"I don't see how you can be so unconcerned, anyway," Embericles
muttered sulkily at BKWillis's back. "Aren't you worried about
Nyssaias at all?"

"Of course I am," the author replied easily, glancing at the clock
again. "But we'll know something soon." He went on with his

The Dark Muse sniffled and pouted a little more. When BKWillis
made no response, she flew up and perched on the back of his
chair, where he'd have no choice but to hear her. She sniffled
again, louder.

Willis sighed and rubbed at the bridge of his nose. "Look, Emb-
ericles," he said, "why don't you do something to take your mind
off your worries for a while?"

"Like what?" she pouted.

"You could help me with a story idea."

The tiny redhead stepped over onto his shoulder and looked at
the computer screen. "Fine. Open a new Wordpad file, and I'll
tell you my idea." He did so, and after a moment she went on.
"Right. Here's my idea for a 'Doctor Who' story: Polly gets kid-
napped by a big red cat, and Ben wants to find her, but the
Doctor's being a butthead about it and keeps telling him not
to worry. Or, maybe we can do an 'Oh! My Goddess!' fanfic,
where Belldandy disappears and Keiichi is desperate to find her,
but Urd just sits around with her thumb up her butt--"

"You've made your point, Bondage Fairy," Willis snapped, then
softened a little. "Look, I keep telling you. We'll know something
soon. Now, why don't you relax and listen to some music?" He
turned on the CD player, and Bob Marley began crooning 'No
Woman No Cry'.

"WAAAAHH!" wailed Embericles. "That was Nyssaias's favorite

BKWillis hastily switched to another disc, and 'Gringo Honey-
moon' started playing.

"WAAAAHH! That was her _other_ favorite!"

On the floor, Guin the Mutt stuck her head under the couch to
dampen the noise.

BKWillis turned off the stereo and made an effort not to grind
his teeth. "Okay, okay. No music. How about some ice cream,

That perked the Muse up a little. "Well... maybe..."

The author disappeared into the kitchen for a moment, relieved
to have maybe found _something_ to make the whining stop. He
was soon back with a small bowl with a scoop of vanilla ice cream
in it, a tiny cherry on top. He set it down in front of his Dark
Muse and gave her a foolish hopeful grin.

Embericles stared at the frozen treat for a moment, then...


"What now?!" demanded BKWillis.

Embericles stroked the ice cream lightly as she sobbed. "It... it
looks just like... my little Nyssaias's perfect little right breast!

Willis sagged heavily into his chair, glancing again at the clock.
"Gonna be a _long_ night..."


The interior of the Severed Head Bar and Grill looked consider-
ably worse than it had when the foursome entered. All the dirt
and grime was now covered over by several layers of dead thugs
and criminals, with decorative splashes of blood dotting most of
the vertical surfaces.

Number One ducked behind an overturned table as a pair of oily-
looking thugs cut loose at him with their Uzis. The table was too
light to stop the slugs, so he rolled clear to his right, triggering
off a couple of rounds from his .357 as he did so. He had the
satisfaction of seeing one of the men crumple as his shots found
their mark. Smirking, he flipped to his feet and shot his other
foe from the hip, then a third from behind his back. "Chow
Yun-Fat eat your heart out," he laughed to himself. He looked
around to see if Nyssa was properly impressed.

Psycho Nyssa was in her element now. Nimble as a ballerina, she
danced among the bodies, dodging bullets and knives almost by
instinct and avoiding punches and blows like a firefly evading a
hammer. A lithe twist to her left allowed a barrelful of double-
aught buckshot to pass her by. She turned the move into a pretty,
skirt-raising twirl that spun her back to stand by the man who'd
just shot at her and who was now frantically trying to reload his

Nyssa tapped him lightly on the temple with the muzzle of her
.45. "This is your brain," she said. BLAM! "This is your brain
on the wall. Any questions?" Her giggle would have curdled
the blood of those around her, except that most of it was already
coagulating on the floor.

Francois sighed as he wrenched yet another thug's head off at
the neck. Another day, another dollar, ho-hum. Sometimes, he
found himself wishing he'd gone into a more interesting line of
work, like retail sales, or something. S-Mart was supposed to
be hiring...

A man rose up beside him and emptied a pocket-pistol directly
into his stomach from a range of less than three feet. The little
.25 caliber slugs barely punched through his clothes and didn't
leave so much as a bruise on the Ogron's gut. Francois didn't
even look as he snatched the man up in his paws. Grab, twist,
pop, thud, and another head was rolling around at his feet. Oh,
well. Maybe something exciting would happen later.

Sister Roxanne's plasma-pistol whined as another bolt of super-
hot death tore into the packed ranks of the telemarketers. Here
was fought that most primal and ancient of battles, the goodness
and purity of Heaven against the foul corruption of Hell. There
could be no quarter asked or given here, as Holy nun and Hell-
born telemarketer spawn each strove for the other's annihilation.

And then it was over.

"Hey, that's all of them," Number One said, blinking behind his
mirrorshades at the scattered corpses.

Francois grunted, "Good deal. Is Miller Time, yes?"

"Sin has been defeated. We have done much of God's good work
here." Somehow, as always, Sister Roxanne had managed to get
through the entire fight without getting any blood or dirt on her
and without, in fact, even breaking a sweat.

"Oh, poopie," Nyssa pouted. "And I was just getting into that,

The foursome stood among the shambles, surveying their work
in silent pride. Finally, Number One broke the silence with a
slightly uneasy cough. "Um, not to nitpick, or anything, but
shouldn't we have kept one of them alive for questioning?"

"Oh, poopie."



"Damn it, will you just chill out, Embericles? We'll know some-
thing very soon, I promise."

Embericles stuck her lip out as she stared back at BKWillis, her
tiny fists balled on her hips. "You keep saying that! How will
we know?!"

The author rocked in his chair a little as he explained. "Well, for
one thing, the Fearsome Foursome may turn something up. But
for another, think about this logically, Embericles. You and
Nyssaias are a team, right?"

"More than that!" the Muse shot back. "She's my little love-

"Er, right. So, anyway, think for a moment about why someone
would have kidnapped her."

"To have their way with her innocent and delectable little body!

"Let me rephrase that," Willis said over the noise. "Why would
someone other than _you_ kidnap her?"

"Umm..." Embericles thought for a moment, still clearly distracted
by the thought of having her way with a certain delectable little
body, if the way her hand was sliding along her skin-tight pants
meant anything. "So... she could be _their_ Muse, maybe?"

"Right you are. And how long do you think it would take them
to realize that she was only _half_ of the creative team?"

"Er, not that long, I guess," Embericles muttered. "Even quicker
if some Deus ex machina was involved."

Willis smiled, glad to have her thinking and even gladder to
have her not crying. "Right again. So, what do you think they'd
be likely to do when they figure out that they need my other
Muse, too?"

"They'll try to come and kidnap me, too!" Embericles chirped
happily. "I see, now! That's--" Her happy smile vanished with
truly comical speed. "Wait a minute. Someone's going to try
and kidnap me?!"

Willis looked at the clock again, then reached behind his desk
and lifted out the SKS rifle he kept there. "Yep," he answered
as he popped a 75-round drum magazine into place and worked
the slide. "And probably just about now, too."

Guin suddenly clambered to her feet and began snarling at the
back door.


Varne said several unladylike things as she suddenly found her-
self forcibly shifted out of her cat-form. She'd changed into that
less-conspicuous body when she was within a few blocks of
Willis's house, but as soon as she set foot on the back porch
something disrupted her hold on that shape and she was a human
woman again. She briefly considered abandoning the assignment,
but thoughts of all the bad villain cliches the Bradleyard would
spout if she failed put paid to that idea. She'd just brazen it out
and see what happened.


"Eep. I see I was expected." Varne smiled a little sickly at the
young man pointing the rifle at her.

"Hello Varne," BKWillis said from the rifle's friendly end.

"Ah, you know who I am, then?"

The author shrugged. "I just sort of guessed it'd be you after I
got to thinking about how Nyssaias got taken. Only a few
characters can transform into cats, and you're the only one I
know of who's mercenary enough to be involved in an abduction.
That's why I put an AP field around the house, to keep you
from shapeshifting on me."

"An Authorial Prerogative field?" Varne asked. "The one that
lets the author define local reality with regard to characters?"

"The same. Now, if you'd just--"

"Give me back my Nyssaias, you big skank!" Embericles flew
over to stand on the bookshelf and glare down at the captive

Varne ignored her. "You know," she said conversationally to
Willis, "you don't look nearly as goofy without the beard."

"Do what?"

"Never mind." Varne offered him a winning smile. "So, do I get
to bargain for my freedom?"

BKWillis's answering smile was both smug and unpleasant.
"Since when do prisoners bargain?" he asked. "They just get

Embericles brandished a large pin threateningly. "Yeah, sister!
So you better talk, or you don't _even_ want to know what I'll do
with this!"

Guin growled in general agreement.

Varne's eyes took on a sultry look and she began toying with her
dress straps. "Oh, but prisoners who have something to offer can
bargain, can't they?" Her pink tongue darted out across her lips.

Embericles snorted derisively. "Yeah, right! Like the boss is really
dumb enough to fall for that!"

The red-haired mercenary kept her smoky gaze fixed on BKWillis
as she took a step forward. One strap of her dress fell away from
her shoulder. Another step, and she twitched down the other. A
third, and the bodice slid down away from her full breasts. Still,
she kept sidling over to the author, who watched, stone-faced.

"How about it?" she husked as she stood bare-chested in front of
him, her perky globes almost brushing against his arm. "Do you
like what you see?"

"Very nice," the author smirked. "But, do you really think I'm
shallow enough and stupid enough to let you go in exchange
for some nookie?"

"No," Varne replied in that same pounce-me-now voice, "but I
_do_ think you're stupid enough to let me get this close..." With
that, she twitched the gun barrel aside with one hand and slammed
the other into his chin, knocking him over the desk. She leaped
up and across the lunging dog, who managed to snag only a
mouthful of skirt hem, then kicked the animal out into the hall.

Embericles let out a yelp and jabbed the pin into Varne's hand as
the shapeshifter grabbed her, but it was to no avail.

As Varne dashed away into the night with her little captive, a
tiny cry of rage from Embericles the Dark Muse echoed into the


"You sure you want to try this again?"

"Of course, Number One," Psycho Nyssa replied easily. "It should
work properly this time. We just go into the bar, hang around for
a bit, and ask if anyone's seen a Light Muse. We don't start any-
thing, but if anyone else does, we keep our heads this time and
make sure we leave some survivors to interrogate. Piece of cake!"

The foursome were still in the bad part of Outside, in front of yet
another notorious gangland hangout, the Vicious Mammal Club.
None of the four had any idea why it was called that, but it looked
every bit as disgusting as the Severed Head had.

The quartet strode confidently through the front door, only to be
stopped by the bouncer just inside.

"Hey, youse!" the mohawked goon snarled at them. "Stop right
dere! Youse can't come in here like dat!"

Nyssa blinked at him in confusion. "Like what?"

"Can't youse read? Dis is da Vicious Mammal Club, and nobody
gets in widout some kind of vicious mammal!"

Francois looked down, noticing that there _did_ seem to be a lot
of fur on the floor.

"So, we can't come in unless we've got an animal with us?"
Number One asked disbelievingly.

"Nuh-uh," grunted the bouncer. "Not just a animal. It gots to be
a _vicious mammal_. Youse ain't gettin' in widout youse got
something like a bobcat, or a wolverine, or a dingo dog wid youse,
or maybe some badgers..."

Nyssa's eyes suddenly took on a Hellish gleam. "Badgers?" she
snarled, her hand spidering towards her pistol. "Did you say
'badgers'?! We don't NEED no STINKING BADGERS!!!"

Things went downhill from there.


BKWillis pulled himself from the wreckage of his desk, silently
cursing his own stupidity.

"That was pretty damned stupid, idiot-boy."

Yeah, exactly. Wait. That was a real voice, and not his own. He
looked to the doorway.

"Hiya, bud. Long time, no see," the woman there said. She was
an odd-looking type, about five feet tall and with a long, but cute,
face with large and soulful brown eyes, which seemed on closer
inspection to be slightly bloodshot. Her hair was long and straight
and largely brown, but was oddly streaked in places with black,
white, and gray, although she seemed too young to have gray
hair. The long gown she wore was of a strangely mottled pattern
in similar colors.

Oh, and she had big translucent wings, too.

"Um, hi," Willis replied, unable to come up with anything better.

"You don't remember me, do you?" the woman asked grouchily.
"Typical stupid human. Ain't he?" This last was directed at Guin,
who had come up to sniff at the newcomer, her tail wagging
slightly. "So, Willis, you gonna offer me a beer, or what?"

"Uh, I, yeah. You, uh, want a beer?"

"Naw, I was asking outta curiosity about yer manners. Get me
a Bud, if you got it, or a Pabst, if you don't."

"Ah, right. Coming right up." At the moment, going with the
flow seemed like the only thing for Willis to do. He started for
the kitchen, then stopped and looked at the newcomer question-
ingly. "Do I know you? Just who are you, anyway?"

"You used to know me, but not no more, apparently." More than
a little scorn was evident in the statement as she gave a huffy
flutter of her wings. "But as for who I am, I'm yer one and only
Fairy Dogmother!" She managed a not-very-polite curtsey.

"Fairy Godmother?" Willis asked weakly.

"Naw, _Dog_mother! Do I stutter? Yeesh." The Fairy rolled
her eyes and pulled a dog biscuit out of her pocket. "Now," she
said as she bit into it, "you gonna get me somethin' to wash this
down with, or what? Frickin' humans..."


Part One

Back to S