Norman shields his eyes with one hand as he emerges into the daylight. The guide’s route was faultless, but it still feels like hours were spent wandering in the stink. It is mid-morning, and the day is dim and cloudy with a beard-ruffling breeze. Norman notices a shiver from the wizard beside him and wonders at the susceptibility of the tall races to hot and cold. Humans in particular seem to have such a narrow comfort range – go just a few degrees away from their perfect temperature and they reach for a change of clothes. It must come from being so ridiculously lanky. It is as the elders used to say: with density comes fortitude.
The two humans are talking as usual. Something about needing two boats instead of one? It’s not likely to be important. People talk too much in Norman’s opinion, dwarves and tall races both. It is best just to wait for your orders and then obey them. Thinking back, Norman can remember almost every order he has ever been given. Most achieved, many overwritten, some failed completely, but all obeyed. The most recent order towers above the rest in Norman’s mind, its ongoing status giving it a clarity shared by only a few of those in his memory. “Protect and escort Professor Shizbitts”. No time limit was specified, so everything else must be considered secondary until the next order arrives. Life is so blissfully simple when you allow yourself to be led. Do as you are told and you will receive all that you need.
The small, alert parts of Norman’s subconscious snap him back to the real world. The group have arrived at the secluded dock, close to the smugglers tunnel from Arkham Asylum that saved his life a week before, and the two humans are discussing seating arrangements in the two canoes offered by the guide. The professor has just suggested that he could take a boat with Gravilla. The prof is so soft-headed sometimes, despite the intelligence suggested by his facial hair – the only seating arrangement that will fulfill the mission is the two of them together. Norman shares his thoughts with the group, “To ensure his safety, I should be on the boat with Professor Shizbitts”. Professor Shizbitts chuckles at this, but Norman is not curious about the source of this amusement. The important thing is that the seating arrangement is settled.
The next fifteen minutes are spent rowing. For most dwarves this is not an attractive activity (far too close to water), but Norman is not like his kin. To him this is just another of those pleasurable tasks that rewards without requiring too much thought. Paddle with strength and balance, giving enough attention to each side, and you will reach your destination. The dwarf loses himself in the task, enjoying the regular motions and the test of his physical endurance. Something happens. Norman feels the boat suddenly jolt beneath him and comes out of his mental shell. He hears the professor exclaim the word “Oozers” and turns to see a flabby mass of grey jelly hauling itself onto the far end of the boat behind the wizard he must protect.
Encounter: Icky Sticky
Norman restraps his halberd to his back. Professor Shizbitts is safe once more. The two boats, on the other hand, have taken a terrible beating from the jelly acid and appear notably unsafe. The soldier binds them together with mooring ropes and two of the oars – a sensible precaution that will minimise the risk of sinking. Norman claps the man on the shoulder as he returns to his seat. Maybe his name is worth learning after all. The rowing resumes, but this time Norman is on too much of a battle high to relax. He notices immediately when the tethered boats enter a thick fog and is the first to react when, five minutes later, the masts of a ship loom suddenly out of the mist. The two humans immediately halt the approach to discuss plans. Norman sits back and tries to decide if the two incidents are related.
What is the soldier’s name? Something beginning with… Higg? Higninbaz? Higpuptruk? Norman is certain that whatever it is, it has too many foreign syllables for any rational person to memorise. He realises the professor is speaking to him, and exits his day dream in time to hear the words, “Did you get all that?” Norman strokes his beard and attempts to parrot back some of the soldier’s earlier words, “We grapple the back of the ship, climb up and swing through the window into the captain’s quarters”. The two humans groan despairingly, and Professor Shizbitts replies, “No no no, Sir Norman. That part was a joke. We want to get onboard WITHOUT being heard. We’ve decided to abandon the intended plan and assault the ship early. We’re going to split up, with two people as a decoy force while the other two sneak into the cargo hold.”
Norman checks his internal mission log to make sure that this is okay. “And I’m going with you?” Alarm bells ring in his mind as the professor shakes his head. “You’re not stealthy enough, Norm. I want you to distract the pirates with Gravilla. Do anything you can to get their attention and hold it for as long as possible. I’ll sing out a signal when the job is done so you know to leave the area”. Seeing the dwarf’s anxious expression he adds, “Don’t worry, you’ll be guarding me from afar. Ignatious and I will meet you on the way back, or at the Brotherhood’s base if we lose each other”. The reminder of Ignatious’ name sends Norman back into the recesses of his mind, and he barely notices being deposited on the shore with his goliath subordinate as he attempts to commit the name to memory.
Wistark and Ignatious row towards the ship on their own. Norman has a sudden thought and shouts after them, “What if you need our help?” Wistark laughs aloud at missing such a vital detail, and promises to send up a firework should he need assistance. The boat drifts out of sight, and Norman wastes no time. Without a word to his subordinate he begins to scale the cliff. He understands the plan, and will follow his part in it to the best of his ability. Gravilla climbs past him, as adept with rocky faces as any of her kind. They soon reach the top and hurry to the point nearest the ship. Unfortunately, it is hundreds of feet from the nearest pirate. They shout insults at the tops of their voices, but the barely visible figures on the boat fail to hear.
The pair stare silently at the ground, trying to figure out a way to achieve a distraction. Norman notices for the first time that Gravilla is carrying Ignaycuss’… Ibnactus’… the soldier’s crossbow. He takes it, loads a bolt and fires. The fog is thick, but not thick enough to hide the sound of metal hitting wood. Gravilla takes the weapon back and fires her own shot, but it misses and the bolt lost in the waters. Norman tuts and takes it from her once again, but this time his accuracy is similarly poor. They begin to take it in turns, accenting each shot with a loud insult (to entertain themselves as much as anything else), and are encouraged to hear an unmistakable shout from the deck. One incredibly lucky shot from Gravilla is rewarded with an agonised shriek of pain. She pumps her arm in a very coarse victory display. Let us hope that it was not an ally that she struck.
Encounter: Chaos on the Deck
Our chubby dwarven hero awakens inside a tatty, leaky boat. He is greeted by a pain he knows too well. It has a thin, agonising sharpness to it that is unique to sword cuts. He tries to raise his head to survey himself, but jabs of pain drive him back to his previous position. Going by the number of pain jabs, probably at least three sword cuts. Norman stares up into the sky for a while, feeling the motion of the boat and listening to the sound of rowing oars. He hears the voice of Professor Shizbitts, mid-conversation with somebody else. Recognising the voice of this somebody else, Norman fights back the pain and sits up.
The dwarf is confronted with a view of sea and cliffs, the remote docks of Gerelden visible in the distance. He recognises the area from the outward trip earlier in the day – the bay and the pirate ship must have been left behind some time ago. Clearly he has been out of it for some time! Norman turns and props himself up against the side of the boat and realises that he is in one of the two jelly acid canoes, the pair still tied tightly together by their mooring ropes. The soldier is in the front of his boat, the oar in his hand an indication of his most recent pastime. The wizard sits in the other boat with Gravilla and… the pirate captain, who is completely bound in climbing rope.
The bearded knight suddenly remembers his duel with this villain. A dark cloud passes over his face. This is the man who refused his attempts at diplomacy and then defeated him in single combat! Norman notices his halberd beside him, lying on the blood-stained floor of the canoe, and lifts it with one hand. The pirate captain is in the midst of providing details to the two humans on his Bolivian Red shipment, and does not notice the rise of the injured dwarf until the boats rock with his sudden, wobbly attempt to stand. Ignoring the protests of his painful, dizzy body, Norman asks a simple question, “What do you have against dwarves?”
The pirate captain adopts a calm, scathing tone and replies, “You’re all shit-eating faggots”. Norman blinks, drives his halberd forward to press slightly against one side of the pirate’s neck, then cuts clean through it without a second’s pause. The captain’s head falls onto the floor of the boat as his hogtied body remains exactly where it is and jets blood everywhere in horrible bright spatters. Out of thinly veiled disgust, the professor pushes the body backwards such that this fountain vents into the sea instead of into the boat. The two humans then turn furiously on Norman, shouting at the tops of their annoying human voices.
They accuse him of being a cold-blooded murderer for killing an unarmed prisoner, and point out the folly of losing the information the captain might have shared. Norman meets their eyes without a trace of regret, then slowly drops himself back into a seated position to quieten the agonising complaints of his injuries. The two humans talk amongst themselves… loudly enough to hear, but why bother listening? Their decisions always become clear, even to those who ignore them. The soldier proves Norman right moments later when he wraps the captain’s decapitated head in cloth for identification purposes, takes the rope off the rest of his body and kicks it overboard. The two humans then take up the two remaining oars and row onwards for the docks. Though they are now one prisoner short, the job has been done and it is time to meet The Boss.