✋I WANNA RUN AWAY, NEVER SAY GOOD BYE; I WANNA KNOW THE TRUTH, INSTEAD OF WONDERING WHY: where the party crashes against the rocks, and a monk contemplates preserved meats

After leaving the monastery, one of the first great philosophical conundrums presented to me was a real gem from a cook at a local tavern. A portly old dwarf built like an old willow stump hopped from step stool to step stool to manage a steady stream of drinks, food, and coin over the bar. Taking up valuable space on his bar was a young monk asking far too many questions about the dinner fare. The main dinner option happened to be the last of the smoked winter sausage.

Did they make it?

What animals were used?

Could they share their spice blend?

Hardwood smoke?


“Boy, ain’t nobody want to know how the sausage is made. You eatin’, drinkin’, or leavin’?

A simple statement. Every country commoner and high blood royal had their own version of the phrase. The mostly gentlemanly rogue evades questions of his profession with it as deftly as the slimiest high court magistrate covers his shady dealings in the name of justice. The phrase leads down so many paths of monkish inquiry. Is ignorance bliss? Do the ends justify the means? Do a lot of people really cut corners on making delicious sausages? There was so much to consider about a basic element of preserved food as I looked at the eyes of my friends trudging down the stairs that overlooked the ritual chamber established at the heart of the pyramid.

They finally learned how the sausage was made.

Felegum spoke for the emotionally shattered party, describing a grisly scene in the chamber. The zombies stricken with the wasting plague of the city were being cured, albeit just long enough to be stripped of their souls and fed into the growing power of the red-eyed lich. The remainder of the Red-Eyes we had identified were peppered throughout the chamber helping in ways that best matched our understanding of them. Even the previously named “Hat-broom man” was present, back in the borrowed body of the captured member of the Calendar we had failed to drag out of the prison during our rescue of Kalends. Even our minor success, our small fire of hope, was being burned down to a foreboding red glow.

Felegum droned on about any other magical details he was able to glean, dragging more of our members out of their dazed depression as he looped them into a discussion of what was learned. Passively listening for details that would help me, I watched Set. His eyes were glazed over, a slight tremble in his hands marking the only real sign of life. Was it anger? Was it resignation? Was it the numbness that came when all options were gone and a warrior just crumpled? We’d been at each other’s throats constantly the past few weeks, plummeting from our high point in Aljahar’s chamber to a sewer of constant bickering and shouting over how to save Csipherus. If the kid snapped and tried to run back to the chamber to “do something” about the horrific scene within, there were no threads for me to pull him back.

I could only watch and listen as our party teetered on the brink of throwing ourselves to oblivion.

“We could raid their wardrobe?” Zeno was the breeze that settled us back on the cliff’s edge.

“Why would we want to steal their clothes?” Tem hissed back, clearly missing the bard’s penchant for word play.

“Hmm, they’re all sitting in the chamber. No one’s watching the hen house.” Helli’s eyes started to sparkle and her fingers fluttered with the practiced warm up of an experienced thief.

“They mean to return to the staging area we visited before in the pyramid and to mercy kill any prisoners left, learn any details of their plan they left out, and presumably steal anything useful that isn’t nailed down,” I translated for the confused paladin. “And I’d add break anything important we can find along the way.”

Set began verbalizing his feelings, complaining about the lack of accomplishments, everything burning down, his city, doom and gloom. The stream of despair ate at me, but there was nothing to gain in this fight. No number of “I pointed this out,”, “I told you so,” or even “focus on the positives” was going to help here. I quietly seethed, containing my own frustration to not make the situation worse. Our party gradually steered itself to a plan of how to break back into the side chambers. As was typical of our plans, it was light on details, conditions, and contingencies, heavy on misplaced hope, arrogance, and a growing bloodthirst.

But at least we weren’t actively throwing our lives away or fighting each other.

We slipped back into the catacombs and followed the map back to an entrance where we suspected the prison area to be. I spent the time trying to think of a way to steer us back to the Hearts. We’d cut out two of them and it seemed to my untrained eye to really be hampering the magical defenses and spell work the Red-Eyes had raised around the city. There were crumbling holes in the black out dome, the dragon capture orbs were now constantly visible, and something screamed when we pulled out the first Heart. But no one seemed to want to admit that was progress. It was all “find red-eye, kill red-eye” as our path and I was running out of ways to try and pull ourselves out of the spiral leading to a confrontation we couldn’t escape.

When we arrived at the potential entrance to the pyramid chambers from the catacombs, we encountered an excavation issue. A tunnel collapse had sealed off our potential path. Being light on options, and being driven by a timer of “a few days” that everyone fought over which deity or organization gave us (and if it had been extended by our meddling), we chose to dig through the rubble. We followed our usual template of digging: a mix of Tem and me lifting debris, Helli and Zeno drinking, Set whining, and Felegum showing off using magic to help shovel away what he could. We’d done this song and dance a few times already, but we needed to work more carefully than usual to avoid alerting any sentries. We made decent progress until we met the large black continuous stone block across where our entrance should have been. The black stone didn’t have any obvious ends, nor was it damaged. It was as if it was if the facility was built up around it. Just a large, unblemished stone fully sealing our path forward.

“I can break it,” Felegum stated plainly after a time studying the smooth surface.

Something seemed off though.

Helli said the stone didn’t match anything we’d seen. Not the dusty sandstone and brick work we’d seen throughout the city. She described the natural feel to it, not like it was cut and dropped in place, but that the black stone was formed there and seemed that it had always been there. Alas, our party had a desire to get to the other side and no amount of pointing out “trap” and “this seems wrong” was going to sway us from our path. Maybe I would be more willing to praise our parties uncompromising tenacity at pushing towards a goal if we ever stopped to make a plan or think about the risks of our actions.

Introspection had to wait though as we all took cover and Felegum worked one of his more practiced shattering spells deep into the stone. Felegum’s spell was less of a bomb blast, far from an expression of brute strength, but an exercise in singular, piercing focus. It is the high-pitched sound of the nicest glassware you’ve seen being reduced to shards. It almost sounds less frightening when you think of a dropped drink at a bar or an overzealous toast of sparkling wine. Instead, we took cover as the sharp reverberation was followed by the deep, grinding rumble of two halves of a former whole sliding against each other to a new resting place.

One breath.

Two breaths.

No shouts, no shambling hoards, no sound of sentries.

Did it work?

And then the earth itself seemed to take offense at our breach of the silence. A follow up rumbling started small and grew as it approached us. The rumbling answer to our knock seemed to grow steadily, as if it wasn’t so much growing as it was approaching. I beckoned at anyone that could see me in the gloom and dust to run. Fighting wasn’t the plan. Raiding and information gathering was the plan. Whatever was coming to meet us was bad news.

Zeno poked his head out first, holding his fist out with one finger visible.

A thumbs up.

The rumbling grew louder.

Felegum returned the go sign.

Tem was always down for a fight.

Helli threw up a thumbs down.

I waved a panic-stricken thumbs down.

And then Set just sort of waved his hands in a non-committal fashion.

“YOOOHOOOO” Zeno’s battle cry was quickly followed by everyone else rushing forward at the rumbling and red glow that began to fill the chamber. Everyone that was, except me. Safely tucked around the corner of the cave, I set my feet and waited.

“Yuval… your time has come….” Tem shouted, only partially audible over the din of grinding stone and thunder spells echoing down the cave. Apparently, it was Yuval, the elemental magic user that had shattered our ship back on Lake Norka with a school of water elementals. It was the same stone covered monstrosity that had grown to the size of a building and spent his time lounging outside the pyramid looking menacing. The same nightmare that had gone crashing through stonework like it didn’t exist last time we went poking around the bowels of the pyramid and got caught. My friends were now trying to fight a master of stone in a small stone tube underground.

I’ll let that sit for a second.

Really let the brashness of it all settle.

The astonishingly… aggressive display?

The truly innovative thinking involved in fighting a master of stone in a THIN TUNNEL LEADING TO A WALL OF STONE HE LITERALLY MADE!

“WE NEED TO GO, NOW.” My voice was drowned out in the din of combat. Tem kept trying to announce her presence, Zeno was going hard on the bagpipes, and Felegum was shouting in a language he used in his spellwork. My dwarven breathing mask helped with the churning dust, but did little to hide the scent of sulfurous smoke and that odd sweet pungent smell after a spring storm. A lot of magic was being hurled at the beast of stone.

“THE WAY OUT IS CLEAR.” I tried again, pulling my mask down to try and make myself heard. We didn’t need this fight; we could still walk away and probe for another weak spot. None of the red-eyed leaders were present at the Heart sites that were fueling their defenses. There was no need to take the risk and fight on ground that favored our opponent. Bottled up, our superior numbers counted for nothing against the lone behemoth. He could barrel through us one at a time, a literal force of nature sweeping through the cramped passages. But my friends persisted.

And then the tunnel began to shudder.

My patience held. Be the beacon to lead them out in the chaos, be an example, show them that blood thirst and falling into the first enemy we find with reckless abandon was not the path. The city of Csipherus didn’t need martyrs, it needed heroes. Just like with the slaughter of the last corporeal form of Hat-broom man, the party would over-extend itself, panic, and I was going to have to help drag our injured party members to safety. I shuffled my feet and waved with exasperation to the abandoned Barnacle Bill, Zeno’s latest skeletal ally that had been forgotten in the rush to our doom.

He was no help.

So I waited.

Another shudder wracked the walls.

Looser stones fell free and clattered around me.

“HURRY, BEFORE….” My words were cut off by a scream. The owner was indistinct, but the pain was clear. A tower of rock did not scream in pain. My friends did. My jaw slammed shut on my own pleas to retreat. My ki fueled my steps, like a breeze through the tunnel. Step light, step quick, like a thousand steps taken in training. Even in the low light, my feet carried me with confidence. Someone needed help.

As the battle came into view, Zeno was safely positioned out of reach of the enemy. Set’s wings and Tem’s flaming sword were clearly visible in the lava glow of what used to be a cracked barrier of black stone. That left only Helli and Felegum missing.

Well, until Felegum suddenly popped in behind Zeno, a quick jaunt out of reality he had shown off before.

Where was Helli though? My feet carried me forward, my eyes looking for any sign of our diminutive rouge and her recently acquired harness of metallic legs. She tended to find herself near the enemy, driving a dagger into the weak points of any enemy to slow or too dimwitted to pay attention to the small ball of fury. Where could she be hidden? A higher vantage point would help me spot wherever that scream came from. With so many options for stepping stones, leaping up to the face of Yuval was easy. As long as I was visiting his face, it wasn’t too much extra work to drive my fists down like a hammer into the small bridge of rock between the deep pits of red that made up its eyes. In a smooth motion after the hammer blow, my legs coiled and bounced me back out of range from the heat that radiated around the lumbering stone body.

“Hey Harry, I’m over here. More of them are behind Yuval,” Helli whispered as I landed back on the ground. She wasn’t visible, but an oddly shaped void in the dust of the quaking tunnel clued me in. Something or someone had made her invisible. Everyone was accounted for, then what was that deathly scream I heard.

Then it all came together.

My eyes snapped back to Zeno. He offered a thumbs up and mouthed a “WELCOME, GLAD TO HAVE YOU!” with exaggerated annunciation so the message couldn’t be missed. He would look unusually smug if being smug was unusual for him. Contented with the last of our part being dragged into the kill box, he went back to playing some unsettling dirge on his bagpipes.

Dragged into a losing fight by my desire to help others. Falling for a bard’s faked scream didn’t feel good, even if it was really impressively faked. I wanted to shout to run. I wanted to SCREAM retreat. I just wanted to say goodbye to the suicidal bloodthirst of the Sovereign Dungeoneering Company and retreat before I ended up having to talk with Death yet again. My heart ached because it was a betrayal. But one with the best of intentions. I was needed, I was wanted, but I wanted none of this fight. Following them was going to leave me as a bloody smear in the desert. Some changes needed to be made, even if it meant stalking off on my own and leaving those to the path they choose to follow.

And then the tunnel shuddered again.

Even if my personal epiphany wasn’t distracting me, there was no time to react to the collapse of the tunnel. The darkness swallowed us. Even the dark vision afforded to me by my goggles was snuffed out as my world was reduced to a stony tomb. Even thoughts were drowned out by the deafening crash of falling debris. My body was battered by an unstoppable flow of dust and rock.

If it weren’t for my experiences with dying twice already, this would have seemed like the end.

The first clue that I wasn’t dead was the clattering and settling of stones.

Both of my deaths had been violent.

But once death took hold, everything went quiet.

And painless.

It was a mercy in that way.

Thankfully, I could still hear the collapsed tunnel shifting and settling.

And everything hurt.

A lot.

After some nice moments buried in cave rubble that reminded me just a little too much of my upbringing, my mind settled. I could hear the last of the small pebbles finally settling into the gaps around me. My breathing was shallow as my chest was pinned in a small gap between two boulders. My arms held close to my body in an attempt to brace as the tunnel fell in around us. My body was battered, bruised, and pinned, but still whole. In the shock of it all, a laugh rolled out.

It was more of a wheezing cough among shallow breaths, but it was a laugh. Life was really rough right now, my friends were in mortal peril locked in a pile of stones, if they weren’t already dead. Why laugh now? Because we were flesh and blood, ground between stones, and forced into a small space.

“Boy, ain’t nobody want to know how the sausage is made.”

If— no, WHEN— when we survived this, this is the part we would glaze over. The heroes of Csipherus, united the disparate resistance elements, brought in outside help, raised hell, and in the end, punched a manifestation of death right back into the dark hole it tried to crawl out of. Yeah, we missed some obvious hints about the power of our enemies, we took a LOT of bad fights, and needed a lot of help and guidance to bumble to where we were now, but no one wanted to hear about that.

Everyone wanted to hear about the triumphs.

Everyone would remember the villains.

Everyone would remember the heroes.

I Just never expected the blood, sweat, and tears that go into making the heroic sausage to be so literal. The learning and growing that happens on the path. The lessons, screw ups, off cuts, and near-death experiences ground into a victory.

No one wanted to have to go through that.

But someone had to keep working to make the sausage.

So, it was time to stop feeling sorry for myself and start digging my way out. Some new tricks I’d been keeping hidden from my friends required me to see a way out, so this whole situation with a boulder pressed right up against my face was going to have to be changed. No cleverness to start, just deep breaths and brute force. Pushing, grunting, and rubbing the skin and scales off of my arm managed to pull them loose from their trapped position against my chest. This gave me more room to breathe and shifted the stones to pin my legs even more thoroughly between two large boulders. Progress was progress though.

Step two of the plan was a strong commitment, but doing nothing was also a death sentence, so no point in worrying too much. Pulling at a gift left over from the birth parents I would never meet, my skin toughened and felt like it was buzzing with energy. It hadn’t been particularly useful in our adventures, outside of dealing with the acid breath of Nightscale, but for short periods, acids couldn’t burn through my skin. I’m sure with more of my people around when I was growing up, someone would have explained this ability to me. Or maybe I would have had someone to ask. But now, I was just happy I had something to make this next stupid idea easier.

I let the tension in my body pick up and build to a tingle as the warding took hold.

Now, the tricky part: spray acid on the boulders pinning my legs in place.

Hiding was not an option given my situation in the loose stone coffin, hence the protective measures. The acid went to work, weakening the stone and making breathing exceptionally difficult. The scent was exceptionally sour, with a hint of weird sweetness as the deluge flooded down to my feet. The stone creaked and moaned as it softened, threatening to send the whole pile shifting again. I hated threats though. They gave your opponent an idea of how you were coming at them. They inspired emotions that clouded your judgement, that hampered your ability to overcome obstacles.

So I drove my fists into the weakened stone before it had a chance to follow through on its threats. It would look much better for my heroic image if I said “it didn’t hurt” or “I trained for this”. But it did hurt. I did also train for this, but still, punching acid covered stone supporting a bunch of rocks crushing your body was unpleasant.

The crumbling prison being chipped away helped alleviate the pain though. One blow after another, left fist followed by right first, my blows hammered into the acid coated stone. Continuing the steady repetition of my task, one of my legs began to shake free of its stone prison. The gradually growing freedom was incredibly uplifting. The small chips broken away from my tomb raised my spirits. The acid even started to flow back up along the rock, further weakening the freshly exposed stone. Everything seemed to be looking up.

Putting your mind to a singular task of punching your way out of a pile of stones means you miss obvious things. Things like liquids and small pebbles starting to travel the wrong way were a start. Then the pressure started to lift on the larger boulders, and the whole tunnel collapse began to shudder and grind.

Later, it would become apparent this grand liberation from our earthen cages was the work of Set. Buried, alive, desperate, and lucid enough to crack the seal on the scroll of reverse gravity, the aasmir team managed to shift an entire cave-in single-handedly.

Thanks to my distracted state, the maneuver ended with me trapped under a new pile of rocks on the ceiling. This pile came with a new feature though, a clear sight line to the floor of the tunnel. Some figures went scrambling past, calling for Helli and Tem. Well, time for one of those new tricks. These weird effects were often way outside of my comfort zone, and this stuff stemmed from a monk school I’d only heard about in whispers and legends. But it couldn’t all be made up and hearsay if I ended up wearing the robes of some of those old masters. The name of the master escaped me, and the symbol of his monastery wasn’t super clear in its hiding spot in the lining of the robes. Honestly, history wasn’t my best subject and monks, as a whole, have an issue with naming themselves after extremely rare flowers that are tough to remember. School of the Six-Petaled Lotus, or Masters of the Night Orchid, whatever the name, all monks used the same toolbox in the end. It all comes down to ki.

So like a stubborn student with a decent practical knowledge in the manipulation of natural energies and a terrible theoretical framework of history and magic, I slammed the energy of my being into my robes. The world softened, my vision flared with silvered wisps, and the ground suddenly decided to be a lot closer and I was a lot less confined.


And running, lots of running.

Everyone was rushing around, busy saving people hurt in the collapse, and trying to find their way through the dust of a second tunnel collapse. With a few brushes to chase off the last clinging silvery tendrils of whatever the robes did, I was probably free of any probing questions in the short term. Helli needed some help being dragged free of the rubble, and Tem seemed to be upright.

“Everyone is free, let’s LEAVE!” I shouted again. Zeno was of course ahead of us on the escape, leading us out the way we came in. It seemed obvious that running into the catacombs, a place that was now devoid of zombies, Red Eyes, and whatever other bad news was lying in the pyramid seemed to be the safest route. By the time we made it free of the collapsed tunnel area, Set’s spell finally broke. A wall of dust rushed out behind us, blacking out any hope of seeing if everyone was free.

“EVERYONE OKAY?” My voice rasped out through coughs, my dwarven mask askew in the tumbling melee of rocks and rescues we just escaped.

“Darling, I’m always fine,” Zeno said with his usual panache.

“Fine,” Felegum said succinctly. This dust and chaos was probably getting to him.

But no other voices chimed in. Felegum cleared the air with a gust of wind, but half our party was nowhere to be found. In a panic, we checked the cube pieces we used to track each other.

They pointed back into the tunnel collapse.

Back into the pyramid.

We survived an assault that ended with a tunnel literally swallowing us. We spent time buried in stone. I thought Helli said there were more enemies coming in behind Yuval.


I collapsed from my feet and tried to collect myself. My emotions were everywhere, my body was battered, and now we were separated.

And all I really wanted was a sausage.

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