Calcryx unleashed a blood-curdling scream and something, or many somethings, skittered in the hallway. Thinking fast, Zeno fished through his pockets and held up the Light of Mystra.
“Look, Calcryx, we’ve been traveling a lot,” he said, throwing the Light up and invoking it into glowing. “We just wanted to make sure you were okay.”
Somewhere, I thought I could hear Helli slip into the darkness and invoke a familiar dagger. It did not feel very much like we were trying to make sure Calcryx was okay, but I guess maybe that’s because I was not the one Zeno had to convince.
Then Calcryx’s tail tightened on the tree and a curved wall of ice sprouted up from literally nowhere around Zeno, encircling and hiding him totally from view. It was several people high. Several Miltos high, even. “Show me what you have,” said the dragon behind the ice.
Harry, who had never met a wall he could not surmount, leapt at the ice barrier and used his darts as pitons to try to claw his way up it. And indeed, this wall was no match for him. He stood atop it at the ready in case of any draconic funny business.
“Let us leave in peace and we can talk business,” Zeno said, cool as an ice cube about the whole process. Like this was a regular Tuesday of having no escape route besides a thirty-foot wall or an ice dragon.
“You went back on your word,” seethed aforementioned dragon. “What makes you think you can be trustworthy?”
Again, she made some valid points here.
“There’ll be losses on both sides,” Harry warned from the ice wall. “Or we can leave in peace.”
The shadow of Calcryx stepped toward what I guess was the shadow of Zeno beyond the ice wall. “Give me what you carry and then we may talk.”
She probably took the Light of Mystra, yelled, and then dove into the dirt. I have never actually seen a dragon do that. I still haven’t, I guess.
To my mind, the problem with dragons was the flying part. Flying was hard; I should know. But no, here we had a litany of dragons doing weird shit. Nightscale had swum. And now this one was tunneling around like a mole. It seemed very not on-brand. Whoever had told me what dragons do had left out a lot.
Anyway, there was dirt everywhere and no dragon so I drew the logical conclusion. Felegum glanced behind us and drew a more useful conclusion at all the kobolds gathering, and readied some spell. Awk just walked away. I don’t know. Maybe he felt like he had done enough. That would be new.
It was about at this point that I realized that everything smelled delicious and was overcome by a desire to eat this food. And okay, in retrospect you might wonder: why would this seemingly street smart young man entertain shoving food into his mouth in a highly tense moment? But consider: that was pretty much what I did when running away or between staking out a particularly well-guarded item.
There was a scrabbling of claws in the hall and I gauged my options. Felegum had the right idea, I though. I called up my invisible Mage Hand and after a few attempts put my latest GSN purchase into it.
Lankin, seeing no more dragon and a lot of food, went to town on the food. It was commendable, his dedication to putting as much away as he possibly could. He was also going at it pretty fast, diminishing the food on the table at a preposterous rate.
“There’s lots of kobolds!” Helli called from somewhere beyond, probably more toward the door. “So many kobolds!”
She made a valiant attempt to negotiate leaving, but from what little I could, it seemed like most of them were intent on serving their underground master. Disconcertingly, this is about when a fog started to appear and spread from around the tree. It didn’t use to do that.
“What say you, dragon?” came Harry’s voice through the fog.
But it turned out not to matter because something huge erupted from the ground–presumably, our girl the dragon– close to Zeno and said in her usual icy tones: “What else can you offer me?”
Hard to believe, but Zeno was not made of endless magical items. “A lot of stuff,” he said, cryptically, “scattered around the world. We’re searching for–“
But Calcryx was not interested in future returns. “What can you give me now?” she asked.
This was about where the gravy train of bardic peace at last pulled into the station. And all its cars were empty.
“My word, good Calcryx,” Zeno said, “my word.”
She breathed out a cone of ice onto him and Harry.
“Then you get nothing, slave of greed!” Harry called, throwing something, it breaking, and then leaping and a disgruntled dragon noise.
Felegum, in the darkness ahead, summoned a terrible piercing sound like a note high enough to break glass. “Stay back, you dumbasses!” he called out at the lots of kobolds. “We’re gonna kill you all!”
It had been a while since Genocide Felegum had made an appearance, and I had missed it. Not like I was advocating for this or anything, but we’d been so hype on Felegum’s mapmaking skills for so long we’d also forgotten his predilection toward wholesale kobold slaughter. It was reassuring seeing it come back.
Ahead of me in a different direction, Awk moved into the fog. “Calcryx, cease this foolish violence!” He was speaking in Common, as was everyone including the dragon herself which was very considerate. “Let these creatures go in peace or it will mean the destruction of all dragons. Protect your charge, grow strong, and live long.”
I couldn’t see her or anything, but I was not surprised when nothing happened. Someone had told us before that dragons really liked being independent and superior and really hated other dragons. A tiny minion-esque little dude telling her what to do and threatening her with the deaths of her enemies seemed…optimistic.
Instead, I set my sights on the whatever that was going to make fighting her difficult, and that seemed to me to be an excess of kobolds and whatever charging in from behind us. So, I used the Mage Hand to dump and uncorked bottle of the second installment of the Goblin Shopping Network’s finest toxic stink potion subscription service, and called out, “The goblins send their regards!”
Kobolds keeled over as a noxious and disgusting smell took hold. I was glad not to be involved in that.
Last, I took the opportunity to shove Kheryph into my boot. The last time we’d battled a dragon he’d nearly gotten melted to death and lizardicle was not a future I felt I could handle. “Stay in the boot, buddy,” I said sternly, and then felt like an asshole because he was doing a great job staying in the boot, since it was super warm.
Lankin punched a kobold in the face. The kobold, who had been manically eating, was at the same table that Lankin had set up shop at, and now that the attending kobolds were no longer replenishing the tables, food scarcity had set in. He still continued to eat.
Zeno said something like, “Foolish wyrmling, go back from whence you came!” and I was like, what, the ground again, but no, for a brief moment, the illusion of a cage shimmered into being around Calcryx, like the one that Meepo had shown us where she used to live. I let out a low whistle. Dang. That was pretty bad. Hit her right in the childhood trauma.
Calcryx thrashed about inside the cage, clearly rattled. Harry, I only saw flashes of, since he was also in the cage, on top of Calcryx’s head, desperately trying to hold on.
Behind me, I could almost hear the strains of Helli’s music box and shivered. Thankfully, it was far enough away that nothing happened. The fog sucked back into the tree and I could see Harry now clearly on top of Calcryx’s head whipping out a pair of manacles. “This place will be your prison!” he said. “We’ll be leaving now.”
And he leapt off Calcryx’s nose, though he got a little slashed as she thrashed in panic.
But then she didn’t. She squinted at the cage.
“Down, boy!” Zeno called, distracting her a moment.
Then she did it again, and realizing that it was an illusion, coiled back around the tree where she tried to rip the manacles off her mouth. Behind me there was a rush of water as no doubt Felegum was giving the kobolds hell.
Awk gave Lankin a stern magical talking to to stop eating and come follow him out, but Lankin just doggedly kept shoveling food into his mouth. At this point he’d demolished the entire table and was looking around for more food to eat. The kobolds he’d been competing with had given us, and he turned on a new, better stocked table.
“Milto, wherever you are,” I whispered as I lit up my wings and floated up five feet above ground, “stay safe.”
Things were about to get nasty.
And then the ceiling got very dangerous all of a sudden, because I guess there are flying kobolds now because as soon as I do something cool everyone has to imitate it. Anyway, I dodged a boulder, which was cool, but one also hit Zeno and he went down, which was less cool. Harry did grab a rock that someone had tried to drop on him and used it to whale on an adjacent kobold.
Throughout this chaos, Lankin was piling away a mess of food. He had once again cleared an entire table’s worth and had decked one kobold at a new table, attempted to deck another, and continued to steal their food at eat it.
The icy fog reappeared out of nowhere on Harry and me, but it seemed like our boots were the real deal– we didn’t look much worse for wear if at all for being in the fog. “Get the bard!” Harry yelled.
“Okay,” I replied. I had planned to do that anyway, but no problem.
It was at this point that I noticed people kept going back into the Stink Zone of my GSN potion. This baffled me, since it smelled pretty horrifying and the whole point of it was to not be where it was, but Harry gamely stepped into its radius, wrinkled his nose, and then let loose a spray of acid.
I was not sure if this was a power play or if he just got really sick, but either way: metal as hell.
Calcryx at this point was able to rip the chains off her mouth and exhaled in her own show of breathy dominance. “You violated the agreement!”
And then Felegum stepped out from the trees we’d been lurking behind, cast Tidal Wave, and brought Calcryx to the ground.
She lay there, absolutely prone and struggling.
Awk cured Zeno, because either he wanted to take my job or because he didn’t want to inflict violence on the dragon clearly menacing us or whatever.
At first, I was annoyed, because hell no, I did not want to go in there solo– but she was on the ground. When were we going to get another opportunity like this?
I went in. I struck with my shortsword and unhinged a few scales with a massive blow and then drove my dagger into the same spot. She was powerful, yeah, but not immortal.
We could do this.
Lankin even took a break from eating to smash Calcryx between bites. Then Zeno, newly conscious again, climbed onto a table and absolutely crushed it to bits because he became a mammoth and we had not yet encountered a table that could take a mammoth.
Helli emerged out of the fog and used her wand to nail the dragon with some magic missiles. Around us, the fog intensified and Calcryx’s eyes flashed white. Harry became lethargic and Calcryx took advantage of the moment to regroup, lash out at me and Lankin, and then flew back to curl around the tree, to the tune of about twenty-feet high.
Felegum unleashed a Shatter spell again on the dragon. And Awk became a bear.
I was thinking, awesome, bears, good at climbing trees, but he just stayed there.
So, hoping that this wasn’t going to be the stupidest thing I ever did, I flew up to the dragon and attacked. She was healing, perhaps thanks to the magic of the tree, and she looked at me like I was the world’s biggest dumbass when I swung twice at her and missed. I swore.
I was all alone and about to get very much crunched.
Kobolds around us threw projectiles, Mammoth!Zeno charging and attempted to gore the dragon through the tree, but it was kind of hard to do that with a flying target, and he trumpeted his frustration. Again, Helli went for the Magic Missile wand. The dragon remained upright.
Energy focused in on the tree, and below us skeletons rose from the ground. I knew exactly who they were and I was both super grossed out and really glad I was not anywhere on the ground. Harry had peaced back toward the door.
There was one perfect moment where Calcryx and I looked at each other, her glowing with frost and me the glimmer of an amber star. I had felt her body tremble when I’d driven in that dagger before. She’d been close, and she’d known it.
So I can’t really say I was all that surprised when she smiled at me, opened her mouth, and all I knew was ice and darkness.
I came to, covered in bear saliva.
You might wonder how I knew it was bear saliva. One: I was also away from the base of the tree and all the skeletons were gone, like a bad dream. Two: there a bear walking away ahead of us and I was slung over Harry’s shoulder. Zeno was back to being Zeno, probably just done with healing me. Three: my wings were still out, so it couldn’t have been too long.
I couldn’t imagine that Zeno would want me in his mouth, even if he was a mammoth, on the sheer principle of the thing. Calcryx I had eliminated from the pool of saliva contestants because she was totally gone. Like vanished. Banished? Maybe. Unsure on that one. But she’d made her feelings abundantly clear with a mouth full of ice for me.
So that left Bear!Awk or Harry. Pretty sure I could count Harry out.
Bear it was.
Lankin was still eating, but Zeno did a service to humanity and elven digestive tracts everywhere and calmed him the hell down. Helli, who was also with our ragtag group, used her bag of wind (this battle sponsored by the GSN) to attempt to blow away the ice fog ahead of us. I wiggled around and tried to convince Harry to put me down because this was embarrassing and spit was dripping into my eye.
The fog dispersed when I looked up and Helli triumphantly put her bag away. Amazing.
Then more of those damn stalactites fell and I was suddenly very grateful to be on Harry’s shoulder still, because he just knocked them out of the way like nothing. Then he put me down. “You good?” he asked.
I nodded and he moved off to scout ahead.
Behind me came the scrapping sound of a large creature clawing her way out of the dirt.
Many things clicked together in my head. The deal was off. There was nothing preventing her from leaving this place anymore. It would, eventually, become as much a cage as anything she’d been in before. Her presence was already affecting the outside of this place, and truthfully we had a history of making messes and walking away from them. I did not want to walk away from this one.
But even as she came up from the earth, I knew we weren’t in a position to deal with her now. We were tired and hurt, and we needed to leave and regroup.
Ahead in the darkness were sounds of kobolds being miserable in the Stink Zone and also some of my companions moving through the it. We were leaving.
A stalactite knocked Zeno out and so I healed him, thus completing the circle of life, and handed over one of my Potions of Healing to Helli, since it seemed like she was always managing to stay alive and probably could use it to avert disaster. I’d honestly intended to give it to her before the start of the battle, since I had a feeling that some bullshit would occur, but this was the next best thing.
Also, I palmed a piece of red fruit as I passed one of the tables. Sue me. I’d been unswayed but sorely tempted by those banquet tables all through the fight, and I wanted to know what was good enough to make Lankin rage-smash it into his face.
“I think Calcryx is back out,” I whispered to Helli and Zeno and also I guess Lankin. “We need to leave now.”
For some reason, the kobolds which were previously chill with us suddenly got super upset and whacked Lankin. Lankin, being Lankin and now fueled like crazy, whaled on them right back. Zeno looked into the distance, annoyed but not surprised.
In the distance, a familiar voice called out: “Fly, you fools!”
I smiled. Milto. He hadn’t dipped after all.
Zeno raced ahead, cleared his throat, and said in a surprisingly good imitation of Calcryx’s voice: “Bow, bow, before our guests and let them leave in peace!”
The messes of kobolds that I could see who were not a) barfing or b) dead cowered and supplicated themselves before the rest of the group as they passed. We should have used this strategy before, it was awesome.
Unfortunately, I had not been especially strategic in my placement of the Stink Zone. In my defense, I couldn’t even see where I was aimed with the Mage Hand or how big that hallway area even was. I just took my best guess and lo, the Stink Zone was formed.
I heard Helli threw up and winced. Behind me, there was a weird churning noise and a rustling of trees. Ahead, Harry punched something.
There was an ice wall around the tree, I should add. I had no idea when that had happened, but Calcryx burst through and curled around the tree. It reminded me of Kheryph almost, curled around my leg. I guess dragons and lizards weren’t that different. Kheryph had never tried to kill me, though, so I knew which I preferred.
She took a long look at us and a sheet of ice appeared beneath our feet. Zeno, ahead, swore and carefully maneuvered off the ice. Milto in the distance chanted some spell that hopefully would help us get out of here.
It was just me, alone, holding the gaze of this dragon. And in a way, there was this kind of battlefield moment of clarity, like “I, the person who nearly killed you, acknowledge you, the person who nearly killed me” between us, and then I used my wings and flew right over the ice and cast Sleep on the mess of kobolds that Awk was, for some reason, totally digging into as a bear.
Lankin dashed out, then Zeno as Milto held his concentration doing whatever it was he was doing, and Harry turned back to look at me like, “You’re flying out on your own,” as he too dashed off.
I did not look back to see Calcryx heal more: she was already looking in good health by the time I left her. Zeno threw up, magicked it away, and then ran to Milto’s line, as I flew there myself.
We were running away, again, from a dragon fight. Had we got what we’d come for? I didn’t even know.
A wall of some shimmery force erupted from the ground to the hallway’s top as soon as we were safely across. “Run!” Milto yelled at us. “I can only hold them for so long!”
I gritted my teeth. We may be on the run now, but I had every intention of going back.