The Gopher King: Chapter 27

Jandle sat on a log in this idyllic forest and ate his sandwich while he hummed contentedly. He had been wandering about in these woods for a couple of days learning its secrets. He knew going in that there was a green dragon that lived here, and he had seen the bullywugs for himself at a safe distance. But he had not yet found the people he was looking for; an adventurous group of humans, elves, and half-elves that were making themselves quite a reputation in this part of the world.

Since leaving Slothjemia the kobold had only one goal. It was a modest goal and yet even so it had proven remarkably difficult to accomplish. He was on the hunt for a new lord to serve. He had been given a number of offers to serve in his home country and he had politely turned them all down. Jandle was seeking not just a new start, but a radical rebirth of who he was and how he was going to use his skills. He still had splitting headaches from time to time when he exerted himself excessively and he was mindful that whoever he served would have to be aware of this weakness. The hunt for a new master was helping his overall health, though, and frankly the kobold was enjoying the process.

Jandle had for the most part been in hiding ever since crossing the border out of Geldenreich and entering the “little states” of central Partum. He travelled a lot at night and spent hours eavesdropping outside of inns and taverns to glean information. He had also stumbled across pockets of the landscape wherein there were goblinoids that were friendly towards him and he had gotten a lot of information from them as well. Jandle had also crossed paths with some painfully hostile folks and in most cases he had opted to flee rather than give a good accounting of himself in combat. As he had drawn further north and west in the little states he had heard more and more about this peculiar group of adventurers and some of their more notable deeds. One of their number was a ranger named Xan and Jandle had found his reputation particularly interesting. Jandle had decided to find this fellow and see if he required the services of a squire.

Jandle finished his sandwich and continued his humming while he prepared again to head out in his explorations. The stories he had heard about Xan and his companions made Jandle think this was precisely the kind of people that would give the kobold a whole new perspective on life. They were reputed to be virtuous and yet perfectly capable of smacking a few people around. They hadn’t ever been accused of anything evil excepting of course from the perspectives of those that had had their own evil schemes thwarted by Xan and his friends. Jandle wanted that sort of reputation, too. He had served too long a man that had a reputation not nearly as fitting in its entirety to the exploits of these adventurers. Jandle tried to keep in mind that these were just mortals such as himself and might possibly let him down in reality, but nevertheless the kobold remained optimistic that they were people that might turn out to be exactly what he was looking for.

Jandle hadn’t been in motion long when he spotted three women making their way carefully through the neatly maintained forest. An elven rogue led the way, and behind her was what appeared to be a blind druid. Last in the group was a half-elven rogue that looked to be a bard. Jandle’s heart skipped a beat as he realized this was the group of people he was looking for minus the ranger he was seeking to serve. The kobold kept pace with the trio of ladies all the while trying to ascertain where the ranger might be. Nowhere could he find any sign of the fabled woodsman so Jandle decided after a while to just make himself known.

Placing his crossbow in the most unthreatening position he could think of and clutching his copy of “The Stammler and Reischach Phrasebook and Guide to the Fanolanian Language” he cleared his throat to get the attention of the ladies. He hoped none of them responded with violence and started to step out in the open to signal that he meant no harm.

The women were clearly on the alert and while they didn’t attack the kobold immediately they made it clear that they had every intention of filleting him should he do anything untoward. The squire said in his broken Fanolanian, “I am meaning no harm. Am I to be allowed helping?”

The women looked at him, including the blind druid, and the kobold could feel that he was being closely scrutinized by some unknown means in addition to normal senses. “Who are you?” asked the elven woman who seemed to be in charge.

“My name is Jandle.” Replied the kobold. “I can be of helpful.” Jandle checked through his little book, looking up from time to time to make sure none of the women were about to shoot him with an arrow or pound him into the ground with a hammer. He made some grunts to indicate that the words were not exactly as he meant them, and the women seemed to understand that he wasn’t from these parts.

The elven woman responded with, “My name is Joss. This is Selena and that is Nessa.” She motioned at her companions and Jandle waved to them with his book. Joss continued and said, “We are looking for a dragon.”

Jandle nodded his head emphatically and motioned them to follow him. He didn’t know precisely where the dragon was, but he could make an educated guess as to its location based on the placement of the various bullywugs villages he had encountered and the way the landscape was formed. All dragons follow particular customs and norms when choosing their lairs. They were after all extremely cunning creatures that needed a great deal of privacy and security for their treasure troves. The odd little group made their way carefully through the forest to where a wooded hillock rose with towering trees all along the top of it.

Pointing to the hillock the kobold said, “There I might think to be finding the dragon.” All eyes fell upon the indicated rise in topography. Although none of them could be for certain that this was where the dragon had nested it certainly seemed to be a reasonable guess that she could be lurking in the trees atop the wooded mound.

The small band of adventurers huddled together and in soft whispers discussed their plan. The bard could use some basic magic and had a short bow. Jandle advised them that normal arrows wouldn’t have any impact on the dragon due to her suspected age; at a certain point in every dragon’s life their scales become so tough as to be virtually impervious to standard missile fire. Even nonmagical melee weapons might not harm her. The druid was informed that there was sufficient cloud cover available to permit her to call down lightning and while the dragon might enjoy some magic resistance it wasn’t a foregone conclusion that it wouldn’t harm the dragon or even cause serious harm to her. The thief had an exquisite stiletto that she felt would be effective in combatting the dragon. Jandle cautioned that getting close to a dragon the size and temperament of this one was a tricky matter. The kobold had a small crossbow that fired enchanted bolts, and these could be helpful. Everyone knew to stay well clear of the dragon’s fearsome mouth and the clouds of chlorine gas she could belch at will every few minutes. The dragon had a limited number of potential vulnerabilities.

Not far away from these huddled adventurers hovered a small green orb of light, bobbing just out of sight behind a heavily leafed tree limb. It listened closely to what was being discussed. It knew the dragon was too strong for this stalwart band. But it needed the dragon to be weakened enough to accept its proposal and the gift of eternal undeath. The Viceroy decided to tip the scales in favor of the adventurers. He already had a brand on two of them and if he played his cards right he could goad the druid into doing something foolish and he would have a hold on her, too. Things were proceeding much faster than they normally did for a lich’s plan. It gave the Viceroy a feeling of elation. The small glowing orb continued to follow at a discrete distance as the little group of would-be dragon slayers made their way up to attack Druuna from multiple sides. Little did they know that a lich was siding with them and their prize would end up being stolen.

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