Erik the Drunk was drunk again. By this point, the townspeople had stopped keeping track of how many times they had awoken to his intoxicated yelling in the middle of the night. They had stopped ushering their children quickly away from his crooked finger pointing and his twisted mouth laughing in their direction. They often saw Erik swaggering up and down the town’s dusty main street, pretending to face off with dragons or bandits or barter with invisible merchants, but after years of this, they no longer feared him. In fact, he was beginning to amuse them.
Before Erik became known as the Drunk, the town had been bustling with merchants. It was the only town between Dragon’s City and the City of Mages, which meant it was brimming with business. The dragonfolk and the Mages, you see, were archenemies. There was always a bounty on one head or another; a dragon robbed a Mage, a Mage slew a dragon. Bounty hunters, both dragonfolk and Mage, would stop at this little town for supplies or food or a place to sleep before going to collect their bounty. The town was universally acknowledged as neutral territory, and because of that, it thrived.
Then, Erik earned his reputation. He drank too much one joyful night and decided that intoxicated was how he wanted to spend the rest of his days. When bounty hunters and merchants and travellers came to town, he would terrorize them. He would laugh at their expense and make jokes about their children and often even steal from them. Most often, though, he would dress in wild clothes and walk the main street muttering incomprehensibly, just to creep them out. He possessed the incomprehensible ability to sound sober even after half a dozen drinks, and he would use this to his advantage to prank any stranger that dared step on his terf.
Over the years, word of Erik the Drunk spread. The town’s younger generation would videotape his drunken antics and post them on YouTube and Instagram and Vine: “Erik the Drunk Poses as Male Prostitute NOT CLICKBAIT!!” Travellers learned not to stop in this quaint little town, unless they were looking for a laugh at their own expense. Every day and every night, there was certain to be at least one young townsfolk watching, waiting patiently with a camera to record yet another bit of Erik’s cinematic gold.
Such was the case one day when three hooded figures rode into town on horseback. By this point, everyone living within fifty miles knew not to stop in this town, which meant these three must have been foreigners. Definitely not bounty hunters. Erik the Drunk stumbled out of the bar, dressed quite stupidly in a golden bathrobe and slippers, sporting a bar stool over his head like a helmet. His white beard and hair nearly touched his waist. As he sized up the newcomers, undoubtedly debating how best to humiliate them, he leaned against a lamppost lest he collapse to the ground.
“You!” one of the figures called, jumping from his horse. He removed his hood, revealing a boy no older than sixteen. Definitely not a bounty hunter. “Would you happen to know where a soul could find the great Mage Gandor? His brother, Dumbledalf, sent us this way to receive instruction on our quest.”
Erik stumbled out into the road with a lopsided grin. “It is Gandor you seek, young travelers? You’re in luck. I am Gandor.”
In truth, the Mage Gandor had left the town earlier that week after one too many pranks by Erik himself.
The boy who spoke looked baffled, but the other two figures dismounted their horses and bowed to him. The boy followed suit.
“Good day, Lord Gandor,” one of the figures said, taking off her hood to reveal a girl roughly the same age as the boy. “My name is Cleo, and these are my friends, Ben and Adam. Please do tell us what we must do to rescue our friend from the ice giants of Mount Frost. Your brother spoke highly of your wisdom.”
The third figure, Adam, removed his hood. He was the same age as the two others. “If it’s not too much to ask, maybe you could join us too? Zap some evil people with magic for us?” The girl kicked him just hard enough to get her point across.
“No, no,” Erik said, grinning as he warmed up to the role. “Magickind is in grave danger -- yes, your quest is just one piece of the bigger picture -- but it is not a Mage’s place to accompany his pawns on a quest… But I will offer you my wisdom and foresight. A grave and dangerous path lies before you. You must… but no, it is too dangerous.”
Theatrically, Erik pressed the back of his hand to his forehead.
“What is it?” Cleo asked. “What must we do?”
“Frankly, I don’t think it is worth it,” Erik said. “You should just turn back now. You would not want to suffer the eternal torments, you wouldn’t want to pay the price!”
“Just tell us what it is,” Adam said. “We’ll do anything to get our friend back.”
“Ah, if I must... “ Erik drew out the pause. “Alas. You must enter the Forest of Doom.”
The three looked unimpressed. “The what?” Adam asked.
“The Forest of Doom? You haven’t heard of it? Well, are you in for a nightmare. Any other group of young ones, I’d tell you to avoid that like place like the plague. But that’s the only way for you all to get to your dearly departed friend.”
“He isn’t dead!” Cleo shouted.
“No need to raise your voice, Missy. I didn’t say he was dead, I said he was dearly departed. He isn’t with you anymore, is he? Well, let me get on with it.
“You see, in the Forest of Doom live the G.F.L.F.s, which are--”
“Wait, Giant Ferocious Lizard-Folk?” Ben asked. “I didn’t think they exist.”
“Oh, they exist all right,” Erik cackled. “They’re a matrilineal society. At the center of the forest, you’ll find their den, where you’ll have to fight their queen to the death. They have a strictly established matriarchy and can be considered one of the greatest first-world societies on the planet. Because of their matriarchy, your lovely lady fried here will have to turn around. The G.F.L.F.s would likely consider her a threat and attack before you reach their queen.”
“But-” Cleo stuttered. “But Dumbledalf said I would be necessary for the quest!”
“My brother may be a great wizard, but even he does not possess my powers of foresight. You must turn around after this town.”
The girl deflated. “Yes, sir.”
“Excellent. Now, if you succeed in defeating their queen, he who slew her will-- uh--” For the first time, the alcohol seemed to be catching up to him. “--you will become their queen. Yes, you will magically turn into a female G.F.L.F., which is how you will spend the rest of your days. You will then be able to command their armies, and you will lead them to the top of Mount Frost, which is at the far side of the forest. Then you will battle the frost giants and free your friend. Simple as that.”
Erik the Drunk made to lean back on a pole or the side of a building, but, finding there was none, fell promptly on his bottom.
“I’m sorry, Lord Gandor,” Ben said, not moving to help him, “but with all due respect, can’t we just battle the ice giants ourselves without one of us turning into a giant lizard?”
“No!” Eric shouted, sputtering for a moment before coming up with a sufficient lie. “No, the G.F.L.F. Army is the only weakness of the ice giants! Yes, yes, their claws are the only things that can pierce the ice giants’ frozen skin. It is absolutely mandatory that you travel through the Forest of Doom if you wish to save your friend.”
With a mischievous grin, Erik added, “One day, long in the past, I foresaw myself sending a group of young people into the Forest of Doom, where nobody should ever enter. I saw myself warning them not to go but telling them all they wanted to know anyway. I saw them turning their backs on me and pursuing their quest anyway.”
“Enough with the chivalrous Mage nonsense,” Adam said. “Tell us the directions to this forest.”
“You’ll really do it?” Cleo said tentatively. “You’ll really turn into… into a monster?”
“Well, it’s up to chance, isn’t it?” Ben said. “Whichever one of us lands the killing blow.”
Erik nodded vigorously.
“I’d do anything to save Theo,” Adam said. “Even if it means turning into a lizard. Besides, even if one of us is a lizard, they can still talk to the rest of you, right?”
“Alright, enough with the bargaining, that’s for the road,” Erik said. “The Forest of Doom is that way.” He pointed north. It was, after all, in the direction of Mount Frost. “Leave as soon as possible, or all is lost. ‘Right?”
“Alright,” Ben said. “Thank you for your wisdom.”
The three bowed again. As Erik sat watching them, they said their goodbyes. The two boys made off north, and the girl turned back the way the three had come. Erik cackled. That was the most fun he had had in a long time.
Like every day and every night, one young townsperson was on their shift, watching and waiting with their phone camera trained on Erik the Drunk. So it was no stroke of good fortune when, just minutes later, a new video was posted on the internet:
“Erik the Drunk Poses as Mage and Sends Scared Kids into Perfectly Normal Forest NOT CLICKBAIT!!”
It got thousands of views.