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.
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.
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.