It Could Be Worse (3rd Season)


By Sulia Serafine

[A Protector of the Small fanfic set in an alternate universe; all credit goes to Tamora Pierce. I'm broke, so you can't sue me. Any other copyrighted things that don't belong to me in here in fact belong to other very businesslike people. Could you believe that? I guess that's why I'm broke.

E-mail me at silverwlng okay? And you know the drill: titles or subjects of emails are , , or icbw.

Note: I'm still accepting people into the mailing list. That means you'll be told when the next episode is posted, as well as other tidbits of information about the series whenever I put them online. ALSO: Every now and then, as a pledge, I'll send everyone bonus material, such as drawings of ICBW characters and little random facts about ICBW.

Rating: kinda PG-13. Mostly weird (and occasionally vulgar) humor.

WATCH OUT! For the first time in ICBW blooper history, we're giving you more bloopers and outtakes for every episode! We're winding down toward the last season of this series, and I'll be darned if we don't go out in style! …Or making idiots of ourselves—we haven't decided. May the Force be with you!

Episode 1: With This Ring

[Scene: Bridal shop]

The first class DJPF officer rolled her eyes as she got up and went to where Lalasa was standing with the seamstress. They were at a desk, drawing up designs and looking at fabrics. The Carthaki woman laid her head on Keladry's shoulder since the officer was taller. She made puppy dog eyes and pointed at the drawing on the paper. "What do you think? Isn't it cute?"

Keladry made a face. "Um, sure… but do you think I can actually be out in public like that without embarrassing myself? I do have a reputation for being a, um, tomboy."

"Oh, pshaw! It's gorgeous. You'll look wonderful! And besides, I'll draw all the attention away from you. No one will remember you were even wearing a dress," she drawled. "Your reputation will remain intact, okay?"

"You're the one with the remarkable fashion sense. I leave it all in your hands," Keladry sighed. She muttered a prayer to the Goddess and hoped that Lalasa wouldn't take that freedom to mean something that Keladry would regret.

"Oh! Okay, I think we should do this with the sash," Lalasa murmured. She sketched on the drawing pad. The seamstress nodded agreeably.

Keladry caught a glimpse of the notepad. She blanched. "Um… 'Lasa?"

"Yes? What, you don't like the sash?"

"It's not the sash. It's the fact that the maid of honor is only wearing a sash."

The Carthaki woman snorted and rolled her eyes. "So touchy. You were lucky I didn't listen to Neal's advice and dress up all the bridesmaids in shiny wet leather cat-suits."

All around the set, the nefarious Neal being an exception, the male members of the cast and crew began forcing themselves to imagine taking very frigid cold showers.

[Scene: Joren's apartment]

Keladry shifted the sole bag in her arms to rest on her left hip as she entered the code into the keypad. It had taken her two whole weeks to persuade the combination from him, but it paid off. She entered the apartment and went straight to the kitchenette. She set the grocery bag on the blank counter and started putting various food items into the small refrigerator and cabinets.

"Hey! You awake? Oh, come on. I know you're awake," she called.

"Of course I am. I heard you open the door."

She tucked a lock of light brown hair behind her ear. Keladry entered the bedroom and sat down on the edge of the bed. Joren laid with his eyes closed. His hands were folded behind his head and the bed sheets covered him from the waist down. She could tell he was still only wearing a white ribbed tank top and black sweatpants.

"Have you budged at all this m—" Keladry stopped. She shifted around. Then she gasped and bolted up from the bed. "The bed is wet!"

Joren's eyes opened instantly. He made a face. "What? Yuck!"

They both leapt away from the bed a few feet. From behind the third camera, Cleon and Neal slapped high fives while snickering quietly to themselves. The director only groaned and shook his head.

"Somebody hose those two down. I mean it."

[Scene: Directly after the wedding]

The mere thought of Joren and a pet was too hilarious for words. Keladry laughed and shook her head, though he didn't find it too funny. She cast her gaze around her. "Umm… I'm going to say hello to a few people. You go ahead without me. I'll get a ride."

"You can say hello to them when we get there. Like you said, 'no one will be ditching'," he replied and grabbed her arm. He tugged her in the direction of his motorcycle. It would be nearly impossible to ride without her skirt billowing in the wind. Keladry was truly hoping to ride in a car on the way to the reception.

"I'll get a ride with Neal. I can't sit on the back of your bike all sidesaddle-like. That would be sheer hell." When she noted his grumpy expression, she smirked. "Don't be so greedy. You'll have me to yourself later."

"Later, I'll be at the pet store, looking for your replacement."

"Meow," Keladry blushed.

The director slapped his forehead. "CUT!"

"What the hell was that?" the blond demanded.

"I couldn't remember the line," she confessed shyly. She cleared her throat and flung her arms seductively over Joren's shoulders. "Besides. Miss Kitty is getting awfully hungry for her Meow Mix."

Joren's eye twitched. He took a deep slow breath. "That has so many implications, I'm just going to pretend I never heard it."

The director glared at the whole cast. "What is wrong with you people? This is only the first episode!"

Episode 2: Family

[Scene: Keladry's apartment, post answering machine message]

"I don't know Inness well," she confessed. The corners of her mouth lifted into a small smile. "He was an ambitious student to my parents—we were all home schooled. When he got into the local university, he made it his career. A researcher for the archaeologists living there. A teacher's aide a couple years short from earning his degree. Ambitious…" Her gaze flickered over to him. "My sister Adie said that I remind her of him. Except, I turned my ambition in a different direction that alienated me from everyone. At least Inness came home often."

"Doesn't seem so bad," Joren replied. Compared to me, anyway. "What about your other brother?"

"Conal?" She chuckled briefly. "There's a lot to sort through with him. He's what you might call the black sheep of the family. Doesn't go to college. Actually, he… gosh, I don't know."

Joren rolled his eyes. "Really? I mean, he doesn't…go to night school perhaps?"

Keladry blinked. "Night school? No, I don't think so. Um, maybe he… oh, darn. I think he was a…"

"Aspiring mechanical engineer!" the director whispered fiercely.

"Shoe salesman?" she said aloud.

"Black sheep!" corrected the director a little more loudly.

She shrugged. "Trapeze artist?"

"Fiercely stubborn!" the director screamed at the top of his lungs.

Keladry snapped her fingers. "I remember now! Prosthetic toe designer! You know, for when you need to have a fake toe to the one you lost in a freak accident."

Joren squinted at her. "The grief must be driving you insane."

The director slumped in his chair. "As it is doing to us all."

[Scene: calling Keladry's mother]

"Hi, Mom," Keladry squeaked. Now her voice diminished so as to reaffirm the parent-child relationship. It wasn't intentional. Whenever one of her parents was around, she felt like she didn't have to do anything. They would always take care of her.

Ilane nodded. "I take it you got your sister's message."

Her face was tight with restrained emotions. She had been Keladry's private model for self-control and enduring strength. The woman had reared six children already with three more to go. She couldn't be anything else in that situation, or else she would have fallen apart.

"What's going on? Has anyone…"

"We're hiring private DJPF agents to investigate, through the University's authority. They're having problems finding officers willing to go, however. Seems all your adventurous colleagues are at the Roof of the World."

"Mom, I'll go! I'll tell them—"

"You're not going, Sweetie," her mother announced firmly. "You're staying put. I couldn't stand it if another one of my babies…" Here, Ilane Mindelan fanned her face in response to the tears welling up in her eyes. "I can just remember it like yesterday! You were in the toddler playpen and I was still trying to stop your brother from wetting the bed. Which one of them was that? I think it was Inness…"

Keladry's eye twitched.

"And… oh, goodness! You were having the most difficult time being potty-trained!"

"Mother!" she cried.

"CUT" the director yelled. He threw down his megaphone and jumped up from his chair. "What the heck was that?"

Ilane walked out from behind the set, where she had been posing for a camera for the COMscreen transmission. "I thought it would be good improvisation. You know, to add to the whole family atmosphere."

"We're going for grief stricken, not Everybody Loves Raymond's Annoying Mother," he said through clenched teeth. He glared at everyone around him. "No improvisation! I mean it! The next person who wants to be creative can creatively run to the donut shop to buy me chocolate éclairs!"

"Grumpy puss," Ilane muttered. Keladry shook her head, absolutely mortified.

Episode 3: Expedition

[Scene: plane headed toward the Yamanis]

"So what's our plan?" Neal asked. He sat opposite from Joren across the narrow isle. The plane itself was tiny and its crew, very few. The taller officer had to slump down in his seat to avoid striking the top of the cabin with his head.

Joren lowered his hand from the window. He busied himself by putting on gloves, not meeting his new partner's eyes as he replied, "We've already been over the plan."

Neal frowned. "I know, but there's nothing to do. The crew isn't at all talkative."

"And you think I am?"

"Oh, I know you're not. But you're familiar, at least." He paused. "So let's go over it again. We're landing at the base of the westernmost mountain to refuel and supply. Then we'll employ a guide and fly to the area in which the International Airspace Authority last received a signal from the University's plane. That's when we begin the real search and rescue part."

"Recover. Search and recover," Joren corrected.

"I thought we were going to…" Neal's voice faltered.

At that particular moment, the door to the pilot's cabin opened. The two designated pilots walked out, each holding coffee and jelly donuts. They whistled as they walked down the aisle toward the back.

Joren cleared his throat. "Um… Who's flying the plane?"

The second pilot turned around. "Haven't you ever heard of autopilot?"

"Uh, this plane doesn't have autopilot."

The first pilot also turned around. "Are you sure?"

"Yes… I'm pretty sure."

The two pilots turned to exchange looks with each other. Then they shrugged and started marching back to the pilots' cabin. Neal and Joren both stayed silent for a moment. Then Neal got up from his seat, pushed past the cameraman, and leapt out of the rear door. He landed on the padding beneath the fake plane and stomped over to the director.

"Now we're really trying this time! We swear! Can't we get those guys fired and replaced with some serious extras—" he stopped short when a jelly donut landed on his head.

[Scene: cafeteria in Faleron's building of occupation]

"What's so wrong, Kennan? You have a somewhat murderous twinkle in your eye."

"Oh, it's more than just a twinkle, Ice Cream Pants."

Kalasin cast a wary eye on both men. "Ice Cream Pants?"

"Don't ask," Faleron advised.

"Well, let's go. Nice seeing you, Faleron," she said, tight lipped.

He shrugged and waved them off with his hands. "I know you don't mean it, but thanks all the same."

As the couple left, Kalasin glanced over her shoulder at the curiously smiling man. She turned to Cleon, who was still holding her at the elbow. He also looked half bothered, half amused. She looked back again at Faleron and then to Cleon. "Well, he's an insightful little bastard if I ever saw one."

"Please, stop!" Faleron yelled cheerfully from behind them. "You're flattering me, really! I'm blushing like a tomato!"

Cleon grabbed Kalasin's hand, as it was straying toward her holster.

[Scene: Joren paging Keladry]

He paged a short message to her, brief as he could make it without seeming uncaring. She was probably not thinking of him. He'd rather that she didn't. Joren knew that her thoughts about him were still troubling, just not in as great abundance as before. There were so many more important, significant things to worry about. He knew it was true. Why… why let this one thing…

Later, when she checked her email, the single message would read:

"WAZZUP! DiS B YoUr bOi, HuNnY! MiSSiN U LoTs... MuAh! :) ~^~ "

Keladry blinked.

Episode 4: Where the Heart Is

[Scene: Bus station, Irontown]

When they had been an hour away, Keladry had called in advance to let her family know how close she was. Wouldn't they have gotten the message and arrived at the station to greet her? Keladry masked her disappointment as she stepped off the now grounded bus and approached the back to gather her baggage.

The crunching of snow behind her caused Keladry to turn around. Her hand stopped short of reaching for her bags' straps when she saw who it was.

"Tavin! Oh, it's nice to see you," she managed to say, a bit more tightly than she meant to. Amending to it, she managed a smile.

The boy before her stood silently, a symbol of apathy. He shrugged, also forced an expression that was meant to be a smile, and moved past her to pick up her bags. Hoisting two over his slight shoulders, he pointed past the bus station with a gloved hand. "Anders is waiting for us. Are these all the bags you have?"

"Yes, that's all. Here, let me carry the others." She picked up another one he had neglected and began to follow her younger brother out of the station. Unbeknownst to her, her bag started to open in the back and out slipped all her clothing, including her underwear.

"Sir?" one of the crewmen said to the director. "Are you getting a nosebleed?"

"Of course not!" he shouted, trying to scramble for tissues to cover his face. Images of lacy lingerie raced around his head, only worsening the situation.

[Scene: Keladry's old room]

When they got upstairs to her room, Keladry extracted the wedding pictures from her bags and flipped through them for the photo. She vaguely acknowledged that she was in her old room. Not one item in the whole place had been moved. There was no dust, either. Perhaps they still cleaned it. She ought to thank them later.

Finally, she found the picture. Keladry held it up for them to see. Both women gaped at the photograph. They turned to each other and simultaneously squealed:

"What a babe!"

Keladry blinked. "Uh…"

"Oh, Kel! It's not fair!" her sisters whined.

"Look at that butt!"

Keladry's eyes widened. "What?"

"And that hair…"

"Those eyes!"

"What lips!"

"Does he have a brother?"

"I get first dibs, then!"

"Yeah right!"

Keladry sighed and decided she had better remain silent.

Both older sisters started to giggle uncontrollably. They whispered to each other. "Isn't it obvious to see how big he is?"

Keladry eyes widened right before she fell off the bed.

[Scene: outside in Keladry's old neighborhood]

"I was making a fool of myself and I didn't even know it," Keladry murmured aloud. She stopped and looked at Bud, whose nose was currently pressed against the damp, cold ground. "What do you think?"

The dog snorted and continued leading her forward on the sidewalk. They had been circling the neighborhood for a few minutes. The sun was still high, letting its warmth to deflect some of the cold just enough for them to remain outside a little longer than normal.

She halted when she suddenly felt that she was stepping into something soft and mushy. Her nose twitched. Keladry almost didn't look down, but she did.

"Ew! Dog crap! Ew, get it off!" she screamed, lifting one foot in the air and hopping around on her other foot. Bud merely yawned and settled onto the sidewalk for what was sure to be an intense scolding from his trainers.

Episode 5: Royalty

[Scene: Eastern Yamanis]

A young woman, obviously of Eastern Yamani descent, was crouched on top of a crag, dressed in dried leather skins and furs. Her dark, slanted eyes bore into Neal, driving icicles into him as he continued to gaze on. Long dark hair, some in thin braids, flew about her head, tossed about by the wind.

"Um, hello!" Neal called out nervously. If it had been any other person, an idea would have formed to find out the stranger's name and quite possibly the reason for her eerie sentinel.

Neal, being simply…Neal, took one look at her full lips and blurted out, "You're gorgeous. Want to get a bite to eat?"

"Eat?" she mimicked. The woman cocked her head sideways at his words.

He nodded. "Yeah. You know, to partake of a morsel of food and consume it, preferably with another person with you. Getting a bite to eat." Out of instinct, he offered her his most charming and non-threatening face. "So?"

Her beauty astounded him. No, it was more than that. The way she simply remained there, tense like a cat about to pounce. The coal colored eyes shone with black fire. She was as wild and free as the eagle that flew ahead. Her aura radiated of something fierce, but there was a hint of benevolence in the way she poised her knuckles on the rock.

"You are strange," she said in a resonating, clear voice. It was both demure and forceful. He had no doubt in his mind that she could elevate her whisper to a war cry. And as confused as she was, the feeling did not reach her eyes. It was as if she were jotting down an observation for a scientific study on a breed of man. Not that he minded being studied.

It finally occurred to him what he ought to ask. "Um, I'm Neal. What's your name?"

She narrowed her eyes at him before jumping backwards from her crag and disappearing down the side of the mountain. Neal put down his pack. He ran awkwardly through the thick snow and clambered onto the crag (with a great deal of heaves, grunts, and 'oofs'). Then the officer looked down but found that he could see nothing but mountainside.

Suddenly, the crag on which he was sprawled upon started sliding down the mountain. Neal yelped as he found himself on a rocky sled going headfirst down the snow.

From a few feet away, the director and the rest of the crew watched in morbid fascination as Neal went further and further away down the on-location film site. When the poor actor was almost a black speck to the human eye, he turned to his assistant.

"Next time, tell them to anchor the rock down." He paused and slapped his forehead. "Oh, and uh, I guess someone should go help him." He dismissed the assistant with a bored wave of his hand and proceeded to drink his coffee.

From below, Neal screamed. "Can't we use the bunny slopes?!"

[Scene: Joren and Neal's camp on the mountain]

"Is something troubling you, Sir? You seem distracted."

"Oh it's nothing. Just this… girl, I guess you could say."

The porter's eyebrows rose. "Oh. One of those things." He paused and bowed slightly. "I'm sure you'll find a beautiful woman with wonderful assets, worthy of marrying you and bearing you many strong children. Goddess, bless the thought."

Neal became flustered. He was still trying to get past the word assets. "Me? Marry? Oh, no, I'm a committed bachelor. I'm fine as is."

"So you DJPF men just like getting your kicks and leaving, yes?" the porter slyly asked.

"You're damn right we do!" Joren barked from several feet away. He glared daggers at Neal before ducking into his tent. The light inside it blinked off a few seconds later.

Neal turned toward the porter and blinked. "Well, you heard the man."

"CUT!" the director yelled, flinging his coffee to the ground in a temper tantrum.

[Scene: the camp after the wolf attack and Joren's dream sequence]

Joren sat up in cold sweat, a tortured cry pouring out from his hoarse throat. He reached for the bloody bandage wound around his head and tore it off. Almost like a feral animal, he threw the blankets off of him and stumbled to his feet. His breathing was harsh and labored. There wasn't enough air to take in. Joren was dimly aware of the biting cold. The clothing that he wore wasn't thick enough to protect against it. Instead of reaching for the blankets again, he boldly went forward.

He managed to reach the edge of the tent. There, he collapsed to his knees and looked out on the wilderness around him. There was no color, no sunshine. No grass, no life. It was still. So still, like death.

It was too much for his fevered mind. He gripped fistfuls of hair and screamed.


Neal nodded knowingly to the closest person. "I knew he was going to do that. It's just too tempting. The script was just begging for it."


Episode 6: Follow You Down

[Scene: Dom's apartment]

The silence became unbearably oppressive. Dom picked up a covered plate and walked toward Cleon. He handed him the plate. "Here's dinner. You might have to reheat it again. We didn't know if you were going to be eating with us or not, so we put out a plate for you anyway."

The other man instantly brightened. He grinned widely and accepted the plate. "Free food? No complaints here." He took a peek under the wrap. "Ew… what is that? Fungus?!"

"Those mushrooms were specifically grown for eating, Cleon."

"Oh. D'uh, I knew that. I was just testing you."

"Whatever you say."

Keladry interrupted their casual exchange. "Anyway, thanks for dinner, Dom. You need to write down the recipe for me sometime so I can learn how to cook."

Dom followed her to the door, laughing. "Why bother? Joren can teach you how to cook. His Chicken Marsala is better than mine."

Keladry and Cleon froze in their tracks. They turned to the Rider, mouths gaping and quite flabbergasted. Keladry finally found the voice to speak. "Seriously?"

"Oh, yeah," he assured. "It's like… Bam! Emeril, or something, you know? You should see all of us bachelors from the Rider's Own battle it out for the title of Iron Chef."

"…Iron… Chef," Keladry frowned.

Cleon held up his hands. "Okay, okay, stop it. I'm getting hungry." He walked off the set and picked up his jacket and car keys. "Does anyone want anything? I'm going for takeout!"

A hundred people began yelling out random orders for Peking duck and Wonton soup.

[Scene: Keladry's apartment]

Keladry prepared for bed. Cleon must have felt incredibly guilty after leaving her with Dom. He had already taken most of her belongings from her bags and placed them in neat stacks on her dresser. The exception was her undergarments, knowing that just touching them warranted death.

Yawning, the pajama-clad young woman sat down in front of her computer terminal and checked for any messages. She wished desperately to simply hear from Joren. Even if it meant getting an earful of curses and swears, she wouldn't mind. At least she would know that he was still living and breathing.

"Does he think about me?" she wondered out loud. A blush rose to her cheeks. She scolded herself for being so mushy and got up from her chair.

After three steps, she turned around and sat back down again. Her fingers deftly typed out a word into the search engine of her Internet service provider. She waited impatiently for the list of results to appear.

Keladry stared.

"So that's what he meant by meatloaf…"

She turned a bright shade of red and stifled a nosebleed.

Episode 7: Vows

[Scene: Roald and Lalasa's apartment]

Roald walked out of the master bedroom, fixing a deep red tie around his neck. His blue trousers were freshly ironed and his pinstriped shirt was buttoned up, the cufflinks even in place. Lalasa cast a speculative eye on her husband. "And where are you going? I thought we still had the day off."

He approached her, flashing a charming smile, and planted a kiss on her forehead. "A councilman from Tortall is going to arrive before lunch. I'm his guide for the duration of his stay."

"Oh? Promoted from chauffeur, then?"

He shrugged. "Apparently." He noted her frown. "Why are you complaining? I'm going to get a raise and you will get your shopping spree."

Was she that predictable? Lalasa stood up and began adjusting his necktie for him. She scattered small butterfly kisses on his face and neck as she did so. The sound of his chuckles in her ear tempted her to nip at his own ear.

"Hey! Hey, don't start that now, or I might have to call in sick." He scolded her, winking in a most promising way.

She blinked, frowning naively. "Oh? Are you feeling feverish?"

"Feverish for you," he replied, thinking perhaps she was improvising lines to add flavor.

Lalasa pulled back and admonished him. "Well then! I'd better make you some tea. Better yet, some chicken soup!"

He tried pulling her toward him, but she batted his hands away. "Stay your distance, oh dear husband!" She struck a valiant pose. "We can't both get sick! Maybe you should get a flu shot, yes? Lie on the couch, this instant!"

Roald stared at her, wide-eyed. "You've got to be kidding me."

In the background, one lighting technician said to another, "Looks like his nookie went out the window."

"Yeah. I heard she's been doing this since season 1, trying to avoid touching him. Something about liking another actor that got killed off. To top that off, I heard the R-man kisses like a fish."

"Hey!" Roald yelled. "I heard that!"

[Scene: Roald and Lalasa's housewarming party]

As Kalasin spoke, Dom attempted to recall himself feeling that optimistic. To his dismay, he did not find a single time in his life when he had been. There had always been the nagging doubt that the work he did, his civilian services to the country, would not amount to anything at all. The law was broken every day. Evildoers escaped justice every single day. The Riders' Own couldn't stop them all.

Cleon did live like there was always hope. He was the embodiment of all those wishful things. Dom was actually quite jealous. The only way he could ever be as happy was if he took medical supplements meant for depression patients.

"So. That's why you like him," he murmured, taking a long sip of his drink.

"Yes. That… and he does wonders for the twins." With that, she cupped her breasts.

Everyone on the set turned to see Neal jumping from his seat, pounding his hand on his chest. He was choking, because he'd expected one line from another and had accidentally swallowed his drink rather than spitting it out. The director cradled his head in his hands and cried. It took several moments before Kalasin decided to karate chop him on the back, causing him to spit out his beverage.

"Read my lips!" the director yelled. "No more improvising!"

[Scene: Trading post in the Eastern Yamanis]

"Just tell me who paged you," Keladry urged. She could tell he was nervous by the way he shifted from foot to foot.

He rubbed the back of his neck. His green eyes darted around the dimly lit room. Cleon walked over to her nightstand and lit a small stubby white candle. He cupped his hands gently around the flame for warmth. "Um, I got a page from Neal."

Her heart skipped a beat. She put a hand on his trembling shoulder. Excitement took over her. She couldn't even see through the smoky haze it created and grinned from ear to ear. Cleon remained reserved in expression.

"Really? Cleon, do you know what that means?"

"I know what it would first imply."

She shook her head. "What are you talking about? Come on, tell me what Neal and Joren said."

Cleon cleared his throat and read the pager. "Want a good time? Phone sex live, $5.95 for the first minute and $.99 for each additional minute. 1-800-555-9999."

Keladry cringed. "Cleon, are you sure that's the right pager?"

"Of course it—" he stopped when he felt another pager in his pocket. "Oops." He smiled apologetically toward the camera. "Wrong prop."

Episode 8: Pure

[Scene: Neal and Joren's camp in the Eastern Yamanis]

He assured the crew and the guide, Imrah, that there was no need to turn back. They restlessly waited for Joren to awake. And luckily, that morning, as Neal was keeping watch over his partner, Joren opened his eyes.

The pupils surrounded by pale blue shrank in response to the light filtering through the tent material. He screwed his eyes shut and turned his head away. One hand stiffly pressed itself against the sleeping bag, pushing Joren up into a sitting position. The other hand swiftly flew to his head, touching the new white bandage wound around his "bump".

Despite having gained full consciousness in a matter of seconds, he looked down at his body straight away as if he couldn't differentiate the blur of colors in his vision. He kicked furiously at the sleeping bag, trying to free his legs. His face lifted again so that he faced Neal with a menacing expression. "Why are my feet and knees wet?"

Neal lifted his head warily and yawned. The early morning sun was also too bright for his eyes. He rubbed his eyelids and pointed to the tent opening. "You…" His mind searched for the right line. "Uh, wet yourself?"

Joren brandished a fist. "Come over here and let's see if you don't wet yourself!"

[Scene: Neal and Joren's camp in the Eastern Yamanis]

And to think, I thought he would be mad for tackling him and nearly killing him…

"What about your face? Does that hurt?" Joren asked.

Neal frowned slightly. "Um, no. Perfectly fine."


And with that, Joren drew back his arm and exploded forward, punching Neal soundly across the cheekbone so much that the struck man was propelled backwards. He landed on his butt in the snow. He groaned in obvious pain.

"Cut!" the director yelled. "That wasn't right. Let's do it again!"

Take 2: Neal and Joren's camp in the Eastern Yamanis

And to think, I thought he would be mad for tackling him and nearly killing him…

"What about your face? Does that hurt?" Joren asked.

Neal frowned slightly. "Um, no. Perfectly fine."


And with that, Joren drew back his arm and exploded forward, punching Neal soundly across the cheekbone so much that the struck man was propelled backwards. He spun around midair and landed on facedown, moaning into the snowdrift.

"CUT!" the director shouted. He snapped his fingers. "Still not right. Let's do this right people!"

Take 24: Neal and Joren's camp in the Eastern Yamanis

And to think, I thought he would be mad for tackling him and nearly killing him…

"What about your face? Does that hurt?" Joren asked.

Neal frowned slightly. "Um, no. Perfectly fine."


And with that, Joren drew back his arm and exploded forward, punching Neal soundly across the cheekbone so much that the struck man was propelled backwards. He landed on his butt in the snow, head reeling. He pressed a gloved hand to his cheek and winced in obvious pain.


Joren rolled his eyes. "What now?"

"Oh, nothing," the director said. "I just wanted the camera to cut away. That was fine. Moving on to the next part of the scene! Neal, I want you to turn slightly so the camera will get a better profile of you."

There was no response. Neal was lying on the ground, eyes closed. Joren nudged him with his foot. The towheaded man shrugged. "I think we overdid it."

The director sighed. "Hmm. Okay. Get the stunt double!"

[Scene: Eastern Yamani Mountains]

"Just listen," the guide hushed. He began swirling one hand in the air again, beckoning the words to rise up out of his chest. "The Yamani people are an older people than many think. Their ancestors were willful. They climbed every mountain they saw as if it were merely a mound one would step over. They did not like the idea of obstacles that they could not pass.

"Once, long ago, a brave man climbed many mountains and crossed this wilderness, until he reached the largest of them all, Enishijirou." Here Imrah paused, as if to give silent reverence to the name. Joren chose to mask his contempt for the name. It was not something he wanted to be reminded of. The guide continued. "The brave man climbed this great mountain. Surely he would have died if the Goddess had not taken pity on him. She had scattered grass sanctuaries across the mountains, where the goats and the rams and the sheep would graze. He would live off these places as She wished.

"And so She favored him that he might see what no outsider had seen in hundreds of years."

Imrah turned to face his audience. To his dismay, Joren's eyes were closed and his head was tilted toward his chest.


Joren snapped to attention, discreetly wiping the drool at the corner of his mouth.


"Hey," the blond protested. "It's not my fault this guy is so boring!"

[Scene: Eastern Yamani Mountains]

Joren did as he was ordered and gasped. Forgetting that he was still angry with Neal—as people are apt to be when nearly falling to their deaths—he shouted down to his partner. The older officer groaned, not understanding a thing the blonde was saying.

"Quiet, Stone!" he hissed loudly, obviously having not forgotten his annoyance. "Do you want to cause an avalanche?"

A raised middle finger was his immediate answer.

"Just get your pansy ass up here, NEALAN!" Joren ground out the last word mockingly. He impatiently beckoned for him to pass the others. Neal muttered a curse to himself. He blurted out pardons as he made his way up to the spot. The other men and women gave him a helping hand on his way up.

When he was finally pushed forward to the top, he took a deep breath and held his arms out in a show of bravado. "Okay, okay. Pansy ass is here! Now what's so impor—" His mouth dropped open. He whistled. "Well… fuck me…"


Neal turned and glared at him. "You're not funny."

"Who said I was trying to be funny?" Joren replied with an innocent look.

The blond was rewarded when Neal let out a girlish shriek and leapt back several feet. Having done this, he lost his footing and began tumbling down the slope again, knocking down other cast members in the process. The director glared at Joren furiously.

"This is coming out of your paycheck, Stone. As… funny as that was…"

Joren smirked. "Ah. So it was good for you, too?"

From somewhere down below, Neal screamed bloody murder.

[Scene: new camp outside the plane]

"What is it?" Joren asked impassively, staring at a point above the flames.

Neal shrugged. "I thought it might be a good idea to contact the others and tell them how our search is going. We haven't communicated with them in a while, like we should have."

"Go ahead, then," he replied, barely concerned. If Neal had asked him if it was okay to do a crazy naked dance around the fire, Joren probably wouldn't have noticed and still given his consent. Wondering if this was true, Neal spoke it aloud.

"Whatever. Fine with me." He paused. "I wonder if doing that will cause frostbite on the—"

"Forget I said anything!" Neal shouted, turning beet red.

Episode 9: Misunderstanding

[Scene: Inn at trading post in the Eastern Yamanis]

From out of nowhere, a perpetual cry of panic began. Faleron frowned and turned his head—

—just as Cleon leapt from out of nowhere and slid to a stop at Faleron's side. He hugged his friend's knees, reduced to rambling frantically about a large scary man wanting him to marry his daughter.

"You've got to help me! I don't know what to do!"

"What in blazes are you talking about?" Faleron complained. He could feel the glares of his fellow poker players burn into him. He tried to pry the redhead's hold from his legs as it was starting to conflict with circulation.

A few moments later, the large lumberjack of a man and his daughter were standing in front of the two hapless Mithrans. Cleon whimpered and clung even tighter to his lifeline.

"Where this wife you speak of?"

"Wife? Cleon, you're not—" Faleron began.

"Shh!" Cleon hissed. "Don't!"

The daughter, a little slow on the uptake and not too familiar with the language, pouted and poked Faleron in the shoulder. "You wife?"

"Yes! Genius idea!" the sharpshooter exclaimed and immediately climbed into Faleron's lap, much to the former thief's disgust. The other poker players made sounds of disapproval and spat on the floor, picking up whatever money they had left and leaving the table. Cleon grinned. "Hey! Is that a banana in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?"

Faleron burst out laughing immediately and dropped Cleon on the floor.

[Scene: Inn at trading post in Eastern Yamanis]

"Of course I wouldn't, stupid. Now, let's talk to this fatherly chap and see if we can reach an understanding." He addressed the man again. "Sir, you can't just go around selling your daughter to an absolute stranger—whoa. That's a lot of money."

When the man had finished digging through his pockets, he opened his hands to reveal sparkling nuggets of gold. Faleron stood up, promptly dropping his friend to the floor with a painful thud. He leaned forward, his dexterous fingers itching to touch the little miracles in the man's cupped hands.


"Changed my mind. Sorry, my good man. I'm selling you," Faleron murmured, staring at the gold.

The father appeared triumphant. "Migration Department not let family move on our own, so we marry oldest daughter off to foreigner! You take money for this man?"

The former thief grinned, the widest grin that Cleon had ever seen on his face. "You got it! Cleon's all yours. I'll go get you his passports and his travel visas right now, sir!" He paused. "Bonus offer! For another nugget of gold, I'll give you handcuffs, a leopard print gag and blindfold, and a leather whip." He smacked Cleon rudely on the behind. "Need to keep the chap in line, don't we?"

"I hate you," Cleon ground out through clenched teeth as everyone else on the set began snickering.

[Scene: Inn at trading post in Eastern Yamanis]

Keladry rolled up the map that Higgins had given to her, after having to listen to a few of his army anecdotes and having to sip from a glass of wine for a near half hour. She placed the map on the inside of her jacket for safekeeping. Hopefully, Imrah had stuck to his plans. She would be able to find Joren and Neal now. Hopefully.

She glanced over her shoulder at the guard that offered to escort her to the inn. She couldn't make sense of a Bazhir being so far from home, but she didn't want to seem nosy. The guard had turned out to be even more useful than the absentminded trade master. She was very grateful to him, although she couldn't express it.

As they entered the inn, Keladry became astonished at the number of people crowded around the center, hooting and hollering as if they were watching a cockfight. The thought of roosters being illegally bred and forced to fight each other seemed somewhat ridiculous to Keladry, as did the idea of two Pit bulls fighting it out in some inn in the mountains. She shouted to the bartender.

"What's going on?"

Waiting a few moments, she figured that she would have to go to them instead of them going to her. Wondering why they'd missed their cue, she shoved past the hooting spectators and peered into the cleared space they surrounded. She glared at the two men still wrestling and cleared her throat.

Cleon and Faleron looked up. They both winced when they saw her. Faleron immediately stood up and held out a hand to help Cleon up. Then the redhead took three steps before leaping into Keladry's arms. Just as he was about to start his panicked monologue, Keladry teetered backward. The two fell back onto the floor.

"Ouch! Get off, you weigh a ton!" she cried.

"You're calling me fat?" he yelled indignantly.

The director's left eye began to twitch. "Someone, get me a strong cup of coffee! I see we'll have to redo this scene a few dozen times before we get it right…"

[Scene: same… yadda yadda…]

The Bazhir guard, although not fluent in the Common language, happened to be very adept at the Eastern Yamani dialect. He took the father aside and began conversing with him quietly. When he had just about received a full summary of the day's events, he turned to Keladry with a polite bow and explained.

She grasped the situation, trying to remain as calm as possible. I'm gone for less than an hour and look what happens! Keladry instantly turned her head to glare at Faleron, who only shrugged and began to inspect his hands to see if they had obtained any damage from the small fistfight from a few minutes ago. She kicked at Cleon to cause the former shell of a man to let go and huddle behind the Bazhir.

"I tell him that Shizuru have better luck finding husband elsewhere," the guard told Keladry. He pointed at Cleon. "I tell him that this fire-headed one is impotent."

There was only a second of silence before she doubled over, her mouth wide open in laughter and tears springing from her eyes.

Episode 10: Enter the Mist…

[Scene: The mountains…]

Joren and Imrah eyed the spectacle above with mistrust. The officer growled and reached for his weapon. "Nealan," he ground out through clenched teeth, savoring the effect that the disliked name had on his partner. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"

Neal was indignant that such a bad reaction would come from his success and glared at Joren. "I happen to be getting help! Face it, Stone! We don't know where our missing people could be and she—"

His reply was cut off prematurely when his foot missed a step. As he tottered on the steep face of the mountain, he waved his arms frantically and muttered, "Oh shit."

Below, Joren looked up at his flailing partner and sighed with a weary acceptance. "Oh shit."

…The last words that were heard before Neal tripped and began tumbling down. Joren and Imrah, too weighed down by their packs, were unable to move out of their way. The plummeting man struck both of his comrades and soon, all three were sliding down the snow and screaming bloody murder. They desperately tried to stop themselves by reaching out and grasping anything that their hands could reach. Unfortunately, the weight of their packs and the smooth texture of their parkas and jackets made it nearly impossible. Even Joren began to curse the uselessness of the shoes he had bought specially for the purpose of its rough, spiked bottom.

"CUT! Good scene everyone! Let's move on!"

"Sir!" one of the stuntmen interrupted. "We can't seem to stop them. They keep rolling and rolling down the mountain!"

The director turned and looked. Indeed, his three actors were. He turned to the stuntman and shrugged. "Well, who needs them? With technology these days, I'm sure we can come up with some sort of computer graphic stand in. Let's get to it, people! Now!"

"Uh… okay…"

[Scene: Entering the First Gate….]

"Someone cover his eyes," Shinkokami commanded.

Joren backed away from the group. "Wait a second. I'm not going to be blindfolded."

She sneered. "You, foreigner, are not permitted to see how the doors open."

She issued an order to one of Joren's former litter bearers to wrap his scarf around Joren's eyes. The officer hated that he had no choice to submit. Neal and Imrah were still unconscious, so Joren couldn't put them at risk with a clear conscience.

His hand was placed on the back of the man who blindfolded him. He tensely waited, trying to pick up any sound at all. After a few moments, there was a scraping sound. He assumed that it was the bottom of the doors moving against the floor. Then, they began to advance. Joren followed awkwardly. He had the strangest feeling he was going to walk into a wall.


"Sorry. Should have moved you away from wall. Won't happen again," his guide responded.

A few seconds later…

"OW! For crying out loud—"

"Oops. So sorry again. You see, I'm legally blind, too."

Joren rubbed his smarting head and muttered obscenities under his breath.

[Scene: First District of Enishijirou]

Neal was indeed showing more signs of life. He moved his arms about as if trying to ward off invisible tormentors. Joren laid a hand on the taller man's shoulder. Neal woke up with a start, breathing in sharply and opening his eyes wide.

"Oh! I have the biggest headache," he moaned, cradling his head in both hands while sitting up. He screwed his eyes shut again and hissed in pain.

The old woman chuckled and tilted Neal's head back, placing a few red leaves on top of his tongue.

"Wah! Wha iz tha?" he sputtered. The woman held a hand over Neal's mouth, forcing him not to spit it out. "Oh ma Ga! Thith ith duhwugth, ithn ih?!"

"No, Queenscove, they're not drugs," Joren sighed. He looked at the old woman. "Are they?"

She cackled.

[Scene: Second District of Enishijirou]

They stepped down onto the fourth platform. The technician pulled a lever that stuck out from the platform. A single car rolled down the tracks and came to a stop. It resembled Cinderella's carriage rather than any sort of subway or train. It was light blue with tiny silver vines surrounding the entire exterior. Even a driver was included. Behind the pumpkin shaped carriage was a red-cushioned bench that seated a man dressed in the same orange tunic as the technician.

"Good evening, milady. Pleasant wishes for you all," the driver greeted. He was of the same ethnicity of Lady Haname, which only confused the two DJPF officers even more. A city that was supposed to have been isolated from foreigners for centuries, perhaps even millennia, happened to house many who were not of the original culture.

"Have a nice night," the technician said as he opened the small half-door to the carriage.

Lady Haname nodded to him and gracefully entered the carriage. She sat down on a seat of satin pillows and leaned back against the similarly cushioned walls of the carriage. Neal and Joren got in after her and sat on the opposite seat. Though they were loath to sit next to each other, there was a silent agreement between them that there was something about Lady Haname's elegance and, indeed, the whole City's classiness that made them suspicious.

Joren opened his mouth to speak, but the carriage came to a crashing halt. The three occupants were flung from their seats.

"Sorry!" the driver yelled from outside. The carriage started up again.

The blond continued where he left off. "Are there m—whoa!"

The car halted abruptly again. Neal and Joren were sent to the floor of the carriage once more.

"Whoopsies!" the driver shouted.

Joren growled while drumming his fingers on the floor.

[Scene: Lady Haname's house]

Joren walked around the beds to the bathroom and touched the door. It opened automatically, with a tiny burst of blue light. The light inside the bathroom automatically illuminated, via glowing crystals in the ceiling. The sink, bathtub, and indeed, the toilet were all made of same green marble that made up the dresser.

"Not all that practical. If this stuff chips, its hard to replace." He paused. "Then again, they have millions of things here that aren't practical and seemingly impossible. Why not a marble toilet?"

Neal laughed. "Is it sensor-automatic? Or crystal activated?"

Joren moved in front of the toilet and moved away again. The water inside began to swirl around. "Does that answer your question?" He exited the bathroom. The lights turned off and the door closed by itself behind him. "Let's just change and go to bed. I have to figure out a few things."

The toilet flushed again in the background.

"What's there to figure out? We don't know enough and it's not like it'll help us. These people don't want to hurt us. It's like Shinko said. They'll help us, then throw us out."

Another flush.

"Not before they either brainwash us or wipe our memories clean. Don't you see? All the people in this City are annoyingly perfect. They're all happy with whatever job they have—"


"Okay! Will someone just turn that thing off?!" Neal yelled.

Episode 11: Hotshot

[Scene: the Palace]

Enishi sipped strained orange juice from a crystal champagne glass. He gestured toward Neal. "Is he always like this?"

"I think in the absence of Kennan, he feels obligated to fill the role," Joren said disdainfully. He began eating as well, although he took his time and decided to talk frequently between bites. "So. The white hair runs in the family I suppose?"

"He's my nephew. You have nothing to envy. Yahiko will inherit my throne since his parents are dead, but until then, he will be rebellious and ill tempered." He chuckled. "Actually, the boy reminds me of you."

"Yes," Joren agreed sarcastically. "Because I have tantrums and love bleaching my hair white." He chewed and swallowed a piece of fluffy scrambled eggs. "Seriously. What the hell are you doing here? And what's with that Shinkokami girl and the existence of the City? Because if you tell me it's all magic, I'm going to hurt you."

The white-haired man shrugged. "You have no sense of fantasy and enchantment."

"I hate fairy tales."

"Such a shame, then. You're in one." Enishi put down his glass.

There was a long silence after this. Joren kicked Neal under the table.

"Wha?" Neal said, his mouth full of food.

"Your line," Joren prompted.

"Gimme a sec," Neal said, continuing to shovel his face full of the heaven-sent breakfast.

"CUT!" the director yelled. "Someone replace that plate with the plastic food!"

"Hey!" the actor protested.

[Scene: The Palace]

Joren balled his hands into fists. "You still have a lot to answer for."

Enishi smiled. "I'm sure I do. But not today."

He nodded his head toward them and descended down the staircase. The two officers watched him until he had walked the length of the entire ballroom and exited out the front doors. Neal sighed and dug around his pocket. He held out his hand to his partner, shrugging.

"Want a mint?" He paused. "Because honestly, your breath stinks—OUCH! Okay, okay, mouth shutting now…"

[Scene: The mountains]

And so, they bid goodbye to the returning search party and continued on their own. Faleron had voiced his complaints quite freely in the beginning before he noticed what sort of effect they had on Keladry. She was growing more despondent with each day. Even Cleon was having a difficult time keeping all their spirits up.

After a few days, Keladry called for a rest. The three friends sat down on a part of the slope that leveled out due to some rocks. Faleron handed out bits of food and thermoses of heated water. They ate their lunch quietly, not really having anything in mind to talk about.

"Tofu," Cleon said suddenly, breaking the silence.

Faleron creased his brow with a look of bewilderment. "What?"

"I was thinking. I'd really like some tofu just now," the redhead spoke.

"Don't you want a cheeseburger?" his friend hinted, wiggling his eyebrows.

Cleon pouted. "Why? There's so much grease."

Faleron slapped his forehead. "I give up."


The sharpshooter scoffed. "If you want to promote unhealthy food habits, fine! But I won't play a part in it!"

"Did someone brainwash him?" Keladry asked loudly.

Episode 12: Long Live the King

[Scene: Palace garden]

"What about the lifespan of these people? Is it just the royal family, or does it apply to everyone here?"

"Something's in the water," Joren mused, a smirk threatening to appear on his face.

His partner cracked a smile. "I probably wouldn't enjoy it anyway. Look at Yahiko. He's been a kid for at least forty years. I wouldn't be able to stand being on the verge of puberty that long. I'd probably have apoplectic fits."

After that, they remained quiet for several minutes. The darkness in the sky was beginning to recede. Underground, the crystals would slowly come to life again one by one. A new day was beginning and the City would become a vibrant, bustling collection of wonders once again.

Joren stretched out both of his legs before jumping off the arch and landing in a crouch on the ground. He raised his arm over his head and caught the sword and scabbard that Neal tossed down to him. Securing it to his belt again, he also waited for Neal to jump down from the wall and land beside him.

A few moments passed.

"Are you coming down or not?" Joren yelled impatiently.

"It's a pretty high jump," Neal commented fearfully.

He was greeted with a blank stare. "You, wuss. It's not even six feet."


Neal was suddenly knocked backwards off the wall by the sheathed sword that Joren threw at him. The poor man let out a cry of surprise and landed with an 'oof' on the other side of the garden wall. Joren tossed the exasperated director a smug look.

"Do I win a prize?"

[Scene: Black City dungeon]

Keladry tested the doorknob, which was surprisingly western in style. There was even an oval shaped hole for a key underneath. She turned to Faleron. "It's locked. Can you pick it?"

By the look on his face, she knew that it was not something the he liked being asked of him. Since the incident and Galla and his reformed life working for Daine, Faleron had not preferred to use any of his old skills. Even little favors asked by his friends brought on a tinge of pain somewhere deep inside. He hid it well, most of the time, but every now and then he slipped, showing how he truly felt about the subject.

Keladry began examining the keyhole herself. "It's all right if you don't want to. I can try—"

"No," Faleron interrupted instantly. "No, I'll do it. It's fine." He knelt down in front of keyhole and studied it. He patted his sides. "I don't have any tools, though." He eyed her glaive. "That thing slices through metal like a hot knife and butter, right?"

She shrugged. "If I adjust it to do so."

"Can you minimize the flare into a fine thin flame?"


"Hey, do you like big flames?" he asked her suddenly.

Keladry frowned. This hadn't been in the script. "Sure I do."

"Because you know what they say about big flames—"

"CUT!" the director shouted. "Stick to your lines, King, or I'll stick that flaming pole up where the sun doesn't shine, got it?"

Faleron rolled his eyes. "No one has an appreciation for the art of improvisation anymore."

"I really think he just doesn't have an appreciation for you," Keladry replied.

[Scene: Black City Castle]

They were in a large throne room. A metal chandelier holding dozens of flickering white candles hung from a chain attached to a metal loop in the ceiling. The walls were covered with tapestries depicting knights and kings fighting evil monsters. The high windows were simply adorned with dusty velvet curtains. According to the color of the sky, it must have been nighttime. Minstrels dressed in dark brown colors stood off to the side, playing their lutes and pipes. On the opposite side, several stern looking men in dark robes and cloaks were reading silently to themselves from scrolls and parchments. One held a large scythe as if he meant to cut their heads from their bodies as easily as he could cut and gather wheat.

It was the sight directly in front of them, however, that caused Keladry and Faleron to wonder what the hell was going on.

Cleon immediately sat up from where he had been cattily laying across a large throne encrusted with gold and rubies. Four women in mostly revealing dresses made of sheer scarves and white satin had been feeding grapes to him while… singing?

"I'm a… sssllllave… for you. I cannot hold it. I cannot control it.
I'm a… sssllllave for you. I won't deny it. I'm not trying to hide it."

The redhead smiled and wiggled his eyebrows mischievously at his friends. "Life's grand, isn't it?"

They gaped at him with mixtures of shock, jealousy, and repulsion.

[Scene: Just outside the Black City]

The wolves leapt down onto a ledge. It took the stern commands of their riders to keep them from howling at the full moon in the sky. After a week's worth of hard traveling, the beasts wanted very much to hunt down a mountain goat or even a small lamb to tear apart. Their riders calmed them and offered them raw chunks of birds that they had shot down during the day. Borealize dismissed them. He would summon them again with a high-pitched whistle when they were ready to depart again.

One of the riders walked up to the end of the ledge and knelt down, casting his gaze upon the dark city that greeted them. Strands of his silver white hair wafted in the breeze from under his hood. Another man crouched beside him, having put on a dark hood over his head as well.

"Selirithel, what do you see with those eyes of yours?" Liam whispered.

Coal black eyes widened. The five other comrades felt a strange pulse coming from the dark robed figure. They moved away naturally, watching him from a distance. The silver haired man held out a pale long fingered hand spread out in front of him. He hissed deep in his throat. Then, he withdrew his hand and hid it in his long sleeve. "Six vessels wearing Victoria's Secret panties and three wearing none at all."

"Nine," Neal murmured to Joren a few feet behind. "We're only after six—hey! Wait a second, what did you say?!"

"Ahem," the wizard coughed. "I said nine! Nine vessels without tainted blood dwell below."

They could barely hear him snigger.

Episode 13: Good Cookin'!

[Scene: Captain Flyndon's office]

Raoul stared long and hard at the Rider before him. He glanced at Flyndon, who was seated behind his desk trying to remain indifferent. Then he looked again at Dom, as if the man had grown an extra head. Finally, he propped his chin up on his hand and gave his younger comrade a genuinely pensive look.

"I had no idea that today was St. Patrick's Day."

"CUT! The line is I had no idea that today was April Fools! Get it right!" the director commanded.

Take 2: Captain Flyndon's office

Raoul stared long and hard at the Rider before him. He glanced at Flyndon, who was seated behind his desk trying to remain indifferent. Then he looked again at Dom, as if the man had grown an extra head. Finally, he propped his chin up on his hand and gave his younger comrade a genuinely pensive look.

"I had no idea that today was President's Day."

Take 3: Captain Flyndon's office

"I had no idea that today was Yom Kippur."

…Take 44: Captain Flyndon's office

"I had no idea that today was Guy Falkes day."

The director started tearing his hair out. Flyn raised his hand discreetly.

"You know, we can just edit that out in the sound studio."

The director stopped pulling at his head and stared at him menacingly. "And you did not tell me that earlier—why?"

"Oh… uh…"

[Scene: Lerant's apartment]

Lerant had always been overqualified in many areas. Raoul had thought it such a shame that his talents had been overlooked by the DJPF simply because of a family disgrace. In reality, the young man had an extremely good eye for financial matters. That fact alone made him Raoul's new best friend. "Lerant! I need you to call every fancy restaurant in town and every banquet hall. Find one for this Saturday and book it. The President's coming to dinner."

It was true. But it was also blunt. And this was the fact that made Lerant suddenly sick in the stomach. He fought his agitation. "Yes, sir. Of course." He paused nervously. "Raoul, what's my budget for this… project?"

The Marshal shrugged as if it had been obvious. "Why, my salary of course."

"Ha!" Lerant suddenly burst. He slapped a hand over his mouth and cringed. "Oh, I mean. Of course, sir. Okay! So that will buy about a dozen buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken and maybe… Jell-o?"

Raoul's mouth dropped open. "Am I that badly paid?"

Lerant chuckled. "Well, sir… honestly speaking…" he stopped laughing. "Yes."

[Scene: Lerant's apartment, still]

"Where's the butter knife?"

"Placed in a horizontal fashion across the small bread plate, which will be above your forks."

Raoul shook his head. "It has to be horizontal?"

"I'll kill anyone who places it at any different angle," Roald replied through clenched teeth, having been driven to the ends of his ropes with the Marshal's incessant questions. He made himself take another deep breath before pinching the bridge of his nose. He would need an entire bottle of aspirin to help him along the next few days.

He continued to instruct his unlikely student to look the busboys in the eye when they cleared his plate away, reciting "thank you" and so on. When Raoul used his cloth napkin to wipe his mouth, Roald quickly slapped his hand.

"Ow! What was that for?"

"You do not wipe. You dab. Dab, dab, dab!" Here a slightly crazed look in his eyes made Raoul shy away from him. Roald suddenly screamed. "No! You do not even know how to dab! Here! This is how you DAB!"

"Mommy!" Raoul cried out helplessly, while jumping up from his chair and trying to run away from Roald, who was chasing him with a napkin.

[Scene: kitchen]

Back in the kitchen, one of the cooks was waiting for his duck to cook while stirring the homemade sauce that was to go with it. He smiled happily to himself, thanking his good fortune that he would now have the distinguished honor of saying that he had once cooked for the President of Mithros. Now his normal boss, the head chef at a downtown restaurant, would be sorry that he had left him behind.

These cheering thoughts lingered on his mind as he looked up from the stove and came eye to eye with a long green snake hanging from the cupboards.

"Aaahhh!" He screamed. "Snake! Snake!" Overwhelmed with fear, he jumped backwards and fainted. His body slumped to the floor while the other cooks looked in his direction, saw the long limbless reptile, and also shrieked. Before anyone else could react, the two conscious cooks dropped what they were doing and ran out the door into the alley, screeching wildly into the night.

Seaver appeared at a third alternate door that led to the entry hall. He looked around the kitchen at the stunned faces of his fellow Riders. He finally spotted the snake and trotted over, calmly removing it from the cupboard and laying it across his shoulders.

"Hey, girl. I've been looking all over for you!"

"Seaver!" Yuki yelled. "What were you thinking, bringing that thing here?"

He shrugged. "I just got her. She's not used to the tank, so I wanted to bring her with me so she could get used to me. She's not poisonous or anything." He paused. "Oh, wait. This one is the poisonous snake." He peered at it and called out to the set crew. "Hey! Props!"

Everyone else immediately squealed in terror and jumped up onto stools or counter tops for safety.

[Scene: kitchen after Dom slips and falls]

Seaver and Qasim dragged Dom carefully over to a chair. After propping him up in it, Seaver exhaled deeply. "Okay. There's only one thing to do."


"Take his clothes off."

Seaver blinked. "I hate to tell you this, Qasim, but no one here shares your—"

"Not that, you perverted snake charmer! Are you snickering? Sir!" he yelled to the director. "He's snickering!"

Seaver tried to stifle his laughter. "He called me a snake charmer! Do you know what that m—"

"It means nothing, you pervert!" Yuki scolded. "You screwed up the scene and now Dom will have to fake his fall again!"

Dom groaned from the floor. "What? Aw, man. You guys are killing me!"

Episode 14: Prophecies

[Scene: Black City castle]

Gradually, the other crewmembers began to wake up. Servants, both men and women this time, entered carrying trays of food and basins to wash with. After everyone had woken, fed, and dressed, a man in black trailing robes typical of the royal advisors entered the room. A cowl was pulled over his face.

Keladry stood and approached him. "Sir?"

"Morning business is about to commence. Your presence is requested by His Majesty."

"You mean Cleon, right?"

The man rolled his eyes. "No, I mean Elvis."

The director groaned.

[Scene: Cleon's royal bedchambers]

The reluctant King of the Black City stopped his pacing and threw himself facedown onto the bed, burying his head under the pillows. He squirmed childishly and groaned once more. "What the hell do we know about dragons? They're not real! How can we tame one to fight for us and what the hell is the Kingdom of Enishijirou?!"

Faleron, who had been ignoring most of his best friend's tantrum since the beginning, suddenly let out a murmur of appreciation as he found a very useful weapon. He fitted a metal helmet over his head. It also had a shaded visor that covered the eyes. Then he picked up a large metal cylinder with a crudely crafted mechanism on top. He pointed it at Maggur's vacated chair and pulled the trigger. A cold, thick fog sprayed out and covered the chair with white foam.

"Um. I think you grabbed the fire extinguisher by mistake," Cleon whispered.

"Gee, really?" Faleron replied sardonically.

[Scene: Cleon's royal bedchambers… again]

Cleon took off his fancier golden threaded clothing and traded it for tougher pads of leather and cowhide. He put up with the chain mail and the smaller pieces of armor very well, but he balked when they tried to lower the breastplate and shoulder pads onto him.

He swung about his limbs to get a feel for his limited range of motion. "Argh! I can't face a stupid dragon like this! You might as well hang me on a pole and make barbecue out of me."

"Taste like chicken!" Faleron managed to say before everyone burst into hysterical laughter. The director sat sullenly in his chair, drumming his fingers on the arm rest.

[Scene: a dark corridor in the Black City castle]

Neal leaned his quarterstaff against the wall and readied his slingshot. He had sensed from his own opal that Joren meant to meet him. Yet, checking his opal again, it indicated that Joren hadn't moved from his initial spot. And it didn't even feel like Joren. He didn't know how he could tell the difference. The magic Selirithel had shown them was just as confusing as all the other things from Enishijirou.

He prayed to the gods that the blond hadn't been eaten by any sort of creature that would come after Neal as dessert.

After a while, he thought he heard an almost inaudible sound. Footsteps? No, not just that. Someone who knew how to hide any noise of walking. It wasn't quite perfect. It was sloppy, distracted. Neal frowned. He put back the lead pellet into his black pouch and drew a different projectile from his other pouch. He put it in the slingshot, pointed it in the darkness, and let it fly.

"ARGH! I am so tired of being shot in the ass with berries!" a familiar voice bellowed angrily.

Neal snorted mirthfully. "Really? Interesting! I thought you would be used to being smacked in the ass, dude… Ow!" He screamed when Joren came out of the shadows and started to twist Neal's arm behind his back. "Okay, okay! Uncle! Uncle!"

[Scene: another dark corridor in the castle…]

"Quick! Burn them! Behead them!" Liam shouted.

"Die!" one of the succubae screamed as she yanked the knives from her legs and prepared to strike with the blades in her hands.

Joren turned quickly and swung his sword forward. Thanks to the previous wounds in her legs, she could not move fast enough. The blade cut into her flesh easier than he had expected. He put his weight behind the blow and took the head clean off.

A spray of blood hit him in the face. He closed his eyes and turned away as the body fell to the ground, the severed head rolling across the floor away from him. He wiped his face on the back of his sleeve and averted his eyes from the fresh crimson pool.

"That actually tasted like cherries," he remarked.

Neal frowned. "Really? I could have sworn it was raspberry." He licked his fingers for more blood. "Wow. You're right. It is cherries."

"CUT!" the director yelled. "Please don't comment on the fake blood, guys! Just do the scene!"

"Yum," Neal smiled as he continued licking his fingers.

Episode 15: The Quest

[Scene: Black City castle, corridor outside the hostage room]

Selirithel leaned toward one of the guards. He whispered, "Give me the key to this room."

The guard continued glancing up and down the hall as he was doing before, but his hand had a mind of its own. It reached for the key ring on his belt and sorted through each until it found the correct one. He handed the key, still attached to the ring, to the sorcerer.

Deftly inserting the key in the lock and turning it, he turned to face Borealize. "Go in front of me. Put your dagger away, though."

Borealize, far past willing to question anything anymore, sheathed his dagger. He kept one hand on Selirithel's arm, careful not to break contact as he pushed the door open. He soon understood why his comrade had asked him to enter first.

"Viva la revolution!" a man screamed as he tried to hit Borealize with the broken top of a chair.

"Weren't you supposed to say 'Die, asshole'?" Borealize asked as he blocked the blow.

"Oh yeah…"

Episode 16: Breath of Fire

[Scene: caverns]

The men dismounted from the wolves and drew their own blades and points. They began to thoroughly clear the grooves from all the dirt. Shinkokami was right. The grooves went deeper, almost making it seem as if the fire was a puzzle piece that could not be rotated or shifted, merely pushed into place. The stone gave off waves of heat, but no one dared to shed a single garment. They all knew that they needed the barrier of cloth as protection. Even the wolves shied away into the shadows for coolness.

Joren examined their work. "We should try pushing this through."

"And burn our hands off, sure," Cleon rolled his eyes.

The blond glared at him. He studied the wall, then the ground they stood upon. Finally, he laid a hand on Neal's shoulder. "I'll brace against you and push with my feet. You two do the same."

"Why can't I be paired with Shinko?" Neal complained.

"Perhaps Master Stone would be jealous," Shinkokami slyly commented.

Joren glared at her. "You must have a death wish."

[Scene: cavern tunnels]

"I think we found Kennan," Joren muttered, trying to ignore the chilly pinpricks he felt in his limbs. Whatever it was, it was as cold as the snow outside. "Grab onto me!"

Neal and Shinkokami both latched onto his arm before the rest of him disappeared into the wall. It was like seeing him disappear into a quicksand trap. As unnerved as they were, they held onto him. And soon, they were swallowed as well. It happened all very fast. One second, they were standing in the wide chamber feeling the heat from the lava pool. The next, they were yanked into the frigid unknown.

It felt as if they were passing through a bubble. It was a pleasant sensation. A cool wave crashed over them. And as quickly as it came, it was gone, leaving them colder than before. It was like stepping out of a pool and shivering when the wind blew across the skin. In fact, they were slightly wet. All their clothes were damp and moisture stuck to their skin. They stood in a new cave now, almost a mirror of the place they had been in seconds before. The only exception was the lack of an entry leading to the lava filled cave.

And it was very dark.

Joren struck a match on the heel of his boot and held it up. "You couldn't grab the lantern?"

"Well, we were somewhat distracted by your finely toned butt," Shinkokami answered.

Neal hissed. "Sheesh! What is it with you? You are the most dirty minded woman I've ever met!" He paused. "No wonder my character's in love with you. Too bad you get killed off at the end of the episode."

Her eyes widened. "I what?"

"Uh… no one told you?" he squeaked.

"Nice going, Queenscove," Joren muttered.

Episode 17: Alternative

[Scene: infirmary]

"You're awake!" Kel exclaimed the next morning. She set down the bowl and washcloth she had been carrying and ran the rest of the way to his side. "How do you feel?"

Faleron smiled at her weakly. "Could be worse." He grimaced. "I'm going to assume that I have no dignity since my clothes are gone. So, with shame removed from the equation, would you mind helping me with the bedpan?"

"My mother always told me not on the first date," Keladry informed prissily.


Episode 18: Dragon War

[Scene: Black City castle]

"I need to find a way to sneak them out. Can you keep those guards distracted?"

Keladry frowned. "What exactly did you have in mind?"

He thought about it for a moment. Then he bent toward her and whispered in her ear. For a few moments, Keladry's face was blank. Then her expression turned into that of revulsion.

She slapped him.

"Ow! Come on, you're supposed to agree!" he bellowed.

"I want a script change!" Keladry screamed, turning bright red. "I am not faking cramps!"

"Paycheck!" the director said discreetly while masking it with a cough. She glared at him.

[Scene: Black Castle corridor]

The blunt end of a broom came down hard on the back of Conal's skull. He crumpled to the floor like a rag doll. Joren watched indifferently as the new arrival picked up the torch and cursed as he accidentally burnt himself with the sparks.

"You," Joren sighed, "must be Inness."

The young man nodded. "Sorry I'm late." He glanced down at his own black robes and back up at Joren, the corner of his eyes almost twinkling in the reddish light. "Couldn't find a darn thing to wear."

"I see."

"You must be this Joren Stone she's secretly gushing about. How's my sister? Virginal, still?"

"If by virginal you mean out-of-control, raging sex kitten, than sure—"


Joren smirked. He faked an innocent expression. "What?"

Episode 19: Sin

[Scene: Keladry's prisoner tent]

Suddenly, the tent flap was flung aside as a lone soldier in full armor entered with a large metal basin. She noticed how he was conveniently unarmed—a precaution taken probably to prevent Keladry from using those weapons against him. He tossed the child-sized basin in front of her and went back outside. Returning again, he began pouring two large buckets of cold water into the metal brass basin. It occurred to Keladry that she would simply have to dip a cloth into the water and sponge-bathe herself. Inconvenient, yes, but Keladry wanted to wash the days of sweat and dirt off her body.

She studied her "bath attendant" warily. He didn't appear as if he was going to leave any time soon. "Get out. I'm not going to entertain you, if that's what you're thinking."

The soldier waved a crumpled dollar bill at her and began whistling catcalls.

"Joren!" she cried indignantly and threw the tub at him.

[Scene: still in the tent…]

"Joren!" she whispered furiously, standing up immediately with a red face. She nimbly jumped over the basin and forcibly shoved back the helmet visor to confirm her suspicions. "You jerk! This whole time, you've been—"

"Penetrating army security and looking for a way to get in touch with you, yes," he finished, the corner of his lips tugging upward into a crooked smile. "I've actually been receiving information from Inness. He's leaking as much information as he can, but they limit his knowledge. Conal is making sure of that." His eyes wandered below her face.

Keladry remembered that she was still only wearing her undergarments and immediately crossed her arms over her chest. "Turn around."

"Why? It's not like you haven't seen me in my skivvies before," he replied with a shrug. He frowned. "Cut! What the hell are skivvies? I don't say skivvies! Faleron says skivvies!"

"How would you know I say skivvies?" Faleron protested from off set.

"Because I don't wear skivvies!"

Faleron snorted. "Ah. So you admit to not wearing anything at all. Keladry! Could you confirm this for us?"

She blushed beet red.

[Scene: Enishijirou]

It took only a short time for him to reach the edge of the fertile green valley. Many of the shepherds were sitting on the rocks, eating their lunches when he passed them on the back of a thoroughbred horse. At last, he found himself watching the wind move through the grass like waves in the ocean. The effect was hypnotizing, but he could never forget why he had been brought down there in the first place.

Eventually, his blond counterpart trotted toward him on the back of a large wolf. The beastly mount seemed very tired from a distance. When it saw Liam, it also stopped and even lowered itself to the ground.

Liam urged his horse a bit closer. "Get on," he commanded in an emotionless voice. "Looks like he needs a rest."

"Woo-hoo!" Neal called from off set. "Sharing a saddle! Yee-haw! That's what I'm talking about!"

"Someone shoot him!" Joren and Liam simultaneously yelled.

[Scene: Enishijirou infirmary]

When they were out of earshot, Joren entered the infirmary, being as quiet as a mouse. The infirmary was a lot cleaner than the one in the castle of the Black City. Fist-sized crystals imbedded in the walls lit the entire room. There were rows of white beds partitioned by opaque curtains made of material that almost looked like the delicate strands of spider web. Joren decided not to investigate further.

Two women and a man, all dressed in white hakamas and overrobes, were seated or standing around a bed near the window. The nearest woman stood and bowed to Joren. Her many golden earrings made a tinkling noise similar to bells. The sound irritated him.

"What's his status?" he asked, glaring at the healers as if they were the cause for all the pain and suffering he'd seen.

"He's putting on a lot of weight. Does he eat a lot of junk food? Unnecessary sugar? I'd like to put him on a diet," she replied.

"No! NO!" Faleron cried. "Don't take away my sugar!" A little more calmly, he continued. "Besides. I'm not putting on weight. Even if I am, Fia just says they're love-handles…"

Joren shuddered. "Ew."

Episode 20: Slaying

[Scene: Enishijirou infirmary]

Liam smirked. "You're not the only special one around here, Stone." He turned to Cleon. "And you. I have a job for you."

Cleon gulped. "M-me?"

The hit man gestured toward the door. "The fight isn't over yet. Our men are driving back the surviving forces of the Black City, though, so it is only a matter of time."

The redhead shook his head vigorously. He worriedly looked to his friend's unconscious form on the infirmary bed. "Well, that's great, but I can't do it. I'm not good at jobs! Stone will tell you!" He held his hand out to Joren. "Tell him, dude! I suck at jobs."

Joren considered it. He shrugged. "Suck… Well yes, he does like to suck."

Cleon blinked. "Please tell me you weren't trying to reference that to what I think it was."

"I wasn't," Joren narrowed his eyes. "Kennan, you are an incorrigible pervert."

The sharpshooter's face turned as red as his hair.

[Scene: battlefield]

Meanwhile, on the other side of the valley, Joren sat down beside Inness. The older Mindelan was kneeling on the grass beside a still form covered with a black cloak. He glanced at Joren, trying to keep his face down turned so as to hide the tears that were streaming down his face still after so many hours.

Joren peered at the cloak as if he could see right through it. He folded his arms across his chest and sighed regretfully. "What happened?"

Inness sniffled. "I left him just for a few minutes! I was trying to get help, but when I returned… he was a few feet away from where I had left him. I think he'd been trying to get back to Maggur and the other advisors and… and…"

"It's okay. Take your time," Joren told him quietly.

The grieving young man picked up a bloodied weapon from the grass beside his knee. He handed the dagger to Joren.

"I found this in his chest."

"A spatula?"

Inness chuckled nervously and snatched back the bloodied weapon. "Oops. Wrong one. Here it is." He reached into his wrist and thrust out the weapon to Joren blade first, effectively slicing the blond's hand.

"Hey!" Joren cried, snatching his hand back. "You cut me!"

"Oopsies! Sorry again." He reached into his robes and pulled out a large medical chest that seemed too big to fit under his robes. He whistled as he opened it up and looked for bandages.

"Hmm. Nope. Oh well. Guess you'll just have to bleed to death," he told Joren.

"You… are so…dead…"

Episode 21: Lost Horizon

[Scene: infirmary]

He rubbed his Adam's apple, clearing his throat. What he wouldn't give for a glass of whiskey at that very moment. It wouldn't solve anything, but it would calm his nerves at least.

Cleon glanced at him knowingly from the corner of his eyes. "There's a hip flask in Fal's pack."

Almost reflexively, Joren reached under the bed for the ill man's pack. "You losers have been around me for too long if you know me that well." He paused when his hand closed around the sought item. "What the hell was he doing with this anyway?"

"He's always been a man of many surprises," Cleon admitted.

Joren rolled his eyes and took a swig from the flask. His face scrunched up. "This isn't alcohol. It's apple juice!"

"That's what you think," Cleon replied.

Joren proceeded to beat the other man on the head with the flask.

[Scene: a guest room]

She shoved her belongings aside as well and laid herself down beside him. He wrapped an arm around her waist and pulled her close. Keladry shut her eyes and placed her head on his shoulder.

"Are you okay?" he asked quietly.

"I said I was, didn't I?"

"No, not that. About… your brother."

It was hard to say. She exhaled deeply and shifted closer to him. "I feel more hurt by his rejection of me and of Inness than of his passing. Does… does that make me a bad person?"

Joren's eyes widened slightly. "I didn't think you would actually admit it. Of course not, you stupid girl."

She punched him playfully in the side. He swatted her hand away and turned his head toward the window. Keladry frowned. She sat up.

"Is that… a bloody spatula?"

Joren turned to her, straight faced. "Yes. Yes, it is."

[Scene: still the guest room…]

"Joren?" she called softly.


"I love you."

He shut his eyes against his own indifference. "I know. I love…" he tried to force the word out. "Uh… that is… I love…" he glanced at her expectant face. "Your hair?"

"M-my hair?"

"Um, yeah! It's a very…" he struggled with the words. "Nice… style…"

She glared at him. "You love my hair?"

He turned away from her and rolled on his side. "Uh-huh. Well, look at the time! I gotta go!"

"Get back here!" she yelled at him. "You only love my hair?!"

"I think someone's calling me!" he said loudly as he made a hasty exit.


[Scene: plane]

During the plane ride home, Joren waited until Keladry fell asleep to leave her side and join Neal at the front of the cabin. He picked up Neal's pack and tossed it across the aisle. Sitting down beside the slightly bemused man, he fixed him a suspicious stare.

"What did I do now?" Neal yawned, making very little effort to cover his mouth. He looked out the window. It was nighttime, but he still pretended to be able to see something.

Joren folded his arms across his chest and leaned back. "What took you so long?"

"What are you talking about?"

"In the caverns," he clarified.

Neal nodded. He scratched his head drowsily and chuckled. He gave Joren a lazy grin and reached toward his partner's vest. Joren stayed still, eyes still trained on him as Neal slipped a smallish bottle from one of Joren's larger pockets.

"I see Higgins gave you a farewell gift, too," he observed, screwing off the lid and taking a sip. "Aww, jeez. This isn't alcohol either. Apple juice! Is the whole world plotting against me getting a decent drink around here? I mean, come on!"

"I like apple juice," Neal interjected. "Give me that!"

"It's not apple juice," Cleon sang from off set.

Neal spat out the drink in Joren's face. "What?"

"…" Joren remained dangerously silent.

[Scene: Joren's apartment]

His head jerked toward her, his brow creased in his curious expression. "What are you doing here?"

Keladry shrugged. "I was going to ask you to come with me to Tortall." She swallowed reflexively. "Why haven't you unpacked?"

He walked past her into his bedroom. He went straight for his closet and began sorting through his clothing. When he didn't answer her, she followed him and stood behind him. Something was terribly amiss, and she'd be damned if she didn't get him to tell her.

She repeated her question, sterner than before. Joren grudgingly turned to face her and offered her an impassive expression. "I'm running away and eloping with Liam."

Keladry's eye twitched.

The director screamed somewhere on the set.

Keladry rolled her eyes and began the walk to her trailer. "Well, screw this! I'm going to have a drink!"

Joren ran after her. "Wait for me! I need one, too!"

Cleon frowned and ran after him. "No! You all have to drink my apple juice!"

Neal shouted from his chair. "But it's not apple juice, you sick-o!"

It was the boy who played Yahiko who crouched down beside the sniffling director on the floor and consoled him.

"S'okay, mister. There's always next season."

"NEXT season? Another season!" the director wailed. "Not another season! I can't take this anymore! Sulia Serafine, please just let me die already!"


: )

Life is good. I'll keep this short, since I'm kind of in a rush to do a million things I've had on the backburner. But I hope you enjoyed these bloopers and outtakes—actually, I hope you enjoyed the entire season! This one was kind of crazy. Very crazy. Extremely crazy.

But it wouldn't be ICBW if it weren't, right?

I'd like to thank everyone who read and reviewed. I really appreciate the feedback! And yes, there's just one more season in the works. *sniffle* ICBW is finally coming to an end. I hope you all have enjoyed the ride so far. It's been one of my best experiences.

So, while I'm on my short ICBW break, go out and read something cool… like… I don't know. Heck, go reread ICBW or something! Just kidding.

Ta ta!

Sulia S.