Let Sleeping Dragons Lie
Falkrunn couldn’t decide what she liked more about her group of companions: their aptness for being distracted, or their complete inability to agree on almost anything.
“Why don’t we just talk to the dragon?” she asked the group, feeling frustrated by their lack of progress. “Druid, can it be reasoned with?”
The wizened man creased his already wrinkled forehead and shook his head. “No, I don’t believe it can be reasoned with. This is a young dragon, who is especially fierce and thinks itself noble.”
“How often does it leave the tower?” Keyzana asked, pacing the dirt floor with hands clasped behind her back.
He shrugged. “Only to feed and pillage, neither of which stirs the beast to wing on oft occasion.”
“So we are at a loss,” the Elf said, stopping in her tracks. “Why not come with us, Reidoth? Leave this place?”
He shook his head a second time. “I cannot leave, noble Elf. It is my duty as a Druid of this forest to maintain a balance. The dragon in that tower disrupts the balance of nature, and that must not continue.”
There was a short silence.
“We are not strong enough to defeat a dragon, nor to drive one off,” Olara told the group, “so we must find another way.”
Keyzana stepped towards the Druid, opening her hands in a plea. “Draw us a map to Cragmaw Castle, if you will not come with us. We will return once we have saved Falkrunn’s uncle and have drawn up a better command. Right now we are five individuals, lacking all cohesive skill. Help us, and we will find a way to defeat the Green Dragon another day.”
The Druid looked around the table at the Dragonborn, Human, Dwarf and two Elves. With a laboured sigh he dropped into a nearby chair, dust erupting from it in sparklets of silver. The dust particles rose in the streaks of afternoon sunlight that peered through the shutters of the boarded window. “Very well,” he said finally, clearing his throat. “Very well,” he repeated, more firmly, “I will draw your map, though I don’t claim any great skill at cartography. It has been a long while since I have seen Cragmaw Castle.”
Falkrunn walked around the table and placed a hand on the old Druid’s shoulder, catching his green eyes in hers. “I promise, on my honor as a Dwarf of the Rockseeker clan, that we shall return and free Thundertree of the Green Dragon that haunts it.”
She thought she saw redness in his eyes, but he quickly said, “thank you,” and turned to pull out a stack of parchment and some ink, then set to work on his drawing.
As the Druid’s busy hands scratched away, Lorskan released his familiar and it flew above the ruined town. With glazed eyes, the Dragonborn relayed what he saw, “There is a giant web across the main road, and a great black spider stands hidden in a broken cottage. I see no other creatures besides this.”
So just the dragon and one exceptionally large spider. Great. Falkrunn thought to herself.
Lorskan returned his gaze around the room, then said, “I am leaving to walk ahead.”
“Leaving?” Olara asked in surprise, turning from the Druid’s map making.
The Dragonborn nodded and made for the door without another word of explanation.
“I’m coming too!” Flavio said, trotting up to the Dragonborn.
Lorskan eyed him quickly and said, “fine. We will return.” The two left without another word, or to see if the others would follow.
“Odd, him,” the Druid muttered to the remaining three companions, continuing his drawing.
Falkrunn glared back at the closed door. “I don’t like it. I don’t like any of it. What’s his deal?“
Keyzana nodded in agreement. “He’s up to something. I will send my hawk after him as a scout.” She summoned her familiar and opened the door again to release him.
“I wonder,” the Dwarf added, “what does it have to do with the human?”
The two Elves looked around doubtfully. They had only met Flavio in Phandalin when they saved him from the Red Brands. Perhaps they needed to search more into the human’s past. Falkrunn still couldn’t shake an odd feeling about the man. Why had he joined their crew? What did he have to gain? It couldn’t all just be for gold.
They sat waiting as the druid sketched out the length of the forest in quick, ink-blotched lines.
Flavio followed behind the hulking Dragonborn as they skirted around the town’s edge. The creature Lorskan said nothing, and Flavio began to look around nervously, regretting his decision to follow. However, something stronger than doubts kept his resolve, and he took comfort in placing a hand over his warhammer.
They crossed the treeline and made for the road. The road was lined with a scattering of broken and rubble-strewn homesteads. Trees grew in every uninhabited inch, and had even forced their way through stone where it pleased them.
The human and Dragonborn reached what looked to have been the town’s square, featuring a central figure: a towering wooden statue depicting a human man dressed in finery and puffing out his chest with dignity. Flavio looked up at the monument and stood a little straighter, nodding at it as they passed.
Directly behind the statue was a large, solid building with patches of vines that had dug partially into the stone. Flavio muttered a quick prayer to himself as he watched the Dragonborn reach for the door. What was he doing?
He thought he heard a thump coming from inside. Flavio held his breath.
A man in black robes appeared from around the door and they exchanged words. Lorskan looked back at Flavio with a distrustful expression and said, “don’t follow,” then pushed through the door and slammed it behind him.
Flavio wrung his hands nervously and crept up to the door, pressing his ear to it. Something snapped at his feet. He tripped and fell into the nearby brambles, gathering an accumulation of scratches across his face. He cursed silently and pulled himself out of the thorns, then prayed for forgiveness, returning his ear to the door.
The Druid Reidoth stood and sprinkled sand over the parchment, letting it soak up the extra spots of ink. Then he gently lifted the parchment and waved it through the air. He handed it to Falkrunn and she took it reverently, folding it and pushing it into her breast pocket.
Olara nudged Keyzana, and she returned her gaze to the room, leaving her hawk to circle the skies. She looked at her companions in confusion. “Lorskan and Flavio have gone to the town square, where” she told them with a pause, “Lorskan has entered alone into a building and left Flavio behind.”
Well, isn’t that just the gem in the crown. “Let’s go,” Falkrunn growled, pushing through the door and making her way to the forest’s edge. The Elves followed closely, their steps silent in the long grass, their fingers poised for attack.
Six cloaked figures emerged from the building and marched across the town’s square, followed by a seventh, much taller cloaked figure. The six wore masks with great black horns. The seventh was quite clearly the Dragonborn himself.
Flavio stumbled back, and the cloaked figures turned towards him. The one at the front spoke to the tallest of them. “What does he know?”
“Nothing,” Lorskan’s voice emerged distinctly from behind his black cloak, “and he will not follow us.”
The six began to walk in the direction of the tower. Lorskan turned and grabbed Flavio roughly. “Follow me, and I will kill you, human.”
Flavio yelped and fell back as Lorskan turned and followed the others. He watched them walk away.
Suddenly, a giant hawk dropped from the sky and landed lightly on Flavio’s shoulder, peering at him with large eyes. He cried out in surprise. It cocked its head, then took flight southward. Flavio got to his feet and brushed off his coat. “What a strange eagle,” he said, then shuffled away, following the black cloaked figures with some distance between them, one hand still clutched on his warhammer.
“You won’t believe this,” Keyzana breathed.
“What is it?”
“Lorskan, cloaked in black and following six humans. They make their way to the tower of the Green Dragon as we speak.”
“And Flavio? What of him?” Falkrunn asked, peering out of the broken window of the weaver’s shop in which they now hid after catching sight of a spider in the distance.
The Elf grimaced. “I sent my familiar down to warn him and lead him to where we hide, but he ignored it completely.”
“Perhaps he didn’t recognize the hawk,” Olara suggested.
A bark of humourless laughter escaped the Elf. “He’s seen the hawk before, many times.”
Falkrunn shrugged, “from what I hear, Human’s aren’t the smartest of creatures.”
The two Elves nodded in agreement. After a moment’s silence, Falkrunn said, “what should we do about Lorskan?”
“He is a traitor, as far as we know. Or, he was never on our side to begin with.” Keyzana said, a hint of sadness in her voice.
“If he wakes this dragon, there will be no fighting it,” Olara whispered. “We cannot win.”
“So we hide?” Falkrunn asked, stomach twisting.
“It is that, or run,” Olara told her.
As way of answer, Falkrunn collapsed into a chair and put her feet up. “So we wait and see what happens.”
“Anyone know how to give a good massage?” Keyzana smiled, sitting on the floor and returning to the eyes of her hawk.
“Actually,” Falkrunn said, grinning, “a massage sounds great.”
CRACK. There was a sudden burst of sound as the door to the weaver’s cottage broke open in splinters and six full-sized twig creatures broke their way into the room. Olara quickly pushed Keyzana into her own mind and the three tore out their weapons and stood to face their enemy. The creatures clacked and snapped like many breaking twigs, and Falkrunn suspected they were communicating with one another.
Olara leapt forward on powerful Elven legs and cut the leading twig creature in half with her short sword, spinning her weapon through the air with incredible force. Keyzana circled her right hand in the air, then cupped it with her left hand and emitted a huge cone of hot flames that engulfed three of the blights and some of the nearby furniture. They exploded into tinder and ash.
Falkrunn raised her longsword and cut at the nearest foe, but her height was against her. It stuck firmly in the creature’s armoured bark, and the blight clacked at at her angrily. She grimaced and she tried to pull the weapon free, but the blight reached out a sharp hand and grabbed at her, slashing a shallow cut across her cheek. The blade came free and she stumbled back. Olara side-stepped in and with a backhanded cut, she tore across the middle of the creature and it burst apart.
There was only one twig creature remaining, and Keyzana stepped up to it, grabbed it by the arms and kicked it in the chest. It exploded into tiny shards of wood as she tore the thing limb from limb.
With trembling hands, Falkrunn returned her sword to the scabbard at her back. “Thank the gods for Elves.”
The two elves looked at each other and grinned.
Falkrunn and the Elves ran from the weaver’s cottage and went in search of Flavio. Falkrunn’s heart was nearly beating out of her chest, and she looked forward to putting her back to the forsaken town of Thundertree.
Flavio was hidden behind a tree with his back to them as they approached, looking out at the tower. Keyzana grabbed his attention, and he shot around with a wild expression that softened upon recognition. “Oh, it’s just you.”
“Just us?” Keyzana growled, her eyes furious. “Next time you see a giant bloody hawk land on your shoulder, it means hey, follow it. We were nearly torn apart by plant monsters just now.”
Flavio looked genuinely shocked. “Just so you know, Lorskan threatened to kill me, then went trouping off with a group of black cloaked cultists.”
“Huh,” was all Keyzana said in response, and they all gathered round to watch the tower, evidently over the hawk incident.
Minutes later the cult emerged from the tower and headed in one direction, leaving Lorskan behind. “We need to do something about this,” Falkrunn whispered to the rest.
“I can interrogate him,” Flavio said, and the other three looked at him doubtfully. He raised a hand in defense, “I have a spell,” he said, as though explaining it to a gaggle of children. “If it works, he will have no choice but be compelled to tell us the truth. However, he will be aware that he is under the spell. He can withhold what he wants, but he simply cannot lie.”
“Well, then we’d better think what to ask him,” Falkrunn said. “Let’s go.”
The companions caught up with Lorskan when he was nearly out of the town. He no longer wore the black cloak of the cult. “Hey!” Olara called to him, and he stopped to wait. “Where have you been?” Her voice was accusatory. “Flavio tells us you threatened his life.”
Lorskan shrugged and continued walking. “Hey,” Olara said again. “I think you owe us an explanation.” She grabbed for his shoulder.
“Nothing for you to worry about,” the Dragonborn said. “Do you have the map?” Annoyed, Falkrunn nodded. “Good,” he said, “we will go to Cragmaw Castle now.”
The uncomfortable companions made their cautious way through the fields, keeping an eye out on the looming forest flanking their left.
A few hours later, night fell upon the forest and they made their customary camp. Falkrunn prepared soup with boiled meat and cabbage, then pulled her carved wooden flute from her cloak and began to play a soft melody. The melody was a song her father had taught her long ago. It spoke of the destruction after courage. It sang of sadness and betrayal.
When the song was finished, Falkrunn looked pointedly at Flavio, and the man stretched out his fingers, subtly whispering an incantation under his breath. The spell flowed smoothly across the fire and they watched as Lorskan breathed it in. His eyes seemed to soften, and a faint smile touched his lips. Flavio nodded slightly and gave a thumbs up, indicating the spell had taken effect.
The most important question came first. Flavio cleared his throat and in a surprisingly authoritative voice he asked: “Are you on our side?”
Lorskan tilted his head slightly and said, “for now,” in a deep voice.
Falkrunn restrained herself as Flavio asked the next question: “Who are the black cloaked figures whom you followed into the tower?”
“They are of the cult of Tiamat”
Flavio looked around, but the rest shared looks of confusion. “What is Tiamat?” He asked in way of clarification.
“Tiamat,” Lorskan said slowly, “is the Dragon God of Evil.”
“I knew it,” Falkrunn hissed, casting glares across the fire. Lorskan barely acknowledged her, his focus now solely on the Human.
Flavio folded his hands before him and leaned in. “And what did you do with the Green Dragon in the tower?”
“We offered it diamonds, and the cult asked for it to look on them with favour. They worship dragons, even try to resurrect those who have died.”
“What is your association with the black cloaks?” Olara chimed in, and Lorskan turned his gaze on her.
“My job is to… eliminate the cult,” he replied with some difficulty.
There was a collective sigh of relief, and Keyzana said, “he’s trying to destroy them, not work alongside him.”
“Remember that he said he was on our side for now, not forever.” Falkrunn told them, her doubt not fully diminished.
“The spell is wearing off,” Flavio told them, shifting back in his seat.
“We’re okay,” Olara assured them, “at least for now. He will not kill us in our sleep, at least.”
“Except that he knows we’ve just interrogated him with magic,” Falkrunn pointed out.
Keyzana smiled mischievously. “One last question.”
“Yes?” Lorskan asked, annoyance appearing at the corners of his black eyes.
She folded her arms and peered at him with her head cocked. “Which one of us is your favourite?”
“Albus,” Lorskan said without hesitation.
“The crazed Rock Gnome?” she demanded. “He’s not even with us anymore!”
“Flavio is my least favourite,” he provided, and it was clear he was shaking out of the spell.
“Well, I think that’s all we needed,” Falkrunn said, standing and heading to the trees. She needed to clear her head.
The evening was starless and heavy, and soon everyone but Olara was asleep. She knelt and watched and waited.
Falkrunn awoke to the light touch of a hand on her shoulder. Her eyes flew open immediately, and she saw Olara standing over her. She nodded and they both stood quietly. Tiny droplets of rain misted the cool night air, and thunder rumbled off in the distance. Falkrunn crept forward on short legs and skirted the dying fire, moving to where the huge Dragonborn lay deep in sleep. She put her hands over his black-scaled body and whispered a Sleep incantation, but it was difficult to tell if the spell had worked or not. She thought perhaps it hadn’t, but had to risk it anyways.
Dwarf and Elf both knelt down and dug through the Dragonborn’s possessions, carefully taking out each item and inspecting it. Olara pulled out a thick scroll, eyed it, then handed it to Falkrunn. She turned it over in her hands and unrolled it, but didn’t recognize it. They shared a look and Falkrunn went over to wake Keyzana and ask her. Keyzana woke from her trance and unfurled the scroll, reading it with eyebrows raised. “It allows the user to divine their next course of action.”
“It can tell the future?” Falkrunn asked, amazed.
“Only once, if I’m not mistaken,” Keyzana told the Dwarf, handing it back. “What else have you found?”
“Not much,” Falkrunn whispered just as Olara gestured them forward.
The Elf held a small piece of metal that was engraved and painted: a blue crest with the white head of a dragon in the foreground. “What is that?” Falkrunn asked.
Olara’s lips parted in a half-smile. “It’s the symbol of Bahamat – the Dragon God of Good.”
“So he is good after all,” Falkrunn muttered. Lorskan shifted in his sleep. They quickly replaced everything back into his bag and returned to their spots. Keyzana took watch and Olara went into her trance after a few minutes.
Falkrunn covered her face from the light patter of rain and fell back asleep, exhausted but feeling slightly more reassured.
The following day was long and overcast, but by evening the skies cleared up and a long stretch of orange and pink sunset spanned across the horizon. As soon as they made camp, Lorskan went off in silence and practiced his fighting maneuvers. Olara pulled out a pouch from her satchel and began brewing some tea.
“What’s in it?” Flavio sniffed at the liquid.
“It’s mushroom tea,” Olara said innocently.
Falkrunn held up a hand as the Human went to take a sip. “It’s special tea, Flavio. You might not want to drink it. It makes the drinker… feel strangely.” He looked confused, so she elaborated by gesturing around her. “Everything goes a bit askew.”
Flavio looked aghast. “I am a cleric! I would never partake.” He sniffed and walked to the other side of the fire as Olara passed a steaming cup to Keyzana and then Falkrunn.
Hours later, everyone but Keyzana went to sleep. Falkrunn constantly admired the Elves for their need to only have a few hours of trance-sleep per night, and she was grateful to have them around as their nightly watchers.
“Up!” Keyzana cried. “Awake!”
Okay, this has to be some cosmic joke. There’s no other reason for it, Falkrunn thought as she rolled from her bed with her longsword drawn and ready for any invader.
“The skies!” Olara cried, and sure enough a massive winged creature swooped low over the fire and dived straight for Keyzana.
“Stirges!” Lorskan yelled, and Falkrunn saw it was true. The large, bat-winged creatures had long, beaked noses and hairy backs, and reminded her vaguely of a giant mosquito. The sky seemed to be full of them.
Just as one of the Stirges hit Keyzana, she managed to erect a shielding spell. It’s long nose broke through the shield and pierced her through the shoulder, immediately sucking blood and filling its belly with the red liquid.
Another struck Lorskan and began pulling blood from him. Olara managed to roll out of the way as one dived towards her and its long beak struck the ground, leaving the creature to flap its wings fiercly and try to pull itself free.
A second Stirge went for Keyzana, and though she was weakened from the first she managed to hold her shield spell and it glanced off the invisible wall.
Falkrunn ducked and rolled, but was hit from above and cried out as pain lanced along her collarbone. Lorskan batted at the one stuck in his shoulder, but it twisted and flapped and remained firmly implanted. He roared in rage and grabbed at it, pulling it out by the beaked nose and cutting off its head with his gleaming silver sword.
Falkrunn fell back and grunted as she hit solid ground. She had dropped her longsword and tried desperately to reach it. Quickly she invoked her bardic magic and began to sing an inspiring tune. Her voice drifted upwards loudly, drawing the attention of her companions. She directed the bardic magic to Olara, who was as yet untouched by the Stirges.
Suddenly filled with Falkrunn’s spell, Olara stood and aimed her shortbow at the Stirge implanted in the Dwarf’s shoulder. The arrow sailed through the darkness and hit the creature’s belly, which exploded with Falkrunn’s own blood. The Dwarf stood, drenched but grinning. She raised her longsword to the Elf and cried in triumph.
Large magic missiles shot from Keyzana’s glowing hands and hit the creatures that were attacking her. Both shriveled up and turned to dust before her.
Falkrunn scanned the sky and saw another one swooping towards Keyzana just as she fired the last of her missiles. Flavio aimed to attack, but the human did not have darkvision, so his guided bolt missed the Stirge and sailed like a meteor through the darkness and over the treetops. Lorskan stepped up and cut the final Stirge clean through the middle, then wiped his blade in the grass and nodded to Flavio, who sighed in relief.
“Thank the Realm that’s over,” Keyzana said as Olara moved to bind her wounds.
“We really need to do something about the pests,” Flavio said, tending to the fire.
The corpses of the Stirges were burned, and another day of walking preceded that. As they neared the approximate destination of the castle, Falkrunn pulled the map from her leather jerkin and scanned it. The map was rather vague, giving them a wide stretch of forest to search. Flavio sidled up next to the Dwarf and looked down at the map. “Ah, I see. I know where to go. I’m good with directions.”
Falkrunn raised an eyebrow, but handed him the map without protest. There was no way he could do a worse job than she. He took the map confidently and walked in the straightest line she had ever seen.
Hours passed, and Flavio led them directly through an obscured pass in the trees. They followed the pathway along for a while and soon it opened up to reveal a tall mass of towers. The stone was cracked in places, and the front doors hung by their hinges.
“We’re here,” Falkrunn said, catching her breath. “We’ve made it to Cragmaw Castle.”
End of Part Two