The following comes from Then A Penguin Walked In and Other Tall Tales, currently on sale digitally and in paperback.


THE HALL WENT QUIET, and Dominick could sense that those in attendance were looking to him, including both the soldiers and the Triumvirate.

“So, what so we do, Mr. Hanrahan?” Captain Ovati asked, a note of sarcasm in her voice he was fairly certain she wasn’t trying to hide. “You are, after all, our only hope.”

“Uh,” Dominick replied, looking to Vivian for help.

“Come on, mighty warrior, tell us what to do.” Ovati was smiling now, and not in a good way.

Dominick threw a considerable amount of his accessible brain capacity at the issue. He rifled through his mental filing cabinet, gathering all the information he’d accumulated over the years regarding key military figures, elite combat units, and military strategy. Though he had what would account for over a dozen terabytes of this specialized type of information stored on his internal memory system, it took his brain less than a fraction of second to comb through the records and report back that there probably wasn’t anything the A-Team had ever done that would be of any help to him in this current situation. So, Dominick responded the only way that he could.

“Uh,” he repeated.

“Figures,” Captain Ovati said, a disgusted look on her face. She turned to the soldiers. “We need to get these people into the shelters below the palace. Once they are secure, join me on the wall.”

The soldiers began to move, ushering the crowd out of the hall in an orderly fashion. Dominick could do nothing but watch as the people were shuffled out. Captain Ovati and a few select soldiers escorted the Triumvirate from the dais and out a door in the back.

Soon Dominick was alone with Vivian.

“I guess I’m a pretty big disappointment, huh?” Dominick said.

“What do you mean?” the pixie replied, her face a mask of confusion.

“Well, it’s all happening now, right? The big battle? It’s what I’m here for and so far I’ve been pretty useless.”

“Because you have no knowledge of how to disperse troops for battle?” She smiled. “Dominick, you are too hard on yourself. Your purpose is not to lead the armies into battle.”

“It’s not?”

“No, you are here to defeat Lord Hob. That is your only task. You must meet him on the field of battle, you must do combat with him, and you must win,” Vivian said.

“Okay,” Dominick said. “No pressure.”

“Vivian,” Harold buzzed in. He was dressed in a tiny suit of leather armor and carried a sword the size of a toothpick. “Lord Hob has come.”

“Yes, Harold,” Vivian said. “We know.”

“We must get Dominick Hanrahan out to meet him,” Harold said.

“Yes, Harold,” Vivian said. “We know this as well.”

“So, uh,” Dominick floundered. “That’s it? We’re just going to go out there now? Like now, now?”

“Lord Hob has been spotted on the battlefield,” Harold said. “There is no time to waste.”

“Okay,” Dominick said. “So, now then?”

“Yes, Dominick Hanrahan,” Harold said, a confused look on his face. “Now.”

“Worry not, Dominick,” Vivian said. “You handled yourself well against Captain Ovati. That is the power of Arakis.”

“Yeah, I did find it a bit odd that I had suddenly become a skilled swordsman,” Dominick said, smiling. “I mean, it’s always been my understanding that sword fighting isn’t as easy as they make it look in the movies. So that was the sword doing all that? That’s what it does?”

“That is only a small part of the sword’s powers,” she said. “But you can feel confident that the sword will protect you.”

“So, it makes me invulnerable?”

Vivian and Harold exchanged glances.

“Very nearly so,” Vivian replied.

“Okay, well,” Dominick said, running his hands through his hair. “I guess near invulnerability will have to do. Heck, even Superman isn’t all powerful.”

“Do not fear, Dominick Hanrahan,” Harold said. “Vivian and I will be with you every step of the way.”

“Ah,” Dominick said, his sarcasm more than apparent. “That takes a load off my shoulders.” 

“A pixie’s magic is not to be taken lightly,” Vivian said, steel showing in her eyes.

Dominick gulped and thought back to earlier today when he’d first encountered Vivian in the guise of a penguin and how, even in the shape of such an awkward little creature, she’d taken on one of the lizard men without breaking a sweat. Maybe his sarcasm was unwarranted. 

“Alright then,” he said, drawing himself up. “Let’s go take this Hob guy out, already.”

The three set off and Dominick found himself once again walking the twisty-turny stone walkways of the palace. After a few minutes the atmosphere around them grew dim and dank.

“Are we underground?” He asked.

“We are, Dominick Hanrahan,” Harold said. “Very astute.”

“We are traveling along a secret path,” Vivian said with a small wink. “It will take us out beyond the palace and up into the hills above.”

“If all goes according to plan,” Harold said. “We should come out behind Lord Hob and his forces.”

“Lord Hob is known to command from the relative safety of the back of his army,” Vivian said.

“Which means we won’t have all this nonsense of wading through the thick of the battle to get to our goal,” Harold said.

“Okay, so say it does go according to plan,” Dominick said. “How do I find this Hob guy? Are you going to point him out to me and then just let me loose?”

“The Dread Lord Hob will be distinctive among his followers for the white armor he wears,” Vivian said.

“White armor?”

“It gleams like the winter snow,” Harold said. “Also, he will more than likely be astride Kraxull, the great white dragon of Skelldom.”

Dominick stopped walking.

“Yes, of course,” Vivian said. “I’d almost forgotten about Kraxull. He will be quite difficult to miss for sure.”

The two pixies had continued to glide down the damp tunnel, oblivious of the fact that they had left the Hope of Haven, the Savior of Gund, behind.

“Kraxull truly is a magnificent creature,” Harold said. “So very impressive.”

“Quite so,” Vivian replied with excitement. “And such intelligence. He is more than just muscles, teeth, and claws.”

“Guys,” Dominick said, taking a seat on the cold, stone floor.

“But what teeth!” Harold said. “I once saw Kraxull split a cow in two with just one bite. And this was no calf, mind you. I’m talking about a full-grown cow.”

“Guys,” Dominick repeated. He was having trouble breathing.

“Oh wow!” Vivian said. “That must have been an impressive sight.”

“It certainly was, I can tell you,” Harold said.

“Guys!” Dominick’s shout echoed down the corridor.

The two pixies turned with a start once they realized that Dominick was no longer walking alongside them but was instead sitting on the floor fifty yards behind, his head in his hands. He rocked back and forth as the pixies glided closer.

“What bothers you, Dominick Hanrahan?” Harold asked, placing a tiny hand on his shoulder.

“What bothers me?” Dominick replied, raising his head. He laughed. “Well, I don’t know. I’ve been sitting here thinking about just that, but I can’t quite put my finger on it.”

The two pixies exchanged worried glances.

“It could be the dragon,” Dominick continued. “Maybe. I mean, fighting dragons is like eating cake for me, of course, but there’s still something about the concept that continues to nag at me.”

“Alright, Dominick,” Vivian said. “You hurl your sarcasm around like bolts of lightning.”

“A dragon, Vivian?” Dominick stood. “A dragon!? No one said anything about a dragon. I don’t recall that being part of the sales pitch.”

“Dominick,” Vivian began.

“One guy, Vivian,” Dominick continued. “One guy. That was it. The one guy in all of Gund that everyone seems to be terrified of. That’s what I agreed to.”

“Dominick,” Vivian tried once again.

“I mean, that fact alone is enough to make me question my own sanity. For me—ME!—to make that choice...” He buried his face in his hands.

“Dominick,” Vivian said. “You needn’t worry about Kraxull.”

“I could be home right now. Sitting comfortably on my couch, flipping through this week’s new comics, or watching something, anything, on TV. But instead, I’m doing this. And now I have to fight a dragon.”

“We will take care of Kraxull,” Harold said.

“Yes, Dominick,” Vivian said. “You need not worry.”

He looked up. “You two? You two will take on a dragon? A dragon big enough to split a cow in half with just one bite? You two?”

The two pixies only stared at him, their eyes boring a hole through his own.

“Okay,” Dominick said. “A pixie’s magic is not to be taken lightly; I get it.”

“Are you sufficiently prepared now to do your part?” Vivian asked.

“You mean, am I ready to stand up to the big bad wolf?”

“Wolf?” Harold looked confused. “I do not believe that Lord Hob has any trained wolves in his army.”

Harold shared another look with Vivian and then the two trained their quizzical gazes on Dominick.

“Never mind,” Dominick said. “Let’s just get this over with.”

Dominick walked alongside the buzzing pixies for another thirty minutes before they eventually reached the end of the tunnel. They found before them an iron bound door which opened to a small, wooded glade. The sound of battle threaded its way through the trees the moment they had opened the door, and as they moved softly through the wood, they came to the tree line and looked out upon a wide valley that opened below them. 

The sun was setting on their left. Unless Gund followed different rules than Earth, which he supposed it very well could, the valley below was due north.

About a half a mile away, as near as Dominick could estimate, down in the valley, they could see the two mighty armies clashing upon an open field just outside the gates of Haven to the northeast. As the two pixies had said, they had come out of the tunnel to the rear of the battle, but they were high enough on the hill that they could see the two armies stretched out before them.

Just outside the gates the five races of Gund fought together with seamless coordination against a horde of lizard men, humans, and ogres. Dominick scanned the armies of Lord Hob until he spotted the man himself, resplendent in white armor and black cape, sitting astride a white dragon the size of a bus. 

“That’s him,” Vivian said, pointing to the man in white.

“Yeah, I kinda figured,” Dominick said.

He watched Lord Hob as the man in white rode the dragon up and down the back line of the army, gesturing in such a fervent manner that Dominick could only assume meant that the Dread Lord was barking orders and using the threat of violence to encourage his army forward. The dragon certainly was an impressive beast. Even from as far back as Dominick stood, he could see the sheer power of the creature. He tried to imagine what the two pixies might be able to do against such a monster, but in the end, he decided to trust in his two companions.

As he watched the battle below, a chill wind descended on him from the west and Dominick put his hands in his pants pockets to try and keep them warm.

In one of his pockets he encountered the salt shaker from earlier that morning. He laughed and pulled it out, looking it over. Of all the things to bring over from his world he had brought with him salt, and only because he’d been toying with the idea of chucking it in a fryer.

He thought about how long ago it had all seemed, then pushed the idea out of his head for being a bit cliché. 

“Shall we go?” Vivian asked.

Dominick sighed. “Yeah, I suppose we should.”

Suddenly there was a stench on the wind like a thousand sweaty gym socks found at the bottom of a locker that hadn’t been opened in a hundred humid-filled years. Before he could plug his nose, a small group of large figures burst through the trees from the west, the sun at their backs. The sun was so blinding that Dominick and his companions found themselves more than a little disoriented. Enough so anyways that the group was on top of them before they could react.

To be continued...


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