Zundar and the Booker

[Author’s note: I got the flu and then started working on the novel again, so there’s less to post here. But I am starting a new Pathfinder 2nd Edition game in which I get to play instead of GM and wrote up this sketch of my character.]

Giovani sat hunched over an Osirian scroll when the little bell at the front of his bookstore tinkled happily. The old man groaned, then painfully straightened, his back and joints popping. One day he would get a real chair instead of this damned, unbalanced stool he’d been using for decades.   

His gnarled finger, black from ink, pushed Giovani’s spectacles up his bulbous nose. The eyeglasses were round and thick, and made his eyes seem impossibly large on his face. Giovani glanced to the doorway with those owl eyes, blinked, and squeaked in alarm.

The thing that had pushed itself into his little bookstore was enormous — almost seven feet tall at first guess, with broad shoulders and elongated arms that hung almost to its knees. It had to crouch to avoid bumping its head on the ceiling, which made it seem even larger amidst the cramped shelves. Its skin was a ruddy, cerulean blue and hairless, with a bald head that was wide and pointy-eared. If it had been half its height it would have looked like a blue-skinned goblin. But at this size… 

“Hobgoblin!” Giovani blurted, his voice cracking. 

The thing grunted, seeming to notice the old bookstore proprietor for the first time. Crouching, it shuffled towards Giovani, clearly taking care not to knock over shelves as it approached. 

Giovani expected to be hit by the stench of the creature. But, though its scent was undeniably strong, he was surprised to find the hulking brute smelled something like a fresh Spring breeze. Giovani blinked again behind his eyeglasses and licked his lips nervously.

“I say. Um, quite unusual. May I– may I help you?” The old man’s voice squeaked out the end of the sentence. 

The hobgoblin grunted, looking around the bookstore with its menacing, all-white eyes. Giovani swallowed and his brow began to sweat.

“You the booker?” it asked, a voice low and growling.

“The– the what?” Giovani’s eyes blinked several times, lashes fluttering behind the spectacles.

“This,” the hobgoblin waved a hand the size of Giovani’s torso absently. “Bookstore, yeah? You the booker? You know books?”

“Yes, well,” he cleared his throat. “This is indeed Giovani’s Rare Books and I am its proprietor, Giovani.”

The creature stared hard at him. 

Giovani’s voice quivered. “Yes, okay. I’m the–”

“Booker?” 

“If you say so, yes. I know books. Is there something I can help you with?”

“Dunno. Think so, yeah? See, I had a dream.”

“Dream?” Giovani asked, confused.

“Dream,” the hobgoblin nodded. “First time ever. Hopin’ you can tell me about it.”

“By the gods, man. Why would I be able to–”

The creature pounded one meaty fist into his other hand. “Gods! Knew a booker could help. Gods is what I need to know!”

“Please don’t hit me!” Giovani threw up his hands in defense and the crooked stool overbalanced. The old man fell backwards with a clunk, worn shoes flailing in the air.

“Hit you? Why would–” He looked down at his hands, one fist still wrapped in another. “Oh. Sorry. Scared you, huh?”

The creature shuffled around the small desk and loomed over the fallen Giovani, picking him up like a doll and standing him up. The puffs of white hair on either side of the bookseller’s head stood out crazily.

“Unhand me! I’m fine! Please, get off!” the old man grumped, pushing those giant hands away.

Giovani regarded the hobgoblin, who looked almost comically apologetic. It backed up a step and bumped into a bookshelf. The shelf swayed but stayed upright as the creature steadied it carefully. 

“Sorry, sorry.” That scent of Spring breeze rose up again pleasantly from its blue skin, filling the room. 

The old man sighed. 

“Most unusual, most unusual. Apologies. Perhaps I have misjudged you, my large friend. Please, let’s start again. From the beginning this time. What is your name?”

It was the hobgoblin’s turn to blink. He stared at Giovani for two heartbeats and finally rumbled, “Zundar.”

Giovani waved his small hand as the creature tried to reach past him. “No, no leave the stool please. The cursed thing can barely stand on its own anyway. You and I can just talk here.”

The hobgoblin settled back into place, looking huge and out of place in the bookstore. 

“Where are you from, Zundar?”

Zundar grunted. “Here. Cheliax. I, uh… made chains. For the Hellknights.”

“In the dungeons?” Giovani’s wild eyebrows rose. 

Zundar grunted ascent.

“Well, that’s honest labor, I suppose.” Giovani tried not to let his distaste for the Hellknights or their barbaric prisons show on his face. “How long have you been doing that?”

Zundar shrugged a massive shoulder. “Always. Born in the dungeons. Just saw the sky yesterday.”

“My goodness!” Giovani squeaked again. “Just yesterday! For the first time? How? Why?”

A lopsided grin touched the too-wide mouth on Zundar’s too-wide head. “Some guy talkin’ about it. Never seen it. Thought I should.”

Giovani was suddenly entranced. He smiled. “And what did you think of your first view of the sky, Zundar?”

“Pretty,” the hobgoblin said. His grin vanished. “But then… dreamed.”

“Ah, good. Yes, now we’ve come to it. Please, tell me about this dream. Was it of the sky?”

Zundar grunted, thinking. “A lion, yeah? Lightning in the hair around its head. Body a long snake. Lots of legs. Swam through the clouds. Talked to me. A lot. Said he was an old god.”

“Lion with a snake’s body,” Giovani was muttering to himself, tapping an ink-stained finger to his lip. “An old god, you say? Yes, well. Unusual. That sounds like Ranginori.”

“RANGINORI!” Zundar bellowed, and Giovani almost jumped out of his wrinkled skin. The hobgoblin seemed to notice the reaction and said, “Sorry, sorry. Not gonna hit you. That’s what he said his name was. Ranginori.”

“He… You say he spoke to you? In your dream?”

Zundar nodded his oversized head.

“And what did he tell you?”

The hobgoblin grunted. “Lotta things. Break all the chains. So I did. Broke all the chains. Let a bunch of people go. Right thing to do, yeah? People shouldn’t oughta be chained.”

Giovani blinked again in rapid succession. “I see. Zundar, when was this that you broke people’s chains in the dungeon?”

“This morning. Before I came here.”

The bookstore was silent for several heartbeats.

“And,” Giovani licked his lips, voice cracking again. “How many people did you free?”

Another shrug of an enormous shoulder. “Dunno. All of ‘em.”

Giovani swallowed. “I say, Zundar. That’s quite an extraordinary tale. Did the Hellknights try to stop you?”

“Yeah.”

“And what happened?”

Zundar shrugged.

“I see. Well, I believe I may be able to help you after all. Perhaps you can sit and make yourself comfortable on the floor there while I go close up the shop and find a book or two?”

“Okay,” the hobgoblin said in his monstrous growl. “Hey, uh… You’ll read ‘em, though, yeah? Don’t read.”

Giovani blinked. “Of course. Yes. I can do that.”

The lopsided grin returned. “Okay. Thanks, booker.”

 

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