The Dragon's Demand

Extreme Diplomacy

Sofie's Journal

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.

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thestarturtle StakeTheLurk

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