We pick up the tale mid-battle with a treacherous black dragon, who is kicking our collective butts…
Zillah, Alix and Nightshade are cowering inside a building. They have no idea what has become of Blaze and Squirrel. (The story started here.)
We’re fighting the dragon – well, four of us, anyway: Squirrel, that cowardly snake, having slunk off to hide. Things are going well. I can feel it in my muscles, my bones. I’m wreathing myself in glory, all for my god, through whose grace I draw power.
And suddenly I’m not.
The dragon’s teeth snap around me. Burning. A wrench jolts me from middle to shoulders, and I’m dangling, airborne.
My fault. How could I lose concentration like that? Thinking of glory — fool!
The dragon’s wings push through the air, all strength, power. Thump, thump, thump. We rise. The ground jerks with each wing-beat, and nausea spills through me.
The tightness around my chest releases, and I’m plummeting, down, down. There’s water below. Rushing up. My armour – I’ll be dead weight.
But then I’m floating, still aloft. What? How? Of course! Feather fall. Squirrel’s spell.
I cast around. There. Squirrel! I do a double take. Surely not. But it is. This is no coward’s act.
He’s flying, cloak billowing around him, and he has never looked more magnificent, more brave or noble.
A screech pierces me. The dragon. Air gusts as she flies at me, talons outstretched. I still have my sword and swing at her, and we tussle, but Squirrel keeps coming as if to intercept me.
I’d never have guessed at such courage. Then the dragon seizes him, and there’s a spray of blood.
My back hits the water and I’m sinking, fast. I flail but go down. Nearby, something splashes into the water.
No air. Can’t breathe. Have to get this armour off. Can’t. Sunlight glimmers through the water’s surface, the last thing I’ll ever see.
No. Wait. I have an idea. Tree shape. I summon enough calm to perform the spell, and I am bobbing up and floating, a giant log. All I can see is blue sky above. Harsh sunlight.
No sign of Squirrel, but I know he’s dead. That spray of blood. There were limbs too.
It hits me hard. He died for me. He gave his life for me. The world is backwards.
The dragon blots out the sun, and I see a shape, limned against the sky, falling, walking. Squirrel – is he…? No, that’s Alix. Mercy, that dragon-bitch will have us all by the end of the day. The dragon screeches again, but I’m bobbing about with no control. If only I could stay still and see what’s happened to Alix.
Then I hit something. Solid. The bank. Only it’s the wrong one. I release the spell and haul myself ashore. Everything is in ruins. How can I get back? There. A lump of wood. I transform it to a small and not very stable raft, and carefully, quietly, launch myself back onto the water and propel myself to the other side.
In the middle of the square, her back to me, the dragon is focused on something; I sneak ashore…
After a quick discussion, we down healing potions and get back outside to confront the dragon again. It’s all we can do. I want the Stars.
I take a few deep breaths then step outside, where the dragon waits. I get in some great blows! The dragon roars, spews acid (which I dodge)… then flies away.
All we can do is stare as it soars then descends into the middle of round building a couple hundred yards away. We’ve chased it off! We actually made it flee!
Now we have to finish the job before it recovers.
Blaze arrives as we’re scooping up the contents of the treasure chest left abandoned in the middle of the square. (So many coins and gems!) I’m enormously relieved to see him, but then he tells us what has happened to Squirrel.
My chest tightens with shock and grief — but I can’t let that overcome me now. Not until this is over. Not until that dragon is dead and we have the Stars in hand.
I’m still wrestling with the swirl of emotions when a stranger appears in the square. I stare at this decrepit little old man. Fenfaren he is called. I don’t have time or energy for him now. I don’t know where he’s come from, or why. I don’t care.
All I care about right now is killing that dragon.
Nightshade and I stand side by side in the stands of an ancient stadium, magic, fire-spelled arrows nocked. Waiting.
Below, the arena is flooded and (we suspect) concealing the entrance to the dragon’s lair. Our plan — suggested and implemented by Fenfaren, who is full of surprises — is to drain the stadium to drive the dragon out.
The water starts moving, swirling, a sign Fen has begun the drain. Then, with a roar, the dragon bursts out of the water.
Nightshade and I take aim, launch the magic arrows.
They work beautifully against the dragon, which hovers nicely in range while it attacks Alix and Blaze, who fight back with gusto. We have no defence against this dragon. We can only hope to wear it down first.
Each arrow explodes into flame as it hits. I’ve never enjoyed my longbow so much.
Still, the dragon is fearsome and vicious. It munches on Blaze and tries to carry Alix away again. My heart jolts at the thought of losing another companion, especially Alix. But, just as I start to fear the dragon was not as injured as we’d assumed, it finally falls.
It crashes onto the lower stands, broken. Defeated. Dead.
I suppress the euphoria trying to sweep through me. First we must locate the Stars. Then we can celebrate. Then we can mourn.
Fen is not a decrepit little old man, it turns out. Once his illusion died, he was revealed as a furbolg. Taller than an average human (nearly two feet taller than me). Bright red hair with some grey streaks. Strong. He says he’s been camped out on the hill, watching the dragon and the Rakshasa for a while.
He assists Nightshade and me to wade into the dragon’s underwater lair. Our attempt to drain the depths of the area succeeded in rousing the dragon, but the water has levelled. We’re going to need to swim.
We use the water breathing potion I’ve been carrying for a while. Two doses. Just enough for me and Nightshade, who is the strongest swimmer of all of us. Fen uses his mage senses to confirm the location of the dragon’s treasure.
The chest is made of stone, and heavy. There are six water-logged sacks as well. We grab those first, take them back to Fen and the others. Then we carefully carry the chest out of the water.
The chest has a complicated lock on it. A grid of stone buttons. Somehow we know that if we press them in the wrong order we will die.
Alix arrives at the solution. Alix, who often seems to come up with the right spell at the right time. She casts ‘stone tell’ and talks to the stone, asks the stone for the right combination to press. And it works.
We open the chest. No-one dies. And there they are… the Stars. The Stars of the Flail of Wind and Rain. (And treasure…)
The hour is late, but it is done.
That foolhardy, light-fingered, ‘turn sideways and where-did-he-go’ young man who always seemed to be right next to me. Except for one time. The last time, when maybe it would have made a difference. And now he is gone.
He reminded me so much of Cal that I trusted him without thinking about it. I would even welcome the fights we will now never have. He backed us all up as much as he could and took some stupid risks. Oh, and he liked to throw fireballs and then ask questions. If there was anyone left alive.
Damn it, Squirrel, this whole thing has cost so many lives. Why did it have to cost me another mage who was my friend?
Oh, and don’t be throwing balls at the Gods, Squirrel. They probably won’t like it. And the shiny-shiny? Don’t be picking that up either.
Squirrel’s death sits heavily on me. I misjudged the man: thought him a sly, conniving and cowardly thief, not to be trusted, someone I could never call friend. And yet, in the end, he was the noblest and most selfless man I have ever met, and he not even a paladin.
How can this be? I thought I knew the world and its workings, but I know nothing. Now, I must atone for Squirrel’s death, but how to make amends? A donation to his church? Reparations to his family? Raise a statue in his honour? Offer my services to fight in his name?
Right now, prayer and solitude are what I need: I trust Nievor to give me guidance.
Damn everything, Squirrel is dead. Not just dead but EATEN by the traitorous Dragon’s water-dwelling pets, if Blaze saw it right.
At least the Dragon is dead as well now, which I’m sure would make Squirrel very happy were he here to know it. Imagine the magical ingredients he could have harvested from the corpse! He would have kept us here for days, stripping and preserving dragon parts.
I need to convince the others to retrieve Squirrel’s body from the water, even if it means catching and cutting open the belly of whichever beast ate him. Surely the Cleric will be able to resurrect him, if he is not too badly chewed? And his gear! The magic books, the maps and notes he was always scribbling down – we will be lost without them, our strength as a party severely diminished. I don’t see we have any choice but to look for him.
One other thing is certain: I will miss Squirrel sorely if he cannot be returned to us, not least because he was the last remaining member of the party I could count on to have my back. The other three – Zillah and Alix, and the oh-so-shiny Blaze – are such squeamish do-gooders they refuse to do what’s needed even when it’s pointed out to them at the tip of a sword. Squirrel, along with dear fallen Blizzard, understood that sometimes you need to get your hands dirty. The do-gooders bleat about the end of the world but think they can prevent such a thing without having to wring too much blood from their clothes afterwards.
Sometimes, I wonder whether I even belong in this party anymore…
We will miss Squirrel sorely. He was smart. Crafty. Braver than he knew. His skills, forethought and fast thinking helped us navigate many a challenge and got us out of many a scrape. Yes, we will miss him.
I counted him a friend, even though I often felt I never really knew him. Not all his faces. But he was a true companion, as he showed at the end.
Farewell, Squirrel (or whatever your true name was). May your spirit dwell peacefully in the afterlife.
The master smith, Astra Khara, greets us with wild, bright eyes on our return to Kham Jhara. His fingers twitch as he reaches for the Stars, desperate to join them with the Haft we brought him weeks ago.
He says it will take several weeks to re-forge the Flail of Wind and Rain.
Astra Khara manages to mostly hide his surprise that we prevailed over the Rakshasa and the dragon, but it is there. The round trip has taken over a month. I think we’ll be recounting the tale in taverns for many months to come.
After slaying the dragon and obtaining the Stars, our return trip was uneventful. We managed to retrieve Squirrel’s pack from the depths of the lake the following morning, thanks to Nightshade’s swimming and magic from both Alix and Fen. The maps and documents he carried are vital for the success of our quest.
But Squirrel’s corpse was lost to us. I have no doubt those water monsters tore him to pieces and feasted. A sad end for our companion and friend.
Fen has accompanied us back to Kham Jhara. It will take some time for us to rely on him as we did Squirrel, but he has already proven a worthy companion.
Now we turn our attention to the final piece of the puzzle: the Right Eye of Varrien.
The DM says we’re ‘nearly’ finished… Considering we began in May 2012, it feels a long time coming! Let’s see what happens next.
Thanks to Tracey Rolfe (Blaze), Lita Kalimeris (Alix) and Kirstyn McDermott (Nightshade) for their contributions to this post.