Gloin crouched on the floor to make sure he didn’t forget anything under the bed. He’d definitely forget something. He always did. Hilda joked that he always left things behind so he’d have an excuse to come back later. This was only true for their first few meetings. Despite Hilda’s most ardent protestations, Gloin had to admit that he was just a scatterbrain.
Even though it might be months until he returned, Gloin wasn’t concerned about the fate of any items he left behind. Regardless of what he forgot -- a precious gem, a hand crossbow, a tattered tunic, his latest manuscript -- his steadfast girlfriend would keep it safe with a fervor normally reserved for religious relics. Ironically, this was much better than how she treated actual religious relics. For example, just ten minutes ago, the sleepy dwarf used her holy symbol to scratch her back. You probably don’t want to know what she’d done with her holy battlehammer yesterday…
Gloin wasn’t the most righteous dwarf under the moon himself but he was a bard with the storyteller prestige class plus one level of rogue he’d picked up by accident (or at least that’s what he’d told the judge.) No one expected him to be a saint. In fact, excessive lawfulness would have harmed his reputation among the Star Elves he often cooperated with.
Hilda, however, was a paladin; ostensibly the most fanatical follower of a religion that didn’t encourage fanaticism but didn’t approve of laxity either. You can read all about it in Gloin’s controversial essay: The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars: Why Dwarves aren’t Elves. Unlike the carefree bard, Hilda was definitely expected to be excessively lawful, if not by her Goddess then by her compatriots.
Gloin glanced up at the Hilda in question. She was currently percolating on the bed, showcasing her powerful back and shoulders. Her smooth flesh was a shade darker than Gloin’s pale flabbiness and free of any brands, tattoos or hair. This was another thing to which the paladin attended more religiously than she did to her religion.
Unlike her body, her head boasted a veritable jungle of hair. Usually, it was kept in check with a careful system of braids, but right now it was free and wild, covering half the bed and spilling to the floor like a dark waterfall.
She wasn’t the loveliest dwarf Gloin had ever seen, but she was certainly the most unusual. More importantly, she was the one that liked to sleep with him, read everything he wrote, and went with him to places most dwarfs wouldn’t even look at. He was quite fond of the almost perpetually grumpy but unflinchingly loyal paladin. He admired how hard she worked to suck at her chosen class. Very few adventurers had such dedication.
Hilda reached a hand and tugged at Gloin’s beard. “Don’t go,” she said softly. She tried to look sexy, but to Gloin she just looked anxious.
“I have to, Hilda…” Gloin winced as her hold on his beard intensified. She was a very strong woman, even by dwarven standards. “There’s a symposium next--”
Hilda proppered herself on her elbows in a way that almost, but not quite, exposed her nipples. She couldn’t stand anyone touching her breasts, not even Gloin, but she loved it when he looked. Gloin, being the imperfect gentleman, never failed to oblige. Sadly, this usually had the effect of preventing him from finishing whatever he was about to say.
“I’ll fuck you so hard you’ll stay,” she whispered. Spoken by her, this almost sounded like a threat.
Gloin swallowed. “Hilda--”
“I’ll fuck you so hard you’ll stay.” She repeated and pulled him into bed by his beard. Outside, a small coppery thing moved in the shadows. Gloin didn’t care.
Hilda was in a foul mood as she walked Gloin to the edge of her domain. His one week visit had lasted three weeks and still it felt too short. She was alway raw and sour when he left, but at the same time, she knew that if they spent more time together, they’d be bickering from sunset to sunrise. Such was the curse of being Hilda. Maybe Gloin too. She never asked him about his previous girlfriends and she never will.
For now, the two dwarfs were silent, enjoying the singing of crickets and the baleful looks of man-eating toads. Deep in the woods, a female lizardman (for some reason they hated being called lizardwomen) was secreting her eggs. Hilda rolled her eyes at the reptilian humanoid’s ineptness. They were as good at hiding things as they were in Common grammar.
Hilda regretted she never got to show her minion/ follower/ flatmate/ stalker to Gloin. He’d have loved to see the exotic monster. Sadly, despite Hilda repeatedly trying to summon the ghoul, all he saw was one brief glimpse of the slender monster sneaking in the shadows, her many chains and piercing jingling in the dark.
Hilda had no idea what it was about Gloin that scared the ghoul. She was usually a very friendly creature. Get-your-paws-off-my-butt-level of friendly. When Gloin first sent a messenger crow telling Hilda he’d be coming for an extended visit, Hilda was actually concerned she wouldn’t get any time alone with him as the ghoul would always be there. She ended up surprising herself by missing the perky monster.
She wondered if something had happened to the ghoul. Maybe an adventurer killed her for a handful of XP and loot that wouldn’t buy even a measly healing potion? Maybe she found a lover, preferably an anosmic one? Maybe one of Gloin’s magic trinkets had the power to repel ghouls? Hilda sighed. Now was not the time to think of ghouls, now was the time for farewells and self-pity.
She and Gloin embraced and rubbed the tips of their big noses in the traditional dwarf manner. There was very little traditional about the couple, despite their roles of defender and keeper of tradition, respectively, but not respectfully. Still, they hugged in a very dwarven manner. Mostly, because of their short arms and big noses.
“Don’t look so grim,” Gloin said, not letting go of Hilda. “I’ll return in two months.” It wasn’t best practice to be outside without armor, but Hilda had already killed enough of the local flora and fauna to impress upon the denizens of the forest the idea that attacking her was just a more painful, more extended form of suicide. More importantly, she wanted to feel Gloin pressed against her one last time before he left.
The stars glittered above like diamonds spilled on black velvet. The moon was full and huge and so near it felt like you could reach a hand and touch it if you had enough faith. Hilda was already there once, in spirit, facing her Goddess. It was difficult for her to look at the full moon without recalling this moment.
“Did you pack the wayfarer’s blessing I’ve prepared for you?”
Gloin nodded and produced the ornate parchment from one of his countless pockets.
“May it be Your will,” he read in his best liturgical accent, “our Lady, our bright Goddess, Mistress of the Moon our Home, that You lead us toward peace, guide us toward peace, and make us reach our destination in peace. May You rescue us from every foe and ambush, from robbers and random encounters, and from all manner of evil and chaotic outsiders. Blessed are You, our lady, Who hears our prayers."
By the end of the recitation, Hilda was laughing. Gloin’s accent became increasingly exaggerated until he no longer sounded like a learned decisor but like a demanted street preacher commanding the dwarfs to return to the moon right now, even if it meant jumping up and down until they left the planet!
Grinning, the two dwarfs kissed, not very passionately, but very fondly. They have spent all their passion in the last three weeks and now all that was left was friendship.
“Peace.” Gloin said and walked into the murk, his sack prosaically dangling from a stick he held over his shoulder . A backpack would have been more practical, but Gloin was all about the style. He looked like a couch potato’s idea of how an adventurer should look like.
Morose and suddenly chill, the lightly-dressed dwarf turned around and started shuffling home. She ignored the green hag gathering herbs in the dark and went straight for the underground passage that linked the forest with her cavern. Deep in sweet melancholia, Hilda was almost knocked off her feet by the effusive greeting of the prodigal monster that ran into the dwarf as soon as she entered the cavern.
Despite Hilda all but begging the ghoul to put something on at least four times, the ghoul faced her totally naked except for a couple dozen chains and piercings in very uncomfortable places all over her rough, purple hide. Her black tongue was lulling way past her chin and dropping fetid salvia on the top of Hilda’s head, which was presently planted between the monster's small breasts.
Annoyed, Hilda headbutted the monster in the sternum. The ghoul fell on her butt and grinned at the dwarf. Hilda glared in return.
“Hilly!” the ghoul shouted, waving a rolled up parchment in her paw. “Mina has a quest for you! Meet her in the Queen’s Pillars and she’ll give you all the details. Oh don’t look at the parchment. It’s got nothing to do with the quest! It’s just something I drew!”
“I’m not a monster,” Hilda said as she pushed past the ghoul and continued walking toward her underground fairytale hut. “I don’t take quests from dark elves. I take quests from lawful patrons or my Goddess. Also, if it’s another nude of me, I’ll beat you.”
Bioluminescent fungi illuminated the cavern in a plethora of relaxing, ever-shifting colors. Pale crabs scuttled through undulating seaweeds in streams that fed a small pond in the center of the cavern. It was a very nice domain, but it was still far from her dream home. Sadly, Hilda couldn’t afford most of the things she wanted on account of not having any patrons and not hearing from her Goddess in many, many months. She lived right by a dungeon, but she and the dungeon master had an understanding. She was technically an encounter in the dungeon and it wouldn’t do for encounters to start encountering other encounters. This just wasn’t how the world worked.
The ghoul scrambled to her feet and chased after the dwarf. “There’s a lot of gold in this and you’ll hardly have any competition! You could dress me all nice and pretty! You could buy all the things you keep talking about…” the ghoul said with a grin that was wide enough to bite a dwarf’s face off. (This wasn’t a metaphor. Hilda had actually seen the ghoul do it once. It was okay though. It was a bad dwarf that was better off without his face.)
“And you don’t have to fight anyone or harm anyone or anything,” she added. “You just need to find a thing, a surface thing… and there’s really a lot of money there. Like,” the ghoul spread her arms wide. “A lot.”
Hilda stopped. “Okay. This is interesting.”