Jack walked down the sunny streets of San Antonio in his Lumberjack costume. Instead of screaming and running, the civilians smiled and waved. He was 'the Hero of Texas' now, after all.
The America News Network Headquarters was a monolith of black glass. He entered the pristine building and followed the signs to the main news studio. Marilyn, Puck, Sam, and Lobo were already there in civilian clothes along with reporters and camera operators from all the news networks in the Death Game.
Everyone clapped when they saw him.
‘There he is!’ Marilyn gave him a hug. ‘You look nice.’
‘Thanks,' said Jack, 'I cleaned the blood off the costume last night.’
‘Ah, I see.’
Puck put him in a headlock and gave him a nuggie with her new prosthetic right arm. ‘Don’t go thinking you’re the big cheese around here just because me, Sam, and Lobo quit the Death Game for you! The bullying will continue!’
‘I got it, I got it!' said Jack. 'I give, I give!’
Sam sobbed into a handkerchief. ‘I wish that Mezu was here to see this!’
Lobo started crying too.
Marilyn patted them both on the head. ‘That’s alright, my lovelies. He’s in a better place now.’
‘Yeah,’ said Jack. ‘Knowing him, he’s probably chasing down Cthulu in the Dungeon Universe. Godspeed, Mezu.’
The lights suddenly dimmed until only the news set was visible.
‘It’s started,’ said Marilyn.
A medieval-looking door assembled itself on the news set wall.
This must have been a Dungeon Gate.
It opened to reveal the storm of dreams that was the Dungeon Universe.
A group of men in dark purple hooded robes walked out and organised themselves into a line. Each of them wore a unique Venetian carnival mask.
The Masquerade had returned.
The moon mask at the centre of the line stepped forwards.
Like his predecessor, his voice was ridiculously deep and booming. ‘GREETINGS, SLASHERS. I AM THE VOICE OF THE MASQUERADE. YOU HAVE BEEN SUMMONED HERE ON THE BEHEST OF HIS MAJESTY THE KING IN YELLOW TO WITNESS THE HANDOVER OF THE DAGGER OF LIFE AND DEATH. ALL KNEEL AND BOW YOUR HEADS IN PREPERATION FOR HIS MAJESTY’S ARRIVAL.'
Everyone kneeled and bowed their heads.
The Masquerade split their line in two so that the path to the Dungeon Gate was clear.
From out of the Dungeon Gate, the King in Yellow emerged.
He gestured for everyone to rise. They did so.
Jack gritted his teeth. I’m not sure what’s going to happen next between Marilyn and the King in Yellow. I don’t think Marilyn’s been very honest with us throughout this whole adventure. Nevertheless, whatever happens, I’ll do whatever I can to protect her.
The Voice of the Masquerade pointed at Jack. ‘WELL DONE, LUMBERJACK. YOU HAVE EMERGED VICTORIOUS IN THE DEATH GAME. KNEEL BEFORE HIS MAJESTY THE KING IN YELLOW AND RECEIVE THE DAGGER OF LIFE AND DEATH.’
Jack kneeled before the King in Yellow.
The King in Yellow held out the Dagger of Life and Death to him.
With a shaking hand, Jack took it.
When their hands touched, Jack heard a cheery masculine English accent in his head. Hello, Jack! I’m so glad to have finally found a suitable partner for my daughter! She’s been quite a handful since her coming of age, you know! Then again, her mother and I weren’t exactly homebodies at her age either! With a strait-laced young man like you by her side, though, I’m sure she’ll do just fine from here on out! Now, be a good lad and stab me in the chest with the dagger!
Jack was stunned.
What was going on?!
‘Now, Jack!’ said Marilyn. ‘Kill him! Quickly!’
Jack was too shocked to move.
The King in Yellow tapped his chest.
When the King in Yellow realised Jack wasn’t going to stab him, he took his Venetian carnival mask off.
The horror Jack saw within the hood made him instantly stab the King in Yellow in the chest.
The King in Yellow fell.
Countless souls burst out of his body.
Marilyn opened her mouth and sucked them all in.
When she was done, she pumped her fists into the air. ‘I did it! Finally! I’ve inherited all the Zone power those old fogeys were keeping from me!’ She took the King in Yellow’s body and threw it into the Dungeon Gate. ‘Out with the old gods! In with the new! Sandraudiga is back, baby!’
She clicked her fingers at a reporter, and he exploded in a burst of blood.
She kept clicking her fingers at all the reporters, camera operators, and members of the Masquerade until the floor looked like that of a poorly-managed ketchup bottling factory.
Jack, Puck, Sam, and Lobo looked at each other with wide eyes. She was more bloodthirsty than them!
Marilyn stretched her arms up. ‘Oh, it feels so good to have real power again! I don’t need my parents anymore! I don’t need Cthulu anymore! I can become the Monarch of the Multiverse by myself!’ She pointed to Jack and the others. ‘And don’t think I’ve forgotten you, my lovelies! I’m going to make you the generals of my new multidimensional army! We’re going to create a Multiverse ruled by slashers! A Multiverse of bloodshed and terror! A Multiverse where the strong rule the weak!’ She smiled and gave a longing sigh. ‘All I need now is the Dagger of Life and Death.’ She held out her hand to Jack. ‘Hand it over, won’t you, poppit?’
He tightened his grip on the Dagger of Life and Death. ‘No.’
Marilyn gave a bemused grin. ‘Come again?’
‘Marilyn…I don’t want to live in a Multiverse ruled by slashers. Slashers are monsters.’
Marilyn frowned. ‘They’re not monsters! They’re apex predators! I put a lot of work into them!’
‘Wait,’ said Puck. ‘I thought it was the King in Yellow that created slashers?!’
Marilyn rolled her eyes. ‘Oh, come on, Puck. Do you believe everything you see on the news?’
Jack, Puck, Sam, and Lobo looked at each other with wide eyes again.
‘Marilyn,’ said Jack. ‘Just how deep goes this web of lies go?’
Marilyn waved the question away. ‘It doesn’t matter! Look, just hand over the Dagger of Life and Death, and I’ll explain later! Pinkie promise!’
The way Marilyn was acting…it reminded Jack of a teenager.
Finally, Jack understood.
He had thought Marilyn was a adult woman, but what she really was was something like an ancient...Martian...teenaged...god. Her parents hadn’t thought she was mature enough to become the Monarch of the Multiverse, so Marilyn had orchestrated a teenage rebellion in the form of a multidimensional war. For whatever reason, the King in Yellow had handed off Marilyn to Jack through the Death Game, and now she was his responsibility.
‘Marilyn!’ said Jack. ‘I’m putting my foot down! You’re not mature enough to be Monarch of the Multiverse yet! You’re going to settle down with me until you’ve learned to act like a lady!’
Marilyn eyes and mouth went wide. ‘Are you serious, Jack Schretcher?! When we first met, you said you weren’t intimidated by a woman with ambition!’
‘There’s ambition and there’s ambition, Marilyn!’
Marilyn gave a humourless laugh. ‘Puck, tell him how ridiculous he’s being!’
Puck looked down and shuffled her feet. ‘I don’t know, boss. Jack’s usually smart about this kind of thing. He has a Political Science degree.’
‘Okay. Wow. Wasn’t expecting betrayal there. Sam?’
Sam looked from side to side. ‘Uuuh. Me no speak de English.’
Lobo whined and shuffled behind Jack.
Marilyn lifted her arms to her sides. ‘So, you’re all against me then?! After all I’ve done for you?!’
‘Come on, Marilyn,’ said Jack. ‘We just—’
Marilyn lunged for the Dagger of Life and Death.
Not wanting to cut her, Jack loosened his grip on the hilt and let her have it.
Marilyn had clearly expected more resistance, however, and ended up snatching the Dagger of Life and Death backwards—into her shoulder.
Marilyn’s eyes were frightened. ‘Jack?’
Jack slowly held his hand out. ‘It’s okay, Marilyn. Whoever's weilds the Dagger of Life and Death becomes immortal, remember? I’m sure if you cut yourself with it, that cancels it out. Just give it back to—’
Marilyn morphed into the same horror he’d seen behind the King in Yellow’s mask.
She saw her own reflection in the blood on the floor.
She turned around and ran into the Dungeon Gate.
‘Marilyn!’ said Jack.
He ran after her.
Puck, Sam, and Lobo held each other while staring into the Dungeon Gate.
‘Should we go after them?’ said Sam.
‘I don’t know,’ said Puck.
The Voice of the Masquerade emerged from backstage. He must survived by hiding.
He walked up to the Dungeon Gate and looked over his shoulder at them. ‘GOODBYE, SLASHERS.’
He entered the Dungeon Gate, and it disassembled itself behind him.