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47. Tony

Davy looked closer at the lizard standing in front of him. He was scaly and brownish-green colored. He wore the top half of a sky blue medical scrub with loose-fitting black rubber gloves. Over the scrubs was a black medical apron. He was not wearing pants.

Davy found himself feeling uncomfortable at the sight of the lizard’s face. His mouth was wide open in a toothless, unnervingly wide smile. His eyes were large and round, almost looking like they belonged to a cartoon character.

Steve was similarly perturbed by the lizard. He didn’t look like the short lizards that ambushed them the day Davy first received word of his quest. This lizard had a shorter snout, and scales on the top of his head gave the appearance of small horns.

Steve sidled up to Lady Gut Possum. “What kind of lizard is that?” he whispered.

“The kind that can shoot blood from behind his eyes,” Lady Gut Possum snapped back. “So I suggest you remain silent and allow me to do the talking.”

The lizard spoke to them in a declarative voice that was accompanied by an unusual static sound, as if he was speaking from an old radio. As he spoke, his unnerving smile never faltered.

“This is the Institute of Mind,” he said. “What is your purpose?”

His gaze turned to Davy, who didn’t immediately respond.

“I am Consecration Tony,” the lizard continued in the same declarative voice. “Explain your presence.”

Lady Gut Possum came up to him and gave him a thwack on the head with her parasol. “What did I tell you?” she said angrily. “I said we need to keep a low profile while we’re in this world. And you go and open an ice cream establishment that surreptitiously serves your mind drugs or who-knows-what to the human populous!?”

“But no trip to Sangre Dios is complete without a visit to the Very Dairy Ice Cream Factory,” Davy, Steve, Olivia, and Connie chimed in simultaneously.

Lady Gut Possum looked at them then glared back at Consecration Tony. “What were you thinking? This is the Steward and his companions that you are drugging!” she exclaimed.

Consecration Tony looked back with his smile. “Their minds are untapped and ice cream is a magic food. It is an after-hours moonbeam in a corporeal state.”

Lady Gut Possum sighed. “That doesn’t make any sort of sense,” she replied. “You will stop drugging these people,” she declared. “I do not care if you continue serving food, but it shall not be laced with anything nefarious.”

Consecration Tony tilted his head. “I accept with reluctance,” he said.” You deplorable hard-boiled egg tart.”

Lady Gut Possum seemed too frustrated to pay any heed to Consecration Tony’s insult. She looked at Davy.

“Davy, this is Consecration Tony,” she said in a considerably softer tone. “He is going to help you.”

“Um,” Davy answered. He was already feeling some reservations about this.

“I am aware of your trepidation,” Lady Gut Possum acknowledged. “Consecration Tony is a constant source of consternation. But his methods have a knack for bringing about epiphanies in his subjects. Perhaps he can help you four come to discover what is needed to defeat your current foe.”

“So Tony will help us find out how to defeat the Iron League?” Connie asked. “Sounds good to me.”

Davy still wasn’t quite convinced. “Is there any downside here?” he asked.

“There is a small chance his methods will drive you to incurable madness,” Lady Gut Possum admitted.

“I like those odds,” Olivia chirped.

Davy looked at the rest of the group. “Are you all okay with this?”

Connie shrugged with a laid back grin. “I have a tendency to just go with whatever if presented to me, and it usually turns out just fine. Besides, you’re a sharp individual,” you can probably handle whatever Tony can throw at you,” she answered. “I wouldn’t worry.”

“Yeah,” Steve added. “Besides, my mind is an impenetrable fortress. I’ve never gone mad in my life, so that means it’s, like, statistically impossible for me to go mad today.”

“I mean, yeah, the brain lizard guy who drives people mad should be a giant red flag,” Olivia chimed in. “But look at his face! It’s so goofy and happy. I kind of want a stuffed toy of him that I can make my best friend.”

Davy looked back at Consecration Tony’s face. Maybe he was still in a good mood from the delicious Franklin Del-Mango RooseveltTM ice cream he had just eaten, but the adorable smile and wide, cartoony eyes put Davy at ease.

“Okay, I guess we can try this,” Davy relented. He turned to Lady Gut Possum. “But please don’t let us go insane.”

Lady Gut Possum nodded then glared at Consecration Tony. “Go ahead and prepare them for your mind therapy,” she said. “But you heard the Steward,” she continued. “If any one of them descends into insanity because of you, I swear I will raze your institute to the ground with my bare hands.”

Consecration Tony blinked then held his left hand in the air. “I swear to unlock the secrets in their brain space,” he said. “And that no one will be intentionally driven to madness. This time.”

Lady Gut Possum appeared to find this acceptable, she looked at Davy and the others. “Go on with Consecration Tony, he will get you ready for his therapy,” she said. “And remember if any of you goes insane, I will still love you.”

“Huh?” Steve interjected.

“Nothing,” Lady Gut Possum immediately replied. “Go on with Tony. I will wait for you here.”

The smiling lizard beckoned them to follow him down the hallway leading out of the entry area.

“I have a good feeling about this!” Olivia declared as they followed him down the hall. “Mind therapy sounds exciting!”

Consecration Tony beamed as he led them down to the therapy room. “Prepare for the opening of your mind!” he exclaimed. “Endeavor your brain might! Fail to be a cretin!”


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46. Institute

Institute of Mind

Those were not the words Davy was expecting to see as the elevator doors opened. They were in another cave, but this one was brightly lit. The words were engraved on a giant, futuristic, stone arch in front of them. The arch went over a wide path leading out directly in front of them. Extravagant fountains shot streaming water into the air on either side of the path. At the end of the path was an incredible building. It was mostly made of stone painted white. Massive glass domes came out of the building at different areas. It looked like a state-of-the-art science museum or the headquarters of the latest trending technology company.

“Follow me,” Lady Gut Possum beckoned.

As Davy went under the arch, he looked back up at the sign. The words were written in smooth, appealing typeface. In the center of the words was a graphic of a brain. There was a splash of vibrant yellow behind the words, made to resemble light illuminating from the brain.

The group continued down the path towards the framing glass doors of the building.

“This place looks awesome,” Steve remarked. “I gotta send my resume here.”

Olivia beamed at the fountain nearest to her. “I kind of want to swim in that,” she said. Her hands became webbed for a moment as she said this.

Lady Gut Possum huffed. “This is not a place where you want to be,” she stated. “This place is a trick. Unfortunately, I believe it is also what you need at this point in time.”

They walked through the glass doors. The interior was just as pristine as the outside. Upbeat, almost adventurous music—like what one would hear at a science exhibition—was playing over the speakers. Davy saw a cool green carpet at their feet, marble walls, and another fountain in the center of the room. There was a stone statue of a brain in the fountain, with water elegantly spurting from the top.

Lady Gut Possum approached the reception desk and began to angrily tap the bell. An empty dark doorway sat behind the desk. Lady Gut Possum did not receive a response.

She continued to ring the bell. “You know I’m here, Tony,” she grumbled. After about a minute, a zebra floated up through the empty doorway and behind the desk. She stood upright on two legs, like Lady Gut Possum. Or rather, she floated. She appeared to hover a few inches off the ground. She was holding her hands in the front pockets of her glossy black jacket. A matching black beret sat on her head. To Davy, her face, for lack of a better word, was bizarre. It almost looked like the living embodiment of what you would get if Pablo Picasso ever tried to pain to a zebra. Its features were cubic and distorted. Most notably, the zebra’s large right eye hovered off to the side of her face, not actually connected to the rest of her body.

The zebra looked squarely at Lady Gut Possum. “His name is not Tony,” she said.

Lady Gut Possum scowled. “You are not serious, are you?”

The zebra did not change her gaze. “His name is Consecration Tony. Just as I am Immolation Zebra.”

Lady Gut Possum sighed. “Fine. I need to see Consecration Tony,” she mumbled.

Immolation Zebra raised her hands. “Sight is but an illusion, sailing on the eternal winds of uncertainty.”

Lady Gut Possum held her hand to her face in exasperation. “I do not have time for your insipid euphemisms,” she stated. “I need to see Tony. Consecration Tony. It is about the Endocrine.”

Steve turned to Davy with a smile. “I am so confused right now,” he whispered.

Immolation Zebra continued to stare at Lady Gut Possum. “Consecration Tony is currently in the middle of an extraterrestrial fever dream, and must not be disturbed. The balance of his secondary neural dynamos needs realignment.”

“None of what you just said means anything, and you know that,” Lady Gut Possum retorted.

Immolation Zebra ignored her. She set her sights on Davy and began to float towards him. Davy was not happy about this development.

“You said you had a matter regarding the Endocrine,” Immolation Zebra said. “Am I to presume that this figure before me is the Steward?”

She came right up to Davy, her face inches from Davy’s face.

“Hi,” Davy stammered uncomfortably. She looked even more unsettling up close.

Immolation Zebra did not seem to hear him. “Your perception is a barren wasteland, devoid of purpose. Your supposed quest is merely a blanket in the void, a small comfort that will not protect you from the reckoning that will come to make slaves of us all. Or have you arrived at the unpalatable truth that we are all slaves already?” She somehow leaned in even closer. “Tell me, Davy,” she whispered. “What is it that you most fear? Because you are almost certainly wrong.”

Davy heard a thwack. Immolation Zebra backed off as Lady Gut Possum began to beat at her with her parasol. “You keep your nonsense away from the Steward!” she exclaimed. “Now go and bring me Tony!”

Immolation Zebra retreated to behind the desk. “Very well,” she replied, seemingly unfazed by the parasol. “But whatever shall transpire from this moment forward is shall be on your hands and your hands alone. No one can deny the colors of inevitability.”

She went back into the doorway. Lady Gut Possum brushed herself off. “Brace yourself, Steward,” she told Davy. “Immolation Zebra is but a taste of the insanity that is to come. Nothing good comes from this institute.”

Connie laughed. “Looks like we’re in for something real interesting,” she said.

“I don’t know,” Olivia replied. “That zebra gave me some major bad vibes. At least four or five too many.”

Steve laughed along with Connie, though his laughter was significantly more unnerved. “Yeah, if that Zebra was just a taste of insanity, can you imagine what Tony is gonna be like?” he asked.

Davy didn’t have to answer. He just nodded as he looked at the six foot, bipedal, horned lizard that had just appeared in front of them.

He was not excited about what was probably coming next.

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45. Dairy

The four of them sat glumly in the empty ice cream parlor. It was about seven in the evening on a Friday night. Davy was somewhat surprised to see the Very Dairy Ice Cream Factory was desolate except for them at this hour. But more than that, he was sore.

All four of them has essentially been gut punched into the horizon, yet no one had suffered more that bruises and stiff muscles. What kind of bizarre cartoon physics were they dealing with against the Iron League?

Davy silently took a bite of his Franklin Del-Mango RooseveltTM ice cream. Whatever they were doing, it wasn’t working.

“So that didn’t go great,” he said to the rest of the group. “Any ideas on what to do next?”

Connie held a wide smile as she took a spoonful of her Float Like a Buttermilk, Sting Like a BeeTM ice cream. “I think we did okay. You guys are pretty savvy; I’m sure you can think of something.”

Davy looked to Steve who was scarfing down his Seize the Cocoa Beans of ProductionTM ice cream. “How about you?” he asked.

Steve stopped eating for a second. “I think we should go at them again,” he replied. “I can probably take them. I actually probably could have done it last time, but I just got distracted.”

“What did you get distracted by?” Davy asked flatly. “Before you got punched into the sky?”

Steve thought for a moment. “World hunger,” he finally said.

“You were distracted at that moment in the middle of a fight by world hunger?” Davy responded.

“Yes, it’s very sad,” Steve said.

Davy didn’t reply. He looked at Olivia who had barely touched her You Can Have It Any Flavor So Long as It’s Black LicoriceTM ice cream. She was poking it with her spoon.

“They beat me twice,” she muttered. “Even Mother Martyr only got me once.”

Steve lowered his spoon. “Can’t you just get big again?” he asked. “Grow a bunch of mouths and eat them like last time?”

Olivia sighed. “It’s not that easy,” she said. “It takes just about everything I’ve got to do that. I don’t know if I’ve got the strength to do it again so soon. Besides they might just randomly pull out crazy explosion powers from some movie and still take me down.” She laughed wearily. “I also figured that fight with Mother Martyr would be the only time I’d need to do it. It just seemed so climactic. And cool.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Davy said. He turned to the rest of the group. “There’s got to be some way to beat those guys.”

“Maybe we just need to avoid facing them head-on,” Connie added. “Olivia’s right. They seem like they can pull whatever abilities they need out of a hat. Any confrontation is going to end with them surprising us. But they’re getting their power from somewhere. Maybe we find the source of their power and incapacitate them.”

“And how do we know we won’t run into them anyway and get pummeled again?” Steve asked. “There’s, uh, a chance I might get distracted by world hunger again.”

Davy shook his head. “We need to approach this from a new angle,” he sighed. He pointed to the entrance of the Ice Cream Factory. “It’s not like the solution is going to just walk through that door.”

At that moment, Lady Gut Possum walked through the front door. She looked around at the empty ice cream parlor with muted abhorrence.

“I told him we need to remain inconspicuous…” she muttered.

She approached the table the group was sitting at. With a look of concern, she said, “You haven’t recovered the artifact yet.”

“Just a small delay,” Connie replied. “We’ve got this, no problem.”

Davy cleared his throat. “Um, it seems like the Iron League of Reference Humor is tougher than we thought.”

“Indeed,” Lady Gut Possum replied. “It appears we all underestimated the Grumblegator’s current associates.”

“You didn’t think they would be this bad?” Olivia asked.

“Of course not,” Lady Gut Possum answered. “Have you seen them? They’re four nerds who wear animal masks. I certainly did not expect them to possess the strength they demonstrated against you.”

“So what do you want us to do,” Steve interjected, taking a heaping bite of his ice cream.

Lady Gut Possum’s eyes went wide seeing Steve take that bite. She noticed the rest of the group was also ravenously consuming ice cream as they conversed with her.

“What are you doing?” she asked in a somewhat raised voice. “Why are you eating that?”

“Because no trip to Sangre Dios is complete without a visit to the Very Dairy Ice Cream Factory,” the four of them chanted back in a simultaneous monotone.

Lady Gut Possum looked worried. “What did you just say?” she asked.

“Huh?” Davy said blankly.

“Just now,” Lady Gut Possum replied. “The four of you together.”

“I don’t remember saying anything,” Olivia responded.

“Yeah,” Steve chimed. “I was just enjoying this delicious ice cream, one of one hundred twenty-two flavors from the Very Dairy Ice Cream Factory.”

Lady Gut Possum shook her head. “He did it, didn’t he?” she grumbled to herself. “I told him not to, but he did it anyway.”

She looked at Davy and the rest of the group. “Come on, get up,” she said sternly. “You need to come with me.” She snatched Connie’s spoon out of her left hand as she was about to take another bite of her ice cream. “And no more of this ice cream.”

Davy stood up out of his chair. “What’s going on?” he asked.

Lady Gut Possum ignored Davy as she moved to behind the counter. Davy only just then realized there was no one else working back there. Lady Gut Possum began fiddling around with the cash register, pressing the buttons almost randomly. “One of these has got to do it,” she mumbled to herself. She finally pressed the button she was seemingly looking for. “Yes, that’s it,” she exclaimed.

Davy saw a door materialize on the wall behind Lady Gut Possum. It looked suspiciously similar to that door that appeared in front of Davy in the law library.

Lady Gut Possum Opened the door, revealing an elevator on the other side.

Davy restated his question. “Where are we going?”

“Lady Gut Possum beckoned them into the elevator. “We are going to have a chat with the owner of this establishment,” she answered. “It just so happens that he may be able to help you with your problem.” She continued to speak as they piled into the elevator. “Which is good for him, because I am this close to killing him.”

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44. Campground

Davy closed the door of the taxi. “At think at some point, we’re going to need a car or something,” he said.

“But I’m only a hundred points away from my cappuccino machine,” Steve whined.

“How many points do you have so far?” Connie asked.

“Eight,” Steve gloated.

They were in a heavily forested area next to a sizable pond. There was no other person in sight as the taxi drive away.

“Which way do we go now?” Olivia asked. “The Iron League has an appointment with justice.”

Connie looked down at her phone and gestures to a dirt path that followed the edge of the pond. “Looks like this path will take us straight to them,” she replied. “We can probably wrap this up quickly. I know a great barbecue place near here we can stop at for lunch.”

The group began to move down the path, Davy taking the lead. Olivia came up behind him and tapped him on the shoulder. “So I might have some latent rage from last night,” she said matter-of-factly. “There’s a chance that I may unleash it indiscriminately on these guys when we find them. But I’ll make sure I hold back enough so that you can give Boss Stag a good, strong thwack on the head. I think that will be good for all of us.”

“Understood,” Davy answered. “You doing okay otherwise? Latent rage notwithstanding?”

“Oh yeah,” Olivia said. “My hang-ups about looking too weird suddenly don’t seem as big now that we’ve met the Iron League of Reference Humor.”

Steve grabbed Olivia and Davy by the shoulder and pushed them down behind a bush. They had arrived at a clearing. Through the bush, Davy saw a silver car about twenty feet in front of them.

Further behind the car, Davy saw an immense tent. Or a house. It looked almost like a three-story Victorian mansion. But it was made of canvas, like a camping tent. Strange colored light shone through the mostly opaque exterior of the tent. Davy saw the front door flap zip open. Boss Stag emerged from the flap, followed by the rest of the Iron League. They were still wearing their animal helmets, only now instead of gangster outfits, they were adorned in matching white track suits.

“Okay, how do we do this?” Davy whispered. “We probably don’t want to charge right at them again.”

“Maybe we can sneak up on them,” Steve answered. “Element of surprise and stuff.”

“Nice thinking, Steve,” Connie added.

Olivia nodded. “Cool, I can get up in the trees and easily get behind them without them seeing me,” she said. She looked at the other three. “How good aware the rest of you at climbing trees?”

“I’m pretty much an expert,” Steve replied.

“Okay, the two of us will climb up here,” Olivia continued, pointing to a nearby tree. “How are you two with approaching them from the front?” she asked Connie and Davy.

“I’m cool with it,” Connie responded. “We can come at them head on. Maybe we can even talk them out of whatever they’re planning.”

“Great,” Davy said. “If we’ve got them flanked, then maybe we can subdue them. Find out where the artifact is.”

“Awesome,” Steve chimed. “Let’s move out!”

Olivia went giddy. “Sneak attack time!” she whispered. She shot her arms into the branches had disappeared in one swift motion.

Steve ran to the trunk of the tree. He gripped it tightly and began to kick at the base of the trunk. Getting nowhere, he looked at Davy and Connie and gave an awkward smile. “Go on ahead. I’ll be right behind you.”

Davy and Connie crouched and made their way through the bushes. The leaned against the car and peered over it at the Iron League at the other side. Boss Wolf was breakdancing as the other three cheered her on.

“Go Ninja! Go Ninja! Go!”

Davy and Connie lowered their heads. Davy pulled out his golf club. He turned to Connie and asked, “Not like I’m an expert at all, but this could get violent. Do you have any experience in how to handle yourself in a fight?”

Connie smirked as she reached underneath her jacket with her left hand. Like a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat, Connie withdrew a gleaming silver katana from inside her jacket. “Yeah man,” she said. “You could say that.”

They were interrupted by Boss Wolf leaping over the good of the car and jutting her head between the two of them. “Here’s Johnny!” she shrieked.

Davy and Connie slowly lifted their heads over the side of the car. Boss Stag was looking at them, stroking an imaginary cat in his arms. Even with the majority of his face covered by the helmet, Davy could still sense the smugness eliminating from the leader of the Iron League.

“Well, well, we’ll,” he leered in a mock nasally voice. “If it isn’t Turd Ferguson from last night.”

“You know my name’s not Turd Ferguson, right?” Davy said back.

“Whatever you say, Turd Ferguson,” Boss Stag answered. He began pacing back and forth. “Are you out here scouting possible locations for the Turd Ferguson Center for Kids Who Can’t Stop the Iron League Good and Wanna Learn Other Stuff Good Too? Because that sounds like something you would do.”

Boss Wolf laughed from the top of the car. She jumped off and planted herself next to Boss Stag. Davy stood up and cautiously made his way around the car. Connie slowly followed.

Boss Stag saw Connie’s katana and began to laugh. “Oh sorry, it’s not Turd Ferguson we’re dealing with here.” He looked to the rest of the Iron League. “Hey look guys,” he sneered. “It’s Lone Wolf and Butthead!”

Davy ignored him. “What’s in the tent?” he asked.

“What’s in the box!” Boss Lion yelled obnoxiously.

Boss Stag chuckled under his breath. “Nice,” he whispered to Boss Lion. He looked back at Davy and Connie. “There’s a time and place for everything,” he said. “But not now.”

“Didn’t you do that one already?” Connie asked. “At the bank?”

Boss Stag didn’t follow. “So what?”

“I mean, don’t you like to keep it fresh?” Connie continued. “Like, you don’t want to just endlessly repeat quotes that you’ve already used hundreds of times already, right?”

Boss Stag looked back at Connie blankly. “I don’t understand what you’re saying.”

Davy held the golf club up to his chest. “Look, you guys are unarmed,” he said. “We don’t want a fight. We just want to know where the artifact is. If you return the money you stole, then we don’t can avoid this becoming a big problem.”

Boss Stag melodramatically held his hand in front of his chest. “Clutch the pearls!” he exclaimed with overt sarcasm. “I can’t believe I’ve seen the light! He began walking towards Davy. “Perhaps if we give these fine people what they want then perhaps we can avoid further bloodshed.” He stopped right in front of Davy as Boss Squid, Boss Lion, and Boss Wolf laughed together.

“Come on man,” Davy said, getting exasperated. “We don’t have to do this.”

Boss Stag nodded. “Sure,” he said. “Maybe instead, we can—SHORYUKEN!”

Boss Stag spun around and landed a powerful uppercut under Davy’s chin, launching him straight up in the air.

Connie instinctively extended her left arm, pointing her katana in Boss Stag’s direction. “You really shouldn’t have done that,” she said.

“Oh yeah?” Boss Stage leered. “And are you and those turd sandwiches you call friends going to do something about it?” He snapped his fingers at Boss Squid and Boss Wolf. “Come on folks,” he said to them. “Let’s put on a show.”

The two of them nodded and slammed their fists together. “Iron League powers, activate!” they exclaimed.

Boss Squid turned towards the nearest tree and charged towards it. He kicked his feet in front of him as his body became surrounded by flames. “FALCON KICK!” he screamed.

The tree violently reverberated upon impact with Boss Squid’s feet. A stunned Olivia tumbled onto the ground from the branches above.

Meanwhile, Boss Wolf extended her arm and a metal chain shot or from her sleeve into the bushes where Davy had been hiding moments before. After a second, she tugged on the chain and yanked Steve—tied up in the chain—into plain view. “GET OVER HERE!” she shrieked.

Steve was panicking. “They have reference-based powers guys! Reference based powers!”

Boss Stag gleefully cracked his knuckles as Connie looked around at her incapacitated teammates. “Now we don’t take kindly to trespassers out near our headquarters,” he said in a mock Southern accent. He looked towards his comrades. “Folks, let’s show ‘me what we do with trespassers.”

“You got it, Boss,” Boss Lion replied. “P.S. I love you,” she added under her breath.

“What?” Boss Stag snapped back, confused.

“Uh, nothing,” Boss Lion stammered. She turned to Connie and raised her fists in a boxing pose. “You’re about to get a pummeling,” she raised her fist in the air. “Cause I’m the champ, baby!”

Olivia saw Boss Squid standing a few feet in front of him. He raised his hands in a disrespectful salute. “Show me your moves!” he yelled.

“Uh, no,” Olivia answered. “Unless you mean this.” Her mouth opened wide and several tongue-like tendrils shot out of her mouth. Boss Squid rolled to the side at the last second and moved into a charge uppercut that caused flames to erupt around him again. He struck Olivia in the face, rocketing her upwards.

“Hyess!” Boss Squid chanted triumphantly.

Steve panicked as he fumbled through the pockets of his leather jacket. “Ember Sack of Unrelenting Sorrow, Ember Sack of Unrelenting Sorrow,” he mumbled as he searched his pockets. He failed to notice Boss Wolf charge towards him. She slid onto the ground into a splits and threw an upward punch into Steve’s groin. Steve buckled in pain and collapsed on the ground.

Boss Wolf looked to Boss Stag for guidance. Boss Stag looked back at her and gave a subtle nod. “Finish him,” he growled.

Having received her leader’s approval, Boss Wolf stepped back and shot out the chain from her sleeve again. It encircled and bound a whimpering Steve. She held the chain in both hands and began to spin. The centrifugal force threw Steve in the air. After several rotations, Boss Wolf finally let go of the chain. Steve was hurled at rapid speed away from the campground, becoming a speck in the sky falling towards the horizon.

Davy had managed to get to his feet. He saw Boss Stag staring him down. “Who are you guys?” he asked incredulously.

Boss Stag extended his arms straight in front of him, wrists touching and palms facing outward.

“Just a group of friends who are way, way cooler than you.” Light seemed to be gathering in front of Boss Stag’s hands. “HADOUKEN!” He shrieked as a burst of light exploded from his hands, colliding with Davy and knocking him back to the ground.

Connie was artfully dodging Boss Lion’s punches, but she was much more agile than Connie ever would have expected. “What’s your favorite flavor milkshake!?” Boss Lion yelled at her.

“Huh?” Connie uttered.

Her momentary confusion was just what Boss Lion needed. Connie felt a fist strike her hand, and they next thing she knew her katana was in the air, striking the dirt behind Boss Lion. “Mine’s chocolate,” Boss Lion exclaimed.

Olivia, crumpled on the ground, looked up. Boss Squid was standing right in front of her. He grabbed the cuff of her sweater and held her in the air. He pulled back his fist and Olivia groaned as flames once again began to surround him.


“Oh come on,” Olivia grunted. “Doesn’t this get tired after a while?”

Boss Squid ignored her. After a second, he thrust his flaming fist forward directly at Olivia’s gut.


And with that, just like Steve, Olivia was gone. A speck in the sky descending towards the horizon.

Connie tried sidestepping to either side to get around Boss Lion and back to her katana. It seemed like Boss Lion was able to predict her every move, however. As soon as Connie shifted her weight, Boss Lion was already moving in the same direction.

Suddenly, Boss Lion charged at Connie. She grabbed Connie in the collar in big hands and threw her up in the air. Looking down, Connie saw Boss Lion leap up straight towards her, her fist extended. Before the punch landed, Connie heard Boss Lion whisper in a gravelly voice, “Join the Iron League fan club today!”

“What does that even mean?” Connie stammered, but in another moment, Connie was another speck on the horizon.

Davy groaned as he laid on his back in the dirt. He tried to move as he saw Boss Stag stand over him.

Boss Stag sneered over him. In a gravelly voice, he said, “Go home and be a family man.”

Boss Stag picked up Davy by the back of his sweater. Davy assumed he was about to get super punched into the sky like his friends, but it seemed Boss Stag had a different idea, when he began to drag Davy towards the car.

“Don’t worry, I’m definitely going to sky punch you in a second,” Boss Stag said. He snapped his fingers and Boss Squid opened the front door of his car and pulled out a camera.

Boss Stag plopped Davy on the hood of the car and in leaned next to him. “Before you go, I thought it would be nice to commentate the moment,” Boss Stag continued. “You know, the moment you lost, because you suck and we’re cool.” Boss Squid came to the front of the car and held up the camera, pointing it at Davy and Boss Stag. Boss Lion and Boss Wolf huddled up next to Davy on the hood of the car and presumably smiled.

“You guys are so lame,” Davy stuttered.

“I know you are, but what am I,” Boss Stag snapped back, completely confident that he had just delivered the ultimate comeback.

He looked at the camera and held up two of his fingers in a peace sign. “Okay guys?” he said.

“Everybody say Fuzzy Pickles.”

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43. Tracker

The four of them sat glumly in the busy ice cream parlor. Davy was surprised to see the Very Dairy Ice Cream Factory was so packed at nine in the morning, but he also had this weird hunch that this place was a must-do for anyone visiting the city. He silently took a bite of his Mary, Mary Quite RaspberryTM ice cream.

Connie was watching her phone that she held in her right hand while taking a scoop of her The Last of the Mocha-hicansTM ice cream in the other. She felt she really pulled through last night. Their first encounter with the Iron League of Reference Humor didn’t go great. The one silver lining was when Connie revealed to the rest of the group that she had covertly stuck a tracking device to the league’s car as they sped out of the bank. The downside was that it would take several hours before the tracker would activate and begin broadcasting the league’s location. Her phone was still waiting for a signal. Watching the screen, she took a bite of her ice cream and continued to wait.

Olivia continued to sip on her Banana CortezTM cream smoothie. In the grand scheme of things, having a car land on top of her wasn’t too bad, but she still felt embarrassed that she had let the Iron League get away so easily. She had to be more careful going forward and make sure she kept her hubris in check.

Steve looked down at his Okey Dokey ArtichokeyTM Ice Cream Sundae in disgust. He made a serious mistake ordering this. It was terrible.

“One hundred and twenty-two flavors,” he said. “Why did I choose the worst one?”

“Why did you think artichoke would be a good idea?” Davy asked.

Steve lowered his head. “I thought it sounded hip and trendy,” he whined.

“Don’t worry about it, Steve,” Connie chimed in cheerfully. “Any minute now, we’re going to find out where the Iron League is hiding. We’re going to find them, get the money back, get the artifact from them, and—bam—before you know it, we’ll be back here enjoying a victory ice cream. And you can get any flavor that you want.”

“I’ll do everything I can to help us succeed,” growled in her superhero voice. “My hubris was my undoing last night. I will ensure it does not happen again.”

“Don’t beat yourself up,” Davy said. “You overcame some pretty heavy stuff in Heaven’s Head. After what happened there, I think we all kind of underestimated the guys with the goofy animal heads.”

“So what do we do when we find them again?” Steve asked. He had already pushed the scarcely touched ice cream sundae away from him towards the center of the table.

Davy shrugged. “I don’t know,” he answered. “I guess we just need to be ready for anything. Surprise cars and stuff.”

“I’m getting the feeling like that car might be my new nemesis,” Olivia said. “Anyone else getting that feeling?”

“Olivia, your nemesis can be whoever you want it to be,” Connie said with a grin.

“So this League will lead us to the next artifact, right?” Steve asked. “That’s what Lady Gut Possum said.”

“I think so, yeah,” Davy replied. It was weird that she didn’t say anything about this tablet they saw on the boat tour, though. Then again, Lady Gut Possum hadn’t been the most forthcoming person with her key information. What was that star-shaped creature with the one eye?

“Cool,” Steve said. “I can probably take them. Now that I know what we’re up against.”

Olivia took the last sip of her smoothie. “That was good. At least we got to come here. I just had a weird feeling that our trip to Sangre Dios wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Very Dairy Ice Cream Factory.”

“Yes,” the other three flatly stated simultaneously without any of them being entirely aware they did so.

Davy heard a ping on Connie’s phone. He saw her look closely at the screen.

“Good news,” she said. “I got a signal. They’re at a campground not far outside of town. Anyone feeling good about a round two?”

Steve stood up out of his chair. “Let’s do it!” he said. “Time to teach these losers a lesson.”

“What kind of lesson?” Davy asked, humoring Steve.

Steve slyly rubbed his hands together. “That reference humor is dumb.”

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42. Bank

“A bank robbery?” Davy said, worried. “Are you sure we want to intervene?”

“Why not?” Olivia asked. “I’m a superhero. I can take a handful of bank-robbing turds.”

“Yeah,” Steve added. “I recently became an expert in Muay Thai boxing. Besides, I have my Ember Sack of Unrelenting Sorrow. It’ll work on those guys.” Steve growled under his breath, “It has to work on somebody…”

“I think it could be fun,” Connie chimed in. “We can show everyone how heroic we are.”

Olivia sidled up next to Davy. “Besides, you got your golf club, which is pretty dope.”

Davy pulled out the golf club. It had served him well so far. “All right,” he relented. “We just need to be careful.”

Olivia nodded in agreement. She looked back at the bank. It looked like almost all the people had cleared out, leaving the front entrance to be relatively open. “Okay, on my signal, we’re going to charge the front entrance. That should catch them by surprise.”

“Is that really the best way to get in there?” Davy asked.

“Probably not,” Olivia answered. “But it will look really cool. And they’re just bank robbers, we’ll be fine.”

Olivia spread her arms apart like a bird about to take flight. “Okay, one, two, three, go!”

Her body extended like an elastic band and she launched herself towards the bank entrance. The other three followed suit. They burst through the front doors and Davy got his first look at his adversaries.

A group of four people stood in front of them. Two men and two women. The men were wearing gray suits. The women were adorned in gray skirts and blouses. They would look like 1920’s gangsters if it weren’t for their strange helmets.

They looked like animal heads that covered their entire faces, except for their eyes. A lion, a wolf, a reindeer, and a squid. All four of them were holding tommy guns and burlap sacks with dollar signs on them.

The woman in the wolf helmet was jittering excitedly. “Attica! Attica!” she repeated.

The reindeer man took a step forward. “The Grumblegator said you might show up,” he sneered. “Let me just say how thrilled I am to finally meet the Steward and his stupid friends.”

“Who are you?” Davy asked. Was this the league Lady Gut Possum spoke about?

“And now we get to introduce themselves!” the reindeer man gloated. “Splendid!”

He stood up straight and spread his arms apart. “Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair,” he scowled. “For we are the Iron League of Reference Humor!”

He looked at his cronies behind him an gestures at them. They scrambled and stood next to the reindeer man in a line. They all raised their hands   in the air and chanted.

“Iron League Roll Call!”

“Boss Stag!” shouted Boss Stag.

“Boss Squid!” shouted Boss Squid.

“Boss Lion!” shouted Boss Lion.

“CROOOOOOOOOOOW!” shouted Boss Wolf.

They ended their chant in different dynamic action poses.

Davy was dumbfounded. Was this really who he was going to have to deal with. It seemed like a step down from the morbid apocalyptic insanity of Mother Martyr.

Steve dropped his arms. “Iron League?” he said. “Why Iron?”

Boss Lion broke from her action pose. “Well, don’t look at me,” she said. “I voted for Indigo.”

“I voted for Justice!” Boss Wolf added.

“I voted for Kodos,” Boss Squid added.

Boss Stag jumped out of his pose, a fire in his eyes. “No no no, you idiots!” he yelled. “We all agreed that Iron League was the coolest name and that is what we’re going to stick with!”

“But why create a group centered on reference humor?” Connie asked. “Surely a group of intelligent individuals such as yourselves would consider devoting yourself to something more, well, substantial.”

Boss Stag groaned. “Ugh, I just gave my big speech on why reference humor rules to these guys earlier today.”

“The speech was a beautiful tropical fish,” Boss Lion interjected.

“Thank you, Boss Lion,” said Boss Stag. “Anyway, I don’t want to do the whole speech again. Let’s just do the short version.” He looked at Boss Squid. “Hey, give me something. Why do we like reference humor?”

Boss Squid stumbled. “Um, it really ties the room together?”

“Close enough,” Boss Stag responded. He looked back at Davy. “We like reference humor, because it really ties the room together.”

Davy still didn’t understand anything in front of him. “But why are you with the Grumblegator?” he asked.

Boss Stag crossed his arms and chuckled. “There’s a time and place for everything,” he chortled. “But not now.”

Olivia was getting tired of standing there. “Okay, you like reference humor,” she said. “But you’re allied with the Grumblegator, and you’re robbing a bank. Prepare to face the gut punch of justice!”

The Iron League began to laugh.

“Oh really?” wheezed Boss Stag. “The four of you are going to stop us? One of you has a golf club!” He looked at Davy. “What are you going to do, Arnold Palmer? Make us refreshing drinks comprising of equal parts iced tea and lemonade?” He turned to his cohorts. “Get it!?” he giggled. “Because I called him Arnold Palmer!”

Olivia raised her hands into fists. “Nobody insults my friend,” she scowled. “You should have thought twice before riling up a group with a superhero.”

Boss Stag pulled a remote control out of his pocket. “Yeah, you have a superhero,” he said. “And we have this.”

He pressed a button on the remote control. A silver, stereotypical gangster car flew through the glass door behind Davy and landed on Olivia, flattening her. It drove in front of the Iron League and came to a stop. Boss Stag looked at his compatriots. “Get in losers, we’re going shopping,” he said. The four bank robbers climbed into the car, which turned back towards the door and began to speed away.

Just before the car sped out of the bank, a window rolled down.  Boss Wolf appeared and stuck her head out the window.

“Hey Malkovich, think fast!” she yelled as she pelted Davy in the head with a beer can.

As Davy rubbed his head and Olivia stumbled back to her feet, Connie looked at the rest of the group with a smile. “All things considered,” she said. “I think that went pretty well. Good team effort.”

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41. Boat

Connie stood waiting at the bus station. She had considered bringing a sign with Davy’s name on it, but figured that the Steward would probably recognize her. She was also fairly certain that the Steward still probably believed that she hustled him with the golf club, which might lead to some trust issues. Lady Gut Possum’s bizarre instructions didn’t exactly do wonders for her credibility.

Connie wasn’t worried, though. She had a reliable knack for being able to talk her way out of tough situations.

Davy breathed a sigh of relief as the bus pulled into the station. Nothing had happened on the journey to Sangre Dios. It was strange to be back here, but he was also a little excited to see the city again. As he stepped off the bus, he could honestly say that he was not expecting to see Consuela van der Hupt waiting for him.

She approached the group wide a wide smile. “Well if it isn’t my favorite prophesied savior of the world,” she beamed, vigorously shaking Davy’s hand. She turned to Steve and patted him in the back. “And Steve. My man. How are you doing?”

She turned her sights on Olivia. “And I see you’ve made a new friend.” She extended her hand. “The name’s Consuela van der Hupt. But you can call me Connie.”

Olivia shook Connie’s hand enthusiastically. “Nice to meet you. I’m Olivia St. Bartholomew,” she said. “How do you know Davy?” she asked.

“She gave me my golf club,” Davy interjected, still on the fence about Connie’s reappearance.

“More like sold it to us,” Steve chimed in. “Cost me two hundred dollars. She said it was an artifact.”

“It certainly is,” Connie replied confidently. “And you have to admit, two hundred dollars is a steal. Even a non-magical five-iron of acceptable quality would run you into the upper digits. This golf club is both imbued with ancient power but is just as suited towards a relaxing day on the green.”

Davy nodded. On the one hand, he still wasn’t convinced that Connie was being totally honest about the golf club. On the other hand, this golf club actually had been helpful on his quest so far. Also, on that same hand, Steve paid for the golf club, not him. Davy figured he may as well just continue to roll with it.

“It’s good to see you, Connie,” he said. “What are you doing here in Sangre Dios?”

Connie held up her hand, casually inspecting her fingernails. “Didn’t Lady Gut Possum tell you?”  she said. I’m here to join you. I’m your third and final companion, bro.”

Davy nodded. This made about as much sense as anything else he had dealt with so far. He wasn’t sure who else he was expecting to join him. “That’s cool,” he said. “Welcome to the team,” he added. “Or whatever it is that we are.”

Steve wasn’t as sold as Davy. “Hang on a second,” he chimed. “No offense, but we don’t know anything about you. How do we know we can trust you?”

Steve felt his phone vibrate in his pocket. He pulled it out and read the notification screen.

Consuela van der Hupt has invited you to join her professional network on WorkLyfe.

“May I just say how impressed I am that a fully-fledged astronaut such as yourself is still so committed to expanding his professional network.”

Steve put his phone back into his pocket. “Well Davy, I’m sold.”

Olivia’s eyes were wide. “Another new friend,” she beamed. “This is gonna be so cool.”

“Oh please,” Connie chuckled. “I’ve heard all about you. “You’re a bona dude superhero. I’m flattered that I get to work with someone as esteemed as you.”

Olivia grinned and turned to Davy. “I like her,” she said. “We’ve got a full team now.”

“So what do we do now?” Davy asked. “We’ve got to track down the next artifact.”

“I completely agree,” Connie replied. “But first come with me.” She signaled the rest of them to follow her as she walked out of the bus station.

As they stepped out of the bus station, Davy looked up at all the lights in the night sky. They were in the middle of downtown Sangre Dios. Connie stopped to let a family taking pictures walk past. Festive music was playing all around them. Davy looked at the colonial Spanish-style architecture all around him and felt warm inside. It was good to be back. Sangre Dios always had a nice, cheerful atmosphere that was a pleasant contrast to the business-oriented tedium of Bayou City.

“Down here,” Connie signaled. She descended a stone staircase across the street.

Davy turned to Steve who didn’t seem quite as enthused to be back here as Davy. “Of course, she would take us there,” he grumbled slightly.

“Where are we going?” Olivia asked.

“You’ll see in a second,” Davy answered. “I like it.” He thought to himself for a second. “Have you been to this city before?”

Olivia shook her head. “I haven’t been outside of Heaven’s Head for, um…” She was silent for a second. “One or two centuries.”

“Oh, okay,” Davy said. He figured now was not the time to follow up on this.

They had reached the bottom of the staircase and we’re now facing the Sangre Dios Historic River Plaza. Connie was standing on the concrete bank in front of a tour boat. “Come on,” she said. “Who wants a tour?”

“Yeah!” Olivia shouted. She leapt onto the boat and planted herself on a red leather seat next to a large older woman clutching a camera.

Davy planted himself next to Olivia. Steve followed suit and sat next to Davy. “Come on, you got to be a little excited to be back,” Davy said. “It’s like we’re back in college.”

“I guess,” Steve said. “It’s just kind of schlocky, you know? The music, the parties, and stuff?”

Connie sat down next to Steve. She looked down at the other three and grinned. “Sangre Dios is the tourist capitol of the state,” she said. “We gotta take part in at least some of the attractions while we’re here.”

The tour boat blew a horn as it chugged away from the edge of the river. “Welcome to the Sangre Dios Historic River Tour,” a large man standing on the front of the boat announced through his microphone. “Today we will take you on a tour of our city’s river plaza. We’ll see some sights and learn about the history of Sangre Dios.”

The tour guide gestured to his side. “On the left, you will see a statue of Marcos Villanueva, who according to legend, founded the city in the 16th Century after killing a giant who lived in the area, as well as the giant’s family. To the right is a Very Dairy Ice Cream Factory. With one hundred and twenty-two available flavors, no trip to Sangre Dios is complete without a trip to Very Dairy.”

Connie leaned over and whispered to Davy. “This city is full of amusement parks,” she said. “Imagine the opportunities once you’re done with this quest. You could have an entire theme park based on your adventures.”

Steve perked up at the possible business opportunity. “I can see it now,” he said. “In the middle of the park is a centerpiece attraction. A ride that takes guests through scenes of your exploits. It will be called ‘Davy’s Endocrine Adventures. Presented by Steve.'”

“That sounds really stupid,” Davy said. “I don’t think I deserve an entire theme park. Besides, wouldn’t that be schlocky?”

“It can be as schlocky as it needs to be as long as we’re the ones profiting off of it,” Steve stated.

“I like the way you think, Steve,” Connie chimed. “I think we’re going to get along just fine.”

“I would go to a theme park based on us,” Olivia chirped. “I’d get a picture with the employee in the ill-fitting full body Night Retcher costume.” Olivia gasped in excitement as a thought came to her mind. “Or maybe I could BE the employee in the ill-fitting full body Night Retcher costume!”

“You would wear a full body costume of yourself?” Davy asked.

“Obviously,” Olivia laughed. “That’s like, double the justice of the regular Night Retcher.”

The boat proceeded towards a mock recreation of what looked like a Mayan pyramid. The river went into a dark space at the base of the pyramid.

The tour guide continued his lecture as the boat entered into the darkness. “Though the Mayan Civilization did not extend anywhere near the city of Sangre Dios, archaeological findings have suggested a separate, scarcely understood civilization may have resided in this area thousands of years ago. To your left, you can see a replica of an ancient tablet thought to have been created by this civilization. The tablet possesses an art style similar to that of the Mayans, but studies suggest this tablet predates the Mayans by centuries.”

Davy looked to the side. Torches illuminated a fake stone wall and highlighted similarly fake stone carvings. Davy had been on this tour before and had seen the carvings but this time there was an unsettling new significance to the scene depicted.

In the tablet, Davy noticed an alligator or crocodile facing off against what he thought looked like a rat. Looking closer, Davy realized this may actually be a possum. Above these two animals was a star-shaped creature. In the center of the star creature was a single eyeball, staring directly at the viewer. Below the alligator and possum were four small people, essentially stick figures.

Davy nudged Steve and pointed at the tablet. “This is weird,” he whispered.

It took a second, but Steve caught on as well. “That’s a little on the nose, wouldn’t you say?”

“Huh?” Davy asked.

“Like it’s completely and very obviously meant to apply to us. There’s Lady Gut Possum. And the Grumblegator. And then there’s the four of us. It’s not subtle at all.”

“So what’s the weird star thing with the eyeball?” Davy asked.

“Who knows,” Steve retorted. “But we’re clearly going to find out at some point.”

Davy knew Steve was right. “Way to take the mysticism out of our quest,” he mumbled.

“It’s what I do,” Steve replied.

The boat exited the pyramid and approached a docking station. “Thank you for joining us on our Sangre Dios Historic River Tour,” he said as the boat pulled up to the concrete. “We hope you enjoyed the tour, and remember, no trip to Sangre Dios is complete without a visit to the Very Dairy Ice Cream Factory.”

The four of them gathered next to a bench after they got off the boat. “So you know why I had us go on that tour now?” Connie began. “Let me tell you, I had seen that replica tablet hundreds of times, but then Lady Gut Possum told me to take the tour a few days ago, and what do you know? You could say it was like ‘mind, equals sign, blown.'”

“Well, we still need to come up with plan,” Steve said. “What do we do next?”

“Make a visit to the Very Dairy Ice Cream Factory?” Olivia chirped.

“Well, obviously. No trip to Sangre Dios is complete without a visit to the Very Dairy Ice Cream Factory,” Steve retorted. “I meant after that.”

“We probably need to learn more about these carvings,” Davy replied. Maybe they will point us to the next artifact.

The group was interrupted by the distant sound of gunshot. They ran up the nearest staircase back up to street level. In front of them was a building; above the door were the words S.D. First National Bank. People were scrambling to get out of the bank.

“What’s going on in there?” Davy asked.

Olivia made circles with her hands and held them in front of her eye like they were a telescope. Her eye extended from her face through her hands as she peered inside.

“It looks like we’ve got a bank robbery on our hands,” she said.