In Which Alea Fills Her Magic Bag With Cold Blue Fire And Screaming Severed Heads.

Testikles folded his heavy arms across his bare chest. “Well. It no longer cackles, does it? A new name is needed.”

Iledove frowned. He really didn’t get it. “That doesn’t matter,” she said. “It can’t be called the Gigantic Ice Bajina. It… it just can’t!

The little barbarian gestured at the enormous, ice-rimed, suggestively oval hole in the ground that no longer cackled and was not in any way infested by gnolls. “Look,” he said. “It clearly is a Gigantic Ice Bajina. Should wayfarers pass this spot, their maps ought to have the truth so they know they are not lost.”
Iledove resolutely refused to look in the direction he was pointing. It didn’t matter how much the canyon looked like a gigantic ice… vagina… She wasn’t going to call it that! “They can call it… The Chasm,” she said. “That’s good enough.”

“How will they know this chasm is The Chasm?” said Testikles. “There are many chasms in Icewind Dale. And elsewhere. But there is only one Gigantic Ice Bajina.”

Really, he was like a dog with a bone to chew. He just wouldn’t stop. The thought of a ‘bone’ made Iledove glance down involuntarily. She winced. “We’re not fighting any more,” she said. “Any chance you can put… that… away?”

Testikles looked down at his crotch. “I forget how you folk are about dicks,” he said. “I will dress.”

“Good,” snapped Iledove. “And what about fighting–”

He held up a hairy hand. “No. It is the way of our warriors to throw off our garb when the battle-frenzy takes us.”

Iledove wanted to ask whether it was also the way of the Boar Warriors to fight from behind huge, purple erections or was Testikles just weird like that – but somehow, she couldn’t shape the words. Fortunately, she was saved from further conversation by the arrival of the pillaging party.

“Cheapskates,” grumbled Alea, trudging through the snow to join them. “Barely twenty-five crowns in cash.”

“We got sixteen gnoll heads, though,” called Jeoff from farther back. “That’s eight-score gold crowns, right enough.”

“And I got a fishing lure!” sang Milo, skipping through the snow and holding up his bright new treasure for all to see. “Jeoff says it’s magical. It’s a Hook of Fisher’s Delight! I’m gonna catch all the fuckin’ fish now!”

Iledove noticed something tucked under Milo’s arm, and frowned. “Is that the chardalyn javelin that loony was using? Why do we want that shit?”

“Shartlin,” said Milo. “You’re saying it wrong. It’s shartlin.” He giggled.

“I asked Milo to carry it,” said Jeoff. “There’s something about it. We know that Xardarok Sunblight dude has some sort of plan that revolves around it. His son was trying to lay hands on that chardalyn figurehead back in Easthaven. People keep talking about the stuff, and it keeps on turning up in the hands of weirdos. I want to know more about it.”

“Keep it away from me,” said Iledove, giving the javelin some side-eye. “The freaks and fruit-bats can keep it.”

“You can finish the conversation in the big sled,” said Alea. “We should get out of here before it gets a whole lot darker. We need to get back to Easthaven to collect our bounty. And no,” she added firmly with a glare at Milo. “You can’t murder Jack Rabbitt.”

“Fuck,” said Milo.

###

Of course, you couldn’t really outrun nightfall in Icewind Dale, could you? It had been so long since Iledove had seen the sun, she sometimes caught herself wondering if it was still up there, somewhere. The light faded out as they rode over the snow, the powerful paws of the polar bears churning a track through the endless whiteness. Eventually, a frozen pond broke the monotony. Good enough: they set up camp.

Sometime in the long, dark night, a cry brought Iledove to wakefulness. Heart racing, she put her head outside the warmth of her sleeping furs and risked a look out of the tent. The bitter cold froze her snot instantly, and she tried not to cough.

“They’re attacking the big wagon!” shouted Milo. “Two of the bastards! And they’ve got no fuckin’ shirts on.”

“One decent night of sleep,” Iledove grumbled, struggling free of the bedding and the tentage. “Just one, Helm. Is that too much to ask for?”

Helm didn’t answer, and Iledove felt a bit guilty for bothering him. Probably he didn’t care, she thought. Gods had a lot of work to get on with. A single paladin’s woes likely didn’t even get his attention. But… occasionally, it would be nice.

She cast about for her sword, fumbling in the dark until she found the familiar worn leather wrappings of the hilt. Fortunately, nights were so fucking cold she actually slept in her armour. No, it wasn’t exactly comfortable – but it was better than trying to strap frozen slabs of metal onto herself in a hurry.

It was dark as a heretic’s nightmares outside, except for the circle of light around the campfire, but she could hear the bears growling and screeching at something. “What’s going on?” she called.

“Fuck if I know,” said Milo, limbering up his crossbow. “They shot past me in the dark and went after the wagon. I think one of ‘em is fucking with the bears.”

“Shit,” said Iledove. “Fine. Whatever.” She called on Helm’s glory and brought light into her sword casting a soft refulgence around the campsite. And sure enough, there they were: two shirtless idiots. One was hassling the bears and the other looked to be trying to get into the sled-wagon. “Hey, you!” she called. “The fuck are you doing?”

The one trying to get into the wagon staggered, and turned towards her. His face was haggard, his eyes reddened. “My brain!” he screamed. “The chardalyn! The chardalyn! Nooo!”

“Huh,” said Milo. “I guess they want Jeoff’s javelin?”

“Be fucked!” said Jeoff, sticking his head out from his tent. “Have some of this!” He pointed with a finger, muttered a few words, and a streak of light leapt towards the sled-wagon, which promptly began burning at the point of impact. “Bugger,” said Jeoff. “Somebody put that out! Where’s Alea?”

“I regret to say she has been drinking heavily,” came Jack Rabbitt’s voice. “Not much chance of awakening her.” He peered around the side of a tent, and biffed his drum a couple times. “This is exciting, isn’t it?”

“Fuck off before I shoot you,” said Milo. “In fact… just wait there.” He cocked his crossbow, and Jack Rabbitt disappeared behind the tent. The drum kept pounding, though.

A hideous squealing roar split the night, and Iledove’s head jerked around spontaneously. Yet another of the shirtless idiots was attacking Testikles’ war-pig, and Skrote was pretty unhappy about it. Testikles and Skrote were closer to the fire, so she got a clear view of the weapon the shirtless idiot was using, but at first she couldn’t believe it. I mean… how much craziness could you really expect?

“Is that a… a chardalyn flail?” she said to Milo. “Seriously?”

“Hold the line, Skrote!” screamed Testikles, leaping into the fray with his axe held high. Predictably naked, his boner actually steamed in the bitter chill as he slashed at the shirtless rando. How did the thing steam? Was it – by Helm, ugh – moist? Gyaaahhh!

Skrote was bleeding freely, but it didn’t seem to slow him down. The big pig whirled with startling agility and charged the shirtless rando. A slash of a razor tusk opened a huge wound, knocking Shirtless to the ground as Skrote thundered past. Testikles finished the madman where he lay in the snow, chopping huge chunks of flesh away with frenzied axe-strokes. “Don’t! Touch! My! Pig!” screamed the little barbarian.

“Excuse me,” said Jack Rabbitt. The politeness was so unlikely and unexpected that Iledove actually found herself paying attention to the one-eyed so-called ‘bard’. He pointed at the sled-wagon, now smouldering heavily. “Isn’t there a barrel of dreadfully volatile whale oil in that vehicle?”

Iledove blinked. “Uhh… Jeoff?” she called.

The mage grimaced. “On it,” he said, stepping out of his tent in his heavy nightgown. He lifted one fine, sculpted elven eyebrow, stuck his tongue out of the corner of his mouth, and moved his hands in a complex pattern. A wave of… something?… flew from him to the sled-wagon and thick frost bloomed, smothering the fire with bitter, abysmal chill.

That seemed to set off one of the two shirtless randos who were tormenting the polar bears and mucking about with the sled-wagon. He staggered back, clutching at his head with the hand that wasn’t occupied by, yes, still another Helm-damned chardalyn flail. Didn’t anybody use steel any more?

“Aieee!” he screamed, lurching about the place aimlessly. “My head! The chardalyn! The chardalyn! Auril, take me!”

Milo sniggered. “He said ‘shartlin’. Get it?” He looked across at Iledove who tried not to meet his gaze. “Shartlin? Chardalyn? Shart-lin?”

Happily for Iledove, right about then the third shirtless rando belted Milo with his – yes, him too – chardalyn flail, and the little thief shut up.

“Stench be upon you!” cried Jeoff, gesturing at the Milo’s assailant.

Milo sniffed. “He doesn’t smell any fucking different!”

“Love of Helm,” snarled Iledove, chopping at the one who was still clutching his head. “Take it seriously, Jeoff!”

Skrote and Testikles thundered into the circle of light from Iledove’s sword. They chopped and gouged chunks out of still another shirtless idiot and roared past, out of range. The shirtless nutbag staggered about dramatically.

“Aieee! The pain!” he wailed, waving his stupid chardalyn flail around more or less aimlessly.

Jeoff took that as an opportunity. He lunged forward, a nimbus of sparks arcing from one outstretched hand. “Shocking Grasp!” he called, and bitch-slapped Shirtless. A small spark crackled back, zapping Jeoff’s nose, and he clutched his face with both hands. “Ow, fucking shit!” called the mage.

Evidently that wasn’t the way the spell was meant to work. Worse, somehow Shirtless got his shit together, stopped whining about ‘chardalyn’, and smacked Jeoff a good one with the vicious weapon. Jeoff stumbled back, blood streaming from his nose.

“Poison,” groaned Jeoff nasally. “The weapons are accursed.”

Well. Wasn’t that just fucking glorious?

The one fighting Milo got in a good swing, and Milo swayed unsteadily. “Ow, fuck!” he cried. “I fuckin’ see what you mean, Jeoff. This shartlin shit sucks!”

From out of the dark Testikles leapt like some sort of… no, screw it. What looked like a naked hairy halfling with an axe, a shield and a boner other than a naked, hairy halfling with an axe, a shield and a boner? Nothing!

“Thrund!” he screamed. “Blood and battle for Thrund!” He chopped a chunk out of Milo’s opponent and darted away again, out of reach of the poisonous (or accursed, or whatever) weapon.

Iledove made a mental note to ask him about that ‘Thrund’ business sometime.

The wound Testikles inflicted wasn’t enough to bring Milo’s opponent down, but the distraction was all Milo needed. Nasty little swine that he was, he jammed his fighting knife into his enemy’s crotch, and as the shirtless idiot’s eyes bulged, Milo ripped upwards, filleting a particularly tender organ and launching a spectacular spray of blood.

Gross!

Iledove concentrated. “Power of Helm, guide my hand!” she cried, and lashed out with a swordstroke that thundered and flashed. Her poorly-clad enemy reeled away from the might of Helm, only to encounter a snorting, squealing, charging Skrote who knocked him down and then did some sort of vicious, frenzied pig-stomp dance on him before galloping away.

They were tough, though, these shirtless freaks. “Auril! Auril,” moaned the pig-stomped man, dragging himself to his feet. “Hear me! Pain! Auril! Chardalyn!”

“Fucking shut up!” snarled Jeoff, and crisped the man with a fireball that turned him into a human-shaped cinder on the spot.

Everybody panted, and looked around, but that was the last of them.

“All right,” said Iledove at last. “Let’s clean this up. You still want those chardalyn weapons, Jeoff? It looks like they mess up the people who use them.”

The mage nodded. “It’s powerful stuff. And we know that Sunblight dickhead is collecting it. If we don’t look after these bits, he’ll probably find them and use them to… well, whatever the fuck it is he’s trying to do.” He held one of the flails aloft. The heavy, shiny, black spiked ball spun on its chain, catching the firelight eerily. “We can just stick ‘em in the sled-wagon until we figure out something better, I guess.”

Testikles emerged from the gloom to comfort the polar bears. Milo went through the pockets of the dead Shirtless Randos. Jack Rabbitt thumped his drum yet again. Iledove stuck her head into the tent to check on drunken Alea. Still sleeping, and snoring like some kind of terrifying snot monster.

Without warning, things turned weird. Somewhere in the distance, Jeoff said, “Oh. Whoops!”

That was never, ever what you wanted to hear from a dangerous mage. Iledove yanked her sword out yet again and looked frantically around, but all she could see was some kind of… well…

“Why is the snow spinning?” called Testikles.

Jeoff stuck his hands behind his back. “No idea,” he said, as the snow flew and circled and spun around them in a dense cloud.

“It’s that ring he took off one of the dead guys,” said Milo, pointing at Jeoff. “It’s made of ice and it’s got Auril’s sigil on it.”

“You didn’t put it on, though, right Jeoff?” said Iledove.

Jeoff glanced away, and tried to whistle a tune.

“Oh, snot,” said Iledove, and the madly whirling snows closed over them all.

###

“All things considered, it could be worse,” said Jeoff.

“Fuckin’ how?” snapped Milo. He pulled his cloak tighter around himself, and shivered.

“Well, we’ve got this snow shelter thing Testikles built,” said Alea. “It’s pretty warm. We could be outside in the cold.”

“We teleported twenty fuckin’ miles!” snarled Milo. “The sled-wagon is back at the Ice Vagina, along with everything we weren’t carrying.”

“We can go back for the sled,” Iledove said.

“What’s the fuckin’ point?” Milo said. “The fuckin’ spell brought the polar bears with us, and they’ve fuckin’ run off! How are we gonna tow the fuckin’ sled without them?”

“We’ll solve that,” said Iledove firmly. “Meanwhile, you should be thankful for these frostberries Testikles found. At least you have a meal.”

“I don’t! I fuckin’ don’t! These fuckin’ berries have given me the shits,” screamed Milo, red-faced. He leapt to his feet, clutched at his arse, and bolted out of the snow-shelter.

“At least he didn’t drop trousers and shit all over the floor,” said Alea, breaking the strained silence that followed. She picked up one of the green-white berries and sniffed it. “They tasted pretty good to me,” she said. “Testikles is usually right about this stuff. Anybody else got a problem?”

Jeoff shrugged. “I think Milo’s just got the shits at the idea of eating anything Testikles brought back. More for the rest of us,” he said, scooping a decent portion of Milo’s share.

It really could have been worse. The others had been surprisingly unconcerned with laying blame for the sudden teleportation and concomitant loss of everything they didn’t happen to be carrying at the time. Well, except for Testikles. He was angry that the wooden leg he took from the old Dwarf seer-woman was back in the sled-wagon, along with his gilt chamber-pot. But on the whole, they were all pretty relaxed about what Jeoff had done by messing around with a ring clearly dedicated to the evil Ice Goddess who was the most likely candidate for the entirely fucked state of affairs in which Icewind Dale was presently embedded.

Possibly it was because of the nasty-looking cavern entrance near where they’d reappeared. Jeoff decided to test the waters on that one. He cleared his throat, and looked around. “So,” he said. “After we’ve rested up tonight, I guess we’re going into that cave?”

“The one with the sort of… structure built around it?” Alea looked at him.

Jeoff nodded.

“The threatening, menacing, badly-built structure that looks vaguely like the gigantic head of a bear with its jaws open? Waiting to eat us?” Iledove leaned forward and poked the little fire in the middle of the shelter.

Jeoff nodded again.

Alea and Iledove exchanged glances. “Well, sure,” said Alea. “I mean, why would we even think of leaving well enough alone and starting on the twenty-mile trek back to all our worldly possessions when there’s a fucking enormous and threatening bear maw to explore!” She lay down with her back to the fire and pulled her cloak tighter around herself.

Was this what they meant by sarcasm? Jeoff pondered. It was a puzzle, to be sure.

###

As it happened, they didn’t enter the bear’s maw the next day. The path leading to the bear maw was narrow and winding, with ravines on either side. Testikles spotted something in the bottom of one of the ravines, and pointed it out to the others.

“Look,” he said. “A hole. In the rock face.”

“So it’s a hole,” Milo said. “Big deal.”

Testikles stood his ground. “If it is an unguarded way into the cave…?”

Jeoff pulled his lip, and looked over the edge of the ravine. “We should explore it,” he said.

“Of course we should,” said Alea. “We’re always crawling through stupid backdoor holes.”

Milo snickered.

Alea glared at him. “You know what I mean! The entrance to the Big-loo, with the talking mammoth? We crawled in through the garbage pit. The fortress of the Duergar on the side of Kelvin’s Cairn? We blew a hole in the guardpost and sneaked in that way.”

“I went through the main entrance,” Testikles said. “With Jathara.”

“You don’t count,” Alea said. “Remember the Ice Giant place? With the garbage pit?”

“Who could forget?” said Milo. “That was gold!”

“So,” Jeoff said to Alea. “This is… sarcasm? You think we should use the front entrance that looks like a giant bear maw?”

She paused. “Well. I mean, yeah. It’s sarcasm. But we probably should check out the hole down there, just in case.”

The hole reeked. A thin stream of really filthy… filth had half-frozen as it trickled out, and little brown shit-sicles hung from the lower lip of the hole itself. But there was a tunnel, and it led upward, and there was room enough even for Skrote so even Alea had to admit it was probably a cunning idea. Jeoff broke out his spider-staff and tagged everyone with Spider Climb abilities – even Skrote, who knew the drill well enough by now.

Then came the usual argument about who was going to go first. Milo, of course, being sneaky and stealthy and small and quite good at not being seen felt that one-eyed Jack Rabbitt and his drum should be the first up the tunnel. But Jack Rabbitt was having none of that, no matter how much Milo tantrumed and pouted, so Jeoff went far enough up the tunnel to see it ended in a cavern of some kind. It reeked beyond all reason, so he ducked back down to tell the others. And of course, Milo was still chasing Jack Rabbitt, trying to make him go up the tunnel. Single-minded, that halfling. Or possibly just sociopathic.

“Tunnel goes through,” Jeoff said, wiping his hands on a tuft of withered grass.

“Hear that?” said Milo. “Jeoff’s done the hard work, Jack Rabbitt. Now it’s your turn!”

“Stop trying to kill my bard, Milo,” snarled Testikles. “I will go.” He scampered up the tunnel with unnerving agility, followed by Skrote the Pig. It was always weird watching Skrote do the Spider Climb thing. Pigs just shouldn’t cling to walls and defy gravity like that.

Milo glared at Jack Rabbitt.

Jack Rabbitt thumped his drum and glared back at him. Ba-dump!

Iledove glared at Milo. “You should be ashamed,” she hissed, and followed Testikles up the tunnel.

Milo folded his arms and turned his back. “All I’m saying is if he’s here, he should do his share.”

“But I’m not supposed to be here,” squawked the older man. “I’m supposed to be safe in the sled, waiting for Testikles to return with tales of adventure and derring-do!”

“I’ll fucking derring-do you,” snarled the halfling.

Jack Rabbitt skipped nimbly backwards, and biffed his drum a couple times, ka-thump ka-thump.

Jeoff leaned towards the hole. It really did reek, but there was something… “Shut up,” he said to Milo and the maybe-bard. “I hear something.”

From somewhere deep within the tunnel came the unmistakable sounds of Skrote and Testikles at war with… what? Oh! And then Iledove’s voice rang out: “Dragon!

Dragon?

Milo, Jack Rabbitt and Alea looked at each other nervously.

“Cool!” said Jeoff. “Jeoff Dragonslayer to the rescue!” He dove into the hole and scrambled upwards, clinging to the stone with magical ease. Unfortunately, by the time he reached the top the noise had died to nothing. Had the dragon already killed the others? Jeoff peered out cautiously – but no. Testikles, Skrote and Iledove looked to be completely unharmed. The three of them were standing next to something about the size of a horse, white and leathery, and apparently already dead judging by the gouges and holes in it.

Hmm. Just a wyrmling. Well, it would have to do. Jeoff darted across the cavern, pushed his way past Testikles who was painting his face with grey-black dragon blood, and severed the head. Lifting it high with one hand, he struck a pose and cried, “Behold!”

At that moment, a scream and a roar came up through the entrance tunnel, followed by Milo, Alea and last of all Jack Rabbitt. The one-eyed not-quite-bard was covered in a thick rime of hoarfrost, shivering heavily. He fell to the cavern floor and clutched his knees to his chest, his teeth chattering uncontrollably.

“What’s with him?” Iledove asked.

“There’s a dragon outside,” said Milo. “A little one. White. It breathed at us, and Miss Pussy there got all coldy-woldy.”

“Another dragon?” said Jeoff. “Excellent!” He ducked past Milo and slithered down the hole at breakneck speed, heedless of the sticky, nasty stuff on the floor and the walls. At the bottom he stopped, and peered slyly around the edge of the stone. Sure enough, swooping about above the entrance to the cavern was another white wyrmling. Jeoff flexed his fingers, grinned savagely and muttered a fireball incantation. The spell streaked away from his hand and hit the wyrmling squarely in the arse, where Jeoff imagined its butthole must be. It burst into a soundless puff of vivid, yellow-white flame that engulfed the little dragon completely, and when the fire faded away the charred, smouldering corpse of the wyrmling plunged to the ground with a crunchy thud.

Jeoff blew across his fingertips. That would teach the bastard not to fuck around with Jeoff the Dragonslayer!

Back in the cavern above, things hadn’t moved along much. Jack Rabbitt was still shivering in a corner when Jeoff got back.

“How are you doing there?” said Jeoff in passing – not because he actually cared, but because he was practising. He’d learned it paid to make other people think you gave a shit about them, and so he tried to keep his hand in whenever he could.

“This is completely fucked,” grunted the not-bard through chattering teeth. He dragged out his drum and belted it a couple times for good measure. Ba-dum! Ba-dumm!

“Look, Jeoff!” called Testikles from an alcove off of a stone chamber a bit farther along. “I have found eggshells. Two of them! I bet they were dragon eggs. I’m going to keep some eggshell. I bet it’s super magical stuff!”

“Sure, little guy,” Jeoff said. “Stands to reason, right?”

Up ahead, Milo’s voice rang out. “Hey, Jeoff. Come take a look at this!”

Jeoff took a dim passageway that came to a four-way crossing. All the paths showed signs of use. A blue glow came from the left, dancing and shifting. At the end of the left tunnel was another cavern with the usual sticking-up-pointy-rocks on the floor and sticking-down-pointy-rocks on the ceiling. Jeoff knew damned well they were stalactites and stalagmites, but he couldn’t be bothered wasting any portion of his precious brain on remembering which was supposed to be which.

Interestingly, one of the ceiling rocks moved. Jeoff slid back and prepared a spell, then saw it was only Milo, still taking advantage of the Spider Climb effect. Milo pointed to a blue flame that hovered atop some kind of stone brazier that had been made by carving up one of the sticking-up-pointy-rocks on the floor. The flame was about the size of a decent campfire, and it flickered like a proper fire but there was no smoke, and every now and again the flames seemed to coalesce into the form of a slim, nude woman.

That was kind of hot.

A scuffling from above drew Jeoff’s attention away from the salacious blaze. Skrote and Testikles were up there along with Milo. Alea, Iledove and Jack Rabbitt shuffled in behind, taking the more conventional floor route.

“What is it?” said Alea.

“Fuck if I know,” said Jeoff. He edged closer to the flame and held out a hand, but there seemed to be no warmth. In fact, if anything it got even colder.

“I do not trust this thing,” Testikles said. “I will put it out. With Skrote’s help.” The little barbarian grunted at his war pig, then fumbled at his furs to extract his cock.

Alea blanched. “Don’t do that!” she said.

Testikles glared at her. “This is a fell thing,” he said. “It should be snuffed out.”

“Don’t do it, Testikles,” said the battle-master sharply.

Testikles frowned. He gestured at Milo. “This fool shits all over floors throughout Icewind Dale and you say nothing. I set out to extinguish a dangerous magic flame and you want to school me? I think not,” he said. “School this!” he cried, and leaning backwards he unleashed an intimidating stream of pee with devastating accuracy into the middle of the blue flame. A moment later Skrote the Pig let fly as well – but the only result was a growing pile of bits of piss-ice scattered about the brazier and the floor.

The flame didn’t even waver.

“Hmm,” grunted Testikles, putting away his tool. “This is a magical thing. Jeoff! You should do something.”

“Yes,” said Jeoff. “I should.”

“Best make it quick (ba-dum! ba-dumm!)” called Jack Rabbitt. “I can hear someone coming through the tunnels!”

Closing on the fire, Jeoff brought out the chardalyn javelin he’d collected back at the Gigantic Ice Bajina. He lay it on the blaze, and waited.

Nothing. Okay… Gritting his teeth, he cut the outside of his left forearm and dripped blood into the blue flames.

The blood froze. Nothing else happened.

“I see them!” called Milo from the ceiling. He was looking back down the tunnel. “There’s at least two. It’s more of those dumbfucks without shirts!”

“Fuck,” said Alea. “Come on. We’ll hold them while Jeoff does whatever he’s doing.” She and the others left the cavern. Screams and the familiar noises of violence and mayhem followed fast.

Jeoff noted with interest that he could hear male voices bellowing about Auril and Chardalyn yet again. This cavern system must be some kind of a base for the chardalyn-wielding shirtless madmen. Perhaps they raided from here, transported by rings like the one he had accidentally triggered? In which case it was all the more important that he solve the mystery of the blue flame. Steeling himself, he leapt directly into the blue flame, calling Auril’s name as he did.

And that really fucking hurt.

The bitter chill cut to the bone, and Jeoff fell out of the flame even more quickly than he’d gone in. The exposed skin on his legs and hands – he was still wearing his nightgown, after all – was white with frostbite. The flame, by contrast, was completely unaffected.

“Why do they not die?” Testikles voice caught Jeoff’s attention. “We slew them swift enough at our camp! Why do these not fall?”

“Hit them harder, pussy,” called Milo, and Jeoff caught the flat thwap! of a crossbow. A deep voice roared with laughter. “Oh yeah?” said Milo, and his high-pitched, childish giggle rang out in response.

Jeoff turned his attention to the form of the woman in the flames. When he had a good idea of her appearance, he summoned his energies and cast a Spell of Likeness over himself and scurried back down the tunnel to the intersection where the melee was in full cry. Abruptly he recalled the last time he’d done this kind of thing, and nearly been butchered by Testikles who, being an idiot, was easily fooled by a simple illusion. Well. Couldn’t have that, eh?

He cleared his throat, and spoke. “Don’t worry, guys! It’s just me – Jeoff!” Hopefully the chardalyn-madmen were too messed up to notice that part. He raised his arms like a ghost – ghosts did that, didn’t they? – and in his spookiest voice, he said: “Woooo! It is I, Anal, queen of the frosts! Lay down your arms!”

“Auril!” snapped Alea, smashing one of the shirtless loonies in the face.

“Right!” said Jeoff. “Auril!” It was a mistake anyone could have made.

Tragically, the chardalyn-crazed murder-men seemed to pay no attention to Jeoff’s cunning disguise. The battle raged without pause.

Skrote, still affected by the Spider Climb spell, raced down from the cavern ceiling. He gored a shirtless murder-man and hurled him to the floor in passing, then raced up the wall again out of reach of the deadly chardalyn weapons. Testikles sprang on the fallen man and chopped huge chunks out of him with his axe.

“Why? Won’t? You? Die?” screamed the enraged barbarian, his purple boner wobbling angrily. “You died in the Gigantic Ice Bajina! You died by our camp! Why won’t you die here?” He stomped the shirtless man’s face into a horrific red ruin, but the madman grinned, and laughed through broken stumps of teeth.

“It’s gotta be the fire,” growled Milo. “I’m gonna smash the brazier!” He raced up the wall and along the roof into the cavern of the blue flame.

Jeoff cut loose with a lightning bolt that put a shirtless loony down. There were four of them altogether, and the horrific wounds they carried bore testament to the skills and enthusiasm of Jeoff’s crew. The lightning-struck loony lay still for a moment, smoking gently, and Jeoff felt a measure of hope – but then the crazed eyes opened, and the scarred, wrecked body heaved itself to its feet.

“Have this, you unholy fucks!” shouted Alea. She opened her Bag of Holding and swung it wildly, spraying the entire scene with water. “Holy water!” she yelled. “Yeah! You like that? You like that?”

The now-soggy shirtless murdermen laughed, a chorus of hate and delight. Alea backed away, shaking dry her magic bag. She glanced at Iledove. “You sure this water’s proper holy?”

“Holy as Helm can make it,” Iledove assured her, dodging back from the swing of a chardalyn flail.

“Flame’s not going out,” called Milo from the fire cavern. “But… uhh… smashing the brazier isn’t good. I think it’s making the cavern collapse. A bit. I’m gonna stop, okay?” A heavy rumble punctuated his words, and a puff of dust emerged from the tunnel of the fire cavern.

Skrote pulled his trick again, running down to knock over a shirtless murder-man and racing back up the wall. In his wake, Alea pounced. Shearing the man’s head from his shoulders, she grabbed it by the hair. While the body flailed about aimlessly and the head laughed and gibbered in her grasp, she ducked into the entrance of the flame cavern just as Milo ran out along the ceiling. A hideous scream followed, echoing through the cavern, and Alea emerged, ashen-faced.

“The flame didn’t kill it,” she said. “It’s just lying there in the fire, screaming in pain.”

“Fucking good!” said Milo. He seized a chardalyn javelin from the floor and used it to pin the flailing, headless body to the floor where it thrashed and struggled like stuck bug in a kid’s collection box. “Do it to the others!” He spun, and stabbed another shirtless loony in the dick.

The shirtless loony went down, and Iledove chopped off his head while he lay there. She kicked the laughing head to Milo, who booted it down the tunnel where Alea claimed it. A second hideous scream rang out in chorus with the first.

“Well done! Well done!” cried Jack Rabbitt, darting into the tunnel of the flame room. “Have at them,” he cried, whaling on his drum like a freak. Badumpadumpadumpadump!!

“Fuck off!” snapped Milo. Distracted, he was too slow to avoid a chardalyn flail that took him in the head, making him stagger. The same flail tagged Iledove on the backswing. Jeoff lunged and jabbed the shirtless murder-man with his dagger in passing, then nailed him with a fire-bolt that dropped the chardalyn-crazed killer to his knees.

“Coming through!” screamed Alea, and Jeoff leapt back to make room for the battle-master’s greatsword. The huge blade whooped through the air, barely pausing as it clove the neck of the burning chardalyn-madman. She scooped up the head as it fell and lobbed it down the corridor to the flame room. “Another one for the fire, Jack Rabbitt!”

Badumpadumpadumpadump! “Take that!”

A third scream split the air. Milo got his feet under himself and nailed two more flailing bodies to the stone of the cavern with fallen chardalyn javelins. Skrote ran down from the ceiling again, knocking down the last of the shirtless murder-men, and as a group the crew took his head and passed it to Jack Rabbitt for the fire.

Panting, bleeding, aching, Jeoff stared at the screaming heads in the flames while Milo ransacked the remaining rooms of the cavern. But it seemed there was nobody else left to kill, and soon enough the entire crew stood around the cold blue flame, watching nervously as the undying heads screamed in pain and horror.

“I’ve got an idea,” said Alea. Opening her Bag of Holding, she held it wide and scooped up the blue flame altogether. Jeoff looked into the bag, and saw the flame continued to burn even in the extradimensional space inside the magic bag.

“Stuff the heads in too,” he suggested.

Avoiding snapping teeth, the others lobbed the heads into the bag. They began screaming again. Alea winced, and closed the bag, bringing blessed silence.

“Now what?” she said. “I’ve got a bag full of cold blue fire and screaming heads that won’t die.”

“Let me look at one of those heads,” Jeoff said. “There must be something…”

Opening the bag produced the chorus of horrible screams once again.

“How do they do that without lungs?” said Testikles.

“Evil magic,” said Jeoff. Meaningless nonsense, but it would pacify the little barbarian. He reached into the bag and extracted a head by the hair, turning it this way and that. Alea shut the bag again – and in that very instant, the head stilled, and turned lifeless. “Hello,” said Jeoff. “That’s interesting. Give me another one, will you?”

Alea extracted another head, and passed it to Jeoff. Once again, as she shut the bag, the head died.

“What about the bodies?” said Jeoff.

Milo trotted off. “Dead,” he called from the battle scene. “Completely dead.”

“Nice,” said Jeoff. “Open the bag again?”

The screaming came back. Jeoff lobbed the head in with the others. It didn’t come back to life.

“Very nice,” he said, and pulled out the dead head plus one more of the screaming heads. Alea tightened the bag again, and the third head died. She opened the bag and reached in, but Jeoff held up a hand. The battle-master looked at him inquisitively. “Think of it like this,” he said. “Right now you’ve got a Bag of Holding with a Magic Cold Blue Fire and a Screaming Head. Isn’t that more impressive than not having a Screaming Head?”

Everyone looked at each other, nodding agreement.

“I think the priests of Helm in Easthaven will want to see this,” said Iledove. “This is evil magic.”

“It’s a long way to Easthaven,” said Alea.

“It’s a long way to fuckin’ anywhere now we don’t have a sled-wagon,” grunted Milo.

Jeoff shrugged. “Toss the caves. We’ll grab everything of value, and get back to the campsite. We can work out what to do once we’re back with our stuff…”

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