ASCII art reward/M-S
|ASCII Art Rewards (alphabetically by contributor)|
|A – F||G – L||M – S||T – Z|
 Rognar:(11 November 2007)
The sword slid through the goblin's throat and the dying creature fell to the ground sputtering. Rognar had been born into a world of violence, and he would not share it with these stinking beasts. Striding upon their unnumbered broken bodies, the warrior reached the summit of the corpse mound and surveyed the carnage. The siege had been broken. Here and there, a wimpering slave of darkness put up resistance or simply clung to life, but soon they would all be vanquished and the sun would bring a glorious dawn to the blood-red battlefield. Rognar smiled. It was a great day to be a dwarf.
 Neandar Begin:(3 July 2008)
He would never let the fiend escape again. That was what Neandar the dwarf thought before he flung himself into the black air of the chasm after the skulking kobold thief. For many seconds they fell, time enough for Neandar to recall his short life and short career on the Fortress Guard. Wet matter slammed into the dwarf's face and gave way. The dwarf smashed through a dozen giant spider webs and hit the ground running, hot on the trail of the kobold scum.
A huge standing ring of fire dominated the floor of the chasm. The kobold made for the hell portal with all speed. Neandar stopped in his tracks. It was one thing to plunge to certain death in order to retrieve a granite puzzle box. It was quite another to cast oneself into a dimension of ultimate evil. Yet these kobold cowards could not be allowed to run about as they pleased. Lifting his axe over his head, the dwarf charged into the portal of doom.
 (30 November 2015)
Shouts could be heard further down the mine tunnel. None of the dwarves figured they had too much longer to live. The rules had been broken and the miners had begun to harvest adamantine from the forbidden ore vein. At first it appeared that everything would be okay. The magic ore fell away from the tunnel wall leaving a black hole beyond. It didn't seem like a large enough portal for a demon to get through, but the miners weren't as well versed in demonology as Kogan was.
“We have to get out of here,” said Kogan. “Now.”
The assistant scribe rolled up all the scrolls he could carry as Kogan barked orders. The dwarves could smell smoke and the sounds of chaos were growing closer. Together, Kogan and the scribe made their way out of the library and through the twisting corridors of the fortress. As they watched the other dwarves rush by they knew there was no telling who would survive.
-Tarn and Zach
 (5 May 2008)
The three chosen warriors left the Citadel of Hope, strapped on with all manner of magic weapons that the Council of Elders had presented them. Shizenbubin was the tracker of the group, always hot on the trail of danger. Shizentubin was her sister, skilled in the ways of the blade so that no enemy neck was safe. Azoul Buck was the leader. She ran her fingers through her short blond hair, her muscular arm flexing, covered with the crude tattoos of her tribe.
This would be a short quest indeed. A party of goblins had ambushed the prince on his way to the castle. All the heroes need do is return him unspoiled. It would be easy to intercept them then on their way to the Black Fortress, given Shizenbubin's incredible skill. However, time was not on their side. Goblins grew bored easily and might make sport of the prince's bodily members. Azoul set the pace, a quick trot through the woods. She smiled at the easily-won glory that awaited her squad at the end of the journey.
 (13 January 2010)
A knock came at the mead hall gate. A powerful blow, nearly tearing the doors from their hinges. King Wrathbeard drew his sword and strode to the entrance, flanked by his elite warriors. He nodded to his men and they unbarred the door. The doors swung open, revealing the enormous, heavily-muscled body of Grum, half-giant, lord of the hills.
"Where are my chickens?" growled Grum. "You are to offer me four fried chickens on every Tuesday! Friday it is!"
Wrathbeard stroked his whiskers. "What have you done for me lately, Grum?" asked the king. "Goblins still haunt the highways. Jackal men still harass my herds."
Grum left the hall in confusion, sure he had been tricked. Back on his hill, Grum watched as a carriage was stopped by goblin bandits and the nobles stripped of their valuables. Feeling his stomach rumbling, Grum stood and ran toward the highway.
"Where is the rest of the gold!" yelled the goblin.
The nobles coward, fearing for their lives. The goblin raised his whip, better to lash them again. A huge hand caught him by the wrist. Grum tossed the goblin into the air. The nobles screamed. The half-giant scowled.
"I will have my chickens," he said, "whether you live or die."
 (12 May 2007)
"That ought to keep 'em out," Doran said confidently, patting the granite block which he had just slid into place. Ever since the Baron had insisted on mining out the gold vein in the wall, Doran had been dealing with the rats. It couldn't be helped. Gold was gold after all, but it was just Doran's luck that the miners had broken through to a large chasm not far from the craftsdwarf's room.
The dwarf laid down on his bed and began to think about the next project. A puzzlebox, perhaps, something challenging. Just as Doran was drifting off into dreams of the design, he heard a scratching on the block.
"Ha! Keep trying you little demons," the dwarf chuckled. The scratching continued. It was irritating, but the dwarf could block it out. Then there was a grating scrape as the block moved an inch. The dwarf sat up and stared at the wall in amazement. Impossible, he thought.
The block slid forward further. Small, clawed fingers worked their way around the stone until a gray, furry hand grasped one corner of the block. The stone turned slightly.
Doran seized his chisel from the nearby table and leapt toward the block, stabbing downward. The tool grazed the hand, leaving a spatter of blood on the stone. There was a shriek, and the bleeding hand disappeared into the dark crack.
The craftsdwarf pushed the block back into place and backed away, chisel in hand. After a moment, the scratching began anew.
 (07 Jun 2007)
"Leave me be, you fiend!" Doran yelled, his chisel held toward the stone block. The scratching became louder and more persistent.
Once again, the block moved, but this time no fingers poked through the crack. The beast had learned. The slab of granite was being pushed directly from behind, and it glided slowly toward Doran. The dwarf backed toward his bed.
The block stopped sliding. There was now enough space to allow something to pass through the hole in the wall, but the block was large and Doran could not see behind it. For a long moment, nothing stirred. The craftsdwarf knelt and opened the chest by the foot of his bed, muttering.
At once, a creature leapt from behind the block and faced Doran. It was a ratman, ravening, its long yellow incisors surrounded by froth, its patchy-furred flesh stretched tight over its starved body. The thing hungered and would have Doran for its meal.
The dwarf stood, a vial in his hand. The ratman lunged forward and Doran hurled the vial at the beast's face. The glass shattered, and the creature clutched its black protruding eyes as they steamed. Doran rushed forward and stabbed the ratman repeatedly with the chisel until it stopped moving.
"Pity about that. I was going to ask Mul to do some etchings for me."
 (15 Jul 2007)
"Yes, I'm sorry, Mul, it would have been a thrilling project," Doran said, pausing to take another swig of whiskey. "I can't believe how much trouble we've been having with ratmen lately."
"Perhaps there's a larger beast down in the chasm riling them up," Mul replied. "Kogan's child was taken not long ago."
"Yes, surely something unusual is afoot."
Meanwhile, Kogan stood with his axe by the chasm bridge. Ever since the boy Aliz had been lost, the soldier had tirelessly patrolled the walkways along the deepest parts of the rift, killing dozens of ratmen and a few large spiders. He would not be satisfied until the depths were devoid of life.
A foul wind blew up from the chasm. Kogan leaned to the side and peered down over the edge of the bridge. The impact was sudden and the dwarf was knocked on his back in the middle of the bridge. Kogan heard the sound of stone being scraped without respect, and he.found himself staring into the rotten eyes of a giant decaying reptile.
 (June 2011)
"I am innocent of these crimes!" cried Fuglin as he was dragged away. Sitting in the dungeon cell, he could recall the cheers of the dwarves as the judge pronounced the verdict. It wasn't fair. The adamantine wasn't his. He was just holding it for somebody. Now in prison, he was left to rot. A guard stopped by his cell and poured a cup of gruel on the cold stone floor. Anger and despair were all he felt now. From now on he dared not hope.
It had begun as such a small thing. Fuglin and the goblin had known each other since the construction of the fortress. Fuglin was young then.
One day Fuglin visited the goblin, this time locked in the stockade.
"You know the path through the stone?" said the goblin. "The one we built as children? You must go there and bring me what you find. It is the key to my release."
 (July 2011)
The space was not built for more than a child, a narrow, twisting tunnel winding its way through the foundations of the fortress. At the bottom, Fuglin saw a light, a silvery glowing rock at the end of the tunnel. This must be it, thought Fuglin, a bribe to set the goblin free. Hastily, Fuglin took up his pick and chiseled off a piece of the silver metal.
Something lay beyond the tunnel. A hole the size of a dwarf's fist opened where Fuglin struck. He could hear a strange howling within, no doubt another subterranean jungle. The dwarf didn't stay to find out. He squirmed as fast as he could, finally reaching the exit where he found the goblin, free from his bonds.
"You survived," said the goblin. "Keep the adamantine as a token of our friendship."
"Wait!" cried Fuglin, but the goblin had disappeared.
 (October 2011)
What happened next was hard to say. There was a lot of smoke and fire. Dwarves ran screaming through the fortress. Captains shouted orders to soldiers they could not see through the clouds of burning vapor. Fuglin was scared beyond reason. He tried to follow the others, ducking when the monsters swooped down.
It seemed it would never end, then Fuglin came rolling out of the fortress gate just as another fire blast rocketed overhead. As it was, the demons could not, or would not set foot outside the fortress. What few dwarves that were left gathered at the hills below. Fuglin recognized a blacksmith which with he had apprenticed. Before he could speak the blacksmith pointed his finger.
"He is the one!" the dwarf cried. "Look! He still has the rock in his paw!"
Fuglin looked down, having until now forgotten the adamantine in his hand.
 (July 2014)
"You have a visitor," said the prison guard.
It was the goblin, dressed in a dark cloak. Fuglin had blamed his fate on the goblin, but now that he saw him it all seemed so pointless. In the morning, he would go to the hammerer to be forged anew. Fuglin began to wonder why the goblin showed up at all if not to gloat at his handiwork.
"Take this glass pill," said the goblin, holding out his hand, "and bite down with your teeth. Death will come swiftly."
The goblin dropped the pill into Fuglin's open hand. The fluid in the green glass capsule looked black and foreboding. Still, it beat a humiliating public execution. The goblin turned and left without saying another word. Fuglin put the pill in his mouth and bit down hard. A moment's dizziness was all he had time to experience.
"Where am I?" asked Fuglin.
"Quiet," said the goblin. "We are in the catacombs. The dwarves believe you committed suicide."
"But I did commit suicide," mumbled Fuglin.
"You can take that up with your deity later," said the goblin. "For now we must get you out of these funeral shrouds and escape before we are discovered."
 (October 2015)
Why had he been rescued? Fuglin was a traitor and had to be forged anew, but to do that, he had to die. The goblin held his hand as they exited the tomb. There was a family of dwarves mourning just outside. As they passed, the goblin held Fuglin close, pretending to be lovers lost in grief. It worked this time, but in order to start a new life, they needed Fuglin to exchange his sackcloth for real clothes. The goblin led Fuglin through a maze of corridors to the fortress market.
“You look like a scribe to me,” said the goblin.
“Like those creeps that spend their whole lives in the library?” complained Fuglin.
“Forget your old life,” said the goblin. “That is what it means to serve in the Order of Nadir.”
 (November 2015)
Writing prose under the pen name Robinor, Fuglin began his new life as a scribe. Life was different out in the periphery. The monastery where the scribe worked was built into a hillside deep in the Forbidden Forest. Not many people would risk a journey there, but Robinor's works ended up being so skillful and filled with such beauty that he gained the one thing he could no longer afford, fame.
None of the brothers spoke to Robinor as they had all taken vows of silence, but the dwarf could still tell that they were pretty mad about all the visitors they had been attracting lately. Robinor greeted his fans with the humility one would expect from a monk, but it was easy to tell that the dwarf was succumbing to the sin of pride.
One day, Robinor was praying in the shrine to Nadir when a bird landed on the creepy statue of the god of the depths. It was a parrot, out of place in the cold northern climate. Robinor stood on his feet and walked over to the statue.
“Pretty bird,” said Robinor. “Pretty bird.”
“You are all going to die,” said the parrot.
 (December 2015)
“What?” asked Robinor, stupidly to the bird.
“Fuglin,” said the parrot.
The monk's face went white as a sheet. Someone had taught the parrot to speak these words, someone connected to his old life. The scribe, Robinor, had thought he had left all of that behind. Occasionally a dwarven survivor from Robinor's old fortress would appear at the monastery, but they never recognized him. This was something far more sinister. It had to be the goblin.
“You have a visitor,” croaked a monk.
“Your holy vow?” asked Robinor, panicking.
“See for yourself,” said the monk. “Then you will understand.”
It could only be one person, the phantom from the past. The goblin stood at the entrance of the building, the parrot on his shoulder. He smiled at Robinor as he approached.
“Fuglin!” said the goblin. “It's been a long time, my friend.”
“I am no longer that person,” said Robinor. “I have a new life here.”
“You have the life I gave you,” said the goblin, the smile fading from his lips.
 (January 2016)
“The king has grown attached to the writings of this 'Robinor,'” said the goblin. “This puts you, Fuglin, in the unique position to get close to him. You remember this?”
The glass pill was unmistakable. The black fluid danced inside as the goblin shook it in Fuglin's face. It was the ill-fated dwarf's job to poison the king in any way he could. When Fuglin went to retrieve his writing material, the goblin took him by the arm and removed him forcibly from the building. He would not be needing any of that stuff where he was going. Fuglin fell silent as he boarded the wagon that the goblin drove with its team of mules.
On the way to the capital many travelers stopped the wagon to ask if the dwarven monk was indeed the famous Robinor. The dwarf writer allowed himself to forget the evil quest he was on. Word spread quickly of the scribe's journey to see the king.
“You better do what you're told,” warned the goblin.
 (February 2016)
“Robinor,” exclaimed the king, “it is a great honor!”
“It is all too much,” said Robinor, fumbling with the deadly pill in his pocket.
The king clasped the monk's hand and pulled him into his private chambers. The goblin watched ominously as the door closed, sealing the two dwarves inside. Waiting patiently, the goblin eyed the royal guards which flanked the doorway. There wasn't a lot of room to move if this went badly. Just then, the door swung open.
“The king!” cried Robinor. “The king is dead!”
Drawing their weapons, one guard went inside while the other guard arrested Robinor and the goblin. The king had apparently collapsed on the floor. There was a black smear on his lips. The guards took the monk and goblin down to the dungeon to await their fate. When they were separated, the goblin didn't say a word. Robinor didn't know which was worse, to be executed for destroying the fortress, or for regicide.
 (March 2016)
“It was all the goblin's doing,” cried Fuglin to the lead investigator. “Where is the king's body?”
“Tell me more about this goblin,” said the detective. “How long have you known him?”
“We grew up together,” said Fuglin. “He was always getting me in trouble. Where is the king? There still might be time to save him.”
“You are telling me that the great Robinor is actually the famous traitor, Fuglin the Feckless?” asked the detective.
“That's me! I'll admit to all my crimes,” said Fuglin, “but for forge's sake, just take me to the king's body before it's too late.”
“The king was cremated this morning,” said the detective.
The familiar sinking sensation took hold as Fuglin struggled to accept his situation. The detective collected his scrolls and left Fuglin alone in the holding cell. Fuglin reached into his mouth and pulled out the green glass pill. There was still enough poison for one last dose. He wondered if anyone would be there to wake him this time.
 (April 2016)
It was cold and dark in the catacombs. Fuglin was shocked that the dwarves had fallen for the same old trick, or was the joke on him this time? The goblin wasn't here to guide him out of the dark tunnels and Fuglin was buried alive. He slid out of the alcove and shed his funeral shroud. It was dark and creepy and Fuglin could sense the dead bodies all around him in various states of decay.
“I am not Fuglin,” said the wretched dwarf. “I am Robinor.”
“You mean the famous poet?” said a voice in the dark.
“The same,” said Robinor after a moment's terror. “Tell me, are you not dead?”
“As dead as the writer who took his own life, twice!” said the ghoulish stranger.
“How is it that you live down here?” asked Robinor.
“I will show you,” said the ghoul.
It was difficult to make out the monster in the dark. It looked basically like a dwarf, but stooped and sickly. Robinor followed him to a grave where the family had left gifts as an offering to the dead. The ghoul took some of the morsels of food and shared them with Robinor.
“A good haul this time,” said the ghoul.
 (May 2016)
This was not the fate Fuglin would have chosen for himself. He lived for weeks as a ghoul in the darkness of the catacombs, all the while wishing he could write about his adventures as Robinor. In time, a custodian came to dust off the bodies and Fuglin was lurking nearby. It was the goblin! Fuglin picked up the femur of a decomposing skeleton. When the goblin approached, Fuglin lifted up the bone and prepared for the killer blow.
“I know you are here,” said the goblin.
Stopped in his tracks, Fuglin lowered the bone. He wanted revenge, but more than that, he wanted a way out. The goblin explained to Fuglin how the king's evil adviser had put his own son on the throne and ordered the mass executions of the king's supporters. If Fuglin left now, he could easily escape in the confusion.
Crowds of angry dwarves moved up and down the corridors with torches in their hands. None seemed to notice the humble beggar and his goblin friend. When they reached the fortress gate, they found it closed.
“No one is allowed in or out without doing obedience to the rightful king,” said the gate guard.
“Which king is the righteous one?” whispered Fuglin.
 (June 2016)
“Prince Phlega is the new king,” whispered the goblin.
“All hail King Phlega!” shouted Robinor.
Once they were outside the gate, things became strange. There was a reddish mist all around, and the trees were dark and foreboding. It was said that the land and the king were one. If so, this Phlega could be counted among the most wicked to ever sit on the throne. Robinor remembered the stories of how the prince used to torture his servants as if they were the animals he constantly abused. Now his evil had begun to pollute the natural world.
“We have to stop this,” said Robinor.
“I have saved your life twice now,” said the goblin. “Where is your sense of loyalty?”
“The sky itself is bleeding,” cried Robinor. “How bad are things going to get before you are satisfied?”
 (July 2016)
“You and I serve the same master,” said the goblin. “It is K'ung, the outer darkness, the chaos without end that existed before light and life.”
“It cannot be,” said Fuglin. “I renounce this evil!”
A lighting bolt struck nearby and Fuglin was temporarily deafened. The goblin was trying to say something but Fuglin couldn't make it out. The red clouds above began to swirl. It seemed like the tales of old and the Nightmare Apocalypse. Nowhere was safe as the gods abandoned their sinful creation. Fuglin knew what he had to do. He trudged back toward the castle through a torrent of blood.
“No more petitioners,” said the guard at the gate.
“Can't you see?” asked Fuglin. “The world is about to end!”
The dwarf looked like he had been rolling in filth. No one was sure where he had come from. The petitioners said he just walked out of the woods like that. The guard decided to turn him away, rather that having to deal with the smell while arresting him.
“You are making a big mistake,” cried Fuglin.
 (August 2016)
“You are cute,” said the goblin, “trying to save the world after all you have done to turn it out to the Master.”
Standing in the puddle of blood rain, soaked with filth and gore, Fuglin didn't really have an answer for the goblin. All he knew was that he had to do something. The goblin looked so smug, standing there in his fancy cloak. He was probably pleased with his creation, the monster, Fuglin. The dwarf nearly forgot the femur that he held tightly in his fist. The goblin laughed, revealing a shining gold tooth. That was enough for Fuglin.
“This has nothing to do with K'ung or the kingdom or anything!” shouted Fuglin. “You invented Robinor so you could get rich, and now you back King Phlega so you can be counted among the high and mighty!”
“Fuglin,” said the goblin, “how many times have I saved your life over the years? You owe me.”
“I'll show you what I owe you,” growled Fuglin.
 (September 2016)
It was over in an instant. Fuglin had only hit him once, but that was enough. The dwarf knelt down and tried to wake the goblin, but he wasn't breathing. It was the ultimate sin: to betray one's benefactor. Though, as many times as the goblin had got Fuglin out a jam, he had usually been the one responsible for the mess in the first place. Now he was dead. Fuglin had no idea what to do now. He looked into the broiling sky and its many open portals to K'ung. Maybe it was time to rejoin the endless chaos.
“Robinor!” cried a woman's voice.
“Yes?” asked Fuglin.
The young lady didn't look too much better off than Fuglin, but these days no one did. She wore a man's tunic, covered in blood spatter. Fuglin dropped the broken bone when he saw her staring at it.
“Did you kill him?” asked the woman.
“He was a bad person,” explained Fuglin.
“Of course,” said the woman. “My name is Rose. You should come with me.”
 (October 2016)
There was a carriage waiting on the highway just out of town. Fuglin followed the stranger, Rose, as she boarded the covered carriage. The poor dwarf was glad to be out of the gory rain. It seemed a shame to ruin the plush interior of the carriage, but Fuglin was far from complaining. He looked back out the window. The goblin's body was just around the corner. Fuglin thought he would probably be reincarnated as a slug for his crimes.
“There are some friends down the road a ways,” said Rose. “They would be glad to met the famous poet, Robinor.”
“And the murderous traitor, Fuglin,” said the dwarf, “would they be glad to see him?”
“The time has come for you to make a choice,” said Rose. “Will you serve the light, or the darkness of K'ung?”
There was a stone chapel up ahead. They were far enough from the capital that the powers of K'ung gave way to sunshine. Rose offered Fuglin a fresh robe and he changed while Rose walked up to the chapel door. He stood by the carriage as Rose returned with a crowd of surly looking fighters.
“Tell us, oh Robinor,” said Rose. “How can this evil be undone?”
 (November 2009)
Dwarves hurled boulders down on the invaders as they advanced by ladder. Sharkra smiled, for this meant they had run out of ammunition for their war machines. She dodged out of the way as a human invader plunged down past her to a rocky doom. Sharkra grimaced. Machines or not, these dwarves would fight the death to save their blasted mountain. At last she reached the battlements.
Battle master Sharkra was an evil genius of combat. It was rumored she had sacrificed everything she loved for riches and lost it all gambling the same night. Her very aura smelled of the underworld. Now she soldiered for anyone who would pay her. Pay her and her elite troop of mercenaries, the Unholy Band. This time is was rat-lord Gomra that hired her.
Sharkra pulled herself onto the fortress wall. Members of the Unholy Band leapt over the battlements, light on their feet. Together they advanced on the dwarves. Sharkra wielded a giant mace, while the Band pulled rapiers from polished sheaths.
“We have you,” said Sharkra. “Throw down your weapons and die quickly.”
Something sailed through the air and struck Sharkra in the face, a glass flask filled with fuming liquid. The glass shattered sending pain coursing through the evil woman’s body. She put her hand to her face and it came back covered in slime. She straightened up and looked around. The Unholy Band was laughing at her. Sadly, this wasn’t the first time.
“What are you standing around for?” screeched Sharkra. “Kill them.”
The vain and evil Sharkra pulled a mirror from her pack which she carried at all times. Her face was never much to begin with, but now it was utterly ruined. Gomra, thought Sharkra, it is all his fault. The warrior woman whistled and the Unholy Band followed her as she retreated from the fortress.
“It is said,” intoned dwarf captain Duzelm, “that evil shall always turn upon itself.”
“What is your plan master?” asked Bally, the dwarven squire.
“We shall follow this villain back to Lord Gomra,” said Duzelm “and catch all the rats in the same trap. Go to the humans in Gelthtown, they have the quick steeds we require.”
Before the day was through, the men of Gelthtown had assembled the horses, along with master rider Jorna. She was blond and lean, draped in the leathers of a Gelthtown tracker. The dwarves climbed onto the horses and strapped themselves in.
“Are you sure you can keep up with the Unholy Band?” asked Captain Duzelm.
Jorna laughed. “Just pray I don’t reach Gomra before Sharkra does,” she said.
 Fish Dwarf Begin: (6 August 2007)
They called him Fish-Dwarf. He was the only worker in the outpost willing to brave the depths of the cave river in order to service the floodgate mechanisms when they became clogged with the seasonal muds.
It was that time again. The farming gates weren't operational, and the planting had to begin immediately. Fish-Dwarf had his tools, and the special fins he had manufactured were secured to broad feet. Everything was ready. The frightened faces of the onlooking children would not dissuade him. Fish-Dwarf understood that this was his calling. He was the only one that could save the outpost. The dwarf inhaled, and his chest swelled to nearly double its original size. Clearing his mind, the dwarf dove into the water.
 (8 November 2007)
Fish-Dwarf swam down the narrow tunnel to the gate mechanism. The water was murky and even with his superior vision he could only just see his hands sweeping ahead of him.
The upper portion of the mechanism appeared suddenly before him. The dwarf inspected the machinery quickly, mindful of his air, yet confident that he had at least a few minutes left. The top assembly was clear, so the mud must have worked itself into the lower gears. Fish-Dwarf pushed his way down.
The swollen rotting face of a lizardman greeted him, twisted into the gears. Not again, Fish-Dwarf thought, dejected. It would take at least three trips to dislodge all of the chunks. The dwarf removed the chisel from his tool case and began working it into the sticking jam.
 (10 December 2007)
"Fish-Dwarf, you have saved us!" the children shouted as the wet dwarf pulled his way up on to the bank. He had finished his last cleaning run, and already the floodgate was rising, ushering in the waters that would prepare the way for the summer harvest.
"Truly, Fish-Dwarf, your mastery of the murky depths never ceases to amaze us. You are a hero," the Mayor Kogan said, offering Fish-Dwarf a mug of the outpost's best.
"I am glad I could help," Fish-Dwarf said, draining the mug in one motion. "If only the river waters were whiskey, my life would be complete."
"I fear we would never see you again if that were the case!" the Mayor jested.
Fish-Dwarf pondered a moment. "Indeed. Yet the search for the Whiskey River is a quest for the young, I'm afraid."
"We here at Gladanvil are happy to have you," the Mayor replied as the crowd dispersed. As the others left, the mayor pulled Fish-Dwarf aside.
"-- and yet, I fear you cannot stay long. I've received word from King Dorazar. He has heard tell of your talents, and our liaison from the Mountainhome has conveyed his request for your presence at the capital."
"My presence? Surely the engineers of the Mountainhome can manage the mighty floodgates and channels of Steelpoint without my help."
"It isn't farming trouble, Fish-Dwarf," the Mayor said, lowering his voice to a whisper. "Many fisherdwarves have been lost to the waters. There is something lurking in the Lake of Columns."
 (18 January 2008)
Innumerable stalactites hung from the ceiling of the expansive gem-lit cavern, many dipping down through the still surface of the black waters. This was the Lake of Columns, the source of life for Steelpoint, and now a place of dread.
Fish-Dwarf fit the blades into place on his fins. The citizens of Steelpoint did not know what the creature was, but no fewer than seven fisherdwarves had been lost at the shore. No matter, thought Fish-Dwarf. King Dorazar had charged him to slay the lurking threat, and that is what he would do. Still, the nature of the creature eluded him. It had been years since his last combat with an aquatic beast, and then it was only the cave crocodiles and lizardmen that occasionally harassed his own community. Steelpoint would not have sent for him over such a triviality. Hefting his mighty trident, Fish-Dwarf nodded to the gathered onlookers before leaping into the lake.
The water was clear, and he could see the broad columns well ahead of him down to where they joined the submerged floor of the cavern. Behind any of these formations, the beast could lurk.
There! Nestled between three columns was a gigantic bloated form on the lake bottom. Fish-Dwarf swam closer, almost drifting. What manner of beast was this? Great tentacles it had, and a toothy maw which flopped open as it slumbered, surrounded by half-consumed bodies of the dead.
Fish-Dwarf was almost upon it now, his trident lifted above his head as he sank slowly toward the sleeping fiend. As he prepared to strike, the lurid thing's lone eye flashed open.
 (15 May 2008)
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Tentacles lashed out, looping around Fish-Dwarf's torso and pinning his arms to his chest. A force stronger than any he had ever experienced crushed his ribs and a stream of bubbles shot from his mouth as the breath was squeezed from his body. Fish-Dwarf desperately slashed at the tentacles with his fin blades and as his vision faded to black he saw that the water was thick with curling purple ribbons of the foul beast's tainted blood. The monster's grip loosened and Fish-Dwarf was able to free his arms. His sight had not returned, but when he stabbed his trident downward, he felt it sink deep into the creature. The monster's body convulsed and it raced into the open water, Fish-Dwarf still clinging to the imbedded weapon.
I cannot let go so long as I cannot see, or I will surely be devoured, Fish-Dwarf thought, though the beast continued on into the depths at such speed that the diver could not maintain his bearings, and suddenly in the back of his mind arose a strange sensation... it was the need for air, such as he had not experienced for many years. A tingling came to his throat and nose, and his head began to feel numb as he became more desperate for breath, and yet slowly, his vision was returning.
The beast slowed, its energy spent, and it settled on to the lake bottom, unmoving. Fish-Dwarf jammed the trident into it a few times; the thing was dead. Now, the surface! Fish-Dwarf pulled his weapon from the monster and swam upward, but he stopped immediately. As far as he could see in the now-dark water, a smooth ceiling of limestone greeted him. The monster had fled into a great crack in the lake bottom, so far and so deep that the light from the gem lamps was no longer visible. Just the endless water and rock of the submerged tomb of Fish-Dwarf, he thought, as he chose a direction and swam.
 Fish Dwarf End: (1 July 2008)
He had chosen the wrong direction. Either that or the beast had dragged Fish-Dwarf so far into the mountain that the fires of the underworld were closer than the light of the lamps. His breath was long since gone -- moving forward was all that could keep him from panicking. After every few kicks, the dwarf would reach up to feel the limestone. If anything, the rock was closing in. No... what's this? His hand curled up around a sharp corner. Fish-Dwarf grabbed it firmly with both hands and pulled, launching himself upward.
The dwarf fully expected to meet a wall of rock, but instead he glided freely until at long last he broke the surface of the water, gasping for air. As the dwarf calmed down, he realized that he could still see nothing. He felt walls close by in all directions, as if he had just swum up a shaft, though there was a ledge overhanging the water on to which he could haul himself and rest his weary body. Fish-Dwarf passed in and out of consciousness for a time, perhaps an hour, before he sat up and assessed his situation.
He could dive back into the water with his lungs full of air and try to find the lamps, now unmolested by great underwater beasts, but he did not relish the idea of leaving the entrance to the shaft behind in total darkness as he explored the crevice below. The only alternative was to feel his way along the walls from this ledge above the grotto. These limestone mountains were laced with natural caverns and after a brief exploration of the surrounding stone he found this hollow was no exception -- there was a mud-slicked passage that ran into the mountain. Without hesitation, Fish-Dwarf struck out into the cavern.
-- How long since he had started on this dreary journey? Though the mud was often thick, Fish-Dwarf had not trudged through so much as a puddle these many days. He thirsted for spirits, nay, even water, and he longed to swim again. The dwarf had long since abandoned his fins and other equipment as they encumbered him too much on the march. Every so often, he imagined he saw the gem lamps ahead, though it could just as easily be the cooking fires of a goblin encampment, or some darker torture, as the lights of the capital he sought. There they were, even now... lights! Or light at least, the barest speck in the distance ahead. Fish-Dwarf moved swiftly, no longer plodding, still careful of the stalactites but driving forward rapidly all the same. The speck became an opening, and he could see the mud of the passage floor illuminated in the distance, with stone walls further beyond. Only a few more steps...
The cavern opened out upon a rocky river valley in a canyon sheer to the greatest heights yet welcoming the noon-day sun. The entrance where Fish-Dwarf stood was at the bottom of the cliffs a short walk down pebble-laden slopes to the stream below. Instantly, Fish-Dwarf could tell that these were no ordinary waters. They were the color of honey, yet the current flowed rapidly. And the aroma! The intoxicating aroma! There was no question in his mind. Whether it fell from the throne of some inebriated sky god and vanished into the underworld to besot the armies of hell made no difference, for here, in this world, in this very mountain range, ran the slightest stretch of the Whiskey River. His mind unencumbered by thoughts of duty or home, Fish-Dwarf made his way down to the riverside to drink his fill.
 Hunger Begin (11 June 2008)
Suffering blighted the land with cruel hunger. Wagons brought foul fungus from the dwarven mountains. It was barely enough to sustain those base enough to eat such filth. The rest died. Paldadar rested against the hilt of his great sword. He looked over his shoulder at the dark stone castle. Turning his back on mud brick huts, the knight passed by the scraggly bearded guards and entered the keep.
From a high window, bright, mocking sunlight shone across the dark wooden throne and the troubled king that sat upon it. The old man reached for his cup, and after taking a sip, spat the vile dwarven brew unto the stone floor. A herald in a mud-smattered tunic rushed to wipe up the spill, but seeing the knight, rose to confront him.
"You were not summoned, Sir Paldadar," spit the herald. "Go ask the peasants instead of begging the king for scraps from the royal table."
"Silence, Rodger," said the king.
The herald jumped away like a whipped dog. The king motioned the knight to come forward.
"The gods have abandoned this place," said the king. "Only through their glory will the days of bounty return. It is for this reason you must smite the heathen Farthlings where they dwell across the river. When their land is in ruin, the gods at last will favor us."
The knight ground his teeth. This was obviously High Priest Igland's doing. But perhaps there was wisdom in punishing the arrogant Farthlings for their many insults. Death by the sword was much preferable to slow certain death by starvation.
 (17 June 2008)
As Paldadar walked away from the keep, peasants averted their hungry faces. He was still a knight, even if he represented the most wretched of kingdoms. A frail sissy approached from behind, leading two horses. Paldadar swung around, drawing his sword. There stood Rodger, wearing the snottiest of faces, his nose in the air.
"By the will of the king," he hissed, "I am to be your squire."
Paldadar prayed to the gods for mercy. Would that a Farthling's bolt find his heart soon that he be saved from further tortures. Together the pair made their way to the Temple of Love, where High Priest Igland waited to bless their holy crusade.
The temple was built on a tall hill, a ring of marble columns surrounding an enormous stone stele, pricking the sky with its majesty. All around the temple, peasants scrambled to snatch at the scraps donated by the monks that poured rotten food down the hill. As Paldadar entered the temple, he was surrounded by fat priests and priestesses that danced around him in a grotesque, undulating display.
The knight refused a cup of offered wine, which Rodger snatched up and drank freely.
At the center of the temple, High Priest Igland stood, wearing nothing save a red loincloth.
"When you wake in the morning," said Igland, "consider Love."
"Many happy couplings," said Paldadar as was the prescribed response.
"You must put an end to the Farthling menace," said the priest, growing angry. "If their God of Suicide spreads his faith to our kingdom, none of our desperate peasants will survive. You must strike the heart of their kingdom and burn their temple to the ground."
Paldadar made the gesture of obedience and departed, pulling Rodger away from the cavorting priests.
The kingdom of the Farthlings was separated from the kingdom of Love by the River of Sorrow, whose wide fast-moving waters could only be crossed in one place. This was the Bridge of Destiny. As the riders approached, Rodger twitched with fear and apprehension, for it was said the bridge was guarded by an evil water troll. At the bridge, Paldadar held up his gauntleted hand. The horses stopped, and the knight dismounted. Paldadar drew his sword and walked out onto the wooden planks.
 (3 July 2008)
Green flames shot up from beneath the bridge. Horrid laughter pealed across the blighted landscape. The knight turned to see Rodger making tracks back to the temple with the speed of a spooked hare. Slowly Paldadar looked over his shoulder to see the enormous bloated troll, dripping with slime and black pus.
"You seek to pass into the land of suicide bearing the message of love," said the troll. "What will you tell them, knight? Is slow certain death by starvation superior than the final empowering choice?"
"Where there is life, there is hope," said Paldadar. "Love will overcome all obstacles!"
"Spoken like a true student of Igland," said the troll, assuming a martial pose.
As Paldadar cut the monster down, his mind was wracked with doubt. Was the nation of love superior? He hailed from a place where young people sold themselves for scraps of bread and yet he sought to bring hope to a strange country. He found Rodger hiding in a nearby bush and hauled him, protesting, across the bridge.
The land of the Farthlings was lush and green compared to the land of love. Cherry blossoms rained down on the two riders as they wound their way through the hills. Even in these pleasant surroundings, the demented nature of the Farthlings soon became evident. Bodies dotted the road here and there, swords plunged into their own guts. Corpses hung in the trees from hastily-tied nooses, over eager to take their own lives. As the riders passed, skeletal bodies lifted themselves from the grass to watch them saunter on.
"Make babies, make babies, make babies," babbled Rodger, madly reciting the Charm of Making.
At last they reached the capital of the Farthlings. The wind blew red rose petals through the cold, dead streets. Even the cheerful sun seemed dim in the vast tomb of a city. Rodger stared straight ahead as they made their way to the keep, careful not to look into the dark doorway, behind which ominous rustlings could be heard.
The flag of Farthlingland flew above the ramparts of the citadel. At the base of the wall lay the piles of bones of those who had hopelessly thrown themselves over the side. A wide moat circled the castle. As the two riders approached, a draw bridge was lowered over the water. Paldadar thought he could see a crowned figure on the wall beckoning them inside. As they crossed the bridge, Rodger made the mistake of looking down into the water. The currents were filled with the souls of those who drowned themselves in desperate sorrow. Eyes shut tight, Rodger hugged the neck of his horse, and followed Paldadar into the gate.
 (29 January 2016)
“They say that the dragon slayer roams the halls of the castle still,” said the old man.
“You are a liar,” said Prince Mucer. “There are no such things as ghosts, and dragons aren't real.”
“Maybe today there are none still alive,” said the old man, “but before the Age of Heroes, the skies were filled with them and no one was safe.”
“You bore me, ancient one,” said the prince. “Maybe my father should have you executed.”
Later that night, while Prince Mucer was pulling the wings off a fly, a knock came at his door. He bellowed at the intruder to leave. The knocking came again, louder this time. Mucer heaved a sigh and walked over to the door. It swung open, but no one was there. The prince had had just about enough of the old man's games. It was time he found a new way to entertain himself. The prince buckled on his sword belt and left the room.
 (28 February 2016)
The dwarf fortress was as quiet as a tomb that night. Prince Mucer couldn't help but fear, but his anger was greater. How dare that old man frighten me with ghost stories, thought the prince. He would give the old man something to be frightened about. Prince Mucer fingered the hilt of his blade. The old man didn't have too much longer to live anyway. Who would miss him?
“Say goodnight, old man!” shouted Mucer as he kicked in the laboratory door.
There was something standing next to the old man, facing away from the door. It was tall and translucent green. The apparition seemed to float in the air, trailing bloody stumps for legs. Mucer cried out with fright and dropped his sword. The creature turned to face him. Its face was almost entirely burned off.
“What's wrong, my prince?” asked the old man, having run to where Mucer had fainted.
 (29 March 2016)
“The dragon slayer is real!” exclaimed Prince Mucer.
“Of course,” said the old man. “I told you as much.”
“I have seen him,” said Mucer. “He was standing right there.”
The old man looked to the empty space where the prince was pointing. This was serious. The king had to be informed immediately. Only then could the decision be made on how to proceed. Every time the dragon slayer had showed himself before there had been a calamity. The old man called for the guards to take Mucer back to his chambers.
“The dragon slayer has revealed himself to young Mucer,” said old man Garva.
“That is unfortunate,” said the king. “He must be escorted out of the kingdom at once. Whether he is my son makes no difference. The soul of the kingdom is at stake.”
 (29 April 2016)
“Come hither my liege,” said old man Garva. “Gaze into the crystal ball.”
“Is the prince safe?” asked the king.
“Mucer will never truly be safe again,” said Garva, “so it is written.”
“There is more to life than the pages of a book,” objected the king.
Rather that respond to ignorance, Garva just gestured to the magic globe. It was connected to a mechanism at the top and bottom. Garva put his hand on the crystal and gave it a spin. Lightning arched over the surface of the globe revealing a woodland scene. There was Prince Mucer, riding his black mule. With him was Kogan the woods-dwarf, the only one willing to bear the prince's company in this time of exile.
“How much longer until we reach Assura?” whined Mucer. “My backside is sore from riding.”
“Keep your eyes open, my prince,” said Kogan, “and remember, in the world under Apexus's vault of sky, there are consequences for your actions.”
 (30 may 2016)
“Help me!” cried a girl's voice.
Kogan went off to find her, but Mucer held him back. “You are to protect me from all harm. Forget her,” snapped the prince.
Horrible screams echoed throughout the woods. This didn't help calm Mucer's already well-developed paranoia. Kogan walked next to the prince's mule, battleaxe in hand. Ahead, on the trail, stood an elf ranger. She held an arrow against her bowstring, pointed at the ground. Mucer was sweating and squirming.
“How dare you block the path of the crown prince!” shouted Mucer.
An arrow shot out of the trees and pierced Kogan's neck. The dwarf bodyguard pulled the prince off of his mule and covered him with his body. Blood poured from Kogan's wound and onto Mucer's face. The prince was disgusted and horrified now that it seemed that his only friend wouldn't live very much longer.
 (21 January 2015)
The flight across the sea had been a wild and dangerous one. The giant nuthatch the dwarves were riding wasn't built for long distance missions. Just about the time the far coast had been sighted, the bird suffered a massive heart attack. Uren spoke encouraging words to the poor thing and it did its best to crash land on the beach. The dwarves took inventory. All three of them, Uren, Doraj, and Aliza, had survived with only minor injuries. They were now trapped on the foreign shore, for the bird had breathed its last.
The seer had given them three days to find a piece of the cosmic egg. Most of the known egg fragments had already been used in magic spells of mass destruction. They had to find the last fragment before an evil wizard like Nadir or Darquan found it. The issue was the prophecy. The last piece of the egg from which the world was hatched was destined to be its undoing. Should one of the dark lords find it, it would be weaponized and used to end the world. This was all supposed to happen on the final day of the Plump Helmet Festival. That was in three days time.
"So here we are," said Doraj. "The Wild Lands. Did the seer give us anywhere to look in this wide country, or is it a mystery as usual?"
"You should have more respect for your elders," snapped Aliza. "If we don't find the egg fragment soon, it is bound to fall into the wrong hands."
"I do not fear scum such as Darquan," said Uren the barbarian dwarf. "I say we follow the villain to the prize and then cut him down and take it."
"Genius!" snorted Aliza sarcastically.
So the adventure began. There were only three dwarves in a land filled with danger, racing toward cosmic mystery aimed at ending the world. There was no time to bury the body of the giant bird and news of their spectacular entrance was bound to spread fast. Beyond the beach was a vast jungle, thick and dark, and beyond were mighty snow covered peaks on the horizon. Wherever the fragment had ended up, it couldn't be somewhere easy to find or the wizards would already have found it. Doraj suggested they head for the tallest peak and they drew their swords and began hacking through the underbrush.
 (14 July 2014)
"I hereby claim this feast hall in the name of the Tombs of Wailing!" shouted the stranger.
The Hearthpeople loyal to Lord Ambercan drew their weapons, but when they saw the multitude of warriors the stranger had brought with her, the loyal troops withdrew and fled from the hall. The invaders cheered while their victorious leader sat upon the throne. With no one to challenge them, the elite strike force, the Tombs of Wailing, lay claim to the fortress town of Otla.
Away, slaying dragons, King Urlen heard news of the uprising days later. One of the defeated Hearthmen approached the king in his war tent. Upon hearing of the warrior's failure, Urlen drew his sword and struck off the coward's head. Urlen wasn't known to be reasonable when confronted with upsetting news.
"Ready my chariot," commanded Urlen. "We will see how tough the Tombs of Wailing really are!"
 (01 November 2008)
"Don't let the sun set on you in the Dark Wood," said the dwarf crones. "Ole Brick-a-Branch will get you." Nonsense, thought young Davik as he rode his mule along the twisting green deer path. The darkness came quickly as the sun slipped behind the trees. As he set about making a fire, Davik pondered the dark tales of Brick-a-branch and his mischief.
Not even the elves dared enter the Wood at night. Something older than time haunted these cursed trees, but this valley was the quickest way to Port City, saving at least a month of travel. As the night grew darker and colder, Davik fumbled in his pack to retrieve the charms and idols he had nearly refused as the journey began.
A great shape emerged from the darkness. It was a gnarled troll, as old as the hills. It picked up Davik by the ankle.
"Not much meat here," it said.
"Please, Ole Brick-a-Branch, don't eat me," said Davik.
Having said his name, the troll was force to lay the dwarf down.
"I will not eat you," said the monster, "If you can answer me these riddles three."
 (16 May 2007)
Doran stirred the bubbling pot of syrup. It was ready! "Pour, pour, pour!" the dwarf sang. Into the molds the syrup flowed. "Another batch," the dwarf said, satisfied.
Just then, he noticed somebody standing in the doorway. "Ah, Glornol. What brings you to the kitchens this early? Come to try a sticky treat? I have some Anvil Drops cooling now. Just a moment."
Doran turned to the tray on the table when he was startled by Glornol's shouting. "What is the meaning of this? Isn't there a war on?"
"Even soldiers need sticky treats, Glornol!" Doran picked up two chocolate goblins and began to speak in a high-pitched throaty voice.
"Ooo, it's Glornol!" the first chocolate goblin said.
"Glornol's scared of the mean, mean goblins!" the second chocolate goblin observed.
"Let's eat the dwarf! Yummies for tummies!" the first chocolate goblin offered.
"The dwarf might eat me instead! Oh no!" the second chocolate goblin replied. Doran held the goblin out to Glornol.
Glornol was not amused, but he snatched the candy from Doran's hand. "Hrmph," he grunted, and biting the goblin's head off, he walked out of the kitchen.
 (05 December 2006)
Taking a break from their duty, the two guards sat at a table with a scenic view of the chasm. They did not notice as they drained their mugs that they were being watched from the shadows by clusters of pale eyes. A table by the chasm?! --Qwip 05 December 2006
 (09 February 2007)
.@......#### ...T@@~S#### .......#####
Dolan was chatting with Aliz about the health benefits of dwarven beer when Aliz disappeared. Dolan sprang to his feet and saw that Aliz was being dragged toward the chasm, a thick rope of translucent silk wrapped around his left ankle. At the lip of the chasm, a bloated form slowly reeled the line in with her spindly legs. Dolan knew immediately -- it was the Wolf-Mother of Darkness. He grabbed his axe and ran toward Aliz, who was now only a few more pulls from the beast.
As he was hauling ore to the magma smelter, the peasant Kogarak saw the situation, screamed, dropping his load, and ran toward the barracks. As he heard the sound of an axe ring against stone behind him, he wondered if he would make it in time.
- — Qwip 08:40, 9 February 2007 (EST)
 (18 April 2007)
@@@...@.#### @..T..@S#### .......#####
The axe had scored the stone floor where it had severed the silk line. The Wolf-Mother chittered angrily and pounced at Dolan, moving with surprising quickness. Dolan was knocked to the ground, the enormous body of the foul creature pressing him into the stone. His axe clanged some distance away. The blunt knobs at the end of the Wolf-Mother's forelegs dug into Dolan's ribs as her dripping mandibles drew closer to his face. He grabbed her head with both hands, trying desperately to keep her at bay. A foul-smelling spittle dripped on to his cheek.
Aliz, still dazed from his initial fall, slowly made his way to his feet. Seeing Dolan's desperate struggle, he drew his sword and hacked at one of the Wolf-Mother's legs. The bumpy skin was incredibly tough, but the steel blade left the appendage hanging by tatters. The Wolf-Mother belched a grating rasp and rolled away from Aliz and faced the dwarves. Dolan crawled toward his axe, but the nauseating venom drenching his face and beard had left him almost powerless. The Wolf-Mother hesitated, her wound oozing white ichor as Aliz stood his ground.
There were several sharp cracking noises, and the Wolf-Mother crumpled, several iron bolts protruding from her many eyes. In the distance stood Bomtek and the other marksdwarves, accompanied by Kogarak. Aliz rushed to Dolan. The dwarf was breathing heavily.
"My body feels like gravel. I need a drink," Dolan said.
"The Wolf-Mother is dead. Brace up. I'll bring you your mug." Aliz fetched Dolan's mug from the table and brought it to the dwarf where he lay on the stone floor. The mug was almost empty.
"The brood," Dolan whispered. "The night brood will come."
- — Qwip 12:28, 14 May 2007 (EDT)
 (12 April 2011)
A hundred thousand eyes looked down onto the contest. The whole of the world’s armies in one place, at one time, to see who would be victorious. Two riders, a dwarf and a goblin, would joust to end the war, an end to an eternity of bloodshed and suffering. The entire planet was watching.
Aliz didn’t think much of his opponent. More of a threat than the puny rider were the dirty tricks the evil doers had concocted. The goblin’s beak-dog thrashed and gnawed at the sides of the track. Aliz looked to his own pony. It had served him in many battles. With the grace of the Lordaxe, this would be the last one. Aliz looked the goblin dead in the eye and spit.
The flags dropped and the knights spurred their steeds into action. Aliz aimed his lance at the goblin’s shield when he noticed that the goblin had thrown down his pole and now wielded a metal chain. As the riders passed the goblin tangled Aliz’s lance and nearly pulled him off his horse. Fuming, Aliz called for another lance. He wont fool me twice, thought the champion.
 (21 July 2014)
(The beginning of a new story)
"What took you so long?" asked Catra.
"The gate guard was tougher than he looked," said the goblin snatcher. "Not all of us can spring over walls like circus performers."
The pair of villains had infiltrated the dwarf fortress on a secret mission straight from the order of Tremoda himself. They were to kidnap the queen's daughter and take the young woman to the depths of the Garum to await her fate. Catra was an animal person, half cougar, half woman. She was a mercenary who only worked for gold. It was her job to escort the snatcher in case there was trouble.
"Which way to the royal chambers?" asked Catra.
"Just follow the scent of plump helmet roasts," said the snatcher. "The princess's room is directly above the kitchen."
Rushing between the shadows, the evil intruders made their way to the royal suites. The princess was not there. Catra just about had a fit whilst the snatcher went over the calculations in his mind. She was supposed to be there!
"The queen consort grounded the princess for a week," protested the snatcher. "She should be here!"
"Think," said Catra. "If you were the princess, where would you sneak off to?"
"The guard barracks," said the goblin finally. "She goes there to practice with the sword and axe."
"Great," said Catra, "then we must steal her from under the noses of a dozen castle guards."
"We will succeed or die," said the goblin. "Praise Tremoda!"
 (31 August 2014)
"I can't carry both of you!" exclaimed Catra.
It was a new moon that night and the fields were bathed in dim starlight. Catra could hear the dogs barking in the distance. The goblin snatcher had taken a crossbow bolt in the back coming over the wall. Catra had to carry the princess on her shoulder, bound with ropes. They had just cleared the nearby hills when the goblin collapsed.
"Take the girl to Tremoda," said the goblin, coughing up blood. "I'm done for."
The bolt had slipped between the goblin's ribs, a hair from his heart. It seemed to Catra that the mission had failed. She had never been to the evil empire of the Worm. She preferred the savage lands as did the rest of her people. The goblin had paid her in gold coins, promising double when they reached the border. It was clear that the goblin wouldn't make it.
"They will pay you the bounty of a true snatcher," wheezed the goblin. "Kidnapping the princess will make you a legend!"
The two villains looked over at the princess. By now the princess had stopped struggling. She rested against a tree stump, bound and gagged. The princess was renowned to be a great fighter. That was why the goblin had brought the cougar woman in the first place. It had not been easy to subdue her.
"Tremoda will reward you," said the goblin, his voice trailing off. "You must go."
The cougar woman stepped to the princess and threw her over her shoulder once more. She took one look back at the snatcher, now dead, having taken his last tortured breath. Seeking to throw off the scent of the hounds, Catra bounded off toward the Forbidden Forest.
The elves had no love for Tremoda, but they liked the dwarves even less. There had been war between the two kingdoms for seven of the last ten years. Catra though briefly of leaving the princess with the elves. No, they would likely just kill her and deprive Catra of her just reward. Catra removed the cloth from the princess's mouth.
"We are in the forest of the elves," said Catra. "You must be quiet and follow me. If the elves catch us here, they will kill us both."
"You still mean to sell me to Tremoda," said the princess.
"You will become an asset to the evil one," said Catra. "To the elves you will only be a quick lunch."
 (6 October 2014)
“Tremoda knows of your talents,” said Catra. “He needs strong leaders to lead the weak-willed goblins.”
“Have you ever been to the Garum?” asked princess Aliza. “Do you know what kind of monster you are working for?”
The two women spoke softly as they passed under the trees of the Forbidden Forest. It was true, Catra had never been to the realm of the Great Worm. The dwarven princess told her all about it. It was rumored that Tremoda lived in the center of a swamp where the dead walked and carried on as if they were alive. If so, it seemed that they weren't much worse off with the elves.
“Look,” said Catra. “This is the way it is. I have been charged to bring you to the Worm and that's what I'm going to do. Whether you get there in one piece is up to you.”
The cougar woman hissed as the arrow struck her in the shoulder. Aliza was off and running in the blink of an eye. Catra cursed and ran after her. Another arrow slammed into the tree where Catra's head had been a moment before. The dwarf princess's hands were bound by rope and her legs were short. Catra figured she would reach Aliza before the elves did.
“You are going the wrong way,” said Catra. “This way leads deeper into the forest. The surest way out is through the Garum.”
“Why should I believe you,” asked Aliza, “a mercenary sworn to sell me out?”
Catra caught up with Aliza where she had collapsed in a clearing deep in the woods. Aliza had just about given up. She had not done much traveling above ground and the dangerous terrain was bright and confusing. She knew the elves' arrow could just as well have been meant for her.
“I will meet your Tremoda,” said Aliza, “and spit in his eye.”
“That's the spirit,” said Catra. “Now let's get moving before the cowardly elf brings his friends.”
 (5 November 2014)
“I can't believe it,” said Aliza. “Is it always like this?”
“It gets easier,” said Catra. “You may even long for it in the end.”
At Aliza's feet was the corpse of an elven scalp hunter. The dwarf princess had strangled him with the very rope that still bound her hands. The cougar woman approached the dwarf and cut her bonds with a flick of her knife. Even had she chose to leave now, the dwarf couldn't navigate the forest by herself, not before another elf found them at any rate.
“Tremoda will accept your kill,” said Catra. “You are already on the dark path of power.”
“True power is a matter of perception,” said Aliza, “or so my father taught me.”
“Tremoda is your father now,” said Catra.
The great forest became a swamp before it opened up onto the vast marsh hell-scape of the Garum. Catra lead Aliza around the many goblin camps and outposts, for she didn't trust the evil creatures not to kill her and claim the prize for themselves. It wasn't long before Aliza's legs were covered by blood sucking leeches. Catra stopped for a while to help her pluck them off.
“Is this why they call Tremoda 'the Worm?'” asked Aliza as she picked at the foul creatures.
“No,” said Catra. “Tremoda is the Worm Within. Once he is inside your mind you are never the same.”
“Have you seen the evil one?” asked Aliza.
“I made my deal with the goblin snatcher, now dead,” said Catra.
At last the dark tower appeared on the horizon. It was built from black obsidian stones that constantly sank into the marshy ground. The whole structure seemed to be leaning slightly to the left and generally unstable. Catra told Aliza to wait behind a large boulder and went to see the gate guard.
“I made a deal with Sasma,” said Catra to the goblin at the gate, “forty golden skulls to bring the dwarven princess to the Worm.”
“And where is that shifty back-stabber?” asked the goblin.
“The dwarves shot him,” said Catra. “That is no concern of yours. I have the princess. I demand to see Tremoda.”
 (18 November 2014)
“Come out into the open, girl,” commanded Catra.
Standing up from behind the obsidian boulder, Princess Aliza boldly faced her captors. High above the tiny figures, Tremoda watched from his black tower that pricked the sky. Aliza would fear no cowardly kidnappers. She was a princess of Slusia.
Since the dawn of time, the men and dwarves of the Slusian Plains had battled goblins, elves, and each other. Every war was more bloodthirsty than the last. Compared to the evils that men do, how bad could the Great Worm be? The gate guard moved aside and allowed Catra and the princess to enter.
“I'll tell you this much for nothing,” said Catra as they climbed the hundreds of spiral stairs, “don't be fooled by the demon's beauty. He is the most dangerous creature under Domon's vault of sky.”
“Enter,” said a familiar voice as the pair reached the top room of the tower.
Pressing against the thick wooden door, Catra prepared herself for whatever horrors the demon had prepared for them. Aliza stepped right past her and into the room. There, seated at a table covered with maps, was the queen of the dwarves, mother to Aliza and long dead.
“Mama,” stammered Aliza.
She felt the cat's claws pinch her side. The image of her mother faded and was replaced with that of another unlikely shape, her favorite suitor, Kogan.
“You have done well, cougar woman,” said the mysterious Kogan. “Take your reward and go.”
“Ouch,” said Aliza, pinching her arm until it bled.
The young dwarf before her changed shape again, this time growing and taking the form of a woman. Aliza already hated the Worm and his tricks. The woman approached her and Aliza dug in with her fingernails. The demon shape-shifted again, this time into his true form.
“Holy Forge Father,” said Aliza. “Now I have seen everything.”
 (25 December 2014)
All the way down the long spiral staircase, Catra counted her prize money. It was forty golden skulls as promised. Add to that her reputation as the most daring snatcher in the world and you would think that Catra would be more proud of herself. She knew what she did was wrong. The balance of power had shifted in favor of the Garum. Soon Aliza would be leading Tremoda's armies against the very dwarf fortress she had been snatched from. All of this angered Catra. She was a mercenary, sure, but it was her swordsmanship that should bring her renown, not snatching youngsters from their beds. By the time she reached the bottom of the stairs, her mind was made up. She would redeem herself of this great wrong if she had to give her life to do so.
“Armies are on the move in the marshland,” said Kaduma.
“None of that matters now,” said King Kogan. “We must get Aliza back, no matter the cost.”
“It is she,” said Kaduma, “who leads the demon army.”
None of it made sense. Kogan and Aliza were to be married and rule the dwarven empire together. Now that the Worm had his claws in her, there was no choice but battle her to the death. Kogan picked up a carving knife in anger and threw it across the room, imbedding it in door. On the other side, Catra saw the blade protruding through the wood and began to have second thoughts. She waited outside while the dwarven nobles argued. Finally, the king noticed her waiting at the door and summoned her inside.
“Why have you come here, beast woman?” asked Kogan.
“It was I,” said Catra, “that took young Aliza away. All for forty pieces of gold.”
“I must ask you,” said Kogan, “why you have returned? You must know I would have you put to death.”
“You must see reason,” said Catra, “when I say that I am the one who can get her back.”
“Lord King,” said Kaduma, “she may be right. It is written in the ancient scrolls.”
“Then I must read them,” said Kogan. “Take this thing to the dungeon.”
 (3 February 2015)
(The beginning of a new story)
“That was it!” said watch-dwarf Mathire. “They just tapped me on the shoulder for the special assignment and I was in!”
“Do they expect you to scale the walls of Nadir's fortress all by yourself?” asked Galva.
“No! That's the best part,” said Mathire. “I get to assemble my own squad! I am picking you, Atone and Thadrian.”
“Thadrian?” asked Galva. “Are you sure you can trust such a notorious drunkard?”
“It will be alright, Galva,” said Mathire. “Just put your trust in me and we will come out of this looking like heroes.”
That very night the four adventurous dwarves set out from the dwarf fortress in the direction of the lands of the evil one. Nadir was no mere wizard to be trifled with. He was the greatest of the Four Fallen Stars, a being that had existed since before almighty Domon had divided the waters and set the land in place. After his initial defeat at the hands of the angels, Nadir had settled in the depths of the earth, far from civilization. It would take weeks of searching just to find the entrance to Nadir's vast dungeon.
“Fear not fellow heroes,” said Mathire. “I have a dowsing rod, tuned to smell out the most concentrated forms of evil.”
“For Domon's sake,” said Galva. “You can't be serious.”
“You have your doubts,” said Mathire. “We have established this. Just give me seven days, and I will make heroes out of all of you!”
So on they went. Mountains gave way to rolling hills, and hills gave way to endless marshland. Soon they were in the most evil of lands known as the Garum. It was said to be made from the rotting body of the titan Gigilous. The smells were all outrageous and bad. Mathire did his best to keep the dwarves in good spirits, often setting aside his dowsing rod and taking up the guitar. They weren't the only ones who appreciated the music. Evil shadows soon began to gather around the campsite.
“Do you smell that?” asked Mathire.
 (5 March 2015)
“Who dares to bring cheer into the heart of the Garum?” croaked a voice in the dark.
Ceasing his strumming instantly, Mathire was up in an instant, sword drawn. The other dwarves did likewise. Galva pointed with his finger and shouted “Over there!” The monster was hovering over Thadrian's shoulder. Mathire and Atone turned to face it, whilst Thadrian tried to stay absolutely still. Atone was an expert with a crossbow, but this was a tricky shot. Thadrian's big fat body was almost entirely blocking the marks-dwarf's point of view. Still, Atone did his best, lined up his sights, and pulled the trigger.
“That is one ugly mother,” said Thadrian as he stood up from the campfire and looked at what lay behind him.
The night creature was obviously a local, covered in the slime of the marsh. Atone's bolt struck it straight through the third eye. They must be getting close if they were rousting monsters like this. Galva and Thadrian lifted up the body and dumped it into a deep pool of slime where it sank and vanished immediately. Once the morning came, Mathire called on his dowsing rod. They only traveled for a few minutes before they found what they were looking for.
The black spire appeared on the horizon of the marsh, like a lone mountain on the flatness of the hated Garum. Smoke poured out of the tower giving the fortress the look of something volcanic. The dwarves donned costumes of branches and grass so they wouldn't be spotted by the spying eyes of the tower. None of the dwarves had seen or smelled anything so evil, but they couldn't turn back now.
Atone was the first to see the dragon. It was standing like a gargoyle on the wall of the black fortress. The dwarves stopped in their tracks. The dragon lifted its nose into the air and smelled the breeze for signs of the enemy. Lucky for the dwarves, Nadir was busy cooking the dragon's lunch and the odor of the smoking pillar distracted the fire-breathing lizard.
“What are we going to do now, genius?” asked Galva.
 (5 April 2015)
“Every fortress has a secret entrance,” said Mathire, “so that the nobles can escape in times of siege. My dowsing rod will find it.”
Far from impressed, Galva began to protest but the other dwarves just walked on by. They were on a quest from almighty Domon to defeat the demon god Nadir. They could already hear the songs the bards would be singing in every fortress feast hall. They would take the crown from Nadir's severed head and use it to play fetch with their dogs. All that stood in their way was a hungry dragon and a black slade wall a hundred spans high.
“It's here!” shouted Mathire. “I knew I could find it.”
It was none too soon. While Mathire had been poking around the base of the wall with his stick, the dragon had returned. Atone could see the dragon scanning the horizon for intruders. It was only a matter of the wind shifting direction and the dragon would smell them. Mathire got the hatch open and the dwarves began shoving Thadrian's fat body through the narrow opening.
“I can sense your presence,” said the dragon, “you thieving insects!”
The hatch slammed shut just as the last of the dwarves jumped through, avoiding a fiery blast. Inside the fortress the sense of disease and desolation was tenfold worse. The walls were lined with skeletal remains. They were in the catacombs. Mathire urged his dwarves to keep it cool. Galva was just about to burst a gasket. The undead were among his least favorite things in this world.
“I promise you Galva,” said Mathire. “There are no walking dead here.”
“Your precious stick says otherwise,” shouted Galva pointing at Mathire's belt.
The dowsing rod was so agitated it was nearly flying out of Mathire's pocket. The dwarves turned to look where it pointed. There stood an empty suit of armor, moving of its own accord. Mathire pulled his sword from its scabbard whilst Galva began praying to Domon. Atone lifted his crossbow and fired a bolt, which punched a hole in the breastplate.
“That hurt, little man,” said the ghost. “Are you trying to kill me twice?”
 (30 April 2015)
“Why have you come to the tombs of my master?” asked the ghost.
“I must ask you first,” said Galva. “What gives you the right to speak at all? You had your chance on Earth.”
The ghostly suit of armor picked up a spiked club and went to dash out Galva's brains. Thadrian and Atone tackled the ghost and it went down with a crash. Mathire stepped to the suit of armor, sword drawn. He used the tip of his blade to open the ghostly visor. There was nothing inside but shadow. An irritating laugh welled up from the helpless ghost. The dwarves did their best to hold him still while Mathire questioned him.
“A dragon, and now ghosts?” asked Mathire. “What horrors await us in Nadir's tower?”
“The only sensation the master allows us to feel is pain,” whined the ghost. “Let me go!”
“Not until you tell us what we are up against,” commanded Mathire.
“This tomb is where the master puts his failures,” said the ghost, “to forget about them. The true guardians of Nadir's presence on Earth are undead warriors and wizards trained in every martial art, present and forgotten.”
“Nadir's library,” whispered Atone.
“You know of my master's plan,” said the ghost. “Once he has absorbed every last piece of knowledge this world has to offer, he will destroy it with fire and falling rocks.”
“That's it,” exclaimed Mathire. “We have found Nadir's weak spot. The ghost will take us to the library and we will set the books on fire!”
Not all of the dwarves were entirely on board with his plan. Atone was educated in the capital from a young age and long had he wished to see the forbidden books that he knew Nadir to have. Though he was an uncultured slob himself, Thadrian didn't see the wisdom in destroying the life's work of so many great scholars. Only Galva was ready to join Mathire's quest to set civilization back five hundred years.
 (8 May 2015)
“Atone!” cried Mathire. “No!”
It was too late and all the denial shouted at the heavens could not save his friend. Atone was the first around the corner, pointing his crossbow. When it fired the crossbow quarrel bounced harmlessly off the goblin's bronze breastplate. The goblin guard was on him in an instant, stabbing and thrusting. By the time Mathire and the others pulled the goblin off him, Atone was leaking blood from half a dozen mortal wounds.
“You,” shouted Mathire as the others held the goblin, “where is the library?”
“Ha!” said the goblin, through broken teeth. “Second door on the left. Nadir awaits you there!”
Not only was Mathire ready to take on the god of the underworld, there was payback to deal out. After granting the goblin a just death, Mathire and the surviving adventurers stepped deeper into Nadir's dungeon. When they reached the second door, Mathire hesitated. How he wanted Nadir to suffer! He would watch all the books in the library burn.
“I've been waiting for you,” said a voice from within. “Enter.”
The library was as impressive as promised. Scrolls and codices lined the many shelves that extended to the vaulted ceiling. In the center of the great room stood the dark god Nadir. He had a body that looked like a mismatched selection of animal parts. He had the head of a bull and wore a golden ring through his nose. Noticing Mathire was holding forth a torch in a threatening manner, the demon god spoke.
“Go ahead,” said Nadir, “burn it. I have already learned the most important truth.”
 (11 July 2015)
“Oh yeah, demon?” said Mathire in a mocking tone. “What is the most important truth?”
“Death is not the end,” said a familiar voice from behind.
Turning just in time to catch a broadsword through the heart, Mathire was surprised to see his dead friend Atone. Blood poured from Mathire's open mouth as he stared, questioning. Galva swung his blade, slicing off Atone's arm. This just served to anger the walking corpse which reached for its secondary weapon. Swords clashed as Mathire slumped to the ground, dead.
“Soon you will all know the power of the primordial chaos,” said Nadir, god of the underworld.
“I've had enough of this,” said Thadrian, heading for the door.
“I don't think so,” said Nadir, moving his hands in a magic gesture.
The door closed and locked themselves. Thadrian smashed his shoulder into the door and bounced back, screaming with terror. He looked back to see Galva fighting the ghost of Atone. The swords-dwarf had given Atone what would have been several mortal wounds, but the ghost fought on. Pulling himself together, Thadrian returned to the fight.
“Where are you going?” said the ghost of Mathire, now rising from the floor.
 (31 July 2015)
The fight wasn't going well. Galva and Thadrian were closed in, fighting back to back as the ghosts of their friends pressed in closer, stabbing and slashing. It then occurred to Galva that Nadir was no god at all. What god would resort to such petty evil? And there was something else.
“Stop,” commanded Galva. “Nadir, if that is who you really are, if you are a god, why did you have to learn of the afterlife from the pages of a book? I deny you!”
The bull-headed demon snorted with anger. The ghost of Mathire looked at his new master, questioning. It seemed that he and Atone's ghost were fighting out of a place of ignorance. This thing, that claimed to be Nadir, was no more than an undead necromancer. Mathire's ghost picked up a torch and tossed it amidst the scrolls.
“No!” cried the monster, Nadir.
This time the dwarves fought as one. Atone fired bolts into the being continuously as Mathire and the others hacked and slashed. The monster was unable to stop the wave of violence and was soon rendered helpless. Mathire lifted up his blade, ready to hack of Nadir's head.
“Don't do it, Mathire,” said Galva. “You'll die. He is the only thing keeping your life force in that body.”
“It is a hero's duty,” said Mathire, “to sacrifice for his friends.”
 (9 September 2015)
The death stroke was quick and merciful. With an expert swing, the ghost of Mathire struck off Nadir's head. The undead dwarf immediately went stiff and still. Atone collapsed to the floor, forever dead. Galva caught Mathire's body as he fell, desperate for a last command. The fire was spreading and there was no time to waste. Galva reluctantly left his master to burn with the dead god and the greatest store of knowledge the world had ever known.
Racing through the corridors, Galva and Thadrian hurried to escape the crumbling tower. All of the undead guardians had fallen and only the goblins remained. These evil foes were just as eager to be clear of the falling tower and the dwarves followed the exodus as fast as they could.
Outside in the marshland, the goblins gathered to watch the tower sink into the muck. For many of them, Nadir's fortress had been home, all their lives. They didn't hinder Galva and Thadrian as they emerged from the secret exit.
“All that knowledge, wasted,” said Thadrian.
“It was gained through evil,” said Galva, “and is therefore of no true value.”
“Is that what Domon tells you?” asked Thadrain.
“Look,” said a goblin, “the dark lord rises.”
 (28 September 2015)
“A dwarf?” asked Galva. “This is some kind of joke.”
Out of the smoking ruin stepped a wizened old dwarf. He waved to the heroes as he stepped around the standing pools of muck. The goblins stood at attention as the old dwarf approached. Thadrian looked at Galva and then back to the hated Nadir. They waited as the old dwarf picked his way toward them through the marsh. When he arrived, he was out of breath.
“The Eternal Forge is no joke, friends,” wheezed the old dwarf. “Do you like the shape the dwarf gods chose for me?”
“They clearly have a sense of humor,” said Thadrian.
“Tell me, demon,” said Galva, “why I shouldn't just slay you a second time.”
“Because,” Nadir said with a wink, “I have your prize in my pocket.”
The dwarves watched with amazement as Nadir reached into his robes and withdrew a fist-sized glass ball. In it were the tiny bodies of Mathire and Atone, suspended in liquid.
“Do they live?” asked Thadrian.
“They sleep,” said Nadir, “but they may yet be awoken. You have but to do what I say.”
 (30 October 2015)
“There is a book,” said Nadir, “a codex that contains the last bit of knowledge I need to transcend this mortal plane.”
“And if we retrieve this tome,” said Galva, “you will let Mathire and Atone live?”
“It will be as if none of this ever happened,” said the wizard.
“Where is it?” asked Thadrian.
“Good, good,” laughed Nadir. “It is in the dwarf fortress of course!”
The dwarves walked in silence as they left the Garum. Neither of them could really believe that Nadir had tricked them into doing his bidding. The wizard had given them his crown as proof that they had completed their quest. The evil one knew that the dwarf king couldn't refuse a request made by the heroes, and they would ask for the book.
“Where is mighty Mathire?” asked the dwarven king.
“He has passed on to the Eternal Forge,” said Galva. “He had only one request as he died. It was that we receive as a reward the Book of the Dead.”
“That was a pointless and evil wish,” said the king. “The pages of that book contain an ancient wickedness. Mathire could be restored, but he would not be the same.”
“Nonetheless,” said Galva, “we have fulfilled our part of the bargain. We demand to have the book.”
 (6 December 2015)
After a long silence, the king agreed to the heroes' demands. They would just have to see for themselves. The curse of the book was no joke. The king knew that the dead heroes would return as monsters. He explained as much to Galva, but it made no difference. The heroes would not be dissuaded. The king called on the scribe to retrieve the Book of the Dead from the forbidden library. Galva and Thadrian went with him as Nadir remained in the throne room, hiding amidst the petitioners.
“Are you absolutely sure you want to do this?” asked the scribe.
“Mind thy own business,” snapped Galva.
Once they were in the library, the scribe produced a key and opened the secret vault hidden in the wall. Galva was revolted when the book was revealed. It was a codex bound in dwarven skin. The pages were written in blood. Still, Galva mastered his fear and received the book when it was handed to him. Thadrian said nothing but clearly he was having second thoughts.
“Have you brought that which you promised me?” asked Nadir as the heroes returned.
The old dwarf's eyes lit up as Galva revealed the evil tome. Galva handed it over, but would not release his grip until he demanded once more that Nadir return his friends to life. The evil dwarf made the promise and snatched the book away. Without a moment's hesitation, he cracked the codex open and began to read aloud.
 (20 December 2015)
(The beginning of a new story)
The animal people waited in the snow outside the wizard's cottage. It was a cold winter night and the wind was blowing. Still the woodland creatures stood motionless as they waited. It was a consequential day for them. The dwarves had been logging in their forest and they demanded satisfaction. The old man told them he needed time to think. So they waited, staring at the wooden door, waiting for it to open.
“What do you think, Brambis?” asked the wizard.
“Bacabadabis,” said the wizard's pet kobold.
“You are right,” said the wizard, “the dwarves have been generous to us. But they must learn their place.”
The door of the cottage opened and the wizard showed himself. His black robe and furs were draped over his body making him look twice his size. He was just a skinny old man, but he knew something the others didn't. He could read and write the ancient language of Axolar.
“I will take your demands to the dwarves...” began the wizard.
“Three cheers for Old Man Scota,” shouted a squirrel man.
“...on one condition,” continued Scota. “You must bring me the Codex of Ultimate Knowledge.”
 (13 April 2007)
And so Alor, a wrestler of renown, found himself between a great boar and the wide river. For six days they struggled, and as the sun descended behind the hills on the evening of the seventh day, Alor finally collapsed in exhaustion. The boar spoke and said, "I too am tired. The sun has fallen. Let us rest." And so Alor and the boar slept, and the sun arose on the morning of the eighth day.
 (21 July 2007)
"Whiskey?" Alor asked the boar, holding up his flask. The wrestler had not spoken for a week.
"Gladly," the boar said, taking the flask up in its mouth. "You block my path to the river, and now you offer me your flask. Strange are the ways of your people."
"Your path? I was seeking to cross the river and found myself menaced," Alor said.
"The squirrels tell me I am a terror to behold when I am thirsty," the boar said as it drained the flask. "Do I menace you now?" The boar looked mild and plump. Indeed, the gentle creature reminded Alor of his daughter.
"No, I am not menaced. I am reminded of home," Alor said fondly. At that moment his stomach growled, for he had not eaten in some time.
"Hopefully I do not remind you of your dinner table," the boar laughed, "though it remains to be seen who would have the final mastery in our contest." Alor smiled broadly and the boar guided Alor to the ford, where they parted as friends.
 (12 September 2007)
"Daddy! Daddy!" the little girl cried happily as she ran toward the mighty dwarf where he stood under the archway.
"I missed you, sweet pod!" Alor crouched down and lifted the child up to his shoulder, where she sat, beaming. "Have you been good while I was away?"
"I made a puzzle box. See!" The girl held out a soapstone box. The master craftsdwarf always started the young ones with the material since it required little strength to carve, though it crumbled easily. Even so, the box was quite exquisite.
"That's beautiful. Now let me see here..." Alor pressed a button and the lid popped open. There was nothing inside. "Hey, where's my treasure?" he said in mock indignation.
The girl took the box and made a series of complicated motions along the inside of the empty compartment. A second lid opened, revealing a piece of dwarven sugar candy. The child giggled and smiled broadly.
Alor scratched his head and laughed. Coren was only six, but she was already beyond him.
"Did you win, daddy?" Coren asked.
"Ah, the tournament? Yes, sweet pod, there hasn't been a dwarf born yet that can beat your father," Alor looked at the puzzle box. "At least not at wrestling. And you know what else?"
"What else, daddy? What else?"
"I met a talking boar and we became friends."
"Again?" Coren complained. "I want to meet your animal friends soon."
"I'll invite them over for your party next month. Until then, you have to work hard. Do you have a lesson today?"
"Yes. Mr. Goldlocket says he'll let me try marble today."
"Marble, eh? That's amazing. You really are your mother's daughter. I'll walk you to the shop." Together they strolled down the passageway. Alor admired the carvings and architecture, occasionally pointing an engraving out and explaining its history, though his daughter had heard it all before. It had been two months since he left for tournament, and the wrestler had missed his home very much.
"The three of us should have a feast tonight. What do you say?" Alor asked. Coren did not respond.
The dwarf looked down. His daughter was not there. She was not in the passageway. There was no sign of her.
"Goblins!" A scream echoed through the tunnels. "Goblins in the fortress!"
 (18 September 2007)
"I'm sure she's in there," Alor said from his place behind the boulder where he looked down upon the rusted iron doors of Chatteltomb.
"We must act now, while there's still time," the boar urged. This was the same boar that Alor had befriended by the riverbank, and it now came to aid Alor in his time of need.
"The door is locked. Even with our combined strength, I doubt we can force entry," the leopard observed. This was the same leopard that Alor had befriended in the high grasses, and it also came to aid Alor in his time of need.
"Don't worry. The guards were drunk in the ravine below," the marmot announced as it scampered up the slope with the key in its mouth. This was the same marmot that Alor had befriended on the mountainside, and it came to aid Alor after promises of food.
"I've only challenged the depths of this black pit once in my life. It is a memory I have longed to forget, though it will serve me now," Alor said. "It sickens me that my daughter is kept there. The way to the dungeons will not be heavily guarded, as fear of this place keeps all but the foolish at bay. That said, the tower above is garrisoned with unnumbered horrors. If the alarm is raised, escape will be impossible."
The group made their way down to the entrance. With some effort, Alor forced the key into place. The great doors swung open with a grating noise, exposing a palpable darkness that hung heavy in the stale air like a fog of soot. The thick shadows were penetrated from beyond by sinister red lights which gave vague form to the smooth obsidian corridors.
Once all had passed into the tower, they closed the door behind them. "We can only hope it is not unusual for the doors to sound. Do you see anything?" Alor whispered to the leopard.
"Several doors down, a goblin is standing," the leopard spoke softly. "It has turned to face us. I don't think it can make us out yet, but its night eyes are almost as strong as my own. It is coming this way."
Indeed, Alor could barely make out twin spots of crimson shining in the distance. The dwarf felt the leopard slip from his side. In a moment, the crimson spots disappeared from view. No sound accompanied their departure. Alor and the others padded quietly forward, approaching the stairway and the dungeons below.
 (29 April 2007)
The wayward manager Aliz stepped quietly down the last flight of stairs into the lowest depths of the abandoned halls. The air of the room was stale and warm. The light of the dwarf's torch illuminated a stone pedestal, on which rested a gray book.
"The Tome of Suffering," Aliz whispered. In its blood-stained pages, the collected wisdom of countless outpost managers waited for his perusal. Never again would his charges starve. Never again would they complain for want of whiskey. Never again would Aliz have to consult the half-baked scribblings of his uncle Toran.
The ground shook and Aliz's ears were assailed by a deafening crash. When the dust cleared, the entire chamber was illuminated by a sinister red glow. In place of the far wall was a yawning pit filled with bubbling magma and flames. From the inferno came a betusked fiend, ravening, its slavering maw belching foul vapors through which stared its cruel bulging eyes. Its clawed hands kneaded the lardy folds of its corpulence as if it sought to make room for this latest morsel.
Aliz was terrified. The dwarf clutched the Tome to his chest. The horrific beast crouched by the magma pool, muttering in a grating whisper:
"It will be eaten. It will be eaten, the dwarf. Eaten. Eaten alive."
 Danrik Begin: (29 October 2007)
Fire seared the sky as the dragon circled, driven by madness and the promise of gold held deep within the dwarven tunnels. Standing on the battlements of the stone façade built over the entrance to the fortress, Danrik the marksdwarf took aim at the evil target, his heart thumping slow and steady. He waited two more beats and pulled the trigger. An instant later a dozen marksdwarves let fly and a hail bolts pierced the smoky air.
Most of the bolts bounced harmlessly away, but Danrik's well-aimed missile found the monsters skull, shattering the brain. The dwarves cheered as the beast fell from the sky. The smile fell from Danrik's face as the great corpse fell closer -- it was coming right at them! Dwarves climbed over each other, making for the stairs. Other risked jumping from the wall, breaking their arms and legs as they landed. Danrik stood fast.
As the dead dragon slammed into the fortress's stone wall the dwarves were flung into the air. As Danrik flew, he damned the dragon with all his might, his foul words ripped away by the wind. With a sudden crash, all went dark.
 (24 July 2008)
"He's awoken," came the cry. "He has awoken!"
Pain came as Danrik opened his eyes. A crowd of gaudily-dressed dwarves danced and sang in celebration of their hero. It had been a week since Danrik had fallen. His comrades slapped him on the shoulders. One brought him a chalice of wine. The dragon was dead. Every day since had been a celebration, but with the awakening of Danrik, the party had really begun.
The mighty warrior made his way out of the bedroom, supported by two lusty dwarf women. The masons were hard at work restoring the wall that the dead dragon had crashed through. The dwarf led Danrik to the courtyard.
"Speech!" cried the dwarves, "Speech!"
"Oh," said Danrik, "Well…"
A dark shape appeared in the gap between the walls, large and menacing. The dwarves grew silent as it cast its glowing red eyes on the dwarf hero.
"Yes," said the creature, "tell us how you slew the dragon, mighty dwarf, how you saved the day!"
 (5 December 2009)
Dwarf hero Danrik called for his battleaxe. A dwarven squire ran to him and put the weapon in his hand. The dwarf held the weapon high, but collapsed, steadying himself on the hilt. The demon laughed. It had congealed into the form of a man wearing a dark cloak, horns upon his head, a nightmare lord of the underworld.
“If this is the best you can you can do, you have clearly lost,” said the demon lord. “You will bring me one maiden every season.”
The nightmare lord looked over the cowering dwarves. He pointed at the gasping form of Danrik. “Start with that one’s sister.”
Danrik watched helplessly as Andra, his lovely sister, was brought to the demon’s side. The creature put its hand on her shoulder and the pair disappeared in a burst of blue flame. Danrik howled with rage. A squire ran up to him and bowed his head. “We will find Lady Andra,” said the boy. “You can count on it.”
“What is your name, youngster?” asked Danrik.
“I am called Blackbeard,” said the boy.
“A strong name for such a small body,” said the hero. “You can begin the quest by fetching a dragon tooth from the ruins of the wall. From it we will forge a mighty shank to drive into the heart of the demon lord.”
The squire smiled and bounded away into the rubble. It was the beginning of a hard recovery. While the smiths worked in the forge to create the ultimate knife, Blackbeard trained the hero to walk again. When Danrik was able to put his fist through solid rock walls, they knew they were ready. Danrik put the dragon dagger Gotter through his belt and stepped before the crowd.
“I go now to rescue Lady Andra from the pit,” said Danrik. “The road will be long and hard, to the fiery heart of the mountain and beyond, to the land of the dead. Who is with me?”
Blackbeard jumped up and down, raising his hand above the shoulders of those around him. Though it looked grim, a few brave adventurers step forward. It was not a question of whether they would reach the underworld, for they must reach it. They must reach Andra, and slay her captors, for all great tales end this way.
 (25 December 2010)
It is said that every great journey begins with a festival of drinking, but Danrik wasn’t in the mood. All he could think of was that evil spirit with his sister and his soul burned with rage. As the others celebrated their bravery, Danrik strolled up the trail toward Blood Mountain, kicking dirt clods as he went.
“You weren’t thinking of leaving without me were you?” It was Blackbeard.
“Of course not,” said Danrik, placing a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Let those fools drink themselves silly. We have a fair maiden to save.”
Together, the two adventuring dwarves mounted their ponies and trotted off into the darkness. After a time the fires of the fortress disappeared behind the rolling wooded hills. It was not long before they left the land of the dwarves and entered into the depths of Haunted Forest. No one knew what kinds of wicked spirits dwelt there for few ever returned alive.
“Why must we enter this dark place?” asked Blackbeard.
“Blood Mountain lies on the other side of this forest,” said Danrik, “and nothing will stand between me and Andra. We rest here.”
“Here?” asked Blackbeard. “Surely you could have picked a less creepy place.”
It was true. Danrik had picked a dreadful place to camp. Everywhere the night birds, eyes of the enemy, were watching them. The very trees seemed to reach out to grab them. Worst of all, they had laid their camp on a kobold burrow. Silently the creatures crawled from their holes, armed with bone knives, ready to cut the heart out of any poor fool.
“Did you hear that?” said Blackbeard.
 (05 February 2012)
Andra cried out as the grubby little goblin whipped her again. She was locked in some sort of dungeon. She couldn’t tell where for the strange rough-hewn black rock was unknown to her. She pulled at her chains again. One of them was loose. Let me at that horned villain, thought Andra, but this one will die first.
“Tell us, sister Andra,” said the goblin. “Does it hurt?”
The links of the chain exploded as the dwarf woman yanked with all her might. The broken chain slapped the goblin upside the head, killing it instantly. She undid her other hand and stole the goblin’s keys, escaping the dungeon, chain still attached.
The view outside was terrifying. Pillars of fire rose up from lakes of burning magma. Andra found herself standing on the narrow ledge of a black pyramid at the center of the world. It seemed that she could never escape this perfect prison.
Pulling the chain tight, the solution was obvious. She would find the horned king and force him to take her back. Then she began to climb. The top was further than it looked. It seemed she had been climbing for days, maybe for weeks. Then she made the crest.
The scene was ridiculous, for there was Danrik holding a shank to the demon lord’s belly while another dwarf was grappling him by the horns.
“I swear,” whined the demon. “I don’t know where she is! She must have escaped!”
“Danrik!” cried Andra.
Danrik lost his concentration for a second and the demon slapped Gotter out of the dwarf hero’s hand. Blackbeard nearly flew over the side of the pyramid as the demon bucked him off. The creature ducked just in time to save its life as Andra whipped the chain over its head.
“The knife!” cried Danrik. “It’s the only way to kill it!”
 (18 February 2014)
As Andra scanned the slope of the pyramid, the demon took advantage of her lapse in concentration. It grabbed hold of the chain, still shackled to Andra's arm and pulled her to its chest with one mighty yank. Danrik cried out, but it was to late. The demon had Andra in its clutches.
"The dagger, Gotter," said the demon. "Give it to me and I will spare your sister's life."
"I'll give it to you alright," hissed Danrik.
Time seemed to drag on as Danrik faced down his adversary. He had full faith that Blackbeard had recovered the dagger and was rushing to his aid. He held out his hand, waiting, never taking his eyes off the demon holding his sister hostage. He could never have guessed the hassle that Blackbeard was now dealing with.
"You..." said Blackbeard.
The kobold had followed the dwarves ever since they had fallen into the kobold burrow in the creepy forest. That night, the heroes must have killed a dozen kobolds a piece. Bacabadabis was away collecting grubs when the dwarves came. He returned to a scene of absolute horror. His home had become a charnel house.
"Any time now..." growled Danrik.
Blackbeard shook his head, unable to believe his bad luck. The kobold chieftain stood at the bottom of the pyramid, holding Gotter at his side. The dwarf shouted at the creature, demanding that he dropped the weapon that clearly didn't belong to him. Couldn't he see the danger up above? If they didn't stab the demon with the magic knife soon, they were all surely doomed.
"Bacabadabis", said the kobold.
If history taught any lessons, the clearest was that kobolds could not be reasoned with.
 (30 June 2007)
Rogar spun again and again, staring into the darkness. The scraping had begun all at once and it seemed to come from every direction. Nothing could be seen beyond the limit of the flickering torchlight.
There! A shadow moved slowly out of the darkness. It had the stature of a dwarf, but Rogar knew the outpost had been abandoned for decades. After a moment, the warrior could see clearly. The shuffling thing had no flesh. The bones of its feet clacked and slid across the stones. The dead were walking in this place.
There were more, many more. Rogar was completely surrounded. He held up his sword and turned from threat to threat. The dwarves were unarmed, with tatters of cloth hanging over their skeletal remains. Bits of beard were still visible stuck around their garments and their skulls. The dead stopped short of Rogar's weapon and stood completely motionless. There was no way the warrior could pass without forcing his way through.
The skeleton he had seen first raised its bony hand slowly, curling all of its fingers save one into its palm. Its index finger pointed toward Rogar. From somewhere within its skull, it emitted a long, low moan which ended in a hiss and faded into silence.
 (19 November 2006)
The adventurer, transformed into a ghoul by strange forces, crawls toward the Everlasting River of Curing, barely clinging to his life, such as it had become. Suddenly, from the ceiling dropped... Adamantine Man! Is there any hope?!
 (19 December 2006)
...M.~~~~..". .....@~~~~... ...."~~~~~...
Adamantine Man spoke and said, "Unfortunate stranger! You wish to cast off your affliction? Drink then, and be blessed."
So the adventurer drank. The soothing warmth of the water spread from the center of his body, out to his deformed fingers and toes. Without pain, they shifted and were set in their proper places, along with the other marks of the affliction. All was well.
The adventurer looked at Adamantine Man in awe and asked, "I am grateful, Adamantine Man, for I had been without hope. For years unnumbered, my people have deemed the River unapproachable. 'Adamantine Man is there', they said, and yet, I have found naught here but a generous host and the cure to all that ailed me. Tell me Adamantine Man, why are you so feared? I am humbled by your graciousness, but am I truly free from danger?"
Adamantine Man spoke for a second time and said, "Indeed, be not afraid. Your people regard me with terror, for they do not understand me, and verily, who among you can understand Adamantine Man, who does not understand himself?"
The adventurer bowed his head and said, "It is true. Even now I am unsettled, for though you have granted me renewed life asking for nothing, still, even now, I wish to leave and never return."
Adamantine Man spoke for a third time and said, "So it has always been. Go now in peace."
The adventurer left without looking back. Overjoyed, his family accepted him, no longer an outcast, and soon all in the land had heard that he who had once been tainted was made whole by the River.
Some years later, a man, broken in body, came to the adventurer's abode. "I seek your aid, for it is said that you who were once tainted were made whole by the River. Tell me, where is the River, that I might be restored?"
The adventurer looked at the man, and he said, "Adamantine Man is there. Be content now, as I shall never be again." The man departed, and the adventurer remained.
 (25 March 2007)
The adamantine man story ended.
The Pulson-9000 seared the sky trailing ion-energized purple lightning. The XZ-Trollmech Mk7 didn't stand a chance. Another contract, another payment. Rogar was the last dwarf of his village, and after many hardships had fallen into the tough life of a mercenary warrior. He had stolen his first fighting bot, but after three years he had enough money to build and repair his own. He spent his offtime tinkering, which soothed his still-dwarven heart.
For now though, he was in enemy territory. True, the contract was complete, but he had fought his way deep into the personal citadel of the vile cyber-modded troll Vanquidor in order to blow his Mk7 body to pieces, and now he had to laze through the bodyguards and sentry droids he hadn't already obliterated. The dwarf had very little ordinance remaining. Rogar put on his shades. Things were about to get hot, but he was cool as a sonic-fan. Time to fire it up! Yeah!
 (11 October 2013)
All across the flat plains of Naronia, armies were on the move. The government at Assura had collapsed and the riders of the steppe were anxious to sack the capital and take all its hoarded wealth for themselves. What they didn't know was the nature of Assura's downfall, and the horrors that were taking place there.
"Bring me the dwarf," said Lord Cenaster.
Dragged before the throne, Aliz was terrified. The creature sitting on the king's seat bore the shape of a man, but was twisted and evil. The knight in red armor released Aliz and the crafts-dwarf collapsed onto the stone floor. He had only been in Assura for two days before the fighting started. Now he was clearly in trouble.
"This city," said Cenaster, "is built on top of the ruins of a great dwarf fortress. You will show me the way in."
 (6 May 2014)
"Listen," said Aliz. "The Naronians will be here any moment. The walls of this palace are breached in six places and cannot hold the enemy at bay."
The vice-like grip of the red knight tightened around Aliz's shoulder. The dwarf looked into the knight's face and couldn't find a trace of sanity. The demon had the soldiers under the control of his mind. He looked back at the evil master. How could he reason with something that was neither dwarf nor human?
"It is true," said Cenaster, "when the horsemen of the east come, they will leave none alive. The only way out is down, to the dwarf fortress!"
It was a fate worse than death, to betray the secrets of his people, but Aliz had little choice. Old fortresses, like the one under Assura, were full of deadly traps. With any luck, Cenaster would step on the wrong stone and be sent screaming back to the Underworld.
"Take him to the entrance," ordered Cenaster.
The hatch leading to the dwarf fortress lay at the lowest part of the dungeon. The red knights cleared away the debris and pushed Aliz forward. The hatch itself was indistinguishable from the bedrock surrounding it. All that was visible was the symbol of the dwarf fortress carved into the stone.
"Cenaster," said Aliz, "if you force me to open this door, you may hope the Naronians had found us first."
 (19 April 2007)
"Hya! Hya!" Kogan screamed as he careened around the corner astride Lomrin. He had acquired the giant rat from the dungeon master for a vial of liquid fire. It had been a barrel of laughs, especially after a mug or three.
As they passed the foodpile, Lomrin stopped suddenly to inspect a large plump helmet biscuit. Kogan flew over the rat's ears and landed on his beard, sliding to a stop at a pair of black leather boots. Kogan waited a moment for his head to clear, and then he rolled back on his bottom and stared up at the face of Mul. It had to be Mul.
"On a bender again, are we Kogan?" Mul admonished.
"We? I swear I haven't given Lomrin a drop!" Kogan said indignantly.
"I wouldn't be so sure..." Mul said, indicating the food stockpile with a nod of his head.
Kogan turned his head. Lomrin had pried the lid off of a whisky barrel. Only her rear legs and tail were now visible.
"She takes after her uncle Kogan!" Kogan beamed proudly. Mul knocked him down to the ground with a push from his foot.
 (18 May 2007)
The man struggled against the chains. The dwarves stared at him, smiling in satisfaction.
"That should ward you off our treasures, human. Be glad we don't send for the Hammerer."
The human scoffed. "Ha! I may be a thief, but at least I'm not a dwarf. See how I tower above you! I may not have a trade, I may not have any notable achievements whatsoever, but I am still a man."
The blackbearded dwarf turned to his companion. "You know, Mul, I suppose we could call for the Hammerer. The Baron will understand. After all, it was the Baron's goblet we found in his pack."
The dwarf named Mul considered this. "The Hammerer could certainly give him a new perspective on life. From two or three handspans lower down, at that. Start at the ankles, perhaps?"
"I always preferred the kneecaps, myself," the blackbearded dwarf said as they turned to leave. "It's really up to Rashok to decide though."
Mul hummed in disappointed affirmation. "Hmm, Rashok gets to have all the fun doesn't he?"
"Wait! Don't leave, my little friends!" the man screamed as the dwarves disappeared through the iron gate.
The blackbearded dwarf poked his head back into the dungeon. "We'll spare some whiskey, don't worry!" He disappeared again.
"Watered down, of course..." Mul could be heard saying as their footfalls faded away.
 (28 December 2008)
Fiends pounded the trail, hunting Belmir and his thieving partner. The two had stolen into the dark goblin tower in the dead of night and taken the vial that held the demon king's essence. By destroying it, they could stop the war and put an end to the demon forever. Why destroy it, thought Belmir, when it obviously held so much value? He and Gal would be rich men. Or, he thought, looking at Gal with murderous intent, perhaps just me.
 (29 December 2008)
The lonely cottage stood underneath a great hill of snow that had been born of the great blizzard. Wind and sleet kept the pioneers indoors. That, and the promise of hated predators searching for meat in the frozen wastes. But as his family grew hungry, Fram knew that he must join the hunters outside.
Almost immediately Fram saw the danger. Bloody footprints of a great creature circled the cottage as if a monster sought a way inside. Grimly, Fram gripped his spear. He must persevere lest his family starve. He followed the monster's tracks away from his home as he pulled his furs tight against the freezing winds.
Ahead he saw a shape, a black mound against an ocean of white. Cautiously, Fram approached. It was the half eaten body of a black bear. But what could kill such a large beast. As if to answer, a monster loomed into sight, its body covered with long icicles. A blizzard man!
 (28 December 2008)
With one mighty swing, Alfonso knocked away the prone elf's sword and placed his boot on his wrist. Many moons had past since the vile creature had killed poor Jim and ate him. Even now the elf looked up in defiance. Finally, in these haunted woods far from home, vengeance would be served. Alfonso held the tip of his sword over the creature's heart, wondering vaguely if it had one.
"Back off, human," came a voice from behind, "this is my kill."
The human ranger turned to see a dwarf holding a crossbow. By the state of his boots and armor, Alfonso could tell the dwarf too, had been on a long quest. The elf saw its chance and snaked its way out from between the ranger's legs and was off into the brush in an instant. Alfonso cursed and charged after him, the dwarf close behind.
 (16 February 2009)
The dwarven toughs stood around the curve in the corridor, taunting the dwarf lasses as they passed. A particularly vicious young dwarf fingered his crossbow as he saw a dwarf he knew.
"Hey, Moody," said a thug. "There's the dwarf that owes you that coin."
"Yes," said Moody, stepping up to the dwarf, pointing his weapon.
"You owe me," said Moody. "Hand over the purse."
"I don't have your money!" said the dwarf.
The dwarven outlaws piled onto the dwarf, beating him near to death.
"I'll be back," said the blood-soaked dwarf over his shoulder as he ran. "I'll be back!"
"You're never coming back coward!" shouted Moody.
 (July 16 2008)
The demon king rode high on his dragon as his vast army assaulted the dwarf fortress below. Catapults smashed the battlements with huge balls of fire. Bolts and arrows filled the air in a deadly exchange of fire. Armored trolls ran into the stone gates, smashing into the rock and sending shards flying. Not one space above ground was safe.
"How could it come to this?" cried Durkan, hands over his ears.
"Courage," said the warrior dwarf Glamsfir.
Pebbles fell from the ceiling as another bombardment rocked the fortress. Glamsfir stood and peered out of an archery portal. The situation was fatal. He lifted his crossbow and put down a goblin archer in an act of defiance, though it mattered little.
"We have not long to live," said Durkan, "do we Glamsy?"
"I told you not to call me that," said the dwarf hero.
 (16th March, 2010)
Magic flying horses galloped through the sky carrying the elf warriors on bolts of enchanted lightning. It was war, oh war, that brought the warriors hence. The evil dwarf fighter stood atop the tower of the dwarf fortress waiting for them to come. In his arsenal were a dozen flame-throwing catapults ready to spring into action. Giant trolls dragged the ammunition up from the mines. The dwarf raised his hand. A hundred marksdwarves aimed their crossbows. Rainbows filled the sky as the elves approached. With a final snort, the dwarf let his hand drop.
 (23 April, 2010)
When it was over, not a good thing lived. With the failure of the sacred band all hope was lost. The trees of the forest were swept from the earth, and those luckless beings that lived were enslaved to the evil dwarf fortress. The dwarves delved deep into the earth and released onto it, the horrors of the underworld. Fed up with the world, the gods turned their back on it, leaving only Armok, the blood god, to rule alone.
Peasant farmer Alan heard a whistling noise from above and turned his head to the blood red sky. He leapt to the side as a huge broadsword landed at his feet. Alan scratched his head. The gods ask too much, he thought. All of his ancestors had fought and died in elongated wars. What can he give but his weak life?
 Robert 'Brightgalrs' Schultz
 (31 June 2010)
No lock was safe from the kobold master thief, Macabis. The last year he broke into the thick-walled castle Varnus. And only two weeks ago he had robbed the goblin dungeon under the Blood Mountain. But Macabis shared the failings of all of his kind. For to a kobolds there was no difference between a rough diamond and a piece of shattered glass.
"You, go here," said the wizard, pointing at a map scrawled in the dirt.
"Bring me this." The wizard produced from his robes a metal cup. The kobold blinked, its yellow eyes seemed to search for meaning and quickly gave up. The wizard reached into his other sleeve and produced a drinking horn. The kobold screeched and grabbed it with both hands. The humans always had the best drink. Macabis knew what the scratchings on the cup meant. It was the dwarf fortress of Antguard. He yanked away the horn and slung it over his back. There would be many more such drinks once the wizard had his cup.
Aliz still felt a little queasy as the sun broke over the mountains. He had been on tower duty for two months, punishment for staring too long at the beautiful queen. Had they only know the true subject of his avarice. It was the artifact cup from which she drank. It had the power to make any liquid taste like the finest wine. As he daydreamed, a shadow passed under the castle gate.
 (27 November 2010)
Power. That was all that mattered. Evil wizard Marcon commanded a legion of vampires and all manner of night creatures. It was the daylight that was his greatest weakness. When all his creatures crawled back into their graves, there he was, nothing but a lonely old man in a crumbling tower. The peasants of the village knew to stay away from the ugly building. It was rumored you could see a mournful eye staring out of the highest window, resenting all that lived.
Young page Allen took the hand of his best girl Mandy and raced through the dawn village on a lover's tryst.
"Where are we going, my love?" asked Mandy.
"To Marcon tower," said the boy. "They will never look for us there."
"No!" cried Mandy. "A thousand times no! That place is haunted."
"What's a matter Mandy?" mocked Allen. "Are you afraid of the bogeyman?"
 (18 December 2010)
Shafts of light from the failing sun shone through the high windows and fell on the lovers as they lay on the grassy floor. As Allen looked up at the inside of the crumbling building, he did so with the eyes of a boy who knew he was now a man. Somewhere in the distance a coyote howled. Night was falling. Not even Allen was stupid enough to stay in Marcon tower after dark. He tried to sit up, but Mandy lay across his arm and would not stir.
With wondrous motion the tower began to transform. Torches appeared on the walls. Cold stones replaced the grass on which Allen lay. Planks of wood sprouted from the walls and unfolded into a great spiral stairway. Chill gripped Allen's heart as he heard steps resounding down the stair. He tried to pull his hand free but Mandy lay still and cold to the touch. With horror, the young man watched as the wizard descended, cloaked and menacing.
"All hope is for naught," said the wizard. "The fruit of your deed is death eternal."
 (06 January 2011)
Mandy rose from her place with the jerking movement of a marionette. Allen cried out and crawled backward across the floor. Naked, he ran from the tower, the wizard's evil laughter ringing in his ears. He ran in fear, faster even than the bogeymen the wizard sent to chase him. Finally, his body cut up, bleeding, and exhausted, he collapsed on the steps of the temple.
"I pity you Allen," said the priest, "for it takes such a disaster to bring you to the temple of Domon."
The boy cried and told his tale of terror and woe. The priest shook his head and told him there was little hope for Mandy now. He handed Allen a small gem -- the Eye of Domon. It was said to pierce all darkness.
"You must return to the tower tonight," said the priest, "lest Mandy fall forever."
That night, Marcon was preparing for the ceremony, giggling like a little girl. Mandy was laid out before him on a stone slab. Just as he raised the dagger for the death stroke, Allen kicked in the door. Marcon made to spit out a curse when the boy raised up the Eye of Domon. With a shriek, Marcon transformed into a barn owl and escaped through the open ceiling.
 (02 April 2011)
"There is nothing we can do for her but wait," said the priest.
Allen paced the length of the church, stealing glimpses of Mandy's body splayed out on the altar. He remembered the wizard's curse. His hand gripped the jewel as he prayed to Domon for mercy. Mandy cried out. The priest put his hands on the girl's body and forced her down.
Allen's eyes went to the windows where candles flickered and went out.
"This girl is with child," growled the priest. "Where is the father?"
A knock came at the door. Allen looked to the priest, eyes wild with fear. "Go," said the priest, turning back to the writhing girl. The frightened boy picked up a torch and made his way to the front of the darkened church. Behind him, the girl was screaming between gurgling coughs. He dare not look now.
The door swung open to reveal a terrible phantom. It wore a tattered black robe and its head was a bare skull. "My master Marcon has sent me to take what is his," it said. Allen was paralyzed with fear. The girl's screams had stopped. Allen turned to see the priest, covered in blood. In his hands he held a baby, squirming and alive, but silent as death itself.
 (14 November 2011)
The air was still, and not an insect stirred in the cursed village. It was here that evil was born, and it was here evil would die. Sir Ramet looked to the most pathetic cottage and made his way to the door. When no one answered, he knocked the door off its hinges with a blow from his hammer.
He walked through a cloud of dust to see the body of a white haired old man, half starved to death. Ramet put his foot on the man's shoulder and jostled the body. It was then that he saw that it was not a man, but a boy, his hair as white as snow.
"Allen?" said Ramet. "Know that your treason has cause many a soldier to lose his life, and while your son walks the earth, no one is safe."
"Son?" said Allen to the darkness. "I have a son? My poor Mandy."
Ramet lifted his hammer and Allen seemed suddenly to come to life.
"Wait!" shouted the wretch. "I hold something which is your only salvation."
The knight watched as Allen held up a small jewel.
"The Eye of Domon?" asked Ramet, unbelieving.
The two left the cottage and turned toward Marcon's tower. The crumbling building cast a shadow across the village, the sun hiding behind its upper reaches. It was deserted, but both men knew what would happen after sundown, only a few short hours away.
 (14 December 2011)
Once they reached the ruined tower, Ramet reached under his cloak, behind his ample belly and drew a short, thick sword. He bid Allen come closer and took the Eye from him. There was a socket in the hilt of the blade and the knight drove the jewel home. A flash of light blinded the two men briefly and when he opened his eyes, Allen saw Ramet holding the glowing sword before him.
"Behold," shouted Ramet. "This is a weapon of Domon. Take it! For the seed you have spilled now soils the land, and you must put it to right."
Allen touched the sword as the last rays of sunshine faded from behind the hills. Once again, Marcon's tower rebuilt itself. Bats flew out from the top as all manner of groans and scrapings came from inside. Allen's courage failed him and he turned to run. Ramet put his hand on the boy's chest and pushed him back.
"Forget all that," said the knight. "It is time you understood the consequences of your actions. I didn't loose the demon. You did. Take the sword, go in there, and slay the monster."
The sword of Domon trembled in Allen's shaking hand as he opened the door to the tower. Calling on all his force of will, he stepped inside. It was dark save for a single candle resting on the floor. Beside it knelt a person in a dark colored robe. Silently, Allen stepped up behind and pulled back the hood of the robe with the tip of his sword.
"Mandy?" he said.
 (02 February 2012)
"I could be Mandy to you," said the girl, rising from the floor.
Allen's sword fell to his side, a tear rolling down his cheek. The dark creature brushed the white hair away from his face. The shadows dancing around began to take physical shape. Allen put his arm around the girl. The world began to spin. In his mind he could see ghostly armies marching across the land. His lips touched hers.
"That thing is your daughter!" cried Ramet. "Kill it!"
With a jerk, Allen drove his sword through the girl's ribs. The creature screamed. Red gas shot from its mouth and eyes. Allen backed away, disgusted and horrified. Ramet caught Allen in his arms as the building shook and swayed. Then, all went silent, all but Marcon's laughter.
"This villain has lived long enough," spit Ramet.
Up and Up the knight ran, bounding three steps at a time. Marcon spotted him and quit his laughter quick. A pair of shadow demons rose from the floor, but Ramet barreled straight through them and met Marcon at the roof of the tower.
"I don't suppose you would stab an opponent in the back?" asked Marcon.
The wizard turned and leapt from the tower, transforming into an owl. The knight threw his war hammer with all his might. It struck the bird in an explosion of feathers. Marcon's lifeless body spiraled slowly down to the earth.
When Ramet reached the bottom of the stairs, Allen was on his knees, staring at the floor. The knight lifted him up, leaned close and spoke to him.
"Listen," said Ramet. "We have something Marcon and your poor Mandy don't have. A future."
 (25 November 2012)
Down beneath the earth, where they never see the sun, there live a people pale and hairy. The ‘deep dwarves’ they are called, and their metropolises stretch for leagues under the root of the mountain. Rarely do they come in contact with the surface dwarves and it is not without cause that they have gained the reputation for being a little strange.
“Come and see this,” said a guards-dwarf.
Annoyed, Captain Kogar put down his pipe and stood up, brushing the ashes from his broad belly. He followed the dwarf through a series of twisting tunnels down, down to the bottom of the mine. What could it possibly be? The castle guard knew better than disturb him over petty things. Maybe it was another murder. But berserker season had already come and gone.
“Here he is,” said the guard.
At the end of the farthest tunnel, the body of a dwarf lay, as white as a sheet.
“Is he dead?” asked Kogar.
“Ask him yourself,” said the guard.
Kogar leaned down and put his ear to the pale dwarf’s lips.
“You must flee to where the sun is bright,” said deep dwarf. “For no one under the ground is safe while the monster draws breath.”
 (28 January 2013)
With that the strange dwarf died. Captain Kogar called for his lieutenants. Together they searched the mine from whence the deep dwarf came. Any opening to the underworld, no matter how small, could prove the end for even the mightiest of fortresses. After a week of searching, nothing could be found.
“Maybe the dwarf was crazed,” said a deputy. “Maybe there is no monster.”
“No,” said Kogar, “this is going to be a bad one.”
That very night, the first dwarf went missing. The creature left nothing but a dark stain on the floor. Kogar’s dwarves searched the mines again and again, but no opening could be found. When the next victim disappeared, Kogar knew he had to tell his liege, Merduk the Mad.
“What is this nonsense you speak of?” asked the mad king.
“The mine monster kills at will,” said Kogar. “We must think of sending the young ones to the surface.”
“Fool,” shouted the king, slamming his fist onto the arm of his throne. “No dwarf with come in or out until the monster is slain. Their deaths will be yours to decide.”
 (4 May 2013)
That night the fortress was a buzz of activity. After all, it was the time for the Plump Helmet Festival, a time when many a young dwarf would be married and fun would be had by all. King Merduk himself would preside over the ceremony. The streamers were strung. The torches were lit. Soon the great hall was filled with a multitude of drunken dwarves.
“Tell them to disperse,” said Kogar. “Call an end to this foolishness or you will regret it.”
“And you wonder why they call me the mad king?” asked Merduk. “Look to yourself or you will be out of a job.”
Wandering through the crowd, Kogar couldn’t even muster enough energy to drink a cup, let alone dance. This was going to be a disaster and a lot of people would die. Mad Merduk had not only gone on with the plans for the party, he had locked the gates so no one could leave the fortress. Disgusted, Kogar retired to his quarters.
“You know there is only one way to escape,” said a voice in the darkness.
Leaping to his feet, Kogar pulled his knife and scanned the room for the intruder. Though he could not see, he knew the creature was still there. But there was something else, a roar like a distant storm. Kogar stepped to the door and threw it open. The light shown down on the pale dwarf hiding in the corner, but more shocking still were the screams, now clearly heard coming from the hall.
“Leave them,” said the deep dwarf. “There is only time to save yourself.”
 (3 March 2014)
Brushing the deep dwarf to the side, Kogar ran in the direction of the screams. When he reached the door to the feast hall, he could see a pool of red flowing from underneath the portal. Beyond he could hear the breaking of bones and the gnashing of teeth. Despite his heroism Kogar could feel the doubts clouding up his mind.
"For the fortress!" screamed Kogar. "Forever!"
The door slammed open with a kick from Kogar's boot. Inside the feast hall was the scene of a slaughter house. All of his friends had been torn apart by nightmarish monsters. Kogar did not resist when the deep dwarf took his hand and pulled him back into the passageway.
"It's too late for them," said the pale dwarf. "My people suffered the same fate not long ago. We must flee under the mountain, into the caves. I know the way."
Confused, Kogar followed the dwarf through a narrow series of cracks in the mining tunnel. There the mine opened into a natural cavern three times the size of the great hall. A group of survivors had gathered there, maybe a dozen or more, along with a couple more of the pale strangers.
"There might be enough time to warn the mountain homes," said the deep dwarf, "but we must hurry."
The reality of what happened finally settled on Kogar's mind. Merduk and the rest of them were dead. There was nowhere left to go.
"Go on," said Kogar. "My business is with those that killed my kin."
 (28th October, 2014)
The dragon had a running countdown in its mind as the champion of the dwarves rode it into battle. The dragon had agreed to be the dwarf's steed if he was allowed to eat him whole in three days time. The hero had exactly two days, six hours, and forty two seconds to win the war before he was eaten.
"Look at them, dragon," shouted Goldar. "They haven't got a chance."
"I must remind you of your promise," said the dragon. "I will eat you in less than three days time."
"Yes, yes," said Goldar, "I know all that. Don't spoil the moment."
Diving out of the midday's sky, the dragon blasted jets of fire across the elven forest. Arrows launched up from the trees, pricking the dragon's flesh like a pin cushion. Goldar ordered the dragon to dive again, and so it did, lighting the forest ablaze again. Then the dragon was off, over the horizon. The dwarf had more enemies to punish and not much time to see it through.
 (13th December, 2010)
Dwarf hero Ulkram walked right up to the cyclops's lair. It was a shabby place, just a cave under a grassy hill. Here and there, stray sheep wandered hither and fro, nibbling on the wet grass. Not a stranger to herohood, Ulkram barged inside, axe held high. Inside, he was met with all manner of foul smells. Dwarven skins lined the walls and on the floor was a pile of bearded skulls. Ulkram was rendered senseless by the unimaginable evil. He went outside to wretch.
"My home is not to your liking?" came a deep voice.
The cyclops was enormous. In its mighty fist was a shepherd's cane. The monster dropped to one knee. Ulkram could barely keep his axe steady.
"Tell you what," said the monster. "How about we play a game? You ask me what I'm thinking, then I you. If I can't answer, I let you go. If you can't answer, you go in my pot. Agreed?"
Having no other choice, Ulkran nodded his head in agreement.
 (6 January 2011)
Like wild banshees, the calls of the coyotes went on all night, disturbing the dwarf outpost and all within. Watch-dwarf Aliz took up his torch and scaled the stairs of the wooden tower that stood at the gatehouse of their wooden palisade. Nothing. Nothing, but the hated forest that stood upon the rolling hills on which their wooden fortress sat. It was risky to mine out in the wilderness, away from the mountains. But without risk there is no profit, and danger is its own reward.
They kept sheep behind that wooden fence. Nali could smell them. The short hairy man things look easy enough to outrun, but they were like men, they would have weapons, and fire. But Nali's charge were hungry. A coyote nipped at Nali's hairy leg. Nali tussled the coyote's head. It would be tonight.
The coyotes howled from the woods in front of the gate whilst Nali made his way around the back of the fortress, clutching a pair of spears. When he reached the darkest spot, he wedged a spear against the wall and used it to lift himself over the side. He made his way carefully past the drunken dwarven guards to the place where the sheep were penned. Just as he was about to open the gate, he froze.
 (06 February 2011)
"Tosid, Aliz, and Sedil watched with anticipation as the workers chiseled through layer after layer of raw adamantine. The dwarves had long imagined this moment, a reality of eternal wealth. There was a scream, then another. The mineral vein on which they were mining fell away into darkness.
Aliz awoke in the manager's barracks. It had all been a dream, but his hands were wet. He hopped off the top bunk and slid on a puddle of liquid. It was blood. He stood up to see Tosid in the bottom bunk, stone dead.
"Could I have done this in my sleep?" thought Aliz. "But I was just at the mining ceremony. Where is Sedil? First things first. Where do I hide the body?"
 (2 April 2011)
The footstep of doom fell hard on Tiger Valley. Many of the elves and dwarves that lived there peaceably watched with horror as Mount Ugath erupted. Clouds of purple fog flowed down the sides of the mountain and engulfed the valley. In a few days the dust settled. No one thought anything was the worse for wear. Not at first.
"The Valley of the Waking Dead?" asked the poacher. "Aye, you are headed in the right direction. Tiger Valley they once called it. But you don't want to go that way boy."
The young man thanked the grizzled hunter and went on his way. Casser was the eldest son of King Darek. With all his younger brothers beginning to cast their eyes on his aging father's throne, Casser knew he had to prove his worth as a hero.
The entrance to the valley was a steep cliff following a tumbling stream. Prince Casser bid his page return his horse to the castle and descended into the valley alone. When he reached the bottom, he looked up to see the green, glowing trees in the bright sun. There was not a sound in the whole valley.
At long last he found the village. The fields were neatly kept, but there was no animal in sight. Not one living being. Casser moved to one of the thatch-roofed huts. He put his gauntlet to the door and it swung open. Inside the furniture was all in order. Dinner places were set at the table.
There was no food. No people. Casser was taken by a sudden hunger. He looked in his pack and found it empty. His servant had forgotten to fill it. He grew angry, but his frustration vanished when he spied it. An apple hung low on a tree just outside the house. He emerged from the cabin and reached out for the fruit.
"Don't do it," said a voice from deeper in the village.
Casser looked to see a dwarf girl, strangely glowing with some fell light. Casser brought the apple away from his lips and spat. What had happened to this place? He looked away from the strange phantom and up at the mountain. It was said a dragon lived there.
"Had you taken one bite of that apple, you would be ‘stone dead' as you humans are fond of saying," said the dwarf. "Not now. Not days from now. But soon. This whole valley is poisoned. Its only inhabitants are the dead. You must save us."
The prince retreated as the girl approached. Other spirits began to appear from the houses.
"You must kill the dragon," she said, "and end the curse. You have no choice. You have already breathed the air of the valley. Your fate is sealed, along with all of ours."
Running back toward the waterfall, Casser knew he had failed the test of manhood. He climbed and climbed, not stopping till he breathed the sweet air of the real world. One of the lord's squires was there. "That didn't take very long," said the smart ass. "The underworld must not sire demons like it used to."
On the ride home, Casser felt an itch under his gauntlet. He removed the metal glove and found his hand red and inflamed. He poked at his blackened fingernail and it fell away. Underneath was a thin, razor-like talon. Casser gagged into his mouth, a tear falling from his eye.
"Problem, sire?" asked the squire.
They rode in silence to Red Castle, where King Darek awaited them.
 (13 June 2011)
Night and day were the same, months of black darkness, punctuated by jets of fire from the many wingless dragons that crawled in the valley below. Goblins were everywhere, picking off careless dwarfs with well-placed arrows. One dwarf remarked that it was like living each waking moment in the shadow of the hammerer.
Alnar was not one to give up so easily. He vowed, though only a blacksmith's apprentice, to save the fortress singlehandedly. He would build a tube from the lip of the volcano to the goblin horde and fry them forever. If only he had the king's permission. Best to ask later.
 (04 December 2011)
As the enemy surrounded the fortress and all seemed lost, the dwarven king did an inexplicable thing by granting an audience to a lone idiot dwarf. A pair of royal guards dragged Alnar into the feast hall. His eyes were blackened as the guards had beaten him up a taste for his insolence. They dumped him before the king and he sneezed, spraying blood onto the king's slipper.
"Speak," hissed the king.
Alnar crawled to the side of the throne and pulled away a plain white sheet revealing a crimson handled lever.
"One pull of this lever and you will unleash the fury of Red Mountain," said Alnar, "and bathe the enemy in a lake of fire."
"You did this without my knowledge or consent?" asked the king.
Alnar swallowed and slowly nodded his head.
"Lock him in his quarters," said the king, "to await the hammerer."
As he heard the lock slide in, Alnar walked to the corner of his tiny room. Silently, he slid his cabinet away from the wall, revealing a second red lever.
 (04 March 2012)
Out of ammunition, the dwarves were reduced to hurling rocks at the invaders now scaling the walls. The king locked himself in the throne room, forbidding all disturbances. Try as he might, he could think of no solution to the mess he was in. Always he found his eyes drawn to the lever. Maybe the crazed dwarf was right.
No, thought the king. No dwarf would make a fool of the king. He seized the lever and ripped the whole mechanism from the floor in a frenzied rage. A messenger ran into the room, finding the king wheezing, spittle dripping from his beard.
"I know you ordered no disturbances," said the page, "but someone has released the fire of Red Mountain!"
The king trotted up the stairs of the tower, his lungs burning. Once at the top, he saw a sight like no other. Rivers of molten rock flowed from the mountain, burying the invaders or sending them running, on fire.
"An outrage," spat the king. "I will have that traitor Alnar skinned alive."
 (28 January 2013)
“I’ll kill him myself,” shouted the struggling king.
Alnar smiled a bloody smile as the king fought against the dwarf guards that held him by the arms. Slowly, Alnar rose from the floor of his cell. The second lever was there for all to see, the lever that saved the day whilst the king did nothing. Alnar laughed and spit at the ruler’s feet.
“Looks like there’s a new king in town,” said Alnar.
After the execution of King Eberious II began a reign of terror that would last for fifty years. King Alnar was a disaster. Once a hero and savior of the fortress, now all he did was drink and chase married women. Anyone who got in his way went straight to the hammerer. No one knew who would be next to put their head on the slab.
It was near winter on the forty-ninth year of Alnar’s kingship when a hero finally appeared. Jenu was the second son of a destitute mushroom farmer. He was hard at work in the fields when Alnar’s dwarves came. It seemed there was a disagreement over taxes. Jenu hid while the soldiers burned his house down. When the coast was clear, Jenu went to where his father lay.
“Quickly,” said the old dwarf, choking on blood. “They have taken your mother.”
 (12 February 2014)
"Old Alnar won't mind if you gave this old dwarf a kiss," said the cruel dwarven mercenary.
"You and your rotten king can go to the shaft as far as I'm concerned!" shouted Jenu's mother.
"Release her," came a voice from up the hill. Jenu had cut them off at the path.
"We are on an errand from the king," said the mercenary. "No farmer's runt will stand in our way."
Slowly, the dwarven goon slid from the saddle of his mule and approached Jenu, chuckling to himself. The other villain just stared out vacantly without interest. What could a boy, armed only with his fists, do against the king's dwarves. When he reached the boy, Jenu spit in his face. His hand dropped instinctively to his scabbard, but found the sheath empty.
"Get him, Jenu!" shouted the dwarf mother.
As Jenu tackled the mercenary, his mother used his stolen sword to strike down the other evil henchman. Jenu landed blow after blow onto his prone opponent. A life of hopeless servitude had smoldered in Jenu's heart until this moment, and there wasn't much left of the dwarf when Jenu was done pounding on him.
"Quickly Jenu," said the dwarf mother, "We must flee before these scum are missed."
 (19 July 2011)
Terror! Badru cried defiantly as he was shaved. The evil dwarves held Badru down as dwarven bandit lord Ukros worked his knife against the victim's beard.
"You look better this way, Badru," said Lord Ukros. "More like an elf."
The villain left Badru upon the hillside in the shadow of the dwarf fortress. He was sore and beaten, and his leg was most likely broken. The guards were sure to find him soon. He pulled his scarf up to his nose. The sign of his shame couldn't be seen by his underlings.
"What happened to you, Badru?" asked the king. "And why are you wearing that ridiculous mask?"
Badru withdrew the mask from his shaven face and the guard holding him cried out and dropped the dwarven hero to the floor.
 (11 August 2011)
"They are no more dwarf than you," said Badru's woman. "They may have beards it's true, but they live outdoors, squatting in the grass like rabbits. You will find them, and return them to the hammerer, dead or alive."
Metal clanked against stone as Badru rose. His limb was now more machine than leg. He scratched at the bristling hairs of his chin. From the wall, he took his trusty axe. As he walked from the room, his woman embraced him from behind. "Kill them," she said. "Kill them all."
Badru strode before the recruits, his metal leg creaking, a scarf over his mouth. "Alright daisies," he said. "Our target is a worthless bandit named Ukros. If you see him, leave him be. That elf-spawned toadstool is mine."
 (25 December 2011)
The miners sat in a circle around the lava well, dipping bits of bread into a bowl of melted dwarven cheese. It was the end of the year, so Aliz stood up and announced that he would make the first prediction. He said that in the next year the war would be over and the dwarves would all come home. Then the miners would strike adamantine, with Nictat taking the first chunk.
Smiling, Nictat rose and looked over the glad faces of his friends. He said that in the coming year old king Ironboot would die and be replaced by his beautiful daughter. All rations would be doubled, and all the prisoners set free.
Something moved in the shadows. The dwarves looked around anxiously. Aliz let out a sigh. It was only poor goblin Dusna.
"I have a prediction for you," said Dusna. "Not but one of us in this room will live to see the coming year."
 (2 March 2012)
"What are you doing?" asked Sarvesh.
"Giving my thanks to the trees," said Alan. "Isn't that what you people do?"
Sarvesh would never understand her new human friend. Why did he want to be like the elves? Elves have been talking to trees as long as Sarvesh could remember, and they never talked back. She flipped an apple into the air, but before she could catch it, an arrow struck it to a tree.
"Goblins!" cried Sarvesh.
 (8 September 2012)
Alan came up from his knees and cut down a charging goblin with one swing of his sabre. Sarvesh dodged out of the way of a second arrow and readied her bow. She fired blind into the woods, praying to the spirit of the forest to guide her arrow. A strangled gasp echoed from the darkness. It was over.
"We live," said Sarvesh.
"Maybe now is the time to thank the trees," said Alan.
The elf warrioress walked straight by Alan and looked at the dead body. The armor bore the twisted mark of Darquan the snake lord. It had been many centuries since the evil one had shown his face in these parts.
Sarvesh tried in vain to remember the old days, the bad old days before she met Alan and their adventures began. There was a time when the sun didn't shine, when life itself hung on a thread. So it was when Darquan ruled the world. If he had come back, he must be stopped immediately.
"Come," said Sarvesh, "we must track them back to their nest."
"At last," said Alan. "Fate has grated us a quest."
 (17 September 2013)
“I have never seen tracks like these,” said Sarvesh.
“They lead north,” said Alan.
The mud was pressed flat by a curving track that obliterated all signs of the goblins, but also pointed straight back the Garum. That horrible place was the home to many horrors. Demons from the pit of Breputog called the Garum home. Alan and Sarvesh would be insane to challenge Darquan in his evil stronghold, but they had little choice. Night was falling and the goblins would almost certainly get away.
The smell was as foul as the surroundings were bleak and depressing. There was nothing in the Garum it seemed but reeds and, here and there, a pool of stagnant water. Just when the adventurers thought they could see the top of Darquan's tower on the horizon, the last rays of sunshine sank below the reeds.
“We are in trouble now,” said Sarvesh.
This was true for many reasons. Darquan's powers were enhanced by darkness, as Mother Night is the source of many evils. Also, Darquan's army of king cobra snakemen were on the move and it wasn't likely that Alan and Sarvesh would survive. But without certain death, what is a hero to face? The adventurers braced themselves for the coming onslaught.
 (25 April 2012)
"Put him in the fiery pit," said Mabdug the Mad.
Following the king's orders like obedient slaves, the guardsdwarves dragged the victim to the flaming orifice. It was a square opening at the base of the throne, surrounded by engravings of forest creatures. Down through the hole was a huge cavern, a lake of magma under its dome. As the prisoner disappeared in a puff of smoke the king clapped his hands together like a gleeful child. He should enjoy himself, for he didn't have too much more time on earth.
"It's going down tonight," said Gekur. "Mabdug is going to the pit."
"Imagine a royal guard talking that way," said Oltar. "You could go to the hammerer for that."
Gekur embraced his brother in arms. They had served in the royal guard together for the reign of three kings. Mabdug was by far the worst. The senseless killings were only a minor thing compared to the rest. The kingdom was nearly bankrupt due to his wild parties. The goblins sensed his weakness as was their knack and were spoiling for war. But it was fate of the Ermis boy that moved the guardsdwarves most.
"My poor son," said father Ermis. "You must have a tomb for him."
"The place is picked out for furniture storage," said Mabdug. "You will have to bury him in the dirt."
"But without proper burial," pleaded the father, "he will never be forged anew."
The king laughed, "Take him away."
 (28 April 2012)
Fear loosened all dignity as the dwarves fled the burning fortress. But while they escaped the fiends of the underworld, freed by hapless miners, they now had to deal with the vile force of evil which awaited them in the world under the sun.
Darkmaster the Evil brought his halberd down onto the dwarven knight's mule. The bearded hero hit the ground at a roll and came up with a knife, cutting a gash out of the evil ruler's breastplate. The battle all around became silent as the fighters circled. None would interfere, for now it was a matter of honor.
 30 September 2012
How is it, when all hope is lost, that the best of us continue to endure? So it was that the knights of Amador stood strong against the force of overwhelming odds. As the horde of a hundred thousand goblins belched forth from the underworld and town after town fell, only the dwarves of Amador stood before the dwarf fortress and against the armies of evil.
"Booze," whimpered the fallen knight. "Give me booze."
Dworn slid down next to his comrade as the battle raged all around. The knight was dying, struck through the gut with a spear. The goblin that killed him lay a short way away in a bloody mess. Dworn held his wine flask up to the knight's lips, who was dead before he took his first sip.
"How did I end up here?" asked Dworn, as all around, the dwarves and goblins fought and died.
It was a full year before the war that Dworn signed on as a knight's squire. Those were the good days, the days before Morduk the Mad. Dworn didn't mind the rigors of military life, industrious as any dwarf. Happily he served the king and the mountain home. Time would test him, just as it tests all things under the eternal sky.
"Excellent," said Alek. "Are you really a knight's squire?"
For a fortnight, Sir Kamag had lent Dworn to the marks-dwarves to build up his archery skills. Every dwarf should learn the ins and outs of a crossbow. Or so his master Kamag claimed. Dworn hit every target at fifty paces. Alek was so pleased, he offered Dworn a job. But Dworn was pledged to his master.
"Do you really think Morduk will invade?" asked Dworn.
"They call him Morduk the Mad for a reason," said Kamag, putting a hand on Dworn's shoulder. "Come. Let's not talk of such things."
 17 July 2014
"Stran," intoned the insane dwarven priest, "Stran..."
The giant snail monster had been almost totally forgotten. In agespast Stran Witchhexes had toppled fortress after fortress. It was byfervent prayer to the Father of the Eternal Forge, and by blind luck, that the monster had been defeated and cast into the infinite caverns underground. After the celebrations, no one gave a care for the vile creature. No one, that is, but the Witchhexers.
It started innocently enough. Instead of praying to the dwarven gods, the youngsters not old enough to remember the true calamity would call on Stran Witchhexes to strike down their enemies. Some took this a little too seriously, and thus the Witchhexers were born.
The priest had ventured out into the underground layers farther that it was safe. There he began to lay a trail of leaves and flower petals back to the dwarf fortress as bait for the snail monster. Maybe if the dwarves had paid more attention to the priest's mental illness, disaster could have been averted.
 25 July 2014
The dwarves of the fortress lived short, desperate lives. Every few days a dwarven knight would come down from the mountain to pick seven more 'volunteers.' At first the new migrants were impressed by the advanced industry and amazing works of art. But then they were put to work cleaning up blood and bits of bone. The looks of the older workers said it all. They might as well be condemned to the Underworld.
"Let me tell you something," said one of the fortress guards. "Form not attachments here. Be it your best friend or your favorite pair of shoes, everything here falls to corruption."
Ashek finished sewing up another leather body-bag when the guard captain appeared in the corridor. She had only been in the fortress for a few days and the captain was monitoring her for signs of a mood disorder.
"Did you know him?" asked the captain. "No sir," said Ashek.
"Good," said the captain. "To you he is just another berserker. He was my brother."
"I'm sorry for your loss," said Ashek.
"Do not feel sorrow," said the Captain. "It is better to have no feelings at all."
As the captain wandered off, Ashek wondered if he would be the next dwarf lost to an increasing spiral of mental illness. Maybe the captain was right. We just have to keep on working.
The platypus man’s wheeling kick took the goblin warlord by surprise. The poison heel barb slashed through the goblin’s jugular vein, dropping him instantly. The animal people rejoiced, for the battle was won. But the war was not over. The goblin army was destroyed, but their dark tower still spewed filth into Platypus River. The platypus man thought for a time. They needed a fortress to fight a fortress. They must go to the dwarves.
“Look at this one,” said Aliz, chuckling. “I’ve never seen one of them before.”
High on their wall, the dwarves watched, amused as the platypus man explained the fate of his people. Don’t they know we all drink from that river? An empty wine jug crashed down beside him. The animal man was angered. His eggs would not hatch to see either of these fortresses standing. He turned to the capybara man and spoke.
“Tomorrow begins Year Zero.”
“We must build our own fortress,” said the beaver man.
“Always building with you,” said the platypus man, poking the sides of his head. “No. We must play the two evil fortresses against each other. The goblins will be easy to trick. Their hearts are so filled with hate, their heads don’t have much time for thinking. No. It is the dwarves that are the real problem.”
The platypus man leaned back against a rotten log, deep in thought. A forest rat man approached him. The platypus man’s eyes widened as the rodent man knelt beside him. There might be hope.
“My people have been inside the dwarf fortress. You will be happy to know it is rigged to self-destruct. A pull of a lever with bring up fire from the mountain to destroy all outer sign of the fortress. It would be as if it never existed.”
The platypus man stood up. It was clear now. He would bring the goblins to the dwarf fortress and so both his enemies would destroy each other in a ball of fire. That night there was a meeting of the tribes. Animal people from all over the forest gathered to hear the platypus man’s scheme.
“It’s there,” said the platypus man. “The secret entrance is right there, behind those bushes.”
The goblin blinked twice. The platypus man looked on him with mistrust. What he could trust is that goblins would not hesitate to pull the lever, even if they found out it was a suicide mission. Dwarves marched back and forth on the wall high above. When the coast was clear, the platypus man slapped the goblin on the helmet and the squad of green skinned commandos charged across the open field before the guards could see. They made it inside, but would it be enough?
“How can you count on those loons?” asked the capybara man.
The swamp rodent had a point. Goblins were not known for their wit, unless it was in hurling insults. For a long hour they waited. Then, just when it seemed the quest had failed, an explosion rocked the earth. Red fire burst from every high window of the dwarf fortress. The goblins had done it and were now likely vaporized themselves.
Higher and higher the flames rose, threatening the natural surroundings. Quickly, the platypus and his friends went to warn the others. What had we done?
Desolation, and the promise of a life without the trappings of home. The fire burned absolutely everything. Even if the river still flowed, it was most likely choked with burnt and blackened sludge. The platypus man would never know, for he had no planes to return to the once green valley under the mountain. He and a few others took what they could, an egg or two, and set out over the barren dirt of the plain.
High above, buzzard men circled. The dwarves' mountain had long since disappeared under the horizon. All that was left was the sand of the desert for leagues in every direction. The amphibious forest men collapsed, one after another, convinced at last that there was no hope.
“There is another forest, I promise you,” said the platypus man. “Just over that dune is a river, swift and true.”
“Save it, Puss,” said the beaver man. “There are no words you can say that will save us now.”
“You are wrong,” said the platypus man. “How can you give up, after coming this far?”
"Here," said the elf warrior, "everyone does their part."
The animal people did find another forest, but it was one already peopled by elves. These monsters took from the animal people something almost as dear to the them as the trees themselves. They took the animal people's freedom. They had become pets of the elven princess, Kesia.
"Platypus man," said Kesia. "The goblins have grown bold after the destruction of the dwarf fortress. You will swim upstream and report on their progress."
The platypus man bowed low and hopped into the water. It was a pitiful situation. As he cruised on up the river, he passed the bodies of many dead salmon. He wondered if it wasn't time for him to die and leave the cursed elves for his descendents to deal with. The further upstream he went, the fouler the water tasted. That was when he knew he was in goblin country.
A great clawed hand reached down and pulled the platypus man out of the river by the scruff of his neck.
"No, Orag, don't kill him," said the goblin. "It's our old friend Puss-puss"
The troll dropped the platypus man in front of his goblin master. Uloma had been one of the goblin commandos that had destroyed the dwarf fortress. He lost an arm in the blast, an injury he would never forgive the platypus man for allowing to happen.
"Why have you returned?" asked Uloma.
“Once again,” said the platypus man, “the animal people have fallen under the control of an evil force. The elves would make us their pets.”
“Yes,” said Uloma. “It is a familiar story, but what's in it for the goblins?”
“The forest was destroyed with the dwarf fortress,” said the platypus man. “Without lumber, on what will you impale the bodies of your enemies?”
“There is wisdom in your words, platypus man,” said Uloma. “I shall lead the vanguard myself.”
The platypus man rode alongside Uloma in his war chariot. Behind them were a raiding party of a dozen trolls and a full legion of goblin warriors. It would take a miracle for the elves to survive, or so thought the platypus man as he heard the lusty marching songs of the goblins as they cheerfully went off to war. It was going to be a blood bath.
“Where is the platypus man?” asked Kesia. “I ordered you to keep an eye on him at all times! You have no idea how crafty he can be!”
All the beaver man could do was hang his head in shame. The animal people really had it better in the elf forest than they did fighting the goblins and dwarves. Platypus man didn't see it that way. If they had to give up their freedom, they were better off dying in a fight to preserve it. Not everyone agreed with platypus man, and beaver man was one of them. He had foreseen the danger and had created a fortress of fallen logs around the elves' sanctum.
“What is this?” shouted Uloma. “You said the elves would be taken by surprise.”
Just plain confused, platypus man looked at the wooden battlements that beaver man had erected. Uloma sent a team to scale them, but they were driven back by sporadic bow and sling shots from the wall. Uloma consulted with his generals. At first they thought of burning the forest down, but that would profit them nothing. Still, it did give the goblin a sick thrill.
“Prepare the fire brands!” commanded Uloma.