Damn, damn, damn it to the Abyss and back. I cannot afford, I cannot risk becoming known. That was the whole point. You would think – wouldn’t you? – that being assigned to a joke unit like this would be the best possible luck. Whatever god looks over me now has a grim sense of humour.
Our Otyugh safely aboard, we accompanied the caravan north to the dwarven town. I was not (and still am not) looking forward to arriving. We were joined by a painfully mysterious figure named “Veritas” who – we were told – was one of “The Six”. The mightiest non-dragon servants of The Platinum One, who report directly to Himself.
An imposing figure – a tall human, perhaps, or a half orc. His wrappings made it difficult to say. The man (or whatever) himself had little to say to us. A blessing.
The first day or so was uneventful. We met a company who the other members of our unit knew from previously, and asked about the road ahead. The road was clear, but there was trouble at The Oasis (an important rest stop). Frog people – bullywugs. Distant cousins of the Kua-Toa, I believe, although far less fearsome. We also asked about the city itself. Politics as usual, it seems. When I say “we”, I mean that I prompted the knight to ask. I know better than to ask for myself.
It seemed that our journey was not to be as uneventful as we might have wished.
Approaching the oasis, the caravan driver hinted, suggested, circuitously put forward the proposition that it might be an idea to scout ahead. I don’t know why surfacers resort to this sort of “bullshit”, as they say. Our orders were to accompany the caravan and act as guards at the direction of the caravan master. Why not simply order us to scout ahead? Why not be direct, when you hold a position of authority? I will never understand them.
Some of us stayed with the otyugh, and I was with the group that scouted ahead. We numbered the cleric, the knight, the gnomish bard, the shaman and myself. The oasis pond was most certainly inhabited, and reeked. But nothing attacked. I believe the knight actually waded into the water (foolhardy in the extreme).
It was when the first few wagons of the caravan arrived that the bullywugs finally attacked. I will not give a blow-by-blow accounting. Much happened – it was a fight – but little worth describing in detail. This “Veritas” did nothing – simply watching the fight. I am certain that he was weighing us, taking note of our capabilities. We are not a regular unit, and he desired to sate his curiosity.
People got down to 3, but no-one died. It was a good night.
At the end, the final bullywug turned to flee, and then this “Veritas” acted – leaping after it and killing it. It was impressive, I admit: his speed and skill. Perhaps it was meant as a courtesy. He had seen us fight, so it was only fair that we see him. Perhaps it was meant as a warning. Either way.
The caravan watered and rested. I fed the otyugh some bullywug chunks. It actually mooed in contentment – a hideous, unnatural aberration, an offense to nature. And yet … . Perhaps it is that the thing is without guile. To take a rest from suspicion and treachery, to feed a thing that would as willingly strip the flesh from your arm as from the meat you feed it. I mislike being amongst people so much, especially people so strange as these surfacers. Tossing meat to an otyugh is a respite.
We continued on.
And again, my hopes for an uneventful journey were cruelly disappointed by a hostile fate. Not halfway into the next day we were witness to an aerial fight between a gold and a red dragon. It is difficult to be unmoved by such a spectacle. They flew and turned and twisted in the air, faster than eye could follow. These surfacers are fools to worship them as gods, and yet for a moment I too knew awe. They fell to earth and shook the ground. This “Veritas” ran off to the place where they had fallen. Of all I had seen (I had seen little, in truth), this said most about his ability. Only a fool or someone of great skill and power indeed would suppose himself able to make any difference to such a fight, and he was probably no fool.
But the dragons took wing again, and the red struck the gold a fatal blow. At this
Ah. I see that I have not mentioned the ballista. One of the wagons in our caravan carried an engine of war – a siege crossbow. At the sight of the red dragon’s victory, our caravan master ordered the ballista assembled and armed. In a few minutes, the red dragon came for us. Bleeding heavily, near death, its wings tatters, but still dangerous. They shot the ballista at it and missed.
Even with Brinjin helping to cock the device it still takes several seconds. Our shaman, in a display of madness or brilliance, approached the dragon, set down his bedroll as if to camp. He summoned his familiar. I – our situation was impossible. I called the trees to entangle the dragon with their roots. Normally a laughable, but this one was so near death from its battle with the gold that the earth roots actually impeded it. They shot the ballista and hit. Incredible! The blow from it actually made an impression on the dragon, it rocked back from the impact.
We could see the dragon attempting to cough up a fireball, we could see it pulling against my earth roots as Brinjin and the others wildly re-cocked the weapon. Near death, but still a red dragon. I did what little I could, I called the winds to buffet it just as the ballista shot again. We both shot true.
And the dragon fell.
A moment’s silence, and then jubilation.
And butchery. We cut the carcasse into pieces and strew them so that beats who came to feed would not interfere with the road. We all of us in the caravan took its teeth, its claws, the membranes of its wings, the engines of its fire. Its bones we leave for the ants to clean, but they too will fetch a price.
Veritas would not suffer the body of the slain gold dragon to be treated thus, which is unsurprising. He approached me privately concerning –
Well, I will not say. Not even here. The only way to keep a secret is to keep it. My race understands this well, perhaps it is why he spoke to me. I can think of no other reason – I understand how the surfacers view us. And so I am burdened, not of my own choosing.
To the caravan, we are heroes. Dragonslayers. Everywhere they go they will spread the story, and it will become more exaggerated each time they tell it. The bard is writing songs (adapting existing ones, of course), and my name appears in them. What shall I do? It’s too late to kill him, too late to have him write only of the shaman and the re-cocking of the ballista.
I am going to have to carry a suicide dose at all times. What the spider priestesses will do, if they catch me, does not bear thinking of.