Thursday, July 2, 2020

Tavros: Deep in the Dark

"Keep your head down," said Tavros. "The ceiling gets lower—"


"Ow," remarked Anica, rubbing at the side of her helmet.

He was about to remind her to stay towards the center of the passage when Tavros remembered that she couldn't see in the dark. "Sorry," he said instead.

"It was low enough already," Anica grumbled. "If we could see where we're going..."

"We could if somebody hadn't dropped the lamp when the rockfall started." Tarric's tone was light, but there was strain underneath it.

"That was not my fault," said Anica, pulling him carefully along behind her. "One of the rocks knocked it out of my hand. And anyway, I wasn't the one who slid us into a lake and soaked all the torches..."

"Three light sources," said Tavros. "Three. That's the rule for venturing underground, remember?" As a half-dragon, he could see in the dark — not terribly far, and everything was shades of gray, but it was enough to let him guide them. "Everybody carries three light sources."

"And what were you carrying, exactly, Mister Scaly-Breath?" asked Anica.

"I can see in the dark!" he protested.

"A fact which is doing us very limited good just now," grumbled Tarric.

"You could still be stuck in the lake..."

Anica shuddered. "No, thank you. If it had been any deeper, I would have drowned. And I swear something brushed past my leg just before you hauled me into the side passage."

"I just wish you'd found a taller side-passage," Tarric grumbled.

"You and me both," said Tavros. "Even Birno would have trouble with this one. You two might be able to crouch further, but I'm going to have to crawl." Birno was one of the priests of the temple, a balding, portly halfling with a wry sense of humor. Tavros had always felt a little sorry for him, being so much smaller than everyone else, but he was starting to reconsider that view.

"It's still artificial, though, right?" asked Anica.

"Still artificial," he confirmed, "but as low as it is, it's no wonder the townsfolk weren't able to search for the children effectively." Between that and all the traps, anyway.

"Especially with all the traps," remarked Anica.

Tavros stretched out on the stone floor and started crawling on his hands and knees. Anica followed him, and Tarric followed Anica.

"Huh. It turns." Tavros turned right and kept crawling. "Don't smack your head on the—"


"Ow," said Tarric.

Tavros shook his head and kept crawling. Ahead... "Anica, do you see that?"

"...Maybe?" He heard her shift position behind him. "No, definitely. It's faint, but I can see the curve of your shoulder. There's light up there somewhere."

"No more talking," said Tarric firmly.

They continued on their way, following the only path open to them. There had to be another way out; the rockfall and the ramp that slid them down to the lake had been too carefully prepared to be accidental. No, somebody had carved out this entire complex, and likely whoever had done it had also taken the two missing children.

Up ahead, a small figure occluded the light, bending down to look along the tunnel. It must have seen them, because it backed away quickly and Tavros caught the faint sound of hushed voices. Well, this is going to end however it ends, he thought. Trying to back away now would be worse than continuing to advance; the figure he'd seen was small enough to move comfortably in these low tunnels. In any case, there was nowhere to retreat to; the tunnels behind them all led back to the lake.

So he crawled until he reached the end of the tunnel, then eased out and pulled himself up into a crouch. The ceiling here was enough taller that he could do that, though his greatsword was pushed up into an awkward position across his back. I should have left it outside. It was no use in here.

"What in Kurtulmak's sacred shit are you?" asked a high, yipping voice in accented but perfectly understandable draconic. "Are you one of the people?"

Tavros turned and found himself looking at a small, reptilian figure who was leaning comfortably against one wall, with a short spear propped in the corner beside him. "My mother," he said carefully, "was human. My father was a dragon."

"Ha!" the creature replied. "Not one us, then! But if you choose well, your children's children's children could be..."

Tavros blinked. "Kobolds," he said in the human tongue. "You're what they call a kobold."

The kobold bowed with a flourish. "Eyegleam," it said. "The blood of dragons flows in the people, also. And you and your friends are too big to come down here."

Tavros nodded wryly. "The thought had occurred to us. I'm called Tavros; this is Anica, and Tarric is still in the tunnel. We're paladins, from the temple."

"So what are you doing here?" asked Eyegleam.

"Searching for a pair of missing children."

Anica came out of the tunnel, looked at the kobold and then at Tavros, and very carefully moved her hand away from her sword.

"Children... Ah, the hatchlings. We've almost finished preparing them for dinner," said Eyegleam.

Tavros said, very carefully, "How exactly do you mean?"

Eyegleam regarded him evenly. "You're warriors. Strong, I bet, even down here where you can barely move around. Survived the traps, too."

Anica, who understood draconic considerably better than she spoke it, said: "We... come not... to fight."

The kobold gave a high-pitched, barking laugh. "Big blades to not fight," it said. "But no, we don't fight. Let your friend out, and I'll take you to the hatchlings."

Tarric emerged from the tunnel. "What's he saying?"

Tavros considered. "Well, briefly, we're too big to come down here, they don't want to fight, and he's going to take us to the children."

Tarric sniffed. "Well, he's not wrong about the first two."

Eyegleam gave a delighted laugh. "I don't speak well," it said in the human language, "but I speak. And I listen." It looked at Tavros and went back to draconic. "I like this one. Come with me. I'll walk slowly, so you can keep up."

It stepped away from the wall, leaving the spear behind as it walked past Tavros and Anica and led them towards the light. "No sense at all," it muttered as it passed. "Being that big. Coming down here."


The chamber was large, and relatively tall; tall enough that the paladins could stand stooped over, instead of crouching. The furnishings were stone — stone tables, stone benches, niches in the wall that made shelves — but they were surprisingly delicately carved, and traced with elaborate designs. Thirty or more kobolds were scattered around the room, and there on the far side were the two children.

"They followed us into the tunnels," Eyegleam said. "I think Spindletail and Ratbreath were playing with them in the woods, but none of them will admit it. The bigger one, he stumbled onto a trap and broke his ankle. It took some time to find Darkblessed so she could heal them, so we decided to feed them before sending them home." He turned to face Tavros, mouth open wide to display a lot of very sharp teeth. "We did not hurt them. We know the difference between hatchlings and warriors."

Tavros nodded slowly. "But since we're warriors...?"

"Not here," Eyegleam said. "You came to find children, not do murder. You listened."

"You feed them..." Anica hestitated, clearly concentrating. "...what?"

"Ha!" shouted eyegleam, and the entire room turned to look at them. "Deer step into traps as easily as people. So do rabbits. And there is a kind of moss, not so filling, but edible. We feed them nothing they would not wish to eat. We feed you too, if you like. Friends?"

"Friends," said Anica and Tavros, in chorus.

"This is good," said Eyegleam. "We eat, and then I take you out, and you tell these hatchlings to be careful. And you tell the humans we help them."

Tavros nodded. "We can do that," he said.

And they did.

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