Fiction Tournament

"Welcome to the Big Event of the Year, the Grand Fictional Tournament! I'm your host, Pierre Salisbury, fresh from Azkaban after committing mail fraud. Actually, I just sent a letter to Lucius Malfoy by a camel, and I was imprisoned for not employing owls. Anyhoo, enough about me.

"This year's Fiction Tournament will feature sixteen contestants, all vying for the ultimate prize, the Monkey's Paw! This magical artifact will grant you your greatest wishes. Each player will be allowed to summon any creature from fiction in a three-on-three match. Whoever runs out of creatures first loses. The one creature that is banned under any circumstances is the kraken. Joe Koebb will list the participants in this year's match."

"Thank you, Pierre. We have, in alphabetical order, George F. Babbitt, Lydia Bennet, Bastian Balthazar Bux, Fagin, Jean-Claude Frollo, Geppetto, Hans Christian Anderson's unnamed little mermaid, Humbert Humbert, Javier, Macbeth, Lucy Pevensie, Phineas, Ebenezer Scrooge, Winston Smith, Venus, and the White Rabbit." As Joe called all of these character's names, they appeared on the center stage, except for the White Rabbit.

"Where the heck is that fellow? He's always late. That's not good for business, you know," said Babbitt.

Thursday Next looked the combating characters up and down as she walked past them. "Just checking to make sure you are all fit for battling. Play to your strengths. Hum, if the opponent summons seven-year-old Alice, don't drool over her. Mermaid, don't dwell on your soul's inability to reach heaven. You'll get there, er, eventually. Scrooge, don't summon the Grinch."

"Why not?"

"You know what happened last year."

"Bah, humbug."

Pierre Salisbury boomed over the stage. "I would like our audience and participants to direct their attention to the screen, which will randomly select who will be facing off against who in the qualifying round!"

The faces of the people competing appeared on a large screen, running around in a blur for half a minute. Then the images were matched.

Geppetto-------------Fagin.

Javier----------------Winston Smith

Macbeth--------------Venus

Mermaid--------------Lucy Pevensie

George F. Babbitt---Bastian Balthazar Bux

Lydia Bennett-------Ebenezer Scrooge

Humbert Humbert—Phineas

Jean-Claude Frollo—White Rabbit

"What the heck? I'm facing the White Rabbit? This is a disgrace!"

"Deal with it, Frollo," said Thursday.

"Where are the telescreens? I need to know where they are," said a middle-aged man.

"There are no telescreens, Winston," Thurday said.

"No telescreens? But there are telescreens everywhere. You must be severely misinformed."

Thursday gave up.

"The opening match between Geppetto and Fagin will commence in twelve minutes!" came the voice over the loudspeaker.

"Aw, I want to go to Brighton. Do I have to stick around?"

"Lydia, you entered yourself in this tournament. You seemed to think Lord Jim would be taken with you if you did."

"Oh, yes, handsome man, isn't he?"

"I'm handsome," said Bastian. "But I don't know my name. Am I this Geppetto or Fagin?"

"No," Thursday assured him. "You are Bastian Balthazar Bux. Your opponent is that man over there, speaking in a cell phone."

"I told you, honey," said the man Thursday was pointing to into his Verizon, with a cigar in his right hand, "I have given up smoking. It is detrimental to business."

Meanwhile, a fifty-year-old man was gazing lustily at Lucy Pevensie, who was chatting with her brother Edmund, who had come to watch the tournament.

"I'm sorry, Hum," Thursday said, putting her hand on his shoulder, "but if you touch Lucy I will have to arrest you. I can, you know."

"What? What? I'm just looking. She reminds me so much of my dear Lo…"

The loudspeaker made a high-pitched noise. "Will the puppet-master Geppetto and the Jew Fagin please step into the arena? Other contenders, enter the room in the back, where a television will exhibit to you what is going on in the arena. Friends of the contenders, please go sit with the audience."

Everybody went to their places. An Egyptian by the name of Hasan Mostafa served as referee.

"Geppetto, call on your first literary creature!" Hasan shouted, as soon as a bell rang.

"I choose my own creation, Pinnochio!"

People in the stands cheered.

"Fagin, call on your first fictional character."

"With the utmost pleasure, I summon the almighty Smaug, the dragon!"

A white line separated the combatants. Hasan blew his whistle.

The wooden puppet ran up to the dragon and held on to its leg for dear life. It knew that if the dragon's fire touched it, it would be toast. Smaug aimed his fire at his own leg, but it kept missing. Finally, he realized that the only way to destroy the puppet would be to fly into the air and give it a seismic toss. He rose about sixty feet into the sky, then did a peculiar dance move to shake Pinnochio off. After a few minutes, Smaug succeeded; the puppet screamed loudly as it plummeted to the ground, where it cracked into a million pieces.

"You cheater!" Geppetto yelled, indignantly, shaking a finger at Fagin. "You purposefully chose a creature that my puppet would have no way of defeating."

"It's all permitted in the rules, Geppetto," said Hasan. "Now, please choose your second creature, or you will be disqualified."

"Fine! I choose Bilbo Baggins!"

The audience gave their boos. This was the most predictable move in the entire tournament. Player A uses Smaug; Player B counters with Bilbo. If they could've given their opinion, most people would've elected that Smaug be banned, as well as the kraken.

Bilbo made short work of the dragon, by inserting a sword into Smaug's throat. The dragon's normally gray face turned a deep shade of purple, and it faded into nothingness.

Fagin was angry. The puppet-master was supposed to be too stupid to know about Bilbo.

"Mr. Fagin, you have seventeen seconds to select a new creature," Hasan warned, after a minute went by with the Jew saying nothing. "Six…five…four…three…"

"Dracula!" Fagin exclaimed.

The audience's interest went up. No one ever used Dracula against Bilbo before. How would this go?

Hasan blew his whistle again. The vampire turned into a bat and swooped for Bilbo's neck. Bilbo seemed to be ignoring it. He was on his knees, scrawling something in the sand in front of him. Dracula was just about to bite his neck, when…

"TIME OUT!" Hasan shouted, blowing his whistle fiercely. "Back across the white line. Move!" he said, when Dracula stood there, blinking madly, his teeth poised. At last, he gave in. "Good. Now, there will be no fighting in this current match. Bilbo has thrown down a very rare gauntlet, which Fagin can either accept or refuse to accept. Bilbo will offer a riddle, which you, Fagin, must answer correctly. If you can do this, Dracula will offer a riddle for Geppetto to answer. These riddles will keep going back and forth until someone fails to answer accurately. Whoever does so will lose their creature, and be down to their last one. Do you accept, Fagin?"

A battle went on in Fagin's head. If he declined, he'd win easily. The audience could see that Bilbo had gone for his last resort, by writing the word "RIDDLE" in the sand. But if Fagin did this, he would be showing that his intelligence quotient was lower than Geppetto's, since he couldn't answer a few simple riddles, and he couldn't have that.

"I accept."

"Good. Now, Bilbo will offer the first riddle, for which you must answer, Fagin."

Bilbo spoke. "I have rivers but no water, forests but no trees, and cities with no people. What am I?"

Fagin thought for a moment. "Is it legal to ask for a hint?"

Hasan nodded. "But you can only exercise this power one time. If you ask for a hint now, you must answer all subsequent riddles on your own."

"Give me a hint!" Fagin demanded.

"Here's your hint," said Bilbo. "People carry me around with them when travelling."

It took Fagin another fifteen seconds. "Ah, a map!" he said, triumphantly.

Bilbo held up his hobbit hand in a sign of assent, indicating that Fagin had answered correctly.

"Now, Dracula, give Geppetto your riddle."

"What walks on four legs in the morning, two legs in the afternoon, and three legs at night?" asked the vampire, in a raspy voice.

"Oh, I know! Man! He crawls as a baby, walks upright from youth through prime, then when he's an old man he walks around with a cane."

Fagin growled at the vampire. "You gave him such a common riddle. Think of something better next time!"

"Okay, Bilbo, give your second riddle to Fagin," said the referee.

"This thing all things devours:
Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;
Gnaws iron, bites steel;
Grinds hard stones to meal;
Slays king, ruins town
And beats high mountain down."

"Oh, no," Fagin hissed. "When I accepted the riddle challenge, you didn't say anything about poetry."

"That's the way it goes, Fagin," the referee said, irritably.

"I say you disqualify Geppetto for bringing forth a riddle challenger who likes poetic questions."

"Oh, there will be a disqualification all right," Hasan said, darkly. "But it won't be Geppetto."

"What?! You can't do that!"

"I am the referee, Fagin. If you were referee, you could make the decisions. Apply next year."

The audience groaned. Someone shouted, "Come on, please continue the challenge! We're tired of listening to you two bickering!"

Another audience member yelled, "Get this damn riddle challenge over so that we can see some action!"

Hasan blew his whistle. "Quiet in the audience! Bilbo, please repeat your riddle again."

Bilbo did so.

Fagin muttered to himself. "Devours everything…birds, flowers, trees…destroys metal…kills monarchs…and erodes mountains. Could it be water? Nah, I can't make a blind guess. And I don't think many kinds have drowned, anyway. Water doesn't do anything damaging to steel. I should know; Dodger got me a steel watch and I got it wet by accident, and it stopped, but nothing damaging happened to the steel."

"The clock is ticking," said Hasan. "You only have fifteen seconds to answer before we call Dracula out for forfeit."

"Clocks," Fagin muttered. "Wait, that's the answer! TIME!" he shouted.

Bilbo nodded.

"Dracula's turn to ask, Bilbo's to answer."

"I am a 6 letter word.
Letters 6-5-2 spell out a drink.
Letters 4-5-2-3 spell out a fruit.
Letters 1-2-6 spell out a pet.
Letters 3-2-6 spell out a pest, which often gets eaten by 1-2-6.
What am I?"

"Six-letter-word," Geppetto said. "Hmmm…" He tried "peanut" first. For the second line, he got "tue." For the third line, "nuea." He gave up on that one. Then he tried "tablet," "second," and "morons."

"Twelve seconds…" Hasan warned.

At that moment, Figaro the cat appeared out of the corner of Geppetto's eye. Cats make fine pets, he thought. If only the answer to line four were CAT. Hmmm…I wonder what six-letter word begins with "ca" and ends with "t"? Well, there's "cabinet." No wait, that's seven letters…

"Answer, please."

"Uh…carpet?"

Dracula nodded.

"Damn you, stupid vampire! Can't even come up with a good enough riddle to stump a toymaker."

"Fagin, please no foul language. Now, Bilbo, give Fagin your next riddle."

Bilbo cleared his throat, then asked, "Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego?"

Fagin stared in disbelief. "That isn't even a viable question!"

"I'm sorry, but I have to differ," said Hasan. "In a riddle contest, all questions are viable, except ones with the word 'God' in them."

"But it's unanswerable!"

"So is, what is sixteen divided by a squared? Doesn't mean it can't be asked."

"I request a definition of riddle," said the disgruntled Jew. "I'm almost certain it must have only one answer, and an answer at that, which can be solved by deductive reasoning."

"Well, after you are disqualified, you can look it up in a dictionary. Just answer the question."

Fagin blanched. "All right. It's going to be a wrong answer no matter what I say. So I'll guess, San Diego, California?"

Bilbo shook his head.

"Fagin has failed to answer the question correctly, which means that Dracula is out of the match. You are down to your last character, Fagin."

"But, but—I need to know the answer first!"

"Transylvania," Bilbo said. "If you had just looked at your character, you would've gotten it right."

Fagin tore bits of his hair out in frustration. Outwitted by a stupid hobbit…

"Pick your next combatant, Jew. And hurry."

"I summon the King of the Brobdingnagians!"

A giant about thirty-five feet tall appeared. It did not have gray, flabby skin like most giants, but instead looked human, except for his size.

"Stomp on the little rat!" Fagin shouted up at the giant.

The giant obeyed. Bilbo tried to run for cover, but failed. The foot came down on him, as though he were a cockroach.

"You are down to your last creature, Geppetto," said Hasan. "Make it good."

"I choose Kludd from The Guardians of Ga'Hoole!"

A large owl appeared, wearing a mask made of mu metal. It was wearing battle claws with fire tongs in them.

"What on Earth is this?" Fagin queried. "I never heard of Kludd."

"That's probably because you don't know about children's literature. Kludd is an evil owl in Kathryn Lasky's excellent Guardians of Ga'Hoole series. Until his death, he is the leader of the Pure Ones, married to Nyra, a particularly beautiful moon-faced Barn Owl."

"What are you doing reading kid's books? Even the Artful Dodger doesn't do that."

"I am a character in a kid's book, silly. So it is my business to know what is going on in my rival stories."

"Cut the chatter; give us some action!" yelled someone from the audience.

Hasan blew the whistle, and the battle began.

Kludd made a loud screech as he rose into the air. He dodged the giant's arms, flying alternatively from port to leeward. He scratched the giant's arm with his fiery battle claws. The giant shrieked in pain. Kludd approached the giant's head. He knocked his metal mask against the giant's pate, hoping to send the giant to the ground. But the giant's weight made this head-butting futile. Then, just before Kludd could slash at the Brobdingnagian's face with his battle claws, the giant clapped his two hands together, catching the bird between them. The fire tongs singed his fingers, and the bird was struggling like mad to get out, but the giant would not release him. Finally, the giant opened his hands, and the owl fell down to the ground with a splat!

The audience cheered. Except for the Smaug-Bilbo strategy, they enjoyed the first match.

"And Fagin is the winner!" called Pierre Salisbury. "That means Fagin will go on to the quarterfinals, and Geppetto is out of the running. The referee and participants will exit the arena, and the next match between Javier and Winston Smith will commence in another twelve minutes!"