“Another drow,” Nasti announces to her cousins. “Some kind of spellslinger. And two hobgoblin scrappers.”
The dark elf woman, just a voice in the darkness to Amaya and Nova, addresses the trio in Elven. “Well, this is interesting, maybe.”
“Maybe she wants to parlay,” says the tiefling.
The cousins advance a few steps until the hobgoblin guards are just visible to the cousins without darkvision. The goblinoids cradle crossbows and affect professionally bored expressions. “That’s far enough for now,” says the voice. “Who are you lot, then?”
“We’re here to see the gate,” says Nova.
“Heh. Presumably, you’ve killed the house guards – failed project after all – and the lizard-brained knights. You must want to see this ‘gate’ pretty badly.”
“We have come a long way,” agrees Nasti.
“You don’t look Surrinak,” muses the drow.
“Indeed we aren’t. I imagine you don’t look Surrinak either, though I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting either.”
“Well… You sort of did at the entrance.”
“Ah,” said the tiefling, briefly considering the implications of half-drow adults from the Surrinak bloodline. “I see. I’m Nasti. What should I call you?”
“We found our way here by way of Brelaggio,” Nova offers.
“Of course. Fool that he is. Was? Probably ‘was.’ It’s a little surprising that Darvyna could not keep him in line, but so it goes.”
“I was hoping things would go a little better with him. But I tend to agree with your opinion. How about you? Are you wiser than he was?”
Vicyavra laughs bitterly. “Debatable.”
“Would you allow us to pass?”
“Mm. I might. You’re interested in the gate, you said. Well, you might have to deal with the dragon first.”
“Hoo boy,” says Canter.
“Might be that you could solve that problem for us, and then we could both get something we want,” says the drow.
“Might be, might be,” says Nasti.
“So this dragon is preventing anyone from getting close to the gate?” asks Nova.
“It’s a problem, yes,” says Vicyavra.
“Can you tell us anything about it that might help us?” says Nasti, taking a couple of steps closer. The hobgoblins gaze at her steadily, crossbows held a bit more ready.
“And what is it that you want from this possible arrangement?” adds Nova.
“With the dragon gone, we could explore more of this compound, of course,” says the drow.
“Of course,” says Nasti. “Which way is it?”
“You can find the dragon to the north.”
“Much obliged. Shall we?”
The cousins walk past the hobgoblins and into the north hallway. Once they are a few steps down that passage, Nasti mutters, “I’m sure they’re going to turn on us as soon as we’ve dealt with the dragon.”
Nova ponders aloud, “So they have been here long enough to breed adult half-drow, while at the same time have managed to co-exist with a dragon that is not an ally. All those years and they haven’t managed to defeat it and it hasn’t managed to clear out its lair? Doesn’t make sense to me.”
The hall terminated in a pair of copper doors to the west and a burning demon arch to the east. Amaya pushed open the doors to reveal another large lozenge-shaped room. Four furry, rat-headed humanoids armed with hand crossbows stand within, facing north. Turned on its side in the middle of the room is a table surrounded by broken chairs and other debris. Nearby, a small lamp provides soft light. A red stone altar is set against the western wall, topped by a four-armed statue that has wavy daggers. Red stone streaked with purple makes up the walls, looking disturbingly like flesh.
Mosaic footprints emerge from the northern hallway, pass under the debris pile, and head out the door where the cousins stand.
“Wererats,” says Nasti in Elven.
“Oh, good,” says one of the creatures without really looking. “Reinforcements! The dragon seems hungr-” The speaker stops abruptly, realizing the cousins are strangers. “Who in the HELLS are you?” The other lycanthropes look between the women and the north exit.
“Today we are dragon exterminators it seems,” says Nova.
“Oh? Oh. Huh. Well, if you’re here to kill the dragon, welcome.”
“Yep. We’ll be out of your fur in no time,” says Nasti.
“Were you going to try to kill the dragon?” asks Amaya.
“Just tryna keep it back,” says the speaker.
“Well if we work together, we can probably take it down,” says the half-elf.
The wererats exchange dubious glances, and even Nova looks at her cousins in a ‘wait are we really going to try and kill a DRAGON?!?!’ kind of way.
“What can you tell us about it?” asks Nasti.
“About the size of a horse. Black scales. Ornery,” the speaker summarizes.
“Hmm. Got it.” She makes a show of thinking this over.
“You think we can convince it to leave?” Amaya asks her cousins.
“What is it doing?” asks one of the wererats, looking north nervously.
“Waiting to eat you, obviously,” says one of the others.
“Let’s see what we’re dealing with,” says Nasti. The cousins step into the room to get a better look, and the wererats give the cousins space. To the north they see two burnished copper doors lying in what used to be a doorway but now opens on another chamber. The north wall of the chamber past the broken doors appears to have collapsed, and the cousins don’t see or hear anything within.
Amaya cautiously approaches the fallen doors, but she is completely blindsided by the giant claws that suddenly reach around the corner to impale her. She coughs blood and staggers a step, and the wererats swear sympathetically. To the half-elf’s credit, she boldly steps into the chamber, drops her light, and brings her bastard sword to bear in a two-handed overhead chop that slashes through the sneaky dragon’s black scales. The dragon roars in pain and anger, and Amaya assumes a defensive stance.
It does nothing at all against the gout of acid that the dragon spews directly into her face.
The half-elf falls to the floor, and the dragon steps into the doorway to stand over her body, licking its fanged jaws. Eyes wide, both Nasti and Nova channel healing energy into Amaya, who gasps as she regains consciousness and the pain of her wounds returns. She crawls out from beneath the beast and regains her feet, raising her blade to defend with a bit less confidence than before. The dragon’s jaws snap on empty air, but one of its claws rakes Amaya’s side.
The dragon partially evades Nasti’s lightning bolt because she is shaken by its frightening presence. Similarly frightened, Nova instead focuses on pouring more healing into Amaya’s tortured body. Nodding thanks to her cousins, Amaya strikes the dragon again, though she is slapped in the side by its tail in retribution. Her follow-up stroke does no apparent damage to the wyrm, and she raises her sword defensively once more, which is not enough to fend off the dragon’s acidic jaws. Amaya feels her reflexes quicken as Nasti’s haste spell takes effect, and her pain lessens somewhat as Nova’s divine healing washes over her once more.
The half-elf evades the dragon’s tail as she slashes it again, then she rushes the wyrm, knocking it back a step, which is enough to allow her to retreat into the room with her cousins. Unfortunately, that is when the dragon spit a new line of acid, showering both Amaya and Nasti with the caustic liquid.
“Ooooh!” say the wererats. “You can do it! It’s bleeding!” Nasti ignores them and retreats into the eastern hallway and heals herself to a disappointed chorus from the lycanthropes.
Nova casts interstellar void on the dragon then crosses the room to follow Nasti, staggering a little under the weight of her oracle curse. Amaya joins her cousins in the hall and drinks a healing potion that Nasti had brewed the previous week. The dragon does not pursue them, but the wererats’ taunts are not aimed at the wyrm. The tiefling follows Amaya’s example, drinking a potion as well, and Nova casts more of her dwindling healing magic.
The half-elf then takes a breath to steel herself and rushes back into the hall to face the dragon once more. The wererats cheer as the half-elf exchanges blows – sword and tail – with the beast. Then something changes, and Amaya feels fear that has little to do with the monster before her. She catches a glimpse of a figure lurking in a dark corner of the room east of the dragon’s lair.
A spellcaster. Great.
Even magically frightened, Amaya still has the presence of mind to defend herself from the worst of the dragon’s next few attacks. “Half-elf! Half-elf!” the wererats chant.
“Damnation,” Nasti grumbles as she chases after her cousin to treat her wounds in the thick of battle. Nova calls upon the magic of her healing staff to prop Amaya up as she continues facing down both the dragon and the hidden mage. Unfortunately, the dragon figures out her routine and evades the half-elf’s flashing blade.
Another fear spell keeps Amaya’s mind preoccupied just as the dragon unleashes its breath for a third time, this time burning all three of the cousins. Nasti slumps to the floor behind Amaya, but she isn’t out long as Nova uses the last of her healing to restore the tiefling to consciousness. The dragon’s tail knocks Amaya off balance, and it is all she can do to remain standing under its continued assault. Then the dragon speaks, though Nasti is the only one who understands its jagged language.
“Persistent worms, aren’t you?” Nasti staggers to her feet and retreats back to the eastern hall again. The wyrm’s laughter follows her, and it effortlessly ducks Nova’s ray of frost.
Then the fear magic grips the half-elf’s mind completely, and her only thought is of escape. She flees the wererats room and rushes south into the darkened room where the drow woman waits with her hobgoblin guards.
“Not going so well?” asks the drow mildly. The fear recedes to a more manageable thing, but Amaya does not respond.
Back in the fight, Nova drops behind the table barricade and completely avoids the dragon’s next spray of acid. The wererats cheer her cunning. Nasti rushes back into the room to Nova’s side and lashes out at the dragon with an electric arc, but the magic barely touches it.
“Back for more, runaway?” says the dragon.
“I was not gifted with much sense,” the tiefling replies.
“Come, then. Break your magic upon my scales.”
“What are you doing?” Nova demands as her next magical ray flies past the dragon.
“I can’t leave you here to die, because you’d give me SUCH a haunting,” says Nasti.
“Gooo! I’m right behind you!”
Amaya staggers back into the room with her sword raised, though she feels too wounded to risk attacking the dragon within reach of its punishing tail. Then she looks to the nearest wererat and says, “Hey, can I borrow your crossbow?” The lycanthrope nods and hands the weapon over along with some bolts. She lets her sword fall and takes up the smaller weapon.
The dragon holds its ground, clearly content to wait for its foes to come to it again. Nasti snarls and releases another electric arc that seems to sting the wyrm more than her previous attempts. The dragon growls, clearly surprised by this development, then turns to flee, ducking Nova’s next spell and Amaya’s poorly aimed crossbow bolt.
Nasti pursues, launching a ray of frost after her quarry and wondering briefly about the apparent chapel it has fled into. Nova moves into the hall and calls after her cousin, “Nasti, get back!” Amaya joins the tiefling in the room and retrieves her light, trying to toss it into the next room to illuminate her enemies. Unfortunately, her wounds are too severe and the magical torch lands in a corner.
As the wounded dragon flees toward a narrow tunnel in the northeast of the chapel, a snake-headed humanoid wielding a staff leaps out to stand between you and the wyrm. “Leave and I will spare your lives,” he says in Common. “Don’t and perish.”
Nasti growls and takes a step forward anyway, but faster than that, the snake-man brings his staff down beneath the demon arch and flames erupt within it, decisively separating the two rooms. Amaya exchanges a glance with the tiefling, swiftly retrieves her everburning torch, and returns to the wererats’ room.
“What? That’s it?” says a wererat. “I’m keeping this sword, then.”
“It’s leaving,” says Nasti. “That’s what we were asked to do.”
“She said you were gonna exterminate it,” says the speaker, pointing at Nova.
“We aren’t giving up,” says the human. “Just regrouping. We’ll be back. And she’ll need her sword. Please give it back?”
Amaya glares menacingly at the wererat with her sword, who looks cowed, but his companions all raise their hand crossbows at the heavily wounded half-elf. She relents, furiously following her cousins out into the hall.
“They have to sleep sometime,” Nasti mumbles.
At the edges of Amaya’s magic light, the cousins see the drow woman shake her head as they go past. “Pity.”
“Day isn’t over yet,” says Nasti without much confidence.
The dark elf’s disdainful gaze takes them all in. “Looks pretty over.”
“Still, you should see the other guy,” the tiefling mutters.
“Sure, sure. You know your way out, yeah? Up the stairs and out the fireplace? Good girls.”