Id Om Zagod sat in the Wandering Wyvern Inn, watching the adventurers come and go. The fat, chisel pointed Dao with its long double grip handle sticking intimidatingly out from over his shoulder. He glared at the patrons, a massive pewter tankard in one hand and a tiny crystal shot glass in the other. Setting the empty shot glass down, the Dwarf carefully poured a measure of the thick brown liquor from the stoneware jug on the bar next to him. A small drop spilled on the bar and began to eat its way through the oak, sizzling and burning.
“Hey little guy, what’re ya drinkin?” A tall and massively musclebound human sat down next to him, the impact of sitting knocking the bottle off the bar. Ioz, as his friends would have called him if he’d had any, moved as fast as a striking snake, catching the bottle a finger’s breadth from the floor.
“Did you just call me… little?” He asked, his voice gravely and deadly quiet.
“Oh come now, I don’t mean nothin by it. Pour me one a whatever that is.” The human slapped him on the shoulder hard enough to shift him a finger on his stool.
“Fenris, leave Zagod alone! By the Mother Goddess, that crazy gobshite is drinking Purple Hippogriff!” Another human had noticed his friend and had intervened at perhaps the worst possible moment. “If he don’t kill ya th drink will!”
“This is th Stone Crushin Fist everyone’s been on about?” Fenris asked incredulously, “Canne be him, he’s got a bloody sword don’t he?”
A fist the size and shape of a summer ham smashed into Fenris’s cheek, even as Ioz drained his tankard. The huge human staggered back, drawing his sword and swinging it in the same motion but Ioz stumbled three steps to the left, then three to the right seeming to accidentally stumble out of the way. Fenris was only barely able to stop his stroke before the blade struck his friend.
“You little-“ Fenris began, but Ioz had woven his way back into range, draining his shot glass as he came. Fist, elbow, forearm, knee and foot struck in rapid succession hitting solar plexus, collar bone, temple, nose and then chin as the Dwarf unleashed unarmed fury upon his would be opponent.
“Nobody calls me little. Nobody spills my drink. Nobody doubts my fists.” Ioz sat back on his stool as though nothing had happened. The human on the floor was groaning and holding his broken nose with one hand and his stomach with the other. Calmly, he reached out and poured himself another shot of the muddy brown liquor. Purple hippogriff. It ain’t purple and it ain’t a hippogriff.
“Very easily managed.” An accented voice said in common. “I can see that your reputation is very well deserved.” The second human had retreated, hand on the hilt of the Greatsword over his shoulder and a diminutive figure in a blue robe with the cowl pulled low over its face had stepped forward. It extended a gloved hand.
Ioz did not take it, instead tossing a pair of silver coins to the Minotaur behind the bar who refilled his mug with frothing ale without comment. The Dwarf took a long drink and sighed in satisfaction. Reaching into a belt pouch, he took out a long stemmed pipe and a pouch of tac. With careful deliberation he packed the bowl full and lit it with a practiced stroke of flint and steel.
Finally, after blowing a perfect smoke ring he turned to the figure where it stood patiently waiting. “What you want Kobold?”
The human guard flinched and took a step backward, but the cloaked figure didn’t so much as twitch. “I am offering you something. An opportunity. The Mother Goddess has brought all us forgotten here for a reason and I believe yours goes beyond carousing and fist fights.”
Ioz grunted. “Naw. That’s pretty much all I’m good for.”
“Very well. Then I challenge you to a fight. The stakes are-“ The figure broke off as Ioz drained his tankard and took a pull directly from the bottle before leaping at her, his arms spread wide. She easily slid to one side, tapping his foot with hers as she did so. Her touch was just enough to spin him around, a motion which he turned into a vicious roundhouse that had the power to sunder a stone wall.
She leaned backward and slapped his heel as it flashed past her face, causing his motion to carry dangerously close to the bar. Only by pulling his foot in and spinning twice in a circle did Ioz avoid kicking his bottle from the bartop.
“That ain’t right.” He rumbled, unleashing a mad blur of punches, kicks and other less gentlemanly strikes. The small figure glided out of reach every time and as was her wont, tapped him in just the right spot to put him off balance, this time sending him crashing into a table laden with food and drink.
Ioz rolled easily to his feet, ignoring the bits of broken pottery jammed into his flesh and the pottery, coming to his feet with an un-spilled tankard from the table which he promptly poured down his throat. This time when he approached, he wove in an unsteady rhythm, feet crossing over themselves in an unintelligible tangle of stuttering steps. His upper body wove in a nearly impossible sinuous weaving motion. Instead of fists, his hands cramped into uncomfortable looking claws, knuckles splayed at wild angles. A wide, unsteady grin was plastered across his face.
“Now we shtart to shee jusht how good ya be lassh.” Ioz slurred, and stumbled forward three quick steps. His foot came down hard where hers had been a moment before and he stumbled into her, his elbow smacking into her temple with force that should have been impossible from that angle. She neatly turned a sideways cartwheel, turning most of the force of his blow into motion and lashed out with a foot as she did. The motion flipped her hood back and he could see that her scaled skin was the white of driven snow.
Ioz wobbled back a half step and evaded her strike entirely before weaving back into the fray his arms, elbows and knees a blur of fluid, yet somehow erratic motion. She retreated, awkwardly countering his blows, ducking and blocking. Finally, she fetched up against the bar and in the blink of an eye was holding a pair of nunchaku. Weapons in hand, she launched a furious counterattack. Steel flashed as she battered at him, attempting to wrap the chains of her weapons around his arms or legs and settling for striking ferocious blows instead.
As he passed the bar, Ioz snagged a bottle at random and downed it before rolling backward out of reach and coming to his feet with his massive Dao in both hands. The weapon whistled out, the wickedly polished edge shining in the light coming through the tavern’s window as he used it to block his opponent’s deadly assault.
He stepped back, grounding the chisel tip of the sword and bowing slightly from the waist. “You are good.” He said without rancor or the slurring speech and slumped back into his seat at the bar which just happened to be where he had retreated. “You forced me to draw steel… What do you want?”
She stepped forward and poured a shot for each of them. He raised a bushy eyebrow skeptically but downed his while she did the same. Impressed, Ioz waited patiently.
“You’ve seen exactly what happens when you cannot maintain balance. You are defeated, and by a mere Kobold.” She said the last with irony in her tone. “That is why I wish you to assist in a little project. I can promise many strong opponents and a few staunch allies as well as the chance to do something a bit more… meaningful with your existence.”
Her eyes took in the now empty bar, the destroyed tables and crockery and she raised an ironic eyebrow. “If you don’t have something more pressing in your schedule?”
The doors slammed open and the city watch tramped in. Ten of them. Even though he had never resisted, they sent more every time. They circled him warily and the guard captain came forward with a pair of manacles.
“Zagod.” He said with a frown on his face, “Don’t tell me that this tiny person over here somehow forced you to destroy the bar.”
Ioz saw that the Kobold had flipped her hood up again. He looked at the guard captain and snorted in derision, “You know I don’t judge folk because of their size Darious. You also should know I don’t resist arrest when I’ve broken the city’s laws.”
Ioz turned to the hooded form, “I accept your offer.” He said, inclining his head. He paused, noting that its shoulders shook with silent laughter. Narrowing his eyes, he asked, “What is so damn funny?”
“They call you Zagod.” She choked out, “They are literally calling you ‘fist’ or ‘punch’ and they don’t even understand it!”
“Punishment for a bar fight is payment of damages and a night in the lockup.” He said, keeping his face straight. “So you’ll have to wait until tomorrow.”
“You’re going to actually go with him? You’re actually going to spend a night in jail?” She sounded skeptical, “Why?”
Ioz shrugged. “It’s the law. Part of following the law is acknowledging when you break it and serving the time required. I’m bad at following the law but I try and atone for those failings by serving my sentences without causing trouble.”
“There is much more to you than it would seem Ioz.” She said, using the name he had chosen. The name he had taken for himself. The name that had no hidden meaning. “I will ensure someone is there to collect you upon your release.”
With that rather cryptic and unsettling statement, she turned and left. They all watched her for a minute before Ioz sighed. “Can I finish my drink before we go at least?”
“We’d be here all night, I know better than that.” Darious said.
Ioz sighed again, deeper this time. “Damn.”
Sitting in the cell that smelled of vomit, sweat and piss, Ioz admitted that he’d had better accommodations. Still, it was his own lack of self-control that had led him to this place. Again. He leaned back and let the memories of old pain wash over him.
He had been too weak to protect anyone. Too small to defend those who he cared for. Too stupid to notice until it was too late. He had relied on his weapons, hadn’t trained his body to the fullest extent possible, hadn’t honed himself to a razor’s edge… and his friends had paid dearly for it.
After his failure, he had simply walked away from his life or what was left of it. He had left everything behind and just walked until he could no longer put one foot in front of the other. Until nothing mattered and it felt like death would be a comfort, a balm, a welcome release from the suffering of continuing to live. And then he had run.
When The Mother Goddess, Landria Mother of the Lost, Keeper of the Forsaken, Finder of Things that Shone in Darkness found him, she wept at his despair. She took some of his pain into herself. She offered something other than the endless darkness that he wanted to give in to. She gave him the escape he craved without demanding the end of his existence. It had been a temptation too sweet to resist. He had regretted it for every day thereafter.
Once he had accepted her salvation, Ioz had discovered that he was no longer able to forsake his own life. He couldn’t change who he was when the very stones of this place demanded that he live. That he serve the Mother’s purpose. That he follow this land’s Laws and obey his set destiny. He wept bitter tears as he saw the treachery of Landria’s forgiveness.
So he tempered himself in the forge of pain and strengthened himself on the anvil of despair. He had years, decades, centuries to live. Without the release of suicide, he simply tried to die by fighting the strongest person he could find in every place he traveled. Over the years, decades, centuries, he had come to a simple conclusion. He was the strongest, or else the Mother would not allow him to perish in such a trivial fashion.
Dorda. Randar. Shrav. Terkin. His friends who had been murdered because he hadn’t been able to fight without a weapon stood always over his shoulder. Always reminding him of his debt to them. Constantly exhorting him to greater effort. And now, this Kobold… a person who hadn’t even had enough respect for him to grace him with her name… now she held the strings of his fate in her clawed, white hands. She held them and he was too much of a coward to deny it.
Or perhaps this was his chance to redeem himself. Closing his eyes, Ioz allowed sleep to claim him. Tomorrow, the true testing would begin. A test of balance that was sure to strain him to his utmost limits, or so he hoped. Perhaps it would even break him. That thought was the first comfort he had felt since Landria, the Mother of the Lost had claimed him. The jailers found him sleeping with a smile on their nightly rounds and shuddered at the sight.