The Beloved Afterlife of Sahl Endeberg

So, a lot of people have been “showing and telling” stuff that is so srs and very drama.

I thought I would re-post something here that actually is up on the newly resurrected Proper boards, but which I dug up and read over myself after the wiki project where I have Sahl Endeberg some wiki TLC.

In the course of writing Kupopolis, many characters die. Few among those get to come back to life… and even fewer among those must face themselves transformed into Hotchicks in order to do so.

Behold the (incomplete) tale of the Beloved Afterlife of Sahl Endeberg. In his quest to return to life, he must prove himself worth of being a main character by facing the Five Virtues of Main Characterness: Bravery, Wisdom, Charity, Ninjutsu and Hot Chickness.

I hope this makes people chuckle.

(PS, too lazy to fix the HTML formatting tags)

The moogle cleared his throat. Loudly, and followed this up by the drumming of his thick, koala-like claws on the surface of his blindingly white desk.

“… What?” said the young man, who was still a little disoriented. He was standing apparently in the middle of the sky, on a surface that was cold to the touch and blanketed by a thick layer of what he took to be the wispy product of a fog machine. “Where am I?”

“… Not the last time I’ll hear that question in forever,” the moogle said, rolling his eyes. He lifted a cigar up to his mouth and arched one of his bushy brown eyebrows. “Okay, fine. I’ll give you the spiel.” Then, with the dry lack of enthusiasm that came with several millenia at the most boring job in all of existence: “Ye who have departed the mortal coil know that I am Saint Pooter --” here he pointed at the name tag that was affixed to his peerlessly-white robe, “-- the keeper of the gateway and doorman to the Paradisical Beyond. Now wipe your feet and try not to let my pearly gate smack you in the ass on the way in.”

“Wait… I’m dead!?”

Pooter groaned. “Yes. You and the five trillion people behind you! Less talk, more resigned-shuffling-of-feet, please. I’m on a tight schedule here: gotta clear the last of you schlubs out of my line before the Next Big War starts up.”

“But that doesn’t make sense. I was in the best shape of my life. I don’t remember dying… How?–”

“Freak car accident – and when I say ‘freak,’ I mean keep your underaged girlfriend’s face out of your godsdamned lap next time you’re speeding on the highway. Not that there’ll be a next time. Tough luck, things happen.”

“Oh Gods,” the young man said, “Tracy! Is she…? Oh gods I killed her… I killed her…”

“Nah, she survived. She’ll live.” Pooter flicked his still smoldering stogie into an ashtray on his desk. “Sort of, anyway. Till her folks decide it’s more humane to pull the plug. Now come on, Romeo, I ain’t got all day. If you make me waste any more of my immortal existence on you, I swear by all the Writers I can make your afterlife very unpleasant.”

The young man was sobbing. “Tracy,” he gasped, between sobs, “Oh shit… I’m so… gods… I didn’t mean to…”

“NEXT!” barked Saint Pooter, as the young spirit passed through the shimmering golden gates.

Just then, there was a commotion in the line. Several of the waiting spirits were shoved aside, as one from near the back of the line pushed and shoved his way up to Saint Pooter’s desk. He was tall, and ruggedly handsome, with his meticulously trimmed blond beard and mustache, regally coifed blond hair, and elegantly crafted red Dragoon’s armor.

“No cutsies,” Pooter said, as he pointed to a plaque posted near the gate. The plaque was marble-backed, with a solid gold plate bolted to it with diamond-capped bolts. The lettering was engraved in tall, capital letters, commanding instant attention of all who looked in the direction of the gate. The plaque read: NO CUTSIES, BY ORDER OF THE GODS!

“Excuse me, sir,” the red-armored man said, as if he hadn’t heard Saint Pooter’s admonition, “I do appear to be most dreadfully lost.”

“I’ll say you’re lost,” Pooter said. Then: “Lost your place in line!!

“… Yes, quite right,” the armored man said dismissively, “You see I’m a contestant in the robotics tournament, and I think I’ve managed to lose my way to the place where my giant robot is being maintained. I simply must get back, so I can win and become even more beloved in the eyes of all the Web of Worlds.”

Pooter rolled his eyes. “Look,” he said, “You need to wait your turn in line. I shouldn’t even be talking to you, since you took cutsies. And we just don’t play that here in the Paradisical Beyond. People who cutsy usually end up going to the Other Place.”

“If this ‘other place’ is Hill, then I should like to go there immediately,” the man said.

Pooter chuckled. “Not Hill,” he said, “But awfully close.” Then, quickly: “That was a reference to the spelling, really. Hill’s a lovely place, I summered there once, good people. Loved it. Would go again if I ever get some time off work.”

“Your words are confusing and not helpful,” the man said, frustration creeping into his voice. “I suggest you start being more accomodating at once. I guarantee you, you shall not like to be known as the moogle who prevented the Beloved Sahl Endeberg from winning the Robotics Tournament.”

“Okay, wiseass,” Pooter said, “Endeberg, you said? Tell you what. I’mma look you up in the Big Book, tell you exactly how you got here, and send you back to your place in line so I can get on with my work. You’re just lucky my seraphim guards are on their lunch break at the moment.”

“Yes, I was wondering why there weren’t more Seraphim in the contest this year,” Endeberg mused.

Pooter frowned, and briefly removed his cigar from between his teeth. “Okay, you do realize the word actually used to mean something other than giant plastic robots, don’t you?”

“You should quit smoking,” Endeberg said, “It is bad for your health, and nobody who smokes has ever been very beloved at all.”

The moogle shook his head and turned to the flat-screen monitor on his desk. He reached down to a keyboard just above his lap and began typing rapidly. “I’m not finding you in the database,” Pooter said. “Endeburg, right?”

Sahl glanced at the screen. “No, it’s with an ‘e’ at the end. EndebErg, with an ‘e.’ My name is most definitely not spelled with a ‘u’ there.”

“Gotcha,” the moogle said. Then, after making the correction: “Still nothing. Sahl was the first name, right?”

The man nodded. “Yes, I am Sahl Endeberg. Perhaps you have heard of me. I am quite great. My record of service during the Great War is rather distinguished, and my ancestors were reknowned in the Forgotten Time of Legends. In, like… a forgotten dimension… or somesuch.”

“Uh huh, well my computer doesn’t know who the crap you are,” Pooter said. “Was this your birth name, by any chance?”

Sahl paused. “… No,” he said. “I was born with the given name ‘Scenograf Endeberg.’ But I later changed my name, so that I would be more beloved. With that name? Not so beloved. But ‘Sahl’?.. It practically screams ‘belove me.’ In fact, it actually is a Xsian term that means ‘Beloved.’ Did you know that? It may be part of the reason why the entire Web holds me with a special sort of beloved reverance… ‘beloverance,’ if you will.”

Pooter entered the new name. “Aha, here you are,” he said. “Endeberg, yes. ‘Sahl’ Endeberg.” He read some more of the entry. “Oh my,” he said, as his cigar hung limply off his lip. “This can’t be right,” he said. He typed some more, furiously this time, and then stared at the screen. “Well slap my ass and call me an Infinite Resources Bitch!! I never thought I’d see one of these as long as I… well, not ‘lived’, but you know. Man. I mean, they trained us for this, but…” Pooter looked up. “I need you to step through this here gate behind me, Endeberg. … There’s someone back there who needs to speak to you.”

Sahl smiled, feeling somewhat vindicated. “There we are, my good boy. I am glad to see that at last I am receiving the VBP treatment I deserve.” Sahl took a step forward, but then stopped and turned to face the moogle at the large desk. “You see, it is VBP, rather than VIP, because I am a very beloved person, not merely a very important person. Though the fact that I am so beloved clearly implies that I am also quite important. It goes without saying, you see.”

Pooter opened his desk drawer and pulled out a plastic ruler. “Beat stick,” he announced. Then, he picked up a stapler and set it on the desk blotter in front of him. “Dead horse,” he said. Then, without warning, Pooter began to furiously beat the stapler with the ruler, again and again and again, until the ruler snapped. And then he still kept beating it, with the broken half of the plastic ruler, again and again and…

“Yes…” Sahl said. “I shall leave you now, deranged and decidedly non-humorous moogle. My beloving public awaits.”

As the heavy Pearly Gate crashed shut behind him, Sahl Endeberg found himself contronted by a pair of men. They were tall, statuesque men with wind-swept blond hair. One sported a short beard, and wore a peerless white toga and golden sandals. The other wore a billowy white robe and sported a pair of feathery white wings on his back. A fiery sword was sheathed at the winged man’s side.

“Might you direct me to the most beloved hangar of Sahl Endeberg?” Sahl asked, approaching the two men.

“Sahl Endeberg, at last,” said the man in the toga. “You must come with us… we will… explain on the way.”

“As long as I don’t miss my next match,” Sahl said, falling in step between the two men. He regarded the winged man and said: “Krydion, I fought alongside your people during the Great War, in which I was both distinguished and beloved. Your people rather beloved me, quite a lot.”

The winged man frowned. “I am Redacteur,” he said, “And this is Ecrivain. We are servants of Those who Write, two of many, yet fewer than the people of your kind.”

“Redacteur and I mainly deal with the… mistakes that sometimes happen in your world,” the toga-wearing man, Ecrivain, said.

“You know, for some reason, I cannot recall exactly how I managed to defeat that Medinan bird-woman…” Sahl said, trailing off in thought.

Ecrivain arched an eyebrow. “Stop,” he said, and both Redacteur and Sahl stopped and faced the be-toga-ed man. “… Before we go any further… you do realize you’re dead, don’t you?”

Sahl blinked. “What?”

“You are dead,” Redacteur said. “I am a seraphim, Ecrivain here is a scribe to the Gods… and you, sir, are the spirit of a deceased mortal human.”

Sahl blinked again.

“We are in the Paradisical Beyond,” Ecrivain said, “Surely Saint Pooter must have mentioned this to you.”

“… I cannot be dead,” Sahl said, “If I am dead, who will win the mayoral election and the robotics tournament? These contests would grind to a halt and never finish if I were to die, on account of none of my competitors being anywhere near to as beloved as I am. Was, apparently. No, clearly, this is a mistake. You are wrong.”

“It is a mistake,” Redacteur said, “But we are not wrong. You are, at present, quite deceased.”

“And again,” Ecrivain said, stepping in, “Allow me to emphasize that this was, in fact, a mistake, and make it clear that this current state of affairs not part of the Grand Plan, and that on behalf of the Writers and all the Light Gods we wish to apologize deeply and sincerely for this transgression against you.”

“Oh,” Sahl said. “Well, no harm done, I suppose. When you put it like that. Now about the tournament --”

“It happens rarely, but seems quite unavoidable,” Ecrivain went on. “Whereas your societies in the Web of Worlds seem to have near entirely wiped out deaths from disease, starvation and even in some cases aging, you quite make up the difference in the number of extremely violent deaths in wars. Death in wars is, as you may know, the number one cause of death in your Web. And behind it, the number two cause of death would appear to be ‘accidentally killed in a ridiculously dangerous competitive sporting event.’”

As Ecrivain said this, Sahl Endeberg noticed a man wearing a tall white cowboy hat and an eyepatch walking by, going about his business in the Paradisical Beyond. “It’s true,” the man muttered, having overheard Ecrivain’s speech, before walking off again.

“The sheer volumes of dead are staggering,” Ecrivain continued. “That line out there is backlogged to three wars ago. There are still a couple of people near the front of the line who served in the Great War --”

“My record of service in the Great War was quite distinguished,” Sahl Endeberg said. “Often I have been compared to Celiose Cole, in fact. Often.”

“Yes,” Ecrivain said. He cleared his throat. “At any rate, the death toll from wars is so great that we have to separate war deaths from other deaths in processing. Even then, we are suffering from a severe staffing shortage, and are still backlogged several years in sorting out the mundane, non-war-related deaths. The problem has gotten even worse since you mortals invented miles-long space ships and giant robots.”

“I built my own giant robot,” Sahl said, “the PollBot 5000, widely regarded as the best giant robot in the Web. Widely, I tell you. And it is also very beloved.”

“Under normal circumstances,” Redacteur said, picking up where Ecrivain left off, “An error like your death would be picked up on and sorted out right away – or might even be predicted and prevented before it happened. But with the system so massively encumbered under the impossible workload, the best we can do is try to catch these things as they come through the Pearly Gates, and then try to set them right.”

“I’m not entirely sure I’m understanding all the things you are saying,” Sahl said. Then: “Do you fellows get WNN here? I’d like to take a look at the Kupopolis mayoral polls and see where I stand. I’m sure that if I died, nobly and heroically, I will have edged out my nearest competitors by a lot of points.”

By this time Ecrivain and Redacteur had brought Sahl Endeberg to a darkened corner of the Paradisical Beyond. There was an open manhole cover here, out of which a thin layer of steam and the distinctive odor of fetid sewer water rose up.

“Simply put,” Ecrivain said, “It is not yet your time to die, Sahl Endeberg. So we cannot allow you to remain here in the Paradisical Beyond.”

“Even so,” Redacteur added, “We surely cannot just bring you back to life and openly admit to our mistake. That would compromise the pretense of the infallibility of the divine, and we just can’t have that.”

“Nor can we just ‘send you back’ to the mortal coil, because that might involve some form of teleportation,” Ecrivain said.

“And as we all know, teleportation is quite impossible, even for we celestial servants,” Redacteur said.

“Again, I am lost in your words,” Sahl said. “What’s going on?”

Ecrivain pointed at the manhole, idly kicking the heavy disc-shaped cover with his sandaled foot. “Here begins your journey back to the realm of the living, Sahl Endeberg. Navigate your way through the Trials of the Improbable Divine Oppsies, and you may yet return to life.”

Sahl just stood there. “I don’t think this is where I left my giant robot…” he said.

“This is the back way in,” Redacteur said, indicating the manhole. “So as to avoid the media.”

“Aha!” Sahl said, “Excellent thinking, gentle Krydion. You are a credit to your noble, shamanistic heritage. I bid you farewell.”

With that, Sahl Endeberg leapt down the manhole. Ecrivain turned and looked at Redacteur quizzically.

“Your problem is you never really learned how to communicate with these mortals,” Redacteur explained.

“I hope you die and get turned into invincible plastic someday,” Ecrivain said, as he slammed the manhole cover shut.

Sahl Endeberg did not remember having gone to sleep. Nevertheless, when he awoke he was lying on a cot, near to the bank of a river. Standing over him was a man dressed in a plain brown robe, with a long beard that grew down to his feet.

“Thank goodness it is you, strange old man,” Sahl Endeberg said, “This means I was only dreaming when I was in that horrible place with Krydions and smoking moogles, and a ton of exposition that just went right over my head.”

Sahl Endeberg sat up on the edge of his cot and scratched his head. After he’d had a moment to think, he said: “Wait, I don’t know you. Who are you?”

“I AM THE MASTER OF THE TRIALS!!!” the old man said, spreading his arms and shouting. As he did so, a wind picked up and his robes and beard billowed around him, and in the distance there was a flash of lightning and the crash of thunder. As he lowered his arms, the wind died down, and all was calm.

Sahl Endeberg stood from the cot. “Well, I’m looking for PollBot 5000. I am sure you have heard of it. It is a marvel of giant robot technology, clearly the best giant robot that has ever, or will ever be built. Several experts in the field of giant robotonomics have recognized this. Several of them, I say. And with it I shall win the Robotics Tournament, and thereby become even more beloved.”

“I am quite aware of your quest, Master Endeberg,” the Master of the Trials said. From somewhere in the distance, a somber brass chorus rose up as the Master was speaking. “More aware than even you suspect, I imagine,” the Master of Trials continued, arching one of his bushy white eyebrows. The music continued to play, sounding out a slow, heroic melody as the old man spoke. “For you see, 'twas many ages ago that I, myself, was sent to complete the Trials. I succeeded only in failing the task that had been given me; for though I was able to master all of the Virtues, I was unable to complete the final, most difficult of the tests before me. And so I was placed here, at the Edge of Forever, to guide future supplicants as they made ready to face their own Trials. My task for all eternity is bittersweet, for in the same moment, in each hero who comes before me, I am able to perceive both the boundless potential and ultimate doom that make up their characters.”

“Where is that music coming from?” Endeberg asked, kneeling down to check under the cot for a speaker.

A string section had now joined the brass, and tympanis thundered out rhythm, setting the tune to a militaristic, epic march.

“You, Sahl Endeberg, who have been wronged, will prove yourself worthy of the recompense that, technically, you are owed since someone goofed up and let you die prematurely,” the Master of Trials said. “In the Trials of the Divine Oopsies, you stand alone against the essential pretense that the True Divine is infallible, and in so doing you compete with the very order of time, space and the Gods themselves for the chance of regaining the precious, transitory state of living that the mortal so desperately cling to, and the immortal are secretly envious of.”

“I’m getting the feeling that the Krydion was lying to me,” Sahl said.

“You will be tasked with confronting and mastering the Four Virtues,” the Master went on, “For yea, it is writ that there are but Five traits to the self which the Writers hold most virtuous in the best of their mortal creations, and of these Virtues there are but for Four which apply to males – because, simply, males cannot be Hot Chicks, by definition. It is therefore the Four Remaining Masculine Virtues that you will encounter in the Trials: Bravery, Wisdom, Charity, and Ninjitsu.”

“… That filthy lying Krydion,” Endeberg said, “Damned be his entire mongrel race!!”

“… No, Overt and Shameless Human-Supremacist Racism will not be among the Virtues for another hundred years yet,” the Master of Trials explained. He cleared his throat: “Only by displaying these four Virtues, and displaying them at or beyond the level of a Main Character, shall you prove yourself worthy in the eyes of the Writers. And thereby shall you win your right to exist upon the mortal coil once more.”

“Look,” Sahl Endeberg said, “I can’t find the source of that strangely inspiring music, I’m not really paying attention to what all you’ve been talking about, and I’m just generally having a very bad day. All I want is to get back to my hangar at the Robotics Tournament and wrap up my campaign for Mayor of Kupopolis. But I can’t do that if I keep getting misdirected by dishonest Krydion lying liars, or delayed by creepy old hermits who make no sense and have oddly rousing theme songs.”

The Master of Trials arched an eyebrow and leaned in closer. “Can’t,” he said, “Or won’t?..”

“Meh?” mehed Sahl Endeberg.

The Master of Trials extended a bony arm, pointing at the opposite bank of the river. “That way lies your first Trial,” he said.

“And my giant robot?” Sahl Endeberg asked.

The Master of Trials shrugged. “There might be giant robots in the Trials somewhere. You never know.”

“That is all I need to know!” Endeberg said, mistaking the Master of Trials’ answer for something more like: “Your giant robot is that way!”

Breaking into a sprint, Sahl Endeberg headed toward the river. Executing an impressive (and beloved) Dragoon jump, he cleared the water and landed on the opposite bank. He hit the ground running, and continued in the general direction that the Master of Trials pointed in.

Deep down, the Master of Trials felt pity for Sahl Endeberg. But he was also somewhat relieved that, at long last, there had come a hero who was, perhaps, worthy enough to master the Virtues and replace him. Finally, the Master of Trials could find his rest.

When Sahl Endeberg awoke next, he was again lying on a cot. But this time, the cot was not in the company of a robed hermit, nor on the bank of a river. Insted Sahl Endeberg appeared to be inside a canvas tent.

“How odd,” Sahl Endeberg said, “This appears to be exactly like a tent I once slept in when I was serving in the Great War, where I was most distinguished.”

Sahl Endeberg emerged from the tent.

“How odd,” he said, as he surveyed his surroundings, “This appears to be exactly like the encampment I lived in outside of Tripport while serving with A-Expeditionary Force in the Transbaron Campaign, where I was often compared with Celiose Cole for my bravery.”

Standing upright on a weapons rack near the tent’s entrance was a spear with a shining ebony shaft, a silver-bladed spearhead and a smaller diamond hook on the opposite end.

“And this appears to be my legendary enchanted spear, Furacao, the Tornado Spear, one of the most renowned and famous weapons in the Web of Worlds, nearly as beloved and famous and well-developed as I am,” Sahl Endeberg said.

“But wait,” Sahl Endeberg said, “That cannot be a tent I once slept in while serving in the Great War, for though I was quite distinguished for my Great War service, that was many years ago and I know I did not sleep in a tent last night.”

The beloved hero looked out on the still-sleeping Grand Army camp again. “And this surely cannot be the AEF camp in Tripport during the Transbaron Campaign,” Sahl Endeberg reasoned, “Because that was in the past, and I am in the… not past. I suppose. I am years from then, at any rate, and I know this because in the intervening years between then and now I came to be so very beloved. It is because I know I am so beloved that I know this cannot be that camp, for surely I was only a portion of the beloved person then that I am now, and since I know for a fact that now I am many portions more beloved than the portion of belovedness I was and had then, in the past, I know that I am now, and not then, or here, now.”

The train wreck of logic that was Sahl Endeberg’s soliloquy helped him to make sense of his surroundings for the first time since he died due to his tragic chromate allergy in the Robotics Tournament.

Even so, he was still confused. He pulled Furacao off the weapons rack and held it in his hands.

“And this spear surely cannot be my prized and beloved Furacao, the Spear of Tornadoes,” said Sahl Endeberg, “Because I left it in my flat in Kupopolis when I went off to Tournament my giant Robotics. And this was also well after I had become so beloved for my service with A-Expeditionary Force in Tripport in the Transbaron Campaign, where I slept in that tent, which wasn’t where I slept last night (I’m pretty sure) because I was at the Robotics Tournament, years and years after I used Furacao in the Transbaron Campaign in Tripport with the AEF --”

Just then a soldier approached him. “Burzmale’s armies are approaching again!! They’re coming to re-take Tripport!”

Sahl Endeberg took a moment to note the soldier’s white, feathered wings.

“Nice try, lying bird-person!!” Sahl Endeberg said, as he ran his spear through the length of the Winlanese soldier, spitting him like a shank of meat. The soldier screamed and flailed helplessly, until, with the wet crunch of ripping flesh and tearing bone, Endeberg withdrew Furacao from his victim, and the Krydion slumped to the ground and proceeded to bleed to death.

“Well, that wasn’t very brave!” came a voice from behind Sahl Endeberg.

“Meh?” Endeberg mehed. As he turned, there was a tinkle-tinkle-tinkle sound – like the sound of a dachsund with testicular elephantiasis sliding across the surface of a glockenspiel – and with the sound there were little green sparklies that appeared around the heaped, shredded flesh of the slain Krydion. As the sparklies passed over the dead bird-man, his flesh mended, and he began to relax his flailing and lapse into a torpor.

Standing there, beside the tent that Sahl Endeberg himself had just emerged from, was a man who looked very much like Sahl Endeberg. He wore the same Dragoon-styled armor that Endeberg did, but where Sahl Endeberg’s armor was red in color, this new stranger’s armor was white, with inlaid silver designs etched into the breastplate. His face looked very much like Sahl Endeberg’s – and, Sahl Endeberg noted, his voice was also very Sahl Endeberg-like in its sound and quality.

“Could it be?” Sahl Endeberg asked of no one in particular, as he approached the white-armored stranger, regarding him with no small amount of awe. “Are you… might you be… is it that you are… my long lost twin brother Scenograf Endeberg!?”

“You don’t have a long lost twin brother named Scenograf,” the white armoed man said. “Scenograf was your birth name, remember?”

“Or was it my middle name?..” Sahl Endeberg thought.

“It means ‘beloved’ in Asian,” the white armored man said. Then, quickly: “I mean, Xsian. Ese.”

“Well, if you are not my long lost twin brother Xsian Endeberg, then just who are you, strangely white-armored stranger?”

“I am your Virtue of Bravery,” the man said. “Tell me, Sahl Endeberg… do you know where we are, and why we are here?”

“Well, I am here because a lying bird-person and a smelly, well-themed old hermit told me that I could find my giant robot, PollBot 5000, if I went where they told me to,” Sahl explained. “But clearly they were either misinformed themselves or were lying liars, because when I woke up in my tent from the AEF camp in Tripport I didn’t find my giant robot anywhere. As for where we are, we are in the AEF camp in Tripport, but I’m not sure how I got here because I’m supposed to be in Hill.”

“Look,” Bravery said, “I happen to know that the seraphim and the scribe already explained to you that you’re dead, so stop playing dumb.”

“… Playing!?” Sahl Endeberg said, indignantly. “I’ll have you know that the beloved Sahl Endeberg never plays.”

“… Yes,” Bravery said, sighing. “Look, here’s the thing. This is a Trial. You and me, we have to prove that you possess the Virtue of Bravery by reliving the moment where you displayed, before the Writers and Gods, how courageous you were. And that was here, in Tripport. And sadly, slaughtering helpless Krydion runners is probably not the best way to prove your bravery.”

“Well neither is healing my kills, Sammy McNo-Fun,” Sahl Endeberg said.

Bravery sighed. “Okay… think back, Sahl. You and I were here before, many years ago. Do you remember what happened on this morning?”

Sahl paused. “Well,” he said, “I was on my way… to my hangar. I recall I had a croissant from the service table that the Diamond people had set up. It was the most buttery croissant I’d ever had in my life, and I thanked the caterers profusely and promised to reward them handsomely with some honorary civic office once I was elected Mayor of Kupopolis…”

“No, not this morning,” Bravery said, “In Tripport. The morning we are re-living now. Think back.”

“Hey,” Sahl Endeberg said, “You don’t have a theme song like the old hermit did, you know. Since you look like my long lost twin brother Chinaman Endeberg, you ought to have something suitably heroic playing ambiently while you speak.”

“Focus, Sahl!!” Bravery chided. “This was your moment of triumph and distinguishment, when you proved your worth and established your own legend. Sahl Endeberg, exiled from his home in Baron, joined the Grand Army, and single-handedly defended Tripport from a daring early-morning raid staged by one of Burzmale’s battlesuited infantry detachments. You, alone with your mighty spear, held the line while the A-Expeditionary Forces roused from their tents and gathered their --”

All while Bravery was speaking, Sahl was humming – spontaneously composing a suitably heroic theme song for the Virtue of Bravery. When Bravery stopped mid-speech and levelled his admonishing gaze at Sahl Endeberg, the humming also stopped. Sahl Endeberg looked back at Bravery, innocently.

“Do please go on with whatever it was you were talking about,” Sahl Endeberg said.

Bravery cleared his throat. “… they roused from their tents, gathered their --” Of course, the humming had started up again. “ALL RIGHT GODS DAMMIT WILL YOU PLEASE STOP THAT!!!”

“Just let me re-establish your leitmotif, and then we’ll have gotten somewhere,” Sahl Endeberg said. “Also, don’t use so many exclamation points, dumbass.”

Without another word, Bravery grabbed Sahl Endeberg by the throat and dragged him toward the edge of the camp. Sahl struggled, but found that he was dealing with a figure who was as strong and skilled – if not as particularly beloved or musically inclined – as himself, and so his resistance was to no avail.

When they reached the edge of the camp, Bravery stopped and drew Sahl Endeberg’s attention to the horizon, where the approaching Dark Wrath detachment could be seen.

“Ohhhhh,” Sahl Endeberg said, “You meant that early-morning raid staged by a battlesuited infantry detachment… Well of course I remember. It was my defining moment, where I established my own legend, and all of that.”

Sahl readied his spear, but stopped. He noticed the conspicuous absence of his Virtue of Bravery standing next to him.

“… Well?” Sahl Endeberg said, “Are you any good in a fight, Bravery, or is that tinkle-ball-noise-healing move the only thing you’re good for?”

“I cannot help you, Sahl,” Bravery said, “This is your fight, your trial. I can only guide you on your path.”

“… What’s the matter? Chicken?”

Bravery furrowed his brows. “I’m the personification of courage!! An anthropomorphized virtue – YOUR virtue – representing your bravery!! Of course I am not ‘chicken.’”

“What’d you just say, Bravery?” Sahl Endeberg said, “Sounded an awful lot to me like ‘bwok bwok bwok, bwaaaaaak-bwakkAWK!’ Or something therebouts.”

The Dark Wrath detachment was getting closer. Bravery looked between them and Sahl Endeberg and fumed.

“All right, I’ll protect you then, Miss Bravery,” Sahl Endeberg said. “I suppose the resemblance you bear to my long lost twin brother is only skin-deep.”

With a fierce battle cry, the Virtue of Bravery drew his sword – whose blade appeared to be crafted from pure, holy light – and charged toward the front ranks of the Dark Wrath forces. Sahl Endeberg stood back, far away enough that he was at no risk of being caught in the crossfire, and watched as Bravery fought, destroying whole lines of troops and shrugging off damage in a berserk flurry of shining white light.

The Krydion messenger was awake now. He limped toward the edge of the camp and regarded, with wide-eyes, the fierce melee that was ensuing. His face was filled with wonder, his imagination held completely captive by the image of the one, lone warrior imbued with super-human might battling off an entire detachment single-handedly.

“Praise to the Gods,” the Krydion said, breathlessly. “Who is that!?!?”

Sahl Endeberg paused. “Why,” he said, “That is the mighty Sahl Endeberg – a Dragoon of Baron, fighting to recover his homeland and honor. You should belove him and spread word of his bravery far and wide.”

“Never before have I seen such a hero,” the Krydion said.

“… You might say he is comparable to Celiose Cole,” Sahl Endeberg said.

“Indeed!!” the Krydion said.

“Shouldn’t you be rousing the camp right about now? Sahl Endeberg looks to be getting a bit tired from all the fighting – though he is still quite beloved.”

“Yes, yes at once!!” the Krydion said, as he dashed off toward the camp.

As twice before, Sahl Endeberg awoke on a cot. Only this time, he was not alone: he was lying head-to-foot next to the Virtue of Bravery, whose white armor was dented, gashed and stained in several places from defending Tripport in the last trial.

With a yawn, Sahl Endeberg slid off the cot and stretched. Roused by Sahl’s sudden movement, Bravery followed after him.

“So, Bravery,” Sahl Endeberg said, “I take it we passed that last trial?”

“I would not characterize it that way,” Bravery said.

“… So we failed?..”

“No, the Trial of Bravery was passed,” Bravery said, “But I question your use of the pronoun ‘we’, seeing as how I was doing all of the actual braverying, while you stood and watched.”

“I was giving you critical moral support,” Sahl Endeberg said. “In any case… I am relieved that Trial is over. And I feel somewhat silly for having doubted myself. How could Sahl Endeberg not succeed in a test of bravery?”

“… How indeed,” Bravery muttered. “But here I think you will find the Trial somewhat more demanding. For if I’ve not missed my guess, this is the Trial of Wisdom.”

“Indeed, it is that!” came a third voice, which like Bravery’s had a distinct Sahl Endebergian quality to it.

Sahl Endeberg and his Bravery turned to look behind them, and there they saw yet another Sahl Endberg double. This one was dressed in black armors, with a flowing blue-black cape and a wide-brimmed straw hat. From the center of the hat, aligned with its wearer’s forehead, a small ivory horn protruded.

The black-armored virtue stepped forward, around the cot. “I am your Virtue of Wisdom, Sahl Endeberg. While my companion here represents all of the combat skill, physical prowess and courage that make main characters so main-ly, I represent the mental characteristics that the Divine Writers value most prominently in their heroes. Sometimes this involves kick-ass magical power, or psionics or whatever. But more often than not, it involves strategic know-how and knowledge of Web and military history. And also, it often involves being very political and/or diplomatic.”

Sahl Endeberg scratched his head. “Well, I am often compared with Celiose Cole. And I am in the running for Mayor of Kupopolis. So I’d say my political and military ducks are all in a row.”

“We shall see,” Wisdom said, as he pointed with his gnarled wood staff. When Sahl Endeberg turned to see what Wisdom was pointing at, there was a large vacant stage with a pair of podiums set out upon it. As Sahl and his Virtues moved closer to it, the environment around them slowly changed. Sahl was no longer on a vacant landscape in the general vicinity of a nondescript cot. No. Instead, he and his Virtues now found themselves in a crowded auditorium. The menagerie of races and peoples present in the audience lead Sahl to conclude that he was back in the good old city of Kupopolis.

Wisdom and Bravery, each taking one of Sahl’s arms, lead him up onto the stage and toward a podium.

“Remember how you and the other candidates for Mayor were supposed to hold a debate at some point?” Wisdom asked.

“Ah yes,” Sahl said. “I believe it was postpone on account of my going off to participate in the Robotics Tournament, because I am so beloved.”

“Well, yes,” Wisdom said. “Here, we shall see how well you do in such a debate. Topics will range from the violent state of Web affairs, to various issues of policy and diplomacy. Your very worth as a Main Character shall here be tested, as for a man like you this is what it means to possess the Virtue of Wisdom.”

Wisdom moved away from Sahl, smiling and brandishing his magic staff. “I am not the dim-witted berserking fool that your Bravery is, Sahl Endeberg. I am your Virtue of Wisdom, the very essence of your cunning and knowledge personified. In this Trial, there shall be no tricks. No goading me. You shall stand or fall on your own merits, and nothing more.”

By the time Wisdom had stopped talking, he was standing behind the opposite podium. Sahl blinked.

“Hey!” Sahl said. “No fair. I wanted to debate Zap Bang Damn. That one would’ve been easy.”

“… bit of a toss-up if you ask me,” said Bravery, masking his jibe behind a quick clearing of the throat. Bravery was sitting at a table ahead of the front row of the audience, acting in the role of a moderator. To either side of Bravery were two other creatures: a human and a moogle seated on Bravery’s left, and a Nu and a massively obese Hench on Bravery’s right.

“Good evening ladies and gentlemen,” Bravery said, speaking into his microphone. “I’m Sahl Endeberg’s Virtue of Bravery, and I will be moderating this evening’s event. We are here to pay witness to a debate on the issues between one of our candidates for Mayor of Kupopolis, Sahl Endeberg, and Sahl Endeberg’s own Virtue of Wisdom. So, in a way, we’re actually here to watch Sahl Endeberg debate himself.”

“Meh?” mehed Sahl.

“The format of this debate will be rather a simple one,” Bravery explained. “Each candidate will be given the opportunity to make an opening statement, which will then be followed by a question and answer session from our panel here. Each candidate will have one minute to address each question asked, and a twenty second response to his opponent’s answer. At the end of the last exchange of question and answer, each candidate will be allowed to make a closing statement.”

“Question,” Sahl said, raising his hand. “Since I’m debating myself, doesn’t that mean there’s only one candidate in the debate, and therefore my Wisdom Virtue doesn’t get to say anything?”

Wisdom’s eyes widened.

“Well,” Bravery said, stammering. “I… uhh, that is, I’m not… well, what I mean is…” he looked at Wisdom, helplessly.

“I’ll field this one, Bravery,” Wisdom said, but was cut off abruptly by Sahl Endeberg clearing his throat.

“Excuse me, Wisdom, but the question was directed at Mister Bravery,” Sahl Endeberg said. “I would like to hear his answer first. Fair?”

Wisdom arched a brow in Sahl’s direction.

“Well,” Bravery said, “Now that I think about it, your line of reasoning does make sense. And this is the Wisdom trial, after all… I think it’s fairly clever and you should be rewarded for thinking on your feet, Sahl.”

“Are you out of your mind!?” stammered Wisdom. “What’s the point of the debate if I don’t get to say anything!?”

Sahl cleared his throat. “Wisdom? That’s the second time you’ve interrupted Bravery’s time to answer the question. Once more and there will be a penalty applied to your response time.”

“Actually, I was basically done,” Bravery said.

“… Nu?” asked the Nu.

“Very good,” Sahl said, making some notes on the paper that was laid out on his podium. “Mister Wisdom, your twenty second rebuttal?”

Wisdom stared blankly at Sahl Endeberg. “You can’t be serious. You think you’re moderating now?”

“Well, he did ask me a question that we appear to have different opinions on,” Bravery said. “So why not debate it?”

“BECAUSE THAT’S NOT WHY WE’RE HERE!!!” Wisdom screamed.

“Ease up on those exclamation points, dumbass,” Sahl interjected quietly.

“Look, Wis,” Bravery said, “None of this was my idea. This was all your set up. You’re supposed to be testing Sahl Endeberg’s cunning, and he’s proving it right now.”

“He’s not cunning, he’s an oafish man-child who thinks this is a game,” Wisdom roared. “He’s deliberately stalling.”

“Stalling a debate with himself,” Bravery said.

“No! A debate with me!!” Wisdom said.

“You, a personified embodiment of one of his own virtues,” Bravery pointed out.

“Semantic quibblery!!” Wisdom said, stamping his foot.

“Let’s take a question from our panel,” Sahl said.

“Shut the hell up, Sahl Endeberg!” Wisdom said.

But of course, Sahl Endeberg was never much of one to listen to his own Virtue of Wisdom when it told him he should be shutting up.

“Mister Mooglyson, I believe you had a query?” Sahl said, pointing at the Moogle.

“Kupo, yes, actually my name is Jay Peterson, and I did have a question for Sahl Endeberg’s Wisdom.”

“Fuck off, we haven’t started yet,” Wisdom said.

“Go ahead and ask your question, Mister Peterson,” Sahl said.

“Well, okay. Anyway, my question was, I died not too long ago myself, and I sort of got lost on my way to the Trial of Wisdom. So I guess my question is, have you seen a Wisdom-Virtue-like Moogle who looks sort of like me running around anyplace? I don’t want to be stuck here for all eternity when I could be correcting the grievous and tragic error that was my untimely death.”

“Mister Wisdom, you have one minute to answer the question,” Sahl Endeberg said.

You have one minute to set all this straight,” Wisdom said, “Before I come over there and bean you one over the head with the stupid stick!!”

“Hey!” Bravery said, standing up. “That’s not what this trial is all about!”

“And you’re as bad as he is!” Wisdom said. “Now come on, let’s all just start over. Sahl and I are supposed to be debating things. Sahl is supposed to be showing his political and/or strategic acumen!!”

“Forty seconds,” Sahl said softly into his microphone.

Wisdom screamed and gripped his staff in both hands. “That’s it!!” he said, as he charged Sahl Endeberg’s podium.

But he hadn’t expected to be met halfway by Bravery, whose light sword was drawn again. The two clashed without another word spared, and the auditorium erupted into a panic as holy light and spellfire filled the air.

Sahl Endeberg leaned against the wall, folded his arms and watched, humming to himself the theme music he’d been composing for his own Bravery.

Once again, Sahl Endeberg woke up on a cot. By now, however, the cot was quite crowded, as he was sharing it with his Virtues of Bravery and Wisdom. Bravery’s white armor was still dinged up and looking so much less pristine on account of his contributions to the Battle at Tripport, and Virtue’s cape and straw hat were torn and battered from the fight that had broken out during the Debate Trial of Wisdom.

Sahl stretched and yawned, and came sitting up on the cot’s edge. As he moved, the cot jostled Bravery and Wisdom awake. The two Virtues cast baleful glances in each others’ direction as they likewise rose from the cot.

“So,” Sahl Endeberg said, “Two trials down! What’s next?”

“The Trial of Charity, most likely,” Bravery said.

“Yes,” Wisdom agreed, “It’s a trait that most Main Characters display to prove how noble and good they are. Admittedly, the opportunities to show off one’s Charity are few and far between in this war-torn Web of Worlds, but usually most Main Characters get at least one shot to display this Virtue.”

“Indeed,” came another Sahl Endebergish voice from behind them. Sahl, Bravery and Wisdom stood from the cot, and found a man very much resembling them – save that his Dragoon armor was a shining gold in color, and he wore a regal red cape on his shoulders and a bejeweled crown atop his head.

“Perhaps he is my long lost twin brother?” Sahl Endeberg said, hopefully.

“No, Sahl Endeberg,” the gold-armored man said, “I am your Virtue of Charity – surely the noblest of all of your great Virtues. It is I that stays your blade and offers quarter to your beaten foes; I that drives you to pity and love the weak and impoverished; I that causes you to agree to lend your beloved name and personage to the collaborative plot arcs of other writers. I am, surely, the rarest and most precious, yet also the most exalted, of all of the Virtues we encounter in our day-to-day lives in the Web of Worlds.”

“Yet, you also lack for a suitable theme song,” Sahl noted.

Charity bowed his head in shame. “It is true,” he said, “My one failing.”

Sahl Endeberg stepped forward and placed a consoling hand on Charity’s shoulder.

“Let’s just get on with the Trial, please,” Wisdom said. “I’m not sure anyone else has made it so far along the Trials of the Divine Oopsies… Who knows what we could be asked to do or prove in this Trial.”

“Surely some great sacrifice will be called for,” Bravery suggested.

“What else can the lost spirit of a dead man give up?” Wisdom asked.

Bravery narrowed his eyes. “Whatever lies in store, surely we can face it.” He rested a hand on the hilt of his paladin’s sword. “With my courage to steel him, and your wisdom to guide him, Sahl Endeberg cannot fail. There is nothing we cannot face working together.”

“Hey you two,” Sahl Endeberg called over, waving his hand. “Come quickly, we’re done here! Off to the next Trial!”

Wisdom blinked. “Wait. What?”

“Clearly, they lack the Virtue of Get The Hell Over Here Now,” Charity said.

“Oh! Good one!” Sahl Endeberg laughed, clapping his Virtue of Charity on the back.

“What about the Trial of Charity?” Bravery asked.

“It did not take long for the noble Sahl Endeberg to display this Virtue,” Charity said. “I am so moved, so awe-inspired by what I have seen, that I lack for words to properly describe what just happened. Never before have I seen such gentility, such chivalry… such nobility!”

“So noble,” Sahl Endeberg whispered, reverently.

“Indeed,” Charity said. “Sir, you shall have the benefit of my service for the duration of the remaining Trials. I swear it to you.”

“I humbly accept, though I am quite unworthy,” Sahl Endeberg said. Then, quickly: “However, still beloved and quite great, in my own way.”

Charity was so moved by Sahl Endeberg’s nobility that he openly wept, and knelt before him in awe.

“What the fuck,” Bravery said.

“… Happened!!!” Wisdom said, finishing Bravery’s sentence.

“Quite simple, really,” Sahl Endeberg explained. “My Virtue of Charity was lacking for a rousing theme song, and seemed quite sad about it. So I gave him the one I was composing for Bravery.”

Wisdom’s jaw dropped. “You’re joking. You have to be.”

“… you gave him my theme song?” Bravery whimpered, more than a little crestfallen.

“All in the name of Charity, my good Virtue of Bravery!” Sahl Endeberg admonished. “Come! We must be off to the next Trial!”

Bravery looked at Wisdom, helplessly. Wisdom just threw up his hands. “Fine, whatever. I’ll take it. … sooner we get this over with the better.”

There was not a lot of room on the cot now, what with four Sahl Endebergs piled on top of it. Overflowing arms and legs sprawled off the cot’s edges, and when Sahl Endeberg awakened he found he had to push and crawl his way off of the cot.

In a tumble of crashing plate armor and flailing limbs, Sahl Endeberg and his trio of Virtues spilled off the cot and hit the floor in a heap.

“Perhaps now we are back in Hill, at the Robotics Tournament,” Sahl Endeberg said, hopefully.

“Nope, still the Trials of the Divine Oopsies,” Wisdom said, extracting himself from the pile and straightening his black mage’s hat. “This would be the last of the Trials, then, unless I am mistaken. The Trial of Ninjutsu.”

“I am many things, Wisdom,” Sahl Endeberg said. “Above all I am widely known by the entire Web to be most beloved, but in these Trials I have proven myself to be, in order, brave, wise and charitable. However, one of the few thing I am not is a ninja.”

“It is rather a poorly named Trial then, isn’t it?” Charity observed.

“Perhaps,” Bravery said. “But nonetheless. In this Trial, you will be asked to showcase your bad-assedness. For indeed, like the Ninja, Main Characters frequently display ridiculous levels of skill and prowess in the kicking of asses. Single-handedly, you will be called upon to defeat a great number of foes, whilst taking only superficial injuries yourself. In addition, there will be other feats of ridiculous agility and strength to be had, as well, possibly involving jumping and tumbling and rolling and backflipping, and so on and so forth.”

“In other words, I must totally flip-out,” Sahl Endeberg said.

“Yes,” Wisdom said, “You understand.”

Charity looked around. “Shouldn’t your Virtue of Ninjutsu have showed up by now?”

Bravery cracked a grin. He reached up his hand and ran it through his impeccably coifed blond hair, then slowly drew his hand down his face. A zipper trailed down behind his hand, pulled between his thumb and forefinger; he continued unzipping until Bravery’s face and white armors fell away into a pile of cloth and plastic. Stepping out of the heap of his Virtue of Bravery disguise was a man dressed in blue Dragoon armors, wearing a blue cloth mask that covered the lower half of his face. His long blond hair was drawn back into a tightly braided queue, and a pair of long kunai daggers were sheathed at his sides. Despite these alterations in his costume and appearance, the ninja had a very Sahl Endebergian quality to his countenance.

It was then that they saw that the real Virtue of Bravery was actually underneath the cot this whole time – hog-tied and unconscious.

“Well, that was quite a bad-assed display of ninjery,” Sahl Endeberg said. “Does that mean I’ve passed the Trial?”

“No, you’re not going to be able to pull that trick again,” the Virtue of Ninjutsu said. He moved toward a door at the far end of the room and opened it. “This way. The Trial begins.”

Wisdom knelt down to untie Bravery, while Sahl Endeberg and his Charity followed Ninjutsu through the door. Sahl and his Virtues then found themselves at the top of a tower, which was standing in the middle of an ocean. Several raised platforms of varying heights were arrayed across the expanse of the water, running from the tower to a ship moored some distance away. In and among and between the platforms were various bars, poles, and a number of traps.

“Cross the distance from here to the ship,” Ninjutsu said, “Enduring the gauntlet along the way. And I wouldn’t advise falling in the water: there are acid-breathing crocodiles down there.”

“… Why?” Sahl Endeberg asked.

“Because a true ninja wouldn’t be hindered by acid-breathing crocodiles at all,” Ninjutsu answered, matter-of-factly.

“It just doesn’t seem to make sense,” Sahl Endeberg said.

“THE WAYS OF THE BADASS ARE NOT SUPPOSED TO MAKE SENSE!” Ninjutsu screamed, pushing Sahl Endeberg forward. Sahl Endeberg, unprepared for this, stumbled and fell over the ledge, careening toward the water below.

Wisdom and Bravery emerged from the door just then. Bravery was rubbing the back of his head and glared perturbedly at the Virtue of Ninjutsu.

“… Where is Sahl?” Wisdom asked.

Charity peered over the ledge in time to catch the splash as Sahl Endeberg hit the water. “Um. The ninja pushed him over the side.”

“… Why?” asked Bravery.

“Because it is my job,” Ninjutsu said, crossing his arms before his chest defiantly. “We are here to test this man. That is our purpose – our ONLY purpose. You three seem to have somehow forgotten that, and so you let this would-be hero run roughshod over you and through your Trials. But not me – no, not me. The Trial of Ninjutsu is sacred. Only the truest badasses are capable of passing. There shall be no trickery here: Sahl Endeberg will not make the fool of me that he made of the three of you during your Trials. He will do as I instruct, or he shall fail.”

Wisdom frowned. He looked over the side. “Well, then I guess the Trial is over,” he said. “I don’t see him climbing back up.”

“Unfortunate,” Ninjutsu said, “But not unexpected. Few are the heroes who have made it this far along.”

“Hang on,” Bravery said. “… If Sahl Endeberg’s failed… why are we still here?”

Ninjutsu paused.

“I may know why,” Charity said.

“Enlighten us then,” Ninjutsu said, right before being clocked across the face as Charity spun round and lashed out with his fist.

“BECAUSE I AM NINJA!!!” cried Sahl Endeberg – who had been disguised as Charity all along – as he leapt on top of the very surprised Virtue of Ninjutsu. Taking the crown off his head, he took a firm hold of it in his fist and beat Ninjutsu repeatedly about the head, face and neck with it.

After a good twenty minutes of savage beating, Ninjutsu was bloodied and unconscious, and Sahl Endeberg stood up – victorious.

“But… how?” Bravery asked.

“Simple,” Sahl Endeberg said, “Charity and I switched armor. I was he, and he was me. In this way I was able to take the Ninja by surprise, and stealth-kill him.”

“That’s… no, that’s impossible,” Wisdom said. “There was no opportunity for you do switch armor like that.”

Sahl Endeberg shook his head. “Oh, Wisdom. There is a reason why I am so beloved, and you are merely the physical embodiment of some little voice in my head that I almost never really pay any attention to. Clearly, you are not even half the ninja badass that I am. But that is okay; for I am also quite beloved and admired, as well.”

“Well… congratulations are in order, I suppose,” Bravery said. “But… that means that Charity…”

“If anyone would understand, it would be him,” Sahl Endeberg said. “A sacrifice had to be made in order for my stratagem to be successful. He shall be missed… my heart aches at the thought that he had to die in order for this Trial to be passed.”

There was a splashing sound and a terrified scream from below. Wisdom looked over the ledge again. “Hey! It’s Charity!”

“So it is,” Sahl Endeberg said, “But alas, too late to save him.”


“He’s trying to climb back up,” Bravery said.

“… Too late to save him!” Sahl Endeberg said. “Let us proceed! Surely the final test awaits.”


Once more, Sahl Endeberg and his many Virtues woke up laid-out upon a cot. Gradually, they were able to stand from the cot without seriously injuring themselves.

All four of the Virtues showed signs of wear and tear: Bravery still bore marks of his battle against the Dark Wrath at Tripport; Wisdom showed signs of the fight he’d gotten into at the debating Trial; Charity was bandaged from his run-in with acid-breathing crocodiles; and Ninjutsu displayed clear evidence of the savage beating that Sahl Endeberg had visited upon him during the Trial of Ninjutsu.

Only Sahl Endeberg himself – now wearing his own red-colored Dragoon armor – was in perfect and undamaged condition.

Thus far, he had managed to complete all four of the Trials of the Divine Oopsies – not in the prescribed manner, but he had nevertheless emerged from each Trial with some species of victory at hand.

“So,” Sahl Endeberg said, looking around. “Final test? Anyone?”

“Not quite yet,” came yet another Sahl Endebergian-like voice. Sahl and his many Virtues turned around – and what they saw there shook them to the very epicenters of their being.

In face, this… thing was most Endebergian: boasting of the same long blond hair and lovingly trimmed mustache and beard. However, from the neck down, the monstrosity was a Hotchick.

Charity’s eyes rolled back in his skull, and he passed out.

“By all the Gods,” Endeberg cried, shielding his eyes, “What terrible thing are you!?!?”

“Well,” the man-she said, “It turns out that your manner of circumventing all the previous Trials caused the last of the Trials to kick in anyway. For you see, Sahl Endeberg… I am your Virtue of Hot Chickness.”

“But that’s not possible!” Sahl Endeberg said. He then screamed: “I AM NO HOT CHICK!!!”

Endeberg fell to his knees, still shielding his vision from the terrible creature before him. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, I am quite beloved… BUT I AM NOT BELOVED IN THAT WAY BY ANYONE!”

“I’m sure that you’ve dragged the old pineapple through quite a number of ladies,” the Virtue of Hot Chickness said.

“… I don’t know what that is supposed to mean, horrifying man-woman,” Endeberg said, “You are correct, though, that I have my fair share of female admirers. And perhaps male admirers, too, because there is nothing wrong with that. HOWEVER, WITH THAT–” and he pointed at the Virtue of Hot Chickness without looking at him/her, “-- THERE IS SOMETHING WRONG! SOMETHING VERY, VERY WRONG INDEEDD!”

“Well, I suppose you’re right,” the Virtue of Hot Chickness admitted with a sigh. “I do present quite a disturbing countenance, don’t I?”

Bravery cowered, covering his eyes, consumed with abject terror. Ninjutsu found himself utterly enfeebled by the Virtue of Hot Chickness’ presence: his legs gave out beneath him, his arms became limp and useless and he struggled for breath; every muscle in his body seemed to just give up all at once upon looking upon the creature’s horrible visage. And Wisdom, why he just stood there, dumbfounded, questioning the value of all a Web’s-worth of knowledge in the face of such a terrible abomination. Indeed, the juxtaposition of Sahl Endeberg’s ruggedly handsome and beloved features atop the body of a Hot Chick was so jarring and terrible that it caused each of the Virtues present to revert to their opposite natures. (except for the Virtue of Charity, who was simply thrown into some kind of terror-coma)

Only Sahl Endeberg remained, though bereft of his Virtues, he doubted he would survive. Indeed, his situation was most dire: the Trial of Hot Chickness had turned out to be the most deadly of the Trials thus far, and it stood a decent chance of claiming what remained of Sahl Endeberg’s very soul.

“You see,” the Virtue of Hot Chickness said, oblivious to what great spiritual harm s/his presence was doing to Sahl Endeberg and his Virtues, “It has become, in this Web of ours, almost mandatory that all female Main Characters be ridiculously beautiful and have perfect and attractive bodies. Often with large, firm breasts, much like mine.” And s/he jiggled them for emphasis.

Wisdom was thrown back by this horrifying image, screaming as he began to claw at his own eyes to make it stop and go away. He no longer believed in the concept of “good” in the universe.

“Yet being a Hot Chick often involves so much more than beauty and breasts,” Hot Chickness said. “Much like the Trial of Ninjutsu, the Trial of Hot Chickness often involves some amount of badassedness as well. For, in the Web of Worlds, being a Hot Chick and being able to kick ass in some way often go hand-in-hand.”

“… Gods, have mercy,” Bravery said, “End it, end it now… Gods I can’t live in a universe that could make that…”

But Bravery, at least, could still shield his eyes. Ninjutsu just lay there in a crumpled heap, unable to even blink his eyelids, forced to watch as the he-she continued explaining the Trial of Hot Chickness. He managed to muster just enough strength to squeeze out a single tear, which rolled down the side of his face.

It was then, just as the last shred of hope had departed from the Virtues, that Sahl Endeberg noticed something. Shielding his eyes with his hands, he noticed that when he covered the Endebergian head from his line of vision… the Virtue of Hot Chickness was actually not such a horrible thing to look at. It even pleased him, a little bit.

“I HAVE THE SOLUTION!!!” Sahl Endeberg said, standing up and raising his mighty fist above his head. Covering his eyes again quickly, Sahl Endeberg said to the Virtue of Hot Chickness: “Excuse me, Lady-Sir, but do you happen to have a paper bag on you that I could borrow?”

Hot Chickness blinked. “Why, but of course,” s/he said, “What Hot Chick in all the Web of Worlds does not carry a spare paper bag around with her at all times?”

“Wonderful,” Sahl Endeberg said, “And tell me, Mr. Ma’am, does this paper bag of yours have eye-holes?”

“Only the best paper bags do,” Hot Chickness replied.

“May I have it?”

“Why, of course, Sahl Endeberg,” said Hot Chickness, as s/he crossed closer to give Sahl the paper bag. As s/he neared, however, Sahl Endeberg sprang into action. He bounded forward, snatched the bag out of Hot Chickness’ hands and, in one deft motion, swept it up and over, bringing it down finally upon the Virtue of Hot Chickness’ head. All that now remained visible was what bit of Hot Chickness’ blond hair spilled down over his/her shoulders, and the blue eyes that peered out through the bag-mask’s eyeholes.

Instantly, both Bravery and Wisdom recovered from the effects of Hot Chickness’ disturbing gaze.

“By all the Gods” said Bravery, regaining his feet. “Sahl Endeberg… you are truly possessed of legendary courage. If not for your unshakable mettle, I am certain I might have died from fear and disgust.”

“And who would have known that Hot Chicks all carry paper bags with eyeholes?” Wisdom said. “Truly, you have knowledge and insight beyond the most luminous of divinities.”

Sahl Endeberg accepted the praise, but looked down at the unmoving forms of Charity and Ninjutsu. “Why are two of my Virtues still lying there, instead of standing up to praise and belove me?”

Hot Chickness regarded the two. “Well, your Charity appears to be in some kind of terror-coma,” s/he said, “And I think that your Ninjutsu’s heart has stopped.”

“Well, damn,” Endeberg said. “I could really have used their additional praise and… belovement.” Sahl Endeberg turned and posed a question to his Wisdom: “How can we help them?”

“Well,” Wisdom said, “Unfortunately, there is no cure for a terror-coma. We just are going to have to wait for him to snap out of it on his own. As for Ninjutsu… if we act quickly and apply CPR, we might be able to save him.”

“CPR is part of my Hot Chick training,” said Hot Chickness.

“Err, no,” Sahl Endeberg said. “You’d better not. You might make things worse. So much worse.”

Hot Chickness frowned (but no one could see the frown, because of the paper bag). “Well, okay. Then someone else can do it.”

Endeberg and his Bravery and Wisdom looked at each other, in turn.

“On second thought,” said Wisdom, “Go ahead. Knock yourself out, Hot Chickness. So to speak.”

I remember reading this on the Proper boards, and it was hysterical then.

It’s better now. I am filled with the transcendent love of Sahl Endeburg. Through him, I am reminded of everything that made Kupopolis great – how something that started off as basically a joke could ascend to be something so much more, while still retaining the original humor.

He is so virtuous…and beloved.