‘There’s something wrong with Marilyn,’ said Jack.
He and Mezu were riding the swaying kiddie cars at the Bart Creek Mall Fun Zone.
Sam and Puck had decided it would be a good idea to try and get Lobo used to normal human life after having been raised first by wolves and then by the Devil’s Circus. They estimated that she was around ten, so they were introducing her to fun activities for a girl her age.
Marilyn had taken a rain check. Apparently, she had some personal issues to attend to.
Mezu absentmindedly turned the wheel of his kiddie car. ‘How do you mean?’
Jack leant back in his seat. ‘The King in Yellow is terrifying. Every time I see him, I want to run…. But everything he’s done so far seems…calculated, ritualistic, theatrical even. I don’t think he’s malevolent; I think he’s completely indifferent towards human life. The Voice of the Masquerade said something like, “The King in Yellow has grown weary of Earth and wants to return to his homeworld, but before he goes, he wants to give the Dagger of Life and Death to his greatest disciple, whoever kills all the other slashers in the Death Game”. I don’t buy that. I think the King in Yellow has a secret agenda and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to get it done. In that way, I understand him.’
He sighed and rested on his steering wheel. ‘I don’t understand Marilyn. Not anymore anyway. Come to think of it, maybe I never did. Ever since we returned from the Dungeon Universe, she’s been giving me bad gives. It’s like something rotten has awakened within her. The other day, a dog started barking at her and just wouldn’t stop. Sometimes, when I’m around her, I feel like a chicken walking alongside…well, a fox.’
Mezu gave a broad smile. ‘So, what you're trying to say is you’re getting cold feet about the wedding?’
Jack banged his steering wheel. ‘No! That’s not it at all!’
Mezu laughed and patted him on the back. ‘It happens to every man! Don’t worry about it!’
Jack couldn’t help but grin. This was the first time he’d seen Mezu happy.
‘Zone Technique: Finger Flick.’ Jack started flicking Mezu with his finger.
‘Zone Technique: Poke.’ Mezu started poking Jack.
Puck, Sam, and Lobo ran up to them.
Lobo was wearing civilian clothes like the rest of them now, though she still walked on her hands and feet. She nuzzled up to Jack’s knee and whined.
‘Lobo’s bored of the Mall Train,’ said Sam. ‘What else can we do?’
Jack took a golden credit card out of his wallet. ‘Anything and everything! Marilyn’s paying!’
They went to the REGO Shop, built the Dead Star from Star Battles, destroyed it with a basketball, and got chased out by security. They went to the Waraxe store and played Dungeons and Drakes. They almost killed a Lich, but Puck the Orc Warrior had a bad roll on what should have been the killing blow, so they ended up getting turned into Skeleton Slaves. They watched Jungle Predator at the movie theatre. Then Lobo had to ruin it by marking her territory on the cleaning lady.
Finally, they went to the Press X video arcade. Mezu showed off his sword skills in Golden Sword, Sam showed off her shooting skills in Freedom Fighter, and Lobo found a new love for destruction in Kaiju Rampage. Puck wasn’t interested in the arcade cabinets, but she beat all comers at air hockey. At the end of the day, they had a three round Street Brawler tournament. Mezu and Jack beat Puck, Sam, and Lobo handily in the first round, with Mezu barely edging out Jack in the final match, but Lobo inexplicably defeated everyone in the next two rounds. This hit Mezu hard. He staggered out of the mall mumbling about how Lobo must be an illegal alien from the Video Game Universe.
Just when Jack and the girls were about to follow him out of the mall and go home, Puck turned on Jack with an impish grin. ‘Oh, I forgot! Sam and I were supposed to get a Z cup bra for Lobo! You couldn’t backtrack and get one before the mall closes, could you?’ She rolled her eyes. ‘Oh, wait. You have no experience with women, right? We’ll just get it tomorrow. Wouldn’t want you to mess it up.’
Sam held her hands to her mouth and sniggered.
Jack frowned and crossed his arms. ‘I have plenty of experience with women!’
‘Yeah?' said Puck. 'Who?’
‘Oh? She let you hold her hand once, eh?’
Jack snatched the golden credit card from his wallet and ruffled Lobo’s hair. ‘I’ll get it for you, sweetheart. Try not to eat these two while I’m gone. I know it’s tempting.’ He stormed off.
Puck called after him. ‘Don’t forget it has to be a Z cuuup!’
Jack couldn’t find any Z cup bras anywhere. Why did they make the writing on the labels so small? He had to hurry up; the mall was closing soon.
Someone came up beside him and spoke with a feminine Arabic accent. ‘Can I help you, sir?’
‘Yeah, my friend sent me to get a Z cup bra. Does this place have any?’ He turned to look at the stranger.
It was Queen Cobra in an olive green gown.
Queen Cobra smiled and blushed. She was just as lovely in civilian clothes as she was in her snake charming belly dancer outfit. ‘I think your friend is playing a prank on you.’
An old couple walked past.
Queen Cobra bit her lip. ‘Perhaps we can talk somewhere more private? I know an Italian restaurant on the third floor which stays open after the mall closes if you tip well. The food isn’t good, but the view is nice.’
Jack didn’t know what to say. Of all the slashers that he’d fought up until now, Queen Cobra was the first that had offered to take him out to dinner. It may have been a trick, but then again, she could have had her king cobra rip his throat out while his back was turned. Plus, she was very pretty.
He put the bra back on the rack and whipped out his golden credit card. ‘My treat!’
The food really wasn’t good. Jack had ordered spaghetti bolognese, but what he got was tagliatelle with tomatoes. Queen Cobra had tried to explain that that was because the chef was Italian, not Italian-American, but he didn’t understand. The view was nice, though: Austin’s skyscrapers glistened like dark gold at night.
Jack took a sip of his orange juice. ‘I’m surprised you found me. You must be a good tracker.’
Queen Cobra shrugged. ‘It was a complete fluke to be honest. I was just out shopping for clothes, and I saw you stooped over the bra section like a weirdo.’
‘Are you lying to me?’
She smiled and blushed. ‘I’m trying to, but you’re making it very hard.’
He chuckled. ‘So, you’re the Slasher Slayer whose been going around killing A-list slashers. Why?’
She rested her chin on her hands and stared at him for a long moment. ‘You really don’t recognise me, do you?’
Jack shook his head. ‘I’m sure we haven’t met. I’d remember you.’
She tittered. Then she downed her red wine. ‘1986. You and three other soldiers kicked in my front door and gunned down my whole family. I thought I was going to die too, but then you turned around, shot your friends, and ran away. I’ve been asking myself why ever since.’
Jack looked down at his hands and nodded. He’d been supressing this for a long time, but it was all coming back to him now….
He cleared his throat. ‘My father wasn’t an American like my mother. He was from the Holy Land like you. He was a colonel in the Army. He lost three sons in the Uprising, all soldiers. His grief drove him to join the Intelligence Agency and start a super soldier program. He came back to America shortly after I graduated from university and asked me to become the super soldier he needed. I’d never had a father figure before, I’d always been picked on, and I thought that military service would do wonders for my political career later on in life…so I said yes.’
He swallowed. ‘I don’t know what the doctors and psychologists did to me, but whatever it was made me stronger and more open to suggestion. I neutralised two thousand and eighty-one targets over the course two years. One day, for some reason, I came to my senses. I was standing in a pile of corpses with a pistol in my hand. I couldn’t tell if they were rebels or civilians. When I met my father next, I asked him when the war would end. He said, “When kingdom come”. Sometime after that, I must have snapped and ran back to America. I don’t remember much from that time…. My father got killed in the fighting….’
Queen Cobra looked down at her empty plate. ‘Now I understand…. After you left, the Rebels approached me and other girls whose lives you’d ruined and offered us the chance to kill you. They trained us as assassins. We’ve been hunting you ever since. We had the feeling you’d end up as one of the American slashers we’d see on the news, so came to the US and started killing them in hopes of finding you. There isn’t one Slasher Slayer. There’s thirty-three of us.’
Jack nodded. ‘I see…. Would it make any difference if I said I was sorry?’
She shook her head. ‘No…but thank you for saying it.’
He put his hands together. ‘I think if I survive all this, I’m going to become a war dove at the GOP. Try to make amends for all the harm I’ve done.’
Queen Cobra smiled and blushed. ‘You’re a nice boy.’ She ran her foot up his leg, causing him to straighten up as a shiver ran up his spine. ‘But easily led by women.’ She stood up. ‘Come on. Let’s go up to the roof and get this over with.’
Jack and Queen Cobra faced each other on the roof of the Bart Creek Mall.
Jack brought his fire axe out of the Zone. Queen Cobra brought her king cobra out of her gown.
She pointed at his fire axe. ‘I don’t use that haram witchcraft you slashers use. Would it be too much for me to ask you to not to use the Zone? To give me a fighting chance?’
Jack shook his head. ‘I won’t use it.’
She smiled and blushed. ‘You're a gentleman.’
For a moment that felt like an eternity, the stared at each another.
Queen Cobra’s strike was the fastest Jack had ever seen. No way to dodge, block, or counter. The king cobra sank its teeth into his neck.
Then it burst into flame.
Jack slashed Queen Cobra across the chest.
He caught her.
Queen Cobra coughed up blood. Then she smiled. ‘You entered the Zone on the way up here, didn’t you?’
Jack smiled too. Tears ran down his cheeks. ‘I’m not that much of a gentleman.’
She went limp in his arms.
The Slasher Slayers watched the scene play out from the window of the skyscraper.
‘Ridiculous,’ said Mamba as she closed the curtains. ‘Come on, girls. We gave that sentimental fool Cobra her chance at settling this honourably. I’m Queen now. We’ll wait until the target goes to bed in that crappy motel of his and then have the snakes bite him in his sleep. He’ll be writhing in agony for days before he dies.’
Mamba’s black mamba and the other girls’ snakes slipped into their clothing. They walked towards the hotel room door.
The Slasher Slayers looked around at each other, confused. They’d chosen this location specifically so they wouldn’t be disturbed.
‘Who is it?’ said Mamba.
A feminine English accent answered. ‘Room service!’
Mamba opened the door.
A red-haired woman wearing an orange suit was standing there.
‘We didn’t order any room service,’ said Mamba.
The woman smiled. Red horns grew out of her head. She stretched out her hand, and blood shot out of it.
The blood ripped through Mamba and the others.
As Mamba fell apart, the woman knelt down beside her. ‘You leave my man alone.’