Chaos Rains, Chapter 7: Trouble at the Stonehill Inn

In which the party contend with unwanted visitors and a roaring fire.

Chapter 7: Trouble at the Stonehill Inn

Finch, Samp and Makoto all awoke suddenly in the early hours of the morning. They could hear slightly raised voices from downstairs. Finch, a dark feeling creeping over him, rose and began getting changed into his armour. He moved quickly, his military instincts taking over. Samp turned to Makoto, who had picked up his morningstar.

“Let’s go and find out what’s going on,” said Samp. Finch said he would join them in a minute. So Samp left the room to discover the source of the noise: sans shield, sans armour, sans sword, sans everything but his night robe.

Samp walked out, and looked down from the balcony to the ground floor. At the doorway of the inn was a man, with long blonde hair and in dark brown robes. Further into the room was a very tall woman who looked to be of half-elf descent, wearing scale mail, with short, dark hair and a scar across her face, and a greatsword on her back. These two clocked Samp as he walked out.

Further yet into the room, by the bar, was a dwarven man with red hair and a short beard wearing leather armour, holding a dagger. Near him was a worried but angry-looking Toblen.

“What is the meaning of this noise, so early in the morn?” said Samp.

The tall half-elf woman looked up.

“Are you… Samp?” she said.

“Yes.”

“So, you must be Makoto.”

Makoto said nothing.

The man in the dark brown robes smiled an unhidden, nasty smile and said: “We’re here to take you. You should probably come with us. It’d be a good idea.”

The dwarven man said, with a sliver more uncertainty: “Seriously, men. You know what’s best for you, you do as they say.”

“Where are you going to take us?” said Samp.

“You’re not in much of a position to ask such questions,” said the half-elf, smirking briefly. “You should come downstairs at once. Tell Finch to come out, too — we know you’re all there.”

Toblen spoke: “I’m sorry about this, gents. I told them they weren’t allowed in here at this hour, I told them to leave.”

Samp mused. He could see now that the dwarf was getting closer to Toblen, dagger in hand.

“Well, whatever happens, I’m not going anywhere dressed like this,” he said. He turned to walk back into the room.

The dwarf swiftly grabbed Toblen and put a knife to his throat.

“You’re coming with us now,” said the dwarf. “Don’t make this messy.”

Finch walked out of the room and threw Samp’s sword and shield at him. Finch then turned to the trio of invaders.

“Who the hell are you, then?” he said.

Seeing the fully-armed and armoured Finch, the lofty half-elf took the greatsword from her back.

“Thinking about it, you don’t need to come with us after all. It’ll end the same either way,” she said, and she started advancing.

The dwarven rogue, looking almost silly holding the burly, swole Toblen at daggerpoint, backed further into the middle of the room and threw another, smaller dagger at Makoto. Finch tried to block it with his shield, but the dagger flew true and struck the wood elf in the shoulder. Distracted, Finch was then struck by another thrown dagger from the dwarf.

The man in the brown robes — who was smiling maliciously — held up his hand. From three of his fingers each sprung a short, white, glowing dart of light; each of our heroes were hit by one, magic bursting against their armoured and unarmoured bodies. Finch, recovering from the two strikes, charged at his greatsword-wielding foe approaching up the stairs, and struck out at her, tearing through her scale armour and spilling blood. A look of what may have been shock overtook her face, and she backed off, her sword still in her hands.

Makoto leapt over the banister of the balcony and landed next to the dwarf, making a quick strike to his shoulder and tearing him from the captured landlord Toblen. Samp, now wielding his sword and shield, also made his way down the stairs and struck out at the half-elf, who blocked Samp’s blow and then took one hand off of her sword and counterattacked with a punch to Samp’s face.

The dwarf rogue swung two strikes with his knife towards Makoto, who couldn’t quite dodge the first strike, the second one catching him square in the chest. The man in the dark robe clapped his hands together, creating a louder clap — a clap of thunder, one that reverberated around the room and shattered the windows — which sent Samp flying back. The unarmoured paladin got to his feet and advanced again, his focus on the greatsword-wielding half-elf.

As Samp held the half-elf’s attention, Finch slipped past and marched straight up to the magic-wielder, his blade swinging true. It tore through the man’s brown robes, and directly through his chest, blood spraying from the wound. The man fell back, nearly dead. The half-elf struck Samp, tearing at his bedclothes and wounding his arm. Samp called out: “DIVINE SMITE!” — he brought his glowing sword across, shattering his opponent’s blade in twain, and tearing through her scale mail. She fell back — and much like her robed ally, seemed barely clinging to life.

The robed man, coughing up blood from his collapsing lungs, a horrid smile on his face, raised himself up and fired another streak of flame from his finger — but not at any of our heroes: instead, the fire struck the wall at the far top left wall of the building, which burst into flame. He turned, and stumbled out of the inn.

The dwarf stepped back from Makoto, daggers raised, and then turned around and headed into the further rooms on the ground floor. The fire spread to the beams of the roof, and further down, nearly reaching the balcony. Finch hurtled up the stairs to Trout’s room, and flung the door open. Trout, who had heard everything and was dressed, turned with Finch to leave. At the same time, Makoto chose to chase the fleeing dwarven rogue.

The half-elf woman used the last of her strength to stumble outside. Finch followed her and the arsonist mage. Samp hastened up the stairs; as he reached the top of the balcony, the ceiling began to collapse, a beam crashing down and blocking his exit. Samp retrieved his gear from the room, opened a window threw it outside, and then strapped Makoto’s bag to his chest and climbed out of the window. He began scaling down the wall.

Finch chased the robed man as he fled towards the town gates. In the rising light, the blonde, dark-eyed man turned around and saw the ruthless fighter on his tail. With his ever-decreasing energy, he fired four bolts of energy from his fingers; each of them tore through Finch and sent the warrior to the ground, unconscious. The dark-robed man shambled away, coughing blood as he went, still smiling to himself.

Samp ran to the front of the building, where he found Finch fighting for his life. He knelt down and sent holy energy through his body. Finch burst awake with a breath. The Stonehill Inn was almost fully up in flames now.

They looked around to see townsfolk conglomerating; Harry appeared, bleary-eyed and in a thick nightgown.

“Gentlemen, what is happening?” he said, panicked.

“No time to talk now, Harry; there are still people in there,” said Samp.

“Who’s in there?”

“A few people — Toblen…” said Finch.

“Good Toblen! What!” — And with that, Harry dropped his heavy nightgown — leaving him in just a linen sleeping suit — and dashed into the burning building. Finch took a deep breath and followed him, Samp following shortly after.

Inside was overcome with smoke and fire. Finch pointed at the direction that Toblen and Makoto had headed; they had to first pass a burning beam to get there. Finch did a running jump from a stool and hurled himself over the beam; Samp did likewise, the flames licking at his clothes. Harry signalled that he’d look for another way around outside.

Through the fire and flames our heroes strived forth, the heat sharp and painful. They rushed to the room that Toblen had retreated to, only to find the window now broken outwards; they saw Harry outside, who indicated confusion. Finch and Samp climbed out of the window, and they headed past the burning inn to a small field on the outskirts of town.

There they found Makoto engaged in combat with the dwarf rogue; Toblen shielded his family from the combat and the fire nearby, anger in his eyes. The rogue, too, had a look in his eye as he fought the wood elf cleric — one that indicated a will to survive.

Finch shouted: “Stop!”

Makoto held back; the dwarf rogue lowered his daggers.

After a moment, the dwarf said, “Well, fuck. I guess the other two’re gone, then.”

“We killed them,” lied Samp.

The dwarf looked defeated.

“Hm. Very well. Well… Chanse probably did have it coming to him, that motherfucker. That son of a bitch,” he said.

“Who?” said Finch.

“Chanse. The wizard. Haffle, though… she was alright.”

“What were you three trying to pull?” said Samp.

“What can I say? We were sent for you guys. We were meant to kill you.”

“Who by?” said Finch.

“I don’t know whether it’s better to tell you, or let you kill me. Because I’m dead if I tell you anyway.”

“Who are ‘they’?” said Samp.

“I ain’t sayin’.”

“Well, we’re going to kill you anyway.”

“Yeah, you’ll kill me. They’ll kill me slowly.”

“They’ll kill you slowly whether you tell us or not,” said Finch. “If they’re the kind of people who’d kill you slowly, then they’d probably just assume you told us anyway — because you made it out alive.”

“Ah, Hell. Fuck.” He sighed deeply, a kind of defeated groan. “The Black Mask.”

“I knew it,” said Finch. “I fucking knew it.”

“They’ve taken a liking to you boys.”

“Of course they have.”

“Look: me and Haffle and Chanse took whatever work there was…”

Samp said, “Did they send you to kill us, or kidnap us, or what?”

“Eh… we were just going to kill ya. I didn’t want to get the innmaster involved — but you gotta do what you gotta do.”

“Your friends were pretty powerful.”

“Yeah.”

“That Chanse guy — a wizard, you say?”

“He did literally just say that,” said Finch.

“Yeah, he was,” said the dwarf. His voice had reached a distant, gruff tone. “A goddamn wizard. He was a fuckin’ dark-souled man. A sick motherfucker.”

“May he rest in peace,” said Samp, sardonically.

“He’ll rest in Hell,” said the dwarf, squinting his eyes and then spitting on the ground.

“Well, if we don’t kill you,” said Samp, “What can you offer us? You’ve told us about the Black Mask, but that doesn’t give us a reason to keep you alive.”

“I ain’t got shit. Kill me — but I ain’t going down without a fight.”

“Wait, wait,” said Finch, “Do you know who from the Black Mask sent you to kill us?”

“There ain’t really a who when you take a job like this. The only person you talk to is the Mask.”

“But who wears the mask?”

“I’unno. Probably someone else every time.”

In the background, the Stonehill Inn collapsed fully, the fire illuminating the entire town. From the sound of it, all the townsfolk had gathered to watch the devastation; many sobs and wails could be heard.

Finch looked around for Harry, but the acting townmaster had returned to the gathering masses to quieten and console them.

“Just go,” said Finch to the dwarf. “Leave and hope that they don’t kill you.”

“I guess I will. See you later,” said the dwarf.

“No, you won’t,” said Finch.

The dwarf rogue swiftly disappeared into the night.

Finch went over to Toblen and his family, who were sitting exhausted on the floor.

“Sorry about the inn, Toblen,” said Finch.

“Ah, well. At least it’s a pretty sight,” said Toblen. “Nice and warm.”

“Was all of your money tied up in that place?”

“Sure was.”

“How much money would you need to get yourself back on your feet?”

“More than I’d ever ask of you, good sir. Plus, the Stonehill meant more to me than just gold. I built the place with my father.”

Finch stared mournfully over at the cinders of the inn, as Toblen looked down and sighed. Finch turned to the downbeat innmaster and handed him 15 gold pieces.

“It’s not much, but I hope it can tide you over for a little while.”

Toblen smiled a sad smile.

“Thank you, sir. You’re a good man. This is enough to get me back on my feet, for now anyway.”

Both the heroes and Toblen and his family walked past the still-smouldering remains of the inn to the town square. There was a great gathering of people, many of whom were evidently upset at the pain brought to their town; however, upon seeing Toblen and his wife and daughter safe and alive, many of them stopped their sobbing and came over to offer support. Harry came over to the party, flanked by two newly-arrived LARP soldiers; there were a number of others of their kind, clad in chainmail and with the LARP symbol upon their garb, tending to the rowdy crowd. Harry asked our heroes what exactly had happened. The party relayed what they knew; Harry offered them temporary accommodation in the cells.

Halia approached, greeting Harry coldly and then turning to the party. She offered them temporary residence in a more comfortable and currently empty barn, but our players turned her down and returned with Harry and Trout to the townmaster’s hall, but not before the party spoke to Barthen and arranged for Toblen to stay with him. After that, they all caught up with their sleep, Finch resting off his wounds.

In the morning, they went upstairs to find Harry and Trout breaking bread in the dining room, chatting away.

They greeted the mighty heroes, and spoke briefly about the prior night’s events. Finch described their attackers, and Harry said he’d put out a notice for their capture.

They all got some food in them, and went to speak to Barthen. Samp sold the merchant a great deal of the loot they had accumulated for a cool 300 gold, which they split between them. They loaded up on food and other similar provisions, and then headed over to the Sleeping Giant and met up with Brendan, who was in the back room, smoking his pipe and watching a few townsfolk play dice, his falcon perched on his shoulder.

They spoke about their new quest — to travel to Echo Chamber Deluxe, to clear the place of the creatures infesting it, and to rescue Trout’s brother Cam. Brendan seemed excited to go on another adventure with them, and they agreed to meet the next morning.

As they traversed the town, they saw the LARP soldiers patrolling the streets. Some sense of order was being returned to the town, it seemed.

They met again with Harry, and discussed their quest. Harry offered to send along his best man with them: Robchild Smap. They accepted. Samp asked if Harry knew anything about the tall, fast man, but all Harry could guess is that he must have been a magic user of some descript. If he was aligned with Harrier Jet, then clearly this Harrier Jet fellow kept powerful company.

The party took the day off, and readied themselves for the next part of their journey.

 

Chaos Rains, Chapter 6: A Live Trout

In which the party encounter the Tall Man once again, and find an unconscious dwarf merchant.

Chapter 6: A Live Trout

After their short rest, Ligotti decided that he’d seen enough — he liked adventuring, but this work was just too dangerous for him. He wandered out of the castle, playing his flute.

The rest of the party, dedicated to finding Trout, continued on their way. They crossed through the curtains into the next room. Inside was a small shrine, with pig ornaments decorating it. As the party approached, three poglins jumped from behind the shrine and attacked, the middle one in makeshift ceremonial wear. He claimed arrogantly that they would sacrifice the party to their pig-god.

Finch immediately engaged the poglin religious leader in combat, almost striking it down with the first blow. Brendan took down the one on the left; Samp brought his sword down on the leader but missed badly and stumbled to the floor. Finch finished off the leader with a whack of his shield, and the final one was beaten down by Makoto.

The marvellous heroes continued onwards into the castle, now with only one way left to go. Finch led the way into a further room, where they were confronted by two hobbes: far less porcine and than their poglin and puruk cousins, hobbes were pernicious and warlike creatures, known in times contemporary to our heroes for their two-year war against the kingdom of Aspark some eight years past.

However, whilst deadly in large numbers, two hobbes were not a great threat to our heroes; they were quickly dispatched. Our protagonists then debated between two directions — a large, barred door, or a mysterious curtain. They chose the curtain.

Behind the curtain was another hallway, with a door at the end. As they got closer, they could hear an angry-sounding voice behind the door… Finch went straight up to it and booted it in.

This was the sight that met them: a large room with many furs and rugs on the floor, many trophy-mounted poglin heads, as well as those of wolves and stags, upon the walls, a large bed in one corner and several wax chairs scattered throughout; near a table in the corner lay a badly-beaten, unconscious dwarf, over which stood a high-heighted and mighty puruk; upon this big pig’s head was an iron crown, and at his feet stood a vicious, bristling attack-hog. This mighty porcine warlord was King Klarg himself. There was one last entity in there: a very tall, thin, pale man, wearing a black coat, and a bowler hat. Klarg appeared to have been arguing with the tall man just before the door was booted open.

Klarg turned, and bellowed with rage. The attack-hog ran towards them, as did the big boy himself, bringing his sword down on Finch’s raised shield. Finch countered, dealing a strike against the regal puruk’s tough skin. Seeing this brewing battle, the Tall Man moved forward with inhuman speed, aiming to strike Makoto with his outstretched hands, which seemed to almost grow in size and length as he brought them forward towards the woof elf’s chest. Although distracted by the king-pig, Finch was able to thrust his shield in front of his potion salesman friend, and the Tall Man’s surprise attack faltered, not quite reaching its target. The Tall Man moved back again with inhuman speed, and Makoto followed, swinging his mace down; but the strike did not hit, as before it could land, the Tall Man had already moved out of its way.

Brendan, seeing the threat that the Tall Man posed, moved forward to strike him too, but again, his attack met only the air, as the thin gentleman seemed to flicker out of existence and back in again some five feet away. The attack-hog bit Samp’s leg, and Samp struck down at it in return, calling out: “Begone, pig — DIVINE SMITE.” The hog survived, just; it squealed in pain and rage. Finch, distracted by the Tall Man, bore the brunt of a full strike from King Klarg, who laughed with battle-lust: “Feel the might of King Klarg!” — Finch, realising he could be outmatched, used a surge of energy to perform two blows against the hubristic hog-monarch, equalling the pork-lord in might. “Squeal, pig-bitch!” cried Finch.

The Tall Man stepped around Brendan and slammed him in the side with his open palms, and then turned on Makoto, aiming another slam at his chest; again, in the heat of battle, Finch was just able to turn from Klarg’s enmity long enough to block the blow. The Tall Man’s blank expression finally cracked slightly; he almost looked annoyed. Makoto took his chance — his mace connected with his lofty opponent, who barely seemed to feel it.

The angry mini-hog bit into Samp’s leg again, drawing blood. Samp cried out, and hacked the pig’s face asunder in revenge. Meanwhile, Klarg took his opportunity to hit Finch again after the fighter’s protection of Makoto: he brought his greatsword down on our hero, a savage strike that knocked Finch unconscious and bleeding.

The Tall Man surveyed the situation. He flickered over to the bed, flipped it over and grabbed a some sort of tubular object from beneath, and flickered over to the unconscious dwarf; Brendan caught him with his sword as he moved, and seemingly distracted the Tall Man enough that his attempt to kill the inert merchant was unsuccessful. The look of cold irritation upon his face heightened, and with that, he flickered out, through the open door and away from the combat.

Makoto rushed over to Finch, and, placing his hand on Finch’s chest, revealed his true power, clearly no simple potion salesman as he had claimed: green magic burst from his hand and reinvigorated Finch’s waning consciousness. Samp, freed from the irritating attack-hog, imbued his sword again with divine energy: “DIVINE SMITE,” he cried, as he jumped and sliced at the same time, King Klarg not even receiving a chance to come to terms with mortality before he was struck diagonally in half, the wounds cauterised by the paladin’s sword’s radiant power.

They rushed over to the beaten and unconscious dwarf, and Samp stabilised him and raised him back into consciousness. The dwarf coughed and spluttered, his throat dry and hoarse. The dwarf looked up at them.

“Well… well, hey there. What’n… what’re you doing here? Where’s that pig?” said the dwarf, his eyes squinting at the light. Samp looked down as Finch regained his footing. The dwarf coughed savagely. “By damn I feel as’f my lungs are comin’ out my throat.”

“We just killed the pig king,” said Samp. “But the tall, pale man escaped.”

Trout’s eyes widened and he looked around.

“Why — you must be them boys I sent for!”

“Yes,” said Samp.

“Did you find Harry? Is he okay?”

Finch stepped over to meet the dwarf.

“Yeah, Harry’s at the town,” he said. “He’s running the place right now.”

“Good.” The dwarf sat up properly, cradling his head. “Gods, how long have I been here? A week? Two?”

“Yes, it has been a long time,” said Samp. “Who was that pale man? He was very fast.”

“I didn’t see no pale man. I been chokin’ on my own tongue for the past three days. Have any of you boys got any water?”

Finch got out his flask and handed it to him.

“There you go. Oh yeah — are you Trout?”

The dwarf grinned.

“That’s me. I’m Trout Rockefeller, of the Rockefeller Three. It’s good to meet you guys.”

“Good to meet you, too,” said Finch. “Now enjoy some water.”

Trout drank deep and long from the canteen, swigging the entire canteen in front of the party.

“Slow down, Trout!” said Finch. “Ye gods.”

Trout finished the last sips and sighed deeply.

“I ain’t had sweet water in so long. Don’t worry, there’s plenty more at the town, I’ll get you some.”

“If you make it. You’re barely alive.”

“I’ve seen worse. Glad you found me when you did though, I weren’t lasting much longer. They had my map — that king pig was just keeping me alive as a cruel joke.”

“Is the map still in here?” said Samp.

“He kept it under the bed.”

Finch turned around, looking at the flipped bed.

“No! That’s what Tallboy took,” he said.

“Tellin’ me someone took my map?”

“…Yes.”

“Would there be anything else in here of yours?” said Samp.

“They likely would have taken all of my stuff long ago, but there might be something lying around in here that’s worth something though,” said Trout.

The gang checked the other items uncovered by the upturned bed and found King Klarg’s treasure stash. They also found a potion of indeterminate power, but Makoto suggested it looked similar to ones used to change one’s shape.

“What’re we doing then, boys?” said Trout.

“Let’s get you back to Harry, and Barthen — your man Barthen’s missing you,” said Finch.

They helped Trout to his feet and Samp restored energy to him through his divine magic. As they walked past the barred door in the adjacent room, they heard loud slamming, but chose to ignore it, and left the castle.

As they left the castle grounds and headed back towards the woods, they saw a returning party of four hobbes heading towards them, carrying bloody bags. The hobbes saw the leaving heroes, and saw the blood their weapons were bathed in. The lead hobbe smiled ironically at Finch.

“Men. How’re we doing. Lovely morning, isn’t it? How do you do?” he said.

“Just fine,” said Finch.

They all kept walking, and crossed paths with no further bloodshed.

They reached the town at nightfall, and were welcomed in by Ted, waiting outside with his carriage.

Thus spake Ted: “Welcome to Sheoville! Oh, it’s you guys.”

They went to see the acting townmaster, good old Harry Lyndon; Trout and Harry had a joyous reunion.

“Good Trout! I was worried I would not see you again,” said Harry.

“Well, it’s all thanks to these boys,” said Trout.

They resolved to speak again the following morning.

“Where are you staying, Trout?” asked Finch.

“I have a free cell here,” said Harry, somewhat jokingly.

“Nah, think I’ll get myself a good night at the inn. Get a good old drink.”

“And see my boy, Toblen,” said Finch. “To the inn!”

They went over to the Stonehill Inn. Toblen welcomed them warmly.

“Hello, gentlemen! Back from more adventuring, I see. And with new friends!” he said.

“Howdy,” said Trout.

“Oi, Trilene — bring us over some pints, would you?” said Toblen.

“Right you are, my lovers!” said Trilena.

They all sat down and started drinking.

“Would you like a pie, Trout?” said Finch.

“I would love some pies.”

“What kind?”

“A very meat-filled pie. I like lots of meat in my meat pie.”

Trout’s mouth was watering at the mention of proper food. They all smashed some pies, and then Trout outlined some of the situation he had found himself in.

“Now look, as far as I know, they’ve got my brother, Cam. My other brother’s still overseas, back in Grenmund. Now, each me and my brothers, we specialise in different areas. Cam, he’s the best at raw numbers. Me, I’m the ideas man. And my brother Bart, he’s a bit more political, if you like. He’s trying to end some of the corruption in the mining guilds back home. Now, me and Cam set out here as a duo, with his son Colt in tow; and we’re onto gold here — you know about the Old World, don’t you?”

“Do tell of it,” said Samp.

“All that crazy old lightning — the shining lights. Well, I’ve found something quite spectacular. Legends say it’s called Echo Chamber Deluxe. All of these old contraptions, and weird magic — it’s all powered by the water in the cave, and still all working as it should. Now, I’m telling you, that would bring people to this area. This whole town could have jobs, working down in Echo Chamber Deluxe, we’d have people moving here. It’s a hell of an opportunity.”

“Why the name? Does your voice reverberate inside it?”

“I ain’t been all around the place yet, so I’m not sure about the specifics of the meaning of the name, but I’ll tell you something — Echo Chamber Deluxe is what it calls itself. You walk in, and it says ‘Welcome to Echo Chamber Deluxe.’ It’s dangerous in there, though. Anyway, I went back to meet Cam and tell him it was legit, and then we met up with Harry, who was going that way anyway so I hired him to protect me on the way. That’s when we got captured. Now, whoever it was that took my map, they might already be down there. Listen, this Harrier Jet — I don’t even know who he is, but that sum’bitch probably down in my chamber right now. Anyway, even without my map, I reckon I could walk you there from here. I’d go in there with you myself, but there’s all these horrible things in there, you know. Comin’ up from the caves over the centuries.”

“Hmm… I don’t know if I want to go there,” said Finch.

“Now see here, boys, I wouldn’t have hired you if I didn’t think you were good enough.”

“So where is it, exactly?” said Samp. “Underground?”

“ ’Tis indeed. I went down there and spoke with that here voice that comes from the walls in there, whatever creature that is. He seemed friendly enough and spoke your language, calls himself Malcolm. He told me I should probably not go in unprepared, said it was dangerous. So I called around back in Joi See, heard you guys were pretty good fighters. This guy —” and he pointed at Makoto “— I was just going to buy a bunch of potions to help you guys out, but seems you’ve been enjoying yourself.” Trout grinned.

“It’s been interesting,” said Makoto.

“Yeah. Near-death experiences. It’s been good fun,” said Finch.

“Anyway, we can set out there tomorrow if you like, after we speak to Harry,” said Trout.

Brendan left to go back to the Sleeping Giant, and then camp out in the woods. The rest of them went to stay in the bunk room, with the exception of Trout, who took one of the single rooms. Our heroes took their rest.

 

Chaos Rains, Chapter 5: The Tall Man

In which the party discuss intrigue, briefly encounter a spooky individual, and then storm a castle.

Session 5: The Tall Man

The party woke, and set off back to Kamun Host. The necromancer thanked them for their service in eliminating the porcs, and then admitted he had realised he didn’t have much in the way of supplies to give them in return, but that if they ever needed a friend on the Isle of Thorn, they could call on him; he owed them one.

The intrepid travellers made their way back to Sheoville, and reconvened with Harry Lyndon; he paid them for the bounty, and then they spoke of how they could take steps to rescue Trout Rockefeller, the kidnapped dwarf, from Cragmaw Castle. After this, he told them of a spot of trouble he had to deal with last night; a very small man got very, very drunk, and then started ranting about strange political theories in the centre of town, eventually passing out in the town square; Harry gave him board in the cells downstairs, along with Blinky. Harry believed him to be an adventuring type, so said they could go and speak to him if they liked. He claimed his name was Ligotti Behrn.

And so they were introduced to their new adventuring partner, the halfling rogue, Ligotti. The small man was well-dressed but disheveled, and still appeared to be slightly drunk.

“Wake up, little one,” said Samp. “You have no need to fear us. Are you an adventurer?”

“What was your question?” said Ligotti.

“I said, are you an adventurer? Wipe your bleary eyes.”

“Oh. Yeah, kind of.”

Ligotti spoke in strange riddles from time to time, showing an impossible knowledge of their meeting with Kamun Host. He spoke about the complexities of the Thornish accent, and accused the party of being possible practitioners of the dark arts.

“So, what is your name?” said Samp.

“Ligotti, but call me Lego.”

Ligotti seemed cautious of Makoto, and asked Finch what the automaton beside him was, gesturing to Samp.

“He is a person, he’s just a freak,” said Finch. “Have you ever seen a man so tall?”

“I am… a paladin,” said Samp. “I am flesh and blood.”

This continued in this fashion for some time, until they eventually got tired with Ligotti’s fabrications of his lineage (he claimed to be half-porc). They allowed him to go with, and said that he could receive an equal share of the profits for any job they may complete, despite his erratic behaviour.

Before going to speak again to Harry, Finch tried to coerce Blinky, who was staying in the adjacent cell, into doing another backflip.

“I’m not doing a backflip.”

“You haven’t done one in ages. Do it!”

“I don’t want to.”

“Do your fucking backflip, or you’re dead.”

Blinky, with no other choice, did a backflip. He again hurt his coccyx.

“Ow! Why do you keep making me do a backflip?”

“Because it brightens my day. Anyway, you’re coming with us to the castle when we go.”

“I’d prefer that to this.”

The party split; Finch went to speak to Harry, and the others went to see Sister Hitomi.

Harry told Finch something he had forgotten: that another adventurer had recently entered town, a rough-looking fellow by the name of Brendan Brazier, who may have been a tracker, or a ranger of some descript. Finch said he’d track him down at the Sleeping Giant.

Harry offered to come with, but also said he may be better staying here, particularly to keep an eye on Halia. Finch agreed, saying that he’d spoken to Darran Eldermath about her. Harry said that there would be an election before long, and that they would have to keep an eye on her until then, what with her planning on running for the townmaster position. Finch asked if there had been any news about Happyslap, but Harry had heard nothing yet; he had, however, asked LARP members to keep an eye and ear out for the rogue wizard, as well as having called for LARP soldiers to come and garrison the town so that something like this would not happen again. Finch told him not to worry if he heard rumours about zombies near Old Owl Well, that it was “just a necromancer.” Harry seemed concerned, but seemed to take Finch’s word on it. They adjourned, and Harry wished him luck with any further developments regarding Trout.

Meanwhile, in the temple, Samp, Makoto and Ligotti spoke to Sister Hitomi. Samp noticed that she didn’t seem to engage Makoto in conversation. He told her of their success summoning the banshee, and he told her what they discovered, despite it not being the most firm lead: that Agatha the banshee had sold the Spellbook of Bojarack some hundred years ago to a necromancer in Joi See city. He also told her that a nearby necromancer wasn’t connected to this situation. Hitomi was surprised to hear about a necromancer in the area.

Finch walked in at this point, and Ligotti spoke about how much he loved Joi See. Hitomi explained to the party who she represented: a group known as the Sparrows, a group of wood elves from Lunare who travel across the world, finding and eliminating evil, and doing good. Finch asked if Makoto was a part of this group too, but he said nothing other than he’d speak to Finch about it later. Hitomi said that if they ever need to contact the Sparrows, there are groups of them in most major areas in the world. Finch told Hitomi the location of the necromancer, which she thanked him for, and said she’d send people there soon. Finch then realised telling her the location might not have been the best decision. Samp seemed not altogether satisfied with her and her associates’ trustworthiness. Hitomi gave them the supplies she promised, and they left.

They headed over towards the Sleeping Giant, to speak to the alleged ranger, Brendan Brazier. As they walked, Finch and Makoto spotted something, someone: across the street, near Barthen’s, stood a tall, thin, incredibly pale man, wearing a black coat and bowler hat; he was staring directly at them. The sight of him chilled them, tugged at some part of them unknowable; even Finch and his legendary resolve (an old war buddy once joked that he could “stare down a hellhound”) were shaken somehow by this stare. Makoto and Finch looked at each other, and then back at the man. He was still there. They started walking after him, and he started walking away, down one of the town’s streets, at a fast pace. Finch and Makoto started running after him, but as they turned the corner, the man was gone.

“I don’t know what that was, Makoto, but I didn’t like it,” said Finch.

“Me neither. He appeared almost inhuman,” said Makoto.

“Who do you speak of?” said Samp.

“It was a man — he was tall, slender,” said Finch. “He didn’t feel right, Samp.”

“I’ve lived in Joi See all my life and I’ve never seen no bowler hats,” said Ligotti, again bizarrely visionary in his knowledge. “So don’t worry, guys.”

They continued on to the Sleeping Giant. Inside, it was fairly dark, somewhat damp. A gruff dwarven barmaid cleaned mugs, and in one corner, sitting along, smoking a pipe, was a man with mud on his face, his leather armour, and in his hair. One side of his face was scarred with what looked like poison burns. On the table in front of him him sat a falcon.

“What a fuckin’ dump,” said Ligotti, drawing a stare from the barmaid.

The man in the corner waved them over.

“You must be the adventurers. I’m Brendan,” he said, in a thick Joi See accent.

“Harry told me about you,” said Finch. “Why don’t you wash your face? There’s mud all over it.”

“No need; I am one with nature.”

They spoke about Cragmaw Castle. Brendan said he could get them there. Samp wanted to know what he wanted in return, but Brendan assured him that he simply liked the adventure, and that travelling types such as themselves could always find use of a master tracker such as him. Samp showed mistrust of the fellow.

Finch got the pints in. The team discussed the plan of attack for Cragmaw Castle, Brendan laying out its location. Samp still showed little trust in the ranger, finding it strange that he wanted no reward from assisting them. Brendan said that he wouldn’t be averse to accepting a reward, just that he didn’t spend enough time in civilisation to find much use for gold. Samp resolved to keep an eye on him. They decided to set off.

Just as they were setting off, a commoner walked past Finch and muttered in his ear: “Halia wants to talk to you. By the FARM building.”

Finch quietly and quickly broke from the group; Makoto noticed, but said nothing. Ligotti played his flute. Samp believed Finch had gone back to Harry’s, so they headed there.

Finch met Halia by a field near the FARM building.

“Greetings, Finch,” she said. “Thank you for coming. I have some… dark news that I thought necessary to bring to your attention.”

“Go on,” he said.

“I’ve been in this town for a while. I saw the corruption that it fell to recently, what with Herzog and the Black Emperors, and it all happened when the LARP came into town. The Lord’s Alliance — so high and mighty, and yet everywhere they go… dark things happen. I know who you are, Andrew Finch. I know of what happened to your hometown, Mornthar, and it may interest you to know that it was Spyro Herzog himself who oversaw that region of the Feverish Woods when the attack happened. Somehow he ends up here six years later, and forms the Black Emperors — and now, Harry Lyndon arrives. I know a lot of people in this town, and many of them have told me that both Harry Lyndon and Darran Eldermath — both LARP associates — have a hand in dealing with the Black Mask. That’s all I know, other than that they have both been speaking about me. Sullying my name. I wanted to ask you — if you find out any more information regarding these matters, please let me know.”

Finch mulled it over.

“We’ll see,” he said.

He left, and journeyed over to Harry’s.

In the meantime, Ligotti played his flute as him and the other two waited for the missing Finch. Blinky danced along to the strange, somewhat prodigious music played by the halfling.

Finch entered. Samp stood up.

“Where did you go?” he said.

“You’ll find out eventually,” said Finch.

“Fine. I won’t pry.”

Finch went and spoke to Harry, the others following.

“I’ve just heard something about a group I don’t know a lot about — the Black Mask. What do you know about them?”

“Well, I don’t know many details, but they seem to have quite great numbers, considering their secrecy — and they are incredibly dangerous.”

“Do you know where they’re from?”

“I don’t know where they started, but they seem to have been making a concerted effort to spread their influence across this continent.”

“The ‘Black Mask,’ eh? Is this something we should be worried about?” said Samp.

“Certainly,” said Harry. “In fact, as Darran may have told you, there are suspicions that Halia Thornton may be the local representative of the Black Mask. Not to mention this Harrier Jet — he may be connected to them too, for all we know.”

“We’ll keep an eye out,” said Samp. “Anyway, let’s get going. Lead the way… Brendan.”

They set off. Ligotti whistled odd, circular tunes through his flute as they walked. They kept their horses with Barthen, and left Sheoville with Blinky in tow. Brendan lead them through the woods, his falcon, Filbert, flying above them. After a day’s trek, they made camp in a location near to Cragmaw; in the waning light, they could see the outline of the castle in a clearing ahead.

They woke up and smashed a fine breakfast of cooked and salted meats, freshly hunted by Brendan, and then scouted out the ruined castle — Cragmaw had indeed fallen far into disrepair, unloved by the seasons. They decided to go around to the back entrance, and aimed to approach without being spotted. Miraculously, they made it to the rear entrance with no issues, and listened at the keyhole: Finch could discern the shouting of poglins. They decided to send Ligotti in first, to scout. He lockpicked the door with expert ease, and entered. Ligotti crept through the first, darkened chamber, and checked out the door to his left: through the ajar door, he could see a ruined dining room-cum-kitchen, eight poglins in there, seven preparing food whilst the eighth one, who had a cast iron saucepan upon his head, bossed the others around.

The halfling rogue ushered the others over, who approached with their weapons drawn. Ligotti unleashed his ultimate plan: a sneak attack, a cruel arrow to the head poglin’s heart. He drew an arrow, notched it in his shortbow and let loose. He missed. Thus began the battle of Cragmaw Castle.

Samp lobbed a javelin, catching the boss in the gut. The poglins, clutching not traditional weapons but grotesque pieces of cutlery, scampered towards the invading heroes. Makoto slew one of the poglins, its head nigh exploding from the impact of the potion salesman’s morningstar, an onion falling from its hand; Makoto then parried blows from a further two of the culinary runts. Blinky looked at his friends. He wanted to prove himself, show his allegiance to those who saved him. With a look and a nod to Finch, he did what he knew he had to: a backflip. The poglin sailed through the air and landed what should have been a killing blow, but alas, his target, a poglin of his own kin, a long-lost cousin, survived the almost-lethal slash — and then, in shock, swung his scimitar at Blinky. The heroic poglin’s fragile brainpan was split in twain; his skullcap fell to floor, and so did he.

Our heroes pushed on, further into the room, avenging the death of their runt-friend, Brendan eviscerating a poglin with his shortswords as they went. The boss poglin, Yegg, engaged the halfling Ligotti in size-appropriate combat, dealing a blow to the small hero; but he had underestimated his foe, for Ligotti brought his daggers forward and skewered Yegg like the pig he was. The saucepan fell from his head, clattering to the floor. The poglins, seeing their leader dead, each suffered a nervous break, and in unison they dashed for the door, past the avenging heroes. Blinky’s death was paid in kind, with plenty of interest: but one pog made it out of that room alive, and it kept running and never looked back.

Three more poglins entered the room, firing with rudimentary shortbows. The party struck back with their ranged weapons, javelins and arrows flying across the large room. Both sides advanced, Finch striking down one of the newcomers with ease, Ligotti stabbing yet another one to the ground. The final poglin fell, and the party advanced into the rest of the castle.

Whilst investigating an upstairs bunk room, an arrow clattered from behind them; another arrow struck Samp in the back. Two more poglin archers stood nervously down the stairs. Brendan and Samp rushed down the stairs and dealt with the first one, Samp’s sword removing its head swiftly; the other one was felled equally swiftly by Makoto, who threw his spiked mace with grace, collapsing the nervous porcine archer’s face in on itself.

The party headed back the way they came, and, confronted with a dead end, Finch discovered a hidden curtain, blended into the rock. Behind this, the party discovered a lightless central chamber that looked to have once been a chapel. As they headed towards another room that lay behind velvet curtains, two monstrosities fell from the ceiling; creatures known as gricks: bizarre, beaked and snakelike, their face-tentacles unfolded and they pounced at the heroes. Although quick and powerful, the gricks were outnumbered, and our legendary heroes tore the hissing, clutching beasts to shreds.

Tired, the party took a chance on a short rest, resolving to have the rest of the castle cleared by lunch, and return the dwarf, Trout Rockefeller, to civilisation.

 

Chaos Rains, Chapter 4: One Big Pig

In which the players explore the area around Sheoville, meet some less-than-savoury entities, and fight a contingency of porc warriors to the bloody end.

Chapter 4: One Big Pig

Samp woke up the next day, imbibed with righteous fury and vague recollection of the Oath of Vengeance he made long ago, before amnesia had come upon him: he made a prayer to his god, whose name he could still not recall, reinstating his lawful intent to uphold order at any cost; to fight and destroy the greater evil; to protect the innocent — and with this, he felt holy energy running through his veins once again.

Finch spoke with Toblen, who said that a wood elf from the nearby temple had asked to speak to them; he also passed on a note from Harry, detailing an outstanding contract worth 100 gold involving porc raiders near Wyvern Tor.

They crossed the street to the temple, and met the wood elf who had asked for them — she had strikingly bright green eyes and ash-grey hair, and introduced herself as Sister Hitomi. Her and Makoto seemed acquainted, although they did not speak to each other much. She asked a favour of them — to seek a banshee by the name of Agatha, who resided near an ancient, small town whose name has been lost to time, and ask of her the current location of the Spellbook of Bojarack. She gave them a silver comb to give to the vain banshee, and said that it should act as an offering that might catch the banshee’s attention and encourage her to talk with them. Hitomi promised them healing supplies in return for this. They spoke further on the identity of Bojarack, a good mage from many centuries past known primarily now for his spellbook, which is supposed to contain powerful healing and resurrection magic.

They then elected to speak to Darran Eldermath, the old-aged half-elf who was once a LARP associate, at his home on the edge of town. He was a friendly-seeming man of 150 years of age, who thanked the party for dealing with the Black Emperors — Darran had envisioned himself futilely trying to deal with them himself if they had not been stopped, so he thanked them for likely saving his life, in a roundabout way. He also had something else of interest to them — information: undead beings — supposedly zombies — had been troubling travellers near the Old Owl Well. Darran asked them to investigate, to see what they could discern about the incidents. There were even rumours that people had been going missing. The intrepid heroes decided to investigate this, too — and since the banshee, porc raiders and undead beings were all in a vaguely similar direction, they would strike out to investigate the matters in one journey.

Darran spoke of one last thing: Halia Thornton. He told them not to trust her — and that she might have connections to the Black Mask, a shadowy crime syndicate whose name is often whispered rather than spoken. Finch noted that she had asked them for their political support, and Darran asked them not to ally with her under any circumstances. Finch asked Darran to keep an ear out about anything he might hear about her. They then bid him adieu and went to speak to Barthen.

So these mightiest of heroes purchased horses, to make their journey faster, as well as camping gear and a week’s provisions. Barthen cut them a good deal, and they set off.

They reached the ancient, abandoned town at night time, and Makoto spotted a trail leading into the woods. They followed it, the woods getting darker and darker as they walked. They found a strange, loosely-constructed hut in a dome-like shape, the entrance leading into darkness. They entered; inside, they found elven-crafted furniture many centuries old. Almost immediately, a loose form took shape in the darkness — it had large, staring white eyes framing a spectral elven face, a loose, translucent humanoid shape appearing shortly after.

With disdain, the banshee asked them what they wanted, and why they had disturbed her leisure. Finch said he had an offer to make her, and she replied that it was unlikely that vile mortal creatures such as them could have anything she wanted. Finch then offered the silver comb, and her harshness dissolved slightly; she said that she would accept it, and offer one piece of knowledge in return, an answer to one question.

Finch precisely asked her: “Where is Bojarack’s spellbook?”

She answered: “I once held it in my possession. I traded it to a necromancer named Garrus from Thorn one hundred years ago. Other than that, I do not know.”

She disappeared. They travelled a distance away, and slept the night through, all slightly chilled by the brief, otherworldly encounter.

In the morning, they smashed breakfast, and continued their journey to the Old Owl Well. Eventually, the horizon broke, and they saw the Tonberry Hills, peaked by Wyvern Tor. They could see the ruins of an old watchtower, which they approached on horseback. They could eventually see a colourful tent set up beyond the ruined walls surrounding the watchtower. Leaving their horses tied up nearby, they approached.

A stench became apparent the closer they got to the tent, the stench of death. They headed further on, towards the tent, Finch taking the lead. ’Twas then that the ground did shake, and from it rose twelve rotten, shambling creatures: zombies.

The group readied themselves for a fight; it was then that a man exited the tent, a look of annoyance on his face. He was bald, his head tattooed; he wore grand red robes with an extremely high collar, and held a wooden staff with a crystal at the end.

“Hey. You guys. Get away from my zombies. What’d you want, coming around here, bothering me? Can’t you see I’m busy?” he said.

“What’s your name?” said Finch.

“My name is Kamun Host. And yours? Stand down, zombies.”

“I am Finch,” said Finch.

“And I am Samp,” said Samp.

The man looked puzzled for a second.

“Finch? Don’t I know you?”

“Yeah, maybe,” said Finch. “In the civil war? Down in Aspark?”

“No, no. One of my friends helped you out with something…”

Finch narrowed his eyes, and nodded. “Sure, yeah.”

“How’s it all going with that?”

“Well, I haven’t died. Yet.”

“Good. So, what can I help you with? It’s not to do with that, is it?”

Finch replied in the negative. Samp questioned Kamun about the undead, and the necromancer explained that he was not here for untoward reasons; he was simply investigating the tower, which held magic properties, perhaps linked to the Old Lightning. Any reports of people going missing were nonsense — his zombies were there but to scare away annoying intruders, nothing more. The party believed him to be telling the truth. Our heroes and Kamun spoke of the Spellbook of Bojarack, and the banshee Agatha, but Kamun didn’t have any further information on the subject, although he was interested in hearing that the spellbook had fallen into the hands of another necromancer, saying that he “wished that had been [him].”

Kamun then said that if they were wanting to be of use, they could help him out with a porc problem — raiders, causing him issues, encroaching on his ground. It turned out they were the same porcs the party were searching for anyway, so they said they could help him out, too. Kamun asked them to bring him the porc leader’s head, or else his gold tusk, as proof, and that he might be able to throw some supplies their way in payment.

So rideth’d on the fine champions of the lande, towards Wyvern Tor. They reached a large flat plain, and founde upon the plaine a carriage that was ransacked; four dead men lay nearby, slain in cruelty, the horses shot by arrows. Telltale signs of porcine brigands. The slain were likely to have been travelling merchants, before the porc raiders got to them.

The heroes rode on, as night began encroaching. They made their way up into th’ hills, and began searching for signs of porcs. Three hours passed, but no progress was made; there was not a sign of the pig-men.

They rested, and kept searching. Eventually, Samp stumbled across a small cavemouth; they investigated. Samp entered. He saw a chest at the back of this small cavern, and began moving towards it, when three mid-sized giant spiders came into view; they blocked his way, and showed their mandibles, promising danger if he continued. Samp struck forth with his sword, seeking to prove their abject destruction. In the struggle, Samp, Finch and Makoto were all poisoned, and badly hurt; two of the spiders were exterminated, and the last one crawled away into the cracks of the cavern. Found inside the chest was Samp’s glorious bounty: a book titled As I Lay Dying, and a magical scroll.

They made camp in the cave. In the evening, Makoto spotted two porc scouts wandering the area; Finch lunged straight for them, and Samp followed shortly behind. Finch took both of them on for a while, but was still poisoned, struggling through the fight and once dropping his sword. Ultimately, though, they were able to quell the surprised porcine True Humanoids before they could escape to warn the others. Our avenging heroes hid their mutilated bodies in the undergrowth and went back to their cave, eventually getting a full night’s sleep with no further interruptions.

They set off again in the morning, Finch leading. As they crossed through a wooded patch near a stream, they heard a voice: male, possibly porc, it muttered out loud about how unfairly it was being treated. Following the sound, they came across a porc named Gary, who claimed he was just a good old porc gathering water. Eventually they ascertained, through Gary’s own stupidity, that he was in fact one of the porc raiders, and that he knew where the others were hiding. Feeling threatened, Gary said:

“I don’t want no trouble. I don’t like the others — they force me to get water, and spit on me in my sleep. Every time I wake up, I’m covered in spit. They say they don’t do it, but I know they do, because I don’t spit on myself.”

Samp asked him politely and under threat of death to lead the party to these other porcs, and Gary duly obliged. He mentioned that they also had a pogre with them, a hybrid of both traditional giant pig and a standard ogre, that was named Cunt. Finch asked him how intelligent this pogre was; Gary was unsure, but he did know that it tended to only really say its own name, and quite frequently. Cunt defended the porc leader, Brock, with fervour.

Outside the cave that the porcs supposedly made home, a guard stood on watch some fifty feet from them. They pelted the lookout with javelins, but not enough hit true enough to take him out, and their target squealed and ran into the den. Finch led the charge into the cavern. Inside, it was dimly lit, a cavernous corridor leading down. They followed it down, and around, more cautiously now. Finch turned the corner, to see what would come next…

“CUNT.”

The pig, seven feet tall on four legs, a huge metal ring in its nose and the hair on top of its body forming a natural mohawk, was already hurtling towards him. Finch moved just in time, but as the giant pig crashed against the wall, it shook him and the rest to their bones, unsteadying them for the battle ahead.

Thus began what was, genuinely, one of the hardest fights they would ever face.

Brock and three of his porc warriors strode forward, anger in their eyes.

“Gary, what the fuck are you doing?” he said.

“Oh, hi, Brock,” said Gary, sheepishly.

“You listen here, little prick, I’ll ’ave you first. I’ll cut you.”

Before he could, Finch rushed forward, using a burst of energy to strike the porc leader twice, dealing massive damage to the mighty warrior. Brock, bleeding, enraged, struck back instantly with his greataxe, giving as good as he got and then some, tearing links from Finch’s chainmail and almost knocking him unconscious in one blow. Samp, reacting with refined expertise, struck forth with his longsword, calling out — “DIVINE SMITE,” — bringing the blade, glowing with radiance, through Brock’s head, splitting his skull asunder longways, blood spilling out onto both Finch and Makoto.

Gary felt great; he felt a lot safer seeing big Brock in pieces. Cunt charged at Samp, enraged at the death of its master, but Samp dodged with ease. From here, the heroes struck forth against the remaining porc warriors, hoping to push them back into submission whilst they floundered, leaderless. But it was not to be so; they stood resolute, although shaken. Gary, unsure of his position in life now, tried staying out of the fight for a while, to gauge the situation, whilst the porcs and our valiant heroes clashed blades and axes.

“CUNT,” said Cunt.

The giant pig raged towards Samp, crushing him against the wall. Cunt thought he had this one settled. He went for another ramming attack. But the giant pig had made a fatal mistake; its focus was on the wrong target. In another moment, Finch had used the blood on the floor to slide under Cunt, and spilt its guts all over the floor. It cried out its name one last torturous time, and then fell.

Even Gary was getting into it now, striking down one of his erstwhile comrades. He grinned. Victory seemed close at hand. But, alas, things never quite work out as simply as they should; two further porcs, a returning hunting duo, entered, unsure of what they were seeing but knowing that the only correct approach was to go in swinging. One of the two, a porc by the name of Kronk — notably, the only porc who didn’t spit on Gary as he slept, a fact unknown to everyone but him — saw the waterboy, standing over the body of one of his friends. He spun his greataxe and roared: “Traitor!” — and then advanced.

Our heroes, surrounded and running low on health, kept striking out, raging against the dying of the light. It was looking hopeless. Gary’s head was struck from his shoulders by Kronk. Kronk stifled a wave of emotion and kept attacking. Only one group was getting out of this cavern alive, and it was looking almost likely to be the porcs.

Finch, on his last legs, delivered a killing blow to one of the porcs, who fell to the ground, his throat hanging open. Makoto kept Finch standing with one of his last health potions. Samp was overwhelmed, unable to get any hits in — he was almost knocked to the ground by the swinging axes. Likewise, Makoto suffered a devastating blow, just about keeping himself on his feet. Finch, again, turned a porc’s throat into a void. Makoto swung his morningstar and the penultimate porc’s brain met the musty cave air.

Finch struck Kronk, who collapsed to his knees; he saw his years of raiding and pillaging flash before his eyes.

“That’s it. That’s all I can take. Either kill me or let me live. It doesn’t matter anymore,” he said. The wounded trio, in a moment of clemency, spared him. Samp questioned him on his intentions, but there wasn’t much to it; it was easy work, and worth the pay.

“Crime doesn’t pay,” said Samp.

“It did until you arrived,” said Kronk.

“Is there any reason that we shouldn’t kill you? Have you got any advice, or information about the area?”

“Yeah. There’s lots of hills.”

“That’s not information, that’s just stating a fact,” said Finch.

“That’s all I’ve got,” said Kronk. “You could take me back with you. Throw me in jail.”

Finch and Samp looked at each other.

“I don’t want to be dragging him around for ages,” said Samp.

There was a flicker of recognition in Kronk’s eyes before Finch cut him to the ground. The porc didn’t even have a chance to scream.

The trio had survived to fight another day. They took their rest in the porcs’ cavern, amongst the corpses.