Hilda slumped to the floor, not caring at all that a sharp bit of bone stabbed her in the butt. She felt heavy and lightheaded at the same time, like her head was a balloon and her stomach was an anchor.
“Please don’t cry,” the ghoul said as she reached a formidable claw to caress the dwarf’s ruddy cheek. Hilda ignored her. She’d worked so hard, suffered so much, and in the end -- she was poorer than she was when she started. Never in her life did she fail so completely and so abruptly. She was one lucky attack away from winning… One fucking attack!
Hilda felt Philly’s paw and slapped it away. She wanted to cry, but the tears wouldn’t come. She was too empty, too drained. The ghoul was blathering about something, but Hilda paid her no mind.
What next then? Return home without the sacred arms and armor of her Hundred? Follow Gloin like a cloying girlfriend until he gets tired of her? Just stay here and wait for some passing monster to eat her? The latter didn’t sound nearly as bad as it would have a few hours ago.
To her left was a slightly deformed metal door, occasionally squeaking as it swayed back and forth on its twisted hinges. To her right, there was a natural cavern that smelled of mold, dampness and encounters above her level. All around her were the bones of losers.
Losers just like her.
“Philly,” Hilda said. The ghoul’s ears perked like a dog that heard the snack box opening. “Did you say the halfling took all the treasure in the room?”
“All the treasure.” The ghoul nodded energetically. “No offense, but your armor is no treasure--”
“My hammer?” Hilda asked hopefully.
“Still there,” the ghoul said cheerfully. “I tried to pick it up but it burned my hands. It burned his hands too. Or was it her hands? I didn’t get a very good look and it’s hard to tell with their little--”
“Yeah,” Hilda spoke over the ghoul, not interested in the halfling’s little anything. “It’s imprinted with the symbols of my faith… Are you sure you don’t want me to cast remove curse on you? I’m 90% sure it will turn you back into a healthy, happy elf maiden. I’m certain my goddess wouldn’t mind and maybe the stars will bless us?”
“Nope!” the ghoul announced merrily. “Maybe you should try being a ghoul?”
“Don’t be stupid. Dwarfs can’t be ghouls!”
“How about badgers?”
“Badg--” Hilda glared at the ghoul. The toothy monster smiled back. “Philly, just stop talking.”
“Yes, my lady!” The ghoul saluted sharply in a way that made her breasts teeter. Hilda was pretty sure she was doing it on purpose, which wasn’t easy given how small her breasts were. Dwarfs are small in many ways, but this isn’t one of them, Hilda thought with patriotic pride.
After a while the gloomy dwarf waved a hand. “Whatever. I am going to get my hammer back before someone with the same alignment as I steals it.” She scrambled to her feet and started gathering the scattered parts of her damaged armor.
“You should stay here,” the ghoul said. “Crawling around dungeons with only one hit point is a bad idea. There are lots of new undead stalking the corridors and no one to challenge them. New monsters and evil characters will be scouting for empty rooms to inhabit soon.”
“Oh?” Hilda asked as she was fitting what remained of her armor with one hand and keeping the ghoul from helping her with the other. “Is that how it works? I always wondered.”
“Oh yes, that’s how I got here. I think.” Philly puffed. “Fine… let me come with you. I know a safer route. I’ll just pack my…” The ghoul looked around, frowned, and never finished her sentence.
“You’re not sure how you got here?” Hilda asked as the two women started up the corridor, less out of curiosity and more to keep her mind off her predicament.
The ghoul tilted her head and frowned thoughtfully. “Um, I had much less self control before I settled in the guardroom. It was like, um,” she passed her hand through the air as if trawling for the right word, “like being drunk all the time, like walking in a dream?”
“Have you ever been drunk?” Hilda asked. The two women walked past a blasted door and an incintrated room. Thus shall be done to the enemies of was painted on the wall. Either the painter ran out of paint before he could finish the message or someone didn’t care for the message and scraped the key word away. In either case -- Hilda didn’t care.
“So…” Philly scratched the back of her head uncomfortably, “is Gloin your first boyfriend?”
“Ever had a girlfriend?”
“Did you ever think about--”
Philly sighed and pointed at a blank section of the corridor. “There’s a secret door there. It leads to the Great Hall.”
“That’s it?” Hilda asked, surprised.
“That’s it.” Philly said. “At least complete a short rest before you go after your holy hammer. I’ll protect it for you. I swear!” She pressed a hand to her chest and made the sign of the horns with the other.
Hilda sighed. “Fine, I’d rather rest in the light of the moon than here though. Maybe the Goddess will see how miserable I am and offer me a consolation prize.”
The ghoul grinned. “Smart Hilly!”
She probed the wall with her long, sharp claws until she found a tiny button and depressed it. Next, she and the dwarf pushed the false wall aside, revealing a short passage of blue bricks and mossy pavement that led into the Great Hall.
The massive chamber was empty, only changed from the last time Hilda saw it by an increase in the quantity of litter and a magnification in the odor of piss and vomit. Hilda guessed that a wild party took place there while she slept on a pile of sharp bones. Lots of alcohol was imbibed, junk food was eaten, a goblin was beaten to death and hung from the wall for target practice and--
Hilda heard hammering outside. It sounded like someone driving nails into wood. She started for the exit, praying it wasn’t her battlehammer that was being used so ignominiously. Probably to hang some stupid notice about some stupid idiot winning the stupid competition or to crucify some annoying creature (unless it was a halfling…)
The ghoul grabbed the dwarf’s arm, but there was no conviction in the hold, it was a plea, not a demand. “Don’t go out. Stay with me,” she said softly. “Monsters don’t like the Great Hall and look,” the ghoul picked up a cracked clay jug from the floor. “There’s beer here and,” she let go of the dwarf and ambled toward a sandwich with eggs and fish that someone clearly stepped on. She picked it up and sniffed at it cautiously. “...and food. You eat that kind of thing, no?”
Seeing the dwarf’s unimpressed expression, Philly dropped the sandwich to the floor and looked about wildly, as if searching for something she’d lost. “I can find you a--”
Hilda pushed open the heavy door with both her hands and stepped into a blindingly bright morning outside.