Messoack wipes his face with a dripping rag and drops it on the floor, missing the wash-bin he took it from. “I am the candle in the dark for fluttering thoughts.” He kisses his smooth, blue-gray knuckles. “I am the eye within the maelstrom for argonauts.”
The barkeep is draped over the bar-top, a cauterized hole through his neck and red foam covering his lips. A pair of wenches lean against each other at the door, holes through their buxom chests. A minstrel is slumped over his mandolin on the stage, and a half dozen patrons are scattered about the floor. Everyone in the inn is dead, and Messoack doesn’t remember what compelled him to kill them all.
“I am Voice for the Unnameable, but my mind is my own.” He straightens his collar and strides outside.
The sky is brightening with dawn. Messoack settles several horses, a giant hyena, and an even bigger spiral-horned goat. They are the prized mounts of his adventuring band.
As the rest of his party pursues a mission within ancient ruins deep below his feet, Messoack keeps watch. He must ensure that Zenath, the local tyrant, isn’t warned about their trespass.
Hand-prints and a pair of lines in the dirt curve around the edge of the stables. Messoack clicks his blunt teeth and peeks around the corner.
A human boy huffs and squirms away on his belly. Hole through his back and his legs limp as noodles, he moves on his elbows and palms like a lizard. Messoack catches up and kneels in the boy’s path.
“I’ve never been accused of sanity.” Messoack shakes his head. “But cruelty isn’t my nature either.” He lifts his hand and twirls his fingers to gather a swirl of purple energy.
“You will not!” The boy snarls and punches up, missing and collapsing. “Zenath will avenge us.”
Messoack flicks his hand to cancel his spell. “How so?”
“He’s our protector, and his flying eyes miss nothing. Even the Jabberwaki fears him.”
“The Jabberwaki? I’ve heard that’s your local monster. Have you a description more specific than nightmare?”
The boy twists and winces. “Don’t know. Each time only Zenath survives.”
Messoack narrows his eyes. “Tell me your name.”
“A named thing has value and allows me to spare you.”
“J-Jamjon.” He gulps. “You’ll heal me?”
Messoack shakes his head. “Paralyzed. I must have nicked your spine. Tell me what value your life maintains without the use of your legs.”
Jamjon curls to rub his thighs. “I can’t do anything.” He sobs. “I’m worthless.”
“Now that’s not true.” Messoack picks up a twig and hands it to him. “Draw the Jabberwaki.”
“Use your imagination.” Messoack rolls his shoulders and bares his teeth. “Long gangly arms, hooking claws, barbed fangs, whatever thoughts flutter into your underdeveloped brain.”
“O-okay.” Jamjon digs into the dirt, sketching a simple silhouette of a monstrous thing with arms like an ape and hands like pitchforks.
“Good. Can you spell?”
The boy nods as voices come from the stables.
“Name your art, ‘Jabberwaki Was Here.’ Hurry, before my companions come out.”
Jamjon frowns, gritting his teeth as he writes. “You saying I could be an artist? Nobody pays for art around here.”
Messoack pats Jamjon’s shoulder and sticks a knife into the back of the boy’s neck. “Agree to disagree.”
Beorn comes out of the stables with his warhammer drawn. “What’s happening out here?”
“A fog about my soul.” Purple lips twitching, Messoack drops a gold coin next to the dirt drawing. “He was going to warn Zenath!”
“Couldn’t you have knocked the boy out?” says Beorn as the rest of their companions exit and hurry to their mounts.
“His name was Jamjon.” Messoack goes to his horse. “Good kid.”
Jacob peeks in the inn’s window and punches the frame. “You crazy magician, did you kill everyone?”
“Isn’t that what they say the Jabberwaki does?” Messoack shrugs. “I merely adhered to local custom.”
Jacob sprints to Messoack and lifts him off the ground by his collar. “You cruel lunatic. I should smash your skull in.”
“Easy, Jacob,” says Beorn. “We got the books we need. Let’s escape while we can. The sun is rising, and Zenath’s bat-crows will be flying.”
Messoack grabs Jacob’s wrists and smiles. “I’m not cruel. They died quick, except for the boy, and I made sure that he died with hope in his heart.”
Jacob growls, releasing him and jogs down the trail. Beorn climbs onto his fluffy, gray goat and signals everyone to follow their scout.
Messoack mounts last and trots his horse over to the broken boy. “You deserve better, Jamjon.” He sprinkles more gold coins around the body. “Let these pave your way to a proper afterlife.”
Shuddering as he rides from the inn, Messoack frowns as something like a curtain lifts in his mind. Eyes wide, he gallops to the head of the line.
“Beorn!” Messoack reins in next to the party leader. “I believe I fell under the influence of something evil.”
The bulky warrior raises an eyebrow. “Don’t you get your power from a deal with a demon?”
“Technically, a dark djinn.” Messoack frowns. “A very purposeful being. Not one to promote slaughter for the sake of it.”
Beorn points ahead at Jacob, crouched next to a boulder. “I believe you, but he’s not in the mood to.”
“What happened down in those ruins?”
Beorn snorts. “What always happens with us. Success despite disaster.”
“The boy said something.” Messoack fingers his pointed ear. “ ‘Each time only Zenath survives.’ So, Zenath repeatedly defeats the Jabberwaki. What if the tyrant purposefully lets the monster go to give purpose to his rule?”
“Sounds insane.” Beorn clucks his tongue, ordering his giant, golden-eyed goat to charge ahead.
Messoack holds up his finger as the rest of his party passes with frowns and shaking heads. He turns back towards the inn and squints at massive bat-crows crisscrossing in the distance.
Zenath’s flying eyes are hunting.
Beorn, Ranger of Thorn—Colgrevance’s right hand
Jacob, martial artist—tumbling scout with mystic fists
Messoack, magician—loyal explorer of madness
Theros, giant goat—a gruff that serves as Beorn’s mount