Part I

Lucas wandered aimlessly through the aisles as the golden rays of the sunset filtered through the dusty windows of the toy store. He wished he could afford more on his meager paper-route earnings, but it was enough to buy him bubblegum, baseball cards, and the occasional piece of rock candy. He'd gotten lucky and gotten a Mickey Mantle in one of his packs of cards the other day; it had promptly become one of his favorite cards in his collection.

He paused briefly, gazing longingly at the Yo-Yos. Their wooden splendor gazed out at him from the bin they were haphazzardly piled into. He could clearly see the word 'Duncan' peering out at him, almost calling his name. Yet, as he started to reach out for the Yo-Yo, something else caught the corner of his eye from the store window.

Standing in the display window was a dingy red bicycle, with a battered leather ball glove hanging from one of the handle bars. Neither was much to look at, yet both were strangely appealing. And they were both exactly what he wanted.

He withdrew his hand from the bin of Yo-Yos, and decided right then what he was going to do. He was going to save his extra earnings; skimp on the rock candy and keep the baseball cards to a minimum. By the end of the year he should be able to afford them both, with a little help from his parents. They wouldn't buy them right out, of course, but if he saved his money he might manage to convince them just the same.

He smiled wanly, and headed out towards the door, starting his walk back home. A familiar voice called out to him from the counter at the side of the store as he came out of the aisle with the Yo-Yos in it. "What can I getcha today, Lucas? Cards? Candy?"

"Oh, I don't think so, mister Jones... just keep the bike and glove for a while, ok?"

The store owner laughed heartily, his warm voice seeming to coat the room in his own cheerful aura. "Well, I can't make you any promises, Lucas..." he smiled warmly, "but I'll see what I can do. Saving our pennies for a while, are we?"

Lucas couldn't help but smile back. "Yessir Mister Jones. But you'll still see me every so often..."

"I imagine I will. Now you better hurry home, Lucas. Be gettin' dark soon, and I don't want your mother worrying 'bout where you've been and coming after me for keeping you here!"

Lucas hurried out the door, calling out after him "Thanks Mister Jones! See you later!"

Lucas hurried down the dusty dirt road back towards home. Mister Jones had been right; it was getting dark fast. It was proving to be a gorgeous sunset, though, and he was glad to have the chance to watch as the horizon sparkled and shone with the brilliant crimson, violet, and azure shades of a sunset on the Plains.

When he was nearly halfway home, he noticed a trio of figures coming down the road towards him. He couldn't tell much about them due to the sunlight coming from behind them, but they all looked to be about his own size and build. All the same, he didn't recognize them, which was unusual for a town this size. Something didn't seem quite right about them, though; something he couldn't quite put his finger on. As such, he deemed it appropriate to stay on the opposite side of the road from them, just in case.

As the trio got nearer to him, he could see that there was definitely something wrong with them. They were all misshappen, grotesque creatures, and all truly frightening to behold. He tried not to look at them, to avoid picking out further details from their wretched forms and reviled, hoping that they wouldn't approach him. His hopes were in vain, though, for they came meandering towards him.

"Greetingsssss Lucassss..." hissed one of them, freezing Lucas in his tracks.

"You would like a bicycle and glove, yes?" asked a second, fixing him with its odd yellow-green eyes.

"We can get you brand new ones, nicer than all the other kidssss!" coaxed the third.

Something in the voice of the third was soothing... calming. Almost hypnotic. Lucas' earlier unease began to fade, the horror of their shapes to fade from his mind. Now they were just 3 other kids, talking to him as if they'd known him forever.

"What do I have to do? This sounds almost too good to be true."

"All you gotta do is come with us. We have a friend who takes real good care of us and gets us all sorts of cool stuff."

"Sounds..." Lucas' mind ceased mid-thought and went off the deep end, "like fun."

"LUCAS!" called a powerful voice from his side. "Don't listen to them! Look at them again!"

Lucas turned to face the voice. Approaching from his right side was a lone figure in robes the same gravelly-brown color of the road, walking along with the aid of a very long wooden staff, though somehow clearly strong enough so as not to really need it.

"Look at them again! Remember what they are!"

Lucas turned his eyes back to the 3 creatures before him, and suddenly reviled at the fact that he had only moments ago been talking with them as if they were friends of his.

"WE are your FRIENDssss!" hissed the first one again, struggling to regain control of its prey.

"NO!" screamed Lucas, as he hunched over and ran to the other side of the road to relieve himself of the gorge that had suddenly risen with his revulsion.

As he did so, the 3 creatures started towards him, only to have the robed figure sweep between them and their quarry in a flurry of swirling robes.

"Sssstep Assside!" hissed the second of them.

"We have no interesssssst in you!" continued the third.

"Maybe not, but I have an interest in this child. You shall not take him so long as I am here!" challenged the defender.

The three again swept towards the young boy, and quickly found themselves in a fray with the defender, who was wielding his onetime crutch now as a vicious weapon. A side-swing caught one upside the head, toppling it sideways and sending it flailing across the road. Another swing blocked a vicious claw-swipe from the second before it pivoted rapidly around its midpoint, sending the opposite end of the staff into the bottom of its toothy jaw, crushing it with brutal accuracy and force. The creature toppled backwards, and started to slither away. The first came in for its own attack and had the staff shoved towards its midsection. A clawed paw grasped the end as tightly as possible, only to be flung headlong into the beast just rising from where it had been toppled sideways. The two tumbled in a tangled mess of limbs into a pile with the other, still attempting to slither away.

Lucas, having relieved the pressure in his gut, could only stare in awe as the robed figure tossed the creatures about like his cousin's rag dolls.

"Hisssssssss! You ssssshall Pay for your interferenssssse!"

"I seriously doubt it." answered the figure, then uttered a few words inaudible to the rest. A murky liquid blast flew from the sleeves of his robe and splashed onto the pile of daemons. The daemons writhed and hissed as the liquid hit them, and began to melt into a puddle in the road as if they had been hit with the most potent acid ever made. In a matter of seconds, they were gone.

Lucas' eyes bulged out of his head. "How... what were..."

"Nevermind what just happened, my son. The important thing is that you are safe now. They shall not bother you again, nor shall any others like them, for you are under my protection."

"Umm, thanks... I think..."

"You need not thank me. Simply remember what has transpired this evening. One day, my son, your time will come."

With that, the figure turned and walked down into the roadside ditch, tall grass swishing and swirling around his robes.

Lucas ran towards the ditch on the other side of the road where the figure had disappeared, his illness completely forgotten. "Wait! Wait! what do you..." his voice trailed off as he looked down into the ditch.

It was completely empty.

Lucas shuddered a bit, and tried to shrug off what he had just seen. He shivvered slightly looking at the darker splotch in the road where the creatures had melted away into nothingness, then continued his journey home, thoughts of the bike and glove forcing the events out of his mind...

Part II

Lucas met Nancy during his junior year of High School. They were both 17, young, and happy, and soon ended up dating. Her curly brown hair and sparking blue eyes always had a smile for him, even when things weren't going so well for them. Within a few short years, they were happily married, and known throughout town as Mr. and Mrs. Lucas--all the town kids loved them as they did their own parents and never bothered with their real last name--they were just Mr. Lucas and Mrs. Lucas. Of course, who wouldn't love the people who ran the local toy store? Mr. Jones had been nice enough to hire Lucas as a part-time employee while in High School (he had no children of his own to help him out as he grew steadily older) and had eventually retired, giving the store to Lucas to run in exchange for a modest share of the profits until such time as he passed away. Such was the way things worked; nothing ever really changed around town except for the items inside the stores and the cars on the streets.

When his son got old enough to learn how to ride a bicycle, he promptly got an old, dusty, dirty red bicycle to learn on. Nothing fancy, just a good solid old-fashioned bicycle that could handle the abuse of being ridden on and fallen off of. He rode it for almost 2 years though, to and from school and later on to deliver newspapers until he finally saved enough to buy a newer, fancier model. The old red bicycle promptly got passed on to Lucas' daughter to ride.

Such was life in small-town America; much stayed the same no matter how much time went by. And so, when things did change, it was often sudden, unexpected, and brutal to those involved. Such was the case for Lucas after his kids moved off to the big city to find jobs of their own, for very soon thereafter Nancy had been diagnosed with leukemia. He was forced to sell his treasured store and move with his beloved wife to St. Louis so as to be nearer to the doctors and hospitals.

About the same time as their move to the city, Lucas began having terrible nightmares. He'd toss and turn, violently entangling himself in the sheets of his bed, soaking them thoroughly with sweat, and then suddenly stop, sit bolt upright, and wonder what he was dreaming about. Try as he may, he could never quite remember what it was he'd been dreaming. His tossing and turning never disturbed Nancy, though, for most of the time she was exhausted from the course of the disease or too uncomfortable to sleep anyway.

Nancy's death came as both a surprise and a relief to Lucas, for now her suffering was ended. His sadness and grief washed over him like endless tides upon the beach, drowning him so far that he thought he could never recover. Yet, somehow, he did manage to settle into a quiet little life of his own there in suburbia. He'd watch the ballgames, play some pinochle with the other old folks in the area, often spend time simply alone and reading in his home, and always, always, find time to spend with his children when he could. Every now and then he'd wander through one of the fancy toy stores, looking at the flashy new toys on the racks and reminiscing of his old days as a toy store owner himself.

In fact, he missed it so much that he eventually came to the decision to get a new job in one of the gleaming toy stores, helping the nerve-wracked parents to find their children something to keep both parent and child sated. He truly treasured each and every child's happy face as they wandered through the store, remembering his own such wanderings when he was their age.

Interestingly, at the same time he got his new job, his nightmares ceased and he could once again get a full night's rest each night, awaking refreshed and invigorated once again.

At long last, his own children bore him grandchildren, who inevitably became the pride and joy of his life. He spent every bit of time with them that he could, eventually leading him to cut back on his hours at the toy store so as to spend more time with them.

Life was happy and cheerful, almost utopian. Yet, for some reason, the thought of his nightmares always managed to ruin it for him. He never knew when or if they would return. Worse, in the event that they did he knew not what he feared or from what he ran. This thought was what ruined it for him.

Part III

Lucas awoke, an incredibly annoying buzzing in his ear. His still large and strong fist slammed down on the annoying black box next to his bed. He looked at it briefly and and groaned to himself; he'd already smacked the thing several times. If he didn't hurry he wouldn't be there when the truck got to the store. He flicked the switch on top, and sat up groggily, rubbing his eyes. This was gonna be a long day...

He rose slowly and flicked on the bedside light, providing enough illumination for him to search through his closet, find his clothes for the day and don his bathrobe. He shuffled down the hallway, yawning as he passed the rows of pictures on his wall. Smiling faces peered out at him with bright eyes, encouraging him to move on. He was going to make someone else's children happy today.

After piling his clothes on the chair, he shrugged off his robe and stepped into the shower, turning the steamy hot water on his aged body. He washed his body, marvelling as he always did at the ripples and bulges of muscle that still clung to his large frame. No time for self-admiration today, though; he had to hurry.

He quickly towelled himself off, rapidly donned his immaculate clothing, and neatly parted his hair. He checked his watch briefly as he put it on--nearly made up all the lost time. Good deal.

He wandered out to the kitchen, picking up the paper on his way, and poured himself a glass of juice as he scanned the front page. Nothing too exciting... a photo of Perot at a press conference from the night before graced the front page. He chortled to himself, wishing that that guy'd make up his mind whether to run or not. Ah well.

He finished off his glass of juice, filled his coffee thermos from the coffee maker, and headed out the door. "At least that had gotten started at the right time," he laughed to himself as he started his long walk to work.

When he arrived at the toy store, he realized he had plenty of time. The Semi hadn't gotten there yet. Lucky for him. He walked through the employee entrance, turning his key in the lock to allow him to pass, and dropped his thermos off in the break room. There was a coffee maker there, but the stuff from that always tasted like the mud from the bottom of the Mississippi river. After punching in, he headed back to the loading dock, where he found the truck was just now backing up to the open door.

He waited a bit as the first boxes were unloaded from the truck by some of the younger store employees, then took a box of plushies into a side room to inventory it before they could go out on the shelves. He had no idea what these things were, but they were selling like mad.

He grabbed a boxcutter and took out the packing list, then hacked through the clear packing tape across the box top. He briefly compared the list to his purchase order form from the records, noting that a couple items had been back ordered, and then started to see what he had.

He popped open the box, and reached into the box to see what he had. Hmmm. "Whoever came up with these things had awful taste in colors," he thought to himself as he turned it over looking for the item number. He finally found the tag sticking out of a seam on the dinosaur(?)'s purple behind. He shook his head, and put it on a shelf, marking it off on his list.

He continued the process, counting out the purple critters as he plopped them on the shelf. The first box was ok; everything was there. Glad to be done with those heinous things, he moved on to the next box on the list.

After retrieving it from the pile on the loading dock, he popped it open quickly and reached into it, hoping to high heaven that whatever he pulled out wasn't purple and green. As he pulled out the first one, he groaned. More of them. He hurried through them, not liking to look at them any longer than absolutely necessary. Negative after-images and all, you know--he'd be seeing that wretched color all day as it was.

The pattern repeated itself. Over and Over again he opened another box, revealing the vile purple plushies. This was just sick--sick and wrong. There was no reason to have hundreds and hundreds of these things!

After about 300 plushies, he decided he'd had enough for a while and retired to the break room for some coffee. He munched a bit from the snack foods he kept stashed there, and immediately started feeling better. After about 15 minutes it was back to the daunting task of counting plushies.

The pattern repeated itself again and again for the rest of the day. He finally finished up, counting the last of about 700 plushies as he set it on the shelves. They weren't all purple... roughly a third of them were green, goofy looking critters. But still, he couldn't help but wonder why anyone would want these things. Shaking his head, he noticed that it was almost quitting time for him for the day. Whew, time to go home.

Lucas grabbed his thermos and headed back towards home, pausing briefly to pick up some ham on his way home for dinner. Should be good, plus he'd have some left for sandwiches later on.

After getting home, he washed his hands, and then popped the ham in the oven, adding some pinapple slices to it for just the right bit of extra flavor. He then sat down to read the rest of the paper while he waited for it to finish up.

After eating supper and cleaning up the mess, he read a bit longer, and turned in early. It had been a *very* long day.

That night, his nightmares returned.

Part IV

Lucas was a young boy again. As he walked along the dusty dirt road towards his home, the sun slowly set on the horizon, casting eerie colors and shadows across the landscape. Slowly, a group of (creatures) walked directly towards him, cutting off his route to home and thus to safety. His heart started pounding fiercely, trying desperately to escape the cage of bone that surrounded it.

As the gruesome trio approached, he could see the massive sickle-shaped claws dangling from their gnarled, bony fingers, clearly sharp enough to slice through steel let alone the soft flesh of a young boy. Their tails dragged along the ground, curling back and forth ever so slightly as they shuffled from side to side. Large, conical spines ran up the midline ridge of the tail. Rows of teeth hung from the roof of their mouths, white foam dripping from their identical mates on their muscular jaws.

The beasts made their way towards Lucas, encircling him with their massive bodies as he froze in terror. The largest one leaned in close to him, close enough for him to feel its hot breath on the back of his neck and whispered into his ear. "Joooooiiiiiiiinn Usssssssssss..." it hissed, its long forked tongue tickling his cheek as it did so.

Lucas sat bolt upright in bed, sweat soaking not only his nightshirt but also the bottom sheet and the top sheet as well, the latter currently tied around his legs and body in some of the largest knots he'd ever seen. His eyes, wide open, gradually scanned the room, taking in his surroundings and reassuring his tortured mind and pounding heart that he knew exactly where he was. He looked over at the large red numbers of the clock across the room reading exactly 3:05. Same time as always. He stretched his legs out in an attempt to get the muscles in them to relax just the tiniest little bit. He turned side to side, cracking his back, then sighed and rubbed his eyes. No point trying to sleep again now, he knew. "Might as well finish up the ritual," he thought to himself as he started to untie the knots around his legs. He turned sideways on the bed and started to put his feet down on the floor. He paused momentarily, as he always did, and looked down to make sure there wasn't anything (alive) out of the ordinary down there next to his slippers. There wasn't, of course, but he had to check anyway. He slid his feet into the fur-lined leather moccasins and padded off down the hall. He paused briefly in the kitchen for a glass of milk and some cookies, then headed downstairs to kill time until a respectable hour when he could go about his day's errands. Good thing this was his day off.

He grabbed the remote and clicked on CNN as background noise. More election garbage. Big deal. He munched his cookies, then dug out his baseball card collection and a card table. He rummaged through his cards, pouring over the faces and names he knew so well; each one was a time-honored companion and friend. Most of them were from his days as a youngster who could only boggle at the heros of the game. Oh, there were the newer ones too--he still collected the cards even now. He laughed slightly at himself at that thought. As a boy he'd boggled and wanted to be big and old like them. As an old man he boggled at them and wished he was young and could play like them. "Some things never change," he grinned to himself as he returned to the older cards. They were always his favorites, for they'd been with him nearly every step of his life.

The hours stretched on as he sat, looking at his cards, remembering the past and listening to the present on the news. Suddenly, he was shaken out of his trance by a loud ring behind him. The doorbell? at this hour? why it was only... he looked at the clock on the wall behind him. Wow. It was already eight o'clock. He'd been here a long time. He clicked off the TV and shuffled for the stairs, leaving mister Mantle and his friends to gaze up at the ceiling.

Lucas reached the door, and felt some small amount of apprehension as he reached for the latch before chiding himself. It was probably just one of the neighborhood kids looking for a baseball or something. Who he found at the door, however, was nobody he'd have ever thought of. A lone figure, clad in brown robes, waited on the doorstep.

"Greetings," said the figure, "I'm sure you know why I'm here already. Do you mind if I come in?"

Never one to refuse a guest, he opened the door for the stranger, but found himself at a near loss for words. "I'm... I'm sorry... but I don't believe I do... I..." his voice trailed off as a sequence of events fired themselves to life in his mind. Walking down a road as a young boy, a group of figures approaching him... just like his nightmare! He could remember it, but with one difference... a single figure, stepping in to help him, to interfere... to save him! He looked again at the figure, who was already making himself comfortable, sitting down at the kitchen table. "You're... you were..."

"No," interrupted the figure, as if he knew what the question would be before it was even asked. "I'm not the same person. I did know him, however. He was a great man, he was. Quite noble, intelligent. Not unlike yourself, I imagine. You'll come with me, I trust?" he asked as he removed the hood covering his head.

"I'm... I don't know..." he said, then remembered the lone figure saving him and his words. "You are under my protection," he had said; "Your time will come," he had said. Perhaps it had indeed.

"OK, I'll come with you," he agreed. "Let me just get dressed and..."

"There is no need," said the robed figure. "Just take my hand, and we shall be gone."

Lucas reluctantly took his hand, and in a flash they were on their way.

Part V

Lucas and his host appeared in the middle of a high arched corridor. A few others shuffled their way up and down the hall, lit only by torch light, reminding Lucas alternately of a cave and a cathedral. He'd never actually been inside a cathedral before, yet somehow imagined this is how one would look.

"Come, this way," encouraged his host, and so Lucas followed along. "I am not allowed to speak much of us outside of our sanctuaries," he explained. "Rather we must allow our new inductees to make their own decision, as best as they can, based on their experience and faith. You may call me Brother Thomas, or even just Tom if you prefer."

"Us?" questioned Lucas. "Who are you? And why do you speak of inductees? Am I to be inducted into some secret society to serve whatever dark purpose for the rest of my life? I don't think so!"

Brother Thomas could not restrain a laugh at Lucas' challenge. "No, we serve no 'dark purpose' here. Far from it. Are you to be inducted? Well, that part is entirely up to you. But perhaps you would like to know why I brought you here before you make your decision? Perhaps there is some curiosity in your heart of hearts, hmmm?" His deep brown eyes sparkled at Lucas in the torchlight as he smiled warmly at his guest.

That smile and eyes struck an odd chord in his memory... they reminded him vaguely of old Mister Jones from the toy shop back home. He grunted, and agreed to follow Tom farther. They paused briefly at a cubbyhole along the way to pick up a book of some kind, which Tom handed to Lucas.

"Here. Brother Jones wanted you to have this. It's the diary he kept while he was here. He spoke a lot about you, you know."

"Oh no. You aren't going to tell me that Mister Jones was wrapped up in this..."

"Oh yes he was," countered Thomas, grabbing the book back for a minute, then opened it to a dogeared page. "Look for yourself. Read. See if it reminds you of anything," he challenged.

Lucas grudgingly took the leather-bound volume into his hands and began to read. What he read frightened him immensely; how had this been hidden from him so completely? What were those things, and why hadn't he been warned? Why did they haunt his dreams? One question did *not* cross his mind, though--that this was a fake. For right there at the bottom of the page was Jones' signature, and he'd seen that enough times while working at his store to recognize it in a flash. Lucas' anger and frustration turned suddenly to curiosity and fear.

"What is this place? What are those things, and how do you fight them?" he questioned.

"All in good time. I'll start with the obvious question--what this place is. This, my friend, is the Temple of Grimace, or the outer sanctum of it, at any rate. This is where we study and move around. I'll get to our activities later but..."

Lucas interrupted. "Grimace? Like from McDonald's?"

"Yes. He isn't exactly what he seems, you know. He's a guardian, a boon to us all. You see, years ago he knew that a great evil was trying to unleash itself upon the globe, and so he started quietly building a church to defend against that evil. What he started was the same thing that you see around you now. He forces none to join him or to take what he offers, and seeks only friends. In return, he gives the power to fight the evil and protection from it. Your friend and mine Brother Jones was your protector. While the Great Evil was seeking followers enough to gain access to this world, you were a child--the prime target for his plan. He sent his minions to trick you into following and joining, for with every child whose mind he snatched away the closer he came to entering this world. Brother Jones, through the power and gifts of Grimace and of his Church was able to defend you and keep you safe from his trickery."

"So what was that that he used? How did he stop them? Those things were horrid they--"

"All in due time, all in due time. You wish to join us then, and to help defend all children--even your own grandkids--from the Great Pretender?"

"Yes! I must... I've seen these things... they haunt my dreams, my life. I must protect my family and all I've worked for."

"Your training will begin immediately, then. Come, we will get you your robes, staff, and transporter."


Thomas smiled knowingly. "Well, even we can use help from technology every now and then! We still use the old tunnels--as you read in the diary there is a great network of tunnels and passages that we use to defend those in need, and we still use them. When it comes to training, though, you can't beat the help of a transporter."

They arrived at a large store room, where Lucas found suitable brown robes and sandals, a long, solid quarterstaff, and had a transporter strapped to his hip.

"Every day you must train. You can eat here, sleep here, and whatever else here. When you get home from work, come directly here. Your first challenge is coming much sooner than you would possibly imagine."

Lucas did as he was told. He returned home, and for the next 3 weeks he studied and trained as he never had before. He studied the use of the quarterstaff, of the martial arts, and the rituals and sacrements of Grimace. And he slept straight through every night.

Part VI

Lucas labored as he'd never before in his life. In the mornings and afternoons he alternately worked at the toy store or visited his grandkids. During the evenings and late at night, he studied and trained in the Underground Cathedral. He averaged only about 4 or 5 hours of sleep each night, but it was enough; the training invigorated him as nothing else ever had.

He sparred with Brother Thomas with his quarterstaff. With each passing day the sparring matches grew faster, more brutal, and longer. Before too long, he was giving Thomas a run for his money in each match, even when he was giving no ground and using every trick he knew.

He sat in the tremendous library, reading volume after volume of material on his new foe, studying his ways and plans. He read of how he used children's imaginations and dreams to control them, how their very hopes were turned against them by corrupting them to the point they were unrecognizable. He learned how it had taken him many years to gain power enough to have his followers summon him to this plane, and now sought to take over it for his own evil goals.

He meditated and prayed in the tremendous sanctuary, quickly learning just how kind and friedly the Great and Holy Grimace was. Shakes were his blessing to all that they may be free from spongification. His friendship was available to any who would ask.

During the third week of his training, he approached Thomas in the training room where he sat meditating. He often found him sitting and thinking such as he was now, but this time something was different-- something was troubling him.

"Brother, is something amiss?"

"Aye, Brother Lucas, it is. I have been given a vision."

"You have been given a vision, yet you say something is amiss! Truly, Thomas, you must have something else on your mind!" he teased.

"Nay. Not all visions are of good things, you know. Lord Grimace has warned me that you shall face your first challenge soon. And yet, you are not ready. You still have things you must learn."

Lucas knelt down next to his brother and gazed into his eyes. "Go on, my friend."

"I fear for you and for your grandchildren, Lucas. You must be ever vigilant. We shall not spar today; I've taught you all I can. Today you must learn other, more important things. Today I shall show you some of the tunnels and passages that will be of the greatest import to you in your challange. Then we shall begin with your spell training."

"Spells? Then there is some magic to this after all!"

Thomas grinned. "I never denied it, did I? How else do you think that magical beings battle eachother? Make no mistake; it is possible for us to damage them in regular combat and at times even to kill them, but often the wisest course of action is to exploit their biggest weakness--the magic and power of Grimace himself!"

Lucas kicked himself mentally. Of course there was magic involved! How else had the Dark One gotten here in the first place! He grinned sheepishly at his mentor. "Well, I guess that makes sense now, doesn't it? Shall we be on our way?"

The next morning Lucas rose early. He was going to visit his grandkids. And had he not been warned to be vigilant? Indeed he had. So, today he rose earlier than usual.

He arrived at his son's house just as he was getting ready to leave. He greeted his father with a warm hug, and then headed off to work. His wife would be home most of the day today, however.

The day started off much as usual... some board games, a little horse-play... but the day was simply not intended to stay that way. A mysterious package guaranteed it.

At about 11am, a UPS guy showed up at the front door, bearing a gift for young Charlie. His bemused mother accepted the package, figuring it was from some relative sending an early birthday present, and let him rip the package open. Inside he found a video tape and a plush toy. Lucas fought to control an involuntary shudder as he recognized the toy--it was the same as those he'd inventoried so many of a few weeks before, and had received even more of since then. His thoughts were interrupted by Mom's voice.

"I need to run to the store for a little while," she explained. "Think you boys will be OK?"

"Sure we will, right Sport?"

"right G'ampa!" came the enthusiastic reply.

"OK, I'll be back soon," she noted, and with that she turned and headed out the door.

Unable to restrain his curiosity, little Charlie stuck the tape in the VCR and started it playing, leaving the plushie (to Lucas' uneasy relief) in the box for now. A purple figure matching the plushie came on the screen and started to sing.

As it did so, Lucas heard a sound coming from the box behind him--the one still containing the plushie.

Part VII

Lucas turned, very slowly, to face the box. By the time he managed to force himself to look, young Charlie had heard the sound as well. They both saw it at the same time. Charlie squealed in horror as a black tendril slithered out of the box, pushing the plushie out of its way and onto the floor.

Lucas nearly froze in horror, but found himself released by the thought of a single name--Grimace. He then remembered his other grandkids at his daughter's house, and knew he had to deal with this one fast to get there in time.

In a blindingly fast blur of motion, Lucas slammed the lid back on the box before the creature could fully emerge. He grabbed it and ran for the kitchen as fast as he could. He had no idea why; just that he had to get out, fast.

He scanned the room, trying to think how he could kill this thing. It was then that Grimace's will came to him, calming him, allowing him to think clearly. He approached the kitchen sink, the box rattling and thumping every step of the way as the creature tried to escape. He flopped the box upside down in the sink over the drain, knowing that at any second it would break through the thin walls of its cardboard prison, already weakened by the child's ravages in opening it.

He calmly turned on the water in the sink, and reached over for the switch on the wall. A low, rumbling sound filled the kitchen, the counter top vibrating slightly as a motor churned its way to life.

Lucas grinned slightly as he reached over, grabbed a meat fork, turned it over in his hand, and started ramming it through the box, encouraging the creature inside to seek a way out as quickly as possible. There was a sudden quick popping sound as he punctured the box each time, and after about the third blow there was another sound that followed, another pop of cardboard not made by the fork. The creature had just made its own exit through the boxtop into the drain.

The creature charged out of the box-turned-deathtrap through its new exit, directly into the drain, where its tentacles met with flowing water and whirling cutting blades. It squealed frantically, trying to escape, but it was too late. The machinery dragged it into its maw with a crescendo of rumbling and crunching. Within a few seconds, the high-pitched squealing ceased, and the sounds in the kitchen returned to those of a rumbling motor and flowing water.

Lucas carefully lifted the box. Only a thick, almost tar-like syrupy substance remained. He washed the remains down the drain, and took the box out to the burn barrel where he set it ablaze.. He had time enough to comfort Charlie and get him started watching Sesame Street before his mother returned, at which point he made a hasty exit, saying something about going to visit his other grandchildren and that his daughter had called. She hadn't, of course, but it sounded a lot better than saying he had to go save them from a slimy black thing with tentacles. In a few minutes, he was on his way across town on a city bus.

Lucas arrived at his daughter's house 15 minutes later. He only hoped it was soon enough...

He knocked on the door and walked in exactly as he usually did. He immediately knew something was wrong, though; Cindy and Kelly didn't run out to greet him as they usually did. Somehow they always knew who it was before he was through the door, yet neither had come to see him yet.

He slowly wandered down to the living room, where he heard the TV on. Just as he feared, there was a box lying in the entry to the living room, just like the other one. He turned the corner in time to see the... thing... come slithering out of the back of the plushie.

The children stirred slightly at his arrival, turning from the tape to see their grandfather... and the mass of black tentacles on the floor. They both screamed at the top of their lungs, making his ears ring.

Instinct took over yet again as he reached over to his daughter's sewing desk and pulled out a long pair of scissors. As he did so, the beast turned and bared its rows of razor sharp teeth, the only defining feature on its "face". He stepped towards it, and it raced towards him with amazing speed. He pivoted, kicking the thing as hard as he possibly could and sending it flying against the wall of the hallway. It hit with a sickening kind of slapping noise, then instantly was off in a rush of motion yet again, headed for the door.

Lucas gave chase, but was too slow as it found its way out the doggie door, shot across the lawn, and was gone. He shook his head, and returned to his screaming granddaughters, putting the scissors back in the desk as he went by. He calmly shut off the tape and took each of the girls up in his powerful arms.

Just then his daughter came running in.

"What happened? Why are they screaming?" she demanded.

"I have no idea; they were watching TV when I came in and started screaming. It was that tape..."

"Grampa chased off an icky monster," whimpered Kelly.

"uh huh," chimed in the younger Cindy.

After a little while, the girls calmed down and practically demanded that the tape and plushie be burned. Their wishes were not turned down.

The rest of the day was a cake walk next to the first few hours. The only other incident was a phone call from a distraught son, wondering why his son wouldn't go near the plushie and was so incredibly terrified of it. He claimed he had no idea, but eventually his son just gave up and got rid of it as well.

They were safe... for now.


Lucas could hardly wait to tell Brother Thomas of what happened that day. He blurted out the whole story to him as quickly as he could, everything from the boxes and the first success to the second fleeing in terror.

"This is not good, this is definitely not good," commented Brother Thomas, shaking his head.

"What? What's not good?" asked Lucas, clearly confused. "My grandkids are safe, one of the things is dead the other one's scared silly..."

"Safe? One of those things is alive, and you think they're safe? Boxes with those things in them were shipped *specifically* to your grandchildren, Lucas. Tell me, how safe do you really think they are?"

Lucas's heart sank. Thomas was right, and Lucas knew just as well as Thomas did; he just hadn't wanted to admit it to himself. He sighed deeply before responding. "You're right of course. So what do I do?"

"You continue and complete your training. There isn't much else you can do right now. It's their move now; all we can do is wait."

"Great," grunted Lucas.

"Hey, don't give up. We'll win this one. Count on it."

Lucas and Thomas spent the rest of the night and most of the next night studying and practicing the use of Grimace's magic. There wasn't much to learn, really. Very few spells were actually used by those in the church. Even fewer were important in combat. At long last, he thought he was ready for what was to come.

"You're never quite ready for it," chided Thomas. "You never really know quite what the Vile Pretender is going to throw at you; never underestimate him."

"Understood," replied Lucas.

"Now, go home and get some rest. I think you're going to need it before this is over," he grinned.

Lucas couldn't help but crack a smile at that one. "heh, you're probably right. Goodnight, my brother."

"Goodnight. And if you need anything..."

"I know--just pray."

Lucas rose early the next day. He had to work again today; he'd used up most of his time off this past week visiting his grandkids. Time well spent, he thought, especially considering all that had happened.

As he walked to work in the growing daylight that morning, he thought he caught something out of the corner of his eye, something black... slimy. He shrugged it off for the time being, but decided he had best not forget about it.

That afternoon a semi pulled in again. It was ahead of schedule, meaning they were amazingly understaffed to deal with the mountains of boxes being unloaded. Of course, this caused Lucas to have to work much later than he'd hoped. He had to stay and help haul boxes around, open them, and see what was in them. Much to his chagrin, every box he opened contained piles of purple plushies. With each and every cut of packing tape, with every box top that he popped open, the rows upon rows of plushies on the shelves grew. Lucas shuddered, remembering the events a few days ago, of the unmarked white boxes and the things that came out of them. He hummed the Big Mac tune as he worked; it was all he could do to keep calm. This was *very* unnerving, to say the least...

At long last, Lucas finished his duties. He was getting overtime, yes, but he certainly wasn't getting paid enough for looking at those things. As he left the store he couldn't help feeling that he was being watched, so hurried home as the sun started to sink below the horizon. He completely forgot about his coffee thermos in the process.

"Damn! Forgot my thermos!" he thought to himself upon entering the house and seeing the empty coffee pot, waiting for him to set it up to run again the next morning. "Now I gotta go all the way back there..." he thought to himself as he headed back out the door. "Bad enough day as it was... I just *had* to make it worse for myself on the way home..." He continued chastising himself for his foolishness all the way back to the store. He was so busy kicking himself, in fact, that he didn't notice the trio of small, spiny, squid-like things following along behind him, practically on his heels.

Part IX

Lucas hurried on his way to the toy store, darkness gathering rapidly. He paused at the door to look around, and, seeing nothing unusual, let himself in. He wandered into the darkened building, his footsteps echoing down the shadowed aisles ahead of him, and flicked on the first row of fluorescent lights so he could find his way to the break room. A dull buzz filled his ears as they flickered to life to light his path. Just the same, though, one row of lights wasn't really enough in a place like this; it was still pretty dim.

He walked down the row, somewhat uneasy that he was the only one here and thinking of all those plushies he'd gone through earlier. What if...

He forced the idea out of his mind, willing himself to stick to what he came for and not worry about it. Besides, the idea was crazy... right?

After what seemed like an eternity, he reached the break room. There it was, right there on the counter where he'd left it. He sighed deeply, releasing much of his unease and relaxing most of his body.

As the door shut and latched behind him, he figured he might as well put himself at ease for his trip home and convince himself that all those plushies were still there on the shelves where he'd left them. He wandered down the back hallway and unlocked the store room door. When he did so, he froze in his tracks. On the shelves he saw a grand total of zero plushies.

He turned quickly, slammed the door shut, and hurriedly locked the door. "This is not happening..." he tried to convince himself. Somehow, though, he knew it was. He prayed silently as he quickly walked to the door he'd come in. 5 feet... 4 feet... 3 feet... 2 feet... he flipped the lights off... 1 foot... he pulled the door open... and was through.

Lucas closed his eyes and leaned against the door to breathe a sigh of relief. When he opened his eyes again, he rather wished that he hadn't. In front of him, he saw the whole darkened parking lot, nearly devoid of cars. Desptte the darkness, however, he could see hundreds of dark forms moving about. He took a deep breath, said a few more words in prayer, and started walking forward, setting out across the field of asphalt in the direction of home.At first, the beings didn't seem to notice Lucas and the path he was taking from corner to corner. The further he went, though, it became more and more obvious what was actually happening. They were intentionally keeping their distance, allowing him to take the path he wished, then closing the gap again behind him. He made it nearly halfway across the lot before his pace ground to a halt underneath the single operating streetlight, when they all suddenly started to converge on a single point--the one in which he was standing.

One of them came into the circle of light cast by the light pole and hissed at him silently with its forked toungue. He looked it over carefully, and with some difficulty was able to recognize it as having once been a plushie. Huge, jagged spikes now ran from head to tail along the spine, uneven and razor-sharp teeth pointed every which way from its jaws, hook-shaped talons curled from both its powerful hind legs and only slightly smaller forearms. Instead of plush it was now covered in bony scales the color of night, and the only part of it showing any trace of its original purple-ish hue was its eyes which glowed with some internal fire.

It was then that he noticed a taller figure among them, standing off in the distance, making its way closer to him. He soon recognized the person approaching him as Mike, the store owner, whose own eyes glowed with the same eerie light as the creatures surrounding him.

"Lucas Lucas... You should have known better. But, nevertheless, it is too late for you to join with the one true ruler of humanity. I'm sorry, Lucas, but tonight you must die."

Lucas's eyes narrowed to a glare, focusing his rage on the "man" before him. "How can you betray your fellow humans like this? Or were you ever human? No, I shall *not* die tonight!" he snapped,

hurriedly unleashing a jolt bolt at his foe before it could grow to full strength. The blow knocked "Mike" backwards a ways, but otherwise did not affect him.

"KILL HIM!" he snarled at the beasts.

At that exact instant, a cloud of dust surrounded Lucas, obscuring his view briefly as well as that of his attackers. When the cloud dissipated, he could see his friend Thomas standing beside him, carrying a set of robes over his arm and a pair of staves in his hand. He tossed a staff and the robes to Lucas. "You were late, so we thought we should check on you," he grinned.

"Glad you did, my friend," Lucas boggled, the attackers still standing in bewilderment.

"Get dressed. I'll watch your back."

Brother Thomas was as good as his word, and within seconds they were fighting, side by side, smashing daemon plushies with righteous dignity. As they fought, Lucas gradually became aware of the fact that similar fights were taking place all across the parking lot--pairs of robed figures fought with smaller, vicious beasts. Claws raked across the tough fabric of the robes, quarterstaffs sent creatures airborne, teeth and gore flew. Here and there magic bolts flickered across small distances between skirmishing parties. It was sorely evident, however, that the monks were greatly outnumbered, perhaps by as many as ten or twenty to one.

Lucas and Thomas whirled in a dazzling pattern of blocks and strikes, edging closer to the nearby car as they did so. Suddenly, one of the beasties' claws raked across Brother Thomas' side, ripping clean through his robes and donating a large amount of blood to decorate his side. He screamed in agony, and fired a blast of jolt at the attacker that had done it, destroying it instantly, but the damage was done.

"THOMAS!" screamed Lucas. He caught his fellow monk with his left arm while still whirling the quarterstaff with the other, straining to swing it rapidly enough to defend them both. He opened the door of the Taurus and tossed his brother inside, safe for the time being, then climbed to the roof of the car. He scanned the battlefield as he defended against the flood of attackers, and noted that it was not going well for the good guys. Rage began to build within him, and he reached out with his mind in prayer and concentration, reaching for the power and help that Grimace gave to his friends. Everything seemed to slow down, the creatures near him appearing nearly in stop-motion as he raised his staff above his head, held in both hands parallel with the roof of the car.


He stood, holding his position, pouring every ounce of will and energy into the growing, swirling fury of the spell. Dark violet lines began to move away from Lucas's raised staff like ripples in a still lake. When they reached the outer fringes of the battle, they promptly ceased expanding outwards, instead packing closer and closer together until they were more a rippling sheet of energy than distinguishable as individual lines. The ground trembled slightly as thunder rumbled from all around, despite the cloudless sky.

Battle ceased momentarily as all present were awestruck with the sheer power of the spell. The attacking beasts began to quiver in fear as it grew with each passing moment.

A shaft of light shone upwards from Lucas's body into the shifting curtain above the battleground. The shimmering grew to a furious climax as power arced through it. A bolt of bluish energy surged downwards, homing in on one of the dark beasts until it ultimately engulfed it in an aura of energy. Another blast followed it, flying at another beast. Then a pair of them lanced out at separate targets. Then five. Then ten. The speed and fury of the strikes raced towards limits unknown, ceasing growth only when every creature had been stricken.

As the spell's tumult at last began to fade, the monks continued their crusade. They struck down the weakened plush-beasts with their staves, crunched them with whirling blows, and disintigrated them with their own magic blasts.

The creatures, already reeling under the magical storm's wrath, soon found themselves in a hopelessly losing situation. Most of them could only flail helplessly as they vanished into nothingness when the blasts hit home; those few who managed to survive were rapidly dealt a finishing blow from one of the monks.

Lucas lowered his staff, knocked a struggling creature away from his feet and hopped down to the ground, where he took Thomas out of the car. Lucas knelt over his brother, where he said a brief blessing unto him from the Lord Grimace that he might heal his wound.

"I'll be fine." Thomas said. He looked over Lucas's shoulder and noted the lone figure towering behind him before fixing him with his eyes. "Finish this."

Lucas rose and looked around him. Only one opposing figure still remained. Mike. He strode towards his final enemy and gazed deep into his lavender eyes.

They stood, staring into each other's eyes, for a few seconds. Mike whirled rapidly, claws sprouting from his fingertips to seek the soft flesh of Lucas's belly.

Lucas stepped back and to his right, spinning himself and slamming the end of his quarterstaff into the side of its head. The blow caused it to fall sideways and sprawl onto the pavement. "You shall not harm another innocent," he proclaimed. "Yield," he demanded, holding the end of his staff at the tip of Mike's nose.

"Never!" snarled the beast as it grabbed the end of the staff. It yanked backwards, seeking to pull Lucas closer. He let go, however, and as the monster whirled in one direction, seeking to club him with the staff, Lucas spun the other. As he came about, facing his foe again, a blast of chilled liquid flew from his sleeves and impacted its chest. It roared in horror and agony as it split into multicolored strips which swirled in circles around what was once the center of its torso before vanishing into the darkness, gone from the face of the earth forever.

Part X

A gentle breeze blew across the field of asphalt that had only moments ago been the site of a pitched battle. Remnants of magical creatures faded into nothingness, swept away to ride the winds of time into forever. Here and there a monk wandered off, vanishing into the labyrinth of tunnels, pausing briefly to assist one of their fallen brethren or simply teleporting away.

Lucas picked up his staff and walked back to where his brother still sat tending to his wounds. His magics were dealing with the wounds fairly easily now that the party that had inflicted the damage was gone from this plane, but he would certainly be sore for a few days. Lucas smiled gently and extended his hand to Thomas, who gratefully accepted and struggled to his feet.

"You're looking better," complimented Lucas as he helped his friend up.

"Yeah, but I still feel like hell," he noted dryly. Thomas draped his arm across Lucas's shoulders for extra support. "But how are you doing, Lucas?" he asked somewhat concernedly.

"Feeling my age, I guess, but what do you expect, right? I'll take you home, brother."

Thomas nodded meekly, but his eyes betrayed his thoughts. He was clearly more concerned about Lucas than he cared to let on. As they walked the lengths of the secret passages back to the Church, silence weighed heavily upon both of them. At long last, Lucas could no longer bear it and forced himself to ask what was bothering Thomas. "OK, Thomas, you've been quiet long enough. Now 'fess up; what's eating you?"

Thomas sighed heavily, knowing that he had to come clean. "Simply put, Lucas, you shouldn't be alive right now."

Lucas stopped abruptly, nearly sending his brother toppling against him. "What? Why?"

Thomas righted himself and adjusted his arm over Lucas's shoulders, though the extra support was barely needed now. "Lucas, you just unleashed the largest magical blast that I've seen in my life, and believe me, I've seen a lot. Do you really think that any average person can conduct that much power and control it? I'm sorry, Lucas, but I don't. Oh, perhaps you can for a while, but when it comes right down to it a power line can't hope to contain the raging fury of a lightning bolt."

"But I'm here now, and I feel fine..."

"Do you really? Or are you just fooling yourself? There's a reason that we refer to some beings as deities or Gods, Lucas. That reason is that they can control and channel such immense quantities of power at their slightest whim. We're mere mortals, you and I. We borrow from their power for our own spells from time to time, but when it comes right down to it those spells are small potatoes, Lucas. What you did out there tonight? That was nothing short of *godlike*."

Lucas's mind raced back to the battle and the surging power he felt coursing through his body as he called upon the power of Grimace. He could feel it throbbing in his veins, like a second heartbeat. He could feel himself reaching out with the power to strike at the creatures, sensing each of their souls as he rained fiery death upon them.

He remembered his final encounter with "Mike," how he'd whirled and unleashed a tiny blast only to have it wipe him out like he was the smallest insignificant blot. As he remembered that blast, he could sense the same power again within his body. He suddenly knew that were he to cast that same spell now it would have the same fantastic result. And for once in his life, he was afraid.

The two friends continued down the corridor in stony silence, neither one knowing exactly what else to say. Suddenly, about halfway down the passage, Lucas stumbled a bit and fell against the wall.

"Lucas!" cried Thomas as he caught him and kept him from falling the rest of the way to the floor. "Are you ok?"

"I'm.... not sure..." responded a somber Lucas. "All of a sudden the world started spinning and my legs collapsed... next thing I knew I was being held up by this wall..."

"We better get you back, Lucas..." Thomas noted, lifting Lucas gently as he placed Lucas's arm across his own shoulders, so as to help support Lucas's weight during the trip back.

The pair hurried back to the cathedral. Most of their brethren were already waiting for them, and looked upon them concernedly as Thomas set Lucas gently on a cot and called for a medic.

The medic arrived, and inspected Lucas briefly. "Hmm... not much I can do, I'm afraid; I have no idea what's wrong."

Lucas and Thomas exchanged glances. *They* knew.

Part XI

Lucas's strength continued to dwindle day by day. By the end of the week he was confined to a hospital bed. Despite all their modern technology and immense quantity of medical knowledge, the doctors were all helpless to explain his failing health. His body was strong; the muscles were not fatigued or atrophied in any way. His heart thumped away solidly in his chest. His breathing was even and regular. Nothing should be wrong with him, yet it was as if his body would simply not do anything that he wanted it to do.

His family visited him daily to see how he was doing and if the doctors had learned anything new. Yet every day it was the same thing--they knew nothing of what was really happening or why.

Every night after his family left, Brother Thomas would come up to visit, but tonight was special--he'd done Lucas a special favor. "Greetings, Lucas. I did as you asked; I brought the boxes that you told me about in your basement," he explained as he set 2 fairly large boxes on the low table next to the window. "Mind if I ask what's in them?"

"Not at all, Thomas. In fact, why don't you go ahead and open them and see for yourself," he suggested.

Thomas wasn't sure what to do, but simply opened the top box to reveal several smaller, oblong boxes inside. Lucas made the barest of motions with his had, encouraging him to continue. so he did so. Thomas complied, folding open the top of the box and looked inside. "Baseball Cards?"

"Lots of them. Go ahead, look through them. They're yours."

Thomas could only stand and stare at his friend dumbfounded. "I'm sorry... um... what..."

"Exactly what I said, Thomas. They're yours, all except for one, that is."

"But what about your family? Shouldn't they have..."

"Thomas, that's my collection, and it's now yours. My family doesn't even know about it. Yes, I know what it's worth, and yes, my family will be well provided for."

"But... why?"

"Last night, Thomas, I had a long talk with Lord Grimace after you left. He actually came to me last night here in my room and spoke with me."

Thomas moved over closer to his friend and sat down in a chair, the cards forgotten for the moment. "What did he say?"

"You were correct in your comparison to a power line and a lightning bolt, my friend. As a result of that battle, and my actions therein, there was nothing that could be done to prevent what is happening now. However, in His mercy, He has seen it fit for me to live longer and take care of a few things first."

"So why are you still alive at all? I don't understand..."

"It's not for us to comprehend completely, Thomas. That's just the way it is. As you said before, we are but mere mortals, and they are the deities. Grimace has been feeding his power into me, gradually reducing what he's been giving me so as to keep the pain from being too great."

"Then you *are* in pain? Lucas, you've never said anything, you've never..."

"Hush, Thomas. Pain is a part of life, and I'm going to live as long as I can. In exchange I want you to promise me something."

"Name it."


Scarcely a week later, Thomas found himself attending a friend's funeral, watching from a distance.


A young boy pedaled his battered red bicycle back and forth on the street. His father watched the boy's every movement as he gradually got a feel for the bike. It had been nice of the kind old fellow down the street to leave that old bicycle to his son; he only wished he had known him better. Just then something caught his eye in front of his son's bike.

"Nathan, look out for that cat!" he yelled, but it was too late. Just in the nick of time, though, a figure seemed to come out of nowhere and chase the animal out of the way. The child continued doing his little loops back and forth in the street, completely unaware that anything had happened. The father furrowed his brow, but thought little of it... until the figure approached him, that is.

A lone figure in dusty brown robes approached where he stood. "Greetings, Peter," said the figure.

"How did you know my name? and who are you?" asked the father.

"We had a mutual friend," said the figure as he glanced back over his shoulder at the young child on the bike. His deep brown eyes sparkled briefly as they saw a vague recognition flash across the man's face before he continued. "He wanted you to have this..." he said, extending his hand towards the confused father.

Unsure what else to do, he extended his hand to accept what was being offered.

"Be careful who your son's role models are, Peter," he said as he turned to walk away.

"Thanks... But who... why..."

"You need not thank me. One day, your time will come and you shall understand."

Peter looked down in his hand at what the stranger had given him. It was a thin, clear platic envelope... a card sleeve. He turned it over in his hand to reveal the face of one Mickey Mantle. His head snapped up, and he started to call after the stranger once again. "Hey! This... is..."

The figure was already long gone, vanished into thin air.

"We'll meet again someday, my friend," smiled Thomas as he wandered down the secret corridor. "Someday."

Author's Notes on "Bother Lucas"

As you can tell, the story contains a lot of background and insight into the Church of Grimace and its members. However, I would hope that the story is much more than that. I strongly encourage everyone to read and reread the story at least a couple times; I worked a lot of small details into the story which, IMHO, merit closer study. Granted, I'm biased, but I'm willing to bet that a lot of things get overlooked the first time through. ;) If you need any segments that your server lost, let me know. Also, I plan on reposting the entire series sometime, probably after Operation: Pacifica concludes.

Please, if you have any comments on the overall story, I'd appreciate hearing them!

--Brother Samhain