I. Blood and Thunder

1.

Along the coast of the Midland Sea lies the Boltstrike Pillar, a tower brimming with arcane energy built by the Archmage decades ago. That is what attracts their attention. Ralph seeks out the tower hopeful in finding some information regarding the Ironforged. Olvir has associated himself with a less than pleasant merchant that is heading for the tower. Elnan has heard rumors – rumors that will probably end up being nothing – that a pirate crew was in the area.

On the path to the Pillar is a town, nameless and otherwise forgettable except it sets the stage for our tale. Elnan, lute in hand, ventured into the tavern of no renown. He had a strange ritual, of sorts. Any town could have the potential of knowledge regarding the pirates. Some would say that this ritual had reached the point of obsession, where he would inquire in towns that were landlocked.

As a bard Elnan didn’t ask in plain words. He does it through song, and it wasn’t just to make use of his lyrical skills. A song is a song, an inquisitive and inane one or not, and that is worth a beer. Or some meats. Even a coin on a good day.

And then there was Olvir. Curse bound, he had found himself aiding the embarrassingly grotesque Balthiser Gorhart. Balthiser was a merchant of…miscellaneously useful objects. Also referring to him as large would be an inaccurate statement at the very least. He also procured an odor that was not quite garlic, but surely a distant cousin.

Olvir also had the displeasure of discovering that the man was incapable of anything that could be listed on the category of “useful”. Which would explain why his curse stuck him with the man in the first place. His “accompanying” of Balthiser was what brought him to this tavern in the middle of a half-forgotten town.

As for Ralph? He was on his way to the Pillar in the search of information regarding what every Ironforged desired. “What is my purpose?” The question carved into the subconscious of all of the Ironforged. It was their zeitgeist. So prevalent that was it simply referred to as the Question. The Unanswerable Question, some have called it.

And that Question pulled Ralph to Boltstrike Pillar. Or to the town en route to said Pillar.

With his lute in hand, Elnan’s coarse fingers etched along the strings and he sang. He voice was a little rough from the road but it was pleasing enough. Which meant that by the tavern goer’s paltry standard it was damn well good enough.

Except for the Dark Elf in the room, Olvir Lymerar. He was in no mood for signing. And he was not hesitant to make his feelings shown on the matter.

“Halfling” he said with a grim hand on the bard’s shoulders. “Your signing is unappreciated.”

“Oh. Really? I had no idea. That must have been why the crowd was in applause.”

Pints and beer glasses were raised, foam and drink drenching the tables and the floors.

“Your query-as-a-song is unnecessary and will not help you in the least. Knock it.” Elnan in response lifted his hat…which was weighted down with coin. The tavern goers responded with boos. Their beer tapered lips were sharply declined, and their reddened faces glared at the Dark Elf and the silent bard.

Olvir felt a heavy, cold grip on his shoulder. He turned to see the cloaked Rakph, his iron face hiding any emotion he bore. “Perhaps it would be best to leave the bard – and the patrons – alone. For your sake, Dark Elf.”

His amber eyes peered around the tavern. He sucked on his lips. He released his grip on Elnan’s shoulders. The bard flexed his shoulders and got back to singing…asking a question…signaskining. Whatever.

“In the interest of not having any hangings taking place, why don’t I buy you a drink?”

Olvir straightened his traveling jacket. “A drink from here? I might as well ask for food poisoning.”

Ralph rubbed his forehead. That is what the softskins tended to do when they wanted to display aggravation. “You Dark Elves do not make things easy, do you?”

“Particularly those of us that have been burdened with a curse.”

“Of self righteousness?” Ralph said in the most sarcastic voice he could muster.

“Of those designed by the Dark God of Vengeance himself. I just had to pass Tutrethos on the road. I just had to pass by him. And I just had to be cursed to help whoever good soul I see. Even if the soul is a worthless stain of a merchant.” He motioned towards Balthiser Gorthart, who was occupying several stools and was struggling to keep the beer in his mouth instead of on his chin and shirt.

“My sympathies,” said Ralph. “For the merchant, I mean.”

Olvir crossed his arms. “And the curse?”

“More than sympathies. I am heading for the Boltstrike Pullar, a bastion of magic. The Archmage –“

“Changed the rules of creation and made the Gods dependent on mortal worship. I am aware. You are suggesting that can extend to curses.”

“It’s a rational conclusion.”

“And coincidental. My…patron is actually en route to the Pillar. He plans to sell goods there. I have some doubts that any customer will get close enough for him to blabber about said goods.”

“Is that Boltstrike Pillar I hear?” The Ironforged and Dark Elf turned downwards towards the bard, his feathered hat filled with copper pieces. “I am going there as well! I heard a suspicious vessel sailed past not too long ago.”

“Impossible,” Olvir was quick to say. “The tower is landlocked.”

“Nonsense! Boltstrike Pillar is not far from Azure Bay, so there is all the likelihood of them witnessing a seafaring vessel.”

Olvir puffed. “Wonderful.”

Elnan rammed his fist into his palm. “It’s decided then. I will accompany you.” At that present moment Balthsier collapsed on the table and let off a horrifying squeak as his fats rubbed against each other. Elnan shuddered. Olvir rubbed his eyes. “I am fully convinced that creature is in no way human.” Ralph crossed his arms.

2.

It would be four days, give or take, until they arrived at the Pillar. Within that time frame there were several facts our heroes were bestowed with:

  1. Batlhsier never shuts up. He will ramble on about anything. A-N-Y-T-H-I-N-G. It was a wonder the man didn’t die from dehydration with all of the blabbering that he did.
  2. Balthsier was useless in just about anything. At the first sign of bandits he hopped right into the wagon.
  3. Balthsier had the tendency to call Elnan “short stuff”. He also complained about Elnan’s music. All the time.

In short, everything they learned was about the fat merchant. None of them were complimentary.

It was in the final leg of their journey when Elnan noticed something. Something darted between the bushes, the shadows of the trees blocking most of his vision. It was just by luck of him squinting that he saw the figure dashing between the trees to begin with.

“Guys,” he said with a solitary finger raised, “I think I saw something in the woods.”

Balthsier huffed…and possibly wheezed. “Something? I bet it’s a load of nothing. The road to the Midland Coast is as safe as you can get!”

“Not safe enough to deter those bandits,” the Dark Elf retorted.

The merchant ignored him. Or had too much wax in his ears. “You Halflings are always making stuff up. Why I can recall without a hint of degradation, one time –“ He was interrupted by the sound of a bow string letting loose, an arrow cutting through the muggy air, and the head of said lodged itself quite firmly in front of the merchant. For a moment there was silence as the entourage looked at the object. Balthsier raised his hands, howled something indescribable, and leaped into the wagon full of his goods. His fat form could not squeeze through all of the bags, barrels and chests, but that did not deter him from trying to wiggle through.

Undeterred by their initial failures, the band of blue skinned goblins poured forth from the trees and the bushes, wielding a multitude of weapons both primitive and impressive. They hollered something unintelligible as they raced towards the three.

“Aw,” Olvir huffed, “crap.”

“There aren’t supposed to be any Goblins here! I think.”

“Think harder Halfling,” Ralph said as he drew out his short swords, “because they do not seem deterred by that fact!”

The goblins crashed upon them at their iconic swift speed. The problem with goblins that contrasted them with other miniature menaces was not their durability – which was nonexistent – or their coordination – which was infrequent if not outright ineffective. It was how damnably fast they were. By the time a typical guardsman had shouted out and drew his weapon he would find some knife sized swords stuck in his knee.

Now maybe Ralph was just naturally fgoblinsast, or perhaps whoever designed his race used some advanced technology to make him so. But regardless Ralph was on the goblins long before they were on him. His swords drawn he rushed in and made sure to catch the goblins off guard. One of them rushed for him but he easily swiped the axe away. The creature looked around in dismay – as if one of its fellows would come up with a brilliant plan. If they would they didn’t have the time to execute it. Ralph sent his primary sword right into the goblin’s head, pinning the miniature creature to the ground. He sensed a goblin rushing him to his left. A goblin with two daggers leapt for him, its long red tongue trailing in the wind. Ralph readied his swing, and aimed just as the goblin reached his swinging distance. The two bloody forms went flying in opposite directions.

His satisfaction was interrupted as he felt acid coursing down his back. He twisted to see another round of green liquid lobbied towards him. He raised his right hand to deter it, but he still felt the acid burn through his palm. It would regenerate in time, but not quick enough to block the next lobby. The shaman, which was dressed in a mixture boiled leather and richly colored cloths, laughed as its fingers performed the primitive ritual. Green particles trailed behind its clawed fingers and would have unleashed another spray of acid if it weren’t for it suddenly finding a knife lodged into its head.

Rakph turned and saw Elnan. “You owe me Ironforged!” Ralph also saw the band of goblins heading for the Halfling’s way. Elnan drew his rapier just in time to block the first strike. From that he headbutted the attacker – Halfling or not he still had the advantage of height – and cut it down. He ducked beneath the swipe of another goblin and kneed it between the legs. He didn’t have the time to deal a finishing blow as a pair of another goblins earned ground against him. He retreated for the trees. He would have his back against the wall – relatively speaking – but he would also cut off another point for the goblins to assault him.

He sidestepped stabs and ducked beneath swipes, and threw in some punches and kicks when he was offered the opportunity. Killing blows were out of the question – it would take too long to do the entire performance. But just like any performance, he just needed the right time to…

And then one of the goblins was consumed by a ray of light. “I had this covered!” He rushed in, taking advantage of the goblins’ momentary pause. If they wanted to commit suicide it would have been easier to jump off the cliff.

“Of course you did!” Olvir shouted. One of the goblins rushed for him but its sword was too short. It paid for that mistake with a crushed skull. Olvir swung the mace a few times to throw the gore off of it.

At that point the goblins admitted defeat and rushed in the direction that they came from, leaving the wounded and the dead to their fates. Ralph wiped the blood off of his blades on the grass before he approached the Dark Elf and Halfling.

“Well?” Olvir had his arms crossed but he still held tightly onto his mace. His robe was splattered in blood, but he appeared to be relatively unhurt. “Are we going to go after them?”

“It could be a trap.”

“Aw come on!” Elnan protested. “We have them on the run! If we don’t finish it now they may attack us again. Gods knows just how long it’ll take to pry that fatass out of there.”

“And all that time they can come and strike us again. Ironforged, we don’t really have an option.”

“Fine.” If Ralph could sigh he would. “Let’s do this quickly.” He motioned with his dominant hand the direction the goblins ran in. It was no challenge in following their trail. The goblins made no effort in masking where they were going; they were probably more worried with getting away than to think about the possibility of being followed.

Out of the corner of his eye Elnan saw a hint of a goblin rushing behind a rock. “There! This way!” he shouted as he cut large leaves out of his way with his rapier. Shouts to slow down went unheard. Olvir and Ralph raced after him and turned around the corner…to find themselves facing a band of equal size as the one that initially raided them. Many of the goblins were smiling wickedly.

“ ‘Follow them’ they said. ‘It will be easy they said.’” Ralph drew out his swords.

Olvir groaned. He whispered a quick prayer and his hands began to glow with a brilliant light. “I am working the Gods overtime today!” He roared and sent our rays of burning light against the advancing horde.

*****

Balthsier could not tell you how long he was trapped in that darkness, his sensitive noise made witness to the conglomerate to smells and spices. When he finally managed to pry himself free he found himself alone, his only company the corpses of goblins. He also could not say how long it was until his…associates arrived from the forests, splattered in blood. The Ironforged had a goblin gnawing at his head. He ripped it off and squeezed its head.

“So…ah…I suppose they are dead?”

“Shut up” said the Dark Elf. “Drive.”

“Yes,” said the Halfling. “Move it.”

“I agree with the softskins. Get this tram moving.”

“Well I never! I have just survived a horrific experience! We will move when I am –“

At once the three of them shot him a glare that could have given any of the Dark Gods pause. “-Going to move it at once. Yes, of course.”

3.

Blood and LightningBoltstrike Pillar loomed above the forests and the buildings that were erected around it. The tower was made out of a seamless white stone that had stood the test of time. Just how long that test actually was just a matter of debate. The runes that acted as both a power generator and a defensive barrier could be seen miles away, their light blue glow acting as a light to guide travelers.

It is hard to say what came first – the Tower or the village. Technically it was the Tower – even the age of the oldest building is dwarfed by the years that Boltstrike Pillar has weathered. But for a time the Pillar was abandoned, essentially lost to time. And then it…wasn’t. Were explorers attracted to this place of power and settled? Or did mages reactivate the tower and their assistants settled around it…and more followed? Few could say.

In a way, it was like asking if the chicken or the egg came first. Foolish, a waste of time, and in the end unnecessary.

They made their way towards the village. If there was ever a display of the contrast between the magical world and the mundane, this was it. Whereas the tower and the shield surrounding it was bright and colorful, with pieces of particles constantly shifting, pieces moving in and out of place, and pieces of the earth floating alongside it…the village wasn’t. The drab brown and red buildings were a stark contrast to the tower. It was a conflict between the conventional and the imaginative.

When they made their way into the heart of town Balthsier tried to say something regarding keeping them on, but Olvir told the merchant to stuff it. The adventurers made way without a second thought, leaving the merchant behind.

As they made their way towards the tower Ralph kept an eye out for any other members of his race, but he didn’t catch sight of any. He found that curious, as he imagined a node of magical energy would attract the attention of some Ironforged. Olvir made no intention of slowing down for anything; he put any possible distractions out of his mind. The only thing that he wanted was to reach that tower. The sooner he reached that tower, the sooner he could talk to one of the mages. The sooner he talked to one of the mages, the sooner he could start to learn something tangible about this curse. The sooner he did that…

One step at a time.

Elnan’s eyes wandered around the streets and across the signs as the party made their way. Out of the three of them, he was the only one careful not to be run over by a cart…or to have his feet stepped on by pedestrians. Ralph was an Ironforged, so he had nothing to worry about on that end. And the Dark Elf was…well, he was as he was.

They ignored all of the shops, all of the stops for supplies and rest. Ralph ignored it as he had no need for them, and Olvir had a greater need than what these shops could provide. Elnan, on the other hand, had some difficulty resisting the call of the inn, or the music shop that probably had some fresh strings for his lute…

“Keep up Hafling,” Olvir said as Elnan practically dodged out of the way of a cart.

“I have a name, Olvir.”

“I know. Doesn’t mean I have to use it. Keep up.”

In time they made their way to the gate of Boltstrike Pillar, and like so much of the magical tower it wasn’t conventional. Instead of going for the tried-and-true method of bricks and cement, even the wall itself was a kaleidoscopic array of colors arrayed around the tower in a long, thick vertical line. A singular color – the specifics of it rather irrelevant as it fluctuated constantly – would cut through the mass of its contemporaries, changing the dynamics on a regular basis. It was not transparent, like what so many expected out of magical shields, but somewhat transparent. The grounds of Boltstrike Pillar could be seen, dimly, beyond the lens of the wall.

Not even the guards followed conventional dress. Instead of darkly tinted leather jerkins or chainmail, the two guards that were stationed at the mouth of the gate were dressed in a mixture of blue and white. Replacing inflexible leather and chain was something akin of a cloth robe, but the front was cut off to make room for pant legs. The cloth was tucked into their boots and gloves to allow for the highest amount of flexibility. Both had a hood pulled up that was kept in place with a metal band that wrapped around their heads.

“You have business?” said the one on the right. Neither of them felt threatened by the armed adventurers, as they did not keep their dominant hand anywhere close to the pummel of their blades. The speaker had his arms crossed across his chest, as inflexible of a position as one can get, and the other rested his hands on his side.

Ralph stepped forward. “We all have our reasons for seeking out the Tower. We were hoping to speak with someone of…intimate knowledge of the arcane.”

“Sorry, can’t be helped. Tower is restricted, as per the Wizard Militant’s orders.”

“Yeah, sorry to say,” the left guard said without a bit of sympathy. “Unless you have news of importance to the safety of the area or news that any of those wizards would find useful –“

“Gods know what they do in there.”

“-then we can’t let you in. So move along. The inn should have a few rooms for a decent price.”

The right guard scratched his nose. “If a quarter of a Dragon is a good price.” His associate gave him a deafening look.

“Well…” began Elnan, stepping closer to the guards, “we did have a disturbance. Of sorts.”

“What kind of disturbance?” said the guard with the relieved nose. His voice was in a very monotone, uninterested tone.

“The goblin kind,” said Olvir in a tone just as flat.

There was a pause, a momentary collection of thought, before the two guards spoke in unison. “Goblins?”

“Oh yes,” said Ralph. “They ambushed us on the way here. We beat them soundly, as you can plainly see.”

The left guard scratched his chin. “You…that would be worth the Wizard Militant’s attention. Show them in.”

“Right. Good idea.” The guard reached into his satchel and pulled out a small, iron cube. He brought it close to the wall and the cube was sucked into it with a magnetic speed. The cube, spinning all the while, traveled inwards towards the center. At that point the cube opened up, revealing a dozen of thin, spider like tendrils that stretched out. As they moved out, so did a space in the wall until it had formed an arch not at all dissimilar from your typical door. “This way.”

He led them through the garden of floating bushes and suspended trees, to the wide door of the tower. The door was old, with flaking skin and possessed a worn down, moldy texture. With a push the doors swung open to reveal a ream clad in blue lights, a realm that was adored in symbols from a dozen different dialects, a realm of floating crystals and metallic assistants. It was a portrait, however small, of the astral.

And scurrying through it all were mages and their apprentices, dressed in their robes and their loose pant legs, with a dozen thoughts more pressing than their immediate surroundings. As far as any of the adventurers could tell, there were no children. It was all senior wizards and their young adult students. Too old to be marveled by the sights that danced around them.

The guard led them past the parade of robed wizards and apprentices, and the stomping feet of constructed assistants and the clumsy flight of hovering letters. Eventually he instructed them to stand on a large circle, a few alien letters carved into them.

“What is this for?” Elnan asked.

“Up.” Right on cue the letters let off a dim glow and the circle lifted upwards. “I’ll be right here when you get back!” He shouted through cupped hands. Elnan had to strain to hear them – they were moving faster than he would have preferred and he was making an effort to keep upright.

But before he had the chance to even fall the platform went through a hole in the ceiling and rested. It was a small circular room, just wide enough to fit the platform and tall enough to accommodate Ralph. Right before them was a wooden door. Elnan looked to Olvir, who looked to Ralph, who just shrugged, stepped forth, and opened the door.

The room was, just as its predecessor, round in shape but unlike the one they just emerged from this one was significantly larger. A dozen of the elevating platforms could have fit within here. Along the walls were dozens of magical artifacts and equipment, from glass tubes and cylinders to a sword that glowed red. Throughout the room was a variety of letters and runes that glowed a multitude of different colors. Within the center was an intricate drawn ritual circle, and at the four corners of said circle were small pillars that possessed a ball of elemental energy. At the opposite end was a wide desk, filled to the brim with stacks of parchment and scrolls, glass cylinders, flasks of bubbling liquid, and a cage containing a cockatrice chick.

The desk was not unoccupied. Hunched over all the papers was a woman, who could only presumably be the Wizard Militant the guards spoke briefly of. She was dressed in a robe so much like those that raced through the first floor, but hers was distinctly plain in appearance. Dressed over it was a sleeveless leather plate, tied around her side to keep it secured in place. To protect her hands were some darkly colored fingerless gloves. As their gaze was drawn upwards to her features they saw the pointed ears that identified her as one of the Elves. Her hair, however, was not some flowing glistering mane. Rather it was cut short and clung to her scalp.

To her side was another Elf, who wore a robe that was just slightly more intricately stitched than hers. His hair was longer, but it was not long nor was it broad. He had a rather forgettable face, unassuming and easily placed in a crowd. With his left hand he kept a few hardcover books to his chest, while with his right he held a parchment. He was reading something when the three entered.

The Wizard Militant looked upwards, and by the furrow of her brow she was less than amused with her newest guests. “You are not one of my wizards. What news do you bring?”

Ralph stepped forwards. “Greetings, Wizard Militant. I trust that you will find this visit un-“

News Ironforged.” Her voice took on a sharp edge.

“As you say. We were travelers en route to the Pillar when we were ambushed by a band of goblins.”

A brief silence followed that seemed to last an Age. One of the flasks began to shake with heat. The man rushed to attend. “Goblins,” spoke the Wizard Militant. “How far?”

“Day’s walk from the Tower would be a good guess,” spoke up Elnan.

“You may it seem as if that is unusual, Maoven.”

“It is, Draven.” She rose up. “Names.”

“Olvir.”

“Just Elnan, m’lady.”

“Ralph. Just Ralph.”

She thumbed her chest. “Knight Militant Amelifor. And he is my protégé Varis.”

“Yes yes, greeting and all that,” he spoke in a hurried voice before returning to balancing out the raging chemicals. He breathed lightly and ice crystals began to form on the glass.

“The problem isn’t the goblins. It is the ambushed. Goblins usually stick to the thick of the forest, more or less content with their lives. Nothing like the fairy tales of kidnapping fair maidens who needs to be rescued by an Aasimar knight.” She walked over to the center of the room and touched on the small pillars. The ball of energy sent out a ray of flight, which twisted and expanded in the center until it resembled a large globe. There was seen an image of a ruin, long since conquered by nature. Any sort of hint as to who built it was either lost or was not seen in the image.

The one thing that could be clearly seen was the abundance of goblins and hobgoblins.

“Ah, Greenstand,” Varis said with a sigh. He was busy polishing the calmed flask. “They always do Greenstand.”

“Always?” asked Ralph.

“Relatively speaking,” answered Amelifor. “Greenstand towers above the Tower to the west, but with all the trees and overgrowth you can’t see any activity from down here. Even campfires are hidden.”

“But they don’t know that we know.”

The Wizard Militant rubbed the bridge of her nose. “What he is trying to say is that most would be attackers are unaware that we know just full well how great of an observational post Greenstand is. We have placed traps all over the ruins.”

“Then why don’t you set them to go off?”

“I am getting to that draven. We don’t want them to be aware of the traps. So to set the traps off would require a little bit more…manual operations.”

“Of what kind?” asked Ralph.

“The kind that involves you whispering a phrase while placing your hand on one of the invisible runes.”

“Great plan!” said Olvir in an intolerable tone. “Flawless except for the fact that we don’t know the phrase or the location of any of the…runes that I now know.”

Ralph looked to Elnan and he shared Olvir’s look of enlightenment. “Will anyone inform me of what just happened?”

“I implanted the knowledge into their minds. You lack a mind, as much as we are aware, so you were left out.” Amelifor crossed her arms.

“I see. Now, as much as I believe Ironforged helping out you softer creatures will be beneficial to all parties involved, we did not originally come here out of the goodness of our moral spirits.”

“You came here with selfish interest, of which I am willing to oblige to the fullest of my potential the moment you come her in victory.”

Olvir rubbed at his chin. “Okay, but how are you so sure that we aren’t spies or otherwise intended on your downfall? You just provided us with the means to activate or deactivate the traps.”

She raised up two fingers. “Two reasons; the first being I could not possibly believe you would be so stupid as to cross a fully endowed wizard. Second being that if you had any intention of wrongdoing invisible runes that you had etched over the door would have vaporized you instantly.”

There was a deathly silence.

“I prefer to have a healthy dose of paranoia.” She snapped her fingers and one of the cabinet drawers popped out. Out floated a trio of flasks with a gray liquid, as well as a knot that was tied into an intricate shape. “They are going to taste terrible, and you will puke a few hours after the fact, but those poultices will very well save your lives someday. Better to lose your lunch than your liver. And as for you draven-“

“Olvir.”

Draven, as an act of goodwill to my ebony skinned brethren, as well as to protect my investment, let me introduce you to the Knot of Elthine. The presence of one of the Gods is all over you, so I can only imagine that the Knot will enhance your innate capabilities.”

“Lovely,” Olvir sighed as he grabbed the Knot and the poultice. He squeezed his wrist through the largest hole he could muster. “Another reminder of my predicament.”

“I could hardly care. You leave now.”

Now?” the adventurers said in unison.

“We just arrived here!” Elnan protested.

“My companions that are composed of flesh and blood are in need of supplies and rest.”

“Supplies are waiting for you outside the gate. You can rest along the way. The sooner this nuisance is dealt with, the sooner I can rest easy, and the sooner you can get what you came for in the first place.” She pointed towards the door.

4.

It was both a pleasant surprise and a rather disappointing one that the journey to Greenstand was, all things considered, uneventful. Travelers on the road were nonexistent after the first hour, and there was no sign of anything that was less than friendly. That meant that they had only each other for company.

In some ways, another Goblin ambush would have been preferable.

There once was a Knight, A Knight!,
With armor that shining nor stupendous.
No!, No!, It was den
ted and rusted and twisted,
Yes!, Yes!, It was damaged and broken and hardly any good.
But it was good fo
r the Knight, the Fool Knight, the Knightly Fool!
Everyday he shined it, for none of the good that it did.
He sharpened hi
s blade, cleaned his helmet, and oiled his spurs!
Everday! Yes! Everday, from after a bowl of softened oats until
The time when he would hear the shaking of the merchant’s wagon’s wheels!

But all the other knights would cry out ‘Boo!’ at the Knightly Fool,
For what good could a Fool do, even when he was a Foolish Knight?
That is what all said, until the day the Dragon took the Gleeful Maiden from her Cottage,
And Knights from everywhere, Here to There, There to Here!, Rode to Save Her!
They all were burnt, flesh to bone, and bone to ash!
Until there was only the Foolish Knight, who rode out to her on his addled mount!
And his cape was cindered, and his mop was burnt, and his sword got a little soft…
But he did not burn! He stumbled and tumbled, but he did not burn!
He lost his hair, and his eyebrows too, and most of his armor too now that I mention it…
But the Fool that was a Kn
ight did not burn! He huffed and he puffed, and he was tired at the end, but the Dragon was worse!
And so the Knight, the Fool that was a Knight, the Knight that was a Fool,
He stuck his sword in the Dragon’s throat! Through dumb of luck he did save the day!
The Knight that was a Fool, the Fool that was a Knight, was booed at no more!

The Knight! The Knightly Fool! Hoorah!

“Oh, do shut up.”

“Do all Dark Elves have a problem with songs, or are you just a piss?”

“Yes.”

“That is not an answer.”

“I am fully aware of that.” And Olvir turned to Elnan with his right hand on his side and his left still close to his mace. “Consider this: ‘The Foolish Knight’ is a song of a knight who bumbled his way into victory, more through dumb luck than with skill.”

Elnan crossed his hands. “What’s the point?”

“The point is…I have no desire to fight a dragon.” And the Dark Elf walked.

“That doesn’t make any sense.”

“Just shut up with the songs already.”

“I am not one to kill friends,” Ralph’s tone took on an iron bite all of a sudden, “but I will be glad to make an exception for you two. If there are Goblins around I don’t want your bickering to alert them. Might as well carry a big, brightly painted sign that says ‘Adventurers! Kill us!’”

“I never knew the Ironforged to have iron tongues.”

“Maybe your kind would have learned if you weren’t so busy killing the Dwarves over us.”

Elnan snickered.

5.

approaching_the_city_by_lurkerdrop-d5dz0a0

Olvir’s fingers traced the carvings of the pillar. “It is plausible for Ralph to be unfamiliar with these tracings, and I don’t except the Halfling to know this” – Elnan groaned at the remark – “but I am a student of the Ekanalven, and yet these markings are lost to me.”

“Which changes nothing.”

Olvir shook his head at Elnan’s rebuttal. “Tread carefully. All I’m saying.”

“Noted,” said Ralph. “Now let’s get –“ The Ironforged was cut off as the ground shook and sent them to the ground. Pillars of smoke emerged in the distance, and the sound of pebbles and stones hitting the ground was plainly heard.

“The Abyss was that?” cried out Olvir.

Then there was the sound of flapping wings and a monstrous form drawing near. “Hide!” Elnan hissed. “To the trees!” They raced to their feet and dashed for the trees. Crouched beneath the shade they looked past the leaves and saw two dragons with azure scales soar overhead and fly in the direction the adventurers had just arrived in.

“The Tower,” Ralph said in a hush, “they are heading for the Tower.”

“Those dragons must be servants to the Blue,” Olvir said.

Ralph turned to Elnan. “You need to head back to Boltstrike.”

“What? What about you two?”

“We need an idea of what happened here, but they need to know that servants of the Three are en route.”

“You honestly expect him to outrun a pair of dragons?”

“No Olvir, I expect him to outrun whoever the dragons are attached to.”

Olvir shrugged. “I can’t argue with that logic.”

Elnan got up. “Don’t get killed in there. Well, maybe Olvir could use a good spear up the-“

“Go!”

And with that the Halfling sprinted off. Olvir looked to Ralph. “Let’s get this over with.”

*****

If they hadn’t known better Ralph and Olvir would have thought suspected that the blood was pouring was from the stones. The red liquid was everywhere, as was remnants of the goblins. Fingers, ears and toes, even a few of the overly large heads were strewn about. The smell of blood was fused with that of burnt flesh to create a discomforting stench. Ralph considered himself lucky for the ability to deactivate his sense of smell. Olvir had to contend with pulling his scarf over his nose.

There was a scream, and the sound of blade tearing through flesh. Ralph and Olvir rushed towards the nearest wall and inched their way around the corner. The corpses of Goblins filled the street, as well as the blood splattered Lizardmen and Dragonspawn that were the cause of it. They were all blue scaled, and all were well armed and more than equipped for the task at hand.

The last of the Goblins was one dressed in a furred robe, with pebbles painted blue hanging from its headdress. As a Lizardman approached the Goblin pulled out a scroll, its leathery hands shaking with desperation, and it spoke in its intelligible language faster than usual. The Lizardman kicked it to the ground and when the Goblin tried to crawl away the Lizardman pulled it back by the cowl of its dress. The Lizardmen sent a dagger right through the Goblin’s neck, practically tearing it apart. The corpse convulsed as the dagger was withdrawn. The Lizardmen and Dragonspawn retreated, leaving the corpses fresh, wet and unattended to.

Once they were out of sight Ralph tapped Olvir on the shoulder and they walked towards the scroll. Ralph crouched down and quietly rolled the corpse of the Goblin onto its side, allowing him to withdraw the bloodied scroll from beneath its corpse. The scroll was intricately written, obviously not by the hands of any Goblin, but the language certainly belonged to their people. At the top was printed the insignia of Sathlokiir, the Mother of the Blue Brood.

“The Goblins were working for the Blue Dragons.”

“Not anymore they aren’t.” Olvir took a quick glance around him. “Must have done something to piss the scaled right off.”

“Or they were just a diversion. Even this bloodbath was a diversion.”

“From the Dragonspawn. From the real threat.”

“We are going back. Now. Nothing else for us to see here.”

6.

It is no secret that the feet of the Halflings are very worn and callous. With the exception of the obvious Ironforged they are the only sentient race to not wear any boots. By their third year any Halfling does need it. The soles of their feet may as well be tanned leather, as it is durable enough for boots to be a moot point. In the older Ages Halflings were used as messengers – not for being particularly fast, as they were just as fast or slow as anyone else, but that they had higher stamina. A Halfling could run twice the distance of a Human before needing to rest their feet.

The surprise wasn’t that he didn’t arrive at Boltstrike Pillar in half the time it took him to reach Greenstand. Elnan did have a giant Ironforged and Olvir to slow him down. What surprised him was that the village was already under attack when he arrived. He saw the smoke half an hour away so he knew what he was going to see when he arrived at that hill. Interestingly enough, it was under attack but it wasn’t under siege, for lack of better terminology. The scaled ones were charging forth, but as far as he could tell from the tip of the hill there weren’t too many of the bastards. The biggest advantage they had was the element of surprise, and surprise was fleeting in the face of superior numbers.

But the same rule applies to numbers as well. One side can lose a man, while the other side can reinforce its losses. This wasn’t all of their forces, Elnan was sure of it. None of the twin dragons were anywhere in sight for starters. They were biding their time. No two ways around it.

Elnan raced down the hill. The town wasn’t on fire yet, although he noticed a few houses were once at a point. The smoke he saw a little over a half hour past must have been put out. The sounds of clashing blades and roaring men and Lizardmen was still clearly heard, however. He followed his ears, making sure to draw his rapier first, to something resembling a courtyard. Well, it had a fountain in the center (that was more or less in good shape) surrounded by a circle of houses and shops. Dozens of warriors from both sides of the conflict were fighting to the bitter end, neither making a foothold by Elnan’s reckoning.

Good thing he came along, while both sides were equally distracted and focused on the opponent. He rushed towards the nearest Lizardman and jumped, grabbing hold by the cloak and sending his rapier through. The Lizardman howled a scream and fell over. Elnan withdrew his blade and looked up towards the guardsman he just saved.

“You!”

“You!”

“You were the guard at the tower gate!”

“And you were with the Ironforged that told us about the Goblins!”

They paused for a moment. “Well, back at it then?”

“Quite.”

And they rushed towards the nearest Lizardman.

*****

Lizardmen_Art_1It wasn’t too long before the fountain was stained with Lizardmen blood and the courtyard was more or less secured. Leaning on his rapier Elnan took a moment to catch his breath. He wouldn’t mind an extension on that moment.

“I thought you Halflings had more stamina than most?” Elnan turned to the man. It was the guard from before.

“Even that has some limits. Where’s your friend? There were two of, if I remember.”

“You do. I…don’t know where is now.” The guard looked off into the distance. “He went off for a patrol, and as soon as he was out of sight the lizards came.”

Elnan was about to give some manner of condolonces, but then there was the sound of thundering footsteps. All of the soldiers in the courtyard raced off for the street and saw a band of a dozen more Lizardmen, accompanied with a few well armored Dragonspawn, were charging down the street.

“Damnit! I thought we’d have a moment of rest. Raise-“

But before he could raise the command Elnan took in a deep breath. And then he sang:

I see, I see here you stand.
I say, I say no more!

The final words were more of a shout than an actual song, but it was enough. From his lungs poured forth a strong wind that had the power to sweep the attackers off of their feet. They were sent to the ground, and enough wind was left over to keep them there for a few moments more.

“Take the initiative!” Elnan couldn’t make it whom it was that said the command but everyone rushed in to run the attackers through. The reptilians barely had a chance to stand before they found a sword in their throat.

“That was some quick thinking bard.” Elnan swiped the flask of water that hung from the guard’s belt.

“One trick pony,” he said in a voice so hoarse one would say it was smoothed down with sandpaper. “At least for the rest of the day. Would need to rest like hell.”

“So, what do we do for the next time?”

“We need something to do the same basic idea. Like a wall.”

The man rubbed his chin. “That is a plan. But out of what? And from where? And how quickly-“

“Qucikly!” said another member of the Guard. “More of those Lizardmen are coming at us!”

“Aw,” Elnan groaned. “Fuck all the Gods.”

7.

Night was beginning to approach by the time they made it back to the Tower. It would have been sooner but they were impeded with a few complications. Primarily in the form of cells of soldiers that had to be dispatched – and some were more resistant to their deadly touch than others. By the time they did make it to the Tower they were coated in blood, and Olvir was sweaty and every joint ached. Not to mention his voice was hoarse from all of the prayers he had to incant.

They were just over the hill, and the flames of battle could be seen even from up here. Boltstrike Pillar was untouched – of course – but plenty of other buildings were ablaze or already toppled over. Hundreds of scaled footprints had left their mark on the dirt road.

But so did one pair of bare feet.

“The Halfling can run, I can give him that.”

“Hours old. He was over this hill long before most of the Blue’s servants.”

Olvir got to his feet. “What makes you so sure?” Ralph tapped the side of his face. “Ironforged. Right.” The Dark Elf wiped hair from his sweaty brow. “Well, let’s hope the bastard is still alive.” He drew his mace, Ralph withdrew his swords, and they made their way down the hill.

When they made their way into town, the only way it could described was as a bloody mess. Shattered glass, broken furniture, corpses and spilled blood were spread liberally across the streets. Houses were broken down, trees were ripped right up from their roots, and more than a few fires could be heard somewhere in the distance. And the sound of battle – the clash of steels, the roar of soldiers, the wailing of innocents – were a constant companion. Dread walked with them.

In truth, they only walked for twenty minutes. In their hearts it felt like twenty days. Every step was another inch into unknown territory. Every time rocks rolled down a mountain of debris was another opportunity for an ambush from the streets. They kept their weapons close at hand, and Olvir thumbed the patterns of the Knot. But they were quick moving as well. Neither had a desire to remain in one location for too long.

And then they saw the mountain of chairs, tables and fences where the courtyard used to be. There was even more than a fair amount of Lizardmen body parts that were hanging from it. It was an enormous mass of random, otherwise unrelated objects that by all appearances was just thrown together to create the most uneven wall that has ever been conceived on this side of the continent

And yet, going by the pools of blood and arrow-filled Lizardmen corpses that filled the street, it worked. Somehow, it worked, by the grace of all the Gods.

As they approached the…wall, for lack of a better word, they heard the scrambling of feet that slipped and climbed on a dozen different objects. Then a head popped up, a long blonde haired man. The rest of his body was behind the wall, but his gloves looked identical to those worn by the two guards at the gate of the tower. He was about to say something but then he stopped himself as realization quickly swept over him. “Oh wait a minute. You’re not a pair of scalies!”

“Like the Abyss we are!” Olvir hollered. “We’ve killed enough of them to disprove that! So when do we get over that mess of a wall you have?”

“I know that voice!” said someone behind the wall. Up climbed Elnan, bloodied and dirties. “It’s you, Dark Elf. And Ralph is still in one piece I see!”

“And you aren’t in a dragon’s belly!”

“Much to our disappointment,” Olvir growled.

“You want to tell the story behind…this?”

“The wall you mean?”

“No,” said Olvir, “he meant the wonderful weather we’ve been having as of late.”

“Well,” began the guard, “good story that! The little master here-“

Olvir mouthed the words “little master” with shocked awe, as if it was absurd that those two words could ever be associated with Elnan in any sane universe.

“-came up with the idea. We had to block all the Lizardmen, since we didn’t have close of the numbers to hold them off conventionally. So we got all the stuff we could from all the shops and houses and just piled them up.”

‘Except for the north and west street,” Elnan pointed out. “Had to get that wizard to blow the houses on them. Not enough junk to pile up there.”

“Great!” Ralph said. “Tell that wizard to open a path for us.”

“Well…”, Elnan said, “he did kinda have the case of an arrow to the face.”

“That would kill just about anyone,” the guard said, “wizard or no wizard.” Elnan nodded in agreement.

Elnan looked down behind him. “Hey guys! Throw me some rope! We have some friends that need to get onto this side of the wall!”

“No can do!” yelled someone. “We used all of the rope to secure Ol’ Bessy for the other wall!”

“We tied a cow to a wall?” The frantic moo of a cow was heard.

“Well after that acid splash from one of those scalie wizzies we had to fill the hole with something!” Elnan huffed.

Olvir rubbed his forehead. “By all the Gods and all their absurd Realms, how the Abyss did you last this long against those two dragons?”

“Well, funny story that,” began the Guard. “Hadn’t seen tail nor wing of that dragon for close to a couple’a hours now.”

“Yeah, it’s not like the dragon’s – behind you! DUCK!” Ralph and Olvir turned and there it was, a blue dragon that was flying just over the buildings. They dashed for the nearest alleyway, but they still felt the colossal gust of wind. Olvir nearly got pulled back into the street but Ralph grabbed him by the robe. They heard the sound of thousands of random items being sent to the ground in a violent manner.

They raced out to the streets and saw the wall – or what was left of it. There was no sign of the dragon having landed so it was so safe to assume that just the close proximity of its flight was enough to topple the pile of junk. Anyone on or near the wall was sent flying in just about every direction, in a variable of distances. They found Elnan easily enough lying right on his back and his legs and arms spread out. He moaned for a short while, but by all accounts was unhurt.

“Did what I think happen just happen?” the Halfling said as he rose to his feet. He wobbled over to where his rapier was.

“If by that you mean your grand master plan was destroyed in half a moment by a dragon, then yes.”

Ralph looked up. “He’s heading for the tower! Why haven’t they done this earlier?”

“Because the mana batteries are still in place!” said one of the guards that was just getting to his feet. His hair was caked in blood but so long as he didn’t lose his head he would probably survive the day. “They couldn’t even touch it, even with all their thunderous breath. They still can’t!”

“I hope your right.”

8.

young_blue_dragon_by_benwootten-d567ya5The scrying pool did not lie. The Lizardmen and their Dragonspawn commanders were making another push beneath the Tower. And one of the dragons was heading towards them again. For all the good it would do – the mana batteries that were powering the shields were still at maximum capacity. Nothing short of the Gods Themselves could even think of making a dent.

But there was still the town.

“Varis, send word to Abelledrimis! I want another trio of wizards – not addled apprentices this time – to help reinforce the town.”

“You know he would protest about the violation of that damned Militant Wizadry Quota.”

She grabbed him by the collar. “He can stuck that damned Quota up his perky little asshole. I will not lose this town to a bunch of scalelicking bastards!”

And then darkness filled the room as all of the mana filled carvings went dark

“No”

The room shook as the dragon wrapped itself around the top floor of the tower. With a swipe of its claw it destroyed the roof, sending debris and equipment flying in every direction. Amelifor could feel the wind pulling at her hair, and a raw chill ran through her body. She turned to her staff and with a turn to her wrist she summoned it into her fingers. She gripped it hard as she stared into the blue dragon.

“Not today.”

The dragon roared and breathed thunder. Using her staff to act as a focus, she took all of that raw thunderous power within. All of the mana that raced through her soul was now a battery, fully charged, and ready to fire. She clenched her fist and raised her hand, and aside her formed a lance, white and hot as a star.

And she threw it. It went straight and true, and the dragon was not swift enough to avoid it that close. The fiery lance went through the dragon’s chest, and the fire spread to its right wing. The dragon’s wing was ablaze. The dragon let out a terrible scream before it toppled over. The tower shook as it slammed against the tower, rolling and plummeting towards the ground.

She walked towards the edge and peered down. The dragon wasn’t moving for the moment, but she had little doubt that even mortally wounded it was still a fierce creature. What was even more pressing was the mana batteries dying out all the sudden. There was enough power stored there for a hundred days. All the attempted assaults were not enough to take away a splinter of all the stored energy.

So what happened?

She turned towards Varis and spoke a word. And then she felt death and she fell.

9.

As the dust cleared, and as the rubble ceased movement, the three adventurers rose to their feet. Olvir and Elnan coughed, their bodies resisting the alien particles that was entering their nostrils, but Ralph kept his eyes steady on the dragon. It had not stirred – yet – but he did not have the intention of taking any chances. He looked around for a way out, a quick escape in case the dragon woke. There was the street that he and Olvir entered through, but that was too far away for his liking. The other streets were still blocked off from the “walls” that Elnan built.

The alleyways weren’t much of an option. Most of them were hardly any bigger than he was, and he didn’t want to try to squeeze through them while a dragon was on their butts.

The dust cloud stirred, air moving it aside a bit at a time. Pebbles and shards of stones continued to roll down. The dragon still did not move. Ralph was still cautious.

Elnan and Olvir rose up, covering their nostrils. Elnan tried to say something but since he wasn’t willing to take his hand away from his mouth the only words that came out were muffled. Ralph kept a steady grip on his weapons, and instructed as such to his companions.

The cloud dissipated in time, and everyone took cautious steps. Ralph motioned everyone to move cautiously. Every step felt like it was great weight, like if any step was done without a slither of caution the dragon would wake. Ralph did not know if he was designed to be like the softskins, but he knew what it was like to feel the fear of uncertainty. It was one thing to know what would happen and face it. It was another to look into the darkness, oblivious to what is in there, and spit at it.

Half Dragon Killers

World’s Worst Field Trip ▶ custom player

And then the dragon growled.

It raised its head, and it looked into the eyes of those it towered over. For a brief moment there was not a sound. Then the dragon roared, and there was the crackling of electricity.

“Run you fools!” The source of the command couldn’t be made, but it might as well been given by the Emperor Himself. All of the guards ran in every conceivable direction that was away from the dragon. For all the good it did. The thunder that poured from the dragon’s mouth ripped through the ground, the crackling deafening the ears, and sundered four men that were not fast enough to escape. In a moment the lightning was gone, and the corpses poured forth steam.

“Keep running!” Ralph roared. “We’ll hold it off?”

We?” Elnan asked. There was a wide look in his eyes.

“Yes we!” If Olvir intended to say he didn’t have the chance. The dragon breathed more thunder, and it was all they could do to just dive out of the way. Elnan was nearly hit himself, and he had to stomp out a small fire on his hairy feet. Olvir thumbed the linings of his Knot, and he could feel a little extra power flowing through him. “I think we’ll need a boost. Just an inch.” And he whispered a word, and for half a moment his eyes glowed and lights flew from it. Then it was gone.

“What did you do, Elf?” asked Olvir. He looked at his hands. “I feel…quicker.”

“A little something. A boost, not much, but it may just be enough. It could have been more but…well, I though some for all was better than all for one.”

The dragon moved its claws, and it was starting to get on its feet again. Debris was falling off of its form. “Enough chatter. The dragon is moving! Stay spread out and whatever you do, don’t stand still!” And Ralph rushed out, twin blades in iron hands, exerting the mechanisms in his legs to get to the dragon as quick as he could. The dragon swiped at him, and maybe it was because he was too fast, or the dragon was still too slow, but it missed him clear as it could. He slashed upwards, hoping to cut deep into the belly. To end it quick, clean and now.

But dragons were resilient for a reason; there never was any one place you could easily strike at. Or with difficulty for that matter. When Ralph’s sword struck it bounced off, as if it was hitting the side of the mountain.

The dragon kicked him with its hind leg. He went up by a few feet and fell to the ground. That was the highest he had ever been thrown in all his memories, credit be to the dragon. It charged forward, its claws digging into the earth. Olvir rolled out of the way, and the dragon took a wide turn as it continued the chase. Its tail whipped out, scything through a building. Debris was scattered in all directions.

Elnan fumbled through his shirt, looking for any of his throwing daggers. He had one left; he must have had lost all of the others when he was thrown from the wall. He gripped the leathery handle. It was well balanced, if not particularly sharp. Maybe it was enough. He had one shot regardless. He squinted an eye, steadied his aim, and threw it. It went straight, unhindered by breeze.

It bounced off of the scaly hide.

“Damnit.”

The dragon turned, its azure eyes now focused on Elnan.

“Aw shit.”

The dragon roared out and spewed thunder that crackled and split across the ground. Elnan kept his head low and kept on running, as fast as his dexterous legs would take him, until he was well clear of the present danger. He slid behind what remained of the fountain.

It was not Olvir’s intent to stay in the background. You could say many things about Olvir Lymerar, but you cannot say that he is a coward. Still, the dragon being so easily distracted could very well work to his advantage. He couldn’t really say how well he could have concentrated on that prayer if he had to deal with lightning and claws half the size of a horse.

But he didn’t have to worry about that, so that was all a moot point really.

He whispered the prayer and he could feel a slither of the Astral begin to flow through him. He grabbed a handful of dirt and let it fall, breathing into them. The grains of dirt transformed into particles of light, and they arranged themselves into a straight line with a point. Olvir could feel the warmth even without him not touching it.

He pointed and the particles of energy fired off. The stream of gold colored matter pounded against the dragon’s side, and the dragon fell down. A small wave of dust followed.

Ralph raced for the dragon. This was the best chance they had to finish this off. Every moment would ride off of each step. He could not falter, he could not fail. If he did, they were all dead.

The dragon raised its head, and snorted. Ralph stopped dead in his tracks. He was nowhere close enough to the dragon. He looked to his left, and then to his right. There was no cover. No place to hide. The dragon opened it maw and breathed lightning. The crackling blue-white bolts danced across the ground, ripping it apart. Ralph, as fast as he was, couldn’t even think of dodging it. Too close to the dragon, and yet too far to do any good. The lightning entered him, and every system, every drive and piece of machinery that gave him meaning, intelligence and life just…ceased. Steam flowed out from every orifice, every hole, every opening that there could be.

Ralph didn’t even groan, didn’t even gasp. He just fell down.

Elnan screamed out his name. He didn’t even think about running towards the dragon, his sword drawn. If he would have had put even the tiniest bit of logic behind that he would of have had reconsidered it. But he didn’t even think about it – he just did, with all of the energy he could muster. The dragon turned to him – and he couldn’t tell if there was a look of amusement or annoyance. And then it stood on its hind legs and flapped its wings…except there was only one wing and the other was a skeletal charred remnant of one.

If the dragon had the benefit of its second wing Elnan would have been thrown back, probably thrown against the fountain, and possible breaking a few bones in the process. But because it was missing a wing the gust of wind went right past him. The worst thing it did was throw some dirt into his face.

The dragon roared, probably just as much out of frustration as out of anger, and slammed its claws deep into the earth. Elnan leaped, left arm spread out wide, and grabbed hold of the left claw. Before the dragon could snap at him he dug his rapier deep.

“Shit!” Olvir cursed. His fingers dug beneath his cloak and he pulled out dozens of medallions, all sculpted in the image of different saints and benign spirits. He pulled out one and threw it onto the ground. He smashed it to pieces with his mace, and from the shattered remnants golden sand-like light poured forth and wrapped itself around the mace. In a moment the light crystalized into the head of a transparent hammer, light as feather but considerably more deadly. He ran towards the dragon.

Elnan was busy trying not to get squashed to notice that the Dark Elf was rushing to his rescue. The rapier was still deeply lodged within the dragon, and Elnan had long since realized that it was probably going to stay there for the immediate future. He had lost his grip and fell to the ground, and ever since then it was all he could to avoid the massive feet of the dragon.

And all his prowess eventually wasn’t enough, as the dragon’s tail caught him and sent him flying into some debris.

If the dragon intended to finish him off it didn’t have the opportunity. Elnan caught his grip on one of the scales and climbed himself to the top of the dragon. And then he unleashed a flurry of strikes, each accompanied with shards of light spreading out in every direction. The dragon howled and it lashed out with its tail and whipped its neck in every direction. All in an effort to throw Olvir off. And Olvir was cut and he was bruised but he was always quick enough to duck or dodge. He would not be moved.

*****

A spark. It always began with a spark. A small, significant thing. It travelled through the dark, through the unknown reaches, until it reached the core. It travelled swiftly, and it knew what would occur. It was created for this moment, for events such as these. It would die for this.

If it had a conscience, perhaps it would have minded. Mayhaps complained, or even have a soliloquy or two. But such things were lost to it.

Such things were no longer valued

It became a fire.

*****

Ralph returned to life in an instant. There was no need for regaining his senses, for readjusting to reality. It was like he had never fallen to begin with.

He grabbed his blades and charged.

The dragon had no concept that Ralph was even there. It was too focused on the Dark Elf that was pounding away at its spine. Perhaps if it was a little bit swifter, a little bit stronger, if it didn’t have that wound in its chest or have its wing charred to the bone it would have survived. Maybe it would have gone on to more destruction in the Sathlokiir’s name.

So many possibilities.

Ralph leaped out and grabbed hold of the dragon’s tender neck. It was soft, and even more so it was not made of scales but soft flesh. He plunged his free sword into it. If he was human than all of the blood spraying into his face may have caused him to lose his grip. But the Ironforged are not things of flesh and bone. They are as hard as iron. He continued his assault, and between the Ironforged slicing at its throat and the Dark Elf pounding at its fate was more than sealed. It let out a final cry, and it turned into a pathetic wheeze. Its head fell and Ralph rolled as he landed. The dragon’s head unleashed a small wave of dust when it fell to the ground.

They looked on, the three of them. Silence was the barrier between them. Olvir and Elnan looked on in disbelief. He dragon did not move. No one moved.

“Are you fucking kidding me?!” Elnan cried.

Olvir could only laugh.

10.

For all of their powers and knowledge, wizards are ultimately creatures of the flesh. And just like any creatures of the flesh that are above their stations, you must simply maneuver beyond their defenses and they are doomed. Yslithem understands this rule, being one himself, even if his ancestry did originate from Sathlokiir…albeit every distantly.

The defenses of the Boltstrike Pillar was simple, but abundant. The wizards had hundreds of years to do the task, and they made it a point to add on layers of magical defenses at every opportunity they had until they reached the point of utmost satisfaction. To be blunt, they got confident, and saw no need for alternatives. At that point their fates were decided, one way or another.

Yslithem moved past his troops, well entrenched in their bloody profession. He looked around the hallway at a casual pace, indifferent to the chaotic atmosphere that surrounded him. Earliar in the day he was more formal, more deliberate and aware of all the deadly possibilities that could have awaited him. But once Veskuine finished off the top tower with all the efficiency that was expected of her the battle was won, so to speak. The wizards still resisted, natural in any mortal creature, and the resistance was rather admirable if Yslithem had to be honest, but once the top floor was obliterated it was just simply a matter of time.

Now the wizards of the tower were crushed, and he could go about his business in peace.

He found a chamber that fit his purposes and brought a small hollowed out box that was carved in iron and decorated with gold. He placed it gently on the floor and tapped six of the sixty-six runes. The runes glowed, the Dragonspawn stepped back, and a transparent image appeared. The image was distorted, no doubt due to the residue magic that still resided within the tower, but the audio was as crisp as could be expected.

“Yslithem,” spoke the Commandant. “Is the operation a success?”

“Superbly so, serrah. Boltstrike Pillar is ours. Once the shield was drained of its energy we were able to break through the bottom. From there I could not imagine a more successful operation, although with a certain pain of regret the outlying village is still resistant. Only a matter of time, all things considered.”

“Good. What complications have arisen?”

“Veskuine has fallen, serrah, I am most broken to say. The Wizard Militant wounded her significantly, so much so that even lowly villagers were able to finish the task. The Wizard Militant was killed, I am happy to report.” There was silence. “Serrah?”

“Can you give me detail on the death of Veskuine? Necessary measures must be made.”

“Not much can be defined, serrah, as we only realized it after her demise. However, the scrying did detail a Halfling, Draven and Ironforged were involved.”

Even from the distorted image Yslithem could tell that the Commandant was sitting silently in thought.

“Serrah?”

“Proceed as originally planned. No alterations to your orders.”

“Your words, my arms, serrah.”

11.

Amelifor’s corpse was twisted and broken, her shattered bone distorted her body into a grotesque shape. Blood seeped from across her body, most of all being her gut. Her short hair was absolutely covered in dark blood.

In short, she was dead. No contest.

Many of the guards stood watch over her body, while a few looked upwards towards where she last stood. The dragon plummeted to the ground, and then she followed shortly after. Until they saw the stab wound there was the plausibility that she fell from exhaustion. Now only sabotage was the only plausible answer.

The scaled creatures they were fighting was the first hypothesis, raised by Duncan of Harthlow Street. However Duncan was always a bit slow, so it was contested by Mariam of Eeastvern Road. After all, the dragon managed to destroy the top floor in mere moments after the mana batteries died. Even when using the transport discs it would take at least a few minutes to reach the top floor.

“Then who did it?” Ralph asked when he realized the guards were arguing in circles. They looked at each other with a blank stare.

“We haven’t heard word from any of the wizards since the dragon,” one of the guards said after a time. “You don’t think-“

“That they’re dead?” Olvir said. “That is likely at this point.”

“But no one has entered the tower!”

“From outside.” Olvir crossed his arms. “They are led by Dragonspawn, don’t forget. If nothing else, the Dakiith are intelligent. Their whole culture revolve around archaeology. Practically.”

“So…” Elnan began, “I guess we have to go up there. Some of us.”

The guards looked at the three adventurers.

Olvir rubbed his forehead. “If it weren’t for this curse, I’d say piss on you all and leave.”

“You can’t honestly expect a good result out of this,” Ralph said. “The Dark Elf and the Halfling barely survived the dragon!”

“But sir,” said a guard,” that makes you perfect!”

“Yes! You three killed a dragon. That should make all those lizzies easy pickings!”

“And besides, someone needs to protect the tower. If we all go in, we could be ambushed up our butts.”

“He’s got a point there Ralph,” Elnan said. “We do seem to be the perfect guys for the job.”

Ralph looked to Elnan, and then to Olvir. “Are we in agreement?”

“Only on account of this curse. Which, I’ll add before my sure to be bloody death, was the whole reason I came here in the first place.”

“Noted,” said Elnan. “Besides, I can’t expect to get any information about any potential pirates if I turn tail and run, now can I?”

“No. You cannot. Well, into the fray I suppose.”

“Don’t worry Ralph. We’ve killed a dragon!”

“A heavily wounded dragon,” Olvir noted.

“A dragon nonetheless! And I held off the Lizardmen while you and the Dark Elf were busy getting here!”

“With our help!” said one of the guards.

“I did help organize the resistance though! So, really, how bad can a few Lizardmen be?”

*****

There have been plenty of moments in his life in which Elnan regretted having such an optimistic view of things. The moment they stepped into the tower and laid eyes on at least thirty Lizardmen, all well-equipped and armored, was one of them. The tower floor that once looked so awe inspiring had been transformed into a desecrated ruin. Corpses of the wizards were abundant. Tables and testing equipment were scattered across the floor in shattered pieces.

“You and your big fucking mouth,” Olvir growled.

“Me and my big fucking mouth,” Elnan moaned.

One of the Lizardmen screamed and they all charged en masse on the adventurers.

“Run! They can’t catch us all at once! Divide and conquer!”

“Really Ralph? That is your plan?”

“Just do it!”

And they did. Ralph went straight, using his ironclad form to his advantage and pushing straight through the horde. Taking advantage of that initiative Elnan and Olvir went in opposite directions, hoping to be able to mitigate as much of the surrounding enemies as they could. In a way, the mess the Lizardmen had created worked to the adventurer’s advantage. They created a maze, in a very twisted and chaotic sort of way, and so they were able to control where a lizardman would attack from. If you can’t back up, then chances are your enemy can’t reach you from there.

That didn’t make it easy mind you. Few opportunities were granted for them to block off two possible angles of attack, and three possible angles were not only common but often exploited. Maybe it was due to their talents, or perhaps it was more due to just all the dumb luck that seemed to follow them around, but they always managed to stay a few inches ahead of every axe swing or thrust of the sword. They didn’t avoid all of it mind you – Elnan will always have that scar on his ear, and Olvir will not mention that he nearly lost a finger due to forgetting about that spear wielding Lizardman to his right – but he didn’t get killed.

And that was something.

As strategic as the plan was, they would have been dead if it wasn’t for some clumsiness on Elnan’s side. He had just managed to kill a Lizardman that was a little bit too careless with his sword swing and left him vulnerable right at the armpit. Then again, Elnan was a little bit overly eager with his sword thrust and he ended up stumbling right into a wall.

Or, that is what should have happened. Instead he stumbled right through it, the wall dissipating as he did so, and he landed on a flight of stairs that spiraled upwards. His eyes followed, as if it was somekind of miracle. In a way it was.

And then his eyes returned to the task at hand as a Lizardman leaped towards him. He got up and brought his rapier to bear. “Guys!” he said between parries. “Friends! COMRADES! Help!

Ralph and Olvir turned towards the giant gap where a wall once used to be. “Halfling! What did you do?”

“A way out!” he said as he fought for his life! “Get over here already!”

They charged towards the Hafling, swords sweeping out in crimson arcs and maces coming down with divine-infused power. “How did you find this?” Olvir asked.

“I fell!”

“Typical.”

Ralph grabbed a Lizardman by the neck and sent his sword into its gut. “Let’s go!” And they raced up the stairs. The Lizardmen were not keen on letting them make much progress, so they went all the faster. Ralph was grateful that the stairs seemed to be enchanted, as otherwise he was certain he would have crashed right through them.

If not because of his weight, then surely because of the horde of Lizardmen that were coming from both behind them and in front of them. “Stand back!” Ralph pushed Elnan behind. He sheathed his blades and focused on the mechanism that was locked behind several layers of protocol within his databases. He heard a clicking of gears and his hands unfolded and withdrew to reveal a matching pair of circular blades than began to rotate at a terrifying speed.

“I think I understand why the Dark Elves and Dwarves fought over the Ironforged now,” Elnan mused.

The Lizardmen charged, and although Ralph had the front well covered it was up to Olvir and Elnan to ensure the rear would not fall. Fortunately the lack of space would prove to be a viable asset. Contrary to popular belief, the Lizardmen were far from being a barbaric race, their technological lag notwithstanding. They knew the art of warfare quite well, and were masters of guerilla warfare that could be matched by few save the Elves or the Goblins. However due to the volume of Lizardmen that congregated onto those chairs and the lack of space to accommodate them they had found to have lost their previous advantage of superior numbers.

They were fighting on the adventurers’ terms now. They had the advantage of height, the Lizardmen could no longer swarm all over them, and both knew how to survive against larger numbers. Elnan had long since learned how to rely on himself in all things, including combat. It was a rare day when he had somebody at his side so he learned how to work numbers against his attacks. And the Dark Elves were never the most popular of the Elven kind, nor the most numerous. Making use of what little allies that are at one’s side is a common aspect a Draven’s upbringing.

In truth, the Lizardmen had lost the battle the moment Elnan found the stairs.

12.

Salthuline hunched over a mountain, not even feeling the dry winds that raked at his scale. He had returned here, as was the mission’s parameters. It was a rare day when one of the Brood followed an order from the Blooded, but the Commandant of the Azure Horde has proven worthy of that privilege a hundred times. Answering his call was…acceptable.

The blue flame crackled in Salthuline’s hand. The voice was corrupted by the magic, and would have been unrecognizable to anyone who was not already aware of the speaker’s identity. That was Salthuline’s intent – he did not rise to earn such respect with her Azureness by being reckless. Leave that to the spawns of Verduin.

“And how fares the development?”

“As predicted, Commandant. It will not be long now. Our Agent will either die, or live by his worth.”

“Good. Retrieve the survivors. Bring them to the Ash Plains. I will have words on the morrow.”

“I will do so. And then I return to my Holdings.”

“As is your right, Lord Salthuline. Your contributions to our Great Works are nothing short of admirable.” The flame was snuffed out. Salthuline spread his wings and took flight.

13.

They scrambled out of the hatch, rushing to squeeze through the tiny opening. They found themselves falling to the floor, often face first. When Olvir looked up he discovered that said opening originated from the middle of the wall – and he was pretty sure that it was not there when they were he last. He scrambled to his feet and closed it, but a few outstretched claws kept it from being done all the way. He pushed harder and the claws retreated, and with a single definitive push the door was sealed. Light shined through and the door vanished.

Olvir looked around and did not recognize where they were. Logically he knew that they were on the highest floor of Boltstrike Pillar, but it wasn’t as it was. It was a ruin, with broken pillars along the alcove and debris scatted across the floor. The ritual pillars were reduced to a shattered stump, and small mana fueled fires were spread throughout the room.

And there was Varis, sitting cross legged. His robe was or less intact, although it was frayed at the stitches. His blonde hair was a mess, with wisps of it going in every direction and covered in stone dust. His left hand squeezed the cap of his knee, whereas his right hand hung over his head, wrapped around the pummel of a sword. There was an orange glow to it, and the blade itself was thing and very long. Thicker than Elnan’s rapier to be certain, but certainly not as thick as any decent longsword. And then there was the pummel that was carved in the image of a gryphon with its wings outstretched, and it was sitting on the handle like it was some kind of throne.

Ralph stepped forward, with a very careful and mindful step. He sheathed his twin swords. “Varis?”

He looked up, and there was a dried trail of blood from his left eye. It was as red as fire, and one could hardly see the pupil within. “The adventurers.”

“He is not himself,” Olvir said. “Or, he never was himself.”

“And what makes you so sure?” Ralph asked with suspicion.

“Because he is wise in things best left unsaid,” spoke Varis. His voice sounded hollow.

“I recognize the signs. The bleeding eye, the erratic personality. He is a sleeper agent, a patron or victim of a seclusion spell for the mind. Locks a personality away, creates a new one in its place, and unveils the former at the caster’s whim. We have our murderer.”

Varis nodded. “The Draven is right.” And he stood up and held up the blade in both hands. “I was given my assignment, and my self was hidden away. And a visage was arisen. I did the deed, I brought death on the nameless people below.”

Elnan crept to the side, where he could look down on the village below. They were too far up for him to see the precise details of the siege, but he could see the broader picture. And in a way it horrified him. He was always so in the moment, every minute infused with the desire of survival that he never considered the possibility of victory.

He saw the fires that encompassed the village, and he realized that victory was never even a possibility. They were damn fools to try.

“So what do you expect us to do with you?” Ralph asked. “You are the cause of this, by your own admittance. Assuming you would go with us quietly-“

“Which I won’t.”

“But assuming you would, and also assuming that the towns people would have enough composure of their emotions to have a legal trail-“

“Which they won’t.”

“There is also the matter of all the Lizardmen below we would need to deal with.”

“And they will not let you through without a fight.”

“And I can assume you will take advantage of such chaos and either make your escape or carve through us.”

“Very astute of you, Ironforged.”

Ralph bowed his head. “My creators – whomever they may be – are surely complimented by your words.”

“Tell me this, Agent of the Dragons,” Olvir stepped forward. “Did you have any intention on giving me information on my curse?”

“Me personally?” He raised up a finger. “No, if only because I never had any such knowledge to begin with. Amelifor on the other hand, I am quite certain did have some inkling of the solution you seek.”

“Before you killed her.”

“Unfortunately so.”

Ralph turned towards Elnan. “Elnan, do you see any reason to keep Varis alive?”

“At this point I do not care. He was the reason behind this attack. Or, at the least he is why it was so damn successful. People are dead because of him.” Elnan drew out his rapier. “He dies.”

“A fair agreement. However,” and as he spoke black smoke arose out from his mouth. “I do not believe it is completely fair for us to have an unnatural engagement. As such,” and out of the corner of Olvir’s eye he saw a pair of Lizardmen emerge from the walls of the tower. They lifted themselves up onto the floor. They were dressed in dark blue robes, and both wielded an iron staff socketed with a shining jewel. “I have brought some companions, to even out the odds.”

“It is a pleasure to see you as your natural self,” spoke the Lizardman to the right. “It was wrong for you to play that subterfuge for so long.”

“The Horde will be thrilled to see you once more,” spoke the one on the left. He bowed slightly.

Varis brought his shining blade in hand. “Let us end this then. I will give you the pleasure of the first strike, Ironforged.”

Against Varis

Defying the Tuatha

Ralph drew out his swords. “At my pleasure.” He charged, hanging low anticipating Varis to unleash a barrage of spells. And he was right; Varis used his sword as a conduit and unleashed a flurry of electrical bolts from his fingers. He swept from side to side, avoiding the majority of them. A few struck him in the shoulders, but they weren’t powerful enough to penetrate his plating.

As Ralph drew close Varis plunged his blade into the ground and summoned a wall of flame. Ralph kept a few steps back; Ironforged or not, he knew not to stray too close to any fire fueled by magic. Protected by his wall of fire Varis took a casual stance. He wiped some dripping blood from his eye. He looked at his fingers, transfixed.

And then Varis shifted his feet, his left in front of his right, and bent his knees. Gripping the blade in two hands, he pointed it as if to lunge forward. He breathed a word, and summoned forth a gust of wind. Ralph was too careless; the wind blew him to the ground.

Varis lunged forward.

Olvir also had issues with underestimating his opponents. He had assumed the Lizardmen to be more along the lines of shamans, dealers of primitive magic, not wielders of sophisticated wizardry. With every movement they summoned forth another threat to his existence; funnels of acid, earth spikes that ripped through the floor, turning portions of their body translucent.

He was at a disadvantage. His source of power was in the Astral, the power of the Gods. But it was the Arcane, the power of the Cosmos, which changed the Gods forever. Any mage would have an advantage – however slight – over any cleric. Not to mention that he had all but exhausted himself in the battle against the dragon. He had already consumed his incantations that could give him the edge he needed. If Elnan lost his battle with the other mage, then Olvir was of the opinion that his life would be forfeit.

He still had his martial disciplines to fall back on, but you would not consider him to be a warrior. He had always used his fighting skills to compliment his knowledge of the divine, not to replace them. But here he didn’t exactly have much of a choice. You fight with what you have.

And then there was Elnan, who knew what it meant to rely on one’s guiles in combat. He never knew much of fancy tricks. He knew of some songs of power, but there was not much point in using them now. These Lizardmen were well entrenched in their magical arts. Any song he sang – assuming he managed to live through the telling – would likely have the effect of shit all.

He dodged beneath a scythe of wind. That is what he would need to do. If there was any limit to being a practitioner of magic, it was finite amount of magic one can weave. One can’t use one’s body as the link between the mundane and the extraordinarily and be all willy nilly about it. You can only weave so many spells before you can’t. Like a bow with an empty quiver.

Elnan would just need to outlast until this reptilian wizard decides to run out of arrows. Metaphorically speaking.

That philosophy would not work so well for Ralph. Somehow Varis learned to be equally skilled with the blade as well as with the arcane, something like one of those Eldritch Knights. He could weave spells that could work with his quick jabs and thrusts. He knew not to go for the more extravagant ones due to how much time they take to actually cast. The idea was to inflict death with a thousand cuts.

However, Varis had a little issue called not being able to land a single hit. The times that he actually managed to hit Ralph would hardly be enough to cut into him. Ralph possessed the deadly combination of being just as quick as he was durable. Varis breathed fire along the ground, burning a carpet. It was hot, could easily burn flesh. But he did not have the opportunity to infuse it with mana.

Ralph charged through the wall of fire and struck down with one of his blades. Varis raised his sword in self defense, and it cut through the Ironforged’s blade. The short sword sizzled as the thin sword zigged and zagged through the softer metal. The sharp metal fell to the ground with a clang.

Ralph could have let that development surprise him. Shock him even. But maybe he was Ironforged, or maybe it was because he was more concerned by winning than worrying over some hunk of metal. He gripped Varis by the throat and the soft thing felt his life being crushed. He plunged his glowing blade into Ralph’s shoulder, and if he had to be honest he would say it burned.

But he ignored it. Blade sticking out of his plating, he plunged his remaining blade into Varis’ stomach. He spewed up blood; his hands curled in pain as he howled. He turned pale. And then his eyes began to glow.

“That isn’t right,” Ralph said. He dropped him to the ground and stepped away.

“Ascended One!” one of the sorcerers yelled out. It did not have the time to scurry off to help the Elf up as Olvir was quick to smash its brain in with his mace. There was a satisfying smirk on Olvir’s face as he pulled the mace from his opponent’s skull.

Elnan was in the middle of having the air snuffed from his lungs. His would be killer turned towards Varis and gasped. Forgetting all about Elnan he ran towards Varis. Ralph let him past and the Lizardman cradled Varis’ head in his arms.

Varis breathed smoke once more. He whispered something; something with words that were indiscernible to Ralph. Elnan was too busy coughing to even make note of what was going on. And Olvir just stared at the scene, blood still dripping from his mace. He couldn’t hear the words, but he had half of a knack for reading lips.

His eyes opened wide. “Ralph! Kill him now!”

The Lizardman nodded. Varis placed his hand on its head and breathed smoke. The smoke twisted, and entered the Lizardman’s thin nostrils. It wheezed, and convulsed, holding back a great pain in its stomach. Ralph approached with hiss blade raised. From the Lizardman’s maw poured forth a massive pillar of smoke, more than enough to engulf the entire platform. “I can’t see!” Ralph roared. Olvir and Elnan coughed furiously. Olvir tried to say something but he couldn’t manage the strength.

And then the smoke was drained away, like a vacuum, into Varis’ mouth. As the smoke cleared all that was left of the Lizardman was a hollowed out shell, with the flesh just hanging off of the bones. The corpse fell to the side. As all of the smoke cleared varies breathed out more smoke…but it wasn’t some formless thing. It twisted and circled around itself faster and faster, higher and higher.

The Dragon-Thing

Furious

And something coherent was forming.

“Ralph!” roared Elnan. “I know you can hear me! Cut that thing down!” He didn’t need to be told twice. The Ironforged approached the column of smoke, keeping sure to put as much weight into his steps as possible. The gust of wind so close to it was enough to send him flying if he was careless enough. He swing with his sword…and it went right through.

“Should have seen that coming,” muttered Olvir.

Dragon-ThingAnd from the smoke arose something else. It was like a dragon, it that it had horns, wings and a scale. But the lower half of its body was all smoke, twirling around itself and pouring forth from Varis’ mouth. Its massive claws cut through the smoke, and then came its head. Its jagged teeth were like shattered glass: not coherent in shape or direction, but most certainly sharp. It was colored a dark purple, much like the smoke that bore it.

And then there was its host, Varis. He had been reduced to a hollow shell of himself. His cheeks had sunk inward, allowing the bones to poke through. His tongue hung out was brittle and white. By all accounts Varis was dead. And the Dragon-Thing that towered before Ralph lived.

Ralph sheathed his remaining blade and grabbed hold of the shining sword that was stuck in his shoulder. “Better be worth it.” He tugged hard, and he heard the sound of metal howling against metal. When the blade was free it glowed so fiercely. It was so very bright.

*****

A blaze of fire was in his eyes. The cry of battle as Glazentorg brought down death to its foes and victory to its master. Always victory. A dozen kings have wielded it, and the only thing it demanded was victory. The weak were worthless to its desire. If the time came it would leave, and the one who wielded the bloody blade for so long would become a whisper of the conqueror they once were. Admits the fire stood a warlord, frayed cape pulled by the wind. He was covered in armor, and not even his face was allowed to be shown. Only his eyes, were seen. And they glowed like a star.

*****

Ralph returned to where he was, standing in front of the Dragon-Thing. Glaezentorg was in his hands. Victory. Give me victory. Ralph stared into the gold eyes of the Dragon-Thing. Its head lunged forward, but Ralph managed to roll out the way. He rushed away from the head, hoping to create some distance. The smog-born monster was not willing to give the pleasure. The neck of the creature stretched and curled, and it followed him. Ralph planted his feet on the ground and waited. When the head was close enough he brought Glaezentorg down. The blade struck through the black flesh of the creature, slicing through the jaw. It screeched and retreated, curling backwards until its head was back at its normal length.

The thing would have lunged forward, but it felt a searing pain in its shoulder. A beam of light burned through its thick leathery skin, until it was devoured by the surrounding smog. It turned, and there was Olvir just having summoned a lance.

“I thought you’d said that would hurt it?”

“Halfling, you think I have any inkling what can hurt that thing?”

The creature roared. Ralph was expecting it to charge at Elnan and Olvir, but it didn’t. Then there was a sound akin to the dripping of slime…and then the beast split into two. Clear down the middle, as if a gigantic blade cleaved it in half. Strings of blood stretched between the two halves. The twin halves looked at their separate targets and lunged.

“Run!” Elnan cried. “Run!” They rushed towards the southern end of the floor, just narrowly avoiding the creature. It carved through the floor, unleashing a cloud of dust and sending debris flying. With a howl it struck off again.

The path was blocked by the other half of the creature, which Ralph was admirably holding his own against. That didn’t fare so well for Elnan and Olvir, though. Olvir pulled back his left sleeve, revealing a dozen different bracelets. He tore one off and threw it onto the ground. “Stand back.” He stomped on it hard, and a satisfying crunch was heard despite all of the chaos. When the creature came upon them it found itself blocked by a once transparent shield. Every strike would unleash golden sparks.

“That should hold him for a while.” Olvir crossed his arms. “But that is dependent on Ralph. He’s got to do something quick, or we are all dead.”

The creature smashed the ground, sending Ralph flying. Fortunately he had a pillar to smash through. A twisted good fortune, as although it certainly prevented him from falling off the tower it did most certainly hurt him. If he was a thing of flesh and bone plenty of both would have been ripped and broken. He just had to contend with the pain. He rose to his feet just in time to fend off the monster. He struck out with Glaezentorg, and a wave of crackling red energy accompanied it. The blade struck into the monster’s half jaw, and it reeled back as it howled. With its arm it struck at Ralph’s side, hoping that the slap would send him flying.

Ralph was not planning on repeating the experience. He lunged out with Glaezentorg and pierced the creature’s palm. The hand reeled back, allowing Ralph to withdraw his weapon. He struck downward this time, carving through the hand. The beast screamed out in pain, and the fingers curled up. Rushed for the hand and swung, cleaving through the arm. The hand slipped off, and blood poured through the exposed flesh.

“And there’s our chance!” Olvir scrambled to the floor and grabbed a handful of dirt. He breathed into it and they began to glow. He waved his left hand and the shield shattered, and with his right middle and index finger he pointed at the half-head of the monster. The golden particles raced off and slammed into it, exploding in a fire of bright colors.

Elnan raced off, rapier in hand. He lunged right into the creature, and he made sure to go in deep. He ripped the rapier out and abundant blood followed.  Steam flowed from the face of the creature, but that didn’t stop it from trying to squish Elnan flat. With him being the quick footed Halfling that he was he was able to avoid the assault. But the creature trailed after him, snarling with dire intent.

By now the Dragon-Thing had learned to fear Glaezentorg. A mere wave was enough to keep the monster at bay. He could delay the confrontation for as long as he pleased, but there was the matter of his comrades. Olvir and Elnan’s talents were not much of a match against their half of the monster. The longer he delayed, the sooner his friends would die.

It would have to be in one stroke. He needed that opportunity.

The monster rushed forward, jaw open wide. That was as good of a chance as he was able to get. He clumsily rolled to the side, and the neck of the beast curled as it prepared to come around for another strike. Ralph leapt against the neck and used the momentum to jump again, this time straight for the approaching monster. He landed right on the face of the creature. He grabbed hold of a string of meat that hung and planted his feet down.

And he brought Glaezentorg down, as hard as he had the strength. The blade went through the hard flesh, and a wave of satisfaction rolled over Ralph. The plunged the blade in again, this time through the Dragon-Thing’s reflective eye. Fire poured forth, and Ralph now was the time to jump off. Drawing Glaezentorg he leapt onto the ground, rolling to minimize any damage. The head fell to the ground, sliding across the ruined floor.

Ralph got to his feet, and the remaining half of the monster stared at him. The golden hue of its eye burned with wrath. With half of a scream it lunged forward, sliding across the ground. It roared.

Just as it would have swallowed him Ralph leapt to the side. Just as quickly he plunged Glaezentorg deep into the neck of the creature. The Dragon-Thing did the rest of the work. The momentum from its attack did not allow it the opportunity to slow down. The beast unraveled in a gory mess.

When it was done Ralph withdrew his blade. It grew with a bright red. Ralph looked down on it and he felt…very satisfied with his work. A sense of accomplishment overwhelmed him. If he had the potential to he would have smiled from ear to ear.

Elnan was flat on his butt, breathing heavily. Olvir just had to contend with rest on his bent knees.

“So,” Elnan said, “does that count as a dragon? Because if so the Ironforged is two for none.”

Ralph pointed towards the distance. “If not, you have an opportunity to even it up. Here comes another!”

14.

Salthuline did not land on the ground. He knew better than to bother with such trifled. In a single motion he grabbed the Draven and the Halfling in two of its claws. The Ironforged raced away, undoubtedly to make some room for a maneuver of some degree. It would not have the opportunity. Just as effortlessly the Ironforged was ensnared.

“I would advise you to not attempt any sort of stab me with that arcane blade of yours, Ironforged. The moment you do so I drop you all.”

“What do you want from us, dragon?” asked the Draven.

“You will meet one of your betters. And then you will be given a proposition.” He flew northwards. Towards Drakkenhall.