Hindohr is terrible. It’s cramped and smelly and the buildings are dug out of solid rock, so there aren’t even any walls to scale, rafters to dance across, or windows to sneak through if I get bored. We were there for something like five minutes before a rock giant showed up, smashed his way through the city’s defenses, and warned the Dwarf Thane, Gnarly Dragslammer, that he and his giant buddies were going to destroy the entire city. I can understand wanting to demolish the place — it is literally a hole in the ground — but the giant said he was driven to this extreme action against his neighbors not by the noise or the smell or finding yet another shed facial hair in his breakfast, but by the dwarves digging too much.
Do these giants know what a dwarf is? They’re basically shovels with beards. Getting angry at them for digging too much is like demanding that the ocean stop waving at you. “Yes, I’ve acknowledged your greeting, ocean! If you don’t cut it out, you’re really going to start looking desperate!”
Anyway, a standard-issue conniving vizier named Tambourine showed up, lied to the Thane some, checked behind everyone’s ears for coins he could embezzle, and then slithered off with half the throne room silverware clanking under his tunic. I followed him, but didn’t learn much before getting arrested. Apparently the only thing in this abscess of a city that functions effectively is law enforcement, as though I needed more reasons not to schedule a return visit. I think I was in for an hour? One of life’s little inconveniences.
Del was set on visiting the Smith’s Small But Smacred Smithy, but it turns out that the Smithlamists under this particular rock are a steaming pile of itty bitty dwarvish shits. The sensible remnant of the populace have flocked to a temple to the Smith’s wife, Oldbuns, so that they don’t have to be led by Balldick: a Smithlamic burnout who has apparently been grinding up and snorting the wrong rocks for a few years, and now thinks a magic voice in his brain will tell him where the most shiniest metals are.
What’s scary about this is that that the only thing bigger than a dwarf’s hard-on for the shiniest metal he can find is… well, just about any other species’ hard-on for whatever they’re into, obviously. But literal size aside, these hairy numbskulls are actually taking this strung-out religious whackjob seriously. They’ve upended their entire social order and dedicated untold resources to pursuing the latest leakages from the man’s addled mind, digging this-a-way and that-a-way and mostly coming back with nothing but fungus — yes, fungus — to show for their efforts. All the while, they’re hiding the entire operation from Dragslammer.
While I can certainly understand putting one over on a less-than-attentive authority figure, Tambourine’s operation isn’t anything I’d call respectable graft. It’s religious fanaticism! It’s unsound civic planning! It’s an invitation to rocky kaiju to lay waste to his entire city! It is bad business on an order of magnitude the people of Yhilport can be grateful they have never had to deal with. It’s no wonder this city is such a sinkhole.
And instead of realizing that he’s making a mistake (to borrow a dwarvish phrase: g’durr), Tambourine is doubling down on his bet on Balldick’s idiocy. In addition to the ongoing cost of their little vision quest, he’s spending more money to bury the story that minors are getting eaten and having their brains wiped in the lower levels of his unauthorized delve. (Why they’re sending children into an active, dangerous, and only partially-explored mine, I have no idea.)
Fortunately for Tambourine, he did score one business success by pitting himself against the only worse negotiators on the entire bloody continent: my companions, who dimwittedly agreed to assist in his coverup for a pittance and some potions. If these are the upright moral guardians of our era, it’s no wonder wicked men like myself run the world. The conversation went basically like this:
Tambourine: “Dwarves are dropping like bearded flies in the mine I built, because the whole project is based on the vagaries of a drugged geriatric’s dreams and I’m too shortsighted to do any planning, effect the most basic level of diligence, or even briefly consider the wisdom of what I’m doing. I need you to go down there and deal with it before the pile of dead gets so high that I have to explain it to the Thane (who falls mainly on the plain). When you return — which you probably won’t, at which point I’ll say you’re the ones down there killing people so that I’m off the hook — I’ll pay you a hundred gold.”
The remainder of my party, simultaneously: “We’ll do it for fifty!”
Although I can see the wisdom of what my father said to me about this group while we were staying in Yhilport, sometimes I despair at the near-impossibility of the task before me. Such is the thankless burden a Mantova must bear. Nonetheless, my patience with the disrespect they show me is wearing thin.
All the same, I was obliged to accompany them into the mine and ensure that they don’t die in a hole quite yet. Turns out the minors were being eaten by a gigantic hypnotic bug. (I wonder: do dwarvish children have beards?) The creature was both disgusting and irritating to deal with, as I had to occasionally step in to aid my companions when they succumbed to its hypnosis and lost sight of their goals and basic self-preservation. Nothing I’m not used to, at least.
Of course, the moment we finished killing the bug, the cowardly minions of Balldick and Tambourine showed up, demanding that we leave immediately so that they could resume their illegal and unsafe mining without any accountability. We took exception to their demands — under which circumstance, of course, they had been ordered to kill us. Nope! Nothing objectionable about that vizier at all!
Fortunately, I managed to convince some of them not to follow those orders while we dealt with the others. Given that Balldick’s people were possessed by some sort of shadowy tentacle monsters and all my party had done was slay a minor-eating insect the size of a river barge, it seemed negotiable, and it was. “Well done, Enzo! Seems you read this situation a lot better than we did, acted fast under pressure, and saved some guards’ lives in the process,” said exactly no one. After agreeing to delay Tambourine’s vengeance, his minions slipped off and we headed deeper into the mine to figure out what was going on.
We were attacked by evil stalactites. I turned one into a cocktail shaker. It’s going to make quite a conversation piece when I get back to civilization.
Eventually we found out what was controlling Balldick and his zealots: a well full of sludge and brains. Truly, there is no monster so implausible that it can’t find a place on the newly magic-infected Taloren. We beat the brains into submission, then did some earthworks to physically destroy them and their container. Some rock giants arrived to expand on our efforts — my companions’ skittishness aside, I correctly read their motivations as parallel to ours — but not before we could be assaulted by more agents of Balldick. Then they were attacked by Tambourine’s agents… it seems the two aren’t getting along quite as well anymore, which I suppose means T has finally realized just how stupid he was to listen to B in the first place.
Given that the last crop of agents he sent after us had orders to kill us if we stepped out of line, the rest of my party will have to forgive me if I’m slow to be won over to the vizier’s side. Especially as the best that can be said of this group is that they’re taking us back to Hindohr. Need I remind everyone? Hindohr is terrible.