FORFEIT THE GAME BEFORE SOMEBODY ELSE TAKES YOU OUT OF THE FRAME: in which nothing, absolutely nothing will stop Tem from burying the dead

I was deep in the process of laying the dead to rest in Clap-sic, which was neither clean nor easy, as most of the deceased were very badly burned and therefore relatively upsetting to deal with. Helli, Zeno, Felegum, and Iago were all off in the village doing something they deemed important, leaving me and Tem with the dead.

All seemed well, even up to Zeno’s “yoohoo!” followed by a “wait, what?” and “suit yourself!” Helli and Iago also seemed to be going off on their own in a more stealthy (debatable, with Iago at your back) operation, to mixed results.

It wasn’t until sounds of more movement and an impassioned bardic “Oh you dumb shit, stupid child” that I looked up from my work and behold a large red frog behind Zeno.

“Uh,” I said, nudging Tem.

“Please take care of it,” she said placidly. “I need to bury these people.”

I highly suspected that there would be more people in need of burial if we didn’t act now. “This!” I said. “This is my problem with organized religion!”

Zeno turned and emitted a note of surprise at the frog behind him.

I snapped out my wings, placed a shield on Zeno to mitigate amphibian damage, and moved toward the danger.

“Okay, fine,” said Zeno. “Watch where you’re going, kid!”

I did not think he was speaking to me. Weirdly, this did not make me feel better. He called Lily to him and got on.

Somewhere in the distance, a familiar giant monodrone made of orange clay touched down on the material plane, ready to impose order on froggy chaos.

“We’ve got to save the townsfolk!” Helli yelled. “I’m going to warn them!”

“I’m going to punch them!” Iago called back, presumably meaning the frogs.

“You’re in danger, you have to leave!”

Screams soon followed; hopefully Helli had not been too late in warning the people left alive here. I was surprised there was anyone left here to kill, but then again I’d been busy.

Thus followed the sounds of Iago inflicting violence (“What did the frog say to the pot? SIZZLE!”) and Helli taking advantage of the distraction to get a good hit in. People ran and I invoked a tiny slice of divine fire to plague the frog. Its skin boiled, which did not improve it.

Anyway, understandably, this displeased the frog. It lashed out with startling accuracy on me, Zeno, and Lily, but especially me. I felt lucky to not have lost concentration on my spell after all that. Another red frog appeared from behind a shrubbery and redoubled its companion’s efforts to verse Zeno.

“I’m not as easy a target as that little boy!” he mocked, causing the frog to swing wide and pummel Lily instead. Zeno’s dismay at this left him open for the frog’s bite, which was painful even to watch. He got out of there quickly, though, becoming mist (along with Lily) and flying around rooftops. Below, I was buffeted by gusts of her wings.

“I am going to find your boss soon enough!” he called from above. “You’re just lunch.”

I hardly had time to appreciate the depths of this insult before Felegum shattered the two frogs near me and a massive clay Dronie slugged a red frog three times with gusto. Helli must have been busy stabbing away, because Iago called something about finishing slicing up dinner while he left to do Iago things elsewhere. In the distance, I could make out the sounds of someone clattering up a roof as the remaining people in the town scurried through the streets to safety.

Now solo, I flew between the two frogs, unleashed a wave of thunder, and then flew straight up, out of their reach.

I didn’t want to get hit more than I had to. Judging from the hasty movements of my companions in my periphery, it seemed like the others felt the same.

What this meant, though, was that the frogs found other targets. Several moved toward Tem, who was resolutely burying the dead without a care in the world. One of the red ones I’d zapped slashed at the kid Zeno had healed, felling him again. I swore under my breath as it hopped away.

Meanwhile, Zeno continued hanging out on Lily from above, which I guess was cool. I mean, it was pretty typical that he didn’t want to get hit.

“These guys are too fast, ugh,” a dispirited Felegum said from behind the hulk of clay Dronie.

The zombie crew moved into position to surround Tem, guarding her as she ministered to the deceased. North, West, and MacNamara all attacked the blue frog menacing her. Vincenzo, the most prized of the undead, had no doubt been secreted somewhere by Zeno for safekeeping.

Thus inspired, Felegum sent several bolts of well-ordered energy toward the blue frog by Tem and Clay Dronie struck an impressive “fight me” pose before laying into his own attacks on the offending amphibian.

In the distance, familiar bolts of energy erupted from Helli’s wand as she struck out at the frog who dared defy her by running away. In the nearer distance came Iago’s voice yelling, “Party on the east side of town! Party!”

Then came the clatter of an old man colliding with a building and forcing entry.

This was all very well, but a child was literally dying right in front of me and I felt, I don’t know, a moral obligation to prevent that. I cast a quick spell to keep him from popping off immediately and then directed more fire on the frog who had done the deed. It was not looking especially peachy, and as such made a run for it.

Back in the town square, frog-on-zombie violence continued and a crash of bones marked the (un)timely destruction of West. McNamara bravely moved to protect Tem, but due to being extremely unalive was not blessed with agility and was unable to prevent the frog from biting her armor. Luckily, Bahamut was looking out for his favorite paladin and the frog broke its teeth on Tem’s gleaming armor instead.

Dronie had shifted to playing Felegum Defense, a classic. He hit an oncoming frog with a heavy thud and vicious blow, though was not able to prevent a different frog from socking the mage. In that moment, Felegum did not look at all in the mood for therapy.

The sound of kelp hitting damp frog skin echoed down the street, a clear sign that Helli was in close combat herself. From above, Zeno’s whispers drifted down to the frog adjacent to Tem, causing clear distress, and the two remaining zombies shored up their defenses bravely as the paladin continued to perform her burial rites.

At last, the thin strand of patience in Felegum broke.

“Fuck you!” he yelled at the frog closest to him, which clutched his head as though it had suffered severe emotional and mental trauma. Then he ran away, calling to the clay monodrone, “Dronie, if you don’t mind, could you finish that guy off?”

Dronie backed up obligingly, as if a bull or some other mechanical farm animal precisely gauging the best angle of attack, and then ran into the frog, slamming it to earth. The red frog ingloriously became red soup.

A kelpy gnome-shaped shadow zipped from one crook of a building into the next.

“You know what goes great with frog legs?” Iago mused at the top of his lungs from inside someone’s home. “DEEZ NUTS!”

“Ugh!” Zeno reeled above, suffering.

Iago, happily unaware of the pain he’d inflicted on others, proceeded to inflict further pain on the frogs, judging from the sound of a pot hitting a fleshy surface, such as frogflesh. “Evacuate the dance floor!” he yelled, emerging from the house and sprinting to the frog by Tem before cracking it with his flaming pot. “You didn’t join the party!”

Seeing as all the enemies around me had fled, I drifted down to the boy and picked him up. I’d been casting healing spells for a while now, so I figured I was more than capable of handling this stuff. But when I tried to fix his wounds, which were (in my professional opinion) real bad, it didn’t work.

He simply refused to knit himself back together. It was like whatever bad magic inside of him was pulling his very skin apart like a ragdoll unraveling.

Suddenly I did not know how to handle this. I needed an adult. Preferably one with healing abilities.

“Uh, Tem? Tem!” I yelled. “Come here, I need help!”

I pressed my hands to the boy’s neck desperately trying to keep everything together.

Back in the square, North crumbled to the ground in the next froggy onslaught. The frog responsible even bit McNamara, presumably because it needed the calcium. Iago tried to avenge North, but only got its feet as it bounded away.

Too fast, exactly as Felegum had said.

Zeno cast a spell on the fleeing frog and it ran straight into a wall, as though instantly blind. “You know what I call that?” crowed the bard from above. “A cartoon peril.”

A message whispered through my head. Zeno. “Set, are you okay?”

My hands were covered in a child’s blood as I attempted to staunch a neck wound that just wouldn’t clot. “This child is dying and I can’t help him!” I said in a panic, hands shaking with effort. “Oh my god.”

“Set’s okay!” Zeno called to the others.

Meanwhile, Felegum declared the remaining frog an enemy of Law and it died. Dronie resolutely sprinted after the remaining frogs to no avail as Helli struck an impressive slice blow to the blind, prone one’s hamstring.

“I got him, I got him!” Iago called, rushing up to the same unfortunate creature. “Stop struggling!” he said as he tried to wrap his strangely agile old man limbs around it. “Ugh, you’ve failed me for the last time! Guys, he’s squirrelly.”

I could only hope that Tem had something up her sleeve to help me rid this child of whatever was preventing him from healing. I was running out of ideas and out of time.

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