Interview with a
With the red gem placed into the statue’s hilt, the massive doorway opened onto a hellish sight. An enormous room opened up before them with a flat ten-foot-wide walkway winding its way around to the left, arcing in a half circle before coming in and doubling back on itself, closing in on a pillar or walled circle in the center. Level with the path was a lake of lava, liquid molten rock radiating heat into the air and making it shimmer and ripple, its red hot contents bubbling and oozing languidly. It was going be uncomfortable for the foreseeable future, given the cold-weather gear they were all wearing.
The party cautiously advanced along the walkway when a booming, mellifluous voice sang out, filling the chamber with its sound. It was clear it was a language, but none that the party understood.
After a moment of confusion the party answered the voice, and a massive shape moving beneath the lava sent a bulge across its surface. The voice responded, this time in Common.
They could not force me like they did you lot.
For the same reason the bane couldn’t take me I think.
They had said it was because I am mad,
but I just don’t see the link.
But I have new visitors again, so can it be true?
Have the manlings returned to the land they once knew?
I’ve been here so long it is hard to track the years.
A few decades I’d guess, not the centuries I’d feared
since the last manlings came and entered my room.
They were fun and tasty but gone far too soon.
I grow bored and am curious now, so I’ll give you this offer:
a series of games and challenges I proffer.
If you win, this room I will let you leave unmolested
Lose, I will release my pets and you get ingested.
I want your full attention, and threats to your life may be too light a touch.
After all, coming here shows you don’t value them much.
So with your lives I’ll offer another prize to pay.
For each challenge you beat, answer one question I may.
Ask a question to which I am not permitted to answer
and I’ll grant you two new ones as a prize enhancer.
First, I will ask of each of you a riddle in turn.
Guess right and you win some knowledge to learn.
Guess wrong and you lose, but you may guess again for a fee.
Just answer a question and sate my curiosity.
Answer the question for me and another guess you receive;
You forfeit if you don’t answer or you try to deceive.
Next I will ask of each of you a task.
Complete them and you’ve won another question to ask.
If you all make it through we can part ways in peace.
But I’m willing to bet this day ends in a feast.
So let us not delay any longer.
Let us begin with the one who is stronger.
Turning to Ignomine, the Voice continued:
My mother is a strong and proud Orc female,
We live in an Orc village like from a fairytale.
One day a dark god came to the village, insane.
He struck dead every creature with orc blood in its veins.
So tell me Paladin, can you contrive,
If all this is true, why am I still alive?
Ignomine, thinking of his own upbringing, responded with the only thing that made sense to him: ‘You are adopted.’ The voice chuckled, and the singsong response came:
An answer you gave, but a wrong one I fear.
Perhaps you did not understand, or were unable to hear.
Regardless, you’ve lost, but fear not! You still have a chance!
You can answer again and still get to advance.
If you would continue, I would know where you’re from.
Where were you born? From whence do you come?
The paladin had a sudden fear of this dragon running loose in his home, burning the only place he’d truly felt welcome and loved. Still, he figured that a dragon trapped in a mountain for centuries or even decades probably wasn’t aware of his little home town, so he responded honestly: ‘Fragnick.’
There was a momentary silence, then came the bemused reply:
Very well, you’ve responded, and honestly I deem,
Though where Fragnick is I know not, nor what it might mean.
You may answer once again, but be warned!
Future trick answers may mean you are harmed.
Dealing with this rhyming madman had led Ignomine to what he was certain was the right answer, because it was something he wished were true right at that moment: ‘You were somewhere else.’ The response came swift: ‘Correct. You may ask your question.’
Ignomine, who had been pondering whether destroying the crystal was the right thing to do for some time, asked the voice, ‘What does the crystal do?’
Alas, a subject about which I cannot reply.
Two more you may ask, though more of the crystal I’ll deny.
Thinking hard, Ignomine came up with what he thought was a clever workaround. ‘What would you do if the crystal was destroyed?’
‘I would leave,’ came the response. Ignomine elected to save his second question until the others had gone, clearly needing more time to ponder his phrasing. The sing-song voice resumed:
For the Half-Orc, of course, I gave an easy one first,
Now the Drow will get a chance at my next rhyming verse:
I have a mouth, but cannot talk.
I can run but never walk.
I have a head, but never weep.
I have a bed, yet never sleep.
What am I?
Vyktor spent some time pondering this riddle. After what seemed an interminable period, he responded with the correct answer, ‘A river.’ His question came more quickly; holding up the chisel, he asked, ‘Will this destroy the crystal were we to use it?’ There was a pause, as if the voice was pondering or examining the artifact that the drow held aloft, but Polycarp noticed two brilliant shining yellow beads set into a faceted obsidian ridge emerge from the magma. He nudged Vyktor and pointed it out, giving him just enough time to identify it as a Magma Dragon before it disappeared under the glowing surface.
‘It appears that it will.’ The party braced themselves for an attack, but none was forthcoming. Vyktor shared the news of what it was they were facing, and the fact that they were considered unpredictable and even insane by other dragons, a group not always known for their stability. As a few of the party members processed the realization that they were in the presence of a very powerful, very real, very likely to attack them dragon, the beast realized it had been seen and emerged from the volcanic pool.
Molten rock dripped from its glittering obsidian carapace, and cracks and gaps between its scales glowed with the fires the inferno within. Rivulets of lava continued to spill down its flanks as it emerged, and guttering lines of flame cascaded from its toothy maw.
“So nice to finally make your full acquaintance.
I’ve been wanting to make a dramatic entrance.”
The party stood in awe of the large creature, but managed to resist the aura of fear and menace emanating from it. Seeing that the group of intruders was not going to run, the dragon continued.
Veroxx, you may call me, spelled with two ’X’es.
Your continued cleverness begins to vex us.
Answer your next riddle more quickly this time
for I am growing bored and tire of rhyme.
Turning now to Drael, the voice continued:
A strange earthen house
that brings nought but disdain.
And yet those who stay there,
Never do complain.
The sorcerer hemmed and hawed, trying to think of a response. True to his nature, he also began chatting up the 15 foot tall reptile, asking him if he had any children. The response was chilling.
‘Yes. None living.’
The silence stretched awkwardly, until Drael finally blurted out, ‘The privy?’
‘Wrong. Now answer me, how long has it been since Manlings returned to this continent?’
They answered as best they could, approximately 400 years ago. Drael was given a second chance, and answered correctly with ‘A Grave.’ His question was ‘Who are the Council of Nine?’
Veroxx was much more brusque with his response, and did not rhyme this time. ‘Another topic I may not discuss. You have two questions you may ask.’
The gruff reply: ‘The Betrayer.’
Nonplussed, he soldiered on. ‘My second question: Who is the Betrayer?’ At this the dragon acted coy, and replied,
‘I am forbidden from telling you that Rovagug was the Betrayer.’
While the party pondered this, Polycarp was next.
Not Buckets, not barrels, not baskets, nor cans;
What must you fill with empty hands?
‘Gloves,’ he answered confidently. ‘Who are you here for?’ The answer was similarly dissatisfying to his previous answers: ‘I am here for myself.’ Finally, it was time for Artas to respond.
It can pierce the best armor,
and make swords crumble with a rub.
Yet for all of its power,
it can’t harm a club.
Artas gave some serious thought before replying, “Rust.” At Veroxx’s nod, he asked his question: “What happened to Rovagug?”
At this, the dragon seemed to lose patience, the cracks between its obsidian scales flaring with light and heat.
“You should know that is a forbidden topic, and your impertinence makes me think you imagine this is a game just because I amuse myself with riddles. You forfeit your question… answer another riddle, or face my wrath!”
The party noticed with some alarm that any pretense toward rhyme had been dropped. They also noted a dark significance to his last question…
What must be kept after it is given
or else you may not be forgiven?
Artas, very carefully, responded with the answer: “Your word.”
“Very well. You have passed the first portion of the amusements I have devised for myself. I grow tired of riddles and rhymes. The second phase begins now.” The dragon pointed towards Ignomine and Vyktor. “These religious ones shall go first. I wager that you have experience fighting undead, but how good are you? Kill my challenger before it hurts you, or else you lose.”
With that, a fiery demon appeared on the walkway before them. Polycarp nocked an arrow and Drael and Artas readied themselves for combat, but from Veroxx’s demeanor it was clear that the orc and the drow would have to face this challenge alone, without their help.
Though the flames and embers wreathing the figure, Vyktor was able to identify it as something like a bearded devil. He warned Ignomine, then cast protective spells around him and sped his motions as the fiend made its slow advance towards them. Ignomine called upon Abadar to strike down the outsider, pulled on the power of his cloak to guide his strike, and charged the devil once it was in reach. Shouting “The Mountain Falls upon the Unwary!” Ignomine banished the demon with a devastating overhand blow.
“Hmph. Very well. Next, your disfigured friend. You must touch the ceiling, or touch me, without getting hurt.” With that, the dragon retreated into the magma pool and sunk until only its head was visible.
The rogue thought about his next move. The walls in the chamber were smooth stone forty feet tall before they began curving to the ceiling eighty feet above them. With Drael’s Spider Climb spell it would be a piece of cake, but he got the impression that would not be accepted by the dragon. Touching Veroxx, on the other hand, would require a thirty foot leap over open magma, and who knew what would happen after he landed on the beast… would it submerge itself, allowing his victory but taking his life? He decided to avoid trusting the creature and instead took matters into his own hands.
First, he borrowed one of the mighty bows his compatriots had, and though they looked at him suspiciously (was he going to try to shoot the dragon? Was he crazy?!) they complied. He then took some of the fine elven rope they had, the really long length, and tied it to one of the Arelan Steel longbow arrows he’d bargained for from Etzio. Finally, he nocked the arrow, drew with all his strength, and fired it into the ceiling. The extra punch from the bow was enough to overcome the weight of the slender rope and smash itself into the rock hard enough to support his weight. After a few experimental tugs he easily clambered up the rope and patted the rock ceiling above. He then slid down the rope and undid the knot with a complicated tug, though the valuable arrow was left embedded far above.
Very well, the dragon growled, “you’ve passed. The final challenge goes to you two. Keep my minion from touching any of you. Make contact, with any of you, and you lose. Let’s see you get out of this one!” Suddenly, a large dragonoid burst from the surface of the pool and landed in front of them, the lava dripping from its scales and hissing as it hit the walkway. It advanced upon the party and now they had to avoid getting hit by the creature while still being forbidden from helping.
Drael identified it as a lava drake, a male and slightly smaller form of dragon, and came up with a solution. While Artas distracted it with a fierce and intimidating show of force, the sorcerer made the rest of the group invisible. Then, he summoned a herd of horses, counting on the drake to favor the easy meal over the much fiercer party. Its reptilian head snapped forward, its jaws snapping as it took a bite… out of the summoned steed! Artas quickly retreated while the beast was distracted, was made invisible as well, and Drael kept the drake supplied with more summoned horses as it tore through the herd, banishing them from the plane often after a single bite or fierce slash of its claws. Once time was up, it left to return to the magma pool.
With a roar Veroxx launched himself out of the magma and onto the path just outside the archway into the pillar that led down to, presumably, the crystal and the object of their quest. “Fine. You have beaten my challenges. You may leave in peace, instead of pieces.” The party looked at each other quizzically; wasn’t the whole point of this so they could go forward? Seeing their confused expression, the dragon’s annoyed tone turned to one of supercilious glee. “I never said you could go on, if you’ll recall. I only said we could part ways in peace. So go. Before I change my mind.” The last part was finished with a snarl.
Seeing no other options and worn out from the ordeal, certainly not capable of challenging a dragon in its lair, the party had no choice but to retreat, regroup, and plan for another attempt.