Have You Seen A Bunch Of Invisible Dwarfs?

(Another gaming recap… beware!)


The trouble with Testikles… No. Forget that. Even drunk, Iledove knew there were multiple problems with Testikles. She glanced sideways at him across the taproom of the Northern Lights tavern. Only a handful of days earlier, he’d grappled naked with a vile undead creature and jumped into a blazing fireplace with the thing gripped in his brawny arms. As a result, his hair was still growing back… pretty much everywhere, since he was the hairiest gods-forsaken halfling she’d ever seen. You could already see it coming in: a dense fuzz on his head and jaws, his neck and shoulders, arms… She shuddered.

If only he wouldn’t fight naked. But according to him, that was the custom of the bravest warriors of his people, the Boar Tribe of Hidden Valley, and Testikles was determined to be the bravest of them all – and so he went into battle naked, raging, squealing like an angry pig and armed with (Iledove winced, and sketched the Unsleeping Eye of Helm on her forehead to ward off…well… whatever) an axe, a shield, and an angry, purple-red boner.

The boner was definitely the worst of it. Definitely.

She turned to Alea, drinking grumpily beside her. ‘The trouble with Testikles,’ she said, but got no farther. Alea glared at her.

‘Don’t talk to me about Testikles,’ said the Battle-master. ‘You know what he’s trying to do now? I bet you don’t.’

Iledove cringed.

Alea smiled in bitter triumph. ‘He’s only after getting himself a tattoo. Him and his pig both.’

‘A tattoo?’ That… Iledove straightened up, thinking. She finished her mug of sticky-sweet mead, and belched gently. ‘That doesn’t sound so bad,’ she said. ‘We could all get one. You know. Something like “BFF 4EVA”. The whole party.’

‘You too?’ Alea’s eyebrow practically leapt to her hairline in horror.

‘Yeah!’ shouted Milo. ‘Tattoos! We can all get tattoos!’ The little blond halfling jumped onto a tabletop and began one of the complicated ethnic dances for which his people were infamous, spilling beer and mead in all directions as his hairy little feet tapped and shuffled up a storm.

‘Fuck!’ said Alea but it was too late. They were already being swept towards the door.

Iledove remembered what she’d been about to say. ‘The trouble with Testikles is that he just… does stuff. No thinking. No waiting. I mean – is there even a tattoo artist in this little town?’

‘Oh, yuss miss,’ growled the barman. ‘Old Vic. Can’t miss him. Got a sign up and everything. He’ll be closed this time o’ night, though. Likely asleep, eh?’

‘Tattoos now!’ shouted Testikles. ‘Me and Skrote both!’

‘Me too,’ called Iledove. Maybe it was the mead talking, but after everything they’d been through together… ‘A group tattoo. To commemorate the bond between us!’

‘A picture of Skrote,’ Testikles said, as they lurched in a drunken mass out the door, into the icy, bitter dark of the night.

‘And BFF 4 EVA too,’ said Iledove. ‘Only we’ll use Old Netheril numbers instead of modern. So it’ll be like… BFF IVEVA!’

And so, maybe fifteen or twenty drunken and half-frozen minutes later, they stood outside a shabby little shop that advertised Tattoos And Bloodletting. Erotickal Images A Specialty. Iledove reached to cover Testikles eyes by pure reflex, but then remembered that the little oaf couldn’t read.

‘Is this the place?’ asked Testikles. ‘Why is the door closed?’

Iledove was about to explain the concept of ‘normal working hours’ to him when Milo got involved.

‘Yeah. Why is the door shut?’ he said. He bounced up the low wooden steps like a terrier full of the wrong kind of mushrooms, pulled back his leg, and –

‘Oh, drat,’ said Iledove as the door flew backwards into the building, smashed off its hinges. ‘We’ll pay for that!’ she called.

Deep within the darkness, something stirred. ‘Who the fuck are you?’ it wanted to know.

‘We’re customers,’ Testikles announced cheerfully. ‘We want tattoos!’

An older man came to the door, still in his sleeping furs. One eye was milky white, and he had a waxed, handlebar moustache. In one hand he clutched a wicked-looking dagger. ‘Tattoos? At this hour of the night?’

‘Yes,’ said Iledove. ‘We have come for tattoos.’ Surely it wasn’t the first time a bunch of late-night drunkards had showed up demanding fresh ink? Wasn’t that how most people wound up with tattoos?

The man looked wary. ‘Customers? All… all five of you?’

‘My pig wants a tattoo also,’ said Testikles. ‘We can pay!’

Old Vic’s single eye brightened. ‘Land sakes, come in,’ he said. ‘You must be freezing to death out there! Tattoos for everyone! Wonderful! Wonderful!’

Milo did some of his trademark hostile negotiation, and they agreed on a price that covered all six tattoos plus the cost of fixing the door. In the interim, Testikles picked up the old door and leaned it into place to keep out the wind and the snow.

Old Vic had a bunch of pictures for them to look at, but Testikles was adamant. He pointed at Skrote. ‘Make a tattoo of him,’ he said, and pointed at his heavily muscled left forearm. ‘Right there!’

‘And the words BFF IVEVA!’ added Iledove.

Without hesitation, old Vic went to work.

Testikles went first, proffering his forearm carelessly. He didn’t flinch or even look around as Vic hunched over his work, tap-tap-tapping with his needles. In no time at all, the older man nodded his head and took a step back. ‘You should put a clean cloth on that,’ he said. ‘And try not to use it too much for a few days.’

Testikles turned to show the others: a neat, cleanly outlined image of a highly stylized boar, red with blood, along with the heartfelt motto Iledove had requested. ‘Cool!’ said Testikles happily.

Highly stylized — meaning much less scarred and ugly.

‘Me next!’ said Milo, pushing forward. He dropped his trousers and pointed his pale arse at Vic. ‘Right there. Above my tailbone.’

In the end, all of them got their ink. Even Skrote, who had to have a patch of skin shaved clean of bristles first. The war-pig took it well, grunting stoically as Vic transferred the design onto his skin. Only Alea insisted on using the privacy screen, but nobody much cared anyway. They were too busy examining the extra image Jeoff had asked for: a man (himself, Jeoff) lifting the moon above his head like some kind of demi-god.

‘That one hurt like a bitch,’ said Jeoff, craning his neck and trying to look back over his shoulder. ‘How does it look?’

Jeoff’s second tattoo was perhaps slightly less professional…

Iledove slapped a hand over Testikles mouth before he could say anything. ‘It’s… original,’ said Iledove. ‘He’s lifting the moon!’

Milo’s jaw dropped. For a second, Iledove thought he was going to give the game away, but instead he laughed. ‘Lifting the moon,’ he said. ‘Moonlifter! Like your name! Jeoff Moonlifter! I get it now!’

Jeoff smiled, but he kept trying to look over his own shoulder. ‘Yeah, but what does it look like?’ he said.

‘I worked extra hard on the dick,’ Vic said. ‘That was a challenge. Don’t get much call for tattoos with dicks showing. Cain’t say why,’ he finished in a reflective sort of voice.

‘You got the dick?’ said Jeoff.

‘He got the dick,’ said Milo. ‘It’s a big one.’

‘Good,’ said Jeoff, pulling his tunic into place. ‘That’s all I was worried about, really.’

Iledove’s tattoo stung a bit, but it wasn’t much of a problem, all things considered. She dabbed at it with a bit of clean cloth until it stopped bleeding. ‘What time is it?’ she asked. ‘Is there a town crier or something?’

‘Not too far short o’ dawn,’ said Vic, gleefully counting the coin he’d earned with his needles.

‘Shit,’ said Alea. ‘We’ve got a bunch of invisible dwarves to kill in the morning. We’d better get some sleep!’

***

Sleep. Yeah. That was for weak-arses. Milo sat up all night, throat-singing and slapping himself on the chest. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway. The way his new tattoo was burning, he’d have had to drink himself unconscious to get any shut-eye. How were the others sleeping, anyway? Did they somehow cheat and get painless tattoos? Yeah, that’d be right. Everybody except him. Big joke: Milo gets the painful needles. Everybody else gets the magic ink that just turns painlessly into a tattoo.

Somebody was gonna pay.

Maybe the invisible dwarfs? Milo thought about it. Yeah. The invisible dwarfs should pay. Why not? They were a bunch of pricks anyhow, wandering around and stealing shit. He’d find them, and he’d make them pay for their crimes and for his godsbefucked tattoo…

He was up drinking fucking awful tea when the others filtered out of their rooms. Most of them had the sense to look ashamed of themselves. Except Testikles, of course. The little bastard kept looking at his arm and smiling. As Milo watched, Testikles trotted up to the big chair where Trovis the Dragonborn lolled in drunken sleep, and shook him violently.

Trovis flailed wildly as he awakened. ‘Ha! Whazza? Backatcha! Hoo! Ha!’ By the time his eyes were fully open, Testikles was already holding up his scabbed and bloodied forearm.

‘Look!’ said Testikles proudly. ‘I got a tattoo! There’s a picture of Skrote, and words that say… something?’

Trovis peered blearily at the barbarian’s arm. ‘Buff Eyveeva?’ he said in a puzzled tone. ‘I thought the pig’s name was Scrote.’

‘Best Friends Forever,’ said Milo. ‘Fuck. I’ve just realized we also wrote 4eva, but with the Netherese runes so it looks like Iveva.’ Fuck. Drunk tattoos. Fuck.

‘Best friends forever. Forever,’ said Trovis. ‘Huh. Cute. You going to Kelvin’s Cairn today?’

‘You bet,’ said Milo. ‘Those invisible dwarfs are gonna fucking pay.’

‘Hmm,’ said Trovis. ‘Well. Hire a guide. It’s easy to get lost out there.’ He turned on his side, closed his eyes, and began snoring pointedly.

There was more fuckery afoot at Frozenfar Expeditions. First Testikles wanted a drum, but they didn’t have one to sell. Jeoff suggested Testikles could carry a big pot and whack it with a spoon, but Testikles wanted something with ‘more authority’, whatever the fuck that was supposed mean. Oh, sure – Milo knew what most people thought it would mean, but Testikles? ‘More Authority’ could mean almost anything coming out of his mouth.

Then there was the dwarf woman, Jathara. She’d already toyed cruelly with Milo’s emotions by discarding the fish he’d given her yesterday. Seeing her there in Frozenfar Expeditions, proudly bearded and breasted, Milo had felt a distinct stirring in the pants-tastic zone. How long had it been since he’d gotten laid, anyhow? Weren’t successful adventurers supposed to have boobilicious women draped seductively over every convenient surface, gazing at them under lowered, kohl-darkened eyes that smouldered with sensual desires?

The only things that ever smouldered at Milo were the ashes of a number of small settlements scattered around the outlands. Still, you never knew, did you? He squared his shoulders and stepped into the little building that housed Frozenfar Expeditions and Outfitters.

‘Good morning, my lovely,’ he said to Jathara. And of course, Testikles immediately cock-blocked him. The little bastard held up his arm, beaming.

‘I got a tattoo,’ he announced. ‘There is Skrote the pig, and this says Buff Eyeveeva and that means Best Friends Forever because we are. And everyone got a tattoo with me!’

‘Me too,’ announced Milo. He downed his trousers and pointed his arse at Jathara as seductively and smoulderingly as he could manage. ‘You see?’

‘Not the little brown star,’ said Testikles in a hoarse whisper. ‘That’s his bumhole. You have to look higher up.’

‘I’ll take ten golden crowns a day as your guide,’ said Jathara. ‘Not a godsbefucked copper penny less!’

Milo’s sphincter clenched in outrage. He spun, yanked up his pants, and glared. ‘You’ll take three crowns a day, and if you’re good you’ll get a tattoo just like ours as a bonus!’

An hour later, as they rode across the tundra on their polar-bear drawn sled, Milo shouted his final offer after Jathara. ‘A hundred gold crowns to get the tattoo, then! A hundred!’ His voice echoed across the snowy plains, but their guide on her dog-sled never looked back… the bitch.

***

Testikles didn’t know why they needed a guide. They had the map that they got from the Evil Invisible Dwarfs and it showed where they were hiding on Kelvin’s Cairn. And when he looked straight ahead, Kelvin’s Cairn stood up tall. It was the only mountain on the rolling plain of snow. It was big, and it was pointy, and who needed a guide to find the only mountain in a place like that? He sighed, and leaned forward to pat Skrote on the neck.

‘It is because I am not clever,’ he told the pig. ‘There must be a reason we have to have a guide, and I am not clever enough to understand it.’

Grrnk grrnk,’ Skrote said in his deep, growly-snuffly voice, but if he meant anything by it, Testikles was not clever enough to understand.

Soon, Kelvin’s Cairn loomed across half the sky. Ahead, Jathara put up her hand and signalled a halt. ‘I think I remember a place,’ she said when everybody pulled up and stopped. ‘Close enough to what’s marked on your map. You want to stay here? I’ll go ahead and take a look.’

‘Good,’ said Milo. ‘Earn your money!’ He sounded angry. Was he still upset about the fish?

Jathara went on ahead. They waited for a while, and it was very cold. Wind blew across the tundra, hissing as it pushed the snow around in waves. The polar bears snuffled and growled. Testikles gave them some frozen whale meat, and they ate. Life was simple when you were a polar bear. You pulled a sled. People fed you whale meat. Sometimes you took a big bear shit. Sometimes you growled and smacked the other polar bear. Sometimes you slept. Then you pulled the sled again. Testikles watched the bears eat frozen whale meat, and felt something a little like envy.

Jathara came back. ‘I found it,’ she said. ‘It’s in the back of a canyon. I didn’t see anyone moving or anything, but I tried to be quiet as I could. If you stay close to me and move quietly, we can probably get there without being noticed.’

They left the sled with the polar bears, and sneaked over a ridge. Below was a narrow valley, with a little frozen stream in the bottom. There were big doors carved in the mountainside. To one side of the doors, a sort of sentry post stood. There were arrow slits in the stone sentry post.

‘I will turn invisible and check it,’ said Jeoff, and then he disappeared. It made Testikles feel weird in the tummy when Jeoff did that. First the was there, then he was gone. There was only a line of tracks in the snow, moving away. Soon there wasn’t even that.

‘He must be levitating,’ Iledove muttered. ‘They won’t see his footprints.’

They lay in the snow, peering over the stone ridge into the little valley thing. Nothing much happened. Then Jeoff was back – just like that. Testikles got all weird in the tummy again when Jeoff reappeared. Things shouldn’t vanish and reappear like that.

‘There’s one of those Duergar in that sentry-box,’ Jeoff said. ‘He’s watching the main path to the door. But here’s the thing: there’s no door, so there must be a way into the outpost from inside the sentry-box, like a tunnel. If we sneak along the cliffs behind him, we can maybe put a barrel of whale-oil against the back of the sentry box and blow it all to fuck. With any luck, the shards of stone will kill him and we can use his tunnel to get in.’

Everybody thought that sounded like a good plan, so Testikles agreed. But then everybody looked at Testikles, and he knew who was going to have to carry the big barrel of whale oil, AND be sneaky, AND not drop it or anything. And he didn’t like the plan nearly as much after that, but the others liked it, so Testikles went back to the big sled and got a barrel of whale oil.

He was sneaky, even though the snow was slippery. He did not drop the oil even though it was very heavy. He brought it to Jeoff and the others at the back of the stone sentry box. Nobody said thank you to him, or anything.

Jeoff did a magic on Jathara’s spare cloak, hanging it over the side of the barrel that was away from the sentry-box. ‘That will direct the force of the blast,’ Jeoff said. ‘It will blow up the stone wall and shoot lots of stone at the Duergar inside.’

They sneaked away from the whale oil barrel, staying close to the cliffs. Then Milo shot a flaming arrow at the whale oil and it blew up, all red and yellow and black and loud. When the smoke and the flames cleared, Testikles saw a big hole in the stone wall and he ran down to it with Skrote, ready to kill the Duergar dwarf inside but he could not, because the Duergar dwarf was already dead.

There was a wooden trap door in the floor. Bits of stone and pieces of Duergar dwarf were on top of it. Bits of stone and pieces of Duergar dwarf were all over the little stone room. Testikles turned to the others as they came in.

‘Don’t step in the dwarf guts,’ he said. ‘It will make your boots slippery, and then fighting will be hard.’

Everyone looked around the room. Then Jathara covered her mouth with her hand. Her face went sort of green, and she ran back out through the hole in the wall. Testikles heard her throwing up outside.

‘Weak,’ said Milo. He looked pleased.

‘There’s a ladder down here,’ said Jeoff, who had lifted the trap door. ‘A tunnel at the bottom goes towards the cliff. We will go down this way.’

‘Skrote can’t go that way,’ said Testikles. ‘He’s too big for that little tunnel. He and I will attack the front door while you and the others go through the tunnel. Then we will trap the enemy in a pincer movement!’

‘Good idea,’ said Jeoff. ‘Take Jathara with you.’

Testikles waved goodbye as the others went down the tunnel. Outside, he found Jathara wiping her mouth. In the snow in front of her, a wet pile of chopped carrots steamed as it froze. ‘I’m sorry,’ she said. ‘I’m not all hardened like you adventurers.’

‘That’s okay,’ said Testikles. ‘The others are going in through the tunnel to kill everyone. You and I will go through the front doors to distract the enemies with a pincer movement.’

‘What’s a pincer movement?’ said Jathara.

Testikles held up his hand, curved like a crab claw. ‘Like a crab goes pinchy pinchy!’ he said. ‘One lot of us goes one way. The other lot goes another way and we catch the enemies in between, pinchy pinchy pinch pinch!’ Testikles had heard lots of stories about raids that the Boar Tribe Warriors went on. He had never been on a raid because he was too young and he didn’t yet have a Warrior Name. But now he had a Warrior Name, he knew he was ready to do raids like the other warriors. ‘Pinchy pinchy pinch!’ he said again.

Jathara seemed to understand that Testikles was a true Warrior who had everything under control. She followed him along the base of the cliff, and then ran with him to the big doors when someone farther up the cliff started shooting crossbow bolts at them. The doors were very big and heavy, and Testikles needed Skrote to help him open them up, but then they got inside. They went over a drawbridge across a pit and they were in a big room with cages on one side. One cage had a big zombie ogre in it. The zombie ogre was very sad. Another cage had two goats in it.

‘Hey!’ said Jathara. ‘I know those goats. They were stolen from Whitey McFlunt in Caer Koenig!’ She was more interested in the goats than the ogre zombie.

Just then, Testikles noticed an angry Duergar dwarf.

‘Who are you? What are you doing in here?’ said the Duergar dwarf.

Testikles thought quickly. ‘We’re delivering milk!’

‘Milk?’ said the Duergar dwarf. He had scale mail, a shield, and a pick for hitting people with and he was very angry. ‘We didn’t order milk! Now you must die!’

Testikles saw there was a door behind the angry dwarf who did not want milk. It pointed back into the mountainside, towards the place where Jeoff and the others were coming in. ‘Run, Jathara,’ shouted Testikles. ‘Run through the door! Run fast!’

Jathara ran past the angry dwarf. She ran very fast through the door. Then Testikles heard crossbows shooting, and lots of screaming. But he couldn’t worry about that because the angry Duergar dwarf who didn’t want milk was trying to kill him…

***

The ladder from the trapdoor in the sentry-box dropped down into a tunnel which was clearly dwarf-work. Jeoff had to hunch as he walked, or risk scraping his head on the raw stone ceiling. Up the far end of the tunnel was another ladder. Jeoff signalled to Milo, and the little halfling climbed the ladder, then lifted the trapdoor at the top just a fraction to peep out. Milo looked back at Jeoff and held up two fingers. Two dwarfs, then?

Milo slid down the ladder. ‘Two,’ he confirmed. ‘Back of the room. They’re watching pretty carefully.’

‘We need cover,’ said Jeoff. ‘Let me up.’ He prepared a spell, then climbed the ladder. Raising the wooden trapdoor a fraction, he released the spell, filling much of the room beyond with darkness.

‘Fuck’s going on?’ said one of the Duergar, in dwarvish. ‘Where’s Bjork?’

‘Fuck if I know,’ said the other. ‘I really don’t like this. And that screaming, back behind us? What’s going on?’

Meanwhile, Milo and Iledove climbed out of trapdoor into the magical darkness. Iledove moved off. There was a scream – and a moment later, Iledove returned. Then Milo sneaked out. More screams, and Milo returned. Encouraged, Jeoff threw a Burning Hands spell in the direction of the screams, then climbed partway back down the ladder in case of return fire.

Without warning, there was a roar, and the sound of running feet. The noises got closer, and then with startling suddenness a Duergar just – leapt feet first through the open trapdoor, shooting past Jeoff. There was an instant where the two made eye contact: Jeoff hanging onto the ladder, puzzled, the Duergar screaming and flailing wildly as he plunged to the tunnel below. There was an unpleasantly crunchy noise, and the Duergar’s screams stopped abruptly. Jeoff glanced down, and saw that the deep-dwarf lay akimbo upon the stone floor far below, his head at a terrible, unnatural angle to his body.

Oops.

Jeoff climbed to the room above and dispersed the darkness. Iledove pointed at a door in the far side. ‘The last one went that way!’ she called. ‘I hear fighting ahead!’ She darted through the door, and disappeared. Jeoff and Milo followed at a more moderate pace.

The door led to a set of descending stairs. As Jeoff reached the top step, he saw Iledove slash an armoured dwarf, spilling his entrails everywhere before she kicked him down the stairs – rattling, screaming, clanking, spattering blood and bits of meat. ‘For Helm and justice!’ cried Iledove.

Milo sneaked down the stairs, with Iledove and Jeoff hanging back, watching. There were two Duergar dwarfs in the room at the bottom of the stair. They stood over Jathara, who lay bleeding on the floor with several crossbow bolts sticking out of her back.

‘No sign of Testikles,’ Jeoff murmured.

‘Worse luck,’ sighed Iledove.

The dwarves were occupied by examining their prisoner, and staring dumbfounded at the disembowelled corpse of their companion as it rolled messily into the room. Milo’s arrival took them by surprise.

‘Good afternoon, my friends,’ said Milo unctuously. ‘Perhaps you could consider offering weary travellers your hospitality?’

The dwarfs gaped at him.

‘That isn’t going to work, Milo,’ said Jeoff. ‘There are too many intestines on the floor already.’

‘Damn,’ said Milo. ‘Work, work, work!’

‘Leave it to me,’ said Jeoff, and he unleashed one of his better spells, delivering a huge blast of flame. With exquisite skill and care – at least, he thought of it as exquisite skill and care – he sculpted the flow of magic so the flames washed around Milo and Jathara, flickering and roaring, but doing no harm. When the mighty tide of conflagration receded, the two dwarves were nothing but smoking piles of singed meat.

‘Nice,’ said Milo appreciatively.

Iledove knelt by Jathara. ‘She’s not dead,’ she said. ‘I’ll invoke Helm’s grace to help heal her.’ She cocked an ear. ‘Maybe you two had better go to the next room. Sounds like Testikles is doing his thing.’

And indeed, now that various dwarves had stopped screaming Jeoff could hear the distinctive war-squeal of the Boar Clan echoing from the halls somewhere ahead. He could also hear someone cursing horribly in dwarvish… and he could hear goats bleating in terror, and beyond that, a deep, wretched voice moaning in rage and despair.

What was the little imbecile up to this time? Jeoff fired up a protective Cloud of Daggers spell just to be on the safe side.

By the time Jeoff put his head cautiously around the door at the end of the short connecting hall, it was all over. Naked and priapic, Testikles waved his axe and shield as if looking for someone else to kill. Two dead dwarfs lay on the floor. One had been smashed flat, compressed from the head down as if hit repeated by a large hammer – or perhaps the broad side of an axe. The other bore axe wounds to the head, but clearly what had killed him was a war-boar tusk, entering through the anus and ripping upwards, tearing away the soft meats at the crotch. Skrote the War Pig was still munching contentedly at something resembling a hairy blood sausage.

Meanwhile, Milo and Iledove joined them, with Jathara.

‘I rescued you,’ said Milo to the dwarf lass, batting his eyelashes meaningfully. ‘I healed you when you were on the brink of death!’ He grasped at her arm.

She shook him off irritably. ‘Err… thank you,’ she said, and looked around the room. Her eyes widened. Was she going to vomit again? ‘Oh,’ she said faintly. ‘There’s Whitey’s goats again.’

‘You know those goats?’ said Milo. ‘I am very strong! Let me free them for you!’ He trotted over to the goat cage, set himself, and twisted the door sharply until it came free of the cage. The goats immediately ran out to Jathara, who patted them and hugged their necks.

Jeoff examined the last cage. The hideous thing inside caterwauled sadly, ignoring Jeoff. ‘That’s a zombie ogre, I think,’ he said, after careful examination. ‘What’s it doing here?’

Testikles kicked at the head of the dwarf that Skrote was eating. ‘He tried to let it out. I did not let him. I think they used it is a guard thing.’ The muscular halfling stared into the cage. ‘I will kill it,’ he said. He found his javelins, and began poking holes in the zombie through the bars of the cage.

The ogre zombie screamed. Testikles poked it again.

‘It’s getting pissed off,’ said Milo. ‘Should we be doing this?’

‘I agree with Testikles,’ said Jeoff. ‘It is better off dead. Easier to kill it in the cage than let it out where it can hurt us.’ He threw a fire cantrip at the zombie, setting its rags alight.

That was enough for the zombie. With Testikles continuing to jab at it with a javelin, Milo shooting it with his crossbow and Jeoff hurling fire cantrips at it, the miserable, rotting thing roared, and pounded at the cage door until it burst open. The enormous, rotting zombie staggered free.

Not that it helped. Immediately, it ran into Jeoff’s Cloud of Daggers, and little bits of decaying flesh flew in all directions. Then Iledove smashed it, Testikles bashed it, and finally Jeoff hit it with a firebolt. The flame seemed to sink into the abomination – and then, as if burning within, flames shot from every orifice, including the ragged wounds on its body. Finally, it subsided into a heap of ash. Jeoff nodded in satisfaction.

Jathara moaned, and vomited again. What was wrong with the woman?

‘Come on,’ said Jeoff. Aside from the door they’d come through and the big doors which Testikles had thrown open, two more doors came off this room. Jeoff picked one at random. ‘This way!’

Everyone except Jathara and the goats followed. ‘I’ll just stay and mind the livestock,’ Jathara said. ‘Don’t mind me!’ Then she vomited again.

Entering the room beyond, Jeoff found two more verminous Duergar dwarfs awaiting them. As the party advanced, one of the dwarfs triumphantly pulled a lever that stuck out of the wall. At once, iron spikes shot out of the floor and ceiling, blocking the way the group had come and separating them from Jathara.

‘Ha ha haaa!’ sneered the dwarf triumphantly. ‘Now you are trapped! There is no escape! No… escape…’ He looked around. His voice faltered as the party fanned out – a sorceror; a naked, boned-up, blood-covered axe-waving halfling; a huge war pig, snout and tusks dripping gore; a fully armed and armoured paladin, and another halfling with a deadly-looking crossbow.

The dwarf with the lever looked at his one and only companion. The other dwarf gritted his teeth, and waved his weapons threateningly. ‘Grr,’ he said. ‘Grrr?’

Jeoff and the others glanced at each other. Milo shrugged.

‘Nildar! Nildar! HEEELLLP!’ screamed the lever-dwarf – but it was already too late. Milo put a crossbow bolt through his head, nailing him to the stone wall. Meanwhile, Iledove chopped a couple pieces out of his companion, and Skrote the Pig finished him off with a brutal slash of his razor tusks.

From a door leading deeper still into the mountainside, a big dwarf emerged. Heavily armed and armoured, he announced himself with fine, bombastic little speech. ‘You fools! You achieve only your death here! And even if I should fall, my father’s dark powers are beyond your comprehension!’

Really, Jeoff felt like applauding – but then the big dwarf (presumably Nildar?) flung a handful of really nasty daggers at Iledove, who squeaked and ran away, so there was that to consider. Iledove generally wasn’t much for running away. Was there something about those daggers?

Naked, boned-up, covered in blood, Testikles gave a blood-curdling pig-squeal and chopped at Nildar with his axe. Milo dove the opposite direction and embedded a crossbow bolt in the big dwarf’s knee – but Nildar was undeterred.

Time to get serious. Jeoff closed his eyes and whispered an incantation. His skin tingled, and his hair stood on end. Peering through his lashes, the sorceror whipped his arm forward and hurled a jagged, blue-white bolt of lighting that took Nildar square in the armoured chest, hissing and crashing, sending wicked flares of electric death in all directions. Jeoff smiled.

Nildar staggered… and laughed. He lashed out at Skrote the Pig with one of those nasty daggers, and Skrote squealed. The war-pig stumbled, and Testikles roared with rage and fury.

‘That might not have been a good idea,’ Jeoff said. ‘Testikles takes it personally when you hurt his pig.’

‘I care nothing for the anger of a pathetic child,’ cried Nildar. ‘To the darkness with you!’ He reached into a pocket and hurled something that shattered on the floor between Iledove and Jeoff. Instantly, both were enveloped in a cloud of stinging, burning, greenish smoke. Jeoff coughed and choked, barely able to see, let alone breathe.

Yet Jeoff’s warning had been correct. Enraged beyond all measure by Nildar’s attack on Skrote, Testikles swung his axe in wide, whooping circle. The hairy little halfling dropped to one knee as the axe sped on its way, sliding beneath Nildar’s shield. With quick double crunch, Testikles axe sheared through both Nildar’s stout legs just below the knee and the big Duergar dropped onto his stumps with a wail of pain and shock. But now he was face-to-face with the berserk halfling who had risen to his feet with the momentum of the axe. Testikles dropped his shield and took the axe in both hands as he spun, swinging the flat side of the axe in a deadly arc that ended explosively in Nildar’s face.

The front of his skull obliterated, Nildar the Duergar fell backwards to the floor to lie between his own severed legs. But the grey-green smoke still burned at Jeoff’s skin, and presumably Iledove’s too.

‘Quick,’ panted Testikles to Milo. ‘The smoke is evil! We must piss on them to wash it off their skin!’

Jeoff blanched as the warm stream played over his hands, arms, and face. But… it did help.

After that, there was little else to discover. A desk in Nildar’s room held some chunks of chardalyn, and a note to his now-dead brother in Easthaven. They also found the colour-changing lamp from the Northern Lights tavern, covered by a hessian sack. In another room there were cells for prisoners, but some vile Duergar magic had transformed the poor creatures into hideous mushroom-zombies. After Milo kicked down their doors to free them, they turned out to be annoyingly hostile – but they really weren’t prepared for the kind of arse-whooping that Jeoff and the rest could hand out. They lurched and growled and they smelled horribly of rot and mushrooms when they were brutally and expertly taken apart, but they really didn’t last.

Then they were done.

‘That’s it?’ said Milo. He kicked irritably at one of the mushroomy corpses. ‘Where’s the loot?’

‘I found a purse in the room of the big dwarf,’ said Testikles. ‘There were monies in it.’

‘A purse? How big?’ said Milo. Testikles hesitated, and held out his hand as if holding a small sum. ‘Fuck it,’ said Milo. ‘Go back to putting your clothes on, would you?’

‘We did get a bunch of supplies,’ Iledove pointed out. ‘Rope, gear – useful stuff like that.’

‘Stores have useful stuff,’ said Milo. ‘We don’t need useful stuff.’

‘We learned the Duergar are planning something,’ said Jeoff. ‘I bet this father Nildar spoke of is that Sunblight fellow we found out about from the Easthaven duergar. He’s gathering chardalyn, which can be used to make magical things. He has some sort of plan.’

‘Goody goody,’ said Milo. ‘Evil dwarf magic plans. Who gives a fuck?’

‘You have the good will of Caer Koenig,’ said Jathara. She was still patting the two goats which followed her about as if their lives depended on it. Scrawny little things that they were, perhaps their lives did depend on it. ‘You have recovered our stolen things, and slain the villains who haunted our nights. There will be much beer for you, as promised.’

‘Beer,’ said Milo, but he didn’t sound quite as pissed off as before. ‘Yeah. Beer.’ He looked at Jathara, and brightened. ‘Are you going to get that tattoo now?’

‘Fuck off,’ said the dwarf woman with as much authority and dignity as she could muster….

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