Chapter Nine: Reverence Revealed
The fight was surprisingly short-lived considering Shale’s anxiety in the approach.
The companions stood around the hidden entrance of the tunnel, Whisper standing in the back and pushing his fireball forward. They used their moment’s pause to discuss how best to attack. “We could leave them? Or block them in?” Shale suggested.
“There could be another way out,” Oszaren shook his head. “Besides, both sides could wait forever for the other to react. I say we push through in a wedge formation.” Again, Shale was reminded that this warlock had a general’s stance. He knew something about organizing forces. She gave a curt nod.
“I’ll go first,” Reverence offered with an eager grin.
The tiefling pushed through past the others, hands raised defensively as he stepped on light feet. He disappeared around the stone. Moments later, they heard a swish, then another, followed by a grunt. Everyone else moved forward cautiously and pushed into the tunnel after him. First, they saw Reverence standing there with a spear in one hand, and another buried in his shoulder. “Caught the first one,” he said with a grimaced smile, wrenching the other free as Keelan ran past him and into an open room, weapon drawn.
Before them stood several female guards in chainmail, a thickset bald man with a scarred faced and arms as wide as tree trunks, and Mondath herself, standing regally in purple robes, a swirling mass of black and ghostly white shapes spinning around her dizzyingly. The shapes seemed to reach and grab the air around her like spirits tethered to an invisible chain, held at Mondath’s waist.
“You have stepped into a war you can’t win,” Mondath said, voice steady. Her short-cropped hair clung to her forehead, revealing her nervousness in beads of sweat. “Attack them,” she ordered, and the guards took their stances in front of them.
Keelan charged, battle axe crackling with lightning energy, and swung at the nearest guard, who ducked and tried to stab at the well armoured paladin with her spear. She dipped and parried, carefully watching Keelan’s movements in his heavy plate mail. The paladin’s red cloak swirled around him like flames.
The bald man charged at Keelan, a short sword in one hand and a long sword in the other. He cried out and began attacking the paladin fiercely. Keelan struck back and warded off the blows of both, standing his ground as best he could.
Shale was caught behind the rest and tried to move into the room. The walls of the tunnel were too narrow to properly draw either bow or swords. Oszaren pushed through with her and Reverence moved out of their way, bounding up the tunnel and holding himself with the strength of his legs, readying to strike. Blood leaked from his shoulder where the spear had struck, but he seemed to pay it no mind. Oszaren reached into his cloak and unscrewed a flask, casting it at the guards attacking Keelan. Two other guards were moving in on the paladin who, for the most part, seemed to be the biggest threat. Oil arced through the room and struck two of the women, the liquid beading off their chainmail. They turned their attention to Oszaren, and the warlock shouted back to Whisper “move the fire back to the tunnel!” A moment later, the roaring ball of fire rolled toward them and barreled over the two guards before they could jump out of the way. The flames caught the oil, and in a sudden flash Reverence raised a hand and the flames seemed to swell and cover their bodies entirely, filling the room with suffocating black smoke. In fitful screams the two women swung their spears, then slowed, then collapsed in silence.
“Excuse me, pardon me,” Fillip was saying as he came up under Reverence and, raising both arms, cast a spell. Thick green vines suddenly shot from the floor and began tangling themselves around the legs of the guards. Keelan jumped back to avoid the sudden sprouts and smiled over to Fillip instantly when he saw the guards struggling against the trap. Fillip gave the paladin a flirtatious wink.
“Justice,” Keelan swung his axe and quickly beheaded the nearest guard with a crack of lightning. “And vengeance!” Her fallen body was quickly consumed by the vines.
The bald man roared, flexing his massive arms, slashing at the vines with both swords just as Whisper’s fireball pressed against the edge of the vines and they started to burn. Mondath had been watching this display within the safety of her swirling tornado of dark spirits. Finally, she took a few steps back until she was at the furthest edge of the room, then reached out to the bald man as he stumbled free of the vines and took his stance in front of her. A white energy glowed from her fingertips, closing up the man’s wounds he had suffered at the hands of Keelan.
Oszaren began walking forward shooting blasts of green light at Mondath, who raised her glaive and warded off the attacks. The warlock continued to push forward as Reverence jumped behind him and slammed a fist into one of the guards as she tried to break free of the vines, which were now fully wrapped around her legs and reaching up to her waist. She tried to thrust her spear at the monk, but he easily sidestepped it. Keelan also ran for Mondath and ducked as one of Oszaren’s spells narrowly missed his head and send a showering of rocks from the wall behind him.
“What the hells, man?” Keelan demanded, spinning toward Oszaren.
“You’re standing in my fucking way,” the warlock growled, tattoos glowing as he eyed Mondath and her bodyguard. The spirits seemed to spin faster now, encompassing them both.
Keelan shrugged and took stance next to him. Lightning no longer crackled along his axe, the spell dissipated. “Quit your bickering,” Shale said as she walked up to them and from afar set her hunter’s mark, an invisible brand that only she could see, to glow upon Mondath’s chest. She raised her longbow and shot into the tornado of spirits. She heard Mondath cry out in surprise and the spirits began to dissolve around her, then disappear. Shale hadn’t realized they’d been screaming until there was silence. A long arrow protruded from Mondath’s side. The bald man turned to see this, then raised his two swords and charged.
Whisper’s fireball continued to roll through the air, but the tabaxi himself was nowhere to be seen. Fillip, on the other hand, had rushed into the room, picking past his vines, some of which were now aflame, and set a healing hand on Reverence’s shoulder. The monk cracked a fist into the chest of another guard as she peeled up out of the vines and sent her sprawling across the floor, unmoving.
“Give it up,” Shale said, raising another arrow to Mondath and her guard.
The bald man cast his swords on the ground and took up a crossbow, loading it and aiming it back at her. Oszaren and Keelan shared a look, and just as they were about to attack, Reverence and Fillip ran up behind them and the man turned his crossbow to Reverence and shot. The bolt was there one second, and the next it was grasped in Reverence’s hand. The damn monk had caught the bolt in the air, inches from his chest. He gave a courteous nod and tucked the bolt into his shirt as the man scrambled to reload. Two of the guards had broken free of the vines and started attacking. One thrust a spear at Reverence and the other leapt at Keelan, trying to tackle him to the ground. Mondath used the distraction to raise her glaive and begin casting a spell. Shale whipped around to shoot at arrow at the woman clinging to Keelan. “Come on!” Mondath shouted, and with a purple glow surrounding them both, they skirted along the wall and made for a door in the corner of the room. The bald man shot his bolt again haphazardly, easily missing Keelan as he shook off the other guard, and quickly threw open the door. They both disappeared behind it just as Fillip cast more vines at the doorway grasping for their legs. With effort, the door scraped shut against the growths.
“Why didn’t you attack?” Fillip demanded, his focus on growing the vines up around the doorframe. “I think I got baldy with the vines,” he added.
Oszaren summoned his blade in a flash of green and impaled the woman dodging Reverence’s punches. She died quickly, and he wiped the blade clean as Keelan’s axe slammed into the chest of the other one, burying into chainmail, flesh and bone. Shale wrenched one of her arrows free of the woman’s body and checked that it was intact, then slid it back into her quiver.
“We don’t know the full extent of her abilities,” Oszaren shook his head. “We’ll get them out.”
Shale looked around at the fallen guards. “What do you think they’re protecting in there?”
“Could be—the dragon eggs,” Reverence said.
“Could be,” Oszaren said, and glowing armour appeared over his body. Then, Whisper entered the room tentatively, hand aloft and directing his fire ball to move at the closed door.
“I open?” he asked.
“Yes, please,” Oszaren said, stepping aside.
After two hits from the flaming sphere, the door cracked and gave way in a torrent of hot flames and cinder.
“Perhaps cats aren’t so bad,” Keelan said, slamming a heavy hand on Whisper’s back in appreciation of the fire.
The ball of fire dissipated as the room inside became visible. Reverence jumped through the opening first, Mondath standing behind a desk holding a small horn in one hand. She raised the horn to her lips just as Reverence kicked his legs up in the air to try and break it from her grasp. His foot connected. The horn clattered to the ground and rolled next to a bookshelf just as vines began to envelope the room, coaxed by Fillip’s raised hands. The bald man shot a bolt at the monk, who dodged it as he tried to punch Mondath with a closed fist. The woman backed away as Keelan jumped into the room and started swinging at the bodyguard, who ducked and took an axeblade in the thickest part of his leg. Keelan kicked him over and he scrambled up, grabbing a sword from the wall and catching Keelan’s next blow. Fillip ran up and shot a stone from his sling. The stone cracked the man on the head and he fell back in a daze. Keelan kicked him in the head for extra measure, and he went down, unconscious. The paladin used a boot to push the sword out of the fallen man’s hand.
Mondath cast the spirits around herself again, and they took up half the room with their dark energy. Shale squinted through the darkness to see the faint glow of her hunter’s mark, and shot another arrow, which hit the woman in the collarbone. Suddenly, the spirits around Mondath struck. One reached out and seemed to grab Reverence around the neck, throwing him against the bookshelf. The monk’s orange skin paled and he gasped for air, then collapsed. Another spirit burst forth and grabbed Keelan by the middle, dragging him into the swirling mass and then casting him across the room. The paladin slumped to the floor, also unconscious. Mondath reached down as this happened and grabbed the horn, placing it to her lips and blowing.
“No!” Shale cried out.
But, the horn made no sound.
“Who did she call?” Fillip asked desperately, looking around. Again, Whisper had not followed them into the fight. Then, a glowing halberd appeared in the air above the doorway and arched toward Fillip.
“Look out!” Shale cried, and the druid just managed to dive out of the way.
Oszaren shot an eldritch blast at Mondath, who raised a hand and seemed to catch the spell in its path. The spirits were creating a chaotic blur around her form, making her difficult to pinpoint. Luckily, Shale’s mark was still there. She shot another arrow, this one ripping through the woman’s robes. Fillip got to his feet and started shooting slings into the spiritual tornado.
Then, a strange creeping of magic flowed through the doorway across the viney ground and crawled up Mondath’s legs. The spirits around her seemed to quiver and slow, and then suddenly vanish as the woman collapsed. Whisper appeared at this doorway with a smile. “Sleep,” he said simply. The floating halberd had disappeared as well.
Whisper and Oszaren both dove for the horn at the same time, Whisper snatching it up first and looking at it. “Can I see the horn?” Oszaren asked.
“No,” Whisper said, turning it over in his paws.
With a sigh, Oszaren examined it from the tabaxi’s grasp, then rummaged through a messy pile of papers on the desk.
Shale walked to Keelan’s side, pulling out a handful of goodberries from her pocket and gently lifting the man’s head. She pressed the berry to his lips, forcing him to swallow it with a mouthful of water from her waterskin. He coughed, rubbing the back of his head and sitting up against the wall.
“I’ll keep watch,” Fillip offered, running from the room. They had no idea who that horn might have summoned, but Shale felt uneasy, especially now that Whisper had it.
Shale moved next to Reverence and administered a goodberry to him. Oszaren was now opening wardrobe doors and pulling out drawers. He took out two vials and declared them to be healing potions, then tucked them away. Next, he drew out a pile of silk clothing.
“We shouldn’t linger,” Shale warned. “We don’t know who that horn called.”
“No one’s come yet.” Oszaren said, returning to the desk and holding up a sheet of paper just as Fillip re-entered the room with Trigger bounding happily at his side.
“There’s no one coming from the entrance,” Fillip said, “but I saw more kobolds deeper into the caves. Oh, and there’s some big mushroom creatures but they don’t seem too interested in us.”
“Oh, good,” Keelan said tiredly.
Fillip smiled brilliantly. “So, what have we found?”
“This,” Oszaren said, waving the paper in front of him, “is a map of all the towns they’ve hit so far. It has a trajectory. And this,” he took up another piece of paper and passed it around to all of them, the paper reaching Whisper last, “is a terrible love poem about Langdedrosa, written by her.” Oszaren nodded his chin to the unconscious Mondath.
Shale raised an eyebrow as she read the, indeed, very terribly written poetry. The paper had been crumpled and smoothed out and there were lines through a few sentences. Mondath, in love with Langdedrosa? A human and a half-dragon? Well, she supposed, it isn’t as weird as what it takes to make a half-dragon.
“I also found some ledgers laying out the stolen goods from each town,” Oszaren rolled up these documents and placed them in his bag.
“So, we have leverage,” Fillip said, walking around the room to the opposite edge to admire a painting on the wall. He stepped onto a thick, lavishly designed carpet, and suddenly dropped from sight with a yelp.
Where Fillip stood a moment ago was now a giant hole in the ground, through which he, and the carpet, had both fallen through.
“Fillip?” Keelan called down the hole.
A moment later they heard a shuffling and a groan. “Ow.”
“Are you alright?” Shale asked.
“I think so,” he mumbled, and they heard scraping as he stood.
They all looked at each other. Oszaren lit a lantern and handed it to Shale. She nodded gratefully and leaned over the hole. There was a ladder leading down. She raised the lantern and began climbing down one-handed.
Shale dropped to the stone floor next to Fillip, who was brushing dirt from his cloak. His face was covered in small scratches, and she tossed a goodberry to him, which he popped into his mouth. Looking around, there seemed to be a singular tunnel leading off past the reach of her lamplight. Oszaren peeked his head through. “Anything down there?”
“I don’t know, but I’m getting out of here!” Fillip noticed the tunnel leading away from them and quickly took the ladder back up, and Shale followed him, leaving the lantern burning below.
“A tunnel,” Shale explained, emerging from the hole.
“We should—talk to the prisoners,” Reverence suggested.
“We need to separate them,” Keelan added. “Keep one in this room and bring the other one down into the tunnel.”
“I keep watch,” Whisper said, eyeing Mondath and her bodyguard. “Don’t want to be seen.”
“That’s understandable,” Fillip said, “and it explains why you were hidden during our fight.” He crossed his arms.
“Good point, but why stay hidden now? Maybe we should blow Whisper’s cover. After all, we don’t know whose side he’s on,” Oszaren frowned. He was clearly unhappy about Whisper taking the horn but wasn’t going to fight him on it. At least, not yet. He looked down at Whisper’s pack.
“No, I agree with Whisper. It’s best for him to stay anonymous in this—encounter,” Fillip paused. “He still may be of use to us.”
Whisper nodded grimly and left the room. Keelan eyed them all and followed after the tabaxi. “Hey, Whisper, wait up! I wanted to ask you more about what you did with that fire back there…”
The rest of them agreed to split up: take Mondath down into the tunnels with Shale and Reverence and keep the bodyguard upstairs with Oszaren and Fillip, then take turns questioning them. “We should first—find out,” Reverence suggested to them before they split up, “what sort of—relationship the two of them have. Then, perhaps—we can break it. And if—one is less valuable—then we must kill them.”
“Both prisoners are valuable,” Oszaren said. “Let’s not be hasty with the killing. We kill when we must. We don’t kill people tied up on the ground.”
“A moral conundrum.” Reverence raised both eyebrows. “From my experiences—the best way to get what you want—is to extend the prisoner’s feelings of captivity. Take away their—recognition of time. Take away day—and night. You need to let them know—that nothing is normal. That you have—complete control.”
“Since when do you know about advanced torture techniques?” Fillip asked.
“I know how to—get information,” the monk said.
Shale shifted her feet uncomfortably. “Okay,” she finally said. “Let’s split up.”
They lowered Mondath into the tunnel and Shale and Reverence climbed down after her. They kept her bound and leaning against the stone wall. They agreed to wake the bodyguard first and question him while they listened from below. The carpet was drawn back over the hole. Shale stood beneath it, staring up at darkness, picturing the conversation as the voices began.
Oszaren bent and slapped the man’s cheek a few times until he shook himself awake. “Hey, friend,” the warlock said casually. “Sleep well?”
“Who are you?” the man demanded, leaning forward in his ropes.
“Well, let’s do a trade. You give me your name, and I will give you mine.”
The man considered that for a moment, grinding his teeth. “Name’s Alfric.”
“Alfric?” Oszaren looked down at him, but didn’t offer up his own name. “Tell us about the operation you have here. It seems very organized.”
Alfric was quiet for a long while before finally answering. “Well, I protect my boss, and I get gold for it,” he snorted.
“That’s fair,” Oszaren said appraisingly. “And who’s your boss?”
“The woman with black hair and the obsession with dragons.”
“Mondath,” Fillip provided, and their captive nodded to confirm. “Is she the only one you’re paid to protect?” He nodded again.
In the silence that followed, Alfric cleared his throat. “Why haven’t you killed me yet?”
“Well, first, because we’re just people. We’re not killers,” Oszaren explained lightly.
“Your actions say differently.”
“You attacked us,” the warlock pointed out.
“This is our territory. You invaded us.”
“Sure,” he allowed, “but you kind of raided some towns and killed some people.”
“Fair point,” Alfric shrugged. “Not sure what you want from me, then.” The man did not seem overly invested in the conversation.
“You’re the bodyguard of the boss. You see most of what happens here. So, we’re going to ask you about this cult and everything they’ve been doing, and you can either talk, or you can die.” Oszaren said quietly.
“C’mon gorgeous,” Fillip said casually, “tell us what we want to know, and we won’t hurt your pretty face.”
The bald man wrinkled his scarred forehead in confusion. “I don’t know what you want to hear. We ransacked some towns and we stole some gold. That’s it.”
“Why did you need so much gold? Do you have some big purchases to make?” Fillip asked. “Are you ramping up for something in particular?”
“I heard there were some big events coming up, but I couldn’t tell you much about it myself.” He scoffed. “Something about an evil dragon god and the end of the world.” The way he said it made it clear he didn’t believe it.
“Are you just a mercenary?” Fillip asked curiously. “You’re not a part of the cult?”
“I’ve seen my fair share of wars. Used to train in the light cavalry in Baldur’s gate.” He leaned back as much as his bonds would allow.
“Would you like to join our troop?” Fillip asked happily, hands outstretched.
“Let’s not jump on anything too quickly, here,” Oszaren held up a hand. “Tell us about the silent thing your boss blew. The horn.”
“That thing,” he let out a bark of laughter. “We’re all convinced it doesn’t do anything. She claims it can call the person of your choosing, no matter where they are.”
“Well, that’s convenient,” Fillip said, and the two half-elves did their best to mask their concern, though Fillip’s eyes did flicker over to the carpet on the floor.
The man laughed humourlessly in response.
“Tell us more about the goings-on of the cult. The day to day,” Fillip said, rushing the interrogation forward. “Who else did you see?”
“Well, there were some black-scaled folk. Red robed people with bald heads and tattoos…” The rest of the man’s words seemed to fade after this. Shale’s heart was pumping wildly in her chest, and she clutched the ladder tightly with both hands, staring up at the dark ceiling and straining her ears as best she could.
“Thank you, Alfric,” Oszaren was saying.
“So, what’s the deal? Give me back my weapons and send me home?”
“Are you single?” Fillip asked sardonically.
“Not for you,” the man responded instantly.
“That’s it, let’s kill him.”
There was a sound of metal slicing through air, and then a thump. Oszaren had knocked him out with the pommel of his sword.
“Alright,” Shale said, hands sweating as she turned to Mondath’s unconscious figure. “Our turn.”
Reverence nodded and cracked his knuckles and there was a shuffling from above. A moment later, Fillip lifted the carpet and began climbing down the ladder. “That was fun,” he smiled.
“Well, we know the man—can be bought. He’s—a mercenary. If we were—to set him free—without his weapons—I doubt he would turn on us,” Reverence surmised.
“He definitely doesn’t seem to have any allegiance to the cult,” Fillip agreed. “If we paid him enough, he would walk away.”
“I think we should take him to Greenest. Him and Mondath both, to be put on trial by their laws.” Shale said quietly. “No killing, no paying, no freeing. We leave it up to the people who suffered most by their hands, and their justice system.”
“We must—work quickly,” Reverence said. “As far—as we know—the horn was meant to call—Langdedrosa. If we can—convince her—that he heard it and abandoned her—then she will be easy to manipulate.”
“If we can assume she called Langdedrosa, and not anyone else,” Shale said.
“We will—make her tell us—if we can. First, let’s—make her think—she has been here for days. Throw—dirt on her—splash water on her face—and say it’s been a few days.”
Shale was too surprised by the monk’s thorough knowledge of interrogation to add anything to the plan.
“Now—how to we make her believe—she has been abandoned?”
“Well,” Shale hesitated, “could Whisper create an illusion of a blue scale? As evidence that he’s dead, or perhaps left it behind?”
“I think we should assume this woman is an advanced spellcaster,” Fillip said, “and nothing we can do with magic would fool her.”
“You’re probably right,” Shale nodded reluctantly.
Reverence took some dirt from the surrounding floor and started throwing it on Mondath’s unconscious form. Then, he removed his waterskin and splashed some water on her face. Her eyelids fluttered, and she tried to stretch. Then, realizing she was bound, she tried to sit up quickly and Shale pushed her up against the wall.
Mondath leaned forward in the darkness as Shale stepped back to stand with the others. The lantern sat behind them, so their faces were mostly obscured.
“Morning, gorgeous,” Fillip said with a friendly smile, though their expressions were difficult to make out in the dark.
Mondath looked up at them with icy blue eyes and glared. Her skin was pale, her face freckled, and her eyebrows arched in annoyance.
“Tell us about the horn,” Shale said.
“What horn?” She said immediately.
“The one you blew.”
“Why would I tell you what that’s for?” She smiled.
“Well, we were just wondering—if that’s why—Langdedrosa came back.” Reverence said softly.
Mondath’s eyes lit up. “He came?” Then, recovering herself, she put on a flat expression and said. “So, I guess he’s dead then.”
“Well, he said something about a pawn—losing its usefulness,” Reverence shrugged. “Then he left.”
She gave him a dirty glare but said nothing.
“Throw down the note!” Reverence called up. A moment later, the carpet moved, and a piece of paper dropped to the dirt. Reverence picked it up and flattened it, holding it in front of her eyes. It was the poem about Langdedrosa. “We showed him this—and it gave him quite a good—laugh.”
Mondath fumed quietly, but still said nothing.
“I think—you’ve been played,” Reverence told the woman, tucking the note away.
“Where did he go?” She said quietly, looking down at her knees.
“He said he had more important things to worry about than trying to bargain with us,” Shale provided.
“Well, I guess that’s it then,” she said. “So, why wake me? Just to gloat?”
“Oh no—no,” Reverence sighed. “As fun as that is—we’re giving you the—opportunity—to convince us you’re useful enough—to keep alive. So—convince us.”
“It seems as though I have nothing left to live for,” she said, though Shale wasn’t fully convinced by her supposed broken-heartedness. This woman was powerful. A singular focus was not like to break her.
“I could give you a reason to live,” Fillip said suggestively. Shale had to actively force herself to keep from rolling her eyes.
“How about your—little operation here,” Reverence added. “We found some—interesting things. Why don’t you tell us—what it’s all for. Your guard, Alfric—told us quite a bit before his—untimely demise. We’d like to know—if you can confirm—some of what he said.”
Mondath shrugged. “We take what we want from the people who have too much. You’ve witnessed it yourself.”
“And what,” the monk said sarcastically, “give it to the poor?”
“We will bring the world something much greater than riches,” Mondath cut in, anger colouring her voice.
“Oh, yes, yes—’the dragon queen’,” he sighed.
“When she comes back, the whole world will be ruled by the glorious dragons. No one will want of anything. The world will become…” she sputtered off as Reverence splashed more water in her face. She turned her cold eyes on him and coughed pointedly.
“If we wanted to hear babbling from fanatics—we would have joined your cult. Again, you seem like you have a head on your shoulders.”
“For now,” Fillip added.
Reverence nodded. “We’re particularly interested in some eggs.”
“The eggs?” Mondath’s mouth curved into a smile. “So, you haven’t found them yet?”
“Oh, we know where they are,” Shale told her, “we’re just wondering how one might care for them. Perhaps even—hatch one.”
“Hatch one,” Mondath looked at them as if they were idiots. “Then we are on the same side. The more dragons there are in the world, the better.”
“How do you do it? How do you hatch them?”
“Well, if you truly want to keep the dragons alive,” she said suspiciously, “then they will hatch soon. Within the week, in fact. Keep them where they are, in this hatchery, in a warm environment, and they will thrive.”
Shale wasn’t sure if the woman believed them, or if she was playing another game entirely. “Perhaps we’ll do that,” Shale said.
In the pause that followed, Fillip spoke. “Can I ask, have you seen any half-elves with comparable beauty to myself in recent past?”
She eyed the druid as if she couldn’t quite believe him, but there was a spark of amusement in her smile. “I’ve met a few, but I’d say you’re on the lower end.”
Fillip put a hand to his chest as if wounded. “Ouch.” She gave him a mocking smile.
“Alright,” Shale stepped in. “Tell us about the bald men in red robes. The ones with tattoos. Who are they and why are they working with the cult?”
“Powerful wizards, them,” she said gravely.
“Yes, I know that,” Shale said slowly, crouching down to look directly into the woman’s cold eyes. “But, why are they working with you?”
“Their interests align with ours.”
“Taking over the world? Hatching dragons?”
“A bit of both,” she said, “as far as we know. They keep to themselves. We know their running from something.”
“Running,” Shale repeated. “Running from something big, or something unexpected?”
“They want the power that comes with the rise of the dragon queen. That’s all I know. That’s all I care to know.”
“Where was home for them?” Shale asked.
“The country of Thay.”
“Right,” she nodded. She stood and stepped back to stand next to Reverence and Fillip. The lantern flickered brightly behind them. “Now, about your leader. This black half-dragon woman. Who is she?”
“Rezmir,” Mondath sighed.
“Right. How does she rank in the cult? She’s clearly above you and Langdedrosa.”
“We call her a wyrm speaker. Besides her, there is only Severin above us in rank.”
“She can speak to dragons,” Fillip said, crouching down next to Mondath. He pulled out a bottle of wine from his pack, popped the cork and started drinking, staring at her suggestively.
“Right, we’re getting distracted,” Shale said, and Mondath seemed amused by their obvious lack of leadership or motive in the discussion.
“And the Harper,” Reverence said.
“Is precisely why Rezmir gave us the order to leave,” she told them. “We don’t know how he found out about us.”
“Well, I think we’ve—gotten as much—as we can for now,” Reverence said to the rest of them. “You don’t need—to be awake—for the rest of this discussion.” Then, in one swift movement, he backhanded her across the face and she slumped back, unconscious.
“Do you think she was telling the truth?” Shale wondered aloud.
“Somehow, I think—she was,” the tiefling said. “As far—as she knows—she has—nothing left to lose.”
Shale nodded, though she still felt uncomfortable about the conversation.
“We can leave her—tied up with a note of her betrayal—and all the information she gave away—for her friends to find.”
“Let’s discuss it with everyone,” Shale suggested, and they all climbed up the ladder to where Oszaren sat, taking notes of the interrogation. They called Keelan and Whisper into the room. They confirmed that no enemies were near.
“We don’t know if the horn works,” Oszaren told them, “but we need to get through these caves quickly, before more people come.”
“And what about—the prisoners?” Reverence asked. “Do we—leave them? Or—take them with us? We could—hire this Alfric fellow—to take Mondath back to Greenest, as Shale wanted.”
“I don’t know that we can trust him that far,” Shale said. “He may be a mercenary, but you can bet she’ll offer him more gold to set her free.”
“Why don’t we just kill them?” Keelan said quickly. “No mercy to the wicked.”
“I agree—with the paladin.” Reverence said. “What’s the difference—between killing them in a fight—or killing them now.”
“There is a very big difference,” Oszaren said seriously. “We keep them tied up for now, gagged and blindfolded as well so they can’t communicate with one another. Maybe even suspend them over the tunnel. We go through the caves, we find the eggs, and we come back for the prisoners. We can strap them to our horses and take them back to Greenest once the job is done.”
After a lot of deliberation and back-and-forth, they all finally agreed to Oszaren’s plan, except they suspended Mondath in the tunnel and tied Alfric in the other room. Shale called Trigger to her side. He wagged his tail and she ruffled the fur between his ears. He licked her hand.
“Trigger, I need you to keep watch. Stick to the shadows and come find me if anyone approaches.” The fox yipped and ran ahead of her.
“Scout,” Whisper said, and threw his paw out. His owl appeared and flew off, and Whisper’s eyes glazed over white as he looked through the owl’s eyes. A few minutes later, he returned to himself and shook his head. “No one outside.”
“Okay,” Oszaren said seriously, double checking the knots on Alfric’s wrists, legs and torso. “Let’s find some dragon eggs.”