We have Tipwill back! And I’m alive!
Despite Tip’s personal charm and impressive ability to turn people into newts, I’m sure my family would rank my survival as being of considerably more import than that of our mage. (True enough, cousin Mary-Ann might not. She had never forgiven me for dyeing her hedgehog blue as a child, and later acquired that series of increasingly scandalous crushes on the various itinerant hedge-wizards that sometimes passed through Brandykenthwaite-on-Trickle.) Regardless of their biases, however, I must say that I’m quite pleased with both sets of developments.
It was Mayzine who first found evidence of Tip’s unwashed scent with her keen draconian senses, apparently through the woods to the north. In this direction we thus all headed, Ashton and Hedge carrying Shen’s lifeless body on its crude litter. We had only the starlight to guide us through the undergrowth, and only the shadow dragon was able to see more than a few feet ahead. All of us were ill-equipped, and quite the worse for wear from our previous battles and the fall from the portal.
Eventually we came upon more solid evidence, although it wasn’t clear how it related to our missing mage: cart-ruts in the soft soil, and then the cart itself, stationary in the dark woods ahead. Hedge and I volunteered to quietly reconnoiter the area.
When we reached the cart, we found its contents looted and a dead dwarf slumped forward in the driving seat. Natural causes seemed to be an unlikely explanation for its death, given the several heavy black arrows lodged in the corpse’s back. Clearly there were humanoid foes about, and not just the eight-legged ones that we were in search of.
There was little time to ponder who those foes might be. A guttural warcry pierced the still night air, and we heard sounds of someone approaching. Hedge and I took up ambush positions (or, it might be said, hiding positions–there being little difference between the two). Before we could spot the enemy, however, Mayzine swooped low over us, and crashed into the underbrush ahead. The shadow dragon was hunting, and had found her quarry.
Although Hedge and I crept forward to help, she had little need of our assistance: she quickly knocked out one orc (whom I dispatched with Mr. Cutty), and subdued the other. Ashton joined us, struggling with Shen’s body across his back. We all turned to the orc. Perhaps we could gain some vital information from our prisoner.
There followed some considerable bickering on how best to proceed. Mayzine, who held the fellow in her claws, first threatened to emasculate him, then to hurl him to the ground from on high, and finally offered him a small compensation to cooperate. I tried to concoct a complex tale of unimaginable riches in the hope of using the Orc’s greed to loosen his tongue. All this did was complicate matters by stoking his greed still further, to which Ashton responded by solemnly promising him half of whatever treasure we might find.
Finally, Hedge found a way of cutting through the bickering and negotiations. Literally. The Orc slumped to the ground dead, an adamantine blade through its back. Ashton and even Mayzine wondered about the ethics of all this. Shen, bless his soul, would have turned over in his grave, had we yet buried him. As for me—well, while its not something I would have done, I was not unhappy to see him dead. I proceeded to loot the fallen body.
A short while later we heard more noises, this time of shouting, and of something (or somethings) crashing through the brush towards us. Mayzine advanced towards the commotion, and was surprised to see a terrified (and rather damp) Tip fleeing towards us. He didn’t need to say anything about his situation: his look made it clear that he was being pursued, and that we didn’t have much time.
I tried to convince Mayzine to take to the air, and to draw them away from our position. Once again, we clashed more than cooperated, and she rejected my suggestion. Although I’m coming slowly to the view that perhaps she truly has abandoned the path of evil, we don’t get on well. Her haughtiness is quite the opposite of we hin. She clearly doesn’t like skulking, a past-time that I rather enjoy. That she could almost gobble me up in a single bite probably doesn’t add to the weight of my views in her estimation.
We could not possibly hope to outrun our pursuers in this dark tangled forest. Given our wounds and the uselessness of our magicks, most of us considered that this battle might be our last. Nevertheless, we grimly readied ourselves to fight.
As for me, I advanced a little beyond my companions, and took up position in a tall tree. From here I could carefully choose my targets from concealment, maximizing both the element of surprise and the damage of my projectiles. It also gave me the option of trying to draw our attackers away from the others, and then seeking to evade my pursuers with well-honed stealthiness. It was a risky long shot, but it would be worth it if it might allow Ash, Tip, and Hedge to escape with Shen’s body.
Soon we could hear Tip’s pursuers rushing towards us. A large orc passed under my tree.. and as he passed, I hurled a single flattened stone which caught him heavily in the back. He stumbled a little, giving Hedge time to aim his crossbow, and finish him off with a well-aimed bolt.
A second orc charged passed, and in the distance I could see Mayzine in combat with yet another opponent, a dark elf barely visible amid the trees. Reasoning that the dragon could well handled the Drow, I took aim, and hurled a knobbly stone at the nearer foe–dropping the orc in its tracks. In the distance, the Drow fell too, laid blow with a mighty swipe of the dragon’s claw.
Sadly, this time my movements seem to have given away my hiding place, for a huge ogre roared, and hurled a massive axe in my direction. Thankfully, he missed. Less thankfully, he then rushed to my tree in an attempt to shake me out of my arboreal perch.
I clung to a branch for dear life as the tree rocked and swayed, the fearsome creature’s stench and considerable annoyance more than amply evident to me in the branches above. Mayzine moved forward to fight it, and—the ogre’s attentions momentarily distracted—I hurled a rock against its hard head, and then a second. Much to my pleasure, the thing groaned and fell dead. Chalk one up for hiding and throwing rocks.
As all this was going on, Hedge, Ashton, and Tipwill confronted a final orc in fierce hand-to-hand combat, vanquishing it too.
Happily we all greeted Tipwill, who recounted how he had escaped from the spider’s lair with the help of Mr Stabby, whom I had given him earlier in the aberrants’ cavern. Our collective celebration was soon cut short, however, by the sound of scuttling in the woods. Spiders. Many of them.
The party began to withdraw. Knowing once more that I could not keep pace with my companions, I instead hid again in the tree. Fortunately the spiders seemed interested only in the fallen bodies, which they wrapped in silk and dragged off into the darkness. On this rare occasion, I was quite happy to forgo uncollected loot if it meant they would leave us alone.