[oh yes... finally, an opportunity to patch things up with Eric! ...Sorta...]
"So, ye really use'd te be a hooman?.. Really?" asked Rikod, for what seemed the third time, and just as incredulously as the first.
"Not just me: Eric, Hugo, Happyface, Gizogin--but he still is... All the 'weirdos' here at the fort. It's just like I told you. One day, we were minding our own business, plunked down for a quick game, fell asleep at the keyboard and BAM. I was here.. at the old fort."
Wierd was unsure about telling him all this, but he felt the man deserved to know. He had just about had enough with keeping secrets. The topic had come up naturally after explaining what a "school" was, since no such thing of any type existed anywhere on this world, and Rikod was actually fairly sharp, if less than spectacularly educated. It would have been really awkward creating a BS cover story; the truth was sufficiently unbelievable as it was.
"I know ye already done said one'st, but are ye really serious about sayin' our world's jus' a big, made-up place, created on some mechanical thinkin' machine?"
"I dont know for Certain, but this world bears a more than superficial resemblance to it, yeah." he affirmed cautiously. "But that game was never as profoundly fleshed out as this place is. Look-- See the shadows under the trees? Not in the game." He shruged. "Also, 'electronic' thinking machine, not mechanical."
"Ye should really be more careful o' who ye be tellin stoof like dis ta!" laughed the dwarf. "They's enough stories aboot ye strange folks a'ready!.. But ye big arsed kiln looks te be serviceable, and I aint never heard o' the like. Strange as ye stories is, I like ye." He laughed again. "Ye shared ye booze with meh!"
Rikod was probably right. The talk in the dining hall weeks ago hadn't really gone well, and it seemed every time he let some nugget of arcane knowledge drop out of his fat mouth, it caused a stir. Sometimes it was beneficial though. Rikod here, picking up some new firing tricks-- Udib, learning that limestone and calcite are practically the same thing----- Udib! He needed to check on Udib! Jeeze, how could he forget about something like that!? Later-- he had his hands full at the moment.
Wierd smiled anyway. At least it wasn't raining, and they had gotten what they came for: the reaction tank had been rinsed out after being drunk dry, and was now packed to the top with dry salt from the ocean, and they had traveled most of the way back. Part of him felt that the only reason Rikod was willing to entertain the fantastic notions he spouted, was because of the fantastic proofs he could provide, even if something as benign as boiling saltwater to get the salt out was one of them.
"I don't intend on just blabbing it to everyone!..." he chortled. "But I don't like lying to good people, even when the truth sounds too crazy to believe. Trust me, I wouldn't believe it either, if it weren't for the daily reminders every morning."
"Well... Dwarves and humans.... are........'different'." he put gently, then leaned in closer. "I dont think I will ever get used to all the hair."
Rikod about suffocated himself with roars of laughter, sucking several deep breaths only to lose them the same way before calming down enough to talk. "So, izit true den?" he asked, gently ribbing him with his elbow.
"Is what true?"
"About de ladies?"
Wierd was confused. "Is what true about the ladies?"
"Well, dey say---" Rikod started, before Wierd shushed him.
"Hold that thought!..."
There, trudging up the path and covered in wet silt... Was Mr. Happyface.
"It cant be...." wierd breathed quietly. "He was missing after the quake..."
"Who was?" whispered Rikod. Wierd pointed ahead, and the dwarf nodded. " Hes de bloke as what made em' cyberwhatsits, right?"
"The very same..." he whispered back. "Wait here..."
Rikod made a plaintive gesture and a confused expression, but wierd strode ahead of him, confidently and nonchalantly up behind the sloshing dwarf.
"Excuse me." wierd said loudly behind the impossible dwarf, causing him to turn around. Mr Happyface had the most stupid grin on his face to see him, and it worried him. He cut straight to the chase dripping with mock-pleasantry. "Where were you when the fortress fell in?"
"What? I uh.... was uh...."
"That's what I thought."
That was all he needed. Anyone who had been in the collapse would have responded immediately with something like 'trying not to get crushed', or 'shittin muh pants', or some similarly quick reply. His stamming to come up with a cover story was all the proof he needed. Without hesitation, he made a quick jab of his fist into happy face's solar-plexus, with a little extra punch: He let a restrained snap of lightning loose from the fist at the exact same time, rendering the double-crossing, portal making bastard unconscious like getting sucker punched with a taser gun.
"WHAT'D YE DO DAT FOR!?" shouted Rikod, running up to close the gap between them. "Thats assault!"
"He's the bastard that caused the earthquake." wierd scowled.
Rikod's eyes went wide, then narrowed to tiny slits as his face colored almost purple. "Aye..."
After tying the filthy dwarf's hands behind his back, Wierd hoisted him up over his shoulders, and marched him straight to the fortress excavation site. There was no other place in the fortress where Eric could possibly be, despite what the dwarves outside had said earlier.
Eric would WANT to see this.
[OK eric! your ball!]