The rope frayed, dangling Shambles, Barbara, Sarge, Dan, Cubby, and Locust precariously out the clock tower and over the horde of demons that had overrun Valleybrook Glen. It was only a matter of seconds before the hemp frayed, plunging the misfit group of heroes into the screaming throng of Hell's Minions, leaving the Valleybrook Glen and the entire planet at their mercy. Father Shambles squeaked pitifully, because he knew the entire situation was their fault...
And it all could've been avoided if Locust the Wizard hadn't stopped to go to the bathroom.
Six weeks ago, the group had been miles away outside of Fallowfield, a new prosperous farming community on the outskirts of the Kingdom of Beastlyville. King Rudolfo had been dispatched an urgent plea by the Mayor of Fallowfield, that his farms were being raided by bandits. Since most of his soldiers were busy patrolling the border between Beastlyville and their bitter rival, Scottsdale, this sounded like a perfect job for the King's Champion, Sgt. Tariff Staff and his adventuring club.
Anxious to prove their worthiness to the king (and to make a decent amount of coinage doing so), the six heroes gathered mounts and sped to Fallowfield:
Sgt. T.S. (The King's Champion and award-winning jouster. Coming from a family of noble knights, his blonde, burly locks, rippled muscles and heroic jaw-line never flinch in the face of evil.)
Sir Dan the Optimist (This ex-Merry Man, Bard and good-natured rogue, has legendary charm and good looks. A mop of black hair, an expertly trimmed goatee and a suit of brown and green leather; Dan could woo the socks off a dragon, if it had socks.)
The Mighty Cubby (Ambassador to a dwarven race called the Snotits, Cubby is the group's silent, secret, bald-headed weapon. With the appetite of ten men and the wives of five, Cubby is the calm in the chaos of this adventuring club.)
Barbara the Barbarian (Savage beauty and girlfriend to Dan, she is the raw power of the group. With her Viking helmet and her bear-skin bikini, Barbara is about a subtle as a morning-star to the head.)
Locust the Wizard (He is the Royal Wizard of Beastlyville, who obtained his job due to a clerical error. The rest of his magical career is similar. Sporting a wizard's robe and cap covered with many bizarre symbols, the old man continues to be a witless wonder.)
and Father Shambles (The overweight, unshaven priest was once a former thief and his shiftiness comes out in every side glance and stare. Armed with the two sacred Maces of Saint Bert, he is also wearing his helmet, and some "borrowed" armor.)
A few hundred yards outside of Fallowfield, Father Shambles, as usual, lost his nerve.
"What if they have catapults?!" said the priest anxiously. "We're not equipped for a siege!"
"Relax, Sham," assured Sir Dan from his mule, Lightning. "They're just bandits. A little show of force and they'll hightail it somewheres else. Aren't these guys kin to your former profession anyway?"
"Hey," shot back the priest, pointing an angry, defensive finger. "Comparing thieves to bandits, is like comparing Joan of Arc to your girlfriend, over here. One has class and style, the other has zip!"
Barbara the Barbarian, who, up to that moment, had contented herself with twirling her horse's mane into tiny braids, suddenly realized the conversation had turned her way. She hadn't heard the comment or who had said it, but she instinctively punched the priest.
"No talk about Barbara behind Barbara's back, One-god!" she warned.
"You're trotting right next to me ya moron!"
"What did One-god, say?" Barbara asked Dan.
"Forget it, honey bunch. It's just Sham, bein' Sham and all. We got to look good at this village. Start our club on the right foot for once."
"That is a sentiment I whole-heartedly agree with!" supported Sgt. T.S., slowing his trot from point man to emphasize his point. "King Rudolfo has his hands full with the border dispute. If the Heralds of Rudolfo cause him any embarrassment, it would be most distracting and a blemish on my otherwise perfect record."
The Mighty Cubby, who had sped his horse to replace the Sarge at point, now stopped and turned to the group, confused. His newly smithied plate mail armor, courtesy of his third wife, Abigail, clanked softly as he turned.
"I don't mean to be an embarrassment or contradiction, sir," Cubby interjected gingerly, then sniffed. "But I thought we agreed upon a different name."
"Yeah," remembered Shambles, hot to start another argument. "We were gonna be the Forgotten Raiders!"
Sir Dan, who normally kept his cool in such matters, bristled at the mention of the name. The group had argued for hours over that name 2 months ago during their regular meeting and it was a sore point that Shambles just wouldn't let go.
"Why the Hell would we want people to forget us?!" snapped Dan, uncharacteristically. "You know the name we picked, it was Locust's name!"
Locust the Wizard, who had contented himself with styling his horse's mane into a pompadour as he trotted along, now looked up, surprised to find himself in the midst of another argument. He put his styling brush back into his pack.
"Is this about last night's dinner again?" asked the wizard. "For the last time, I'm sorry. I meant to summon us some General Tso's Chicken, not General Tso."
"Not that," dismissed Dan. "What's the new club name?"
Locust gave the others a blank stare.
"Wait a minute, I wrote it on the stationary back at the tavern."
Locust routed through his saddlebags, but couldn't find the parchment.
"Way to go, genius," scoffed the priest.
"If you 'adn't rushed me out of the toilet---"
"Aw, Sham," groaned Dan, cupping his head in his hands. "You know how he gets when you rush him."
"Hey!" argued the priest. "Nature was calling and I had to answer, big time."
Locust had forgotten the name and for once, the group could not blame the wizard for the screw up. They had to admit to themselves that their choice for a club name had been an issue since Locust initially formed the group. They had literally changed it so many times, none of the six could not honestly remember the current name they were using.
"Was it, The Bedlam Battalion?" asked the wizard, searching his brain.
"No," assured Sgt. T.S. "That was definitely February's name. Perhaps you're thinking of The Calvary of Carnage."
"No, way," insisted Shambles. "That was the stupid name you came up with the week I was out of town."
"Oh, is that what we're calling it?" mocked the frustrated Sarge, making a drinking motion with his other hand.
"Hey, just because you don't like to have any fun!"
"Barbara remember club name. Xerxes' Infidels."
"I think we'd get sued if we used that one, sir," pointed out Cubby. "Are you sure it wasn't Fists of the Dolphin?"
At that point, a long debate ensued over the name. While this slowed the progress of the horses, it did not stop them. The trusted mounts of our six heroes trotted into the middle of the village square of Fallowfield. The argument could be heard from several dozen yards away and townspeople, going about their daily business, turned at stared dumbly at the spectacle. Eventually, Mayor Finn, recognizing the Sarge's coat of arms, approached gingerly and interrupted the discussion.
"The Scarlet Scavengers?!" objected the Sarge, in the heat of the argument. "Good Lord! Do you know what it costs for an armorer to work in red?!"
"Sergeant Tariff Staff? Sgt. T.S.?" asked Mayor Finn. "I am Finn. King Rudolfo reviewed my request?"
The Sarge turned toward the squat, harmless, gray-haired village elder. His brain hadn't quite decompressed from the argument.
"Hmmm? Oh! Yes, of course! Mayor Finn!" said the flustered knight, dismounting. "We have answered the call to save your village from the plague of dastardly rogues, which threatens you!"
Despite the cliché's, the Sarge did cut a heroic figure in his latest suit of plate mail, which featured the Staff Family crest on his chest and shoulders. The villagers, who up to this point was wondering if our heroes were a group of traveling clowns, now cheered. The heroes smiled triumphantly, although Shambles still seemed somewhat suspicious. Sir Dan slapped him on the shoulder and winked at him.
"C'mon, Sham. Easy money."
"Yeah, I guess," the priest finally admitted.
At that moment, a cry of alarm reverberated through the village. The farmers, peasants, housewives and mill workers fled in random directions, while Mayor Finn turned his attention to the west.
"The bandits," he gasped. "They're here."
Just then a force of no less than 50 mounted men on horseback galloped into the tiny village. They were led by an enormous, muscular man riding a gigantic Clydesdale. The creaking of a wooden axle could be heard coming behind the force of bandits. This group of bandits had somehow captured a catapult.
"AAAHHHH!" screamed the panicky priest. And with that, Shambles leapt off his horse, shoved the mayor out of his way and dove through the window of the nearest house. As the Sarge bowed his head in embarrassment, the surprised cry of the house's owner could be heard inside.
"So bloody unprofessional," muttered Locust under his breath.
"I am Wrentock the Bandit King!" bellowed the behemoth bandit. "Bring forth our tribute, or we shall disembowel you all!"
"You days of tribute are at an end, villain!" announced the Sarge, drawing his sword. "By His Majesty's right, I claim this village under our protection!"
A guttural laugh reverberated through the ranks of the bandits. Six against sixty and a catapult was surely suicide.
"What fools stand against us?!" demanded the Bandit King.
"We are---" began the Sarge, stymied by his own flustering.
Clearly, the Sarge's creative juices were the lowest in the group. It was only under the constant pressure of the other club members that Tariff submitted names for review at all. He searched his brain fruitlessly, then stole a quick glance back at Locust the Wizard. A sudden look of realization crossed the old man's face. He could clearly remember the name he scrawled on the parchment while sitting in the tavern bathroom. A ray of sunshine poked out of the clouds, illuminating the happy conjuror as he spoke the name for all to hear.
"We are the Unstoppable Imperium!"
The rest of the group looked at each other and even Shambles poked his head out the broken window and made a face indicating he wouldn't object.
"Hmm, I rather like that," added the Sarge, turning back to the Bandit King. "You shall go no further, fiend! The Unstoppable Imperium stands against you!"
The Bandit King gestured for his men to wait. He got off his horse, drew his sword and strode forward.
"You," he demanded, pointing at the Sarge. "Face me alone. If you best me, we shall spare this pitiful village. Lose and the rest of you will surrender."
The Sarge, who lived for these sort of high-pressure confrontations, was scrambling to get back off his horse before the Bandit King even finished his challenge. Cubby and Barbara looked back at Sir Dan, who gestured in assurance that everything would be fine.
"Have at thee, fiend!"
The Bandit King was a monstrous brawler, but the Sarge was an experienced swordsman with dozens of fights under his belt. Charging forward, the Sarge knocked the bandit's sword aside and impaled him on his blade before Wrentock could finish his battle-cry.
"You shall withdraw immediately," the Sarge instructed. "But don't worry, there's no dishonor in this. You were just misled."
But even as the Sarge spoke, the hierarchy of the bandits were in deep discussion. The second largest among them spoke for the group.
"No! Now that Wrentock is dead, I, Boris the Tooth, am the new Bandit King! We don't have to honor Wrentock's orders anymore."
"Good God, man," said the Sarge, exasperated. "Are you going to fight me one at a time? Look!"
While the Sarge complained about his clear victory over the bandits, Cubby silently pointed toward Boris's position with his eyes. This alerted Sir Dan, who quietly drew his loaded crossbow and Barbara, who whispered to Locust the Wizard. In the house nearby, Shambles attempted to sneak a piece of bread that was perched on the table he was hiding under. The owner's wife slapped his hand away.
"Enough!" announced Boris the Tooth, standing in his saddle to make a point. "We have a catapult! Give us a tribute or---"
At a precisely timed moment, Locust the Wizard casted a spell, which made a loud, bright explosion in front of Boris's horse. The animal reared and Boris fell backwards into the catapult. Sir Dan fired his crossbow, cutting the rope holding the tension in place. Boris was launched beyond the line of trees. The bandits consulted with one another again. The third largest among them spoke abruptly.
"We gotta go."
And with that, the bandits retreated, abandoning their damaged catapult and galloping into the hills. Cheers of happiness erupted in the village, as the farmers and Shambles emerged from their hiding places.
"U-I! U-I!" cheered the crowd.
"Guys, do you know what this means?!" smiled Shambles amidst the revelry.
"Yes," the Sarge said satisfactorily. "Fallowfield is safe from banditry and---"
"Better! We have name!" agreed Barbara.
In a spontaneous show of emotion, the villagers picked up the Sarge and carried him around the square.
"And not only that," said the sneaky priest, pulling Sir Dan, Barbara and Cubby closer. "We can get paid ten times our normal rate."
"What's the scam, Sham?" smiled Sir Dan.
"Before we left, everyone was in a panic. I'd bet all the villages around here are scared of the bandits. All we gotta do now is stroll in, show 'em the broken catapult and we'll get credit for saving that village too!"
"Barbara like! Rudolfo pay much!"
"I don't know, sir," said Cubby uncomfortably. "It doesn't seem very honest."
"Rudolfo's got deep pockets, Cub," assured the priest. "Besides, we got a permanent name now! We need to play up the rep of the Unstoppable Imperium!"
At that moment, twenty miles away in the town of Groveton, six dark figures trotted into town:
Jeremy Quid, the group's wizard, specialized in life draining magic. He was in his fifties, but only appeared to be in his thirties. Wearing a black skull cap and tight-fitting black robes, the sinister necromancer smiled at the hope of feeding on more life-energy.
Maxine, the Scottsdale Assassin, had a rep seducing her victims before gutting them in bed. The twenty-ish redhead was petite, but deadly with almost any blade. Dressed in a black leather skirt, both her legs were covered with bandoliers of throwing daggers.
Pastor Victor was a priest of Baal, the God of Death, although he usually posed as a priest of the Church. Dressed in light, gray armor, no one could tell that almost his entire body was covered with undulating tattoos of demonic images. His only weapon appeared to be a wooden staff topped with a skull.
Nabu and Tomga were part-ogre brothers, cast out of their ogre tribe for their weakness. However, weakness amongst ogres was still deadly compared to humans. The twins stood 6' 9" and bulged with distorted muscles. Nabu carried axes and chopping weapons of every variety, while Tomga preferred large clubs covered in nubs and spikes.
Finally, there was Sir Bennett, the leader that had recruited them all. Born to noble parents, Bennett had squandered the family fortune on a failed slavery operation. Forced to become a mercenary, Bennett took to the slaughter rather well. He had an angular face, like that of a rat, and salt & pepper hair and quick, darting eyes.
Through intermediaries, Bennett had received his mission from the nobles of Scottsdale. They were to cause dissent in the western lands so the Kingdom of Beastlyville would have to divide its forces. Bennett knew he'd need to do more than to stir up the bandit tribes. He needed something devastating, killing, ruthless and, like he, without mercy.
The sleepy guard at Groveton's gate stirred as the six horses thundered toward him. He quickly opened the gate, hoping to get a small gratuity from the rich-looking riders. Nabu drew an axe from his shoulder harness and swung in downward at the guard, attempting to cut him in two. It cut cleanly and the guard's body fell over with a sickening thud.
Unfortunately for the town of Groveton, this guard was the most experienced warrior in the town. Jeremy, Maxine, Victor, Nabu, Tomga and Bennett systematically slew its inhabitants. Jeremy drained away the vigor from the innkeeper's wife, Maxine used the candle maker's family as target practice, Victor summoned a demonic cloud of dust to suffocate the blacksmith, Nabu and Tomga attacked anyone that attempted to escape.
And finally, Bennett, annoyed by the lack of informatio>
Inside was an overweight merchant with his trousers unbuttoned. He held up his hands to protect himself, but Bennett staid his sword.
"Who are you?" demanded Bennett.
"Merchant Gregor at your service, s-s-sir," said the terrified merchant. "I mean you no harm."
"I assure you," smiled Bennett sinisterly. "I mean harm to you. What service are you in, Merchant Gregor?"
Bennett emphasized his point by poking Gregor in the stomach. It was just enough to cut through his shirt and draw blood.
"I-I-I am a seller of antiques," cried Gregor. "Please."
"Antiques, please? Stop being so vague. Do you think I am an uncouth savage?" taunted Bennett, who continued to gently poke.
"No, sir. Ow! No. I deal in rare--- Ow! Parchments and books. I know many sages and wizards."
This seemed to interest Bennett greatly and he stopped tormenting the merchant a moment. He leaned in close and whispered.
"Pray, tell me," instructed Bennett. "Do you know a retired wizard from this region named, Brokauer and where I might find him?"
"I do. If I tell you, sir, might you let me live?"
"I might and will," answer Sir Bennett, feigning shock as if there were any other conclusion.
"Brokauer lived in the City of Valleybrook Glen."
"Lived? You mean, he's dead?"
"Aye, sir. Passed away just two weeks ago with no heirs. I am traveling there to attend his estate auction."
"Excellent, just excellent," said Bennett, wistfully mulling over the consequences. "Thank you, Gregor. You've been most helpful, but unfortunately, you won't be traveling anywhere."
And with a swift chop of his sword, Bennett hacked off the merchant's leg below the knee. The swing was so swift and his magic sword so powerful, it cut through the doorway of the mens room as he swung. The merchant squealed in pain, clutching his bloody stump, as Jeremy, Maxine, Victor and the twins entered the room behind Bennett.
"Ah! You said you'd let me live!" cried the merchant. "What foul beasts have beset our town?! We did nothing to deserve this!"
Bennett was about to answer, when he noticed a pile of parchment with the stationary head labeled "From the Desk of Locust the Wizard". There was a list of names on the top sheet and all had been crossed out, save one.
"We are the Unstoppable Imperium," announced Sir Bennett with glee. "Let your town elders know that all who stand against us will perish when we return!"
For the next couple of days, Shambles led the group from village to village with the catapult. He had convinced the Sarge they should check each inhabitant as to their personal safety. Of course, for the first few days, wherever they stopped they were greeted with cheers, free food, gifts and free drinks. After almost of week of exploiting the populace, the others had had enough of Shambles shenanigans.
"Father Shambles, I am appalled by your behavior and furthermore, I will have no more part in any of this!" announced the Sarge.
"What?" said Shambles innocently. "What did I do?"
"You keep insisting we take these gifts of food!" admonished the knight. "Only Cubby is capable of eating this much fare and I think even this amount tests his limits!"
It was true. The heroes' packs were overflowing with bread, meats, fruits, nuts and food of every kind. Only Cubby had attempted to eat it all, but by the sixth saddlebag, all he could do was lay across his saddle and moan.
"Oooooh," groaned the Snotit. "I think I may have to loosen my belt again. Ooooh..."
"He just needs to get his second wind," assured the priest.
"And what Barbara do with extra horses?" asked the Barbarian.
Over the course of the visits, some of the farmers had donated their finest animals to the group. Barbara was currently leading 8 extra horses, 4 mules and an ox, along with a group of horses that pulled the broken catapult.
"To return them would be an insult," assured Shambles.
"Well, what about me?" interjected the wizard. "You've got me engaged to 4 different farmer's daughters! I didn't even like the last one!"
"Okay, I admit, I got a little carried away with the rewards---"
"C'mon, Sham, enough's enough," scolded Dan. "It was a good idea, but we're makin' about as much money a troll prostitute at an Elven church service. Let's just go home."
"Okay, okay," the priest said giving in. "But at least let's do this town ahead. We have to go there anyways."
"I will not see you exploit the townspeople further," insisted the Sarge. "We shall take only what we need."
"Fine-fine-fine," grumbled Shambles quickly.
"And I will approve what you need," added the Sarge.
"Spoil sport," muttered Shambles.
"Where are we going, sir?" mumbled Cubby from his saddle.
"Well, according to the sign back there, the town up ahead is Groveton," explained the wizard. "Cor', didn't we stop 'ere on the way in?"
"Hey, yeah," remembered Shambles. "That innkeeper was rude to me, I'm gonna make him kiss our boots."
"You poured a drink on his daughter, Sham," recalled Dan.
"She deserved it," countered Shambles. "I don't need attitude, while I'm trying to get loaded."
The six approached the quiet, smoldering town of Groveton. The family of the murdered guard had left a bouquet of flowers in his memory. Shambles immediately picked them up.
"Hey, look, this place likes us already. They left us flowers."
"Uh, I don't know, Sham. You sure they're for us?" asked Dan.
"No, they're probably for Sarge. He gets all the credit anyway," scoffed the priest.
"Well, I do tell people what the rest of you do," assured the flustered knight.
Drifting into town, the group found the town square deserted. A few of the buildings showed signs of recent repairs and trails of footprints led to another part of the town.
"Looks like there was some sort of procession," noted Dan. "I wonder where everybody went."
"Barbara guess whole town in parade," noted the Barbarian, examining the footprints. She tasted the dirt from one of them. "Six feet tall, 180 pounds, male, with limp."
"Honey-bunch, we don't need the details," assured Dan, helping Barbara to her feet.
"See that?" Shambles said, punching the Sarge gingerly. "They're gonna throw us a parade. They must've been practicing for days! You want to disappoint them?"
"Well, I suppose we could indulge them," the Sarge relented. "For the good of the spirit of the town."
Cubby, who had loosened his armor to the point that pieces of it were falling off, began sniffing the air.
"Do you smell that, sirs?" he sniffed.
Cubby walked through the open door of the tavern and the others followed. Inside, the tavern tables had been pushed together and a huge buffet was on display. Everything from roasted boar, to bread pudding, to candied yams were all there! Despite his gorging, Cubby took a plate and prepared to enter the buffet.
"How the Hell can you even look at food?" Sir Dan asked him.
"You're right, sir!" the Snotit agreed, running towards the bathroom. "I need to make room."
"Aw, man, look at this! A feast!" Shambles said, excitedly. "Groveton knows how to party!"
The Sarge became increasingly uncomfortable about pressing ahead with the buffet.
"Perhaps we should go look for the townspeople and---"
"And what? Spoil their parade before they get here? C'mon, let's make a plate and get a good seat."
Bored and unsuspecting, the rest of the group grabbed a plate and made their way through the buffet. Just as Locust the Wizard tried the snow peas while using his own fork, instead of first putting a sample on his plate, the remaining population of Groveton returned.
"Thieves! How dare you steal food from our wake!" said Roger, the town elder.
Father Shambles gagged on a garlic potato and spit it onto his plate.
"A wake! Oh, bloody 'Ell, we're so sorry, who died?" asked the wizard.
"Almost a hundred people," said one of the bitter survivors. "My whole family's dead!"
"They killed my grandparents!" added another.
"Oh, dear Lord," the empathetic knight added, trying to place his empty plate back into the pile. "I assure you, sir, we are deeply sorry. You see we just passed through your town not long ago and--- Well, if you tell us what happened, we can..."
"We're not exactly sure," admitted Frederick. "Everyone who survived was in the fields or out of town. There was a merchant with a severed leg, but he died after telling us the name of the murderous scums who did this."
"We'll get those bastards!" promised one angry townsperson.
The rest of the mob growled in agreement.
"Rest easy, friends," Shambles announced confidently. "We're just the guys to solve your problem. We're the Unstoppable Imperium!"
Meanwhile, half way to Valleybrook Glen, the other Unstoppable Imperium was preparing to camp for the evening. They came upon a small convent for blind nuns. Sir Bennett smiled with devilish glee.
"Nabu, Tomga," he instructed. "Tell the sisters to sleep outside tonight. And make sure I get the Mother Superior's room. I deplore sleeping on the ground in a tent."
Back in Groveton, the other, other Unstoppable Imperium was trying to fight its way out of the tavern. The Sarge's armor has scratches and holes from pitchforks. Much to his dismay, he was forced to shield punch a mother of six to keep her from slamming the tavern door shut. Sir Dan was bleeding from a small gash to the forehead and had been forced to use his crossbow as a club. He tried to knock a torch out of the hand of a retired brewer, but missed and smashed him in the teeth. Barbara had grabbed the nearest club-like object, a leg of lamb from the buffet, and was alternately hitting and eating as she tried to fight her way out of the building. After getting punched in the crotch by a sickly orphan boy on a crutch, Father Shambles folded over and got kneed in the eye by an 83 year-old woman. Unable to get out of the inn, Locust the Wizard tried to blast the window away with a spell, but over shot the mark, destroying the wall and the next three buildings adjacent to it. He and the others scampered out the hole, just before it collapsed on a group of angry townspeople.
The five heroes barely managed to recover their mounts, which had been stripped of gifts and all provisions. Chased by an angry mob, Shambles nearly got a torch in his face while trying to leap into the saddle. He abandoned his horse all together and flat out ran towards the gate of the town.
"What the Hell is wrong with these people?!" cried the priest as he ran.
"They're just distraught!" defended the Sarge.
"Distraught?!" objected Dan, incredulous. "The Roman Emperor was distraught when they sacked Rome, these people wanna cut off our goodies!"
At the gate of the town, the fivesome slammed it shut, holding it in place so the townspeople were trapped inside. It shook with their righteous fury, as they tried to pull it open. Barbara jammed the leg of mutton through a hole used to lock the gate in place, but it still began to move.
"Oh, bloody 'ell!" cried the wizard suddenly. "Where's Cubby?"
At that moment, a group of townspeople, who had torn the Snotit from the tavern rubble and had been bepummeling him, threw the tattered warrior over the wall. He landed on his face a short distance from Locust's horse. His remaining armor had been destroyed, he'd been tied up, tarred and feather and there appeared to be a board stuck in his shoulder by two rusty nails. Still, the Snotit had managed to hold onto a buffet plate and a small portion of snow peas.
"Oh, my God!" cried the priest, instinctively rushing to his aid. "Cubby?! Can you hear me?"
"Peas...all I could get were...peas," Cubby struggled to say.
Without the priest holding the gate back, the others were hard pressed to continue to hold. Locust quickly ran over just as Shambles grabbed the board.
"Leave 'im fer now! We've got 'old back the---"
But the priest wasn't paying attention and pulled on the board with all his might. For a second, it caught on the remainder of Cubby's armor, then unexpectedly broke free. Shambles reeled back, smacking Locust in the face with the plank at full force. The wizard grabbed his face in pain, stumbled backwards and startled his horse. The beast reared, catching the wizard's hand in the stirrup, then bolted away, dragging the old man with it. Shambles watched Locust's flailing body kick up dust as he was dragged down the road.
"Tch, I bet he's gonna blame me for that," muttered the priest.
Finally, one of the villagers managed to break through the wooden gate with a wood axe. The door was coming apart.
"We can't hold them back!" cried the Sarge. "Get to your mounts!"
Shambles picked up Cubby and ran, crying, "Abandon town! Abandon town!"
The next morning, the other Unstoppable Imperium arrived at the gates of Valleybrook Glen. Like most medieval towns, there was a fee to get inside. Normally, Sir Bennett would've paid, but these days he was watching his money closer and closer. He decided to negotiate.
"Six crowns, sir," greeted the guard curtly.
Sir Bennett immediately noticed the guard's foul breath and missing teeth. He stifled the urge to slap his face away.
"We are the Unstoppable Imperium," Bennett began, as if prompted to explain. "I'm here to deliver the Duke a rather discreet package."
Bennett cast a glance towards Maxine, hoping not to catch her eye. If she caught wind of this lie, she might gut both of them. The guard became interested.
"Aye, sir, I see," grinned the guard lecherously. "Been awhile since a pretty young thing like that looked a me!"
"Ah, well then you're in luck, my friend," Bennett grinned, reeling in his bait. "It just so happens, we'll be bringing another girl for the duke's bodyguards tomorrow. So, if you could see your way clear in letting us inside now..."
The guard may an annoyed grunt. For a second, Bennett thought he had lost him. Maxine squinted suspiciously at the twosome from the other end of the drawbridges where the others stood.
"All right," relented the guard. "But I'm gonna remember you and your promise."
Bennett nodded and the others followed him under the portcullis. There would be no need to keep any promise to the guard. Soon he and everyone in the city would be too busy fighting for their lives.
While Bennett and the others spent a comfortable night at a moderately priced inn, our heroes spent hours lost in the woods, then spent the night sleeping under their horses in the rain. No one in the group could remember such a bad streak of luck and that counted the time a mummy's curse turned everyone's head into a jackal's for a week.
"Ya know, I still don't feel right, even after removing the curse," complained Shambles. "I still get this weird vibe whenever I see carrion."
"I hate the bring this up in our darkest hour," said Dan reluctantly. "But I think we should change the name. Those people are bound to talk about what the Unstoppable Imperium did to 'em."
"But we did nothing!" object the Sarge. "Surely they will come to realize their mistake!"
"I'm with golden boy, here," added Shambles. "They'll come to their senses. We can't bail on this name. It's the only one we've all liked!"
"Barbara hate to agree with one-god, but..."
"It's your bloody fault," accused Locust. "You 'ad to go to one more town! I say, the name's no good anymore."
The wizard's hat, which once stood as straight as an arrow, now flopped in every direction; crushed by the previous ride.
"Listen, here, spell-boy, no one put a crossbow to your head and made you come along. The group has spoken, so the name stays," insisted Shambles. "When you lost that list, it was the best thing that ever happened to us. All those stupid names..."
"They weren't stupid!"
As the wizard insisted, his mount shifted position, quickly stepping on and off his crotch. The old man gasped and fell over. As the others rushed to his aid, the priest burst out laughing at the site, but his laughed was short-lived. His horse suddenly pooped on him.
The next morning, the six managed to drag themselves down the road towards home, only to discover that there had been a Convent only a few hundred feet from where they slept in the rain.
"Finally!" said the priest, striding forward.
Sir Dan put his arm in Shambles' path and looked at the Sarge.
"What?" said Shambles. "These are my girls."
"It is a convent and he is a priest," the Sarge agreed reluctantly.
"I suppose you can't do much damage here," agreed Sir Dan.
"Jeez, have some faith, will ya?" said the priest striding forward and knocking. "Hello?! Hello?!"
After a few seconds, an ancient looking nun opening the spy window in the door. She kept herself in the shadows.
"Yes, what do you want?" she asked.
"What are ya, blind?" Shambles retorted, lifting up the crucifix around his neck and dropping it.
The nun moved into the light. Shambles could see that her eyes were white and unseeing. It was the rarest of convents, a convents for blind nuns.
"Yes," she said, without changing her tone.
"Ooo," grimaced Dan, uncomfortably.
Shambles pressed on, determined to recover.
"I'm Father Shambles, we just had one Hell--- I mean, one Heck of a night."
"Oh, a priest!" gasped the nun, unlocking the door in relief.
As the relieved nun opened the heavily barricaded door, her sisters emerged from the shadows of the convent walls. Each one was dressed in the black and white garb of their station and carried a gnarled wooden stick to help them find their way. Shambles turned on the charm.
"Please, anything we have is yours, Father," said the helpful nun. "What brings you to the Sisters of the Sightless Saint?"
"Well," the priest said humbly. "Me and my fellows were out slaying evil and making the world safe, when we got stuck in the rain."
"Fellows?" smiled the nun.
"Yeah, we're a club. We're called the Unstoppable Imperium."
Following the sound of his voice, the lead nun smashes the unsuspecting priest in the crotch. His cry of pain led the others to his location and they began pummeling him with the gnarled sticks. For blind old women, they were amazingly accurate.
At the same time, at the Estate of the late Mage, Brokauer, Sir Bennett made his way in past the guards. The evening before, Maxine had seduced a silver dealer and acquired his invitation. Bennett held his finger over the dealer's stain of blood as he handed it to the door man.
Brokauer estate auction was a business opportunity for all the wizards in the area. But most wizards who acquired magical tomes and research via money were embarrassed about it and sent intermediaries or quickly disappeared with their one rare item. As Bennett had hoped, the room cleared as the auction got down to the final dribs and drabs of Brokauer's belongings.
"This ugly, uh, statue," said the disdainful auctioneer, placing the pewter figure of a demon on the podium. "Let's start the bidding at 10 gold B's."
Bennett played the moment perfectly. He bid steadily, but not too anxiously, acquiring the Idol of Baal for a mere 23 gold pieces. One of the ushers was nice enough to place the idol in a burlap sack for him. Bennett tipped him, silently wondering if he'd spend it before one of the demons he was about to summon spilled his entrails over the street.
Returning to the inn, Bennett strode into the room. The others had been waiting anxiously. Jeremy was reading a book which hovered in front of him, while Maxine twirled a dagger between her fingers. Victor sat with his staff across his legs unmoving, while the brothers ate their third dinner, noisily.
"Let me see it," said Victor without opening his eyes.
Bennett held the base of the idol and tore the burlap away. Victor's eyes opened. at the edge of his clothes, Bennett could see his tattoos undulating unnaturally.
"That's it," Victor confirmed. "You've made me and Baal very happy, Sir Bennett. Is there any way we can repay you?"
"Yes," Bennett said intently. "Soak the streets in blood."
For a few hours, after they had left the Convent, no one said a word. The six heroes had silently concluded that the best thing to do was probably to keep on riding until they were out of range of whatever bad luck had befallen them. Shambles was too sore to complain and suffered from many welts given to him by the angry, blind nuns. The Sarge was suffering from a black-eye, having been the only member of the group willing to rescue the ornery priest. Finally, Shambles spoke.
"You know, you can get pretty good with a stick even when you're blind," he finally said.
The others mumbled in agreement.
Cubby, bandaged by his previous wounds, now lifted up the bloody linen that had drooped over his eye.
"Valleybrook Glen," he said, observing the town ahead. "Do you think anyone knows us there, sirs?"
The others turned and looked at him.
"Well, I assume we're not going to keep the name now."
"But its the only one we've liked," squeaked the wizard, almost crying. "In two years, we 'aven't agreed upon a name. Do you know I 'ave a standing order at the plaque-maker to 'ave a plaque drawn up? I've been pushing 'im back for two bloody years. No plaque today, Terrance. Just one more day, Terrance. Sorry, Terrance. Next week for sure, Terrance. I want mi plaque!"
"Take it easy, Lo'," soothed Dan. "Look, I like the name, but someone else is obviously usin' it. When we get to the gate, I'll just ask the guard if he ever heard of the Unstoppable Imperium. If it gets a bad reaction, I'll just tell 'em we're someone else."
At the gates of Valleybrook Glen, the guard with the missing tooth and the bad breath greeted Dan.
"Howdy," smiled the bard. "Long day, huh?"
"It's gettin' longer with you standin' here, pretty boy," spat the guard. "Six gold crowns."
"Oh, right," said Dan, feigning that he didn't know.
Dan gestured for the others to give him some money. The others searched their pockets and saddlebags for any remaining coin.
"Hey, uh, you must get a lot of people through this gate, huh?"
"Yeah, what of it?"
"You ever get any groups with names or clubs?"
"Look, if ye don't have six crowns, we're about to raise the drawbridge for the night..."
"No-no, we have it," assured Dan. "I just wanted to know if y'all had heard of a group of fellas called the Unstoppable Imperium."
The guard glanced back at Barbara. Her cleavage heaving as she checked her boot for any loose change. The toothless grin lit up the guard's face.
"Well, why didn't you say so? Come in! Come in!"
Dan turned back just in time to give Shambles a "thumbs up" before he leapt upon his horse and sped away. The others, relieved, followed Dan and the guards.
"Wot did you tell 'im?" whispered Locust.
"Don't ask questions," mumbled Dan. "Just get inside."
Barbara, who had been itching for a fight, lagged behind with an impossibly bored expression on her face. She was resigning herself to another day of combat-free city dwelling. The guard with the missing tooth took the reign of her horse.
"Uh, let me get that for you," he smiled.
"Crushor love sugar cube," Barbara instructed. "Groom Crushor nice too."
"Let's hope yer not here that long, eh?" laughed the guard.
Barbara laughed too, but then wondered what she was laughing at.
"Can I interest you gentlemen in a drink while you wait?" offered the greasy-haired guard.
Relieved to be inside, the fivesome entered the guard room and sat a table. On the table were several cups and a pitcher of water. The greasy guard rushed out of the room.
"Did you tell him who we were?" whispered Shambles.
"Not really," admitted Dan.
"Oh, let's keep it that way, sir," Cubby sniffed, relieved. "No need to draw attention."
"I whole-heartedly agree!" nodded the Sarge. "I say, it will be good to get a nice warm bath and a hot meal."
"'ang about," said the wizard curiously. "Where's Barbara, then?"
On the opposite side of the gate, the attentive guards led Barbara into a guard tower and up some stairs. She hadn't been paying attention and assumed Dan and the others had gone that way too.
"So, uh, what's yer name?" asked the guard. "Is it Priscilla? I like that name!"
Barbara gave the guard a bewildered look. To her, he was definitely a weirdo, but one to be tolerated. The rest of the club had chastised her more than once about starting fights at the gate of a city.
"Barbara name," she answered, trying to think of a way to get rid of him. "Barbara tired from trip. Need room."
She of course meant a room at an inn, but the greasy haired guarded giggled in anticipation. Following the three men into a cramped room, she heard the door slam behind them. In the center of the room was a filthy mattress. Barbara's mouth fell open in disgust and surprise. Almost on cue, the three guards dropped their breeches, exposing the stained, long underwear underneath. The guard with the missing tooth placed his hand on her shoulder.
"Could I get a massage first?" he grinned.
At that moment, the other Unstoppable Imperium, under Victor's instructions, had to find a high point in the city. The guard towers would've been appropriate, but too well defended, so the group opted for the clock tower in the center of the government quarter. Since guarding the ancient timepiece was an honor position held by retired guards, the giant water clock was easily breeched. The half-ogre brothers slew the two elderly guards without much of a fuss.
Victor got to the top room and set about to invoke the evil powers of the Idol of Baal. He covered the floor in an upside down pentagram and lit a black candle at each of its points. He sat in the center, cross-legged, while the other stood at a candle each.
"What will happen, Victor?" asked Bennett curiously.
"The unnamed ones will come and consume this place," he explained flatly.
Jeremy shifted uneasily. Up until this point, he had been doing all the magic.
"Don't worry, Jeremy," assured Victor, saying the name "Jeremy" as if he was saying the word "armature". "The unnamed ones will obey only us."
"When does it start, then?" asked Jeremy, hoping to crack Victor's veneer.
"Start?" Victor replied innocently. "It's already begun."
Back at the guard room, Shambles continued to make a point.
"No, what I'm saying is, they should give you a drink at all the gates when you enter a city. I mean, you pay a fee to get in, you should get something."
"We didn't pay, Sham," pointed out Dan.
"Why must you always pick?" asked the annoyed priest.
Suddenly, the door came crashing down and the guard with the missing tooth fell into the room. He was missing four more teeth. Barbara dragged the greasy-haired guard into the room, lifted him up and slammed him onto the table, smashing it.
"Barb!" squealed Dan, trying to get out of the way. "What the Hell are you doing?"
"Three guards try and make kissy-face with Barbara!" she insisted angrily.
"Three guards?" asked Cubby. "Where's the third guard, sir?"
At that moment, the third guard, who had scrambled away, abandoning his pants, rang the alarm bell. Simultaneously, the group realized that they had to get out of the city before the force of the guards was leveled against them. Scrambling outside, the portcullis came rumbling down, sealing them in.
"Get to your horse!" ordered the Sarge. "We'll lose them in the city!"
Galloping away, the six heroes spurred on their mounts, unaware that the gatehouse of the portcullis had transformed into a giant demonic head and swallowed the remaining guards posted at the gate.
"Where are we supposed to go?!" demanded Shambles, trying to hold onto his horse. "We don't know anybody in this burg!"
As the horses passed a residence, Locust the wizard noticed demonic little balls of flame emerging out of a lit candle that had be left at the window. The tiny imps attack the family of the house as they sat down to dinner.
"Did anyone else see that?" the wizard inquired.
"Halt!" cried a voice from above.
It was a guard. He was aiming his crossbow out of a window on the third floor of a brick building. The group stopped their horses.
"Barbara say, ride!" whispered the savage.
"If any one of you moves, I will fire!" threatened the guard.
"Listen to him," the worried priest added. "I'm the biggest target."
Suddenly, the window of the building transformed into a demonic mouth. It slammed down on the guard, cutting him in half. The window, which sprouted eyes, chewed the bottom half of the guard with abandon. The surprised upper torso of the guard landed in the middle of the group's horses.
"AHHHHHHH!" cried the adventurers simultaneously in fear.
Urging their steeds down a side street, the group caught glimpses of demonic figures rising out of the shadows and accosting the locals. A man with a basket was pulled into the sewer by a red, muscular claw. Inside the bakery, the cakes had come to life and started biting the customers. On a corner, an organ grinder's organ came to life and ate his monkey with a chomp.
"What the Hell kind of stupid city is this?!" demanded Shambles.
"There are powerful forces 'ere at work!" explained Locust. "Someone's doin' a bit of summoning."
At that moment, a tree came to life and sprout a demonic face with an equally demonic mouth. The Sarge drew his sword and hacked off a limb. Barbara drew hers and did the same, even as the creature knocked the Sarge aside. With a wave of his hand, Locust caused the leaves to burst into flame and the demonic tree screamed in pain.
"I don't like this town!" cried Shambles, near tears. "I want to go sleep outside under my horse!"
"Good Lord," gasped the Sarge.
As he looked across the city, he could see carnage erupting everywhere. Buildings and inanimate objects sprung to life. Demons leaped out of every nook and cranny. But oddly enough, the clock tower seemed to be unscathed.
"There!" pointed the knight.
Drawing their weapons and preparing for battle, the Sarge kicked in the door the to clock tower and led the charge up its steps. Nabu and Tomga charged from a dark recess at the top of the stairway, but the Sarge lifted his shield in time. Flanking Tomga, Barbara ran her sword through his kidneys, then kicked him over the railing. Jeremy attempted to cast his life-draining spell at Shambles, but Locust deflected it at the last second. Dan turned, firing his crossbow, but Jeremy used his magic to stop it at the last second.
Winding his way through the free-for-all, Cubby attempted to make it to the base of the ladder, which led to the top floor. At the last second, he ducked and a three throwing daggers that ended up stuck in the rung that was level with his head. Rolling, he dodged Maxine's hail of daggers, while attempting to get a good position and return attack.
Nabu, furious that his brother had been knocked off the railing, backhanded the Sarge and Barbara, sending them flying to the other side of the stairwell. This distracted Locust just enough to give Jeremy the advantage and he began to drain the old man's life force. Locust floated to him, place his hand on Jeremy's head and reversed the spell.
"Nooooo!" howled the wizard.
Dependent on the life force of others to survive, the sudden reversal aged Jeremy's head in two centuries in under 10 seconds. His skull crumbled under Locust's hand and his head body fell through the center of the stairwell.
Cubby managed to dodge most of the knives, but the near-misses were cutting him badly. He grabbed a few of the knives and winged them back, but Maxine's acrobatics kept her from being hit. Suddenly, she did a cartwheel, then a flip and landed on the little man's shoulders. Just as she was about to jam two punch-daggers into his eye sockets, Cubby pulled out a large grapefruit he'd been carrying in his pouch belt and held it in the path of the daggers. The daggers hit, spraying the surprised Maxine in the eyes and temporarily blinding her. Taking advantage of the moment, Cubby carried her into the path of the clock's internal mechanisms and it knocked her unconscious.
With the Sarge and Barbara at his mercy, Nabu charged down the clocktower's stairs toward them. But from his position at the base of the stairs, the Sarge could see that the steps had been weakened. Using his sword, the knight cut the last support, just as Nabu placed his weight on it. The six-step section collapsed and the half-ogre joined his brother below.
Shambles, who had spent the entire fight covering his head and screaming, "Don't hurt me! I'm a priest!" now joined the others to regroup. Bypassing the section of collapsed stairs, they followed Cubby to the ladder, which led to the top floor.
Inside the top room they found Sir Bennett and Victor in the center of a pentagram.
"Fools," hissed Sir Bennett, annoyed at the intrusion. "Who are you?!"
The Sarge climbed out of the trap door followed by the others. He had clearly been pushed too far today. He didn't care who knew, as long as the club died with a permanent name, he could die happy.
"We are the Unstoppable Imperium, fiend!" announced the Sarge. "Cease and desist your conjuroring immediately!"
"What?!" said Victor, opening his eyes in panic. "Where did you get that name?"
"Does it matter?" muttered Bennett, drawing his sword.
"You don't understand," hissed Victors. "The demons, they---"
"We are the Unstoppable Imperium," corrected Bennett, striding forward. "Face me alone, unless you're a coward."
"Aw, c'mon, Sarge," whined Shambles. "Let's just gang up on 'em."
"Fiend!" bellowed the knight. "Have at thee!"
While Sir Bennett and the Sarge clashed swords, Victor sat peacefully, concentrating. Sir Dan aimed his crossbow at him.
"Ya know, with those tattoos, you can't be good," concluded the bard.
And with that he fired, but the bolt bounced right back, hitting him in the shoulder. Dan went down with a thud and Barbara ran to his side.
"Tattoo Man hurt Dan!" she screamed.
Charging Victor, she was stopped short by the wall of energy around him. Victor touched the staff, which sat across his legs. The skull glowed and the wind picked up. Barbara stumbled backwards and through the glass clockface. She caught the second hand and kept herself from plummeting.
Bennett and the Sarge continued to fight, evenly matched. Every miss cut deeper into the clock tower and the magic swords were taking chunks out of the walls, floors and ceiling of the top room.
Locust attempted to use his magic to penetrate Victor's energy field, but appeared to get nowhere. Then Cubby, noticing the candles, blew one out. Victor looked up just in time to see the field collapse and his body got pushed through the floor. Cubby moved toward the idol, but when he touched it, a wave of electricity threw him backwards. He stumbled against Locust, who tripped over Dan, just as Barbara was trying to climb back inside. The foursome hung precariously out the clock tower.
Mustering up all the courage he had, Father Shambles finally drew forth his two magic maces of Saint Bert and whacked Sir Bennett across the back of the head. It was dirty, but it ended the fight.
"You're supposed to fight undead with those maces," the Sarge objected.
"I just saved your bacon and this is how you thank me?!"
A cry of alarm went up from Dan and the others, Shambles and the Sarge rushed to their aid. Unfortunately, Victor's spell had activated the idol full tilt and as the duo hurried to help their comrades, one of the clock tower cogs came to life. The demonic cog snapped at the Sarge, who lost his balance and stumbled into Cubby, Dan, Locust and Barbara, as they tried to climb back through the clockface. Shambles grabbed the Sarge by his belt, but his armor weighed too much for the rotund cleric. All six fell a short distance, until Shamble's rope belt caught on another cog in the clock tower.
The rope frayed, dangling Shambles, Barbara, Sarge, Dan, Cubby, and Locust precariously out the clock tower and over the horde of demons that had overrun Valleybrook Glen. It was only a matter of seconds before the hemp frayed, plunging the misfit group of heroes into the screaming throng of Hell's Minions, leaving the Valleybrook Glen and the entire planet at their mercy. Father Shambles squeaked pitifully, because he knew the entire situation was their fault.
"I can't believe the Unstoppable Imperium did this!" shouted the Sarge, noting the horde of demons running amok in the town. "Our name and reputation are ruined!"
"We're gonna be ruined unless someone catches us!" cried Shambles.
At that moment, the rope belt gave way and the six adventurers plummeted to the ground. Fortunately, the horde of demons swarmed to their locations, using their leathery wings to keep them from hitting the ground. Astonished, Shambles and the others stood up. The demons stood staring, motionless.
"Th-they s-saved us!" squeaked the priest.
"But why, sir?" Cubby asked to no one in particular.
"It's that bloody idol," concluded the wizard. "They wanted the demons to listen to all the members of the Unstoppable Imperium!"
"We Unstoppable Imperium!" laughed Barbara.
"Then I got an order for these fellers," smiled Dan roguishly, looking the lead demon in the eye. "Go to Hell."
Simultaneously, the demons let out a high-pitched squeal, their leathery bodies collapsing and bursting into flame. All over the city, the demons, and the havoc they had caused, vanished as life returned to normal.
Inside the clock tower, Victor's shattered body began to stir. His legs, arms and spine were broken, but already the demonic tattoos on his body were healing him. He had failed Baal, but hoped, since he had come so close, the Death God would forgive him. Just then, he looked up to see the floor beneath the idol give way, it plummeted six stories and smashed Victor's skull to a pulp, shattering into harmless pieces of pewter.
Days later, the group returned to Beastlyville and life returned to normal. During the next club meeting in the tower of Locust the Wizard, the Sarge, uncharacteristically, had a new idea for a club name.
"The Unstoppable Impenetrables?!" objected Shambles. "No, way! I won't vote for a name that's even close to the last one."
"C'mon, Sham," complained Dan. "Why do you have to make these meetings so confrontational. At least wait until Locust gets back."
Locust had accidentally made his bathroom disappear into another dimension during an experiment. He was using the bathroom at the tavern across the street, much to the annoyance of the bartender, who had his hands full in the middle of happy hour on a Tuesday night.
"I've got a great name!" said Locust the Wizard, bursting into the tower from the outside. "The Legion of Victory!"
Cubby and Barbara looked at each other and shrugged. Dan and the Sarge nodded in agreement, then looked at Shambles. He turned toward the wizard, suspicious.
"Okay, okay. You guys are always on me to give in, so this time, you can have the stupid name," the priest agreed reluctantly. "Where did you come up with The Legion of Victory anyways?"
"I saw it written somewhere," admitted the wizard, trying to recall. "Oh, well. I'm sure it will come to me."
Just then, at the tavern across the street, a dark figure in black armor strode in. The bartender looked up from cleaning the counter top and swallowed nervously. The dark figure in the black armor strode back to the tavern bathroom and opened the stall. He surprised a candle maker, who was doing his business while reading a book.
"Don't be alarmed," assured the dark figure. "I've just come for what's mine."
Reaching in the stall, he recovered a scroll with a list of names, most of which had been crossed out, except the top one, which read The Legion of Victory. It was an odd name for a battalion of vampires, the dark figure thought, but it was the only name they could agree on...