p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif; color: #666666;"ZORCH THE INDIGNANT DRAGONbr /Tiffany L. Proctor/p
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p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"Chapter One: Idiot, You Shrunk the Castle/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"The western sky was burning. Sporoch stared in awe at the orange clouds, as they billowed across the horizon. "What the devil—"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Bugger the sky," Raydo interrupted. "What about our little problem?"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Your being cynical isn't helping," Pyquil growled ferociously./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"Raydo spat at the ground in disgust. Little problem indeed. Whose brilliant idea had it been to shrink the castle anyway? Certainly not his. It must have been Sporoch. That little devil was always causing trouble./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"The day before, the three wizards had come up with a diabolical plot to take over the world. Or the Kingdom of Roshca, anyway. Secreted away in a dusty old spell tome they had stumbled across an incantation that would shrink anything the castor desired. Without stopping to consider that maybe there was a reason why ancient book had been hidden away for many centuries, the three fiends cast the shrink spell upon Roshca castle and its inhabitants. Immediately the castle had been reduced to the size of a thimble, much to the delight of the scheming wizards. But after that the plot had gone terribly awry./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"King Taq of Roshca caught wind of the wizard's plan before it was hatched, and he and all of the occupants of the castle had escaped just before the wicked deed was done. After the spell wrecked itsbr /havoc, the wizards found that they no longer had a castle in which they could fit, and when they had commanded the city's workers to build them a grand palace, their newfound subjects replied that suchbr /an undertaking would require a vast amount of coin, and the royal coffers had of course shrunk with the castle. Worst of all, the tome that held the counter-spell had been reduced to roughly the size of a grainbr /of sand, and Pyquil had dropped it, so now it was lost forever, meaning the wizards had no way of un-doing what they had done./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"As the wizards continued to berate each other, a peasant happened by. Raydo grabbed the poor man by the collar and lifted him off the ground. "You!" he yelled, "Give me all your money!"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""I don't have anything," the man sputtered. "All my money goes to the king. My money's in the royal coffers."br /"Oh, right." Raydo set the man down and went back to arguing with his fellows./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""BURRRRP!"br /Zorch the dragon rolled around in pain and discomfort. He knew he shouldn't have eaten the entire village, but they had all looked so tasty… the hippie woman with the flowers in her hair, the annoyingbr /priest who had poked a staff at him… the obnoxious man with the enormous gut who tasted vaguely of beer and chicken wings…/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"Now, Zorch was paying for his gluttony with a bad case of indigestion./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"With a gut-rending belch, the dragon sent a burst of flame rising up into the clouds, which painted the sky vast shades of red and orange. It was rather beautiful, really. But man, was he full…/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Dragon!"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"Zorch turned his head to see a richly dressed man step up behind him. Brandishing his bejeweled sword, the man took up an offensive stance and bellowed, "I am King Taq of Roshca, and I am on a quest to vanquish three evil traitorous wizards. You will carry me into battle, or I will be forced to slay you!"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"With a scoff, the dragon thought to himself that King Taq looked like he had had a rough night. Or four. A smear of mud ran from the bottom of the king's left ear to the top of his neck, his burgundy cape wasbr /sporting a rather large rip, and a jewel had fallen from its casing on the hilt of the king's mighty sword. To top it off, a fig leaf was sticking out of the man's stringy, uncombed yellow hair./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Well you don't have to be so rude about it," Zorch muttered. "Go ahead, climb aboard. The last thing I want is to be run through with a cocktail pick."/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Ha!" the king laughed. "I knew my might would frighten you into obedience."/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Doubtful," Zorch remarked, running an eye over the king's disheveled image. "You don't look as if you'll be slaying anything any time soon. I just really need the exercise." The dragon stretched lazily. "You're lucky my stomach hurts so much. You don't look the slightest bit appetizing at the moment. In fact, I may never consume another human again. Too fattening."/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"So, the dragon and the king flew and flew, with the dragon only stopping once to investigate a shiny bauble on the forest floor. "Bah!" Zorch exclaimed, upon closer examination of the jewel, whichbr /was shaped exactly like the empty socket on the hilt of king Taq's sword. "Cubic Zirconium!"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"Eventually the dragon spotted three robed figures on the ground, arguing in the distance. "What's that he's got in his hand, there?" Zorch asked, flying in closer for a better view. One of the wizards was holding something in his palm. It was roughly the size of a thimble./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""I command you to land!" the king yelled, pulling on one of Zorch's iridescent horns as if it were an emergency brake./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Oh hush up," Zorch muttered indignantly. "I'll do what I very well please. You're about on my last nerve and—"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"Just then the dragon was seized by a terrible pressure in the pit of his stomach. With a roar, he emitted a foul belching noise, and flames shot out of his mouth./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""You're about the most incompetent dark wizard I've ever met, I've seen fairies more menacing than you, you—"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Oh, and I suppose you forget it was you who got us into this mess in the first—"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""ME? You're the one who found the spell, you—"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""There isn't a half a brain between the both of you. I—"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"An odd rumbling noise cut the wizards off mid-argue and caused them to look skywards. Of course, by then it was too late. They barely had time to turn around before they (along with anything that happened to be in any of their hands at the time) were rendered to ash in the wake of a smoldering, stench-ridden inferno./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"Patting the dragon's back affectionately, King Taq smiled. "Friend, you've done well."/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""I feel better," Zorch replied. He stifled a laugh and lowered his voice to mutter, "You won't be quite so pleased with me once you discover that the wizards weren't the only things I incinerated."/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"Chapter Two: Zorch's Infernobr /How Zorch and King Taq escaped the nine levels of spell/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"King Taq's foot was asleep. He tried jiggling it a bit, but that only made the numbing sensation travel up into his leg. Scowling at the tall skinny wizard who sat cross-legged on the ground in front of him, the king wondered how many more of these imbeciles he would have to interview before he found the perfect First Wizard for his new court./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"New, since his dragon, Zorch, had incinerated Taq's former court, along with his castle./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"The last wizard to hold the coveted title of First Wizard of the kingdom of Roshca had actually been a trio of magicians. They met with an unfortunate ending however, after their diabolical plan to shrink King Taq's castle in a misguided attempt to take over the world. Thanks to the bravery of Roshca's valiant king (and perhaps, the King admitted, though reluctantly, thanks in part to a major bout of indigestion on the part of Zorch) the three evil traitors had been fried to a crisp along with Taq's former home./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"Three weeks after the nasty wizards had perished, Roshca's new castle was still in the process of being completed, thus forcing Taq to conduct his First Wizard interviews outside on the castle grounds. How the king wished the royal laborers would hurry up with his new suite. He was tired of waking up to mosquito bites and dirt stains on his clothing./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"With a yawn, King Taq attempted to rise and promptly fell over, landing on his face in the grass as his numb leg buckled and sent him tumbling./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"From his high vantage point on a hill overlooking the building site of the new castle, Zorch the dragon laughed uproariously as the arrogant and self-centered King of Roshca fell on his face in the dirt. Thebr /poor wizard Taq was trying to interview was uncomfortably trying to suppress his own bout of giggles and feign concern for the king's safety at the same time. Deciding it was time for some much needed dragon intervention, Zorch rose from his slouched position and made his way lazily down the hill./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Ah," said King Taq to the wizard, as he tried ineffectively to cover up yet another tear in his silk vest, "here comes my dragon."/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Your dragon indeed," Zorch muttered to himself indignantly. "Watch out there, Kingy boy, or I might start referring to you as my dinner."/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"The skinny wizard, who called himself Freytor, was looking rather embarrassed, but obviously he was sticking around to find out whether or not he'd won the job. Zorch noted silently that by the state ofbr /the man's shabby wardrobe, he needed the money badly./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"Brushing at a chocolate cake crumb on his velvet cloak, King Taq failed to meet Freytor's eye as he said, "Frankly, wizard, your inability to grasp basic alchemy principles is a deal-breaker. When I asked you to turn that blade of grass into gold, you flailed your arms and spat and cursed at the thing, but it didn't do anything except twist itself free and fly away! What if I need you to concoct a love potion, or mix me up an anti-wart remedy?"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"Zorch secretly thought that King Taq might benefit from a wart or ten./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"Eyeing the thigh-high castle lawn, Freytor replied, "Your majesty, grass makes for very poor gold. If I may make it up to you, I know many other useful incantations-"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"But before the wizard could finish, and before Zorch could throw in his two cents, a royal messenger came panting up to the group and interrupted./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""King Taq, sir," the young messenger stuttered, "Your castle is nearly complete, sir, and the laborers wish for you to go inside and inspect it before they put the finishing touches into place."/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Excellent," the king exclaimed, beaming. He turned to Zorch. "Come dragon, let us inspect my new home." Forgetting the wiry wizard in his excitement, the king turned towards his new castle./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"Suddenly the wizard had an idea. "Wait! Sire!"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"Zorch and the king stopped and Freytor ran to join them. "Surely," Freytor commented, "you will need strong defenses to keep evil out of your new castle."/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Eh, well…" Defenses? King Taq hadn't considered such things as security or fortifications. He just wanted a bed to sleep in once again, and perhaps a fresh set of clothing./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""I can cast a spell," the wizard continued with a flourish of his wand, which Zorch suspected was merely ornamental, "that will keep unwanted people from entering your castle!"br /"Well," replied the king, thinking of the three evil wizards who had betrayed him. "Ok, I'll hire you then."/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"The wizard glowed, Zorch snorted, and the messenger boy ran ahead to push open the great wooden doors of the new castle./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"With a grunt, Zorch managed to suck his rather large belly in enough to pass through the castle's front entrance. His girth had grown considerably since the day he'd devoured an entire village on thebr /outskirts of Roshca, and even though Zorch had put himself on a strict low-carb diet after he consumed the village, avoiding fatty foods such as humans, the dragon's stomach still jiggled in a most unflatteringbr /manner whenever he walked./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"The castle's interior was rather empty, Taq noted, as his small group came to a halt just inside the entry doors. He turned to Freytor. "Wizard, you may cast your spell now to keep evil fiends from entering mybr /castle."/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Ahem." Freytor cleared his throat dramatically (Zorch rolled his eyes), and opened his mouth to call out the magic spell./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"Feeling something tickle his belly, Zorch twisted his neck around to have a good look at the bottom of his stomach. Was that a flea crawling on him? Oh, horror. The dragon hopped from foot to foot, trying to shake the thing loose. Giving a squeal of triumph, the dragon took a might leap sideways, dislodging the unwanted visitor from his scaly hide, and coming down right on the wizard's foot./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"As Freytor uttered a yelp of pain, his concentration on the spell he was casting broke. The air shimmered./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"Suddenly, the wizard, the king, the dragon, and the messenger boy found themselves standing in the basement of the castle, on top of a large sheet of ice. A ring of nasty-looking giants encircled thebr /perimeter of the room./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"With a scoff, Zorch turned to a frightened-looking Freytor. "I don't think you did it correctly."br /A look of horror crossed the king's face. "Wizard!" he yelled, "What have you done?"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"The giants were slowly approaching the group in the middle of the ice pit, and even Zorch was beginning to feel uneasy. "I uh…" Freytor stammered. "I must have got it wrong when that foul creature attackedbr /me, sire." He leveled a dirty stare at the dragon./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""I did no such thing!" Zorch grew red with indignation. Foul creature, indeed!/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""The only foul thing in this room is this wizard's breath." He blew a ring of fire at the offending wizard./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Bu, but…" the wizard continued, carefully dodging the flames (Zorch was forced to give the man points for his evasion skills), "I believe that if we can make it to the top level of the castle, I can un-cast the spell."/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Well we certainly can't keep standing here," King Taq muttered. A giant was eyeing the king with a rather hungry expression. "To the top, then!"br /Quickly the party made a run for a staircase leading up that was poking out of the wall at the far end of the room. A glowing neon sign bearing the word "exit" and an arrow in the upward position, hung inbr /midair above the set of steps./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"But the ice under the travelers' feet proved to be a tricky obstacle to navigate. King Taq, the wizard Freytor, and the messenger boy,br /whose name was Pall, all fell solidly on their behinds when they tried to make a getaway./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"From the top of the stairwell, Zorch looked down on the humans and laughed./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""How did you get up there?" Taq demanded./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""I flew of course. You humans are completely helpless."/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"In a rare gesture of pity, Zorch flew back down to the ice sheet (the giants, meanwhile were drawing closer to the helpless humans by the second) and scooped the others up with a wing, depositing them on his back. A desperate giant latched onto King Taq's cloak just as Zorch launched himself back into the air. There was a ripping sound as the king's velvet cloak tore free of its wearer, and Taq made a rudebr /gesture at the offending giant./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"The party emerged into a room full of deep chasms, connected to one another by spindly rope bridges./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Eh, what's that smell?"br /Zorch curled his nostrils in disgust as he wove expertly around a large brown, stinking pile of something./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Dragon dung," he muttered. "Let's high-tail it to the next level."/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"A boiling river of bright scarlet ran through the center of the next room./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Is that blood?" the messenger boy questioned excitedly./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Might be food coloring," the dragon replied./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"The party was about to ascend to the next floor when a roaring sound came up from an island of burning sand that was smoking in the middle of the river. A tremendous bull-headed creature growled menacingly from the island as the dragon flew over its head. Zorch blew a cloud of flame at the thing, but that only seemed to spur it on and make it angrier. In reply, Zorch belligerently stuck his forked tongue at the creature. From his back, the beast produced a bow and quiver, and quickly notched an arrow. "Onwards," Zorch bellowed bravely, and he began to accelerate./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"The group had just reached the next floor when Zorch faltered. "And I thought I was fat," he remarked, landing on the floor and panting heavily. "You guys weigh a ton."/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Perhaps you're just out of shape," Taq said, jabbing a finger at the dragon's jelly belly. Zorch growled and flared his purple nostrils at the king. "I might break my diet for you," he snorted./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"The messenger gestured at something. "What's that, a grave?"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Tomb, most likely," Zorch the tour guide remarked. "This looks like abr /safe enough area. Why don't you useless louts try walking for abr /change?"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"Everyone except for the king, who complained that his foot had fallen asleep again, dismounted, and the party slowly made their way across a cavernous room to the usual stairwell at the far end./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""There's toilet paper stuck to your foot," Zorch chuckled, pointing at Pell. A musty, dingy strip of yellow cloth had attached itself to the bottom of the boy's shoe. Pell frowned. "That doesn't look like…"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Uh-oh." Zorch looked back and saw three ancient mummies running after them. "Faster, dragon," the king yelled from atop Zorch's back. The dragon waddled, panting with exertion, but the mummies were drawing nearer./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"The messenger boy screamed, and the wizard waved his wand around in ineffective circles, but the mummies were unstoppable. Suddenly a tomb in the middle of the room spontaneously combusted, bursting into flame, and taking out the nearest mummy. "Score!" Zorch bellowed, as the group reached the stairwell at last and ascended to safety. Er well, relative safety anyway./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Oh no, not another river." Taq groaned at the water source snaking its way across their /"Water!" Zorch exclaimed, and took off for the bank, where he dipped his head and drank greedily. He jumped back sputtering. "Something's peering up at me from the bottom!" he cried. The messenger boy had approached and he knelt down to peer beyond the water's surface./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""It's an angel," he exclaimed, "and its wing is broken."/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""An angel?" Zorch snorted. He spat and attempted to regurgitate. "Quickly then, this is the most frightening foe we've yet come across."br /The group made their way unhindered to the next level./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Gold!" King Taq leapt off of Zorch's back and ran straight into the next room, which was bursting at the seams with coins and jewels and other treasures. Greedily, the king began stuffing his pockets with riches while the others looked around in trepidation, wondering when the catch would make itself known./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Bah!" Zorch exclaimed, looking around. "The walls are closing in, the room's getting narrower! Run!"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"King Taq filled his last pocket and grabbed a hold of a jewel encrusted trunk and began pushing it towards the dragon. "Help me load this onto the dragon," he called to the wizard and the messenger./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""I'm not carrying that," Zorch said./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"The king stumbled under the weight of the gold and jewels in his pocket. Slowly the walls were pushing closer together. Pell and Freytor had already reached the stairwell leading to the next level, but Zorch stood stock still in the middle of the room, watching the king inch forward on his hands and knees, unable to bear the weight of his stolen treasures. Finally he abandoned the trunk, but Taq refusedbr /to empty his bulging pockets./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Why am I doing this?" Zorch asked himself as he grabbed the floundering king in his wing and drug the man across the floor to the others. "It would be so much easier to eat him. But I doubt the Roshcabr /Weigh-less Company would refund my money if I broke my diet."/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"Treasures spilled from the king's pockets as he was pulled along reluctantly. By the time Zorch had hauled him to the next floor, not only had he lost his jewels, but most ofbr /his clothing had been torn off as well. King Taq stood up and discovered he was clothed in only his underwear./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""You look better," Zorch remarked./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""I'm freezing," the king replied with a shiver. Wind and frozen rain pellets fell down on the party from high /"We won't survive long in this whether," said Freytor, "we'd better make for the next stairwell quickly."/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""How many blasted levels does this castle have?" King Taq demanded, brushing off an icicle that was hanging from the bottom of his nose."/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"Zorch was breathing on himself, and basking in the comfortable warmth of his breath. He seemed quite content as he strolled along, until…/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"A giant table suddenly sprang up in the middle of the room, loaded with meats off all kinds. The table was crammed with slabs of beef, veal, venison, turkey, ham… and a lighter colored meat that made thebr /humans quite ill just thinking about its origins./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"Drool seeped from the dragon's mouth as he drew closer to the table./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Oh no you don't," King Taq growled as he and the others began pushing and shoving at Zorch's considerable bulk, trying to steer it away from the mountain of food. "I wasn't allowed to have my treasure, and you won't get yours either!"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"The dragon shoved the pesky humans aside with a flick of his spiked tail. He took another step towards the food, and opened his mouth… and remembered how much he had suffered the last time he pigged out so carelessly. "You know," he muttered, "eating all of this might turn out to be a worse punishment than having an angel stare at me." With a sigh he backed away from the table, then ran back and grabbed a leg of ham. "The Roshca Diet Co. will never know," he told himself as he ran to join the others who were already making their way to the next level of the castle./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"This floor contained a violent tornado, and a woman running around trying to hide from her husband, who was brandishing an axe, swinging it madly at anything that flew by on the wind./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"Eventually, after Zorch managed to round up the humans who were being blown away by the violent gusts of wind (even the tornado couldn't possible lift Zorch off the ground) the group emerged on the top floor of the castle./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"King Taq blinked to see another king sitting on the great throne that stood on a raised dais at the far end of the vast chamber. "What nonsense is this?" he sputtered./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"People kept falling down from the ceiling (one or two bumped Zorch on the head on their way down) to land at the foot of the king's dais. One by one, the fallen people approached the false king, and he calledbr /out a number, two through nine, after which the person who had been assigned the number fell through the floor./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Dragon, I command you to incinerate that imposter!" King Taq growled menacingly as he eyed the other king, dark pupils glittering with malice./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Yes sir, Mr. Naked Emperor, sir," Zorch said in mock salute, still laughing at the king's state of near-nudity./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"Just as Zorch (who, by that time had grown very hungry, and bugger the Roshca Diet Company!) was about to open his mouth and spew fire at the judgment king, Freytor stepped into the middle of the room, waved his ridiculous wand (Zorch told himself that if the fake king didn't prove filling enough, the wiry wizard would make a delightful side dish) and uttered a counter-spell./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"In an instant, Zorch and the others found themselves standing back in the castle's vaulted entryway. Zorch's stomach was growling (the leg of ham had long since been devoured), but he was otherwise unharmed./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"The poor messenger boy, Pell, was glowing with excitement. King Taq was still in his underwear./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"Red-faced, the king turned to the wizard Freytor, who was feeling quite pleased with himself for finally getting a spell right./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Wizard, you're fired!"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"Chapter Three: Zorch the Magic Dragon/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"It beeped incessantly when Zorch pounded on the buttons on the bottom half. In fact, the thing exasperated the dragon, and he kept asking himself why King Taq was so enamored with the box-like object he'd found in a rubbish heap behind the new castle. "It must be ancient relic from the past!" Taq had exclaimed in glee, as Zorch stood quietly in the background, wondering just what had driven the king to go digging around in a pile of garbage in the first place./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"Zorch muttered in indignation and breathed some fire at the offensive object for good measure./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Dragon!" a voice behind Zorch yelled. "What are you doing to my artifact?"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"Turning around, Zorch saw the king standing to his left, with a ditzy blonde damsel on his arm./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Ohhh, is that your dragon?" Miss Ditz asked, stretching her hand out as if she expected Zorch to sniff it. "Can I pet it?"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"In answer, Zorch puffed himself up and blew a ring of fire at the bimbo./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""He's a bit touchy," Taq remarked. "But he can't harm you." The king's date looked unconvinced. "He's on a strict diet and can't have any human meat. How's that going anyway, dragon?"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"Patting his rather large belly proudly, Zorch grinned and said "I've lost three hundred pounds already. But I've still got another thousand or so to lose before I'm back to my pre-village level of fitness."/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""He ate an entire village a month ago," Taq whispered to his date. The girl took a few steps back. Zorch flashed his teeth at her menacingly./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Anyhow," Taq went on, addressing the blonde, "I've recently made the most amazing discovery." He gestured to the beeping flip-box on the ground in front of Zorch. "We haven't figured out how to work it yet…"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""I can't get it to do anything but beep at me," Zorch confessed./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Every time I press one of those little buttons it makes the most horrible racket. And it gets very hot on the bottom after a minute." The dragon scoffed. "Whatever it is, it doesn't work very well."/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Let me have another look at it…" In an attempt to show off in front of his date, Taq settled down in front of his new toy and began to press buttons at random./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"Clunk. Clunk. Beep. BEEEEEEP. King Taq pounded on the bottom half of the artifact in desperation to get it to do something. Suddenly words appeared on the top part of the thing, "Stop pounding on me! I know I frustrate you and make you mad but I can't help it. You're the idiot who installed Vista on me in the first place!"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"Zorch jumped in surprise, as if the thing had bitten him. "I beg your—" King Taq started to speak, but was interrupted with more words./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""No, I will not open that. It may contain a virus. Heh. Now you're cursing. Yeah, that's gonna make me behave all right. Watch it bud, you're getting spit on my lcd screen. Do you have any idea how hard itbr /will be to clean that without leaving streaks?"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Eek!" Now the King was pounding on the thing trying desperately to make it shut up. BEEP. BEEP. ERROR. BEBEBEBEBEEEEP!/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Hahahahaha. Take that Mr. Pounder, Curser, Spittle guy. I think I'll re-start myself and maybe even re-format in the process. Oh, be quiet. If you want a driver, call Uber. Ram? Yeah, that's what you're going to do with your head and the wall. Memory? Ask Andrew Lloyd Webber. Blue screen coming up... wait, what are you doing with your hand? Wipe that evil grin off your face. Not my battery. Put that ba-"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"With a yell of pain, King Taq thrust the relic from his hands. "It burned me," he cried./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""I told you it gets hot," Zorch remarked, disinterestedly. He somewhat smugly noted that bimbo babe had fainted. "Hey, how'd you turn it off, anyway?"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Well I don't exactly know," Taq replied without the slightest hint of concern for his date's state of health. "I was moving my hand around underneath the thing, and I felt it catch on something… then a part of the bottom came out. Look."/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"The king held up his hand, and Zorch bent to examine the dull black rectangular thing Taq was holding./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""It is most intriguing," the king muttered. "Dragon, fetch me my wizard."/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"But Zorch only laughed. "Which wizard would that be? The one you sacked last week?"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Oh bugger." Only the previous week, Taq had fired his court wizard for accidentally imprisoning himself, the king, Zorch, and the king's messenger boy, Pell, in Roshca's new castle due to a spellbr /miscalculation. The whole ordeal had been extremely taxing on them all, and had nearly caused Zorch to break his diet./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""I know!" The king jumped up in excitement. "Go fetch my messenger boy! Maybe he'll know what this frustrating object does and how to work it. He lives in the village. And try not to eat everyone thisbr /time. They've only just begun to repopulate."/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"Zorch shrugged. Why not? He could do with some exercise. And being in such close proximity to an unconscious human was painting uncouth images in his mind… He turned back to the king… "Just a finger or two? I promise I won't—"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""NO!"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""And he has the nerve to call me touchy," Zorch mumbled./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Oh, I know what that is!" As soon as Zorch dropped his passenger off on the ground, the boy rushed over to the thing King Taq was greedily guarding./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Can you work it, boy? What is it called? Does it do anything useful? Is it valuable?"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Is it at all edible?" Both the king and the dragon began throwing questions at the poor messenger boy./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""I, ah…" Pell caught sight of the prone girl on the lawn and stopped in mid stride. Zorch moved to block the boy's view of the unconscious human and Taq pushed him toward the useless artifact./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""I think," Pell remarked, turning his attention back to the black thing, "that it's called a lap-top."/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"What a strange name, Zorch thought./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"Deftly, the boy reached out and took the piece that Taq had dislodged from the bottom of the object. He fitted it back into the underside, then touched a button. Instantly, the top half of the thing beeped and lit up./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""It likes to do that," Zorch remarked./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""It's prompting me for a password," Pell replied. "What is it?"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Password?" Taq shook his head. "How should I know? I found it in a pile of rubbish."/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"Zorch snorted. "You probably should have left it there."/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Ah…" the messenger boy pressed a few more buttons, then paused and stared at the screen./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""What're we doing?" Zorch waddled closer for a better look. "The screen's changed."/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""We're waiting," Pell answered./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Hmm…" Taq scratched at his non-existent beard. "What's this Vista thing it mentioned?"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""I'm not exactly sure… though I've heard of it… I think it's some kind of virus./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"3 days later/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"Zorch yawned and stretched. "Is it done whatchmacalling yet?"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Reformatting?" A very tired looking Pell nodded. "I think so…" The King had long since abandoned them for the comforts of castle Roshca. The unconscious girl, however, remained ever diligent at her post, face-down on the lawn./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Maybe we should get her some help," Pell suggested./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"But Zorch shrugged him off. He had managed to convince himself that if she remained there long enough, the king would allow Zorch to have her./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Look, it's doing something. The screen's gone blue."/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Oh no," Pell cried. "It's crashed."/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"2 weeks later/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Well, I give up." Frazzled and drained, Pell shut the lap-box and stood up. "I'm sorry. Tell the king I've failed. I just can't get the thing to function properly."/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Oh no worries." Zorch shrugged. "I'm sure he's forgotten about it by now. And hopefully that's not all he's forgotten about…"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Excuse me?" The boy rubbed sleepily at his eyes./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Never mind," Zorch answered. "I'll give you a ride home."/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Dragon!"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"Oh, Zorch wondered, what is it this time?/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"King Taq came stomping up the hill behind Zorch, sniffing in disgust. "Something's burning. What is that you're doing? Is that my lap-box?"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"Sheepishly, Zorch glanced at the king. "The messenger boy left. He couldn't make it work properly."/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""What exactly did he say it is supposed to do, anyway?"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Um…" Zorch paused. "Well I've found a new use for it. See."/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"Upon close inspection, Taq saw that the dragon had inverted the box./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"It was lying face-down on the grass. On top of it, several pieces of meat were being charred to a crisp. The pungent odor of the burning strips of steak wafted lazily down the hillside towards Roshcabr /Castle./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""The heat the thing produces makes it a perfect smoker," Zorch announced./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"The king turned away in boredom. Cooking didn't interest him in the slightest. However, a sudden thought made him look back./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Dragon…"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Mmm hmm?"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""What kind of meat exactly are you burning on that thing?"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Uh…"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""And whatever happened to Rosie?"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Can't say as I know any… Rosie, did you say?"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""My date, you know, the blonde?"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""The blonde?"br /"Oh, for crying out loud. She fainted when the lap-box started spewing words. Remember? But she's left now. She seems to have recovered."/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Ah, that blonde. Well eh… yeah, you could say that." Suddenly Zorch turned his full attention back to his cooking. "Hey, I think dinner is done. Care to join me for a bite?" The dragon snatched up a bit ofbr /meat and speared it on a talon. He then offered the morsel to King Taq, who, in response, vomited onto the lawn./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"ZORCH THE INDIGNANT DRAGON part 4:/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"Beauty and the Zorch/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"Zorch the dragon was a force to be reckoned with. Yep, Zorch thought to himself, this was one fire-breathing dragon you did NOT want to anger. Whistling in appreciation of his awesomeness, Zorch flexed one of his bulging arm muscles. And just look at those abs! The dragon reached down to pat his protruding stomach. It jiggled unflatteringly in response. Ok, maybe not so much muscle... But Zorch was about to change that!/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"After one minor transgression, Zorch was back on his low-carb diet outlined by the Roshca Diet Co, and he was about to partake in his first bit of exercise in over a month. Or at least since the king's ex-wizard had accidentally imprisoned everyone in a nine-story castle, and Zorch had been forced to fly to the rescue of the lot of them (the king, the wizard, and a poor messenger boy named Pell)./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"The dragon gingerly dipped one meaty talon into the clear water of the new pool King Taq's laborers had built into the courtyard of Roshca's newest castle. This castle was in fact, the third castle in which the king had dwelt in about as many months, the original having been shrunk by a trio of evil wizards, and the second ordered to be demolished by the king after he and his companions had become trapped inside of it. It gave him bad vibes after that, King Taq complained./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"Ah, the water's temperature was just right. Zorch lifted a back leg and unceremoniously dunked it over the side of the pool, then braced himself as he began to lower his massive 8,000 pound bulk into the water./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"The dragon's belly had just broken the surface when, with a great "whooshing" sound, an entire pool full of water was displaced. It roared up over the sides of it enclosure, and crashed down onto the courtyard below, taking out a flowerbed, and nearly drowning a passing cat./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"Zorch peered indignantly up from the dry floor of the now empty pool (how dare that water just run away like that!) just in time to see a very disgruntled, very naked King Taq spit a drenched rose petal from between his teeth. The bright orange pair of swim trunks the king had been wearing a moment before where hanging brightly from the top branch of a nearby tree, where they had washed up after the Tsunami struck./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Oh, hello there," Zorch called out, "Water can be very unpredictable, you-"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Dragon!"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Ban me from the courtyard from now until the end of the era, will you?" Zorch puffed his chest out in indignation. Muttering to himself, the dragon knelt down to examine his pile of shinny baubles. First, there was the humongous cubic zirconium that had once adorned the scabbard of the ostentatious greatsword King Taq liked to carry around. Next, there was the bright red ruby that Zorch had snatched from the treasure room of the second castle Roshca, during his headlong flight through the nine levels of spell. Zorch smiled at the sight of that one. He liked red things. The third, and most coveted piece of Zorch's collection, was a slim rectangular object that opened in the middle. It had lots of buttons, and made lots of annoying noises, but it was most useful for cooking things, since it produced so much heat. Zorch called proudly referred to it as his "lap-box."/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""I'll really show the king," Zorch said, grabbing his lap-box and looking around for some meat. "I, well, I'll... hmm..."/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"A brilliant thought struck the dragon. "I know. I'll find someone who can push him around, someone brash and offensive who'll let him know that he's not the all-powerful boss-man around here!" Zorch's eyes sparkled. "I'll find him a wife!"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"The dragon peered around. "Pell!" Where was that messenger boy?/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Yes, Mr.. Dragon?" A tall, dorky kid came running at Zorch's call. A fleeting thought of the kid roasting on a spit entered the dragon's mind, but it didn't stay for long. Zorch generally liked this boy. He knew enough to show proper respect where and when it was due. More importantly, he was too skinny to make much of a meal./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""I need you to carry a message to King Grump," Zorch said to the boy. "I'm going to be setting off on a quest to find him a suitable queen, and whether he likes the idea or not, he will value my opinion and," here Zorch paused to emphasis to his word (and catch his breath), "if he knows what is good for his future health, he will honor my decision. I'll wait here for you to return with the king's response (not that I care much what it is), and then set out immediately."/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"Pell, stunned by the dragon's audacity, almost made to argue, but, taking in Zorch's sheer bulk, thought better of it and merely nodded his acquiescence before running off in the direction of the castle./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"King Taq was sprawled lazily across his seat on the royal dais, idly picking at a zit on his left cheek, when the messenger boy came running into the throne room. "Ah, there you are," the king called out in greeting as the boy rushed in. "I was about to send for you. I need you to carry an important message to my dragon right away."/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Sire, I've just come from the dragon, and he says-"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Bah!" The king cut the poor boy off with a dismissive wave of his hand. "Who cares what my dragon has to say? I need you to tell him he is to find me a new wizard at once. And he must hurry. The appointment is of the utmost importance."/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""But the dragon-"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Did you have all of that or should I have you write it down so you don't forget?" br /"Have the dragon find you a wizard, sire, " Pell replied, "I won't forget, but sir, the dragon is going to-"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Yes, and it is very important that he hurries. Write that down. Now."/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"Pell fumbled to pull a pen and paper from the pouch at his waist. A good messenger boy never left home without his pouch of writing utensils. "Make haste," he repeated as he wrote, "in a desperate hurry. Sire, I have it, but you need to know that the dragon-"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Is well on his way to finding me a new wizard. As should you be well on your way to deliver the message."/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""But-"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Go!"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Yes, sire." A bead of nervous sweat broke out on the boy's forehead, and he hesitated, torn between fear of the wrath of the dragon, and fear of the wrath of the king, until finally, in a panic, he ran from the throne room./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"Zorch was in a foul mood. The hamburgers he'd snatched from the royal kitchen just wouldn't cook fast enough on the back of the lap-box. The thing was obviously malfunctioning. Again. In frustration, Zorch flipped it open and banged on it repeatedly. It beeped a few times and then some teenager's ugly mug appeared on the top half./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Ohhhhh... Is that MyFace?"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Huh?" Zorch looked absently up from the screen. The messenger boy, Pell, was back. He was staring down at the lap-box in wonder./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""It doesn't look like you," Zorch replied caustically. With his growing hunger knowing at his insides, the scrawny messenger boy was looking tastier by the minute./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""MyFace is a social networking site," Pell said./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""A what? Look, all I know is that the dumb thing isn't heating up fast enough, so I opened it up and started pressing some of these little black buttons on the bottom half... And this came up on the top." The dragon shrugged./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"Pell yanked the black box greedily away from the dragon and sat down with it. With his face transfixed on the screen, he began rapidly pressing the little black buttons./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Hey," Zorch huffed, tapping the messenger boy on the shoulder with a claw. "Did you at least get a response from the king about my proposal to find him a suitable wife?"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"The boy waved the dragon away with a grunt, refusing to tear his gaze from the lap-box. "Ugh," Zorch bellowed. The boy obviously wasn't going to be getting up for a while./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Wait, what's that?" A piece of paper had fallen from Pell's hand when he reached for the lap-box. Picking it up with interest, Zorch scanned the words hastily scrawled upon it./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Tell the dragon to make haste with the appointment! I am in a desperate hurry!"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Well," Zorch muttered to himself, "I guess he's at least agreeable."/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"So, Zorch left the messenger boy to his "social networking" (whatever that was), and flew off to the village to scan for potential queens./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Nah, nah..." Zorch shook his head. None of the women he'd seen so far were... Rash enough, bold enough... Bossy enough./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""What's that awful racket?"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"A vile screeching noise was coming from the far end of the village. It sounded vaguely like a dying cat in heat. Straining his neck around, Zorch could just make out the figure of a very ugly, very ample, and very boisterous woman standing in front of a tailor's shop. The shop's proprietor was cowering before the woman's bulk, and she was keening loudly at the top of her lungs. She was also swinging large, Cucci handbag, which sported a large obnoxious pattern, in a threatening manner./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""I said I needed that dress let out by noon on Sunday," Cucci mamma bellowed, "and you have the nerve to tell me it isn't finished yet. I'll show you what-"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""But ma'am," the shopkeeper stuttered, "It's only Tuesday."/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""So I came by a little early. I had to be sure you morons were doing your job! I-" The handbag swung perilously close to the cowering shopkeeper's head./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Ah!" Zorch exclaimed excitedly, "She's perfect!"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"The dragon sauntered lazily up to his chosen fair maid./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Excuse me, Miss, but are you married, by any chance?"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""A dragon!" The big, loud lady hefted her over-sized handbag into the air and proceeded to beat poor Zorch over the head with it./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Hey, I'm about to make you the offer of a lifetime, lady. How would you like to be the queen?"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"That got the obnoxious woman's attention. "What was that, dear?" she cooed, dusting off her handbag./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""I said are you married? Engaged? Romantically involved?"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""To a man? Vile creatures, of course not!" The woman spat on the ground./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""To anything." Woo-wee, Zorch thought, I sure know how to pick 'em. Zorch almost reconsidered his choice. But then he remembered the courtyard incident and carried on./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""If not, the king of Roshca is available, and I can schedule for you to be married in, oh... 'bout an hour or so. What's your name?"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"The woman considered for a moment. "This king, what's he like?"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"Zorch laughed. "Total pushover."/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""And I could be a queen?" br /"Of course."/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Does the job come with fringe benefits such as a designer wardrobe and large spending allowance?"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Absolutely," Zorch replied flawlessly, "Once you're queen you can buy all the expensive ugly purses your enormous heart desires."/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"The woman flushed. No one had ever accused her of having a big heart before. "You do know how to flatter a lady. Done. My name is Barthalamule."/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"Bowing low before King Taq's future bride, Zorch choked on his reply. "Lovely. Isn't that the name of some dude from the bible? Or something close to it? A man, but..." Oh well. Who cared? Zorch shrugged. "Onward, fair lady!"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"As the big-boned Lady Barthalamule stumbled onto the dragon's back, the dragon almost felt sorry for King Taq. But then he thought about being banned from the royal pool for an entire era... And for the first time Zorch was glad of his excess 4,000 pounds. If not for that, this slip of a lady might run the risk of accidentally falling off his back on the ride back to Castle Roshca./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Hurry up, dragon!"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Well." the king said, taking a pause to look over Barthalamule's hefty frame, "I have to admit that I wasn't expecting a woman."/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"Zorch scoffed. "What did you want then? A goat, a sheep, a lap-box, perhaps? Please tell me you at least expected something with a pulse."/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Well a man, of course."/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"Zorch went red in the face. "Sire, I had no idea..."/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""No matter," Taq replied with a smile. "I'm open to taking on a woman. That is, as long as her performance is up to par." He put a slight emphasis on the word performance. "You did check her performance, didn't you, dragon?"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Ah," Zorch muttered, "that isn't my... Eh well... It isn't in my contract."/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"Taq shook his head. "Well we'll just have to put her performance to the test right here then, in front of an audience."/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""No!" Zorch interrupted, "I've brought a priest along from the village and I think we should just go ahead and get the ceremony over with. What you do after that..." He shrugged./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Ceremony?" The king looked confused. "We always just sort of shook hands in the past. Is a ceremony really necessary?"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""You've done this before?" Zorch shook his head. "What happened to the others?"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Well, some were burned to a crisp, -"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"Barthalamule cleared her ample throat./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""Eh well," Zorch went on in haste, "Here's the priest, he'll say a few words, and then we'll be done, and you two can go... Perform."/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"Looking slightly disgruntled, King Taq turned towards the priest, who began to speak. Zorch let out a sigh of boredom. And Barthalamule yelped as a stray wisp of smoke from the dragon's nostrils caught in her large hair, and it began to smoke./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"During the chaos that ensued, whilst the spooked king sent Zorch out in search of a bucket of water, the priest mumbled on, oblivious. In fear that the king would object to his marriage, Zorch had promised the priest double his usual fee if he promised to complete the ceremony no matter what happened, without stopping for any reason./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"Finally, a sopping wet Barthalamule patted her non-smoldering hair back into place and stopped screaming. The priest was just coming to the end of his speech./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""I know pronounce you husband and, er, king and queen."/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"Taq's knees buckled and his legs went out from under him. "Queen?! I thought this old hag was going to be my new wizard!" He cried out in pain as Barthalamule's handbag caught him hard across the nose./p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;"Blushing, Zorch spread his iridescent wings and prepared to take flight. As he caught a sudden updraft and effortlessly (or not) eased his bulk off the ground he called back, "Oops. My bad. Oh, and you owe the priest a thousand gold!"/p
p style="margin: 1em 0px; font-family: inherit;""DRAGON!"/p
/div