|By now, word of the disturbance in the lower levels has spread among the Lizardmen.|
Now it is not only the huge guards they confront, but other races as well . . .
Among the newcomers are two races of DuskTalon Lizardmen, one with blue-gray scales and the other mustard yellow. They possess the height and build of a human warrior, with smooth oval heads and powerful long tails. Unlike the Giant Lizardmen, who wield their two-handed swords with more power than finesse, the DuskTalons ply sword and shield with all the skill, power, and grace of a trained knight, and Jack remembers the Colonel’s admonition not to underestimate his enemies.
Hard on the heels of the DuskTalons are three races of WhipTail Lizardmen. They are not bulky and muscular with square jaws, like those Lizardmen he has seen in the northern realms, but slender and willowy, with long supple necks, as he has heard several of the southern races described. Their arrows are thin and light, unsuited for piercing armor – but devastatingly effective when they strike home, as the WhipTail dip the tips of their arrows in powerful poison. In close combat, however, the small archers prove little challenge, as they are far more proficient with their bows than with the long knives that hang at their belts.
The bows prove a source of fascination for Jack, who has never been much of an archer. He takes advantage of a brief lull in the combat to snatch up a bow and a quiver of poisoned arrows from the body of a dead WhipTail and shove them into the Pouch of Ghrul for later examination. Another arrow whistles past his face, and he rejoins the combat.
The battle rolls and tumbles through hall after hall, gaining riot and momentum as the Dwarves release more of their kin from the cells and more Lizardmen pour into the dungeons from above.
Suddenly an arrow sails from the midst of the fracas, hangs briefly in the air overhead, winking like a jewel in the torchlight, and falls, striking in the slender margin of flesh exposed by Jack’s breastplate between his collarbone and neck. Three nearby Dwarf warriors see the arrow strike – they cry out and rush forward to catch Jack, certain he will fall – and stop in astonishment as Jack calmly pulls the slender barb free and tosses it aside, takes up his sword again and launches back into the fight. The Clay Shield has been his salvation again.
When the heat of the battle has cooled again and no more enemies approach, the three Dwarves who witnessed the incident with the arrow gather in a knot, whispering among themselves and glancing at Jack. One of the Dwarves advances, eyes shining with strange light.
“What are ye, warrior? Are ye wizardkin?” the Dwarf asks.
Jack, misunderstanding, believes that they are in awe of his battle prowess. He shrugs, and as modestly as he is able says, “I am Perilous Jack the Dragonslayer.”
The Dwarves nod excitedly among themselves. “I wonder,” continues the first Dwarf, “How ye’ve managed so well in these tunnels, where the light is so poor. Yer kind ain’t noted fer their sight.”
Jack grins and steps back into the shadows of an alcove, so the Dwarves can see the gleam of darkshine on his enchanted eyes. “I can see well enough.”
This initiates another burst of excited chatter, and the three withdraw, glancing back at him significantly, whispering among the rest of the prisoners.
Puzzled as Jack is by this exchange, the strangeness of it is swiftly lost when a new voice rings out from down the hall, a voice dusty as a tomb, rasping as the slither of wyrmscales on stone, chilling as the touch of a Wraith: “Colonel Firebrand!” The Colonel turns and the Dwarves part, allowing the newcomer to advance.
Jack stares in astonishment, heightened further by the sight of all the Dwarves – even the Colonel, who Jack assumed to be the leader of the Eglantier Crest – suddenly kneeling and bowing their heads. The newcomer is clearly of Dwarven stock, but like no other Dwarf Jack has ever seen.
Bent, gnarled, and twisted like an ancient pine clinging to a sea-cliff, hunched under the weight of a boulder-like hump, the creature seems hardly capable of standing, let alone shuffling forward with the aid of a cane. The Dwarf’s feet are gnarled claws resembling chicken legs more than any humanoid limb, and the hand that grasps the head of the cane is not flesh at all, but a cunning piece of ironwork controlled by means of hydraulic cylinders. When the Dwarf raises his mechanical hand to draw back the deep hood of his cloak, Jack sees his real hand, a tiny withered thing with three stumpy little fingers, inside the glove manipulating the hydraulic controls. The hood falls back to reveal a goat-like face, blasted of countenance, black and tumorous of skin, bearded with lank coils of whisker. One of the Dwarf’s eyes is a huge milk-white orb, pearlescent and certainly blind – at least to ordinary sight – while the other blazes with nearly unbearable intensity. Around the Dwarf’s neck hang dozens of necklaces, some of beads, stones, and gems, others of bone, shards of pottery, bits of metal, objects that look like they might once have belonged to a machine, a chip of stone with a bit of broken rune engraved upon it, a tiny circular mirror, and others.
This creature, Jack realizes, must be a Shaman. Among the Dwarves, who place enormous value on physical appearance, children born with deformities are revered as nearly-divine throwbacks to the primal Chaos from which all life emerged, misshapen and crude, only to refine itself through generations of civilization. The Dwarves believe the deformed are nearer to Chaos, in personal contact with the immense power latent in the substrate of reality. They are encouraged to study all the arts of magic, to undertake strange magical quests, minister to their communities, mediate for the gods, and intercede with the demonic powers frequently encountered by the Dwarves in their delving in the earth.
“Brother Wagbeard,” the Colonel murmurs reverently. The Shaman gestures for the Dwarves to rise.
“There is something I must show you, Colonel,” the Shaman rasps. “Follow me.”
Without hesitation, the Colonel and the rest of the Dwarves turn to follow the Shaman – deeper into the dungeons.
Jack catches up to the Colonel and hisses in his ear: “There is no time for this. The Pyrohydra must know we have escaped. We should try to kill the creature now! We cannot allow them to rally!”
The Colonel silences him with an upraised finger. “Brother Wagbeard is very wise, my friend. If he thinks his errand worth the time, then it is. We will follow. Do as you please.”
The purses of the Lizardmen yield 126 Gold! Add this, the WhipTail Bow, and 20 WrackDance Arrows to the Pouch of Ghrul.