“I suggest you run!” Milto yelled as we rushed past him down the hallway, still holding up his wall of force.
Everyone else raced ahead, but I stopped. Why? Because I smelled a martyr and those shenanigans would absolutely not be tolerated on my watch. “Dude, we’re clear, you have to go.”
What followed was an increasingly frustrating wizard attempting to convince a very charitable street urchin that he had his shit in order when he did not. I have seen magicians. They do not do well with things hitting them. I have observed this over many battles. It is a known fact about magicians. At some point I suspect shady firbolg magic was deployed to make me leave, but it didn’t work because I too know a few things about magic, and it only added to the rising tension.
Also adding to the rising tension? The wobbly force wall barely containing a mess of kobolds behind us.
“I am faster than you,” Milto hissed. “I can teleport.”
I gave him a good squint. “Okay,” I said, “but if I find out you died I will fight your ghost.”
Can I fight ghosts like Harry can? No. But Milto didn’t need to know that. Maybe the mere threat of me pestering him in the afterlife was unnerving enough, though, because as soon as I turned to run there was this super gross slurping noise and the barrier keeping the kobolds from us was gone and Milto was booking it past me…on foot.
I scowled at him. That was not what teleportation looked like.
But there was no time to be salty about that when a literal mass of kobolds was scrabbling over themselves to follow us. Zeno, Helli, and Harry ran ahead through a door down the hall as Felegum called out reverse directions and let loose magic missiles). There was this huge whooshing sound, kind of like the wind that Helli had used before to blow through the icy mist but more powerful, and someone yelled, but like, warped, like they were traveling at some speed. It was weird not being able to see, but I was running and everything was happening kind of fast.
“Cover your ears on the way out!” Awk called out to us as I ran past him and into the next hallway. Harry was waiting, holding the door open and getting ready to block it off.
Not anxious to hear what Awk had planned, I turned my attention to the hallway. A lone kobold was fumbling at the wall. Weird, but okay. Kobolds, man.
“Set!” Helli yelled, mysteriously the wrong direction from the kobold, and pointed above us. “There’s a net!”
Indeed, there was a net above us and that single kobold was attempting to bring it down on us. Luckily, I still had my bag of rose petals more or less handy from before, so I took out a few and cast Sleep on the kobold. It worked like a charm, maybe almost too well, since I didn’t quite center it perfectly at first and it ended up almost putting Felegum to sleep too.
I ran up to him, about to be really angry that I’d screwed up, but he just yawned, unaffected, and I was standing adjacent to him in a posture of immense and inexplicable fury before he dashed off down the hall.
Once Lankin had finished deciding to attack outside and he and Milto were within the door (Milto looking like he’d taken several hits from various garden implements), only Awk remained. And then a sound like a tiny pair of asscheeks clapping together at ludicrous meteorological volume echoed through the halls.
He rushed in, pulling up his gnome pants hastily as Harry slammed the door and jammed an arrow through the locking mechanism. I, moderately versed in locks, knew that this was not how you locked a door, but I was not about to tell Harry that.
As I raced on with Helli, Felegum, and Zeno (Harry had no trouble catching up and soon joined us), we ran into another group of kobolds attempting to do something nefarious with a wall. Not trusting them one bit, Harry loosed some darts at them, Helli had her dagger out, and Felegum inflicted more magic missiles upon them.
I had put the rose petals away, thinking that I would be stabbing things or just running, so I had to go through the whole process of finding them, fishing some out, and then casting the same spell again so that we could just focus on the running part of the escape instead of killing a ton of kobolds.
Also, it provided some nice cover for the three in the rear (Awk, Lankin, and Milto) to catch up to us without worrying about kobold attacks. It was, you might say, strategic as hell.
Then several things happened at once that completely messed up my beautiful plan.
First, the door exploded. Not what I’d expected, but it has been empirically proven that traps and I do not get along, so it probably shouldn’t be a surprise that someone setting a trap escaped my notice. Props to Harry on the explosive-arrow-in-door trick. That was metal.
Second, Lankin totally cleaved through that first kobold by the net mechanism that I’d sent to dreamland with his axe. Just like, for fun or whatever. I don’t know. I was staring at this whole thing and feeling saiga guilt all over again as Awk summoned a frothy mess of flora over the door and hallway as he sprinted away.
Milto went all silvery for a moment and then appeared later down the hallway, which yes, did count as a teleport, but it was not a very impressive one.
Zeno and Helli were ahead of me much of the time for this leg of the escape, so most of the time I’d enter a room and find them already mid-action with something. Like, for example, as I was running, I heard Helli yell “don’t pull the levers!” before I even knew levers were a part of the picture. It was pretty nice. Felegum did not press any levers, and neither did I, after I cajoled Milto to keep up.
I did a little protection spell on myself just in case anything weird ran into us and managed to catch up to Harry. I was feeling pretty good about our stealth when Lankin careened down the hallway after us yelling “Wheeeeee!!” at the top of his lungs.
Luckily, this did not wake the sleeping kobolds (as yet unstabbed). What did wake them was Awk, giving an encore performance of the thunderous ass cheek clapping.
The others ran ahead, clamored about a fresh door, and I, once again, went to solve a problem I’d considered solved. Another breath of rose petals floated out from my hand in a gentle spiral and the kobolds were back out, allowing Milto to pass without further harassment.
I was going to be out a whole bouquet protecting the firbolg at this rate.
But I didn’t have long to linger on that, because many things were happening again. After I’d finished the spell, I ran like crazy into a new, weird room where Harry was pinning a kobold to the floor. Both of them were very still and staring at me. “Don’t step on this part of the floor,” Harry said, pointing it out. I flashed him a thumbs up and ran on.
Above us, what Harry and the kobold were looking up at, was a mess of boulders that were precariously rigged to fall and trap or squash anyone unfortunate enough to step on the wrong square. I heard smatterings of Harry-negotiation as I left.
“Tell your friends,” the monk said, sternly, not releasing his hold on the kobold, “to stop collapsing the tunnels and let us out!”
“I don’t think I can do that,” the kobold said, sadly.
Then there there was this terrible smashing noise, like a really large vegetable falling from a really high window and meeting its inevitable destiny. I spun back around and saw Harry pressed against a wall. He was fine, the kobold was definitely not, so I ran on and entered Kheryph heaven.
It was the room full of baneberry plants.
There was another rumbling, more rocks falling, and somewhere down the hall, Harry yelled that he needed help. Felegum ran past me, calling out, “I’ll help you!” and then in a quieter voice, “haha, I make a joke.”
Lankin and Milto ran into baneberry paradise with us, and Milto was genuinely upset when Zeno and I started going whole hog on trying to pluck parts of the plant for later. “We have to get out of here!”
“Hold on, man, you don’t understand,” Zeno said, as he licked a line of blood off his arm from where the berry stems had cut him. “These are really good.”
I had originally thought about ripping out the plant entire, but as it turns out, baneberries have insane stems. Like, I thought roses had bad thorns. No. This was another level. The closer you get to the root, the gnarlier it gets. And sure, if I had come down here solely for purposes of horticulture, would I have done it? Yes. But I just wanted tasty lizard bribes and also to escape a dragon. I was not feeling like getting that torn up on a plant.
But I still got some anyway. Helli actually took her time and came away unharmed, and that was about the point where another rumble shook the caverns and Felegum screamed.
“Oh god, the pain!” he yelled. “Why can’t I just be unconscious?”
I swore, stuffed my plant in my bag, and ran back down the hall.
Milto had wandered off ahead, and I could hear his voice say, “I still don’t understand why you’re all getting berries– ah fuck.” just before I reached Harry and Felegum. The mage was stilk conscious, but his leg was smashed under a boulder.
I was about to discuss boulder logistics with Harry, but luckily Felegum still had enough presence of mind to use the Rod of Liquefaction and pull his leg free. Unluckily, his leg was still hella busted, and super unluckily, the liquefied hole in the rock revealed a giant spider.
This turned out to be Awk. He stopped being a spider long enough to heal Felegum, which was good, but this did not solve the broken leg problem, which was bad. So, I let him borrow my broom so that he could fly and at least still be a little mobile despite the pain.
Then we ventured into the room past the baneberry expanse and saw what Milto had been so upset about before: an entire hallway, blocked off by fallen rock. There was also a door with an absolutely terrible smell emanating from it that was unblocked. It reeked of death and had “do not open” scrawled into it.
That was enough for me to bother with it. Lankin and I got out our crowbars to move some rocks, Felegum cast his earth moving spell, and Zeno called out something encouraging, like “Move those boulders, kid! It’s good for your health! Or something.”
I was midway through trying to prise two boulders apart when Harry opened the “do not open” door. Vines whipped out and he hastily slammed it. It distracted Lankin enough that he wasn’t trying very hard, but at least Harry came over to help us with the rocks. With Harry’s help, we moved them all, though Zeno unfairly made fun of me for not being great at boulder removal, which hurt my feelings because Milto was watching and I was trying to be impressive.
“Congratulations,” Milto said as we cleared the last bit of rocks away and began to move forward.
Zeno elbowed me. “We’re cool, right?”
“Yeah,” I said and surprisingly meant it. Helli went ahead to check for traps with Awk tagging behind, I freely admitted I was bad at this whole trap thing, and Zeno healed Felegum again. Milto took advantage of the opportunity to talk about, of all things, arena matches with Lankin. I was deeply hurt, more so even than by Zeno’s mocking words before. Like, okay, sure, I’m definitely glad you and the incredibly tall and handsome buff elf have lots in common. I’ll just be over here with my sad-ass depleted rose petals.
Still, I did not even have long to marinate in the gross unfairness of life, because that’s when Awk, I guess, got really messed up by a pressure plate, so Helli called for back-up.
Harry sighed and turned to the wizard meaningfully. “We need a plan.”
Milto laughed. “Adventuring, am I right?”
Harry stoically departed this conversation, carried Awk back to the group over his shoulder as Helli dismantled some trip wires ahead. Unfortunately, a series of poison darts got her, and she limped back looking not super great for wear.
“Helli, Helli,” Zeno tsked, “you’re better than this.” And he tapped her on the shoulder for some healing, though this did not alleviate the poison problem.
And that was just not something you wanted to leave hanging around. I fished through my things for the 3/4 remaining of the Elixir of Health I’d stolen way back when I thought it would actually help my parents, and then used partly when I thought it might actually help my lizard. Both had been a bust. But at least here, I thought, it might do some good.
“Here,” I said, and passed it into her hands as I walked by, “try this.”
And lo, the poison was cured. Helli actually looked really reinvigorated, which was great. We talked a little bit about potions and that was pretty nice.
When we reached the boulder at the top of the cave entrance, Milto reached for Lankin (of course) and said, “You ready for this?” to which the elf replied “Aw yeah!” and they vanished, oblivious to the ocean of saltiness I was drowning in. Felegum, the unconscious body of Awk, and I made it out on my broom, and we stood gathered outside the giant rock, contemplating our next steps.
“It’s a locus of magical power, indeed,” Milto said, eyes alight. “There are many things growing down there.”
“Milto,” Zeno said pleasantly, “I don’t suppose you’d have any experience with dragons? I’m worried she’ll be angry enough to emerge.”
“Me too,” he replied. “I was worried about that myself.”
He said though, that he was not much one for fighting dragons, that his combat days were over, sighed, then began to carve a circle around us. The rest of the group, sans a still out-of-it Awk, bandied about strategies. Me, Zeno, and Felegum seemed pretty much on the side of “we can’t let this dragon just stay here, she’s gonna think it’s cool to leave now” with Helli and Lankin being up for a dragon battle, though not wanting to die, and Harry being very convinced that someone would die.
This was a fair point. I had no idea how many diamonds or whatever we had on us and I was really not interested in being Zeno’s friend as a zombie.
We needed more of a plan, or at least an agreement that we were all-in on the dragon.
At this point, Milto just about finished his circle and asked us if we wanted to come back with him to Janwald. No more luxurious mansions– the thrill of roughing it had worn off and he just wanted to sleep in his own bed. Understandable.
“Just give me a sec,” Zeno said, and then knocked out the support on the boulder, trapping (we hoped) the dragon and kobolds inside.
The teleportation circle took us back to Milto’s Magical Emporium (maybe business was picking up enough with the water bazaar taking hold that he went for a name upgrade), where we left the wizard to his own devices, and we headed back to the Meat and the Slop. Awk at this point had woken up and had wandered out front to try to graft some baneberries onto the shrubs out front. He asked the bartender’s permission and got it, apparently.
Anyway, we were all hungry and exhausted, so we ordered food. The general pattern at the Meat and the Slop seemed to be that you never wanted the meat for breakfast (it had been leftovers and random whatever from the night before, also Milto had warned against it), but that dinner could go either way, with meat seeming preferable.
So, six of us got the meat and one (Awk) went for slop. It turned out that the meat was this weird pulverized slaw of chicken (unsure) and the slop was a more aesthetic fish chowder. The six of us with the meat noted this and missed the tabaxi food cart mightily.
I fed some berries to Kheryph, who had not only survived this dragon encounter but seemed to be eating decently again. He muscled down one berry while Felegum and I retreated to the cot area so I could check on his leg.
It was definitely broken. But I also knew a thing or two about broken bones.
Without letting him think too much about it, I set the bone back into place. Felegum went visibly grayer, but to his credit he did not pass out. I wrapped it up with some sticks from outside and rope and prescribed the broom to keep weight off of it until it finished healing. On the whole, I was feeling pretty good about it. It felt normal again.
“I used to do this all the time for my parents,” I said, knotting off another part of the splint. “Dumbass kids falling out of windows back home, breaking their legs. I got a lot of practice.”
No one needed to know that I had been one of those dumbass kids breaking their legs falling from great heights.
Over the dregs of dinner, discussion returned to our next moves: Csipherus or Calcryx. For some reason, people kept thinking it was okay to rib me about it.
“Congratulations,” I said, “you’ve found the thing most important to me in the entire world. But we kept running from stuff. We ran from Nightscale and now we’ve just run from Calcryx. Are we going to get to Csipherus, realize we’re in over our heads, and then what, run from that too? I can’t do that. It’s too important to me. If we go back and you guys decide you can’t handle it, then I can’t leave with you. If I go back, I’m staying.”
I suggested tying up our loose ends with Calcryx first. It was nice knowing that Milto was also worried about her being so close to town and that we weren’t just being paranoid. Harry was still hesitant, and Awk, conscious at last, maintained that this was very unjust of us to do to Calcryx, that she’s been mistreated and was not going to bother anyone. Many of us disagreed with that last part, given her extreme adherence to deals and her stress that the deal she’d made with us had been broken.
We threw around some plans to trap her various places, or at least to try to engage her not by the tree. The healing thing was a lot to handle. Awk wanted us to promise that if the rock was not rolled away by the time we went back, if there was no evidence that Calcryx was going out, that we would leave well enough alone. No one agreed to that.
It seemed like it was all a matter of time. If we waited for Calcryx to prove to us that she wasn’t going to emerge, then we’d either be left with none Greenrest and Janwald and an ice rink instead of Lake Norka, or we’d be setting ourselves up for a larger problem down the line when we inevitably needed to access the Tree of Life and Death conduit again.
Felegum still needed a while to heal, although he hoped his periapt would speed that along, so that left us time to prepare. Maybe a week.
Hopefully we’d fare better against a dragon in round two.