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


DOMINICK WAS KNOCKED TO the ground by a fist the size of a coffee can, the bulk value type you can only get in one of those big box stores. He fell like a tree and tasted both dirt and blood. Then someone was on top of him and holding him down. The smell of old feet grew more intense and the meal he’d eaten earlier muscled its way up and out of his throat as Arakis was ripped from his side. The stench, he realized, radiated from the figure that held him fast, and Dominick fought against his captor like a rabid animal, if only to escape the foulness that threatened to forever eradicate his sense of smell.

Strong hands took hold of Dominick and pulled him to his feet. Their assailants ringed him like a gathering of stone pillars and as they crowded around him, they blocked out the sun and he could see for the first time that they were ogres, twenty or more.

“God what I wouldn’t give for a nice steady downpour and a box of detergent,” Dominick said. He tried breathing through his mouth, but found that he could actually taste the smell, which only made things worse and he dry heaved for a bit.

The wall of stank parted and a lizard man entered the ring. He held a small glass cage in each hand. Vivian was in one, Harold the other. Each of the pixies appeared to be unconscious. At least he hoped they were. He didn’t like to think of the alternative.

“If you’ve hurt either one of them, I’ll—” Dominick began.

“You’ll what?” the lizard man said. “Give me a stern look? Speak to me in a rude manner? Tell me, ape, what could you do to me?”

“What’s your name?” Dominick asked.

“What?” The lizard hadn’t expected such a reply.

“Your name? It’s not a hard question.”

“I am Flank,” the thing said.

“Flank,” said Dominick. “I will get free, and when I do, I’m going to take up my sword and shove it so far down your throat that you’ll be pooping steel by morning.” He wasn’t sure where that had come from, but seeing Vivian and Harold locked up and hurt sent a bolt of rage through him like he’d never known.

“My, my, my,” Flank said. “You’re certainly colorful.” He handed the two cages to one of the ogres. “Not that it matters, but your little friends have not been harmed. Their cages, however, keep them from using their magic so that we can get the three of you safely to my Lord.”

“You’re taking us to Hob?”

“Lord Hob, yes. He has commanded it.”

“Good. As chance has it, we were already on our way to see your boss. It would be nice to have an escort through unfriendly territory. The less fighting I have to do to get to your boy, Hob; the more refreshed I’ll be when I kill him.” He was getting quite good at this heroic bravado crap; laughing in the face of danger and such. He only hoped he could back it up when it counted.

Flank only laughed. “You amuse me, ape. I look forward to watching as Lord Hob feeds your spine to his dragon.”

“You mean the white slug he’s riding around down there?” Dominick asked, tasting more blood as he tested a loose tooth with his tongue. Whoever had hit him hadn’t been fooling around. “Back where I’m from, we know how to take care of slugs. Just a little salt and they shrivel and die like that tiny lump between Hob’s ears.”

“You will address my master as Lord Hob!” Foam flecked the lizard’s scaly lips.

“The only thing I have to do bleed,” Dominick said, emphasizing his point by spitting blood on Flank’s foot.

The ogres pressed in, a collective growl coming from their throats, a sound that radiated all the way down to Dominick’s toes.

“No,” Flank said, holding up a clawed hand. “He was to be delivered to Lord Hob uninjured, something we have already failed at. Any more harm upon his person and we will all have to answer for it. As it is, just one of you will be punished for making the One bleed.”

One of the ogres actually managed to look ashamed at that news.

“Okay then, Big Green,” Dominick said with a sigh. “Take me to your leader.”

Dominick’s hands were tied behind his back and they set off. But before the party had traveled more than thirty yards a hail of arrows flew in from the tree line.

Ogres fell all around him and Dominick could do nothing but watch helplessly as the fairy cages dropped from the dead hands of the ogres that held them.

In a matter of seconds only Dominick and Flank remained standing. The rest, the ogre horde, lay about them like smelly pin cushions. 

A small band of elves stepped from the trees, six in all, and in the lead was Uto, the Elf Lord.

“Greetings, Sacred One,” Uto smiled to Dominick as his companions surrounded Flank. “It was clever of me to deduce that your fae friends would take you around the battle using the secret way, no?”

“Yes, quite clever,” Dominick agreed.

Uto pulled a long, wicked-looking knife from his belt and walked around behind Dominick.

“Not so clever though,” Uto said and sliced the blade through the leather thong that bound Dominick’s wrists. “Only as clever as the lizard man. He figured it out as well.”

“My master was the one to figure it out, elf,” Flank spat. “Lord Hob’s genius will conquer you all.”

“Genius?” Uto said, stepping to face Flank. “I do not think so. After all, he sent you. Not so smart, yes?”

“Thanks for the big save, Uto,” Dominick said, rubbing at his wrists. They hadn’t been bound long enough for them to hurt, but it’s what people always did on TV, so he felt obligated to continue the tradition. 

One of Uto’s elven warriors had bent to retrieve the two pixie cages and was using her knife to pry them open.

“How are they?” Dominick asked.

“They are well, Sacred One,” the elf said. “These cages only make them sleep so that they are not able to work their magic. They will wake soon.”

“That’s good news, I was worried. Thanks, um...”

“Hib, Sacred One,” she said.

“Hib, thanks,” Dominick said.

“So, lizard,” Uto was saying to Flank. “What should we do with you?”

“Kill me,” Flank said. “I have failed the Dread Lord, I’m as good as dead anyway.”

“Has anyone seen my sword?” Dominick asked.

“It is here, Sacred One,” another of the elves said, approaching with Arakis.

All of the elves in Uto’s band dressed similar to their leader in the tanned hides of animals. Uto was, however, the only one of them who was bald. The rest all had long silken hair that they had tied into pony tails with leather chords.

Dominick took the sword from the elf who then introduced himself as Liro.

“Thank you, Liro,” Dominick said, and then strapped the sword to his back. “You have all done me a great service this day.” He figured that’s what a prophesied hero would say in a similar situation.

“It was you the lizard wanted, Sacred One,” Uto said, smiling his feral smile at Dominick. “You must decide what it is we are to do with him.”

“You hear that, Flanklin?” Dominick said. “I get to decide what to do you with you. I find that rather appealing.”

“I am not afraid to die,” Flank said.

“Yeah, I don’t buy that. You’re posturing and we all know it,” Dominick said. “But that’s okay, we’ve all been guilty of a little posturing now and again, so I’m going to let you have it. Besides, it’s your lucky day. Would someone mind binding his hands?”

“My lucky day?” Flank said as Hib drew up behind him and tied the lizard’s wrists together. “I don’t quite follow you.”

“You don’t follow me?”

“I don’t follow you.”

“What’s not to follow?” Dominick said.

“You say it is my lucky day,” Flank said.

“I did.”

“That is what I am not following.”

“It’s your lucky day. What’s so difficult about that?” Dominick said.

“I am having difficulty in finding what it is about today that makes it a lucky one,” Flank said.

“Oh, well that’s simple,” Dominick said. “It’s your lucky day because we aren’t going to kill you.”

“Are we not?” Uto said, a disappointed look sliding across his face. “Truly?”

“Truly,” Dominick said. “You get life, Flankfurter. Life.”

Flank had no reply.

“We’ll leave him behind,” Dominick said.

“What if he tries to follow us, or manages to get word of our coming to the Dread Lord?” Uto asked.

“We can tie him to a tree or something,” Dominick said.

Uto looked around. “If we tie him to a tree he could starve before someone finds him. Might as well just kill him now. It will be kinder, I think.”

“I’d rather not just kill him in cold blood,” Dominick said.

“We could take him with us,” Liro suggested.

“I don’t want to do that, either,” Dominick said. “Why does this have to be so difficult?”

Then Hib casually walked up behind the lizard man and rapped him smartly across the back of his head with a large rock. Flank dropped like so many bricks.

“There,” Hib said. “By the time he wakes up, we will be long gone and he will have no time to warn anyone.”

“Ogres!” A tiny voice shouted.

Each of the elves had arrows out, knocked, and bows drawn in the split second it took for them all to realize that the shout had come from Harold.

Dominick went over to the pixie. Harold was sitting up atop a small fur blanket that Hib had lain out for him and Vivian. His sword was drawn, and he looked about in confusion. Vivian stirred next to him, but remained sleeping.

“It’s okay, Harold,” Dominick said, bending over the tiny figure. “They’ve been taken care of.”

“Lord Uto?” Harold said, sheathing his sword. “What are you doing here?”

Dominick filled him in.

“I am filled with deep shame, Dominick Hanrahan,” Harold said, his little face going red. “I have failed you.”

“Forget about it,” Dominick said. “It happens. You okay to travel?”

“I think so,” Harold rubbed at his eyes. “I’ll try to wake Vivian.”

“We will accompany you, Sacred One,” Uto said.

“I’d like that,” Dominick smiled. “But you and your warriors have to stop with the ‘Sacred One’ nonsense, deal? I’m Dominick, that’s all.” He held his hand out.

Uto took Dominick’s hand in a powerful grip and they shook.

“Dominick,” Uto said. “It is a deal.”

Eventually Harold was able to get Vivian awake, but as they were both still somewhat groggy, they traveled with Dominick, one on each shoulder, as they descended into the valley.

There was no plan, nothing had been discussed beforehand. In the end they simply walked into Hob’s camp and made their presence known. This involved the elven warriors methodically cutting down any outlying soldier unlucky enough to be stationed as rear guard.

Dominick followed the elves in, moving steadily through the rows of tents until they reached the back of the rear force itself. And there, perched astride his dragon, was Lord Hob. He was surrounded by a dozen ogres in loincloths. All twelve held swords longer than Dominick was tall. As first meetings between enemies go, it wasn’t anything you’d want to write your mom about.

As Dominick approached, Lord Hob was facing the other direction, and at first didn’t even realize that his most hated enemy, the one prophesied for generations to be his undoing, was well within his reach.

“You two ready for this?” Dominick asked Vivian and Harold. “I’m counting on you to keep that dragon off of me.” The sheer volume of noise coming from the battle in front of them was enough that Dominick had to speak louder than normal to be heard by the two fairies, yet felt safe that Hob, though just twenty or thirty yards away, wouldn’t be able to hear him before he was ready to have his presence known.

“We will do our best,” Vivian said. “Neither of us has yet to fully recover from the effects of the pixie cage, so our magic may be spotty at best.”


“We may not have full access to our magical abilities,” Harold clarified. “It would be like trying to dig a ditch after carrying large rocks all day.”

“Okay, well that makes me more than a little terrified,” Dominick said. “But we’ll make do, I suppose.”

“You are coming into your role quite nicely, Dominick,” Vivian said, smiling.

“Thanks,” Dominick said. “To tell the truth, I’m about to have a movement straight into my pants, but it helps that everything has happened so fast, I suppose. I haven’t really had time to think about how crazy this all is.”

And for just a moment, Dominick began to think about how crazy it all was. It really had happened all too fast. It never seemed to work out like this in the books he read. There was usually a long journey or quest interspersed with minor skirmishes to give the hero time to get used to the idea. But this... Dominick could feel the grandpappy of all panic attacks build within him.

“Dominick?” Vivian said, pulling him from his brief moment of terror. “Are you okay?”

Dominick looked from Vivian to Harold, not an easy feat with them perched on each shoulder. Then he scanned the expectant faces of the elves and sighed.

“I’m fine,” he said. “And I’m here, so I guess I’m committed to this psychotic quest.”

“Good man,” Harold said. “We have faith in you.”

“Someone has to.” Dominick bent and picked a stone from off the ground, bouncing it once or twice in his palm.

“Okay. Let’s do this,” he said, and then he threw the stone at Lord Hob, Scourge of the West, Defiler of the East, Plague of the North, Overlord of the South, King of the Nighttime World, and the most terrifying man in all of Gund.

To be continued...


No comments:

Post a Comment