The bartender leaned over the bar, his brows a knot of skepticism.

“You with the band?” he asked.

“I am the band,” Ruttle said.

A patron on a nearby stool laughed, spilling his drink as he gestured to the poster on the wall. “Are you the goblin? Or the rat?”

Ruttle stiffened. This was nothing he hadn’t met with before. “In my tongue, rat is a term of respect, an ancient title passed from generation to generation, granted to the greatest bard of his or her era. I won that title during the great Battle of the Bands of Locke Alroth in the great caverns beneath Mount Retch. As I plucked the still-vibrating voice bones of the other contestants from their throats using nothing but my sharpened tambourine, the glory and honor of thousands of Goblin Rats before me coursed through my blood, and the dying screams of the honored dead mixed with the frothing, mad cheers of the crowd to serve as my muse. It is their stories I am honored to tell. So, to answer your question: I am both the goblin, and the rat.”

The patron and bartender both fell silent. In the stillness, Warrant’s “Cherry Pie” came on the jukebox, and Ruttle’s left ear twitched.

“Well,” the bartender stammered. He put a bottle of Shiner on the counter. “You can start setting up if you like. Sound guy’ll be here at 8.”

“My thanks,” Ruttle said. He took up the beer in one hand and scooped up his guitar with the other. It was going to be a long night.