Thursday, September 7, 2017

Session 20



After returning from Solstice, we learned that Primus couldn’t be killed. Well, shouldn’t was more along the lines of what the Magus of Myth said. The man-made god was created by the Cabiri, for the Cabiri. Then Primus became sentient and killed all the Cabiri. When an alliance of giants and dragons killed him centuries back, Primus essentially reincarnated. That’s when he was sealed away, locked in eternal sleep. That is, until my friends broke his bonds and released him back into the world to dominate all living things.
Which left us with two options. Wait or fight. We had allies and armies. The dragons were bound to Illium, and in extension, me. Then there was the Arch Magi, who were there to save the world when groups like ours made mistakes. Stopping Primus was our priority, but how did you face a god that controlled you? It’s what kept us from acting, all the while I kept imagining Primus setting his sights elsewhere. Like Illium.
The idea that Primus might come for Illium unnerved me. I already had Tiamat as an enemy, and probably others I didn’t know of. I did what I do best, and stepped away from the city. Having returned from Solstice well past our three day limit had upset Feeps, even when I explained the time spell. He and Killian had taken to reminding me that my place was here, and running about endangering myself wasn’t very princess-like. Fed up, I found solace in the nature beyond Illium’s walls, far from the city as I dared to go alone.
I left without a word. Not like I heeded anyone but myself, a privilege of my birth I suppose. I was working on it. Maybe if I wasn’t so absorbed in resenting my responsibilities, I might have seen the figure that snuck up behind me. When the silver collar snapped around my neck, I only had time to glimpse the familiar black dragon stepping out of the woods. It was a creature I recognized, one I couldn’t forget. The dragon I fought in Illium. Then I blacked out.


I awoke on my knees upon the marshy floors of a swamp. A place I knew. I was in the Sump, in front of some overgrown cavern, cleverly hidden if not for the group of people standing at its entrance. Two elves, casters of some sort, a female and male. Three halflings of varying professions, and a blue dragonborn beside a mysterious woman. Then my focus found a face I recognized. Klotonk.
Another clone? I wondered wearily, my body seemed to ache all over. Definitely. How did I get here?
The gnome’s wide-eyes were watching me, fearfully. I glanced over my shoulder and saw why. The ancient black dragon crouched low, alongside some mage in dark robes. Off to the right was a foreign warrior, bearing accents from the far east.
“Munari. Is the deal on, or off? One princess for the information that I asked for.” The mage behind me asked.
I snorted. Joke’s on you, I’m a bastard.
The black dragon growled as if keeping me in check. I could feel his warm breath on my back, but the silver collar around my neck held me still.
“Easy Shimmerlee,” the mage said to the dragon. “We’re almost done here.”
The mysterious woman named Munari seemed to think on her answer. Eventually, she nodded. “All right, Timony. I’ll take the princess as agreed.” She pulled out a scroll from her robes.
Timony grabbed me by the collar and pushed me forward. He dropped me a few feet in front of the group before taking off the torc and waving it in front of me, smiling. Then he snatched the scroll from Munari’s hand and walked back to the black dragon.
“Munari, I should probably tell you,” Timony began casually, gesturing at the group of individuals. “They’re the ones that killed your dragon friend. What’s the name? Vodja.”
“What?!” The foreign warrior demanded, stepping menacingly toward the group.
Munari gasped, turning to them in disbelief.
“Wreccin,” Shimmerlee snarled. “We got what we came for. Let’s finish this.”
The warrior named Wreccin wasn’t a man at all. He transformed entirely into a black dragon.
I didn’t have another moment to consider this before Shimmerlee pounced on me, talons swiping down. I dropped, instinctively curling up. Still, I could feel the claws shred open my back, my leather armor barely saving me from being torn to ribbons. Satisfied with his work, Shimmerlee stepped away.
In the distance, I could hear Wreccin roaring and charging the others. Combat unfolded at full scale.
Fury wasn’t enough of a word to encompass my feelings. Ignoring the searing wounds on my back, I leapt to my feet and changed into an earth elemental. I watched Shimmerlee’s smug look turn to disbelief.
“Takes more than that,” I said, though the words spilled out in the garbled tongue of elementals.   
I longed to reap my vengeance on the dragon, to see him slain for everything he had done, to me and to Illium. But something else came first on my revenge list. I barreled toward Timony, and loomed over the man. In one motion, I took the silver collar from his hands and slammed it around his throat.
Then time froze.
I was suddenly back in my half elf form, the silver collar around my neck.
Wait, what?
Timony chuckled. “This belongs to me.”
Before he had a chance to spellbind the collar, I remembered something I forgot in the heat of battle. Well, in my unthinking rage. I had the Primordial’s boon, the ability to open what I pleased. I reached up and unlocked the collar. Timony gaped at me, and I relished his shock and fear.
“Now, I’m going to kill you.” I swore darkly.
Timoney hesitated, then vanished from sight. Far away, I could hear him shouting something in draconic, earning an equally vicious snarl from Shimmerlee.
“Munari wait!” Someone was calling.
I turned to see a third black dragon in place of the mysterious woman. Only, this one took flight, as fast as she could from the battle.
Meanwhile, in front of the cavern, Wreccin was engaged with the group, and losing. Even his dangerous bite and lashing tail did little to discourage the seasoned fighters. By the time the larger dragon, Shimmerlee, joined the fray, it was already too late.
A roguish looking halfling had perched atop the cavern, lining up a perfect shot. He fired the killing blow straight into Wreccin’s skull. The dragon toppled.
The battle seemed to come to a standstill.
Timony gave one last look as Shimmerlee made a running leap, scooping up the mage and carrying him way. “This isn’t over!” He shouted.
Said the coward.
Klotonk ran over and I threw my arms around him.
“When Munari said she was bringing a princess--I swear I had no idea--” the gnome tried to explain, but I held up a hand.
“Eh,” was all I replied. “Besides, I got a present out of it.” I held up the silver collar, grinning. “Who are your friends?”
The group gathered round. They called themselves Ornamental Chaos, which seemed fitting considering the shit we just survived. Erdan was an elf wizard, and Xillali was an elf druid. Both were scholars, so my attention fell elsewhere. Derek was the chef/assassin who had delivered the final blow on Wreccin, while Naora was a stout Paladin of Kord. Doki was their jolly, if distracted, bard of questionable allegiance. Finally, Dmitri was the blue dragonborn of little words.
I immediately forgot half their names.
“Well, I have no idea how long I’ve been hostage,” I admitted, unable to resist a bashful grin. “That collar knocks you out….I should probably get back to Illium.”
“Wait, Princess Taelim!” Naora called. “I have to speak with you!”
“Um, sure. You’re all welcome to join me. Illium’s a free city and all--”
“Everybody hush!” Derek called out, perfectly still. His head was tilted, carefully listening. “Do you hear?”
We all fell quiet. Then we heard it, the buzzing steadily drawing near.
“That sounds like a lot of insects,” I said, not exactly optimistic about the matter.
“A swarm,” Xillali confirmed.
It was growing so loud we nearly missed the beat of wings. The black dragon, Munari, landed beside us.
I was the only one who reacted hostilely. Klo put a hand on mine and shook his head, so I remained still. For the moment.
Munari shifted back into a woman, features panicked. “We have to get out of here! Before the plague arrives.”
Klotonk immediately set to work casting a ritual, and Erdan stepped beside him doubling their speed.
“Where to?” The gnome called.
“Illium?” I offered, and the rest consented. We leapt into the teleportation circle and vanished just as the swarm of insects descended.
We were back in Illium’s central hub. Suddenly,  the claw marks on my body were the least of my concerns. In the center of the city, surrounded by thousands, I whipped back around on Munari.
“No! She’s friendly!” Klotonk intervened.
I glanced between the gnome and the dragon woman. Then sighed.
“You cannot turn into a dragon. Not here,” I said warningly, trying to control my voice. “If Klo vouches for you, then you’re welcome to stay. Though I don’t think my aunt will like the idea of--”
“She can stay at my house!” Klo piped up.
I cocked my head. “You have a house?”
The gnome waved a deed happily in front of my face. “Inherited it recently! Oh, you’re going to love my plans for a laboratory. Snee can come and help build…”
I drowned him out. I was already imagining the lecture I was going to get from Aunt Tylda and Feeps. Maybe I shouldn’t tell them about the dragon.
“A word, princess?” Munari asked politely. “And you three as well.” She gestured to Klotonk, Naora and Xillali.
I held up a hand. “Maybe not in the hub of Illium? I’m already getting looks, and it’s a matter of time before I have to report back. Where’s this house of yours, Klo?”
The gnome beamed. “Let me show you!”


The place needed work. That about summed it up. Still, Klotonk seemed happy enough, even as all of us squeezed inside his living room.
“Now then,” Munari said, having pulled the four of us into the kitchen. “I have a request to make, and I believe you four the most inclined to accept.”
I folded my arms and bit my tongue. A black dragon that didn’t try to kill me, it just needed something from me.
Klotonk picked up on my reluctance, and spoke up. “Is this about the masks?”
Munari nodded.
“What masks?” I asked dryly.
“Soooo,” Klotonk said. “Turns out there are dragon masks of different colors. They control dragons….and summon Tiamat if gathered.”
“Like the red one in Solstice?” I blurted, and Klotonk returned a questioning look. “Err, one of your clones came with us. I’ll explain later. Continue.”
“That’s exactly right!” Munari said. “The red one exists in Solstice. I know the location of each. I need you to destroy them all. Please.”
For a time, no one responded.
“Even if I had the time to reap my revenge and destroy all of these masks, what’s in it for you, dragon?”
“With the masks destroyed, Tiamat cannot be summoned. Is that enough?”
“And dragons can’t be controlled.” Xillali added, hand on her hip.
“Yes,” Munari admitted. “A win for each of us. Will you help?”
Again, the four of us exchanged glances. Eventually, we agreed. The opportunity was too great to pass up. Munari told us everything we needed to know.
I started to make mental notes of the accumulating tasks I had on my plate. Between running a kingdom and trying to find favor with the Arch Magi, I already felt stretched thin. Wearily, I headed for the door. I had a lot of explaining to do.
“Wait, Princess Taelim!” Naora came running for me.
“Oh, I forgot. You wanted to chat?”
The paladin halfling nodded. “I won’t bother you with the details, but I originally sought you out to give warning: dragons were going to attack your city.”
I scratched the back of my head. “I hate to break it to you, but that already happened.”
“Er, well, yes. I failed to warn you…”
We stared at each other awkwardly. Then I reach for the door handle.
“No, wait! That’s not the rest! I swore an oath, in failing you earlier, I have to serve your cause.”
“Listen, Naora, I appreciate it, but I have no idea where this is coming from. You really don’t have to do this. Honestly, I don’t even know you.”
“Please! Trust me. Klotonk can vouch for me.”
I sighed, and lifted my gaze. The gnome was happily chatting up the party, going on about digging a basement and building his laboratory.
I shrugged, giving in. “What exactly do you want from me?”
“To serve, to fulfil my pledge really. I had a mentor...I failed her, and you. It’s really a long story…” she trailed off, recollecting some painful memory. Quietly, she finished her train of thought. “A task, give me something to redeem myself.”
I exhaled deeply, shifting uncomfortably beside the door. My eyes swept over the bizarre cast, then they fell on Munari. “All right, Naora. Here’s an idea. You see, whenever I leave Illium, I get grief from my advisors. You can imagine that would make hunting these masks difficult. Since, I despise Tiamat, I want it done. Make that your quest. Find and destroy all of them, then you’ve done your job.”
The halfling paladin beamed brightly. “It will be done. Thank you!”
I inclined my head and slipped out of the house. I gazed up at the castle of Illium in the distance. Taking a deep breath, I headed home, trying to think of a good excuse for being kidnapped.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Interval Session: Kolae


If you recall, my friends dared the Dungeon Master. I wasn’t there, so for once, Taelim wasn’t responsible. Our Dungeon Master responded with Primus, and my party scrambled to fix the threat they brought into the world. With their many clones, came multiple campaigns across the realm. So, I’m going to tell you about another character I played alongside them. It will all tie in later.

It’s a speedrun story a la third person. The Main Attraction will resume shortly.

Setup:

Kolae was a Goliath, a half giant whose ashen skin was covered in the tattooed tales of her people. They were only visible when she wasn't wearing the full armor that distinguished her as a Paladin, her shield bearing the holy symbol of Melora.
She hadn't planned on this path, she had stumbled across it when fleeing the Asimba Mountains her people called home. There they were the slaves of actual giants, and the creature that guarded them all was a two headed dragon. The Nidhogg. One day the Goliaths made a stand. A fight to be free.
Her and her twin brother, Odison, rallied the Goliath saves. Together, they fought and triumphed. Until the Nidhogg took the most valuable thing in her life, a symbol of hope like herself, Odison. Kolae swore she would grow stronger and kill the Nidhogg, avenging her brother. One day.
Years had passed since then.

Current day, but before the first set of clones returned to Illium:

Now, in this dark campsite, Kolae blinked down vaguely, taking in the band of peculiar warriors around her. It was as if she had been asleep for the last few months. The last thing she remembered was finishing a pilgrimage in the name of Melora. In the temple, she had been visited by a pygmy hawk who wouldn't leave her. She let it stay in the crook of her spacious armor, easily a safe place for the miniature creature. She called him Oddie, he was the first friend she had since her brother.
Oddie chirped from inside her armor, and Kolae snapped to attention. She evaluated the crew who gaped at her. Likely coming to their senses too. A drow, kender, gnome and dwarf.
Then the memories flooded her like a sharp stab in the back of her mind. Primus, clones, the mission. These people. She had tried to help them, but ended up entangled in their mess. Maziel, Cosmo, Klotonk, and Dagon. Primus controlled them all, herself included, compelling them to destroy the ancient Ley Lines of this plane. The source of magic.
“Kolae, right?” The gnome began, tentatively approaching the Goliath.
Kolae nodded once. “How are we free?”
“The witch in the mountains,” Maziel responded, deep in thought. “She freed all our clones. But why…?”
“We we're headed north…” Kolae said. “To Gondhr, to destroy a Ley Line there.”
It was the only lead they had, the only thread to a bigger picture. They packed up camp and set off to the village of Gondhr, a place of Goliaths.
With Kolae to vouch for them, they were admitted to the village. It was peculiar to see half giants wary of smaller folk, strangers in a place normally so removed from traffic. At the center of the village stood a sacred, ancient tree. It practically oozed magic. Another Ley Line.
The village had been attacked recently by agents of Primus, bizarre constructs of magitek design. So the party decided to stay and fight. When the constructs dared to attack again, the party came to the rescue. The elder of Gondhr, in his undying thanks, informed the group of the Sword Prophet, a possible ally against Primus.
The party set off through the tundra of the Asimba Mountains, across glaciers and the unending display of mountaintops. The weather was as cruel as the creatures that inhabited the range, but not as persistent as the magitek monsters always on the prowl. Even frost giants fell to the adventurer’s determination.
The party eventually took up residency at a Kenku village, not far from the supposed home of the Prophet. The next day they climbed the Sword Prophet’s mountain, and discovered a hermit cave stowed in an old temple once of some significance, now forgotten. At the heart, a massive sword plunged into the mountain, towering sky high. For what purpose, the party didn't know. The place was empty.
They didn't find the Prophet. They found a great, angry bear in the stream below the mountain. It waited for them to arrive. Then it turned into an old, weathered woman who appeared very capable of handling herself. She was born of the mountains, and made here. She was the Sword Prophet, and also went by the Magus of War.
There was uncertainty between them at first. But these clones of the company, they had access to the memories of their other clones. They knew things which Kolae did not. Apparently when the others clones were slain, memories spilled into their thoughts. It led Kolae to wonder how many were there, and how many died for Primus.
The party quickly explained their intent to stop Primus. It was a starting point between the group and the Magus of War. A deal was struck: clear the evil in the Forbidden Temple, and the Magus of War would teach them how to repair the Ley Lines they damaged. The party accepted.

In the heart of a mountain, at the farthest reaches of Asimba, the statues of two titanic dwarves guarded an ancient passage. They were so old their features had been smoothed over the centuries. There was a reason it was called the Forbidden Temple, in part because the name was long forgotten. Then there was the matter of the petrified adventurers littering the foyer of this dark place. Of them all, a single remained whole. A warning to anyone who thought to keep delving.
A restoration spell brought the adventurer back to this world. He was a drow druid by the name of D’ragh. He agreed to join the party, giving particular allegiance to Maziel. Whether it was something more, the party stopped pressing the matter. They had chain worms and magic traps to preoccupy their minds. Not to mention, the beasts that lurked below the black waters always trying to pull them under. They slew them all.
They faltered only once, when an extraplanar guardian that resembled some sort of six-legged goat nearly electrocuted them out of existence. It succeeded in petrifying Maziel, but it was D’ragh’s healing balms that returned her to the party, whole. Some threats you did not challenge. They quickly choose a different path, and at last found the ziggurat that opened to another plane of existence.
Within this realm, the White Bats wreaked havoc. The demonic beasts of unusual size occasionally made their way to the Material Plane, feasting on the living. They needed to be stopped. So the party brought justice to their plane of existence, and killed everyone of them. This was just as Dagon fiddled with the staff key--the physical link between realms. They barely escaped, and Dagon became cursed, growing to a size so great, he breached the temple ceilings. Dagon staggered down the mountain like a titan, unable to control himself. It was the Magus of Myth who came to the rescue and removed the curse. All threats dealt with, the secret to repairing Ley Lines was unraveled.

The group makes it a priority to retrace their steps and fix every Ley Line they destroyed in the name of Primus. It’s on this journey that they find the city of Cloudgoat, and every adventurer needs their rest. And distractions. It’s there they hear of the mythical weapon hidden in the Underdark, the Horn of Asimba. Even Kolae and Dagon, natives of the mountains, recognize the tale. A legendary power to control the spectral armies of Asimba They don’t hesitate, and head for the Underdark.
The way is clouded with poisonous smoke, but nothing a paladin can’t protect the party from. They dive deeper, locating a drow temple that promises secrets. Even oozes and umber hulks with their black husks didn’t stand a chance against the party’s desire for the Horn. Only a room of iconic drow statues barred their way, but the brilliant among them were quick to solve it: Sehanine knows the way.
The temple quickly fell away to a deep cavern littered with fungi. Every wall pulsed with fungal life. At the end, in the darkest part of the space, was a dais. On that dais was a throne where a lady waited. She revealed herself as the Earth Witch, the one who freed their minds from Primus.  She went by many titles now, like former queen of the dwarves. Though, that life was long gone. Now she preferred Zuggtmoy. She offered the party the Horn of Asimba, encouraging them to blow it and fight Primus. To eliminate the enemy who dared to encroach on her domain.
The party accepts, and heads to the Asimba peaks. At the mountain's zenith, they spot the massive armies that Primus controls. They prepare to blow the Horn, but get sealed away in a time trap. They don’t yet realize how very similar this spell is in another part of the world.



Friday, August 25, 2017

Session 19

All I could think about was killing a dragon. It was the only comfort to this utterly miserable adventure. It definitely wasn’t the kind of tale Feeps would sing of, unless he was poking fun at me. Then again, we could end up trapped in this time bubble for the rest of our lives. Or so I kept telling myself.
Slicer had taken up commanding the boat. The vessel was almost peppy to his orders, so he guided us down the river of lava, passing through the cavernous spaces of the volcano. We traveled in silence, saying nothing of what transpired earlier. Dragon, then home.
“Danger,” Slicer growled in a low voice, eyes fixed on the lofty stone wall ahead.
We all sat up, alert. At once we came to the same realization. This wasn’t just a wall, it was part of a fortress, and we were gliding straight through the gates.
“Pull over,” Maziel hissed, instinctively ducking low.
There was no where to go, and we sailed in. Above us we could hear the sound of deep, rumbling voices. It was too late to turn back, and the boat almost enjoyed the cruise, as if it belonged here. All eyes fell on Maziel whose head was whipping about, calculating.
“Everyone out!”
As the boat glided closer to land, we all leapt out without another thought. The boat continued happily enough. By now the voices were shouts, and we could see fiery manes approaching through darkened archways.
“Against the wall!” I called, pointing toward the stone.
The party obeyed, and I quickly melded us into the rocks. There we hid, a part of the earth, waiting unseen as three fire giants lumbered close. They spoke in a garbled tongue, which I could only assume was Giant.
“This feeling,” Dagon whispered excitedly. “To be a part of the very stone we dwarves--”
“Dagon. Shut. Up.” Maziel warned quietly.
The fire giants circled menacingly, searching for the figures there just moments before. Eventually they gave up, and began to stomp back inside the fortress proper.
That’s when Dagon acted. “From stone I am reborn!” He roared, leaping out of the camouflage. Maul raised high, he charged the creatures that made him look like a toddler in comparison. His voice echoed around the courtyard, and somewhere in the distance a horn answered back.
I’m fairly certain we all considered letting Dagon die while we watched from inside the wall. That was, if he hadn’t already blown our cover. I thought I could hear Maziel grinding her teeth hard enough to shatter. We all waited, and the giants closed in on the dwarf.
“C’mon,” I sighed. “I’ve done worse.”
I didn’t wait for them to acknowledge that fact, and jumped from the wall, breaking the melding spell. I moved into the fray, the dwarf laughing at my side as we managed to avoid the hammer big enough to crush our frames.
A moment later, and arrows were flying. Maziel was issuing orders between curses as we tried to stay alive against the flaming foes. As expected, more followed from the fortress walkways, and soon we were wondering whether we would survive long enough to fight a dragon. Somehow, we hung on, desperate to live a little bit longer.
The last fire giant glared us down as we closed in. His flaming beard was the only one burning amid the bodies of his comrades.
“Wait! I want to try something,” I shouted, forcing Cosmo to shoot his bolt wide.
“What could you possibly want to try?” Yaup demanded, clearly yearning for the finishing blow.
I raised my hand and uttered the druidic spell. The giant vanished from sight. Well, he actually shrunk instantly. Now, a chipmunk squeaked desperately in its place.
I raced over and picked it up. “Aww, you’re adorable now. Ouch, you little shit!” I recoiled at the creature’s bite, shoving the chipmunk in a pouch.
“I’ve got to know, Taelim,” Klotonk started. “Why?”
I shrugged. “Practice for the dragon?”
“How long does the polymorph last?” Maziel asked critically.
I bit my lip in thought. “Maybe an hour.”
“We need to dispose of it. Before the--Dagon, get back here!”
It was too late. The dwarf was already heading down a huge corridor, Cosmo at his heels.
I grinned, and followed.
“Slicer, are there more giants inside?” Maziel questioned the dragonborn.
Slicer shrugged. “We killed many in the fortress, but the volcano is bigger.”
“That’s not a great answer,” I responded, casually trailing the group.
The dragonborn didn’t reply.
I don’t like you either, Tiamat-lover.
Carefully we traversed the quiet halls of the garrison built for creatures far bigger than us. Searching, as ever, for any clue that would lead us to the dragon. Our only way out of Solstice.
“Taelim, if this were Illium. Where would you hide your treasury?” Maziel asked me in her seemingly distant, but ever-perceptive way.
I hesitated, canteen halfway to my lips. “I feel like this is a trick question,” I admitted. We had stopped to take a rest in one of the citadel rooms, a pantry the size of a dining hall.
“It’s a better idea than wandering dangerous passageways,” Klotonk offered brightly.
I glanced at the gnome, taking a deep swig of water. The heat was still unbearable. It was like a brick oven within these walls.  I got to my feet. “I’ll lead the way then.”

I truly had no idea where I was going. It was a best guess scenario, and one that almost got us caught by a patrol more than once. Yet, we somehow found our way.
Cosmo was the first to catch the gleam that spilled between the cracks of the towering door. It was as if he was drawn to it.
Cautiously, we pushed open the intricate metal door and gaped at what revealed itself. It was treasure room, but the likes of which I had never seen. This cavernous space had two visible levels, easily stretching hundreds of feet wide in either direction. Almost every foot of it was filled with loot. Piles of gold rose like hilltops, gems and entrancing jewelry sparkled in the firelight. The ceiling was nowhere to be seen, but we were too distracted by the valuables to notice.
My pocket squeaked, and we all turned to stare.
“I forgot about him,” I conceded shyly.
“We’re nearing time, we have kill it.” Maziel extended a hand, as if distrusting me with the task.
Granted, I faltered, forgetting the threat it once was. “It will just revert to its normal form.”
“You can’t keep polymorphing it, Taelim.”
I frowned and reached into my pouch.
“I have an idea…” Klotonk began, almost reluctantly. “It’s a bit cruel…”
“It almost crushed me with a mace,” Cosmo retorted.
“Valid point,” I said, holding the nipping chipmunk carefully. “What is it, Klo?”
Klotonk gestured toward the blackness above. “Fly up, kill it. The giant will drop. Nothing will survive that fall, and we don’t have to risk our lives fighting it.”
“That’s brutal!” Dagon snorted. “I like it.”
I shrugged, defeated. “Fine.”
I stepped inside the tremendous room, the sound of gold pieces sliding down their piles as our footfalls shifted their position. I changed into a giant eagle, clutching the chipmunk in my talons. With a beat of my wings, I soared upward, my keen eyesight taking in the expanse of treasure. I couldn’t help but notice the bizarre platform that stood alone between the mounds of gold.
I circled higher and higher. I was so distracted with my task, I almost didn’t see the gargantuan red maw that materialized as if from thin air. It opened wide, and I veered, but not fast enough. I felt the teeth snag against my wing, biting down hard.
With a cry, I dropped my form, and the chipmunk tumbled out of my hands. I fell, then slammed into a pile of gold somewhere on the second floor. Dazed, I could hear my party shouting out, but the sound of a dragon roaring made me come to my senses.
In Giant, something growled a threat nearby.
Oh. Shit.
With thunderous steps, the former chipmunk now giant got to its feet. He looked battered, but very capable of breaking all my bones. It turned and spotted me, its lips parting in a snarl.
My mind raced with dozens of ideas, but I settled for one that ensured I might actually survive long enough to see my friends again. Before the dragon killed us, I mean. I let the giant approach me menacingly, and it took its sweet time. It probably believed fear kept me rooted against this uncomfortable pile of gold. That bought me enough time to complete my spell.
The fire giant roared, and swung its fist. An earth elemental sprang up in front of me, and intercepted the blow.
“Um, kill the giant. Thanks!” I ordered the elemental who wrestled with the giant in a titanic brawl.
I slipped past them both, and glanced over the railing. There, on the no longer empty platform, a humongous red dragon was locked into combat with my friends. Two fire giants were at its side, and a peculiar mage in a red dragon mask was standing beside it. To my surprise, the dragon was chained to the dais. The mage raised his hand, and the red dragon obeyed, spewing molten hot flames in my party’s direction.
Recklessly, I lept off over the banister, and tumbled down a mountain of gold. Treasure toppled over me in a cacophony of clinking noises. Staggering to my feet, I peered around the pile. The dragon was looking my way.
I ducked behind the mound just as flames rushed by me.
That’s really hot. Squeezing my eyes shut, I tried to forget the feeling of burning alive.
When the licking flames stopped, I sprinted past, diving from pile to pile, carefully making my way over to the group. The room resounded with the sound of spells, explosions and roars.
I heard Yaup shout, “Slicer! Get back here. Slicer! COWARD!”
The dragonborn was gone, but that didn’t stop us from trying.
It felt like a game of cat and mouse, the most dangerous variant possible. Where we dared, we poked out into view, arrows and spells flying. We were met with scorching breath that singed our limbs, or the sweep of a spiked tail that battered us away like dolls.
As I lay panting against a melting pile of gold, I could hear the fire giants lumber close. They had nothing to fear from dragon fire as they attempted to draw us out of hiding. Behind a neighboring mound, I heard Dagon yell furiously, the sound of his maul hitting home. Then I watched him fly by, thrown back twenty feet.
My elemental bellowed victoriously from the second floor, and I caught just enough to see it killed the fire giant. Then the dragon wreathed it in flames, and I watched my elemental disintegrate into ash.
Well, that frees me up a bit. One ally down, but I could now cast without concentrating on keeping the elemental bound to this plane.
I slid into cover beside the heaving Yaup. He was covered in burns, but his eyes never lost focus.
“Bait them?” I asked the half-orc, indicating a mound in the distance.
The cleric of Kord knew no fear. With a cry, he barreled across the room, drawing enemy attention like a beacon.
I stepped out into view and glanced up at the space above the platform. I began uttering the familiar spell that had drawn the wrath of the last dragon I faced on the battlements of Illium. Dark storm clouds materialized over the red dragon. I had just enough time to call down a crackling bolt of lighting before the dragon swung his head around and sucked in his breath.
A thundering boom split the air. Grinning arrogantly, I didn’t notice the giant that crept up behind me and knocked me out cold. In brief moments of clarity, I glimpsed parts of what transpired. I was held, leaning against a sweltering leg, on top of the platform. The giant. Then blackness. I came to again quickly, and could faintly hear the sound of an unfamiliar man speaking. Maziel answered. I caught the fuzzy outline of my friends lined up in front of me, before the dragon. Then I was out again for another few seconds.
When I came around a third time, I caught the gist of the conversation. Truce? The notion filled me with fury. I glanced up vaguely, and found my storm was fading. I concentrated, letting it billow back up to full strength.
“Do you agree?” The man asked from behind the mask.
“Not a chance!” I shouted, and called down a lighting bolt between us. The boom was deafening, and the blast knocked all but the giants back. I sprawled across the platform, and the dragon glanced down at me. For the first time, I noticed the clouded white eyes.
Is he controlled? It was the only thought I had before I shifted into a tiger and barely avoided the snapping teeth. I bolted back into the maze of treasure.
“TAELIM!” I could hear Maziel swearing my name. Part of me wanted to think there was concern in the cry. That or annoyance for ruining the parley.
Combat resumed with a vengeance.
Ducking between gold hills, I called down lightning bolt after lightning bolt. The mage, who had spent the majority of his concentration on casting and countering spells with Klotonk, finally faltered. Lightning crisped his form, and that was all the time we needed. An arrow from Maziel took the mage in the chest, and Klotonk quickly finished him with an icy blast of arcane magic.
The mage toppled.
Immediately, the fire giants spun around.
The dragon roared, wrestling violently against his chains. One of the fire giants lunged for the mage, taking him into his arms. Both giants then ran from the room as I continued to call lightning down on them. We didn’t chase.
When they were gone, the room fell silent. The red dragon stared down at us, the golden orbs of his furious gaze focused on us. In two movements, his powerful limbs broke the chains that bound him to the platform. Soundlessly, smoke drifted from his nostrils as we just gaped, unmoving.
With a boom, he dropped lazily to his belly, shaking the room. Treasure crashed in the distance, pieces spilling to the floor before eventually stilling.
“I’ll kill the rest of them later,” the dragon said in a deep voice, his golden eyes darting to the doorway the giants ran through. He turned back to us. “I’d normally kill trespassers, but it just so happens you killed my keeper. Name your boon, then begone from here before I kill you too.”
Only now did we all glance around at each, mouths still open, bodies heaving with exhaustion. We quickly explained our goal, leaving out the intent to kill him. Turns out, the mage had commanded him to place the spell on Solstice. Who the mage was, we didn’t know. For now, all that mattered was that the dragon shattered the time loop.
We didn’t waste another day in Solstice. We only stopped to retrieve the Magus of Myth, and he brought us to Illium at once. Even he couldn’t hide his disbelief. We were alive, we had broken a century old spell, and we were going home. That was the start of a long needed rest.