The halfling flicked on the TV. "… and now, for sports, the yearly Destroy the Ring game is about to begin. This year, for the halflings, FU Serious, the nephew of purported drug lord Bill Serious, is to head off. Bill’s been our leader for three years, but had to take a rest this year citing tiredness. Rumor has it that he’s wanted by the police and the IRS (Internal Rat Stalkers) and has gone into hiding. As for the goblins, they too have a new leader this year; the Evil Wizard Splat has had a death in the family and is on hiatus. So this year they have an Evil Fuzzy Bunny…"
"Do we know anything about the Fuzzy Bunny?" asked the news anchor, a very winsome-looking fairy who was perched on the edge of her desk smiling cutely at the camera.
"Unfortunately, no, Undwina," said the reporter, "other than it’s fuzzy and evil. Anyway, the halfling team’s looking fit this year -- as you know, they had to get rid of Basil during negotiations because he wanted too much money, but his replacement Steve looks promising."
"He has magical powers? He can read ancient elf runes like Tedwith the Great, who won ten years ago by sneaking right through the goblin lines disguised as a goblin? He can kill dragons with a look?"
"No, he can throw things and hit people directly in the solar plexus," said the reporter. "Now, for those of you first-timers, here’s the way the Game works: there’s a Ring that is held by the halflings, which they are supposed to try and destroy. They have to locate the Ring which is somewhere hiding in their land. And they have to do it before the goblins get it; ten points to whichever side gets the Ring first. After that, they have to take the Ring to Mount Kaboom and toss it in; ten points goes in for stealing it along the way, every time - and believe me, these guys are serious about what they’re doing! Get it: Serious? As you may have heard, FU Serious has a strong backing and certainly the genes to get the job done…."
FU Serious meanwhile laughed as he turned off the news. Well, his team would certainly win this year, no doubt; he’d paid off the wizard a great amount of money to throw the game by "having a death in the family" just at the right moment.
Steve wasn’t much for talking. That was what FU Serious liked about him. FU smiled; he already had had a call from Makeout Pictures that they wanted him to make a music video when he got back. I’ll be famous, he thought. Half the battle was getting the Ring in your hot little hands, and he was far too important to find it himself….
The goblins were complaining. "What’d he have to leave for, anyway?" said one, who looked a lot like a walking peanut with six arms. He sneezed a lot: foul goop.
"You ask me, there’s some treacherousness afoot," said another. The others rolled their numerous or single eyes. There was always treacherousness when it came to wizards, anyone knew that.
"Oh, sure, but he could at least have saved it for the Game," complained the first goblin. "It’s the same thing every year: we never win."
"No, we won once. Way, way back in - sheesh I don’t even recall the date, been so long."
"This be the year, marketh well my words, ye fiends of Hell," said a demon sitting near them. It had on a huge cloak with the names of past players scrawled in fire. The goblins groaned. Fans said that every year. "The Fuzzy Bunny will changeth everything."
"He must be part of that damn online site," muttered a droopy-looking goblin to one who’d painted himself with woad and wore his standard "Halflings for Lunch" sweats.
They knew which one Droopy met; the online site for diehard Game fans, where they discussed ad nauseum all the possible aspects of the game from tactic to a billion ways to cook creatures from the Good lands. Translation: wackos.
The other goblin nodded. "Yah. Wackos. Like that thing’s gonna help us."
The goblins had met the Bunny earlier that week for the first time. It was pink, this Fuzzy Bunny, and like them it had no real name. Nothing in the Evil Lands had a name except wizards to keep track of who they were, since they kept switching sides all the time; it was the people over there in Good who insisted on naming everything. Goblins knew who they were without having to go to any trouble, thank you. Thankfully, the Bunny at least went along with that ancient tenet.
That, however, was one of the few traditions that it kept up. "We’re bringing in some new players," the Bunny told the team of confused goblins. They got even more confused when the demons came in.
"Aw, you have to be kidding; demons can’t…." He was quickly hushed.
"They’re going to screw up the halflings," said the Fuzzy Bunny. "Misdirection, it’s called. They’re going to convince the humans that they want the ring, that it’s their chance at getting a real king again."
There was a real commotion in the room at that statement. "But we’ve never used humans!" yelled the goblins. "Is that legal?"
The Bunny grinned. Which looks rather creepy to see on a rabbit, let me tell you, especially a pink fuzzy one. "Of course not. That’s why we’re going to do it."
The goblins looked at one another.
Oh, yes, they remembered that meeting, these two, and they frowned as they looked at some fans who were going on about the legend of the One Time We Won. "There be new stuff to happen on this year, I hear, as well," said the demon with the cloak. "New players." A group of young dragons, their fangs bared and their eyes wide at being able to see their first new game, was with it, as well as a couple cave trolls with burning banners and some spiders with twenty of their children, all of whom wore little propeller caps. Several members of the Evil Media were gathered around, and they bit and scratched at each other to get the latest word. Like they were doing now.
The Fuzzy Bunny cleared its throat. "We can’t talk about that -- tactics, y’know."
The demon nodded knowingly. Reporters started picking out goblins from the team who they could possibly pay off for information.
A whole crowd had come out to watch the halflings go, and now they’d been running for weeks. It was important that they run; you were supposedly to take only a year at the most in the task. There was one year when the game had gone into overtime and lasted four months too long, and the ring had eventually been eaten, along with its unfortunate bearer, by a passing dragon. Ever since then, fan interference had always been a problem. Teams, therefore, often hired humans to protect them against such nonsense. One year, some silly human had gotten it into his head to steal the ring for himself and win riches and glory for his race (and himself), but he’d been killed by the goblin team just in time. So far FU had not gone human-shopping.
They went up over the foothills, and through the woods, and stopped at FU’s grandmother’s house where she gave them some hearty stone soup.
"You do know we’re close on the mountains; it’s about time for the goblin team to attack," he said to his men.
"You do know that they’ve already attacked our camp twice; you were just sleeping," said Nickles, who never liked FU much.
"I never saw them."
"Like I said, you were asleep."
"No, be reasonable, they didn’t attack directly," said Phizz, who was a buddy of Nickles and been on the team with him for six years.
"Well, something’s giving me nightmares."
In fact, they were being followed, but none of them knew this, and it wasn’t anyone the Fuzzy Bunny had thrown into the mix in its attempt to finally win the Game again for the Evil team. The creature that was following was no fan either, but an ancient halfling. It had been in the original Game, way back when the ring was found, and things were different, and it had had the rights to the Game stolen from it by the National Fantastical Gaming League, which was founded by the wizards who had taken part in that first play. They knew a money-maker when they saw one. But they’d changed the way of the Game since then, for whatever reasons of their own, and they made millions every year off of it. The ancient halfling, whose name no one -- least of all himself -- knew, wanted that money. And this year, it was determined to get it.
"Fan interference," said FU, "doubtless. Some minor wizard who wants my autograph." He had refused to even use a wizard this time, despite all the protests from his team and people back home. It had been done once this way, he’d said, and they had still won; besides, wizards had a way of screwing things up (and anyway, this had been part of his deal with the Evil Wizard; FU wanted to look even more impressive than any team ever, by seeming to have beaten the Fuzzy Bunny by himself).
"You’ve only been in it once, and that’s this year, kid," Nickles muttered.
FU pulled a knife. "Hey, you wanna repeat that, punk?"
The demons who the Fuzzy Bunny had hired watched, fascinated, among the gaggle of regular fans for both sides who were following the team, and the press. The demon fan with the cloak took a picture for its kids.
"Yeah, they’re down there," said the goblin scout, staring through its binoculars. "Shrimpy little things. Can’t be good to eat."
"My uncle says he heard trolls like ‘em," said Droopy.
"Yeah, but trolls’ll eat anything you put in front of them."
There was general laughter which died down as the Fuzzy Bunny appeared. "What are they doing?"
"Arguing," said the goblin scout. This was not a manager you could joke with. Not like the Evil Wizard, who had a beard-full of "so three trolls walk into a bar" jokes. "Oh. And there’s this weird skinny thing following them."
"Let me see that! Hmm, maybe we can use it…." The Bunny pounded its foot for a while, thinking. It turned around to yell when a group of fans who were following them started to cheer in time to the pounding noise. They quieted down and started muttering about how they could do it when the Evil Wizard was around. The Bunny glared at them. "Hey, what are the demons doing down there? I thought I told them to go rouse up the humans?"
"Well, maybe they thought the humans would be with the halflings," said the goblin scout. "You know, some years the halflings hire ‘em."
"They do, do they? Well, we should use that to our advantage, then."
"I’m telling you, nothing more corruptible than humans," said the Fuzzy Bunny giving that grin again.
So far, they’d had only a few skirmishes - which FU had missed as Nickles said - and one battle with the goblins which they’d won because FU drugged the knives they fought with. There was an error made on the goblins’ part when one forgot to give the goblin battle cry (you were always supposed to give the cry before attacking, on either side). The Fuzzy Bunny benched that one for six days, infuriated.
"You know, we should really hire some elves," FU was saying one evening as they sat around the fire. Some fans were with them, very excited to be there. "I mean, I know it’s unorthodox, but they have magic…."
Just as he was saying this, a big human tromped into the light. The halflings stood up. Fans got their cameras ready. The man had a dopey grin on his face and a badly made cloak around his back. He looked like he’d been roughing it for a while, in fact. "Hi. Quincy Harding Choate," he said, holding out a hand. The halflings looked at one another. Fans took pictures as FU shook Choate’s hand. The demon with the cloak, who had been composing a poem about The Year We Finally Won, tried to think of something to rhyme with "Choate". Smote?
"Nice to meet you."
"Yah, likewise. Hey, listen, I was wondering if you folks would like some help getting over the mountains?" Choate said.
"Well, we were thinking of hiring elves this year," said FU.
"Elves? Oh, come on now, elves are all right in the forest and all, but…." An elf fan who had been watching gave him the finger. A crowd of dwarves started laughing as other fans took more pictures. The elf punched one of them and a brawl commenced. "See what I mean?" Choate said, leaning down to speak lower. "You get elves involved, they’ll just start fighting with any dwarves who you run into and forget the Game." They turned to watch as an umpire ejected the fans who were fighting.
"Well, I dunno…."
"C’mon, Serious, we can always use a dumb fighter," hissed Nickles into FU’s ear.
"I thought that was what Steve was for," Phizz snickered. FU gave him a dirty look.
"Okay, fine. Welcome to the team," he said.
Ten days later some new fans came to follow them, when they reached Bridgeville, which was set up in a gap in the mountain pass. Bridgeville was often prey to attacks by goblins and trolls and creatures that live in the mountain deeps, and so was a rough town; the halflings got roaring drunk in one of the bars there and spent the night singing rowdy songs till they got thrown out.
When FU woke up in the morning, in a ditch outside of town, he discovered that the ring was missing, and so was Choate. He jumped up with a screaming headache. The words he swore should not be repeated. "Not this year!" he howled, somewhere in the middle of them.
The other halflings slowly woke up to his cries, and got the story out of him; or at least what he knew. Basically this only consisted of the fact that the human had stolen the ring. "Can’t you do something?" Nickles cried to an umpire who shook his head.
"You hired him. It’s not fan interference," he said which prompted Nickles to start swearing at him and kicking dust into his face. "Hey, buddy, you’re going to be benched for a week if you keep this up!"
"He’ll behave himself," FU said quickly, yanking Nickles away. "Hey, what’s wrong with you? Listen, we have to stick together to find that human!"
"That’s my name," FU said and punched him. "Don’t forget it."
"Hey!" Phizz came in and threw a swing at him, and for a while there was pandemonium. The umpire wondered whether it was possible to throw out a whole team.
Choate, meanwhile, was gloating over the ring in the woods nearby. It really was pretty, had the names of the original players carved over it in fiery script that only wizards could read -- at least, that was what legend said. He couldn’t wait to get this back to the human capital where they’d certainly make him king, or at least captain of the local football team. And he’d wear it, too. He couldn’t understand why the halflings had never worn it. The demon who had seduced him and convinced him he could certainly do this had said it was perfectly safe, perfectly safe….
"Look, he’s got the ring!" the goblin scout said.
"Shhh," hissed the Fuzzy Bunny. "Get him, before he puts it on!"
"Huh? Oh, you don’t believe that old legend, do you?"
Some fan asked what it was talking about, and several others went into a short summary of the legend of the ring: apparently the original ring was supposed to make you invisible (so that you could watch women dressing of course, and other lewd businesses). Legend had it that the rings made every year for the Game also had this power, even though the umpires had a ruling that said you weren’t allowed to do that, because it was an unfair advantage. So whoever had the ring was supposed to carry it on a chain around his neck all the time.
But they missed the other part of the audience, the one that dashed out of the bushes the instant that Choate put the ring on his finger. There was a screech of pain and the human fell over in agony. The Fuzzy Bunny and his goblin team, confused for a moment, stared at the figure of the old halfling, who was dancing around in the forest glen with the ring and screaming "Got it! Got it! We won! We’re the champion! We’re the…. Aaaagh!"
The Fuzzy Bunny had come to its senses fast, and attacked the old halfling who went down like a ton of bricks. And then there was pandemonium again as the Bunny, and the ring, disappeared.
Reporters rushed in, to get interviews with anyone they could. Fans began to take pictures, realizing history was being made. The demon with the cloak got down on its knees and started crying steamy tears.
The halflings knew none of this. They were busy getting out of jail with the help of FU’s uncle, who sent his elf lawyer. "Told you we should have hired elves," FU grumbled as they left the prison. "Now he’s way ahead of us, probably given the ring to the other team by now." He cocked his head at the elf. "Don’t suppose you’d be interested?"
"Not me; we don’t go in for such sports," said the elf, wrinkling his nose in distaste. "It’s bad enough our ancestors used to do it. We’ve got a ban on it."
"Too bad the humans don’t," said P, who had a black eye and a sprained ankle. All the team had been fined.
"Hey, look at this!" a fan yelled, handing them a paper. FU read it and you could see the steam coming out of his ears.
"…stolen by a creature who looks like an old halfling, fighting with a human…."
He tore up the paper. It was a few hours’ old, from before the Fuzzy Bunny coup, anyway. "And who the hell do these humans think they are?" he cried. "Think they own the world, or something? Come on, we’re going to the capital."
"But what about the ring!"
"The ring’s on its way there as we speak," FU said and told them about the news article. There was general swearing.
"Forget elves, we should’ve hired dwarves," Nickles grumbled. "At least they know how to fight."
The elf lawyer gave him a dirty look.
The goblins had no idea what to do now. Their umpire wasn’t sure whether to call the attack by the old halfling fan as interference or not, because the halfling kept swearing up and down that it had been the original owner of the ring, and owned the game, therefore. "They stole it, took the rights!" it kept whining in a particularly obnoxious voice. "We have no rights…."
It was, however, getting used to becoming a fan favorite. Fans can and will come up with all sorts of ways to appreciate their favorite player, and fast, and this player -- so the old halfling was in their mind -- was no exception. Already there were "Whiner Rules!" and "Got the Ring?" tshirts circulating in the area. In the towns, "fingers" made of pastry were selling fast in bakeries.
Choate had his own fans. He spent some time in a hospital, complaining he’d been mistreated, while his hand was being cared for. Rumor had it that the ring had originally belonged to the humans and he was just trying to get it back to prove a point -- somehow this devolved into him being the heir to the human throne which hadn’t had an heir in ages. Reporters speculated that the rumors might be true, that the original human ruler had had a magic ring. There was some contention as to whether the heralded Second Coming for the humans was supposed to get the ring or draw some sword out of a stone, or kill a particularly nasty monster. The Save the Monsters league was protesting this last idea, just in case it caught on. The dwarves thought the whole thing was ridiculous. The elves refused to comment, except to say that the dwarves were ridiculous.
"We should probably follow the Bunny; it’s likely going to the volcano," said Sniffles, making a few more flowers die by blowing its nose on their petals.
"But by itself? Is that in the rules?" asked Droopy.
"We’ve never done it by ourselves," said the scout.
"Oh, yes, we have," said the first goblin. "there was that year when the wizard got an attack of diarrhea because the halflings poisoned his dinner…."
"Yeah, and we got smashed anyway."
"What, we’re going to just give up?"
Choate, too, had decided that he was going to follow the Bunny. He gave a press conference a week after the biting, at which he said he was going to get the ring back and take the throne of mankind like he was supposed to. There was a lot of joking in the dwarf tabloids about toilets.
"This is a disgrace to humankind," said Muffy, reading the news while her toenails were being done. "Look at this, General Waffle. Some human actually got himself involved in that stupid halfling sport where they fight with the goblins over a ring."
"It’s actually quite popular, I’ve heard," Waffle remarked. A servant poured him some more tea. "And there are usually one or two men who go every year, you know. They make their names being hired to protect the halflings."
"Vulgar," his wife said, doing embroidery in a chair nearby. A nice man on a horse.
"Oh, certainly," Waffle -- who had a poster of one famous human, George the Fat, who’d helped the halflings win six in a row -- said.
"The worst part of it, of course, is that this man now thinks that he’s going to rule the world because of his involvement," Muffy continued.
"Well, he has gathered a following."
Muffy smiled. "I know. And he’s going to marry me." She plumped up her huge hair, and eyed herself in the mirror, wondering whether she needed another liposuction treatment. At least the boobs were real. Made all the difference in the world, her mother had always said. She ought to know; she was a half elf who’d gotten kicked out of the house when she was sixteen and had to make her own way in the world. Courtesy of Mrs. Mrs’s Bawdy House, and a well-timed love spell to a lord on the rise, she had done so. Her daughter Muffy now, was quite comfortable and well endowed in both money and body.
"But Milady," protested General Waffle, a friend of her father’s. "Surely this is a bad thing; he’s probably not even of royal blood!" Neither was Muffy, but her mother had made a deal with some crooked town elves to draw up fake heraldry that said that she was a relative of the elf king of the woods. No one had ever contested it, either; elves had a hard time telling who was a member of what family as it was.
"Certainly not, but it’s the wave of the future, General. This is the time for women to take a stand," she said.
"Indeed," said Mrs. Waffle, from her chair.
"Behind every good man is an intelligent woman."
"Absolutely," said Mrs. Waffle.
"… or, a screeching harpy, it all depends how you look upon it," the servant muttered into Waffle’s ear and winked at him.
The Fuzzy Bunny had gotten itself lost in the mountains. This was an easy thing to do; it was a big range and after all this was only a small bunny. No ring would help it get food, the Bunny thought irritatedly. Not even grass grew up here. And the demons were no help because they didn’t eat, and they didn’t understand the concept of eating. What good was being an evil fuzzy bunny if you starved to death and couldn’t take over the world like you planned?
It was moping in a small pass one night when it heard voices.
"Well, at least that dog was tasty."
"Too skinny though."
It was the goblins. The Bunny made up its mind and jumped up.
"Oh, yes, but there’ll be better food soon!" it cried, coming into the light of the fire where its old team was. "There you are!"
They looked at it suspiciously. "Now, we thought you’d run off with the ring," said the scout.
"Yeah, what he said."
"Me? Run off with the ring? Oh, don’t be obtuse. I have it of course, but I was just waiting for you guys to appear before heading off to destroy it," said the Bunny, thinking fast.
"We’ll be heroes," said Droopy. The scout still looked suspicious but it nodded. A flash went off as a tired fan caught a picture. It was the demon with the cloak again. It had picked up the goblins’ trail at Bridgetown. Now it was thinking of writing a book.
"Famous, my boys! Famous!"
"Now all we have to worry about is the other team," said the scout.
The Bunny snorted. "They’ll never find us. The halflings always get confused up here in the mountains."
"No, I mean the humans. They’re making war on us, you know," the goblin scout said.
"What? But that’s not allowed. Is that allowed?" the Bunny asked the umpire who shook its head, confused.
"Never heard of it happening before."
This was one of those Good wizard tricks, the goblins were sure of it. They’d been sure of it ever since Bridgetown and the business with the human; they weren’t sure what side the Bunny was working for, but they were darned sure that they didn’t like it. Then again, they didn’t like each other either.
"Whaddya think?" Droopy muttered to the goblin scout who shrugged one of its shoulders.
"It’s a mess, I say. Though you hear about this chick the humans have now?"
It pulled out a recent paper, a tabloid that had a picture on it of an exiled elf saying "That’s Not My Granddaughter" and "Nude Pictures Found of Muffy".
They spent the next ten minutes oohing over what was inside the paper, while the fans took pictures.
The halflings, passing by their camp later on, poked at each other. "Nudie pictures!" Phizz poked Steve, who goggled at the paper. The goblins had ogled her for a while before pasting her to a "no littering, that means you, Dumbass" sign.
"Damn," FU said admiringly.
"Uh, aren’t the mountains this way?" Steve asked. They stared at him; it was the first sentence anyone had ever heard come out of his mouth.
"Damn elf forests," muttered FU as he turned away from the picture. "I liked you better when you didn’t talk."
They left Muffy to be admired by the demon in the cloak, and later be torn down when one of the spider kids asked "hey, ma, what’s that?"
"Yummy," their father remarked and promptly got an eye poked out.
Muffy, in something tight and low-cut, was glad to meet Choate on the road. He was even gladder to meet her. She fluttered her eyes at him. "I’m sure you’ll win this war," she said. "I’m your biggest fan." He was made dizzy by her perfume. "I’ve brought an army to help you." She indicated General Waffle and his troops. A thousand men.
Choate, since we last saw him, had gotten himself some better clothing. He’d been a veteran of the road for years, after some old friends had convinced him to go on quest for this invisible monster that would make him famous. For the life of him, Choate had never managed to find the darned thing. But now, he had a ring, and he was going to rule the world with it - or at least he had had it until it was stolen by that darned little whatever-it-was…. But no matter. Choate had a shiny sword now, as opposed to that ratty thing he’d found in the dungeon at the home of some evil wizard or other, and he had a velvet cloak and great hair.
"Uh, well, thanks, but isn’t that fan interference or something?" Choate said uncertainly.
She smiled, wiggling her hips slightly and fluttering her huge, dark eyes again. "No, but I’ll happily give you some real -- fan -- interference, if you ask very, very nicely."
Choate stared, his own eyes widening as he got a very nice view of her bodice and the enticing things it promised. Because it just kept moving…. "Oh…. Will you all excuse us for a bit?" he asked around, and escorted her to his tent. The guys watched longingly as he was half dragged inside. A couple of them snuck around the side to try and hear what was going on, maybe catch a peek. Reporters scribbled furiously and took pictures. Someone from the dwarf tabloids congratulated himself that he’d gotten the scoop of two centuries.
A few hours later, one of the scouts who was not paying rapt attention to the noises and shadows from Choate’s tent howled that there were people approaching. Or, well, things….The humans and the halflings looked at one another.
Choate, buttoning his shirt, sat up in the chair that someone had thoughtfully placed for Muffy. She had only rolled her eyes when he plunked his butt into it. This man would need a lot of training. Let ‘em have their head for a while," her mother always had said, "then pull in the reins tighter when they’re not expecting it." So Muffy settled for a seat perched prettily on the lap of "her lord", who was blissfully happy about that particular decision. Until he saw the halflings.
"Well met," FU said coldly to Choate.
"Aww, isn’t it cute?" Muffy said. FU was mentally taking her measurements. The other guys on the team were staring openly, except for Steve who was glaring at Choate.
"This is a halfling," Choate said to her. "Leader of the halfling team, actually. FU…."
She slapped him. "Vulgar!"
"That’s his name," General Waffle leaned in to whisper in her ear.
"Oh. Well, I think -- I think we should all combine our talents, and…."
"Excuse me, miss, but this isn’t a human game," said FU with a winning smile. "We’re not quite sure what you people intend to do." What was it about women always trying to get in the way, he wondered. If she’d just keep her mouth shut, she’d be a damn fine broad.
She gave him a nasty look, flicking at her nail file. "We’re going to take the ring -- and then rule the world."
"That’s not how the game is played," Nickles muttered. "I vote we make a run for it." The other halflings agreed.
FU agreed as well, for once. "Well, I see we are wasting time here," he said to the humans.
Muffy looked amused. "Quite."
They crept away towards the mountains that barred the way to the Evil lands.
Muffy laughed when she got the report that the halflings had disappeared. "You see?" she said to Choate. "Very easy. They saw that they were no match for us. For -- you…."
"After," she smiled, making him get up. "You need to go and fight the goblins right now."
"Ummm… attention, evil Fuzzy Bunny!" cried Choate, feeling stupid as he stood in front of the gates of the Evil land all by himself. General Waffle was with him, but a good way behind. "We demand that -- uh, well, we demand that -- um…."
Muffy, disgusted, pushed her way through the admiring crowd of tired soldiers -- who suddenly felt a lot more energetic -- and stood in front of him. "We demand to see the evil fuzzy bunny!" she cried. "We demand to see the goblins!"
Behind the gates, the bunny watched her through binoculars that the goblin team had been passing back and forth admiringly. It was wondering if she would allow it five minutes in her lap.
"His Excellency, the Fuzzy Bunny, says -- ahem -- ‘not on your life’ -- ahem," the goblin guard cried down to the humans.
"The humans demand to be met in battle!" Muffy yelled back at it.
The Fuzzy Bunny appeared at the window and waved to her. "Not this time, babe," it said and then disappeared.
The Bunny knew the one way to surely arouse the anger of a woman.
"All right, come on, men, we’re going to the volcano," he said, smiling for the cameras of the admiring evil folk around.
"After only five months of wandering, it looks like this really might be the year," said the reporter on the six o’clock news. A bunch of demons and imps and evil wraiths were waving and jumping up and down in the background. "After a small press release, the Fuzzy Bunny and his team headed off to the volcano to destroy the ring. This will be the first time in hundreds of years that the Evil team will win the Game -- though, as some say, it’s not over yet. Anchor?"
The dragon at the news desk grinned, its teeth nice and sharp. "Demon, now, is the human camp still outside the gates?"
"Indeed they are. We’ve talked to some of them; apparently a human named Choate decided to make a coup this year and steal the ring himself, but he got it swiped in a great tactical move by one of the halflings, an old-timer." Footage followed of the Great Bite, as it was already being called.
"Yes, very nice. The human of course has vowed revenge -- through his lady, named Muffy…."
There was about five minutes of laughter.
"Now -- hahahahaha -- now, is this allowed, even?"
"Well, Demon, we’ve checked with the umpires and they have never heard of it before. The humans are really messing with things this year. It’s suspected that the halflings might have hired them specifically for this purpose, in an underhanded move."
"Interesting, interesting. Now, how are the humans going to proceed? Any sign of tactics?"
"Actually at the moment Muffy is still throwing a tantrum outside the gates."
"Hahahahahahah…. So -- ha -- has there been any sign of the halflings?"
"No, and that’s the disturbing part. But the Fuzzy Bunny seems unperturbed by this. They are halfway across the valley by now, according to reports."
"Well, let’s hope then. And now for the weather…."
The goblins were in high spirits. They’d spent the day partying with their fans and taking goofy pictures of themselves up on the volcano’s edges with various evil creatures who’d tagged excitedly along. The evil demon fan who had followed them all the way, with the cloak with all their names on it scrawled in fiery letters, was bouncing up and down.
"Well, we’d like to thank everyone who made this possible, who helped us get here," said the Fuzzy Bunny who was trying to think of an exit point where it could sneak out with the ring. "It’s about time this land got the prize again, and here’s to doing it again next year!"
Just as it lifted its glass, a stone came from out of nowhere and whacked it on the skull. The Fuzzy Bunny fell over on the edge of the volcano. FU charged from the darkness beyond, tackling it, and grabbing the ring just in time as the Fuzzy Bunny screamed and fell into the fire.
The goblins stared in shock for a minute. The demon with the cloak began screaming "NOOOOOOOO…. Dammit!"
"WAHOO! We have it! The halflings win again!" cried FU dancing on the edge of the volcano. He lifted his arm to throw the ring and the old halfling tried to tackle him but tripped over the goblin scout. And that was that.
There was a burst of flame that everyone saw, and a great explosion, at which point the halflings were knocked out.
They woke up a few minutes later outside the gates of the Evil land, in the humans’ camp. The Evil Wizard was standing over them. "You!" cried FU.
"What happened to the humans?"
"Oh, well, they’ve decided to go to war against my land, but we haven’t had a good war in a while," the Evil Wizard said. "Ought to be fun; it’ll give me a chance to try out some new evil spells."
"You’re bound to win," said FU. "Against Choate?"
"Oh, come on, let’s be honest who runs that show…." The wizard grinned. "He’s a lucky man. Anyway, thanks for helping me out."
"Helping you out?"
"Yeah, the Wizards League has been trying to get rid of that Fuzzy Bunny for years, after some stupid idiot created it long ago. Megalomania problem, that one had." He grinned again. "Thanks again."
And then he disappeared, as the tent was swamped with other members of the wizards league and reporters wanting interviews. And there was the trophy to be given to the halflings, for yet another year.
On the way, they passed the demon with the cloak, who was just a shade of its former self.
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