Adversity is a crazy thing. It comes in many forms, and at some point in your life — you will have to find ways to overcome it. Think of the last time the odds were against you. Maybe you were considered the underdog, or were told that your goals in life are unrealistic. Whatever the case may be, the only thing that’s important is how you overcome these problems. Then, there are those who can’t carry that weight and let it bring them down. In my opinion, One of the best opportunities you can be given in life is to be underestimated.
Previously in our story...
Shalev considered taking some of the transparent worm scales to turn into protective goggles. The idea was a good one, though KelLyn warned that the magic that had caused the scales to appear clear would likely not last forever. He earmarked the concept though, and I agreed that having something along those lines might be helpful when we eventually made our way back to the desert.
Shalev also made motion to try taking some of the worm meat, but I quickly put a stop to that. Worm meat was highly toxic and not even his ability to purify food would be able to make it palatable. Ceding to my advice, he gave up the notion and we packed up our camp.
As we traveled, he showed me the teeth that he had taken from the worm, and asked if I might be able to help him carve them into daggers. I agreed to do so, and as I worked, I pondered the odd appearance of a purple worm here. Normally, they were desert creatures, and we were far from the deserts of home. The lake shimmered off to the left of the road we traveled, and there were hay fields growing golden to the right. As we passed along the hay fields, however, we noticed with some alarm a yellowish green cloud blowing our way.
Shalev and I looked at one another and immediately dismounted and began to hastily secure belongings. The rest of the party reacted more slowly, but began moving to help as we explained that clouds like that were the only warning you would get before a sandstorm struck. Lightning feathered out from the billowing sickly looking clouds and the winds began to blow hot through the hay. The storm was moving fast, much faster than even Shalev and I had guessed, and we shouted to the party that we could not run, we simply had to secure what we could and ride it out.
Jaeger looked at the storm clouds and the lightning, and on impulse, ran forward quickly and jammed a long metal rod into the ground a good way ahead of us. He turned to run back, and froze. Eyes so wide we could see the whites around them, he shouted something in the language he and Shalev speak together to the sky. Shalev paled and quickly turned, and I followed the action, to see an immense blue dragon hovering above and behind us, it's giant wings adding to the heated winds of the oncoming storm. At nearly 250 feet in length, it was quite possibly the largest thing I had ever seen, and as it hovered, it turned it's massive head to gaze in baleful hate at the party. It was the only warning we had.
The horses, oxen, and cart bolted in terror. Ashley, Osman, and KelLyn were carried off with them, and Ashley lost his hold on the cart to fall a short distance away, landing hard on his back. Tobias also turned to flee, overcome by the panic induced by the dragon's hateful glance. Jaeger wove one of his spells and reached out to touch Shalev on the shoulder, but shuddered violently half way through his casting. I knew I could not reach anyone in the split seconds that we had, but I was able to gather my willpower enough to shake off the effects of the fear just enough to act. I prayed fervently to my deities to grant me a spell of protection against the dragon, not knowing if even they could do such a thing, but trusting in their power to keep me alive.
They answered my terrified invocation, and gave me a spell to grant personal protection to enhance my defenses. The power of the spell allowed me to completely shake off the lingering effects of the fear in time to see the elder dragon arc his head down toward the party and unleash a wave of lightning that slashed and sparked through the entire area. Lightning bolts flashed out, striking us all. Amit and Ashley were lost to the blasts, instantly immolated. Shalev, Jaeger, Lan, and myself were all gravely wounded. Of the cart, and Tobias, nothing could be seen except a smoldering crater.
Shalev looked at where his friend once was, and then turned back to the dragon shaking with nearly incandescent fury. His armor, still smoking from the lightning strike, screamed in seeming echo of that outrage and I recalled with some trepidation then that it housed the soul of a dragon within it. Jaeger touched the hilt of his own sword, and as he drew the weapon, the area surrounding him began to shimmer with energy.
The greater dragon wheeled around and landed thunderously near what was left party, and Shalev touched his brooch, still shaking with a combination of righteous fury and the lingering effects of the terror induced by the dragon's gaze. Shalev shone for a moment with divine light, and was quickly and completely healed of his injuries.
I was grievously injured, and on the verge of collapsing into unconsciousness. I looked at where Tobias had been, where Amit had been, and let my own sorrow and fury wash over me. I allowed the depth of those feelings to anchor me and I stood on shaky legs and quickly drank one of the greater healing potions that I had remaining from the bandolier that Tobias had crafted for me. The potion shimmered with a silver light and tasted vaguely of earthy nuts and old forests. I ceased caring about my injuries, and felt energy and vitality return to me. As I made my way over to where Lan had fallen, I saw Shalev grab the bronze spear and stab the monolithic dragon in its exposed underbelly.
The spear proved effective, and sliced into the dragon, causing some small injury. The dragon looked down suddenly in surprise at being noticeably hurt, and said "ow!", locking eyes on Shalev in disbelief that such a small creature could have caused it pain. Shalev snarled at the dragon in response and moved to stab it again as the dragon raised its foot up to stomp Shalev into the ground.
I made it over to Lan and gave her the remaining greater healing potion, which also shimmered with the same silver light. I held her and helped her to drink the liquid until she was recovered enough to stand on her own. I looked over to see that Jaeger had turned himself into a raven and started to fly up towards the dragon's face towering above us all. Shalev decided that the spear was not going to be enough, and dropped that weapon to draw his holy avenger, and as he unsheathed the weapon I felt a massive wave of dark energy flare out from the dragon causing everything in a circle around Shalev to wither and die.
As the vegetation grew black, it frosted over with hoarfrost and the air around us grew noticeably chilled. I shivered in response and watched as the dragon brought his foot crashing down onto where Shalev had been standing. At the same time, the dragon also began waving its front claws together in the beginnings of a spell. Thinking quickly, I smacked the end of my cedar wood staff onto the ground once, and pointed the tip towards the dragon's face as a sonic boom of deafening sound lanced out in a cone.
The dragon's foot came down with a reverberating crash, causing the ground to fracture out around it. Had Shalev still been standing there, he surely would have been crushed; however where he had been, a white dragon now lay, grasping the giant claws of the elder dragon and shrieking in defiant anger. The smaller white dragon opened his mouth again and blew deadly icy daggers into the exposed underbelly of the greater dragon.
The greater dragon shook off the sonic boom with a negligent shrug as its claws completed the spell to create a giant fireball which he cast towards the smaller dragon at its feet. The wave of sound was enough to capture the dragon's attention though, and it shifted its foot up to try to crush me with the next step. Lan, who was fully healed, fell to the ground with a shout, declaring that she was a killer whale as she began flopping her way over to the dragon's other foot to begin gnawing on its toe. Jaeger had reached the dragon's face, and promptly continued his flight, straight up the greater dragon's nostril. I looked up at the massive clawed foot and watched as it began its descent. I gauged my movements and moved just a single step to the side, allowing the clawed toes to fall to either side of me without harming me. I drew my sword then and attacked the webbing between the giant toes, praying again to my deities for protection. My blade screamed, echoing again the sorrow and fury of lost friends and hopeless circumstances. Flames sparked off of the blade's edge and I could tell that the razor line had been dulled somewhat. As I completed my strike, I heard an echoing shuddering boom climb its way up the greater dragon from the inside, as if something had collapsed within it.
The smaller white dragon had clawed its way out from underfoot and had taken to the air to attack the larger dragon's head with furious claws and bites. Lan continued to gnaw at one of the greater dragon's toes, and the greater dragon stomped down on her in annoyance, but though the ground caved in and again fractured out, Lan remained unharmed and unfazed as she continued to bite and chew. The greater dragon looked down at her in surprised annoyance and drew breath in to attack us all with lightning again.
Knowing that there was nowhere to run to and no way to escape the coming blast, I braced myself and prayed. As I closed my eyes, the last thing I glimpsed was the sickly colored yellow green cloud enveloping us all.
The universe blinked.
There was an explosion of light and sound as the world around us spiraled into a vortex of nothingness. The greater dragon was drawn, shrieking, down into the void; screaming and shrinking until there was only light. The ground we stood on smoked, the remains of the devastation the great dragon wrought the only evidence that it had ever existed. I fell to my knees, exhausted and unable to comprehend what had happened. I looked up to see a large bronze skinned man with a double set of wings standing in the center of the bubble of strange reality. He looked at Lan, blinked once, and then said in a voice that rumbled like waterfalls "I am sorry, I appear to be late. You are the scholar, yes?" then proceeded to speak in an resonant language that brought to mind images of deep black oceans and frozen voids.
Lan appeared to understand what the being was saying though, as she responded in the same language. They spoke thus for several moments, and the being.. the man.. looked around. He raised his hand and Amit reformed out of the ashes where he had lain, looking surprised and very cranky. The man raised his hand again and the cart appeared, with Osman in the back and KelLyn trying to repair an apparently broken wheel. The man shook his head and wiggled his fingers, and the cart was once again whole along with everything that was inside it. Ashley too had been brought back, and he sat there on the ground blinking slowly. Tobias appeared on the ground in front of the cart, battered and bruised and cut in a hundred places as if he had run full tilt into the forest of glass. I started to go to him, but the man moved his hand again, and Tobias sat up fully healed.
A stone portal opened up and Shalev walked through, once again human and whole. He looked once at the man, and then saw that Amit was there, and ran to check on his friend with palpable joy and relief. Then a black circle opened up where the dragon had been and Jaeger was spit up out of the ground. Lan asked the man his name, and he replied that he was Cerberus Celestius and that he was an astral sage. He looked at her, and then at all of us, and said quite solemnly that he wished us luck. He said that the powers that be had underestimated us greatly. He cautioned that we had some protection here while we were in the fairy circle, and we should use that accordingly to plan for what was coming. Then he bowed once to Lan before he vanished and we found ourselves once again sitting beside the lake as if nothing at all had just happened.
We all looked at one another, unsure of what had just happened, unsure of whether or not we were really here, and just glad to be alive for the moment. Amit still grumbled, but allowed Shalev to continue hugging him. Tobias seemed startled when I hugged him tightly to me, and then I turned to Lan to ask what she and the strange bronze man had been talking about. She translated the conversation as best as she could, as apparently it had been held in the language of whales, and not everything would translate properly.
The man had told her that there was a talisman that we needed to find. One of two artifacts from the desert culture, called the Talisman of Al Akbar. The talisman was said to be paired with a chalice of hammered gold and together they were supposed to be capable of miracles. Both were once said to have been in the ancient city of Kaibar before the desert was cursed to be infertile. Both artifacts were lost to time, and only rumors remained of where they might currently reside.
After gathering our things, and checking once again to ensure that we were all healed, whole, and ready to travel, we started to make our way back to the road again. We stopped after a few steps, however, when we saw that all vegetation within a 30 foot radius of Shalev continued to wither and die. I bade him move away from the cart and I checked him over to see what spell had affected him. I couldn't find anything, and I asked KelLyn to check as well, since it could be a magical effect. She snarked, but agreed to my request and we discovered that he had been affected by a very powerful destroy plant spell that would last about a week. It was strong enough that neither KelLyn nor I could remove it, and so we decided to stay where we were until it wore off.
I used the time to try to resharpen my sword, but only succeeded in dulling the honing stones. I asked Shalev to see if Jaeger could sharpen it, but he also could not. I sheathed it again and made a note to visit Ishmael as soon as we could to get it repaired.
We used the week to rest, recover ourselves, and to discuss what the man had told us through Lan. It appeared as though the chalice he mentioned was the same chalice that Shalev had heard about in the elven city that could possibly be used to help KelLyn restore her friend Gran Tier. Kaibar was only a small village now, but it was rumored to be near the same regional area where Shalev had lost the sword Crawlsargot. Both of the artifacts were needed to deal with the overarching threat of Lloth and the evil armies, and the elven city where they burned the tree was one of the ways to gain entrance to the underworld. Puzzle pieces started to fall into place with what the bronze man had said about everything being tied together.
After the week had ended, and vegetation started to regrow around Shalev, we packed up and started out on the road again. Lan discovered at that time that a book had appeared in her possessions that talked about extra dimensional rifts. She tried to read it, but ended up getting frustrated. She handed it to me, but I couldn't make any sense of it at all. KelLyn also was unable to read it, but protested vehemently when Lan took it back, saying that all magic items belonged to her by default. Lan, in an almost uncharacteristic display of command, firmly reminded her that she was not the only magic user in the party and that such thoughts were selfish and unwarranted. The book had been given to Lan, and with Lan it would remain.
We traveled thankfully without further encounter or event, and were able to make our way back to the ruins of Lacosta's tower where we decided to stop. It was possible that there were things that had been left behind in the tower, and the rest of the party agreed that checking it out was a good idea.
Threads within threads. It would appear that everything we have before us to do is simply smaller pieces of a much larger quest. We survived. Again. Though from what I could understand of the translated conversations between the bronze man and Lan, the fact that we were able to hold our own for so long caused the powers that be to give pause.
They have underestimated us, it seems. Again.
I am curious to see whether or not this bodes ill for us in the future.