Thanks to Jen for this cover.

Thanks to Jen for this cover.


an Extract from chapter thirty-two

Hapless stood just inside the door. The main room of the inn beckoned before him, the only light coming from the fire on a huge hearth at the far end. As his eyes tried to adjust to the unexpected light, that part of his mind that wanted to keep tabs on events but was finding it increasingly difficult realised it had no recollection of how Derek and he had managed to make their way from the monoliths to their destination. But the fun part of Hapless’ brain was happy they were now there and that was all that counted.

As Hapless stepped forward, he heard the splosh-splosh-drip as the accumulated water in his boots and clothes recognised a possible escape route. To complicate his manoeuvres through the crowded establishment, a mist seemed to be rising up around him, clouding his vision. So he only slowly became aware of the patrons sitting at various tables or standing at the bar.

Their arrival had occasioned a complete silence and tableau vivant but as the eyes staring in their direction came to the not unexpected conclusion that the pair did not pose any possible kind of threat, all hell broke loose, as if a heavy metal band had just started playing. With the sound came movement and Hapless realised there was a band playing. Occasional snatches of music emerged as the natural cyclical variation in volume which occurs at 210 decibels allowed the four-piece band in the corner to be heard. Hapless even imagined he could hear their singing. It seemed to be about a girl and that part of his brain (see the previous paragraph for information on this) duly recorded what it heard. “Her name was Leia, she was a player…”

Ed note: unfortunately, the rest of the words are lost though an army of researchers are still trying to reconstruct what is said to be one of the filthiest, most defamatory, and scatological lyrics ever written.

What got Hapless’ attention were the customers. He had never seen such a collection before. At this point it might be useful to remind readers that Hapless had led a sheltered childhood and had never left the insignificant little excuse for a hamlet where he was brought up until the start of this adventure. So unimportant was his home to this story and its place in history that it did not even merit a name. Entering into the most disreputable dive of an inn in the whole of fantasy literature was bound to cause some degree of culture shock. It is impossible to adequately describe Hapless’ surprise at seeing—in no particular order—lizardmen, orcs, an ogre (there was only space for one at the bar, even though by the usual standards of a fantasy adventure, the Quartered Man—for so it was named—was deemed a large establishment), hobgoblins, greenskins, two vampires (like magpies, it is bad luck to spot a lonely one), werewolves, centaurs, satyrs, a minotaur, harpies, a couple of undead with mixed body parts, nagas, wolfmen, several multi-coloured birdmen, and last but by no means least, a clowder of cats.

Hapless’ head and eyes swivelled from side-to-side like a loose headlamp on a model T Ford as he took everything in. It should also be noted, for the sake of sensory completeness, that the stink in the room from so many species, some of which—make that most of which—had never washed since coming into this story (they had been waiting days for this scene to arrive, drinking their way through the inn’s stock of alcoholic and hallucinogenic beverages), was such that Hapless’ nose closed down. It decided that the only way to cope was to go on holiday. This was fortunate as, otherwise, Hapless would have fainted from the smell.


chapter thirty-nine

If it was at all possible, the place was even more crowded. The way in to the auditorium was choked with customers.

Derek took one look at the crowd and nudged Hapless.

“We will have to go through the entertainers’ entrance.”

He led Hapless outside and down a dark alley, to a small door above which hung a tatty sign announcing ‘Stage Door’. Derek tapped out a complicated rhythm on the wooden panels.

A hatch opened and a voice from inside demanded. “Youz are?”

“Miss Pigsti’s masseurs,” Derek informed the hidden voice.

“We’re no__” Derek’s hand clasped over Hapless’ mouth. He shook his head. The message was impeccably clear: keep your mouth shut.

A click and rattle indicated the door was about to open. It swung in and Hapless came face to face with a Troll. It eyed them suspiciously. Hapless thought there was something about the Troll but could not put his finger on it. He let it pass as the Troll stood back and gestured them in.

The door-troll pointed at a steep and narrow set of steps. “Fawst floor,” it grunted.

Derek bustled Hapless ahead of him and forced him up the steps.

The first floor consisted of a long narrow corridor in both directions. Each wall was punctuated by closed doors on either side. “Which way?” Hapless whispered. Derek pointed towards the left. “Right,” Hapless agreed.

They had not gone more than fifty feet when they heard noises ahead of them, coming from one of the doors. Just as they planned to sneak past, it burst open and Miss Pigsti stormed out, followed by Fawn.

“You are the vilest, fawning, hairy doormat, I have come across,” Miss Pigsti ranted. She then swore like a sailor before punching the wall. Her fist smashed through the partition sending dust and lumps of wattle flying everywhere. “Why I could think I could love you,” she screamed in fury. A kick this time took the door off its hinges.

Fawn tried to speak. “But Pigstili…” but his words were swamped by a further tirade.

“Go!” she shouted, “Go! Go! Go, so that I won’t see you again!” With that she turned, her handbag swinging most dangerously and nearly connecting with Derek’s head, before she stomped off down the corridor. Fawn collapsed on the floor crying.

Derek went over to him. “Lover’s tiff, eh?” Fawn looked at him before sobbing violently. “There, there.” Derek tried to console him, “She’ll get over it, you’ll see.” This only caused more tears. Derek looked helplessly at Hapless and gesticulated for him to do something.

Not having had to counsel a distressed fawn before, Hapless was more than somewhat at a loss. He had no clue even where to try. He gestured back asking for instructions.

Derek shrugged his shoulders to convey how useless he thought Hapless was. “Tell you what, Fawn,” Derek suggested in his cheeriest voice, “why don’t you join us for a drink with the boys?”

Fawn wailed and nodded his head to decline the invitation.

Derek pulled Hapless close to him. “We’ll have to drag him there. You take his right.”