“Oh, ya wanna hear my story?” Alfie takes a long drag from his pipe and stares into the campfire, his large amber eyes far away. “Okay. Welp. So, here’s the deal. My world, my Querth, was losing the Monster Wars, see? We were being overwhelmed with goblins and orcs and minotaurs and stirges… honestly, the stirges were the worst. Giant, bat-winged mosquitos? What the flip is up with that? What kind of idiot god came up with that terrible idea?”
Alfie pauses, taking a drink from a silver flask he produces from seemingly nowhere. Alfie’s skin is pale; chalky and ashen. He runs a trembling hand through his hair, which is an exclamation point of white standing up in shock from his scalp and refuses to lay flat. “So, what were we to do? All the dragons, draculas, dracoliches, and death knights got together and realized there were more of them than us gnomes and demi-gnomes (look, YOU can call them demi-humans, but to me they’re demi-GNOMES, you human-centric S-O-B) and that they could just wipe us off the map instead of getting hunted down in their caves and dungeons and keeps and whatnot. And it wasn’t just guys from the ‘D’ section of the manual, it was all them bastards. So, we were getting our butts kicked, right? So what else could we do? We made pacts with a bunch of Entities from Beyond. Fight fire with Hellfire, amiright?
“Well, it worked. We won the war. I guess. I mean, what we were left with after was a world where the gnomes and demi-gnomes had sold their souls and sanities to nightmare Old Gods from the Edge of Infinity that Mortal Minds Could Not Comprehend. It was pretty bad, I guess. Tentacles and eyeballs everywhere. And a surprising amount of butts. You think a gibbering mouther is frightening, wait until you encounter an undulating fleshy mass of gibbering butts…”
Alfie shudders, his tiny frame vibrating like a plucked ukulele string. “I guess Nietzsche was right when he said ‘Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.’ Who was Nietzsche? He was our C.O. Heckuvah guy… at least until he was polymorphed into a carrion crawler. Well, he was still pretty great after that. I mean, we never again had a problem with garbage building up inside our barracks, y’know?
“What’s that? Sure, I was in the war. Lt. Warlock First Class Knickerbocker, I was. My partner was Barry. Sargent Barry. He was a werebear infantryman. I’d ride him into combat, see? …No! Sheesh! Not like that! What are ya, twelve? We were a dang good team on the battlefield inseparable outside it. We partied hard at the local tavern, that’s for sure. Barry loved the ladies, y’know? The ladies where terrified of him, see, on account of him being mostly bear though, so it was mostly kind of sad.
“Have you met Barry? C’mon up to the fire, Barry. Don’t be shy.” A huge shadow lurches forward, led by two huge glowing yellows eyes and a razor sharp beak.
“Anyway, one day Barry here and I were on the front lines, and there was all this crazy chaos magic being tossed around and, long story short, Barry went and got himself turned into an owlbear. No, not a were-owlbear. Don’t be ridiculous! He’s already half-owl and half-bear. Don’t go throwing half-man in there too! Sheesh!”
Alfie shakes his little head and rolls his eyes in disgust. “Barry” lumbers into the firelight and shakes its furry/feathery owl head. Alfie throws it a strip of jerky which it gulps down with a disturbing 180° turn of its head and horrifying snap of its enormous beak. Barry rolls onto its back and offers its belly up for rubs, which Alfie obliges with vigorous scratches with both hands. “Barry’s always loved belly rubs.” He explains, matter-of-factly. Whether he means post- or pre-owlbear is uncertain.
“Well, Barry saved my bacon (and my personal well-being) more than once and I feel really bad about him being stuck in this owlbear form. So I’ve been travelling all the different Querths in the multiverse trying to find a cure.
“Yeah, we’re always looking for work, y’know? Do you have any idea how much it costs to keep Barry here fed? I mean, Barry still loves the ladies, but not quite the same way, know what I mean? Now it takes almost a full cow a week to keep him from eating them.
“Me? Oh yeah, I suppose my soul is still bound to Nugga-Thragath’Atchu, The Star-Worm That Devours All Sanity. Eh. Whatcha gon’ do?”
Alfie takes another sip from his flask and scratches abscently at one arm, which is covered in tattoos of an alien script that seem to squirm and coil around each other. You try not to look at them too long, lest your sanity slip away into the bottomless chasms of endless nothingness. “Anyway, that’s my tale… Hey, you gonna finish that sandwich?