For a few hours I stood in the entryway of the temple and watched the fires burning in the night – listening to the far away sounds of people shouting and probably fighting, rival bands of looters fighting over scraps of a doomed city. I wonder if the arsonists and saboteurs infiltrate the city recently or if the dragon has been setting this up all along. Regardless it seems to be an effective strategy. Martialla and the three captains were supposedly sleeping back in the Priest’s quarters but it’s hard to imagine they were having much luck. There’s not much else that inspires insomnia like the potential for grim death nearby.
My thoughts kept wandering to the dragon’s mind-slaving sword that we had stashed in a closest – you know like you do with deadly dangerous magic artifacts. It has to have some connection to the dragon, and I feel like we should be able do something with that, use it to our advantage, but how do you even begin to explore that idea? That’s the problem with magic, even the people that use it don’t seem to understand it.
Once the soft glow of the fire’s illuminated the city gave way to the soft glow of the morning sun illuminating the city it was time to go. I explained by plan to my four comrades and suggested that they get back on their boat and head back to Penside’s Ferry, no reason for them to stay and die if this doesn’t work out. Shockingly they refused. Jasko in particular was vehement about not “abandoning” me.
“We’re with you to the end.”
“That doesn’t make any sense. How does you dying with me help anything?
“It’s called loyalty.”
“To what? If the king rides his horse off a cliff and all his men follow them that’s not loyalty that’s stupidity. There’s nothing you can do to help, there’s nothing anyone can do, what’s going to happen is going to happen. I don’t need you hanging around for moral support.”
He shook his head “We’re not going anywhere.”
“But why? What’s the point? What you’re saying makes no sense. If you leave now and things go bad maybe you can find another way. You can’t do anything if you’re dead.”
“What kind of man would I be if I ran away while you were in danger?
“A smart man? A man who’s still alive? A man who didn’t throw his life away for no good reason and can still try to do something? Do you want me to go on?”
They refused to see reason and I didn’t want to waste time arguing – I remember when I used to be good at convincing people to do things. It’s a sad day when I can’t get a couple barge-jockeys to do the thing that will save their own stupid lives. I wished them luck staying in the temple for no reason whatever and headed for the door, Martialla right by my side.
“Now where the Hells do you think you’re going?
“I’m going with you.”
“I . . . I . . . .I . . . . don’t . . . . . what?!
“It’s pretty simple, you need someone to watch your back, it’s me.”
“You’re making my teeth hurt. Those three idiots I can understand, they’ve been brainwashed by stories of manly heroism and brave last stands and other macho bullshit – the whole society is set up to get them to throw their lives away. You are an actual human person with a functioning mind, at least I thought you were, you know better.”
“Maybe I do, but sometimes it’s nice to do the right thing and not the smart thing.”
“Who even are you? Did you get kicked in the head by a mule or something? What about your niece? If you die here today who’s going to avenge her?”
“I’m not too worried about it.”
“What’s your angle lady? I was just joking the other day about going steady, are you in love with me? What’s going on?”
“I don’t think so, I like men and you’re pretty girly.”
“Why won’t anyone listen to me?!”
Why is it that everyone chooses the worst time to start acting all noble? It’s some cruel joke at my expense. Sometimes I feel like the whole world is against me. There was no time to continue debating so Martialla and I headed through the streets of the wracked city. Based on the number of charred corpses we saw bobbing in the river I think my theory last night that anyone with a boat had fled was gone – looks more like they tried to flee and a dragon burned them from above. Martialla had the poor graces to interrupt my thoughts with an irrelevant comment.
“You know I heard that across the sea there’s a queen who’s immune to dragonfire.”
“How does that help us?”
“I just thought it was interesting.”
“Are her clothes immune to dragonfire too or does she run around in the nude after a dragon attack? That hardly seems like conduct befitting a queen.”
“I don’t know, they don’t talk about that in the stories.”
“Funny, I would have thought a naked queen is what people would be most interested in.”
Once we were out of the city we both took a few minutes to craft ourselves some disguises – random bandit thug number four and anonymous outlaw criminal number seven. Although I made sure that mine had an illusion of the dragon’s mind-destroying greatsword strapped across the back. I don’t know how Martialla was feeling walking into the enemy camp, but I was strangely unconcerned – as might be expected from a coalition of backstabbers and throatslitters held together only by a dragon’s will, discipline was a little lax. It was less a military encampment and more haphazard collection of tents and piles of materials. Somehow I doubt that your average bushwhacker is going to spend time digging a proper latrine.
No one challenged us as we made our way through the camp, if anyone noticed us or cared they probably assumed we just belonged to another bandit group – I saw at least five distinct gangs, and that’s not even counting the goblins and trolls roaming around. Have you ever seen a troll up close? I have now. They’re hideous. Looks like a tumor with arms and legs – really long arms and stumpy bow-legs. Even that didn’t bother me so much though – my calm was shattered when we came to the central area around which all the bandit bivouacs clustered like barnacles on a ship. Laying there, with a wide berth of emptiness around it, was the dragon – curled up like a cat and sleeping peacefully.
Even with its wings folded, legs drawn in, and tail wrapped around itself it was as big as a house. Its scales were a dark ruby red with bone-white patches on the tips of the wings and around the muzzle – which even when closed revealed horrific looking fangs the size of small blades. Down the back and tail it had feathery looking scales that stood up but which were actually wicked spikes. Like the bright colors of a bird I assume, designed to attract a mate, only they could saw your limbs off. There was an intense heat coming from it that felt almost like a physical force pressing up against me. The feeling of absolute and utter dread that came over me was paralyzing. Martialla fell to the ground and started sobbing, trying to press her face into the dirt as if she could burrow into it and disappear. I probably would have done the same had I not experience the dragonfear before – albeit on a smaller scale. Still I was frozen, I couldn’t say or do anything.
Without opening its eyes the dragon spoke – its voice like a low rumble of thunder before a deafening clap. A voice of power and the assurance of awful violence.
“That’s not a bad disguise little one, but what did you hope to accomplish with it? Are you an assassin?”
It took me a moment to find my voice “Of course not, I would never dream that anyone or anything could harm you.”
One of its wagon wheel sized eyes opened and it stirred slightly, possibly with a tiny hint of amusement in its voice. “That’s very wise of you, uncommonly so for one of your kind. Many a knight has come to slay me and died in screaming agony. That’s not very wise of them at all.”
“They’re fools, not even the Gods themselves can match your power.”
“You lie very prettily. But even flattery gets old quickly coming from one like you. What is your business?”
“I wish to help you.”
“And why should I allow that?”
“You can accomplish anything you wish, of course, but I wanted to make things a little easier for you – not that you need any help. You must have come here for something, a human city surely can’t interest you. Tell me what it is and I’ll bring it to you.”
Its great head lifted on the end of his long serpentine neck and after a moment it got to its feet and unfurled his wings – stretching and shaking slightly like the world’s largest and most awe-inspiring tiger. I involuntarily took a few steps back and almost tripped over the cowering Martialla, and started shaking like a leaf. No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t master myself – I was quivering uncontrollably like I had fallen through the ice over a frozen pond in the dead of winter.
“And what then? I spare the city?”
Looking down instead of at the beast I was able to speak “No, of course not, I wouldn’t dream of trying to bargain with you, you can destroy the city easily – nothing can stop if you choose to do so – I just want to make sure you get what you want. If your men attack the city and you burn it whatever you’re looking for may be destroyed. I’m trying to make sure you get what’s rightfully yours.”
“You’re very smart for a human. Maybe I should keep you as a pet. How would you like that?”
“It would be my honor. I can imagine no better life for myself.”
I heard a reverberation, felt in my chest as well, that I eventually realized was a dragon chuckle “You’re quite good at abject obsequiousness.” Its cart-sized head full of lethal teeth came down level with me, the heat becoming so intense that it was painful. “Look me in my eyes little one.”
Pulling my chin up was almost impossible – it felt like an entire mountain range had been set on my crown, dragging my eyeline down – but I was able to manage it. The heat was so awful I was afraid that it was going to damage my vision.
“There’s a woman, she’s the last offspring of a man who murdered one of my sons decades ago. I’ve killed all the others already. Tomorrow at sunrise she will walk out the city alone. Everyone in the city will come out to watch. I’m going to burn her to nothing, not even ash, there won’t be bones left, she will cease to exist, and everyone is going to witness it so they know my power.”
I managed to nod, my eyes watering so intensely that it was like being underwater.
“You and your friend drop those disguises when you leave, I want my men to get a good look at you.”
Funds: 995 platinum, 159 gold
Inventory: Noble’s Traveling Outfit, Animated Riding Coat, Animal Totem Tattoo (Lion), Dagger of Venom, Bracers of Armor +2, Ring of Protection +2, Light Crossbow, Fake Signet Ring, False Papers, Bag of Concealment, Belt of Giant Strength +4, Vest of Resistance +1, Ring of Sustenance, Gem of Brightness, Silver Chain set with Moonstones, Gold and Emerald Ring (2), Glove of Vampiric Touch, Platinum and Silver Holy Symbol of Kralten, Holy Symbol of Kozilek, Ruby (2), Black Marketers’ Bag, 879 Garnets, crystal necklace
Revenge List: Duke Eaglevane,
Piltis Swine, Rince
Electrum, watchman Gridley, White-Muzzle the worg, Percy Ringle
the butler, Alice Kinsey , “ Patch”, Heroes of the Lost Sword, Claire
Conrad, Erist priest of Strider, Riselda owner of the Sage Mirror,
Eedraxis, Skin-Taker tribe,
Kartak, Królewna & Bonifacja Trading Company, Hurmont Family,
Androni Titus, Greasy dreadlocks woman, Lodestone Security, Kellgale
Nickoslander, Beltian Kruin the Splithog Pauper, The King of Spiders, Auraluna
Domiel, mother Hurk, Mazzmus Parmalee, Helgan van Tankerstrum, Lightdancer,
Bonder Greysmith, Pegwhistle Proudfoot, Lumbfoot Sheepskin, Lumber Consortium
of Three Rivers, Hellerhad the Wizard