Bramblebeard Loses It

Hack Buchner drew up to his full four foot, two-inch height, beard bristling furiously.

“Cooper,” he growled. “Where. Is. She?”

“Uh, who are we talking about again, man?”

“Fínola,” Hack reiterated between clenched teeth. “Yea tall, electric blue hair, perpetually covered in glitter?”

“Oh yeah! She, like, took off, man.”

“Where?”

“Dunno. She didn’t say, I didn’t ask, y’know?”

“Well did you think to stop her?”

The long-haired layabout roadie stared blankly back at him, and not for the first time, Hack was reminded of Mudwit the Simpleton back in the Old Realm.

“No,” Cooper admitted eventually.

Hack wanted to deck the man, but jammed his fists into the pockets of his pants instead.

“Hey, don’t stress it, my diminutive friend,” Cooper continued. “I’m sure she can’t have gone far.”

“You better hope so,” Hack snapped. “Get outta here.”

As soon as the roadie was out of earshot, Hack cursed in his native tongue and looked at his watch. Fínola Uí Dubháin was scheduled to perform on the main stage at two o’clock, and it was now seven minutes past. Lesley, his assistant — and the only person around with half a brain- already told the opening band to vamp until they could find her, and there was only so many times they could play “I’se the B’y” before things got dicey. Already, Hack could hear the crowd grow restless, though they were the least of his concerns. If the Shimmer Fest organisers discovered Fínola missed her scheduled performance, he could kiss that sweet, sweet music festival money goodbye. 
 
 No, it’d be up to him to find her.

The backstage bouncer, busy chatting up some blonde piece, paid him no mind as he slipped by. He didn’t even have to show his wristband. No wonder Fínola snuck past so easily. Back in the Old Realm, an Ogre Warlock and a simple barricade spell would have solved his problem. Here, Hack would have to rely on his own wits and grit. 
 
 Squelching through mud which stuck to his shed-Selkie skin moccasins, he scanned the crowd. A miasma of body odour, spilled alcohol and puke, smacked into him like a flanged mace, making him grimace. Different styles of electronic music assailed his ears from all directions, blending into a chaotic cacophony. Whatever happened to good old lyres, lutes and panpipes? Perhaps he was just getting old and surly, though three hundred and twenty- two was relatively young for his kind. His nose started itching, and Hack suddenly wished he hadn’t already inhaled the last of his powdered manticore fang. Lich Lord knew he could use a hit right now.

He jumped nearly three feet- backwards- into the air, avoiding the splatter of vomit as a man unleashed his stomach contents. The drunk guy stared at Hack, then burst out laughing.

“Hey, lookit the midget,” he slurred. “Come here little guy, Imma pinch ya!”

Had this happened back in the Old Realm, Hack would have swung his trusty enchanted axe, Gæwmr into this grinning idiot’s face. Instead, he pulled the brim of his trilby down lower and walked on, narrowly avoiding a juggling stilt-walker.

Back in the Old Realm, where he was known as Hokgreat Bramblebeard, life was simple. Aside from the occasional bog-ghast incursion, his life as Underchief of Blackcloud Mines was an idyllic one. There, he commanded respect. It was also bloody boring, and when Fínola magicked herself to the Human Realm, he followed close behind. The Celtic Siren was a terrific singer, and with Hack setting himself up as her manager, they went places fast. Unless he found her, they’d be going nowhere.

She was in a tent, lounging with a group of people wearing assortment of floral print, chequered flannelette, and too-tight jeans.

“Fínola, what the hell are you doing here? You’re supposed to be on stage!”

The Siren yawned and stretched luxuriously.

“Chill, Hacky baby,” she sighed, getting up. “You’re bringing us down. Although, I think I have some manticore powder somewhere.”

“I don’t need manticore powder, I need you out on stage.”

She moved over to a large trunk and rummaged through it, tossing items behind her.

“Let’s see, toaster…barometer… ooh…a lute! Ah, here we are.”

She held up a phial of red powder, and Hack felt his right eye twitch.

Just one sniff.

NO! THINK ABOUT THE MONEY!

ONE LITTLE SNIFF, BLAST YOU!

A beefy man hijacked his train of thought.

“You’re harshing our buzz, little man!”

Hack’s skin, prickled.

“Do you know who I am, Jumbo?” he spat.

The man reached down and picked Hack up.

“What are you gonna do, shrimp?”

Hack’s vision went red as the warrior blood of his ancestors awakened in him.

“Jumbo, drop him!” Fínola ordered, hastily. “I’ve seen him split boulders with his head. He’ll crack you like an egg. I’ll come, okay, Hack?
 
 The big man complied and set the manager down. Red mist lifting from his eyes, Hack straightened his jacket and nodded. Fínola said her goodbyes, then picked up her trunk.
 
 “Thank you,” he whispered as they left the tent.
 
 “I know how headbutt-y you get when you’re riled up,” she replied.
 
 “We’ll talk about this later.

“I can’t wait.”
 
 ***
 
 Backstage, a much calmer Hack watched Fínola performing.

“Hey, check it out, man!”

Hack turned to see Cooper, holding a small ceramic vessel, and his eyes widened.

Bottled Phoenix Breath.

“Where did you get that, Cooper?”

“Fínola gave it to me. Pretty cool huh?”

“Cooper, give it here.”

“No way, man, it’s mine!”

“Hand it over Cooper, and be careful!”

*POP*
 
 “Whoops!”
 
 *FWOOOOOOOOSH! *

 
 “YEAAAAAAAARRRRGGH!”

“Woah!”

Hack thrashed about, slapping at flames and tearing off clothing until he was extinguished. But he was no longer backstage. He found himself on the main-stage before ten thousand Shimmer Fest goers and deeply regretting his choice to wear pink bunny-rabbit boxers. His beard wilted as the crowd began to point and laugh.
 
 Perhaps the boring, idyllic life of Blackcloud Mines Underchief wasn’t so bad after all…