Chuck Wendig: Chicken in the Breadpan

This week’s Chuck Wending Flash Fiction challenge is called Invasive Species.  In honor of Chuck’s newest paperback release, Invasive, we just had to do whatever we wanted to do with the concept of an invasive species.  Pretty self-explanatory, wot?  I decided to do mine as a direct sequel to the story I wrote last week,  That means more yodeling demons!  We had 1,500 words to play with, and I used every single one of them.  Please to enjoy, and, as always, please let me know what you think.



The whole thing started when that idiot spidermail scout decided to take on an entire demon hootenanny by himself.  No one was quite sure what he was thinking, but by the time the Colonel and his legion arrived, the scout was long since in a pot and the magical knife he had been so proud of was being used to pick his own gristle out of the teeth of the demons’ dance caller, who turned out to be a ridiculously powerful shaman named Grtzlxyzk.

Expositionary aside:  you may be interested to know why the shaman was just picking his teeth with the knife instead of recklessly charging after and attacking his comrades the way the scout did.  That’s the magic that particular knife does, after all.  Turns out, the magic invested in knives such as Mistress Murderbeak (honestly, who comes up with the names for magical items these days?) doesn’t affect beings as primal as demons.  All the major demonic species predate most varieties of mortal magic, making demons immune to its effects and thus turning Mistress Murderbeak into the equivalent of a regular knife in their hands.  I’m sure she’s not happy about that, but there it is.

So the Colonel and his band arrived to find a horde of 300 pissed off demons waiting for them, along with a shaman roughly the size of a small oak tree.  Needless to say, that battle didn’t last very long.  Even a regular knife will kill just as effectively as a magical one, if the wielder is determined enough.

The demons resumed their yodelly din, but this time they weren’t dancing.  The key of their cries turned minor and menacing as they stampeded through the woods towards town.  Their numbers swelled as they called out to other demons in the area and by the time they arrived at our gates there were nearly 600 of them.

Humans are not the most sensible people in the world.  If there were 600 angry demons bearing down on your hometown, what would you think is the sensible thing to do?  RIGHT!  So of course, we, the sensible citizens of Dekker, took to the walltops by the hundreds to gaze out at them in wonder and bewilderment and awe.  To their credit, the guards tried to keep us off the ramparts, but when a citizenry is determined to be decisively stupid, by the gods, it’s going to happen.

Grtzlxyzk himself stepped out and approached our gates.  He called out in a deep, bass voice that grinded and roared like an avalanche cascading down a mountainside.  “Send me a bard!” he avalanched.

I was there, just to the left of the third crenellation on the right beside the second tower north of the gate.  I heard the shaman’s words, and I gasped.  Mostly because no one knew demons could speak our language (turns out, they can’t.  It was just Mistress Murderbeak, getting in just enough of a whammy to provide us with a bilingual demon), but also because of what he had said.  “Send me a bard,” he had said.  “Send me a bard,” I whispered, and then I laughed.  “I’m a bard!” I shouted.  “I’m coming!”

Holding my mandolin aloft I made my way down the walltop as quickly as I could.  The guards tried to hold me back, trying to tell me they had sent for Torgis Drummond, so they didn’t need me.  Torgis Drummond?  Seriously?  I was aghast.  “Torgis Drummond isn’t a bard,” I said.

“He’s the King’s Bard,” said one guard.

“Shite!”  I shouted.  “Shite and political puffenstuff!  I have more bardic knowledge and ability in my left testicle than Torgis Drummond has in her entire body.  Now get out of my way!”  I began pushing forward, exhorting the crowd, asking them to help me.

And they did!  Laughing and cheering, they pulled the guards off me and, as I continued forward, they set up a chant, “The bard!  The bard!”

Triumphantly, I arrived at the gate.  I looked around and saw that Torgis Drummond hadn’t arrived yet.  She was probably in the throne room with the King.  That meant I had at least half an hour until she got here.  I intended to make the most of it.

I turned towards the wall.  Grtzlxyzk was standing less than a stone’s throw away from me, his swollen, red eyeballs nearly level with the top of the wall.  I could see the other 600 demons behind him.  I began to raise my mandolin when a hand gripped my arm.  Wall Captain Blaise stood there.  “Are you mad?” she said.  “What are you doing here?  You’ll get us all killed.”

I nodded my head towards Grtzlxyzk.  “Fellow asked for a bard.  I’m a bard.”

Blaise sighed.  “Torgis Dru—“

I cut her off.  “Torgis is at the palace.  Do you think he’s willing to wait for her to come all the way out here?”

Blaise sighed.  “I just wish it was anyone but you.”

I winked.  “Blaise, I didn’t know you cared so much.”

“I care about this city,” she said.  But she released me.  “Don’t screw this up.”

I turned back to the wall and, in a flash of inspiration, leaped up on to a parapet that was set into the wall above the gate.  I held my mandolin high.  “I am a bard!” I called.  “In the grand tradition of the sons and daughters of the Melodious Court I greet you, shaman, in the name of the notes and the words and the music of all of our souls!”  I lowered my mandolin and bowed, flourishing my cape, causing it to billow and ripple.

Grtzlxyzk grinned.  I shuddered at the sight of five rows of teeth, canines nearly as long as I was tall, each dripping with glowing ichor.  He bowed gravely, then straightened and responded.  “I greet you, bard.”  I could smell his breath from where I stood as he spoke.  It was all I could do to stay upright.  “Troops from your city attacked us and our bones ache for revenge.  You can prevent that, though.”  He paused to let me digest that statement.  “I am told that bards have extensive knowledge of many different styles of music and lore?”  A slight upturn of tone at the end turned it into a question.  I nodded.

He continued.  “I will ask a question.  Your response will lead to other questions and actions and so on.  If I am ever dissatisfied with your response, this knife—” he held up what could have only been Mistress Murderbeak “—will find itself embedded in your all-too-human heart and we will destroy your city.”  He stopped.

Blaise and I exchanged a glance.  She looked like she was going to cry.  “Have faith, Blaise,” I muttered, “and be glad Torgis isn’t here.  She’s no more a bard then you are.  We’d be burning by now.”

Further conversation was negated by my astonished reaction to Grtzlxyzk‘s next words.  “Do you know ‘Chicken in the Breadpan’?”  He looked at me.  The air quivered with expectation.  I could feel it.

My mind went blank for just a moment, then I realized I did know it.  I didn’t say a word.  I simply stepped out to the very edge of the parapet.  I brought my mandolin into playing position, and my fingers touched the strings.  My left hand fingered the notes, my right hand played them.  I started slowly, watching Grtzlxyzk closely.  His eyes narrowed and just as he began to open his mouth I began playing faster.

I gradually increased both tempo and volume and just as I reached the chorus, I couldn’t help myself; I threw back my head and howled.  When I did, the crowd on the walltop exploded, shouting and dancing and whirling about with abandon.  Even Blaise stepped a tattoo in her armor.  Someone started banging out a beat on a shield, and someone else must have had a harmonica in their pocket because I could hear the sound of one cutting through.

Then there was an eruption of noise from outside the wall as all 600 demons began yodeling again.  Their musicians had instruments out and were playing along with me.  Grtzlxyzk suddenly began calling out steps and doing a jig.  I laughed.

By the time Torgis Drummond arrived at the gate the taller demons had lifted any human who wished to go, into the air and down to the ground and more than a thousand beings, both human and demon, were on the sward outside the gates playing, singing, laughing, yodeling, and dancing.  The hoedown lasted for three days and when it was over, Grtzlxyzk and I parted as friends and I even accepted an invitation to their kingdom to teach our lore to their bards.

Suck on that, Torgis.  Shouldn’t have been all the way over in the throne room.  You probably didn’t know “Chicken in the Breadpan” anyway.  You’d have killed us all.

I’m a bard, demons.  And I’m coming.

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