“Frank! Frank! Frank the Dank! Where are you!?”

 

Dolf the Drain-Deer allowed one eyelid to rise ever so slightly. Was the nap ruined?

 

“Frrrrrrannnk!!!!!” the screeching nearby rose in both volume and pitch, certifying that the nap was officially ruined. Dolf opened his other eye and rose to his hooves, careful not to bump his antlers against the top of the cave he’d chosen for repose.

 

“Titans Taint, Marissa!” he roared. “What in Hellabad is the matter?”

 

He heard the clop of hooves against hard stone approaching the mouth of his cave.

 

“Don’t come over here…don’t come over here…”

 

Marissa’s disbanded face appeared in the mouth of the cave. She squinted at him with her disbandedly beautiful but near-sighted eyes.

 

“Language, my crude dude. I’m looking for Frank. Have you seen him?”                                      

Dolf scoffed.

 

“No, I haven’t seen your idiot lover. What do I look like, an Eye-Pod? Titan’s Tailbones, I was having such a good nap until you came along. Now my sleep schedule is all out of whack.”

 

Marissa smiled as if she hadn’t even heard Dolf’s recriminations. From long, experience, he knew she was going to ask for a favor.

 

“Do you think you could help me track him down? He mentioned something about searching for a barbarian Healomancer that could fix my eyes. Maybe if you went with him, you could get your nose done.”

 

Dolf took a step forward and snorted.

 

“For the last time, you blind brat, I neither want nor need a nose job. My nose is fine the way it is!”

 

“But even I can see that it’s bright red,” Marissa pointed out, “Don’t you want to have a normal one?”

 

Dolf let out a deep growl before responding through clenched fangs.

 

“I will find Frank the Dank for you on one condition. You will never, ever, mention my nose again.”

 

Marissa’s smile widened.

 

“Deal.”

 

The Drain-Deer sighed and bit at an imaginary itch on his left front paw so he didn’t have to look directly at Marissa.

 

“Now, what exactly did Frank say to you?”

 

“He said a Squirrel-Girl told him that five hexes to the north-east, a barbarian Healomancer has set up shop in the middle of a frozen lake. Oh, and that his rates are very, very reasonable.”

 

“Did Frank say he was going off to find the Caster?”

 

“Noooot exactly…”

 

“Marissa!”

 

“I think he didn’t tell me because it’s supposed to be a surprise. Or maybe he forgot. You know he’s never been the same after he tangled with that Booze Hound.”

 

“Right,” Dolf managed to answer with a straight face. Of course there was no such thing as a Booze Hound, but he wasn’t about to tell Marissa that. For one, she’d never believe him. And, more importantly, even if she did, she’d blame Dolf. “Ok,” he continued, “so Frank’s probably somewhere northeast of us. If he’s only about five hexes away, we’ll be back next turn. Easy, like you.”

 

Marissa’s face fell.

 

“You take that back! There’s no reason to be rude, Dolf. You know Frank and I are exclusive.”

 

Dolf sighed. He knew that all too well.

 

“Anyways, guess I’ll head out now. No reason not to, especially since my nap was ruined.”

 

Marissa turned around, wiggling her hindquarters just a tad too much to be accidental.

 

“Thank you!” she called back as she skipped to her own cave.

 

Dolf watched her prance for a few moments before shaking his antlers.

 

“Buck Futters!” he mumbled savagely. That stupid woman was going to be the death of him, but he was powerless to resist her. He considered lying back down for a few minutes, just to mentally prepare for the task ahead, but travelling five hexes was going to eat up most of the turn. He’d better get a move on.

 

Leaving the warmth of his cave, he stepped briskly into the tundra hex he and his tribe called home. The first order of business was to fill his purse. As a Warlord, he didn’t have to worry about making upkeep every turn, among other perks, and he had several gem caches hidden throughout the hex in case he needed Shmuckers. After making sure no one was watching, he wiggled his way into a dense thicket and pawed at the ground in front of a tree stump. It didn’t take long for him to unearth several Soul Gems, which Drain-Deer could create if they stripped the life force from a suitably powerful opponent while remaining at full health. He used two of them to top off his purse and reburied the last one.

 

His preparations complete, Dolf retraced his steps until he reached the gentle slope that housed his tribe before turning to the north. He’d have better luck picking up Frank’s most recent trail in the northern part of the hex where he seldom ventured. He began his search in earnest when he reached the hex wall, sniffing along it until he found what he was searching for. He even caught a whiff of fermented Snozzberries. Definitely Frank’s trail, and recent too. Perfect.

 

Dolf followed the trail north, past the hex boundary and to the edge of the snow-dusted forest beyond. He stopped at the forest’s edge and used his “sense life” special to get an idea of what lay ahead. Detecting no threats, he plunged through the underbrush, paying close attention so he wouldn’t lose Frank’s trail. He didn’t even notice he’d crossed hexes again until he felt his move decrement. He stopped once again to check for signs of life, and this time discovered a small cluster of life signs dead ahead. Saliva began to drip from Dolf’s razor-sharp fangs. He could use a snack.

 

The Drain-Deer picked his way through the underbrush, careful not to make too much noise. Whatever was up ahead must not be paying very good attention or must not have very good ears, because they hadn’t already scattered during his not so stealthy approach. That wasn’t necessarily a good thing. Some units were simply too strong for ambush predators, so they had little reason to keep a look out. If that were the case, Dolf’s natural ability to move quietly through the woods would serve him just as well; he could avoid an unwinnable battle by skirting around the small clearing up ahead if the need arose.

 

He reached the edge of the clearing and smiled. It was only two Squirrel-Girls with some tamed squirrel variants: a couple of Nut-Huggers and a Frying Squirrel. They would be easy prey. But wait…didn’t Marissa say something about Frank getting info from a Squirrel-Girl? And Frank definitely HAD come this way, his trail led right through that clearing. Dolf swallowed hard to clear his mouth and attempted to appear non-threatening as he stepped out of cover.

 

“Hello!” he called, putting as much friendliness into his gruff voice as possible, “I’m looking for my friend….can you help me?”

 

The squirrel pack froze, staring in stunned silence at the Drain Deet. Then they took off sprinting away from him, quickly disappearing into the far woods as Dolf followed. “Rank rump sweat!” he swore to himself as the Squirrel-Girls split up. He followed the one heading more or less East at a dead sprint, twigs scraping against his antlers as the Drain-Deer prepared to spring upon his quarry and pin it to the ground for questioning and croaking, in that order. Just before he leapt, however, the tailed woman reached the trunk of an enormous evergreen and whisked up into the branches. Dolf screeched to a halt.

 

“Look, I’m not trying to croak ya,” he called up into the branches. “I’m just looking for a Drain-Deer like me. Goes by Frank.”

 

A gust of cold wind whipped through the hex as the Drain-Deer waited for a response, but all he heard was the rustling of leaves. His life sense confirmed the tree was still occupied, so he tried again.

 

“I know you’re still there…you don’t have to come down or anything. Just tell me if you’ve seen my buddy Frank and I’ll leave you alone.”

 

A human head popped out from among the branches. The Squirrel-Girl had orange hair, rounded ears, and a wary expression on her face.

 

“You don’t mean THE Frank the Dank? That deer can par-tay, if you know what I mean.”

 

Dolf didn’t really know what the girl meant, but decided it was best not to think too hard on the subject.

 

“Yeah, Frank. I think he was on his way to see a Healomancer in the area so he could get a cure for a friend. Have you seen him?”

 

The girl nodded.

 

 “Well sure! It was just last turn …I think. My memory’s just a bit fuzzy, on account of how much alcohol was involved. When he told me he’d once out drank a Booze Hound, I thought he was full of it, but seeing is believing, as they say.”

 

Dolf chuckled.

 

“I did indeed. And in admiration, the Booze Hound bestowed on him the title ‘Dank’, which is given to only the most dedicated hedonists. So where was he headed when you saw him?”

 

A fuzzy hand appeared from out of the foliage and rubbed at the girl’s chin.

 

“He was lookin’ for a Healomancer that set up shop hereabouts. I told him he could find the Doc two hexes north and then one north-east of here. At least I think that’s what I told him…”

 

Dolf sighed. Frank was the author of more memory loss than a Retconjurer.

 

“What part of the hex does the Caster live in?”

 

“Oh, that’s easy! He lives in the Dome in the center of the hex.”

 

Dolf thanked the Squirrel-Girl and cast around for Frank’s trail once again, pausing only to drain the life of a Briar Rabbit that had strayed too far from its thicket. He knew he was on the right path when he picked up the scent of Snozzberries again.

 

 

A few hours of painstaking travel brought him to the hex the Squirrel-Girl had indicated. Marissa had been right about the frozen lake – it filled the entire hex. But the “hut” portion of her directions left something to be desired. A level one city would have fit inside the Dome. Units streamed in and out the edifice in peace, even natural enemies like Gluten-Taags and Sillyacs.

 

Dolf stood awestruck for a few moments, staring at the mighty enclosure. How had he never heard of this place? It was amazing. A voice right beside him snapped him out of his reverie.

 

“It’s big, ain’t it mon?”

 

The Drain-Deer leapt to the side and bared his fangs. He couldn’t believe he’d allowed himself to get ambushed. His opponent was a dark-skinned, human-looking Warlord, level three, and alone. He pounced, bringing his forelegs up and around his foe, fangs seeking the vulnerable neck. His mouth locked around the foe’s windpipe and…nothing. He was giving the Warlord an awkward hug, and possibly a hickey. But that was it.

 

The Warlord chuckled.

 

“You’re definitely new here. There’s no fighting near the Astral Dome. But I guess you figured that out.”

 

“Titan’s Taint!” Dolf muttered as he disengaged himself from the other unit and stamped at the ground in embarrassment. “I’m looking for a Healomancer and a Drain-Deer like me.”

 

The Warlord chuckled.

 

“I’m looking for the Healomancer too, but you’re the first Drain-Deer I’ve seen. What do you want fixed?”

 

“Oh…no. Not for me! I’m asking for a friend who’s near-sighted. I’m Dolf, by the way.”

 

“Pleased to make your acquaintance, Dolf. I’m the mighty Hermaphrodity, and I’m hoping that the good Doctor can help me fix something that got removed.”

 

Dolf looked at the other Warlord closely. They didn’t look like they were missing any limbs or digits.

 

“What got cut off?”

 

Hermaphrodity turned around and pointed their thumbs to two white stumps on their back.

 

“My wings!”

 

Dolf gasped.

 

“So you’re actually…a winged Elf!”

 

“You got it.”

 

“What happened to your wings, then? Shouldn’t they have grown back after they got cut off?”

 

Hermaphrodity shook their head.

 

“They weren’t just cut off. They were stolen by the Weirdomancer of the Wastes. He took a fancy to my flying special.”

 

Dolf was horrified. He couldn’t imagine losing one of his specials. No wonder the Elf had travelled here looking for a cure.

 

“Well, since I can’t eat you, I suppose we could go looking for the Healomancer together. Two pairs of eyes are better than one, right?”

 

The Warlord laughed again.

 

“Well I can’t eat you either, so yes, we might as well. But you’ll have to Pinky Swear not to harm me if you ever get the chance.”

 

Dolf thought about the proposition for a moment.

 

“I’m okay with that, so long as you swear the same thing.”

 

“Sure thing, Deer mon.”

 

Hermaphrodite wrapped a pinky finger around one of Dolf’s antlers and the two swore a mutual non-aggression pact.

 

“Well then,” the Elf said when they’d finished. “Shall we go inside the Astral Dome?”

 

Dolf nodded. He was dying to know what was inside the enormous structure.

 

“Lead the way,” he said.

Comments

    • Ashwin kumar

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      • Spicymancer

        You put a lot of love into the story and malice (the good kind!) into Dolf, very fun. 

        Also, it's oddly hilarious that the scylliacs and gluten-tags are enemies. I guess they can't stand having another diet fad empire in the same battle space. 

        Minor spelling notes, there's a couple of missing letters midway: "The squirrel pack froze, staring in stunned silence at the Drain Deer. " and "“Rank rump sweat!” he swore to himself as the Squirrel-Girls split up"