Hoard of the Dragon Queen

Prologue

...?

It was dark.

Alistine was no stranger to dark places. As a being without Darkvision she never felt impaired when navigating caverns or old, dusty forts. No, as long as she had a torch or her trusty cantrip to illuminate even the gloomiest dungeon she was fine – she’d spent enough time with Luke out in the wilderness to learn how to find her bearing. However, when she doesn’t have a torch or the materials to cast her cantrip – that’s when she can’t face the dark. Al found comfort in knowing her surroundings, but right now, she found her inability to perceive the world with her eyes absolutely terrifying.

The blindfold didn’t help.

When she woke up, she found it tightly bound around her eyes to ensure not even a speck of light could seep through. The dull throbbing in her head was a minor annoyance to her frantic effort to make sense of what was happening around her. She felt herself bound to a cold stone table, with what felt like iron shackles keeping her arms above her head. Soon enough, her arms began to ache too, suggesting she’s been in that position for quite some time. She couldn’t move her legs either, both of which were pegged in place. Al tried to struggle loose, flailing her arms as hard as she could. The chains just clanked in response, a bit too loudly compared to the unnerving silence surrounding her.

“Unnghh…”

The familiar groan came from her left side, not too far off. It’s hard not to recognize that voice, even if you walk into a room filled with hungover barbarians. She heard Grimrock curse under his breath and shuffle, his own restraints clanging in a similar fashion. She reasoned that he was in the same position as herself. “Gender equality, at last” she sighed.

“Oh sod off, ya mooks! You’re both so noisy. I swear you could raise a zombie with the ruckus you’re making!” came a squeaky voice a little farther from Grimrock. Fivel was here too.

This quickly went from bad to worse.

“Ah, it appears that our guests have finally awaken” said a woman behind her. She spoke with an amused tone, her voice sounded deep yet it had some air of elegancy. Al had a really bad feeling about the whole ordeal. She did wonder, however, what became of the others. The last thing she remembers is sitting with Grimrock and Fivel around the table. They were in pursuit of a Necromancer causing trouble near the town of Fliss, and they decided to regroup at Havel’s Rock (the town’s inn, as far as she can recall) to share what they’ve learned from the townsfolk, and of course, indulge in a few jugs of ale. Luke and Griswold were out gathering supplies while they drunk themselves to a stupor. They passed out and… now they’re here. Her body quivered, but she needed to stay calm if she wanted any chance of escaping.

“Who are you? And for what reason are you restraining us?” said Al. She realised the best she can do right now is try figure out why this is happening to her. “As a representative of the Bard’s College of Valor, I assure you that we mean no harm to you or your organisation. I’m sure we can come to some kind of arrangement if you let us go.” She could almost always talk herself out of a problem. She hoped this was one of those problems.

“I’m afraid I can’t do that” said the woman. Alistine could now hear her footsteps – and they were getting closer. “I can’t let you go unless I get what I need. One of you has something in your possession – an artifact that my benefactor has great interest in.” Al can feel her captor’s presence beside her, running her hand along the edge of the stone table Al was tied to.

“Artifact? Are you looking for that Sheela statue?” butted in Fivel. “By the Gods, please don’t kill us for that! I only took it because of the giant knockers it’s got, I swear! I’ll bring it back as soon as you le-”

SILENCE!”

The shout was deafening to Alistine’s ears. The woman interrogating the three of them clearly didn’t have the time for the Halfling’s assholery.

“I have no interest in statues! I need the location of a Dragon Mask that one of you is hiding. If you co-operate your lives will be spared. However, if you don’t…”. Al heard the woman fiddle with some tools. They sounded like blades.

“There might be severe consequences”. The moment their captor finished her sentence, Fivel whimpered audibly enough for everybody to hear.

“We know nothing of Dragon Masks” grumbled Grimrock in response. “I believe you’re wasting your time, whoever you are”.

“As a Truthseeker, I don’t believe I’m wasting my time”. Al was familiar with their kind. She’d heard that they are highly trained assassins, and they excel at getting information out of their victim before they are killed. They usually tend to have proficiency in torture and interrogation, which, she guessed, seems to ring true with the one before them. “Even if what you say is true – that you know nothing of the Mask, there is a connection. Someone in your group does know of it’s whereabouts, so you should speak up now before it’s too late.”

Al felt she should speak up. “You’ll get nothing out of us, Truthseeker.” The moment she felt searing pain from a blade being lodged into her thigh, she knew she made a mistake. Her cry from the pain startled Grimrock and Fivel.

“Enough!” Shouted Grimrock. “I speak for myself and my comrades when I say this. We know nothing of what you seek!”

“That is not the correct answer” replied the Truthseeker. Despite the pain she was experiencing, Al could hear Grimrock’s grunts. He sounded like he too, was in pain – most likely from whatever horrible act their captor was performing on him.

Al heard the tormentor’s blade drop to the floor, before she proceeded to speak: “You, Halfling”. Fivel muttered something under his breath, but Al couldn’t make out what it was. “You have a sister living in Neverwinter, don’t you?”

There was a pause before Fivel responded: “Leave her out of this! She has nothing to do with any of it. Please!”

“It would be a shame if anything were to happen to her. Her children too, I suppose.” Al was well aware of how Fivel holds his sister and her family in high regard. She was dirt poor at some point, through no fault of her own, yet he did whatever he could to help. In fact, during one of his alcoholic escapades, he explained why she’s the reason he trodded down the path of a thief. Selling his purloined goods may not have been the noblest of ways to support one’s family, but if you’ve got the skill for it, why not put it to good use? It was the efficent, Al thought, and the Halflings in Neverwinter very rarely get offered decent jobs. Many people take advantage of their good nature.

She’s doing rather well on her own now, having recovered from poverty thanks to her brother. The last thing Fivel wants is to bring certain doom to her family through his own actions.

“Guardian?” commanded the Truthseeker.

“What do you require, Truthseeker Liersgarde?” Another female voice came from far in front of Al, possibly twenty feet away. Possibly a guard or soldier. Liersgarde, she thought. She’s heard that name before, but where?

“Inform the Windstorm that we require a certain Halfling family to be present, so that our guests here can co-operate. They’ll likely send a group of their underlings. A copy of their names and whereabouts are on the table”.

“You fiends!” shouted Grimrock. The sound of him struggling to break free was loud enough to alarm the entire room.

“As you command” said the Guardian. Al hears the guard walk past her, probably towards the table where the parchment was, when Fivel interrupts yet again.

“Wait…”

“Why should we wait for you, Halfling?” asked Liersgarde.

“I know where to find the mask. I couldn’t endanger my friends, you see. Now I have no choice in the matter”. Alistine was surprised to hear this.

“This is madness! Fivel, what in the name of Faerun are you on about?” blurted Grimrock. “Are you trying to say you knew what they meant the whole time?”

“Shut your mouth, Barbarian.” snapped Liersgarde. “Lest the wound on your leg be the least of your worries”.

“Continue” she said.

Fivel continued, ignoring Grimrock’s question. “The druid has it. Griswold – he’s a buddy of ours. I’ve seen it in his pack. You’ll find him North-West of here, in the town of… Bruhn”.

Al had never heard of the place, and she had traveled a fair amount before joining this party. She also noticed the pause before name. It’s clear that he was lying to the Truthseeker, but she didn’t dare to speak. He must have some kind of plan in place. He wouldn’t endanger the rest of the party, right?

Then Al remembered his profession, and she regretted staying silent.

“I’ve never heard of such a place” replied Liersgarde. “Lying to me would be regrettable. You understand that, don’t you?”. The sound of a knife being scraped against Fivel’s stone table wrung throughout the room.

“I’m not lying, I assure you! It’s more of a settlement than a town. Newly founded by some relatives of mine, that’s why it isn’t on any map. I asked Griswold to retrieve something for me. He might still be there”.

“I see. Fivel, is it? If you would be so kind as to tell me the exact location of this settlement, then we’d be able to confirm if what you say is true”. Liersgarde sounded triumphant, though Al could tell there was a hint of concern in her voice.

“Yes! Definitely! Just don’t hurt my sister or her family. Please! I – Woah! What the bloody hell was that?!”

Al couldn’t believe the sound she was hearing right now. What sounded like a large bear growling loudly filled the room, while a guard shouted “Intruders!” somewhere to the far front of Al and her companions.

“Guardians, get them! We must not let them free our only link to the Mask!” roared Liersgarde, making her way behind Alistine once again. Al could hear Grimrock laughing to himself. “It’s about time those bastards came to rescue us!” he said heartily. It made sense to Al now – Griswold would always transform into a bear when he was cornered. The sound of arrows flying and hitting their fleshy targets also confirmed that Luke was nearby. She heaved a sigh of relief. “So much for stealth” muttered Fivel, bitterly.

Screams were heard from the guards. It looks like the fight was going in the attackers favour. She swears she heard someone fall to their death, possibly through a large opening in the ground, though it was difficult to tell from all the noise. She could also hear the bear move closer, it’s weight making loud thuds as it’s paws made contact with the stone floor. It was a terrifying noise, but she had faith it was their party’s druid. “Get rid of their leader!” shouted Luke, all the way from the front. It sounded like he was engaged with two, no, three of the remaining guards. The bear roared in agreement, charging towards the stone tables where she and the other two lay.

“I should have known it was a lie” said Liersgarde, calmly. “You must be Griswold. Only a druid would choose such a weak force of nature to attack me!”. Once again, Alistine’s keen sense of hearing during battle revealed several little details about what was occuring. Liersgarde approached the bear, drawing two long blades (judging from how long they took to be unsheathed) to ready herself for battle.

“I am Liersgarde the Truthseeker, 7th Generation” she exclaimed. “My blades will drink deep the blood from your weak flesh”. Al heard her lunge toward the bear, dodging a swipe from it’s claws in the process. She countered with a quick attack from her weapons, causing the bear to roar in pain. “Too easy!” she shouted, before making another attack. There was a scuffle, before she heard Liersgarde respond in sheer teror. “No, don’t! You bastard! No!”. The fading scream implied Liersgarde fell to her death, cursing Griswold before she was silenced with a loud CRACK far below them. At the same time, it sounded like Luke had finished off the remaining guards, and made his way towards them.

Alistine finally spoke up: “Guys, get us out of here. Grimrock is hurt rather badly, he needs a healing spell urgently”. “You’re one to talk!” responded Grimrock and Fivel, in unison. Luke let out a tired laugh before saying “We should get those blindfolds off first, but it looks like you guys are inside some sort of circular hex on the ground”.

She can tell Luke and Griswold began poking around, trying to find their way around whatever it was they were trying to avoid. The moment she felt a slight tremor coming from the ground and heard Luke mutter “Shit, that’s not good” Al began to worry. Stone doors could be heard sliding open behind her, with dozens of footsteps and clanging armor rushing out. A quick incantation was muttered before she heard Griswold scream with agony – and then, there was nothing. “Guys, what’s happening?” she asked.

“We failed” said Luke.

A booming voice came out from behind Al: “Your bear-friend has been petrified. Do not attempt to resist or we will shatter him instantly. You have been lured here, and you have taken the bait. Lead us to the Dragon Mask or your companions will perish, one by one.”

The room was silent before Luke responded: “Never”.

Al heard several arrows fire. Luke’s shortswords fell to the ground, and so did he. She couldn’t tell if he was still breathing when he hit the floor.

Things were not looking good… and it was still very dark.

So dark.

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