To Hell and Back: Revisited

This fic is entierly fictional. All relation, both intentional and otherwise, between characters in this fic and members of these boards no longer excist, if they ever did. These names were not used with prior consent or knowledge of those who use them, but as I said: these characters are not them. Should there be a problem you can talk to me after the show. If you don’t get a joke, either you can’t read my mind, or you haven’t been here long enough. Either way, I’m not telling. Thank you, and have a pleasant good evening.
-Jo The Mighty

Hell is in a constant and never ending state of war. It has waged war on Heaven, war has been waged on Earth, on and off for millennia. Hell has even been known to fight itself; on occasion. Various members of different clergies have also waged war on Hell from time to time, but they were never noticed, and thus do not count.

There has only been one group of mortals that has ever seriously waged war on Hell. This group is known as the “Babylonians”. On all other occasions that mortals have desired to remove Hell’s influences from their midst’s. Not so with the Babylonians, oh no, they wished to conquer Hell and claim it as a province of their almighty Tower.

<i>I am called Jo, and I have had the honor to have joined the Babylonians just prior to the formation of their plans to mount this outrageous campaign. All the while thinking; “It’s just crazy enough to work.” I was there, and this is what I saw. But in order to fully understand how this all happened, I must begin at the beginning; or at least my beginning…

In the middle of a barren field, littered with craters and stained with blood; here stands the Tower of Babble. I remember the first time that I saw the Tower. A black monolith piercing the crystal blue sky.</i>

Resting a moment, Jo took off his tattered top-hat and wiped the perspiration from his brow.  Shading his tan face from the sun, he decided to start looking for a place to camp on the other side of the next hill.  Readjusting his pack, he continued on.  No birds sang as Jo crested the hill above the Tower, but the silence was soon shattered as a terrifying cry echoed from its heights chilling the blood of all that heard it.  Looking up Jo could see a body plunge to ground for a final earthly embrace.  "Yatta, 42!" accompanied the poor fool's thud. Anyone, with any sense at all, would have taken this as a sign of the apocalypse and been on their way.  But Jo had never seen a dead man before, and was curious as to what the fall had done to him.

Jo closed in on the body, and was almost close enough to touch the pale skin, when dozens of Imps leaped out, screaming, from the undisturbed turf surrounding the dead man’s broken form; knocking Jo out of the way at the same time. Quickly, they retrieved the body and bore it through a small trapdoor at the Tower’s base while simultaneously appearing practiced and unorganized; leaving Jo dumbfounded as the imps’ squeaky voices faded behind the stone wall.

Undaunted, Jo continued his search of the Tower's base.  While circling the foot of the immense structure, he came upon a plaque embedded in the wall.  The script was erratic, yet legible, and inlaid with what looked like onyx against the Tower's obsidian and granite walls.  It read, "Stranger; Beware, and Welcome the Tower of Babble, a realm of chaos; where sanity dare not enter."

Jo stood staring at the warning for a long time before he notice a strange man standing next to him.

“Hey Man, what’cha waiting for?” Jo looked at the newcomer curiously. He was of average height, yet taller than Jo, with short white hair, and a long over coat the color of the dead man’s skin.

“Excuse me?” Now it was the man’s turn to be bewildered. The silence stretched. At last, the stranger shrugged.

“New huh? Follow me, we’ll get you certified in no time.” He patted Jo on the back and together they entered the Tower of Babble. <i>Thus began my time in the Tower.</i>

<i>The inside of the tower was a maze of spiraling staircases and hairpin turns. After a time I stopped trying to remember the series of lefts and rights that we took and just followed my new companion in mutual silence.</i>

Jo was amazed at how confident his guide was as they navigated the Tower's twisting walkways.  Only once did he hesitate on which direction to take, almost as if the stranger was waiting for something or someone.  As they continued to walk Jo began to notice that the walls were decorated in relief; that there were carvings of monsters and unreal shapes marching along side them, fighting, eating, killing and so on.  Some of the images must have been nightmarish in origin.

The other thing that Jo noticed as they climbed yet another spiraling stair, was that imps, like the ones he had seen outside, scampering everywhere.

"Um, Sir? ... I'm sorry, but I don't think I've caught your name.  I'm Jo."  The man hardly slowed as he responded to Jo's question, and Jo had to speed up to hear him properly.

"I'm Frameskip IV."  He was distracted, looking down all the corridors that they passed as if he hoped that he would find something within them.

"Uh, Mr. Skip-"

"Frameskip, just Frameskip.  There are no 'Misters' and 'Misses' in the Tower."

"Alright, Frameskip, what are all-"

"&lt;i&gt;Framey!!!&lt;/i&gt;"  Suddenly a young woman, about Frameskip's age, came tearing out of a darkened doorway clearly intent on tackling the man.  Frameskip's face took on a glow of joy as they embraced and he swung her around in a circle ending the motion with a passionate kiss.  For a brief moment Jo felt as if he was intruding on some private affair, and took the opportunity to study the wall sculpture.

A Minatare wielding an immense double bladed axe, bodies and pieces of bodies littered all around it, was battling a single unarmed knight; but the knight was standing as if he held a sword.  Looking closer Jo could see the artisan's detail was so great that the knight was &lt;i&gt;not&lt;/i&gt; unarmed, but indeed carried a butter knife.  As Jo walked along the wall the battle ensued; and as Jo followed he could see the knight gain the upper hand, and eventually defeat the Minatare- with a butter knife!  At this point Jo felt that Frameskip and his companion had had enough time to 're-unite'.  Looking back, he discovered that they didn't share the thought.

"Ahem."  They didn't notice.

"Ahem!"  Still nothing.  Finally Jo just tapped Frameskip on the shoulder.  

"Frameskip, I see that your busy, perhaps you could just give me directions to... where ever we were going."   Both looked at Jo like they didn't know who he was.  The woman spoke first.

"Who are you?"

"I am Jo, and you are?"  He held out my hand in greeting.

"Dragonessa, but you can call me Nessa, everyone else does."  Nessa placed her hand in his and Jo kissed her fingertips, she giggled.

"Oh, Framey, you found a gentleman, how cute.  Where were you taking him?"  A dark cloud fled from Frameskip's face as he realized that Jo had not charmed his woman away from him, and was all smiles as he answered her.

"I was taking him to see Zero, X-Hunter, for certification."  They both smiled, as if sharing some secret.

"I think that I'll join you, I need to talk with Mother anyway.  The pink elephants have been behaving strangely all day."  The three continued down the passage, Frameskip and Dragonessa arm in arm talking seriously about what could be wrong with the pink elephants, with Jo following a pace behind trying, unsuccessfully, to fit the pieces of their conversation together.

As they walked, Jo couldn't help but notice the drastic differences between the couple.  Frameskip was one of the palest people that Jo had ever seen, from his white hair and albino skin down to his pale gray garb, that man looked little more than death warmed over.  While in contrast Nessa had long fuchsia hair falling to her waist, and wore a long, deep blue dress intricately embroidered with what looked to be random patterns.

They traveled on, up stairs, around bends and through more hidden doors, and still the imps were everywhere.  Frameskip and Nessa didn't pay the small creatures any mind, so Jo tried to ignore them as well; but he couldn't remove the image of a man's dead and broken body being tugged and dragged across the ground to only be stuffed into a hole in the Tower's outer wall.

"Uh, Frameskip, Dragonessa?  I was wondering-"

"Halt! Who goes there?"  As they came around a blind corner, a large and imposing figure stopped the group.  Nearly seven feet tall, the man had cybernetic implants all over his body, showing from beneath his armor and connecting him directly to his drawn sword.  Neither of Jo's companions appeared concerned about facing the cyborg's naked steel as he did; the sword looked like it was  pointed more at Jo than at them anyway.  

"Calm down Zero, it's just us."  Frameskip sounded a little nervous, as if not so long ago it was he that was at sword point.  Zero didn't move.

"Really Zero, you know who we are, now put that thing away."  Dragonessa's admonishing tone, also had no effect.

"Yes I know you, Nessa; and you too Frameskip.  But I do not know him."  He held the sword absolutely still, in direct line with Jo's heart.  Nessa and Frameskip forgot their frustration as they began to explain his presence.

"Ya' see Zero," Frameskip began "I was on my way inside when I found this guy standing by the door, perfectly still, not moving a &lt;I&gt;hair&lt;/I&gt;, he was just staring at the sign on the wall.  Anyway, I figured that anyone that fascinated by the &lt;I&gt;sign&lt;/I&gt; might just be an asset to the Tower.  So I brought him inside to be certified."  Zero, X-Hunter, sheathed his sword, and Jo drew breath for the first time in what felt to be minutes.

"I see." The cyborg still sounded doubtful, "Frameskip, were you successful?"  Frameskip grinned mischievously, holding Nessa close with one arm as he gestured with the other.

"Well, it wasn't easy mind you, but yeah I was.  Can we see the Queen now?"  Zero nodded his ascent, allowing Frameskip and Nessa passed through the door he guarded.  Once the portal was closed, he once more turned his attentions on to Jo.  The iris of Zero's cybernetic eye dilated and contracted as he focused on the potential threat to his beloved queen, for a moment Jo felt very small.

"&lt;b&gt;Swordmaster!&lt;/b&gt;"  Zero's bellow knocked dust from the walls and made Jo hold his ears in fear of damage.  When Jo looked around a second later all the imps had vanished, and a strangely familiar young man was running up the corridor to join them.

"Swordmaster," Zero addressed the newcomer, "take this man to be certified."  

"Yes sir X-Hunter."  Still slightly winded from what must have been an all out dash at his summons,    Swordmaster set a leisurely pace as he led Jo away from Zero, X-Hunter.  As they walked through the Tower once more Jo couldn't help but feel that he had seen this man someplace before.  After a time, the imps returned to meander the halls as before.

“Excuse me, but why are there so many imps here?”

“They work here. The imps take care of the Tower’s daily needs and maintenance.”

“So they’re servants.” Now that he mentioned it, there did seem to be a hint of purpose to the imps’ movements, but I still had one last question.

“When I was outside, I saw a man fall from the top of the Tower, then the imps brought his body back inside. Is that also part of their duties, disposing of dead bodies?” Swordmaster appeared somewhat abashed, as he considered how to answer Jo’s question, as if what he said could drastically effect something.

“No, and yes. As I said, they take care of the day to day- but don’t worry; people don’t die everyday, but when one does, they take care of it.”

Swordmaster was defiantly edgy, though he was trying to hide it; he was sweating too much. At last they reached their destination; a simple, relatively unadorned door. Swordmaster stopped, a hand wiped the sweat from his brow and it came away drenched. He was <I>really </I>nervous now, so much so that his face was loosing all color.

“Well, this is it, through that door and tell Cala that you’re there to be certified. See ya’.” <i>It struck me as he turned to jog down the hall that Swordmaster was the man I had seen fall from the Tower’s peak!</i>

The room to which Swordmaster led Jo was empty save for a thick wooden desk, neatly organized with pens, ink, and sand shaker arranged just so. There was also a bell resting along with the other items. Jo approached the desk, rang the bell and waited. The single note drifted through the air, ricocheted off the walls and eventually disappeared. For a brief moment Jo wondered if the note had gone home, or if it had some place specific to be right then, which is why it didn’t stay to keep him company, since no one had answered its call. He was about to ring again, just for the company if nothing else, when a voice spoke up from off on his left.

“No need to do that, I’m right here.” Looking to the side, Jo saw a small woman exit a hidden door in the stonewall. She wore a blue and gray robe with the hood thrown back allowing her golden tresses to fall to her shoulders.

“You’re here to be certified, right?” Jo nodded. “One of the imps told me on my way. Now, sit down and we’ll see exactly how sane you are, or are not- whatever the case may be.” She smiled and gestured to the chair behind him, as she walked around the desk to sit in the large leather chair that rested there. Jo sat nervously in the simple wooden chair for visitors; for he was sure that nether chair had been there when he came in.

She took an empty form out of a desk drawer and, dipping a pen into ink, began to ask questions.

“Tell me, exactly how did you decide to come to the tower.”

“I didn’t. I was just traveling the countryside when this… Tower caught my eye. As I was examining it, I found the sign posted on the door and found it- captivating. Then the next thing I knew; Frameskip was leading me through the halls, and I ended up here.” She liked that answer, for some reason. Though Jo didn’t know it, but that was the correct response; just as no one ever went out to become insane, no one ever came to the tower intentionally.

“Dose the thought of staying the Tower scare you?” It took Jo a moment of consideration, but eventually he came to the conclusion that the prospect did not scare him, much. When Cala finished questioning, a moment was spent reviewing the notes she had taken. Finally, she folded the page and set it aside and stood; Jo followed her example.

“I’m Cala, pleased to meet you.”

“I’m Jo, likewise.” A thoughtful look came over Cala’s face, and Jo had the strange impression that she was sizing him up for something.

“There is one more exercise that you must go through before I can finalize you results, but I must say that so far, you show promise.” Promise for what, she did not say. “Follow me.”

Once more Jo was led through the Tower’s winding halls and secret passages. Higher and higher in to the Tower they climbed, at last stopping on the edge of a small cliff over what looked like a huge underground lake. There was no obvious source for the faint glow that illuminated the vast cavern, until Jo took a closer look at the walls near the entrance and decided that the moss and lichen growing all along the cave provided the light. Cala crossed her arms over her breasts and turned on Jo with a hard look in her eye.

“You will be all alone in this. The only assistance you are allowed will be this dagger and this compass. The dagger is made of fine steal, and the compass will always point toward the goal. Just a quick note; it’s that way.” Cala pointed over the lake, “Good luck.” And she pushed Jo into the cold water. He came the surface, sputtering and chilled to the bone.

“What are you doing? You are crazy if you think I’m going to play this game!” She only smiled.

“Good, then you’ll play.” And she left. Jo was alone, treading water with nowhere to go, but forward. He began swimming across the lake, it was slow going, and he had to lose his shoes and socks to keep from being dragged under, but he did make progress. Looking ahead Jo still could see nothing but darkness, as it had been since the beginning. How big this lake was Jo could not tell. He checked the compass once more to be sure that he hadn’t been turned around.

In a darkened room, elsewhere in the tower, shadowed figures watched Jo swim across the lake through a glowing crystal ball the size of a man’s head.

“Frameskip, do you really think he could be apart of the Tower?”

“Yes, my Queen.”

“And you Cala, what do you think?”

“He defiantly has the potential of insanity, but he keeps it tightly suppressed and doesn’t know it.”

“Well, he will defiantly discover it now.” They turned their attention back to the crystal sphere; Jo was still crossing the lake; water rippled behind him for no apparent reason.

“The creature is almost upon him.”

Jo did not know how long he had been swimming; he was tired, and his strokes were becoming slow and sluggish. <i>Something is wrong; Watch out.</i> Danger flashed across Jo’s mind and he stopped swimming.

“Something is not right.” His voice did not echo. Jo remained as still as possible, while still treading water, and peered into the darkness; he could not see a thing.

A firm, cold grasp clamped around Jo’s ankle, pulling him under. <i>Fight!</i> Jo struggled for air, thrashing and kicking with all his might. He was rewarded with a fresh lungful of sweat life before being dragged back under. Jo did not know what he was fighting, but he knew that it was a fight for his life. Jo continued trying to gain the surface, to once again find the sweet air that would prolong his life and give him the strength to fight on. <i>Fight damn you!</i> Jo did not know where the voice in his head came from, but he took the advice and fought on for his survival. The creature was wearing him down, the adrenalin that had flooded Jo moments before was ebbing away; yet he continued to fight for air. At length, Jo was unable to struggle any longer; the creature began to pull him down to the dark depths of the lake. <i>Fight fool!</i> the voice sounded as if Jo had been doing it all wrong since the beginning, but how could that be? He had been fighting for his life, just as the voice had instructed. <i>Fight!</i> As less and less oxygen made its way to Jo’s brain, an idea also was beginning to form. Maybe the voice was not telling him to fight for his life, but to fight the creature instead. At first this concept sounded crazy, was there a difference; fighting for your life and fighting the creature that threatened your life? Perhaps there was. Jo reached out blindly and caught hold of the creature’s wrist that held tight to Jo’s ankle. It paused, as if the creature wondered what was happening. Jo took his opportunity and thrust his fist as hard as he could to where the creature’s head might be, and missed. He punched again and again, finally landing his knuckles squarely on his assailant’s slimy face. Horrified that its docile prey had become violent, the creature let go of Jo’s ankle and beat a hasty retreat to its underwater lair. Jo broke the surface moments later, gasping for air.

<i>Little did I know that this was only the beginning</i>

<I>It wasn’t long afterwards, that I lay shivering in the cold air on the lake’s shore. Luckily, there was a fire pit with wood and tinder stacked near by waiting for whoever came along. After drying myself by the flames, I continued my journey through the Tower’s trials.</I>

The land beyond the lake’s shore was barren and wasted. Skeletal trees reached, like the bony fingers of an ancient blind man, out of the cracked earth feeling the surface for any life that might amble by. Checking the compass, Jo began to walk. Once again, the expanse that had to be crossed felt interminable. Jo did not know how long he walked but it must have been hours. <I>You’re lost.</I> Jo stopped dead in his tracks. That was the same voice that had inspired him to fight against the sea monster, rather for his life. <I>And it took you so long to figure that out, I’m surprised you’re still alive!</I>

“What do you mean, you’re surprised I’m still alive? How was I supposed to know that that thing was a coward?” Jo spoke to the space above him, though there was no one there, the voice came from inside his head. It snorted,


“Oh, leave me alone.” Jo continued to walk. <I>You’re still lost. You need to veer more to the left.</I> Jo ignored the voice and kept walking, deliberately not checking the compass to confirm what the voice had told him; it snorted in disgust.

Jo walked on in silence; both inside and outside his mind. Evidently, the voice became bored; that or it just couldn’t take being dragged in what it believed to be the wrong direction.

<I>I did tell you that you’re going in the wrong direction, right?</I> Jo remained silent. <I>You can’t ignore me forever, it’s not like I’m going anywhere.</I> Jo slowed, coming to a gradual stop.

“What do you want with me?” The voice laughed, <I>Want? Oh, that’s a good one. I don’t </I>want <I>anything from you. Well, maybe for you to take my advice, does that count?</I>

“I’m not taking your advice because I think that you’re wrong.” <I>Ah, but you haven’t checked the compass to make sure. C’mon, just give it a look.</I> Jo’s right hand had wandered to his coat pocket and was trying to find its way in to where the compass was kept. This was prety awkward, considering that Jo was keeping the compass on his left side.

“What in the world?” Jo watched as his hand achieved its goal and was about to emerge from his pocket with the compass in its grasp. “Oh no you don’t!” Using his other arm to force his right hand to release the instrument, Jo left the compass in his pocket and continued walking. “I must be going crazy.” The voice just laughed in his head.

It wasn’t long afterwards that Jo stood, once again, upon the shores of the lake. The very lake he had left behind so many hours ago, compleatly with smoldering fire pit.

<I>Now are you going to check the compass?</I> the voice in Jo’s head was full of mirth at being right. Without a word, Jo did so; this time keeping the small device in his hand as he walked. giggles echoed between Jo’s ears.

After a time, Jo decided to talk with this voice that haunted him; after all, there was nothing else to do.

“Who are you anyway?” The voice, which had been whistling, stopped to answer before continuing.

<I>I’m Timmy.</I>

“Where did you come from?” This time there was a pause before Timmy responded.

<I>What’s the difference between ignorance and indifference?</I> Jo did not know what to take of this change of topic.

“What is the difference between ignorance and indifference?”

<I>I don’t know, and I don’t care.</I> Jo only shock his head as Timmy laughed at his own wit.

“Did you make that up yourself, or did someone help you?”

<I>I made it up, thank you very much.</I>

“Uh-huh, right. Why are you here?”

<I>What is this? You giving me the third degree? Covering all the bases aren’t ya’; who, where, what… I bet the next question you were going to ask is ‘How did you get here?’ Well, Am I right?</I> Jo stopped walking and drew the dagger that Cala had given him when he first entered the trials from its place on his right hip.

“If a man with multiple personalities threatens suicide, is it a hostage situation?” Jo tried to raise the knife to his throat but something stopped him. Before entering the Tower, Jo would have said that it was self-preservation that had stopped him, but that could not have been it, for Jo was convinced that he had none left; looking down he saw that it was his right hand.

“Stop fighting me!” <I>No. The answer is no, for this–very–reason!</I>

A gathering of spectators watched Jo silently through a crystal ball as he appeared to fight a force that had attempted to slit his throat with his own dagger.

“X-Hunter, what is he fighting?” To the queen’s knowledge there were no creatures that fought in this style residing in the tower. The cyborg’s mechanical eye focused and refocused.

"I don't see anything except him, my Queen.  Perhaps if we could hear what he was saying we would have a greater clue as to what is attacking him.  What do you think Master Martines?"  

Wilfredo Martines was an elderly wizard, respected for wisdom that age brought with it. He was clad in a cloak that did not appear to be wholly there; parts of it would phase out, perhaps to other locations in space and time.

“I too perceive nothing besides the boy, but he seems different then when he began, but I suppose that is to be expected; no one returns from the trails as they went in.”

With nothing left to be said, the Babylonians returned to watching the silent Jo struggle for his life once more.

Timmy was strong, Jo had difficulty forcing the dagger to his throat against the wishes of his mental counterpart. At length, his arm tired and the exhausted limbs fell lifeless at his side, the dagger clattering harmlessly to the floor. Jo sat down and panted, trying to regain some of the energy he spent battling Timmy, <I>There, are you happy now? We’re even; nether of us could win a contest of wills over the other. Do you know what that means?</I> Timmy also panted, apparently the power struggle had been a strain on him as well. Jo shook his head, both in confusion and in admittance of his ignorance.

“What does it mean?”

<I>It means that we are going to have to agree with each other if we’re to get anything done, that’s what it means.</I> Jo shook his head again.

“This is going to take some work.” Timmy agreed.

After resting for a time, Jo continued to follow the compass toward the goal, and was soon standing before a set of great iron bound doors set in a cliff face. The doors were engraved with two giant warriors; one of the combatants was already impaled through the chest by the other’s blade.

“Do you think this is the end?” Jo asked, <I>No.</I> Pushing on one of the massive doors open, Jo entered the mountain. Inside he found a large circular arena, with a man standing on the other side. The door shut behind Jo with a loud crash, causing Jo to hop forward in surprise. Lights came on from over head, at first to bright to see, but the blindness quickly faded. Finally there was enough light for Jo to see who stood across from him, it was Swordmaster.

“Swordmaster, is that you?”

“Yes Jo, it’s me.” Jo began to walk forward and close the distance between them.

“Hold, newcomer. Before you advance, know this. Your goal lies within the chamber behind me; and the only way to get there is to defeat me in combat, to the death!” Jo stopped in his tracks.

<I>What are you waiting for, kill him.</I>


<I>Because that’s the only way out of here. You have to kill him to finish the test.</I>

“It is not yours to wonder why, it is only yours to do or die.” Swordmaster dropped to a fighting stance and took a step forward to give him more room to swing the bastard sword he carried. Jo left his dagger where it was.

“Dammit, I don’t want to kill him, there has to be another way.” Quickly, Timmy seized control of Jo’s hand and slapped him with it.

<I>Kill him.</I> Swordmaster stopped advancing, he wondered why Jo had attacked himself, as well as who he was talking to.

“Don’t do that! I’m going to get you one of these days, mark me; I will.”

<I>Uh-huh right, not if we don’t leave this room alive. And the only way to do that is to kill Swordmaster.</I>

“No, I will not do it.”

“Um, excuse me?” Jo turned to look at Swordmaster. “Are you O.K.?”

“I’m fine, now leave us alone, we have to discuss something.” Swordmaster looked around the arena once… twice… and still saw no one save himself and Jo.

“Are you sure your alright, I mean, there’s no one here but us.” Jo’s eyes gleamed at the continued interruption.

“I know that. A two year old could see that. Now, leave us alone.” Jo could feel anger rising within him for no real reason. Timmy must have been taking a different approach to achieving his goals.

“Oh no you don’t, I’m on to you.” The words came out in an incoherent mutter, barley audible. Swordmaster, on the other hand couldn’t handle Jo’s obvious contradictions. Storming up to his would-be opponent, Swordmaster yelled into Jo’s face.

“There is only you and me, now fight!” Jo drew his dagger with his right hand and thrust it hilt deep into Swordmaster’s chest. Switching his grip, Jo helped gravity to remove the body from his blade, with his boot.

“You’re wrong, there is only me.” Jo walked through the final door as the imps dragged Swormaster’s body away. Stopping in the doorway to watch the mesmerizing process, Jo could almost swear that the imps were chattering something over and over again; it sounded a little like ‘YATTA’.

Beyond the final door was a royal looking chamber. A red carpet led from Jo’s feet to a stone dais standing against the far wall; a single carved stone seat resting in the center of the raised platform. As Jo walked onto the carpet, the door behind him closed with a loud bang followed by more bangs from all sides.

<I>They’re coming.</I> Jo felt that Timmy was right; whoever ‘they’ were. Jo walked carefully into the middle of the room so that he was as far as he could be from any one wall; just in case ‘they’ could pass through solid stone.

“Gotta be careful. Especially here; you never know what will happen here.” Jo’s voice was a raspy whisper as he contemplated various scenarios, none were very promising. The silence in the room was becoming oppressive, when suddenly two doors, one on either side of the dais, silently opened allowing two lines of people to enter the chamber and form an official looking formation around a woman who took her place on the throne. Jo watched their silent movements, his breathing hard and heavy. He quivered with tension from the unbearable silence. Finally he couldn’t take it any more, he had to do some thing.

“Congratulations boy! You’ve done an excellent job at passing through the trails. Very well done indeed.” Before Jo could speak, a seasoned old sage broke from his position near the back of the dais to stand before Jo. Patting Jo on the back in a fatherly manner, the old man continued.

“You must tell me sometime about this new phantom that appears to have inhabited the barrens, we couldn’t see it, but you must know something of it since you were able to reach here alive.” The man did not speak quickly, but that did not diminish Jo’s feeling of being swept away. He stared blankly at the old man, wondering what he was talking about: phantom on the barrens? Then something else the sage had said struck home.

“You were watching me, the whole time?” The old man continued to smile.

“Yes we did boy, all of us were watching.” he waved his arm behind him at and the group by the dais patiently watching the exchange,

“Oh, I see. You are wondering why we didn’t help, or something like that.” Jo nodded slowly. “Well the truth is that we needed to know a little more about you, and it is amazing how much one can learn when watching a person when you don’t know that you are there.” the old man giggled for a second but quickly tried to hide the fact behind a cough. Jo looked at the ancient sage from the corner of his eye. <I>Crazy old man. Be careful Jo, this guy is not safe.</I>

“Uh-huh. And who are you, again?” The sage quickly brightened with the change of subject.

“Oh you’re right, where have my manners gone? I am Wilfredo Martinez, sage and advisor to Queen Esker, pleased to meet you.” Martinez flashed his cape and gave a bow, then quickly straightened to shake Jo’s hand.

“And may I present her majesty, the queen of the Tower of Bable, Valkryie to Odin, Queen Esker.” The woman sitting in the stone throne stood to acknowledge the introduction. Jo looked up the met the Queen’s eyes, but quickly looked away as the power held in that gaze frightened him, even Timmy gave a gasp of shock and surprise; Jo had the feeling that he was trying to find someplace inside Jo’s head to hide. Jo dropped to one knee, eyes to the floor, as he drew the dagger that he had carried through the trails and offered it hilt first.

“My Queen, I give you my sword, if you will have it.” Esker approached the kneeling man and drew the dagger from his hands.

“This is not a blade worthy of one that is in my service, though you owe this blade your life, so do many others; both past and future. You will find another. Arise Jo, and be accepted into Bable.” Esker’s voice was firm, yet it seemed to Jo that this was not the way she was accustomed to speaking. <I>This is a powerful woman. We could do much worse then to have her as our queen.</I>

When Jo stood the entire procession came down off the dais to greet him. Everyone was full of smiles and congratulations. The men patted him on the back and shook his hand, while the women, who preferred hugs, kissed him on the cheek. The mood went form solemn to jovial in a matter of seconds and the entire celebration was moved into a grand meeting hall where food and drink waited with the rest of the Tower’s residents.

The welcoming party itself was nothing out of the ordinary, as far as Tower standards go; but Jo thought it was the best party he had ever attended. Throughout the night different people approached Jo to introduce themselves and to congratulate him on completing the trails.

As the night wore on, and Jo was beginning to have thoughts of retiring for the night, he was approached by X-Hunter.

“The Queen wishes to see you, now.” Jo swallowed the glass of wine that he had been drinking and followed the cyborg out of the grand hall. They walk through the torch lit halls of the Tower in an uneasy silence. It seemed that X-Hunter always made Jo uneasy, Timmy was uneasy as well, he paced the inside of Jo’s skull so much that Jo feared that a hole might be worn in the rug; so to speak. At length they entered an anteroom, a low wooden table sat in the center before a single lightly engraved chair facing the door, while plainer chairs rested on the opposite side. A large fresco adorned the wall opposite the windows. Illuminated by the starlight, Jo could see a great warrior standing victorious. He carried every weapon imaginable, and a few so unlike anything that Jo had ever seen before that he could only guess that they were weapons. Behind the warrior lay a Hell-like landscape where molten lava flowed in rivers and bodies decorated the banks like daisies. Not sure if he should be amazed or sick at the amount of fine details, Jo stopped walking to gape in awe.

“Zero, X-Hunter, who is that a portrait of?” The First Knight of Bable retraced his steps to stand beside Jo, as he too gazed upon the horrific image.

“That is the Tower’s patron Demi-god, the great Zero; for whom I was named.” Jo and Zero shared a glance. “Legend has it that Zero used to be a denizen of hell, and that at some time he challenged Satan for the throne. The 'why’s and 'how’s of the conflict are lost to time, except for one glorious detail.” The knight gestured toward the fresco. “In an effort to rid himself of Zero forever, Satan sent an army of daemons against his rival. Zero single handedly destroyed the entire force; to the man. He was about to march on Satan’s palace and tear him from the throne, when a powerful wizard had him banished from Hell’s fiery depths for eternity.” The two men stood in silence for a long moment, even Timmy was quite.

“Come, the queen awaits.” Zero, X-Hunter, led Jo through a final door and into the Queen’s bedchamber, and shut the door. Queen Esker sat in her enormous bed and watched Jo as he fidgeted in the doorway.

“Jo, do you know why you are here?” Her voice was more relaxed then it had been at the ceremony, smother it seemed. <I>Be careful, remember the power. Remember her awesome power!</I>

“No, my Queen, I do not.” She crooked a finger and Jo walked to the side of her bed and knelt to face her. She reached out a single finger and ran it down the side of his face, tracing the line of his jaw to the end of his chin.

“Tell me a bedtime story; NOW!”

<i>Time continued on, as time often does, and I came to know, and be known, by the rest of the Tower. I found it strange how much continuity existed within the chaos.

Wilfredo the sage made himself in evidence quite often during the first few days; if fact it was hard not to be in the old man’s company. At one point Timmy suggested the idea that the “crazy old man,” as he put it, was following me; why, he didn’t say. The sage’s topics of conversation varied from the ancient legends of Zero, to problems he’d had with his life before I was even born, and every once in a while his mind would wonder off with out him and he would start to mutter to himself about something or another. The only topic that would arise more than once a day was what I had fought on the barrnes.</i>

Two men walked through a green park within the Tower. There were giant shade trees, meandering paths over rolling hills, and even a duck pond. Though the park looked to be exposed to the elements, Jo knew that he and Wilfredo Martinez had never left the Tower’s obsidian walls. The ancient sage was explaining how the Tower, as a living entity, was not held by the accepted rules and laws of normal places.

“You see my boy, the Tower is not a static place; it moves and shifts. You could wander through its halls forever and continue to find new rooms and passages.” The old man became excited at this concept, like a small child anticipating never-ending adventures, he quickly regained his composure. “The halls are never the same two days in a row, but don’t worry, as I’m sure you’ve discovered by now; all you have to do to get some where is to keep your destination in mind.” The old man grinned and lapsed into silence. <i>No wonder we never get anywhere when you argue with me. You can’t keep focused on our destination.</i> Jo slapped the back of his head, behind the ear, and began to scratch as if swatting a mosquito. The sage glanced at him; Jo smiled.

“Jo, I know I’ve asked you before, but I am truly curious as to the nature of the phantom that you fought on the barrens.” Jo stopped scratching his head and Timmy fled to the far reaches of his mind. Jo noticed that his invisible counterpart did this every time that Wilfreado mentioned their contest of wills. But Jo knew that Timmy wasn’t totally inactive. Once Jo had tried to tell the sage about this voice that he’d been hearing, but Timmy wouldn’t let him; much in the same way that he wouldn’t let Jo slit his own throat. They had discussed it later, in Jo’s room. Apparently, Timmy didn’t want his presence to be known by the rest of the Tower. In the end, Jo agreed.

“I don’t know if there is anymore that I can tell you about it, Wilfredo. My hand started moving on its own, and I knew that it was going to try and kill me, so I tried to stop it and, eventually, it stopped. That’s it.” Jo had practiced this explanation in the mirror several times for believability. “Why are you so curious?”

“Well, I’m sure you understand my natural thirst for knowlege.” Jo nodded; sometimes the sage would go on for hours about his adventures in search for knowledge. “This is just one more tidbit of information that I believe will be of aid to my understanding of the universe.” The sage shrugged as if that was it.

“Sorry Wilfredo, can’t help you.” Jo walked down the hill and followed a path out of the park.

<i>I had very little contact with Frameskip, as he was consistently leaving and returning to the Tower, at random. When he </i>was<i> in residence, his time was consumed by Princess Nessa; they were practically inseparable, and when he was gone, her time was spent amidst a harem of kittens and plushies. What Frameskip did outside the Tower was a mystery to me.</i>

Jo was sitting against the wall in one of the Tower’s countless passages, as was a habit of his, watching people and imps pass by; he counted how many turned their head to look at him as they went. So far only five people out of seventeen had obviously noticed his presence. Frameskip was one of those that did, for he gave a slight wave as he passed. Noticing that the pale man was alone, and thus about ready to leave, Jo took the opportunity to talk to him.

“Hey Frameskip, can I talk to you for a second?” The man’s pale cloak fluttered as he came to an abrupt stop.

“I’m kinda’ in a rush.”

“Oh, then I’ll walk you out.” Frameskip shrugged, and continued walking with Jo at his side.

“So, where are you going?” Frameskip was silent. “In fact, I was just wondering, where do you go when you leave?”

“Different places, doing different things.” Jo waited for Frameskip to continue, he did not.

“You’re not going to tell me, are you?”

“Nope.” <i>A man with secrets is dangerous. You can never know when you will have to deal with a secret that is not yours.</i>

“Okaay.” Jo sometimes though that Timmy was a little paranoid. “How about telling me why you are always leaving. I mean, hardly anyone else steps outside the Tower nearly as much as you do.” Frameskip stopped so suddenly that Jo took a step before realizing it.

“Look, what I do, and why I do it is my own business. As for leaving the Tower gounds once and a while, you should try it some time, it’s refreshing.” Frameskips glower had no effect on Jo as he opened the door and stepped into the bright sun. Jo watched as mounted a pale horse and rode across the broken field.

Jo considered Frameskip’s idea of leaving the Tower. He thought about it all the way back to his own rooms. That was not all that Jo though about during his long walk. In fact, the more complex his ideas and plans, the longer it took to get back to his rooms.

<i>We’ve been wondering around the Tower for and hour, you know that don’t you?</i>

“Wha-? Oh damn you. Just keep quite, I’m thinking.” Jo shouted at the space before him, as if that was where Timmy was, and could see the look on his face.

<i>Thinking? Is </i>that<i> what you call it? It looked like-</i>

“I said quiet!” Jo could feel Timmy give a faint ‘humph’ and turn his back on the rest of his mind. It was a very odd feeling. The rest of Jo’s walk to his apartments was done in silence and concentration of his destination.

The rooms that had been assigned to Jo, or maybe created for him; considering how the Tower worked, were quit nice. The door from the hall entered to a sitting room, where a few couches rested around a low table, for guests; though he yet to have any. There was also a writing table set aside one of the walls, with a door in the far wall leading to the bed chamber. The walls themselves were the same black stone as the rest of the Tower, but lacked the carvings that covered the halls.

Striding to the middle of the room, Jo flung himself onto one of the cushioned seats and stared at the ceiling’s mosaic. Two men with the same face, or close enough that it did not mater, battled each other with sword and fist spikes while undefined faces watched from the shadows. The piece was disturbing, yet Jo found it utterly fascinating. Once, Wilfredo had accompanied Jo to his new rooms, and had seen the painting. The older man could have been looking at a puzzle; all the chin scratching and quick glances that he directed at the ceiling made Jo wonder if there was something that he should know. The old sage denied any significance, but the chin scratching continued.

Jo didn’t know how long he lay there; before he knew it his middle was making the strangled noises of hunger. Donning a clean coat that did not look like he had slept in it from the wardrobe in the bed chamber, Jo went down to the dining hall.

The Tower’s dinning hall was an enormous room with several long tables stretching down the length, two roaring fires lightly warmed the room from hearths on either end. Jo took a seat far from the door he had entered, close enough to one of the fires to feel the warmth, but not too close. Absently ordering a plate of steak and grilled vegetables from a passing imp, Jo sat down to think about leaving the Tower for a while: to see the outside world again, like Frameskip had suggested. So absorbed in the prospect, as he was, Jo did not notice that he had seated himself near Dragonessa.

At first glance, nothing appeared out of the ordinary. On second thought, nothing <i>ever</i> appears out of the ordinary in the Tower. Jo looked again. On the table in front of the princess’ plate was a miniature table surrounded by several doll-sized chairs. Appropriatly, plushies sat in the chairs with their own little plates and silver, steaks and mugs of wine. It was a regular plushie banquet. But that wasn’t what caught Jo’s attention, but rather the dinner conversation.

“No, I don’t think that reality is the same for everyone. Some people see the world differently than others.” Nessa was waving a square of meat dripping with sauce around on the end of her fork as she addressed the bear at the opposite end of the mini table from herself. Taking the bite, she waited patiently for something to happen as she continued to focus on the small blue toy.

“That’s exactly what I’m talking about. All fore knowledge that a person has when experiencing an event effects their perception of the event, and so; their reality.” Cutting another square from her plate, Nessa continued to listen to what the toy was saying. Jo was fascinated. Re-focusing his attention onto the princess and her friends, he tried to grasp the thread of their conversation. Nessa paused in the process of putting another bite of food in her mouth to glare at a dirty bunny with button eyes

“What do you mean, nothing is real? I must whole heartedly disagree with you Mr. Floppins.” She must have seen something is the bunny’s reaction that satisfied her, because Nessa nodded in that kind of way that women do when they get what they want and chewed on her steak in a satisfied manner. The contentment did not last though, for a moment later she rounded on a velveteen rabbit, that was missing one eye, sitting across from the dirty Mr. Floppins.

“Well, that’s not surprising. I’d expect <i>you</i> to agree with him <i>Mrs. Floppins</I>.” But Mrs. Floppins was not the end of it. Apparently most of Nessa’s plushies agreed with Mr. Floppins; that nothing was real. The princess’ face fell further and further as each doll proclaimed their opinion.

Dejectedly looking about her for an ally to support her opinion against the dolls, Nessa found Jo.

“Jo, what do you think.”

“Hmmm? What was that Princess?” When Jo had seen her looking in his direction, he refocused his eyes on the far side of the room. He now attempted to hide behind the lie that he had only been staring off into space, not at the princess and her party.

“Nessa, please. What do you think about reality?” Jo had never thought about reality.

“Reality is what you perceive it to be.” Turning back to his plate and taking a swig to wet his throat, the wine had warmed; and he would bet that the steak had gone cold as well, damn.

“That is an interesting position, could you elaborate?”

“Um, when you see something; hear it; smell it; taste it; touch it; whatever, you have a thought or thoughts on what it is that you are perceiving. That’s your reality.”

“So past experiences could have an effect on this perception, correct? Because that would affect the thoughts as they interpret the information.” Nessa was becoming more excited with every word.

“I guess so, yes, that follows.” The princess hopped up and down in her seat and clapped her hands in a childish way. Muttering that she knew that she was right.

“Jo, please, come sit over here with us.” She patted the seat next to her at the miniature table’s head, “Be quite B.T. Framey is out on one of his excursions. Besides, Jo is very polite, all the imps say so.” It was the blue bear at the foot of his table that had made some snide comment about Jo getting ideas of some sort, Jo had known that much even before Nessa responded; Timmy laughed. <i>The imps think you are polite; that’s only because you’ve ignored them whenever possible and avoid them when it isn’t.</i>

“I don’t want to impose on anything.” Nessa sent a 'I told you look across the table to B.T., who rolled his eyes in response.

“B.T. there, and everyone else for that mater, seems to think that nothing is real. I disagree, and so do you.” She gave Jo a very pleased smile.

“If nothing is real, then where are we, and what are we doing here?” The small blue bear glared at him from across the table and seemed to think that Jo’s question was not worth a response.

“It’s all a dream. Nothing we do matters, because in the end the big man is going to wake up and this will all be done.” The other dolls nodded in agreement. Mr. Floppins continued the argument.

“You see, the world as we know it is a huge communal dream of giants. Each one dreaming of a location where interesting events happen. We are figments of imagination, players for their amusement.” The velveteen rabbit across from him shook her head in vigorous agreement. Nessa looked to Jo with a pained expression.

“You see what I have to deal with?” He did, their explanation sounded more like a religious creation story rather then a theoretical interpretation of reality, and he said so.

“You’re just as close minded as she is.” B.T. said disdainfully, crossing his arms across his chest and turning away from the conversation.

Timmy snickered softly in a dark corner of Jo’s mind.
“What?” Whenever Timmy snickered it was because he knew something that Jo did not. B.T. thought he was being addressed.

“All you humans are close minded. You never understand the plight of the plushie, and one day; one day you will all fry for it. So there.” Timmy snickering continued.

<i>Dude, you’re talking to a bunch of </i>dolls. Jo was taken aback, Timmy was right; for once undeniably right.

“You’re right.” Jo stood made his good nights and left the table, muttering to himself: “I have to get out of here. Maybe Frame was right; perhaps I should take a vacation.”

Meanwhile, back at the table, the entire party watched Jo leave in stunned silence. Especially B.T. Bear who had never expected, let alone actually have, a human to agree with him about the plight of the plushie.

<I>Of course, my plan to got on this little jaunt was not so simple as that. I could not just say, “I’m going to leave now; goodbye.” No. Since it had been some time since I had to fend for myself, I had to find some necessities; food, shelter, weapons and such. Or rather I had to discover where to find such things.</I>

After leaving the Dinning hall, Jo wandered the Tower’s halls for a long time, mainly because he and Timmy couldn’t keep their collective mind straight on what they were about.

<I>Dude, you were talking to dolls!</I>

“They had some very interesting things to say.”

<I>They were dolls!</I>

“Lay off it, will ya’?” Jo realized that he was screaming and looked around to see if anyone had noticed. There was no one in sight, not even an imp.

“Anyway, we definitely need to get out of here, at least for a little while. All I need to find out is where we can get some supplies. Concentrate on that: a place to prepare for a trip.”

Some minutes later they arrived at a highly decorated door. The main focus of the relief was a multi-armed creature with two eyes fixed on its bulbous head. The artist must have been extremely skilled, for the eyes appeared almost alive while the arms were cut into frozen movement.

“Where am I?” <I>Read the sign, Genius.</I> There was indeed a sign carved into obsidian wall next to the door. It read: “Macc’s HQ”

“I wonder who Macc is.” Jo’s hand went to the knob of it’s, or rather Timmy’s, volition.

<I>So do I, and there is only one way to find out for sure.</I> Jo snatched his right hand out of the air with his left, hugging it to his chest.

“Don’t do that!” <I>You should learn and trust me more. This is my body too.</I>

“No it isn’t, you’re just renting space.” And Jo passed through the threshold.

The room beyond the door was not exactly what Jo had expected. What greeted him was a chamber, well lit on one side, while the other was hidden in darkness. A short dais dominated the lighted space where a man sat at his large table-like desk. Between Jo and the desk was a fluffy couch; on the far side was a large tank containing a huge purple octopus. The room had a strange feeling of being set up, almost like it was putting on airs.

“Alright Ultros, this is your last chance,” the man at the desk was saying “all you have to do is enter either the song name, or its number. I mean, you have eight arms, how hard can it be?”

“Your database is measured in light-years.” The purple octopus in the tank across the room had poked his head out of the water to respond. The tone of the conversation reminded Jo of an old couple who did little more then fight. “I’m not an elephant, I can’t remember all of it <I>and</I> know which one would be the best to play when. By the way, he’s here.” The creature slipped back into the water with a humph, and set a piece of music to play from his consol; cleverly hidden in a decorative reef.

“Right.” The man waved Jo over to the edge of the dais, Until that moment Jo did not realize that anyone had noticed his entrance. Jo went as beckoned, and meet the man at the edge of his stage. They shook hands and made introductions.

“Hello, I’m Jo.” The man smiled.

“Yes, I know. I’m Macc Maverick, but you can call me Macc.”

“Hey, what about me?” The octopus across the room had surfaced in his tank, and was addressing Macc in a most unsavory tone.

“That’s Ultros. Anyway, I’m glad you’re here, and just on time too. You are going to be the next guest on my talk show - don’t worry about a thing, just come on stage when I announce your name and be yourself. I’ll ask some nondescript questions and everything will go fine; when in doubt, go with the flow. Alright? Alright.”

Surprisingly, though he would not realize it until later, Jo had not been completely thrown by Macc’s brief and extremely quick conscription to his show. Surprised and excited, yes; but not thrown. This would be the moment that Jo would forever mark in his mind as being when he had first become a true Babalonian.

“And we are hot in three, two…”
<img src=“”> "Hello everyone, and welcome back to FARTS. My next guest is what some may call and average guy on the street, though many believe that he has the potential to do great things.

<img src=“”> “Yeah, like destroying the world as we know it.”

MACC: “Shush. Please give a warm welcome to Jo!”

Jo walked onto the stage and shook Macc’s hand as if he had just come in a moment ago. Sitting down on the fluffy couch he considered the likely questions that Macc would ask.

MACC: “So Jo, why don’t you tell us a little about yourself. What did you do before coming to the Tower?”

<img src""> “Well Macc, I was looking for something; in fact sometimes I think I still am.”

MACC: "Wow Jo, that was deep. Can you elaborate a little, where did you look? did you come close to finding it? (psst, give me something to work with man?)

JO: “I was looking for what any lonely man was looking for; a good time, the secret of life, women. In fact, I was just planning a little trip back into the world. You wouldn’t be able to help me out with that, would you?”

MACC: “Well, I don’t know. Ultros what do you think?”

ULTROS “You’re asking my opinion? Well that’s new. Why should you help this guy out, huh? He’s a nobody.”

MACC: “Ya’ know, he’s right; you are kind of a nobody… But that’s why I’m going to give you a hand, and in exchange, you are going to give me a better interview when you get back. Deal?”

JO: “Uh, Macc, I don’t-”

MACC: “It’s that, or your immortal soul.”

JO: “Deal!”

MACC: "Ultros, wire some of my contacts and tell them to get everything ready. Jo, I’ll see you when you get back.

JO: “Macc, thanks for all your help. I’ll see you then.”

“And that’s a wrap.”

The lighting over the stage changed and Macc stepped out from behind his desk to walk Jo to the door.

"Good-luck Jo, I think you’ll need it; if not now, then later.

“Uh, thanks Macc, for everything. I’d better get going. The stuff will be by the gate, right?” Jo began inching his way toward the door, eager to leave, but Macc was distracted and stared off into the distance.

“Huh? Oh, yeah, they’ll be waiting for you by the gate. I’ll contact you after you return for our next interview. Good-bye Jo, great things await you.” Jo left Macc’s HQ with a strange sense of foreboding. All that talk about luck and great things had but an itch between Jo’s shoulder blades. Timmy eased their shoulders in an attempt to scratch it.

“You were strangely quiet back there.”

<I>I didn’t want him to know about me.</I>

“How would he know about you. You talk in my head, no one else can hear you but me.” As Jo and Timmy walked down the halls toward the Tower’s gate they kept a sharp eye on all the crossing passageways to make sure that they were not over heard.

<I>That man has great power. I think that if I had spoken, he would have known it.</I>


<i>My time outside the Tower, while interesting, is of little real consequence, and can be summed up in a mater of sentences. I left the Tower of Babel and continued in the direction that I had been traveling when I had first arrived some weeks ago. After several days of walking in about the same direction, I had yet to find another living soul. So I turned around and went back home; Where the true adventures awaited me.</i>

The man known Jo crested the final hill above the Tower. The obsidian monolith marking an end to his near fruitless journey. There were some redeeming aspects, for even as Jo failed to make contact with the outside world, and hence reunite himself with a foreign form of sanity for even a few days; he and Timmy did have <i>lots</i> of quality time together. When they were not trekking, they were training, and when they stopped training for the night, they rested. The squabbling never stopped, they even argued in their dreams.

These fights were almost never about anything important, they resembled - more than anything else - two men who had been sharing tight quarters too long with out a shower, or a woman. That is, until the subject returned to who was in charge. Then it became a battle to the death. But all that changed about mid-way through the journey, right before they decided to turn back (quite possibly the only important unanimous decision that they had ever made).

Jo and Timmy were in the forest, about five days out from the Tower. The sun had set some time ago leaving Jo only the light of the fire by which to beat the stuffing out of his travel punching bag.

<i>Tell me again why you do this<i>

“Why I do what?”

<i>Why do you insist on bloodying you’re knuckles every night on that leather sack.[/i]

“It keeps my mind off of you.”

<i>Ha, ha.</i>

“Uh-huh.” Jo continued to pound the bag secured beneath a low branch into submission, and indeed his knuckles did become red and raw; finally leaving bloody smears on the treated leather.

<i>You must be one of the biggest fools that I have ever had the poor misfortune of meeting. Including those dolls.</i> Jo slammed the punching bag a final time making it bounce back and forth furiously; causing small droplets of blood to fly.

“Will you just let that go!” Jo screamed into the night, the small noises of crickets and night birds stopped in surprise, then continued to serenade the moon.

<i>Are you kidding, it is way too much fun to tease you about it, because you know that I’m right, again.</i>

“Again?” Jo approached the fire where a rabbit he had caught earlier roasted on a spit. “When have you been right before?”

<i>One word; Trials.</i> Jo stopped bandaging his hands. <i>Yea, that’s right. We had just gotten out of that damn lake, and you wouldn’t listen to me, so we ended up walking a one huge circle until you decided to see sense.</i>

“That is completely besides the point. If you will also remember, I had just had a near-death experience and wouldn’t have been able to see sense if it was resting on my nose.”

I love it when you insult yourself. Jo ignored him and finished with his bandages before starting on the rabbit. They sat a moment in silence.

You’re a moron.

“And you’re an idiot.”

You are not fit to lead a horse to water.

“You couldn’t punch you way out of a paper bag.”

You know what?



“You’re wrong.”

No. I’m taking over.

“Like I said: ‘You’re wrong’.” A fist came up and landed squarely on the side of Jo’s face, surprising him.

“You realized what this means don’t you?” Jo stood and walked away from the fire.

Yes, it means I’m taking over this body. The right fist came up for a second strike, but was intercepted at the last moment by the left. Jo controlled both fists down to the center of the body.

“No, this means war.” Jo took aim at the large tree where the leather punching bag was hanging, just visible in the growing darkness. Keeping both hands tight by his sides was extremely difficult as both his and Timmy’s reflexes wanted to bring them up to prevent the collision, but Jo’s desire and purpose was too great to be over ridden. He crashed, head first, into the ancient tree; knocking himself out cold.

It was dark. Not the darkness of a closed room with out light, merely the darkness of nothing to see. A figure approached Jo through the darkness, a man. As the man drew near, more about the stranger’s appearance became clear.

The man was about Jo’s own height, but with red hair, and dressed similarly in dusty, travel worn coat and breaches. As the distance between them closed, Jo saw that the man had Jo’s face as well as his clothes. Jo’s face was angry on the other man as he came to a halt speaking distance away.

Neither man spoke for several moments. Gazing into the stranger’s eyes, his eyes, Jo had an epiphany.

“Where are we, Timmy.”

“Where do you think we are?” Jo took another look at their surroundings… nothing. On second thought, Timmy was standing right there in front of him.

“Ok, so now what? We box it out and whoever wins gets control of the body?” The scene changes. Jo and Timmy stand on either side of a large circle painted on a flat dry clay. An elderly man in a black and white stripped shirt steps out of the shadows engulfing everything out side the ring.

“Gentlemen, the rules are simple. The man who gives up; looses and will, by agreement, be confined to the position of ‘voice in the head.’ While the winner will receive complete control over the body. The only limitations are yourselves.” Both combatants nodded their assent. “Alright then – Let’s get it on!

Both men stepped forward and began circling each other, looking for an opening of attack. Out of the darkness came the cheering voices of a stadium filled to bursting.

The bitter rivals circled for some time. Neither having seen the other fight, they didn’t know what to expect as far as style of combat.

Both men approached the center of the ring; fists raised, prepared to beat the other personality into submission. Jo took something akin to a fencer’s stance; right foot pointing forward, left foot sideways under his hip, knees bent. His left fist was drawn back like an archer’s, palm down; while his right stood before him as an open threat ready to make good at any moment. Timmy began to sway drunkenly, left foot forward and arms raised. They spent a moment studying each other’s stances.

Timmy began to advance. Flowing from step to step he glided across the ring. He was still several feet away when Jo struck. Like a boar breaking from cover, going from near-frozen to barreling speed, Jo shifted his stance; taking a step forward and bringing his dominant left hand down across Timmy’s jaw.

Using the attack’s momentum to turn half circle, Timmy fell away from his opponent to sweep at Jo’s forward leg; leaving both combatants on the ground.

Leaping back to their feet, both men abandoned form and technique for the shear joy of feeling their fists connect with flesh without also feeling the pain. Blows rained down from both Timmy and Jo, somewhere deflected, most connected, neither would surrender.

It had been about seven days and seven nights since Jo left the Tower of Bable. A crescent moon sits high above the tree among her children, the stars, watching creatures of the night poke about and rummage through the darkened trees near a cold, burned out fire. They scamper over and about a lifeless body lying near a cracked tree. A bruise adorns the man’s brow, giving evidence to a serious blow having been delivered. Any normal passerby might have taken the man for dead, had there been any.

The man’s eyes snapped open. Getting to his feet, the man looked about himself as if he didn’t know where he was or what he was doing. Spying a backpack half hidden by fallen leaves, he stoops to retrieve it. Rising, he rubs his head, and continues back to where he once came. He goes home.

A man strode down the corridors of the Tower of Bable. His clothes still bore the dust of travel, and his gait spoke of long distances crossed. Not a stranger to this place, the man gave his pack to an imp that was on its way elsewhere; requesting that it be returned to Macc with his deepest thanks, and that Jo’s rooms be readied.

Jo. The man had once been known as Jo. In a way he still was Jo. Yes, Jo would still do as a name.

As the sun had only recently begun to decline, he was not ready to retire, nor particularly inclined to dine just yet. Instead, Jo decided to wander the halls and see who was about.

The general air of the Tower’s halls was miserable. As if something was happening, or had just happened, that had everyone’s tempers on edge. Even though there was no one in sight, even the ever-present imps had stopped appearing, the walls vibrated with discomfort.

As Jo passed an intersection, a glimmer of bright pink hair flowing away from him down the hall caught his eye; he hurried to catch up, calling out to the princess of Bable as he ran. Nessa froze in her tracks at the sound of his voice; she did not turn around as he approached.

“What do you want, Jo?”

“Want? I don’t want anything, really.” To say that Nessa’s voice was cool would have generous.

“Then would you please leave me alone? I have no wish to speak with you.” Jo was confused by Nessa’s change of attitude toward him. When he left the tower, the two of them had been on friendly terms.

“Nessa, did I do something to upset you? If I did-” The open hand slap rang Jo’s head like a gong.

“It’s ‘Princess Nessa’ to you, fiend.” As the princess stormed off through the corridors, Jo was left to stop the vibrations of his skull and make sure that his jaw was still in place.

Jo changed his mind about wandering the halls, instead he made straight for his rooms. Jo felt that something was amiss. Nessa’s outburst was more then just some misplaced prank. Perhaps she was offended by the way he just walked out on her during dinner the last time he was in residence. <I>Hell has no furry like that of a woman scorned.</I>

“I was wondering when you were going to say something. No snide remarks today.”

<I>Normally I wouldn’t hesitate, you know that, but I think as you do. Something has changed since we’ve been away. I would be careful, if I were you.</i>

“Thanks for the advice.” Jo, and his ever-present companion, who still considered himself Timmy, arrived at their rooms – it was a mess. No flat surface was uncovered. Clothing was drapped from mirror stands and across the backs of chairs, leafs of paper and parchment littered the desk, table, and floor around. The bed had a decidedly slept-in look about it. In short; it looked as if a tornado had blown through.

Jo did not touch any thing as he examined his rooms and contemplated the causes, implications, and what he should do about it. The first, and most disturbing, observation was that Jo did not recognize any of the things that were strewn around the room. None of the gear was his, all the clothing was unfamiliar though obviously of Babalonian make and design. Someone was using his rooms, but who, and why?

Jo summoned an imp; none came. Jo tried to send a message to Zero, X-Hunter. Eventually they were connected.

“Who is it?”

“Zero, it’s Jo. I wa-”

“What do you want?” While he had never warmed up to Jo (who privately believed that the X-Hunter never warmed up to anybody, ever.) Zero had always been polite to any and all inhabitants of the tower – unless they were a perceived threat.

“Well, I’ve just returned from a little commune with nature, and my rooms are a mess. I think someone’s been using them while I was away.”

“I do not see how they could have had the opprotunity between yesterday and today. Do not bother me with your disorganized living habits.” The connection went dead.

“Now that was strange, even for this place.”

What’d you do now?

“Nothing. But I’m giving it serious thought. At least then I’ll know why I’m getting slapped. Hey, I wonder…” Jo rose to his feet and began searching the room he no longer felt that it was truly his. He examined the clothes and equipment, found them to be his size and in working order. Much of the litter about the desk was incomprehensible. Written in some unknown language, Jo could only guess what it contained. There was one, however, that was written in plain English: it was an unsigned order of execution. His execution.

Plushie-cide? Timmy couldn’t hide his laughter. But you love the little plushies. You’re all good friends.

“Two days ago? We were just west of Nowhere two days ago.” None of it made any sense. He was accused of a crime he was not around to commit, that he wouldn’t commit, and yet Queen Eskar herself had an order of execution drawn up awaiting her signature. Yet it was sitting in his room unsigned.

“I need something to eat.” Standing, Jo ripped the warrent to tiny pieces and changed for dinner. He used clothes in the wardrobe that he recognized. While searching the drawers for a new belt, Jo found one was filled with an array of weapons. After all the unexpected events and discoveries of the evening, Jo didn’t bother to wonder where they came from. Hell, finding what you thought you might need was normal for the Tower. Jo slipped a pair of small, spiked gauntlets into his coat pockets.

No imps traveled the halls on their normal route of errands that took them to all parts of the Tower. Jo did not see another living soul until he passed through the great doors of the dinning hall. The dull roar of conversation was gutted and died as Jo entered the cavernous room.

Think they were talking about us? The side of Jo’s mouth twitched to suppress a grin. Half the diners had been trying to talk to a person in the middle of the crowd. Now that was stopped and everyone was looking at Jo, who was still standing in the doorway. Only crackle of the fires at either end, and the sneezing of a mouse, could be heard.

Pretending that he did not notice the scrutiny; Jo walked to an empty space near one of the fires and waited for an imp to bring him something to eat.

“Back so soon, Slasher Jo?” The voice, and the title, were unfamiliar; though Jo could guess what the man was referring to. Since Jo knew that he had not killed those plushies, he decided to ignore the comment.

“What happened, Slasher? You take out a few defenseless plushies and suddenly you’re the king of the castle. You have got to have a set of brass to come strolling back in here after last time.” The man was dressed plainly; the most notable features were thick ropes of greasy hair that fell around his head and the handle of a sword peaking out from behind his left shoulder.

Dreads and a sword. And he asks if we have brass? Timmy arched one of Jo’s eyebrows.

“Do I know you?” Jo stood from the table and stepped between the tables directly before the fire. An aisle formed as people moved out of the way between Jo and the speaker. The two stood in a void of the crowded room.

“WHAT? You dare slight the Kraken?” What Jo had mistaken for dreadlocks rustled slightly accenting his agitation. Jo hardly felt that deserved an answer, so he waited for Kraken to explain himself. “Last night, in this very hall, I gave you fair warning: should you I ever find you here again, I would kill you.” Kraken’s blade flashed like lightning as he drew. Giving a salute of one with no respect for the other, Kraken announced in a loud voice, “I, Kraken, challenge you, Jo, To a duel to avenge the lives of fallen comrades!”

Jo and Timmy, both on guard and preparing for however this might develop, were taken by surprise by Kraken’s declaration.

“Now you listen to me, pal. I haven’t the slightest idea what you’re blabering about. Tonight is the first I’ve laid eyes on you, and who the hell did I kill that you need to avenge?” Jo suspected that it was the plushies, in fact he was nearly positive, but playing stupid would by him the time he needed to think.

“Do not try to escape me, Villain. We all heard the testimony declaring that a man with a blue hat used a cruel kukri to cut the stuffing from Floppins’, Bedtime Bear, and the others. Everyone knows, too, that you had taken to wearing a blue hat wherever you go. That is
until last night, when I called you out.”

News to me.

“Uh-huh, right. Fine, I accept your challenge. Tomorrow as the sun touches the mountains in the West, we shall meet in the garden beneath the eyes of the Queen. Where I shall accept your sword.” The crowd gasped. By saying that he would accept Kraken’s sword, Jo laid down a great insult to any man. If affect, Jo declared that he would battle Kraken until he surrendered, but was not killed. To have one’s weapon taken as a trophy was one thing, but to see your sword mounted on another’s wall as testimony to your defeat was an embarrassment few could live with. Jo stormed away before a response could be formed.

Are you crazy? Did you see how quick he drew that Katana? You don’t stand a chance in a duel with him. You’re going to get us killed.

“I’m hoping it won’t come to that.”

No, I suppose you wouldn’t. You’d just pray to whatever that he’ll have a change of heart.

“You just think you know everything, don’t you?”

I usually do.

They argued all the way to their rooms.

It had become quite obvious to Jo that there was an imposter somewhere in the Tower. A conclusion in which he took no little pleasure of informing Timmy. Someone was going out of their way to make life difficult for them. The only questions that remained were who the look-a-like was, and why had they chosen him? Well whoever it was, and whatever they were doing, he had a day to find out and deal with it.

The only thing was he had no idea where to begin. The imposter had had two weeks in which to wreak havoc in the Tower, how was he to find him in one day? Jo paced around his sitting room while he considered where to begin his search. The biggest problem was that there was no one he could go to for help, no way to divide his forces and search two places at once.

Jo took the spiked gauntlets out of his pockets to look at them. They were really more along the lines of spiked brass knuckles then a full gauntlet. Luckily the palm was protected by a sheet of some alloy or another; he might be able to catch Kraken’s blade, if he timed it right. Other then that, he would have quite a time defeating Kraken in a duel. There was no use thinking about it anymore tonight, he might as well get what little sleep was left in the night.

Jo opened his eyes to find himself laying in bed looking into a mirror. No, not a mirror, Timmy was looking down at him.

“What do you think you’re doing? We have work to do.”

“Shove off, I’m sleeping.” Jo rolled over in his dream and closed his eyes.

Jo opened his eyes to find himself sitting against the bole of a great oak. A man, nearly identical to Jo, rushed out of the shadows that hid everything but the tree and leaf littered ground from sight.

“I have a plan on how to defeat Kraken tomorrow.” Timmy was excited, and he spoke quickly. “All you have to do is give me control of one of the arms: the right one. You’re left handed anyway. That way, it will almost be like he’s fighting two people at once. We might stand a chance.” Jo stood from his reclining position, but looked skeptical.

“That is one of the craziest ideas I’ve ever heard.” A wide grin broke across his face, “So much so, in fact, that it just might work. Next we fight with someone else, you can have control of the right arm; agreed?”

“Agreed!” They shook one it."

Jo opened his eyes, squinting into the sunlight, once more in his bed. He heard someone in the outer room shuffling through the desk. He went to investigate. Timmy stood over the carved cherry wood with his back to him.

“What is it now? Have you figured what all that writing was about?” Startled, the man turned; he was dressed in Tower garb, but none Jo had ever seen before, and he wore a blue hat. A wicked dagger, with a strange yet familiar crest at the base of the blade, was held loosely in one hand.

“I wouldn’t have thought you’d sleep last night, not with so much work to be done, finding me.”

“You’re the one whose been taking on the world on my behalf. I must say, I’m not impressed. I mean, c’mon, a nest of plushies? I would have gone so much bigger for an opening stunt. Get’em while their guard is down.” The look-a-like was very good at what he did; if he hadn’t been holding a dagger and backing Jo into the bedchamber, he would almost believe that it was a mirror reflection.

“You have no subtlety. First I kill the plushies: something to be sure to make everyone hopping mad. Then I deny it to their faces, evoking the fight that you fell into. Then, after I kill the fool, I continue to terrorize the Tower. All the while their focus is directed more and more inward. When the time is right, my master will strike. At long last the Tower of Bable will be a smoldering pile of glass and brimstone.” Jo maneuvered to put the bed between himself and the imposter, perhaps give himself a moment when the time comes.

Keep him talking, I’m going to try something. Focus on talking.

“Alright, and just who is your master. No, actually, who are you? And why, make that how are you wearing my face?” Jo was vaguely aware of his right hand doing something,
and refocused on the threat across the room.

“Poor ignorant fool. This is what I do: I’m a doppelganger, infiltration is my business.” On cue, he shifted his appearance from Jo, to Frameskip, to an imp, and at last back to Jo. “I choose you because, well, you were out at the time, and you’re an unknown of sorts. If I had taken another mark, I might have been found out; but not you. You realize I only tell you this because I’m about to kill you.”

“Yeah, I know, but I’m hoping that we might be able to avoid that.” The doppelganger laughed.

“No, I don’t think we will.” Leaping onto the bed, the imposter charged; before Jo fully understood what was happening, he had thrown a pillow into his face to buy time. Jo ran back into his sitting room as the man standing on the bed pulled his foot of sharpened steel from the tattered remains of linen and feathers. “You don’t stand a chance, little man, I will kill you.”

Good job, the timing was perfect. Jo noticed, for the first time, that Timmy had donned their gauntlets while he and their opponent were talking. The two fighters squared off, the doppelganger tossed his blade from one hand to the other, being able to take any form it made sense to Jo that he would be ambidextrous. Jo took a left-handed boxing stance, and started to dance.

Kill 'em now, save us the difficulty of anything too complicated and dramatic.

“No, we’ve go to do it in front of everyone.”

He’ll never follow that far.

“Maybe he won’t have to.”

“Hey, who are to talking to?” The intruder had advanced a few steps while Jo and Timmy considered their master plan, but their changing fighting stances kept him wary. Having found themselves in a situation through which they fear they may not live, Jo allowed Timmy more control then just his right arm. The result: a seamless intgration from one personality to the next, complete with fighting style. Jo closed to striking distance.

The doppelganger thrust, Jo drunkenly flowed out of the way and rapped the knife hand with metal knuckles before jumping out of the way. Jo took a brief risk and yanked open the door to the hall and began to scream. A stream of obscenities spewed forth; forming moments before utterance, Jo would be unable to recall a word of what he said.

Realizing that they would soon have an audience, the doppelganger redoubled his attack, taking the shape of Nessa as she (it?) did so. Jo tried no to let the princess’ innocent face; now contorted with rage, hate, and bloodlust, prevent him from severely bloodying the monster that slaughtered her plushies. Luckily for Jo, the real Nessa was among one of the first to arrive, Zero, X-Hunter, at her side. The doppelganger changed once again, becoming Framskip just in time for the newcomers to see whom Jo was fighting with.

By this time both combatants were bloody. Jo’s sleeve was neatly separated at the seam, a trickle of blood from the shallow cut, which glanced painfully off his shoulder bone. More red stained his ribs at several points where blade had more fully tasted flash. The doppelganger was not untouched, though. Jo had been able to lad several blows to the body’s center; where the spikes on his knuckles had done their work on soft female flesh. Jo finally landed a solid blow across the monster’s jaw – Frameskip’s jaw – when he heard a gasp from the doorway, quickly followed by a thunking stride. Rolling to one side to avoid the deadly android, Jo to those that watched.

“That’s not frame, it’s an imposter.” Jo sidesteped a second rush from Zero and attempted to finish his target. Suprisingly, no one tried to stop him. Jo seized the shape shifter by the lapels of his pale coat and pulled him to his feet. The dagger feebly attempted the make a deadly thrust straight into Jo’s chest, but he batted the blade away like a pesky mosquito. A final one-two forced the doppelganger to the ground before a gathering of the Tower’s major players.

“Doppelganger.” The single word was all he was able to utter before the loss of blood caused him to collaspe into a chair and bleed. Between the pain of breathing and the prospect of being cleared of plushies-cide charges Jo was a mixture of pleasure and pain.

I Don’t know exactly what happened next, because I passed out due to shock moments later. I was able to several learn while recovering. The crest on the doppelganger’s knife was the crest of hell, Satan’s son’s personal seal to be exact. The belief is that if he felt that conquering the Tower would bring him enough political power in Hell the overthrow his father. It was mostly the thought of being used as a chip in a hell’s political games that allowed the Valkyrie Queen to decide as quickly as she did that the upstart son would soon get his wish: Satan would indeed be overthrown… but that is another story for another time.

Final comment:This was a long time in comming, and I’m glad it’s finally over. Thank you and Good night. Also 11 consecutive posts should now be called “A Mighty Post”


Good to see you again, Joe, It’s been awhile. And actually, i WAS missing this story when I was thinking about it not a week ago. So glad to see it again.

Heh…now THIS was interesting
. It was nice for someone like me, who hasn’t been here as long as some others, do get a glimpse of the Tower in it’s prime. :slight_smile: