Two days earlier…
"This human custom is wasting valuable time." Vaarsuivius groused. "Time better spent tracking down Xykon, I might add."
"Relax, ears." Belkar said with a yawn. "Sidequests are like free XP. They're easy, we get to kill something that isn't aware we're coming, heh, and the rewards are disprop- distro- dispair - big, compared to the challenge."
"I find no fault in the taking on of the occasional sidequest. As you have noted, the rewards are often disproportionate to the challenge offered. No, what I find fault with is this." The elf spread robed arms in exasperation, taking in the entire opulant room.
The Order of the Stick was currently located in the mansion of baron Edgar Reddragon the Third, lord ruler of Reddragonsville (a man who, incidently, desperately hated his family name, and the grandfather who founded the city. It seemed to attract a rather unpleasant number of dragons). Specifically, they were in a waiting room adjoining the audience chamber, idling while they waited for the signal to enter. Three days ago, the Order had slain the wizard Entresi the Mad, who lived in a tower outside the town. Apparently he had been creating a number of cursed magic items and selling them to residents for kicks. When the Order heard of his various torments, they were quick to offer their services (for a fair price, of course). Now they waited to reap the rewards.
"What's the big deal, V?" Roy asked, perplexed. He stretched languidly, slightly uncomfortable out of his armor and in a silk shirt. Really, the rest of the order was doing no better. Haley looked positively at odds in a dress, Belkar looked like Frodo's twisted brother, Durkon's eyes darted about the room warily, as if he expected attack at any second now that he wasn't surrounded by steel. Only Elan and V seemed normal, mostly because they hadn't changed. Elan's 'dashing swordsman attire' as he called it, was apparently fit to be seen amongst nobles, and Vaarsuvius had simply refused to change. The servant who had been dressing them nearly threw a fit until Roy tactfully pointed out that a powerful and mysterious wizard would be of more interest to the Reddragonsville upper class than some elf in fancy clothes.
"The 'big deal' is that we waste time here as the baron trots us out to be put on display like some collection of prized lapdogs for his snivelling colleagues while Xykon could be anywhere, doing anything!" The elf grumbled, gesturing at the air darkly.
"Look, it won't take that l-"
"And the worst part, is that he plans to end the parade by carting out his filthy spawn, and having us perform a thoroughly pointless ritual upon her hands!"
"You're worried about kissing her hand? Really? This is an issue for you?" Roy asked, bemused. "Look, I know its kind of a silly custom, but in human lands, generally when a knight or a group of brave knights-"
"Of which we are neither."
"Anyway, it's traditional for the knights, when they do a great deed, to be offered a chance to kiss the queen's hand-"
"Of which the baron's daughter is neither. A queen nor married to him, that is."
"As I was saying, the practice has sort of spilled over to other nobles. It's a sign of the baron's respect for us that he's letting us do this."
"I didn't know wasting our time was a sign of respect."
Roy tried very hard to keep his anger from bubbling over. He could sense that V was frustrated, and simply taking it out on the easiest available target. Why the elf was in such a bad mood was a mystery, but he was used to dealing with the quirks of his party members by now. That's not to say he wasn't delighted when a herald began to call their names. He may have even mumbled a prayer of thanks to whatever gods might have been listening.
"Presenting Durkon Thundershield, a dwarven cleric of Thor, come all the way from the dwarven lands to rid us the wizard!"
Durkon blanched. "Tha's not why I-"
"Just get out there!" Roy hissed, shoving the dwarf through the door. He heard clapping and saw Durkon waving half-heartedly to the crowd.
"Next is Belkar Bitterleaf, a halfing ranger and lover of the woodlands!"
"What? WHAT?! I'll slit his friggin' throat and-"
"No, you won't!" Roy barked. "Get in there and don't kill anyone!"
The halfing departed, muttering sullenly under his breath. He quickly brightened as he entered the room, and immediately began making catcalls and lewd offers to the various nobles' wives and daughters.
"Who could forget the musical stylings of Elan the Dashing, a bard famed across the lands! Come on out, Elan!"
Elan looked crestfallen. "Roy, how come he didn't say my last name? It's real easy. It's T-"
"Elan, there's no time! Move!" Roy replied. We can deal with that later!"
Another burst of applause greated Elan's entrance. The herald continued on. "Next up is Haley Starshine, an enchanting rogue and stealer of many, many hearts!"
Haley cocked an eyebrow at Roy. "Stealer? Really? This guy's material is the best they can come up with? What, did he not make it through preschool?"
Roy put his head in his hands. "Haley, please, please do not make this any more difficult. Just get out there."
"You owe me 10gp if he screws up your introduction." Haley shot over her shoulder as she walked clumsily into the audience chamber to thunderous applause and a few wolf whistles.
"Presenting the amazing Roy Bluepommel, a fighter who leads the group with the might of his steel!"
Roy bit his tongue as he stepped into the audience chamber. He was torn between correcting the herald about his name, or insisting to the crowd that he wasn't just a big dumb fighter and infact, had an MBA. Instead he just looked around the room. It was two tiered, with the second tier containing a number of seats for the nobles to look upon the various proceedings below. The lower tier had a bright red carpet leading to an honest-to-gods raised thrown, where the baron sat regally with his teenaged daughter in a normal chair by his side. Roy took his place with the rest of his party, standing just a few meters away from the thrown.
"And finally, I present Vaarsuvius, and elven wizard of great and mysterious power!" The room grew silent in expectation, The herald glanced nervously at the door. "I said, I present Vaarsuivius!" He declared. He finally peered into the waiting room, which he found empty. "Vaarsuvius? where are you?" He said somewhat less thunderously.
Roy turned away from the baron to look at the empty room. "Oh gods damn it." He muttered darkly.
Just then he heard a voice at his side. "Dancing Lights. Dismiss Invisibility." and suddenly Vaarsuivius was standing by his side, four twinkling points of light swirling around the elf's robed form, looking every bit the powerful wizard.
Roy jumped back in surprise as the crowd began to whoop and hollar at the magical display. The elf smiled darkly at Roy. "Just a little revenge, Roy. Be thankful you haven't done anything to truly upset me."
Before Roy could reply, baron Reddragon called the crowd to order. He began a rather long and rambling speech, thanking the Order for their heroic actions while they stood mute and uncomfortable in their finery. Finally, he got to the part that Roy assumed meant they were near the end of the whole thing. "And so, as a small token of my appreciation," The baron declared magnanimously, "I present to you my lovely daughter, Casey Reddragon, to grant you her favor."
"Almost done." Roy whispered to V. The young baroness-to-be had to bend over slightly to allow Durkon and Belkar to kiss her hand, the latter of whom began mumbling dirty offers to the girl before Roy very unsubtlely kicked him in the rear. Elan made a big show of it, bending at the waist and very gracefully putting his lips on the back of her hand. Next, the girl moved to Haley, and paused, seemingly unsure of herself.
"Look," Haley whispered. "I know it's usually men, and if I had my way I wouldn't be here, but let's just make everybody happy and get this over with."
"O-of course, miss Starshine." The girl whispered back, extending her hand.
"That's the spirit." Haley responded, winking suggestively as she took the girl's hand. The poor noble turned crimson and snatched her hand away quickly after Haley planted her lips there.
"Haley," Roy muttered warningly. "Stop sexually confusing the noblewoman."
"Sorry Roy, I've got 10gp against Belkar saying I could get a better reaction out of her than him. 10gp I just won, I may add." Haley replied flippantly.
Roy turned to Casey, sighing in exasperation. "I am so, so sorry for all the trouble my party members are causing." He whispered as he bent down to take the girl's hand.
"I-it's no problem, really. My father is so happy since you killed the wizard, mister Greenhilt."
"And you even got my name right. Thanks, kiddo."
Casey flashed him a winning smile before moving on to Vaarsuvius. The elf sighed thunderously and gave a great eye roll before daintily pecking the girl on her knuckles. And that's when all hell broke loose.
"NYAA-HA-HA-HO!!" A thoroughly insane voice thundered as purple smoke filled the room. The leering visage of the departed wizard Entresi appeared in the center above the room, his grey beard a mass of tangles, and his conical cap bent, exactly as he had been before Roy had run him through. "Behold, my final curse upon your pathetic lives! NYAA-HA-HA-HO!"
Roy could see guards frantically stabbing at the gigantic wizard's head, but the thing was clearly an illusion, and sword, spear, and arrow passed right through. The purple smoke began to congeal around the young baron's daughter, and she gagged, apparently being strangled.
"Durkon, V, do something!" Roy yelled, feeling powerless. He jumped forward and clawed at the purple smoke, which seemed to be suddenly solid.
"Dispel Magic!" He heard Durkon intone. He felt Durkon's power coil about the purple smoke, only to slough off uselessly. "Dispel Magic!" The dwarf cried again. Again it failed. "S'no use, lad! Vaarsuvius, stop the spell!"
Vaarsuvius had fallen back, apparently stunned. "I did not anticipate… how could that old wizard have…" The elf mumbled dazedly.
"Vaarsuvius, wake up, damn it!" Roy yelled. But it was too late. He could only look on in mute horror as the gagging girl's mouth was pried open by the smoke, and the horrid stuff poured into her as she struggled to breath.
All at once it was over. The wizard head vanished, the purple smoke dissipated, and Casey fell over, only to be caught be Roy. He laid her gently on the ground, and almost whooped for joy when she began coughing weakly. She was alive!
"Lady Casey, are you alright?!" He asked urgently.
"I-" *cough* "I'm-" *hack, cough* "alright." She wheezed. But she didn't sound alright. Her voice sounded… deeper?
Roy rolled her gently onto her back and peered confusedly at her face. She looked… different somehow. Her hair was still the same, but her features seemed somehow harder, like her face had been chisled. He glanced down and saw she was patting herself awkwardly, as if assuring herself that everything was still there. Then he saw her shoulders. They were wider. And her throat. "ohmygods."
Her eyes widened in alarm as she came to the same conclusion that Roy did. "I'm a boy!" She wailed (he wailed?). "That crazy wizard turned me into a boy!"
Baron Reddragon turned a shade more befitting of his name. "Guuuuuaaaaards!" He roared. "Apprehend the Order of the Stick! Clearly they were in league with Entresi all along!"
"What, no, that's not-" Roy pleaded.
"Hell yeah, it's about time this party got started!" Belkar whooped. "Durkon, ears, hold off the guards! I'll make sure the women and children don't make it out!"
"Damn it Belkar!" Roy hissed.
"Oh yeah." Belkar replied thoughtfully. "I'm faking - I mean - I don't do that stuff anymore."
"People, listen to me!" Roy said, raising his arms as the guards closed in. "This is clearly a mistake! We're not in league with the wizard! He's dead! I slew him myself! V, tell them you're not in league with Entresi."
Roy turned breathlessly towards the elf, who was currently sitting on the floor, mumbling. "Surely the wizard did not have the power to fool even me… No, no, this isn't right…"
"I've heard enough!" Baron Reddragon thundered. "Throw these miscreants in the dungeons! If we can't heal my beloved daughter, then we'll torture the procedure out of them!"
"Okay, fine." Roy said. "I didn't want to play rough, but we're mid-level adventurers, and we're not going down without a fight. Haley, Elan, cover Durkon and V."
"I must find the key to that wizard's research…"
"Never mind, just Durkon. Belkar, you're with me. Snatch a weapon and subdue these guards!"
"Hell yeah! Nothin' I lpve more than non-lethally subduing folks! Wink wink."
Roy chose not to dignify that with a response. "Alright team, break!"
Three rounds later…
The Order found themselves in adjacent cells in the baron's ill-used dungeons. Durkon, Belkar, Elan, and Roy shared one cell, while Haley and Vaarsuvius shared the other, a stone wall dividing the two groups.
"Who'd have known that the baron had so many well trained guards?" Haley asked thoughtfully.
"Nngh." Roy grunted in response, rubbing a bump on the back of his head. Today was clearly not his day.
"Hey Roy." Elan said.
"What is it?" Roy asked, exasperated.
"We're in prison, Roy."
"I see that, Elan."
"Don't drop the soap."
"I swear to the gods Elan, I will shiv you."