Some are born great, some have greatness thrust upon them, and some get that way by eating some funky mushrooms.
~ Kobold proverb
No matter how far he stuck his finger in, Klag couldn’t get the cheese wedge out of his nose. It might seem odd to you humans why Klag was knuckle-deep in nose juice, but cheese plugs were quite common in the Kobold community. You’d use cheese plugs too if you lived so close to a lava field. To be frank, Klag preferred a mild block of cheddar but had opted for the more pungent Stilton this morning because he had to traverse the putrid Froegunn Pass. Unfortunately, not only did this route cut through lava fields, it also took travelers dangerously close to what the human’s called the Landing of the Twins. Klag, however, preferred it’s more colorful Kobold name, the “Stink Pan.” That place smelled like month-old goat excrement.
Anyway, the cheese was pretty jammed in there, so he withdrew his middle digit, sighed, and looked out back toward the direction he came. Far below Klag was home, a comfortable, dank little cave, likely filled at this hour with the yelps of his 17 dear pups, frantically wrestling for seats near the dinner table. He imagined his love, Buksug, barking her favorite melody as she filled the children’s bowls with her famous beetle sludge stew. He swore he could hear her piercing howls two days journey up the mountain. He turned and scanned upward. The Red Rim Mountains were known to all Koboldkind as a place to avoid. Terrible creatures roamed the pass and the volcanic heat exhausted even the most energetic traveler. Klag sighed again, drew a skeletal fishhead from his sack and did what he always does in these situations, he conversed with Fishy.
“Fishy, we are sure in a mess. Remember Guzhok and Zurga? They made the best Beetle Mead. They were the last two that went this way, and they never came back.”
If Fishy did remember Guzhok and Zurga, it didn’t say. It’s eye holes stared back blankly; perhaps the memory was too painful.
“You’re right, I’m being paranoid – I shouldn’t think that way. Maybe there are juicier beetles out east and they decided to stay? Probably living like chieftains somewhere. If anyone could make it, those two could.”
Fishy, seemed skeptical.
“Don’t give me that, you know I don’t have a choice,” Klag snapped. “Everyone knows that champions of the Gelatinous Slime cook-off are granted the ‘honor’ of representing our clan at the Great Kobold Cooking Challenge each spring. I don’t think it’s an accident that the path to the challenge always just happens to take us through literally the most dangerous place in the entire country. No wonder Broopslug is undefeated ten years running.”
Fishy’s vacant stare sparked Klag.
“Fine, you’re right. I could have thrown the competition. You try to just abandon your dreams. I am a great baker, and you know it,” bellowed Klag as he pointed critically at Fishy then slammed his fist down.
Fuming, Klag marched to the other side of the rock outcropping and unbundled his pack to fetch his sleeping bag and the mushrooms he foraged on the way up the mountain. He was pretty sure they were Sillweed mushrooms and not the psychedelic Dragonfangs. Too enraged to care at this point he popped them into his mouth and unfolded the sack; Not only was he hungry, but he also had a migraine from his argument with Fishy and the mass of cheese blocking his right nostril. He went to sleep.
It is common knowledge that kobolds hate daylight – well, they hate a lot of things, but daylight is in the top 10% of all hated things. Most believe it has to do with their vision being better at night; this, however, was just what they tell outsiders. The truth is that most kobolds are narcissistic and will do just about anything to keep their skin looking young and pale. You can imagine, then, how moody Klag was after rolling down the mountain for the tenth time. Unable to sleep, he reluctantly rose, gathered his belongings, including Fishy, though they were not yet on speaking terms, and continued toward the pass.
Some hours later, just as the sun was beginning to set, Klag began to daydream. He thought back to the time he made that magnificent spider egg short bread for the wedding of Goblin Warlord, Stone Tooth the Wretched. Those buttery biscuits were so delightful and so filling that Stone Tooth called off the human sacrifices for over a week. The short bread was the talk of the entire town. A sudden and loud “crunch” snapped Klag out of his dream. He looked down and saw that his foot had impaled the chest of a decapitated humanoid creature. Panicked, Klag tried to dislodge himself from the creature’s chest cavity but instead, tripped and fell forward into a pile of disemboweled human flesh. Quickly, Klag scrambled from the heap and frantically began wiping the unidentified human goop from his body. Finally, he scanned the scene.
Klag didn’t realize that the mountain path had started to level out. The sweet memory of that delicious short bread had distracted him just enough that he failed to realize he stood in the Landing of the Twins. The landscape was violent and stark. Lava pools bubbled in the distance and jagged igneous columns peppered the terrain. Juxtaposed starkly against the greys of the mountain was gruesome carnage. Human body parts were indiscriminately strewn about, an arm here, a leg there, and so on.
“Gross,” exclaimed Klag as he covered Fishy’s eyes. He swiftly covered his mouth. Whatever had torn these humans apart must still be close by. He must stay quiet.
He spotted a carriage that was still intact and tiptoed his way across the battlefield to get a better look. Maybe whatever devil slaughtered these humans had moved on, thought Klag. No beast could stand the smell of humans for long…and they tasted awful.
The carriage seemed to be well-built, not a standard design. There were intricate markings on its sides and the wheels were sturdy and custom-made. Klag couldn’t exactly tell but the scatterings of horse bits indicated that these weren’t just working horses, they were the noble stallions. Curious, Klag peered into the carriage. Nestled among padded seats and fine leathers were several boxes and what looked like a breadbasket. Klag couldn’t resist; he was, after all, a sucker for royal breads and pastries. I bet it is a sourdough, thought Klag as he licked his lips and pulled the basket out.
It’s heavy , thought Klag, but he dared not look yet. All these human guts everywhere would spoil the meal; he would enjoy it later when there was a little less death. He took the basket under his arm and tiptoed back the way he came.
He had nearly made it away from the landing when he spotted an unusual human carcass. This one still had its metal skin on, and a giant hammer lay beside it. Klag had never seen such fancy equipment before, and his curiosity once again got the better of him. He approached.
The human was certainly dead but a little less ravaged than the others. Maybe whatever beast had killed them couldn’t get through this human’s thick plates. Klag flipped open its full helm: “uuuuugly,” he frowned, “no wonder the monster didn’t eat this one.” Most of the equipment was too large for Klag but the warrior wore a silver-looking ring and carried an amulet that would be easy to carry. He won’t need these things, thought Klag, and he pried both jewelry pieces from the corpse. The ring fit well enough on Klag’s thumb. He stared at it momentarily and for a second, he thought he saw it shimmer a supernatural light.
“Did you see that, Fishy?” whispered Klag. “These human things are so peculiar.” He shrugged and got up, a bit too clumsily as he accidentally kicked the breadbasket.
“Waaaaaaaa,” croaked the basket, quietly at first then louder.
“Fishy, I’m not so sure that is a breadbasket,” Klag breathed, irritated. Shhhh, shhhhh, shhhhh, Klag shushed and quickly opened the lid; instead of the bewitching aroma of fresh sourdough, Klag was affronted with the noxious whiff of sour human. The baby’s cries turned to shrieks.
On cue, a significantly louder screech pierced the evening the sky. In the distance, a beast stirred and the ground quaked as it began lumbering toward Klag’s position.
“Eeeeek,” squealed Klag. He paused for a second, looked at the human, shook his head, and then high-tailed it. He located an outcropping of rocks a short distance away and dove behind it. As the beast rounded a chasm, Klag spotted the monster. It stood over 10 meters tall and was covered in coarse black and red hair; four massive legs propelled it forward countering its two upper limbs that ended with razor-sharp talons. A squat neck propped up a colossal, bear-like head. Signs of combat were also evident on the beast: at least a dozen arrows protruded from the behemoth’s back, a broadsword lay partly buried in its upper shoulder, and a variety of gashes were interspersed across its chest. The monster didn’t seem bothered and continued its way toward the child.
As it drew near, Klag realized the beast was distracted and there was an opportunity to make a break for it. Kobolds simply were not built for open conflict. They were crafty, not brave; best to leave the battling to the stouter species. At this moment, although every fiber in Klag’s being screamed “run,” he waited. He felt something strange, a knot in his belly and a fever to his pulse. It might have been those mushrooms – at this moment he was even less certain they were edible, but maybe it was something else? Perhaps insanity? Or maybe courage? That couldn’t be it, I’m probably stoned, thought Klag, who cares about that little human? They are awful anyway. Still, he continued to watch the beast and felt his grip tightening on Fishy.
An Important Aside
It is important that the reader understands how odd Klag’s behavior was at this point in the story. Perhaps a tale from Klag’s childhood will help?
When Klag was just a wee kobold pup, he was charged with feeding the village chickens. Normally, he didn’t mind this task as it required almost no effort, but he always dreaded feeding the roosters. In particular, he feared a large rooster named Brzug. Well, Brzug was sort of a jerk and would peck anyone who got too close. One day after delivering the grain to the rest of the hens and less frightening roosters, Klag forgot to close the coop gate. Well, as expected old Brzug got loose and terrorized the community pecking the other kobolds frantically. No one in the village dared intercept the wild beast lest they lose an eyeball. Fortunately, from all that terrorizing, the rooster eventually grew sleepy and passed out in its pen. Klag’s three-year-old sister, Moogzug, was finally the one who locked Brzug back into the coop. Klag’s mother found Klag two days later hiding in a barrel down by the river. This was Klag’s modus oprandi right up until this moment on the mountain.
Back to our Story
So there Klag was, meters away from a murder beast, contemplating something truly insane. Almost as if his body was acting on its own, he suddenly sprang toward the giant and launched a rock hitting it squarely in the nose. The monster blinked, wrinkled its face, and began to rise to its full height. The creature roared so deeply it threw Klag backward, luckily, it turns out, as its bladed hammer fists struck where he had just been, impaling the earth and severing the rocky wall that provided his cover. The dust provided temporary cover and Klag raced toward the large silver-skinned human. He began searching for a weapon but couldn’t find anything his size. The titanic hammer was the only equipment he could find. He grabbed the end of it, closed his eyes and lifted with all his might.
To his utter surprise, Klag raised the hammer as if it weighed the same as a small pot on his kitchen stove. Obviously, I am still drugged from the mushrooms, Klag thought, and he accepted that this was likely some strange hallucination; he charged the beast.
The razer talon was stuck in the rock outcropping and the monster didn’t see tiny Klag charging toward it. Unexpectedly, Klag tripped, and the hammer flung out of his grasp, miraculously toward the monster. It struck the side of the beast’s skull and caused it to topple over the rock wall and onto its back. Klag picked himself up and seeing the monster dazed grabbed the hammer again and leapt upon the beast. He struck again and again and again upon the monster’s belly until it ceased its movements. After several minutes of pummeling, Klag finally let go of the hammer. He slumped to the ground, now covered not only in human goop, but monster goop as well.
For ten minutes, Klag sat on the ground, his back against the pulverized monster, trying to understand what had just happened. He looked down at his bloodied hands and noticed again that faint light emanating from the ring. So odd, he thought as began to inspect it.
“Waaaaaaaa,” the faint human cry came again back toward the landing.
“I guess that thing survived somehow,” Klag exclaimed. He put the ring in his pocket and staggered toward the cries. The child was still in the basket. He peeked in and saw the creature’s grotesque dainty nose, putrid emerald eyes, and unsightly dimples. Disgusting, Klag thought to himself but for some reason he couldn’t just leave it. He took Fishy back out of his sack.
“What do you think?” Asked Klag.
Fishy stared knowingly at Klag.
“You think we should keep it?” queried the exasperated Klag? “Humans are the absolute worst. They smell, they’re ugly, their squishy skin gives me the heebie jeebies…”
Fishy again gave Klag the look.
“I guess in a pinch we can eat it?” He took the child out of the basket and held it in front of him. The baby’s cries softened into a shallow whimpering, and it closed its eyes. “We are definitely eating this thing”. Talking about eating things made Klag hungry and he thought back to a delicious rye bread he made just before the journey. “We’ll call it ‘Rye’ for now, just in case, so there’s less confusion if we do decide to eat it.” He put the child back in the basket.
We must get out of here , thought Klag. That thing probably wasn’t the only fiend in this landing. Klag scoured the battlefield and eventually cobbled together a makeshift wagon. He figured the big silver human’s equipment was likely worth something, so he unbuckled the mesh belt, stripped its silver skin, grabbed the full helm, snatched the chain boots, and threw the leather gloves on for good measure. That’s probably all I can carry. He started to push the cart up the mountain path when he realized he forgot Rye. He went back, scooped up the basket and peeked in. Rye was asleep and without all the crying, didn’t seem quite so disgusting. Klag smiled and lightly set the baby onto the cart.
This was the weirdest mushroom trip I’ve ever had , thought Klag. He took Fishy back out of his pocket.
“Remind me to tell you about my dream when I come to,” stated Klag.
Fishy didn’t want to alarm Klag so it remained silent. The best kind of heroes don’t know they are heroes at all.