It began late one stormy night in a back alley of a rough stretch of the inner-city known as "Mugger's Lane" - it was a place where crime was rife and shattered dreams paved the ground like broken glass, the smell of cheap booze lingered in the air and the sounds of drunken fighting echoed from the shadows.
Walking down this dark alley was an obese figure dressed in a trenchcoat and hat, the rain not seeming to effect the figure as he stared at the ground - muttering angrily under his breath:
"..I could of been rich.. famous too.. but those little brats had to stand in my way.. damnit.. damnit all.."
A group of thugs appeared from the shadows, noticing the lone figure they approached - one of them pulling out a pistol and pointing it to the figure casually as the others sneered:
"..hand over everything you got, fatso.."
The figure stopped and looked to the thugs, as he did so their sneers changed into looks of horror as they were confronted with an inhuman monster, a parody of the human form - with wart-covered skin colored a sickly green:
"..I got nothing, punk - it's all gone.. however my friend still has something for you.."
The thugs have little time to react as a flash of lightning strikes the sky and a terrifying figure appeared behind them in the form of an enraged mime, his make-up smeared by the rain - with a simple motion of his hand the thugs were catapulted away by an invisible force and they fled in terror.
"..good work Monsieur Mime.. glad to see that Troll Charm of yours still works.." the obese figure said as the mime dusted his gloves off and made his way over.
"..yet we're still stuck with the fact we got nothing - we're washed up.. Lard Burger was going to make us big.. now we may as well be nothing.." the obese figure frowned, the mime sitting impossibly in place - as if forming an invisible chair in the alley.
Another flash of lightning struck the sky as the storm grew worse, knocking over a nearby trash can and spilling the contents on the ground next to the obese figure's feet - he moved back in anger, only for a small object to catch his eye:
"..hey.. wait a second.."
He leaned over and picked up the object, a doll which resembled a humanoid rabbit of black and white coloration..
"..that's it.." the obese figure said, grinning widely as he turned to Monsieur Mime "..I know what will put us back on top, baby! Merchandize!"
The obese figure clutched the doll in one hand as he raced down the alley, motioning Monsieur Mime "..come on! we got to get back to Underside and tell the others! This is going to be HUGE!".
Chapter 1 - Toons and Trolls..
Several weeks later the scene opened to a large shopping mall which was hosting a charity event for children who had been victims of superhuman crime and violence as well as their family, friends and well-wishers: the mall had gone all out on the event and a large stand was already in place as a crowd gathered to await the arrival of the esteemed Mr. Bucks, the mysterious billionare who had made the whole thing possible.
As part of the event hundreds of Betwixt dolls and merchandise filled the mall, giant posters depicting the black and white rabbit hung across the walls and a massive inflatable Betwixt floated above the crowds, grinning down at them in a classic cartoony fashion.
Even the mall staff got into the spirit of things and could be seen wearing hats designed to resemble Betwixt ears and t-shirts decorated with the rabbit's grinning face: several children in the crowd held tightly to the free Betwixt toys being handed out at the mall entrance.
Ruichi and Nebula happened to be present at the event; having been familiar with Betwixt, they were suspicious of the going-ons.
"This can't be good..." Ruichi said. "What do we do?"
"I got it!" Nebula exclaimed. Using her magic to summon a megaphone to her hands, she floated up high, halfway up to the ceiling in the mall lobby.
"Oh god... Nebula... please don't..." Ruichi muttered.
"ATTENTION EVERYBODY!" Nebula bellowed loudly into the megaphone, catching the attention of nearly everyone in the building. "PUT DOWN THE CARTOON RABBITS AND LEAVE THE MALL! THIS IS AN EMERGENCY! I REPEAT- FORGET THE RABBITS! THE RABBITS ARE EVIL!"
Ruichi groaned slightly and pretended not to notice what was going on.
The crowds looked to Nebula and a few large security guards moved towards her, however before they could reach her a portal opens up behind Nebula and a figure in a trenchcoat quickly takes the megaphone:
"Ha ha, ain't she a riot folks? Yeah, it's just a bit of Betwixt humor for you - no need to worry.. have fun and remember.. you break it, you buy it!".
Then before much else can be said the figure drags Nebula down to one side, away from the crowds - removing the trenchcoat to reveal a familiar cartoon feline:
"I appreciate you're trying to do the right thing kid but you don't know the rules when fighting toons.. first rule: don't ever get them angry.. you want to win, you got to be real quiet.. until we figure out what's going on.." she says in a whispered tone.
Jeniyus happened to be at the mall, and noticed what was going on. "There's something off about that rabbit..." she thought with a feeling of mild dread. She kept walking around, looking at the merchandise, trying to decide what she should buy. "I don't like the rabbit, but it's for a good cause," she thought. "Plus, I can just give away whatever I buy. I never hang onto stuffed animals or toys for very long before I donate them to charity."
"Suzi-!" Nebula began to exclaim before Ruichi leaned over and clamped a hand over her mouth.
"Enough screaming," he said to Nebula, nodding towards Suzie.
"Mmmm mmmph mmmph!" Nebula said in muffled excitement.
Suzie smiled a little and nodded to Ruichi before she motioned slightly towards a large figure who had emerged - resembling an almost comically obese man dressed in a tuxedo and holding a half-eaten burger in one hand as he moved over to a small stage and spoke to the crowds via a large microphone:
"Ha! Kids, eh? Whatcha gonna do?" he says, grinning as she waves over to Nebula and company - before returning to the crowd "..now, I hope everyone is ready because the *real* surprise is about to be revealed any moment.. you all got your free Betwixt merchandise? well, hold on tight and let's get this party started!".
There was something sinister in the way the man said the last part of the sentence and sure enough as the crowds began to cheer several large guards moved over to the side of the stage and pulled on two ropes, a rumbling sound filling the area and making the crowds pause for a moment.
"Now what?" Ruichi asks Suzie quietly.
Jeniyus looked all around, trying to locate the source of the rumbling sound. "What the...?"
Suddenly the area is closed off as windows and doors are barred by large metal sheets - the crowds looking around in a panic as mothers hold onto their children and muttering turns into angry shouts and confused chatter.
The obese man grins widely as a large television screen emerges from the stage behind him, switching itself on to reveal Betwixt - the cartoon rabbit sitting behind an old-fashioned desk, placing his feet up as he speaks in a carefree tone:
"You know when they say nothing is free? well - they weren't kidding.. you see.. you just fell into a trap.. a pretty obvious one too.. still.. I must admit.. it is a pretty handsome trap, if I dare say so.." Betwixt says, playing with a Betwixt doll as he leans back further and looks to the screen, smiling.
"It's HIM! There he-" Nebula began to call out, before Ruichi clamped a hand over her mouth again.
The crowds cotinue to shout and yell as a large device suddenly emerges from the ceiling, resembling something out of an old low-budget sci-fi movie or cartoon: the device glowing brightly as it fires upon the crowds and causes them to fall to their knees as a surge of energy passes through them like lightning - the obese man chuckling slightly as he watches this.
"..now, this will be over before you know it.. I'm just taking some of your raw psychic power.. imagination if you will.. you'll never miss it and to be honest most of you won't even remember this.." Betwixt says with disturbing calm as he continues playing wuth the doll.
"BETWIXT!" Suzie suddenly yells out, removing her disguise as she scrambles up onto the stage and stares at the screen with fury in her eyes - both Betwixt and the obese man looking surprised at the sudden outburst.
"Remember us?" Nebula called out; she and Ruichi had already flown into the air and avoided the blast from Betwixt's peculiar machine.
Betwixt frowns slightly and motions to Nebula and Ruichi "Gryme - take care of the fleshies..".
"You've went too far Betwixt! This time you're going down!" Suzie growled.
"Suzie - this is not the time nor the place!" Betwixt snapped, scrambling over and pressing himself against the screen as the two toons began to square each other off in the midst of the chaos.
As this occurs the obese man points to Nebula and Ruichi, transforming into a green-skinned caricature of his former self - with sharp claws and fangs: "..Trolls! To arms!".
Instantly several large, ugly humanoid monsters burst out from behind the stage armed with nets much like parodies of animal-control officers - swinging the devices at Nebula and Ruichi as the crowds remained under the device's control.
Jeniyus pressed her hands together and a blue light enveloped her. When it passed, she was in her superhero costume. She glared at the villains.
"Ew, gross!" Nebula said, flying higher into the air at the sight of the monsters. Ruichi hurled a ball of shadowy energy toward the strange creatures.
Jeniyus raised her hand in the air, and her sword appeared in it. Then, she held it to her side, and ran towards the monsters.
As Jeniyus transformed she found herself suddenly confronted by a tall and angry looking mime who materialized behind her like a ghost - clearly ready for a fight as he made an attempt to restrain the hero.
Meanwhile the Trolls continued to chase Nebula with their nets while a few others fall back at the energy balls - acting in many ways like grotesque cartoon characters: their apparent leader slapping his hand against his face in frustration.
"Let them go Betwixt!" Suzie yelled, pointing at the crowds.
"They are fine, Suzie - besides.. I have what I need.. time's up.." Betwixt snapped back, holding a pocket-watch up to the screen, as the clock hand moved the device suddenly shut off, the crowds slowly regaining their senses as the metal sheets began to rise, allowing the crowds to exit the mall.
One lucky troll managed to catch Nebula in his net; the little wisp gave a sudden cry and Ruichi hurled another blast of energy towards the creatures that were pursuing her.
Jeniyus whirled around and stared at the mime in shock. She jumped back a fair distance, and unleashed a psychic wave of energy at the foe by swinging her sword.
Suzie looked around as the crowds got shakily to their feet and began to flee the area, growling as she pointed to the screen "What did you do, Betwixt!?".
Betwixt didn't answer as he grinned "..alright boys, wrap it up.. let's get back to Underside and put the juice in the machine - we don't have much time before the psychic energy starts corrupting itself..".
The obese Troll leader nods slightly as he begins to depart, yelling out "You heard the Toon! don't think of it as fleeing so much as exiting really fast - Trolls, get to getting!".
With that the Trolls all begin to flee out of the area, including the ones that were harassing Nebula and Ruichi - however the mime doesn't seem to listen as he waves his arms around as if forming a box: the psychic wave bouncing off the strange, invisible force.
"Come on Monsieur! Don't be an idiot!" the obese Troll yells out, pausing once he realizes his right-hand is not following orders.
"Hey!" Jeniyus yells, turning her attention away from the mime, focusing on the trolls. She begins to chase after them, sword in hand.
The mime frowns and leaps into the air, forming another invisible "wall" to try and block Jeniyus as he follows the Trolls - who soon disappear from the area: despite Jeniyus' efforts to catch up - even the obese Troll seems surprisingly fast.
"..Betwixt.. what.. did.. you.. DO!?" Suzie yells, forming a massive mallet as she leapt at the screen.
"Why don't you come and see for yourself? you're smart - you find a way to Underside.. bring your little fleshie friends with you.. we've got a score to settle.." Betwixt sneered, Suzie frowning as she smashed the screen with the mallet and landed back on the floor.
Ruichi and Nebula smack straight into the invisible wall as they attempt to pursue.
"Ow..." said Nebula, rubbing her nose.
Suzie breathes heavily as she releases the mallet, which disappears just before it lands on the floor - turning around she looks to the others:
"Well, you heard him.. pack your stuff.. we're going on a trip..".
Jeniyus turns to her. "Where to?"
"To Underside, the home of the Trolls - any Toon knows that to get to Underside you just have to use a Portable Hole, same as any other dimension.. only thing is once we go there we'll need to be prepared for a battle.. Trolls exist to cause trouble and I don't need to tell you why bursting into their home dimension is dangerous - yet we don't have a choice, do we? Whatever Betwixt did is just the beginning.." Suzie replied.
"Let's go, Nebula," said Ruichi, "we've got a fight ahead of us..."
Suzie digs into a pocket and pulls out a black mass, which she tosses onto the ground in front of herself - leaping into the hole she calls out:
"See you on the other side!".
Jeniyus stares at the black mass, feeling uneasy. Finally, however, she jumps into the portal herself, followed by Ruichi and Nebula, who shouted "Wheeeeee!"
Chapter 2 - The Birth
After tumbling down a black and white vortex not unlike the old-fashioned "hypnotism" symbol the group land on the "floor" of a truly bizarre dimension, which resembles an abstract set of stairs leading to several floating doors - after a few moments the group realize they are actually standing impossibly upside down, as if walking on a ceiling.
"This... is... awesome!" Nebula exclaimed.
"Keep your voice down, kid - we don't want to attract unwanted attention.. follow me.." Suzie warned, walking along the stairs and opening a nearby door, motioning the others along.
"Psst, Ruichi!" Nebula exclaimed in a whisper, "we're toons again! Isn't that cool?"
"Ssh," said Ruichi.
As the group follow Suzie through the door they are greeted by another change of scenery as they enter what appears to be a gigantic and highly stylized factory - many grotesque humanoid monsters working in what appears to be a large conveyor belt, creating hundreds of Betwixt dolls, shirts and merchandize: sitting in the centre of the room is a gigantic machine resembling a large tank with gears and levers all over it.
The obese troll from the mall stands lording over several minions, who are busy strapping a smaller device into the machine as Monsieur Mime observes silently.
"What are they planning to do?" Jeniyus whispered.
Suzie doesn't answer as she looks forward, as she does so a door opens and Betwixt enters the room alongside several guards resembling cartoon animals dressed in the style of 1920s police: Betwixt himself is dressed in a black tuxedo and looks over towards the machine as the device is strapped in.
"So, you guys going to turn the juice?" Betwixt asks.
"Of course, of course - please.. come.. enjoy the show!" the obese Trolls states, motioning towards the machine as several other Trolls begin to pull at the levers, causing the machine to come to life as it emits thick smoke and electricity.
Ruichi took a cautious, worried glance at Nebula, afraid that she would do something to blow their cover. While he knew she had a good heart, he also knew that she was rather spontaneous-
"AHA!" Nebula shouted at the top of her lungs, starting forwards. "We've got you now!"
Jeniyus summoned her sword, ready for battle.
Betwixt sees Nebula and shakes his head, "..you're late.." - suddenly the room shakes as the machine coughs out more smoke and sparks fly everywhere as a small whirlwind of energy spins around inside it: the obese Troll leaping out of the way as hundreds of Troll guards charged at the group, armed with clubs and bats.
Betwixt's guards remain in place however as the rabbit holds a gloved hand out, staring at the machine as Suzie charges forward with the rest of the group.
Jeniyus follows Suzie, sword in hand.
"Take THIS!" Nebula exclaims, summoning a giant blast of gale-force wind in the midst of the oncoming trolls.
Jeniyus follows up with a wave of psychic energy aimed at Betwixt.
Jeniyus finds her assault blocked by a familiar field of invisible energy as Monsieur Mime suddenly reveals himself, having literally stepped out of the shadows - the silent menace attempts to grab Jeniyus in a bear-hug despite her sword.
Meanwhile the Trolls fly around chaotically as Betwixt watches the machine shake and spark - after a while it stops and the machine becomes still: the door slowly opening as a cloud of smoke emits.
Suzie's eyes grow wide as she rushes forward, leaping over several Trolls and almost reaching the machine: only for Moggy to materialize via a portable hole, grabbing her ankles and tugging her down below.
The smoke begins to clear as Betwixt looks into the machine and something begins to stir..
"Noo!" Jeniyus yelled, trying to pull free of the mime.
"Oooh! What's that?" Nebula wondered aloud.
Before Nebula can fully react a surge of energy erupts from the machine, a black and white tornado quickly darting across and capturing the entire group with terrifying ease - Nebula ends up in a large jar, Ruichi and Jeniyus in a cage whilst Suzie is soon brought up from Moggy's portable hole, tied up and gagged with Moggy looking emotionlessly at the scene.
Betwixt smirks slightly as the small tornado comes to a stop, revealing a younger version of Betwixt himself - dressed in an old-fashioned sailor suit.
"..Wha-?" the obese Troll begins, looking confused - the other Trolls having wisely backed off and Monsieur Mime frowned as he had been knocked back during the rapid assault.
Betwixt's smirk remains as he lifts a hand and places it on the smaller Toon's head, ruffling between his ears as he states:
"Play time's over, folks.. take them to the Pit..".
"Ooh! What's in the pit?" asked Nebula, curiously.
Jeniyus gripped the bars of the cage, glaring angrily at Betwixt. "What are you even planning to do?! What's going to happen to the people of our world?!"
Betwixt shakes his head, turning away dismissively as he guides the smaller Toon out of the room - Moggy steps forward to roll Nebula's jar across the floor whilst also carrying Suzie over one shoulder, the obese Troll shrugs to Monsieur Mime, who takes the two cages and moves them with the help of invisible force-fields.
"Typical fleshie, always thinking you are so special - I got exactly what I wanted.. a son.. though I suppose tossing you guys into the Pit is an extra bonus: come along Jr. - I've got a whole Multiverse to show you..".
Using her sword, Jeniyus began to hit the bars of the cage repeatedly, hoping to break them.
Despite Jeniyus' efforts the cage is unable to be broken, the group lose sight of Betwixt and his "son" as the Toons vanish - Moggy and Monsieur Mime lead the group into a nearby room as a metal door slams shut behind them and they are faced with a large swirling hole in the centre of the room.
"Alright, Monsieur Mime.. I believe the Pit is simple enough: we toss these miscreants in and much like a blackhole.. well.. they don't come out.." Moggy states with alarming calm.
Jeniyus glared viciously at them. "You would just kill us?!"
Ruichi breathes a jet of fire through the bars of his cage towards Moggy.
Moggy steps aside, suddenly manifesting a fire-hose as he sprays Ruichi with a jet of water, dropping Suzie in the process, noting with calm to Jeniyus "..aren't you one for drama? Toons are not like you fleshies - we do not mindlessly kill one another.. you'll simply be spiralling down between dimensions for the rest of your natural lives..".
However this proves a mistake as Suzie's eyes sudden burst open, little flames light up as she tears her restraints free and hurls a mallet into Moggy - sending him flying across the room, Monsieur Mime notices this and mimes a lasso which he tosses, Suzie seemingly struggling against invisible restraints as the monstrous mime strides towards her: as he does so however the ceiling suddenly breaks open with a blast and a small figure in a trench-coat leaps down, landing atop Jeniyus' cage and quickly opening it before doing similiar to the other cages (Nebula's jar is simply twisted open, again with surprising speed).
Jeniyus stepped out of the cage, looking at the figure in a trench coat. "Thank you," she said, smiling.
The figure turns to Jeniyus and removes the coat, revealing a Toon vaguely resembling a humany baby - albeit with exaggerated features common to cartoons, as is noted as he frowns "..you can thank me when we get out of here, little lady.. Suzie! quit playing around and form a Hole.. we're going to the Wasteland!".
Suzie blinks at this and looks to the figure, racing over and picking him up - the figure flailing madly as Suzie smiles and spins him around slightly "Baby! You saved us! I'm sorry I called you a jerk!".
"Suzie! Get a hold of yourself! We have to get going!" Baby snaps, sure enough Moggy charges into the room as Monsieur Mime attempts to lasso Jeniyus' leg with an invisible rope, tugging said rope towards himself.
Ruichi leaps forward, taking hold of Jeniyus' wrists as Monsieur Mime begins to drag her away. Nebula floated overhead, confused. "What- what's going on?" she asks aloud. "Is that a ninja baby? Are we fighting? Why's Ruichi dragging Jenny? I'm confuddled..."
"Nebula!" growled Ruichi. "Shut up and fight!"
Jeniyus glared ferociously at the mime, and tried to kick the invisible lasso off her leg.
Monsieur Mime continues to tug on the invisible rope as Jeniyus manages to kick it off, causing the mime to crash backwards into Moggy: the pair spiralling around like extras in a Looney Tunes cartoon.. noticing the danger Suzie snaps out of her excitement and digs into a pocket, pulling out a black mass that she tosses onto the floor, forming a hole just big enough to allow each member of the group to enter (one at a time):
"Eep! Sorry Baby.. Everyone! Jump in the Hole and don't look back - I'll explain everything once we're out of here!".
Trying not to think, Jeniyus leapt into the Hole.
Grabbing Nebula around the waist, Ruichi took off and leapt after Jeniyus.
After what seems like an eternity of plummeting through darkness the group find themselves landing in what appears to be a clearing in a vast expanse resembling an endless junkyard - in the distance lays the impressive, if twisted, Betwixt Land, it's large tower being the most prominent building in the landscape.
"I told you not to call me Baby!" Baby says to Suzie as he dusts himself off, wandering towards a pile of junk and pulling on a lever - which causes the pile of junk to fall apart as a set of stairs leads to an underground bunker.
"Sorry.. these are my friends.." Suzie begins, following - only to be dismissed as Baby waves a hand.
"Yeah, yeah! I know all about the fleshies - oh and the Wisp too.. I also know you all took an unacceptable risk today.. stirring a hornet's nest is a good way to get stung.." Baby declares, heading down the stairs.
"Ouch!" Nebula exclaimed. "Think about getting poked by all those sharp little thingies! Um, wait, hang on- didn't Betwixt attack us first?"
"Betwixt has created a new Toon.. using the stolen imagination of a whole bunch of fleshies.. thanks, no doubt, to those Trolls.. yet you're about to lecture us about stirring up trouble!?" Suzie began.
"HOLD IT! BETWIXT DID WHAT!?" Baby yells, much louder than his tiny form should allow - leaping into a director's chair that soon flies into the air with the help of a lift, a mechanical device placing a director's hat atop the Toon's head as he spins across the room, gathering varied items from the many shelves that are inside the large bunker, the shelves seeming to be full of old film reels.
"So, what was that about, anyway?" asked Ruichi.
"No Toon has ever made a new Toon.. not since Spot.." Baby notes, throwing several film reels around before he finally finds one - lowering himself down towards a projector.
"Spot?" Suzie blinked, moving over as Baby put the reel in the projector and began to play footage of an old cartoon, the quality is bad to say the least but it shows a tall, skinny feline with a torn ear and a tail bent out of shape.
"Spot.. he was the greatest.. the first Toon that ever made it out of Laugh-A-Lot Studios.. Spot began the Toon Era, Suzie, he was the one that started it all.. fleshies and Toons, living together.. then it all went wrong.." Baby began.
"Wrong?" asked Nebula. "Like 'one-plus-one-equals-three' wrong, or 'the-world-is-doomed-by-forces-beyond-our-control' wrong?"
"Not the time, Nebula," muttered Ruichi beneath his breath.
"What happened?" Jeniyus inquired, looking at Baby.
A haunting theme begins to play as Baby continues to play the footage, which flickers eerily - showing the tall feline playing the role of a theatrical villain of old, tying another Toon to train tracks as stereotypical police chase after him:
"..Spot was always playing the villain - it was his job.. yet we all knew he was longing for something more.. a Toon in love.. with something he could never have - the "perfect" girl.. as he said.." Baby said, Suzie shivering slightly as the footage flickered again.
The scene switched to show the tall feline's shadow climbing up a set of stairs, disturbingly similar to the iconic Nosferatu - closing a door behind him with a large collection of chains and padlocks.
"..he spent days in that room, locked up.. hidden from everyone.. so great was Spot's obsession that he managed to create his own Toon.. he named her Elizabeth.. he loved her with all his heart - yet she wasn't so keen on him.. in fact she grew to love someone else.. a fleshie.. things were just getting worse and worse.. Laugh-A-Lot Studios had to do something.. first a Toon had managed to make a Toon, now another Toon was falling in love with a human.. it was threatening to destroy everything the Toon Era stood for.." Baby continues.
Jeniyus gazed at the image of Spot on the footage with eyes of sadness. "All he ever wanted he could never have..." she thought.
The footage changes yet again to show a picture of Baby walking onto an empty stage, lights flickering as the tall feline stood over a lifeless figure, another feline mourning as she lay over the figure.. dark substance slowly spreading across the stage, like blood:
"..I'd only been in the studio for a few months when it happened - guess Spot couldn't take it anymore.. three years of playing the villain - having everyone laugh at him.. the fleshie didn't stand a chance.. Elizabeth kept crying - I knew then what had happened.. the same Toon that had all but created a life now ended another.. Spot wasn't like the rest of us anymore.. he was.. gone..".
The projector finally switches off and Baby turns around, covering his face as Suzie simply looks in shock - the dark story coming to its conclusion end as Baby's voice became like a whisper:
"..she kept crying.. he struck her down.. said he was an "Artist".. he was going to tear her apart and "start anew".. I fought him - what else could I do? it was crazy.. Toons fighting Toons - then just as I thought it couldn't get any worse Spot's mind snapped.. literally.. all his power.. consumed him.. that's when the Land of Nowhere was formed.. the very world we are currently trapped in.. came from him.. a prison.. born of a mad Toon..".
Nebula was crying into Ruichi's shoulder. Ruichi held her, and asked, "What became of Elizabeth?"
Baby continues to face away from the group as he goes quiet for a moment, then replies:
"..Toons aren't like fleshies.. never truly being anything but imagination made "real".. yet every now and then something happens that defies all reason: it only took a few months for the impossible to become a reality.. Elizabeth gave birth to a "healthy baby boy".. a Half-Toon.. the world wasn't able to cope.. mother and child soon got consumed by the Land of Nowhere - they've never been seen since..".
"Baby.. why didn't you tell me any of this before?" Suzie began, clearly disturbed by the revelations.
"It wasn't your war, Suzie.. you had to focus on Betwixt.. yet I should of known he'd do something like this - the rabbit is going further down the path Spot did.. crossing lines no Toon should ever cross.. tearing reality down in the process - for them and for us.. now he's brought Trolls into the mix, we're going to have to act fast.." Baby explained, turning around - a look of determination in his face, like a general preparing for war.
Jeniyus swallowed, and noticed how dry her throat had been. She'd never been in a situation like this before, and was reasonably nervous. Before any of this had happened, she hadn't even known that Toons were alive...
Suzie frowned, she too began to look determined and clenched her hands into fists as she spoke out: "..you have a plan?".
"..we get the Trolls.. make them tell us what they are up to and shut them down.. as for the new Toon.. we find a way to either get it on our side or make sure it stays in the furthest regions of this wasteland.." Baby replied.
"Sounds like a plan," said Ruichi.
"Yeah, not a good one but it's all we have.." Suzie said, crossing her arms - "..where do we strike first?".
"We go to Underside and speak with the main Troll himself.. Gryme isn't going to be very willing to give us information - luckily I have ways of making Trolls talk.." Baby said, his eyes narrowing.
"You seem to know a lot about Trolls Baby, another secret you care to share with me?" Suzie frowned.
"Suzie, I'm an old Toon - I do things my way.. you do things your way.. right now we don't have time to chat about it: I'll tell you what you need to know.. now let's get to getting.." Baby replied, leading the way out of the bunker - Suzie gave him another frown before she reluctantly followed.
Meanwhile Jr. sat alone in a massive room filled with Betwixt toys and merchandise, many of which were broken and covered in dust - looking around at the vast collection Jr. seemed to be depressed: none of these things were providing him with much happiness and Betwixt had left on "official business" without explaining much.
Getting to his feet and looking into a cracked mirror Jr. stared at himself, he had entered the world so suddenly and in his excitement he got carried away - eager to impress he swept those "do-gooders" off their feet with no hope of fighting back: yet after the initial rush it all felt so empty.. Betwixt was quick to congratulate him and shower him with gifts yet Jr. looked back on it all and questioned himself..
Then with a flash Jr. burst out of the room, causing several guards to go flying as he made from the Wastelands, he wasn't about to stay locked up in that room - he wanted to explore.. to see what it was to be a Toon..
Only a few minutes later in Underside Baby opened a portable hole, climbing out and tossing a rope down to signal the others to follow - the group arriving back in the factory, which was alive with activity as Trolls of varied shapes and sizes worked on repairing the damage caused by Jr.'s awakening and several smaller groups continued to produce as many Betwixt-related merchandise as they could with the machinery that still functioned.
Nebula glanced over at the dolls with a devilish gleam in her eyes.
"Don't even think about it," said Ruichi.
Jeniyus watched the Trolls work intently. She thought it fascinating to see ficticious creatures come to life, working so dilligently on a project.
Just then a familiar Troll moved across the factory floor, accompanied by Monsieur Mime and talking on a mobile phone - "We're going to be behind schedule.. I know! I know! Look, I can't help it! the Toon just busted some serious equipment over here - it's a mess! I'll have the merchandize with you guys as soon as I can.. until then keep on guard - we can't risk any more screw ups.. this is our big chance and nobody's going to mess it up, you got me?".
Jeniyus's pulse sped up when she saw the two. "Them..." she thought.
The large Troll and Monsieur Mime left the factor floor, entering a small office and slamming a door shut behind them, meanwhile one of the Betwixt dolls rolled dangerously close to Nebula, Baby narrowed his eyes and made a few gestures as he moved towards the office - Suzie following in turn.
Jeniyus followed behind Suzie, trying to be as quiet as possible.
The group soon arrive at the office door and Baby produced a large glass, which he put over the door and listened into the conversation within: "..we need to make sure these goods get to the Flipside, supplies are running low and if we don't act fast we're going to lose it all.. I won't let that happen, I tell you! Not again!".
Jeniyus watched Baby, trying to listen closely, but she couldn't hear what was on the other side of the door.
Baby takes the glass away and whispers "..alright, you guys any good at smashing things?".
Raising an eyebrow, Jeniyus responded, "Well....I guess I can be......"
"NEBULA SMASH!!!" shouted Nebula, creating magical constructs in the shape of gigantic fists, which she used to smash the door into splinters.
Baby jumps back and snaps "NO! You -!" - only it's too late, as soon as Nebula smashes the door open an alarm comes to life and hundreds of Trolls charge in on their location: from the office Monsieur Mime charges like a living train, literally forming an invisible "box" around himself.
"Keep them busy! I'm going to have to improvise!" Baby declares, flying into the air and bouncing off Monsieur Mime as he disappears into the office, jumping at the surprised Gryme - who falls to the ground behind his desk, a smoke-cloud forming as the pair engage in a cartoon-like brawl.
"Strike!" shouted Nebula, as her magic fists plowed through a group of trolls which scattered like bowling pins.
Jeniyus held out her hands and shot a psychic wave at Monsieur Mime.
Monsieur Mime reacts by extending his arms and the invisible shield fires out with great force, sufficient to knock anything in its path down - yet he stops at the psychic wave and frowns deeply: a small amulet on his neck glowing brightly.
At the same time Suzie pulls out a large mallet and swings around like a tornado, knocking even more Trolls in several directions as the onslaught continued.
The dust-cloud in the office finally settled to reveal Baby on top of a tied up Gryme, he yelled out at the others: "alright! show's over! everyone get ready - we're going to make a run for it! Wisp girl, blast as many of these machines as you can while Suzie opens a portal.. you two fleshies, keep fighting!".
Noticing the amulet around the Mime's neck, Jeniyus raises her hand, and fires a concentrated psychic beam at it.
Monsieur Mime's frown intensifies as he retreats, guarding his amulet - meanwhile the Trolls continue to sawm the area as Baby lifts Gryme up with surprisng strength and runs towards Suzie, who pulls out a Portable Hole and tosses it to the ground.
"I hope you know what you're doing Baby!" she yells.
"Of course I know what I'm doing! let's go!" Baby yells back.
Jeniyus shoots one last blast of energy from her hands at the surrounding Trolls, then, runs towards the Portable Hole and jumps in.
"Happy birthday!" shouted Nebula, using her magic to create a bundle of fireworks. She and Ruichi jumped into the portal, and the fireworks launched, smashing into the machines like missles.
The last thing the group see as they jump into the hole is hundreds of trolls racing around in a panic as Nebula's attack shatters several machines - yet as the fireworks go off a furious Monsieur Mime flies out of his hiding place and hurls a tabletop via invisible force, eyes ablaze with anger..
"You jerks aren't going to get me that easy!" Gryme growls, wriggling enough to get one arm free - a remote forming out of thin air complete with a red button, which he presses with a thumb.. the result is a shattering BOOM as the group find themselves spiralling out of control in the portal.
Landing with a thud on barren ground Nebula, Ruichi and Jeniyus find themselves alone - no sign of Baby, Suzie or Gryme.. the portal closing behind them as they look around to see a small village filled with run-down houses and an old playground filled with outdoor playing equipment, also broken.
"Whee, that was fun!" exclaimed Nebula, sitting up atop Ruichi, who landed, sprawled out, on the ground. "Can we do it again?"
Looking around, Jeniyus inquired, "Where are the others?"
"We were separated," said Ruichi bluntly, climbing to his feet and looking around. He sniffed the air. "I don't like this place."
Not to far from where the group land a small figure walks into view, a tune playing in the air as he looks around the village - several Toons going about their everyday lives as the figure starts to follow them, oblivious to the group's presence, the figure is none other than Betwixt Jr.
"What's this? what's this? there's people everywhere - what's this? there's magic in the air.. what's this? I can't believe my eyes I must dreaming - wake up Jr. this isn't fair! what's this?"
Jr. proceeds down the village streets, admiring everything he sees as he moves around with surprising speed and grace as he continues his song:
"What's this? What's this? There's something very wrong - What's this?, Why I'm singing songs!"
The other Toons watch with a mixture of wonder and confusion as Jr. jumps around, exploring the area some more:
"What's this? The streets are lined with many Toons laughing - Everybody seems so happy, Have I possibly gone daffy? What is this? What's this?"
Jeniyus stared at the toon, watching him carefully. "Is that....?" Ruichi nodded. "It's that newborn toon."
Then as suddenly as it had started the singing stops and Betwixt Jr. comes to a stop outside an old cinema, a tall cloaked figure motions him inside - after a moment the rabbit does just that and disappears into the building.
"He looks nice, let's say hi!" exclaimed Nebula, starting forward. Ruichi grabbed her arm.
"Wait!" he hissed. "We're staying hidden."
After a few moments it becomes obvious neither the rabbit nor the cloaked figure are coming out of the building - prompting the group forward..
"Alright then," said Ruichi. "We'll go now- But quietly! That means you, Nebula!"
Jeniyus crept inside the cinema as quietly as she could, trying not to be heard by anyone inside. Ruichi, gripping his scythe in both hands, followed suit, with Nebula tip-toeing behind.
It doesn't take long for the group to find their way to an empty auditorium cloaked in darkness with a large screen flickering - the image currently pure white, in the front row sits Betwixt Jr. and the cloaked figure.
"You look just like your father" the cloaked figure remarks, staring ahead.
"You know my dad?" Betwixt Jr. asks, looking to the figure a little.
"Oh yes, Betwixt and I go back a long time.. your father was a good Toon.." the cloaked figure replies, as he does so the screen shows images of a dancing Betwixt back when he was still a cartoon frog.
"Who's that?" Betwixt Jr. asks.
"That's your father - back before he asked me to change him.. you see, no matter how good a Toon is they are always a slave to the fleshies.. they laugh and Toons grow.. they forget and Toons fade away.. so in the end even the best of Toons have to make sure people remember them.." the cloaked figure says.
"You changed him? woah, you must be really powerful.." Betwixt Jr. says in awe, causing the cloaked figure to chuckle slightly as he removes his hood to show large feline ears, gnarled and covered in cuts.
"They don't call me the Artist for nothing.. you see for a long time only fleshies had the power to bring Toons to life, one day I decided to even the playing fields - all I had to do was give into the Presence.." the cloaked figure explains.
Jeniyus's eyes widened upon seeing the face of the figure. "The artist....?" She whispered as quietly as she could.
"..the Presence? who's that?" Betwixt Jr. asks, looking to the cloaked figure - who chuckles in response, it is a dark chuckle filled with far more malice than a Toon should have.
"Oh, an old friend - you don't have to worry about that.. I have a question for you though, are you happy?" the cloaked figure replied as the projection showed Betwixt in his rabbit form, crying in the corner of a room filled with shattered items, curled up in an almost fetal position.
"..I.. I don't know.." Betwixt Jr. replied honestly, beginning to look to the projection in confusion only to feel long, claw-like fingers direct his gaze back to the cloaked figure as they leaned closer.
"You're a brave boy, you know that? most would be afraid.. I mean, considering what your dear old daddy plans for you.." the cloaked figure says.
"..w-wha-?" Betwixt Jr. begins, confused and obviously getting a little frightened - he was still a child and far from home.
The cloaked figure paused for a moment in silence, his grin growing wider as he comments "..he didn't tell you? oh my.. Betwixt.. I'm almost proud of you..".
Jeniyus's eyes widened, and she whispered to Ruichi and Nebula, "I think Betwixt Jr. may need our help. It looks like this was all out of his control."
"Wait," commanded Ruichi. "We need to hear more- wait- where's Nebula?"
Ruichi glanced around in a panic and caught sight of her; to his horror, she was sneaking closer to the auditorium stage.
"Tell you what?" Betwixt Jr. asks, the projection now showing a faceless figure in a business suit spreading outwards over a black and white landscape like a shadow, massive and nightmarish machines flooding over towards a massive portal showing what looks like a real-world city.
"Daddy's little soldier - hehe.. well, Uncle Spot won't spoil the surprise.. hold still, I'm going to give you a real special gift.. the voice of my master.. it may sting a little.." the cloaked figure grins, grabbing Betwixt Jr. and holding the young Toon, who growss wide-eyed and struggles - the "Artist" forming his spare hand into a surgical drill and slowly aiming towards Betwixt's Jr.'s head.
Abandoning their former stealth, Ruichi started forward, but Nebula beat them to it; she leapt onto the stage, and, materializing an enormous mallet larger than herself in her hands, attacked the cloaked figure.
"TAKE THIS, MONSTER!" she shouted. "YOU DON'T BELONG IN THIS WORLD!"
Jeniyus had sprung to her feet, and had her blue sword pointed right at the cloaked figure's throat.
The cloaked figure reacts to this by chuckling darkly, his eyes sparkling with malice as he grins:
"took you guys long enough to get here.. you're in trouble now.. oh yes.. very much in trouble..".
Betwixt Jr. begins to move to the side as the cloaked figure suddenly melts into the shadows like ink giggling all the while.
It doesn't take long to realize why the figure has vanished as a terrifying tearing sound can be heard from the screen as a gigantic and extremely angry looking Betwixt emerges, eyes literally flaming as he snarls in a manner very unlike a rabbit, let alone a Toon:
"WHAT ARE YOU FREAKS DOING TO MY SON?!"
Jeniyus's eyes widened at the enraged Betwixt. Then, she quickly turned back to the cloaked figure, glaring with rage.
The cloaked figure had already disappeared by the time Jeniyus turns - Betwixt Jr. scrambles over to Betwixt and hides behind his "father" almost instinctively.
Betwixt growls, forming a swirling portal and motioning "..Junior.. go home.. I'll deal with these Fleshies.."
"B-but.. I think they were trying to help.." Betwixt Jr. begins, only to yelp as Betwixt suddenly snaps.
"GO!" Betwixt growls, his eyes forming flames once more - Betwixt Jr. goes into the portal, which closes behind him and Betwixt turns to face the others.
The sword in Jeniyus's hand vanishes, and she raises her hands defensively, giving him a sad look. "Betwixt.....we really were trying to help your son. We swear. After seeing what that guy was about to do to him, we couldn't just stand by."
Betwixt growls "SHUT UP" - he moves forward a few steps and sits down, becoming rather hunched as his body seems to drip like ink, eyes fiery and each breath he takes seems to expose more skeletal features beneath the flowing "ink".
"First of all - I don't see anyone but you here.. you fleshies are all the same anyway, you ruined so many Toons lives.. I've seen so many worlds just disappear.. good Toons cast into the Land of Nowhere - our world turned to dust and you just forgot about us: You think I'm going to just let you poison him like you do every other Toon? No, things are changing and pretty soon you Fleshies are the ones who are going to fade away.. you're going to feel what it's like to see everything *YOU* love turn to dust.." Betwixt says, pointing accusingly at the group with a talon. "Mayday! MAYDAY!" shouted Nebula, leaping off of the stage and darting into the stands. Ruichi gripped his scythe tighter and stepped forward.
"There's no reasoning with him, Jeniyus," he said. Dark wings burst from his back as his eyes flushed pitch black. "So shut up and get ready to fight!" He snarled, exposing sharpened teeth.
Jeniyus was a bit startled by Ruichi's changed appearance and vicious tone. However, she did as he commanded, summoned her sword to her hand, and faced Betwixt.
"Oh, no.. not this time.. it's time for you to *LEARN* something.. about being a Toon.." Betwixt snarls, growing larger but rapidly losing his shape - soon engulfing the area in inky darkness..
Battle - Betwixt
Soon the group find themselves standing in a surreal world resembling a modern city, only completely in ruins and having the same black and white coloration of the Land of Nowhere - the sky is a swirling mass of darkness and Betwixt's voice speaks out:
"..this is how a Toon feels.. imagine if you had to endure the same - imagine a world where you were forgotten.. where you never existed.. well, here it is..".
Jeniyus looked around the wasteland with a heavy heart. "I....didn't know..." she muttered.
"Save your pity," snarled Ruichi, his form growing darker. "Regardless of where he came from, he's still a monster. A parasite!"
"Ruichi," began Nebula, a tone of warning and fear in her voice.
"..see?.. you fleshies are all the same, at least he has the decency not to hide his hatred.. now.. let's end this..".
Suddenly the sky itself seems to tear open as the entire area shakes akin to a violent earthquake, the ruins crumbling as large cracks appear over the ground and a truly gigantic version of Betwixt towers over the landscape in a nightmarish distortion of reality, the rabbit emitting a strange aura that gave of a slight green light to the otherwise black and white patterns associated with Toons. (note: for empathic beings such as Nebula it is also apparent that this version of Betwixt is darker and more powerful in nature than the one they'd faced before)
Ruichi wasted no time charging forward, taking to the sky and darting toward Betwixt like a missile. Nebula cried out, shouting "Ruichi! WAIT! He's-"
Betwixt reacts to Ruichi's attack by disappearing in a *POP* only to reappear in his usual size before quickly forming a large fist akin to a cartoon boxing-glove, followed by two chains with fearsome bear-traps that flew towards Nebula and Jeniyus - all the constructs had the same greenish aura as Betwixt and the chains seemed to be controlled by invisible strings, homing in on their targets as the bear-traps snapped menacingly.
Reacting quickly, Jeniyus generated a psychic barrier around herself and Nebula, hoping it would be enough. Ruichi was thrown a distance by the boxing-glove's impact. Growling, he raised his scythe and dove in for another attack.
Betwixt suddenly forms a massive scythe of his own, causing the constructs that were tormenting Jeniyus and Nebula to disappear - the Toon flying at Ruichi and engaging in a scythe battle as he becomes oddly focused, eyes blazing as the greenish aura stays strong:
"..I see it in your eyes.. that hate.. the same hate that men had all those years back when the wars began.. wars that us Toons didn't understand - yet were forced to endure.. trying to make fleshies laugh and put down their guns.. like children at play, desperately asking mommy and daddy to stop fighting.. we stayed with Fleshies through those wars, our reward was to be utterly wiped out of the history books.."
"STOP!" bellowed Nebula; a wall of magic blasted from her body toward Ruichi and Betwixt, and she collapsed onto her knees, head in hands, overwhelmed.
Betwixt's eyes begin to change as he lands on the ground nearby, managing to take Nebula's hit rather well as the green aura sparks - the scythe vanishing as he looks to the group and the environment returns to the abandoned cinema, Betwixt standing near the stage as the projector shines a bright light over a white screen in the background:
"..the truth is a horrible thing - now you see why I have to keep Junior away from it.. if he ever learned about Toons and what you fleshies did to them.. it'd break his heart.. I need his heart, so you people just stay away from him: go back to your world of material gain and selfish ambitions.. the war is over but sooner or later Toons will come back and ask the fleshies why they did what they did - hate me as much as you want, I deserve it, but what about the other Toons? would you deny them their chance to know something so very simple yet so very important: what they did wrong, that made an entire world exterminate them?..".
Glowering, Jeniyus stated, "None of that justifies harming innocent humans who weren't even involved."
Betwixt looks to Jeniyus for a long while, with disturbingly cold eyes - the aura burning stronger as the white screen flickered behind him, then showed a black and white cast of dancing cartoon characters including a younger Suzie, Baby and Betwixt himself:
"Innocent humans? what about the innocent Toons your ancestors raised up like children then tossed into the abyss when they no longer suited them? you value fleshies so very much.. it's about time someone valued the Toons.. humans have been the powerful ones for so long, they've forgotten what it's like to be the powerless ones.. that'll change. You protect the "innocent" and eventually you'll end up just like me.. that's what loving people achieves.. pain.. they forget you yet you don't forget them.. even if you wish you could..".
Betwixt's aura fades away as the pictures of the screen burn away - a swirling portal of black and white appearing as he steps back:
"..I tried to show you what it was like to be a Toon but you fleshies are so absorbed in your own self-righteous existence you could never understand.. words were never enough to keep your attention, even back then we had to hit each other over the head with mallets, dance and make mockeries of ourselves.. go back to the Flipside - be with your precious "innocents": I'm going to see my son.. his heart is still young - his heart.. will suffice..".
With the last sentence Betwixt's ears fold back and he looks away, almost as if ashamed - disappearing into the portal, yet before he does so he pulls out a remote in one hand and flips a switch, revealing a large button:
"..been a blast..".
Betwixt proceeds to press the button and departs into the portal, a collection of ticking sounds soon fill the room as spotlights flash on, revealing numerous time-bombs tied up near the ceiling - ticking down rapidly.
"Run!" shouted Ruichi, climbing to his feet and beginning to flee; he stumbled, collapsing onto the floor in exhaustion. His wings began to retract back into his flesh and the black disappeared from his eyes. "No...not now..." He grunted in pain as his transformation took place.
"RUICHI!" shouted Nebula, running to him; she glanced up at the bombs and cast a shield around him and Jeniyus just as the bombs reached zero...
The scene suddenly pans out as the entire building explodes with sufficient force to bury everyone in debris - a pillar of smoke rising up as several Toons watch in horror, many having never witnessed something like this before.
Jeniyus slowly, painfully opened her eyes. She tried to call out for Ruichi and Nebula, but found that she couldn't speak. She wondered if her vocal cords had been damaged. She tried to sit up, but quickly fell back to the ground, having no strength at the moment.
From outside a crowd of Toons formed, looking at the smouldering debris that was once the cinema - many talked amongst themselves as mothers held children tight and varied emergency service personel seemed at a loss, having never actually had to deal with something like this in their years of existence.
Suddenly Suzie and Baby arrived on the scene, both a little beaten up - as they looked at the debris it didn't take long for them to figure out what had happened.
"No.. Betwixt.. no.." Suzie gasped, her eyes growing wide as she ran over and began to dig through the debris.
"Son of a - he did it Suzie, he finally crossed the line.. he tried to kill.." Baby began.
"Shut up! just shut up and help me dig - they're alive.. t-they have to be!" Suzie snapped, panic in her voice as tears began to form, her digging becoming more frantic.
"My God, Suzie.. you still have feelings for him don't you? ...after everything he's done.." Baby frowned.
"Baby! Shut up and help me!" Suzie snarled, growing more feral as her desperation kicked in - tearing through the debris.
"..after everything we've done... you still care about Betwixt.. it.. it's sickening Suzie.. unforgivable.." Baby continued, his voice lowered almost to a whisper as he began to retreat rather than aid Suzie, despite her obvious distress, lowering his head in thought.
"Baby! Please-!" Suzie continued, her body begining to get hunched and more ink-like as she looked over, anger mixing with fear as she looked for help from Baby.. then from anyone in the crowd.. "..my friends are in there.. our friends.. they're alive Baby.. I know it.." she pleads.
Nearby a pile of rubble began to shift as Ruichi pushed through, tossing aside bits of concrete and charred, splintered beams. He bore cuts in several places, but they did not seem to phase him. "Nebula," he said, pulling himself over the debris and digging through another spot frantically.
"Hang on!" Suzie says as she grows larger and begins to dig up the debris - she glances back at Baby and the crowd, a few other Toons come over and begin to help but despite her pleas Baby simply shakes his head and turns away.
"..we need to put him down, he's a rabid Toon now..".
"Baby - for God's sake, forget about Betwixt! Help us!" Suzie snaps.
"..everything he's done.. is in part due to me.. everything.. because I didn't react.." Baby continues, seeming to talk to himself as Suzie and the other Toons continue digging through the debris, he continues to talk to himself, facing away from the others.
"..I tried to be a father to every Toon that came to Laugh-a-Lot, tried to be the good guy.. yet I should of done more.. I should of stopped him.. should of stopped you.. it wasn't right, Suzie.. what he did.. but you always clung to the hope he'd somehow get better.. even now.. I can feel it.. you want the Fleshies to survive because you still want Betwixt to come back.. you're out of control, just like him..".
Seeing Suzie, Jeniyus raises her hand in the air and manages to cough weakly, her eyes full of tears.
Suzie helps Jeniyus out, despite her form still being large and hunched over she is gentle - making her way to Ruichi once she had got Jeniyus to safety and looking for Nebula as other Toons continued to help.
"..I have to stop him.. I have to stop you.. but right now we all have to stop those Trolls.. they aren't finished yet, I know it.." Baby began, still looking away - a strange, green aura slowly overtaking him as he seemed to darken in personality, glancing down he saw a small note on the ground and picked it up.
"..I'm sorry, I didn't want to hurt anybody - Mr. Gryme is going to make daddy remembered again.. he has a secret bunker at the edge of Betwixt Land.. daddy says I can't tell anyone but I can't.. something's wrong.. something's very wrong.."
A small paw-print seemed to sign the letter off and Baby's eyes narrowed, the aura growing as he crumpled the letter up:
".."daddy".. stupid kid still thinks he's a Toon.. he's just another mistake.." -at this Baby seems to become aware of something as he shakes his head, the aura fading as he finally turns to face the others- "..Suzie, get the Fleshies out of there - we don't have much time.. the Trolls are going to launch an attack and we have to stop them..".
"Here!" said Ruichi, pushing aside splintered fragments of wood and shattered concrete. Reaching into the rubble, he pulled at Nebula's limp body.
Jeniyus smiled weakly at Suzie. "Thanks for helping me. I just hope I can recover fast enough to help you and the others the rest of the way."
Suzie's ears flatten as she listens to Baby, at first she seems angry as her hands become fists - a green-aura beginning to creep over her, then seeming to retreat as she spoke, her voice almost a whisper:
"..I can't let this happen.. I'm sorry.. he's not like this - you have to understand.. this isn't Betwixt.. this isn't us.. I have to fix it..".
At that Suzie begins to shake as she forms three balls of energy that float to Jeniyus, Ruichi and Nebula - the balls of energy are extremely unusual as they have vivid colors not unlike a rainbow, in stark contrast to the black and white world of Toons, furthermore if they make contact they seem to wash over the heroes and heal them, at least somewhat.
Baby goes wide-eyed as he sees this and rushes at Suzie, becoming violent for the first time as he tugs her back with enough force that she yelps - Baby taking an overly-massive, muscular form in the process, yet by the tone of his voice it is clear he is afraid and it stops her from healing any further as the balls of energy disappear:
"SUZIE! STOP! That's your essence you're spilling over there! are you trying to destroy yourself!?".
As the ball of energy passed over Nebula, she began to stir. She awoke as Ruichi pulled her out of the rubble and found herself resting in his arms. "Ruichi?" she asked, before looking around. "I'm sorry...I could've done better...I messed up..."
"What are you talking about?" asked Ruichi.
"I dunno...I could've stopped him...I could've done something..."
Baby frowns, returning to his usual form as he releases Suzie, who kneels down and lowers her head - looking over to Ruichi and Nebula he states:
"well, now is your chance to do something - come on, both of you.. we're going to stop the Trolls and then we're going after Betwixt.." - he then turns back to Suzie for a moment- "..as for you Suzie, you are one of the best Toons I ever met.. we fought against Betwixt for years, yet now I see you still love him.. after everything he's done to us.. you keep trying to make a world where you can redeem him, where you can go back to how it was.. it's time to wake up.. Betwixt is a mad Toon and we're going to put him down: I won't let you destroy yourself trying to save him, it's time to think on what's more important.. him.. or us.."
Jeniyus looked back and forth between Suzie and Baby, not even noticing her renewed energy. She was completely absorbed in the dire moment. Then, she looked to Baby and began walking towards him, ready to aid in stopping Betwixt.
Suzie keeps her head low and silent as Baby turns to look out towards the distance, "..we go to the edge of Betwixt Land and find that bunker, shouldn't be hard.. let's go".
With that Baby heads off, leaving Suzie alone as she remains on her knees, the crowds still bustling as Toons repair what they can and converse amongst themselves - a few also take to following Baby out towards the horizon.
"Nebula, stay here with Suzie," said Ruichi suddenly.
"Wait- Ruichi-" began Nebula, lost for words.
"It's time to end this," he said quietly, his expression going dark.
"No, don't go..." But it was too late. Ruichi had already taken off after the crowd.
(please read Children At Play: Interlude to follow Nebula and Suzie's portion of the story)
As Baby and the others head towards the outskirts of Betwixt Land the scene shifts to Betwixt's Tower as Jr sits and observes the events from afar, ears folding back a little as he watches the smoke rising across the sky.
"..this is all your fault.." a dark voice whispers into the young Toons ears "..you should never of tried to leave us..".
"I'm sorry.." Jr. whispered back, the voice fading away as Betwixt appeared behind Jr. and placed a gloved hand on his shoulder, kneeling slightly as he looked over at the sky, sadness apparent on his gaze as he spoke to Jr. with a more comforting tone, yet still tainted with corruption.
"..I'm sorry Junior, this isn't what I wanted.. I lost control.. but we still have hope, all you have to do is trust me..".
"..I..I will.." Jr. whispered.
"Good.. come on.. I have something to show you.." Betwixt replied, giving Jr. an affectionate ruffle on the head, standing up slowly as he guides the young Toon out of the room.
"We're here.." Baby finally declares, after what seems like an eternity of walking - stopping at the outskirts of Betwixt Land and pointing towards a large bunker, obviously new and having a Betwixt Empire flag prominently swaying in the air next to it.
"Trolls never were subtle.." Baby frowns, his tone dark as he narrows his eyes - he doesn't take notice of the fact Suzie has been left behind and seems focused on the task ahead.
Ruichi stood ahead of the remainder of the mob, staring intently, silently, at the bunker. He gripped his scythe more tightly.
"Alright, here's what we're going to do.. we enter that bunker and we utterly destroy it, send a message to Betwixt before we storm his tower and finish this.. you understand? No playing nice, we hit hard and we hit fast.." Baby informs the group as he takes on a new form, a military helmet appearing on his head and a small army uniform coating his body as if being drawn on by invisible hands.
Jeniyus nodded solemnly, though she was apprehensive inside. A drop of sweat traveled down the left side of her head. "Are we going to kill anyone?" she thought. She did her best not to let her true emotions show, believing that Baby knew what was best for this situation, and not wanting to alarm him or the others.
Baby frowns and replies rather coldly "do I look like a damn fleshie or that mad rabbit? Toons don't kill.. we're driving the Trolls out and smashing this bunker down.. then we're going to drag Betwixt out of his tower by the ears, his "son" too..".
Jeniyus's eyes widened. "H-how did you know what I was thinking?" she inquired.
Baby continues to frown as he turns, "..I don't need to be a psychic to understand people like you, the eyes betray everything.. you think killing is inevitable but you haven't fought as Toons do.. we don't kill.. even if we'd like to.. it's the oldest and most sacred of all Toon rules".
Suddenly the bunker springs to life as the front doors open and a large machine akin to a cartoon tank emerges, covering the tank is all manner of Betwixt merchandize and a squad of uniformed Trolls, who ride the tank as a familar mole drives it forward.
Baby turns to face the tank, then moves forward - making a motion to the others "..don't do anything until I say so.." - he then continues to approach the tank, which comes to a stop nearby.
"..Moggy.." Baby states, barely containing his hatred as he spits on the ground, their is almost malice in his voice as he looks to the mole riding the tank.
Staying back as she was ordered, Jeniyus closely watched Baby, awaiting his command.
"..I am truly sorry it has come to this, I didn't want to end up a terrorist but I have come too far to leave now.." Moggy replies, looking to Baby with sadness.
For a moment Baby seems to hesitate, looking back as he begins "..stop this, get out that tank and help us.. you know Betwixt is a mad Toon..".
Moggy nods slightly "..Indeed I do.. yet I am not moving..".
Baby blinks, then grows angry and yells out "Why!?".
Moggy replies, "..because, even though Betwixt is a mad Toon he is and always shall be my friend.. I am sorry, Baby.. I wish I could stop but it is far too late for that now.. all I can do now is inform you of what Betwixt is going to do..".
Baby frowns "..I don't care what he is doing..".
Moggy notes "..you should, he is going to use Jr. to transfer the entirety of Betwixt Land to the Flipside..".
Battle - Moggy
"I've heard enough," snarled Ruichi. His eyes turned pitch black. "Get out of our way. Last chance."
Jeniyus's eyes widened in surprise at Ruichi, and her pulse sped up a bit. Then, she shook her head, remembered all the strange things she'd seen as a superhero, and realized this was little in comparison.
Baby frowns, looking at Moggy "..wait.. what do you mean he's going to use Jr. to get to the Flipside? to move something the size of Betwixt Land into Flipside would require more power than any Toon has ever had..".
Moggy nods, "..the entirety of Jr's power must be drained.. and I do mean the entirety..".
Baby suddenly realizes what Moggy is saying and for the first time his frown fades, becoming a look of shock "..you're talking about destroying a Toon..".
Moggy simply stares forward, then comments "..please, do not act as if you care for Jr.. after all, isn't it you who plan on lynching his father? no.. I'm afraid you don't get to preach morality.. not now.." - then the mole makes a motion with his gloved hand and the Trolls jump off the tank and charge at the group with mallets, at the same time Moggy drives the tank slowly towards the group, spewing forth a cloud of dust in the process.
Spreading his wings, Ruichi took off in flight. Crackling energy ran along the blade of his scythe as he plunged toward the tank.
Jeniyus began to charge her powers up, a blue aura surrounding her.
Moggy looks to Ruichi and comments "..you are filled with hate.. yet surely you must realize by now.. why we do what we do.. it was because of men filled with hate.. the same hate you manifest.. that Toons became exterminated.. the more you hate us the more Betwixt's belief that the Flipside will finish what they started grows.. here, see for yourself the reason why good Toons go bad..".
As Moggy talks he stops the tank briefly, flooding Ruichi's mind with visions of men and women being gathered in the streets and placed into what look like large bunkers - uniformed government agents seeming to use strange devices to create a blinding flash, entire families of Toons vanishing from the world in the process.
Amidst the chaotic visions, Ruichi grabbed his head and fell to the ground mid-flight.
"I...don't...care...what happened back then..." Ruichi snarled, as he writhed on the ground. His fingers extended into pointed claws, and his flesh grew darker. "You and Betwixt...won't be hurting anyone ever again...when I get through with you..."
Yet the Trolls continue their attack - charging at Jeniyus and Baby, who grows angry once more and grabs a nearby Toon and tosses them forward despite their obvious reluctance.
"Screw it! they want a fight? let's give them one!".
"No but you will, Ruichi.. you will hurt your friends.. more than anyone else.. I tire of you now.. men like you and Toons like Betwixt.. you're not so different.." Moggy replies to Ruichi and without warning he grows to a gigantic height, the tank merging with his lower half as Moggy's form becomes akin to living ink and a dark skeletal mass, he hurls the ink like a blasphemous lasso at Ruichi then rolls the tank onwards.
"SHUT UP!" shouted Ruichi, taking his scythe in hand and flying at Moggy, only to be caught in the ink lasso.
Baby smirks a little, his eyes growing darker "..like we care about "friends".." - he starts to charge into battle, hurling punches at Trolls as other Toons are forced into the fray.
Jeniyus's sword began to transform, and soon turned into a circular objects with many strange patterns on it. She held up the new "shield" she'd created, her palms pressed against the back of it. Using the shield as a magnifier, she shot a beam of psychic energy at the now giant Moggy.
With his clawed hands Ruichi tore at the lasso, his movements becoming more and more frenzied.
As Ruichi tears the lasso the scene seems to go into slow-motion, Moggy eventually grinding to a halt alongside Baby and all others - save for Jeniyus and Ruichi: a voice speaks to them as the area remains frozen like a surreal work of art.
"Ruichi.. Jeniyus.. please do not do this.. we are the masters of our stories - this isn't how it has to end..".
"No.. this is it.. kill them.. kill them all.. that's what heroes do.. kill.. or be killed" a second, darker voice hisses.
"Put aside your hate.. think of the children.. we can show them a better way.. all you have to do is stop.. please.."
"Stop and you will die.. don't listen.. kill them..".
Ruichi looked around, trying to discern the source of the voices; as feral as he had become, he stopped his struggle as his brow furrowed into a line of confusion.
A small orb of rainbow-colored light appears, small enough to fit in a palm yet contrasting with the monochrome world around itself:
"This land is part of imagination.. continue this war and we will all be consumed: Fear, Despair, Hate, Age and Discord - these must be put aside.. or everything you care for shall be erased, like a painting from a canvass.."
The darker voice however refuses to manifest, whispering into Ruichi and Jeniyus' minds:
"No peace.. no mercy.. destroy them.. do it.. do it now.. make them pay for everything they did to you.. to us..".
Jeniyus could only shake her head at the darker voice, not willing to cooperate with it. She turned her attention to the small, rainbow colored orb, her expression softening. "What should we do?" she inquired.
"You must stop - simply stop.. stand tall.. do not strike, no matter how much it may hurt.. show them a better way.. listen to those who truly love you.. for they know more than you think.." the orb whispers.
With those last cryptic words the orb vanishes and time seems to flood back as the Trolls once again rage into battle, Baby leading the Toons on a warpath as Moggy lets out a roar, his form destablizing rapidly as green energy merges with his inky structure, which starts to fall apart.
Jeniyus dropped all her guard, and stood on the battlefield, motionless, a sad expression on her face, waiting to be attacked. "I will..." she thought. "I will show them a better way."
"Jeniyus!" called out Ruichi, flying down to her defense as several trolls moved in for the attack. He held out his scythe, keeping them at bay. "Are you mad?!"
"No, Ruichi," Jeniyus replied, a determined, yet somewhat sad expression on her face. "Let them attack me. If they hate our people so much, then let them vent their frustrations." Jeniyus stepped in front of Ruichi and readied herself for the attacks that were to come.
discovering Betwixt's true plan the group prepare a daring raid on Betwixt Tower but must first deal with the growing conflicts between the main group.
The group make their way to Betwixt Tower in order to prevent Betwixt from using Jr.'s power to physically bring Betwixt Land into the real-world with the aid of stolen Troll technology (at the risk of destroying the young Toon in the process).
Battle - Moggy
arriving at the top of Betwixt Tower the group come face to face with Betwixt and will learn something about his relationship with Jr - as well as the extent to which he will go to try and achieve his goals..
Final Battle - Betwixt
(the wrapping up chapter)