Archive for December, 2005

Three Slaads, Two Dragons and One Long Walk

Thursday, December 15th, 2005

On days like today, I think of us as a small skiff on the choppy seas of history.  As we drive on slowly into the dark unknown the waves lap and then swell and then roar around us, the past spilling into our boat in greater and greater quantities and I fear we will be swamped, overturned…

I don’t really know where I’m going with that metaphor, but hey, a diary is just a rough draft for a saga, as my mother once said.  So, I’ll work with it later.

We’ve had a couple of very interesting days here at Candlekeep.

Rock, Badl and Katarina went into the big tunnel – the escape route for the flying super-kobolds and their more normal kobold minions – to try to track our foes’ retreat.  There they found a single, injured kobold – the normal kind – nursing a broken leg and hiding in the dark.  They were quick to capture it and bring it back for questioning, and we learned a bit more about our enemies from it.

While all that was happening, the rest of us were speaking to the priests and scribes of Candlekeep.  They live in a castle, sure, but they don’t often get attacked.  They had never seen creatures such as the super-kobolds before, and they had no idea why they would have been targeted or their library set ablaze.  We started running down the list of search terms we hoped they would be able to help us with – Fae’Rath, the Three-Faced Man, Stormcloud, The Mother, et cetera – and one of the youngest priests started to get fidgety and mumble to himself.

"The book, the book," we heard him say, and when I pressed the priests of Candlekeep as to what had the kid in such a fit then they tried to wave it off.

"That is Averim the Fool," one of them told me.  "Believe nothing that he says.  He is capable only of lies."

Let me tell you, that is precisely the way to get my attention.

Averim set off in a dead run, gibbering to himself about his book, and I turned myself invisible and shot off after him through the keep.  I followed him to his private cell where I found him yanking a stone out of the floor to reveal a little cache he’d clearly made or discovered there and used to hide some of his things.  He was talking openly to himself, hurried and anxious, and he seemed distraught to find that "the book" was missing from his little hidey-hole.

I crossed my fingers, dropped the spell so that I appeared in front of him out of thin air and then said, "What book, Averim?"  I have learned in my years of adventuring that a few blunt words from a normally loquacious tongue can have a jarring effect that leads to effective interrogation.

"The book!" he cried.  "They took it!  It’s gone!  I had it here, safe, and they took it!"

I tried to remind myself of what the priests had said of Averim’s truthfulness, but so far so good, so I pressed on:  "What is in the book?"

"The truth…"  Averim was the sort of calm fidgety that the truly insane can sometimes exhibit, an unnerving mix of certain madness and near self-awareness.  It’s like watching a drowning man try to stay afloat.  Some days I really don’t like my job.  "The truth I saved from the room of lies."

On the other hand, I was undeniably getting somewhere.

"What’s in the book?"

"The story of The Mother," Averim said, and I could have hugged him if I weren’t so busy keeping an eye on where his hands were and whether they were empty of knives.

"What’s the book called?"

"Malleus Draconus," he replied.  The Hammer of the Dragon.  "The Voice told me where to find it, but now the kobolds have taken it away.  No one knew where it was, it had to be them…"  Averim steeled himself for a moment, though, and said very seriously, "You can’t believe a word I say, though.  Everything I tell you is a lie.  Ask anyone."

I was, of course, immediately reminded of the old Mulhorandi puzzle about the twin brothers, one of whom always speaks truth and the other of whom always speaks lies, but I don’t really remember the solution to that one and I’m pretty sure I’d just kick them both in the nadgers and see who said it felt good, anyway, and regardless this wasn’t that situation so I just sort of had to fly with what Averim could give me himself.  Buried somewhere in that addled head of his was something undeniably important and I was determined to find it out for myself.

Eventually I was able to sort out that The Hammer of the Dragon was a book that had been kept in the catacombs of the keep in a section called The Room of Lies.  Apparently books that are not merely false but dangerously false – dangerous in a mystical, perhaps magical way, not books that are merely controversial – were kept out of sight.  We asked the priests why they kept these books around if they were the sort that could turn someone’s brain inside out and they were terribly offended by the thought of destroying any words, even dangerous ones.  Averim, they said, managed to bypass all the wards and protections that stood between the public and even most of the private areas of the keep and The Room of Lies, a mystery they had not yet solved, and gained access to the books themselves.  In reading them, he had been driven mad and now, they believed, everything he said was a lie.  According to Averim, though, there was a voice that he had heard speaking – only he could hear it – that told him the way into The Room of Lies.  It was not addressing him directly, he said, it was merely recounting to itself the ways to circumvent the keep’s defenses, and he did the things it spoke of doing and found himself, eventually, in that room.

Naturally, he could no longer recall precisely what it was that he did to achieve that goal.

We gently prodded the priests and scribes as to voices and spirits around the place and learned that there is an unidentified protective spirit that had always guarded the keep.  Why didn’t it act to repel the kobold attackers?  Hell if they knew.

All of which, believe it or not, brings us back to that one injured kobold Badl and Rock and Katarina found in the earthen tunnel the kobolds used to escape.  Bringing it back up, healing its wounds and then questioning it, they were able to learn that the kobolds worked for the cause of this thing called The Mother.  Who is The Mother?  She is, he said, the mother of all dragons and she has no name because she is from before the time of names.  When they asked the kobold about the gold dragon we still have tied up out front, why its wings were torn off and it was enslaved if it claimed to worship a big mama dragon, the kobold was disgusted.  "Modern dragons," he said, "Don’t deserve their wings.  They have gone against the ways of The Mother, and they will all be punished."  Interestingly, the kobold seemed to think that they – kobolds – are just as much The Mother’s descendants and rightful followers as today’s dragons, and I got the feeling from what he told my friends that perhaps they even see themselves as the dragons’ superiors since they are aware of their "rightful" place as followers of the agenda of The Mother.

At any rate, Badl and Rock were able to determine that the kobold was desperate to tell them everything he knew but terrified of the idea of betraying The Mother.  We might just have a plan for taking care of that little mental block, though I think I’ll save that for the end of the story.

The kobold told us that the kobold army would be long gone down the tunnel, but Rock still wanted to see if he could track them so he, Katarina and Badl went back into the tunnel to see if they could find a trail to follow.  The earthen walls had been shaped, obviously, with the occasional odd three-clawed set of score-marks in the walls.  About a hundred yards down the tunnel, they also found a figure – just a guy, a bit funny-looking, sort of fish-man in the face – standing around in the dark.  They didn’t reveal themselves to him, but he was aware of Badl’s presence in bat-form and the worst thing he did was throw a pebble at Badl to try to shoo him away.  With the possibility of a friendly entity down there or, we had to admit, a potential enemy, we had to get down there ASAP and try to assess the situation.  We all geared up and went down there, arranging ourselves such that Badl would scout ahead with Katarina and Shadow close behind.  Rock would hang back and Nigel, Adric and I would go in the middle, well-lit, to act as bait or a friendly greeting.  Upon seeing us, the guy – whose faced looked altogether uncomfortably like that of a catfish – spoke to us in a friendly tone and we started to parley.  That didn’t really last very long, though, as he told us freely and immediately that the kobolds had hired him to get them here, to Candlekeep, and hired him to stay behind to guard their backtrail.  No sooner were the words out of his mouth than the walls of the tunnel opened and out stepped two enormous, blue creatures that seemed to be under his control.

With that, battle commenced.

Badl, Bonzo, Katarina, Nigel, Adric and Rock all concentrated their efforts on the two big blue guys while I dropped a Sonic Fog on the black-grey fishman to keep him in place and start wearing him down.  Our concentrated efforts made short work of the guy’s minions, and we all gathered around the fog, waiting for it to lift, in hopes that the guy would have been crushed to death by its vibrations.  Just for good measure I laid down some sonic fireballs in the middle of it to try to take care of any potential for him to survive.

Sadly, it appeared he was immune to that sort of thing.  When the fog lifted, he was still hale and hearty and he simply took off at a run for the exit.

"Do not pursue me!" he cried over his shoulder, "For I have magics that could kill any one of you with a touch!"

Fat chance, I thought.  He would have used it already.  

So, we chased him down and trapped him at the end of the tunnel and just before we drove home the final blows he reached out one hand and placed it on Bonzo…

…causing Bonzo to crumble into a sticky red mass on the floor.

So much for calling his bluff.

I was, frankly, distraught over the death of Bonzo.  He was such a dapper ape, friendly and loyal and strong.  Badl, for his part, took it on the chin.  "Death is a natural thing," he said.  "I will ask Silvanus whether Bonzo is to be resurrected or whether his time had come, and we’ll go from there."  I admire his adherance to his religion, but if it were Greebo who’d been turned into a patch of steaming guts on the floor then frankly I’d have been trying to twist that wizard’s head right off his neck with my bare hands.

After it was all over, Nigel stood over the creature’s corpse and rubbed his chin and finally said, "Death Slaad… I remember reading about them somewhere…"  Apparently they’re mercenaries and powerful wizards.

And they’re immune to sonic damage, which I just find terribly off-putting.

As we searched the end of the tunnel, which was sealed against further chase, we found a thinner portion of the stone wall at the end and magicked it open to reveal a smaller tunnel concealed behind it.  Rock, being fast and good at tracking, volunteered to run ahead and see what he could see.  Eventually he encountered a few bands of kobolds, many of them priests and some of them the winged super-kobolds who’d led the assault.  They had small camps and other temporary bases of operations for the assault, and he found them preparing their evening meals and readying for departure.  

Among them, he saw a copper dragon that had, like the gold one in our care, been stripped of its wings and was being used to draw a large, wooden cart loaded with the kobolds’ supplies.

Eventually, four of the priests gathered together over an arcane symbol drawn into the earthen floor, began an extended chant, and created what was unmistakably a portal into the other Planes, this one dark and dreary and essentially ink-black on the other side.  The floor under them, the portal itself, seemed to yawn open and swallow the priests, and the band of kobolds and their taller masters marched through in orderly fashion.  Once gone, the portal disappeared and so we at least knew that the kobolds had left.

On his way there and back, Rock had also spied a water-cut cavern at one point along the tunnels.  On the far side of the shallow pool formed by natural seepage there was clearly hand-built stone construction and he hazarded a guess that this was one of the sunken corners of Candlekeep itself.

What most interested him about it, however, was the door cut into the side.

When he returned and told the rest of us this, we decided to investigate it immediately.  After all, the priests of Candlekeep had approved our going down here to assess the security of their fortress and here was an underground door into the basements themselves – the place they kept what they called their most dangerous tomes.  We all stomped down there and had a look and were able to enter the keep itself with little effort.  Inside, we found long-abandoned halls and stairs and what was clearly a decades-forgotten (at least) basement with storage areas and old casks and the like.  We also found a door with what was clearly a magical ward on it, one designed to wrack a trespasser’s body with pain.  Rather than try to risk going through it, we searched the room for secret exits and found one on a perpendicular wall.  We could find no mechanism to open the door, though – not even with the use of my magic, which reveals such things with only a little study – and so Katarina shadow-jumped us through to the other side of the door to study it from that side.

Immediately upon getting there, though, we were greeted by what I can only describe as an enormous, ghostly set of jaws.  These were clearly the jaws of a dragon, and a female voice filled my mind:

"What is your name?"

"Whitten Silvervoice," I said aloud.

"What is your purpose here?"

"To assess the security of the keep to help protect the priests?"  I was terrified at this point, because I was now working on, what, my third dragon this week?  Fourth?  Hell if I remember.

After a few interminable seconds the voice said that I could continue.  I heard Katarina – we were in complete darkness, other than the image of the bony jaws – have a similar exchange.  With that, we threw open the secret door.  Our friends stood on the other side, wanting to know who the hell we were talking to.  We explained, and then the group continued on a good bit more cautiously.

At the other end of the secret passageway we were able to see into a room that was, clearly, The Room of Lies.  Its shelves were lined with books chained to the shelves and the books made a chattering and chittering and rustling noise as they strained.  It was a strange and disturbing sight, the sort of thing one imagines a dangerously magical library to be but doesn’t really want to experience, and at one end of the room were three books in a sort of special display:

  • one book held in a shaft of bright, white light
  • one book held in a metal cage
  • and one book chained inside a tank of water.

Nigel and were, immediately, eager to get those books open and see what they contained.

"You don’t want to do that," Adric said.

"Yes we do!"  Nigel and I were quick to agree.

"One of them had to be caged!  Are you crazy?"

"But one of them is all lit up all sweet and special!  White light!  That’s all purity!"

"I’m willing to bet the one kept underwater has something to do with… fire."  Nigel was really, really into the idea of a dangerously potent book about fire, and he kind of licked his lips a little as he said it, and Adric nodded at him.

"It probably does.  So what does that say about the book that’s held in a column of bright light?"

"Ohhhhhh," I said, realization dawning.  So much for that.  Adric had managed to talk me and Nigel out of ganking those books for later study.

While that was happening, though, Badl was getting interviewed by those bony dragon jaws.

After he told what he was doing there, and the voice said he could proceed, he stopped and asked it, point blank, "Who are you?"

The voice, I think, was so glad that someone simply asked that it told him its whole story.  The voice, it seemed, is the protective spirit of Candlekeep.  Six hundred years ago, she was a powerful dragon whose lover was among the priests of the keep.  A false prophet came to power in those days, she said, and as he tightened control over the keep and over the books and knowledge it kept in its walls, he also worked to eradicate all that had ever been written about himself so that no one would know that his claim to power was illegitimate.  

One of the books that contained information about him, she said, was the Malleus Draconus, the book stolen, hidden and in turn stolen again from Averim the Fool.

The Malleus Draconus, she said, was not a false book.  It was, however, a book that contained information about the real identity of The False Prophet.  As such, it had to be hidden away in The Room of Lies so that The False Prophet would not know of its existence and be unable to do away with it to protect himself.  So, it was not that book which twisted Averim’s mind, it was the other books in that room which he had read.

Eventually, her lover tried to lead an uprising against The False Prophet, and her lover was slain.  The False Prophet killed her lover and then killed her, too, but she was able to stay tied to this plane, mourning her love, and swore to spend eternity protecting the place he had lived and died from invasion.  This was, she said, over six hundred years ago – if she’d counted correctly.  

She’d never heard of The Mother, or Fae’Rath, or any of that stuff, but much to our surprise she did know of a gold dragon in the area.  Sort of.  She told us that when she was alive there was an ancient gold dragon that lived in the mountains surrounding the Anauroch Desert, between here and home.  If we wanted to transport our captive, insane gold dragon to one of its own kind to see if it could be healed and rehabilitated, she said, that would be one place to start.

Once we were back upstairs, we learned from the priests that they had searched their records and could find nothing on any of our search terms.  However, our time here was far from wasted, as we have learned a new dimension to all of this – the worship of The Mother, and of the book it appears her followers stole – and we have at least managed an incidental choice in where to go next.  One of the places of power Nigel and I identified on the map in Sess’uadra is smack in the middle of the Anauroch Desert, so if we’re headed there with our captive dragon anyway

And in the meantime, we still have this captive kobold locked away in the keep.  An idea we’ve discussed is having me teleport into his room in the guise of one of the winged super-kobolds, slap him around for daring to question The Mother’s all-knowing, all-encompassing plan which includes him being captured by these filthy, filthy non-kobolds so that he can tell them of the truth of The Mother’s ways to serve her greater, mysterious aims, and then, after he spills his guts with (he thinks) the approval of his superiors, we hand him over to the priests and scribes of Candlekeep to assist them in cleaning up the place from the attack.  At that point, what’s he going to do?  Travel to another plane to find his companions?  Not hardly.

And so, we’ve managed to learn a little more.  The Mother is some ancient ideal of dragons worshipped by kobolds.  The False Prophet was apparently someone worthy of mention in The Hammer of the Dragons and once ruled this place.  The kobolds who worship The Mother showed up here, stole the book that describes The False Prophet and tried to burn the place down.  And, to top it all off, they’re able to hire weird-ass spellcasters from other dimensions to guard their back-trail, meaning they’ve got deep pockets.

Whatever it is we’re dealing with, it’s big.  It’s not often that we hear of dragons, much less see them.  Now they’re popping up all over and every time they do it involves ancient history.

The more I think about it, the more convinced I become that once we’ve figured it all out someone has to stick around for eternity just to explain it all to the future when the time comes. (more…)