After the first bottle was emptied, Philly knelt by her coffer to search for the promised game. Hilda got on the tips of her toes and peered over the ghoul’s shoulder. She had no intention of robbing the effusive monster, but it never hurt to be informed.
Not surprisingly, the coffer was full of books that would get Hilda kicked out of her temple so fast she’d really land on the moon. There were also putrid or calcified remains of various monsters, and strange devices that Hilda couldn’t even begin to grok. None of these registered as treasure by the ESP medallion.
“Ah, there it is!” The ghoul exclaimed gleefully and turned back to face the dwarf with a large box she held in both hands. She blew on the cover, filling the room with dust, cobwebs and the sweet aroma of ghoul breath. Hilda waved a hand to disperse the irritating cloud.
“Sweetie, come--” Philly’s face fell, “Oh.”
Despite being heavier than both women combined, the human resisted alcohol as effectively as the fabled castle of the origami masters resisted the charge of the flaming rhino brigade. The ghoul cocked her head. “Rude. Now we won’t get to play The Good, the Bad and the Neutral… and I was so looking forward to it!”
“Let him have his short rest,” Hilda replied. “He’s still missing some of his life force.” She sniffed the air, trying to smell past the ghoul and her grisly pantry. “I don’t suppose you have any real food?”
“Alcohol is a kind of food!” The ghoul poured Hilda and herself some white wine from a bottle she produced from her coffer. “To our friendship!” she clinked the dwarf’s glass.
“Yes…” Hilda sipped sour elven wine and went to raid Medvak’s backpack. She had rations of her own, but she treated them as her strategic reserve, meaning she’d only open them if there was absolutely no other choice. So far, there was always some other choice. One of the perks of being a female.
“So…” the ghoul blew a strand of hair from her face while Hilda munched on a cold sausage to the sound of a snoring human. “What are we gonna to do now… what do girls do in your hometown?”
Get on my nerves. Hilda thought morosely. “Follow the Teaching and have babies.”
“Neither is an option for me…” the ghoul lamented. She frowned thoughtfully for a few moments. “Hey! Did you ever see a human naked? Let’s--”
“No!” Hilda shouted louder than she intended. “Let’s not do this!”
“I was just making a suggestion,” the ghoul pouted. “You don’t have to yell…” She whistled for a bit. “Um, do you want to talk about astronomy? I read the first chapter of your book and I have some questions.”
Hilda sighed. “Fine, but I have one condition: cover yourself and I’ll answer all your questions. Just so you know,” Hilda added proudly, “I’m a really shitty Paladin.”
“Fine,” the ghoul said sulkily, “but just so you know, that’s a very offensive thing to say of a ghoul. In the necropolis--”
The ghoul’s speech became muffled as Hilda threw a crumpled blanket in her face. “You’ll survive,” the dwarf said nonchalantly. “Now dress. Just because you are a ghoul, doesn’t mean you have to be ghoulish.”
Hilda was quite proud of herself. She remembered more astronomy than she thought she did. If she failed utterly as a paladin, maybe she could eke out a living as a tutor for girls? Not dwarf girls, she couldn’t stand those, but maybe some rich human would hire her, if nothing else for the sheer exoticism of having a dwarf around the house? Not the best job, but at least it will keep her away from dwarfs… Hi, I’d like to apply for the job of a tutor. I have a recommendation from a naked monster in a dungeon…
Hilda snorted at the absurdity. Medvak tilted his head questioningly. Hilda wrinkled her nose at him. He guffawed.
The duo passed by a door that reeked of sour milk and wet fur. Hilda didn’t need her medallion to know the smell came from a pack of gnolls -- depraved hyanamen who treated rabies like a recreational drug and couldn’t imagine eating something that didn’t scream. Her medallion said the treasure in the room was a quartz worth 500 gold pieces and capable of detecting secret doors. Not worth her time. She already had a human who could do that.
Medvak pressed a hand to his stomach and belched so hard cobwebs and dead spiders rained from the ceiling. “I feel sick.”
“You’ll survive,” Hilda replied. “Learn not to drink like a little girl.”
Medvak bristled with indignation at this attack on his manhood. He started counting points in his defense on his fingers:
“A) I lost a lot of blood. B) I had part of my soul torn from my body. C)--”
“Yes, yes,” Hilda waved him away. “You have lots of reasons for being a little girl. Now pay attention to secret doors. We are scouting, remember?”
“I didn’t miss anything…” Medvak protested. He yawned and rubbed at his bloodshot eyes. “So what’s the deal with Philly?”
“She is a ghoul.” Hilda said.
“I’ll hit you upside the head.” Medvak warned.
“I’ve had enough head injuries for one day,” Hilda replied, adjusting her helmet. “People think ghouls are undead, but they are actually humanoids transformed by the gods for doing bad things and thinking bad thoughts. Another theory is that ghoulism is a disease transmitted by eating corpses.
“Ghouls do nothing but eat and mate and they are so crazy they often confuse the two. Philly seems to have this under control, maybe because she was an elf before becoming a ghoul or maybe everything I learned in my temple was bullshit. She still has the evil inclination though.” Hilda poked Medvak between the ribs, eliciting a groan from the man. “Don’t sleep with her!”
“What?! I wasn’t even thinking about it!” Medvak replied, rubbing his soar side.
“Yeah, yeah.” Hilda said. “Men always say this.” Her eyes slid down to his crotch area. “Don’t need to be a paladin to know what you’re thinking… Don’t touch the ghoul.”
“Hey look,” Medvak said, his cheeks the color of an unruly boy’s bottocks after a session with the teacher. “There is a big door.”
Hilda couldn’t argue with this observation. It really was a big door. Specifically, it was almost four meters high and looked like it was designed to withstand a battering ram. No sounds or smells came from the door, probably because of its thickness.
Excited, Hilda grabbed her ESP medallion and closed her eyes. She saw a massive room dominated by a massive grill. The grill radiated heat, even though the embers died some time ago. The floor was covered with straw, bones and assorted filth.
Stained and rusty manacles hung from the walls. One set of manacles had a female halfling hanging from it. She was dressed in the light leather armor favored by rogues. Her equipment and one of her boots lay in a pile in the corner of the room. A livid lump protruded from her close-cropped scalp like a volcano in a green valley. Her eyes were closed but her chest rose and fell with silent breathing.
Opposite her, a fat and misshapen humanoid easily three meters tall sat on the floor and chewed a large chunk of green meat. Juices and saliva dripped from its thick lips on a brown shirt straining not to burst against his massive chest and gut.
“Crap. We’re going to have to take this one.” Hilda pointed at the door with her battlehammer. It felt the heaviest it ever did.
Medvak looked warily at his tired companion. “Why? What did we do?”
“Chose the wrong fucking alignment…” the dwarf sighed.
“Huh?” Medvak grimaced. “What does that mean?”
“It means that there is an ogre and a halfling in this room. If we don’t act now then there will be an ogre and half a halfling.”
“A quarterling.” Medvak suggested.
Hilda glanced at him sideways. “Now isn’t the time for stupid jokes.”
“I thought you hated halflings.”
“Can’t stand them, but this changes nothing. We must save her.”
“Yes.” Hilda sighed irritably. “For he who saves one soul, it is as if they have saved the whole world. If I am just for myself then for who am I? For in the image of the gods were the goodly races forged. He who destroys goodness, by goodness will he be destroyed…" Seeing the confusion multiplying in the barbarian’s eyes, Hilda stopped the sermon and reverted to plain speech. “I’m a paladin, Medvak. I can’t let a girl be eaten by a monster. Not smiting Philly probably already earned me a warning in the court above. If I ignore this, I’ll get banned for sure, maybe even permabanned.”
Medvak leaned his stack of doors against a wall and kneeled to speak to Hilda at eye level. “If we have to then we have to. How do you want to attack?”
Hilda frowned. “Um, hit him with things and hope he dies before we do? I don’t have any spell slots or useful ability activations left.”
Medvak shook his head. “And I thought dwarfs were supposed to be cunning...”
Hilda gave him a mean look. “Got a better idea, anti-Dwarfist?”
Medvak tousled her hair and bopped her on the nose. Her look became meaner.
The barbarian got on his feet and removed a glittering green door from his stack. “See this door? My ex and I found it at the castle of a spider-worshipping drowpire. It’s part of a set. I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to test it on something big.”
“What does it do?” Hilda asked, eyeing the gaudy barrier suspiciously. “It’s not necromantic, is ist?
“Huh!” Medvak grinned, displaying a row of teeth like a piano after a mad monkey concerto. “It’s not even magical!”