Korg's expression dropped from an oversized smile to a drooping frown. A pout formed on his face, making his tusk-like teeth appear even longer and more menacing than before. "Waddya mean, you don’t like it!?" The mighty core warrior questioned as he glanced down at his sandcastle. Korg walked through the entrance of Zet’s prison bending his head to the ground to get a Zet-eye-view and see what was wrong with the castle. "You kep?sayin? ‘castle?while you sleeped, whatz wrong with it." ?
"Slept," Zet mumbled the correction without thinking, falling back into old patterns. Recovering from his initial shock at seeing Korg, the last person in all the moonlands he wanted to see, Zet sat up. ? He began rubbing his sleep-filled eyes and picking at the sand stuck between his teeth. Slowly, Zet came to terms with the presence of his old partner standing before him. Zet suddenly felt as if he were back in the Core again, trapped and unable to escape Korg’s annoying presence. Zet supposed, after all the terrible things that had happened to him recently, Korg’s return was inevitable. He seemed doomed to forever spend his days with this bungling idiot.
Looking groggily about, Zet tried to recover to a state where he could figure out who or what had destroyed his cunning plan to get rid of Korg. ? He plopped onto his back, arms spread, as he realized the answer was standing right next to him.
"Whazzat?" Korg said with a frown, a thick gob of drool threatening to spill over his lower lip. "Where’d you slipped at?"
"I slept not sleeped, and not slipped. I slept." Zet proclaimed with and annoyed glance to Korg and arms flailing in frustration, then continued on. "And I don’t like your stupid castle because it’s?it’s…made of SAND!" Korg fell back into his own old patterns, annoyed as ever to be subjected to Zet’s casual superiority. His nonchalant attitude disappeared entirely, replaced by the all too familiar irritation. Before he could deliver a stinging reply, however, Zet proclaimed, "What did you think you were doing anyway? How can anyone rule from this?" Indicating the sandcastle. "Besides, because of your stupidity we’re now both trapped in here, in case you hadn’t noticed."
"Stoopid! Stoopid? I’ll show you stoopid!" Korg roared, rising to his full height. He advanced on the smaller form of Zet, banging his head smartly on a bony protrusion of the ceiling. He immediately drooped to his knees and began massaging his head. "Ooooh. Ooooh," he said. "Gotta ‘nother big bump…hit my head when I slipped an?falled back in color land!" Korg’s oafish fingers poked the bump, apparently already haven forgotten his irritation with Zet.
"Say, genius, what did happen back in the swamp, anyway? Last I saw, you were the All-High King of Bograth!" Zet’s voice was almost a monotone of helplessness with his situation. Korg, apparently trying to push the bump protruding from the side of his head back into his skull—where he obviously felt it belonged—replied, "I jes?told ya! I slipped! Next t’ing I knew, I was float’n down one of those watery things."
Zet shook his head, climbed to his feet and made one more desperate attempt to find a way out of their prison, if only so he would not have to be so close to Korg! The search, as expected, was futile. So long as the invisible barrier remained in place, he was stuck with Korg and his bad breath. Finally, he stopped and eyed his fellow prisoner, at last noticing the extent of Korg’s injuries. Though they were already healing, Zet could tell that Korg’s injuries went far beyond the usual bumps and bruises he received while trying to wrestle, say, a Gorath. Something awful had happened to Korg, and whatever it was had also caused Zet to lose his own ?i>freedom? something he wasn’t too happy about.
"Soooo Korg, what failed to kill you this time? You can’t possibly tell me, ‘these? were caused by a slip." Zet’s clawed finger pointed at the gashes and wounds on Korg’s chest and arms. ? Korg glanced down at his own wounds and gave a small growl, remembering his pain.
Korg pulled his scepter out and began swinging it about, re-enacting the battle with Rayje. "I was just ‘bout to go and smash me a big crystal when Mr. Foofeyhair interrupted me. Me and Mr. Foofeyhair were havin?some fun—he slashed like this? Zet stepped back as Korg clumsily demonstrated. " And I bashed him like that. I covered him with Green Stuff and, Oooooh, you should have seen the Black Stuff that he just couldn’t get off his clothes. Then I had just brought out my secret weapon when..."
"Secret weapon??" Zet asked, not believing a word of the tale, as he strained to keep from rolling his eyes. Zet buried his head in his hands as he suddenly realized he had voiced the question aloud and it was too late to take it back.
"Ya, my Grubble ‘Zug?and my other Grubble ‘Zug?combined to form The Mighty Ultimate Giant Swamp Grubble ‘Zug Zug!?Zug Zug had just bashed ‘n knock’d him down, and I was gonna kick ‘em. After that all I recall was my head suddenly hurt’n an?then I falled down an?was floatin?down the water thingy. I thought long and hard where things went wrong and purty sure I slipped on his durn hair. ? Do you remember a Mr. Foofeyhair, Zet?"
Something seemed to click in Zet’s mind and he lifted his head from its hiding place. ? "Yes, yess? Zet said slowly with a bit of hiss, mostly to himself, as he often did while plotting. Staring off into the distance, Zet’s mind wandered to a point where he almost forgot Korg was with him. An image of Rayje appeared in Zet’s mind, leaning against his powerful construct—a dream machine from ancient times. Shaking off the memory, Zet once again found himself caressing his black ring.
"Rayje," Zet exclaimed in a soft and menacing voice, his small fists clenched.
"Rage?" ?Korg looked at Zet his head cocked in confusion trying to decide if this was a statement or request.
"Rayje!" Zet exclaimed again, making eye contact with Korg. Knowing Korg’s sense of reality, Zet was sure he knew what had really happened now. "He beat you!" Zet accused, and then continued mumbling out of the side of his mouth, inaudible to his companion. "…and didn’t finish the job?
Korg’s response and Zet’s thoughts were interrupted by a very loud sound…a pain-filled roar that seemed to echo and rattle throughout the interior of the skull. It was the unmistakable sound of an enraged hyren. Zet looked about and could feel the dream plane quivering in turmoil. The hyren’s skull and the sand all about seemed to shake in unison with the roar of the unseen hyren. The magical barrier keeping them imprisoned within the skull suddenly sparked and became visible once more. Dream energies rippled and tore at it, causing holes to appear. Seeing his chance, Zet dashed for the opening. ? Korg’s instincts forced him to hastily exit as well, following his old companion. Korg knew from experience that when Zet ran and he failed to follow, he would often end up underneath a heavy object, or in the jaws of some large dream creature.
Zet stopped after only a short sprint, already overwhelmed with the heat of the desert’s sun. ? He looked back to his onetime prison, and watched as the skull sank a bit deeper into the shifting sands. ? Korg had stopped as well; unconsciously following Zet’s lead. The sound and shaking had finally stopped. The skull, although imbedded a bit deeper in the sand, still stood atop the dune as it always had. ? Any apparent danger was lost on Korg. ? He did notice one important detail however: his masterpiece sandcastle had been left in ruin.
"Hoo boy! ? Your gonna be mad, Zet! They destroy’d your castle." Korg felt very disappointed as he thought, Disarray without being the cause just isn’t the same. ? "Don’t worry Zet, I’ll make you ‘nother one."
Korg watched as Zet slowly turned to look at him. Most would have taken the look in Zet’s eyes as a look of fury, but Korg knew better, Zet had that twinkle of overwhelming joy in him. The tiny magi then leapt into the air, throwing sand into Korg’s eyes as he did so. Landing on Korg’s chest, Zet’s tiny fingers clenched around the Core Warrior’s throat. ? Claws squeezed and dug into Korg’s thick skin, the death grip causing him to begin to choke while his eyes stung and began to water from the sand.
"COUGH, COUGH. ? I can’t, COUGH, believe, COUGH, I’m getting?all choked up over a hug, COUGH, Zet." Korg then squeezed a mighty Cragnoc hug back, hearing Zet’s bones crack in happiness. "It’ll be the bestest castle ever!"
ZAAAAP! A sharp streak of black energy shot from Zet’s finger toward Korg. Zet tried, as he had tried time and time again to obliterate Korg with his spells. But, just as before, his spells were useless against Korg, as were Korg’s against Zet. ? The Core would not allow Zet to dispatch his longtime companion, for reasons long forgotten by them both. ? Living an eternal nightmare in the Core has ways of making you forget certain things, while forcing you to remember others. ? Despite this, Zet knew he and Korg were connected somehow. The way his spells refused to work on Korg was proof enough for Zet. He also knew getting rid of Korg has been an eternal struggle. ? One that he had thought was finally resolved back in Bograth, but once again, Korg managed to find his way back.
Zet continued his onslaught of spells, despite their lack of effect. Releasing the corrupt energy was like an age-old exercise to him; both a stress reliever and way to perfect his techniques. His next spell caused the afternoon’s elongated shadows of the landscape, sand dunes and dusty brown pillars of rock, to creep across the sands grabbing at and attempting to crush Korg.
"Ooooh feels like the Core baths of Jweeeee?AHHHHHH. ? Ya, a little more on the left shoulder." ? Korg relaxed as murky shadows flowed like liquid over and wrapped about him, trying unsuccessfully to squeeze the life out of him.
Zet was relieved that his most recent attack was at least distracting his target long enough for Zet to think of another plan to get rid of Korg. It wasn’t long before Zet rubbed his hands together, a plan already forming as he began heading into the twilight toward Bograth. Korg, suddenly feeling the need to lead the way, shrugged off his magical bath and scurried ahead.
Continuing to lead the way Korg gave a glance back as a few remaining shadow droplets fell from him. "Uh…where am I leadin?us to, Zet?"
"Korg, we’re going to go get you a rematch with Rayje. ? Only this time I’m going to make sure there aren’t any ‘slip ups?"
Korg kept marching on, seemingly satisfied that he was going to get to beat something up. Sometime later he stopped and looked inquisitively back toward Zet, "Who’s Rayje?"
Zet looked across the sun-bleached sands, scouting their route through the shifting dunes. Something about the desert seemed different to him. When he first entered the Sands of d’Resh he had felt something, something somehow similar to the presence of Agram while in the Core. ? He wasn’t sure when it happened, but now, the presence was definitely gone.
"What are those Korg?" Zet was watching Korg trying to avoid stepping on several miniature dinosaur-like creatures with small cactus bushes on their back. They seemed to be surrounding Korg, all wagging their little tails. ? Sarebs, Zet recalled their names.
Korg was patting one of the little creatures on the head. ? "I don’t know, but they seem to like me."
Zet lifted one of the small creatures up between two clawed fingers, as if it were a dirty rag, to inspect it. The sareb squinted and seemed to smile as it gave a small "HAWWNK" of delight at this newfound attention. "These creatures are useless! Where is an Abyssal Core Pit when you need one? Leave them alone, Korg. We should seek shelter before it gets too hot." ? Tossing the creature aside, Zet continued his trek eastward, Korg in tow. It wasn’t long before Zet stopped again, noticing that the tiny herd of sarebs were following them.
"Didn’t I tell you to get rid of those useless beasts?"
"They follow’d me!" Korg protested.
Zet glared at the small creatures briefly before he noticed something else out of the corner of one eye. The sands seemed to be shifting a bit, although there was no discernible breeze. "What is it now?" Zet was becoming tired of the surprises the desert kept throwing at him. From the shifting sands emerged a group of small creatures. Zet smacked his hand across his forehead and proclaimed, "Not more annoying creatures to follow us about!"
Beady, glowing, aqua-blue eyes partially hidden by a bony hood belied the true nature of these creatures. They slowly sauntered toward the two Core Magi. Korg brandished a pair of cactus gauntlets he had devised during their travels, preparing for a fight. Zet simply watched with curiosity to see what they might do. As the new creatures approached Zet noticed that the sarebs surrounding Korg began to turn transparent. Confused, the sarebs began scattering about bumping into each other until they had faded to a point where they no longer had substance. The sarebs now walked through each other, trying to figure out what was happening to them. ? Lost in confusion, they hadn’t noticed how close the bony creatures had gotten. It was too late now, bony claws ripped and reptilian tails lashed, tearing away at the insubstantial sarebs until every last trace of them was gone. Zet smiled at the wicked destruction, happy to be rid of the annoying sarebs. Seemingly enjoying their snack, the eyes of the new creatures glowed even brighter now, their powerful stares now fixed upon Korg and Zet.
Suddenly, Zet realized that he knew of these creatures, outcasts of their own region. Olum Fiends, they were called. Creatures created from where the void energies of the Core seeped into d’Resh. Zet thanked the creatures as he stepped a bit closer, evaluating the new creatures?potential. "What a fiendishly grand thing of you to do for me."
A hollow whisper came from the creatures all at once. ? "Take?Us?With? You?. One by one the Olum Fiends approached Korg and Zet, handing each of them a small piece of animite. The creatures then stood as a group, patiently waiting for an answer.
Two slitted eyes, like those of a hyren, glowed upon the pitch-black sky. They gazed down upon a darkened land whose sleep had suddenly been disturbed by a most unprecedented plague of night terrors. Countless magi ran in horror, fighting hopeless fights, trembling with terror, or just cowering in corners. Hundreds and thousands of these visions flashed by quickly below, seemingly with no end. Each vision caused those horribly wicked eyes to glow brighter and brighter until finally they stopped upon a final vision. A chestnut-haired maiden, a lost warrior of Naroom, alone and despairing within the Dream Plane itself. She seemed to be the source of the storm of nightmares that was sweeping the moon, leaving all others in confusion. Flaring one last flash of energy from its foul eyes the creature looked beyond the chaos of the moon’s surface, deeper and further into the darkness, into the very core of the moon. There sat Agram, rubbing the aching, empty sockets of his eyes. He was using his gift of Darksight, sensing that his magical prison was weakening slightly as the Dream Plane itself reeled in chaos. The two eyes peering through the darkness closed, and the night sky became total in its darkness once more.
Korg and Zet both awakened simultaneously, from dreams filled with fear…a dream of being pursued by horrible monsters, of being trapped, of hopelessness and terror. Their ragged breathing broke the silence of the desert. They looked around warily, but there was no obvious threat. Korg moved his lips as if to voice a question, but his words were stilled when the sand itself began to rasp out with a ragged voice. The voice, both familiar and strange at the same time, proclaimed, "The time draws near." Zet gulped audibly, as void energy tingled in every finger and he could taste it in his mouth, dripping like venom from his dagger-like teeth. Zet found his fingers once more reaching to caress each line and bump on his dark animite ring. "T…t…time for w…what? Who’s t…there?" Zet stammered the question into the night air with a gulp of fear. There was no reply.
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