Across the metaverse

by BRK

 In a corner of a bustling shopping center parking lot, Joe finds something that shouldn’t be there. But… the sexy, three-legged, planet-saving hero Preter Garadin couldn’t possibly be real. Could he?

Added: Jan 2023 5,918 words 890 views 4.8 stars (6 votes)


At first I thought what anyone else would think when they saw a battered, abandoned-looking Slipnode parked nonchalantly under a sprawling, stolid-looking Arizona white oak in an empty part of the parking lot behind a busy Super-UltraEmporium, its glossy blue-black panels glittering idly in the tree-dappled afternoon sun. It was a prop, I told myself—and that meant someone was finally shooting a live-action Garadin Metaverse movie.

My pulse quickened at prospect, and I had to resist the urge to grind to a sudden halt in the middle of dozen or so other crosscrossing shoppers outside the main rear entrance and start Googling “garadin mv filming albuquerque” right then and there. I did, however, rather deliberately veer my cart the wrong way in the parking lot, swerving left down the fire lane toward the verge and the big, gnarly-looking oak tree with the big dark cylindricalish anomaly underneath rather than heading for my cherry red Wagoneer, which sat baking in the sun not two hundred feet away down the middle row, nestled between a couple of blue Jettas like they were keeping my big guy company. Wryly I imagined myself on the store’s famously all-pervasive surveillance system, some future investigator zooming in on me separating from the exiting spray of Tuesday afternoon shoppers as I conspicuously pushed my cartful of DIY gear away from the knot of cars and trucks clustered near the entrance, inexplicably making for the more desolate outskirts of the property. I could practically hear her muttering, “What is he doing…?” as she watched me march blurrily across the screen, waiting for the moment I self-converted from customer to statistic.

Not that the SUEm parking lot here was innately dangerous; most of the crimes committed by its patrons occurred later, after they’d shown up on camera stupidly buying duct tape, hand saws, and bleach with their rewards card points. It wasn’t that I was a particularly fearful person, either. I just happened to be both actively curious and possessed of a morbid enough imagination to kind of idly wonder how picturesque the results of following my nose would be if everything went intriguingly and utterly wrong.

I left my cart in the next space over and approached the Slipnode cautiously, the noise of distant traffic creating a kind of enveloping white noise around me. It certainly looked like an exact replica of the machine as it appeared in the Gmv graphic novels. Though from any distance the Slipnode had the appearance of being a perfectly round, glossy black pillar standing upwards of two meters tall (2.3 meters exactly according to one of the more seminal midseries Gmv volumes, though it hadn’t always been drawn at exactly that scale early on), up close, as here, you could see that it was not truly circular at all: the cross-section of the device’s exterior was actually a twenty-sided polygon just over a meter in diameter, each of the twenty sides presenting as a long, thin strip of something that seemed like cobalt but darker, with a strange kind of depth that tricked the eyes. As I rounded the thing, examining the narrow vertical slats as I went, I noted approvingly that—unlike some fan-made amateur mock-ups I had seen at ComicCon where the panels had been simply joined together all the way around—this prop had the tiny matte-black gaps between them occasionally shown in the detailed close-ups. They were barely a few millimeters wide, but they told me everything: this was a pro job, made by people with the time, budget, and commitment to sweat the details to make sure this adaptation was as loyal and real as possible.

There was even a narrow scratch across one of the panels, near eye-level on the side nearest the tree. I grinned when I saw it—I knew the exact volume in which the evil warlord Jenada had gouged that very mark with his notoriously blood-drenched generations-sword. This was, apart from the ever-present road dust around the lower reaches and across the slightly wider obsidian base, the only true defect to be seen about the surface of the otherwise invulnerable machine.

I nodded, scrutinizing the scratch’s placement and angle. It was, as in the source material, the hint of violence marring a pristine exterior, like a dueling scar on the cheek of an honest Regency nobleman. Whoever had commissioned and constructed this mockup, I thought, sure knew their shit.

I looked around me a few times as I circumnavigated the device, expecting at any moment to be shooed away by a troupe of harried PAs; but there was no sign of anyone objecting to my inspection of this obviously very expensive prop. In fact, no evidence presented of a film production at all: there was no crew in sight, no trailers, no lighting gear, nothing. Just a Slipnode prop enjoying a bit of shade in the middle of an Albuquerque parking lot. Like it had just randomly shown up there.

I came back around to the “front” of the thing—the point I’d started walking around it, anyway—and stood regarding the thing, rubbing my stubble thoughtfully. Maybe this was a fan-made tribute after all, though it was exceptionally well made if it was. Either way, the question remained: what the fuck was this random Slipnode premium fake doing loitering unattended on the back end of an Albuquerque big-box UltraEmporium parking lot?

I took a step back, crossing my arms as I took in the full scene. A heavy-duty pickup rolled past down the service road beyond the verge, its bed extruding plywood sheets and two-by-fours. Further back, beyond the farthest reaches of the sprawling, half-empty parking lot, a four-lane highway teemed with routine traffic. The banality of the backdrop only made the Slipnode that much more inexplicable. “What the hell is your deal?” I murmured to it with a frown. “Why are you here?”

“It goes where the fun is,” said a voice to my left.

I started only the slightest bit; but I prided myself on equanimity in exceptional circumstances, and by the time I’d turned my head to look at the speaker I was fully under control. It was just as well. The man who now stood at my side was singular, but in different ways along various axes. His face was pleasant and handsome despite a somewhat prominent nose and slightly wide-set eyes, with a mobile mouth and skin a sort of warm sepia like he’d stepped from a wood-paneled Edwardian photograph. He wasn’t exceptionally tall, standing some inches shy of my six feet flat, but he seemed tall, his presence emphatic in a way that was hard to describe. His dark hair was loose and wavy, and he was dressed all in black, with a billowy, soft-collared V-necked tunic of the kind one might imagine on a vacationing pirate or Lord Byron; midnight trousers that were slack in the legs but snug at the hips; and sturdy black leather boots. Over his shoulder was slung an inconspicuous black canvas satchel. Neither shirt nor pantaloons hid his hairy, athletic physique and his general air of masculinity. Around his right wrist was a narrow, intricately woven tattoo I knew well, half obscured by his fine dark hair despite the subtle way the ink seemed to catch the light, as though atom-sized diamonds were embedded along its infinitely woven circumference.

Though remarkable in many ways, I reckoned, overall he’d easily pass for human were it not for the complement of three shapely and rather distracting legs crowding his lower half where, I need hardly say, most people would expect to find only two. That would certainly set him apart—if you were looking for it.

I remained impassive as I met his gaze, which was so steady as to be arrogant, his cocky half-smile all but daring me to call him out as exceptional. Inside, however, I was screaming. This was impossible, I told myself. Sure, I’d seen plenty of people cosplaying Preter Garadin, but nobody—and I mean nobody—could ever do the legs as convincingly and naturally as they appeared in the books. Almost the entire run of Gmv had been inked by the same man, Sid Eisenmann, and he’d always drawn Garadin’s strong, loping legs, two in front with the third slightly behind and between, as though they belonged elementally in the universe—as though that were the natural form of man, and we bipedal losers stinking up the planet Earth were diminutions of the purer form. No one actually born with two legs could hope to fake that elegance and authenticity with a pair of sewn-together black Dockers, some upholstery stuffing, and a mismatched extra boot. This, whatever this was, existed on another level from the duct tape and glitter of simple fan exuberance.

I felt my blood heating as I held his gaze, those three legs filling my brain and my excessively fertile imagination even as my balls tingled in my jeans and my cock awoke from its nested slumber in my snug, cottony boxer-briefs. could he tell? Be cool, I told myself. Instead of reacting to his presence, I instead elected to respond to what he’d said, making a show of looking around me at the sun-baked store parking lot full of moms stuffing SUVs with profusions of plastic-bagged consumer goods and dad-bodded potterers buying spackle and deck sealant.

I turned back to him, intensely curious to see his reaction. “It goes where the fun is” was kind of a catch-phrase: though Garadin had only said it twice in canon, it had been picked up by the fandom as a sort of unofficial motto for the franchise. The typical reaction was to mock the statement by drily observing the mundane surroundings, as I had just done, mirroring the in-universe responses on both occasions from the locals he’d been speaking to. I had, in essence, just marked myself as a fan, and I very much wanted to see how this man would respond. Maybe the production crew would finally reveal themselves, and I’d win some kind of recognition for passing the test. A walk-on role in the film for? Special thanks in the credits? Clearly this guy was method-acting Garadin to test fanbase support, and I was ready to give the costumers and prop folks all tens on the focus group score cards or whatever as soon as the PAs appeared to guide me to my post-encounter interview.

The man who looked like Preter Garadin, however, only gave me a quizzical smile before clapping me on the shoulder and moving past me toward the Slipnode prop. “Be well,” he said, his tone one of closure and farewell. My heart tripped. This, too, was a catchphrase from the graphic novels, and a lot more evidenced than “It goes where the fun is.” Garadin only said it when he expected never to see the person again—it was his equivalent of “have a nice life.”

“Wait,” I heard myself say, just as the man was raising a hand to press his palm against the device. He arrested the motion, looking back at me expectantly. Caught off guard, I said the first thing that came into my head. “That—that can’t really be an actual Slipnode, right?” I stammered.

The man’s brows drew together. He lowered his hand and turned toward me, closing the distance between us. Though I kept my eyes locked with his I was very aware of the movement of his three long, well-formed legs, and my cheeks heated a little. There was plenty of evidence that Garadin enjoyed sensual pleasures with all kinds of folks, and I’d read more than my share of smutty fan-fiction that went where graphic novels meant to be racked on mainstream shore shelves could not. The man in front of me exuded all the charm of someone capable of sleeping his way across the galaxy if he chose, and the stern, penetrating expression he wore as he stared up at me, all but erasing our height difference through sheer force of will alone, did nothing to quell my growing lust.

All his attention was on me, and I felt it, almost palpably, beating against my skin like the rays of a tropical sun. “What did you say?” he asked quietly.

I looked past him for a second, clocking the big blue-black pillar behind him before returning my gaze to his. “That’s a prop, right? It’s not a real Slip—”

Too late I realized my mistake, and I pressed my lips together, cutting myself off. “Slipnode” was a word used only in the Gmv narration, referring to the device’s function as an extension of Garadin’s pocket homespace—a node=point that connected anywhere in the universe to a single hub where Garadin rested and worked out the problems he encountered on his travels. Whenever he needed to go somewhere in the multiverse, he flung out a spacetime event to that precise destination, linked by a extradimensional wormhole that linked Garadin’s homespace to the place he wanted to go. This event manifested as a pillar, but actually functioned a junction-point between any given normal reality and the endoreality conduit that would flick Garadin, and anyone with him, back to his secret home.

Garadin himself never called it a Slipnode in dialog, because he was always at pains to conceal the fact that this simple, inert-looking object was actually a connection to a private domain he allowed none to enter. Generally, when called upon to explain it, he called it a capsule or a ship, all the better to suggest it was mere transport and not a passage to a forbidden space, with his hand the only key. Somewhere along the way one of the people whose planet he was saving called it “the Tower,” and that had been used a few times afterwards, always as though it were the name of a vessel.

It was too late to backtrack now, though. I kept silent under his scrutiny, sure I’d sunk any chances of getting whatever fan-prize I was vying for. “Who are you?” he asked, eyes narrowed.

“Nobody,” I said quickly, then winced as he raised his expressive brows—The Nobody was an energy-eating half-gremlin Garadin had tangled with in volume 3. “Shit, I mean, my name is Joe. Joe Capshaw.”

He nodded slightly. “Nice to meet you, Joe Capshaw,” he said, without expression. At least he didn’t go for the space-opera cliché of calling me Joe-Joe. His steel-blue eyes held mine, not wavering even a millimeter. Casually, he continued, “And what was that word you used before?”

Our faces were very close. His eyes and his presence were kindling something in me. The moment seemed to stretch, locking us in place. I could have cupped his cheek. I wanted to. I was flushed and aroused, and I knew he could take me—or he might let me take him. There had only been one canonical drawing of Garadin’s bare triple butt (though of course there were many fan renditions), and suddenly I very much wanted to see the real thing.

Wait—the real thing? Get a grip, Joe. There was no “real” Garadin butt. This guy was an actor—an actor with a very, very good costume and a stellar command of the persona, sure, but an actor nonetheless. We were role playing, and it was my job to keep up. I twisted my lips in a crooked grin. “Where do you think you are, Garadin?” I asked, trying to mirror his confidence.

His brows shifted infinitesimally at the use of the name, but he ignored it otherwise and answered, in a comical drawl, “Al-boo-kwer-kway?”

I smirked. At this point I was all ready to lay out, in character as part of this role play, a masterful rendition of the familiar speech where someone, usually a blatant fanfic author insert character, introduced Garadin for the first time to a universe in which he was (gasp) a fictional character. Honestly, I’d come across oner version or another of this dialog so often, I practically knew it by heart. Usually, how it went was, the shocking revelation was followed by some kind of giddy, colorful tour of our reality, leading eventually the protagonist and Garadin repairing back to the former’s abode to review their stockpile of well-thumbed Gmv volumes to the accompaniment of soft jazz, red wine, and pistachio ice cream, one or more of these being somehow new to this ageless traveler of the universe. Naturally such encounters almost always climaxed, literally, in bouts of vigorous boots-knocking between our amorous hero and his abashed yet equally adept Mary Sue admirer. I would not be inaccurate to say that the emulation of this scenario was something I was presently more than fine with attempting to achieve, given the almost preternatural smolder of the man in front of me burning through my very flesh and being.

I cleared my throat slightly. “What if I were to tell you—” I began.

At that moment a bloodcurdling scream erupted from somewhere across the parking lot. Garadin instantly whirled to look for it, then, after shooting me one last this-is-your-fault-for-distracting-me glare, he took off, running with impressive three-legged grace and speed toward whatever calamity he was here to stop.

I hesitated only a second before pelting after him, my cart, the Slipnode, the notional film production, and everything else utterly forgotten as I chased Preter Garadin into whatever strange adventure had brought him into my previously mundane world.

Garadin pushed through the crowd and knelt beside the man writhing on the pavement next to the open rear bay of his silver SUV, still screaming as though his guts were being wrenched out in great fist-fulls. I dropped down next to Garadin, glancing over at him as he leaned over the man. Even in the midst of the emergency I couldn’t help noticing things about him, like the way he knelt with middle knee down, the other two up, just as he always did in the books. It had to be the most stable “bended knee” position in all history and fiction, and there were a lot of stories that featured him positioned like this, whether looking after a victim of some space-calamity as he was now, or pursuing some softer sort of moment beside a chance lover while danger brewed just off-panel…

I forced my attention to the man twisting in agony on the ground in front of us. I did a quick inspection, looking for what might be amiss and coming up empty. He was blond, middle-aged, and slightly doughy, reminding me of all the buff and beautiful football stars from my high school who’d ended up as beefy fridge repairers and glad-handing car salesmen. This one was wearing a light orange-plaid long-sleeve shirt, unbuttoned and open over a gray tee shirt; below were knee-length cargo pants, short sweat socks, and well-worn running shoes. There was no sign of injury or attack that I could see. “What’s wrong with him?” I asked Garadin.

“Look at the hands,” Garadin said. He had opened up his satchel and was looking through it for something. I did as instructed and turned over one of the man’s twitching hands at the wrist, letting out a sharp gasp as I saw what was making him scream. The palms of his hands were covered in large magenta crystals the size of road salt, like he’d taken a header into a pile of the stuff hands first—and each and every one of these crystals seemed bent on burrowing into the flesh of the man’s palm.

I dropped the hand in horror and looked around for the cause. It was easy enough to spot: one of the shopping bags in the SUV’s cargo area had fallen over, knocking open a quart-sized metal canister of something called “Doctor Vengeful’s Safe and Nontoxic Chrome Restorer”—the magenta crystal contents of which had spilled over onto the carpeted floor of the stowage space. Beefy McGlorydays here must have tried scooping it back into its container, only to discover that making your kitchen sink nice and shiny again wasn’t its only utility. I glared at the label—it actually had a cartoon of a splayed hand on the side with the legend “safe to use without gloves!!” around it.

“Garadin, look,” I said, nodding toward the offending cleanser.

“I saw,” Garadin replied, glancing toward it quickly. He’d found what he was looking for in his bag—a silver tube of some kind, like they used for ointments and acrylic paint. A healing unguent, I guessed. To my surprise he pressed it to my chest. Automatically I reached up and placed my hand over it. He held his hand there for a second, steel-blue eyes boring into mine, before he withdrew it, leaving me in possession of the tube. He placed the hand on my shoulder instead. “We need water,” he said. “Lots of water.”

I almost scoffed. We were in New Mexico; asking for lots of water around here was a bit like asking for volcanoes in Greenland. The moment was all wrong for sarcasm, however, so I considered his words seriously, discarding one idea after another. The UltraEmporium we were camped in front of had scads of bottled water, but administering it would be awkward—not to mention the spectacle it would cause. Of course there was freaking waterfall in in Garadin’s homespace, which the Slipnode could get us to in no time at all, but I knew better than to suggest bringing a stranger—not to mention a quantity of malevolent crystals—into the traveler’s forbidden sanctum.

Water. There were lots of pools around, but these were mostly in the ritzier neighborhoods, some ways away and behind a lot of iron fences. My bathtub was closer and obviously more accessible. I was still reno-ing the house I was living in so I could flip it, but the plumping was already done and I already knew the water pressure and volume was fantastic.

“I live ten minutes away,” I told him, returning his gaze. He nodded, understanding.

I made no sign of moving toward my car. I also very deliberately didn’t look at the intricate tattoo encircling his wrist, either, and neither did he, but my awareness of it was obvious. For a single heartbeat he considered me, hand still firmly gripping my shoulder. Then he asked, “You up for this?”

He glanced toward the store, and I guessed he was bent of retrieving whatever stock of “Doctor Vengeful’s” hand-eating crystals had been slipped onto the shelves here before it snagged anyone else. He was leaving me to deal with the original victim. When he looked back I grinned. “Go,” I said. I grabbed the guy’s forearm again, ready for what came next.

“Wash first, then the salve,” he said with a businesslike smile. Then he winkled, and I drew in a breath. “See you soon,” he said playfully.

Then the flecks in his tattoo seemed to glow, and I knew he’d activated the Slipnode’s short-range teleport. My heart dropped like I was on high platform that had suddenly collapsed. I gasped, and with an almost audible foomf Garadin, the crowd with their phones, the parking lot, and the whole UltraEmporium were all gone, replaced with the beige, primer-splotched walls of my own living room—the place I called “home.”

“Well, shit,” I breathed.

I was still shivering as I realized I was still gripping Beefy Guy with one hand the the tube of salve in the other. Gathering myself together, though a combination of cajoling and manhandling I managed to get my whimpering charge into the bathroom and bent over the side of the tub where I got a torrent of warm water going. As soon as I got his hands under the spout he screamed again, but I held onto his forearms firmly, keeping them under the spray. “Shhh,” I soothed in his ear, as Garadinesquely as I could. “It’ll all be over soon.”

“What the fuck is going on?” he babbled, struggling limply against my hold. The crystals had already taken a lot out of him, it seemed. He looked around at my bathroom, which still had the gold-plated fixtures and coral-red Hawaiian-shirt wallpaper put up by the previous owners. “Where the fuck am I?” he wailed, managing to look pained and offended at the same time. I glanced around. The decor in here was truly hideous, but stripping the walls was way down my list at the moment.

“Shhh,” I said. “Don’t worry. The chrome polish turned out to be caustic, but we’re fixing it now. See?” I pulled his hands out of the water to show him. Sure enough, there were no magenta crystals anymore—just lots of holes gouged in the flesh of his palms, like someone had been drilling for water really unsuccessfully.

Beefy Guy screamed. “What the fuck?!”

I’d dropped the tube of salve by the side of the tub. I retrieved it now, leaving the water running, and quickly started squeezing generous amounts of beigish goop onto both hands. It smelled awful, like old sneakers left too long in a gym locker, but… that meant it worked, right? I worked the goo into his hands diligently for a few minutes as Beefy Guy panted anxiously, both of us no doubt thinking about how singular and bizarre this moment was. Beefy Guy was actually not bad looking—a bit ruddy and puffy-cheeked, but he had nice eyes. I kind of wanted to look him up sometime and share a beer, just to see what his life was like when he wasn’t being attacked by evil consumer products.

After I’d massaged the ointment into his skin for a few minutes I could feel a warmth building up from it as the salve sank gradually into his skin. I cradled his hands in mine, and we both gaped as we watched as all the pockmarks began very slowly filling and smoothing over with new, pink flesh, like the city had suddenly doubled its pothole budget and had gone on a spree to fill every last one.

He looked up at me in awe as we knelt together by the tub, the rushing water loud enough I had to lipread his whispered “Who are you?”

I shrugged. “Nobody,” I said, then I had to suppress a grin—this time there was no chance he’d confuse me with a half-gremlin energy-vore.

I was basking a bit in the wonder in his expression when he glanced aside at the tub and his eyes bugged out. He clambered quickly to his feet in a panic, pointing. “The water is… crawling…”

I looked down and quickly got to my feet in alarm. I had assumed that a large enough supply of running water would dissolve the magenta crystals, rendering them harmless as they washed into the Albuquerque sewers. I now saw that such an estimation was… optimistic. The water in the tub was roiling with magenta specks that showed no sign of breaking down—in fact, the slurry of evil now imprisoned in my sloshing tub seemed to be aggressively trying to climb to sides and break free to spread havoc in the wider world beyond. Worse, the tub was slow-draining at the best of times, and now seemed to have stopped itself almost completely leaving the water level to slowly rise toward the sloping brink. It would be spilling out and filling the bathroom floor in no time.

“Shit!” I said. I grabbed for the detachable shower-head and switched the water flow over, hoping to use the spray to keep down the crystals that seemed to be actively trying to climb the sides of the tub—but the water pressure through the shower head was comparatively weak compared to the deluge of the spout, even on “pulse.” “Shit, shit, shit!” I cursed.

“Stand back!” Garadin said, appearing suddenly next to me. I dropped the sputtering shower-head and jumped back next to where Beefy Guy was cowering in the corner by the toilet, as red as the wallpaper behind him. Both he and the wallpaper clashed pretty badly with the orange-plaid shirt, enough so that I had to look away.

Garadin took a quick look at the tub fill of escape-driven crystals, then pulled a small light-blue sphere from his bag and dropped it dramatically into the roiling waters. “Kowabunga!” he cried. There was a wet-sounding crack, and suddenly the tub water was milky and quiescent, its tiny magenta hijackers inert, at least for the moment.

Garadin then picked up the shower head I’d dropped and tested the temperature against his hand. He looked over at me and tutted. “Only warm water?” he teased. “Amateur.”

I folded my arms over my chest. “What, I should have scalded him instead?” I shot back. He grinned and bent to turn the cold water off, cranking the hot water all the way up instead. As he directed the shower head at the contents of the tub, I started to hear a kind of sizzling sound. “That’s it,” Garadin said contentedly. He beckoned me back over and handed me the shower head. “Keep it up until it’s not so evil,” he said. As I took over at the tub, he walked over to Beefy Guy. “Hands,” he said.

Beefy Guy showed him his hands. Garadin nodded approvingly at the healed-over skin, which was still mottled pink where the little holes had been. Even if he had pink polka-dotted hands forever it was still a fair trade, I figured. “Nice work,” Garadin said to me.

“Thanks,” I said. I stole a quick glance at his very round and inviting triple ass before returning to my work, directing my crystal-killing 120 degrees at any remaining spots of magenta in the slowly emptying tub. Everywhere I sent my spray, the crystals died a gratifyingly audible death.

“Who are you people?” Beefy Guy said again.

Garadin clapped his right hand on Beefy Guy’s shoulder—the hand with the tattoo around the wrist. “You want to go home, don’t you?”

Beefy Guy nodded vigorously. Whatever all this was, he was done. I had no doubt he’d write off the whole afternoon as cleanser-induced delirium. Garadin gave him a cheery smile. “Off you go, then,” he said. “Be well.”

I blinked, then with the faintest possible foomf Beefy Guy was gone, and it was just me and Garadin. He came diffidently over to check my progress, standing just that little bit too close. My attentions hadn’t gone unnoticed, it seemed. Well, subtlety is for losers.

Garadin looked over the tub as I continued spraying, pretending to inspect my work. “What about you, Joe?” he asked.

“I am home,” I told him, with just the right edge of smarm to appeal to this sex-loving, planet-saving man I knew well, yet didn’t know at all. Very deliberately, I transferred the sprayer to my left hand, leaving my right hand free to grab his butt. And did I grab his butt? I just said subtlety is for losers, didn’t I?

We stood in my living room, mulling over the two cases of “Doctor Vengeful’s Safe and Nontoxic Chrome Restorer” Garadin had managed to extract from the Super UltraEmporium’s shelves and stock. The good news was that they hadn’t had the stuff for long, maybe a few weeks, and Beefy Guy had been the only taker so far. Most folks didn’t trust their fixtures to someone named “Doctor Vengeful,” it seemed. That still left 47 quart canisters of extra-universal malevolence to deal with.

Garadin was unperturbed. “I’ll find a hot spring to tip it all into,” he said. “No worries.”

“It seems pretty… penny-ante,” I mused.

Garadin nodded. With a gratifying synchronicity we turned together and started walking back toward my bedroom. I wanted to pull those boots off him one at a time, just for the sake of having three of Preter Garadin’s boots on my bedroom floor. Of course, that was only the beginning. “The crystals—they don’t belong here, right?” I asked.

Garadin nodded again. “They were just malevolent and anomalous enough to trip my astral awareness, but not quite potent enough for me to home in on them directly,” he said. “That’s why I was there. I knew something was wrong, but… I didn’t know what I was looking for until I stepped in it.”

I smiled fondly. I could think of half a dozen adventures where Garadin had said something similar. “So the crystals were just a lure to bring you to this universe,” I said.

“Undoubtedly.” Garadin sat on the edge of my bed, his three dark-clad, well-formed legs spread slightly apart. I bit my lip, my blood already running hot as I started to get hard. We regarded each other intently for a few minutes.

“How do you know about me, Joe Capshaw?” he asked at last.

I sighed. I was so past the usual fanfic revelation scene. Instead I walked over to my desk, grabbed my iPad, and spent a few seconds pulling up my digital copy of Garadin Metaverse, volume 1. I handed it to him.

He looked the cover over with interest—fuck, even the way those so-expressive eyebrows went up was hot. He scrolled through for a bit, making various amused or affronted faces in turn before setting the tablet aside.

“That explains a lot,” he said. “I take it there’s a fair number of these Garadin Metaverse books?”

“Fifty-five so far,” I said proudly. “And that’s just what’s in canon.” I smiled quirkily. “Some of it’s kind of…” I raised my own eyebrows suggestively.

“Sounds like it’s fairly accurate then,” Garadin said drolly. “Someday I’ll have to investigate how this universe ended up with a fictional account of my doings.” He bent to reach for his rightmost boot.

“Let me,” I said quickly, kneeling before him. He smiled and surrendered his foot to me, and I carefully removed the boot, setting it aside so I could massage the white-stockinged foot underneath. I met his gaze, and my pulse quickened a bit more at the lust so obviously darkening those pretty steel-blue eyes. “So, shall we hunt down ‘Doctor Vengeful’ together?” I asked, pressing his foot firmly against my thigh as I reached for his middle boot. “I mean,” I added, pausing as I glanced up at him, “that is why you’re here.”

Unexpectedly, Garadin reached down and grabbed my shoulders in a firm grip, pulling me up into a long, lingering kiss. “‘Doctor Vengeful’,” he said eventually, breaking the kiss to eye me rakishly, “isn’t going anywhere.”


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