THINGS ARE BETTER IF I SAY SO LONG AND GOODNIGHT: wherein a long chase ends and Helli absolutely slays

I forgot where Samson went off to, but very quickly we were alone in the town square. Zeno and I had discussed using some more of my illusions to try to confuse the warband. My Nightscale illusion hadn’t worked super great against Zuul, but the Mini Dome had confused the troglodytes and orcs long enough for us to make our escape.

My original thought had been to make an illusion of Zuul himself and have Zeno throw his voice to impersonate the giant lizard guy berating his troops for getting here too slow. Then, when actual Zuul arrived, we could try to convince the troglodytes that he was the imposter.

But then the plan evolved: we figured that a fight was inevitable and that we might get more mileage out of an illusion of the six of us in ready poses defending Harry, who would stand at the base of this splintered tree in the center of the town square with the Aegis. The rest of us, meanwhile, would be hidden in various places around the city, prepared to make our attack.

Awk and Zeno hid behind the splintered, lightning struck tree together and Zeno looked absolutely unpleased about it. Helli and I were cloaked in darkness, she on top of a building and I behind one. Felegum and Lankin were also hiding together, mostly Lankin behind a building and then Felegum behind Lankin.

Harry just stood with the Aegis propped up against a tree

When the band entered the town ten minutes later, Zuul was near the head of the pack. His eyes weren’t glowing. Maybe it cost him something extra to do that. He didn’t seem any less Zuul-like when he was in Red Eye mode, so maybe it was less a hostile takeover of multiple bodies as it had been with Durnen and maybe just an additional to original Zuul.

As Zuul approached, he was surrounded by orcs with longbows and troglodytes, around fifteen to twenty of them, and toward the rear of the band was this half-ogre or half-troll guy who had two boulders, one in each hand. How that dude had traveled so far so fast boggled me.

But whatever, it was go-time.

“You cannot run forever,” Zuul called to Harry and the illusions of us. “I know what that does to you.”

“Then,” Harry replied, “you know I’m not in a good mood.”

The monk turned to Zuul’s followers. “You all may leave with your lives. It’s not too late.”

There was some murmured conversation and some looks back and forth between the assembled orcs and troglodytes. Then Zuul’s eyes lit up and burned red. At once, all possibility of running vanished. The orc-troglodyte company was scared more of Zuul than they were of us.

Awk tried to entangle Zuul and a few troglodytes around him in weeds and plant growth, but Zuul was too strong. The others who got caught up in it did seem inconvenienced, though.

“Let’s see you get embarrassed by yet another black dragon, Zuul.” Harry tsked and then threw his spear at Zuul. It was hard for him to see without any light, but somehow he made it. Then he took up a defensive posture, waiting.

Lankin dashed out from behind the building where he was hiding, threw one of his daggers, then another. One hit Zuul and the other bounced off the siding of the house I was hiding behind. After, Lankin darted back where he’d come from.

The orcs at the front of the group were riding direwolves and, seeing that battle was being joined, leapt into the fray and attacked my illusion. It was pretty weird watching an image of myself being decapitated, but it did make me feel cool to know that it held.

Zeno, still behind the tree, cast Bane on the direwolves and their riders and managed to keep hidden while doing it. He whispered something encouraging to Harry that I didn’t hear, but the monk seemed inspired.

Felegum seemed to be gearing himself up for battle, and I weighed my options. I could charge into the fray and try to surprise an orc or troglodyte, but I’d be one person in a sea of monsters. On the other hand, I could take a leaf from the mage’s book.

I took a deep breath, abandoned cover, and allowed my wings to lift me off the ground as I dashed out, bright and glowing, to fly next to Harry by the tree.

It was my first time actually flying, not hovering on the ground or standing. And this time, unlike the other times I’d called forth my wings, the light was that same amber it had been in Nightscale’s lair.

“Now you can see,” I said to Harry. And hey, who knows, maybe the town would also see us defending them from this band of hostile forces and help us out once this was over.

Helli stayed where she was, but a thin dart zipped out at Zuul from the shadows. No doubt that poisonous dagger of hers was out as well.

Being out in the open had its disadvantages, though– several of the orcs behind Zuul fired on harry and me, and luckily there was too much going on for them to hit us. The illusion was proving a lot more helpful than I’d originally thought, as five arrows clattered to the dirt through it around us.

However, it was about at that point that it had outlived its usefulness, since Zuul moved through it with a purpose and struck out at Harry with his greatswords. One connected and one didn’t, and the lizard’s eyes flared with red energy.

It was at this point that a familiar pale white circle of light opened up on Zuul and Harry and I instinctively winced, having been the victims of Awk’s Moonbeam in the past. Perhaps fueled by anxiety or annoyance about the Moonbeam, Harry attempted to stun Zuul to no effect. Instead, he unleashed his trademark flurry of blows and managed to knock the lizard man down onto one knee.

Lankin took advantage of the opening, leapfrogging over Zuul stylishly with his axe bearing down on the lizard’s head. It both looked awesome and seemed effective, and he managed another slice. Something about Lankin and Zuul looked familiar, though– that unstoppable energy about them in a fight.

The orcs on wolves were proving to be more of a nuisance than I’d thought, though. One direwolf bit Lankin, an orc tried to cut into him, somehow not hitting him despite his none armor, and then another orc jumped off his direwolf and hung onto me, flying five feet up in the air. It was a pain in the ass trying to both fly under my own power, which I’d never done before, as well as deal with this dude trying to clamp my wings together, but I managed.

Zeno stepped forth from his hiding place behind the tree with a dramatic squelching of bagpipes, striking fear into the hearts of all who beheld him, namely a direwolf and an orc riding a different direwolf.

Meanwhile, Felegum, emerging from behind the shelter of his building, flicked some sweat from his brow and unleashed a Tidal Wave onto some of the troglodytes toward the back of the crowd, halting their encroachment into the town.

At this point, I was really not into this orc dude trying to take me down to earth and ruin me trying to be cool on my maiden voyage in the air. So, I flew over Zuul and the direwolf that the orc had leapt off off and cast a Thunderwave spell of my own.

Zuul was knocked away, Harry got in an extra jab, and unfortunately that damn orc kept hanging on, so I flew away to a more deserted area near Awk and Zeno where I could try to stab him off later.

And this was where Helli got super cool.

Still distant from the action, she took out the Wand of Magic Missiles and quickly fired off several at Zuul, all landing with unerring accuracy. In her excitement about the whole magic thing, her fingers loosened too soon on the dart she was going to throw at him as well, and it felt off the roof.

The rest of the group continued to fan out, spreading into the wide town square. Arrows once again rained down on us, my illusion no longer fooling the archers. Four tried for Lankin and one hit me, and I was extra salty because I’d kind of hoped that the orc on me would maybe provide cover from arrows, but no. I just had to uncannily worm my way around it on my own.

I made a mental note to ask Helli where she’d gotten her nice armor from soon.

And you know, it might have just kept on being like this, volleys of arrows and magical devastation against Zuul et al, until the half-ogre guy decided that that one building in front of Felegum was incredibly offensive to him, and then smashed it with one of his boulders.

People inside yelled in surprise, and the sound of the town waking up around us filtered through the melee. The building still stood, but a good half of it was missing and it provided little cover.

Zuul kept up his relentless onslaught on Harry, including one strike that seemed to slice him in half as he fell to the ground. Stunned, I dropped my useless illusion, ready to leap in.

But Awk was there before me, curing Harry’s wounds and bringing him back to consciousness. Then Awk became a direwolf.

Standing back up, Harry shook off what must have been a weird sensation of being almost two Harry’s, brushed his robes off, sank into a stance, and beckoned to Zuul once more.

In retaliation, Lankin tried to cut Zuul in half. It was unfortunately less successful. “If I wasn’t in a rage, I would be!” The gladiator yelled.

Around him, the rangers and direwolves closed in, one wolf pinning Lankin to the ground. An orc ranger also sliced into him, and the guy on my shoulder at last lost his grip and plummeted to the ground. The last wolf, the one who my now-downed passenger had rode in on, calmly walked over to Zeno and chomped him.

Obviously, Zeno was not a fan, so he unleashed blood-curling bagpipe music. Luckily, thanks to my exposure to the same over many dawns and breakfasts, I was unaffected. The others, though, looked very ready to run.

The bard tipped his chin to me. “Stampede coming your way, Set!”

I debated a plan. I wouldn’t mind picking off these guys, but our target was Zuul.

Somewhere to my right, Dronie valiantly made to attack a troglodyte and missed. Felegum won glory by casting Heat Metal on Zuul’s swords, causing them to drop from his hands, even as the mage was running away from the half-ogre chasing him.

I flew over Zuul once again and unleashed another Thunderwave, disengaging from him on the flyover. Again, Helli sent out a stream of magic missiles at Zuul and then she executed a perfect rolling flip off the roof, stuck the landing, and stabbed Zuul with the Danger Dagger, now laced with poison. Zuul did not seem very affected, but it all looked really cool.

As Awk had grown fond of telling us, his new Moonbeam spell would, in addition to doing damage, tell us whether any entities in the beam were shapeshifters. Zuul was not, indeed, a shapeshifter. But he did collapse under the weight of the beam, slumping to the ground.

A thin red ghostly form rose from him. (It was not a shapeshifter either.)

And this was where it got weird. Harry, who could punch ghosts, went in to punch the ghost. He actually did better than I thought he would, at least before Zuul’s spirit fled.

More orcs continued to come in, and the half-troll, half-ogre descended onto Lankin. Arrows peppered me, Zeno, Harry, Helli, and Felegum, with Zeno taking an especially nasty one. He managed to catch sight of the archer aiming for me and yelled, “Leave the kid alone!”

And the arrow intended for me missed.

I smiled. “Thanks, Zeno.”

Awk spent his time imitating the dulcet tones of Moon Moon and Chomper in a desperate bid to connect with the direwolves. The Moonbeam also moved onto the ghost of Zuul.

“Stay with the Aegis,” Harry said, to who, I’m not sure. Maybe me. Or Helli. Or Direwolf-Awk, who seemed to be coordinating in pack formation with Dronie, a strange mix of incongruous and adorable.

Anyway, then Harry flying-tackled the ghost. “I have a bone to pick with you!”

And honestly, we should have seen that coming, given how Harry’s relationship with Awk has gone– Harry does not let stuff go. And maybe he shouldn’t, since he could punch ghosts and we couldn’t. Harry, also in the Moonbeam, was revealed to not be a shapeshifter either.

Still under the wolf, Lankin extricated himself– easily, no doubt from his experience in the arena– and climbed onto the half-ogre-troll-guy’s back, all the way to the top.

As this was happening, the orc rangers and direwolves did, as promised, stampede. One ranger was trying to get their wolf under control, the other ranger high-tailed it out of there on their not-very-afraid wolf, and one final wolf swept in to bite Zeno.

It was just enough to bring him down.

And okay, yes, Zeno and I have rampant disagreements about the undead and he was maybe trying to blackmail me into being either his unpaid laborer or personal chef. But I’ve worked with a lot of crappy people, and as much as he could be a pain, he also helped me out a lot more than he gave me grief.

Even if he had called Kheryph an invasive species that one time.

A direwolf and rider bore down on Awk, and Felegum also unleashed Magic Missiles at the ghost of Zuul, though these seemed a little less effective than they had been before. Dronie continued his relentless assault on the direwolf’s rider.

Helli and I, standing by the corpse of Zuul, were super weirded out by this pulsing energy coming from the body. Normally, corpses don’t pulse, let alone pulse in time to the ghost they just released, but whatever. Life is weird now.

I honestly had no idea what to do with it, so I headed over to Zeno and laid a hand on him. “Get up, old man.”

Maybe he didn’t like it, but it had meant something to me, to be told to keep standing despite what happened to you. If anything, that was exactly what had brought me here.

Ever resourceful, Helli went through Body-Zuul’s pockets and things to find what he’d been using to track us with and came up with a stone slate. Putting it in her backpack, she took another vial of alchemist’s fire onto the remains and walked over to join us, stunningly backlit by the corpse fire.

The battle between the half-troll and Lankin was not going super great. The ogre-troll ripped the wood elf off his back and slammed him into the ground, but Lankin, again thanks to his experience in wrestling, was able to suplex the troll on the way down. Both were prone, surrounded by troglodytes.

Still other troglodytes attempted to pull the body of Zuul, still burning, away. They made it like five feet, but also started to catch fire. An arrow narrowly missed Zeno, probably because of his camouflage, and even more arrows were trained on Harry and Ghost Zuul.

Harry wrested his face around to face them mid-grapple. “Flee, you fools!”

And true, there was no one here to hold them, unless Zuul’s ghost counted. Which, maybe it did, considering that two of the archers relaxed their bows and the other two let their arrows fly Harry’s way. He caught one and threw it back, but the ghost around him was proving to be too much to handle.

Zuul’s ghost threw Harry off of it thirty-feet, which is of course nothing to Harry, and then began to fly away with a visible look of fear on its reptilian-spectral features.

Harry returned his attentions to Zuul’s dead body, punching those troglodytes off it. “I strongly suggest you flee,” he repeated to the war band.

Lankin, in the meanwhile, was surrounded by troglodytes that kept trying to stab him on the ground. Recalling that they liked money, he reached in his coin purse. “Hey, if you guys leave me alone, I’ll give you a silver piece.”

The troglodytes around him all paused, mesmerized, then one reached up for it and ran off.

Around Zeno, Helli, and I, things seemed to be cooling off. The orc rangers left and so did the direwolf.

Zeno slapped himself in the face. I was almost worried I’d healed him wrong or something, but it just seemed like he was talking himself up. “Come on, get up, get better,” he said, surrounding himself with a brief burst of healing energy, and then cast Calm Emotions on the remainder of the warband with some soothing bagpipe ambiance.

The orcs and troglodytes relaxed, one still actively on fire, which was unnerving. There was only one troglodyte that didn’t look soothed, and that one stabbed the troglodyte next to it, took its coin purse, and fled.

The other thing that was fleeing was Ghost Zuul, and perhaps our chances of ending this for good. Felegum sent out magic missiles after it, wounding it but not stopping it, and I, in a hasty bit of thought, took an unlit torch from my things and hurled it after the ghost. It didn’t connect; this is why I stick to close combat.

Helli, though, raised her wand again and this time her magic missiles brought the ghost down. At last, the red form went dark and the pulsing of the body ceased. We all felt a sense of relief that had nothing to do with Zeno’s spell.

She’d done it. Zuul was slain.

We looked around, but the warband hadn’t brought our cart as we’d kind of hoped they would. But the orcs did yell out, “The Stonebloods are free!” and whooped and bounded around town in a victory lap before heading back to the mountains from whence they came. It seemed like their clan had been under Zuul for a long time.

It wasn’t quite the same as getting our cart back, but it was nice to know that we’d helped them be free.

And so, we took a breath. Harry checked on the Aegis to make sure it was okay (it was), Felegum and Dronie high-fived, and Zeno even got two more zombies out of the deal from the troglodyte corpses left behind as the others fled. We had a newly christened Helli Zuulkiller, Savior of the Stonebloods, Awk was still a direwolf, perhaps with fresh Moon Moon gossip, who knew, and Lankin, while one silver poorer, had stunned Splinterwood’s onlookers with his sublime wrestling prowess.

As for me, I drifted back to the ground as my wings faded and took out the bread I’d purchased for us from Samson. The old guy had even included butter. Shaking my head, I began toasting it over the alchemical bonfire that was Zuul’s remains.

It was, after all, almost time for breakfast.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s