Hilda woke up without her armor. Her face and thigh were bandaged, poorly. She was staring at a picture of a winged penis scribbled on the ceiling. She wondered how the kobolds climbed all the way up there to draw this vulgarity and why.
She turned her head. This was difficult since her head felt several sizes too big and her neck was a spring. The room had a new door. It looked crammed rather than hinged but it kept out visitors all the same.
Medvak sat by her side and carved a wooden dragon with his penknife. He looked like he’s aged a decade and lost 20 kilos. Necromancy wasn’t the most powerful magic, but it was sure the meanest. That’s why even monsters disliked necromancers. I must cast restoration quickly, Hilda thought, or he may remain like this forever.
“I am so sorry!” she cried out at the same time the barbarian said, “how are you feeling?”
“This is all my fault!” she cried out at the same time the barbarian said, “I was worried about you.”
Hilda propped herself on her elbows. The world undulated around her like she was on a yacht piloted by a creature that fed on sea sickness. She tried to get up but the floor dodged her feet and she fell face forward. She would have earned a third concussion if the barbarian hadn’t caught.
“Easy girl,” he whispered as he gently eased her on the stained carpet. Hilda lay there alone. The dead kobolds were nowhere to be seen.
Hilda nodded and swallowed her nausea. Shit. I need to cast heal wounds on myself first. She exhaled carefully to avoid throwing up all over her benefactor. I only have three spell slots. This will leave me out of spells for the reminder of day. She swallowed again before speaking. “I wasted us a whole day on a single worthless encounter.” She blinked away tears of frustration.
The barbarian gently petted her on the head.
“Adventuring isn’t farming,” he said softly. “It’s a roll of the die. Stop beating yourself.” His smile had even less teeth than usual. “The floor is already doing it well enough.”
“I always had a complicated relationship with gravity,” Hilda said as she fished out her holy symbol from her tunic.
“What’s gravity?” Medvak asked.
Hilda closed her eyes to better focus on her heal wounds spell. If she got lucky, maybe she won’t have to waste another spell tomorrow to be fully healed. Cold terror gripped her as she realized how bad her condition was. Her being alive was pure luck. She could easily have fallen asleep and never woke up.
“Gravity is the thing that hurts you when you fall.” Hilda said after she opened her eyes. She felt much better though she still had less than half her full hit points. “Now shut up and lie down.”
“Ah!” Medvak said with a sly smile. “Now there’s something I like to hear from a girl!”
“Don’t be stupid,” Hilda retorted, “I’m not a girl for you. I’m a dwarf.” She pulled out a chalk from her backpack and started inscribing the hidden names of the goddess on the floor. “That kobold drained your life force and I need to restore it before the drain becomes permanent.”
Hilda practiced the proper gestures and incantations while the barbarian lounged on the floor. “This is a complicated ritual, so don’t talk while I work.”
Medvak nodded. “Are dwarfs naturally so smooth or do you shave?”
Hilda kicked him in the ribs while consulting the Book of Heavenly Deeds. Rituals were a tricky business. She kneeled to correct one of her diagrams.
“We’re going to have to fight those hobgoblins you warned me about,” Medvak went on. “It’s the only way to reach the lower levels according to your map.”
Hilda shook her head. “There is a different way which doesn’t require fighting.”
“What’s there?” Medvak asked as Hilda took a position over his supine form and spread her arms to appeal to her goddess. She was 99% sure she got this right.
“My number one fan…” the dwarf said sourly. “Hey!” she kicked the barbarian again. “You were told not to move and not to talk! The ritual is difficult enough without you breaking my concentration. Now seriously -- shut up.”
Medvak laughed and winced.
“We could do some preliminary exploring after I restore your Constitution,” Hilda said after going over the sacred words for the final time, just to be sure. “Now shut up and don’t move at all until I tell you to.” She kicked Medvak again. “Don’t answer! And stop looking at me like that. It’s distracting! Be serious!”
The dwarf wet her lips, spread her arms and started the ritual. “Blessed are You, O Lady our Goddess, Queen of the Moon, who bestows good things upon the unworthy, and has bestowed upon me every goodness, who is good and does good and…”
Going through the ritual without faltering wasn’t easy with the huge idiot constantly making funny faces at her, but Hilda still aced it. Ten minutes later, the barbarian was once again big and dumb and pretty, with the kind of scars that looked sexy and romantic rather than the kind that made you go sign anti-war petitions.
Medvak jumped to his feet and gestured outside with both hands. “My lady.”
Hilda walked past him. “Doorman.”
She still felt a little dizzy and walked with a limp. Her healing magic focused on fixing her face and brain. Her leg would have to wait for tomorrow’s miracle.
Angrily refusing help from the doting human, Hilda led the two down the corridor. They walked past the dead spider, which was now missing one of its limbs, and past the hobgoblins, who were probably missing some parts as well.
“Hilda,” Medvak whispered urgently after they walked for a while, “we just passed a secret door.”
“Where?” Hilda asked.
“There,” Medvak pointed at a section of a wall that looked like every other section of the wall: blue and covered in handprints. Hilda raised her medallion and closed her eyes. The room was empty except for an oversized copper key, broken into two parts, lying in the center of the bare floor. The dwarf shook her head and blew raspberries. She didn’t have the brain power to understand what kind of stupid trap or riddle this was supposed to be. Probably the stupidly stupid kind. She sniffed. The room smelled of fear. Oh, goody.
“Later,” the dwarf said curtly and hastened her limping.
Finally, the duo reached their destination. Hilda knocked on the smooth metal door while Medvak eyed it with professional interest.
“Come in!” a throaty female voice cried from the other side. Hilda gingerly pushed open the door and stepped into the familiar room.
The ghoul was at her desk, munching on a kobold thigh and leafing through a dusty tome of illustrated lewd poetry involving demons and maidens. As soon as she noticed the dwarf and her companion, the ghoul crammed the entire thigh down her throat and pushed the book off the table. It clattered to the floor and raised some dust into the air.
“Hilly!” she cried, her small breasts bouncing and her jewelry jingling as she skipped toward her guests. The ghoul’s breath smelled like a butcher’s shop that never sold anything and her effusive greetings showered her interlocutors with bone splinters and minced kobold. “You returned! And you brought a human with you!” She looked down and rubbed her toes against each other, the very image of cowed penance. “After last time… I was sure I’d never see you again… Oh, I was so stupid. A hug?”
Hilda pushed the ghoul away, nearly tripping the slender creature, and stepped into the room. She was about to say she and her companion were just passing through, but the ghoul was already facing the barbarian with a grin that defied anatomy.
“Hi! My name is Neraphelia, but everyone calls me Philly!” she frowned. “Well, Mina does, everyone else just calls me late for dinner.” She chuckled uneasily. “Um, actually, they don’t call me at all…” she sniffed and brightened instantly. “Anyway, thank you for the kobolds you left in the corridor! They were so pretty… and tasty! Like flowers and chocolate!”
The ghoul embraced the man, who awkwardly patted her on the back. Hilda rolled her eyes.
Medvak peeled off the clingy monster off his torso and scratched the back of his head. “Um--”
“Please, take a seat!” the ghoul pushed a pair of stools to her table and tapped on them invitingly. “I have wine and cheese and some ancient game for three players!” Her face split wide like an open trash bin. “Let’s have a fun evening!”
Medvak opened his mouth and raised a finger. “Um--”
The ghoul was already sorting through her coffer. “What kind of wine do you like more? The kind that is yellow and transparent or the kind that is dark and opaque?” She pulled out a dusty bottle with an elvish sticker that read, um, something. Hilda never studied the complex language. She doubted Medvak studied any languages at all.
“Oo! I like this one, it’s the same color as my skin!” She pressed the bottle to the side of her face and grinned broadly. “See? Oh, why are you still standing, you look tired! Please, sit!” she tapped on the stools again. “Don’t be shy! You can put all these doors in the corner, no one will touch them while I’m here.” She placed one hand on her heart and made the sign of the horns with the other. “I swear by the honor of my Dungeon Master!” She snorted, amused by her own oath.
Medvak looked at the empty corner. “Um--”
Philly turned to face the dwarf. “Hilly, sit your restless boy down. I will take good care of you two! I read a book on how to be the perfect hostess just last month! It was written by a dark elf priestess who poisoned all her guests!” The ghoul frowned. “Um, I mean, imagine how good her parties must have been if they kept on coming…”
Medvak looked askance at Hilda while the ghoul prattled on about dark elf mores. The dwarf shrugged. She planned to just walk through the room to see what was on the other side before taking a long rest, but now that alcohol was on the table, she didn’t mind dulling her aches with some classy booze. She just had to keep an eye on her intake, or one way or the other, she risked being eaten tonight.