Somarrian Hunt – Adventure Notes
July 29, 2021
The following transcript is a direct translation from the RPG session, in the player and DM's own words.
Mixed with a small dose of creative license spice from the DM filling in gaps where needed.
(*) Please forgive typoes: written and produced at Actoroke speed.
Darrell Judd “Torgrum Thorsvoldsomsen” – Dwarven - Barbarian
Denise Robinson “Claw” – Wilder elf – Druid
Gabriel Mondo Vega “Armando Equis Blake” – Human – Bard
Patrick Keeffe “Calsimeer Alderman” – Human – Cleric
XiaoWen Wu “Pansy Lightfoot” – Halfling – Rogue.
Brigthwyna (Mistress of the Hunt)
Lei (Sentient red breasted Robin)
Rahat (Merchants Guildmaster of Andalus)
Razin (Agent of Rahat—Granada ministerialis)
Sagacious (Wizard, Team Invisibility)
Sally (Goblin, Team Invisibility)
Armando, Calsimeer, Claw, Pansy, and Torgrum
SETTING THE STAGE
TIMESTAP: 00:00 – 25:00
Following the Ballbarians “sit down” with Sagacious in Tartu in episode 5.
-- The Ballbarians know exactly which night Brigthwyna plans to begin her Wild Hunt, almost to the hour. She announced the hunt would commence on the night the anumian Greed. Each week the anumians manifest like clockwork and is thus the basis for the Chaldean calendar.
-- The Ballbarians schedule their trip to the cemetery to coincide with Brigthwyna’s hunt, hoping she’ll be distracted.
-- After meeting with Sagacious, the Ballbarians return nervously to Gravers Dig, (by way of Cosmo’s tower) – it’s not lost on anyone they were plotting against Brigthwyna, a demigoddess of Arawn, Gravers Dig is “her place”, they are in her backyard so to speak.
-- No one in Gravers Dig seems to be the wiser for their plottings against the Huntress.
-- Armando sings to Kara Oki, his singing sword. Loading it with Healing Word.
EPISODE 6 BEGINS
BRYN AR GOLL ENEIDIAU
TIMESTAP: 18:37 – 20:30
The cemetery was approximately one days walk or half a day’s ride on horseback from Gravers Dig.
The Ballbarians made sure to take their doggos. “They need their exercise,” Claw said, “why not a relaxing walk through the cemetery. Maybe they’ll find some bones to gnaw on.”
“I wish I had a bee to fly on,” Pansy said wistfully, imagining floating softly on cushioned air.
Claw giggled imagining flying through the sky with Pansy. Alas the elf sighed, “I can Wild Shape myself into a walking bee. I’m not proficient enough to fly, yet.”
The Ballbarians departed Gravers Dig early Saturday morning, the last day of Warrior week. To get a head start, with hopes and desperate desire to have Gravers Dig a far behind them when Greed manifested and Brigthwyna launched her Wild Hunt.
After a non-eventful ride west across the hunting grounds, voila, the Ballbarians arrived at Dbu Wold, an ominous dark moor, a piece of high uncultivated land where the cemetery was located. The ground here was dark and lifeless, as if a recent wildfire had ravaged the place. There was no life, no plants, no animals, birds or even insects. It was eerily quiet and still as death.
Despite Somarria’s tropical heat a chill gray fog hung low, blanketing the moor.
The cemetery gates were formidable stone columns with wrought iron gates topped with rhino statues.
The Ballbarians easily pushed through the cemetery gate inviting themselves in. Gaining access to the cemetery was simple, even climbing over the stone walls would have been easy had the gates not opened. Keeping people out, apparently, wasn’t or isn’t a priority for whoever constructed it.
The low-lying fog obscured details and cemetery’s true size. Even so the Ballbarians gained a sense the cemetery was vast and expansive. Meandering up and down over rolling hills. There were lower sections that dipped beyond sight. Who and why would build such a large cemetery and so far away from Sheol?
Our heroes were looking for Bryn Ar goll Eneidiau, The mound of lost souls.
How hard could locating burial mounds be? Size mattered when it came to Celtic burial sites.
As our heroes entered the cemetery, their horses became spooked—all of them—and bolted.
Armando gulped. “I hope they don’t know something we don’t,” he said, his voice tittering for a second.
The dogs however, remained vigilant at their master’s side. Edgy and alert. They fanned out in front sniffing.
“Let them frolic a bit,” Claw said, “Good boys. Good boys.”
Lei, Claw’s Robin friend sat on their shoulder chirping happily.
BRYN AR GOLL ENEIDIAU
Inside the cemetery gates, like a doorman at a fancy city Inn, slow moving zombies shuffled forward out of a wall of fog to greet them. A family of humans by the looks: mother, father, children and grandma’ma.
The dogs eager to defend their masters against death and undeath, immediately charged, leaping at the slow-moving zombies driving them to the ground. Body parts, throat, limbs, and ribs flew in all directions, shredded in a fury of bloody mincemeat.
A few more zombies, maybe aunts and uncles, or favorite neighbors. They shuffled forward, groaning unintelligible tidings.
Calsimeer poked at one particular wretch with no jaw or right leg that was struggling to rise, “Shoo, shoo. I do not like you. Stay away.”
He slammed his mace into the skull, ending its cursed existence.
“Don't force me to use up one of my charges to turn undead, right?” said the DM
“I swear to my god, and you do not want me to swear to him.” Cal said.
Without too much difficulty, the Ballbarians ground the rest into bloody gruel.
“And that, is why we brought the dogs,” Claw said matter-of-factly to the others flicking a piece of zombie meat off their finger.
“And those fancy swords,” Pansy pointed out, “can take care of those zombies.”
After the last Zombie was rendered harmless, beaten to an inch of their undead life, (you know what I mean), the Ballbarians with prudence and expediency in mind, wished to avoid any further trouble, especially supernatural in origin. Wisely decided to avoid any obvious undead lairs, like sinister mausoleums and crypts.
With each step color faded from the world—the Ballbarians walked through an achromatic gloom. The setting sun had lost all potency inside the world of the cemetery walls, if it ever had it.
Light faded dark, heat to cold, life to…?
No one wanted to think about all the death the lay around them. How they had died. What sort of religion they espoused too and how that might have affected their afterlife.
A couple hundred yards into the cemetery a featureless dark shadow rose forth out of the fog. A large central pyramidal gothic tower that loomed threatening high overhead.
The Ballbarians stopped, quiet, gawking.
What was it? A mausoleum?
A grand edifice commissioned to honor a family, a wife or husband, a king?
Its corinthian architecture style might’ve been Mycenaen or perhaps Somacian. It was old, very old indeed and time had waged an ugly war against the once beautiful marble, tearing at it, so that cracks and fractures ran down it like aged spot.
Its upper weathered ramparts were lost in the shifting gray fog. Phosphorus eerie green emanated from the superstructure, windows, and cracks, backlit the living fog, giving the structure a sense that it was alive and breathing.
Here there was no sound—eerily still—even boots on dirt and rocks was muffled and made very little sound. What sound there was, even talking, was subdued and muffled.
This placed gave the Ballbarians the heebie-jeebies like someone walking on their graves. Without consultation they fell back in unison—fearful—
Twisting vines of bright green snaked its way toward the Ballbarians along the ground. In the green was movement, undulating bodies, arms, skulls, eyes… animate death.
Torgrum gripped Fang tightly, “Necromancers… whatever.”
Cal took a moment to gather his bearings, scanning the expansive mausoleum, “even as a cleric of life I think I'm staying away from that.”
Sagacious had instructed them to meet at a set of Celtic burial mounds. The land here was neither mounded, nor was the structures Celtic. They moved on.
The Ballbarians circled around the mausoleum, giving the Tower of Doom a wide, extremely wide berth.
The impressive scale of the cemetery could best be described as expansive and vast. Other words conjured to mind was labyrinth and complex.
“It’s a godsdamn necropolis,” Torgrum whistled. Talking made him feel less spooked.
Indeed, it was. A cemetery city.
The cemetery had outer walls and inner walls and walls within walls, and inner cloister walls still. Each set of walls seemingly constructed at a different time and era dividing the cemetery into zones and neighborhoods.
As our heroes maneuvered through the tombstones and crypts each seemingly older than the last, each step took them further back in time.
How old was this place?
In the very back, (if the cemetery could be described as having a back. Let’s just say, the furthest west they could go), the Ballbarians came upon an ancient Celtic dry-stone wall surrounding three large burial mounds in a rough circle. The hedge-like wall varied three to five feet in height, depending upon the undulating ground allowing the Ballbarians to easily peer over it. Sections were in disrepair, fallen over, but most stood tall and proud as the day it had been built, a testament to the craftmanship of the builders who had erected it.
The dogs sniffed irritably from stone to stone, each snarling low, agitated by something.
The cemetery to this point had felt old and spooky, sure, as any graveyard would, especially the green luminescent tower of doom.
Claw removed a fist size stone from the wall that was covered in black-gray lichen. They studied it closely before tossing it to Torgrum for confirmation, “This is probably the original cemetery”
“Definitely older than the others,” Torgrum agreed, “And best we do not disturb it,” He placed the stone back where Claw had removed it.
Each of the three dirt mounds were approximately the size of a large two-story house pressed closely together producing a triangular formation. The whole Celtic burial mound complex with the surrounding wall was about the size of a fighting arena.
The sun had set, and the gloomy fog bound cemetery shifted darker. Moon and the other anumian constellations, if present above, their spirit lights did not penetrate the veil. The cemetery was shrouded by a low hanging ceiling of impenetrable darkness.
Each of the mounds had a sharply angled subterranean stone entrance, like steps into a cellar beneath a farmhouse, crafted from giant boulders, like that of Stone Henge.
Visible easily in the darkness was a shock white bone path covering the three mounds. A wide walking path constructed of crushed bones that snaked crisscrossing the mounds around the side, top and back of the three burial mounds, linking them physically and who knows how else.
“Is that a pattern?” Pansy asked. She climbed on the wall to get a better look.
“Triskelion spiral, I think,” Armando answered. “Hard to tell from this angle. The Dorians of Dorsang put that symbol on everything. The Tuatha Dé Danann believed it represented energy. Circular cycles. Progress. That sort of thing.”
Calsimeer glanced over to Claw and Torgrum, “This is disturbing to say the least. Would you not say? Maybe you Torgrum find it less disturbing.”
“It’s not real subtle,” Torgrum noted.
The others murmured their agreement.
“What kind of bones do you guys think those are,” Pansy asked, “human?”
“Who knows missy. Dwarves, elves… Human itty-bitty boners. Right Cal?”
“This entire place has nothing to do with life,” Claw snapped.
Torgrum scoffed loudly.
“This is not comfortable,” The druid continued, “At all. Let's get through this as quickly as possible and get to the other side please. Let's not dwell, yes?”
Torgrum joined Pansy on the wall, “Where is Team Invisibility?” he said, scanning the dark mounds.
“Do we explore the mounds?” Armando asked, “or wait, erm, safely outside the wall?”
“I say we wait for Team Invisibility,” Torgrum replied.
Claw giggled, “I think we should go over the wall anyhow.”
Torgrum surveyed the burial mounds uneasily, “Basically, knock on death's door, eh?” he said voice thick with irony, “Okay. Yeah.”
Calsimeer looked unconvinced, “Yeah, you’re right. Seems a might precarious.”
“Is this where we’re supposed to be?” Pansy asked.
“This graveyard is bigger than Sheol,” Torgrum said continuing to scan for Team Invisibility and for danger of any kind. “We didn’t find anything that match this description.”
“We at the spot, where we’re supposed to meet him,” Claw agreed. “Sagacious.”
“Doesn’t mean, we literally have to stand on the mounds,” Armando stammered, “ehh, right?”
“Let's go check it out,” Torgrum said jumping off the wall, “what we got to lose?”
Claw and Calsimeer giggling nervously. “Just our lives,” they said together.
“But, sure.” Cal smirked.
“Our sanity,” Claw punctuated. “Let’s do it.”
Armando scrambled up on the wall, “Do we stick together, or should we spread out?”
Torgrum laughed, “Oh hell no, I’ve heard that horror tale.”
Pansy jumped down next to the barbarian for protection, “spreading out is always a bad idea.”
Claw scampered lithely over the wall, “Let's do it. We'll cover more ground that way.”
“No. No,” Torgrum said emphatically.
Claw laughed. They of course were joking and had no intention of endorsing a split party approach. “Okay. Okay. We stick together.”
Calsimeer joined the others on the other side of the wall, “We’re gravers. And that’s a grave,” He said pointing, “Let’s go spelunking.”
Claw called for the dogs. At first, their canine pals seemed reluctant but with friendly coaxing from Claw and Pansy, they eventually scampered over a low section in the wall that had partially fallen over.
The Ballbarians with dogs on high alert approached the closest mound cautiously.
The bone path yay verily was formed of broken and sometimes crushed bones—thousands upon thousands of legs, arms, ribs, hips, spins, and skulls. And not just humans. Humanoids and beasts.
Torgrum took a knee to take a closer look at a large feline skull. He reached—
“Careful,” Claw warned.
He picked up a saber-toothed jawbone. “Hunting trophies, you think?” he remarked.
There was no decipherable beginning to the path. From where they stood it went both left and right angled up around the side.
The path continued linking with the other two mounds.
“I’m down with following the path,” Claw invited, “What do you guys think?
“Wait,” Pansy said, “I want to check this place out first, see if anyone else was here recently.” She looked around for hidden traps. Objects of interest. Entrance to clandestine locations. But found nothing, just the clean sweeping triskelion bone path.
“Well?” Torgrum asked finally, getting tired of waiting.
Nothing was disturbed. Pansy was convinced, “Nothing alive or zombiefied has been here recently that I can discern.”
“Maybe ghosts,” she smirked.
Calsimeer leaned over to Armando, “These people really need a better exterior decorator. I mean the fact that this entire path is littered with bones – it's a tripping hazard.”
“Dem bones. Dem bones,” Armando sang as he suddenly stepped onto the path.
Everyone took in a sharp breath – waited a beat – breath held tight to see if Armando disturbing the path caused anything to happen. Would the path animate, coming to life, force the Ballbarians to fight skeletons? Shit. If that happened, it would be a grand army of darkness for sure.
Armando stood safe as could be, nothing too it, “Dem scary bones gonna walk around,” he continued the tune.
“Stupid reckless bard,” Torgrum muttered angrily shaking his head.
Armando strode off to the right continuing his musical “Armando in the valley of Dry Bones, now hear the word of the bard king and king of bards. Toe bone connected to the foot bone. Foot bone connected to the heel bone. Heel bone connected to the ankle bone...”
And… so it went.
The rest of the Ballbarians followed the singing bard.
The burial mound was large but not that large and a few minutes later they had circumnavigated the hill a couple of times, slowly rising to the top. At the top, the path performed an almost a 360 and returned the opposite direction back down the path, completing the triskelion spiral.
Halfway through their journey around the mound, all the dogs at once stopped, heads and ears erect a mixture of fear and excitement.
As a pack unit, they peered off in the distance, expectant, the same direction the Ballbarians had come from the entrance to the cemetery—or from Gravers Dig?
The dogs were shaking… excited… scared… tense as a drawn bow string. They looked like they might snap if touched.
“That’s not good,” Pansy said nervously, searching about frantically to see where they could best hide.
The cellar entrance into the mound was about thirty feet below them and to the right.
“We need to get undercover,” Torgrum said quickly. “And with a defensible doorway.”
“Hide,” Pansy agreed.
A distant baying of hounds echoed off the moor and through the cemetery fog.
The Ballbarians dogs howled in return.
“It’s the hunt,” Torgrum said sharply. “The hunt is coming.”
“They’re coming this way.”
“Oh, goodie,” Claw through up their arms in frustration, “And we don’t have a safety flag.”
“We can’t get caught out in the open,” Torgrum said, heading toward the mound entrance.
“I know there's no choice,” Pansy protested, “but I feel like this is a trap.”
Armando jumped down off the mound to the ground, “The best encounter is no encounter.”
Everyone abandoned the path and any semblance of safety and just plummeted off the mound. Pansy showing off inspired by the recent performance of the flying circus, with acrobatic rolls, leaps and flips.
“If only we had bees, we’d be there right away.”
Inside the mound entrance they raced.
The outside cemetery was dark, inside the mound was darker still—pitch dark.
“Should I cast a light cantrip?” Calsimeer asked.
“No light. Absolutely no light.” Torgrum demanded.
“Where is everyone, I can’t see anything,” Pansy said.
“Would you prefer we go to the top of the mound and wave a torch,” Torgrum said irritated.
“And let everybody know where we are,” Claw continued. “Especially when we don't have a flag with us to guarantee our safety. We could let the people who can see in the dark scout ahead.”
The situation was tense, if not terrifying for the Ballbarians lurking in the dark in the middle of the cemetery on Arawn holy ground.
Everyone hunkered down in the dark behind stones, hiding from whatever was coming.
The dogs don’t know what’s coming, (or maybe they did), and were not interested in hiding. No amount of coaxing or friendly pleas could get the dogs to enter the mound.
“Just let them go,” Torgrum snapped, having enough of them fool dogs.
“Let them be our first line of defense,” Claw said resigned. “Guard the rear—puppies. Thank you. Bye.”
Calsimeer watched the dogs trot off toward the baying and barking which was getting louder by the second, “People will know where we are.”
“And smell us out, right?” Pansy asked.
Claw said, “We need to be worried about the people who are coming from gravers dig.”
Torgrum dragged Pansy back, “What if the hunt is following Sagacious? And will Sagacious be here soon… to plane shift us where we need to go.”
Claw and Torgrum turned to the task of the tunnel behind them—being as they were the only two who could see in the dark—investigating to make sure nothing undead tawdry could sneak up on them.
Undead behind them and a hunt pack outside would have put the Ballbarians in an untenable position.
Inside of the burial mound was a large dry, dust filled central chamber that smelled like a millennium of death. The ancient remains of a thousand dead things were piled high in every corner. Flesh and organic matter long ago decayed leaving nothing but bones. Bones. Bones and more bones. Huge piles of bones everywhere.
Who or whatever was buried in this mound was not buried in any sense of loving respect, or organized manner or pattern. The bodies hastily piled in like cordwood, a mass grave stacked high and crammed on top of each other.
At the center of the chamber were more stone stairs that led further down to lower levels, where there was still even more unknowable amounts of bodies.
Torgrum and Claw quickly followed the stairs down, to see if anything lurked below. It would do them no good to have The Hunt outside and undead, zombies, skeletons, or whatever seething coming up from below, turning the Ballbarians into a bloody sandwich, ground between.
“Oh, look. Decaying bodies,” Claw pointed, “and over here, more death and decay.”
The labyrinth beneath the mound was multigenerational, each intervening level built decades, maybe even centuries apart.
“There are more stairs over here,” Torgrum pointed. “This place is big,” he whispered, “Too big to explore now.”
Claw came close “We can hide and hope our presence hasn’t alerted any deadites to our presence.”
They quickly returned to the main chamber to find Calsimeer looking for them.
“Friends, we have company.”
The dogs were just outside the stone wall around the mounds. The baying had turned to excited barking.
“HOLD BACK!” came the gruff, strong voice of Master, the ogre dog merchant from Gravers Dig. Immediately the commotion of dogs settled.
The Ballbarians huddled closely together, holding breath not daring to make a sound. They could hear the thump and rustle of fat ogre footfalls and dog noises very close now.
Torgrum quickly grabbed a large arm load of bones and stacked them into the tunnel entrance.
“Hopefully they’ll not smell us over the dead,” the dwarf said hopefully scrambling back to the others.
“Or the stench of your ass, Torgrum,” Calsimmer whispered grinning, his white teeth visible in the dark.
Torgrum put his fingers to his lips, hoping his idiot friends would remain mum.
“That’s Torgrum’s ass?” Armando asked. He leaned forward whispering into the dwarf’s ear, “Your ass smells like a cemetery, my dwarf friend.”
Torgrum gave the bard a sharp elbow and if the human could’ve seen the dwarf, he would have noted a look of seething death.
“We need eyes on what’s going on,” Claw whispered. “Pansy, can you do your thing?”
Pansy nodded and moved gingerly down the tunnel entrance, quiet as a church mouse. Or a halfling rogue looking not to be killed by an ogre and his pack of hounds.
Pansy making sure to stay in shadow, made easier by the sinister darkness that hung over the cemetery like an ogre’s bad attitude.
Speaking of ogre—
Master stood surrounded by twenty-something dogs—his full inventory of Hunting dogs and War Dogs. Immediately to his right in a position of authority, sat Unrooly, white like snow with red ears and eyes. The pack alpha that had been chained outside Master’s tent in Gravers and was now off chain to be presumably, unruly.
The Ballbarians dogs joined their brothers and sisters. Noticing the new additions, the Ogre surveyed the mounds, looking. Seeing nothing, he waved.
“Brigthwyna,” the ogre said. “The Bone Path is open”.
Brigthwyna followed closely by the Arawn priestess Scathach stepped from the shadows into the low gray light. Had she been there all along, moving in shadows, teleported?
At the sight of Brigthwyna, Master’s hounds raised their heads howling to her glory.
“Master,” Brigthwyna said. “Are we ready?”
“Yes, Mistress. The packs are gathered, eager and ravenous. They’ve been gathering in the hunting grounds for weeks sensing the coming chase.”
“Good. Then we should call them.”
Master removed a large Carnyx horn from his waist and handed it reverently to Brigthwyna. “Condál cúan,” he said.
“Huath. The meet of hounds,” She replied.
Pansy white knuckled the prodigal dagger as she adjusted her view, keeping a wary eye on Brigthwyna as she led Scathach and Master to the base of the mound near the tunnel entrance where Pansy was hiding.
Right too where Pansy hid. Close enough to smell the stink of her breath.
For a brief second Pansy was worried the three were going to enter the mound, but she stopped just outside the tunnel and knelt. Scathach followed Brigthwyna’s and knelt as well.
Brigthwyna genuflected before the mound entrance, “My lord, hear my prayer.” Her voice was loud, echoed into the tunnel, her every word crisp and clear.
Armando grinned. “Even a demigoddess worships me,” he said. “She recognizes true talent.”
Claw growled at Brigthwyna, low under their breath, “I curse you. I curse you. I curse you.”
Calsimeer “Anyone finding this a little bit awkward?”
Claw leaned close to Cal, “Do you know how difficult it is to resist messing with her right now?” but it's like, No: Self-preservation. Self-preservation.”
“I am right there with you,” he whispered back.
Torgrum EXPLODED pantomiming everyone to: Shut. The. F. Up.
Brigthwyna continued her prayer, “Arawn. Master of the Hunt. God of the dead. Lord of the Otherworld. Lord of the damned.”
“Maybe I was premature in my--” Armando admitted.
Torgrum grabbed bardman by the ear, pinching hard to get his attention. The dwarf was mouthing every damn swear word in the universe, hoping Armando would get a clue and shut his piehole.
“Forty-years ago, the Kaldi usurper dared oust your glorious religion from these holy hunting grounds. Today I exalt in your glory and honor, I embark upon the primal chase of our times reigniting your religion.”
She ended the prayer with a long-sustained blast from her horn.
She stood and gave it another tremendously long blast. As she blew, the horn’s low resonance grew in intensity and volume—supernaturally augmented.
The Ballbarians covered their ears to prevent the drone from rattling their brains.
Brigthwyna continued to blow the horn and stepped upon the bone path. As her first footfall came to rest, the bones in the chamber where the Ballbarians were hiding began to rattle.
Holy shit! Where they coming to life… animated… supernatural who knows what. Would the bones join the hunt?
Scathach, followed by Master and his hound pack trailed Brigthwyna, as she walked the Bone Path blowing the horn.
In the distance answered the call of the wild. Dire wolves or something big howled in return.
Around and around, the mistress of the hunt went, circling the first mound. First one way, then at the top switched directions coming down the opposite direction, following the triskelion spiral. The path naturally led to the second mound.
The Ballbarians caught movement to the left. A large male dingo appeared on the edge of the cemetery followed by his mate and three young juvenile offspring. They trotted eagerly forth, mounted the burial mound and followed Brigthwyna’s horn blowing sojourn along the triskelion path.
Off to the right, a cackling pack of hyenas appeared, at least thirty, possibly more. They too weaved their way through the cemetery headstones, mounted the burial mound, and followed Brigthwyna on her march.
A couple of minutes later three large dire wargs the size of horses, bounded with supernatural strength and speed into the cemetery. The Alpha lumbered up the mound followed by the other two, they stopped and howled to Brigthwyna, before circling behind her. The dogs already there, the Dingos and Hyenas shifted making room for their larger cousins.
And this is how it continued for ten minutes, then twenty minutes… Brigthwyna holding up the long horn blowing as she marched. As the seconds ticked by the Horn’s volume increased, it’s supernaturally blare spreading across Arusha and Somarria… calling all canine to the hunt.
The Ballbarians covered their ears against the tumultuous blare of the trumpet. So damn impressive was the horn call, it could probably be heard in Sheol and probably half way to Marn.
More canine breeds soon appeared. Most were wild Somarrian packs. But not all, even domesticated breeds answered the summons. Farm dogs, a child’s pet, and Danika’s guard dog, Loui.
Two stubby legged corgis with heart-shaped collars, marking them as pets arrived together. A lone tiny chihuahua came. Pansy missed it at first due to its diminutive size and only saw it once it bowed in front of Brigthwyna and let loose a high-pitched ratatat howl of fealty. It circled behind the mistress and took up station next to the wargs. A contrast in size. The wargs growled respectfully to their smaller cousin momentarily and all turned their attention back to the Mistress of the Hunt.
After thirty, maybe forty minutes, Brigthwyna was followed by a teeming throng of canis breeds. Many, many hundreds, maybe even as much as a thousand. Wolves, jackals, coyotes, dholes, wargs, dire beasts of every imaginable breed, wild dogs and domesticated—all PACKMATES united behind Brigthwyna.
The Condál Cúan calling wasn’t over—not by a long shot.
“Holy dog shit!” Torgrum wheezed.
A tribe of two-hundred humanoid Dogmen arrived, led by their Alpha, senior warriors, juveniles, and finally mothers and children.
And they too joined Brigthwyna’s bone path march.
Finally, after an hour, Brigthwyna stopped blowing and turned to proudly survey HER PACK. A military review of her troops. The canine brutes stood, heads alert, eager to perform. Wild pent-up energy ready to be released upon her command, from the largest dire warg to the tiniest chihuahua hung on her voice.
Brigthwyna laughed gaily, “Send Gwyllgi to lead our Wild Hunt.”
Something large moved around the cemetery periphery, an ominous shadow seeping like smoke from the ground. A frightful apparition of Gwyllgi appeared, a monstrous terrible beast…a large black shadow dog with baleful breath and blazing red eyes. Gwyllgi has many names and titles, The Fomorian Hound of Darkness, and The Black Hound of Destiny, Arawn’s pack leader. He is the leader of the Cwn Annwn, the spectral hounds of the Otherworld.
Behind Gwylligi appeared illuminated blue-white spectral shift movements—Arawn’s pack gathered. The Cwn Annwn moved on multiple planes at once… astral, ethereal, shadow and… CHALDEA.
THE HAND OF ARAWN, a fomorian white hand and disembodied arm wrapped in thorns, rested on Gwyllgi’s head, stroking proudly. The rest of his giant humanoid form was lost far above in the expanse of shadow and ether. Was it an illusion, a trick of the eye or was the dog and it’s master actually here?
Brigthwyna dropped to her knees, head bowed… body language fearful.
Gwyllgi raised his muzzle and howled, a bale of destiny. Brigthwyna’s pack joined the Windstorm of howls.
Brigthwyna rose, “To Sheol,” she said and led her pack away from the mounds.
After Brigthwyna was gone, the Ballbarians waited nerviously, too scared to come out of their crypt hidey-hole.
“Does anybody feel jealous,” Calsimeer said finally. “That was a bigger fanfare than we got?”
Claw rubbed Armando’s head affectionately, “We need to talk to our bard about getting a proper fanfare.”
“This was a different league,” Torgrum said. “We’re not in that league yet.”
For many long minutes, the baying could be heard in the distance. At first the roar of the canines lessoned as they returned to Gravers Dig. The sound never quite disappeared, their harrowing baying no doubt supernaturally augmented by Brigthwyna, her horn and the hunt chase.
“Very wise of you to hide and not say anything,” Sagacious said.
Everyone wheeled to find Sagacious and Sally standing on the exact spot Brigthwyna had prayed to Arawn.
Sagacious had a way of just appearing. He would have made a right smart rogue.
“Hey, buddy,” Claw said.
“Good timing, you jerk,” Torgrum spat.
Sally accompanied her master, but unlike her normal bubbly contentious self, she was mellow and quiet. She staggered and took a moment to gather her balance. Was she drunk?
“Come on out,” Sagacious said, “Let’s do this.”
Even though they still didn’t quite trust Sagacious, they trusted his hatred of Brigthwyna. And if he felt secure that she wasn’t going to return, the Ballbarians felt it was safe to out of the tunnel entrance.
“Are you still committed to this quest? You still wish me to send you to Annwn?”
“Oh yeah. Yes, please,” a few of the Ballbarians said at once.
“No,” Torgrum grumbled, “We’re just here on a picnic.”
Calsimeer stretched. First, he pulled his right elbow over his head and then his left, said, “This hole is very comfy. All the bones and the corpses, you know, it's actually really nice and relaxing.” His face grew stern, “Let's go! Please.”
Claw was eager to get moving too, fearful the world ending pack of hounds might return, “Please get us out of here, now.”
Sagacious waved, “This way. Come over to the path.”
The wizard stood on the very spot where Brigthwyna prayed. At the bone path’s lowest, outermost circle.
Sally waited next to him, muscle memory thumping her wit club in her hand, ready at a moment’s notice to do battle.
Sagacious held out his hand, “Sally, your torque please.”
Sally whimpered like a sad puppy, lower lip out, eyes dour, “Ahh, okay.” Sally removed the torque from around her neck and handed it obediently to Sagacious.
“Every journey begins with an initial step,” he said placing Sally’s torque into his newly acquired Bag of Holding, “And this journey requires a guide.”
Sagacious liked to refer to Sally as his Minion du Jour and without any emotion or reservation he plunged a dagger into his minion’s heart.
For a second the elderly goblin’s eyes widen with shock and pain and then sad realization what was happening—she was dying. “Sagacious…”. Blood formed on the edge of her mouth. why…?”
The goblin staggered and keeled sideways and the wizard did nothing to aid his ally and let her crumple to the ground at his feet, life blood pouring from the gaping chest wound.
The Ballbarians recoiled from the sudden ultra-violence, their minds racing to understand what had just happened.
“Whoa!” all five exhaled. Screamed. Exploded shock at once.
“Ohhh-kay...” Calsimeer shuddered.
Pansy drew in a sharp breath, “What just happened?”
Claw knelt beside the goblin, to see if she was truly dead or playing, “And I thought we were going to be the ones to do that.”
Calsimeer shook his head, “I didn’t know this was that kind of party.”
“Couldn’t you have let me do that?” Torgrum said with annoyance.
“Sally’s soul is now passing over to the astral plane,” the wizard said with unemotional clinical detachment. “In this evil place, her soul is damned to drift to Annwn. I will shift you to the astral plane where you will follow her. Her soul knows the way and will lead you to the Otherworld. Are you ready?”
“Let's do this.” Claw said eager to be out of the cemetery and rid of Sagacious.
Armando moved next to Claw, “Let’s not waste a fresh soul.”
“She's dead,” Pansy said stating the obvious, “May as well do it.”
“I’ll take that torque,” Torgrum said.
“Can we bring her back?” Armando asked.
“Is there a way to bring her soul back with us?” Calsimeer chimed in.
“Exactly,” Armando said, “Do we need a vessel to put her soul in?”
“Loot the corpse and let's go,” Claw snapped.
Sally was a goblin. The Wizard’s minor minion du jour. If he didn’t care if she was dead. Claw couldn’t get their hackles up about it.
Sally had been a bit of a bully, a hunting rival, and frankly kind of annoying, but no one wanted to see her brutally murdered and her soul left to drift to an evil god’s underworld place to haunt for eternity. Or whatever happened to people’s souls when they died.
“Can we bring her soul back?” Torgrum asked.
“Can we contemplate this after we rescue the dwarven princess?” Claw interjected.
“I think it's possible, yes,” Sagacious said all business, “depends entirely on the planar constants of Annwn. Which I am not entirely familiar. I am a resourceful wizard, but not divine. I can’t say I understand such things. But I do know you must hurry before her soul departs this plane permanently and is lost and you cannot track her. We must be about our business.”
“Quickly in a circle, now,” he said. “Link hands and don’t let go.”
Sagacious pushed Pansy. Pulled Claw and rounded up Armando so they were in a rough circle. He motioned for Torgrum and Calsimeer to join them. Tact and manners were not his forte.
“Kum bay ya, my Lord,” Torgrum sang in the old dialect.
“Sing it, my dwarf brother, sing it proud,” Armando said proudly. And then busted out the song full throated. “Someone's laughing, my Lord, kum bay ya; Someone's laughing, my Lord, kum bay ya.”
“Someone is going to be crying, my Lord,” Sagacious snapped irritated, “if you lose Sally’s soul. She will have given her life in vain, and I will have lost my favorite minion for no reason.”
Armando snapped to attention, linking hands with the rest of the Ballbarians, completing the link.
For the Ballbarians this was the first time any had plane shifted and it was rather uneventful. Sagacious held a gray metal rode, made of true silver. The wizard concentrated momentarily, pouring his will into the metal.
In a snap instant, our heroes found themselves floating on the Astral expanse. A metaphysical atmospheric place without gravity, no up or down, or land to speak of. A 360-degree endless sphere of aurora borealis ribbons of brilliant shifting lights.
Long thin iridescent silver cords stuck out of the top of the heads, snaking off into the distance smaller and smaller until out of sight.
Distance and space on the astral was a paradox—mathematically and mystically endless in all directions
Gravity was non-existence as well, as was any kind of prime material elements to sustain life. Oxygen it seemed, was supplied via their silver cords like a baby’s umbilical cord.
Everyone felt lightheaded and a bit noxious floating weightless. And had a rather metallic resin taste in their mouth.
The faint illusionary outline of the graveyard was still visible, like peering through dense fog or water where they could see Sagacious standing over Sally’s corpse.
For some reason, the Bone Path while incorporeal, seemed more tangible, brighter, more illuminated here on the astral.
“Well, if it isn’t you fargin sneaky bastage Ballbarians led by Torgut the greedy. Should’a killed you when I had the chance.”
Sally swung her wit club at Torgrum, but since she was dead, and an incorporeal ghost, the club passed through him.
“Damn it! Damn it! Damn it! Damn it! Damn it! Damn it! Damn it! Damn it!”
Sally tried an angry temper tantrum foot stomp that had the same result as the club swing, failure, “Gods damn it,” She screamed in frustration.
“Sally,” came Sagacious’ disembodied voice.
“Stop this foolishness. You know what to do. Now get going.”
Sally blew a raspberry and turned, “This way Ballbarians. Follow the club.” she motioned come hither. “I’m your astral guide. Stay on the Bone Path. And don’t get lost,” she instructed. “Someone keep track of that stupid dwarf.”
As she floated along, she muttered and cursed. “Sagacious you bloody ‘tard.”
“Stay close,” Claw instructed to her friends, “to Pansy’s inviso dagger.”
They followed Sally’s incorporeal ghost form along the path. It was easy, the simple desire to follow the goblin made it happen. As she moved the Ballbarians followed, almost as if they were tethered to her.
Ballbarians followed floating.
More time passed, except now time lost meaning, like in a dream. The tangible framework of reality mortals understood elongated and then snapped back. Transcendental navigation across the million sphere’s Pearl Universe twisted their perceptions.
And through it all, the ghost of Sally trudged on making a full loop of the Triskelion path.
What seemed like a short time later or maybe a long time later the lights of the Astral plane gave way to a glistening sun spangled sea and a beautiful tropical island in the distance surrounded by fluffy white cumulous clouds.
Exhaustion overwhelmed the Ballbarians and they all fought to remain awake.
Torgrum slapped himself again and again. “stay away… damn…it.”
Claw’s eyes closed and then snapped open. The others around them were sleeping. And they too wanted to desperately sleep. They looked up and out, at the tropical island and at its center rose a majestic mountain and on that mountain was a structure… a building… and… and… They remembered the large cauldron sketched they’d seen in Cosmo’s library doing research on Annwn.
The Cauldron, they thought. Maidens breathing to keep it warm.
And then Claw too lost consciousness.
Finally Claw understood what it meant to be desperately tired and taken away to the peaceful realm of deep, deep, glorious deep sleep.
Claw shot up into a sitting position on a small grass hill covered in wildflowers.
They were sitting in lush, beautiful idyllic garden. Perfect temperature. Surrounded by groves of deciduous trees. Tame forest critters carefree ate and lazed about while song bids sang harmony with crystal flowers chiming in the gentle breeze. It could have easily been the enchanted Garnon, where they had been born and raised.
“That was creepy,” Claw said trying to reason how long they’d be unconscious.
Pansy was mid-yawn and stretch. “I need some coffee.”
“You guys do this every night?” Claw shat out incredulous.
All the Ballbarian comrades were in the slow process of waking, yawing, and wiping the sleep from their eyes. They were arranged in the same circle they’d been in when Sagacious shifted them to the Astral Plane, with Sally in the middle. Except, she was alive.
She rolled over and looked about, trying to gain her bearings like the rest. She found her club next to her and gave it a heartfelt hug.
Sally was indeed alive, corporeal, and seemingly as real as the next Ballbarian.
“Sally,” Torgrum said surprised, “did you know that was going to happen?”
“Sagacious stabbing you in the chest.”
“NO!” she spat, “That…” she paused her mind building steam, “BASTARD!”
She then screamed, outraged, angry and royally pissed off all at once. She let loose an expletive laced rant that would make sailor cringe, spitting vehemently every swear word her little goblin mind could remember.
She pounded the ground repeatedly with her club, imagining the dirt was Sagacious’ face.
Torgrum had grown to hate the goblin wench, but as a dwarven outcast, felt a pang of regret and sympathy for the old gal. “We did not know that was going to happen.”
“No, idea,” Armando agreed.
“That was cold,” Claw said. Though if given half a chance, Claw might’ve done the same thing.
Torgrum raised an eyebrow, “Your buddy Sagacious is a cold fish, man,” he said. Torgrum had seen some villainous shit in his day. Cold heartedly stabbing a so-called partner in the heart, without warning. Not even a, I’m sorry or I beg your pardon. Her murder had even startled him, even if she was a crazy ass goblin.
“I kind of thought he was a jerk before. Your cold bloody murder kind of sealed the deal.” Calsimeer said.
“Thank you, for the kind words,” Sally said, a tiny tear ran down her face.
Claw stood up and took note of the surroundings, “But, he got us here so—enemy of my enemy and all that. Shall we proceed?”
“We?” Sally asked with her hand clutched to her chest, not quite believing, but still… hoping to be included.
“Sure. Of course,” Torgrum responded, standing and helping the goblin to her feet. “You’re along for the ride. You might as well join us. Who knows, luck willing, you might be able to use your club on something here, not me.”
“We’ll try to bring you back with us,” Calsimeer volunteered, patting her gently on the shoulder. “When we leave here.”
With the kind words, Sally let loose a toothy grin and hefted her club, testing it. “Right. Let's, go.” The Ballbarians could see that Sally was regaining some of her old self, strength of character, “Let's go kill something.”
Claw choked out a laugh, “welcome back, Sally. Welcome back.”
Still not quite believing, Sally said eagerly, “Me come along with you guys. Really?”
Claw shrugged, not caring if the goblin came or not, “Unless you've got somewhere else to be.”
“I’m almost sorry for all the horrible things I said about you idiots.”
“No problem,” Claw parried the insult with ease, “I couldn't help but notice that your club was not sharp and it's quite blunt because your wit is not sharp.”
“It takes keen intelligence to wield this club. Shrewd cleverness. Not just any human, elf, dwarf, halfling, orc, halfing, goblin, halfing, gnoll...” she kept going, naming every species ever printed in the Chaldeapedia.
Claw patted Sally on the head, “You’re adorable.”
With a new member of the Ballbarians hero cast, they set out to find Serakka Cloudforge.
“We’re not here on holidays,” Claw said, “Let’s find Torgrum’s cousin and get out of here.”
There were two paths east and west leading out of the glade. West led to the sea and east to the mountain.
“Where would your cousin hide?” Armando asked, “sea or mountain?”
“I don’t know, Bardman,” Torgrum scoffed, “She’s a dwarf.” And with that, Torgrum headed east up the path.
For the next little while, twenty-or-thirty minutes or so, the gained elevation, minor at first but then the path angled up significantly, slowing their progress.
They had stopped at a small clearing, an open area because of a barren granite escarpment when Pansy’s ears perked at the sound of a howl.
“That’s a wolf,” Armando said.
“That sounds like a really big howling creature,” Sally said eyes wide.
“Can you go see what’s going on Sally?” Pansy said, “See what it is.”
“Scout ahead for us little green lady,” Claw agreed.
“I'm tired of being told what to do.”
Claw rolled their eyes, “That was a polite request among equals. Somebody's got to do it.”
“You are the only one qualified,” Pansy said. “You're special.”
“You trying to get me killed.”
“You're already dead,” Pansy noted.
Armando laughed before he could stop himself, “That was cold.”
“I will give you divine assistance, Sally.” Calsimeer said. He patted her on the shoulder and cast a Guidance spell.
“Behold, as a wild ass in the desert, go I forth to my work,” she smirked.
The goblin led the way up the mountain side toward the ever-increasing sound of dogs, yipping and yapping, barking, and howling. Rambunctious and loud, the pack was on the hunt.
The Ballbarians allowed her to get ahead of them about fifty feet or so. Far enough out so any trap she might have sprung, wouldn’t catch them as well. While at the same time, keeping her within sight and range. In range of their weapons and spells.
“Is this all you got Arawn? More like Yawn,” she stifled a yawn, “Cut to the chase. You’re supposed to be the Master of the Hunt. Where’s the action, drama, twists? Running out of creative juice?”
She pounded the ground with wit: verbal and club. Spewing insults at the loud dogs.
“Forget the dogs—beware of concise goblin wit.”
A stag crashed through the underbrush at a full galloping, sending leaves and flowers cascading as it flew directly over Sally.
Behind the stag raced a pack of wild hounds—white furred with bright red ears and eyes. A large pack leader in the front and four smaller hounds racing to keep pace.
The stag was wet with sweat and spitting frothy white foam having been pushed to the limits of its endurance.
“Fight ‘em?” Torgrum asked, his voice loud, fighting to be heard of the cacophony of barking, “or let them go on their merry way?”
The stag veered to the right, avoiding the Ballbarians and then peeled around to the left behind them.
Calsimeer yelled, “Protect the Stag.”
“The stag? Why?”
“Brigthwyna is sadistic and just the kind of person who would transform a prisoner into a stag to be chased continually by her hunt hounds.”
“I don’t know. Maybe.”
“Arawn’s afterlife isn’t all paradise after all.”
Torgrum pulled his great sword, “Fang versus fang.” He said with zest and zeal.
Following that theme, Claw exclaimed with exuberance, “Claw versus fang.”
THE FIGHT OF OUR LIVES
NOTE: The fight between the Ballbarians and the Unrooly Annwn hounds is long and contains Dungeons and Dragons round-by-round minutia. For the sake of brevity, highlights follow:
-- Five Unrooly Hounds chase a stag—one large alpha followed by four smaller pack members.
-- The Ballbarians believe, (a theory put forth by Calsimeer), the stag could in fact be Serakka (cursed into the form of said stag). They decide to protect the stag and attack the hounds.
-- The Ballbarians manage to interrupt two hounds preventing them from pursuing the stag. Three, led by the Alpha, continue the chase. The stag and the hounds are much too fast for the Ballbarians to keep up.
-- The Ballbarians with their new comrade Sally, fight the two hounds the best they can, in close quarters hand-to-hand; firing crossbow bolts and spells from range.
-- After a few rounds of combat, Armando adeptly notices the hounds even though they are being hit with heavy weapon blows and spell impacts, shrug off much of the damage. The team discover the hounds are linked in some mystical manner and are sharing life energy, (pooling their hit points). The logical conclusion can only mean, if they killed one hound, all would die. Hopefully.
-- Ignoring the larger alpha hound, who was tougher than the rest, they concentrated their efforts on the smaller hounds who they could hit easier.
-- The alpha and the two other hounds eventually corner the stag against a stone mountain cliff. The alpha leaps over the stag, blocking any escape. A couple of rounds later, the hounds maul the stag to death. So much for saving the stag. Serakka?
-- The stag dead, our Ballbarian heroes are forced to contend with all five hounds.
-- Claw is attacked by the alpha and manages to survive for a few rounds—it doesn’t look good. Eventually the large brute proves too much, and Claw is killed—claw, claw, bite—ripped asunder.
-- Meanwhile, the Ballbarians continue to stand valiantly against the hounds. Heroic persistence paying dividends. Round after round the hounds reel from the effects of repeated weapon and spell strikes. Accumulative damage piles up.
-- Pansy drills a hound in the chest with a crossbow bolt—heart pierced—forcing all five hounds to the ground simultaneously. The fight was over.
“Woohoo, pack slayer!” Pansy exclaimed excitedly.
The fight was over.
Sally however was having troubles coming down from her adrenaline high. She continued to pound and pound and pound. Clubbing the hell of the dead hound at her feet, transforming muscle and bone into red paste. Sure, she knew the hound was dead. Smashing the lifeless canine corpse made her feel good.
Everyone celebrated. Whew! Exhaled, excited, and tired at the same time.
Armando rushed over to Cal, kneeling by his friend, he poured divine lay on hands love into his comrade pulling him back from the brink of death.
To Dorsang Isle
I pursue evil with a smile
Let those who thrive by doing wrong
Beware my power
As a Bonus Action, Armando cast Healing Word.
“Thank you, friend Armando.”
Pansy jumped up and down gleefully, happy that her friend was not dead, “You're awake”.
“It would seem so”, he said, pounding back a couple of Brandi’s imitation healing pots.
The Hound Pack was dead.
Claw was dead.
And the Princess Serakka Cloudstag was dead.
Calsimeer rushed to Claw’s side, sad he grabbed them and pulled them tight, holding their limp body in his lap. “We need to do something,” he pleaded more out of frustration than any idea how to proceed.
They were in a world of the dead. A Celtic underworld. What happens in the underworld when someone dies? This was way beyond anything the Ballbarians had understanding.
Lei flew over to Pansy, hovered and then pecked her hand and then flew down to the hilt of her dagger.
Lei pecked softly a few more times and attempted to take the dagger in her tiny little claws. Understanding the bird wished to do something to the dagger, Pansy let Lei take it and it quickly flew away.
“Wait!” Pansy called. But it was too late, the little red breasted robin was gone. Lei had proven in battle that she was quick. So quick in fact the hounds couldn’t touch her. And now she used that speed to escape with the dagger.
Everyone’s eyes widened in shock at the bird’s lifting of Pansy’s dagger and quick exit.
“Ahh, huh,” Pansy stammered, motioning for the bird to return. “Judging by her assistance thus far, I have confidence that she knows what she's doing.” She said scratching her head hopefully.
Torgrum shook his head, “Or. She just stole your really nice dagger for Sagacious, because he's a prick.”
Before they could finish their debate over Lei and Sagacious’ motivations. A giant hand-of-god dragon claw blotted out the sky sweeping quickly across the landscape, snatching Torgrum up so fast, he might have turned invisible or teleported.
The claw also plucked Armando.
Plucked Pansy too.
Plucked Calsimeer and then Claw and then the dead stag.
While it appeared, a single claw had swept across the land, in truth, each of the Ballbarians were picked up by a dragon claw individually at the same time.
And deposited on Chaldea, in the city of Granada in the kingdom of Andalus.
In the Granada Palace gardens.
Each of the Ballbarian friends, reappeared just as quickly as they had disappeared, in rapid succession—
Voop… voop… voop.
Side-by-side, shoulder-to-shoulder, in front of a marble water fountain, healthy and alive.
Yup, Claw was alive as was Serakka Cloudforge. The curse of the stag gone; she was back in her normal feisty dwarven form.
Serakka rushed to Torgrum, “Cousin”, she exclaimed locking him in a killer hug that almost broke a rib.
“A joyous reunion,” Claw grinned with pleasure, patting each on the shoulder.
Pansy performed an assassination hug on Claw, so that the elf couldn’t escape, “I’m so glad you’re back. I was so afraid.”
“Someone is gonna have to tell me how the fight ended.”
“I killed all the hounds,” Pansy said, shining her fingernails with a hot breath and rubbing them on her chest.
Calsimeer ticked off success on his fingers, “We traveled to the plane of the dead. Defeated a pack of Unrooly hounds. Saved the princess. All in a day’s work.”
“It was dicey there for a moment,” Torgrum said to Serakka. Nervous even now, knowing how close they’d all come to dying.
“That was intense,” Calsimeer said exuberantly. “I loved that.”
“You loved that? You loved that you say. What part of that was love exactly? Maybe Brigthwyna’s prayer to Arawn and him showing up, or her subsequent summoning of all things canine from across Somarria. The horn, yeah, that was love at first sight. Or perhaps, dealing with that icehole Sagacious and him shanking Sally in the chest. Oh, oh, the love gets thicker and slavered on more traveling across the Astral expanse to Annwa—the Celtic plane of the dead! That was righteous. And then fighting a unified life pack of Unrooly hounds chasing Serakka. WHO HAD BEEN TURNED INTO A STAG. Claw died! Serakka died! I’m still trying to figure out what part you loved.”
“I love that I experienced it with you, brother,” Cal said slapping the dwarf on the back.
That shut him up.
“You see, Razin,” Rahat said, “the cards foretold of their greatness.”
The Ballbarians turned as Rahat and Razin walked into the courtyard.
The Guildmaster of the Merchants of Andalus was grinning and in high spirits. Maybe she was pleased to see the Ballbarians, or perhaps she’d been delivered even better news. Whatever the case may be, the guildmaster was happier than anyone had seen her before.
“Malika,” Claw fell to one knee head bowed respectful. The others bowed their heads as well, more out of respect for Claw and their reaction than to the Merchant Guildmaster.
“Rise my child,” Rahat said, lifting Claw. “You’ve done well.”
“It was you who saved us?” Claw asked.
“As soon as you were no longer within range of that troublesome Prodigal dagger. I was able to track you.”
“Ahh,” Claw said, understanding dawning, “Sagacious said, Lei could get us out of that world. What he really meant; she would take the dagger.”
“High Captain, Cloudforge,” Rahat said turning to the dwarven Princess, “I’m glad my envoys were able to rescue you.”
“Envoys, eh? Imagine that.” Serakka raised an eyebrow to Torgrum who just grinned mischievously back.
“I’ve dispatched couriers to summon your fiancé, Kwell Geldzan. He should be here momentarily.”
Brigthwyna’s voice suddenly detonated like thunder over the courtyard, “Long is the day and long is the night--”
The Mistress of the Hunt appeared in an explosion of bloody gore. She was covered in battle carnage—mutilated flesh, hair, and blood splatter. Her own blood flowed from gaping wounds on her arms, chest, face, and legs. Mere mortals would have surely bled out, but Brigthwyna wore the battle wounds with honor.
“And long is the waiting of Brigthwyna, Mistress of the Hunt,” Master said in introduction.
Beside Brigthwyna appeared Master, her ogre lieutenant also covered in bloody gore. And next to the ogre, stood Unrooly his white fur matted with blood splatter.
Blood from all three individuals pooled slowly around their feet, as if they’d just stepped out of a blood pool. The once beautiful marble would likely never be the same.
The white beast let forth a wildwinds howl and for a second, the Ballbarians felt an excited primal rush to join Brigthwyna’s pack.
Rahat raised her hand stopping the Unrooly howl with a snap of her fingers. The hound exploded. Ripped apart at the molecular level in a primal detonation and was gone from reality.
Brigthwyna seethed with anger, the antlers on her brow enlarged twice again as large.
“You’ve been off the board for a long time, Brigthwyna. Best not act rashly before you know the pieces aligned against you.”
“The Ballbarians belong to me,” she said, “Return them at once and the property you stole.”
Rahat motioned to Razin, “Let’s see your ownership documents,” she said plainly, “Here are mine. As you can see, they are clearly bought and paid.”
Razin held out the papers for Brigthwyna to inspect.
The demigoddess slapped them out of his hands and pushed him aside, “I know this was Sagacious’ doing.”
Brigthwyna took a couple of menacing steps forward raising her finger and her voice, “Feigning ignorance is beneath you.”
Rahat shifted from her human form into a dark jet and gold colored dragon, filling the once spacious courtyard.
The towering dragon loomed over the Mistress of the Hunt. “If you were in top form maybe you'd have a chance, but I don't think you want to dance in your weakened condition. It takes a lot of primal essence to manage those hounds of yours.”
Brigthwyna stood her ground yanking her blade, “I killed your brother. I’ll wipe the floor with you. You’ll be bookends in my hunting lodge by morning.”
“Careful now, you aren’t the only person to return to Chaldea after Marcosta’s death.”
Behind Rahat, another dragon appeared with the same coloring and markings, except this one was much larger and much, much older.
Brigthwyna scoffed, “Are we bandying about with escalation games?”
“I suppose Kordaava really is dead.”
A black claw with gold talons stretched forward over Rahat and flicked at Brigthwyna, but before the finger connected, the mistress of the hunt was gone.
Master remained however… alone. In a courtyard of enemies. If he was concerned, it didn’t show on his brooding features. For a couple of silent beats, he took in the scene casually determining which he would kill first.
Torgrum pulled Fang and leveled it at Master, “tell your mistress to pay the rent. She’s late.”
“If any of you ever return to Somarria, your toast,” the ogre said.
“I like toast,” Pansy said, “preferably with strawberry preserves.”
“Eggs on toast is always good,” Armando added.
“You gotta try Avocado toast,” Claw suggested.
“Aimian toast with mélange,” Calsimeer added his favorite.
“Are we really talking about fucking bread,” Torgrum said. “Can I kill this asshole?” Torgrum asked Rahat.
Serakka stepped forward, “Someone pass me a weapon,” she said.
“Princess. It would be an honor if you used my singing sword, Kara Oki,” Armando volunteered his weapon outstretched for her to take.
She took the sword but before she could use it on the ogre, Master too was gone, magically transported.
Calsimeer cupped his hands calling loud to the sky, “Tell Brandi, thank you for the help.”
FLASH FORWARD – A FEW DAYS LATER
Our Ballbarian heroes are aligned together for a ceremony in their honor before the Merchant Guildmaster of Andalus who was back in her human Moorish form.
Serakka Cloudforge and her fiancé Kwell Geldzahn are here as well proudly participating in the proceedings. The princess dressed was dressed in high dwarven fashion, her hair and beard braided with glistening jewels.
Each of the Ballbarians, one-by-one, are called forward to be recognized by Malika Rahat.
“Pansy Lightfoot,” Rahat said.
Pansy stepped forward and bowed.
“Do we all get a gold star?” Pansy asked smiling, attempting to ease the nervous tension in her gut.
“Something like that,” Rahat smiled, “Your debt to the Merchant of Granada is paid in full. You're now a legal citizen of Andalus and free to travel Chaldea. I suggest you avoid Somarria.”
The Ballbarians stifle a laugh.
Rahat nodded to Razin who handed Pansy a large solid gold coin. It’s so large in fact, its better described as a disk and quite heavy.
“This is more than just currency to be spent. It is infused with potent dragon magic, my personal touch. While you carry it, you will remain under my protection and receive other benefits as can only be awarded by enchantments.”
Pansy stared in wonder testing the coins weight. “Thank you, Malika Rahat.”
“Or if you decide to spend it you can buy… anything.”
Torgrum almost choked.
Rahat nodded. “With the caveat, it may only be spent during the week of Fat Merchant.”
And so, it went. Pansy Lightfoot was awarded her freedom. Followed by Armando Equis Blake, Calsimeer Alderman, Torgrum Thorsvoldsomsen, and Claw.
For Claw, Rahat stood and placed her hand on their shoulder. “You may remain here, if you desire, and study under my tutelage.”
Then it was Serakka’s turn to thank the Ballbarians.
“I need to say, thank you. To the rare few individuals willing to act at great personal risk. The Cloudforge Clan is in your debt. I am in your debt most of all. I will be forever grateful to you and your help.
“Better to say, Oops!” Torgrum said, “Than, what if?”
“Torgrum, are you ready to come home?” Serakka smiled hopefully at her cousin.
“And miss all of this,” Torgrum bellowed loudly tossing up his arms, “you must be joking. No.”
“I had to ask.” She sighed sadly.
Torgrum gathered his comrades close, hugging them fondly, “I have my own clan here. Clan Ballbarian.”
FADE TO BLACK
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