Chapter Two: Dead Dragon
Our heroes are clearing the dungeons of Isengard in search of the mysterious master of the Necromancer, whom we slew some weeks ago in Edoras. As to what we will do when we find a wizard powerful enough to command the obedience of someone who controls life and death itself – oddly, very little has been said on that subject.
Another Gug, the four-armed giant gaunt eaters with faces which hinge open to reveal a massive mouth, comes scraping along the halls toward us. Giles recognizes the noise and we have a little time to get ready, setting ourselves on the other side of a pool of clear water. The Gug is tall enough to just step over the pool, but no one realizes that until it’s too late.
Which it isn’t, ever! Because the Gug gets pelted with arrows the moment he emerges, and falls down. His body also blocks the entrance against any other Gugs. But Giles is able to crawl over the Gug’s body to make sure no others are menacing the Rangers guarding the exit, and lo and behold, another Gug is indeed creeping toward them! Giles and Rhionwyn attack it from behind, and soon it, too, is history. The rest of the dungeon contains no further monsters, but there is a sloping room that leads to a level below ground level … which, since we haven’t found the Master yet, we have to explore.
The level below is mostly flooded. High ridges screen most areas from sight, but there are flat-topped stones like little islands, with rickety bridges connecting them. There are also some orcs gathered around a fire; they are not easy to surprise, but Giles undoes one end of the bridge leading to their island and then lifts it up, preventing them from crossing over to our island! All of the Rangers and most of the players have bows, whereas only half the orcs do. The orcs run out, see their bridge is stolen, ready their own bows, and get shot down with no injury to our side whatsoever.
Additional orcs and goblins in the dark hurry toward the sounds of battle. One goblin stabs War in the knee, while a crossbow bolt from a skeleton (!) pierces Plenty’s armor. They do not manage to come to close combat, although those orcs with shields last a lot longer, since they can hold up their shields to block arrows.
The two shield-orcs charge, and Giles is able to pry up another bridge and knock them sideways with it, dumping them in the deep, cold, green murky water. One sinks, but the other is rescued after promising to obey. Rhionwyn charges him not to betray us, but the orc haughtily informs her that he agreed not to kill them. Loyalty costs extra. Giles offers a half loaf of wheaten bread, to which the orc says, “Done. Gimme.” And between huge bites and chews of bread, he explains all he knows.
This orc, Zikhnakh, explains that his master is Dead Dragon. The necromancer visited sometimes, taking orders from Dead Dragon. When Dead Dragon spoke to the necromancer, his voice was red, but when he spoke to the orcs and goblins it was normal. When questioned further on this turn of phrase, Zikhnakh insisted that the words glowed red when he spoke.
“If we’re going to slay a dragon today,” said Giles, “we might do better to get the elf, the dwarf and the hobbit down here. Hobbits and dwarves are natural dragon-slayers, from the tales I’ve heard.” Indeed, Elrohir the elf and Bori the dwarf are eager to do something more than guarding the path of retreat, for all that Havoc insists that’s important.
Giles tells Zikhnakh to yell real loud that he’s found the Ring, in order to attract Dead Dragon, once everyone has made his preparations and selected places from which to ambush. But Zikhnakh forgets to wait and blows the plan early! Eerie whishing sounds, like gliding wings, herald Dead Dragon’s approach.
Neither Zikhnakh nor Dead Dragon is the slightest bit imaginative in the matter of names: Dead Dragon is indeed an undead dragon, reanimated by foul sorcery and about half returned to bones, although with some gray flesh still attached. He glides in almost silently and lands on an island with Havoc, Plenty, Zikhnakh and Giles. The dragon strikes out with wings, teeth and tail, but he misses Giles, who jams a plank of wood in its mouth just as it bites down. This drives its teeth into the wood like nails, making it hard to bite.
The dragon’s wings knock Havoc and Plenty aside; both are knocked senseless, and Plenty lands in the water. He would have drowned, but Sylvia hauls him ashore, and the cold water wakes him up. Havoc, however, is out cold.
Arrows pelt the beast to no effect. Rhionwyn leaps up onto the dragon’s back, perhaps in the belief that what works with horses will work with dragons, and slices off one of its wings. Now it can’t escape … which means a fight to the death, except that he’s already dead.
Giles spies a trickle of smoke coming from the back of the dragon’s skull. He points out this weak spot, but then gets buffeted by the dragon’s remaining wing and knocked into the water. Fortunately, he rallies his wits before he drowns.
Zikhnakh, rather than running away, stabs the dragon deep in the vitals! Apparently joining the side of right, or perhaps eating bread, has brought out the hero never suspected to smolder within the orc’s brutish exterior.
Rhionwyn stabs down into the dragon’s skull. Giles had hit the weak point with his scythe, but not hard enough to kill. Rhionwyn’s ancestor sword Rockfall, however, pierces through! Red flame erupts from the dragon’s eyes, nose and mouth, immolating Zikhnakh the Orc Hero but also causing the undead dragon to topple over, dead.
Giles finds a red diamond where Rhionwyn’s sword cut; it is blackened but twinkles with warmth. Bori explains that this jewel is what kept the dragon moving after death, and it must therefore carry a dreadful curse. Giles pockets it anyway. Professional grave robbers can’t be worrying about curses, or they’d never get anything done!
The team searches the rest of the underground. A Nazgul, an actual black-cloaked Ringwraith, is standing before a pyramid of green stone. Otho activates the Ring of Beobaras to make daylight, driving the creature away. No trace is found … could it have been destroyed, as a sunbeam destroys shadow? Or has it somehow escaped?
No matter. The Rangers suggest departing via the Grayflood, the river by which they entered. This is done, and as everyone is bobbing down the river toward the hiding place of their horses, Havoc grabs some grass on the bank and hauls himself up. Just in time, because a platoon of Uruk-Hai is waiting by the riverbank, bows ready!
Havoc motions to the team to keep going downriver; the Uruk-Hai only saw him. Giles figures he’s going to shoot an arrow at them and then run, leading them away from the others.
Rhionwyn uses the Ring of the White Hand to command them to lie down! They do, immediately. More Uruk-Hai amble up, and she makes them lie down, too. She and Sylvia, and probably Bori, clamber up out of the water to stand by Havoc.
They behold a field of Uruk-Hai lying on their bellies, and another Nazgul, silhouetted blackly against the setting sun, astride a great Fell Beast with batlike wings and a long, snakelike neck and tail. The Nazgul points at our four heroes, and as one, the Uruk-Hai all stand up …
… stay tuned for our next thrilling episode, in just one week! And say, while you’re waiting, consider purchasing our fine companion magazine, SKY PELTIER ON THE PLANET OF MISFIT TOYS, available whereever adventure publications are sold!