Two-dozen little red men stared up at me. It appeared that I?d dropped right into the middle of their meagre, confused gathering, and now their faces were traced in an awkward mix of curiosity and anger. I noticed that the majority were carrying small pointed sticks and pieces of blunt, rusted metal. Not exactly fearsome, but I knew painful when I saw it. It didn?t help that the tiny buggers came no higher than my groin.
Being the noble adventurer that I was, I swung my club madly, at the same time quaffing one of the red elixirs I kept at my belt for times such as these. My insides settled into a frame of statuesque calm, while all around me heads were cleaved from bodies in what I later decided was a most comical fashion.
When the blood had settled I proceeded to the looting phase. I wound up with a few cracked weapons, as well as six-thousand or so crossbow quarrels. Not a bad haul.
I?d only managed to count five-thousand, six-hundred and eighty-seven of the bolts when there was a sharp, stabbing pain in the back of my head. I tried to resist, but my body was determined to ride the clich? further, and everything quickly went black.
I opened my eyes. Blue sky and birdsong were the first two things to present themselves. The third was Akara, staring at me with a pity I mistook for concern.
?What happened to me?? Okay, so I was unlikely to win any awards for that line.
Akara smiled sadly. ?You died.?
?Oh. Well? err, hang on. What??
?You were exploring the Den of Evil when we sensed the hand of death reaching out to claim you. We were able to whisk your spirit away just in time. Your body, however, remains where it fell when you were killed.
?My body?? I looked down. Two arms, two legs, and all the bits in between. ?So this isn?t my body??
?Yes and no. Try not to think too hard about it.?
I knew good advice when I heard it. ?What should I do now then??
?If you want your equipment back, you?ll return to the Den and find your body. Else you can hang around here and chat to Warriv.? She gestured towards a figure by the campfire, who practically jumped with excitement at the sound of his name. ?Now if you go back to the Den, do be wary of the creature that killed you earlier. I?ve only so much magic to waste on saving the souls of adventurers such as yourself. I?m sure you understand.?
?Oh, absolutely,? I replied, not understanding in the slightest. ?One other thing?? I shrugged off my backpack and opened it. Just as I?d suspected, the loot I?d gathered in the Den was still there. Mind you, it?s difficult not to notice several hundred kilograms worth of wood and metal when it?s hanging from your shoulders. ?How come this stuff came back with my? ?spirit?? while the other gear I was carrying didn?t??
Akara was silent for a moment. Then: ?I think there?s a very good explanation for that.?
?And that is???
?A wizard did it.?
?That?s enough questions, I think. On you go now.?
For once I took the hint, and a few minutes later I found myself again at the mouth of the Den of Evil. Another chance for a dramatic entrance, complete with accompanying quip.
?Once more into the hole, dear self! Once more!? I jumped in.
I wasted no time in scanning my surroundings. I saw my body a few metres away, atop a pile of rotting red things. I also saw a zombie nibbling on my foot.
?Hey, get off!? When the creature didn?t respond I tried again. ?That isn?t yours to eat!?
This had all the impact of pissing into a snowstorm. Furious, I picked up a rat-shaped rock and hurled it at the zombie. It struck the monstrosity in the head with a satisfying ?squeak?, and I smiled. A grin which soon turned to a frown as the creature began to advance.
?Oh poo,? I said, winking at the Office of Film and Literature Classification as I did so. I tried punching the creature, but this merely resulted in a few broken fingers and an MA rating.
Then it hit me.
I passed out soon afterwards.
I opened my eyes. Akara sighed. ?Please try to be more careful.?
?Err? okay. Well, you know?? I staggered to my feet awkwardly. ?It isn?t easy to do battle with the forces of Hell when I?m armed only with my good looks and charm.?
She paused for a moment, eyeing me curiously. Then she nodded. ?Yes, I can see how that might be a problem. Surely you have something in your pack???
Of course! Somehow I?d managed to implausibly forget all about the gear in my backpack. I made my way to the blacksmith, where I was able to trade the lot in for a small, tarnished dagger. When I next returned to the Den I was armed with more than just a smile.
Once again I found myself up against the dreaded finger-breaking zombie. The battle that ensued was a long one, with the two of us standing still and hitting one other – each hoping the other would eventually grow tired and fall over. In the end I think the creature had had enough; an observation I derive from the way in which it punched its own head off.
I looted its ?corpse? for my reward. I came up with a pretty green cap and a few gold coins. Worth a few deaths, at least.
I was alerted by the sound of shuffling feet behind me. I spun on my heel, and came face to chest with what I instantly knew to be a barbarian. Well, he was seven feet tall, armed with a six-foot-long greatsword, and dressed in a tasteless combination of fur and bone. So chances were he wasn?t a sorceress.
?Uh? greetings!? I said, not knowing the proper method of addressing a barbarian. ?Who might you be, good sir??
His response was a toothy grin. ?Lol Noob,? he said, before sticking his blade through my head.
?You?re beginning to test my patience.? Akara shook her head. ?If you keep this up you?ll never cleanse our beloved Den.?
?Ugh,? I replied, for want of an actual word. My newly acquired dagger and cap were both missing, and my body seemed to be aching in places I never knew existed. I felt like I?d exploded. ?Maybe you?re right, Akara.?
?I?m sorry?? She raised an eyebrow.
?I don?t believe I ever will cleanse the Den of Evil. I quit.?
?Quit?? Her tone grew indignant. ?You?re just going to walk away, and leave us alone in our plight??
?Err? yes, that sounds about right. Ciao.?
?But a great evil threatens our lands! If something is not done, it will engulf us all! Nobody will be safe. Can?t you see this??
?Oh, I can see it all right. I just don?t think I?m the right man for the job. Maybe you should try asking one of those guys.? I pointed in the direction of a group of people whom I?d noticed had been playing cards with a nearby merchant ever since I?d arrived.
?Them? But they?re mules!?
?And I?m out of here. Do what you will. Ta for the resurrections.? I started to walk away, towards the river that bordered the southern stretch of the encampment. The lack of a bridge suggested that the Rogues possessed no reason to travel the lands beyond.
Which, as far as I was concerned, was absolutely ideal.
Disclaimer: The Lion’s Toes was written by Leon (Robert McGrath-Kerr) and hosted by Diabloii.net. The opinions expressed in these columns are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Diii.net.