Hilda started pacing back and forth. “The question is what can we do that won’t cause me to lose my powers. Not only I can’t fight them," the dwarf lowered her gaze and made the sign of the moon, "not that I want to, I can’t even try talking them out of attacking the ghoul. Gods really hate ghouls…” Hilda made a face like there was a fly on the tip of her nose. “I can’t reach Philly before they do. I can’t send her a message… Any ideas?”
“I am much faster than you,” Medvak said. “Maybe I can sprint around and warn her?”
“Okay," Hilda said bleakly, “but don’t confront them! You’re more important than some ghoul. Do you understand?” The dwarf stabbed the giant barbarian with her stubby finger. "Do you understand? She’s not a girl. She’s a monster. They are heroes. Don’t do anything stupid. Okay?”
“Okay, okay…” Medvak pushed the dwarf away and sprinted into the dungeon, raising a cloud of dust and leaving his stack of doors behind.
Hilda sighed. She hoped she didn’t just cause the worst fiasco in her short adventuring career. Decisions, decisions… oy. Hilda hated making decisions that involved other people. A paladin was supposed to identify enemies of the faith and smite them. He was not supposed to resolve complex situations painted in shades of gray. That’s… Hilda sighed. That’s what judges did in stories predating the Disaster. Damn.
Medvak burst into the cool darkness of the great hall. Because he didn’t give his eyes any time to adjust following the morning glare, darkness was all he saw. He wanted to go around the sun-worshippers, so going straight wasn’t an option. What then?
When in doubt, go left, his mother always said. Right. Left it is then.
Medvak ran past two plain wooden doors and into a large room painted in garish purple. In the center of the room there was a huge bear with the head of an owl. The bear-owl-thing took a break from eating something with shoes and glanced at the barbarian with a look that said, “be with you in a second…”
Medvak made such a fast U-turn that his boots almost caught fire. Behind him the owl-headed bear shrieked, causing Medvak to jump so high he nearly hit his head against the ceiling. Ugh. His mom said, right, not left. Left is the way of demons.
Medvak was back in the great hall. This time he stopped for a second to decide which way to go. By now his eyes were well adjusted to the darkness, but his heart was pounding so loud he couldn’t hear any of the dungeon sounds. He picked a passage to his right and started running. As he ran, he detected a secret door just by passing it. He made a mental note to check it later. Right now, he needed to warn Philly.
As soon as the thought finished playing inside the barbarian’s mind, he heard the ghoul roar like a wild animal inside a metal barrel. He wasn’t sure if it was pain or anger, but one thing was certain: he was late. Someone was going to get hurt today.
Hilda walked briskly through the great hall. Medvak, stealthy like a herd of rhinoceroses who were just told they’re going to be late for dinner, was galloping about somewhere to her right.
Humans were so useless underground. No wonder their religion was obsessed with sunlight. The dwarf was feeling philosophical: either the ghoul would be spared or she wouldn't be. Neither outcome was the dwarf’s responsibility or would have any impact on her progression as a paladin of the moon. That is, this is what she was trying to tell herself. In practice she felt bad. Really, really bad. Like some famous human said: "The mind commands the body, and it obeys instantly; the mind commands itself, and is resisted." This is exactly why Hilda resisted having pets. She gained no joy from the attachment, only anxiety and a stifling sense of responsibility. She imagined having children would be even worse. She never imagined having ghouls.
Just then, she heard the ghoul’s blood-curdling roar. It was followed by religious chanting and the scraping of claws against metal. Hilda stopped. She didn’t want to see it.
What a shitty way to start a morning.
Medvak wondered if he was getting XP for all the secret doors he was detecting as he made one bad turn after another. Even with sounds of battle guiding him, he still somehow managed to explore the entire topography of the first and second levels and even get a glimpse of the fourth level before reaching his destination.
Philly was crouching and heaving in the corridor like a wild animal. Her right forearm was split to the bone and oozed black matter on the floor. A trail of burned flesh ran from her left shoulder to the middle of her back. Another one seared the backs of her thighs. Pained and enraged, the ghoul's features were changed utterly: her eyes were tiny dots of black on black, her impossibly wide mouth was a cavern of serrated teeth, her claws were dark scythes longer than her fingers.
The knight facing her was lucky to own a magical suit of armor or the deep grooves on his breastplate would have been mortal wounds on his chest. The priest stood a few meters away, his staff shining so brilliantly Medvk had to look away. Poor Philly, she must have been utterly blind in the face of this magical brightness.
It seemed the knight was mostly fighting defense while the priest was hurling low-level spells. Medvak suspected they could finish her with a single coordinated strike, but didn’t wish to expand high-level spell slots on a low-level encounter. Instead, they were going for a battle of attrition. And why not? They had all the time in the world.
Trying to convince them Philly was a cute, harmless creature whose only unnatural hunger was for affection would be useless — right now, she was a very harmful creature and certainly looked the part. Medvak just stared at the fight.
He had no idea what to do.
Philly was cornered and oozing goo like the marshmallow Hilda had for breakfast. Driven to blind rage, she was clawing at a knight with an armor class far beyond her abilities while a cleric was casually frying her with sun rays. He didn’t even bother with spells. These were orisons. He could literally do it all day long.
Understandably, the ghoul was quite mad, in both senses of the word. The aura of chaos emanating from her was so strong Hilda had to turn off her passive detection or risk being dazzled. At this point, if Hilda didn’t act against the ghoul, she’d likely lose her abilities. That would make her an anti-paladin if she went full evil or just a shitty fighter if she minded her own business. Regardless, in the period between losing her paladin abilities and gaining her anti-paladin abilities, she’d be fried to a crisp by the holy duo. Humans were not keen on apostates. Hilda had to do the right thing by her goddess, by human morality, by dwarf morality and, sigh, by Philly as well… and she had to come up with that thing in less than six seconds.
Sighing bitterly, Hilda raised her hammer and hurled it at the flailing ghoul. It hit the creature in the chest, throwing her into a wall with such force that bricks cracked and cobwebs rained from the ceiling. The ghoul slid down the wall and collapsed faced down on the floor, bubbling blackness from her many wounds.
“Hilda! What did you do?” a familiar cry came from the corridor in which the ghoul lay unmoving.
“You definitely have to come to prayer tonight!” The knight said as he sheathed his sword. “The seductive body of this demon has inflamed your evil inclinations, brother. Worry not though, the holy pyre will purify your heart. ”
Hilda walked toward the gathering of humans, feeling like a mole scurrying between battle lizards. Medvak looked dazed, the cleric looked pissed and the knight, well, looked knightly.
“Masterful shot, sir dwarf!” he said and bowed his head slightly.
The cleric looked at the dwarf through narrowed eyes. “If I didn’t know better I’d have thought you came here just to steal our XP…”
“But you do know better,” the dwarf said calmly, meeting the priest’s stare without shame or fear. “If I misjudged the situation, I apologize, but do not impugn my honor: at night he who walks with the sun is lost without the moon.”
The cleric snorted. “Even a DM can cite scripture for his purpose.” He aimed his staff menacingly at the dwarf. “We came here to level up. Don’t steal our kills.”
Hilda raised her hands. “Fine! Don’t come crying to me when a troll eats your face. Hey!” she cried at the knight who was fiddling with a torch and a large flagon, “don’t burn that corpse here! You’ll stink up the whole dungeon for a week.I have work to do on this level. In case you haven’t noticed, we dwarfs have very big and sensitive noses.”
Everyone turned to look at Hilda’s impressive shnobel. Medvak opened and closed his mouth like a beached fish. Hilda gave him a meaningful look. He had no idea what it meant.
The cleric frowned. “That monster and its profane belonging would do nicely in tonight’s pyre… I expect you two to attend… and be active. We get XP for every parishioner. You owe us at least that.” As an afterthought he added, “for the moon has no brightness save reflected sunlight. See?” He asked with a sardonic smile. “We can quote the scriptures too.”
All the while, the knight looked uncomfortable, like a child whose parents were fighting. “Brother, sister, please.” He stood between the dwarf and the cleric and raised both hands placatingly. “Do not bicker. Are we not all brothers in faith and goodness?”
“Yes!” Hilda and the cleric shouted in unison but with very little unity.