It was a world of conflict, a stage of dramatic musical cues and dilemmas that induced screams of denial and really got hard on the knees after a while.
For centuries the holy wars lasted, the conflict only becoming more grisly each time courage was pitted against valour. In the midst of such righteous passions even the most sacred traditions were cast aside like old grocery lists in what seemed to be a direct contradiction of the spirit of both causes, but was in fact merely an intrusion of pragmatism into those values that could not survive the trials of reality. It had been eventually discovered that, when used as a means of resolving every disagreement from lover's quarrels to alignment debates, the sacred pie eating contests not only encouraged conflict for the sake of its tasty methods of resolution but also quickly led to morbid obesity on the part of the worshippers. Their ability to go about their everyday sacred duties thus becoming increasingly impaired, the plump high priests had chosen to revise the twelve commandments (or five, or sixteen – basic mathematics were neither a talent nor a priority for the spiritually gifted) in a way that was tragically less delicious but also simple in the way only holy ingenuity was – by simply replacing every mention of pie with the word 'spinach'.
It was hoped that the introduction of healthier foods would diminish conflict, but the true result was simply the abandonment of that particular commandment altogether. Outraged by such paganism, holy knights sought to reform such faithless individuals, but were still suffering some limitations – traces of the old pie-eating regime that had not yet completely disappeared.
However, all that was soon forgotten in the time to follow. While followers of Banjo led care-free, devil-may-care lives, those worshipping the more violent god Giggles eventually rediscovered the “traditional” way of resolving conflicts and their aggressive behaviour soon prompted their fellows in faith to do the same.
On the positive side, the problem of plumpness was quickly solved. On the other hand, the priests soon had to deal with the slightly more concerning issue of the followers of the two gods now slaughtering each other in the name of their respective deities the bloody, heated, old-fashioned way. Old grudges resurfaced and, for all their differences in ideology, one crusade-crazed holy warrior much resembled any other with the sole exception of the colour of their pointy war hats and whether they wielded an ornate slap-stick or a pun-lute furnished with alpaca mane.
Growing ever more heated as even the colour of the worshippers' garb was called into offensive question by the opposing side, the holy wars escalated until the deities themselves could no longer afford to merely watch from the sidelines and occasionally bestow a blessing or two, but instead chose to redefine the meaning of holy crusades forever.
And thus it came to pass that Banjo, the Puppet Who Pulleth All the Strings (of Banjos and Stuff), descended from his holy mountain of music and goggle-eyed nymphs to meet in battle with his brother and greatest rival Giggles, God of Slapstick Who Prefereth Action Over Talk.
It was to be a battle that would be marked in history until the end of time. As the dramatic musical cues blared dramatically in an overly dramatic and redundantly overused superfluous manner, a holy light filled the sky and all across the realm slap-sticks and pun-lutes were laid aside as the holy warriors raised their heads to stand witness - for they hardly dared to breathe in the face of such divinity and dared even less to look away even for the moment it would take to attack their opponents, lest it be perceived as transgression against faith. Besides, they really wanted to see this battle.
“Giggles! Oh brother!” Banjo called, his goggly eyes full of tears and dramatic sadness. “How has it come to this? Have we not gotten along for centuries as brothers and comrades and occasional opponents in chess (not that either of us is any good at it)? Have we not stood in unison as we struck down the pretender gods of boring conduct and dull protocol? Tiamat and Thor crumbled before our might, music and hilarity - and Loki and Odin have found unison in their love of amusing puppets and retreated to the sidelines to enjoy the show and each other's company!”
“Sure did, dude. Hey, stop, that tickles. Didn't I tell you to shave your beard?” a voice called faintly through the cover of dimensions.
“So tell me, brother! We are powerful together, you and I! How have we come to be in such opposition?” Banjo continued his plaintive lament, somehow managing to drop to his knees dramatically despite not having knees in the first place. Oddly-shaped valleys were left where he did so and the entranced followers made mental notes to call dibs on their own patch of land there as soon as the opportunity presented itself.
“Like smacking things,” Giggles replied in a bubbly drawl. “Besides, no fun, boring, no drama. Thought you above all puppets would understand.”
“Oh, how I do! But not all drama needs to manifest in warfare, my dear brother!” Banjo cried, raising his arms.
“Huh?” Giggles' goggly eyes momentarily clouded over in confusion. “What you mean?”
“My dear brother Giggles, you shall understand,” Banjo smiled, stepping forward. “Make love, not war!” he added, reaching forward to embrace his brother.
“Love? Me not know this word. Show, not tell! You forgot primary rule of storytelling, brother Banjo?” Giggles looked suspiciously at the outstretched arms, one of them still holding a banjo.
“No… I most certainly haven't.”
In the background, an orchestra blared triumphantly and the nymphs sent their high voices resounding across the entire Material Plane. It reached a crescendo as Banjo finally stepped forward, wrapping his brother in a puppety embrace and hugging him close. Giggles' goggly eyes bulged out even more as he was overcome with a rush of unfamiliar emotions. At first confused, he soon gave in to the urges inside him and responded to his brother's impassioned ministrations with the eagerness and almost violent enthusiasm that was so characteristic of him. Slapstick and banjo rustled against cloth and then against that which lay beneath the cloth, whatever it was – it was kind of difficult to tell.
The music in the background slowed to a tender melody that spoke of higher things and the two puppet gods signed a treaty of peace in such a way that even the most devoted of followers eventually looked away, caught the eye of the one they had been fighting and even more quickly dropped their eyes to the ground, blushing furiously. Further blood was still shed after that, but it was due to the wave of nosebleeds that continued to assail the mortals at unexpected times.
At last even this meeting of gods came to an end. Still holding the banjo and the slapstick, the puppet gods found themselves gazing into each other's goggly eyes.
“There shall be no more war between us,” Banjo murmured.
“No more war, no more war. This much more fun” Giggles giggled.
“I am glad that we have both reached a higher level of enlightenment and divinity, my brother,” Banjo smiled. He then disentangled himself from Giggles' embrace. “But we are still separate gods, you and I, and cannot be together incessantly. We shall meet again. But for now…” he paused for far longer than was necessary and a violin somewhere suddenly launched into a hum that highlighted the tension of the moment until he spoke again.
“…but for now…” The humming continued while Giggles stared on in expectation.
“…For… now…” Banjo said again, iniatiating another redundant dramatic pause, until the violin's humming finally stilled.
“For now, my dear brother…” he leaned forward, his voice a whisper… “…I shall have to leave you.”
“Noooooooooooooooooooooooo!” Giggles' stream rang across the Planes as he threw his round head back in despair, his slapstick still in his outstretched hand and his wrinkled robes still lying beside him in neglect.
Banjo sniffed, his goggly eyes filling up with tears of joy and delight that was bittersweet like ambrosia tinged with cinammon. He leaned forward, and just before leaving, mouthed a final, tender whisper to his brother, “I'm so proud of you.”
The orchestra re-awakened, the flow of music shifting to a heart-breaking C-minor. Every mortal on the Material Plane froze, their eyes widened by anguish, and shed a single, sparkling tear.
And thus, the meeting of gods ended.
“Wow. I didn't know you were into this kind of stuff,” came a laugh from behind, interrupting his enthusiastic mutter. Elan jumped and spun around to see Haley's wide grin barely three inches behind him. She was red-faced and had apparently been fighting the urge to burst out laughing for quite a while.
“How long have you been there?” Elan exclaimed in surprise.
“Long enough,” Haley winked, finally erupting in laughter at the sight of the still entangled puppets on Elan's hands. Her laughter was infectious and Elan quickly found himself laughing as well. Several moments later, though, he paused, frowning in confusion as Haley still chortled on.
“Hold on, Haley. Are you laughing with me, or are you laughing at me?”
“Really, Elan,” Haley chuckled, ignoring the question. “If you're in the mood, you really should have just said so.”
His puppets still on his hands, Elan suddenly found himself holding an armful of Haley as she slipped into his embrace and kissed him, her arms going around his neck. He kissed her back, smiling fondly into her lips as her nimble fingers began to unlace his tunic with the dexterity only a professional pickpocket could muster. Elan began to return the gesture but was forced to pause as he started to tug the puppets off his hands. It was an oddly difficult to task, almost as if they were resisting.
“No, silly…” Haley's fingers on his wrists stopped the movement. “Keep the puppets on.”
A wooden cabin wall away, Belkar looked up in confusion at the sounds filtering through the open window along with the fresh scent of seaweed. Pausing to listen for a moment, he thought he heard Haley's and Elan's voices over the noise of the furious ocean elements. There was also something about puppets and Belkar's face twisted over at the mental image.
Then he grinned. He knelt back to the wall, fingering his dagger, and wondered if it'd be better to try and drill a peephole into Elan's room, instead. The halfling exchanged a thoughtful look with Mr. Scruffy, who was curled up on his bed and lazily watching him. The feline's furry expression of disdain was eloquent enough for Belkar to get the message.
“Yeah, right,” he snorted in agreement and continued his work, little chips of wood falling away under his dagger. After another minute of focussed chiselling, he peered through again and a grin spread across his face. The hole was less than a quarter of an inch wide, but the glimpse of red robes it offered was more than promising. Being stuck on a boat was going to be worth it, after all.