Welcome back! Last week, our intrepid band of adventurers stepped into the city of Tarsis, where they failed to remain as inconspicuous as they’d hoped. Our heroes were introduced to a captive elf princess, Alhana Starbreeze, and the whole lot were sent off to jail when Sturm sprang to defend her honor.
This week, the party gets some help from an unexpected gang of hooded figures before all hell breaks loose…
“Knights of Solamnia. Tasslehoff’s Glasses of True Seeing.” and “—not destined to meet again in this world.”
When the party are marched out of the Halls of Justice, they’re spotted by the Highlord’s spies, who run off to tell said Highlord. Tarsis PD lead the group down an alley, and just as Tanis et al are ready to make a break for it, a group of hooded figures jump the cops and knock them unconscious.
Tanis is a little nervous—‘hooded figures’ = Draconians in his experience—but it turns out that they’re actually Knights. And they’ve got Tas with them. The party follow the sneaky knights to an abandoned, old quarter of the city, where they take a breath to catch up and get introduced.
Gilthanas and Tanis both put their foot in it when it comes to Alhana. Gilthanas fumbles her introduction to Tanis, much to his embarrassment. Then it is Tanis’ turn to be a big dork, as he foolishly berates the Silvanesti princess for coming to Tarsis without guards, and for visiting the Lord of the city (as ‘protocol demands’). (Tanis is very snooty about knowing how the people of Tarsis think, given that he didn’t even realise it didn’t have an ocean.)
Sturm, meanwhile, has been conferring with the other knights—Aran, Brian and Derek, the latter being the highest-ranking. Sturm makes introductions all around and does some chivalric flirting with Alhana. It turns out that the Knights are here to find some old records. And Alhana is here to get help for her people (and had to come alone, as whatever menaces Silvanesti, the guards were better served there).
To everyone’s surprise, the Knights have found their book—impressive, as this abandoned quarter of the city houses an absolutely enormous and completely un-looted library. And, doubly surprising, only Tasslehoff can read it. Apparently the Kender has magic glasses. Something that no one else in the party knew—except for Raistlin (who told Tas that if he used them to read his spellbooks, he’d do terrible, terrible things to him).
Tas shows off his talents by reading a book about—of course—dragons. Apparently they come in all colours (red, blue, black and green), and there are things called ‘dragon orbs’ that can control them. Flint calls him a liar, and Tanis, to assuage Tas’s hurt feelings, says that they’re probably gone now anyway, what with the Cataclysm.
The book club is interrupted by the sound of hundreds of horns—familiar horns, in fact. The dragonarmies are coming!
The party makes a run for it, trying to get back to their friends at the inn. The Knights are kind of … well… assy… about it. They want Tas (and his glasses), but Tanis refuses, knowing that Tas won’t go. Then the Knights flat out ask Sturm to kidnap Tas, which isn’t particularly chivalric. Sturm refuses, and Derek says he’ll remember this. Oh yes, he will. Grudgey one, that knight. Amongst the rest of Derek’s tirade, he points out that Sturm may dress like a duck, but hasn’t been knighted like one yet. And if Derek has something to say about it, he never will.
The party haul ass through the marketplace, trying to get back to their friends. The people of Tarsis are perplexed, and have no idea what’s going on. That is, except for the Lord, who is wholly aware of what is happening—and about to happen—and is feeling a little betrayed by his draconian chums.
And… rightfully so. In a scene reminiscent of the destruction of Solace—but on a vastly greater scale—flights of red dragons level the city, raining down fire and death from above. The people of Tarsis simply have no defense, and the buildings themselves begin to crumble from the heat and flame.
The party scatter, with the goal of meeting back at the inn. Sturm and Alhana are separated from the others, and have a moment in a back alley—realising that, despite having just met, they’ve got a bit of a frisson going on. Sadly, it isn’t meant to be—and that’s not only because dragons are currently strafing the city around them. They’re from different worlds, something they both very much realise. Alhana heads off, but not after ensuring that Sturm keeps her beautiful diamond pin.
Meanwhile, the B-Team, stuck in at the inn are … less surprised by the dragonarmy attack. Possibly because the B-Team includes Raistlin and Riverwind, who are perpetually suspicious. Riverwind takes command, and has the team fortify the inn. He and Raistlin have a brief, grim conversation about being taken alive (decision: not an option—not for any of them).
Outside the inn, the A-Team see that the draconians are moving in. Tanis wants to charge in, but their panicked sprint through the city has taken its toll. Gilthanas is a shambling mess. Tas is trapped under a pillar. Flint stays with the kender, leaving Tanis on his own.
Back on the inside, things are going badly. Raistlin prepares his last spell, and also… more frighteningly… has Laurana mix a ‘sleeping potion’ with some wine. He tells her that it is to fool the dragonarmies, but, as omniscient readers, we know it is poison. Things are getting desperate…
The B-Team fall further and further back into the inn, knowing that time is short. The back door explodes open, and it is… Tanis! He recognises the herbs immediately and has Laurana put the drink down. The party are delighted to see him (triggering another bout of patented Tanis-doubt), but he’s got a plan—they can sneak out the back. Just as they’re about to go for it, a dragon attacks, and the inn collapses. Tanis flings Laurana to safety (in Elistan’s arms, because metaphor), but gets caught himself.
Back to the A-Team, well, part of it… Sturm finally catches up, only to find the inn destroyed. He, Flint and Gilthanas manage to rescue Elistan and Laurana, but none of the others. They can’t even go digging around, as more of the Highlord’s troops are on their way. Reluctantly, they pack up and head away to retrieve Tas and escape the city…
And back to the… well, A/B-Team. This is confusing. But Tanis, Raistlin and the others lived through the collapse of the inn, but are trapped underneath it. As they contemplate their options (drown, starve or get crushed), a rescue team comes for them… of goblins. They’re planning their very last stand; exhausted, beaten and trapped, the group readies for their final battle. But something beats them to it. The goblins and draconians are shredded limb from limb, and when Tanis finally makes his way out, he sees… a giant eagle? And is greeted by someone who seems to know him. Have they been rescued?
Monster(s) of the Week
- An army of goblins and draconians.
- Flight after flight of dragons.
- Eagle-monster-thing that rends goblins.
Raistlin smiled. A nice bit of work, that spell. Once more they were in his debt.
Raistlin, after the inn’s collapse. It turns out they only lived due to his quick-thinking and quicker spell-casting. Incidentally, no one ever thanks him. But I’m sure Raistlin won’t hold a grudge.
“I have not the strength to survive a battle of this magnitude. I will die within my magic.”
Raistlin. He’s a cool cucumber.
“Caramon! That big, dumb ox! I need him, he can’t do this to me!”
Flint, also after the inn’s collapse (from the outside). We have a lot of grief going on here. Laurana is basically screaming and tearing at the rocks with her nails, which, of course. Flint’s grief seems more—if you’ll excuse the term—human. He sublimates by getting angry at Caramon, because he needs the big warrior to free Tas. Laurana’s grief is, of course, significant, but Flint’s incredible frustration—his inability to help Tas, his inability to save Caramon—feels more palpable. Poor guy.
HOLY COW. I mean, Winter Night has been—relatively speaking—a bit slow. I guess we’re done pussyfooting around. Because, golly. In short, these chapters are run, run, kablooie, fighty, fighty, kablooie, hack kill. I mean, explosive! Cinematic! Choose your adjective!
But, and as awesomesplosioncool as this all is, what makes these chapters great (and I think they’re legitimately classic) is what we don’t see. Superficially, this is all dragonfires and sieges and spell-slinging and wild swashbucking, but actually… we don’t catch much of it.
For example: Dragons attack the city, but the perspective immediately shifts to the Lord of Tarsis, weeping with betrayal. The party sprint, madly through the city, but the perspective largely shows the impact on the civilians, not the party. In fact, the first we know that Tas and Gilthanas are injured is after the fact. While the dragons are firebombing the city, we’re actually… doing an intense close-up with Sturm and Alhana.
Meanwhile, the rest of the party is under siege—we know it is a huge, magnificent, last stand kind of battle. So much so that everyone is expecting to die. And where’s the focus? Raistlin, in the kitchen. Draconians are stacking themselves up in the doorway, and the tension is whether or not Laurana is going to drink her wine.
Even towards the end—we miss the collapse, just the beginning and the end. And the massacre of the goblins takes place from the party’s perspective… a party that can only hear the violence, but not see it.
I’ve mentioned before that Winter Night already feels like a better book, and I think these chapters help demonstrate it. Thinking back to the battles of Autumn Twilight, they followed the model of a tabletop campaign: we were introduced to the characters’ powers and skills, then we saw them tested in a series of interesting combat environments—from swamps to elevators (!). The most ‘innovative’ approach to combat was in the final battle, in which we witnessed the party from the enemy’s perspective. But, fundamentally, Autumn Twilight’s action scenes were about … action. Doing cool stuff; showcasing action talents.
In Winter Night—this is decidedly not the case. The action is suddenly a background: a setting or a motivation. What’s important, where the focus is, is on the characters. Sturm’s romantic interlude may be ill-timed, but it is dramatic. Laurana and Raistlin in the kitchen, with the herbs? That’s more horrifying—more frightening—than the draconians outside. And these aren’t scenes that are meaningful for Dragonlance-the-Game. They’re not there to be ‘played’. We’re—perhaps for the first time—finally seeing the novels come into their own, and make character a priority over anything else. Huzzah!
Of course, I have no way to comment on the fact that Winter Night has moved away from the model of a tabletop campaign. All I know is, stuff happens! A lot! And it’s great, because it really does feel like the book has come into it’s own. Of course, Jared’s right—these couple of chapters are almost bursting with both action, with more information about the characters and of course letting them grow a bit too. It’s all done at a fast clip too, with no massive info dumps and lots of quick changes of scenes. The hops between team A and B can get a little confusing but hey, it’s quick and fun and busy, busy, busy!
Ah Sturm. Who’d have thought you’d fall for a mysterious elven princess? Who’d have thought a mysterious elven princess would fall for you?! Fine, she upped and ran before she gave in to her true feelings, but hey, they totally had a major moment there, all still and clinging together as draconians wreak havoc around them. I felt for then, I really did, and I was fully prepared to have a star crossed lovers who met in times of great strife storyline expand from this one moment—I’m hoping it may still happen.
What I found really odd was Alhana’s telepathy. Did we know elves could do this? Is this a talent that belongs only to her tribe? To her? Intriguing.
Meanwhile, Sturm’s new buddies are a real piece of work aren’t they? So much for the amazing Knights of Solamnia—this lot got pretty sour when things were not done exactly their way. Does their code allow them to threaten Sturm this way? Does his force him to remain polite to them? I hope a dragon eats Derek.
Raistlin is still the best. I love how he makes a suicide pact with Riverwing that includes Goldmoon, though Goldmoon knows nothing of it. Does Raistlin realise that this then would be murder? Oh I bet he does. Does he care? Of course not! He does what’s right, our Raistlin. I do love his smug little ‘they owe me once again’ smirks because let’s face it, he’s been saving the day again and again, hasn’t he? I can’t wait to hear what he thinks of this rescuer with the giant eagle.
Also: a giant eagle! Things can only get better next week.
Mahvesh loves dystopian fiction & appropriately lives in Karachi, Pakistan. She writes about stories & interviews writers the Tor.com podcast Midnight in Karachi when not wasting much too much time on Twitter.