The Ballad of the Hamster (Part Five)

Day 87. 148,627 words.


Inept Minions

Sighing bitterly, Hamster II wandered out of the graveyard. He casually pocketed two or three pieces of cheap, nasty jewellery that the zombies had been carrying, added a couple of bits of gold to his inadequate supply, and headed for the camp.

Gold! That was another thing. He wanted to buy Warriv’s wagon, or failing that, at least hire somebody to kill Warriv so he could take the wagon and ride away. West. This was important. He didn’t want to go east, because he’d heard unpleasant things about east and didn’t want to explore them any further. He was a necromancer, sure enough – Barry proved that with grinning, chuckling elegance – but there were some things he just didn’t want to bother himself with. Bloodraven had seemed like an interesting option, a profitable potential for mutual gain, but it was not to be. She’d been determined that he join as a junior partner, and all her junior partners had been … well, zombies. It seemed there was no such thing in this world as a bit of professional courtesy, let alone camaraderie. Well, so be it.

So he didn’t have much in the way of gold. Every time he got some, he ended up having to spend it. This whole point put him in a very deep brown mood as he made his way back through the Cold Plains towards the Waygate, letting the Barry gang take care of spitting hedgehogs and red guys who shouted “Colenzo!” and “Rakanishu!” for no readily apparent reason. While he walked, he turned the crossbow over and over in his hands. It looked pretty shabby, but it was better than the stick. Fascinated in spite of himself, and interested in seeing whether he could learn more about it, he pulled a scroll from his pocket. It was a battered old thing that he’d found, inexplicably, on a reanimated skeleton. Even more silly, when he held the scroll in one hand and the crossbow in the other, the writing on the scroll suddenly decided to be all about the crossbow.

“Congratulations,” he read aloud in a low, disgusted mutter. “You have decided to purchase ‘Bitter Quill’, a light crossbow in the famed ‘unique’ range. With several astonishing features like added poison damage, enhancements to attack rating and a boost to your personal mana after each kill, Bitter Quill is your one-stop marketplace for slaying, maiming, and mild flesh-wounds … sheesh.”

Hamster II lowered the scroll and looked at the crossbow – the Bitter Quill – again. It still looked shabby. When he sighed and looked at his other hand, the scroll had vanished with that annoying lack of explanation so typical of things in the universe into which he’d inexplicably materialised. With another heavy sigh, he looked into the distance and saw the Waygate. It was surrounded by spear-waving grey-skinned demonesses, and his small team of eager-to-please Barries seemed to be having a hard time of it.

With a shrug, Hamster II raised Bitter Quill to shoulder height and got one of the moaning women in his sights. He squeezed the trigger, and nothing happened.

“No ammo,” he grunted, and waded into the fight, swinging with his busted-up old stick and his old buckler.

Shortly afterwards, he arrived back in the Rogue encampment, battling seasickness from the rickety old Waygate spell, wiping splatters of semi-congealed demon-gore off his Arctic Furs and looking around to make sure all his skeletons were in order and in the off-chance that somebody had noticed his heroic entrance. His shoulders slumped hopelessly before he realised that several people were in fact looking at him with weird facial expressions.

It was, on a grudging closer inspection, admiration. He’d never seen it before, but Charsi was standing on her anvil and gazing across at him, Warriv was gaping in awe, and Kashya was staring at him girlishly, jumping from foot to foot as if she desperately wanted to talk to him or go to the toilet or both.

“Looks like we’re finally getting through to them,” he said out of the corner of his mouth. Barry grinned as only Barry could.

“Yeah,” he said, and chortled. “Yeah, whatever you say, boss, cool.”

Hamster II sauntered over to Kashya.

“Privies are over there,” he said, pointing intentionally towards Akara’s tent, “and if you’re wondering about all this blood, most of it isn’t mine at-”

“I can hardly believe that you’ve defeated Bloodraven!” Kashya gushed, somehow knowing – just like everybody else in camp had somehow known – that this was his piece of big news.

“What, do you people stand on the walls and watch me or something?” Hamster II snapped. “Anyway, yeah, well, she didn’t give me a choice. Look, she left me this cool crossbow in, um, her last will and, er, testament, it’s called Bitter Quill. Your one-stop marketplace for something. How much will you give me for – who is this?”

Kashya had the grace to look embarrassed as she pushed the Rogue forward. The Rogue, as far as Hamster II could tell, had no grace whatsoever. She had pigtails, and a big foolish grin, and looked happy to be alive. This last feature was the dead giveaway of an imbecile to Hamster II.

“This is Fiona,” Kashya said. “She’ll be your new partner.”

“Oh no,” Hamster II snapped. “Oh no, I work alone.”

“Yeah,” Barry agreed. “Yeah, alone, he works alone, the boss works alone.”

“Totally,” Barry agreed.

“He’s, like, the lone wolf,” Barry added. “Totally lone.”

“Mnuuuuurh,” said a large brown thing suddenly standing nearby. Hamster II, in his bemused state of mind, momentarily confused it with a cow. But it wasn’t a cow. It looked sort of like Gheed, except it was made entirely of clay, rather than just having a brain made out of it.

“Where did you come from?”

“Muh,” said the golem. “Murf.”

“This is going to be fun!” Fiona enthused.

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