The three stood perfectly still as they listened to the abrasive noise coming from one tunnel. For almost a minute, the scraping and vibrating echoes assaulted their ears as it grew louder.
At last, through the gloom, Arbiddance saw the head of something large and shouted "RUN!"
Qova and Hern didn't argue, but followed the wizard as he quickly ran toward another tunnel. Qova turned her head just enough to see the rest of the beast emerging from into the cave.
A white dragon.
She increased her pace, slipped a little on the ice and turned around in time to center a stalagtite.
Hern head the blow and turn to see her sprawled on the ice with blood flowing from her nose. He ground to a stop and shouted "Wizard!"
Arbiddance had already stopped as well and stepped back the way he came. Hern was backtracking to grab Qova, and the wizard intended to provide covering fire.
As he began to think of the spell he would cast, he saw the dragon's mouth open.
Hern crouched to pick the slight woman up, his eyes glued on the dragon as it released a blast of icy cold. The blizzard of ice and cold wind knocked the wind out of the fighter, and he felt his skin crack under the assault.
He looked down. Qova was white with ice; even the blood on her face was frozen solid. He stumbled to his feet, fell, and rose again to begin dragging her toward the nearest tunnel. As he began moving, he felt a sudden blast of heat pass by him.
The wizard's outstretched hands had erupted into a strange flame, coalesced into a small ball of fire which sped away from him and grew larger as it traveled. By the time it reached the dragon, it had grown into a magnificent fireball which tore into the icedrake and drew a sickening howl.
The two men fled with their wounded cargo.
The tunnel they entered crawled up at a difficult slant for several yards until it emptied into a small cave only slightly warmer than the one they fled. They gently placed her down on the floor and sat down themselves. There was no exit.
Arbiddance checked Qova for signs of life and was delighted to find a steady pulse. He smoothed some of the ice from her face and mouth so she could breathe better. "Huddle against her," he told Herne. "Your body heat does you no good in temperatures like this, but will do wonders for her, as will her heat for us."
The two men leaned her against a wall and bundled up against her. "We're not dressed for this," Hern said. "It's a matter of time before we either freeze or be forced to go back... and we've no idea where we are."
"Well," Arbiddance replied. "I was going to mention it before our friend arrived. In the corner of that cave, I saw a large hole in the ceiling right over a large hole in the floor. Sound familiar?"
"You think..." Hern trailed off. "Well, we have rope, but I'm not sure how we're going to get up that hole."
"We'll think of something," Arbiddance said. "We usually do."
They listened for sounds of pursuit, but Hern guessed the tunnel was too small for the dragon to follow them. After a short time of hearing it bellow, it became quiet.
"I'm going to scout," Hern said. "Stay here." Arbiddance didn't argue.
The fighter crept down the sloping tunnel as quietly as he could. His joints and skin ached from the dragon's breath, making it hard for him to move with the usual dexterity he enjoyed. After a few minutes, he reached the cave and peered in.
There was no sign of the dragon. Hern looked off the the right and saw what Arbiddance was talking about. A large well, roughly the size of the one in the collapsing room, was in the floor with a corresponding hole directly above.
Hern moved further into the room, looked to his left, and froze in fear. The dragon, scorched and burned, was in the tunnel from which it came, snorting heavily and staring at him. Hern fought the urge to run; some warrior's instinct told him he was not in danger.
He wasn't. The dragon was blind... it's pupils burned away. It was dying and could barely muster a twitch as Hern crept closer.
He stood to one side of the dragon's head in order to avoid any last gasps of breath, and plunged his sword into the creature's skull. It jumped once, grunted, thrashed for a few seconds, and became still.
If it has a mate, Hern thought, I'm in trouble. Of course, if it had a mate, it would have come by now.
Hern, his curiousity (and greed) stimulated, climbed over the dragon and ventured down the tunnel from which it came. After a short stretch, it opened into a large cavern. Hern looked around the cavern, his eyes wide.
After some time, he returned to his companions. Arbiddance looked up at the fighter, who said "we're rich."
"How rich?" the wizard asked.
"Go and see for yourself," the fighter replied, and took his place by Qova.