The party set out to find the Horn to convince them to join Gwen’s army and to return the woolen skinks to their rightful owners.
The tinkle of bells in Hoxie’s mind told her to use her magic wand. She waved it carelessly into the air, casting slow on Blacksad and Hunny. It wore off after 5 minutes, but Blacksad was a hypochondriac about it for most of the rest of the day.
Mithian turned into a mammoth. Rudy cast flight on her and the party climbed on. Hoxie’s baby turtle (Squirtle) held on with his super-buff turtle muscles and by chomping onto mammoth tail.
Landing on the next floating island, mammoth-Mithian spotted the herd of woolen skinks in the distance. She charged towards them, trumpeting.
The herd stampeded, tossing some of their barbarian riders, and charging for the edge of the floating island. Zurud, leader of the Horn, approached the party and stated that if they were not strangers (therefore guests) he would kill them where they stand.
Rudy rode Horse ahead and used fireworks to turn the herd just before they plunged over the edge.
Rudy, Hunny, and Mithian tried to box in the skinks, but a third of them (still bearing riders) bolted and drove off the cliff into the void. Their bodies were tossed carelessly by warped gravity, endlessly rising and falling, smashing against islands.
One of the skinks bit Rudy and tried to swallow him. Hunny rushed up to charm the skink with a potion of animal friendship.
“But wait. How can I feed a potion to the skink while it’s eating Rudy?”
Lying ‘slowed’ in the mud, Blacksad muttered, “Again. You drink the potion. You.”
The skink tried to swallow Rudy, choked, and spat him out.
Zurud recognized Hunny, who had pushed him in the mud once when they were children. He told the party of his grand plan to tie the islands back together with skink rope. Rudy told him of Gwen’s war and asked if he would be interested now that they had saved 3/4s of the herd from danger. Zurud declared that he would exchange no favours with outsiders who had not even engaged in a ritual poetry battle.
Blacksad stepped up.
Hello fellow, you seem so contrarian
For someone who calls himself a barbarian
We have come to take these lizards
Sorry for the trouble with this here wizard
Zurud, moved to tears, shared his own poetry in response:
Softly the axe falls
Footprints in rusty clay
The earth drinks
The trails we leave
Until only the axe remains
“Sometimes I poem too,” said Hunny.
Now that poetry had been exchanged, Zurud swore eternal brotherhood (and sisterhood) with the party. He agreed to their request to journey to fight with Gwen and squish puny humans.
The next island was high above them, in the shadow of a looming thunderstorm. Rudy cast fly on Hunny and got her to carry a rope and an immovable rod up to the next island. She spoke the command word (cupcakes) to fix it in place, allowing the rest of the party to climb up. Since her arms were already burning from carrying the huge skink rope, she used her feet to help pull them up. It was a great workout.
Everyone sprawled out to recover from the ordeal of climbing.
Hoxie giggled. The bells on her hat tinkled and suddenly she was surrounded by three duplicates.
“Does she always do this?” said Rudy.
“I think that hat needs to go,” said Blacksad. He reached for Hoxie.
“But which one is the real meeee,” said Hoxie.
Blacksad and Rudy each grabbed a Hoxie, but they vanished. Hunny reached for a remaining Hoxie, but a pool of grease formed below her. She tripped and fell. Hoxie giggled.
Tiny party hats appeared on Blacksad and Hunny’s heads. Hunny lost a foot of height and Blacksad gained a foot. Mithian reached out a hand to touch the place where Hunny’s head had been… and poked her in the eye.
A mouth formed on the hat. “Look at that thunderstorm. What a great place to go for an adventure, am I right?”
Rudy used detect magic on the hat and determined its enhancement was related to the school of necromancy. He sensed the touch of a god of death.
“Well,” said Rudy. “I think we can leave this alone. It doesn’t seem like an immediate threat. I mean… it’s not hurting her.”
“It’s not healthy,” snapped Blacksad.
Mithian examined her nails. “This from the guy with the heroine addiction.”
“I can quit heroine any time I want, Mom.”
The party spent the night on the dry, wind-swept plains. In the morning, the clouds looming over the island were pink with the rising sun. The thunderstorms had stopped.
An enormous chain dangled from the bottom of the clouds. As they neared it, they saw the chain was actually a double-helix spiral staircase ascending into the sky. Rudy commanded Horse to wait for them.
“Oh, oh,” said Hunny excitedly. “If we run into a genie again, ask for an airship.”
They climbed until they emerged in a reception room filled with silk curtains and silver-gilt chairs. They stole enough drapes that they could see their way more clearly through the room.
They found a stable filled with Pegasus skeletons. In one stall, an emaciated alicorn with golden eyes stood alone. Rudy cleaned some ancient straw and Hunny fed it to the beast, speaking soothingly to it.
Hoxie found a shed and dug through it until she found some slightly moist oats. She found a false bottom on a wardrobe and pried it loose, revealing moldering books. Rudy dug through them and found a book about the castle, describing a gem called “The Heart of the Sky.” The party concluded that this gem must be another one of the pillars of the world.
They opened a door in the room and found it lead to open skies.
“Let’s just close that for safety,” said Blacksad.
They returned to the reception hall and went down a hallway where wind buffeted them back. Through its windows, they saw a courtyard filled with treasure, protected by the winds of an endless twister. Hoxie tried to jump out the window, but Hunny held her back.
Once they had passed through the hallway of winds, the party entered an enormous room filled with carvings of whales. At the center of a pyramid of stairs was a pedestal bearing an enormous gem, held in the embrace of carved wings. Behind the gem, another double-helix stairwell led up into the sky.
Rudy checked the book for information about the treasure in the courtyard.
“These offerings, given by those devoted to the gods of wind, will remain guarded for as long as the Heart of the Sky remains whole.”
Hoxie dashed up the stairs. “I’m gonna break it. I’m gonna break it.”
The Pegasus reared, snorting in distress.
Hunny grabbed Hoxie by the scruff of her neck and then tied a child leash to her.
Hoxie, grumbling, found some sapphire whale statuses that were small enough to carry and shoved them into her bag of holding.
The alicorn, striding fearlessly, walked up the spiral staircase. The party followed.
“Unite the barbarians,” Blacksad muttered. “Go unite the barbarians and now look. Pegasus skeletons and wind.”
They emerged onto a craggy hillside under heavy cloud cover. The air smelled of ammonia and chlorine. The alicorn led and the party followed it into the clouds. Dragonflies alighted on their arms.
“Well, this is nice,” said Hunny.
The alicorn stopped at the top of a hill. It turned to face them. The party gathered close.
And then the alicorn returned to her original shape: a cloud giant. She revealed herself as Azura, a bounty hunter hired by Edwin to capture the murderers of his father. The party tried to negotiate and buy her out, but she declared that her word was her honour.
A harsh wind rose, pushing the party back towards the edge of an overhanging cliff. The conditions turned aside arrows and thrown daggers. Every step towards the giant was against the push of the wind.
Hoxie pointed her magic wand at the giant and shouted, “Pickles!” Lightning struck the giant. She seemed unfazed.
Mithian cast blight. Rudy used magic to turn Hunny into a giant ape. She buffeted the giant with a barrage of punches.
Hoxie climbed onto her leg and stabbed until the giant’s boots overflowed with blood.
The giant staggered. She turned invisible and tried to reposition, but the blood trail she left behind betrayed her location. Rudy hurled a fireball, scorching both her and the earth around her.
The ground shuddered. From beneath them, a low moan rose. The trembling knocked Blacksad onto the edge of the cliff. As he dangled above it, he saw that the cavern mouth below had teeth. They were on the backs of an enormous floating whale. It was rising, leaving the islands behind.
While Blacksad held on for dear life, Rudy scooped the loot that the giant had been carrying: a brilliant helm, a deck of cards, and a bag of sapphires.)
“Let’s give it an animal friendship potion so it calms down,” said Hunny.
“For the last time…”
Hunny drank the potion and climbed down to the creature’s eye. She looked into its gaze and spoke gently.
“Where are you going?” she asked.
“Where is home?”
“We have to get off this thing,” said Blacksad.
Everyone climbed onto giant ape Hunny and Rudy cast fly.
As the party descended, they saw that the castle they had been exploring was danging from the whale by thick chains: the stairwells they had ascended. The whale’s side was deeply scarred.
“We’ll help you, friend,” said Blacksad.
“I don’t think I can break through chains that large,” said Rudy.
The party landed safely. Horse trotted out, carrying an enormous bone. They watched as the whale rose further and further away, until he vanished into the starry sky.