“Expertise”

A barren cell connecting corridors of cold, gray walls; four men fighting for righteousness; and one gargantuan, mutated rhinoceros-hog ogre trying to resist slaughter with club in hand. Thirty minutes of tedious battle had passed; the beast's fatigued slouching showed that heroic victory was near. Each contributed to his fullest ability: Keno, the armor-plated barbarian, slashed at enemy flesh with broadsword of the hardest steel forged by a blacksmith of a town not found on any map; Gregor, the young, stubble-faced wizard, blasted the beast with magical fire hot enough to turn magma into vapor; Stumpy, the war-hardened dwarf, severed appendages with cherished battle axe handed down from his grandfather's grandfather who originally traded a sacred dromedary for it; and Keeb, the elfin jester, performed a hypnotic dance that distracted the fiend, its perplexity of undulating pink and yellow pants tighter than a vacuum seal rendering it unable to defend itself in battle.

One final dramatic clash of broadsword and axe against enemy meat brought the monster down, and the four men rejoiced. Gregor, taking advantage of this break, tapped into his ale-filled canteen, and in mid gulp, heard his leader's interjection.

"Did'ja get it?" Keno asked quizzically, soot-stained face brightening with hope.

The wizard finished his swig, allowed a belch to bounce down the silent corridor, and shook his head dryly. "Nope."

Disheartened, the barbarian's shoulders slouched. "You're four months late on the menstrual cycle of magic learning. What's it gonna take to tap into that psyche of yours and unleash the power of Ultimaboomblast? A corkscrew?"

"I'm sorry," defended Gregor, "but that wasn't the most dramatic battle we just had; it didn't earn any blood, tears, or chest hairs if you know what I'm sayin'. Now, if I had met a hot Jubian chick back at the fairy springs, brought her here, and she was devoured by that thing boobs first, I'd be spewing inner fire and blowing down walls with the U.B.B."

"Fair enough," Keno settled. "We'll try to be more reckless next time. Remember, this is the fortress of the all-powerful scourge of the north, Sir Witherbone, and only Ultimaboomblast can break through his tough defenses. We didn't come all this way to leave a flaming bag of 'oops-forgot-something' on his doorstep and run away. This is our last stop in fulfilling this quest, bringing peace to the people of Bummittsville."

Keeb brought up the next point. "Don't forget Witherbone's right-hand-man, Blightamon. We can't let him escape, either."

"Oh, he won't let us see the boss without a fight for sure," Keno agreed. "Come, men. We got a fortress to pick clean and bad guys to bust up."

The four warriors strode with purpose to an auspicious staircase leading up.

Meanwhile, in Sir Witherbone's throne room located on the top floor of the subterranean fortress, an agitated second-in-command sweated at the thought of his impenetrable hideout being compromised. A featureless face of onyx-like shade seemed to wrinkle in anxiety as he rushed to an iron-barred door encasing riotous shouts and growls. "That's it!" he spat. "I'm releasing the demonic elite on those pesky heroes!" A sign labeled the secret chamber. It read, "Endless Bin-o-Balrogs".

"Desist, Blightamon," a thundering voice rang out. A towering frame approached, shadowed by illumination from the doorway behind. With another step, torchlight washed over him, revealing royal adornment and a skeletal face.

"Witherbone, sir," the black devil stammered. "Good vs. Medieval draw near. We must stop them at all costs!"

"At ease, Blightamon," the master ordered with a voice disembodied and resonating. "It will take more than a mere endless supply of balrogs to stop them. We must beat them at their own game. Release the acid death ants instead."

A shocked gasp was all the minion could respond with.

Down below, Keno and his men cleared a path through maze-like interior, welcoming every challenge with hunger and determination. Bodies of demon underlings lie in their wake. They ascended another staircase, rounded the bend, then observed their next group of adversaries observing them with scaly eyes and curious twitches of antennae.

Canteen nozzle at his lips, Gregor's eyes grew wide. "Acid death ants!" he coughed.

A boisterous laugh poured from Stumpy's white beard. "Those things are easy!"

"We ain't seen those things since the Sunrise Plains," Keeb furthered. "Remember when all we had to slay them with was pussy willow branches?"

"Don't let their appearances fool you," advised Keno. "These might be doppelgangers crafted by Witherbone as a last line of defense. Be particularly care—" Before he could finish his sentence, the crumbling of exoskeleton rattled in the dead air.

"Nope!" Stumpy answered, the blade of his axe dripping with insect goo. One down; the remaining enemy party cowered at the display with shaky legs.

Renewed, the barbarian smirked devilishly. "In that case— do your worst, men!"

An onslaught ensued, the heroes a tornado whipping across a battlefield of vermin unworthy of their time. Onto the upper floors of the fortress the heroes pressed, smashing through hordes of ants, lemmings, quadriplegic vamp-mice, menacing broccoli, and not much else until finally reaching their goal. Down the final corridor, they could see the grand door to Witherbone's throne room. It was heavily guarded as one would expect, but this defense consisted of just another batch of erroneously named acid death ants.

Keno raised his sword for a climactic battle and shouted "YO HOOOOOO!" but as his blade motioned for a mighty chop, he stopped in mid swing, sheathed his sword and said, "Okay, what the hell is going on here?"

Sir Witherbone's voice answered him. The wraith did not appear in person but rather spoke via a stone gargoyle head mounted on the wall. "I am afraid you have found my secret throne room, heroes. Is this the end of Sir Witherbone?"

Turning to the inanimate speaker, Keno rubbed his chin and answered, "Uhhh—"

Gregor pulled the barbarian aside and whispered, "We can't go in there yet. He's too strong for us."

"I know," Keno argued back. "But what are gonna do? We're here. This is the end! There's no place else to go! I was hoping we'd be beyond our current point of expertise, but—" Hands in presentation, he referred to the crowd of insects gathered at his shins no more threatening than house cats, frustration quickening his speech. "—then we came upon all these damn turd monsters, and—"

"I gotta learn that ultimate magic spell, Keno," Gregor insisted somewhat whiny.

"Okay. Shut up; I have a plan." Pushing the wizard out of the way, Keno advanced toward the speaker, a falsely cool demeanor calming his voice. "Actually, Witherbone, our gripe isn't with you."

"No?" The ominous voice poured from the gargoyle's mouth.

"No. We all know that Blightamon is the real brains of this outfit."

Bewildered, Gregor whispered to the barbarian, "What are you doing?"

Covering the gargoyle's mouth with his hand, Keno turned to his mate and explained, "We can't compete for the triathlon if we're training on tricycles! Dumbass ants ain't gonna give you your chest hair! We need meat-and-potatoes elite forces to sink our blades into if we wish to further our capabilities! Ultimate archfiends are always supposed to dump their demibosses on the cavalry— not because they're cowardly— that's just an age-old misconception— but because it's cosmically dictated that men of nobility need such stepping stones to reach the adequate level!"

"What level are we at now?" Stumpy asked childishly, producing a pocket watch and staring at the time.

"It's a figure of speech." Dropping the whisper, Keno removed his hand from the speaker and continued, "We'll never forgive your little minion buddy for burning down the village on Coonsack! Hand him off to us now, and we'll let you go peacefully."

A silent pause ensued, followed by the speaker's response. "Actually, he cannot take the credit for that. That was my doing."

Undaunted, Keno returned, "But Blightamon was responsible for building a super weapon capable of destroying the moon in an attempt to flood our shores with unpredictable raging tides. Let him face justice, for freedom's sake!"

Another pause. "No, I'm afraid that was my doing as well. I do not blame you for barking up my tree." That last sentence nearly sputtered with a chuckle common of a practical joke.

Keno rubbed his hand down his face, anger increasing. "What, is your second-in-command chicken-assed?"

Blightamon's wimpy voice sounded through the speaker. "I am n—"

"Yes, he is." Witherbone's baritone cut him off.

"Don't you have a boat load of balrogs you wish to unleash on us?" Keno insisted. "What happened to all those?"

"I'm a frugal archfiend."

Finger erect as if trying to make a point, Keno's mouth opened, but no words were found.

Witherbone spared him the thought. "Please leave, or I shall be forced to feed you to my pet."

"Pet?" Keno stared blankly at the speaker before turning to his men cheery faced. The others responded with similar, anticipating looks. "He's got a pet!"

Back to the speaker, Keno boldly teased, "Your mother?"

Suddenly the floor on which the men stood gave way, and down they fell. The cell in which they crashed appeared ominous; various bones littered the floor. Crawling to their feet, the heroes observed a thirty-foot door of strong iron bars— one capable of caging a ferocious dragon— giving a glimpse of only darkness beyond. Rather than cower for their lives like any sane dungeon hopper would, Good vs. Medieval did the exact opposite: stand impatiently, motioning for the bars to raise.

With a loud latching noise and clinking of heavy chains, the door did just that, and the heroes presented their weapons, eager for the battle to begin. What emerged from the dark cave: nothing more than a lowly pom-pom rat looking for scraps.

Flinching his hands in the air, Keno shook his head in desperation and raced for the cave, kicking the rat out of his way. Foot scuffling and falling stones emanated from within the black enclosure, then Keno reemerged empty-handed.

Witherbone's mocking laugh sounded beyond the ceiling door, from the gargoyle speaker. "Don't be annoyed that I fancy pom-pom rats, heroes. They're friendly, loyal, and best of all inexpensive. Bought that one cheap one town over from where you mastered ant slaying. Careful; he might break skin."

Stumpy jounced with a look of genuine fright, but Gregor slapped some sense into him.

Throwing a fuss to end all, Keno kicked a dust cloud and yelled at the ceiling. "You are the cheapest archfiend we ever came across, hiding behind that glass ceiling!" He stopped in mid thought, rubbing his chin. "Behind that glass ceiling? Under a glass ceiling? On top of—? Whatever! We know how to defeat you! You can't hold out on us forever!"

"What are you going to do? Escape to the forest and slaughter rabid squirrels until that one-in-twenty-thousand-chance Dimensiablaster encounter unlocks your optimum skill set?" Humiliating laughter followed the remark.

"Pft!" Keno scoffed. "We're Good vs. Medieval! You can't outsmart us like this!"

"You're the one standing in a pit."

"Yeah," Keeb agreed. "We need to do something about that." Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out his gag bag, dunked his hand inside, and produced a shiny whistle. "The whistle of Cockapreen. This should do the trick!"

He blew into the device, which sounded like a symphony of flutes far beyond the jester's musical capability. This summoned the heroes' ticket out: a giant, majestic, glowing white bird, untouched by any disastrous force, each feather perfectly in place. Face full of care like peace personified, its gentle claws clutched onto Keeb and Gregor respectively, and the two men were slowly elevated from the pit.

Along with Stumpy, Keno awaited his turn but knew that the dead-end above ground would be no promising than the current trap. With an annoyed grumble, he then did the strangest thing— "NPC slap!"— chuck his sword upward in an attack against the Cockapreen! The bird let out a pained squawk, and less-than-perfect fluff rained down. Gregor and Keeb were angrily tossed along the corridor for starters; then an angry tongue slash followed— and this was no regular bird tongue; it was long and coily and lined with thorns.

Although Keno could no longer see his men, nor the bird who spat from the mouth of the pit like a whirlwind, he could hear Gregor's voice shout, "HOLY SH—!" Keeb's was next: "Gregor, its tongue's got your leg! Look out, it's powering up its flaming beak! You're poisoned! Oh, it just mentally materialized an explosive egg! The egg's about to crash onto your head! OHHHH!" Then came the inevitable: a series of magical attack sounds, strobing lights reflecting off the walls, and a flurry of white feathers blown from an unseen source before floating back down into the pit.

Keno smiled a wicked grin, not even considering Keeb's cry: "The sacred Cockapreen! How're we gonna get out of this fortress now? We're surrounded by fifty-five thousand and a third miles of swamp!"

"We'll worry about that later," grumbled Gregor. The wizard then appeared on the edge of the pit and looked down at his leader. "Yee-ha! Got it," he exclaimed, and Keno knew that he was not referring to the impromptu enemy. "With full health to boot! Wacky-ass and I can take it from here. Why don't you and the doorstop kick back for a while?" And with that, Gregor pulled back. Keeb also took a cameo peek before following.

Satisfied, Keno smiled at Stumpy and placed his fists on his hips. "Well, it looks like Gregor got that kick in the ass he needed, but we really should back them up. It's the right thing to do, after all, and I really don't want to miss out on my share of the commerkens that inexplicably appear after a foul villain disappears in a puff of smoke." He took another glance at the ceiling in vain and shrugged his shoulders. "So do we got a rope or something?"

Stumpy, master at lock picking, listening to rock walls, and sticking his finger in random holes, presented the answer. "Don't need rope." With pointed finger he continued, "I smell yummy things from how we got here behind that wall. Smells like slime eels! Underground river cave, remember? We'll backtrack!" He approached the wall and latched onto one of its stones with fat fingers, then with a yank plucked the stone free, a virtual cork to the deluge that collapsed the rest of the wall. Within seconds the two men were engulfed in watery antics. A couple of alligators were thrown in, too, just for good measure.