Dawn of the Unflankables

Chapter 24: A Heated Departure

The deed is done. The laboratory and elemental chamber lie in ruins. However, the sense of urgency quickly grows as magma begins to pour into the desecrated chamber. Ryndir walks briskly to the cell he locked minutes earlier. He casually shouts to his companions to warn them of the imminent danger, and then frees the baffled prisoner once again. The wily elf dashes back into the lab, returning a moment later with a charred lab coat. He dresses the prisoner in the coat and gives it a brief brush-off before he takes off towards the stairs to join his friends.

Up on the first floor, Pineroot calls out to Ulfgar, using his good fake dwarf name. The temporarily blinded dwarf stumbles through the throng of guards towards Pineroot’s voice. The guards shake the spots from their eyes, but not before the two Unflankables have already burst from the fortress into the night air. Half of the guards run towards the king’s quarters while the others look around for the other escaped prisoners. Ryndir and Darksex arrive on the main floor on the heels of Azaghal, Smugs, and the two Ravenswood spies.

With the sound of screeching iron, the entire fortress suddenly tilts on its warping foundation and throws each of its inhabitants against its walls. The Unflankables steady themselves and make another dash towards the exit. One Wickhaven guard spots them, does a comical double take, and loudly alerts his friends to the imposter scientists. Before anyone can react, the fortress lets out another metallic groan and tilts once again, this time throwing everyone towards the entrance.

Meanwhile, Pineroot and Ulfgar power-walk through the streets of Wickhaven. They draw little attention from the curious citizens, but the cloth saleswoman, Maicy, runs up to them. They dodge her curious questions by assuring her that the king is indeed the guy and will totally handle the situation. They part ways and hurriedly make their way back to their great wagon to wake up Gale. Ulfgar hitches up the oxen, while Pineroot fills a couple flasks with sleeping gas, and then they wait patiently for the rest of their companions.

Back in the fortress, lava has begun to ooze out from the stairwells. The heroes shed their heavy guard armor and make for the door. Ryndir and Darksex make it out and are faced with the throng of bewildered townsfolk. Azaghal, Smugs, and the spies arrive at the door at the same time as the guards. One of the king’s necromancers ignites his candle into a burning blade and gives Azaghal a slash with it. Another guard rushes up to help with his spear, but jabs the necromancer instead in his excitement. This gives the rest of the heroes the seconds they need to break into the open air.

Seeing his comrades free, Darksex slams the front doors with his mind and the heroes take off into the crowd. Moments later, the doors burst open again and the guards, angry and panicked, hurry after them. The heroes rush through the streets, the king’s angry commands echoing behind them. The moon sufficiently blocked by volcanic smoke, the heroes use the darkness to duck down an alley. The guards don’t notice at all and continue running past and down the street. The heroes don’t see any way out, surrounded by homes and the city wall.

Pineroot and Ulfgar continue waiting, but none of their friends are in sight. Instead, they hear the approaching shouts of the guards. Knowing their wagon will easily stand out among the few normal ones, they debate what to do next. Deciding it’s too risky to stick around, they hop aboard and drive off. Perhaps a mile will be far enough away to avoid capture…

Seemingly cornered, the rest of the Unflankables consider their options. Climbing over the wall seems like the best way out. Taking one end of a rope, Darksex magically spider climbs over the wall. Finding nothing on the other side to tie the rope to, he ties it to himself. Alton attempts the first climb, but takes an age and a half to reach the top of the wall. By this time, it sounds like the guards are on their way back. Lucius has no problem climbing over the wall, but Azaghal has some difficulty.

One of the guards conveniently announces that he’s going to check out the area behind the houses. Spurred by panic and impatience, Ryndir tosses his rope over to Darksex and begins climbing. With only Smugs left within Wickhaven’s walls, the guard rounds the corner and spots them. With the help of Lucius, Ryndir pulls the rope and Smugs rides it up in the nick of time.

The heroes are now in a race with the guards, the two parties on either side of the wall. They all run towards the parked wagons, but the heroes realize their house-wagon is gone! Their only choice is to escape on foot. As they pass by the exit of the city, Darksex catches a fleeting glimpse of Mercado Bravoso peeking from one of the caravans. There is no time to worry about it however, and the Unflankables dash away into the dark desert.

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Chapter 23: That's The Spy

Left to their own devices, our heroes are tasked with exploring the expansive fortress before them. They pile into one room after another, discovering the great hall, the throne room, and the kitchen. After leaving the chef to continue preparing a meal, the heroes discover a staircase leading downward.

Meanwhile, at the cathedral, the King’s service has ended. Grover the guard beckons Pineroot and Ulfgar to come up and meet the king. Ulfgar sneaks a hymnal along with him. Pineroot converses with King Miland, though most of the conversation consists of some major brown-nosing on Pineroot’s part. Pineroot also tells the king about all the exports that Village Shitty is known for. The king suggests they take their business back to his fortress and the two Unflankables know they’ve got their in.

Back in the basement of the fortress, the other Unflankables have discovered the holding cells. They don’t get much of a response from the prisoners due to their guards’ uniforms. The heroes ignore one of the prisoner’s heckling and poke around the chamber. They soon discover a laboratory complete with primitive Bunsen burners, cauldron, and lab coats. Ryndir pockets a random vial of unknown liquid before two voices are heard approaching from an open side door. Hurriedly, the heroes dash back out to the cells, pretending to lock their spy friends away.

Shortly, two men in lab coats exit the lab. The heroes gruffly greet them and the awkward scientists scurry off and up the stairs. Afterwards, the heroes send Darksex to explore the side room in the lab. Behind the door is a corridor hewn out of stone, leading back into a chamber bathed in orange light. The source of the light seems to come from the magma-soaked rocks themselves. Satisfied that he’s located the elemental chamber, Darksex reports back to his companions.

Up on the main floor of the fortress, Pineroot and Ulfgar talk more with King Miland. Pineroot asks many questions about the origin of Wickhaven, as well as the King’s incredible reputation. Miland is all too happy to discuss his grand pyromancy skills. Pineroot and Ulfgar feign amazement until the two scientists from the basement enter the room. The nerds tell the king that they are ready for their meeting, and Miland suggests the two Unflankables come back the next morning.

Pineroot and Ulfgar are grumbling on the inside as they’re ushered towards the exit by the guards. As they pass the barracks, Pineroot insists that he needs to use the restroom. The guard invites the two heroes into the barracks to use their facilities. While Pineroot tries and fails to drop a deuce, Ulfgar shoots the shit with the room full of guards. He notices a robed man packing away some belongings and holstering a jet black candle. Something tells Ulfgar that this mysterious cloaked fellow is a pyromancer, and deep down, his subconscious heartily confirms his suspicions.

The rest of the Unflankables continue to plot in the basement, debating how to continue their caper. As Ryndir dresses Lucius and Alton in ill-fitting lab coats, an idea strikes him. The idea quickly manifests in the form of a prison riot. The mischievous elf unlocks each of the cells and sends the disheveled citizens up the stairwell, Darksex handing one of them a dagger. The heroes then head up the staircase on the other side of the basement, also leading up the main floor.

The freed prisoners reach the main floor of the fortress and it isn’t long before the guards are alerted. Pineroot, disappointed with his poopless performance, leaves the stall in time to join Ulfgar and the rest of the guards as they pour into the halls. At the same time, Azaghal and Darksex peek from the stairwell door, hoping the faraway death screams are those of guards and not unarmed prisoners. Pineroot catches sight of his companions and joins up with them to discuss their scenario. Darksex and Ryndir describe the basement and elemental chamber to the gnome, and the three debate what the true objective of their mission was in the first place.

They decide that the elemental chamber must be destroyed. Pineroot shakes his head as his compatriots head back down the stairs to the basement. To buy his friends some time, he casts an illusion of a blinding ball of light in front of all the Wickhaven guards. Though this also blinds Ulgar, the surviving prisoners are able to run away.

In the basement, one of the prisoners runs back down the stairs and into his cell. Ryndir locks him back in while Darksex conjures his shadow butler. After placing one of the leftover explosive bars in the elemental chamber, the shadow butler carries a lit candle in after it. Moments later, the fortress is rocked by a great explosion. Ryndir pokes his head into the laboratory viewing the destruction that the wave of force has wrought. A quick look into the elemental chamber, however, reveals that the walls have ruptured, and molten lava has begun to pour into the chamber.

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Chapter 22: Stakeouts And Fakeouts

Our heroes have decided to turn in for the night and talk to the real spies the next morning. Ulfgar makes a quick stop at a trader’s wagon to commiserate with the travelers about how bat-shit crazy Wickhaven is. Afterwards, he gives each of his companions a punch goodnight, and they all drift off to sleep. They all wake up the next morning, well-rested and ready for some serious skulkin’. Lucius and Alton meet them at their wagon to discuss their findings.

The spies reveal that the king spends most of his time inside his fortress; there is also a laboratory buried somewhere within the volcano, but with no discernible entrance. Lucius asks the heroes what they were able to find out. Talking over each other, they say importantly that they really did a lot of research into what Wickhaven as a city is really about. They definitely consider their findings a success.

The skulk is on, and our heroes head to The King’s Place: A Family Restaurant to stake out the great iron fortress. They order some pancakes and spend the entire morning watching multiple changing of the guards. Many stacks of pancakes later, Pineroot decides to talk to the guards posted at the front door. He has a genial conversation with Grover, the guard, and poses as a rich diplomat named Percyweather Caterham from Village Shitty. Perplexed, Grover questions where the name Village Shitty comes from. Pineroot tells him it’s gnomish and asks to see the king. The guard tells him to meet him at the King’s service that evening and he could try to set up a meeting.

After bidding farewell to the guards, Pineroot returns to his companions at The King’s Place. They spend all afternoon eating pancakes and hatching a plot. Pineroot plans to head to the service with Ulfgar posing as his bodyguard, Dwarfnom Goodfik. The rest of the crew will try and create a distraction to gain access to the fortress. As the sun begins to set, the king is spotted leaving the fortress, flanked by six guards. Our heroes scoff at how flanked the king is before Pineroot and Ulfgar follow them to the cathedral. Ryndir and Darksex usher Smugs and the spies to the poo pit behind the restaurant and spend several minutes doing their business to make sure all citizens are inside the cathedral.

Outside the walls of Wickhaven, Azaghal has finally arrived from the desert. He enters the city, finding it devoid of any form of life. Searching all over, he discovers his friends at the poo pit of The King’s Place: A Family Restaurant. He gives Darksex a big hug and the rest of the heroes yell-whisper at him to drop trou and get to poopin’. Soon enough, the Unflankables’ business is concluded and they scope out the fortress situation. Two guards remain at the front doors and the heroes consider their options. Suddenly, Darksex darts into the street and runs towards the guards, yelling triumphantly about how he had just killed the king.

The two guards are immediately on alert. They pound quickly on the door behind them and take off after Darksex. The fortress doors fly open and two guards chase after their predecessors, followed by two more who take over door duty. Darksex runs to the nearby theater, the guards hot on his heels. Before they can catch up, however, the mystical dwarf evaporates into mist and reappears on the roof of the theater. The guards are flummoxed and scour the area around the theater for the supposed murderer.

The rest of the Unflankables hesitate, wondering exactly how to handle the new scenario. Ryndir then leads them to the back of the theater where they wait silently for the baffled guards. Slowly, the guards begin heading towards the back of the theater. As they draw near, Ryndir fires an arrow at them. The arrow bounces harmlessly off of the guard’s armor and gives them a big ol’ clue where their adversaries are hiding. They rush to the back of the theater, directly into the awaiting ambush. Azaghal quickly kills the first guard and is rewarded with several stabs from the other guards’ spears. Lucius doles out some more injuries to the guards with his sword. Unfortunately, the two tieflings seem to be the only ones equipped to handle the attack, as no one else lands a blow.

Darksex follows the sound of the commotion and dashes across the roof of the theater. Sticking to his “shoot first, ask questions never” approach, he fires off a one-two blast of eldritch energy. One mortally injures a guard, but the other collides with Azaghal, adding to his list of wounds. Though injured, Azaghal joins Lucius in taking out the two guards still on their feet. Alton finishes off the final guard and the night is silent once again. Darksex attempts to jump off the roof, but trips instead and lands painfully at Azaghal’s feet. He reaches out and grabs the tiefling’s ankle, healing him a little to make up for his earlier blunder. The Unflankables take a moment to consider their actions, wondering who they’ve become and whether or not they’ve truly done the right thing.

Meanwhile, Pineroot and Ulfgar sit at the front of the cathedral, singing a king-related song from a tome called That’s The Hymnal. Pineroot waves at Grover, who gives a small, on-duty wave. Things seem pretty alright for the two con artists.

Back at the theater, the Unflankables have stripped the dead guards of their uniforms and armor. With the exception of the two spies, the crew puts on the guards’ garb, hiding as many of the signs of struggle as possible. With no uniforms left, Ryndir suggests they use the spies as their prisoners to gain access to the fortress.

The plan works perfectly, the guards at the door too anxious to notice the change in staff. Darksex and Ryndir suggest that one of the guards go check on the actual king, and the guards begin to head back to the barracks. The final guard asks if they’d mind putting the prisoners in the cells. The heroes agree and are perplexed when they hear the king’s voice from the barracks when the guard opens the door to take his leave. They don’t think long about it, however as the dark halls of the king’s fortress stand before them, daring the Unflankables to make their next move.

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Chapter 21: Buy Into It

Following the purple worm’s departure, our heroes spend the remainder of their time in the desert unimpeded. Pineroot spends his time working out, the sun reflecting on his impeccable bod. They stop the wagon so that Darksex can bury his rotten vegetables. Ryndir decides to also bury his long rotten fish, placing each of them in their own grave. As their journey continues, the desert becomes rocky and mountains appear on the horizon. Eventually, they spot Wickhaven, their destination, at the foot of one of the mountains. The mountain in question has blotted out the sun, issuing a perpetual column of smoke.

The Unflankables back their wagon up against the city wall with the other much smaller wagons. They enter through the front gates and discover that most of the city is made of up buildings of red clay. They all seem to lead to a number of nicer stone buildings culminating in a great, dark iron fortress. Azaghal, Smugs, and Gale guard the wagon, while Lucius and Alton head off to do some spy work and plan to meet back up with them the following afternoon. Our heroes are left to their own devices and decide to do some skulking. They meet a woman with wild hair selling all kinds of cloth. She doesn’t have many teeth and talks with a lisp, but is super friendly. Ulfgar, Ryndir, and Pineroot buy some cloth to use for turbans, brown, bright blue, and earthy green respectively. Pineroot haggles with the woman, Maicy, for a matching cloak. Maicy accepts Pineroot’s offer to pay with a flex of his pecs. She also tells them that they should go to the nightly service for the king at the cathedral.

Darksex and Pineroot approach an elderly, waxy-looking fellow wheeling a cart of candles. The man talks very slowly and they find out that he is the only seller of candles in the city due to his proclaimed skills. They also learn that wax is Wickhaven’s primary export. Pineroot asks the man what his most popular candle is and is shown a wax likeness of Wickhaven’s king with a wick on top. The candlemaker goes on about how great the king is and how he keeps the ever-present volcano’s wrath at bay. Pineroot ends up buying an owlbear candle and Darksex buys a spider one.

The two join Ulfgar and Ryndir at a cart of herbs. The merchant, also named Herb, offers them all manner of different plant life: vegetables, medicinal roots, even the recreational stuff. Herb even has some of Dink’s Dankest, and Ryndir buys some more Hydra-Kush, Troglo-delight, as well as some Were-Weed, a strain most potent during the full moon.

The next stop on their shopping spree is a booth loaded with religious totems. The merchant, Mercado, instantly recognizes Ryndir, and vice versa. The fat, bearded man is furious with Ryndir who, the Unflankables learn, cheated the shady fellow out of 3,000 gold pieces. While Mercado argues with the excuse-slinging Ryndir, a second man steps in to run the booth. The man wears an eye-patch and Darksex finds him very familiar. The recognition seems to go both ways as the man becomes very nervous when he sees Darksex. Using his psychic abilities, Darksex learns that the man’s anxiety stems from that one time the slaves he was transporting broke out and killed all his companions. Darksex buys a spider ring of Lolth anyway, despite Ulfgar pointing out that all the wares are cheap, shoddy garbage and that he’s getting ripped off.

The argument between Mercado and Ryndir seems to go nowhere and the Unflankables go into distraction mode. Pineroot casts an illusion of flames on Mercado’s tunic and quickly spreads it to the whole booth. The former slavers takes off while Mercado tries to swat the fake flames. As our heroes hastily take their leave, Darksex puts the finishing touch on the illusion by using his Pyrophobe’s oil to light his hand on fire and then hurls his new spider ring at the panicking Mercado.

The heroes flee to the local Rusty Kettle which doesn’t seem to be as popular as in other cities. The group confronts Ryndir about his sketchy past and the elf shrugs it off and insists they figure out how to deal with the low-level crime lord. He suggests maybe they take him to the desert and bury him with the fish he buried earlier… have him sleep with the fishes, if they will. After having some delicious ales, the adventurers head to the cathedral to check out the seemingly popular service for the king of Wickhaven.

Once inside the dark iron cathedral, the heroes realize that everyone in town is present. Darksex buys a couple cloaks from Maicy for him and Ryndir so that Mercado can’t find them. Each attendee holds a lit candle, and Darksex and Pineroot light theirs as well. A set of double doors open and six armed guards walk out followed by the king himself. The Unflankables recognize him from the hallucination dream test they were given, and Ryndir says aloud, “That’s the guy!”. Luckily this goes unnoticed as the rest of the congregation chants musically, “That’s the guy!”. Hymns about the king are sung, interspersed with a tale told by the king himself about one of his grand adventures. Everyone besides the Unflankables are strangely enthralled with the service and all approach the offering pot in the front of the cathedral, giving generously. Our heroes feel an ominous need to fit in and each throws a gold piece into the offering pot.

After the service, the residents head their separate ways – some to their homes, some to eat, some to the local theater. The heroes debate whether to continue skulking or to get some food and let the spies do the spying. The latter appeals more to them and they get some bulette steaks at The King’s Place, A Family Restaurant.

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Chapter 20: Number One With A Bulette

Our heroes spend a few days traveling and very loosely bonding with the two spies accompanying them. One night in the plains, among Darksex’s campfire jokes, Lucius tells the adventurers that they’ll be reaching the Jeweled Desert within the next day. When the group expresses interest in the desert’s jeweled namesake, Lucius explains that the name comes from the sheen of the carapace of the native bulette. Disappointment turns to anxiety as Lucius explains that the bulette are large reptilian creatures that are surprisingly spry and quite adept at burrowing.

Eventually, the heroes accept the possible threat and travel to the edge of the vast desert. Smugs does the Unflankables’ taxes while waiting for nightfall, and they witness the sight of a great worm arcing over the desert off in the distance. Immediately, the heroes’ anxiety returns. How could Lucius not have mentioned such a massive and dangerous creature? Lucius tries to assure them that the Purple Worm is more concerned with hunting bulette than hunting people. There is talk of traveling around the desert instead of through it, but it is eventually panned due to how much longer it would take.

When night falls, the Unflankables set out into the desert. The night proves uneventful, and daylight brings the awe-inspiring sight of Darksex and Pineroot reenacting the “I’m Flying” scene of the famous road show, Titanic. The oddly pleasant morning is not destined to last, however, as three dust clouds appear on various horizons. Using a spyglass, Lucius informs the crew that the dust clouds are telltale signs of bulette, and that these bulette in particular are being ridden by armored bandits. Darksex puts Pineroot down and the two are soon joined by Azaghal and Smugs on the top of the wagon. With Ulfgar riding shotgun, Ryndir drives the oxen to go faster. “On Tom Bruise, on Bumpy, on Brudolph, on Boxen, on Blitzen!” he shouts.

The bulette begin to close in, two from the sides, and one from behind. Darksex summons his faithful shadow butler which sidles over to the large glass sphere, still filled halfway with pink mist. The nozzle is uncorked for sixty full seconds, and the wagon leaves a pink hazy trail as it barrels further into the desert. The butler puts the cork back as the heroes on top of the wagon watch the rider directly behind them. To their delight, the rider slumps forward, deep in slumber. His bulette continues charging forward and the rider soon slides off, disappearing into the dust.

Lucius takes a long drag on his cigar and, to the surprise of the Unflankables, breathes a fireball into his hand. He turns on his horse and hurls it at another oncoming rider. The fireball misses, but the Unflankables are still pretty blown away. Without hesitation, Azaghal dashes across the top of the wagon and leaps off the edge. With the help of his new Boots of the Twinkling Toe, he lands on the fireball-dodging bulette. A few punches later and Azaghal is the new rider of the creature. The bulette doesn’t agree and the wily tiefling clings tightly to avoid being thrown into the dust.

Ryndir shoots the only remaining rider’s mount, though it has little effect on the armored creature. However, it has more effect than the attacks of the heroes on the top of the wagon; Pineroot, Darksex, and Smugs fail to land a blow. Alton, listening intently, arms his crossbow and fires a bolt into the last rider, an impressive feat for having no eyesight. The rider retaliates, shooting Alton in the shoulder with his own crossbow. Ryndir attempts a new tactic and swerves the wagon into the bulette. Pineroot misses a second time with his crossbow, but scores a direct hit with his middle finger before vanishing in a puff of his Ash of the Terrans. Darksex disposes of the final bulette bandit, blasting him off his mount with a ball of eldritch magic.

The newly riderless bulette rams the two-tiered wagon and the three adventurers on top are knocked off their feet. Darksex is knocked right off the wagon. Narrowly avoiding the wagon wheels, he rolls through the dust and stone before colliding with the face of the sleeping rider’s bulette. The poor dwarf is tossed into the air and lands on the monster’s back where the rider used to be. Meanwhile, Azaghal continues his attempts to tame his bulette, and Ulfgar shoots the other one in the face. Riderless and injured, the bulette veers off away from the wagon and disappears into the dust. In the distance, however, two more riders appear on the horizon, one on each side of the Unflankables.

Darksex rights himself on the galloping bulette and begins healing his wounds. He delves deep into the bulette’s mind and psychically urges it to push towards the wagon. Pineroot continues his embarrassing display of crossbowery and Smugs finally has enough. Snatching the crossbow from the gnome, he fires a shot at one of the oncoming riders, hitting the bandit in the ribs. He hands the crossbow back, telling Pineroot, “That’s how it’s done.” Shortly afterwards, the wagon hits a patch of rocks and Ryndir holds Ulfgar back in his seat.

Darksex continues healing himself and as his bulette nears the back of the wagon, he vanishes in a cloud of mist. A moment later, the mist appears back on the top of the wagon and Darksex rejoins his companions. The two bulette riders strike back, one shooting Pineroot with a crossbow, the other blasting Ryndir with a fireball. Ulfgar closes his eyes and summons a spectral warhammer. With a wave of his hand, the hammer lands a hearty blow on one of the riders. Azaghal continues in vain to tame his bulette which begins to move away from the wagon.

Pineroot pulls the crossbow bolt from his wound and loads his crossbow with it. The badass gesture is for naught, unfortunately, as his shot once again misses his target. He hands the crossbow back to Smugs who again shows him how it’s done. Darksex whips up another eldritch blast, but the bumpy ride proves to be too much for his aim and he instead blasts Ryndir in the back of the head. Ulfgar, having only turned away for a moment, finds Ryndir in a horrific state. He says a prayer and miraculously heals all of the torched elf’s wounds, followed by a quick kudos to his lord. He then turns his rage on Ryndir’s assumed attacker and launches his spectral hammer at the bandit on the driver’s side of the wagon. The rider slumps on his mount, unconscious.

Smugs hands the crossbow back to Pineroot. Thoroughly demoralized, Pineroot makes a feeble attempt at a shot. The bolt flies true, killing the passenger side bandit. Smugs gives the gnome a proud slap on the back and Pineroot’s spirits soar. Ryndir, his hazy near-death vision now dissipated, sees that the chase is nearing a large stone archway. As they hurtle towards the arch, the spies’ horses and the remaining bulette fan out away from the wagon and Ryndir expertly maneuvers the wagon through the great stone obstacle without a scratch.

The heroes’ hearts drop when all around them, the earth begins to shake. Before their eyes, an impossibly colossal worm rockets from below the surface. The vast purple monstrosity creates an archway of its own as it turns in midair and dives back down into the ground behind them. The bulette panic and leap into the air, preparing to burrow to safety. Azaghal, still riding one of the frantic creatures, finally accepts that a new pet is not to be had. He makes an incredible leap, landing on the horse of his fellow tiefling. Relief soon spreads among the Unflankables, as the trembling of the earth soon fades and their desert journey continues.

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Chapter 19: Spy Games

Following their conversation with Barnabus, the Unflankables decide to have a drink or ten. They head to the ritzy Crow’s Nest, a two-story establishment made up of a singular spiral staircase leading to the bar and eatery on the second floor. They receive looks from the patrons, due to their rather scruffy appearance. They proceed to eat and drink, leaning heavier on the latter. Darksex demands that the bartender tell him where the “skinny” is. Confused about what he means, the pompous fellow rudely shrugs him off. After messing with the man for awhile, breaking some glasses, and being all around unbearable, the heroes leave to get some sleep. This doesn’t include Ryndir, who had fallen asleep at the bar, and Cabendash, who had fallen asleep on the stairs.

The next morning, the heroes not in a holding cell join Barnabus behind the town center. With him are the two spies he hired: a grey-skinned tiefling with an affinity for cigars named Lucius Haze, and a blind halfling with well-trimmed hair named Alton Triflefoot. The heroes not-so-subtly question the halfling’s skills as a spy considering his sight and he informs them that eyes aren’t necessary when you have killer hearing. Darksex asks them where the “skinny” is but with no real response.

The Unflankables and their new companions pick up their two extra wheels, Ulfgar’s yeti accoutrements, and the two hangover heroes, Ryndir and Cabendash. Gale whips up a hangover remedy for Ryndir and Cabendash who down their flasks in one. Gale then informs them that the one side effect is the major shits. The heroes set off on their journey to Wickhaven, taking frequent breaks to poop in the bushes. As evening begins to rear its head, a mysterious fog appears in the wagon’s path. Ryndir knocks urgently on the window behind him for opinions. He gets shrugs and whatevers and decides to just head into the fog.

The fog obscures all vision and even seeps into the wagon. The sounds of the spies’ hoofsteps begin to fade away. Even stranger, the sound of the Unflankables’ oxen fade away as well. The heroes realize that they are all standing up. And suddenly the fog dissipates, revealing that the heroes are standing in a long hallway made of red stone and black iron. The wagon is nowhere in sight and none of the heroes’ belongings can be found. Anxious over the loss of their things, as well as the odd scenario, the adventurers head down the seemingly endless corridor. Finally, they reach a wooden door.

Pineroot slowly opens the door, making a creaking noise with his mouth. On the other side of the door is a solitary guard, dressed in red and black. Pineroot slowly closes the door again, complete with fake creak noise. Seconds later, the guard opens the door and greets the heroes warmly. Momentarily taken aback, the heroes all play along and greet the man back. The guard wonders aloud how long it’s been since they left. The heroes and the guard blather back and forth about how neither can remember how long it’s been.

The guard leads the Unflankables to a massive room where an enormous feast is waiting for them. The heroes are quite reasonably suspicious and let Gale take the first bites. He seems fine so they all have a seat. Ulfgar and Cabendash refuse to eat anything, mistrustful of the food. The guard subtly hounds the heroes about what they were up to, but all he receives is an inquiry about where the “skinny” is. Eventually, the guard tells them that The King wishes to see them. The heroes take their time and eventually they follow the guard to another door.

Inside is a massive chamber with a black throne in the back. The guard ushers them in and Cabendash pleasingly offers him a thread from his shirt to tie him to the hallway. Instead, he ties it to the doorknob and follows the rest of the heroes to the throne, unraveling his shirt as he goes. The King demands the fruits of the heroes’ labors and the heroes demand payment for said unknown labors. The heroes disrespect the man some more and finally the King demands they bow to him. Some sad excuses for bows follow and the heroes turn to leave.

But the room keeps turning! It turns and turns until it all becomes a blur. When it stops, the throne has disappeared, along with the rest of Cabendash’s shirt. Instead, a towering minotaur stands before the heroes, preparing to charge. Between the heroes and the monster is a table. On the table are loads of daggers, a pile of stones, and rows of flickering candles. Most of the heroes grab daggers, Ulfgar accompanies his with a stone, and Pineroot partners his with a candle. The minotaur charges, knocking the table aside. As the minotaur is about to make contact, time slows down. The heroes each ready an attack or prepare a quick escape. Except Ulfgar, who juggles both daggers and rocks most expertly. But suddenly the minotaur explodes into fog which fills the entire room.

As the fog clears, the Unflankables find themselves back in their wagon. Lucius and Alton sit watching them… well… Lucius anyway. Alton explains that the illusion was a test to make sure they were not dealing with Wickhaven sneaks. Luckily, the heroes told the guard nothing, were extremely rude to Wickhaven’s revered king, and did not choose the candle to perform classic Wickhaven pyromancy. Displeased and now mistrustful, the heroes demand Lucius at least give them cigars. The greasy tiefling obliges and they all share a smoke as trust switches parties.

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Chapter 18: A League Of Their Gnome

A soft snow has begun to fall, but only in the nearby vicinity. Ever grateful, Enchanta Klaus pulls a sack of holding from a pocket of holding. For each Unflankable in turn, Klaus presents a gift*. Darksex, thoroughly perplexed by his gift, walks silently to the wagon to contemplate it. Klaus wraps the rest of the Unflankables in an impossibly inclusive hug. Laying a finger aside of his nose, Klaus turns and walks into the distance with his elven friend.

The heroes hop into their wagon and head back to Ravenswood. They park in front of the entrance to The Rusty Kettle and go inside. Covered in Terran Ash, Pineroot scares the hostess. Cabendash calms her down and, using his charms, gains them access to a prime table before the other waiting patrons. Souvenir rusty kettles are ordered and eaves are dropped. A fellow named Sneex is taking bets for the following day’s Stickball tournament. Ryndir, Cabendash, and Pineroot place a few bets and more merriment is had. Before the night concludes, the heroes spend some time on the top of their wagon, watching the drunks collide with it as they exit the Rusty Kettle. One man has a heated argument with the wagon itself.

The next morning, Ulfgar gets up early to visit a taxidermist. He commissions the Stickball-hating man to turn the yeti corpse into a small rug, a cape, and a trophy head. With the exception of Darksex, still deep in thought, the other heroes meet up with Ulfgar at the fairgrounds. Sneex is taking final bets and Pineroot decides to compete. A wave of tittering washes over the crowd as Areth Ulhorn, a young boy and first contestant, gets ready to swing. Pineroot exchanges pleasantries with the boy, who offers to lend Pineroot his homemade batting stick.

Areth surprises the crowd by hitting the heavy ball thirty-nine feet. A dragon-born explorer, Pete Slag, hits next and is disappointed when he hits only as well as Areth. A bald, muscle-bound man steps up, towering above the rest of the contestants. Known as Hefty Boris, the man prepares to take a swing. Pineroot gives him a scare for fun. This seems to affect Boris’s swing as he doesn’t hit as far as his predecessors. A feisty halfling woman, Elly Grifheart, takes Pineroot’s scare better, but still doesn’t hit as well as Areth or Slag. Pineroot’s first try at Stickball is a bust, his swing only knocking the ball twelve feet away.

Last in line is Gold Stoutfoot, an old dwarf bedecked with a flapped hat and a pair of tiny spectacles. Ryndir gives Ulfgar a couple pieces of gold so that he’ll say a prayer for Stoutfoot’s, and by extension Ryndir’s, benefit. The holy word seems to do its job, as Stoutfoot knocks the ball further than all the other contestants, winning the tournament. Ryndir collects his winnings as the crowd begins to disperse.

The heroes run into Barnabus and give him a hard time about sending them on such a dangerous mission, though they play it off as more of an inconvenience. The heroes ask about any work before they head out of town and Barnabus leans in and makes sure the heroes are listening. He tells them that he’s sending a couple spies to Wickhaven to find out more about their elemental experiments. The heroes agree to help for a fee and some shadily-acquired wagon wheels. Barnabus accepts and tells them to meet up with him behind city hall on the morrow.

*Gifts:
Pineroot – Ash of the Terrans
Darksex – Pyrophobe’s Oil
Ryndir – Eye of the Bull
Ulfgar – Gauntlet of Passive Aggression
Cabendash – Comb of Silver Linings
Azaghal – Boots of the Twinkling Toe
Smugs – Medallion of Comradery
Gale – big ol’ bag of ingredients

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Chapter 17: It's Chiller Time

Pineroot awakens in the midst of his comrades, extremely confused. They fill him in on the details of what happened after he went comatose, though they conveniently leave out the details of what they’re doing in a witch’s hut in particular. Eager to leave the dismal swamp, the heroes leave the hut with an ominous farewell from the old crone. Gale is excited as ever to see his muddy friends and delightfully shows them the petrification potion he made.

Ryndir backs the wagon up and heads out of the woods, while Pineroot explores the new renovations. It is early evening and the stars are easily visible in the sky. In fact, as Ryndir and Ulfgar watch, one of the stars appears to get bigger. They demand that Darksex take a look as the glowing ball gets closer and closer. As it draws near, Ryndir realizes that the orb isn’t a star at all, but a blue and silver chariot consumed in flames. Ulfgar recognizes the chariot as that of a legendary enchanter and explains that it really shouldn’t be on fire.

Ryndir stops the wagon so they all can watch. Cabendash, mistrustful of magic, runs back to the trees. The chariot hurtles overhead and leaves a trail of jagged ice as it nears the ground. Suddenly the chariot is obscured by a blinding flash of light. When the light dissipates, all that remains is a portal in the form of the icy mouth of a cave. The heroes approach slowly and watch as a fallen form crawls out of the portal.

Pineroot approaches and determines that the figure is an injured and brightly dressed elf. Flustered, the elf tells the heroes that they were attacked by a horrible demon and begs them to rescue his master who crashed somewhere through the portal. The heroes look around at each other, sharing the same thought: The Rusty Kettle would probably be a better time. The distressed elf explains that his master is the renowned Enchanta’ Klaus, known for his generosity. Still reluctant, the heroes agree to save Klaus and they send the elf to seek medical attention with Gale and Azaghal.

Once through the portal, the heroes discover that everything is made entirely of ice. They descend down a natural staircase, through some stalagmites, and into a chamber marked by a great chasm dotted with a number of icy platforms. Cabendash indicates that he has tied his rope to the wagon outside the portal and that they can combine their ropes to safely cross the chasm. Ryndir is the first to hop across the icy platforms, but two ropes tied together still isn’t long enough; so mid-jump, the poor elf plummets fifty feet, the rope swinging him into the icy wall below. Before his companions can pull him up, he hears rustling from within the darkness. Pineroot drops a torch which passes Ryndir on it’s way into the darkness below.

The heroes decide not to use the ropes and begin to hop across the chasm. Pineroot gets to the other side while Ryndir and Darksex make it about halfway across. Before they can continue however, the rustling fills the air and a number of Ice Mephits, formed from solid ice fly out from below. They each flit towards a different Unflankable, allowing the heroes to see their horrid skeletal visages. Ulfgar decides to throw his souvenir rusty kettle as a distraction. Unfortunately, he hurls it directly into the abyss. Thinking the horrible throw was part of an elaborate plan, the other Unflankables hurl their kettles into the chasm as well.

Pineroot makes quick work of his mephit, dodging its attacks and pulverizing it into a pile of icy shards. Darksex blasts his mephit again and again, driving it backward like a classic paddleball. Ryndir takes his mephit down, but not before the creature blasts him and the nearby Darksex with a gale of icy breath. Cabendash wears his mephit down with his blowgun and rapier, while Smugs swings fruitlessly at the one circling his head. Ulfgar puts a stop to the circling with a bout of sacred flame and a pummeling from his hammer. Smugs, dissatisfied with his own performance, rushes to Cabendash’s side and delivers the final blow to the former knight’s mephit.

The heroes cross the chasm, Ryndir and Darksex shivering from the chilly encounter. Up ahead they spy the overturned chariot, but no sign of Enchanta Klaus. Instead, a great hairy yeti is perched atop the chariot scrounging about. It quickly notices the heroes, gives a roar, and is joined by a second yeti lumbering from around the back of the chariot. Pineroot and Ulfgar use the ice to their advantage and slide up to the second yeti and begin to wail on it. Darksex decides to join in on the fun and hits the furry beast point blank with an eldritch blast. In return, the yeti clobbers Darksex with a mighty blow from its claws. Ryndir and Cabendash provide support while Smugs swipes from below at the first yeti.

Suddenly, a man hops up on top of the chariot. He sports a big bushy beard and wears a blue and silver cloak. The mystical man can be none other than Enchanta Klaus! With a flourish, Klaus bombards the two yetis with beams of icy light. With the enchanter’s support, the heroes easily defeat the yetis. Klaus thanks them for their rescue and heals them all with a wave of his hands.

As Klaus and the heroes make their way back towards the exit, they see that the portal is slowly closing. They all make it out just in time and find that the portal is being closed by a great fiery demon. Klaus shouts, “Begone!” and sends the demon packing with more beams of ice. The demon gone and Klaus rescued, the heroes breath a sigh of relief as the blood returns to their extremities.

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Chapter 16: All Natural Remedy

Our heroes have picked up their wagon, now sporting its second story. They head over to the Lycan Institute to pick up the furniture they were promised and also to see Jack Carver about Pineroot’s condition. Carver tells them solemnly that spore comas have been known to last years. However, he does know of an old woman who lives in the Sinking Forest who specializes in natural remedies. Cobb, the were-bear, helps the heroes load up their caravan with beds and attach an old armchair to the front. Ulfgar stops at a tailor’s shop and buys a set of footie-pajamas with a bear hood for Pineroot to wear. They set off towards the Sinking Forest, where the old woman is known to live.

Once in the forest, the heroes are forced to stop the wagon due to the twisted roots. As the heroes survey the surroundings, a rakish and slightly disheveled man appears from out of the brush. The heroes are suspicious, but the man insists he can help them navigate the forest. Gale and Azaghal volunteer to stay with the wagon while the rest of the group head further into the woods. The trees begin to look more whimsically twisted with glowing blossoms growing at their tops. Even further, however, the trees begin to look grey and less healthy. The heroes’ new companion, Cabendash, offers to climb a tree to scan the terrain ahead. His climb takes quite a while and the Unflankables take an inventory of the traveler’s belongings. Cabendash has little to report, so Ryndir decides to give a second opinion. His climbing skills turn out to be even worse however, so Darksex gives it a go. Quick as a demon’s sneeze, Darksex is at the top of the tree.

Up ahead, Darksex senses a pocket of magical energy. After climbing expertly back down, he reports that he’s found what he believes to be the old woman’s hut. The heroes hike through the increasingly withered trees until they reach the edge of a bog. The ground is noticeably squishier and soon becomes a mass of thick mud dotted with large flat stones. In the center of the muddy marsh lies a hut with smoke curling from the top. Eager to eclipse his earlier climbing performance, Cabendash volunteers to hop across the stones to the hut. He leaps from stone to stone effortlessly and waves at his new acquaintances across the swamp.

The heroes learn that rock-hopping is not as easy as it looks as they all try and repeat Cabendash’s performance. One by one, the adventurers try and fail to hop over the mud. When they finally make it to the hut, they are completely covered in swamp sludge. Ulfgar empties Pineroot’s onesie of mud and the heroes wipe off most of the grime on the furry exterior of the hut. Darksex pokes his head into the hut and sees various tables, a number of dried plants and creatures hanging from the ceiling, and an old woman with her back turned next to a smoking cauldron. The crone senses the adventurers’ presence and invites them inside.

Ulfgar flops Pineroot’s motionless form onto the woman’s table and they tell her their dilemma. The woman knows a way to cure Pineroot of his malady, but she will only help in exchange for a favor. The heroes don’t like this at all, but they have little in the way of options. The woman needs three ingredients to create her inhalant: a moonblossom, the glowing gland of a fire beetle, and some of the fungus that triggered the spore trap.

The heroes split up. Ulfgar heads back to the caravan to retrieve some of the fungus, while Cabendash searches for a fire beetle and Darksex accompanies Ryndir into the healthier section of the forest. On the edge of the bog, Cabendash spots a few fire beetles which turn out to be much, much larger than expected. Luckily, the wanderer is prepared for just such a scenario and removes a large net from his pack. He proceeds to throw it on the ground several times until the fire beetle gets spooked and scurries further into the swamp. Cabendash hops over the stones and finally manages to capture the beetle.

Ryndir and Darksex have made it back to the trees with the glowing blossoms. Darksex summons his shadow butler and sends it up to fetch them a blossom. A couple tugs on the blossom reveal that the flower is tucked in the leafy hair of a dryad. The tree woman vanishes within the tree and reappears behind the elf and dwarf. The two Unflankables turn around and ask nicely for the blossom from the dryad’s hair. The young plant woman laughs, then turns and walks into a nearby tree, vanishing. Both Darksex and Ryndir turn to the nearest trees and try to do the same, but merely collide with the all too solid plant-life.

Before they know it, the two are surrounded by giggling dryads. As the laughing echoes through the trees, Darksex and Ryndir begin to laugh as well, of their own accord. Finally one of the dryads approaches Darksex. She tells them in an ethereal voice that they have been good sports and respected the trees of their forest. She plucks the moonblossom from her hair and hands it to Darksex, telling him to watch out for the blood bond.

Sufficiently shaken, Darksex and Ryndir join their compatriots at the old woman’s hut. The woman instructs Cabendash to hold the still-struggling beetle on the table. Ulfgar does the honor of putting the creature out of its misery with a hammer to the head. The crone carves out the still glowing gland from inside the beetle and drops it into her cauldron. She places the fungus and moonblossom into the cauldron and begins to chant as steam begins to billow from the huge pot. Darksex whispers to the other heroes about the blood bond warning and they all inch as far from the cauldron as possible. The old woman uses a handheld bellows to waft the mist to the still form of Pineroot. Finally, the heroes watching intently, the woman pulls a needle from her sleeve and pricks the unconscious gnome’s finger. Suspense grips the Unflankables as they wait for Pineroot to awaken with a newly formed blood bond.

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Chapter 15: Fungal Inception

Our heroes stand shuffling their feet after the departure of Archibald Mandalus. Azaghal’s petrification wears off and he finds himself awkwardly tied to Ulfgar’s back. After untying him, they all begin to make their way down the eerie tunnel, and Ulfgar tells Pineroot of all the wonders of caves and cave-living. Up ahead they see that the tunnel opens up into a larger cavern. The heroes infer from the mass amounts of fungus on the walls that this is the Myconid colony Mandalus mentioned. Pineroot says something incoherently heroic and charges across the threshold. Only a few steps later, Pineroot is met with a sudden burst of spores. The gnome topples the rest of the way into the lichen-covered cavern, now unconscious.

Ryndir turns to his compatriots and explains that Pineroot probably triggered a spore-based security trap. Darksex and Ulfgar ponder this and ask Ryndir more about Myconids. How do they communicate? How do they feed? How do they reproduce? Ryndir’s answer is simply, “Spores”. Now worried about spore poisoning, the heroes inch to the edge of the cavern where the lichen-covered floor begins. Darksex sends their borrowed shield guardian into the room, but no other spore traps are triggered. Still suspicious of the floor of fungus, the heroes instruct the shield guardian to clear away some of the mossy carpet. The great construct does this by scraping it’s feet across the floor, while dragging the unconscious Pineroot behind him.

This intrusion is met with the emergence of several creatures, formed entirely out of fungus. Some are small sprouts, but others are much larger, reaching the size of an average man. Darksex stops the shield guardian in its path as the Myconids gather ominously around them. The creatures seem more curious than threatening, so the Unflankables choose the only rational course of action. Smugs and Ryndir stand atop the top stair of the entrance, arms crossed, leaning against the wall in a physical representation of absolute coolness. Azaghal and the shield guardian move to either side of the two, adopting the same nonchalant stance. Finally, Ulfgar and Darksex add the finishing touch by laying out in front, in a sexy, but still effortlessly cool, pose. From above, the gods stop time and snap some pictures while an 80’s synth fanfare echoes throughout the heavens.

From a great mass of fungus across the room, a huge eye opens. A moment later, a large cloud of spores begins to flow from the fungus, quickly spreading throughout the room and encompassing both Myconid and Unflankable. The heroes begin to experience a strange tingling sensation in their minds. Feeling no other ill effects, they assume that these must be the Rapport Spores Ryndir had mentioned. They are proven correct when all at once, they feel advised to force the intruders out of the chamber…a feeling made stranger by the fact that they themselves are intruding.

The heroes try to smooth things over. With an order from Darksex, the shield guardian uses the unconscious and already lichen-coated Pineroot as a shamwow to smooth out the damaged fungus on the floor. The rest of the heroes think as hard as they can about just trying to escape from the tunnel because there are no other exits, while bowing to the Myconid sovereign before them. In response, a wave of indifference overcomes them, followed by a wave of insistent displeasure. The heroes, with no other options, continue to think real hard – desperately even – that there’s only one way out and that it’s in this cavern.

The heroes are overcome with a vision. The cavern is suddenly empty, no fungus, no heroes, no Myconids. The heroes are then treated to a time lapse view of the cavern being overrun with fungus – the Myconid colony growing and making their home. There is also the unnerving entrance of the occasional goblin which quickly is overcome by fungus. The vision ends and the heroes realize that the cave’s exit is behind the Myconid sovereign.

Ulfgar and Darksex move slowly to a large patch of fungus. They think deeply of good intentions and urges to stay calm. In quick succession, Ulfgar tears a section of the fungus and Darksex mends the wound completely. These acts are met with a flash of pain and anger, but followed by relief. The Myconids gather in front of the sovereign. The heroes wait as the living fungus decides their fate. Finally, they all feel a wave of acceptance. The Myconids line up in front of the sovereign, forming a path to the massive Myconid. The giant eye closes and the tingling sensation in the heroes’ minds disperses.

Ryndir approaches the wall of fungus and makes a surgical slit in the great growth. The Myconids around them shudder, but make no move to attack. Darksex instructs the shield guardian to lie down and remain still so the heroes can carry it through the path Ryndir is carving through the fungus. They struggle a little bit with the weight of the guardian, but eventually they all make it through the overgrown path to the staircase behind. Darksex and Ulfgar, bring up the rear and spend their healing spells to completely regrow the fungus they carved through.

At the top of the staircase, the Unflankables are met not only with fresh air, but by Archibald Mandalus. He stands with his other shield guardian and holds the reigns of the heroes’ oxen. He hands them over in exchange for the cuff link he lent Darksex. He bids them adieu, advising that he’ll be in touch for the Unflankables’ part of the bargain. The heroes watch as he once again departs through a glowing portal.

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