Strange Deaths to Follow

by Neil McGill


Part Four



‘You hear that, Dawkins?’

‘Sorry, sar.’

‘No, not that, that.’

They waited. Five seconds later, Dwoirot heard it again.

‘Ah, that time, it was you, Dawkins.’

‘Sorry, sar. Its me stomach. I ain’t been ’ome yet for my supper an’ me missus gonna be ever so mad. It’ll be a murderin’, sar!’

‘Alright,’ Dwoirot sighed reluctantly and drew his thick coat about himself, ‘a few more streets and we’ll turn in for the night.’ He stomped off into the chill rain, feet slipping on the mud smeared cobbles but thoroughly enjoying himself amidst the thrill of the hunt.

Dawkins watched him fade off into the gloom of a typical Lotopian alley. If he waited a few more seconds, Dwoirot would be out of sight…

Sadly though, Dwoirot paused, turned and eagerly waved him on. Dawkins looked apologetically to his feet: C’mon lads. Just a bit further.

Some immeasurable amount of sodden rain later they reached the crumbling corner of Dog End and East Grudd St. It was here, by a large muddy pool that filled the entire junction, that Dwoirot paused again. ‘Y’know, you ought to stand up for yourself, Dawkins. You are a man of considerable standing within The Guard. And The Guard…’ he leapt over the puddle, ‘always comes first.’

Dawkins nodded demurely. ‘I suppose so, sar.’ He took a step into the puddle. A small scurrying black thing squeaked in alarm and paddled off, to disappear into a crack in the stonework of a nearby wall. Looking after if, he could have sworn that he glimpsed a small round, rat-sized door open and then close.

Lucky bugger, thought Dawkins. Least he’s ’ome an’ dry.

Mud[*] sucked noisily around Dawkin’s Guard-issue boot as he placed more weight on his leading foot and sank into it. He wasn’t going to jump this puddle. Jumping, so Dawkins wisely reasoned, is for small, spritely things. Dawkins had probably never jumped once in his life. He was one of those people who take things carefully; safely. A plodder, one might say, but a dependable plodder. And in such a dangerous profession as The Guard, you don’t get to your see much of your pension unless your very, very, careful.

Watching the gravy-like mud spill over the toe of his boot, Dawkins felt a lovely surge of pride. ‘See that, sar? Dry as the proverbial bone. Now that’s a quality boot for you. None o’ your modern rubbish. Turtle wax an’ bee shell this is—an’ spit, of course. Nothin’ beats it. In fact… it has been suggested, in a Plod Magazine survey, that these particular boots are ideal for—’

‘—Dawkins, freeze.’

‘Well… yes, I am rather cold, sar.’


Dawkins froze, and whispered: ‘Ah, I see. A situation requiring stealth. Right you are then, sar.’ Dawkins began to retract his foot from the mud—noisily.


Sorry, sar.

Dwoirot turned around slowly, his ears visibly wiggling. From somewhere close by they heard an animalistic howl. The sort of howl that had long ago given up trying not to be heard. This was a desperate, kill me, howl. ‘That’s it Dawkins! That must be our Zombie!

If you think so, sar.

Oh Dawkins, do form an opinion man. And what are you doing balancing half in the mud like that?

Sorry, sar.

Dwoirot strode off in the direction of the noise. Dawkins trudged noisily behind.

Dawkins, that building over there. It’s not…

It is, sar.

The Mayor’s home?

Oh, well it’s not what I thought then, sar.

Is he in I wonder?

If you say so—I dunno sar. But the curtains are drawn, which would lead one of the detective profession to deduce the likelihood of someone being inside… sar.

Well. This is most curious. Our good friend the Mayor seems to be crossing our path many times these days.


Well, there was the arrest of the renowned knight, Sir Renders, I believe, under explicit instructions from the Mayor himself that the lady Eroica’s earrings had been… misappropriated.

Indeed sar.

Renders’, of course, maintains they were a present.

Does he war earrings then, sar? He didn’t seem that type.


Hmm sar.

Dawkins, I wouldn’t normally suggest breaking the law, so I’ll wait until you do it for me.

We’re going to break in then are we, sar?

Dawkins, I’m taking note of that suggestion. And the mere fact that I will accompany you on this endeavour merely implicates you in the further charge of corruption of one of Lotopia’s most law-abiding citizens. However, for the meanwhile, I shall overlook the matter. Now, Dawkins?


Get climbing up that ivy.





Bob scrabbled down the last few feet of rope and landed deftly beside Yeldarb’s crumpled form. ‘That looked sore,’ he observed.


‘Do you know that this is the second time I’ve seen you drop hundreds of feet—and survive. Remarkable really. I should get one of those Chimaera things. You know, for taking pictures.’

Bob leant over and placed a hand gently behind Yeldarb’s head, easing him up. Something in Yeldarb’s back seemed to resist, but a good shove and a loud ‘CRACK’ seemed to resolve matters.

Nngh! ’ went Yeldarb, his body contorted in a mid-spasm of frozen pain.

‘Anyone else would think you were trying to kill yourself!’ He laughed.

Yeldarb laughed too, but differently. ‘Yeah… Kill… Myself.’

‘So, where’s this treasure then?’

‘Look in… my… pocket.’

‘Really? The treasure’s in your—’

‘The map, Bob! The map is in my pocket!’

‘Ah—’ <much rustling, followed by the rotating, turning, and gazing with a puzzled expression, at what appeared to be a piece of tissue with a dead spider flattened upon it> ‘—North, I think.’

‘Good. You lead on, I’ll try and… follow.’

‘Alright.’ Bob took a step into the darkness. ‘Actually, which way is North?’

‘You didn’t bring a compass?’

‘They haven’t been invented yet!’

‘What a crap excuse,’ feigning a whinging voice, ‘ “They haven’t been invented yet, Yeldarb” Bob, if you’re going to be an adventurer, you’re going to have to take more of the initiative.’

A long contemplative moment passed, in the darkness.

‘So, Yeldarb, what do your people usually do. To find North that is?’

‘Look at the moss growing on the Mallorn trees… Analyse the stars… Sniff the wind. Sometimes we even watch the birds.’

‘What does that achieve?’

‘Not much. But it is relaxing.’

‘So, what about at the bottom of a hundred foot pit then?’

‘I’d say that’s decidedly un-relaxing.’

‘So how would you find North.’


‘You could use your natural Elvish skills.’

‘To what aim precisely!’

‘I don’t know, sing a song perhaps. Jingle some of your magic bells. You’re an Elve, you tell me.’

Yeldarb sighed. ‘Well, we could try an investigative depth first recursive search of all the available exits.’

‘You mean, just wander around the maze until we happen to trip over the treasure.’

‘You think of a better idea?’

Bob took an ominous step backwards, his voice now strangely deep and resonant: ‘Actually, I don’t think you’ll need to do that.’

‘Why’d’you say that, Bob?’

‘I didn’t say anything…’

‘I did.’

‘No I didn’t!’

‘Bob, shut up. Just shut up.’

‘He already has.’

‘Er, what? Hello?’


‘Bob, old chap. Get a fuging light on. Pronto.’

Bob made a strange strangling sound in reply. Sparkles of magic fell limply from his fingers. Eventually, a pathetic light lit the room…

‘Ah, that’s better,’ said Yeldarb. ‘Well, hello.’

‘Hello yourself.’

‘Yes. Well, that appears to be my religious friend your holding within your, I must say, very muscular and very impressive grip.’

‘Yes, it does, doesn’t it. What of it?’

‘Absolutely nothing at all. Carry on, by all means. Indeed, squeeze harder. Please.’

Yeldarb edged over to the rope.

‘You know, you look like the sort of no-nonsense hard-assed, sharp-pronged Minotaur that they’d get to guard a place like this.’

‘Funny that.’

‘I’m afraid you’re all under arrest. In fact, I’m very afraid.’

‘Who’s that!’

‘Get another light on.’


‘Ah, hello.’

‘Yes, hello.’

‘Hello too. Bob, say hello to the gentlemen. All… twelve of them…’

‘ ’ello.’

‘Now, as I said, you’re under arrest. Lad’s take ‘em.’

‘Look, let’s not be… <splat>—what the fug! A custard pie?’

‘What’s happening! This is my maze! You’re all trespassing!’







Splat-splat, etc…





‘Something’s missing…’

‘Tarragon?’ suggested Erryl.

‘Yes, tarragon, that’s it. Thank-you!’

The enormous figure of the Cyclops thundered off into the immeasurably odorous depths of his cave. After much banging and yet another rendition of some gay tune that currently evaded recognition, he returned, grinning widely and clutching a small spice jar; yet still an enormous one if grasped by normal hands. He waved the jar enthusiastically at him. ‘Tarragon!’

Erryl forced a smile and tried to look around, although the confines of the pot he found himself in allowed only a limited panorama. The strange scented leaves he was wrapped in too, didn’t help, though what he did see convinced him that viewing any more would probably just make matters worse; and they were quite possibly bad enough already.

Erryl sighed.

It wasn’t the skeletons dangling from the roof of the cave, and it wasn’t the dried hanging corpses with the candles protruding from their parched skulls. What really disturbed Erryl was the décor. Here was a Cyclops with a taste for the retro-inverse avonte-garde of life. Flock wall-paper (cave-paper?), brown/orange imitation curtains with green diamonds, tassel lampshades, ankhs as far as the eye could see and veritable waterfalls of chained beads swishing from the ceiling to act as pseudo-partitions between the various living areas. You’d have to skin your tongue to come even close to being this tasteless.

A rustle of beads announced the Cyclops return though the heavy stench of perfume arrived a few seconds before. The bright colours of his flamboyant evening wear presented themselves in a manner that seemed to be seeking approval. The Cyclops giggled in a girlish manner and gave a little pirouette.

‘That’s a nice shirt,’ suggested Erryl hopefully. ‘I particularly like the collar. Nice and wide, just the way collars were once. But pink… Are you sure that’s… your colour.’

In an instant, the Cyclops’ face had changed from a single eye laced with happiness, to a dark, stone-white blasphemy of all things with stereo vision.

‘I happen to like pink…’ (he said ominously, but you probably guessed)

‘Ah… well—’

‘You know, it’s people like you, what make me sick. Intolerant. Close-minded. That’s what you are.’

‘Am I?’

‘Yes!’ The Cyclops pouted. ‘I mean, is there no place where I can find people willing to accept me for what I am?’

‘And what’s that?’ asked Erryl carefully.

‘An absolutely normal by-product of nature.’

‘Ah, you mean you’re eye.’

‘What? What’s wrong with my eye. I’m supposed to have one. I’m a Cyclops! What do you mean…?’

Erryl was about to answer when he realised that the water was no longer what you would call “tropical” and was now bubbling its way into the “worryingly hot” zone.

‘Actually, any chance of me popping out of this pot, so to speak. Just for a few minutes—to cool down. And then I’ll just pop back in again. Hmm?’

The Cyclops waved a hand at him. ‘Naughty,’ he laughed. ‘Next you’ll be saying you don’t want me to eat you! Ha-ha!’

He gave a delicate little laugh and spun off beyond Erryl’s vision. The jingling of beads was heard faintly.

All around him, vegetables floated; and somewhere deep towards the bottom of the pot he could feel a thick soup of material which had the worrying beginnings of what could be called “sauce”.

Erryl looked at the olive green leaves that were wrapped about him and that bound his arms and legs so tightly together. There was only one limb he had free, and so, with a casual thought to train that body-part more in future, set about his bondage with his tongue.

 A shadow appeared over him.

Erryl froze, his tongue wrapped around one of the thread-strings that held the (actually quite tasty) leaves together.

Erryl slowly looked up.

Regrettably, it was the Cyclops. Even more regrettably, he was holding a plate. Utterly regrettable was the extra long carving knife held in his other hand.

‘You know, I did think about vegetarianism.’

‘Did you?’ Erryl asked too-quickly.

‘Ye-es. But—you’re not one are you?’

‘Actually… Yes. Well, fruitarian actually. I just couldn’t abide harming any living creature. I don’t even dust my house for fear of harming any little mites. Even the air I breathe, I do so with muttered prayers for any viruses I may harm. Mine is a peaceful life of co-existence with my fellow life forms. I aim to achieve Nirvana one day—I’m saving myself up for an apple, you see. It’s a Karma-free life, I’d recommend it.’

‘Ah, well that’s even better then. You see, I did think about vegetarianism. Thing is, these Vegetarians, well they just taste so much better than the Carnivores. Now you, being a Fruitarian? You must be really tasty.’ He licked his lips. ‘No, I’m sorry, you’ve tempted me too much. Now, if you’d said you were a Carnivore…?’

‘But I am a carnivore! Down with the vegetables! Kill the bastards, squeeze their juices from their little fibrous bodies. Flesh, that’s what I want! Dripping, tortured, unwilling, tantalising flesh! Animal, vegetable, mineral—I eat ‘em all! No level of disgusting depravity, no main course pooling in its own blood and faeces is beyond the foulness of my consumptive powers! Hold me back, I’d even eat myself given half the chance and a good greasing of garlic butter!’

‘Ha, the lies! I knew it! You had the pasty look of a Carnivore all along! You’re all the same. Nope, I’m afraid, I’ve no compassion for you now. You’re very definitely going to be… the main course!’ ’

At that moment, as one might expect, the likelihood of a rescue became rather high. And thankfully, the plot doesn’t disappoint:

The clop of hooves had began some time ago, during the Cyclops speech. Now, with an accompanying roar of wind from what was presumably, the cave entrance, the Unicorn with Bacchus attached burst from the darkness.

‘Yee-har!’ cried Bacchus as he tugged on the flowing silver mane that flashed a brilliant white in the now roaring wind.

‘But the fancy dress isn’t until tomorrow evening! That is a good costume though, Francois—it is Francois is it not…? Ungh! I say, that was uncalled for.’

Erryl admired the tip of the Unicorn’s horn as it emerged from the Cyclops’ back. It shone with the energy of sheer down-right goodness and sent a wash of holy fire sprawling across the unfortunate creature. The horn withdrew and the Cyclops fell backwards, against the rim of the pot. There he stood, paling visibly and staring in disbelief at the hole in his chest. A single tear ran from his eye, rolled down his cheek and dripped onto his blood-streaked clothing.. ‘Not yet… I was… so… colourful—’

With an enormous splash, the Cyclops fell backwards into the pool—displacing Erryl and flinging him high into the air. The Unicorn sprung forward and caught him with her teeth. A toss of her thick neck and Erryl back-flipped to land behind Bacchus.

Erryl stared silently at the pool.

‘You okay?’ asked Bacchus.

‘Yeah. I guess that was pretty lucky.’

‘I’ll say,’ said Bacchus. ‘Looks like it’s stew for tea tonight.’





 ‘Tut… Tut…. Lock-picking. Yet another smudgy black mark to add to your already-long-as-my-beard list of crimes, Dawkins.’

‘Right you are there, sar.’

‘I mean, we could be looking at five, maybe even six days for all this. Perhaps an entire week.’

‘A week it is then, sar.’

‘Doesn’t that bother you, Dawkins?’

‘No, not really sar. Except, it would make me even later for me tea, and I am very late already, sar. I dare say by now, its well on its way to congealing. Well, the sauce will be at any rate.’

‘You do labour a point, Dawkins. I don’t think I’ve ever heard one man complain about the state of his stomach as much as you. What is this wife of yours anyway, some kind of Ogre?’

‘Well… she does get very mad, my missus, sar. Perhaps you don’t quite imagine the abilities of her temper?’

‘Big woman is she?’

‘Small actually. But muscular.’

‘Ah, well… fine strapping man like you, Dawkins, nothing to worry about. Bit of shouting, that’s got to be the worst she can do, isn’t it?’

‘Unfortunately… no, sar. But—’

‘—Look Dawkins, are you done on that lock yet or not? I mean this is the mayor’s public residence and we are upstanding members of the Lotopian law. Well I am at any rate.’

‘It’s been open for the past five minutes, sar.’

‘Then why didn’t you tell me?’

‘I thought we were ’avin a bit of a friendly natter, sar.’

Dwoirot tugged on his beard in an agitated manner. ‘Dawkins, it’s bad enough that I need to work with inferiors but, for the merciful sake of the gods, please let us keep our relationship where it is—superior to inferior. Friendship is unprofessional, a potential source for blackmailers, and let’s face it, never helped anyone.’

‘No friendship, right sar. Shall we go in then?’ The door rolled silently open before him. The blackness of the dining room beckoned.

Dwoirot continued. ‘I mean, it’s not as it I ever had any friends. Didn’t do me any harm, did it? All the other Dwarvlets were off learning to mine and identify rock strata… But me, oh no, me with my weak hands and feeble wrists—I couldn’t join in the digging games! Do you know what they called me, Dawkins? Do you have any idea?’

‘The door is open sar.’

‘Weaky-handy-limpy-wrists! Yes, me! Can you believe it? Pathetic! Oh, if they could see me now, by Diggitup they’d be impressed. The famous Inspector Dwoirot, scourge of the underworld hard at work, cracking another fiendish case despite the help of his ever-hungry assistant.’

‘What, right now sar?’


‘I mean, you want them to see you right now. Having just forced entry into the mayor’s study, tramped mud down his hallway, incapacitated his butler and currently about to break into his private dining area?’

‘Door’s open you say? Let’s go in.’

They entered and almost immediately kicked an unseen bottle, sending it scuttling across the floor and crashing into a multitude of others of its kind. Dwoirot froze, listening for any sounds of response.

‘Been a bit of a party, sar.’

Dwoirot looked at the bewildering shambles of bottles, glasses, gourds, barrels, vats and even a single tin bath that bore the last remnants of what had obviously been a very merry party.

‘Looks like our good Mayor has been living things up, eh Dawkins?’

Dawkins cleared a space, knelt and picked up one bottle. He held it up to the faint lantern light that struggled through the veil-shrouded balcony and scrutinised its label with a discerning eye. ‘Good grok, sar—Skullcracker, 88 vintage. A powerful wine infused with musk extracted from the anal scent glands of Great Northern yaks. Suitable for Vegetarians. Funny though…’

‘Funny what?’

‘Well, not being one who is known to partake of such refreshment, but…’

‘Get on with it man, everyone knows you’re the biggest drunkard in The Guard.’

‘Well, you see, this is strong stuff, sar. It’s laced with sulphur, phosphoric acid, and a whole variety of other spicy chemicals. Thing is though, humans usually avoid it… Too strong for ’em. An’ me too.’

‘Are you implying that the Mayor or his acquaintances aren’t human, Dawkins?’

Dawkins looked shocked. ‘Of course not, sar. Wouldn’t dream of it.’

‘Good. Next you’ll be suggesting that some manner of foul demon has taken over his body to further the aims of some as yet unresolved master plan.’

‘Ludicrous, sar.’


A desperate howl of a scream erupted from the hearth, or at least from the wall, somewhere above it.

Dawkins tapped his upper pocket. ‘Time?’ he commanded.

There was a tiny sigh, followed by an equally tiny but very fed-up voice. ‘Bang on time,’ squeaked the Mimic. ‘Can I go back to sleep now?’

‘Dawkins,’ said Dwoirot, ‘we have our man. Behind that mirror on the wall.’

‘It does sound like it, sar.’



‘Get digging.’





Bob admired the decrepitude before him, the likes of which he had not seen since being shown around his room in the WWW University. Aged slime sprawled in quivering semitransparent blobs across the black granite walls. This welled in crevices, yellowing sometimes towards a ripe shade of amber and spilt in sickly trickles like candle-wax onto the floor. A thin layer of occasionally vibrating straw covered the ground, which would have been welcoming were it not sodden wet—and as such did little to absorb the surface moisture. The pools of… for want of a more accurate examination, pus, though were more alarming. These sprawled around the circumference of the room, nurtured by frequent donations from prisoners “caught short” and by the remains of countless prison meals at varying stages of digestion. Quite, quite gross. At the greatest possible distance from all this biological activity and hence in the centre of the conic-shaped room, huddled the pre-convictees and about which rose a steady column of sweat and steam. This would drift upwards towards the cone-tip of the room where it would condense and cycle back to the ground. It was a suffocating atmosphere—a complete ecosystem in its own right, and one which Bob wanted no part of.

As such, Bob had taken to holding his robe over his mouth and breathing through that. This at least removed the dampness, but left the smell. Yeldarb had chosen another means of hiding from the situation and had crawled into that strange pan-dimensional bag of his, muttering something about “escape plans.”

It was a depressing scenario, but one which Bob had already resigned himself to, and so, with an unusual amount of optimism, he attempted to make the best of it. This implied scouring the walls for anything of interest. He was rewarded when, occasionally, a rat would be seen to poke its furry little snout from one of the adjoining pipes. It would sniff at the air apprehensively and then, recoiling in disgust, scurry back into the sweeter smelling drafts of the sewer.

The Minotaur, who had been thrown in the same cell as them, was still refusing to talk to him, despite his constant apologies. She sat with her back firmly facing him, her enormous hands gripping her strangely truncated horns and her head bent as though burdened with a great sadness. The other characters, by the looks of them ubiquitous hung-over sailor types, Bob didn’t know and frankly, as they wouldn’t be involved in any further plot developments, he decided not to bother with.

Far above—far, far above, slatted windows permitted some light from the morning sun to trickle in, though for the best part, it was a few golden drops that pitifully gave up their energies long before they reached the murk of the cell floor. Heat-wise, this room was ideal (for cooking) and had the insulating properties and most of the smell of a Grecian sauna. So, despite it being near freezing outside, it was a veritable pant-drenching furnace inside.

A loud clank brought Bob’s attention to the cell door—a pot-riveted heavy-duty affair with a letterbox sized hole for food, which so far hadn’t been forthcoming. A flood of light proclaimed the door to be open, and the appearance of a shadow being roughly shoved through, announced the arrival of another as-good-as-convicted prisoner.

‘ ’terrogation’s o’er,’ growled the guard eloquently, ‘Noo gerrin an’ shurrafookup!’

‘Look, I say, this is most inappropriate! What…? How dare you! Give me back my sword and—’ The door boomed shut. ‘—and… I say!’ The shadow sighed, quivering with rage. ‘No respect these days.’ (to the door) ‘I’ll have my revenge. Mark my sincerely spoken words! And the word of a Knight of the Roughly Hewn Table is a sincere one indeed!’

‘I wouldn’t bother trying to talk to them,’ said Bob, ‘they’re rather unfriendly. And besides, they speak a strange dialect that I can’t quite understand. Crasswegian, I think it’s called. Quite incomprehensible.’

The figure spun around with an accompanying series of metallic squeals. ‘I can’t see anything… hang on.’ He raised his visor and peered at Bob. ‘Oh—still can’t see anything.’

‘It takes your eyes a while to get accustomed.’

Bob waited.

At length: ‘Ah you look like a… peasant. Zounds, I’m conversing with peasantry. Well, I wouldn’t expect you to understand, but “no respect,” is what these guards have—er, or don’t have. What I mean is, they’ve—the little people, the peasantry, you—just have no idea what your average Knight goes through in life. The beasts we slay, the crusades undertaken, the wenches seduced—all to keep your pathetic little city and indescribably pathetic little peasanty lives safe. No respect! Ah, there was once a day when the title “Sir Renders The Ulttra Gleaming” meant something.’

There was a stirring from the vicinity of Yeldarb’s bag. A head appeared; Yeldarb’s.

‘Zeubluedaweh’s pants!’ cried Renders. ‘What foul manner of beastie is this! A head with the body of a bag? Stand back my small indeterminate species friend, I shall send it back to The Abysmal from whence it was vomited.’ Renders looked to his fist, remembered the lack of sword and, with s frustrated sigh, swung back his boot instead.

‘I don’t believe it!’ spat Yeldarb hastily. ‘Harry Renders—is that you?’

Renders paused, boot mid-swing. ‘I know that voice. It’s got an Elvish ring to it… Smellrond? No… no, I’d have caught his odour long ago and besides, I distinctly remember him having a body. No, it’s… don’t tell me, I’ll get it… Yeldrab! Surely not? Is it you my pointy-eared acquaintance?’

Yeldarb, actually. But yes, indeed, old fighting buddy, ’tis I.’

‘Zooks! But, your body…?’

‘Ah, Bob? Give me a hand.’

‘You need more than a hand, Yeldarb,’ smirked Bob.

Bob heaved the remainder of Yeldarb from the bag. He slithered onto the ground in a manner that led one to expect a following placenta.

‘Ah, the old bag of trans-dimensional holding gimmick! I should have known. Yeldarb, you old battle hound! Still at the magical stuff then, eh? Never trusted it myself. A good sword, that’s all I ask for.’

Yeldarb stood up and shook the straw off himself. Strangely, some feathers also drifted to the floor.

Renders clanked noisily forwards and slapped Yeldarb hard on the shoulder, sending him staggering backwards. ‘So, what have you been up to, you old sand lizard you? No-good, I’ll bet.’ Renders looked around. ‘Well, that’s a safe bet, you being in prison along with I. Ah, just like the good old days, eh?’

‘Indeed, the good old days,’ said Yeldarb. ‘Which were those exactly? The ones were you left me for dead in the Valley of the Kobold Shamans?’

Renders looked genuinely shocked. ‘Look, we both know that was a misunderstanding. Now, had you not tried to double-cross me earlier and steal off with the head Shaman’s crystal all-seeing eye whilst I was… communicating with his daughter—’

Yeldarb coughed. ‘Ah, yes, well, as you say, misunderstandings. The good old days, eh?’

‘Ye-es!’ roared Renders happily. He slapped Yeldarb on the shoulder again. Yeldarb winced and returned the blow, his hand bouncing off Renders Dragon-mail armour with a fleshy slap. Yeldarb withdrew his hand slowly, his teeth ground shut to hold in the scream.

Renders turned to Bob and raised his hand. Bob slunk out of reach, the great flat of Renders’ hand missing his bony shoulder by inches. Renders laughed raucously. ‘Do you know, this old sea serpent here, was the most brave, bold, and damnably good-looking adventuring buddy that I ever did find—and lose. Somewhere in the Dune-lands, if I’m not mistaken. Ah, sad times. But let us think of the glory days! The days when we two roamed the blasted and unknown lands—Mosipalia, K’kla, Z’hadum, Kilmarnock. Ah, countless wenches were seduced, entire races of Monsters vanquished. Why, this old dog here even slew the Immortal Dragon of P’tang—or something like that anyway…’ Renders dusted a space for himself and sat down. ‘So! There we were, down to five hit-points between us. The Wizard, Claypole, had ran off with the loot leaving us facing, let’s be honest, one big fuger of a Wyrm and one not too happy about having its nest-egg borrowed.’

‘And?’ asked Bob keenly. Flower turned her head slightly.

‘Well,’ Renders grinned, ‘I was busy saying to Yeldarb that we’d better scarper, this being a rather large Dragon and all, but he kept insisting, “I don’t care if it’s the Great Zeubluedaweh himself, this bugger’s going down!” And so, off Yeldarb goes, with his big Elven sword in one hand, spell book in the other and firing dozens of magic missiles with double damage gloves on and quadruple damage from this Dragon being susceptible to magic and…’

‘And?’ asked Bob.

‘Well, the Dragon fell back in shock, unaccustomed to being even spoken to harshly, let alone attacked. So, up her neck goes, this great Wyrm, her chest all a heaving with the fires within. I think she said ‘DIE MORTAL!’ or something that gave that general impression anyway, and then… K’pow!’

‘K’pow?’ asked Flower.

‘K’pow! I’ve never seen so much flame in all my life. Frankly, I thought Yeldarb here was toast, flame-grilled, ash—you get the idea. So, there he was, his little frame, immersed in all this fire. But that was the thing you see, he was still there. Anyone else would have been vaporised in an instant. But Yeldarb see, had slipped on his cloak of total reflection!’


‘Well, the Dragon lasted about five seconds before its head burnt out with all this backfiring flame. And all that Yeldarby here could think of saying was,’ he took a deep breath, preparing for the punch-line, ‘ “Well, no-one told me it was immortal!” ’

Yeldarb laughed. ‘Ah, the good old days, eh. Do you know, that was where…’ His face turned to sadness.

‘Where what, old chap? Where you got that even bigger Elvish sword, Tantamount the Terrible? I tell you, I was jealous! But, you did the deed after all—a real man’s job; or Elves’. Whatever happened to that sword anyway, you old dog? I do hope these scoundrels here haven’t confiscated it.’

Yeldarb began to sob.

‘Did I say something wrong?’ To Bob: ‘Peasant, did I say something amiss?’

Bob leant towards Renders conspiratorially, ‘It was stolen!

‘Stolen!’ cried Renders. ‘But that sword alone was worth more than this entire wretched city! We must retrieve it, Yeldarb. You and I have a new mission!’

‘Really?’ sniffed Yeldarb.

‘Was it about six feet long?’ asked Flower.

Yeldarb turned around. ‘Might have been. Why?’

‘Did it have this big black gemstone encrusted in the handle?’


‘And had someone crudely scored a “Y” into its hilt.’

Yeldarb sprung to his feet. ‘You’ve seen it!’

‘Yes, it was in the treasure I was guarding. Remember—the Elfindel’s Maze?’

‘It was in there? But… then, the Elfindels?’

Renders shook his head. ‘No, Yeldarb, not them. They are a fine family. And as far as I know, don’t have much in the way of wealth anymore. Which begs the question, who put all that treasure there?’

‘Perhaps we should ask that Odd Job Manager from The Guild?’ said Bob.

‘Yeah…’ said Yeldarb. ‘I smell a rat,’ to the wall, ‘no offence.’

Renders pointed a finger at Flower. ‘Hang on, who employed you if the Elfindels don’t have any wealth? Why would they need a Minotaur?’

‘Er… It was all a bit dubious. This guy, with a falsetto voice, who I was sure I’d met before… Actually, I’ve rather conveniently just remembered who he was…’

‘Who?’ they chorused.

Well, I was originally thrown out of my first job as a result of these two horse-rustling thugs that also wanted to grind my horns down to make some high grade croak—they’ve grown back slightly now, thankfully. But, this guy, I think he was one of them. I knew I’d recognised him.’

‘Can you describe him?’ asked Renders.

‘Barely, but I don’t think he’s the one we should be concerned with.’

‘Why?’ asked Renders.

‘Well, there was this woman with them, you see. A magician. She was the one that put me down—big time.’

‘A female magic user?’ exclaimed Renders. ‘I know of only one such abhoration of nature—the lady Reptila! A good looking woman though, I have to add. Good legs.’

‘Reptila, you say?’ asked Flower. ‘And you thought her good looking? I mean, you like scales?’

Scales? ’ Renders looked aghast.

‘Look,’ said Yeldarb interrupting, ‘what relation does all this have to anyone or anything? I mean, how does she connect with the Elfindels?’

Renders shook his head. ‘Scales… Surely you mean musical ones? Anyway, well… I think there’s a connection through a er… companion of mine, the Mayor’s wife—’

‘—The lady Erotica!’ laughed Yeldarb. ‘You old dog!’

‘Eroica,’ Renders sighed, ‘well, we had a recent parting of ways.’

‘She dumped you? ’ Yeldarb looked genuinely shocked. ‘Something is amiss. Plainly, the woman was possessed. No sane woman would willingly leave the man whose mere chin alone can induce dizzy spells in even a hardened nun.’

‘Quite. That’s what I thought. Madness. So, I’m reasoning that the Mayor was into magic of some sort, and I think now that he may have had Reptila helping him.’

‘Wait a minute!’ cried Bob. ‘It all clunks illogically together now. The Mayor passed a law a few days ago, that all magical items in the city were to be banned and passed onto The Guard for safe-keeping.’

‘So…’ asked Flower, ‘what were all the magical items doing in the Elfindel’s Fortress? Being stolen?

‘I think,’ said Yeldarb, ‘that we’ve been framed. Someone needed the magical items moved elsewhere—and we stand to be convicted of just that; “stealing” them from The Guard and stashing them in the Elfindels’ Fortress. Actually, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the Elfindels get implicated in this also…’

‘So,’ said Renders, ‘this leaves us where?’

‘Here,’ said Bob, ‘and in need of a little chat with the Mayor, this Reptila person, or both.’

Renders grinned. ‘Anything that involves a little trip to see the Mayor is something I want to be involved in.’ He cracked his knuckles loudly. ‘The bugger’s done something to my little Eroica, and I want to know what! Right! Plan anyone?’

‘Plan?’ asked Bob. ‘To escape?’

‘That’ll do for me,’ bellowed Renders as he marched to the cell door, but then paused. ‘Let’s go?’ he suggested

‘Er, only one small problem there,’ said Bob, ‘we’re sort of in a prison cell. And they’ve a habit of locking the door.’

‘How unsporting!’

Yeldarb let loose a grin so devilish it could have flown straight from The Abysmal itself. ‘Not for long, Bob, me old matey.’


‘We-ll.’ Yeldarb peeked back into the bag. His voice fell soft as though talking to a child. ‘Everyone stand back. I’ve got a friend you should all meet. Bob, you’ll remember her.’

‘Oh no… not her?

The answering screech that emanated from Yeldarb’s bag shook the walls to their foundations and the hurricane wind that accompanied it rattled the cell door and knocked Bob to the floor.

A horrible pale light crossed Yeldarb’s face. He cackled evilly. ‘Behold Phoebe!’





Bacchus munched on the last of his Cyclops burger as the Unicorn carried them up the winding path from the beach and towards the white tufts of snow that marked the cliff top. Erryl was sitting behind, gnawing on a bone loudly and would occasionally omit a roaring belch.

‘I’ll say this for that mad gay Cyclops,’ slobbered Erryl.

‘What’s that then, Erryl?’

‘Makes a fuging finer burger than I ever would.’

They laughed raucously and the Unicorn swished her horn joyfully. Bacchus patted the milk white flesh of her rump.

‘Bacchus? I’m feeling a strange sensation I’ve rarely encountered before. I think its guilt. Like that time when we took on the contract for the orphanage.’

‘You mean cos’ were takin’ the Unicorn to…’


‘Well… way I see it, we all gotta eat.’


Bacchus patted the thick of the Unicorns neck and leant forward, offering a small sugar cube. The Unicorn whinnied back joyfully. ‘See, we all gotta eat. An’ the things we eat gotta eat too. Just be glad we’re near the top of the food chain, my man. I tell you, it’s the krill I feel sorry for. Die in their schmillions every day, guzzled by the deep sea Leviathans—and does anyone care? The day someone stands up for the krill, my friend, that’ll be the day I start to feel concerned about the odd demise of one of us multi-cellular constructs.’

‘I see your point. Why they called krill, Bacchus?’

‘You know, I’ve often wondered that myself, Erryl. Why for example, are we called what we are?’

‘Lousy mercenary verminous scumbags?’ asked Erryl..

‘That too. But, our parents—they were ultimately responsible for calling us what we are. So… each krill’s parents must have decided at some point that “krill” was a pretty cool name for a… krill.’

‘Not very imaginative.’

‘Which is probably why they are where there are now. Starters.’

The Unicorn gave a small spurt of speed as they reached a level section of the path which led in an arc to the cliff-top, which the wind now did its best to throw them off. Before them rolled mile upon mile of thick and coarse grasses interspersed with patches of marshland and vanishing towards the hills in a haze of approaching snow.

‘Looks wicked,’ said Erryl, pulling up his jerkin around his neck. ‘How long is it gonna take us to get across all that?’

Bacchus shielded his eyes from the wind and stared off at the snow capped peaks, barely visible. ‘Must be… twenty miles at least to the peak. But I guess, we’ll be spotted before then…’

The Unicorn twisted her head to look at him, and her eyes flashed a pure silver.

‘Bacchus, I know it’s a very un-hitman thing to feel, but I’m getting this welling sensation in my throat.’

‘You want to turn back?’

Erryl stared at the grass, droplets of moisture hanging from their stalks like glistening lanterns. ‘Frankly, yeah.’ He looked to the distant mountain range. ‘It does look wicked out there. I mean, let’s say we go off into all that snow and we die, odds on. Well, we might as well as not have gone, right?’

‘That’s true.’

‘Alright, what say we take the long route back along the coast, avoiding the mountains. I think there’s a shallow section on the other side of the island. We can probably wade across there. And from then, go on to… Limpton? Start a new life—we’d have to, the lady’d be after us. So… new town, new names. Even a different career—we could be adventurers, good guys!’

‘Yeah! I like the idea of that, no more verminous scumbags. We could be real adventurers with a Unicorn an’ all. All we’d need would be some fancy weapons and—’


Bacchus found himself, much to his alarm, sailing through the air and a horrible spurt of blood ejaculating from his left shoulder. Defensively, his hands went to his middle, but whether due to shock or something else, he felt no pain. At least not until he landed, crashing through the razor sharp frogweed and coming to an eventual stop next to a conveniently placed rock. He rolled over, and groaned. Then Erryl landed on his face.

A few moments later, a disturbingly large and yellow claw introduced itself to his chest in a prodding manner indicating that, if it wanted to, it could quite easily apply sink right through him.

Bacchus looked slowly up into a fiercely intelligent vermilion eye that widened before him, viewing him with something akin to mild amusement. Somewhere further down, beyond his vision, he could sense the fetidness its maw and from which issued a horrible tearing and crunching that he was relieved was not associated with any of his limbs.

 A voice danced towards his ears. It was one full of gaiety and joy, and leapt from word to entrancing word skilfully, easing the listener into a bed of complacency. It encouraged him to open his soul to it—yet there was a darker facet to this voice, one that kept just out of reach and it was cold, slithering and dead. It sounded a bit like Erryl’s mother.

‘Who are you?’ it hissed. ‘A new race, perhaps? Though you be too sad for Elven kind and lack the greed filled eyes of the Dwarf. Too stout for a Goblin, too ugly for an Orc. Too thin to be an Ogre, and too tall for a Halfling. I see no magic sword nor lance with which to fight me and that too confuses me. Whatever you are, you are… possibly brave, foolish, or unlucky. Personally though, I think you most likely stupid. But I feel magnanimous tonight. Normally I would take your ilk for merely trespassing on my lands—be aware that only your very peculiarity has saved you.’

‘Where’s our Unicorn, ya git?’ shouted Bacchus.

The slit of the eye widened and Bacchus felt himself sink into its inky black ocean. ‘You will not raise your voice to me, infidel!’

‘Tell it to fug off, Bacchus, it’s trying to hipnoties us or sommar. Go on, fug off ya big ugly mutha!’

The air groaned as the massive head turned in a motion too rapid for the eye to follow. It now faced Erryl.

‘And you, the… how can I differentiate between you? The uglier one perhaps? Possibly, the one whose tongue shall be ripped from his screaming mouth lest he fail to be silent. Open your mind to me, ugly one.’

‘Urgh… Fook off!’

‘Ah… Your thoughts are in turmoil compared to this one here. I sense anguish. A life misplaced. Guilt. You kill for money?’

‘We take care of difficult people,’ interrupted Bacchus, ‘for suitable financial remuneration.’

‘I see. And how does this make you feel?’

‘Feel? You know, really sad now I come to think of it. I just hate it. I’m really nasty and I’d never noticed until now. All that killing for lots and lots of transient wealth! I’m going to give it all away to the little kiddies in the sulphur mines. In fact, I think I’m going to change my lifestyle completely and become a member of one of the local cults. Now, I’m so full of the need to confess, you’d best just let us up so we can pop off to the nearest temple.’

The Dragon smiled and wagged a claw. ‘Unlikely.’

‘Ok, different approach,’ said Bacchus. ‘Where’s our fuging Unicorn you Wyrm-fugin’ mutha-fuger!’

‘Ah, it is a hard language you speak and a simple one at that. Mine own has more than a million distinct words, which I am familiar with—although there are few still that speak it. But this hardness to your voice, it is a pretence. Inside I see a softness. A longing for fields of flowers, blue skies, peace. Open your mind to me…’


‘Open it!’ the voice insisted. ‘Ah, unrequited love too, I see. Ah, if only you could open your thoughts to your companion as to me… Very well, I will let you live. If anything, the world has things to learn of you yet, though they be very little things. You may stand.’

A whoosh of air and the eye (and accompanying, ubiquitous undead stench) was gone.

Erryl sat up. ‘You ate our Unicorn, ya git!’

‘But that was your original intention—why you came here. Though I sense you changed your mind. I did not. She was my first meal in a seven years. Be thankful I do not want dessert.’

‘But,’ protested Erryl, ‘we… liked her. We hadn’t even given her a name yet—’

‘You’d have called her “Uni”—that’s what everyone calls their Unicorns. Adventurers! They lack such imagination.’ The Dragon sat on its haunches grinning at them, its enormous moulding wings folded behind its exposed bone frame. The horrible stench of its own rotting flesh saturated the air. It was a rarity, even among its own species, for it was an Undead Dragon.

‘Holy shit!’ said Bacchus. ‘We weren’t told you was…’

‘Undead? Although I prefer existentially challenged. I’ve been this way for some time now. Ever since…’

‘Since what?’ asked Bacchus.

‘Hmm… Since a young adventurer by the name of Yeldarb turned the force of my own fires upon me. I was left for dead, but managed to drink one of my own resurrection potions.’ It pointed at its dull grey skin, through breaks in which, bones and worse could be seen. ‘Dragon’s don’t resurrect well. This is all that is left of me now. And I yearn for the day we meet again.’

‘What happened to your scales?’ asked Erryl.

The Dragon reared up, fury in its eyes. ‘Well, they thought I was dead—and so they skinned me—alive! I’m led to believe that they made armour out of my skin…’


The Dragon looked out at the ocean. ‘You can see now why I wish to meet with this adventurer again; to express my gratitude. Elves! The gods curse and blast them all! I will not rest until he and every single one of his pointy eared race has passed through the embraces of my lower intestines…’ The Dragon looked down. ‘What remains of them.’

Erryl leant towards Bacchus. ‘This bugger’s lost it.’

‘Yes, I have!’ it roared. ‘I lost it the very day I was expelled from the Immortal plane by the Great Dragon herself. Her too I thirst for vengeance upon. Can you believe they didn’t want me among their kind, simply because I was a bit dead! But I must prioritise my hatred: Yeldarb first, the Elven race later and then the “Great” Dragon.’

And then, as fast as it had arrived, the Dragon’s anger was gone and that same uneasy look of calm returned. The Dragon turned back to face them. ‘I don’t suppose either of you two would have known this Yeldarb?

‘What’d he look like?’ asked Erryl.

The Dragon stroked its chin thoughtfully with one of its yellowing talons, liberating great chunks of dead flesh that fell to the ground. ‘Pretty much your usual little Elf. Pointy ears, arrogant little nose andand he had… has one of my most treasured possessions. The little runt probably doesn’t even know how to control it properly—after all, it only really understands the Dragonic tongue.’

‘What possession’s this then? A watch?’ asked Erryl. Bacchus kicked him.

Watch! You try my patience! I had a hoard of the finest, rarest gems and treasures from a thousand civilisations spanning eternity—some even from other worlds. And this, this most valued possession, which merely happened to be presuming the shape of a sword at the time, took the bugger’s fancy!’

‘Ah,’ said Bacchus, ‘anything of particular note about it?’

‘Other than it being sharp,’ added Erryl.

‘Nothing other than the black gemstone hilt, the silver blade six feet long and the embossed inscription—unreadable to your limited minds. To you, it would appear as a—’

‘Incomprehensible squiggle?’ asked Bacchus. ‘We may have seen it.’

The Dragon moved quickly and wrapped its immense claws about Bacchus, plucking him into the air to meet with the Dragon’s gaze. ‘Tell me more now, or dire.’

‘Well… we sort of mugged this Elf—which I reckon was this Yeldarb character. He was drunk out of his eyeballs. We just took it from him really.’

The Dragon shook its head. ‘Such artefacts are wasted upon the mortal. And in particular on that mortal. So, you know the whereabouts of this sword and my friend?’

‘Well… the sword yes, Yeldarb…’

The Dragon squeezed his chest. ‘Tell me,’ it insisted, bringing its slightly agape maw threateningly close to his face. The scent of dead, long, long unbrushed fangs washed nauseously over him. Bacchus gagged involuntarily.

‘Well, as I’m trying to say… he’s probably still in Lotopia—where we came from. The sword we stashed in this maze as a temporary hiding place. We stitched up this dumb-ass Minotaur to cover up our break-in. Had a good bounty on ’er too.’

‘Lotopia? I know not of such a name. Be it a new? Hmm, I plainly spent too many years in the Immortal plane and these last seven resting… Time now for vengeance. You will take me there—at once.’

‘Actually,’ shouted Erryl from the comparative safety of the ground, ‘that’s what we were sent here to achieve. You see, our mistress, the lady Reptila, wishes to hire yer services.’

The Dragon laughed manically. ‘Hire my services? I am not for hire. The soul of a Dragon, even an undead one, is pure beyond the dreams of mortal kind. We do not lust for monetary pleasures.’

Bacchus looked puzzled. ‘Then why do you hoard all that gold.’

The Dragon dug its talons in deeper. ‘Because it is comfortable!’

‘…obvioushly,’ he groaned.

Erryl piped up again. ‘Well, surely in exchange for our Unicorn, the whereabouts of Yeldarb and his sword, you might be willing to help?’

‘I might, though I could take such information for myself, you know. I could rip it from your simple mortal minds.’

‘Er, your right, ya could there. But ya see, we’re part of this greater thing. A tale, ya might call it. And frankly, it would be boring if we suddenly died.’

‘I see your point. What is it you require?’

‘Well, our mistress, the lady—’

‘Yes, yes—to the point.’

‘Well, she needs passage across the Dune-lands, to the long-lost Pentathingies where she’s gonna do some manner of devious experiment. ‘Oh, and she needs her equipment carried there ’n’all. Quite a bit, I believe.’

‘I can carry any amount.’

‘Yeah, but she’s collected all the magical items in the city, ya see, which also need to be transported.’

‘Magical items you say…? How many,’ feigning disinterest, ‘would you say—approximately?’


‘Really, how uninteresting. Very well, I agree. But first, I think we need to equip you two with some more stylish weaponry that won’t shame me should another Dragon happen upon us…’

‘Cool!’ wheezed Bacchus from the confines of the Dragon’s grip.

The Dragon closed its eyes, the lids of only one of which was without rotting holes. There was the typical sparkle in the air of high magic and then, with a small flash, there appeared a moderate mound before Erryl.

The Dragon sighed. ‘Here is the remains of my hoard. I think some items you will find of interest.’

Erryl knelt by the pile and began fishing around. ‘What a pile of old junk,’ he whispered to himself. Then he froze. ‘Fuging co-ol! Bacchus, look at this!’

Erryl held up the pump action silver-tipped, triple-barrelled crossbow with automatic reload and fifty rounds of gleaming coiled ammunition.

‘Not bad,’ said Bacchus. ‘Got anythin’ for me?’

Erryl rummaged around some more. ‘What’s this?’ His hands fell upon empty air, but empty air with substance. It’s invisible?’

The Dragon nodded. ‘Sword and armour, both render the wearer invisible. Just make sure you note where you put it down when you take it off. And don’t leave the sword lying about on any chairs.’

‘Bacchus—this beats all.’

It was a large rusting container with the words “U. .RMY” embossed on one face. Inside were a dozen or so dark green ovoids. ‘Are these what I think they are? Enchanted pineapples.’

The Dragon’s eyes widened. ‘Be very careful with them. I received them many years ago from another world, much different from this one. The pin? You see it? Simply pull it out—why did you do that!!! I was describing, you fool! Throw it away! Now! THROW IT AWAY!’

‘Throw it away? But… why, I just got it?’

‘Now!’ The Dragon leapt forward, knocking the “enchanted pineapple” from Erryl’s grasp. It sailed over the cliff. The Dragon curled up into a tight ball and rolled off into the frogweed…


The cliff shook, and the following shock-wave was enough to throw Erryl into the air. He landed by the Dragon and gaped in amazement at the metre of sandy turf nearest to the cliff edge that was no longer there. Listening, he could hear the roar of the falling cliff-edge as it tumbled to the rocky beach. A gull landed on Erryl with a lifeless flop.

‘Yeargh!’ he cried and threw it away. He sat up and dusted himself down and then crawled over to the new cliff edge. Here he had a better vantage point to gibber at the diameter of void that had been scooped beneath their feet. ‘Hea-vee dutee! We’ll take ’em.’

The Dragon unfurled and shook its great maw in disbelief. ‘Humans! Now, it pains me to ask, mortal, but you must direct me in the lay of the land. I know not what lies beyond this isle.’


Erryl stood expectantly, clutching his box of grenades under one arm, the pump action cross-bolt under the other as happy as any child on Axe-mass morn. The invisible armour he slung over his shoulder and it made his skin shimmer as though under water.

The Dragon sighed. ‘Mortal, if you think I’m going to lower my neck to allow you to climb on, you are very much mistaken.’ The Dragon unfurled the other set of claws. ‘In you get.’

Erryl looked at the yellow talons between which welled moist looking greenish constructs, undoubtedly the spawn remains of previous meals.

But hopefully not Uni.

The Dragon watched him narrowly. ‘Either you get within my grip, or you travel by other means.’

‘Which are?’ he asked hopefully.

Visions of soft armchair recliners fitted with wings.

The Dragon pointed to a gaping whole in its belly.

‘Why, within my intestines, of course.’





The anti-Opus (was Opus, now rat-Opus, if you’re keeping up) scuttled along the main sewer pipe that led from The Guard’s long-stay cells. With every scurrying step he cringed just a little bit more, particularly at the slurry dregs that clung to his fur and sieved warmly between his paws. It was his fifth hour of such paw drenching travelling and apart from learning new levels of admiration and respect for the rat species, Opus had to admit that he was now thoroughly, thoroughly lost; and soaked to the tips of his ears in the excreta of the city.

Occasionally, he would find an outlet or a manhole though all had led to either an impassable lock with partially gnawed iron bars or, in the case of what was probably the restaurant region of Lotopia, a pallid wall of congealed cooking oil. And he wasn’t yet desperate enough to try and eat his way through that.

Food, or at least the remains of food wasn’t lacking, though from the resplendent dinners he was accustomed to Opus found it difficult to nosh down any of the curry pools encountered with much enjoyment. Besides, most of them were already catering to capacity judging by the veritable menagerie of life forms that surrounded these spicy waterholes.

However, ending up next to the pre-convictee cells had been a particular low point in his travels. It was truly the foulest place imaginable and only his highly attuned nose had prevented him from stumbling into one of the cells. The only consolation was that soon Renders would be in one such cell. Ah, he squeaked, I may no longer be Mayor, but at least Renders’ is locked up. Probably the finest achievement of my time in office… Except perhaps, orphan tax.

Opus’ original intent had merely been to get away from Dangulf, who at this moment was probably off vaporising every sewer pipe he could find, or sending streams of self-replicating Imps off to search for him. This or any other action, Opus determined, would fail for all he had to do was pick up the scent of Reptila’s sewer and the ubiquitous cocktail of noxious chemicals that flowed from it. And then? Well, he’d hitch a lift out of town to wherever it was she was going…

A distant rattle was caught by his ratty ears and the strange echoing noises that followed confirmed the former—Dangulf was blasting every sewer in sight. Opus re-doubled his pace, now scurrying frantically in an uphill direction This, he reasoned, would lead at least out of the city, maybe even to Reptila’s fortress upon The Overlook.

A junction brought a sudden change in the composition of the slurry and with the appearance of a handful of decomposing rat corpses, proved to be exactly what he was looking for. The pain in his paws and the green ether that skimmed above the surface confirmed that there were some seriously non-bowel like elements afoot. Opus squeaked excitedly, shape-shifted to the metal skinned armadillo of the Ankh jungle and padded along into the oncoming wash of chemicals…





With a roar of tortured air and a torrent of falling bricks and mortar (and to the horror of the guards below), Phoebe et all burst from the cell and into the heavy murk of an average Lotopian morning. There were shouts and a few brave crossbow bolts chased them, but overall the resistance to their escape was restrained and half-hearted. Quite contrary to the whoops of excitement coming from Renders.

Yeldarb sat astride Phoebe’s neck clutching great handfuls of feathers and whispering instructions into her ear whilst Renders stood (yes, stood), legs akimbo and a few paces behind, the sun glancing diffusely off his armour. With one hand he shielded his eyes, viewing the wonders of the city, with the other he busied himself waving at “his people,” or gesturing crudely at those he determined not “his people.” Flower was having none of this high-altitude stuff and was flattened out around Phoebe’s shoulders, gripping on for all her might. Bob? Well, Bob was just being Bob and sitting in the lotus position trying to keep calm. The other convicts er… had a bird phobia and so didn’t come along for the ride.

‘I must say Yeldarb, you always seem to come out on tops!’ laughed Renders in a crazed fashion. ‘No matter how grim the situation, you’ve always got a battle-ship ready to pull out of your pants.’

Yeldarb grinned. ‘That’s me!’

‘So where to then boss?’ asked Bob.

Yeldarb turned, completely oblivious to the several hundred feet of nothingness that lay within mere inches of his boots. ‘Why, to kick some posterior, Bob. First stop, the Elfindel’s fortress. I reckon whoever framed us all, is likely to turn up there to move the goods onto to its final destination. And with any luck,’ he said darkly, ‘my sword…’

‘Sounds rather unlikely, don’t you think?’

‘Unlikely? Bob, surely you jest. We’ve just done a jailbreak on the back of a giant Phoenix that I grew inside a bag of never ending, pan-dimensional holding. I’m already dead, we’ve got a Minotaur to back us up, Renders is mad and we’re on the trail of a female that knows magic!’

‘Point taken. Par for the course.’

‘Are we there yet?’ whimpered Flower.

‘Not for a few minutes yet, I’d imagine,’ said Bob. ‘If you don’t mind me asking, you don’t seem very happy. Any reason?’

‘Cos I’m allergic to fuging feathers, what do you think the problem is?’

‘Er…’ Bob looked around, down, down and up and up. ‘Scared of clouds?’

‘Actually no. Scared of being above clouds, yes.’

‘Ah, so clouds it is then. Cumulous Nimbus or Ferris Unpronouceablinus? I’ve a spell for them anyway. It’s called Dispel Ye Cloudes or something. Would that help?’

Flower looked briefly up and gave a tired ferk-right-off smile.

‘Here she comes,’ cried Renders.

The yellow tiles of the fortress shone into view, glinting in the sunlight like a beach laden with shells, the pink stone of the inner walls giving the impression it was built in warmer climes before being shipped over brick by brick to the godsforsaken weather system of Lotopia.

‘You know, Renders,’ cried Yeldarb as he encouraged Phoebe to glide in, ‘there was a time when I hated the likes of the Elfindels. But now? I merely detest them. I think in a way, I was jealous—but now, for some reason, I sense hope for the future.’

‘Really?’ Renders sounded surprising. ‘All I sense is an awful lot of impending violence.’

Yeldarb grinned. ‘Yeah, me too. A future! The good old days, eh?’

‘Indeed, my Elven buddy. The good old days. Renders, Yeldarb and associated cannon fodder, back in the swing of things.’

Air whistled past them as the great bird cawed and increased the pounding of her wings, tilting upwards and bringing them to a gentle stop in the midst of the central courtyard.

Renders leapt to the ground with a loud clank and the grace of a tin recycling bank. ‘Right chaps, I want this by the numbers.’

‘Which ones?’ asked Bob.

‘Er… the odd ones. No, the good ones. Are there good ones? Ah, who cares. I want a systematic search of the castle. They’ve probably moved the magical items already, but there might be a few clues left as to their current whereabouts. Flower? You take Bob into the maze.’ (beneath his breath) ‘and maybe even leave him there. I’ll search the rest of the castle with Renders.’

‘What do we do about Phoebe?’ asked Bob. ‘We don’t want to just leave her here. Unattended.’

‘What do you think is going to happen, Bob? It’s not as though someone’s going to try and steal her? She’s a carnivorous mythical bird with a wingspan of fifty feet. I think she’s quite safe.’

‘Yeah, but we should keep her hidden still. The element of surprise?’

‘Has that one been discovered yet?’ asked Renders. ‘What atomic number’s that? I should really keep up on my journals, but it’s so hard you know, being off in the wilderness, following crusades. Sometimes I wonder why, I really do. I mean it’s not as if anyone cares, oh no…’


‘Look, Bob’s right,’ said Flower in between hugging the ground sessions. ‘Let’s keep a low profile, get Phoebe out of sight.’

Yeldarb sighed and walked off to Phoebe, muttering. A few whispered words and the great bird cawed once and then took to the air.

Yeldarb called after her. ‘Not too far mind, and be sure to come back before its dark—or if you hear us call.’

‘Or scream,’ added Bob.

‘Peasant,’ said Renders scathingly, ‘don’t you have any kind of spell you could apply on yourself? Resurrect Ye Braveness perhaps? I’ve met Orcs with more integrity and morale than you.’

Flower took Bob by the arm and led him off. ‘Never you mind, Bob. Let’s go and check out my old place of employment. You know, I’ll always appreciate the ground after that trip.’

Renders and Yeldarb watched the unlikely pair wander off. Renders turned to speak. ‘When do you think we should tell them our old battle motto?’

‘What, “run like pants” ?’

‘No, the other one.’

‘Sacrifice the little ones?’


‘Surely not “let’s be brave out there” ?’

‘That’s the one—but keep the “run like pants” for backup.’

They paused. Bob and Flower were now out of sight.

‘Let’s be brave out there!’ they cried and bounced off for some serious exploring.





Reptila looked scathingly at the contents of her wardrobe and sighed. ‘I just don’t have any desert clothes.’ She pouted, hands on her hips. ‘If I wasn’t so busy with my experiments to pop down to the shops every now and then… then…’ She sighed again, closed her eyes and dove her hand deep into the closet.

Out came a white lab coat.

She grunted angrily and tossed it onto the bed; and reached in again.

Another white lab coat.

She held it up to the light and checked for blood stains or acid wear. She held it against her. ‘I suppose white does reflect the sunlight to a degree…’

Casually, she tossed the coat into her suitcase and then with the slimmest of smiles went across to her dresser, which she had kept locked ever since her arrival. Behind the top drawer, taped to the back panel was a small package. Inside was all she would need for the crossover. She reached in, gently eased the package out, and tested its weight.

Daylight streamed in the south-facing window of her chambers—practically, the only room left intact after the God’s attack and she strode towards it for what would hopefully be her last look upon Lotopia. As she slipped her finger along the tab, ripping the seal, she smiled at the rancid little dwellings below, the university that spurned her and the infernal home of the mayor she had to concern herself with.

‘Good riddance,’ she spat. ‘May our paths never cross again.’

She looked into the package and smiled evilly. Inside were six bundles of tightly rolled up green-white paper notes and some of the red gemstones that the people here found so useless that they were often employed to decorate carriageways. One of the rough-cut gems she took and held to the light. It glinted.

‘A modest ruby.’

With a last smile, and a hand gesture unknown to these parts, she turned her back on Lotopia forever.





‘Almost through, sar.’

‘Good work, Dawkins. Still, I reckon if you’d tried harder it needn’t have taken the entire night.’

Dawkins, sweat pouring from him in sufficient quantities to be almost called “downstream” wiped his brow and rolled his sleeves a bit further up. ‘Sorry sar, I shall try harder next time I’m digging through solid rock with nowt but the aid of a silver teaspoon.’

‘Indeed, I hope you shall. Next time, consider using the letter knife also.’

Dwoirot returned to the selection of broadsheets found on the mayor’s tea tray. He selected a fresh paper, rustled it loudly, and laid it out upon his lap. ‘Let me know when you’re done, Dawkins—and ask that Zombie to stop whimpering so. Anyone would think he was being tortured.’

Dawkins wiped his brow again. He looked at the sizeable hole he’d so far managed to chisel out. He sighed quietly.

‘Shall do, sar.’





‘Same?’ asked Renders.

‘Same. Everything’s covered in dustsheets. Looks like they’ve gone for a long break. Damned rich Elves. Probably off ringing their little bells in some enchanted forest somewhere. Of course, not that they’d allow any half-Elves to take part—oh no. Smug pointy-eared bastards.’

‘Hmm. Right. Well, let’s try the last few rooms in this tower and then pop back to meet the cannon fodder. See if they’ve found anything. Pretty unlikely if you ask me though. I mean, if there’s anything to be found, it’s going to be by the Knight and the Elven Lord. Right?’

‘That’s right.’ Yeldarb turned the handle of the aged oak door that led to the first of the tower rooms. ‘Locked.’

‘Locked!’ cried Renders. ‘Preposterous. How dare something present itself to us in such an obstructing manner. Isn’t this door aware of our lock-picking percentile prowess? Why, just by merely looking at it, this door should fall over its hinges in its efforts to open.’

They looked at it.

The door resolutely stayed right where it was.

‘Damn, must have rolled a “1”. Yeldarb, stand back.’

Yeldarb stood back.

Renders lunged forward and applied his considerable body mass and encompassing armour to the door. It shuddered, but held.


Again, he pounded it. ‘Hang on old Elven buddy. I’ll be through in a Halfling’s life expectancy.’

Again, and again Renders pounded the door. Eventually, the stonework about it, and the ceiling above were all showing signs of fatigue and imminent collapse—as was Renders. The door though, stood resolute.

Renders roared in fury and prepared to hurl himself forward. ‘It’s either me, the wall or this bloody door, Yeldarb—and it’s not going to be the wall! If it takes a thousand years, I’ll get through this peasant-made obstacle to our progress.’

‘Actually,’ Yeldarb held out his hand and turned the handle. ‘Ah, thought so. I was turning it in the wrong way again.’

The door oozed open on its oiled hinges.

‘Sorry about that, old chap. I’ve got a bit of an orientation problem since my resurrection. Just can’t seem to tell left from right, clockwise from anti-clockwise and…’

Renders glared at him.

‘Yes, well. Shall we go in?’

The room was a brightly lit, gaily decorated, if sparse affair. Inside was a large double bed with a dark blue-wood frame and a stripped mattress upon which were laid two suitcases. One was buckled up and ready to go. The other contained a selection of loose beige clothing, some tanning lotion and a pare of oval sunglasses—which, of course, haven’t been invented yet.

‘Someone’s going someplace with someone,’ observed Yeldarb sagely.

‘Yeah. What do you think?’

‘Pretty tasteless clothing, I’d say. Typical Eleven colours—all natural shades. You never see an Elve wearing interesting colours like ultra-purple. Actually, you—’

Renders raised his hand in alert. ‘I can hear something. Four legs walking up the stairs.’

‘A horse?’ asked Yeldarb. ‘No, can’t here any hooves. Four of the mythical Pipe people? No, they’d make much more noise. That settles it, two humanoids. What do we do? We’re trapped!’

‘Hide under the bed?’ proposed Renders.

‘That’s not a very crusader-like thing to do. It doesn’t conform to any of our mottos.’

‘Look, the end justifies the means. We can be “run like pants” later. For now, just get under the bed.’

‘Ok. Agreed.’

They slid out of reach just as two pairs of heavy boots entered the room, approached the bed and lifted the suitcases. Without a word, they left.

Let’s go!’ hissed Renders.





‘I’ll tell you anything, just stop the pain!’ cried Peeling’s head.

‘Now, now,’ said Dwoirot as he took out his pocket Mimic and proddingly encouraged it to begin taking notes. ‘Getting hysterical about a little pain won’t do anyone any good—and most especially not you. Try and remain calm. Think of the pain as a new experience. One to be cherished and learned from. Did you know that the mind can control any nerve in the human body. Your mind can shut out the pain… Although, I’m not so sure about the Zombie mind.’

Peeling’s head was foaming at the mouth, had been for some hours now and had managed to secrete a large pool about the torn stump of his neck. His eyes bulged, rotten and yellow with masses of tormented black veins that burrowed towards his pupils as somehow he managed to make his head rock back and forth, back and forth. His sanity appeared to be checking out of Hotel Peeling.

‘I’ll do anything! ’ Peeling wept. ‘Just make it stop! Please!’

‘Sar,’ said Dawkins. ‘I think you should have a look at this.’

‘Well of course I should, Dawkins!’ Dwoirot flipped his book shut, squashing his Mimic with an abrupt squeak. ‘Excuse me, Mr Peeling, but I’ll be right back. And please, don’t leave the premises…’

Peeling stared at him with mild are-you-taking-the-bodily-fluids-disbelief—at least until the next jolt of pain hit him.

‘Now… Dawkins?’

Dawkins was looking at what apparently was a smoked glass window, looking onto the Mayor’s chamber.

‘It’s a window, sar.’

Dwoirot sighed. ‘And! What of it. I think you’ll find they are frequently utilised for seeing through, Dawkins.’

‘Well, sar,’ scratching his head, ‘It’s just that I don’t seem to recall any window in the Mayor’s chamber. An’ why have a window in one room that adjoins another? It’s right weird, sar. I mean, look. On this side, it is just like a normal window. In the other room though, it’s that giant mirror that hangs over the mantle-piece…’

‘Dawkins, sometimes the irrelevant things you point out! So the man has a one-way window/mirror combination.’

‘But sar, couldn’t this have been used to spy upon the Mayor from this room onto the next.’

‘Could it?’

‘I mean, sar,’ stroking his chin, ‘supposing someone was wanting to learn secret information of a sort, all you’d need do is stand behind this here mirror and watch—’

‘Well, of course that’s what it is, Dawkins! What sort of a fool do you take me for?’

‘Er… Well, I don’t know, sar. What sorts can you think of?’

Peeling piped up: ‘That was what the doppelganger used to spy on the Mayor. Now will you take me to my body?’

‘Doppelganger?’ asked Dawkins. ‘You mean the Mayor really was killed off by one of them? Ha! I knew it all along!’

‘Yeah, yeah—just stop the pain!’

‘But,’ said Dwoirot, furiously whispering notes to his Mimic, ‘how can we be sure you’re telling the truth? We need something tangible to prove your allegiance.’

‘Zeubluedaweh! Alright, look in the basement. You’ll find Lady Eroica all tied up inside a barrel of grok. Now will you take me to my body?’

‘Dawkins? Check it out.’

‘Right away, sar.’

‘Now,’ Dwoirot dragged the chair that had been sat facing the mirror and placed it before Peeling. He sat astride it and leant across the back, resting his chin on his short stumpy arms. ‘What else can you tell me?’

Peeling sighed. ‘The Abysmal save me! Look, it’s all very simple. Lady Reptila provided the one-way mirror-glass, which gave the doppelganger a means to perfect his impression of Mayor Opus. In return, Opus was to pass some dubious laws for the collection of all the magical items in the city—he was to make something up, like “Let’s make the city a safer place” or some shit like that.’

‘Ah. And the lava?’


‘Yes, hot stuff. Reddish tint to it. Dangerous if you fall into it. Quite terminal, particularly for Dwarves. Or rather, one Dwarf: Toby Toby.’

‘Oh… you know about that, do you?’

‘Ye-es, a rather nice smithy chap seems to be using it now for his furnace. Told me he bought everything from Peeling Enterprises.’

Peeling winced. ‘Urgh! Gnnh! Oh! Ah! That was a nasty one, right on my… Oh… Well, lava. That’s what we were planning to melt them down with see. All these magical items don’t dissolve in anything cooler. Normal fire just ain’t hot enough.’

‘I see…’

Peeling winced. ‘The bugger’s started hammering nails through me now!’

‘That’s a sign of the professionalism we apply to torture, Peeling. You should have thought of that before crossing the three-lane wide multi-carriage path of the law. Now… why were you melting down all these magical items?’

I don’t know! It was all done for Reptila! She needed some huge power source or sommat! I don’t know the details. I’m only a pawn in all of this.’

A cruel smile crept across Dwoirot’s face. ‘A headless pawn? So how did your head manage to transport itself all the way to here without the aid of propulsion i.e. legs.’

‘It was that git, the doppelganger. He heard you were after a headless Zombie, so he got a source in The Guard to take away my head away for safekeeping.’

Dwoirot pulled at his beard. ‘Good grief. This is a tangled web of deceit. And Old Toby?’

‘That wasn’t me! I’m not a murderer! Undead barman conspiratorial headless Zombie maybe, but not a murderer. I got some standards.’

‘Who killed him then!’


‘Do you want me to stop the pain?’

‘Oh, but they’ll re-kill me for this…’

‘And so will my pain technician back at The Guard if I say… forget to tell him to stop… He’ll just keep at it , you know. Days, weeks, years. He won’t even stop for public holidays.’

‘The demons of the Abysmal take you! Bacchus and Erryl did it! Happy?’

‘Never heard of them. Still, plenty more prison cells left. Any more names you want to throw in…?’

Peeling winced. ‘Look, this is really sore!’

Dwoirot heard the door to the Mayor’s chamber open and left the small room to find Dawkins cradling Lady Eroica in his arms. She was a limp rag of a woman now, her hair dishevelled, skin pallid and emotionless—but there was a spark still in her eye. Though it was a very small one. Maybe just a ftzz.

‘She alright, Dawkins? Lay her on the chaise lounge. Take her pulse. Fetch some water to moisten her lips… Do something man! Don’t they train you people for healing?’

‘We focus more on hurting, sar. Still, I think it’s just dehydration. She’ll be alright. Best take her to Doc Crocks for a good lookin’ over.’

‘We don’t need that old pervert groping his way around this young lady, Dawkins. I’ll take her to my family doctor instead.’ Dwoirot shook with vigour. ‘And then, off to this Reptila’s residence. That young lady has a lot to answer for.’

‘Reptila, sar?’

‘Yes. We’ve the small matter of murder, woman-napping, lava theft, misappropriation of magical items, impersonation of a public figure and anything else I can think of between here and her fortress, to discuss.’

‘How many years we looking at then, sar?’

‘Years, Dawkins? We’re into millennia here.’

And with that, they left the Mayor’s chamber.

(and Peeling…)





‘Ugh, rats!’ said Reptila with disgust.

‘Actually, rat,’ said the large black creature of the verminous persuasion that had appeared next to Reptila’s baggage in what remained of the central courtyard.

Reptila curled her nose. ‘Not you? Ugh, worse!’

It took a few seconds for Opus to shift back into the familiar form of Mayor and during that time, Reptila saw a process that she hoped never to see again. Her dislike for all things small and scurrying was well known. To see one transform itself into a large scurrying thing, before her very eyes, was to glimpse into the land of nightmares.

‘I do wish you’d do that elsewhere. I have no desire to watch you suck a tail up your bottom, retract your hair and grow that blasted ugly face of the Mayors. Couldn’t you choose someone else—a more pleasing form? I mean, this world is full of different shapes! I know, here’s a silly idea, but humour me. Why not just be your own species for a change or have you forgotten what they look like too!’

Opus, the anti-Opus grinned evilly. ‘My Lady, the beauty of my own species is, alas, something I feel you would not admire. The formless nature of our skin, the translucency of it that allows the inner grandeur of our organs to be seen by all and the natural pungency of our scent glands—all things that strangely enough other less evolved species find abhorrent.’

‘I wonder why,’ said Reptila dryly. ‘Now, if you wouldn’t mind just going away? I’ve got some very important final preparations to do.’

‘Actually, that’s exactly why I’m here.’

‘It isn’t you know. The reason why you’re here is to go away. Actually, no. First, explain what happened to that last shipment of magical items—and then go away.’

Opus smiled in an evasive manner. ‘Well… it’s all a bit awkward you see. We’ve—’


‘Er, yes, I’ve been rumbled.’

Reptila sighed. She looked to the six cases of melted and very magical material barely contained within the hemispherical anti-magic shell she maintained. ‘Six cases… and the concentrated energies of one God. Will it be enough?’

Opus coughed. ‘The energies of a God! What are you planning on doing!’

Reptila smiled. ‘Going home.’ With a swish of her lab coat she wandered off to a large trunk upon which rested a tattered and much yellowed piece of parchment. She held it up to him, but when Opus went to grab it, pulled it away. ‘Do not touch. This parchment is a thousand years old. And even then, copied from one ten times its age.’

Opus nodded, trying to sound impressed. ‘That’s very… old. What is it, some kind of family recipe? Mammoth soup?’

Reptila eyed him coldly. ‘It’s a map. A map of the Dune-lands and the Itching Plains beyond. However, what I am concerned with is this.’ She pointed at some writing central to the map.

‘Looks like a squashed fly.’

‘Fool! Cretan! It is the ancient writing of the Atalantan’s.’ She looked at the parchment. ‘Hmm…Very well, that is a squashed fly. But next to that, the text is very old. A language of a million arcane and hard-to-draw scribbles, a real language! Not one of these pathetic, rambling means of communication that is used in this world! This was a language known only to the Kings and Queens and the wisest of their minions! It certainly wasn’t permitted for the peasantry to know of it.’

‘And what does it say?’

‘Well… I don’t actually know. They never passed it on. But the place it points at is one known now only to the desert nomads who inhabit the Dune-lands. They have strange tales of structures and great treasures periodically revealed after sandstorms.’ She stared at him, ‘and any that investigated were always consumed by the returning sands.’

‘How convenient. And not, of course, that they got away with the loot and didn’t tell anyone about it? So, pray tell, what are these things?’

Reptila hushed her voice and scanned the sky as if expecting a stray asteroid to strike her down. ‘They are the Pentahedrons.’

‘The Pentahedrons?

‘Yes fool! Monstrous structures, built from blocks of fused silicates that came from their deep desert furnaces and then pulled block after block by armies of slaves, or levitated by the priests, to form the most perfect constructions ever known anywhere at anytime by anyone! Liquid rock was used to seal the seams to unimaginable degrees of accuracy and each of the faces was then coated in shocked ultra-white limestone and something which, regrettably I can only liken to “tin-foil”. ’

Opus nodded. ‘Sounds impressive.’

Reptila turned on him. ‘They were impressive—and may still be! For that is where I intend to go.’

‘But…’ Opus’ frowned, ‘I hope you don’t mind asking, but… why? Fancy a holiday?’

Reptila shook her head moodily. ‘You could never understand. But the Atalanteans did. They used the Pentahedrons to focus the powers and wrath of the Gods onto one small slab of purely magical material. This, if the critical mass was achieved, would open a gateway to other dimensions—other worlds!’ Reptila looked at him darkly. ‘There is one world I long to see again.’

The Abysmal? ’ he whispered under his breath, and then loudly: ‘So where are they now—these Atalwhotsinames people? Buggered off to some sun-drenched dimension, I’ll wager.’

Sun-drenched? Fool and dollard! They lived in a desert and at a time when their land was drier still—even the very sand dunes had dried up—and you think they searched for more of the same! No! They sought a lush land of water and vegetation, a haven where they could grow meagre crops and feed their kind! And they found it too. It just happened to be the same one that I came from.’ She looked to the sky, ‘Unfortunately, the “Gods” did not take kindly to having their powers abused, their lands abandoned and someone being happy for a change. So in their petty anger they followed the Atalanteans to my home world and laid waste to their new-found land—and our land too. These “Gods”, really just souped up little aliens with an eye for species control, torched the Atalantean’s crops and razed their cities to the ground, shattering their energy-giving crystals in the process. And then, when there was nought but a blackened landscape of sterility left, they plunged that once beautiful land into the black of the ocean…’

‘Nasty. Vengeful immortals these gods. What’s an alien? Anyway, hang on, you came from this other world too? Er… how?’

Her eyes filled with water, but remained steady. She gave a fragile smile. ‘It as a long time ago now. And the galaxy of my world is a long way away. I was an… experimenter there—desperately trying to achieve just what the Atalanteans did—to break down the time-space linkage and be free of the constraints of the universe! To travel like a God to wherever I wished! To be free to explore the cosmos!’


She sighed. ‘It worked. Though, regrettably, it proved to be a rather one-way affair. And what reward for my efforts? To be stranded here for a decade without as much as a piece of rubber tubing to make anything even half-way technical. Thank the true God that you have magic at least, lest I would have abandoned all hope years ago! And now…? I am so close. So close to returning to my world, to enjoy its delights, it’s civilised comforts—to have a really warm bath, to see a movie, to eat… chocolate!

Chocolate?  What’s that?’

‘An orgasm made edible. Ah yes, I shall eat, drink, bathe and then smear chocolate all over my body—’

‘Can I help!’

Reptila ignored him. ‘And thenthen! I shall inform my home world of my achievements! If they’re still around that is. Always a chance they’ve gone and vaporised themselves.’

‘Vaporised…? Then what?’

Reptila smiled evilly at him. ‘Then, I might just return with missiles, saucer-fighters, singularity-bombs, nerve-agents, little satellite dishes you put on the front of your house to annoy the neighbours—and then I’ll pound the very dust of this forsaken place into its constituent leptons!’

‘Any reason?’

‘No, not really. I’m just evil like that. I could make the excuse that its revenge for the treatment I received at the hands of the other male Wizards—but no, I just hate this place and would sleep easier at night knowing it to be, well, flatter; even if I’m a galaxy away. Hmm… must stop thinking of chocolate.’

Opus grinned. ‘It all sounds very exciting. I’m with you, so when do we leave?’

‘You,’ she pointed at him in that piercing way a teacher isolates the misbehaving child from the throng, ‘are leaving right now! The time grows near for my departure and frankly, I have no more need or interest in you. You are still free to go, so I would advise that you do so—before my normal good nature turns sour—and I think you’ll agree, life could be so much more difficult if I turned you into say, a monkey-halfling with projectile diahorea?’

Opus recoiled. ‘You… You would! But! I’m a wanted doppelganger! I can’t return to Lotopia! They’ll flay my skin. Dangulf’s after me!’

‘I don’t care if it’s the nine iguana-headed, red-skinned testicle-eating hound of the Abysmal, I want you gone! Change your shape if need-be! That’s what you were designed to do after all!’

‘But… but… it takes time to perfect a new guise. And who would I be?’

Reptila turned away and began busying herself securing a bundle of black wrought metal rods, rather like lightning conductors. ‘I don’t care who you would be. It’s not my problem. Be me, if you wish. I won’t care—so long as you’re evil. Now, begone from this place. And, if you take my advice, begone from this continent lest I return.’


Reptila raised her hand. Magic flecks danced threateningly around her sparkling ring.

Opus backed off. ‘I’m going… No need for the heavy stuff.’

With a few backward unrequited glances, Opus tramped dejectedly off out of the courtyard and into the main corridor that ran off in crisp red and yellow tiles to the yawning fortress entrance.

It was there he happened upon three large boxes, one of which was still to be fully packed…





‘What do you mean “arrested him” ? This is Dangulf, venerable wizard extraordinaire! Why if he chose to, he could vaporise the very walls of this building with the merest twitch of his brow! Why, we’re still lucky not to have the legs of amphibians! Release him at once!’

The lumbering form of the guard turned ponderously towards Dawkins for approval. Dawkins nodded. ‘Do as Inspector Dwoirot says, Corporal Colossal.’

The form grunted in reply, a grunt that if carefully analysed would reveal the following speech patterns: ‘Right you are then, sar.’

His unappealing bloated form, turned albino from years in the constipated bowels of the lower prison, struggled with the ring of keys tied to his substantial waist. The door creaked open, light peeking gingerly in through the gap as an accompanying wash of stinking air staggered out to clutch at the throats of the unprepared.

Dwoirot gagged. He peered into the darkness. ‘Dangulf? You in there? Anywhere?’

There was no reply.

‘Could anything live in such… such…. Dawkins, this is a feeling I’ve never had before, but words fail me.’

‘Stench, sar?’

‘Perhaps.’ Dwoirot clutched his face. ‘My nose, it’s stopped working! My Gods, my fashe is stingning!’

Dawkins took a step into the cell. Through the overwhelming darkness he could make out an area, darker still. It was roughly spherical in shape and apparently growing in size; or moving nearer… Dwoirot decided it was “moving nearer” and hastily stood back. ‘What the…?’

The black sphere exited the cell and floated into the murk of the corridor, where it stood in defiance of gravity like an enormous flawless black pearl. The guard prodded it. Its skin rippled like oily water.

‘Dangulf?’ asked Dwoirot apprehensively. He turned to Dawkins. ‘Dawkins, if I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a schmillion times to keep these Black Puddings under control! They’ve gone and mutated now and eaten poor Dangulf!’

With a ‘pfwing,’ the sphere popped into non-existence and Dangulf appeared before them, showering the corridor in fresh smelling petals and spices. The old wizard bowed. ‘Ah, inspector, how goes things?’

Dwoirot stared wide-eyed before bowing low in reply. ‘Master Dangulf! I apologise for the incompetence of the establishment which I am regrettably associated with. May gnats infest their intestinal tracts!’

‘Actually, Dwoirot, I could arrange that.’

Dawkins and the guard took a few careful steps back.

Dwoirot laughed. ‘Quite alright old chap, though perhaps later—do them some good. The young, eh? Now… to business. Upon what infernal trumped up charge have they brought you… here.’

Dangulf pointed to the guard. ‘You may speak, my child.’

‘Er yeah. Right,’ the guard grunted gutturally. ‘See, the er… Master Dangulf ’ere wos ’er found demolishin’ de ‘er… ‘er…’

‘House of Decisions main chair?’ suggested Dangulf.

‘Aye, that. Demolshin’ it like. An er… all the er… sewers outside. He was destroyin’ ’em too. An he woz sendin’ all these l’il people a runnin’ down ’em. Like Imps they we’re.’ He reinforced the point by holding his hand at an estimated height. ‘L’il ’uns.’

Dwoirot prodded the man on the ample area that was his belly. It quivered. ‘And did you ask Master Dangulf why he was doing what he was doing?’

The guard stroked the greasy mound of his chin thoughtfully. ‘Er… na.’

Dawkins interjected. ‘Standard policy, I’m afraid. I mean, everyone has a reason, Inspector! We’re the law, we’re not interested in why people do things. Our job is to arrest, simple as that. The underlying causality of things doesn’t even enter into our considerations.’

Dwoirot pointed a stubby finger at him. ‘Look, you!’

Dangulf coughed. ‘—Aman on the ample area that was his belly. It quivered. ‘And did you ask Master Dangulf why he was doing what he was doing?’

The guard stroked the greasy mound of his chin thoughtfully. ‘Er… na.’

Dawkins interjected. ‘Standard policy, I’m afraid. I mean, everyone has a reason, Inspector! We’re the law, we’re not interested in why people do things. Our job is to arrest, simple as that. The underlying causality of things doesn’t even enter into our considerations.’

Dwoirot pointed a stubby finger at him. ‘Look, you!’

Dangulf coughed. ‘—Actually, could we possibly continue this discussion elsewhere? I find the air here somewhat displeasing, hence my little creation you just witnessed. A small portable universe—a nice little trick. Built in air-conditioning and only six-trillion light years across from end-to-end.’

Dwoirot bowed. ‘My apologies Master Dangulf. Dawkins, prepare the best table the canteen has to offer. No, scratch that—let’s eat out.’

Dangulf waved his hand. ‘A brilliant idea!’

The world turned momentarily white and then, rather unexpectedly but par for the course, they found themselves upon The Guard’s flat tin roof and seated at a white wrought iron garden table, heaving with wines, fruits, amusingly shaped breads and non-foods of every tasty variety.

isn’t moving! I’ve never had a meal before which weren’t not moving!’

Dwoirot took a loud slurp of beer, most of which seemed to settled frothily upon his beard. ‘Ah! Troll blood wine! Vintage stuff!’

Dangulf took a small wafer for his own part. ‘Flembas!’ he indicated to Dwoirot. ‘Elven bread, of the sweetest variety. Quite exquisite. You must try it.’

Dwoirot shook his head, ‘I tend to avoid Elf rubbish.’ He pointed at Dangulf, another shard of cake poised in his hand. ‘You said returned… <munch, munch>… you’re powersh returned?’

‘Yes, Dangulf stroked his beard. Quite the funniest thing. There I was in court, watching powerless as the Dwarves and Trolls fought and then… pop! They came back to me! The magic that is. I’ve always said that the best thing that can happen to one is a sharp blow to the head.’


‘But, alas my friends, I’m afraid I must be brief as I believe I have humoured the powers of The Law for long enough. You see, I am on the trail of a fiend! A dread beast with the guile, cunning and ability to disguise itself flawlessly as others. A doppelganger, no less.’

Dawkins choked on his food. ‘Doppelganger! Surely… you don’t—’

‘Well, of course he does, Dawkins!’ Dwoirot turned to Dangulf. ‘You do mean the ex-Mayor Opus, don’t you?’

‘Alas, I do my good man. I fear that the real Mayor is no longer with us on this plain of existence. Gone onto some better… well, different place, knowing his background. At least not The Abysmal, I hope. Limbo perhaps. Maybe even the Lands of Moderate Discontent. At any rate, I see that his murderer’s secret is now uncovered.’

‘Then all that has been said is true!’ cried Dwoirot. ‘We too are after this beast that goes by the name of Opus. I fear he has been involved in some greater plot involving the lady Reptila.’

Dangulf’s eyes flashed with alarm. ‘This is a matter of great seriousness then. Reptila! One of—no! The finest magician this city has to offer—bar myself of course. Though she was a woman…’

‘Of course,’ they all nodded in agreement.

Dangulf shook his head wearily. ‘This is dire news indeed, my friends. It seems as if evil itself has raised its head again and must be vanquished. The earth will turn and the seas will boil, and yeah, the stars will fall from their heights to raze the mountains. We must seize Reptila, nullify her army of darkness and send her back to the void of oblivion from which her essence slithered. We must sever the finger that yields her ring of power and smash the black grip which she wields over these lands!’

Dawkins looked terrified. ‘And I was just going to arrest her too. Maybe a bit of community service. Bit of lawn trimming.’

‘No, no! She must be utterly destroyed!’ Dangulf stood, pushing the table back, his cloak now white and flowing in the sudden accompanying breeze. His eyes flashed ultra-white, and his beard crackled with static electricity. His gnarled bone-white hands he raised above his head.

‘Steady on old chap,’ said Dwoirot. ‘The law has to take it’s course you know. All this vanquishing—I’m afraid I can’t allow it, plain vigilantism—that’s what I call it.’

Dangulf stared at him. ‘Then you will not assist me! If you are against me… then you are in league with the enemy. T’will be a shame to vanquish you, Dwoirot.’

Dawkins stepped between them. ‘Look, sod the law, I’m with you, Dangulf, let’s get some serious vanquishing done. It’s about time someone took the law into his, her or its own hands. The Gods alone know how incompetent we are!’

Dwoirot sighed. ‘Dawkins, every man in the city knows how incompetent The Guard is. However, I suppose I could look the other way—just this once.’

Dawkins poked him in the ribs and laughed. ‘Actually inspector, by my reckoning this would be the eleventh time.’

Dangulf laughed, his voice echoing, booming and making a mockery of the wind that howled about them in its magical suspense filled fury. There was a horrible glowing whiteness all about him; something righteous and not entirely sane. ‘Then, to vanquish we go!’

The black sphere reappeared, consuming Dangulf and Dwoirot. Dawkins stood outside, looking at it apprehensively—but then a hand reached out and pulled him in.

With a burst of magic, the space about the sphere contracted and then rapidly expanded and by this means propelled itself into the sky, albeit giving it the impression of a continually fluctuating oblong. Within moments it was a small dwindling blur in the sky and the subsequent cause of a flurry of reports of ‘Ye Unidentifiede Objecte in Ye Skye.’

The guard watched the little sphere vanish and breathed a long sigh of relief as it became apparent that they really weren’t going to come back.

He looked hungrily at the table, raised his knife above a particularly moist looking cheese, licked his lips and then plunged said knife through the cheese, plate, table and into the joint just above his knee, just as the table and associated contents promptly faded away to nothing.





‘So what’s it like being a Minotaur then?’ asked Bob as they tramped through an endless succession of seemingly identical left and right turns, interspersed with the occasional T-junction.

‘Oh, over all, it’s a bit of a pointless existence—much like most peoples, I suppose. But probably not as pointless as yours.’

Bob nodded in agreement. ‘Mine’s been pointless since the day I was born. “Good at nothing, good for nothing” ’s what my old pa used to say—at least before he lost his tongue in an unfortunate ploughing incident. At least I think he was my pa. Anyway, that’s why I was sent to the WWW University y’know—as a last resort.’

‘Your parents—pa, wanted you to follow a magical path?’

‘Not particularly. Just any path really, and preferably one leading over yonder hill. I think they just wanted me far enough away so I couldn’t pop back at the weekends.’

Flower paused at the intersection of five seemingly identical corridors, and sniffed at the air. ‘The air smells foul down that way, so I think we’ll take it… But yeah, my people were the same you know.’

Bob snorted idiotically. ‘I’d rather think not! I don’t recall any of my parents having horns! I’m sure I’d have noticed. Mind you…’

‘Well, with their approach to parenting at any rate. My parents believed in pushing a young Minotaur out into the world. Let her experience the bigotry of the “small ones” first hand—“Teach yer to defend yersel,” they said.’

‘Small ones?’

‘Yeah,’ she looked down at him. ‘People like you. Little people, “normal” people.’

Bob looked hurt. ‘I wouldn’t say I’m normal!’

‘That’s true. Sub-normal then. At any rate, whether Human, Dwarf, Elve, Sandfish or Chimp-Plankton—whatever… every species dislike Minotaurs with pretty much the same copious amounts of venom. It’s surprising I’m not bitterer really. The number of people that really dislike me would amaze you. I’ve a price on my head too.’

‘I don’t dislike you,’ stated Bob plainly.

‘You mean that?’

‘Of course. I mean, I haven’t had a chance to really get to know you yet. Ask me again in a few days time.’

They turned another of the mesmerising sequence of corners, through an exposed brick archway and into a room that barely made it into the “dimly lit” category. A broken chimneystack lay crumpled against one wall and, in the blackness beyond it, skulked a mound of damp, festering hay.

Flower pointed at it. ‘My bed.’ She held her hands out mockingly. ‘The treasure room.’

Bob looked about the sparse chamber. It didn’t take long. ‘Don’t see much here worth nicking or guarding, unless damp spores have become a sudden commodity.’

She shook her head grimly. ‘Looks like they’ve cleared out. Ah well, to be expected I suppose. I knew this job had something fishy going on about it. See all this? It used to be full of all manner of…’


‘Yeah, that stuff.’

‘The stuff we adventurers live for.’

We adventurers? Does that mean that you’ll kill yourself, now there’s none here?’

‘Na. I’ve seen what trying to kill yourself does when it goes wrong. I’m to incompetent to even consider killing myself. I’d botch it up and then be left with half a head and a really long drawn out death.’ Bob pointed. ‘You really slept on that!


‘Cool. Must be really comfy. I only had half that much straw back at the university. I tell you, you were spoilt here.’

Flower sniffed the moist air and looked again at the writhing mess of twisted and rotting straw that even as she spoke was phase-shifting to a new form of matter. ‘You think that looks comfy! What sort of university was this?’

‘A pretty crud one actually. Well, that’s not entirely true—most of the university is actually very nice; park benches, prim little student quarters, courtyards, manicured grass, sculptures. There’s libraries as tall as the eye can see too, but I wasn’t allowed near any of them.’

‘Why? You were a student, right?’

‘Well, a cleric.’

‘Oh. That different?’

‘A bit, it’s more like a course designed for failed Wizards. A sort of general magic. Except, I was on the verge of failing even that—before I met Yeldarb, that was. Now I have failed it.’

‘Ah, Yeldarb. You like him don’t you?’

Bob pondered this idea. ‘Actually, probably not. I’m in it for the experience really—and the dosh. Pots of it, preferably. Friendship plays second fiddle to my ambitions I’m afraid. Maybe even third bassoon.’

‘What about fourth timpani?’

‘That as bad as the triangle?’

‘Undoubtedly.’ Flower looked around the bare room. ‘Come on, let’s get out of here—nothing here worth staying for. Did you mean that, by the way—about not, not liking me?’

Bob laughed and slapped her hard on the shoulder, or at least the bit of it he could reach. ‘Course not! Were two of a kind, we are. Underlings. Minions. Yeldarb and Renders, they’re the big boys. Us, we just get an interesting line here or there. Sometimes just there.’

Flower grunted in agreement. ‘My people are used to such treatment. Always getting the “evil Minotaur that sits hungrily in the centre of a maze” type role in life.’

‘You’re in the centre of a maze right now.’


‘And er… you’re not hungry are you?’

Flower looked greedily at Bob’s little unstructured body. Bob took a quick hop away, setting off a deep laughter within Flower. ‘Don’t worry Bob, I’m a vegetarian; most of my kind are. Now, if you were made of grass—then I’d be very scared.’

‘I see. So why’d you go in for this maze thing then?’

‘It’s a job.’

‘Not a very good one.’

‘Well, we take what we can get—and it beats filing my horns down to provide high grade Croak for some spaced-out humans. People want Minotaurs guarding their treasure—so why not? It’s easy money and probably the only good thing that, as a race, we can get as gainful employment.’

There was a sudden roar from the upper levels, but Bob ignored it. ‘So… your race. How’d they er… come about then?’

Flower looked at him suspiciously. ‘What do you mean “come about”?’

‘Well… this half-bull, half-woman type thing. I mean, how’d that happen. I mean someone must have, you know…’

‘We don’t talk about that,’ she replied primly. ‘Anyway, do you know any spells then?’

‘Clarify “know”. ’

‘You couldn’t… make me like… without horns, could you?’

Bob shook his head. ‘Fraid not. I can clear a nasty patch of weeds though and cure fungal infections in the blink of an eye.’

‘But you can’t transmogrify?’

Bob shook his head again, this time with an apologetic swing. ‘Sorry, no can do. I could probably read the spell if someone gave it to me, but these things are always so damned incompatible. I’d probably end up changing you into a… Minowhale, or worse.’


‘Arachnotaur?’ he suggested.

Flower whistled. ‘That’s worse. Tell you what—let’s make a deal.’

‘I’m listening.’

‘I’ll keep you alive throughout this ordeal if you try and appropriate a spell to make me human or bull. Just something whole.’

‘Well…’ Bob thought of the many varied deaths that could befall him in Yeldarb’s company. This took a few seconds. ‘I could try.’

‘Bob,’ she clutched his hand, ‘it’s more than anyone else has ever done for me.’

For a brief moment, their eyes met…

‘Oi! You two buggers!’ interrupted Yeldarb’s voice. ‘You still down there? Get moving! We’ve got a Dragon to follow!’



To Be Continued…


© 2003-2004 by Neil McGill.  I live in Scotland with my wife and cute kids, trying always to push the hobbit as suitable bedtime story material. I dream of having time to write again.


[*] It is said that ice or desert-bound races have many names for snow or sand respectively. In a similar manner, Lotopians have many special words solely reserved to describe the characteristics of mud.