For Danan Coleman. Word to the wise: leave the Darmangdoom where it lies. Or the Lobbers will be after you.
“And that’s how I broke my wedding ring finger!”
Helmen listened to the end of Godrik’s tale with his mouth open. They sat in the kitchen of the witch’s abode, at the rickety five-sided table. Godrik’s hand was wrapped in a bright green tea-towel.
“So where is the jewel then?” Wadder butted in, his chubby face wobbling as he spoke.
Godrik shrugged giant shoulders. “Lost it. When the Lobbers got me, I guess I just dropped it.”
Helmen chuckled. “Hopefully one of them picked it up.”
But Wadder wouldn’t be deterred. “We need to find it! We can’t just leave it out there to be picked up willy-nilly by some poor sod…”
Helmen was about to voice his derision, but Godrik spoke up, his deep voice heavier than usual. “He’s right. It’s not right to lose this thing and leave it.”
Helmen grimaced. Their words had a measure of truth. If the threesome hadn’t gone meddling in the witch’s vault on a stupid dare, then the jewel would still be safely clutched in her skeletal fingers. But the thought of going after the Lobbers or going back into the dark, dank resting place sent cold waves down Helmen’s back. Neither Godrik or Wadder looked any happier, though they both wore resigned expressions.
“So, do we go after the Lobbers, or visit the witch?” Helmen said.
“I vote the witch,” Godrik said, clearly in no hurry to meet up with the Lobbers again. “Maybe she’ll give us a hint.”
Wadder shrugged. “Let’s go.”
The three men walked shoulder to shoulder down into the basement. The witch sat on the stone table, her dress bunched up around her knees, leaving preserved legs bare from there down. She looked up and frowned at them. “You lost it, didn’t you? Foolish, foolish boys!”
“We want to know how to get it back,” Godrik began timidly. “We’ll give it back, and we won’t bother you again.”
“You’ll have to do more than that,” the witch said, dark hair standing out at all angles making her look more fearsome than an irate porcupine.
“What?” Wadder squeaked.
“You have to promise to protect the Darmangdoom, keep it safe, and make sure no one else takes it. I hide it for a reason, you know.”
“Yes, we know that now,” Godrik said. “Tell us how to get it back.”
“You have to sing to it,” the witch said. “With the voice of a virgin. ”
“What?” Godrik said. “It’s not a bloody unicorn!”
“It is the heart of a unicorn slain by pure silver and cursed in starlight with the blood of an innocent,” the witch said. “You have to sing to it.”
Helmen shivered, wondering how he had ever managed to get caught up in this. “How are we going to find a virgin?”
The witch looked at Wadder and raised an eyebrow.
“What…me? No! I…I’m…not…I can’t carry a tune to save my life!”
Godrik and Helmen stared at him.
“No one said you have to sing well,” Helmen said, glad he didn’t have to do anything. “What should he sing?”
“A song of calling, of illusion, of longing and desire.”
“I don’t know any of those,” Wadder said timidly. “I only listen to rock music. Does AC/DC have a song like that…?”
“Fortunately I kept the words…” the witch rummaged in her dusty robes and pulled out a crumpled bit of yellowed paper.
Wadder took it, looked down and then frowned. “One cup of flour, two cups of sugar…what kind of song is this?”
The witch snatched it back. “Wrong paper. That’s my recipe for killer brownies.”
Helmen didn’t want to know exactly how killer. After a moment more of rummaging, the witch produced another paper. A thick bit of papyrus with stains that looked suspiciously like blood. Wadder took it and went slightly pale, but he did not question the witch further.
“Ready?” she asked.
Wadder nodded, though he did not look ready in the least. He cleared his throat several times and opened his mouth to begin singing but the witch interrupted.
“Oh – and one of your companions must catch it while you sing. They must be quick for the Darmangdoom will not be bespelled for long. It is very smart.”
Wadder looked at the other two. Godrik held up his injured hand and shrugged to Helmen. “If I try, it will most likely get away. Looks like it’s up to you, mate.”
Helmen swallowed. “Me?” He took a deep breath and nodded. The sooner they started, the sooner it would be over and done with. “Okay. I’m ready.”
Wadder cleared his throat a few more times, then started to sing in a wobbly voice. Helmen wasn’t paying too much attention, his eyes fixed on the door where he assumed the Darmangdoom would appear, but he caught something about pure love, rainbows, and blueberry pancakes.
The first Lobber showed up at the top of the stairs to the basement just as Wadder was warbling about starlight and volcanic eruptions. Standing about three feet tall and bright yellow, the creature’s ugly features made one want to gag. Huge ears pulled the small wrinkled head side to side as it walked. Tiny pink eyes blinked rapidly as the soggy nose slurped and wheezed. Sharp black nails tipped stubby arms and a third arm sprouting from the protruding stomach was the cherry on top of a melting sundae.
Two more of its kind blundered in behind it, chirping and grunting in what they must consider conversation. The three Lobbers did not notice the witch or the three men, their attention fixed on something hovering in the air in front of them.
A bright sphere of iridescent light surrounded the Darmangdoom. The fist-sized jewel was pale pink and black with a heartbeat that was more felt than heard, thudding throughout the entire basement. It floated slowly and serenely towards the singing Wadder, who didn’t notice because his eyes were shut tight.
Helmen waited until the jewel didn’t look like it was going to come any closer, gulped, then lunged. The Darmangdoom sensed the man flying towards it a split second before he reached it but then it was too late. Helmen’s fist closed around it and he fell into the squealing Lobbers.
All he could think of was not letting go of the damn Darmangdoom as it sparked against his fingers. Even when the Lobbers clawed at him, partially because the man was crushing them, partly because they wanted what he had clutched so desperately in his hand, Helmen didn’t let go.
Wadder had stopped singing at some point and he and Godrik were punting Lobbers out of the way to get to Helmen. The witch was shrieking and rocking, still bound to her coffin but if that spell failed to hold, she would have been right in the fray, dusty bones giving as good as they got.
Through the riot, Helmen heard a voice screeching, “Use the Darmangdoom, idiot boy!” It sounded like good advice but Helmen didn’t know how to do that. Fortunately the Darmangdoom was strong enough to show him and Helmen’s hand came up, not of his volition.
A bright light flared and everything was still. Helmen opened his eyes. Time had frozen around him. Wadder’s face was molded into an expression of extreme distaste as he held a Lobber aloft, the ugly creature posed like a ballerina in mid-pirouette. Godrik was halfway through a furious stamp, a Lobber hanging onto his leg with both arms and legs and all teeth, queerly similar to a bright yellow potato with a demonic expression. Even the witch was perched statuesque on her crypt, looking almost like the three men had found her what must have been seven and a half lifetimes ago but was really only three days.
“Now what?” Helmen said to himself, his voice flopping in the stillness.
He sat up and extricated himself from the Lobbers, Wadder, and Godrik. Tiptoeing to the witch, Helmen debated for an instant keeping the magic Darmangdoom. The witch’s warning and Godrik’s tales quickly disabused him of the wisdom of that idea and Helmen tentatively reached out, prying the witch’s fingers apart and closing them around the Darmangdoom.
With another bright flash time, the spell broke. For a moment, the others were disoriented. Then mayhem started again. The witch looked down and saw she now held the Darmangdoom. With a whisper and a flick of her ancient wrist, she sent a shower of gold and purple sparks through the basement.
The Lobbers disappeared, and Godrik and Wadder were left mute and gaping.
“It’s over?” Godrik asked when he figured out how to speak again.
Helmen nodded. Wadder sighed and sank to the floor. “Holy cow.”
“I’ll have my spell back, please,” the witch held out her other hand.
“What…oh, right.” Wadder dragged himself off the floor and returned the scrap of paper. “What was that? It made me feel all funny.”
“It’s ancient Egyptian, care of King Rammen II’s third wife’s favorite high priest, who had a rather necromantic bent.” The witch smiled smugly. “Not something you can get at any old spell-store or apothecary.”
“Right,” Wadder said, a rubbed his hand vigorously against the leg of his trousers as though that would get rid of any necromantic taint.
The witch pulled her legs back onto the slab of stone and lay her head on the mouldy satin pillow. The Darmangdoom sat quietly, visible through her pale fingers, nestled against her chest. She closed her eyes, then opened one and peeked up.
“So, you boys will remember your promise?”
The three nodded with energy.
“Of course,” Wadder said. “No one disturbs your rest or gets the Darmangdoom.”
“That’s right,” the witch said, her glare severe despite being one-eyed. “No more high-school dares or corny pranks, or next time I won’t be quite so helpful.”
Godrik gulped. Wadder went a little paler. Helmen nodded.
“Well, then, I suppose this is goodbye.” The witch closed her eye, a small smile twitching at the corner of her mouth.
“Good night,” Wadder said.
“Sleep tight,” Godrik added.
“Don’t let the Lobbers bite,” Helmen said.
“Sweet dreams,” they chorused.
They left the witch in the embrace of eternal sleep and the darkness of her basement without a look back, taking care to lock the door behind them.