Marley, Dimble and Zorgeous hid behind the Tower as the Guardian addressed his people.
“I am glad to feel your warmth again. It’s good to see you’re so organised, thanks to the Hierophant. Soon he will reinvest me, symbolically fitting the Antlers of Attitude, I mean Amplitude, upon my willing forehead, symbolising a new dawn of progress and friendship with our human brothers and sisters.”
Dimble whispered, “The real Guardian would never say that. He would never think of that.”
The Guardian spoke faster. “We must progress! We cannot ignore the advances of other races, we must move forward and embrace technology. And fast food. Otherwise a race more exploitative than the humans will come along. Therefore, I’m pleased to announce an alliance.”
The crowd babbled.
“Trust me with our fate, our footsteps lead to the future, future fut–fut-fut-fut. Not the past pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-”
The Hierophant’s sedan chair shook.
“Excuse me,” continued the Guardian, “You must trust me, and the Hierophant. We have the interests of Goramus-a-musa-musa–musa-musa-musa-musa-mus, at heart.”
Another rustle from the Hierophant’s chair.
“Forgive me,” said the Guardian. “Pass me the Antlers of Amp-Amp-Amp-Amp-Amplitude-de-de-de-de-de-de-de-de-de-de-de-”
The Hierophant appeared with the Antlers of Amplitude clutched between two claws.
The Guardian solemnly watched him approach. But before they were secure in his grasp, Zorgeous darted from behind the Tower and lunged at the Antlers.
“This cannot be,” exclaimed the Hierophant. “You were forbidden to return. Seize him!”
Zorgeous snatched the Antlers from the Hierophant. “Do not come any closer. If you do, I’ll snap them in two.”
“You know they can’t be broken.”
“Then, you should have no fear.” Zorgeous began to bend them in his claws.
“Wait!” said the Hierophant.
The Guardian looked on impassively.
“I will return the Antlers if you respond to my challenge.” Zorgeous lowered his head and pointed his horns at the Hierophant.
Marley chose this moment to appear. He approached the Guardian, closely followed by Dimble. “Guardian, good to see you. We’re reporters for Radio Outer Rim 606.9. Tell us firsthand what’s going on.”
The Professor held the flablet close to the Guardian’s mouth. No response.
The Hierophant squeezed his right armpit as if trying to stop the escape of an offensive odour.
The Guardian looked confused. “I’ve returned to Goramus to claim what is rightfully mine: the throne.”
Marley grabbed the flablet and spoke into the microphone. “Where were the Antlers before?”
“Concealed for safe-safe-safe keeping. We…I suspect an external threat.”
“The return of The Exile!” shouted the Hierophant. “I accept his challenge. But, being super-important, I cannot be touched. I will choose a Champion.”
“I accept your acceptance,” said Zorgeous, “and can see why you need someone to fight for you. Produce your Champion. While the dual proceeds, the Antlers remain with the humans.” He handed them to Chuck Marley.
* * *
Zorgeous did some unusual warm-ups, such as squatting with his claws on the ground. He rolled his head twice.
“Wasn’t that a call for assistance?” said Dimble.
“The original call was three times. Concentrate. Keep that flablet running.”
Dimble zoomed in on Marley, then flipped to the Champion, a burly guard taller than anyone else.
Zorgeous looked uneasily at his opponent’s jaw and large claws.
The Hierophant’s Champion wore a flannel shirt open at the breast. Opposite Zorgeous, he lumbered on his legs like a wrestler eager to perform the embrace of death. Impatiently he snorted, then circled and closed in.
They charged and locked antlers. Zorgeous absorbed the push surprisingly well. His antlers showed no signs of breaking. The muscles they were attached to had been thoroughly exercised glaring into his glass at the Quasar Bar..
For the next minute the combatants tested each other. Zorgeous executed a series of karate chops at the air, as if daring his challenger to come within a hair’s breadth, and come he did. He neutralised Zorgeous’s chopping simply by sticking a claw into the general space where Zorgeous looked like he was making salad. Then he spun around and kicked Zorgeous to the ground.
Zorgeous returned groggily to his feet.
Marley examined the Antlers of Amplitude. He held them up to the sun. He bent them left and right. His biceps strained as the Antlers resisted his force. If only he’d gone to the gym in the last five years. Maybe these really were the real Antlers.
The duelists heaved and sweated. Zorgeous tried the same back kick that the Champion had executed. He lost his balance and flopped on the soil.
Zorgeous got up angrily.
The Champion took this opportunity to gutlessly kick him while he was unbalanced. He retreated, taunting:
“Get up and fight.”
Zorgeous obliged and was quickly knocked down. He was hopelessly outmatched – in size, in speed, in skill, in aggression. His opponent came at him full throttle. Zorgeous was lucky to deflect the lunge or he would have been skewered and ready for roasting.
“Finish him!” barked the Hierophant.
Chuck Marley, seeing the Hierophant encourage his champion, yelled at Zorgeous: “Use your horn sense, your new power.”
Zorgeous looked at Marley. This was a bad move. He didn’t see the trip coming. The guard towered over him before retreating to the end of the makeshift arena. He dug his heels into the turf like a raging Borsk.
“Your third eye, your third horn. Use the force, Zorgeous.”
Dimble added, “Harness the unseen energy, muster the dark matter, unleash your aura.”
“Don’t confuse him,” said Marley. “Unleash your aura!”
As if summoning his last reserves of strength, Zorgeous raised himself to his knees. He pointed his antlers at the burly Champion, whose arms flexed like bunches of grapes.
At the tips of his horns, Zorgeous sensed warmth, but any latent power was not enough to defend another strike that knocked him onto his side.
Marley tried another tactic. “Zorgeous, where is your steel, your resolve? Do you want to go back to the Centre for Uninhibited Indolents?”
This wounded Zorgeous more than any of his assailant’s blows. His antlers brightened.
His opponent commenced another charge. Zorgeous dodged, and a spark sailed from his head, catching the guard on the wrist and setting the hairs on his arm alight.
Encouraged, Zorgeous launched another spark. It arced in the air, split into several slivers and rained down upon the hapless fighter, who ducked flailing. But these flames were different to what had burned Marley. They couldn’t be put it out by depriving them of oxygen. They were the fire of a wounded soul.
The guard ceased to struggle. His body was charred beyond recognition. However, the flannel shirt was surprisingly untouched. Marley approached the dead body, prodded it, and retrieved the shirt. His own was ragged and ripped. This would be a good replacement. It was more than two sizes too big but untouched by the flames. It didn’t even smell of burning hair or flesh. Zorgeous’s flame-sense was so focused that it only affected the target. Putrid smoke rose from the body of the vanquished champion.
Marley held his nose. “Thank you,” he said to the body. He adjusted the collar.
Zorgeous walked straight over to Marley and grabbed the so-called Antlers of Amplitude. With one snap of his claw he sliced them in two.
The Hierophant backed away. “I have been deceived.”
Zorgeous’s antlers glowed purple. Between them formed an orb that headed straight to his persecutor.
“Wait,” said Marley, “You’ll have plenty of time for target practice.”
The purple orb vanished.
Marley was certain. “What we saw in the labs was not a Zorgon clone. Frint Nono and Rothball Hazard could only have been experimenting on…”
Zorgeous finished for him, “…the Guardian’s lifeless corpse.”
Dimble walked over. “Possibly they killed him by depriving him of the Antlers of Amplitude. And to cover their mistake they tried to restore him mechanically. It really is Frankenstein.”
“Franken-who?” Who was this Mr Franken that Dimble kept referring to?
The Hierophant beat a hasty retreat and hopped back into his chair. “Heave me away from here.” His three lackeys awkwardly lifted him and began to scurry away.
“We can’t let him escape.” The Professor ran after the carriage – quite an act of bravery for the historian.
Marley ran after him, but they could not catch the bobbing sedan chair. Zorgeous’s antlers were now a soft blue, pulsating from blue to white.
The gap between pursuers and pursued narrowed.
Dimble stopped, out of breath. Marley stopped by his side, panting.
They hadn’t noticed the gap beginning to narrow.
Zorgeous continued to focus. The purple orb reformed. He launched it, and when it reached its target, it expanded into an enveloping halo. The sedan bearers slowed to a canter, then a walk. Suddenly the chair turned 180 degrees. Zorgeous nodded toward the earth and the three servants dropped the carriage with a thump.
Dimble was the first to run over to it. He held the flablet into the window of the chair. “What do you have to say for yourself?”
“I’ll tell you almost everything,” the Hierophant whimpered.
“You’ll tell us everything.” Marley remembered he still had a small amount of red dust. He laughed inwardly.
They escorted the Hierophant back to the centre of Goramus.
The doors to the Tower were still barred. Zorgeous summoned the guards.
“Open the doors! The Exile has returned.”