Gnar`s Vow

Dragons of the Snake River Basin, Chapter 1

- January 2023 Popular Vote Pick

Gnar scrambled carefully up onto the rim of the canyon. He scanned about with sharp eyes, quietly setting his hoofed foot onto the black volcanic rock. He paused for a moment, and slipped on his leather moccasins before continuing. His hooves were convenient for climbing up steep canyon walls, but not great for sneaking up on even dumb unilope.

He wasn’t a big fellow, roughly only about 5’9”, but still stockier and stronger than he was back when he was human. His hair and beard was gray now, after so many years of living alone, without the nymphs who had kept him young. He may have looked older, but his senses were still quite sharp, and he could still run and climb as well as just about any wild critter.

It didn’t take long to spot the herd, as they had all frozen, each one standing comically with their single antler sticking up like an antenna, startled by even the slight noise of the satyr tying his moccasins. Having only one eye right in the middle of their heads, unilope were easy to panic at slightest sound, and could run up to 100mph when they did. Gnar held his breath and stood perfectly still, waiting for the next wind gust before moving closer to the herd.

He paused only for a moment, as the wind was almost never calm along the Snake River Gorge. The ruddy-skinned satyr reached up and tilted his cowboy hat to shade his eyes. He was just getting used to his new hat, and still wasn’t completely sure he had cut the holes for his horns big enough. At least, he thought, it wouldn’t blow off of his head.

In a few moments, he was close enough to the herd for a shot. He would only have one today. He was down to his last good aluminum arrow, and it would take some time to scavenge materials to make more if he lost it. Still, that was dependent on whether his compound bow would even continue to function. The heavy draw weight was too much for a wooden arrow, so this shot better count. He drew his bow, and took aim on a fat unilope not far from him.

Clunk. The arrow fell to the ground unceremoniously, as the bow just seemed blow in the wind like paper, its strings dissolving into dust. Gnar hung his head, though he was not surprised. He looked up to see the whole herd frozen yet again, shaking with anticipation, ready to bolt at any moment. He let out a quiet sigh, as he slowly reached for his tomahawk.

It had been 23 years since the event Gnar like to call the “bad breakup”, and his compound bow was one the last pieces of modern tech that still functioned, up until just then. It felt very final, like the last shoe had just dropped.

He still remembered that day clearly, the day the earth shook, and a black cloud rose from the east. Everyone was sure it was the end. The Yellowstone caldera was erupting. Then, in a flash that surprised everyone, the mid-afternoon sky turned to night. It wasn’t from an ash cloud, as stars were clearly visible, strange stars that seemed to dance in the sky, as the whole horizon glowed, particularly to the east.

Seven hours later, when the sun rose in the west, everyone realized something truly unreal had occurred. It would take a few days to discover that a large circular chunk of North America, approximately 900 miles in diameter, had simply been removed from the Earth, and deposited somewhere else. It would take several months and a war to realize, this was no temporary crisis, and that their world wasn’t even in the same reality anymore.

Twenty three years, three wars, and a lot of changes later, Gnar’s world was very different, as was he. As was everyone, and everything, except for the basic geography. The Snake River floodplain was still recognizable, and was still mostly farm land, but was much more fertile than before, as desert gave way to lush grassland. The grassland teemed with Unilope, Zebra Deer, Titan Elk, Jackalope, and Spiketail Bison.

Of all of the grazing beasts of the plain, Unilope were the dumbest, and made easy prey for the satyr, who could take one every few days without having to wander far from his home down in the canyon. He would trade whatever extra meat he had with the farmfolk of the nearby town of 18Falls for taters and onions and whatever butter lettuce they were able to harvest before the jackalopes got to it.

Gnar brought his tomahawk out, ever so slowly, knowing it was likely a futile attempt. Just as he cocked his arm, the herd bolted. Gnar flung the small axe at them in an arc, already imagining he would spend the rest of his fruitless day hunting for his tomahawk in the grass. Much to his surprise, it came down right behind the horn of one of the panicked beasts, and split the critter’s skull neatly.

Gnar laughed a little to himself. He nodded, as one of his many theories about his world was realized. He walked carefully through the tall grass toward his fallen prey, keeping a sharp eye out for rattle-jacks. He reached the animal, just at the edge of the dead spot, where the big salt-juniper grew.

The salt-juniper had been no tree at all when the breakup happened. It was almost new at the time, the trendy building of artisan shops, offices, a restaurant, and several apartments, perched near the canyon rim. In the years after, it had transformed, almost unnoticed, into a sort of huge tree-house, the home of Gnar’s nearest neighbors, the Pixies.

It had been empty for a month or so now, since the Pixies moved north. While the ground near 18Falls grew pot quite easily, which the Pixies loved, the mushrooms they loved even more only grew near the roots of the Sawtooth Range. Gnar kind of missed the Pixies, even though they could often be stinky annoying stoners. He mostly just missed Jill, the sweet little 4-foot-3-ish lovely creature with her auburn dreadlocks and kind green eyes. She had been a fun companion on many a lonely night, and one of the few things that took his mind off of loss and revenge.

He really couldn’t even allow himself to miss Jill, as it would only drag him into that pit he spent most of his time in, mourning the loss of Rona and Ani. His nymphs. His loves. He pulled out his skinning knife, and set to work quartering the unilope. He pulled his thick leather kilt from around his waist, and set it on the ground to give himself something to kneel on as he did his work. He sometimes wondered if other satyrs (if there were others) were modest enough to wear clothing.

When he was done, he wrapped up the quartered meat in the animal’s hide, and left the rest, an offering for the coyotes. They would have to act fast, however, as the sun was sinking in the east, and shortly Steph would be awake. She would be on the fresh kill as soon as she smelled it. It was a bit of luck that the Pixies were no longer living at the tree, and Gnar hadn’t needed to drag the carcass and drop it over the rim. He wouldn’t have left a big piece of troll-bait near Jill’s home, even if Steph usually didn’t bother the Pixies.

Gnar slipped off his mocs, and started the climb down to his home. He stopped in his tracks when he heard a sound, a deep thumping, faint and far. Goblins. Hopefully, they would stay on the highway, and not come his way. Goblins were the worst. Gnar wasn’t the only one who heard the sound, as something stirred in the river below the falls.

The wurm. Gnar glanced over toward the boulder trap he had set. He would keep a close watch on the water. If that damned wurm was distracted enough, Gnar might be able to finally end that thing. It was the only reason he still stayed in the canyon. Without his nymphs, the breathtaking canyon was just a place of sadness and rage, a place where he would one day kill the wurm, the River Dragon as it was known, or it would kill him.

There was much disagreement on the terms, but there was a general consensus that there were three specific types of dragons in the Snake River Basin. Of course, there were the four-legged winged variety, often referred to a raptyrs, or just “dragons”. The established alpha predator of their flat world, raptyrs were actually the least common, and seldom seen in daylight.

There were also drakes, wingless six-legged beasts that regularly lived in caves and ate bison, or the occasional elk. Drakes were more common, but their numbers fluctuated, due to the fact that they were hunted vigorously by the goblins, and not just for food. Somehow, unfortunately for everyone who wasn’t a goblin, they had discovered that they could run their obnoxious vehicles on drake blood. Luckily, drakes never went down without a fight, and always took some goblins with them.

The third type were the wurms. Often found in bodies of water, or in deep brush, wurms had been the most common since the last war ended. Snake-like creatures, usually legless, or with at most, two short legs, the often vicious wurms were known to toy with their prey, and would sometimes kill just for sport. It didn’t help matters that wurms were capable of producing a shriek that induced illogical panic in any warm-blooded animal it was directed at.

Each type was, in fact, known for their particular “song”. It was one reason they were all considered types of dragons, and not simply different creatures altogether. Drakes had a song that was so deep, most people couldn’t even hear it. Deep enough, in fact to cause involuntary bowel movements, the legendary “brown note” as it was known.

Raptyrs had a song as well, the most powerful of them all. Its frequency was so high, it could boil fluids, and cause flammable materials to ignite. Raptyrs weren’t fire-breathing, they were fire-screaming.

The thumping rackit was growing closer. Gnar groaned. Goblins were heading their way. The obnoxious creatures used their loud stereos to hunt, as the deep bass sounds often attracted drakes, among other critters that are better left alone. Of course, goblins mainly made lots of noise because they were just awful. It was the reason they were goblins.

After the breakup, the petty, the narcissists, the criminals, the just plain rude or trashy among the population slowly devolved into beasts. By the time the last war ended, they were full-on goblins, almost unrecognizable from their former selves, except for their hideous clothing and ridiculous vehicles. They tended to live in gutted big box stores, but would often die there, since they were incapable of being quiet, and usually provoked a troll, or ogre, or sometimes even a dragon with their constant noise.

Almost every creature with half a brain walking the flat world knew to kill a goblin on sight, like it was instinct. Idiot goblins making thump-thump noise around sunset near a bridge was going to end badly for them. Steph would be up soon.

Like many of the fantastical creatures in this new reality, Steph too had once been human. The locals said they didn’t know her, but that was mostly because she kept to herself for most of her life, and preferred to be alone. One morning, she fell asleep under the big bridge across the Snake River, and turned to stone as the sun hit her. The next night, she turned to flesh again, though many times her previous size, and hungry for raw meat.

Gnar had also once been a regular human, like any other. He never considered himself to be some kind of horny guy, but had managed to get turned into a satyr anyway. It was Ani’s fault, if it was anyone’s. He didn’t mind, though. They had all had a nice life together, until the wurm took his girls from him with its terrifying song.

He had rescued Ani, during the first war. She was barely 20 when he found her. She wouldn’t leave his side, even as he tried to convince her she was safe. Poor Ani had only been passing through Idaho when the breakup happened. She was nervous enough, even before reality broke, this dark-skinned girl in a place her friends back in Oregon had told her was full of skinheads.

The only danger the locals posed to Ani, was that they may invite her to church, or insist on giving her fry sauce instead of ketchup. The real danger was from the feds, the danger to everyone in those first months. After the war, Ani came to live with Gnar and his wife, Rona. After the things she had been through in the federal camp, she wasn’t willing to trust anyone else.

It was nice anyway, for the middle-aged couple to have the sweet young woman around, and they became fast friends, as they all watched the world change together. Gnar left them in their big camper near the edge of town when the second war, “The Militia War” broke out. He was quite surprised when he returned home after the victory.

Rona and Ani had been keeping each other company in more creative ways than he would have imagined. Soon the three were utterly in love. It wasn’t that crazy, considering everything else that had happened. Knowing their neighbors might be weird about it, they decided to find another place, and moved their home down into the canyon, just above a new falls that had formed, where they could swim, and fish, and “frolic”, safe from prying eyes, and from the creature that had been spotted in the river below.

It wasn’t long before they all were changed, Ani and Rona becoming the two most captivating long-haired nymphs, one dark, one light. Gnar was almost oblivious to his own transformation, as he was too enchanted by his lovers to notice until he had grown a big set of horns and hooves, his once graying hair turning flaxen.

It was a happy time for them all, one that sadly wouldn’t last. Another war came, and Gnar left to do his duty once again. He returned to an empty canyon, and in time learned that the petty river wurm had attacked his Rona, with its cry of panic, and she had fallen onto the rocks while trying to frantically climb the canyon wall.

The tragedy took both his loves from him, and more, and he swore he would have his vengeance. Eighteen years had passed since then (though 365 days is a rather rough measurement, as there are no seasons, and days take around 30 hours in the flat world). Gnar still kept watch over the river, baiting the thing when he could, attempting the most elaborate traps to kill the wurm.

The noise of the goblins grew much closer, and Gnar could see them now, inching the most ridiculous lifted pickup truck onto the derelict bridge. The truck had huge wheels, and barely any tires at all. Gnar realized, that quite by accident, the ten or so goblins in the silly noisy truck might just make it. The truck’s wheels must have had spacers on top of spacers, as wide as the silly-looking tires were set. If they were careful, they may be able to drive on the beams and make it across the huge gaps in the bridge.

Steph was going to be pissed. She hated any vehicle, or even people crossing her bridge. Every time the locals tried to fix the bridge, she would demolish their work the following night, sometimes even hurling materials back into the town. The farmfolk had largely given up on fixing it, and used another bridge up river, one with a much more understanding troll.

The goblins reached the middle of the bridge, as two of them fell clumsily to their deaths while trying to twerk on top of the truck while the others howled and laughed. The bass echoed through the canyon. What were these idiots trying to do? There was no drake here, only a troll, and the wurm, which had only two reptilian flippers, so while it could climb, it would take all night for the thing to reach the rim, let alone the bridge.

Gnar looked downriver, concerned about something else the goblins may be disturbing. He looked back just in time to notice the sun had dropped just enough for the boulders not far up the bank from the river to begin to move. Steph was waking. She wasn’t the only one stirring, as the river exploded, and the screaming wurm lurched forth, just in time to crash right into the troll. Intentionally or not, the goblins were about to pick a fight.

This could be the chance Gnar had waited almost two decades for, as the 20 foot long wurm coiled angrily around the now standing and quite animated 9 foot tall troll. The goblins had both critters so riled up with the obnoxious noise, the monsters tore into each other without a moment’s thought.

Gnar scrambled for his shack, and ripped the mattress from his bed. He pulled from underneath a broad steel axe, with a cleaver edge on one side, and a sharp spike on the other. The head was set with two stones, one red, one blue. Between the stones was a void, a space where another stone may have been, or may yet to be.

He tore from the shack, heading toward the fight, his hooves pounding into the ground like hammers. He didn’t get far before he realized that the only way he would be able to land a blow was to wait until the wurm had killed the troll, which it eventually would. He could then dispatch the wurm before it could recover and escape to the river again.

Gnar huffed, remembering his loves. Rona would not have approved. Despite his vow of vengeance, there were other vows he had made. He couldn’t just let Steph die. He set down his axe, and ran back to his hut, returning moments later with his rifle.

He didn’t have much faith in the big .338, considering what had happened earlier with his bow, but he had to try. He sighted in, almost sadly, knowing the rifle likely wouldn’t work, and he would have to watch the troll die, as the wurm coiled tightly round its neck.

Just as he was about to pull the trigger, he heard a sound, a high pitch sound that carried even over the horrendous clamor of the goblin truck and the shrieking wurm. Coyotes, lots of them, were singing from all directions. Gnar smiled. As he often did, he had left an offering to the coyotes that very day, and THE Coyote himself had accepted.

Shunamvuts,” Gnar whispered the Shoshoni name like a prayer. He took a deep breath, and put his last 300 grain .338 Lapua round through the wurm’s right eye. The bullet tore into whatever brain the thing had, and its jaw dropped open, twisted in agony as its remaining eye rolled back into its head.

Now free of its choking grasp, the enraged Troll hurled the wurm’s fibrillating body up onto the rim, and promptly fell over, holding her throat and catching her breath. Gnar fought the urge to yell out in triumph, and dropped the rapidly crumbling rifle, as he turned and quickly dashed for his axe.

The goblins howled in celebration, and spurred their truck on across the bridge, toward the thrashing river dragon. Gnar beat them to it, and bashed his axe into the beast’s skull without hesitation. He dug his hoof into the thing, and wrestled his axe free, only to crash it down on the thing again.

Over and over, Gnar bashed the axe into the now still corpse of his nemesis. He didn’t care that it was dead, and likely would have continued until there was nothing left, had the goblins not arrived. The truck stopped, and the goblins approached Gnar and his enemy slowly, while he paid them no attention whatsoever.

When one finally came close enough to notice, Gnar smacked the foul idiot with the flat of the axe, sending the clownish goblin tumbling to the ground. He turned to face the remaining goblins, his body mostly covered in yellowish dragon blood. The goblins froze, scared witless by the angry satyr with the big axe.

Gnar looked at them with disgust, and barked an order. “Dude, shu dat shi off, dangfu!” he said, in the broken goblin language, known as tyktok, a repugnant mix of slang, ghetto, and redneck trash talk.

The goblins were idiots, but they understood fear, and were quick to feign respect for anyone they though might be stronger than them. One of them ran over and quickly shut off the truck. The obnoxious thumping stopped. Gnar caught his breath.

He kicked over the loose jaw of the wurm, and bashed the spike of his axe into it, knocking out both of the monster’s short ivory tusks. He stooped down and collected them, and turned to head back down the canyon wall.

Dubbatee eff, dat muffu ain’t gone take dem dango eatins?” one of the goblins asked the others, loud enough that Gnar heard it.

You muffa keep dem dango eatins!” Gnar yelled back, “just take it gone-gone outtahe, and yall ain’t come back, else yall get dis axe upsy yall dango azz.”

Gnar wanted the wurm corpse gone, but mostly he wanted to keep the goblins busy, for the moment. The last thing he needed was for them to wander into the town. He climbed down a short ways, and was met by Steph, who was making her way up.

Gnar stopped, as the big troll stared at him, trying her best to smile with her crooked teeth that looked like a pile of old headstones. She carefully put a hand on Gnar’s shoulder, likely the first time she had touched anyone she wasn’t planning to eat, in decades.

Horns,” she grunted, the only thing she knew to call the satyr. It was the best she could do. Trolls were pretty much incapable of gratitude, so it was actually quite the gesture.

Ordinarily, Gnar would have just nodded, understanding, but this evening was different. Gnar would not be staying, and there were many things that needed to happen before he left. The negotiation began.

Several minutes later, Gnar and Steph climbed up to the rim, as Gnar stifled his laughter at the goblins, who were still trying to drag the wurm’s carcass into the back of the truck. Steph didn’t laugh, she only licked her lips and smiled.

By now, several of the townsfolk had began to gather, growing closer and more curious by the minute. Some had meager weapons or farm implements, preparing themselves to defend against the goblin menace. Gnar picked up his pace, and made to intercept them, as Steph slowly ambled over toward the goblins and their truck, still grinning like a kid in an ice cream shop.

The farmfolk were tough, and likely would have bested the goblins, but not without casualties. The Saints of New Zion, as they were known, just weren’t built for battle. They were built for farming and making babies. Followers of a prophet that emerged after Salt Lake City fell, the SNZ were practically hobbits.

They usually lived in farm towns, like 18Falls, or in little fishing villages along the Bonneville seashore. Short in stature, but big in heart, the kind, humble, and more than a little thick SNZ were easy to get along with most of the time. All any SNZ man wanted was to wake with the sun, see a plentiful harvest, enjoy a nice meal and a sweet wife, and have a little cider and fireweed on the front porch before a nice 12 hour sleep.

The crowd of farmfolk stopped in their tracks when they saw Gnar approaching, covered in blood. A beautiful woman stepped out from the crowd as he neared them, and ran to embrace him. She was thinner than most of the farmfolk, though still looked a bit plump compared to the girl Gnar remembered. He sighed, as her dark-skinned arms wrapped around him. Ani.

Ragnar,” she whispered, as her eyes began to tear up. The two held each other as if there were no one else in the world.

After a long while, much longer than they knew, Ragnar released Ani, pulling something yellowish white from the pocket of his kilt. He handed the ivory tooth to her.

For Rona,” Ragnar said, “it’s done.” He had promised Ani, he would avenge their Rona, and he would bring her a tusk from the thing that killed her.

Ani looked at his gray hair, and smiled sweetly. It had been a long time since she had seen him. She had a few gray hairs of her own now. They stared into each other’s eyes, and flashed back to those incredible days in their canyon, each understanding that it could never be again, not like it was then.

A man walked up beside Ani, slowly, his hat in hand. It was Jacob, Ani’s husband, the bishop of 18Falls.

It’s good to see you, Ragnar,” Jacob said. He wasn’t just being polite, Jacob genuinely liked Ragnar, perhaps even a little too much. Ragnar was never sure if Jacob was trying to be the bigger man, to be an example to his flock, or if it was something else…

What should we do about… that?” Jacob motioned toward the goblins.

That?” Ragnar laughed a little. “Just stay out of Steph’s way.”

No sooner than he had said it, one of the goblins screamed, and there was a sickly crunching sound. Ragnar had promised Steph she could have the goblins, and the wurm corpse, in exchange for certain favors. Goblins were like candy to a troll, and the wurm would be a decent week’s worth of dining as well.

Ragnar and Jacob continued to talk amicably, though often interrupted by gasps from the crowd, as the sound and silhouette of the troll tearing the goblins apart in glow of the twilight made for gruesome entertainment.

Ragnar told Jacob of the agreement that had been made with Steph. She would let them fix the bridge properly, with defenses, but first, they would have to excavate the cave behind one of the 18 falls along the canyon wall, creating a new home for her. It would be a blessing for all involved, as the falls would drown out the noises that often disturbed Steph’s sleep during the day, and making an ally of a big troll with a taste for goblin flesh meant the farmfolk could sleep a bit easier at night.

Ragnar threw in the wurm corpse and the goblins as part of the deal, since Steph wasn’t quick enough to understand that she was doing him a favor by disposing of them. Everyone reluctantly agreed to the terms, especially since they all seemed to truly respect the old satyr. Jacob also agreed to blackout the town for the night. Ragnar hadn’t explained, but in light of the evening’s events, Jacob complied.

As darkness fell, the townspeople withdrew to their homes, until only Ani remained. There was something else.

I’m worried about Jake,” Ani said, “he went down to Hollister, and hasn’t been back. Do you think you could?”

Ragnar nodded. He had been close with Ani’s son Jake for many years when the boy was younger. Ani knew her son would have been happy to live just like the other farmfolk, but she wanted more for Jacob Jr., and so she sent him to learn from Ragnar when he was young.

Ragnar would have to go and look for Jake. It wasn’t first time “Uncle Ragnar” had gotten Jake out of a bind, and likely wouldn’t be the last. There wasn’t a bloody thing to do in Hollister, and Jake had likely already courted every girl down there. It was much more likely, Jake had gone down to Jackpot.

I’ll take care of it,” Ragnar said, fighting the urge to call her his love, and take her in his arms. Ani had plenty of reasons to leave when she did, and was married to a decent man who had given her a stable home and children, and treated her well. Ragnar couldn’t mess with her life in that way.

Ani ran her hand over Ragnar’s horns, and smiled at him, a little sad.

I remember, they were so much bigger back then,” she said, her smiling eyes almost glowing. “I used to grasp them in my hands while we…”

Ani,” Ragnar interrupted her, “I can’t do this. It’s too…” he trailed off.

Please,” Ani said, “be with me tonight, I want to remember, for… for Rona, please.”

But what about Jacob? And… your daughters?” Ragnar said, “Jacob’s a nice guy, but I don’t think…”

Ani stopped him, laughing slightly. “Jacob will be fine. He knows this is a big deal for us, and well…” she hesitated. “Honestly, he was wondering if you wanted to move into town now. He even floated the idea of you living at our place for a while. He’s sweet, and he’s never going to admit it, but I think he’s always had a thing for you.”

One thing that hadn’t changed since the “breakup”, churches still had big closets.

Ragnar shook his head. It had always been unspoken, but he was pretty sure that Jacob and Ani had been a marriage of convenience, more than anything else. It was among a hundred other theories Ragnar had about his world. There was something else that had also become quite clear about Ani’s family, now that the fog of vengeance was lifting, something he had long suspected.

The two spent the night together, in the abandoned treehouse of the Pixies. Just one night, for what they once had, for all that could have been, for the memory of their beloved Rona.

Ragnar didn’t sleep that night, he wanted to remember every second of this one last night with his sweet Ani. She wasn’t the nymph she had once been, and even though she had come more to resemble her stout neighbors, she was still exquisite in Ragnar’s eyes.

He wouldn’t have been able to sleep anyway, as his sharp ears heard what none of the farmfolk, or Ani, or even Steph could hear, the subtle beat of faraway wings against the night sky.