Chapter Ten: From the Dragon’s Mouth
They took the hidden passage below, stepping cautiously with Shale and Keelan at the lead, Shale holding up Oszaren’s lantern for light. Whisper’s owl had seen two drakes and several kobolds in the cavern ahead, so they approached with weapons drawn. The cavern opened up before them in the lantern light. The ceiling reached a few dozen feet over their heads, and the floor descended into three separate levels. Ahead they heard the echoing whisper of something speaking in guttural common.
“No, I don’t want to check. You go check!”
There was a pause of hesitation, and then a reluctant, “okay, okay. I go.”
A low growl followed the exchange. Shale cautiously set the lantern on the stone floor and took out her bow, notching an arrow and drawing it up to her cheek. Whisper crept up behind Shale and Keelan and placed a large paw on the paladin’s shoulder. Keelan’s armour began to glow with a luminescent orange light. “What the,” Keelan looked down and then around at the tabaxi, who had taken a step back and, with a flash, sent his owl to circle above them.
“Looks like you’re the target,” Shale breathed, and the paladin gave her a firm nod and readied his shield, drawing out the longsword he had taken from Alfric, Mondath’s personal bodyguard. The steel glimmered in the light of his armour, sharp and thirsting for blood.
Oszaren stepped closer and cast a writhing skin of armour over his robes, his tattoo shimmering beneath them. If one thing were to be said about this group of adventurers, they certainly made a glowing entrance wherever they went. A ledge leading to the third and lowest level sat to their right. Whisper cast mage armour over himself, then took the horn from his belt and moved behind everyone, out of harm’s way. Shale glanced back at him suspiciously, then returned her focus to the cavern ahead. A shape appeared in the lantern’s glow closely followed by another. Slowly, at first, then with urgency. They hissed, and two drakes charged ahead, sprinting toward the light surrounding Keelan. Shale stood to his left and released her arrow.
A stone flew from Fillip’s sling and skittered off into the darkness. Shale’s arrow embedded itself in the thick, scaly hide of the drake nearest her, but did nothing to slow the creature as it crawled hurriedly toward them on four legs. Keelan charged one of the monsters and sliced across its massive chest with a stroke from his blade. Crimson sprayed into the darkness and the drake hissed and reared. “Ha! I like this sword!” The paladin shouted appreciatively, raising his shield to block a strike from the drake’s spiked tail.
Four kobolds rushed into the stretch of lantern light and the first stopped a few feet from Shale and tossed something into their group. There was a small explosion as the object hit the ground next to the drake with an arrow protruding from its chest. A purplish liquid covered the ground and the drake tried to pull free of the liquid, but its paw was covered. The substance had gotten it firmly stuck. Alright, Shale thought, releasing another arrow, don’t get hit with that stuff. Noted. Her arrow hit home and the drake tossed its head, pulling more fervently at its trapped leg.
Reverence’s dart sliced through the air and hit another kobold as he ran. He jumped and slammed a fist into a drake’s neck. Oszaren summoned his blade in a flash of green flames and cut at the bloodied drake fighting Keelan. Whisper threw a bolt of fire from behind Shale and it hit the arrow-filled drake. The flames hit the puddle of glue and it tore its leg free with a victorious snarl. Keelan was successfully warding off the other drake’s attacks with varying degrees of shield and sword. Reverence gained a new and vicious bite mark in his shoulder as he slipped through the drake’s and their spiked tails. Fillip drew a scimitar and jumped into melee with one of the large lizards.
A second glue bomb was thrown and Reverence leapt to catch it, but it slipped from his hand and exploded behind him. Oszaren and Reverence managed to jump out of the way, but the rest of them were coated in the stuff. It smelled sickly sweet, and when Shale tried to pull her legs free, it felt as if they had been buried in stone. Other kobolds threw rocks at them as they struggled to get free, and the drake’s used the opportunity to bite and slash.
“Whisper!” Oszaren shouted as his flaming sword left a stinging mark in the belly of one of the drakes. Whisper threw a massive flaming sphere between the drakes and it slammed into the creature to the right of Shale. It was sent sprawling and did not move, and the sphere moved past it, where two kobolds ran from it.
The remaining drake was most drawn to Keelan’s glowing armour and snapped again at the paladin, who managed to raise his shield just in time to stop its teeth, but not the snap of its tail, which hooked into the back of Keelan’s leg and raked a massive gash through his calf.
“Can somebody please burn this glue off of us!” Fillip shouted, desperately pulling at his legs to try and get free. Shale had accepted her situation for the moment and shot another arrow, this time hitting one of the kobolds with the satchel full of sticky bombs. The arrow pierced the small dragon creature through the eyes, and its satchel fell with it.
Reverence was holding his mangled shoulder where the drake had gotten his teeth into it. The monk was panting heavily, and Keelan held up his shield and reached out a hand to grab Reverence’s arm. His hand lit up like his armour and the monk’s wound instantly healed over. Reverence gave him a grateful nod and leapt over the group and back into the fight.
The kobolds were flanking Oszaren and Fillip and another bomb arched over their heads. Again, Reverence tried to grab it but this time it exploded in his hands, splattering over Keelan and Shale again, their situation turning more exasperating as their two legs melded into one from the glue.
Reverence somehow managed to get out of the glue and went for the kobold who had thrown the bomb. He cracked one hand into the creature’s jaw, then, taking a page from the drake’s book, swiped his tiefling tail upwards, its sharp point piercing all the way through the kobold’s chin and up into its brain. The monk flicked the body free and it tumbled into the darkness beyond.
Oszaren twisted his greatsword over his hand and brought it down on the last drake, splitting head from body. The lizard tail shuddered and twitched as the warlock’s green flames licked over its scales.
One kobold remained, and Whisper’s flaming sphere rolled toward it at alarming speed. It barreled over the kobold and sent it flying over the cliff’s edge into the lowest part of the cavern. The creature’s screeches ended quickly, and in the silence that followed everyone put their weapons away. Oszaren waved his hands in front of Fillip, Keelan and Shale and the glue dissolved from their legs, allowing them to finally step free. “Thanks mate,” Fillip said, slapping Oszaren’s back appreciatively.
Sometimes, Shale forgot they were both half-elves, their personalities as different as they were. Though, to be fair, Fillip was very unlike any half-elves Shale had ever encountered.
In the half hour that followed they managed to tie up Shale’s ropes and climb to each descending level in the cavern. They found a scattering of dirty, makeshift bedrolls, some gold pieces and, most interesting of all, Oszaren discovered an all but hidden alcove in the wall. He pointed it out to the rest of them. “I think we’ve found one of the nests,” the warlock said quietly. Shale examined the distinct, perhaps dragon-egg shaped depressions in the dirt.
They searched the rest of the cavern but found no sign of hatchlings or otherwise. Keelan remained above, still bathed in the orange light of his glowing armour. He handed Fillip a satchel with a few of the glue bombs still intact when they returned topside. “These may do better than your sling,” the paladin declared.
Reverence handed out strips of dried meat to each of them and they took a short break to catch their breaths and tear into their morsels of food. From the cavern was a rough stairway to the left of the tunnel, leading up. Whisper sent his owl flapping away and it returned a few minutes later with a rat in its talons, which it dropped into Whisper’s open paws. The tabaxi’s paws lit with flames, instantly cooking the rat, and he dug into it with his teeth, ears flicking happily.
Shale picked up the lantern and they ascended the stairs quietly, Keelan leading the way. “Wait,” Whisper said, grabbing Keelan. The orange-ish light from his armour leaked away and Whisper nodded down to where his blade was sheathed. Keelan pulled his longsword a few inches from its scabbard, and now it glowed with the same light his armour had moments before. He gave Whisper a nod and sheathed the sword again. Shale shaded the lantern as they reached the landing, and they crept forward in darkness toward a carved doorway, the flickering of firelight soon becoming visible.
Whisper threw up an arm and his owl came flying from his hand and through the doorway into the next room. The tabaxi’s eyes glazed over as he looked through the bird’s eyes. “Gold dragon carvings,” he whispered through his trance, “fire. Symbol of Tiamat. Oh,” the tabaxi paused. “Langdedrosa.”
A moment later, there was the twang and the sound of a bolt in flight. Then, a poof. Whisper returned to himself. “Shot owl,” he said. “Dead for now.”
“They’re here,” the low, rumbling voice of Langdedrosa echoed.
Whisper withdrew the stolen horn and blew into it, producing no sound.
“As I suspected,” Langdedrosa said loudly, “Mondath didn’t stand a chance.”
“He knows,” Shale whispered, looking over her companions, all of whom looked exhausted. Oszaren handed Keelan a healing potion and the paladin downed the vial gratefully. Shale stuffed a hand into her bag and under her breath said the words she had been taught. She removed her hand and opened her palm to reveal a pile of goodberries. She popped a couple in her mouth and passed the rest out to her companions. They were all visibly warmed, as she was, by the small healing effect of the magical berries.
“Let’s do this,” Reverence said determinedly, fists clenched.
Shale snuck past the doorway and peeked around the corner into the room. It was a large rectangular room with intricate carvings along the edges of dragons, all painted. Black dragons were the most prominent of all, appearing twice as much as any other. At the nearest end of the room stood two guards flanking the tall, looming blue and purple figure of the half-dragon Langdedrosa. Shale rubbed a hand over her collarbone where he’d left a permanent scar. The one that had nearly claimed her life. Behind him crackled a fire in a brazier and towering behind that was an expansive mural depicting an erupting volcano with five dragon heads emerging and emblazoned in five distinct colours.
Shale looked at Langdedrosa, and he looked back at her, his red eyes meeting her gray ones. She stepped out and noticed more guards standing at the far end of the room, all wearing heavy armour. The game was up. With a flick of her hand, she cast her hunter’s mark on the massive figure cloaked in purple. The blueish glow of a bear’s paw inlaid with a star stood out on the half-dragon’s chest, visible only to Shale.
“I see you survived,” he said. “Looks like it’s time for round two.”
“Bring it on,” Shale smirked, drawing her bow. “This time, you won’t beat me.” She released the arrow. It found its mark in Langdedrosa’s shoulder as he charged at her, drawing his greatsword.
Reverence jumped in front of Shale and thrust his fist forward, a huge current of air bursting from his knuckles and catching Langedrosa in the stomach, winding him. With a roar, Langdedrosa swiped a crossbow bolt out of the air, shot by Keelan, who immediately traded the crossbow for his sword and shield.
“Fuck him up, Whisper!” Fillip shouted as Whisper ran forward and shot three tiny missiles from his paws. They hit the half-dragon and embedded themselves in his scales, but he continued forward, his guards charging with him.
“Let’s fight!” Langdedrosa shouted at Shale, but Reverence stood firmly between them.
He bashed his greatsword into the monk’s side, then brought it around in an arch. Reverence ducked from the blade. At the last second, Langdedrosa shoved Reverence back and thrust his sword deep into the monk’s torso, ripping it free and dripping with red. Reverence grabbed his stomach and fell to his knees, and the half-dragon kicked him over to the floor.
“No!” Oszaren shouted, summoning his blade from thin air. His own greatsword flashed with green light and he sliced into Langdedrosa’s rib cage before Langdedrosa’s guards could push him back. Two of the guards flanked Oszaren, swinging greataxes. One hit Oszaren’s shimmering armour and was thrown back by some invisible force. He scrambled to his feet, shaking his head.
Fillip reached into the rucksack and tossed a glue bomb into the air. “Look out!” he shouted as it nearly hit Oszaren, who tried to release his greatsword and catch it, but was too slow. The sticky substance exploded in the warlock’s hand, hitting everyone but Fillip and Whisper, who still stood at the doorway. Even Langdedrosa seemed stuck for the moment. “Ah, shit. Sorry,” Fillip said, hands dropping to his sides.
“Not again,” Shale cursed as a cultist from the other side of the room came running at her. She tried to pull her feet free, but to no avail. For the moment, Langdedrosa seemed distracted by Oszaren and the others, so she slung her bow over her shoulder and drew both blades in a single motion, swiping at the cultist as he came within range. He ducked from her first blow, but the second landed and cut into his shoulder just where his thick armour didn’t reach.
Whisper was shooting shards of ice at the cultists, which exploded behind them in a frosty cloud. Langdedrosa was still trapped for the moment, but his reach was long, and he pushed back one of the cultists to face Oszaren himself. Oszaren was looking somewhat battered, but still conscious. “We’ve got you now,” he said to Langdedrosa, and the half-dragon stumbled as the glue around one of his legs broke free.
In that moment’s hesitation, Oszaren raised his greatsword with both hands and knocked Langdedrosa’s blade from his hands. The half-dragon’s other leg broke free and Oszaren kicked him down. “This is for Shale,” the half-elf growled, then thrust the greatsword through Langdedrosa’s throat. The half-dragon choked on the blood that bubbled up, gasping for air. Oszaren ripped the blade free, and the half-dragon dropped.
The cultist nearest Oszaren turned and ran for a door on the opposite end of the room. But, the fight was not over for all of them. The other cultists, at seeing their leader fall, threw themselves more feverishly into the battle. Shale was still warding off one of the men with her two blades, her legs unable to move. His armour was thick and had few cracks except for in the shoulders and at the neck. Those are what she aimed for, but the man was well-aware of his weaknesses and protected them well. Since the glue had exploded over the ground around Shale, he couldn’t step around her without also getting stuck, which worked somewhat to her advantage.
Shale feinted for the man’s legs, then managed to pass both blades through his defenses, piercing him through both shoulders. Before he could move, she dragged her blades out of his flesh and crossed them over his exposed throat. His eyes glinted beneath his visor, and she saw his axe moving in his hands. With a single motion, she cut through his neck, severing head from spine. The head sat balanced on her blades and she flicked it off. It was the last thing to drop. With a heavy exhale, she wiped her blades clean and, looking around to see no cultists within her range, she started pulling at her legs to try and break free.
Meanwhile, Keelan had finally gotten his feet free and chased down the fleeing cultist, heading him off and barring the way. “Vengeance will always be mine,” he growled. “You can’t escape.”
Desperately, the cultist tried to run around him and Keelan swiped at him with his glowing orange sword. The man stumbled but continued to run for the exit, limping heavily. That’s when Fillip shot a stone from his sling and the man fell. “Maybe stick to that,” Keelan said, snapping his fingers at Fillip pointedly.
Oszaren and Whisper took on the last two remaining cultists with firebolts and a green-flaming sword. The fighters were well trained and their rage was palpable. Oszaren, having already suffered heavy wounds from his fight against Langdedrosa, was knocked off his feet by the bigger of the two cultists, a man wielding a heavy axe. Seeing the warlock fall, Keelan rushed back to where they fought and attacked the man who had taken down Oszaren. He ducked as the man swung at him, then twisted his longsword up at the cultist’s hand. His axe went flying out of it as the paladin severed several fingers, then cut the man cleanly in half through the torso. His legs stayed upright, firmly stuck in the sticky substance from the bomb, and the rest of him slid free.
Whisper continued to shoot firebolts at the other as he tried to approach the tabaxi at the doorway, and Keelan managed to jump around him and thrust his longsword through the man’s calf, pinning his leg. Then, he took the man’s head from his body.
With the battle finally over, Shale started hacking at her legs and finally managed to break out. Then, she sheathed her blades and moved to stand over Reverence’s body. She quickly pulled bandages from her pack. Don’t die now, monk, she thought as she examined the wound in his stomach, which was still bleeding heavily. His normally orange skin had paled drastically. I’m supposed to be the protector. Me. But I always seem to fail. Her hands were soon covered in the monk’s blood. Fillip hunched over Oszaren, healing him with his druid magic. Oszaren got to his feet slowly and started picking through Langdedrosa’s possessions. Fillip came to Shale’s side to help her with Reverence.
“He’ll be okay,” Fillip was saying when his spell was done, “they both just need to rest.”
Keelan stood in a trance, gazing over at the burning brazier, behind which lay the giant, fiery mural. The paladin sheathed his longsword and walked slowly toward the fire, hand outstretched until he stood over the flames. He gazed at the burning coals for a long while. Whisper walked up beside him to examine the brazier, but the paladin paid him no mind. “This isn’t right,” Keelan muttered. “This shouldn’t be here.” There was bitter anger in his voice.
“This room is new,” Oszaren said, walking along the wall toward the mural. “It must have been built by the cult only in the last few years.” He began examining the carvings on the walls, knocking on stone with his knuckles. “Here,” he said louder, “I found something.” He pulled something in the wall and an opening appeared before him as a narrow doorway. Inside lay a stone bench with a box resting on top of it. “I can sense magic in here.” He tried opening the box, tugging at the corners of it. “It’s locked. Whisper, can you open it?”
Shale got to her feet. Whisper and Keelan were still staring at the fire. Almost absentmindedly the tabaxi summoned an iron crowbar in his paw and held it out. Oszaren walked over and took it from him, returning to the mysterious box.
“What did you find?” Shale asked, hesitant to leave Reverence’s side while he still lay unconscious. He’d stood between her and Langdedrosa, after all.
Keelan removed his red cloak from his shoulders and wrapped it around his hands, which he thrust into the fire to grab something. He pulled it away a moment later and patted out the flames, which left large holes in his new cloak. Inside the cloak, he cradled something. Keelan started walking back toward them, deep in thought.
“Okay, well if we’re all going to be weird…” Fillip sat down next to Reverence and set the tiefling’s head in his lap, patting one of his curled ram’s horns. “There, there, little monk. You’ll be alright.” Lucky for Reverence, he was very much unaware of his current predicament. Shale sat cross-legged next to them watching wizard and warlock.
Oszaren was using the crowbar to try and wrench the box open, and seemed to be struggling. He called for Keelan’s help, but the paladin ignored him, holding the bundle in his cloak tightly to his chest. Whisper tried wedging the crowbar into the box to pry it open as well, but nothing happened. “Let me try again,” Oszaren said, pushing the tabaxi out of the way. The half-elf pressed all his weight into the bar and finally, with a snap, something moved.
It was the walls.
Noise sounded from behind the stone. From the many dragon carvings along the walls opened dozens of small spouts from inside the mouths, and a liquid began pouring from them. Fillip and Shale jumped to their feet. “What did you do?” Shale demanded. “Didn’t you check for traps?”
As the liquid hit the stone floor a smokey vapour issued up from it. Acid. Shale grabbed Reverence’s shoulders and started dragging him back to the doorway. Fillip grabbed his legs and helped her quickly move his body away from the steadily growing pool of death. Suddenly, Keelan collapsed, then Oszaren. They must have breathed in the vapour, Shale thought, running to Keelan, who was closest to her. She held her breath as the noxious cloud grew and picked up his cloak and shoved it under her arm, then began pulling the heavily armoured paladin out of the room. It was not an easy task, especially with her lungs burning for air.
She reached the doorway and Fillip was checking Reverence. It seemed acid had splashed on some of his clothing, and the druid was deftly ripping the fabric from the rest of his robes. He cast a healing spell over the monk, and he slowly came to consciousness, groaning. Shale pressed two fingers to Keelan’s neck to check his pulse, and it was beating slowly but steadily. Oszaren had managed to get to his feet with Whisper’s help, and they ran for the doorway. The cloud of gas had not reached them, and it seemed to be dispersing now. A few minutes later, the cloud was gone and the acid had gone stagnant.
“What in the nine hells were you two doing?” Fillip said at Oszaren, pointing to Keelan and Reverence on the ground. “These two nearly died for that.”
“But they didn’t,” the warlock snapped. “There’s something magical in that box, and I need to open it.”
“And that’s worth our lives?” The two half-elves continued to bicker at one another but Shale moved off into the room and pried a large blue scale from Langdedrosa’s body, tucking it away in her pack. She then began removing the half-dragon’s armour. While he was quite a bit larger than a human, parts of it could be reshaped and used by Keelan.
“Do whatever you want,” Fillip finally said, “but we need to rest before we can continue, and I don’t want to stay in this place for a minute longer than we have to.”
Oszaren strode back through the room toward the box inside the alcove. “I’m opening it.” He said.
“Oszaren, please. Don’t. Touch. That.” Fillip said loudly.
“It’s being opened, Fillip.”
“Please just let us leave. Now.” Fillip walked to Oszaren angrily.
“The trap’s been sprung,” the warlock explained patiently, wrenching the crowbar free. The box had moved on its pedestal, but the box itself remained closed. The crowbar clattered to the floor and he summoned his sword, slamming the blade down on the lid of the box. The sword embedded itself a few inches into the wood. He wrenched it out and slammed the blade down again, and this time the wood splintered. “There,” he said, satisfied. He reached his hand into the box.
Fillip thrust his hand forward and touched the lid of the box, and his hand started to glow yellow as the wood suddenly mended over Oszaren’s hand. The lid knit itself around his hand, so it was solidly stuck.
“Boys,” Shale huffed, throwing Langdedrosa’s armour in a pile beside Keelan’s unconscious form and storming over to them. “Stop this nonsense.”
“You idiot,” Oszaren swore, swinging his hand back to smack Fillip in the face. Fillip stepped back out of the way and flashed a white smile at the warlock smugly, crossing his arms. With his hand stuck, the druid was out of reach.
“Children,” Shale said, shaking her head.
Oszaren started to feel around inside the box. “There are things in here we need,” he said.
Fillip turned on his heel and walked back to Keelan and Reverence, snuggling in next to the sleeping Keelan. Reverence opened one eye to look at the druid, shook his head, then closed his eye and leaned back to rest.
“I help,” Whisper said, picking up the crowbar and working on the lid of the box. Eventually, it popped open, Oszaren’s hand still firmly stuck in the mended wood.
Shale sighed and drew her blades. “Allow me.” In one strike, she smashed the lid.
Oszaren pulled his hand free and rubbed it with the other, glaring over at Fillip. “I should start his hair on fire,” he said under his breath.
Shale raised an eyebrow and sheathed her blades, leaning against the wall with arms crossed.
From the box the warlock pulled out a scroll, which he handed to Whisper, who took it greedily and began reading. “A spell,” the tabaxi breathed excitedly.
Oszaren removed a string of pearls, a gold ring, a vial of liquid and a cane. It was an odd assortment indeed. Seeing nothing of interest, Shale returned to the rest of her party and sat down, leaning her head back against the wall and closing her eyes. Exhaustion finally set in. That morning, they had been in Greenest. Now, it seemed a very long time ago.
She rubbed the thick scar along her collarbone, her mind once again drifting to her children as she thought of her bickering party of males.