Exhausted after the unending kobold battle, we all headed back down the corridors to the marble door with the dragons. As much as we needed a break, everyone agreed that it was maybe not the best idea to relax outside the doors where all the kobolds had disappeared behind. Along the way we met up with Meepo, cowering by his bedroll.
Once again, Meepo related his tale of woe about Calcryx. We found out the dragon has a blue, grey-white color, and also that some of our number think that Meepo should come along with us.
“Oh, no,” I said. “Absolutely not. We are not taking this guy with us into an incredibly dangerous exploration.”
All he would do is just slow us down. We didn’t know if he was working for the kobolds or not, and even if he wasn’t, he’d be one more thing for us to protect. It wasn’t worth it.
“Meepo raised Calcryx,” Meepo said, voice catching like this dragon had been the one bright spot in his sunless, grimy life and now it was gone. “He was my job. To raise Calcryx.”
And whatever. Maybe I come off as heartless, but it wasn’t like I didn’t know how that felt. Your whole life revolves around this one thing and then one day it’s gone. Sometimes you love something so much that losing it destroys you.
And sometimes you destroy yourself to avoid losing something you love.
“I–ugh.” I scowled at the ceiling. “Okay, fine, he can come.”
Along the way back, Zeno played us an inspiring tune to help us relax. Except maybe he was super tired or his bagpipes were broken from the fight, because it really was not very inspiring and kind of sounded eerie. No one wanted to be mean and tell him to stop, though, since it looked like he was trying hard to do something helpful but we all sort of wished he would.
“Just something to consider,” said Harry as we finally reached the dragon door to set up camp, “but the next situation may not be punch-out-able.”
“You don’t say.” I snorted, then bandaged my wounds and settled in for a quick nap.
I woke up to the pleasant sound of Meepo throwing rocks against a wall and immediately regretted my moment of weakness.
Harry woke up too, just as groggy, but instead of the physical violence I was starting to consider, he said, “Hey, Meepo, are you hungry?”
The kobold looked up. “Meepo always hungry.”
Digging through his gear, Harry pulled out a ration and handed it to him. It was hardtack and some cured meats, and the kobold inspected it for a moment before hurling the bread at the wall and going to town on the meats.
“Much better than rat,” Meepo said between bites.
“Congrats, Harry,” I said, “you’ve got taste.”
Once we were all awake again, we headed toward the marble dragon door. “Meepo never seen this door before,” the kobold said, now sated.
“Good news, buddy, you’re about to.” Harry replied, and we opened the door.
Or rather, Helli opened the door. And okay, it was pretty epic. The marble pulled in to fill the space around the hole, and then there was a puff of smoky mist and dust, like the door hadn’t been opened for a very long time. Beyond it was a large room with three pedestals with broken crystal orbs by one wall, and the soft tinkling sound of some strange music filled the air. almost like wind chimes.
Helli, Zeno, and Awk ventured in to investigate while Harry and I hung back with Meepo and Felegum. According to them, there was a fourth, unsmashed orb on the opposite wall where the music was coming from. When Awk tried to lift it using a piece of cloth, the music amplified and they all sped out of the room, filled with dread.
“What have you done?” Zeno yelled as he sprinted out.
“I don’t know!” The gnome yelled back. He kept running down the hall and out back presumably to the main cavern, and for a moment I thought I could almost hear tiny birdsong filtering down from where he was.
I sat there, kind of dumbly. Magic is not really my strong suit, and whenever it’s gotten me into anything good it’s also come with a load of trouble. Helli, meanwhile, came up with this idea to use ear coverings to navigate through the room, and when she and Felegum went back in, they appeared to work.
Zeno seemed to be pretty familiar with ear coverings as well. “Of course I am. They help on stage, darling,” he said before waltzing into the music room.
Then things got a little dicey when Felegum tried to hit the unbroken, sinister music sphere with a ray of frost. Awk picked up one of the other broken spheres and threw it at him just in time to disrupt his concentration. The frost missed the unbroken orb, and the broken one that Awk threw at Felegum missed him and shattered.
Harry and I watched it unfold from the threshold.
“The one day I decide to try patience,” the dragonborn said. “I understand your angst, young Set.”
I don’t know if anyone will ever be able to understand me, but I appreciated the sentiment.
Harry and I covered our ears as well, left the musical orb unmolested, and I opened the next door. I didn’t see any traps, no secret catches or weird things in the frame, no seams. It opened just fine onto a corridor beyond.
I barely had enough to notice the slit in the ceiling when a giant scythe swung down at me. I dodged, years of close calls back home coming in handy. Helli was small enough that she didn’t trip the pressure plate that set it off, and together we disabled it so the heavier members of the party could cross.
This left the problem of bringing Meepo along.
Zeno held out a piece of jerky and stood in the threshold of the orb room, which Meepo walked over to and accepted, and then Zeno scooped him up. I think they made it about halfway across before Meepo ran straight out.
Meanwhile, I walked through the scythe corridor and into the next room, which was covered in dust, almost like snow. My shoes left a trail of footprints behind me as I approached a dragon statue that looked like it too had been carved out of the same red-veined marble as the door. I held my breath, for moment caught in wonder.
Then it spoke:
“We come at night without being fetched. We disappear at day without being stolen. What are we?”
And for the first time in a long while, I felt a smile creeping over my face. I remembered cool desert nights from a rooftop back home, with an immaculate glittering sky spread out above me.
“It’s stars,” Felegum said from behind me. “Sorry.”
“Yeah.” I replied. A door in the wall opened to reveal another room, this one with untouched violet stone tilework, an abrupt change from the dusty affairs of the rooms before.
There were six alcoves along the walls, each with a humanoid figure in them in the same red-veined marble as the dragon statue and the door had been. They appeared to be wearing plate armor and seemed almost elven.
Somehow, Felegum managed to get Meepo past the orb room and our group walked through this hall of champions to the end, where there was a ten foot hole, the bottom lined with spikes. Above the hole was an archway with runes in Draconic:
“A dragonpriest entombed alive for transgressions of the law still maintains the honor of his position.”
Beyond that, we couldn’t see anything. It was just really dark in there, I guess. Felegum found a passageway behind the statue and he and Helli checked it out. It turned out to lead into another small empty room (surprise), which brought us into the archway room through another door. This time, we could see clearly back out into the corridor with all the statues. Weird.
Inside this new room was a sarcophagus with a single torch burning on it, emitting a blueish light. It was held shut with six latches, and carvings and paintings of dragons adorned the room’s walls. Zeno bowed and Awk touched his forehead in a respectful manner. Why? I have no idea. It’s not like whatever’s buried in here is going to know.
And if it does, then I doubly don’t want anything to do with it.
Which is why it utterly boggled me why Awk thought it would be a great idea to pry open the sarcophagus. He said that maybe the dragonpriest would reward us for rescuing him. One: probably the dude is long gone. Two: anything that gets buried alive is not going to be something that will emerge happily when unburied. This is basic stuff.
Someone in the party knew about rumors of an old fortress in the area aligned to dragonpriests and the weird things that happened there. Apparently, they were full-sized dragons who were priests of Tiamat.
Like I said, best to just let that stay buried.
We had a whole to-do over this giant coffin and eventually Awk let it be. He totally wants to go back and unleash the dead thing, though. He didn’t say it, but sometimes you can just tell.
Anyway, luckily self-preservation prevailed on that one and we left the creepily untouched corridors for another day. Zeno played us a jaunty tune as we headed back to the main corridors and explored more of the rooms there. One room we opened contained a massive stockpile of rotting dragon food…and a massive stockpile of rats.
The rats stared at us. We started at the rats. And then they all streaked out toward us in one mass of tiny bodies. I tried to stab them, but they were too fast and I couldn’t skewer any. Weirdly, Awk was upset by this and tried to talk to them. Supposedly they said “we are so hungry” but that feels kind of like the thing Awk would just make up anyway.
We ran into a couple rooms with fountains in them, and then another room with five more smaller sarcophagi. I was all for leaving them like we’d ditched the other one until we found a small altar at the back. It was made out of obsidian and on it was a small whistle shaped like a dragon and a flask of liquid.
It was stupid. I knew that. No one just leaves things out in a place like this unguarded.
And I was going to leave it. But we were here because of an apple that cured people. And if there was the chance that this flask was a healing potion–
I took it.
And that’s when skeletons popped out of each of the sarcophagi.
Awk had left the room, because he didn’t support my rat-killing attempt, and Helli took advantage of the moment to pocket the dragon whistle. Harry punched some skeletons, I beheaded one, Helli used her daggers to great aplomb, Zeno mocked some of them, and Felegum frosted others.
After getting lightly chewed out by Awk, the party continued to follow the rats up the hall until we reached some stables. Stables that were, unfortunately, filled with giant rats’ nests.
“Ah,” said Harry. “The little rats led us to big rats.”
“Thanks, Awk,” Felegum said. “This is great.”
But somehow Awk was able to convince them to let us pass. There was more speaking in Rat, presumably, and then he threw them some of his rations. And this actually worked: we were able to pass without having to fight.
Meepo continued to come with us, as usual talking about missing Calcryx and being happy that we were going to get the dragon back for him. Except the more I saw of the dragon’s crampled living quarters with the kobolds and the spoiled meat that had been his food, the more of a bad taste I had in my mouth about returning him.
Helli nudged me and whispered, “Once we take Calcryx back, he can’t do anything.”
True. But what did that say about us, taking Meepo with us deep into dangerous territory and deliberately lying to him?
Ugh, I hate feelings.
Awk offered to heal me after the battle with the skeletons for the flask, but I turned him down. I’ve had a lot of people run out on me in crises and come back when the danger’s past, asking me if I’m okay. I’ve survived a lot on my own. And he’s dead wrong if he thinks I don’t have a few more tricks left up my sleeve.
Also, he was really not letting go of the dragonpriest thing.
Even so, I had to admit that him changing into a rat and investigating a store room was pretty useful. He did go through a fountain’s pipes for a while, which was bizarre, but when he decided to go under the door as a rat and came back a while later holding a signet ring, that was pretty cool.
What was less cool was that the ring had “Karakas” engraved on it, which was the name of the tracker who had accompanied Sir Bradford and company down here a few weeks ago. According to Awk, the rest of the body was beyond the door but also gnawed on and guarded by giant rats. One of the papers that Awk managed to take with him also clearly showed the citadel we’re in, always a good sign.
From there, we crept back down the hallway, past the giant rats in the stalls that were still munching on Awk’s rations. Meepo was not looking too hot when we entered goblin territory, and that was before the arrows started flying at us.
But surprisingly, we were actually able to talk to the goblin who’d attacked us. His name was Golak and he said that he’d brought the last group of adventurers down to see the apple. We couldn’t go to the tree–figures– but we could see someone named Derrnen instead.
“He made us steal that stupid dragon from the kobolds.” Golak spat.
Zeno nodded. “Yeah, they were annoying.”
“Annoying like you.”
I shook my head. “Off to a great start here.”
Harry shrugged serenely. Patiently, you could even say. “Sometimes you need to walk into the bramblebush to know it has thorns.”
Awk gave the goblin a gold coin and in exchange Golak shared how Derrnen made them kill and hunt for their colony. Sounds like a real winner, that guy. Since it was getting late, we decided to put off the goblins for another day, escorted Meepo back to his bedroll, and headed back up to the surface to camp for the night. We found a tidy little spot by a river and close to the trees, set up watches, and slept.
I don’t like trees. They’re unnerving and keep you from seeing the sky at night.
We fell asleep to a crescent moon. Zeno had taken the dawn shift so that he could play us a rousing bagpipe tune to the rising of the sun, and when I woke up I thought that something must have just gone horribly wrong again with his musicality.
Instead, a giant bramble monster was attacking us.
“I can’t open doors, I can’t choose camping spots,” Felegum said miserably.
I rolled out of my bedroll and grabbed my weapons. “This is why I hate nature!”
Zeno had summoned fairy fire to dance along the monster, and it was wreathed in a purple glow as it made a fist and swung it toward him. “Is that all you got?” Zeno taunted back, his words gaining a dark edge. “You better leaf!”
The monster’s leaves withered slightly.
And so we fought, without even eating breakfast: Harry punching it wherever a throat might conceivably be, Awk with torch antics, Felegum putting it on ice, and Helli trying her best but not really being a morning person. At the end, I sliced it in half with my shortsword. “This,” I grunted and pulled my blade free from the wood. “This right here is why I hate trees.”
Awk poked at the deceased branches with his boot. “I’m pretty sure these things only form if there’s black magic nearby.”
For a split second, I could have sworn Zeno looked uncomfortable. But then the light shifted and he was back to his usual smiling self, serenading us as we ate a delayed breakfast. Harry insisted we take our time and evaluate the situation thoroughly before acting. “I’m trying to set a good example for the rogue.”
“That was one time.” I scowled, hand closing over the flask from the altar in my pocket. I may not need a magic apple to fix things after all. But until I know for sure, I’m not about to let a chance slip through my fingers. “Also,” I narrowed my eyes at him, “you’re not my dad.”
Harry gave another of his serene, monastic shrugs, and we set off once again to the citadel.