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A Desperate and Despicable Dwarf: Prologue

       Last updated: Monday, October 13, 2003 01:52 EDT



    "Bah!" oathed the wizard Zulkeh, pointing at Alf. "Better we should cast the heretic overboard!"

    Alf chuckled. The Tullimonstrum on the heretic's shoulder ogled the wizard with its single huge eye.

    "Absolutely forbidden!" said Mario, cracking his whip. The racing sleigh picked up more speed. The howls of the giant weasels in pursuit faded slightly. Not, alas, for long.

    "Why so?" demanded the mage.

    "Against the Kilkenny Convention!" Mario cast a worried glance behind. The pack of ravening weasels was now but forty yards away. Beyond them, bringing up the rear, loomed a dozen Godferrets. The Fangs of Piety were feverishly lashing their mounts, crying out in triumph.

    Turning back to the front, Mario cracked the whip again. But it was clear that the horses pulling the sleigh were already exerting themselves to the utmost. The birches and pines lining the trail flashed by in a blur. The setting sun cast a cold glimmer over the snow-covered countryside.

    "The rules are clear and precise," growled Mario. "Sleighs pursued by ravening predators must jettison in accordance with the following formula: First, all useless inanimate objects; second, all useful inanimate objects; third, all useless animate creatures, beginning with those of lowest intelligence and/or deviate sexual customs; finally, all sentient and right-living creatures—women and children first."

    The wizard glowered fiercely. "But surely these antiquated customs cannot be applied in this instance! My artifacts! My tomes! My scrolls! My talismans! My—Shelyid! What are you doing?"

    "Lightening the sack, professor," came the reply, as the dwarf dove into the sack. A moment later, Shelyid's ugly little head popped out.

    "Mario! What about really, really, really, really useless animate creatures of really, really, really, really low intelligence?" The wizard's apprentice glared. "Probably got really really deviate sexual customs, too."

    Mario pursed his lips. "There are subsidiary clauses to the Convention which allow for the prior jettisoning of exceptionally obnoxious—"

    "All I needed to know," hissed Shelyid. An evil glint came into the apprentice's eyes. He disappeared back into the sack, which, seconds later, was convulsed by a titanic inner struggle. The dwarf reappeared, clutching a horrid amphibian by neck and lashing tail.

    "My Great Newt of Obpont!" shrieked Zulkeh. "I forbid—"

    But it was too late. Shelyid had already cast the creature to the weasels. Three of the fierce predators immediately fell upon on the Great Newt of Obpont, tearing it into shreds and devouring it with no further ado.

    A moment later, the huge weasels were convulsing in the snow, howling with agony, coughing frothy blood.

    "Well, the poisonous layabout was finally good for something," growled Shelyid. Then, a thought apparently come to him, the dwarf heaved up the sack on his shoulders and formed a spout out of its neck. He tipped the sack up. A ghastly greenish liquid spilled out, forming a bubbling trail in the wake of the sleigh.

    "My unnamed and unnamable fluid!" cried Zulkeh.

    "Cunning stroke!" cried the heretic Alf.

    Nor could it be denied. For as the pursuing weasels reached the green-stained snow, they suddenly skidded and skipped about, shrieking with agony, attempting to walk on air. The effects on the horsemen behind were equally dramatic, for though the unnamed and unnamable fluid caused no pain to the horses' hooves, it did cause the mounts to slip and slither about. Two of the Godferrets were dismounted. One, to his good fortune, landed in a patch of clean snow. The other splashed into a large pool of the green substance. The hapless wight had barely time, even as his body dissolved, to stretch forth a supplicating hand to the heavens.

    "My God! My God!" he shrieked. "Why hast thou forshshshshglubglubgurglegurgle?"

    The pursuit was cast into confusion. The sleigh bearing our heroes gained a hundred yards before the Fangs of Piety and their hunting weasels could reorganize.

    Shelyid was heaped with praise. By all save the mage.

    "Disobedient wretch!" thundered Zulkeh. "Treacherous rascal! Great shall be your chastisement!"

    "Certainly, professor!" cried the dwarf. Shelyid immediately reached into a pouch of the sack and drew forth a slender sapling—not much more than a twig, actually. The apprentice proffered said object to the wizard.

    Zulkeh regarded the twig with great and profound displeasure. He then bestowed a ferocious glare on his apprentice.

    "It's in the contract!" piped Shelyid. The gnome drew forth a dog-eared booklet and thumbed through it with practiced ease. "Right here—Article VIII, clause 'b'—'The instrument used to discipline the short-statured-but-fully-qualified-apprentice shall be a switch made of green wood, measuring between 5/16 and 3/8 inches in diameter .'"

    Replacing the booklet, Shelyid whipped out a micrometer and expertly measured the twig.

    "See?" he exclaimed. "Exactly .3125 inches."

    "Bah!" oathed the mage. Zulkeh snatched the instrument of discipline from Shelyid's hand and immediately began a fearsome lashing of his apprentice. Alas, the switch broke on the third stroke.

    "Sabotage!" cried the mage. "'Tis supposed to be made of sturdy green wood!"

    "It is," protested the apprentice, not without a slight smirk. "It's not my fault—it's the cold."

    "The lad's undoubtedly correct," interjected the heretic Alf. "All men of science know the baleful effects of extreme cold on the tensile strength of material objects. If I recall, the formula is—"

    "Be silent!" bellowed the mage. "Odious heretic! This entire situation is your fault in the first place!"

    The mage took a deep breath, preparatory to launching into a lengthy diatribe. But he was brought short by the sight of Shelyid hauling forth more objects from the sack.

    "Desist!" cried the mage. "Unscrupulous scoundrel! Despoiler!"

    Without abandoning his efforts, Shelyid drew forth a handful of switches and extended them toward the mage.

    "Go ahead, professor," muttered the impudent gnome. "I'd rather be whipped than weaseled."

    "May I suggest," ventured the heretic, "that you would be better advised to negotiate than to decree, since"—he eyed a batch of tablets sailing off the rear of the sleigh; Zulkeh shrieked in scholastic agony—"your apprentice seems firm in his resolve, and since"—he eyed a cluster of scrolls arcing through the air; Zulkeh bellowed with philosophic outrage—"the dwarf seems singularly unfazed by the prospect of your chastisement, and since"—he eyed a flock of talismans heading north for the winter; Zulkeh gibbered in the patois of the unhinged savant—"he's right anyway and you're"—he eyed a leather-bound tome of great weight as it headed toward snowbound obscurity; Zulkeh was now tearing his hair, gnashing his teeth, frothing at the mouth (these, of course, the classic symptoms of hysteria bibliophilia)—"a fucking idiot."

    The bizarre looking creature on the heretic's shoulder twittered.

    "What's the blue banana saying now?" asked Mario.

    "It's not a blue banana," explained Alf patiently. "It's a Tullimonstrum, a member of the phylum Problematica. And it said: 'Wherefore profit it a man to be learned, if he remains stupid in his mind?'"

    Perhaps stung by these unseemly words, the wizard recovered from his seizure.

    "No, Shelyid!" cried Zulkeh. "Not the Memoirs of Anais Sfondrati-Piccolomini!"

    In the very act of hurling the book, Shelyid paused, considered, returned the volume to the sack.

    "You're right," muttered the gnome. "Lot better stuff in that book than—here we go!" And so saying, Shelyid drew forth a great scroll bound with twine.

    Zulkeh gasped. "Naisbitt Laebmauntsforscynneweëld's Gigatrends!"

    "He's a cretin, professor!" shrilled the dwarf. "You said so yourself!"

    "Well, yes, that's true," mused the mage, stroking his beard thoughtfully. "An arrant dolt, in point of fact. But still—"

    The scroll went flying. Zulkeh threw up his hands in exasperation.

    "Bah!" he oathed. "If tomicide is to be committed, let us at least do it with premeditation and malice aforethought."

    And so saying, the wizard planted himself next to his apprentice and began aiding in the process of jettisoning divers and sundry items from his sack. Not a moment too soon, in the opinion of your narrator, for the pack of ravening weasels and their pious masters had regained lost ground and were now but thirty yards behind the sleigh.

    Upon the episode which followed, your narrator will not dwell overlong. For, being as the gentle reader is educated and well-bred, it would be painful to relate the details of the ensuing slaughter of the wisdom of the past. The more so as the mage soon became caught up in his ward's murtherous frenzy. Indeed, grievous to relate, the wizard quickly surpassed the dwarf in the draconian severity of his triage. A long lifetime of suffering fools, if not gladly, here came to an end.

    "Ha—yes! Yes!" roared the mage at one point, waving a large book in gleeful abandon. "Endless hours did I waste studying this pompous exercise in self-congratulatory twaddle!"

    "What is it, professor?" queried the dwarf.

    "The Closing of the Ozarine Mind, by Bloom Sfrondrati-Piccolomini."

    And off it flew, landing with great force directly on the skull of a weasel in hot pursuit. The weasel promptly expired.

    "Good shot!" exclaimed Alf.

    Zulkeh stroked his beard. "It occurs to me, Shelyid, that our present situation calls to mind one of the famous sayings of the wise man."

    "'Always kill two birds with one stone!'" cried Shelyid and Alf simultaneously. "'There's a lot more silly chirping birds than there are good stones.'"


    Wanton tomicide now became premeditated mustelidicide. In the event, the wizard's original murder by blunt instrument proved to be the product of good fortune rather than good aim, for Zulkeh, it soon became evident, was a singularly inept scroll-slinger. Shelyid, on the other hand, quickly demonstrated an uncanny talent for maiming giant weasels with hurled tomes, scrolls, books, tablets, talismans, figurines, vials, beakers, jugs, amulets and divers other objects of thaumaturgic potency too bizarre and numerous to describe. One detected, in the precision of his aim and the energy of his execution, the long repressed effects of a lifetime spent suffering wise men.

    Once Shelyid's skill became evident, the cunning predators in pursuit of our heroes moved over to the wizard's side of the sleigh. This stratagem, however, availed them little. For the Tullimonstrum, demonstrating once again the inhuman precision of its visual capacities, began twittering ballistic instructions. These instructions, interpreted by the heretic Alf, Shelyid faithfully followed. The results resembled an artillery barrage. Within minutes, a good half of the weasel pack lay strewn about the snowclad countryside—some dead, some crippled, some stunned, and some (no doubt) feigning injuries.

    But then—just as our heroes seemed to have staved off their imminent demise—a new and more horrible enemy appeared. For now—from the very direction in which the sleigh was racing!—they espied another pack of monsters racing toward them, baying with fury, jaws agape, bounding in great lopes and strides. At the forefront of this horde of advancing horrors loped a creature which embodied in every lineament of its figure the carnivorous quintessence of slavering predation.

    "We are doomed!" cried Zulkeh. He clenched his bony fists above his head.

    "How did we come to such a pass?" he demanded.



    How indeed? It is with this very question that we must now open our narrative.

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