Andy Dharma bent over the Stringer's prone body, wrapped both arms around his head, and with a single fast wrench, broke the super-wizard's neck. KRACK!
The alien salt flat was silent for long, dragged out moments afterwards, with only the remnants of that final, brittle sound ringing in the air.
Finally, Brody Dharma released a breath he hadn't known he'd been holding and said, "I cannot believe you just did that."
Andy looked at his brother in surprise. "The man was obviously crazed. If he was not already planing to kill us both, his festering paranoia was leading him in that exact direction."
"No. I mean... I cannot believe you defeated him! You killed a super-wizard! No one's ever killed a super-wizard before! I’ve... always wanted to know if our family's space-kung-fu would stand up against a super-wizard’s science-sorcery..."
"Yes. Yes! I know! Do you remember when we'd debate this very thing with our father? He said it was impossible without first knowing a super-wizard's secret name, but..."
"...but I knew, I knew it could be done, yes! Only those few trained as part of the Red Hand demonstrated any real ability to fight. Against any other individual super-wizard, I was supremely confident our martial arts skills could overcome their power advantage..."
"...like his shield! He never believed we might slip through thier hardened light. But I did just that! We were right!"
Andy felt exhilarated. Not just for vanquishing a super-wizard (but he had!), but for the equal ardor his brother demonstrated. There was colour in his shallow cheeks again! Energy in his frail hands! And the return of child-like wonder in his eyes. It reminded him so much of his illustrious father. With Buddy Dharma's passing, he acceded to the lonely fact that he'd have no one to truly share a connection with, no one to share his thoughts or philosophies, his curiosity and his doubt. Now though, now that he had a brother, and more than a brother, he vowed never lose this opportunity.
No tradition so sacred, no path so long, no foe so great that he'd ever sacrifice his other self.
Brody's cheer eased, and was replaced with a reluctant sigh. "...still, we may have been wrong on one point."
Andy furrowed his brow. "Which is...?"
"Our father might have been correct as to what happens when a super-wizard dies." Brody pointed at the Stringer's body. A orange glow swelled from the vacant, bloody-black eyes. A plume of yellow-white smoke rose up out of the gaping open mouth, flushed with incensed radiation. The skin spat out electricity, the ferocity and frequency building with each passing second.
Andy moved without hesitation. He picked up the super-champion's body and draped him over the Stringer's corpse. He stabbed at the body with a apir of pointed finger, hitting nerve clusters and pressure points in a precise, reverse order. Then, without grace or dignity, he turned to Brody and threw his brother onto his shoulder.
"What are you doing?" Brody cried in surprise.
"I cannot carry you both," was all the explanation Andy had time for. He cleared his thoughts of the germinating reaction, of his brother's dogged protests, of the distracting racket of the world around him. He calmed himself into the cold cool cerulean of ultra-zen. And he began to run.
He moved as wind. With each step, he ran faster and faster. With each stride, he covered more and more distance. His footfalls left impact craters far behind him and left dozens of miles between them. He felt his heart bashing and his lungs burning and legs fraying.
Just before his strength gave out, he found a ragged deep canyon, some remanent of a long extinct river. He jumped in, and sliding down the steep cliff walls to the bottom, he kicked at every loose stone he saw. He cause a landslide of boulders to chase after them.
When he reached the canyon floor, he had just enough time to roll himself and his brother into a narrow crook. He held as still as the avalanche came down on top of them, burying them under an immense weight to rock and stone and gravel.
Then, the Stringer's corpse exploded.
All the stored fusion power slipped out of its dead cage with the nuclear force. The alien world shook, surface to core. A deafening screech sucked in all the available air, held it for a half second, then expelled it with unholy rumbling and ghastly heat.
Andy covered his frail brother. He prayed the canyon walls and rumble above them would prove adequate cover.
It could only have been a minute at most. It felt like an eternity. Hiding in the dark while atomic hell scorched the surface.
The rumbling passed. And eventually, so did the heat. The air felt sharp, scratchy against his skin, but after a worried wait, that moved on, too.
They remained buried in silence. Hours passed. Andy had no way to tell if it was safe to emerge. Truth be told, he wasn't certain they could clamour out.
"I'm sorry," Brody whispered solemnly. "You were right."
Andy smiled and replied with as much humour as he could muster, "I'm sorry I was right, too."
"This was my fault. You saw the battle. I let myself be moved by our enemy."
"I had help, reading between the lines."
"How were you able to use the Sting Of The Trigger Fish maneuver on the Super Wizard From Space with the Schrivener nor the Stringer watching your entire confrontation?"
"I simply didn't announce it," he replied with a shrug and a smile. He'd hoped Brody would understand his intentions when placed with the Super Wizard's body. He couldn't have been entirely sure his blackmailers hadn't seen him hit all the necessary pressure points. Thankfully, they were wary of the poisoned sunlight still leaking from the body, and with Brody's help, they'd been distracted from doing a more thorough an examination.
"He's seen that maneuver performed. He'd be completely paralyzed. Conscious and aware, but helpless. He trusted you with this ruse?"
No. "He trusted you, I think."
"I would not have surrendered his Crown."
"I'm not my brother."
The rocks shifted above. Cracking and crumbling, with the angry wet sound of liquid fire. A hole broke open, the night sky a welcome brightness after the grim dark below. With a strong grip, the Super Wizard From Space hauled them both out, and flew them out of the canyon.
Once up on the surface, Andy saw the devastation the explosion had caused. Gone was the salt flats, the distant desert dunes, the breeze-swept sands. Just black glass, as far as he could see. And in the distance, a brown-grey mushroom cloud over a thousand feet tall.
The Super Wizard From Space made for a frightful appearance. His face covered in caked mud and dried black blood. His uniform charred and ragged, near unrecognizable. His eyes looked red and miscolored. His voice was grainy, scratchy, like something important had torn. But his tone was forceful. Blunt. "You killed him."
"I gave you what you wanted. I let you hear them. Their insanity. From your own race. From their own mouths." Andy waved at the nucleur destruction on the horizon. "That was supposed to happen to me. He wanted you dead. He wanted your death to be my death as well. He wanted Brody to be abandoned forever in a prison of dark terrors. You should expect no sympathy from me."
"I expected better of you, though," the Super Wizard replied, coldly.
"You do not get to judge me," Andy said.
"I get to judge everyone."
A faint, popping sound echoed far above them somewhere. Looking up, they saw clouds being chased away by chaotic, unnatural winds. The sky groaned in pain as fresh tidal forces battered it aside. A single cyclopean shadow blotted out the half the starlight, and forced the other half to bend and curve around its colossal size.
"It's Genovefa," the Super Wizard said. "You'd both better leave. Her gravity will devastate this planet." Already, they could feel the ground strain and shake as the tectonic plates peeled up against their own massive weights.
"No. No. You don't have to fight her," Andy said.
"Of course he does," Brody said.
"No, he doesn't!" Andy yelled in frustration. "The Schrivener has the Crown. The cosmic tournament is between him and Queen Buzz. Whatever the outcome, its no longer your obligation. Whatever the consequences, its no longer your responsibility. She thinks you're dead. Your own murderous race thinks you're dead. This is an opportunity! Walk away from all this devestation. Put an end to this madness."
"That's exactly what I intend to do," the Super Wizard From Space said. He crouched, took his bearings through the crashing gravities, and leapt up through the air. A streak of fusion fire, a line drawn directly at the great shadow.
Andy watched home leave. Feeling helpless. Embittered. Pointless.
"No one saves us but ourselves," Brody said, resting a hand on Andy's shoulder. "No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path."
Andy turned Brody, ready to rail against his stubborness and his stupidity... but he saw the soft face of his father looking back.
And suddenly, he was just... glad Brody was alive.
"Our part's done. Let's go home."