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In Which, It Is Our Sad Duty to Relate, Our Heroes Commit the Most Heinous and Horrific Crimes, Thereby Forfeiting For All Time the Title of "Heroes," a Name Which We Shall Therefore Never Use Again Associated With Their Now Hopelessly Blackened Names

A Cunning Diversion. Chaos and Confusion. "Blood, Booze and Bamboozlement." Divers Family Tragedies Recounted. A Wedding Cake of Misfortune. An Escape Foiled. A Capture Foiled!

And so it was the very next night that our heroes set forth to purloin the Rap Sheet. Before proceeding with our narration of the theft itself, however, 'tis necessary to summarize the events which transpired simultaneously in the Embassy ballroom. As I—the Alfred of record—was located on the person of the dwarf Shelyid, himself located in distant portions of the castle, the tale of the wedding party's disruption was pieced together from the rudimentary accounts of several of my apprentices. These latter had I dispatched onto the persons of Les Six, from which vantage points they observed the proceedings and took such notes as their student skills permitted.

The affair began, as Wolfgang had predicted, swimmingly. The motley party gained entrance into the Embassy by posing as a maid and six servitors. 'Tis beyond comprehension how this ridiculous subterfuge succeeded, but no doubt Magrit's large mop and pail of some substance which she claimed to be soap was of assistance in lulling the suspicions of the normally alert guards, ushers and majordomos. As for Les Six, 'twas perhaps the very absurdity of their presence which gave them their bonafides, for who but lowly servitors could such slovenly proletarians possibly be?

In any event, ere long they made their way onto the ballroom floor, even as a lively gavotte was in progress. The seeds of confusion were quickly sown. Magrit announced loudly that she was here to clean the floor, and set about that task with great vigor, upsetting at once four pairs of dancers with great swipes of her mop. Then, as the substance which she had proclaimed to be soap spread its oily way across vast stretches of the ballroom surface, aided in this progress by the selfsame swipes of this selfsame mop, not to mention the profligacy with which she used the substance itself, it soon became clear that the soap was not soap at all but rather some foul product of the witch's alchemy, the which was not only malodorous in the extreme but possessed of the properties of a most efficacious lubricant. Then, as fierce argument erupted between her fishwife self and the irate majordomo come to put a stop to this unseemly swabbing in the midst of revelry, she managed, in the vehemence of her gesticulations, to upend the entire contents of the very large pail. The noxious fluid flooded the dance floor.

Now did a multitude of couples join the initial four, sprawled on the floor, writhing about, howling at the stench, falling again and again as they tried to rise, one stalwart captain of the marines even—sad to relate—stabbing himself in the thigh with his sword, the which he foolishly attempted to use as a crutch; another dashing leftenant of the cavalry—sadder to relate—stabbing his comely partner in her thigh with the sword he had earlier drawn in a demonstration of the saber dance for which the hussars of Pryggia are justly famous; and—saddest of all to relate—yet another gallant officer, this a portly colonel of the artillery, disemboweling himself in his fall upon the sword let fall by his immediate superior, the yet more portly general of the artillery, the which august warrior had held this weapon high, just prior to his unfortunate encounter with the witch Magrit's pseudo-soap, in a glorious gesture of praise for the happy couple in whose honor the festivities were taking place.

The initial bloodletting was but prologue to massacre. For Les Six now heaped chaos onto confusion, charging about with rhinocerine ill grace, attempting to aid divers aristocrats in distress, only, through their oafish clumsiness, to drop half-risen barons onto prone magnates; to elbow still-standing matrons onto prostrate dames in their servile eagerness to aid crawling countesses to their feet, which latter subjects of their assistance invariably suffered mangled fingers, broken toes and bruised jaws in the process of rescue; to slip and fall themselves, time and time again, invariably in such a manner as to flatten what few shaky knots of notables had managed to rise ensemble to their feet, like wheat trampled by oxen.

Then—tragedy piled onto fiasco! A squad of soldiery summoned by officials charged onto the scene, halberds held ready to deal with disruption. Alas, no sooner did this energetic band of warriors charge onto the floor than their feet went flying out from under them. Reacting with natural instinct, the soldiers let go their halberds, which fearsome weapons went sailing into the large knot of eminent strugglers-to-their-feet in the very center of the ballroom floor.

Many were the great inheritances come into that moment. Though even here disorder reigned, as exemplified by the fate of the oldest son of the Ozarean shipping magnate, who, even as he watched his father expire before him, run through by a halberd, had the delighted expression on his face as he contemplated his sudden fortune removed by yet another halberd, the which removed his head altogether, plopping it fortuitously into the hands of his brother, the next oldest son, who in turn soon lost his grin at his own unexpected turn of fortune when, cavorting about his father's corpse and holding the severed head of his brother high, he slipped and fell bellyfirst onto the upended blade of yet a third halberd stuck to the floor, providing another nuance to the old saw: "Easy come, easy go."

The first phase of their plot a smashing success, Magrit and her accomplices immediately set about the implementation of the next. Now posing as a nurse and her assistants, the seven took advantage of the total confusion to guide a full score of dazed and bleeding notables into a portion of the dance floor which had been set aside for the use of the servants, and for that reason segregated from the ballroom proper by a large curtain. There did Magrit, in the tone of voice of the experienced nurse, a tone, as all know, which brooks no dispute, order the sexes separated by yet another curtain, quickly drawn by Les Six, following which she ordered all clothing removed that she might inspect the injuries of the eminent wounded. No sooner said than done, she collecting the clothing of the females, the first through the third of Les Six, that of the males in the adjoining alcove. The clothing now collected, the fourth through the six of Les Six slashed the ropes suspending the divers curtains, thereby exposing the naked bodies of a full score of the most prominent personages of Ozar and Prygg to the ogling stares of their brethren on the main floor of the ballroom.

Great was the consternation which ensued, I speak not simply of the shrieks of outrage, the cries of embarrassment, nor even the peals of glee and laughter which, sad to relate, were heard to issue from the lips of the younger nobility gazing upon the scene. Nay, I speak of positive tragedy! For the Duchess de Trops died on the spot from terminal shame, only to be followed a moment later by her husband, his weak heart overcome by the sight of his naked-but-dead shrew of a wife and his naked-but-alive sister, the Madame Copieux, for whose voluptuous body he had long harbored incestuous passion, only to be followed into death by his sister herself, who promptly committed suicide with a carving knife due to her own distress at being denied the now-at-last-available body of that very same brother for whose stallion-like attentions she had long kept as her secret the identical unnatural lust.

Nor was this the end of the familial catastrophe! For Madame Copieux's own husband, owner of Ozar's most profitable ironworks, no sooner beheld the corpse of his beautiful wife than he howled his glee at being rid of the adulterous slattern and proceeded to celebrate by guzzling such quantities of potent Pryggian whiskey as to cause him, within the hour, to expire from alcohol poisoning, thus leaving to his son the entire family fortune, the which largess the lad was unable to long enjoy for he himself expired within the next hour, overcome by the same excessive consumption of alcohol due to great joy at great fortune, thus further illustrating the old adage: "Like father, like son."

Nor was this yet the finale of the saga! For the Mademoiselle Copieux, who, in her capacity as daughter and sister was now the sole surviving member of the family, was so overcome by the contradictory emotions of joy at her newfound fortune and grief at the death of all three of her lovers—mother, father and brother, at one stroke!—that she soon went mad and spent the rest of her short unhappy life in such a feverish frenzy of sexual excess as to illustrate anew the old saying: "Keep it in the family."

Stage Two of the plan a roaring triumph, Magrit and Les Six did not rest on their laurels but proceeded at once to Stage Three. Garbed in the stolen clothing of now-naked notables, the witch and her cohorts infiltrated the mob of hysterical ex-revelers and proceeded to spike the huge bowls of refreshment which stood about in profusion with an alcoholic substance whose potency derived, in equal portion, from the theoretical alchemy of the witch and the practical bathtub distilling of Les Six.

The groundwork laid, the scoundrelous septet proceeded to encourage the distraught multitude to drown their sorrows and restore their gaiety with drink, Magrit utilizing for this purpose the soothing tones of the matriarch long experienced in handling misfortune, Les Six the more vigorous methods of vainglorious and successful bigwigs challenging the manhood of similar egoists. And cunning was the ploy! For Les Six, exhibiting a subtlety not looked for in such lowlifes, had divided themselves in the style of their garments, three posing as Pryggian aristocrats, three as Ozarine nabobs. Thus did the first through the third utter coarse comments on the effete incapacity of Ozarine financiers to handle manly drink as compared to the stalwart sons of Pryggian soil. Thus, for their part, did the fourth through the sixth burn into the brains of the selfsame Pryggian noblemen the nasal sneers of Ozarine captains of industry regarding the inability of rustic yokels to handle more than eight stiff drinks without rolling in the mud like the pigs who were not only the sole source of Pryggian wealth—such as it was!—but, judging from appearances, the models from which God in His Heaven had, for reasons of His own, formed the physiognomy of the Pryggian subspecies.

Thus, onto chaos and confusion, was drunkenness laid. And more! For Les Six not only inveigled the assembled gentlemen of Pryggia and Ozar into a turbulent drinking contest, but then, drunkenness rampant, proceeded to embellish their respective insults with such rococo flourishes, such baroque ornamentation, as to produce in but two minutes such a brawl as would shame the lowest alehouses of the scurviest ports in the world. Swords were drawn—and used! Knives, daggers, poignards—not to mention cudgels and clubs of every shape and description!

Chaos supreme! The soldiery overwhelmed—even themselves drawn into the fray—for Les Six had not failed to cast the necessary and necessarily cross-purposed insults on the respective merits of Ozarine Embassy guards versus Pryggian praetorians!

Blood, booze and bamboozlement! For years to come, these were the three words always spoken together, the world over, whenever was told the tale of the Pryggian social event of the season, Year of the Jackal.

But wait! A small knot of sanity remained! The eye of the storm! For there, at the very center of the ballroom, upon the dais, next to the huge wedding cake, stood the Princess Snuffy and her swain, the Honorable Anthwerp Freckenrizzle III. The newlyweds clutched each other, aghast at the shambles, the Ozarine heir's face pale as a ghost, the eyes of the Pryggian princess pouring tears.

"Oh, Anthwy!" the Princess wailed. "Our wedding's ruined!"

Freckenrizzle III comforted his bride. "There now, Snuffy, there now! Let's forget all this—we still have each other, after all. I'll tell you what—let's cut the cake."

And so saying, the scion of Ozar's fifth-richest family drew his ceremonial sword—not too deftly, truth to tell, for the pear-shaped heir's talents and experience lay rather in counting money than the more vigorous of the upper-crust skills—and made to slice the cake.

"You can have the first piece!" he said. The Princess clasped her pudgy hands. "Oh, Anthwy, you're so sweet!"

Alas, 'twas at that very moment that the full dimensions of Magrit's scheme were revealed. Stage Four—voila!

No sooner did the sword touch the cake than the cake collapsed, like a house riddled with termites. The cause? Obvious at a glance! For there, in the very center of the confectionary rubble, his green belly swollen like a pumpkin, squatted the salamander.

"Great cake," it burped. "Try some—I saved you a little."

The Princess shrieked. Freckenrizzle dropped the sword.

Then, eyeing the—actually, quite dumpy—figure of the Princess, the salamander was heard to exclaim: "What a babe!"

This gross remark made, the horrid beast sprang onto the shoulder of the Princess, wrapped itself around her neck, and began uttering foul and lecherous phrases, of which "Dump this chump and let's party!" was only the least obscene.

Now squealing like a pig, Princess Snuffy began capering and leaping about, attempting to dislodge the perverse amphibian, who, for its part, clung the more tightly to her neck, its slimy snout buried in her ear, continuing to speak unspeakable words, of which "Once you've had salamander, you'll never go back" was only the least sordid.

Undignified though the figure of the Princess was, writhing and reeling in a manner which belied her sedentary form, 'twas only this unregal behavior which saved her life. For her spouse, whose wealth was now revealed to be the product of good luck rather than good sense, proceeded to retrieve his sword and hack wildly at the salamander. As the amphibian was still coiled about his bride's neck, 'twas only the clumsiness of the Ozarine heir which made possible the heirs of the future. As it was, he managed to shave his wife's head clean of the long blond hair which was, truth to tell, her only attractive feature. He also inflicted numerous but thankfully minor flesh wounds upon divers portions of her anatomy, most of which, so I am told, left few visible scars to remind her, in later life, of the unpleasantness which attended her wedding.

Alas, the scars on her royal soul did not fade as well. For it was noted, in the years to come, that the Freckenrizzles were not a happy couple. To her dying day, Madame Freckenrizzle, née the Princess Snuffy, persisted on keeping her scalp shaved as bald as an egg, this peculiar habit being, or so it was supposed, a reproach to her husband. For his part, the Honorable Anthwerp Freckenrizzle III became obsessed with the hunting and trapping of all manner of reptiles and amphibians. By middle age, he was eccentric. He wore nothing but snakeskin clothing and lizardskin boots, refused to sit on any item of furniture not upholstered by salamander pelts, ate nothing but turtle soup and frog legs. By old age he was a certifiable paranoid. On one famous occasion, he burned down his mansion, claiming it was infested with toads in the woodwork. He ended his life a suicide, leaping one day into the crocodile pen at the Ozarian Zoo and attacking the prehistoric monsters therein with naught but a sword, in the use of which, all witnesses agreed, he had gained not a whit more skill than he possessed as a newlywed.

For her part, his wife matched his increasing obsession with a similar one of her own. She became the world's foremost amateur herpetologist, the benefactress of countless Reptile Houses and Frog Farms. Following her spouse's arson of their mansion, she moved onto her own estate, from which her estranged husband was barred. There she built a bizarre palace, shaped like a frog. The well-tended gardens were transformed into a fetid swamp, into which she imported amphibians from all corners of the world. She also died a suicide, leaping into the pond at the center of her swamp and attempting to swim about like a tadpole with the aid of a canvas tail encasing her legs, the which soon became water-logged and dragged her to her doom.

But these sad stories belong to the distant future. For the present, their purpose accomplished, the perpetrators of the dastardly deeds recounted above now sought to make their escape. For the salamander, the task proved simple. It soon enough leapt from the neck of the Princess and slithered its way to safety, although, it would later claim, the flight to freedom was made difficult by its bloated, cake-filled belly, the which interfered with the normally sinuous movement of its legs.

'Twas otherwise, however, for Magrit and Les Six. At first their flight from justice seemed assured, for they insinuated themselves, still in their finery, into the horde of notables seeking to flee from the Embassy. And so great was the confusion, that they quickly made their way toward the huge double doors which led from the ballroom into the foyer beyond, and thence to freedom.

But at that very moment, cutting through the din of the maddened crowd, came a voice like unto the demi-divine heroes of yore, piercing, sharp as an ax-blade—at last, the voice of command and authority!

"Guards! Shut the doors!" The guards, ere then confused and witless, sprang to the command. The great double doors slammed shut. The exit was barred to Magrit and her accomplices! Then, the voice spoke again:

"Everyone in the room will be still and silent, on pain of investigation!"

Everyone in the room became still and silent, like dogs brought to heel.

"Damn!" swore Magrit under her breath. "It's Inkman."

Sure enough—'twas Rupert Inkman, Groutch chief of station of the famed and feared Commission to Repel Unbridled Disruption! There he stood, in the center of the ballroom floor, tall, gaunt as a skeleton, garbed all in black. His very posture bespoke one born to command. His icy blue eyes flashed with the look of eagles—keen intelligence combined with deep insight, these qualities in turn but a patina over the loftier aspects of his gaze, I speak, of course, of predation and bloodlust.

"Oh, Mr. Inkman," a majordomo was heard to utter, "thank God you're here to put a stop to this madness!"

"Arrant fool!" came the reply, like a spear to the heart. "There is no madness here! Nay, rather there is dark duplicity—unbridled disruption, plotted aforehand and carried through with cunning skill! And in Prygg, there is but one hand—I should say, one mind and six pair of hands—capable of the deed! Yes, yes! They are here! Even now, in this very room! I smell them, like the wolf smells his prey!"

"Who, sir, who?" came the confused cry from several throats.

"The chief enemies of the State in Prygg, you fools! Yes, yes! They are here! At last, I have them!"

"Who, sir, who?" came the cry again, this time from many throats, and the tone no longer confused but filled with rising fury.

"SHOW THEM TO US, SIR!" came the roar from a multitude of throats, officers drawing their swords, magnates their bared pens, matrons holding broken lorgnettes like brawlers holding broken bottles.

The situation seemed grim for Magrit and Les Six—then grimmer still! For now Inkman espied them, even through their disguise, like the hawk espies the hares in the brambles.

"There! There!" he cried. He stretched forth his arm, his bony finger about to pinpoint the exact location of the witch and her accomplices. Only a second remained before they would be swarmed by the maddened and murderous haut monde mob!

But then! Inkman's finger froze in its track! For at that very moment a gigantic sound was heard—or rather, two sounds, following in close succession. All eyes in the room turned, to behold a terrifying sight.

At the far end of the room, a large door which led to the inner Embassy lay shattered, its splintered pieces lying on the ballroom floor. Such explained the first gigantic sound. And within the door, even now forcing its way through onto the ballroom floor, slouched an immense rock snarl, roaring all the while with demonic fury. Its eyes were fixed upon the person of Rupert Inkman with that flaming, intent, single-minded glare of rage and hatred which immediately reminded everyone present of nothing so much as, well, as the flaming, intent, single-minded glare of rage and hatred which rock snarls typically bestow upon those they intend to devour on the instant.

Chaos and stampede erupted in the room in such proportions as to make the earlier confusion seem like the very balm of Heaven. But in that brief moment before all thought was drowned in mass and mindless fury, two voices were heard to speak, one in a loud cry of distress heard by all in the room, the other in a shocked whisper heard only by a louse.

The loud cry of distress, it needs hardly be said, belonged to Rupert Inkman, whose posture was no longer that of one born to command. 'Twas brief and to the point:

"Oh, shit!"

The shocked whisper belonged to the witch Magrit. For she alone, of the multitude in the room, had immediately spotted the one aspect of the rock snarl which was unusual. All others present had, perhaps understandably, fixated on those features of the monster which were altogether normal for a rock snarl in the grip of murtherous rage—I speak, of course, of the eyes blazing like the ovens of hell, the fangs like cutlasses, the talons like sabers, the lashing tail, the great haunches even now crouching for the death leap, and so on and so forth.

But Magrit had at once seen the oddity, the little hairy face which peeked out through the great neck ruff of the monster.

"I'll be damned," she whispered, "it's Shelyid."

And so it was! Shelyid the dwarf, perched atop the shoulders of the horrible beast like nothing so much as a child riding a hobby horse! How had such an event come to pass?

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