Oathenor 5

The rippling light fades from the dragon, so no one wastes any time. Oathenor may healed, but its tactical position is terrible; it's backed into a corner, surrounded by dozens of enemies, dazed, and stripped of its magical protections and enhancements. No one has ever said that the Defenders don't know how to use an advantage, so they press forward, weapons flashing with their own light. Galthia's fists jab in, hitting the dragon like thrown anvils. Malachite smites with Karthos, ripping through scales like wet tissue. Mara's mace hammers into the side of the long stony neck, ripples of liquid light spreading out from where the mace hits. Tao's swords ring as she jams them under dragonscales with expert precision. From the side of the monster, Splinder sets his feet and repeatedly pounds his axe into the base of the neck. Even more telling, Priggle is flanking from behind the beast, and the tip of his gnomish hooked hammer-pick punctures dragon scales as if they were light shale.

Acidic blood again begins to pool beneath it, steaming in the cool air, and the smell of the blood and the acid breath mixed with rock dust is terrible. More than one dwarf is breathing raggedly.

On the far side of the rubble-strewn room, more than half of the earth elementals have been destroyed. The ones that remain sink into the ground and reappear closer to the dragon, perhaps instinctively trying to protect him. One elemental is larger than the others, and Splinder doesn't pay much attention to it until it hits him with a double-fisted blow that nearly jars his teeth loose. Then he looks up at it – and up, and up – and realizes that he might have another problem besides the dragon after all.

Oathenor regains his wits and furiously unleashes a full attack at the already injured Sir Malachite. I'll take at least one of them down before I leave, it thinks viciously. Both claws seize the human's shoulders and rip with as much strength as it can manage, even as wings batter in and sword-sized teeth grab and tear. Hot blood fills the dragon's mouth, and it sighs in satisfaction, knowing that it's just taught someone a very final lesson. Spitting out the body and pulling back to survey the look on the survivors' faces, Oathenor is shocked to see that Malachite is still barely standing. That shouldn't be possible! it thinks. With this new knowledge of his enemies, Oathenor does the wise thing. After all, a true hunter attacks and kills on his own terms, not that of its prey. Oathenor taps into his massive reserve of elemental magic, feeling the earth thrum all around him, and uses his quickened ability to plane shift out...

Except Agar's dimensional anchor screams back into existence around him in an inescapable net, and he feels himself dragged back into the Prime Material plane before he ever clears the planar boundary. For the first time in more than a century, Oathenor feels actual fear.

The Defenders attack again, Malachite pausing while Velendo heals him. At the back of the group, Nolin's eyes narrow while he studies the dragon. His opinion is that Malachite was lucky to survive the attack. "How are we going to beat it?" A clever thought flashes through Nolin's mind, and he digs into his belt pouch. He yanks out a small onyx statuette, shakes it, and issues a command. "Angus! Angus, c'mere, boy! Come!" There's a rushing sound that sounds like pounding paws, and in seconds a large hairy dog materializes next to the bard. It looks up at Nolin's face with preternatural intelligence.

"Hi, boss! I missed ya!" says Angus cheerily as he jokingly nuzzles in to sniff Nolin's crotch. "How's... hey!" He realizes what's going on and spins, beginning to bark loudly. "That's a..." Bark! Bark! He looks back up at Nolin, horror clearly written across his furry face. "That's a bleedin' dragon!"

Nolin bends down next to Angus, pulling something else from his pouch and holding it in front of the large dog as he starts to whisper. "Ye want me to what?" Angus' horrified tone carries even over the roaring and thrashing of the dragon. "Why don't ye ever summon me when ye need a nice fat slow bunny to be run down?"

Nolin quickly whispers something else, and Angus shakes his large furry head. "Ye're lucky I love ya, you know that?" The magical dog nervously takes the wooden item into his mouth. "But ye owe me for this one. Big time." He backs away from Nolin and angles around behind him, trying to get a clear approach to the dragon's maw. Malachite, Tao Mara, Galthia and Splinder block the way, though; between their swinging weapons and the remaining dwarven bodyguards throwing themselves at the huge serpent, the dog doesn't have much room to maneuver.

The injured dragon twitches its neck backwards, and before Angus can jump a solid stone wall seals off a whole section of the vault's entrance room. Almost all of the Defenders, including Angus the onyx dog, are on the side without the dragon. Not so for Priggle and Splinder; they suddenly find themselves alone with the bulky wyrm and a huge earth elemental.

Oathenor lets out a mental sigh; with the wall of stone in place, it will be simple to finish off these two and escape by burrowing through the ceiling. "NOW THAT WE HAVE A BIT OF PRIVACY? Its jaws gape open and clamp down like a vice onto Splinder arm and shoulder. Its claws snap in as well, grasping and pulling away gobbets of warm flesh, even as its wings snap forwards and slam into either side of his stout body. Behind him, the dragon's tail rises and smashes down like a falling tree into Priggle's face.

Fighting back the pain, Splinder swears with beautiful precision.

"Oh, sure," Priggle mutters to himself as blood splashes out of his broken nose onto the dragon's writhing tail in front of him. "Lot of good I'm going to be. Dragons got themselves blindsight, I'd guess. Blur doesn't work. Hiding doesn't work. Just us smaller folk in here, and no one outside who can get us out." He groans in anticipatory dismay, even as he brings the sharpened end of his hooked pick down into Oathenor's tailbone. Just like he'd split a chunk of granite, he strikes the stone-like scales several times, and with the iron body dispelled his enchanted pick once again slips in like a chisel.

The dragon screams from the unexpected pain.

"Huh," observes Priggle warily, "That still hurt?" The answer is obvious as acidic blood sprays up from the wound. "Good." He sighs. "Now, I suppose it's my turn to get eaten. I knew this was going to be my fate."

On the other side of the wall, Galthia focuses his ki into his hands, feeling them grow heavy with his concentrated will. He braces himself in front of the new stone and pounds his fists into the wall, one blow after another. On the third blow, the stone begins to crumble off in chunks. By the time he makes his fifth and final blow, there's a hole almost large enough to crawl through. Everyone who can fires magical spells through the opening, lightning and searing light crackling through the narrow space. It's unclear what gets past the dragon's natural resistance to spells, but the froth around its jaw is bloody as it twists around with a deafening roar. Its head comes down, perhaps to devour Splinder whole, perhaps to breath acid.

"Boost me!" the onyx dog shouts. As it runs and leaps, Malachite and Mara boost Angus up and through the hole. Oathenor doesn't even hesitate. Out of pure reflex, he snaps the hapless dog up out of the air, devouring and swallowing him in one gulp.

"Angus..." says Nolin mournfully. "I hope..." He uses his blast harp to enlarge the hole in the wall as he runs closer. Mara is the first through the gap. The dragon is too slow to snatch away her weapon again, and she darts forward, swinging her holy mace Lightbinder.

She hits the dragon right in the middle of the snout, a flawless blow, and her mace erupts into cascading light.

Mara has had Lightbinder for years, but she's only seen its true power called on a handful of occasions. As she watches, bands of solid sunlight ripple out from her blow and stretch inexorably over and across the dragon's bulk. Then with a sound like a hymn to sunrise, the bands of light painfully constrict. Oathenor instinctively strikes out at Mara instead of the badly injured Splinder, and Mara interposes her golden shield, but she doesn't need to. The bands of sunlight seem to be acting like a forcecage, and Oathenor is firmly trapped by solid faith. He wriggles and strains to free himself in vain. Then he suddenly stops, his sides bulging oddly, and lets out a gurgling moan.

The dragon's gem-like eyes roll horribly, and it opens its mouth to breath flesh-dissolving acid on Mara. Instead, it gags horribly, and like a pleasant spring morning the Defenders can see a young tree branch growing out of the depths of the dragon's throat. The small tree limb grows at an astounding rate and begins sprouting pale green leaves, even as the bound dragon struggles and twitches.

"A tree?" someone asks in confusion.

"Quaal's feather token," Nolin happily explains to the people next to him. "The tree' version. Angus delivered it for me before he got sent back to the Beastlands."

"GRROWWWP?" Oathenor looks like he's trying to say something, but can't. From his many wounds, twigs begin to push through the flesh, and burning blood sprays onto unfolding green leaves. Then, with a horrible ripping sound, a massive tree trunk pushes out of Oathenor's belly and buries itself in the stone floor of the cavern. In seconds the sunlight-bound dragon is pushed a full twenty feet into the air. The monster hangs there on the new tree like some sort of shining grotesque fruit, a trickle of bloody spittle drooling down from its slack mouth, hissing quietly onto a new root below.

"Oh, Goddess," breathes Tao, as elementals fall to pieces all around the group.

Nolin nods. "Exactly."

A few interesting side notes:

1) Priggle managed to essentially sneak up behind the dragon by being a "contemptible target". Very handy for horrendous flanking attacks. Also, the dragon was forced to ignore him because of all the activity up front.

When the wall of stone went up, Priggle was suddenly in a great deal of trouble. But, just as the dragon was about to let Priggle have it, Galthia blasted a hole in the wall, threatening from the front, and Priggle was able to flank yet again. (Very annoying for P'Cat, I can tell you. ;) )

2) So, we were down in the kitchen talking strategy before the game without P'Cat present, and KidC says, completely joking, "Wouldn't it be great if we could get the thing to swallow one of the tree tokens?" We were all highly amused when Nolin actually came up with a delivery system.

3) Very few of us took any major damage during the fight thanks to our pre-combat stoneskins and endurances. Splinder sustained a full dragon bite and much elemental pounding without ever dropping significantly below his original hit point count. It helped that he was in "defender" mode when he got caught behind the stone wall.

4) In addition to his being his usual charming self, I seem to recall Nolin having bribed Angus with some very large quantity of meat. We were all deeply pained, however, when Angus entered the dragon's maw and we heard a sickening crunch and a yipe. It didn't help to know he was going to be fine and back on the Beastlands.

Plane Sailing:
Priggle took a nasty blow from the dragons tail, and was royally whomped by the big earth elemental which was in there with us (partly because I forgot about the +4 AC I had from haste at that time. Doh!

As you can imagine he was *very* relieved when the stone wall was broken down so that he didn't get the dragons, er, undivided attention. Getting killed by the king of kobolds would have been such a downer...

...by the time he was being hurt, he ended up taking about 60-80 points of damage out of his maximum of about a 100. He fully anticipated dying in a blaze of glory :)

I told PCat after this fight that the hallmark of a good GM is someone who comes up with clever plans to screw the players -- but when the players come up with better plans yet, s/he lets the players get away with it.

As the fight unfolded, PCat kept unfolding danger after danger (the darkness behind the wall, the falling ceiling, the acid breath, etc.) and one by one, we were ready for them. Sometimes because we knew they were coming, sometimes not. Either way, it was a very satisfying fight, and PCat, to his credit, didn't weasel and cheese to keep his own plans in play.