Chapter 101: Firkraag Revealed
In the lower levels, after fighting their way past a couple squads of orc guards and traversing the walkway that spanned the pit they'd seen from the main cavern, Ember and her companions came upon the last thing they would have expected in such a place: other adventurers. In one of the larger chambers, they were approached by two battered and weary-looking men. The men claimed that they had been trapped there for the past four days, and pleaded for aid for their wounded companions.
"Yes, come this way," one of the men urged, and tugged at the hem of Edwin's sleeve. "Wounded in the back here, in small room. Yes. Move in close."
"You dare touch the great Edwin Odesseiron?!" the wizard bellowed. "(Insufferable simians!) I will not be rushed like a common peasant!"
"Sorry, sorry," the man said, and backed slightly away. "But we must hurry!"
"If imbecilic amateurs such as you can last four days here without us," Edwin snapped, "you can last a few moments longer!"
Ember frowned. They really have lasted a long time here, haven't they? Are they as helpless as they claim? "Four days is a long time in a place like this, especially with wounded," she said. "Why haven't the orcs found you and killed you?"
"Err, ah, we have made a deal with them," the other man stammered. "Yes, that is it. They have let us live and we, ah, do not bother them. It is a good deal, I think."
"You make deals with orcs?" Sir Cadril asked. "What manner of adventurers are you?"
"We... ah... deals? We..."
Ember crossed her arms. "I'm waiting..."
"Ah... You wait no longer!" the man who'd bothered Edwin shouted. "Ambush stupid when you are already in the lair! Firkraag be damned, I kill you for food!" Within moments, both men morphed into werewolves and lunged at Edwin, no doubt perceiving the robed wizard as an easy target. He was not. Before the first werewolf could touch him, he all but burnt its face off with a volley of magic missiles. The creature howled in pain and reeled backwards, straight into Anomen's reach. The cleric struck the creature's head hard enough to send it reeling into the wall; Edwin finished it off with a blast of flame while the rest of the group cut down the other werewolf.
"(I warned the fool,)" Edwin muttered smugly as he straightened his robes.
"Why am I not surprised to find the actual werewolves in his employ?" Ember said.
"The rest of them must await us behind this door," Yoshimo said. "Allow me..." The Kara-Turan kneeled in front of the door and deftly rigged a tripwire attached to a small bag so that the wire spanned the length of the threshold. "There," he said, standing up and brushing dust from his hands. "Now, we may welcome them properly!"
"What is in the bag?" Mazzy asked.
Yoshimo grinned. "Trust me."
Once everyone was ready, Minsc pushed the door open and cheerfully shouted, "Hello, werewolves!" He then stepped back and watched as the four startled men in the room within shifted into their true forms and rushed towards the doorway. The first one through the door stumbled over the tripwire; the bag, filled with strange Kara-Turan powders, exploded and showered the werewolves with tiny splinters of pure silver. They reacted as if they had been showered in burning oil, and even though there were four of them, the fight did not last long.
"A little trap I prepared before we left Athkatla, just in case I'd get a chance to set it," Yoshimo said with satisfaction as he wiped werewolf blood from his blade. "Two silver coins well spent, don't you agree?"
"Very well spent," Ember said. "Come, it can't be much farther now."
One of the two other exits led only to a small, dusty and very empty room. The other led to a room where half a dozen large orcs were waiting; one of them was the orc with the scarlet sash that had left the front gate. "Stupid werewolves! DigDag knew they fail," the orc with the sash growled. "Now we make stand! Make Firkraag proud he served by Stuck in Craw Clan!"
The other orcs roared with glee as they charged, swords and axes held high. Strong, well-armoured, and eager for a fight, they offered far more of a challenge than the werewolves, and most of the party suffered injuries by the time the last orc was felled; Edwin was only alive thanks to his protective spells, which had absorbed all but two of the blows aimed at him, and Sir Cadril's recently broken shield arm had to be reset before it could be healed again.
"No orc will make stand while Minsc and Boo live!" Minsc bellowed proudly as Anomen closed a gash across his forehead.
"Indeed, they shall not," Anomen said; upon noticing that Ember was watching them, he gave her a quick smile. She smiled back.
"They were guarding this door," Mazzy said, standing in front of a double door of iron-bound oak. She gave one of the doors a gentle push; it slid open without as much as a creak, and she peered inside. "I wonder... Oh! Come, my friends!"
On the other side of the door was a room with several lockers and cabinets, and two rows of tables with accompanying benches. A darkened corridor led away from the far corner, and three barred cells lined the opposite wall. Taar was locked inside one of the cells; the boy stared at the group with wild eyes, his hands clenching the iron bars so tightly that his knuckles had turned white.
"Thank the gods!" the boy cried. "Free me and we shall away! Find the mage - he has the key - the locks are magical. Hurry!"
"Where is Firkraag?" Ember asked.
Taar laughed wildly. "Firkraag? No no no. Do not risk yourselves, not for my sake. I have seen him; he's-"
There was a flash of light, and the boy froze in place, bound by a holding spell; his mouth was still open in speech.
"He's waiting for you." An elf in dark robes stepped out of the corridor, and gestured for the group to follow him.
Sir Cadril stepped forward. "Release the boy at once!"
"He's waiting for you," the mage repeated, in the tone of one explaining something to a small child, and headed back into the darkness, leaving the group with little choice but to follow.
The corridor led to a steadily widening flight of steps, which in turn led to a cavern as least as large as the one up near the gates. The cavern floor was almost perfectly smooth and dusted with powdered rock; here and there, the rocks had been melted to a glassy sheen. Numerous fire pots bathed the area in a golden, flickering light and made the patches of glassy rock glitter like jewels.
Firkraag stood in the middle of the cavern, his elf mage hovering by his side like an obedient pet, and watched the arrival of the group with obvious amusement. And why not be amused, Ember thought weakly as she looked at Firkraag. Lord Jierdan was still scarlet, still golden, and still arrogant, but otherwise, he was not even remotely as he had been in Athkatla.
He was a red dragon.
"Welcome," the dragon said. "You have come, as I wanted. It has been an interesting game, but to tell the truth, I tire of it."
It felt like an eternity before Ember could make her voice work. "Why?" she finally asked. "Why have you forced this confrontation?"
"For my amusement, for my curiosity, and for my memory of transgressions long since past."
"Transgressions? What transgressions?"
"Very well, an in-depth response," Firkraag said, sounding very put upon. "Gorion. He raised you, and was as much your father as anyone. He was also an adventurer in his day, and crossed my path long ago. Him and his Harper friends. I still bear the scars of that meeting." The dragon shifted his wings in annoyance, letting Ember catch a glimpse of a large, jagged scar across his upper torso; from the look of it, his scales had never fully closed over the wound. "He is beyond my revenge, being dead as he is, so I settled for the next best thing. I can torment his spirit by destroying you. Wherever he is, he is seething."
Ember couldn't believe it. A dragon - a dragon! - held a personal grudge against her, but not for the sake of Sarevok, or what she'd done to the Iron Throne, or because of her Bhaalspawn blood; it was for something Gorion had done long before she even was born!
"All of this over a grudge with a dead man?" Sir Cadril cried out. "Are you mad?"
The dragon chuckled. "I had toyed with forgetting the transgression, though it has not been that long in dragon terms. After all, her lineage would make an interesting subject to study, or so I thought; I must say I've been disappointed with her progress. Her conflict with Jon Irenicus shows some promise, though."
"I suppose you are league with that sadist, aren't you?" Ember growled. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised!
"I will have no dealings with that creature. I am merely interested in your confrontation with him. It was almost enough incentive for me to leave you be, but when I learned from my werewolves that you had shown yourself in my lands and all but trampled across my doorstep in order to curry favours from the dryad queen, I decided that a lesson was in order. Yes, a lesson; do not glare at me like that, Child. For now, you bore me. I will taunt you no more. You may go."
"We cannot leave without Garren's son," Mazzy said. "You know this."
"Do I know this? Do I really? Oh, very well. Here, rescue the boy from my servant and feel fulfilled. Do not think it will be easy; I test my subjects thusly all the time, and they know that failure is death," Firkraag said. "Conster! Go to the boy! If this group fails to take him from you, kill him." The mage bowed before the dragon, opened a dimension door, stepped through it, and vanished.
"Make haste!" Anomen cried, and led the group as they ran up the stairs back to the room where Taar was held captive. Conster was waiting for them there, standing calmly in front of the cell where Taar cowered in fear. The mage chanted a few magical syllables as the group approached him. He was not moving his hands, and Ember expected the spell to only be a simple cantrip, but when the chant completed, Yoshimo and Minsc were struck by a bolt of lightning.
"(Devious,)" Edwin muttered, and while the others charged Conster, he cast a spell of magic removal on the mage. The spell struck; the mage seemed to dissolve into thin air and reappeared a few feet away, glowing with protective enchantments. Snarling, Conster flung a second lighting bolt at his attackers, taking care to aim it so that it'd strike Edwin as well, but the Thayvian's boots of grounding showed their worth; he shrugged off the spell and continued with his casting, and as Anomen and Mazzy got close enough to strike Conster, Edwin's spell removed several layers of his magical protections. Almost immediately, the mage's protective spells renewed themselves, buying him enough time to cast acid arrows at Edwin as well as strike his attackers with a third round of lightning before Minsc finally broke through the toughest of the protection spells. The mage was still almost invulnerable, but it was enough; before long, Sir Cadril managed to run his blade through Conster's chest.
"He has the key?" Mazzy asked Taar, and immediately started searching the fallen mage's robes.
"Yes, look in his pocket... no, the other side...that's it! That's it!" the boy cried, all but weeping with relief at the sight of the small metal key in the halfling's hand. "Oh, thank you! Quick, we must away from this place!"
"Not yet," Ember said as she finished healing the acid burns on Edwin's arms and face. Her own limbs were still shaking from the lightning, and even after healing her own wounds, she still ached all over, but it wasn't too bad; she'd endured far worse before, after all. And worse is still to come, I fear. "Yoshimo, help me search the lockers."
With Yoshimo's lockpicking skill, searching the room was quick work; they found several spellscrolls, some enchanted arrows, and a selection of potions, including a few potions of icedust. She allowed herself a smile as she gathered them up; even as loyal as Firkraag's underlings had been, they clearly hadn't been trusting.
"We... we cannot let it end like this, can we?" Sir Cadril said. "This is a foul beast of legend; surely we will not let it get away with its manipulations! Too many have suffered at its whim!!"
"Don't worry, Sir Cadril; I don't think we'll get much of a choice in this matter," Ember said, and started distributing the potions she'd found. "Bored with me or not, we know what he is now. He will not just let us walk out of here alive."
"Then... then what do we do?" Taar asked meekly.
Ember thrust a potion of icedust into the boy's hands. "We use what we have, and we see how far it'll get us."