dragon challenge header

not real, made up, purely intended for entertainment

The Blatant Beast

by Muinteor

“JC...” He whispered in his sleep.

He had been dreaming about his friend, and about the future of the band. Joey Fatone awoke with a start, a panicky feeling of not knowing where he was, rising in his chest. It was not the familiar; if-it’s-Tuesday-this-must-be-New-York feeling, he felt he’d slept in more beds than any man had a right to. No, this was different, it was a gut feeling, telling him that something was not quite right. He frowned in the darkness, trying to remember where he was, what he’d done before turning in. He lifted back the bed sheet, which was excessively starchy.

He sat up, swinging his legs out, so as to sit on the side of the bed. It then occurred to him that he wasn’t naked, as was his customary sleeping habit, but was wearing some sort of garment, he brought a hand to his chest and felt the rough material. It wasn’t silk or even cotton, it felt more like sack cloth. He was still half asleep, and his feet touched the floor, expecting to feel soft carpet, and his warm slippers. Not this time, his feet touched cold stone, and he winced, jerking his legs back up onto the bed. Something was very wrong here, his eyes were still not getting used to the dark, and that could only mean total darkness.

Then he noticed the smell, the air was stale and musty, he sniffed unappreciatively a few times. He also noticed how uncomfortable the bed was, and he reached down, finding the bed frame, rough, unfinished wood under his touch. He had begun to think that maybe he was in some hospital or other, but he felt no pain of any kind, no sign of injury. He tried to remember what had happened to him that night, but he couldn’t recall a thing. Then it occurred to him that he might be in jail, and for a second he thought he’d been arrested, but he didn’t feel drunk, although he was mildly dizzy.

Just then there was a sharp clank and a grating creak of wood and metal. A vertical shaft of light shattered the darkness, and grew into a wide glaring doorway, with three silhouettes, one tall, two diminutive, standing against a bright orange backdrop.

“Who are you?” Joey brought a hand up to shade his eyes, and squinted, trying to make out the individuals standing in the doorway, to no avail. It wasn’t until one of them, the tall one, spoke, that he could identify one.

“Relax, dude.” JC stepped forward into the darkness, and the sound of the familiar voice washed away all Joey’s apprehensions. “There’s a lot to explain, and you’re gonna love it, you freaky bastard.” Joey felt JC’s hands touching him, lifting him, and he felt himself being helped out of the bed. He stood shakily, wobbling on his feet for a moment. “No one else would believe a single word of what I’m about to tell you.” JC led him across the cold floor to the doorway, and suddenly Joey found himself standing in a huge stone chamber, lit by the flames that raged in a great fireplace which stood in the centre of the hall. The intense orange glare of the coals filled the huge chamber with light and heat.

Thick columns around the circular fireplace cast long wavering shadows across the immense hall. Joey looked up, and around, and then down, at JC’s companions. He expected them to be children, but they weren’t. They were not even human, though one was obviously female and the other male.

“Yeah, yeah, right, introductions...” JC gave Joey one of his looks, and gestured to the little figure standing to his right. Joey looked at her too, and could not deny the beauty in that diminutive being. “This is Lady Adelobra. Lady Adelobra, this is Joey Fatone.”

The tiny figure positively glowed with vitality, and her bright eyes were full of intelligence and wit. Her smile was warm and welcoming as she curtseyed to Joey, who couldn’t help marvel at the exquisite cut of her gown, which swished as she moved, and sparkled with a king’s ransom of rubies sewn about the bodice, sleeves and hem. “We are most pleased that you could join us., Joseph.” Her voice was mellifluous, yet too deep for such small lungs. Joey could tell straight away that she had an excellent singing voice.

“It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance.” Joey remembered the phrase from a protocol crash course he’d sat out, which had touched on meeting royalty, and at that moment, he had no doubt that he was before a faerie queen.

“And this is Lord Gnolruf. Lord Gnolruf, may I present Joey Fatone?” There was something facetious in JC’s voice, and Joey could see in his eyes that the other did not get on well with the small lord.

“Glad you could make it.” The other diminutive figure did not look up, eyes hidden under a canopy of copper-coloured hair, hands clasped behind him, in a position of importance, or self-importance. His jewelled clothes glittered green in the bright fire light, for if Lady Adelobra’s red dress was sewn with rubies, his green suit was sewn with emeralds. Joey could fathom nothing about Lord Gnolruf from his demeanour, it was as if the two were opposites, one an open heart, the other a closed fist.

JC glanced surreptitiously at Joey, who cocked his head with a side-wise grin that struck Joey as somewhat forced, not at all natural, then he turned his attention to the little man standing before him. “Glad I could make it, too.” He glanced at Lady Adelobra once more, and responded to her wide smile. “So.” He rubbed his hands together, waiting for an explanation. “You said I was going to love this. Spill the beans, my man.”

“We will leave you to your discourse.” Lady Adelobra stepped back, and with her Lord Gnolruf, who had not lifted his head during the entire proceedings, but who was obviously scrutinising Joey carefully.

Joey could not help overhear the two talk as they walked away, and while Gnolruf’s mutterings were unintelligible, Adelobra’s response was barely audible; “I know you don’t like him either. You haven’t liked anyone in the last three hundred years.”

“That’s not true. I liked Beethoven.” Joey heard the other hiss, and decided that he definitely did not like this Gnolruf guy.

“You did not. You only started to like him after he was dead.” Adelobra chided the other as they walked away. “Then you made him a legend.” She disappeared into the darkness.

“Perhaps I will like these ones too, once they are dearly departed.” Gnolruf spoke clearly enough for both men to hear him, before vanishing into the shadows.

“JC, what in the name of-?” Joey’s question was cut off by a sharp glance from his friend. “Okay, you speak.” The big guy stroked his beard and noticed that while he was wearing some sort of sack cloth, JC was wearing a rather nice collarless suit.

“Yeah, well. First of all, Joey, I’m sorry about all this.” JC stepped forward and put his hand on Joey’s shoulder, then led him towards the central fireplace. “It must have been really weird for you guys when I disappeared.”

Joey stopped him raising a hand. “Yeah, two weeks without news of you, We were all worried, man. One morning you didn’t show up, no one knew anything. We kind of kept it quiet, though. We didn’t want the tabloids getting hold of the story. We figured you’d taken off somewhere. So what’s going on?” Joey had always been open minded, as a kid he’d secretly believed in Father Christmas long after the evidence had shown that there was no supernatural element involved in the Christmas Tree ritual. He had always kept his dreams, and even those of magic, and of the American Dream. He had been faithful to his dreams, and they had taken him to where he was now. “Did I just hear that they knew Beethoven?”

“Um... yeah.” JC hesitated. “Okay. Let me see. You see, there’s this thing called the Blatant Beast. It’s a kind of dragon.” He scratched his head.

“A dragon?!” Joey exclaimed with a laugh. “Man I always dreamed of something like this.”

“Don’t interrupt. Don’t say anything, man. I want to say this right. The Blatant Beast isn’t just a dragon. In my time here I’ve learned a lot about it. Gnolruf hasn’t been of any help, but I don’t think he knows that much, or he isn’t giving anything away. Lady Adelobra has been much more helpful.” There was something strange in JC’s eyes, a troubled look.

“They’re dwarves, right?” He glanced at JC and saw the other’s non-committal nod and shrug. “They brought you here, right? Just like me.” When he saw JC stretch his arms and shake his head with raised eyebrows, he hung his head. “Yeah, okay. So tell me what’s going on.”

“It’s like this, I think.” JC started slowly. “It’s hard to explain and real metaphysical, so stay with me and switch onto suspension-of-disbelief-mode. Yeah, maybe those two are dwarves, not sure though, but they didn’t bring you here, man. I did.”

Joey glanced at him. “You did? Nah, wait a second, you’re takin’ the piss, man.” He wanted to say more, but when JC raised his hand with a pained expression on his face, Joey stopped and nodded. Something was wrong, JC wasn’t joking, and Joey began to face up to the fact that something serious was going on. “Okay. Go on.”

“In fact, you let me bring you here. Adelobra and Gnolruf provided the means, but without your willing it, we could never have pulled it off. So, thanks for coming, dude. It would have been bad news for me if you hadn’t. You answered my call.”

“Your call?”

JC nodded and sighed, clasping his hands together. “I’m sorry, man.” He looked into Joey’s eyes. “It’s kinda like one of them chain letters. You gotta pass the buck along. Someone called me here, and I came. Someone who had confronted the Blatant Beast, and who had failed. She summoned me, and well, man, just like that, I took her place. I thought I could do it, thought I could beat the beast. I thought I was the best. That’s the way it goes, I guess. Lady Adelobra and Lord Gnolruf can’t summon anyone here on their own, it’s us, we the artists, who have to call our replacement.”

“Someone else? So tell me who this someone you came here for is?” Joey ran a hand through his hair, trying to take everything in.

“You don’t need to know, man, but she’s really big, I mean more than us.” JC remembered the intimate contact between them, her unlimited concession to his fantasies, his exultance. He had been sure that he would be able to overcome the test that she had failed. Not so.

“A dream.” Joey eyed JC suspiciously. “You followed someone here through a dream?”

“Yeah. I blew it. Sorry. I called you. Couldn’t think of anyone better. Hey, you should be flattered. You’re the most talented person I know, apart from me. I’m giving you an opportunity to use your talent for something mind-blowingly important, and to save the world at the same time.”

Joey frowned, not taking in all the other was saying, his face twisting into a mask of annoyed confusion. “What happened to the mystery woman, man? I don’t see her here.”

“Yeah, right, she’s gone. You see, once you accept to take another’s place, they can leave, and you kinda, take their place.” JC gave Joey a smile, but it was hardly reassuring. “You face the beast.”

“So you took her place, and I’m to take your place?” Joey closed his right hand in a fist. “I can’t believe this, man. How could you do this to me?”

“In your dream you could have refused, and you wouldn’t be here now.” JC shrugged, apologetically. "And I’d be stuck here till someone else agreed, or until the dragon breaks through. I’m glad it’s you, though. Wouldn’t trust anyone else with this responsibility. If anyone on Earth can beat this Blatant Beast, that’s Joey Fatone.”

“Flattery will get you nowhere, man. So I could’ve refused to come here, and you could’ve too.” Joey’s eyes narrowed. “So, let me get this straight. I’m your escape ticket, right? I’m your substitute.” He snorted disgustedly, and looked away from JC. “Like some stupid Saint George stand-in. I don’t even know how to use a sword! And there’s no damsel to rescue.” He wondered about what had gone on between the mystery woman and JC, but dismissed the thought.

“Yeah, well. I didn’t refuse, and neither did you. She was so hot, man, I couldn’t refuse, nobody could’ve.” JC closed his eyes and smiled slightly, sadly. “Anyhow, there was that saving the world stuff, and the reward for placating the Beast. Yeah, I remembered the George and the dragon thing, and to tell you the truth, you don’t need a sword or a shield, or a shining armour. Those things are useless against this thing. You have your talent.”

“So you came for sex. I came for friendship.” Joey threw his arms in the air. “I hope it was worth it.” He looked at his friend again.

“Yeah, I think it was.” JC nodded with a shrug. “I got her address.”

“Jesus Christ, you’re seeing her when you get out of here?” Joey glared at him, clenching his fists at his side.

“Oh, yeah.” JC responded tongue-in-cheek, seeming to be more like himself again, not this forlorn bearer of bad news. “We have plans.”

“Oh, this just gets better and better.” Joey threw his arms up again. “Wait a minute, what’s this about a reward?” He watched as JC walked to one side.

“That’s the icing on the cake, man. The one who manages to please the Blatant Beast will become the greatest artist of their age. The Beast will go to sleep like for another century or so, and human spirit will be free to explore it’s collective imagination again. Like a New Renaissance, man.” JC paused a moment, giving the other time to assimilate what he was saying. “It’s a cosmic unconsciousness thing, Joey. The Blatant Beast is us. We created it thousands of years ago, out of the human fear and ignorance we feel. When it’s awake, it impairs the collective human intelligence and if it gets too powerful, it will eventually break into our world, and bring an end to our civilisation. It’s happened all throughout human history. It gets too powerful, and breaks into our world, and humanity goes crazy. The fall of Rome, the French Revolution, to name just two instances. It’s been getting stronger and stronger and its maddening influence has been affecting humanity since it first started to wake up over fifty years ago.” JC paused a moment. “Ever wondered why the world is so weird, dude? It’s the beast. The beast in us. And we know it’s coming. According to Lady Adelobra, we’ve just got a few more shots at this. Oh, yeah, and there’s just one more thing.” JC sighed and put his hands in the pockets of his suit. “There is a price for failure.”

“What’s that?” Joey looked at him through narrowed eyes.

“You see, if you fail, the Beast takes your talent, sucks it right out of you.” JC looked down at his feet. “Like it steals your creativity, and it devours it. Like it steals your... soul.” His words faded away.

“What?” Joey couldn’t take any more shocking revelations, and his face was a twisted mask of disbelief. “You failed, right? So you’re telling me that thing stole your talent? Gimme a break. Come on, sing something.” He half laughed.

JC hesitated, then nodded, bracing himself and he started to sing one of his favourite creations. “I found a letter on my dresser last night. I've got a baby on the way. It made me suspicious of another guy ‘cause you couldn’t tell me to my face.” Then he stopped, ashamed of his voice, and his poor delivery of the lines he himself had written.

Joey grimaced. “Man, that was awful. What’s happened to your voice, your style?”

“I told you. That thing eats talent, and the more powerful it gets, the more ignorant humanity becomes.” JC spread his arms. “I’m finished, you know? Like so many more before me. I’ll go home, a burnout, and I’ll never produce another song. Maybe I’ll move into production or management, don’t need no talent for that.”

Joey could tell that his friend was trying to be funny, but his loss had been tremendous. He stared at him, a serious look on his face. “And neither will your lady friend, right? She failed too, otherwise you wouldn’t be here.” He felt sorry for JC, and he sighed. “So, compañero. You’d better tell me more about this thing, like where’s this Blatant Beast at?” He shook his head, resigning himself to this impossible fate. “What do I got to do?”

“Lady Adelobra will show you the way, Joey.” JC responded, crestfallen. “I’m so sorry, man. It’s like we’re humanity’s brightest and best, and only we can save our people. If we fail, the Beast wins, and humanity falls back a thousand years or more. It’s happened before, Joey, we’re climbing out of a hole, and we keep slipping back, cause this Beast has us by the heels. We’ll probably never be free of it, but we can’t lose this fight, man.

“Yeah, Joey Fatone saves the world? So you and your lady friend have a future together?” Joey’s tone was ironic and there was a sly smile on his lips. “Hope she’s got something else going for her, if she’s in the same state as you, artistically.”

“She’s pretty rich.” JC shrugged, not realising that Joey was kidding.

“Man, that was a joke!” Joey laughed, slapping the other on the shoulder. “Dragon got your sense of humour too?” He considered the situation for a moment, and continued speaking. “You know something? When I was a kid I saw The Wizard of Oz, and I wondered if something like that would ever happen to me. I used to carry little packets of salt from the local diner with me, in case I got whisked off to an alternate universe or something.” He paused and smiled at the memory. “Salt’s important, you know?”

“They have salt here, man.” JC said flatly, thinking about his loss, but also wishing for Joey’s success.

“Do you still think it was worth it?” Joey looked at his friend with a sad smile.

“Dunno.” JC responded with a shrug. “I guess so.” He had lost all his confidence, as if he had just realised the full extent of the consequences of his failure. “I took a shot, and I missed. Lucky for us, we have another player maybe two more, then the shit hits the fan.”

“Yeah, well, so you got your reward from your mystery-lady. What do I get for making the trip?” He made as if to hug JC, who pushed him away, stepping back. “Hey!” Joey smirked. “You got some action when you arrived, what about me?”

“Kiss my ass?” JC flipped him the bird. “How do you like that kind of action?”

Joey laughed and slapped his friend on the shoulder. “I’ll see you later, okay? Look, if I botch this... who should I call? Maybe I’ll reach out to some fan girl pop star wannabee with a hidden talent.” It was obvious from Joey’s tone of voice that he was joking again.

Just then, the two dwarves returned, and Joey faced them, a determined look in his eyes. “I’m ready.”

Lady Adelobra smiled and nodded. “Come with me, Joseph.” She said gesturing for him to follow her. “JC.” She said with a kind smile. “Lord Gnolruf will show you the way home.”

JC nodded, and before the small figure in green could lead him away him away, Joey called out. “Hey, don’t I at least get a hug?”

JC looked over his shoulder at Joey, and paused a moment, wanting to say something, but not knowing the words. He turned, stepped forward, and embraced Joey like he’d never embraced anyone in his life. “Give it all you’ve got, my friend.” He whispered in Joey’s ear, then he stepped back, tears in his eyes. He turned again, and followed the little figure into the shadows.

Joey looked at Lady Adelobra, and followed her across the vast hall, looking over his shoulder, but JC was gone. He turned his gaze to the diminutive beauty, and his thoughts to the task at hand.

An hour later, Joey had bathed, wined and dined, and had chosen from several outfits shown to him by Lady Adelobra. He never saw anyone else apart from her. It was she who brought the clothes and the food, and it was she who would do the final explaining.

After a couple of hours more, Joey had stopped asking questions, and was finally ready.

“So, Joseph.” Lady Adelobra contemplated him fondly. “You can decide to perform any of your pieces, and all accompaniments will be provided for; musicians, dancers, lighting, any instruments you desire. I must confess...” She looked at him with beautiful dark eyes. “I am an admirer of yours.”

Joey was surprised and he smiled. “You guys got MTV?”

Lady Adelobra didn’t respond, but pouted slightly. “I was wondering what you intend to do. I am most curious as to how you intend to win over the Beast.”

“Oh, you mean my routine?” Joey tugged at the cuffs of his elegant tuxedo, and straightened his tie. “I was thinking maybe something along the lines of Tango like a Jedi. I think that has real appeal. Was very well-received by the producers.” He smirked.

“You are making fun of me.” Lady Adelobra looked away with a smile on her face.

“Seriously, if I have to bet everything on a single card, then it’s got to be something of mine, not someone else’s.” He considered his repertoire a moment and decided. “Ready to fall.”

“I like that song.” Lady Adelobra smiled up at him. “Yes, it is a wise choice. The ballad is an ancient tradition, and well-suited to serenading the Beast.”

Joey didn’t like the sound of her words, but pretended to pay no heed. “That’s it then. Do I get to rehearse?”

“All you want.” She responded warmly. “Just tell me what you need.”

“One more thing.” Joey paused, and looked at the faerie queen. “JC and everyone before him lost their talent, right?”

She nodded sadly. “It is a great sacrifice, and the price of failure.” She looked him in the eye. “No, Joseph. I know what you are thinking. Even if you are successful, those who have gone before you will not recuperate their lost gifts.” She sighed. “But if you are successful, you can return to humanity all that has been lost. You could usher in a new age.” There was hope in her voice and Joey took note of her words.

“Yeah.” He said, more to convince himself than to respond to Lady Adelobra’s comment.

After several days, Joey finally felt he was ready to take his one shot.

“This is all or nothing.” He said to the two figures accompanying him. They each held one of his hands, and during the final hours leading up to the performance, he had become closer to his two dwarfish patrons, even to Gnolruf, who even deigned to look him in the eye, and to tell him that he had the highest of expectations for him.

Joey had laughed, and had taken that final walk to the deepest part of the castle. The place where the Blatant Beast awaited impatiently for its next meal.

As he descended the steps into an enormous foggy cavern, the roof of which was lost in mist, he shuddered slightly at the chill in the air. There was a smell of brine and sulphur on the thick and misty air, and as his shoes echoed on the steps, he looked round him, trying to pierce the veil of fog. There was luminescence somewhere, and it seemed that the very fog itself shone faintly with a pale blue glow.

“Hello?” Joey called, his voice deadened by the fog, not the greatest prospect for a live performance, and certainly not the greatest venue.

Something moved in the mist, something huge, whose bulk disturbed the mist in such a way that it set off rolling banks of glowing mist as it rose out of the depths.

It was far greater than Joey had envisioned, he couldn’t fathom the thing that moved overhead, and the sound of slithering seemed to come from all sides. An illusion caused by the fog’s distortion of sound, or could it be that the thing surrounded him with its coils?

He swallowed hard, sensing that he was being observed, not just from one point, but from all around him. Looking up, he could see the shadow of the huge shape move overhead, and he could hear the hiss of its breath.

If this was a figment of human imagination, he thought, it sure seemed real enough. He closed his eyes, and just like Lady Adelobra had taught him, he opened his mind, and closed his eyes. He could feel tendrils touching him, fine tentacles that grew from the creature’s snout, intertwining and sliding over his body.

Suddenly there was a jolt, and Joey had a dizzying sensation that left him staggering.

When he opened his eyes he was standing on a stage, blinded by coloured spot-lights, and with the growing resonance of his song swelling around him.

“This is it.” He said before he started to sing. “I get a feeling I can't explain whenever your eyes meet mine. My heart spins in circles and I lose all space and time...”

He lost himself in the performance, giving everything he had to the ballad, believing and meaning every word he sang.

“Yes, I’m ready to fall in love... tonight.” He finished the song, and bowed, awaiting a response, and unsure of what to expect, fearful that his talent, his identity, all he lived for would be torn from him, but for a long moment nothing happened, and then a light began to form before his eyes, growing in intensity, so he brought his hand up to shade his eyes.

When the light faded, he found himself alone in the cavern. Lady Adelobra and Lord Gnolruf were standing at his side, smiles on their tiny faces.

“I did it?” Joey gasped, looking at them, and falling to his knees, so as to embrace them both.

“You did, Joseph.” Lady Adelobra smiled at him.

“So, that’s it?” Joey could hardly contain his happiness.

“That’s it.” Lord Gnolruf responded.

“So, what now?” Joey asked looking at the two little figures, and hugging them again and again.

“That’s up to you.” Lady Adelobra kissed him. “Choose wisely.”

Joey stood, sighed deeply and thought for a moment. “I won’t see you again, will I?”

Lord Gnolruf shook his head. “Good times are ahead, Mr Fatone. I suggest we all enjoy them.”

Joey nodded. “Well, it’s been great meeting you.” Not knowing quite what to say, his head was full of ideas, songs demanding to be written, demanded his attention.

“You could stay a while.” Lady Adelobra ventured, with a smile.

Joey shook his head. “Gotta get home, my lady.” He hugged her again. “Thanks for everything.”

“Thank you.” Lady Adelobra kissed him on the cheek.

“I think I’ll go take a nap.” Joey smiled at them. “When I wake up, I won’t be here, right?”

Gnolruf nodded.

As Joey walked away, full of confidence and amazed at the ideas that clamoured in his mind, he could hear the two little figures speaking.

“See? I liked him.” Lord Gnolruf said to Lady Adelobra.

“You’re becoming a softie in your old age.” She responded.

Joey smiled and returned to the chamber where he had first awoken in this strange place. He paused a moment after opening the door. He could hear the two figures walking away, talking in quiet voices. He paused a moment, then closed the door of the small chamber behind him. He lay on the wooden bed and closed his eyes, confident that the next time he opened them, he would be home.

“It was worth it.” He said, thinking about JC and about the future, and sleep quickly overcame him. “Tomorrow will be a good day.” Was the last thing he said before succumbing to a deep sleep.


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