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Episode 10: Epic
CLECKY: [Slowly reaches for his microphone and begins awkwardly announcing] ...er, greetings, chaps and chappesses, and welcome to the season finale o' Slagar the Cruel: Coast to Coast! I am not Slagar the Cruel. That checkerboarded fellow sitting over there is, right?
SLAGAR: Yeah, uh, shut up, I was just getting to that. Greetings, I am Slagar the Cruel, and this is... um... you are... LINE!
VITCH: This show isn't scripted, chief.
SLAGAR: Oh. [Pauses.] That's what your mother said. About your birth.
TREEROSE: You're not even trying any more, are you?
SLAGAR: And that's what YOUR mother said. About... your life. [Sighs and begins staring at his desk.]
TREEROSE: So what, are you supposed to be depressed about the show's continued poor performance in ratings? Are you worried that you're not going to get picked up for another season?
SLAGAR: That's not it at all! It's all of these fools. Fools like you! Oh by gosh, I can't stand fools! Or Redwall. Or bankvoles. Or my unreliable crew! As an individual, I have much to be unhappy about, you see?
GERUL: Ah, Slagar, do yeh know what my ould mother would say about this?
SLAGAR: No, what would she say?
GERUL: Heck if I know, I was just makin' conversation. I should ask her some time, aye, I should.
ROOP: Boi hokey, did 'ee fossker jus' pass ee chance t' ridicule maister G'ruel? 'Zactly wot's goin' on here?
SLAGAR: What's going on here is, you're a fool, and...
[A second fox draped in a checkerboard cape descends abruptly from the rafters and lands upon the desk in a kneeling position facing the audience, from which much gasping rises. He holds a scepter that gives off a pulsing violet glow in his right paw.]
SLAGAR?: Welcome, you lucky people, to the greatest, latest, and last show you'll ever see. You'll have to excuse my subpar punctuality, but I've been tending to some... behind-the-scenes business.
CLECKY: [Shrieks like a tiny haremaid.] T-t-two blinkin' Slagars runnin' around?! My nightmares have all come true!
SLAGAR?: All in good time, Clecky. So, my mission has proved a success. How have things fared on your end?
[The seated fox breathes a sigh of relief. As he does, his body and attire transform gradually but quickly, eventually showing the gray fur of a Marlfox. He tears off his mask just as it fades into nothingness, revealing the glowering face of Ascrod, Slagar's morose partner in crime. The audience is murmuring in confusion at this point.]
ASCROD: I tell you, I was dying out there. I mean, it's been tough enough keeping up the public image for an entire week, but the mannerisms I just could not get figured out. We're lucky that this theatrical entrance of yours came a bit before they had me figured out.
TREEROSE: No, I think you were safe, because I'm pretty sure nobody here has any idea of what the two of you are playing at. Myself included.
CLECKY: Well speaking as m'self, I'm just glad that th' whole double-blaggard bit turned out to be a ruse, wot? One o' that bloke is already too many for me. Not that a wizened veteran like m'self wouldn't be able to cope with such a mess, mind you, but-
[Slagar whistles sharply, interrupting the hare, and three identical foxes drop on cue from the ceiling in a similar manner as the first in a circle around the desk. Clecky shrieks again and dives behind the bandstand.]
SLAGAR #2: So, our vengeance has gone according to schedule... how delightful.
SLAGAR #3: I don't mean to argue with a grammatical genius like me, but since when are we referring to myself in the plural? I've used the first-person singular, like, every time I've talked to me guys before this.
SLAGAR #4: Of course, our previous discussions were essentially internalizations because of the lack of non-Slagar entities present. Speaking before an audience is a different context entirely.
SLAGAR #5: A brilliant point, Slagar! And so poetically conveyed! Let's change our monologues to dialogues for the sake of the lesser mind's consumption.
[The audience is growing especially uncomfortable at this point, not unlike the band members. Vitch, obviously less than thrilled at the prospect of receiving five times the ruthless punishment he usually receives from his chief, creeps back behind the stage.]
TREEROSE: But I... how... what in hell's teeth is going on here?!
ROOP: Stan' on moi tunnel, Slagger's jus' gotten 'imself a whole troupe o' dooplygangerz t' act loike 'im!
SLAGAR #3: Well, what do you know! It appears dear Roop has struck gold with that mangled clump of mispronounced words he meant to pass for an accusation.
SLAGAR #5: Indeed he has, though I believe he has missed the crucial point of our multiplicity.
SLAGAR #4: Though the cores of our souls have historically belonged to other creatures, we are more than mere imitators of the apex of villainy that is us.
SLAGAR #2: We four have become perfect copies, in mind as well as form.
SLAGAR: You know, I have never liked you, Roop. I mean, even compared to the rest of the show's horrible cast, I found you irritating. And I picked all of the show's cast members with a terrible disruptive atmosphere in mind, so that means you're particularly horrible.
[The Slagars begin circling the mole while continuing their alternating comments.]
ROOP: Hoi! What're 'ee -
SLAGAR #5: Yeah. What kind of band mixes accordions and saxophones, anyways?
SLAGAR #2: I think everyone has realized that he's just the show's token mole by now from his utter lack of meaningful additions to the dialogue.
SLAGAR #4: In his defense, he's barely gotten any lines at all!
SLAGAR #3: Still, I think another of us would provide more quality all-around existence in his place.
SLAGAR: Shall I then?
SLAGAR #2: Indeed!
ASCROD: I'm all for it.
[The Slagars turn and stare at Ascrod, who shrugs.]
ASCROD: Just sayin'.
[The original Slagar extends the glowing staff he is holding in Roop's direction. An elongated transparent blue shade of Slagar is released as though a beam of light towards the mole, where it disappears into his body, causing him to collapse.]
TREEROSE: [Shouting in alarm] Roop! Are you okay?
ROOP: [Lifting himself from the floor] No need to worry, Tree... I've never been better.
[A grin spreads across the right side of Roop's face as it flakes off into the mottled black mutilation that lies behind the hood of Slagar... then, in a flash, he transforms into Slagar completely.]
SLAGAR #6: Muahahaha! So I'm back to using the first-person singular, then?
SLAGAR #3: Well, when referring to ourself on the basis of individual Slagars rather than the entire Slagar aggregate - the Slaggregate, if you will - the singular is obviously called for.
SLAGAR: It's great to finally get all of this grammatical dissection out into the open, isn't it?
SLAGAR #5: A chance to revel in my secret passion at last...
CLECKY: [Peering out from behind the bandstand and growing indignant in tone] Wait a bally second, did Slagar really turn Roop into another clone o' himself...?
SLAGAR: Indeed I did.
SLAGAR #2: And I'm far, far, FAR from finished increasing my numbers.
SLAGAR #4: The more the merrier...
GERUL: Now THAT is something me ould mother would say.
[The original Slagar rolls his eyes and wordlessly performs the same procedure with the staff on Gerul, who changes much more quickly (although somewhat less accurately) into one of the Slagars.]
SLAGAR #7: Muahahaha! My old mother said, "I've sold hens their own eggs back and stolen the whiskers from farmyard dogs".
SLAGAR #3: Note to selves: the quality of copies is partially dependant upon the quality of the minds they are created from.
SLAGARTAR: [Over the loudspeaker] Yeah i knowall about that im like the wrost copy ever i am lik canot even takl rite o man i am sucha foolololo
SLAGAR #5: Ah, that reminds me!
SLAGAR #6: Yes, it does!
SLAGAR: [To the audience members, some of which had been walking stealthily towards the exits] About that backstage business I had been talking about earlier: I was referring to how myselves and I had to corner Gartar and replace him with one of us, so that we would be guaranteed a smooth, uninterrupted broadcast. Oh yes, and I also had all of the set's exits sealed so that none of you can escape before I turn the rest of you into duplicates as well.
[At this, the crowd becomes panicked and riotous. Treerose and Clecky make a charge for Slagar, but are held off by three of his clones. The original tosses one of them his glowing staff, which is quickly used to convert the remaining band members into Slagars. He then spreads his arms wide in the air as screams of terror fill the studio's air.]
SLAGAR: Ah, sweet pandemonium! It should be spreading throughout this bitter joke of an afterlife even now. Not only have I taught my talent for altering my ethereal appearance to the ever-loyal Ascrod, I have passed it on to the small army that is me. It has been lying in wait for days now in your midst, waiting for the confirmation of my success to be announced on this show. Finally, my message shall be heard by all creatures: that -
[The feed is cut off and replaced by footage of a mouse at a desk, wearing what may be a fur toupee, reading announcement from a scroll of parchment in his paws.]
R.R.R.: We interrupt this program for an emergency broadcast of Ironically Timed News! I'm your emergency host, Richard "Redundant" Richards. Panic fills each vale and hill of the Dark Forest tonight, as several hundred creatures shed their disguises, revealing themselves to be duplicates of the infamous badly-dressed villain "Slagar the Cruel"... in disguise.
[Live footage of several Slagar clones chucking their bolas towards hapless bystanders and setting fire to the dark woods themselves is shown.]
R.R.R.: Utilizing their numbers and the element of surprise, these bands of Slagars are wreaking havoc unlike any that has been wreaked here in ages. Gangs of dead vermin, disgruntled and bitter towards their eternal punishments, appear to be throwing off their chains of torture and irony and joining the wreaking en masse. But what can we do to unwreak what has already been wreaked?
[ The footage switches back to the newsroom.]
R.R.R.: We've contacted professional vermin analyst Abbess Byrony for her thoughts on why this is happening at this time, and why it is taking place... now. Byrony?
[A spectacle mouse is shown before a similar desk.]
BYRONY: Thank you, Richard. Now, I feel the main cause of this eruption of Slagar's previously contained angst - manifesting itself magically as hostile other beings - is his childhood trauma of being brutalized by a vicious snake. What Slagar is really asking for is hugs! And pain. PAIN! KILL THE VERMIN! PAINT THE FOREST WITH THE BLOOD OF THIS SELF-ABSORBED BERZERKER! TAKE OUT YOUR STEEL, BOYS! And all of your love. Back to you, Richard!
[The toupee-wearing mouse is shown again, looking somewhat confused]
R.R.R.: Thank you, Byrony. ...I think. Also here with us tonight, to provide us with hypothetical Dark Forest military strategies in the face of this cataclysmic upheaval is hypothetical Dark Forest military strategist, Brigadier Thyme. Brigadier Thyme, what hypothetical military strategy have you formulated for us in the face of this attack?
[The camera pans out as the mouse talks to reveal a hare wearing a decorated military uniform sitting beside him. The hare clears his throat before speaking in a loud, pronounced voice.]
BRIGADIER THYME: Total and unconditional surrender.
R.R.R.: Oh. And, er, what sort of defensive measures does that entail?
BRIGADIER THYME: Well actually, the real beauty of this strategy is that it doesn't involve taking any kind of action. Instead it involves employing a sort of inaction, combined with a general resignation to the impending fall of our afterlife structure before the menace of a single fox.
R.R.R.: Are you really suggesting that we throw in the towel? Raise the white flag? Buckle under the pressure? Surrender? Back out? Abandon hope? Capitulate? In short, are you recommending that we... give up the ghost?
BRIGADIER THYME: Yes.
BRIGADIER THYME: It's dangerous, isn't it? Fighting the lot of them, I mean. Warfare might seem like a picnic in the picture books, but it ain't so fun when you're getting sliced indiscriminately into ribbons! People die that way, y'know. I myself have been killed in combat, and believe me, it's a pretty negative experience.
R.R.R.: But this is the Dark Forest, everyone here has died already.
BRIGADIER THYME: Well then they'll understand where I'm coming from on this!
R.R.R.: Impeccable wisdom from the suspiciously accent-light Brigadier Thyme! We of the Dark Forest Broadcasting Corporation thank you, Brigadier, for taking the... thyme... out of your busy schedule to speak with us...? [Snickers]
[The hare glowers condescendingly at the mouse for a moment, then instantaneously changes shape into Slagar and hurls a newly-formed bolas in his direction. The news anchor's toupee still flutters in the air as the fox takes his seat.]
SLAGAR #284: As much as I would have loved to continue crushing the morale of the public under the guise of a reliable source, it's sounding as though we'll hardly need the support. Plus that guy was just plain annoying. Anyhow, I'm fairly sure that the rest of us have taken over the DFBC control center by now, so without further ado, let's get back to me!
[Back at the set of Slagar the Cruel: Coast to Coast, the audience and backstage workers have been corralled into a line, and are being led one by a crowd of Slagar duplicates to another Slagar duplicate, who promptly turns each into Slagar. The original Slagar, who has taken to wearing a high silver crown atop his masked head, probably to denote his originality and all around monarchial sensibilities, strides in front of the cameras with his paws clenched behind his back.]
SLAGAR: Welcome back, deadbeasts and deadbeats alike. I'm sure many of you are just now taking notice of my modest program for the first time, as I have been informed that we who have seized control of the DFBC have by now made certain that I am on every channel. Now, if you look behind me, you'll see the inevitable fate of every soul in this entire realm being exacted upon my show's audience...
MOKKAN: [From near the front of the line] Oh, but that's where you're wrong, Slagar! I do not consider myself one of your lowly audience members, for I am a Marlfox! And a true Marlfox - by which I mean to exclude yourself, Ascrod - never subjects himself, to any other being, even to pay attention to their entertainment. No! No, I was only here in the interest of reminding everyone that once this show is canceled, my associates and I are banking on this timeslot falling into more capable paws. Our paws! So stay tuned, souls of the dead, for Stickabee's Playhouse, coming this Fall, a Fall which will mark the commencement of the -
[Mokkan reaches the head of the line, where he is turned into Slagar]
SLAGAR #879: Muahahaha! Ugh, just my luck, I'm the iteration of my consciousness that grew out of a Marlfox.
SLAGAR: Oh yes, that reminds me: major props to Ascrod, the only non-Slagar to officially serve as part of my new regime. Though I recognize the disenfranchised dead vermin who have taken up my cause as well. For as long as they're convenient.
SLAGAR: Ascrod and I go way back, you see. We were assigned near eachother in the Mines of Misery that run beneath Hellgates, that eternal den of suffering where vermin were originally obligated to spend all of eternity.
ROBERT GARRISON: [From the line] As was discussed at some length in episodes 7 and 8!
SLAGAR: An ordinary vermin soul would be crushed and disheartened by the place... but I was not. I realized, at the core of my being, that I was guilty of nothing, that I had only done what I had to do, that I had been wronged. The only possible recourse was vengeance. Because I was forced to chisel at infinite pillars of rock while wading in a river of boiling acid at the time, however, my only option was to wait it out, though I shared my intentions with Ascrod and promised him a part in any future schemes.
ASCROD: And bragged about how great you were.
SLAGAR: Hey, it's a valid way of overcoming demeaning circumstances. So eventually, the mysterious Dark Forest Supervisors began handing out Dantean ironic punishments to a limited number of vermin in place of servitude in the Mines. I seized the opportunity, making sure to absolutely secure a secluded position where I could scheme in secret... and so I ended up writing that stupid advice column.
ROBERT GARRISON: See episode 8 and the "Ask Slagar" saga!
SLAGAR: ...yes. Now, soon after I began working on the column, I recognized that I had made a mistake. Not that I couldn't bear being subjected to attending to the concerns of the most unbearably inane creatures throughout the universe... although to the Dark Forest Supervisors' credit, that was a pain in the neck. Rather my plan was flawed because, as I had quickly discovered, actually experiencing the Dark Forest was a crucial step in ascending to power. Because this is a metaphysical realm, it is mostly conceptual, and he who grasps a concepts grasps a key to its domination. The column did provide me with an invaluable tool, however... popularity. Popularity I could barter with. People were somehow entertained by my cruel indifference to their plights, and so when I threatened to renounce the column in favor of another punishment, I was able to convince the DFS to give me all of this... my window to the afterlife.
FERRET KID IN LINE: Look, are there going to be any jokes in this monologue or what? This show's boring me outta my skull!
SLAGAR: Bump that one to the front of the line. But, yes, Slagar the Cruel: Coast to Coast was designed to expose me to the Dark Forest... its workings, its inhabitants, and even the ghost technology, which like everything here takes only a conceptual grasp and will power to operate... which I believe old Gartar owes much of his success to.
SLAGARTAR: o man ya u tellim slager o wate i gess tecnically i am still him, rofl
SLAGAR: Gartar, the Roaringburn Five, Vitch... I hired the lot of them knowing that they would ruin my shows routinely, because it was the only thing that would keep the series afloat. If the Dark Forest Supervisors noticed that I wasn't suffering for even a minute, they'd have the series canceled faster than... I don't know, there aren't any memorable cancelled shows, if there were, they wouldn't have been cancelled. Yet despite my best efforts to make my show seem to meet Dark Forest regulations, I found that my security guards had been planted by the officials in order to spy on me as I read through the automatic transcripts.
ROBERT GARRISON: As unseen in episode 4!
SLAGAR: And by the claw, how has he not reached the front of the line yet?!
SLAGAR #615: We'll redouble our efforts to tend to all of these creatures...
SLAGAR #507: As we redouble ourselves, I mean.
ROBERT GARRISON: B-but I was only trying to accentuate your recounting with source information, sirs... do you have any idea how dry it is to just have you up there divulging all of this?
SLAGAR: [Rubbing his chin contemplatively] Hrmm... I suppose the rat has a point. Alright... [Pointing at random into the growing crowd of Slagars] ...me, me, me, me, and me, the lot of you do the rest of the dramatic exposition. Maybe throw in a bit more drama and ease back on the exposing?
[The five duplicates take their places in front of the camera while the crowned original steps back into the midst of his doubles. Each of the Slagars selected scribble the names of their respective roles and pin the scraps to their cloaks.]
"THREECLAWS / HALFTAIL": Yarr-harr-harr! I, Threeclaws (whose name was actually Halftail all along), am secretly working for a mysterious Dark Forest Supervisor known as "Garcin" to keep an eye on Slagar lest he get too out of hand!
"HALFCHOP": I, too, am doing what was just mentioned. Kachunk.
"SLAGAR #1": Gasp! I, the original Slagar, have stumbled upon a conspiracy against me whilst browsing my show's archives. And just as I had learned that you can change your appearance in the Dark Forest by concentrating on your self image! And found out during an attack from a "spectral projection" of Matthias that one's mind and personality could be effectively duplicated through the Dark Forest Supervision Force's soul-manipulation technology! And inferred from that part of the archives I had stumbled upon (as well as several of the ironic punishments hereabouts) that a soul's mind can probably be altered or even replaced!
ROBERT GARRISON: [Quickly and desperately while being turned into a Slagar clone] Eeagh - as seen in - in episodes 5, and 6, and - [Poof.] Mua ha ha ha ha!
"SLAGAR #1": I have always sort of tried to appear the "fall guy" while on my show in order to appease both my fans and this place's bosses with the misadventures of my goofy caricature... but it may not be enough once I get an actual plan underway!
"MATTHIAS": Me Matthias! Durrrr! Me not like Slagar, so me make rival TV show to divert attention from it! It not even enter me tiny mind that this prove invaluable benefaction to he! Durrrr!
"SLAGAR #1": What luck! And I think I've finally got a real ultimate plan for total vengeance and supreme rulership of the afterlife worked out. Hey, I should call up Ascrod to get him in on this thing! Oh wait, the DFS might remember that we worked together back in the Mines of Misery and get suspicious about our meeting. Curses! But what if I, the genius that I am, were to invite the entire Marlfox brood on to the show? I'm brilliant!
"ASCROD": And I'm boring.
"SLAGAR #1": I realize this! Still, I need someone who is competent and diabolical enough to pull off one of my plans with me without being independent and treacherous enough to stab me in the back, and that's you all over. Now, I'll teach you the ol' disguise trick, and then you lie in wait around the studio during each taping, while I keep hyping up my show's impending obscurity and otherwise botching things, until my bodyguards announce that I no longer need to be watched.
"HALFCHOP": You no longer need to be watched!
"SLAGAR #1": Now I will commence a big confusing melee fight that will distract all possible observers! During this fight, Ascrod and I will pull off the following switches using the disguise trick we have both mastered.
["SLAGAR #1" scribbles "THREECLAWS / HALFTAIL" over his scrap of parchment, "ASCROD" scribbles "SLAGAR" over his, and "THREECLAWS / HALFTAIL" appends "(STOWED SOMEWHERE UNDER THE FLOORBOARDS)" to his.]
HALFTAIL: I am stupid and will let you follow me while Ascrod keeps up the appearance of you still being where you normally are.
[There is a sudden lull.]
SLAGAR: So... that's, uh, that's about where you all came in, I guess. What, no sarcastic comments? No attacks on my character?
ASCROD: That's because the rest of you have finished converting everyone into clones.
SLAGAR: Well, I know that, of course. Are you insinuating that I do not know the work of my own heart and soul's extensions?
ASCROD: Let me guess, this is the part where you come up with some ridiculous charge against my loyalty to you and your greater cause and use that as an excuse to assimilate me into your growing army of yourself.
SLAGAR: How dare you question my intentions in such a manner! [A Slagar clone tosses Slagar the glowing staff.] If your loyalty is that thin, then I'm afraid you must become... one of me.
SLAGARS: [Chanting] One of me! One of me!
SLAGAR #424: Okay, now my use of grammar is really starting to confuse me.
ASCROD: Really, Slagar... I've known you this long, and you really believe that I'd trust you? You're not the only one who can do research on the Dark Forest, you know. Remember Vulpuz, the ancient spirit of evil who rules over the Mines of Misery and is trapped in the vestibule of Hellgates? Apparently, when invoked, he can appear anywhere in the realm of the dead. You've got to wonder if the true king of evil would be interested in taking an operation that stands poised to conquer the entire Dark Forest off of your paws completely... and you've also got to wonder whether you can shoot me with that wand of yours before I can call him down.
SLAGAR: So... it's a standoff, then.
[The Slagar clones back off from the two original foxes as the two former friends stare eachother down. Slagar's claws finger his wand and Ascrod bites his lip. A tumbleweed rolls by. And without warning, the set's doors swing open.]
ASCROD: [Turning his head] What the...?
[Slagar takes the opportunity to fire the wand at the Marlfox, creating another cackling addition to his numbers. The cackling is short-lived, however, as a procession of woodlander warriors of legend - ferocious mice, squirrels, hares, and otters - armed to the teeth and seeming in no mood to negotiate. Matthias of Redwall leads the procession, flanked by a dozen warrior champions of Redwall, each holding a spectral version of the sword of Martin the Warrior.]
SLAGAR: ...can I help you?
MATTHIAS: I am Matthias of Redwall, and we hail from Warriors Weekly, that show which tapes down the hallway. But don't mind us, we're just passing through to end your show, your newly launched reign of terror... and you.
SLAGAR: [Staring down the warriors as his clones fan out to surround them] Is that so, Matthias? And how do you intend to "end" me?
MATTIMEO: You've taken advantage of the seat of power you were so shortsightedly awarded in this studio to cause problems yet again, as my father knew you would.
MARIEL: Right. Nobeast has ever gotten as far as you have in taking on the Dark Forest's rules without being taken down first, Slagar...
ARVEN: One can only assume that they'll go to extra measures to make sure you're never a problem again, vermin!
MARTIN II: So my grandfather is just being optimistic by predicting that the likes of you will be blotted out from existence once and for all, once we've defeated you.
SLAGAR: How interesting to note what would happen if I were to be defeated! It is always nice to indulge in a bit of escapism now and then. However, you currently find yourself in reality, and the law of the day is mine!
TAMMO: Y'sound so sure! We made short work o' those knockoffs o' yourself wot were patrollin' the studios, and there isn't an obstacle in the world that'll keep us from taking down the -
TIMBALLISTO: [From the hallway, outside of the set] Um, I can't get the ballista through this door. Is there another way I can go?
TRISS: [Standing near the doors, she pokes her head outside] Thank you, Timballisto, for just completely ruining the mood of the banter we had going just now!
NIMBALLO: Forget th' bloody banter, let's get to th' bloodshed! My axe's been waitin' for some vermin to start trouble ever since I got here!
MATTHIAS: [Shrugs] Eh, he's right. [Shouting fiercely] FOR REDWALL!
[And so the warriors charge, and they do so for Redwall, just as they had proclaimed. Melee weapons clash with the bolas of an army of Slagars as the clone-making staff's beams ricochet through the studio, occasionally converting a warrior, but more commonly just making a double Slagar. Which doesn't really help matters much. Recognizing his greater importance, the first Slagar looks on from the stage while his copies do battle below. The warriors are doing pretty good in this battle, because let's face it, they are the greatest warriors in the Redwall chronology, and plus Slagar's weapon is ranged and probably does not help that much in close combat. Which isn't to say their numbers alone aren't enough to keep some of the fighters at bay.]
SAMKIM: [Backing into a corner, surrounded by Slagars, with the warrior mouse Dandin by his side] There are just too many of them!
DANDIN: Maybe we're goin' about this the wrong way.
SAMKIM: What do you mean?
DANDIN: Maybe the trick is to outwit 'em, to use their own multitude against 'em! [Cupping his paws around his mouth and shouting] Hey, Slagars! You're all Slagar, right? Then which one of you is the REAL Slagar?
SLAGAR #404: ...the one on the stage with the silver crown on up there on the stage, of course.
SLAGAR #321: Yeah, what are you, blind?
DANDIN: [Turning back towards Samkim] Okay, bad idea. Maybe I can use their shared hubris against them, then. [Shouting again] Hey, you can't all be the greatest villain of all time, can you? One of you has to be the best! Maybe you should all bicker and fight about the answer to this quandary, resulting in crushing disunity!
SLAGAR #867: Well, logically the best Slagar would be the real Slagar.
SLAGAR #542: He's up there on the stage, watching from a safe distance.
SLAGAR #733: And who can blame him? We ARE more expendable than him.
[Dandin turns towards Samkim, visibly out of ideas.]
SAMKIM: Supposing we present them with a logical paradox...
DANDIN: No, no, that's for robots, not evil duplicates!
SAMKIM: What's a robot?
DANDIN: Well I can explain what they are and why I am familiar with them with a single word -
[A Slagarizing beam strikes Dandin, turning him into a Slagar clone. Obviously. The Slagar then proceeds to strike Samkim down with his bolas.]
SAMKIM: They came from... behind...!
[So the fighting goes on, and then continues, and goes on a bit longer, until all of the warriors have been turned into Slagars except for the diligent and focused Matthias, and all of the Slagars fighting below the stage have been hacked into bits, leaving only the original Slagar up on the stage, who backs away towards his desk.]
SLAGAR: Uh, wow, how did there end up being only two souls left after that colossal battle? And why does it just happen to be only us left, the two who have been ultimate rivals as long as we've known eachother?
MATTHIAS: That's irony for you.
[Matthias hurls his version of the Sword of Martin towards Slagar, pinning him to the desk.]
MATTHIAS: [Walking up to the stage to reclaim his weapon] It's over, Slagar. You're over. I don't know how many clones you created outside of the studio, but without that staff of yours, they'll ultimately diminish and be defeated. I know the DFS will find a way to reverse what you've done to all of these creatures... and even if they can't, do you believe this brainwashing of yours will last forever? [Slides the sword out of Slagar's gut]
SLAGAR: W-wait... before you chop me into wood chips and hand me over to the DFS to be thrown out of existence, or what have you... answer me just one question.
SLAGAR: How in Hellgates did you people get the doors open?! That was kind of a major plot point earlier on, that the doors were locked and nobeast could get in or out.
MATTHIAS: Threeclaws and Halftail weren't the only spies in your midst, Slagar. When I continuously voiced concern about your show to the DFS, they let me have the names of all three operatives working here, and the means to contact them.
SLAGAR: Et tu, Roop?
MATTHIAS: Guess again. Or don't. [Raises sword]
SLAGAR: Waitwaitwait one more question!
MATTHIAS: But the deal was "just one".
SLAGAR: Yeah, but this one is important and dramatic. [Clears throat] Why did you keep trying to sabotage me and my show?
MATTHIAS: Why...? Slagar, you led to the death of my mentor, and my friends, and you kidnapped my son just to spite me!
SLAGAR: It's vengeance, then?
MATTHIAS: Of course it's bloody vengeance! You caused me... no, all of us so much pain and vexation when you were alive. It's not fair that you be allowed to stride unhindered through the afterlife with these limp-wristed punishments the DFS turned out for you! Justice needed to be served... if not by the laws of this place, then by me.
SLAGAR: Tell me, Matthias, has it ever struck you that, in a lot of ways... we are the same?
MATTHIAS: Oh brother, we're not going to go through this whole hero-villain mind games shtick, are we?
SLAGAR: Can we please? Just for a little longer?
MATTHIAS: Wait a minute... you're stalling me, aren't you?
SLAGAR: Uh, before I answer that question, can I ask you one more thing?
[Matthias growls and raises the sword yet again, but before he can bring it down... something incredible happens. At first it seems like an earthquake, a loud vibration of the ground compounded with the fracture of the walls themselves... but soon, paws and bolas begin to burst through the openings. The studio itself is suddenly torn to shreds, sending a storm of rubble crashing down around Matthias and Slagar, though conveniently not on top of them. An ocean of Slagar clones stretch around the ruins of the building as far as the eye can see, standing around the black trees of a forest, once dark, now alight with the fires of destruction.]
MATTHIAS: No... dear fates, no!
SLAGAR: What was it you were saying about not knowing how many clones I created outside of the studio...? In truth, you were correct, it wasn't too many... only a few hundred. But I also armed them all with staffs of their own! Muahahaha!
[A colossal cackle rises up through the crowd, echoing through the afterlife. Several nearby clones grab Matthias, now dumbstruck, and force him to bow before the crowned Slagar.]
SLAGAR: Yes... bow, mouse! Bow before Slagar, master of life and death! Now, in fact I do have one last question for you, Matthias. Why is it that no badgerlords were a part of your little strike force? And what of Martin the Warrior? Surely the mightiest warrior of all time could have taken some time off from composing cryptic poetry to do battle with me...
[Matthias lowers his head in shame, seeming defeated. Slagar laughs, again resulting in an echo across the landscape.]
SLAGAR: You know, what you said earlier is true... brainwashing can't last forever. Eventually some of these souls would begin showing their true nature again, eventually fighting off and rejecting my influence. Perhaps the DFS would be willing to tolerate a limited reign of evil... but what if it were to spill out into the world of the living? Suppose I use the staff on Martin, or a badgerlord. Would the clones created in their place not inherit their power to transcend the Dark Forest? What sort of advice should I dispense to the creatures of Redwall and Salamandastron, I wonder...?
MATTHIAS: It will never happen, you monster! We've hidden them in a place where... where you'll never find them!
SLAGAR: Oh, but I think I will. Remember, Matthias, that your comrades have all switched sides thanks to the tool I have created... and that soon, you will join them. I already have all of the information I could possibly need.
[The Slagar clones begin pacing around the ruined studio, forming into lines behind the original.]
SLAGAR #82,337: My victory is assured...
SLAGAR #246,925: No, my victory is at hand!
SLAGAR #1,337: Every soul in the Dark Forest is quickly succumbing to my power...
SLAGAR #225,023: Soon, every creature that has ever lived will bear my name and likeness!
SLAGAR #1,532,666: And nothing... nothing will stand in my way this time!
SLAGAR: For inevitably, I shall have a weapon against the world that will force this world's rulers to take notice of my demands... soon, I shall find the soul of Martin the Warrior!
MARTIN THE WARRIOR: Why not save thyself the trouble and face me now?
[A streak of silver light seems to have careened across the Dark Forest, chopping down each Slagar clone in its path. Finally it comes to a halt before the crowned Slagar, a mouse in gleaming armor wielding a great circular shield and a mighty blade, and with a singe slashing arc the figure incapacitates each of the foxes.]
MATTHIAS: [Joyous and relieved] Martin!
SLAGAR: [Backing away towards the lines of clones, which stand glowering with crossed arms.] Mister Warrior! I'd make a Matrix reference here if the similarity wasn't already hilariously obvious!
MARTIN THE WARRIOR: Slagar the fox! Your judgment is at hand!
SLAGAR: Now now, Martin, there's no need to do anything you might - [Suddenly, to his clones] STAFF!
[A clone to Slagar's left tosses him a glowing staff, but Martin somersaults through the air to slice it in half before it reaches the fox.]
SLAGAR: Hmm... very nice, Martin. Your reputation is well-deserved. I can see that I will have to - [Again abruptly and towards his copies] STAFF!
[Another clone to Slagar's right throws him another glowing staff, which he manages to catch. Shortly afterwards, his arm is hacked off by Martin's sword.]
MARTIN THE WARRIOR: Your foul trickery shall not avail you in this battle, vermin.
SLAGAR: I beg to differ.
[The true Slagar leaps back into his horde of clones, which, as though on signal, begin latching their paws onto one another in a chain formation in the hundreds. Finally, a foxlike shape of red, blue, and orange rises out of the multitude, each of its claws a clone of Slagar bending unnaturally in the air, as the true Slagar, one-armed but still wearing the silver crown atop his head, stands triumphantly atop the thing's equivalent of a snout. The thing shudders unnaturally, a single yet fractured organism, as it lets out a laugh.]
SLAGAR: Care to engage in a bit of... one-on-one combat, Martin...?
MARTIN THE WARRIOR: Your numbers and form matter not to me, for you are naught but a bully and a coward at heart, blinded and weakened by your selfishness. But I... I am as much a symbol of the truth as I ever was a living creature. I am, myself, a concept... an unbreakable ideal, that can overcome any evil, even -
[The gigantic mass of Slagar flicks Martin's comparatively puny form with one of its gargantuan "paws", sending the armored mouse flying towards the other end of the Dark Forest. The clones instantly detach from one another, landing upon their feet.]
SLAGAR: [Tugging collar] Eeh... guess I didn't know our own strength. But no matter, I'm sure that I have spread by now to whatever corner he has landed in...
[A sword flies through the air and into Slagar's midsection, causing him to stumble to the ground. He quickly recovers and pulls the sword out with his remaining paw, and turns in the direction from which it was thrown]
[Matthias stands shuddering, his paws outstretched, tears threatening to stream down his face at his hopeless situation. Slagar picks through the rubble to find his arm, still clutching a glowing staff, and fastens it to his empty socket. He then walks towards the mouse and hoists him upright, raising his staff as his clones look on in excitement.]
SLAGAR: I have dreamed of this moment, mouse... oh, how I have dreamed. I have defeated you, and all that you stand for. It is time for me to satiate my vengeance once and for all... and then, all that is left is to confront the Supervisors of this cursed world themselves.
???: Did someone mention me?
[In a dark flash (which is somehow possible), Slagar's paw no longer clutches the neck of Matthias' chainmail... for the fox stands alone amidst the wreckage, surrounded only be an impenetrable blackness, and trees which have arisen around the area. A tall and slender hooded figure in a black cloak steps out from behind one of the trees.]
SLAGAR: It's you!
???: How are you gentlemen?
SLAGAR: [Clutches paws over ears] Agh, no terrible referential jokes! Not now! I mean, what's going on here?! I had just taken over the Dark Forest, you Supervisors can't just whisk that away like it never happened! And if you could, why didn't you do it earlier?
???: Impressive! You've raised two common misconceptions in one fell swoop. First of all, there is really only one Dark Forest Supervisor, the one whom you are speaking to at present. Second of all, yes, I totally can. Also, I would have taken care of this entire mess earlier, but... well, you know how it is, getting sidetracked with other projects and concerns. Plus I'll admit that I was a little interested in how this would end up turning out.
SLAGAR: You're Garcin then, are you?
GARCIN: At your service.
SLAGAR: So, uh... are you here to listen to my demands?
GARCIN: I suppose I don't see any harm in listening to them.
SLAGAR: [Sounding increasingly crestfallen] Right, well, here goes... [Clears throat] I demand that I be subjected to punishments for my supposed crimes in the living world no longer... that I be treated with dignity and respect... and that I be awarded a mansion made out of solid gold.
[Garcin pauses for a few moments before speaking, as though to reflect upon the proposal.]
GARCIN: 24 karat?
GARCIN: Then no.
SLAGAR: Alright, 14 then.
SLAGAR: Okay, okay, forget the gold mansion that was stupid to begin with. Supposing you give me a mansion... made out of solid silver...
GARCIN: Still no.
SLAGAR: Just the freedom, respect, and dignity, then?
GARCIN: Oh, cut it out, I know you're smarter than this. You've figured out ten times over by now who's really at the other's mercy.
SLAGAR: It's... it's just not fair, though! I went to a lot of trouble to pull this off, you know? What are you, anyways, some kind of Dark Forest concept-god?
GARCIN: No! No-no-no-no-NO. Yes. Maybe. I mean, I didn't create this place or anything here, I just shaped the rules and organized everything. I'm more a supervisor than anything else, really... hey, what do you know! I guess that's where the name comes from! Anyways, Slagar, did it ever occur to you that if you had come to terms with your faults instead of denying them, you could have... I don't know, earned respect and dignity, and proven that you're ready to leave the ironic punishment cycle yourself? Instead of organizing an impossibly complicated and almost as impossibly hard-to-swallow master plan for revenge?
GARCIN: Yeah, I thought not. Another question for you... do you know why it is that I assigned you to an advice column to begin with, despite the menace you represent? And why I allowed you to start your own TV show, knowing full well that it would create an even greater problem?
SLAGAR: Because you enjoy watching me suffer, of course.
GARCIN: No. Well, yes, sort of. The point is that I found you entertaining, Slagar. You amused me. You amused others. And for that, I felt it was worth all the risks and stress to keep you going. But nowadays, well, I'm not laughing. Judging by the tanking ratings of your show... whether it was an intentional element of your master plan or not... there really aren't a lot of people left who even care about your antics at this point.
SLAGAR: But.. they should care now, shouldn't they? I mean, I've gone from being a small-time villain with a complex backstory and an inscrutable lovability to being an epic conqueror of worlds...
GARCIN: I haven't gotten to the point yet. You're a problem now, Slagar... and as you've proven here tonight, you might be more trouble keeping around like this than you're worth.
SLAGAR: [Shrugs and sighs.] Yeah, I guess you're right. Oh well, I gave it my best shot... at least I get to afterlive with the knowledge that I wiped the smirk off of Matthias' face. Back to the advice column full-time, then?
GARCIN: [Chortles, then grows serious] No, I think not.
GARCIN: From this day forth, Slagar the Cruel will be no more.
SLAGAR: [Hanging his head sullenly] I was afraid you were going to say that. Oh well, I guess non-existence can't be that much worse than what I've had to put up with around here...
GARCIN: [Drawing closer to Slagar] Who said anything about non-existence? All I said was that Slagar the Cruel will be no more..
SLAGAR: Oh. ...OH. [Suddenly waving his paws frantically] NONONOPLEASEAGHNOTTHATANYTHINGBUTTHAT-
[A furless hand extends from Garcin's cloak as he bends towards Slagar, coming to rest on Slagar's mask... which is quickly torn from the fox's head. In a second dark flash, the multitude of souls return to the newly replenished forest, gazing incredulously about themselves... the only checkered mask held in Garcin's tight grip. Slagar is gone.]
CLECKY: [Climbing out of the rubble] Augh, my blinkin' head... what happened while I was out?
GERUL: [Also crawling from the debris] Ah, Clecky, me ould pal. Do ye know what me ould mother would say to that?
[A larger female barn owl swoops down from out of the sky.]
GERUL'S OULD MOTHER: Ah, me ould son, there ye are! Slagar tried to take over the Dark Forest by turning everybeast into his clone, that he did. Also, floss routinely after every meal! [Flies off]
GERUL: Me ould mother would say, Slagar tried to take over the -
CLECKY: I heard it th' first time!
[Warriors climb from the ruined studios, families reunite throughout the forest, and everything is very touching and sentimental. You would probably cry if you were there. Or else maybe you're a stone-hearted jerk, but hey, that's your prerogative. Matthias approaches Garcin during this insanely moving event.]
MATTHIAS: I can't thank you enough for restoring everything here, Garcin! But, eh... might I ask what you ended up doing with Slagar?
GARCIN: You might.
MATTHIAS: Er... then I am, right now.
GARCIN: Well, he's gone, isn't he?
MATTHIAS: From existence itself? I mean, you must concede at this point, what he's done is enough to warrant such a punishment...
GARCIN: Do you realize, Matthias, that he could never have pulled this off without the help of you and your associates?
MATTHIAS: ...help is a strong word for what we did, don't you think? We were only trying to do what is right-
GARCIN: -by taking justice into your own hands, right, because you assumed I had no idea of what I was doing. You know, I really did expect better from a warrior mouse, Matthias... especially one held in such high regard by Martin.
MATTHIAS: But he had wronged me! I only wanted revenge!
GARCIN: [Shaking his head] You know, sometimes I wonder whether you folks even need my help to create irony in this place.
[Without saying another word, Garcin disappears into the shadow, leaving Matthias to contemplate the decisions he had made. The creatures who once formed the band of Slagar the Cruel: Coast to Coast stand not particularly far from the encounter.]
TREEROSE: Did you hear that?
CLECKY: 'Course I did! I've got the tallest ears of any of us, wot?
TREEROSE: Particularly the bit about Slagar being gone, though.
CLECKY: The bally realization's just startin' to dawn... s'pose we're flippin' unemployed, wot?
TREEROSE: It's not just that. As much as I criticized Slagar, and the way he ran things, I... I did find working with him here kind of entertaining. And it seemed like there would always be more shows, and more comical Slagar screw-ups to laugh at, you know? But now, the whole routine's gone... and there's just this void left in its place.
CLECKY: Guess we'll have to find a new way to squander our time.
[The Roaringburn Four stare solemnly at their feet, reflecting on all that has changed for them in Slagar's disappearance, and trying to fathom a way to fill the void he has left in their afterlives.]
GERUL: We could start a hockey team.
TREEROSE: Gerul... have I ever told you that you are a genius?
ROARINGBURN FOUR: [Collectively] HURRAH! THREE CHEERS FOR ICE HOCKEY!
ROOP: Hurr, can oi be goalie?
TREEROSE: Of course!
GARTAR: [Appearing from seemingly out of nowhere] can i drive teh zamb0ni?
TREEROSE: Uh... sure, why not?
GELLTOR: [Appearing from literally out of nowhere] Can I be Marlfox?
MOKKAN: [Also appearing from nowhere] Of course you can be a Marlfox, dear brother, for that is what Marlfoxes do best!
ASCROD: [Materializing from the void as well] Why don't the both of you shut up, you arrogant, spastic... aw, who am I kidding, I love you guys.
[The three Marlfox brothers hug, resulting in an "AWWWW" of epic proportions. All of the sudden Halftail rises from the ruins, obscuring the rest of the creatures in the shot completely.]
HALFTAIL: Hmph... thanks fer noticin' I was missin' and helpin' me out from under th' floorboards, y' stupid... huh? Wot, this camera's still on after all this? I wonder how that big quake-thingy missed it a while ago. [Leaning in more closely towards the camera, and extending his paws towards it] Ah, but there's somethin' stuck to the lense! I bet the ex-chief'll be proud o' me if I unscrew it and -
NARRATOR: We're going to be taking a look at the home of one "Vitch the Awesome", a rat who - along with the more obscure Halftail and Halfchop - managed to secure freedom from the vermin afterlife cycle by spying on and delivering access to the legendary villain Slagar the Cruel, evil rest his glorious hood wherever he is, during his brief stint on late night television! But hey, who can blame Vitch when redemption pays off like this?
[The footage switches to inside the fabulous golden manor. The camera follows Vitch, now inexplicably taller than he has ever been seen before, and a ratmaid wielding a trident who walks closely by his side.]
VITCH: Yeah, I'd definitely say I've been redeemed. I mean, I used to be some little snot-nosed punk, you know? And it ended up getting me put into a really miserable afterlife occupation. But, y'know, I rose above my circumstances, and just reached up into the cloud and grabbed my dreams, from among the rainbows of uncertainty. And now, well, I just can't imagine my afterlife getting any better than this. I'm perfectly content here in my 24 karat home, with my fiancÚ Sagitar, my ridiculous, ridiculous amount of wealth...
[Vitch stops before a supplies closet, where a young fox scrubs a shelf diligently, muttering obscenities under his breath all the way.]
VITCH: ...and of course my scullery maid, Chickenhound.
[The young fox whirls indignantly towards the camera and begins ranting in a slightly nasal voice.]
CHICKENHOUND: I'll have you know that I am not a scullery maid! Why, I was the last in a proud lineage of healer foxes! I managed to sneak into Redwall single-handedly and pilfer goods before getting killed and devoured by Asmodeus the snake! And if I hadn't died an early death, I guarantee you that I would be -
VITCH: Ah, don't mind him, he tends to prattle on about nothing.
CHICKENHOUND: Take a long walk off a short pier, you bullying simpleton!
[Vitch slams the closet's door, causing the shelf Chickenhound was polishing to snap. A vat labeled "ACID" lands upon the fox's skull. He goes out like a light.]