We broke camp after a night of bitter cold at the edge of a field of strange black sand. It seems the rumors of an ancient magical disaster there are true. That, or it’s just black sand. u-Heury threw a fit when it was time to go in, and refused. He was packing his bags to head back to Eastdale. I wasn’t having it; it would be desertion in the face of the enemy and I said so to his face. He didn’t care. (Neither would I, if it’s the smart thing to do, but this is just sand and we supposedly make a living doing this).

After a while arguing about this, he said something about trusting the natural world more than magic, and ate one of those magical mushrooms of his. Quite a combination. But it calmed him right down and he agreed to continue. What can I say, the man wakes up hangry.

We soon reached the edge of a massive canyon, with a clear trail winding down into the depths in long switchbacks. It must be noted that, in chain mail, it took us at least four days to get here. The amount of food and water needed for expeditions here is significant. We need to arrange for horses, or a cart, in the future. Perhaps leather armor for travel and chain or even plate for descending into the ruins themselves. Amateurs study tactics; professional soldiers study logistics.

Halfway down we passed a cave off to the side. It needs 150 feet of rope and pitons to reach safely. Ahnjela scouted it; she says some sort of flying creature lairs there, and the place is filled with bones. On a future trip we might set up a rope bridge to explore with a larger group, but again, more equipment is needed. We continued downward.

I was just explaining to Bayonetta – flirting really, the girl is like a breath of fresh air for an old soldier like me, still full of enthusiasm, but I digress. I was explaining about the difference between smart bandits and stupid bandits. Smart bandits wait until after you loot the ruins and start heading home to charge their “toll”. Alas, we met a group of stupid bandits instead. They were bullywogs, strange frog creatures half the size of a decent man, led by some sort of shaman.

We argued like civilized men about who would pay whom and who would make way on the trail. Then the damn shaman croaked at me and I couldn’t move! The other frogs pelted us with sling stones and we (well they; I was still locked up tighter than a nun’s arse) fired back. It was only when Oooohya claimed the high ground that the frogs gave up and retreated. I was STILL frozen. On the plus side, Bayonetta and Gurg carried me all the way down into the canyon. Gurg had my boots and my head was nestled right next to the two reasons I hired her. Very nice. Even when I noticed I could move again I waited a little bit just to savor the moment.

Finally I looked up at Bayonetta and smiled my best Casanova smile and said I ain’t moving till you kiss me just like the fairy tales. She dropped me… But she blushed first. Gotcha! Flowers next. I wonder if there’s anyone who sells flowers in Eastdale? 🌹

At the bottom of the canyon we had three ways to go (not counting backwards). Two led up, one down. There was a small campsite already there, and signs of a bat infestation. We stayed the night without incident, and in the morning, we chose down. That led to a dead-end cavern with three old skeletons. u-Heury poked one with his spear and they started moving!

That startled everyone, even me. My hands were shaking as I drew my bow, memories of the horrible undead infestation in Helix I had fled from just a year before flooding back. Dead things should stay dead, damnit! There was only room for three in the front ranks, and Gurg was in back watching with infravision, so it was Bayonetta, Argos and u-Heury in the front ranks. None of them but Argos could hit them. Argos on the other hand was like a dog with a bone; quite literally! My arrows spun off into the dark uselessly.

They didn’t have any trouble hitting us, though. Especially Bayonetta and Argos. Argos held on but Bayonetta was bleeding heavily after the first few rounds and finally fell, one of the skeletal hands raking across her face. I felt a fury rising within me as my fond imaginings faded to the reality of life or death for an adventurer. I fed all my passion into a flame in my mind 🔥, feeling the ancient meditation techniques from my training helping me focus. I whispered the ancient mantra of the sniper, “One shot, one kill”, and it was so. Two skeletons fell with two shots from my bow.

Unfortunately there were three. Once I cleared them off of Bayonetta I rushed to her aid, letting the others finish off the last one. Alas there was nothing I could do. I am no man of faith and she was already gone. That is the soldier’s life. Seize the joys of the moment, live your life fully, and mourn but briefly when it reaches the inevitable end. I regret only that I did not offer to share her bedroll the night before.

Argos is still with us, for now. How long that lasts I don’t know.

With nothing else to do, I grimaced and collected the coin from where the skeletons had lain. If I could not have her laughter in my ears and her heaving bosom in my arms, I could at least have the coin to drink in her memory.

Her life turned out to be worth 8pp, 24gp, 18sp. Such is the life of an adventurer.

I must remember to reclaim the coin I paid her on the way here before we leave. She would understand.