Dawn of the Unflankables

Chapter 25: Magic & Muscles

The night is dark and Pineroot lights up a torch. Standing atop the wagon, he waves it back and forth to help guide his fugitive friends back to their mobile home. Ryndir is able to spot the beacon from afar and the Unflankables are soon reunited. There is no time to catch their breath, however, and they do the two-story-wagon equivalent of a peel-out to escape their angry pursuers.

As day breaks, there appears to be no signs of the Wickhaven guards anywhere on the horizon. Lucius and Alton plan to head back to Ravenswood to report to Barnabus, so the heroes decide to accompany them. Darksex naps while Pineroot lays on top of the wagon, tanning his chiseled body. Up ahead, Ryndir and Ulfgar spot an arrangement of large stones, placed in a circle. As they draw closer, they spot the armored heads of two towering figures. They are the shield guardians of one, Archibald Mandalus.

Having previously parted on relatively good terms, the Unflankables pull up to the stones. Mandalus, apparently unsurprised, greets them amiably. Ulfgar hands him a flask of the petrification potion they had promised, and it disappears within the folds of his fancy cloak. The heroes are a tad suspicious at this second convenient appearance of Mandalus and his two towering henchmen. Mandalus asks about their travels, and they respond with their powerful ability to avoid the whole truth. When questioned about his activities, Mandalus explains that he’s merely examining the mysterious circle of stones.

It is then that they notice a curious symbol carved into each of the stones. The heroes think nothing of it, with the exception of Darksex. Without a word, he walks to one of the stones and opens the book of dark magic he carries at all times. The rest of the heroes stand around the stones making empty conversation and hinting at potential employment by Mandalus. Pineroot flexes, comparing his bulging muscles to those of the comparatively massive shield guardians.

Mandalus then turns to the heroes and bids them farewell, telling them that he looks forward to meeting them again. He gives a wistful look at nothing in particular and steps into a glowing portal with his guardians. The heroes agree that this man is super weird and maybe a bit unnerving. They don’t dwell on this though, as the feeling of being watched washes over them.

The heroes turn to head back to the wagon, but find themselves approached by a small group of robed men and women. The strange folk seem perturbed that they have visitors to what they state are “their” stones. Darksex quickly tucks his tome away. One of the strangers sidles up to the warlock, sniffing, and announces that he smells of The Great One. The Unflankables groan while the rest of the robed people gather around Darksex.

Darksex insists he’s just a guy named Grape, nobody special. But the excited strangers plead for him to show them some of the Great One’s magic. With the disciples clustered around him, Darksex does the classic pull-your-thumb-off trick. Then he misty-steps behind one of the rocks. The robed goons gasp and look around for Darksex. Ulfgar shakes his head and goes to take a nap in the wagon.

One of the strangers isn’t buying it. While chasing Darksex around the rock, he demands a showdown between the two of them to display their true skills. Sighing, Darksex agrees. His opponent pulls out a small rod tipped with a gold set of pincers. The Unflankables begin to chant, “Grape, Grape, Grape!” The stranger also begins to chant, but more about the Great One and his vast power. With the rod raised, he shouts and slams it back down into the dirt. A few moments go by with no sign of anything magical. Suddenly, the ground around them begins to shake. Before the heroes’ eyes, a huge insectoid bursts from the ground and quickly tears its summoner to shreds.

The heroes are stunned. The robed crazies are enthralled. The insect, an ankheg, screeches and the Unflankables snap back to their senses. Pineroot rushes up to the creature and deals a hefty blow with his sword. The cultists cry out in protest and Pineroot is subsequently burned with several bouts of sacred flame. Darksex blasts one of the strangers, and Alton fires a direct hit on the ankheg with his crossbow. Lucius tries to help, but his fireball is hurled straight into the sky, never to be seen again.

The ankheg lets out another screech and tries to take a bite out of Pineroot. As the powerful mandibles snap shut, Pineroot flexes his impeccable abs. To the astonishment of the other Unflankables, and probably the ankheg, the deadly pincers glance harmlessly off of the gnome’s powerful physique.

Inspired by this inhuman display of pure gnomish manliness, the heroes wail some more on the giant insect. The ankheg looks a bit worse for wear and scuttles up on top of one of the large stones. With another screech, the creature spews a long stream of acid which splatters Lucius and Darksex, as well as a few cultists. Lucius stabs one of them.

With a burst of energy, Azaghal makes a running leap up the stone and strikes the killing blow on the huge insect. The monster’s corpse topples from the stone and crushes one of the cultists. Pineroot spots the rod with the pincers and snatches it up. He waves it in the air, bellowing at the remaining strangers to stop their attacks. They glance at each other nervously for a moment before taking off into the desert from whence they came.

Pineroot hands Darksex the rod, who pretends to begrudgingly accept it despite its obvious link to his Great Entity. Gale is also called to harvest some potion materials from the fallen ankheg. Finally, Ryndir filches the gold from the dead cultist before the heroes pile back into their wagon. Next stop, Ravenswood.

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