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Pointer-left Investigator__male_2_thumb
Lhynard
Posted by the GM
Imago Deorum
Chapter 5 — A Matter for Dragons
Jayce removed a smokestick from Mythlos' pack and lit it to send a signal to the ship that Leokas could see.

   "They have changed course, I think," said Leokas. "They must have spotted us."

   "Douse the smoke, Jayce," said Hakam. "We do not want the dragon seeing our signal as well." Jayce tossed the fuming stick into the water.

   Thirty minutes later, they were at the side of the sailing vessel. It was a smaller ship that the one they had been on previously. The flag flying atop the mainmast was Tethyrian. The figurehead was a giant flower. A ladder was thrown down to them by two sailors on the deck.

   Leokas was the first to board the vessel. "Thank you for taking us aboard," he said. "Do you have a rope and pulley? We have two statues of great value to us."

   The men left to set up the pulley, and the captain of the ship stepped down from the poop deck and approached. Leokas didn't recognize him to be the captain at first, for he was as tall as a human child, a halfling.

   "Well met and welcome aboard my vessel," said the hin captain. "I am captain Ombert Stronghull, and this beautiful ship here is The Daisy. Who are you and wherever did you come from to be bearing two statues, a wolf, and... a parrot?"

   "I am Leokas Dusktracker," said Leokas. "Our tale is very long tale, but time is of the essence. I shall explain all to you later, but for now, please help us board as quickly as possible. Then, sail us as far to sea as you can. We shall pay you handsomely if you will do this for us."

   "You speak a language I understand," said Captain Ombert. "So be it. Martin, send our passenger to his quarters. Gren, call up our mercenary; he may be needed."

   The pulley system was quickly set up, and Rinald, Mythlos, Stormshadow, and Sseth were loaded on board, while the others climbed up the ladder. The row boat and oars were set adrift.

   "Helm, take us due southwest; full sails, everyone!" commanded Ombert. "These statues are amazingly lifelike," he then said, as he examined the new cargo.

   "They are our friends," said Jayce, "petrified by a gorgon from out of legends."

   "You are adventurers then?" asked the halfling.

   "We are indeed," said Jayce proudly, "and dragonslayers."

   "Yet you flee?"

   "We missed one," said Jayce.

   "Whoa! When you hinted at danger, I was not thinking dragons. That's another matter entirely!"

   "We have summoned powerful help," said Sseth. "We will defend your vessel; we promise you. You should take us aboard and do as we say... for free."

   Ombert looked surprisingly satisfied with this answer, despite the fact that it came from a caged bird. He was oblivious to the magical power of a brass dragon's suggestion.

   Ombert glanced at Hakam, sitting on a step and nursing his injured leg, then at Belvin, who was shaking the water off himself. "You look a group of misfits," said the halfling with a chuckle, "but I've seen stranger things."

~~~~


The ship was on course for Teshburl, where it was to remain in port for close to a month. A rich passenger on board had hired The Daisy to deliver him and his package first to Teshburl, then to pick up a second package a month later, and finally to deliver them to Chult.

   Besides the halfling captain, four of the other crew members stood out noticeably from the rest. There was another halfling sailor, who's skill with the ropes and sails was immediately apparent. He was bald.

   Another sailor was a bulky half-orc. Unlike the halfling, he did not appear particularly skilled at seamanship; rather, he seemed to be in training, as he was always accompanied by human man who was explaining to him what to do.

   Another of the sailors was a short-haired blonde woman. She was shirtless like the men, with a bandeau wrapped around her chest, revealing her muscular and toned abdominal muscles and powerful forearms.

   All of the sailors had a daisy tattooed on their left biceps.

   The fourth crew member did not appear to be a sailor at all. He was a young man but had long jet black hair and a long, full beard. His skin was very pale. He wore a cloak that flowed in the breeze, and a large book and dagger sheath hung from a thick leather belt around his waist. He was clearly a wizard of some sort. He stood off to the side observing the new passengers silently.

~~~~


Jayce sat down on the deck underneath Sseth. The half-orc and his teacher had used a crowbar to break the latter free from his cage, and now he perched on a rung of one of the rope ladders leading up the mainmast. The other adventurers sat nearby.

   "So Sseth," said Jayce, "now that we have a moment for stories, how did you find Allu's lair? And how did you become trapped by Yrevkethend? Are the two working together?"

   "I cannot say for certain, but I do not think they were working together, as I noted in the cave. My parrot ear holes are not as keen as my dragon ones by any means, but I never did hear any conversations in the lair from anyone other than Yrevkethend and her two spoiled children, once they arrived a few days ago. I think they generally lived with their father. She presented me as a gift to them. Can you imagine! They enjoyed mocking me, and they forced me to do silly bird dances for them in my cage. At least they fed me cactus. It reminded me a little bit of what it was like to be a dragon. I always enjoyed the taste of fleshy cacti. First, I would lick the dew of each needle one by one. Then,..."

   "What of Allu, Sseth?" said Jayce.

   "Oh, yes, sorry. As I just said, I do not think they are connected. The side passage about which I had told Hakam by his message spell, which we passed on the way out of the cave — I suspect that it indeed leads up to Allu's palace. I could not confirm this myself, as I could not fit my body through the passage, and the ground was too hard to burrow through. I entered the cave the very same way that we just exited it. I flew over the wide chasm into the large chamber where the two hydras reside.

   "I was pondering why Allu would keep two hydras and confused as to why I did not smell the scent of hobgoblins when Yrevkethend returned. Even if she had not surprised me as she did, I would not have been a match for her. Io did not bless us brass dragons with the same power as blues. Even so, I am thankful that she did not attempt to slay me outright. I think she sensed immediately that I did not intend to trespass on her territory, so she was not in a rush to kill me. She struck me with a bolt of her lightning, and I returned a blast of my fire. Then she simply polymorphed me. It happened so suddenly, it took me several moments to comprehend what had happened. Ordinarily, such magic is easy for me to resist, even if coming from a more powerful spellcaster. It was as if the gods were rolling dice and a one came up for me."

   "How did you locate that tunnel in the first place?"

   "Oh, I never did explain that to you, did I? I finally spotted another hobgoblin out in the desert as I glided overhead. I tracked him from far above, and he was oblivious to my presence. Eventually, he vanished. He must have taken a potion of invisibility or used some other such magic. You were asking earlier about what magic I can cast. In my humble opinion, I am a superb diviner. I opened my eyes to see through his magic and watched as he continued for another mile — it must have been a powerful potion for its effects to have lasted so long.

   "Anyhow, the hobgoblin came to three large boulders leaning against each other. He passed between them. I waited several minutes and then drifted down to the sand. As I suspected, the entrance to this cave was too small for me, but I did use my magic to observe deeper inside. There was a staircase and walls of stone; it was not simply a natural cave. I decided to hide and observe for a while. I flew off about 200 yards and buried myself in the sand. Sure enough, a day later, I saw another pair of hobgoblins exit. Three days after that, I saw them return.

   "Still curious, and since I had not heard from you yet, I decided to seek out if there might be another entrance. I had taken a good look at all three hobgoblins and had kept their images in my mind. After that, I just needed to find a forked twig — which is not an easy task in the desert, mind you! With the twig in hand and a little of my magic, I flew out in different directions. While flying over the desert, the twig always pointed me toward wherever the hobgoblins happened to be walking. Over the next several days, I mapped out a good portion of how the tunnels of the palace are arranged underneath the sand. (If I had claws again, I could scratch a map out for you.) I recognized that a side tunnel that the hobgoblins sometimes used, led out close to the ocean and that this side tunnel curved in a more 'natural' way than the straight hallways that I presumed were part of the 'palace'. So logically, I began to suspect that there might be another way into the palace, perhaps from the sea cliffs nearby. My magic twig soon confirmed this. Thinking I had nothing to fear from a hobgoblin scout I might encounter, I went in what I thought was the back door, and you know the rest of the story now."

   "So you think Yrevkethend knows nothing of Allu at all?"

   "I cannot say that for sure, but the tunnel leading from the sea to the palace is at least a mile long. The palace may technically be in her claimed territory, but it may be far enough from her cliff entrance that she has never chanced to look that way when a hobgoblin has entered or exited. Also, as I noted, they use invisibility from a mile out when coming and going. Moreover, I know Yrevkethend steals sheep and goats, for which she must fly south. The palace lies a bit to the north. As for the back tunnel, neither she nor her children could ever fit through it, so I suspect that she thinks nothing of it. I do not even know that the hobgoblins ever exit out of it. So, I would not be surprised if the palace was hidden to her as well."

   "After we rest, then," said Leokas, "we will have to return to this back door and invade his palace."

   Sseth squawked. "What? No, no, that would be far too dangerous on many levels, even if you had not just slain a powerful dragon's two children."

   "Why do you think we sent you to find the palace in the first place, Sseth? Since we have left you, we have actually learned a lot more about the Omlar gem we have recovered. We have reason to believe that the gods themselves have chosen us to stop him from bringing an army of efreeti upon Faerûn through a portal from the Plane of Fire." Leokas and the others filled him in on the details of their last few adventures.

   "I will not go so far as to use my magic to convince you otherwise," said the polymorphed dragon, "but even so, I strongly argue against this plan of action. You still lack the power to overcome an outsider like Allu, and you still know nothing about this Samber individual. I would seek him out first, before staging an assault against the efreeti and his army of hobgoblins. As far as Yrevkethend, do you think you can go anywhere near her territory now? I believe that Hesjingvaerix and I can protect you from her and grant you a safe escape, but I cannot promise that it will be safe for you to return near Yrevkethend's lair. Nor can I promise that she will be defeated or even that Hesjingvaerix and I will survive."

   "We did not rescue you for you to go off and die fighting for us, Sseth!" Jayce protested. "Besides, you never did give me that promised flight."

   "I have no intent to die, little bard, but this is a matter for dragons now, not for humans and elves. We did trespass on Yrevkethend's territory, and while it was not just for her to have imprisoned me, it was not a fitting retribution to her to have lost her children. Things are... complicated now — and well outside your control."

   "A mermaid! A mermaid! I spotted a mermaid!" One of the human sailors was yelling. "Starboard side."

   The sailors rushed to the right side of the craft.

   "What are you babbling about?"

   "At the rum again, eh? It's not even sunset."

   "No, I saw her tail fins, like a dolphin. Thought she was a dolphin at first, but then her head pops out of the water, and she has long hair floating all over the place in the waves. See! There she is again! She's waving."

   "By Valkur, he's not drunk. I see her too."

   "She's swimming toward us!"

   "Helm, steer us around," said Ombert from the stern.

   They came alongside the "mermaid" and a rope ladder was tossed down to her.

   "She's naked as Eilistraee!" shouted one of the sailors excitedly, as the woman began climbing the ladder they had lowered for her.

   "That's no mermaid;" said another, "she's got legs!"

   "Get away from the railing, bastards!" yelled Loreene, the woman sailor. "Give the lady her privacy!"

   "Niff, bring one of the blankets," ordered the halfling captain.

   The woman from the water climbed over the railing onto the deck, seemingly unconcerned with or oblivious to her lack of clothing. Loreene wrapped her quickly in the blanket, then led her below deck while everyone wondered what was going on.

   A few minutes later, the two women emerged again. The stranger was now wearing some of Loreene's clothes; she was unusually tall for a human woman, standing well over six feet, and the borrowed wool pants and shirt looked amusingly short or her, exposing her shins and belly. Her hair was long and a bronze shade of red, and she had striking green eyes. She wore a single pearl on a cord around her neck, and elegant rings on two of her fingers.

   Sseth spoke from his perch on one of the yards, "Vae! It is so good to see you again."

   "Sseth? Is that you?"

   "They know each other?" asked one of the sailors.

   The woman bent over and began laughing. "What has happened to you, Sseth?"

   The parrot responded in Draconic, and she laughed again. She then turned to Ombert and greeted him. "Forgive me for intruding on your vessel, and I thank you for heeding me and allowing me to board. You may call me Vaerix."

   Sseth flew over to land on her shoulder. She laughed again. "If you excuse me, this parrot and I have much to discuss." She walked away from the crowd of crewmembers and passengers and began a long conversation in Draconic with Sseth, giggling occasionally.

   "Aren't you going to find out where she came from, Captain?"

   "It seems she has business with the parrot," replied Ombert. "We'll leave them be. She clearly is more than she appears; beautiful women don't just appear out of nowhere in the middle of the ocean unless there is powerful magic about, despite how much you men may wish it to be true. It's best we don't meddle in such matters I think. I do not foresee she will bring any harm to us or our shipment.

   "Helm, put us back on course for Teshburl!"

   The "misfits", as Ombert had called them, stood to the side during most of this excitement, also confused as to what was going on. "She looks odd," said Hakam, "as if she has never actually seen a real human woman."

   "You suspect she is doppelganger?" said Jayce.

   The tall woman motioned for them to join her and Sseth. As they approached, she stood at the side of the ship, held her palm below her mouth as if she were blowing a kiss, and spoke messages into the wind in Draconic. "I have sent word to Martivirgix and Hysvearkarif. If they are at home, they will heed my summons," she said, turning back to them.

   "Friends," said Sseth, "this is my ally of whom I spoke. She is Hesjingvaerix. Folk usually call her 'Hesjing' or 'Vaerix' but I like to shorten it to 'Vae' or 'Hess' — but never 'Jing'!"

   "...because he is self-conscious about having a one-syllable name," said the woman.

   Sseth continued, "Vae, these are Leokas Dusktracker, Jayce of Lantan, Belvin Boarcharger, Mythlos Moonspinner — that petrified elf over there — and Hakam yn Hamdulah el Anachtyr, brave adventurers, the ones who rescued me."

   Jayce asked her, "Milady, do you have the power, and would you be so kind, if so, to return our friends here to flesh?"

   "I regret that I do not have such skill," she answered.

   "What about our friend, Sseth? Surely you can return him to his true form."

   "It is likely that I can," she said.

   "Will you, please?"

   "I am not sure that would be wise at this time, Jayce," answered the polymorphed dragon. "You do realize that I weigh some ten tons? I am not sure the deck planks could support my weight in my natural form."

   "Even if they could hold you," said Vaerix, "I am not sure I would want to change you back yet, thurirl; I find you to be quite cute in your current feathered state."

   A gentle breeze blew, and Vaerix sniffed the air. "You smell of... Bruntutalephion," she said to Jayce suddenly.

   "Of course!" said Sseth. "That was the smell I could not place when I first met him."

   "Come again?" said Jayce.

   "An old friend of ours," said Vaerix. "Smells bring back strong memories sometimes. Is this not true for you humans?"

   "Who was Brun...tu...?"

   "She comes," said Vaerix sternly and suddenly, interrupting Jayce's question and turning to the east.

   "We leave you now, little friends," said the parrot. "Worry not yourselves about us. You have already done the impossible and rescued me. Had Hakam not sent me that message by magic, it could have been years before anyone else noticed my absence and sought for me. (We dragons sense the passage of time differently than you.) I will pass on stories of your bravery to all of the brass dragon youth who come to my library to study."

   "You have disciples now, Sseth?" asked Vae, surprised.

   "No, alas, not yet, but I am sure that someday soon word will get out about my impressive collection, and it will be the place all young dragons long to visit to study history."

   "I am sure," said Vae, and she laughed.

   "In any case," said Sseth, "you have my highest thanks. Do not try to come to our aid. As I said, it is a matter for dragons among dragons now, and it need not concern you further. Remain under sail as fast as you can as far away as you can from this place. Vae will send word to you of how we fare."

   Leokas and Belvin, who had each been straining their eyes, trying to see what Vaerix claimed to have seen, at last spotted a blue dot approaching.

   Vae raised her hands to the sky. "Kepesk!" she cried out. Storm clouds gathered almost instantaneously in the distance and some sort of precipitation began falling between them and the approaching dragon.

   "Rain?" asked Hakam.

   "Hail," said Leokas, who's elven vision was far clearer. "She is delaying the blue's approach."

   "Goodbye, humans. Sweet water and light laughter, elves." The parrot Sseth flew off Vae's shoulder, flapping frantically and clumsily to gain elevation. Vae pointed and spoke a word of command, and the bird morphed into his true form, a hulking brass dragon, wings rippling in waves as he flew gracefully toward the approaching blue. Then, with three fluid motions, the tall woman pulled off her borrowed shirt, dropped her pants, and dove over the deck railing with a perfect dive into the water.

   "Did you see that fine rump?" said one of the sailors crudely and excitedly.

   "Too skinny for me," said another.

   "Not for me," said the first.

   "I don't think she'd 'ave gone for you, being human and all."

   "Where do you think half-dragons come from?"

   "Not from you!"

   Seconds later, 100 yards from the boat, a bronze-colored dragon erupted from the water into the air.

   In the distance, Yrevkethend was close enough that even the humans could make her out. Everyone, even the pilot at the helm, rushed to the port side for a better view. They saw Sseth breathe a 100-foot plume of dragonfire, which struck Yrevkethend, before he banked to avoid being bitten by her. Hesjingvaerix came up below the blue dragon and struck her with her rear claws, flipping Yrevkethend into a tailspin before she recovered.

   Then, two more bronze dragons burst out from below the surface to join the aerial battle. Yrevkethend sped away to the east toward the coast with the four metallic dragons in pursuit. The passengers on The Daisy watched them fade into the horizon, until they could no longer see the sun sparkle in reflection off their scales.
Session: 40th Game Session - Thursday, Sep 11 2014 from 3:00 AM to 6:00 AM
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Tags: Chapter 5 , Recap
Pointer-left Investigator__male_2_thumb
Lhynard
Posted by the GM
Imago Deorum
Chapter 5 — Sunlight
Leokas stepped into the water, the elephant figurine in his left hand and the sunrod slid into his belt. Hakam read from a scroll, and Belvin felt the muscles in his fins and tail ripple with new strength.

   "Stormshadow, stay here with Sseth and the statues," said Leokas. "We will return for you." She sat. Leokas held onto Belvin's dorsal fin with his right hand, closed his eyes, and held his breath.

   With a jolt, the bull shark carried the wood elf down into the pool. (Thankfully, he had had some practice riding sharks in the past.)

   Hakam and Jayce readied themselves while they waited. Hakam cast a spell from a scroll to protect himself from the hydra's fire breath. Jayce was swinging his new-found rapier around.

   "What are you doing?" Hakam asked.

   "Trying to figure out the magic in this blade," Jayce replied. "Caexlitrix!" he suddenly spoke. His arm jerked.

   "What just happened?" Hakam asked.

   "The blade moved my hand of its own accord," said Jayce, "into a defensive posture, I think."

   "Here is the shark again," noted Hakam. "You go next."

~~~~


Belvin had no need to see in the pitch blackness of the water, for he could feel the walls nearby by strange sensations his new shark's body could pick up. Moments after he dove down with Leokas, the wood elf came out of the water on the other side, careful to inhale the air slowly and quietly. He released Belvin's fin, and the shark disappeared. He could stand here; the water was up to his neck. He reached for his sunrod and raised it out of the water to shed a little light. There, five yards away, slept the hulking beast, partially submerged at the other end of the pool, its five long necks piled and coiled around each other. It's tail was draped on the shore, split likewise into five snake-like tips, and its body raised and fell as it breathed deeply.

   Carefully and quietly, Leokas made his way to the shore and out of the pool. He set the elephant figurine ten feet from the monster, stepped back, drew out his bow, and waited for the others. Jayce's head popped out of the water next, then Hakam's. The former waded close to the hydra with his rapier out of the water, ready to stab; the latter, trusting that smokepowder could still work when wet, held his musket under the water with just the tip of the barrel sticking out and held his breath with his head just below the surface.

   Leokas looked at Jayce. Jayce nodded. Leokas spoke the command word to summon their elephant for the third time that day. It came to life with a rumbling roar, which startled the hydra awake. The monster unraveled its heads and tried to stand to its feet to have its torso simultaneously gored with two tusks, pierced through with two magic arrows, stabbed with a magical rapier, shot with a musket bullet, and chomped on by a shark's sharp teeth. The elephant, wrapped its powerful trunk around one of the hydra's five necks, and thrashed back and forth. The monster tumbled sideways into the water with a massive splash, almost crushing Jayce. The elephant then trampled on the monster's heads. The creature no longer moved.

   "I think its already dead!" exclaimed Jayce. "It didn't even get a chance to breathe flame."

~~~~


Before Belvin returned to his elven form, he carried the others back to retrieve the statues. They harnessed each in turn to Belvin, who dragged them carefully through the water-filled tunnel to the other side. Stormshadow managed to swim through the tunnel as well, with Leokas guiding her, and Belvin, in turn, guiding him. Finally, they placed Sseth's cage directly into Belvin's mouth. "Please, remember that I am not your dinner!" he pleaded. Belvin swam quickly through one last time, and Jayce removed the cage from his mouth on the other side.

   "We've made it!" said Jayce.

   "Hardly," said Hakam. "We still have to heave these heavy slabs of stone up that fifteen-foot wall out of the hydra's pit we are in, then carry them hundreds of more feet up and down through the cave tunnels, then shove them through the crawl space down into our hiding chamber and out again, to finally lower them ten feet into the tidal pool, before we can carry them outside — if the tide is out."

   "Let's not waste any more time then," said Belvin, who was hurriedly putting his clothes and gear back on his humanoid body.

   "Perhaps we could exit out one of the other ways?" suggested Leokas.

   "Aren't they both cliff exits? Are we going to fly?"

   "The scorpion tunnel likely leads to the surface."

   "...And to a battle with scorpions. Besides we don't know if we can fit the statues that way."

   "And all three of those paths involve significant uphill climbing for a cripple and a magically weighed-down man and two 500-lb. statues."

   "Even if we make it out of here before the dragon returns, what then?" If we reach the desert or the coastal road, there will be no cover for us. The dragon will certainly spot us from the air. Even if she ignores us on the way to her lair, as soon as she finds her children's bodies, she will fly after us with a vengeance."

   "Is the ocean any better? We can't hike along the beach — if it's even uncovered by water when we exit — and our only other means of transport is a cramped rowboat, which may likely sink under the weight of the two statues."

   "You are all such pessimistic adventurers!" said Sseth, who had been listening to their discussion. "There may still be hope yet. If you can get us all to the ocean, and if Belvin here still has power remaining to summon a dolphin or porpoise or whale or some other fast-swimming and moderately intelligent sea animal, I may be able to summon us some help. I agree that we have no hope at this point of making any safe distance from Yrevkethend's lair, but if we can just deliver a message, I have a powerful ally who lives in these waters. Her name is Hesjingvaerix. I am confident that she will be able to protect us if we can find her. That is my advice to you." Sseth's tone seemed far more serious and confident than it usually was, as if he finally comprehended how difficult a task still remained ahead of them.

   So here is what they did: Leokas and Belvin scaled the wall out of the hydra's pit. They pulled each statue up, as the other tow pushed. Then Jayce and Hakam passed Stormshadow up to Leokas, followed by Sseth. They lowered rope down for Hakam to climb, and all of them made it out of the hydra pit safely.

   Jayce remembered to retrieve Shrodinjer from his hiding place in the wall. Then the four humanoids carried Mythlos all the way up the spiralling passage to the tiny tunnel, where they laid him on his back and slid him carefully while crawling downhill into the room where they had spent so many days waiting. They returned and did the same with Rinald. Stormshadow carried Sseth's cage in her mouth.

   They managed to squeeze each statue, one at a time, down the small tunnel that opened above the tidal pool. Carefully, they lowered them down with the ropes.

   There was a cracking noise, as they lowered Rinald, then a splash, as something struck the water.

   "Oh gods! What was that?" said Jayce.

   "Keep lowering him," said Leokas. "Don't drop him!"

   As soon as Rinald was safely standing upright in the pool, Leokas rushed over to examine the damage. He sighed in relief. "It was just his ponytail," Leokas reported. "When we bring him back, he will have just had a haircut. He's fine."

   Thirty minutes later, they saw sunlight for the first time in nearly a tenday. It was so bright that all of them were blinded and they had to wait for many minutes before their eyes adjusted so they could see clearly.

   "Belvin," said Sseth, "summon me a dolphin. Quickly!"

   Belvin did so. As soon as the cetacean appeared in the water near them, the parrot began making strange clicking sounds. The dolphin obeyed and launched itself under the water.

   "I told her to call other dolphins for us," said Sseth. "Their calls travel very far under water; more will come here soon, even if she will return to from whence you called her momentarily."

   The tide was still in, but the water was only up to their knees, so they made their way as quickly as they could to where they had left the rowboat. It was still there. Everyone glanced nervously up at the sky almost constantly. It had taken many hours to escape the lair. The sun revealed that it was mid-afternoon. If she kept to her usual schedule, Yrevkethend would return home very soon.

   They set the boat in the water and began loading it. It did indeed barely stay afloat, so much so that Belvin and Leokas stayed in the water treading and hanging on to the sides.

   They heard clicking and splashing, and a large pod of dolphins appeared, jumping out of the water in graceful arcs. Jayce held Sseth's cage close to the water. He began clicking, and several dolphin heads popped up near the boat, fascinated by the strange bird in the cage that was communicating with them. All of the dolphins but one swam off at high speed; the remaining one began circling the rowboat.



   "I have sent them off in all directions to search for Hesjingvaerix," Sseth explained to them. "This last fellow has volunteered to pull us out to sea if you throw him a rope."

   They did so, and the dolphin swam fifteen yards ahead of them with the rope in its mouth dragging the boat behind and the two elves in the water.

   "Now what?" said Hakam. "I'm not sure going further out to sea is the right idea."

   "You are welcome to swim back to shore if you wish," said Belvin.

   "I see a ship on the horizon," said Leokas.
Session: 40th Game Session - Thursday, Sep 11 2014 from 3:00 AM to 6:00 AM
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Pointer-left Investigator__male_2_thumb
Lhynard
Posted by the GM
Imago Deorum
Chapter 5 — Trapped in a Dragon's Lair
~ ninth-day, 19th of Mirtul, The Year of Wild Magic, morning
Yrevkethend's lair



Leokas stood to his feet, amazed none of his bones were broken, and pulled the sword from the corpse of the metallic bull.

   "Is the monster slain?" Jayce called.

   "It is," replied Leokas, "but our losses are great."

   Jayce quickly hopped down the steep ledge. Belvin and Hakam remained above.

   "Mythlos, elf-kin, how did this happen," said Leokas, examining the statue of his companion. The former blue elf had an expertly carved look of terror on his face, the now dim moonblade encased in a stone hand.

   "Surely, there are ways to reverse such magic," said Jayce, who was examining Rinald's petrified pose. The old man had been straining to climb out when he had inhaled the magical gas. "Perhaps Sseth has such magic."

   "Even if such magic does exist, it will not do us any good if we cannot find a way out of this lair," said Leokas. He struck another sunrod and shined light into the further reaches of the passage. They were at the bottom of a narrow chasm. Nearly eighty feet above them, Leokas could see two openings in each wall. The chasm ended ahead of them in half that distance.

   Jayce ducked under the legs of the stone elephant. "What is that pile?" Jayce asked when he reached Leokas, pointing to the far end of the tunnel.

   "It looks like... stone dung," said Leokas.

   "Where are you going?" called Hakam. "The dragon could return."

   "Searching for a way out," Leokas called back, "but it's a dead end. We are coming back."

   They passed their stone allies and climbed back up to those who were still made of flesh.

   "Let's find Sseth and get out of here."

   "Stormshadow, here!" called Leokas. The obedient wolf came to his side from where she had been waiting safely.

~~~~


At this stage, Sseth was easy to find. They figured the dragon Leokas slew with Rinald's arrow must have been the one mimicking Sseth's voice, so they headed for the easternmost tunnel. It was not long before the tunnel opened into a medium-sized room. There on a flattened stalagmite, like a podium, rested a metal birdcage, with a small parrot inside. The parrot began hopping up and down.

   "I am so relieved you have survived," the bird said. "Did you defeat the gorgon? Did you defeat the dragons?"

   "All are slain," said Leokas, "yes."

   "For the gorgon, I feel no sorrow," said Sseth, "but I would have liked the two youth to have had time to reform."

   "Are they not inherently evil?" asked Leokas.

   "That's absurd!" said Sseth, flapping his wings and bobbing his head. "Where did you learn such things? But enough philosophy, you survived! You cannot imagine how hard it has been to keep my mouth — or beak, I suppose I should say now — closed, waiting to find out if you lived. I have not had anyone to talk to for months now, except for those two spoiled brats. I feel like I could talk on and on for days. What of you though? Do tell me what other adventures you have been on before you found the time in your schedules to come rescue me?"

   "Um, we actually have the important matter of escaping this lair alive first, Sseth," said Jayce. "As much as I'd love to exchange stories with you. You don't happen to be able to cast lightning of any sort, do you."

   "I'm sorry, no! The powers a dragon manifests as he ages tend to reflect his outlook on life, and my outlook is more of a 'look-in', I think."

   "What about healing power?" asked Hakam. "Rinald told us that some dragons can cure various maladies."

   "You must be Hakam," said Sseth in Alzhedo, "the one who sent me all those pleasant messages for the others. It is a pleasure to meet you face to face, or is it fair to say that, as you haven't really met my actual face yet? A Calishite, yes? What is your family name? Never mind, I am sure you have taken the name of your god Tyr, or rather Anachtyr, as your people do; I can see from the holy symbol about your neck. Am I correct? Your father's name then?"

   "I am yn Hamdulah," said Hakam, "but what of your magic?"

   "Oh yes, I only have a very small control over positive energy," said Sseth. "Certainly, your powers as a cleric of a god of goodness are far greater. Who is hurt? Where is Mythlos, the blue-haired elf lad?"

   "Two of our companions, Mythlos and someone you have never met who had been helping us find you, have been turned to stone," they explained to him.

   "What dreadful news!" said Sseth. "I am sorrowful to hear it. I was fearful of this result as soon as I heard you make mention of a gorgon. What kind of insane creature keeps a gorgon as a pet? Dragons are not immune to petrification magics! Everyone knows this!"

   "Can you reverse such magic?"

   "Alas, I cannot!"

   "Is such magic permanent?"

   "Not with the right kind of transmutation magic," said the parrot-dragon. "There is still hope, if you can transport the statues safely to the right mage."

   "Are they dead?" asked Belvin bluntly, "because that has not stopped us before."

   "They are not dead," said Sseth, "but neither are they alive. Their bodies are no longer what they were. The statues they left behind are made of actual stone, of elemental earth, but the substance of that stone is still them. Their souls are in stasis, tied to the statues as long as the statues exist. Their souls are not now wandering on the Fugue Plane; if you restore flesh to them, it will have been as if no time at all passed for them. Be careful with them! If the statues are broken and they are returned to flesh,... well,... I am sure you can imagine the horror of what might result."

   "Do you have any useful magic at all?" Jayce asked. "No offence to you intended."

   "In this form? No, unfortunately. These feathers simply will not do for the somatic motions required. The only spell I can cast is to daze the weak-minded."

   "Is your cage trapped?" asked Hakam.

   "I think not."

   "There is no door; how were you trapped inside?" asked Jayce.

   "She used magic to shape the metal and seal me in," Sseth explained.

   "Hakam, can you dispel the magic?"

   "The cage itself is not magical," said Sseth. "There is nothing to dispel."

   "I can shape stone but not metal," said Hakam.

   "Maybe we could bend the bars with natural strength. Belvin, cannot druids take the shapes of animals? Can you morph into a bear or something and bend the bars?"

   "Do not worry about my state for now," said Sseth. "One extra day as a bird never killed anyone. It is far more important for us to leave here, as you yourself have reminded me."

   So Jayce picked up Sseth's birdcage, and they departed that chamber. As they walked, Jayce asked, "Please do not be offended again, Sseth, but can the lightning magic be extracted from the dragon's bodies somehow for us to use to escape?"

   "My good Jayce! Even if so, what a barbaric thing to suggest! Mutilation of the dead? Surely your cleric would not stand for that. Now some will indeed tell you that a dragon's draconis fundamentum is the source of its breath weapon, but I say hogwash and hag baths! Absurdity!"

   They entered the large chamber again and took the time to examine the treasure piled in the corner that they had earlier overlooked in their rush to find Sseth.

   "Is that the dragon's hoard?" asked Jayce.

   Sseth laughed, which was more of a squawk. "No, no. No grown dragon could sleep on such a tiny pile. That is the bed that the two brats shared."

   It seemed a large pile to the humans and elves, the largest they had yet seen on their travels, a mound of coins roughly fifteen feet in diameter. The pile consisted mostly of silver coins, but there were a few platinum specks in the mix and the sparkle of an occasional blue gemstone. In two separate rolls were some sort of expensive fabrics as well, which they guessed to be velvet.

   "How many coins do you think that is?" Jayce asked.

   "Oh, I would say about 50,000," said Sseth.

   Jayce searched for magical auras in the pile. This led them to find several magical scrolls buried underneath the coins. Two of them bore arcane writings, the third was divine, but Hakam could not understand the script. He kept the scrolls in his scroll tubes.

   "If this is not the mother dragon's hoard, then it must be down that last tunnel," said Jayce.

   "I'd be happier to find another back exit for the dragon so that we can escape," said Leokas. "Treasure does us no good if the dragon returns to find it in our pockets.

   "Hakam, stay here with Stormshadow and Sseth. Jayce, Belvin, and I will search out the remaining passage." So Hakam bent down and began picking out platinum coins and gems from the pile. Sseth, who seemed to have a much better eye than Hakam, pointed out to him when he missed a gem.



   The others traveled down a large cave passage that was fifteen-feet-wide and taller than that. It started out heading what Leokas presumed was south, but it quickly curved — like so many of the passages — to the left. The passage began to grow even wider and they came to a chasm nearly twenty feet across. The elves looked down and could just spot the bottom.

   "We are above where we slew the bull," said Leokas. "See, there is that pile of fossilized dung."

   "I'll take your word for it," said Jayce. "I can see nothing but darkness below."

   "Can we make it across?" asked Belvin.

   "Didn't Mythlos have a grappling hook?" asked Jayce. "His backpack is not stone; I could go down and get it."

   "I think I can make that jump," said Leokas.

   "You'll die from that drop if you miss! I'll go get the ring from Hakam."

   "We gave it to Mythlos last;" said Belvin, "I do not think we'll be able to get it off his stone fingers."

   "We can get more rope out of his pack at least," said Leokas. "We'll tie the ropes together to make it reach 100 feet. I'll tie an end to me and jump across — I'm confident I can make it. I'll tie it around that stalagmite there and lower it into the chasm. The two of you can climb the rope up to meet me from below. There are lots of footholds on the wall; just take your time."

   "I'll need the sunrod." Leokas handed it to him. The two elves sat in the darkness and waited. Jayce returned several minutes later with more of the silk rope. He handed it to Leokas, who began tying knots.

   Jayce unslung his yarting.

   "I do not think it is a time for music," said Belvin.

   "My music will inspire him," said Jayce. "I don't want to lose three companions on the same adventure."

   Leokas went back to get a running start. He ran toward the ledge,...

   ...and easily landed the jump.

   "Impressive!" Jayce exclaimed.

   The rest of the plan went just as desired, and Belvin and Jayce began climbing the rope up the 75-foot wall in turn to join Leokas at the top.

   "Wow," said Jayce, drastically understating his awe at the view before them.

   They stood in the largest part of the cavern system they had yet seen. This final chamber was 40-feet-long in one direction and at least twice that in the other. The ceiling was so high that not even the elves could see the top. The rock formations in the room had a strange beauty to them, unseen by the vast majority of intelligent creatures from the surface.

   "Now that is the true hoard!" said Leokas pointing into the dark at something that Jayce could not yet see.

   Jayce tried detecting magic again, concerned that there might be some final traps before reaching the hoard, but the way seemed clear, and soon even he could see the twenty-foot-wide pile of coins and other treasure in the far corner of the massive room. Again, this pile was mostly of silver, but about ten percent of the coins were gold. There was a scattering of platinum and some silver trade bars as well and twice as many blue gems about as trade bars.

   "Again, why did we not buy bags of holding?" asked Jayce. He spotted the hilt of a sword glowing with a magical aura to him. He drew it out of the pile to reveal an exquisitely crafted rapier. He immediately drew his own and tossed it.

   "The treasure doesn't bring much enjoyment to me now," said Leokas, "considering two of us remain statues."

   "It is going to cost us a very large sum of money to pay a wizard enough to restore them," said Jayce. "It's in their best interest if we carry out as much of this as we can manage. Let's focus on the platinum and gems of course, since it's all we'll be able to carry out reasonably. Eh,... what's this?"

   While rummaging through the spread of coins, he came across a palm-sized, polished black stone. It glowed with a magical aura. "Surely, this is worth a thousand coins," he said. He picked it up; it was heavier than he expected. "Ah, look, there's a potion vial here also." That, too, he grabbed and placed in his potion belt.

   They began picking out as many gems and platinum coins from the pile as they could manage, but the elves grew nervous about tarrying too long. "Don't forget that we have two statues to drag out of here as well."

   So they decided to head back to descend the rope. Jayce grunted a little. "This is odd," he said, "I didn't pick up that many coins; why does it feel like I am carrying a ton of weight?" He detached his bandoleer and dropped it to the ground. It struck with a loud thump. "I still feel like I'm carrying the same amount," he said. "What the...!" He placed his hand into his pant pocket and pulled out the black stone he had taken from the dragon's hoard in his palm. He tossed it to the ground. An instant later, it reappeared in his other pocket. No matter what he tried to do to get rid of the stone, it appeared back on his person.

   "Wonderful," said Belvin. "As if a cripple and two statues to carry weren't enough, you are now weighed down as well. So much for escaping here quickly. Be a little more careful looting a dragon's hoard next time."

~~~~


"You took long," said Hakam, when the others returned. "Was there another way out?"

   They shook their heads.

   "Let's get the two statues up here."

   Dragging the Rinald and Mythlos statues out of the pit was no easy task. They were able to tie ropes around the torsos of each like climbing harnesses. Then two of them pulled carefully from above, while two lifted and pushed from below. They estimated each statue to weigh around 500 pounds.

   "We're never going to be able to carry them both out! It will take all four of us to move one."

   "We'll have to do it in stages," said Leokas. "We are not leaving either one of them behind."

   "Be thankful that you don't have to carry out me in my dragon form!" said Sseth.

   "What about the elephant?" asked Hakam.

   "Sseth, do you know if dismissing the spell that summoned our giant elephant here will cause it to revert to its figurine form?"

   "Ah, a figurine of wondrous power! I was wondering how that giant animal got itself stuck in that tunnel."

   "So you know about such figurines?"

   "Yes, but not about what happens when they are petrified."

   "If it 'dies', we were told it reverts, yes?" asked Hakam. The others nodded. Hakam raised his musket and fired. The bullet struck the elephant statue and cracks appeared.

   "What are you doing?"

   "'Killing' the elephant so it will revert," he said, as he loaded another bullet.

   "Warn us next time," said Belvin, covering his ears. "The sound is ten times worse in this cavern!"

   The others covered their ears as he fired a second shot. The statue crumbled apart into three massive chunks of stone. Those chunks then shrunk rapidly and flew together to form the miniature figure again.

   "What do you know? It worked!" said Jayce.

   "Shall we try the same thing with Mythlos?" asked Hakam.

   "By Io, I hope you are joking!" said Sseth.

   Jayce crawled down the ledge to recover the figurine. Then they all headed back down the tunnel toward the the dragon's pool, first carrying Mythlos, then returning to recover Rinald. Stomshadow carried Sseth's cage in her mouth. It took them great care to maneuver each statue over the pit trap, but they managed.

   They stared at the glass wall, trying to figure out what to do.

   "Worse case, we can hide in the dragon's cesspit until morning, when Belvin can cast another lightning bolt."

   "If I were a dragon," said Sseth, "— well, I am a dragon, but you know what I mean — and if I had children and I returned home to find those children dead, I imagine I would ransack my entire home for clues, even my own cesspit. It would be different if you had simply stolen an item from her bed. You've gone quite beyond that, I'm afraid."

   "What do you suggest?"

   "I regret that I have no suggestions."

   "We've not tried brute force yet," said Jayce. "Let's summon the elephant again." So he set the figurine by the glass and gave the word. The figurine morphed into the massive elephant again, now made of flesh. "Break down the door!" commanded Jayce. The elephant tired to obey; it pounded against the glass with its large forehead, but the glass seemed impervious to any sort of physical harm. The elephant trumpeted loudly in frustration.

   "She must have magically sealed the door," said Sseth. "Magic is the only way out."

   "Perhaps I can dispel it," said Hakam.

   "Her magic is probably too powerful for that," said Sseth, "but certainly, you should try it."

   The dragon was right; Hakam's dispelling had no effect on the wall.

   "Do not feel bad, Hakam," said Sseth. "Her magic was more powerful than mine, as well — hence, my present feathered state. Blue's have very powerful spells."

   The elephant, giving up, now wandered into the pool and began to spray water on its back happily.

   "I still think that pool has a chance to connect to the hydra's pool on the other side — or better still, the ocean," said Jayce.

   "I think it's fresh water," said Belvin, "because the elephant is drinking it."

   "We should all get in and search underwater for an opening," said Jayce.

   "Did you forget that the crazy elf soiled the water?" asked Hakam.

   "The elephant doesn't seem to care," said Jayce.

   Leokas looked as disgusted at the idea of stepping in the water as Hakam.

   "It was one stool," said Belvin. "Do you know how many animals emptied their waste into the forest pools you must have swam in growing up?"

   "I don't see you in the water yet," said Leokas.

   "Look, we don't have any pleasant options," said Jayce. "Even with what Belvin did, I see the pool as a more pleasant option then the dragon's dung hole!" With that, he ducked under the surface and began to search the far wall with his hands in the darkness. After coming up a few times for air, he surfaced excitedly. "I was right! There is an opening here. He stepped to the shore, shaking the water from his hair and clothes like a dog.

   "We have no way of knowing how long the tunnel is, though," said Hakam. "I've never been a very good swimmer, and we have half a ton of stone to drag through there with us."

   "...and a tiny bird," said Sseth. "I didn't like water much in my dragon state! I doubt my tiny lungs can hold much air."

   Belvin began tossing his gear on the ground. "Hold on to these," he said. Then he began unfastening his leathers.

   "What are you doing?"

   He did not answer. Instead, he tossed aside his leathers and boots and stepped naked into the water. They watched as his arms and legs began shortening, a finned tail sprung from between the top of his buttocks, his skull morphed, and a fin grew out of his back. In a matter of seconds, now in the shape of a gray bull shark, Belvin flopped into the pool with a splash and began darting around below the surface. The elephant rushed out of the pool, confused. Jayce dismissed the spell and retrieved the figurine.

   The shark fin disappeared under the water. A few moments later, it reappeared, and the shark nearly beached himself, snapping its jaws.

   "Uh, we can't understand shark, Belvin," said Jayce.

   "He says that the tunnel leads after about 30 feet to the pool in the room with the hydra," said Sseth.

   "You can speak with animals?"

   "Of course!"

   "This is a slight improvement in news," said Hakam, "but we still have two statues and a bird to swim through this tunnel, and a hungry hydra on the other end with one head to eat us each."

   Belvin the shark flopped back into the water to breathe, then returned again to snap its jaws.

   "He says that the hydra seems to be sleeping," said Sseth. "Do not be so pessimistic, priest of Anachtyr; see, there is still hope."

   "How do you advise us to fight a hydra?" asked Jayce.

   "Well, all of the tales tell of severing its heads one-by-one and sealing off the stumps with fire or acid. However, if you ask me, that's all a waste of time: why not just kill its body as quickly as possible? It only has one of those!"

   "Maybe one of us can go through quietly and set the elephant nearby. Then the rest of us can follow; we can summon the elephant and attack it all at once. If Tymora smiles, we may be able to slay it before it can even wake."

   "That would be a very large smile, I think," said Hakam.

   "I could swim through with the figurine," said Leokas.

   "On second thought," said Jayce, "with this cursed stone I have picked up, I do not think I can swim through that tunnel without drowning, and Hakam is right; how will we get Sseth or the statues through?"

   The shark in the water snapped its jaws again.

   "Belvin says that he can ferry us through quickly. We should not have to hold our breaths very long."

   "Perhaps we could tie the statues to him with the ropes, and he could drag them through," added Jayce.

   "I could imbue the shark with added strength," said Hakam. "I have another scroll for that."

   "So we have a plan," said Jayce, unslinging his yarting. "A song for morale before we try our crazy idea?"

   "Oh yes, I do love your music!" said Sseth. The parrot bobbed side-to-side as Jayce strummed.
Session: 40th Game Session - Thursday, Sep 11 2014 from 3:00 AM to 6:00 AM
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Pointer-left Investigator__male_2_thumb
Lhynard
Posted by the GM
Imago Deorum
Chapter 5 — Yrevkethend's Third "Pet"
Belvin began clapping slowly.

   "What do you think, Leokas," said Jayce, observing their success but pondering the fact that the dragons' mother would eventually return, "do you think you can cover all our tracks?"

   His words were interrupted by the sound of the elephant blasting a sound of pain.

   "Something else is down in this tunnel!" warned Rinald.

   Leokas took a step to the ledge. He could see movement in the dark tunnel beyond the elephant but could not make out what. He made a standing jump ten feet from the edge to the elephant's back, above the head of Rinald, who was standing over the dead dragon. In the darkness, he looked down upon what appeared to be a large bull, except that its hide reflected the light. He sent an arrow down on it from the elephant's back as he struggled to maintain his balance on the moving animal. The arrow deflected off the bull's hindquarters.

   "It's a bull of some sort," he called, "yet I could not pierce its hide!"

   Mythlos followed, leaping behind Leokas unto the back of the huge animal.

   "Sseth!" spoke Jayce into the copper wire he still held, "was there anything else alive down here?"

   "I have no idea," answered the dragon. "Do be careful!"

   "Defend yourself!" Jayce commanded the elephant, but it did not need to hear Jayce's words to do so. It was already trying to turn itself around in the tunnel, which for it, was extremely narrow. As it moved around, Mythlos and Leokas both lost their balance and tumbled from its shoulders. The acrobatic training they had received in the last few months paid off; Mythlos landed on his feet beside the bull's head, while Leokas landed on its back and rolled off to its side.

   Jayce began strumming. He watched as Rinald tried to climb up the ledge but slipped back down.

   In the lower tunnel with the bull, Leokas could now tell that its hide was made of metal strips, as unnatural as that was. "It's some kind of mechanical bull!" he shouted back to the others, who still could not see it past the elephant.

   The elephant gored at the "mechanical bull" with its tusks. In response, the bull bowed its head and snorted. From its mouth and large nostrils a thick green gas sprayed out. Mythlos, standing near the elephant, inhaled some before he could hold his breath. He felt every muscle in his body begin to stiffen.

   Everyone was suddenly in complete darkness. Mythlos' sword glow was extinguished.

   In three seconds, Hakam had cast light upon his leather armor. From the ledge, he, Jayce, and Belvin looked down to see a statue of Rinald, still wearing his clothes and gear, below them, in a climbing pose.

   "Mythlos has been petrified!" called Leokas. He stepped back from the bull and began trying to climb the cavern wall to get away from whatever magical power the bull had that had turned his companion's flesh into solid rock.

   Belvin began summoning, while Hakam loaded his musket.

   Jayce suspected now that the beast they were fighting, which he still could not see, was a gorgon. Thought to be the creation of some mad wizard, the creatures were not simply animated constructs; they could reproduce. The tales told that the wizard had created them as challenges for a labyrinth, but they multiplied and overran the maze, turning him to stone in the end with their petrifying breath. They have run wild across Faerûn ever since.

   Jayce tried mimicking the male dragon's voice. "Sit! Stay!" Jayce had forgotten the part of the tale that said they were impossible to tame.

   The gorgon gored the elephant in the knee. The elephant bludgeoned the bull on the head with its trunk, knocking it near to the ground; then it kicked the gorgon's head back up again with its hoof. The gorgon then breathed again. The elephant, which had seemingly resisted the first petrification attempt, was now a giant rock formation filling the tunnel.

   Thankfully, the first of Belvin's fire elementals appeared then, directly underneath the gorgon's legs. The metallic bull began leaping and bucking wildly, to get away from the living fire that was how swinging its appendages at the bull's underbelly. Leokas hoped he was high enough above the bull now to not be noticed or reached by its breath.

   "Sseth, how do you kill a gorgon?" Jayce spoke into the wire.

   "A gorgon? They are armored killing machines! They have no weaknesses that I know of; stay far away from their breath and be patient."

   A shot rang out from Hakam's musket, but it struck the wall. He began loading another bullet.

   Another fire elemental appeared, this one beside the gorgon. The beast was clearly frustrated at the burning creatures who were tormenting him.

   Leokas positioned himself above the bull on the wall, unsheathed his longsword, and waited for just the right moment. The bull, in its furious bucking, passed close to the wall directly below. Leokas let himself fall from twenty feet above, and plunged his sword through the back of the gorgon's neck. Then he himself tumbled off the side unto his back, leaving the blade stuck in the creature and vibrating.

   The bull staggered and fell to its elbows. A third fire elemental appeared, and the three summoned creatures continued pounding at the gorgon until the light in its magical eyes faded out and ceased.
Session: 40th Game Session - Thursday, Sep 11 2014 from 3:00 AM to 6:00 AM
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Epic!
Vythcaexoth
"Another story? Surely you are bored with an old man's tales by now.

   "I have not told you of Vythcaexoth or Chariropossloexvuriejir yet, have I? The latter tale was an epic battle, truly, but the lead up to it is long and involves much of the entire history of my life. To tell it now would take too long; we must rest before our early start tomorrow. The former tale brings me sorrow, as with the last one I shared but of a different kind. It was from my experience with her that I truly came to understand that every dragon is unique, except in the one area I wanted so hard to believe otherwise — I have never met a chromatic dragon who was not evil, through and through.

   "Vythcaexoth was a white dragon. Whites are said to be both the least powerful and the least intelligent of all true dragons. 'Little more than beasts' is the common viewpoint of them, a viewpoint I shared at the time of my story, as I had already easily slain a dozen by that time.

   "I was young and less wise then, in my twentieth year, at the peak of my prowess neither physically nor intellectually nor magically. I was living in the wildlands north of Icewind Dale, trying to escape from my earlier life as a treasure-collecting, thrill-seeking adventurer — another story for another time. However, I will say that while I claimed to be retiring from that life because it was too dangerous and risky, not worth the financial reward, I admit that the truth was that my heart had been broken by one of my adventuring partners, who chose another over me.

   "I lived alone in a tiny shack on a bit of land I leased from a rothe farmer. I was lonely, but by choice I kept mostly to myself.

   "I continued to slay dragons, however, not out of a sense of adventure anymore but simply to pay for food and rent. The snow-covered north is swarming with white dragons in particular. Most do not live to an old age. Again, they tend to be more animalistic and are easier to kill, so among frost giants, (who actively hunt them for food or armor), hunters defending their villages, and other, older white dragons, most do not live past several decades.

   "So I protected herds and villages from dragons not much larger than I. In some ways, it was cowardly work for me, but it earned me food and firewood for warmth.

   "Anyhow, I drag on my story with needless details. Vythcaexoth — Vythcaexoth was an older, larger dragon. I soon began hearing horror tales about her, how she targeted human children playing outside in broad daylight and painted crude pictures in the snow with their blood to mock the victim's parents or how she dropped their frozen hands and feet down chimneys in the night after the children had gone missing — terrible, gruesome tales.

   "It was the frost giants, however, who first helped me find her lair. I was sent a message to meet with one at a secure location. I was very nervous. First, frost giants are usually considered as evil as dragons. Second, I had no training in fighting a giant, if anything turned sour. Still, I was promised safety and told that the giant would meet me unarmed, though I could bear a weapon if I felt more comfortable doing so. Ignoring that a giant could probably pummel me to death with a fist before I could deal a critical stab with my own weapon, I went.

   "The giants kept their word; I was unharmed. They wanted to hire me. Word had reached them of my skills, though exaggerated they were at the time. The dragon Vythcaexoth had apparently slain their last jarl, or tribal leader, and stolen their ancient tribal torc. The giants wanted it back. They didn't seem to care whether I killed Vythcaexoth or not. They did not seem fond of the previous jarl, so their desire for revenge seemed weaker than I had expected. It seemed a far easier task than I expected. Steal a single golden torc and return it to the giants — better than taking on the most-feared dragon in the region directly.

   "They knew where her lair was located. I set up camp with some arctic dwarves in the region and monitored it from a distance, noting her schedule and habits. When I trusted that I understood them, I entered her lair in her absence. It was the most beautiful dragon's lair I had ever seen, carved from the ice of a glacier, the sunlight making eerie colors in the walls. I found her hoard and the torc was prominently there in the center. I took it and left without any incident. It was the easiest dragon raid I have ever managed.

   "I was paid my promised fee and returned to my shack.

   "A day later, I received a message from the giants again. The torc I had returned was a counterfeit, and I had best return to them and explain myself. Fearing for my life, I returned and insisted that it had been a mistake. I would return again to her lair as before and find the true torc. They allowed me five days.

   "After four days of watching, I saw no sign of the dragon entering or exiting her lair. I took a chance with the dragon rather than with the giants. I entered the lair.

   "It indeed seemed empty. Was the dragon traveling?

   "When I came to the hoard, I began searching more carefully for the torc. It was unexpectedly intelligent of a white for her to have intentionally set a decoy on display as she had. Where was the true treasure hidden?

   "I tensed as I heard a female voice coming from a side chamber. 'Who is there? Vyth, is that you?'

   "I glanced toward the sound. The passage was only about four-feet-high and three-feet-wide. Even a young dragon would have a hard time fitting through it. I stood ready with a magic arrow nocked.

   "I was dumbfounded when a young woman exited the tunnel and entered the chamber. She was dressed in a flowing white gown and looked to me like an ice princess from fairy tales I had read as a youth. She covered her mouth in shock at my presence. 'Who are you? Why are you here? Why are you searching through Vyth's bed?'

   "'I would ask the same of you,' I stuttered. '...Minus the part about the bed, of course," I added, trying to add some humor to the situation.

   "I was shocked that it worked. She giggled, and I blushed.

   "'I live here,' she said.

   "'Are you undead?' I asked.

   "'Gods, no!' she exclaimed. 'What sort of question is that? Am I that pale?'

   "'No, no, your cheeks are quite... rosy,' I replied. 'You look very, very alive.... It's just that white dragons usually kill humans. How can you stay warm in this place? Are you not freezing?' I myself was starting to shiver. I had already been in the lair longer than I had hoped to be.

   "'No, she gave me this amulet of warmth,' the girl explained, holding up the fine jewelry around her neck. The stone in the center alternated magically from white to red.

   "'You truly live here with the dragon?'

   "'Truly. Is that so hard to believe?'

   "'How long have you been in this place? Have you never heard tell of the evil of white dragons?'

   "'I have, yes. Such stories bring sadness to my heart, but sadder still are those who think that all creatures of one kind must be evil just because most are.'

   "'I once thought as you do,' I explained, 'but I have seen a red dragon not more than a year old bite the head off one of his siblings over a golden goblet he wanted to play with. Evil is in their blood.'

   "'Truly you must see the errors in your reasoning,' she said with great confidence. 'First, you speak of red dragons. My mistress, Vythcaexoth, is a white. Second, is not a year enough time for a young wyrmling to be taught evil from its parents? Third, who are you to judge morality when you come boldly here as a thief?'

   "I found her sudden feistiness very attractive. I actually blushed again, and I'm sure she noticed. 'I am sorry, miss. Before I judge, can you explain to me where I err in this present case? I was sent here not as a thief but to recover something stolen. And as for Vythcaexoth, the whole village below this glacier tells fireside stories of the horrible atrocities she has done.'

   "'They are all lies, saer,' she said in a sad voice, 'and it pains me to hear them. I can explain all to you.'

   "I glanced around nervously. 'Until I trust enough to believe you, I am not willing to stay here much longer. Is the dragon far from here?'

   "'She is far to the east many days, seeking out magic, as she often does, but I understand your fear. I am free to come and go as I please — as are you. If you promise to treat me chivalrously, I will risk the danger of escorting you out of here to wherever you would feel safe speaking with me.'

   "This proposal seemed good to me, so we left together. I led her to my shelter near the dwarven camp, and she came inside with me.

   "She told me her name was Alibeth and explained to me that as a child she had had very abusive parents. Her father was always drunk and when he drank too much he beat her. Her mother did nothing to help her and for her part always told her how ugly she was and how she would never find a good husband if she did not put some more meat on her bones. (I assured her that she was in no way ugly, and she blushed at that.)

   "Vythcaexoth, Alibeth continued, had been shown mercy as a young dragon by a gold dragon. That gold dragon had taken her in and taught her the power of magic. She grew to love the study of magic far more than the typical frivolous pleasures that most white dragons seek. When she grew older and more powerful, she left her tutor and returned to her homeland. She was especially curious of the ways of humans. She envied her tutor, who often took the form of an old human sage and interacted behind the scenes in their world. She longed to have the same power, though it is not inherent to the race of whites, as it is for golds. She studied the human villages from afar. 'It was doing this that she observed me as a child and how I was treated by my parents. One day, she decided to steal me away and rescue me. I could not have been happier.

   "'She treated me with kindness and raised me as her own daughter, teaching me the ways of magic.'

   "'Could you teach me?' I asked.

   "'Let me finish my story first, silly. Plus, it will likely take more time than a few hours with me for that.'

   "'I would have no problems with that,' I thought.

   "'You can see how my parents began — quite naturally, I admit — to spread rumors about the "evil" of Vythcaexoth, how she slaughtered innocent children, including their daughter. In truth, they did not care about me at all; they simply enjoyed the pity and the fame. I tried returning to them when I was older to see if they had changed. I peeked through the windows of my old house and saw my father with another woman.'

   "'I am sorry to hear such a sad story from so sweet a maiden, but are you telling me that all of the stories the villagers tell stem from the rumors your own parents started? How do you know this?'

   "'As I was saying, I spent some time in secret at the village observing, before I decided it held nothing for me anymore. My home was with Vyth.

   "'Consider, Rinald; have you ever seen any evidence of these tales? or is it only rumors you have heard?'

   "Admittedly, I had never seen any proof of the stories I had heard.

   "She went on to explain the torc just as believably. The battle had been a set-up, she said. The giants disliked their leader — as I already knew — and they placed a geas on him by guile and deceit, which compelled him to attack her at the gate to her lair. She regrettably slew him in self-defense when he would not stand down. The torc itself was actually hers to begin with. It had been a gift from her gold dragon mentor, and she treasured it deeply, as even good dragons do admire objects of beauty. It had been stolen by the jarl in prior years, when she had been away. When she won the battle with him that day, she took the torc back. She took not another item from the giant's body, and he bore many a great magic item. It was never a tribal heirloom. The giants have told you lies.'

   "'Even if what you tell me is true, and I want to believe it,' I said, 'the giants will have a bounty on my head if I do not return tomorrow with the torc.'

   "'Run away,' she said. 'Surely they will not be able to track you down.'

   "I was not so sure; I knew well that many of the villages paid tribute to the giants.

   "'The town yonder, north of the glacier,' she said, 'I go there often when I bore of being by myself in the lair when Vyth is traveling. I know an innkeeper there I trust. I have some money with me; I can get us a room there, and in the morning we can find a way to get you to the coast and on a ship safely to the south.'

   "Had I just heard her correctly? Had she said, 'get us a room'? I accepted before she could change her mind, and we set out.

   "The room was cozy, with a large fireplace for warmth. I did not fully know how innocent her intentions were. Afraid to sit on the bed, I sat instead on the bear rug on the floor and pulled a rothe-fur blanket over my knees. 'So,' I said, 'can you teach me some magic?'

   "She sat behind me on the rug and reached her arms around me, taking my hands in her own. They were cold against my warm skin. My heart began racing. She formed my hands into a cup and breathed over my shoulder, her breath crystallized into a miniature ice rabbit.

   "I could hold back no longer; I quickly turned my head and kissed her. She welcomed my lips. Hers were also cold, but I did not mind.

   "She stood up suddenly. 'It grows so hot in here,' she said, stepping away from me. 'Perhaps I've grown too accustomed to the cold of Vyth's lair....' She unfastened the straps to her overdress then, and it pooled to the floor at her feet. She turned to face me in her thin shift. I began to have second thoughts regarding my opinion of her innocence.

   "She sat down next to me on the rug and snuggled against me, placing her bare feet under the blanket. 'I have done a lot of talking today,' she said. 'What about you? Tell me about yourself. Were your parents kind?'

   "They were. I told Alibeth several happy stories of my childhood with my parents and as a squire to my mentor, Sir Skyward.

   "'But I miss hearing your pretty voice,' I said, 'I would rather we go back to you talking. Do you have any happy childhood memories? perhaps when you were very young and your father was sober?'

   "'Maybe we could kiss instead of talk,' she said. I did not argue. We kissed, and I began to feel dizzy with what I thought was love.

   "When we stopped, though, I asked her again, 'I would know more of the girl I am kissing; come now, one happy story.'

   "She paused. 'Well,... when I was very little — it's such a silly thing — I used to make finger puppets from my mother's old gloves. I would go outside with them and build these tiny snow castles. I would fill the puppets with snow so they could stand upright, and I would place them on the castle walls and on the castle towers, as I pretended they were knights and princesses.' She looked at me and blushed. She brushed her hair from her shoulder and, when she did so, feigning an accident, caused one of the straps of her shift to slip down, exposing her shoulder.

   "It should have been an endearing story. I should have been tempted by the skin she was now revealing.

   "Instead, I was terrified. I carefully slipped my right hand under the blanket to the side of my boot.

   "For you see, as she told her story, I recalled one of my own memories. One of the rumors I had heard about Vythcaexoth told of how one of her victim's mothers had come outside one afternoon to call in her little daughter from play for the night. When the child did not respond, the woman went out looking for her. She came to the little snow castle that the girl had made. Upon the walls and towers of that castle, she found her daughter's ten fingers placed upright as if they were people.

   "'Alibeth' leaned toward me to kiss me again. I drew my dagger from my boot sheath and stabbed her in the back through the heart, and the blade came out the front of her chest.

   "I pulled out the blade, she fell back limp unto the rug, and I leapt to my feet. She stared up at me, her shift turning red from the blood oozing from her. 'You should know,' she said, struggling for her last breaths, 'I would have enjoyed mating with you, perhaps even loved you, but you tried stealing my torc, and you must know that I love my treasure most of all.'

   "She breathed her last breath, and immediately, her face began to grow grotesque as tiny horns burst out of her chin and neck and her hair receded rapidly back into her head. I ran for the window and smashed the glass with the butt of my dagger as her body swelled rapidly and morphed. I jumped out to land in a pile of snow below. The walls of the second floor of the inn splintered apart above my head, as in her death Vythcaexoth's body returned to its true, 30-ton form.

   "I am sorry my tale grew so long. See, even Belvin has already entered trance. That is enough for tonight. Let's pray tomorrow night sees us alive and under the stars again."
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