Attacking the Darkness!

Dreaming

Vivid dreams swirl in your heads as you pass in and out of consciousness. There is pain, there are faces of strangers, voices in an unfamiliar tongue. Memory of the events that passed are vague and choppy.

What happened? What led them to this semi-sleep of tormented dreams? The snow… that’s right! There was a rumble, and then snow—moved so fast! And then falling… and DARKNESS.

Caldorraksondorlak and Slade are the first to begin making sense of their surroundings. They are lying down on a soft bed in a low-ceilinged room. Though unable to see, they’re unaware if they are in the same room. Though comfortable and apparently nourished, panic swells within them as they discover they’re bound to the bed, unable to rise!

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On to Gateway

The storm rages on. Elsewhere in the kingdom, the priest training with Silver soon realizes something is amiss and casts great magics to protect him and his young charge from the cold. A royal messenger arrives to inform Silver the queen has summoned her. Although she is reluctant to leave, the priest tells her, “I’ve taught you all I can. Be gone.”

Planting a tender parting kiss on both of his cheeks, Silver then leaves. Relying on her elvish nature, she makes her way into the city and walks on the snow like Legolas in order to sneak amongst the giants. They are hungrily devouring whatever is left as they wander the streets. All of a sudden, Silver hears the sounds of battle in the distance and a feminine cry of “Oh, my face!” followed by a wise-ass remark of Alaric. She watches as her friends run down the street toward the blacksmith’s and disappear from view.

A giant arm swings down and tears open the wall of a nearby collapsed building. Silver looks at the building and notices the corpses of the family who once occupied it. Saying a quick prayer over them, she then travels down the street to the blacksmith’s and climbs into the rubble.

Down in their safe little hidey hole, Slade is enjoying his Lazy Boy.

“Can I have another glass of that brandy?” he queries David, who serves him a drink. “That’s some mighty fine kielbasa.”

“What happened to your pants?” Alaric says, noting for the first time just how wet the little gnome is. David takes them off, wrings them out in a corner, and reveals a huge hairy bush. Everyone else tries not to notice.

From above, Silver notices that where a few beams had collapsed, they tore up a rug that was disguising a trap door in the floor. Being very polite, she knocks on it.

“Hello? Boccob be with you, whoever’s down there.”

“It’s the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Can’t hide from them anywhere. Probably got some watch tower or something,” Slade whispers.

“It’s me, Silver! Can you guys let me in?”

“Boy, I sure am enjoying this recliner. I would hate for somebody to intrude on this,” Slade says, stretching his arms behind his back lazily.

Rhaine, concerned over the wyvern keeping watch, panics when she realizes Silver can’t get in and demands the party to open the door for the priest.

“We’re having a pants-off party, so everybody has to take their pants off. Look at David, he’s pantsless,” the halfling notes. As Silver wriggles down into the hole, he notes, “You smell like old wrinkly priest balls.”

“That’s part of the magic.” Then, glancing over at David, she remarks, “Geez, David. Do some manscaping.”

There’s one vacant Lazy Boy down in the hole with Silver’s name on it, so she makes her way in. It’s warm and comfortable down here. The party takes this moment to relearn their spells and heal up. Silver delivers another rousing speech to inspire David.

“Caldarraksondorlak, you don’t even know what great wisdom and power Boccob has blessed us all with. If you reach down deep, you’ll be able to see how blessed you really are. Boccob bless us, everyone.”

David puts his pants on, and Alaric throws open the door to their safe little hidey hole as Rhaine casts her endure cold spell on everyone. Outside, the party notices that daylight is already breaking through the half-wrecked building. Alaric smells cold and snow and stinky gnome pants. He helps the rest of his party members out of the hole. Looking around, he sees no tracks. The wind has drifted the snow around, disguising any would-be attackers. They decide they need a plan to disguise their own tracks in case anyone is trying to follow them.

Silver hands Alaric a rope and he fastens it to his waist and to his shield on the other end. David sits on the shield as the ranger pulls it fearlessly through the snow. Everyone else walks in front of them so the ranger and gnome can clear the tracks behind them.

Aeryn leads the way to a central road that reaches toward the north of town. Everything seems quiet; a little too quiet. There are no lights coming from any of the windows around them, and all they can hear is the sound of the wind through the trees.

Every so often, Alaric can detect tracks from a number of giant parties that have been roaming the streets at night. Where those giants are now remains to be seen.

The road leads up into the foothills of the mountains north of Castle Dragonsbane. The party heads north toward the next town. The road is covered in frost and snow and is very, very cold. The party makes its way forward, traveling very slowly.

At midday, they come on a fork in the road. There is a fancy signpost there to the left that is written in common tongue. It says Stepside and Bowlville are to the left and Gateway is to the right. The party agrees to follow the path toward Gateway, but just as they are deciding, the sign wiggles a bit. They then hear a feminine giggle. The sign turns 90 degrees to form a complete switcheroo.

David notices the little creature moving through the snow beneath him and follows after it with his swift gnome legs running in a half-sprint. Silver, however, is the only one fast enough to catch it. She swipes her hand down through the snow and it encloses something firm and struggling. She pulls out a little blue pixie girl with white hair and whitish blue skin.

“Put me down! Put me down!” the creature shouts, struggling.

“I’m not gonna put you down until you tell me what you’re up to.”

“I’m just having fun. I like to see people go the wrong way.”

“You’re mean.”

“I’m not mean. It’s boring up here.”

The pixie talks about giants in a nearby cave and Silver asks her which direction that’s in. The pixie says to follow the sign.

“i just saw you change the sign. I’m not an idiot! You’re being cruel, trying to lead travelers to their deaths.”

A pop occurs and the sign now has an arrow that says “Giant Caves” carved in it.

The rest of the party catches up with them. David crushes the will of the pixie under his own and tells her to be cooperative. She points her hand at the sign and wiggles it. The Giant Caves arrow moves another 40 degrees.

“I was trying to turn you around so you thought Gateway was where Bowlville was. It’s very boring up here.”

The pixie says there are several frost giant tribes up in the mountains here. She also says she lives in a pixie colony in the mountains.

“How would you like to play a trick on the giants?” Silver asks.

“Oh, I’d love that! Sometimes I pull their pants down or roll a rock down the hill and hit them!”

“That could be handy.”

“You could turn one of them into a sexy woman giant to distract the other giants,” Slade offers.

“What’s your name?” Alaric asks the tiny pixie.

“My name is Xipta.”

“If you clipped her wings, she’d have to ride on your shoulder forever,” Slade whispers to Alaric. “Just sayin’.”

Rhaine takes the little pixie in her hand and offers her a nice comfy jar to sit in, which she does.

“Where are we going?” Xipta asks, making herself comfortable in her brand new little habitat.

“To mess with some frost giants!” Alaric declares.

Xipta, a snow pixie, teaches Rhaine the pixie language while they’re walking. The trail ahead is rough, but a path winds up into the mountains. The adventurers stop to eat in a cozy little spot. They have an extremely wonderful and extravagant meal (for being on the road) and then are ready to move on with full bellies.

The party decides to go to Gateway instead of the troll cave; it could take until nightfall to get there, according to their rough calculations.

An hour passes and Xipta complains that they aren’t going toward the giants. Silver says they’re getting information at town first, giving her more time to think about her prank. Xipta stews.

Suddenly a boulder comes flying out of nowhere at Aeryn, just narrowly missing her. Alaric puts David in cover and grabs his shield. Everyone else runs for cover as another rock comes careening toward them. Rhaine asks Xipta to investigate who is hurling rocks at them. She flies off and is invisible beyond 30 feet. Silence ensues. No rocks are thrown. No sound is heard.

Slade eats a handful of snow to stay hydrated.

The party, hugging the side of the mountain, notices that before them stretch grades of rock that are getting steeper and steeper. Alaric throws his dagger in front of him and it tings off another boulder in front of them, echoing through the valley.

“Come,” Alaric says to the knife. It flies back. Silence continues.

“Fags!” Slade taunts.

Slade and Alaric go to investigate a noise in the distance. It is a frost giant sneaking around looking for rocks and boulders to throw at them. Slade tunnels through the snow and goes off to keep an eye on the dim-looking fellow. Alaric pops out beside the giant, causing it to hurl a rock at him. A buolder comes whizzing past his head and narrowly misses him.

“Fag!” he too yells.

Alaric fires an arrow at the giant. It howls in pain and its arms dive into the snow, desperately grasping for another rock. Silver blesses the party while Aeryn employes a distraction tactic by flashing the giant—in vain.

The party prepares for battle. Silver prays, “Boccob, please bestow on me the fine knowledge that I may produce flame and destroy this despicable frost giant, who is without a god, unlike me. Yay God.”

The giant hurls a boulder at Aeryn and it hits her square in the chest, sending her toppling backward. He strides toward the party quickly but Alaric intercepts him by moving to the front of the line. Aeryn gets up and runs like hell back toward her companions. David moves to the side and casts spectral hands while Silver heals her wounded friend.

The giant groans and rocks begin to dislodge from the walls of the mountain as more giants approach. Alaric nocks an arrow to his bow and attempts to shoot the one giant in view, but he misses. Aeryn yells and waves to distract the creature. It works, and the giant runs at a full sprint toward her, removing a battle ax from its back.

Silver feels strength and light from the power of Boccob flowing through her. She feels his utter love and all of her spells evacuate from her mind and all that remains is fire.

“I feel so hot and bothered. I feel as though I’m going to step out from the boulder and throw a ball of flame at him.”

As the power leaves her, it is so much more than she can understand. Flames leave her fingertips, creating a wall of vapor around the giant. A howl of terror escapes his lips. Then all that is left is a completely charred and gnarled looking giant with one eye sealed shut. He scrambles to stand up and flee up the mountain.

Alaric readies an arrow before stepping out into view, firing away at his target. The arrow hits its mark but does not kill. Silver sends more flames at the creature and he goes down on the ground. David hits the giant with burning hands and it doesn’t move. Aeryn cuts the giant’s head off with two mighty sweeps of her sword, spraying blood everywhere. Slade cuts off two basketball-sized giant balls and adds them to his collection.

Out of nowhere, a snowball hits Rhaine in the face (thrown covertly by Aeryn). Everyone ducks.

“Who threw that?” Rhaine says to Xipta. “Was that you?”

Just then, four more giants appear at the top of the hill. The party runs and hides like a bunch of pansies.

Alaric scoops up David and, as he is doing this, a snowball hits him out of nowhere (once again thrown covertly by Aeryn).

The party sets out at a not quite but almost grueling pace toward Gateway, hustlin’, hustlin’, hustlin’… every day they’re hustlin’. And the party dances.

Before long, the skyline of buildings appears. They approach a very solid southern wall where the gate is wide open and snow drifts are stacked up above the very thick doors. Alaric decides to make a false trail, one that loops in a circle. Then they enter.

Gateway is not even a city; it is an outpost. Large walls with spiked tips surround the outer ramparts. Inside there are little more than a dozen buildings. Nothing is more than two stories tall, but there are platforms surrounding the buildings that can be used as watchtowers.

Slade knocks on the first door on his right. When there is no answer, he kicks it in. A musty smell wafts out. This was once a multi-family home. He is in the living quarters now. The party follows him as he goes to the next house and the next. The priest, druid, and mage go into one of the sturdier-looking buildings that is made of wood and fortified with masonry in order to relearn their spells. The building is one large room with support beams running throughout it. It resembles a barracks with spartan beds against bare walls and papers strewn across tables. Four wardrobes line the walls and three big maps decorate the interior. One is marked with cave emblems on it and labeled “Giants,” another map shows Castle Dragonsbane, and still another shows good fishing and hunting spells.

All the party members have entered the building by now. Alaric goes immediately to check out the lookouts on the top of the buildings. He settles on one with the best view, facing southward. Rhaine joins him.

“Hey, Rhaine?”

“What’s up?”

“I think we need some protection.”

When Silver sits down to pray, she gets a message from Boccob that she needs to rest. He takes her magic away. She has been instructed by her god to rest before she can use magic again. She cries.

Rhaine catches movement in the distance from far off. It is nearing sundown. Rhaine warns the party.

“Ermahgerd! Frest gerants!”

In one wardrobe inside the building, Slade finds a false bottom. He knocks on it to gauge resonance; it is hollow. Slade uses one of his ant mandibles to pry up the boards. They are cold and brittle and they loosen up at his touch quite nicely. The boards descend into inky blackness. The wall is a masoned stone that goes down on both sides. There is a makeshift ladder that goes down. Aeryn goes to see what Slade is up to.

“Hey, Aeryn, if you’re gonna follow me, be sure to close the doors so they get raped and murdered and we can get away.” And then, being serious, he asks, “What do you think we should do?”

“I think we should check out this cabinet.”

Silver, back in the main room, is embroiled in a wonderful dream of running through a beautiful field of goldenrods and being cradled in Boccob’s loving embrace.

Meanwhile, the movement down the road is definitely a throng of frost giants, as far as Alaric and Rhaine can see. Alaric tells David there are three giants coming and David informs him there’s a secret passageway that he saw Slade and Aeryn disappear into.

Just then, Alaric notices something tunneling through the snow beneath the ramparts of the city. A crazy mammal thing that somewhat resembles a badger but has a greyish pelt and very large teeth and claws jumps out of the snow. It appears to be some kind of northern wolverine. Rhaine stabs it with a spear a few times, making it very pissed off. David sends a lightning bolt at the creature and eviscerates it. The three of them then leave their post, returning to the inside of the house.

“Someone wake Silver,” Alaric says, as David touches her shoulder.

“What?” she asks groggily, jerking awake.

“Where are Silver and Aeryn?” Alaric asks.

“They’re in the wardrobe,” David tells him.

“What are they doing in there? There’s no time for that!” Alaric says with disgust.

Alaric opens the cabinet and sees Aeryn’s winged helmet from behind. They all go into the hole and Rhaine seals the wardrobe doors behind them. The only light they have to guide them is the one currently balancing on Slade’s head. They follow the ladder three stories downward until they hit the floor. There is an eight-foot ceiling in the bottom room and a door on the opposite side of the ladder. Slade picks the lock and opens the door to an entry foyer with three rudimentary paintings in handcrafted frames, a bench, a small hutch in a corner, and a door to the left. Slade uses ash from the torch to give the family members in all of the pictures mustaches.

Inside the hutch they find a stack of 28 sheets of parchment and a quilling kit. Slade picks the lock of the other door and opens it to reveal another room with a writing desk in the middle of it. The stool that accompanied it has been tipped on to its side. On the desk is a list of names and all but two have been crossed off—Willy Aames and Madeline Jacobs. Slade takes the list of names before unlocking yet another door in the room. As he opens the door, all of a sudden there is light.

This new room is a large room and the light is coming from four freestanding giant candles. There is another door on the east wall. In the middle of the ground is a holy symbol that is not recognized by anyone. In the corner there is a pile of cushions and a man in a robe sitting in a half-lotus position on the cushions. He has his eyes closed as though in deep meditation. As the whole party shuffles into the room, he opens his eyes and closes them again, effectively ignoring them.

“Who are you?” Alaric queries.

“Hello?” Silver adds.

“What she said.”

“You all make a lot of noise. This is my place, so I get to ask the questions. Who are you?” the man asks.

“Giant slayers. I have a ball to prove it,” Slade says, proudly displaying a single giant testicle. David tells the man to show respect to the Queen of Damara. The man invites them in and offers them his hospitality. He says his name is Winstead. He says most of the others (the people from Gateway) have fled into the tunnels, hoping to come out in Stepside. He also says he worships Lethander.

“Oh, Lethander. God of pussies,” Slade says, flipping through an imaginary book.

Winstead tells them the giant are working for the dragon which has lived up int he mountains for hundred of years. It has come out of its slumber recently. He also says if they have the dragon’s name, they can control it. He asks the party if they are here to stop it because obviously they are on royal business. The party says they are. Winstead says every so many years the dragon wakes and wreaks havoc, but that years ago some adventurers defeated it with some kind of artifact. The artifact is what he has been studying down here in his home. He alone stayed behind while the people from Gateway escaped.

“If he repeats history, he always tries to retake that which has been taken from him. The citadel,” Winstead says. He also says the last two people on the list that Slade grabbed stayed behind to help usher everyone out of the city—Willie and Madeline, both unaccounted for now.

“You’re going to need that artifact if you’re going to defeat that dragon,” Winstead informs them. “The artifact has been known to come in one of three forms: in the statue of a bear, in a dinner plate, or in a circlet. It transmutes itself between these things.”

“It’s probably a commemorative plate of a bear wearing a circlet,” Slade posits.

Winstead says the artifact’s last known location was in the hands of the adventurers three or four generations ago. David offers for Winstead to join their party and Aeryn loves this idea, saying it would be a great honor to her majesty. However, Winstead says he cannot abandon his post. Or maybe he just heard what happened to Mia Fanghunter when she traveled with this party as an NPC.

“Why don’t you leave a note?” Alaric suggests.

“Leave a note?! One does not simply leave a note!” Winstead says, sounding indignant at the suggestion. He reiterates that he cannot leave. Instead, he sketches a map to the north, where the natives are. In the tunnels, he says there is a silver mine that goes to the north. He sketches very crudely on the sheet of parchment he was given by David. He marks an area on the way to Stepside where there are weaknesses in the mine shaft. They have to be careful. He also tells them to take a right at the first major fork. Whent hey get down to the end of the shaft it will branch off into three different directions. They need to go right up the middle of the shaft and then it will lead them outside, to the northeastern side of one of the great peaks, then to a plain where they can find the natives. He also warns them to beware of the bears. He warns them that the other shafts are closed because they are dangerous and contain creatures.

“What are those pillows made of?” Slade asks.

“Mine. They’re made of mine. They’re all mine,” Winstead croaks.

Winstead tells them to ask the natives for the artifact because they might still have it. The park asks to spend the night here and he agrees but asks that they be quiet so he can continue meditating. Slade rolls over while sleeping and pisses into one of the pillows. Silver meditates and relearns her spells, Alaric curls up on the pillows, David cuddles up to one of Alaric’s legs, and everybody else rests up.

Int he morning, Winstead rouses everyone and says, “It is time. You must go. Rise, adventurers. It is time for you to rise up and reclaim that which has been lost!”

Winstead opens the door and it swings outward.

“That way—down that passage! Off with you! Find the relic! Save the kingdom! God save the queen!”

The way is very dark and there are many pebbles around. Rhaine carefully selects ten of them. Every so often, the party members hear echoes through the caverns. In formation, they stop to investigate the situation after a particularly loud sound is heard. The sounds cease. They go a little ways further and the sounds start up again. Alaric drags a khopesh against the wall, making a loud clanging noise all down the hallway. All is then silent.

Slade hears what sounds like chittering. It is a vaguely insect-like sound, almost like legs moving. He senses bugs up ahead. Aeryn hears the skittering of legs and sees shiny eyes approaching. What looks like a very large band of crickets appears from seemingly out of nowhere.

Slade greets them with, “Yo, guys! What’s the hustle?”

Their thoughts are quite harried and scattered and consist mainly of “food! meat!”

“There’s a nice succulent priest down there!” Slade tempts them. But the crickets completely ignore him because they are so darn hungry.

“All right, fags, I’m gonna use your cricket legs as bows for a Grand Ole Opry performance!”

The crickets attack the party. Aeryn fumbles, accidentally hurling a cricket over the people behind her and right in front of Silver, the weight of it bowling over David and Slade. Silver strikes it with a flame blade, sending it flying back over the party and into the other crickets, felling several of them. The crickets quickly regroup in their battle lines.

David casts spectral hands and hits a bunch of crickets. They make beautiful music while they fight—a veritable Bach symphony. Clearly no fan of the beautiful music, Slade hits the cricket in front and kills it, putting an end to its harmonic chirruping… forever. Slade kills a second cricket with his sling.

Silver tries to encourage the rest of her compatriots with a rousing speech: “Everybody, imagine that you are feeling the soothing, electrifying touch of Boccob all over your body. Imagine his fingers touching you all over your body. Amen! Hallelujah Boccob!”

Clearly emboldened by Silver’s passionate words, Aeryn kills the next cricket. David pretends like he’s going to do a spell to fake the insects out, so Aeryn dives out of the way and cowers on her knees in order to avoid being hit. The insects are sadly unfazed. In the meantime, Alaric kills the next cricket. David tries to fake out the crickets again and makes fake “alakazam!” and “abracadabra!” noises. However, Aeryn, Alaric, and Rhaine all know he’s full of shit this time.

Silver inspects the walls for mold.

Alaric claves both of the two remaining crickets in half. All seven have now been defeated!

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A Winter's Chill

Back at Castle Dragonsbane, winter has settled upon the city. It has not escaped the notice of Queen Aeryn that many of her subjects are curiously dying from the frost. When Alaric queries her highness as to whether they can bring the animals inside the castle halls, she agrees and sends him on his errand.

“I’ll see that it’s done,” Alaric informs her.

“See that you do, vassal,” she replies with cold hauteur.

“Uppity bitch,” Slade remarks under his breath.

The party has now comfortably settled into a life of luxury in the castle, and all of the party members have duties specific to her majesty. Slade works as her majesty’s liaison to the underworld, Alaric enjoys a position as lead master-at-arms, David works as her magical aide, Rhaine works closely with the ranger part-time, and Silver is still deeply embroiled in her priestly studies.

Despite their newfound duties, the party hungers for a new adventure. Discovering the source of evil seems like a worthy enough cause to draw even the queen from her throne, and the adventurers agree to meet at first light and head out into the snowstorm.

Rhaine leads the circus animals into the great hall to lodge for the night. They are hungry and the weather is uncustomary to them, so they settle down and huddle together for warmth as the Druid goes to fetch them food.

Slade goes to tell David of the new developments. Aeryn has given the gnome his own tower atop the castle where he has filled his days with reading and memorizing spells. The halfling finds him here, deeply immersed in his studies (aka reading a Playboy) with his nose buried in a book.

As he knocks, the gnome calls out, “What is it?”

“Yo man, it’s me. Open up!”

David grumpily unbars the door to allow him entry and is almost immediately sorry he did. The halfling asks him if he could cast a spell on Hyperion, the grub, so people will perceive him as a raccoon and it won’t look as strange around the castle. David grudgingly says he’ll look into it.

“But what’s the real reason for you coming here?”

“This seems like an unnatural winter, so we’re all meeting up downstairs so we can go whoop some ass,” the halfling says. Never one to turn down a good adventure, David slams his books shut, gathers his belongings, and makes his way down the tower with his friend in tow.

As Slade and David come before the queen, she impatiently explains to them what little information she knows about the affected villages—Stepside, Bowlville, and Gateway, which is the gateway to the north where the barbarians reside. Each town is about a day’s ride spread out in equal directions.

The team procures provisions for the immense cold and agrees to meet in the foyer at first light. Aeryn retires to her private tower for the night for some gnome sex, though not before sending Silver a messenger to inform her of their plan. This way, when she finishes learning from the priest, she will know where to find them.

Before going up to the tower, Aeryn’s captain of the guards tells her they need to close down some of the places outside since the storm is coming on strong. The queen agrees that this would be best and the party retires for the night. Slade finds himself cuddling in the east tower, spread-eagled and naked, with Hyperion for warmth. Rhaine dozes with the pandas in a cuddling embrace.

As Aeryn and David are upstairs “studying magic,” an urgent knock sounds against the door. The rather disgruntled queen asks what it is—with some irritation in her voice. The soldier tells her the people are freezing as the cold advances. She instructs him to bring the people inside and set up FEMA-style cots in the throne room. In accordance with her wishes, a small battalion of soldiers ushers a good forty or fifty people inside, and they immediately crowd around the fireplace.

In the stables, the animals begin cuddling together even more to try and stay warm. Slade warms his balls openly in front of the fireplace. He then enters the stables and sees the giant animal cuddle fest, which is really quite cute. He goes and finds Rhaine sleeping soundly next to Alaric, with a huge panda body wedged between them. Poking Rhaine in the shoulder, he whispers, “Psst… wake up!”

“What?” she replies groggily.

“I love you,” he professes.

“What?!”

Now that he has her attention, he asks her to go check out the new arrivals but she doesn’t want to. Instead, he leaves Hyperion with her and goes back to check it out alone while—and I quote—“everyone else gets their fuck on.”

Alaric, who has been sleeping lightly, is awakened by the sound of voices and agrees to accompany Slade back into the hall. They go to where the guards were last bringing people in. The guards didn’t come back after leaving to retrieve more people, so this immediately aroused Slade’s suspicion.

Alaric lights his torch and dons furs. The two throw wide the egress and are blasted in the face with immense cold. There are near blizzard conditions outside—weather Alaric has experienced before during his childhood.

Slade suggests they only move forward about 300 yards to check for the missing guards and then they will go inside because it is so cold. Slade lights two torches while Alaric holds him face-high so he can actually see through the blustery madness, and they walk in formation just like this, approximately 300 yards ahead.

No sooner do they do this than Alaric starts shivering uncontrollably. His feet turn numb.

“We’re gonna have to go back. I underestimated the cold,” he says through gritted teeth.

“Fine, pussy.”

The ranger drops the halfling and starts marching back with a long, purposeful stride. As Rhaine’s spell wears off, Slade gets super cold and gains respect for the ranger’s abilities to weather the elements.

Back in the queen’s private chambers, warm magical moments pass and Aeryn and David enjoy love’s afterglow. It is then she realizes the captain hasn’t come back, so she dresses quickly, goes downstairs, and sees refugees huddling in the throne room. Even while wearing full clothes, she finds herself shivering. It is far too cold in the castle.

Alaric and Slade return as though right on cue. Aeryn throws together some soup from the kitchen and lades it (forcibly?) into some of the refugees’ mouths. They smile and accept her charity with polite thanks, although her bedside manner leaves much to be desired.

David by now has come down from the tower (dressed, thankfully) and he suddenly remembers reading about a freeze in the past in one of his books upstairs. He immediately returns to the tower.

Meanwhile, everyone is marveling at the fact Queen Aeryn brewed up a hell of a soup. The soup makes nearly everyone feel better.

“Boccob bless you,” many of the citizens tell her.

“Where the hell were you?” Aeryn says, noticing Alaric and Slade at last. “It’s cold as a witch’s tit out there!”

“Thanks for making us some soup!” Slade chortles.

“This is not for you,” Alaric says, elbowing him.

Back in the stables, Rhaine wakes and the pandas, Milky and Fluffy, sense her curiosity at what’s going on.

In the hall, Slade and Alaric report to Aeryn about what happened outside.

“What happened? Where are they?” she queries.

“Taken by the cold,” Alaric drawls.

People try to ask the queen what is going on, but she can’t answer so she gives them more soup instead.

Upstairs, David finds a tome called The Planting Seasons of The Spine and immediately thumbs through it, landing upon chapter six, which is titled “The Oddities of Past Seasons.” This chapter speaks of a well-noted two-year span where all residents of the city had to flee to south of the spine because of a peculiar weather pattern. It also spins tales of heroes who adventured north and found an evil at the source of it, an old relic believed to be at the heart of it. It all seems very folktale-ish, but David notices that the return of the people to the north’s date coincides with the takeover of the Frostmantles. When they slayed them, the cold winters never returned.

David goes downstairs to the throne room, drinks some of the soup, and gathers everyone (including Rhaine) around to talk to them. He is jumping up and down so excitedly that somebody gives him a box to stand on. He tells them he found a book and seasons ago it was similarly cold and that the Frostmantles made the winters go away when they took power. He suggests they travel north, as the heroes of old did.

“I don’t know how we’re going to make it when we nearly froze a few paces outside of the castle,” Alaric says with disdain.

An old man who has overheard their conversation places a wizened hand on David’s shoulder and says, “I remember the cold. It wasn’t until brave adventurers like you fought the deathly evil in the north that it retreated. When the storm passes, it will still be freezing but barely passable.”

David thanks the man and sends him on the way.

“I think we should wait out the storm,” Alaric advises.

“I dont’ have any advice, but how did the Frostmantles keep the cold at bay? The adventurers never came back,” Rhaine adds.

David tells them about the relic mentioned in the tome.

The party then decides to talk to Tyron Thraxus, the friendly dragon from downstairs. Aeryn distracts the people with her dancing skills while Slade and David slip down into the passageway undetected. Everyone is suitably enthralled by the dancing abilities of their beautiful queen. Alaric also takes the moment to distract them with the tale of David the Gnome and His Wild Adventures.

“Well, there was a band of dwarves called Hoggle, Snoggle, Derek, and Hogan…” his voice booms as several villagers gather around, entranced by his words.

Meanwhile, the cave beneath the castle is dreadfully cold as Slade and David move downward through it. As they grow closer to the dragon, however, the air in the cave grows more humid. They find Tyron there, looking very peaceful and happy in his slumber that he so loves. His tail twitches and slaps Slade against the wall and then is still as the halfling wakes him up.

“Well, I guess if this dragon is asleep we’ll have to take all the gold here,” Slade announces to David.

Thraxus wakes up and is livid at the mere mention of their possible theft. David quickly launches into an explanation of what is happening in the castle—and the lands—above him, and Thraxus grumpily responds that he could “give two shits about it.”

When the gnome sees that they aren’t going to get anywhere with the testy dragon, he says, “Actually, Slade let’s go and tell everybody to come down here while it’s warm.”

“Wait a minute!”

Now that they have his attention, Slade asks him about his ancient dragon wisdom and whether or not he knows anything of the relic the adventurers sought to defeat the evil. Thraxus replies that he doesn’t remember a relic but that a lot of places up north which are cold are controlled by creatures like him. He says northern dragons are white dragons—or “whiteys”—that travel in clans. He then says his memory is getting foggy and he needs gold. If they give him one hundred gold, he promises to come find them and tell them. So, like any adventurers would do, they get an IOU.

Thraxus tells them the white dragons left when the Frostmantles took power; he hasn’t felt their magic since the day Aeryn raised the flag. There was once magic there and now it is gone.

“Do you want to come adventuring with us?” David proposes.

“Fuck no!” the dragon growls.

They leave him alone and he barks, “go on with ya’s.”

Back in the throne room, the dancing has ended and Alaric’s story concludes with vigor. Everyone is waiting and some of the people have fallen back asleep. Alaric’s breath is condensing in front of him; it is colder than before.

It is midnight when Slade and David emerge into the hallway. Aeryn asks for a full report and David tells her the white dragons were the source of the cold. Everything seems to be telling them to go to the north and set all things aright, so they resolve to do just that.

A creaking sound comes from the entryway as the door cracks open and cold air pours through into the hallway.

The stable is occupied by two pandas, tree giraffes, three tigers, six horses, and two sea otters, all of whom are huddling together for warmth. Rhaine wants to move all of them inside with the people, but as she opens the pen she notices all of the animals aren’t standing. Some of them aren’t even moving because it is so cold. Even Rhaine’s skin is aching. There is no death here yet, but the situation is not looking good.

Alaric returns just in time to help the Druid by coaxing the animals into the throne room with the frightened people. Alaric curiously asks David to shrink Aeryn’s throne. David unleashes his burning hands spell above the peasants to freak them out royally and also herd them away from the throne. He then employs the use of his reverse enlarge spell on the throne, and it shrinks to the size of dollhouse furniture.

The party ushers people down the passage with the promise of more soup. They say there is gold down there too.

“Take as much as you want,” Slade encourages them.

They get everything but the horses in the passageway when Slade prays, “Dear Othok, people rain down chaos upon the situation. Thank you, Slade.”

As though in answer to his prayer, the main doors of the castle fall off and a cold wind comes seeping through, making everyone shiver. The staff flees to their quarters. Slade, meanwhile, wraps Hyperion up in a bearskin rug and puts him in his pack.

Alaric, minding his manners, stops the very next peasant in the line, announcing, “Make way for the queen.”

Aeryn moves through imperiously before ushering David and Slade in. Alaric, who was holding back the peasant with a big hand in his chest, shoves the man backward and locks the door, barring the peasants, horses, and giraffes out in the cold. Their screams can be heard as Alaric’s mighty arms hold the doors at bay.

The party continues onward, undeterred.

As the animalsl get depper down into the passage, they sniff the air and Rhaine can sense their terror. Rhaine lights the tunnel with a burning flame in her hand. Slade manages to sneak past Alaric to open the door where he shut out the twenty other people. As Slade slides the door open, Alaric readies himself to throw a knife over the halfling’s head and into the chest of the very first person he sees—but he is surprised when all that greets him is the sight of a bunch of dead bodies. They slump over and stack up on Slade. Alaric manages to roll them off the halfling. Working together, they are able to clear the bodies and close the door.

Aeryn comforts some of the other people while David does his best to make mischief by telling a few of the peasants there is gold in the other room. Two of them slink past down the hallway. Those same two peasants come running back moments later, pissing themselves as Thraxus raises himself up to his full and imposing height. Thraxus yells at Slade for bringing everybody down here and orders them to leave him alone and go back upstairs. Alaric says the cold overtook the castle and that is why they had to come down here. As Queen Aeryn makes her presence known, the dragon warns them to keep out. He roars and comes to his full height.

“That’s it!”

From his mouth comes a rolling gas that hits everybody. It stinks and tingles their skin. Everyone except the animals, Alaric, and Rhaine are pushed back into the tunnel by the huge blast from the dragon’s mouth. Thraxus stomps his feet and stares at Rhaine and Alaric. He then decides to cut a deal with them. He says they have to leave the animals there because he’s worried they won’t survive upstairs and he wants the animals to live.

Alaric summons Bedlam to him in order to get a read on Thraxus. The dog approves, and thus, so does his master. Rhaine coaxes over her pandas and they converse with the dragon in Pandaese. She manages to get all the other animals in there and they all law down on the gold as the dragon invites them in to his humble abode.

Alaric and Rhaine return to their repelled companions and tell them the dragon will allow them passage to the other side of the tunnel if they leave the animals with him, to which everyone agrees. Rhaine then returns to the door and opens it. A cool blast of air hits her square in the face, but she is otherwise okay because she had cast an endure cold spell. She casts the spell on all of the party members and they proceed up the spiral staircase and into the castle, stepping over the dead corpses of people and animals. The entire room is frozen solid; a snow drift of about six to seven feet high reaches up to the door.

Alaric hoists David up onto his shoulders piggyback-style as the party ventures out into the quiet, still town. A howl sounds in the distance. More howls follow form the north and the east. A blue light glows down the street, casting shadows on the wall of a nearby building. They approach the light and see three big male blue-skinned figures move down an alleyway without noticing them.

Wolves approach and the party backs up. The wolves come rushing by to follow the large creatures. Two winter wolves stop and start sniffing around, detecting the faint trace of the party. They begin barking for their comrades to join them, which they do. The arctic wolves converge on the party and Rhaine quickly blesses everyone as they move into attack formation.

Aeryn, who is unfortunately allergic to arctic wolves, let out a huge, body-wracking sneeze as she goes to attack, fumbling with her blade. Slade accidentally hits her with a sling bullet across the cheek.

“My beautiful face!” Alaric mocks in her voice. Slade accidentally tangles his sling around his leg and falls off the roof. He remains here, suspended in mid-air, hanging by it.

Aeryn manages to throw the attacking wolf off herself. Slade, fumbling again, ends up swinging his sling around his neck Return of the Jedi-style.

The wolf chomps down on Aeryn’s sword and breaks its teeth. Alaric manages to kill the first one with a deadly blow. Aeryn cuts the other one deep and then lops its head clean off in a show of might. Slade kills a third wolf. Alaric dispatches with the very last one.

The party then hears the sound of thudding footsteps. Slade immediately flees to the roof of a nearby building while Aeryn, David, Rhaine, and Alaric enter the freshly ripped open wall of the building and hide. They all run up the stairs to the second floor of the house as a blue glow appears, illuminating the streets. Intuition takes over and tells the party members to move quietly through the house. They pass by the dead bodies of a four-person family, a gruesome sight. At the top of the stairs, they duck and hide (though there was really no need, since they were fortunately not by any windows).

As the creatures round the corner, Slade finds himself only slightly above eye level from them as he lays on the rooftop. The three giants come into focus. One of them bends down, picks up a wolf in its hand, pets the vicious beast as though it was a soft kitten, puts it down, and lets out a yell.

The three lumbering creatures glance down the road, converse briefly in giant, and then walk away. The party notices the blue light floating away after them.

Rhaine skins one of the wolves and takes a pelt for herself. The party then makes its way down to the blacksmith’s. It is locked, but Slade manages to pick the lock. Piece of cake!

The shop is empty inside and eerily quiet. Aeryn scavenges for a helmet on one of the shelves and procures one with two wings sweeping outward on either side. Rhaine recasts the spell to make them invinceable to cold again, and everyone rests and regroups.

Suddenly, they hear a thump-thump sound and notice that, foolishly, nobody put their two torches out, so it has attracted a giant’s attention! The party uncovers a hole in the floor and throws their torches down to behold racks upon racks of items and artifacts in a small, dug out chamber below.

Alaric, ever the brave soul, elects to go down first, quickly followed by all his party members, save for the wizard. And just in the nick of time. A giant fist flies all but eviscerates the store window and comes inches away from David’s face, making the entire building around them collapse. David decides to jump just as this is happening. He falls in slow mo, and when Alaric catches him, the ranger notices the gnome is a little wet on the underside. Awwwww!

The party has a very safe hidey hole down here in this pit. The room is a treasure cellar/wine cellar/man cave. No weapons are down here—only things of greed, avarice, and relaxation. The party decides to camp out here because it is warm and there are recliners. Rhaine’s wyvern faithfully watches over them at the entrance while they sleep.

View
Precious Little Snowflakes

The winter frost creeps in, and the mountains cease to stir. Castle Dragonsbane follows suit as the workers and citizens huddle indoors for warmth and ale.

This year the snows came early, and without warning, making the pass to the south insurmountable by normal means. In fact, all roads are now closed after just the first two storms that raged back to back. But that was only the beginning…

The older folk in the town began speaking of an ancient evil in hushed tones, insisting that this winter was full of death like no other. These tales of dread were commonly scoffed at and ignored with a shiver and snuggle into the warmth of one’s coat—until ill-fated word reached the Citadel on a gray frigid morning.

The messenger was rushed into the throne room quickly by two concerned guards and a healer, working magic on the boy as he hurried in to soothe the frost bite and blackened skin covering his frail body. The guards helped him to the foot of the throne, where he dropped to his knee before Queen Dragonsbane. “What is your name? Speak to me of your news,” she commanded her subject.

He looked weakly up to her, with cold, surrendering eyes. “They’re dead. All of them,” he said without emotion.

This perturbed her highness, as food rations in the kingdom were low and she had hoped his news would be that of healthy herds, merely stuck in the drifts. “Not even a single cow or lamb?” she responded with doubt and impatience.

“My lady… " he paused. “I speak not of the animals, though they have fallen from the freeze to the very last. It’s your people, your highness.” He looked her straight in the eyes with horror reflecting from his memory. “Frozen… all of them. Three villages I rode through. They couldn’t survive this cold!” He became more frantic, with a lost look in his eyes. “It’s not natural, my Lady! You’ve never known cold and ice like this, not in your life! NOT EVER!” At this the guards subdued him and swept from the chambers, leaving the young Queen staring forward in a mild shock.

Alaric strode in past the exiting guards, annoyed at the commotion. Walking to Aeryn, he announced, “There’s another storm coming. Rhaine would like to bring in the animals again, if you’ll allow it.” After a pause, “Aeryn? Are you listening to me?”

Aeryn’s gaze had crossed the room to the magnificent windows that lined the throne room high above the floor. Snowflakes had begun to fall.

View
Raising the Flag

Back in the chapel, Aeryn and Rhaine give the dead vampire a much-needed pantsing. Slade then decides to cut off his balls to add to the growing collection of creature testicles, pincers, fangs, and venom sacs that he delights in carrying around. Slade makes a diaper for Hyperion and tosses the Shilling of Delicate Bowels in there with it so he won’t have to concern himself with shitting his pants again at an inopportune time.

Alaric still feels the curse of the undead on his soul. He has unholy wounds of a cursed nature that are beyond Silver’s ability to heal. As they search for an answer to his conundrum, the party rests and regroups.

Morning breaks and the birds begin chirping to signal them another day has come. Alaric drags the pantsless, headless body of the vampire—along with its head—outside into the sunlight. The flesh begins to sizzle and melt away, evaporating into a stinky gas.

Silver takes the vampire’s remaining humerus bone (though he probably wouldn’t find it funny) and stuffs it in a pack to later craft a beautiful flute out of it. Aeryn, meanwhile, searches the vampire’s personal effects for the deed to the graveyard. Upon finding it, she examines it—sure enough, it bears the signatures of Lord and Lady Frostmantle (so the dirty fucking vampire wasn’t lying!)—and stuffs it in her belt. She feels angry that her lands were given away so freely, but she is happy she is in possession of the deed now.

While Alaric inspects for vampire tracks, Silver pets Milky and Fluffy—Rhaine’s two supercute pandas—and Slade goes to inspect the tree in the courtyard. It is old and beautiful. A blue jay lands on a branch and sings him a soothing song. Slade pulverizes the blue jay with a bullet from his sling, causing the bird to basically explode in a pool of blood. Silver, noticing the blue jay feathers on the ground, picks them up and slips them into her hair.

Approximately one-quarter mile to the south, the party notices the Frostmantle castle. David is puzzled; he knows there is no way the party traveled in a northerly direction because they traveled a short while and are all the way on the other side instead of at the castle, which is where they were headed.

Rhaine wisely decides to consult with her pandas about this apparent oddity. She gets from them that they ran far and fast to get there. And not much else…

“Boccob has led us astray,” Slade jokes.

“Boccob led us to this victory!” Silver counters.

Just as they are in the middle of arguing, Alaric’s keen ranger senses detect steps coming from the north. A familiar man—the priest who bartered with them for Alaric’s life—comes walking toward them. Alaric stands up and says “Priest!” as the man scans the graveyard.

The priest shushes him, pats his hand out, closes his eyes, and says, “You have all done a great service here. You’ve eradicated great evil from this grave.”

“Is that what that was?” Alaric asks.

David hugs the priest.

“Praise Boccob!” Silver cries out with glee.

“That vampire scratched me like a bitch!” Alaric says.

“It was a vampire, then? I suspected as much all along,” the priest replies.

“Why are you here?”

“I felt a shift…”

“Is there more darkness here?” Rhaine queries cautiously, not wanting to drop her guard in a potentially precarious place.

“Not in this graveyard. This place is clean.”

“Priest, do you know how we’ve gotten here? We went under the castle twelve parsecs away and came up here,” David claims.

The priest says it makes sense the royal family would have a way to get here without being attacked by outside forces. The party realizes they have to go back through the catacombs to get to where they need to be, but not before they’re finished speaking with the priest.

“May I ask you a favor?” Alaric questions him.

“You’ve already taken a favor from me.”

“I killed a vampire.”

“Well, that does even the scoreboard a bit.”

Alaric asks the priest to heal his curse because he was attacked by the darkness (Wink wink! Nudge nudge!).

“You are cursed. It should have gone away when you killed the vampire. I’m sure with the powers of my deity, we can defeat it. It will take mighty praying and magic back at my place of worship,” the man informs him.

“The only thing I have to give is myself. I’m not going to do it.”

“A sacrifice of oneself to a god is the greatest sacrifice one can give.”

The priest then reminds him they have two days until his life expires. Aeryn intercedes and says she’ll give the deed to the cemetery and church to him for his church. He says this could be a great place for people to worship once the Frostmantles have been cleared out. The man agrees to the exchange, offering his services in exchange for removing the curse from Alaric.

“We must do it in a place of worship.”

They all return to the chapel and approach the altar. The priest says, “This is now a place of worship for my god. Kneel.” Alaric does as commanded and the priest starts murmuring. “Close your eyes. The light of God is about to shine and you must not be blinded!”

With great heat and energy, Alaric’s face burns and sears painfully and he collapses, clutching his face. All at once, the pain is gone and Alaric is left unconscious, curled up in a fetal position.

“Your friends need you now,” the priest says to the ranger. Alaric slowly comes to in the arms of a panda. He now bears a great scar across his visage. It is blackened flesh from the vampire, but Alaric wears it proudly, as a badge of honor. The ranger feels as though his potential has returned.

“The curse is gone, but the scar will remain forever and the curse will continue to touch you in ways you may not know. You have two day to dethrone the Frostmantle control.”

Rhaine asks the priest to watch over her two pandas while they go through the dangerous catacombs.

“I’m not really good with pandas.”

“They’re helper pandas. You could tie a little harness on them and get them to clean up the church,” she explains.

He agrees and says, “Watching pandas is its own reward.”

The party then departs to the catacombs once again. As David is climbing down the rungs of the ladder, he free falls down and into Rhaine’s arms. Upon landing in her safe embrace, he passes a little gas from the surprise, and Rhaine is happy to learn the gnome farts glitter, which she is now covered in from head to toe.

“Smells like someone took a steaming pile of Othok in here,” Silver says, taking a dig at Slade’s god because of his earlier slight on Boccob. They bicker about their respective gods as the party comes to a closed door where the troll was trapped behind when last they checked. All is quiet and smelly. Silver opens the door.

“Okay, everybody get ready in case there’s shizzle out there!”

As the door cracks open, they see nothing in their immediate vicinity. The party walks to the right and down a ways into an unexplored stretch of hall. The smell is beastly. It smells of animals and dung.

Creeping around a corner, Rhaine hears breathing and sees two sleeping trolls in the room with a half-eaten corpse of one of the other trolls on the ground. Slade puts a fire opal under the closer one’s foot and scurries quickly away. Rhaine casts wyvern watch so if they step in it, it will paralyze them. David casts lightning bolt on the trolls. The other party members huddle behind their shields like a phalanx.

A bolt flashes off the walls, ripping cleanly through the trolls. They stand to their feet, howling with rage. One of them steps on the fire opal and it almost kills him. Both of the trolls are now completely shocked, pissed off, and confused. They have been knocked down on the ground, making for an easy kill for Aeryn, who impales one with the Sword of Dragonsbane. Alaric and Aeryn cut off both of the trolls’ arms and legs. Slade pinches off the bottoms of the trolls’ stomach sacs and pours them into an empty jar. Aeryn, Silver, and even Slade himself throw up at the sight of so much blood.

The party then proceeds to light the trolls on fire before turning about and traveling back through the catacombs. They return to the barred door, and David is able to shrink some of the middle bars, allowing for them to creep through quite easily.

The hallway opens up into a room with a carpet. Along the eastern wall is a large treasure chest. As Slade approaches the chest to inspect it for traps, it opens its mouth and tries to attack. Unfortunately for him, the large mimic’s skin is impervious to sling bullets. Thinking quickly, Rhaine drapes a piece of fabric over it so it is less bitey; the only bite it boasts now is a velvety bite. As the party begins ganging up on the mimic, one of its teeth rips the velvet. Aeryn draws its attention away from her friends by hopping around and yelling “torro, torro!” at it.

Silver ignites the velvet with her flame sword. The velvet lights up like a dead Christmas tree and the mimic shrieks. It lunges toward Aeryn but isn’t able to hit her because it’s on fire.

“Your mother imitated bad furniture!” she screams, managing a lame-ass taunt.

“I thought that wood looked cheap!” Alaric joins in.

“Your father was a Chippendale!” Slade adds.

“You’re cheaper than IKEA!” Aeryn hurls an additional insult at it, as if being set aflame while encased in velvet isn’t shameful enough.

David tells Alaric the mimic is a goblin, and for a while the ranger unsuccessfully tries to kill it, but the mimic is already in poor form. The mimic dies, and with its death the entire room is set on fire.

David uses spectral hand to goose Aeryn, but she only responds by walking over and slapping him.

Seeing as how they have no other option, the party walks back to where the pit with the spikes is. Rhaine tosses her torch down to the stone floor below. David is soon elected to be the dangler. The party proceeds with their cunning plan of lowering the gnome down into the hole.

“Don’t drop me!” he gasps to Alaric.

David soon finds himself in a room with a door. Slade joins him and both of the men notice the old symbol of the Dragonsbane family has been crossed out on the door. Slade tries to open it, but it is locked. The rest of the party joins them in the pit, and Slade takes this moment to put the grub on the floor and teach him the commands “go” and “stop.”

Being the smart gnome that he is, David casts knock on the door and it opens. They proceed north through the hallway, and as they continue on, they feel more warmth and hear breathing. David searches for burrowing animals. To his great surprise (and their eventual dismay), he discovers Terrak and Mindy.

“Hello, Caldarraksondorlak,” they greet him cheerfully—perhaps a little too cheerfully given what’s about to happen to them.

“Do you know what’s in the room ahead of us?” David queries.

“Oh yeah! It’s a big dragon.”

“Is there any way around it?”

“You can just sneak around it. It’s sleeping. So how’ve you been?”

Aeryn decides she wants to keep them as her pets because she just adores rodents, but they don’t want to climb in her pockets because they have exploring to do—naturally. They tell David they want to eat the grub Hyperion or they’ll wake up the dragon. David tells them he could tell them where there i a whole room full of grubs, but they merely say they’re hungry now and demand Hyperion once again.

Thinking quickly, and noticing the look of moley hunger on their faces, Rhaine produces two jars and traps them both in their new little temporary habitats.

“You tricked us, you con man! You tricked us, you bastard!” they both yell at David. They both give him the finger in unison. “If you let us out, we’ll tell you how to get past the dragon.”

“We don’t negotiate with terrorists,” Slade tells them in perfect seriousness.

David can tell Mindy’s crying little mole tears. He reassures them that as soon as they get past the dragon, they’ll let them out and tell them where to get the grubs.

“I can’t believe you’re doing this to us, your friends!”

“Slade says friends don’t make threats about waking up dragons!” David replies. Touché!

The moles instruct the adventurers to proceed quietly past the dragons. Being the perceptive Druid that she is, Rhaine senses Mindy is not happy. She scoops her up out of the jar, holds on to her, and rubs her little mole head with her chin. David entrusts Terrak’s jar to Slade. As Slade moves forward into the large chamber, Terrak’s jar fumbles out of his pack and shatters (of course).

“Woo hoo!” the little mole exclaims upon gaining his first taste of freedom. Then, spying the dragon, he adds a quick, “Oh shit!” and scampers away. He attempts to hide in the shadows but fails.

The steady breathing in the background immediately stops. A deep bellowing groan emits from the bowels of the chamber, spilling out toward them. Aeryn walks into the big ass room to see if it responds to her. Light appears in the room, along with a bronze-colored fully grown dragon. It stands up, turns around, and looks straight at Slade up close. The halfling is paralyzed by fear of what the dragon could do to him sexually. As he later explains to his friends, it is not the first time he has seen a dragon; he once watched two dragons have sex when he was younger.

The dragon sits up and speaks in a voice eerily reminiscent of Sean Connery. “Come on out from the hallway.”

Surprisingly, he is speaking in Common. Everyone is too terrified to realize this, however. Most of them (with the exception of Slade) haven’t seen a dragon before.

“First of all, you’ve woken me up from my slumber. Speak your names.”

“I’m Master Slade Darkblade. I’d like to ride you.”

Without skipping a beat, the dragon replies, “You’ve got some balls, kid.”

Aeryn Dragonsbane then introduces herself.

“Really? That’s an interesting one. So you’re Dragonsbane. Do you know who I am?”

“Yes.”

“You’re lying.”

“I’m not. My mother told me stories of seeing dragons in her youth, back in a day when dragons ruled the world.”

“My name is Tyron Thraxus.”

“Pleased to meet you.”

“I thought the Dragonsbanes all died.”

“There’s at least one.”

She informs him the Frostmantles killed her people and he can’t believe it. She tells him she will be returned to her birthright. The dragon then says he’ll let them pass if they give him all their gold because “it’s incredibly comfortable to sit on.”

“Go on, talk amongst yourselves.”

“You should know some of my gold is cursed and will give you immeasurable diarrhea!” Slade informs him.

“I do not want your gold.”

“What if I give you this delicious bone to chew on?” Silver says, pulling out the vampire humerus bone she had been saving up specially for the flute. Bedlam immediately tries to grab it but is unsuccessful.

Everyone decides that, rather than pull a fast one on the dragon, it’s better to just pay up and not have to deal with him as an adversary. Especially after they just killed a fucking vampire!

David asks the dragon if he has any other treasures to give them that he doesn’t want.

“I’ve got some vases.”

“Are they pretty?” the gnome asks.

“They’re gorgeous, but I can’t sleep on them. Come, look at my vase collection.”

He directs their attention to his rather impressive vase collection. They are clearly valuable, but no one shows interest.

“So you don’t want the vases? Can I interest you in a magazine subscription?”

Silver tries to preach to the dragon about Boccob, but here merely says, “The deities of mortals don’t concern me.” He also says he and the Dragonsbanes basically left each other alone and he very much likes it that way.

As they are turning to leave, he instructs Alaric to “go easy. I can tell you carry a burden.” With a smile, he adds, “Goodbye, friends. It was nice talking.”

The passage continues behind him, narrowing down into a hallway in an easterly direction. It opens up into a roundish room. There is a large spiral stone stairway going straight up a ways. They follow it up until it terminates at a hefty stone door emblazoned with the Dragonsbane crest. It moves quietly like a pocket door on a well-oiled and maintained track as Slade opens it. There is a purple piece of fabric hanging across the door and they hear two or three voices, a low murmur. Slade creeps up and peeks his head out from under the curtain, but there is a piece of furniture blocking it, indicating that this is, in fact, a secret door.

Rhaine puts Mindy in her pocket for safekeeping. David retrieves his dagger, cuts a tiny slit in the fabric big enough for his eye, and sits on Alaric’s shoulders to try and peer through the fabric. It’s no use; the piece of furniture is very tall and blocks his vision.

The party sneaks around the sides of the fabric and furniture, ans as they come out from behind the curtain they find themselves in the middle of the throne of Castle Frostmantle. The furniture was the throne itself and the piece of fabric the drapery framing it. A royal red carpet extends from the throne.

The voices immediately stop their hushed tones. Five older men look up in complete shock and surprise at the sudden intrusion. They are all older and wearing important, official-looking noble robes. Before they can even think to question them, Aeryn announces, “I am Aeryn Dragonsbane and I am here to take what is mine.”

As the party readies their weapons, Alaric directs Bedlam to kill anyone who so much as attempts to flee.

“Don’t any of you motherfuckers move,” he growls.

One of the older battle-hardened men steps forward, holding a hand up to the others as if to signal “I’ve got this.”

“Miss Aeryn, you’ve returned home.”

“it’s been a long time, Gaius.”

“I don’t know who you think I am, but… you look about the right age. You are Aeryn, aren’t you?”

“I am.”

“And you’re here to take the throne?”

“Yes.”

“Then you know we can’t let you do this, right?”

“I don’t want to have to kill you, but I will.”

“Aeryn, don’t let the dragon loose on him!” Slade says in hushed tones.

The party descends upon the group of men, and David is able to upset their casting with a spell of his own: burning hands.

“Knock it off, you screwheads!” Slade warns them.

“Are you gonna let the lady talk, or do we need to finish this?” Alaric growls.

The men look genuinely surprised the situation is not turning into an all-out fracas.

“Clearly we’re dealing with some foes of a great might. Clearly nobody wishes to perish,” the lead man says. “Okay, Aeryn Dragonsbane…”

David slaps him with spectral hand. “Show some respect.”

“Let’s say you do get control. What will you do? Will you just rule?”

“Yes, and I will make things better because I am an idealistic youth.”

“You don’t know the first thing about ruling. You’re just a little girl.”

“No, you are just a little girl.”

“Good one, Aeryn!” Silver eggs her on.

“You don’t have any experience!” he continues.

“Clearly you’ve never bedded a stableboy. Or you would know that I have.”

The lead man introduces himself as Marcus and seems reluctant to hand over control to the young woman.

“Do you have a birthright?” Alaric questions him.

“No.”

“Don’t you think the people will rally behind someone who does?”

“I suppose you’re right. We’d like to discuss it with you in private, young Aeryn.”

Aeryn immediately tells him she only has room for four advisers; he, Marcus, will be the first and greatest among them, but he has to kill some of his other cohorts in order to prove himself.

“Let me speak this over with my cohorts here,” he says. They speak in hushed tones, and pretty soon the wizards start pushing and shoving each other.

“No, Marcus! I’ve been your loyal friend and supporter for years!” one of the men cries.

“Boccob would not support needless killing! Is this truly necessary? These sick games of pitting friend against friend?” Silver asks.

“What she said,” one of the bald men says.

“They’re starting to look like goblins to me, Aeryn,” Alaric chimes in.

“If you want, I can bring them to see my dragon,” Slade offers.

“I think we should just kill them. They won’t be loyal to you and I’m bored,” Rhaine announces, seemingly out of nowhere. She hits the bald man in the head with a magic rock. Almost immediately, all of his cohorts turn on him and execute him with burning power.

“Marcus, you’re alive, the rest of you…” Slade slices across his neckwith one finger and a look of murderous rage. Marcus launches into a running dive, landing under the table.

Armed with her new sword and shield, the true picture of Dragonsbane ferocity on the throne, casting fear into the hearts of the old men, Aeryn mercilessly slays every last one of them.

Silver refrains from joining the battle, preaching instead about how she won’t participate in needless and senseless bloodshed. Alaric and Rhaine each kill one wizard while Silver, despite her protests, goes and pilfers the pockets of the dead bald guy because, and I quote, “he has no need for earthly things anymore and he is one with Boccob now.” Her search rewards her with a wand.

She pretends to pray over the other corpse but instead pilfers his pockets too. Rhaine sees her klepto ways, so she tries to beat her to the punch by looting the corpse of one of the other men. Instead of finding treasure, though, she ends up seeing wrinkly old man balls. Thankfully, she is rewarded for her troubles with a pouch of gold.

Daivd goes to kill the last man because he’s tired of him being alive. The man clutches a small gem, squeezes it, and cries out, “fornistra!” It ignites in a small ball of fire and wounds the party.

Marcus emerges from the pillars and says, “All right, now they’re taken care of, we can start ruling the kingdom, eh?”

Rhaine points her flame blade in his direction while Slade orders him to strip.

“We don’t want any of this terrorist crap.”

“I am a noble; I will not strip for you!”

He strips anyway, protesting all the while. He is predictably flabby. “This is preposterous! I shouldn’t have to do this.”

He hands over two wands to them.

“Aaaand?” Alaric demands.

He also produces a pouch of gold.

“Where’s the other wand?”

“What other wand?”

“Come on.”

He reluctantly pulls it from his butt and turns it over to Slade.

“Can you believe this humiliation? I thought I was going to be your advisor.”

“Nice body, gramps. You work out at the castle gym?” Silver taunts, staring at his saggy man tits. As his queen, Aeryn orders him to take his boxers off and he complies.

Now that he is fully vulnerable, David charms him, asking him to reveal whether he’s telling the truth or lying to the party about wanting to be an advisor.

“I’m a politician and a wizard. I just want to be part of the royal council and keep advising.”

“So what was your loyalty to the Frostmantles?”

“They paid me and I advised them about conquest of lands, what strategies to take, and so on.”

In return for his honesty, Aeryn rewards him with the return of his boxers and clothes. She asks him a final probing question: whether or not he had anything to do with the deaths of her family.

“I swear to you I had nothing to do with your family. I was instated after the Frostmantles came to power.”

“What’s your affiliation with Drawback Dagger?” Alaric asks him.

“I don’t even know who you’re talking about.”

Satisfied with her interrogation, Aeryn works up the courage to go and sit on her throne for the first time. An overwhelming sense of pride, accomplishment, and gratitude for the help of her friends fills her being right then and there.

Her excitement over their victory is short-lived, however, as she quickly ponders their next strategy.

“What would be the first step in reclaiming my throne?”

“Why, my lady, to fly the falg of Dragonsbane.”

Marcus tells them where the flag resides, and Aeryn sneds Slade with him to fetch it. Marcus enters the room, opens a box, pulls out the flag, and hands it to Slade.

“We’d best get this back to her highness.”

They return with the flag to Aeryn.

“I can take you up the tower so we can fly your flag,” Marcus informs her. “It’s a narrow passage. Are you all going to come?”

The party answers in the affirmative. They all follow him up six flights of stairs—with the exception of Rhaine, Alaric, and Bedlam. As they emerge through a wooden door onto the roof, they notice a flag pole sitting there unguarded. Aeryn lowers the Frostmantle flag from its perch high above the world and casts it into the wind with a sigh of relief and tears in her eyes.

Queen Aeryn Dragonsbane hoists her flag herself high up over the wall. Cheers erupt from outside the castle as the people rejoice at their new ruler. Alaric feels his soul become lighter as his debt with the priest is paid in full. Slade leaves the joyous occasion to fetch Rhaine’s pandas from the priest.

The rule of Queen Aeryn Dragonsbane is now at hand!

View
One Shall Rise

Once the party is healed and rested, Slade ventures up the ladder. He smells fresh earth and hears the soothing sound of circkets all around him. It is nighttime out, and the air is cool and crisp. He calls for the rest of his party to climb the ladder and join him, which they do, with David piggybacking on Alaric’s shoulders.

The party makes it out the door into the cool night air. It is clear to see that the sun has only set moments ago and it is still early in the night. Twilight is just beginning to seep in as they come upon walls that open to the sky above. There are plaques with people’s names on them adorning these crumbling stone walls.

Alaric stargazes while Silver breathes deeply and enjoys the night air. As she does so, she begins to feel an evil taint upon what should be the love and bosomy caress of Boccob.

“I’m going to say that something wicked this way comes. I feel a sense of foreboding,” Silver announces to no one in particular.

Gazing to the north, Alaric and Slade can just barely make out a treeline in the distance and dirt underneath them. Silver peeks around the corner to look south and, as she does so, the evil presence takes a spike. At that moment, five skeletons emerge and Silver screams at the top of her lungs to the others, breaking the relative silence.

“Oh sorry, I thought we were still in the dungeon,” she replies lamely, drawing attention to the party. She kneels down and prays to Boccob to bless them in their time of need. “In the name of our lord, begone!”

Rather mischievously, David whispers in Alaric’s ear that the skeletons are goblin skeletons and, as expected, the none-too-bright ranger falls for it.

In a show of incredible strength and fortitude, David’s fingers tingle and he hits the skull of the enchanted creature with a dart, felling it instantly. The skull ignites like a small grenade and explodes inside the skeleton’s head. Every one of the party members is in awe of his skill since he is so small and all.

Silver continues delivering her awe-inspiring speeches to encourage her party members: “Boccob, I’ve been asking you nicely for a round now… will you please turn these skeletons away?”

As if in answer to her prayer, a light fills her and sends the skeletons scrambling away.

“Go back where you came from!” she cries.

“Oh no you don’t!” Alaric yells, slashing down the closest one. The skeleton collapses to the ground like a bag of bones. He kills another, crushing it with his pure might and rage. Aeryn kills another. Both Aeryn and Silver ask Boccob for forgiveness.

As soon as the smog clears, the party finds themselves in a graveyard. Aeryn is immediately taken aback. She recognizes this graveyard from her childhood, when she tended to the death of her beloved grandfather. Almost everything is exactly as she remembers it. And she remembers the castle is not far from here.

As she is drawn from her reverie, a great evil grips everyone’s bones. Just ahead, they can barely make out a form lurking toward them. It is a gaunt, bent over form that shambles toward them through the gravestones. Silver senses a tremendous form of evil. It moves with an inhuman motion but it is not slow. As it approaches the party, they see it resembles a decaying, putrid version of a person.

David once again tells Alaric it’s a dead goblin.

Alaric’s response? “Goblins everywhere! I will kill you all!”

He cleaves it cleanly in two, his berserker rage compelling him to stab it in both eyes with both blades at the same time. Although the creature is gone, the evil still lurks around the party members. They proceed through the graveyard with caution.

Up ahead, they notice a fountain that hasn’t been used in some time and tombstones that have been knocked over and overgrown by moss and weeds. David tells Alaric the graveyard is a gobo graveyard. For a second, Alaric looks at Aeryn, thinking she is a filthy gobo half-blood. A second only, and then the thought is gone.

An overwhelming carrion stench fills the air as the party approaches the south door of a graveyard building and the stench gets greater. Alaric raps once, sharply, on the door.

“Hello?”

The sound of movement can be heard behind the doors and three more heads pop up like the nones before them.

“Return!” Alaric cries, his loyal knife flying back into his waiting palm. David, of course, tells him their new foes are also goblins.

“So many gobos; this is a glorious day!” Alaric proclaims. Sheathing his dagger, he takes his khopesh and impales it in the sternum of one of the creatures, lifting it up on the blade and tossing it aside like a ragdoll.

“You messed with the wrong ranger, gobo!” Gleefully he adds, “Gobos everywhere!”

At that moment, the two human companions of the group—Alaric and Aeryn—are completely overwhelmed by the carrion stench. They both double over and vomit in sync.

Slade manages to kill the other skeleton.

The party comes to an ornate door at the south entrance with chains binding it closed. Slade removes the chain and puts it in his pack. The party enters the building and notice it appears to be a chapel. Alaric commands Bedlam forward into the darkness and the loyal dog leaves his view. He whistles for Bedlam, but the dog does not come.

Silver begins to feel both a good and evil presence here.

Recognizing this as the chapel where she held services with her family during funerals, Aeryn is overcome with emotion. Her thoughts drift continually to her dead family and she is reminded of them just being in this place. Even though it is a place of great emotion, she gets a feeling of love in her time of immense grief. She can barely take a step forward, so she merely stands in the archway, immobilized.

The pews are broken from dry rot, but the building is otherwise fine and sturdy. The carpet is rotted and torn away, though it once boasted an ornate and intricate design on it. Behind where there is usually a cross is a tomb inlaid with stone and gold filigree. Although Slade at first plans to shimmy open the casket, he changes his mind and decides to investigate first. It is large, fit for a tall, grown man. It is then he notices it bears the Dragonsbane crest.

“Get away from that casket!” Aeryn yells at Slade, summoning an imperious tone to her voice. She nudges him away and investigates it. It is not immediately recognizable to her. There is a name inscribed on it, but it is difficult to make out. A flash of lightning at an opportune time illuminates the chamber and reveals to her the identity of the man in the casket: Gareth Dragonsbane. Aeryn brusts into tears at the sight of it and hugs it. Her heart is filled with sadness and then the coldness touches her heart.

While in her weakened emotional state, Aeryn trembles with sadness and then fear. She maintains her composure, but just barely. Suddenly and without warning, she feels led to back away from the casket. She moves slowly away, looking terrified. Slade notices this and readies his weapon.

Just then, the party members hear a rattling of chains at the south door of the building. The doors burst open as a clap of thunder rattles the building’s foundations. A flash of lightning illuminates the pale lone figure at the entrance, revealing a man wearing a cloak.

“Identify yourself,” Alaric beckons him.

“I don’t need to identify myself, you meddlesome adventurers,” the harsh voice rasps. “Aren’t you just after fame and fortune? Isn’t that all you want? You don’t even belong here.”

“Not even those of us who grew up here?” Silver comments, baiting him.

This seems to pique his interest.

“No, not even you, Aeryn Dragonsbane.”

His gaze meets the young woman and it is clear she has not regained complete control of her faculties yet. She can still manage to talk, and she does—bitingly.

“How do you know me?”

“I know everything about you, Aeryn,” he says silkily, his voice a whisper that is both harsh and mesmerizing at the same time. “This is your last chance—leave now!”

David tells Alaric the man is an evil goblin and he, predictably, flies into an immediate rage.

“What have you done with this man’s ghost dog?” Silver queries him.

“Ghost dog? You mean that little toy that is at your beckon call?”

He snaps his fingers and Bedlam reappears.

“What is this trickery, gobo?” Alaric spits in disgust.

Long pale hands snake out from under the cloak to tug back the hood and the party members recognize him immediately. He is the rider of the stagecoach they met on the road long ago, Simonton. The vampire! Or so they think.

He dispels the charm from Alaric so the ranger sees him as he truly is.

“Leave now,” Simonton commands them. “It is my place. I own it now.”

“I don’t think you do,” Aeryn interrupts.

“This is the deed. I purchased it fair and square.”

He presents her with a piece of parchment that she seizes. On the page is scrawled a bunch of legal mumbo jumbo that basically confirms what he is saying.

I purchased it from the Frostmantles."

“You can’t sell something you never truly own,” David speaks up wisely.

Alaric queries him as to whether he has had dealings with Drawback Dagger, but the man denies it and doesn’t appear to even know who he is. He merely claims to be a business man. David counters by saying he doesn’t own it, but Simonton challenges them to come and take it from him.

“Time to die, vampire!” Aeryn yells.

“I’m already dead!” he declares, confirming their months-long suspicions that he is, indeed, a vampire.

“Let’s bring him outside, see him sparkle in the twilight,” Aeryn taunts as she draws her sword.

Simonton immediately dematerializes and moves through them to the front of the casket. He draws a slim, elegant rapier from his sheath and bares his pointed teeth at the adventurers.

“Take it from me!” he repeats.

“Gladly, bitch,” Aeryn responds, brandishing her sword at him.

With a flourish of the hand, Simonton sends all of the doors flying wide open. Rain lashes down against the eaves of the building and the wind pummels the walls relentlessly. Alaric and Slade try to shut all the doors but are unsuccessful with all save one—the west door. Slade puts his grubby, Hyperion, in the corner, and turns to join his companions.

Aeryn is the first to attack. Instead of engaging her in battle, Simonton locks eyes on her and stares. She feels her willpower eroding in the gaze of a vampire and feels compelled to move by his side. She does so, wanting to resist but failing miserably.

“Sorry, guys,” her mind says.

Rhaine slashes Simonton with a blade and he hisses, baring long fangs. Silver tries to lasso Aeryn and tie her up but is unable to. Slade tries to use his venom injector to paralyze Aeryn for the duration of the battle but is unsuccessful. David casts sleep on her and she falls into a deep and fitful slumber.

Between the clamor of battle and the clash of thunder from outside, Alaric hears snarls. He spies what might be a small pack of wolves enter the chapel through an open door.

Simonton laughs playfully and says, “If I can’t have Aeryn Dragonsbane, I’ll have another.”

He lifts a hand and the casket’s lid starts to open. Rahine’s flame blade makes contact with the pulpit and sets it ablaze. Meanwhile, Slade drags a sleeping Aeryn over into the corner beside Hyperion to protect her from Simonton and his cronies.

Alaric cleaves a wolf in two. Just as the wretched animal falls, three ghouls show up through the south door and two skeletons appear at the east door. Then, at that exact moment, out from the casket climbs Gareth Dragonsbane in a full set of half plate, armed with a blazing longsword encrusted with the Dragonsbane symbol and a shield and halberd.

Simonton turns his attention to Alaric. He rematerializes in front of the ranger but without his rapier this time. His nails grow out and he slashes at Alaric. The ranger feels drained by the energy. Bedlam does not return to his side but stays with his new master instead.

Silver summons power from another speech: “This is a holy place, a place of love, of light, and you shall not desecrate it with your filth, your vermin. Begone!”

She reveals her holy symbols to Simonton and he turns away, thrusting his cape over his eyes. While he is stunned and his arm is shielding his face, Alaric grabs him, lifts him up, and runs with him into the fire on the pulpit.

Simonton turns into a vaporous form and materializes elswhere in the chapel, but this time his face is burned. His hands start moving as he casts a spell. With a flourish of his hand, he chants and makes a fist pump that causes Bedlam to howl. Alaric watches in horror as the spirit of his beloved pet is being forcibly pulled into the body of a live wolf against his will. The wolf gets up with Bedlam’s ghost inside of it, but gone is the kindness of the war dog and in its place is a very sinister evil. Bedlam turns toward Alaric and begins advancing.

Gareth attacks Silver and throws her into the fire; she sustains a small amount of damage. Meanwhile, David dispatches two of the ghouls with burning hands.

“How’s your face, Simonton?” Alaric taunts him, making sure not to look him in the eyes.

In response, Simonton flourishes his hands and mutters toward Gareth, making him grow to three times his size.

Rhaine feels a mental jar; a good one. In her head she can hear the words of the kind Beastmaster: “Thornweaver, they’ve heard your call.”

As if on cue, Milky and Fluffy come charging through, bursting the doors right off their hinges. Slade understandably craps his pants and takes damage from being trampled by the two huge pandas. Rhaine solidifies her bond with them, allowing her to instruct the pandas to hit the vampire. Slade cleans the shit out of his pants and throws a fire opal into the fray. A frenzied fracas ensues.

Alaric’s knife finds purchase, piercing through the vampire’s chest. He slices through the mist and Simonton takes his man form. The fire sai slices through his face. At that moment Gareth’s body falls over and so does Bedlam’s. Silver knows about the lroe of the vampire and that she has to act fast. She retrieves a stakey-looking piece of wood and pounds it once into his heart. Simonton shrieks as he is pierced. They hear the chorus of screams of undead ghouls from the graveyard fill the air. Then, with a final clap of thunder, all is silent.

Alaric detaches the vampire’s head from its body with a fire sai.

“I’m gonna do it until it comes off!” he declares, not realizing quite how dirty that sounds.

The body of Gareth Dragonsbane immediately returns to its normal size. Alaric takes Simonton’s rapier and the rings he wore on either hand. David finally reveals t o him that there are no goblins anymore. Alaric’s patience is clearly being tested.

“What’d you do with the goblins?” he queries the little gnome.

Bedlam the wolf is unconscious but still breathes. As the animal opens its eyes and begins to stare at its master, Alaric notices his eyes are identical to the eyes Bedlam possessed when he was of flesh and blood. The excited wolf jumps up on Alaric and licks his face, happy to see him.

David rouses Aeryn. She comes to with a slight headache but is more than happy to see the gnome. The entire thing felt like a dream. She says she remembers staring down the vampire and fighting and now all she sees around her are her friends and two giant fucking pandas.

“What the fuck?!” she says out loud, unable to contain herself.

As she looks around, she notices the chapel is almost destroyed. Her friends immediately relay to her what happened. At that moment, Aeryn feels compelled to rush to her father’s body. He is wearing his ceremonial armor. She takes his full-sized heavy armor shield with the crest of the Dragonsbane family on it and the Sword of Dragonsbane.

Slade finds he has been in possession of the Shilling of Delicate Bowels. He who holds it is apt to shit his pants, which explains his earlier “looseness” at seeing the pandas come bounding in to the chapel.

Silver senses a calm surrounding the graveyard. Slade drags the rest of the vampire’s body into the fire and then frees the chained up wolf Rhaine was trying to tame. Silver prays to remove Alaric’s vampiric curse. The party, for now, is safe.

View
The Holy Place

The party rests and feels awesome. The much-needed shut eye and recuperation has invigorated them, inspiring them to finish their dungeon crawl and reclaim the throne of Dragonsbane for their young would-be queen.

The party returns to the only door they couldn’t open and tries to open it, but it is solid and rigid. Slade picks the lock; the tumbles catch and it opens, swinging inward to darkness. Aeryn lifts her torch to light the room. It is rather unremarkable except for a dark pit in the center of it. As Slade enters, a line of spikes shoot up from the ground around the pit. He is wounded by them, but thankfully his injury is only superficial.

Gazing down into the the pit, the party sees what looks to be a straight drop down into a room below. Their vision is further obscured by the darkness.

Seeing no other alternative, they lock the door behind them so nothing follows after them and move down the hall to the other door with the bars surrounding it. Everyone does their best strongman impression by trying their best to bend the bars, but all they achieve are a chorus of grunts. Suddenly, the sound of footsteps emanate from down the hall. The party jumps quickly into formation.

“Hey, fuckface!” Slade taunts.

Unfortunately, the two spiders climbing up the other end of the hall seem too dim to understand the taunt. Instead, they advance—with pincers raised—toward the party, looking incredibly hungry. They accelerate into a spell cast by Rhaine that momentarily immobilizes them, allowing the rest of the party to take shots while they remain frozen.

Whirling gracefully through the air, Aeryn disconnects the head from one of the spiders’ bodies, sending her sword into its topmost eye. It explodes in a most satisfying manner. Alaric stabs the other one in the midsection, killing it instantly. Slade extracts venom sacs and fangs from each.

Alaric leads the party forward to the other unexplored hallway. Hoisting the tiny little gnome onto his shoulders so he can keep up, the ranger walks with a staggering gait through the corridors. They happen upon gobo corpses and Alaric spits on them. Fucking gobos!

As they continue down the corridor, the stench gets worse and worse. David spies movement at the end of the hall and Aeryn helps illuminate the darkness with her torch. Alaric’s blood boils instantly. At the end of the hall are what appear to be—to him, at least—four goblins. The rest of the party sees four trolls because David has charmed him into thinking they are goblins.

As Rhaine tries to explain to him that what he sees is wrong, he growls, “I can’t be reasoned with.”

Alaric immediately flies into a rage, hacking away at the unlucky first troll. His kinetic energy doubles over the troll since he was running so feverishly at him. He soon finds himself entangled on the ground with the troll, trying hard to regain his bearings. Aeryn uses them both as a springboard, jumping over them to the other side, nearly unbalancing herself in the process. She regains her footing and narrowly avoids being flattened by one of the hungry trolls. Alaric carves a wound into the belly of the troll, causing it to howl with pain.

Meanwhile, David fires magic missiles at them while Rhaine sets the troll on fire, filling the area with acrid black troll smoke. Slade gives David a back massage to inspire him to greater heights. The troll standing behind Aeryn attacks her and hits, causing her to present him with her middle digit. She is now trapped behind the flames, and things are looking rather grim for her. Alaric jumps to her rescue and slices off a fresh troll hand. The troll proceeds to taunt Alaric about his mother.

“No one says anything about my mom!” the enraged ranger bellows. He sends the hapless creature flying to its knees. “On your knees!” To Aeryn, he orders, “Finish him!”

She fumbles, and David hurriedly tells them to kill the first troll and get the hell out of Dodge.

“The gobo?” Alaric queries.

“The gobo,” David concurs, feeling not at all guilty for having lied to him.

Meanwhile, Slade hightails it out of the fray and returns to the unlocked door. The door is ornate, decorated with a marble trim and filigree in every crevice. The keyhole is crafted in the shape of a cross.

Rhaine senses a warmth coming from the door. Silver, too, feels it. She sees inscriptions on the door and all at once recognizes them as holy symbols used to honor the dead. Turning the handle, Silver feels the tumbles move. Remarkably, the door opens for her and cool air washes outward. An earthy smell fills her nostrils.

“You guys aren’t gonna believe what I see in here!” Slade exclaims, running in ahead of them.

There, approximately ten feet inside of the door, is a pillar with a bust of a rather prominent-looking figure on it. The man has a kind visage and soft lighting illuminates the bust.

Outside, Alaric tells Aeryn, “I’ll take this from here,” and dispatches the “gobo” with surprising ease. She lifts her torch to the troll to set him aflame and then jumps over the other flaming troll body to rejoin the party.

“Get out of there!” David calls to Alaric and Aeryn.

In the interim, Rhaine enters the room and takes a good look around. All at once she recognizes the bust as being that of a holy man or a saint. She hears something around the corner. It sounds suspiciously like a scraping or clinking sound.

Silver has entered the room beside her friend. She feels a holiness about this place. She recognizes the bust as a priest of Boccob from her studies. She immediately falls to her knees in praise. Although she is joyous, she is also confused at seeing this priest of Boccob is a man since the organization is a sisterhood comprised of mainly women.

Hearing the same noise as Rhaine, Silver perks to attention. n oily, slick taint rankles through the air even though the bust has been blessed. There is something not right about this place.

“Hey, you should knock all that nonsense off!” Slade complains to Silver, walking out of the door as he, too, senses the unease in the room.

Outside, after seeing its fellow troll lying dead at its feet, the one remaining troll picks up the carcass and hefts it across the floor at Alaric. The ranger dodges over the other dead troll that is on fire. Although this causes him to get a little crispy, apart from a burned-off left eyebrow he is otherwise unharmed. The ranger attempts to corral everyone through the door. He picks up David and calls at Slade and Aeryn, “Get in! Close the door!”

Obeying his command, the party all slips back into the holy place, sans Slade. As soon as the door slams shut, Rhaine hears a sound and two chinks. She is too preoccupied to notice Silver is totally enthralled by the statue. The priest, however, manages to get her wits about her enough to heal the wounded Aeryn, who barely escaped with her life.

The divinity is surrounding the party and infusing them with a healing power that seems to come from some greater force. Although there is something definitely not right about this room, the party accepts the blessing with gratitude.

“We’ll close the door on you if you don’t come in,” Alaric threatens the hafling, who is still two steps outside of the door. Not wishing for the ranger to make good on that promise, the halfling enters the room and shuts the door behind him. The tumbles catch and the door secures.

More noises penetrate the silence.

Scrape.

Clank.

Chink.

“Why don’t we go kill that chink and then we’ll kill those trolls,” Slade suggests. “We’ve got a chink coming down the hall.”

Silver attempts to engage the unknown entity in conversation but is unsuccessful. Aeryn hands Alaric her torch and he uses it to peer around the corner, coming face to face with two chainmail-clad skeletons wielding sword swords and shields emblazoned with the holy crest.

“Stop in the name of Boccob!” Silver commands, handing them one of her printed pamphlets. “I come bearing the good news of Boccob!”

The skeletons, however, don’t seem interested in her vain attempt at proselytizing. So instead she tries another tactic.

“Begone, evil creatures, and let this place flow with love!”

Her turning powers compel the skeletons to run away, clattering down the hall like two frightened rabbits. She commands her fellow party members to “leave these skeletons to do their skeletony things!”

And since she is such a persuasive and charismatic speaker, they comply.

In the room, Aeryn examines the bust of the priest of Boccob and admires its fine craftsmanship. As Silver turns back toward her and the other party members, her thrall on the two skeletons breaks and they return with ill intent. David wisely decides to tell Alaric they are goblin skeletons, which renders him completely unhinged. The foolhardy ranger charges the goblins. They take a beating at his hands but are otherwise okay. They move slowly but with purpose toward the other party members.

“David was right; you are goblins!” Alaric marvels, clearly blinded by his rage.

Rhaine manages to damage one of the skeletons; only its evil magic holds it together.

“Oh my gosh, these are horrible goblin creatures; you have to get them!” David muses, further fueling Alaric’s anger. He flies into a blood rage and attacks again, managing a quick double kill to the surprise—and delight—of his friends.

Silver yells at Alaric, “I will not be a part of your bloodlust, but i will join you ‘cause that’s what we do.”

She then asks Slade to take a rubbing of the bust. There is a name underneath it in an ancient dialogue. As Slade is putting the rubbing in his pack, a troll begins banging on the door with great shuddering thumps. The party notices at the end of the hall there is a dead end with a sturdy and old-looking ladder extending upward into inky darkness. Slade examines the door and finds that it isn’t trapped, though there is a latch on it.

The troll’s banging grows increasingly fervent and more livid. The party decides to confront the trolls so they won’t be a problem for them later on in the journey. To taunt the one troll, Slade raps back on the door and yells, “Hey, fags!” He turns the latch, but it won’t budge. Silver approaches the door, touching the handle and feeling the warmth and love of Boccob encompassing her. She opens it a crack and runs away. Two meaty hands wrap around the door and force it roughly open.

Aeryn backs away from the door to allow Slad ethe change to fling a vat of acid on them. He commands Silver to back away too, telling her, “Don’t go up to the door!”

Hurling a glass full of black pudding acid in front of the door, the halfling backs away. Captured in a slick of acid, the troll howls in rage and torture and then retreats out of the doorway, thrashing about.

David calls out to the other troll in goblin, saying, “Come on, get over here!” The troll pokes his head around the door as if to say “huh?” with a big stupid look on his face, accidentally stepping in the black pudding. He backs away too, howling.

David convinces everyone to scream, “You fuck your mom with a dick that small?” in goblin. The gnome takes this moment to quickly educate the party on some of the more inflammatory goblin curses—which unsurprisingly comprise about seventy percent of the goblin language.

The troll screams and falls over, disintegrating from the acid. The second troll howls in anger and peeks his head in through the door. Rhaine kills him at point blank range, getting him right in the eye socket. He collapses into a lethal mixture of black pudding and sharp glass, both of which render him nearly unrecognizable.

Just as the troll is dying, he manages to find the strength to get up and lumber down the hall. Determined to protect the holy place, Silver attempts to use a lasso to close the door. Much to her relief, the second troll succumbs to the acid and goes up in flames.

The party takes this moment to rest and memorize their spells. During their precious downtime, Aeryn sits and stares at the bust of the priest of Boccob, becoming enthralled with it. She feels suddenly inspired to change her religion, so Silver takes her hands and dances around the statue with her in a joyful circle.

“I’m so glad you decided to become an SOB!” she cries in a voice overflowing with emotion.

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A Hot Mess

After disposing of the black pudding, Rhaine Thornweaver immediately sets to work, craftily scraping its remains into one of her jars. The sound of the pudding dissolving the metal hinge sends Hyperion (the grub) into a little frenzy, so Slade pets him a little to reassure him of his love.

Onward the party moves, winding their way through the seemingly never ending passages of the dungeon. It is not long before Alaric spies tracks. Leaning down to inspect them, he deduces that a group of three to five creatures have passed this way; some are booted but not human. Just as he is relaying this information to the group, an echoing growl tumbles out of the passage behind them.

“Hey, guys, something’s up with that wall. It’s weird!”

Silver draws attention to the nearly inconspicuous wall, which Rhaine finds to be a hidden door. Using brute force, Alaric barges against the door. Being that it is stone, it gives a little and then clicks back into place, not budging. Slade and Alaric use combined force to push on it. David even joins in, throwing his weight against Alaric’s butt to further assist them in their quest. Soon, all of the party members find themselves pushing on the door to no effect.

Coming to his senses, Alaric settles on another tactic: he instructs Bedlam to disappear behind the door. With a command of “Come!” he is able to call the dog back to him, panting heavily. Since he doesn’t speak dog (though not for lack of trying), he decides there is no use in trying to stay here and open the door.

The party proceeds back down the passage from whence the growls emanated. Sure enough, three goblins appear. Cue Alaric’s blood rage.

“Where’s Steve?” David queries them in goblin (which is basically just a series of throaty snarls).

Charging forward, one of the goblins cries, “Steve’s not here with us today. He called in sick!”

They then promptly attack. Alaric is able to dispatch with one of them effortlessly. In slow motion, Slade swings his sling at the next target, a goblin archer. It travels along his arrow Robin Hood style, splits through his eye, and lodges in his skull, promptly killing him. He is not even able to get out a “glurgh” before he is dead on the floor. Alaric slays the remaining goblin and the passage is quiet once more. To drive the point home, he curb stomps the carcass of the dead goblin so viciously that its brains splatter everywhere, coating the walls.

David and Slade scream like little girls. Obviously.

Another roar punctuates the silence, alerting the party to the fact that danger is at hand. As they rush toward the sound of the approaching enemies, Alaric cries out, “Hello, my fine fellow!”

David takes this moment to educate Alaric on the finer points of speaking goblin. He teaches him how to say “fuckin’ goblins!” (which translates roughly as “yarrh blarghh” in the native tongue). Everyone repeats after him, and their combined cry is met with screams of outrage.

The hall ahead of them bends to the left, and scrawled in blood in the goblin tongue on a door in front of them are the words “keep Out.” There is also, coincidentally, techno music pumping behind the door. Goblin ravers?

Slade follows his first instinct and tries to turn the knob of the door, but it is locked and can’t be picked. Alaric and David try to help him open the wet, soggy door, but they are unsuccessful, so they simply move on.

In a split second, an arrow whizzes out of the passage behind them and buries itself into the door labeled “Keep Out.” No sooner does the party see this than four goblins come ambling up the passage behind them. Slade’s first sling throw hits Rhaine’s mountain lion square in the butt, causing a yowl of pain to escape its mouth as it lunges forward in surprise and confusion, pushing Rhaine forward toward the enemies. As the goblins try to unsuccessfully take shots at the Druid, Silver and David begin casting spells to weave their protection over her.

Aeryn slices through one of the goblins with a single flip of her fire sai. Shouting “everybody duck!” Alaric ends the life of the second goblin by cleaving its head in half, sending blood spurting every which way. The two remaining goblins look at each other with love in their eyes.

“I miss you,” the one says in goblin.

“I miss you too,” the other replies.

“We never make love anymore. You only fuck me!”

Before they can continue their domestic dispute, a troll lumbers into view at the end of the passage and howls. A third goblin appears with the troll. His name is Stinky… a moniker which clearly needs no explanation. The party members clasp their nostrils together at the putrid stench.

Silver and Rhaine easily dispose of the two goblin lovers, who die clasping each other in a pathetically loving embrace. In a fit of rage, the one remaining goblin kills Rhaine’s mountain lion.

At that moment, “God” and Rhaine have a staring match over the death of her cat. Rhaine looks in ’God’s’ eyes and ‘God’ blinks. Clearly Rhaine is enraged by the death of her kitty cat, although that doesn’t stop her from tripping over its open-mouthed, tongue-lolling corpse.

Slade manages to get the jump on the troll, backstabbing it enough to wound it. Alaric looses an arrow in its neck, which rips a hole big enough to spill blackish-blood out over the floor. The troll merely snaps the arrow in his neck and envelops the wayward ranger in “an inky shower.” It is too late, though. Alaric has delivered the killing blow, which sends it reeling to the ground, lifeless.

Silver walks up and kicks the troll.

“I think he’s dead guys.”

A sickening squishy, mushy noise echoes through the corridor as the wound patches itself up and the troll comes back to life before their eyes. Since Silver is in the vicinity, it stumbles toward her with renewed fury.

Rhaine launches an attack with her flame blade, determined to “kill it with fire!” The blade cuts through flesh and bone, severing the head from its body. The head tumbles to the ground with a thud, rolling away a short distance. Slade uses a coil of rope to tie down the troll while Alaric hacks away into its lifeless chest, gutting him like a fish. The stench is putrid and he is soon covered with black nasty troll blood.

To add insult to serious injury, David casts a spell to make his mirror image look as though its shoving its head up the troll’s ass. Class act, that one. Needless to say, the party members all have questions about him now.

Rhaine dumps lantern oil on the troll and sets it on fire with her sword to be sure their friend doesn’t live to fight another day. Everyone puts the severed troll parts in a pile and douses it with fire. It smells bad. Nauseatingly bad.

Healing time! While the rest of the party regroups, Slade decides to do a little exploring and returns to the locked door down at the other end of the passage. It is covered by a portcullis trapped with tripwire. Alaric is able to lift the portcullis so Slade can scurry underneath. The seemingly “locked” door actually opens inward, so Slade does this and notices there are crates and barrels stacked all around the inside of the room. He can’t get to any of them, sadly, because he is stuck on tripwire. Alaric yanks him backward, dropping the portcullis so the bars fall downward, nearly shearing the halfling in half (quite apropos).

They bring everyone back to the room and Alaric lifts the portcullis once again, letting everyone inside. A chilling roar sounds behind them just as the portcullis slams down into place. The party finds themselves in a storehouse of sorts. They spy another door in the room as well as two sewage grates. They raid the crates and barrels and find a plethora of goods to add to their inventory, most notably three small wood boxes with ornate carvings and rags that were once clothes.

Slade opens the first box; inside it is a finely crafted ivory pipe set in a velvet inlay.

“Ladies, wrap your lips around this and give it a go,” the halfling suggests with a hint of mischief. David identifies it as a pipe of peacemaking and claims it for his own.

The second box reveals a seaman’s spyglass, which Alaric takes.

The third box contains a decorative ivory necklace that is seemingly unremarkable. Aeryn takes it since she likes pretty things and she’s a girly girl.

Also contained within this box is a padding of rotten clothing around a wooden frame with a glass front to it. On it is a message that’s been framed like art. It is a wizard’s scroll with a spell called Knock.

Silver decides to inspire David with one of her speeches for no apparent reason at this moment. Because, as everyone knows, she really, really loves Boccob and isn’t afraid to show it.

“David, I know I tell you about my god all the time, so I hope you’re not bored with it, but if you’ll just listen in your little gnome mind, you’ll come to know God. Believe God, praise God, Halleluiah!”

The end to her speech seems perfectly timed, as at that exact moment a troll appears outside of the door. As the party is safely ensconced inside of the room, he doesn’t appear to notice them. Since he seems to pose no immediate threat, the party decides to open the door inside the room, which leads to a hidden treasury.

Bookcases line the walls with a variety of dusty and extremely valuable-looking tomes. In addition, there are many more chests. One chest is found to contain a dagger and a ruby necklace. The other chest holds a full suit of extremely shiny armor, Chainmail of Protection, which Aeryn dons. David examines the shelves, finding books that date back from the Dragonsbane era. They appear to have been stolen from the royal family and placed here for safekeeping.

The little gnome selects one volume, The Tome of Merchant Etiquette, places it in the corner, and pees on it. He then promptly discovers a crystal ball laying on a metal base with a rolled up piece of paper behind it. Tossing the crystal ball to Rhaine for identification (nearly giving her a coronary in the process), David soon learns the item acts like an extension of the wizard’s mind and can store spells, increasing his magical knowledge. He stakes his claim to it. He also discovers that the piece of paper behind the crystal ball is a wizard’s scroll containing the spell Tensor’s Floating Disc.

The rest of the party lines their pockets with the luminous gold coins found in the coffers.

As soon as the party is finished searching the room, Alaric peeks out of the door where the troll is and throws the dagger of returning approximately fifteen feet in front of him. The blade sails through the hideous creature’s legs and lands smack dab with a clang on the floor in front of him. The dumb creature turns around and looks confused as to the blade’s origins.

The ranger recalls the blade and it whizzes back to him at lightning speed, careening back through the troll’s legs once again. The troll looks down at its big, hulking legs, albeit a mite too late to actually catch any movement.

The troll suddenly turns around and, spotting the party, starts beating on the bars of the portcullis, which are starting to take some definite punishment. Thinking quickly, Rhaine tosses a jar of black pudding at the creature. Some of the pudding slathers the bars, disintegrating them. David throws a dart into the troll’s eye, blinding him. The troll grabs onto one of the bars and screams out in pain as its palm encompasses the scalding pain of black pudding quickly eroding organic flesh.

Slade tosses a sling but fumbles; the bullet ends up striking the lock of the door and damaging it, trapping them in the room. They hear a cry of rage, a howl of pain, silence, and then a big thunk as the troll lumbers forward and falls.

Alaric hacks at the door to no avail. The door is too strong and cannot be penetrated.

The party watches in horror as the troll resurrects, is killed by the pudding once again, and falls down with a thump for a second time. This unsightly process repeats itself a few more times, as the troll doesn’t have the intellect to move carefully out of the way upon resurrecting. He is wailing something fierce, which causes the party to worry that other trolls may hear and descend upon them.

David casts Knock upon the door. It shivers, shines, and thrusts open with a big volt of energy, shuddering against the adjacent wall. As the party walks by, they look down at the still-resurrecting troll. He’s a damn mess. One of his legs is dissolved and part of his face is burned. He is clamoring on the bars and he’s got an arrow in his eye. With his one good eye he looks at the party and just kind of groans. It’s a look that just says “I fucking hate you” in a way that transcends language.

Most of the black pudding is gone now, and so is most of the troll. He continues pulling himself into the bars, causing more of it to get on his chest. Instead of stay there and continue to watch this hot mess, Alaric grabs a barrel and places it down on the troll to step over him. Slade cuts off the troll’s remaining arm for good measure.

Everyone crosses the makeshift bridge, stepping on the troll in a manner that causes him to emit all sorts of interesting noises. To put him out of his misery, Rhaine ignites the wood on the troll with her flame sword, and its body erupts in acrid smoke.

With that little mess having been dealt with, the party ventures back toward the hidden door they were originally unable to penetrate. On the way back, Rhaine manages to scrape more leftover black pudding into a jar, since it proved to be so handy the first tie around.

As they get to the door, they see it is protected with magic. David weaves a spell to break the magic, and the door drops down obediently to unveil a small secret staircase there. Instead of descending the staircase, they get the bright idea to lower Slade down on a rope. He dangles downward as Alaric struggles to stabilize him. Slade gingerly spins the chest facing the other way and feels a tingle around his hands as he does so.

“Jerk me!” he yells to Alaric. When the ranger yanks the rope really hard, it is a frozen halfling he tugs back. Touching the chest triggered a trap! Slade is stunned to near unconsciousness, but Silver’s healing energy manages to defrost him. He is slightly shaken but otherwise all right.

After descending the staircase, Alaric raises his shield and sticks his weapon around it to jimmy the lock of the chest. It clicks open almost effortlessly. Inside, inlaid in a velvet cloth, is dagger much like the one they found in the other room. The dagger wields the burning hand magic similar to the wizard’s spell, so David takes ownership of it.

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Grand Ole Flag
May she fly forever and more...

Indeed, the young Miss Aeryn “Dragonsbane” Winterborn does capture the throne, taking it rightly back to her family name. The townspeople pour in from the countryside to partake in the celebratory festivities. Many nights of joy and drinking and feasting keep smiles on everyone’s faces, even those of the thieves guild. Bruce Mackenzie himself was in charge of the decorations, both inside the castle and in the courtyard where the citizens gathered and mingled all day and all night.

Heinrich Hoffner added to the non-stop party with various sideshows from his traveling circus. His whole act was there, minus Beastmaster, of course, who was working diligently with Rhaine Thornweaver and the Pandas, Milky and Fluffy.

As for Drawback Dagger, not much was seen of him in the days that followed the re-taking of the castle. He is rumored to be seen moving in and out of the secret passages that lead to the guilds, where he is, according to some, training Daetrus as a guild garrison leader. It’s been made clear that Drawback Dagger doesn’t like to stay in one place very long and things seem to be settling nicely for the over, and under, worlds of Dragonsbane Citadel.

In these times, our victorious party settles into a rare routine of normal life, taking advantage of the finer services that are often provided to such individuals that rescue a people from tyranny. The royal weapons smith and armorer mend, sharpen, and polish everyone’s battle-damaged gear. Bellies are filled with succulent meats and the sweetest of wines. And lazy afternoons are spent fishing, riding, or gambling out and about the town.

Alaric gets to better know Bedlam in his new wolf form. With a greater affinity to the wild, his canine companion is even teaching some new tricks to the ranger!

Caldarraksondorlak II spends all his days and nights locking himself high in a castle tower which has been cleared for him by Aeryn “Dragonsbane” Winterborn as his personal study. There is much magic at his fingertips to be scrutinized and learned.

Master Slade Darkblade is anything but stationary. Most of the time no one knows where he is. The most evident passion of his these days is his little grub he rescued from the giant ant colony. A castle guard swore one day he witnessed the small beast playing fetch with the rogue…

Rhaine Thornweaver exhausts her afternoons in intense training sessions with Beastmaster and her new Panda friends. Milky is the only one large enough to serve as a mount, and he’s not taking well to a saddle. And Rhaine isn’t taking well to bareback riding a panda. There are challenges ahead for her…

Silver Shadow-Wraithsought out the unnamed cleric who had helped Alaric regain his mortal existence. Although he worshipped the Goddess Sune, and not Baccab, she felt there was much to learn from this man. He put her to work fixing up the cemetery chapel and in return began teaching her new meditation techniques that could bring her closer and more quickly to her deity.

What new adventure lies right around the corner for the stalwart adventurers? Where will they go next? What’s that little “S” shaped scar on the back of Alaric’s calf? Time will tell, when we once again…

Attack the Darkness!!!

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Dungeon Crawling

The party finds themselves alone beneath the tunnels of the Frostmantle Citadel when, all of a sudden, Alaric hears a suspicious noise coming from a side off the passage. He tries to alert the others, but Silver is busy making a healing salve from a yellow mold discovered on one of the rocks. She then scrapes the remainder of the mold into a jar. Slade, meanwhile, is too busy dissecting the asses of three dead ants. He completes his dissection upon claiming the pincers of a large warrior ant that has met its untimely demise.

Alaric alerts the rest of the party about the noise and they advance toward it in standard formation. Ever cautious, Slade decides to fling a testicle in its direction, but nothing happens. The party follows the noise into a lair filled with ten large mounds. Huge antennae are poking out from under the ground, and four warrior class ants soon emerge and attack the party. Thinking quickly, Alaric sets his cloak aflame and holds it in front of him to fend off the attack.

“Ant fuckers, your queen’s a whore!” Slade cries out friskily, obviously in the mood for battle. Predictably, two of the ants attack, flanking them on all sides. Rhaine is able to behead one of the ants with her flame blade, sending its noggin flying through the air like a melon, while Slade deals one of the other ones a double sai stab to the skull.

“I have a bad feeling about this…”

The other two ants emerge from the lair and advance on the party. Aeryn, in a bid to shove Alaric aside again (which she very much enjoyed doing before), ends up crowding the hallway. Fortuitously, one of the attacking ants fumbles and cuts off its own mandibles on her sword. Continuing her swing, she manages to slice the head of the other ant clean off. Silver tries to help but only ends up wounding Slade, which causes the one remaining ant to chuckle—though it hurts him to do so, being that he’s mandible-less and all.

In a show of stark defiance, Alaric hamfists the callous, mocking ant, smacking his head with his bare hands. Although this isn’t enough to damage him, it does wound his antly pride even just a little bit. Rhaine then deals the killing blow.

For seemingly no reason at all, David and Aeryn decide this is as good a time as any to mudwrestle. They rub each other slowly and seductively in ant guts to disguise their scent per Slade’s suggestion, never realizing that Slade is secretly getting off on it. Perverted little halfling.

David goes in for a kiss but is only rewarded with a slap from his lady love.

Slade then devises a plan to scare the remaining ants in the lair. They use Rhaine’s spear and put the mandible-less ant head on the end of it. Brave Alaric holds the stinking thing out in front of him as the party heads toward the burrow hole. It is dripping ant juice nastiness along the way, but Alaric manages to subdue his gag reflex because he’s big and strong and all.

Taking a single fire opal from his beloved Silver, Slade moves toward the lair. Silver gives Alaric her shield to protect comrade from the fabulous destruction that is about to occur. With everyone else safely out of the way, Alaric kneels behind her shield and Slade throws a fire opal. As soon as the little bead leaves his fingertips, he slides in slow-mo behind Alaric, holding on to him just in time as the explosion rocks the tiny passage, sending rocks and debris flying every which way. The sound is deafening, and all anyone can hear as the heat from the flames licks their faces is a tinny ringing sound.

As the dust settles and the smoke clears, Slade grabs Aeryn’s torch and goes forward to investigate the lair. The room is filled with collapsed rubble and isolating darkness. As his vision slowly adjusts, Slade can make out the unappetizing shape of gooey dead ant bodies littering the floor.

Since he doesn’t really want to continue mucking around in the nastiness, he returns to the party and they proceed down the remainder of the passage. Another noise can be heard.

“Sounds like a gobo jerking off,” Alaric says through gritted teeth.

The noise, however, actually sounds like someone shaking a large bowl of fish, but nobody really wants to correct Alaric since he’s in bloodlust mode right now. It’s just better not to provoke him when he’s in one of his moods.

Moving toward the sound, the party stumbles upon a damp-looking room filled with a pungent stench. Within it, they can see what appears to be hundreds of wriggling ant larvae. The party retrieves the boards they had thrown down into the hole before climbing down and lights them all on fire. They drop the board on the ground and it singes the larvae with a sickening frying sound.

Then begins the stomping. Every single person—save one—stomps all over the poor, defenseless ant larvae. And that person is Slade. He pushes one into his backpack and names it Hyperion.

After this, the party leaves the lair and continues down the passage. There is a room that is covered with boards, but they are unable to get in.

“A coffin with a vampire, yeah!” Slade cries. But only time will tell if the dead shall rise…

The party goes to the other end of the unexplored hallway, where they smell a bad carrion stench. In one abandoned room at the end of the hall, they find several dead bodies still with clothes and armor on them just rotting away. In this room, Silver’s keen half-elf eyes perceive a displaced-looking wall. Together, they are able to open the wall, where they find a little metal box. Slade notices a little piece of thread dangling on the box. Could it be a bomb? He asks Silver for motivating in upping his wisdom to defuse the bomb, and she complies, happy to be given the change to proselytize for her god Baccob once again.

The rest of the party leaves the room while foolhardy Slade ties a rope to his waist and holds a shield in front of himself. Alaric holds the rope, ready to tug him out at a moment’s notice should the thread prove to be a trap.

Silver says, “Slade, you know that our lord Baccob will bless you in whatever you do. I feel you have done things that have made him proud. Just feel the power of Baccob in your puny little brain. Just feel it!”

“Can I get an Amen?” Slade asks with a grin on his face.

The sparkling little threads travel under the box and are connected to the top of the lid, Slade notices. The box has a simple little latch. Slade quickly lights the thread, Alaric pullshim quickly, and he pulls his shield up.

Nothing happens. Except that the strings are gone, of course.

Slade instead borrows Alaric’s dagger and props the blade up under the hinge and walks back so that when Alaric calls “come,” the blade will pop the box open. Alaric gives the command.

Rattle! Clang!

The knife returns to his hand and the box is now open on the floor. There is a thick leather square and sheaf of paper laying there. The leather carries the royal crest of the Dragonsbanes, and the sheaf of paper is a note to her royal highness Dragonsbane. David takes the note and reads it to the rest of the party.

“To her royal highness, the surveillance of the thieving guild has gone awry. The caverns are overrun.”

The party gets seven Frostmantle rings and a broken wand before returning to the room and ripping up the floorboards. Alaric lowers Slade down on a rope.

“If I say ‘hello, my fine fellow,’ pull me up!” the halfling instructs the ranger.

His body is lowered down on a rope, dangling about, into a roughly circular room. There is another tunnel leading off it down below. Slade attaches a grappling hook at the bottom so everybody can climb down it. The mountain lion doesn’t want to come, so Rhaine tires to coax him down with some of their rations, but it doesn’t work. Alaric, however, has the magic ranger touch, and the kitty comes to him when he is called. David makes sure to detach the grappling hook once everyone is down.

The party walks down the passage and notices a dampness up ahead. The mountain lion suddenly looks scared. The party fights the black pudding, which splits into separate pieces when they try to damage it with their weapons. The puddles keep creating even smaller puddles as they continue their fruitless battle. Silver suddenly decides to throw a lantern full of oil on the large puddle and then David uses his burning hands to set it aflame. Both Aeryn and Alaric lose their armor to the pudding, which disintegrates it easily, with little effort, leaving them both naked in the passage. The rest of the party continues to battle the pudding, sensing that it is sensitive to fire. Alaric shoots the big pudding with a flaming arrow, killing it. Alaric then shoots the medium-sized pudding with a fire arrow, killing it too. He’s on a roll! Rhaine dumps oil on the smaller puddle and touches her flame blade ot it, killing it immediately.

The battle seems to be over… for now.

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