelled in his direction slowly, and Bucky soon found himself the focus of Praxis' single, grumpy eye.
"Don't you tell me what I'm describing. I don't see no architect diploma hangin' on your wall," Praxis barked, waving his index finger around.
"What wall…?" Bucky asked.
"Exactly," Praxis boomed.
"And also, Baron Sir, none of us have been eaten…" Jon corrected.
"Prrrp, yeah, not yet," Praxis rolled his eye once more before he let it settle, very meaningfully, upon the chubby kid, Hugo. "Anything can happen on a camping trip."
A collective shudder reverberated around the group of children.
"I remember when I was in the Krimzon Scouts. Someone got eaten every camping trip. One time, I got eaten," Praxis' single eye opened wide, his beady iris fixated on the mass of scared and confused faces looking back at him. "That's how I got this," the Baron went on, pointing towards his face.
"Uhm, you're pointing at your beard," Jon pointed out.
"Exactly…" Praxis whispered sinisterly.
The children exchanged glances of confusion, wondering how being eaten resulted in growing a beard.
"Now, that on the other hand," Praxis pointed over to his 'tent'. "That is what I call a tent," he bragged.
"That's a pair of underpants…" Chester said bluntly. Praxis fell deftly silent. His beady eye became so enclosed by his scrunched up eyelids that the children briefly thought he'd fallen asleep.
"Do I barge into your backyard and call your home a pair of underpants?" Praxis boomed defensively, clearly hurt by Chester's painful truth.
"You named the area that my house is in, The Slums…" Dott answered. Praxis let this retort settle uncomfortably upon his brain for only a moment, before he let out an angry growl and charged into the children's drooping tent. He pried the support pole from the ground and twirled it, wrapping the tent fabric around it as though he were using a fork to pick up pasta. The children shrieked in horror, scattering for cover as the Baron began to brandish this newfound weapon around, bum-rushing the kids with it as though he were jousting. It was a wonder none of them got hurt.
On the other side of the campsite, Erol was busy lighting the campfire and did his best to ignore the commotion, but it eventually came to him in the form of Praxis hovering the tip of his tent weapon above the flurrying flames, till the fabric caught fire. The children screamed and scattered again as Praxis came back charging their way. With the finesse and style of an Olympic javelin athlete, Praxis hurled the flaming pole off the side of the mountain, where it rocketed gracefully towards his own city. It collided with a single house in the Slums and disappeared through one of its windows. For a moment everything was calm, but suddenly there was an explosion and the house burst into flames. Grabbing some binoculars, Dott was mortified at what he saw.
"Hey! That was my house!" he exclaimed, "Why'd he blow up my house?"
"I think the more pressing question is, how did he know where you live?" Chester mumbled.
When Praxis finished his mandatory victory dance at his achievements (to the sound of "Chariots of Fire" by Vangelis – which had suddenly started playing out of nowhere), he turned around and headed back towards the children, acting strangely upbeat and happy once more.
"How do you like that?" Praxis bragged sassily. Something glinting around the Baron's neck caught the children's eye, and they were astounded to find him wearing a gold medal all of a sudden.
"Where did he get that…?" one boy asked in confusion.
Erol, in the meantime, stood by the fire, looking astounded. Praxis' outburst had caused so much damage. The Commander was wondering why he'd ever doubted that the Baron had been responsible for terrorising them on the mountain prior to this. This thought brought a sudden realization with it.
"Damas!" Erol gasped to himself. Why wasn't that fool doing his job? Erol looked over to Damas' tent and saw the Sand King in question hovering not near it, but by Praxis' tent instead. Equipped with a can of pink spray paint, Damas was scribing something very inappropriate onto the side of Praxis' tent.
"Oh my…" Erol trailed off, rushing over to Damas. "What are you doing? You can't write that! Did you not just see what Praxis did to the children's tent, simply because they insulted his sorry excuse for one?" Erol protested desperately.
"That Praxis don't scare me," Damas defied. "He ain't got not G."
"Look, I've told you this before, I've no idea what G is. Please speak my version of English," Erol sighed.
"You don't know what G is? Man, you ain't got no G!" Damas ranted.
"Fine. Do what you want, but don't you dare blame me when your tent follows the same fate as that other one and ends up getting hurled into your sand castle across the Wasteland," Erol growled before waltzing away.
Erol was fast beginning to learn that the most immature people on this trip weren't the children. Oh no, it was those two; Praxis and Damas. When Praxis returned to his underwear tent he spotted the nasty message sprayed across it, but stood staring at it stupidly for several minutes. Erol was alerted to the Baron's predicament when he spotted him hovering around Jayke, asking him what the graffiti said. When Jayke slowly read it out to him ("The Spice Girls Stink"), Praxis went into a stupor of utter rage.
"HOW DARE YOU!" he bellowed at the small boy. He lunged over and grabbed him by the back of his shirt, carrying him to the two trees that still housed Erol's underpants from that dreaded camping trip where all the trouble had begun.
"I was just reading what it said!" Jayke cried in protest as he was positioned at the centre of the undies. Praxis ignored him and began to pull him backwards, stretching the underwear elastic as though he were using a giant slingshot. Erol watched in horror from afar before he deemed it best to intervene.
"Sir, please, you can't do this!" Erol cried as he rushed over.
"Jak's finally gonna get it!" Praxis responded, though it was unclear whether he thought Jayke was Jak, or whether he was going to fire Jayke at Jak. A few metres away, a spark flickered in Damas' brain and he charged at Praxis, all the while brandishing an airtight bag of fruit (that he'd retrieved from the esky). Catching sight of the impending Damas-fruit collaboration attack, Praxis squealed like a scalded pig and abandoned ship, dropping Jayke on the ground as he fled into the woods behind them.
Erol sighed and placed his face into his hands; tonight was going to drag on forever.
Praxis was not seen or heard from for the next hour or so, although the entire time that the Baron was gone, Erol had that sickening feeling that something dark and evil was circling the campsite in the shadows again. Chasing Damas (and the canister of petrol in his arms) away from the campfire was just enough to distract Erol away from this unnerving feeling momentarily, but it returned shortly afterwards.
Damas rudely butted Erol out the way of the prime seat (which was a large smooth rock) at the campfire, and immediately took over proceedings. He boasted and raved stories like he'd done last camping trip, claiming the children's full attention. Erol was less impressed by Damas' exploits, so was left to wonder what exactly that dark, round shadow in the woods was going to do next. At one point, much to Erol's horror and confusion, he was certain he'd seen two of those shadows lurking. One of them was Praxis, it had to be, but then what was the other one? He shuddered and turned away, just as Damas clapped his hands together and announced "time for food".
Erol was so unnerved he didn't even care when Damas began to splurge on the rations, giving out heavy-handed servings of food to the children, himself and Erol. If Praxis were lurking close by, surely this would attract him over. Damas finished his dinner at Wastelander speed then extracted an acoustic guitar from behind him.
"You're in for a treat tonight, children," Damas beamed. "I stole this guitar from some hippy-townie on the way here today," he declared, strumming the guitar idly. "That dumb, yellow haired, rat holding, bum-fuzz-chin moron never saw me coming." Erol thought this description sounded suspiciously like Jak.
"Play us a song, Camp-Master Damas!" Jon begged. Erol was jolted out of his 'shadow-spying' simply to take offence to this remark. He was about to exclaim that he was the Camp-Master, not Damas, but was cut off before he began.
"Of course!" Damas bellowed excitedly. He began to strum the guitar with enthusiasm, setting up a bouncy, country-styled rhythm for himself. Despite the feel good melody of his guitar, Damas' lyrics were far from cheerful, and it didn't help that his scratchy voice was clearly not meant for singing.
"I see a fat man rising,
I see a Baron on the way,
I see eaten cakes with icing,
I see him from very far away," Damas sang. The children were fixated, ceasing in the nibbling of their dinner.
"Don't flaunt food tonight,
Well he's bound to take your slice,
There's a Baron on the rise," Damas continued with the chorus. There was a small, collective shudder from the children.
"I hear sounds of rampant gorging,
I know the end is coming soon,
I fear enzymes overflowing,
I hear the noise of crazy chewin'," Damas added another verse to his song. Erol sensed the presence in the woods shift slightly closer.
"Don't flaunt food tonight,
Well he's bound to take your pie,
There's a Baron on the rise," Damas sang the chorus again. The presence in the woods was hesitating. Erol was tense, anticipating its imminent strike.
Damas ceased singing briefly, strumming out his guitar, enthusiastically tapping his foot in time to the rhythm. Erol swallowed lump after lump in his throat, fidgeting uncomfortably, wondering whether he should alert the others to the looming shadow. When he opened his mouth to speak, Damas began to sing again, drowning him out.
"Hope you, got your fridges tethered,
Hope you're quite prepared to dine,
I'd bet, he'd eat your nasty sweater,
Some fries, you will have to buy," Damas predicted ominously. The children all made mental notes to purchase some fries to appease the Baron with. Erol balled his fists up and began to breathe erratically. That thing…it was getting closer, inching its way out from the woods.
"Well, don't flaunt food tonight,
He's bound to hate his diet,
There's a Baron on the rise," Damas chanted. For the first time in his life, Erol was praying that the shadow was (a complacent) Praxis. He couldn't take it anymore; he closed his eyes and waited on edge for the shadow to come to the campfire.
"Well don't flaunt food tonight,
He's bound to take your life," Damas began to conclude his song.
"There's the Baron, on your right," he finished, tilting his head meaningfully to the left side of the campfire. The children all instinctively looked to their right and all of them screamed with horror when they saw Praxis sitting there. Erol's eyes snapped open and landed instantly on the Baron. Praxis' face was that of a pout, and his beady eye swivelled around, perhaps wondering why everyone was screaming in his direction. In his arms, the Baron was protectively holding a half-empty bucket of KFC chicken. Erol wondered where'd he got that from, but was more concerned with how long he'd been there.
"Baron, Sir," he blurted out, "How long have you been there?"
"I dunno…a few seconds," Praxis mumbled back, chewing his mouthful of chicken.
"Where did you get that?" Erol asked, pointing at the bucket, wondering whether KFC had built a restaurant atop the mountain without him knowing – for if they had, it would surely explain everything.
"The food place…" Praxis grumbled defensively.
"Where is that?" Erol asked, standing up and shuffling closer to the Baron, nearly stepping in the campfire as he did so. Yes, yes, KFC had to have built up here. It was the answer to everything; Erol was so close to finally solving this cursed mystery.
"The usual place…" Praxis grumbled.
"Yes, yes, and that is where?" Erol raved.
"The food place…" Praxis grumbled. Erol contained an anguished scream, resisting the urge to pull out his ginger hair. His sanity was saved by an interfering Damas.
"I know where you're going with this," Damas said. "The food place he speaks of, it's in the city," he continued.
"How do you know that?" Erol questioned.
"Only when Praxis is in the city, can I no longer smell his foul odour. It's overpowered by other stenches down there," Damas simply said, nodding his head towards the city below. Erol sighed in defeat, sitting down again. A dark thought suddenly passed his mind.
"Wait," Erol said, looking at the Baron again. "So, you went down to the city? You weren't up here, in the woods?" he probed. Praxis looked around awkwardly for a moment.
"Well…I was uphere…" he admitted in an uncomfortable mumble. "I was spying from the forest…" he said.
"Why?" Erol asked desperately.
"I wasn't sure whether this was my campsite. I didn't just wanna barge in," the Baron shrugged casually. "You would not believe how embarrassing it is when you barge in on someone else's camp," Praxis commented much in the manner of a gossiping lady. Erol sighed in relief; so it had just been Praxis lurking in the woods earlier. His mind was put at ease, but only for a moment.
"And I bet you were out there for an hour trying to figure it out," Damas chastised haughtily.
"I'll have you know," Praxis retorted with is metal nose in the air; "It only took me ten minutes."
Erol's blood ran cold. Once more, they weren't alone up here.
Sleep did not come easy to Erol. He kept telling himself that he should just up and leave right now, run for his life back to the safety of the Palace, but dignity prevented him from living out this plan.
Everyone else in the camp appeared to be asleep; especially Damas who was snoring so loudly and aggressively, that Erol momentarily thought a wild boar had taken up housing in the Sand King's tent. Perhaps this calibre of snoring was the true reason Damas ended up banished in the Wasteland? Erol made a mental note to research this thesis once he got home. He knew he was finally falling asleep when he decided that this would be his grade school research project for the year.
His much-needed sleep remained with him for only a short while. The sounds that accompanied terror were to wake him, only an hour later.
The children were the first to know something was amiss when their only remaining tent was suddenly torn from the ground. Before they were even out of their sleeping bags, the shredded remains of the tent were falling all around them. They screamed and scrambled to their feet, blindly running in all directions to avoid the elusive beast. The screaming awoke Erol, who groped around before he found his pistol, clutching it in his sweaty, shaking palm. He ran from his tent, just time for it to suddenly combust. Somewhere in his deluded, distressed mind, Erol was desperate for the creature to be Praxis.
"Praxis, stop!" he yelled into the darkness.
"It's not him!" Dott yelled, "Look!" He pointed towards Praxis' "tent", where the roof was moving up and down with the Baron's snoring. Erol ran towards the Baron's tent and kicked Praxis through the fabric.
"Get up you idiot! Defend us!" he desperately yelled. Praxis stirred, he poked his head out of the tent and groggily surveyed his surroundings. Suddenly a look of horror overcame his face. He dislodged his own tent from the ground as he hurried out of it, screaming all the while. Clad in his pink Dora print pyjamas, and with hair rollers in his moustache, he ran around the campsite, trampling and knocking things over, adding to the destruction. Clearly the Baron could sense the fortitude of the beast they were dealing with, and he disliked it enough that he began to grab the children, wildly hurling them in the vague direction he sensed that it was in. A few children were even unfortunate enough to be stood on by the Baron in his mad haste to avoid the creature. To make matters worse, the Baron seemed to be responding to his own panic, eating it up and sending him into a greater frenzy. Erol could see that this was not going to end well and tried desperately to calm the Baron and the children.
"Stop, stop! Calm down!" Erol yelled, managing to round up most of the children and Praxis. "Running around doesn't work! We already learnt that the first time…and the second time. Now were going to face this with a level head and defeat this beast, once and for all!" Erol pep-talked. It worked surprisingly well. Everyone seemed much calmer, though still on edge. Momentarily, the beast was lying dormant too, lurking in the darkness. "Wow, I'm quite good at this, aren't I?" Erol gloated, more to himself than anyone. Damas begged to challenge Erol's newfound skill.
"IT'S THE BOGEY MAN!" the Wasteland King suddenly screamed, charging out of his tent, clad in a white, ankle length, old-fashioned nighty. He stopped near the children and stared at them meaningfully. "He's gonna kill us all!" Damas continued. The children's nerve disappeared instantly, and they began to run around screaming again, obviously valuing Damas' take on the situation more than they valued Erol's. Erol's deflation of self-esteem was enough to block off his panic. He watched in silence as the destruction of the campsite continued. The raging, growling beast shot out of nowhere and pinched the esky so fast it looked invisible to the naked eye. It took it to the shadows and ravaged it mercilessly, eating everything (including most of the esky itself) but the fruit. The fruit was rejected with an unpleasant howl, catapulted from the beast's position where it hurtled over to Jayke, hitting him and exploding in chunks of apple and banana.
"I'll save you Jak!" Damas screamed, racing towards Jayke. He grabbed the boy and carried him to the underpants slingshot that Praxis attempted to use earlier. Completely defeating the purpose of rescuing Jayke earlier, Damas fired the small, screaming boy off the mountainside. He flew towards the city and disappeared from view somewhere near the Port. Damas then promptly positioned himself against the underwear and stepped backwards several paces before firing himself off the mountainside as well. Erol was totally flabbergasted; he could do nothing to protest. Instead he chose to react by running off into the woods, screaming his head off, knowing full well that if the beast did not get him now, surely Jayke's parents would.
The end was well and truly nigh. Praxis had feasted on so much panic by this stage that he let out a thunderous belch, directed accidentally into the dying embers of the campfire, causing them to explode into an exaggerated inferno. Light illuminated the entire campsite. The beast hissed and backed off further into the shadows.
Erol turned back from running to look. The beast was before him, it's back turned, hissing and spitting at the light. Erol tried to swallow his fear, realizing that this was the prime opportunity to save his reputation and solve his mystery to boot. He willed himself to remember all the times that Jayke had gone on about Jak being so much cooler than him, and how the children clearly respected Damas more than they did him, and suddenly he found Damas and Jayke's fate hilarious. The rage and lunacy welled up inside Erol and, cackling madly, he charged the beast from behind. The two of them flew through the air briefly, and then hit the solid ground with a thud. Erol was atop the beast, holding it pinned down.
"Ha! I got you now!" he cheered aggressively. The children all stopped and looked on, their eyes wide. He struggled to keep the monster subdued, before suddenly going numb, for pinned underneath him was none other than…
"Ashelin…?" Erol uttered in disbelief. Against his better judgement, he scrambled off of Ashelin and watched as she quickly lumbered to her feet. She stood still by the campfire blaze, her eyes darting around crazily, her brow furrowed dramatically. Her demeanour was very alike to Praxis'. Food was all down her front and flecked in her hair and on her face and her clothes were dirty, singed and frayed in places.
"I smell chicken!" she suddenly growled in a voice that sounded highly unlike her own. It still had the same pitch, but its undertone and the way she slurred her words sounded like Praxis. Erol could not believe what he was seeing. He picked himself up from the ground and watched as Ashelin stormed around the campsite, kicking things aside and sniffing the air violently, searching for the fabled 'chicken'. She found it the form of Praxis' discarded KFC bucket, but became infuriated when she discovered it empty.
"Raaaawwwwwr!" she growled, lurching towards Hugo. The chubby boy let out a scream as the KFC bucket was thrust over his head, becoming stuck there. The boy ran off squealing into the woods. "Panic…" Ashelin suddenly gasped, licking her lips she chased after the boy.
"What's going on here?" Chester asked.
"I've no idea…" Erol mumbled numbly. This whole time, this whole entire time, it had been Ashelin up here. It just didn't add up. Why was she acting this way? Erol could not figure it out. More puzzling was Praxis' reaction to the situation. He was balled up in the foetal position, near the remains of his 'tent', his eye wide as he muttered absently that Ashelin was going to eat all the panic for herself and stave him to death.
A few minutes later and the sun was beginning to rise in the distance, bringing a thin layer of light with it. Ashelin returned from the woods looking extremely dazed. Her eyes groggily set on Erol and she looked confused, as though she was unsure what she was looking at. She dragged her feet over to him and looked about awkwardly, seemingly acting more like herself. She cleared her throat and tried to straighten up her dirty clothes.
"So uh…um…camping, huh?" she asked casually, as though the past hour had not taken place. Her voice seemed raspy and deflated, though it was lacking the sinister Praxis undertone. "Cool…cool," she continued, "I was just…you know…taking a stroll," she shrugged. Erol quirked an eyebrow; was she trying to pretend nothing had happened? Or did she really not know?
"You call this a stroll?" Erol exploded, waving his arms around and indicating to the mass destruction of his campsite. "You call that a stroll?" he pointed meaningfully at Praxis, still curled up on the floor. Ashelin looked around slowly, shiftily clearing her throat again.
"Well…stroll has a very…loose meaning…" she tried to justify, still in that casual tone. Erol sighed and placed his face into his hands, collecting himself.
"This has been you? All you? Every month? You've been terrorising us this whole time? I don't understand…" Erol gapped confusedly.
"I can explain," Ashelin finally admitted defeat. "It was me."
"Yes, we've passed that part already," Erol rolled his eyes.
"I…once every month, I've been having these…episodes. I can't control them, it's like…I become my father," she explained shakily. "I came up here to avoid being seen like that. But then you guys were camping up here, I couldn't help myself!" she shook her head in distress. Erol suddenly felt sympathetic, he couldn't help but remember the time he'd had a "Praxis Episode", that time the Baron left him in charge of the city.
"Oh! So that's why you were so eager to get us to stop coming here," Erol realized, clapping his hands together as the thought hit him.
"Yes…" Ashelin sighed shamefully. "But you kept coming, you just couldn't let it be!" she snapped.
"Hey! I've been having this camping trip for years. You should've found somewhere else to have your…episodes," Erol argued defensively. "In fact, why didn't you go elsewhere?" he pondered.
"Duh, I was thinking like Father," Ashelin responded sassily.
"Oh…well…that explains everything, I guess…" Erol admitted.
"Yes. And I would've gotten away with it too, if it weren't for you meddling kids," Ashelin snarled, glaring at the children.
"Wait…so then…why were you up here when I set up my fake camp the other week?" Erol suddenly questioned.
"Oh, I was going to destroy everything so you thought it wasa resident monster," Ashelin merely shrugged. "I didn't find out about your plan till it was too late," she added with a spiteful glare.
Erol fell silent, still struggling a little to take all of this in, let alone the horrifying realization he'd just had that Praxis was scared of Praxis styled Ashelin. As if on cue, Praxis suddenly waddled over, completely recuperated from his panic session.
"Yeah! In your face Damas! Let's see Jak walk in your footsteps half as good as my son followed mine!" Praxis gloated stupidly, clearly proud of what his daughter had achieved. Erol sensed that somehow, somewhere, Damas had heard this and was now aspiring to train Jak to be more "gangsta". The thought made him shudder.
"Well, at least it's all over for the time being," Ashelin spoke. "Now we can all go-" her voice suddenly became momentarily more Praxis-like again, "-McDonalds!" she concluded, covering her mouth instantly after she'd said it. It was clear she had not intended to say such a thing.
"Good idea!" Praxis bellowed back. He grabbed the discarded esky lid at his feet, set it on the ground, then sat on it as though it were a sled. "Come, children," he yelled. The remaining four children cautiously squeezed onto the esky lid, afraid to defy the Baron's invite. He grunted and mumbled darkly as he used his feet to get the esky lid going, pulling his feet back in and cheering happily as it slid down the mountainside with him and children atop it.
"Well, at least you've stuck around to help me clean up, Ashelin," Erol sighed. "Ashelin…?" he asked when he got no response. He turned around and looked frantically for Ashelin, eventually spotting her. She was running after Praxis and the children, screaming at the top of her Praxis afflicted voice "Maccas".
Erol groaned to himself and, with the strain of the previous day and night weighing on him, and the anti-climatic ending to his solved mystery, he began to clean up the pieces of his destroyed camp.
Perhaps he would find a safer place to host next month's camping trip, that is to say there would be any children left by then…
Meanwhile, high up in the Palace Throne Room, Councillor Veger was dealing with a conundrum. Splinters from the wooden broom handle in his hands were sticking into his sweaty palms, but quite frankly, he just didn't care. He was desperate, oh so very desperate.
"Get off you idiot!" he barked softly, quiet so no one would awaken and hear him. Alas, Damas would not budge. Splattered, fixed into place, the Sand King was immune to the straw broom prodding his side.
It had all started a short while ago. Veger, waking up before the sun as usual, headed to the empty throne room to recline on the best seat in the city, clearly making the most of the Baron's absence. It was a hobby of his to come and sit on the throne; alas, Ashelin had been hogging it as of lately. But here, in this seat, he dreamt of the days where he would be in charge. Once he got that fool Praxis, and his cantankerous scourge of a daughter, out of the way of course.
The head of council was relishing in his plots for world domination, but had been rudely interrupted by a very loud, disgusting and quite comical noise from behind him. It sounded much like the sound of a 90kg (198lbs) pancake hitting a glass coffee table at high speed. Turning in the throne, what he saw was quite horrifying. That monstrosity from the desert, Damas, had surely sensed the Baron's absence too, and was now seeking to overtake Haven.
Veger would not allow this, for getting Damas off the throne (a second time) would be far harder than simply waiting for Praxis to have a heart attack whilst climbing some stairs. Veger did the only thing he could; he took up arms, hung his torso out the closest window, and began to try and push the Sand King slathered against the glass, off.
"Is there ever a time when you're not being stubborn?" Veger cursed, trying with all his might to dislodge Damas, only just now noticing how strangely he was dressed in that ankle length nightie of his. Eventually Veger attempted a new tactic. He was quite pleased when the broom handle coaxed Damas from the windows more effectively.
Plummeting to the city below, Damas' yells of abuse, and his pledge to raise Jak to be "Supa Gangsta", echoed in the early morning air. Veger sighed contentedly, tossed the broom aside, dusted his hands off, and then returned to sit in the throne. Soon, soon it would all be his.
He became immersed, imagining all the wonderful things he would do once he was Baron, such as closing all of the hospitals, teaching his life history in all the schools, and pushing old ladies into oncoming zoomer traffic. Ah, life would be sweet…so, so sweet…so very sweet.
"Hm…" Veger hummed, "I could sure go for a McFlurry right about now."
Bijoux: Not sure whether many people will remember (it's been a while) but the Palace Throne has a "history" for corrupting the minds of those who sit in it...or at least, in these god forsaken stories it does. Hope everyone's enjoyed this installment, and as always, feedback is welcome. Thanks for reading :)