Ziirphael arrived at the cemetery, just as Konka Rar was about to leave. The Lich stopped, as he saw the death god approaching him, down the side-path that ran alongside the church. He guessed that this must mean that Diego had not survived the previous round. This Konka supposed was the more preferable option; the death god had his uses, so long as he could be convinced to rein in his anger against The Cultivator, the same could not have been said about Diego, who had seemed generally ineffective throughout the battle. As Ziirphael approached, he moved with a gait that someone watching might have perceived as a swagger.
“Ziirphael.” Konka greeted him levelly.
“I have a plan.” Ziirphael said. “Between us we can deal with The Cultivator and I know how to do it.”
“I’m listening.” Konka replied, intrigued.
“She is watching us you know. You want me to give the game away?” Ziirphael asked. There was a pause as the lich contemplated this. In a way it did not make sense, the death god had shown himself to be full of anger and hate, to make impulsive plans based on whims. It didn’t really add up that he had managed to find a simple way that the two of them could defeat The Cultivator.
“You are asking me to take a lot on faith here.” Konka told him. “What if your plan fails and The Cultivator holds a grudge?”
“It won’t.” Ziir responded.
“You cannot guarantee that.” Konka replied. “I won’t aid you.” The faint grin that had been etched upon Ziirphael’s face since he arrived was immediately gone, replaced with a cold and confused scowl.
“Do you not want your freedom?” Ziir asked.
“I do want my freedom. That is why I will not help you.” Konka said. “I do not trust that your plan will work, and I will not allow myself to be struck down for agreeing to carry out a plan which may well be doomed to failure before we even begin. We should focus on Ekelhaft for now. Until then I cannot give my full attention to dealing with The Cultivator.” Their gazes met, Ziir’s eyes narrowed in anger at yet another obstacle standing in his way, Konka remaining calm and rational. After a long minute Ziirphael pulled away.
“Okay.” He said. “Okay I can work with that.”
“Good.” Konka said. “If you can get us airborne again then I imagine that we should be able to spot Ekelhaft; knowing him he will be attacking anything that moves. Though before we move in to engage we should come up with a better plan than ‘hit him with a climbing frame’. If your plan to take down the Cultivator was as brilliant as that one then I can assure you I have done us both a favour.” Ziirphael said nothing, as he dug his talons into his own palm. Blood flowed out and he spread it on his chest, a very basic sigil. Within seconds his body had begun to reshape and the agony that accompanied it had returned, stronger than ever. He collapsed to his knees, trying and failing not to scream in agony. Konka Rar regarded him critically. This was a new development, the death god while he had not lost the ability to quickly change his physiology; he was significantly less proficient with it. In this state it was debatable whether Ziir would be any use to him at all. After a minute or so the pain subsided and the death god was left doubled over, his body having reverted to a form that was basically human but for his left arm being replaced with a long blade of bone. Konka Rar frowned.
“This body does not have long left, because of this:” Ziirphael sliced off the tattered remnants of his right sleeve and held it out in front of him. There branded into his was arm the glowing symbol that The Cultivator had used to lock him into this body.
“If this is some ploy to play upon my sympathy, to make me go along with your plan, then I am afraid you have misjudged the situation.” Konka Rar replied. “And since your body does not have long left perhaps wasting transformations on such futile demonstrations is a bad idea?”
“What I mean to say is that time is of the essence.” Ziirphael responded, he raised his left arm, his blade arm over his head. “I do not have time to wait for you to change your mind.” And with that he brought it down upon his own arm. He screamed as his bone blade smacked against the bone of his arm and blood poured from the wound.
“What are you doing?” The lich asked cautiously.
“Don’t worry.” Ziirphael responded. “When I am The Cultivator I will not forget that you helped me. I will make sure you can go free.” He brought the blade down again, there was a sickening snap and his arm was removed. Ziirphael immediately vacated his body, coalescing into the orb of darkness that was his true self. He felt liberated, freed from the prison that was his last body. Free to do as he pleased without worrying that his flesh might not take it and he would end up dead forever. He did not feel like taking another body instantly, but he knew he had to, else he would just be shoved back inside that carcass and The Cultivator would not make the same mistake again. Quickly, before Konka Rar had time to react he rushed forward and entered the lich’s body. Every body he had ever taken was resistant to his possession of it at first, but with time they stopped struggling and accepted their fate. In fact he reckoned that the original owner of that body he had been wearing this whole time might still be in there somewhere. Konka was proving especially difficult to subdue, but Ziirphael had figured that he would be, strong willed people always were. Thanks to his extensive experience Ziir was winning out over the lich’s consciousness, but he needed more than just control of this body, he needed to know how to use the lich’s magic, and he needed to know how to do so before The Cultivator showed up to put him in his place. Memories and knowledge were harder to access, but not impossible. If he concentrated, he could do this.
In a realm where random piles of junk dominated the landscape The Cultivator struggled to free her fingers from a particularly annoying piece of chicanery in which they had become stuck. Her computer left unattended beeped furiously attempting to draw her attention, but to no avail. An unseen spectator viewed this scene with a sense of extreme disappointment. The watcher had gone to a lot of trouble to set up this sequence of events and the Cultivator was not even paying attention to her own battle, attempting to discern how to extricate her fingers from a child’s toy instead. All this meticulous scheming going to waste because The Dabbler had gotten bored again. The watcher decided that it was time to kick up a fuss that even she could not ignore.
The people of Jedesburg might have been able to ignore a silly message broadcast over the radio, they might have been able to rationalise away the things that didn’t make sense and the reports of strange things going on in parts of the town, but there was something that they could not rationalise. Moments after Ziirphael’s liberation a shadow fell across the sleepy town as a fleet of what could only be described as flying saucers materialised in the skies above them. Upon the spaceships themselves the aliens were confused as well, moments ago they had been in orbit and suddenly they found themselves above the town, several hours ahead of schedule. The residents, those that were not currently being savaged by the contestants of the Grand Battle, panicked in the streets.
Meanwhile in her pocket dimension The Cultivator’s computer had stopped beeping, but only because it had activated an alarm. The Cultivator rushed over to the machine to see what was going on that so desperately needed her attention. Didn’t The Monitor have this round covered for her anyway? She skimmed through all the information that the computer was trying to tell her; someone was loose in her battle, someone with massive power and from the show that they had just made they wanted her to know it. Then she happened to notice something that had happened at precisely the same time, insignificant in comparison to the other stuff really, but every single mirror in the town had all shattered at once at the exact time that the spaceships appeared in the sky. There was only one person who could be responsible for this.
In the cemetery Ziirphael rummaged through the lich’s knowledge of spells. Dissolving shadow, Inferno, Vortex… these were all offensive spells… all of them completely useless when all he needed was a defensive spell, something to protect himself from being paralysed by The Cultivator. It wouldn’t even have to last very long, just long enough to get out of this body and get into hers. Once he’d replicated her locking rune that she had used upon him and locked himself in her body then he would be home and dry. He was so close. So very close. He was sure the Lich was holding out on him, holding back as much information as he could manage. All he needed to do was concentrate long enough to get at it and he’d have her, he would win. It was at this moment that a fleet of UFOs appeared in the skies above him, rather unfortunately breaking his concentration. For a moment all he could do was gawp bewilderedly at the spaceships that hovered overhead. There was no time left, she’d be here any second. Ziirphael panicked, and fled the Lich’s body. What now? He couldn’t go back to his old body. That thing probably had only two maybe three transformations left in it. That was when he spotted the reanimated body of Albert Smith digging in the distance. Without hesitation Ziirphael zipped over and forced his way into the body. It made next to no effort to resist him. As quickly as he could with the stiff bones of a corpse, Ziir rushed back to his old body, dipped his fingers into what had very recently been his blood and without hesitation marked his arm with a powerful marking, one that he had learned from The Cultivator. His arm felt as though it was on fire where he marked the locking rune but it was worth it to keep on going, so that he might get another chance, another shot to take her down.
“Where is he?” The Cultivator demanded, suddenly in front of him. Once again Ziirphael was paralysed, unable to strike out against his hated foe; though this time he found he could move his mouth. He hesitated for a second while he lined up the most hateful barrage of obscenities that he could come up with, but as soon as he got the first ‘bit’ out his mouth locked up again. “I’m not interested in what you think of me at the moment. Where is he?”
“Who?” Ziirphael coughed, it was all he could manage through the dried up and dirt-tasting mouth of Albert Smith.
“The Ghost.” The Cultivator demanded. “I know he was helping you, this thing has his fingerprints all over it.”
“The Ghost?” Ziirphael asked.
“You won’t have seen him as such.” The Cultivator explains irritably. “He doesn’t like to show his face. He leaves notes.”
“That bastard?” Ziirphael asked. “No idea, if you see him could you kill him for me?” The Cultivator frowned for a couple of seconds and then vanished, releasing Ziirphael and Konka Rar from their paralysation. They said nothing for a moment, though the lich glared at the death god accusatorially. “That could have gone better.” He said. Before Konka Rar had the time to respond, they were both paralysed again and The Cultivator was back in front of them again. She said nothing as Ziirphael felt the locking rune burned onto his chest.
“Last chance Ziiry.” She said, and vanished again.
In her realm The Cultivator returned to her computer to find a yellowing note taped to the monitor. Typed on it in thick block capitals: NOTHING PERSONAL DABBLES.