We spent two weeks in Odo's Rest, relaxing and catching up with our friends there. The townsfolk were eager to hear about our travels. They also asked after Sootha and Norton, and were sorry to hear of their valiant (?) deaths.
The others took the opportunity to replace their damaged equipment and send messengers to the city for some specialty items. (I'm not certain why they didn't make the trip themselves – I've heard rumours that Bimp and Ilde were involved in some sort of trouble involving a mule, shortly before I met them, and may not be welcome in that part of the island.) Meanwhile, I caught up on correspondence – there was a bundle of letters from my family waiting for me – and renewed my acquaintance with the town. Since we cleaned out an infestation of undead from the healing springs, the pilgrims have started to return. We were surprised to discover that in our absence, our late companion Fourteen Hundred and Twelve has become venerated as a near-saint. We accidentally dissolved his remains in one of the more acidic of the pools; well, it seems it is now becoming quite fashionable for a certain sort of pilgrim to make Odo's Pool their final destination, and have their bodies likewise dissolved upon their death.
(I must admit that it seems a little creepy to me – give me a good old-fashioned swamp burial! - but to each their own.)
Quite some time back, we had heard stories of a cave of 'yellow crystal flowers' upstream from Odo's Pool. At the time we'd gone in other directions, but having travelled all the way around the mountain we decided to see about this cave before setting out for somewhere new. (Ilde wishes to see the sea – a commendable dream – and become a pirate, about which I am not quite so sure. But sometimes I look at the behaviour of certain of my companions – more of that anon – and wonder if it would really make a difference.)
Although we were well into spring, the weather remained unseasonably cold and wet; we entertained supernatural explanations, but Ilde tells us this happens some years, especially when the volcanoes in the area have been active. We reached Odo's Pool without incident, and from there we had two choices: follow the stream underground to the caves uphill, or to walk overland and look for another entrance to the 'flower' caves. Ilde was unenthusiastic about travelling underground, and as fond as I am of water generally, the combination of 'underground' and 'hot acidic water' seemed like a bad idea. Besides, it was generally agreed that 'over the top' sounded like our style, so we set off.
Bimp has always been a bit slower on her feet than the rest of us – due to a combination of short legs and heavy armour – so Osh agreed to carry her on his back in a sort of harness. It looked a little silly, but worked well enough, and we made our way up the mountain. A tongue of lava had run down to Odo's Pool some years back, and the ground was rocky, with a covering of snow beginning to appear as we climbed higher. Further up the mountain we could see a lingering patch of cloud around where we'd been told to find the cave mouth.
Osh: “It's like a bad Dark Forces level.”
As we neared the cave mouth, the signs of volcanic activity became obvious. Although there were several inches of snow on the ground, it had melted in patches where small vents carried warm air from below, and the mist had a sulphurous smell to it.
Bimp and Lightning were becoming uneasy – it was far colder than it ought to have been – and as we began to discuss it, we were attacked. A bluish-white lizard thing (but with six legs, not that I stopped to count at the time) burst out from the snow behind us and attacked Ilde, evidently trying to make a meal of her. It seemed to carry an aura of cold with it; I was at the front and didn't get close until it was already dead, but the others assure me that it was painfully cold anywhere near it.
Of course, that sort of thing has its down-side, and Corey and Johann both had fire magic prepared; the salamander writhed around in pain as they warmed it up, and Osh waded in to chop its head off. We patched up Ilde, who had been somewhat chewed, clawed, and chilled, and then she looked around for its trail. She tracked it back to a small cavern, and I scouted inside. I found no more salamanders, but several frozen bodies – one big wolf, one human in rather old-fashioned-looking armour, and two huge shaggy apes – as well as the remains of something else thawed and half-eaten on the cavern floor.
I called the others in, and we thawed out the human. He had evidently been dead a very long time, and what remained of him was rather mushy, so all we could do was salvage a few of his possessions in case we should be able to trace his family.
Around this point, Ilde – who'd been standing guard at the entrance – saw three large wolves approaching the cavern mouth. They were very large, each as big as a full-grown horse, and obviously hungry.
I spoke to them, hoping to calm them with the right tone of voice, and was rather surprised when they replied. They were interested, they said, in meat, and looked at us with a rather unpleasant expression. I told them there was some meat inside, and they'd be welcome to it once we all left.
Sadly for all concerned, they insisted on fresh meat, namely, us, and battle was joined. As soon as I realised there was no negotiating, I dashed out and smacked the leader in the nose, taking him by surprise and leaving him stunned as Ilde and Lightning charged in to join me. Meanwhile Osh had run out to take on the other two.
They noticed that Osh had something small (and apparently, more appetising) on his back, and started snapping at Bimp, whose ability to dodge them was rather limited by the harness. Worse was to come, as one of them blew a gust of icy wind at us – I felt like one of the little piglets in the bedtime story – and while I ducked out of the way, the others were chilled by it.
Ilde and I were flanking the alpha, and as we beat at it and it turned from side to side to snap at us, Lightning leapt up and tore out its throat. By this stage the others were emerging from the cave, and Johann was targeting one of Osh's two with a fire spell. When he hit it, I ran in and broke its neck, and they finished the last one off between them. None too soon, either; Bimp was unconscious from loss of blood, but we revived her with a healing potion she'd made herself at Odo's Rest.
Once we'd cleaned up the mess, we set off for the flower cave. It was only a short distance away, and we soon found the entrance – between the steam and the sulphur, we could hardly miss it. The air was so misty we could barely see an arm's length in front of us, and we agreed that I should go down and scout it out before the others came down.
I followed the passage a little way down before it opened up into a wider chamber. I prodded ahead with my staff and felt a pool of water just ahead, taking up most of the floor, but there seemed to be a small rocky walkway around the edge. I went back to fetch the others – stopping on the way to scratch a mark on the floor so I could find the exit again in the murk, if need be – and we fumbled our way around the edge of the pool. It was slippery from the steam, and several of us stumbled along the way. The water was hot enough and acidic enough that I wouldn't have liked to stay in it for long, but a little splash did no harm. Towards the far end the pool got hotter, and we could hear it bubbling, but by that point there was a little more room around the edge and we managed to avoid further spills.
Here, at the opposite side from the entrance, we found a tunnel with tiny glinting yellow crystals – Bimp told us they were sulphur – on the walls.
The visibility had improved a little – I think it was so hot the mist could not form in this section – and up ahead I saw a little winged creature, and then another, and another. My first thought was 'demon' – they looked very much like the imps we'd encountered before – but I hailed them.
When we looked closer, I realised they were not demons but tiny elementals, kin to the mephits we'd met before. I was glad I'd given them the benefit of the doubt; I have to admit that these days, I like to be in the lead not just for the safety of my companions but also for any hapless soul we might meet along the way.
The mephits were somewhat suspicious of us, and it didn't take long to find out why – it seems they were used to people trying to take their sulphur flowers without permission. (Ilde and Bimp attempted to persuade us that the mephits didn't own the flowers either and had no right to stop us taking them, but I'm becoming used to their attempts at rationalising such things and stood my ground. I like to believe that they're just baiting me and aren't quite the brigands they pretend to be, but I'm not always sure...) The little creatures were quite surprised when we offered to trade with them, and in return for a bejewelled sword and scabbard taken from an ogre mage some time back they agreed to give us twelve flowers.
Or, rather, they agreed to let one of us try for twelve, since they're quite delicate and easily broken in the process of removal. I volunteered – assisted by a protection spell from Bimp, since the tunnel was painfully hot along here – and the mephits showed me to a small cavern where the walls were dotted by beautiful flowers of yellow crystal. I don't know how such things can form, but they do, and they were so lovely I could barely bring myself to chip them from the wall.
But after studying them carefully, I selected twelve and went to work with my knife. Some broke as I pried them off the rock, but I managed to collect four intact flowers as well as several more pieces.
The mephits were pleased at the trade, and surprised that we had kept our end of the bargain. They warned us about some of the local creatures, including the 'cold-lizards', a big one and a small one. By careful enquiries, we determined that the one we'd killed had been the small one...
And then, just as things were going really well, and the mephits were talking about inviting us back to trade again, one of them mentioned that the crystals I'd seen were small ones – whereupon Corey said “So you have a secret collection of bigger ones you haven't told us about!”
At which point, of course, they reverted to the distrust we had seen at the beginning, and they told us to leave their caverns right away. I told Corey off, and we left to spend the night in the nasty cold smelly cave. [Obviously our poor human friend, and the mephits, failed to understand that Corey was paying them a sophisticated *compliment* by praising their assets and cunning. - Cal.]
We turfed out the frozen corpses, and during the night I saw two wolverines outside eating them, which strikes me as much better than having the wolverines come inside with us looking for food. Other than that, the night went quietly, until just before dawn the third watch heard something very large flying nearby.
Ilde: “Maybe it's a small dragon pretending to be large.”
In the morning, we emerged, to find that the mephits had blocked up the entrance to their cavern – for which I can hardly blame them. Ilde wanted to scout around for the dragon's lair, but the rest of us felt that might be a dangerous idea, and we voted to head downhill. As it turned out, Ilde got her wish, because just as we were standing outside the cave preparing to head for town we saw a white dragon flying towards us.
Things got a bit chaotic from there. Having learned from our last dragon encounter, we kept dispersed, so the dragon was only able to hit one or two people at a time with its blasts of cold air (which, by the way, made the wolves' attacks seem positively puny). I was rather shaken by the beast, and while I loosed off a few shots at it with my crossbow, I don't know that I hit it at all. About the only thing I managed to achieve was handing a healing potion to Corey after the dragon chilled him into near-unconsciousness.
The others achieved rather more, shooting at the dragon as Corey and Johann showered it with fire, which it did not like at all. Bimp conjured up a hippogriff that flew around after the dragon, distracting it somewhat (although I'm not sure whether its claws actually managed to pierce the dragon's scales at all) and I think Osh hit it once or twice with his crossbow.
The creature didn't seem to have expected the reception it got, and rather than escape as the red one had done, it flew in to strike at Osh, only to be downed by Bimp on the way past. It collapsed on top of Osh, knocking him into the snow, and it took him quite some time to wrestle his way out from under the body.
After this, we went in search of the lair, which turned out to be nearby. There was a good deal of coin and assorted valuables, which of course delighted my companions, and a set of five silver bracers with curious inscriptions on them that we have yet to identify. To my sorrow, we also found the dismembered corpse of a small silver dragon, poor creature. Bimp wanted to cut it up and sell the pieces, as we had done with the white, but I vetoed the idea, claiming it as part of my share of the hoard.
The other thing, which led to quite some argument, was a clutch of five white eggs. Bimp, of course, wanted to keep them alive and sell them, and seeing that I wasn't going to win this argument I piled them into a sack.
We built a small cairn of stones for the silver dragon and poured water over them to freeze it solid, then headed over to the mephits' cave to tell them that the white was dead. I gave them one dragon egg by way of apology for Corey's words, and they were most pleased, giving us a bundle of sulphur petals from the floor of their cave. I didn't see what they did with the egg, but I very much doubt it would ever have hatched.
We returned to Odo's Pool, where the priests were curious to hear the tales of our trip up the mountain. Besides the crystals, the mephits had also given us a sack containing the dessicated bones of some previous explorer who had tried to harvest the sulphur flowers – I didn't ask whether he'd been killed by the heat or the mephits, and they didn't say – and we put the bones to rest in the same pool where Fourteen Hundred and Twelve had gone.
During the night, the third watch heard a loud cracking noise – repeated three more times – and smelt a nasty smell of sulphur. It seems I had left the sack containing the remaining dragon eggs near the fire, and they had spoiled and broken in the heat. My companions chided me for my foolishness – had I not realised that heat might be bad for the eggs of a white dragon – and I diplomatically refrained from answering the question. All in all, probably for the best.