The swamp drake had disgorged a noxious fume that brought all caught within down low. It flew by and sounds could be heard of it moving far into the woods but not attacking. Everyone had moved into the cave. Marc and Gilles, the surviving soldiers, along with anyone else who had volunteered, threw the ogres on pyre and lit it up to destroy the bodies and begin removing the smell of their already turning flesh. Sergeant-Ensign Aeryn, after she had recovered a bit buried the third soldier whom the ogres had nearly completed eating. She placed his personal effects in a box.
Everyone spent most of the hour resting as much as they could. Renée every once in awhile went out and scouted, coming back having heard a creature out there, but not seeing it. After an hour, as the sun began to set, she said, “if it is out there, it is waiting for us to make a move.”
Renee stayed crouched with her goggles on, looking out into the night. Aeryn sat on one side with her newly armored men nearby. One of them, Marc took a watch on the far side away from Renée. Aeryn looked at Typhon Né warily, obviously distrusting the Snomorian.
Emmeline smiled over at Renee. “Well, I’m not worried about it. We’ve got you watching and you’ve got those special glasses. You’ll probably put its eyes out if it even things of getting close.” She specialized in encouraging young protege’s.
“Sergeant Aeryn?” Emmeline had noticed how similar the soldier looked to Emmeline herself. “How did you come to choose such a dangerous profession as soldiering?”
“Tradition I suppose was the initial reason, though I’ve become capable in my own right,” she answered. “My mother’s family has always served the House of Primel since the invasions of Haalkhan a hundred-fifty years ago. My mother was a soldier, as were my grandparents.”
“My mother was the wife of a sailor,” Emmeline said. “What does your father do?”
“I do not know. I never met him. I am what they call a noble bastard.” she said with an ironic smile.
Emmeline laughed and said, “Ha! We could be related. My grandfather was…” She stopped and frowned. Red hair. The eyes. Features looked an awful lot like Emmeline’s own features. “Actually that’s not funny. My grandfather was a famous bard and he had a reputation of catching the eye of many a lady.”
Elemix overheard the two chatting, walked up, and took a seat on what he supposed was the least uncomfortable of the choices in rock formations to sit on.
“Well that went relatively well I suppose,” he said as he sat down. Looking at Aeryn he said, “It is most regrettable we couldn’t get here sooner to save the other soldier, but at least we managed to save some of them.
I hope no one is upset with my quick decision to create that storm and essentially use this cave as cover from that beast out there.”
Aeryn nodded to Emmeline saying in a lower tone, “The chances are slim. You’d have to ask my mother. She claimed it was the previous Baron’s brother Lord Jean Primel. But my mother had several lovers I have learned, Lord Jean had only reluctantly claimed me and his nephew, Lord Guy, the current Baron put me through the Academy on Thalassa. I do not look like either of them; however. Mother sticks to her story.”
Turning to Elemix and raising her voice up a bit she answered, “I’m sorry. Just finishing up a bit of girl talk. No Magus, you did your best. I was quite impressed. The storm seems to have given it pause. It may still be out there, but it is thinking twice. Thank you.”
“I rather liked being in the middle of a lightning storm that didn’t zap me,” Emmeline said cheerily. “Well done. In any case, I think I learned something valuable in terms of tactics that last battle. I’ll be back at full strength in an hour and ready to take on the drake.”
“Thats good,” said Elemix. I should be able to recover some of my spells in that time. “I doubt it will leave us alone much longer then that, though we may get lucky.
I can’t imagine that drake just came out of nowhere. I wonder if somehow the hags have sent it? They have been actively attempting to scry our location. They may have succeeded.
Perhaps it is some kind of guardian that they control? Then again, it could be one of the hags themselves.”
“That’s just what I was thinking, El,” Emmeline said. “We know they can polymorph so I was betting one of them was in fact that very drake. She could be going to get her allies. We’d really be better off hunting it down before that happens.”
“If it is one of the hags, then I suspect they all know of our location as I think all three of them are needed to scry. Regardless though I agree that we should hunt it down. We’ll just need to be wary of the others as we do. They are likely trying to steer us into some kind of trap.”
Emmeline nodded and stood up. She began gathering wood from around the cave to build a fire. “And I should point out that whatever that thing was, it was not a natural creature. Therefore, if it is a morphed member of the hags, or a morphed victim, rather than some sort of pet, the the spell would be of the most powerful sort imaginable. I would hope that means it took all three of them to pull off such a spell. Of course, being able to do so at all is a deadly danger to us.”
Once satisfied with with the little pile of wood she pulled together, she ignited the fire with a quick, tiny bit of magic. It would be nice to warm themselves as they rested.
Aeryn added, “What we need is a dozen knights with lances or a company of archers. That thing would not stand a chance if we had the numbers. Quantity has a quality all its own.”
“Definitely,” Emmeline said. “But, if my Baron had the resources to do that, I know he’d have sent them. The war with the goblins in the north is more or less over, but he’s tasked to with assembling soldiers for Thalassa the same as yours.”
“If the goblins return, we will be weaker,” warned Aeryn.
“They will,” Emmeline said. “But hopefully not before winter, if this year at all. One priest to an old god of… to a god of the most heated sort of negative emotions escaped, but we killed the others, their own priestess and a host of leaders. It will be a while before they organize, and perhaps just as importantly, Lady Rivanon d’Uzec is in command of the lands north of Calder and she knows how to deal with them.”
“I do not know her,” said Aeryn. “Though rumors are still filtering in on what happened up there.”
Em nodded. “We were there, all of us. It was Lady Rivanon that had a dream goblins would cross the frozen river and attack. I made sure word got to her father the Baron, and then we began to rush back home. When we got there, we found the Baron had taken the news, as fantastic as it sounded, very seriously and had already worked to save all the people that had settled throughout the Calder valley. We had no idea that while we were trying to deal with one of those hags, my Baron fought a rear guard action to protect his people. It was then that he and his greatest knight fell. We had arrived but three hours too late to help him.
“I preserved his body and as you might expect of the Baron’s mistress, I confess I made a trip to crazy town for a while.” Emmeline hadn’t mentioned she was anyone’s mistress until now. She seemed to assume Aeryn knew. “With his daughter now in command we did a lot of stuff, killed a lot of goblins and were nearly killed ourselves. Being mad with grief gave me the courage to deal with some of it but my friends are just naturally brave. Or crazy.” Emmeline shrugged. “And now you can see why my Baron has ordered us to deal with these hags. They already cost us so much and I know they won’t stop.”
“The ogres that lay down there have killed four soldiers, a half-dozen villagers, and taken uncounted livestock, ruining many villager’s livelihoods. We all have our challenges. The hags have not bothered anyone in these parts, at least not that I know of. There are rumors of people seeking them out. Maybe they are more active south of here?” said Aeryn.
“I think the hags are, um, quite specific in their wants and needs,” Em said a little cryptically. “It would make sense that they are smart enough to avoid getting attention near their lair.”
“So they likely range far and wide versus upsetting their neighbors and drawing attention to themselves?” said Aeryn.
Emmeline shrugged. “Apparently. But maybe Elemix has some ideas.”
Renée slid closer, keeping a watchful eye out. She added, “Miss Em, I really don’t thing that drake was a polymorphed hag. It is pretty smart, pretty tactical. Hags are crafty I’ve heard, but what we saw earlier was dragon tactics. Also, I’ve never heard of anyone short of the legendary sorcerer emperors becoming a dragon. My dad has books on the subject – dragons that is, not hags.”
“I’m not really sure if that’s better or worse,” Emmeline said. “It would seem… odd if a dragon would work for anyone at all. Maybe it was just attracted to the fighting?”
“Or it is ensorceled,” said Renee. “I mean, it could happen. I for one don’t know if this is a smart drake or not.”
“I know these woods are dangerous and relatively unexplored because of it, but I would think it would be virtually impossible for a dragon to go unnoticed. If it is a real one, then surely someone has seen or heard of it.
Not that it makes much difference now. Regardless we will have to deal with it if it chooses not to leave us alone or if it interferes with our hag hunt.”
Elemix thought for a moment before continuing. “It is possible to polymorph into a dragon of that size, but I am not sure it would make much sense to do so and then engage in a fight as one would need to maintain concentration or revert back. Unless of course someone else cast the spell.”
Marc, one of the soldiers spoke up, “Y’all wrong. It looks like a drake, acts like a drake, breaths swamp gas. It is a swamp drake, no question. Pardon all of you, but you are all kids and don’t know a dang thing. The forest of LaVardin covers over 2000 square miles of hills, valleys, rivers, and highlands. Sure, someone might have heard of drakes living here. We have. We just are not the someones you kind deign to talk to. There be dragons and monsters of all kinds, elves, hags, ogres, wights, and more hidden in these forests. But 99 out of a hundred or more could cross its vastness and never see a single soul, much less a monster. We just happen to be the unlucky ones today. Most the Periphery ain’t mapped so nicely as most would like to think.”
“Well there you have it then,” said Elemix matter of factly. “Let’s assume Marc is correct and it is just a swamp drake.
If we can escape the area unseen after we have allowed enough time to recuperate, we stand a good chance of evading the creature all together.
That being said if it does decide to try and fight us we will still need to be wary of the hags and who knows what else. The hags would be happy to jump in when we are all depleted of strength and injured to finish the job off. And a likely worse fate for the women should such events occur.”
Aeryn gave a hand gesture to Marc, ending that part of the conversation, she then added, “There is no such thing as just a swamp drake. They are smart, clever, and sneaky despite their size. But you are right Magus, in theory, it might just avoid this fight altogether. Your scout said she heard it out there in the darkness, but hasn’t for some time. By morning perhaps it will move off, but it could attack tonight. If I were it, and I’m not, but if I were, I wouldn’t let us rest up. I’d attack soon. As far as hags, we would like to avoid such a fate for certain, but they are as you say a full day’s ride south of here. Could it be that these events are not connected?”
“That is quite possible,” replied Elemix. “The timing of the appearance of the drake could be nothing more than an unfortunate circumstance. The fight with the elemental did make a lot if noise, and that in and of itself could have attracted the beast if it was relatively close by.
Elemix stood and took a couple of steps deeper into the cave, before turning back.
“I could set up a magical hut for us to rest in deeper in the cave, and while nothing is certain, so long as the hut remains in effect we should be safe from harm. I could partially obscure it’s appearance to better blend in with the cave. We might get lucky and wait this one out.
We should of course remain on guard in case we are wrong about the true nature of these events, or if something else happens upon this cave.”
“Can this ‘hut’ contain all seven of us?” Aeryn asked.
“Yes,” replied Elemix.
“There will be room for up to 9 people to rest relatively comfortably.”
“Are you all really so tired or injured? I said it before,” Emmeline said, “but I’m ready to go. I don’t need more than this short rest, and I think it’s far better to press our attack against it than waiting for it to appear. Or whatever the hags will try next.”
Renee piped up, “I’m good. Let’s get it!”
Aeryn said, “I took a good hit there from the Justicar, but I’ve mostly recovered. Just had the wind knocked out of me.”
The soldiers, now newly armored and equipped both nodded they were up for a fight.
Elemix didn’t see the need to fight, but if everyone was willing to do so he wasn’t going to stop them.
“Very well. Let’s get moving.”