Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Once Upon a Time in Ar, Part Four

The looming beast looked like a cross between a shaggy rug and an oversized goblin fitted with large lynx-like ears. Dardaniel could not repress a faint squeal when the creature hunched down to gaze at him. Its ears homing in on the slight sound made their tawny tufts flop forward. With its large bulging eyes, the beast exuded a somewhat-endearing appearance were it not for its terrible fangs. That impression ended at once when it roared.

“Now, now, let’s not get carried away with the random-forest-critter-meets-unsuspecting-hero routine, shall we?” said Dardaniel as calmly as he could. “Surely we can find a way to get along. Let me guess: you are a sasquatch, aren’t you?”

The beast raised a bristly eyebrow, frowned, and roared louder. As it raised its clawed hand, the wizard reacted with greater speed, pointed a finger at the hairy face, and cast a few sharp words. Strands of sticky webbing shot forth and wrapped themselves around the beast’s head like a mad smothering turban, muffling the victim’s bellows and interfering with its sight.

As the brute clawed at the webs, the wizard took a few steps back. “I do beg your pardon,” he said. “I should have known better—the puppy eyes, the large ears, the big fangs, and all. You are a bugbear, yes indeed. Didn’t mean to offend.”

The monster tripped and fell on the jumble of tree roots while struggling to rip off the blinding strands. Judging a retreat more prudent, Dardaniel spun round and buried his face in what seemed like a wall of fur.

“Oh bugger,” he uttered, looking up at another beast that had sneaked up from behind. It grabbed him by the back of his robe and yanked him off his feet. As he prepared to speak another spell, the bugbear slapped him across the face, causing Dardaniel to swing wildly, his feet kicking helplessly. Another spell attempt resulted in a backslap with similar effects.

“Alright, alright! I get it,” pleaded Dardaniel while the first bugbear angrily threw off the last of the magical webs. It approached, seized the wizard’s arm, and yanked hard enough that Dardaniel thought his bones were coming apart. The other beast begged to differ and, as it tugged the other way, the two fought over their prey, shaking him like a ragdoll caught in a whirlwind’s blur. As one attempted to take a bite of the tasty, blue-blooded Alphatian, the other pulled back, causing their jaws to snap shut like bear traps a hair away.

Suddenly, two massive hands seized their heads and slammed them together. Bits of hairy flesh, brain matter, and other bugbear debris sprayed upon Dardaniel as he dropped to the ground. The two monsters and their mangled craniums fell next to him. Still dizzy, the wizard looked up at the silhouette hunched above him. It was just as shaggy as his previous aggressors, though without the ears. A chill ran down his spine when he made out a stern ape-like face. Now, this was a sasquatch. He was certain of it. Judging from bulges under its fur, he also concluded it could be female.

Grinning awkwardly, he seized a bugbear’s arm and lifted it toward the creature. “Dinner? Good bugbear, yum-yum!”

The abominable woodswoman responded with a grunt, slapping the grisly offer aside. She grabbed the wizard by his robe, straightened up, and sniffed at him a few times, a dubious frown twisting her prominent brow. A throbbing ache raking his skull, Dardaniel dared not attempt to cast a spell for fear that it might misfire and provoke the sasquatch’s fury. After all, she didn’t seem to want to devour him as of yet. Instead, the shaggy colossus seemed more interested in his pockets. With dismay, the wizard observed her reach in the magical one with two fingers and pull out his magical pipe. Unsure of what to do with the strange object, the beast sniffed at it with suspicion, and promptly discarded it.

“Hey, easy with that! My uncle gave it to me!” Dardaniel objected. “What luck. . . a thieving sheesquatch.”

The creature continued her search of the wizard’s pockets and pulled out a silver spoon. The offended expression on the handle’s face grew into sheer terror when the sasquatch inserted it into her ear, scratched, and pulled out a glob of wax. Following a look of disgust, the sasquatch tossed the precious spoon.

“Enough of this I say!” Dardaniel’s raised voice only resulted in the sasquatch pinning him against a nearby tree trunk, and pressing her massive hand on the wizard’s face, though he could still see through her hairy fingers. Out of the same pocket came the missing sock, which soon hung from a nearby bush. When the spellbook appeared and landed with a thump behind his captive, Dardaniel flailed helplessly, his objections largely muffled. In the wake of her latest discovery, the sasquatch fished out a random collection of items from his pocket of many things: a very fine dagger, a spy glass, a mirror, a set of keys, several scrolls in their ivory cases, a purse of gold coins and miscellaneous gems, a coil of rope, empty sacks, wooden spikes, a small mallet, a lantern, a flask of oil, a waterskin, a tin cup, an iron kettle, a bed roll, and a bundle of herbs which provoked a sneeze and another grunt of discontent. All landed pell-mell behind the sasquatch. A loaf of enchanted, non-spoiling nut bread wrapped in aromatic leaves quickly disappeared into the beast’s mouth. Next, a silver flask emerged, filled with some of Ar’s best brandy, which Dardaniel had pilfered from his grandfather’s hidden reserve. The beast bit off the stopper and gulped down the entire contents, apparently with great satisfaction.

After discarding the empty container and repressing a hiccup, the she-beast studied the wizard in a way that became even more frightening than earlier. Lifting the part of his robe still hanging over his mid-section, she peeked into his pants with growing interest. Dardaniel slapped away the indiscreet hand, and shook a finger at the sasquatch. However quashed his vehement objections, his meaning was clear.

A minuscule head then appeared from the fur on her shoulder, gazing down at the wizard. Dardaniel recognized its eyes immediately as those his incantation had revealed the day before. The small creature crawled up to the sasquatch’s ear and whispered. Unfocused and rather tipsy, the beast responded in a rumbling, mumbling bass. The palaver went on until the sasquatch released her captive, and deposited the tiny critter in Dardaniel’s cupped hands. She then shuffled a few paces away and sat against a tree whose trunk groaned under the strain of her weight.

The bond was complete as the two soul mates gazed into each other’s eyes. Dardaniel sensed what lay in his companion’s mind and the nature of its past-association with the sheesquatch. Of the little critter’s high-pitched and nearly-frantic chitter, he retained its name, Keeko. With his new companion now perched on his shoulder, the wizard quickly rescued his belongings and returned them to his magical pocket. They’d have to leave soon, while the beast still slept, for she might not allow the wizard to take away her little friend. After Keeko gave her a last look, Dardaniel triggered the final part of his enchantment, and the two vanished from what he assumed was her lair.

After the odd instant when three-dimensional space was folded, Dardaniel and his companion reappeared at the mossy spot he’d left earlier. He glanced up toward where the Silver Cloud awaited, but the thick canopy masked the sky. As the wizard prepared a spell of fairy pyrotechnics to alert the crew of his return, Keeko chirped in a way that sounded like a chipmunk’s version of “uh-oh,” and promptly became invisible. Before Dardaniel could react, he felt the grasp of a spell paralyze his arms and legs. It was a trap! He thought of screaming, but a dark hood was shoved down over his head, and something hard landed on his skull with a thud.


To be continued. . .