Sometimes, if you try real hard, you get what you need. Problem usually lies with the fact you don’t know you need what you’ve been gifted. It’s a universal problem I’m sure you are familiar with. Like when Brother Durham wouldn’t let me go into the village that time because he’s a jerk, and Sister Edna instead decided to teach me the Seventh Way. That ended up better than going into town with the other acolytes. Especially when young Borden was beaten by the angry villagers. I still don’t have any idea what their beef was with him. Not like he was snatching kids to be sacrificed or anything. Right?
But I digress. We made our way across the valley the next morning displaying enough force that the two small patrols of orcs we saw ran the other direction. We were making good time. Alfred was carrying his sword on his hip, and the chest of thread in his arms. Everyone was weighed down with weapons, packs and bedrolls. Jasper carried the small treasure chest that Thomas would have carried, eschewing any help from myself or Alfred. And Alfred could’ve carried it with one hand.
The day was bright and sunny, which meant the temperature plummeted since there was no cloud cover to keep in what little heat the sun was generating. The orcs were already struggling with the bright light, and the cold wasn’t helping. Our little band managed fairly well, but I could tell after an hour that there was too much orc activity for us to head to the woods yet. I had a quick chat with Just Jacob and he angled the troop northward a quarter turn to head toward the dragon’s shelter instead. I was surprised that she hadn’t made a show during the battle, but maybe licking her wounds (and her pride) was all she could muster with such large forces in play. I just know I wanted to get someplace out of the open, with strong wall to my back and a defensible position over all.
The closer we got to the actual lair, the worse the land became. Granted it was all frozen over, but there were slag pits, trenches filled with bubbling acid and signs of local monstrosities such as those horrifying acid spitting jumping spiders. They have taken my top spot in the the world is a atrocious place category, edging out the leeches by a wide margin.
Turns out the dragon, Cassandra did not live in a cave as I had imagined. Instead she lived in the ruins surrounding the tower where we’d seen Bob. The canyon opened during the great cataclysm eons ago, and the great city that had once filled this land, was sundered. The spires that had reached far into the sky had toppled, or been buried as the canyon opened. Most of the lair was a warren of ruins deep in the ground, with a few openings in the canyon and only one on the top of the eastern most cliff. To get to Bob we would have to cut through the dragon’s domain proper, and it was fraught with all sorts of traps and nests of nasty things that cohabitated with the dragon.
The brigands had never actually been inside the ruins, and I can’t say that I blamed them. Cassandra would meet them in a common square a little way into the valley where she had ample space for her great wings, and she could keep an eye on the area around her.
There was a bell that could be rung when one of her many servants needed her attention, but again, none of them wanted to go anywhere near there. In the end, we came to a crossroads and had to make a decision. To get to Bob, I would need to go through the ruins. I could try it on my own without the blessing of Cassandra which may be a better situation, unless she caught me. On the other hand she was sorely wounded and likely was not in the mood for any company. I may be able to trip along without her caring I existed. Especially since once I got to Bob I couldn’t leave with him without going back through the buried ruined city once more.
No matter which I chose, the brigands were turning south at that point and heading to the glade. They were close enough to the dragon’s immediate environs that the orcs would leave them alone. Alfred wanted to accompany me, but Just Jacob said the places he could fit were directly accessible to the dragon. If he went, the odds of me slipping through unnoticed was a resounding zero.
If only I could fly. Wouldn’t that be a cool thing. Then I could just sail upward and land on the tower’s peak, grab dear Bob and fly back home. Fanciful dream, I know.
I made up my mind over a last meal with the brigands. They would go south without me, and Alfred would go with me. We would ring Cassandra’s doorbell and parley with her. Alfred was good at that, and I had spoken to her previously. Hopefully between the two we could have a civil conversation without resorting to fisticuffs.
We waited until the brigands were an hour away, giving them ample room before the dragon showed up, in case she was cranky, then we made our way to her front porch. It had been a courtyard for a grand palace once, the cobblestones in near perfect condition. The palace this courtyard once fronted had fallen to only the barest of ruins, those portions that were above ground. A goodly portion remained intact buried deep within the canyon’s walls. It is here we found a wooden post with a bell no larger than my two fists together. It could not make a very loud sound, but then, how often did Cassandra, a vile black dragon with hate in her heart, really get civilized visitors?
Only one way to find out. Alfred stood back, the chest of thread on the ground at his feet, and his weapon sheathed. I walked across the cobbles and rang the bell, three clear strokes.
I expected to see Cassandra come stalking out of the gigantic half palace before me, her great black form a shadow among the ruins. I expected to see her rise before me, her wings a backdrop to the horrible splendor of the dragon I had once met. That is what we ultimately wanted here. What we got, however, was beyond even my weirdest expectations.