Excerpt from "The Destruction of Scatix," by Evan M. Nichols
"In the year before the Great Snows..." began the one-eyed blind poet Moodra, holding out his mug for another refill. The gathered lords, ladies and servants quieted as he drank, waiting for him to continue. "Kevan Steelhammer, lord of Stronghall, defender of the Western Reaches and his faithful friend Boont arrived in the evil city Skatix on the first day of the festival to Nasticus, the Skatix god of decadence and fornication...."
The rowdy crowds that packed the Throbbing Satyr Inn were used to tall, mysterious, hooded figures striding in from the dank night, so no heads turned when Kevan Steelhammer strode in. He paused just inside, his dark eyes quickly taking in the scene from under his hood. Finding no immediate threat, he moved toward an empty table, and the room grew quiet, all eyes staring at the stocky figure that replaced him in the doorway.
The evil city of Skatix was filled with twisted souls, odd perversions, and bizarre pleasures. There was never a shortage of strange and unusual appearances, but none had ever seen before such an outfit as the one worn by Boont, who was indeed the figure standing in the Throbbing Satyr's door.
His armor was a patchwork of leather and fur in erratic black and white that gave him the appearance of a mangy panda in the middle of a good molt. Large triangles of leather that widened away from his foot, like the webbing of a duck, flapped from his boots. Shaggy brown fur covered his helmet, with two painted stones for eyes, and two long teeth that projected down over his forehead to the bridge of his nose. He insisted it was the image of the fearsome Blannto of his native land, but it looked more like his head was constantly being gnawed from behind by an irritable, large-eared beaver.
The soft flap, flap of Boont's footwear seemed loud as he crossed the quiet room. Those in the Throbbing Satyr watched silently with the breathless anticipation of jackals that have a yearling lamb wander into their midst. Kevan leaned over to his companion.
"Knife," he said softly. Boont dutifully drew his weapon, a long knife he affectionately called "Mr. Pointy," and handed it to Kevan. With one powerful thrust, Kevan sank the blade to the hilt through the massive oaken tabletop. Another moment of silence passed, a thoughtful and far less predatory moment, and the pickpockets, cutthroats, and thieves around the room resumed their conversations, pointedly ignoring the two newcomers.
"If you didn't wear that outfit," Kevan muttered to his companion as he withdrew the knife from the table, "I wouldn't have to do that stunt."
"I don't think they noticed me this time," Boont said, looking around. Kevan's response was interrupted by the arrival of the barmaid. She perfunctorily pushed some unidentifiable lumps off the table with a grimy rag while casting an approving eye over Kevan Steelhammer's chiseled features and muscular build.
"What can I bring you gents?" she asked, giving him a wink to let him know that the inn's image of a satyr and use of the word "throbbing" had a great deal to do with what was available if one was interested in partaking.
"Mead," Kevan answered, ignoring her lusty advances. "And some food." She looked over at Boont.
"Gralt for me," Boont said cheerfully. "A pint." The barmaid paused, and raised her eyebrows at Kevan.
"Do not worry," Kevan said, "we have money to pay for our fare."
"Oh, I'm sure you do, milord," she said quickly. "Are you sure he..."
"It is what he requested," Kevan said curtly.
The barmaid wisely nodded, and hurried off. Her concern was understandable. Gralt is no normal beverage. The giants from the northern wilds brew gralt because the beer and wines that humans brew have no effect on them. A human who drinks a mug of gralt is usually roaring drunk for two days, and pounded by a world-class hangover for three more. Overconsumption of gralt is difficult, since a pint of it leaves an ordinary human without the physical coordination needed to drink. Most people only drink gralt on a dare, and rarely (very rarely) twice in one lifetime.
Kevan watched warily as a small, unkempt man with an eyepatch slunk up to their table. The man bobbed his head repeatedly as he approached, in an apparent attempt at deference.
"Greetings, good sirs, greetings!" The man said in a surprisingly annoying whiny tone that seemed intended to be ingratiating. "Greetings! It is fortunate for you that I am here!"
He paused, obviously waiting for Kevan or Boont to ask why they were fortunate, but the two adventurers ignored him. Undaunted, he bobbed his head a few more times, and continued.
"I cannot help but overhear that you drink the gralt, good master. It is good, but you will need this." He drew from a hidden pocket a small, lumpy gold talisman, and showed it to them secretively.
"Impressive, is it not?" he continued. "It is what you need. With this charm you shall drink the gralt, and there will be no pain in your head after. None at all! It is what you must have." Boont stared at the small pendant in fascination. The small man waited for a response. Boont continued staring. The man waited. As Boont continued staring, Kevan broke the impasse.
"He has no money," he said. A disgusted look flitted across the small man's face, but the ingratiating smile quickly returned.
"Very well, good sirs," he beamed, and started bobbing again. "Enjoy the festival, yes. If you find money, I will sell you the charm, it will be yours. Very well, good sirs, good day." With that he faded back into the murky shadows. Boont looked disappointed. He brightened up immediately, however, at the barmaid's return with their food.
"You aren't from around here, are you?" the barmaid asked as she set their drinks and a platter of bread, cheese, and greasy meat on their table.
"No, we have traveled many leagues on our journey to Skatix," Kevan replied.
"So you're here for the festival then?" she said, nodding.
"Yes, we are here for the festival," Kevan agreed.
"No, we're not!" Boont said loudly. "The great god Banoda told you to destroy the whole city of Skatix." Kevan's frantic gestures to quiet his companion ceased abruptly as the barmaid looked over at him.
"Oh!" she said, knowingly. "That's all right, we get a lot of that around Festival time. Still, might as well enjoy the Festival first, get two birds, as it were, before..." Her voice trailed off as Boont drained his mug of gralt, and started in on the bread and meat. Kevan pressed several coins into her unresisting hand.
"These should cover the cost of our meal," he said, gently.
"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir," she said, mechanically. With the dazed look of someone who has heard angels speak to them in the privy, she returned to the kitchen, occasionally glancing back at Boont in disbelief.
"She likes you," Boont said as he ate. "I'll wait here if you want to..." He made the odd waving motion with his hands that he insisted was terribly racy in his home country, but looked like an attempt to goose a drunken pixie in mid-air.
"I think not," Kevan said. "She would bestow her favors on anyone for the proper coin. Such is the way of Skatix, after all. Feel free to indulge, if you wish."
"No," Boont said. "I have no money." Kevan sighed.
"Yes, you do," he said patiently.
"You said I didn't."
"That was just to get the beggar to leave."
"Oh," Boont said, thoughtfully. "I see. So what do we do now?"
"There is little more we can do tonight. On the morrow we will search for a way to satisfy Banoda's wishes."
"Perhaps if we had some goats. . ." mused Boont. Kevan looked at him quizzically.
"How could goats be used to destroy a city?" he asked.
"Sorry," Boont said. "I had thoughts of something else. Never mind."
Kevan rubbed his eyes, and sighed deeply. Their journey had been many days, and the weariness of long travel was well upon him.
"Let us arrange for lodging," he said. "I am too weary for more tonight." He rose, and Boont gathered up the remains of their meal. Those at the nearby tables watched in amused anticipation, ready for Boont to attempt ambulation after his debilitating quantity of gralt. To their amazement, he stood and followed in the wake cleared by Kevan with nary a wobble. Eyes met, and looked away, for no one wanted to admit he just saw a man down a full pint of gralt in a single pull, and walk away minutes later as steady as a teetotaler. Each man did, however, make a mental note on the potential usefulness of Boont's drinking habits in future barroom wagers with unsuspecting companions...
As Kevan and Boont crossed the room, the small man materialized in their path.
"Good sirs!" he said, in a tone he seemed to think was pleasant. "I cannot help but overhear that you wish to destroy Skatix! How fortunate for you!" He held up what looked suspiciously like the same lumpy gold talisman.
"This is very powerful charm, to destroy entire cities by you!"
With one hand, Kevan seized the man's tunic and hefted him so the two were suddenly eye-to-eyes, with the smaller man's feet dangling well off the floor. Kevan casually continued across the room as he carried him along.
"I have no time or patience for useless trinkets," Kevan said, calmly. "Have you any magics that would serve us?" The reply was a hoarse gasp, and Kevan relaxed his grip enough for the man to inhale.
"Not now," the beggar rasped. "But I know people who might. Let me down and we can talk."
"There is no need for talk tonight," Kevan said, setting the smaller man down. "If you bring me that which will be of service to us, you will be rewarded. Otherwise, speak not to us." The beggar rubbed his throat and nodded. As he passed, Boont gave the man a cheerful smile, and held up a piece of cheese. With a snap of his fingers, the cheese vanished. Boont showed both sides of his empty hand with a flourish. Giving the beggar a vigorous wave farewell, he scampered after Kevan.
Hours later, the bemused beggar found, with no small degree of amazement, the lump of cheese firmly lodged in his ear.
While nights during the Festival of Nasticus are filled with noise, early morning is amazingly quiet. Light creeps across the city, revealing sprawled piles of comatose revelers and brightly-colored clothing, which, due to the nature of the festivities, are not always piled in the same place. Watching as each reveler eventually stirs, moans, and slowly crawls into the shelter of a nearby building is not unlike turning on the light in a kitchen populated by giant, torpid cockroaches with hang-overs.
On this morning, Kevan and Boont strode purposefully through the city streets, slowing only to avoid stepping on sleeping inhabitants. Cloak thrown back, Kevan Steelhammer's polished silver adornments on his darkened leather and steel armor flashed in the sun. His looked every inch a heroic figure, and fortunately, one which wasn't disappointed when nobody was awake to be impressed.
Their first stop was at the Plaza of the Gods. The piles of revelers were particularly thick in front of the open shrine to Nasticus. Although the variety of temples surrounding the plaza indicated the presence of many religious sects, the entire city seemingly joined in the Festival in a cheerful spirit of open-mindedness. Kevan observed that none of the buildings displayed the familiar interlocking rings of Banoda.
"Mysterious indeed are the ways of deities," Kevan mused aloud. "But I would have wondered greatly if Banoda's wishes would have included destroying one of his own temples." He glanced over to where Boont was carefully pouring the contents of an abandoned tankard into an empty pair of boots.
"It is time to continue our exploration," Kevan said hastily, hoping that the boots' owner was not watching. "No, I think you should leave that here."
The two adventurers walked quickly away from the plaza, and began circling the city....
(Will Kevan and Boont destroy Scatix? Will they survive their encounter with Olvar the Giant? (Of course, they're heroes!) But to find out how they do so, and to learn more about the adventures of Kevan and Boont, contact me )
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