LNH/LNH20/FWVI/4W/RACCies/fnarg: Ultimate Mercenary #6

Adrian J. McClure mrfantastic7 at gmail.com
Mon Feb 20 09:13:34 PST 2012

Author's note:  This issue takes place after Just Imagine Saxon
Brenton vs Andrew Perron in Return of the Raccies #11.  You could also
read the previous issues of this series at
http://archives.eyrie.org/racc/lnh/Miniseries/Ultimate.Mercenary/ if
you have an extremely high tolerance for typos and convoluted
plotlines that don't go anywhere.

There's one flashback here to Ultimate Mercenary's post-apocalyptic
ninja childhood and everything that entails that might be kind of
distressing. I think it's probably far enough removed from any real-
world context that it won't trigger or inordinately disturb anyone,
but I'm warning just in case anyone has difficulties with that kind of
thing, now that we're (hopefully) expanding our audience.


Somewhere--or rather nowhere--there was a vast blank emptiness that
stretched on forever. There was nothing there except for three people
who stood alone.

One of them was a scrawny-looking teenager dressed in a ridiculously
impractical ninja outfit with shoulder pads. He was poised to strike
at his enemy. He had been in that position for six years. His name was
Ultimate Mercenary. He was born with another name but no one
remembered it, least of all him, and the man who'd given it to him
would have been dead if he'd even still existed.

The other was a slightly older-looking, much more distinguished man in
an old-fashioned suit. He held what would have looked like an umbrella
if there'd been anyone to see it. He was pacing around, waving the
umbrella around, muttering unpleasantly to himself.  He had been sent
by the Knights Temporal to watch over Ultimate Mercenary and his name,
or at least the name he used, was Masterplan Lad. He privately thought
the whole Lad/Lass nomenclature was silly and outdated, but then again
this was supposed to be a parody universe.

The third was a hideous, indescribable eldritch undead abomination of
some sort called a Headhunter, a minion of the Anti-Moderator. Like
Ultimate Mercenary, it was trapped in place, but like Masterplan Lad
it was conscious of every instant ithad been in this void. It roared
and gibbered and cursed, but to no avail.

Masterplan Lad racked his brains and tried to think of something he
could do that he hadn't already done in the six years he'd been
waiting here. He'd done every n-dimensional Sudoku puzzle he'd brought
with him. He read the canonical works of literature in every world in
this skein of the multiversal weave a thousand times over. He'd also
done some writing himself--twenty-seven sonnet cycles, a thousand
villanelles, a blank verse adaptation of Watchmen, and countless
haiku. He had to admit that his work, in spite of its considerable
technical brilliance, was rather passionless. Well, except for that
megacrossover fanfic which brought together every series or work of
literature he'd ever been interested in, and which involved someone
who bore a suspicious resemblance to his past mortal self, a self he
had almost completely forgotten before his imprisonment in the void,
becoming romantically involved with Sailor Mars. But no one was ever
going to know about that one.

 In the end he gave up and decided, just in case, to once more reread
the previous issues of the series he starred in to prepare for the day
the author decided to finally write another issue. He read through the
issues within a few seconds. “Good Plotline!” he said to himself.
(He'd carried out many long and involved conversations with himself
since the last issue had come out.)  "'Maintainign a feild?' I know we
shouldn't speak ill of the Authors, but did he even proofread his
work?” The Headhunter gibbered and screeched in response, and
Masterplan Lad ignored it.

Then he frowned. There was something subtly different now. He felt a
sense of anticipation, some sort of charged expectancy in the air. And
then he saw it...


Ultimate Mercenary #6 (of 6)
“Crossing the Streams”
by Adrian J. McClure
with thanks to Andrew Perron for editing, feedback and ideas
The last ever Flame Wars VI Crossover and first ever Just Imagine
Saxon Brenton vs. Andrew Perron in Return of the Raccies! crossover

In an altered timeline ruled by the tyrant Apocalisp, the LNH was
destroyed and broken but its leader, Ultimate Ninja, fought on.
Eventually even he was killed but one fan survived to carry on his
legacy.  And that fan had a son.  And that son had a clone.  And that
clone had another clone, and that clone had another clone.  Finally,
that clone had a son:  Ultimate Mercenary.  After helping the LNH
avert his timeline, he joined them in protecting the present, more or
less serving as Ultimate Ninja's lackey and bootlicker.  Now, however,
he is forced to survive on his own, lost in time and space, trapped by
a mysterious destiny...


"That's a title box!" said Masterplan Lad! "That means--"

Before he could finish pontificating, Ultimate Mercenary collapsed to
the nonexistent ground.  "What's going on!" he shouted.  "How--" Then
he started to take in his surroundings.  The place was a pure blank
white with no variation and change.  There was no horizon between
whatever he was standing on and what was above him.  He had the
feeling that he was better off not looking down.  "Where... where are
we?  Are we dead?  No, there's something kind of familiar about this
place, and I'm pretty sure I never died before." He looked at
Masterplan Lad and blinked. "Wait, where did that beard come from? Are
you evil now?"

"We're not dead," said Masterplan Lad, “but we might as well be.  At
the moment, we're at a Gateway to Limbo.  Limbo is where you go when
no one is writing about you. Obviously, we're no longer there now, as
we're in a story at the moment, but we've spent a very long time
there. Normally it sort of blends in with the rest of your life, and
you get into things off screen.  But we were trapped in the middle of
a storyline outside your native universe for quite some time, and I
have continuous consciousness so unfortunately I had to live through
all of it."

"Um, how long?"

"Six years.  This whole storyline has been going on for almost ten
years now.  As of now the crossover we were originally part of is long
over, and the LNH is currently in the middle of two separate reality-
warping crossover events."

"TEN YEARS?" he shouted. "I... I... that's crazy! Who's writing this
series, George R.R. Martin?"

"Well, more like nine and a half years at this point."

"And the Legion is in the middle of another big storyline right now,
and I don't get to be part of it?"

"Actually, there are two, Beige Midnight and Just Imagine. They're
both taking a rather long time to finish up themselves."

“Well, why don't you use your thingy to just skip this storyline and
go to one of those?”

Masterplan Lad blinked. “Er, it doesn't work that way.  We have to
finish the storyline we're in right now.  Otherwise it would be

“Let's do it then!” said Ultimate Mercenary, waving his katana for
emphasis.  “I mean, if the Anti-Moderator's been stopped, all we have
to do is take care of the Headhunter, and--oh crap! The Headhunter!"
He jerked around and saw the creature, but it seemed to be frozen in
place. As unpleasant as it was to look at, Ultimate Mercenary examined
it and saw that it was surrounded by a pale blue light. It seemed to
be trying to scream but no noise came out of its mouth. It was drawn
up into some sort of construct that was floating far overhead. In any
other context, the construct would have been imposing, but it was
dwarfed by the endless white void around them.

"Interesting," said Masterplan Lad. "There's something faintly
familiar about that energy. I imagine this construct's presence is the
reason we're no longer in Limbo.

"What is that thing? And how can it be more powerful than a
Headhunter? Do you think you can use your thing to scan the other

"This," he said, tapping his umbrella, "is not a 'thing.'  It's a Plot
Device.  Please refer to it as such in the future.” He opened the
umbrella and pointed it at the construct.  A beam of light came out of
umbrella, and Ultimate Mercenary could now see the construct as if
through a haze. It seemed to be a titanic city built on a metal disk.
He couldn't tell how large the disk was or how far off it was because
there was nothing to judge it against.  There were many buildings of
many different styles and they all seemed to blend together into a
weird, colorful, chaotic swirl. "What's that?"

“I don't know yet. It appears to be some sort of mobile pocket
dimension that can travel through Limbo, creating a threshold of
existence around it--unusual, but not unheard of." He frowned almost
imperceptibly. "There also seems to be some sort of massive burst of
creativity directing energy away from your world, but I can't pin it
down. I expect they're related. We'll need to take care of this."

"What about Varda? Are we going to save her?"

"Who?  Oh, the girl you met on the world the Producers trapped you in.
The one who was supposed to be your love interest. Right. We can't
waste our time looking for her.  This whole storyline has indeed been
going on for quite long enough already.  She'll find her way back to
us somehow."

"She fell out of the story in issue 3, right?  So maybe she's
somewhere here in Limbo.  Do you think you can use your thingy to find

Masterplan Lad twitched. "Do you really think you're immediately going
to find her right after you wonder where she is? That's rather
contrived. Considering that our author has been writing this series
for almost a decade now, he must have matured enough to avoid such
cheap-- Wait, I'm sensing someone trying to send some sort of signal
to the Device. Whoever it is seems to be linked to her." Masterplan
Lad rolled his eyes.  "Oh well.  Quick, hold onto it."

Ultimate Mercenary gripped the umbrella, which gave off an
increasingly loud pinging noise.  Immediately he found that Masterplan
Lad wasn't there anymore--and neither was he.  "Wha--wha--"

"I'm cloaking us from all perception." said no one in particular, or
rather thought at him through the Device.  "This means you won't be
aware of your own existence.  It will be a little disorienting but it
won't last for long."

“Um, all right,” Ultimate Mercenary would have said if he'd been aware
of a him to say it.  He was glad he wasn't directly aware of the fact
that his head was already hurting.

The two heroes drifted toward the mysterious city.  If they had looked
behind them, they might have seen a dim flickering shape following
them through the void.


Varda didn't know how long she had been waiting.  Time seemed to have
slowed down to a halt as soon as the ship had opened, each moment
stretching out forever. Was it a year or more that she'd been waiting
for the veiled woman to approach, or did it only feel that long?

Lydia, the woman she'd been stranded with here outside of time and
space, had taken one look at the veiled woman and screamed, then fell
to the ground sobbing. She walked up to Lydia with graceful and
dignified steps. Flanking her were two armored gorillas with jetpacks.
They were probably the most normal thing Varda had seen since she
could remember. "You have nothing to fear from me, my child," said the
veiled woman. She put her hand on Lydia's shoulders and drew her up.
Lydia shuddered, but fell silent.

After what felt like far too long, Varda finally worked up the courage
to speak. "Who are you? What do you want with us? Why are you wearing
that veil?" Her voice sounded almost too quiet to be heard.

"I have come to give you a home and a purpose," said the veiled woman.
Her voice was low, melodic and commanding. "This is the Day of
Mourning. In time I may tell you the meaning of this day. And I am the
Crossover Queen."

A shiver crawled up Varda's spine. She knew that name, and she knew it
meant nothing good. The Crossover Queen was one of the most dangerous
enemies the LNH had ever faced. She'd tried to conquer the entire Net
and even the mightiest of the LNHers had barely been able to stop her.
[In the Cry.Sig on Infinite Net.Earths--ed.] How did Varda know this
much about the LNH? In her time, her tribe had only ever known of it
through vague legends. Then she remembered that her time had never
really existed.

The Crossover Queen put her hand on Varda's cheek and looked her in
the eye. Her hands were cold and her grip was hard. She scrutinized
Varda like someone about to buy a horse. "You'll do," she said. "Bring
her and the other one to the towers." The gorillas grabbed the two
women and marched them through the garden into the jagged-looking
fortress that loomed ahead.

They walked through labyrinthine corridors into a lushly decorated
bedroom, with tapestries of heroes from many different worlds. The
gorillas turned away and left them behind, and the doors slammed shut.
Varda suspected it would be futile to try to open them. There was a
steaming bathtub in the room, somewhat breaking the medieval mood.
"No, don't, it might be--" said Lydia, but it's too late. Varda had
slipped out of her tattered clothes, sunk into the bathtub and let the
tension wash out of her. It was a long time since she'd taken a hot
bath, longer than she could ever remember. But the peaceful sensation
of the water made her sad, because it made her think of the life she
had lost.

Somewhere in the distance she could hear a strange, alien music,
barely noticeable, which seemed to fill this whole world. Somehow, she
felt dim echoes of half-forgotten memories and wasn't sure whether or
not they were her own. Sometimes she remembered a crystal city that
covered an entire world, intertwined with a forest. She remembered
walking alone from that forest holding the hand of a man who seemed
strangely different from the world around him. Sometimes she
remembered running through her life through the sunless tunnels of a
never-ending city, weeping for something she'd lost but not able to
remember what.

"Lydia, how do your powers work, exactly?" said Varda.

"Well, I don't know that I ever figured it out."

"Typical. Our author never resolves anything. But you said you were a
Nexialist, right? What does that mean?"

"Wait, our author? What do you mean? You're not telling me I'm a
fictional character?"

"You mean you didn't know you're a fictional character? I thought
everyone knew."

Lydia started laughing. "OK, this has just gotten completely
ridiculous. Now I know I'm in some kind of dream. I'll wake up and
I'll be back in my old series... home. Back in my home. And have to go
to my stupid school and not have to worry about Crossover Queens or
alternate universes or anything." She tapped her feet and looked out
the window, then sighed, clearly realizing she was not going to wake
up anytime soon.

"That's OK," said Varda. "We're in the middle of some kind of reality-
warping storyline so you'll probably just forget about all this as
soon as it's over. By the way, I think the bath is safe. I don't feel

"Well, that's what you would say." But as soon as Varda stepped out of
the bathtub and wrapped a towel around herself, Lydia stripped and
eased into the still steaming hot bath, stretching out her long legs.
Then her eyes popped open. "Varda, wait a minute. If we're fictional
characters, does that mean people are watching me right now?"

"Yeah. But don't worry, you get used to it. At least some parts of you
will have to be covered, since this isn't an Acraphobe series."

Lydia laughed nervously. "I'm not even going to pretend I understand
what you're talking about anymore."

"Well I don't understand how your powers are supposed to work, so
we're even."

"I don't know. My series only lasted one issue, so it was never
explained. I can sense connections between things, I think. And I can
draw on and strengthen them, as well as break them. This place... the
connections are very powerful, but that's all there is. There's
nothing here." She frowned. "Wait, there's something else here. No,
someone. I can almost feel him. Yeah, it's a him. Two of them,
actually, and one of them is connected to you."

"Maybe it's the boy I gave the flute? I know the flute's important but
I have no idea what it does. Maybe it can stop her..."

"Wait. I can feel it growing closer. The power... it's beautiful..."
She closed her eyes and screwed up her face in concentration.

Varda began to hear a strange noise, a sort of alien music, but far
different from the music that surrounded her. The music of this world
was slow and mournful. This was alive and swift and violent and
active. As the music rose, black dots began to buzz and flicker in the
air around Lydia. The dots grew into a black cloud which engulfed her,
then grew larger. In a few moments, the cloud faded away to reveal
none other than Ultimate Mercenary.

"Ultimate Mercenary! You're alive! Thank god!" She hurriedly embraced
him and held him tight, trying hard not to cry and almost succeeding.
After a few moments she realized first, that she was still naked,
second, that there was another man in the room with them, and third,
that Lydia was gone. The bearded man raised a bemused eyebrow while
Ultimate Mercenary stood still with shock. He was still surrounded by
a thin layer of flickering black dots.

"Well," said the man she didn't recognize, "the three of us are
finally all in one room. And it only took six years."

She met him with a fierce glare. "Who are you? And where's Lydia?"

"I am Masterplan Lad, and you seem to know my friend."

"Urm. Agaah," said Ultimate Mercenary, who was still in a trance. "Oh,
yeah, him. He's some kind of cosmic time traveler guy. I think. I have
no idea what's even going on anymore."

"And who is this Lydia?" said Masterplan Lad.

"She was with me. She used her powers to bring you here. Can you use
your cosmic thing to find her?"

"I can attempt it." He opened his umbrella, which started to ping.
Looking at him more closely, Varda had to admit he was rather
handsome, though there was something distant and off-putting about
him. "I can't find her. I don't know where she is. I very much doubt
our Writer does, either, unfortunately. And I suppose you would be

She frowned. "That's the thing. I don't know what my real name is. I
have some memories, but I don't know if they're mine. I know now that
my old world was a fake stitched together by the Producers. I fell
into Limbo right after I met Ultimate Mercenary, and then I ended up
in some ship which took me here. This place belongs to the Crossover

"The Crossover Queen. Of course. I was hoping we wouldn't have to face
a net.villain of that caliber until this series was well underway, but
I doubt she'll be able to harm us considering we're just starting out.
Unless she can."

"Do you think you could use that thing to find my own past?"

"Well, it depends on what our Author wants, but I suspect even he's
sick of dragging out this storyline." He touched her arm with his
umbrella, which was slightly glowing. She felt as if she'd been jabbed
with a knife, and then the memories started coming back to her,
somehow both clear and vague. They hurt. The more she remembered, the
less she wanted to.

"You were a member of the LNH. You were sent to the planet Topphorti,
world of the evil Net.Gods, as part of a strike mission shortly after
OMAR's attack on Earth in Flame Wars IV. Your entire team was
massacred by Flipseid. He attacked them with his Discomega Effect,
destroying them as if they had never been. You were the last one to
go. You would have been trapped there forever if the Producers hadn't
pulled you out." He looked her in the eyes, seeming slightly but
noticeably downcast. "I'm sorry."

He somewhat stiffly put his hand around her shoulder. Ultimate
Mercenary looked around, unsure of what to do, and then drew close to
her and did the same, flinching when he touched Masterplan Lad's arm.
Varda wanted to sink down and start crying. "No," said Varda to
herself, "Not yet. Not until we're back home." She turned to
Masterplan Lad. "Do I have a name, at least?"

"I couldn't determine most of your background. I suspect the Writer is
working most of that out as well. But your name is Victoria Arden. I
don't know if that's the name you were born with, but it's the one
that feels most closely connected to you."

"Victoria Arden. Yes. That feels right." For the first time, she felt
a sense of peace and certainty, and she smiled. "Thanks."

"I'm just trying to help this story make some sort of sense." He did a
double-take. "Oh. You're naked."

Varda found herself laughing. "You noticed. I think there are clothes
over there. I don't know if they're safe, though."

Masterplan Lad scanned them with his umbrella. "They don't appear to
be enchanted." He handed her a white silken robe, which she put on.
"Our friend should be able to snap out of his trance now."

"What? Oh--" Ultimate Mercenary whipped his head around and quickly
looked away from the other two. "Do you think the Crossover Queen
knows we're here?"

As if on cue, the music began to rise in intensity, turning martial.
"I imagine so." Then three heavily armed gorillas burst through the
wall, ripping the tapestry in half.  "Finally!" said Ultimate
Mercenary. "I didn't think there was even going to be a fight scene in
this issue." He struck at the gorilla with his katana, but couldn't
move quickly enough. Varda fought back too, even though she was
missing... whatever it was she was supposed to have. Even Masterplan
Lad got his hands dirty, jabbing with his umbrellas.

But it was too late. The gorilla's blasts hit them, and everything
went dark.


Ultimate Mercenary #6 part 2:

And Ultimate Mercenary was seven years old again, watching his father
do his work. His father sliced through the soldiers of ApocaLISP with
a swift and fluid grace. The child had taken down the rest. The twelve
soldiers now all lay dead, except for one, sorely wounded, who was
breathing raggedly on the floor.

"It's time, son," said his father, his voice as taut and emotionless
as ever. "Now you must prove that you have mastered the signature move
of Ultimate Ninja, the pride of our lineage: the Heart Throb. You must
prove that you are worthy to bear his legacy. Are you ready?"

"Yes, father," he said, doing his best approximation of a scratchy
warrior's voice, which wasn't terribly good. He had practiced the move
so many times now on dummies that it should not be so hard to use it
against one of the hated soldiers of ApocaLISP. So why was he
hesitating? He called to mind all the techniques he'd been taught to
wrestle down his emotions. He remembered the strokes he'd practiced so
many times. He remembered all the stories he'd been told of Ultimate
Ninja ripping out a man's still-beating heart. Then he looked into the
eyes of the soldier. The soldier was young and scrawny, stinking of
sweat and fear and confusion, little more than a child himself. He
couldn't do it. He fell to the ground and sobbed.

"Pathetic," said his father. "I could rip a man's heart out at half
your age." He then bent over the dying soldier and did so. The child
turned away and tried not to hear the scream.

And then he woke up. He found himself chained to the wall of a room
made of blood-red crystal, with a domed roof that stretched far above.
His wrists and ankles were sore, so he had likely been chained for
some time. Masterplan Lad and Varda--or rather Victoria--were beside
him; they were still unconscious. In the center of the room there was
an altar made of black stone, which lay within what looked to be the
ruins of an arbor. Ultimate Mercenary felt his gut twist. He had seen
this altar before, when he'd glimpsed a vision of the future. [In
issue 5--ed]

Masterplan Lad came to. "What--how--what's going on?" Far from his
normally unflappable manner, he looked shocked and terrified. His
voice was weak and ragged. It didn't feel right to see him that way.
"I was unconscious. But that's not even possible."

"Now you know how I've been feeling all this time," said Ultimate
Mercenary. He sighed. "We should be almost done with this stupid arc.
Soon I'll be able to get back to the Legion. I can't wait to tell
Ultimate Ninja about all this. And Manga Girl..." He glanced at
Victoria, and found himself feeling a little bit guilty.

"She's dead."


"I said she's dead. As one of your dimension's comedy troupes would
have it, she has ceased to be, she's joined the choir invisible, she's
an ex-Manga Girl!"

"How--" Ultimate Mercenary laughed harshly. Then he drew himself up.
If they hadn't been chained up, he would have tried to wring
Masterplan Lad's neck. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"I wasn't supposed to let you know until a dramatically appropriate
point. I suppose that would be now." He looked down at the floor. "I'm
sorry. She died in Journey into Irrelevancy #12. Fuzzboy died a few
issues earlier. They were just two more of Tom Russell's characters
that he killed off for the sake of a cheap joke or cheap drama before
he matured as a writer. I suppose you should be thankful he forgot
about you for so long. He originally meant to kill you off at the end
of 'Evil's Last Stand,' in 1998. did you know that? Although our own
current author would hardly seem to be any better, if Lydia is
anything to go by. She was the embodiment of his hopes, dreams, and
desires for a good year or so, and he threw her away because he
couldn't figure out what to do with her. He seems to have plans for
you, but is Victoria going to make it out of this story alive? Am I?
And his plans don't even seem to make any sense. According to my Plot
Device, you have two destinations. One is in your own world, somewhere
in Just Imagine I'm Actually Going to Say That Ridiculously Long
Title, but the other seems to be flickering in and out of existence.
How is that even possible?" Then he seemed to realize what he was
actually saying and stared off blankly into space.

Ultimate Mercenary tried to come up with some kind of biting comeback,
but he couldn't. Maybe the shackles made him too sore to think. Maybe
it was everything he'd been through for the last--how long had his
series taken place over? It couldn't have been more than a few days of
his time, even though Masterplan Lad had said it had taken ten years
to write. He'd never been good with snappy banter anyway. Not like
Manga Girl. She always knew exactly what to say.

In a few moments, the Crossover Queen entered the chamber. She was no
longer wearing a veil. Now she was clad in dark purple robes with a
crimson cape that billowed dramatically in spite of the lack of any
wind. On her head she wore a golden crown inlaid with elaborate
Kirbytech patterns. She was tall, pale, and beautiful, with long dark
hair and lips as red as blood. He felt himself begin to sink into
terror and despair, but then he realized that this wasn't quite what
he had seen before. In his vision, the Crossover Queen had still been
wearin her veil when she'd taken Victoria's life. He'd already changed
things by being here, but could he change them enough to save her?
Would he be too late, the way he was with--.

"Let us go," said Masterplan Lad. "Now."

"I am the Crossover Queen. What gives you the authority to command

"Do you have any idea who you're dealing with?" said Masterplan Lad.
"I am a Knight Temporal. Even if you kill me, my order will deal with
you. Harm me, and you will wish you were never created."

"That cannot be," said the Crossover Queen. "The Knights Temporal are
no more and never were."

"What? No, you're lying. Don't think you can fool me."

"The war ended many turnings of history ago, and you lost. Your
enemies erased you from history and were themselves erased in turn.
Try and reach them. I will do nothing to stop you."

He moved his mouth and tried to speak, but no words came. At last he
said, his voice so quiet as to be almost nonexistent, "What do you

"Usenet is dying," said the Crossover Queen. "I remember the days when
Usenet was young, when it was filled with worlds. Now it is all but
nothing. I have conquered most of what little remains, but most of
those who dwell there have moved on as new webs are woven. When
Ultimate Ninja slew many of the Elder Gods [in Beige Midnight #9--
ed.], I took their life-force and restored my power to what it was of
old, but even that is not enough. Yet soon I will return life and
glory to Usenet. I will bring about the Ultimate Crossover, drawing
together every site in the internet, including ours. And it is through
the LNH that I shall ensnare the wider Net. But at this moment it is
ill suited to find new readers. It is encumbered by a crushing weight
of history and continuity. Today I shall break us free. Today I shall
bring about a new birth for the Looniverse."

"And that's why you wanted the Headhunter. You... you're trying to
channel the Hungry Past. The nothing that was before the Writers came
and gave the Looniverse a past and a future."

"Exactly. The Anti-Moderator sought to use it to wipe out all the
worlds he found unfit. To that end he made the Headhunters from the
people of a world that had once been the Looniverse's future but was
consigned to the edge of Continuity.  They joined the number of those
in whom the Hungry Past dwells, who exist in the cracks of Continuity.
Now I have one of them in my possession, and through it I shall raise
up the power of the Hungry Past. The Anti-Moderator used it only to
destroy but I shall use it to create the world anew. And you can join
me if you wish."

"What? Why would I want to do that?"

"Your order is no more and never was. You have no cause to serve. The
story you were sent to protect was never begun. In fact, your Author
had no idea what he was doing when he brought you into this story. Yet
you remain a Knight Temporal, above and apart from those around you. I
can give you a story in which you have a place, a purpose. Why do you
wish to serve those less than you? Do you really think that irritating
little 'ninja' is worth protecting?"

Masterplan Lad began to shake. For the first time that Ultimate
Mercenary had ever seen, he was angry. "Yes. Yes he is. True, he is
difficult to deal with at times, or perhaps all the time. But I was
given the mission to protect Ultimate Mercenary and deliver him to the
story he was meant to be a part of, even though that story may have
changed. That is my place, that is my purpose, and I will never
abandon it. And are you really giving me some sort of 'we can rule
together' speech?" His voice was growing progressively louder and he
was clearly trying to gesture dramatically in his shackles. "You may
have grown more powerful than you used to be, but you're every bit as
unimaginative. Why would I want to join any villain whose tactics as
cliched as that?

"And another thing! Wiping out the LNH's continuity is the most
ridiculous idea I've ever heard. The depth and complexity of history
might put off new readers if handled poorly, but if handled well, it
draws them in. All the complex interlocking backstory, all the
emotional resonance and character development built up over so many
years, helps create new stories. Take that away and what do you have?
Another cheap, empty pathetic gimmick, a flash in the pan, nothing
more than a die-cut chromium cover. True, a few good stories may
result, but nothing that couldn't have worked better as part of the
old continuity, or even an entirely new universe." His voice had grown
louder and his face was flushed. "Your words are as empty as your
soul! The Looniverse ill needs a savior such as you!"

The Crossover Queen laughed. "What is the Looniverse? A miserable
little pile of retcons! But enough talk--the sacrifice shall now
begin!" She looked over her three prisoners. "You, Masterplan Lad, are
too useful to kill for now. I have yet to study you in depth. The
'ninja' is tied to a nexus of the Power Kirby that will soon come into
existence. I cannot kill him until it has come about. That leaves the
girl. Her power is not great, but the fact that she exists outside the
bounds of continuity should help create a link to the Hungry Past."

She snapped her fingers and Victoria's bonds dissolved, and she slowly
drifted to the floor. The Crossover Queen whispered a song into her
ear. She opened her eyes, staring off blankly into space. She walked
slowly to the altar and lay down upon it. The Crossover Queen drew an
obsidian blade from the jeweled scabbard by her side. The blade
glinted in the light of the nearby braziers. Masterplan Lad flinched.
"Why do you fear? You are a Knight Temporal, and she is a mere human.
Why would her death matter? So many of her kind die every day."

"She... she's an important part of Ultimate Mercenary's story. I don't
know how just yet, but..."

"If you aid me in raising the Hungry Past, I will have no need to
sacrifice the girl or the 'ninja.' I will ensure they have a place in
the world to come. The choice is yours. Either you will aid me, or you
will watch as I take the girl's life, for there is nothing you can do
to stop me." Masterplan Lad could do nothing but stare blankly,
struggling to find an answer.

For all this time, Ultimate Mercenary had been uncharacteristically
silent. He knew that Victoria's life was in danger and he was the only
one who could save her. He couldn't wield much control over the
strange power that surrounded and permeated him, but with his utmost
concentration he could channel it just enough to make cracks in his
bonds and make them grow larger, moment by moment. He cleared his
mind, remembering the techniques his father and the man who had been
his teacher after his father died had taught him. He felt the fear,
pain and grief wash out of him. There was only resolution, as sharp
and strong and pure as the steel of his blade.

Just as the queen was about to thrust her blade into Victoria's heart,
Ultimate Mercenary shattered his chains and did a backflip in the air,
planting his feet in the Crossover Queen's face and sending her
tumbling over the altar. Victoria didn't seem to react. The obsidian
blade fell out of the Queen's hand and clattered to the floor.
Ultimate Mercenary drew his katana and slashed at her as swiftly as
the wind. With her strength he could do little more than scratch her
pale skin, yet his strokes kept her off balance.

"Enough!" shouted the Crossover Queen and, making a mystical hand
gesture, shot out a burst of light that sent him sprawling into the
wall. (If Ultimate Mercenary had been thinking consciously of his LNH
training, he would have recognized this as Net.villain Maneuver #33.)
On the other side of the room, Masterplan Lad was trying to help
Victoria, but she was still in the Crossover Queen's thrall. She had
taken up the obsidian blade and was trying to kill him; he parried her
strokes with his umbrella but couldn't move as quickly as her. The
Queen began to slowly move her arms and speak words in a guttural
tongue, and Ultimate Mercenary could feel the charge of destructive
energies in the air.

But before the Crossover Queen could finish casting her spell,
Ultimate Mercenary recovered, leaped at her, and in one single stroke
ripped out her heart. It was made of cold grey stone. The Queen seemed
barely affected by the loss of her heart, but the shock was enough to
stop her from casting her spell. And then Ultimate Mercenary realized
just what he'd done. He'd pulled off the Heart Throb, just like
Ultimate Ninja himself. He was actually a ninja now!

Too late, he realized that his enemy was still in front of him and
very, very angry. He tried to get back into his ninja mindset, but it
was too late. The Crossover Queen, her face contorted with fury,
gripped him by the throat and wrestled him to the ground. Her heart
fell from his hands to the floor. "How dare you! You--I'll kill you!"
she screamed as she dug her nails into his throat.

But Victoria, having stopped in her tracks, ran over to them and
grabbed the heart. Apparently the Crossover Queen's had been
distracted enough to break her spell. "This is for Lydia!" Victoria
shouted as she threw the heart into the brazier.

The Crossover Queen's grip suddenly weakened, and then her touch began
to fade. She was turning into a sort of cold flame. Just as Ultimate
Mercenary leaped out of her grasp, the flame started to grow hotter
and the image of her faded away, becoming a bright pillar of fire that
shot up to the ceiling and then died down. And the Crossover Queen was
no more.

"That was amazing!" said Ultimate Mercenary. "Thanks!" He wondered
whether he should take the opportunity to hug Victoria and kiss her,
but was afraid to take off his mask.

Victoria stared incomprehendingly. "Did I kill her?"

"Not exactly, no," said Masterplan Lad. "To someone at her level of
power, death is little more than an inconvenience. But you've wounded
her enough that we stand a chance. Now we have to go."

"Where?" said Ultimate Mercenary.

"To free the Headhunter."

"What? Why?"

"Because even destroying the Headhunter would be easier than stopping
the Crossover Queen with the power of the Hungry Past. If we free it
now, she won't be able to carry out her ritual. And then... we'll
think of something, I suppose. Considering the crossover it was
originally part of ended six years ago, I can't imagine it's meant to
survive much longer. I can pinpoint it easily; it's not far from

Ultimate Mercenary was about to protest, but then the music that
permeated this world had turned into a shriek, and a howling wind
shook the building. He could hear the gorillas in jetpacks buzzing
nearby.  "Let's get out of here!" said Masterplan Lad, who grabbed
Ultimate Mercenary by the wrist, and Victoria followed. They hurried
through the labyrinthine corridors of the Crossover Citadel, ignoring
the statues that filled them. "Where do you think all the gorillas
are?" panted Ultimate Mercenary.

"They're probably running away from the Headhunter," said Victoria.
"Because they've got more sense than us."

Soon enough they came to the place where the Headhunter was. It was a
spherical room in the shape of a geodesic dome made of blue crystal,
where a web of light-beams of many colors marked a field where the
Headhunter was held. A catwalk led into the center of the room,
surrounding the field. And Ultimate Mercenary came face to face with
the Headhunter once more, and felt its breathing. Surrounding it was a
blank white void, not unlike the one that Ultimate Mercenary and
Masterplan Lad had left, but somehow even whiter and emptier. And he
realized that the screaming, gibbering Headhunter wasn't angry, it was
afraid of the void.

"So what do we do now?" said Victoria. The wind continued to howl
outside, and the Headhunter screamed even louder. But Ultimate
Mercenary found himself remembering a song he'd heard somewhere before
but couldn't remember where. He took the flute, which the Queen had
somehow not noticed, out of his pouch and began to play. It filled his
senses and drowned out the music around him. It was the same song he'd
felt inside him when Lydia had brought him here, a small part of some
larger symphony he thought he heard somewhere in the distance, far
beyond this world.

Suddenly the Headhunter seemed not like the terribly real figure that
it had been but a drawing in a comic book. The ink in the drawing
began to run, erasing the outlines of the Headhunter, and the void was
filled with a riot of colors. An outline began to take shape within
the void, taking the shape of a young woman. The woman, covered by
shifting colors and lines, pulled a glistening crystal object from her
pocket and said:

"Manga Crystal Power, Make Up!"

A bright magenta light filled the room. When it faded, the woman's
outlines were clear and bright. The object--a pen--fell back into her

It was her. It was Manga Girl.

He stood stock still, too shocked to even be happy. She leaped out of
the forcefield and pounced straight on top of Ultimate Mercenary,
peeled his mask off his lips and kissed him passionately.

"Mango? You're alive? But how's that possible? Masterplan Lad said..."
Then he realized something was wrong. Her hair was the same striking
shade of pink, but this sinuous, stunningly beautiful woman had eyes
that were bright green instead of Manga Girl's blue, and the colors of
her outfit were a little darker.

"Wait... you know me, but I don't know you," said Manga Girl "What's
going on?"

"Of course," said Masterplan Lad. "Ultimate Mercenary, the Manga Girl
you knew was from a world in rec.arts.anime.creative. This is her RACC
counterpart. She must be the 'Manga Girl II' your daughter was
referring to." [again, in issue 5--ed.]

"Wait, does anyone have any idea what's going on?" said Victoria. Then
she stared at Ultimate Mercenary. "Your daughter?"

"I, uh... Let's get out of here before it's too late!"

"Indeed," said Masterplan Lad. "That part shouldn't be too hard. The
Crossover Engines that power this place can link together any two
works of fiction. That's how the Crossover Queen was able to intervene
in an earlier crossover even though we're currently somewhere post-
Beige Midnight. I can attempt to draw on its power to bring us to our
destination--which should be especially easy if it's already a
crossover." He raised the Plot Device, which began to crackle with
some sort of blue lightning, even as the room was starting to crack
apart. "Hold on tight!" he shouted. The other three gripped him by his
arms, and for one horrible moment, Ultimate Mercenary felt everything
go blank...


Next: UM and company may be free from the Crossover Queen now, but
getting to their destination is easier said than done. Be there for
"Crossover Chaos!" And watch out for Ultimate Mercenary v20 #1, coming

Notes: Well, that took a while. This was supposed to be the first part
of Just Imagine #12, which keeps undergoing continual mitosis. That
issue, whenever it gets written, will probably be at least two issues.
There was only supposed to be one more issue of UM, but I came up with
an idea for the ending which wound up expanding into its own issue.
The gap between this issue and the next one will, of course, be much

The reason it took so long to write this issue was that I had to
figure out a way to get UM into LNH20 that wrapped up with the
plotlines and character development from this series in a reasonably
satisfying way. In true LNH fashion, I dealt with the abrupt change in
direction by making it part of the story, as well as blatantly ripping
off Doctor Who. (I doubt this will be the last time.)


Ultimate Mercenary created by Tom Russell, reserved by me, usable with
permission in LNH20 (outside the cascade, of course).
Masterplan Lad, Victoria, Lydia and Manga Girl II created by me,
reserved. The original Manga Girl and Fuzzboy were created by Tom
Russell, though he regrets it now.
Crossover Queen created by Jeff "Drizzt" Barnes; I'm reserving her for
the moment. I'll be writing an issue of System Corruptors soon which
will explore her post-Cry.sig origin and her current situation.

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