"So much for having killed the level boss," Kevin muttered, shifting into a defensive stance and raising his sword toward the shadow.
"Shadow King?" David asked. "Kevin, I thought you said Eversor had killed their leader?"
"Non! A mere pretender to ze throne!" the shadow scoffed, folding his wings inward and straightening his hat. "Our true king has, shall we say, an understanding with the dragon."
"So what does that make you?" David cracked, eyeing the shadow's bright yellow boots, sky-blue pantaloons, jet-black belt, and green frilly shirt. "The court jester?"
"D-- Scipius!" Kevin said, remembering just in time David's bright idea to use an alias inside the game. "Don't antagonize the boss."
"I will ignore your faux pas," the shadow said with a flourish of his hand, "because I am a gentleman of high breeding and consummate generosity. My name --" and he stood straight and clicked his heels together, rattling off a rehearsed barrage -- "is Count Ronaldo Alphonse Belacardi du Guillemet, Second Lord Saprostomous von Fromage."
Kevin, despite himself, had to stifle a giggle. David, who was also taking first-period French, burst into incredulous snickers.
The shadow narrowed his white eyes. "What?"
"You can't be serious," David said, laughing. "We're about to fight Count von Cheese?"
"Scipius!" Kevin protested, but couldn't hold back a smile.
"Impertinent whelp!" the count snapped. His hand whipped down to his belt, where he grabbed the handle of an ornate, thin rapier that had a large sapphire like Kevin's woven into the filigreed bell guard. He drew his sword with a clear shing -- and a straining of fabric as one end of his belt caught in the guard, puling taut right before the end of the sword cleared its sheath.
"Merde!" he muttered. As the shadow struggled to pull the sword free, the belt buckle came undone; with one final yank, the rapier came free and the belt end snapped back, retracting through the buckle before catching on the last hole. The count's pantaloons fell to his boots, revealing skinny black legs and white boxers dotted with delicate red hearts.
David doubled over in laughter, leaning on his staff. Kevin laughed out loud before clapping his free hand over his mouth, and stood there, stomach shaking with the effort of holding it in.
The count looked down, glared at the teenagers, then -- with as much dignity as he could salvage -- yanked his pants back up and readjusted the belt with one hand.
"Oh, man," David said, trying to steady himself. "We found the joke boss! I wish Trent were here."
"We will see who has the last laugh," the count said, swishing his rapier through the air. "The Shadow King will bring a new age of glory to ze Shadow Kingdom, and no mere rebel scum shall stand in his way. I was sent here to capture you, but first I think it is time to teach you a lesson." The sapphire on his sword gleamed, and he whipped the rapier in an arc out to his side, the blade leaving behind a brief blue afterimage. The count dipped forward stiffly in a brief bow.
"Whatever, dude," David said, whacking the base of his staff on the ground. "Fire." Flames erupted around his gem, then atop the count's hat.
"Fire?" the count asked, throwing back his head in a laugh. "Ha ha! Quel dommage. My lovely chapeau makes me immune to your pitiful flames."
Kevin stared at the burning hat. "Um ..."
The count narrowed one eye. "What?"
The flames on the hat died down, leaving only the feather ablaze. A thin wisp of black smoke curled up from it as it continued to burn. "Nothing," Kevin said.
David shrugged. "I get it. No fire. We can do beatings too."
The count grinned. "Ah, so you think to face me in a duel, then? Even though my consummate skill at ze rapier is legendary throughout four and a half continents. Perhaps there is some spirit in ze rebellion after all."
"Sure." David pointed. "Sic 'em, Rathgren."
"What?!" Kevin squeaked.
"Just roll with it. You'll be fine."
Kevin glanced back and forth between David and the shadow. "Um, Count? Could I trouble you to give us a few seconds here?"
The shadow bowed low. "I am a gentleman of honor. If we are to duel I would not wish you to face me unprepared. After all, my patented, inimitable Von Fromage Consummate Self-Defense Technique is invincible."
Kevin turned to David and lowered his voice to an agitated whisper. "Would you shut up before you get us into real trouble? It's already going to be hard enough for us to run away now that you've pissed him off! What's gotten into you?"
David let out an exaggerated sigh. "Game logic, Kev. Stay with me here. Didn't you just agree five minutes ago that this has to be an RPG?"
"Well, yes, but --"
"He's got some cheap arbitrary protection against magic," David whispered, "so this is clearly meant to be the one-on-one duel where you find your inner strength and realize you can take care of yourself."
"Or maybe this is the unwinnable boss fight where we get beat down to show how far we still have to go. Or maybe this is where we get captured so the real heroes can rescue us."
"They wouldn't do 'unwinnable' without our whole party, and it's too early in the game for a jail sequence. Besides, epic sword fight. Come on."
"I don't think I'm supposed to be the swordsman, though," Kevin whispered. "All I can do is swing this around like a doofus. I didn't even get to pick out a weapon like you two did. This is Diune's."
"You unlocked a gem setting on it. And it's the legacy of your fallen mentor. That has Plot written all over it."
"Listen. Seriously, David. We should run and get Trent."
"Kevin," David whispered, grabbing his friend's shoulders, "You. can. do. this. He's the joke boss, Kevin. Red heart underpants! And I've got healing potions, just in case. Don't back down now."
"Whenever you're ready," the count called out.
Kevin sighed. "You'd better be right." He turned and stepped forward, blade up. "Let's do this, I guess."
The count pulled the rapier tip back, holding the blade in a horizontal line in front of him. The gem in the hand guard flashed to life and held a steady blue glow. "En garde!"
Kevin felt a surge of panic at the gem activation. He was outclassed. "Are you sure?" he asked David, arm trembling.
"I'm sure" David said, exasperated. "He's completely harmless."
Kevin bit his lip. "Okay." Game logic. Game logic ...
"Harmless?" the count spat at David. "You want to see harmless, you ill-mannered brat?" And with a flurry of wings, his body was in motion.
Kevin reflexively ducked backward as the bright colors of the shadow hurtled his way. But the count swept right by him, lunging at the surprised David. There was a quiet squelch as the rapier blade punched through his jacket and into his gut. The shadow yanked the sword back out, blade red with blood, and hurtled backward in a wing-aided leap to square off against Kevin again.
"C'est bon!" the count said smugly. "Now it can be a proper duel."
"David!" Kevin cried.
David staggered backward and his legs gave out. He landed heavily on his knees. "Ow!"
"You and your joke bosses," Kevin muttered. A single-hit takedown, right through their new armor. He had called it -- they were in serious trouble. But it was too late to do anything about it now except hope for the best.
Kevin leapt forward, swinging his sword at the shadow. "Take this, Cheesy!"