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Rude Dolf the Red-Nosed Drain-Deer (Part 4)

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Three turns later Dolf stared across a small channel that separated the Island of Miscast Dolls from the mainland. It had been a grueling and dangerous journey: he’d leveled after a particularly fierce battle against a Nabisco Nibbler. Hermaphrodity, who was still with him, had proved they were as dangerous with a bow as they had claimed, croaking numerous foes before they could even get off an attack. The Elf turned to the Drain-Deer and pointed at a speck off in the distance.

 

“Guess we gotta take that boat across?”

 

Without further comment the pair approached the boat, on the lookout for an ambush. After assuring themselves that everything was safe, and poking at the boat to ensure it wasn’t going to eat them, Dolf leaped over the gunwale into the small vessel. Hermaphrodity followed.

 

“Do we need to do anything or…” Dolf began, before almost losing his balance as the boat automagically took off for the opposite shore.

 

“Looks like we get a free ride,” Hermaphrodity chuckled. “Don’t fall off.”

 

“There’s no such thing as a free ride,” the Drain Deer retorted. “I don’t trust it.”

 

The channel was neither turbulent nor very wide, and so the pair gained the opposite shore without mishap. The boat pulled up to a small dock and glided to a halt: end of the line. The two Warlords jumped out and looked around. The Island resembled a city in that numerous smaller buildings surrounded a mighty tower, but the terrain type was definitely Ruins. The buildings certainly didn’t look like they were popped, being of substandard construction and falling apart in ways that a real city would not. Dirty snow covered everything from the chimneys to the wide, unused streets. More was falling, fast enough to quickly obscure any recent footprints.

 

“Do you think there’s anything alive here?” Hermaphrodity asked as they took in the cheerless scene.

 

“I sure hope so…we haven’t heard a word about Frank, and we gotta capture that Noid.”

 

“You know, I’ve been wondering how you’re going to do that, mon. You got a net or something in your saddlebag?”

 

The Drain-Deer smiled.

 

“Better than that, I’ve got my fangs. I’ll just drain one until it’s almost incapacitated, then I’ll claim it as prisoner. Every turn I get a snack, and it gets a one-way trip back to my tribe.”

 

“Well, I hope we can find one quickly. Sweet ghost town of Kingston, this place gives me the creeps.”

 

Dolf trotted toward the middle of the deserted town and began to sniff around.

 

“Something’s wrong here…very wrong.”

 

The Drain-Deer rounded an abandoned ice house and halted.

 

“Hermaphrodity, do you see those lights up there?

 

The Elf crunched up behind him.

“Yeah, mon. It looks like they’re wrapped around a giant tree.”

 

“Something’s alive in the branches. Let’s go see…it may be a Noid.”

 

Dolf trudged confidently into the disused central square of the town. A red rectangular building bordered the tiny park, terminating in a short, stubby round tower. There were definitely life signs ahead, that was for sure. The towering evergreen in the middle of the square practically glowed to the Drain-Deer’s life sense. He almost blundered right into the square before he realized his horrible mistake. He turned around and bolted.

 

“Hermaphrodity, run! It’s not a tree, it’s a giant Tannenbaum!”

 

The evergreen, which had remained motionless as Dolf approached, lurched into action. Long, fibrous tendrils extended from its branches and sought out the fleeing Drain-Deer. Hermaphrodity planted their feet and sent an arrow whizzing into the nearest tendril, which retreated as if in pain. Then the Elf turned and followed the Drain-Deer back toward the boat. Dolf had almost reached the dock when he once again slid to a halt. In the dim light he could just make out movement on the docks. The boat was leaving! As he watched, a unit with enormously long arms reached over to the boat and picked up a spidew-like creature. They were trapped.

“Why did you stop! Keep going, mon!” Hermaphrodity cried as they almost ran into the back of the Drain-Deer.

 

“The boat’s gone, and there are units waiting to croak us when we reach the dock.”

 

Dolf turned around and looked back toward the Tannenbaum.

 

“Let’s try to slip past it into that big red building we saw. We can pass through and see if there are any other docks on the other side of the island.”

 

“That’s crazy, mon. We’ll never make it! I’d rather wait here to see if the boat comes back.

 

Dolf shook his antlers.

 

“There are enemies out there and we have no idea how many there are and how strong they are. We can rush past the Tannenbaum. All we need to do is avoid those creepers it shoots out. I’ll go first, and you follow.”

 

“All right, mon. But be careful. I don’t want to be alone on this Titan’s forsaken island.”

 

Dolf trotted back toward the square as Hermaphrodity jogged along beside him. It didn’t take long for them to reach the square where the giant tree creature lay in wait.

 

“Don’t bother using arrows. They won’t even put a dent in that thing’s points,” Dolf cautioned. “And we may need them later. Alright…I’m off. Keep to the Tannenbaum’s right side. I’m going the long way around.”

 

Dolf charged before his brain could tell his legs what a bad idea his plan was. He slipped a few times before his hoofs found the purchase they needed on the cold hard ground. The tree must not have realized he was the same unit as before: it waited until he was almost right on it to send out its seeking tendrils. The Drain-Deer easily danced out of range, toying with the clumsy creepers.

 

“Is that all you got?” he shouted. “You could even catch a…”

 

Dolf’s blood ran cold as he spotted something familiar among the Tannenbaum’s ornaments. It was the head of a Drain-Deer, run through with a giant fishhook and hung from one of the tree’s lower branches.

 

“Frank!” the Drain-Deer screamed. “Titan’s taint boy, look what they’ve done to you!”

 

The world narrowed to a tiny, singular point of raw, red rage. The Tannenbaum was straight ahead, firing off more of those stupid tendrils. He could hear Hermaphrodity shouting at him from what seemed like three hexes away. The sum of Dolf’s existence was scratchy green boughs, grasping brownish vines, flashing silver tinsel, and his own fangs. He chomped down into dark, earthy firmness and drained, as if trying to croak the entire world in vengeance for his clansman.

 

He ignored the pain that was rapping at the door of his consciousness, ignored it because he could spare it no attention. Every fiber of his being was focused on one thing. Bite harder. Drain harder. Don’t croak. The Tannenbaum’s creepers were wrapped around him now, tightening slowly but surely, cutting off his air supply. Hermaphrodity’s screaming was louder now. The sound of metal on wood thudded into Dolf’s ears. The vines’ hold on him slacked. His breath came in great snorts as life-giving air flooded into his lungs, but he didn’t notice. All Dolf could hear now was the life song of the Tannanbaum, a deep, stately waltz through the long, cold turns. It had lived a long time, this tree, and its life had been good. The soil around it had been watered by the thousand victories it had seen. Now, its pure essence flowed into the Drain-Deer.

 

“Dolf! Dolf! Can you hear me!” the Elf’s voice was annoying. The Drain-Deer slowly turned its head to look at his ally. He moved his lips and tongue. Words were hard.

 

“Wha-what…you…want?”

 

“What do I want! Mon! You just croaked that giant tree! You levelled!”

 

Dolf considered his stats for a moment. Yes, he had levelled. And, he’d acquired a special.

 

“You also have a tattoo of a tree on your rump, mon. What’s that all about?”

 

The Drain-Deer looked at his right flank. Sure enough, a tiny Tannenbaum was there.

 

“That’s my Duty mark,” he said simply.

 

“What does it do?” the Elf asked.

 

“Gives me the ForestWalk special. It’s a good mark. I am glad.”

 

“Mon, you gotta snap out of it. You’re giving me the creeps.”

 

Dolf gazed steadily at Hermaphrodity.

 

“Thank you for helping me find Frank, even if he was croaked. I just wish I had something to give you.”

 

The Elf backed away a few paces.

 

“No, really, that’s ok. Just help me get my wings back and we’ll be more than even. Okay, so. Let’s go see what’s in that building over there.”

 

Hermaphrodity pointed to the long red building that flanked the square. Dolf nodded.

 

“That’s as good a plan as any. Try the door. I'll stand ready.”

 

Dolf stood ready to charge as Hermaphrodity put their hand on the door handle and gently turned. The door swung open, revealing a well-lit room with a light brown tiled floor, a couple of potted plants, a table, and a long, low slung metal bench. Sitting on the bench and staring at a strange, boxy device on the far side of the room were an iron golem and a lava golem. They didn’t seem to have noticed the two new entrants.

 

As Dolf was backing away slowly, a side door swung open and a decrepit Dollamancer shuffled into the room.

 

“Good news, everyone!” he shouted. “Someone’s gone and killed that Tannenbaum that’s been eating all my guests.”

 

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