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Empire on Ice #37: Gorshoth the Impune

This week! A vile enemy is threatening the Imperial frontier, and Josh and Silence wield left-handed martial arts to decide who'll get to go fight and who'll have to stay and look after the Empire. But will Grieve's Jenga tower survive their confrontation?

[It's evening at Josh's ritzy Club Commons Imperiale, where many of the Empire's most prominent figures come for a stylish ropose, Silence is sitting in a big, comfortable armchair in one of the lounges. She's watching three different YouTube videos at the same time: one on the big-screen TV, another on her laptop, and a third one on her smart phone. At the same time, she's wearing sunglasses and has an old-fashioned tanning reflector in her lap, even though she's fully dressed, it's dark outside, and the indoor lighting is ambient. She's also eating cheese balls from a big bowl sitting on the table beside her.]

[Josh walks in and comes right up to her with some urgency, a look of concern marring his face.]

Josh: Silence, you got a moment?

[Silence pulls her sunglasses down the bridge of her nose and hisses at him.]

Josh: I'm sorry to bother you on your day off! This is important!

Silence: Oh, I can't hiss at you for long. Sure, Boss. What's up?

Josh: Trouble!

Silence: I told you that wasabi shampoo wasn't a good idea.

Josh: No, something much worse. Well, moderately worse.

Silence: How bad?

[But she doesn't seem to be paying very close attention to his reply.]

Josh: Bad. My sordid enemy, Gorshoth the Impune, Profaner of All, has escaped from his cinder-shackles in the molten depths of—are you listening?

Silence: I can listen and watch videos at the same time.

Josh: Three different videos at the same time?

Silence: Yeah!

Josh: And eat cheese balls? And tan?

Silence: It's no problem. I'm listening. You were saying something about steam-cleaning the carpets, right?

Josh: No!

[He turns off the big TV, flips her laptop shut, and takes her phone away.]

Josh: My sordid enemy, Gorshoth the Impune, Profaner of All, has escaped from his cinder-shackles in the molten depths of the Maligfear Agony Caves, sunken these many ages beneath the Demonic Tumults of Barbus Jannah in the Underworlded Blast-Wastes. Now his squalid, disease-festering pig-general Ufnaut the Flagitious is making war against the Far Rim of the Joshalonian Empire. The frontier is in chaos! Whole continents have already retreated in terror beneath the ocean! I have to go deal with this.

Silence: [Eating a cheese ball.] So, 6 out of 10 on the scale of First Citizen Problems.

Josh: I need someone to look after things here while I'm gone.

Silence: Did you ask Afiach?

Josh: Are you kidding?

Silence: She loves wielding supreme imperial power!

Josh: She's Fluttershy! She's a doormat. She has trouble giving her order to the cashiers at restaurants. She has trouble saying no to oncoming traffic!

Silence: She just comes from a politer culture. She'd be a great emperor while you're gone.

Josh: She doesn't have the discipline to rule the Empire. I was talking about you.

Silence: Me? If we're going to mobilize me, don't you think it'd be smarter to send me to deal with Gorbachev or whomever, instead of you going yourself? Not to be harsh, Boss, but you're not exactly a De-Profaner of All.

Josh: How do you mean?

[She pokes him in his soft stomach.]

Silence: You're out of shape.

Josh: That's never stopped me from defeating supreme evil before. Besides, you're not exactly in fighting form yourself.

[He pokes her in her considerably larger soft stomach.]

Silence: That's berserker fat! It helps me plow over people.

Josh: You're not a berserker.

Silence: Er…paladin fat? For…um…cushioning the armor?

Josh: You're not a paladin.

Silence: Enough! There's a more important reason I should be the one to go.

Josh: And what's that?

[Silence makes a dramatic pause. Then the camera rushes in on her and in the style of a cheesy 1970s martial arts film she declares:]

Silence: Because your Zuoshou Jibai is weak!

[A dramatic musical flourish!]

Josh: How dare you?! I invented Zuoshou Jibai!

Silence: There's an old saying by Gandhi: "Legendary accomplishments from the past mean nothing if you can't defend them with your fists right now!"

Josh: Gandhi said that?

Silence: Well, his exact wording had a lot more profanity, but that's the basic idea. Don't deny it, Boss. My Zuoshou Jibai vastly exceeds your own!

Josh: Impossible.

Silence: Then it's a duel!

Josh: To the death?

Silence: What? No! What would possibly be the benefit of that?

Josh: But isn't that how these things usually go?

[Silence leaps up from her recliner and pounds the side table with her left hand. The bowl of cheese balls flies into the air dramatically and lands upside down on Josh's head.]

[Josh very slowly lifts the bowl off his now electric-orange cheese-coated head. Then, with blinding speed, he throws the bowl to the floor.]

[In a close-up, the bowl lands on the floor in slow motion, with a deep, profound sound effect. It spins around a few times before coming to a rest with an enormous, deep thud.]

[Josh and Silence square off, and begin fighting each other left-handed. Dramatic music plays.]

[左手击败, or Zuoshou Jibai, is a martial arts form for exclusively the left hand, and involves the elegant delivery of unstoppable blows possessed of such swiftness and originality that they cannot be anticipated. Nevertheless, these two masters of the art use their intuition to thwart and block each other with complete success.]

[As they fight, the conversation advances in bits and pieces.]

Josh: I don't understand why you're so reluctant to stay here and take charge of the Empire while I'm away.

Silence: Let my tenacity attest to my conviction!

Josh: But that doesn't say anything! How can I fight you with my full ferocity if I don't know why we're truly at odds?

[Their fight gradually takes them over to the other side of the lounge, where Grieve and DeLatia are playing Jenga. The Jenga tower is already in a precarious state.]

[DeLatia sees them coming and quickly pulls out a block, biting her lip. But the tower doesn't crumble.]

DeLatia: Your turn, Grieve! Remember, if the tower collapses on your turn, I win!

Grieve: [Seeing Josh and Silence closing in on their space.] Oh, fudge.

[Josh and Silence begin fighting in the space between the couches and the coffee table, one of them on each side. They're exchanging blows literally inches above the Jenga tower.]

Grieve: [With Josh's butt in his face.] Do you two mind?! We're trying to have a little R&R here.

DeLatia: Funny, I didn't know you were so relaxed, Grieve, given that you're already out $10,000 on our Jenga wagers and this game is double or nothing.

Grieve: I'm doing my best not to think about that right now.

[Josh and Silence pay no heed to Grieve and DeLatia.]

Silence: I'll tell you why I should be the one to go slay Gorbachev.

Josh: Gorshoth. Gorshoth the Impune.

Silence: Whatever. I have a reputation to maintain, as the best swordsmate in the world!

Josh: That's in the movie. This is real life!

[He moves to strike a decisive blow, but in a sudden burst of tactical genius she grabs a Jenga block from virtually the bottom of the tower, and brandishes it at him.]

Grieve: EEEE—

Josh: Foul! Zuoshou Jibai is an unarmed art!

Silence: You insult me. This little toothpick isn't a weapon; it's an extension of my middle finger! Wahah!

[She flicks it at him. He deflects it, and it rebounds into the Jenga tower, which sways back and forth precariously. Grieve looks like he's about to have a heart attack.]

[Then Silence plucks another block from the bottom of the tower. This time, however, Josh is ready for it and he plucks one of his own—also from the bottom of the tower, which is now dangerously unsupported. They fight with the blocks as though they were miniature knives.]

Grieve: [Sotto voce as he freaks out over the tower.] This is my tax money…

DeLatia: Do you two know how ridiculous you look, leaning in across a coffee table and just fighting with Jenga blocks in one hand and all that? And why is your head all cheesy?

Josh: If you won't tell me why you resist the honor I would lay upon you as Substitute Emperor, then so be it. Maybe I will ask Afiach!

Grieve: Make Afiach the Emperor? Are you crazy?

DeLatia: Well, I guess we're getting sacked by the Goths and the Vandals this week.

Silence: Allow me the indulgence of reminding you that I've volunteered to go defeat Gorvachev—

Josh: Gorshoth!

Silence: —and nothing's going to stop me from being the one to do it. If I have to give you a nasty splinter, I will. Don't make me do it, Boss.

[Meanwhile, Grieve has changed tactics and is trying to find a block to pull out of the tower so that it'll revert to DeLatia's turn. He tentatively puts his fingers on one of the outside blocks near the middle.]

DeLatia: Oooh. No. I wouldn't.

[Grieve recoils his fingers, furrows his brow, then moves to pull out a different one.]

DeLatia: You can't be serious. With all this ruckus going on? The tower'll go down in two seconds.

Grieve: Will you stop it already!

[Josh and Silence square off for the final attack.]

Josh: I don't want to have to humiliate you in front of the lesser nobility, but it's come to no alternative. En garde!

[They cross Jenga blocks in a fantastic swipe, and both of their blocks go flying across the lounge in opposite directions.]

[In slow motion, interspersed with camera shots on all four people, one Jenga block flies across a globe of the world, ricochets against an imperious-looking portrait of Emperor Josh, then recoils back toward the coffee table, and slams into the bottom of the Jenga tower, scattering all but one of the supporting blocks away. The tower is hanging on by a thread.]

Grieve: [In slow motion.] Noooooooo!

DeLatia: [In slow motion.] Haaaaaaa!

[In slow motion, the other Jenga block sails in the other direction, flying across a pool table, ricocheting off a completely different imperious-looking portrait of Emperor Josh, and recoiling back toward the coffee table…where, with cuts to everyone, the block slams into the last remaining Jenga block supporting the tower.]

[In slow motion, the entire tower crumbles.]

Grieve: FFFFFFU—

* * *

Two Weeks Later

[It's daytime at the ritzy Club Commons Imperiale. Josh and Silence walk in, looking like they've just been on safari, complete with tan khakis and British-style safari hats.]

Silence: That was impressive.

Josh: Yeah. He didn't need our help at all.

Silence: I've never seen the Profaner of All look so happy to be banished back to his molten prison.

Josh: And I've never seen Ufnaut the Flagitious cry that hard. You'd think his centuries of being tortured would have desensitized him, but apparently not with Master Grieve Black on the case!

Silence: Let's hear it for Grieve Black!

Both: Huzzah!

[Grieve walks into the room. His shirt is torn and huge arm and chest muscles are apparent in the rips. It's clear he's been in an epic scuffle, and equally clear that it was no contest—the enemy never had a chance against Grieve.]

[Silence pats him on the shoulder needlessly hard, causing him to stumble forward.]

Silence: We ought to get you mad more often, Grievy.

Grieve: I really hope you don't.

Silence: But the entertainment value! I've never seen anyone punch through five skulls in one blow! I've never seen bare teeth bite through spiky metal before! [She swoons.] It's enough to make a gal's stomach go all butterfly-ey.

Josh: I think that's indigestion from all the mammoth burgers you ate.

Silence: I'd never had flaming mammoth burgers before! You can't blame me. They're such rare creatures.

Josh: And if they weren't endangered before, they probably are now.

Grieve: I'm going home for a shower and a long night's sleep.

[DeLatia walks in from another room of the club.]

DeLatia: Not before you pay me my $20,000, I hope.

Grieve: Ugh…

DeLatia: Nice to see you too.

Grieve: Were you waiting here at the club the whole time, just so you could ask me to pay you?

DeLatia: Nope. I just have good timing.

Grieve: Fine.

[He begins writing a check.]

DeLatia: Of course, since you're two weeks late, I've applied my standard interest rate…

[Meanwhile, over with Silence and Josh, Josh is reading the newspaper.]

Josh: Hey, good news!

Silence: They're bringing back Crystal Pepsi?

Josh: We didn't get sacked!

Silence: What?!

Josh: Yeah. Not one pillaging by the Vandals, the Goths, or even the US Republican Party. [He smiles at Silence.] Afiach did a good job after all!

Silence: I told you she has the chops for it!

Josh: [Reading further.] No stock market crashes. No domestic rebellions. No nuclear meltdowns. …Ah, well, she did emancipate all of our horses.

Silence: Hee!

Josh: But frankly that's the best-case scenario.

Silence: Maybe we should put her in charge more often. It was fun going out on assignment together with you.

Josh: There's still one thing I don't understand.

Silence: What's that, Boss?

Josh: Why were you so adamant that you had to be the one to go?

Silence: Oh, that. I was just messing with you.

Josh: You sure made a good show of it! You insulted my martial arts, wrecked the lounge, and cost Grieve twenty thousand Jiggities.

Silence: That's how dragons are, isn't it? [Hiss!]

Josh: Fair enough. Come on, I'll buy you an ice cream. They have a double-cream affogato here that has "draconic sybarite" written all over it…in chocolate sauce.


O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!