I had slept so much during the day, I didn’t expect I’d sleep that night. Silly me. The others didn’t even wake me for a shift at guard duty, so I got my previous wish to sleep in. I woke feeling better than I had in a long time. The combination of my divine healing, and Liz’s poultices had worked miracles on me.
The real problem was that I woke up and realized that everyone was gone.
Wagons, horses, triplets, boy, Liz, Sparkle… all gone. There was no campfire, only me rolled into my blankets under a tree. I got onto my feet as quick as I could and dashed around the clearing, looking for clues. There were none. Then I realized that there were no wagon ruts, no horse tracks, and no road.
I started to panic, as you can imagine, and had to sit down on my bedroll to catch my breath. I’d had anxiety attacks as a child, but this was something stronger than that. My vision blurred as my eyes flooded with tears and I started to cry.
“By Balthazar’s hairy balls, what’s the matter with you boy?”
I jerked my head up, rubbing my eyes with my fists, trying to clear them enough to see who spoke.
Did you catch that? It wasn’t a mistake on my part. I said fists. I had two hands.
I jumped to my feet, held my hands out in front of me and goggled. “What in the seven hells?” I asked, scanning the clearing for who spoke to me. I was having the weirdest day.
It took me a moment, but I eventually saw a red spark shine in the shadows across the clearing and I realized it was a glowing ember. Behind that ember glowed one golden eye.
“You cry like a woman,” a gruff voice said.
I lowered my hands and grew stern. “Actually, I cry like any other sentient being, and I’d thank you not to make such negative generalizations. Some of the best people I know are women, most confident as well.”
Rough laughter rolled across the clearing and the red ember grew hot once more. It was a like a pipe, I determined, but also like a rolled bit of parchment.
“What is that?” I asked, suddenly finding myself obsessed with that glowing ember.
“It’s called a cigar, son. Were you born under a rock?”
“In a tavern, actually.”
The laughter came again.
“I’ve come to offer you a deal, boyo. If you can control the water works long enough to hear me out.”
I sat down again, playing with my fingers, considering if I had some string to play Cat’s Cradle, and again, my attention focused solely on a single thought. There was definitely something wrong here. Something foreign.
“Good gracious, boy. Pay attention.” I glanced up, and a dwarf stepped from the shadows. Not a normal dwarf, let me tell you. First of all he was dressed head to toe in a blue velvet gown, cut low enough to show a considerable amount of gray and black chest hair. His hair was done up in two long braids that ran down over his shoulders, and his beard was short, barely a hand’s breadth off the end of his chin. Oh, and he had a patch over one eye.
“Are you Old One Eye?” I asked, at risk of being too obvious.
The dwarf curtsied and took three steps toward me, and I saw that he wore leather breeches beneath the dress and boots with a three fingers width platform, making him slightly taller. I still towered over him, but he had a presence that screamed to me of a god.
“I go by many names,” he replied. “That is one of them, but my friends call me Susan.”
I blinked. One of my lovers, Bob, was a dwarf, and we have been intimate many times. He told me I was likely the only human to know that dwarves have both physical allocations if you get my meaning. I can assure you that worshiping with him is an amazing experience. He’s quite versatile.
But this old dwarf was a god, unlike Bob. And I had two hands, which was not true in the real world, so that could only mean I wasn’t in the real world.
“Am I dreaming?”
He chuckled and drew a great suck on that cigar of his, making the tip glow as bright as dragon fire in the gloaming of the day.
Hadn’t it been morning just the other minute? Definitely not in the real world, or at least, the world I was born to. Who knew what was real when the gods were involved.
“I have a bone to pick with ya,” Susan said, walking closer to me, but keeping his distance all the same. I didn’t see a weapon, but his stance told me that despite the dress, he was expecting a fight. Maybe wanted one. I had never met Old One Eye, though I had met Thunder Jack, rescued him in fact from a small pocket of one of the seven hells. There was lava involved, if I recall correctly. And ale. Lots and lots of ale.
Susan sat down, not so elegantly, and I was thankful that he wore the leather breeches under that dress, because I would have seen a bit more of his hairy nether regions than I was totally comfortable with at this moment.
“I have a problem, and it’s your fault.”
I harrumphed. “That certainly doesn’t narrow it down at all,” I said. I moved a bit, adjusting the mace at my side so it didn’t dig into my hip, and settled back against the tree. “How can I help you?”
He twisted his neck, cracking the bones with swift motions, and shrugged his shoulders a couple of times to relieve the tension. He looked like he could use a massage.
“You’ve started stirring up things that maybe you shouldn’t oughta. Things that nearly destroyed the entirety of existence seventy thousand years ago, and here, now that things are starting to stabilize, you go mucking about, waking up those of us that are left, and making a right mess out of what remains.”
There were a lot of commas in that quick little speech, at least the way I heard it. He spoke pretty fast, so I did my best copying it down.
“I’m Merric,” I started, but he slashed his hands in the air between us and grunted.
“I know who you are, fool boy. By the great dripping fungi of Morg, who doesn’t know you by now?”
I shrugged. No way to answer that in any case.
“So, what do you want from me?”
“Stop dicking around, son, and get on with it. I’m having a helluva time keeping track of your paramour, now that he’s gone off and started worshiping some prissy halfling…”
I stopped him right there. Some attitudes, old and crotchety as they are, need to be adjusted. “Kithri is amazing,” I said with a smile. “I’ll thank you to be respectful.”
He rolled his eye at me, maybe both, but I couldn’t see beneath his patch.
“Do I save him, or don’t I?” the old dwarf god growled, the ember strobing as his breath came in great bellows. “I need an answer now.”
“Of course,” I shot back. “I love him.”
He nodded. “You’ll pay the tithe?”
“To save Bob, anything.”
He nodded and tossed a bag at my feet. “I’ll be back to settle up.”
And he vanished.