During a quick counsel in the shack in the morning it was decided that the only way for the party to proceed is to return back to the dungeons to kill a dragon. Well, a hatchling. But a dragon, anyway.
The place amused Delynx more and more. They found a two-storied underground prison. A brief look around showed that all the cells on the first floor were searched already many times, probably by passing-by kobolds. But stairs to the second floor were ruined, so there was a chance that something is still left there. Githzerai climbed and examined the cells. It took much longer than she thought, but at the end she found two gold minotaur horns, a reward worth the time. Minra lectured them about a history of those horns.
The next room was round, with columns on sides and two bugs sitting on them. It was full of kobolds as well, though kobolds were a more common encounter in these caves than those strange bugs. At first the party was busy with kobolds, and didn’t pay much attention to bugs. However, the bugs quickly reminded about themselves, as they started flying around, biting everyone. And then… one of those bugs flew to Delynx, and instead of biting, it grabbed a horn, and started to flee. “No, you are not taking that horn with you!” promised Delynx to the bug, while she tried to reach and grab him, simultaneously balancing on columns of the room. The bug was quick and small so it almost reached a hole when Delynx had a chance to hit it, forcing it to drop a horn to the ground. The bug escaped in the hole, but horns were saved!
A battle with a dragon was fierce, especially since they were already wearied by a battle with dragonspawn in previous rooms.
But the real surprise waited them after the battle. While trying to escape, the dragon flew to the roof and broke it. A water dropped down from a pond above, and they saw a boy looking down at them. A boy helped them to come out to the ground, where they found themselves in the Forbidden Garden, right in the middle of the Emperor’s Palace.
A royal palace means royal intrigues. While they waited in a cell (arrested for breaking into a garden, what a nonsence!), an archmage and an ambassador from West approached them, each with their own interests. Archmage Sian wanted them to conceal the knowledge about the shack where they slept from the Emperor and the Pious One. He didn’t tell why he wants it (obviously), but offered a sort of a reward for this (and their freedom, of course). Apparently Minra and Karragh were very devoted to the Emperor, so they were against it at once. Delynx didn’t care so much about the devotion to the Emperor, but she was able to see that if they will do what Archmage bids them, they will find themselves playing some dangerous game, the rules of which were unknown to them. A monk was wise enough to understand that the risk is probably not worth taking.
Goals of an ambassador tiefling Dame Sarah were unclear, since she played a simple curiosity quite convincingly. But certainly she had her own goals as well.
It seems, they made the right choice telling everything to the Emperor. They regained their freedom (ha-ha, Sian!), and suddenly found themselves in Imperial employment. It’s not like they had any choice, though. Apparently, being a servant of the Emperor was the only possibility to pardon their presence in the Forbidden Garden.