I’VE GOT HEADACHES AND BAD LUCK BUT THEY COULDN’T TOUCH YOU, NO: in which a gladiator steps into the ring

I examined the pair, like my parents had taught me. I was still a little amped up from the last fight, but luckily, it didn’t take a lot of skill to see that one of them was clearly dead. The other just looked super beat up. The dead guy was human, dressed well with a binocular-like thing on his head, and the living dude was an extremely buff wood elf dressed in, well, very little beyond a loincloth.

“Anyone have any objections to me healing this one?” I asked.

Harry, sensing correctly that he would be the one who’d have to deal with it if things went sideways, sighed quietly and cracked his knuckles.

“I mean, I can’t heal him for that much,” I said, raising a hand, “so if he’d dangerous and we need to knock him back out, at least it’ll be easy.”

The others seemed on board, Harry was on deck, so I reached out and healed the guy.

His eyes fluttered open and he introduced himself as Lankin, a warrior on a quest to win glory in arenas and challenge his strength. He’d been fighting the band of orcs we’d fought earlier somewhere outside the mountain and they’d dragged him in here, along with the human we’d found with him. Lankin actually didn’t know the other, less fortunate dude, so Zeno investigated further.

“Do you recognize this guy?” Zeno motioned for his zombie. “Blorc, come here.”

The body of the former orc chieftain lumbered into view, one arm mising.

“Yes, I do!” Lankin said. This was the guy who he’d tangled with while testing his strength and apparently, it not going too well.

Taking that as an invitation, Zeno played the same tune he’d played last time, calling it “Glorc’s Dirge,” and the body of the dead human compatriot slowly lifted itself up.

This was getting out of hand.

I shook my head and turned back to Lankin. “Do you have a weapon that’s your favorite? Like rapiers, daggers, swords?”

“So, I fight with a glaive,” Lankin said. It sounded very fancy, so we looked around. No glaives in sight. Lankin seemed a little sad, but grabbed a spear for now. Maybe we could get his stuff back along the way. There were a lot of things living here; it stood to reason that any number of them might have wanted a glaive.

In the meantime, Zeno had his new corpse companion hand him the binoculars it had been wearing. The bard tried it on and nothing seemed different. It just made things rosier.

Annoyed that we were animating things and letting them wear their valuables around when they could be put to better use, I made to pat down Zeno’s newest friend. It was uncomfortable enough, but then Zeno decided to try to be helpful by having the corpse hold itself bizarrely stiff while standing.

Have I picked a pocket? Yes. Have I looted bodies? Yes. Have I ever had these two experiences blended together in the most uncomfortable way possible? No.

I was distracted and didn’t do that great a job– no one dressed this nicely only had 5 gold and 14 silver on them– but I also didn’t want to investigate further. I wondered if Zeno was making it this weird on purpose.

Harry poked around a small campsite room looking for more arrow slits and found none. Helli poked around for treasure and seemed to discover some good stuff. While the poking around was finishing up, we bandaged up our wounds, and Awk healed Lankin a little more then went off to go smell down some passageways as a bear to see what lay ahead.

To the north, it smelled like meat. To the northeast, nothing. And to the southeast, it smelled like a campfire. When we’d finished our rest, Felegum sent Dronie up north and he found more piles of stuff, a statue, and some doors.

I set off down the northeast one. I’d seen Helli check for traps a few times and that seemed doable. I was sneaky, I’d be fine. Maybe there would even be something cool down this way.

Everything seemed to be going fine, until my foot sank on a plate on the floor. I looked up and had just enough time to think “why is this happening?” when a spiked plate crashed down onto my leg, impaling it. I like to think of myself as a fairly tough person, but having your own leg speared clean through by a piece of metal is not a something I’m accustomed to.

So yeah, I screamed. Kheryph was freaking out, unharmed but running around my neck like a frantic scarf. And there I was, sprawled out mid-hallway, crushed by a plate, trying not to look at my shish-kebabed leg, trying to calm down my lizard, trying and failing to get this heavy-ass plate off of me, when everyone else showed up.

It was decidedly un-metal.

Harry rushed in with superior monk speed and tried to get the plate off me, but it didn’t budge. Then Lankin stepped up and raised it as if it weighed nothing. It made this sick slicking noise as it slid back off my leg, which would have been cool if it hadn’t been my leg it was coming out of.

“That doesn’t look so bad,” Zeno called, and I felt a little healing energy surround me. Awk also helped bind up my wounds with druid poultices so that I didn’t feel totally awful. I could still walk and everything, which was good, but I climbed on the broom anyway

“Helli, can you disarm this?” Zeno asked.

After a thorough examination, Helli determined that it was a one-time use kind of trap. So, in some senses, I’d kind of helped to disarm it after all. That didn’t make my leg feel much better, but it did do something for my wounded pride. Zeno let Helli try his fancy goggles to see what she could discern from them, but the verdict was still only pink.

Felegum sent Dronie ahead the other way, and didn’t see any traps or anything living besides an atrium full of stuff, murky dirty water, and some bars blocking a doorway to the northeast. Obviously, we were all intrigued by that.

“Blorc, walk on.” Zeno waved an arm, and the deceased orc chieftain sauntered down the path. He did not run into any traps.

Some of us went off to investigate the gate, and others dug into the piles of stuff. Harry found some dried meats and breads, Zeno discovered that the gross pool smelled worse when you dropped something into it, and Felegum sent Dronie on further exploratory missions.

“He’s fragile, but expendable,” the mage said, directing his familiar.

Beyond the gate was a huge stairway, which seemed like a solid choice. The gate was locked, so I brought out my picks, but no, Lankin was already there. He took a solid smash at the lock. No luck.

I summoned a Mage Hand, gave it my lock picks, and made an attempt. It was my first try doing this, inspired by Qoivula and Klein’s paper game back in Paripas, but it was also a lot harder to control than I’d thought. Also, Lankin had injured the lock enough that one of my picks snapped off in the mechanism.

I held it limply, aghast, cradling it to my chest.

This provoked something in Lankin. We had suffered a casualty and this could no longer stand. The veins in his neck bulged out and he bared his teeth at the gate, then gave it another stab with the spear.

This time the gate gave way, crumpling with a loud clang in the atrium beyond.

The wood elf beamed down at us. “Yeah, guys! Hitting things harder totally works!”

Zeno, seeing that the way forward had been found, commanded his zombies to clear a path for him through the debris, not wanting to scurry over the giant pile of stuff as we had. The zombies did, though they hurled things through the air as they did so, some of them hitting Zeno. Helli, meanwhile, peeked into the next room and found more dwarven carvings and beyond, a huge stairway coming out of a natural carven. There were several bodies strewn across the room, orcs and skeletons.

Harry examined the bodies for acid damage, but it was hard to say what got them. Zeno examined the bodies because he wanted a skeleton. Unfortunately, he was getting too quick on the draw with that Dirge for any of us to stop him, and sure enough, a third undead companion joined his posse.

We left the octagonal room because it was just upsetting at that point.

The room with the giant staircase, though, had two doors: one at the north and one at the south. It was a suspiciously big staircase, which had me a little wary of it, so I mostly kept to the walls as I slunk down to the south door. Beyond it, I heard voices and movement. I crept back.

Thanks to her time hanging around dwarven artificers and being familiar with their symbology, Helli had determined that the runes on the door to the north had “Danger: Flammable” carved into it. I told the others about the voices to the south, and Harry, Lankin, and I moved to investigate.

I opened the door as quietly as I could, but of course, it creaked super loudly.

Three orcs and a shamanic-looking one stared back at me.

Luckily, Harry was right next to me and able to dash in, landing a few strikes on the shaman. Loathe though I was to kill more orcs, it seemed unlikely that this group would be cool with seeing this one-armed chieftain walking around zombiely outside. When Harry’s blows left the shaman stunned and on the ground, I swept in to take them out.

Zeno, who had left his zombies outside, stepped into the room and swung out with his rapier at one of the garden variety orcs. Lankin stabbed with the spear and missed and one of the orcs lashed out toward our bard.

“Excuse me,” Zeno said in a voice of mock affront, “we have just met.”

The orc regained his footing. “I know you now,” he said, and stabbed Zeno.

Meanwhile, another orc with a great axe took a wide arc of a strike at me, Harry, Lankin, and Zeno. I didn’t dodge it fast enough, Harry was too busy warning me about it to dodge himself, and Lankin just…caught the axe in his hands, discarded the broken spear, and pulled the great axe free of the orc previously wielding it.

A weird blast of energy zoomed in over Harry’s shoulder, one of Awk’s weird warlock things, and it struck the shaman too. I could only assume that Helli and Felegum had heard the commotion and were on their way, because several bolts of energy, blue-grey colored and therefore probably Felegum’s, arced into the room and targeted the orcs unerringly.

Then Harry breathed acid all over a whole bunch of the orcs, avoiding Zeno, and once the acrid stinging abated in my eyes from the smell in such a small closed space, the outline of a door became apart on one of the walls. I didn’t like that there was a hidden door revealed only by acid in an acid dragon’s lair, but we’d have to investigate that later.

I attacked the shaman again, hoping that this dude would give up already, but no. There was even this neat opening when I could tell from my own experience casting spells that they were going to try one, and I made an attempt to stop them, but it didn’t work. Instead, the shaman finished the spell incantation and pointed at me.

And I…just felt overcome. Like, by the sheer awesomeness of it all. The shaman was wearing this really rad nose ring, a necklace made out of bone, and just killing it. They looked at home in this mess of blood and incipient death, and it was such an aesthetic it gave me pause.

Even when they tried to punch Harry it was still cool.

“Each step where it should be, never more than is needed,” the monk repeated his monastery’s catechism under his breath as he dodged with skill.

Unfortunately, Zeno had not trained at the monastery and got clobbered, but he had presumably trained in front of crowds to keep playing even when things went completely to hell, and he played a jaunty tune for the woof elf. “Lankin, roast these bastards!”

And lo, Chef Lankin roasted.

He used the great axe to chop through the orc he’d taken the great axe from literally in half and then continued his massive swing to cleave the shaman into chunks. Harry and I were covered in blood and if I’d thought the scene was overwhelmingly cool before, its effect was heightened by the shaman’s gristly death and the sheen of blood over everything. We could have been death-and-glory bard’s album cover is what I’m saying.

The rogue orc who’d run away from Zeno (possibly not a fan of bagpipes) got me while I was reveling in achieving one of my lifelong dreams, and that hurt, but not enough to deter me. You have to savor these moments; who knew when I would feel this cool again?

Then the rogue stabbed Harry once and then his strike went wide again as the monk danced out of the way. Another pop of weird spectral energy from Awk’s direction zinged over at us and somewhere down the hallway I thought I heard the flapping of wings and Felegum being ticked off before a loud thunderclap rocked the caverns.

Harry, perhaps noticing that I was not being super helpful, delivered a stunning blow to the orc rogue (whose skills I was admiring even as I was being stabbed by them) and then threw them into the corner before hitting the last remaining orc.

At that point, I was well and truly overcome. “Everyone here is so metal,” I said, dropping to my knees. “It’s just so cool.”

Zeno moved his zombies in front of me and pointed to the other felled rogue. “You’re next.”

The orc didn’t seem super jazzed about being a zombie-to-be. Lankin, meanwhile, still in his rage-fueled bloodlust, continued to pound away at the other orc remaining. The orc hit him back, but didn’t look excited about it. In fact, the orc was so unenthused that they peaced out and made a break for it down the hallway. Unfortunately for them, given the small space, it was impossible to get out the door without passing a zombie, and one of Zeno’s minions clocked them before they could reach the hall.

It was at about this point that I came back to myself, realizing that I’d been pretty much useless after opening the door and unleashing orc hell, and then needing to be protected by Harry and Zeno’s meat mob. The memory of the shaman’s spell I’d been unable to interrupt flashed through my head. I winced. Ugh.

I’d just finished picking myself up off the floor as Lankin was going through his victory poses over the slain bodies of his foes. He had several varieties of these poses, and all of them were meticulously struck and well-practiced. Entangling vines sprung forth from the walls and floor to bind the orc rogue, and somewhere back in the cavern with the giant stairs Helli and Felegum sliced what seemed to be little bat creatures. Not huge enough to be threatening, but annoying.

Harry, who was excited to use some of the things he’d bought on one of his shopping trips, whipped out the manacles he’d had clanking around in his bag and secured the orc’s hands. Zeno called off his zombies as I stood.

“Hello, Mr. Orc.” Harry crossed his arms. “What should we call you?”

The orc rogue made a growling noise.

“Name?” Harry repeated.

The orc mumbled somehing.

“Grutch, that’s a nice name for a prisoner.” The monk nodded. “Angry Grutch.”

“I’ll be out of these chains and then we’ll see who’ll be angry,” Grutch seethed.

“Whoa, Harry, wait!” Zeno interceded, eyes wide. “Why not take one of his huge arms?”

Harry shook his head. “No, no, we start with the legs.”

Zeno nodded like he’d forgotten the way we dealt with prisoners. “Right, right. Blorc?”

The massive blue one-armed orc chieftain lumbered into view, ready. I felt vaguely guilty for inspiring this, since Grutch was clearly trembling.

“Wait, wait!” The orc said.

“We have questions,” Harry said. “Who’s your leader?”

“Zuul.” The orc said after a pause.

“And this leader is below?”

Grutch jutted his chin out. “We are many, we are prosperous. Just orcs here but lots below.”

“Ooh, what’s below?” Lankin leaned in.

“Lots of shiny glittery.” Grutch explained. “Orc like.”

“Why,” Harry paused, “don’t you get the shiny things from below?”

Grutch looked at him like he must be dumb and said simply: “Dragon.”

That would explain it.

“What’s the dragon like?” Lankin asked, in the same tone of voice one would ask about a new friend they were about to meet.

“Scary,” Grutch replied. “Eat many orc.”

“What’s behind the door with the flammable sign on it?” Helli asked. When Grutch looked at her confusedly, she realized he probably couldn’t read it and she rephrased. “The door to the north?”

“Oh.” The orc grimaced. “When we open, it explode. We don’t go there.”

Lankin asked about any dogs on the premises.

“Yes, we have dogs. Wolfy has dogs.” Grutch replied. Asked if there was a command word we could use to get the dogs to not attack us and calm down, Grutch just smiled and said, “Erfwe.”

“What do you think about before you go to sleep?” Felegum asked.

Everyone turned to him. He shrugged, like it hadn’t been a weird-ass question to ask.

“Have you,” Lankin asked, “heard of the great fighter, the Rock?”

This dude was apparently Lankin’s idol. He wouldn’t stop talking about him whenever we asked about his gladiatorial exploits and goals.

The orc’s eyes lit up. “The Stone!”

Lankin squealed with delight. “What’s your favorite fight?”

Grutch thought about it. “The Stone versus the Megacentipede. We saw it in person and he was amazing.”

The pair reminisced about their favorite Stone fights for a while as Zeno, Harry, and I debated what to do. Harry was all for killing Grutch honorably but I felt really bad about it and suggested that maybe I just put him to sleep and then we could disappear while he was out and then he could go back to his family. Harry countered that something would definitely eat him in that time, and Zeno said that we’d been killing all of his family anyway and that letting him go would only be a slower death.

I disagreed, but unfortunately it was at this point that Grutch heard our discussions, made a strike at Harry, and well, that was pretty much it for Grutch.

Feeling a little sick, I went over to examine the desk in the room. It had a secret compartment, which was fun to find, and I laid hands on about 320 silver pieces. Not much, but it was something to restore my faith in myself. I could at least find things in desks even if both the pressure plate trap and this battle hadn’t gone that great for me.

I also found a button. After telling the others, we arranged ourselves in and out of the room, to test what it would do. Open a secret passage? Reveal treasure or a clue about Nightscale? I sent in the Mage Hand and pressed it.

At first, there was nothing. I wondered if anything had happened, but then the sound of cranking and turning rumbled through the caves. And then, behind us, through the door to the north rumbled forth wave after wave of fire.

I thought that the fire was going to stop, that surely it could not come to us all the way down in the south room, but no, it did. It spread over the staircase, frying the remains of the bat things that Helli and Felegum had fought, and it became clear that we were going to get cooked if we didn’t move and fast.

The stairway was totally wreathed in flame at this point, so that was out. Helli ran at the door that Harry’s acid breath had revealed, but it wouldn’t budge. Lankin stepped in, ripped it open and we all fled through it, zombies bumbling along behind us. The passage led us back into the big treasure and junk room from earlier, though some of the stuff was burnt as the fire at last reached its apex and retreated.

I now understood why now they really did not open that door.

After all that, we needed a breather. Felegum had Dronie explore ahead again and found a statue of a dwarf wrought out of iron who was hammering something and two more doors down another hallway to the north. When that was done, he scanned the junk room for magical items and found nothing, so the mage put out the remaining fires that were still smoldering on the stuff.

Harry checked on the fire pit area we’d briefly recovered in before, saw that it was mostly untouched by the fire, and we made plans to settle in there. Helli and Lankin took the first watch, me and Felegum did the second, and Harry, Zeno, and possibly Awk were on the last one. Mostly, Felegum and I chatted about Lankin.

We awoke to crappy rations and dry bread. I made a note to try to figure out something for the future. Zeno kept thinking that I could cook, which I did not want to encourage, but something truly had to be done. This stuff was about on par with Awk’s goodberries and not in a complimentary way.

However, we did not even have the option of goodberries because Awk was just out. It must have been something where he was communing with his patron again, because we couldn’t wake him up. Instead, Lankin carried him under one arm like a ball.

The first order of business was to investigate that statue that Dronie had found for traps. Helli investigated the statue and found another pressure plate trap. She made an attempt to disarm it, but wasn’t confident in it– the piece of metal she’d tried to jam into the plate to get it not to spring wouldn’t go into the small ridge between the plate and the floor.

So, Lankin, who had become our new way of disarming things, threw a barrel form the junk room onto it, causing the plate to depress and the dwarf’s mouth to open, spewing forth noxious gas. We all made sure to be out of the way of that.

Once it had cleared, I floated over on the broom to inspect the dwarf’s head– the mouth was closed again, which meant that possibly we could have other round of poison gas. The barrel was still depressed on the plate, though, so we could at least get through if we needed to.

Helli was interested in what lay beyond the door that the poison gas dwarf statue guarded, and Lankin wanted to open another door, beyond which we could hear snuffling and canine noises.

In a bizarre feat of mixed communication, both Helli and Lankin opened the doors at the same time.

Helli’s door revealed orc barracks and one of them took a shot at her with an arrow as she very quickly made to close the door. Zeno had one of his zombies step in and hold it shut.

Meanwhile, Lankin’s door revealed giant dire wolves. One plowed into Lankin, who laughed and scratched it behind its furry ears. Zeno, sensing that his skills were in dire need here, dashed over and mimicked Grutch’s voice when he’d said the command to calm down the dogs. “Erfwe!”

“What?” A low, loud voice said from the back of the room.

I hid in the hallway shadows and flicked out my dagger, ready. Harry braced himself next to me.

“Erfwe!” Zeno repeated.

“What?” The voice called back, a little more annoyed. “I’m right here.”

A huge ogre loomed forth out of the room, squinting at a happy Lankin playing with his two wolves. Zeno stepped forward and began to play a tune to hopefully demonstrate that we were here more on a diplomatic mission.

The ogre seemed delighted. “Fancy fun man,” he intoned. “Play a fancy funny man thing.”

“You’ll need this first,” Zeno said, holding out his keg and intending perhaps for the ogre to have a sip. Instead, the ogre, who did indeed seem to be named Erfwe, swallowed the keg entirely.

“Mm,” Erfwe said, “excellent.”

Zen made a valiant attempt at playing the Ballad of Zen, but Erfwe was just not in the mood. “Ugh,” the ogre said, “stop it. Do you go to fight in the glittery place? Zuul must have wanted you.” On seeing Lankin more closely, this seemed to fit Erfwe’s assumption. “Ooh, a new champion.”

Zeno played along. “Exactly. He’s short on clothes but long on fighting prowess. There was, uh,” the bard struggled momentarily to find the words, “an incident with a fire.”

Erfwe sighed. “That was you? Idiots.”

Zeno shrugged, thanked Erfwe for his information, and made to leave. However, Erfwe held up a hand.

“Say funny thing before funny man leave.”

Harry and I exchanged looks. This was make or break, right here. Our having to fight an ogre or not, and emotionally scar Lankin by fighting his dogs too, depending on Zeno’s ability to come up with a good joke on the fly.

“What did the wall say to the other wall?” Harry said as Helli joined us in the shadows. “Meet me at the corner.”

I thought it was pretty good, but Erfwe was unamused. “I’m waiting, funny man.”

Then Zeno composed himself, bowed, and made his attempt. “What is a duck’s favorite food?”

Erfwe’s brow furrowed as he thought. “I don’t know.”


The ogre burst out in laughter. Harry tsked and crossed his arms. “No respect!”

Erfwe, once he had finished laughing, wiped his eyes and turned to the dragonborn. “It’s about delivery.”

Harry meditated on this.

Menawhile, Felegum, who could not be trusted with an unopened door, especially if it meant he could complete the map he was sketching of the floor we were in, opened a door at the end of the hall. “Oops, wrong door!” he said and shut it fast, as the orcs inside bellowed “INTRUDERS!”

Erfwe sighed and bellowed back: “NEW FUNNY MAN!”

There was a pause. Then one of the orcs from Felegum’s room yelled back, “Oh, okay!” and the hall was quiet again.


As we headed back to the room with the massive staircase, I decided to extend an olive branch to Zeno, since his quick thinking and jokes had gotten us out of at least several fights and had enabled us not to have to fight any dogs. I didn’t have to agree with him about the undead or even like them, but maybe this was another tool I could use.

After all, if he could control some undead, what was there to say he couldn’t control others? Milto had said I needed to find someone with divine magic, but as I was starting to see with Lankin and doors, there was usually more than one way to solve a problem.

“So, I asked Zeno as we walked, “what are your zombies’ names?”

I knew Blorc already (I’d killed him and cleaved off his arm, after all), but the human adventurer he’d reanimated next to Lankin was called Zombubulli, and the skeleton guy he’d picked up in the octagonal room before the giant staircase area was called Skeletono. We descended the stairs into a more cavernous, cave-like part of the mountain and that weird fluttering sound echoed in the distance.

Ahead, at a fork, Felegum sent Dronie down to search ahead and Dronie found a small group of the bat things. Felegum was able to cast Shatter on them from a distance and we did not hear the fluttering anymore.

Of course, we were also basically announcing ourselves with loud booms at every turn down here, which had me on edge. We were pretty much in an underground mine, which made sense– this had been a dwarven operation before the orcs moved in, so it stood to reason that we’d get down deep enough to see the mine part. Nothing still seemed operational; it was more the relics of a time gone by.

To the south was a room filled with boxes and coffins. Naturally, Zeno was fascinated and waltzed on in.

We found that the coffins were being used as benches, and that there were creatures of various types sitting on them as they listened to a large bipedal lizard guy holding giant-sized axes talk. Standing lizard dude was giving directions and yelling at the crowd, which included humans, some orcs, and a variety of other entities.

beyond was a wide open cavern filled with glimmering jewels.

“is this,” Lankin breathed, “the underground arena?”

He pushed past Zeno.

“The next challenger has arrived!” Lankin called into the din. “I’m Lankin, warrior of the woods! And I’m here to fight!”

The giant lizard swiveled in a way that only lizards can do and leaned in toward the wood elf. “What brought you here?”

And Lankin, possessing not a single deceptive bone in his body, replied, “the Aegis!”

Everything stopped. All was deadly still.

“Who sent you?” The giant growled. The others in the crowd reached for their weapons.

“Uh,” Lankin chose this moment to go for the lie: “Zuul!”

“I am Zuul,” the giant lizard replied.

“I was told you wanted a new gladiator!” Lankin held up both hands in a shrug. “I guess there must have been a misunderstanding!”

And, amazingly, that worked.

“Then why did you mention the Aegis?” Zuul asked, less tense.

“Well,” Zeno hastily cut in, “we’ve heard tell of its power. And we’re looking for things, artifacts of interest. We sought out the champion Lankin to that end.”

Lankin looked very proud and champion-ly.

We found, through further discussion, that this group was also after the Aegis, that they’d been assigned here, by various other outside sources, to try to bring it back out. No one, however, seemed too keen on fighting Nightscale alone. For one, it was hard to coax her out. For another, she’d embedded the Aegis into her skull and it gave her additional magic abilities beyond a normal dragon.

Suddenly this whole thing had gotten a lot more complicated.

“I just want to fight a dragon!” Lankin moped.

Zeno hummed. “You know, the ogre made it sound like this thing with Zuul was going to be a sporting event.”

Zuul smiled. “Oh, we can make this into any event you like.”

And thus a deal was struck: if Lankin could defeat a monster of the group’s choosing, then he’d be allowed to become their champion. Lankin was totally down for it and was allowed to borrow one of the axes that an orc in the group had, since the wood elf had discarded the great axe he’d stolen in one of the orc’s faces back in the room with the desk. Zeno gave him a slap on his back and some encouraging words, and he leapt into the pit of crystals, which Zuul called the Glittering.

In the Glittering, a serpent creature emerged, moving with the air of a creature seeing their next meal thrown into a cage. It was almost like Kheryph and baneberries, except less adorable and fewer legs. Felegum cast Haste on Lankin so he could get in a few more attacks before the serpent made to strike him, and for a while, the gladiator seemed to be doing quite well on his own.

He busted out in veins and anger again, slicing and dicing at the serpent like there was no tomorrow.

And just when things seemed to be well in hand, the beast swallowed him.

I hopped on the broom and rose into the air. Yeah, this had been Lankin’s fight and Felegum yelled something at me about Lankin not wanting me to intrude for the sake of honor, but honor mattered a whole lot less when you were dead. I could still see a lump in the snake’s stomach moving around, and below me Harry sprung into action as well.

He seemed less enthused about punching the serpent and more getting involved to keep me out of trouble, which I appreciated, especially when the snake tried to bite at him and missed, and I could hear a faint “like water” drift up from the arena.

But it turns out that Felegum was right and we truly needn’t have worried: Lankin did a sick cut through the serpent’s side and sliced his way out of the stomach with an axe. Harry was once again covered in gore as Lankin held up his arms and went through his series of well-rehearsed poses, pretending the great axe was an air lute to great effect.

Zuul’s crowd rose in cheers of “Champion, champion!” as I flew over to Harry and apologized to him, which the monk accepted stoically. A few of the spectators mourned the loss of the serpent, who had apparently eaten enough champion wannabes that it had become like a pet to them.

I watched from above as the shining, golden-haired elf heft himself out of the Glittering. Everything I hadn’t been able to do–get out of a trap, open a door, kill enemies, handle a monster solo– this guy had been able to with ease. And now, he’d secured us an allyship with Zuul and company.

He didn’t have much in the way of caution, but maybe we were getting too paranoid. The Lankin rush-right-in approach had solved a lot of problems. And truly, how badly could it go?

(Shout-out to our bard for alerting me to the typo “orgies” going on in here, as a bard must.)

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