“Can’t be, son,” he responded. “That vault’s warded ‘gainst the stone’s scryin’. Only when one of ‘em is outside it does this thing glow, and by Moradin’s beard it be glowin’ BRIGHT! Must be close! Maybe the green had a mate. Let’s be gettin’ ready then! The king’s already asleep, so let’s see if we can take the next one down by ourselves. What say ye, men?” Bunderbeard Hammersbreath and the Siege of Dol Kragon - Part 2
Greetings once again, adventurous adversaries!
It is finally time to discuss the end of my misadventures in shapeshifting. I did not plan on making this a three-parter, but Geldrin says if we attach too many pages to the mail-phoenix’s leg, it’ll weigh it down and it will refuse to deliver our letters. I guess not all creatures can carry as much booty as a dragon leaving a recently-pilfered hoard! This time, I will surely save you from the cliff and leave you somewhere safe.
If you recall from last week, I had escaped my underground dragon vault-trap and was making my way up toward the exit. Again, NOT a retreat. Just tactics. I was currently in the stronghold’s war room, surrounded by dwarves all bedecked in dangerous weaponry. They were discussing finding my lair and my hoard, assuming me to be dead soon. I myself had just shifted from a mouse into a cat to escape detection. Suddenly, a large crystal called a “Drakestone” began to glow bright red. Evidentially the dwarves had installed a magical dragon-detection system.
With a mighty shout, they all began rallying themselves to war. Fortunately, none of them had yet paid any attention to the cat scurrying around, between booted feet, all except the same young dwarf from before. He kneeled toward the most dangerous cat that ever lived and said, “Aww there, there. Ye be in the wrong place, lil kitty,” he said, reaching out and scratching my furry chin. For some incomprehensible reason, an involuntary rumbling noise emanated from my throat, and I had the urge to push my face against his knee. Cats are weird.
“Let’s get ye outta here, lest ye get stepped on.” Picking me up, he grunted. “BOY! Ye be as heavy as an anvil!”
Through great effort, he carried me to the door and placed me as gently as he could outside. My tail went straight up in what felt like a gesture of appreciation, though it made my draconic self feel incredibly undignified. With a thud, the door closed behind me. I was back in the gilded dwarven halls. Treasure once again began to dazzle me, but now I was more concerned with what I had just heard. These dwarves, decked in dragonsbane weapons, were certainly close to beginning an expedition to find my lair and my hoard! Even if I left now, they would eventually find it. I DID live in a forest after all, and the fact that they had guessed that was infuriating. Though I was and am completely unafraid of even an army of the stout-folk, the armaments they carried would prove to be bothersome.
No, I needed to stop this before it started. I was unsure about victory in my current state, but another thought occurred to me—if you wanted to slay a hydra, you only needed to cut off its head, correct? All I needed to do was find the dwarven king and gobble him up. Then, maybe the dwarves would be so disheartened that they would abandon their draconicide endeavors!
I wandered the halls for a bit, past masterworked artifacts that I still hoped to take someday, hiding behind great suits of mithril armor and silvered warhammers. Though the magical compression still felt exceptionally unpleasant, I had never felt as stealthy as this cat form allowed me to be. I would have to remember this for future capers.
Eventually I found a very large set of stone doors—nearly as large as the entrance doors—at the end of a long hallway. Formidable stone statues of dwarves clad in platemail flanked the hall, and at the end in front of the doors stood two royal guards, nearly unmoving in their sentinel duties. I sneaked almost all the way to them, darting between the legs of the stone sculptures easily in my stealthy form. Getting past the guards and into the noble bedchamber would have certainly been more difficult, had I not had a microscopic ace up my sleeve. I once again forced myself into flea form and sprang under the door.
I was in. The room was massive. An impossible amount of wealth lined every surface, more than I had seen in the rest of the hold. Now here was a true vault! Hanging on the walls were even more treasures: ornate shields, bejeweled weapons, and elegant tapestries. Never had I seen such decadence, and for a moment, I was concerned that I had once again been tricked into some sort of secondary dragon trap. But my fears were unfounded, for laying in the back of the room, slumbering upon his own hoard of treasure, was the pathetic deceiver himself—King Poopbeard Wimpyfist the Last! For all he seemed to spit hatred at me, he certainly was living more like a wyrm than I ever had at this point.
I morphed back up into my dwarven shape, feeling much better than I had in ages, and walked across the velvet carpet toward the snoring king. I looked around at the sheer size of this space—this room was certainly large enough to hold my full form! Without waiting even a second longer, I let myself grow to full size and unfurled my massive, beautiful wings. The shadow of my true self lay across the pathetic mortal—now just a mouse compared to me. I had not eaten in nearly a day; thus, I was already drooling a bit when I lunged for the bearded fool. He barely had time to awaken and peek one surprised eye at me before my jaws closed around his frail body.
My victory was quick, as had all victories been before… or so I thought. As I attempted to bite down on the king, I felt a great deal of resistance. Then, to my shock, my jaw was suddenly wrenched back open! The dwarven king was holding open my massive jaws! With a strained shout, he shoved apart my fangs and leaped swiftly back onto his pile of undeserved fortune. Dripping with dragon spit, the king turned back toward my startled face and yelled, “HOW DARE YOU ATTEMPT TO EAT ME!”
Before my shocked self could respond, and in nearly an instant, the dwarven king sprouted horns of his own. Wings unfurled from his shoulders as a tree-trunk-sized red tail sprung from his backside. In seconds I was standing in the dwarven king’s bedchamber, looking up at a full-sized red dragon!
My surprise lasted for a few stunned seconds, then turned to recognition as everything clicked into place in my genius brain, and finally disdain as I realized the gravity of the situation.
“OHHHH you hypocrite!” I hissed. “You absolutely horrible… I can’t believe you… YOU yourself!… And other dragons?! Why…”
I was reeling from the realization. Now in retrospect, it all makes perfect sense, but at the moment I was incredibly surprised. My surprise quickly turned to admiration and jealousy as I understood what a deviously cunning system this dragon had enacted and had enacted so well!
“I can NOT believe this. A whole army of dwarves following you as their king? A handful of other dragon’s hoards to call your own? I honestly cannot even be all that angry. This is just so… beautifully devious!”
The red’s face softened slightly. “Well, I’m glad you can appreciate my brilliance, green, but though you have respect for my process, the process itself is what you have disrupted by still being alive. You were NOT supposed to escape! Tell me, how did you find your way out of my vault? Answer and I may let you live…”
I realized that though I had some respect for the red’s cleverness, it was my hoard he would be after soon. Though I had met his intellect with abilities of my own, it was not like he would simply let me fly away with this knowledge. A draconic battle was a vicious one, and not one that usually led to both dragons surviving, save for my parent’s own fight over me. At this moment, I took stock of my opponent—he was a red, which meant a most fiery breath, same as mine. This was no problem, as our scales would both be immune, so that was a pointless endeavor; thus, it would come down to pure physical prowess.
Noting that I was looking up at this imposing adversary, and that he had an army of well-equipped minions just outside, it might not have turned out too well for me. Then it hit me—this dragon had been in dwarf form every time I had seen him before this… I wondered…
Turning to the red, I asked “…Do they know?”
“Do who know?” he hissed.
“The dwarves. Your minions. Do they know about this form?”
The quick darting of his eyes to the door behind me and the way he shifted uncomfortably told me the truth. I had heard that brass dragons were more insightful than others. (Thank you again to my mother, I guess.)
“Of course they know,” he lied, quieter than he had been speaking before.
“OH! SO YOU DON’T MIND IF I START YELLING?” I roared, attempting to call his bluff.
At that moment, my bellowing was met with both a panicked look from the red and a loud knock on the royal door.
A muffled “Sir! Do ye need assistance in thar?” sounded through the door.
“Ah! Umm… no, I’m fine. Just a bad dream!” answered the king, and then he whispered to me, “Alight, alright, you fiend! That’s enough! We don’t—”
“Was it the one with the oozes?” inquired the door guard.
“Uumm… yeah. Yes. Though I’m fine now, thank you, Keldrek!” responded the king. Then turning once again to me continued, “Now, we can talk this out. There’s no need for anyone to know anything about this—”
“…Do you need me to get the minty beard oil for you, sir?” the guard again interrupted.
“NO, THANK YOU, KELDREK! PLEASE LET ME SLEEP!” the red yelled. He waited for a moment then continued “There. So, as I was saying—”
“BY DURGEDDIN’S BEARD, GOODNIGHT!” the red roared.
I chuckled a little. What a fine predicament this dragon had found himself in. Maybe he was not nearly as ingenious as I had thought!
“So! Here you are,” I quietly continued, “surrounded by an incredible amount of wealth, sure, but at what cost? How often do you wake at night at the thought that some dwarf has grown wise to your schemes and figured out some way to slay you. Maybe he found your weakness and you’re only seconds away from meeting your end, with all this treasure going to the dwarves proper!”
The red eyed me with disdain. I had caught him. The irony that he was trapping other dragons, only to live trapped himself was lovely.
I continued, “What happened to the king?”
“Ate him, of course. What do you think?”
“Makes sense. Then you assumed his appearance and his mantle. Though, why doesn’t the Drakestone detect your presence?”
The king gestured to an amulet he was still wearing on his massive neck. “This. It’s imbued with the same warding effect the vault down there has. Makes me immune to the Stone’s scrying.”
“Easy enough,” I replied, still somewhat impressed with the complexity of his schemes, though one element still perplexed me. “The dragonsbane weapons… Why would you surround yourself with those?!”
The red looked frustrated. “Not my decision! The general, the one they call Tankardfist, had the genius idea of forging a whole bunch of the dastardly weapons after we killed our third drake. I tried to argue against it, but I couldn’t come up with a good reason why the dwarven king wouldn’t want to equip everyone with dragon-killing weapons!”
I shuddered at that word. Killing. “So… they work?”
“Unfortunately for us, they absolutely do. One of the whites grew wise right before we locked him in the vault in a moment of idiotic genius. He only killed one of my men before the general took him out. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s like the weapons just loathe that a dragon is alive. Never had I felt fear before I witnessed that.”
I thought for a moment, then quickly formed a plan. “Alrighty, sir dwarf. I want to leave, and you don’t want to be slain in your sleep by your hundreds of unwitting minions. I say we make a deal.”
“Yes. Looks like we must,” the king replied, appearing cornered.
“Here’s my proposal,” I said quietly. “You let me leave and never try to find my lair and I won’t tell all these stout folk who you are.”
“Sounds simple enough.”
“AND,” I added, “you give me everything in this room.”
“WHAT?” the king shouted, forgetting himself, then quietly added, “What? Everything? Absolutely not. I have worked tirelessly to amass this wealth! There is no way I would let you take it.”
“OH! THEN I GUESS I’LL JUST…” I replied, beginning to raise my voice again.
“NO!” the king said, panicking. “No! Please… just… these are all my favorite pieces. The other vaults pale in comparison…”
“Fine. Anything I want in here. Two of your largest bags—filled with whatever I want.”
“Two!” I replied, pointing to the doors. “Last chance.”
“Fine,” replied the king, obviously trapped by his own predicament.
“And you get to fill them with what I direct, your majesty!” I said, feigning a bow.
I spent the next hour pointing to various expensive-looking treasures around the room, watching the king plead with me to change my mind, threatening him, then having him sheepishly fill the bag with all sorts of wonderous baubles. In the end, I held two enormous bags of treasure—nearly a small hoard in itself. I bowed sarcastically to the king, us both now reverted again to our dwarven forms. Opening the door, I nodded to the guards.
“Pleasure doing business with you, king!” I said to a moderately surprised armored dwarf.
I shuffled past them, with the guards watching me walk away, two giant bags slung over my shoulders. Behind me, I heard them apologizing to the king.
“OH! Sir! So sorry—we didn’t even know ye had a guest! Who be that?!” one of the guards asked.
“Just… an actual trader this time. Came in earlier—I forgot to tell you. Sorry, men.”
“Well. Wow. What did you buy for that much?”
“Umm… Just… tons of potatoes. We’ll be eating like kings here soon,” the king said awkwardly.
“Ah yes! I be lovin’ me some taters!” the other guard said, beginning to go on and on about what they were going to make when the apparent mountain’s worth of potatoes arrived from some silver-tonged trader.
As I left the stronghold of Dol Kragon, I decided to leave the king one final present. I knew the red to be a trickster and one I couldn’t trust, so as I stepped out of the front door, I turned back to the door guard, still sleepily standing by his post, and gave him one last piece of advice.
“Looks like the Drakestone detected another dragon in the area. Slippery little buggers they are. I’d check everywhere—even the king’s room! They can shapeshift, you know…”
And with that, in full sight of the dwarf, I shifted back into my form. Giant wings carried me aloft, both of my massive claws clutching huge bags worth of treasure. I flew into the night, with a very frightened guard dwarf watching me go, a cunning smile on my lips. To this day, Grendel always has the last laugh!
And thus finally ends the tale of my shapeshifting misadventures. I still do morph from time to time, but to be honest, the red’s predicament was a lesson. The fate of the king of the dwarves in Dol Kragon is one that is known to me, but is yet a story for another time. Until then, keep yourselves curious—for knowledge is the seasoning of a delicious mind!
Editor’s note: Geldrin here! So sorry for my lack of notes on here the last few weeks, though I know not if my additions are welcome in any case. I let Grendel speak freely without interruption for this story, and by the turning gears, I’m glad I did! So much new draconic knowledge was gained from this tale—I almost have enough for a sequel to my book! Thank you for your patience in wrapping this story up. Hopefully next week our dragon friend will be a little less long-winded!