On her way out, Hilda passed by the skeleton again. The skeleton was now the proud owner of a little silver saucer which it held before it like a lazy alms collector. It also had a bit of adventurer stuck between its teeth, suggesting the source of its newfound treasure.
The djinn was hovering by its counter, glowing gentle blue in the bright night and reading a magazine in a strange language. It didn’t spare the dwarf a second glance. All around them dark trees rustled with gentle winds and bustled with a multitude of birds and crickets. A small fire, not much bigger than a torch, flickered behind the trees.
Hilda wasn’t very good with stealth, but she still made an effort to creep to the bonfire and see what it was about. If it was only a few lizardmen, she could take them and probably earn a few gold pieces in the process. Technically, all treasure had to come from the dungeon, but who was going to complain, a few dead lizards or a handful of trees?
Instead of slobbering, stinking, swamp monsters, Hilda found a tall and muscular human sitting by the fire and sharpening branches with a penknife. His powerful chest and shoulders were covered in tribal tattoos, but his face was surprisingly smooth. His hair was shaggy but short, like the hairstyle she tried to force on Gloin. Right now, Gloin had so much hair he could go about naked and few would notice…
A massive but crooked sword, a tanned hide armor, and a large burlap sack lay at the man’s side. Behind him there was a tall stack of doors of various shapes and sizes.
“Good evening whoever you are,” the man said in flawless Common. “Come sit by the fire. I have plenty of marshmallows and beer…” He patted a smooth stump by his side.
Hilda shrugged and stepped out of the bushes. Hilda bowed her head, made the sign of the moon, and sat on the ground across from him.
The man pulled a clay jug from his backpack and threw it at her. She grabbed it awkwardly with both hands, nearly dropping the fragile container on the ground. Dexterity wasn’t her forte.
The man snickered. “So, what are you doing alone in the woods at this hour of the night?”
“My name is Hilda,” the dwarf said. “I’m a paladin.” She opened the jug and sniffed. It was beer, and not the cheap sort.
“Okay,” the man nodded, “but that’s just your name and class. Surely you have more background than that?”
Hilda frowned. She didn’t like opening up to strangers. “I am a moon paladin and I’m raiding that dungeon over there.”
“Fine!” The man said in mock outrage. “Then I won’t marry you!”
“Um… I have a boyfriend,” Hilda said hesitantly. She may have been a moon paladin, but the man was twice her size and looked like he had a few levels under his belt.
“Okay,” the man made a T with his hands as if requesting a time off. “So you’re a paladin and you have a boyfriend. Are paladins allowed to have boyfriends?”
“Um… the commentaries are conflicted.”
“Ah-huh…” the man smiled as he skewered a sausage on a branch and handed it to the dwarf. “My name is Medvak. I’m the doorbearian.”
Hilda stuck the sausage into the fire and watched it crisp and sizzle. Her mouth watered and her belly grumbled. “A doorbearian? I’ve never heard of this class.”
“I started as a barbarian but I kept coming near to death because of my lack of armor, so I took the bear totem for extra damage resistance. Raiding was a piece of cake after that.” The man blew on his sausage before taking a huge bite. He chewed with his mouth open, exhaling vapors like a baby dragon.
Hilda sipped from her beer. It was warm but good. Long shadows quivered around them, dancing to the tune of the fire. Her own sausage looked just about cooked.
Medvak wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Selling the loot. Now that was a thorn in the butt. We could spend three days looting a dungeon for some magical crap and then a month trying to find buyers who weren’t liches or evil dragons or insane cultists trying to re-awaken an alien god, or even worse,” the man sighed deeply, “scammers.”
“Not very barbarian,” Hilda said while chewing her succulent sausage. It was nice and crispy, “the looking for buyers part.” Hilda yawned, hiding her mouth with the back of her gauntlet.
“Exactly!” Medvak shouted excitedly, startling the drowsy dwarf. His physique was very impressive. This was the body of a man who wrestled with trolls and won strongman contests, not the body of a salesman who lived off the crumbs of the rich and famous.
“So this one time, we were doing this dungeon that was just full of fake doors with crossbow traps behind them. Like, that was the only kind of challenge in the whole dungeon! You open a fake door and you get shot for like five damage. That’s it! Can you imagine?”
“Ugh,” Hilda commiscrated. “So boring! And usually the treasure in the end is some ancient crown that was once worth a fortune but now, due to inflation, can hardly buy you dinner.”
“Uhu,” the barbarian said, “and whoever designed this dungeon made all these doors look exactly the same. Unless you were mentally retarded, there was no way you’d confuse a fake door for a real door, so what’s the point, right?”
“Mhm.” Hilda helped herself to another sausage from a box near the fire. If she was camping with Gloin, she’d skewer half a dozen together on some improvised contraption held together with marshmallows. However, she didn’t feel safe enough to reveal her true self to this man yet.
“Eventually, I realized that-- hey, more beer?”
Hilda shook her jug to indicate she still had some drink left.
“Good. Eventually I realized that you could use fake doors to disable traps as well as do a whole bunch of other stuff. A door is a shield. A door is a bridge. A door is a weapon. A door is a lifeboat. A door is a commodity--”
“A door is a door?” Hilda suggested. She felt very awkward maintaining full battle readiness during such a pleasant kumzitz, not to mention wearing a full plate on such a hot night. By now she was fairly certain the man wasn’t going to attack her, so she placed her shield on the ground and started removing her breastplate. Hopefully, the smell won’t be too terrible…
Medvak arched his bushy eyebrows. “Need help with that?”
“I’m fine.” Hilda said tersely, stifling a whimper from a pin that pierced her thumb. She could really do with a squire or a giant mole… Both of which would come as soon as she had a domain. Maybe some cute and fuzzy pet too…
Medvak shrugged and picked up his crooked sword. “See this weapon? I haven’t hit anything with it in over a year. I only use it to pry open doors now. I have the greatest selection of doors in the realm.” He leaned forward and pointed at his broad, tattooed chest with a calloused thumb. “This is all from carrying doors. Even people from other countries seek me out to buy rare doors or hire me to perform door-related quests.” He leaned back like a barbarian king on his throne. “I think I may even take a level as a magic user to move into the multidimensional door sector.”
“That’s amazing.” Hilda said with genuine admiration. She finally unclapped the right clasp and her breastplate came clattering down. She wore underneath a purple tunic marked with astrological motifs, and a whole lot of bruises from her uneasy relationship with gravity.
The dwarf wrinkled her nose and started working on her greaves. As long as she maintained this distance, odor would not be an issue… for Medvak. “Once I have a home of my own,” she said after freeing one half-cooked leg from its steel encasing, “I’ll definitely seek you out to help me choose the right doors.” She wriggled her toes with delight.
“Cool,” the man said absentmindedly. “So a few weeks ago, I gained a level after selling a rare door to a sphinx refugee from an abusive wizard. I haven’t fought anyone all week, so this came as a total surprise.”
Hilda leaned forward, enjoying the feel of the wind on her skin. It was such a delight to be free of that metal dwarf cooker and have a nice meal by the fire without having to pay for it. After all, she came here to make money, not spend it.
The barbarian’s eyes briefly flickered over her body and he smiled with the corner of his mouth. “Nice tunic,” he said. “So anyway, I looked at my advancement tree and there was a new totem. A door totem. Ever heard of anything like that?”
Hilda shook her head since her mouth was too full to answer. She took another swig and found her jug empty.
“I took it and instantly gained the ability to find secret doors and a combat bonus whenever holding a door. Also,” he flexed a massive bicep, “doors don’t encumber me like they used to. I can carry 20 doors without sweating.” He sure was sweating now…
“You could be a floating door ride at a carnival…” Hilda suggested, fascinated with a furiously burning marshmallow that fell into the fire.
The man looked at her crossly then snorted the anger away. He struck her as the type that was slow to anger and quick to forgive, which was considered righteous in the commentaries. She was slow to anger and slow to forgive, which was a flaw, but was cancelled by her virtue. Or something like that. She flunked her advanced commentaries class. Bigly.
“Not my business model,” he finally said, “and don’t call me a doorman or I’ll smack you right on the head.”
Hilda’s snort despite herself. “At least do it with a cool door...”
The wind shifted and started blowing smoke in the dwarf’s face. She got up and took a seat nearer to the barbarian (and the marshmallows!) to get out of the way of the smoke. From up close, she sensed how huge Medvak was, even for a human. She guessed that if they were both standing up, the top of her head would barely reach his elbow.
The two sat in silence for a while, enjoying the crackling of the fire and the music of nature. A cool breeze blew through the trees, carrying the odor of running water and distant blossoms. Stars glittered like diamonds on black velvet. None of this gave Hilda any idea what to say. She was really bad at small talk.
The barbarian threw another handful of twigs into the fire. “So--”
“Do you want to form a partnership?” Hilda blurted out, surprised by her own audacity. “You’ll keep the doors and I’ll keep the loot?”
Medvak grinned and there wasn’t the least bit of evil or chaos in his grin, just two rows of mostly intact teeth with some ground beef stuck between them.
“Deal, mystery girl.” He said and offered her his ham-sized hand. “You’re so secretive, I’m sure you have a cool story to tell.”
Hilda shrugged. They shook hands, her small palm entirely enveloped by his huge paw. It was a good handshake, neither a flimsy noodlefest nor a needless contest of strength. In dwarf culture, this was worth more than any carefully worded contract.
“Just so you know,” Hilda said as soon as she got her hand back. “I really do have a boyfriend. Also: I don’t do dishes.”