Chapter 32 – A suit for an Orc.

Eiuw. Just Eiuw.

Ok, I’m getting ahead of myself, but Wow. Disgusting.

We rested for the night in the tower. Halfway through my watch I could hear voices from the floor above. I popped up to check, and found Thistle and Dovin talking. Dovin looked sad, and I only caught the end of the conversation, but he was clearly worried about being up to the task of Forest Warden. Thistle was her normal annoying self, and spotted me seconds after I arrived to listen in.

She turned from me to Dovin, and said “You only need to call me, and I’ll come.”

I called out “Don’t listen Dovin, she only comes when it serves her! The rest of the time you’re just shouting into the void!”

She chuckled and answered “That’s a very accurate assessment Tak.”

I started to answer, but it was too late, she was no longer there.

“Dovin, if you need to talk, I’m on watch downstairs, you could com…” It was too late, he’s shifted into an owl, and flittered out of the window.

This is obviously becoming a thing.

I turned and descended the stairs, and resumed my watch. On the floor next to the spot I’d been leaning against previously was a small white envelope. It hadn’t been there before!

I poked it with my toe. It conveniently didn’t turn into some sort of monster and try to eat me.

I lifted it up and sniffed it. It smelt like an envelope. I guess that’s ok then.

I opened it.

Inside, in cute flowery writing (this is amusing to me now, but hang in there, you’re not there yet) was a letter and a large key.

The letter said “Who you’re looking for is in a basement near the Wandering Hand. Take this key and use it on one of the grates in the Inns cellar, don’t get lost it’s even more of a rat’s warren down there than the streets.”

Right. I guess this counts as a clue.

Clue or not, it was still the middle of the night, and you don’t get to be as pretty as me without a good night’s sleep every 16 hours or so. So I did the sensible thing and got a good night’s sleep.

The next morning, I passed the letter round. We all agreed that the best time of day to mount an exploration into the cellar of a pub was first thing in the morning. We gathered our stuff together, leaving Izkin and Drax in the tower. Drax mentioned something about setting up a small alter on the middle floor. Somewhere to pray and commune with someone or other. I’ll be honest, it was all religious to me, and I tend to zone out with the opening hymns.

We quickly arrived at the tavern, and on opening the door I had vague recollections of having been here before. The Barmans name was Vilgorth, or something odd like that, but everyone called him Dave. I’m pretty sure I’m not making that up.

The tavern floor was covered in bodies. As were the stools, tables, and oddly the bar. Fortunately, these bodies were of the breathing, snoring, hung-over type. We did the best thing we could, and tiptoed past them towards the cellar door at the back. Dave sat slumped across the entrance to the cellar. I held a hushed conversation with Tia.

“What do we do here? Should I wake him?”

“You said you knew people here, and that we should play it cool!”

“Yes Tia, but what is playing it cool? sneaking over him? or Waking him and asking him to let us down?”

Tia shrugged.

I turned and shook Dave’s shoulder.

“Dave, wake up, its morning. I’ve covered for you so far, but you need to be managing the bar!”

“Huh, whassup? what time is it?”

“Its morning Dave. Tell you what, go sit on your stool, I’ll grab you something from the cellar to wake you up a bit.”

Dave’s eyes seemed to be focusing into different dimensions, and any pact with the god of hangovers was obviously well off the table. He stumbled over, took two attempts to sit on a stool, and face planted into his arms on the bar.

We all exchanged a look, and slowly backed down into the cellar.

Masters of deception! That’s us!

A bit of scurrying around in the cellar, and we found the door that the key fitted into. It started to squeal as we opened it, but a simultaneous casting of ‘mending’ by Maeb and myself instantly cleared up any issue with the door and it smoothly opened.

Inside the door a figure sat slumped in the corner. It was vaguely familiar, and the cloak on its back certainly rang a bell. Wurdi had been wearing it last time we met. A second glance and the slumped figure turned out not to be a figure at all. No, this seemed to be some kind of mask attached to the cloak. I picked it up and poked it. A little leathery, but definately looked like Wurdi. Whoever had been wearing this was obviously a master of disguise. I lifted the mask to my face. It stank. The inside of the mask felt leathery, and a bit gross. like the insides of a person… There were hollowed out hands attached to this disguise too. It looked like someone had basically skinned Wurdi and worn her skin for a disguise.

And here I was holding it up to my face.

Eiuw!

Eiuw! Yuk!

A small note dropped from the Wurdi skin to the floor. It said “Thanks for the Axe, my friend needed a new one! xoxo Flower.”

It was also written in a neat Flowery (Ha! you get it now?) text.

So, to summarise for those of you that may have zoned out there. It looks like Flower had been wondering around, wearing Wurdi’s skin, pretending to be her. Flower, not Wurdi, sent us off on those collection missions. Flower got the axe, Flower got the coin, and… OH NO! Flower has tia’s library book!

These are things we’ll have to deal with, so we decided to push on and see what else we could find down here.

A left, and a left again, and we were face to face with a large metal set of bars.

I guess this is where I use the “Well thats grate” pun!

because grate… Metal bars… Honestly, I get better crowds in Gnomehome!

The other side of the bars stood an Orc, a Dragonborn and a Tiefling. The Orc being the familar form of the Heir, Narack. The two with him were clearly the other two children. We gave them a quick poke to make sure they weren’t Flower in a Child-suit. Apparently they weren’t. Maeb cast a quick detection spell, and couldn’t find any trace of corruption on them. This, I hope, is a good thing, though a little odd.

We hurried them out of the cellar, grabbing a bottle of something evil-looking on the way out. I placed it in Dave’s hands as we left, after all, I’m a Tiefling of my word! (mostly).

We quickly made our way to the boss hut, walking past sets of guards briskly. Each set we saw jumped to attention, with one of the first rushing off ahead to announce us. Rodrin was waiting for us by the time we reached his office. His old face beaming with joy at the sight of the Heir.

“You… You found him!”

“Well, yes, it was quite simple really, we just had a look around, and there he was!” I started with, but Rodrin looked confused. “No, I’m joking, it was really quite a search, and led us into the darker underbelly.”

We talked for a while, explaining how Flower had been posing as one of the key figures in the cities underground. How he’s been manipulating things and knew what was going on. We also warned about the type of disguises he could use, before changing the subject due to the intensely yucky nature of the disguises.

Arn sent a message off asking Dovin to join us, and we started to explain to Rodrin about the approaching groups of Goliaths. It sounded like the perfect time to give warnings of the help from our allies in the south.

“Rodrin, you’ll recall we spent some time south of the border. Whilst there, we befriended the order of the tree.” (I say befriend… We led an ancient dragon to them, killed it in their courtyard, stole one of their order, and snuck out under cover of darkness, we’re clearly best friends!)

“At some stage in the near future we’re going to need their help. I’d like you to prepare the way for that. People here need to understand that we are all working together for the good of the realm, and we’re no longer enemies.”

Behind Rodrin, the guard on the door looked like I’d spat in his porridge. Clearly the thought of help from southerners didn’t sit well.

Rodrin on the other hand seemed fine with it. “Well, its clear to me we should take any help offered, regardless of its origin point.”

A guard picked this moment to rush in, clearly out of breath and had been running for a while.

“The Fires *pant Pant* The fires *pant* someone put the fires out! We need help fighting back the blight.”

Honestly, they never pick the best time… It’s never ‘Tak sat sipping his cocktail, he finished it feeling energised and…’ but no, you go right ahead and interrupt our chat!

We ran outside, and the four of us jumped upon Bunny II and Rarity. the two steeds groaned a little under the weight, but carried us out to the circle of blight by the city entrance. Four orcs stood staring hopelessly as a line of fire flickered out.

The largest of the four turned to us and sobbed “It aint our fault boss. we sticked da logs on dere, and keep the fire going, but dis big creature with a flaming gnome on its back leaped over. As it did, da fire all leaps up and joins with da gnome. Honestly Boss, we got no more logs. and Da Wizards aren’t going to be ‘ere in time.”

Behind the Orcs, large logs still burned with a feverish intensity, but two sections of the blazing wall had spluttered out. Almost as if two gateways had been created in the flames. For now, nothing moved inside the blight, but it was unlikely to be long before something did.

We held a quick hero huddle, and Maeb said she could block off one of the entrance points with a line of her own fire. This would leave a single point of entry, and her and Arn would lock this down. Tia and I would stand back and throw magic at the problem.

I’ll be honest, blowing things up with magic has never been my strong point. This was always something that Tia or Izkin excelled at. I’ve always been all about boosting others.

I looked down at Bunny II. Bunny II (for those that have forgotten) is a Griffon. Griffons are pretty much made of beak and claw and have the wonderful habit of ripping apart things when hunting. I could send Bunny II in, and boost her! That’d work.

Oh, but while I was at it, perhaps I could send someone else in to help Bunny II. These things hate fire? I’ll send in Scorchy the Fire Elemental. Between the pair of them, it should all work fine. Then I can hang back here, and help out where needed.

Within a moment of this decision, the first mudmen appeared. Oozing across the blight towards the entrance. Two to the left, two to the right. Tia, Arn and Maeb covered the right flank, Bunny and Scorchy covered the left.

Tia and Maeb threw fireballs in, and Arn fired quickly from his crossbow. Bunny II and Scorchy made short work of their targets too.

Four Mudmen down! We’re awesome. Panic not though, because more mudmen headed in.

More fireballs, some scorching rays, lightning strikes and some more biting/clawing and scorched punching. We were dealing with these Mudmen far too easily. Could keep this up all day!

Which is always totally the wrong thing to say. From behind a large ruined stump ahead of us squelched another mudman. This one easily three times the height of the mudmen we’d been fighting. Further back, more mudmen lurched.

I was just lining up to throw some powerful spells its way when Maeb spread her wings, help out a hand, and softly said “Begone.”

Where the creature had stood, the imprint in the ground slowly started to seep back to cover the complete absence of mudman. Wow. Maeb just made it vanish! That’s impressive!

So, we did the right thing, and blew up the rest of the mudmen.

Another of the large beasts lumbered into sight. I glanced at Maeb, but she shook her head. The vanishing thing was obviously a one time deal.

So We poured on fire, lightning and beaks. Maeb closed in, swinging her blazing sword, and the creature fell.

Behind us, the Larger Orc sounded excited. “Dey are here! Da Wizards are coming!”

Of course they are. We finish killing things just as they show up. Just like a wizard to wait till the heavy lifting is done. Two of the wizards rushed in, with a large sack each. They upended the sacks, spilling a massive log which each individually blocked the gaps in the wall of flames. Two other wizards cast walls of flames which quickly took hold of the logs.

Maeb uttered a softly spoken “Return” and the Large Mudman popped back into being. Slap-bang in the middle of one of the flamewalls. It went up in seconds.

I bet the wizards claim that as their kill!

The problem was now contained. The circle complete again. Now all that we needed to do was work out whether something was causing this blight. We all mounted up again, and took off on a scouting mission across the blight.

Dark pools of ooze spotted the landscape, and each stump, rock and tree that protruded hung with fetid nastiness. Gloopy oil dripped from the dying vegetation, and strange lights flickered around each lump of land visible.

This was going to take some investigating. Possibly at closer range. Me-thinks we might need to grab Drax and Izkin for this. Things might get sticky.