29 Rova, 4714 AR
The bat-creatures (grioths, Bat recalls from his studies on life beyond the stars) attack the townsfolk with murderous abandon. Several unfortunate villagers fall to the grioths’ sudden attack, but quick response from Ham, Emraeal, and Bat keeps the creatures’ killing spree in check.
Acolytes of Abadar tend to the wounded and heal Hammy’s wounds, but there is little time to recuperate. Soon after the grioths are slain, a scaly, reptilian winged creature with smoke a fire billowing from its jaws swoops down to land atop the amphitheatre stage. Bat yells out to Ham and Emraeal that the creature is a flame drake, a draconic relative but not a true dragon. This does not stop the remaining townsfolk in the amphitheatre from shrieking “A dragon!” in panic. Ham, Emraeal and Bat kill the drake, but the amphitheatre itself is left in shambles – much of the seating and stage area charred and burnt from the flame drake’s fiery breath.
After the drake is defeated, the baroness, her son Arnholde, and Bassy approach the group to thank them for their aid. Bat enlists several villagers to help him drag the flame drake’s corpse into an open area and skillfully extracts a vial of the creature’s volatile bile. Just as everyone is finally starting to think the evening’s ordeal is at an end, a thunderous roar shatters the night. The survivors look to the east in fear as a vast shape crawls up on to the roof of a nearby house. It is an enormous black dragon, but its scales are ragged and greying, its eyes are sightless, its muscles are exposed beneath torn flesh, and the smell of rot is nearly overpowering.
“I am Aeteperax, Lord of Dragonfen, and you have exhausted my patience. The wizard Hunclay promised me many things before his death, including fire rare and ancient tomes. I made efforts to obtain these lawfully, but my representative, Clausyre, failed me. My forbearance is at an end.
“Now, I require not only the books, including the tome entitled Secrets of the Dreaming Dark, but also an indemnity of 776,000 gold pieces – 2,000 for each and every resident of this dunghill you call home.
“I give you two weeks to deliver these to the place you know as the Monastery of Saint Kyerixus across the Dragonfen.
“None are permitted to leave Belhaim – my minions blanket the countryside, and all who dare leave this town shall suffer for it. Only those chosen to deliver my ransom may travel, and then only into Dragonfen.
“Should you defy me or fail to satisfy my demands, I shall lay waste to little Belhaim and kill every living inhabitant, down to the last mewling infant.”
With that, the dragon rises up, casts a spell, and vanishes, apparently teleporting away. Silence reigns for a moment, then panic strikes and the survivors flee back to their homes. Emraeal, Bat, and Hammy accompany the baroness back to her estate, along with several other residents the baroness enlists for advice – Bassy the historian, Sheriff Benhovy, the Abadaran priestess Eupaphenia Targas, and the stabler and former adventurer Lezara Dodgion.
Suggestions and arguments for and against various plans go back and forth. In the end, understanding that paying the dragon 776,000 gp is impossible for Belhaim, Bassy makes a simple suggestion: “Why don’t we just kill it?” Lady Origena breaks the intervening silence and addresses Bat, Hammy, and Emraeal.
“I can’t offer a monetary award sufficient to lure into undertaking such a deadly mission. However, I must ask: will you slay this dragon for Belhaim? If you succeed, I shall raise each of you to the rank of Knight of Taldor, and all the benefits such a title brings will be yours. Belhaim and its inhabitants are lost if you don’t prevail. What say you?”
Hammy agrees without question, and a stern look from the brawny soldier brings somewhat grudging agreement from his elf and gnome companions. The agreement made, Bassy interjects:
“Are we even sure we’re dealing with a dragon here? I’ve been around for a long, long time, and one thing I’ve learned is that inexperienced illusionists tend to rely on overwhelming one’s eyes and ears, but often forget the details. I was there. I saw the dragon. I heard it speak and roar.
“But I didn’t hear it breath. I didn’t hear its talons scraping stone. I didn’t feel the air stir when its wings unfurled. Certainly whoever or whatever we face has great power – if that truly was just an illusion, it was still a powerful magical effect.
“For all we know, it could even be a dragon – that certainly fits with what you learned from the kobolds. The name Aeteperax is an old one, and the original Aeteperax’s bones should still be out there in Dragonfen, coiled around the crypt of Tula Belhaim. At the very least, if you can confirm those bones are still there before you visit the Monastery of Saint Kyerixus, then it seems obvious that what we all saw tonight wasn’t really Aeteperax risen from the dead.”
Before the group leaves the baroness to prepare for their venture, they are provided several gifts by those in attendance. Sheriff Benhovy, with the tiniest bit of grudging complaint, loans his magical ring of protection to Hammy. Aged Lezara Dodgion’s days of adventuring are far behind her, and she can think of no better home for her magical flaming burst longbow than in Emraeal’s hands. Eupaphenia Targas tells the group that any spellcasting services they might require from the House of Abadar will be provided gratis.
Finally, Bassy’s gift to Bat is an ancient brass key, something Lady Tula herself gave Bassy’s grandmother over a thousand years ago. Lady Tula also made a strange request: “Keep this key safe until the need for dragonslayers rises again.” Bassy tells Bat that the key will open the crypt of Tula Belhaim, but warns him and the others that it’s been centuries since anyone has entered the tomb, and there are doubtless guardians and traps within to keep all but righteous and true dragonslayers away. However, securing the magical treasures bound to exist within the tomb will certainly aid Bat, Emraeal, and Hammy in their efforts.