Chapter 35: The White Dragon
Shale walked carefully through the courtyard, her feet barely skimming the ground. She held up a hand and it passed through solid stone. Dazed and feeling lightheaded, she shot forward through the fog. There was a strong sense of other inside the courtyard, and she thought she saw something move next to her. She twisted, and looked up in surprise at a towering, eighteen-foot tall figure. It was a female giant. She was ethereal, like Shale, and had a kindly face that also looked sad and worn.
“Hello?” Shale called uncertainly.
The giant looked down at her, eyes widening. “You can see me?”
“It’s, ah, magic,” Shale explained lamely. “What’s happened to you?”
“I am Esclorota,” she said softly, “wife of Blagothkus. I died.”
“But why haven’t you, you know, moved on?” she asked awkwardly.
“There are things that need to be done. I can’t leave yet.”
“What needs to be done?”
Esclorota sighed, and the castle lurched beneath them. She gave a worried look to the tower. “He’s not well. I’m not sure what he’s going to do.”
She nodded. “His spirit—he’s remembered everything.”
“What did he remember?”
“The mistakes he’s made… the things he tells himself…” she seemed to fade for a moment, then shook herself and came back.
Shale watched curiously. “Is there anything we can do to help?”
“I need someone to calm him before he brings this whole place to the ground.” She glanced again at the tower.
“Any advice?” Shale prompted.
“Give him hope that the dragons can still lose.”
Shale nodded. “I know exactly what needs to be done,” she told the giantess.
“Thank you,” Esclorota smiled, then continued to pace the courtyard.
Shale concentrated, then dropped through the stone floor and soared weightlessly through solid ice and stone.
She passed through the depths of the castle, soaring through walls, until she sunk into the twisting tunnels of the caverns below. She followed them, moving at an incredible speed. They were winding and she had to move through several, using her sense of the dragon’s whereabout to take her to the massive cavern. Icicles sparkled, and amongst them she noticed gems and gold pieces. The closer she came to the centre of the cavern, the more there were, until the walls were entirely embedded in riches. It certainly was the mark of a dragon to have so much unused wealth in one place.
Then, she heard it. The breaths of the dragon. She drifted up and saw its white form curled around the ice. There were jagged black scars along its side from where the lightning struck, but many of its wounds were already half healed. She watched it for a few minutes, taking note of where it slept exactly. Then, she moved through some of the smaller tunnels to see where they led. Finally, she shot back up through the castle and into the courtyard. The castle lurched again as she returned to her full physical self, her feet settling on solid ground. She felt dizzy as she ran up the stairs and found the others.
“You say it’s nearly healed already?” Keelan asked, looking troubled.
Shale nodded. “Esclorota told me Blagothkus will destroy the castle, us included, unless we can prove to him the dragons can be defeated. I think we need to kill this white dragon.”
“I’m in,” Fillip said.
“Me too,” Keelan nodded gruffly.
“Well, what are we waiting for?” Reverence asked impatiently, grabbing his spear and planting it on the ground, surveying the castle over their vantage point in the tower.
With that, they all ran down to the courtyard. All except Aidra, who stayed in Blagothkus’ room nervously. She still looked pale and malnourished, and Shale couldn’t fault her for not wanting to fight. She had been a prisoner for all too long.
“Spread out,” Oszaren advised as they placed themselves around the large cavern entrance.
Shale set up her arrow trap in the snow and faced it toward the entrance. Whisper and Reverence began forming the ice and snow on the ground into several icy huts to be used for cover. Then Reverence climbed deftly to the top of the cavern entrance so he could jump down on the beast. Whisper weaved an intricate spell over the entrance and a large spider’s web appeared, shimmering in the morning light. Finally, Shale, Fillip and Whisper placed themselves inside the huts, waiting to jump out when the dragon appeared. She took out her bow, notched an arrow, and planted a knee on the ground so she could peek through the entrance of the hut.
Then, Reverence magically enhanced his voice and began shouting profanities about the dragon. “WEAK AND COWARDLY!” His voice echoed over the courtyard and the castle shuddered again. “ISN’T IT NICE—THAT THIS WHITE DRAGON HAS SLUNK AWAY—AND LEFT ALL THIS GOLD FOR US? I’VE NEVER SEEN A DRAGON CRAWL AWAY—WITH ITS TAIL BETWEEN ITS LEGS. IS IT JUST WHITE DRAGONS—OR ARE THEY ALL THIS WEAK?”
Pounding steps came from beneath, growing louder. A roar pierced the castle as the massive white dragon head appeared at the entrance and was immediately wrapped in the large spider webs.
The white dragon’s roar echoed ferociously as he broke from the webs. He caught sight of Reverence overhead as the tiefling brought up his spear. The dragon snatched him out of the air and tried to throw him to the ground, but Reverence swung around its jaw and clambered onto its head. Shale’s first arrow trap loosed and caught the dragon’s hide. The dragon stomped forward, ready to take flight, but Oszaren shouted, “You’re not going anywhere!”
A giant stone hand burst from the ground and grasped onto the dragon’s leg, but it tore out of it and unfurled its wings. Oszaren swore. Shale released her arrows, avoiding the dragon’s head where Reverence was trying to maneuver himself. Fillip peeked out and a rumbling cloud of lightning appeared overhead, cracking the dragon twice with bolts. Reverence narrowly slid out of the way.
Furious, the dragon opened its mouth and released a jettison of ice. The air froze around them, and a massive wall began to form. Shale jumped from the hut as it shattered, and barely managed to run out of the way as the wall shot up, separating their group. The dragon’s icy breath halted and it shook Reverence from its back, turning on him.
Shale shot again, then ran breathlessly to avoid it as it swept around. She heard Whisper on the other side of the wall shouting to Keelan, then saw the tabaxi’s form appear at the top of the wall with a group of four-legged ice creatures that barked and ran along the wall toward the dragon. The tabaxi dropped back down and she heard Keelan shout again. The paladin ran around the wall, his armour half frozen, and shook his sword at the dragon. It looked down at him, then jumped into the air. Whisper’s conjured creatures barked and jumped at it, but it was out of reach. Keelan began a spell, but the dragon was faster. It dug its claws into the ice wall it’d created and brought half of it down on Keelan.
The man jumped to dodge the falling blocks of ice, and the following burst of snow and ice made it impossible to tell if he’d gotten out. Shale took a breath, ran past Reverence, then skidded in the snow and took aim again. The arrow caught the dragon in the back of the head as it took flight again. As it did, the rest of the ice wall turned to mist and disappeared. The dragon swooped in a low circle and another burst of ice shot from its maw. This time, the wall it created ran straight through the two huts, with no sign of Fillip or Keelan. Whisper’s ice creatures scampered up the new wall and ran along it toward the dragon. Whisper climbed as well and dropped to the other side of the wall. She heard Keelan yell his name.
The dragon landed and swung a tail at Reverence, who had just stood up from his fall and was looking well beaten. Shale used the distraction to run to Oszaren, who was throwing balls of green fire at the dragon’s back.
Their group was scattered, but the dragon was looking tired.
The dragon took flight again. Shale paused and released another arrow, which bounced off its belly scales. Then, the dragon dropped down on the other side of the wall and they heard him grumble in a low voice, “YOU SMELL FAMILIAR.”
The lightning storm suddenly shifted, and a bolt struck the ground near the dragon. The dragon chuckled. “Well, you just smell!” Fillip said back. Fillip’s storm hit the dragon the second time. It snarled, and Shale could hear its breath as it released more ice.
A cold fog billowed up from the other side of the wall. Shale gasped. She heard no screams from Fillip, Keelan or Whisper. Reverence was panting and came over to her and Oszaren. “What—?”
“Not good,” Oszaren said. “We need to get around this wall.”
The tiefling nodded, looked around the courtyard, then smirked as he spotted one of the ogre catapults at the top of the tower. His wounds forgotten, he ran toward it.
The ground of the castle shuddered. Shale looked up as the ice wall collapsed into mist and the white dragon rose up and flew away from them, the unmoving body of Fillip clutched in its claws.
“NO!” Keelan roared. He charged after the dragon, pitifully slow on foot as its wings carried it over the castle walls.
Whisper was on the ground, crawling to his feet with a pained expression. Shale slung her bow over her shoulder and charged after Keelan. She saw blasts of Oszaren’s spells flying past her at the dragon, but it would soon be out of range. She saw Fillip’s form shrink inside the claws, but it was too far to see what he’d transformed into. She hoped it was something with wings.
Over their heads, they saw an orange blur, but it fell over the top of the outer wall past the dragon and dropped.
She was nearly upon Keelan when suddenly the paladin threw a spell at his legs. His form blurred and he shot from the courtyard to the top of the outer wall only seconds later. Then he held up his gauntleted hand. It began to glow, and she saw tiny explosions in the dragon’s scales. She didn’t stop running, but she shouted in excitement. The paladin, it seemed, had caused her many arrow tips inside the dragon to explode.
The dragon’s wings stopped moving as its body smoked and thick streams of blood ran from its many wounds. The massive beast screamed and fell from the sky. “FILLIP!” She heard Keelan scream over the edge, and thought the paladin was about to throw himself over after him.
But, then, miraculously, a tiny yellow canary twittered and shot to the top of the wall and landed next to Keelan, transforming on the spot into a grinning Fillip.
Shale’s running slowed, and she laughed aloud, looking back at Oszaren, who shouted, “THAT WAS REVERENCE! HE OVERSHOT!”
What? Shale thought, then realized in horror that the tiefling had shot himself from the catapult on the wall after the dragon but had missed it completely.
Fillip and Keelan’s grins dissolved immediately, and they stared over the edge in search of the monk.
Then, somehow, their tabaxi friend had blurred and shot to the top of the wall next to them. But, he didn’t stop there. He leapt from the wall. A second later, Fillip transformed into a giant eagle and dove after them.
Shale and Oszaren made it finally, breathing hard, to the top of the wall with Keelan. They all stared anxiously down into the obscuring clouds. A minute passed. Then two. Finally, their three companions burst out of the clouds, Whisper and Reverence atop Fillip’s eagle form. He flapped down and landed in the courtyard, and they all converged. Reverence had a sheepish grin on his face. “I had feather fall,” he waved a hand dismissively, “I would have been fine.”
“That would have been good to know before I risked my life,” Fillip said, though he was smiling.
“We did it,” Keelan exclaimed. They were all feeling giddy.
“Did you hear that, Blagothkus?” Shale shouted up at the tower. “The dragon is dead!”
“There is still hope!” Oszaren shouted as well.
The castle rumbled but it seemed pleased. It slowed its descent, and the courtyard seemed to lighten. Inside their heads, they all heard the giant’s voice. “You did what I could not… but, don’t forget… this was one dragon. There are hundreds more.”
“We are not alone,” Oszaren assured the castle. “We have friends, now. They will help us defeat the cult.”
“I hope you’re right…” Blagothkus said. “Look after my castle for me…” Then, the voice faded.
The castle coasted, and they all stood in silence for a few minutes. Keelan healed each of them with a friendly pat on the shoulder, and Aidra came out of the castle looking wary, then relieved.
“Where do we go next?” Keelan wondered. “To save Blagothkus’ children?”
As if in answer to his question, Oszaren’s bag started squawking and moving ferociously. He dropped it, and a silver raven statue hopped out and ruffled its metal feathers, looking harried. It looked around at them, then flew up onto the warlock’s shoulder. From its mouth came a familiar voice.
“Friends.” It was Leosin, the monk who’d started this journey with them. “We’ve watched the whole thing. Well done! It was very impressive. You’ve set back the plans of the cult by months, perhaps even years. I don’t know how to thank you enough. If you can, bring back the dragon mask. We have much to do still. Waterdeep is in an uproar. The cult has not been idle here. Arthagast Albrinter, the masked Lord of Waterdeep, has been assassinated. His wife, Remalia, has gathered all the organizations across the coast. Our actions could very well turn the tide. The people of the Sword Coast are finally ready to fight back. Meet me back in Waterdeep when you can. Our work is not done.”
A scroll appeared inside the raven’s beak. Oszaren removed it and Leosin’s voice spoke again. “This scroll will create the teleportation circle you need to get back to Waterdeep. See you soon.”
They all looked around at each other, anxious and tired. Fillip was the first to speak. “So, how much of that gold do you think we can take with us…?”
Five Years Later
Shale walked through the familiar, quiet trees, the leaves crunching beneath her feet. She breathed in the cool, autumn air, and pulled the hood from her short-cropped lavender hair as she approached the familiar tree. Its white bark seemed untouched by the years, and the bear’s paw symbol still glowed in a faint blue light. She approached the tree, smiling at it like an old friend, then knelt before it. She reached for her neck and removed the chain around it, placing it reverently in the dirt. She opened the locket, revealing a small tuft of orange fur. She closed her eyes.
“Aidra told me you could bring our companions back to us,” she whispered. “She’s gone, now, so I know hers can’t return. But, I’m here. I still have a piece of him. Please,” her voice broke. It had been so many years. “Please, bring him back now. I’ve done all that you’ve asked of me. I gave you all I had. Now give me this one thing and let me have a quiet life.”
She knelt for what seemed like hours. The cold ground washed through her, but she dared not move. Behind her eyelids, she could sense the sky darkening. Soon, owls hooted amongst the trees and mice were skittering about the underbrush. Still, she waited.
Then, in the early hours of the morning, she heard the voice of Gwaeron Windstrom behind her. “Child,” they said softly. Shale stood at once, her body aching from disuse. She turned and saw them standing there, just as they had when she was a lost child with frizzy dark hair and an empty stomach. Their head was bald, their genderless face smooth and compassionate. They raised a pale hand to her. “You have, indeed, done all that I asked. You have suffered much, Shale. I wish for you to suffer no more.”
There was a familiar yelp she hadn’t heard in a long time, and Shale spun around. Trigger leapt from behind the white tree and jumped into her arms, licking her face excitedly. She laughed aloud as the fox nibbled at her short hair with concern. “It’s been a while,” she gasped, allowing the fox to jump to the ground and circle her. He smelled every inch of her boots curiously. “I missed you, Trigger.”
She looked up and, as she expected, Gwaeron was no longer standing there. Feeling suddenly light, she grabbed her bow and quiver from the ground and ruffled the fur between Trigger’s ears. “Come on, then!”
The fox trotted after her as they wove their way through the forest, back to Triel.
It didn’t take long for them to reach the town. It had been rebuilt since the incident with the necromancers. The red wizards of Thay were no longer a threat. The cult was defeated, and Tiamat’s efforts to rise had been squelched. Now, only mundane fears such as the weather were on the people’s minds.
Shale nodded in greeting to some of the townsfolk as she entered and headed straight to the cemetery. There, she brought Trigger to the stone marked with her husband and children’s names. “There they are,” she said, and the fox curled around them, sniffing the yellow grass. “I know they can’t be brought back,” she told him. “But, maybe I can go back. Be the simple forest guide I used to be. You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”
Trigger’s ears perked up and she felt peace draw over her. Shale stood and walked through the town, Trigger at her heels.
Suddenly, she paused and stared at her reflection in a shop window. Her hands flew to her head, and she dug her fingertips into frizzy, black hair.