So, if you remember, Harry had just regained consciousness but he was still hanging out on the ground with a giant twig monster above him as we were trying to beat the everliving out of Derrnen. Which, you might also recall, we had had to do because a certain cleric who was currently a large furry mammal had charged in without a word to us.
That about sums it up.
Anyway, Harry stood and tried to quarterstaff Derrnen. Wooden staff vs. wooden armor, victor: wooden armor.
We’d been feeling pretty confident at this point, and I was beginning to wonder if I’d even needed to expend all that effort breaking free of the vines if everyone else was going to take care it.
Then the bramble monsters smashed giant twig fists down on Harry and Helli and they both got knocked out.
Suddenly things felt a lot more serious than they had before. Bear-Awk struck out with his bear claws, Felegum threw out some magic missiles, and Zeno continued to steal the show by pulling a rapier from his bagpipes and stabbing a shrub. I guess he must have cast Faerie Fire on this one or something, because the twigs were still glowing as they fell to earth.
Then Derrnen pulled a dagger out of the tree piercing a pure white orb, then the orb melted into the dagger, and it became coated with this black ichor. It did not look good, and lo, it was not good, since when it stabbed Bear-Awk he transformed back instantly to regular Awk, small and kind of beaten up looking. Felegum and Zeno were still trapped in the vines and undergrowth and we were running out of options.
So, you know, I went for it.
I still couldn’t figure out how to work these damn wings, but I got to Derrnen. There were a lot of things outside of my control and a lot of things I couldn’t keep safe. It’s not like I didn’t know this. And it’s not like I wasn’t here for exactly that reason, having something to protect that I couldn’t.
But sometimes, I’d almost convinced myself that I could change that.
My shortsword broke through his armor and hit home, my wings glowing behind me.
“There are others,” Dernnen said, slumping down. “Other conduits.”
Felegum cheered from the brambles as Derrnen slipped into unconsciousness. “How do you like them apples?”
Even I had to admit that was pretty good.
One of the bramble monsters melted away as Zeno danced away from it and I healed Helli. It seemed pretty silly to be hiding what I was when I had two giant wings popping out of my back, and she needed help. Awk got Harry back on his feet and Felegum disposed of the other twig blight. My wings faded back into nothingness, and for a little while it felt weird not having them there, even though they hadn’t been around that long.
Zeno went over to check on Meepo, to see if there was anything he could do. I thought that was pretty decent of him, until he picked up the kobold’s head and opened and closed the jaw, puppeting, “Meepo just fine.”
“STOP IT.” I yelled. You’d think demolishing the bad dude could get me one moment of respite but no, here I was again, confronted with the people I was traveling with disrespecting the dead. I already felt shitty about letting him die and leaving him, and this was just the last straw.
Meanwhile, Harry was being practical and searching Derrnen’s body, since apparently Zeno’s willingness to touch corpses ended when there were no longer jokes to be made about them. The dragonborn found some potions, the nasty dagger, weird yellow powder, and a twisty stick.
Helli got the nasty dagger, and Harry was working through who would carry the potions when Awk tied Derrnen’s hands (whatever, Awk was weird like that) and then revived him.
I nearly dropped my weapons. “What–“
“There are other conduits,” Derrnen repeated, and then disintegrated, laughing. The red slither once again flew out of his body as it turned to dust and flew through away through the ceiling. I don’t know. Slither physics were never my forte.
Luckily, Harry had pulled all the stuff of value off his body before he did that, but Zeno was furious. He pulled his dagger out and held it at Awk’s throat. I contemplated for a moment and then did the same with my rapier.
Hey, he dropped Meepo.
Felegum sighed and said he was going to examine the tree.
Then, Zeno attacked Awk. “Stop. Ruining. Everything.”
Awk summoned a spirit of the air and it floated behind him, vaguely dragon-like, staring at Zeno. Zeno, in turn, laughed and put away his sword. “I was going to heal you afterward!”
The dragon cloud thing snorted in his face and I was close enough to feel the coldness of its breath. Then it disappeared.
“I,” I said, sheathing my shortsword, “will take my revenge passive aggressively and later.”
Believe me, I already had plans.
While Felegum was monitoring the tree, it was already pushing out its dead, old bark and replacing it with new bark, healing itself. Not sure what to make of that. Was this a problem that would come back to bite us later if we left it alone? Maybe. Did I want apples from this tree badly enough to risk that? Also a solid maybe.
The three adventurers who we’d been hired to find were still there, well, in dead form anyway. We debated how to handle this.
If there had been any takeaways from me and Felegum dragging that one bugbear to solid ground, it was that we were not good at hauling heavy things long distances. We pretty much had: one dragon-ish dude, a regular old guy who sang and didn’t hit the weights, two tiny gnomes, and two scraggly humans (and Felegum definitely looked worse than me in that department– sorry, dude). Getting three bodies out of here and back to town was unlikely.
“Should we take something from each of them?” Felegum suggested.
“Promises were made.” The bard looked down at the bodies, steeling himself to go through their things. As much as he didn’t want to do it, he found a letter on one of the men from Miriam. That man, Sir Bradford aka her husband, was also wearing armor with designs on it like the motifs we’d seen back on the general store in town. We took that, the letter, and personal effects and armor from the other fallen to bring back with us.
Then, seeing that no one else really had plans for the tree, I carefully took a handful of my cloak, used it to over my hand as I touched the apple partway emerging from the bark, and stabbed it out with my dagger. It looked to be about one mouthful. I wrapped it up and put it away.
“Derrnen,” Harry said, “may have been the one to upset the apple cart.”
I briefly wondered how long the apple puns would go on.
Anyway, also according to Harry, we had three potions on the wizard’s body– orange, dark green, and purple–as well as the sending stone. Felegum pointed out that we should probably give the fallen a proper burial if we were done looting them.
And we did. Zeno played “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes and it was surprisingly touching. Felegum used his earth moving spell to make graves, and Meepo even got his own spot. I needed to have my hood back up because things were getting emotional and it’s hard to have private space when you’re in a wide-open grove surrounded by people.
Eventually, after some discussion, we decided not to burn the tree. It still produced apples, after all, and it didn’t seem like it was doing anything terrible on its own. Also, Derrnen might come back to it at some point and we could maybe conclude our business with him using the tree as bait.
Or just come back for actual healing apples instead of just slices.
Services to the dead completed, tree agreed on, we took a rest, and then had to figure out what we were going to do with the dragon.
“Angel boy made a deal,” Zeno said.
I scowled. I should have seen this coming. Trust one person with something and what happened? Eternally bad nicknames. Dangerous ones, even, in the wrong company.
Fortunately, Felegum changed the topic to other, more pressing matters. “Do you have any indigestion, Zeno?”
It had been at least eight hours or so since Zeno had eaten the mysterious purple fruit, and so if it was going to royally screw him over it likely would have done so by now.
“Uh no,” Zeno said, snorting. “That was the best fruit I’ve ever had in my life.”
So that’s how we ended up back in the purple fruit room, stuffing our pockets with fruits to take with us for the road. I tried one, now that they were safe, and it was amazing, like a feeling of deep inner joy.
“These will be bane berries,” Zeno proclaimed, and I saw nothing wrong with that.
We continued through the rest of the dungeon; for whatever reason, Felegum had an obsession with knowing what was behind all the doors we hadn’t opened, so we mostly just spent some time opening those, until we came to one that just smelled really bad.
Like, not kidding, it smelled like death.
“Felegum found a door!” Zeno called.
We grimaced at the stench.
“Let’s not…do that.” Felegum said. And we left that door forever unopened and no one was sad about it.
We also needed to stop back by the ravine that Helli and Felegum had found earlier while the rest of us had been busy liberating goblins from a lifetime of weird gardening. Harry took a running start, flipped mid-air, and landed with no problem on the other side.
“Finally, an opportunity to show my physical prowess,” the dragonborn said.
“He can’t see in the dark,” Helli said, as Harry triumphantly marched off.
“I have a torch!” Harry called out.
“And feelings,” Felegum added.
Anyway, Harry went off to investigate. I guess there was a door or something down there, because he knocked on it, got no response, and then knocked it down. The knocking down part was pretty obvious since we could hear that across the ravine, and then Harry also ran back to yell to us about what he’d done and what he’d found.
It was a room filled with mosiacs and another dragon statue, this one made of metal and not like the others with the veined marble. Awk, once again proving to be unrestrainable, also jumped across the whole ravine. Harry was able to get the dragon statue to open a drawer by pressing on runes–he made it sound like he didn’t know what he was doing, but he had to have some idea, right?
The dragon statue turned out to house some gems– two red, one colorless, one light blue, and two green. According to Harry, Awk got on top of the dragon statue and peered into its face. Thankfully, nothing happened.
They crossed back over the chasm– Harry holding the rope for Awk this time and also jumping the gap himself with less style so that he wouldn’t lose the gems to the abyss. When he showed us what he’d found, Helli was elated. “Gems,” she whispered.
She evaluated the haul, and we found that we had two rubies, a diamond, an aquamarine, and two emeralds. Not bad.
Then, it was time for the goblins. Zeno played triumphant music to herald our arrival back to their quarters, and we walked slowly and coolly past the caltrops.
We arrived to a scene of mild chaos, the usual variety when a large group is collecting their things and vacating a place where they’ve spent much of their time. Goblins rushed about, hastily packing odds and ends, cataloguing belongings and stowing them in boxes, bags (presumably with holes) and other containers, and then carrying those up and out of the citadel.
One goblin passing by crowed, “We are free of Derrnen and we can finally leave this place in peace! Bring Goblin Shopping Network to the world!”
“I want books!” said Awk. “About dragons!”
Farwyn was ready for it. “Here, look at books!”
Awk looked at books. He asked about ones for learning Draconic, but because the goblin could not read Awk was on his own. Eventually a book hit him the chest. Whether it was about dragons or not, I couldn’t say.
Grennel was also there in the melee of packing. “Made us cultivate conduits.” She spat. “And fed us to stupid tree.”
According to her, Derrnen lured the goblins here a long time ago and the tree downstairs was a lot bigger than it used to be when they’d first gotten here. Derrnen had tricked them into thinking that this place was home. “Dragon is yours if you want it,” she said.
But before we could even begin to approach that problem, Helli was trying to steal something from the goblins as they packed and it didn’t work out. Felegum tried to help. “I’m sure she just saw a wrinkle on your clothing.”
Zeno decided on a more expedient route. “Here’s two gold.” He told the offended party. To Helli, he pointed at the hallway and said, “Go.”
Once Awk had concluded his business, I stepped up. I wasn’t kidding when I’d said that I wanted to try my hand at the Goblin Shopping Network. “Do you have any books on medicine?”
“As you remember, I cannot read!” Farwyn shrugged. “But potion for death? We have that!”
He grabbed something from the slightly diminished pile of wares, uncorked it, and wow, it was awful. I mean, I have smelled some pretty bad things in my time and that was definitely top five.
“That was pretty bad,” Felegum said.
“I know,” I said and bought it immediately.
From there, we went to see the dragon, which meant meeting back up with Helli.
“Steal better next time,” Felegum said.
Helli sighed and nodded. “The stealthiness was not good this time. I’m learning.”
When we visited Calcryx, we discovered several important things. One, the dragon had never been below. Two, she was, in fact, not a dude.
“Perhaps you’d be willing to make a trade.” Felegum said.
The dragon curled around her hoard of coins and shiny things. “Leave, or I’ll freeze you where you stand.”
“I have a deal for you.” Zeno cut in quickly. “House to live in, kobolds to eat, treasure below… All you have to do is just stay here.”
There was a brief, dangerous pause. Then the dragon unfurled her wings behind her and inclined her head, ever so slightly. “The terms are acceptable.”
We headed out back into the caverns.
“Any concern about leaving a dragon so close to civilization?” Felegum asked.
Zeno waved it off. “Nah, guys, we’re fine!”
Outside on the cliffs we’d climbed down before were tons of ropes and goblins scrambling up them with possessions and packages. There were several huge carts, one of which seemed too ridiculously stuffed go move. Stuff kept getting thrown onto it and there was even a couch lashed to the front for drivers to sit on.
“A wonder of goblin engineering,” Harry breathed.
I shook my head. “It’s amazing that even moves.”
Felegum just looked pleased. “As the son of mapmakers, I am pleased.”
It was about a six-hour walk back to town and the Green Mug, and I must have been distracted because I totally forgot to return the lizard and only realized I still had it on me when we sat down for dinner and felt the bottle squirm in my things.
“You returned and you’re still alive!” Innard, the other owner of the Green Mug, said. Zeno asked about how his beer was doing. “There have been bubbling sounds coming out of it, but I didn’t want to disrupt it.”
Apparently this was satisfactory. Adults are weird.
Over a delicious dinner of roast chicken, root vegetables, and mulberry pie, we learned that a guy named Francis is the town historian and that he basically handles connections with the outside world and trade. Most of our goals were to figure out where the rest of these conduits were, and Francis and Miriam the mayor seemed like our best bets.
Also, fun fact: this town is called Greenrest. It’s possible I’d known that before and just forgot it, but whatever, whenever I asked for directions to Appleton on the way here somehow people knew what I was talking about.
Awk wondered if we should deliver the bad news to Miriam tonight, and everyone pretty much told him absolutely not. We’d go in the morning.
And yeah, it was just nice. Everything smelled delicious and I had a rare moment of peace, savoring the last little bits of pie and feeling full. It was so, so much better than rations, even though the baneberries had been a welcome surprise.
There weren’t enough free rooms at the inn, so, feeling uncommonly charitable, I said Harry could room with me. “Just bros being bros.” The dragonborn fistpumped.
He’s pretty legit.
“My room smells like yeast,” Zeno offered to potential roommates. I did not stick around to see if he got any takers.
The next morning was a breakfast of porridge, eggs, and bacon with Layne at the Green Mug, and then a trip to Miriam at the general store. She took the news of her husband’s death about as well as anyone could, we returned the personal effects of the dead, and when we asked about the conduits and Derrnen, she had some surprising information.
“What did he look like, Derrnen?” She asked.
“A red flowy ghost thing,” Zeno said succinctly.
“Derrnen was a traveler who’d passed through here many years ago.” Miriam held Sir Bradford’s letter to her chest. “He left to the north, though.”
While the tracker and Sir Bradford had lived in town, the dwarf wizard had hailed from Paripas, a city in the north. I didn’t know a lot about it, but I vaguely recalled something about a lot of ice. Our plans seemed to be to find the wizard’s kin and let them know of her death.
Felegum asked about the dragon worshippers, and Miriam said that most of what she knew was rumors– it was difficult to say what they’d been doing. Supposedly there were strange things happening by Lake Norka, though. She was kind enough to look over our potions, and we discovered that the red ones were healing, the green one seemed to have something to do with transmutation (I am not volunteering to be the guinea pig on that), and the orange was Fire’s Breath.
Also, the flask I’d snagged from the sacrophagus room? Elixir of health. Suck on that, Awk.
Naturally, Zeno also brought out the Bag with No Holes. “Ever seen one of these?”
“Ah, a Bag with No Holes.” Miriam smiled and nodded. “You actually bought that?”
The yellow powder from Derrnen’s body was supposedly something for conjuration, the nasty dagger from Derrnen and jagged edge sword from the other guy had transmutation properties, and the black dragon whistle was necromantic.
“Oh, we should for sure destroy that,” Zeno said. Whatever. He probably just didn’t like that Felegum had found out that his pipes were magic.
Feeling kind of like a dick, I said that the apples were not going to be forthcoming anymore and that probably the villagers would need to find their own ways of healing serious injuries in the future. Did that need to get shared? Maybe not. But having a ton of sickly old people waiting on apples that were never coming just didn’t sit well with me. No one in the party seemed keen to want to tell Miriam that we had also left a dragon in the citadel near town, so I think we’re just hoping that Calcryx stays put.
Next, we found the historian. The Shop of Books and Mysterious Histories was a store crammed to bursting with old books and antiquarian stuff. You should have seen how big Helli’s eyes got when we stepped into here. It was almost as good as watching her evaluate the gems.
Francis hobbled around vast piles of books. Harry asked if he knew about the Sunken Citadel, and Francis said that it was legends, but that it had to do with tombs and headquarters of dragonpriests. That they wanted to “unite the gods Bahamut and Tiamat and bring them into the mortal realms.”
That sounded a little bad.
Zeno talked to Francis about the conduits and it turned out that he knew a lot of things.
“Let me check my tomes.” He hefted a particularly large one onto a table and grunted. “Hercule claims that there are conduits of life and death. Years ago, there were cults trying to summon a new god to control life and death itself.”
Beyond that, Francis had some helpful information about what was happening outside the town. There was something wrong at Lake Norka– it seemed like a dam up there had been destroyed by merfolk. But, in the words of Francis, it was always “difficult to say as they are predominantly aquatic creatures.”
Then Zeno whipped out the Bag with No Holes. “What do you know about this?”
“Haha!” Francis laughed like this was the funniest thing he’d heard all day. “You purchased that from the goblins?”
It was a day’s journey to the lake. Time to meet some merfolk.
(s/o to DM-in-Chief J-Kess for the editorial assists)