Dawn of the Unflankables

Chapter 34: Witching Hour

Worn out from their arduous test with Gord, the Unflankables feast on a meal of pork and more potatoes. There is also corn, which Ryndir avoids like the plague. Ulfgar eats his corn with gusto and a wayward kernel finds it’s way into Ryndir’s hair. The shaken elf holds it together and excuses himself to the restroom. Darksex bellows that they should all go explore the Bonewood. His companions give him little response and Ryndir soon returns, a little red around the eyes.

In the wagon, Pineroot finds himself in severe pain. He makes his way to the first floor and asks Gale to help with the pain and queasiness. Gale gives him a root to chew on while he works on a pain reliever. Soon, the rest of the heroes return to the wagon to find their gnomish pal curled up in horrible pain. Darksex runs back to Gord to see if he has any cures for the horrible symptoms, but he’s only good at tending to wounds. Upon Darksex’s return, Pineroot begins to vomit a ridiculous amount of blood. To the heroes’ horror, the blood begins to bubble and expand until it’s formed into the shape of a hunched old woman.

The old blood woman greets them and everyone but Pineroot knows it’s the hag from the Sinking Forest. The freaked out heroes demand she get right to the point, so she tells them that they need to bring Gord’s daughter to the Sinking Forest or Pineroot will die. The jig is up and the Unflankables are forced to explain to Pineroot that he is bonded by blood with the old witch. Feeling hurt and betrayed, Pineroot vomits some more, this time just the contents of his stomach. The hag gives them three days to bring the girl to her hut in the woods. The bloody form of the old woman shrinks and soon she is just a puddle of Pineroot’s blood on the floor. Pineroot breathes a sigh of relief that she didn’t force the blood back into his body.

The heroes look around at each other. They have found themselves in a serious moral quandary. Kidnapping an innocent young girl is a terrible thing to be a part of. But Pineroot is a pretty great guy and it would be a shame to see him die. The heroes debate for quite awhile on what to do. How would one distract Gord? How quickly could the hag kill Pineroot with the curse? Would disguising themselves as ghosts take the blame off of them for the kidnapping? Would the witch fall for a an illusion of the girl? After much discussion, Pineroot decides that he will not kidnap an innocent girl, even if that means he should forfeit his life.

The heroes agree to support Pineroot and they decide to ask Gord for any pointers when killing hags. While Azaghal and Darksex throw goblin bones at trees, Ulfgar, Ryndir, and Pineroot gather round Gord’s fireplace. Gord tells them that Pineroot could survive a bloodbond if they were to kill the hag fast enough. Hags are notoriously resistant to magic, but a good stab to the heart should do the trick. Gord wishes them luck and the heroes bid him thanks and farewell. Their next destination is clear. It’s time to rally the troops at Ravenswood.

After most of a day of traveling, the heroes reach Ravenswood and spot Fyvo Puleesman on the street. They all yell at him to ‘Hop aboard!’ and the bewildered guard does so. Darksex gives Puleesman a rousing speech and guard heartily agrees to help them slay the hag. Their next stop is Jack’s Institute. Darksex unleashes his speech on Jibly, the half-orc security guard, and they add another to their crew. The heroes tell Jack about Pineroot’s situation and the threat to Gord’s daughter. Jack readily lends his services to their cause and agrees to bring along his trustworthy lycanthrope subjects to help. Azaghal stops in at a tavern and rouses some drunks and bar wenches to join their cause, while Darksex preaches about the end of the world to gain the help of the town zealots.

The heroes make a loud and pointless stop to the office of Barnabas, and then pick up Popo O’Fisser. Jack hops aboard with Cobb, Erlen, and Elsy and it’s time to take on the horrible hag. The Unflankable wagon plows on to the Sinking Forest and soon enough, the team is making their way through the murky woods. They reach the edge of the mud pit that surrounds the hag’s hut and a plan is hatched. The Unflankables slog through the mud to the front of the hag’s hut while the rest of the team lines the sides of the hut out of sight. The drunks and zealots have difficulty moving through the mud and are essentially ignored.

Pineroot decides to forego the illusion of Thane and instead just knocks loudly on the hag’s door. The witch opens it, shaking her head with a knowing look on her face. Pineroot doesn’t give her the chance to give them a villainous speech and tries to stab her. She has surprisingly quick reflexes for an old woman and dodges his slash. However, Darksex does not miss and blasts the witch to the other side of her hut. Ryndir doesn’t miss either, but his arrow hits Pineroot instead of the witch.

Puleesman begins to hack his way through the pelts of the hut walls, while Erlen climbs onto the roof. The hag’s eyes begin to glow and her fingernails suddenly become claws. She vanishes and a hole appears in the back of her hut. She reappears, now on one of the stones dotting the murky swamp mud. She speaks an incantation and three mud mephits arise from the swamp. Azaghal dashes in and lands a quick punch before the witch begins to predict his movements, dodging the other jabs.

Pineroot pulls two bottles from his pack and pops the tops off of them. He quickly downs his potion of growth and his buff salve, and moments later he is enormous and bulging with muscle. Towering over the hut, he tears the structure apart using his now massive hands. Erlen goes flying to the ground. While the drunks and zealots continue struggling in the swamp muck, Ulfgar helps Erlen to his feet and the tiger man rips into the witch viciously. Pineroot realizes that his clothes have been destroyed in his transformation and casts an illusion of a loincloth around his nethers.

The enormous gnome snatches a mephit out of the air and clobbers the hag with it. Flanked by Unflankables, the old witch teleports away again, this time summoning a massive swarm of spiders around her. She also casts a beam of sickness upon Erlen and the weretiger stumbles with queasiness. Azaghal, ever thirsty for blood, wades quickly through the mud to attack the witch. She uses mystic magical methods to dodge his blows and he receives only a swath of spider bites for his trouble. Pineroot the Gargantuan tosses the mephit aside and lumbers over to the old witch. Ignoring the brand new spider bites on his feet, the gnomish behemoth snatches the hag from her rock and hurls her back to the remains of her hut.

With a wave of his hand, Ulfgar cures Erlen’s sickness. Darksex blasts one of the mephits, which explodes into a torrent of sludge. The sludge coats Erlen and Darksex who find themselves unable to move. Cobb, still in human form, steps up to the fallen witch and pummels her while she’s down. As she rises, Darksex uses a newly mastered telekinesis to hurl another mephit into her face. She brushes it aside to fire another ray of sickness at Smugs. Behind her, however, approaches the gigantic Pineroot. One of his great fists plummets from above and the evil old hag is suddenly smashed into oblivion.

Upon the witch’s death, the remaining mephits burst into sludge and all the spiders die and sink into the mud. The mud itself begins to clear and soon the heroes find themselves surrounded by an almost pleasant pond. The heroes and their friends feel truly victorious, but Pineroot feels the most triumphant of all. The blood bond has dissipated, and though his gigantism and extra-buffed muscles won’t wear off for another hour or so, the gnome feels better than ever.

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Chapter 33: Final Exam

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After a good night’s rest, the Unflankables are invited in for breakfast by their host, Gord. Pineroot isn’t feeling well and stays in bed. They dine on some kind of northern ham and Gord invites them to another one of his test chambers. The room they enter is small and occupied by a sole device in the shape of a bull. Gord proudly introduces it as The Mechanical Gorgon. The idea, he explains, is to stay on as long as possible.

The heroes suggest that Ryndir go first, and so he does. One by one, the heroes mount the gorgon. Each stays on for close to half a minute. They try once again, each beating their previous time. Gord approves of their performance and they are led back out into the foyer. Smugs meets up with them and Gord ushers them into a circular chamber divided into six triangular tiles. He shuts them in and the chamber begins to rise. Walls within the chamber rise up between the tiles, separating each of the heroes from one another.

As the Unflankables stand in their wedge-shaped rooms, the voice of Gord washes over them. He explains that behind each of them is a lever that can rotate the chamber left or right. Pushing the lever down will spin the chamber so that the rooms end in a random location. The heroes don’t truly understand until the walls in front of them descend and each of them is staring into a larger chamber. Separating them from their respective chambers, are various magical hazes. A bluish haze for Azaghal, a reddish one for Ryndir, a glowing field of light for Darksex, and a wall of soft flame for Ulfgar. Gord tells them that they must use their wits and strategy to defeat the challenges in each chamber.

Ulfgar steps cautiously through the fiery barrier before him into a dirty cavern. The flames surround and stay with him as he passes through it, yet he is not burnt. He is, however, bombarded by a horrific smell. His dwarven constitution bracing him against the stench, he immediately recognizes it as that of a troglodyte. A quick look around the room and he spots the large reptilian creature behind one of the stalagmites. He remembers that the beast detests bright light as much as everyone else detests its repulsive smell. A moment later, Ulfgar has cast a spell of light upon another nearby stalagmite, brightening the entire room and driving the troglodyte further into the corner.

Meanwhile, Ryndir steps cautiously through the red haze into his room, which is filled with a crop of corn. The elf notices that he feels severely drained after walking through the haze and shuffles up to the corn for a bite. He shucks one of the ears and takes a few bites. It is rather bland and not at all filling, but he finishes it anyway. It is then that he spots a scarecrow hung amidst the crop. He ambles up to it and tells it that the corn isn’t great and that it probably isn’t necessary since there aren’t any crows. To his surprise, the scarecrow slashes at him with its sharp fingers. Ryndir performs an athletic roll to elude the straw menace, and draws an arrow. As he pulls the arrow back, he feels the magical lethargy consume him, and he fires at his target weakly. The arrow hits its mark, but the scarecrow is now on a rampage and shuffles its way towards the sleepy rogue.

In his chamber, Darksex steps through the wall of light into a boring stone room. He notices he is now glowing and that he is not alone. On the other side of the room, is a large yellow ochre jelly. The ooze lurches its way towards Darksex slowly, and the dwarf almost feels sorry for it. To be safe, he spider-climbs to the ceiling and attempts to reach out to the creature with his mind. He receives no response and casts a magical chill upon it. The blob shudders and slides up the wall and onto the ceiling, to join Darksex. Darksex doesn’t approve of this and blasts the ooze back down with his eldritch magic. However, the force of the blow splits the jelly in half, and Darksex finds himself in the company of two blobs instead of one.

Azaghal steps through the blue haze and immediately feels invigorated. He does a quick scan of the mossy cavern before him and spots a large insect with feathery antennae chewing on a rusty sword. Upon spotting Azaghal, the insect scuttles up to him and nips at his leg. The tiefling hops up onto a nearby rock, removing the Wickhaven guard armor, as well as his robes. Standing nude before the great crusty creature, Azaghal raises his arms in a peaceful gesture. The bug loses interest in Azaghal completely and begins to feast on the discarded armor. The armor begins to rust almost immediately and Azaghal realizes that the insect is a Rust Monster. He draws the monster’s attention back to him by punching it in the head a few times. He also stabs it with his scimitar, but like the armor, the weapon quickly begins to rust.

The heroes hear the sound of stone on stone, and behind them the center chamber begins to rotate. As the chamber turns, the hazes move with it, and soon Smugs steps through a shimmering haze to join Ulfgar in the putrid troglodyte cavern. Smugs explains that there was a burning man in his chamber and he wasn’t keen on his odds. Ulfgar continues to bombard the troglodyte with bouts of sacred flame and tells Smugs that he’s got things handled. Smugs is alright with that since he isn’t handling the stench as well as his dwarven companion. He steps into the rotating chamber and it spins once again.

Back in the cornfield room, Ryndir dodges the scarecrow’s nasty swipes. The scarecrow’s hollow eyes meet with Ryndir’s and two red pinpoints begin to glow in the straw man’s gaze. An unnatural terror washes over Ryndir and he turns and dashes back into the rotating chamber, where the blue haze has been replaced with the wall of soft flame. Ryndir’s energy returns to him, but the terror remains. Frantically, he fires an arrow at the oncoming horror. As the arrow passes through the wall of flame, it ignites; and a moment later the scarecrow bursts into flame as the arrow buries itself in its straw-filled body. Ryndir scrabbles backward away from the nightmarish inferno making its way towards him. He grabs the lever and spins into the chamber next to him, this one a dark cavern filled with webs.

Azaghal continues pummeling until he’s pummeled the rust monster into oblivion. He is bummed about his scimitar and armor and begins to search the room for anything of value. Smugs has rotated into the chamber with Darksex and the twin jellies. Smugs tells Darksex about the burning man, and Darksex replies by advising not to slice the ooze since he doesn’t feel like dealing with any more of them. Smugs doesn’t listen and soon there are three jellies, two smaller than the other. Ulfgar has finally fried the troglodyte, adding the smell of scorched scales to the essence of trog. His work done, he strolls back into the rotation chamber and pulls the lever.

Ryndir catches his breath and peers out into the dark cavern in front of him. A dark shape scuttles from web to web between the rocks. Ryndir has no time to think about this, however, for the chambers rotate again and he finds himself back in the cornfield, face to face with the burning scarecrow. The straw-filled horror descends upon Ryndir, entering the rotation chamber and slashing at the poor, terrified elf.

The turn of the chambers is kinder to Ulfgar and he strolls out to meet Darksex and Smugs. Smugs has received some acid burns, but Darksex has made quick work of the largest of the jellies. After liquifying the rest of them, Darksex and Smugs decide to join Ulfgar in the rotation chamber and they give the lever a pull. By chance, they find themselves looking out at the smelly troglodyte cavern.

Unfortunately, this rotation has moved Ryndir back to the cave of webs. Still locked in combat with the blazing scarecrow, Ryndir spots a rotund insectoid step from behind a rock. The creature, an ettercap, shoots a spray of web, and elf and scarecrow suddenly find themselves entwined in the sticky trap.

Azaghal has also joined in on the rotating. He has discovered the burning man that Smugs had fought. The man, an Azer, is very much alive, dressed in dark armor and wielding an iron warhammer. The warhammer is on fire, very much like the man’s head. Blows are exchanged and soon Azaghal is joined by Ulfgar, Darksex, and Smugs. Ulfgar joins in on the thwomping, but as Darksex hops out of the rotation chamber, he gives Smugs a push. Smugs stumbles into the lever and disappears as he rotates away. He is replaced by Ryndir, webbed to the floor and trying desperately to get away from the terrifying scarecrow.

Between Darksex, Ulfgar, and Azaghal, the Azer doesn’t stand a chance. Ulfgar deals the final blow, knocking the wind out of the Azer and following up with a skull-crushing strike to the head. The fire on the warhammer goes out and Ulfgar snatches it up. The three heroes turn back to the rotating chamber where, at this point, the scarecrow is nothing more than a burning bag of straw. They watch as Ryndir, fueled by fear and adrenaline, stabs the bag over and over again with his dagger.

Darksex takes pity, freeing the elf from the web and healing a couple of the gashes. Ulfgar pulls the lever and the four of them rotate once again. Ryndir moans as the chamber stops at the cornfield, though the rest of the heroes just stare out into the silent room. Ulfgar shouts at Smugs to pull the lever to the right. Smugs complies, and the Unflankables tumble out, through the soft flames, into the web-filled cave.

The resident ettercap is hopelessly outnumbered and easily dealt with. Ulfgar does away with it’s web with some sacred flame. Ryndir, still coursing with adrenaline, launches an arrow covered with soft flame. The arrow pierces one of the ettercap’s eyes and it screeches in pain. It doesn’t suffer for very much longer as Darksex hurls an eldritch blast at it, followed by a burning fist from Azaghal, punching the remaining life, and web, out of it.

Gord’s voice is heard once again, showering them with compliments and ushering them back into the rotation chamber. Gord offers them lunch, a welcome meal after this dizzying, and perhaps nightmarish, test.

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Chapter 32: Training Day

The Unflankables arrive in Ravenswood, laden with their bounty. A small one-cell prison has been built while the rest of the jail is under construction. The heroes park in front of the town hall entrance, noting that there still isn’t an Unflankables Exclusive Parking Spot sign. Pineroot, Ulfgar, and Darksex head into the building and locate Barnabus. The bureaucrat asks how their trip to Addertown was and they give him their inaccurate rendition of events. They do warn him that the king of the Yuan-Ti is probably out to get them since he was the one who destroyed their prison. Barnabus tells them to drop their prisoners off at the temporary jail and he’ll meet them there with their payment.

The heroes head to the little cell where Fyvo Puleesman helps them lock Olaf and Cy away. Darksex does his part by jabbing them with his foot as they curse and whine. The heroes are impatient and head to a crusty old tavern to wait for Barnabus. Ryndir takes a nap while Azaghal boxes with his bed. Ulfgar, Pineroot, and Darksex head in to the tavern where they find several crusty old men sitting at the bar. Ulfgar has taken a vow of silence for the day in the name of his lord, so Pineroot and Darksex ask one of the old fellows about Fern Foundry. The inebriated gent tells them that it is an establishment built up in the trees of the Jungle of Orbs and that it is inhabited by militant elves. Ulfgar and Darksex don’t care much for hanging out with elves high up in the trees, and as the old man begins another story, they move on to the next crusty fellow down the line.

They ask the second man about Helios Isle. The man slurs that the island is a pretty nice place, mostly inhabited by halflings. They trade in fruit and fish. This settlement seems far more appealing to the three heroes and they decide amongst themselves to head northwest to reach the isle. While the crusty dudes begin telling each other old stories, Barnabus finds the heroes. He hands over a large sack of gold, the 1000 promised for the bounty. The three Unflankables decide to split it between themselves and head off to see Jack Carver.

Jack is making his rounds at his institute and greets the three heroes amiably. The heroes give him the same porous story about Addertown. Jack actually ponders the rumors he heard that there was a storm sorcerer leading the Yuan-Ti tribes. He plans to increase Ravenswood’s magical defenses. The heroes converse with Jack a little longer, covering topics like the “pumpkin spice” lotion he uses to keep his head sanitary and the purpose of Lunar Brew.

Finally, the heroes mention that they’re going to head to Helios Isle. Jack tells them that he has a friend that runs a training facility up next to The Bone Forest, which is on the way. Darksex and Pineroot laugh about the forest, and even Ulfgar lets out a quiet chuckle. When asked about its name, Jack explains that the forest got it’s name because there isn’t anything living in the forest. There had been a goblin civil war years ago and now the forest is filled with bones. The three heroes decide to keep an eye out for this facility and bid their farewells to Jack.

The Unflankables travel for most of the day, crossing a river and following up towards the forest in the distance. Nearing the forest, they spot a stone temple topped with a statue of a sphinx. Ulfgar doesn’t like the looks of it, but the heroes decide to approach anyway. Azaghal and Ryndir remain in the wagon with Smugs and Gale, doing who knows what. Pineroot reaches up, grabbing the great stone knockers of the double doors. The knockers are ram’s heads and the sound of the impact seems to echo.

Moments later a man opens the door. He is dressed in monkish robes, though he’s rather pudgy and his red hair is in rather short supply. He gets a surprise as Pineroot greets him with a flex, but his demeanor remains friendly. He introduces himself as Gord and invites them inside as he talks about the place. The temple is large, but rather empty on the inside. There are many doors and torches lining the walls, and various bits and bobs litter the corners. Gord explains that he and his wife wanted to create a training establishment and the strange empty temple seemed like a good fit. His wife doesn’t appear to be around, but he introduces them to his young daughter, Thane. He mentions that they hear goblin cries from the forest from time to time, but they’ve never seen any.

Gord offers to run the three heroes through a couple tests. They accept and they follow Gord through one of the doors. Before them is a long corridor filled with obstacles. Gord gives them the rundown of what they will encounter when making their way through the course. There are a number of stone outcroppings jutting from the walls, which incline towards a platform. At the top hangs a vine, which the heroes will use to swing down to a path of trapped tiles. After the tiles, are a trio of walls increasing in thickness. Beyond that are a series of pits filled with hot coals. Finally, a ramp leading to another vine, used to try and land on the target.

Pineroot decides to go first. Leaping up the outcroppings, leaves him a little winded, but he wastes no time in swinging down to the tiles. He glides his hand over the tiles quickly to determine which color holds the traps. This strategy works perfectly and he is soon at the next obstacle. The first wall is made of gravel and very thin. The patchy construction allows for plenty of fingerholds and Pineroot climbs over it easily. The second wall is made of clay bricks and slightly bigger. The gnome finds handholds in this wall too and he’s over in a jiffy. The third wall poses a problem. It is made of smooth stone and there is nowhere to fit his fingers. He tries several times to scale the wall with no success.

Finally his determination wins over and he gets a grip on the top of the wall. He soon realizes that the walls weren’t so bad as he tries to run across the hot coals. His shoes catch fire and he quickly tosses them. Unfortunately, that leaves him barefoot with two pits to go. Halfway through, he switches to his hands and expertly hand-runs over the rest of the coals. Despite the horrible pain, he dashes up the ramp and grabs the vine. He misses the target, but doesn’t care since he is rather focused on his burnt skin. Thane appears from a side door and gives the poor gnome some water and ointment to sooth his burns.

Darksex goes next. Right off the bat, he has trouble with the outcroppings. He loses no morale, however and misty steps to the top of the platform. He slides down the vine and easily skirts the tangled weeds at the bottom. He sends his shadow butler to test the trap tiles, determining which tiles to use and which to avoid. The magical dwarf reaches the three walls and spider climbs each of them without issue. He misty steps across the first two pits of coals and jogs across the final pit, getting a little hot. Feeling pretty good about his performance, he hurtles up the final ramp and jumps for the vine. Unfortunately, he misses completely and falls straight on his face.

Ulfgar finally takes his turn. He gets off to a slow start with the outcroppings and the first vine. However, he easily bypasses the trap tiles and is soon at the three walls. He winds up with his gauntlet of passive aggression and pulverizes the gravel wall. A moment later he pulverizes the clay wall in the same manner. He punches the third wall a few times, but only leaves a small crater. His aggression is pretty passive, however and wails on the wall some more. Punch after punch after punch and finally he has tunneled through to the other side. As he approaches the coals, he says a quick prayer. Soon enough, he is across all three pits, barely hot under the collar. The dwarf finishes strongly, swinging from the vine and landing directly on the target.

Gord congratulates the three of them on their performances and escorts them to another room. He tells them that this room has ten hidden tokens in it. The lights will be turned out so that even dark-vision won’t be effective for more than five feet. He warns them that there is a small stone golem at the other side with an eye of light. If he spots the heroes he will fire darts at them. If they are near a token, they will be able to feel its presence, but the presence could also be a trap.

The three heroes get ready as the door closes behind them and the lights are extinguished. Ulfgar quickly finds two tokens, followed by one from Darksex. Darksex tries to fall silently from tile to tile, but it’s not quiet enough. The tiny golem hits him with a couple darts. Ulfgar alternates between finding tokens and traps, while Pineroot continues searching for some tokens. Darksex continues taking darts to the face. Eventually, Pineroot begins to find some tokens, while Ulfgar begins to find less. In the end, each of the heroes gather a reasonable amount of tokens and only a couple traps. Darksex takes the award for darts however, and his shadow butler spends a few minutes plucking them from his face.

Gord offers to give them a meal of pheasant and potatoes, which the heroes gladly accept. He tells them that he can run a few more tests for them the following day. The two dwarves and gnome enjoy their meal and head back to their wagon to get a decent night’s sleep for the upcoming tests.

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Chapter 31: Scales Of Justice

The heroes are back in Addertown. They stop at Mognan’s to pick up Gale and the old fellow is startled when he discovers the Yuan-Ti inside the wagon. The heroes yell at him to get in the wagon and make his own damn tea. The issue of returning the Yuan-Ti hangs over their heads. They decide to force the snake-man to drink a flask of Darksex’s memory loss potion. Pineroot does the honors, using Gale’s funnel to do the deed. He then grabs the Yuan-Ti and shakes him up.

When the Yuan-Ti’s eyes refocus, the heroes tell him that they saved him from their other captive, Olaf the dwarf. They say that Olaf threatened to hurt Gale unless they all kidnapped a Yuan-Ti, and that eventually they overcame the horrible criminal and that they’re helping bring the snake-man back to his people. Confused, the Yuan-Ti accompanies Ryndir to the front of the wagon to help lead them to a Yuan-Ti hut.

Meanwhile, Darksex deals with the angry Olaf. The cursing prisoner makes quite a fuss and Darksex responds by throwing memory potion in his face. He follows it up with a cup of water, and then another cup, and then a rag. Then he makes him drink the memory loss potion. Eventually, the heroes reach one of the Yuan-Ti huts. The Yuan-Ti prepares to leave and the heroes bring up that their friend is still held captive as collateral. The Yuan-Ti goes into the hut to discuss this with his people. Ten or so minutes pass with no sign of the Yuan-Ti. A peek into the hut reveals that it is dark and uninhabited.

Suddenly, the Unflankables realize that they are surrounded by a host of Yuan-Ti, them having slithered up silently. The snake-men have drawn their swords and the heroes raise their arms in a gesture of friendliness. A Yuan-Ti with the body of a man and the head of a snake approaches between his comrades. He tells the heroes to follow him below ground. They comply, leaving their weapons at the wagon, but bringing the bound Olaf. The Yuan-Ti leads them into the hut and down a staircase hidden under the bed.

The descent is uneventful, though Ryndir tries to break the silence with frequent attempts at small talk. The Yuan-Ti captain pays no attention to Ryndir’s compliments on his kilt or the specially designed staircase. Finally, they reach the bottom and move down a long corridor. Small chambers lie on either side of the corridor and upon glancing in, the heroes see more Yuan-Ti, though these ones seem afraid of the outsiders. The heroes wave at them to make them feel better.

The heroes are led into a massive center chamber, one bedecked with pillars and a great throne. Yuan-Ti watch the heroes from all over the room as the heroes are led before the throne. Upon the throne sits a Yuan-Ti bedecked in a heavy cloak and grasping an ornate scepter. Like the Yuan-Ti captain, the leader has the body of a man and the head of a serpent. On either side of him are familiar faces. To his left is the Yuan-Ti they had abducted the night before. On the right is a young woman with reptilian eyes and a forked tongue. On her belt is an expressionless mask and her hair is drawn back in a braid and tipped with a long fang. The heroes recognize the horrible mask from their ordeal in the panic maze in Ravenswood.

The leader of the Yuan-Ti addresses the heroes, with obvious displeasure. The heroes relay the story they discussed, swearing that the horrible Olaf was to blame for the entire debacle. Ulfgar holds up the wanted poster to prove his point. The heroes suggest that the former Yuan-Ti captive be consulted for verification. The Yuan-Ti chief tells the heroes that their friend had a different story and that all those involved in the crime would be executed. He has the heroes’ friend brought out and the heroes are surprised when it’s not Smugs. It is a young woman, frightened, and unfamiliar to the Unflankables. Azaghal remembers that she was at the bar the night before.

The heroes are confused and a tad apprehensive as it seems that the Yuan-Ti intend to kill them. However, they hear an odd noise, the sound of glass rolling on sand. From one of the tunnels, a massive glass orb filled with pink gas rolls quickly into the chamber. Pushing the orb of sleeping gas is none other than Smugs, hero of heroes. The orb collides with one of the pillars and shatters. The pink mist quickly begins to spread throughout the room. Smugs yells at the Unflankables to run and they do so.

Ulfgar uses the bound Olaf as a battering ram and the heroes charge back towards the corridor. Ryndir inhales too deeply and gets a couple lungfuls of sleeping gas. As the elf falls to his knees, Pineroot pulls out his rope and expertly lassos his fallen companion. The young woman is nowhere in sight, but the Unflankables dash down the hallway dragging Ryndir, pursued by the Yuan-Ti. The gas has made the Yuan-Ti sluggish and the adventurers begin to pull ahead.

From out of one of the side chambers, a young Yuan-Ti pokes its head out and spits a line of poison at the fleeing heroes. The poison hits Azaghal, but he keeps pace with his friends. Darksex throws his Fog In A Jar on the ground obscuring the entire corridor and allowing them to reach the stairwell. Soon enough, the heroes are back on the surface. They quickly pile into the wagon and take off, heading back towards Ravenswood.

On the way, Pineroot and Ulfgar peruse the wanted posters, recognizing the Yuan-Ti assassin with the mask among them. The heroes begin questioning Olaf, who refuses to cooperate. Ulfgar threatens to throw him out of the wagon for the Yuan-Ti and the captive dwarf shuts up. Darksex forces his truth serum down Olaf’s throat and the questioning begins once again. Through their intense line of questioning, the heroes learn that the Yuan-Ti chief was the one responsible for destroying the Ravenswood prison. He only was there to free his fellow Yuan-Ti, Maylar, the masked assassin. The rest of the escapees scattered in all directions, heading anywhere but Ravenswood. Olaf followed the Yuan-Ti along with a greasy halfling named Cy. The last place he saw Cy was The Bronze Pony. Also his favorite food is duck noodles.

The Unflankables can’t pass up a second bounty and before they know it, they’re skidding to a halt outside the inn. Ulfgar, Darksex, and Pineroot stroll in to the tavern. Azaghal, following behind, takes a door to the face. Cy is easily spotted playing cards with some other hooligans. Ulfgar calls out his name and then outs him to his cronies about his shady crimes. Cy snatches up a bunch of gold and dashes towards the exit. Ulfgar winds up and socks him in the face. Gold flies everywhere as the unconscious halfling hits the floor. Darksex’s shadow butler sneaks away some of the gold and the heroes hit the road once again, plus one more bagged criminal and an order of badger and duck noodles.

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Chapter 30: Ye Olde Hangover

The sun rises on our heroes as they awaken on the muddy ground of the riverside. The light burns their eyes, and the resulting groans throb painfully in their ears. A small number of Bullywugs are scurrying around and picking over the heroes’ belongings. One takes a heavy swig from Darksex’s flask. Pineroot feebly swats at them, but in the end they are scared off by the sound of Ulfgar’s violent vomiting. The heroes can’t remember a thing about the previous evening except that there was heavy drinking involved. They do, however, notice that they are wearing each other’s clothes.

Pineroot removes Darksex’s robes and crawls into the river. Darksex exchanges Ulfgar’s armor for his robes and follows his gnomish friend into the water. Ulfgar puts his armor back on, throwing Ryndir’s vomit-covered garments into the mud. Ryndir puts his clothes back on anyway, while Azaghal removes the comparably tiny trousers of Pineroot. Each of the Unflankables ends up in the river, where they spend what seems an eternity groaning. Ulfgar throws up some more and Ryndir yells at them for how loud they are, regretting his own volume immediately.

Heads pounding and smelling like hell, the adventurers crawl from the puke-infused river. Pineroot doesn’t have it in him to dress himself and instead fashions a loin cloth from his outfit. Azaghal collects his garb, but chooses to remain naked. The heroes soon realize that their beloved wagon is nowhere in sight. On top of that, all of their weapons are missing, with the exception of Ryndir’s bow. Grumbling, the poor saps notice their own footprints in the mud and begin to backtrack. They eventually reach the familiar dirt road and begin to follow it back to Addertown.

The Unflankables spend the morning slogging back to town, taking frequent breaks to rest and in Ulfgar’s case, belch loudly on Ryndir. When they finally arrive in Addertown, it is early afternoon. Hoping to locate their wagon, they begin calling out the names of their beloved oxen. They receive no response except for concerned glances from citizens, followed by startled double-takes at Azaghal’s nakedness. Eventually, Gale approaches them, having heard their ruckus. Gale doesn’t know where the wagon is and reminds the heroes that they drunkenly made him catch up with his old classmate Mognan and then took off.

Accompanied by Gale, the disheveled Unflankables shuffle to the well. Pineroot drinks heavily from the water bucket and slumps to the ground. Darksex looks for rocks. Ulfgar pukes some more. The heroes decide to visit Mognan in hopes that he can cure their hellish hangovers. Pineroot has Gale drag him by the ankles to the concoctionary and the rest of the heroes follow. Upon reaching Mognan’s, the heroes discover that his door is gone, knocked violently off its hinges. The adventurers enter, with the exception of Ulfgar, who is unable to locate the doorway in his current state. Mognan greets them in his somber tone and relays the fate of his door. The heroes are shocked to learn that it was they, themselves that rammed it down when they dropped Gale off the previous evening. They play it off like it’s no big deal and scold Mognan on his lack of insurance.

Mognan makes the Unflankables some special tea for their hangovers and delivers some unfortunate news. Earlier this morning, a few Yuan-Ti entered the town searching for the heroes. Mognan relays their message, saying that the heroes’ friend would be killed if they did not return their captive. The Unflankables are perplexed and understandably concerned by this, since they don’t really have any friends and that they’re being hunted. Mognan tells them that they headed east after dropping off Gale. More groans are exchanged, tea is downed, Darksex hops on the back of the naked Azaghal, and the adventurers start their hike east.

The miserable heroes walk for what seems an age to them, until they near the edge of the woods. It is then that they hear strange ox noises coming from somewhere nearby. Darksex still on his shoulders, Azaghal takes off in the direction of the noises. The rest of the heroes follow and they soon reach their beloved oxen. Pineroot immediately hops on Bumpy. The creatures are still harnessed together and tangled around the trees. However, the wagon is still nowhere to be found. The heroes notice that Tom Bruise has blood all over his horns. The trail of blood leads to a woman lying motionless on the ground.

The heroes get a little worried. While they discuss this calamitous scenario, Ryndir searches the woman. He takes some of her gold and throws her telescopic cattle switch into the woods. He then brings his companions’ attention back to the woman, telling them that she is still barely breathing. Darksex and Ulfgar combine efforts to heal her wounds and she begins to stir. Upon seeing her saviors, she groans. The Unflankables are taken aback as they thought they had just done her a solid. She refreshes their memory of the previous night’s events.

Apparently, the Unflankables had shown up at the woman’s farm late into the night. They wanted to use her place to hide something. Despite the woman’s protests, the heroes unhitched the oxen and insisted they be allowed to graze. Soon after, the heroes took off into the night leaving the woman with the wagon and oxen. When she tried to unharness the oxen, Tom Bruise grew wild and gored her. The wily ox led his animal companions off into the night, dragging the woman along.

The woman is grateful to the heroes for saving her life, but disgruntled for their part in her being injured in the first place. She ushers the Unflankables back to her farm so she can get them out of her hair forever. Upon arriving at the farm, the heroes spot not only a crapload of goats, but their trusty caravan. They also find that in their drunken state, they had embedded each of their weapons in the side of it. Ulfgar informs everyone that he’s going to get his hammer from the top of the wagon. Meanwhile, Ryndir begins to pull his hundreds of arrows from the side of the wagon. Eventually, he gets bored and the heroes decide to check the inside of their caravan.

Their cell appears to have been occupied at one point during the night and they hear snoring from the second floor. Upon further investigation, the snoring is only Ulfgar, having snuck away for a nap. They suspect Ulfgar is an imposter and lock him in the wagon’s cell. This silly notion is short-lived and Ryndir opens the door to let him out. Instead Darksex pushes him in for fun and runs to drive the wagon himself. Pineroot shakes his head and lets his friends out and they reclaim their place at the wagon’s helm. The heroes gather their wits and weapons and ask the woman for any other information. She tells them that they headed towards the old ruins, but impatiently demands they leave. As the heroes peel-out, Ryndir bids thanks and farewell to Maggie. The woman shouts back that Maggie isn’t her name, but the elf cares not.

Before long, the heroes reach the remains of an old stone city. Fallen stone prevents them from advancing with the wagon, so they head in on foot. Ulfgar throws up some more, having missed out on Mognan’s tea. Despite Ulfgar’s breath, Ryndir smells a familiar scent on the air. Pungent, earthy, and dank, the elf knows the smell well. He leads his comrades towards the source of the Troglo-delight, eventually reaching one of the only remaining intact rooms. Smoke issues from the top and a scratching noise is heard from the other side. Propped against the room’s iron door is a stone bullywug. Ulfgar belligerently shoves it over and it shatters, adding stone shards to the already present glass shards. Mognan’s tea has begun to take effect by this time and a brief memory materializes in the heroes’ minds. They remember standing in this very spot the night before. A bullywug had stumbled upon them and the heroes had reacted by throwing a petrification potion at it. After barring the door with the new statue, the heroes decided to head to the river to fight more bullywugs.

The heroes snap back to the present. They open the iron door and discover two prone forms bound in rope. One is a dwarf with fiery red hair and a smoking joint poking out from his beard. The other is a bald man with greenish skin and reptilian eyes. The Unflankables know immediately that the second man is of the Yuan-Ti. The Yuan-Ti stares at them while the dwarf jabbers excitedly in his mind-altered state. The scratching noise can still be heard from outside the room and Pineroot goes to check it out. He quickly returns having discovered that the source of the scratching is an owlbear. With no time to lose, the heroes grab the apparent captives and begin to frantically make their way back to the wagon. The stoned dwarf’s babbling draws the owlbear’s attention and it runs angrily after them. Reaching the wagon, Ulfgar tosses the captives inside and the heroes turn to face their beastly attacker.

The owlbear charges, but Azaghal charges right back. The two clash as Azaghal delivers a power, ki-filled uppercut, throwing the massive creature back towards the stone. Pineroot and Ulfgar dash forward, joining in on the bludgeoning of the owlbear. Darksex instead goes back inside the wagon, and begins nudging the prisoners towards the cells with his foot. Severely injured, the owlbear turns to flee, however, a quick blow from Ulfgar’s hammer knocks it to the ground. The dwarf raises his hammer high and brings it down upon the creature’s skull, finishing it off.

Darksex has finally nudged the two captives into the cell when his companions enter the wagon behind him. They tell Darksex to bring out the captives for questioning and his work is undone. The red-haired dwarf giddily reminds them that he helped them capture the snake-man next to him. He also wonders aloud why they think he’s a criminal. The heroes check the mug-shot-sketches from Ravenswood and discover that the dwarf is Olaf, wanted for murder, indeed a criminal. The heroes think it wise to question the snake-man outside.

The Yuan-Ti confirms dryly that the heroes abducted him from his home and that they are definitely being hunted by his people. The Yuan-Ti are a proud race and tolerate no slight upon them. The heroes assure him that they’ll bring him back to his people, though they do not untie him. The Yuan-Ti looks them eerily in the eyes and expresses his thanks, though his tone is devoid of emotion. The Unflankables reboard their wagon and begin the trip back to Addertown, though they think hard about their eventful evening and feel perhaps a pang of regret for their rash actions.

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Chapter 29: Concoction Joction
What's your foction?

Having crossed the river, our heroes soon find themselves in the forest surrounding Addertown. They begin to see the occasional Yuan-Ti hut, each a little ways off the path. They remember the advice they were given and steer clear of them. Before long, they reach the rustic village of Addertown. The town consists of one long path lined on either side with buildings, many of them sporting swinging doors.

It is early evening and Ulfgar and Ryndir decide to stop off for a drink. They head to the nearest tavern, aptly named The Swinging Door. Pineroot, Darksex, and Azaghal decide to pay a visit to Mognan, the town’s master concoctionist, to pick up the Lunar Brew for Jack Carver. When they locate the concoctionary, Darksex quickly learns that the door is NOT of the swinging sort, slamming into it to no effect. Pineroot opens the door using the knob and the heroes’ entry is announced by a tiny bell.

The concoctionary is a site to behold. Though the floor space is small, the room is lined with shelves bedecked with flasks, jars, and vials, all with different colored contents. The three Unflankables peruse the various potions and elixirs like kids in a candy store. Darksex lifts Pineroot atop his shoulders and the gnome excitedly reads out the labels on the top shelf. Of particular interest is an expensive glass skull filled with a shimmering red liquid labeled Skeleport Potion.

A door opens from behind the store’s counter and an elderly man walks out. Despite his age, the fellow is easily seven feet tall, with long grey locks and an old tossle cap. Pineroot finds himself face-to-face with the disheveled man who greets them in a low, soft-spoken voice. The man is Mognan, the famed concoctionist, and gladly answers the adventurers’ questions about his many mixtures. While Pineroot gets down from Darksex’s shoulders, Mognan explains that the Skeleport Potion teleports the skeleton outside the body of those unfortunate enough to ingest it. Pineroot buys some Buff Salve and a Potion of Growth. Darksex buys some Liquid Arcana, Truth Serum, Fog In A Jar, and the Lunar Brew. Azaghal doesn’t buy anything due to low funds.

The three Unflankables depart from Mognan’s and amble about town. They stop for a drink at the town well. Darksex has tasted better. Pineroot has tasted browner. Darksex decides that the well is boring and starts to gather stones. Pineroot and Azaghal join him and they soon have ten stones between the three of them. They head to some trees behind some buildings and throw the stones at them. Darksex misses. Pineroot hits a tree, but not the one he claimed he would. Azaghal ricochets a rock off of a tree and hits Darksex with it.

Meanwhile, Ryndir and Ulfgar have left The Sliding Door and head to Mognan’s concoctionary. They are similarly engrossed in the wares of the tall man, especially the different poisons he sells, apparently without any ethical weight on his conscience. Ulfgar decides not to buy anything, but Ryndir purchases a jar of Kua-Toa Paste, some Wyvern Poison, and a decanter containing the Essence of Snake. Mognan gives them familiar warnings about the Yuan-Ti and the heroes depart.

Ulfgar spots their comrades throwing rocks and heads over to them, followed by Ryndir. Darksex really wants to explore the forest, strongly hinting that he wants to talk to a Yuan-Ti. Ulfgar wants none of it and heads to the town’s Rusty Kettle for some more liquid sustenance. Azaghal, salty over his lack of funds, also heads to the Rusty Kettle to try and make some money. Pineroot and Ryndir decide to join Darksex on his endeavor.

Dwarf, elf, and gnome head into the dark to look for Yuan-Ti, sticking to the path. They discuss the theory that everyone in Addertown is just racist and that the Yuan-Ti really aren’t so bad. Pineroot decides to ask nature about the snake-men. He tries to commune with a squirrel, but quickly realizes that it is a dead one. He spots a bat in the sky and begins to squeak. Darksex and Ryndir are weirded out, but Pineroot swears that the bat told him that Yuan-Ti were scary. The three decide that they can continue their forest safari in the morning and start heading back to town.

Darksex suddenly shouts that it’s a race and takes off down the path. Pineroot is caught off guard, but easily catches up to the dwarf. Pineroot seems to be the clear victor, but Darksex misty steps at the last moment, beating the ripped gnome to town. Ryndir brings up the rear, out of breath and a tad inebriated from before. They head to The Rusty Kettle to find Ulfgar.

They find their dwarven friend at the bar where they peruse Addertown’s special list of brews. Ulfgar buys a round of Demon Blood shots, known for their guaranteed hangovers. Pineroot also buys a glass of Elemental Earth Brew and Darksex orders a glass of Myconade. The heroes have a grand old time, drinking, shouting, and watching Azaghal from across the room. The tiefling has taken to retelling the tales of the Unflankables through interpretive dance. The patrons are actually super engrossed by his artistic muse and he makes a little gold for his trouble.

Ulfgar challenges Pineroot to join him for another Demon Blood shot. Pineroot accepts, his Elemental Brew effectively boosting his confidence. Darksex is feeling the hallucinogenic effects of the Myconade and writhes on the floor trying to escape from invisible blankets. Ulfgar challenges Pineroot to bench-press Darksex, and the gnome quickly lifts the dwarf from the floor. Darksex is too engrossed with removing his blankets and his wriggling causes the heavily intoxicated Pineroot to topple backwards onto the floor. Azaghal, having gained the attention of some of the ladies, as well as a couple dudes, sends his fans over to the heroes at the bar.

A wonderful time is had by all, and Darksex soon brings up the Yuan-Ti again. He vows that there’s nothing scary about snakes and that they should go hang out with the snakes and that even the heroes look like snakes, though the last part may or may not have been due to the Myconade. Inhibitions nowhere to be found, the heroes are wholeheartedly in for the venture and begin to chant, “Snakes, snakes, snakes!” Determined to meet a Yuan-Ti, the heroes swagger out into the night, as the remaining Rusty Kettle patrons continue chanting, “Snakes! Snakes! Snakes!”

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Chapter 28: Take Me To The River

The heroes are reunited. Though no hugs are exchanged, there is a strong feeling that all is right once again. They don’t hang around long at the Sinking Forest, as there is a bright flash from where they came from, followed by a loud rushing noise and the telltale sounds of a landslide. The heroes decide there is nothing to worry about and head back to Ravenswood.

With a farewell wave, Erlen heads back to Jack’s Institute. Popo goes back to the guard station. Lucius also departs, with the hopes that he can work with the Unflankables again someday. Barnabus also shows up, to make sure the rescue went according to plan. Ryndir asks if they’ll be receiving any payment for the mission, realizing soon after that he was actually the payment in this particular case. Barnabus gives the heroes a map of the region. This is a valuable gift for the heroes and they dedicate the afternoon to studying it and planning their next course of action.

Finally, they decide that they should follow the trail of the mysterious prison destructor and travel towards Addertown. During the ride, Darksex does some target practice on some trees. He misses a few times with his eldritch blast, but blows the leaves off one of the trees. They travel until the sun sets, at which point they stop at an inn called The Bronze Pony. The inn is owned and run by a friendly dwarf named Moses who offers up ales and dwarven lagers. Ulfgar is hungry and asks what he can gorge himself on. Moses particularly likes the deer steak, but the area is also well populated with badger, which is the dish The Bronze Pony is known for. The badger is boiled, sautéed, baked, grilled, and then fried. Ryndir and Ulfgar order a badger and a deer steak respectively. Pineroot and Darksex one-up them by ordering TWO badgers and TWO deer steaks, respectively.

The heroes look around for anyone interesting and shout a bit about Addertown to get some attention. One patron sidles up to the bar to refill his drink and starts a conversation with the heroes about their destination. He tells them that Addertown is in the forest and is a small little village. He recommends their liquors, all specially made by their alcoholchemists. He also warns them not to disturb the huts on the way to the village, as they are home to Yuan-Ti, the territorial snake people. The man introduces himself as Rusty, and the heroes’ excitement soars. Could this be THE Rusty Kettle? The creator of everyone’s favorite chain tavern himself? Rusty says his last name is Elwood and the heroes settle down.

The next morning’s travels are marked by more target practice, this time on the many badgers seen wandering the fields. Ulfgar kills one with his crossbow and plans to eat it later. Darksex also kills one, but Ryndir runs it over with the wagon. Soon enough, the heroes reach the river. To their dismay, the stone bridge is being dismantled by a clan of Bullywugs. The heroes decide to put a stop to this vandalism and Pineroot casts a magical illusion of a giant Darksex head. The head shouts, “Blaaggh! It’s me, Big Face! Get off my bridge, you Bullywugs!” This works like a charm, as even the more daring frogmen dive into the river and swim away.

The bridge is in bad shape. Huge chunks of stone have been removed from all sides of the bridge. While Darksex pretends to help, Ulfgar walks the length of the structure and determines that the wagon would surely destroy what is left of the bridge. Ulfgar returns to discuss possibilities with the rest of the Unflankables, but Darksex decides to go for a swim. While his companions watch, he is washed quickly downstream and he downs the water-breathing potion they found so long ago. Tying a rope to his old souvenir sconce, he grapples the rocks by the riverside and pulls himself to safety. Drenched and pretending nothing happened, he rejoins his friends.

The Unflankables run through their options. There aren’t enough trees to make a proper raft or to sufficiently patch the bridge. It’s too risky to leave the wagon behind while they walk to Addertown. And Ryndir doesn’t want to go back to Ravenswood because he’s sick of it. Their well of ideas has pretty much dried up when a whirlpool forms in the middle of the river. The heroes groan, mentally trained to expect the worst of all scenarios. The whirlpool inverts and a great creature emerges. A watery vortex flows up from the river, out of which a large, voluptuous torso arises. The creature’s face is fish-like, with puffy, scaled lips and dreadlock tendrils instead of hair. The imposing figure is dressed in magnificent robes and gaudy rings.

In a deep voice and in the third person, the creature announces herself as The Great Nepta. In a tone of over-friendliness, Nepta points out the heroes’ obvious dilemma and suggests that perhaps she could be of assistance. She offers to repair the bridge with her wondrous power in exchange for a reasonable one-hundred years of servitude. The heroes aren’t super into the deal and decline. Nepta oh-so-subtly suggests that perhaps a treasure or favor would be an acceptable exchange.

The heroes tell Nepta to wait for a moment while they converse inside the wagon. Ulfgar wants to trick the so-called immortal into drinking a potion of petrification. Ryndir thinks maybe they could give her one of the three gems he found in Wickhaven’s lab. After all, they have elemental demons trapped inside them! The heroes go back outside and offer Nepta the shining red gem. The self-proclaimed goddess snatches up the gem and inspects. She quickly gives it back, claiming there is no demon inside. The heroes perform a few magic scans and discover that there is indeed no demons inside any of the gems.

While Nepta grows impatient, the heroes climb back inside the wagon to discuss other options. Everyone except Darksex decides that the best idea is to wager that Darksex can survive for ten minutes under the water. If he does, Nepta has to fix the bridge. If he doesn’t, Nepta can have Darksex as a slave. Darksex detests the idea, despite having previously ingested the water-breathing potion. Nepta hesitates before agreeing to the deal and then descends, smiling, into the river.

Before he can protest, the heroes secure Darksex with a rope and toss him into the river. His pockets are filled with stones and he sinks to the bottom. There is no sign of Nepta and the dwarf becomes anxious, though he admits to himself that breathing underwater is a pretty cool feeling. For fun, he pretends he’s drowning in case anyone’s watching. After a couple minutes pass, Darksex spots a school of fish swimming towards him. They get closer and he realizes, to his horror, that each of them have Nepta’s face. The fish begin to bite him with tiny sharp teeth, and the rest of the heroes watch a small cloud of blood appear in the water.

Darksex focuses his arcane energy and projects an illusion of himself swimming away down the river, while simultaneously misty stepping in the opposite direction. The Nepta fish fall for his trick and swim towards the fake Darksex. The rope, no longer tied to Darksex, floats to the surface. Ulfgar peers into the depths, seeing his comrade just chillin’ at the bottom of the river under the bridge. The ten minutes come to a close and Nepta reappears, most displeased.

While Darksex is fished from the water, Nepta expresses her displeasure. She is true to her word, however, and a swarm of stones float into the many holes of the bridge. Nepta descends back into the river and heroes happily cross the newly repaired bridge towards Addertown.

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Chapter 27: The B-Team

Ulfgar, Pineroot, and Darksex have parted ways with Jack Carver and plan to head back to their wagon for a good night’s rest. But something is amiss, for when they arrive at the wagon, their companions are nowhere to be found, not even Gale. Instead, someone has embedded a dagger into the side of the wagon, pinning a ransom note to the wood. Its contents instruct the three Unflankables to head to the Sinking Forest if they want to see their comrades again.

The three heroes turn right around and head to the guardhouse. Fyvo Puleesman is finishing some paperwork and greets them. When the heroes inform him of the kidnapping and ask where the guards were during said crime, he sheepishly says that the guards were pretty entranced by the ritual and may have been distracted. The heroes demand action and insist on getting the town together to raid the Sinking Forest. Puleesman agrees to gather some folks in the morning. Pineroot and Ulfgar make the sleepy guard keep watch outside their wagon just because.

Pineroot and Ulfgar wake in the morning well rested to find a super tired Puleesman outside. He heads off to try and gather some volunteers while Pineroot and Ulfgar go to see Barnabus. Darksex tags along, but is super quiet the whole time. Barnabus is sympathetic to the Unflankables’ cause, but doesn’t think the city can spare anyone due to the prison break. He knows that Lucius is still in town and agrees to enlist him to help.

Upon exiting the town hall, they are greeted by Puleesman accompanied by a familiar furry face. It’s Erlen, the were-tiger, from Jack Carver’s Institution and he is all too eager to go on an adventure. They also make a stop at the guardhouse where they recruit Popo O’Fisser, another guard who bears a striking resemblance to road show star, Ving Rhames. Puleesman wishes them luck and goes to take a well-deserved nap. The heroes meet up with Lucius and the back up group of Unflankables head to the wagon.

Before long, the heroes are at the Sinking Forest. The wagon won’t fit between the trees so they decide to head further in on foot. Ulfgar and Pineroot take a quick look at their substitutes: Lucius, Erlen, and Popo. They simultaneously decide that Darksex should stay behind and guard the wagon. Darksex takes a swig from his flask and wordlessly climbs back into the wagon. Suddenly a grey clad figure drops from the treetops. Instinctively, the heroes draw their weapons. The stranger asks if he is in the presence of the Unflankables. Pineroot and Ulfgar pretend not to know who that is, and the stranger, perplexed, looks from the heroes to the towering wagon and back again. The heroes insist that they’re not the Unflankables and question the stranger about what he wants.

Eventually, the confused stranger gives in to the questions and lets slip a decent amount of important information. Ryndir, Azaghal, Smugs, and Gale are being held captive by Mercado Bravoso. The mediocre crime lord has hired the Toxic Hunters to back him up while he forces the heroes to retrieve an item for him. Pineroot doesn’t remember who Mercado is and gives the stranger a hard time about not knowing anything and how much he’s not getting paid. The stranger’s morale sufficiently depleted, the heroes agree to follow him further into the woods.

They reach a clearing where they spot Mercado, who has a big grin on his face. With him is the one-time slaver with the eye-patch, nervously shuffling his feet. Pineroot asks the hunter leading them where his friends are. The demoralized stranger says he can’t tell him, but Ulfgar takes a look into the treetops and spots the twenty other grey clad rangers spread around the clearing. He points them out to his comrades and the hunter leading them frets some more. Luckily for the poor hireling, Mercado greets the heroes smugly. Pineroot makes it clear that he doesn’t know who he is.

Mercado tries to play the clever villain and rehashes his ransom note, but the heroes aren’t playing along. They give him shit for his stupid plan until he loses his patience and barks that he’ll kill their friends before killing the rescue party as well. The heroes sigh and let the fat criminal make his demands. Mercado gestures to what appears to be a belltower, the top of what is explained to be a Githzerai temple. The rest of the temple has sunken below the ground. Inside the temple is a medallion, which Mercado insists that the heroes retrieve in exchange for the safe return of their friends.

The heroes demand proof of life, so Mercado gestures for one of the hunters to bring out Ryndir. Once the bound elf is brought out, the heroes insist that he be allowed to come in with them since he is their scout. Mercado agrees, and the party descends below ground via the belltower’s staircase. Despite the dark setting of the Sinking Forest, the remaining light is eliminated when the heroes reach the bottom of the temple. The room appears to be an entrance hall, completely empty besides a few empty sconces and a number of Gith runes carved into the walls. Ryndir walks to the front doors and opens them. The wall of swampy earth on the other side begins to ooze into the chamber. The elf closes the doors again, leaving them open just a crack.

Though the room is empty, the heroes feel a strange presence. They are unsettled by the occasional swirl of dust in the room and quickly decide to move to the next room. The second chamber is small and circular, but also empty. The center of the floor is formed of red stone, contrasting with the grey-green stone of the rest of the temple. Pineroot begins to inch around the edge of the room, careful not to step on the red. Ryndir isn’t worried and strolls about the room. They continue to see the swirls of dust and Erlen asks if anyone else sees anything.

The words have barely left the tiger-man’s mouth when he gasps as something brushes by him. When he points this out, Ryndir catches sight of a ghostly form, but only for a split second. He mentions this and Popo agrees, though the guard quickly reels as a gash suddenly appears on his arm. Erlen audibly panics and feels the brushing sensation again. Pineroot yells for the crew to run through the next door, and receives a sudden slash in response. The heroes run into the next room and slam the door behind them. Testing a theory, Pineroot tosses a rock into the corner of the room. When the rock clatters to the floor, the door behind them shakes with impact. His theory confirmed, Pineroot puts his finger to his lips and the heroes nod silently.

This third chamber is small with odd concave bumps patterning the walls. There are two benches against the side walls and a pulpit near the back. The heroes look around the dusty room and Ryndir approaches the pulpit. He brushes off the dust and finds a shining medallion embedded in the stone. On either side of the medallion is an elongated handprint. His attempts to pry out the medallion are unsuccessful and he gestures his companions over to him. Ryndir places one hand on the print, then switches to the other one, with no results. Pineroot and Ulfgar whisper possibilities back and forth until Ryndir has enough and places both hands on the prints.

The medallion rotates and is released from the pulpit. Ryndir puts the medallion on and a great rushing sound is heard throughout the room. The concave patterns on the wall begin to glow and the heroes decide it’s time to go. The heroes gather into the corner while Pineroot opens the door. The heroes rush back into the circular chamber and slam the door once again behind them, having now swapped positions with the unseen slasher. Ryndir slides an Unflankables business card under the door to the creature for good measure. The danger hasn’t passed however, as the center of the room has risen from the floor allowing four twig blights to enter the room from below. The center of the room settles back into the ground as the blights advance towards the adventurers.

Erlen dives into the fray and rips the closest blight limb from limb, twig from twig. Pineroot slices off an arm and a leg from another blight. As the blight props itself up against the wall, Ulfgar pummels it into woodchips with a swing of his hammer. Ryndir fires an arrow through the chest of one of the remaining blights. The blight is knocked back, but quickly recovers and angrily tries to attack Ryndir. Before it can land a blow, Lucius takes a puff on his cigar and breathes a cloud of flame into its face. The charred remains of the blight collapse to the floor. The final blight slashes Popo, but Pineroot runs to his aid. Sawdust fills the air as Pineroot goes to town on the wooden creature, but Ryndir lands the final blow with an arrow through its face.

The rushing sound has only increased in volume so the heroes quickly head back to the stairwell. They emerge into the woods again and Mercado immediately demands the medallion. Azaghal, Smugs, and Gale are escorted into the clearing by a few Toxic Hunters, and the eyepatched slaver approaches the heroes at Mercado’s behest. Ryndir sighs and removes the medallion from his neck. With a sly grin, Ryndir tosses the medallion straight into the air. Alarmed, the slaver tries to catch the medallion, but Ryndir socks him in the jaw and knocks him to the ground. As the Toxic Hunters snicker and the medallion hits the ground, Ryndir tells Mercado, “Enjoy it.”

Mercado tells Ryndir that they’re even and disappears into the woods with the medallion, his eyepatched sidekick, and the Toxic Hunters. Pineroot shouts a request after them demanding to know how to get ahold of the Toxic Hunters for possible employ in the future. A business card attached to an arrow flies out from the darkness and sinks into a tree. Pineroot pockets the instructions and the reunited Unflankables make their way back to their wagon, as the rushing sound fills the air around them.

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Chapter 26: Breaking News

Following the horrible bug incident, the Unflankables have no further obstacles on their way back to Ravenswood. They fill in Ulfgar on what he slept through and even watch a wondrous sunset. Finally they arrive back at the town, though they’re less than enthused. They quickly learn from Fyvo Puleesman that mere days earlier the town prison was destroyed, and all the prisoners disappeared. Puleesman tells them that there were twenty-eight prisoners at the time of the breakout. Darksex almost makes a joke about how they are experts at prison riots, but thinks better of it. Pineroot tells Puleesman that he should make sure all guards are accounted for, before the whole gang heads to the town hall. Ulfgar, Darksex, and Pineroot decide to head in with the spies while the rest of the Unflankables stay in the wagon.

Despite the pandemonium that seems to have infested the town hall, the heroes are able to spot their old cohort, Barnabus. Realizing that only the shortest members of the Unflankables are present, Darksex lifts Pineroot into the air to get the attention of the busy bureaucrat. Barnabus hurries over to them and asks how their mission went. The heroes are proud to say that they located the rumored elemental chamber of Wickhaven, and subsequently blew it to hell. Barnabus is shocked to learn of exploding part. Lucius and Alton are shocked to learn of Barnabus’ shock, not realizing that the Unflankables’ bombing wasn’t part of the plan. The heroes try and wheedle some more cash out of Barnabus, before asking about the prison break.

Barnabus gives them much of the same information that they received at the remains of the prison. The worst offender to escape was a horrible man named Mavron, known for stabbing defenseless innocents to death for funsies. The heroes offer to help out and Barnabus offers to give them a bounty of 500 gold pieces for each prisoner they can recapture. The heroes are enthralled with the opportunity to help out, or at least with the opportunity to make some fat stacks. Barnabus advises them to return later so that their sketch artist can make copies of the hand-drawn mug shots.

The heroes head back to the rubble of the prison to tell Fyvo Puleesman that they’re on the case. The officer assures them that besides the bodies of a couple guards, there were no others found. Not to mention that no crimes have been committed since the breakout. The heroes find that some of the rubble is more charred than the rest and determine that a spell must have originated there. Puleesman doesn’t think that could be the case since Jack Carver placed spells over the prison to prevent such a thing from happening. Nothing left for the two dwarves and Pineroot to do but head to Carver’s Institute for Lycanthropic Studies.

On the way to the institute, the three heroes pass many citizens all abuzz about the prison break. A young boy runs up to Pineroot, who recognizes him as Areth from the stickball tournament. He is super excited to see the heroes and they all share a conversation about the prison break. Areth also tells them about his desire to be an adventurer someday, so the Unflankables give him some generic advice.

Once the heroes reach the institute, they have a short talk with Jibly, the security guard. They ask him if he’s concerned about Timocles being loose and some possible vengeance in his future, but he seems more concerned with other criminals. They part ways and the Unflankables head to the office of Jack Carver.

The adventurers of course talk with Jack about the prison break. Jack tells them that there should have been no way that magic could have been cast from inside the prison. Pineroot subtly asks if Jack could maybe have been possessed or if someone more powerful could have broken through the protective spell. Jack thinks the latter could have been possible. The possibility of witches is briefly discussed, though Ulfgar and Darksex insist they don’t exist when Pineroot gets uncomfortably curious.

The topic switches to portal magic and Archibald Mandalus. The name doesn’t ring a bell with Jack, though he is able to shed a little light on the mysterious sign carved into the cultist stones in the desert. He recognizes the sign as that of an ancient being of great power, though not that of a god. So much talk of magic gives the heroes the idea of conducting some kind of séance to determine who destroyed the prison. They also ask Jack if he could make them some kind of short range device to keep in touch with Barnabus.

Jack thinks he may be able to detect the magical signature at the prison. He suggests the stroke of midnight to meet at the prison, but the heroes think eleven forty-five would be better. Jack agrees and they part ways.

Later that night, Ulfgar, Darksex, and Pineroot meet up with Jack at the remains of the prison. While guards look on, Jack hands each of the three Unflankables a raindrop-shaped gem and sprinkles some kind of powder around the rubble. The heroes and Jack take positions at the four corners of the destroyed prison and Jack begins his ritual. The heroes try to raise and lower their gems when Jack does, but their attention is focused on the sand-like powder which has begun to glow. A mist soon materializes complimenting the glowing powder rather nicely. After several minutes of this, Jack brings the gem to his chest and falls silent. The mist dissipates and the powder stops glowing.

Jack has good news. He doesn’t know who cast the destructive spell, but he can tell that its signature left a trail moving southwest. He suspects that the perpetrator is headed for Addertown, a village known for brewing potions. The heroes decide that the best course of action is to head there since maybe the prisoners have followed their savior. Jack gives them the amulet he created for Barnabus to call for the Unflankables’ aid. Grateful for his assistance, the heroes offer to pick up anything he needs from Addertown. Jack would love it if they brought him some Lunar Brew and tells them to ask for Mognan. Super tired and a journey ahead of them, the heroes decide to call it a night.

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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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