After a short time of travel, we reached the town of Flueria. It was an agrarian community with a small port, which mostly had fishing vessels and a single merchant ship at dock. In the evening, we played cards.
At some point in the evening, Gunnar and Elif turned their heads, sniffing. A few hands later, however, a stranger in a nice, black robe with a neatly-trimmed black goatee and well-groomed man joined us, taking our cards in his hands. We played several more rounds, and he lost a fair amount of money—mostly to me.
“You are quite the competition,” he said with a sly smile. “How would you like to up the odds?”
We looked at each other and then back at him. “In what way?” Asakku asked.
“Well, I heard you are trying to save your sick friend.”
Asakku’s eyes narrowed. “And how did you hear this?”
“News spreads,” he said with a slow smile. “It’s in my interest if you move quickly, and you have more important deeds to do. Perhaps we can make a deal.”
He then laid out a deal, offering to heal our friend at the risk of one of us to go to hell with him. He spent quite some time trying to convince us to play games in exchange for prizes of dubious nature. Lionel was about to accept some terrible offer when I did the only thing I could think of: I punched him in the head and knocked him out cold.
Elif just sort of stared at me for a long while and then shook her head. The devil then walked off into the darkness, thinking we couldn’t see him. He then glanced over his shoulder and walked into a tree, probably expecting us to be terrified of him.
I let out a relieved breath as soon as he was gone, and we spent the rest of the night in quiet after that. In the morning, we approached the merchant captain, Captain Sylvanus, to see if we could book passage with him up north. He agreed, and we boarded his ship and greeted his small crew.
At some point, we decided to rest, though we were woken by the bell calling general quarters. An air of tension filled the ship, and the crew talking around us. Gunnar told us the Watch had spotted something in the distance. As soon as we reached the deck, we saw the crew arming themselves. A dense fog wrapped around us, and the man at the bow bellowed that they’d seen one in the mist, there were eyes.
The hair on my arms stood up, and Asakku warned to everyone to take cover.
The crew huddled close to one another, taking cover the best they could. Elif glanced at the man who spoke, asking him what he’d seen. “I could have sworn seeing a man in the mist with icy blue eyes, but it’s gone now…”
From the mist, we saw humanoid figures appear in the fog. They came and went like the fog itself, though their piercing blue eyes stared through us, unblinking. One of the figures—the one on the port side of the ship—raised its hands. A loud crack split the air as lightning split the mist, tearing through several of the sailors. They shrieked in surprised agony. Before we had the chance to respond the other creature attacked in quick succession.
“Get to the port side, men,” the captain bellowed from behind us. I stepped forward, trying to call on the powers invested in me by Bahamut to banish the undead creatures, though nothing happen. Not undead then. Great.
Asakku rushed past me, stabbing at the creature with the head of his spear. He penetrated it, but the static in the air gathered before crackling down the shaft of his weapon and into him, drawing a pained grunt. A moment later, they pulled away before refocusing and hurling lightning down at the crew.
The crew and us all swarmed to the front of the ship, trying to reach the beasts to attack them. Asakku lunged forward, sending flame out into the beast. It hissed, dissipating into nothing and vanishing into the fog.
The remaining monster snarled, unleashing a bolt of lightning that struck just about everyone on the crew. I fell back, knowing I could not engage the beast, and instead focused on healing the wounded. It didn’t take much longer for Elif to dispatch the remaining mist creature. The crew survived, thanks to their quick work and my healing intervention.
Captain Sylvanus thanked us, waving our fee and telling us we were always welcome on his ship.
About a week later, we spent time getting to know the crew, learning they were skilled at their craft as well as at healing. I had many good conversations with them about different techniques and methods. We celebrated the new year aboard the vessel and enjoyed drinks and companionship.
“So… guys, I wanna say something,” a rather drunk Elif said, gesturing us over to the edge of the ship.
We congregated around her. “So… Saga was the one who saved Gunnar.” I raised a brow. “He needs something in return.”
“It wants a square mile of land.”
“… To do what with?”
I couldn’t tell you what a shovel would want with a mile of land, but… we agreed to provide it if we could. Eight days later, we discovered ourselves in a doldrums, the sun beating down on us, and the air not moving so much as a breath.
A wave slammed over the decks, and a dragon about the size of a horse burst from the waters, landing on the decks with a roar. A blue-green neck frill led down the back of its head and neck, its sea-colored body glittered in the light. “You seem to be stuck here,” it said in Common.
“Indeed,” I said, nodding.
“Well… in exchange, for helping you leave this area… I would ask you to lead me to an easily-conquered land. A place I could rule.”
“And your intentions for this are?”
The dragon snorted. “My patience grows thin. Do you want help or not?”
I stared at the creature, reaching out toward it with my senses of evil. It did not read as such, but I remained cautious. I told the others, who readily agreed to the dragon’s demands. I sat on the steps, rubbing the bridge of my nose.
“What is your name, dragon friend?” Elif asked, grinning at the creature.
“I am called Saltscale,” it said, bowing its head in a polite manner.
“Pleasure to meet you,” she said, still smiling.
I knew I was going to regret this. I just knew it. Nonetheless, the dragon helped us reach our destination (an area just short of the City of 1,000 Nights) in a short time. When we reached shore, making port at Baronsfort—a small hamlet with no berths for large vessels—we saw maybe ten or so buildings scattered about, some farms in the distance.
“Does this suffice your needs for a land?” I asked the dragon, hating every word that left my mouth.
“Yes. Go conquer it for me.”
I turned to stare at him. “That was not part of our arrangement.”
“The first part of leadership is delegation.”
I rolled my eyes and tried to ignore the incoming headache. Elif piped up, discussing the idea of taking over Southport. I rejected the entire notion because doing such a thing would be treason, and I didn’t want to be hung for such a thing.
The dragon perked up, offering us a reward for conquering the hamlet and taking care of the vampires ‘for him.’ I groaned.
“Well, what if we found a logging town and recruited people and…” I stopped listening and just walked away. Again? AGAIN!? NOT AGAIN!
The others started discussing logistics of taking over Southport, and I just sunk down against one of the crates with my hands over my face. Not again.
Eventually, we decided to settle the dragon in a hamlet of kobolds where they would worship him as a god. We found out about a nearby community of the beasts that were in deck to be stomped by some local heroes. Elif charged off in that direction, and I reluctantly followed. Saltscale circled above us in wide, lazy circles.
We headed off in that direction and soon came upon an abandoned bandit encampment. We paused to study the encampment, but we didn’t linger there. Soon, we approached a village with a small keep at the center of it. “It’s there!” Elif said, pointing toward the keep. Gunnar shapeshifted into a dog to check out the place first, since we expected going plunging in there with a dragon in tow might surprise and terrify folk in the village.
He returned, telling us that there was a sinkhole in the midst of the town, from which led a few tunnels. The Keep was quite modest and looked like it might only have a few rooms each level, and it was three stories high. People and life continued onward in the village.
We looked upward to try and warn Saltscale not to enter the village, but when we checked he was gone. When we approached the town, we learned that the kobolds were indeed to blame for the sinkhole. They had dispatched some heroes to handle the kobolds off to the east, and we caught up with them swiftly.
One was a mage in a blue robe, carrying a rather ornate spear, and finally a middle-aged man with a black bear walking beside him, a beautiful bow slung across his back. The final man was wearing a rather gorgeous and impressive set of leather armor with a cloak slung over one shoulder. At his hip was a dueling sword of fine make that glittered in the sun.
As usual, we settled on me being the one who approached to talk. “Ho, friends,” I called, approaching them. They paused, turning to face us. They looked weary and grizzled from a life of battle.
I tried to convince them that we were going to take Gunnar on a mission to try and salt him up a little. They didn’t fall for it, and the ranger just… stared at us, his expression cold and unchanging. Eventually we broke down and told them exactly what the hell was going on.
They looked at one another, nodded, fist bumped, and took off ahead of us. We joined them, engaging in conversation on the way. We eventually reached a hole in the center of the field, small enough that getting down there would be difficult. I suggested that Gunnar shift forms and head down there to see if he could find his way down if there were any down there. He vanished down into the earth.
He returned after some time, reporting a warren down there. Elif squinted, then pointed upwards. “There he is.” She used her torch and shovel to signal Saltscale, who began his descent.
The dualist pointed. “Do you see that?”
“That would be the dragon,” I said with a sigh.
“Dragon?” the ranger said, growling under his breath.
“Yes, dragon. I told you about it.”
“I didn’t think you were serious… I hate dragons.”
I snorted. “Yeah. But… here we are.”
Saltscale landed with a huff. “Have you made progress, friends?” he asked. Friends. I sighed.
“There is a kobold warren beneath us,” I said, pointing at the hole nearby. “Perhaps you should call out to them.”
The sorcerer rolled his eyes. “I could have done that,” he muttered under his breath.
The dragon called to them, snarling something down one of the holes. A short time later, the first kobold stumbled out, followed by another, and then a whole swarm. The dragon growled to them, and they chattered in response. The dragon smiled. “Yes, this shall do. This shall do nicely. Now. About that hamlet.”
The ranger eyed us, raising a brow.
“No,” I said. “We have found you a people to rule over, and you are going to take them from here where they shall be safe, and you shall have your kingdom. That is enough.”
“I was under the impression…”
“You were wrong,” I snapped, glaring at the dragon, who frowned in response.
“Mm.” The dragon huffed. “I see.”
“I am done running errands for you. We have more important things to do than do your bidding.”
“And yet here you are,” he said with a sly grin.
“Not of my volition.”
“I assumed you were all of one mind.”
“We are not. And we do not belong to you!”
The dragon snorted. “Very well. Bring my new people to my lands.” He then took off and flew toward the ocean without a further word.
I stared after him, gritting my teeth so hard I could swear I heard something crack in my jaw. Fine. Fine, fine, fine. We herded the damn kobolds to the sea where they frolicked about like children. Eventually, Saltscale appeared, claiming he’d negotiated with the hamlet and that we were to bring the kobolds there.
I find myself sick of being the errand boy of creatures whose motivations I do not share. And being forced to do so by the rest of the group. I often regret leaving the cloisters of my order. We spent the night at the hamlet while Saltscale presumably went to collect the reward for the group. He’d already arranged sending someone to fetch supplies for building.
Gunnar snorted. “I think a certain paladin owes us an apology.”
“I owe you nothing,” I spat. “Just because he does something beneficial does not make this a good idea.”
“No.” I threw my hands up. “We will not see. We will be several hundred miles away to the north and never return here. We will have no way of knowing how this turns out. None whatsoever!”