ASCII art reward/G-L
|ASCII Art Rewards (alphabetically by contributor)|
|A – F||G – L||M – S||T – Z|
 (14 July 2014)
"You must save us, Gunnar!" cried the dwarf Aliz. "We of the fortress lack the military discipline that you have."
"The Plump Helmet festival is in three days time," said Gunnar. "If I slay the giant cave spider, I would have my pick of the dwarven maidens to be my bride."
"Of course, Sir Wuulfhelm," said the dwarf after a moment's pause. "You will have whatever you want!"
The threat to the dwarf fortress was that great. The spider must have eaten half a dozen dwarven miners once it emerged from the underground layers. It was a sign of desperation that the dwarves had turned to a human. But all of the dwarf heroes had already been eaten! Gunnar Wuulfhelm was their only hope.
Sir Wuulfhelm had come from the great magician's city of Etwersbrot, but he knew little of the Art. What he did know was how to slaughter giant monsters, a talent for which he was known far and wide. Aliz knew that none of the dwarf girls would be thrilled to marry a human, but maybe they would make an exception for the bravest warrior the world had to offer.
 (21st September 2014)
Fire blasted from the great reptile's nostrils. The minotaur wasted no time and lifted the tree trunk it used as a club and charged the dragon. It smashed the dragon's chest before it could breathe fire. The dragon latched onto the minotaur's arm with its teeth and the two fell to the ground and rolled across the floor of the arena.
“All your pets are terrible, my lord,” said Destra. “It is because you teach them to fight from the moment they are born. They know nothing of love.”
“How does one love a minotaur or a dragon?” asked dread wizard Suffar.
“I would find a way,” said Destra, “or you will surely pay for populating the world with monsters.”
The minotaur snapped the dragon's neck with a twist of its muscular arm. Suffar would reward it with a feast and then send it back to the labyrinth before nightfall. The wizard had invited the witch, Destra, to the contest thinking she would be impressed enough to share the secret of her magic with him.
“I would like to visit the labyrinth,” said Destra.
“You have an eye for the magical,” said Suffar. “The labyrinth was once the dungeon of a great dwarf fortress. I have yet to explore all of its mysteries.”
 (3rd February 2016)
The ruins of the dwarf fortress stood on a hill at the center of the Forbidden Forest. Great columns of stone stood alone, holding up nothing but the uncaring sky. The gate was smashed open, inviting the adventurous to their deaths. Destra looked down into the depths with excitement. She loved Suffar's monsters. Perhaps more than even he did. The minotaur could be heard breathing inside his blackened maze. Suffar invited the witch inside then collapsed the tunnel behind her!
“You will pay for this, Suffar!” cried Destra.
All she heard outside was laughter. The great stone blocks were too heavy for her to move, even with magic. The minotaur had awakened and was hunting her now. Destra had to think quickly or she would become the meal of a carnivorous human cow. She ran through the labyrinth, trying to picture the twists and turns in her mind. It was no use. Soon she was face to face with the minotaur.
Far away, Suffar had just arrived at his tower on the back of a giant nuthatch. He slid off of the bird's saddle and leaped through the window and into his secret laboratory. It was a shame that he had to feed Destra to the minotaur, but she was not cooperating. Not fast enough for his designs anyway.
“Bacabadabis!” shouted Suffar.
Out from a crevice in the wall came the wizard's pet kobold. It carried the latest scroll the kobolds had pilfered from the dwarves' trade caravan. Soon all the pieces would come together. He was trying to learn the ancient language of Axolar, the foundation of all magic in this dimension. The key was the dwarves. They had all the clues, but were unwilling, or too stupid, to put them to use.
Soon Suffar would be the last wizard left in the world. Once he had the power, the dwarves would bend to his will and create for him the ultimate artifact. He wanted to create life, not another monster, but a companion worthy enough to be his partner. Only then would he be at peace.
 (7 January 2011)
The wizard walked barefoot along the sandy lake bottom, schools of axolotls swimming around his toes. Through the murky water, the wizard could see the remains of a wrecked ship. The salamanders guided him through a hole in the wooden hull. In the darkness the wizard noticed the faintest light. It was coming from a chest half buried in the sand.
Before the wizard could open the treasure chest a shock wave shot through the water, knocking the wizard flat on his back. The ship tore in half revealing a huge monster covered in waving aquatic plants. It was the titan of the lake. The axolotls scattered in all directions. The wizard scuttled backward. He could not speak, making his charms useless. It was to be a battle of flesh and steel.
 (24 December 2014)
Many of you remember the tale of the lake. Your dwarf mothers and fathers warned you not to go near, lest the giant axolotl eat you. Now that the wizard had tempted fate by entering the lake titan's domain, all were in danger. The wizard was clever, transforming himself into a fish and gobbling up the magic pearl, then swimming away before the giant salamander could find him. When he emerged from the waters, he changed his shape into that of a pelican and flew away. The titan was furious and took out its frustrations on people who lived near the shore.
“Forgive us, mighty Hetain,” screamed the villagers.
It was too late and they knew it. The poor people hardly protested as Hetain transformed them into horrible, bloodthirsty monsters and sent then on their way to find the thieving wizard. They stretched their new wings and launched into the night's sky. There wasn't much time before dawn, and the newly reborn night creatures could not travel during daylight.
“Father,” asked one of the night creatures, “do you think that mighty Hetain will allow us to die after we return the pearl?”
“Our lives,” said the older night creature, “have always been those of service and toil. Before Hetain, we served the dwarven king. All we can do is serve our betters faithfully. Then, perhaps, we shall receive our just reward.”
Arriving at his tower, the wizard threw off his bird shape and reached into his mouth, withdrawing the magic pearl. The old man had spent most of his life searching for enchanted artifacts such as this. It was a goal of his since youth to be the greatest wizard the world had ever known. For this end, he had to take chances. Stealing the pearl was no small thing. In belonged to one of the Four Titans who had existed since the world was young. He knew the pearl was cursed, but it had to be his all the same.
 (7 May 2015)
“Die in the name of Hetain!” howled the ape-like creature as it leaped through the window of the wizard's tower.
Speaking a charm just in time to confuse his attacker, the wizard ran to his sword which he kept leaning against the wall of his laboratory. With a slice and a thrust, the monsters was undone, laying in pieces on the floor. This was certainly a first, attacked by a night creature while relaxing at home. The titan, Hetain, meant business.
Dressing himself in his magic robe, the wizard stepped out of the tower window. He let himself fall for a few seconds, letting the refreshing breeze blow through his long gray hair. Then he transformed into a red tailed hawk. His idea was to travel to the capital of Assura and hire a hero or two to slay the titan. Just getting to the city would prove a task difficult enough to call on his considerable skills.
 (13 June 2015)
It was impossible, even for a hawk, to reach the capital before nightfall. It was suicide to stay in the air after sundown. The titan, Hetain, controlled an armada of flying night creatures. Instead, the wizard dove into the trees and landed in the jungle. There he took the shape of a mighty gorilla. The night creatures would be foolish to mess with him now.
“Hey, gorilla,” said a voice in the evening wind. “I know what you are carrying.”
“Show yourself,” growled the wizard.
A tiny rodent scurried out of the brush and onto a patch of moss next to one of the wizard's impressive forearms. Closer inspection revealed that it was actually a mouse man, servant of one of the other three titans. The wizard told the mouse man to speak his piece quickly, for any minute they would be mobbed by vengeful night creatures.
“I serve almighty Domon and his chariot in the sky,” said the mouse man. “Lend me the pearl and I will ensure your victory.”
 (22 July 2015)
So, Domon sought the pearl as well. The wizard should not have been surprised that the word of his conquest had spread so quickly. Now the wizard must be doubly careful. While Hetain controlled the night, Domon ruled everything under the sun and the eternal vault of sky.
The giant gorilla shifted his weight unto his knuckles and howled at the mouse man. It was clear that the wizard had made his decision. He would trust no titan. The mouse man ran for his life. This move would not go unanswered, for Domon was a vengeful titan.
The wizard couldn't stay in the jungle forever, hiding from the angry rays of the sun. He moved to the edge of the final treeline and looked out over the rolling plains of Slusia. Assura was there, just beyond the horizon. Stopping to think for a moment, the giant gorilla scratched its forehead. At last the wizard decided on a shape, transforming himself into a speedy gazelle.
 (20 August 2015)
Not one. Not two. But, three cheetahs took off running after the wizard as he bounded across the plain. The titan, Domon, meant business. As Hetain controlled the night, Domon ruled the day. None of it would matter if he reached the dwarf fortress of Assura. Jumping just in time to avoid a pouncing wild cat, the wizard narrowly avoided death. He ducked and rolled and transformed once again into human shape, wielding a longsword. The cheetahs stopped where they were as the wizard had reached the gates of Assura.
“Open the gates, I say,” boomed the wizard.
“Who gives a command to free dwarves?” answered the guards-dwarf.
“It is I,” said the wizard, “Suffar the Mighty.”
Even the dwarves of Assura had heard tales of the great Suffar. Not all good, it must be said. Suffar was a rogue and a trickster. The dwarves watched as the cheetahs circled the wizard, waiting for the moment to strike. Maybe they wouldn't have to open the gates after all.
 (23 September 2015)
Holding up the magic pearl, Suffar demanded to be let in a third time. The greed of the dwarves was not easy to measure. It seemed they would do anything to acquire the smallest treasure. Suffar stepped through the gates with a final sneer at his pursuers. As the gates shut, the cheetahs disappeared in puffs of smoke.
“Is that Hetain's magic pearl?” demanded the noble dwarf.
“One and the same,” said Suffar, dropping the pearl back into his pocket.
“The titans would offer a king's ransom for that treasure,” said the dwarf.
“And I will offer twice that amount to the hero that slays Hetain,” countered Suffar.
It was much to consider, coming between titans and wizards. It meant almost certain death to the dwarves involved. This mattered little to the hero class, a group of dwarves raised since birth to laugh at danger. It was at the Temple of Bravery that Suffar met Kogan, the mightiest of the dwarves.
“Will you kill Hetain for me?” asked Suffar.
“I have been waiting for a challenge worthy of my blade,” said Kogan.
 (24 October 2015)
The two never actually agreed on a price. Kogan instead offered to go with Suffar if he led him to glory and death. The wizard agreed, knowing it was not a quest for a hero who still possessed reason. There would be no coming back from the titan's lake. All Suffar could do was help his new friend along his final journey.
“Is it far?” asked Kogan. “These legs weren't made for walking.”
“Fear not, little one,” said Suffar, “I will summon the appropriate steeds.”
Standing on the tallest tower of the castle, Suffar spoke to the wind, whilst Kogan watched with interest. After a time, the wizard pointed to the horizon. To specks appeared which grew steadily larger. They were a pair of giant birds. One was an enormous female nuthatch, while the other was a bushtit, the size of a bull. The dwarf stood back, wielding his axe.
“Fear not,” said Suffar. “These creatures will take us to the hated lake of Hetain.”
“Fear is not in my vocabulary,” said Kogan. “I will do anything to speed the march of doom and final destiny.”
 (30 November 2015)
It was more than a day's journey back to the titan's lake and the giant birds would be no good against the creatures Hetain had prepared for them. Kogan watched the terrain unfolding beneath him with wonder. The world seemed so much smaller than it had been. The birds flew quickly, knowing that at any moment, Domon might spy them from his chariot in the sky.
“Dive for those trees, Kogan,” said Suffar. “I fear that Domon has found us.”
The dwarf kicked the sides of his giant bushtit and the bird dove for the forest canopy. Kogan looked behind him to see a bright green dragon pursuing him. Suffar was nowhere to be found. Jumping off his steed before the jet of flames hit him, Kogan grabbed at tree branches as he fell through the air.
“Wake up, brave dwarf,” said the wizard.
Opening his eyes, Kogan found that he had indeed survived. Suffar had built a fire in a small clearing beneath the stars. Here they waited for Hetain's creatures to attack.
 (18 December 2015)
The first night creature to attack was an ape-like creature with a single eye in the center of its forehead. Kogan was ready, battleaxe in hand. The creature huffed and puffed. Its issue was not with the dwarf, but with the scheming wizard, but Kogan would not allow the creature to advance. Finally, the creature sat back on its haunches and held its arms in a pose of tranquility.
“Shall you let us pass?” asked Suffar.
“You have my master's property,” said the ape. “You must die for your crimes.”
“What if we returned the treasure in person?” asked the wizard. “I'm sure my friend here would love to meet the great and mighty Hetain.”
The ape struck like a snake, but Kogan was faster. The night creature hit the ground, bleeding from a savage and mortal wound. The adventurers watched with wonder as the creature's body transformed into the body of a dead dwarf.
“What have I done?” asked Kogan.
 (22 January 2016)
“It is because of Hetain that this poor dwarf suffered,” said Suffar. “You have only done him a mercy.”
“You said nothing of killing my own kind,” protested Kogan.
“It will get worse before the end,” said the wizard. “You must be strong. Don't let Hetain's evil confuse your heart and mind.”
That night they buried the dead dwarf and Kogan prayed for his soul. Strangely, no more creatures attacked. It was as if Hetain knew he now had the upper hand and would toy with the adventurers. Suffar wondered if he had made a mistake enlisting the help of a dwarven hero. Maybe a true mercenary was called for.
“Hetain will pay for what he has done,” said Kogan. “You can rest assured of that.”
The lake was just on the other side of a screen of trees. Kogan had the look of grim determination but Suffar wasn't entirely sure he trusted him. Taking on the titan was an act for the insane brave. While Kogan was clearly not stable, Suffar still didn't know which way his blade would cut.
 (28 February 2016)
“Who are they?” asked Kogan.
“They are the dwarves of the once powerful fortress of Etwersbrot,” said Suffar. “They worship Hetain now.”
A horde of misshapen monsters ringed the lake, holding hands. Some them had three arms. Some had two heads. They were all monstrous and terrifying. Kogan knew that they were once dwarves. He wished with all his might that he could forget that knowledge and slay them cleanly. Now every dead monster was simply murder.
The chanting of the monsters intensified with the rising of the moon. There was a bubbling vortex at the center of the lake. Soon the giant axolotl appeared, rising magically above the water. The monsters prostrated themselves before the titan. It was Kogan's chance. Suffar tapped him on the shoulder and he rose, stepping out into the moonlight.
“Hetain,” shouted Kogan, “why are you trying to control my people?”
 (26 March 2016)
“The pearl belongs to me,” said the giant salamander. “The villain you work for is no more than a thief. I stand on the side of the righteous.”
“It is righteous to turn my kin into monsters?” shouted Kogan. “I have shed the blood of my blood because of you. Are you listening, oh dwarves of Etwersbrot? Serve not this coward and let him fight his own battles!”
The monsters stopped their chanting and stepped aside as Kogan approached the water's edge. Hetain looked nervous. His slaves had never rebelled before. The dwarf stood before the titan, holding his battle axe at the ready. Hetain called on the power of the outer darkness, creating a vortex in the water below him. Suffar saw the danger and began chanting to counter the spell. The little dwarf was in more danger than he knew. Hetain was opening a portal to a dimension of ultimate evil.
 (27 April 2016)
Seeing that now was the time to act, Kogan charged passed the confused looking monsters and into the lake. Suffar spoke a charm and the water became solid as ice where Kogan stepped. He ran across the lake toward the giant salamander. The vortex at the center of the lake was growing larger. A strange howling could be heard from within, like the terrible screams of all of those being tortured in the underworld.
“You have done my kin ill,” pronounced Kogan as he raised his axe. “Prepare to die.”
Entrails poured into the dimensional portal as Kogan gutted the monstrous titan with a great stroke of his blade. The guts acted as chum, attracting the most hungry of demons up from the depths. Kogan staggered backward as the monsters blasted up and out into the world of the living.
“What have you done?” muttered Suffar.
 (30 May 2016)
Hundreds of dwarves, finding that they now wore their own bodies, had to quickly stop celebrating and run for their lives. A black fountain of evil blasted up from the center of the lake where Kogan had been standing seconds before. Dark, winged shapes gathered in the sky above.
“Mul-o-rom, Sul-o-rom,” chanted Suffar as he dragged Kogan's body away from the water.
The demons had not noticed the wizard yet, choosing instead to fly after the fleeing dwarves. Suffar could not help but think that this was all his fault. The mess he had created was bigger than just a stolen pearl. The entire world was in peril. He had to seek out Domon, in the Palace of the Rising Sun.
 (1 July 2016)
“Where is the sun?” asked Kogan as he awoke.
“There has been a lasting darkness since Hetain died,” said Suffar.
“Then we have won,” exclaimed Kogan.
A dizzy spell forced Kogan to lie back down. “It's a bit more complicated than that,” said Suffar. The stars twinkled as giant bat-like creatures passed through the sky. Kogan turned to witness a horrible sight just a stone's throw away. Three demons were feasting on the body of a dead dwarf. They were more horrible than the night creatures of Hetain.
“They can't see us,” said Suffar. “Rest, my friend.”
“There must be a way to stop them,” whispered Kogan. “You said something about Domon, and the sky chariot.”
“I'm afraid the sun has set forever,” said Suffar. “The four titans cannot help us now.”
“There must be something we can do?” asked the dwarf hero.
“Yes,” said Suffar. “As long as we hold the pearl there is hope.”
 (31 July 2016)
“The magic doorway will close,” said Suffar, “if we cast Hetain's magic pearl back through the demon gate.”
“Then do it,” exclaimed Kogan, suffering from another fainting spell.
“Who ever should cast in the pearl shall die,” said Suffar.
“Then give it to me,” said Kogan. “I care not for my own life.”
“That much in obvious,” said Suffar, “but you cannot be the one. Look at your body.”
Straining to sit up, Kogan was horrified to see that his body was a mere skeleton, barely held together by bits of sinew. Suffar used his magic to keep Kogan alive, but it was only a kind of half-life. Once the pearl was cast, Kogan too would die.
“Then if you will not stand up and save the world,” asked Kogan, “who will?”
“We must find the fourth titan,” said Suffar. “He lives in a tower deep in the Garum.”
“Not Darquan the Deadly,” shouted Kogan. “That wicked old man would never make the sacrifice.”
“We have no other choice,” said Suffar.
 (20 September 2016)
Deep in the Garum it was unusually cold. The sun hadn't risen for three days and the plants were beginning to die. Kogan could see the light of a candle in the top room of the tower a way's off in the marsh. Suffar explained to the skeletal dwarf that he should do the talking. The master of the tower was Darquan the Deadly, one of four cosmic titans that had existed since the dawn of time.
The wizard of the tower was twisted and evil. He had exhausted every physical pleasure in a search for the ultimate experience. The truth was, now he was bored and wished for the eternal nothingness that awaited his extinction. But if there was one thing that kept Darquan breathing it was his jealous hatred for all living things.
“Who dares disturb my meditation?” came a voice from above.
Looking up the dark wet stones of the tower, Kogan could see a pale bald head trailing long white whiskers. Suffar shouted back, explaining the death of Hetain and the demon gateway. The wizard's head disappeared and there was a click at the solid wood door before them, which swung open by itself.
 (1 October 2016)
The snake was fast, but Suffar was faster. As the door opened, a king cobra snake man shot his long neck out toward the wizard's face. He dodged to the right and seized the serpent man's throat. Darquan was a coward to leave his minions in charge of greeting the adventurers.
“Come forth, dark titan,” said Suffar, “or I will break your pet's neck.”
While Suffar shouted at the open door, the snake man reached with his long articulated arm and pulled a dagger from one of its many belts. Just as it was about to push the blade in, the skeletal dwarf stepped out from behind the wizard and chopped at the snake man's wrist.
“That'sss cheating!” complained the cobra man.
“Save your whining for your master,” said Suffar. “That is, if the coward is brave enough to show his face.”
“You have the pearl?” came a voice from above. “Show it to me!”
 (7 November 2016)
“Only you can save the world now,” shouted Suffar as he held the pearl over his head.
“Hetain's Pearl,” said Darquan. “You are a naughty wizard.”
The candlelight vanished from the window as Darquan descended the hundreds of steps of the dark tower. It seemed like ages later when he appeared in the doorway. “Let Anthony go,” commanded the evil wizard. Suffar released the cobra man who disappeared back into the tower.
“Who is your friend?” asked Darquan, indicating the skeletal dwarf.
“This is Kogan,” said Suffar, “Slayer of Hetain.”
“You can do better for a titan slayer than this, surely,” said Darquan.
The serpent wizard began chanting in the ancient tongue of magic. The wind began to blow and stir up muddy water and dead vegetation. The muck attached itself to Kogan's skeleton and soon he began to resemble a living dwarf.
“Now, Kogan,” said Darquan, “your body belongs to me. Take the pearl from Suffar and give it to me!”
 (11 November 2016)
Using his bracers to block a series of strikes and thrusts, Suffar desperately resisted as Kogan tried to wrestle the pearl from him. Anthony returned wielding a pair of swords. The dwarf grabbed the wizard around the legs and tackled him to the ground. The snake man held his blades to Suffar's throat. It was over.
“And now,” said Darquan, “the pearl, if you please?”
Reaching into his robe, Suffar withdrew the shining pearl. Darquan's eyes lit up with joy. Whoever possessed the pearl held sway over the hand of Fate. Having exhausted the frivolous pleasures of this world, Darquan would use the pearl to enhance his hedonistic lifestyle. With glee, he snatched the pearl out of Suffar's hand.
“You will know, before the end,” said Suffar, “what you have to do.”
 (5 January 2017)
“Slay him,” commanded Darquan.
Anthony the snake man brought his sword blade down onto the wizard's neck, but recoiled when his weapon clashed against the stone floor of the tower. Suffar's robes lay empty on the ground, but the wizard was nowhere to be found. Darquan hollered with disapproval. Kogan stood up and brushed the dirt off his chest.
“You, dwarf!” shouted Darquan. “Stop standing around like a moron and find the wizard.”
A pair of giant bats landed at the base of the tower. They were fitted with saddles and Kogan had the impression that his new master, Darquan, wanted him to ride. He climbed up the hairy bat and sat astride its back.
“That rascal can't get far without the pearl,” said Darquan. “Find him, and snuff out his life!”
 (9 February 2017)
The pair of giant bats launched out of the tower with Kogan and Anthony the snake man on their backs. The dwarf's vision was excellent at night, due to a long life underground. However, he could see nothing in the marsh but wildlife. He called over to Anthony and the snake man replied.
“He has changed himself into a bird or beast,” shouted Anthony.
“How will I know him?” asked Kogan.
“He is the only beast that does not fear the power of Darquan,” said Anthony.
The snake man held up his staff and the end began to glow an ominous red. All around, beneath them, the animals froze in place, the birds so much as freezing in mid flight and falling into the murky water. There was one that still flew, a kingfisher!
“That's him!” cried Kogan.
 (12 March 2017)
Cackling with glee, Darquan watched through his crystal ball as the two giant bat riders chased down the tiny bird. They dove and pounced on the bird at once and there was a scuffle as the group splashed into the water. Darquan was giddy with anticipation. When the fight subsided, Kogan stood up holding the body of a dead bird, but Anthony was stricken dead. The snake man had been in Darquan's employ for many years, but the evil old man could not find it in himself to shed a single tear.
“Bring me the carcass,” commanded Darquan. “We will feast on kingfisher tonight!”
Throwing a cloth over the crystal ball, Darquan retired to his private chamber to contemplate the pearl. Something was wrong. The pearl had taken on a dim brown color. Gone was its magical luster. The wizard was furious. He charged back into his laboratory and awaited Kogan's return. There had to be some sort of explanation, and without question, someone would pay.
 (13 April 2017)
The dwarf met Darquan in the feast hall below the wizard's tower. The old man commanded that the dead bird be plucked and roasted on a spit. As Kogan made himself busy preparing the meal, Darquan returned to fuss over the blackened pearl of Hetain. A short time later, Kogan announced that the meal was ready.
“Here's to you, Suffar,” said Darquan, raising his stein glass. After chewing on a few strange tasting morsels, the wizard realized he had been tricked. He stood up from the table and threw his arms out to the side, calling on his power to reveal the treachery. There, on the table, was the partially devoured body of Anthony the snake man.
“Suffar,” shouted Darquan, “you will pay for this if I must strike at you with my last breath!”
 (16 May 2017)
The was a ringing sound coming from the laboratory. Darquan stomped into the room and pulled the cloth from the crystal ball. There was Suffar, standing on the beach near the portal to the dimension of ultimate evil. Beyond words and consumed with hatred, Darquan could only stand and stare as Suffar beckoned to him. The evil wizard called for Kogan and had the giant bats made ready for takeoff once again.
“It's a trick, boss,” said Kogan.
“Don't speak,” said Darquan. “You know nothing save what I have taught you.”
They were airborne a short time later. There was still a huge maelstrom over Hetain's lake and the pair had to land their bats far from shore. Darquan landed behind a grassy hill which he scuttled up to spy on the portal from afar. There was Suffar, strutting back and forth before the portal as freely as you please.
“You will never have the pearl,” said Darquan under his breath.
 (18 June 2017)
"He means to trick you," said Kogan. "All he wants is the pearl!"
"I have had enough of your talk!" shouted Darquan.
There was a flash of light and where once stood Kogan the dwarf, there was now a statue made of stone. Darquan instantly regretted his action. Not only had he lost a needed ally, but he had also given away his position. He stood up and saw Suffar down by the lake, beckoning to him.
"You will never have the pearl!" declared Darquan as he stalked down to where Suffar was standing, near the portal to ultimate evil.
"You mean this pearl?" asked Suffar, withdrawing the shiny pearl from his pocket.
With a sudden sinking feeling, Darquan reached into his robe and held out the clouded brown pearl. Driven by anger and outrage, Darquan cast the pearl into the maelstrom. Suffar twirled, flaring out his cloak and disappearing in a puff of smoke. The portal began to disappear. Darquan could feel his heart sputtering and giving its last beat. He had been tricked for the final time.
 (11 August 2011)
Inside or outside, the dwarf fortress was an ugly place. Black smoke rose from its misshapen stacks, and beneath the menacing gatehouse, poor hill-dwarves moved under armed guard to bring their offerings to Count Agak.
The Count had long been allergic to light. His case of cave adaptation was more pronounced than any ever known. His skin was pale and shot through with spidery veins. His eyes were red and bloodshot. Even in the dark, he looked sickly, and he never touched a morsel on the feast days.
"The Count is a vampire," said Roder.
"Silence," said fair Nel. "What if the guards hear you?"
"Tell me you aren't suspicious," said Roder. "Have you ever seen the Count eat or drink? Or his guards? I don't know if I would even recognize them underneath their plated armor. No. We need proof. Then we need deliverance."
 (18 January 2011)
"Toward the light," cried Sot, master of the moth riders. The squadron descended in wild corkscrews, falling toward the dwarf fortress. But Sot had dived too soon. Flaming arrows shot up from the castle walls, confusing the giant insects. Sot's mount took three hits and died in mid air. The moth leader took the reins hard and tried to pull the moth out of a death spiral. He hit the ground hard and rolled across the paved stone, jumping up in a combat stance. When he saw the two dozen dwarves that approached him, he took off his chitin helmet, pointed at the closest dwarf and spoke.
"Let's see what you've got, half-man."
 (24 April 2010)
Night, thief of all cheer. When has the sun set on a happy soul in Bonverland? Everyone knows the terror that lurks behind every shadow, ever since the evil knight Galrod took up residence in Highthorn castle. Werewolves and blendecs were at his command. It was said that only one thing could end his cursed life, the Golden Shank of Allmine. The people wailed with misery, for the shank was said to be in the deep dungeon of a dwarf fortress many leagues to the east. It was a time of mass panic. That was until the hero Mandack arrived.
 (12 April 2012)
Goblin master thief Garu picked his way through the irrigation ditch of the dwarf fortress. The dwarves were fools to leave the floodgate open during the dry season. There were fewer traps down there. It wasn't long before he reached the mushroom fields. There were a few gardeners here and there but nothing that proved much of a challenge.
Once inside, Garu shed his black cloak in exchange for the robes of a monk of Alak. He passed silently by the dwarves, a long hood hiding his face. Slowly, he made his way to the meeting hall. There were a bunch of dwarf youths posing and trying to look tough.
"You are impressive," said Garu.
"What's it to you, holy dwarf?" said the most obnoxious of the dwarves.
"It's just that I heard from Zuglar that you were a weakling and a coward," said Garu. "He said he'd wait for you in the lower warehouse if you were dwarf enough."
"You tell that son of an elf I'll be there," shouted the dwarf.
 (17 December 2007)
A rock plopped into the cave river from the platform above. There Durgal and the dwarf girl sat, above the murky waters. Durgal explained, in great detail, his plans for the future. When the riches of the mountain were plundered, he would diagram the plans for a second fortress himself. How the dwarves would love him!
"But in your haste for riches," asked the girl, "would you have time for the ones you love?"
Durgal's face became red as a cave turnip. He looked quickly away from her and stared into the dark water. There, eyes gazed up to meet him. Durgal reached for his axe, telling the girl to warn the others. A pale, slimy hand reached out of the depths and pulled the creature upward. It was an olmman!
 (3 September 2008)
"Back!" cried Durgal, "back to the hall!" The dwarf girl turned and screamed. Two blind cave fish men blocked the way out. Durgal turned and swung his axe at the olmman, now completely out of the water. It deftly dodged his panicked swings. The dwarf girl screamed as the cave fish men crawled toward her, arms outstretched, feeling their way along the floor.
"By the power of the Lordaxe!" screamed Durgal, holding his axe aloft. The dungeon rumbled. The sound of water crashed through the tunnel. The fighters were swept away. The olmman grabbed Durgal's axe arm as they were washed through the watery tunnel. The dwarf pulled a dagger from his belt and jammed it into the monster's guts.
"Gula!" cried Durgal, bursting above the surface of the water. He pulled the axe free of the olmman's grasp and brought the pommel down on its head, knocking it senseless. "Gula!" he cried again. With sudden terror, Durgal recalled where this tunnel led -- the chasm. Only a few seconds until the ultimate terrible plunge.
"Durgal!" cried the dwarf girl, Gula. With all his strength, he stretched to reach her in the crashing water.
 (3 June 2014)
Sword and axe clashed again and again as the combatants fought and bled. You and I remember Tasan fortress in the days before the elves emerged from the hated forest. At one time Fortress Tasan was second only to the mountain homes in wealth and power. Now it was the front line in a war to end the age.
"Aim low, marks-dwarves," said Kraton. "Make every shot count."
It was the height of the Plump Helmet festival when Kraton first learned of the elven invasion. An arrow struck his sweetheart dead in the chest. The ambush was over in seconds. The castle guard were able to chase down the archers before they escaped into the woods.
As captain of the guard, Kraton was in charge of interrogation. There was no need in his mind. Elves were not rational. Their reasons for acting made no sense. He ordered that they be hammered immediately and prepared the fortress for the assault to come.
 Insanity Prelude
 (1. I forgot, sometime in 2009)
Kittens roamed through the halls, as dwarf tanner Kramer worked the cat skins. It seemed his work would never end. The uncounted vermin in the fortress made the cat bellies full, and they bred out of control. Baron Zarkin issued a final order: "Suffer no cat to live." Death squads searched the corridors for felines, and brought the bodies to Kramer. It was a tough job; Kramer admired cats for their aloofness. Someone tapped him on the shoulder. It was cat-lord Tainaria.
"Who are you?" asked Kramer.
"Who I am is not important," said the beast-woman. "Don't you feel that what you are doing is wrong?"
"Yes," said the dwarf, "but…"
 (2. December 10, 2009)
"Stomer," said Tainaria, snapping her clawed fingers, "take him."
An enormous walking cat emerged from the shadows. It was striped and grey with a round golden belly. In its paws it held a large brown sack. The cat people pounced on Kramer, tackling him to the ground. They kicked and stomped him until he was knocked senseless. Tainaria looked on as Stomer poured the dwarf into the sack.
Kramer awoke, suffocating in the damp confines of the sack that was his prison. The sack bounced up and down as the cat ran. At last Kramer was thrown down onto the mud. He peered out of the bag into the nauseating sunlight. He felt a sharp kick to his ribs.
"Come out, killer!" shouted Tainaria.
The dwarf crawled out onto the mossy ground. He looked around as the tall trees and thick green ferns.
"This is the elf forest," said Kramer.
Stomer drew his lips back across his teeth in a grotesque mockery of a smile.
"You," said Kramer, "you're not going to leave me out here!?"
 (19 November 2013)
Nothing save dragon's fire was hotter than Cendra's fury at the goblin invaders. Limbs and heads bounced along the mining tunnel as the dwarf warrioress chopped them left and right. Ever since Darkmaster the Evil mounted his campaign against the dwarf fortress, no one was safe. It was to dwarves like Cendra that all owed their freedom and probably their very lives.
“To the right!” shouted Kogan.
Ducking just in time, Cendra twirled around and planted her axe dead in the goblin's chest. Kogan had been Cendra's blade brother as long as she could remember. It made it all the more tragic when he finally fell to Darkmaster's henchmen. But let us talk of happier times...
 (22 July 2015)
It had been a century since the last Dulchari wizard had been crowned. Most of the old wizards had retired to remote towers to continue their studies, having abandoned the city of Etwersbrot and the council chamber. There simply was no need for them anymore. All the dimensional rifts had been sealed and reality had been restored to a liveable state.
The wizards that lived in the capital were a new breed. The only demons they had ever seen were the ones that the Dulchari summoned themselves. Thamian was one of these. He longed to cross the boundaries between worlds like the old heroes did. Once the world had been filled with monsters. Now it was impossible to prove oneself. "I have an idea," said Thamian. "Meet me behind the tower after class."
The sun was sinking behind the mountains when Thamian met his friend Nesco in the dry field. What he had planned was a contest of magic. They would each summon a demon and they would fight to see which one was more fierce. Standing across the field from one another they drew pentagrams in the dirt. Thamian began summoning a creature from the world of Brepotog, the Bowels of the Universe. Nesco called his demon from Urmoro, the Land of the Undead. Somehow neither of them grasped that this was a bad idea.
 (3 January 2015)
Thamian's monster was the first to appear. About an hour after the ritual began there was a distinct smell on the western breeze. It smelled like Brepotog, the sewer of reality. Nesco flinched, but remained inside his protective pentagram. Off to the right, the shadows darkened. An arm, perhaps more tentacle than solid limb, protruded from the ground. It struck the ground with a splat and pulled the rest of the demon up.
“I've done it, Nesco,” shouted Thamian. “Admit it! I've won.”
“Wait,” said Nesco. “Look there!”
Out of the trees, a figure stumbled. Once it came into the sunlight, the young wizards could see it for what it was, alive undead. It was the animated body of another young wizard. He had probably died during the trials which had taken place earlier that week. Its neck was clearly broken and its head lolled crazily to the side.
“I command you, oh demon,” shouted Thamian, “attack!”
 (3 December 2015)
Nesco was late to class. The always-nosey Smesma was there at the door to greet him. The first thing she noticed was the overpowering smell of filth. They had been summoning demons again! Nesco had the stink of Brepotog on him. Where was Thamian? The two rascals were usually inseparable. Smesma stood in the doorway and would not let Nesco pass without an explanation.
“Where is your friend, Thamian?” asked Smesma.
“Don't worry. He still lives,” muttered Nesco, “after a fashion.”
The witch let Nesco in, more overcome by his stench than his flimsy excuses. As Nesco took his seat at the desk the other wizards scooted away, annoying the professor with their squeaky chairs. The instructor for this term was Lord Domoran. He was an incompetent teacher, just serving out his time until retirement. Most young wizards never learned from class anymore. The only ones who improved used the forbidden arts like Nesco and Thamian.
“You summoned a demon from the bowels of the universe,” whispered Smesma. “I smell it!”
“Not me,” said Nesco. “It was that fool Thamian. But I got him back!”
“If you have something to share,” boomed Lord Domoran, “you can share it with the whole class!”
“Very well,” said Nesco. “Watch this!”
The young punk stood up and clapped his hands. Suddenly the room felt very cold and still. Outside the room, the students could hear footsteps. Whoever it was, they didn't sound all that healthy. The mystery person dragged one leg and moaned when he took a step. The closer he got, the more loud and painful the moaning became. At last there was a knock at the door.
“Only students are allowed in the classroom,” shouted Domoran, clearly shaken.
“But it is one of your students,” said Nesco. “Thamian! Come inside.”
The doorknob turned ever so slowly, and the door swung open to reveal a horrible sight. It was Thamian, or more accurately, what was left of him. His clothing was bloody and torn, and his body was beset by a dozen mortal wounds. The fact that he was walking was clearly an infernal miracle.
“Nesco,” said Domoran, “what have you done?”
“Only what you are too weak and afraid to do,” shouted Nesco. “I used magic!”
The zombie trudged forward. Nesco laughed. He was truly a Dulchari wizard now. The monster came closer and the young wizards stood and backed away, leaving Domoran to face the ghost of Thamian alone.
“Stop it!” shouted Smesma.
“I,” said Nesco, suddenly flustered, “I can't!”
 (19 December 2015)
Thamian's corpse caught hold of Domoran and plunged its fangs into his neck. The young wizards cut and ran, leaving Nesco and Smesma to face the threat alone. Blood poured from Domoran's wound. There wasn't much hope for him now and Nesco knew it. Still, Smesma wouldn't let Nesco flee.
“You did this,” shouted Smesma. “Now undo it!”
“But if Domoran lives,” explained Nesco, “we will be expelled from school.”
“What?” asked Smesma, having heard the most ignorant excuse spoken in years.
The zombie dropped the professor's body on the floor and advanced on the delinquent wizard. Nesco grabbed Smesma by the arm and ran out of class. Outside the classroom, the disaster containment squad had assembled. The wizards in the tac-squad wore robes lined with adamantine and wielded special flame throwing wands.
“They are in there,” shouted Nesco. “Two of them!”
“Villain!” cried Smesma. “Domoran may yet live!”
Nesco pushed Smesma to the side as the wizards stormed the classroom, blasting away indiscriminately with their flame throwers. The evil Nesco chuckled into his cloak. No one was paying attention but Smesma. She knew now that something must be done to stop him.
 (20 January 2016)
Alone in her alcove, Smesma said a prayer to the gods and began her meditation. There was a buzzing sound deep in her throat. She concentrated on the sacred syllables of the forbidden language. The time had come to use her power. She shouted the word and punched a hole through the brick wall of her room. Such was the power of Axolar.
“Where is Nesco?” asked Smesma.
“He has been hanging around Thamian's grave,” said one of the students. “It's horrible that all of this happened.”
“He has to be stopped before anyone else gets hurt,” said Smesma.
She meant to kill Nesco before he could raise any more zombies. Domoron had been a hero to Smesma, and she blamed Nesco alone for his death. Outside the city gate, hidden behind a screen of trees, Nesco waited for Smesma in the cemetery. He was alone dressed in the gray robes of mourning.
“You had better call to Urmoro for help,” shouted Smesma, “for I will have no mercy.”
Nesco just stood there, knowing that Smesma would probably just kill herself with a magic spell. He had gained some perspective since the trouble started. He could hear the sound welling up from Smesma's throat as she charged up for the killer blow. She ran at Nesco, releasing the spell with a shout. There was an explosion of gore and a terrible gargling sound. No one knew what happened until the undertaker came across the bodies the next day.
 (12 October 2006)
BgB B@g gBB
Beak dogs and goblins surround the adventurer! What will happen next?!
 (13 February 2007)
gg... .B.B= ..BB. .%B@/ .-...
One of the five beak dogs pounced. Rogar leapt, planting a foot on the beast's head and propelling himself toward the tattoed goblin. Just as they collided, Rogar planted his dagger through the goblin's left eye. They hit the ground hard, and Rogar rolled forward to his feet, spinning to face the remaining eight opponents. The beak dog he had jumped on was still shaking its head, wincing. Behind them stood a wiry goblin with a wild mane of maroon hair, brandishing a scimitar, and a lardy goblin holding an iron-studded club.
The beak dogs charged Rogar in unison. His dagger was stuck back in the twitching goblin's face, but weaponless he stood his ground before them. The first dog to reach him received Rogar's knee under its chin, the long cruel spike at the top of the warrior's half-greave piercing the creature's throat. Two more beak dogs reached him as he twisted his leg in the air, trying to free it from his bleeding adversary. The beasts slammed into him, one getting a hold of his right arm above the elbow, the other gnashing at his face. Before it could tear his nose off, Rogar grabbed it by the neck with his left hand and held it back. The other dog sank its beak deeper into the flesh of Rogar's arm. Could this be the end?!
 (5 May 2007)
Rogar awoke in pain, his wrists in chains, his wounded arm throbbing. He opened his eyes only to be greeted by an all-encompassing darkness. This must be Shalthidon's dungeon, which meant that he was locked inside the Tower of Hate from which no man had ever returned.
A dim light flickered some distance away, and he could see the silhouetted bars of his prison. Beyond them, shadows danced, and he heard a grating sound. The bars slid aside, and the lardy goblin waddled into the chamber holding a torch.
The foul creature stood below Rogar where he hung, an idiot grin perking up the otherwise sagging jowls of its bloated face.
"The master says you are to be entertained," it croaked as it continued to smile.
"I do not desire such pleasures as Shalthidon has to offer," Rogar answered. "Be off with you. The larder has grown lonely."
"The master says you are to feel the fire," the thing chortled. The goblin lifted the torch and took a step toward Rogar.
It was enough. Rogar lashed out with his legs, hooking them around the goblin's neck. In a feat of strength that would become legend, Rogar strained against the chains on his arms, lifting the massive goblin and all its corpulence from the floor. There was a sickening crack, and the fixtures in the ceiling gave way. Rogar fell into the goblin's lardy folds, pushing away desperately until he regained his feet, ready to fight, but the goblin was already dead with a broken neck.
Fortunately, the torch had not been smothered. The warrior picked it up and held it high. There was nothing else in the cell. Aside from the chains, the torch was his only possession. Now it's the master who'll be entertained, Rogar thought, as he strode out into the passageway.
 (7 August 2007)
Rogar strode toward the great iron doors, leaving a trail of blood that was not his own. In his hand he held a scimitar and from each of his wrists the chains still hung. All of the servants of Shalthidon that lurked within the Tower of Hate were now dead, save whatever was in this room at the pinnacle of the tower. The sword he had seized from the maroon-maned goblin, who had led the goblins in the tower barracks.
The warrior pushed hard on the iron doors and they opened inward with a groan. There, surrounded by brightly colored flowers, was an elf. The sun shone down on the tower top through windows in the elegant curved ceiling. The entire room sparkled.
"Are you a prisoner here? Where is Shalthidon?" Rogar asked urgently.
The elf chuckled pleasantly. "Child, Rogar, I am Shalthidon. My parents named me Lilarilqua, but my attempts to hold the goblins under my sway with that name met with disaster. Are you cold? Let me fetch you something warm." Shalthidon fished around under a dresser and pulled out a plush cloak with lacy frills. "The material was all offered freely from the feather trees, Rogar. You don't have to worry about the animals."
Rogar was still stunned. Shalthidon, the Bringer of Ruin, murderer of his parents, lord of the evil of the creeping wastes that had engulfed half the world, was an elf. Dispelling the cloud over his mind, the warrior focused. That will only make killing him all the more satisfying, he thought. Rogar lifted his blade and advanced.
 (27th December, 2010)
There was a beast called the Strangler that lived deep in the forest. No one knew what forces woke it, but one night it scaled the walls of the dwarf fortress with its four long arms and caught the dwarf king as he was star gazing on the royal balcony. Without a moment's hesitation, the monster pitched the king over the side to meet a violent death at the base of the mountain.
At dawn's light the dwarves set out in search of the creature. Captain Aliz, who had been trusted with the safeguarding of the king's life, now sought vengeance. He lead his posse of a dozen dwarves, with twenty gray langurs leading the way. As they entered the forest Aliz pounded his chest and prayed the Forge Father for victory.
 (4th February, 2011)
At the base of an ancient tree, a langur called out. As the dwarves came rushing, swords drawn, more gray langurs scaled the tree. The strangler stirred from its den. Its four muscular arms flexed as it crawled from the knot in the tree. It blinked its three black eyes and gave out a loud hoot through its shark-like teeth.
The monkeys pounced one after another and the strangler knocked them away. They kept coming and even the four hands of the monster were not enough to swat them all. The langurs grabbed onto the monster's legs. Others mounted the strangler's head and poked its eyes as the dwarves cheered below.
Branches cracked and snapped as the strangler fell. With a mighty crunch, the monster slammed into the forest floor. As the dwarves closed in, the strangler coughed up blood, clearly dying. Aliz prodded his sword under the creature's chin.
"Who sent you?" demanded the dwarf.
"You know very well who," said the monster as it died.
 (23rd May, 2011)
It could only be Malfacto, the evil necromancer. Once Malfacto was a greedy dwarf with his eyes on the throne. Universally loathed, the wretched dwarf wandered the wilds, finding that not even the animals would tolerate him. He wasted his days away, scavenging meat like a jackal and playing with bare bones.
It was at the depths of his insanity that a vision came to him. It was an angel clothed in darkness, a spirit of some foreign religion. It beckoned to him and he came, through the jungle and to a lost temple. As he neared the temple's entrance he had to do his best to avoid stepping on the human bones that littered the ground.
The entire time he was in the temple, Malfacto couldn't shake the feeling that the ever-present skulls turned to watch him. The shade lead him to the altar at the center of the ossuary. On top was a table marked with dashes and dots, some alien language. The angel moved its hand over the markings and they became words in the dwarven tongue.
Such were the beginnings of Malfacto, and Aliz knew he had to stop him. No dark wizard would sit on the throne. He ordered the monkeys made ready. There would be more than jungle monsters to hunt tonight.
 (24th April, 2012)
The forest was creepy, dark and deep, but Aliz had far to go before he reached Malfacto's temple. The monkeys fanned out, beating the bushes and trees and howling as Aliz loaded a bolt into his crossbow. How low could a dwarf sink?, he thought. Malfacto the dark wizard. Malfacto the cannibal cultist. It would all end tonight.
Something rushed through the bushes, excited by the grey langurs. Aliz aimed his weapon. It was a rhesus macaque, the eyes of the enemy. The animal just barely dodged the bolt shooting past its left ear. Aliz hooted to his monkeys and they gave chase.
When the dwarf monkey master reached the macaque, it wasn't in good shape. Aliz came to it and grabbed it by the chin. He raised its head to him and stared into its remaining eye.
"Malfacto," said Aliz, "I know you are in there. Know you will pay for the life you took, your rightful king."
"Master?" asked the australopithecus. "Did you have the dream again?"
"The hero is near," said Malfacto, rising from his sarcophagus. "Ready the apes."
The creature ran from the room panting as the evil wizard brushed the dust from his robes. Once the champion was dead, nothing would stand between him and the crown. Slowly, he made his way to the top of the pyramid. Venomous plants snaked their way all over the stone slabs. Once at the top, he surveyed his army. Hundreds of simians of all types and descriptions jumped and howled before the temple. A homo habilis arrived with Malfacto's staff. Taking it, he spoke.
"Soon they will know to fear our power!" shouted Malfacto.
A siamang began to hoot and soon all the apes were howling and beating their chests. The jungle was alive with hatred. Aliz could hear them from almost a league away. It was clear now that the wizard must be stopped. Aliz could very well be the only dwarf standing between the fortress and oblivion.
 (13 June 2011)
Waves of arrows rained down on Aliz's machine. It was not a machine, in truth, but a suit of armor, powered by its user to great strength. Aliz himself wore the machine now, wading into the goblin ambush to check the kinks in the system. Once he returned the king would reward him handsomely and he could continue his research well-funded.
The goblins came out from behind the rocks to inspect the curiosity. The thing was the shape of a dwarf, but made of metal. It held an axe but was far from threatening because it moved so slowly. The lead goblin snatched the axe out of the dwarf's hand. As the other goblins laughed, the chief kicked the contraption on its side. Aliz wondered how he might escape alive.
 (25 December 2011)
Far below the pond grabbers in the underground seas in the depths long forgotten, a beast awoke. Scratching, itching, biting. It was the little ones again. The beast put a claw over its aching head. Didn't they remember the last time they pulled this? The beast was still trying to get the taste out of its mouth. With a turn of its tail, the monster rose from the murky water.
"Are you going to the mead hall after work?" asked Aliz.
"Nah," said Mokez, chipping off another piece of microcline, "I don't think those guys understand me anymore."
Suddenly, a crack formed in the end of the tunnel. Mokez started. It was unlike him to miss cues like this. Call it ‘female trouble,' he thought. Aliz scuttled up to see. A hole was forming before them. Quickly the dwarves rushed back up the mineshaft.
"You saw it," said Aliz.
"Re-wall," replied Mokez. "Dwarves have been here before."
"But it must have been an age ago," started Aliz. "You saw the rock…"
Crash! A huge claw shot up through the shaft and landed in between the miners. Aliz ran to call the guard, while Mokez stayed behind throwing rocks. The monster was a giant black newt with external ribs and massive claws. Mokez stared into the creature's third eye and dropped his stone. There was a connection.
 (29 December 2008)
So unsteady was the rule of the land that no one walked the halls of Castle Sanazar alone. It had become fashion for the lords to stab each other in the back, or perhaps poison each other's beer steins. Not even a squire was safe. Rumors of war spread as did the news of Sanazar's weakness. The king called an audience of all the knights of the realm. A quest was called for -- something to prove the kingdom's legitimacy.
The tables of the great hall filled with mighty knights as squires rushed back and forth filling cups. The king looked on silently through sunken eyes, having recently lost his ability to speak. He motioned his consort to stand forth to deliver his proclamation. She was a handsome woman, recently bound to the king, from a kingdom far to the north.
"The flower that is Sanazar," she said, "is wilting and sick. While we fight amongst ourselves, hungry jackals vie for their part of the carcass. What we need is a hero, and what better to prove a hero than a mighty quest! Far to the east lays Forgotten Quilts, an ancient dwarf fortress abandoned long ago. It is said that within can be found Gilded Lunch, the golden artifact boot. Return with the boot, and return a hero! Who will take the challenge?"
"I shall!" boomed a voice from the end of the hall.
Through the door came Bram, mighty barbarian warrior, a squire following behind, eyes downcast. The hall erupted into Chaos. How could this outsider be given the quest? The king's consort looked on the barbarian, heart racing. "What makes you think you are up to the task?" she said.
"May I know thy name Madame?" asked the barbarian.
"Scandala," said the consort, brushing a blond hair from her face.
"Lady Scandala," said Bram, "I have slain dragon, cyclops, and ogre. There is nothing under the sky that I fear."
That same day, Bram found himself on a horse on the road to Forgotten Quilts, his squire Dolphin on a mule trailing behind. The lords of the realm had not taken it well. Without the Mandate of the King, returning with the boot would be useless. Bram must die. No knight knew this better than Crusier, cruel black night of Petoun. That very night he left the castle with his squire, taking the fast roads to arrive on the trail before the hero.
"Help!" cried the boy, "Oh help!"
"Don't trust it Bram," said Dolphin. "I recognize that boy, a squire from the hall."
"A countryman in distress is just that," said the hero dismounting his horse and drawing his sword.
As he approached, he found the boy laughing. "Let's see how fast you can complete your quest without horses!" yelled the boy.
Bram spun around to see Crusier leap upon Dolphin and, a knife to the boy's throat, ride away on Bram's horse. The evil squire laughed until Bram turned and brought his sword across the boy's face, leaving a deep gash in his cheek. "I have marked you," said the barbarian, "for you are mine now. Lead me to your master's den. Know that if he harms a hair on Dolphin's head, there won't be enough of you left to fill your god forsaken tomb!"
 (2 March 2012)
(I donated in honor of my friend Zach J's birthday, since he is too afraid to play DF)
The dwarf fortress at Mount Hope was once the pride of the empire. Pilgrims came from every corner of Allsphere to glory in its great halls and carved pillars. But years pass, and all that shines goes dim. The empire was overthrown and monsters roamed freely through the land. Some sought shelter at Mt. Hope and were always turned away. It was this discourtesy that would spell the doom of the fortress.
"Will you let us in?" shouted the monk.
"No, sir!" laughed the dwarf from the high wall. "Find somewhere else to die."
"Why not just take the little ones?" pleaded the monk. "Even if they were vampires, they couldn't do much harm."
"Take your lying, no good carcass of my property," said the dwarf, "or I will shoot you down."
The monk was still for a moment.
"You will find," said the holy man, "that your walls don't protect you from the evils of this world. They were built to hold a greater evil inside. In time you beg to be let out."
The dwarves pelted the refugees with rocks until they fled. They did not give a single thought to the monk's warning, but they would all remember it when the time came. It was only a matter of days before the killings started. A dwarf would go missing for a week, then a body would turn up drained of blood, and that was only the beginning.
 (4 November 2007)
The young adventurer stepped up to the statue, torch in hand. After a quick inspection he grasped the stone minotaur's horn. He gave it a sharp yank and just as Albert foretold, the rock hand opened dropping the Sword of Fire into the adventurer's waiting hands. The stones in the ceiling above began to rumble, as if the temple itself was being rocked from its foundations. Throwing his cloak over his head, the young man made his way to the entrance, dodging the falling stones.
 (14 September 2010)
Fires burned on the high mountain. The wind carried the cries of the dwarves as all they ever cared about was destroyed. But one dwarf had not given in to despair. It was Malvedar, slayer of dragons and veteran of a thousand famous battles. He watched the dwarf fortress burn from his hiding place in the wooded slope. There would come a time when the enemy was not so lucky, when his schemes failed. That would be when they remember what they did to the dwarves this day and would expect no mercy.
"Lord Malvedar," said a dwarf soldier, "I think the werewolves have caught our scent."
The dwarf warlord nodded. Together, the ragged band of dwarven survivors made their way down the slope. The road back to the mountain homes was long and full of danger, but there was nowhere else left to go. While others cried, Malvedar resisted the urge to throw himself on the enemy. He would kill many, but not enough before he was brought low. No. It would be a hard time, and a long time, but he would have his satisfaction.
 (3 March 2012)
At the top of the great stone temple, the high priest vampire held a bone dagger over the victim under the light of the full moon. The evil spirit rose over the altar, changing the moonlight to a blood red hue. Another heartbeat and the victim's eyes snapped open. A scream tore the night as the final blow fell.
"If it is spring, Grandfather," said the kid, "why are the days getting colder?"
Old man Udma patted the boy on the shoulder. This could only mean one thing. Gonra had returned. Upon reaching to his hut, Udma found his hiding place and retrieved the sword Sangrak, the vampire slayer. But he could no longer wield it. If the world was to be saved, a true hero must be found.
 (14 May 2012)
“I’ll have another,” said Atho.
“You drink like a dwarf,” said the old man.
“What of it?” grunted Atho.
In the dim light of the tavern, Atho could barely see the stranger. He had been wasting his life away in dives like this for the last year or more. It seemed that years of peace meant slim business opportunities for a mercenary such as he. As he threw back his last gulp he slammed the goblet back onto the table. The color of the wine reminded him of blood.
“You look ill,” said the stranger. “You should take better care of yourself.”
“Who are you?” shouted Atho.
“Forgive me,” said the old man. “I am Udma, a master of secrets. It is no secret you are in need of work. Your skill is known to many. I would have you for myself before my neighbors seek you out.”
Atho had met his share of strange employers, but this was the weirdest by far. He was to meet Udma in the forest at midnight. There, at the shrine of Domon, he would receive his instructions. The woodland creatures grew quiet as he approached. Just ahead was the blackened shrine. Udma was there, holding a weapon in his outstretched hands.
“It is the vampire Gonra I would have you kill,” said Udma.
“Vampires are the stuff of legend,” said Atho.
“Then your task should be easy,” laughed Udma, “but I suggest you take this weapon. It is Sangrak the vampire slayer. Take it, and go to the old dwarf fortress of Firesign. It is there the fiend can be found.”
 Kaelis Ebonrai
 (22 June 2010)
The fierce warrior brushed the feathers out of his face as the battle hawk circled for another dive. He slapped the neck of his winged steed and leaned low, one hand on the reins, the other on his deadly javelins. Since the time of the first legends, Geldrix and his men had been bird riders. The ground rushed by as the hawk dove. The goblins never knew what hit them. Spears fell from the sky like rain. Talons tore and beaks pecked. Seeing the enemy commander, Geldrix took the dagger from his teeth and launched from his saddle.
The enemy general rode proud in the saddle. His dark metal armor was festooned with black roses. Geldrix tackled him off his horse with the force of a meteor. Sitting astride the evil knight, Geldrix marked the spot for the death stroke. As his knife plunged toward the knight's neck, a gauntlet seized him by the wrist. Geldrix smiled. There is still some fight in this one, he thought. He flipped back the enemy's visor and was shocked by what he saw.
Beneath him lay by far the most beautiful woman in the world. Pain shocked Geldrix's system as he suffered a blow to the lower body. He rolled to the side, his eyes shut tight in pain. He could hear the woman knight curse him as she kicked him about the neck and head. Others came, and he was bound. He opened his eyes and found himself lashed to the back of a horse. There was nowhere they could take him that the hawkmen could not find him, but would he be whole when he was found?
 (6 September 2010)
Geldrix returned to Hawkvir half a man. Something was missing. He moved like a shadow, avoiding the company of his fellow warriors. A fair lass came to him, offering a cup of wine. He knocked it away, spilling dark liquid onto the carpet of the royal hall. All went silent as the king rose from his throne. Geldrix hid his face with his cloak, staring at the king with a single maddened eye as he approached. The guards opened a door and the king ushered Geldrix outside, into a narrow passage. Once they were alone, he spoke.
"What happened to you out there?" asked the king. "What was it like to be a prisoner of the goblins?"
"I was defeated," said Geldrix, sobbing. "I can never be a hawk rider again. I did not escape, as I told the others. I was traded to the dwarves for a crate of dimple-dyed cloth."
The king looked down on the broken man that was once captain of the riders and shook his head slowly.
"Surely there is something you can live for," shouted the king. "Revenge, perhaps?"
Geldrix found it difficult to take the saddle, having spent so long on the earth. Now in the air, he watched the trails for Zona, warrior princess of the goblins. It was all her fault, he kept telling himself. He would strike her down and his manhood would be restored. His hand trembled at the reins. Memories of his time underground came flooding back. Then his eye caught something on the road below, two riders heading for the dark mountain.
 (26 September 2010)
Flying low over the road, Geldrix pulled the hood over his head. With a double flip, he launched through the air and landed before the riders. The two goblins sat upon their beak dogs glancing at each other. Geldrix drew his sword and turned his head to the side, staring out of the hood with one hateful eye. The goblins dismounted and took up their heavy iron spiked clubs. One of the goblins stepped forward.
"Show your face," it said, "so we can tell tales of which mighty hero we slew."
Geldrix's face burned with anger and shame.
"Coward?" said the mocking goblin. "Is that it?"
At last, he could take it no more. He threw back his hood, his blond curls blowing in the wind.
"Geldrix?" laughed the goblin. "You have a lot of nerve showing your face around here."
"Boo!" shouted the goblin. Overwhelmed by fear, Geldrix dropped his sword and ran. His hawk landed before him but died instantly as a crossbow bolt struck its eye. Geldrix collapsed onto the carcass, openly weeping. The goblins approached, chuckling and calling out cruel jokes. Geldrix screamed out to the heavens. He stood, ripping out two handfuls of feathers. When the goblins reached him, he threw the feathers in their faces and ran, to where the gods only knew.
Breaths came hot and stinging, his boots ankle deep in the forest swamp. Geldrix felt his extreme shame. He was not a warrior, not even a man. He was the ultimate traitor to all the hawk men, his cowardice now a thing of legend. He planted his butt in a muddy puddle and looked up to see a gremlin sitting on a high tree branch.
"Don't worry, son," said the creature. "We all have a little rabbit in us."
 (30 April 2010)
Ash rained from the sky for ten years. Few were alive that could retell the story of that dreadful day, the day the dragon came. Through the dusty haze of the burned forest, one could often see elves moving about, hopelessly searching the ground for seeds of the sacred trees. Death ruled that mirthless place, and all who dwelt there did so in mourning and at the mercy of the dragon.
It was then, ten years since the massacre, that the hero Brandish arrived. He followed the clear stream from the mountain into the ravaged valley. It was then that he stopped to fill his jug. He found the stream water had a strange taste. It was not water -- it was tears.
"What are doing in this wasted valley?" came a voice.
Brandish turn to see an elf girl, starving and covered in rags.
"I come to slay the dragon," said the hero.
 (2 March 2012)
The elf threw her head back and laughed as a man would at a fool. Brandish, angered, threw down his jug. Deep in his heart he was terrified of the little girl, for she was a tool of the dragon. He cursed himself for a coward and stepped forward. The elf looked at him with tired eyes filled hate.
"Sometimes I hope you would kill me," said the dragon through the girl's lips. "It has been a long ten years with nothing to chew on but dry bones."
"If it's death you want," said Brandish, "you shall have it."
Taken by a sudden fit of tremors, the girl moved this way and that, then collapsed into a pile of dust. After a minute, Brandish let his hand fall from the hilt of his weapon. He wondered if this whole valley was peopled only by ghosts and monsters.
Deeper into the wastes he traveled. Here were the black outlines of buildings and the ashen shadows where people and animals fell. Doubt took his heart once more. He had braved death a thousand times, but this was different. It was said that the dragon could look into your very soul. Brandish did not want to know what weakness the monster would find.
 (12th January, 2010)
Doom approached with the morning light. At any moment, Thun expected the elves to come along the high branch to his wooden cage. He had been taken while drinking with his dwarves at a fortified position along the southern front. The elves pounced on them like hungry lions and disarmed them before they could fight back. Staring through the bars of his cage at the ground so far below, Thun remembered how his friends had been taken from the cage and dragged away, lost to hope. The elves appeared before the cage bars. The door swung open and Thun struck, spraying the air with a fine red mist.
Ninzul, he called it, the Wooden Axe of Freedom. Possessed by a strange mood, Thun worked all night in the cage, carving the master-work weapon from the wood of the bars with his fingernails. With scant effort, Thun hacked his way through the elven guards. The crazed dwarf swung from tree to tree, knocking arrows out of the air with Ninzul. The elves close behind him. Something gave way, and Thun looked up to see an elf cutting away his vine. Thun let out a hoot as he plunged toward the forest floor.
"We must have him," said the elf prince, "to lose him, after what he has done, would disgrace us to the Forest Spirit."
"Yes, Prince Altera," said the elf woman.
The elf ruler called for his Jay. Two elves dragged the giant blue bird from his pen. Altera mounted the great bird. His woman, elf mistress Renere, leapt onto the saddle behind him. She held in her hands Creneri, the bow of courage. Prince Altera knew there was no hope for the dwarf but, not being the kind to leave things to chance, he called for the chipmunk men.
Soon the tree was crawling with small, hairy creatures, vaguely humanoid.
"You will tell every animal person in the kingdom to hunt for this dwarf," ordered the prince. "Every needle of the forest will turn against him."
The heart in his chest felt as though it would beat right out of him. His lungs burned like forge fire. He looked to his side to see a man in green hopping along next to him. It turned to him revealing a horribly distorted insectoid face. A grasshopper man. Thun skidded to a halt and wielded the axe over his head.
"I yield, great warrior," said insect in his clicking way. "I come, show you not all creatures follow the elf prince."
"What have you to gain from aiding my escape?" asked Thun, lowering his weapon.
"The dwarves in the south," said the grasshopper man. "If you lead them back this way, they will put an end to the elves?"
The dwarf looked down at his new green friend. "That," he said, "I promise you."
Explosions rocked the southern fortifications as the giant hawks dropped great boulders and bags of poison gas. Thun looked through a slit in the fortress wall. The elf forest was only a ballista shot away. Already the sky was traced with fiery shots from the siege engines, slamming into the trees beyond. The dwarf warlord approached the hero.
"It will take three more weeks before our fortifications are close enough to strike the heart of the forest," said the warlord. "I'm told you could put an end to this contest."
"I can lead your vanguard to the heart of the forest," said Thun.
The dwarven leader looked at the legendary axe and back at Thun. He nodded.
The air was quiet as Thun and his dwarves approached through the tall grass. The barrage had been called off to lure the elves into a false sense of security. The smell was sweet with burning wood. The ground was covered with smoldering craters where the elves had quenched the dwarven fireballs. Further inside, the grasshopper man was waiting.
Through a dry creek the dwarves marched. They held their crossbows at the ready. The grasshopper man signaled for them to stop. He pointed with one of his arms. Thun saw them at once, five elves and a jaguar man, waiting to ambush them. The dwarf did not fail to notice one of the elf women was carrying a masterpiece bow of dwarven design.
The dwarves made their way up out of the stream bed and encircled the elves. The jaguar man smelled them and tried to cry out but was silenced by a dwarven bolt. Shots fired in all directions. The elves split and fought to break away. Thun marked the elf leader's bow and ran after her. She turned and loosed an arrow at his face. He ducked just in time and looked behind to see a young sapling torn in two by the shot.
"You cannot defeat Renere," said the elf.
Thun drew back the wooden axe and flung it at the elf's head, but it smashed into the tree behind her after striking off her ear.
"My ear!" cried Renere. "You will pay for this insult."
The elf threw down the bow and yanked Ninzul out of the tree trunk. The other dwarves filed into the clearing. Thun held up his hand. The elf was his. Silently, the fighters circled. The dwarves never wanted this war, just logs for the furnaces. Now, looking at this bleeding fanatic, Thun knew that the feud could only end by final victory.
 (11 September 2007)
"Twist my arm, why don't you? You louse," Doran had complained as Bomtek continued to bother him.
"Come on, Doran! It's just a bottle of whiskey. The Baron won't miss it. When you deliver his table, just take a little something for yourself. And share it with me."
Now Doran was standing in the Baron's dining room. It already had a fine granite table at its center; the noble had just wanted an obsidian corner piece as an accent. As the dwarf set the table down, Bomtek's repeated needling suggestions still echoed in his mind. It was just one bottle. There are so many in the cabinet. The Baron won't miss just one of them.
The dwarf had to pass the cabinet on the way out. With every step toward it, he felt the whiskey within calling in his heart. Doran's face flushed hot and his stomach felt as if it were being squeezed and twisted. Maybe I'll just look, he thought. Just look and go. He reached out his hand and gently opened the cabinet's door. There was only one bottle inside. Bomtek, you fool, he thought. Yet the whiskey still beckoned him forward, and he continued to gaze on the bottle in silence as it drew him ever closer.
 (29 October 2009)
Thunder shook the crumbling shack as the old crone stirred the steaming black cauldron. Across from her sat mighty warrior Johns, resplendent in his shining armor. Behind and to the side squatted his squire, Toolsman. The metal pot began to glow. Images began to form above the bubbling stew. Fighters and monsters danced in the wispy smoke. Toolsman gasped and took Johns's arm. The knight lord drove his elbow into the squire's cheek. The warrior leaned close and questioned the shriveled hag.
"Tell me of black knight Scroder," commanded Johns, "as you promised to do."
The witch woman raised her face to stare into Johns's eyes.
"He waits for you," she said, "in the Valley of Ultimate Despair.
You shall not live to see him though, for you are already betrayed."
Toolsman looked fearfully to his master, but the crusader's eyes were ever on the crone. "It is you who betray!" shouted Johns as he seized the old woman and forced her into the pot. Black smoke billowed forth and the air was filled with wicked laughter. In the end only Johns and Toolsman remained. There was no sign of the spiritual guide.
 8 May 2012
The riders aimed their lances. It was to be a contest of skill and righteousness. The goblin's beak dog chirped and kicked, pawing up the dirt of the jousting track. Sir Benefact lifted his lance in salute of Princess Marmalade. Just then the goblin charged. Benefact had just enough time to wheel around and face his opponent.
Wood snapped as the lance found its mark. Blood shot like a fountain from Benefact's chest. He collapsed in the saddle, and fell from his horse. The goblin rode before the princess and gave his salute.
"What is your name, Sir knight?" asked Marmalade.
"Masterdad," said the goblin.
"Then, Sir Masterdad," said the princess, "you are the new champion."
 (26 January 2016)
Joyous song rose up from the midnight tavern. As sweet as the notes were, painful they were to the creature of the night. The dwarves of the fortress had no idea that the troglodyte was down there, swimming through the underground river. The monster hated happiness and was jealous of those who lived normal lives. The bards seemed to be doing their best to anger the trog. Tonight he would change their tune.
“Who's there?” asked Kogan.
The knock had come from the inner door of the fortress. There were no miners down there tonight. It was the day of the Plump Helmet Festival and all dwarves were making merry. So who could it be? Kogan picked up a spare sword just in case and opened the door.
 (28 February 2016)
“Trog in the mine!” screamed Kogan.
Before he could shout again, the troglodyte brought a thigh bone down onto Kogan's skull. The dwarf was knocked senseless. He could sense motion as a pair of dwarves dragged his body away. He tried to protest but his vision was a blur. The trog was real. He had to warn the others.
“It's alright,” said the doctor. “You took a nasty blow to the head.”
“The trog!” exclaimed Kogan. “We must kill it!”
“Time has passed, I'm afraid,” said the doctor.
“What are you talking about?” asked Kogan. “Did I miss the festival?”
“It has been some years,” said the doctor. “You have been in a deep sleep.”
 25 May 2012
"Death comes with the sun," was the call.
Goblins lined every hill and tree line. Evil impulses made their muscles pop and twitch. It had been weeks since they had any fresh flesh, longer still since they had any loot to fight over. The bigger ones imagined the things they would take. The smaller ones imagined stabbing the bigger ones in the back and taking it for themselves.
The dwarf caravan had come to a halt in Wicked Forest as one of the wagons had broken down. They hadn't the parts so Kobem ordered the wood cutters to fashion some from the local trees. As the day dragged on the dwarves began to see a night in Wicked Forest as a real possibility. They worked into the night, all the while coyotes and other spooky animals called and brayed.
"I have never been so grateful to see the sun," said Sigun.
No kidding, thought Kobem. He had been working underground, organizing this caravan for seven weeks. When he finally saw daylight he was sick for two days. Now in the predawn light, Kobem was indeed grateful. Who knows how many night creatures haunted this ill-named forest. The first rays of the sun fell across the wagons. Sigun turned, smiling at his master.
Blood splattered across Kobem's chest. Kobem froze as Sigun's body sank to the ground in slow motion. Firebrands and sling bullets landed among the dwarves. Kobem collected his wits and dove under the nearest wagon. It couldn't be kobolds. They were never this brazen. Goblins then. Their leader had guile to attack when they least expected it.
Now all Kobem needed was a crossbow. He looked out from beneath the wagon at the body of a fallen marks-dwarf still clutching his weapon in his dead hands. Kobem launched from his hiding place, racing past struggling goblins and dwarves. Almost there, Kobem was blocked by a stocky goblin in full plated armor. Angry eyes burned behind the visor.
The evil knight struck first, bringing his iron mace down onto Kobem's skull. It was a glancing blow, but messy. Kobem fell to one knee. The knight sucked in a breath and raised his weapon once more. That was when Kobem drove his fist into the fighter's lower body, smashing vital organs. Kobem grabbed him by the chest plate and slammed him to the ground. He picked up the mace and flipped the knight's visor open.
"Urist?" asked Kobem.
 (15 October 2006)
Trolls are playing dodgeball with a boulder! Who will win?!
 (20 April 2016)
He just took it. The adamantine artifact was on display in the great hall. It was the night of the Plump Helmet Festival and no one was paying attention. No one would notice if a dwarf slipped the magic knife into his pocket. That's what Kogan thought as he took the dagger by the handle and dropped it into the fold of his tunic. What he didn't count on was the infinite sharpness of the blade itself.
“What the forge?” asked Kogan as the pain struck him.
The blade cut through the fabric of his pocket and plunged down into his foot. He tried to play it off cool as the young dwarves danced all around him. He bend down during a lute solo when everyone was watching the stage and pulled the knife out of his foot. He winced and smiled a fierce smile. Now all he had to do was limp out of here without being noticed.
 Lord Herman
 (Early 2009)
The chariot roared through the battle plain, towed by two giant black, slathering rats and carrying the dread lord Sarumak, kingdom smasher and orphaner of children. The dwarves held out the pikes but Sarumak swept them aside with his cursed broadsword, Emilplec. So he reached the gates of the dwarf fortress. The dark lord stepped down from his chariot and surveyed the masterwork of architecture. The gates were tall and wide, braced from behind, and no doubt rigged with dozens of traps.
It wasn't long before the dwarves were swept from the field. Now only their citadel remained. Sarumak ordered his siege engines brought forward. As they reached the wall the dwarves dropped down fiery liquid and forced them back. The evil king was growing frustrated. He ordered his sappers to dig under the wall. It was turning into a long campaign, and his army of evil beasts wouldn't hold together long without a victory.
 (5 December 2009)
"Eat lead goblin scum!" shouted dwarf warrior Joan as he overturned a bucket of heavy metal blocks.
It would seem that terror would strike the hearts of dwarves like Joan, now trapped in their fortress tomb. This was far from the truth. Joan grew bolder the harder he was pressed. The deeper the goblins forced their way in, the more horrible their deaths would be. Joan's father had devised most of the traps in the south market burrow. A dwarf shouted in his ear and beckoned him to come off the wall.
"The goblins have dug under the wall," said the guard captain.
"That's impossible," said Joan, "The rock beneath the wall descends into the root of the mountain. It would take hundred years to breach that way."
"None the less," said the captain, "It is said that Sarumak has power over giant moles and possesses the secret of dragon fire. We have analyzed the threat, and there is a danger. We need an elite unit of dwarven commandos to sally forth, determine the nature of the enemy's plans, and put an end to them."
"You can count on me, Captain," said Joan.
"Good show," said the officer in command. "Assemble the squad before the gate at the day's last light."
Torches and campfires sprang to life in the invader's camp as the sun sank behind the mountains. The captain passed in front of a line of a dozen dwarves dressed in black, strapped with all manner of weapons. They were a mixed bunch. A few were adventurers looking for glory. Some were drunken toughs looking for a brawl. The rest were released fresh from prison, where they were promised freedom if they fought for the king. Joan stood at the end of the line, his right arm across his chest.
"My axe is yours," said Joan.
The captain looked at Joan, appraising the dwarf hero. "Keep it," he said. "You will surely need it before the night is through."
The captain signaled the catapults to begin their barrage. The raining balls of fire were just enough to distract the goblins as the gate opened just enough to let a dozen dwarven soldiers out into the night.
 (15 January 2010)
Silently the dwarves wound their way between the campfires around which danced the goblins in their orgies of bloodlust. Ahead was the grand tent of Sarumak, six-armed demon from the pit of Thamusula. Two trolls guarded the entrance. Joan looked to his dwarf Hogan, a professional soldier, just let out of prison for failing to meet a noble's mandate. Summoning him closer, Joan whispered his plan into the warrior's ear. Hogan stared into his leader's eyes and blinked once. They both understood the seriousness of the situation.
Hogan had been born the tallest of eight dwarven children. Freakish in size, he was shunned by the others and spent all his spare hours in the barracks, smashing sparring dummies. Now he stepped in front of the enemy's headquarters. Two giant furry trolls stared down at him. Hogan threw down his helmet and shouted at the top of his lungs.
"Where is that coward Sarumak?" he said. "Dare he come forth and face a true opponent!"
A huge black head appeared through the opening in the tent. Its nostrils snorted fire. Hogan's jaw went slack and he ran for his life. The huge six-armed demon ran after him and the trolls ran close behinds.
 (23 April 2010)
The dwarven commandos watched as the demon ran after the intruder, the two troll guards following soon after. Joan ordered the dwarves into the tent. Inside, the ceiling was hung with all manner of bones and rotting meat. Joan stared at a pyramid of severed heads and wondered if he had known any of them. A commando took him by the arm and pointed to the table at the center of the tent. On it were Sarumak's battle plans!
"Master Joan," said a scruffy looking commando, "what do we do with this?" In the dirty ex-prisoner's hands lay Emilplec, the infamous broadsword of the demon prince.
Smiling Joan snatched up the blade. He was sure to be named Champion now. With a great sweep of his arm, Joan gathered up the battle plans and led the dwarves on a mad dash out of the tent. All around, goblins cried out in alarm. Halfway on the slope, a runner joined them. It was Hogan.
"How did you fare? Where is Sarumak?" asked Joan.
Hogan breathed hard and said, "Not far behind Sir! The mission, did we succeed?"
Joan held up the sword and smiled. Hogan looked at him, questioning.
Stones fell from the ceiling of the great hall as the enemy bombardment pounded on. It had been a relentless barrage ever since the commandos returned. The dwarf king stared out into the empty room, deserted save for the commandos and their captain. The old king lifted his heavily lidded eyes and spoke.
"You have news, Captain Willard?" said the king.
"We have raided the enemy camp," said the captain.
The king raised an eyebrow. "What have you brought me?" he asked.
Joan stepped forward and threw down the blade.
"We have captured Emilplec, hated sword of the enemy!" he shouted.
"Fool!" yelled the king. "Now he will never loosen his grip on our fortress!"
 (16 September 2010)
Joan hung his head, deeply shamed. He wanted nothing more than to sink into the cracks of the mountain, never to be remembered. He had dealt the enemy a blow so humiliating now there was no chance of peace. A dwarf at his side rose to his feet and stepped before the king. The rest of the commandos watched in wonder. It was tall Hogan.
"It matters not what we do," shouted the dwarf. "Sarumak will come for us all the same."
"Who is this dwarf?" asked the king.
"Hogan Longstride," said Captain Willard from his place at the king's side, "a common criminal. I shall cut him down, should you wish it."
"No," said the king. "We will hear what this young dwarf has to say."
Hogan took a breath and fell to his knee, holding the dread sword Emilplec out before him.
"To stay behind these walls is to die," said Hogan. "Sarumak would have us driven into the Underworld, living like goblins in the grimy dark. We must attack! Drive this sword into the demon's black heart."
"Joan?" asked the king. "Do you plan to lead this attack?"
It was certain death and Joan knew it. He had seen the enemy horde up close and there was no way to win, but with the help of this fearless dwarf, he now had a way to restore his honor. Grinding his teeth, he took the sword from Hogan and stood before the throne.
"I will strike the demon dead."
Great rocks and balls of flaming matter passed each other in the sky, arching down and smashing tall towers and the siege works below. No one even noticed when the commandos emerged from the front gate. Joan looked up to see Sarumak atop one of his siege towers, directing the barrage. The dwarves fought their way to the tower, cutting through a host of unsuspecting goblins and trolls. One by one, the dwarves were struck down. When they reached the tower, only Joan and Hogan remained. The tall dwarf held off a dozen enemies while Joan climbed the wooden structure.
"Burn them!" screamed Sarumak. "Burn them all!"
The demon turned to see a dwarf behind him, holding a long curved sword.
"That is mine!" cried the demon. "Give it to me!"
With a flick of the wrist, Joan brought the sword down onto the wrist of an outstretched hand, lobbing it off in a bloody arch. But the demon had five more and was said to be devious. This proved not to be the case. In his bloody rage, Sarumak threw himself onto the outstretched sword. Joan tore the blade from Sarumak's stomach and severed the demon's head.
The tower began to shift and rock. Below, the magic creatures disappeared in clouds of dust and bursts of flame. As Joan tried to lower himself down the side of the tower, the headless body of Sarumak grabbed him by the wrist. Joan lifted the demon sword, but it became glowing hot. As he dropped it, the sword disintegrated in a spark of flame. The claw released him, and Joan found himself plunging through the air.
Hogan caught the hero as he fell. Together they made their way through the army of fleeing goblins, back to the fortress gate. There they were met by much fanfare. The war was over. Joan was indeed crowned champion, and Hogan became Captain of the Guard, replacing Willard, now recently retired.
 (24 December 2010)
Ganagus ran as fast as he could, turning this way and that to throw off the posse of dwarves tailing him. He was close to the kobold nest, and if he didn't stop them now, he would bring the dwarves right to it. Looking down the trail, he could see the dwarves coming, their blood hounds leading the way. Ganagus looked up into the canopy to see if the old trap was set and hid behind a tree.
"She's got him now!" said a dwarf. "Looks like a whole mess of them. They'll be sorry they ever stole from fortress Heartwears!"
The kobold chopped through the rope with his short sword. A hive of bees fell from the sky, crashing amongst the dwarves. Ganagus leapt out from behind the tree and began to chatter and cackle with glee. One of the meaner dwarves saw him and charged out of the chaos, brandishing an axe.
"Bacabadabis," said Ganagus as he turned and fled, a wide grin across his fangs.
 (5 February 2012)
That night, when the beaten dwarves returned to the fortress, the king pronounced his doom. The forest would be burned and every living thing in it would die. Someone brought up the elves, but the dwarves laughed him down. The magma pumps were made ready just in time for dawn.
When the sun rose that day, it was not the only thing bringing warmth to the world. Rivers of molten rock poured down either side of Heartwears Fortress. Birds and animals ran, squawked and flew as the fire spread through the forest.
Ganagus howled as the flames came closer to his home. Some of the kobolds ran, others sought shelter in the nest. The nest, and all its lovely dwarven toys. There was no time. Ganagus gathered what kobolds would follow and ran to the lake they called Bagadagus.
Floating in the center of the lake with two of his friends, Ganagus was surrounded by a ring of fire. It was possible other kobolds made it out, but not likely. He thought of all that was lost and grew angry. The dwarves think they can hoard all those lovely things from us. They will be made to give all.
"What happened here?" asked the dwarven sheriff.
The two dwarves stood in an ashen field, burnt tree trunks standing all around. At their feet was a body, hardly recognizable as a dwarf. It had been bitten and stung a thousand times.
 (22 April 2013)
The kobold looked over the smoking pit that once was home. Everyone Ganagus had loved or cared for was dead. Those that didn’t perish in the nest were picked off by dwarven sharpshooters in the days following the great fire. All that was left was Ganagus and his incomprehensible oath of vengeance.
“Isn’t that my old end table?” asked Brutus.
The fat dwarf slipped off his pony and made his way through the burnt tree trunks to the metal table, half covered in ash. Sheriff Constaban called out, but it was too late. With a shriek, the dwarf disappeared.
Quickly loading their weapons, Sheriff Constaban and the other marks-dwarves cautiously made their way toward the shining piece of furniture. They could still hear Brutus from the pit some ways ahead. He screamed, sucked in a few breaths and screamed again. When the first dwarf reached the lip of the pit, an arrow flew out of nowhere and struck a marks-dwarf in the neck.
“Sniper!” shouted Constaban.
 (2 January 2014)
It was the end of the year and the Plump Helmet Festival was in full swing. Even in a war-ravaged fortress like Heartwears, the young gathered, dressed in their finest. For some, it would be a new dawn as they came into adulthood and were married off in a way to appease the families of each young adult. For others it was just another long night drinking or playing tacticus in a side chamber somewhere below.
Sheriff Constaban climbed the many steps of the watch tower and looked out over the wasted landscape. There was still some green poking up from the frozen lava field. It looked quiet, but Constaban knew better. A dwarf couldn't take more than five steps without catching a chest full of arrows from kobolds or cannibal elves.
“It's down there,” said the guards-dwarf. “At the gate.”
“Then why haven't you killed it?” asked Constaban.
“I don't think its armed,” said the guard, pointing with his crossbow.
The gate swung open and Constaban emerged, flanked by castle guards and covered from above by a squad of elite marks-dwarves. The kobold looked incredibly small and pathetic in the face of certain death. It was holding something in its hands which it placed at Constaban's feet as the dwarf approached. The sheriff bent and retrieved the package.
“Where did you get this?” asked the sheriff.
The kobold responded with the typical indecipherable chatter, but the meaning was clear. Constaban held in his hands the crown of Spearspark, the lost fortress of old. The war was over. The dwarves cheered for joy. But there was something more. If the kobolds had found the ancient fortress, they knew the location of the adamantine mother-lode.
 (19 July 2014)
The only dwarf that trusted the kobold was Constaban, so it was no surprise when he was made expedition leader. The dwarves meant to reclaim the ancient fortress Spearspark, the last known mine to bear adamantine. Constaban picked six of the heartiest dwarves to go with him.
First among them was the miner woman, Ashke. If anyone could find adamantine, it was her. Next were the battling brothers, Kogan and Aliz, who had never lost a fight. Sasno was a master of tacticus and probably the smartest dwarf Constaban knew. The last two adventures were more domestic. Kiloc was a master carpenter and chef, while Olek was a master brewer. Behind the wagon was a train of hill dwarf bearers.
The reclaim caravan was so large that they were not bothered by bandits or vengeful elves. Ganagus was made to run ahead of the wagon on a leash. Constaban knew the kobold was leading them into a trap, but the promise of adamantine was too good to pass up. The expedition leader trusted in his strength of arms. Along with the six fortress heroes, he had a small legion of battle hardened hill dwarves.
"That has to be it," said Ashke.
"Yes," said Constaban. "I think you are right."
The reached the mountain on the dawn of the third day. The rays of the morning sun were shining on the mountainside. At the base of the cliff was a jumble rocks. Ganagus pointed to the boulders and chirped excitedly. Constaban ordered the hill dwarves to roll the stones to the side.
A smelly blast of air rushed out of the cavern as if the mountain had been holding its breath. Constaban called for volunteers and then picked two of the hill dwarves to enter the cave. Who knew what kind of night creature could have made the abandoned mine their home?
The kobold, Ganagus, watched as the dwarven soldiers entered the cave. Ten years previously, Ganagus himself had broken into the ruin and stolen the golden crown. The horrors he saw there were worse than any kobold had language to describe. With any luck, all the dwarves would die horribly.
 (8 May 2015)
“I'm not afraid,” said Kogan as they passed into the deeper darkness of the cave.
“Sure, my brother,” said Aliz, “sure!”
“Quiet, you two,” said Ashke.
They broke out of the tunnel onto a scene of absolute horror. The grand entrance hall was filled with the bones of sentient creatures. Skeletons of dwarves, elves, and other people where piled from wall to wall. The only comfort was that the corpses appeared to be very old. The bones where crumbling and the armor they wore was old and rusted. Whatever killed them seemed to have moved on, or maybe it was still there, slumbering.
“Which way to the mine?” asked Constaban
“This way,” said Ashke, “carefully.”
Barely able to contain himself, Ganagus fidgeted and muttered to himself. Constaban thought about having him killed. Then he noticed the wine barrels. They were in the old Spearspark tavern! This place had been a center for the arts that outshone nearly every other fortress. Kogan picked up a cup from the floor and poured himself a drink.
“It's still good,” proclaimed Kogan, “after all these years!”