For Burr, our accidental hero, Bumscrook Castle was a less than welcome sight. Set in the centre of a vast crater full of jagged spikes of black rock in turn surrounded by the twisted mist haunted Forest of Buggerthatforagameofpoachers; it exuded an aura of creeping death, dark madness and horrors unimaginable.
For the surly Dwarf engineer-turned-adventurer it was a playground full of hazards, traps, treacherous terrain and rampant monsters to play with.
If the sun had dared to show its face round that disturbing place it almost certainly would have hunkered down on the horizon as low as possible and hoped no one noticed it. As such the clouds were dabbed with pinks, oranges but predominantly blood red. Foreboding is too slight an expression here.
‘Why am I getting the impression that this is the worst possible idea in the history of shitty ideas?’ sighed Burr. His feet ached in the ill-fitting leather boots and his battered patchy armour chaffed in strange places he always assumed were a mythical foreign land.
He was bored of carrying the huge Magic Shield and was beginning to suspect it was little more than a disk of tin with coloured glass set in the rim. Furthermore and more pressingly, he was starting to think that his heroic companions were mere lunatics trying to get themselves and he killed in the most idiotic and elaborate fashion imaginable. Their delusions of heroism compounded by the vast quantities of alcohol and their own pedigree of personal madness.
He stared upwards, guppy mouthed at the imposing hand carved mountain. Only an army of lunatic and rather morbid architects could have built it, each with a different macabre masterpiece in mind.
It was dark, even though it was only a quarter past second lunch. The sky was over cast with plump angry clouds and it was terribly cold. Even though it was the height of summer on the outside of this gnarly, twisted and bitter forest.
‘What’s wrong with you Plumpling,’ rumbled Bottkrak in his gravelly voice. “It’s perfectly straight forward. Go in there, find the vampire and kill it. Go back to the pub. Drink. A lot. Sleep. Then do it all over again the next day.
‘Hmmm, interesting idea. But I have a better one: why don’t we ring the bell and very politely ask for lodgings. It’s either that or we kip out here with the wolves.’
‘Bah!’ Snorted the dwarf. ‘Mere pups at play.’
Burr tried to gauge the enormity of the structure, but every time he managed to focus on one dull, crooked spire, more seemed to appear behind it or the roiling sky would spew another where seconds before there was merely blood soaked cloud.
How he wished he could be back in his own world, sat in his dark dingy room playing Sword of Might on Gaymbox, warm, beer-ed and fed. He even missed evil little Kraken his sadistic black and white kitten. Either that or at a push back in the warm tavern with the rest of the Company of the Phoenix. He sighed.
‘Everything’s always straight down the line with you isn’t it?’ Huffed Burr exasperated. ‘Look at this place. If we go in there we are clearly going to die.’
‘It’s just some fancy old house, nothing to get het up about.’
‘It’s the occupants lurking about within I’m worried about.’
‘Well clearly they’re trespassing too and should be taught a lesson. Stop moaning and let’s get on with it, I’m starting to get my hang over.’
Bottkrak shoulder his mighty Rune-Hammer of Tinkery, in which crimson inscriptions had suspiciously started to glow. They set off up the crumbling stone steps, on to the bridge that led out over the chasm up to the front door. The wind threatened to knock them off the bridge, and the horizontal rain made footing treacherous. It was a long, slow journey.
Burr thought back to the evening hence. The whole company of inebriated veteran adventurers had drawn lots to see who had to get up early and continue with Burr’s training in the ways of the hero. Through much slurred and mispronounced scheming they had tried to work out a likely spot to send the luckless pair on a heroic quest. Blast that yokel for mentioning this hell hole. Local rumour had it was the lair of an infamous vampire.
Even as Burr let out his heaviest sigh and made to move off, the stonework beneath his pudgy feet gave way and tumbled out of sight down the jagged cliff side below. Bottkrak manhandled him out of harms way by the scruff of his neck and set him down safely on a more stable spot.
‘This is no time for messing about with the architecture man, I need ale. And you really need to lose weight.’
Burr crawled (Bottkrak practically skipped) up the ancient, crumbling steps to the great door, gargoyled and bedecked liked the entrance to hell. Red splotches of horrible streaked the door; it read, ‘kin within’
Burrs’ many chinned jaw quivered in dumbfounded terror and he turned to the hairy, stunted warrior next to him.
‘What?” rounded the metal clad stunty. “It’s just kids messing with the locals.’
Burr gingerly stroked the surface of the rotting oak door and examined his stubby finger tips. He was unsurprised to note that his last meal of rank, mutated fish and year old biscuit did in fact taste exactly the same on the way out as it had on the way in.
The dwarf’s brow furrowed in disgust. ‘That’s wasting is that, Manling. And this fellow’s going to think we’re right rude now.’
Burr tried to straighten himself out and not look so wan.
‘Look, s’everywhere now’, continued the dwarf almost embarrassed. “Why didn’t you do it over the side of the canyon? That’s what it’s for.’
Wretching again with the back of his hand to his sticky mouth Burr managed, ‘S’blood’
‘Probably just from a rat. Or perhaps the last poor soul that puked on his door step’. Bottkrak beamed wickedly.
A stone skull embellishment, perfectly cued, decide to kamikaze its way down on to the floor in front of them splintering into fragments. Burr danced backwards as only a fat man in armour can.
‘Oh my god, I’m in hell!’ Wailed Burr. He weakly banged the demon-faced door knocker as quietly as he could.
The dwarf huffed him out of the way and practically broke the door down with the butt of his hammer.
‘C’mon open up.’ He roared, as a colony of Bats erupted out of the tress, eves and shadows about them. ‘You know we’re down ‘ere.’
Quick to try and quell any hostility in their potential host Burr added shrilly, “erm, I say do you possibly have lodgings for the night?” whilst flapping wildly at the scraps of black horror flitting all around him.
‘And ale’ added the dwarf.
‘Yes, and possibly some food. But no fish’
‘We can pay’
The swirl of bats suddenly and completely disintegrated until there was just one really lucky and oblivious moth trying desperately to ram raid Burrs guttering lantern. They waited in silence listening for foot falls.
The obese man set his shield on the floor and rest it against a fold where his knee might have been and tapped a nervous rhythm on his belt buckle; all the while glancing around expecting an ambush at any second. Bottkrak leant on his hammer and rolled on the balls of his feet humming a pleasant tune. Burr was the first to break the silence:
‘Y’know I’m sure I just saw a bloody, great bat flying around up there with a badger in its mouth.’
‘Don’t be an idiot, Man-thing. That was just a bear.’
‘Er, hate to break this to you Bottkrak but bears don’t fly.’
‘No, I mean the thing in its mouth was a bear.’
When Burr realised the dwarf wasn’t attempting humour his eyes widened like saucers and he beat pathetically and most urgently upon the door. ‘Oh my god, please, please-open up, open up, open up! Please!’
‘Wait Fatling, look up there’.
‘Nope, not sure I can; because if I see a moth with a dragon in its mouth I will be very upset’.
‘No look, there’s a candle in that there window.’
‘Yes, well clearly that candle doesn’t want to be disturbed or it would have come down and opened the door to us earlier. Let’s go before the sun’s completely down.’
‘Oi, we know you’re up there. Come and open this bloody door or ill knock it down, your choice!’
‘Please try to be a little less rude, we are counting on this person to…’
‘Good idea Bloke-ling; I’m going to count to three and if this door isn’t open by the time I’m done I’m going to come in any way!’
‘God no, if you bash down the door to our only shelter we may as well sleep outside with all the other monsters…’
‘Please listen to me, carrying on like this is going to get us killed either way…’
‘Oh Christ. Right, hello, er, Sir? Madam? Please come down. My friend is a tad hot tempered; he doesn’t mean to be its just he was dropped on his head as babe…pup…piglet, what ever…’
‘Two and a half…’
‘My god you actually know fractions and basic numeracy…no, there’s no time for scorn. Sir, I beg your pardon but…’
‘Three!’ Bottkrak made a long, heavy, grunt-fuelled swing at the massive door, however he paused mid way through his stroke as the door seemed to just open of its own volition (obviously with an obligatory drawn out creak).
The gruff warrior huffed, ‘works every time’ and stomped on through.
Burr stared after the warrior like a fat, gormless, balding buffoon. A not so distant wolf howled and he immediately snapped round expecting to be pounced on, his shield clattering on the stone floor. After a short fumble for his shield straps a short but burly arm emerged from the darkness of the doorway and dragged him within.
Within the dark interior of the main hall webs parted, dust formed clouds and sort shelter deeper in the castle. Spiders gesticulated coarsely at the intruders and fled; a rather clumsy one the size of a dustbin crashed into the hall way then, on seeing the two adventurers, immediately rammed its way out through a rotted wall.
Rotting tapestries and banners shrugged off a skin of dust and grime to replace the cloud that just left. Another shift of hyperactive bats dived down from the rafters to blot out the scene of decay and ruin. Just as quickly they disappeared through a shadow into another part of the cavernous building. An elated moth landed on Burrs helmet and caught its breath.
The fat man hastily bolted the door after him and tried to move a wooden bench to blockade it. However he found he just wasn’t strong enough so merely sat down and sweated on it instead. He stared about the haunting, decrepit hall way wheezing rhythmically, ‘Huh, well now we’re safe’.
‘Oh, d-do you really think so?’ The beardy warrior actually sounded deflated. ‘Well, let’s go and see who’s at home then.’
‘Erm, you go ahead. I’ll just rest a while and catch my…’
‘Spine? No time for being a lilly-livered, yellow-belly now, Porker. We got some explorin’ to do.’
‘Oh I’m sure who ever was up there will be down to greet us shortly.’
‘Oh I get it, you keep the vampire busy down here while I scour the place for treasure to plunder and monsters to beat up. Good call. See you in a bit manling.’
A torch sconce beside the door suddenly ignited of its own accord throwing dancing shadows about the hall.
‘Hmmm, actually on second thoughts it would be very rude as a guest not to greet our host together. I’ll be right behind you. Literally.’
‘That’s the spirit, Sapling. Very well, let’s go. Chaaaarge!’
‘No no, remember we’re guests’
‘Ok, er…slight jog in the direction of a possible enemy then!’