A Blind Man with a Demon on his Shoulder
Grigore Goldforge was the first to see the next dragon. It was bigger than the first three and Grigore could tell that the rubies in this dragon’s harness were not glass.
“Worth a pretty penny,” the ardent thought to himself as he climbed down to his companions. Still bruised from his last encounter with a yardarm, Grigore used the rigging this time.
He told the rest of his band this dragon looked to be more formidable than the three they just got done fighting. And he expected its rider was a champion as well.
They had developed some tactics in the last battle — slowing the dragons to prevent their devastating charges — so Grigore saw no need to discuss the tactical lessons of the previous encounter.
Although he might regret that decision before this battle was over…
Most Exalted Odos was not happy. He had witnessed nothing but chaos since he had left the House of Reprisal, back in the Elemental Chaos. Ironic: He spent his life building an island of serenity from which to strike against chaos there at its heart; yet it was here on the material plane, where things were supposed to be so ordered that he was attacked by assassins when he returned to his rooms. And not just Odos: Kath’ik and Wellik the Elder had been attacked as well. “Attacked and assassinated,” he thought. “And now this. Demons. Trying to convince me to kill my defenders.”
Throughout the battle, Rinoa noticed that she seemed to have the most control over the damage being taken by the dragon and its rider. She could always reach them both with her Dragonfrost, although the dragon or its rider could always protect each other from that damage.
But she still had bursts and splashes from the spells she set up with her Dragonfrosts. That could often do damage to the dragon, even when its rider was trying to protect it.
In fact, it was the splash from her acid claws that provoked the dragon into his rage. Fortunately only Maggie was in the blast of fire that heralded that transformation. And she was able to dodge out of the way.
Rinoa noticed that, while the dragon took the damage at first, after a while the rider was blocking it to protect the dragon. The rider seemed well rested at first. Maybe that was why he was protecting the dragon. And the dragon was restrained in the early part of the battle, using single bite attacks (which once allowed its rider one of those quadruple-jump triple attacks Dragonlancers of the Astral Sea are so famous for).
But, once Zumos and Rinoa herself were able to enrage the dragon, who declared his name to be Xirakis, the dragon seemed to grow in stature as whatever was restraining him before was shattered by his rage.
The abbot of the monastery was no longer shocked at the sight of blind Odos striding through the halls toward him with a confidence that gave the impression he could see the walls. When the Most Exalted Leader of the House of Reprisal demanded to know what had become of Gallia, The abbot had to admit the last any of his people had seen her, Gallia was on the roof of the fortress which served as his monks’ home. “She was surrounded by Githyanki. No one believes she has survived, unless she was somehow taken prisoner,” he told Odos.
Maxim Shalion already had a dragon’s skull to show his kobold minions (or “slaves,” as he preferred to call them). So he didn’t need another fight with another (bigger) dragon to impress them with.
A single dragon and a single rider made one thing easier for Maxim, however: Picking who to curse. Soon both lancer and dragon were flying around with a hobgoblin’s curse on them. Sure, Maxim could not use both curses in a single attack, but that did not seem to matter: The dragon and its rider seemed to be able to absorb damage for each other anyway.
Only Rinoa with her splash damage seemed to be able to hurt them when they didn’t want to be hurt. Maxim’s Killing Flames gave him a free attack when the dragon became bloodied, and the dragon seemed quite surprised to find that Zumos was not the only one who could overcome its resistance to fire damage.
Most of Maxim’s most powerful spells seemed inappropriate to fighting and dragonlancer and his mount, so Maxim saved them for a later fight (it looked like this was going to turn into the kind of day only the Great Gark could truly love: fight after fight after fight). Even his Command Insanity spell was overcome by the the dragon’s superior will.
The immense will of both Githyanki and Dragonkind became apparent as the battle drew on. Maxim noticed that the best way to do damage to whichever opponent seemed to be being protected by the other was Grigore’s Unhinging Strike (which allowed him to force the dragon to attack its rider or vice versa, providing he could overcome those towering wills).
Grigore seemed to be using most of his mental augments to superpower his Confusing Strikes. This attack not only left both lancer and dragon dazed, but also made it harder for the targets to hit back. And they were doing a lot of hitting back.
Especially against Grigore.
Unnerved that the chaos at Akma’ad had taken another victim — this time, a young woman named Gallia — the Most Exalted Odos of the House of Reprisal calmed his nerves and reflected that reprisal might be necessary even here on the material plane. “Perhaps it is just as well. Now it seems she has a demonic conspiracy working against her, too.”
When Grigore went down, Garen Bladerun remembered what happened in the previous battle, when it was the paladin who crumpled under dragon attacks. Grigore had used his From the Brink power to bring Garen back to his feet.
This time Garen could do the honors. His Lay on Hands power was just what Grigore needed. The ardent’s inner resources had dwindled to the point where ordinary healing could no longer help him.
Lay on Hands, however, is no ordinary healing power. As Garen placed his hands on Grigore’s scorched shoulders, he could feel his own inner resources flowing into Grigore’s haggard body. As the eyes flickered open, the body no longer seemed quite so haggard.
“Have no fear, there’s plenty more where that came from,” he assured the ardent and returned to the battle.
“Demons?” In the middle of a battle with Githyanki, the abbot hardly expected his distinguished guests to bring up demonic conspiracies. Especially against Gallia. “What do you mean? Demons!”
Pouring on the damage in the hardest part of the battle (after the dragon became enraged, but before the Dragonlancer became exhausted), Delis Erinthal reflected back on the early part of the fight when she had missed a few shots.
But now that she was in her Skirmishing Stance, she was evading most of the damage and hitting her quarry on a regular basis. "Dragons make for the most challenging hunt she thought to herself.
Sure, she had seen the spectacular damage Magdalene had been able to do when she fought from the rigging, but Twin Strike was working well and Delis was really pouring on the damage.
“Yes, demons,” explained the ambassador. “I just had a demon appear on my shoulder. Urging me to kill that young woman you have here at the monastery. I believe her name is Gallia. That is what the demon said, anyway. Gallia. That is her name is it not? The demon told me to kill her. Something about feeding her brain to a hobgoblin.”
Maggie got the chance to do a lot of damage early in the fight, so she took it.
But then she made a slight miscalculation: Assuming that slowing the dragon would not be important, she decided to save her purple poison for a later fight and used up her green and red elixirs.
Sure, the Greenblood Oil did extra damage, but its anti-healing powers were more suited to a troll than a dragon. “Oh, well, don’t expect to be fighting any trolls today anyway,” thought Magdalene to herself as she danced along the rigging and tossed her shuriken. She still had the Bloodroot Poison. And she noticed that a dazed dragon cannot charge.
It was much later in the battle that she realized the dragon’s charges were enabling its best attacks: A successful bite-claw-claw attacks at the end of a charge gave the beast enough adrenaline to power a free breath attack.
On top of that, when the charges ended in a single bite, they seemed to enable a special attack from the rider: At first it was those annoying triple attacks the Githyanki seemed to favor, but later it became a new one that combined a Psychic Lance attack with a Silver Bastard Sword attack.
Once she realized these attacks could be thwarted by slowing the dragon and preventing it from charging, Maggie sighed to herself, “Better late than never,” and applied the purple Carrion Crawler Brain Juice she had prepared just that morning to her shuriken. “That ought to last for the rest of the battle.”
When the lancer became exhausted she decided to take the fight to him. Running out along the yardarm, Maggie executed an acrobatic (and gallant) leap onto the dragon-rider’s back. It all would have been more spectacular had the lancer not avoided her grapple.
But she got her revenge when the rider tried to prevent her from harming his dragon, he brought himself close enough to death that a little twist of the blade was all it took to kill him.
When he asked Ambassador Odos how he knew the creature who delivered the message was a demon, the abbot thought the old blind man was going to explode in anger. Instead, the Most Exalted Odos answered in measured tones, “Because I smelled the brimstone. Because he sounded like a demon. Because he told me he was a demon. Because he appeared on my shoulder and told me to kill a young woman. Because he thought feeding her brain to a hobgoblin was a good idea. No, that’s not what he said. He said I should feed her brain to a demon who belonged to a hobgoblin. I suggest an extra guard to protect her should you happen to rescue the girl.”
Zumos was kind of proud that he had struck the killing blow against Xirakis. The pact dragon did not seem to appreciate the irony of being burned to death by a Cinderfall spell. But Zumos was willing to savor it.
Especially after his friend, Grigore, had almost died in the fight.
But the ardent/investor had been brought back from the brink of death with Garen’s Lay On Hands. And now Grigore was urging the big paladin to use it again (on Grigore, of course) to prepare for the fight ahead.
For everyone in the Golden Scales (even Magdalene was calling the party that now) was aware that there was a fortress under siege ahead of them. More fights were ahead of them, and Grigore was still their best healer.
In fact, he was healing everyone else now that the battle was over. But Grigore’s own reserves were stretched to the limit. While Garen could not offer much healing help in the battles to come, Zumos hoped using that healing now would pay off in the long run by keeping Grigore on his feet through the rest of the day.
Right now, however, Grigore was concentrating on prying the rubies from the dragon’s harness: 14 rubies, and Grigore was telling them he appraised their value at about 500 gold pieces each.
Somewhere ahead of them were cities where that money could be spent. And everybody in the Golden Scales had some ideas about what they wanted to spend it on. Zumos was thinking about a backup staff. Or even a wand. And he could always use some scrolls and potions. He even seemed to be finally understanding the lessons he had in the south on how to do ritual magic. He could use a place to buy more rituals for his ritual book.
And more ritual components as well, although Chance Runner had found a small supply of those in the hold.
The fortress ahead was little more than a monastery. Probably not a great place to spend hard-earn money. But Zumos had heard of a city named Sayre. Somewhere beyond the monastery at Akma’ad.
Maybe it would even have a link to the cities of the south, where the Septarchs exerted their influence. But the Septarchs had never mentioned Sayre when they sent Zumos north to find the lost towers.
Right now Delis and Grigore were arguing about who should go up to the crow’s nest. Well, maybe Zumos was seeing conflict where there was only honest disagreement aimed at finding the best solution. Eventually, the two decided they could do a better job if both of them climbed to the top of the mast. And Delis started climbing.
But Zumos was amused to see Grigore get distracted from his own climb. Maxim had come up with an idea: He would send a small ambassador imp ahead to let the defenders know that help was on the way.
Grigore liked this idea, but apparently wanted more control of the message. Zumos found a lot of their messages amusing and contributed a wide variety of catcalls and derision. But mostly he just laughed at the things the hobgoblin thought would be a good idea to communicate.
They talked to Tokk’it, and he suggested sending the message to a leader there: someone he called Odos.
Tokk’it offered another suggestion: The defenders should be told they had to kill a young woman named Gallia.
The Githzerai scout was convinced Gallia was a spy who was working with the Gith assassin who had been sent to kill Odos and two other leaders. Tokk’it told them an important meeting had been taking place at the monastery when the attack came. He was convinced that the reason the attack came at the worst possible time was the presence of a spy who had told the Githyanki that the leaders were there.
Tokk’it admitted that he did not know the real reason for the meeting, but he had some guesses: Tokk’it was even guessing that it was very important, whichever guess was right.
So they agreed the message to kill Gallia should be sent, along with the rest. Maxim added a number of colorful details, which sent Zumos into wild laughter. But he couldn’t help noticed the slightly puzzled look on the ambassador imp’s face as he tried to memorize the mission and the message.
Just then a cry came from the crow’s nest. Delia had spotted the monastery, cut into the cliff ahead of them. As the fortress of Akma’ad hove into view, those in the Bridge could see two troopships drawn up to monastery — troopship much like the one they sailed.
And one of those ship was being quickly boarded by soldiers. As if the attackers had spotted them and were coming out to meet them.
And fight them.
Zumos heard Tokk’it shouting orders to his ghost sailors: “Hoist sails! Full ramming speed! Prepare to go to battle sails at my order!”