Author's Note: Well, it took a while, but the newest chapter is here for you all to see. I had a lot of fun writing this, so hopefully you will have an equal amount of mirth reading it as well. Please be sure to leave a review, as reviews equals smiley faces on a Thanny's fizzog. No reviews means no smiley face, and that means a frumpy face on a Thanny's fizzog. Please, think of the Thanny's. It means so much to them.
Disclaimer: I own Jazz Jackrabbit entirely, mind, body, soul, and game. Well, actually, no; that's partially a lie. Okay, entirely a lie.
The Diamond of Two Destinies Chapter 6: Cold Meets Warm Blood
When it came to delving through underbrush like a charging rhinoceros, Spaz was the best thing his two legal guardians could have brought along. The jittery rabbit rushed along his bushwhacked path without a care in the world, satiating the Universal Law of Unorthodox Events Triggered by Unlucky Rabbit Feet enough so that the company had little to worry about. Again, the narrator implores you not to ask; UnLUnETURF has axioms that took more than three centuries for the wisest of vertebrates to ponder over without having their minds unhinged, and is still vastly unaccepted in the world of physics at this time.
The Vegetable Labyrinth was a natural maze like no other. Pumpkins and grape vines intertwined with other vegetation to form impassable walls. More often than not, the siblings were forced to scamper around obstacles rather than shoot them down, plasma shots greedily absorbed by or bouncing off of the thick foliage instead of cutting through.
Unlike the risks posed by a normal labyrinth such as getting lost or eaten by a two-legged bovine, the only dangers were the bramble growths inhabiting the lower pockets of land and the inhabitants. The thorns which accompanied them were long enough to skewer a victim, sustaining the plants with fresh blood for many years to come. If one were more observant yet improperly armed, on the other hand, the natives might prove a more difficult problem.
By the end to the Third Aesopian War several hundred years ago, the indigenous lizards were the only reptiles allowed to live on Carrotus, whilst all others were removed through the option of mass exodus or the option of mass grave. Nonviolent and herbivorous, the lizards were tolerated as harmless individuals who merely sought a place to stay and given the forests and Labyrinth to live in.
Several generations had passed since those bloody days, as had the lizard's passivity when turtles besought their aid in the fourth and latest Aesopian War. The promise of wealth, land, and freedom to roam wherever they wished twisted a majority of lizards into Devan's scheme, fueling his war effort, but their opposition against the rabbits was short-lived at best. Smaller in number and armed with less advanced weapons or none at all, hundreds of lizards perished for every loss the rabbits sustained. The forests were retaken, the lizards routed to the Labyrinth, and the war ended with the demise of Devan, or so everyone thought.
History aside, only the harmless parrots (and a small flock of completely harmful parrots loosed by the Rabbit Environmental Agency of Lowbrow Lunatical Yahoos, or REALLY for short) and lizards were known to inhabit the otherwise dangerous lands. Only the bravest or stupidest of rabbits dared to venture into the underbrush, and that is precisely what the three were—brave and stupid.
Against all odds, Spaz halted at the brinks of every loganberry and dewberry patch the troupe was about to run into, distracted by some flitting bird or massive leaf or puny alien spacecraft taking puny alien pictures instead of the sharp, recurved dangers below. They crossed eventually, whether it was through leaping overhead or landing on the head of an unsuspecting, suspended pumpkin.
"How much further do we have to go, I wonder?" puffed Jazz, fighting back the fatigue in his aching limbs as he and Lori ran close together through the underbrush. Their flailing idiot of a brother paved the way, kicking everything in his path and landing on his face at least a dozen times. That could have posed a problem, had his molecular brain not been nestled in a skull denser than rhino bone.
"Beats me," stated Lori, shrugging her shoulders mid-run. "From what I've seen, the Labyrinth is larger than some of the forests out there, but if you want to get technical some idiot scientists measured the perimeter to be a little more than three hundred Spratulforus hops. Assuming it is a circle, that's, uh"—the lemon-coloured rabbit paused to do some mental arithmetic—"seven thousand square Sprats, give or take a few hundred."
"Quite the math smarts you've got there, Sis," Jazz uttered with a grin.
Her cheeks flushed minutely before she spat back at him, "Oh, stuff it!"
Jazz chuckled to himself over Lori's overprotectiveness of her math smarts. She always had a sharp mind, but for some reason she despised revealing it to anyone, especially him. Though he tried to drag it out of her for as long as he could remember, it was that same response all the time: "Oh, stuff it!"
Now, the Spratulforus hop, or Sprat for short, had been relatively new to the field of measurements, created by none other than Spratulforus the Sprightful Hare himself fifty years ago. Inventor, teacher, philosopher—he dabbled in every art he could lay his hands on and succeeded in becoming the most famous lagomorph in all of Carrotus. He did not stop there, however. He craved ever more. Once the Rabolympics started, he swore that he would best every record made by far. Unfortunately for him and fortunately for others, that did not happen. At the first event, Spratulforus stepped up with a short-burst rocket on his back and blew the record of twelve paces away, not to mention himself. Since he was so well-known yet had nothing purposeful named after him yet, they used the distance he leapt—a staggering 1760 paces—for field measurements. It was a smash hit, being much easier to use than a stride's length, but poor Sprat's story was solely epitaphed on a wooden sign:
"Here lies Spratulforus. He jumped pretty far before exploding in a prettier ball of flame. Oh, an actual visitor! Hello, visitor!
"HEY GUYS, I THINK WE'RE ALMOST THERE!" screamed Spaz over the distance at the top of his itty-bitty lungs before he twirled like a ceiling fan and pulled off a septuple axel. He kept running, surprisingly enough, his legs spinning in blurry circles like the legendary speedy hedgehog that currently resided only in the oldest of story books.
"You said that—what?—eleven times already!" Lori spat back, throwing a suspicious glance ahead of her. "What makes you think we'll believe you now, of all times? Where is 'there', anyways?"
"Here we go again," Jazz groaned into his palm before the resounding thud of a body against something far more solid than radish or carrot met his ears. A silly grin crossed his face as he and his sister came to a halt. "Well, whaddya know," he continued, "I guess he found it."
Over the mowed-down clearing of lemongrass, past the number of mulched pumpkin vines, and clean through a patch of overgrown bok choi, the two could see a tall staked palisade with their idiot brother wedged into it, fitting almost seamlessly between a pair of timbers. Spaz waved at the two, seemingly unfazed by the ordeal of collapsing a tree-sized stake or the fact that he was stuck with his feet dangling, and Jazz, uncertain of what else to do, waved back.
"What do you think that's for . . . ?" queried Lori, her hand instinctively reaching toward the gun at her waist. Had there not been massive amounts of vegetation around, the monstrous wall of hacked forest pines would have towered over the landscape like a woodland in its own right.
Grating shrieks of terror, anger, disgust, and who knows what else arose from the other side, growing in volume like the hum of a kicked hornet's nest and answering her question. Whatever Spaz had done was clearly not the best of actions.
"Whatever it is, it'll have to wait!" Jazz shouted as he burst forward to grab their glassy-eyed, still-waving brother.
He was a little more than a second too late. As he reached out, the red rabbit was yanked beyond the wall by four scaly hands, the results of which were a cartoony pop from the momentary squeeze and a kicking mess of fur and fury. Through the hole, Jazz could witness the tussle, Spaz giving his best effort to fend off several lizards that attempted to silence him. His loud and squeaky protests went on, regardless.
A swift, passing breeze signified that something flew over Jazz's head, and he knew exactly what it was. Lori catapulted herself through the narrow hole with a diving somersault, weapon drawn and eyes closed. Ever the acrobat, the green-haired one chuckled inwardly as he watched her fly, and followed her in with his Flit gun two-handedly toted.
Both weapons were trained on the lizards surrounding Spaz immediately, the kicks of whom were flying at a slower rate as exhaustion kicked in. Spaz's assailants greedily seized their chance, but not without a good sock in the face or two in return.
"Let the idiot go," spoke Lori over the din, onyx gaze locked fearlessly ahead.
Jazz noted that a reptile of the group sporting a headdress slipped a bone knife out of a crude armband, but with luck the tip was pointed at them and not Spaz. Ironically enough, that made things simpler should the matter turn into a hostage situation or something more hostile, and the two could potentially overtake the lizards before anything could happen to him, but that was not the only concern. Jazz noticed a small horde of other lizards circling them and keeping their distance. The very air tensed with blood lust, anger, and fear.
The bladed individual stepped up, fondling the knobby weapon with eyes gazing into Lori's. "And why should we do that?" he queried with a cynical simper.
Something unctuous and nauseating lay within the lizard's tone that reminded Jazz of grubs worming their way out of earth. Were all lizards like this, relying on subtlety and brooding over their loss in the last war, or were the two he had the displeasure to speak with the only ones? Too early to say, he chastised himself inwardly.
"Because half a litre of liquid flame is aimed at your head right now, clever-clogs," Lori countered. "Now back away or I will torch you and anyone else who refuses."
Some in the nearing crowd ceased their approach, and more than a few took a few steps back. Jazz saw the dread of death pass over their faces as he glanced around, but not the one ahead.
The oily reptile waved his weapon toward the crimson rabbit. Spaz certainly was a fighter, Jazz reminded himself, but was nearing the final throes of his wrestling, and a hand was already laid on his throat. The green rabbit tensed his legs in wait for some sort of opening or signal.
"Now, that would be very disadvantageous for us lizardfolk. What's stopping you, bun-bun, from blasting us all once you get your fellow back?"
riposted Lori, flicking the safety switch off with the sweep of a hand. "The choice is yours, hombre. Stand down now."
The lizard withdrew the smile and licked his lips, pondering the situation. Jazz pondered as well. Even if they got Spaz out of his predicament, he would be too tired to fight so many off, and, while he and Lori would have little problem by themselves, protecting someone would immensely complicated things. Looking over to Lori was no consolation. Though she hid her inner mechanisms well, he could tell as a brother that she too had no solid strategy.
"How 'bout something fairer? You scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours." the lizard uttered. Jazz did not like the sound of this, and evidently his lemon-hued sibling did not either.
"I'm listening . . . but this had better be a fair trade."
"It's fair, rabbit, and simple enough. You stay here and fix what was broken, and we will watch and study you to ensure that you are not as harebrained as he is." The oily lizard pointed toward Spaz with his knife. "If you complete the task within a day's time, you get your comrade back and we will think of your kind as . . . less hostile." A grin formed. "How about that deal? I guarantee you'll find none better."
Little did Jazz and Lori know that this sounded like a car salesman's pitch on the machine world Smoggius, complete with a hook, an outrageous task, and a sly demeanour that would make small children cry. That reminds the narrator of an advertisement. Ahem.
Is your rickshaw or other inferior mode of transportation breaking down? Then come down to Smoggius, the greatest technological font in the UNIVERSE! Here you will find only the best of goods, like this light bulb. Huh? HUH? Pretty cool, right? See how it glows through the grey glass a bit? Or this steam-powered automobile that takes SEVEN tonnes of coal to move TEN kilometres. That's FOUR times the byproduct discharge of a recycling plant, all for you to use! We promise you that the HEAVENS will change colour when you drive in this, and not only your NEIGHBORS! So stop by Wingnut Al's Car Emporium while you can and spend more than your life's savings here. There NEVER is more useful junk than MY junk.
"That's a terrible deal!" Jazz shouted, breaking his silence and his sweat for the first time since the conversation started. All focused on him, including his sister which plunged her gaze into him like a scarab. She must have (a) been seriously considering the offer or (b) not heard the Wingnut Al ad like he did, or worst of all (c) been seriously considering the Wingnut Al offer.
"My deals aren't terrible, whelp," huffed the lizard, his cool and collected attitude eroding.
Jazz ignored him for the time being and turned toward his sister, saying, "Lor, can I speak to you privately for a moment?"
Lori frowned minutely and looked toward the ruffled lizard, who merely shrugged his shoulders and renewed his grin; no doubt he felt in control again and was pleased with it. She turned about enough to keep him in the corner of her view, but only gave him that tiny amount of trust.
"What is this about?" she whispered in hasty confusion. "The deal wasn't that bad, was it?"
"Think about it, Sis. Did you see any giant trees along the entire Labyrinth?"
"Well, no, but—"
"And did you see how large those trunks are? The two of us couldn't pick one up, let alone hack them down at the base. He's playing us for saps!"
"If it's any help," the blade-holding lizard uttered, nonchalantly entering the conversation, "there's some rope and replacement logs over there."
Jazz ground his teeth together, barely resisting the thought of firing a shot right between that snake of a squamate's eyes. The lizard must have had good hearing, or perhaps all of them did. He never bothered asking one before the war or dared to after it, so a guess was all that he was left with.
"So much for the security of a whispered conversation," he grumbled with a shake of his head.
Lori nodded in agreement before doing something with her hands, the egg-shaped pistol locked in her elbow and her actions concealed from the imposing lizard. The lime-coloured rabbit recognised her actions a few seconds in, and thankfully she repeated the terse message via sign language: Should I take the deal?
He responded with a small grimace and similar gestures: I don't know.
Time. We spent enough at That Gun Rabbit's house and doing this will waste more on That Lizard's wall, even with provisions.
Lori managed a small nod, able to understand what he signed clearly enough. Only their names and a few others like Eva's were in their unwritten vocabulary, and "That Rabbit" or "That Fat Old Hare" or "That No-good Turtle" were intended as substitutes for the proper names of people they have run across. Creating a new language understandable by more than a sole user is a confusing task at times, but this was the best they could come up with over their many years of crafting and remaking it. In this case, they meant "Zen" for "That Gun Rabbit" and "that lizard" for, you guessed it, "That Lizard."
She shook her head over to Spaz and signed on. What about Spaz? We can't leave him behind. Jazz noticed the slight crinkling of a smile before the last few signs. Or can we?
Not yet; we need to find a cliff first, Jazz replied with a wide grin. Now, back to topic. He paused for a few seconds in thought before continuing. Let's take the deal.
After all this talk? she signed with incredulity in her eyes.
We play by That Lizard's rules for now. No bloodshed that way, and Spaz would be protected less if we take the deal and have to go back on it. Let's talk later.
The silence had lasted a short while, and the lizards surrounding the two were growing uneasy of the conversation that they could not hear or understand. As the two turned, Jazz read that the bladed lizard had been looking at them curiously, still with the obnoxious sneering smile painted across his face.
"So?" it questioned in a terse manner.
"Deal," Lori responded similarly, holstering her plasma pistol, "but I will be watching you."
"Same here," he quipped, and at the snap of his fingers a pooped Spaz was lifted from the ground, carried off, and out of sight beyond a cluster of hovels.
"Just be sure he is in a better condition than you left him in," Jazz continued with a small scowl, distrust reemerging in his tone.
"He is in safe hands," the other returned as he sheathed his knife into the armband and trotted off, "so long as you do what needs to be done."
"It's hopeless . . ." Jazz groaned, rubbing his aching shoulders after yet another failed attempt of moving the massive titan of an ironwood tree. He and Lori attempted to shift the smallest, yet still enormous, log from out of the pile for what felt like the fifteenth time and did not succeed in having it budge any more than an indeterminable amount through each effort.
"What is hopeless? Moving this or the rah-rah cheering coming from that guy?" Lori said from the other side of the log, pointing at a nearby lizard.
The critter was doing its best to help them out without helping them out, pulling off silly stunts and gargling a medley of pitiful beat-boxing dubstep and an equally terrible fight song. Whatever other lizards which were around ignored its antics flawlessly, causing the two to speculate whether this happened far earlier than now.
"Both," he stated, his voice so stale and emotionless they both burst into laughing a moment later. "But seriously now," he continued with a wipe of his eye, "this is impossible for two people to do on their own. If we can't roll it, we can't lift it. It's a herculean task!"
Let it be noted that the legend section in the Catalogs of Carrotus were very limited, much of history forgotten except a very ironic four: Aesop's Noblest Assumptions, or what some lowlifes call Aesop's Fables; recovered Greek tales such as the ever-strong Heracles, the inventive Daedalus, and the crafty Oedipus; a relatively newer legend and fastest thing alive, Sonic the Hedgehog; and The Book Without a Name, undoubtedly the most infamous of the four.
Let it also be known that, unlike the other artefacts, The Book without a Name was once stolen from the Catalogs, and once the thieves read from the thing their bodies dubbed the reading as so atrocious they atomised into fine cones of dust. From then on, the book was not placed on a beautiful shelf for all to see, but was instead vaulted off in the centre of the world, guarded by the most horrific of creatures, the thespiosaurs. Nobody really knew what happened to it afterwards.
"So that leaves us with only one option, doesn't it?" Lori queried, shrugging at her brother's statement.
Jazz frowned and looked up at the hole in the wall. He knew it might take a building crane or a workforce of thirty to lift the enormous post upright and set it back in the cavity, but they did not have either. To get their irritating sib back, a better plan was needed, else they would have to fight their way through droves of potential innocents. Perhaps a plan that incorporated wits, strength, and ingenuity.
"Maybe two," he stated, grinning wilily over to Lori. "Butt U. Glee didn't say on what terms we needed to finish this, right?"
Lori shot an eyebrow upwards before she nodded.
"That is true, but I don't see where you are getting at here," she confessed.
"It's easy. We can conjure up some assistance, hire some workers, promise them money and a steady supply of food and water, finish, get Spaz out of this mess, and leg it."
"Wow," responded the lemon-hued rabbit with a thoughtful bob of her head. "How very . . . capitalistic of you. And what makes you think that we are not being watched or overheard?"
Jazz shrugged his shoulders and pointed over to an empty chair in front of a distant residence that had assuredly seen better days.
"One reason is that the lizard king or whatever you call him is not in his 'glorious' throne nd went back into his palace. Another is that nobody wants to listen to this bloke perform."
The silly squamate was finishing off an incredible solo, its reptilian lips huffing and puffing as it dubstepped its lungs out. Shortly after, the lizard performed a extra-stupendously glorious somersault that left it more than a little winded. No somersault would shut its mouth, however, and the lizard kept up what it was born to do.
"Well, you got me there," Lori laughed. "This guy really is helping us out after all. I wish I had something to give him right here and now for his, er . . . performance."
"No problem! It's nice to see happy customers!" the lizard exploded with such force the two's feet left ground zero in astonishment. The critter must have been just that piqued to see its lifelong goal obersved as a boon. "Oh, and by the way, I'm a girl."
"Croc dragons, live signs, and female lizards that look like male lizards . . . I don't think my days could get much weirder," Lori sighed.
Far outside their unusual galaxy, a massive triangular grin formulated out of the darkness of space and wheezily chuckled at Lori's statement. The guardian of the Wheel of Fortune, now freshly awakened from its slumber, spun the circular object nearby with a gnarled, ghostly hand and smugly sank into the blankets of sleep once more, satisfied with another civic duty tucked under its belt.
The wheel churned and churned and churned, finally ending up with the dial resting on a picture of a scarlet bunny about to eat a bluebird.