No matter which world you are in, deserts happen to be one of more if not the most inhospitable places you can find yourself in. Arid and devoid of vegetation that could shield you from the scorching sun, deserts make short work of any unprepared travelers or unlucky wanderers. Those few that survive the frying pan the golden sands become during the cloudless day often perish in the eerie and silent embrace of the frigid nights.
Joe on the other hand, fought with a slightly different issue.
Biting, cursing, snarling and spitting, he feverishly toiled to remove the furry thighs from around his neck while the body heat of five snoring furballs, wrapped around him threatened to cook him alive. His efforts, vane as they were, caused the dreaming owner of the bum hanging inches above his face to shift while the deadly ‘pffffft’ escaped its chamber.
Feeling the hairs in his nostrils begin to sizzle, Joe held his breath and with watering eyes, did the only sensible thing he could at this time. He unequipped his body and in the form of a wisp, escaped his tent.
“Lord under da mountain, what had ya fed 'em?”
Squeezing his chubby nose in unhidden disgust, a legless and mostly transparent dwarf balked at the stench so potent it broke the boundaries of reality and crossed into the ethereal realm they occupied. It also made the dye of Joe’s tent fade as they watched.
“Come on yer lad. Will ya stop pretending ya canna see me. Me an ya both 'now that a lot’s of bullocks.”
“What do you want?”
“Ah knew it! Me balls and hamma ah knew it! You canna see me!”
Feeling it is too late for a facepalm and lacking limbs in his wispy form, Joe limited himself to a scowl. He’s been ignoring that ghost for the past two weeks yet it kept following him and refused to surrender to the power of the potato.
“Yeah, yeah I canna seeh yah… what do you want dwarf?”
“Ya 'ev something da es not yer, lad.”
Yeah, Joe had lots of things that weren’t his. They just happened to end up in his inventory whenever they mingled with acolytes venerating that bitch. Whenever asked, he swore he had no clue how it came to be that those things found themselves in his possession or why this or that person required extensive treatment after he bumped into them.
“If ya listen ta old me, me thinks we canna 'ev a deal lad.”
“And what if I don’t?”
“Then yer fooked. Er will hunt ya for’evah.”
Considering all the other possibilities, Joe once more entered his old body and fetching the darkness’s very own potato, he shoved the tuber right into the dwarf’s face.
Then absolutely nothing happened.
[Error! Conditions not met. Target of the action cannot ascent or be banished.]
“See? Told ya lad. Yer fooked.”
Perhaps he was. Perhaps he wasn’t. Swinging as hard as he could, Joe brought the vegetable down on the dwarfs head yet his hand just went straight through the specters body. Regardless, he tried again and again.
“Calm down ya nob before ya pop something. I ain’t going nowhere till ya swear ta do me asking.”
Panting and red faced, Joe dropped to the sand.
“What do you want from me?”
“First calm yer 'orses, ya nob. Ya ain’t worth squat ta me if ya kick da bucket outa here in da fookin nowhere.”
A ghost just told him to relax. The insanity of that statement made Joe chuckle and look at his trembling hands. He’s been on edge for the past few weeks.
He put his hand over his heart and focused on his breathing until his heart rate dropped to something normal. Deep breath in, breath out. Just like in that Wim Hof video he watched so many times after he got pardoned. It worked wonders. It always did. Wim’s heavily accented speech instructed him from within his memories to take control of his breath and in result, to regain control of his body.
“Ya betta now, lad?”
Even his status screen now showed a Relaxed boon of plus nine to recovery.
He’s been running so fast he entirely forgot himself. He forgot what he never wished to be again. Calmed, he sat crosslegged in the sand and enjoyed the cold breeze. It felt so refreshing. As if a stone yoke fell off his shoulders. Using that moment of clarity, Joe did what he should’ve done long ago. he took a mental step back and looked at himself. Looked at where his mad scramble got him. Looked at the ghost of the master blacksmith smiling at him.
“What kind of favor does the esteemed elder wish to earn from me?”
“Puha! Me see ya lad tightened yer screws back again! Good! Good!”
The dwarf tried to pat him though his hand just went straight through Joe’s shoulder.
“Ya 'ev something in yer possession that es for mah bloodline. Mah treasure.”
“Not to be rude but can you be more specific? Recently i’ve picked up a lot of baggage.”
“Ya 'ev me book, ya nob. A book with me all skills.”
A book? Joe scratched his chin and opened his inventory. He had a lot of junk in there but a book? A skill book at that? For sure he would notice one.
An item with a red mask over it stuck out within his inventory.
[Diary - Sealed]
He read the name, then browsed through the item description.
A missing diary of Grand Master Blacksmith Theortin. Sealed. Can be opened only by Theortin himself or by those he names as his successors.
“Is this the thing you’re talking about?”
Joe pulled out the book and showed it to the dwarf.
“Damn right da is, lad!”
“Here, you can take it.”
“Why da fook would ah need it? Me bones 'er feeding daisies way before yer been farting in yer diapers lad. Ah don’t da need it.”
“Ya’ll take it to mah niece. It 'es er right to 'ev it.”
Joe sighed and shoved the thing back into his inventory.
“Well, I do understand the sentiment but at the moment I don’t have much time for side quests.”
"Fook yer do. Yeh been going ta right way da all week. After ye done yer fiddling in da town me think ya can do a detour ta mah nice. Hand er da book. Ah think she be still living where ah left er. "
[You have discovered the secret quest “Mah precious!” Time limit :none. Objective: Deliver Theortin’s diary to his nice. Reawrd: Unique skill, Blend. Do you accept?]
“I’ll just drop off the book and me on my merry way? You swear there’s no sub-quest-bull-crap attached?”
“On mah fookin balls, lad! Ah ain’t nah crook!”
“You have no balls.”
Joe pointed at the missing parts of the transparent apparition.
“Ah ye scoundrel! Fine!”
[You have discovered the secret quest “Mah precious!” Time limit :none. Objective: Deliver Theortin’s diary to his nice. Reawrd: Unique skill, Blend. Conditional reward: If there are any other quests attached, the recipient of this book shall become your permanent property. Do you accept?]
“Really gramps? You’d do that to your nice?”
“No! Course, ah wouldn’t! Da es feh ya lad ta see ah ain’t fookin with ya.”
If he was wiling to go that far… Joe shrugged his arms and press the yes button. At about the same time, the dwarf began to shine and sparkle.
“Ah be watchin ya lad, doh na forget dat!”
“Sure thing gramps.”
He waved the ghost away then flopped on his back and watched the starry sky. When was the last time he felt so calm?
A falling star crossed the inky sky above him. Joe never was a superstitious person but, he eyed the ticking clock in his quest window then closed his eyes and whispered.
“Let all this bullshit end with something nice and peaceful.”
A rustling coming from his tent caught his attention. Sleepwalking on all fours, Neira crawled out of his tent then shuffled up to him and dropped atop his chest.
She mumbled in her sleep while her claws hooked themselves into Joe’s clothes, anchoring their bodies together.
Joe smiled. If he knew that star would fulfil his wish so fast, he might have wished for something more substantial and less drooly.
“…mah stoopid mastah…”
Enjoying the warmth seeping into his body from his drooling comforter, Joe closed his eyes. They still had some time before the big day.