A huge thank you to my beta reader, Shannon. You've helped me so much!
Clyde brought his hip flask up to his lips. He frowned as the sun beat down upon him, not even a single drop of sweet, sweet water touched his tongue. That's right, he thought, he had finished all of his water two sand dunes ago. He looked over at his companion, of course he seemed unfazed by all of this, at least he seemed that way on the outside...
"I told you, you should have trimmed down some of that body fat before we left," said the nasally voice beside him, before its owner finally turned to look at his half-melted friend.
"Yeah, I know, Craig," he huffed, unable to manage many more words than that, putting all his energy into taking each heavy step. Craig was right, but next to their obese boss, it was easy for anyone to look stick thin. He was honestly starting to think Craig was anorexic.
"Look, we're almost there now, see?" Craig said almost sympathetically, pointing out in front of him and slightly to his right.
Clyde squinted as he looked, almost missing Craig's slight change in the direction of his steps. The sun was too bright, but he could just about see the shape of a small village in the distance, if you could call it that. It certainly didn't look like any of the villages he was used to.
"I wonder where they get their water."
"There are some trees nearby, looks like some kind of oasis, probably from that small mountain range in the distance."
Clyde just nodded, panting loudly, too drained now to explain that he hadn't even known there could be mountains in a place like this, let alone water.
Craig turned out to be right, yet again, as it wasn't long before they approached the entrance of the small village-like settlement. And just as expected, there was someone there waiting for them.
"Welcome to Shayia, Clyde. Craig," he said, voice laced with a thick accent neither of them had ever heard before. He gave them two handmade pots, each filled to the brim with fresh water which they both downed greedily, Craig's calm composure crumbling.
The Shayian man smiled at them, waiting for them to satisfy themselves with his life sustaining gift.
"You're Token?" Clyde asked when he finally lowered his water, only half surprised to see Craig still knocking back his water as though his life depended on it, which it most likely did.
"Yes, that's the name the fat one gave me." He laughed, but there was a hint of bitterness there. Clyde was used to that tone in regard to his boss.
"You know what we're here for," Craig finally spoke up, sounding less parched than he did earlier.
"Yes," Token said, and his smile dropped. "I'm sorry. You're welcome to stay here as long as you want, but I'm not leaving."
Craig and Clyde looked at each other, silently confirming that, yes; they'd have to stay there for a long time.
Whilst the birdsong echoed over the mountains and was carried through the grounds on the wings of a butterfly, Kyle rolled once through the tufts of grass and then opened his arms outwards in a t-formation, slowly gliding them along the soft blades to rest his hands somewhere above his head. The sun gently bathed him, and a butterfly landed in the nest that was his hair.
Relaxing as this might have been, Kyle could not calm down. He was late, and the remote beasts of the Alban land could have reached Stan before he reached the shrubbery gates, or worse.
"Can you help me out here?" He asked in a desperate whisper.
"What happened?" Kyle jumped up and jogged over to the gate.
"Nothing, I just forgot how to get through these."
"Again?" Kyle asked, sounding exasperated, but he had already begun to open the shrubbery gates. "You rub the bud of a Ringle Thistle," Kyle explained quietly, on the chance that someone was listening in. As the shrubbery parted, creaking and cracking, Stan walked through unharmed.
"Yeah, yeah. Not all of us are experts of foliage."
He didn't blame Stan for having trouble with this; the Ringle Thistle was notoriously difficult to spot amongst the almost identical Finx Thistle. Security had to be tight on the Broflovski estate.
"So... how were they, at the feast last night?" Stan asked.
"They still believe he's 'pure', or however the fuck they put it." Kyle frowned.
"It's bullshit, I don't want to think about it right now, Stan."
"I don't blame you. Hey, let's go in to the Karney Woods again today," Stan suggested and turned to look towards the gate, where beyond it lay a dense patch of trees. Kyle wasn't allowed to leave the estate alone, but leaving with Stan was probably worse, and Kyle loved it.
Kyle looked left and right, the glint back in his eyes. Once he was sure nobody was watching and his dagger was safely in its holster, he flipped up the hood of his cape and opened the gates, dragging Stan by the arm back through the tall, dangerous plants before they closed once more.
They ran in to the woods, snickering as though they were kids again.
"This never gets boring," Kyle said after they had slowed down, now keeping a lookout for the Kaps and Turls that he knew roamed these woods.
"I hope we don't have to kill another animal again."
"I still think you over reacted," Kyle said, starting to climb the nearest tree. His hood slipped down as he turned his head to look down at Stan. "It was either the animal, or us."
"I know, but still..." Stan pouted, but Kyle wasn't looking at him anymore. Stan followed him up the tree, and they sat side by side on a thick branch, neither speaking for a few moments. It was Kyle that spoke up first.
"I wonder what would happen if I just ran away one day," Kyle mused, picking at a piece of bark and watching the flakes tumble to the ground.
"I dunno..." Stan looked thoughtful for a moment. "I hope you're not thinking this just because I ran away last year."
"Well, obviously not!" Kyle looked back at Stan, frowning. "I've been thinking about it for a while... It just makes no sense. My father's business is doing so well, we own arguably the most weird and wonderful estate in all of Gornberg, and yet I'd rather leave it? Why?"
"I dunno," Stan said again with a shrug, throwing a stone down in to a pile of leaves beneath them. "You're not happy there, I think."
"Mmm, maybe not."
Stan decided not to say anything to that. Not that he would have been able to, as they were no longer looking down at a pile of leaves, but two women standing directly below them.
"Shit, Stan! They work for him, and you nearly hit them!" Kyle hissed quietly, reaching for his dagger in case they were spotted. They watched in tense silence for a few moments, trying not to make a sound. The leaves around them were thick enough to mostly conceal them, but if the women below them looked up from where they stood, who knows what might happen.
The women started talking, but Stan and Kyle were too high up and neither of them could hear what they were saying. After what felt like a very long time, they finally walked away toward the exit.
"I think that was Bebe and Wendy," Kyle whispered, looking around to make sure they had really gone. "I still can't believe Wendy willingly joined, as his top advisor, no less." Kyle scoffed.
"I can't believe it either. I know Wendy, though. She's got to have a good reason. We're talking about the girl who almost beat him in to the ground when she was just ten years old," Stan said while Kyle laughed.
"I wish I'd been there to see that," he snickered, remembering how quickly the story of that incident had spread.
"Me too," Stan grinned, and there was another stretch of comfortable silence. Stan started to make his way back down the tree, and Kyle followed shortly after.
"Imagine if she had stayed," Kyle continued as they walked away, making sure they didn't go the same way Wendy and Bebe did. "Like, if her family didn't relocate to Radea."
"Do you always focus on the what-ifs?"
"Maybe. Think she'd still be your girlfriend?"
"Probably not. Whenever we took family holidays to Shayia with the Testaburgers, she was always fascinated by a local boy, Tako or something. She probably would have left me eventually."
"Mmm... I heard he's called Token now."
"Why?" Stan asked as they finally left the woods, forgetting to check the area. They started to walk around the perimeter of the forest, not ready to go back to the estate yet.
"He's been renamed" Kyle paused, stepping over a large tree root. "By the fat ass," he added.
The moment he had finished speaking, Kyle felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned around to find himself face-to-face with Wendy. So he was right, it had been her they saw. He frowned as Stan turned around, too.
"Don't panic." Wendy looked back quickly and Stan worriedly looked over her shoulder, seeing Bebe keeping watch a safe distance away, her back turned to them and her wild, dark blonde hair cascading down it. Kyle narrowed his eyes suspiciously.
"Are you going to try and take us away?"
"Not yet, look, I don't know if you trust me, but he's coming here next week. You might have heard what he's up to..."
"Yeah, I heard," he answered through gritted teeth.
"Right, so, you know the deal with him. What you do now is up to you." She gave them both a small smile before running back to Bebe, who took off with her in the direction of the shrubbery gates. Kyle sighed.
"He's coming here?" Stan asked, sounding a little panicked. "But... He's never come here, he only talks with people in his own home."
"Oh, well done, detective," Kyle said bitterly, sarcastically, stomping away from Stan with his arms folded. "Tell me something I don't know." Stan said nothing, just kicked at a small mound of earth - probably made by a Ground Turl - before following Kyle. Once more, they were thrown into silence, although this time it was far more uncomfortable.
Soon, they reached the gates and found that Wendy and Bebe were no longer around. Kyle hoped they hadn't found a way in, that their missing presence was not due to their success at infiltrating his estate. Well, what was supposed to become his estate, but if he ran away he would surely be cut off from any inheritance, and it would become Ike's.
"I've got to make a big decision, Stan."
"I can help you."
"No. I'll go home, pretend everything's normal tonight. That's the plan right now. Stan..." He paused, and his heart started to race with nerves.
"Yeah?" Stan prompted.
"If I decide to run away, you can't leave my side." Kyle's voice unusually faltered, and Stan was a little taken aback, his friend was usually so strong. However, Stan wasted not a second to respond.
"Never, you're my best friend." He smiled. "If you need me, of course I'll be there."
Kyle smiled back at him, looking almost sad as he turned to go back into the estate. Stan waited until Kyle was completely blocked off from view, watching as the shrubbery grew back together, intertwining, the gaps between the leaves shrinking until he could no longer see Kyle's retreating back. He sighed and began making his own way back to where he lived, a much less glamorous construction than the Broflovski estate; one small cottage made of wood and mortar on the outskirts of Alba. Still, it served its purpose and had its charm in a handsome, handmade kind of way, and Stan was proud of it.
"Sparky!" Stan shouted happily when he finally made it home, his mood suddenly lifting as his dog ran out from their cottage to greet him. Sparky jumped into Stan's arms and sent him tumbling to the ground, rolling around as they fought playfully.
Back in the Broflovski estate, roughly three miles away from Stan's cottage, Kyle was far from happy and playful. He was almost sombre, no expression on his face as he walked through the main hall that led him from his chamber to the private family dining room. He stopped outside Ike's door and knocked twice.
"Uh, ok!" came a young voice from behind the grand oak door. "I know that knock! I'm not coming out until my brother is smiling," he said defiantly. Kyle rolled his eyes.
"Fine, don't come out, and don't eat either because dinner is ready, and you know what happens if we're late for it," he said before continuing to the family dining room. Soon enough, a black and blue blur sped past him, beating him to the dining room. Kyle allowed himself a small laugh, feeling a twinge of melancholic nostalgia he usually pinned to memories of times passed.
Kyle frowned as he entered the dining room, willing his mind to stay in the present, and not halfway down the path he may or may not take.
"Is something wrong, Kyle?" his mother asked as their maid set the food down in their usual spaces. Looked like they were having roasted Kap that night, disgusting. Kyle focused on this instead.
"You know I don't like Kap that much."
"Kyle! Don't be so rude! It was a nice gift from Miss Testaburger," she explained as Kyle sat down and they all began to eat. Kyle's fork was midway to his lips when he froze at his mother's words.
"She stopped by the gates just after you came in from the grounds, I'd have told you sooner, but for some reason, you don't like her. She's a sweet girl... Though why she felt she had to make some kind of peace offering, I don't know." She shook her head dismissively and continued to eat.
"A peace offering?" Ike piped up, mouth full of mushed up Kap. Kyle winced in disgust at the sight. Their mother made a strange noise.
"Swallow before you speak, Ike," their father interjected, and Ike obeyed.
"I don't know," she answered once she was sure his mouth was empty. "Something's probably playing on her conscience. I hope she didn't step on one of my Roses..."
"Was anyone with her?" Kyle asked flippantly, trying not to look too interested in the conversation and more interested in trying to keep his food down.
"No, bubala," she said with a smile and an air of finality. Kyle could tell that was it, conversation over. The rest of the meal continued in tense silence, Ike knew something was wrong, their mom and dad intuitively knew something was wrong, yet no one said a thing. When Kyle finished eating, he looked up and watched his mother for a few moments, while Ike watched him watch her. He coughed and stood up.
"I'm going to my chamber."
"You're not going anywhere, young man. Not until you've finished your Kap!"
"I fucking hate Kap!" He snapped, shutting his mouth as quickly as it had opened. His mom stared at him in shocked, angry silence for no more than a second before she reacted.
"Watch your language!" She shouted back at him, almost pathetically, as he stormed out of the room with no further protest from her. She just watched him leave, her eyes filled with a worry contradictory to her previous anger. Kyle, however, didn't look back as he left. The instant the words left his mouth he regretted it, he's never shouted at her, or cursed at her... In short, he'd never lost it with her before, especially not over something so trivial. He sighed, the weight of the situation he was in falling upon him. He just couldn't ignore it, no matter how much he wanted to.
He was halfway down the main hall when he heard footsteps running behind him, he didn't have to look back to know it was Ike.
"Kyle!" Ike called out to him, placing a hand on his shoulder when he finally reached him. They both stopped and faced each other.
"What," Kyle answered, looking desperate to get away.
"What the hell is going on?" he asked, and he would have been quite intimidating if it weren't for his prepubescent voice and small size.
"Look..." Kyle paused for a moment. "You're smart, you're gonna figure it out one way or another, so I'm not telling you everything. But, in short, I'm leaving," he added the last bit quietly, although there was no point in hiding it for soon it would become common knowledge.
"I'm coming with you."
"No you're not, I need you to stay here with mom and dad. It's too dangerous outside the grounds."
"So, what, you can leave alone because you're untouchable?"
"Of course not! I won't be alone, Stan will be with me. Just... I know you've known for a while something is happening, and I know you'll figure it out, but it means I can't stay here, alright? Don't make this any harder, just stay with mom and dad" He added, trying to keep his cool. Ike was silent for a few moments before answering.
"Fine. But I'm not happy about it."
"Do you think I am?"
"No, you're never happy about anything," he said with a frown. After a few moments silence he surged forward and trapped his brother in a tight hug, "Just be safe."
"I could say the same to you," he said with a small, sad laugh as he returned the embrace. When they finally pulled apart, Kyle placed his hands on Ike's shoulders. "Go back now and finish your Kap, don't let them know." he smiled and squeezed his brothers' shoulders before letting go and stepping back. "I'll see you later, okay?"
"You better," he said, smiling despite his serious tone. Kyle smiled back and soon, Ike turned around and headed back to the family dining room.
Kyle continued on to his private room, keeping his head down until he got inside. Every curve and crevice of their home held a memory, and he wanted to keep away from those whenever possible. Of course, in his own room where he had to pick up a few essentials, he couldn't avoid this. The first thing he set his eyes upon was the family photo he kept up on the wall, one they took on their vacation to Shayia. He laughed a little at that, everyone went there, it was a cheap but very nice place. Although, why his family went there, too, when they could have afforded somewhere like Mersia, Kyle didn't know.
He walked past the photo to his table, where within it lay what he needed; his dagger, cape, and the maverka knife he wanted to give to Stan. It had been something he purchased the last time he was in Shayia, Stan had always talked about how cool Token's mother had looked with one.
Kyle opened the draw and picked it up, feeling its comfortable weight upon his hands. He smiled, it was the perfect weapon for Stan, it was just a shame that he had to keep it hidden all this time and could only give it to him now, when it certainly won't be used for show. He put the knife down on the table top then picked up his dagger's holster, strapping it to his hips before picking up the blade. His fingers lightly grazed over the orange jewels set within green metal, and he heard the satisfying clink as it slipped into place. He then put on his cape, picked up Stan's knife, and headed out of his room towards the exit of his home, not daring to glance back.
She walked up to the gates, Bebe at her side. She took a deep breath, turning to her companion and best friend.
"I can't believe we have to do this."
"You don't," Bebe responded, turning to look back at her friend. Wendy sighed.
"Let's just... Get this over with," She said, turning to face not back at the gate, but at the ground. She stomped on the mound of earth, knowing somewhere within the Broflovski estate, the bell was ringing. For every second that they waited, Wendy grew more and more restless. Bebe certainly didn't miss this.
"I told you, we don't have to do this. We can leave him, I've told you a thousand times."
"I know, Bebe!" She snapped. "And you know I've already thought that, a thousand times and more" she sighed again. "My plan will work, okay? Don't you trust me?"
"Stop it. Of course I trust you," She answered, stony faced and refusing to look at her. She stared intently at the shrubbery, waiting for it to open. Soon enough, they opened to reveal a vaguely troubled Sheila Broflovksi. Wendy frowned, so Kyle had followed her words and actually done something, not that she doubted for a second that he wouldn't. Still, she knew this would be so much harder to do this now to a vulnerable mother. She reassured herself that, either way, she would have to do something she did not want to do, and it was better this way, this will hopefully be temporary.
"Hello, Sheila. Can we come in?"
"Of course, of course, follow me we're all waiting for you in the entrance hall." She smiled with false confidence, turning and leading her guests through the gates and into her home. The gates rustled shut behind them and Bebe squeaked, not being used to such strange plant behaviour.
"I heard about Kyle's departure," Bebe said, and Wendy shot her a withering look which Bebe simply returned.
"Ah, yes." Was all she said as she opened up the doors to her home. "That boy, I can't believe him!" She exclaimed, and Wendy sighed with relief. Now Wendy knew she hadn't lost her infamous spark, she wouldn't have to appeal to her weaker side and take advantage of her. Sheila waited until they had both entered before she shut the door, almost slamming it as she mumbled something about the nerve of her son.
"Oh, I'm sorry, come on we're almost there," She answered apologetically, although Wendy believed she wasn't all that sorry. They followed her down the main hallway, and Wendy looked around in awe. She had heard so many things about the Broflovski estate, good and bad, but never had she been inside. She looked over at Bebe and saw she was in a similar state of disbelief, watching the lights swirl above them. Wendy could now see why there were so many strange rumours about this place.
Soon, they made it to the main hall, where within it sat Gerald and Ike. Sheila went over to sit beside her husband on the sofa, and Ike - who looked as though he'd rather be somewhere else - was sat on his other side. She gestured to the two chairs in front of them, and Wendy and Bebe silently sat on them, nervously facing the judges' panel.
"Alright, so, what's the business?" Gerald said first, and Wendy faltered for just a second. She was hoping he wouldn't get involved right away, but knew she should have expected him to. She looked over at Bebe, who just shrugged at her and reclined back in her seat, before she turned to face him again and maintaining her relatively calm composure.
"You," Bebe whispered, Wendy ignored her.
"We are... Pleased to inform you that from this moment forward, your estate is the property of Cartman Corp." Wendy took a quiet and deep breath, waiting for their inevitable reaction.
"What?" Sheila exclaimed, and Ike seemed to finally switch on to what was happening. "Eric has chosen to take our home?" She seemed unable to decide if she should be confused, or angry. "The boy's too young to be making such bold decisions! How could Lianne let her immature son do such a thing? She was doing so well in keeping him contained."
"Actually, Mrs.Broflovski, you couldn't be further from the truth," Bebe spoke up, barely earning herself a glance from the frenzied mother.
"Gerald, honestly..." She turned to her husband, prompting him. He sat in silence for a few more moments, and Ike slowly twisted around to watch him.
"This might have been against the law one hundred years ago, but ever since the Orperfi war, if a person over the age of sixteen with a force of over three hundred sees fit to take action, for whatever reason, he may legally do so as long as no physical violence is exchanged and the opposing force is of ten or less. Of course, this law has many flaws and does not take in to account the fact that he may wish to take over a domestic force, such as our own, but this is usually so unlikely and has never happened before in recorded history of the last one hundred years," Gerald explained, but despite his clear words, a worried frown sat upon his forehead.
"There's no need to worry, all of you, you can still remain here if you wish."
"No way!" Ike finally spoke up, rising to his feet. "Kyle told me something was going on, he wouldn't tell me what, but I bet you know, he's going to force us out, isn't he?!"
"Probably," Bebe said, and Wendy finally turned on her.
"Will you stop that! If you can't do any of this then maybe you should just leave Cartman Corp." Wendy tried her best not to shout, and when Bebe didn't reply to her she turned to the fuming Ike.
"I can't tell you any more, this is all we know."
"All YOU know!" Bebe directed at Wendy.
"Get off our estate," Ike growled.
"Ike, don't be so rude, I'll show Miss Testaburger and Miss Stevens the door. Stay with your father."
"Do as your mother says, Ike." Gerald said firmly as Sheila led Bebe and Wendy out of the room. They continued down the main corridor in silence, neither Bebe nor Wendy daring to speak or even look at each other. Bebe's eyes scanned over the walls as they passed them, looking at various family photos and portraits that lined them. They were about the only personal touch in this part of the estate, and Bebe supposed that they were there for show, in the long hall where every visitor would walk through at least twice. Wendy just looked at the floor, watching her feet as they almost glided along the rich, plump carpet.
"Girls, I think it's best if you leave our property." Sheila said, surprisingly calmly, when they finally made it out in to the grounds. Wendy shifted uneasily, being referred to as a child never sat well with her these days.
"Of course, we'll leave immediately. The head of Cartman Corp. will be here in a few days to arrange the finer details."
"Alright, enough of this business. Be on your way," she said rather hurriedly, stopping in front of the shrubbery. "Don't look, please." She instructed, making sure Bebe and Wendy were both unable to see what she was doing before she rubbed the correct flower bud, opening the gates. The two girls turned around when they heard the creaking of the twigs, then stepped through them.
"Goodbye," Wendy said politely, and Bebe waved feebly as Sheila watched them disappear behind the hedge, saying nothing. They waited until they could no longer hear her footsteps on the dry grass.
"I hope you're right about this plan of yours," Bebe said as they both began to walk away from the estate. "I mean, you don't really want to marry him, do you?"
"Of course not. You know my plan is to take him down from the inside, and he has to trust me. He just happens to love me, too." She added with a sigh.
"It's obvious you hate him, I can't believe he hasn't figured it out yet."
"Love blinds everyone. God, Bebe, I hate doing this! Sometimes, I feel like it's me I'm reassuring about this plan, not you..." She trailed off, not sure how to find the right words for what she wanted to say next.
"You don't need to convince me, I followed you into Cartman Corp. because I trust you with this, you just need to stay on track. Do I like ruining peoples' lives with the news we bring? Of course not, I can't stand it. But I'm here for you, okay?"
"Okay." She nodded, though her confidence was still clearly shaken. "It just feels wrong, to take advantage of him like this. I know it's saving hundreds if not thousands of lives, and I shouldn't even be thinking this, but a part of me feels bad for using him." She finally looked over at her best friend, who smiled and threw her arm around her shoulders.
"You've just said it, you're saving so many lives, have saved so many lives, just by being his fiancÃ© and advisor." She laughed, facing forward again and steering them both away from the Karney Woods. "They say you can't fight fire with fire, but I disagree. Wendy, you're such a fierce flame, nobody can take you down!" She gave her friend's shoulders a squeeze before letting go. "Now..." She began when she saw the spark ignite in Wendy again. "How do you think Stan and Kyle are getting on?" She asked with a smirk and a glint in her eyes.
"Oh, not this again." She said with a playful roll of her eyes. Bebe just shrugged as if to say 'why not?', but said nothing more. They eventually reached the carriage park, laughter fading to light smiles from a joke Bebe made about a fellow Cartman Corp. employee, Clyde.
"I have this theory he's ninety-nine percent water, and whenever he cries he's just overflowing." Wendy added, bringing another roar of laughter from Bebe's almost unnaturally red lips as they stepped in to their pre-arranged carriage.
It was a sorry state of affairs, Wendy noted as she watched her laughing friend sit upon a rickety wooden bench inside an equally unstable carriage, brushing back a section of her wild blonde mane. Wendy sat next to her anyway, giggling.
If the carriage broke, they would just have to continue to Mersia by foot, and that would mean more time away from her fiancé, and more time with her best friend. What did it matter if they were a little late for their next assignment?
"There... Finished." The blond, tousle-haired man said, resting his hands on his knees and panting for a good few seconds before standing up straight and wiping his brow with the back of his arm. "What do you think? Will they like it?" He asked with an exhausted grin on his face, turning to his equally blond roommate.
"They sure will, Ken!" He said happily, his grin matching that of his companion. "Why, that's the nicest carriage I've ever seen." He added in genuine awe, admiring Kenny's handy work, and running his fingers softly over the individual grooves that made up a large and complex pattern around the windows.
"Well, it will be even nicer after you lay your artistic hands on it," Kenny said, patting him on the back. "If you sign your name somewhere on the carriage, it will be worth a fortune one day."
"Nah, you're just making things up," He dismissed, but a smile still grew on his face from the compliment.
"I'm not, you'll be a famous artist one day, trust me. People will have bidding wars for an original Leopold Stotch painting."
"No, they'll fight over a Butters painting!" He laughed, reminding Kenny of his preferred artist alias.
"Oh, of course, I almost forgot. I've got used to that being your nickname."
"Yeah... I signed it so many times it kinda stuck, you know? Hi, my name is Butters, it's easier than Leopold..."
"That's true." Kenny nodded as he turned away from his work, exiting his workshop. Butters followed him back in to their apartment, and Kenny laughed at his behaviour, he was like a little lap dog.
"I can't believe the wedding is only a week from now, can you?" He asked as Kenny unlocked the door.
"No, it's gone so fast..." Kenny said in a faraway voice, shutting and locking the door before going to the kitchen to make them both a cup of coffee. "Do you want one?" He called through to Butters, who was now seated on the sofa in the living room.
"Oh, yes please!" He called back, sinking back in to the sofa to relax for the evening, just like every evening. Butters was a big fan of routine, it made him feel safe and secure, a very stark contrast to the life he used to live. Kenny, on the other hand, couldn't stand the ordinary and mundane, and would regularly disappear without a word of warning, returning with an explanation a few days later. Butters always found it hard to sleep during those few days, plagued with worry, amongst other things.
Butters was brought out of his thoughts by a cup of coffee being held in front of his face.
"Oh!" He said in surprise, smiling and accepting the cup. "Thank you" He said gratefully and took a sip of the hot liquid, sighing with satisfaction and sinking further in to his seat. Next to him, Kenny did the same. They continued to sit in silence for a while, and Butters stared at the wall, thinking about the upcoming wedding.
"It's a bit odd, isn't it," Butters mused a while later, cup hovering underneath his lips. "Estella and Pocket's wedding."
"You think so?" Kenny set his empty cup down on the table in front of him, then turned to face Butters.
"Yeah... Pip dies, and then half a year later they're getting married. I always thought that was strange..."
"Butters, are you trying to say what I think you are?"
"I don't know, maybe..." He said, clearly lacking confidence in his words. "Alls I'm saying is it's just... Strange."
"Nah," Kenny dismissed him, but there was a hint of worry on his face now. "Love is a strange thing, it can happen in a few months, or it can happen in a few days, it can even happen out of grief. Don't forget, Estella lost the love of her life and Pocket lost one of his closest friends, it's a classic case of looking for comfort but instead finding love, or... something like that." He explained before getting up and taking their now empty cups back in to the kitchen.
"Well, that's true, gosh I hope you don't think I'm accusing them, I'm so happy for them and I wouldn't want them to know I was thinking such things..." He half mumbled, leaning his head over the back of the sofa to watch an upside down Kenny washing their cups.
"Course not, you've always had a very active imagination," Kenny said with a small laugh at Butters' position, his laugh lines showing clearly while he dried the cups. He then placed them on the cup shelf amongst the many plain, identical cups they owned and sighed quietly.
"Come sit back down, you look tired," Butters suggested.
"Nah, I think I'm gonna go to bed."
"Well, alright, goodnight!" He said happily as he watched Kenny disappear in to his bedroom. Once inside his safe space and he was sure the door was shut, Kenny walked straight over to his bed and fell face down on to it, bouncing a few times. He rolled over on to his back and groaned, his over worked muscles singing. This was his favourite part of hard work, being able to relax afterwards.
He lay very still for a while, wanting to get undressed but at the same time not wanting to move again. Eventually he managed to sit up for long enough to pull off his shirt and strip down to his boxers, kick off his shoes and then lay back down again. He soon found himself drifting off to sleep, dreaming about Pocket and Estella's wedding...
Kenny was stood at the front row, giving a very scared looking best man Butters a reassuring thumbs up and a grin. Butters smiled and then held on to Pocket's hand, then whispered in his ear. Kenny watched with a frown as Pocket's expression changed, his face turning a ghostly white as all color drained from it. Before anyone could make any reaction, the music began to play and Estella began to walk slowly down the aisle, her lilac dress and grass shawl sitting elegantly on her frame. Her hair was half down, half up, and a single Thinx bud sat atop her blonde locks. Kenny thought it was odd she was dressed this way, it was typical Alban fashion, but Alba was too far away (on the opposite end of Gornberg!) for her to go and get dressed and return in time for the ceremony.
"I heard Sheila Broflovski designed her outfit." A woman stage-whispered from a few rows behind him. Huh, he thought, that was strange, Sheila hardly ever left the Broflovski estate and rarely let anyone in. Kenny doubted Sheila even knew who Estella was, despite her desirable rank in Mersian society. Mersia and Alba may as well be two different worlds, in his opinion.
He turned his attention back to the front, just in time to watch Estella stop and take Pocket's shoes and put them on her bare feet, as was tradition. At the exact moment that her foot slipped in to the second shoe, there was a loud bang from behind the crowd and everyone turned around to watch Kenny's handmade carriage turning the corner of a large building and careening towards them, led by the most horrific creature Kenny had ever seen. His guess was Demon. The carriage approached them quickly, and soon it was moving up the aisle. Kenny looked inside as it passed him, and he locked eyes with Pip.
Kenny woke up panting, looking as though he had seen a ghost. He jumped in fright when there was a sudden knock on his door.
"Wakey, wakey, Kenny!" Came the chirpy-happy voice from the other side and Kenny relaxed, it was just Butters. He looked over at his clock to see that it was five in the morning, and instantly realized it must be that day again. "I've been told it's our day one again, we gotta open up the shop for the new week!" He told him, and Kenny groaned as his suspicions had been confirmed before he began to slowly get dressed.
He hated the working system, everyone had to work on their assigned six days, and after day six the Mersian government decided how many days break they could have before day one started again. After every four work periods (at least twenty-four days), everyone in Mersia had to fill in a form, and the businesses the survey revealed as in high demand got less holidays. It has been known for businesses to start day one again right after day six, but luckily that has only happened once for his and Butters' store.
They ran an antique store together, though it hadn't always been that way. Butters had inherited it, but due to low demand (and therefore, low pay from the Mersian government), he couldn't afford to stay in business with just himself working there. So, he registered Kenny as an employee for extra funding, and got him off the streets and behind the register. In short, Kenny had a lot to thank Butters for, so he was glad that he was able to help him in return.
Kenny made it down to the shop ten minutes later, still messing with his hair as he stepped through the door at the back that led to their apartment above the store (and workshop in the backyard). He and Butters then silently got to work on opening up the shop, rearranging some items and swapping the items in the window display - "Some other antiques need their turn in the window!" Butters had said affectionately, placing each old item down delicately - and eventually unlocking the doors and switching the closed sign to open.
"There, ready for another busy day!"
"I don't know about busy," Kenny said with a laugh while putting on his Lenny's Antiques apron. "I still think you should have called it Bunny's Antiques."
"Well, I thought that, seeing as I prefer Butters to my birth name, and bunnies are so cute... But Antiques don't really interest kids like bunnies do... And Lenny's sounds more fitting, I thought we had agreed on this? Do you think we should change the name?" He asked, starting to worry that he was being a bad boss. Kenny quickly dispelled his worries with a wave of his hand.
"No, Lenny's is great, I just think Bunny's fits you more, that's all. Yeah, from a business perspective Lenny works best," he said, wondering why they were discussing this at five thirty in the morning. He had no chance to voice this, however, when the doorbell chimed and two women walked in.
Kenny looked up and instantly laid eyes on the woman with straight, almost black hair and he felt sure she trapped him with a spell. He couldn't tear his eyes away from her, her unique complexion and confident demeanour captivated him.
"Good morning ladies! Welcome to Lenny's Antiques." Butters greeted them cheerily as they approached them.
Clyde knelt down by the gently flowing river, knees denting the impressionable sand as he leant forward and filled the pot with fresh water once again. He did this every time, while all Craig did was lie around in Token's house. Clyde was sure Token was getting sick of this too, but he was too friendly to say anything. Then again, when he thought about it, so was Clyde. He accepted every task Craig threw at him without question, and only complained about it when alone.
It took a while for the shallow water to finally fill the pot, but it eventually did and he made his way quickly back to Token's house. The sun hardly bothered him anymore, they had been living here for quite a while now and his skin had adjusted, turning a nice shade of brown, he had even lost a good amount of weight. Craig, on the other hand, was still as pale and skinny as he always was. If anything, he was even skinnier than before.
"Here," Clyde simply said as he handed the water over to Craig, who sat on a stool in the corner of the hut's main room.
"Where's Token?" Craig asked after taking a long gulp of water.
"He's out getting our next meal." He paused. "Craig?"
"What," He said in a monotone.
"Why don't we call him Tako like everyone else? I like that name, it sounds good."
"Because, dumb-fuck, we're here only to complete our mission for Cartman Corp. and we can't let Token forget that. If you want to go around acting like one of the natives, that's fine, but you're not coming back to Radea with me when this is over."
"Alright," He said with a pause as he stood up, making his way out of the house.
"Where are you going?"
"I'm looking for Tako," Clyde said before he disappeared, and Craig let out a sigh. He supposed he could follow Clyde outside, actually make an effort to enjoy himself while he was there, but all he found himself wanting to do was, well, nothing. On the third or fourth day, he couldn't remember which, he had tried helping Token pick some fruit, but when they were done and had retired back to Token's place, he was hit with fatigue and never left it since, two weeks and counting. He blamed it on being naturally lazy, and in comparison to the energetic Clyde, of course he looked like he was just being a grouchy person.
Craig hadn't realized he'd fallen asleep until he was woken up by someone shaking him, and he slowly opened his eyes to see that it was Token.
"Hey." Craig said sleepily, batting Token's hand away as he tried to touch his forehead. He hated strangers touching him.
"Are you okay, Craig?" Token asked, looking concerned. "Your skin is so cold."
"What?" He asked, beginning to wake up properly. He sat up and saw that Clyde was standing quite a bit behind Token with his arms full of food, looking equally as worried, and a little like he might start crying at any moment. Craig rolled his eyes, but it went unnoticed.
"Your skin is cold," Token repeated, and Craig ignored him, instead focusing on Clyde.
"I'm fine, stop worrying," he said to his companion and friend, trying to calm him down. Token turned his head to look behind him at Clyde, and it only took a moment for him to realize that Craig had probably figured it out, and was keeping the truth from Clyde.
"Yeah," Token warily chipped in, turning to look back at Craig. "I suppose it's just because you've been out of the sun for so long."
"I hope so," Clyde said with a small sniff. "Well, we brought you some extra food Craig, Token thought you might need it..." He trailed off as he placed the food down on the table at the opposite end of the room.
"Yeah. Clyde, can you go and get me some water?" Token asked, not taking his eyes off Craig. Clyde huffed, annoyed at being told what to do yet again, but he went anyway without another word. Token and Craig sat in silence for a few moments, until Craig couldn't take it anymore and snapped.
"What? You obviously sent him away for a reason, so say what you have to say," he said irritably, a frown growing on his face.
"You know you're ill, don't you," Token said, more a statement than a question.
"Yeah, it's kinda obvious," He said with a sigh. "So, what, am I gonna die?" He asked casually, as though he were just asking if it was sunny outside.
"I don't know, my mother works with medicines and other doctors, so I'll take you to see her when Clyde is asleep."
"Why when he's sleeping?"
"Well, for one, it won't be too hot and there won't be any mosquitoes. If you are ill, I don't want it to spread any further and, you seem to want to keep this a secret from Clyde, so, there's that too," He explained, going over to the table to get some food.
"Has Clyde been bitten by one yet?" He asked, amused.
"A mosquito, has Clyde been bitten by a mosquito yet."
"Oh. No, I don't think so," Token answered, confused. "Why?" He asked, and Craig just shrugged his shoulders, leaning back in his chair and laughing, and his laughter then turned into a small coughing fit.
"So, we're going with my plan then?" Token asked, crossing the room to pat Craig on the back. Craig just frowned and nodded, temporarily unable to speak.
Kyle and Stan sat cross-legged and facing each other on the floor of Stan's cottage, Sparky napping quietly at Stan's side.
Between them lay scattered paper, each page packed full of hand written notes in two notably different writing styles; one neat and small, the other big and spread out. Kyle leant forward and dropped the piece of paper he was writing on down in to the pile, watching as it joined the many others.
"There," he said. "That's everything we know about him, right?" Kyle said, looking up at Stan, who was just finishing up his last note.
"Yep," He said, dropping his last piece of paper down, too.
"Awesome, now we can pack them in to your travelling bag and we're ready to go" He said happily, picking up a handful of their notes, realizing with some disappointment that there wasn't that much useful information that they knew about him. "This could take a while, Stan," He said with a sigh.
"What, packing it?" Stan asked, confused.
"No, figuring out what Cartman's really up to." He said, flipping through the notes in his hand before putting them down again.
"I think your suspicions are right, though." Stan said, smiling reassuringly at Kyle.
"Me too, but we have no evidence, and that's what we need," he said, running his right hand through his fluffy hair in frustration, as Stan frowned.
"Let's just leave now, the sooner we leave, the sooner we can work this out," He said with an air of finality, picking up all the notes again and waiting for Stan to open up his little bag, all but throwing them in when he finally opened it. Stan fixed the bag to his belt as he stood up, and Kyle stood up with him, checking for his dagger.
"Do you have the maverka knife, Stan?" he asked, looking around to check it hadn't been left anywhere.
"Yeah, I got it, don't worry." Stan said, pointing to the knife's handle sticking out of its holder on the other side of his belt. "Come on Sparky!" He called, and Sparky instantly jumped up and ran to his master, tail wagging. Kyle frowned, he had originally told Stan not to bring Sparky, but Stan argued he was just as likely to die alone from starvation as he was to die out in the wilderness with them. Kyle stopped himself from arguing back that Sparky could take care of himself, but he deemed it a useless argument, so he just agreed.
They finally exited the small building, and then Kyle had to wait outside for Stan to run back in and pack the dog snacks he had forgotten.
"Stan, come on! You honestly didn't think I left the Broflovski estate without any money, do you?" Kyle asked irritably, pulling out his cash card from his pants pocket and showing it to Stan as he and Sparky re-joined him. "I can buy all of us food for a while with this."
"Yeah, but what if we can't get to anywhere that sells any food in time? What if there aren't any animals around to hunt?"
"I thought you didn't like killing animals."
"Yeah, but if we have no choice... You'll just have to do it."
"Oh, I will, will I?" Kyle asked as they began walking away from the cottage, Stan taking one last look at it and ignoring Kyle's comment.
"Do you think we'll return to Alba?"
"I don't know, Stan, the plan right now is to dig up as much information about Cartman as we can, and that's all we need to think about. That, and surviving."
"Do you really think he'll send someone after us?"
"I wouldn't put it past him, and I'm almost certain Cartman Corp. doesn't only interact with tobacco companies, I think that's a cover up. He's up to something, and for some reason he's after my family, or me, or both..." He frowned, and then shook his head with a cry of frustration.
"Hopefully we can figure it out." Stan uselessly added, trying to calm him down a little. Kyle just grunted in response and focused on his steps as they made their way towards the carriage park, then went up to the ticket desk. Kyle frowned when they found nobody was there.
"Strange..." Kyle muttered, looking around to see if they had taken a cigar break or something. When he couldn't see the ticket person anywhere, his frown deepened. Stan looked over at Kyle, and knew Kyle suspected this was definitely out of the ordinary. "Shit," Kyle spoke again, opening the door that led inside the ticket hut. "How long has it been since I left the estate?" Kyle asked as he entered the hut and Stan followed.
"I dunno, four days? I thought you would have known the answer to that one."
"Aw shit, Stan. What if he's already been here?" Kyle said as he began searching every surface and cupboard. "What if he's been to the estate, seen that I'm not there, and now he's trying to stop us from leaving Alba?"
"That sounds like something he'd do..." Stan mused, beginning to search too. He tried not to laugh when he realized they were like two detectives at the scene of a crime. Which, now he thought about it, might not have been far from the truth.
"Well, I can't see anything, let's just go. Whatever has happened here, I don't care, but I do care that we're wasting time trying to figure it out."
"Yeah, let's go," Stan agreed, leading the way out of the hut. He was almost out the door when he stopped suddenly, spotting something on the door frame. Kyle bumped in to him, not having noticed that he'd stopped.
"What is it?" Kyle asked, trying not to shout. He obviously had a good reason for stopping them.
"Does this look like blood to you?" Stan asked, voice and hand shaking slightly as he pointed at the dark red, almost brown spot on the frame. Kyle leaned forward, taking a closer look at the mark.
"I dunno Stan, it might be... Let's get the hell out of here," He said hurriedly, a hint of fear in his voice. He grabbed Stan's hand and held on tightly, setting off at a run toward the trees.
"Tell me again why this isn't a date, Ken?" Butters asked with a smile, standing in Kenny's bedroom doorway as Kenny stood in front of his full length mirror, smoothing his shirt and sighing when the creases wouldn't disappear.
"It's not a date because... It's not. She wanted to see and learn more about Mersia, and I just stepped up. I'm sure if you knew more about the streets of this city you'd have been the one going on this date and not me. I mean, this day out with Wendy. I mean, you know what I mean..."
"Aw of course I know what you mean, Ken, I'm just teasin'," He said in a playful voice.
"Ha ha." He said sarcastically, giving up at trying to fix his shirt. It was just a casual tour around the city, and definitely not a date. "Honestly, though," he began as he went over to his bed and sat down, looking up at Butters. "I wouldn't mind if it was a date."
"I knew it," Butters grinned. "As soon as she walked in to our store I could see it in your eyes, she's beautiful!" Butters exclaimed happily, moving to sit next to Kenny.
"Yeah, she is. Hey, did I have that look in my eyes that you get when you look at your posters?"
"Aaaahh, my curvy girls," Butters said with a dreamy look on his face, which he caught in the mirror. "Oh, uh, yeah, that face," Butters said, a little embarrassed. "Do I really look like that?"
"Yeah, you really do." Kenny said with a snigger as he stood and prepared to leave.
"Don't forget to show her the fountain!" Butters said as they both left Kenny's room, Kenny continuing to the stairs that led to the shop.
"I won't!" He called back, half way down the stairs. He looked at his watch. He was supposed to be meeting Wendy outside the shop in five minutes. They had finished work early today, it was the end of their sixth day and, due to low demand for their business, they had been given an extra half day holiday. He wasn't complaining, now he could show Wendy the city in the daylight.
Wendy stepped out of her and Bebe's rented room, dressed and ready for her guided tour of the city. This was part of her assignment, Wendy told herself. Eric would have no right to punish her, she was earning the trust of a local and learning the way the city worked, which could only be beneficial to their assignment, right? She hoped it was.
As she walked down the halls of the building they currently resided in, she thought back to the assignment they were given. They had completed the first part of it at the Broflovski estate, and now they had arrived in Mersia to keep an eye on Lenny's Antiques until further notice. Wendy hadn't questioned this at the time, but now she was beginning to wonder the true purpose of it all. A low demand antiques store run by two young men who were of no obvious importance to Eric; it was the most ambiguous assignment she had ever been given, but she had grown so used to not questioning Eric's motives that it seemed to happen naturally these days.
She finally exited the building, cutting short her thoughts of the strange assignment so she could follow her map. Eric had sorted the Mersia map out for them, as well as the room. She examined the map with the drawn-in directions for a few moments before starting her short journey to Lenny's Antiques, where she was to meet Kenny.
As she reached the last corner leading to Lenny's, she peered round it and saw Kenny standing outside the door, checking his watch. She smiled, she had only met him yesterday and, putting aside what she had already heard about him from Stan, he had given her a pretty good first impression. She had heard many mixed rumours about him, mostly his reputation with women, but she was not one for useless gossip and would never judge a person before she had got to know them herself.
As she neared him, he finally noticed her arrival. When he looked up, his face brightened.
"Hi, Wendy," Kenny said with a grin, despite his slight nerves.
"Hey," she greeted him back with a smile, holding up her hand in a small wave.
"So, is there anything you want to see first?" Kenny asked somewhat lamely, placing one hand loosely in his jeans pocket.
"Oh, I dunno I haven't thought about that, I was hoping you would know some good places... Surprise me!" She said, feeling quite foolish for not having thought about what she wanted to see beforehand, just 'the city' was a little bit too vague, but hopefully Kenny knew the city well enough to show her the best places.
"Alright, well..." He paused for a moment, thinking of somewhere she might want to see. "Do you want to see the tourist sites, or something mostly only locals know about?" He asked, beginning to walk slowly.
"Well, considering you're a local, I think it would be a good idea to go with the second option," she explained, keeping her polite smile.
"Oh, right, of course!" He said, laughing nervously. "Well, I know a few good places then," He added awkwardly, coughing quietly afterwards.
They continued walking in silence, a debatably awkward silence, as Kenny led Wendy around the city. It was during this silence that Wendy began to wonder, should she really trust Kenny? The worst she had heard about him was he never kept in touch with any of the girls he met, and he seemed trustworthy enough thus far. She supposed it was his friendly smile, warm enough to put anyone at ease, or his undeniable charm, or his comforting aura, or, well, in short he seemed like the type of person who had many friends, attracted to him like metal to a magnet. She shook her head; she shouldn't be filling her mind with such thoughts right now, the main thing was that she trusted him.
"So, what brings you to Mersia?" Kenny asked as he turned a corner, most of his nerves disappeared now.
"Oh, business," Wendy said dismissively with a wave of her hand, as though it was something she didn't care about.
"Business?" Kenny asked, raising his eyebrow as he looked over at her momentarily. She just nodded at him. "You don't seem like a travelling businesswoman to me," He quipped, looking forward again to lead them across the street safely.
"No?" She asked, humour laced in her voice. "And why not?"
"Uhh..." He paused, waiting until they were safely on the other side of the road. "Well, in my opinion, you're not the type to take orders so easily, and travel to far flung places on somebody else's whim. You're too independent for that shit," he said, grinning at the last words and hoping they were the right ones. He could have censored himself, or sugar coated his words, but he felt that this time, it was important to show his true self. She was certainly not like other girls, she was someone he wanted to befriend, too.
"I'll take that as a compliment," she said with a smile. Kenny smiled back at her, and they continued in a more comfortable silence. Kenny wanted to ask her what her business was here, but she seemed reluctant to talk about it. Maybe later she would tell him about it, but Kenny was pretty good at reading the atmosphere, and right now was definitely not the right time to bring it up.
They had been wondering through the woods for quite some time, but without watches they couldn't be sure exactly how long. Even most of their view of the sun was blocked, so it was difficult to tell the time that way, too. Every now and then, Kyle shivered, overwhelmed with the feeling that someone was following them, and each time he shivered, Stan gave his hand a squeeze. Stan didn't dare to let go of it, part of him fearing that if he did, they would get separated somehow. He'd already lost Sparky in these trees; he didn't want to lose Kyle too.
"I hate this, Stan... Not knowing," Kyle said quietly, sidestepping between two thick trees.
"Me too, I mean, you know everything, and it's kind of, um, disconcerting that you don't right now," Stan said, following him through the trees and trying not to let go of Kyle's hand.
"Let's just go over what we do know again," Kyle suggested, and Stan nodded. "We know Cartman is up to something, we know Wendy is close to him, and we know that he might be killing people and that he might be after us," Kyle said, voice growing weak.
"I thought you knew what he was up to."
"So did I, I thought he was, I don't know, going to force my family into doing something illegal, maybe make us his slaves or something... But with that blood on the door frame, I'm not so sure what's going on anymore."
"At least we know, whatever it is, it's definitely illegal. I think we just need to find a way out of the Karney Woods and talk to people."
"Mmm..." Kyle hummed, too deep in his thoughts to tell Stan that had been his plan from the beginning, minus the hiding-in-the-woods part, that had not been in his plans. They continued walking in silence, occasionally stopping to kill a wild Kap, for what felt like hours before they finally saw a crack of light not too far in the distance.
"Finally!" Stan cried in relief, if he had to see one more innocent animal killed...
"Shh! There might be someone waiting for us!" Kyle hissed.
"Oh, right." He whispered, and they slowly approached the exit of the forest. Kyle took the first look, peering left and then right a few times until he was sure nobody was around. "Okay, let's go," Kyle said, leading them both out of the forest.
They stood still for a few moments, squinting as their eyes adjusted to the bright light. When Stan's eyes had finally stopped hurting, he looked up to the sky.
"Hmm, it looks like it's about four in the evening..." Stan mused, looking back to Kyle.
"We've been in there almost five hours? I'm not surprised..." Kyle said, and then he looked down at their hands. "Uhh, I suppose you can let go now..." He said awkwardly, flexing his fingers.
"Oh, right, yeah." Stan said as he reluctantly let go. "I guess we're not in any danger at the moment?"
"Of course we are, Stan, but I don't need you holding my hand like I'm some kind of child who can't take care of himself!" He snapped, walking away from Stan who paused for a moment before catching up to him.
"I wonder where we are, anyway, I've never been on this side of the woods before."
"Me neither, I heard it's a perfect mirror image of Alba, but I don't know what it's called... Perhaps there's a carriage park nearby," Kyle said hopefully. If what he had heard was true, then the carriage park shouldn't be far from where they had just exited the forest. That is, it would be if they had walked in a straight line. For all they knew, they could have walked in a complete circle and ended up back in Alba. Kyle hoped that was not the case.
"Let's ask this person..." Stan said, nodding his head in the direction of someone that was walking close by, next to a brick wall just slightly taller than Kyle. Kyle frowned, this couldn't be a mirror image of Alba, there were definitely no confining walls over there; it was all open land (except his estate).
"Hold on!" Kyle said, stopping Stan from getting any closer to them. "What if they work for him?" He asked, only realizing how stupid his question sounded after it had come out of his mouth.
"Kyle, come on, not everyone works for him..." Stan said, but he wasn't one hundred percent convinced. Cartman had once controlled an army of two thousand in the fight against the ban on violence, but he was greatly outnumbered and the ban was made even stricter than before to ensure it didn't happen again. Still, Stan wondered how many of his surviving army joined his company. Maybe if they knew the answer, they might be a step closer to solving this.
Stan was pulled out of his thoughts when Kyle shook him by the shoulder.
"Well, come on then if we're going to talk to her!" He said, irritated, before walking in the direction of the girl. Stan followed, trying to figure out why she looked familiar.
"Excuse me!" Kyle called when he was sure they were close enough for her to hear them. She turned around, confused, and recoiled when she saw their weapons.
"Don't come any closer!" she said, and they both stopped. She pulled nervously at a strand of her strawberry blonde hair, watching them with suspicion before she spoke again. "What do you want?" She asked while looking up at the wall and sighing, she was too small to escape over it.
"We just... Want to ask you where we are... Me and my friend are lost," Kyle explained, trying his best to sound as least threatening as possible.
"Oh, alright..." The girl seemed to calm down a little. "You're in Conry, where have you come from?" She asked.
"We've walked here from Alba." Stan said, quite proud at how that sounded.
"Really?" She asked, impressed. "Why didn't you get a carriage through Skord?"
"There was nobody at the carriage park to give us our tickets and start our carriage for us," Kyle explained.
"That's odd... I don't know how it works in Alba, but here in Conry, the ticket hut is open all day and all night," she said with a frown.
"So there's a carriage park here? Great! Can you show us the way?" Stan asked, giving his best smile and hoping that he didn't scare her. She seemed to think about this request for a moment, glancing at their weapons once more.
"Okay, if you promise not to touch those," She said, pointing at Kyle's dagger.
"Okay," Stan said, and Kyle hit him on the shoulder.
"What if it's a trap?" Kyle hissed angrily, quiet enough so the girl couldn't hear them.
"Kyle, it's okay, it's not like she's taking our weapons from us." He whispered back quickly with a reassuring smile, then turned back to the girl. "So can you show us?" He asked again, and the girl nodded before heading in the opposite direction, leading them towards the carriage park. Kyle frowned; he hated being bossed around and told he was wrong.
"What's your name?" Stan asked.
"Ruby..." She said, looking back at them as she decided if she should tell them her surname. "Tucker." She finally added. "Now tell me your names," She demanded, looking forward again.
"My name's Kyle, and he's Stan... Marsh," Kyle answered, pointing to Stan.
"You're both Marsh?" She asked, frowning. They didn't look like brothers.
"Uhhh..." Stan looked over at Kyle, wondering what he should say. Kyle, not wanting to give away his last name, nodded at Stan when Ruby wasn't looking. "Yeah, we're both Marsh." He said with a smile. Kyle looked at the ground, frowning at the strange feeling he got upon hearing Stan's statement.
"Oh! That's nice." She said, sending a smile to them over her shoulder, and Stan just awkwardly smiled back at her. "Okay, well..." She began to speak as she slowed to a stop at the end of the wall. "The carriage park is just around the corner. I've got to go though, I was on my way to deliver a letter to my brother. He's on a mission in Shayia for Cartman Corp! He's so lucky!" She said, turning away to leave them. Stan and Kyle quickly looked at each other with wide eyes, both thinking exactly the same thing.
"Wait!" Kyle called, and Ruby whipped around in panic. Kyle lowered his voice, clearly she was easily frightened. "Do you know anything about his mission?" Kyle asked, hoping he wasn't asking too much of someone he had just met, but he wanted to know as much as he could.
"Not really, it's all top secret. He went with his friend Clyde who also works for Cartman Corp... I think he mentioned something about striking up a deal with one of the locals, but that's all I know," She said, eyeing their weapons again.
"How long has he been gone?" Kyle asked, and it was Stan's turn to hit him on the shoulder. Ruby frowned, but didn't refuse them an answer.
"About two weeks."
"Thanks, well, bye." Stan said, hurrying around the wall and pulling Kyle with him, finding that she was telling the truth as they now faced a park full of carriages. They stood still for a few moments, until Kyle spoke up.
"So he's making a deal with one of the locals in Shayia."
"Seems like it, yeah," Stan answered, and then he started to walk towards the ticket hut. "I don't think she'd lie, she didn't seem like the type... We obviously scared her, though." He frowned, hating the thought that he was scary to anyone. He knew it was the weapon, so he reassured himself that under normal circumstances, he would keep the maverka knife for display only.
"Let's just get a carriage, Stan, going anywhere as long as it's not Radea," He said, quickening his pace. "We can discuss this when we're on our way."
"We're not going to Shayia?" Stan asked. It seemed like the next logical step, to go to Shayia and see Craig Tucker.
"Well, if Craig's not going to tell his own sister what he's up to, why is he going to tell us?"
"Good point... We could go to Mersia? Kenny might still be there," Stan offered.
"That's it!" Kyle said, grinning. "Kenny works at the antique store with that artist, Butters, right?"
"Yeah?" Stan asked curiously.
"Yeah, well, I always said Butters was a bit of a dark horse, he's friendly enough to know lots of people, and if Kenny is the same as he's always been, he travels a lot and is bound to know something we don't, it's the perfect place to begin! He might even know something about this Craig Tucker business, I think they used to be friends." Kyle explained.
"Ohhh! I knew I'd heard that name somewhere!" Stan said in realization.
"Alright, let's go then!" Kyle said happily as they approached the ticket hut. Kyle asked and paid for their tickets to Mersia, and they were led to their carriage. Kyle smiled as they sat down on the luxurious leather seats, sinking his tired feet in to the plush carpet. Just because they were on the run, didn't mean they couldn't do it in style. Kyle watched happily as Stan looked around at their temporary living space in awe.
"Why are you surprised, you know my family has money." Kyle said as the man who sold them their tickets started up their carriage, the hum of the expensive engine barely reaching their ears.
"I know, but this is amazing." Stan said, sinking in to his chair and taking off his shoes in preparation for their long journey to Mersia. Kyle did the same, just as the carriage park man shut the door and their carriage rolled out of the park, a satisfied smile on his face.
"Well, thank you, Kenny. It's been a really good day," Wendy said with a smile, switching her weight from one foot to the other and readjusting her pink headband.
"No need to thank me, I enjoyed it too," He replied with a smile as bright as hers while Wendy laughed politely. She was such a sweet girl, but today had shown him she could be quite the opposite, too. They went out for lunch earlier, and when the waiter got their order wrong she was not afraid to call him out on his mistake. She was feisty, and Kenny liked it. They stood in silence outside the antiques store for a while, looking around awkwardly as people rushed by on their way home.
"Uhh... Wendy?" Kenny began, and Wendy hummed in acknowledgement. "It's my friend's wedding tomorrow, I was wondering, do you want to come with me?" He asked, deciding not to avoid the question he desperately wanted to ask. "I mean... If you have the time, of course, you're here on business after all."
"No, it's fine, I'm waiting for official orders from my boss anyway, so he won't mind. Can Bebe come too?" She asked.
"Sure, who's Bebe?" He asked.
"She's the girl I arrived with yesterday, my best friend and work partner," she explained.
"Ah, right, the girl with the curly hair, got it," he said with a smile.
"What are their names?" Wendy asked, and she laughed when Kenny looked at her in confusion. "The people who are getting married?"
"Oh! Pocket and Estella. Funny names, I know, but they're also funny people." Kenny explained, smiling fondly. "So, I'll see you both tomorrow?"
"Of course," Wendy said with a nod, smiling back at him.
"Great! Just press the bell outside the shop at about seven tomorrow morning and we'll set off." He explained.
"Okay, see you tomorrow then."
"Bye!" Kenny called, watching as she disappeared around the corner.
When Wendy made it back to her and Bebe's rented room, she barely had time to remove her coat and shoes before she was face-to-face with an angry Bebe.
"What the hell are you doing?" She asked, voice raised. "I woke up this morning to a note from you saying: Gone out with Kenny exploring the city, be back later," she read, then looked up and dropped her hand back down to her side. "You could have at least woken me up to tell me, what if I wanted to go with you, instead of sitting in here all day, bored out of my mind?" She asked.
"Bebe, I'm sorry, I just know you don't like being woken up... It was already eleven when I left."
"That's beside the point," she mumbled, but she knew the argument was over before it had even begun. She mostly just wanted a reason to be mad at Wendy for ditching her, without looking jealous.
"Well, hopefully this will cheer you up..." Wendy began, following Bebe in to the main part of the room.
"What..." Bebe asked, already intrigued. She sat down at the desk and leaned forward, ready to hear Wendy's news.
"Kenny invited us to a wedding tomorrow!" She grinned. Bebe perked up, sitting up straight and smiling back at her, she loved weddings, and she especially loved getting ready for weddings.
"Well what are we waiting for! We gotta go and buy some new dresses for the occasion!" She declared, jumping up and heading for the door, picking up her key and bag on the way. "You know your way around the city now, right?" She asked as she opened the door.
"Don't worry, I made sure I remembered the way to the clothes store," Wendy said happily, walking out their room and back down the hall. Bebe locked the door and followed her, their chatter and laughter echoing around them.
Three months earlier
"Please don't kill me! I'm sure I'm no fun to kill, honest," Butters pleaded, kneeling at the feet of two of his old classmates.
"Hmmm, you present a fair argument," Cartman began to say, looking towards his hitman. "What do you say, should we spare him?" He asked, flicking the gun carelessly. "Where did you say he lives, Malkinson?"
"Mercia, we don't have anyone stationed there..." He paused, and looked towards Butters. "We won't kill you," he said.
"Oh, thank you Eric!"
"But!" He interjected, holding up his hand. "I want you to be our eyes and ears in Mercia." He finished, and Butters looked around nervously, looking for an escape. Nobody really knew what Cartman's company did, but Butters had some idea, and now and didn't want to be any part of it.
"I dunno..." He stalled, having spotted a way out and trying to decide if it was worth the risk as he eyed Scott Malkinson's gun. "Can't I just, um, give you money?"
"I have enough money, Butter. Cartman Corp. is worth ten million dollars! Look, I don't see why you don't want to accept this; it will give you an extra income and let you to keep Kenny in your shop," he said, as though the answer was as straight forward as it sounded. "You help me, and I help you! You wouldn't want me to bring Kenny in to all of this too, would you? Because I'm sure he'd be happy to know."
"No! I'll do it."
"Great, welcome to the team!" He said, patting Butters roughly on the back.
Kenny hurried down the stairs to the shop, grinning as he saw Wendy and Bebe on the other side of the door, just as he expected. His smile widened when he realised they had both dressed up for the occasion.
"Hello ladies!" Kenny greeted as he opened the door, stepping aside to let them in. "You both look great," He said as they walked in.
Wendy breathed in deep the smell of all the old objects, knowing that she wouldn't be able to step in to an antique store or smell one again without thinking about Kenny. She glanced at Bebe.
"Thanks, do you mind if I could talk to Butters before we leave?" Bebe asked, and Wendy looked around the shop, carefully examining each item. Kenny seemed a little taken aback, but managed to regain his composure quick enough.
"Sure, I'll just ask him," He said before disappearing behind the door at the back of the shop.
"Here we go again." Bebe muttered sadly. "I can't do it this time, once was enough. Can't we just ask somebody else to do it?"
"We don't have to anymore," Wendy said, and she thought it was ironic that the tables had turned now. "I know he's asked you to do this to test your loyalty, I know you weren't supposed to tell me what he's asked you to do, but this is great news! Now we know exactly what he's up to, and now we don't have to do what he says anymore," Wendy explained with a smile.
"Yeah, but what if he makes us the victims instead? If what I've been told about Butters is right, who knows what could happen!"
"Shh, I know. We'll have to figure something out. Good luck with Butters," Wendy added quietly as Kenny came back through the door.
"He says it's fine, head on up there, just don't take too long, the wedding starts in an hour," Kenny explained with a smile, before turning to look at Wendy. "I want you to come out the back with me, I have something to show you." He grinned, holding the door open for Bebe and then waited for Wendy to follow him through to the back.
"Alright." She said warily, wondering what it was that he wanted to show her. She followed him through the door, throwing Bebe a reassuring smile as she climbed the stairs to Kenny and Butters' apartment. When Kenny opened another door, Wendy was surprised to see it led to a carefully concealed garden. Kenny smiled knowingly at her and continued to lead her down to the bottom of the garden, to his workshop.
"In here is the gift I made for Pocket and Estella," Kenny said proudly, opening the big double doors. Wendy peered inside, eyes widening at what she saw.
"Wow, you made this all by yourself?"
"I sure did!" Kenny said, and then laughed when he caught himself talking like Butters. They must have been living together for too long. "Well, Butters painted it, but everything else was made by me," He said proudly.
Wendy stepped closer to the hand crafted carriage, admiring the beautiful little details and patterns.
"I know someone else who's into building and making things, too," Wendy commented after spending a few minutes looking at the carriage's interior — much better than the one they had travelled here in.
"Yeah," she confirmed with a nod. "I used to go to lower school with him in Skord, until my parents decided to move to Radea."
"What was his name?"
"Oh really? So you're the Wendy?" Kenny asked, amused.
"Huh?" She frowned
"I know him, too. I was friends with him in upper school, we must have just missed each other! He didn't say much about you, but when he did, well... So you're the Wendy he used to date?" Kenny asked, narrowly avoiding letting slip that Stan was torn up for months after Wendy left, and always found it difficult to talk about her for most of upper school.
"Oh, yeah, that's me!" She smiled, about to comment on the strange coincidence when Bebe walked in to the workshop, followed by Butters.
"Ready to go?" Butters chirped happily.
"You know we are," Kenny said with a laugh.
Kyle looked out the carriage window as they pulled to a stop in Skord's carriage park for the night. The Skord Carriage Park attendant knocked on the door and handed them a blanket and a pillow — the more expensive ones, Kyle noted — before leaving them and locking their door. Stan locked it again from the inside, just in case.
"You'd think with all that walking and travelling we've done today, I'd be ready to sleep, but I just can't stop thinking about all this." Kyle said, and Stan sighed.
"We've talked about it so many times already Kyle, you need to learn to switch off." Stan smiled, tapping Kyle's knee with his foot. "If it helps, let's talk about something else..." He offered, sliding off his leather seat and pulling his pillow with him, using it as a back rest. "It'll be like a real sleepover!" Stan said happily.
"We never did get to have one of those when we were younger. And nap time in infant school doesn't count," Kyle said as he joined Stan on the floor.
"Totally! But, this is far from ideal. I don't even know what we're supposed to do at a sleepover."
"Hmm... Play games?"
"Yeah but we don't have any games."
"What about telling secrets, or truth or dare," Kyle suggested. That's what all the girls at school had talked about doing at their sleepovers.
"Alright," Stan said enthusiastically, adjusting himself. "You first. Tell me a truth, unless I don't know all your secrets."
"Hmmm, oh there might be some things you don't know about me," Kyle teased, but as far as he knew, Stan knew everything about him. "Alright, truth it is, ask me anything."
"Uhh..." Stan paused to think for a moment. "No, I really do know everything about you, I can't think of anything."
"Well this is boring!"
"Hey, you suggested it!" Stan laughed, moving his pillow to the floor and lying down, resting his head upon it and turning on his side to face Kyle.
"I couldn't think of anything else," Kyle said, copying Stan. They stared at each other for a few moments, Kyle relaxing to the sound of Stan's breathing. "But I do have one thing I want to ask you," he said eventually.
"Tell me the truth, do you still like Wendy?"
"I'm serious. I know I'd know if you did, but you haven't spoken about her since upper school, and that was only two years ago, how do I know you're not just secretly pining for her?"
"Dude! I'd tell you if I was!" He laughed, but there was a hint of worry on his face. "Do you not think I would?"
"Of course, I just wanted to know so we could play this dumb game," Kyle said defensively, and they fell into silence, turned on to their backs and looked up at the roof above them. Stan thought about all the things he had told Kyle, and felt guilty when he realized there was at least one thing about him that Kyle didn't know. His heart began to pound heavily against his chest, and he looked over at his best friend.
"Ky-" He began to speak, but was cut off when his friend spoke at the same time.
"Oh, fuck, this is ridiculous!" Kyle exclaimed. "Come on, Stan, I wanna get out of here for a while." He said, standing up and bending his head, too tall to stand up fully in their carriage. Stan, on the other hand, stood up with no difficulties, the top of his head reaching just below Kyle's shoulders. They shuffled around in the small space, Kyle trying to get to the door to unlock it and cursing when he realized it was locked from the outside, too.
"Stan, go and check the window," he ordered, hoping that it could be opened. Stan obeyed, undoing the lock on the window and opening it with ease. It opened just enough to fit a person through, perfect. "I'll go through it first," he said unnecessarily before walking the short distance to the window, Stan moving aside to give him room.
"Careful," Stan laughed as Kyle sat up on the window frame, preparing to slide through the gap and out of the carriage. He threw a glare over his shoulder before pushing himself forward, landing clumsily on the ground moments later. He stood up and turned around, holding out his hand for Stan, who had just appeared at the window.
"I'll pull you through," Kyle said, stepping a bit closer. Stan stuck his upper body out through the window, holding out his arms, too. Kyle took hold of him under his arms and pulled. "You're gonna have to help me out here," Kyle choked out, finding it difficult to pull him through on his own. Stan nodded and lifted his feet from the floor of the carriage, placed one of them on one of the leather seats and kicked, pushing himself forward slightly. Kyle pulled, and eventually he managed to lift Stan out of the window.
"It's really cold," Stan said with a shiver, and Kyle began to laugh.
"Your pants," he said through his quiet laughter, pointing for emphasis. Stan looked down to see that, in the struggle, his pants had slipped down to his ankles and exposed his boxer shorts. He hurriedly pulled them back up, embarrassed but laughing anyway, it was pretty funny.
When their laughter faded away, Kyle spoke again.
"Let's get out of this park for a while," he said, already walking away. "Explore a little bit."
Stan followed him happily, not wanting to lose sight of him in the darkness. They kept walking, and at the back end of the carriage park, the ground sloped down slightly. Stan held his breath at the site that greeted them. The earth extended outwards, expanding into darkness and highlighting the millions of stars that shone above them, a few scattered trees silhouetted against the night's sky. Kyle continued to walk for a few moments, slowing to a stop and then sitting down on the grass. Stan sat down next to him, and then they both lay down in silence to look up at the stars.
Stan listened to Kyle's soft, slow breathing, and it calmed him. He only realized at this point how worked up he had been, upset over the loss of Sparky, among other things. But this scene, this place, and this person lying next to him took it all away like magic. He sighed contentedly and his eyes slowly scanned over the stars, taking in as much as he could before he felt his gaze being pulled to the one next to him.
Kyle. He wouldn't know what he would do without him. Stan closed his eyes and let his mind wander, thinking back to when he ran away from home. It had only been a year after upper school, and the relationship he had with his father had reached its boiling point. He left, and he hadn't seen his family since. He built his cottage near the Broflovski estate, occasionally getting help from Kyle whenever he managed to sneak out. In short, Kyle was the only important thing left in his life, and without him and his magic, he felt like he might just disappear.
It was this thought that brought him to stretch his hand out in search for Kyle's, latching on to it desperately and lacing their fingers together. He might disappear without Kyle, but with him, it felt like everything else disappeared, and he was hidden away from the rest of the world. He opened his eyes, head still turned toward Kyle, to find him looking right back. Their eyes locked, just like their hands, and they stayed like that for an immeasurable amount of time. Stan's heart began to race, and his pupils dilated as he was hit with a familiar feeling of mild nausea, which he held back and ignored.
He watched, transfixed. His mouth hanging open as Kyle's face inched forward and then stopped, moving back as confusion flashed over his best friend's face. Stan followed him, moving his face forward. He then stopped too, and they were inches away from each other. They stayed like that for a few moments, feeling each other's breath against their faces, eyes flicking back and forth before they both moved forwards again at the same time, connecting their lips together in quiet desperation.
A sudden warmth spread throughout Stan from his lips, and as corny as it sounded, it felt like magic coursing through his veins, and the stars fell around them, showering them with light. Stan pressed closer, connecting their bodies and sharing this new warmth as they kissed, their lips gently sliding together nervously, each movement a curious exploration.
Kyle was the first to pull away, sighing and breathing in the much needed fresh air.
"Wow..." Kyle breathed, and Stan nodded before wrapping his arms around Kyle, pressing closer and burying his face between Kyle's neck and shoulder and hiding in their embrace.
Kenny was woken abruptly by loud banging, and he quickly jumped out of bed, throwing on a t-shirt and running downstairs, grabbing the nearest thing he could find to use as a weapon — a lamp. He cracked opened the door to the shop, peering through it to see if anyone had managed to break in, but the knocking still continued. He realized now that it wasn't as loud as he originally thought, but he still cautiously opened the door a little more so he could see who was making the noise.
His jaw dropped when he saw it was Stan and Kyle. Stan, he wasn't too surprised to see, but the fact that Kyle was there without his family was something he was not expecting to see this morning. When he got over the initial shock, he made his way over to the shop door and unlocked it, letting Stan and Kyle in.
"What are you two doing here?" He asked, picking the most straightforward question from all of the others that were racing around his mind.
"I ran away," Kyle said.
"He ran away," Stan repeated, as if Kenny needed a second person to confirm it, which he kind of did.
"Why?" Kenny asked, still confused.
"Potentially in danger of being killed," Kyle said simply, like it was nothing. Kenny put his head in his hands and shook it, letting out a groan of frustration. Stan sent a confused look to Kyle, who just looked back at him and shrugged.
"Of course," He said finally, shutting the door and locking it again. "Well c'mon, get in." He said, leading them up to his apartment. Once inside, Stan and Kyle looked around, noticing something was wrong.
"Where's Butters?" They asked at the same time, and then looked at each other with the same expression of confusion.
"He ran away. Here, sit down, I'll make you some coffee... I think we all need some," he said, yawning. Stan and Kyle sat down next to each other on the sofa, waiting patiently for Kenny to sit with them and tell them what was going on. They sat in tense silence, fighting the urge to hold each other's hand and listening to the angry bubbles of the kettle, the arrogant sound of the hot water pouring into china cups, then the insufferable tinkling of the spoon as it stirred the contents of the cups. Eventually Kenny joined them at the coffee table, sitting across from them and leaning forward to hand them their cups.
"So, who wants to explain first?" Kenny asked, taking a sip of his coffee only to be met with silence. "Me? Alright..." He said, wondering where he should begin. "You're probably wondering why Butters ran away, but I don't think I should be the one to answer that," Kenny sighed, running a hand through his hair. "We were at my friend's wedding yesterday, and someone died at the party afterwards. Butters and Bebe were involved, and I really think you need to speak to Bebe about this, not me," Kenny explained, clearly not up for speaking about this yet.
"Bebe?!" Kyle half shouted, not caring for Kenny's obvious reluctance to discuss this. "Was Wendy with her?" He asked, and Kenny just put his hand up, silencing him. Kyle frowned when Kenny said nothing, just went in to his room without another word, returning shortly after with a piece of paper and a pen. He sat back down and leaned forward, crinkling the paper on the table as he wrote on it, then handed it to Kyle.
"That's where they're staying, room fifty-two. Go and see them, I'm too tired for this shit," He said, getting up and going to the sink to pour almost all his coffee down the drain. Stan and Kyle did the same, not wanting to hang around any longer. Kenny followed them downstairs in silence, unlocking the door and waving at them unenthusiastically as they disappeared.
Once they had rounded the corner and were out of Kenny's sight, they stopped and looked at each other for a moment as people walked around them.
"Well, that..." Stan began to speak, but was shushed by Kyle.
"Not out here. But yeah, it's a lot to process. If Bebe and Wendy had something to do with it, I'm almost certain Cartman is... You know what," he said while looking at the rough, badly drawn directions Kenny had given them. "Okay. According to this, their building is just down there, room fifty-two?" Kyle asked, and Stan nodded. They set off down the street, walking for about five minutes through the tall buildings and crowds of people before they made it to what Kenny said was Bebe and Wendy's building.
They glanced at each other once more before opening the door and going inside. It was then that Kyle took a moment to think about how different Mersian life was to his and Stan's slow paced Alban lifestyle. He didn't have long to think, however, because they soon made it to room fifty two. Stan lifted up his hand, balled it in to a fist, took a deep breath, and knocked twice. He looked nervously at Kyle, and Kyle was reminded of the kiss they shared the night before. He felt his face heat up and looked away, hearing footsteps on the other side of the door and two female voices. The door swung open, revealing Bebe.
"Ye-Stan? Kyle?!" Bebe exclaimed. Somewhere behind her, Stan and Kyle could hear something drop, followed by muttered cursing. "Hey, Wendy, guess who's here!" She called over her shoulder.
"I think I already know." Came the sarcastic answer from somewhere inside the room.
"Can they come in?"
"Yeah, I suppose so," Wendy said, and when Stan and Kyle stepped in to the room she looked up from the floor, bent over in the act of picking up her hair brush. "It really is you two!" She said, torn between happiness and worry.
"I still don't trust you, Wendy, but Kenny says you and Bebe have answers," Kyle said, stubbornly sitting down on the bed and crossing his arms. Stan hung back awkwardly by the door with Bebe.
"Answers to what, exactly?" Wendy asked, nervously.
"Someone died last night and Kenny said Bebe and Butters were involved. He also told us Butters had run away, so we're guessing you know why," Stan explained, looking at Bebe.
"Uhh, right." Bebe said, moving away from Stan to sit on the desk next to Wendy. "Well, where do I begin," She said, looking down in thought. Wendy decided to cut in, knowing exactly where to begin, having already guessed that Stan and Kyle would want to know this from the moment she heard Bebe call out their names.
"Alright, a few days ago me and Bebe arrived here on a mission for Cartman Corp.," She began, purposefully not mentioning the mission they had at the Broflovski estate. "We had no specific orders, but we were given directions to Kenny and Butter's antique store, so we went there and introduced ourselves. The next day, Kenny gave me a tour of this city, and then invited me and Bebe to his friend Pocket's wedding. That night, though, Bebe got a letter from Eric..." She paused, turning to look at Bebe to prompt her to continue the story.
"Mmmhm," Bebe hummed with a nod. "He gave me the task of killing a man our age named Jimmy Valmer," Bebe said, then lowered her head and rested her forehead in her palm. "I couldn't do it, but I was also informed Butters was working as a spy. I knew it was risky, but I made him do it and I kept watch. He made it look like an accident, and then he ran away. Probably back to Cartman Corp."
"Which is why we're in a bit of a mess," Wendy continued. "Butters is probably going to tell Eric we didn't go through with our orders, and that he found me being unfaithful," She explained, shifting nervously in her seat as she remembered what had happened between her and Kenny at the party. "In short, I'm pretty sure he's going to come after us," She finished, absently playing with the ring on her desk.
"So... Why is he ordering his employees to kill people?" Kyle asked, not sure what to think or who to trust.
"Not everyone who works for him knows about this, not even we knew about it until now, and I was his fiancÃ©!" Wendy explained. "Even Bebe had been told to keep this a secret if she valued her life. I'm just glad Butters didn't hang around long enough to find out she'd let the secret slip."
"You're engaged to him?" Stan asked, and Kyle waved a hand at him, telling him that wasn't important right now.
"So, Cartman orders people to kill other people, you still haven't told me why." Kyle said impatiently, looking from Wendy to Bebe and back again.
"We don't know why. It's something I've been trying to figure out all night, I couldn't sleep because of it, but I still know nothing." Wendy said, yawning for emphasis. "Do you know anything?" Wendy asked, hoping they had some useful information.
"Um," Stan began, walking further in to the room. "We found out that Craig Tucker is in Shayia trying to make a deal with one of the locals. Maybe this deal has something to do with it all?" Stan suggested, sitting next to Kyle. Wendy nodded thoughtfully.
"Maybe, I think we have to go to Shayia to know for sure." She said, standing up. "Meet us outside Lenny's Antiques in thirty minutes," she said, walking to the door and opening it for them.
"How do we know you're telling the truth?" Kyle asked, narrowing his eyes suspiciously. Bebe hopped off the desk and opened one of its drawers, pulling out a sheet of paper.
"This is the assignment letter I got for Jimmy." She said as she handed it over to Kyle, who read it quickly and handed it back just as fast.
"Fine. Come on then, Stan, let's go and wait for them." He said, taking hold of Stan's arm as they walked past Wendy and out the door.
When they made it back to Lenny's Antiques, they warily knocked on the door again. If Kenny didn't answer it this time, they didn't want to further anger him with more knocks. Soon, however, the door in the back did open to reveal a slightly less grumpy Kenny. He made his way to the door, unlocked it, let them in, and locked it again, leading them quickly back in to his apartment.
"So you talked to them? I don't have to explain anything?" Kenny asked, settling down on his sofa once they were all inside. Stan and Kyle shook their heads. "Good. Don't expect me to make more coffee though, I'm not wasting it."
"We're not expecting you to," Stan said with a smile, getting one back in return.
"Come to Shayia with us," Kyle said, but Kenny's reply was interrupted by another person at the door.
"Hold that thought," he said as he scurried downstairs. Kyle sighed, rubbing the sides of his head. This was a lot of information to process in one go.
"You okay?" Stan asked as he put a reassuring hand on Kyle's shoulder, rubbing gently.
"Does it look like I am? No wonder Kenny didn't want to discuss this with us. Shit. What if that's someone at the door here to kill us too?" Kyle panicked. Stan said nothing, because he was thinking the exact same thing. They were eventually put at ease when Kenny walked back through the door, unharmed. Stan didn't pull his hand away, but Kenny didn't seem to notice.
"It was just a letter delivery," Kenny explained, sensing their worry. "This letter is for you, Kyle," he said, handing it over with a frown. "As for Shayia, I'll go with you if you'll pay for me. And I'll have to fill in a form of temporary closure for the Mersian Government, so they don't shut down the business. Butters isn't my favourite person right now, but this is his home, so," he said with a shrug, standing up and walking in to the kitchen, feeling a little restless.
"Your government is strange," Kyle commented as he opened his mysterious letter. "Huh." He said as he looked at the page.
"What?" Stan and Kenny asked in unison.
"The letter is blank, except for the signature at the bottom."
"Damien..." Wendy said slowly, reading the signed name as she sat down on her bed. "Damien," she repeated, frowning. "This signature is familiar," she explained, turning the letter over in her hand. "I've seen it on some of the letters Eric gets. Now that I think about it, they were all blank too..." She paused, and then her face lit up in realization. "Invisible ink!" She exclaimed, putting the letter down beside her and standing up, heading over to her bag on the desk and searching through it. "Ah!" She said, pulling out a small bottle and a paint brush. "We were given the essentials before we went out on our mission," she explained, picking up the letter and placing it on the desk, where she began to paint the liquid from the bottle over the paper, revealing the words.
Stan and Kyle. I know what you are doing, but no matter what you learn or how much you are told, I can assure you that you don't know the full story. Meet me at the carriage park on the Dorse-Mersia border after midnight.
"Who's Damien?" Stan asked, hoping Wendy would know.
"I don't know," she said, much to Stan's disappointment. "All I know is he regularly sends Eric letters, so he probably knows something we don't. I say we go to the border instead," she suggested, and Kyle rolled his eyes at her for making Damien's request seem like her idea.
"I'm okay with that," Kenny finally spoke up from the corner of the room, stepping forward. "I can afford it," he added, and Wendy smiled at him, her gaze lingering on him for longer than was necessary. Kyle and Stan shared a look, and Bebe just looked bored.
"Alright, so it's settled?" Wendy eventually asked, looking around at everyone to make sure they all agreed. Everyone nodded, and she smiled. "Let's go then."
Eric sat at his desk, leaning back in his chair and resting his feet on top of the desk as he spoke on the phone.
"Yeah? Well I don't care if they have a wife, do it!" He said, before putting the phone down and abruptly ending the call. He sighed in frustration, running a hand through his hair. A few moments later, someone knocked on his office door and he called them in.
When he saw who stepped through the door, he slowly took his feet off the desk and leaned forward with interest.
"Well, Butters, what a surprise," he said, smiling at the blond boy. "What brings you here?"
"I killed a man," Butters said with regret, wishing that statement hadn't been true. But if it wasn't Jimmy, then it would have been him and Bebe and Wendy. "Bebe couldn't do it," he added, unable to keep the whole truth from Eric. Luckily he had managed to get away before he learned anything else, keeping the information he spilled to a minimum. "And Wendy was kissin' Kenny," he added, feeling ashamed. He wished he hadn't seen that.
"Hmm..." Eric hummed in thought. "Well, the job is done," he said, much to Butters surprise. "I'd go to Mersia myself and punish them, but I have something more important to do. Clyde and Craig still haven't returned." He paused, frowning. "I don't think they understand how important Shayia is to us!" Eric began to rant, while Butters withered slightly. "Shayia is our key to Heval, and Token is our key to Shayia." He planted his hand down on the table firmly, making Butters flinch. "It's obvious Ebfur isn't going to cooperate, so I'm going to Shayia myself," he said with an air of finality, abruptly standing up. "Butters, go back to Mersia, I don't have time for this," he said, walking past Butters with a dismissive wave of his hand.
Butters watched sadly as Eric walked away, hearing the larger man's sniffles and obvious tears as he left. Clearly, he loved Wendy more than he let anyone know.
Craig lay on his bed, feeling calmed as the hot air from outside washed over him. His chest rose up and down slowly and gently, his hand resting upon it. He sighed, feeling happy despite his unfortunate circumstances.
"Clyde, come over here." Craig said quietly, turning his head to watch as his friend immediately stood up from his seat on the other side of the room, where he had been quietly watching him from for the past twenty minutes.
"Yeah?" Clyde said warily.
"I want to go outside today." He said simply, gathering up all his strength to sit up without looking like it took too much effort. Clyde grinned, happy that his friend finally seemed to be not thinking about their duty. He stood back and waited for Craig to stand up, his smile faltering a little when he saw a wince of pain briefly cross Craig's face.
"Come on then," He said, the smile returning to his face as quickly as the pain had left Craig's. "I know all the best places around here; I'll be like your tour guide."
Clyde led Craig out of Token's house and out towards the small stream where they got their fresh mountain water, and Craig thanked no-one in particular that the hot weather was making Clyde walk slow, too. They spent most of the day like that, Clyde showing Craig his favourite spots in Shayia, leading him down narrow streets in the village which led them to Clyde's favourite spot; the foot of the small mountain that overlooked Shayia.
"I think we should go back soon, you're not used to the sun and you don't look so good." Clyde began to say. "But I really want you to see this now, in case you don't leave Tako's place again..." He trailed off, wondering if Craig would comment again on Clyde's use of Token's birth name. He didn't, he just looked up in silence and awe at the mountain, standing tall and powerful, providing shade and water and, ultimately, life for the villagers. Craig smiled sadly, it was a shame it couldn't do the same for him.
Clyde looked over at Craig, opening his mouth and preparing to say something, but then he saw the look on his face, one of deep concentration and thought, and he slowly shut his mouth and looked back up at the mountain to appreciate it in silence. No words between them, just a comfortable, friendly silence.
Craig didn't know how long they had been looking up at the small mountain, but when he left his deep thoughts and came back to reality, he realised the sun was already beginning to set from the orange and red glow surrounding the rock formation.
"Wow." Craig said in awe, though it almost sounded sarcastic. "This is nice." He said, finding it hard to tear his eyes away from the sight, but Clyde was right, they shouldn't stay out too long. He didn't care what Token said about infecting other villagers, but he did care about his own deteriorating health. "I want to go back now." He said, but he really didn't. He wanted to stay here forever.
Clyde nodded, not saying anything as he turned and led the way back to Token's. Craig wondered if Clyde had felt it too, whatever it was, and was now reduced to silence. They soon made it back to Token's house, and just before he crossed the threshold, Craig turned his head and took one last look at the mountain before it was cut off from view by the closing door.
Craig walked slowly over to his bed, lying down and sighing again as the pressure was taken off his tired body. He wondered if this was what it felt like to be an old man, aching and groaning and waiting for death. When he fell asleep, these thoughts continued into his dreams. It wasn't long before he was rudely awakened by a loud knock on the door, and he opened his eyes in time to see Clyde opening the door to an angry boss.
Clyde pulled open the door, completely unprepared for what was waiting for him on the other side.
"Hello, Clyde," Came the odd, foreboding voice of his and Craig's boss; Eric Cartman. "Can we come in?" He asked with a false politeness, gesturing behind him to what Clyde guessed was his companion. Clyde couldn't see much of them because they were hidden behind Cartman's large frame, but he refrained from peering around him in case he insulted the man, so he settled for quietly moving aside and letting them in. He had to hold in his gasp when he saw Tweek walk in behind him, and he threw a glance to Craig, who looked emotionlessly back at him.
"Token!" Eric called, ignoring his employees as he left the room in search of Token. Clyde glanced at Tweek, watching him twitch nervously and occasionally let out a yelp as his eyes flicked from one to the other.
"Tweek why are you here?" Craig asked.
"Oh, man! I work for Eric now, oh geez I'm sorry, you told me not to get involved!"
"Tweek, why are you here?" He repeated, sounding more out of breath than he did a few seconds before. Tweek opened his mouth to answer him, but was cut off when Eric burst back into the room, pulling Token in by the collar of his shirt.
"You knew our deal, Craig," Eric said, somewhat threateningly. "You work for me and I'll spare you. I don't call lying around in Shayia like you're on vacation work." His tone of voice was almost calm, but everyone could see the anger in his face. "And now this one here," He continued, letting go of Token's collar and patting him strongly on the back, earning a glare. "Tells me you're dying anyway."
"Ah, oh no!"
"What?" Clyde asked, his face broken and torn between anguish and shock. "Why didn't you tell me?" He asked frantically, turning to look at Craig who refused to look back or answer him.
"Tweek, take this gun." Eric ordered, pulling a gun from somewhere behind him and holding it in front of Tweek's face, who just went cross eyed looking at it and let out another small yelp. A deep frown set on Craig's face, wishing he had enough strength to get up quickly and do something, anything. All he could do, though, was watch this unfold before his eyes. He knew he was going to die either way, but he didn't want his friends dragged through this mess.
Clyde took a step forward, but he soon found the gun pointed in his direction. He stepped back quietly, and the gun was forced in to Tweek's hands.
"Ah god!" He looked down at the object in horror, sitting in his hand with his finger on the trigger, in the right position to shoot. "Why do I have to do this? Why did you bring me?" He asked, moving the gun from one hand to the other. Craig's eyes followed it back and forth, he didn't dare take his gaze away from it.
"Pull the trigger, Tweek!" Eric shouted, growing impatient. Beside him, Token made a move to grab the gun, but Eric soon trapped him in a headlock.
Time seemed to pass by Clyde in slow motion. He watched the blood spreading on to Craig's t-shirt, slowly dripping over the hands that covered it and falling down to the sheets on the bed.
Craig took a deep, shuddering breath, and time quickly sped up to its normal pace once more.
Clyde rushed to his friend's side, barely noticing Eric running away, dragging Tweek with him.
"Craig?" He asked, voice cracking as the tears began to flow thick and hot down his face.
"Ah, damn it," he said, looking down at the growing patch of blood on his middle as a pained expression took over his face. He slumped back against the wall, panting heavily and facing Clyde and Token, the latter standing helplessly at the other end of the room. He coughed, and a little bit of blood spattered out on to the bed. It didn't take long for Clyde to realize what was happening, and he moved closer, ignoring the blood and kneeling in front of Craig. He took his hand and squeezed it, trying to be reassuring but failing due to the hysteric sobs now racking his body, tears streaming down his cheeks.
He lifted Craig's hand and kissed it lightly, then, in an act of sudden desperation, he surged forwards and planted a kiss on Craig's lips. When he pulled back, he looked into Craig's eyes.
"Oh," Craig said, and all traces of Craig's pained expression disappeared. He drew in his last breath, holding it before shakily letting it out and weakly squeezing Clyde's hand. A moment later, his hand went limp in Clyde's, and his head rolled to the side heavily.
Kyle shivered, and Stan huddled closer to him, wrapping himself up in Kyle's cape. Kyle shifted uneasily.
"The others are hiding but they can still see us," Kyle whispered, and Stan kissed the part of Kyle that was closest to his lips.
"I don't care, I really don't care," he whispered back, kissing the skin of Kyle's collar bone lovingly. Kyle sighed with happiness, despite his previous statement. If Damien was just going to kill them, he would rather die like this, embracing Stan. He kissed the top of Stan's head at the thought, and then he heard a noise somewhere to his left.
"Damien?" Kyle called out, trying to sound calm. There was silence for a few moments, and then slowly, the figure of a man about their age appeared before them. Upon closer inspection, Kyle noted his hair and eyes matched the colour of the midnight sky and he shivered. Something wasn't right about this Damien.
"You came," He said, stating the obvious.
"Yeah..." Kyle said, trying to think of the right words to use. "You left us a letter, telling us to meet you here because we don't know the full story? Well, we're here now. How did you know where to find us?" He asked, his right hand wrapping protectively around Stan and his left hand covering the handle of his dagger, concealed by his cloak.
"Yes, yes," he said, and then he was silent for what felt like at least a minute. "It's obvious, I've been following you," he explained. "I'll tell you what's really going on, if you're ready."
"Of course we're ready!" Kyle snapped.
"You're right, Cartman is behind numerous killings," he confirmed. "But, he's not the only one."
"Not the only one?" Stan repeated, confused.
"I'm making him do this, I send him the assignments." Damien revealed, and Kyle's grip tightened on his dagger along with his grip on Stan.
"Why are you telling us this? Why shouldn't we kill you instead?" Kyle said, hoping he sounded threatening.
"Because I want him to stop! I hoped I could ruin him, break him down by forcing him to kill and shatter his soul!" He said, growing angry. Kyle took a step back. "But he's just getting other people to do it instead, and that's not what I want," he said, calming down a little bit.
"Why do you want him to kill?" Kyle asked.
"Killing Pip. He was going to be mine, and Eric stole that away from me!" He shouted again, and Kyle could have sworn he saw the flicker of flames in Damien's eyes. "Anyway," he continued, calming down again. "The best I can do now is put a stop to his business, take all this away from him."
One year earlier
"This is bullcrap!" Eric shouted as he paced back and forth in the main hall of his house, his mother sitting on the armchair and watching him worriedly.
"Oh pumpkin, I'm sure it's for the best," she said reassuringly, reaching forward to hold his hand as he walked past her again. "At least they let you go with just a warning," she said optimistically, and he stopped to look at her, huffing arrogantly.
"But mom, this world needs war!" He said, exasperated. "If we can't defend what we have, how can we feel proud enough to fight for our own country like they did in the Orperfi war! Nothing means anything to anyone, we just exist in places."
"That war nearly ended humanity, sweetie," she said, ignoring his last statement.
"Well, we can't live in fear of that forever," he said, pulling his hand out of Liane's and huffing, and that was when the doorbell rang. Cartman stomped over to the door and yanked it open, revealing a man with black, shoulder-length hair.
"Who is it, Eric?" Liane called.
"I am Damien! I've come to talk to you, Eric," he said, clearly having a hard time withholding his anger. Cartman sent Liane upstairs, guessing this might be a conversation that he did not want her to be a part of.
"So what you're saying is, you want me to do all your dirty work because you just don't want to, is that what you're saying?"
"Stop stalling, I know you'll do it, I know what happened to you and I know all about you."
"Oh yeah?" Cartman sneered.
"Yeah!" Damien snapped, leaning forward in his large armchair and holding out his hand, aiming a fireball at the ex-militant. Eric's eyes grew wide, but Damien managed to stop himself before he could do any damage. "You're the one who was the head of the secret military uprising, you're the one who got beaten down by the king and government because your army was so weak and unprepared. I know you would love to do this right under their noses, you want power and control, you desire it and you can't live without it. I know a lot about you," Damien finished, leaning back in his chair and huffing angrily.
"Well done," Eric said sarcastically, slowly clapping his hands. "How long did it take you to figure that one out, detective?" He asked, and fire danced across Damien's eyes. "Alright, I'll do it, but you better pay me. Otherwise, no deal."
"Fine." Damien leant forwards, holding out his warm hand to shake on it, trying to hold back the raw hatred he had for the large man.
"So stop making him kill people," Stan suggested bluntly.
"I would, but I made a promise to my father. You see, this is his job. Since the ban on violence, the population began to get out of control. So my dad, Satan, was forced by the King to take this job. It's gotten to be too much for him to take, so he asked me to help him. I initially refused, but then Pip was killed in Eric's uprising and I seized the opportunity for revenge. I just didn't know it would backfire." He stopped for a moment and looked around, frowning. "There's other people here, they better show themselves or I'll burn you all!" Damien shouted, suddenly growing angry again.
After a few moments, Wendy, Bebe, and Kenny slowly appeared one by one from behind a bush close by. They took a few steps forward, but didn't dare to get any closer.
"You work for Eric!" Damien pointed angrily towards Wendy, who froze in fear. Kenny placed a comforting hand on her arm.
"Not anymore!" She shouted back at him, trying to hide her fear. "I'm not loyal to him and I never was, if you want to know anything about him just ask me," she said, hoping to get on his good side.
"Alright," he began, turning to fully face Wendy. "My dad lives in Heval. Has Eric ever mentioned anything about that place?" He asked, before turning back to Stan and Kyle, not really expecting an answer.
"Yeah, he talked a lot about how important it was. I don't know how important or why, but it might be related to all this."
"The only reason Heval would be important to him is because he knows my father is powerful, but he doesn't know that he's actually controlled by him too. How ironic," Damien mused, laughing at his words. He spoke again when his laughter faded. "If that's what he's planning, you need to see my dad first before Eric has the chance. The only way you can get there is by being summoned, and to do that, you have to harm me." He explained as though it were nothing. "Do you have weapons?" He asked, looking almost bored.
"Uh, we have," Stan said warily, then gave Kyle a look as if to say 'I don't want to hurt him'. Kyle sighed and pulled out his dagger, letting go of Stan as he stepped close enough to Damien to do as he'd asked. He took a deep breath and lifted up his dagger just as Damien held his hand out, palm facing upwards for Kyle to stab it. Kyle then quickly moved his hand in a downward motion and at the last second, Stan dove forward to grab hold of the weapon, too.
It happened in an instant; one second they were standing on the border in the dead of night, and the next, they were in front of a huge iron door, both still holding tightly to the weapon.
"What the fuck." Stan had heard that magic existed, he knew some was within the Broflovski estate, but not once did he ever think he would experience it like this. He let go of Kyle's weapon, and looked over at him.
"You came with me," Kyle stated quietly.
"Well, yeah, I'm not leaving your side," he said confidently, looking seriously in to Kyle's eyes.
"Thanks," he said with a smile, and the moment the word had left his lips, the iron door flew open - thankfully inwards and away from them.
"Woah, fuck," Stan exclaimed, but Kyle ignored him and sighed instead. He was beginning to get sick of all this mystery and suspense. He walked forward, pulling Stan with him by his arm. As Kyle had expected, the door slammed behind them and Stan jumped in fright. What he didn't expect, though, was that they would still be walking down the large main hall thirty minutes later.
"Dude, I can't even see the end!" Kyle cried in frustration. Stan opened his mouth to suggest something to pass the time, but was stopped by a loud bang that echoed further down the hall. They watched as the outline of a man ran across from one side of the main hall to the other, mostly covered by darkness.
Stan and Kyle quickly ran forward, watching as the man opened a door and disappeared through it, slamming it shut behind him and creating another loud bang. Kyle ran toward the door with Stan following him, but when he reached the door and pulled the handle, it just rattled and wouldn't open.
"Fuck, it's locked!" Kyle shouted and Stan looked around, eventually finding another door to their right.
"Let's try this one," Stan said, already jogging up to it and attempting to open it. The door swung open revealing a passage, just big enough for the two of them to run down. Stan took off down it, hoping it led in the same direction as the other man. Kyle was the one following Stan this time, hoping that whoever they were following, they had answers.
They ran for a good few minutes down the narrow passage, trying not to trip over each others' feet until they stumbled, quite literally, upon a broken door to their left. When they had righted themselves, they both peered through separate holes in the door, looking in to the passage that ran parallel to their own. They heard heavy footsteps getting closer and closer, and Stan peered around the door only to be faced with a panting Cartman. He quickly pulled his head back, but it was too late, he had been spotted.
He pushed Kyle in front of him, urging him to run and they began to sprint faster than before down their passage. Stan turned around in time to see Cartman smash through the broken door and run after them, drawing his gun and aiming for Stan's face. Stan flattened himself and Kyle against the wall, and the bullet narrowly missed them.
"Holy shit!" Kyle shouted as they took off running again. Luckily for them, Cartman had little practice with firearms and had a poor aim, so most of his shots missed them. It wasn't until they neared the end of the passage, Stan and Kyle relieved that it seemed to get wider to allow for a larger door at the end, when he managed to successfully catch Stan on the arm right before Kyle flung open the large door and dragged Stan through it. The door was slammed and locked before Cartman could even reach it.
Kyle, once sure that Cartman had no way of getting through the door, quickly tended to Stan's wound. Luckily the bullet hadn't embedded itself in his skin, but it had left a nasty wound. Kyle tore off part of his forest green cape, wrapping it tightly over the wound a few times and securing it.
"Shit, that was close," Stan said, panting and squeezing his eyes shut in pain as Kyle reassuringly stroked his hair.
When he finally opened his eyes, he looked to the end of the large room that they found themselves in. Unlike any of the rooms and passages they had just ran through, the walls, floor, and ceiling of this room were made of jagged stone and looked like they could crumble at any second. The room was seemingly empty except for them, and a large chair that stood on the other side of the equally large room. Stan frowned when he realized that, next to Kyle, he was the smallest thing in the room.
"You harmed my son and now I must do the same to you!" A loud voice echoed around them, followed by an equally loud cackle. Stan and Kyle looked at each other in fear and when they looked back in front of them a large, red-skinned man now sat on the large chair.
"I am Satan," he said in the same deep, booming voice. "If you have any reason why I shouldn't hurt you, try your best to convince me now!" He laughed again, but stopped when a strange black creature landed on his shoulder and began speaking in to his ear. Stan and Kyle were too far away to hear the full conversation. "What... Oh really, he did?" He muttered, and the black creature nodded and soared away, disappearing into a crack in the stone wall. "Ah, I'm sorry for scaring you like that," Satan apologized, looking embarrassed. His voice had lost its intimidating quality, sounding a little more reassuring.
"You should be sorry!" Kyle shouted, trying to look unafraid despite his shaking. "And you should be thanking us, too." He added.
"Damien sent us here so we could reach you before Eric Cartman, he's trying to conquer Heval starting with you."
"Yeah..." Stan cut in, pausing to wince in pain. "And we want you to stop killing people."
"Alright, I'll explain one thing to you. I have a list of names of everyone in this world. When it's their time to die, their name drops off the list and I'm supposed to take care of it. Damien probably explained the rest to you. I can't stand this job as much as you, but I'm the only one who can do it, blame your King for banning violence and working on extending lives, now less people are dying and more people are living than ever before!" He explained in frustration. "Maybe you should see the King, not me. And..." He paused for a second "Thanks," he mumbled before waving his hand, sending Stan and Kyle to the King, and Cartman out of Heval.
The room swirled around them, disappearing from view in a blur of grey and red, slowly fading to white and blue and eventually a different room materialized before them.
"Who are you and who sent you here?" A man asked, as Stan and Kyle were separated and held back.
"I'm Kyle Broflovski and this is Stan Marsh, we were sent here by Satan," Kyle explained warily.
"Hmm, a Broflovski. Sheila's son?" The guard asked, taking note of Kyle's red hair. Kyle nodded, and the guard smiled. "Alright, come with me. Marcus, can you take Stan to the doctor?" He asked, and the man still holding Stan nodded, leading Stan away. Kyle stepped forward and followed the guard. "So, why did Satan send you here?"
"We were trying to stop someone else seeing him who shouldn't have, and then we got sent here to see the King." Was all Kyle said, trying not to give away too much information yet.
"I see. Did you ask him to send you here to find your brother, Ike?" He asked, and Kyle frowned.
"Yeah, didn't you know? Your estate was taken over but Ike managed to escape, he arrived here about thirty minutes ago to see the King, too. I thought you might have known."
"No," Kyle said, trying not to smile at the news that Ike had managed to escape, but also feeling disappointed that Ike had gone against his orders. "Are you taking me to see him?" Kyle asked.
"Well, yes, but I meant the King."
"Oh, of course, but we're just going to get Ike first," He explained, and eventually they through a door at the end of the corridor, into what seemed like a waiting room.
"Kyle!" Ike shouted in glee, jumping up and running over to his brother to hug him. Kyle returned the hug with a smile, holding him tight for a few moments before letting him go.
"How did you escape?" Kyle asked, deciding to scold him later.
"It's a long story, I'll tell you later, but Kyle! I figured it out, I know what's happening!" He said, and the guards watched them curiously, wondering what it was that he'd figured out. "So I came here to see the King, I'm so happy you're here too." He said, giving his brother another hug.
"Alright," The guard that had led Kyle there said. "It's time to go and see him now." He walked toward another door in the waiting room and opened it for them, allowing them through to what they guessed was the King's room.
ÂÂWhen they were inside, Kyle noticed it was similar in size to the room they had found Satan in, but a lot whiter, and the chair that the King sat in at the end of the room was nowhere near as large as the one Satan had sat in. They walked forward, recalling times from their childhood when the King had invited the Broflovskis for dinner parties. They knelt in front of the table before him, just as they had remembered.
"Ike, Kyle, what brings you here?" The King asked, friendly warmth laced in his voice and Kyle inwardly rejoiced, it was almost over, he could feel it. They were on the brink of something good.
"Your highness," Kyle began. "Eric Cartman is the head of another illegal group."
"Yeah," Ike nodded. "He's ordering his employees to kill people!"
"We don't know for sure if he is killing anyone, but he did shoot my friend Stan," Kyle added.
"Alright, is there any evidence of this?" He asked, and Ike shook his head sadly.
"Stan's wound should be enough!" Kyle shouted, trying to keep calm before explaining about the letter Damien had written in invisible ink, and Wendy's revelation that Cartman had been receiving the same invisible letters from the same person. "We don't know where those are kept, though," Kyle ended dejectedly.
"Wait!" Ike said, reaching in to his shoulder bag. "Is this one of them?" he asked as he pulled out a sheet of paper, blank except for the small signature at the bottom.
"Yeah!" Kyle said with a grin. "How did you get that?!"
"Cartman spent a lot of time in our estate, and when this came in the post I snatched it up before he had the chance!"
"It's written in invisible ink, you said?" the King asked, and Kyle nodded.
"I have the one Damien sent to us, here." Kyle said, pulling his own letter and placing it on the table and Ike copied him, placing the invisible letter next to Kyle's revealed letter. The King turned to his left and opened the cabinet next to him, pulling out a brush and bottle of liquid much like the one Wendy had. He painted the liquid over the page, and then waited a few seconds until the words were revealed.
Eric, here is the next person to be killed. Make sure you take care of it.
"Woah," Ike said slowly, and Kyle stared at it with wide eyes.
"Ike, if you hadn't taken this..." Kyle said, not wanting to finish his statement.
"Thank you, this is enough evidence. I'm going to have to send you away so I can take care of this, is there anywhere you'd wish me to send you?"
"Wait, what about Stan?" Kyle asked before Ike could say anything. "He got sent to the doctor because of his wound."
"Alright, when Stan is free to go I'll send him to you, where do you want to go?" He asked again.
"The carriage park on the Dorse-Mersia border." Kyle said, hoping that the others were still there waiting for them. The King nodded and waved his arm, and within a few seconds they were back at the border and, thankfully, Kenny, Bebe, and Wendy were still waiting.
They encircled a human sized mound of earth, gathered together at the foot of the mountain that overlooked Shayia, looking toward the grave with somber expressions. Stan and Kyle barely knew Craig, but the sadness of all those around them was infectious. Clyde was the last to step forward and put his flower on Craig's grave, placing a single red rose where he supposed Craig's heart was. He stepped back and turned to Bebe, who opened her arms for him and he buried himself in her embrace, crying softly against her full chest.
"I wish he were here to know that Cartman Corp has been shut down," he said, muffled by her skin. She just shushed him, stroking his hair in a motherly fashion.
"How did that happen, anyway?" Kenny asked, looking up at Stan and Kyle, his gaze briefly settling on their intertwined hands.
"Damien spoke to me," Wendy answered instead, staying silent for a few moments before continuing. "The King ended the ban on violence, and he arrested Eric for his illegal actions. Satan had the permission to control the population, but Eric didn't," she concluded, not sure if the potential for more war and unnecessary violent deaths was the best option. But if that was how humanity naturally worked, then that was the way it should be.
"Good," Ike finally piped up from Kyle's left. It still made his blood boil when Kyle thought about what his family had been put through, but it made him immensely proud of his brother when he heard the details of his escape.
Kenny, who had been side stepping towards Wendy during the whole burial ceremony, finally latched on to her hand. Stan watched, tightening his grip on Kyle's hand and looking around at everyone. Clyde was still crying into Bebe's chest, Wendy was resting her head on Kenny's shoulder, and Token was consoling a sobbing Ruby. Butters was nowhere to be seen, Kenny didn't want to see him again. It was a big mess, but despite his previous tears, Stan couldn't help but smile. It was over.
"I admire Kenny's bravery." Kyle said as he walked with Stan around the edge of the Karney Woods, trying not to think about what happened the last time they were there.
"Yeah, leaving the security of Butter's apartment and quitting his job. He's just lucky he found a job and a place in Shayia with Clyde. I heard Wendy's gone with him." Stan said, feeling a little jealous. Kyle just hummed and they continued in silence, enjoying the peace. "So, what happens next for me and you?" Stan eventually asked.
"I don't know."
"I was thinking of moving to Conry."
"I'm coming with you," Kyle said.
"Good, because I was about to ask you." Stan smiled, and then stopped walking to awkwardly lean up and nervously plant a kiss on Kyle's lips. His smile widened when he felt the gentle pressure of Kyle returning the kiss.
"Did you hear about the split in Ebfur?" Kyle asked, changing the subject as he watched Sparky bounding up to them. He smiled as he recalled Stan's face when they returned to Alba, and found that Sparky was alive.
"No," Stan said, sounding surprised.
"It's just a small crack in the Earth, but the scientists are saying that it's almost exactly like the first split that was found in Shayia, before the split got so big that the Queen of that time had to go and split Shayia off from Gornberg. Stan, there are splits appearing everywhere, I think Gornberg is finally breaking up!" Kyle said, his passion for the subject showing through.
"Maybe, is that good?"
"Of course it's good, it's worked really well for Shayia the last two hundred years, they developed their own weather, culture and language, it's pretty exciting."
"Do you think Gornberg will split in our life time?" Stan wasn't sure how he felt about that idea, although he did like the thought of being even further away from his father. With Kyle, being on a separate island would be like their own little paradise.
"Maybe," He grinned, filled with thoughts of new possibilities and changes.
They continued walking, and Stan thought about their near future while Kyle talked endlessly about how he wanted to play a part in the split of Gornberg, dreaming of developing his magic and learning more about their world which, not having advanced in so long, was finally moving forward again.