The Hardcore Holidayoff AKA: All All’s Eve

The Hardcore Holidayoff

(AKA All All’s Eve)

Kell Inkston

I

For Magic Minion, it’s a witch hat kind of evening.

She could feel it days ago, shifting their way over in Woods Tower. The oak and maple, the spruce and the fir each sang their song separately, some began to turn, and others just began smelling a bit differently.

A bit like Witch Minion, Magic Minion also enjoys the comfortable feeling of the Fall, especially around that obsessive time of year where the Minionry at large scrambles to decorate with pumpkins and bats for the season – she however considers herself above their trivial gallivanting. Even then, the mere thought of being superior is also behind her.

She just wants to wear her hat, feel nice, and think about what’s to come. She’s focusing on the task at hand, one that is, ironically, quite preoccupied with holiday splendor.

With a brewed cup of tea set neatly in her lap, she enjoys the billowy feeling of the Autumn breeze rustling her wide-brimmed hat. Sitting in a humble wooden rocking chair at the very peak of the tower, she turns her head and looks up to the stars.

One thing she appreciates about Chaos’ domain is the utter lack of light pollution in the majority of the towers – it’s a welcome change from the hedonistic madhouse she struck out from.

The brisk air strikes like a lick of pure, natural ice. She knows the chill would hit her more if she were still a human, and that’s the part she misses more than anything – simply knowing it’s there isn’t quite the same.

She takes a long sip of her tea – at least some things feel the same.

“You… think of the stars,” a breath flows from along her neck, and yet humming as if through a mask.

Magic Minion swings around to see one of The High Overlord’s very strangest: the three and a half meter-high Outminion, looming over her. It inspects her with its seven wide eyes, comprehending her with careful observation.

With a flinch, she barely preserves her tea in the cup.

“I… yeah, it’s you. Hello,” she greets with a wince.

Outminion, one of the very few previously furry beings to retain something resembling their coat post-infestation, casts its gaze up to the twinkling sky. “You do not come here often,” it says, peeling away from her to take a seat on the East side of the tower.

She squints an eye at her especially weird comrade. A quick look-over at its spot tells her that this thing spends a lot of time up here. “No, I suppose I don’t. What of it?”

“I also like thinking of the stars,” it says, as deep and as gentle as a sigh from the forest itself. It’s voice puts her at ease, as if it has been looking for someone to obsess about stars with from the day they were made. The humor behind something as ancient and venerable as an outman just itching to vent about something so simple isn’t lost on her.

Magic Minion stifles a laugh, her lanky figure buckling slightly. Her big witch hat flaps from the abrupt, gentle sway.

“Well good. The stars are perfectly happy to have you thinking about them, I’m sure,” she notes with a nod before reaching for the little side table next to her rocker. “Tea?”

Like a true creature of the night, Outminion swivels its head without moving its body, creating a horrendous display of inhuman flexibility. “I also like to watch tea.”

She grins awkwardly, pours her new friend a cup, and presents it with a stretch. “Well, here… you go!” she says, leaning far along her chair with the second cup from her set.

Outminion stares pensively at the cup as if it were the first time seeing it, and perhaps is, in a special sort of way. Its light-absorbing, blacker-than-pitch hands take up the cup, and it nods its head, the gift received.

“Of course, this is also like a star,” it says simply before returning to its spot staring up at the stars, though this time with a cup of oolong tea cupped in its claws.

Magic Minion scoffs before looking down into her cup, and in it she sees the reflection of the night sky. She smiles in a weird sort of way, as if charmed by a man back in the days when she would still consider herself a human being and not whatever it is she is now. Of course she knows all the labels for what she is supposed to be, but to her it doesn’t quite encompass what being more, and yet also less, of a human is in the first place.

She just takes a short, thoughtful sip of her tea, appreciating it as one of the few pleasures that has gone unchanged in her transformation.

“It certainly is,” she says, finally turning away and looking back up to the stars along with Outminion, who still periodically looks down into its cup to look at the night sky’s reflection in the tea.

“Do you think about stars in other places?” it asks, its bright eyes competing with the moon above.

She giggles. “I suppose.”

“I remember when we had come from the stars underneath us. We would watch them and think about them until we brought them with us in our heads, and that filled the world with the night sky” it explains with a helpful tone, despite the information sounding like utter nonsense to her.

She nods. “I think that’s a wonderful way to spend the time,” she says, pondering for a moment just what all someone like an outman might have seen before Chaos had taken over their will by the force of his ether.

The two sit there, appreciating the clear season’s sky and the wind nipping gently at the tips of their antennae.

“Say,” she starts with a hum.

Outminion continues peering at the constellations. “Say what?”

“Thank you, by the way. It’s very nice to have someone up here. I was just thinking how disappointed I would be if I didn’t have someone to talk to… or better yet, not talk to.”

“What do you mean?”

She smiles sadly. “I suppose most of the others are just really talkative, and I don’t much care for it when I don’t have to. They think I’m a certain way and I suppose I try to act the part. ‘Magic Minion’ pah, as if that were the whole person, you know?”

Outminion stares into space. Even as Magic Minion leans around to glance at her conversation partner, it doesn’t shift.

“I think I know,” it says, “but there are a lot of things that you think you know that you do not know. That is the nature of those with small perspective. That which is a star is also not a star – it is not dependant on the object, but the mind that perceives it.”

She smiles. Magical creatures have specific ways of talking, and it would be hard to argue among most communities that outmen aren’t among the most magical of them all. As per her experience, she’s found success in just acting like she knows what they’re talking about by responding with statements that are, if she’s being honest, equally obtuse as the way she views their own – it tends to get the point across well enough, she thinks.

“That’s a good way of looking at it,” she concedes. “Do you think the stars feel that way?”

Outminion’s several eyes squint with perception. “Stars think on star thoughts,” it educates. “Those between the stars think the thoughts between the stars, and they see the things that stars do not see.”

Magic Minion hums again, but it’s a thinner tone this time, as if unnerved by what her companion just said.

“Well, alright,” she answers good-humoredly. “So what sort of things do the things between the stars think about?” she asks.

The tall minion nods, like it had already given its answer. “That is what the out people try to find. Try to take the eye from the one that sees and touch the hands of the one that stretches out; to catch the dragonfly.

She sighs. She was sure it would be something creepy like that. “Okay, but what about…” she sighs again, turning back to her teacup. “Never mind it.”

“I never mind anything but the important things.”

She shakes her head. “And what are the important things?”

“The things with perspective,” it answers. Finally, it raises the cup up to its face, and pours it over, causing it to drizzle from where its mouth is supposed to be down to the floor. “Yes, the tea is good,” it says, the dappling sound of tea running down its face and covering the floor in competition with its voice.

Magic Minion has looked back just in time to catch this rare moment of outman silliness, but keeps herself from laughing with only a hair of resistance.

“May I have more?” it asks, presenting the empty cup for her to refill.

She breaks out into laughter, much to Outminion’s surprise. With a nod, she takes up her teapot once more and pours another cup of tea.

“I thank yo-” it says, again leaning back to peer at the stars, but this time she interrupts it.

“Hey, do you want to do something fun?” she asks, a baked mischievousness in her voice that’s only now revealing itself. All this interaction with her new friend has given her an idea.

Outminion nods its massive head a bit to the side in curiosity. “Fun is a veil, like all the others.”

She sighs. “Right, yeah. I’m sure you have some outstandingly deep viewpoint on it all, but it’s going to be really fun I mean – Outrageously fun.”

It stares at her now a bit in the way it had been staring at the stars a moment earlier, a secret fascination that supersedes mere concentration – it’s the kind of gaze that reaches out and gives, as well as receives.

“Nothing is evil, because everything is good. I am not against your fun.”

At that, Magic Minion is entirely certain her new-found friend is both one hundred percent on board, and likely has a questionable moral compass, both of which she knows is required for her scheme.

She grins – a rare look for her.

II

It’s that time of year again.

Central tower is alight with all manner of decorating for all manner of different holidays. The minion bands prepare their strange instruments and exotic songs, many composed as mixtures of various holiday traditions. The ovens are smoking away at maximum speed, producing goods that challenge even the broadest imaginations.

It’s that time of year again, but something’s different this time around.

“Ha! No way!” Reformed but Don’t Mess with Him Maniac Minion XXX Season II, who has gone over yet another title change says before slapping onto the planning table some crudely drawn pencil drawings of yuletide tree rocket launchers and massive Saint Nicolas robots setting fire to human orphanages among other, equally questionable concepts. “This holiday is going to kick ass and your gay plan would just screw it up!”

The minion pair set to preside over Linius’Vee, a solemn, contemplative holiday hailing from dimension #9,203,194, share a bland look before turning back to the Christmas seat, chaired by none other than Reformed but Don’t Mess with Him Maniac Minion XXX Season II, and a very exasperated looking Holiday Minion.

“Please tell me these aren’t your plans for the head holiday competition,” Planning Minion asks, her hands clasped together professionally in her little spot on the massive round table.

Reformed but Don’t Mess with Him Maniac Minion XXX Season II draws back with a splurt of mocking laughter. “Gee, I dunno. You mean the meeting that we’re at right now? I guess if I’m just a huge moron maybe I’d be totally keen to just bring paperwork to meetings that aren’t relevant to it. Yeah I love taking my random doodles to wo-”

“So you actually want to shoot… tree shaped missiles at… I assume this is supposed to be crying childre-”

“Fuck yeah they’re crying! Bunch a’pussies lacking the Christmas spirit. That’ll teach ‘em.”

“And I suppose this is all something that’s a traditional part of the holiday?”

There’s a pause as the Reformed but Don’t Mess with Him Maniac Minion XXX Season II clears his throat.

“I mean, it’s cool, right Holiday Minion?”

“Do not involve me in this,” the antlered minion says with a defeated sigh, his face resting in his hands.

Reformed but Don’t Mess with Him Maniac Minion XXX Season II shrugs and turns back to the table at large. “Annnnnyway we’ll be polite and wait our turn to blow your minds, who’s next?”

Due Process Minion, sitting in the center opening of the large table, glances down at his clipboard.

“My lord,” he starts, addressing the High Overlord seated next to him and grinning marvelously, “the next assigned duo and holiday is Magic Minion and… oh dear.”

“I‘ve found a replacement for Druid Minion,” Magic Minion speaks up with a cute, rigid smile.

Due Process Minion adjusts his glasses, despite them being just for show, and focuses in on the figure seated, or perhaps more accurately looming, over Magic Minion. “I… I don’t believe we’ve been introduced… m-mister-

“The word of being has no truth in the eyes of the cos-”

“Outminion,” Magic Minion interrupts, leaning forward to try and impose herself over the enormous etheriae.

Outminion?” a minion from the audience whispers loudly.

“I thought he was just a fairy tale,” says another with a suspicious air.

“The one and only,” Magic Minion says, clarifying her answer. “It’s agreed with me to head up Halloween this year,” she adds with no small degree of pride zipping along her jaws. “We came to an agreement on how the holiday should be run.”

There’s an awkward silence among the round table and surrounding crowds. The only thing outmen are considered professionals at are whimsical stupidity and an uncanny connection to unspeakable dark powers. While this clearly puts most of the minions at a clear disease, Chaos’ smile grows ever larger.

“I love the idea! What sort of spooky plans do you have in store for all of us?”

Reaching into her witchy wizarding hat, Magic Minion retrieves a packed scroll and begins unwinding it.

Well, I figured since we were only doing one holiday this year, thanks to Horrible Luck Minion-”

“Wh- I’m sorry!” the highly bandaged and suspiciously scraped up Horrible Luck Minion bleats, being the primary cause of this whole “just one holiday” debacle. The truth is most of the minions feel like the spin on the wheel of Societal Randomness he made wasn’t quite up to par when he accidently held on and got churned up inside the wheel well.

Magic Minion nods her head in jest. “I figured it would be right to pull out the holiday’s best. This Halloween will both be a charming return to all the holiday decadence we know and love, along with being spine twistingly scary,” she adds.

There’s an immediate, nervous peckering between minions among the crowd: just how scary is “spine twistingly scary” anyway?

Many of them were afraid of this. Aside from general magic and enjoying being left alone for the most part, it’s difficult to ignore the concerningly large set of shelves in Magic Minion’s room, packed to the sides with some of the most hideous, depraved slasher flicks ever filmed across the omniverse – well-known classics such as Knightmare in Red II, Ultraverse Fallout, Death Sex Wheelchair Massacre, REE: Xtermination, The First Saw Movie, Wire Face IV: The Rewiring, and The Silent Noise Tapes.

She’s watched them all like a true fan, shoving her jaws full of popcorn with child-like splendor during the parts Combat Minion spewed up his dinner in shock, peered on with love and dedication when even the extremely salty Raid Minion shielded his eyes in horror, and held a deathly, revering silence when Scout Minion, bless her poor little scout heart, could only yelp in horror again and again during that one part with the little dog and the window in Kill Bloodstain.

And now, her time has finally come.

“I think we’ll make a strong case for why Halloween is the greatest, comfiest, scariest holiday of them all, capable of traversing the full range of meat-creature emotion. Once our test revelers witness Halloween at its full might, we’ll be sure to sway any question as to what should be the primary holiday this year, my lord, Archsorcerer sir.”

At that, even Chaos is put to a pause, his perfectly round, glowing eyes a beacon of fascination at the idea.

“It sounds lovely,” he admits. “I wouldn’t dare play favorites in a game such as this, but I will say I’m looking forward to at least seeing your unique-sounding interpretation of one of my favorite holidays,” he says, glancing between both Magic Minion and Outminion, but focusing his gaze on the larger of the two as if with some hidden expectation.

There’s a bustling among the minions. Not yet today has The Interminable Destroyer of Armies weighed an opinion on any of the presentations. Even Priest Minion and Theologian Minion, both spurned by Maniac Minion’s wild butchering of their preferred holiday, and who put forth an exceptional effort to place a most religious and committed spin on Bloodette, received only a nod and a smile from the High Overlord. They were certain tying blood-related religious traditions of other faiths with the one bloodiest holiday of all would be a clear winner, and yet none has stirred him as much as this presentation has.

Magic Minion bows respectfully, outstandingly tickled under her cool exterior. She’s going to obliterate this contest – she has no doubt in her mind.

Following her are dozens of other presentations. Many are for holidays from specific dimensions with clear delineations, like Goddess Candle Week in regards to the Librarium’s immaculately-revered Rondi. There are holidays that emerged from a multitude of different dimensions for whatever reason, like Holi, or various iterations of White Day.

Perhaps most exciting of all: there’s even a ton of so-called Whoa!-lidays that the Minionry public submitted and voted on to be presented at the board: truly zip-banger ideas like the tasty-sounding “Cheese for Everyone” day, the long-winded “Run Around Playing Annoying Instruments in the Middle of Human-Cities” day, the-clearly-submitted-by Hydroponics Research Minion’s: “Get Tied to a Big Fish and Explore the Majesty and Wonder of Ocean Tower” day, and the rather questionable “Antennae-Size Awareness Day,” submitted and presented by Communications Minion herself, so that her fellow minions know just how hard it is to have a massive pair of antennae like hers.

Presentation after presentation, all delivered with pizzaz and spirit, just the sort of thing an outstanding overlord like Chaos expects from his beloved underlings.

Once Trap Minion’s rather disconcerting presentation of “Give me 10 Hours Prep Time and See How Many of You Bitches get Out Alive” day is complete, Chaos crosses his broad, blacker than pitch arms in thought.

“There’s no doubt about it,” he says with a nod, “no matter which holiday wins out this year, the competition alone will make this an unforgettable year. Well done, my wonderlings. Let’s violently seize the neck of the evening and dominate it with our preparations!”

Everyone cheers, and all the teams get to work:

Chaos cuts a way into the “test” dimension, created with the careful oversight of Dimensionomancy Infrastructure Minion, and leads all the teams through to prepare their festive trappings for this one, outstandingly festive and competitive night.

III

Hours later, O.E.L. Special Operator Captain Yolun Zainatsi flickers to consciousness in a dark, musty room. He’s not a stranger to adversity. He lies still with the expectation of danger pre-set into his trained senses.

Accessing his laydeck system onboard his atmosphere suit, Yolun pulls an instant read of the composition of the outside. Temperature, air pressure, oxygen composition, as well as more complex factors such as the dimensional space’s “groundedness” or Realspace rating, certain extra-dimensional movement factors, and other, ever more specific notes.

In the perfect silence of the room, he mentally navigates his on-suit computer to see that he’s in a recently-manufactured dimension- but it’s not a simple pocket. His sensors fail him when it comes to estimating the size of the place he’s in. He knows he’s in a room, but what of the rooms connecting to it?

Next he checks his connected equipment via digital link protocol. The advanced scanner is completely gone, as well as his advanced maneuver equipment: “who in the verses could have disconnected my equipment so cleanly?” he wonders. What he does see is his rifle’s laytag, holographically suspended in his heads-up-display and reading out a distance of only twenty meters.

He practices box breathing, doing all he can to keep his heart rate low. After all, a speeding heart leads to hasty decisions, and that’s not who he is.

His manaslice scanner is finally warmed up, so he begins the sweeping protocol for any mana signatures nearby.

There’s his, of course: that calm, well-ordered flicker of a soul, but it’s concealed by something greater, something more cultivated. It’s hard to get a good reading, as it’s like the entire atmosphere is composed of a massive mana signature. Pushing out the scan two meters, he sees another human-like mana signature, only difference being that it’s several times the size of his own.

He considers himself a spiritual, balanced man, so he would expect his signature to be larger and more at-call in comparison to your typical homo-sapiens. This could only have one reasonable explanation.

Magic.

One of those brain-shifting, blood-sucking, Rondi-insulting freaks is right next to him, and they’re unconscious. He would push the scan out further, but he’s interrupted.

At long last, his S.R.T.S.: his short range terrestrial scanner, has warmed up and delivers a satisfying, comforting *ping* into his in-helmet earpiece. He runs it immediately, and finds not one, but three other individuals with him inside the room.

His scanner flicks out for neural activity: they’re all alive, but they’re unconscious – he has the first move. With a speed only granted from years of experience in crisis situations, he formulates his plan. He’s going to switch to his feet, shoulder ram the door using his suit accelerator, and then take up his rifle. The laytag says it’s still fully-loaded, so all he needs to do is get to it and his I.D. will unlock the weapon by proximity.

Yolun steels himself, but before he can move, he’s interrupted again.

A television flickers on with a mysterious hooded figure on the screen.

As spooky sounds and zither instruments pour out from the speakers, two of the others flinch to their waking.

The operator has no choice but to leap to his feet and immediately move for the door.

Uhhhh,” moans the small one with an irritating squeak of a voice the very moment Yolun’s muscle-packed shoulder and arm strikes into the door.

He pops back – he’s never failed to ram open a door before. He starts forward again.

“What the heck is going on?” the voice mumbles before smacking its jaws a few times in waking.

“I…” is all the next voice, feminine and poised with a restless grace, can push out at first. The voice’s own clears her throat, and tries again just as Yolun slams into the door again, only to be pushed back with an iron-clad resistance. “You’re… Librarium?” she asks in bewilderment.

The operator forgets his breathing techniques. The witch knows what he is and who he serves. He’s sure he only has seconds before his internal organs are forcibly flipped into knots by a hand gesture and a few strong words. Of course, his suit is designed with anti-magic countermeasures, but nothing capable of stopping one of the legendary “War Sorcerers of Dimension Thirteen”.

He continues slamming forward, the flickering TV bursting to new life once the hooded figure deigns to speak:

“Greetings, interspace travelers. I’d like to play a ga-… why in the world are you trying to break down our nice door?”

Yolun’s pace picks up. He has to stay calm. His suit expends a stock of its ultra-adrenaline shots. He feels the prick, and instantly he feels like a god. Like a Royal Knight pushing mutamancy to its limit, he smashes into the door so loudly that it completely drowns out the words being spoken from the others.

All he can do is concentrate on getting his weapon. There’s simply no way he could handle one, let alone three wizards without it.

He strikes again, and again, until finally a faint blue symbol flickers across the lock of the door.

This time the operator doesn’t simply bounce back, nor does he “open” the door – it opens for him. Yolun flies through and tumbles into the next room, flush with colorful lights.

The door closes with a mystic promptness, leaving the other three in the room.

“Yeah, take that, loser,” the mysterious figure in the TV says. “If he didn’t want to play along that’s fine by me. Let him have his fun.”

The lights in the room flicker, giving a brief glimpse of their messy surroundings.

The pipsqueak is none other than Test Minion, the unfortunate lad whose job is testing out some of The Minionry’s craziest plans before getting blessed off on. He glances over to size up the one next to him. The lady, standing at twice the height and caught in some particularly casual, particularly tight-fitting off-duty attire is the legendary hoplite and spearstress Knight Harmony, staring with incorrigible distaste at whatever this whole affair is supposed to be. She does know this is some kind of stupid foolishness, but as to the nature of it all she can’t quite tell.

“Oh… a Knight,” Test Minion grumbles out. “This must be some kind of…” he looks around.

“What do your little eyes see?” Harmony asks, still judging whether or not she should paint the floor with her new acquaintance.

Glancing through doors, walls, and rooms, the expression on Test Minion’s face glazes over with an incredulous shock. “Ohthat’s what that meeting was about,” he whispers, as if his spirit’s left his body from the realization alone.

Harmony sighs in the dark, and looks around the room herself. She nips the knuckle of her index finger in thought for a moment, and then responds. “Still pretty dark in here. What exactly are you seeing?”

Test Minion sighs back with equal distaste.

Answer me,” she reiterates, budging him over easily with her foot. It’s no simple task to bully a minion of the High Overlord, but it’s a different matter entirely if said bully is also one of Old Reinen’s own Royal Knights: dimension-trotting destroyers of evil and super-powered spellswords. Her mutamancy-altered leg stumbles him easily.

“Wh- it’s a stupid game!” he responds with a snap as he doubles back to catch his balance. “You know about those things, right? Games? That garbage that you idiots waste all your time with?”

Harmony’s full lips part with a scoff. She closes her eyes and opens them again to reveal a mild shine to them – just like that, she can now see in the dark. “I think that’s rich coming from one of you little bastards,” she explains as she looks around. “I can’t think of anyone less qualified to poke fun at something as trivial as how people choose to spend…their…” she cuts short, seeing a collapsed body lazily tossed into a pile of boxes. The draping jacked cuts a stylish, freespirited figure, and the boots, leaning over a box of what appears to be tinsel, suggest the rugged practicality of an elite adventurer.

She can see by the faint active mana signature that he’s alive, but as to what sort of man he is she can’t be sure – she can be sure how to lead him around, though.

Harmony inhales to call to him, but the lights abruptly cut on, and that does the deed for her.

For certain now: They’re in a medium-sized room, replete with shelves filled to the brim with holiday decor. Candy, skeletons, paintballs, mossballs, painting kits, and much, much more surrounds the man as he flinches up back to the waking world.

“Wh- what in the Verses is-” he stops himself, leaning up from his pile of half-collapsed boxes to get a look around. His squinting features hide handsome emerald eyes, shaded over by the goofily wide-brimmed wizard’s hat resting atop his head of hair, red like the glow of a wildfire.

Harmony spills out an abrupt “well!” as she’s taken aback by his dashing looks. Understandably most inter-dimensional travelers aren’t so much for appearance- usually part-and-parcel to living a life of adventure and danger like they’re so prone to.

One thing about him strikes her as odd, though: his nose is outrageously long, and not just long, but pointy too. That said, she doesn’t much mind it when such a young and winsome-looking gentleman is with her – for some reason she feels exceptionally intimate with him already.

She smiles as the man brushes himself off and stretches up to his feet. To her he looks like one of those classical depictions of magical folk. She didn’t grow up with storybooks considering they didn’t exist in Aerna when she was a child, but her parents did tell her stories about strange men and women with pointy noses and big hats – it just so happens that this one is exceptionally handsome.

“Ahh, one of those ‘residual’ spaces, then,” he says after taking a quick look around on his knees. “I have just the thi-“

Sir,” Harmony starts, for once happy she was caught in her off-duty clothes: No matter how she messes with the armor she simply cannot get away with it. Justice, Space, Redemption, and even Order, the prude, insult her every time she tries to stretch the look just a little bit. It’s not her fault she has a killer figure, and she doesn’t care if it’s called “bikini armor”: she needs to play to her strengths.

She saunters over to the gentleman and helps him up, making sure to immediately bring his elbow in for the slightest, most insinuating brush against her generously modified chest. “You must be terrified, sir. I’m so glad you’re okay!” she starts with a concerned tone as an utterly disgusted Test Minion seethes  in the background. “However did you find yourself here?”

The man takes off his wide hat to reveal the full length of his sharp, wild head of shoulder-length hair.

Her heart jumps.

“I can’t be sure, to be honest. Very considerate of you, by the way,” he says with a gentle shake of his arm to free himself.

“Ah, so you must be in the same boat as me, then. I went to sleep as always, and here I am, in this… store room of a place with this insipid little deplorable,” she notes, motioning behind her to Test Minion. “And a… who do I have the pleasure of meeting?”

His brows, slick and lively with a short notch cut out, raise with courteous surprise.

“Right, pardon, miss. I’m called Bloise in most parts. Traveling wizard,” he says, turning slightly to show his small, exuberantly valuable multidimensional pack.

She smiles with all she has to make it clear she appreciates him, despite the weird name.

“It’s a pleasure, but how will we find out a way out of here? I have no doubt that this is all one of Chaos’ tricks. Have you heard of him?” she asks, her demeanor switching between serious and conversational at a pace that would confuse most people.

Bloise smiles at the Knight, his gaze cutting straight for her eyes without taking a single detour across her curvature. “I’ll tell you I’ve actually met him on a few occasions. You seem rather experienced in the arts. I trust you’re with Rei- well, the passed Reinen?”

She raises a brow, her head tilting back. “Well, you really seem to know your way around. Could it be you’ve heard of us?”

He smiles. “I’ve read a lot of the books. You must be Harmony, right?”

She smiles back, her attempt at appearing flattered washed out by her immediate sense of victory that she’s been recognized. “Why, I didn’t know I had a fan with me in here! I don’t imagine there are many pictures in the editions these days. How ever could you have known it was me?” she asks, a shocked-stupid Test Minion looking over to the mysterious minion on the television, and both sharing a unified moment of insult. Is she really trying to pick up a dude during a situation like this?

Bloise smiles awkwardly. “W-well, your immediate concern of an innocent’s well-being is something I had read in volume number five if I’m not mistaken. You were quite ready to lend a hand to-“

“Mhmm, I doubt that,” Harmony says, imposing herself in front of him and extending the profile of her body with a sly stretch of the arms. “There’s only one thing someone like you would care about when it comes to identifying someone like me.”

The traveling wizard gains a wry, insulted grin just before he suppresses it back into a genteel smile. “Whatever could you mean, miss?” he asks, stepping back to accommodate her predatory lean.

“That’s going to be ma’am to you,” she orders, her body locking him against one of the shelves.

Bloise’s hair stands on end, but he doesn’t look particularly bothered. If Harmony didn’t know better, and she’s quite certain she absolutely does, she would almost guess that he didn’t want her.

Touch,” she sighs out, maintaining a firm eye contact with the really outstandingly-handsome man. “Me,” she adds at the end of the stare.

He mutters in hesitation, his hands held pensively to his sides as Test Minion crouches down to lean into his knees and push his hands into his face. He simply cannot believe it. Chaos always regaled him of stories about how morally corrupt The Knights are, and how they regularly recruit necromancers, vampires, coffee drinkers and promiscuous people into their ranks, but he never in all his two years of being Test Minion that he would see such sacrilegious evils take place right in front of him. With a single, damn-all breath of resolution, he deems to push forward. He pulls his hands away and returns to his full, intimidating height of one meter before pulling in a breath to resist the only way the other minions have taught him.

Ha! Human mating rituals are gay!

Harmony, who was just in the motion of leading Bloise’s hands up to her breasts, pauses before turning to regard the minion with a look of pure, concentrated spite: a knife in optical form. “Do you mind?

“Do you mind! I’m like twelve! You can’t do this in front of me!”

“He’s got a point,” the mysterious minion on the television says. “I mean, we actually never expected anything close to this would happen. It’s kind of unprecedented.”

She scoffs with a venomous scowl. “What’s unprecedented?” she snips back.

“…Do you really need me to answer that?” the TV minion answers, gesturing even lower to her other hand, which has somehow found its way gliding the rim of the wizard’s trousers.

She groans as if the minions were her parents: indignant, insulted, and way cooler than them. “You idiots don’t matter. Just let us leave if you’re so uncomfortable.”

A mild crashing noise picks up in a room nearby while Bloise clears his throat to speak. “Uh, you know, there may be a better place for thi-“

“Nonsense! You just can’t think straight because I’m too sexy,” Harmony snaps at the wizard, who she’s still massaging in with her warmth. The crashing noise nearby becomes louder and sounds closer by. Some mild shouting can be heard.

He laughs good naturedly, but there’s an air of worldly sadness to it, as if everything in this situation is below him. “I… really don’t think that would be-“

Abruptly, the reinforced door slams down, filling the room with a flush of confetti, glitter, and broken bits of tree ornaments.

Dressed in a pair of pastel dog-themed pajamas is none other than the legendary Hope of the West and Chaosbane, Lord Knight General Order – she looks pissed. With a blink-fast toss she slams the minion in her grip, Poultry Minion dressed up as a basket-toting rabbit, straight into the floor with the compacted force of her bare foot. The minion explodes under the strike, reducing Poultry Minion into a paltry mess of obliterated white infusia.

Don’t worry, infusiacs like Chaos’ minions only die when both physical and magical damage in the same attack. It’s quite complicated.

The destroyed minion croaks faintly before falling into the steaming wreckage of its own body, its white blood painting Order’s feet as snow-pure as her hair.

“Mae, there you are. Summon up a sidearm and let’s get o-… oh.

That disappointment-lined “oh” was all the context Order needed to provide at the sight of her fellow Millennium Knight practically forcing herself onto what looks to be a typical upstart magician – unusually long nose, though.

Harmony, or “Mae” as Order called her, pulls breath with a scowl. “I get horny when I’m worried!” she sputters out, letting go of Bloise now that she’s finally met someone whose opinion she cares for.

Order’s gaze flashes briefly from a genuine, all-business gold to a disgusted, depressed grey. “We’ll talk about this later. Let’s go. There’s like ten holidays are once here and they’re all… I don’t know.” Order turns to look at Test Minion with a tired gaze. Test Minion looks up to the TV minion for support, who just shrugs. “Okay, so what in the million hell’s the deal here?” Order asks, her gaze slowly devolving into more and more impatient forms.

Test Minion clears his throat, glancing between a displeased Order and her summoned, heavily-enchanted rapier. “I uh I maybe don’t actually know about uh any of this whole thing uh okay?!”

Order shrugs. “And we’re just supposed to believe you’re like a test subject for this or something?”

Test Minion nods vigorously the same moment Harmony and Bloise take to Order’s side to go.

“Actually… yeah, I can buy that,” Order says with a shrug. “Goodbye,” is all she says before turning to leave.

The television minion peeps up. “W-wait! Don’t leave the room yet! You’re skipping like three different box and storage-themed holida-“

Order flicks her wrist, says the word “Gra,” and the TV instantly shatters, pulsing the room with the popping of the tube monitor and a blinding flash of light.

IV

“So what is this place?” Harmony asks, holding tight to the other two under the spiraling strobe lights and chaotically-strewn Christmas tree lighting.

“At first I thought this was some sort of gameshow,” Order notes dryly, her bare feet stepping over the unconscious body of one of her mutilated minion victims. “Turns out it’s some kind of ‘holiday competition’.”

Harmony tucks her bangs behind her flushed ears. “Oh… I thought they were going to try and kill us… you know I get a lit-“

“I don’t care. You’ll always find an excuse just like Meeo always finds an excuse to take to the herb,” Order says with a shake of her head.

They walk through what appears to be a living room, charmingly and lovingly decorated with the trappings of at least twenty different holidays, forcing the room into a kaleidoscopic mess of comfy once-a-year decorum.

“Oh pah. As if you weren’t the same way with your drink.”

Order shakes her head. “I don’t try to coerce random strangers in weird dimensions to drink with me, but I’ll reconsider if you’re committed to being obtuse.”

“You’re so boring.”

“Yes, now come on.”

Bloise clears his throat awkwardly between the two ancient women. “You two really don’t seem to get along so well,” he says with a smile.

Order watches a minion dressed up as a monk run from door to door in the manor and knock as if trick-or-treating while Harmony produces a snide grin.

“This one’s Order, if that wasn’t clear by her obvious lack of a soul.”

“Charmed,” Order says, glancing off Harmony’s comment as if it were a grain of sand.

The red-haired mage’s smile shifts awkwardly into a friendly, though disconcerted grin. “Oh, I had no doubt about that. You two are quite well known in my circles.”

Harmony perks up. “I knew you had taste. Only shocker there is that you knew my little cohort here as well,” she says, waving a quick hand to show the more than foot of height between the two of the Knights. “Unless of course you’re also interested in girls who still have some growing to do-“

“I’d let anyone else off with that,” Order says, her eyes still focused on the various minions conducting various holiday activities. “But you… I realize I don’t spend much time with you all these days, but my ‘duty’ doesn’t end anymore these days. I’m always on call.”

Harmony shrugs. “Not really a presence I’d miss. We haven’t talked in… damn… What has it been, twenty…”

Twenty four years,” Order answers. “Not a day goes by that I wish I wasn’t with you all.”

“You could swing by any day you know. It’s not like you don’t have a space gate ten minutes from your dump of a house.”

Order’s expression stays straight and unmoving, but her eyes shift in color, dulling out into a mild gray. “…It’s more complicated than that.”

Harmony giggles wryly, warm but sharp – like a seabreeze. “Sure it is. Not let’s go, like you said. You killed our mood anyway.”

Bloise’s grin twinges with disappointment after seeing Order skip a response after a putdown like that. She just keeps her head raised and her eyes on the pivot.

The three step promptly through the wild funhouse of holidays, passing by skateboarding carolers grinding across a room of solemn prayer and contemplation.

“This really is something else,” the red-haired wizard notes with an appreciating smile, his eyes shifting like flames through the shadowy rooms. “So apparently this is some kind of competition?”

“That’s right,” a minion says behind them the moment they hit a connecting hallway opening up to a massive snowscape.

The trio swings to see Test Minion, his expression now resolute with purpose. “I asked and one of them explained it to me. Chaos is trying to figure out which holiday is going to be the number one this coming season, so everyone’s competing to see who can make you guys the most festive,” he explains, taking care to stay outside of Order’s immediate striking distance.

The snow-haired masteress gives a short, curt sigh. “And so he’s just kidnapped random people and sent them into this pocket dimension,” she asks.

Test Minion reels under the gaze of Rayda’s Teeth, the woman said to slay dragons with her bare hands and blot out the sun with the spray of their blood. “Uh… uh, yeah. Basically. I had no-“

“I believe you. I’m going to scrape the DS and get us out of here. No way we could coalesce out if Dimensio-… whatever his name is, is the one who planned out the space,” Order explains, causing a quick flinch from Test Minion as he follows along through the ski-slope.

“Uh… I mean, wouldn’t breaking the dimensional seal collapse everything and mess everything u-” Test Minion stops himself, winning a single, damning side-glance from Order. “You… you want that to happen?!”

Harmony scoffs. “Naturally. We want to go home, and I’m not one for wasting my weekend in the company of hypocrites,” she snips, looking Order’s way like a petty girlfriend to her short, white-haired, legendary swordsman of a lover.

The expression that sweeps across Test Minion is three parts horrified, one part the fury of a wronged god. “You… look, I know you don’t like it, but this is a simulation.”

“So?” Harmony puffs.

Test Minion writhes at his feet, flinching his meter-high body forward as if to go for her throat. “So?! That means that this is a test!

Order’s golden eyes gain a hint of crimson. “You’re not going to stop me.”

He lurches back before turning to run off. “I refuse to let you interfere with the results of the test! The integrity of the data must be preserved!” he screeches like an estranged panda in a bambooless hellscape to all who will hear.

The three watch him run off. Harmony draws a finger out from under her left breast in gesticulation, a line of pure mana drawn out from the nearest her heart, but Order taps her elbow.

“What’s he gonna do?” the commander asks the subordinate with a rhetorical flare.

Harmony scoffs, draws back, cancels her spell, and sighs. “Good point. What could he possibly do?” she notes with a gentle, superior laugh.

The three march across the ski slope as a few minions race down while protecting the candles on a menorah.

“What the flying fuck,” Harmony laughs again, the music of a nearby day of the dead party softened by the snow.

They reach the next connecting doorway, and Order nods forward, her feet stepping through melted snow and into hot air. “It’s through here – the lines are subtle, but they’re there,” she notes, hopping through the door frame into the warm trappings of a Kanvanian Coffee shop, considered by most to be among the very coziest places in all the Omniverse.

And it’s filled, no surprise, with minions of The High Overlord.

Light-absorbing, ether-infested bodies play board games, read books, and enjoy toasty, familiarly-scented beverages while the Overlord’s own acoustic band, the Min-Tones, plays tastefully “overlordish” accompaniments for the event.

Order takes in the sight with a look of perpetual tiredness – she doesn’t get to sleep much with the overbearing shame and anxiety of simply living, but tonight was an exception.

“Aren’t they not allowed to drink coffee?” Order says out loud.

Harmony looks at the Lord Knight Captain with a weird smirk. “What, is that like a thing they do?”

Order hums. “I would have thought you’d know more about them, considering how much you want to-“

“Right, thanks,” Harmony says over Order with a cough. “How about you have fun finding the seal and I’ll order the drinks.”

The two women, millennia old and yet entirely different, share a single, sass-ridden glance.

“That’s fine. I don’t need help,” Order says, waving off. “Get me a mocha.”

“That’s simple,” Harmony says. “I guess that’s what they say about simple peop-“

“Bye,” Order says before stepping off to follow the trail of mana, invisible to all but those practiced in the art.

Harmony watches Order leave. Bloise watches her watch Order leave.

“What a cunt,” Harmony says, just at the rim of Order’s ear-shot.

Order doesn’t even glance back, she just heads into the next room, shrouded in a suspicious, almost malicious darkness.

Harmony and Bloise pause for a moment, and then she looks over to him. “Sorry about that. I guess I was being too forward.”

“Yeah, you were,” he agrees with a smile.

She crosses her arms, as the coffee shop goers give the two surprised, confused, and suspicious glances. “I don’t… sorry, you must think I’m really fucked up.”

He shrugs. “I’ve dealt with stranger. You go across some peculiar places in The Verses, and I’ll say you’re definitely one of the nicer things that wanted to get in my pants,” he says, scratching his cheek and doing his best to staunch the feeling of overwhelming awkwardness coursing through him.

She looks at him, genuinely touched. “That’s… Yeah, sorr- I mean… thank you.”

“You don’t have to apologize, I know it’s hard being our age.”

She pauses. “Our age?”

“You Knights aren’t the only people that know longevity magic,” he notes with a smile.

In a confused moment, Harmony focuses her manasight along the gentleman. She was so caught up in the expectation of a handsome male showing interest in her to notice the long clasp of alteration magic. By the age on some of these, he must be at least several thousands of years old. She was hitting up someone that understood the length of life, the vast empty spaces, and this realization kills the remaining drive in her – he’s not some kid she can use to feel alive vicariously.

“O-” she stumbles over her words, her confident demeanor struck down instantly. “I am… Oh gods. I am so so-

He scoffs. “What, you figured I was just some wizard in his twenties that figured out how to jump between dimensions?”

Her face flushes. “Let’s… go order the drinks,” she says with a dismissive cough.

The two step up to the counter where a short minion peeks with a tasteful brown apron is peering up from the desk; only the eyes and antennae are visible from where they’re standing.

Well well well,” the minion lass starts, her glowing white eyes squinting distastefully. “Looks like the garbage truck took a tilt on the way past the road.”

“Cute,” Harmony says, “Give us coffee.”

The incredibly short minion waves her head in the way that just screams ‘you’re an eyesore’. “Uh, you got money for that, hon?”

Harmony purses her lips tightly, suppressing the immediate impulse to slip over the counter and slam the minion’s skull in. “I… I don’t see any prices.”

“Sorry babe, we serve on social capital here, and I’m ‘fraid you ain’t got any.”

Harmony is inflicted by what feels like the longest, most singing “ooooooh” from the minions listening in around the coffee shop.

The music doesn’t stop. She takes a deep breath, gives a short nod to an understanding, courteous Bloise, and turns back to the barista. “I’m sure there’s something we can do… in the…”

“The what?

“The holiday spirit,” Harmony mumbles out.

The barista just stares at her for a few seconds, and responds with a shake of the head. “Okay, it may be Coffeemas, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to serve hussies without giving the person that orders the drink they deserve.”

Harmony almost falls onto the counter to tear the minion’s skull in-twine, but suppresses the urge successfully. She chokes on the response for a moment as only the acoustic guitarist continues playing.

You… you little. I thought minions weren’t even allowed to have coffee.”

“Yeah, that is what Order just told you, isn’t it?” the barista notes sassily, winning a snicker from one of the chef minions preparing a flatbread behind her. “Turns out the Head Roasters is pretty cool with coffee if it’s respecting people’s religious preferences and all that.”

Harmony inhales as if to question that further, but decides to drop it. She’ll never understand them. “Okay, so can you like,” Harmony stops to weigh her next words. “Give us some drinks?”

The barista stares her down with a look of holy superiority. “You may not care enough to learn about us, but I sure as hell know about you, Mae. I’ll give you what you deserve, you loser. Everyone becomes responsible for their actions upon accepting the mantle of adulthood,” she says, her squint sharpening. “Despite the body image your upbringing has given you, you could have fought against the habit that was instilled in you, practiced introspection to discover the mask that you called yourself, but you’ve owned it. You’ve made your body your master to gain the approval of people until they open the shell. You’re empty.

There’s a short, awkward pause, as even the guitarist stops his music.

Harmony clears her throat. “Uh… what?”

“Just look at you. You’re an embarrassment to The Knights, and that means something considering how horrible you all are. I figured Order was going to ask and I was going to serve her a bloody mary, but if it’s you…” the barista gains a grin so wide that the two can just barely see the corners of her jaws arching up. “Yeah, I’ll take your order.”

Harmony breaks into a cold sweat. What in the world is up with this one? She knows them only as a bunch of maniacs, but this one’s getting personal in a way that not even one of her fellow Knights would dare to… also, why the hell would she serve Order a bloody mary of all things?

She looms over the minion, irritated that she’s lost so much power of the situation. “Order wants a mocha,” she looks over to Bloise, who tips his hat to the minion with a smile. “A seven shot hazelnut red chocolate frappecinish with two pumps chocolate, one pump air syrup, and two pumps clover, if you please… uh, a magna, as well,” he prattles off.

The barista’s antennae flick positively. “Wonderful,” she says without even a speck of condescension. This pleasant shift ends immediately as she turns back to Harmony. “Okay, and you would like?” she asks with a certain, terrifying undercurrent to her voice.

The Knightess smiles nervously. “I’ll take a fireleaf frappe with nutmeg.”

“You would,” the barista minion says, writing down the last drink with a steady, superior nod.

Harmony knows she has to play it cool. She can’t just freak out and start beating the living infusia out of The High Overlord’s minions when she has this gentleman next to her; she, like him, is a mature, well-aged arch mage – at least, that’s what she has to be now that she knows he’s about her age and not some horny moron she can use to validate herself with.

The barista with an apron way too big for her writes one more line under their order and passes it back to one of the other mixologists. The meter high minion looks it over before looking down to his small co-worker.

“Uh… about number four.”

“Bring it out first. She deserves it,” she hisses.

“I’m pretty sure we’re not supposed to serve that… like, ever.

“She… deserves it.

The taller barista gains a nervous grin, glancing over to Harmony with a look of what she’s fairly certain is pity. “As… you say it. You are technically the shift manager for now,” he relents with a cough.

Harmony and the little barista share a short, displeased glance at one another, and then Harmony turns back to Bloise.

“Well, this… I guess I need to apologize,” she says, the music starting back up.

He waves his hand dismissively as he nods over to an open table. “Don’t worry about it. I know you Knights have had more than a few run ins with these folk.”

A wave of relief washes across her. The plush seat of the booth is made all the comfier with the thought that this gentleman isn’t taking it too hard. After all, he is an arch mage like herself, let alone one she hasn’t met, and she thought she’s met just about all of them.

“So, I presume you’re from… the Lower Academy?” Harmony asks, quickly attempting to recover her lost respect by going on the offensive.

Bloise grins. “I’m happy to say I don’t deal in that kind of thing. I know Keruz pays its people well, but I’m not for things like that. I’d rather enjoy the outside than be cooped up in some laboratory.”

She doesn’t know what to do with herself, so she just pensively clasps her hands together and leans on the table politely. She realizes only now just how long it’s been since she’s been in a casual public setting where her goal wasn’t to take someone home for the evening. In fact she feels completely out of place in her skin. It’s like they’re on a date: a horrible, embarrassing date that takes place in one of Chaos’ thousands of pocket dimensions.

“That’s fair, so then why haven’t we met?” She draws back with a speck of intrigue. “You’re not from The Eternum, are y-“

“Heavens, no!” Bloise says, taking off his huge wizard’s hat and placing it in his lap.

“Then where are you from? Don’t tell me you’re a subspacer. There’s simply no way someone like you would… you know-“

He nods. “I know. I’m not exactly what you’d call a subspacer, but that’s not too far from the truth.”

She’s pushed even more off guard. Is it possible that she’s found a diamond in the rough – someone her age that won’t dismiss her because of her reputation?

“So… wow. I mean… you have to understand I’d be a little surprised. People don’t usually… well, they don’t usually-“

“Look like me?” Bloise asks with a knowing smile.

She nods, her lips parting to reveal a sheepish smile. “Well, yes. I’d expect you to be named something like… Death Killer X Ultimate or something stupid like that-“

“With seventeen arms and an eight-foot fire spewing-

“Exactly!” she interrupts back.

The two share a chuckle.

“I see what you mean. But you must understand that subspace is a very big place, and that those kinds of cultural norms don’t persist through the whole thing. I’m with a society of mages on the run from The Librarium. We’re just a few old folks concerned with the condition of The Verses.”

Harmony nods with a raised brow. “Sounds serious. How old are we talking, here?”

He smiles and shrugs. “Mountain time.”

She smiles back, nods, and then stops flat.

Mountain time.

Mountain time.

“…Wait… wait.”

There’s a pause this time as the minions mostly disregard the two, ignorant to the sheer chill tearing up Harmony’s spine.

“You wouldn’t…” she clears her throat, which feels full all of a sudden. “You wouldn’t happen to be related to the… well,” she draws in. “The Society?

Bloise, sitting back into his booth with unbothered poise, delivers her a smouldering, wizened stare. “We’re not just related to them, Mae.”

Her hair stands on end as her eyes widen. Too late does she come to terms with who she’s sitting in front of when the short barista trots up with their order… and something else that is extremely questionable. 

“As deserved,” is all Barista Minion says before raising from the tray a full pint glass of what would best be described as the most suspicious volume of fluid witnessed by any of them, and moves to place it down.

The glass, filled luridly to the brim with a steaming, cloudy mixture of yogurt and air syrup, owns a viscosity and consistency that is unmistakable to both of the adults sitting at the table. It clops into the wood of the table, notifying everyone in the shop that it’s showtime.

Harmony is frozen in her seat as the small barista smugly steps back from the table, as if to protect the rest of their order. “Well?” she says, handing the multi-adjective drink to Bloise while keeping the other two on the tray.

“I… What is this?” Harmony asks, staring at the sticky mixture like the fires of hell itself, that is, if the fires of hell were something terribly indecent. Already there’s a mild stirring in the cafe as various minions shield their eyes, gasp in shock, or laugh at Harmony’s questionable turn of misfortune.

“I’m not giving you guys the rest of your order until you put it down. You wanted to impress your boyfriend here, didn’t you?”

Harmony’s hand trembles for the glass. It’s hot to the touch.

“I could kill you right now, you know,” Harmony mumbles out, her eyes locked on the steaming glass.

“Now, don’t you think this is a bit much?” Bloise asks before taking a sip of his own, wonderful coffee.

The barista jaunts at her feet. “It’s in the spirit of the holiday. The server should be someone that knows the person asking for an order, and prepare them the drink they deserve for a year’s worth of good work… but as you can imagine I’ve decided to put a spin on it,” she says before turning to Harmony. “You want your free coffee, don’t you? Drink it, hussy.”

“Yeah! Drink it!” Voyeurism Minion shouts from the back, trembling with his camera at the ready.

“No! Please don’t!” Herbalism Minion cries at the sight as a flushed Teacher Minion leads her class of younger minions out of the coffeeshop at a rushed pace.

“Do it, coward! You’re a Knight, aren’t you!?” Raid Minion challenges with a grin clamping onto his smoking pipe.

Harmony hears the jeers, cheers, encouragements and chastisements from all around her.

Is this really what people think of her? Is this “what she deserves”? Tears build up in her eyes. She won’t admit it, but it smells sweet, and would bet it tastes delicious, but the statement would be more than she could bear, she would be agreeing with them, agreeing with her actions over all these years.

She knows she’s not above this. In fact she’d happily down a sticky glass like this at a drinking party to impress “the boys”, but this just feels more like a challenge: a confirmation of who she is.

She muses on it, her hand slowly, surely raising the glass to her mouth.

Proud of herself, the barista steps back to her counter the moment a minion dressed up as a Blood-Night chest comes in from the ski slopes.

“So, how’d it go?” Barista Minion asks, taking off her costume.

The minion dressed up as a barista takes off her apron and hands it over to the proper shift manager. “It went well enough,” she says with a leading tone.

Barista Minion looks her over as she puts her apron on. “Uh, you okay?”

The short minion smiles. “Oh, I’m very okay.”

Barista Minion squints. “…Vendetta Minion… what did you do?

The very short, never forgiving Vendetta Minion just grins, leaving the real Barista Minion the moment to figure it out.

She looks around…

As Shorts Minion collapses on the ground in utter, fantastical shock at what he’s witnessing, Harmony raises the heavy glass slowly to her softening lips amidst a churning chorus of both “go go go!” and “no, no, no!

The second her lips feel the kiss of the steam, a tight grip rests the glass from her – Bloise’s taken the glass, the absolute madman.

“I’ll take care of this,” Bloise asks, taking the dive to down the glass of pure indecency much to the shock and thrill of everyone watching. A host of female minions squeal in confusion, and Fanfiction Minion’s eyes gain a spark of pure inspiration.

Barista Minion’s  eyes widen to full moon saucers as Harmony, not about to let the mage take the fall for her own inequity, swipes for the glass. The minion sprints forward to stop them, but one of them wins out and the fluid goes down – the gulping sound is indeterminately, indelibly etched into the memories of everyone witnessing the act.

V

Creeping through the dark halls of a strange house, Order hears a fever pitch scream, shout, and cheer from what sounds like dozens of voices far away. She pegs it as coming from the entry way to the coffee shop pocket. Her mind doesn’t leave the task at hand long, but when it does, it correctly accuses her side-Knight as the cause of the disturbance.

She only puffs out a breath of silent air in recognition, and keeps on through the looming, grayscale halls.

Order can’t for the life of her guess what kind of holiday this one is supposed to represent, perhaps it’s an off-limits area, or one the organizers didn’t build up in time for the contest. Avoiding the question, she crawls silent along the ceiling, her gaze turned toward the floor. She’s not expecting anything strange, and that’s her own mistake.

Despite her many years against The High Overlord’s hand, it’s not often she gets to explore his domain outside of his gaze. Even now she’s privy to that – expecting him to swing in at any moment to destroy or confuse.

The matter is, despite his great mind when it’s alert, it rarely is. Truth be told, he’s entirely focused on the activities where most of his charge are, partying away in gleeful competition. He hasn’t even looked with his myriad devices to the corner she’s in now.

A minute of perfect, dreadful silence passes as she herself passes through the halls.There’s a weighty silence common for manufactured dimensions. It sets in on anyone who’ve been raised in real dimensions. It’s like someone who’s  lived outside their whole life being closed into a small room – it feels claustrophobic. Despite the design of the house seeming more or less the usual and a faithful recreation of something one might find in normal space, it still owns that  heart-wracking closeness that strikes the nerves when one knows that they’re surrounded by actual dimensional nothingness – not even space: simply tight, suffocating nothing.

Order got caught in a collapse in her early days of dimensionomancy. Of course, she was already nearly two thousand years old by that point, confident, and under the impression she had already seen everything. She had met, fought, killed, tasted, smelled just about everyone and everything when eyes were turned the other way, but even with the precautions she set in place, she couldn’t follow the flow quickly enough, and she felt the universe seal her in the very moment a sealing slip, used for just such a purpose, floated perfectly between herself and the exit. For some time, Order existed in a realm that was exactly her size and nothing more. She could feel the exit, but she couldn’t move from the rough confines of the pocket dimension, collapsed entirely with the exception of her and the little slip. A normal person would have been crushed instantly, squished out and spread along the sealing slip like a fine paste, but she was set there, locked for seven hours without air. Her inhuman constitution could handle it, in fact she could handle it for seven days if she needed to, but the stress, the utter lack of feeling other than the filling, sealing, suffocating dark, and the exit mocking her just atoms away: that was something hideous. She could feel the lack of space entering the gaps between her cells, the space in her lungs.

It wasn’t until Redemption found the tiny, pin-prick opening in Order’s study that a team of dimensionomancers were deployed to recover her body. No one, not even Rayda expected her to be alive, but there she was, plucked out with a fatal, gray look in her eyes. It takes an impeccably calm mind to channel air into one’s bloodstream that long, but what the rest didn’t know was that she didn’t need air in the first place. Like much in her life it is only her desire to appear as though she needs it that drives her to do such things.

Fake, is how she feels at certain, quiet times, not unlike this realm she’s in.

With a healthy respect for what she’s about to do, Order reaches another door, an old-styled but quite new Reinish glass style. She sighs at the gaudy, yet open features of the black and gold-painted wood.

Order’s senses are keen. She can feel something is near. Reflexively she reaches to her waist for the comfort of either of her legendary weapons, but neither are there. She cycles a slow breath, and reaches for the door. It opens, revealing a storeroom, filled inexplicably with beer and various sweets.

Her features sharpen, and she creeps into the low candlelight of the store room. She locks the door behind her, and takes a look around. She can feel the dimensional seal’s in here, but the question now is where it is, and what form it is in.

She begins looking through barrels of ale, whole wheels of cheese, and other delicacies before focusing in on a small cup of tea in the back. How very like Chaos to put something he views as pure as the standout among a den of drink and revelry.

Order takes the mug, probably formed and glazed by the hands of The High Overlord himself, and wonders for only a moment if he made this so carefully and lovingly with the understanding that it would have to be destroyed in order to break its seal. Like all the other seals of his she’s found, it’s completely defenseless, but it’s also rather precious, which is perhaps the greatest defense against creatures like him. The steaming tea, she smells, is unmistakably a mild white: her favorite variety these days – he knew it would be her to be here, and that’s only fair considering he knew who he would be kidnapping.

With a gentle appreciation for his manners, she crushes the little mug in her hands, spilling the fragrant tea across her hands and forearms.

Immediately she feels the universe shift around her, the air itself struck and killed by the dimensional lifeline pulled from its very being.

Something’s wrong, however.

The dimensional seal from the crushed mug hovers where she broke it, dissipating like it should, but gray and slow, like a lingering nightmare in the air.

Her brow raises at the sight, the amount of mana used to construct this dimension must be positively massive.

“Well, you don’t see that every day,” she mutters both to herself and to Chaos, should he be listening. “Just how many holidays are you having today?”

Then, she feels “it” again: the presence. It has the flavor of Chaos, but not the core – it’s someone else, and it’s right behind the door to the storeroom.

She sighs, and looks over to the door’s perfectly round window. What she sees surprises her.

Staring out the side is a massive, glowing horse skull, its white eyes piercing at her with incomprehensible intent.

Order doesn’t flinch, but her alteration pathways open up, allowing for immediate, critical bursts of speed and strength; a high compliment to something she’s never met.

“Good day,” Order starts, rejecting the obvious nighttime appearance of the dimension and continuing by her own time.

There’s an eerie pause, and then the skull begins bouncing, as if the massive body attached to it were dancing a jig. Then, with one of the most spine-curling voices she’s heard in all her years, it starts in rhyme.

“From window to window traversing the night, my face in your glass a’shudder in light. I wait in cold from stable so bare, pray let in this thirsty mare.”

“Get lost,” Order snips through the door.

The skull-bearing giant takes this cue to reach for the door, and begin opening it slowly, as if expecting another answer.

Order’s eyebrow raises slowly too, like a weapon being drawn for its own sake. She clears her throat and places her hand on the handle to pull it back.

“Nay, begone, rotten steed, for you in this house I have no need,” she rhymes in turn, closing the door back into its latch.

The door pulls back a slight as horse’s next rhyme emits from the opening.

“To have me there would be no bother, pray help some ale this downtrodd brother.”

Order emits a sharp “tsk”. “That’s not even a real rhy-“

She stops herself the moment the door starts opening once again. It looks like the rules are decided by the visitor, with no say in her side of things.

Order takes a deep breath, and continues on with her next rhyme.

VI

A flushed pair of humans sit awkwardly, but calmly in a cafe full of embarrassed, frozen, laughing, or otherwise shocked minions. They’ve all been staring at them from over shoulders and from glances at the side for a few minutes now, as neither of them have spoken a word since the glass was downed. They’re both just gently sipping their coffee, Order’s mocha sitting with its lid on neatly to the side.

Finally, Barista Minion, the real one, trots over, a serving tray clung to her chest.

“Erm, so, if it’s quite alright, I wanted to apologize. I headed up Coffee Mass because I thought people would play by the rules. You’re only supposed to serve drinks based on the good you see in people, and I really, really hope this doesn’t hurt my score, because I think everyone who comes in here gets to rate it, thanks… sorry. I know Vendetta Minion went completely overboard with that. That didn’t reflect the holiday spirit and I need your forgiveness. If the Roastmaster finds out that… I mean I… I don’t know how to really explain that to him, and I know he hates Knights, but that was essentially an entire glass of-“

Bloise clears his throat. “It tasted perfectly fine, thank you,” he says, the first thing out of his mouth since “the downing” and winning an explicit reaction from most of the minions in the coffee shop: mostly negative, but a few more than a little enchanted by his words.

Of course, Minions of the High Overlord and very intimate adult things go together about as well as a running woodsaw and your fingers: no matter how curious you get, you only need to try it once to realize it’s just no fun at all. That said, them having a curious fascination with it isn’t unheard of, just very, very looked down upon by the High Overlord, who firmly believes that filial love should overwhelm all lower forms of being, from hunger to sex.

Now, we could have the scene at the end, taking place about an hour from this point, where he takes Vendetta Minion personally to the Minion Wagon for demanding something as profane and indecent as having someone down a glass full of suspicious white fluid, but that scene doesn’t happen, because he forgets about the whole thing, and requests to try a glass for himself – I can assure you the latter half of this day is not well regarded among the Minionry, with the exception of Fanfiction Minion, who’s just extremely into those kinds of things, and Shorts Minion, who mentally blanked out the entire day with the exception of the part where Harmony had the glass.

This colorful sidebar about topics we shouldn’t even discuss pushed aside, Barista Minion flinches back upon hearing such a positive comment from the mage.

“I… I uh…” she stumbles over her words, cheeks flushed like a horizon. “You really shouldn’t play it down I’m afraid I really insulted y-“

“Not at all,” Harmony says, sitting casually, though with her fingers affixed firmly together, resting on her stomach. “I was wrong, and I will admit the balance of sugar was welcome with such a unique texture. I’d even say it was delicious.” she exchanges a sly, good-humored, entirely shameless glance to Bloise, who nods in affirmation. He turns back to the barista.

“We’re not here to start fights, miss. It really warmed the spirits. We appreciate the appetize-“

“You guys are GROOOOOOOOSSSSS-

“Please STOP! StooooOOOP!” Shout two minions from separate parts of the cafe.

Bloise shrugs, and takes up Order’s mocha. “I suppose we best be on our way, then,” he says with a curt smile.

Harmony rises up to her feet and starts out for the door Order had taken just minutes earlier. “Take care, everyone. Thank you for your hospitality,” she says, nodding gently before sparing a single, superior glance to Vendetta Minion, who is staring savagely at her from over in the “Dumb Idiot Barista” corner, which was invented very recently by the actual Barista Minion to deal exclusively with minions that rhyme with the weapon manufacturer Beretta.

Don’t go too hard on Vendetta Minion; the thing Harmony did to her a few years ago to give her a vendetta in the first place was way worse.

No, I’m not going to tell you about it.

The two pass through, receiving a short goodbye from a few of the better humored minions, Raid Minion giving an especially impressed nod to the both of them. Sure, he’s far more interested in tearing the heads off people and extinguishing their bloodlines, but he can recognize displays of grit when he sees it.

Bloise leads Harmony through like a gentleman, who in turn closes the door behind her.

The two get a little distance down the darkened gray halls, and then Harmony clears her throat.

“Wow.”

“Yeah, that was pretty bad.”

“That was unbelievably sweet,” she says, wiping the corners of her mouth.

“Not at all like the real thing,”  he says with a chuckle, which wins a short elbow from Harmony.

“You sound like you’re speaking from experience,” she returns with a laugh, still moving down the hall with a pleasant gait.

He grins. “You get curious at least once,” he says, winning a laugh from his partner, a bond of solidarity formed from sheer nerve.

“I can’t believe I just drank jizz smoothie with a Society Member,” she says, turning away with the makings of tears in her eyes, though she’s sure none will come out now that the damage has been done and she didn’t back down. “Th-… thank you.”

“For what, exactly?” Bloise asks.

“For… for making that less awkward. I was about to tackle that little asshole and force her to drink it.”

“Chaos definitely wouldn’t have liked that.”

She nods abruptly. “Yup. You probably saved my life. Thank you.”

“I mean I only got like a single sip in,” he notes, the environment around them gaining an eerie closeness to it.

Her brows raise shamelessly. “Sorry, but you can leave it to the professiona-“

“Oh, stop!” he spits with a tap.

The two stop a moment, and turn toward one another.

“Huh,” she mutters with a smile.

“What?”

“I didn’t notice before. You’re just a little taller than me.”

“I hope you don’t… mind?”

“No, I mean, it’s great. I don’t meet many men taller than me.”

“Well, Chaos is pretty ta-“

She raises her hand to stop with a stupid grin. “Please don’t bring him up. It’s a really bad joke.”

“Oh? I thought you actually had a thing for him.”

“I have a thing for everyone, dude. I don’t get how people can keep their thoughts in line with it all. That minion was a little cunt… but she was right. I’m a… I’m a complete-“

“You have to make that decision every day, you know,” Bloise notes.

“And I’m proud of it!” she exclaims with a grin and a direct, challenging gaze.

There’s a short pause as Bloise’s brow slowly raises.

Harmony feels an unbearable weight in her chest all of a sudden, and she knows why – the only matter is that she tends to only feel this way when she’s alone.

“I’m…” she reaches an arm across her chest to rub the clasp of the other. “I wish I wasn’t like this.”

Bloise doesn’t say anything, but it’s clear that he’s listening.

“I…” she sighs. “I know all of the Millennium Knights, and any Longevai for that matter have troubles with… recurring vices. You either keep your head together and blow off steam somehow, or you wind up like Justice and you’re just… crutched in the head, or… or…” She closes her eyes, and the tears, miraculously are there when she opens them again. “Forbearance.

Bloise’s eyes widen, mirroring her emotions.

“He was… everyone relied on him… ‘Rayda the Second’, you know… ha.

There’s another pause. The wizard standing in front of her is too wise to offer advice to someone who’s struggled in the same loop of reasoning for thousands of years.

Harmony takes a few breaths, and she shakes her head. “And he just killed himself like that. When that happened… we all knew that’s where we would end up, but he surprised us all, I guess. Redemption was about to hand command to him, and… no one knew why... I admire Chaos, you know. I don’t just want to fuck him – not that I’d get out of that alive, presuming it would ever happen, which it wouldn’t,” she emits a sound between a whimper and a laugh. “Ranalie doesn’t get it. She’s just as bad… She’s…” it’s there that she stops herself. The Impaler of Dragons and Rayda’s Own Lance begins trembling with dejection, confusion, and a reason that is found wanting against the real pain of life.

Bloise offers his hand, and she takes it. He leans in. She immediately raises to meet his lips, but he folds her head over his shoulder in a considerate, warm embrace bypassing the kiss to strike deeper into the heart.

“I have waited… longer than evem I can imagine, to have a conversation like this with you Knights,” he says.

She can’t believe she met this guy an hour ago and she’s already genuinely fallen for him. She rubs her nose into his neck.

“Then why has it taken you so long?”

He takes a deep breath. She can feel the rising of his chest, muscular under his nerdy magic garb, pressing into her breasts. “We… in The Magician’s Society, have a bit of a rule. We’re not to reveal ourselves, but I don’t know if you would have opened up to anyone else. We are only to identify ourselves in what we consider to be an emergency, and I don’t think you really have anyone to talk to, do you?”

Harmony nuzzles into him. He’s right. She’d never share anything with Order or Justice. Law, Space, and Bravery are borderline insane these days. Sorts like Memory are nowhere to be found. Even those closest to her, Sensitivity and Longevity, both are too close to her in that way to even try to make a legitimate connection with them. Everyone else she can think of: dead. Regular people wouldn’t help – they cannot relate. Not even fairies in Leifland would comprehend the ongoing, seemingly endless plight of The Knights as they’re slowly, carelessly stamped out by Time’s unstoppable march.

It feels most times like everyone’s against her, but to know that, not only is The Society real, but someone there cares specifically for her – it’s a rare feeling, and one that is very special.

Thank you,” she whispers.

He tightens his hug. “I’m afraid I can’t meddle in affairs often, but I know this will work out for the best that I’m here…” he clears his throat. “Besides… I was kidnapped just like you.”

Harmony pulls away, the emotion of the moment cut with surprise. “But… aren’t Society mages supposed to be the greatest in the omniverse?”

Bloise looks away with an awkward smile. “I mean, they do also say that the Royal Knights are an eternal foundation of immortal god-Knights in service to humanity against dragons until the end of time. They also say you guys down drink stuff like we just did.”

She scoffs, a genuine smile back on her face. “I… Yeah okay, man.” She draws back just a second, but tags in just a flutter to give him a quick, soft peck on the cheek.

He feels his cheek and smiles back sheepishly – Harmony immediately feels purified by it, somehow.

“You really are cute,” she admits.

He smiles. “I know,” he responds, winning a sharp, playful nudge from The Knight.

Suddenly, a fluctuation hits them. A tender moment is cut short as Harmony’s adrenaline switches on.

“Did you feel that?” she asks.

“Yeah,” Bloise notes. “The coercion in the realm just took a dive.”

Then, a long, well-hidden set of thousands of loudspeakers, cleverly disguised as environmental objects, all ping to life. The voice of Trap Minion calls out

“Looks like someone hit the seal. Technically it was only eight hours and twenty four minutes prep time, but better now than never… see ya, losers!”

Immediately the air glints with a truly nefarious vibe, as if the entire dimension suddenly wanted to murder them into a million trap-activated pieces.

“The mana signature around here’s getting weird,” Bloise notes.

She nods and engages her enchantments to view the world through magic. “Huh, you don’t have a signature,” Harmony notes, her own, very impressive signature blazing brightly like a star in an arcane darkness.

Bloise grins. “I suppose I may as well. What color is the air around us?”

She glances one other spot to confirm her assumptions. “Orange.”

There’s a pause as the two stare one another down. She’s overcome with confusion as to why he would ask something so obvious – the mana profile in the air is orange. And then it hits her. The immediate warmth she felt toward him, the connection. She felt this way so strongly because they’re overlapped by his mana signature. They’re standing inside the presence of his spirit.

“Can you guess what color my signature i-“

No way,” Harmony mutters in abject awe. “That’s… bigger than Chaos!”

“Oh my, don’t tell him he’ll feel insecure,” Bloise jests back. “In his defense, his in compressed into his ether. The reality is that he probably has more mana than anyone currently alive in our plane of existence,” he says, restarting their trek down the hall.

Several traps activated from that single step, but it’s like the essence of luck itself is on their side. Harmony crossed Trap Minion’s path once, and she learned well from the amount of bondage twists he placed on her that he’s a magician in his own right when it comes to killing people from far away.

“I’d hate to see what he can do with ten hours prep time,”  Bloise notes offhand as Harmony pushes out a gentle hum.

“So… Bloise, sir: what kind of magician are you, anyway?”

He hums back, arrows, buzzsaws, even pianos and safes missing the two of them by inches each time. “Oh, I consider myself a bit of a lifelong learner. Magic speaks in a different voice every day, I personally find.”

“Oh?” is all she can put out as they approach what seems to be a massive cloaked figure. The light shining out of a long door window cuts the silhouette of a hideous horse creature: it’s cloak a massive bear-sized shroud, but the skull is undoubtedly equine.

“Looks like we’ve found ourselves in the… what was that holiday called again?”

“Halloween?” Bloise presents, receiving a confirming snap from Harmony’s fingers.

“That’s it,” she agrees before stepping to the side of the massive horse thing. Just as she pulls in breath to speak, another breath comes from the other side of the door.

“Few excuses have I to delay your passing, and admittedly your rhymes are of the… outclassing,” a voice sounding much like Order’s emits from the crack in the door.

The horse thing budges to open it, met with only a partial resistance. “So here we end our bout of word, now I come enjoy my reward,” the horse says with a blood-curdlingly faint voice.

The person on the other side sighs, and allows the horse to push in. Harmony swings around the side to peek, her brow raising immediately at the sight of who it is.

Ran’?

“Mae,” Order greets bluntly, allowing the creepy horse thing to pass by her as Bloise hands her the still-hot mocha. “Thank you.”

“Think nothing of it… A rhyming contest, then?” Bloise asks, glancing into the storeroom with a smirk to watch the massive cloaked thing feast on the smorgasbord of pastries and ales nooked naughtily into the various crannies about the storeroom.

The three ancients watch the horse spirit fake a few bites and gulps per item, eating none of it but ruining all.

Bloise watches a rich-smelling volcano cake plop to the ground after being smeared across the horse’s skull. “Kind of a… waste, don’t you think? And what would the poor horse think about all this?”

“Bones do not feel, the dead were only temporary owners of their bodies. The cosmos owns all,” the horse says, a stream of ale drizzling down its chin.

Order scoffs; a rare, humored smile crossing her face. “Ah, so we stop rhyming now?”

The horse turns its head, its eyes a black void within the sockets. “She told me that was all I had to do, then I walk in and eat everything before I leave.”

Harmony gains a slant expression. “Who?”

A massive explosion rocks the storeroom.

“What was that?” Bloise exclaims the very moment a microphone screech overtakes the dimension.

“Gi-hey what’s the matt-” a few sounds of struggling cut off Trap Minion’s characteristically creepy voice, immediately followed by the strained tone of a pipsqueak.

“That voice… it’s familiar,” Harmony notes with a squint.

“Even if you’re dead set on ruining all the other holidays,” the short tone breathes out like wind into a firestorm, “I’m going to VALIDATE THE ONLY HOLIDAY I CAN! The integrity of the data MUST. BE. PRESERVED!

At the edge of Test Minion’s words over the speakers, an engrossing chain of explosions pour through the buildings, halls, rooms and openings of the great interconnected dimensional landscape. Traps meant for the “final escape scene” spring instantly, flooding every inch of the place with knives, arrows, spears, and all sorts of dangerous here-and-there.

Harmony and Order aren’t threatened by something as trivial as impact explosives and shrapnel, but their enchantments and solid-body alterations are not needed. Uncannily, the trapmaker’s art fails at every toss and blast, missing the group dozens, and then hundreds of times with an uncanny closeness that borders on the comical.

While the explosions rage on around the four, Order raises a brow at all of this, her eyes flushing to an unnerved orange. She takes a single glance at the gentleman with a friendly, if tired smile, and immediately looks up and around them, noting the quality of the air.

“Who… did you say you were, again?” she asks, the surrounding explosions rapidly speeding up the dimension’s collapse.

Bloise puts his bands into his coat’s big pockets before answering only with a nod. He shares a short glance with Harmony, who immediately flinches at the energy of his gaze: he just told her something with that look, and she thinks she understands what it is.

“A traveling illusionist, of course. The traps here aren’t real, I’m just trying really hard to impress you.”

Order’s expression is bland, but there’s a bit in her that retains the humor from earlier. “Got it,” is all she says. Of course, she doesn’t really get it. She’s sure this pointy-nosed gentleman knows more than he’s letting on, but he’s damn good at hiding the specifics.

The three travel off as the massive horse waves goodbye with a huge, outman-like claw. “You have been visited by the displaced mare,” it says as they calmly walk back down the hall.

Order gives a curt glance back as Bloise waves back warmly. Harmony just ignores it as they near the entrance to the little cafe dimension.

“So uh, a horse, then?” Harmony asks, taking a gulp of her well-won coffee.

The swordmastress finishes a long sip of her own drink. “Yeah, no clue what sort of holiday that would be.”

“I think I heard about it once,” Bloise chimes in with a calm, well-traveled smile, “But I can’t quite place the name.”

“Well maybe we can ask Chaos,” Order notes with a sigh as they step into the half-exploded coffeeshop, now abustle with minions scrambling to and fro to dodge swift traps, running the gamut of deadly to obscene. “I’m sure he’ll want to lecture me for ruining his nice dimension.”

Harmony clears her throat, gaining a quick smile seeing Vendetta Minion bound, gagged, and blinded, hanging upside down by a solid cord as a tank of ravenous sharks springs up from the floor beneath the furious minionette. “That uh… a normal occurrence for you, Ran?”

Order winces. She did just offhandedly imply that the two of them don’t always fight massive, bloody battles battles any time they meet.

“Of course not,” she denies, hiding her expression by pushing forward into the snowscape out the other door.

It’s just as bad here, with a massive Christmas tree rolling down the hill bowling over an assortment of caroling minions.

“I mean, he’s crazy, but I don’t think he’d be that crazy,” Harmony says. “I know I don’t get to see him every century like you do, but I’d imagine I’d know that much at least,” she adds while the very fabric of reality begins wearing down and widening around them.

Order smiles to herself; if only Harmony knew.

“Right, that’s called sarcasm. I figured you, being the worldly one, would-“

“Alright alright. Look, that one’s opening up. I think we’ll get to talk to your boyfriend pretty soon,” the hoplite says with a smile.

The rift in the dimensional fabric she pointed out is intersecting their trail, and now that the realm’s degraded to the level of an impressionist painting, it’s becoming difficult to see anything clearly that isn’t the rift.

The vacuous, kaleidoscopic mass that will invariably lead to the set entry point of the dimension is widening; dancing  and unifying greater and greater lengths of the area like a black hole of pure color.

“So, guess we’re fucked, huh?” Harmony asks, finally arriving at the principal question.

Order’s says nothing as the rift increases in size by meters at a time.

Tossing her head back, Harmony finishes her drink and releases an enthused, liberated ‘Ah!’ before speaking. “Well, now I guess I get to see if all those rumors are true, eh?”

“He’d just kill you,” Order says with a bland tone, the air itself smearing into the void as the voices of explosions and screaming minions distort in the background.

Harmony laughs good-naturedly. “Oh? Do you know this from experience? Have you tried?” she asks, a massive tidalwave of minions and holiday-decorum compressing around them to the point of the primary tear.

Orders eyes dull out with a bleak gray and a hint of crimson just as the rift overtakes them. While the rifts grow only about 1 percent relative to its total size per second, this rift is now large enough to make that speed a falcon’s dive.

The trio flash through the blood of the universe the very moment they feel the impact of everyone and everything in the realm press into them.

It gets a little cramped.

VII

In Central Tower’s massive center courtyard, tens of thousands of people and things spill out through a rift.

Chaos, enjoying a cup of breakfast tea with cream upon one of his many thrones, watches with bemused interest as the combined effort of The Minionry is spewed across his nice tan bricks.

Order, Bloise, and Harmony are coming the first out, but considering almost everything collapses at the same time, that’s not a significant head start.

The Interminable Lord and Master of all Gardeners leans back and steeples his fingers together as the crying, screaming, cheering, cussing mass of them all attempt to gain their bearings.

Order is already on her feet, proving to be an unmovable obstacle the very second she deems to be. If asked, Chaos would readily admit there’s something striking about a torrent of his minions splattering and flying all which-ways as they’re shot from the portal and into Order as if she’s a boulder in a river.

Bloise is more water-like than even the minions, slipping past the hundreds of debris and bystanders to softly, keenly land a few dozen meters to the side. As always he looks unbothered, in his element, and flourishing.

Harmony, the poor lass, tumbles out in a pile of other minions, with Shorts Minion of all people the one with his head firmly planting in between her chest. She groans from the discomfort in being tossed about at that speed, but for Shorts Minion, this is his moment.

Argh! What the hell! Dimensional travel is… h-get off me!” she shouts, finally noticing the bliss-struck Minion nestling into her with a look of pure bliss. She peels the limpling off her and tosses him aside.

“Thank you, my lady!” he squeals before landing in a pile of garbage nearby.

It takes a few seconds, but after that everyone is more-or-less back to their wits. The dimensional rift tightens to a smaller and smaller point, spitting out the very last entrant, Test Minion.

“Ahh, there’s our little troublemaker,” Chaos says with a grin. “Seize him.”

Test Minion heaves in air the moment Cut Minion’s katana and Duel Minion’s rapier are locked around his neck.

“I HAD TO DO IT! THE INTEGRITY OF THE DA-“

Test Minion halts his words instantly at the sight of Chaos rising from his chair – even he knows better than to talk above The High Overlord.

“That was a naughty thing you did. Your role was to be a bystander, to enjoy the holidays, not to ensure they lasted the ‘sufficient’ length of time,” Chaos says with a considerate nod and an intelligent tone.

Order crosses her arms in wait as Harmony’s jaw drops. She simply cannot believe that he’s ignoring not one, but two Reinish Knights standing in his court. The feeling of crawling insecurity, her oldest nemesis, cuts deep once more, but this time it’s not about her looks, but her quality as a life form itself. To him, she’s not even worth looking at.

Chaos saunters over with his tea swishing about his cup. Without a drop spilled, he takes another sip before continuing his thoughts:

“You are the best at being tested, that goes without saying. After all, it is your name,” Chaos says, accompanied by a quick cough from Naming Minion, who, if he had the bravery to speak up, would remind Chaos that Test Minion only got the name out of a hat draw. His proper title in Naming Minion’s opinion should be “Process Obsession Minion”, but Naming Minion is also outstandingly lazy, so he’s not going to submit an update anytime soon.

Test Minion stands bravely at attention, only his eyes reflecting back a glint of defiance.

“That said, I would like you to keep on track in your lane, okay? I know you were simply doing your best, but this time I think when the rules aren’t clear it would be finer to just ask me next time, hmm?”

Test Minion nods vigorously, his expression shifting immediately from resolute to apologetic.

Chaos spreads his arms, the two guard minions taking the cue to raise their weapons. “Now then!” Chaos exclaims.

Test Minion leaps into Chaos’ arms with a sob, and they embrace.

“I was SO SCARED THEY WERE GONNA RUIN THE TEST!” Test Minion cries as he buries his face into The World Destroyer’s broad chest.

Chaos grins, stands up, and starts back to his throne. “There there. I understand this can be a bit frightening, but that’s simply because we’re doing something entirely new. New things can be scary sometimes, but once we do them we’ll open the door to newer and better things. We have to be strong to make the best of everything, even holidays, you understand!”

Test Minion, nestling into The Great Humiliator’s grip, releases a grin of pure admiration. “Of… of course! Thank you, sir!” he says with a grateful squeak.

“Always for you,” Chaos says, stroking Test Minion’s around the base of the antennae with his forefinger before looking back up to the rest. “I believe this has been a success despite all the unexpected excitement. Perhaps that could be my holiday, hmm? Where unexpected things happen all day? Very Chaosy, I’d like to think, mmm?”

There’s an awkward swell of laughter from the minions the very second a familiar face leaps up from the crowd.

Captain Yolun Zainatsi, who has been laying low all this time, finally emerges from cover to point his rifle at The Overlord. He pulls the trigger, and instantly his anti-magic gauges are overloaded, leading to an instant, gruesome explosion.

The minions around the now very-dead operator all cheer as they look over to a grinning Chaos. He himself has no idea what he did, or who the heck the operator was, but his organs looked kind of like confetti, and everyone was cheering, so he’s sure it was a good thing.

“Wonderful!” Chaos exclaims, an exasperated Magic Minion lowering her staff with a sigh.

“Sir, he was trying to kill you,” she says, walking up from the side.

Chaos laughs along with the cheering minions, a few of them forming a square dance in the O.E.L. operator’s exploded corpse.

“Well… he didn’t!” Chaos says with another laugh, completely bypassing the context of the situation.

Harmony just stares on in abject disbelief as another guffaw rises through the crowd of thousands of minions.

She doesn’t even understand what’s going on right now. That dude just exploded from a speed-cast and they’re just acting like this is totally typical, and yet the rest of the picture doesn’t make sense to her.

Where’s the massive halls of bodies, or the miles-long torture gamuts. She expected to at least feel a little threatened for her purity seeing The High Overlord after all this time. She won’t say she’s disappointed (she is) but she figured there would at least be a passing chance Chaos would be brutally, violently humiliating the two Knights in some sexual fashion right now, but he really, actually is like Order described him.

He’s just weird.

Harmony’s head creaks over to look to Order, who just gives an affirming nod – the entire sub-culture painting Chaos as some depraved maniac is only partially true. Humans love throwing all sorts of extra nastiness into things they don’t understand; after all it makes it all easier to hate without feeling bad about it.

All at once, the Knight realizes she’s been victim to this cultural mask painted over The High Overlord for all these years. Yes, blood and death, but no, it’s square-dances and holiday parties instead of the more typical overlord-expected pastimes of heathenry and sodomy.

“Oh dear, this has certainly been a holiday-competition worth remembering! I wish we could do this every year!” Chaos exclaims as Test Minion pops up to sit in his lap.

Everyone cheers, completely beside themselves with joy, with only a few disappointed with how their assigned holidays had panned out.

“Score Minion!” Chaos calls out.

From the rafters of a nearby feast lodge, Score Minion leaps with a speedily-tallying list of hundreds of holidays scrolled up under her arm.

“Gamemaster, sir!” she says with a sharp salute.

Chaos addresses her back with an excited gaze. “Have the scores been set?”

“They have, Gamemaster, sir!” she snaps back with peppy refrain, her heels pulsing her up with each syllable.

“Let us have it then. No more dawdling. The time has arrived. Let us hear the winner!”

With dramatic poise she breaks the seal on her scroll, an enchanted light cutting through the air like a lightning strike. “Gamemaster, behold the name of the winning holiday, the one that achieved the highest percentage of holiday-required objectives relative to its total list, counter balanced against the amount of ‘holiday spiritedness’ detected in the participants!”

She flips the scroll over for Chaos to inspect it more closely.

A heart-stopping grin crosses his face the same time Trap Minion, standing creepily in the shadows near the back of the crowd, proudly crosses his arms.

“The winner of the first annual holiday-off,” Chaos starts with a wide grin. “Mari Lwyd!” he shouts, pointing out someone at the back of the crowd that is not Trap Minion.

Everyone looks back to see the massive cloaked horse skeleton flinch in surprise, just as Magic Minion, on the other side of the crowd, drops her staff in utter shock.

“Wh-what the utter fuck?!” Magic Minion shouts.

“This was preordained,” the horse says, a pair of large hands reaching up to pull off and reveal the face of Outminion.

Chaos nods. “Perhaps it was! You did an outstanding job… uh doing… doing…” Just as Chaos leans over to ask Score Minion just what in the world Outminion did in the first place, she pulls out from the list an enchanted screen, showing playbacks for everyone’s holidays.

From the playback in the scroll, Order can faintly hear rhyming, and then she can hear a returned rhyme in her own voice. Chaos is watching a replay of her stupid rhyme off with Outminion, and he couldn’t be happier. Almost nothing gets her, but this is a special kind of pain.

Chaos laughs before looking up from the scroll and addressing Outminion with an enormous grin, the ether stretching to the very tips of his face.

“You certainly showed her, didn’t you?” Chaos asks admits a cheer from the minions, the vast majority of which having no clue what he’s talking about.

Order purses her lips and looks aside. She always tells herself she can’t be embarrassed by this kind of petty silliness anymore, and once again she’s reminded that Chaos always finds a way to put her in the dumbest situations imaginable.

“I would… appreciate you not sharing that,” Order finally speaks up. She wouldn’t say that to just anyone. After all, if someone knew she cared they could use the recording against her, but she knows Chaos tends to be too gentle, or perhaps better said too extreme for such methods.

Chaos nods with a grin. “Never! We’re only using these for scoring and… hrm, private entertainment, mind you!” he says, his voice haloed once again by an overwhelming cheer and guffaw from the surrounding Minionry. “You have my word I won’t be spreading any of this to the outside my dear… er… Rana-… hrm, Meeo-

Order,” a disappointed Magic Minion mumbles between her angular jaws. “Lord Knight Captain Order of the R.K.O.K.R.,” she adds.

There’s a silence in Central Tower as a look of realization crosses The Overlord’s face like clouds over a field.

Harmony flinches. He must have simply been having one of his episodes: now is the part the two of them are brought low and destroyed for his cruel enjoyment – after all, they are his nemeses, and they are totally unarmed.

She sighs with anticipation as Chaos leans forward from his chair. She has to admit she didn’t expect she would be dying next to Order, being her least favorite in their complete shitshow of a Knighthood, but she will say it’s going to be cool to see Order’s last fight, however short it will be.

Harmony takes one final breath as The Overlord expression sharpens, his full-moon eyes squinting with an eerie focus. She can undoubtedly feel the murderous intent rising up all around her. She’s lived a good life in retrospect, and this is as good a way to go as any – especially if The Overlord decides to take her out the one way she spends most of her time.

Her heart skips a beat just as Chaos’ grin returns again.

Who?” he asks.

The crowd groans and laughs.

“That’s our pop,” says one minion.

“The High Overlord sure knows how to lead a room,” says another.

“Guess it’s just another one of his episodes,” says a third.

Almost everyone laughs it off.

Harmony looks over to Order once again, this time without even an ounce of pretension, and Order returns it with full frankness.

Finally, a connection is remade. Harmony peeks past the eldritch veil of human experience and sees, just for a moment, the unbelievable and constant bullshit Order has to put up with.

“He’s… not going to kill us, is he?” Harmony asks as Magic Minion runs over to shout at Outminion.

“Correct,” Order answers back, as Outminion completely misinterprets the message and hugs the furious Magic Minion.

“Is he…”

“Yeah,” Order says over Harmony. “I’ve lost count the amount of times he could have killed me, and it just turned out to be a prank.”

“…By his beard,” Harmony sighs, “Ran, that’s so… stupid.

“I know,” Order agrees in a dull tone as Outminion is lifted up by a crowd of minions to be given a medal, a basket of fruit, and several gift cards to the really fancy minion stores.

“That explains…” Harmony takes a breath, watching the action from the side. “Quite a lot, actually. No wonder you’re so tired… and can’t get close to people. You suck at your job!”

Order’s brows raise, her mind preparing for another duel of words.

“…Just like… we all do,” Harmony adds with a deflated tone.

The snow-white eyebrows lower back down, realizing that this is simply Harmony’s way of apologizing.

“You… you run The Knights, and those times you disappear. It’s stuff like this, isn’t it?”

Order nods.

“And you can’t tell anyone, because… yeah, got it,” Harmony notes, nodding to herself as well. It’s all coming together for her, though the real truth is still a few large steps away: steps she’s not yet ready to take. “I suppose I shouldn’t be so critical about you missing meetings and being such a bitch when I miss mine. I’m sure this is exasperating.”

The two are quiet, along with Bloise watching the two with a light smile.

“I guess my work here is done for now,” Bloise notes under his breath, his smile sly and gaze adventurous.

Chaos is busy personally congratulating Outminion and a surprised Magic Minion, who for some reason got lopped into the “Mari Lwyd” team due to a clerical error of it being “halloweenish” in Holiday Minion’s own words. It’s quite a show, and while Magic Minion feels as though her hard work has been for naught, she is at least happy that she’s received the consolation of winning on behalf of a holiday that does have door to door skeletons involved; whatever the form.

“So…” Harmony clears her throat. “Are we supposed to like… lea-“

“Gate’s over here,” Order says, waving her head over to direct the other two.

A minute’s walk through bustling minion streets lead up to a highly organized space gate, inhibited to only allow specific dimensional codes for travel.

“Uh,” yet again, Harmony clears her throat. “If they have a Space Gate in the middle of their headquarters then doesn’t that me-“

“It doesn’t work,” Order says. “You can go out, but to get back in you need something else, and I have no clue what it is,” she explains.

The spear-user huffs. “Got it.”

Order inputs the coordinates back to New Reinen’s gate, and pulls in a breath to speak.

“Mage, sir,” she starts, not shifting her gaze from inputting the runic coordinates at the side of the gate. “I appreciate you tagging along but I’m afraid you best find your own way. While Mae and I have no problem with you coming along, the Western Kingdoms is very strict on screening people who aren’t already well known with interdimensiona-” she stops, turning about to see absolutely no one but Harmony by her side.

Harmony looks around too, realizing what Order has at the same time.

“O-well! He’s gone!”

Order sighs, and turns back to the gate. “Creep.”

Harmony scoffs. “You best take that back. He was from…”

“From what?” Order asks, squinting while she concentrates on casting the runes into the coordinate plate.

“Uh… he’s from uh… you know, Subspace. Calling him a creep would be a compliment.”

Order scoffs back. “Okay, well I don’t feel him around so I guess he really wasn’t for show.”

“You think?” Harmony asks with a goofy smile.

“Yeah,” Order affirms, “There’s no way Trap Minion wouldn’t have gotten us both at least a dozen times.”

Harmony laughs. “Oh, you should have seen the time I was trying to recover the relic of A’taloz with Sensitivity. Trap Minion was one of the dudes sent to get it first, and his team knew we were coming. He definitely had ten hours prep time then. Let me tell you that guy has a strong command over ropes. I mean, if he wasn’t like a little mete-high gross midget creature thing, like when he was still a human and all~ I’d bet he-“

“I’m not interested. Let’s just get out of here so I can go home and get drunk,” Order interrupts.

“I-… You’re no fun.”

“You never change.”

“Goes both ways.”

“Thanks.”

“Right, great.”

The gate opens, allowing one-way travel back to their home dimension and then immediately get as much distance from each other as possible.

With a sigh Order galumphs forward into the portal, leaving no gap for Harmony to snip back with some insult or bring up another of her degenerate tirades.

Harmony just stands by for a moment, and glances back.

Chaos and the others are all now enjoying a wild dance party.  They must have legitimately kidnapped all of the outsiders just to test holidays on them. How simultaneously devious, ludicrous, and wonderful, she muses.

“Yeah, I guess I am a little too hard on her,” Harmony says with a vague smirk before turning to the space gate. “Thanks for the good time, Overlord,” she says before crossing in.

Some hours later, Magic Minion’s sitting with her legs crossed on the upper teeth of one of Night Tower’s battlements. She sighs at the moon and drinks her tea.

“Not what you wanted?” a voice asks from behind.

“Not… really,” Magic Minion says back, immediately tagging the source of the voice as Outminion.

“Would you like me to apologize? I am guided by the Divine Foundation, but even those who follow the road are bound to stumble off at fault.”

She glances back, and pats the surprisingly fluffy-feeling minion on his massive head. Ether is weird, she knows, as it shifts to the being and outlook of its user. While most of the Minionry feel like brushed metal, Outminion is more like a big ball of wavy fur – it reminds her of her old fat cat familiar.

Outminion reaches back and pats Magic minion, rubbing her hat upon her head. “This is a good way to apologize, then,” he says.

She giggles. “Sure. Sorry I got caught up in the whole thing. I really didn’t know Druid Minion had also asked you to do her holiday too.”

“I didn’t have enough time to start murdering them, I’m afraid. That was right on my list.”

Magic Minion gains a kind, if awkward smile. “You… you weren’t supposed to actually kill them.”

“…Oh… well it’s been preordained that I should fail in that.”

She gives him a firm pat on the head before turning back to look at the moon. “Sure thing.”

“It isn’t simply sure: it’s preordained,” he says back.

-fin-

One thought on “The Hardcore Holidayoff AKA: All All’s Eve

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