Word Count: 2805
By Lee Foster
A Mare Inebrium Story
Mare Inebrium Universe created by Dan Hollifield
The Mare Inebrium’s main room was crowded tonight. The Mare’s got a pretty strange clientele, but tonight made the usual suspects look bland. Of the regulars, I only recognized Max, Trixie, Blanche, and the giant scorpion-like Kazsh-ak Tier. Trixie was serving steaming bowls of some greenish substance to a group of gray-skinned, trunk nosed critters. Blanche was taking care of a scattered group of wizened old men, mixed with a few obvious salesmen. Kazsh-ak Tier, as usual, was pronouncing one of his endless stories to a group of overly large golden men and women clad in brilliant white, and very skimpy, togas. I caught glimpses of even more unusual beings in the shadowy booths. Max, as usual, was bartending and occasionally talking to one of the few human-types sitting at the bar.
As I threaded my way through the tables to the bar, I noticed Bruce walk up to a table and hand a digi-pad to a couple of guys. One of them was wearing an odd looking single sleeved, white vinyl-like jacket that only covered part of his torso. The single sleeve covered the wearer’s right arm and hand. He was also wearing a belt of the same material with some kind of wand in a holster arrangement. The other guy at the table was wearing tights and a loose jacket. There was a large bow and quiver propped against the table next to him. Both of them looked at the digi-pad, stiffened and started to argue with Bruce. Bruce simply held up one finger and wagged it back and forth. They slumped back in their chairs, glared a bit at each other and then started pulling coins from their pockets.
I finally made it to the bar where Max was waiting for me with a frosty mug. I hopped onto the barstool with a grin and nodded to Max. “Thanks,” I said, “What’s going on here?” I gestured to indicate most of the room.
Max shook his head, “We had to close The Pantheon temporarily.” He pointed to where Bruce was collecting coins from two oddly dressed guys. “Agni and Rudra got into a little spat. Rudra stuck a bunch of arrows in the paneling and Agni set three tables on fire and burned holes through the bar. He’s lucky he didn’t hit the mirror and punch a hole through himself.” He grinned, “Bruce just gave them the bill.”
“I’ve never been in The Pantheon. So I guess these are the, um, gods?”
Max rolled his eyes, “Gods, Goddesses and, of course, Writers.”
I smiled, “You don’t seem to thrilled with them.”
Max shrugged, “They’re good customers; they all drink like fish. But the egos get a little hard to take. That’s why I let Elvis handle them.”
I raised my eyebrows, “Pushy Gods? Demanding Goddesses?”
“No, they’re pretty easy when they’re drunk, which they usually are, but some of those writers…” He shook his head again.
At the other end of the bar a guy held up an empty mug and Max went to refill it.
An average looking guy sitting near me at the bar was staring intently towards one end of the room and occasionally making notes in a small book. Curiously, I looked to see what had caught his interest.
There was a guy playing Drunkards Walk in that corner of the room. He was a big guy dressed in black pants, silver shirt, a black cloak and a honest-to-goodness broadsword in a scabbard on his belt. Another guy, dressed all in green, boots included, was waiting his turn.
To play Drunkards Walk, you used a small device that translated physical energy into high-energy particles. As you walked around the room the floor behind you would begin to glow. When you felt fatigued, you drank a shot of your choice and the glow reduced. You couldn’t pass over your own line, so the player tended to circle in towards the middle. Of course, the path meandered around the furniture, patrons and other objects. But the shots tended to take their toll and the path was usually even more erratic as you reached the center. The object was for the next player to traverse the first player’s path exactly, without stepping off the glowing path or falling down, all the while drinking the same, or fewer shots than the first player. Then the players switched positions and started over. It was a game only for beings that could hold their liquor and their balance at the same time. I fell over a table the only time I’d ever played.
The only other thing at that end of the room that might have caught the guys attention was a phallic-horned Scyllyrian playing what looked like Terran chess with a small troll-like being with huge feet.
I was about to ask what was so interesting, when a small human pushed up to the bar in-between us. “Max,” he said, “You got any of those sober pills?”
“Murdock?” Max called from behind the bar, “You really shouldn’t let Jenny push you around like that.”
“I know,” the small guy sighed, “She won’t even let me in the car when I’m a little buzzed.”
Max set a cup of coffee and a couple of pills in front of the guy. “Anybody else would just trade her in on a new car with a nicer personality.”
“You’re right, but we’ve been through a lot together.” He shrugged sheepishly and took his coffee and pills off to a quiet booth.
A large Sarith quickly replaced the small guy at the bar. The Sarith are uncommon on Bethdish, or anywhere else for that matter. It’s rumored that they destroyed their own home planet and became a nomadic race. They are bipedal and generally reptilian in appearance and nature. They are also long-lived, strong, fast and more than a little bit touchy. Quite a few had become wealthy as smugglers and bounty hunters. This one’s titanium weave jumpsuit obviously indicated his wealth. His cloak of GEEB polar bear fur indicated he was something more than just a bounty hunter.
Max raised one eyebrow and asked the Sarith, “What would you like?”
The Sarith answered with something that sounded like a hiss with a few gurgles and clicks. His translator didn’t even try to interpret the sound. But Max just nodded and went down to the storeroom. He returned shortly with a gallon jar and a sealed box. Some sort of greenish liquid was poured out of the jar into the blender and then Max started it on low speed. He opened the box and pulled out something that resembled a freeze-dried frog with extra legs. The frog-like thing was dropped into the blender and Max switched it to high speed. When the greens and reds merged into a uniform gray, Max removed the blender, poured the mixture into a large bowl and set it before the Sarith, who prompt stuck his snout into the bowl and began slurping loudly.
The Sarith slurped up his, um, drink, in record time and gestured for another. His eyes were slightly glazed and he weaved slightly as he took in the room. When he saw Kazsh-ak Tier, his eyes narrowed and he appeared to smile. He hiss-clacked something that came out of the translator as “D’rrish.” Now, I’m not usually suicidal, but I’d had a few by then and the Sarith didn’t seem too aggressive. So I asked him, “Are you here for business with the D’rrish?”
The Sarith slowly focused on me as his translator hiss-clacked at him. His grin enlarged to rather disturbing proportions, showing neat rows of needle sharp teeth. “Yessh, business with D’rrish,” he said and began laughing. I felt suddenly sobered. The Sarith have a very poor excuse for a sense of humor. Anything they found funny usually meant something very bad for someone. I hoped it wasn’t me.
A sudden foul odor indicated that Max had served the Sarith’s next drink, which he disposed of promptly. Fortunately, Max had restocked me as well. A double shot of ancient Irish whiskey, in fact. He leaned over the bar and whispered in a serious tone, “You seem to be getting along with him, find out why he’s here.”
“What? Me?” I whispered back. “I thought he was going to bite me!”
“The Sarith can get quite talkative when they’re drunk. And they hardly ever bite. But having one in the area is never good news, so find out what he’s doing.”
The Sarith had just finished his drink and turned back towards me with drooping eyelids. I glared at Max for a second, but he just grinned and started the blender again. So I turned back to the Sarith and, trying to act innocent, asked, “What kind of business are you in?”
I don’t know if he was regarding me kindly or as a curious morsel, but he answered, “I am Karsssh.” He placed one clawed hand on my shoulder and I tried not to squirm. “I am Greatest Hunter in Universe,” he proclaimed loudly and made a sweeping gesture with his other hand. Apparently his translator was very outmoded.
“I hunt everything. Hunt dangerous things, no one else will hunt.” He touched the butt of a bone-handled weapon on his belt. “I hunt great cat-creatures. I hunt giant white, crushing creature. Use skeleton for trophy room. I hunt mutated giant killer quadruped.” He fingered his white furred GEEB polar bear cloak. He leaned close to me and said in a conspiratorial tone, “But I run out of things to hunt. No more great killer beasts. I become building-stick.” Then he smiled his toothsome smile and looked up towards Kazsh-ak Tier, “But I hear about giant killer bug-things with huge stingers. Fast. Strong. Great fighters. I come here to hunt again!”
Then he dropped his hand from my shoulder and staggered off towards Kazsh-ak Tier. I debated hiding under a table, but it turned out he was only heading to the Mare’s incredible sanitary facility. I franticly gestured Max over. In a desperate whisper I told Max, “I think he’s going to hunt and kill a D’rrish!”
Max looked worried, “I was afraid of that. He’ll cause a diplomatic disaster like we’ve never seen. You’ve got to distract him until I can get the Reever here to handle this. Just don’t let him wonder off, there’s no telling what he’ll do.”
“What makes you think I could stop him?”
“Just keep him busy!” Max said, and then Karsssh returned.
I was nervous as hell and couldn’t think of anything to say. Suddenly, I blurted out “But the D’rrish are intelligent, friendly beings. How can you hunt them?” Then I waited to see if he would bite my head off, figuratively or literally.
The Sarith looked at me blurrily and said, almost sadly, “No matter. Children all dead or too afraid to fight. Karsssh need battles to be not dead. Bug-thing only good fight left. If too smart, then Karsssh not live.” Strangely, he smiled.
Max still wasn’t back and I was really stuck now. But I’d forgotten the intent guy I noticed earlier. He had obviously been listening to the whole exchange and had figured out what was going, because he baled me out.
“Then I suppose you are the second being to ever catch a Ikky?” He asked Karsssh.
The Sarith turned towards the guy and asked, “What is Eeek-ee?”
“Ikky,” he corrected, “It’s the largest water inhabitant ever discovered; larger than most space liners. They say its eyes are as big as doors. Thousands have tried to catch one and few who tried have survived. One however was eventually caught.”
Karsssh was looking interested, “Where you find Ikky?”
The intent guy smiled. He had gotten out an old style pipe and was going threw the pipe smokers ritual of packing and lighting. The Sarith was getting impatient by the time he answered, “Let me tell you about how the one Ikky was eventually caught. It’s a story about a man and woman in love and the terrible dangers they took for each other.” His voice had taken on the calm tone of someone used to telling stories. “This all happened long ago. So long ago, that no one remembers the name of the planet, or where it was located. Only a truly great hunter could ever locate the place again, much less find and catch and Ikky.” He looked at Karsssh and could see he had the Sarith’s complete attention.
Then he sat back, smoked his pipe and began telling an amazing story. He was mesmerizing as he told the Sarith about the obsession of a man and the love of a woman while they hunted the most elusive, most dangerous creature ever known. Max returned during the story telling, but made no move to interrupt. Against the back wall of the bar was a series of painted tiles, apparently moved in from The Pantheon. I noticed one of them start to glow for some reason. Max casually tossed a bar towel in front of the tile, blocking it from view.
While the story continued, I leaned over the bar and whispered to Max, “Is the Reever on his way?”
Max whispered back, “I can’t get him, but his office will call me when they find him.” He didn’t seem worried.
“What are we going to do?” I was getting a little panicky.
Max smiled at me, “Nothing. It’s being handled.” He nodded towards the storyteller. The Sarith was apparently enthralled by the story.
The bar had quieted as everyone nearby stopped talking and listened to the storyteller. Max and Trixie moved among the patrons quietly refilling various and sundry refreshments. Even Kazsh-ak Tier ceased his endless stories and edged nearer to hear.
The storyteller held his audience for more than an hour as he told them of the struggle to capture the creature. The protagonists flirted with death. A close call almost captured the creature, and then it escaped. A horrendous storm endangered the crew of the special ship built to capture the Ikky. Then the final, magnificent capture of the beast.
And, suddenly, the story was over. Everyone in the bar suddenly sighed as if they had forgotten to breath. You could see the stories impact on everyone’s face, or whatever it was they used for a face. But the Sarith seemed the most affected. His eyes seemed to glow and he looked around the bar without seeming to notice the patrons. He finally focused his eyes on me, looked over at Kazsh-ak Tier and then looked back at me.
“I hunt everything,” he said. Then he grinned and said with enthusiasm, “I go now! I go to hunt Ikky!” Still grinning, he threw a few coins on the bar and left.
I looked over to where the storyteller was empting his pipe into an ashtray.
“Did that really happen?” I asked him.
He finished cleaning out his pipe and put it in his pocket. Smiling gently, he said “That? It was just an old fishing tale.” He got up off of his stool, nodded goodbye to everyone at the bar and headed towards the re-opened Pantheon.
A little while later I asked Max about the storyteller.
“Rog? He’s one of the writers. Usually hangs out in the Pantheon with some guy named Sam.”
“Well, he sure distracted that Sarith. Good thing he was here.”
Max nodded in agreement, “A Sarith came here once before, but it was a long time ago. He had the same idea as this one and even less of a chance. The war between the Sarith and the D’rrish lasted over a hundred years and ended with the destruction of the Sarith home world.” Max looked thoughtful, “Anyway, that’s why the writers hang out with the Gods. Sometimes, under the right circumstances, they can perform miracles, too.” He paused for a moment with a puzzled look on his face, “I just can’t figure out where they get their crazy ideas.”
Dedicated to the Memory of Roger Zelazny.
The title is both a Zelazny reference and a ghastly pun using Greek mythology and this story itself.
Other Zelazny References:
Agni, Rudra and Sam are from The Lord of Light.
Drunkards Walk refers to the Pattern of the Amber series; the guy in black and silver is, of course, Corwin. The other guy waiting to play is Dilvish, from Dilvish the Damned and The Changing Land.
The Scyllyrian and troll playing ‘chess’ is a reference to the story Unicorn Variations.
The story he tells is The Doors of His Face, The Lamps of His Mouth.
There are a few other Zelazny references, for any enthusiasts.
Lee Foster lives in the Austin, Texas area and spends his days developing computer software for a large computer company and attempting to learn the writing trade. He has had one screenplay produced, if you can count a friends indy production of their own Survivor application video.
Currently,the author is toiling at multiple short science fiction stories, another Mare Inebrium story, the early stages of a novel and a few other projects. Hopefully, he won't get his inventions mixed up... He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.