Back to the Keep
We quickly gathered our wounded along with the unconscious Teken’und Priestess. Nathaniel sweept the confiscated items into a sack; they can be analyzed later. I keep hold of the house insignia for now.
Back on the Ironclad airship, we speed back toward the ruined keep. We have more reason than ever to return quickly. Olt advises us that the items and information from the slain dwarven envoy remain in the hall where the battle was fought. Now, we must secure that position from any further sorties. The chasm gave me a bad feeling from the first time I saw it and now I regret to say that my intuition was correct; It may continue to be a problem. Exelar tends to Lazarus while we traveled, I assume partially as a distraction against being on the airship again. In a stroke of luck, the huntsmen has not been fatally poisoned. However, the multitude of bites that he took will render him a bit shaky until he can get a proper rest and let his system purge the venom.
The others seem largely well, also. Although Seifer seems even more agitated now that we have both an exorcised Trask and a drow highborn, both alive and in our custody. From his occasional quiet mutterings, I get the distinct impression that he would have preferred a simpler situation where he could have simply executed them on the field we didn’t need to keep them captive. I don’t entirely disagree with him. This is more challenging to work with, but also presents us with additional opportunities. I decide to keep that opinion to myself, for the moment.
As the ship docked next to the keep, I let Exelar know that I needed to speak to him urgently. Walking to an empty hallway, I brought out the house insignia from the raid leader. Explaining the insignia’s use in drow society, I translated the symbols and let him know that this was from House Teken’und; from Xar’eth’s house. That means that she was from the same house. Xar’eth had been fairly straight forward about being on the surface to gain power and return to avenge his defeated house. This could have been her purpose, or part of it, as well. It also has implications about where her raiding party came from, despite her house resources being scarce. He began to think this over and ask a question, when Kroenen came around a corner.
It was time, he said to discuss the future of the Cascades, his men, and the Watchmen. Of course this needed to happen, but the timing was inconvenient. As we three walked back through the ruin to the main hall, Exelar and Kroenen debated who would be needed in this conversation as well as what we needed to do in light of the drow raid.
Ultimately, Nathaniel, Caleb, and myself were left back to investigate the source of the raid. Kroenen had left a squad of his men, archers, to assist. We set them under Caleb’s command and lined them up to guard the cliff edge. As we parted from the others and moved to search the best path down into the chasm, a runner came up. After taking position at the precipice, one of them claimed that there was a dragon clinging to the cliffside, listening in on the activities in the keep.
Down the Walls
At almost the same time as the runner’s report, I heard something like the crunching of stone and Caleb cried out that the dragon was taking flight down into the rift. Not wanting to lose track of the beast, and relying on the cloak I obtained from Hershel, I burst into a run and leapt from the cliff into the chasm.
As I descended, I spotted the dragon. As they make their home in the long dark, it is familiar to me. It was a small one, rather, it was maelthra. No less a danger, but less difficult to manage than if it were older. As I lost altitude, the moonlight faded and my darksight took over. I took that moment to use the magic of the cloak and become a small bat.
The transformation is one that I am still not accustomed to. Newly acquired from Hershel, he had instructed me in the basics of it’s use, including the transformation ability. But when I asked him how he adjusted to the new form and senses of the bat, he simply shrugged and said, “You just do.” Having done it now, it’s as fair a description as you can give to someone that hasn’t. If you could imagine growing from a small child to a grown person, but in moments rather than years, and in this case in reverse, it would be a start. As my bones shrunk and twisted and as my skin tightened, the bat’s senses took over and I began to hear, rather than see, my surroundings.
I sensed the dragon, still in front of me, diving straight down. Then I heard a change. It was folding out its wings, slowing it’s descent. In an instant, it went horizontally straight into the far wall. I unfurled my own own wings to halt myself and fluttered around where it had disappeared. Quickly I discovered that there was a circular hole that went straight back into the rock. The dragon must have shifted forms when it dove in. Not wanting to stress the magic of the cloak, I returned to my normal shape and took up a perch, waiting for Nathaniel to arrive.
As I waited, sitting on the lip of a dragon den, I could see that I fairly close to the floor of the basin. Not far beneath my feet, a shifting mist obscured sight of the ground, though the thin shifting gasses would sometimes grant glimpses. What I could clearly see though, were the skeleton-like remains of ships that thrust above the mist line. With everything that had gone on in the city above, I’d forgotten that the entire ravine had been a full lake before the cataclysm that struck the old empire. The vista had a beauty of its own, one that I’d almost forgotten since emerging into the sunburned lands of the northern desert. My reverie was broken with Nathaniel’s appearance.
And Back Up
Floating down through the dark on threads of magic and wearing the face mask taken from the drow raid-leader, he resembled nothing quite so much as an awkward orbben bobbing on a silken thread. He glanced over and waved a greeting as he passed me – the mask must provide him with sight down here – and then descended into the fog, with only several soft swirls to marks his passing.
Nathaniel’s new familiar remained above the mist, performing slow circles. It’s a small species of dragon, perhaps two arm spans long and deep red, almost purple in color. I don’t know much about them, but one of the archmages at the sorcere had one. I’m unsure when he bound it. I feel that they took some amount of knowledge and power to summon, so perhaps it had something to do with the Spire back at the Rise. Though small, it wasn’t young, and seemed to have a breadth of knowledge about the basin ranges. It also enjoyed sassing Nathaniel, which I can appreciate.
Waiting for the wizard to reappear, I turned to inspect the mouth of the dragon’s lair in which I sat. It receded straight into the mountain from the cliff face. It wasn’t as wide as my arms spread out. Touching the walls, they were smooth, but bumpy or bubbly, as if the stone had melted like wax. This made sense if this was indeed a deepfall dragon. The famous destructive breath of all dragons was a corrosive gas in the deep ones. Used in close, it could have carved out this tunnel by dissolving the very stone. This creature could be trouble if left to its own devices.
Putting thoughts of the serpent aside, I glanced out in time to see Nathaniel rocket up from the misty depths. His voice altered by the mask he wore, he quickly spilled out a description of what he had found. In addition to the hulks of rotting ships, he’d found bones of creatures large and small littering the chasm floor. He confirmed that the gases swirling below were indeed toxic. This was likely the reason that the lair in which I sat was positioned where it was. He’d also located a high concentration of humanoid skeletons. Apparently they were in a rough ‘v’ pattern with the narrow end originating in a fissure in the rock of the city side cliff. Searching the concentration of bones, he found a corroded piece of jewelry that he now handed over to see if I could recognize anything about it. Despite the regional differences in style and stamp, I know immediately what it was: an insignia of House Teken’und. The bodies were Xar’eth kinsmen, driven from the depths into the poison mists of the rift. This is what he was referring to when he said that his house had been driven from it’s position in his home city. They were driven up into death, here below the Cascades.
I told him what it was and what I suspected that its presence meant, when I heard movement coming from behind me. I shoved the insignia in a pocket, looked to Nathaniel, and said, “Fly. Now!”
In only moments, the sound from the tunnel had increased in volume. What was a whisper was now a rush wind pushed in front of an oncoming wyrm. Nathaniel had begun to rise upward. I activated my cloak’s own flying magic and pushed up off of the tunnel’s edge. As I caught up to the frazzled spellcaster, I again urged him to hurry up, that the dragon was on its way. For a moment, he looked as though he were flipping through a book in his head, and then he stopped to look at me, saying “I could just teleport out of here…”
“Do it!” I yelled and willed the cloak to carry me back up to the surface as rapidly as it could. Glancing back down, I saw Nathaniel disappear in a clap of collapsing air just as the dragon burst forth from its burrow. It’s form shifting as it burst out, it stretched it wings, let out an echoing bellow, and surged upward toward me.
I bolted up, urging the cloak even more, pushing it to the limits of the magic. For a short moment, I imagined that I felt the toes of my boots brush off of scaly hide as I surged upward. Hearing its deep intake of breath, I anticipated what was coming. I spun and dropped to the side as it the dragon exhaled a cloud of acidic vapors, enveloping the space I occupied only moments before.
I burst through the remaining trails of the dispersing cloud and soared toward the keep and the cadre of archers that sat upon its edge. The entire way up, I dodged and zagged to avoid the snapping maw of the great beat that I could hear just beneath my feet. Though it felt as though this continued for indeterminably, it took less than minute to see open sky and the broken edges of the precipice keep come into view. As the lip of the chasm came closer, I heard something buzz past me, down and to my side. It was an arrow. They were beginning to rain down from above. I could hear Caleb barking commands to the men that Kroenen had left above.
Not slowing down, I continued to barrel upwards. In a flash, I broke past the edge of the ground’s level and shot into the air above the keep. Taking a chance, I slowed and turned back in time to see the dragon just breach the level of the keep and then dive back down to the depths to avoid the volleys of the bowmen. Spotting Caleb, I dropped down near him and caught my breath. He asked if I was alright and checked that I wasn’t clipped by any arrows. I nodded that I was fine and then he started looking around for something.
Not finding it, he asked, “Where’s Nathaniel?”
My eyes widened as I asked, “Wait, you mean he’s not here?”