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None o’ us gave up tryin’ to get out and little by little over the next few days, we kept sloggin’ away at one end o’ the corridor, pushin’huge stones aside and usin’ our picks and shovels to scrape and burrow around the rocks what was too big for us to move.

Finally, we’d cleared a path for ourselves and we was able to press on. We ain’t found no more obstica . . . uh, the rest o’ the corridor was clear and it ain’t took too long for us to get to where the roots o’ the Shaftin’ tree was growin up outta the floor o’ the cavern.

But we wasn’t alone! Now I ain’t got no idea how they managed it, but somehow Opinvu and Ebb had gotten there before us! Yup! Ebb again! And they’d brought a big cow along with ‘em too!! Well straight off, the both o’ them began tellin’ us what a mistake we’d be makin’ by plantin’ the seeds what Walis was carryin’ into the ground anywhere near the shaftin’ tree’s roots!

Opinvu told us a lich had taken up resi . . . uh, a lich was livin’ inside the tree and if we made the tree well again, we’d be also be makin’ the lich stronger! Oh geez! Ain’t none o’ us was wantin’ to help a lich! What a dilemma we was facing! After all we done to finally locate the seeds and get this far! Weeks and weeks o’ work wasted! Odin’s apples! What the hel was we gonna do now?

Opinvu told us the Gripplis was gonna have to find a way to get along without their tree o’ shaftin’ bein’ hale and hearty and that was that! Meanwhile, the cow they’d brought along with them kept edgin’ closer and closer to where we all was standin’. And it had an evil look on its face too! Well . . . I mean, if a cow is capable of havin’ an evil look on its face, you know?

Nobody was quite sure what to do next. Then Bel spoke up, but to no one in particular, wishin’ Lady Kaldt was here ‘cause for sure, she’d be able to help us make the right decision regarding what to do with Frankie’s seeds. Well glory be! Lady Kaldt must o’ heard Bel cause there was a puff o’ smoke and there she was! Standin’ right next to the tree!

She told us there wasn’t much she could do in the way o’ helpin’ us. For some reason, that was beyond her power. But . . . what she could do was tell us that Opinvu was safe! Yup! He was safe! I ain’t makin’ this up!

We all got to thinkin’ hard ‘bout what Lady Kaldt had said. Here we was, with a mad cow creepin’ up on the lot o’ us and lookin’ for sure like it wanted to take a bite out o’ some ones’ leg. And . . . at the same time we’s standin’ here havin’ a chat with Ebb who’d tried to fool us once before in the Grippili’s camp. Remember that? And . . . Opie’s standin’ there alongside him and the two o’ them’s lookin’ like they is the best o’ friends!

We could see things was fast comin’ to a head and all o’ us got a firm grip on our weapons, sensin’ the pressure buildin’ up between the two groups. At that point, with that kind o’ tension, nobody was really very safe in that cavern, includin’ Opie! But . . . Lady Kaldt had told us Opie was somewhere . . . safe!

In a flash we realized the thing standin’ there in front o’ us wasn’t Opinvu but a charlatan! An imposter! And they knew we was on to ‘em too, cause a second later their swords came out! Opie, Ebb and the damn cow set upon us, and oh geez, we was all fightin’ for our lives!

I’ll tell ya, they picked the wrong bunch o’ folks to be attackin’. With Durok and Walis and Bel swingin’ away, Sun-Ok lettin’ loose with a hail o’ arrows and me whackin’ at ‘em with me new falchion, they ain’t had no prospect o’ winnin’ that battle!

After we’d finished with the lot o’ ‘em we checked the dead cow, lookin’ on it’s rump fer a brand or somethin’ so’s we’d know what farmer they’d stole it from. We found one. It read, BOVINUS THE DESTROYER. PROPERTY OF THE SPIDER TEMPLE. Oh geez! The Spider Temple!

Then Walis pulled out the seeds he’d been keepin’ safe in his pack, scraped out a little hole alongside the shaftin’ tree, and dropped ‘em in. Soon as Walis was finished with the sewin’ o’ the seeds, Lady Kaldt came back and con . . . congra . . . . uh, she told us we’d done a really good job o’ things!

She said while we was battlin’ away here in the cavern, the real Opinvu had made a trip to a crypt under Yar where the lich really was! He’d brought along a magic towel that was soakin’ wet, what he kept flickin’ at the lich! Ouch! Ouch! Eeee that stings!

Sometimes boys does that to girls when they’s all at a party or somethin’, ya know? A boy done that to me once and I socked him right in the eye! He never done it again! It was a few weeks before we even talked to each other!

Anyways, Opie was distractin’ the lich with his flickin’ and he kept edgin’ closer and closer till finally he was able ta wrap the lich up tight in that soppin’ wet magic towel! Then he stuck the lich in a dark corner at the very bottom o’ that crypt and it ain’t gonna be botherin’ no one for a long time!

Lady Kaldt said that there had been a pact between the lich and Garrison, the Demi-Dragon, who sits atop the Temple in the Meadow. With Opinvu doin’ away with the lich, the pact was now broken!

And with us finally fixin’ the shaftin’ tree and savin’ the Grippili clan we’d made the forest healthy again! Lady Kaldt told us between what Opie had done and what the rest o’ us accomplished, we’d weakened the Spider Temple and all the evil things what was livin’ in it! Now the balance o’ power in Markshire was finally shifted to the good and all we’d have to worry about was the Titan! Yup! She said that to us!

Then she give us her blessin’ and, poof, she was gone! We had to kill one more o’ those cows before we finally managed to climb up and outta the cavern. It was sportin’ the same brand as the other one. Before long we was standin’ in the Grippili camp, right under the shaftin’ tree, tellin’ Frankie the frog all the good news.

I was in such high spirits I give him a little hug and a kiss and I ain’t thought once about cookin’ up a bunch o’ Grippli legs in a big pot! But when I kissed him he ain’t turned into a prince or nothin’. I was kinda hopin’ he would. Sometimes a story’ll end that way, you know? With a frog turnin’ into a prince!

Then, oh geez! The shaftin’ tree started to shudder and shake and then huge boxes started droppin’ down outta its branches! One hit Durok square on top o’ his head and knocked him flat! Oh geez! The tree was rainin’ boxes!

Frankie laughed, and told us his tree was rewardin’ us now for the wonderful job we’d done and to look inside o’ ‘em! Well glory be! We found a fine set o’ Armor for Voran! He’d had his old armor chewed right off his back by the rust monsters in the Forgotten Chamber” deep under Arik. Armor for Durok too! A helm made special for me! Lined on the inside with soft cotton and the very finest silk what was spun by worms that lived inside Amal Slavers guts!

And unique gripili rings called Grippligeddons, with our names engraved on the inner band! And they’s able to heal ya a little at a time while you’re wearin’ it! Its like havin’ a miniature Father Ryche wrapped tight ‘round your finger instead o’ havin’ to make a trip to that damn office o’ his, when your all bruised and bloody and your needin’ to be patched up a bit!

And robes, and staffs, and other nice things too! Odin’s olives! There was somethin’ fer everyone! Even those o’ us who for whatever reason, ain’t made the last few trips!

Word got around quick ‘bout what we’d done and when we finally made our way back to Foothold, all the folks we met greeted us with a big smile and a warm hand!

Anyways, we’s done things together what I’ll never forget! And we’ve been to a few places no one’s ever seen before! All I can say ‘bout the whole thing, is I’d do it all again in an instant!

And there ain’t another bunch o’ folks I can think of who I’d rather be trudgin’ around with or fightin’ and dyin’ alongside of! And . . . and . . . we all lived happily ever after!

Well, at least we stayed happy for a few days, till we heard a rumor makin’ its way around ‘bout some crazy lady up by Stonemark who’s chokin’ the life outta all the folks she happens to run into! Oh geez! We’ll have to see about that, won’t we?