Monday, August 19, 2013

Merawen's Gnome Stories

This is a story that I wrote for my friend's birthday. It is based on one of the tabletop roleplaying games by Pathfinder, but has some sweet touches.
The small Gnome Merawen and her friends, Feybru the Unidine and Eric the Dwarf have spent quite some time on adventures in a close to the town of Sandpoint. Now they are about to return to the town. This is where the story starts.

n one of those last evenings in the swamp, Merawen, Feybru and Eric were sitting around fireplace in the living room in cosy, fluffy armchairs and listened to stories that Walthus the Halfling told them. He told them stories about the swamp, about his youth and about many other currrious things that had happened in the swamp since he had moved there. One of those stories was especially scary: Walthus had been fishing as usual in one of the channels of the swamp – as usual switching them around as to give each swarm of fishes the chance to recover before he came back – as something caught hold of his fishing rod and started pulling him down. He jumped up and stepped back from the shore as a giant crocodile climbed out of the channel, the fishing rod caught between his sharp teeth, the eyes red as blood, and a smile on his giant lips while his pupils were fixed on the Halfling’s throat. And then he started to crawl towards him, still with this cruel smile on his lips. Then Walthus woke up from his shock, cast away the fishing rod – or what was left from it – and dashed off, through the swamp, back to the path. Luckily for him, he was small and light, so he didn’t sink as deep as the crocodile and could reach the firm path rather quick. But when he looked back he saw the crocodile. It was not sunken into the swamp as he had hoped; instead it swam through it with the red eyes still fixed on his throat and a cruel grin on his lips. It even carried the fishing rod with him. This couldn’t be a normal crocodile, Walthus said to himself and started running again, sped down the path and smoke curled up right in front of his nose. … Smoke?

Walthus turned and saw Eric the clumsy dwarf with a map in the hand. The tension had clenched his hands around the next thing he could hold and so he was sitting there with the candle close to him and the map turning and twisting in his hands. And with smoke curling up in front of him. With all the tension, he had come too close to the candle and his beard had caught on fire. And now he was sitting there, his eyes wide and terrified staring into the fire as if the crocodile was looking at him from there, his hands turning and twisting the map and his beard steaming and burning and the fire slowly catching on to one end of the map. And then there was a wind coming up and a splash as Feybru jumped to save the map, while the small Merawen stood on a small stool and emptied an entire bucket of water over the poor dwarf who was immediately torn out of his daydream. Wet Eric jumped from his cosy, fluffy armchair and cursed loudly as he saw the smouldering rests of his long beard that was not only quite a bit shorter now, but also had a massive hole in the middle, remnant of a fight not long ago. The next thing he heard was a scream and a hiss, as Feybru hit him with the open hand across the face. Now the poor dwarf found himself with a hand shaped form on his cheek, aside from a smouldering and holey beard.

And then the three adventurers got a decent look at the map: Just like the beard it was smouldering on one end. That seemed to have an effect on the map: Fine, thin lines were starting to show, moving from the already existing ones onto an empty part of the parchment, turning and swirling, forming a path and then moving more, forming the foot of a hill, moving until the top and in the end creating a little pathway that led from the very bottom to the very top and connected the swamp to the top of the hill. The three adventurers looked closer and closer until their noses were only inches away from the map. But they had no clue as to what that hill was and why on earth it was hidden on this map! Confused and still a bit smouldering, they turned to Walthus who started giggling when he saw their faces and took the map. He quickly went with his fingers over it, nodded and murmured and finally sat down and gestured them to do the same. Then he looked into each of their eyes and started another story:

ong time ago, I think it was long even before I was born and before the struggles between humans and goblins, that humans all over the continent were trying to separate the good ones from the bad ones, and banned those who were traitors to their blood, outcasts, single mothers and other people who didn’t fit their general view of good people from their cities and forced them out into the wilds. The people from what today are Magnimar and Sandpoint hid in the swamp, as this would give them some kind of security and shelter from the people who were still looking to hunt the “bad people”. But the swamp was not safe, as you have seen, with crocodiles, snakes, huge leeches and monsters of all other kind. So the “bad people” sent out groups with brave men to look in the area around if there was anywhere else they could go. Long years there was nothing, but suddenly one man, named Ortigo, who was son to a single mother did an especially wide expedition to the other ends of the swamp. There, hidden behind a few bushes, he found a view that not many people had seen before: A hill that looked almost like a mountain, partly covered with woods, partly open grass and throughout there, Ortigo could make out a small old pathway that led spirally in all the way to the top of the hill. The people who climbed it later were to name it the Spiral Hill. So Ortigo made his way back to the group and told them of his discovery. Immediately they set out to find this new place and to make their new home on top of this hill, safe from crocodiles and leeches. As destiny wanted it, they were secretly followed by some mages who had been looking for the outcasts to practice their magical skills. The group went fast and luckily for them the mages were not too skilled yet, so they couldn’t hold them long. So it became a race up the hill, the group of outcasts ahead and the mages behind, always held back by a shower of arrows and not yet strong enough to send their spells that far up the hill. Ortigo was very quiet throughout the way and had asked one of his companions to carry him. Ortigo was meditating, for only he knew the one spell that could keep them save from the nuisances that were crawling up the hill behind them – their stamina were far lower than the ones of the outcasts who ever since had spent their lived running through the swamp. And so they reached the top, after passing the woods, the grasslands and something else that looked like the hole of an ancient troll. As soon as they reached, Ortigo asked for bowmen to make sure no one would come too close to the clearing on the top and he let himself down in the very middle. From there, he started chanting, first quiet, then louder and louder, while some red substance started crippling down his body, down his legs, through his boots and into the earth. It stayed there and formed a pond that was deep and red and when the water became too much, it went over the shore of the pond and over the clearing and down the path and the other sides of the hill, leaving traces of red everywhere. And Ortigo drove it further and further, down the hill until it reached the bottom and therefore the end of his sphere. One of the bowmen saw the mages who were caught by it and when they reached the top to face the outcasts, they had to find out that they had lost all their magical properties. Ortigo’s spell had made so that no magic could be cast on the clearing.
Being safe from magic, the outcasts now had to find means to effectively keep attackers from their gates. It is said that they developed weapons that shoot with iron and fire, not similar to yours – and Walthus pointed at Feybru. The area around the village that they call Noma now is still free of magic and it is said that all use of magic around the hill is also not going well, as the red substance that went out of the pond and down the hill is still in the grounds.

nd so, Walthus ended his story with a pipe in his mouth and a long big sigh. There have been weird things going on there recently, I think. Walthus turned towards the three adventurers who were listening closely. I think you might want to have a look there. I also think they have some treasure with them and – he looked at Feybru again – some recipes for your weapons that you might like quite a bit.
And now, he said jumping from his chair and emptying his pipe over the fire, we all go to bed. I have to get up early to hunt some fish, they are best in the morning and you have to leave early, too, if you want to go to check out the Spiral Hill. With this, he went out and left the adventurers in the cosy, fluffy sofas in the living room.

hat night, the decision was quickly made and the next morning, Merawen, Feybru and Eric were up especially early. Still, they only managed to catch a glimpse of Walthus’ fishing rod as he dashed off to get his favourite fishes on his favourite pool in the swamp. And so, they had some breakfast that the Halfling had left for them, shouldered their packages and left the house to find the Spiral Hill. The pathways were narrow as always and still wet and muddy from the night. Slowly and in single file the adventurers followed them, first the narrow path that led back to the main road where their pace sped up quite a bit. Eric went first, to “smite thee (presumably the enemy) with his mighty axe”, as he had announced in his sleep throughout the night. Feybru was in the middle and Merawen and her hammer covered the rear of the group. They hoped that this arrangement would send everything into a close combat with either the hammer or the axe, while Feybru would have enough time to shoot it while it got close.

And so they marched through the swamp, through the crowds of millions and trillions of mosquitos other strange insects, waded through the mud, while leeches tried to hold on to their legs. Sometimes they managed, but most of the time, their armour would be able to withstand their grips. As the morning passed on, the ground became more and more solid again and the attacks of leeches became less. For that, however, the swarms of mosquitos and other insects became thicker and thicker and soon the three adventurers could have sworn that there was no spot on their skin that had not been covered by an insect. The sun rose while they were stumbling along through the mud and peaked through the leaves as they reached the bushes that separated the little pathway from the bigger road that led along the side of the swamp. Relieved that they had finally left behind the mud and the majority of insects, the adventurers rested a little and took a sip from the water bottles they were carrying with them. The sun shone bright and the sky was clear, it promised to be another hot day with no clouds to cover the sun and no rain to ease the heat. After only a little time, the three adventurers continued on their way. They didn’t know what lay ahead and they wanted under no circumstances that darkness would catch up with them on their ways along the swamp. They had been around long enough to know that the swamp was no place for walks at night.
The map firm in her hand, Merawen led the group on the path that was finally wide enough for more than one person to walk next to another. So now, the three of them were walking together, keeping their eyes on the thicket on the side that the Halfling had mentioned as to not miss the pathway that led to the Spiral Hill. Merawen’s finger went over the path on the map over and over again, measuring its length – it was an old Gnome technique that none of the others could really understand. It wasn’t long, however, until Merawen jumped with quite some noise – a little Gnome in armour sounds a bit like a moving kitchen when jumping – and pointed to the side. They had reached the point where the hidden pathway was supposed to lead them to the Spiral Hill.

They ducked on the wayside and moved their hands through the thicket, carefully as to not end up with random creatures over their hand. Suddenly, a hiss was to hear from Feybru’s direction and as the others turned they saw her slightly bloody thumb and branch of a bush that was bent to the side and opened the pathway to a field. As their eyes ran over the field, they saw at its very end a hill that was partly covered with woods and partly covered with only grass. A pathway was just barely visible that led to the top of the hill and was shaped like a spiral – they had finally found the Spiral Hill.

One after the other, the three adventurers crawled through the little hole in the thicket that Feybru had made and made their way through the field. The new path they found was much less muddy, but also much less used. Again, it was very narrow, only allowing them to walk in single file. On the way, the adventurers had to struggle with grass and plants that had grown over the years and reached up to their hips – in Merawen’s case sometimes they even reached over her head. They could only move very slowly, having to cut their ways through the high grass and to look out for potential danger on all sides. And so they slowly approached the Spiral Hill, step by step, and the sun rose while they approached it. It was now late morning and slow as they were, it felt as if the sun was racing over the sky, taking away the hours of daylight that they had to reach the top of the hill.

As they drew nearer to the Spiral Hill they realised that the grass was becoming shorter again, almost as if it was meant to be and everyone who had managed to get that far had to be seen from the top of the hill. Feybru, Merawen and Eric continued anyway, their weapons ready to be able to defend themselves from whatever was to come down the hill.

hen they passed a sign. They hadn’t seen it at first, but as they walked past it it didn’t quite seem like a tree after all. They stepped back and read what was written on top of it.

Intruder Step Out
This Is Not Your Place
Go Back Where You Came From
Or You Won’t Live To Regret It.

The three adventurers stared at it not sure what they should think of this. Then they frowned when they saw something else: The sign was somehow weird. The letters were nailed onto it, but the something they were nailed on looked strange, it looked somewhat … edible! So they stood for quite a while, staring at the sign not sure if it was a serious warning gone wrong or if was just supposed to be a joke. Then, Eric plucked up the courage and walked towards the sign. Slowly he went on tip-toes and started to nibble on the sign.

“Mhmm”, he muttered with a mouthful of sign, “freshly made gingerbread”. Then he sat down with another hand filled with the sign, he looked like someone who had just found the ideal place for a picnic. He offered a bit to everyone and so they sat there for a bit, picnicking the sign and looking over the plain and up the Spiral Hill, trying to find out what the dangers were that lay ahead of them.

After a quick meal, Merawen, Feybru and Eric rose again, ready to continue on their path. They stood, they walked just a few steps, and suddenly something red and gooey fell on their heads. None of them had seen it and none only Feybru had been able to escape the clutches of a huge red… cube. Merawen was just too small to jump far enough, and Eric had been too sluggard after eating almost a whole sign by himself. The rests were still visible at the other end of the road. Feybru sighed and loaded her musket to be able to save her friends from that weird red cube. Her first shot went through the thing, leaving it with a hole that closed soon, that gooey cube seemed to contain shape even if hit. Feybru looked more closely and could detect several weirdly shaped things inside the cube, coloured in red and green and yellow, long and short, thick and thin and sometimes with white beddings underneath their bodies. She shook her head and decided that she was very sure that she would never want to become one of them. Then her friends caught her eye, as they were swimming in the cube, their eyes white and they seemed unable to move. Feybru shot again, the sound ripping through the air and the bullet sending another hole into the goo of the cube. The hole closed again, Feybru took a step back and two bullets out of her pouch. Then she took careful aim and placed another bullet, leaving a hole right between her two friends. Her plan worked, as their eyes filled with life again and they struggled to get out of the cube. Wide cuts appeared where they were, almost instantly filling with goo again. Feybru shot another time, then the edges of an axe and a hammer appeared in the air, cutting widely, hitting and poking holes into the jelly, freeing their Feybru’s friends bit by bit. Feybru smiled her smile and took another two bullets out of her pouch, ready to load, ready to shoot. Another hole appeared in the cube, setting Merawen’s food free, another strike with the axe and Eric’s beard appeared, full with red goo and looking slightly miserable by now. Another bullet, another hammer, another axe and the friends stood at the side of the cube together, repaying what it had done to them. The sound of gunshots cut through the air, sending birds flying, while Eric’s axe cut the goo into handy pieces of jelly, and Merawen made sure those would never reappear from the dust. Being free from the sugary goo, it didn’t take the three adventurers very long to make sure the gooey cube would never by gooey or a cube again, cut in thin slices and covered with dust and dirt of the earth.

And there they stood, three brave fighters, three heroes, covered in sweet jelly, panting and trying to free their weapons from the goo. Feybru shrugged and sent another two bullets into her gun while she watched Merawen and Eric on the ground, bandaging their wounds and emptying their boots of sticky goo.

After a few minutes, they were all ready to set out again. The path was narrow like all the others, but not too steep yet. The landscape only changed slowly and as they marched on, they had a very good view over the plain and sometimes they even thought to catch glimpses of the swamp that lay behind it. As they moved on, the grass grew higher again and bushes appeared on the wayside. The path became steeper, and at times they even had to climb over rocks that had fallen onto the path. The bushes grew taller and hid the view on the plains from sight. At times, Merawen had to jump to still catch a glimpse of the plains. She liked those views very much and found herself not liking the bushes that kept her view away. The bushes kept growing and sooner or later, the adventurers also found little trees among them. The plants still kept growing, and transformed the grasslands that led up the hill into the forest that they had been able to see from the bottom of the hill. In the meantime, the sun had reached peak and so they were quite glad for the shadow and the cold breeze that the forest had to offer them. The birds had returned to the trees after Feybru’s gunshots and Merawen, Feybru and Eric found themselves quite comfortable walking up the hill, while they could listen to the songs of birds and watch squirrels, deer and other animals of the forest passing through their path. Bit by bit, step by step they climbed higher and higher through the forest, as it started to lighten up again. Soon after, they found themselves on a clearing in the middle of the forest. The path was still visible and on the other side stood a creature, no, a person and looked at them, stared them down. Behind her was some other creature, four-legged, quite big and growling.

“Leave now” the person shouted across the clearing and pointed at the three adventurers who were starting to line up, getting ready for a fight with whatever was going to come towards them.

“I am the witch of the swamp and I have claimed this area long ago”, the person shouted again as she drew slowly nearer, the creature walking at her heals. The adventurers realised now that the creature was a bear. But something was wrong with him.

Having reached the middle of the clearing, the witch stopped and pointed at them.
“What is your business with this hill?” Feybru shouted across half the clearing, her gun pointing at the bear, ready to shoot. She had only needed a quick glance at the witch as she was coming closer across the clearing to see that something was different about her and she seems to shimmer and flicker in the light, like someone who was there, but not quite there, like a ghost or one of those lost souls that are tied to the world by some reason. So she was pointing at the bear to keep at least him at distance until they found out how to deal with the witch.

“My business is none of your concerns. Now leave or I will make sure Asnar” – and she pointed at the bear – “will bring your pieces down to where the remnants of my sign lie”.
“So, now I’m currrious”, Feybru buzzed and her first shot sent all the birds in the area flying as the bullet ran towards the bear and hit it on one paw. “Bring it on, your Asnar”.
And with that, the witch let out a scream, pointed at Feybru and her bear dashed off to bite off the head of the one that shot at him. But before he could even get close, he ran into Merawen and Eric who had their weapons crossed in front of Feybru and growled. Feybru fired another shot that drove the bear even wilder and his huge paws lunged forward towards Merawen and Eric who could block them only in time. Feybru stepped back and pulled two bullets out of her pouch. In the meantime, a hammer and an axe met the bears flank as he tried to go around. It took Merawen and Eric quite some effort to bring out their weapons again. For some reason they got stuck in the flanks of the bear, as if something had glued them there for just an instant. The bear looked furious. Though when they looked closed, they saw its hair gelled in a weird way that made the fur shine yellow. Irritated as they were for an instant, the bear sprang forward again and his paws hit Merawen on the cheek. It felt weirdly gooey, similar to the jelly cube earlier and where there were supposed to be claws, Merawen only found something gummi-like and only took some scratches. She stumbled back, more irritated than before. And then, Eric was there with his huge axe, trying to slice the bear in two. But the bear evaded this one, as his skin wobbled to the side and he kept his yellow eyes on the small Gnome with the hammer who seemed to him as the ideal prey, small, not too fast, not too strong. So he ran towards her, while Merawen was standing there, small and firm, with a grim face and her hammer clenched in both hands. Feybru, in the meantime, finished fitting her two bullets into her musket and took aim again. This time she had to be especially careful, since she couldn’t hit Merawen on the other side of the bear. Then the first of her two bullets left the gun and shot towards the bear. On the other side, Merawen stepped out to make room to wield her huge hammer. The bear in the middle had no idea what happened as the bullet hit him on the back, and the hammer on the front and he was thrown across half the clearing and filled by incredible pain. Merawen and Feybru stood on opposite sides and grinned at each other, fire in their eyes. Meanwhile, Eric stepped forward and looked at something wobbly in the grass. The bear had lost his ear. Eric poked it with the end of his axe and it wobbled slightly. Then, with a brave move, he bent down and nibbled at the ear. It was still wobbly… and somehow… sweet. Like thick jelly. What weird place this was, Eric thought, while he continued testing the ear. Signs made of gingerbread, flying jelly-cubes and now a sweet ear? Before Erich noticed, the ear had disappeared down his throat and he found himself being the centre of attention: Merawen and Feybru looked shocked, while the bear stared at him with pure hatred for eating his ear. Eric only managed to signal that he was fine, healthy and fed, when the bear let out a loud growl and sprinted towards him. Another shot cut through the air, trying to hit the furious bear, Eric saw Merawen running towards him, her hammer ready to hit, but he knew: He wanted more of that bear, he had found the secret and he would eat it. With this in mind, his axe moved through the air, turned, twisted and then got stuck. The bear flew through the air again, landed on the floor and stayed there, paws spread widely, while Eric turned in another circle to catch his balance, the bear’s other ear firmly between his teeth.

As he nibbled the rests of his ear, he met the flabbergasted eyes of Merawen and Feybru. The two had never seen the dwarf move so elegantly and skilfully before. Without another word, he nodded towards the bear and walked over to get his price. So they saw for a bit and enjoyed the jelly, before the sun pressed them on. They still had quite a way ahead before nightfall.

And so they set out again on their quest to find the top of the hill. The clearing closed behind them and the forest reclaimed its position on the left and right side of the pathway. Birds found their places on the trees again and squirrels dared leaving their holes. But no one had seen the witch or any idea where she had gone. But the three adventurers had defeated her two last monsters so they were confident about themselves and could just listen to the songs of the birds and watch the acrobatics of the squirrels without fear. The sun was still high up, so they were also glad to be in the shadow of the large trees, rather than having to climb in the bright daylight.

And so they, bit by bit, came closer to the end of the forest and to the top of the Spiral Hill. The forest around them was still dense and thick. One tree stood close to the next, as if trying to fit into a row and not to fall from the edge of the hill. Under the tree grew bushes, thick and armed, carrying thorns and berries at the same time. It made them look as if they were trying to protect the food they had collected. None of the three adventurers was too sure if the berries were actually edible or not, and so they decided not to test it after each of them had turned into a different direction and mumbled something along the lines of “never seen something like that before”. And so they marched on, relying on their good old lunch packs to bring them all the way to the top. As they walked on, the forest became looser again, the trees were standing wider apart and the bushes with their thicket took over from them. Feybru was the first who could peak over the bushes onto the plain again, but the swamp had disappeared. The forest seemed to have brought them on the other side of the hill now. Eric was just about able to make out some bit of plains, while Merawen was left jumping again to even catch a glimpse of the whole thing. In the distance they were able to make out an especially large tree and after it the end of the woods. They decided to make a picnic there, before pressing on the last bit of the mountain. The sun was still high so they would have enough time after a short rest. And just as they were done deciding whether or not to make a break, their gaze fell on a small hut that stood on the end of the hill. Tired as they were, they decided to at least have a look at it and see if it would provide them with some shelter before they went up.

So they went closer to the hut, carefully, and always with an eye on the sky, just in case another jelly cube fell on them. Merawen knocked at the door but no one answered, and so she carefully pushed the door inwards. The three saw a dark hut that sent out a nice cool breeze towards them. The hut was empty, with exception for a table and a few chairs standing near a fireplace. It was built with dark wood that made it hard for the light to enter the hut, probably some wood that grew in the forest they just passed. In the middle of the hut, there was a carpet that looked old and worn, but one could still see that it once used to be a colourful and beautiful piece that made the hut into a friendly place. The hut was small, and aside from a small door on the side, only this room was able to fit into it. Suddenly Merawen’s posture grew stiff and her hands went to her hammer, as she heard a short sniff from behind. As she turned, she saw Eric’s nose wiggle in the dim light and slowly move towards the table. She sighed and put her hammer in a more comfortable position again, trying not to think of the fact that she had almost smashed Eric with it.

Eric’s nose led them into the small room and straight to a table that, as they saw just now, was set freshly hunted meat cut to steaks, fruits and vegetables. It looked, as if someone had prepared lunch, and gone out to find some last ingredient, before making it. The food was all nicely sorted, meat on one side, fruits on the other and vegetables already carefully cut, sliced and diced. Eric’s mouth started watering as he saw the steaks and without thinking about it, he bent down to the fireplace, fumbled until he found a pan and crouched down to light a fire. In the meantime, Merawen and Feybru had a more closely look through the room. They found pots and pans, big ones and small ones, hanging from the wall around the fireplace, a little bench that was worked into the wall on the other side, and a small coat hanger next to the door. There was nothing valuable anywhere in the hut and slowly, the smell of Eric’s steaks crept into their noses and made them blind for all the things that were in the room. To conclude their search around the flat, Feybru opened the door on the other side and found a closet that was filled to the top with some dark cloth. She shrugged and wondered which ranger would keep a so many clothes around and closed the door again, as Eric was throwing a handful of the vegetables into the pan, just as a scream came from the door.
“You intruders, I have told you to stop poking your nose into my affairs! Now you will pay!”
They only just managed to see the witch at the door, as she closed it and they heard a chain move over the outside of the door, as they noticed they had been locked into the hut, just as Feybru who was still standing at the closet, trying to close the door noticed that the clothes were pushing against her from the other side. A hand had formed and moved outside the closet, pushing it open against Feybru. She jumped back, while Eric took the pan with meat and vegetables from the fire and Merawen readied her hammer another time. The doors burst open, as Feybru sprang back and the bunch of clothes had no resistance anymore. As it crawled out of the closet, the three adventurers realised that it was no bunch of clothes, but in fact a black ooze, a slimy blob that would hinders their way out of the hut.  To get out and to the top of the hill, they had to go past this giant pudding. The conditions were clear to each of them and so the actions followed in the same moment: Feybru’s gunshot burst through the air, while Merawen and Eric sprang forward, hammer and axe swung in a wide circle and slammed into the ooze. The giant pudding bent backwards and wobbled its wobble, while the shot left a small hole in its body that was soon overgrown by slime again. Merawen and Eric hacked at it with their weapons and Merawen’s hammer left severe bumps in the body of the ooze. Feybru’s gun cut the air with shots again and again and shot iron ball after iron ball into the goo. Eric’s axe sliced and sliced, but it somehow never managed to make the bumps resemble Merawen’s. They always seemed slim and long. Then Eric had the idea of the day, as his axe snapped back, preparing for another blow and while on the air, Eric turned it and started to hit with the broad side. It was much more difficult and he wondered how that jumpy little Gnome on the other side of the goo could make it seem so easy. But he grit his teeth, he would not be losing this fight. The smell of steak still in his nose, he started hammering with his axe, leaving huge, axe-shaped dents in the body of the ooze.

The ooze, however, was not happy about this at all. It didn’t like bumps in the slightest, they were not pretty on its smooth skin and so it tried to get rid of the two hammerers. Two massive fists came out of the slimy body and struck Merawen and Eric in the face. They got pushed back to the wall, completely covered in something slimy, sticky and yummy. Eric still stumbled, licking his beard that was full of the goo and thought it reminded him somewhat of a dessert he had long time ago. It was somehow sweet, but bitter and the consistency was creamy more than slimy. Merawen on the other side grinned. The monster now reminded her very much of a fruit that tasted just similar and she swore herself to eat this one as dessert for the steaks that still sat in the corner and smelled so well as they were still frying slightly in their pan. And so, Merawen and Eric caught their balance again, their faces full of the creamy cocoooze, and regained firm grip over their weapons. The ooze, in the meantime, had moved towards Feybru who had been shooting at it all the time, and towards the steaks. Feybru shot another bullet at the mousse that was slowly moving towards her, then she stepped back to reload. But the creature wouldn’t let go of her so easily and a hand formed again, ready to clutch at the annoying person with the gun. And then there were Eric and Merawen who had run forward. Eric jumped, his hands ready to grab and then he landed just in place, took the pan and brought it to a safer place. Feybru stared at him, not sure what to think about this dwarf who was more concerned about his food than about his friend. Then some creamy mousse hit her on the head and she turned just in time to see a huge hammer wielding against the arm that dissolved and splashed around with every hit the Gnome landed against the creature. The arm became shorter and shorter as the hammer worked its way to the centre of the mousse.

Half an hour later, the wall of the hut was struck by some severe strikes, until it burst into dust. Out of the hole came Merawen’s hammer, followed by its owner, Feybru who carried a few plates and bowls that had been unspoiled by the fight and a triumphant Eric with his pan full of deliciously smelling food. All of them were covered in dark brown, creamy mousse. As they left the hole in the wall and made their way to the picnic spot on the big tree, the hut shuddered, the wooden walls gave in and with a cloud of dust the roof came down.

Merawen, Feybru and Eric spent some time on the under the tree, chatting, laughing and eating their picnic and enjoying the light, the soft breeze and the clean air that was around them. The sun had passed its peak already, so walking up the hill would not be so hard anymore.  After their dessert, a bowl of chocolate mousse for each of them, they decided to set out again.

They left the forest and followed the path up through the grasslands. Now they had their view back over the plains and in the distance they thought to see the edges of the swamp again. The sun had passed its peak and now creatures on the plain begun to start moving again. From the distance, they believed they could make out a group of trolls hunting for food. On the other side – as far away from the trolls as possible – they saw an ogre on his afternoon walk. They could only imagine what was really happening on the plain, but from that distance, they could only make out the big creatures. They continued forwards and watched as the trolls stood still for an instant, as if they had seen something. They crouched down, and the three adventurers could make out another black spot in the grass, not far away from the trolls. They couldn’t see what it was, but it seemed to be about the right size for troll dinner. They saw the trolls sneak closer, dash off, hunt their prey, catch it, bend over it and then there was stone blocking their view.

They had reached the weird bit of hill that Walthus had mentioned. The bit where stone covered both sides and it looked like a troll had tried to make a hole for him with an entrance to the top for good views and entrance on the bottom to hunt food. When they looked back to the trolls, currrious as they were, and they found the group huddled together over something that must have been the prey. Content with their gained knowledge, they continued on the stony path. This part was the most unpleasant so far. It was covered by stones and big rocks and the adventurers had to climb to be able to continue. They were glad they had eaten not long ago, because this bit was very tiring, long and boring, since the only thing they could see was the end of the path on the other side. The sun was just high enough to poke over the stone wall on the one side and to hit them in the eye any time they looked up to look through the open top, that must have been the roof of the troll’s hole, but collapsed not so long ago. At least this gave them some blue sky and some daylight while they were pulling, falling, pushing and panting heavily all the way. In their exhaustion they already imagined faces and creatures in the stone on the walls and they had a good laugh when Feybru pointed out the face of Walthus when they were about halfway through the stone path.

“What are you laughing about, you intruders?” came a voice from above, just in that moment. They jumped, and set off a small avalanche with that and looked up – just to gasp and look down again. The person with the voice stood with the back to the sun that was still just barely peeking over the stone wall. When the many colourful spots had disappeared from their eyes and they looked up, carefully this time, they saw just in time five spots and a small one coming towards them. Cursing, Feybru stepped back a little and took out her gun and fired two shots and two of the spots. The echo resounded everywhere in the pathway and set another few stones off that started rolling happily to the bottom of the Spiral Hill to tell their stories about the people that went up the hill and the girl with the noisy weapon. Meanwhile, the points came closer and Merawen and Eric stood carefully on a large stone each, hammer and axe ready to oppose whatever was there flying towards them. Feybru stood back, while her hand was fumbling in a small pouch again, reaching out for new bullets. The first of the points was close now and they could finally see what was there flying towards them: A weirdly shaped creature, as if born from the earth, but light brown and covered with black spots and made it look as if it had some kind of measles. It flew right through the two stones Merawen and Eric stood on, directly towards Feybru who was still fumbling on her musket.  It didn’t get far, though, as hammer and axe met its head in the hallway between the two large stones, and with all the power that Merawen and Eric could bring up, it flew towards one of the huge stone walls and crumpled to brown dust with black spots. The next monster was near, but this time Feybru was prepared and sent a bullet on the way to meet him. The slightly confused monster was then met by the hammer and the axe again, as Merawen and Eric had quickly turned and sent their weapons into the air. From the force of the two weapons on top of it, the monster flew to the ground underneath it and, like its predecessor, crumpled to brown dust with black spots in it. In the few seconds that it took the world to realise what had just happened, Feybru threw another bullet down the barrel of her musket and sent another shots off just in time to catch two more of the monsters that were about to attack Merawen and Eric who were still trying to catch their balance on the large stones. The two monsters had no chance to withstand the blows of the axe and the hammer that followed the two gunshots. The next monster was smaller than the other ones. When Merawen and Eric caught this one as it was flying past their stones, they found themselves slightly confused when they saw some of its body stuck to their weapons. Feybru saw that and wanted to shout and ask and express her astonishment of this weird creature that was leaving half its body on the weapons, but she didn’t manage to say anything, as the last creature shot past them all and landed inside her mouth. She let out a scream and tried to spit it out. Only them she realised what the monster was: Sweet. It was nice and sweet and felt almost a bit like dough before it had been put into the oven to bake. And then a wide grin spread over her face as she realised what the crumbles and the black spots that looked like measles were really.

“You’re not having your best day of magic”, she shouted at the witch and her voice echoed through the valley. But there was no answer, and when they looked up they saw that the witch was gone. They sighed and continued to enjoy the remnants of their enemies. They would catch the witch eventually anyway.

And so they climbed up the rest of the valley, pulled themselves up on stones, balanced over edges, now and again sent a small avalanche of stones down to the plains. Now, they were very careful as well, as to not be surprised by the witch again, especially not on an unfavourable fighting ground like this one. The view stayed grey for quite a while longer, as stones covered their sides. Merawen soon grew bored of all this stone and so they continued to find the faces of distant friends in the stone. Unfortunately, Merawen seemed to know so many people and quite often she pointed at something and jumped of happiness – never without having to find something to hold on to right after – that none of the others would even slightly recognise as a face. And so they entertained themselves on the way up the hill, and if any other stone had rolled back into the valley that night, it would have been able to tell stories about three crazy wanderers who walked up a complicated path and who randomly shouted names of their family or friends. It would have made for a very funny bards tale for sure!

The sun had just found a hiding spot right behind the stone wall, as Merawen found the exit of the stone path and pointed at it and immediately informed her companions of her find. They had finally reached the end of this weird pathway. Their bodies ached, their hands were sore from all the stones and hard surfaces and their faces were dirty. The latter was no wonder, as they still had all the sweet goo from the last fights and that goo went very well with dirt thrown at it. Panting and coughing they crawled out of the pathway onto the normal road again and sat down at its side. The plain around them had changed by now. The trolls were gone, maybe back in their hole, maybe hunting for more food before the sun went down. Instead, there was a small group of four-legged creatures strolling over the plain, maybe also on the lookout for food. At that moment they were all very glad that they were so high up and wouldn’t have to deal with the group. Their eyes followed the group a bit, as it moved through the grass, then their gaze fell upwards to the top of the hill and a smile spread over their faces as they saw that the top was not far away anymore. They had passed the wide bit of the hill and how they could see that it was getting more and more narrow towards the end and that made them hopeful. With new energy they stood up and got ready to go on.

The hill was covered by grass again and the path was easy compared to the stone path they had just left. In the distance they could even make out the swamp and while they were walking they were wondering what Walthus might be doing. Maybe he had gone out again to fish in his favourite pool. Or maybe he had found more crocodiles and had to run from them. Or maybe he was worried about them, because he had received no message where they were?
While the three adventurers were thinking about Walthus, the sun slowly moved over the sky, closer and closer to the horizon. The walk was longer than they had guessed. The swamp became a shadow in the distance and the plain became quiet and empty again. The trolls were long gone and the group of creatures had disappeared behind a turn of the road. It would not be long now, until the night creatures came out. As the sky started to turn red, they realised that they hadn’t really paid attention to where their feet took them they had only made sure they stayed on the path. So when they looked back at the hill, they realised that they were not far away from the top now. The path went on straight for a while more, then it turned and went up the steep side of the hill, directly to the top.  Merawen, Feybru and Eric jumped as they saw that. Their long way was finally at an end. They looked down on the plain and realised that this was already quite far away. The night creatures that they started to see now were only pins in the red light that covered the plain by now. The three adventurers continued quickly so they could reach the top of the hill before nightfall. They reached the steep bit and with a bit of effort, they climbed it. They were slower than usual, but it was still much better than having to balance over stones.

And then they reached the top, exhausted and with their feet in pain. Relief was great when they stood there, panting and aching, looking forward to a good meal and a warm bed to heal their wounds. And so they stood for a moment, each dreaming their own dream, Eric of food, Feybru of a comfortable bed and Merawen of finding a new kind of nut for her squirrel that was safely waiting for her.

“Soso, have you finally managed to get up here, you intruders!” buzzed the voice of the witch of the swamp and the three adventurers jumped yet again. There she stood, the witch of the swamp, this time with a new companion. As she came closer, the three companions saw that the new creature was in fact a monster: It had had a body that moved towards them. But on the body, there was not one head, but five. The Hydra was red as blood and shone in the light of the sunset. Her eyes were fixed on the three panting people in front of her who were picking up their weapons again, while only wishing for warm food and a fluffy bed. As always, Feybru was the first one to act, and a bullet hit the hydra in the eye. The monster hissed in fury and one of its heads shot forward towards Feybru, as a hammer and an axe hit it and divided it in three different parts. Merawen and Eric had readied their weapons and stood there, panting and tired, but still determined to defend their friend. Feybru used that break to grab two more bullets from her pouch and fired the remaining one against the Hydra. This time she hit its body and managed to confuse it for an instant. This was enough for Merawen and Eric to jump at it and make it fly to the other end of the clearing with a mighty blow of their weapons. They heard something around the Hydra sparkle on the fly and then it disappeared on in the shadow that the dusk had put over the hilltop. Merawen and Eric were panting heavily, while Feybru took aim at the other end of the clearing again. When the Hydra appeared out of the shadow, Feybru sent another bullet at one of its heads. The Hydra seemed to dodge it without difficulty. And then they gasped in surprise: Thy Hydra had lost half a head. It was crawling towards them, still, but its movement seemed to be hindered, as if it was injured. Merawen and Eric brought themselves into fighting position again, while Feybru sent another shot through the calm dark air. She stepped back to reload, while the Hydra was getting furious again, its pace quickened and the remaining three healthy heads were snapping at Eric and Merawen widely. Worn out as the two were, they were left jumping and dodging, trying to get a hit against that monster. But their energy was low, their arms and legs heavy and their weapons didn’t have the strength anymore to free themselves from the dangerous dance they were performing there. Merawen’s hammer danced and jumped with the Gnome and she did sometimes manage to find a weak spot on the Hydra’s body, in which she immediately slammed her hammer, but she knew she wouldn’t be able to keep this up for much longer. Eric, on the other side of the Hydra, fighting with his own heads, sent mighty blows into its flesh. His axe was hitting and slicing and in the dim light that was left on the hilltop, one could see a huge grin on his face. Because Eric had found out what no one else had. Food was his speciality, and this Hydra would end up in his dinner. And so he hacked and sliced happily, already setting the cuts in which he would dice his prey later on, when he was preparing dinner. Feybru had reloaded and sent another two shots against the monster. She had realised that Merawen’s strength was fading and that something was going on with Eric and she was wondering if slicing things with an axe could really be that much fun. She shook her head while reloading her musket and sending another two well-placed bullets into the body of the creature. It looked severely injured by now and Eric’s next blow left a wide gash in its back and the Hydra motionless on the floor. Merawen stumbled back from the body, trying to catch her breath, while Eric walked around her, trying to find out which was the best way to slice and dice it and nibbling on one of the heads, trying to decide if it would make for a good stew. Just as he bent down and had the serious face of a food taster, just as Merawen was leaning on her hammer to catch her breath, just as Feybru had placed the first bullet into the barrel of her musket, just at that moment, the Hydra woke up again. None of them had expected that and none of them was prepared or able to fight her in any way. So they could only stare in its eyes for an instant too long, as it drew nearer and each of its remaining three heads was fixed on each of the three companions. For the first time, Feybru found herself shaking as she tried to fit the second bullet in the barrel, while Merawen tried to find her balance again, picking up her hammer and getting ready to fight again. Eric, however, looked like a very surprised food taster who had just discovered that is steak had come with legs and had run away.
The Hydra drew closer, eyes fixed on each of the three brave fighters, her tong twitching between her long, sharp teeth. They could hear the witch’s voice in their heads shouting intruders and pay for what you have done, as each of the three heads snapped back to get momentum and then lunged forward, directly to the throats of the three friends. They knew they couldn’t defend themselves against that power, the worn out Merawen, the kneeling Eric and Feybru who hadn’t managed to close her musket in time. And then a shot ripped through the deadly silence on the hilltop. The Hydra stopped for an instant, then another shot struck it and the three heads fell to the ground only an instant away from the adventurers.

Out of the darkness stepped a small humanoid creature with a big hat, dressed in black with wide dark leather boots, two, what looked to be small versions of Feybru’s gun, in its hands. The creature came closer and one of the guns pointed to the hat, pushing it up and now they saw that the creature was in fact a Gnome, just a bit bigger than Merawen. He greeted them with a wide grin, while he shot into each of the heads of the Hydra, almost without looking at them. Then he turned to Merawen and panting as she still was, she told him why they were on the top of the Spiral Hill and how they had been attacked by the creatures of the witch. The Gnome followed her story while he examined her and her companions with green, clever eyes.
Then, he gave them all a little flask with liquid to make them feel better and led them inside the village and they could only hear the scream of the witch, as they passed the border that allowed no use of magic anymore. That night, they rested safely and well in comfortable beds and with a big breakfast waiting the next morning. In the village the three adventurers found out, that there was something in the pool that Walthus had told them about, so deep that no non-magical creature could dive down. Feybru, as the one who could swim the best, decided to give it another try. After breakfast – obviously with enough time to allow her stomach to deal with the breakfast – she jumped into the pond and, only minutes later, re-appeared with a scroll in her hands. The scroll had been unharmed by the red water. When it was on the surface, it shuddered and anyone who stood around Feybru could hear the feint scream of the witch of the swamp as the scroll glowed read and faded into dust. It seemed, as if a darkness had finally left the Spiral Hill. The day was bright, the sky was blue and the people in the village on top of the Spiral Hill were preparing a party. The adventurers were to stay there for a while longer, before finding their way back, along the path that led down the Spiral Hill, back through the plain, back through the swamp to report to Walthus what they had seen.

“But” said Merawen, and took along sip from her beer, “this must be told in a different story”. She had been talking for a long time already and the whole inn had fallen silent and listened to her tales. Her squirrel was sitting with her, happily nibbling nuts, while the night had passed and one could already make out a small stripe of light through the windows. Merawen yawned and stood up. She had a long way ahead tomorrow. She left a silver piece at the bar to pay for her beer and the nuts, then she waved at the people who were still staring at her and went up the stairs that led to her room. While she was unlocking the door, she thought of her friends. It had been a long time since they met. Now they were out and about, all fighting for their own good cause. She knew Eric had become a cook on wheels, and Feybru was patrolling with caravans again, and she hoped they were well. She opened the door and only just saw the feathers of a carrier bird leaving the open window. On her bed was a scroll: A message from one of her friends.

© Currrious.Cat