Part 1: Ungar the Inept
Ungar Bumthumper picked himself up from the ground and dusted off his breeches. This time, he hadn’t landed in anything nasty. He hadn’t liked this job anyway. Besides, this past week’s internship with butcher Gorn Fleshcleaver had ruined all 3 of his shirts, so his mum had to make him something from her window curtains. The floral pattern was pretty, but not really helpful when walking through Tasuil Beor’s rougher parts. He’d had to crack a few heads.
Last year, he’d been a bouncer, a soldier in the VFD, a guard in the VDD, a security officer for the Bank of Beor, a warehouse night watchman and a janitor at the Mage College. It was that last one that made him decide that he really didn’t like being violent, even for pay.
This year he’d tried being a chef (he had no sense of taste or smell, although he knew what he liked), a bartender (mixed drinks mixed him up), a delivery man (no sense of direction), a miner (he never remembered to duck, or to check to see if anyone was nearby when swinging a pickaxe), a bard (tone deaf) and an acrobat (he spent months on crutches after a disastrous attempt on the trapeze.)
But thanks to his mother’s unwavering belief in him, he never gave up looking for a job that might actually suit him. He’d never been very creative or skilled. He did have a few talents that set him apart from most Beorian citizens, although only his friends knew what they were: (1) He was a good listener, (2) He had a lot of down-to-earth good old-fashioned common sense, and (3) He gave great advice.
For example: on his first day as a waiter in a very snazzy restaurant (clean clothes required) his first customers were a very young couple on their first date. He stood waiting for their order, listening to their conversation for quite a while, as they debated each single entrée. Noticing that the couple were looking deeply into each other’s eyes more than they were looking at the menu, and the game of footsie being played under the table was getting out of control, Ungar felt the need to speak.
“Excuse me,” he said, “I can’t help but notice that while you are both very hungry, it isn’t food you want, it’s each other.”
The couple agreed, paid for their drinks and left. Unfortunately for Ungar, the maître d’ did not think Ungar’s customer service skills were a good fit for the restaurant business and fired the poor sod forthwith. (On a side note, the idea of clean clothes as a prerequisite for dining out was way ahead of its time, and said snazzy restaurant closed two weeks later.)
It is to his credit that Ungar never allowed himself to feel defeated. Any other individual might have taken the countless firings and failures as an indication of incurable unemployability, but not Ungar. Which is how Fate came knocking upon his door.
Part 2: Ungar’s Big Break
Once upon a time (no, seriously) a sleeping dragon was rudely awakened by a falling meteor – a small meteor, about the size of a flarey’s fist. It came from the vast depths of outer space, filled with all kinds of nifty radiation and freakish xenomorphic stuff. But to a sleepy dragon, it looked like a bug. So, the dragon ate it. This would have been the end of it, except the dragon was one day pregnant. With twins. Conjoined twins. Six-headed conjoined twins. Upon which the radioactive mini-meteorite began to work its mutating magic. It leeched into the dragon’s stomach contents and pulled a few genes here and a few genes there.
If you’ve been reading Beorian Tales, you’ll recall that Dragons are – for the most part – vegetarians. But this dragon mother-to-be had been set upon by a party of unlucky adventurers. Unlucky because she’d eaten them, and moreso because their genetic material was now part of the molecular soup that was to become something frightening (relatively speaking, of course.)
Skip ahead about 5 years or so, and Beor had a new legendary fearsome monster, which no one seemed able to get rid of. The Kingdom had sent countless heroes – both solo and in groups – none of whom had successfully returned, if they returned at all. Initially the King had thought to give the title Grand Hero of Beor to the successful Slayer, but when Prince Ampersand reminded him that the title was already in use and that the bearers of said title had all failed in their attempts, it was decided the Slayer would be called the Victorious Vanquisher of Vileness.
Another year passed, with no one being successful in killing what had become known as ‘that hideous awful thing.’ You see, no one was able to describe the monster. Trade was being disrupted, deliveries were being delayed, and civil unrest was brewing. Then the king threw in another, more substantial prize: whoever vanquished the beast would receive, tithe-free & clear, the famous Giant’s Castle of Cumulonimbus. No one knew where it was, but it sounded magnificent and lofty. A few days later, Fate came knocking at Ungar’s door. (Her name was Fatima, but everyone called her Fate.)
“Oi, Gah-ree! Gah-reeeeeeee! I gots a job fer ya!” shouted Fate, as her fist began working its way into the wooden door.
Ungar, who’d just lost his last job (as a horse trainer) hobbled his way to the door and let his girlfriend in.
“Allo, Fate. A job, ya say?” he said, giving her hairy cheek a peck.
“Siddown, luv. Now, I thinks you kin be a ‘ero. The Vick-torus Vankisher of Vile-whatevah. You knows – get rid ‘o thet ‘ideous offal thin’.” And she grinned from ear to ear. It was a very wide, very big grin – with a tooth or three missing.
“But, my sweet ‘oneypot,” said Ungar, “I can’t stand violence!”
“It’s a MONSTER! Would ya kill it iffen it wanted ta kill me?”
Ungar thought a moment, a moment that was half a moment too long for the lovely Fatima, who turned around and stormed out the door. If being a boyfriend were a job, thought Ungar, I’d consider myself fired. It wasn’t that he wouldn’t hesitate to protect Fatima with his life, because he’d do it without thinking. Life, he believed, was life. It was important to make the best of it, even if it meant giving riff-raff or monsters a chance to redeem themselves – not at the cost of your own or anyone else’s, but still.
So, it was Fate after all that set Ungar after the Hideous Awful Thing. He packed a satchel with a spare set of clothes and filled his pockets with what little savings he had acquired. He made some inquiries at the Royal Guards main office, and they happily gave him information on (1) What they knew about the H.A.T. (nothing, essentially), (2) a map marked with locations where the H.A.T. had been spotted (pretty much everywhere), and (3) medicines which had been recovered from the remains of dead wanna-be heroes. They looked at him strangely when he asked where the few adventurers that had fled an encounter with the H.A.T. could be found, but they directed him to look in the Old Priest & Rat Tavern, near Valridge.
Part 3: The Hero’s Journey Begins
As he approached the Tavern, a group of four (two humans, one orc and one dwarf) was setting off to the south, happily chatting and munching on what looked to be meat pies. A man was perched on the roof and appeared to be sorting bunches of herbs and putting them in jars. On closer inspection, someone had built a little tabletop and a chair (the upper half, anyways) into the roof for him. When he saw Ungar, the man waved and said, “Hello, I’m Ralph and you’re DOOMED!”
“Actually,” began Ungar, “My name is…”
An Orc patron exiting the bar put a hand on Ungar’s shoulder and said, “Don’t mind Uncle Ralph. He says that to everyone.” Before Ungar entered, he was embraced by a veiled Orc gypsy. “Oh, my,” she said. “Oi, Granny Gee,” said the other Orc, laughing, “Be careful – the poor sod might get ideas!” “You wouldn’t know an idea, Duggie, if it bit you in your nethers,” she responded. She leaned into Ungar and whispered in his ear: “Keep your eyes and ears open, and never be afraid to say what you know is right. You’re in Fate’s hands, and you can be dropped as easily as you can be lifted up. Tell Ravinger at the bar that your first drink is on Granny Ginny.”
He had his Sparkling Fairy Water – which wasn’t as bad as you’d think, even with the occasional wing being swallowed – and let the bar’s atmosphere sink in. Here was the only child of the Ravingers, who’d brought down the Nethergate, single-handedly running their tavern. There on the floor were cunningly crafted dwarven metal and stone tiles, depicting the Mountainfall. A huge Orc-styled fireplace dominated one side of the room, and human crafted tables and chairs to fit all sizes filled the space. It was inviting to one and all, and it showed in their varied clientele.
He made his way to Rico Stefano, who Ravinger had pointed out as only recently having returned from an attempt to track down the H.A.T. Rico was already in his cups, struggling to hold his food steady and failing to stop it from painting his face with sauce. When Ungar carefully sat down in the chair opposite him (one of the legs was wobbly) Rico threw a netherwing at him, only to have it land in the fireplace, where it exploded with a roaring ‘pop!’
“Get ‘way from me,” slurred Rico, “Ain’ got nuffin’ ta say.”
“You saw the ‘orrible awful thin’, yeah?” Ungar asked.
“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAh!” cried the failed Vanquisher. “Orrible! Awful! Right! Yeah!” Rico leaned over the table, his shirt trawling through the sauce-covered plate of netherchicken wings, and grabbed Ungar by the collar. He was going to say something, something very revealing or important thought Ungar, but Rico threw up instead.
After making arrangements for a room, he’d no sooner gotten Rico in the bed to sleep off his alcoholic stupor when the man grabbed him by the throat and pinned him on the floor. He shook his head, leaned in close, and planted a wet one on Ungar, who shoved him aside. Rico again shook his head, and said, “Do I know you?”
“No,” Ungar answered.
“Are you going to rob me? Torture me? Rape me? Kill me? S’okay if you want to kill me.”
“No, no, definitely no, an’ no again. An’ why would killin’ ya be okay?”
“That thing. Its ‘eads get into your ‘ead, until you don’t want to live anymore. You jes’ want to crawl away and die. I went with six others, and I watched ‘em one by one kill themselves. I ran as fast as I could – those godsforsaken voices kept ringing in my ‘ead! I can still ‘ear ‘em sometimes. Not now, ‘cause I’m full a’ Scorpion shots.”
“What else can you tell me about it?”
“A bit, but I need two things: your ‘and, if you don’t mind, and some sleep.”
Ungar didn’t mind, as he and his cousins used to help each other out on occasion. The next morning, they waited in line for the Leftover Lair’s mystery pies, and Rico gave what information he could. The H.A.T.’s tracks looked like someone dragging a dead dragon’s body over the ground, and the scent of its lair was overwhelmingly that of rotting food. When it spoke, it either spoke in one voice or what sounded like many voices. Rico finally admitted that neither he nor his late companions had ever actually seen the H.A.T. at all.
Before parting ways, Rico asked Ungar, “Why do you want to find this ‘orrible, awful thing?”
“To see if I can succeed at the job of being a ‘ero,” he replied.
“Don’t do this,” said Rico, “please, stay here and adventure with me.”
“Take care of yourself, Rico.”
Part 4: Ungar meets Destiny
He’d been wandering Beor for three weeks. He didn’t much care for the Badlands (too much desert, not to mention really big bugs and roaming bands of antisocial natives.) So, it was a sunburnt and sandblasted Ungar that, a week later, finally made his way north into the mountains. The views were spectacular, the air crisp and grit-free, and a few of the mountain inns had very good stews. He decided to trek eastward, and on the second day he heard a young girl’s voice. He paused and cautiously followed the sound, hiding himself behind a rock ledge as he spotted her.
She was dressed in what he could only guess was dwarven plate armor from a pawn shop. It was old, and dented, but it had been burnished and shone in the sunlight. She stood about four and a half feet tall and couldn’t have been older than fifteen. She carried a sword and buckler, and there was a circlet on her head, holding her crown of bright red hair, which streamed behind her in the wind. She gazed northward, humming a very old ballad about the Eldest God’s slaughter of the netherkin.
Sitting on the rocks behind her, accompanying her on various tiny instruments and singing in chorus was an orchestral clan of maybe thirty flareys. Ungar watched as she waved them into silence, resumed her heroic pose and said, “I am coming for you, NetherLord. I shall slice and dice you into teeny tiny itty bitty pieces and feed you to your ravening minion hordes!” She breathed in, took a beat, and said quietly, “Cue: Victory Theme.”
What followed sounded less like a victory theme and more like a jig.
“No, no, no! Aaaaaaaaaaaah – you stupid maggots!” The girl stamped her feet, reached down and picked up as many rocks as she could hold, and threw them willy-nilly towards the flarey clan, who cackled uproariously and flew off in all directions. Unfortunately, one rock veered off in his direction and hit Ungar square in the face.
“Ouch!” he cried.
What she lacked in manners and public speaking, she made up for in speed. Ungar, before he had a chance to recover, found himself face to face with the pointy end of her sword. Granted, it was a good foot below his face, but she was aiming it as high as she could.
“Who are you? Tell me or I’ll slice your feet off!” the girl trumpeted.
Ungar thought carefully before replying, “That’s rather rude behavior for a heroine.”
The girl, in her defense, also thought carefully.
“It’s also suspicious behavior to be spying on someone. If you were a gentleman, sir, you would have introduced yourself.” And the point of her sword edged an inch higher. She was standing on the tips of her toes, he noted.
“And interrupted that magnificent and highly threatening soliloquy? I could never have forgiven myself!” said Ungar.
She lowered the sword. “It wasn’t too over-the-top? The stupid flareys had to ruin it with the wrong music. We’ve got to practice until they get it just right. I mean, it wouldn’t do to have the audience think that the NetherLord and I would be dancing, you know, just before I dismember him.”
She’s a real loony, thought Ungar. Still, it might be nice to have some company, no matter how unhinged she was. “Well, it could be a creepy dance of death, couldn’t it?”
As it turned out, she loved that idea. When Ungar explained what his quest was, the girl – whose name, it turns out, was Destiny – agreed to help him defeat the H.A.T. as a sort of warmup to killing the NetherLord. Over the next two days, he found himself the object of the flarey’s attention. Flitwit, the orchestra leader, explained to Ungar that they were following the girl because it was more fun than anything they’d ever done – and it would be very fun, although sad, to see her die at the hands of the netherkin. Of course, the whole clan would probably become netherkin snacks, but as their lifespans were short, it would be a glorious and memorable way to die. Ungar was beginning to think he was travelling with an asylum of loonies when the group came to a place that stank of rotting food. The smell was indescribably rank.
Then the voices started. There were many, but they came so rapidly that often they were difficult to tell apart. And although Ungar and Destiny didn’t know it, they each heard something completely different:
“You were nothing in school, and you’re still nothing now.”
“Do you really think you can slay something that makes its enemies kill themselves?”
“The NetherLord will crush you like the bug you really are.”
“You can’t even hold down one job! You’re worthless!”
“Your girlfriend doesn’t believe in you – she got rid of you!”
“You’ve never killed anything bigger than a fly!”
“You don’t have the guts to do it! You hate violence!”
“You don’t have the guts to do it!”
“You’ll return a loser, like you’ve always been.”
“You’re a bad actress, a cowardly girl, and you’re pathetic!”
All around them the flareys were dashing themselves against the cliff face, breaking their tiny necks, shredding their wings and falling down dead to the ground.
“It’s hopeless! Spare yourself the humiliation and kill yourself now!”
“Life is not worth living!”
It was that last comment that snapped Ungar out of his cloud of self-loathing and despair. Because Ungar firmly believed the opposite.
He searched for Destiny, who had walked to the mountain cliff’s edge. She looked straight at him – with agony in her voice and tears streaming down her face she whispered, “Cue swelling strings.” and jumped backwards, where she fell through the surrounding clouds towards certain death. She fell silently, however, which was truly tragic, as the orchestral flareys were all dead.
She might have been a loony, thought Ungar, and arrogant, but she didn’t deserve to be driven to commit suicide. A cold anger was growing in him, when the voices assaulted him again.
“You let her die!”
“Yeah, you’re weak and it’s all your fault!”
“He’s onto us, Dwarfeefee. Let’s get out of here.”
“If you mean we should run, you pathetic excuse for a human head, we can barely crawl much less run!”
“Shut up, Orco!”
Ungar followed the stench of rotting food, until he could barely stop himself from retching. He turned a corner along the mountaintop path and went down into a crevasse that spanned the peak. And there it was. And while the Hideous Awful Thing was indeed astonishingly hideous and heart-stoppingly awful, he couldn’t help what happened next.
Ungar doubled over as the Nethercaps rang with the sound of his helpless laughter.
Part 5: What’s In A Name?
Remember that the H.A.T. was actually meteorically mutated six-headed conjoined twin dragons? That’s twelve heads, total. It’s time that I tell you about the heads.
The mother had eaten a party of three adventurers, two horses, a cow and a pig, and two geese (in a cage.) There was one head each of both male and female dwarf (Dwarfofum and Dwarfeefee), Orc (Orco and Orca) and human (Hoo-Man and Hoo-wo-man), one stud (Chris), one mare (Flossie), a cow (Cowtarina), a pig (Peter), a goose (Goosey) and a gander (Ducky – no, really.)
The dragon twins were to have been male and female, but the bodies were conjoined at the stomach, so it had twelve mouths leading to one big stomach. Each head had its own peculiar food allergies, although thankfully they were all foods belonging to the bean family. However, they also shared two pairs of legs when the weight of two dragon bodies and twelve heads would normally have been supported by two pairs each. Moving about was most definitely a drag, not to mention a pain in the asses.
When Ungar saw it, the conjoined bodies were splayed on the ground, its feet sticking straight out, and its heads beating on each other. And, in spite of the mass suicides that it had just actively caused, he found that it looked incongruously ridiculous.
“You know, you can stop your sniggering at any time,” said Orco.
“You had an abysmal choice in traveling companions,” stated Hoo-wo-man.
“She was right,” deadpanned Dwarfofum, “You are very rude.”
“I’m s-s-s-sorry…but ho ho hoo hoo hoo hahaha!” Ungar chortled.
“Right! That’s IT!” shouted Hoo-man, “Let’s eat him!”
“We’re lacking big pointy teeth, in case you’ve forgotten. Our mum’s a dragon yet somehow she forgot to give us those big pointy teeth!” complained Dwarfeefee.
“Can’t we just…gnaw him a little bit?” asked Orca.
To which Orco made a raspberry, and replied, “Cavities.”
“I can help you with that. I had a job as a dental assistant for a bit,” offered Ungar.
“Hang on, I thought you wanted to kill us?”
Ungar finally had laughed enough and began to think about the future. It was true that he had to vanquish the H.A.T., but ‘vanquish’ did not necessarily imply that he had to kill it. He just had to defeat it and make it go away permanently. Preferably just the latter would suffice.
“Hmph. Don’t you trust your mind-reading powers? That’s what you’ve used to kill people with, right? Those and your powers of mindspeech. Why did you make them kill themselves?”
“We don’t like killing,” stated Orco.
(Neigh, neigh whinny neigh!) said the mare.
“Flossie, no one’s asked your opinion!” noted Dwarfofum.
“Those people never would have died,” said Ungar with conviction, “If you hadn’t ever spoken to them. That’s the same as killing them yourselves. What is it that you want most in life? You told me that Life was not worth living. That’s not a thought that you’d ever find in my mind, so it had to come from one of you. So, do any of you feel that way?
Twelve heads bowed down low, then simultaneously swiveled to look at him. “It was Hoo-man,” said Orco, “But we all think that. We’d like to be left alone, where no one can see us and be horrified. Or scared.”
Dwarfofum hmphed, adding “Or laughed at.”
(Moo! MooMoo Moo MooMooMoo!) said the cow.
“Absolutely right, Cowtarina. Or be made fun of,” remarked Hoo-wo-man.
While contemplating how to solve this twelve-fold problem, a wind brought the stench of rotting food floating around them. “Not to change the subject,” said Ungar, “but why all the rotting food?”
“Well,” began Orca, “it’s really difficult for us to find enough food to feed all of us, what with our many dietary restrictions and all. So, we just grab as much as we can, whenever we can, and it takes us a while to drag it and ourselves to somewhere where we can eat in peace.”
“Neigh, whinny whinny snort neigh…” began the stud.
“What he’s saying is that,” translated Dwarfeefee, “we never usually finish half of it before it goes bad.”
“How would you like people to look forward to seeing you? To be happy when they see you? And to be happy when they leave? And you get fed every day? Why don’t you look into my mind and see what I’m thinking?” For the first time, all the heads smiled together.
“If you succeed,” said Dwarfofum, “we must have a new name.”
“Yes,” agreed Orca, “Whoever came up with the ‘Horrible, Awful Thing’ should be put to death.”
“How about the Twelve-Headed Beast?” suggested Ungar.
“Nah, Beast sounds too ordinary,” said Orco.
“What about Dreadbeast?” Hoo-wo-man offered.
“Oooh,” said Dwarfeefee, “I like the sound of that.”
“Honk Honkhonk honk honk honk,” observed Ducky.
“He’s right, you know. You should give us a place of origin,” started Orca.
“Honk honkhonkhonkhonk Ssssquawk!” stressed Goosey.
“I was getting to that,” Orca said with exasperation, “if you’d let me! Someplace where people think is far, far away.”
“How about Sssssal?” asked Ungar. “There’s no such place, of course, but people can’t prove that. Nor could they ever find you. Anyway, if it all works out, you’ll be right under them.”
“Can we eat them if they annoy us?” inquired Dwarfofum.
“No,” replied Ungar, who then said, “but you could nibble their toes?”
Part 6: Ungar The Improbable
Ungar returned to Tasuil Beor a few days later and told the Royal Guards that he’d vanquished the 12-Headed Dreadbeast of Sssssal and he’d like to see the King about Castle Cumulonimbus. They laughed, and said they’d never heard of any such creature. He reminded them that no one had ever seen the H.A.T. except himself, and now that he had, he knew what to call it. Where was the proof that he’d killed it, the Guards wanted to know? “I didn’t kill it,” replied Ungar, “I reasoned with it, and wanting to live in peace, it returned from whence it came.” It was only when, out of the shadows, the strange orc gypsy he’d met at the Old Priest and Rat Tavern approached the guards, and said they shouldn’t laugh that the two guards fell silent. And stood stiffly at attention.
“This man is Ungar…the Improbable,” she said, “and I think Prince Ampersand will see him. Now.” And she gave our hero a wink.
“Yes, Agent Gin Anne,” they replied, and the two of them were taken to the Prince’s private study. “Agent Gin Anne? What happened to Granny Ginny?” Ungar asked with polite curiosity.
She laughed. “In the palace, I’m Agent Gin Anne. At the Tavern and a few other places, I’m Granny Ginny. I have many names, and maybe one day you’ll hear my real name. You, however, are indeed Ungar the Improbable. Did you really reason with this ‘Dreadbeast?’ If so, that’s quite a feat of verbal acrobatics you performed. I’ll vouch for you with the Prince, and with a crew of Dwarven engineers.”
“How did you…how could you…,” stuttered Ungar.
“I’ve been keeping an eye on you since the day we met. It’s a shame about Destiny, though. She was a tough little brat – but somewhere on her journey, she lost her mind. I think your plan is a good one, it doesn’t hurt anyone, it helps save innocent lives, and brings peace to twelve troubled souls. The Prince will ‘buy back’ the castle to save his father’s reputation, so that will give you the funds for your project.” She turned to leave.
“How did you know that Castle Cumulonimbus doesn’t really exist?” she asked, stopping at the study’s exit.
A huge grin split his face as Ungar answered. “I had a job working with a group of giants once, and the subject came up about how gullible humans could be. Castle Cumulonimbus featured prominently.”
“Wait a few moments before you leave, all right? The Prince won’t be coming, but I think you’ve figured out that there are some things that he leaves for me to take care of. Come see me at the tavern sometime, and we’ll talk. I might have need of your talents every now and then.”
“I just might take you up on that offer,” said Ungar.
Part 7: Riding The Dreadbeast
It took a team of exceptionally skilled Dwarven craftsmen to make a thin metallic skin to cover the Dreadbeast, heads and all. It was necessary for its transformation, from mutant monstrosity to a beloved Carnival ride for children. Its heads were covered with cleverly designed masks of real monsters and were not – much to their surprise – uncomfortable at all. Erik Dorada the mage-ineer had personally seen to their fitting and construction, and surprising even himself, made friends of them all.
Ungar, whose knowledge contained the particulars of many businesses, put the carnival together, including performers, animal trainers, food vendors and merchandisers – and hired the right people to oversee them. The price of admission was either one copper coin, or some food (all of which was fed to the Dreadbeast at day’s end.) And, upon the insistence of the real Dreadbeast, for one day every week, admission was free.
It took a year of no more sightings of the Hideous Awful Thing until it lost its inaccurate name and was finally called the 12-Headed Dreadbeast of Sssssal, which gave Ungar’s Carnival a huge boost in attendance and warmed the two hearts of twelve mismatched but very happy heads. The Palace officially announced the roads were safe and the Dreadbeast had left the kingdom for good. Trade was properly restored, business was booming, and frequent travelers rejoiced. The Royal guards admitted their mistake and agreed that they never should have doubted the man that Agent Gin Anne had called Ungar the Improbable.
Yes, I’m afraid he never did become known as the Victorious Vanquisher of Vileness. The name given to him by Granny Ginny stuck. And while Fate might have been disappointed, Destiny definitely would have laughed.