Having defeated the Hatchetmen’s fearsome championess, we took the enchanted axes she dropped and retreated back to the entrance of the mines to lick our copious wounds.
On the way out, Stefan suddenly jerked upright, and began speaking in a strange tone of voice while flexing and musing about how his body felt. When he addressed us it became clear that the psionic master of the mine had taken over his body and was using it to communicate with us remotely. Kalli stepped forward and began to negotiate. She offered that we wouldn’t come back to finish the slaughter if he were to give us 3 chests of mithril. After some time, they struck an even bigger deal: the psionicist would dissociate from the Hatchetmen, removing his mantle of protection from them (and therefore allowing us the opportunity to finally destroy them once and for all) if we would kill the amber dragon we had encountered earlier, who seemed to be protecting Riverton and the surrounding wilderness. Furthermore, he would give us a bonus if we could procure for him some of the dragon’s blood.
This didn’t sit well with me, but before I fully comprehended what was said, the deal was struck. I would have to chew on this for a while.
The psionicist then relinquished control over Stefan’s body, and he came to. Next Blake examined the ornate pair of axes, and determined that at least one of them was imbued with fire magic. He read a command word on the pommel, and violet flame sprung up the handle, engulfing the blade! He couldn’t read the other, but speculated that it may be imbued with ice magic. Stefan took them back and we continued to trudge out of the mine, down the mountain, and out of the dead magic zone.
Our psionic powers diminished, and eventually our magic returned. As we marched, I reflected on this moral dilemma I had been thrust into. My comrades were a good sort overall, although perhaps a bit too prone to greed for my taste. But still, my cut of the earnings from this quest would complete the construction of Ronan’s megachurch, and endow the Burkean congregation with a fortune to keep it strong for decades to come. That had to count for something, right?
As we traveled, I fell into the rhythm of the march. Feeling my pack sway as my legs moved methodically, my body proceeding automatically, I Withdrew into a deep, meditative trance. Only a few hours passed for my comrades, but I experienced days, weeks, perhaps eons flying by as I pondered the mysteries of my destiny. I examined the situation from all angles:
- The psionicist was clearly evil, a strange bedfellow indeed.
- Amber dragons, I knew, tended towards moral neutrality. This one had even seemed to help us, by relieving us of Stefan’s cursed armor that had brought us so much grief.
- Although, the dragon probably had not helped out of altruism so much as for her own selfish ends. She had seemed strangely attracted to the armor, desiring it for herself. The dragon’s act of assistance to us perhaps had the same moral weight as any other neutral force of nature that happens to help rather than hurt, like a fortuitous rainstorm that fills our canteens and helps deliver us from the burden of thirst. Right?
- The dragon had seemed to be protecting the village of Riverton, and the surrounding wilderness. Seemingly a good act; and what would happen without her protection in the future? Perhaps some of the villagers would become unwilling slaves of the psionicist, toiling away the rest of their lives in his mines…
- But who knows why she was protecting the village? It could be simply to safeguard her own ready supply of meat: the innocent villagers like a fenced-in herd of pigs just waiting to be turned into so much bacon.
- There was the Greater Good to be considered as well. Even if the dragon were altruistically protecting the innocent villagers, how does keeping that tiny village safe weigh against the consequence (if she dies and we annihilate the Hatchetmen) of saving the entire region, including the populous mega-city of Burke, from being ruthlessly terrorized by a brutal criminal syndicate? Surely that good outweighs the murder, or martyrdom really, of one neutral being, who perhaps carries the same moral significance as a powerful force of nature. Right??
- So really, her living stood in the way of the greater good, but her death would help advance it. Nothing good comes with out a price, they say. If you want to make an omelette, and all that. Right???
After anguishing over this for what seemed an eternity, suddenly it dawned on me: this was not murder at all, but more akin to an execution in a civil society. Unpleasant, but necessary. The honorable course of action would be to just lay it all out straight for her. Inform her of the reasons why she had to die so she could make peace with her fate, and then just do it as mercifully as possible: quick and painless. Maybe she would even see reason and accept her demise gracefully, the way that land whale had on the road to Riverton. Yes! Blunt, clear, and honest was the way to go. It was regrettable that it had to be this way, but it was not murder, I could rest at east. It was but duty to the greater good. She had to die, so that we could use the evil psionicist as a tool in the service of good. I hoped Ronan would understand.
I came out of my trance, relieved and now excited by the challenge at hand. We continued marching until it grew dark, then we came to halt and made camp. Hrolf and I prayed for healing for us all, and we rested the night.
Next day we spent strategizing how to locate and slay the amber dragon. I was able to Divine the creature’s approximate location, and we set off hiking through the forest in that general direction, hiking for several hours. We came into a clearing that I judged to be in her territory, and decided to see if we could lure here there. Everyone spread out, and I thought it might be of use to Call some Woodland Beings to our aid, since we’d be fighting, after all, a dragon. I sent out a Summons for any nearby bears or wolves to take part in the execution, but none came! Had Ronan judged my reasoning false and cut me off from His good graces? Or perhaps had all the local bears and wolves become prey for our quarry long ago? I couldn’t say, but the question put my nerves on edge. I Called out again, but this time I felt her presence: the amber dragon. I sent out empathic vibes that it was imperative that I speak with her, posthaste. I could sense her curiosity, and felt her draw near.
She emerged behind me from the dense foliage, mere yards away. But not in the form that I expected: she was a mere little girl, naked and appearing as innocent as you please. She looked up at me, inquiring with big yellow eyes what was the matter. I suppressed a sudden emotional urge and spoke sharply, barking my explanation quickly before her innocent appearance could soften my heart.
“My lady. I’m afraid that your life is now forfeit. If you submit, we’ll make it quick and painless, and I will shepherd your soul into the next realm.”
“What? Whyyyyy?” She ask plaintively, beginning to tear up and sob.
I could sense my comrades rolling their eyes at my sentimentality, but only Ronan mattered to me now. I had to tread carefully.
“Look, it’s not that you’ve done anything wrong. The whole thing is regrettable. But it will be for the best if you die, so that we can take some great villains out of the world. You’ll be dying for a good cause, you’ll see! Well, I suppose you won’t actually see, seeing as how you’ll be dead, but you can trust me on that.”
Blake must have sensed my wavering resolve, for in the middle of my sputtering justification, he fired a salvo a magic missiles at the girl from up above where he had been Flying around the clearing. By rights, they should have blasted her into a fine red mist, but instead they barely knocked her back an inch. The innocent look in her wide eyes vanished, and she narrowed them to glare at the bard through slits of hot yellow anger.
I don’t know what I expected then, but it was not for her to disappear. Yet she very nearly did, but for a tiny mote of glimmering amber light where her heart had been. This rocketed up high over my head and straight at Blake! It seemed to zap him angrily with jolts of electricity as it buzzed around him. Kalli, holding aloft her magic sword (Francis) rocketed up into the air too, slashing at the mote. I wondered if the dragon-girl had used some kind of shape-changing magic to transform into a Will’o’the’Wisp… I prayed for any magic on her to be Dispelled. It worked! She instantly reverted to full-grown dragon, amber scales and all, right between the airborne Blake and Kalli. She now stood on the ground, but immediately shrieked a terrible roar as Stefan dashed in, hacking off a piece of her tail. In response, she flapped her terrible wings and launched herself into the air, scooping up the armored half elf with her rear claw as she rose. Blake stayed low but Kalli followed the dragon (and Stefan) up, slicing and slashing at her vulnerable wing joint. The harrying distracted the dragon enough to drop Stefan, who Blake caught with an impressively timed Feather Fall spell; he gently floated to the ground.
Across the clearing I could make out Hrolf intoning the words to a Dimensional Anchor spell, which I figured would prevent the dragon from making any sneaky magical escapes. (Who knew the little fella was capable of such forethought? I gave him a spiritual “bro-fist” from where I stood.) Indeed, the dragon seemed to be attempting some Blink magic… and was a bit surprised when it didn’t work. I yelled, “Your magic has no power here!”Kalli took advantage of the brief distraction to slice again, doing more damage to her wings.
Now she somehow managed to revert back to wisp-form once again, and seemed to almost fade from view completely, but Hrolf once again had her in check with an Invisibility Purge. Repeatedly thwarted from her powers, she apparently chose now to flee instead. She rocketed off into the woods to the South. I summoned a Tree Steed and picked up Stefan and Hrolf to follow, but Kalli had other ideas. Blake was about to fly off after the mote, but instead Kalli barked a command at him to Polymorph her, and so he cast the spell. She quickly grew into a giant black dragon! Her plan was to use another dragon’s acute senses to track the amber dragon… and it worked. She launched herself up after the fleeing mote, crashing through the trees in her way and leaving raw destruction in her wake, quickly outpacing my poor wooden horse.
I don’t know quite how it happened, as there was nothing for us to do but follow, but after some tense minutes the black dragon came crashing back. Kalli had caught the mote in her massive black dragon maw! She motioned for Blake to get out the Bag of Holding, which he did, and when he held it open, she spit into it and he sealed it back shut. The amber dragon was dead, though it was now physically in wisp form. I muttered a fervent benediction for her departed soul.
Kalli gathered us up and flew us back to the mine entrance, to pay our blood price to the psionicist. Then we took our earnings and discussed what to do next.
Now, polymorphing is a dangerous procedure even when turning into a simple creature. Becoming something like a dragon almost never ends well for the morphee. By rights, Kalli should have been permanently brain damaged, and yet knowing this she had chosen to put herself at risk on behalf of the mission. That’s dedication! Yet somehow, despite all odds, she finally reverted to her scrappy old self, in perfect sanity. I hoped I could say the same for myself after coming to terms with my moral compromise… was I starting down a road that could lead to spiritual bankruptcy? Or was I ensuring the greatest good for the greatest number? It was a crisis of faith. I needed a vacation.