The first piece in the above mention series is now available as an audio book on YouTube!
The first piece in the above mention series is now available as an audio book on YouTube!
Just get on with it, Pudding Bowl!’ the bristling dwarf knelt, shouldered his blunderbuss and took aim at the rotting, claw-scarred door.
‘It’s just, I don’t think this is quite the way; we might be releasing something we can’t control.’ Whimpered Burr, hunkering down by the aforementioned access point.
‘It’s just a bloody vampire or something, Wobbly. Just get that door open or I’ll shoot you through it.’
Burr muttered a quick prayer to any god that might have been listening, localized, inter-dimiension-ary or otherwise, and reached for the rust pitted door handle.
There was a mighty bellow of ‘Raaagh!’ from the room beyond and the door exploded inwards. Burr took the full force of the splintering oak in the face and chest and was jettisoned across the flagstones.
Heldmann the Barbarian combat rolled into the room with his broadsword at the ready, growling and huffing fiercely, spittle varnishing his dark beard and the ground below him. A psychotic spittle tsunami if you will.
Through the door way peeped the shrunken, bent over form of the wizard, Greybeard, wide eyed and his staff at the ready with a slight nimbus of light at the end protruding into the room.
The Elf ranger, Gretchen, sighed and shouldered her bow. She leaned against the remainder of door frame and lit her pipe. ‘I told you. I could smell the pair of them before we even entered the castle.’
‘Hmmm, perhaps.’ Muttered the old man. ‘Well at least that’s one problem solved.’
‘Balls!’ Bellowed the barbarian relaxing his stance and raising to his full height. ‘I thought you chaps were this blasted vampire.’
‘Bugger it all!’ huffed the dwarf engineer relaxing his aiming squint. ‘We knew it was only yous! Just wanted to give ya a surprise is all.’
‘Do I smell a feint trace of wee, Herr Dwarf?’ Purred the Elf with a lopsided grin.
‘Bah, out of it fancy britches. You know perfect well that’ll be Burr. Nice of you to drop by mind, any later and we’d be on ours way home just as you were arriving. We’ve almost tracked the damn parasite down and we’re about to kill it. Now form an orderly queue.’
‘Clearly you have everything well in hand…’drawled the elf.
‘Ah, yes’ began the wizard hobbling at speed into the room. ‘That’s what we came to tell you…wait a tick, where is Burr?’
‘Dead in the corner there.’ Rumbled the dwarf flapping a hand in the general direction of the blubber pile.
‘Oh dear lord’ exclaimed the elder tottering over to the prone form of Burr. ‘I told you to take absolute care of him.’ The wizard cast a few spread hands over him, intoned an incantation along the lines of ‘Umbly-Bumbly-Boo’, and then snapped his fingers in front of the pudgy man’s face. Burr’s eyes snapped opened and he tried to scan his surroundings with dull, glazed eyes.
‘Easy, Chosen One, you’re safe. For the moment. Just let your senses fully return before getting up.’ The wizard turned to address the group as a whole. ‘I’m afraid we are all in the most grave danger. No pun intended.’
‘Aren’t we always? Roared the barbarian proudly, smacking a fist on his pecs. ‘We’re heroes, we’re supposed to be…’
‘Please, let me finish. This vampire we seek is not the usual run of the mill undying foe.’
‘Oh really?’ said Burr sitting up and rubbing his neck. ‘You mean it’s not the usual fluffy, welcoming aristocrat who’s all charm and curtesy until he fancies a bit of a snack?’
‘Erm, no. Not really. Quite the opposite actually. All my research and my enquires in the village seem to point to one thing. One rather large thing…It’s a Strigi Vampire. A Ghoul King.’
‘Oh for f….’ the ranger trailed off and kicked a pebble hard against the wall.
‘Ah’. The barbarian simply said and lowered his considerably huge sword.
The dwarf un-cocked his blunderbuss and stroked his beard thoughtfully.
‘Yes,’ continued the wizard at pace. ‘I thought that would give you pause for thought. So perhaps we might want to sit this one out and take a slightly less heroic stance? But never the less, take an altogether even more important role in this matter: by traveling to find the nearest witch hunter, a detachment of the Emperors finest, a Priest of Sunna and an out of the way cave somewhere for us all to then hide in until this all blows over. Questions?’
‘But why didn’t you tell us this on the way here, wizard?’ rumble the barbarian dangerously.
‘Because I needed an escort. And obviously you wouldn’t have come otherwise. Besides, we all have to look after, Burr. If the stars, portents, prophesies and the author are to be believed then we must safe guard him at all costs. The world depends on it!…Apparently.’
‘Well I’m not staying here,’ said the elf sulkily. She knocked out her pipe bowl then disappeared into the shadows of the next room.
‘Er, well’ mumbled the gigantic barbarian staring at his feet. ‘Well if there was anything we could do. Y’know to kill it, then I’m all in. But…y’know…’
The dwarf inspected his boots and beard for an easy excuse. He finally came up with: ‘Bugger that, I’m not wasting good ammo on a shit sucker! I’m off.’ He hefted his armament onto his shoulder and stomped across the room after the elf.
‘Wait, wait, wait! That’s not the attitude!’
The party turned, or slid back out of the shadows, to stare blankly at Burr.
‘Hello’ he said pleasantly. ‘What?’
‘You were saying’, coerced the wizard.
‘Oh,’ said Burr genuinely surprised, ‘was that me?’
‘Yes, Burr: Wait, wait, wait, what?’
‘Erm, I don’t know I hadn’t really thought it entirely through. Well look, Heldmann, I’ve seen you slaughter whole war bands of Wildhorns and Orcs single handed…’
The barbarian gave him a half smile and a quarter shrug.
‘Gretchen, I’ve seen you shoot a whole flock of bats out of the sky in the time it takes me to say, ‘Eugh, bat poo! Run for you lives.’
The elf merely raised an eye brow and continued her deep disapproving glare.
‘Bottkrak Ye Engineer, you…’
‘Oh look, we get the picture, Burr.’ Snapped Grey Beard butting in with a windmill of flapping robes. ‘There’s no need to go on, dear boy.’ The mad geriatric took a snort of what was presumably snuff out of a small tin. After a huge sneeze he continued in a reedy, nasally type way-‘But you don’t seem to understand. It’s a full moon out there, it’s around midnight and we’re on its turf. We don’t stand a chance. More immediately important-we-can’t-kill-the-thing!’
The aging wizard took a chug from a small purple vial, a deep breath and continued on apparently more relaxed. ‘See here, I’ve brought some vials of thrice-blessed holy water and a stake or two, but they were more of a token gesture.’ He unslung a back pack and began rummaging around within.
‘We could always stake Burr to the ground and give him a bed bath? Chimed the elf helpfully. ‘And I always carry a bunch of garlic with me to ward off his smell.’
‘So we’re set then, we’ve got all we need!’ cried Burr jubilantly. ‘Why don’t we suffuse the garlic in the water, cover the stakes in it then somehow fashion a firing mechanism to shoot it at the vampire.
‘Ok Burr, here’s a stake,’ huffed the red faced wizard suddenly stuffing the whole bundle into the fat man’s arms. ‘Here’s some holy water. In fact, here’s all the holy water. Now off you go and kill that nasty, immensely huge, terrifyingly strong, horrendously swift and agile, undead monster. Ta-ta! Don’t be long now.’ He patted him on the shoulder with unconvincing companionship.
‘Erm, what I was trying to do was…’ stammered Burr shouldering the sack. ‘Rally round the whole group with a can do attitude. Y’know, lead by example? Heard of that?’
The rest of the group merely stared at him dumbfounded. A tumble wheel traversed between them. A skeletal rat ran half way up the wizards robes, sniffed then ran away again.
‘I see,’ started the wizard. ‘What you are suggesting, Burr, is suicide…’
‘No: Heroism! Against all the odds, come what may, against impossible forces and odds and what not. The nemesis at the climax of the story in his castle of power. The final show down. None of this mean anything to you?’
‘Ok, chimed the elf re-lighting her pipe. And what are you going to be doing whilst we’re fighting this thing? That is of course if it hasn’t already picked us off one by one silently in the darkness?’
‘Er…well…I hadn’t thought of that. I just assumed he’d play the game and be waiting for us in the throne room in the tallest tower with his hordes of treasure and a bunch of easily overcome-able guards.’
‘No.’ Gretchen said flatly. ‘No, it won’t be like that, Burr. We’ll be lambs to the slaughter. We probably won’t even see it until its already feasting on our innards in front of our still staring eyes. It’s not the cutsey-wutsey, effeminate, prepossessing, romantic, dashing, type vampire; it’s a huge hulking monstrosity, hell bent on tearing us all limb from limb then feasting on our remnants, type vampire.
‘Oh, I haven’t heard of those guys before.’
‘‘Well, now you have. And how exactly do you propose to insert one of those rather small and flimsy wooden cocktail stick through its abnormally huge, muscular and tough ribcage? Hm?’
A familiar tumble weed rolled back the other way between the group. The skeletal rat returned, shook its head vigorously at Burr then scampered out of sight.
The full gravity of the situation seemed to come upon fat man rather suddenly. ‘Oh well, we tried’ he shrugged. ‘Off we go then’ beaming, he picking up his shield and making to move off.
‘Quite right, Burr. Knew you’d get there eventually.’
The rest of the congregation got their stuff together and made to depart.
‘Well on the plus-side,’ began the wizard conversationally, ‘we haven’t been detected yet. We’ll just slip out quietly and come back with the mob…’
Burr opened another door and stared down in revulsion at a grubby, grey, deformed and hunched over and unnecessarily ugly man-thing. Its obsidian, pupil-less eyes widened like dishes as it hissed and thrust its taloned fingers towards his face.
The enormous bulk of the barbarian’s silhouette hooved into view behind Burr. The creature was immediately taken aback then loped off at pace on all fours down the corridor. A blast from the Engineer’s blunderbuss threw it forward hard against the opposite door before being pinned by five elvish arrows in unison.
‘Balls,’ said the barbarian simply.
‘Bugger’ said the dwarf dejectedly.
‘For fu… sake’, Winced the elf.
‘Oh my…’ twitched the wizard, taking another strange liquor out of his sleeve.
‘What?’ Said Burr, turning happily to the band. ‘It’s dead, job done. And we all survived. Now we can return to the village as heroes. Not what I was expecting at all I must say. Easy!’
In unison the group turned to stare at him once more. The barbarian even went so far as to lift a mighty fist ready to bust him one.
‘Oh well, I guess it knows were here now. Prepare yourselves everyone.’ Sighed the wizard.
‘What? What, that wasn’t it? You’re kidding?’
‘No, Burr,’ wheezed the wizard, wearily sitting on a crate. ‘No, that was just a random ghoulish minion that just happened along. One of quite possibly hundreds. And all linked to one being.’
‘The actual for reals vampire?’
‘Yes, Burr. Perhaps we did have a chance, but now…They’ll come. All of them.’
Perfectly cued a chorus of echoing hisses and screeches erupted from all around the castle. The barbarian slumped against the wall with a cold, hard slap. The elf crouched with her face in her palms. The dwarf sat on the floor with his feet outstretched and stared vacantly at his antiquated firearm in his lap.
The malevolent screeches were already coming closer, and there could be heard the distinct sound of naked feet running on stone.
Burrs baleful glare snapped between the dejected group members. ‘Not a chance in hell!’ he spat viciously. We’re not giving up like that. Balls to this sodding vampire. He’s the end game to worry about later. Right now we can do ourselves proud and do what we do and take down as many of those sickening, dirty, little bastards as we can before we snuff it.’
Nobody shifted. Nobody spoke. ‘Right,’ huffed Burr hiking up britches and armour and readjusting his belt. He set about grabbing the nearest furniture and detritus and began building a haphazard barricade against the broken door.
‘There’s only two ways into this room,’ he wheezed as he worked. ‘From down that rather long corridor which the dwarf and elf will guard and this rather knackered doorway here which myself and the barbarian will guard. The elf huffed. The dwarf looked up to shrug. The twitching wizard simply entertained himself with whatever it was that only he could see in the mid distance.
‘The corridor will act as a shooting gallery, it’ll take them ages to get to you, and you can’t miss. We just need to make the other door way solid enough so only a couple of those little feckers can get to us at once. The barbarian will take care of them and I’ll protect his flank with my supposedly magical shield.
Meanwhile the wizard will be our eyes and ears for both groups and help out and heal as needed. He glanced at the distracted mage worriedly. ‘And occasionally, when the desire takes him, he can lob a fire ball or two into the room beyond, because all of the little bastards will be trapped in there, packed solid. Questions?’
‘Just two,’ said the elf, a warning note in her tone. She rose slowly and nocked an arrow. ‘Who are you and what have you done with our Burr?’
‘No time for that now Lanky Bird, the beasts are upon us. Don’t waste your ammo, or energy, just take the bastards down one at a time. No show, all pro, got it?’
By now the rest of the congregation were on their feet looking around rather foolishly and unhelpfully.
‘Now who put you in charge?’ bellowed the barbarian, suddenly sounding more himself.
‘You lot did, Bigman; as soon as you thought it was all over and the day was lost before the fight had even begun. We may not be able to kill this vampire but we’re going to go down swinging. If I die and the world ends by whatever means, at least you guys will be remembered as having fought for my life to the last, side by side.’
‘But this strategy stuff…’ rumbled the dwarf quietly. ‘How would you know all this stuff?’
‘Computer…er. Games, just games…never mind; I’ll try and explain later. Just help me make barricades.’
Heart beats later the door at the far end of the corridor burst open and a horde of foul, wretched, nearly naked bodies erupted out of the shadows. Filthy clawed feet stampeded over the remains of their fallen, squashed, broken, pin cushioned comrade as they screamed and hissed their way to the hero’s last stand.
The elf shot the fat man an angry look, then shook her head. She cart wheeled to her spot and with bow and fletch immediately in hand started making measured, timed shots into the oncoming horde. The door to the room on the other side shattered and another horde swarmed over to the barricade where the barbarian was already standing, his fingers flexing on his sword handle, his teeth gritted and brow furrowed, saliva already flecking his lips and beard.
Burr stumbled over to the giant and slapped his shield beside the barricade and door. Now the only way into the room this side was past the swings and jabs of the warrior’s broadsword.
In the centre of the room the wizard stared bemused at Burr’s back. He grinned a lopsided grin then shook his head. He drew an outline on the floor and a circular Sigel appeared covering the whole area and engulfing each hero in blue light. With a flick of his fingers a glowing orb appeared in the centre of the ceiling and began radiating warming, encouraging rays.
The heroes morale soared, their grips on their weapons tightened and the weapons themselves became light as air…inhuman vitality coursed through their veins.
The engineer and ranger worked surprisingly well together, like a well-oiled machine of death: The blunderbuss taking out the majority of the front line of foes; then the dwarf would dip back behind the barricade to reload while the elf took pot shots at those behind who were still dazed and confused. Together they were like a morbid threshing machine.
Likewise, each time the blood mad barbarian swung through the bodies pressed up against the barricade, Burr’s shield would then appear blocking hands and claws reaching through. When the huge man was ready for a focused return swing Burr would remove the blockage and duck…like a grizzly version of whack a mole. Whack a ghoul, if you will.
The wizard was far more relaxed now and even seemed to be enjoying himself; easily coping with healing the minor nicks and bruises his band suffered in a timely and orderly fashion. He even had time to repeatedly charge their weapons with temporary enchantments of fire and ice and got into quite a rhythm.
Suddenly the waves of revolting grey bodies and pointy teeth ceased. Either their moral had gone and they had slunk back off into the shadows to lick their wounds; or perhaps the whole tribe of them were prone, splatted and sticky on the flagstone floor.
Peace settled in the little room. Weapons were checked and fire arms reloaded. Arrows were retrieved from twitching corpses, brows were moped, pipes were puffed and barricades rebuilt.
A melodic note lifted in the room. The elf was laughing in her pleasing, harmonious cadence. Burr found himself trying to recall the last time he had heard it.
The dwarf gave his earthy chuckle and stroked his beard. The barbarian began to gaffore with his blood covered fists on his gore splashed hips. The Wizard tittered and lit an obscenely long cigarette. But Burr’s brow furrowed.
‘Hmmm, makes me wonder…’
‘No point wondering now, Piggyman’ bellowed the warrior. ‘Battles over…’
‘But not the war’, muttered the Wizard and gave Burr a grave look.
The rest of the company turned a worried countenance towards the fat man and the Wizard.
‘This bastard Vampire could have easily over run the barricade at any point.’ Pondered Burr aloud. ‘And crucially, when the fighting was thickest…So where…’ he said slowly and meaningfully ‘Oh where, has the Vampire been all this time?…’
‘…And why…’ began Grey Beard, just as slowly ‘Hasn’t he shown himself yet.’
‘Because…’ hesitated the elf. ‘It’s been here…
As one the company raised their head towards the considerably high vaulted ceiling.
There was enough moonlight coming through the lofty arched windows to enable them to make out a vast, hunkered shape atop a wooden beam spanning from wall to wall. Somewhere in that monstrous shadow were a pair of large, evil, red glowing eyes. They stared down hatefully at the heroes.
‘Erm…’ Ventured, Burr. ‘Run?’
‘Too late’ breathed the Elf, half drawing her bow. ‘Far, too late.’
The shape above them unfurled wings like a monstrous bat and pushed off from its perch. Plummeting like a lightning bolt to the ground below its considerable silhouette grew immense as it fell.
Burr had just enough time to scream some horrified gibberish before the red eyes closed with him. Then blackness. And cold, damp, stony oblivion.
Thanks for reading
‘Burr, if you don’t stop wheezing on me I’m going to castrate you and leave you here to die.’
‘It’s-not-my-fault! The air’s freezing my lungs. The snow is knee high and just in case you hadn’t already noticed I’m just a tad out of shape at present.’
‘Well, you still look perfectly spherical to me.
Now then, the extraction point is just up ahead. If I know, The Shiv, he’ll already be there and have secured the place. But still, be on your guard.’
‘That’ll be a little tricky. My hands are so numb I can’t even draw my sword.’
‘Not that it would do you any good anyhow; What I meant is, try and keep out of sight. Hopefully the snow storm should mask your considerable silhouette.’
Burr finally eclipsed a virgin white mound. He wheezed heavily for a few moments then toppled face forward tumbling the rest of the way down the slope.
His momentum delivered him up next to the crouched form of Gretchen. She had her bow drawn and was scanning what at first glance appeared to be a mountain range ahead of them.
Once his brain caught on to what he was seeing Burr realised that it was in fact a castle dominating the horizon; complete with battlements, banners, gargoyles and other generally expected aesthetics such a stone bastion would sport. The structure gave the impression that it had risen up out of the blanket of deep snow and stood resolute against the bleak white and grey twilight landscape.
‘Good work on the camouflage, Burr. You’re learning.’
‘Accident’ mumbled Burr through a face full of snow.
‘Yes, you are, Burr. You’re just a helpless little piglet trapped in the quicksands of fate, aren’t you?’ The elf pinched Burrs rosy cheek playfully. Not used to the sour, monotone elf being companionable he warily muttered, ‘Yes, Sir…Ma-am…M’lady…’
The elf got comfy, shouldered her bow, lit her pipe and resumed her reconnaissance while she waited for Burr to right himself.
‘Right, there I am’ he huffed eventually. ‘So, what’s the plan?’
‘Simple,’ purred the Ranger. ‘Sneak through a convenient break in one of those tumble-down walls, stealthily stalk and ruthlessly murder in cold blood anyone we come across; we then loot and pilfer anything of value we can realistically carry, find The Shiv, get a fire going then get the kettle on. How’s that?’
‘Marvellous’ groaned the fat man. ‘It’ll be child’s play I’m sure.’
‘Ok, off we go…’ and with that she was away like a wraith through the swirl, running atop almost three feet of powdery snow and barely creating a stir.
The lithe fey vaulted a downed tree, hop scotched stones over a fast-flowing ford then somersaulted up the ruins of the nearest fortified wall.
Burr stared open mouthed after her like a dumfounded cow. He rearranged his tussled tunic and tightened his belt with grim determination then started off after her. Huffing like a great steam train he galloped forth like only a morbidly obese man in knee deep snow can.
Presently, Burr picked himself up once more and spat out a mouthful of snow. He narrowed his eyes and set his sights on vaulting the downed trunk. After adjusting his back straps and brushing some snow off his breasts he launched in to action like a stoned sloth.
Burr collided with the tree with such colossal force that a family of snow foxes were ejected from their safe haven like a bunch of furry bullets out of a cracked and rusty cannon.
The dazed vixen gingerly sniffed the unconscious Burr, turned her nose up at him then piddled on his leg. She gathered her albino pups and led them away into the blizzard to find another place to wait out the storm.
From her vantage point on the battlements Gretchen winced at Burrs rigorous display of ineptitude, unsheathed a dagger then stalked off silently into the keep.
Burr awoke sometime later, freezing cold in the ruins of the tree and smelling somewhat like wee.
He clambered to his feet and stomped about to get the feeling back in his body. Lucky for Burr he is very well covered and never truly feels deathly cold. Although he often says he does it’s only because he doesn’t move about all that often, so what do you expect?
After slipping and sliding through the icy water of the ford the bulky man attempted to ascend the stony outcrop Gretchen had so easily scaled earlier. The tumbled down stone work was treacherous, jagged and icy. Therefore, our reluctant hero decided to risk trying to gain entry elsewhere.
Not having much experience or imagination in breaking and entering military institutions, Burr decided he’d just try the front door. Along his route to where he assumed the front door or portcullis or what-have-you would be, he stumbled across several corpses of castle guards lying face down in the deep snow on the outside of the fortification. They’d obviously fallen from height, say, from as high as the battlements Burr was now stood before.
Now Burr was no freelance murder detective with a predilection for being in the right place at the right time, but he hazarded a guess that it wasn’t the fall that had killed any of these poor individuals. Using the power of thought and all his skills of deduction he deduced that, on account of the patch of what appeared to be raspberry slushy around the deceased’s necks, the victims had in fact had their throats cut before being jettisoned off the wall.
The bodies were ridged and far too heavy to turn over so he couldn’t really prove his theory, but in retrospect Burr was quite happy not to have to come face to face with an orifice in a human that wouldn’t naturally be there. So he just assumed that this was indeed the handy work of The Shiv and moved on.
With a bit of exertion and a lot of huffing Burr heaved the great double doors open. Quite cleverly the Shiv had been good enough to leave a set of keys hanging from the frost encrusted mouth of a dead sentry propped up against the doors.
The supposed master infiltrator, espionage specialist and cut throat extraordinaire was certainly starting to live up to his reputation. Up until recently, reading between the lines, Burr had regarded him as nothing more than a common, albeit lavish, cat burglar.
Burr found further evidence of this mysterious felon’s passing as he ventured into the courtyard. Chiefly in the form of very cold, very dead soldiers. Each one had a look of such shock upon their features. One or two others, more worryingly, sported the relaxed expression of undisturbed peaceful slumber.
A smithy was face down in his cooling trough, some sort of fire poker or half-finished skewering implement poking out the top of his skull. Some butcher or trapper was flopped over his latest kill, his own cleaver deep in the middle of his back. An archer was pinned to a practice target through the chest with one of his own arrows. Another deadly shaft had penetrated through one ear and out the other. The man’s frozen expression was caught somewhere between smirking amusement and even ridicule then abject horror and agony.
Curiosity led the fat man across the well-trodden courtyard to some crude stables where a healthy-looking brilliant-white horse seemed in distress. Now, normally Burr is very much not a person who is confident around horses. Horses are, for all intent and purpose, the size and weight of a car but with no real discernible brains at the helm. If a car is going a bit doolally all one might have to do is simply switch it off, or perhaps even unplug it. As far as he was assured, you couldn’t really unplug a horse and Burr wasn’t about to conduct a search in order to find a likely input socket.
Anyway, the horse was all saddled and bagged up ready for a journey it seemed, however due to the swift and unforeseen influence of The Shiv, the passenger was no longer fit to travel. The rider had been garrotted with his own riding crop and, unfortunately for the horse, the frozen body which now slumped over the gate had become entangle within its reins. Despite all its strength the poor thing just couldn’t shift the overhanging dead weight.
Quick as an orangutan sausage back up through the digestive tract of an unsuspecting vegan Burr had realised the animal’s predicament and set about putting paid to its plight. Now, Burr couldn’t open the gate or shift the cadaver because it was lashed to the horse and he couldn’t get over the body to untie him. Nor could he climb between the stone and timbers of the stable wall because the horse filled the entire things interior. However, a thought struck him. Whipping his extendable handigrabber-reaching-aid out of his backpack he patiently and meticulously unwound the beasts tack from about the dead rider.
In another ludicrous and unlikely display of forethought Burr shifted the cadaver out of harm’s way and opened the gate to allow the animal to roam free.
The errant equestrian entity pranced and gambolled freely about the courtyard tossing its forelock gaily. Once calm Burr re-approached to stroke the things nose and have a damn good rifle through the bulging saddle bags for tasty loots.
After foraging through some seemingly pointless and underwhelming cargo Burr eventually unwrapped a peculiar package of plush purple velvet and gazed in wonderment at its contents. His features lit up as a dazzling curio refracted the moons silvery light…
These things always culminate at the highest peak. Or the tallest tower. Or the top floor. The climatic pinnacle if you will. It’s just the way of things. Sub consciously knowing this, and from having spent his whole life immersed in playing fantasy table top and video games and watching every fantasy film ever produced, Burrs legs led him towards the keep.
Again, another helpful sentry sat on the snow outside the main gate with a ring of keys dangling from his icicley mouth.
An hour later, after side stepping around, climbing over and through the remains of some more very unfortunate castle guards Burr eventually beached on the landing of the tallest tower. Winded, wet and exhausted.
The gold-leaf adorned door at the end of the short corridor swung gently open to reveal Gretchen, leaning on the door frame with her arms folded, a delicate goblet in one hand.
‘Punctual as ever, Burr.’
‘Sorry,’ he wheezed, struggling for breath. ‘Animal welfare concern.’
‘Come, meet The Shiv and get warmed.’
Despite Burrs previous disposition towards, The Shiv, the professional killer turned out to be a most charming little chap, sitting there on a throne at the end of the dining table wearing the castle commander’s adornments and accessories. All of which were far too big for him, mind. But that just added to his quite comical and surprisingly comradely composure.
Burrs first impression of the little serial killer, or Malakai Shaggyflanks as he is actually named, was of a psychotic jockey turned psychotic jester. A very lippy, rather intoxicated jester with a death wish and a penchant for stealthy, albeit rather tasteless, murder. He had a very direct and colourful vocabulary and a quite endearing, if sometimes entirely incomprehensible, regional dialect.
The poor previous incumbent of that most comfortable room was also sat at table, just not in his appropriate spot. He had been stripped of all garments and was wearing just his long johns, with a long cigar poking out of his mouth and a full goblet in one hand on the table. Trickles of scarlet dripped out the corners of his mouth and nostrils.
‘Y alright there, Y’ ‘Ronour?’ bellowed the impish cutthroat. The Shiv winked at Burr, ‘Excuse him Mr. Burr, I don’t think he’s feeling quite himself today. Allow me to introduce him. ’Dis ‘ere is the right honourable Viddick Peppersnort.’
The Shiv leered at the castle patron with quite possibly the most malignant smile Burr had ever seen on a human. The kind a hungry shark gives an oblivious diver the moment he turns around.
‘Right nasty bastard.’ The Shiv confided, ‘When folk don’t do what he tells ‘em, he burns villages to the ground. And that kind of bastards always attracts a lot more bastards to ‘em.’ The short man indicated a dispatched tower guard slumped in a corner who, for some obscure reason, had a cauldron over his head and bruised and smashed fruits and vegetables all around him.
‘So, introductions complete, back to business if you please’ announced Gretchen helping herself to another goblet of fiery wine from a large silver decanter. ‘Shiv, what about the damn Seal?’ a note of urgency apparent in her tone made Burr attentive.
‘Seal?’ muttered Burr. ‘What…?
‘Gone.’ Shrugged the little man. ‘Must have shipped it out already on a fast horse.’ The gnomish man casually hefted a potato and jettisoned it at the cauldron-come-headwear. It made a wonderfully satisfying ‘toooong!’ sound on impact. ‘Six. Hell of a risk if you ask me. But then, I’m not the kind of man who likes taking risks you understand.’
‘What’s a seal?’
‘In that case we’re done for. A good courier could be half way to the Drakk by now.’ Dejectedly Gretchen hurled a large carrot, end over end like a throwing dagger, at the cauldron hitting it squarely. ‘Seven. I don’t like to fail Shiv, as you know. Something must be done. Any ideas?’
‘Ahem? Excuse I, but: What Damn Seal?’ Enquired Burr trying to keep his temper.
‘Shush, Porker!’ snapped the elf slamming a hand on the table and making everyone jump. ‘We’re busy! Real people talking!’
Apparently, the Shiv didn’t like to be interrupted either. And of course certainly not whilst actually about his business. Having learnt this Burr was very happy to take a back seat on the proceedings and keep extremely quiet and unobtrusive.
But that was okay, the cosiness of the room with its golden glow of candelabras, the warmth of the roaring fire, the bold wine and the full stomach of some meaty animal off the spit made Burr feel quite dozy. As the ranger and the murderer plotted easily, as only old comrades can, Burrs eyelids became very, very heavy.
Talk remained on the same tack of this mysterious artefact for some time and a new plan was being finalized in order to retrieve it. Apparently it was all very important and it was imperative if Burr was to get home.
Naturally, the scheme involved many a death defying leap, several bouts of courageous impetuousness, an idiocy of suicidal charges a lunacy of cold, sleepless nights and almost certainly a drastic loss of important body parts.
During the proceedings pacing about had occurred, as did thoughtful chin rubbing; anxious hand ringing could also be observed. Apparently, this was to be no easy feat.
‘So what do you think Burr, do we have an accord?’ demanded Gretchen as the pair concluded their plan.
‘Hmmm, wha-? Oh, sorry must have nodded off there. What was the question?’
The elf growled with frustration through tight closed peepers and tight clenched fists.
‘The plan, man!’ Squeaked the astonished killer. ‘We need the Seal back so we can get rid of you!’
‘Oh, that! Well I’m bored of that story now…’
‘Beg pardon?’ stated the elf, doing a very good impression of an astounded human.
‘Apologies,’ continued Burr. ‘I didn’t want to interrupt your fascinating discussion, to which I was not be a part. But is this what you were talking about?’
Burr took the velvety package out of his backpack and unravelled it. The room became a lot shinier, almost blinding in fact. He used his handy aid to place it far across the table between the Shiv and Gretchen.
The grinning cut throat sat back in his throne, genuinely impressed. ‘The Seal? Well I’ll be buggered by a zombie on pancake day.’
‘Seriously?’ Spat Gretchen. ‘You didn’t think to tell us this earlier-’
‘-You never asked!’ Burr cut in. He helped himself to a large, overly ripe tomato. ‘And besides, I did try to tell you.’ Without gauging the shot he lobbed the fruit haphazardly over his left shoulder. He was rewarded a delightful, sploooonnngggnnnn! ‘Ah, one to me I think.’ Burr smirked and lifted the decanter. ‘Drink?’
The mini sneak nodded his head and grinned approvingly. The sultry Elf simply scowled daggers at the fat man for a moment. ‘You stink of fox pee!’
A snippet from a much larger work that will probably never see the light of day. Perhaps other than in little titbits like this. An ongoing project started at least one life time ago.
Fantasy Farce – Burr and the Undead.
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 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 Enchanted 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-axe, in which crimson inscriptions had suspiciously started to glow. They set off up the crumbling stone steps, out 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 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 the yokel for mentioning this hell hole. Local rumour had it was the lair of a vampire.
Even as Burr let out his heaviest sigh and made to move off, the stone steps beneath his pudgy feet gave way and tumbled out of site 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 axe.
‘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 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 axe 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 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 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 that. 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 swore at the intruders and fled, a rather clumsy one the size of a dustbin crashed into the hall way then 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. Ill just rest a while and catch my…’
‘Spine? No time for being a fanny 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!’