"So Gorx is suddenly willing to act pink?" Fanax, sarcasm apparent, asks referencing the comment made by the shaman in front of the Chiefs.
Shaking his head as it hardly matters Fanax finishes, "It is true that whatever is down there doesn't seem to intent on coming out to investigate so I will just go down there, alone if I have to. Enough talk."
Fanax walks purposefully back to the cave opening. Its clear he doesn't care if he goes alone or not.
Gorx nods. "As Fanax is willing to act Gorx."
Gorx looks around at his other companions for their thoughts.
Gorx's mule lifts its tail and defecates copiously.
Wæs se grimma gæst Grendel haten,mære mearcstapa, se þe moras heold
Oni watches the mule poop. In another day or two, that could be us, watching the pile of shit accumulate on the ground. He speaks up. "I don't want to be eaten or frozen solid, so if talking prevents either one, I'm happy." The bugbear frowns, however. "But do we speak its language? I don't just mean the tongue of dragons. I mean, how do we communicate with something that isn't anything like us? I suppose we have some things in common; it wants shelter, security, food." Tilting his head from side to side as he counts the items on his list, Oni's face brightens as he offers, "Respect. Pride. We can praise its status as an apex predator."
"Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag and begin slitting throats." - H.L. Mencken
Gorx shrugs. "I speak Dragon. I probably have a terrible accent."
"A rabbit can gush to a wolf about how good a predator the wolf is. The wolf may even love it. But the wolf will still eat the rabbit." Zathrus looks to Fanax's back as he walks to the cave. "You just go in there, little rabbit, and tell that dragon just what you think. I'm sure it will turn out just as you hope."
Fanax disappears into the cavern, and once again creeps through the gloom within, hugging the walls as best he can in order to afford himself what cover there is to be had.
He hasn't covered even as much distance into the cavern as he did last time before a hoarse, rumbling noise booms through the darkness. The roar is even faintly audible from outside the cave, and without the echoes it is actually easier to understand when it resolves into the sibilants and gutturals of Draconic speech.
"My armor is like tenfold shields, my teeth are swords, my claws spears, the shock of my tail a thunderbolt, my wings a hurricane, and my breath death! Puny, sneaking TRESPASSER! WHO DISTURBS THE DESOLATION OF VUMROT?"
For his own part, Fanax's ears are ringing, and the bare stone walls, floor, and ceiling of the cavern make the entire space an echo chamber that makes it confusing to try to figure out where the voice is coming from.
Blue 1 - Fanax
Black 1 - Fanax's pony
Blue 2 - Gorx (mounted)
Black 2 - Gorx's mule
Blue 3 - Grimvaalk (mounted)
Black 3 - Grimvaalk's pony
Blue 4 - Oni Unetsi
Blue 5 - Yonah Adisi
Blue 6 - Zathrus
Black 6 - Zathrus's horse (tethered to tree)
Grey stippling represents boulders and rocks of size significant enough to affect movement. They are "dense rubble." It costs 2 squares of movement to enter a square with dense rubble. The DC of Balance and Tumble checks on dense rubble increases by 5, and the DC of Move Silently checks increases by +2. As a result of the movement penalty, dense rubble counts as difficult terrain; you can't run or charge through it.
Orange squares and yellow squares are light undergrowth. A space covered with light undergrowth costs 2 squares of movement to move into, and it provides 20% concealment. Undergrowth increases the DC of Tumble and Move Silently checks by 2 because the leaves and branches get in the way, but the concealment enables Hide checks.
Dark grey squares represent the hillside. At all times, you may assume that the hillside represents a "steep slope," on which the downhill side is toward the nearest white square. Characters moving uphill (to an adjacent square of higher elevation) must spend 2 squares of movement to enter each square of steep slope; as a result, you cannot run or charge uphill. Characters running or charging downhill (moving to an adjacent square of lower elevation) must succeed on a DC 10 Balance check upon entering the first steep slope square. Mounted characters make a DC 10 Ride check instead. Characters who fail this check stumble and must end their movement 1d2×5 feet later. Characters who fail by 5 or more fall prone in the square where they end their movement. A steep slope increases the DC of Tumble checks by 2.
Dots on the hillside are also trees, with mechanical effects identical to those already described.
The darkest area of the hillside represents a cliff, roughly 40 feet high. A cliff typically requires a DC 15 Climb check to scale. This cliff is not perfectly vertical. For every 20 feet you ascend, you will automatically move 5 feet into its area. If you fail your Climb check by 4 or less, you make no progress. If you fail by 5 or more, you fall from whatever height you have already attained.
The interior of the cavern has natural stone floors. It takes 2 squares of movement to enter a square with a natural stone floor, and the DC of Balance and Tumble checks increases by 5. Running and charging are impossible, except along paths. The walls and ceiling of the cavern are unworked stone. It takes a DC 15 Climb check to move along an unworked stone wall.
"I..." The sentence starts a bit high pitched as Fanax stands stunned for a moment, fear creeping up enough for him to seriously consider running all of the way back home to mommy.
The goblin quickly recognizes that option is off of the table, shakes his head at himself, rolls his shoulders and head, and replies steadily in draconic "I am Fanax. Fanax the Forest Whisperer! I am from the clan massing close to here that you no doubt know about. I have come to speak to you wyrm!"
The goblin quickly replays the words back to himself silently, ultimatley judging, all things considered, that wasn't so bad. He isn't frozen or eaten yet so...
"You have come skulking into my lair without permission. Why should I not devour you for your foolishness instead of listening to you?"
Fanax responds easily, "Tough meat for one thing." The goblin looks around while speaking.
"But I came with an offer. One that will get goblins like me from constantly pestering you and...perhaps get you some fine imperial horses to eat."
"Foolish goblin. I can eat all the horses I wish! Nor do I bargain like one of your petty two-leg merchants," the voice sounds disgusted and offended, but goes on, "for I am Vumrot! And certainly, I do not bargain in my own lair. But speak as a supplicant, as befits your lowly station, and I will deign to hear your pleas before I take my supper and add your shoddy goods to my hoard."
Fanax still cannot tell from what direction the dragon's voice is coming. For that matter, he cannot see so much as a scale or tooth of him.
"Fair enough," begins Fanax.
"Since I cannot outrun death, I shall face it on my own two feet. But since you have given me the opportunity to speak, my offer is this."
Fanax opens his arms wide, "Leave the beasts of my people alone. Help kill some Imperials south of here and take whatever you want. All we want is the grain. You're fed and left alone, we get grain. It's a win win wyrm."
"Or you can eat me. Deal with more of my kind. Your choice, of course." Even in the dark Fanax finishes with a smile.
"What is this about your people and their beasts?"
"We respect them," is all Fanax offers.
"My people fear and do not trust you. I can see that. Even understand that. But I also know you have a superior intelligence and have the ability to reason. We don't need to trust one another but you can surely see the benefit of this offer."
"You offer nothing, little goblin," booms the voice. "Beasts to eat, when I can hunt my fill whenever I please, and more to fill my larder besides? A promise that if I battle other two-legged creatures that you dislike, I might keep their goods? OF COURSE I will keep their goods! I AM VUMROT! I conquer, and I pile the riches of my conquests to make my bed! Why should I not slay you and your enemies all the same? Your flesh will fill my belly as well as theirs! Your treasures will caress my hide as sweetly when I lie down to sleep. How do you propose to buy back your miserable lives from me?!?"
Fanax simply shrugs, "I have given my proposal Vumrot. I am trying to work with you here before my bretheren come here and try to muck everything up."
Fanax does his best to sound as if he is pleading his case.
Looking around in the dark, small ears straining to move past the ringing caused by the screaming, Fanax asks,"Vumrot, since I am no doubt going to meet my end, one question...why the need for the dramatics? Certainly, an apex beast such as yourself can kill at will. Why not jist destroy the horde and the pinkies?"
This question is posed with genuine curiosity and it is clear.
Outside the cave, Gorx whispers to his companions.
"The dragon's name is Vumrot. That is a terrible name."
Yonah observes quietly, "That sounds like a disease people contract from laying with animals." In his best impersonation of a rustic human, he says, "Pity about ol' Lester. He got the vumrot!"
"Do you concern yourself with the internal squabbles of goats, little goblin?" booms Vumrot, sarcastically.
Fanax thinks that the voice is coming from the same branch that he followed previously. A small mercy, but a mercy nonetheless—at least Vumrot isn't between him and the exit. On the other hand, he's pretty sure Vumrot is quite close by. Which is not so great, especially if Vumrot is capable of moving significantly faster than Fanax can travel across the uneven floor of the cavern.
"That's a fantastic point," Fanax concedes trying to sound confident although his knees are as weak as a baby.
But they still work. The goblin begins his retreat to the exit. Fanax draws his sword as quiet as a whisper while on the careful move, a practice perfected through years of training, and business.
Not quite a minute later, Fanax has crept back out of the cave. Despite the shouting a little earlier, the goblin looks like he still has all of his appendages intact and unharmed. And his sword is unbloodied.
"Well, that was certainly interesting," Fanax offers once near the other party members.
Looking back to the cave entrance, sheathing his sword, the goblin asks, "Any of this strike you as strange? I mean, first our small troop is asked to kill a dragon."
Extending a second finger the goblin continues, "We find the lair but now the dragon, despite yelling and dispatching a few summoned creatures, doesn't engage."
A third finger extends, "How were we ever expected to defeat the dragon without aid when it is known to attack the horde with impunity?"
The small woodsman lets his hand linger momentarily mid air then places both hamds on his hips, shaking his head.
Exhaling loudly, "Just seems odd. What do you all want to now? Send earth creatures in? Gorx, can you summon something that is both comfortable in the cavern and not susceptable to cold?"
Gorx shakes his head. "The spirits don't want to go back in there. Given that they didn't see anything and you didn't see anything, I do not blame them. I think we just collapse the cave or smoke it out."
The goblin considers.
"Can you smoke out a dragon? Maybe we poison it out? I'd say burn, but that's stupid. It's a dragon."
"What did it tell you?" asks Zathrus. "We heard it booming at you, but couldn't make out words."
"Well, I got its name, Vumrot. And Vumrot is angry, and can eat me, and eat whatever he wants, whenever he wants," Fanax responds only pausing momentarily to finish, "Kind of a blowahard really."
Fanax chews on his lip for a second, "Strange. Something so powerful just didn't lay me low or freeze me. Gorx, could all of this be a big display? Magic perhaps. Maybe a complex illusion of a threat?"
Changing gears the goblin finishes,"Whatever or whoever it is is seriously pissing me off. I don't know how we can collapse the cave or smoke it out. I say we just all coordinate an attack on our terms inside the cave."
Gorx considers. "Illusions and throwing your voice is pretty easy for wizards. They don't make cows disappear though. Well, they do, but not a bloody disappear. More like a poof disappear."
Gorx looks around.
"Was there a second way in?"
"If there is I haven't seen it."
Fanax scrunches his face in consideration.
"Has anyone ever actually seen or spoke to someone who saw this dragon?"
"Until you just said that, I think we assumed we were talking to someone who had seen it right now. Is there a dragon in the cave, or isn't there?"
Fanax looks to Oni with a "haven't you been listening to a fucking word I said?" and then rubs his hands over his face.
"I haven't actually seen anyone or anything in the cave. Just heard someone or something talk to me. At me, really."
Fanax slumps his shoulders, "So, for the reasons stated earlier I am not so sure a dragon is in the cave. Which is also why I think we should go in and force whatever is in there's hand "
Fanax finishes the sentence looking at Grimvaalk.
Zathrus looks deep in thought, which has the side effect of making his ever-crabby face look as though he'd just swallowed a lemon. "Gorx, do you think you coukd get your windy friends to help if they don't have to go back inside?"
Gorx shakes his head. "I released them. I could get more. What do you have in mind?"
"Well, smoking it -whatever 'it' is- out has been mentioned. That's not a bad plan," he concedes. "Though I assume it's not a small hole in the ground, so it might be difficult to get enough smoke to fill it. Unless we were to have a bellows that doesn't slow down..."
Fanax offers, "It would need to be a large and long burning fire. There are split paths from the entrance. Both paths connect to a larger cavern that continues
but I didn't get to an end. Even if we did have a fire to smoke it out there may be another exit for it to simply leave. Or the voice may actually be from a dragon who blows the fire out."
Zathrus spreads his arms, conceding the point. "It's just a thought. Another is to march right int here, bold as you please, and try to deal with the problem head-on. But if that problem really is a dragon, I suspect we'll be fucked."
"It sounds like whatever is in the cave is pretty full of itself. Maybe we can request to treat with it where we can all see each other. I suppose if it's just a magic trick, whatever is in there could manage that part, too, though." Oni looks perturbed. He hadn't planned on this being one of the ways the party ran into trouble.
"Or if it's really a dragon, it just eats us," says Zathrus with a roll of his eyes. "Unless anyone has a good idea, I propose we smoke it out. I say you and you..." He points to Fanax and Grimvaalk. "Have a look around in case we've missed another way out of this hole. You and you..." He points to Yonah and Oni. "Start gathering up big chunks of wood and brush. I'll keep watch on the hole to make sure everyone knows if something decides to come out of it. And you..." He points to Gorx. "Get ready to have your airy friends help us make one hell of a smoky mess. Sounds like a plan, yes?"
Fanax just shakes his headand chuckles to himself.
Looking at Grimvaalk, "Have an idea where you would like to start?"
Grimvaalk nods, "Yes, by questioning this plan. You do know that smoke is only going to go in the cave if there is another exit. No matter what we have blowing the air in from the surface, without an air current it's just going to come right back out. It won't fill the cave unless there's another exit to force the clean air out. If there's an exit, then the plan doesn't work and the dragon kills us while we're sitting here with a fire."
"Have you ever seen a cave this shallow that completely lacked fissures to the surface?" counters Zathrus.
Grimvaalk shrugs in indifference, "I've never seen a dragon either. It sounds like none of us has. Even with fissures, there's still got to be an air current pulling from somewhere. Blowing into the cave isn't likely to spread the smoke. But sure, we can try it. Seems like a great opportunity for me to point out how wrong you were if it doesn't work or get out of here before the dragon comes around from the back door and eat you if it does seem to be working."
Zathrus looks levelly at Grimvaalk. "I can appreciate your motivation. Proving others wrong is part of what I do. Helps me sleep at night. And you're not wrong, which proves you aren't a total idiot. I like that. But you're focused on the 'why not' so hard that you're missing the obvious, so I'll point it out for you. If there's another point of egress, a short scouting should turn it up before we waste our time. If there's not, the likelihood is that there are enough fissures to keep air moving, and in the unlikely case there aren't, then that's information we can probably use as well. I'd love to choke the beast to death, but all we really have to do is make it uncomfortable enough that it comes from whatever corner it's coiled up in. Do you get it now?"
Grimvaalk still waves his hand as if to dismiss the idea, but contraryto his gesture, he says, "Psst, go ahead. Let's see how well it works."
Grimvaalk, Oni, and Yonah all set about gathering up a supply of kindling and firewood, bundling the smaller stuff together into faggots about as thick as a goblin's waist in order to make them easier (and quieter) to carry around.
While they're doing that, Zathrus creeps in as close as he dares and peers into the cavern, squinting into the gloom inside until he's pretty sure that the narrowest part of the entryway widens out in all directions—vertically in addition to horizontally. He decides that it does, and that a fire lit just inside this bottleneck should still be able to burn well, but that the structure of the cave will help to trap smoke inside. If the cave isn't perfectly air-tight, so much the better. Gorx tags along with him, trying to keep watch (or more accurately, listen) for signs that the inhabitant of the cave might be lurking closer than expected. But he hears nothing worrisome.
Meanwhile, Fanax decides to go look for other exits from the cave, just in case his kinsmen and the other goblinoids provoke Vumrot into doing something violent. He certainly doesn't recall seeing light anywhere inside the cave, but ends up clambering uphill at the eastern edge of the escarpment above the entrance, then plodding uphill while he keeps his eyes peeled for evidence that some of the trees up there may have grown large enough for their roots to press through the dirt and begin to split the stone overhead.
But he finds nothing of note, and the hill rises higher to the northeast. If his memory serves him well, this suggests that the unexplored portion of the cavern lies in that same general direction, and he thinks that either the cavern is a dead end or that any exits actually lie on the far side of the hill. But it really is a good-sized hill, and he suspects that a hike over to the other side would take him a half hour unless he wants to climb straight uphill.
He's still mulling this over when Grimvaalk and the bugbears start to pile up their bundles of kindling at the spot that Zathrus indicates to them.
Fanax silently wonders if it even worth his time to continue up the hill given that this wasn't his idea in the first place. That thought dovetails into thinking maybe he should let the idiots below set a fire that, if it doesn't get Vumrots attention, could certainly gather some other attention. That could lead into trouble for Grimvaalk so Fanax decides to walk back down the hill satisfied thwre are no exits.