Sheila stared at the unicorn for a few moments, trying to understand. Uni? What was Uni doing here? She shouldn't be here? What was going on?
'Uni? Is that you? Uni?' The little unicorn gave a stilted nod and looked up miserably to the Thief. 'What are you doing here?'
Uni crept forward towards her, her head low and gave a weak and miserable bray.
'What happened to you? Where are the others?'
The unicorn didn't answer, but put her head on Sheila's knee with a sigh. She closed her eyes.
As she petted her, Sheila frowned. Something wasn't quite right here. Uni was with Bobby when they had been taken prisoner in the village, wasn't she? She had been with him all the time, and was still there when she'd been taken away. Hadn't she? Hadn't she?
There was just no way Uni could have gotten there before her; and more to the point, it looked like Uni had been there for quite some time, judging by the way she had been hiding at the back of the cage!
What was going on?
'Uni, how long have you been here? Hours?' Uni looked up at her, and nodded.
Hours!! How could Uni have been here for hours when she had been with Bobby the whole time? Unless… Sheila's frown deepened. Unless something had taken her place. She reached out once again to pet Uni's head, trying to understand.
'I wish you could talk, Uni,' she said with a sigh. 'Then you could tell me what happened.'
She frowned, thinking. Something wasn't right, and it was obvious enough to her that something had taken the unicorn's place. But what? And why? And how!
There was a low groaning noise from somewhere behind her, deep and unseen in the shadowy cave.
Sheila turned round. Maybe the questions should wait!
'We've gotta get ourselves out of here,' she whispered to the unicorn. 'I know! Why don't we just teleport?'
Uni shook her head. She tried to concentrate, and her horn glowed very, very slightly but she didn't go anywhere. It seemed to take a great deal of effort even to do that!
'You already tried?'
'You had a bad trip?'
Uni nodded again.
'Then I guess we'll have to think up something else!' said Sheila with a sigh.
Uni's unexpected appearance had only distracted her from the disgusting smell for a short while. She was still locked in a cage, and she still didn't have a way out.
The Thief spend a while examining the cage door, and the walls, trying to find a way out, but she couldn't. Whatever had made this cage had made sure that once something was shut in, it didn't get back out again.
She thought of the others, and Hank in particular, and hoped that they would hurry, wherever they were, as the feeling of panic was starting to grow. But instead of letting herself get too worried, and giving in to the panic, she kept searching around, and trying to find a way out on her own. She wasn't on her own this time, anyway. She had Uni to look after, and to help her.
She went back to the door, with the unicorn following her, and peered out through the bars.
The cave beyond was a mass of shadows, the thin light that filtered in from the crevasse was tinged with pale orange, presumably because the day was over and dusk was falling. Before too long there would be no day left at all!
'I wonder what lives in here?' she whispered, more to herself than to Uni. She didn't say what else she was thinking; that whatever it was, it was obviously bad news. She didn't think she needed to!
It was difficult to see anything in the cave, but slowly Sheila's eyes grew accustomed to the shapeless shadows, she could make out a few details.
The floor seemed to be covered in bones, many human skulls but also animals of different kinds. There seemed to be some Orcs as well; or at least there were some tusked skulls that looked like they were from Orcs and Sheila had no desire to find out up close. There were also some skull that maybe had belonged to those Duegars as well. She felt sick just thinking about it.
The Thief was just about to turn away when she caught a tiny glint of silver out of the corner of her eye. Something was there, tossed aside in a forgotten corner of the cave. Whatever the something was, it seemed to be long, and silvery. And though Dungeonmaster had never described it, she knew what it was: The Orion Lance!
She pushed herself up closer to the bars in the door, trying to peer past the edge and see the Lance more clearly, but she could only see the first foot or so. It was too far away to make out any real details, but it had a long shining silver point, and a more golden sheen to it further down.
'The Lance!' she whispered. At last they had finally found what they had entered the caves to find! Now the only problem was getting to it, and finding the others. She sighed. Why did this sort of thing always happen?
She stared at the Lance for a short while, straining round to try and get a better view of it, but it didn't work. Just as she had given up, and was trying to push open the door again she heard another strange noise.
There was the quiet whoosh of wind, and close by Sheila could hear the gentle beat of wings. Something was coming!
'Get back into the corner, Uni,' she ordered the unicorn. 'Keep hidden, until the others come!'
Uni hesitated, but saw the hard, uncompromising look on the Thief's face (the one she usually reserved for arguing with her brother) and so Uni did as she was ordered.
The wing-beats grew louder, then something huge swept down from above, right into the cave before her. A Dragon!
It was very large, nearly the same height as Tiamat, but black with long, wide black wings. It landed with a rush of air, and stood in the middle of its cave, looking around cautiously. As it stood there, it seemed to melt into the background shadows, and Sheila realised what kind of dragon this was. This was a Shadow Dragon!
Being faced with any sort of dragon when trapped in a cage was bad enough, but Shadow Dragons had an unpleasant reputation, even for Evil dragons: mean, callous, and downright bad!
It took a long, slow sniff of the air, and stretched its neck up, straining its wings right back to the wall. As it moved, it sent wafts of that terrible rotting smell over to her. She put her hand over her mouth, trying not to cough or make to much noise. And trying not to be sick as well!
The Shadow Dragon sniffed again, and it turned to the back wall, that was covered in shadows, just like the creature itself.
Sheila looked up to the wall much more closely, to see what the Dragon was sniffing at. She had to strain her eyes, and squint slightly, but at last she made out something of what was there. Behind were a variety of corpses, in various states of decay. Her stomach turned and she put her hand firmly over her mouth, determined not to be sick.
That was the other thing about Shadow Dragons. They liked meat; but they liked rotten meat a whole lot better!
The Shadow Dragon suddenly lifted its head, and sniffed again. Then it looked slowly round its cave, giving a menacing growl.
It seemed to have caught her scent, and it came lumbering over to the cage, and peered inside, its giant, gunmetal claws curling round the bars on the door. The smell of its breath was almost over powering, and Sheila staggered back, keeping her hand over her mouth. She could see the glint of malice in its eye, and she swallowed hard on the urge to be sick, and the paralysing fear.
The Dragon growled at her.
Hank, please hurry up!
Presto didn't say much as they walked.
In fact, no one said very much as they were moving far too fast to walk and talk at the same time. Hank was driving them forward at an almost unmanageable pace. Presto was tempted to give up a couple of times, but he wasn't convinced that Hank would stop to wait for him, and he had no desire to be lost in the Caves on his own!
He was at the back, Eric and Diana were just in front; Diana seemed to be keeping Eric company, as the Cavalier was struggling to keep up the relentless pace; no doubt he would have some choice words to say to Hank when they stopped, whenever he got his breath back! Bobby was the only one who could match the Ranger and he stalked along by Hank's side glaring so ferociously, and swinging his Club in such a threatening manner that Presto almost felt sorry for the Doppelganger.
He had no clear idea of what they were going to do next; he was fairly sure no one else had an idea either, and Hank just seemed intent on getting to "Sheila" as quickly as possible.
They were following what looked like a well-worn pathway further into the mountain. If it had been outside, it might have been a road!
Over the past minutes they had descended further and Presto was starting to feel a little sick. There was a smell, a truly disgusting smell that rivalled anything Eric had ever cooked! It grew stronger the further down they went.
'What is that stench!' he heard Eric say between breaths.
'It's just like your cooking!' Diana quipped back instantly.
Presto would have expected more banter, but obviously the punishing pace had eroded their collective sense of humour! And for that he was actually pleased, at the moment!
As they kept on walking, there was a growing feeling inside Presto that he'd forgotten something, or he had done something wrong or… well, something, anyway! He thought back to his meeting with Dungeonmaster. One of your number has already been captured.
His reasoning made sense, it fitted the riddle, but there was still something not quite right. Meeting Dungeonmaster seemed like weeks ago, rather than hours. The Magician wasn't even sure how long ago it was. It could have been days for all he knew; he had lost his sense of time as well as he sense of direction and all of his stamina. And the unending shadows and a long march in the dark was wearing them all down. Something feels odd. (Yes, something isn't quite right). Any suggestions? (No) Oh. Sure? (Sure.) Oh.
They rushed on and on and on.
Hank was still striding forward at the front. Bobby was beginning to lag behind, and the Magician could sense that both Eric and Diana were uneasy too; they were exchanging those sorts of glances with each other. But neither of them wanted to go and ask Hank; especially not Eric after that little… Presto didn't know how to describe it! Argument didn't quite cover it as it was all fairly one sided! But he wasn't surprised that Eric wanted to give Hank as wide a berth as possible.
I should talk to Hank. (He doesn't look like he wants to talk at the moment, you know, Presto) Still… I should talk to him. (Hmm) Well…maybe soon.
Undecided, he walked on, but not for long. Hank seemed to be speeding up again, and the frantic pace hadn't slacked at all. Eric was now visibly struggling to keep up, and Diana had taken his arm to help him along.
Presto was going to have to do something. Sooner rather than later, as well.
So he forced himself to speed up; and it was hard work too, he had to virtually run, and that was the hardest thing about the whole underground trip, especially after such a long, fast march. But he managed to get past the ailing Eric and Diana, and overtake a glowering, furious-looking Bobby as well. Poor little Uni was having to gallop along as fast as she could to keep up with him! You know, there's something odd…
Hank was just a few steps ahead, and Presto could see his face. There was a hard, heartless look on the Ranger's face, and it was a look that Presto really didn't like. Not even when they decided to go and look for the Dragon's Graveyard did he look so unapproachable!
Hank had Sheila's Cloak clutched in his left hand, tight enough to turn his knuckles white.
He couldn't let Hank go through this alone, without trying to help. Hank was their leader, he was the one they all looked up to, and the one they all relied on. He owed it to the Ranger to do something.
'Hey, Hank!' he panted.
The Ranger grunted in reply. Presto suddenly realised that Hank was as exhausted as the rest of them, and that this pace was untenable. They might get to wherever they were going in double quick time, but at the end they would be to worn out to do anything!
'Hey, Hank! Slow down!'
'I can't,' muttered Hank, though Presto wasn't totally sure he'd heard him correctly. The Ranger was breathing hard, and his face was covered with a sheen of sweat.
Hank moved to speed up, but Presto caught his arm.
'You're not gonna do any good if you can't stand,' he said. 'You've gotta slow down! Please!'
Maybe he sounded more plaintive and woeful than he'd meant to as Hank slowed slightly, and the Ranger turned to look at Presto, a look of concern on his face.
'Are you ok, Presto?' said Hank breathlessly. 'I know you were hurt, but we can't stop. I understand this is hard going, but we don't have a lot of time.'
'I'm ok, but what about you, Hank? Are you ok?'
Hank nodded tersely, without thinking; as if the answer to the question was obvious. But it was clear to Presto that the answer was the opposite from the one Hank had actually given. He wasn't ok at all.
The Magician didn't say anything for a few moments, and concentrated on trying to keep up with Hank and trying to work out what to say, and how best to say it. He was aware that he wasn't very good at this sort of thing; he didn't feel that he had helped Hank when he had really needed it. Sheila was missing, replaced by a Doppelganger, and Hank would be missing her terribly. How could he possibly find anything to say that would be helpful?
But first of all though, he had to persuade Hank to slow down, for all their sakes.
'Can we stop, Hank,' he said.
'Hank, I think we need to…'
Presto took a deep breath and grabbed the Ranger's arm as firmly as he could.
'You need to stop, Hank,' he said firmly.
The boy turned round, and Presto had to suppress a wave of fear, worrying he had taken a step too far and the Ranger was going to storm off. But there was a frozen look of fear on his face as Hank looked at the Magician, and after a moments hesitation, he nodded.
He slowed, much to everyone's relief, and then finally stopped, just near a narrowing of the tunnel. Presto was worried that Eric would immediately have a go at Hank and pick a fight but, fortunately, the Cavalier was far too grateful for the rest to start arguing at the moment.
Presto stayed beside the Ranger as they rested, watching the other boy as he stood with his eyes closed, leaning against the wall. His grip on the Cloak hadn't lessened at all.
'We need a short break,' Presto said. 'We won't do any good if we can't stand when we find Sheila.'
Hank looked up at him, his eyes wide with fear.
'Sheila, she could be anywhere,' he whispered after a long pause. 'I don't even know when she went missing! It could have been days for all we know! She might be miles away. There's almost no chance of finding her. I don't know what to do. I don't know where to start.'
The last words were spoken so softly that Presto thought he'd misheard. But when he looked at Hank's face, he realised how much the admission of despair had meant.
'We'll find her,' said Presto. 'We will, somehow. We're all here to help.'
'I can't believe it wasn't her,' he said quietly. 'Earlier on. I just... can't believe it.' Presto just nodded, not sure what to say. 'I can't believe it wasn't her. It feels like…' Hank drew a short, pained breath, '…it feels like she's betrayed us, even though I know she hasn't. And I feel…'
Hank stopped, and looked Presto in the eye. The look of sorrow and fear on his face was something the Magician had never seen before. He was just struggling to find something useful and pertinent to say when someone else cut in.
'Yeah, it's not exactly fun when a friend turns on you!' said a voice.
Presto looked round in surprise, to see Eric standing just behind him, glaring at Hank.
(Oh boy!) Eric looks really annoyed! (Eric looks furious). Presto took a small step back. The Cavalier had that look on his face; the same one he had had when he'd faced off against the Dungeonmaster after Hank had been taken by the Darkling. This isn't good!
Hank looked at Eric with a blank, bland expression, and that seemed to infuriate the Cavalier even more.
'Well?' he demanded. 'Is it?'
Without pausing for breath, Eric continued before Hank could get a word in.
'But then, I suppose you didn't have a flaming arrow pointed in your face! Did you!'
It was clear that Eric was still furious at Hank's treatment of him earlier, and in some sense, Presto sympathised with him. But arguing about it here and now wasn't gonna do any good.
'And I'm not taking another goddamn step until you apologise!' said Eric firmly. 'I don't like being picked on!'
Presto glanced at Hank, expecting to see Eric's anger matched by the Ranger. But Hank looked almost haggard by comparison, he closed his eyes for a few moments. If Presto hadn't known better, he would have said Hank was about to cry.
'Well…?' demanded Eric.
'Give him a break, Eric,' said Diana. 'He's not really in any condition to…'
'I am sorry,' interrupted Hank. 'I am sorry.'
It was the apology that Eric had wanted, but Hank's broken and defeated tone sent a shiver of fear and pity through Presto. Hank covered his eyes with his hand, and everyone else turned to glare at Eric.
'What!' he snapped. 'What did I do wrong this time!'
'I've never met anyone so insensitive!' replied Diana hotly. 'I can't believe you sometimes!'
Eric glared at her.
'No,' said Hank. 'He's right. I was being unfair, and I went too far.' He looked at Eric again. 'I'm sorry.'
The Cavalier looked very awkward at Hank agreement; perhaps he wasn't used to Hank thinking he was right, but he managed to pass it off with a terse nod.
'Ok, then,' said Eric, lifting his Shield and gripping it tightly. 'Now that's cleared up, and we've all had a rest, let's find this Doppelganger and find Sheila!'
His face was set, and he looked levelly at Hank.
The exhausted and drained Ranger nodded, and suddenly smiled.
'Yeah,' he said. 'Let's go!'
There was a new purpose within the group, Presto could sense it. Surprisingly, Eric and Hank walked together at the front, Presto himself in the middle with Diana, and Bobby and Uni behind.
They didn't go as fast as they had earlier, everyone knew that was untenable and Hank wasn't pushing the point. But they walked as fast as they could, always heading along the widest tunnel, and almost always heading downwards.
They had only been marching for about five minutes when they heard a muffled noise from along the tunnels. Presto thought that he might have imagined it.
Then there was a scream.
It came from somewhere up ahead, and sounded suspiciously like Sheila! Hank skidded to a halt, and seemed to stagger. And then, without warning, he started to run. Everyone followed.
The scream had sounded close and, sure enough, they soon came to a very smooth walled, short tunnel that had a glimmer of light at the end. The group slowed, and crept along it as quickly and as quietly as they could until they reached the bottom.
Once there, they all crowded forward, peering round the corner. There was enough light to see by, coming from a fissure to their left. Uni was pushed against the back of Bobby's knees, shaking. The Barbarian reached down to pet her.
The stench in the cave was almost overpowering, and all of the kids had their hands over their mouth to try and dampen it. But it didn't work, at least not for Presto. He had never smelt anything quite so disgusting!
More than that, at the back of the cave were bodies; humans Orcs; some of those Duergar creatures too, all in various degrees of decomposition. He fought the urge to be sick, which was all the easier as he hadn't had anything to eat for a good long while.
But the thing that caught his attention the most was the great, black creature that stood in the centre. He stared at it for a few seconds.
It was a gigantic Shadow Dragon; he recognised it from its description. It was black like night, but mottled as well and the dim light reflected off its scales, and there were so many shadows in the cave that it was difficult to see exactly how big it was. He could see the bright gleam in its eye, and the white of its teeth. He gulped.
Shadow Dragon's were nasty; and not that clever either!
In one of its great, clawed hands was a person. Presto heard Hank gasp. It looked like Sheila. And it was obviously scared, and struggling to get away.
Suddenly Hank moved forward, brandishing his Bow.
'Hey!' he shouted. 'Hey you!'
Both "Sheila" and the Shadow Dragon turned to see what was making that noise.
Presto was watching Sheila carefully; and in that moment, when she turned to look at Hank, there was absolutely no doubt in Presto's mind that that was the real Sheila. There was just no way anything, no matter how clever or well adapted as a mimic, could have imitated that expression of joy, relief and above all pride and love. But if she's Sheila… (then where is the Doppelganger.) And what have we missed out?(There's something we've missed. But what?) Trust no one…
'Stay away from her!' shouted Hank with a growl in his voice. He drew a flaming arrow. 'Stay away from her!'
The Shadow Dragon hissed at him, it might have been a laugh, and then it let out an ear-splitting shriek.
Everyone bar the Ranger tried to cover their ears.
A few moments of silence followed, then there was the unmistakable beat of wings from outside. The noise grew louder, and a moment after there was the scraping of claws and another Shadow Dragon appeared at the fissure in the wall. And this one was even bigger.
Oh crap! (You can say that again). Ok, oh CRAP!
Everyone seemed frozen in surprise, and the newcomer looked round the cave with a malevolent glare, it was definitely larger, and broader, and the look in its eye was evil.
Panic had almost stopped Presto breathing. Ok, they could possibly take on one Shadow Dragon and win (or at least not die) but taking on two, presumably a pair, with a nest to defend, and maybe even young, or eggs, was an entirely different matter.We're screwed!
But fortunately, Hank reacted faster than the Dragon did. He fired a quick volley of arrows, directly at the hand holding the Thief and the Dragon recoiled in pain, letting Sheila slip to the ground, free.
She didn't stay still for long, but darted away from the creature, heading towards them as fast as she could run over the uneven ground.
Presto did a double-take. Those were bones. On the ground.
Those were bones!
Sickness welled up inside him again.
Whether or not Hank knew this was indeed the real Sheila or not, Presto was never be sure. But as the Thief came closer, Hank didn't react aggressively, and neither did nay of the others, it was likely they were too worried about the two dragons!
But Sheila looked at them with a wide and familiar smile, then looked at Bobby, with a kind of strange expression. Then she looked back at the cage in the corner, confused. Something about her attitude attracted the Magician's attention.
So, instead of worrying about their situation, Presto followed her gaze, as the others moved forward against the two furious Shadow Dragons.
As he looked, there was a movement in the cage, a tiny glimmer of white that limped forward.
And suddenly Presto knew what it was. And he knew what they had done wrong. And he knew what had happened.Oh crap! (I'm so stupid!) I should have known! It was so obvious! I should have known!
He looked suddenly round at Bobby, and to where the little white unicorn had been cowering just a few moments before.
But that unicorn had gone.
He looked around. At the door of the cage, another unicorn limped out, her head down. She saw Bobby and gave a whine of pleasure.
Where had the other one gone?
'Oh, no!' Sheila cried out suddenly. Presto, and everyone else turned to look.
Over by the far wall, there was another unicorn. And just beside it was a slender glowing pole made of metal.
His breath caught. It was the Orion Lance! It had to be!
And the Uni-Doppelganger was just next to it. They were all too far away to do anything but watch.
There was an ugly, teeth-grating snarl from the pseudo-unicorn and as everyone watched, open mouthed, it began to change.
Firstly, it grew bigger, and broader across the shoulders, its red mane changing to light pink then white. The horn darkened and sank into its head as its pony-like muzzle squashed up and broadened too, making it look like Uni had had her face truncated and split in two. The loving, pink eyes grew black as well, and Presto saw a glint of malicious red within them.
The contorted body of the unicorn continued to change, the muscles and skin blending into something totally different, and turning darker and uglier with every passing moment. It grew bigger still, and pushed itself up on its hind legs, its forelegs turned to arms, and it grew taller, and thinner, and blacker.
At last, it stopped changing, and before them stood a Drow; and evil Elfling. It glared at them, and grabbed the Lance before anyone had moved.
As it lifted the ancient weapon off the floor there what another thunderous shriek from one of the Shadow Dragons and the Magician staggered at the sheer force of the sound.
He looked round. Everyone was almost exactly where they had been before; the change had only taken a few moments at most. Hank and the others were close to the Shadow Dragons, but now the great beasts were looking to the Doppelganger/Drow rather than his friends.
It took a deep breath in.
'Get down!' shouted Hank. 'Look o…'
He never got the chance to finish.
The Shadow dragon exhaled, but instead of fire the cave was consumed with darkness, the kind of thick, sticking darkness that only magic could produce.
There were more shrieking noises, and Presto guessed that one Dragon would most likely go for the Doppelganger, but the other one would go after him and his friends. He had to do something!
He groped around blindly, pulling the Hat from his head and trying to think up something good to ask it for.
Light. He couldn't think of anything clever to say at that particular time but in his mind's eye he could picture exactly what he wanted. Beautiful, bright, glaring white light. From anywhere!'Let there be light!' he cried out.
Instantly the last word was out of his mouth, the Hat almost exploded with radiance; a giant ball of searing, bright white light burst up to the ceiling like a firework. The darkness that surrounded the other evaporated, and they all shielded their eyes from the burning glow.
When Presto looked round he saw that there was only one Shadow Dragon in the cave; and he noticed the tail of the other one disappearing out of the fissure. The remaining Dragon howled in pain, using its front paws to try and hide its eyes, but in vain. After a moment of shrieking and thrashing around, it leaped up off the ground, and flew desperately to the fissure, following its mate out of the cave. But it missed, and careered into the wall, dislodging some of the rocks there. Somehow it struggled on, clawing at its damaged eyes scrambling over the rock to get away from the source of its pain.
Rocks had blocked part of the fissure, and the kids all ran up to it. Presto noticed the way Hank had grabbed Sheila and held her tightly against him, just for a fleeting moment. Then the Ranger turned back to the rock wall. They had no way to get out, except back down the tunnel, and no one wanted to go that way at the moment. They wanted outside, out to real places again, not trapped under the mountains!
The Barbarian stepped forward, the real, plaintive and pained Uni limping just a step or two behind. Bobby hefted his Club, smashing a huge hole in the wall, letting real daylight pour in to the cave. Presto glanced back; seeing the bones and the partially decomposed corpses that the Shadow Dragons had been storing. He shuddered once again.
'Come on!' shouted Hank. 'Let's get outta here!'
Behind, there were cracks in the wall of the cave, and Presto realised that the wall was going to come down. He ran, following Diana and Eric outside to the fresh air.
There was the sound of splintering rock behind them, and no one slowed down.
Presto was the last one out, running and sliding down the slope away from the caves.
Eventually, when they were still fairly close, there was an almighty crash, and a billow of smoke and small stones washed down the hillside.
The cave had finally collapsed.
He looked around, worrying about the two angry Shadow Dragons. But the only sign of them was a lone black dot a few miles away in the sky, wheeling and diving, as if still in pain. Of the other Dragon, there was no sign. And there was no sign of the Doppelganger anywhere.
They were outside. They were safe.
Much to his surprise they seemed to have cross all the way under the mountain range; before them was a vast plane of purple plants, that seemed to be some sort of strange, Realmish grass. And instead of it being nearly night, it looked like it was almost midday! He frowned, unsure even of how long they had spent underground.
The others had stopped moving, and so Presto slumped down to the ground as well, exhausted.
He let out a long, empty sigh.
Banish the Shadows from the Cave. That was what Dungeonmaster had told them when they had first started out to find the Lance. And they had, the Shadow Dragon couldn't go back to its disgusting lair, or prey on the Duegars again, or anything else that strayed into the caves. But that was of no comfort.
The Lance had gone.
They hadn't even managed to get anywhere near it.
They had lost another way home, and they hadn't even had the chance to use the Lance.
He looked round at his exhausted friends.
Bobby way hugging Uni, and petting her mane. Diana and Eric were side by side, both with glum and humourless expressions on their faces. And Hank and Sheila were together, Hank had his arm around the Thief, and she was leaning into his shoulder, with her eyes closed, and wonderful, relieved expression on his face.
The Lance was gone. He tried not to think about it. There was nothing they could do about it.
They were all safe, that was what mattered. There would always be another way home.
That was cold comfort today, but that would have to do.
The creature opened its eyes slowly, looking around.
The cold wind blew off the mountains, but that didn't bother the Doppelganger. It hid in a narrow cleft, half dozing for a number of days, until it was sure it would not be followed.
It was in no hurry, not now it had its prize and the Dungeonmaster's Young Fools had failed. When it returned to Master, it would be well rewarded, and well fed. Until then, it could afford to wait, and make sure it was not followed.
No, it had to be sure it wasn't followed.
Master would not like that. Master would not like that at all! It closed its eyes, and went back to sleep, the Orion Lance still clutched in its hand.
It would return to Master.
Coming very, VERY soon – "The Lair of the Lich King" - The kids enter a strange, empty, ruined land, only to find that it's not so empty after all. But when things go wrong, it's up to Hank and Diana to save the day: But that isn't as easy as it sounds!
"Shadow Dragons"; their descriptions and liking of mouldy meat are taken from the D&D Monstrous Manual.
"Duegars" are as well, sort of – I've made them a little bit nicer than they are in the Monstrous Manual, where they are more evil than just oppress ;)
Great, big juicy and heartfelt thanks to those who had reviewed this story and my other ones – especially Realmlife and C Bell. Thank you all for your support!