In Which Milo Throws A Tantrum And The Party Accidentally Defeats A Conspiracy…

For whatever reason, Jathara was desperate to get back to Caer Koenig. She made out it was about the goats, but Milo figured she was shit-scared after the way they’d messed up all the duergar and that fucking Ogre Zombie. Scared or not, though, she still wasn’t going to get herself a pig tatt, no matter what he offered.

Well. Who wanted to screw a beardy dwarf babe anyway?

“I can get you back to Caer Koenig quick,” she said. “I mean… that’s why you hired a guide.”

Off to one side, Testikles was still scraping blood and other horrible stuff off himself, but he took time out and pointed down the valley, across the plain. “Caer Koenig jost one day that way,” he said. “We could follow our own tracks in the snow, if we wanted.”

“Yeah,” said Milo. “Guide. Huh.” He turned to Jeoff. “Reckon we got ripped off.”

Jeoff giggled.

“Well… I don’t care,” said Jathara. “I’ve got to get back to work.”

“What work?” said Testikles. He was using a scrap of rag to get nasty stuff out from under his scrotum, Milo noticed. Gross. That was what you got for fighting naked.

Work,” said Jathara crossly. “At the supply and outfitters. As a guide.”

“Guide for who?” said Testikles. “Nobody comes here. Nobody here goes anywhere. This the shit-arse end of the world, covered in snow and fucked-up angry things. Nobody comes Caer Koenig, and if they do they don’t need guide. They need mercy killing.”

“That’s not fair!” snapped Jathara. “In all my years as an adventurer, I’ve never –”

“A what?” put in Milo. “You woofed your cookies all over the place the first time we killed one of those duergar bastards. Then you coughed up diced carrots in every direction when we fought the ogre zombie, and you just fucking hid with the goats when we tangled with that Sunblight guy. Adventurer? You’re fucking joking.

“I got shot! I took arrows!” wailed Jathara. She glared at Testikles. “You told me to run that way!”

“You did very well,” said Testikles, not looking up. He seemed to have found something he didn’t like between his hairy butt-cheeks. He glared at it, then threw the rag away and brought another one out of his pack. “You bravely confronted enemy!”

“I almost died!” Jathara shrieked. She was red in the face, close to tears.

“Eh.” Iledove shrugged. Even the paladin wasn’t showing much sympathy. “You’re better now. What’s the problem?”

The dwarf woman turned an even deeper shade of red. Her dainty, neatly braided beard quivered. “You people are… you people…”

By now, everyone had stopped what they were doing to watch her, but it seemed Jathara had run out of words. “You people!” she said one final time, and stamped her foot. “I’m going now!”

“Don’t forget goats,” called Testikles.

###

In the end, of course, she travelled all the way back to Caer Koenig with them. What else was she going to do? The tundra was home to wandering bands of gnolls, goblin raiders, wolves, and even yetis. It was fine for Jathara to call herself a ‘guide’, Jeoff felt, but as an adventurer and an independent traveller she was a complete failure. And of course, there were the two goats.

She took off the moment they reached Caer Koenig, with the two goats trailing after her. Apparently someone called “MacFlunt” wanted them back.

Word of their return must have spread quickly. By the time the big sleigh with the polar bears pulling it slid into place at the Northern Lights tavern, Trovus the dragon-guy Town Speaker was already out front with a respectable crowd. Respectable for Caer Koenig, anyhow. Jeoff did a quick head count: twenty-three people, if you included the skinny old woman who was too blind to realize the cat she was trying to feed had frozen to death standing up against the wall of her shabby little house. She kept shoving bits of what was probably fucking Knucklehead Trout into its mouth, where they promptly froze into fishcicles, making the cat’s corpse look like it had some sort of filthy disease.

Slender Allie of the Northern Light Inn called out as they came near. “Did you find our light?”

Jeoff fumbled around in one of the sacks, and brought out a little wrought-iron lantern that emitted a soft green glow which turned the perpetual twilight of Icewind Dale a nasty, sickly shade. He held it up, and almost immediately the light turned pink. The little crowd gave an ‘oooh!’ of appreciation and delight. Easily impressed bunch.

Allie pushed her way to the front and held out her hand for the lamp. Jeoff passed it across, and she lifted it high for the others to see. A ragged cheer arose, ending in a loose chorus of coughs and gasps. Perpetual winter evidently wasn’t great for local health.

“What does it do, anyway?” said Milo.

Allie turned with a radiant smile. “It changes colour,” she said. “See?” The light from the lamp turned a soft silvery shade, but people were too busy coughing to do the ‘ooh!’ thing again.

“Well, duh!” said Milo, frowning. “We’ve only carried it ten or fifteen miles after pulling it out of a dwarf-infested hole in the mountain. We fucking know it changes colour. What else does it do?”

The tavern-keeper looked hurt. She lowered the lantern, and curled her arms protectively about it. “It’s a magic lantern and it changes colour,” she said. “It brings tourists to the inn.”

Jeoff saw Testikles scratch his head, and look puzzled. “What facking tourists?” said the little barbarian in his sing-song accent. “Jost look this place, eh? Nobody comes here except maybe for die. Nothing but facking snow, ice, and snow. Even shit freezes here. Must reach behind, snap it off for take dump.”

Allie’s lower lip trembled. Jeoff wanted to say something kind, but that would have been stupid. Testikles was absolutely right.

“What about the rest of our stuff?” called someone in the crowd. Jeoff reached down for the sacks they’d recovered, but Testikles was evidently on a roll. The hairy little halfling grabbed both bags in his muscular arms, and tossed them onto the snow in front of the crowd.

“Everything we find,” said Testikles. “Two whole facking bags, sad facking shit. I can’t believe those facking dwarfs so stupid they bothered steal this crap. I saw junk pile in old fort on way in. We could save you trouble, dump all this shit there.”

One of the bags had fallen open, and something small and dark fell out into the snow. A gaunt man with several missing teeth stared. His eyes widened, and he pointed. “Me granda’s ol’ clay pipe!” he quavered. “Those filthy dwarf bastards! Oh, he loved his old pipe!”

“Ya?” grunted Testikles. “Bet he didn’t have any facking thing for smoke, did he? What he do? Sit around nights, gumming like baby with leather teat?” He stuck his lips out and mimed suckling like a child with a comforter.

“Oh, don’t,” said Iledove faintly. “These people are suffering, Testikles.”

“Comes with living here,” said Milo. “We shouldn’t force them to take this crap back. They’ve suffered enough already.”

“You don’t understand,” said Allie. “This cold… the light… the village economy…” She gestured vaguely.

Testikles growled. “What facking economy?” he snarled. “You start economy because your facking light change colour? You bring jost one poxy whore this place. One! After one week she buy whole facking village!

But the crowd wasn’t listening. They pushed forward en masse, emptying the sacks and passing items about, crowing over prized family possessions. Jeoff shook his head. “You’ll never reach them, Testikles,” he said. “They’re just villagers, after all.”

“Facking eediots,” grunted the Boar Warrior. “Fack this. Let’s get beer they promise.”

Testikles’ mood improved once they were inside the inn. Or perhaps it was just that pouring beer down his thick neck kept him from talking. Either way, it was a pleasant change.

Trovus loosened up too. “Nice work you folk did,” he said. “Worth the two barrels of ale.”

Testikles belched violently, and glared. “Worth more,” he said. Allie gave him a side-eye glare as she refilled his mug.

“I know,” said Trovus. “And there’s not much here. I know that, too.”

“Your prospects aren’t great,” said Milo. “Don’t forget about that dragon-kin babe I told you about over in Easthaven. Owns her own tavern!”

“I haven’t forgotten,” said Trovus. “But you know… one thing and another…”

“I’m just thinking of your well-being, my friend,” said Milo, with a lugubrious expression. It was horrible how greasy could be at times.

Testikles belched again. “You not thinking,” he said. “Maybe he gay. Embarrassing, you find girl for him.”

Trovus blinked.

“Did you just assume his sexuality?” said Iledove, frowning at Testikles.

The barbarian pointed at Milo. “Not me! He!”

“No!” said Milo. Then after a moment, “Well. Yes. I did.”

“I’m not gay,” said Trovus. “Just…”

Gay,” coughed Testikles into his beer. “Gay! Gay!

“Don’t listen to him,” Iledove said. “Besides there’s nothing wrong with being gay.”

“But…” Trovus looked bewildered. “I’m not!”

“Ya,” put in Testikles. “Some Boar Clan warriors gay. Fight good!”

Trovus stroked his chin. “Speaking of fighting… you want more work?”

Jeoff and Alea exchanged glances. He raised an eyebrow. She shrugged minutely. He nodded. She winked, and tapped the side of her nose. Did that all mean what he thought? Fuck it. “Maybe,” Jeoff said. “What’s the work?”

“Gnolls,” said Trovus. “A bunch of them down in the Spine of the World. There’s a place called The Cackling Chasm.”

“Stupid name,” grunted Testikles.

“It’s on account of the way the gnolls cackle. Lots of echoes. The whole… uhh… chasm sort of echoes.” Trovus shrugged. “Okay, yeah. Stupid name.”

“How much?” said Milo.

“I’ll give you ten crowns per gnoll head,” Trovus offered.

Jeoff looked at Alea. It really wasn’t a lot of money, unless there was a serious damned gnoll problem. Alea looked at Milo. Milo shrugged, and looked at Iledove, who turned to Testikles. The little barbarian grinned. “Maybe we do this if guide comes,” he said. “Jathara, maybe?”

Milo got it first, and sniggered. Then Iledove and Alea chuckled, and Jeoff tried to hide a grin. “Fifteen a head,” he said, “And Jathara comes too.” It was a good idea. Jathara would absolutely shit herself at the prospect of having anything to do with them ever again.

They settled at thirteen a head, and Jathara to meet them in Easthaven…

###

The next morning, Milo was despondent. “Just kill me,” he wailed. “Kill me now!” He flung himself to the rough wooden floor of the inn, and kicked his feet like a child in a tantrum. Iledove was curious, sure, but she was more concerned about Trovus who had what looked like… bite marks? Yeah. Pointy tooth marks. All over his face. And both he and Milo were covered in blood and scales and… yeah, judging from the reek of it, pulverised fish. Also, Milo wasn’t carrying a Knucklead Trout, which was weird.

She gestured at Trovus. “What happened?”

The dragon-kin touched his face and winced. “Caught a pike,” he said. “A really big bastard. It went for my jugular! Milo punched it in the head, though.” He frowned. “Little guy can really punch, can’t he? That fish…” He ran a hand over his head, and flicked scales, blood and pulverised fish meat onto the floor. “Fuck!”

“I’m nothing!” wailed Milo. “Nobody! I caught no fish!”

“What about that spiky fucker?” Trovus said. “That was a big one!”

“You said it was poisonous!” Milo howled, his face beetroot red. “You made me throw it ba-aaaa-aack!

“Icewind Spinefish,” muttered Trovus to Iledove. “Poisonous as fuck. Venomous too. Spiny death. Lucky were not both lying dead on the ice right now.”

“I’m worthless!” Milo screamed, banging his head against the floor. “Worthless! Hopeless! Useless!

“Fuck this,” grunted Testikles. He seized the wailing halfling around the waist, lifted him over his head, and carried him out the door. When Iledove followed, she found Milo lying atop the wagon, sprawled out like a starfish, sobbing tragically.

The sobbing continued all morning while the wagon rocked steadily across the frozen landscape, drawn onwards by the tireless – if slightly crabby – polar bears. At last, they drew abreast of a small town called Caer Dineval. It wasn’t much of a place, but it did seem to have a sizable keep atop a small hill on the lakeside, overlooking the town proper. And that was the moment when Milo sat up. He pointed at the stone keep, and announced, “I wanna go there!

Jeoff shook his head. “We’re a long way from Cackling Chasm yet,” he said. “We need to keep moving.”

Nooo-ooo!” screamed Milo, kicking his heels against the roof of the wagon. “Wanna go there! Now! Now! Now! Now!

From the corner of her eye, Iledove spotted Testikles standing up in the stirrups on Skrote’s back. He had a javelin in hand, drawn back ready to fling – and it looked like it was meant for Milo. Alarmed, Iledove shifted her position to get between the barbarian and little Milo. Testikles wouldn’t fling a javelin at her, after all. Would he?

Stop the wagon!” screamed Milo. “Stop it! Stop! Wanna go to the castle! Now! Now!” His face was red. His eyes were streaming, and snot-sicles hung under his nose.

“Fuck this,” growled Jeoff. “Fine.We’ll go to the fucking castle. And put that fucking javelin away, Testikles. Don’t make me come over there!”

Testikles growled, but he lowered the javelin. Atop the wagon, Milo stuck his tongue out at the barbarian.

Up close, the keep wasn’t particularly impressive. A gate, a few low towers, some tatty old flags stirring in the fitful wind. As the wagon slowed and the bears relaxed, Milo sprang down from the top and trotted up to the door. Alarmed, Iledove shoved Alea. “Go after him! Don’t let him do all the talking!”

Alea frowned. “I don’t even know why we’re here!”

“We’re here because he’ll wet his panties if we don’t pay a visit to this castle,” said Jeoff. “Now, go stop him doing anything stupid.”

“Too late,” growled Alea, but she clambered out of the warmth of the wagon and followed Milo, who was already banging on the big, reinforced gates.

A view-port snapped open, revealing a tired-looking guard’s face. The tiredness gave way to confusion as the guard looked around. “Fucking kids,” he muttered, unable to see little Milo below the view-port.

Alea stepped up. “Hello,” she said.

“Hello yourself,” the guard said. “Now bugger off. The Speaker’s too sick to see anyone.”

“Oh, that’s dreadful,” called Iledove from the wagon. “We could help!”

“No,” said the guard. “He’s got help already. Go away.”

Iledove saw Milo sizing up the gates, preparing to try and kick them down. She hissed, and when he looked around, she shook her head. “Siege gates,” she said. “You’ll break an ankle.”

Milo glowered.

“What about jobs?” said Alea. “We’re adventurers. Does the town need our help? Ask the Speaker.”

“No!” said the guard. “I told you. Speaker Crannock is too sick! Now, just bugger off!” He slammed the viewport shut.

“That’s suspicious!” said Milo. He was practically panting with excitement. “Isn’t that suspicious, Jeoff? Iledove? We should demand to see the Speaker, shouldn’t we? Right? Shouldn’t we?”

This wasn’t going as Iledove had hoped. She looked at Jeoff, who just shrugged. “Why not?” said the mage. He brought out his staff, and dinged Milo on the head with it. “Spider Climb!” he said.

A few minutes later, only Alea and Iledove remained outside with the wagon. Courtesy of Jeoff’s staff, Milo, the mage himself, Testikles and even Skrote the War Pig (who seemed to be getting used to the idea by now) had surmounted the low stone wall.

“This can’t possibly be a good idea,” Alea muttered. Iledove found herself agreeing….

###

From the wall-top, Testikles saw… not a lot, really. There were some tattered old stalls in the courtyard, and a shed that kind of leaned against the main building. There were some lit windows in the main building.There were more than three small towers; one at each corner of the keep. There was one guard in the courtyard.

Jeoff, Milo and Testikles all went down into the courtyard, together with Skrote. Testikles went to the gate and found a lever that made it open so Alea and Iledove could come in too. The guard ran over.

“Who are you? What are you doing?” shouted the guard. He was thin, and red-faced and angry.

“We are delivering milk to Town Speaker Crannock,” Testikles said.

“No you are not!” shouted the guard. “Tell me who you are!”

“Tell me who you are,” said Jeoff.

“I’m the guard,” said the guard. “That is who I am!”

“Where is your identification?” said Jeoff. That was a very big word, and right away, Testikles felt himself getting bored. Then Jeoff made a hand appear and it wrote things in the sky while Jeoff explained to everyone that the guard had infiltrated the outpost and the Speaker had been eliminated. There were so many big words that Testikles crossed over to the shed and looked inside.

There were dogs. Good dogs. Friendly dogs. Testikles patted the good dogs, and then he heard a voice. “Are you going to help me?” said the voice. “They made me into a slave!”

Testikles looked around, but it was not one of the good dogs talking. He looked around some more and saw a skinny boy in a cage. Testikles smashed the cage open and let the boy out. Then he took the boy to see Jeoff and the good people.

The guard was arguing with Jeoff. Testikles knew that was stupid. Arguing with Jeoff often caused fireballs. Testikles showed the boy to the others. The boy pointed to the guard.

“He’s one of them,” he said. “They came here and made me into a slave, and then two weeks ago something went really bad.”

“Is that true?” Iledove said to the guard. Testikles saw that she was doing a thing with her Holy Helm Sign. He told the boy to go inside and find out where all the people were. The boy agreed, and ran off.

The guard looked angry. He looked confused. He looked frightened. “What’s wrong with me?” he said to Iledove. “What have you done?”

“Answer the question,” said Iledove. “Did you come here and take over this castle?”

Testikles could see the guard was trying very hard to say something. Or maybe not say something. His face turned very red. His eyes scrunched up. Then there was a big, wet farting noise and a burst of steam came out his bum. “Oh no,” said the guard. “I’ve shit meself!”

Jeoff made a magic and floated the guard’s poo so it went up the guard’s back. The guard looked frightened and sad and disgusted. “It’s true!” shouted the guard. “We did it! We took over!”

“Who took over?” asked Iledove.

The guard tried again not to answer, but the floating poo must have been warm and squishy. His face did a thing. “We work for Lafistus! He is an important Devil. We are not the Arcane brotherhood!”

“Where is Lafistus,” said Milo. He made the name sound like Lee Fist Us, and he giggled, and said “Fist us,” again.

“He’s in one of the Nine Circles of Hell,” said the guard.

“What is he doing?” asked Testikles.

“I don’t know!” said the guard. “We came and took this place for our headquarters. That’s what I know!”

“There’s a better headquarters at Kelvin’s Cairn,” said Testikles. “The dwarfs who were using it are all dead. You could go there and you would have a nice headquarters and this down could have its castle and its Speaker back and you could all be friends.”

The guard became very angry. He pulled out his sword, and that was stupid because all the Good People were right there. Then the guard tried to yell but Jeoff floated the squishy poo into his mouth and Testikles shoved an axe into his guts and pulled them out all over the ground. Only then the boy came back and everybody had to quickly stand in front of the dead guard and all the guts so the boy would not be frightened.

“I found the Speaker,” said the boy. “And the other guards, too. I will show you where they are!”

The Speaker was in a room upstairs. The room was above the stable that leaned on the wall. Milo and Testikles climbed up and looked in through an arrowslit. There was a guard inside. Also, there was an old man. The old man was sitting on a golden chamber-pot.

“Look, Milo,” said Testikles. “A golden chamber-pot!”

“We should rip out these bars and rescue the old man,” said Milo. And Milo was very strong and Testikles was very strong and they bent the bars on the arrow-slit wide, and because they were halflings and not very big they could jump through so they did. Testikles smacked the guard in the face with his axe, but the guard died. Then the Speaker asked to be rescued and Milo tried to shove him out the window but the Speaker was a human man and he couldn’t fit so Milo got angry and threw him, but Testikles caught him.

The Speaker said some stuff and maybe it was important, but so was the gold chamber-pot. It wasn’t even full, and Testikles wondered what it was like to use a gold chamber-pot, so he bent over and added his own poo, but it wasn’t really interesting at all. Milo shook his head like he was sad, and said, “You might as well take a dump in a snowdrift, Testikles.”

And that sounded wise. But Testikles wondered about getting snow all over his bottom parts, and he thought maybe the chamber-pot was okay.

Milo picked the lock that kept the Speaker in. Downstairs, they saw a young man with horns and a tail picking up dirty dishes and Milo said he was a Tiefling, and they didn’t kill him. They waited until he was gone, and they took the Speaker outside into the courtyard, where the rest of the Good People waited with the dead guard and the guts, which had frozen now.

“You are adventurers,” Speaker Crannock said. “You should kill these evil people and save my castle!” But he had no money to give, and Milo wanted to go.

But then Testikles remembered, and he said, “He has a golden chamber pot!”

Then they agreed to kill the bad men, and the Speaker said he would give them the gold chamber pot and he would even clean it first and Testikles thought that was good because it was mostly full now.

Also the Speaker said the bad guards had a boss who was another Tiefling, and they had an old woman who was a sooth-sayer. But nobody really cared.

The bad guards were sad, skinny men who weren’t very strong. Alea told the boy to hide with the Speaker in the stables, with the good dogs. Then they went to the towers to find the bad guards. Alea shot guards. Testikles killed guards with his axe and his fists. Skrote killed a guard and ate the soft parts. Iledove cut a guard’s head off. Jeoff tried to make a fireball, but a guard hit him with a curved sword, and then Jeoff did make a fireball and Alea killed more guards, and then there were none left.

The Speaker said the Tiefling Boss was in an office. The good people and Testikles went there. A clumsy little man was outside the door. “My name is Thoob!” he said. “What are you doing?”

“We are delivering milk,” Testikles said. He knew that if he kept trying, one day it would work. But it didn’t work on Thoob and Thoob went to make a big shout, but Jeoff cast Ray of Sickness on him, and Thoob got very sick.

Very, very sick.

He vomited. He poohed. He vomited poo. Then he vomited blood, and poohed blood, and then he vomited his intestines while he sweated blood and then he just fell apart into a pool of blood and poo and intestines and hair and other bits and not even Milo wanted to search his pockets. It was really yucky.

###

And at last, they confronted Kadroth, the scarlet-skinned, green-coated devil-horned Tiefling who claimed to lead the mysterious Knights of the Black Sword – his name for the hapless pile of axe-meat now decorating the walls, floors and even ceilings of various strongrooms about the place. (And also filling up one very contented war-pig.) He took one look at them as they burst into his office behind Milo’s unnecessarily brutal kick to the door, and threw up his hands.

“I’ll tell you everything, of course,” he said.

And he did. The KSB worshipped a powerful devil called – no, really – Lefistus or something so similar Alea couldn’t make it out past Milo’s sniggering. And they were infiltrating Icewind Dale in a big way, getting agents into all kinds of sects, or groups. For… for reasons, apparently. Reasons which Kadroth would probably have divulged if he hadn’t said something stupid first.

“You mustn’t kill me,” was what he said, leaning back with studied casualness on the big desk. Only that wasn’t the stupid thing. The really stupid thing came straight after. “I can do things for you. I’m a very well-connected man.

Quick as an adder’s tongue, Testikles war-axe lashed out. Kadroth’s head leapt high in the air atop a fount of blood that sprayed from his severed neck, then bounced to the floor and rolled away with an expression of surprise. The blood-fountain lasted just about long enough to make sure everyone in the little office was well and truly covered in the stuff, and then Kadroth’s body slid sideways along the desk and hit the floor with a soft, squelchy thud.

Everyone turned to look at Testikles, but the little barbarian was looking straight into the still-open eyes of Kadroth’s head.

“You don’t look so well-connected to me,” growled Testikles, and Kadroth’s eyes closed for the last time as an expression of intense pain and disgust crossed his now-disembodied face.

Everybody else groaned.

“What?” said Testikles. “I had no… this happened and I did not think, so quick it came.” He wiped the blood from his face and flicked it at Kadroth’s head.

“A reflex,” said Jeoff reflexively.

“One of those,” agreed Testikles. “No help, no way to stop.”

“Ugh,” said Alea. “Come on. Maybe we can find a clue if we search the place.”

They found rather a nice aquamarine brooch on Kadroth, matching one that glinted from the middle of the puddle of grossness just outside the shattered door. Luckily, the desk contained a lot of paperwork: orders for the Knights, lists of agents, bribes, plans… there was even a diary in which Kadroth was very rude about The Soothsayer.

“We should probably go see this Soothsayer,” said Alea. “If Kadroth hated her, there’s a chance she could be useful and valuable.”

“That makes sense,” Jeoff said.

The Soothsayer was a notably foul-smelling, ancient, dwarf woman with one wooden leg. As they entered her room, she gave a great cry. “Aieee! Rue the day! Rue the day, long coming! Aiee!” Then she farted, adjusted herself on her chair, and said, “Well? Don’t just stand there. Come in. I mean – I knew you were coming, of course. I’m a Soothsayer.”

“Oh yeah?” challenged Milo. “Say some sooth!”

She rolled her eyes. “I’ve dreaded this day, for long have I known that it harbours my ending. Today, I die!”

Alea looked at Jeoff and Iledove, but neither of them had anything useful to add. She looked around the room briefly, but there was nothing of interest to be seen: a bed, a chair, a table, a few odds and ends. “All right then,” said Alea. “What if we don’t kill you?”

The Soothsayer frowned, and pushed a lock of wispy white hair back from her face. “Doesn’t matter,” she said. “Today I die. So if you’re going to ask questions, better do it now.”

Jeoff spoke up. “Save us all some time,” he said. “Don’t wait for questions. Just tell us whatever it is we’re supposed to know.”

“Good idea,” said the Soothsayer. “Wait. I’ve just got to set the mood.” She rolled her eyes back in her head until only the whites showed, and emitted a theatrical groan. “Wooooo,” she moaned. “I see… I see a duergar warlord!”

“Mmm,” said Jeoff. “Yes. We knew about him already.”

The Soothsayer’s eyes rolled down again. She frowned at Jeoff. “Really?” she said.

Jeoff nodded.

“His name is… Sunblight!” she announced triumphantly.

Jeoff fanned open the map they’d taken from the duergar whose head Testikles had pulled off. “Yeah, got that,” he said. “Also: Durth Sunblight, fucking around in Easthaven. Testikles killed him. Nildar Sunblight, stealing goats up Caer Koenig way… come to think of it, Testikles got him, too.” He glanced at the little barbarian, who beamed with pride. “Yeah, nice one,” said Jeoff. “You may have a gift for this kind of thing. Anyway,” he continued. “Duergar, Sunblight, blah blah. This is not news.”

The old dwarf woman got a cunning look in her eyes. “What about Xardorok Sunblight? Eh, Mister Clever-boots?”

Jeoff yawned. “That’d be the father Nildar was on about, mighty magics, hidden fortress in the Spine of the World. Look, are you a Soothsayer or just an old woman who likes to gossip?”

“Ooh!” said the Soothsayer. “Xardorok Sunblight plans to take over–”

“ –take over the Ten Towns and Icewind Dale,” Jeoff finished. “Yeah, could have guessed that even if Nildar hadn’t done a song-and-dance about it before Testikles redecorated the room with his head. If this is what you’ve got by way of sooth, you might as well just drop dead now.”

“Aha, but do you know his plans?” said the Soothsayer.

“Are you stupid?” put in Alea. Her patience was wearing thin. “He’s planning to take over this frozen-ass stretch of real estate. We know. Although I admit I have no idea why he’d bother. This is unquestionably the shittiest place I’ve ever been.”

“That is his goal,” said the Soothsayer. “Not his plan. He has a cunning plan!”

“Oh, great,” said Iledove, rolling her eyes. “Is it so cunning you might mistake it for a weasel?”

“What?” the Soothsayer frowned again, her bushy white eyebrows crunching together in the centre of her forehead like two hairy caterpillars making sweet, sweet love atop a wrinkled leather duvet. “No! I don’t know. Well… I do! But you don’t. And his plans can be found in his fortress, if you search it. But beware! The fortress has a forge powered by the still-beating heart of a red dragon!”

“Really?” said Jeoff. “I won’t lie. That’s actually kind of cool.”

“Yes!” cried the Soothsayer, and she cackled with triumphant laughter. Halfway through the cackling process, she stopped, said something like, “Grop!” and then just keeled over.

After a moment, the group realized she was actually dead.

“Fuck,” said Milo. “It was just getting interesting.”

They searched her room. Alea found a magic Bag of Holding, which she immediately claimed in the name of the party. Jeoff found the old woman’s dinner, and ate it. Testikles unstrapped her wooden leg and stuck it in his pack.

“What?” he said, when the others looked at him. “She no use it now!”

“Good point,” said Iledove. “Come on. Let’s get the fuck out of here.”

They did.

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