“Your Emperorship,” yelled the messenger, bursting through the skull-covered door to the throne room, “everything has gone to shit in the shittiest possible way.”
“In sooth, how shitty doth that be?” said the Emperor.
“A monster the size of the moon and made entirely of mirrors just landed on the Fourth House. The Eighth House just caught fire.”
“Serveth them fucking right,” muttered the Emperor.
“The Seventh House is ass deep in bears, led by Bearicles, King of the Bears,” continued the messenger, “and the Second House is being bombarded with a sudden and supernatural rain of sudden and supernatural whales. Some of the whales are skeletons.”
“Verily, the situation doth be dire,” said the Emperor imperially, imperiously and possibly imperiotically. “Callest thou on the biggest badass in mine domains.”
“Yes,” said the Emperor, in a voice so grave two skeletons climbed out of it and started making out. “Thou musteth summon Jerubaala, Ninth of Her Name, Queen of the Badasses.”
“But how will you summon me,” said a voice from the corner of the throne room, “when I am already here?”
Everyone spun like they had magnets in their balls and/or boobs and Jerubaala IX was made entirely of iron, which she basically was, let’s be real. She was about seven feet tall, with multiple swords strapped to her back, and every woman in the room felt herself get about ten percent gayer at the sight.
She ground out her cigarette on the nine-million-year-old statue she was leaning against and rose to her full height, showing off the immaculate abs under her awesome skeleton-themed chestplate. A countess in the third row who had previously never doubted that she was heterosexual got a nosebleed.
“So which part of this bullshit do you want me to beat up first, your Empness?” said Jerubaala. “The mirror beast, Bearicles, the fucking…whale thing, whatever that is?”
“What about the Eighth House being on fire?” said Assholicus, the envoy of the Eighth House.
“I think even you guys can figure out where the fucking river is,” pointed out Jerubaala, and Assholicus sat down to sulk. He was good at sulking. It was the Eighth House’s main export. “What’s it to be, Empo? Bears, mirrors, whales?”
“That doth soundeth like mine kind of party,” said the Emperor, at which point the messenger made a loud harrumphing noise. “I leave it up to thine discretion.”
“Bears, then,” said Jerubaala decisively. “Always wanted to fight a bear.”
“This is bullshit,” said Jerubaala, as bits dripped off the two greatswords she was holding. “These bears suck.”
The messenger, who had followed her along in case any messages needed to be sent, poked at the bear. “This one’s a zombie.”
“I think they’re all fucking zombies, which would explain why they suck.” Jerubaala sniffed loudly. “Also why they smell like shit.”
“The Empire has many specialists in the necromantic arts,” said the messenger, whose name was Dave. “Perhaps we should contact one?”
“We’re gonna need the best one,” said Jerubaala decisively, and punched a zombear in the face. It fell off. “Which means we have to go to the Ninth House and talk to fucking Hellhark.”
Fucking Hellhark lived in a reverse tower, just a real big hole in the ground with a building sort of built into it. Every available surface had some kind of bone crudely nailed to it.
“I fucking hate it here,” grumbled Jerubaala. “All these fucking bones are a pain in the ass, especially since this idiot nails pelvises to the fucking chairs.”
“You’ve been here before, then?” asked the messenger in a making-conversation kind of voice.
“Only on business.”
A skull flew at her face, thrown by a pale, skinny girl wearing a huge black dress covered in inexplicable femurs. Because the skull wasn’t stupid, it veered aside at the last second and landed in the corner.
“Hey Hellhark,” deadpanned Jerubaala. “Still mad about the necromurder thing?”
“I spent weeks on that fucking necromurder, you besworded sack of shit,” snapped Hellhark. “I had to rob like nine cemeteries to get enough bones, and you stabbed it to death. How the fuck do you stab a skeleton to death? It’s literally made of bones! They’re the least stabbable organ!”
“Hey!” Jerubaala drew herself up to her full height again. Hellhark’s eyes flicked to those abs, then back to glaring at her face. “I do not stab. Stabbing is for pissy little nothing weapons like daggers and knitting needles.”
“I like daggers,” said Hellhark, in a voice like a new form of ice made out of knives.
“That’s nice but I don’t care. What I do is slay. I kill shit. Like the necromurder. Or a bunch of zombears.”
“Where the fuck did you find zombears?” Hellhark boggled boglaciously.
“The Seventh House,” said Jerubaala levelly. “Also, there are skeleton whales falling on the Second House, and a giant mirror monster thing on the Fourth.”
“I hadn’t noticed that one,” admitted Hellhark.
“That’s because you don’t look out the fucking window,” Jerubaala said, and cut down the curtain. Hellhark hissed like a fucking vampire as the sunlight hit her skin for the first time in, possibly, ever. Sure enough, a giant mirror monster was visible on the horizon.
“Fucking shitpiss,” said Hellhark evenly. “Okay, I guess I can work with you for a bit. That thing kind of needs to be dealt with. I am absolutely not going to fuck you, though.”
“I didn’t even mention it,” pointed out Jerubaala.
“Yeah, but I know you were thinking it.”
“Okay, where are we going?” said Jerubaala, because it was easier all round than admitting that Hellhark was right. “The mirror thing, the whales, more zombears?”
“None of the above. We’re gonna go find something that will let you kill that mirror shit.”
“A really big sword?”
“Is that all you fucking think about, Jerubaala?”
“Why now that you mention it Hellhark I do believe it is.”
“You are fucking impossible,” said Hellhark. “Anyway, what we’re actually after is an artifact of incredible power and incredible evil.”
“So a really big, evil sword.”
“Wrong again.” Hellhark grinned. Several of her teeth were pointy. “We’re going to get you the Lenses of Ai’viata.”
The Lenses of Ai’viata, according to Hellhark, were kept in a ruin so ancient it was only still standing because it was too old for time to stick to, full of deadly traps and ancient monsters.
“I don’t suppose we could just order a knockoff by mail order or something?” asked Jerubaala, but was argued down.
The ruin was across the Fuckyou Steppe, a journey that took some time and led to Jerubaala killing 47 zombears, 62 skelions, 18 demons, 4 werewolves and a very angry tyrannosaurus named Albert. Any attempt to pick up speed failed miserably because every fight seemed to open with their horses getting eaten.
Finally, Hellhark said, “We’re here,” and gestured to a slab of stone, which Jerubaala immediately punched open. “The Ruins of R’aaiibhan.”
“Stupid name,” said Jerubaala, at which point a giant robot thing made of rock hit her.
This rather set the tone for the rest of the ruins.
At the heart of the ruins was a room covered in skulls carved from stone, offset with, for the sake of balance, stones made out of skulls. Jerubaala assumed they were compressed down into these lumpy shapes or something but at this point honestly who the fuck knew.
A pair of wire frames with dark lenses were sitting on a stone pedestal in the centre of the room. The lenses were engraved with skulls, and the wire appeared to have been drawn from some ancient robot or something.
“Oh, fuck yes.” Jerubaala grabbed the sunglasses off the pedestal and put them on. “I look fucking awesome with these on, don’t I?”
“No,” lied Hellhark-
The pedestal rose slightly, as if the lack of the Lenses’ weight had set off some sort of trap. Then it continued rising, unfolding into a giant hulking thing made of stone and spikes and bad attitude and more spikes and ever more fucking spikes where did it even keep all those things.
“Fucking construct traps,” said Hellhark concisely. “They don’t even have goddamn skeletons.”
“I’m gonna fight it,” said Jerubaala, moments before the construct punched her through the wall. “Ouch,” she added, picking herself up out of the rubble. The Lenses had stayed on her face, but her armour was dented in just the right way to be a pain in the ass. She flexed and shoved it back into the right arrangement. Her two favourite swords smashed into the skeleton’s leg, kicking up a cloud of dust but not really accomplishing that much. “Balls,” she added, sagaciously.
“Of course!” shouted Hellhark. “I’m an imbecile!”
“Yep!” yelled back Jerubaala, kicking up another cloud of dust with a spinning cut. “About what?”
“We do have skeletons with us.” She concentrated, and a light so dark that it would fart nighttime gathered around her hand. “This may sting a little bit.”
“What may sting a little bit?” managed Jerubaala before all the teeth marched out of her mouth. New ones grew, almost immediately, so it wasn’t too debilitating, but it was fucking weird.
The teeth began to grow and twist, becoming larger and meaner-looking until they’d rearranged themselves into a bony reflection of the giant spiky construct thing, just as covered in spikes.
As they began to wrestle, Jerubaala and Hellhark ran. They bolted through the crumbling ruin, the traps they’d neatly avoided going off behind them. Jerubaala’s impact smashed the door at the opening out of the way, and they found a convenient tree to lean against and pant.
“Well,” managed Jerubaala, “that wasn’t so bad, was it?”
“Fuck you, Jerubaala.”
“Fuck me yourself, you coward.”
“You know what?” snapped Hellhark. “You know what? I fucking will!”
Her dress landed in the mud.
“The shades stay on during sex,” said Jerubaala flirtily. “That’s non-negotiable.”
“Jerubaala. The shades are an artifact of incredible antiquity, imbued with incredible power and also incredible evil. Of fucking course they stay on during sex. Didn’t think I had to say it, honestly.”
The slim manuscript hit the desk, and Gideon said, “Give it to me straight, Har.”
“In my reluctant position as your duly conscripted literary agent,” said Harrow Nonagesimus, “this is the worst prose I have ever read. I would throw it in the fire but I think that would be a waste of burning. Nobody will ever publish it. It almost makes me want to divorce you.”
Gideon grinned up at her wife as the evening lights started to come on across the New York skyline. “That’s only because you haven’t read book two.”
“Griddle, with God as my witness, I will never, ever read book two.”
“So,” said Gideon, in a tone laden with affectionate smugness, “how’s book two?”
“I hate you.”
“Because I wrote book two, or because I knew you were going to steal book two out of my desk and read it anyway?”
Harrow fixed her wife with a death glare and said, “Both.”
“You know you love me,” said Gideon impishly, and gave Harrow a peck on the cheek.
“And yet I would still push you in front of a train right now, if one was handy.”
“Yes, yes, all right, if.” Harrow rose from the armchair and dropped the stapled-together manuscript on the floor. “Now come on. It’s getting late; time for bed.”
“Can I rely on you not to push me out?”
“Only if you promise to never suggest we roleplay as Jerubaala and Hellhark.”
“I wasn’t going to suggest-”
“Well okay maybe just once,” continued Harrow, as though she hadn’t heard, “and only if I get to be Jerubaala, okay?”
Gideon’s grin became less smug and more lascivious. “As you will, Jerubaala, Ninth of Her Name. I think I have a spare set of shades around here, if you want help getting into character…”