“So here’s the thing. Elves won’t go to school with orcs. They say that, in their holy book, orcs stole the Light of the Twin Boughs and fed it to Ariachne the Star-Devourer. So naturally, that means that their kids can’t learn about geometry together.”

“And the orcs?”

“There are enough velfor tots around to show that they’re one and the same once you get past appearances, but a lot of the orcs are a little hostile on account of the fact that the elves saw fit to condemn them to an eternity of servitude after the defeat of their dark master Malktozt the Enemy. So the orc parents are likely to agree to shared bussing but their damn kids get in trouble with the elves. And of course neither of them likes the velfor.”

“I see what you mean about this being complicated.”

“And ours is an easy lot! District 12 is 15% dwarves and 5% hoblings. Now any student of history knows that they have a common origin, but thanks to the Dwarf-Hobling conflict in the Middle West, they get hysterical at any idea of shared schooling. And naturally, the dwarves believe that orcs are unclean thanks to the Dimming of the Two Bushes (subtly different from stealing the Light of the Twin Boughs you understand), while the hobbling are a bit peeved at elves thanks to the Harrowing of Hoblingshire, during the war, when 50% of their people were killed by elves for no good reason I’ve ever been able to uncover.”

“So you can’t bus orcs and elves, orcs and dwarves, hoblings and elves, or hobbling and dwarves. That’s beyond complicated.”

“Oh you can try. Many have. What you wind up with is the elves pulling their kids out to go to expensive private elf academies, the elves move away and stop paying taxes, and then you’re got a school that is 90% orcs again.”

“Makes me glad I’m an goblin and reproduce through budding.”

“You and me both, buddy. You and me both.”

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“Who…who said that?” cried the halfling.

“Down here!”

Looking down, the halfling gasped and backed away. A rat was speaking to her, a rat that was short even by the generous standards of rats. But it was also speaking in a squeaky but confident voice.

“Behold! Where if your god Jovan now? If vermin may speak, then tremble for all is lost!”

Wailing, the halfling cast down her crossbow and fled sobbing. The rat climbed up to the arrow slit she had been guarding, and motioned to the rest of her party with one tiny paw.

“Tinuviel,” said Adenan. “You should be nice to her. She’s just brainwashed. Aunty told us to rescue her friends, not to scare them to death.”

Tinuviwl the rat harrumphed. “If I’m going to be the one that gets hit with a polymorph trap, I might as well have some fun with it,” she squeaked.

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“Ed Boneshredder,” said the muscled mercenary. He bore many tattoos on his unarmored torso, from a wiry spread devoted to “Ed Bonecrusher” that suggested he himself was not quite sure of his proper appellation to a heart on one bicep devoted to someone named “Peter.”

“I know that,” said Iffy the mage. “But why are you so angry at me?”

Ed Boneshredder,” replied the mercenary through gritted teeth, spraying saliva on the demon bartender as well as Skeletonio the Skeleton Mage seated nearby.


Ed BONEshredder!”

“Does anyone have any idea what he’s trying to say?”

Adenan the halfling, who had an affinity for languages, piped up: “He’s saying you insulted his friend and must pay for your crimes at the hands of the Threadbare Gang.”

“How in blazes did you know that?” spat Tinuviel the rogue, nearly choking on her raisin wine.

“I’m good with languages,” said Adenan, “and I spent some time with the Nisiar of Lehsir, who can only speak their own names due to their religion.”

With the bar clear and his meaty group of shirtless Threadbare Gang pals matching the adventurers blade for blade, Finnegen Funderberger IV strode up to the bar with a supremely confident swagger. Bearing a ritual Nisiar Revenge Katana, he seemed unmoved by Iffy’s rant about his prowess in bed and the length/hardiness of his shillelagh.

“I will have my revenge!” he cried, adjusting the wig on his head to cover up a spot of stubble from where the adventurers had shaved him bald on their last encounter.

His revenge started, it seemed, with a savage attack, lightning-fast, on Iffy. Or, rather, on Iffy’s hair. In a flash of steel and burst of keratin, Funderberger lopped off 18 of the 20 inches on Iffy’s head.

“My…HAIR!” cried Iffy. “That’s it! You must die for your crimes!”

Seeing that the battle had gone ill, and with their leader dead and de-wigged, the remaining two members of the Threadbare Gang attempted to flee.

Droog McPhereson, who had spent most of the battle passed out thanks to the vivid clashing hues of a Color Spray spell, tipped his jaunty hat and starched collar (unattached to any shirt) before disappearing up the steps. His getaway was eminently roguelike: quiet and efficient.

Ed Boneshredder, for his part, ran for the front door of the Demon Arms. The direct approach seemed to suit him best, after all. “Ed Boneshredder!” he cried over his shoulder, the words having the affect of “I’ll get you next time!”

However, Tinuviel the rogue had retreated to the door in a failed attempt to pepper the Threadbare Gang’s archer, Daniel Midland, with arrows. She stuck out a stubby, hairy leg and tripped the man-mountain as he tried to pass.

The human-tibia axe that Ed Boneshredder used shattered and buried itself in his chest as he went down. “Ed…Ed…Boneshredder…” he gurgled before breathing his last.

Chanel the cleric pulled the wig off of Finnigan Funderberger IV’s dead head and placed it on the countertop in front of Iazgu the Slayer, demon of the Demon Arms. “There you go,” she panted. “For your bald head.”

Iazgu looked at the wig with a distasteful expression, as if a dead ferret had been slapped down on his bartop. Then, with an air of humoring the bloodied adventurers before him, he doffed his chambermaid’s had and placed the bloody, dripping wig atop his hairless demon head.

“…thank you…” he murmured. “Just what…I have always wanted…I’m sure.”

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Ros, Reverand Mother of the True Temple of Jovan (not to be confused with the False Temple of Jovan that sent gibbering minions and skeletons to attack defenseless towns), appeared at the door of the Demon Arms Inn, resplendent in her crimson robes.

“Were there not more of you before?” she said in melodious tones. “I have come to offer thanks and apologize for my earlier brusqueness.”

“Tinuviel and Chanel decided to spend the night outside, camping in the streets,” said Iffy the elven conjurer. “Gora the Seventh did kind of pick our pocket before she offered us free room and board for the winter.”

“I see,” said Ros. “Well, I wanted to offer you a nugget of information in recompense. When the followers of false Jovan invaded, as you know, you allowed them to escape with a wagon filled with prisoners.”

Adenan the halfling bruiser bristled at this suggestion that they had failed. “What about it?”

“One of the Jovan cultists was captured by the city guard. He…perished…under interrogaion, but not before revealing the heading that the prisoners may have followed.”

“Excellent!” Iffy cried. “We can go rescue them, really live up to our status as associate junior guards!”

“I must admit,” added Reverend Mother Ros, “normally I have to pay quite handsomely in bribes for this sort of information from the guards. But this time, one of the guards offered it to me quite willingly.”

Iffy and Adenan looked at each other with loaded expressions. They knew all about their halfling ne’er-do-well friend Tinuviel’s continuing flirtations with Vakt the city guard.

Ros held up a scroll. “The guard only insisted that the information be given directly and personally to a short woman,” she continued. She thrust the scroll into Adenan’s hands, oblivious to the halfling’s eyes suddenly swelling to saucers. “He also asked that I give you…something else…but I regret that my oath as a Reverand Mother of Jovan makes that impossible.”

The Reverand Mother departed, leaving Adenan holding the scroll, stunned, and her companions overtaken by hopeless laughter.

The last gibberling–a tiny whirlwind of teeth and fur that seemed a cross between a gibbon and a Pomeranian pup–took Chanel’s blow to the head and passed out cold. The others tied him up, and turned to Adenan to converse with the creature, since she had taken a minor in Gibber Languages at university.

“Who are you?” she said in Gibbertongue. “Who else is in this cave? Talk or I’ll throw you into the river!”

“You-killed-my-friends!” the gibberling motormouthed. “You-killed-Gus! You-squashed-him-into-jelly! Gus-had-gibberlettes-and-a-gibberwife!”

Adenan bonked the gibberling over the head. “Who are you?” she repeated. “Who else is in this cave?”

“I’m-Gus. Gus-Two. Lots-of-Gusses,” the gibberling…well…gibbered. “Lots-of-us-in-here. Some-big-green-ones-too. And-the-boss.”

“What’s the boss?”


Adenan rolled her eyes. “What about the prisoners?”

“Oh-yeah-boss-has-some-prisoners. Gonna-eat-em-soon! Taste-good. Like-the-horses-outside. Ate-them-and-then-burned-the-bits-for-fun!”

Attempting to sneak around a corner of Ransack Cavern, Tinuviel the halfling rogue instead came face to face with a young troll–one of the “green-ones” that Gus Two had gibbered on about before he had run off screaming and broken his neck in a deadfall trap.

Normally, she was decently sneaky. But this time, Tinuviel tripped over her own foot-hairs and tumbled straight to the ground. Her cooking set tumbled out of her rucksack, making such a ruckus that it could have woken the dead (had any of the skeletons they’d fought earlier been present).

“What that?” the troll cried. “Who there?”

Thinking quickly, Tinuviel got up, dusted herself off, and bowed deeply. “Why, I’m one of you! My most humble apologies, sir. I seem to have gotten lost looking for the boss.”

The troll regarded the tiny halfling with deep suspicion. “You smell like Gus,” he snarled. “Smell like Gus Two. Like Gus Two’s gooey bits. You kill him?”

“Of course not,” saif Tinuviel, bowing again. “He killed himself by running into a deadfall. But I’m still one of you, one of the Ransack Cavern gang through and through.”

“What the password?” the troll said, readying its fists.

“The password is…” Tinuviel racked her thoughts, and coughed up the first word that came to mind: “…flugelhorn.”

The troll gaped. The password was indeed “flugelhorn,” after the boss’s ill-fated stint as a brass player. “How you know that?”

“Like I said,” Tinuviel grinned. “I’m one of you.”

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“I do not believe you for a minute,” said Ockham the Red. “You are surely one of them.”

He had an impressive countenance as a full-blooded orc, made all the more so by his immaculate sky-blue uniform with crossed white belts and brass polished to a mirror-shine. It was undermined somewhat by the fact that he and the other two Vallia guardsmen, Vakt the Rosy and Pyse the Peach, had been locked in the jail of their own stockade, blindsided by the insane cultists of Jovan and their attendent skeletons.

“Didn’t you see the light show downstairs?” said Tinuviel the halfling. “Our cleric Chanel just channeled enough positive energy to be seen from the Caldera rim and it double-killed four skeletons all at once.”

Ockham harrumphed. “You lie. I wouldn’t believe you if you laid the severed heads of those Jovan-addled brigands downstairs at my feet.”

“Funny you should mention that,” said Tinuviel. “Adenan, let ‘erm rip.”

The two halflings each unfurled the dripping bundles in their hands, revealing the severed heads of the brigands that they had just killed. Adenan rolled the head of the white-kerchiefed brigand who had sicced the skeletons on them into Ockham’s cell. Tinuviel spun the red-kerchiefed head of the villian who had stabbed poor Iffy to within an ich of her squishy life into
Vakt’s prison.

Ockham picked up the dripping countenance and nodded curtly. “I am not afraid to admit when I am wrong,” said he. “This is definitely one of the foul brigands from the hills who turned of late to Jovan-worshipping insanity. Truly you are not one of they.”

“Damn straight,” groused Adenan, handing the cell keys to her halfling compatriot. She was still upset that her threat to hurl Ockham into the river had been laughed off.

Tinuviel unlocked Ockham’s cell, and then Vakt’s. That guard, given the gift of the dripping head of his enemy, looked down at the tiny halfling opening his cell with starry eyes. He fell to his knees as she opened the door.

“T-thank you, my lady,” he whispered through trembling besotted lips. “I have never seen a woman as…short…and as…formidible…as you.”

Tinuviel winked at him and tossed him the weapon the Jovan-crazed villains had deprived him of. Already on his knees, Vakt swooned a bit and awkwardly blew her a kiss.

The halfling mimed catching it, and placed it in her pocket before traipsing off and opening the last cell.

“I hope you realize that you’ve just made that poor guy fall in love with you,” groused Adenan.

“It’s cute,” said Tinuviel, dismissively. “What’s the worst that could happen?”

Adenan looked back at Vakt the Rosy, who was busy composing a love poem on the blood-soaked kerchief of the severed head in his cell. “What indeed,” she sighed.

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“Nope!” cried Tinuviel, looking at the ten-foot-high battlements of the Vallia Stockade. “You are NOT throwing me up there! Nobody tosses this halfling!”

Adenan walked up to her halfling compatriot, on whom she had a good few inches (to say nothing of her much more fit physique). With her nose a mere inch from Tinuviel’s, her eyes narrowed, she riposted: “I’m going to toss you either way,” she growled. “It’s up to you whether you land on the battlements or in the river.”

The vivacious halfling wilted like a summer daisy in the face of her companion’s intimidating surety. “Fine, fine!” she cried, raising her hands. “Just be careful Watch the face!”

“I’m always careful,” Adenan said in her customary monotone. “Now stop whining or I’ll carefully chuck you in the shallowest part of the river.”

“How is she going to do it?” whispered their companion, Iffy the elf. “They’re practically the same size.”

“Don’t screw around with a halfling who knows what she wants,” replied Chanel, their other elf fellow-traveler. “Adenan can throw anything.”

As the fairfolk whisprered, Adenan seized her smaller compatriot by one arm and one leg. Spinning around several times like a shot-putter to gain momentum, she lifted Tinuviel up and released her at the apogee of the swing.

“Crap, crap, crap, craaaaaaaaaaap!” shrieked the smaller, shorter halfling as she sailed upward in a parabolic arc. It was enough to surmount the low battlements of the stockade, and the others hear her come to a safe landing above, at least judging by the volume of complaints that drifted down.

“Now throw down a rope so I can help you get in,” huffed Adenan. “We’ll open the door from the inside and get the drop on them.”

“No, I’m going in alone!” Tinuviel pouted from the battlements.

“I’m coming up there whether it’s with a rope or with my nails,” said Adenan flatly. “And whether I beat the window in with my fists or with your head depends entirely on that.”

“Don’t screw around with a halfling that knows what she wants,” Iffy echoed with a low whistle.

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