the return of Tip

woods1.jpgWe 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.

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Into the Darkness

portal.jpg“Look before you leap,” my mum used to say. She wasn’t the only one, of course–that particular turn of phrase can be found in a thousand tongues in a thousand lands. “Aim before release,” the Wood Elves say. “Watch fer rocks afore ye watch fer gold,” say the Dwarves. “Better an eye for the Nightwatch than a year in gaol,” whisper the guildfellows of Waterdeep. Or, as my good friend Kordite von Boom often says, “Never mix without ducking.”

Well, despite my best instincts I did leap before looking—following Hedge and my fellow adventurers through the portal in the abberrants’ lair, knowing not what was on the other side. And, as a result, brave Shen now lies dead.

We had finally found Shen an hour or so earlier, wandering disoriented in the cavern of the mournful golem that Hedge and I had tried so hard to avoid. With the monks’ martial skills added to our own, and with the help of evil-dragon-Mayzine-turned-slightly-less-evil (more on that later) we had triumphed this time against the foul construct, although not without injuries. Pleased to be once more back together as a party, we had then retired to the Grell laboratory, conversed a moment, and then moved through the portal

The portal… well, you see, there was nothing on the other side of that portal. More precisely, there was a starry night sky, and a fall of a hundred feet or so through the darkness into a crater below. I had feared what might await us at our destination, and and even mentioned my concerns to my companions. However, with everyone else so brave and bold I felt self-conscious with my warnings and usual halfling caution, and so leapt into the arcane blackness. In an instant, I found myself in another place, plummeting towards the hard ground. Mayzine, whose leathery dragonwings had soon caught her fall, might have caught me too, but declined to do so. It would seem she has not entirely abandoned the path of evil, in my book at least.

Shen had proceeded me and was lying in a bloody, bruised mess on the ground when he heard my cries of alarm. Without hesitation or thought for himself, he positioned himself to break my fall—and, in so doing took some of the harm meant for me. It was, as I have come to expect of this monk, a supremely selfless act.

Although we all survived the fall, it left us battered and ill prepared for the next dangers that we might face. We were deep in a huge bowl-shaped depression, formed in some mighty explosion that had destroyed the old Dwarven mines we had been exploring only days (weeks? months?) earlier. The ground seemed polished smooth, perhaps scooped away to another plane or melted like glass in the heat of a great cataclysm. A strange dark mist swirled about our feet.

It was out of this mist that our attackers came: a gigantic dark spider, and its smaller eight-legged companions. It was then that I realised our magicks did not function here, and that Uncle Reggie’s skiprock and other weapons secured within my Belt of Thingyness were beyond reach. As Hedge reached for his swords, I grabbed his crossbow and bolts, hoping thereby to contribute to the battle to come. Ash gripped his mace, its divine powers temporarily quietened. And Shen–once more, selfless and brave–catapulted himself forward to confront our many-legged foe.

He was wounded, though. Wounded, you see, from his fight with the golem, from his fall, and from catching me. In a stronger state, he would no doubt have vanquished this beast, as he had so many dark creatures before. This time, however, he was struck down. Struck down dead.

It is odd that it should have moved me so, for I have seen death before. It is odd too that I should feel such an affinity for this honest and ascetic monk when so much of my own life has been spent in bars and taverns, among thieves and confidence tricksters, and in relocating objects of value to better places. Yet his simple moral code, his very basic sense of right of wrong, has something very hin to it. He is–or was–as straight as a gooseneck down a plughole, as the expression goes. Only his sometimes stern demeanor, excessive height, rapid pace, peculiar parentage, intolerance for creature comforts, whirling-hands-of-death, ability to glow, preference for non-alcoholic beverages, general inability to play the harmonica or to convince people he’s a visiting noble or tax collector or traveling gem-appraiser, lack of curiousity about what lies in other folks’ pockets, ignorance of the classics of literature (notable Harry Heliofont and the Magnificent Golden Badger), bald feet, and negligible experience with barmaids, grappling hooks, handcuffs, or a criminal record marked him as any different from a hundred halflings that I have known.

In any event, this was not the time for mourning. We scarcely had time to react to the sight of the monk’s broken lifeless body laying prone in the dark moonlit mist when the huge spider grabbed Tip, and started to flee with our mage. We wounded the monstrosity grievously, but evidently not enough. It vanished into the shadows. Two of our rapidly-dwindling party were now gone.

Curiously, the spider actually vanished too–clearly shadow magicks, or the things that exist between The Weave, function in such dead zones where other mystical powers do not. I shall have to ask Tip about it–when and if we find him. I am hopeful we will. Presuming that the creature does not immediately snap off his head, drink his bodily fluids, and discard his lifeless drained husk of a body in its lair, I doubt that a spider can long keep possession of a mage of Tipwill’s intelligence, especially should it wander somewhere where his arcane abilities once more function. I can only hope too that the time (and cheese) that I have spent in secret training sessions with Professor Sniddle on gem-filching and rope gnawing will prove useful. In any case, we have no way of tracking where he is, or where he has been taken (although I’ll ask that cursed Mayzine to scout for him and the spider come daybreak).

For now, therefore, the priority is Shen, We must take him forthwith to somewhere where he might be be brought back from the netherlands of death–perhaps at the nearby Dwarven hospice (if it still functions following the cataclysm), or Sundabar, or if not there surely in Silverymoon. Sadly, with our mage captured and our spells useless for now in any case, we can hardly magick ourselves there. Instead we’ve fashioned a simple litter, and we will carry the body of our fallen companion as far as is necessary.

And I, for one, shall find someway of repaying him. I have no way of knowing, of course, whether the damage he took from my fall made the difference, or whether he would have been vanquished anyway. Indeed, that’s quite the point: he didn’t plot or plan or balance the risks and dangers, but simply and with his typical courage did what he thought was right. The Harpers have a saying, or so Uncle Reggie used to say: “Do good.” I had always thought it rather trite, and far too simple. But that’s the thing, you see–for the truly good, it is simple indeed.