To read the previous adventures of Sabine, click here. *** Will Ableman arrived at the top of the hill on the outskirts of his family’s orchard at just after nightfall. It hadn’t been easy to
To read the previous adventures of Sabine, click here.
Will Ableman arrived at the top of the hill on the outskirts of his family’s orchard at just after nightfall. It hadn’t been easy to get out of his parents’ house, especially with his face made up the way it was. But if young men his age were good at anything, it was outrunning their elders.
His mother wailed at his plans. His father had said, “No, you’re not going to meet that damned bard. And you’re not going out painted like a strumpet.”
“It’s called expressionism, Dad.” William’s voice threatened to overflow with contempt. “You wouldn’t know a great artist if one smacked you in the face with a lute.”
“Why would smacking me with a lute prove anyone was a great artist?”
That question from old Walter Ableman had been so ignorant that it was what pushed Will out the door.
Ever since he’d come into his teenage years, Will had listened to the Duke of Destruction, the Emissary of Evil, his royal Master of Masculinity: Annabelle Harbinger. And, his parents’ beliefs be damned, he was finally going to meet his hero.
At the top of the hill that overlooked the Ableman Apple Orchard, Will met with the gangly man and four of his fellow super fans. The gangly man had approached Will after one of Harbinger’s performances. “I see you here a lot,” he’d said. “You must be quite the follower.”
“Oh yes, of course I am,” Will told him.
“I actually manage Annabelle’s touring schedule, did you know that?”
Will was awestruck. “You do?”
“Indeed. You know, Annabelle really appreciates appearances from bright young men like you. I was wondering if you would like to meet him.”
All of the blood in the young Ableman’s body flooded his cheeks. It didn’t matter what the next words out of the gangly man’s mouth were, Will would do anything for the chance to meet his idol.
“All right, everyone,” the gangly man said in the present. “Strike your tinder boxes, this pentagram isn’t going to light itself.”
The prospect of lighting candles to form an arcane symbol hadn’t seemed all that unusual to Will. Harbinger was a well-known occultist, at least that’s what the boy’s parents said. And the gangly man wore a white priest’s collar under his black cloak, so the pieces all seemed to fit together. Candlelight, other teenagers in ashen makeup, a minister to stand for the tragically misunderstood, all seemed right.
The holy (or was it unholy?) man instructed Will and the other teens to stand at different points around the pentagram as he recited verses in a language they didn’t know. Will’s pulse picked up along with the others. This seemed like exactly the kind of thing Harbinger would start off with. As the pentagram and the circle around it glowed red, he flashed a big grin and prepared for his mind to be blown.
Sure enough, the heads of all five of the young people exploded less than a minute later. Their decapitated bodies all fell to the dirt as their blood flowed, first to the center of the inverted star, and then outwards into the trees that filled the apple orchard. The gangly man flashed a wicked sneer of his own as he looked up toward the largest tree that stood alone on top of the hill. He had come to sow chaos, and this was only the beginning.
The next morning, Walter Ableman burst into The Stubborn Ass bar with a throat full of screams. “My farm has been cursed! Mother Nature is taking her horrible revenge, the trees have overtaken the whole orchard, my family and my workers are doomed to die!” Somewhere in the midst of this, one of the bar’s patrons could swear he heard Ableman mutter something about, “But my good for nothing whiney kid got blown up, so I guess no day is all bad.” After a moment to catch his breath, Ableman declared, “Any of you fine heroes willing to save my farm will receive a whole year’s worth of Ableman Apple Scrumpy.”
All of the mercenaries in the bar burst out laughing. Everyone knew Ableman Scrumpy tasted like goblin piss and was only nominally more intoxicating. It would take an individual truly desperate for drink to take such an offer. Slizzer, the barman, threw him out of the inn before he could further annoy the brunch guests.
“Bloody farmers,” Slizzer said with a grumble. “Second worst thing I’ve seen all day.” As the bar returned to its normal cadence, the bartender went to reassert himself to the annoyance at the top of his list. “Oi, girl, wake up already!”
Slizzer slammed a fist down at the bar to awaken one of his bar wenches who laid against it, unconscious. The young woman with bright red hair and too much gaudy jewelry didn’t react.
“You’re on the damned sundial!” He beat the bar with a quick series of taps, the unconscious young woman still didn’t stir. With a scowl on his face, Slizzer grabbed ahold of her empty beer mug. Then, and only then, did she raise a five-ringed hand and take ahold of him at the wrist.
“No,” she said with a slur. “There’s still a few droplets left.”
“You’ll get the droplets when you pay for them.”
The wench raised her head and shook one of her bejeweled fingers. “It’s not for me. It’s for my jellyfish.” Despite clear efforts, her words were slurred.
“Look, Sabine.” Slizzer spoke through grit teeth. “I’m not kicking you from your bed, but you’re not getting another drop of booze out of my tankers til you work off the bill from your last bender.” Slizzer cast a glance down at her fingers. “Unless you want to cash in one of those rings on your fingers.”
She pulled her hands away from him and stuck her tongue out. They were all she had left of her previous life.
Slizzer pointed at the door. “Now go reorganize the weapon rack in the shed, I don’t want any of these nice bounty hunters waiting all day when they need to redeem their things.”
The former princess glared at her employer as she pushed off the bar stool. Walking toward the door, she intentionally knocked an aquamarine ring on her left hand into a few wooden tables and muttered, “Wake up.”
What’sit? The voice in her head asked. You got anything for me to ferment in?
“The boss is cutting us off until we pay the tab.”
So in just the last three years, you couldn’t cut it as a serf, found out you have two left hands when it came to knitting, and you complained too much to work as a shield maiden.
“Chainmail bikinis are the dumbest piece of armor ever invented, and I shouldn’t have been fired for expressing that!”
And now you’re about to be dropped from the last place in the kingdoms who made liquor easy to obtain. You really aren’t good at anything besides being kidnapped.
Sabine once considered burying Dahkhal’s ring in a desert, throwing it into the ocean, or casting it into a raging volcano. But with the jellyfish’s incredible durability and their shared mental link, she figured Dahkhal would just keep bothering her out of sadism. And if he wasn’t on her finger, she couldn’t “accidentally” bump into things to shake him around. Besides, if she could keep him swimming around in alcohol he was mostly tolerable.
In the shed around the back of the Stubborn Ass, Sabine aimlessly shuffled the swords and axes around to make herself look busy. A few more mercenaries turned up to check in their weaponry as she worked, and the horrified Ableman ran over to them.
“Please, please someone help me!” The farmer ran directly in front of Larek the Flayer, who backhanded him to the ground without looking in his direction.
“Thank you for your understanding,” Sabine said as she accepted Larek’s urumi and handed him a redemption ticket.
“My whole farm is infested with the undead tree monsters, someone has to—”
Ümlaut the Överbearing punched Ableman square in the face as he turned over his battle äxe to the bar wench.
“Thank you for your understanding.” Sabine handed him a ticket.
“Please, someone, please.” Ableman sobbed as he pulled himself up to the armored feet of Gorgomond, He Who Wears Spike-Cleated Boots and Stomps on Worthy Men’s Faces. “Farm… family… please…”
The gargantuan Gorgomon looked down upon Ableman with a sneer, considered him for a moment, and concluded out loud, “Not worthy.”
The broken, sobbing Ableman laid alone at Sabine’s feet and sobbed to himself. She would have told him to go away, but she’d laid in the same spot and reflected on what her life had become as well, so it seemed cruel. The farmer went back to wailing his woes as she got back to organizing the weapon rack.
“My whole family is doomed. Tree demons will come for us all.” With a deep breath, he screamed, “And a whole year’s worth of Ableman’s Scrumpy will go unclaimed!”
The hungover bar wench peeked her head out of the weapon’s shed, her eyes full of wonder. After a moment’s contemplation, she looked down at the jellyfish ring on her left hand. “Did he just say a year of free booze?”
More like free goblin piss. Without the regenerative properties. Besides, you don’t know how to fight a bunch of tree demons.
She considered that for a moment and said, “But I bet you do! You’d know all their weaknesses and stuff. You summoned monsters like that all the time.”
Indeed, indeed I did… You really think you can pass yourself off as a mercenary? The voice of the once feared dark wizard took on an intrigued air.
“I’ve been waiting to kick something’s ass for years now, maybe this is finally my chance? Finally, an opportunity to work a job I don’t hate.”
The jellyfish rubbed its little tentacles together in contemplation. Now if only you had some weaponry to do it with.
The wench turned toward the shed’s contents and rubbed her hands together. “You thinking what I am, Dahkhal?”
Yes, Sabine. You’re going to win us some booze or get yourself killed trying. Finally, a win-win situation!