Chapter 29: Doom of the Desert
Roon, Kilian and the rest of them waited outside the doors of the throne room while the King spoke with his daughter Sarissa privately.
“It’s a bit rude, after saving his life,” Thia muttered for the sixth time.
It had all been quite abrupt. They’d arrived on the doorstep of the palace and been ushered forward, only to have a door closed in their faces. They were offered their same rooms but didn’t want to miss anything. Instead, they chose to sit in the empty auditorium.
They’d been waiting for over an hour. Roon and Evelyn were tossing a ball back and forth between them. The materials comprising the ball were indistinguishable, and Roon didn’t dare ask too many questions when Evelyn produced it from her overfull bag, made somewhat lighter in the absence of giant internal organs.
Flint, between all their complaining, muttered a complex spell that required quite a bit of composing. When anyone asked him what he was summoning, he shushed them. Soon, a large circle with mixed runes was painted on the stone floor. The guards at the door watched but made no move to interfere. It seemed their recovery of the giant King had put them in good graces with the storm giants.
Finally, just as Flint’s spell was reaching its end, the large doors to the throne room flew open. “Alright,” Sarissa said, looking down at them with curious, bright eyes, “you can all come in.”
“HA!” Flint clapped suddenly, and there was a bright orange flash as something shot out of the painted circle on the floor. Like some cacophonous song, a pair of large brown wings exploded and a griffin soared to the ceiling, circled once, then landed before the bard. It waddled up to the dwarf and he scratched it approvingly. “Very nice,” Flint said, “very, very nice! One for the songs!” It pecked it’s eagle beak in search of food, its lion’s tail swishing behind it.
“Been busy, have you?” Hekaton’s voice boomed from inside the chamber.
“Can you do this later?” Kilian asked Flint, bowing his head politely to Sarissa and walking through. The rest followed, lastly by Flint, who somehow convinced his newly conjured griffin to stay outside and behave.
Hekaton was not sitting on the throne, but on another chair. He stood when they entered. “Thank you for your patience. Only, we had many matters to discuss.”
“I told him about my sisters,” Sarissa assured them, noticing their sidelong glances.
“We also discussed my lost memory,” Hekaton said. “The last thing I can recall is my group of captors approaching me under the name of the Lord’s Alliance. Then, I awoke beneath the sea surrounded by all of you.”
“It is strange,” Kilian said.
“I don’t know many little folk with abilities that strong,” Sarissa said, sounding troubled.
“It was Iymrith,” Roon said. “It had to be.”
Hekaton nodded. “That brings us to our other point and the reason you’re still here.”
Roon had been expecting this, but he waited to hear the words all the same.
“Iymrith can’t be left alive,” Sarissa continued. “Would you help us kill a blue dragon?”
An ancient blue dragon, Roon thought with a flip of the stomach. They hadn’t even scratched the surface of her powers.
“Definitely,” Evelyn said with relish.
“Alright,” Flint shrugged.
“I guess we could…” Opal said.
“Let’s do it,” Roon said hesitantly.
“Of course,” Kilian added.
They all looked round at Thia, who hadn’t answered. She took a deep breath, shook back her hair and said, “let’s kill this bitch.”
“That’s offensive language,” Roon objected.
Thia rolled her eyes.
“He’s not wrong,” Evelyn agreed.
“Very rude to women,” Roon had to say.
“So, that’s a yes?” Sarissa clarified.
“Yes,” they all said at once.
“We will, of course, accompany you,” Hekaton said, “with some of our own warriors. Oh, and we have these.”
He motioned to Sarissa, who produced a small, human-sized bag and set it in front of them. “There’s a potion here for each of you. When you drink it, it will grow you to the size of a giant—temporarily.”
“Woah,” Flint grinned, opening the bag and producing a vial of sapphire blue liquid. He handed them out, and Roon tucked his into his shirt pocket. “How long is temporary?”
“One day. Everything you’re holding or wearing will also be enlarged.”
They all muttered their admiration.
“Do we know where Iymrith is?” Thia asked.
“Ah, I could help with that,” Roon offered. “I could scry on her.”
“Well, we do know blue dragons like the desert,” Sarissa said. “And our informants believe she has fled to the Doom of the Desert.”
“That sounds bright and cheery,” Flint grimaced.
“We will send you back to your airship, then,” Sarissa told them. “Inside that bag is also a map. We will meet you at the marked point in the desert in one week’s time. That should give us the time we need to gather fighters.”
They all agreed, and the princess led them away.
The airship passed through the dry, sandy air with the aid of Kilian’s wind control. The heat was nearly unbearable, and the group was forced to change their attire. Every evening, Roon would scry on the dragon Iymrith, but his visions only showed the blue lizard curled underground surrounded by treasure. In all these visions, she slept. He could see no sign of the stolen sceptre, but around her were large claw marks where she’d dug the cavern wider to fit more of her treasures.
Kilian asked Marteen if their master, the red dragon Klouth, would be interested in joining their fight, but the captain shook his head. “Klouth is interested in the results of this battle, but he has many other matters that concern him.”
They planned as best they could for the upcoming attack. Blue dragons, as they knew, were immune to lightning, so they expected Kilian would have a difficult time fighting her with his storm abilities. They knew Iymrith was ancient, which meant she was very powerful, but also very large. Small spaces and darting movements would be their friends in this instance. They also expected she would be guarded by more than herself, so they needed to approach her cavern cautiously. Thia planned to use her fey owl to scout. All this planning, of course, was dependant on what they saw once they got there, and how many giants Hekaton and Sarissa had managed to gather.
Finally, one of Marteen’s men pointed out the distant ruins in the sand. Over the next few hours, the ruins came into better view and they saw crumbled, buried stone buildings and the remnants of a very large amphitheatre. The stone had been smoothed by ages of wind and sand, but they could still make out the many stone benches surrounding it. They stopped the airship a few hundred feet away from the amphitheatre and saw a massive gaping hole in the centre of it leading into darkness.
“I’ll bet she’s down there,” Roon said.
“Look, the giants!” Opal cried.
Sure enough, several large giants appeared from some semi-standing stone structures and gazed up at the airship.
“Wait, is that…” Thia squinted into the reflective sand.
“Harshnag?!” Roon said.
The frost giant stood slightly shorter than the storm giants, but grinned and waved up at them. They had Marteen lower the ship and hurried down rope ladders to meet the giants. There were six of them in total, including Harshnag, Hekaton, Sarissa, and three others they didn’t recognize.
“Harshnag! How did you escape?” Kilian asked in surprise as they ran up to the looming figures.
“I managed to get out of Iymrith’s grasp as the temple collapsed and jumped back into the room with the oracle. Then, strangely, I was picked up by a wizard from… oh, where was it again… Goldmoon?”
“Silverymoon?” Roon asked.
“That’s the one!” The frost giant smiled. Roon noticed he was sweating profusely. Despite being a creature made for a much different climate, however, he seemed otherwise healthy.
“Welcome, little ones,” Hekaton said, turning to the other giants around him. “I see you’ve met Harshnag before. This is Vasha,” a storm giantess dipped her head, “Orlecto,” a male, “Shaldore,” another male, “and Maneer,” a giantess. “We have scouted one major entrance into the amphitheatre. There has been smoke from a campfire on the other side of it, but we have not seen any creatures moving around.”
“We can expect there will be some manner of defenses around Iymrith,” Thia said. “Our plan is to send a few scouts on wings to look at the place before we try getting in.”
“A wise plan,” the King acknowledged.
“I’ll need to get a bit closer to send my owl into that hole,” Thia told her friends.
“We’ve got your back,” Flint gave her a gruff nod.
“We will stand behind, then,” Harshnag said.
“Keep low,” Kilian advised, “and quiet as you can.”
The group made the trek toward the amphitheatre, Thia in the lead. When they reached the outer walls, she nodded to them and crept forward. They watched cautiously as the elf tiptoed through the hot sand and moved into the amphitheatre.
Then, the sound of many grating stones echoed from inside the amphitheatre.
“That can’t be good…” Kilian whispered nervously.
“SHIT!” Thia shouted.
They all gave up their hopes of stealth and ran in after the elf.
A boulder crashed next to the doorway and shattered, and Roon ducked just in time. He looked up as they all ran in and saw, at the top ramparts surrounding the entire theatre, were large stone gargoyles, which were moving to load boulders into trebuchets.
“What did you do!” Roon demanded of the elf.
“I just walked in!” She shouted back. “Shit.” She reached into a pocket and drank the blue potion, and suddenly her form shot up twenty-five feet in height. Opal drank her potion at the same time, and the two of them ran for the walls, the other giants close on their heels.
Well, Iymrith certainly knows we’re here now, Roon thought, looking around. Fifty feet from the large hole in the centre of the arena was a smaller doorway made for people of humanoid size. Roon turned invisible and ran towards it and noticed sets of humanoid tracks as he ran. There was another explosion of rock behind him, but he was sprinting now.
Gargoyles shrieked. Those who were not loading trebuchets took flight on stone wings and dove at them, biting and scratching and tearing at giants and people alike. The giants heaved boulders at the trebuchets, trying to break them. Opal, in her giantess form, called down a storm cloud overhead and hit the gargoyles with bolts of searing lightning. Kilian made a few of them explode before running after the invisible Roon toward the doorway, where he saw sand flying up.
The tunnel behind the door was dark and Roon shouted down it. “Hey, Iymrith, you GREAT BIG SNAKE! Get up here and fight for yourself!”
Kilian took cover in the doorway next to him, breathing hard. Roon turned visible and touched the sorcerer’s arm, placing a death ward over him. They heard more crashes. “C’mon, there’s nothing here,” Kilian muttered, taking another steeling breath, then running back out.
Roon followed and saw Hekaton, by far the tallest of all the giants, surrounded by flying gargoyles. He struck them with bolts of lightning from his hands, and some exploded only to be replaced by more.
Flint levitated the shattered pieces of gargoyle around him and sent them careening at the living ones, singing a battle cry as he did so.
Harshnag ran to the stormking’s side and swung his axe at the gargoyles, breaking a few. More lightning, boulders, crossbow bolts and chaotic orbs of magic flew around the arena. Roon saw Evelyn overtaken by gargoyles and summoned his duplicate. He handed the semi-physical illusion a healing potion and sent it running after Evelyn. Then, he took out his bow and shot at more stone creatures, who seemed barely affected by it.
The giants smashed the last few gargoyles until only one remained to lamely flap back to the trebuchet and load it. Before they could crush it, there was another noise.
Beneath their feet was a low rumbling, and Roon nearly lost his balance as the great blue head of a dragon exploded out of the ground. Sand and rock flew everywhere, and Iymrith roared, “YOU!” She opened her maw and lighting flew at the group of giants. Harshnag fell back, but the storm giants seemed to absorb the lightning as they turned on the blue dragon. She emerged from the ground, her entire body buzzing with electric energy, and threw out her wings. With her thick leg muscles, she sprang up and took to the air.
The giants tore stone benches from the amphitheatre and hurled them at the dragon, and Kilian shouted, “STAY DOWN!”
Suddenly, a great gust of wind slammed into Iymrith from above and threw the dragon back to the ground. She tried with difficulty to stand against the downdraft.
Flint called to his griffin, which dipped down from the skies. The dwarf mounted and flew up, avoiding Kilian’s winds.
Evelyn took the potion from Roon’s duplicate and drank, then threw aside the vial and cut her arms until she was streaked with red and her blades gleamed with acid.
Thia formed a sickly green sphere of acid around the dragon’s head and Flint shot at her from above, hitting her with a spell that made her roar and shake her head in confusion. Opal created a storm of ice up from the ground to swirl around Iymrith, mixing with the sphere of acid. The giants threw more stones at her and Roon tried to change her form into something small and harmless, but despite all the attacks, she resisted his will to overcome her. She tried to fly up again and her long, serpentine neck rose above the swirling dark energies and roared again, horribly. The noise shook Roon to the core like icicles in his veins.
Then, Hekaton grabbed a fistful of sand and threw it into the dragon’s eyes. As he did this, she batted her wings, forcing the sand around her to swirl up. They all took a few steps back and Kilian’s winds faltered. At that moment, Iymrith dove toward the hole in the centre of the amphitheatre and disappeared into it.
The last remaining gargoyle shrieked and one of the storm giants grabbed it and crushed it in her hands, throwing the pieces aside in anger.
“COWARD!” Flint shouted down the hole, his griffin landing.
The acid sphere and ice storm dissipated, and they all moved toward the hole, looking exhausted. “Now what?” Roon croaked, taking a much-needed swig of water.
They all stared down the dark hole with trepidation.