Sands of Time, a Dredmor Novella

Discussion in 'Stories & Fan Fiction' started by Lorrelian, Apr 2, 2012.

  1. Lorrelian

    Lorrelian Member

    Hello, and welcome to my second foray into writing weird crap about everyone's favorite most-loathed Lich.

    This is what is known, in writing terms, as a forward. It's to establish a few things before we plunge into the heart of the story.

    First of all, like Opening the Realms, Sands of Time aims to update weekly, and each chapter will be one or two posts. After the chapter is posted I welcome any and all feedback you wish to leave me, even if it's just a, "LOL, what a n00b, this is totally TL,DR". (For you folks, might I recommend Dr. Suess?)

    Sands of Time will also feature several notable differences. For starters, I plan to drop everything into this one thread, rather than clog the forum with a whole bunch of different threads. This will make my thread view count higher, thus suckering more people into reading make it easier to find.

    Secondly, I want to issue a... well, a warning, if such a thing isn't totally absurd on this forum. Opening the Realms was a relatively tame yarn. It was episodic, with each confrontation pretty much being wrapped up in one week. It was violent, but in a cartoony way suited to a walking skeleton duking it out with Diggle gods. And it didn't roam too far from the Dredmor game.

    Sands of Time will stretch out a bit longer (not sure how long it will last yet, but probably in the neighborhood of 10-12 chapters), and the major conflicts in it will not be conveniently resolved at the end of each chapter. While I don't plan to revel in violence, the characters here are normalish mortals, they're gonna fight (admittedly in some very silly ways) and they're gonna get hurt (also in some silly ways) and some of them are probably gonna die. If that disturbs you, I can only conclude you don't play with Permadeath. Consider this Permadeath Fanfiction.

    I've taken some real liberties with the Dredmor World. I feel that's OK, because the whole game basically takes place in the Dungeon, leaving what's outside a blank for players to fill in as they please. This is how I please to fill it in. I've made a lot of stuff up here, but that's half the fun of fanfiction for the writer (or it is for this writer).

    If anyone wants to borrow anything used in these fanfics for their own mad scribblings, or their mods or what have you, they're free to do so, with one exception. The Lord of Folded Waters, from Opening the Realms (and perhaps to appear in other tales, dun dun dun!) was not created for that story. In fact, he predates DoD by a good two years. I stuck him in Opening the Realms on the spur of the moment, because I couldn't think of anything better to fill his spot, and I've kind of regretted it ever since. He doesn't feel organic in the DoD world, lacking the whimsical qualities that make the rest of the game so great. And he has major roles to play in some other stories I'm working on, so I'm afraid in his case I can't share.

    Finally, and probably the biggest difference you'll notice, is that Dredmor isn't in this story. Or is he? This is, in fact, the origin story of Dredmor. He's in here somewhere, but I won't tell you who he is. I look forward to hearing your guesses.

    But enough of all that boring stuff! You're here for story, and story you'll have. I recommend reading it aloud.

    At work. As loud as you can.

    In your worst cowboy drawl.
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  2. Lorrelian

    Lorrelian Member

    Sands of Time, Part One
    Harlequin's Gulch

    Let me start by sayin’ it was a different time. Dwarves still worked with iron, not plastic, and the elves hadn’t quite finished separatin’ into deliriously happy tree huggers and psychotic mass murderers. The mines hadn’t played out yet, so the Ore’s Gone Trails weren’t startin’, neither. But most of all, the Vegans hadn’t conquered the South and outlawed meat, so the great cowherds were still in business.

    Me and Skinny had been workin’ the Double Wifflemaul, a dwarven place that was half ranch, half mine. The dwarves figured, since they owned the land above and below, they might as well get all the money out of it they could. But dwarves don’t ride good, so they was always lookin to hire them some cowpokes.

    That’s where we came in. But tryin to make a dwarf understand ridin’ an herdin’ is like tryin’ to make a sloth understand runnin’ from velociraptors. It just ain’t possible. So workin’ as a cowpoke for a dwarf can be one of the most frustratin’ things you ever done, presumin’ you ain’t married.

    So one morning Skinny up and decided he’d had enough and left for Harlequin’s Gulch. Now, I wasn’t really pals with Skinny, but we’d been ridin’ together on enough roundups for me to know he had more sense ‘n most, and if he thought it was time to get out, that was good enough for me. So I went with him.

    We rode into Harlequin’s Gulch in early afternoon. The heat was rising off of the dirt in waves and weren’t nary a soul to be seen. On one side of the street the smithy and general store loomed like a worn out tortoise that just wandered up to the crossroads and stopped. It was more a misshapen collection of boards than a building, how that smith could work in it I’ll never know.

    On the other side of the street was a more respectable lookin’ building, a two story clap board affair that was a saloon, hotel and house of ill repute, all rolled into one. Beyond that there weren’t much more than a half dozen houses and sheds, and that was the whole town.

    It was early afternoon when we rode in, about the time most sensible people are knocking off for their siesta. Personally, I’ve never been one to sneeze at a snooze, and I said so to Skinny. Bein’ a sensible type, he immediately agreed and we set out for the saloon, where we bought ourselves a drink and found a quiet corner for a nap. There’s really not much else to do in Harlequin’s Gulch.

    Locals say it’s called that ‘cause it’s a joke. The only thing good about the Gulch is that there’s water there, pretty much the only well in twenty miles. And since the next closest well’s on the Double Wifflemaul, so you can forget about it. Dwarves don’t share much, no sir.

    Not much goes through the Gulch. The mining half of the Double Wifflemaul ships its stuff out underground and the cattle are herded off in the other direction, towards human lands. Harlequin’s Gulch is square between dwarven and elven lands, with human cities away some distance to the north. Ain’t no one got any business goin’ straight from a dwarven kingdom to an elven one, everyone knows that, but some visionary a few decades ago was convinced they’d work out their differences and everythin’d be fine and dandy again soon, and they’d need this place as a watering hole. Of course, that was the real joke ‘bout the place. Them dwarves and elves are still goin’ at it, from what I hear.

    So no one in his right mind has any business in Harlequin’s Gulch unless they need their horse reshod, their armor fixed or a little comfort from a workin’ lady.

    But me and Skinny, we’d had a little trouble drawin’ our last month’s pay when we left, so we wound up getting it under less than perfect circumstances. We got it, but no one was happy ‘bout it, see? So we figgered we’d lay low for a while someplace no one would come looking.
    And that’s how we came to be sleeping there when ol’ Stumpy walked in.

    Now, I’d never seen Stumpy before in my life. He were a total stranger, twice as strange by his crazy robes, like’d be impossible to ride in, and ridiculous blue pointed hat that didn’t even have a brim to keep the sun outta your eyes. Just a pointed blue cone with yellow stars on it. Worse, he didn’t just step into the saloon and sidle up to the bar like a sane person. No sir.

    No, Stumpy, and he had a real name, but I apologize as I’ve long forgotten it, Stumpy he smashes through the swinging doors and stumbles down onto the floor, no doubt thinkin’ he looks impressive as he tries not to trip over his own flopping robe, and shouts, “People of Harlequin’s Gulch! Be at ease! I have discovered the solution to your worries!”

    And you must remember that it was the middle of the afternoon siesta. The only worry I had at the moment was whether he planned to keep flappin’ his yap or whether I could look forward to another half hour’s worth of sleep.

    I honestly think that, had he been alone, the stern silence we met Stumpy’s pronouncement with would have shut him up and let us get back to sleep, savin’ me from all the problems yet to come, but unfortunately Stumpy weren’t alone, as another fellow staggered through the doors behind him.

    This poor hombre looked like he had already had his fair share of the saloon’s wares. He bobbed and weaved all over the place, zippin’ right by Stumpy and running straight over a chair, which his long legs stepped up and over almost like it weren’t there. But he missed the fact that there was another chair right there behind the first one, and that one tripped him and sent him flailing to the ground just a few feet away. As he collected himself a handful of strange smellin’ dried mushrooms tumbled out of a sack on his belt and landed by my boots.

    I hoped the clumsy boy would notice and pick them up, but he just whirled on one toe and said to his friend, “Stumpy, I don’t think they’re particularly glad to hear that their worries are over. Fact is, they don’t look worried at all!”

    Now again, the boy done hit the nail on the head, and I’d been happy to just leave it at that and sleep. But those mushrooms stank to high heaven and I couldn’t stand it. I grunted and scooped them up, then tromped over to the clumsy kid. “Hey, you. Y’dropped these.”

    The kid whirled back ‘round and gave me the most astonished look I have ever seen. And he wasn’t lookin’ at the mushrooms, either. “Krong a’mighty!” The kid exclaimed. “You have got to have the baldest head I have ever seen!”

    It wasn’t particularly funny, ‘cept for the way the kid said it. As if statin’ the obvious were a revelation of Krong. I heard Skinny snicker behind me. “Yeah, kid, I do,” I says, rubbin’ one hand over the stretch of skin in question and loomin’ up to my full six feet and six inches, prob’ly eight inches more’n he had. “That’s why they call me Dead Head. You want yer mushrooms or not?”

    So the kid takes the mushrooms, and he says, “That name’s pretty good. They call me Trippin’ George.”

    “Yeah,” I muttered, “I’ll bet they do.”

    And I would have gone back to my siesta. I should have. But up behind me come old Stumpy the Sage, and he says, “Never mind the dehydrated fungus! Don’t you know that Harlequin’s Gulch is doomed if we do nothing?”

    Honestly, anyone who couldn’t figure that out by looking outside was an idiot. But it seemed like Stumpy was talkin’ ‘bout somethin’ more immediate than the town goin’ broke. Still, it wasn’t my problem. I should have just gone to sleep. That should have been the end of it.

    Except Skinny, he had to stand up and say, “Now what in Consequentia is that supposed to mean?”

    And with that we were all fisked good and proper. With lye.
  3. Lorrelian

    Lorrelian Member

    Sands of Time, Part Two
    Fool’s Errand

    The funny thing was, Stumpy was convinced the end of the world was at hand. I say it’s funny because , in my time, the people that got that idea in their head were usually crazy folk with long gray beards or a bad case of acne and extreme paranoia. Stumpy looked… well, normal.

    If Skinny saw anything funny about it, he didn’t say so. He just stood there, twisting his mustache around one finger and noddin’ as Stumpy told him how some old, rottin’ fool away up north, living under the ground was preparin’ to drag his ugly mug out of the dark and make us all do his biddin’. Actually, it sounded a lot like working for a dwarven cattle ranch.

    I didn’t think much of it at the time, since I don’t get paid to think, I get paid to be muscle. Also, Trippin’ George, or Trip as I was thinkin’ of him, was sittin’ there, eatin’ mushrooms and gigglin’ to himself. It were downright creepy, if’n you asked me, but the worst part of the whole thing was the smell.

    Worse’n lutefisk on rye.

    I was doin’ my level best to ignore him, but I can’t say I was doin’ well. The kid was just plain distractin’, swayin’ all over the place like he could see somethin’ we couldn’t. It weren’t natural. So every time I got my mind to think about what Stumpy was tellin’ us about some crazy dead fellow who was diggin’ in the mountains up north, close to my home country to tell the truth, Trip would eat another mushroom and smack his lips like it was the finest thing he’d ever tasted. And it drove me nuts.

    Finally, it seemed like he’d totally lost it. All of a sudden, Trip giggled and jumped backwards, crashing right into me. I was plain fed up with it and shoved him away. To my surprise, he grabbed the front of my shirt and braced one foot against my ankles, pulling both of us down to the floor with surprisin’ strength.

    A moment later he got one hand on the floor and the other on my shoulder and shoved me clear over and out the door into the street outside.

    Now, I’m not exactly a heavy man, but I’m not the one called Skinny, neither. He shouldn’t have been able to throw me like that. So while gettin’ shoved on my ass made me mad, it didn’t make me stupid. When Trip staggered out the door and in my general direction I knew better than to go chargin’ in.

    Some people don’t show their hand by regular lookin’. A wiry kid who eats weird crap and staggers everywhere is one of ‘em. But this fortyish old bald fella wearin’ ragged old chain is another. And youngin’s like him, they tend to not look close enough. Figger their own tricks is enough to carry the day. I was bankin’ on it.

    So when Trip staggered down the stairs I didn’t jump him. I slipped to one side and picked up the trough our horses were drinkin’ out of and flipped it up on one end, drownin’ the poor bastard in a dozen gallons of sour smellin’ water. Trip sputtered in surprise but didn’t have time for much more than that ‘cause I put one boot behind that trough and kicked it over at him right good. He went down with a surprised squawk and lay still. I smirked in satisfaction and started makin’ my way over to him when the air in front of me just burst into flame.

    I backed up a pace and looked around, pissed as Krong, and started rollin’ up my sleeves. Interferin’ in a man’s fight is bound to make him mad as hell, and I was out to prove it. ‘Course, when I spotted who had done it I had to rethink that just a tad.

    She was tall, redheaded and good lookin’, that was the first thing I noticed. The second was that the air around her was sparkin’ in that peculiar way the air does when someone’s refillin’ their magic powers. Now, you don’t see much of that ‘round the dwarves, they don’t truck with magic much. But humans, sometimes it seems like every other one has some kind of little magic talent. Annoyin’ if you ask me.

    There was some kind of weird lookin’ yellow bird-thing walking behind the woman, a huge pile of luggage balanced precariously on its head, held steady with two strange flippers. I hadn’t seen one in years, since I was eight to be exact, but I was fairly sure it was a diggle. I didn’t know they came this far south.

    The woman waved her hand and the trough flew into the air and landed about fifteen feet away. To my surprise, it revealed Trip sprawled on the ground and shaking horribly. He was brushing frantically at his wet clothes, but he paused long enough to look at the woman and say, “Hey, sis.”

    His sister shook her head sadly and said, “George, what have I told you about eating those things again? What if the hydrophobia never wears off? How do you plan on living if you can’t even drink? Purity potion, Skrillineu.”

    “Oh, sure,” the diggle muttered. “Fetch this, carry that, find me a purity potion. And does anyone ever say thanks? No, of course not.”

    Trip suddenly spasmed and threw up. Feelin’ kind of responsible now, I carefully worked my way around the fire (which was startin’ to die down) and over to my supposed opponent. “Um, pardon me, ma’am, I don’t mean to pry but as the one that threw that water on him I’d kinda like to know if he’s gonna be alright.”

    The woman spared me a glare. “No, he’s not. To be fair, that’s mostly not your fault, although getting crushed under a wooden trough certainly doesn’t help matters. But the biggest problem is that my brother is an idiot.”

    “Most of us are like that,” I said with a grin.

    The diggle stuck his beak-thing into the conversation as he handed the lady a potion. “There you go. Next time stick it somewhere it will be easy to find.”

    It turned and waddled back to the luggage, which, to my amazement, had somehow wound up scattered all over the street in the last fifteen seconds, and began to pick up the small pile of bottles scattered around a half empty box of odd lookin’… well, junk.

    The woman just sighed and said, “Try to clean up quickly, Skrillineau.”

    “Sure, sure. Leave it all to the diggle…”

    I tuned out the critter’s grumblin’ and watched as she carefully fed the potion to Trip. Almost as soon as he swallowed it the shaking stopped and he hopped to his feet. I ain’t ever seen someone trip to their feet before, but fisk me if George didn’t pull it off. He gave me an evil look and said, “That’ll learn you to keep a man from his mushrooms.”

    I spent a worthless moment tryin’ to work out exactly what I had learned before I decided not to worry ‘bout it.

    “Look, kid,” I said, “I really think you should listen to your sister on this one. ‘Cause if I recall correctly-”

    At that moment Stumpy began what would prove to be one of his worst habits in his entire life. He interrupted me, clompin’ out of the saloon in the same officious stumble he had used to enter it a minute ago. “Ah! Costanza,” he said, “I see you’ve met one of our new guards.”

    “What?” The woman and I demanded at once.

    “Uh, about that, Dead Head,” Skinny said doubtfully. “I’ve agreed to act as the sage’s bodyguard, at least until he gets past the Double Wifflemaul. He’s planning to catch a boat on the underground waters through dwarven lands. It seemed like a good way to get somewhere to find work and make cash at the same time.”

    He threw a glance at Stumpy. “I told him I’m pretty fast with the crossbow and you’re good in close. But I might have forgotten to say we’re not a package deal.”

    Stumpy looked a little upset at that, but he said, “The pay is good, Mr. Head. I can assure you it will be more than worth your while. Twelve hundred cash, plus a cut of any treasure recovered. But most importantly, you’ll be doing the world a great service.”

    I shot Skinny a glance, but he just held up his hands, as if to say, “Work is work.” I sighed. “Alright. I guess I can come along too.”

    “Excellent,” Trip said, his voice wavering as he stripped his shirt off and wrung the water out of it. “When do we leave?”

    Then he tipped over and collapsed on the ground.
  4. Lorrelian

    Lorrelian Member

    Sands of Time, Part Three
    Creative Problem Solving

    “What happened here?” Costanza muttered, pokin’ at the gate to the Double Wifflemaul ranch with the toe of her boot. “It looks like someone ran over this thing with a herd of Footies.”

    “Of what?” I asked. It was easier than tellin’ her those were my boot prints all over the splintered gate and fencin’ in the area. Skinny and I hadn’t exactly said what we did when we left this place.

    “A Footy,” Stumpy replied in a lecturin’ tone, “is a large creature from the outer planes with incredible strength and an equally incredible lack of wits. But if they had done this the footprints would be much, much larger. And they wouldn’t have been wearing boots.”

    “Of course,” Skinny muttered. “Why did we even ask?”

    “Look, I hate to be rude,” Skrillineu said, soundin’ like he meant to be just that, “but can we get this over with? I’m getting tired of carrying all this.”

    Since “all this” included eight suitcases and Trippin’ George, I’m actually not sure I blamed him one bit. But the fact was, someone needed to carry the luggage and Skinny and I didn’t have room on the horses. “The diggle is right,” Skinny said, spurring his horse on through the gate. “The sooner we’re out off Wifflemaul land the happier I’ll be.”

    “How big is this ranch?” Costanza asked as she and Stumpy trudged up the road beside us, the horses reigned in to let them keep pace. “I’d have expected to see someone by now.”

    “Lady, we been on their land for the last half hour,” I said. “They just don’t put up gates until you’re up to the main house, ‘cause it’s a waste of fence. You probably ain’t seen no one ‘cause the hands are all out on the range this time of day.”
    “It’s the wrong time of year for a cattle round up,” Costanza shot back. “I lived on a ranch for ten years when I was growing up.”

    “Well, maybe something has gone astray and the hands are out looking for it,” Skinny replied mildly. He didn’t add that what they had all gone lookin’ for had just ridden back onto the ranch. “If you don’t mind my asking, Stumpy, how were you planning to get through the ranch and into the cave roads? Dwarves ain’t exactly overjoyed at the idea of letting outsiders through their mines.”

    “Don’t worry,” Stumpy said, carefully pickin’ his way around piles of horse hocky on the ground. “I have a plan.”
    “If this plan is to tell ‘em the world’s endin’, I’d suggest a new one, Stumpy my friend.” I gave him a wink to let ‘em know I was jokin’, since everyone knows dwarves don’t honestly think disasters that threaten us surface folk could ever threaten them.

    “The dwarves already know about Fillmor Graves,” Stumpy said, soundin’ more upset about that than anythin’ else I’d heard him talk about. “In fact I’m not entirely sure they didn’t have something to do with his awakening. But, as is typical, they’re not actively doing anything about him. The only things they get worked up over is mining and elves.”

    “Truer words were never spoken.”

    Skinny and I nearly jumped out of our saddles; Cory, my horse, actually pulled up and shied away under me as a dwarf almost magically appeared from behind a rock beside the path. “Lutefisk and lye!” I hollered. “You wantin’ to die or you just like gettin’ stepped on?”

    The dwarf squinted up at me and for a moment I was worried that he’d recognize me. Lucky me, dwarves aren’t good with human faces. Of course, the same is true with humans and dwarf faces, so I wasn’t sure as if I even knew him well enough that he should recognize me. Fortunately, it didn’t look like he did.

    “Stepping on me would hurt your horse more than anything,” the dwarf said blandly. If the looks of his plate mail and heavy iron hammer were anythin’ to go by, he was probably right. On lookin’ closer I figured the reason I hadn’t seen him a second ago was the brown-gray spacklin’ on the stuff had made him blend with the rock. “May I ask what brings you to the Double Wifflemaul mine and ranch?”

    “We’re looking for passage Beneath,” Stumpy said officiously. “I have a ship to catch on Dutchman’s Dock, and I’m willing to negotiate for passage through your mines.”

    “Payment in gold?” The guard asked. “I don’t think Gaddy Oredrinker will take much else after today.”

    “Why?” Costanza asked. “What happened?”

    “Nothing important,” the dwarf said hastily. “But he has had a disappointing day. Perhaps if you came back tomorrow…”

    “We are in a hurry,” Stumpy said. “And I have something better than gold ingots, in a sense.” The sage pulled the most tattered lookin’ piece of paper I’ve ever seen from his robes. “Have you heard of the Argentum Falls?”

    For a second I swear the dwarf’s eyes got as big as fists, he was that amazed. Then he shook it off and waved us forward. “I think Gaddy will see you after all.”

    As we trotted after the guard Costanza whispered, “Who’s Gaddy Oredrinker?”

    “The owner of this land,” Skinny replied, nervously rolling his mustache between his fingers. “He’s pretty harsh, even for a dwarf. Or so they say. Never met him myself.”

    I nodded. Old Gaddy never showed himself to the workin’ hands, at least the human ones, so all Skinny and I had to go on there were rumors. He was all right by the hands, I guess, but some of the things as folk said he did to his competition would give a man chills. And we had just kinda, sorta slightly robbed him that mornin’.

    Comin’ back here was looking like less like a good idea than ever.

    The main ranch house on the Double Wifflemaul was not exactly a sight for sore eyes. It was taller than anythin’ has a right to be, for starters. Who needs three floors? They coulda built out sideways, but dwarves don’t like to do that when they could go up. I guess it’s usually less tunnelin’ or somethin’. Worse, the ranch hands sleep there at night, and if we was gonna be recognized, that were it was gonna be.

    “You sure we gotta come this way, Stumpy?” I asked, not exactly looking forward to going in there.

    “It’s the fastest way, Mr. Head,” he answered. “And I do have a map to the Argentum Falls to trade for our passage. I see no reason why they wouldn’t let us through.”

    “Can you prove the validity of that map?” The guard asked over his shoulder as he opened the front door. “I’m sure that Gaddy will want some kind of guarantee for it before he agrees to anything.”

    “I’ll discuss that with him when the time comes,” Stumpy said with his usual self assurance. “Let’s just hurry this up.”

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  5. Lorrelian

    Lorrelian Member

    It took us a minute to get through the door ‘cause Skrillineu couldn’t fit with all he was carryin’. I finally had to take George off the pile and sling him over my own shoulder for the time bein’ so the diggle could squeeze through. On the bright side, that looked to finally start him in on waking up.

    The dwarf led us through the high ceilinged entrance area to a flight of stairs leadin’ down. I’d seen ‘em a dozen times before but like the open air too much to ever think about usin’ ‘em. That day I got to go down all four flights to the Vault.

    I’d never been to the Vault, although every cowpoke on the ranch knows as it’s there. Old Gaddy’s personal sanctum was supposed to lead all the way down Below, into his mines and dwaven lands below that, but an old cuss like Gaddy wouldn’t make gettin’ in or out easy. Thus the iron banded door and cussed strange knob.

    Two more dwarves were standin’ guard outside it. Our guide explained what we was doin’ there and the two dwarves opened the door. One had to turn a key, the other turned the knob. It were awful strange to see done, but I’ll confess as how that knob sure needed a person just to turn it. The thing has pipes stickin’ out of it and, from one end of the pipe to another, it was almost as big as the dwarf’s upper body.

    Once they had the door open our guide led us down a twistin’ maze of stone corridors to a much simpler lookin’ door, and knocked. As we walked up I caught the murmurin’ of voices, which kept right on goin’ as the door swung open a crack. Yet another dwarf poked his head out and looked at our guide. I confess I could only tell them apart because this one had red hair with streaks of gray in it.

    “Yes, Lithos, what is it?” The new dwarf asked.

    “Humans to see Old Gaddy,” Lithos answered. “Say they know something about Argentum Falls. There’s still a reward for that, right?”

    “Let me check,” the read headed dwarf replied.

    I gave Stumpy a worried look. “Don’t worry,” he said blithely. “There’s still a reward for it. I checked before coming.”

    “The doctor’s very thorough ‘bout that kind of thing,” George muttered absently.

    I jostled the shoulder he was draped over. “If you’re awake get down and walk for your own self.”

    “But it’s so much more comfortable here, even if you do have a dead head,” Trip replied, soundin’ like he was plannin’ on movin’ in for good.

    “That settles it,” I muttered, and dumped him without warnin’ onto his own feet. Of course he staggered for a second, but managed to catch himself before crashin’ into a wall or anyone else. His sister looked ready to say somethin’ to him, but the door opened up again before she could.

    “Gaddy Oredrinker will hear your case,” the redhead said. Then he swung the door open to reveal an incredibly thin, bitter faced dwarf and a human in ranch hand clothes.

    The human was Barry the Mace, and he had been our foreman up until that mornin’. His eyebrows shot up and he said, “Well, well, well. Skinny and Dead Head. Didn’t think they’d actually catch you boys. Must be loosin’ your touch.”

    The dwarf sat up a little straighter in his chair. “What’s this? Barry, are these the men you’ve been looking for?”

    Costanza, Stumpy and the diggle all turned to look at the pair of us. Trip seemed to have just noticed the splotches on the armor of the dwarven guards, and wasn’t payin’ much attention to anythin’ else. Stumpy frowned. “Gentlemen, what is he talking about?”

    Skinny and I exchanged a quick glance, then looked back to Stumpy and shrugged as one. “Looks like a small problem,” Skinny added, his crossbow appearin’ in his hands like magic. “We’ll get it taken care of in just a second…”
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  6. Lorrelian

    Lorrelian Member

    Sands of Time, Part Four
    Dwarven "Moderation"

    Now the rule is, when crossbows come out nobody asks questions, you just start shootin’ or swingin’. ‘Parently Stumpy never got that message, ‘cause he opened his mouth to say something a split second before Skrillineu tackled him to the ground. It’s a sad day when diggles got more sense than sages.

    Barry knew the score and he had his mace out and came at us faster than a batty out of hell. But me, I’m just as fast and I don’t need a mace when momma gave me feet. Before Barry was halfway to us I got one toe around the door and kicked it straight in, sendin’ it flyin’ straight at him like a throwin’ shield. Barry ducked under the door, which saved him from bein’ skewered by a bolt from Skinny’s crossbow too. Then he swung his mace up and crashed it into the floor hard enough to send all of us, the door and Gaddy’s guards flyin’ a good twenty feet down the hall.

    I landed in a heap on top of something pointy. A second later Trip groaned and I realized it was him. “Skinny,” I said, “that was not a promisin’ start to the discussion.”

    “No, it wasn’t,” he admitted, scrambling to his feet. “Do you have any more of those things from this morning?”

    “Why yes, I do,” I said, pulling a grenade from my pouch and tossin’ it back in Barry’s direction while yellin’, “Thaumite in the hole!”

    The sound of a thousand deranged insects competed with Barry’s surprised yelping as Skinny and I worked to get our people up and moving again. Fortunately, none of the dwarven guards seemed terribly interested in coming after us, I ‘spect they were makin’ sure Old Gaddy got himself somewhere safe.

    What is going on here?” Stumpy demanded as we hustled him down a side route. “I could have gotten us through here without any violence!”

    “Maybe,” Skinny said, “maybe not. Gaddy Oredrinker is notoriously fickle. ‘Round these parts most people would rather juggle scorpions than cut a deal with him. I susepct if you had reached a ‘deal’ he would’ve just taken what you offered and your life to boot. Folks like him are only trustworthy if you have one hand on your crossbow.”

    “Truer words weren’t ever spoken.” I nodded.

    “And you didn’t think to mention the fact that you had just robbed him to us, why?” Skrillineau asked. “Don’t think I didn’t notice that part.”

    “Don’t think I didn’t notice the part where you shucked most of our luggage to run faster,” Costanza chided the diggle. “Sometimes people just gotta do what seems best and hope it works out.”

    As we’d been runnin’ we’d left the finished stone behind and come out into some sorta cavern. Wasn’t a minin’ cavern, there weren’t any tools or carts sittin’ around, but there were stairs goin’ up and down the sides from our entrance and several others around the walls. It looked like we came out ‘bout half way up the wall. Four flights of wooden stairs switchbacked their way below us to the ground.

    “Very forgiving of you, Costanza,” Stumpy said, settin’ out down one of the stairways with a respectable lack of huffin’ and puffin’. “Let’s hope our admirable diggle friend learns from your example. Did either of you happen to figure out where the belowground exit was during your last visit here?”

    “Not I, Sir Stumpy!” Trip cried, stumblin’ down the stairs next. I was just startin’ to worry ‘bout that when he pitched over the railing, tumbling head first, only to catch himself with the toes of his boot, grab the bottom of the stairway and flip himself down onto the next flight of stairs below.

    “Be careful, George! Consequentia is not kind to the careless!” Costanza and Skinny hustled down the stairs next, the diggle running beside them on the railing, and I skittered down behind them sideways, keeping one eye behind us.

    “We weren’t exactly sight seein’ last time we was here, Stumpy,” I said as reached the first landin’. “‘Cept for Barry, I don’t think Gaddy ever let humans down here at all, ‘less they were on business.”


    “Lutefisk in the deep,” I muttered, recognizing Trip’s voice even when it about as high and giddy as they come. “What’s that boy up to now?”

    ‘Parently, he was up to giving some dwarves a bad, bad day. Trip fit in a dwarven mine like a lobster fits in chicken soup, so the guards knew right away somethin’ was up with him. They were runnin’ up to the stairs, hootin’ and hollerin’ for him to give it up. So he did.

    I ain’t ever seen an explodin’ mushroom before, but when Trip gave up three of ‘em the cloud of spores was ‘parently enough to send all four guards on the floor into coughing fits. Trip cackled and danced on the stairs, jugglin’ more of the toxic things, but even he knew better’n to run straight into the cloud ‘fore it cleared up.

    But we had bigger problems. Barry had gotten over his thaumite problems and figgered out where we went, I knew because he popped out of the doorway at the top of the stairs, eyes red and brandishing his mace. Even if his eyes were red with pain and not rage, it still weren’t a good thing to see.
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  7. Lorrelian

    Lorrelian Member

    “Skinny!” I yelled. “Remember the fat kid from out East?”

    “What?” Skinny hollered back, looking over his shoulder as he rained bolts down on the dwarven guards below. “Oh, bad idea Dead Head.”

    I ignored my well-meanin’, worrywart partner. Barry was comin’ down the stairs and fact was, he’d probably roll all us up if’n we gave him the chance. But Barry wasn’t light on his feet and I didn’t aim to give him that chance. So I turned sideways to the stairs and leaned right, raising my left leg into the air until my legs almost made a straight line. Then I screamed “DOKSOI!” and slammed my foot down with all my weight behind it.

    Those stairs weren’t built for someone my size crashin’ around on them like that. They splintered and caved under my foot and, since I’d done it in the middle of a switchback, it left a nice gapin’ hole for Barry to try to get around. I dropped straight down onto the next switchback, plannin’ to come out lookin’ good, like Trip had.

    ‘Course, I weight ‘bout twice as much as Trip, which I’d forgotten for a sec’.

    And most of the platform above came down after me. Which I had planned on, but wasn’t really thinkin’ about. Long story short, the second platform broke under me, too. And the third, well, you get the idea.

    I was pretty sure I was in for a killer landin’, but a second before I hit the ground I felt a hard shove in the center of my chest, slowing me down enough that the ground hurt, but didn’t break me. I staggered to my feet and glanced up in time to see Costanza snappin’ her fingers at the dwarves on the ground, bathin’ them in fire. Above her, Barry scrambled to a different set of stairs and started to work his way down. Stumpy was mutterin’ under his breath and a second later one of the dwarves turned into a statue of honest to goodness gold. Fittin’ end for a dwarf, if’n you ask me.

    Skrillineu slid down the railin’ of the stairs and landed next to me, the box of potions, about all of the luggage he’d saved, danglin’ in one flipper. He cracked it open and tossed me one a split second before a mass of beard and braids crashed into him, halberd flailing. I took a moment to down the potion before wadin’ after them, plannin’ to pull the dwarf off the diggle.

    Turned out I shouldn’t have bothered. The little fella ‘parently built up a lot of muscle schleppin’ all that luggage around, more than enough to lift one dwarf over his head without breakin’ a sweat. He had turned a weird reddish brown color, to boot.

    “For two months I carry their stuff,” the diggle howled. “And the one thing, the one thing worth all that effort was the potion box. And now you go and smash them? You son of a squiddie! Do you know what those are worth?”

    Skrillineu slammed the dwarf into the floor, stepped over him and smashed his drillnose into the wall beyond, creating a diggle sized hole. Then, showin’ far more flexibility than you’d expect, he jackknifed, kickin’ around so that his feet face the hole instead of his nose and he stomped the hapless dwarf into it. Dwarves are about half the size of diggles, so you can imagine how uncomfortable that might have been.

    I gave the little fella an approvin’ nod and looked back at the big open room. It looked like a big pit with a bunch of doors leadin’ off it and, just then, there was at least one dwarf runnin’ in each of what had to be six or seven doors. Of the four guards we had started with, one was stuck in a wall, two were chock full of crossbow bolts and one was stuck under Trippin’ George, who was perched on his shoulders, laughin’ like a maniac and yanking fistfuls of his beard out.

    Skinny jumped down on the ground beside me, reloadin’ his crossbow. I caught Costanza as she jumped down after, and looked up for Stumpy, only to have him pop outta nowhere right beside me. Ten dwarves gathered into pairs ‘cross the room. It didn’t look good.

    Stumpy sighed. “This could have gone so much better.”

    I was gonna ask him how but he vanished before I could. He popped up again amongst the dwarves.

    Only it wasn’t quite Stumpy. His eyes glowed white, like a man who’d just found religion, and the air around him shimmered like the air does at high noon in the desert. A shaft of light came down from the ceilin’ and for a moment I couldn’t see, just hear the biggest boom I’d ever heard in my life. And that’s sayin’ somethin’.

    When I could see again, Stumpy was back to normal, fixin’ the silly hat so it sat right on his head, standin’ in the middle of a crater surrounded by dwarves who weren’t doin’ a whole lot of movin’. I looked up and saw a hole blasted straight through the ceilin’. There was sunlight shinin’ down through it. All the stairways, some six or seven of ‘em, hand been blasted to matchsticks.

    One pile of tinder shifted and Barry stood up from under it, brushin’ himself off. Skinny snapped his crossbow up to cover him but, once Barry got a look around he held his hands up, empty. “Easy, boys,” he drawled, pointing to one of the doors. “This ain’t worth all the ore Gaddy ever had. The exit’s that way.”

    Stumpy smiled. Of all the things. He smiled and said, “I’m glad to find someone reasonable here. Thank you, sir.”

    Barry just shook his head. “Of all the things, he says reasonable. Like your new boss better’n your old one, Skinny, Dead Head. Take care of yourselves down there. I’ll look after your horses for you.”

    “Much obliged,” I said, tossin’ him a mock salute before following the others out of Gaddy Oredrinker’s mine.
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  8. Lorrelian

    Lorrelian Member

    Sands of Time, Part Five
    Dutchman’s Dock

    “I can’t believe I didn’t think of that.”

    I threw Skinny a sideways look. He’d been mopin’ about leavin’ our horses behind since we’d gotten outta Gaddy’s mines several hours ago. It weren’t much like him, but I’ll admit loosin’ his horseflesh does make a cowpoke a little queasy ‘bout his future. “Relax, partner,” I said. “If Barry says he’ll look after ‘em, then looked after is what they’ll be. I’m mostly sure he won’t charge us more than’s unreasonable for the service, neither.”

    Skinny sighed. “That’s about all the comfort I’ll be getting’, I suppose. But I’ll miss the old mare ‘til we can get her back.”

    Just in front of us the drab stone tunnels we’d been walking through opened up into a much larger area. The ceiling stretched up into the darkness while the walls curved gently away on either side. Stumpy glanced back over his shoulder and said, “Not to worry, friends. We’re past the only difficult part before we get to Sepulchriville in the northern mountains. I know the captain we aim to hire here, and I’m certain he’ll get us where we’re going safely.”

    “Just so long as we make enough so as I can get my horse back,” Skinny grumbled, hitching his pants up around his narrow waist.

    As we walked out into the cavern and down towards the sound of waves in the distance, Costanza leaned closer to me and whispered, “What’s the story with the two of you, Dead Head? You seem very… different. He’s very steady and you’re very, well…”

    “Not?” I chuckled. “Skinny’s just always thinkin’ ahead, that’s all. It’s what makes us work well together. Differences are what makes th’ world go round. Fast and steady, hot and cold,” I wiggled my eyebrows, “man and woman. Yes’m, we’re different and that’s why we stick together. We could take care of ourselves, but it’s simpler this way.”

    Her red curls bobbled as she threw a glance at Trip and she muttered, “That must be nice.”

    I winced. Wasn’t exactly sure what was wrong with the kid, but clearly it worried his sister somethin’ powerful. But it wasn’t my place to pry, a lady needs her privacy, so I let it be. We were at the docks by this point, anyway. There wasn’t more than one ship tied up there, sad to say. Sad, ‘cause it looked like an hopeless wreck.

    The paint on the side proclaimed it to be the Flying Dutchman, and I later learnt from the captain it was whatcha call a sloop. Fast, but not exactly sturdy. Lanterns hung at the front and back of the ship, casting the whole scene in a dim light. A dozen or so men ran over the deck, shouting to each other about lines and sails and riggin’, a language I definitely didn’t speak. As Stumpy walked up to the gangplank I heard heavy footsteps on the deck.

    A minute later a huge, round glass helmet popped over the rail, on top of an equally lumpy white suit of what I could only take to be armor. “Ahoy there, Captain Jones,” Stumpy called. “Request permission to come aboard?”

    “Back already, stout one?” The white figure called, his voice echoin’ in an oddly distant way. I figured it musta been his helmet. “Your business is always profitable for me. Come on up! Bring your friends as well.”

    I exchanged a dubious glance with Skinny but we followed behind Skrillineu once everyone else was up the gangplank. No sense getting left behind. We couldn’t get back to the surface through the Double Wifflemaul mines, that was for sure.

    Once we were up on the deck the Dutchman looked even more decrepit than before. I could see where grenades and crossbow bolts had taken their toll on the deck over the years and I was feelin’ less and less happy ‘bout sailin’ this ship to the northlands the more I saw of it. Our diggle friend clearly shared my opinion. He rubbed his flippers together and said, “I see the place is just as worn out as ever. With all the Zorkmoids you make, you’d think you could upgrade the place a little, DJ.”

    The big white hulk turned around and for the first time I saw that his helmet wasn’t over a head. Just a skull. I shuffled my feet, gettin’ ready for a kick, and Skinny already had is crossbow at the ready, reachin’ for a bolt, when Trippin’ George jumped forward and caught the both of us. For once, he seemed totally aware of what was goin’ on, and there was a nervous twitch in one eye. “Not on the boat, boys,” he said softly. “Not on the boat. And never with Captain DJ. We pay, he gets us where we’s goin’ safe and sound. ‘Kay?”

    Skinny and I swapped another glance, but there really wasn’t much we could do at that point, so we let it go.

    The captain didn’t seem to much notice our little discomfort. He just ambled over to Skrillineu and said, “Little digger, you seem different from your last visit. Has your caste changed?”

    “Indeed.” Drill nose brushed at his skin, which was still the deep red color it had turned in the mines. “Rage awakened just recently. My own would call me Skrillinargh now.”

    DJ nodded like that made some sorta sense to him, the skull rattlin’ around obscenely in his helmet like it wanted free of his neck. He said, “To celebrate your change I will give you free passage.”

    Naturally, that started a quick debate over fairs and prices. Stumpy eventually swindled the white man into acceptin’ the map he had originally intended for Gaddy Oredrinker as passage for everyone ‘cept me. ‘Parently I was gonna cost a little extra. I suppose that’s what comes from weighin’ in a little heavy.

    Soon enough we were on our way. Problem was, the trip quickly shaped up to be really borin’. Stumpy spent a lot of time jawin’ things over with “Captain Jones”, ‘cause the two of them ‘parently went way back. Trip spent most of this time lookin’ into the distance, pluckin’ his bottom lip, or pesterin’ his sister, who’d taken away his mushrooms for the time bein’. She talked to us a little, but mostly spent her time tryin’ to rebuild her stock of potions from what was on hand. That and a small bundle Stumpy had saved were all that was left from the group’s luggage after our run-in with Barry.

    That left Skinny, me and Skrillinargh to kill the time. On the bright side, most diggles know how to play cards. On the down side, a body can only do that for so long before he gets bored. Skinny and I pumped the diggle for more ‘bout Fillmor Graves, but he didn’t know much more’n Stumpy had already told us.

    He was someone tryin’ to wrangle the dead into takin’ over the world for him, and Stumpy knew somethin’ ‘bout how to stop him from bein’ able to. And since the sage was such a humanitarian, he thought he’d step up and do it, helpin’ himself to Fillmor’s large collection of artifacts for himself in the process.
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  9. Lorrelian

    Lorrelian Member

    We were three days out, and I had just started tryin’ to rustle the story of how Skrillinargh wound up livin’ on the surface with Stumpy out of the diggle when the man up in the sails started hollerin’, “Ship ahoy!”

    Suddenly, the whole deck was hoppin’ as the crew scurried around, doin’ whatever they do. Captain DJ scampered with suprisin’ agility from his cabin up to the wheel, his echoin’ voice carryin’ orders from there to his crew with satisfyin’ loudness.

    It took a bit for us to make out the ship. When we could finally see it, the crew started to mutter. It didn’t take a genius to see they were upset, and I asked the nearest man why.

    “Because we recognize that ship,” the man answered. “That lady’s famous.”

    I squinted, tryin’ to see somethin’ I recognized. The front of the ship had a wooden statue of a woman, not wearin’ a whole lot but carefully sewin’ a shirt while reclinin’ for, shall we say, maximum effect. It was bizarre but didn’t tell me nothin’. “I never heard of her.”

    “That’s the Crafty Wench,” he said. “She was bought by a baroness for her pet husband.”

    Pet husband?” I asked.

    “Nobles are strange creatures, mate,” he said with a shrug. “All as I can tell you is, she eventually got tired of his weird habits. Always making things. Hats, jewelry, magic wands, all kinds of things. Mostly, he made clothes.”

    We were closin’ with the other ship fast, and I could see there was a tall man at the front of the Wench, leanin’ on the rail with one hand, the other keepin’ a slick lookin’ black hat from slippin’ off his head in the wind, a snazzy red and black jacket flappin’ behind him. I muttered, “You can see that, and no mistake. Maybe I can get me a couple new shirts from him.”

    “I don’t think so,” the crewman said, shaking his head sadly. “Once he realized his wife was going to put him aside he took his ship and put to sea to keep her from taking it back. He can’t stop at a legitimate port where she’ll hear of him, so he turned pirate. Turns out he’s a pretty good one.”

    Now it was my turn to shake my head, but in disbelief rather than sadness. “A tailor turned pirate. Whatcha call that?”

    The man looked me square in the eye and answered, “Captain Rolf Bergstrom.”

    (Special thanks to out guest star, who agreed to appear in this chapter and the next, and possibly sometime again in the future. OK, he's actually signed his parallel's soul over into my hands, although I didn't exactly make a big deal about that when I pitched the idea...)
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  10. Lorrelian

    Lorrelian Member

    Sands of Time, Part Six
    Smooth Criminals

    “Wouldn’t that be Rolfe?” Stumpy asked.

    I looked at him in confusion. “That’s what he said. Rolf.”

    “No,” Stumpy replied. “He said Rolf Bergstrom. I’m certain it would be Rolfe-”

    Anythin’ else Stumpy was plannin’ on addin’ got put on the back burner as a grapplin’ hook flew from the Crafty Wench and nearly landed on his head. As the hook buried itself into the railin’ I set Stumpy back down on the deck. Rather than thankin’ me he just gagged a bit and tried to straighten out the collar on his robes. That’s gratitude for ya.

    “Ahoy, DJ!” Called Captain Bergstrom. “We meet again!”

    There was a heavy thud from behind, but I didn’t have time to think about it. We was gettin’ grappled fast and furious now, and the pirate ship was slowin’ down considerable. The crew tried it’s darnedest to throw the hooks off but they was comin’ in too fast. I was goin’ towards the rail to help when somethin’ I didn’t expect happened.

    The captain jumped from his ship to the bow of the Flying Dutchman, easily coverin’ twenty or thirty feet in one go. I tried not to let my jaw hang open, but it was darned impressive the way he sailed over the gap, hangin’ onto his hat with one hand, cutlass gleamin’ in the other, coattails and ridiculously baggy striped pantaloons streamin’ behind him.

    I managed to collect myself quick enough to aim a kick at Bergstrom’s knees as he landed but he dipped his waist in some strange way and I couldn’t quite touch him. He pulled a wand, one of several I saw, from his belt usin’ his free hand and pointed it at me. I felt as if an invisible hand had shoved me back, and nearly found myself goin’ overboard.

    Fortunately, Skinny grabbed me ‘for I went swimmin’.

    Trip and Stumpy were on the pirate before I could collect myself, and that wasn’t a good thing. I could tell Trip had eaten some of his mushrooms, he had that crazy look in his eye, but Bergstrom was just faster, and faster than you could say lutefisk he’d slashed Trip from hip to shoulder. Trip saw it comin’ and got around the worst of it, but he still went down with blood soakin’ his shirt.

    “Up at ‘em, you bloody curs!” The pirate yelled, his cutlass flashin’ in the lantern light as he waved for his crew. The two ships were practically next to each other and the Wench’s crew was starting to come over. I saw Costanza makin’ her way up to her brother, pirates flyin’ out of her path left and right. Stumpy was leaving weird glowin’ symbols all over the deck, pirates that got too close were caught in a flash of light that left them charred and stunned. But Rolf himself was carvin’ through the Dutchman’s crew with practiced ease.

    “Skinny, we gotta do somethin’ ‘bout that git before he leaves his fiskin’ fancy boot prints all over this ship!” I snarled.

    “I don’t know if I can hit him,” Skinny said. It made sense, the way the Wench’s captain seemed able to avoid pretty much everythin’ people were throwin’ at him, but it wasn’t the kind of thing I was used to hearin’ from Skinny. I shot him a worried glance, but he was lookin’ over the side of the ship. “Besides, I have a better idea, and I think this is more of a personal thing to be sorted out between the two of them.”

    “Lutefisk n’ lye, what’s that supposed to mean?”

    But I saw it almost as soon as the words were out of my mouth. Somehow Captain DJ had managed to haul his huge, bulky suit all the way down the narrow ship and up onto the raised deck at the front. Walkin’ backwards. Shufflin’ his feet in the strangest way I’ve ever seen. It almost looked like he was just sorta… glidin’.

    “Bergstrom,” DJ rumbled. “I told you not to raid here again.”

    “Ha! A pirate takes what he can, whatever you say.”

    “Stop gawking, Dead Head,” Skinny hissed, handin’ me a rope. “We’ve gotta get moving.”

    “What’s this?” I asked, starin’ at the rope. There was a grapplin’ hook at the end.

    “Our ticket over to their ship. Swing over and clear the deck for me. I’ll be right behind you.”

    I looked at Skinny for a minute, not quite sure what I was hearin’. Then I grinned. “You one crazy son of a fish, Skinny.”

    “I know it,” he said, grinnin’ back. “That’s why you keep me around. Get going!”

    If you’ve never swung on a rope across a cold, dark sea far below the surface of the earth towards a ship full of bloodthirsty, cutlass wieldin’ pirates, let me say that it’s not exactly fun. Climbin’ up the side of the boat while water sloshes in your boots ‘cause the rope was so long you landed in the water? Even less fun.

    Kickin’ the crap out of a buncha startled pirates who weren’t expectin’ you and are causin’ all your not fun moments? Better’n fiskin’ a barrel load of ground hogflesh.

    I had just finished addin’ a good, honest western cow leather boot print to the face of a deservin’ pirate when Skinny got onto deck with me, crossbow at the ready. “Krong curse it,” he said in a tone that said he wasn’t really upset, “Dead Head, you didn’t leave any for me!”

    “Was I supposed to?” I asked. “Suppose I could next time. If you’re insistin’.”

    Skinny ignored me, yankin’ up a hatch in the deck. “Come on,” he said. “We should get something out of this and I think they’ll keep all the good stuff down here.”

    “Stealin’ from pirates? Why I would never.” I swarmed down the stairs after Skinny, who apparently didn’t buy my innocent act, ‘cause he just tossed me a sack he musta grabbed before he jumped off the Dutchman.

    But it only took a few seconds of lookin’ around to realize somethin’ important. “Skinny, I’m not seein’ anything but moldy biscuits and rum down here.”

    Skinny looked a bit miffed. “There’s gotta be something down here, Dead Head. Where do you hide the good stuff if not the cellar?”

    “Dunno, partner, but we’re at sea, not on the range. Might not want it so close to the wet.”

    “Didn’t think of that,” Skinny muttered, tippin’ over a stack of boxes to see what was behind it. Turned out to be another ladder, goin’ up to another trapdoor.

    A trapdoor that opened up to reveal a surprisn’ and familiar face.

    “Why Gaddy Oredrinker,” Skinny said, lookin’ up in surprise. “What brings you here?” Then he shot the dwarf with a bolt. Gaddy yelped and vanished, a second later a stone pillar crashed through the floor above and straight on through the bottom of the boat.

    “Might not wanna do that again, Skinny,” I said helpfully. Then I bolted up the ladder as fast as I could. Skinny was right behind me, and as he came up I could hear voices shoutin’ down in the hold. At least someone had noticed the great big hole in the bottom already.

    For the moment I wasn’t thinkin’ bout that, though. That was ‘cause I found myself in the strangest room I’d ever seen. It wasn’t big, but it was covered with boxes and piles of tools and supplies.

    There was a hat maker’s stand, complete with a wide brimmed black feathered hat, a pile of wrenches and screwdrivers scattered ‘round some kind of mechanical hand, a weird round thing with way too many openings and grooves in it, a white frilly shirt on one of those chest shaped things tailors use, boxes of weird crap like Costanza kept, it went on and on.

    Shoved into one corner was a bed that didn’t look like it got slept in much, under the only visible window. There was a chest under the bed and a number of fancy tapestries on the walls. One of them had fallen off the wall and landed over a shape that looked a lot like a dwarf would if you hit him over the head and knocked him out.

    I snorted. “What you wanna bet Gaddy’s the reason we met a pirate ship the one time we went to sea.”

    “No bet,” Skinny replied, scoopin’ up the mechanical hand and anythin’ else that looked valuable. “Grab him and that chest. And let’s get out of here.”
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  11. Lorrelian

    Lorrelian Member

    Sounded good to me, so I grabbed the wall hangin’ and started rollin’. In a few seconds I had a large dwarf roll-up under one arm and the chest under the other. Skinny had a bag full of weird crap that hopefully Stumpy and Costanza could make somethin’ out of. It looked like time to go to me.

    Skinny pulled a thick, stubby bolt out of his boot and gave it a kiss. “My lucky bolt. I save them for the greatest of emergencies.”

    Then he racked it up, leaned out the window and fired. A second later there was a massive explosion and the ship jumped like it’d been mule kicked. Then Skinny was back inside, his eyebrows singed.

    “What was that?” I demanded.

    “Just blew their rudder off,” he answered, twisting his mustache rakishly. “Now they can’t steer. And it probably wasn’t too good for the leak in the bottom.”

    “Got it. Can’t follow, sinkin’ fast. Time for us to exit stage left.”

    We busted out of the cabin to find the deck of the ship in chaos. The Crafty Wench’s crew was jumpin’ back from the Flying Dutchman. Most of them were goin’ below, so the word ‘bout the hole in the bottom was out already. But a couple o’ pirates thought they’d try and deal with us before we made good, and came at us with hand axes.

    “High and low!” I called, chargin’ cross the deck and slidin’ the last few feet on my back side. As I went past I kicked the pirate’s knees out, sendin’ them in directions knees aren’t meant to go. He went down screamin’, which was better than his pal, who wouldn’t be talking around that bolt in his throat.

    I scrambled to my feet and noticed that, while slidin’ I had apparently given Gaddy Oredrinker a black eye. Wasn’t that just too bad?

    The last problem was gettin’ back to the Dutchman, which I was thinkin’ would just be a simple jump. But as soon as I looked across the water I realized it would be harder than that. For starters, the Wench was goin’ slower since it’s bottom was full of water. Plus, shootin’ it in the rear seemed to have nudged it so it was goin’ away from our boat.

    But the biggest thing was, DJ and Bergstrom were still goin’ at it on the front of the other ship, which was pretty much the only place we could land.

    And it was the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen. The pirate captain was jugglin’ two wands in his off hand, alternatin’ between tryin’ to get roots to grow up and trip DJ and just blastin’ the big white guy with weird blots of energy. DJ was spinnin’ and throwin’ high kicks, which shouldn’t be possible in that suit of his, or makin’ energy bolts by holdin’ one hand in the air while he slid across the deck and throwin’ ‘em at Bergstrom. Plus, the whole section of the deck was on fire, and so was DJ’s helmet. I couldn’t figure that part out.

    Even as we watched, the pirate made a lunge at DJ that just seemed to leave gouge marks on the white suit, without causing any real harm. DJ spun back and slid sideways, leavin’ a trail of glowing energy that nearly cut Bergstrom in half. I glanced at Skinny and said, “I ain’t jumpin’ into that. I never even seen anythin’ like that before.”

    “I don’t know if we have much else to do,” Skinny said, lookin’ behind us. “Unless you can swim.”

    “Fine,” I said grimly. “Jump on three.”

    “Do we jump on three, or-”

    “Not havin’ that conversation, Skinny.”

    So we wound up takin’ a flyin’ leap. As we flew, I aimed two boots at Dread Pirate Rolf Bergstrom, thinkin’ he’d make a nice, comfortable landin’ spot. Somehow, at the last second, he ducked and I nearly smashed into a flaming, skull filled helmet. Then DJ slid sideways somehow and there was nothin’ but deck to greet me. I landed in a stunned heap. A second later Skrillinargh pulled me to my feet.

    To my surprise, the deck was clear of pirates. Captain Bergstrom was standing on the rear railing of his own ship, which was rather badly burnt, falling away. The Crafty Wench didn’t seem to be able to move much on its own, and DJ was already moving to the center of the ship, callin’ orders to the crew.

    I realized that it was just me, Skinny and the rest at the front of the ship now. I dropped what I was carryin’ and sat down on the deck, lettin’ the excitement wear off. “Lutefisk in the deep,” I muttered. “I never wanna do that again. Gettin’ too old for this.”

    “Um, Dead Head?” It was the diggle talkin’. “Not to interrupt your well earned rest but, what’s this?”

    He had unrolled my sack full of Gaddy and was pokin’ the unconscious dwarf. “That,” Skinny answered, “is someone who apparently couldn’t leave well enough alone.”

    The two of us joined the diggle in staring down at the hapless mine owner, who probably should have stuck to diggin’. As if he could sense us, Gaddy’s eyes opened a bit, then snapped all the way past wide open to what we call buggin’ out. “So,” I said, conversationally. “Whatcha think we outta do with him?”
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  12. Lorrelian

    Lorrelian Member

    (Short chapter this week, due to my being tired and busy. Also, this approximately marks the beginning of the end for the novella, if anyone's interested. By the time I'm done, it might actually be closer to a full length novel. I'll try harder to keep the next one shorter...)

    Sands of Time, Part Seven

    I nudged Gaddy with the toe of my boot, makin’ him to edge back a few inches. “Couldn’t we make him walk the plank or somethin’?”

    “I couldn’t do something like that without good cause,” DJ replied. “I’m not the pirate. And if I understand the situation right, the simple fact that he’s set a pirate ship on us is not good enough. Bergstrom and his pirates would have raided us anyways, and you did steal from him. I could make him walk the plank, but I’d much rather just have him swab the decks.”

    “Yes!” Gaddy said, almost beggin’. “I’ll swab. Just don’t throw me in the water.”

    I blinked, surprised. “What?”

    “Dwarves hate water,” Stumpy put in, looking up from the chest we had stolen from the Crafty Wench. There hadn’t been much in it besides a little money and some more clothin’. In fact, the sage ‘parently thought now was a good time to move on from there to the tapestry we’d wrapped Gaddy in when we caught him. “What I don’t understand is why you wanted to chase us in the first place.”

    “You’re a sage,” Gaddy sneered, his on top of the world attitude comin’ back awfully fast for as scared as he’d been a second ago. “Don’t you have it figured out yet?”

    “I’m a sage because I haven’t. If I did, I wouldn’t need to learn, would I?” Stumpy looked over the tapestry, but ‘parently didn’t see nothin’ worth mentionin’. “Tell me about Argentum Falls. I don’t know much about it, other than the fact that the dwarves have a standing bounty on anything relating to it.”

    Gaddy sighed, then waved towards the edge of the lake. “I guess you’re getting close enough now.”

    We’d sailed outa the dark about an hour or so before, when we’d still be sortin’ ourselves out after the pirate raid. The ship was still movin’ but most of us was below decks. Costanza was tryin’ to sort George out usin’ the alchemy box we’d swiped from the pirate captain and Skrillinaugh was helpin’. Skinny was still pokin’ through the chest and found a new poncho, which he was tryin’ on.

    It looked like we’d come out in a mountain range, which didn’t make a whole lotta sense as the Fillmore guy we were lookin’ for was supposed to live underground, so I waited to see what Gaddy’d say.

    “The reason dwarves have a bounty out on Argentum Falls isn’t because we want to find it,” he said. “It’s because we have an obligation to try to keep others from finding it. That doesn’t work to well, but –”

    “Great Consequentia!” Stumpy exclaimed, cuttin’ Gaddy off. He had pulled the pole the tapestry had been hung on out of the cloth and was holdin’ it up. It had a weird, black mesh covered knob at one end. “Did he even know what this was?”

    Skinny looked up and moved over to the sage. “What is it?”

    “The Staff of Thaddeus Hubert Xavierson!” Stumpy exclaimed. “This was forged by a god! I can’t imagine how it wound up in the hands of a ruffian like Captain Bergstrom.”

    “The Crafty Wench has waylaid any number of ships coming this way in the last six years,” Gaddy snapped in annoyance. “If you’d listen to the answer to your question instead of babbling like the short-sighted human you are, you’d know these things.”

    “Excuse me,” Stumpy said in a way I was beginnin’ to realize meant he was loosin’ patience. “By all means, please ignore the deific artifact and continue your no-doubt fascinating story.”

    “Right,” Gaddy grumbled, clearly not buyin’ that we were payin’ attention. “Krong is god of the forge, creation and dwarves. His anvil is made of silver-steel and all works of deific creation need at least it’s symbolic presence. But Krong doesn’t want a bunch of competing deities in his sanctuary, so he established a kind of neutral ground here in the mortal world where others could use his anvil to create powerful magics.”

    “But anyone can use it,” Skinny put in, clearly seein’ what Gaddy was gettin’ at. “So the dwarves keep everyone else away, preventing mortals from getting deific magic. Except, maybe occasionally, the dwarves.”

    Stumpy clapped his hand to his head. “Of course. Argentum is an old dwarven word for silver. The name means ‘silver falls’. I always thought it meant a place where silver flowed like water.”

    “Nope,” Gaddy said, standing and stumping over to the railing. It was twilight, so even here in the open air it was hard to see. But away to the right a distance, in the shadow of a particularly large mountain there was a small village, easy to pick out by the firelights shinin’ through windows. “It’s called that because it’s the place an Anvil of Krong fell to earth.”

    Gaddy waved to the dismal village in the distance. “The local humans knew something of significance had happened. The light and sound of the anvil’s fall was seen and heart for miles. They came and looked for what had fallen, building a village and calling it the Gates to Mount Sol.”

    He shook his head. “Foolish of them. It wasn’t a sun that fell but an anvil, and Krong had created new creatures just to guard them. They buried the anvil and guarded it, and humans that strayed too far up the mountain died. So they renamed the village Sepulcherville. The village of graves.”
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  13. Lorrelian

    Lorrelian Member

    Sands of Time, Part Eight
    The Argentum Falls

    “George, old fella, you up and ready to go?” I hollered, stumpin’ down below decks as Captain DJs sailors started tyin’ us up to the dock. “Stumpy’s rarin’ to go and if we’re not up there’n five minutes he’ll be fit t’be tied!”

    “Comin’ Mr. Head!” George cried, staggerin’ out of the store room, or hold, whichever you call it. There weren’t nothin’ unusual ‘bout Trip trippin’, but he was still wearin’ a bloody bandage wrapped ‘round his chest, and it didn’t look like all that blood was recent, if you take my meanin’. It was clearly keepin’ George from movin’ right, but he didn’t seem to notice. “I’m all set!”

    “Whoa, there Trip,” I said, feelin’ a mite skeptical. “You look worse than someone who’s gone on a three day lutefisk bender.”

    “And he’d certainly be a lot better if you didn’t keep riling him up, Dead Head,” his sister said testily, steppin’ into the hall behind him. She wasn’t happy, I could tell, but I don’t think it was with me or George. We were just convenient. “Come on, up the ladder.”

    “Yes, Costanza dear,” Trip slurred, carefully pulling himself up the rungs to the deck. “For you, I will be.”

    I helped both brother and sister up the ladder then turned to look for the last person, or critter, we were missin’. Before I could poke my nose in the door, Skrillinaugh ambled out with the potion box and a couple of other things we’d swiped from the Dread Pirate Bergstrom. There were a couple of other tool sets there, plus a weird mechanical arm and a goofy lookin’ crossbow thing with no actual bow. It was just a big, long tube.

    “Don’t mind the lady,” said the diggle. “She’s just short ‘cause there weren’t enough components in what you swiped to make enough potions to bring George up to full strength. She wanted to burn all the healing we had on him, but he said to save it and that he’d eat some mushrooms.”

    From the looks of things, it hadn’t worked all that well, but I had the feeling Skrillinaugh knew that already. I ain’t met many diggles in my time, but I thought he’d be a sharp one for a human or a diggle. So instead I said, “Did you get tired of havin’ nothin’ to lug around? Or is this just a new way to keep yourself mad?”

    He chuckled. “I just think these things could come in useful, that’s all. And I am the one in the group most used to this kind of thing.”

    “Well, if that’s how you wanna do it…” I shrugged. “I ain’t one to look a packhorse in the mouth.”

    “I think you mean gift horse.”

    “I mean what I says.”
    I won’t say I was sad to get off of the Flying Dutchman. DJ was a good enough captain, though creepy as fisk, but the water ain’t where I’m comfortable and that’s a fact. Once my feet were firmly on the ground of Sepulcherville I felt like I’d finally found a long lost friend. Most of the rest of our group looked the same, though Skinny still looked tired or stressed over somethin’. He’d taken to spinnin’ a ring on his finger when he wasn’t doin’ nothin’ else, a habit I’d never noticed in him before.

    “You okay, partner?” I asked him.

    Skinny started a bit, then glanced back at me. “Yeah, I’m good. Just wishin’ I had a horse under me, that’s all.”

    “Can’t have everythin’ we’d like, Skinny,” I said, tryin’ to sound wise and mostly soundin’ lame. “We’ll manage. It’s what we’re famous for.”

    He laughed. “Right you are, partner.”

    Even if I said that, I was just as intimidated by Sepulcherville as Skinny was. It was a grim little place, full of squat clapboard houses that looked like little better than a lutefisk and banana sandwich, and smelled about as healthy, too. Some of the buildings looked a little more important, one big house had nine glyphs carved over the front door in three rows. It looked queer, but I didn’t want to listen to Stumpy’s lecture if he turned out to know what it was. Gettin’ out of town as fast as possible was my number one priority.

    No one came out of the buildins as we walked through town. Place was really still as a grave, makin’ the name less of a joke and more of a fact. I mentioned it, but Gaddy said, “They’ve taken to ignoring outsiders, hoping they’ll just go away. It’s as much an act of mercy as anything. You can’t die in the mountains if you don’t go up there, and you can’t go if they won’t sell you supplies.”

    “Krong almighty,” Skinny muttered, “that’s a cheery thought.”

    “Just the truth,” Gaddy replied. The dwarf nodded at a house across the street that had a reinforced brick frame and sat on stone rather than earth. “I’ll be parting with you here. Going after Argentum Falls is your foolishness. I’ll have no part.”

    “Now see here,” I protested. “There’s still the little matter of the pirates and Trip’s gettin’ cut!”

    “No,” Stumpy said quickly. “If he wants to stop, let him. I won’t be dragging an unwilling companion along. He’ll be more harm than help.”

    “He’s got a point, Dead Head,” Skinny said. “Let old Gaddy go. It’s not our problem anymore. ‘Course, that means we’re square on the little matter of robbing you, or taking what we were owed, understand Gaddy?”

    “Sure, sure,” the dwarf replied, hustling across the street. “It won’t matter one way or another in a few days.” On that cheery note Gaddy Oredrinker disappeared inside and never saw us again, and good riddance.
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  14. Lorrelian

    Lorrelian Member

    It took us a full day to hike into the mountains over Sepulcherville. We’d lost most of our supplies in the Double Wifflemaul mine, but fortunately Trip proved to have a good nose for sniffin’ out mushrooms everyone could eat, and Skinny can hunt deer with the best of ‘em. We did okay, all things considered. When we came across the entrance to Argentum Falls the next afternoon I wasn’t as sure we’d manage. Not much to eat underground.

    The entrance didn’t look good, neither. It was just a set of stairs carved into the mountainside, leadin’ down into the dark with just enough room for one person at a time. There weren’t much to say at that point, so I went down first and the others fell in.

    The stairs were powerful long, and as we walked Skrillinaugh muttered, “They’ve added on a great deal. I don’t remember these stairs.”

    “What’s that?” Costanza asked. “Have you been here before?”

    “Sure have,” the diggle replied. “You heard Gaddy, didn’tcha? A new race to guard Krong’s alter? Well, that’s so much batty guano, but it is true that we discovered the surface world shortly after a shining silver stone fell from the sky and broke into our diggings. I wouldn’t be surprised if the dwarves heard of us and put that story together to explain it. But we have our own gods down here, and Krong is welcome but only so far.”

    Trip snorted. “Don’t make much sense either way.”

    “To you I’m sure it doesn’t,” was the grumblin’ reply.

    I think the argument would have gone on longer, but I spotted light ahead and hushed them up while I went up to see what it was. It sure wasn’t what I was expectin’.

    There was a big natural cavern there, lit by a huge fire pit at each end. We’d come out at one end, and there were doors with a picture of a ball of fire fallin’ on a mountain at the other. Between the fire pits there were bones. Huge stacks of bones.

    It made a man powerful nervous, and no mistake.

    On top of each stack of bones was a skull. T’wernt like each skull went with all those bones, unless the fella it belonged to was one head with ten or twelve bodies, but in some ways that just made it more unsettlin’. I went back and told the others, who naturally had to come up and see it for themselves.

    Stumpy made a line for the door, which seemed most interstin’ to him. “Why look at that!” He exclaimed. “It seems to perfectly support what Gaddy told us!”

    He kept talkin’ but I tuned it out. Like the others, I was more interested in the bones. It weren’t pleasant, but it was interestin’, kinda like watchin’ a bull stuck in a tar pit. Most of the skulls were wearin’ some kinda helmet or hat. Floppy red brimmed hats, horned helmets, knight helms, just about everythin’ under the sun. Fortunately, the Stetson wasn’t one of the headpieces on display. Was kinda comfortin’.

    I did find a similar lookin’ hat, a brown felt thing with less brim than you’d expect. It looked odd, so I thought I’d give it a look-see.

    When I reached to grab it, the hat said, “Wake up, Fax Celestis, Eighteenth of your line!”

    Naturally, I stopped short, ‘cause I’d never seen a talkin’ hat before. It wasn’t even sure if it did talk, ‘cept for the fact that the voice sure seemed to be comin’ from around there, and a skull can’t talk, now can it?

    A second later that thought was proved wrong. Red light appeared in the skull’s eyes and its jaw worked up and down, a gratin’ voice sayin’, “What ho, Maslech? Is there work to be done?”

    “Krong calls upon your service, Fax Celestis! Arise and pay him homage!” The hat slowly spun on the skull, as if looking at all of us. A second later there was a horrible clatter as a skeleton clad in clanking clockwork armor heaved itself up out of the pile of bones.

    The critter stretched stiffly, then grabbed a cord dangling from the side of the most enormous axe I’ve ever seen. It gave a sharp yank and the edge started whirring like a batty outta hell, then its baleful red eyes looked over the group of us. “I guess we’d better get to it, wouldn’t you say?”

    And with a crash of thunder he was all over us.

    (Again, special thanks to Special Guest Star Fax Celestis, presumably first of the line. Without his gracious agreement to appear here this chapter would probably be 63% less interesting.)
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  15. Lorrelian

    Lorrelian Member

    Sands of Time, Part Nine
    Eating The Beatings

    I was the closest so I figgured it’d be best if I headed at him, instead of back. He were too fast to get away from anyway. But as I leapt forward, feet first, Fax slipped to one side and clubbed be with a great big leather bound book he was holdin’ in one hand. Instead of gettin’ the drop on him he dropped me proper.

    Didn’t stop there neither. Fax went barrelin’ past me toward Trip, who was busy snarfin’ down some mushrooms and too busy to dodge out of the way. Lucky for him, Skinny managed to stick a bolt through the skeleton’s foot ‘fore he could get close enough to lay into Trip.

    “I say, that’s unsporting!” Fax exclaimed, hurlin’ a bolt of lightnin’ at Skinny.

    “Watch out, Fax!” The hat exclaimed, somehow tuggin’ the skeleton’s head sideways as one of Trip’s explodin’ puffballs whizzed past.

    “That ain’t fair!” I exclaimed, realizin’ the hat was twistin’ ‘round to give Fax eyes in all directions. I lept back at him, but he ducked down, throwin’ me over his back and into a pillar of fire that had erupted there a second ago.

    I rolled to put the flames out, hearin’ Costanza call, “Sorry Dead Head!” as she hurried toward the scuffle.

    There were some sorta loud rumblin’ sound all of a sudden, and Stumpy ‘peared out of nowhere with his new staff hummin’ like a swarm o’ bees. His eyes lit up and light crashed down through the stone ceilin’, knockin’ most of us back. Fax stumbled back into Trip, then sent him sprawlin’ with a backhanded swipe of his axe. I cringed when I saw the blood on the ground. Two hits like that in a few days was more’n George could really take.

    “Skinny, cover me!” I yelled, chargin’ forward. Another bolt of lightin’ went over my head toward Stumpy, he waved his hand and it bounced up and crashed into the ceilin’. I vaguely heard Skinny’s crossbow goin’ full tilt and saw firebursts poppin’ up ‘round me.

    Fax stepped forward to meet me halfway, ‘cept as he did the ground disappeared under his feet, Skrillinaugh burrowing past and tippin’ him face-first in the dirt. I stamped my foot down on his back, breakin’ somethin’, and got electrocuted for my trouble, flyin’ back a couple a paces and landin’ on my back in a daze.

    Trip hopped back up ‘gain, not lookin’ as bad as you might expect. There was a crazy look in his eye as he hurled another of his mushroom bombs into the fray. The hat saw it comin’ and tipped of Fax, so they got out of the way, but you could tell the kid wasn’t gonna leave it at that.

    Fax were kinda busy to worry ‘bout Trip, though. Stumpy and Costanza were leadin’ him on somethin’ good. The sage was poppin’ in and out, always just a step out of reach of Fax, and Costanza was makin’ fire between ‘em every time Fax moved closer to Stumpy. Little pieces of the skeleton’s armor hung in golden tatters as the sage kept mutterin’ weird math and the hat kept hollerin’ about where Skinny was shootin’ from.

    I dragged my arse over my feet and stood up, shakin’ my head to clear it, then charged back into the brawl.

    Our diggle was hard at work, fillin’ the ground with holes, but Fax was onto him and as he came up once the skeleton clubbed him aside with the butt of his axe. Then he leapt over the hole Skrillinaugh left and was toe to toe with Stumpy, who caught the edge of the axe full on and dropped.

    Skinny finally hit Fax with an acid bolt, coverin’ him in hissin’ green goo. The hat screamed, “Get it off before it ruins my felt!”

    The skeleton muttered a few words and suddenly the acid was gone, then a bolt of light flew from its fist to Stumpy and it turned and looked at us, its red eyes flickerin’. “No call to be so crass, there’s a good mate,” Fax said. “This’ll be over in no time. Glory to Krong and all that. There’s places to go and things to see! I’d really prefer if you stopped getting in the way.”

    “Fat chance,” Trip, muttered, grabbin’ the big, long tube from Skrillinaugh’s pile of crap, which I noticed he’d dropped all over the floor. Again.

    “Fax Celestis!” The hat screamed. “Where did that child get a rocket launcher?”

    I wasn’t sure what that was but it kept the skeleton distracted just long enough for me to get up to it and give it a good, hard boot to the arse. Fax stumbled forward several steps and Skinny darted forward, grabbin’ him by the fancy necklace he was wearin’ and rammin’ his crossbow into his gut before pullin’ the trigger.

    A solid wall of stone erupted beneath the skeleton’s feet and pitched him head over heels onto the ground a dozen paces away. Trip screamed and slammed one end of the massive tube down onto Fax’s head. A gout of fire erupted from the other end, then somethin’ flew up and exploded in the ceiling, already blasted by Stumpy’s duel with Fax.

    Naturally, it came crumblin’ down.

    There was a moment of incredible noise, then total quiet. It all happened way too fast for anyone to do somethin’ about it. I stared at the mound of rubble and as I did I heard footsteps. I looked over to see Skinny walkin’ over to check on Stumpy. He looked over at me and shook his head, then started pickin’ over what he was carryin’, lookin’ for something we could use. Costanza was cryin’ quiet like, as if maybe we couldn’t hear her.

    I pretended I didn’t.

    Skrillinaugh pulled himself up and surveyed the scene, piecin’ together what had happened quick enough. “Well,” he asked, “do we keep going?”

    (Due to my being out of town next weekend, there will be no chapter until the second Monday of June. Sorry 'bout that.)
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  16. Lorrelian

    Lorrelian Member

    Sands of Time, Part Ten
    Inconsequentially Speaking

    “Do we need to keep going?” Skinny asked. He jerked a thumb at what was left of Stumpy. “Not to sound harsh, but this was his job. We’re just the hired help. Now that he’s gone, I’ll admit I don’t feel really pressed to stick my neck out further.”

    “Fair enough,” Skrillinaugh said. “What about you, Dead Head?”

    “Me?” I jumped a bit, my mind really wasn’t on what he was sayin’, truth to tell. “I, uh-”

    “We have to finish it,” Costanza said, wipin’ her face on her sleeve. “I do, anyways. For George.”

    “Now hold on,” I said. “That kinda thing’s good for stories and all, but it’s not the way the world really works. You go in there, rarin’ to make things even and all you’ll do is miss out on how to win the fight. That’s the way it is.”

    “He’s right,” Skinny said, noddin’. “You can feel and you can fight, but doing both at the same time is a recipe for disaster each and every time. You’d best leave it be. We’ll just head out of here, get a nice drink and see if the docks have-”

    “NO!” More’n anythin’, what bothered me was the way her face stayed calm as glass as she shouted at us, pacin’ back and forth. “I will NOT just walk out of here and leave things be. That would have been FINE up until now, but I cannot and WILL not just walk away from my brother’s corpse and think that it was okay to just leave the job unfinished.”

    I shot Skrillinaugh a pleading glance, but he just shrugged. “Don’t look at me. This is home, remember?” He folded his flippers over his chest and leaned back against the locked ornate door Stumpy had been checkin’ out earlier. “I plan to stay right here and try and find my- AUGH!”

    We never did find out what he was plannin’ to find because the door collapsed in and smashed to the ground, hinges and all, and our diggle went with it. There was a huge thud as it landed and door and diggle disappeared in a cloud of dust.

    Without thinkin’ I rushed forward to see if he was okay. By the time I got up to the door, Costanza and Skinny a few steps behind, Skrillinaugh was already up on his feet again, dustin’ himself off.

    “I’m fine, I’m fine,” he grumbled. “Nothing to worry about. But look at this!” He stumped over to the door and examined it in frustration. “I’m gone for a few years and the whole place falls to ruin!”

    “Not your fault, dearie,” a voice called from inside the room. “It’s the way these kinds of things work. It is really unfortunate for you to come home to a place like this. But sometimes that’s the way life works.”
    I peered through the door to try and find who was talkin’, and imagine my surprise when it turned out to be a big stone statue of a weird lookin’ lady with light comin’ from her head and wearin’ a plain white robe.

    “Is that a shrine to Consequentia?” I asked.

    “No dearie, I’m Inconsequentia, her younger sister,” the statue answered, not botherin’ to move its lips. “But don’t worry, that mistake happens all the time.”

    “Uh, right.” I glanced at Skinny, who shrugged, then Skrillenaugh, who was pokin’ at the door. Costanza was walkin’ toward the statue already, lookin’ happy as you please. I recalled she and George were big fans of Consequentia. Musta liked her sister, too.

    Now, I’m okay with walkin’ skeletons, even if they’re in big white suits of armor. I can deal with upset dwarves and clumsy diggles. But I straight up draw the line at talkin’ statues. They shouldn’t talk, ever. At least the undead have the excuse that they used to talk, and apparently don’t want to stop.

    “C’mon, Skinny,” I said. “I think we oughta grab her and get outta here. Place looks worse all the time.”

    “When you’re right, you’re right, Dead Head,” Skinny replied. We strode across the threshold, one on either side of Costanza.

    Behind us a grate slammed down, blockin’ the doorway. “Fisk in the deep!” I yelled, whirlin’ to grab the bars. No matter how I rattled them they wouldn’t budge. I looked at Skinny. “Partner, that may not have been our best move.”

    “Right again,” he muttered. “Diggle, where in Krong’s name did this thing come from?”

    “I don’t know!” Skrillinaugh protested, backing away from Skinny. “I told you I’ve been gone for years! This place has changed a lot. We certainly didn’t have anything like that here before.”

    “Of course you didn’t, dearie,” the statue said. “That was before Philmore Graves moved in. He’s changed things quite a bit.”

    Costanza reached the statue and did somethin’ that looked kinda like a courtesy. “Inconsequentia, what kind of dangers can we still expect in the future?”

    “Dangers? Well, now that you’ve gotten Fax Celestis out of the way there’s precious few of those left. Though, really, you may want to get rid of his phylactery.”

    “His what?” Skinny asked, looking nervously at the necklace in his hand. I saw him shove it in his pants pocket before Costanza or the diggle noticed.

    “Never mind.” Costanza sighed. “It would take a long time to explain. Is there nothing left between us and Philmore?”

    “I thought it was Fillmore,” Skrillinaugh said.”

    “No, definitely Philmore,” Skinny replied. “That makes more sense.”

    “It sounds the same to me,” I put in.

    “It was Philmore,” Costanza snapped. “Focus and let us get this done.”

    “Right,” Skinny and I chorused.

    “Well, there is Philmore’s slipgate. Then again, that’s not really his…” The statue stopped talking so long I wondered if we’d lost connection. Suddenly the statue spun around once and rocked on its pedestal. “Sorry, woolgathering for a moment. So hard to keep track of everything. There’s nothing here at the moment. But as soon as Graves has that gate running again he’ll be making you some real trouble.”

    “What gate?” Skinny asked.

    “Well, he’s working on some doodad he calls the Master Slipgate, using parts manufactured on the Anvil of Krong.” Inconsequentia sounded kinda like someone readin’ off of a paper in front of her. “It’s not finished yet, but it will be soon. I’m having trouble tracking exactly when – it’s a fairly significant event, more my sister’s sort of thing, you know.”

    “Where’s it at?” I asked.

    “Oh, not far,” she answered. “Just down the hall, second door on the left. It’s locked, but you should be able to handle that.”

    “What does he want to do with the gate?” Skrillinaugh asked.

    “I think he plans to use it to summon creatures from realms beyond the ken of mortals.” Inconsequentia replied. As she did, there was a sound like the tearin’ a wet one after baked beans, and somethin’ like a huge foot with an eyeball in its ankle came hoppin’ out of a shadow on the other side of the room. “Yes,” the statue added, “something kind of like that.”
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  17. Lorrelian

    Lorrelian Member

    (Two chapters left... whew, this one has been a lot harder than Opening the Realms... Someone remind me never to do a fanfic this long again.)

    Sands of Time, Part Eleven
    Enter Graves

    There was a weird, misshapen purple lump of a man coming out of the shadows after the giant foot, and other, less clear things massing behind that. I swore and backpedaled, clearly we were looking at an invasion.

    Skinny grabbed a handful of bombs from his belt and tossed them to Skrillinaugh.

    “Mine the floor, diggle,” he said, backpedaling towards the door, Costanza and I only a step behind him. “Dead Head, you and the lady go and find that Krong-cursed gate and shut it. Hopefully they won’t get past us with all the explosives and bolts we got.”

    “Good luck, Skinny,” I said. There weren’t time for more.

    When Inconsequentia said “just down the hall” I was thinkin’ she meant somethin’ like you or I would mean. Maybe thirty feet. Fifty at the outside.

    But ‘parently this was the mother of all hallways, and Costanza and I had to run for almost ten seconds before we found the first door. As we went past I stepped on somethin’ and it exploded behind me, throwin’ the two of us farther than I was really comfortable with. In fact, a lot of the second half of our trip involved explosions, swingin’ blades and acid. It weren’t pleasant, as I’m sure you’ve guessed.

    By the end I was more’n a little worse for wear and Costanza wasn’t exactly fresh either. I tried the door and found it locked.

    I slammed my head into it in frustration. “Gimme a break.”

    “Easy, Dead Head,” Costanza said. “I got this one.”

    So I backed up. For a minute it looked like she was just starin’ at the door, but I could tell from her expression she was concentratin’, and after a few more seconds the whole door just up and blew inwards.

    I’m told that knowin’ is half the battle. I’ve never bought it. If I’d spent any time knowin’ what was behind that door it probably would have gotten us afore I could do anythin’ about it, so as soon as that door was off its hinges I was through it. Inside there were a bunch of things I didn’t have time to figure out, a big, shiny silver anvil I had a few guesses about, and a guy in a foppish tunic and pressed, striped pants I figured could only be one person.

    There was also a ten foot tall, five foot wide doorway that looked like it was fulla water running down a drain, except less clear and more black and white. Stripy pants was tinkerin’ with something on one side of the doorway, and didn’t seem to be payin’ much attention to me.

    Didn’t seem to be, but ‘parently was. I leapt at him feet first and he just stepped out of the way, lettin’ me soar past without so much as a tip of the hat. Fiskin’ rude, if you ask me.

    Costanza was right behind me, but she didn’t jump to fight, she set the air afire. There’s somethin’ damn pretty ‘bout a woman who can turn a room to a furnace by gettin’ worked up, and that’s just what she did then. I’da stopped to enjoy the show, but Mr. Philmore Graves didn’t seem to be so inclined, so I figured I better not be neither.

    I hopped to my feet but, instead of slidin’ in for another kick, I grabbed a thaumite grenade and let ‘er fly. There were a lot of things that coulda happened at that point. I’ve seen just about all of ‘em in my time, but Graves had one that I wasn’t ready for.

    A rubbery, black tentacle reached out of the Slipgate, grabbed the grenade and disappeared. I was gapin’ and I could tell. Graves laughed, brushin’ the fire casually from his shoulders, lookin’ pretty much fine.

    “A nice try. A very nice try, whoever you are. I really should congratulate you on making it this far, perhaps say a few words on how futile your efforts are.” Graves stopped for a moment and examined his fingernails, then looked up and said. “But I’ve never been much of a traditionalist.”

    There was a crack of weird blackness and all of a sudden there were tentacles comin’ out of the ground everywhere, kinda like some of Skinny’s best bolts. For a second I was flyin’ all over the place, slammin’ into the floor, the ceilin’, the walls, the floor, the floor again… it gets pretty confusin’ at that point.

    I staggered to my feet a few seconds later, feelin’ bones movin’ in places they probably shouldn’ta been, feelin’ blood tricklin’ down my face and side. I saw Costanza lyin’ on the floor, and she weren’t even movin’. I pulled my lips back in a sneer and said, “It’ll take more’n that to finish ol’ Dead Head. It’s times like this I feel most alive!”

    Now maybe old Graves had a trick up his sleeve, he sure looked like he was reachin’ for somethin’. But I’d seen enough wands from Pirate Bergstrom to know where to aim my next kick. Sure enough, when I smashed his hand a shiny gold stick when flyin’ cross the room.

    Graves backpedaled and threw a little bolt of darkness at me, and I’ll admit it stung somethin’ fierce, but it wasn’t enough to put me down for the count. On the other hand, Costanza still wasn’t movin’ so for now I was all there was.

    So I put all my guts into it and slammed one foot into the anvil and kicked for all I was worth. It went flyin’ cross the room and nicked Graves in the arm, sendin’ him staggerin’ up against the Gate.

    He spat blood and his eyes flashed once. I felt somethin’ clammy writhin’ on my skin, like it was tryin’ to choke the life outta me, but I didn’t see nothin’. I felt a blind rage comin’ on and hauled off one of my famous roundhouse kicks. Anvil, gate and Graves all went flyin’ in different directions, clatterin’ to the floor like cactus after a dust storm.

    Graves got up, though nothin’ else did.

    He took one look at that gate and his eyes went red. He seemed to grow bigger and bulkier in a moment, stalkin’ towards me like a runaway wagon and battin’ my next kick aside like it was a skeeter bite. I snarled, “Fisk it, man, just die!”

    He hooked one claw into my armor and suddenly I felt like light was leeching out of the world. Graves leaned close and said, “Not with the deals I’ve made.”

    Then he picked me up and threw me cross the room.

    After the landin’, and the pain, I realized somethin’. The world was turnin’ dark. I’d heard stories ‘bout what that meant, but wasn’t really feelin’ cheery ‘bout experiencin’ it myself. As the world got fuzzy I dimly heard Graves sayin’, “And when that airheaded statue sees you, remind her that I’m Philmore Graves. In time, not even the gods will trifle with me.”

    The very last thing I saw and heard was a crossbow bolt flyin’ cross the room and stickin’ Graves in the ribs, and Skinny walkin’ into the room, sayin’, “Well I’m Raymond C. Dread, and I say, if a man’s so far gone as to talk to statues, you’d best put him out of his misery!”
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  18. Lorrelian

    Lorrelian Member

    Sands of Time, Part Twelve
    Closing Graves

    Now I was dead for this part, so I mostly heard about it from other people. I’m just sayin’, I don’t know for sure if this is right. As for how it is I’m talkin’ to you after I’m dead, well, I’ll get to that part. Just gimmie a few seconds, ‘cause this is really the more important part, right?

    So Skinny, or Raymond I guess, but he’s always been Skinny to me. So Skinny walks in, steppin’ over the corpses we’d generously provided for him, his crossbow at the ready. Graves, a little put out by the bolt but not slowed down much, gave him a sneer and said, “Another one? How many of you are there waiting in the woodwork?”

    ‘Bout that time there was a rumble from the hallway outside and Skrillineaugh ran in, the stonework crumblin’ behind him. “Nothing getting through that way, Skinny.”

    “Looks like just us, Mr. Graves,” Skinny said, reloading his bow.

    True to form, Graves didn't waste time chattin' with Skinny. He just waved his hand and fired another of his small bolts of darkness. Now Skinny probably couldn't take too much of that, and he'd know it. But he had also figured out somethin' I hadn't.

    "Looks like your magic takes more out of you than normal, Graves," Skinny said, mockin' him even as he dodged behind the Anvil for cover. "No big spells? Worried about hurting yourself permanently? That's a poor way to work!"

    A barrage of bolts emphasized his point as Skinny aimed to pin Graves down behind the gate. But Graves wasn't havin' any. "Don't think the secrets of the undead are all I've used to pull me this far."

    A moment later a hulkin' machine built itself out of nothin' a couple of steps behind Skinny. It leapt in, slashin' with razorblade arms. Skinny blocked with his crossbow, which worked so far as he didn't get cut. Weren't any good for the crossbow, though. Skinny cursed and danced away, tossin' a thermite bomb in the direction of Graves and a set of bolas at the robo.

    Graves tumbled back behind the gate and cursed, then sent a swarm of thaumites hummin' out from 'round the other side. Both of them had counted Skrillinaugh out of the fight, but that weren't exactly smart. The diggle had managed to make his way under the floor and popped up under Graves' feet.

    Meanwhile, Skinny had opened a potion and used it to calm down the thaumites, so as they'd stop bitin' him. As soon as Graves was out in the open Skinny was after him. But whatever spell Graves had cast before when he was fightin' me was still keepin' him pumped up and any fool could see goin' toe to toe with him was a losin' proposition.

    Skinny ain't never been anybody's fool.

    So he wound up splittin' his attention, throwin' small bombs after Graves while hittin' the robo periodically with whatever would keep it from gettin' too close. For his part, Graves couldn't quite keep away from Skrillinaugh, and would up spending most of his time pushin' him away with kicks while duckin' away from Skinny's bombs.

    Unfortunately, even Skinny's supply of explosives wasn't unlimited. He ran out about the time the robo got free of his last set of bolas, and Graves had been leechin' the life right out of Skrillinaugh, so he wasn't a whole lot worse for wear. Skinny cursed. "Any bright ideas, diggle?"

    "By the door!" Was all the answer there was time for.

    But really, that was all that was needed. Skinny looked back and there, leanin' by the door, was a staff. The same one Stumpy had found in our haul from Bergstrom. Without askin' why the diggle had brought it Skinny bolted for it.

    He got there a half step before the robo and grabbed the staff. The robo came in, blades whirlin', but Skinny lived up to his name and squeezed by them. Then he planted the knob of that staff square in the robo's side. There was a noise like the end of the world, and the robo fell in pieces everywhere.

    As the three people left in the room picked themselves up Graves bolted for Skinny. "Put that thing down, you idiot! You'll kill us all! This room isn't sound."

    Skinny gave graves a sideways look. "Sounds just fine to me."

    The best way to hear something better is to get closer to it, and Skinny knew it. So he hauled back with the staff and belted Graves a good one over the head. It missed, but the staff just went straight down into the floor, which was just as bad. Both of 'em staggered under the sound, Graves clappin' his hands over his ears and Skinny grittin' his teeth and took it, not noticin' the blood pour down from his ears.

    Graves leveled a kick at Skinny but, as an expert on the subject let me assure you he didn't know how it was done. It hit but didn't hurt much. Sure not enough to keep Skinny from actually hittin' on his next swing. This time most of the sound traveled into Graves himself, givin' it enough force to pick the poor bastard up and send him flyin'. He crashed into the far wall and collapsed in a heap. Skinny staggered over to him, lookin’ more than a bit queasy.

    As he lay there, bleedin’, Skinny looked down at him and said, “Now that’s music to my ears.”

    And then he made his mistake. Skinny rubbed at the blood tricklin’ down the side of his head and wiped it off on his pants.

    Rubbin’ it over the same pocket where he put Fax’s necklace.

    As soon as that piece o’ demonfisk touched blood it started glowin’ fit to be seen right through the cloth. Graves saw it and gasped out a laugh. “You idiot. You kept the Phylactery of Celestis? And you let it taste blood? I guess I’ll see you in hell!”

    Almost before Graves’d finished talkin’ Skinny howled and grabbed his leg. Skrillinaugh came runnin’ across the room, yellin’, “What’s wrong?”

    “My leg,” Skinny gasped, rollin’ up the pant cuff. His eyes nearly popped out of his head when he saw what was happenin’. “It’s rotting!”
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  19. Lorrelian

    Lorrelian Member

    Sands of Time, Part Thirteen
    All Together Dead… and After

    Now it was about this time that I got started bein’ dead. There’s a little gap, you see, between the dyin’ and being dead. All depends on how long it takes Death to catch up to you. Though I suppose you can talk that over with the Old Man yourself, when your time comes.

    Anyways, that was about when I started bein’ dead. The first thing I heard was, “THIS ONE FOR THE LUTEFISK GOD!”

    You can bet that got my attention real fast. My eyes snapped open and I looked ‘round in a panic. To my surprise, I saw Costanza kneelin’ beside me, hand on forehead. It took a second to register that I couldn’t feel it, but that’s understandable, considerin’ we were surrounded by honest to goodness gods.

    One looked an aweful lot like that statue I’d talked to earlier, and she was talkin’ to what looked like a huge pile of gooey fish, ‘cept in only had one head. “Now, dearie,” she was sayin’, “you’ve already taken a soul today.”

    I wasn’t quite sure what that meant, ‘til I saw Trippin’ George, doin’ his best to gnaw through one of the slimy lutefisk tentacles that were floppin’ around. “I DON’T LIKE HIM,” the Lutefisk god replied, lookin’ for all the world like he was tryin’ to shake Trip off, and not succeeding. “THIS ONE FOR THE LUTEFISK GOD!”

    That’s when I realized he was talkin’ about me. “Oh, no you don’t,” I said. “I’m not bein’ fish bait. Ever.”

    “Funny,” Costanza said, sounding more sympathetic than annoyed or amused. “From the way you talked I thought you liked him.”

    “In the sense that I liked to wish him on my enemies,” I grumbled. “You ever tasted lutefisk?”

    “IT IS GOOD.”

    “As varnish, maybe,” I shot back. Then I focused on Costanza again. “What’s goin’ on here?”

    “We’re in the afterlife,” she said ruefully. “Apparently the deities get to pick and choose now. Not sure what happens after that. Stumpy might have heard at some point but we can’t ask him, he left with Marcus Brody already. From the sounds of things, we have to go with one of them. Unless you’re him.”

    I looked at what she was pointin’ at and saw a man in a dapper suit with a set of goggles in one hand. He was wearing a suspiciously familiar lookin’ hat. He was standin’ with a tall skeleton in a similarly well pressed suit, who wore a gold chain with a giant, sparklin’ gold Z on it. The skeleton was readin’ a sheaf of papers.

    “The paperwork is all in order, Death,” the hat proclaimed.

    “Maslech,” Death replied. “I agree that your follower has divine dispensation to accomplish three great works before his death, but he’s already done at least six.”

    “You haven’t seen subform 82-J yet,” the hat replied. The man pulled a piece of paper out of a vest pocket and handed it over. “That specifies which three deeds are his greatest accomplishments.”

    “Build a phylactery using common kitchen chemicals entirely by accident.” Death nodded. “I see that Fax has done that. He’s also lost the phylactery, and so is no longer entitled to undeath.”

    “But still forbidden to die, which can lead to undeath, am I right, mate?” The man said.

    “Destroy the lich Dredmor and claim a place in history.” Death looked up. “There is no lich named Dredmor.”

    “Give it time,” Maslech said.

    “Explore all of the Wizardlands.” Death stared at the paper in disbelief. “You can’t be serious.”

    “Totally serious, old chap,” Fax said. “I have to visit and map each and every one of them, see?”

    “But that would take-”

    “Forever,” hat and man chorused, soundin’ quite pleased with themselves.

    “Fine,” Death said with a sigh. “I’ll let you go back to the land of the living.”

    I looked back at Costanza in amazement. “You can do that?”

    “Do I have a talking hat?” She asked me in annoyance.

    “Well…” I watched Fax Celestis and Death exit through an enormous, bronze plated gate. It looked solid enough to keep a whole army out, much less little ol’ me. Things were lookin’ pretty grim, and no mistake.

    Still, I felt a little better a moment later when another Death, or possibly the same one in new clothes, walked through the door escortin’ Mr. Philmore (or Fillmore) Graves. For his part, he looked quite disgusted. I thought I caught sight of someone else followin’ just behind them, but the gates slammed closed before I could see.

    Graves jumped at that, then swiveled around to stare at the door. “Wait a minute,” he said to the skull in a really nice tunic. “What about him?”

    While Graves was pointin’ at the door the Lutefisk god squirmed up and yelled, “THIS ONE FOR THE LUTEFISK GOD!”

    Death shook his skull. “I think that this one already has a more…”

    I tuned it all out and looked back at Costanza. “I take it you’re goin’ with the statue lady there?”

    While I’d been distracted Inconsequentia had somehow made her way over and was waitin’ nearby, with her hands folded in front of her. Costanza nodded. “George and I were never important enough to draw Consequentia’s attention, but I think I’ll get along with her sister just fine.”

    “Right.” I threw a glance at Trip, who was still gnawin’ on one of the Lutefisk god’s flippers. “What about him?”

    She followed my eyes and sighed. “George has always had a bizarre affection for foods that are bad for him. It might be a good pairing, too.”

    “What happens after this?”

    Inconsequentia stepped forward. “It depends. Most of us use you as agents. Costanza and I will look after the unimportant in the far-flung world, and try to bring them some solace. Eventually, she’ll fade. Mortal souls do that, and there’s nothing we can do to stop it. Even with a divine focus, most of you just aren’t driven enough to keep going century after century.”

    “You say most,” I said warily. “What about those that don’t?”

    “Well, I don’t know what the diggle gods do with dead diggles, dearie,” the goddess replied, sounding a little surprised at the idea. “LF there uses them to count his tithes of lutefisk, he’s too lazy to do it himself and it takes up a surprising amount of time during the day. And Krong. Well, you can ask him yourself in a minute.”
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  20. Lorrelian

    Lorrelian Member

    I was about to ask what that meant when I realized that I could hear Graves and someone else shoutin’ over by the door. I looked and saw that he’d met some big, red headed guy with a hammer, and they was arguin’ about somethin’.

    “Normally you could just shrug me off,” the burly red head was sayin’. “But you used my anvil to fix that infernal Slipgate, and now it’s only a matter of time before the Wizardlands are open again. Then the Diggle Mages can get out, and who knows what will happen?”

    “Diggles don’t have mages, you idiot,” Graves snapped back. “And the day I join forces with you, Krong, is the day I turn in my wizarding license. Now-”

    Whatever else Graves had to say, it got cut off as Krong smashed him with his hammer. It wasn’t a normal hit. Krong actually managed to hit him so hard the hammer caught him on the head and went all the way down to the floor, smashing a crater there and shakin’ the gates nearby. Oddly, there was no blood or nothin’, just a giant whack.

    Graves went from bein’ a man standin’ on his own two feet to bein’ somethin’ peeled off the bottom of a hammer. If that weren’t impressive enough, I heard Graves still rantin’ in a squeaky voice as Krong pulled him offa the hammer, folded him up and stuck him in a pocket. Krong snorted and turned away from the gates, stompin’ over to me an’ the girls, shakin’ the floor again.

    “Well, Inconsequentia,” he rumbled, lookin’ at me. “What have we here? A mortal you think might suit my service?”

    “Uh, well sir…” I said, tryin’ not to shake in my boots, “I’m not quite certain that-”

    The gates shook again, and for the first time I realized that maybe it didn’t have nothin’ to do with Krong or anyone else. It looked more like somethin’ was beatin’ on them from the outside. I leaned over to see around Krong, who was a big man, and was just in time to see the whole mess go flyin’ off its hinges.

    And what should I see but Skinny, holdin’ the necklace he got from Fax Celestis, and lookin’ a lot paler and even skinnier that ever, if that was even possible. He wheezed a bit as he looked through the doorway. The rest of us stared back out at him.

    “Damn, Dead Head,” he grumbled. “What did you get yourself into this time?”

    “Damn you, Skinny,” I shouted back, actually quite glad to see him. “What you doin’ to those doors? Don’t you know this is death? He might not like you bustin’ up the place.”

    Skinny just laughed, casually walkin’ through the downed gates and around Krong to slap me on the shoulder. “Why don’t you know? I stole a phylactery!” He held up the necklace, which was glowin’ somethin’ fierce. “That means I get to get out of death if I can get past the gates.”

    “Well why you comin’ through them then?” I asked.

    “Well, I had a thought…” Skinny glanced at Krong, then back at me. “I was wonderin’ if I could grab someone and take ‘em with me while I’m here.”

    Krong frowned. “Well that wouldn’t exactly be kosher- hey!”

    The gates were already closin’ as Skinny and I sprinted towards ‘em. “We been doin’ this too much lately, Skinny,” I said as we ran. “Need to work on that.”

    “Not the only problem we got, my friend,” Skinny replied.

    At first I thought he meant the Lutefisk God, which was pullin’ itself towards the gate at top speed. But just as I started to worry ‘bout that Trip caught it by one of its tentacles and bit down hard. The result lived up to George’s nickname, and the Lutefisk God fell like a load of bricks. Skinny and I darted around it and out the gates just before they closed with a massive bang.

    To be safe, we kept runnin’. “So what’s our problem, Skinny?”

    “Well, it’s kinda like this, Dead Head. The phylactery lets me get most of my old body back. But you… well, you’re gonna be what’s called a disembodied spirit.”


    Skinny shrugged. “Well, let’s just say that it’s a good thing we already call you Dead Head…”

    And that, my friend, is the full tale of how I came to be what I am, and how Skinny came to be Dredmor the Lich. He learned most of his magic from Philmore’s books, and a little from what he saw from Stumpy and Costanza. He’s still workin’ on gettin’ it all down. I hear Skrillinaugh helps him out, from time to time, ‘specially with the excavatin’.

    When it’s all over and done, I’m not sure whether we’d been better off ditchin’ Stumpy and stayin’ away or not. Bein’ a floatin’ head’s not all bad. But take it from me. Unless you wanna do the same, if you do fight him and win, leave his damn phylactery alone.
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