The Dragon's Demand

Making a Splash
Sofie's Journal

Fireday, 24 Pharast, 4723

Magic can dry out my clothes, but it can't banish the stink of smoke from them. That was my final lesson of this long and strange day.

Following my last entry, we had descended to the second level of the kobold lair and arrive at their frog breeding chamber. Among the tadpole pools, Lennox found an old key ring with keys in the shape of a lion, a crane, and a bear. Another mystery to investigate, I suppose.

Beyond, Knives found a sloping tunnel strewn with rubble to make it hard to traverse without slipping and falling into the murky pool in the cavern below. Somehow, her half-orc eyes were able to pick out dark shapes moving in the water. We used one of the kobold spears to rig up an anchor for a rope.

During this time, I also asked our new ally Nighttail what the kobold chieftain's name is. It seems that Chief Roaghaz is the architect of the troubles the kobolds have visited upon Belhaim. With his name revealed, I began carving the skaldic runes into my staff to turn it into a makeshift nithing pole.

Once the rope was secured, Knives descended down the tunnel into the cold, damp pool chamber. She was immediately set upon by two kobolds, who dodged her blades and used miniature guisarmes to hook her into the water. It seems the pool was host to three giant snapping turtles (Chelydra Serpentina Gigantus), which are of course very aggressive and territorial. With Knives in danger, Tagnus tumbled down the slope and landed in the pool like shot from a catapult. Matters escalated from there, and I ended up slipping and soaking myself for the second time today.

By the time I killed the last turtle, one of the kobolds had been Knivesed and the other was fleeing down the rightmost passage. Our only light source, Aldern, was still pulling his poor cloak free from the dead turtle's jaws, but Lennox set off running after the kobold. So of course I had to join her, with Aldern stumbling after me. I repeatedly demanded that the kobold surrender, but instead it led us on a merry chase, always on the edge of our vision. After it vanished entirely from sight, I heard it open a creaking door.

Lennox was the first to discover what had been released: mutated dire rats, larger and more vicious than the ones we faced above. Some of them went after our other companions, who were approaching from the opposite tunnel, while the rest came at us. Aldern transferred his light spell to me to draw their attention, though he could have found a more appropriate way to do so. I drew the creatures out, while Lennox hung back to snipe at them. Fortunately, we were able to lay them low without getting bitten. With the rats splatted, we were able to regroup with Knives and Tagnus, who had managed fine on their own thanks to their darkvision.

We eventually discerned the direction the fleeing kobold had gone. Unfortunately, Tagnus discovered it was a fortified chokepoint where the kobolds had lain an ambush. Rather than try to breach the defenses, the wily dwarf suggested using the hunter's strategy of smoking them out using straw from the dire rat nest. We built up quite a pile of hay and set it alight. Aldern was gracious enough to lend us the use of his tattered cloak to fan the flames and waft the smoke down towards the kobolds. It took a few minutes, but eventually they were provoked into attacking Lennox traded arrows with them briefly. Then Aldern doused the fire with a spell and we charged in as the smoke cleared.

The kobold runner managed to vanish down a hole deeper into the caverns, and several other kobolds were slain. We moved to cut off their escape route and the remainder decided to accept my demands that they surrender. One of them, Snorkel, has proven quite affectionate. Before placing our captives in Nighttail's custody, we questioned them about what lay beyond in the third level of the complex. Apparently a third of the tribe is still down there, along with a new shaman and Chief Roaghaz, who is apparently a mage of some sort.

This prompted Knives to explain that while we were separated, she came across a dying kobold shaman who claimed to have prophesied the tribe's doom. The creature warned of Roaghaz's impetuousness, and also warned of the tribe's new god, Aeteperax.

Aldern recalls that the "god" bears the name of a legendary dragon that once dwelt in this region, but was believed slain long ago. We speculate whether the tribe is worshiping a ghost or something else. The captives say that none have seen the new god — who is really "new-ish" as worship began years ago — but that it demands that the tribe make offerings of crude crafts lest it devour them (a threat that appears to be common for their gods).

After our tiring slog through the Witch Tower dungeons and two levels of a kobold hold, we decide it's time to rest before we go any further. We set up some barricades around the hole to the third level and post a guard, with the aim of turning the chokepoint against the tribe. Tagnus began carving and cooking the giant turtles. He ate most of them, but I'm still already sick of turtle meat. The fire did breathe some warmth into this damp chamber, and Aldern's prestidigitation dried out our clothes.

Oh, before we settled in, we also found and plundered the kobold armory. There were few weapons sized for our hands, but they did have an old cold iron longsword, castle-forged and still sharp. As the most qualified swordswoman, I laid claim to it for now, though it rides uneasily at my hip. And not just because it lacks a scabbard.

I haven't worn a shieldmaiden's weapon in three years, and with good reason. I am a scholar, not a warrior. Even all the blood spilled today by my hand does not change that. So much blood.

I must sleep. A night's rest, even in this deep dark place, will do me good. As long as my dreams don't drive me berserk.

Extreme Diplomacy
Sofie's Journal

Fireday, 24 Pharast, 4723

Two berserker episodes in the same day. It's been months since I was this unstable. This whole expedition is stirring up the worst in me. But with innocents in danger, what choice do I have but to press on? I cannot let my companions down. But I must not also put them at greater risk.

When I last left off, we had barged into the kobold clan hold and had just heard a strange rustling noise. The sound turned out to be five Greater Southern Verduran Dire Rats (Rattus Meridionali Dira Verduricus Maiora) whose nest we had blundered into. We dispatched the vermin, but Tagnus and I were potentially exposed to the filth fever they are known to carry. I will have to consult a healer back in town for this and other injuries. Tagnus summoned a few more of those good berries to cure our immediate wounds.

The creatures were fewer in number for a nest of that size, and seemed half-starved. Since dire rats are raised by kobolds as a combination guard animal and food source, I speculated that trouble with their food supply might have explained their incursion into the Witch Tower. How wrong I was.

After Aldern used his prestidigitation to cleanse the rat guts from us—and also kindly dry out my soggy clothes—we proceeded to the next chamber. It held a deep hole that tapped into the flooded quarry and served the tribe as a well. The room also held two tunnels, one from which we we heard shuffling sounds. Kobold tracks and stranger, larger footprints led to that room. But the more recently and intensely used tunnel led south. Lennox and Knives scouted that one, finding a large vaulted chamber with a fire and two kobolds standing guard. 

I suggested we negotiate, and Tagnus "volunteered" me. Thankfully, Knives agreed to accompany me, with the plan that I whisper the message to her, and she use her mercantile speaking skills to parlay with the kobolds. Lennox stuck to the shadows and took up a sniper position to cover us.

Knives was less diplomatic than I would have preferred, but she successfully read the kobolds' true treacherous intentions to lure us into a trap. Thanks to her ultimatum, the kobolds were provoked into striking early. There were not two guards, but ten waiting for us, many of them perched atop tall boulders with their slings at the ready. Had I done the negotiating alone, I would have led use right into the kill zone.

I was so furious at their phony negotiations that I had another episode. I can only remember fragments through the red haze. I recall shouting something ludicrous and charging the nearest pair of kobolds. Lennox kept loosing arrows at the creatures, killing many, while Knives got up close with her, well, knives. I think we worked together against some of the kobolds. Tagnus cast some sort of druid spell that summoned grasping roots into one side of the room, entangling several kobolds. He tried attacking them with his fists, but had trouble reaching the ones on the boulders. Aldern used magic to kill one of the creatures, then hung back out of the fight. I recall him laughing at Knives at one point.

There was a moment at the end of the battle when I confused my allies for more kobolds, but thankfully the red haze cleared from my vision before I could act. I spent a minute sitting amid the gore of a kobold bashed in by my staff, just trying to recover from the battle madness. Aldern's prestidigitation was again put to good use on myself, Tagnus, and Knives. I was very distraught that there could be no peaceful resolution to this business. 

Knives and Lennox continued scouting down the more heavily trafficked tunnel and found a side passage. Lennox spotted the hidden pit trap, which we carefully triggered and then moved on. We eventually found a room with a mound of excrement heaped in its center. Atop the shit pile was a leather pack which Lennox insisted on recovering over Knives' objections. 

In an adjacent alcove, we found an imprisoned kobold, who calls herself Nighttail. She is surprisingly well-spoken and friendly for a kobold. Her original tribe was wiped out by "evil" gnomes, which led her to join this tribe. She advised the chieftain to move away from Belhaim and urged him not to conspire with a human wizard (presumably Hunclay) who sought to destroy the Witch Tower. For that she was imprisoned. She also warned the chieftain that his practice of abducting human slaves would draw the ire of the town! 

We freed Nighttail and returned her gear. We also helped her reunite with her companion animal, a young Allosaurus Fragilis (!) named Hak. It is a magnificent creature which Nighttail rescued from some horrible traveling menagerie. She does not know Hak's provenance, but my guess is the creature (or its parents) hail from the Realm of the Mammoth Lords.

The Codex of Sinesius reports that these primeval beasts still dwell in a hidden valley in that region heated by geothermal vents, and Khairnarv corroborates this in Creatures of the North. Though Fastolph expresses skepticism of their accounts, which both rely on second-hand sources. Whatever the majestic creature's origins, it took a strong liking to Tagnus. The magic of the druids, I suppose.

Once kobold and allosaur were reunited, we rushed to the slave chamber, located in that room with the strange tracks that we bypassed earlier. I was mentally kicking myself the entire time—the strange tracks had to have been human footprints! Probably dragging their feet under the slaver's lash.

We found several kobolds guarding three miserable humans in the foul-smelling chamber. I demanded they surrender immediately or be destroyed, but they didn't believe me when I told them how we massacred their compatriots. One of the kobolds charged us, but slipped in the filth and dashed its brains out on a rock. We took down the others, with the last one slipping past Aldern and I. The creature did not get far before I caught up and cracked its skull open.

The slaves were a young woman and a middle-aged couple, all in execrable condition. The youth, Bophre, is part of a local family of dairy farmers who was abducted months ago. She said her parents might reward us for her return. The couple, Carlo and Sella Belathi, were traveling merchants who lost everything from the kobolds. When we get our reward from the baroness, I'm giving half of my share to them to help start over. 

Bophre wasn't sure if she could find her way back to Belhaim, so Aldern kindly instructed Yuki to guide them. With the captives freed, we regrouped with Nighttail and continued our delve into the kobold cavern. We passed another dire rat nest, this one empty, and Nighttail explained that the chieftain was experimenting on the dire rats to breed even more powerful versions. These mutants apparently eat their lesser cousins. Lennox managed to spot a tripwire glinting in the glow from Aldern's light spell, and both she and Knives successfully disabled it. Beyond the trap, we found a hole leading to another chamber directly below, with a single rope strung down as a point of access.

Knives stealthily descended into the room and executed the lone kobold guard. The rest of us have shimmied down the rope, save for Hak which merely jumped down. The chamber is cool and damp, with two large pools full of tadpoles. It appears the kobolds breed frogs as well as dire rats. 

We've yet to find the beastmaster, though, this kobold chieftain. Once he is eliminated, Nighttail will lead the surviving kobolds far away from human settlements. She has also expressed disinterest in taking slaves. Her motives are pragmatic, but they are the only path to peace. 

I do not relish the thought of spilling yet more blood when we confront the chief, but I'm convinced it is the only course left to us. What I fear most, though, is what I might become in such a battle. The cruelty I have witnessed today has stirred a great anger in me, the worst it has been since I left the University. I don't know if even slaying this monstrous kobold leader can quench the flame of rage that burns ever brighter in my heart. What will happen if the flame grows to an inferno, but I have run out of legitimate targets for my wrath?

The others so far have cheered on my berserk episodes. If they knew what I was capable of, they would not be so eager to wake the dragon.

Kobold Komplications
Sofie's Journal

Fireday, 24 Pharast, 4723

Thank Desna for my waterproof book bag. It truly is a necessity for the field researcher.

Picking up from my last entry, we continued into the low tunnel the kobolds had burrowed into the Witch Tower dungeons. The little creatures had set up a crude barricade in the tunnel, rigged with an ingenious trap of swinging stalactites. Despite Knives and Lennox's best efforts, we only discovered the trap when Tagnus bashed the barricade down. Now we are out of the druid's good berries.

The tunnel led to a cavern that had been subject to a deliberate cave in. Among the rubble, we found the late wizard Balthus Hunclay and two dead kobolds with sappers' gear. The wizard also had two keys on him, one to his tower and another mysterious bronze key. Aldern and Knives disagreed over who should have the keys, so we gave them to Tagnus for safekeeping. 

We followed a tunnel leading out of the cavern. When it reached a fork, we followed the passage that had the most recent tracks. We came upon three kobolds asleep in a small cull de sac. Tagnus killed one before I was able to convince the others to surrender.

Questioning the stupid, frightened creatures was like pulling teeth, but eventually we gleaned following details: the wizard Hunclay had aligned with the kobolds to undermine the Witch Tower so it would collapse. But the kobolds' chieftain had instructed them to arrange an "accident" for Hunclay while leaving the tower intact. The kobolds were hiding out here because they bungled the job and sent the tower toppling anyway. We got directions on how to reach the kobolds' clanhold, located in a separate cave complex in the old quarry. I told the two surviving kobolds to stay away from the village and the clanhold, and then we let them go.

Rather than notify the baroness of what we had found so far, we elected to press on to the kobold clanhold. I hoped to parlay with their chieftain to convince them to stay away from Belhaim and learn why they worked with and then betrayed the wizard Hunclay. However, as soon as we entered the quarry Knives and Lennox began stalking down towards the kobold guards outside the entrance to the clanhold. Tagnus and I tried to creep after them, without much success. 

But it was Aldern who really got things started, firing a bolt of force energy (I think) over the guards' head. At that signal, Lennox put an arrow through one of the kobolds, while Knives slashed another. I tried to charge down to join them, but slipped on the crumbling quarry pathway and took a dip in the lake. It was chilly enough to have been refreshing in different circumstances. By the time I'd hauled myself out, the kobolds had panicked and fled into their caves.

Lennox went in after the bleeding straggler, and I followed while Knives insisted on waiting outside. I tried to convince the wounded kobold to surrender and negotiate, but perhaps I was still too sodden to be a compelling orator. The creature scampered off into the darkness. Tagnus ultimately chased the kobold down and bashed its head in. Aldern finally sauntered into the cavern with his glowing staff, giving Lennox and I a chance to see our surroundings.

There is another path leading off to the left that we are readying to explore as I write. It is my hope that we can negotiate with the next kobolds we meet. I'd meant to parlay with the guards outside, but got too swept up in the action. Still, we only killed two of them. I am sure their chieftain will accept a weregild for the loss if we can come to friendly terms.

I must conclude. There is a strange rustling.

The Day the Tower Fell
Sofie's Journal

Fireday, 24 Pharast, 4723

I am writing this while seated atop a treasure chest, in an ancient dungeon deep below the earth. This has been a most unusual day.

It began in the inn, where I was reviewing my notes when a half-orc woman introduced herself. She is a merchant from out of town who goes by the name Knives, an appropriate moniker from what I have seen of her. She has long dark hair, gray eyes, and a single tusk. Knives is a very blunt individual and after a conversation about my project in the Verduran Forest, she summoned over the Absalomite wizard so I could get a look at his owl.

As I had suspected, the bird is a Great Snowy Owl like the ones that roosted in our longhouse. The wizard, Aldern, says he bought "Yuki" as a chick from a Tian merchant in Absalom, and it has become his familiar. He is richly dressed, with hair as pale as the owl's feathers, and the arrogance of a southern noble.

Our conversation was interrupted by this local girl, who I swear was trying to pick Aldern's pocket. Knives vouches for her though, and she has proven an able companion. The girl, Lennox, was hungry, so I invited her to share my meal. Our encounter drew the attention of that drunken dwarf, Tagnus, who it turns out is one of the Verduran druids! We shared one of the terrible Taldan ales, but I had little chance to ask him about his life in the forest before the walls rattled furiously.

The local monument known as the Witch Tower had collapsed, and was said to be swarming with kobolds. My companions and I raced to investigate, but found only two dead kobolds and a pair of incompetent guards named Hob and Mule. The tower itself had collapsed as if into a sink hole, save the first two layers, but this was no natural occurrence. 

The wizard living in the manor nearby proved to be the likeliest suspect, and the charred remains of a dead kobold was found on his doorstep. But the wizard, Balthus Hunclay, would not answer summons and we could not breach his manor.

The local baroness, Origena Devy, tasked us with investigating the collapsed Witch Tower to discover why it fell and why there are kobolds in the town. We are to be paid a lump sum of 500 gold pieces, to be divided equally among the five of us, for completing this task. The Baroness warned it was a dangerous place that took the life of her husband. I tried to assure her that we would avoid his fate, but tripped over my own tongue again.

The Witch Tower itself was not challenging to climb into, but all we found on the first few floors were empty rooms and more dead kobolds. Below the first floor, however, we discovered a hidden dungeon.

It was horrible! Aldern and I found the remains of the jailer inside an actual iron maiden. His key proved useful in venturing further into the complex. Even so, I was grateful to have Lennox with us as her lockpicking skills proved invaluable. Knives also caught a lucky break when we found two oddly shaped mithral daggers among the ruins.

We encountered what I believed to be some kind of ghost in the dungeon cells, of a poor poacher left to die in the dark with his cousins. He begged for release, but vanished when we opened the door. I insisted on taking the men's bones to be given a proper burial once we return to the surface.

There was a strange mechanical contraption in the center of the prison, guarded by a lightning elemental. None of us were able to communicate with the creature, and I had no desire to fight over the mystery device. So we moved on.

We found another fucking torture room, and a mysterious voice compelled me to sit on a torture chair, wounding myself. The voice belonged to a perfidious imp blasphemously disguised as a raven. The creature offered to share a password and the location of the tower's "treasure" if all of us likewise shed blood on the torture implements.

To my great shock, Aldern agreed to treat with the creature, speaking to it in its native tongue! I have tried to keep an open mind about wizards, but for the first time in a long while I wonder if the elders were right to scorn them. Tagnus was with me in distrusting the imp, but eventually the others pressured us into joining them.

Once blood was shed (or appeared to be shed—I think some of my companions were faking), the imp showed us a secret door, told us a pass phrase ("Good Baron Sarvo wills it"), and presented us with the treasure: a heavy bronze plaque with the Canteclure family crest and motto. The imp claimed that the secret door was locked and suggested we look for the lock amid debris on a table. Then the cowardly fiend tried to sting Aldern!

I had another episode and swung at the fiend with my staff. I believe the blow landed, but everything is hazy as usual. Once my vision cleared, I saw that Tagnus had caught the creature in his meaty hands and throttled it until its head popped off. Knives and Aldern kindly helped me recover my composure, and the wizard promised to heed my warnings in the future. I hope he is truer to his word than the imp he bargained with.

We continued through the secret door. It led to a chamber with a pit containing congealed acid. Knives deftly traversed the pit and tied a rope to help the rest of us make our way around the rim of the hazard. Deeper into the dungeon, we came to an iron door with a lever and a side passage.

We took the side passage and met a strange clockwork creature than asked us to present the crest before reciting the password. I hauled out the bulky bronze plaque and recited the pass phrase ("Good Baron Sarvo wills it") and the automaton stepped aside.

We followed the corridor until it ended in a chamber with a large cage housing seven chests. At one end of the chamber, kobolds had tunneled a hole through the wall. Tagnus went to investigate and was ambushed by a ghoul! The foul creature bit into him savagely, but the dwarf was hardy enough to endure.

Lennox put an arrow through the monster and I knocked its head clean off with a swing of my staff. The thing was wearing a treasury guard's outfit with the crest of House Canteclure. Gods know how long it had been sealed up in here.

We found no key for the cage, but noticed two odd holes in the floor. Borrowing Knives' mithral daggers, Aldern and I inserted them into the slots and twisted. The cage bars retracted and we dragged the chests out before retrieving the daggers.

As I write, we are tallying up the treasure haul, which has already far exceeded the baroness' bounty. Tagnus conjured up some tasty goodberries, which have healed my wounds from the imp's mischief. Once the treasure is stowed away, I've no doubt that we will press on into the tunnel to get to the bottom of this kobold incursion.

I will not miss this wretched tower. Aldern's luminescent cane is the only source of light amid the opressive darkness. The air is foul, and the scenery is fouler. These Canteclures engaged in truly monstrous practices! I've no desire to extend this tour through their despicable history any longer.

It is my hope that the issue with the kobolds can be resolved peacefully. I examined the teeth of one of the corpses and saw that it shares characteristics of dragon's teeth, so I am hopeful that they are versed in the Draconic tongue as well. Perhaps we could broker a peace, or at the very least scare them off. After all, their incursion into the tower appears to be a failure.

We've no sign of the absent wizard Hunclay, however, and this troubles me. Could he have been responsible for the tower's destruction? Or been in league with the imp? It seems anything could be possible when it comes to wizards.

I must conclude for now. We are readying to move on.


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