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The Conceited Crusader

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"I can't see how this story is going to need photos," says Jon. The interview he has lined up is a one-reporter job, but apparently Stephen also takes pictures, so he's accompanying Jon anyway. "It's a theft case. What are we going to do, get shots of all the places the items aren't?"

"You obviously don't understand photojournalism," sniffs Stephen, babying his camera. They're crammed in the back of a dingy cab that screeches down the road at half again the speed limit, and Stephen cuddles the gadget every time the car bounces. "The general public today doesn't have the attention span to read things. Especially not things that make them think, like all the stuff you write. The only hope you have of anybody taking a look at the words in your article is if they catch some by accident on the way to checking out the illustration."

"Maybe I like to have more faith in the American public than that," grumbles Jon.

"Maybe you're just not in touch with what's going on in the world," says Stephen. "Speaking of which...what's this story about, anyway?"

Jon sighs, but decides to answer. If Stephen's right, and nobody's going to read this when he writes it up, at least he'll have gotten the word out to someone. "A string of firearms have gone missing. I just got back from talking to the cops, and they have no evidence, no leads, no suspects. The only thing linking the case is that the victims all had what looked like a chunk of yard dug up. We're going to interview one of the—"

"Driver!" shouts Stephen, cutting Jon off. "Change of plans! Now we're going to—"

He rattles off an address, and Jon doesn't get a chance to protest before the cab executes a sharp U-turn that nearly knocks the wind out of him.

"What are you doing?" he demands, when he's got his breath back. "We've got a story to cover!"

Stephen doesn't look so good. His face has gone all pale and peaky. "First I have to make sure I'm not part of the story!" he cries. "Jon, have you been listening to yourself? They're trying to take away our guns!"

"You have a gun," realizes Jon. Of course his aggressive, dangerously impulsive co-worker would have picked up a gun at some point. "Okay, but come on, that's no reason to panic. That address, that's your place, right? Because it's nowhere near any of the thefts. And we don't even know yet if there's a pattern, let alone if you fit it...."

"You don't understand," moans Stephen, clinging desperately to Jon's arm. "I know who's behind this, Jon! It's a bunch of vile little gnomes the Eagle's tangled with before. And if they've gotten ballsy enough to start working in the Eagle's own city, there's nothing to stop them from going all the way and taking my Sweetness!"



Stephen nearly has a fit when he sees a basketball-sized mess of upturned soil in the lawn in front of his building. Jon follows him inside, muttering a description of the scene into his recorder, pausing to ask, "Wait, so are these literally gnomes we're talking about?"

However hysterical he might be getting, Stephen is still composed enough to snap, "Yes! Haven't you gotten caught up on the Eagle's back adventures yet?"

"It's on my to-do list!" says Jon. For someone who thinks the Eagle is a menace to society, Stephen sure does seem insistent that people know about him.

They race down the halls, Stephen jams his key in the door, and they both stumble into a room full of overturned furniture. A painting with a cracked frame leans against one of the chairs; in the blank spot on the plaster above it, the door of a wall safe hangs open.

Stephen dashes over, pulls a slip of paper out of the otherwise-empty chamber, and falls to his knees. The camera bumps against his stomach, hanging forgotten around his neck. "Sweetness...."

"Can you read it?" asks Jon quietly, looking over his shoulder. The note is the first new piece of evidence, but it's covered in a scratchy, runelike script that Jon can't make heads or tails of.

"It's gnomish," sniffles Stephen. "Says if we ever want to see our beloved guns again, we need to bring them even more guns! Either way, they're going to massacre poor innocent firearms!"

"I'm, uh, sorry," says Jon, trying to be sympathetic enough to soothe his co-worker's obvious distress. "Listen, let's report this to the police, and I'm sure they'll put all the pieces together and get your, um, your Sweetness back. And if they don't...well, I know you don't like to admit this, but I bet the Eagle will."



Jon's back at the office writing when he gets the call. "Daily home office, Jon Stewart speaking."

"Jon!" says the bright voice of the Eagle. "We're about twenty minutes from a big underground cops-versus-gnomes shootout! Want to come watch?"

"First tell me one thing," says Jon. "How many firearms are going to be involved?"

"Oh, plenty," the Eagle assures him. "Of course the evil gnomes have all the guns they've taken, and we're bringing all the guns they demanded to fake out that we're paying the ransom, and of course the police are loaded up with enough ammo that they will definitely bring these suckers down."

Yeah, Jon was afraid of that. "Then it sounds like you'll have to do plenty of shielding the good guys as-is, without throwing a civilian with no combat training into the mix."

The Eagle sighs. "If you're sure."

"I'm sure. Best of luck to you, though. Oh, and one more thing! Is Stephen Colbert there?"

"What?" stammers the Eagle. "No. I mean, he might be. I mean...that's your fellow reporter, right? The handsome and talented one? What would he be doing here?"

"One of his guns got taken," explains Jon. "He seemed pretty emotionally involved, so I thought he might want to be there for, the rescue. On the other hand...between you and me, he's kind of a coward, so it would make sense if he kept his distance."

"I'm sure he's very brave, and only runs from danger when he has a very good reason!" says the Eagle. "Like, for example, I don't see him around here at all. But there's probably a reason for it!"

Jon can't resist teasing him. "Do you have a new favorite reporter? Should I be jealous?"

"Jon, if you're going to be ridiculous, I'm going to hang up."

"Okay, okay. Just wanted to say, if he does turn up, keep an eye on him for me, okay? He'll be useless in a fight, and I really don't want him to get hurt."

The Eagle takes a long moment to digest this. "If your friend comes by," he says at last, "I will do everything I can to make sure he comes out in one piece. One very attractive piece."