Artur sat on the steps outside his shop, idly flicking stones down the empty street. Behind him, the windows of his shop were filled with unsold goods. Shirts, hats, cloaks and clothing of all sorts gathered dust. Around him, the once thriving city of Kahrlsbad was nearly deserted. Empty shops and restaurants stood testament to the way the city prospered while the Beast had lived.
He leaned back against his shop with a sigh. Those had been the good days. Of course, they hadn’t started out as good. When the Beast of Kahrlsbad first appeared, it terrified the small town. The population cowered in fear at each roar. Children and livestock were consumed regularly, while nearly half of the town’s maidens had been kidnapped. It had been so bad that the Mayor had offered up a reward to the first Hero who could slay the Beast. Kahrlsbad had been small then and a bare handful of Heroes showed up to take on the Beast. All of them were defeated without so much as scratching the monster. Then Xavier Dragonpuncher arrived.
It had been at the height of the Dragonpuncher craze. He had just defeated the Demon of Phaegl and rescued Prince Anatha from the Forrest Trolls. Everywhere he went, people threw themselves at his feet, while others died trying to imitate him.
The mighty Dragonpuncher arrived in Kahrlsbad and soon the townspeople were celebrating the imminent defeat of the Beast. The next morning, braving a chill wind, the entire town followed the Dragonpuncher as he headed to the Beast’s Lair. Artur, then just a small time clothier, brought along a few extra shirts to sell to the colder citizens.
With a smile and a wave that caused many of the town to faint, the Dragonpuncher entered the Lair of the Beast of Kahrlsbad. As he did, a gout of flame shot out. The Dragonpuncher was cooked where he stood.
Everyone stared in shock, unable to believe that Xavier Dragonpuncher had been defeated. It was a solemn moment. Husbands clung to wives. Children holding Dragonpuncher dolls stared with big vacant eyes. Artur, however, had an idea.
Grabbing his remaining stock of shirts and supplies from the town scribe, the clothier went to work. Printing in large block letters, he wrote on the shirts:
“I Saw The Beast of Kahrlsbad
Defeat The Dragonpuncher”
The distraught citizens, tears running down their faces, quickly bought out all of Artur’s stock.
The story of the Dragonpuncher’s defeat spread throughout the land. More and more people began arriving in Kahrlsbad. They came to fight the Beast. They came to mourn the Dragonpuncher. They came and filled Kahrlsbad. The little town swelled in size. Inns, shops, restaurants, and stables sprang up like weeds all over the town to accommodate the influx of both Heroes and tourists alike. They came and stayed at “The Beast’s Lair” (finest Inn in town), and ate at “The Monster’s Feast” (their “Dragonpuncher Fillets”, though morbid, were a huge seller). But most importantly, they bought Artur’s shirts.
That wasn’t the only item Artur sold. He made Beast of Kahrlsbad hats and Beast of Kahrlsbad boots — “Made from actual Beast scales” — to go with his Beast of Kahrlsbad belts. Artur sold more in a few months than he had in all of his previous years combined. Sure, the occasional destroyed farmstead or eaten family member was a tragedy, but it was a small price to pay for the largest influx of customers the town had seen. And that wasn’t even taking into account the Heroes.
From every corner of the world, they came to face the Beast. Grimm Heartsbane, Ezah Jeule, Thane Wolfcry; the world’s greatest Heroes came to test their mettle against the Beast of Kahrlsbad. With each Hero came a swarm of fans and onlookers, each one eager to purchase a memento of the great occasion. And when they failed, Artur was ready to console the bleary-eyed fanatics with a Heartsbane handkerchief or a Wolfcry sweater. Life was looking good for Artur and his business. Then Quinn arrived.
Quinn was just a farm girl when she showed up in Kahrlsbad. She came with no supporters, no entourage. Artur hadn’t even made a single sock with her likeness on it. A bare handful of onlookers gathered to watch Quinn as she strode boldly into the Beast’s Lair. The beast let out a roar and Artur cringed as a mountain of flame spiraled toward Quinn. Artur could only stare at what he thought would be her certain doom. Instead, a bright light radiated out from her and the flames turned to ice, freezing the Beast. The gathered people stood in shock. But before long they let out a small cheer that quickly grew. The Beast of Kahrlsbad had been defeated!
Faster than he ever had, Artur created new designs to celebrate the Beast’s defeat. For a few months, Artur was doing better than he had before the Beast’s death. People lapped up his shirts. Even Quinn wore one on her tour around the Kingdom. But then the orders started to slow and finally halt.
Shops that had been thriving before now stood vacant. The streets of Kahrlsbad, once clamoring with a human tide, were silent. Without a monster to support it, Kahrlsbad became a ghost town haunted by store owners.
Artur flicked his last stone just as he heard the cry. He looked up as a giant bird swooped up out of the west and circled the city. It soared low over Kahrlsbad, screaming its terrible call. Artur could just make out the small shape of Quinn hanging in its talons as the monster bird flew off towards the old Beast’s Lair.
A cheer rose from the streets. Artur looked around and saw all the store owners, innkeepers, and restaurateurs standing outside their stores dancing and clapping. Standing up from the steps, Artur stretched before heading inside his shop. He had a lot of shirts to make. Kahrlsbad had a Beast again.
When not working on writing, Patrick Lind spends his time racing bikes and wrangling cats.