The Dragon Arrows

No Laughing Matter. Or Something Like That.

Adventurers: Biblios, Ellywick, Finley, Glim, Tim
By: Finley Eaton Davies Carnahan, aka Elefinley

There are so many cliche ways to start a story. In the beginning, once upon a time, it all started when, it was a normal day, and so it goes. But cliches are unfairly hated. It’s not unoriginal to start a story the way all stories have always been started. It’s smart. Stories are started like that for a reason: so you know it’s a story. Because—and you can trust me on this, even if you can’t trust me on anything else—stories aren’t real.

At least, they aren’t real in the way you want to think they’re real. I can never tell you what really happened, and that’s okay. What happened for me probably didn’t happen for you. At least, it didn’t happen for you the way it happened for me. My story is my own, and I’m the only one who can tell it.

So, here goes nothing.

It all started with the Finley Davies Eaton Carnahan wing of the research library. I was cruising the halls of my own newly funded wing, just looking for some information on the Bullywugs. For weeks, I’d tried to find ways to talk to them, eventually resorting to donating basically all of the gold I’d saved up just so I could be no closer to an answer. Now I was broke as hell and still unable to get the image of that scared Bullywug out of my mind. His legs shaking, spear raised at old man Boris Henry. Every time I thought about it, I was back in that clearing. The cool, damp air on my face, sweat trickling down my neck. I wanted so badly to save him—to protect him.

To protect him the way no one protected my brother. Or me.

Flashes of a childhood lost crept to the surface, and I slammed the book in front of me shut.

Stupid, useless history book. You’d think someone, somewhere would have tried to talk to the Bullywugs before. I mean, come on. They were obviously sentient beings—they had religion, family, culture. I carried the heavy book, entitled “Marauding with Monsters,” back to the shelf, ready to just give up. The Bullywugs could take care of themselves, and the boy would be fine. He’d be fine.

I mean, I was fine.

So he had to be fine.

But as I placed the book on the shelf, a folded note, heavy with dirt and age, fell from its pages. The stained paper felt smooth and worn in my hand, and it crumpled as I unfolded it. I blinked at the paper several times, afraid I’d wished the note into being. Afraid that it wasn’t real, and that it would disappear before my eyes.

But it didn’t.

CALLING ALL DOUR DWARVES, HUMORLESS HUMANS, ELUSIVE ELVES, OUTCAST ORCS, BULLIED BULLYWUGS AND KRAZY KOBOST
CAN’T WE ALL JUST GET ALONG?
COME TO THE SHRINE OF SAINT FINDIZZLE WAMPUS IN LAUGHER’S GORGRE AND LET US ALL SHARE IN A CHUCKLE
GUARANTEED TO PROVIDE MIRTH OR YOUR MONEY BACK!!!

I read the flier three times, taking comfort in the fact that I wasn’t the first person to recognize it for what it was—a key to unlocking the Bullywug language. Because written on the flier, in scratchy scrawl, were the words, “Bullywug language clue?”

The flier was for some event at Saint Findizzle Wompus’s monument. All I knew about Saint Findizzle was that my mom had heard his name once when she was growing up and said, “that’s my baby’s name, right there.” It’s how I’d ended up with the first name Finley. My older brother had the misfortune of actually being named Findizzle.

Probably why he turned out so horrible.

But the Findizzles—both of them—were irrelevant. The important part was that Bullywugs could understand whatever was happening at Laugher’s Gorge. I knew I need to go there and see it for myself, even if the event in question had long past, judging by the age of the flier.

Clutching the flier, I sprinted to find my friends, pumping my short gnome legs as fast as I could. If I could convince them to come with me—maybe, just maybe—I could figure out how to communicate with the Bullywugs. Or at least it could get me one step closer. Then I could go check on the boy and make sure he was okay. I just needed to go to Laugher’s Gorge first.

I knew Glim would help—if only because Saint Findizzle Wompus was a famous gnome, and Glim loved an opportunity to learn about famous gnomes. But Glim wasn’t enough. I needed Biblios to come or I couldn’t, and it was as simple as that. He was my protection from that damn Vovovian mafia, and I wasn’t quite ready to give him up. Of course, I wanted the others there too, even if my reasons for needing them were largely sentimental.

Ellywick was easy to find—she’d been helping the town after some shitty cult party we’d went to turned into a super gross monster attack. I may not know what the deal was with Oskar Oaken and the New Abolethic Soverienty, but I wasn’t so heartless that I didn’t recognize the town was in a shambles over it. Maybe I should have helped too, but Ellywick was more useful in a fight, anyways.

When I found Biblios, he seemed to be having his own financial problems. I offered to help him in exchange for help visiting the statue of Saint Findizzle, but thank the gods and Saint Findizzle the Brass Lantern stepped up to help instead. At this point, my financial situation was no joke. I mean, I would have done it. But, I might have had to resort to some side money making gigs. Like human child babysitter. Or something equally dreadful.

“So, guys,” I said, once I’d rounded everyone up. “It’s been sort of depressing around these parts lately. I think we should do something to cheer ourselves up.”

“Any ideas?” asked Ellywick.

I held up the flier. “Let’s hit up Laugher’s Gorge. I mean, laughter’s right there in the name.”

“As long as it doesn’t cost any money,” grunted Biblios, mumbling something about damn dwarves and their specialized equipment. He didn’t seem super interested, and neither did Tim, honestly. But that was Tim’s norm for the past several weeks. Always so distracted. And always trying to sneak away in the middle of the night. Several times he’d mumbled about rust or things being rusty. But who knows what he was talking about. Literally nothing he owned had rust on it. I’d never even seen him with a weapon that could rust.

Ellywick frowned. “I’ve heard rumors of gnolls being infected with Cackle Fever near Laugher’s Gorge. Some trader named Bouran Daysprings lost half his men to the disease.”

“Where can we find this Bouran Dayspring?” asked Tim, seemingly perked up by the thought of killing some gnolls.

Ellywick pointed to the outskirts of town, while Glim looked over the flier.

“I think we should check it out anyways,” said Glim after a while, his eyes never leaving the flier. “We can talk to Bouran before we leave town.”

As we walked, Glim’s eyes glazed over while he regaled us with tales of the famed Saint Findizzle Wompus. In his time, he was a bard gnome who’d had his tongue cut out by some king who took offense to his jokes. And you know, isn’t that always the way? If someone says they can take it, that almost always means they can’t take it. Anyways, ol’ Findizzle was gifted a silver tongue that allowed him to talk to anyone in any language. And better still, he could understand any language. He used that silver tongue of his to bring laughter and happiness to all who came across him. Or something like that. All that really mattered was that Findizzle could talk to the Bullywugs. Him and his silver tongue were the key.

I was so excited to be moving towards an answer that I almost missed Bouran’s caravan.
Which was actually quite impressive, all things considered. Bouran’s face and belly were so round that he looked like two circles simply stacked on top of each other to form a humanoid shape. His blue skin had a bright sheen of sweat covering it that I suspected never really left. His wide smile sort of gave me the creeps, and I considered hanging back.

But then I saw the silks.

Oh my gods. Silks everywhere. Beautiful silks. And a hot pink one!

I raced towards it. “How much?” Recently, I’d started waking up at night to dreams of a flying machine, and I knew that if I could just figure out the mechanics, I could use the pink silk for a seat on the machine.

He made a sucking sound on his teeth. “That’s ten gold for the pretty little gnome lady.”

I smiled and attempted to haggle, but when he put his arm around me, it was impossible to keep the smile in place. I scrunched my face up instead.

“You’re smart,” he said. “I like that. Can’t we just be friends?”

So creepy. Easier to just pay full price and get the hell out of there. I might be poor, but that was no reason to stand next to him any longer than necessary. I’d just suffer through a couple of nights without meals.

But I wasn’t the only one distracted by Bouran’s wares. Glim was engaged in a lively discussion with Bouran over whether there were any trinkets from the far east he could purchase, while Biblios looked sadly at the smoking tobacco he couldn’t afford. It wasn’t long before Bouran started to brag, once again, about how he’d been the only one with the vision to bring trading from the Far East to Phandalin.

Oh, yeah. The Far East.

It was like we all remembered why we’d stopped at the caravan at the same time.

“What can you tell us about Cackle Fever?” asked Glim.

Bouran launched into a tale that focused mostly on how great he was, giving very little useful information. I sighed. The man really was an idiot. Basically, he told us to travel three days, and we’d hear the cackle fever for ourselves.

We were just about to leave when Ellywick piped up. “Do you have any ear plugs?”
Bouran showed her how to make some out of cotton and beeswax. Thank the gods she purchased enough for everyone.

#

As we approached the area Bouran described, we started to hear laughter. Ellywick scouted the area with her beeswax earplugs firmly in place, and informed us there was only one figure in the distance, surrounded by large stone pillars. Everyone seemed delighted with this news and headed in that direction, me trailing behind.

“Wait, guys,” I said. “Do we have a plan?” I knew the plan involved killing whatever was in front of us. But what if it was an innocent human? I still remembered when my new found friends sent two hunters into the woods to get murdered by a were-bear. A memory that still gave me nightmares if I’m being honest.

“Kill it,” said Tim and Biblios, almost in unison.

“But, like, what if we can save it?” I asked.

The group made a collective shrug and looked around, as if they hadn’t considered that option, but now that it had been presented to them, they would consider it. I sighed with relief. Maybe we wouldn’t have to kill anyone.

“What are you going to do with him if we save him?” asked Biblios.

Oh. I hadn’t thought of that. “Take him back to the infirmary?”

Biblios looked confused, though that wasn’t necessarily uncommon for him.

“You’re going to take him on a three day trip?” asked Tim.

Oh, yeah. Right. “Well, I’ll think of something else.”

“Better do it quick,” said Tim.

“Okay,” said Biblios. “We’ll save it if we can, but…”

“If things go south,” supplied Tim.

Biblios nodded. “We kill it.”

“And no matter what, we aren’t taking it back with us,” added Tim.

I nodded, my mind working overtime to try to come up with anyway to save the poor infected creature. “Right.”

Before we could make any more plans, cackling laughter echoed off the giant stone pillars, just barely reaching our ears.

“Alright,” said Ellywick. “Now that that’s settled.”

Then silence.

Complete and utter silence. It pressed around me, the weight of it making me want to scream. But even if I had, no one would have heard me.

Such was Ellywick’s power.

Tim and I rushed to get out of the zone of her spell. Our own spells were useless within the spell parameters, thanks to our inability to speak within it.

Biblios ran towards the creature with his ax, and we got our first real glimpse.

A troll.

“We kill it!” yelled Tim, our earlier conversation of saving it, totally and utterly forgotten. And rightfully so. This troll would kill us if we didn’t kill it.

Biblios’s ax came down hard on the thing, but it started to heal almost instantly.

“Fire!” yelled Tim. “Use your fire!”

But I think I was the only one who could hear him since we were the only ones outside of the zone of silence. Biblios and Ellywick both hacked away, their blows healing almost as soon as they made them. Glim was standing next to one of the rock pillars, his nose in a book, looking up only occasionally. Apparently, he was unaware entirely that a fight was raging on behind him.

Tim and I shot fire bolt after fire bolt at it. Every time we hit, the wound sizzled and stayed, seemingly unable to heal, and before long, it looked like Biblios and Ellywick’s hits were leaving their mark as well. The troll focused his blows on them, allowing Tim and I the opportunity to hit it without interference.

We poured magic at it, and with one last maniacal laugh, it burst into flames. Biblios and Ellywick panted as they looked at the mangled and burned body, sweat obvious even on Biblios’s hulking form. It wasn’t until Tim and I made our way over that Glim finally looked up from the massive stone rocks.

He shut his book with a snap and ran his hands over the pillars. “These are practically humming with magic. I recognize some of the writing too. But the magic feels twisted. Wrong, somehow. Can’t you feel it?”

“That’s great, man,” said Tim. “But we were sort of busy.”

“Oh,” said Glim. He looked down at the burnt troll carcase, surprise etched in his features.

“Well.” He cleared his throat. “Good work, mates.”

Biblios frowned.

“So, should we press on through the pillars?” I asked. “I’d think if there was a religious statue, it’d be on the other side of this religious looking clearing.”

“Right,” said Tim. “Let’s go.”

We headed towards the path just behind the clearing, ignoring the one before it, but we didn’t have to walk long before we came to another path that led into a cave like tunnel. In the distance, we could see the exit to the valley, so we turned towards the cave, with Ellywick throwing up a glowing orb that allowed Biblios—the only one amongst us not blessed with night vision—to see.

The tunnel was for sure creepy, but I just knew we’d find the statue in there. It only made sense.

Our footsteps echoed through the tunnel, the lightest sound of laughter the only other noise. Everyone seemed on edge, especially when we stumbled across an old human skeleton. Glim picked up the skull, moving its jaw up and down as if it were talking. Biblios let out a hearty laugh, but everyone else’s laugh seemed more nervous. After all, this was the place where people laughed themselves to death.

As if on cue, the sound of crazed laughter meandered its way down the tunnel. We all put in our earplugs, but it was too late. I felt a chuckle rise in me, like something was funny, but it shouldn’t be. Like I wanted to laugh at my misfortune. Laugh at my dream to save the little boy Bullywug. Laugh because it was stupid and I was stupid for somehow thinking it would fix things. That it would fix me or my brother.

I pressed my earplugs in tighter and the feelings, along with the humor, evaporated. Glim, Tim, and Biblios seemed equally dazed, all letting small laughs escape. The noise seemed to surprise them out of it, though, and all of our eyes met.

This was it. More cackle fever.

We moved towards the noise, only to find ourselves standing in front of a cavernous room, filled with ten gnolls.

And, of course, they’d seen and heard us coming.

Fighting broke out immediately, with Ellywick’s silence once more descending on the room as she ran in without fear. Three knolls were on her almost immediately. I shot fire bolts at one in the back, but with so many, I had no idea what to do.

I’d hoped this adventure would end with us killing nothing, but now it looked like there was no option but to kill everything.

The three on Ellywick slashed at her, while she ducked and dove around their knives. Glim cast sleep on one of them, while Tim knocked one unconscious. I cast my web at all three, hoping that, even if they woke up, they wouldn’t be able to move.

Biblios seemed almost reluctant to enter the room, like he thought maybe we should have came up with some sort of plan, even if he wasn’t sure what that plan would have been. But, because he’s epic, he did come in, and he started wailing on the closest one to him. From there, I tried to focus on taking out the gnolls in the back, fire bolting them one at a time. One up at the front ran towards me and Glim, but he slipped and fell, as if the floor had been covered in grease.

Gnolls were falling one by one, with each of us ganging up on a different one each time. An arrow soared towards Ellywick from the back, and I focused in on the gnoll who’d shot it. An illusion of the earlier troll we’d just killed sprung up from my magic, chasing after the gnoll. He ran, screaming as the illusion troll chased him, and with every blow the troll dealt, the gnoll whimpered in pain as if he was really being hit. But before the gnoll got too far, Biblios brought his axe down on him, taking him out.

Gnoll bodies littered the floor.

Excitement coursed through my veins. We were almost there. So close. But then I noticed something, probably at the same time everyone else did. There was no way out.

Great. Just fucking great. I’d waltzed us right into a gnoll living area, with no way out except back the way we came.

At least we knew where we had to go.

So we doubled back and arrived at the rock clearing to find it exactly how we’d left it, with the smell of burning troll filling the air. This time, we took the first path, which led us down into a similar cave like tunnel. We raced down the hall, everyone anxious to find what we’d came for and get out of the god forsaken laughing dungeon. Glim soon discovered a round wall, which he insisted proved we were now headed in the right direction. And he was right.

After a moment’s inspection he discovered an opening. Anxious for anything that would get me closer to the Bullywug’s I crawled in. There, right inside, was a small black statue of a gnome with a silver tongue. Findizzle.

I approached with caution, afraid it would start cackling like the knolls and aware that I didn’t have any beeswax in my ears. But instead, it asked for a joke. I told the only one I knew, which was some dumb knock-knock joke that was in my favorite book growing up. After I said it, the words sort of emblazoned themselves into it and disappeared. But… then nothing else happened.

I waited. We all waited.

We looked around. Nothing.

It felt like defeat. I was ready to give up when we came to another room, the center piece of which was a gigantic stone blocking a door. I just knew the answer was behind that door, but no one was rushing to open it. For one, that stone was really fucking huge. But, and more importantly, it was pretty clear brute strength wasn’t going to be the answer here. Also in the room were four plaques with four places for an offering. Each plaque contained a riddle.

Because of course they did. Because I hate riddles. And because I suck at them.

I hung my head and sighed, ready to turn back. I knew the others were talking, but the words flew past my ears. It was too late for me; I no longer wanted to listen. But just as I turned to leave, Biblios breathed fire into the first place for an offering. Then Tim blew in the second one. Glim broke off a piece of stone and put it in the third. And, finally, Ellywick extinguished her light.

The giant rock shook the room as it moved from it’s place blocking the door.

I rushed inside, pushing everyone out of the way.

Oh, fuck.

Facing me were two more gnolls, both with two hyenas on leashes, and what looked like a gnoll leader. The gnolls holding leashes dropped them, and the hyenas bounded towards me.

Thankfully, everyone else rushed in after me and absorbed some of the blows. But I’d messed this up—I was taking too many hits, and I felt weak. My well-honed strategy of staying in the back and helping slowly pick them off, wouldn’t work this time. I ran for a pillar at the far end of the room, while Glim ran for the other one. Biblios, Ellywick, and Tim were all taking heavy fire in the center, but there wasn’t anything I could do for them. I cast a spell that allowed me to create three duplicate versions of myself to help absorb some of the blows. Ellywick ran to hide behind one of my doubles, but it didn’t offer either of us much protection. Tim tried to come help us, but his spells seemed to keep missing.

Biblios let out a cry, and we all realized at the same time that we’d left him in the center of the room, and he was in trouble. Panicked, I cast another illusion to attack the leader who’d gone after Biblios. But something must’ve gone wrong because it didn’t faze him.

Then I exploded.

I mean, my body did. I grew and grew and grew. Until I was an elephant.

I let out a ringing roar, as Ellywick climbed up on top of me. Together, we ran towards Biblios, who lay on the ground bleeding. I trampled towards the leader and gored him with my tusk, while Ellywick threw down a cloud of daggers on his leader ass. I backed up and charged at him again, this time taking him out. Then I stomped on one of his hyenas and turned it into hyena paste. I reared up on my hind legs, letting out another battle cry, before heading to the gnolls.

But then, just as suddenly as I’d turned into an elephant, I popped back into myself.

Then passed out.

By the time Glim woke me up, it was all over. Biblios was up again too, but we all looked worse for the wear. I could barely move, but I dragged myself up to a sitting position. I hadn’t come all this way to die, dammit. But I couldn’t focus. There were things. We’d gotten things. A treasure box. Some scrolls. An ugly hat I’d never be caught dead wearing.

It didn’t matter. I was too confused and tired to focus. I wanted to go home, forget this day had happened. I laid back down, allowing the cool earth to mend some of the pain radiating through my body.

Glim tapped me on the toe, and I just barely managed to flutter my eyes open.

“Look what I found.” He held out a jade statue of a gnome. “Neat, huh?”

“Very nice,” I mumbled, ready to go back to sleep.

“Oh, and here.”

I felt a thud as something cool landed on my chest.

“It’s the silver tongue of Saint Findizzle Wompus. It’s what you wanted, right?”

I scrambled up, grabbing at it. It’s magic rushed through me as I squeezed it in my palm.

“Thank you,” I breathed. “Thank you.”

Finally, I’d be able to talk to the Bullywugs.

Comments

Wow, Rachel!! This is great! So much fun reading the story! :O

 

Superb! Thoroughly enjoyed reading this, so well written. I may have missed this one, but this captures the sessions adventure beautifully, and we get to learn a bit more about Finley too. Hats off, sterlings stuff!

 

Thanks, guys! I’m glad y’all enjoyed it. I obviously took many, many fictional liberties.

lloydgw rlwpaxton

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