If you’ve come here expecting a further update on the Ghostbusters Project, I’m afraid you’re going to be disappointed, as the inclement weather has caused a few issues here at the Crow’s Nest. The strong winds managed to tear one of my fence panels to prices, which had to be rebuilt and the cause of the pendulum motion of the offending fence post diagnosed, which resulted in the post having to be re-cemented into the ground with a larger ‘base’.
So, not a lot of time for painting and when I did find myself with some ‘spare’ time, I found that I had lost momentum. Looks like the Ghostbusters train has run out of steam…
However, I consider this a brief stop to enable the engine to refuel. There’s one final week before the launch of Marchsters of the Universe, so I’m hoping that I will have something Ghostbusters-esqe to show before the end of the month. As Bryan of Vampifan’s World of the Undead has very kindly sent me some Horrorclix figures, I can feel my enthusiasm returning. Even I don’t manage to get anything done this week, I will ensure that next weekend’s post has a picture of the current size of my ghostly horde,as there seem to be rather a lot of them now…
But a post on the Buffet without any content is like decaffeinated coffee or vegetarian hamburgers – pointless – so as the tagline of Carrion Crow’s Buffet suggests, whilst there is no wargaming here, there will be some fiction.
Over the years, I have penned a handful of short stories and the one I am about to share, whilst not the first story I ever wrote, is the first story I ever wrote that was rejected for publication – by Interzone, no less, who said, and I quote, “A bit too D&D-ish, try a gaming mag.” My late father read the story and described it as “Pratchett Lite”, from which I inferred that it was similar to the Discworld tales, but with fewer calories.
Anyway, as you’ve probably gathered, it falls into the category of humorous fantasy and, even though I wrote it and know what’s coming, it still makes me laugh. Hopefully it will make you laugh too. So, without further ado, I present…
A Bad Day for Murakh T’arr
“I’m afraid I must press you for an answer, dear boy,” said the Sphinx politely, continuing to sharpen its talons on a convenient outcrop of basalt, “I haven’t got all day, you know.”
Murakh T’arr, Barbarian Hero, Prince amongst his people, the savage Bear Nomads of icy Tengia, and fully paid-up member of the Professional Adventurer’s Guild of Shist, shuffled his fur-clad feet and muttered an oath not fit to be printed.
Standing just shy of six feet tall and almost as wide, Murakh T’arr’s heavily muscled form gleamed in the feeble illumination cast by the winter sun. Criss-crossing his body, like a street-map of a large city, were the many scars associated with his chosen profession. There were so many scars that the goose-pimples caused by the extreme cold had given up, having no space to work with.
Clad in only a bearskin hold-all with matching boots, he should have been freezing, as the wind blew due South from the arctic wastes to the North, bringing with it the promise of snow.
But he was a barbarian from the North, and Northern barbarians never felt the cold and, even if they did, would never admit it. They were a proud and noble people, blessed with strength, fortitude and courage, but sadly lacking in the brains department.
This was why Murakh T’arr was having so much difficulty with the Riddle.
Sphinx love to pose riddles, especially long, complicated and devious riddles, as if the questionee got the answer wrong, the sphinx got to eat them. This was job satisfaction at its most basic.
As one of the many guardians of the Citadel of the Faceless One, Undying Lord of All Evil, the riddle this particular sphinx had been assigned was one of the most fiendish and convoluted ever to crawl out of the twisted psyche of the Faceless One himself. Consequently, this sphinx was one of the most well-fed of its species.
A voice, the sort of voice that would require the invention of a totally new type-face, full of jagged lines and sharp edges, to properly record its tonal quality in print, screeched metallically into the contemplative silence, “I WANT TO EAT YOUR HEART!”
“Shut up,” came the automatic reply from Murakh T’arr, glancing down at the bejeweled pommel of the sword sheathed at his side. He was getting fed up with that bloody sword.
In fact, he was getting fed up with this whole damn stupid quest. But it was his own fault.
As a Hero, he was expected to behave in a prescribed way in certain situations, such as always rescuing a damsel in distress. But he had let the side down. He had, (he broke into a sweat, just thinking about it), Run Away, losing his magical axe, Whalekiller, in his haste to get as far away as possible.
True, he had been fighting one of the Unspeakable Elder Gods, namely Great Cthunda, the Star Elephant, who would have sucked his brain out through his nostrils and used his empty cranium as a novelty ash-tray, but that was beside the point. It was just… Not Done.
So, to atone for his misdeed, and assuage his guilt, he had first replaced his magical weapon with another, the ever-hungry and vocal demon-possessed broadsword, Fishblight, as no barbarian hero should ever be without a magical weapon of some sort, be it ever so lowly as an enchanted salad fork.
He had then come to this blasted rock, the Isle of Sheol, which could only be described as an island by the sheer fact that it was sticking out of the sea, to slay the Faceless One, Undying Lord of All Evil. How you actually slay a being reputed to be undying, he had not quite worked out yet – but something would turn up. It usually did.
However, it was not going very well. First, there had been the fisherman…
“What do you mean NO?” Bellowed Murakh T’arr at the small wizened form standing on the jetty in front of him, “I’m a bloody Hero, you have to give me your boat!”
Over the aged fisherman’s shoulder, enshrouded in mist, lurked the dim shape of the Isle of Sheol. The village of Evight was the closest human habitation to that accursed isle and the closest place to get a boat to take Murakh T’arr there. If only this fisherman would listen to reason.
“No, I don’t,” said the old fisherman, his wrinkled face impassive. Murakh T’arr towered above him, waving his massive arms about, his jaw muscles creaking as his jaw flapped, no sound issuing forth.
The sight reminded Old Eli, for such was the fisherman’s name, of a large fish he had caught last Soulsday. The fish had claimed to be magical and would grant Old Eli a wish, if only he would throw it back. Old Eli had never had any truck with magic, especially talking fish, and had dispassionately clubbed it about the head until it had stopped talking and, finally, moving.
“Besides,” said Old Eli, “how do I know you’re a Hero?”
Murakh T’arr grinned and began to rummage energetically through the small pouch at his side. With a cry of triumph, he pulled out a small white rectangle and thrust it in Old Eli’s direction, a smug grin on his face.
Old Eli gingerly took the rectangle from Murakh T’arr’s outstretched hand. He was convinced that this man was, in the local parlance, a ‘Nutter’. He was sure he had heard him say “I WANT TO EAT YOUR LIVER!”, then “Shut up”, both in different voices. In the village of Evight, they knew how to deal with Nutters. You took them up to Arvod’s Bluff, tied large stones to their feet and threw them in the sea, where they could not bother anyone anymore.
Old Eli looked at the rectangle he had been handed, which was made from some curious flexible material, smooth to the touch, which he was unfamiliar with. Probably some invention of the Gnomes, he thought, as everyone knew they were far too clever for their own good. On the front of the rectangle were some squiggly black lines, which he assumed was that new-fangled thing called “writing” and a small, colour portrait of a man.
The face in the picture looked as though it had been hit repeatedly with a large, heavy, blunt object, like a wardrobe. From a gold hoop atop the otherwise bald head, came a long tail of hair, like the straggly bit at the top of an aged spring onion. The man who had posed for this picture had obviously been trying to look proud and noble and had succeeded, in the same sense that a one-legged man is a sure bet in an arse-kicking contest. It did bear a passing resemblance to the man standing in front of Old Eli, but only if the distances involved were very great.
“What’s this then?” Said Old Eli, suspiciously.
“That’s my HeroCard™, that is,” said Murakh T’arr proudly. ”‘Means I’m a Hero.” He inflated his chest, preening. Old Eli stepped back, quickly. He had seen fish do a similar thing, just before exploding. The last time it had happened, he had to buy a new boat and he stank of fish for the next three weeks.
“That’s you, is it?” Asked Old Eli, from a distance, “only, it doesn’t look much like you, does it?”
“Of course it does!” Bellowed Murakh T’arr, striding forward and snatching the card. “Look, see the noble brow, the firm, jutting jaw, the steely eyes, the classic nose. No mistaking that face.”
“If you say so…” Said Old Eli diplomatically. Old Eli usually had no truck with Nutters, especially barbarian Nutters, but he had run out of jetty and one more step would plunge him into the icy embrace of the sea. Old Eli had lived a very long time and planned on living quite a bit longer if he could help it. So, taking early morning dips in the icy, cold sea were right out.
“So,” said Murakh T’arr, “are you going to lend me your boat or not?”
“Arrgh!” Screamed Murakh T’arr, “Why the Abyss not?!”
“Because,” said Old Eli seriously, “you are obviously a Nutter. Only a Nutter would want to go to the Isle of Sheol and I’ve a strict policy against lending my boat to Nutters, on account of them being, well… Nutters really.” Old Eli crossed his arms and gazed impassively up at Murakh T’arr.
“Is that you’re final word on the matter?” Asked Murakh T’arr.
“Well, old man,” said Murakh T’arr, “I will respect your wishes then and…BY THE GODS, WHAT’S THAT?”
Old Eli dropped soundlessly to the swaying jetty, a lump forming on the back of his head. Murakh T’arr shook his hand, blowing on his knuckles.”Ow.” He muttered.
He then clambered into the boat and cast off, casting a final glance at the recumbent form of the old man.
“Bloody peasants.” He growled as he began to row out to sea.
“I WANT TO EAT YOUR LUNGS!” Screeched Fishblight.
Now, of course, he was facing….a Riddle. He had already got the Sphinx to repeat the riddle twice, the second time more slowly, occasionally stopping to get the Sphinx to explain a word he did not understand, but he feared the Sphinx would guess that he was stalling. As far as Murakh T’arr was concerned, brains was the gray stuff you wiped off your sword.
“Well”, said the Sphinx, examining its now razor-sharp talons, “Time’s up, I’m afraid. I have given you rather a long time to cogitate, which was jolly sporting of me, don’t you think? But, it’s time to pay the fiddler, as the saying goes.”
Murakh T’arr frowned, but this did not help. Neither did licking his lips nervously. What he needed right about now was, not just a plan, but a Plan.
“I do hope you get it wrong,” said the Sphinx, “Nothing personal, you understand, as you do look rather appetizing and I haven’t eaten in, oooh, ages!” It licked its lips in anticipation.
“So, do you have the answer, then?” It asked.
Got it, thought Murakh T’arr.
“Yep.” He answered.
“You have?!” Asked the Sphinx, a little taken aback, “Well, let’s hear it then.”
“No? No? I am so sorry, my dear chap, but it doesn’t work like that.” Said the Sphinx, “So, it looks like I get to eat you anyway.”
The sphinx tensed, ready to pounce. “Nothing personal, of course.”
“What I meant when I said ‘no’”, said Murakh T’arr, raising his hands defensively, “was that I wasn’t going to shout it out for everyone and his mother to hear!”
The Sphinx paused and looked around. Black, cracked basalt as far as the eye could see, was all that greeted it gaze.
“That’s not very likely, is it?” Said the Sphinx, testily.
“True.” Said Murakh T’arr, “But are you prepared to take that chance?” The Sphinx’s eyes narrowed in speculation.
“How do I know that you know the correct answer?”
“You don’t,” said Murakh T’arr, grinning, “But what if it is?”
“I suppose you have a point,” said the Sphinx slowly. It had a feeling that this Barbarian chappie was up to something, but wasn’t sure what. That would be a moot point soon, as there was no way he would guess the correct answer. “What exactly do you suggest?”
“Well,” said Murakh T’arr, “I’ll come over and whisper it in your ear. That way, if I do get it wrong, you won’t have so far to go.”
“I say!” Said the Sphinx, “That’s awfully decent of you. Come on then.”
Murakh T’arr walked over and stood just to the right of the Sphinx’s head.
“Could you lean down a bit?” Asked Murakh T’arr, “I can’t quite reach.”
“Oh. Sorry,” the Sphinx leaned down. “Is that better?”
“Yes, yes, that’s fine,” Murakh T’arr’s hand crept towards his belt, “The answer is…”
“I WANT TO EAT YOUR BRAIN!”
“I say,” said the Sphinx, toppling forward, Fishblight’s pommel just visible inside its tawny ear, “That was a bit below the belt.” Then its eyes glazed over and it expired.
Murakh T’arr withdrew Fishblight slowly from the Sphinx’s head. Fishblight was humming to itself, sated for the moment. Murakh T’arr waited until the sword had absorbed all the blood, then re-sheathed it.
“I may be a Barbarian,” he said, “but I’m not that bloody stupid.”
Whistling a favourite Barbarian drinking song, he turned and headed up the path making for the mountains, where the Citadel of the Faceless One hung like a parasitic barnacle to the side of the cliff.
“COME ON OUT!” Bellowed Murakh T’arr, “I WANT TO SLAY YOU ALL!”
He stood before the huge black, metallic gates of the Citadel, which loomed over him like a very large, castle-shaped looming thing. He had seen activity on the walls as he had approached, but now all was quiet. Too quiet.
“I KNOW YOU’RE IN THERE!” He shouted, “COME OUT AND FIGHT LIKE MEN!”
In the silence that followed, Murakh T’arr could hear nervous muttering and whispering coming from behind the crenellations. After a brief whispered conference, in which a decision must have been made, a voice called down from the castle walls.
“Who is it?”
“It is Murakh T’arr, Barbarian Hero, Prince among my people, the savage Bear Nomads of Icy Tengia and,” he paused for breath, “Smiter of Evil.”
“Oh.” Said the voice. The whispering started up again, then stopped. “What is it you want, exactly?”
“I want to fight my way through this Citadel, slaying indiscriminately, until I reach the sanctum of your evil master, The Faceless One, where after much boasting and posturing, I will best him in mortal combat and slay him, forever freeing this realm of his evil stain.”
Murakh T’arr struck a pose, sword held high and smiled, a stray beam of sunlight catching his teeth, *ting!*, just right.
The whispering started up again, this time more frantic, then a face peered over the wall and looked down.
“You did say `Faceless One’, didn’t you?” Asked the head.
“Yes.” Answered Murakh T’arr.
The face retreated and the whispering resumed. Murakh T’arr frowned, tapping his foot impatiently. The face reappeared.
“You’re sure you want The Faceless One, Undying Lord of All Evil?”
“Yes.” Said Murakh T’arr, testily.
“Only,” said the man, “He’s not here right now…”
“WHAT DO YOU MEAN HE’S NOT HERE?!” Screamed Murakh T’arr, finally losing his temper.
“Well,” said the man leaning on the parapet. Murakh T’arr could now see the distinctive black and gold uniform of the Faceless One’s personal guard now the man had revealed himself. From the insignia, this guard was a sergeant.
“It’s winter, isn’t it?” Continued the sergeant, “His Undyingness always goes away in the winter. ‘This Citadel may be imposing and steeped in wickedness,’ he says, ‘but it’s bleeding draughty come winter. You lads hold the fort, as it were, ‘cos I’m off to sunnier climes.’ And then he buggers off on that big black, flying horse of his. So you see,” continued the sergeant, apologetically, “he’s not here right now. If you’d like to leave a message, I’ll be sure he gets it when he comes back. Sorry.” Then he ducked back out of sight.
“HOW DO I KNOW YOU’RE TELLING ME THE TRUTH!” Bellowed Murakh T’arr, “THIS COULD BE A TRICK!”
The sergeant reappeared, his face flushed with anger.
“LOOK MATE!” He bellowed back, “DO YOU THINK WE ENJOY SITTING AROUND FREEZING OUR ARSES OFF, GUARDING THIS HEAP OF MOULDERING STONE, WHILST HIS NIBS IS OFF GALLIVANTING AROUND THE WORLD AND DRINKING THOSE FANCY DRINKS WITH PAPER UMBRELLAS IN? WELL, DO YOU?”
“Cocktails,” said a second voice from behind the wall.
“WHAT?!” Exclaimed the sergeant, turning to face the speaker.
“They’re called cocktails,” volunteered the second voice.
“What are?” Asked the sergeant.
“Those fancy drinks with paper umbrellas in.”
“I don’t bloody know!” said the second voice, “They just are!”
The sergeant disappeared from sight. Murakh T’arr waited. Voices carried over the wall.
“So, think we’re clever, do we?” said the sergeant’s voice, sarcastically, “Knowing what cocktails are is clever, is it, Private Thurg?”
“No,” said the second voice, “I just thought…”
“WE DON’T PAY YOU TO THINK, PRIVATE THURG, WE PAY YOU TO GUARD! DROP THOSE CARDS, COLLECT A SHOVEL AND PAIL AND GO AND CLEAN OUT THE STABLES! NOW!”
“But it’s Molov’s turn…,” whined the second voice. There was the sound of someone being hit, then a scream, followed by a distant thump. After that, there was a brief silence.
“You’ve knocked him off the walkway, Sarge…” said a third voice in hushed tones.
“I know, lad,” said the sergeant, “I didn’t mean to hit him quite that hard…”
“You know what this means, don’t you, Sarge?”
“Someone else is going to have to clean out the stables now…”
“I’ll dice you for it…”
There was a brief period of silence behind the walls, interspersed with the faint sound of dice being cast and muttered curses, until Murakh T’arr became fed-up again. This was not supposed to happen. They were supposed to rush out, swords flailing, into the waiting engine of destruction that he became during his battle frenzy. None of this skulking behind walls crap. He came to a decision.
“OI!” he shouted to the guards, “WHAT ABOUT ME?”
“Does he want to clean out the stables?” asked a voice from behind the walls,”Is that what he’s asking?”
“Naahh!” said a second voice, “Heroes don’t do that sort of thing.”
“What about that dead famous Hero?” said a third voice, “He cleaned out some stables.”
“Which one was that then?” asked the second voice.
“Cor! Fancy you not knowing,” said the third voice, “He was dead famous, he was. Name was…er…um…Harry..Something. Not important, anyway. Did it with a river, he did.”
“Cleaned the stables.”
“Why didn’t he use a shovel and pail, like everyone else?”
“Dunno. Probably because he was a Hero and you know what they’re like…”
“EXCUSE ME!” bellowed Murakh T’arr, plaintively, “BUT AREN’T YOU GOING TO LET ME IN?”
The sergeant reappeared, a lit cigarette hanging from his mouth and a steaming tankard held in his hand. He leant forward, and addressed Murakh T’arr.
“‘Look, mate,” he said, “As I told you before, he ain’t here. Now,” he took a drag on the cigarette, “I could get one of the lads to dress up as his nibs…”
“Not me!” said the second voice.
“Nor me!” said the third voice.
“Shut up, you two!” snapped the sergeant, “As I was saying, I could get one of the lads to dress up as his nibs, but it wouldn’t be the same, would it? I mean, where’s your sense of achievement, eh? ‘I beat up somebody dressed as the Faceless One.’ I mean, anyone could do that, couldn’t they?”
“I suppose so…” said Murakh T’arr, crestfallen.
“Best thing to do then is, go home and we’ll send a messenger when he gets back, okay?”
“Okay.” said Murakh T’arr, his voice so small, it was almost non-existent.
“Bye then,” said the sergeant, “Nice meeting you.” then he stepped back from the wall and was lost from view.
Murakh T’arr heaved a big sigh and started plodding back down the path.
“I WANT TO EAT YOUR LOWER INTESTINE!” screeched Fishblight.
“Oh, Shut up!” snapped Murakh T’arr.
Far away, on a sun-drenched beach on one of the Ait Islands, the Faceless One, Undying Lord of All Evil, replaced his crystal ball, with which he had been observing Murakh T’arr’s misadventures.
He snapped his fingers and a dusky, island maiden brought him a fresh cocktail, complete with paper umbrella, his last one having grown tepid in the heat. Sipping from the glass, he placed it on the table beside him and relaxed in his chair. A smirk crawled onto what passed for his face, then a grin and he began to laugh.
He did not stop for a very, very, very long time.