This is the final part of The Ballad of the Hamster. Hope you enjoyed it.
Who Guards a Tree? Honestly
The Dark Wood, like the Cold Plains and the Stony Field and even the Underground Passage before it, lived up to its name in a mild, dull sort of way. There were trees, and visibility was poor. This was mainly because of the trees.
Skeletons roamed through the forest, unhealthy yellow skeletons that had little to recommend them when put next to the magnificent army of Barry. They gathered in groups and fired arrows with merciless accuracy, and were difficult to strike back at, again, because of the trees. Just to make matters more fun, there were more carvers, and even a couple of those spine-spitting hedgehogs, although now they were a bit tougher and a different colour.
After fighting his way through to a place where the scenery took a turn for the squishy, Hamster II decided he was going the wrong way, and ventured back into the woods. His boots weren’t up to a slog through any swamp, no matter what sort of incentives he had. And he had none. He made for the centre of the forest.
He realised this was a silly idea almost immediately. A small clearing yielded a huge, grunting, puffing mass of dark hair, moving at high speed. This oncoming wave resolved into the individual but still enormous shapes of ape-bear-yeti things, which would have had a hilarious Benny-Hill speed effect if they weren’t so obviously homicidal. Hamster II just had time to wonder who Benny Hill was, before Treehead Woodfist and his minions were upon him.
After a few minutes of being pummelled, Hamster II crawled out of the roaring pack and regrouped, mainly with potions. He stood beside Fiona and fired bolts into the fray until finally only the giant Treehead was still alive. Murf went down for the dirt nap – literally – but Hamster II awakened him with an impatient gesture and brought some more skeletons out of the bodies of Treehead’s fallen comrades.
Treehead didn’t seem to find this very amusing, but Hamster II was frankly past caring what Treehead found amusing.
“Why won’t you just die?” Hamster II shouted over his shoulder, running for his life as Treehead bashed Murf and his final skeleton into the ground and steamed after the shocked and offended necromancer. Fiona stood her ground and fired a final arrow before Treehead swatted her, but at least she survived and eventually opted to follow Hamster II’s example.
They dived back into the Underground Passage just seconds ahead of the madly-scampering monster, and for a wonder Treehead did not give chase. Maybe the combination of uncontrollable super-speed and tightly-enclosed subterranean spaces was finally enough to impose a bit of reality on the universe although it would, Hamster II acknowledged, be the first time.
“What the fuck was that?” Hamster II demanded, scowling down at his torn clothes and already-colourful bruises. “Why was he so pissed off?”
“I think he was guarding that big tree,” Fiona said.
“There were a lot of trees out there,” Hamster II replied, raising Murf and a couple of skeletons from some leftover carver corpses, then helping himself to a healing potion. He wondered if he was getting addicted to them. There were worse things to get addicted to, he concluded, than booze that healed his injuries and brought him back from the brink of death. “It was a forest.”
“I think we should go out there and finish him off, boss,” Barry said.
“Yeah,” Barry agreed.
“Mnorf,” Murf added, but in a sort of affirmative way.
“You guys didn’t exactly cover yourselves in glory a few minutes ago,” Hamster II reminded them. “In fact, you mainly covered yourselves in busted pieces of each other. I think we should return to camp and I’ll try to hire more mercenaries from Kashya before we go back. And I just want to add,” he went on, “that the only reason I’m even thinking of going back at all is because this wood and the swamp next door seem to be the only way out of this crap-hole.”
Fiona looked sad. “Don’t you want me to come with you and fight anymore?”
“Well, yes,” Hamster II said, although he really didn’t, “but I mean you, and then more Rogues as well. Like an army. Pincushion that giant sweaty bastard,” and then, he thought, maybe Akara and Kashya and that utter tool Warriv…
“Yeah!” Barry exclaimed.
“You can only hire one mercenary,” Fiona said.
“And then we can go and – what? Kashya had a freaking catalogue!” Hamster II was outraged all over again. “And I’ve got enough money to hire at least three or four of you guys,” he’d noticed, on his last visit, that Kashya’s prices were slowly but steadily climbing – an inevitable result, he supposed, of having an almost literally captive market.
“But you can only hire one,” Fiona replied.
“Okay, fine,” Hamster II fumed. “Can I at least give you some decent weapons and armour and stuff, so you don’t get killed all the time and cost me a fortune to resurrect?” he kicked one of the carvers and uncovered a helmet that never would have fitted the carver in a million years. Probably explained how Murf had brained it so easily. “Although why I need to pay to resurrect you, when I’m apparently a necromancer … here.”
“I’ll put that to good use.”
“You said that about the rune I gave you,” Hamster II said, “and I notice it didn’t stop you from getting killed.”
There were others of Treehead’s species in the tunnels, of course, just not quite so fast or savage, and Hamster II took a certain amount of vindictive pleasure in shooting a few of them and raising skeletons from their bodies. Once his force was as strong, apparently, as it could possibly get, he retraced his steps and marched back into the Dark Wood.
“Right, you big hairy fucko,” he snarled, “let’s see what’s so special about your favourite tree.”