Chapter Five – Drop Dead

Back to Chapter Four – Flamin’ Galah

Damien gripped his staff tight as the thylarktos charged them. He and Charlie ran one way, and Jason ran the other. Damien cursed himself for using one of his spells already, but he needed to see whether his spells were actually going to work. There was a part of him that didn’t believe this whole thing was real, stereotypical faux-Scottish dwarf accent and all.

His internal thoughts still had an Australian accent, but the fookin’ words that came out of his mouth didn’t!

The thylarktos’ jaws snapped together behind him. Hot breath washed over him from behind as Charlie bounded ahead of him. It looked like he had some fucking bonus that let him run faster than Damien. Maybe it was the heavier armour Damien was wearing, or perhaps it was just the shorter length of his legs. Whatever it was, the thylarktos was right on his heels.

Charlie suddenly pivoted and made a rising motion with his hands. “Entangling roots!” Charlie called out like he was in some fucking Harry Potter movie.

This was Beasts & Bastions! You didn’t need to say the names of your spells when you cast them!

Damien ran past Charlie and glanced over his shoulder. Thick roots had erupted from the ground and wrapped themselves around the drop bear’s hind legs. It bellowed at Charlie, but Jason used its distraction as a chance to attack.

Without magic, he was pretty much useless as anything but a meat shield, and even then, Jason wouldn’t have access to any of his Paladin abilities that buffed his defences.

Still, Jason chopped at the drop bear’s hind legs. The monster was a chunky boy, and the entangling roots made it impossible for the drop bear to turn around and get Jason. He kept slashing away at the monster’s hind legs until it realised that it could just as quickly attack the roots that were holding it to the ground.

Those powerful claws ripped the roots from the ground one by one. It was still trapped for the moment, but it wouldn’t be for long.

Damien tried to think about what abilities he could use in battle. He had one spell slot remaining, and he was saving that for a Necro Bolt. That ability would cause a festering damage-over-time effect, which would also heal him for the amount of damage inflicted. He planned on keeping that up his sleeve until he actually received some damage.

He had a couple of minor spells that didn’t require a spell slot to use, but they were of varying use. There was Chill of the Grave, which let him summon a spectral hand from the earth. If it managed to grab hold of anything, it slowed the target by 50% for 3 seconds. It was better than nothing, so Damien decided to give it a go.

He used Chill of the Grave on a patch of ground right near the thylarktos’ entangled legs. A skeletal hand tore itself out of the ground like a zombie in one of the those Whatever of the Living Dead movies and grabbed the thylarktos’s toe.

Cold radiated out from the site of the attack, and frost formed on the drop bear’s fur from toe to ears, but three seconds wasn’t a lot of time.

“Call out what spell you’re using!” Charlie shouted.

“What? Why the fook would I do that?” Damien asked.

“So the other party members know what you’re doing!” Jason called out, just as the drop bear tore the last root free.

Damien cursed himself for being so slow. Of course! That’s why Charlie called out what spell he cast. It wasn’t for him; it was for the rest of the party. When you were playing around the same table, it was easy to keep track of what attacks everyone else was using, but that wasn’t so easy now. Not with the role-playing rule in full effect. Meta-gaming might bring down unwanted effects on the party.

Lost in thought, Damien didn’t even realise that the frost effect faded away. Jason raised his shield just in time to protect himself from a terrible blow from the drop bear.

“Fuck!” Jason yelled as he flew into a thick tree trunk. He got back to his feet. “Ugh, that hurt. This thing is nasty!”

“Did you see the thing on its chest?” Charlie called.

“I didn’t see anything,” Damien said. “What thing?”

“It had something on its chest!” Charlie repeated. “Like some kind of symbol of power or something!”

“You think someone set this monster on us?” Damien asked as he cast Chill of the Grave again. This time the minor spell missed as the drop bear charged towards Jason.

“There’s something else at play here,” Charlie said. “Thylarktos aren’t normally this aggressive, despite their fearsome reputations! They’re actually omnivorous you know.”

“Thanks for the exposition, Discovery Channel! Why don’t you tangle him up again before he eats our friend?” Damien called.

“Oh, right! Entangling roots!” More roots burst from the ground and tangled up the drop bear’s legs. Not just the hind legs this time, but the rear legs! “Whoa, critical success!” Charlie shouted as he clapped his hands together.

The fangs of the thylarktos snapped shut less than a metre away from Jason as he cowered behind his shield. He used the opening to launch an attack. He lashed out with his short and delivered a savage one-two blow to the monster’s snout, first with a backhanded shield slam, then with a debilitating sword slash. A red gash opened across the thylarktos’s cheek as blood flowed freely.

“What do ye’ mean critical success?” Damien shouted.

“I just know! We’ll talk about it when we’re safe!” Charlie shouted back.

Damien nodded, then cast Chill of the Grave again. It landed successfully and spread frost across the giant creature’s body. “How do we know whether we’re actually hurting this thing?” he called out.

“We don’t! We just need to keep fighting. Otherwise, we’re all going to die!” Jason said as he lashed out with another sword strike.

The gash in the drop bear’s cheek was crisscrossed with another intersectional cut. It roared in frustration, but there wasn’t much it could do. All of its legs were caught up in the roots. Still, it struggled, and Damien saw the roots begin to loosen.

“It’s not going to stay stuck forever! We need a plan!” Damien called out.

That’s when he saw the halfling flying through the air with a pointed stick in her hands. Lorelei slammed the sharpened stick down right into the thylarktos’s eye. The black eye popped, sending ocular juices spraying all over Jason. Lorelei fell backward, and in one savage motion, the thylarktos tore one of its forelegs free and tried to grab the halfling.

Damien watched in horror as Lorelei tried to backpedal out of the danger zone, but she tripped over her own feet. The thylarktos squeezed her in its savage grip. It had forgotten all about the roots that kept the rest of its limbs held fast as it focused on choking the life out of this minuscule halfling.

Lorelei looked like a doll in the hand of the beast. Her skin turned from pale to red, then straight on into purple. Her eyes pushed out from her sockets, as though the internal pressure threatened to pop them out.

“No!” Damien yelled as he broke into a run, and took aim with a Necro Bolt. It was the most potent ability he had access to, and he couldn’t wait any longer to pull out his big guns. Not only would it hurt the monster for 1D10 damage, but it would also apply a damage over time festering would for the same amount over four rounds.

He gathered the Necro Bolt energy into his hand and fired it at the thylarktos. Damien aimed for the monster’s good eye. If he could blind it completely, they might have a chance.

Words popped up in front of Damien’s vision. Words that brought a grin to his bearded face.

Critical Success! 25 to hit! (Nat 20+5)

A supercharged bolt of necrotic energy blasted out of Damien’s hand and slammed into the side of the thylarktos’s face. The purple flame burned the fur from the drop bear’s face, seared the monster’s skin, then left canyons of burning green in its wake.

The drop bear threw Lorelei to the side as it clawed at its face, desperately trying to scratch out the magical flames that seared it from within. Lorelei’s body landed limply in a patch of grass. She did not stir. Necrotic energy slid through the monster’s skin and burned its good eye right out of its head.

Charlie ran over to her side and placed her hands on Lorelei’s body. Magical energy flowed from his hands into her, but Damien couldn’t waste this chance. He was supercharged now with an extra 5HP above his standard HP threshold, so he could afford to take a gamble. He needed to take this drop bear down.

Chill of the Grave slowed the drop bear as Damien ran towards Jason. He had a plan but had no idea if they’d be able to pull it off.

“Okay, this might sound crazy, but I need you to help me chop down one of these trees!” Damien said to Jason once he was out of the thylarktos’s attack range.

“How the actual fuck are we going to chop down one of these fucking things? They’re thick as fuck!” Jason asked.

“I’ll use Chill of the Grave to make the tree brittle, and you smash the frozen bit with your sword! Eventually, it’ll topple. Charlie, maybe you can convince the tree to fall?”

Charlie looked over at Damien, stricken. “You’re asking me to destroy the forest?”

“Not the forest, just one damned tree!” Damien replied. “Otherwise we’re toast!”

Charlie considered this for a moment. “Okay, but you need to let me talk to the tree first. I’ll see if I can find one who’ll do it consensually.”

“What the actual fuck?” Damien threw his hands up in the air. “We don’t have time for this!”

“Have you ever talked with a tree?” Charlie spat back. “They’re not quick conversationalists! Just keep out of the way of the drop bear, and you’ll be fine!”

The thylarktos roared. Damien turned around to see it rip some of the roots out of the ground with its spare hand. It couldn’t see them, but it groped blindly at the roots and tore away whatever it could get a hold of.

Charlie ran to one tree and put his hand on its side. Damien watched Charlie whisper to the tree, then realised that he hadn’t seen Lorelei since Charlie had revived her. Maybe she was hiding again.

Jason took slashes at the thylarktos, but now that its two front limbs were free, it wasn’t as simple as it had been when it was entangled. The moment the drop bear felt a fresh cut, it swivelled towards the direction of the cut and lashed out with its savage claws. Jason mostly managed to stay out of the attack range, but the rampaging drop bear did manage to clip him a couple of times.

The upside? With the drop bear focused on Jason, it forgot all about the vines holding it in place. Damien joined the fray and started smacking the thylarktos with his staff. The massive beast got whiplash as it tried to focus on Jason, then Damien, then Jason’s attacks again. They kept whittling the monster’s health points down until Charlie called out.

“I’ve found one! This tree has barkrot and knows she’s going to die anyway!” Charlie beckoned them over to a thick tree with patches of ugly rotten bits all over its bark. “It’s okay, she just spouted a bunch of exposition at me, but I’ll explain it all afterwards. It’s all connected! Let’s just kill this fucker and be done with it!”

Damien cast Chill of the Grave. Frost spread out from his touch, and Jason wasted no time in using his considerable martial prowess to chop into the tree.

“Charlie, have you got any spells left?” Damien asked as he watched he drop bear tear one of its hind legs free.

“No, that’s it for now. Healing Auros used up my last one. I’ll have to rest if I want to use more,” Charlie said.

Damien was in the same boat. Reviving Alf Stewart and that critical Necro Bolt had used up all of his own spell slots. If that thylarktos managed to pull itself free before Jason cut through the tree, then it was all over. The thylarktos could just amble away, blind or not.

Someone needed to distract the drop bear while they finished felling the tree.

“I’m going to-” Damien began, but then he saw Lorelei emerge from a patch of bushes near the thylarktos with a pointy stick in her hand. “What the fook? Didn’t she learn from last time?”

“Shut up and freeze this tree again!” Jason said. “Auros has got this!”

Damien cast Chill of the Grave again and marvelled at how he’d turned this minor spell into the cornerstone of the encounter. Truth be told, he’d only taken the ability so he could chill his own bottles of ale in-game.

A sudden crack and a splintering sound rang out from the trunk of the tree.

“Thank you,” Charlie said as he placed his hand on what remained of the tree’s stump. “Thank you for your sacrifice.”

The tree fell, and Damien shouted. “Auros! Move your arse!”

Lorelei didn’t even look back. She just ran to the side and narrowly avoided being squashed by the falling tree, but the thylarktos wasn’t so lucky. The tree slammed into the monster’s head, which split open like a ripe melon. Its ribs and spine crunched as the tree drunk drove them into the forest floor. Blood seeped out of the grievous wounds, and Damien took a deep, relieved breath.

They’d survived. They all ran down to meet Lorelei to make sure she was okay, but it was obvious their concern wasn’t necessary. Lorelei delivered a halfling-sized kick right to the thylarktos’s cheek.

“Take that, you piece of shit! That’s what you get when you pick on someone smaller than you!”

“We’ve survived this encounter,” Charlie began and spread his hands out towards the rest of the forest. “But this was just a taste of the fury that lives in this forest. The trees have told me just how much trouble we’re in. We need to find somewhere to rest.”

Damien didn’t have a chance to report back on what he’d seen through Alf Stewart’s eyes. When he was up there above the canopy, he’d spied a building not too far away. “There’s a lodge or something nearby — a big wooden building, with a hall or something. There must be a cookfire burning there. I saw the smoke rising! We should go there.”

“Where is it?” Jason asked.

“That way,” Damien said, pointing to the north-west. “I’d bet my beard on it.”

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