Marc H. Wyman & Chris Bogues
Section 1 / Section 2 / Section 3
can’t see anything!” Flink complained.
darkness surrounded the party. Not the tiniest beam of light pierced the
large pretend-boulder before the mouth of the cave. Sounds issued from far
away, along what might be a maze of tunnels – small sounds, like rats
chuckled while making some noise of his own, rummaging in the many pockets
of his robe.
to it,” Cornell muttered.
to what?” Gabe asked, doing some rummaging of his own. “I have a
firelighter here somewhere… Keshmire, I should have thought of it
wizard let go a cheer for himself – then a ray of light cut through the
darkness, emanating from a slim, exquisite bracer on Barandas’ left
hand. “Forget about your firelighter, barbarian,” he scoffed. “This
is better. Cornell, I have one for you, as well.” With a triumphant
gesture he threw an identical bracer to the Cayaborean. Deftly, Cornell
caught it and slipped it onto his hand. Instantaneously another beam lit
at the top of the bracer, shaped like a fountain well. “Barandas the
Magnificent delivers once again.”
beautiful!” the alreu exclaimed, dancing around Cornell’s hand to get
the best of views of the bracer. “Can I have one like that, can I?”
is enough, I’d say,” Cornell nodded heavily and slowly waved the
bracer’s light about to see where they were.
his and Barandas’ light revealed was a simple cave, devoid of any moss
or lichen that one commonly might expect – after all, no sunlight ever
reached this place -, crassly cut walls that gave way to three dark
openings in the back of the cave.
scampered around as far as the light reached, quickly took in all he could
see, then he sighed and folded his arms before his chest. “Well, it’s
still boring! Weren’t there supposed to be some monsters?”
a magically protected door?” Cornell asked, raising an eyebrow at
wizard was unfazed. He stuck one hand into his pocket again, turned a bit
to the left, then the right, and finally he pointed towards one of the
openings, small and ragged-edged. “That one ought to get us to the
let’s get going!” Gabe exclaimed, bowed slightly forward to avoid
smashing his head into the low ceiling and started for the tunnel.
bracers revealed a sharply twisting corridor, the walls dark with deposits
of coal. A sharp smell of mould wafting through it. Things had rotted in
here. Maybe hapless tomb raiders who weren’t able to penetrate the
second line of defense, the door with the petrification spell on it, and
then hadn’t found their way out.
rather unpleasant thought which Cornell quickly banished to the furthest
edges of his mind.
their light lost itself in a giant opening in the left side of the
corridor, shining into a wide tunnel gaping into the corridor they were
traveling in. Its walls looked very smooth, glittering faintly in the
that looks like diamonds!” Flink exclaimed, rushing forward to examine
the walls closely.
eyes widened. “Diamonds?” Only one step behind the alreu, the
barbarian took his own turn of inspection – and sighed after a moment.
“The entire wall is made of diamond! Or something like it, anyway,” he
shouted exasperatedly. “How am I supposed to get it loose?!”
Gabe, this is beautiful,” Flink said, running his hand along the smooth
wall. Some grooves were torn into the surface, deep and sharp – sharp
enough for the alreu to suddenly yelp and retract his bloodied hand. He
sucked on the wound, then forgot about the pain to look at the grooves
more intently. Helpfully Cornell shined his bracer in the alreu’s
direction. “Oh, sirs, this is intriguing! This looks like talon marks!
There might be monsters here after all! Wonderful!”
Cornell echoed with his lips tightening. “Barandas?”
wizard shrugged, a frown implanted on his forehead. “I haven’t heard
about any creatures down here. The innkeeper only mentioned the wizard’s
the Cayaborean asked with sudden interest. “Hadn’t you bought the map
from a merchant?”
that point Flink had suddenly lost interest in the apparent diamond walls
and ran down their own tunnel – which widened quite a bit from this
point onward –, vanishing from the sharp beam of the bracers. Cornell
cursed, swung his arm around and followed the alreu. A minute later he had
caught up with the fast little creature, the bracer illuminating a pile of
broken, strangely gray wood that Flink was kneeling over, cautiously
touching pieces of it.
know,” he commented, not at all noticing Cornell’s run after him,
“this is stone. I would have said it’s wood, and it looks like
there’s once been a door here, but it really is rock. Wow, sir, do you
suppose someone took the time to carve stone to look like a wooden door?
Goodness, that’s terrific!”
shiver ran down the Cayaborean’s spine. This had been the second line of
defense Barandas had mentioned. And now it was broken apart, smashed, and
the petrification spell had turned the remains of the door into stone.
Something powerful must have blasted the door, powerful enough to
withstand any of the magical protection.
it was, it might still be down here.
a tiny moment Cornell wished that the dragon rod in his saddlebag was
still working. With the lightning-spewing weapon on his arm, he would have
felt a little safer.
the other hand, he fought to reassure himself, he had a magical sword and
shield. With the powers inherent in the buckler, created by the three
souls encased in the elfwood, he shouldn’t have to worry.
the barbarian’s voice shattered his line of thoughts as Gabe stomped
down the corridor and pounced on a small heap of glittering metal. Quickly
he wiped off dust, then Gabe’s hands closed around a few baubles, two
figurines and a necklace.
equal excitement Flink cried joyously, rushed to the barbarian’s side to
inspect the baubles as well – though his eagerness had more to do with
sheer joy at seeing something new than Gabe’s internal counting of
it!” Cornell shouted. “There’s still something dangerous down
the shield Phindar commented interestedly, “That looks like figurines of
a Tonomai saint, y’know? The maiden that accompanied the One God during
his journey on the world; if it’s the work of a master, it could fetch a
nice sum of gold torkyn on the market.”
you tell what it’s worth?” Gabe asked, holding one of the figurines
toward the shield.
tore the buckler away from the figurine, cried, “Will you finally
stop this? All of you?!”
the Cayaborean found himself exposed to several sets of disappointed
glances (at least one – Phindar’s – imagined), Barandas had
continued to explore the tunnel beyond the broken door. The rocky corridor
took a slight turn, drifting a bit downward and to the right. The wizard
followed it carefully, shining his bracer’s light over every crevace,
just in case he missed something important (valuable or dangerous, both
were of equal interest). Then he paused for a moment as the tunnel took a
sharp turn to the left, opening into a considerably larger cavern.
frowned, leaned against the wall and peered carefully around the edge.
was by this time that Cornell had managed to dissuade his comrades from
searching every part of the corridor for more valuables and focused his
light down the corridor. Just in time, as it turned out, to see Barandas
duck quickly back from the opening, slam his back against the tunnel’s
wall and stare pale-faced back at the party.
tides of magic,” he whispered, continuing slowly and urgently, “Folks,
I think I know what destroyed the door. Just be quiet!”
walked up to the wizard, leaned into the opening – ignoring Barandas’
warning gestures -, and saw that the wizard had a point.
cavern beyond was indeed very large. It had to be, considering the tons of
green-scaled flesh that were rolled up in its center, a majestic and
frightening head resting fast asleep on top of the coils, hot, damp air
breathing out the nose slits on top of a very, very large maw with
three-foot-long incisors raking over the lips.
old one, to boot.
cooked!” cowardly Nev muttered in the buckler.
once Cornell couldn’t disagree with him.
get out of here,” Cornell whispered to his friends, grasping Flink by
the shoulders. The alreu had just been about to scamper through the
Cayaborean’s legs to rush into the cavern; now he had to make do with
staring open-jawed at the giant dragon, mewing, “Ooooooooohhhhhh…”
shook his head, unhappily weighing bwyell in one hand, one of the
gold figurines in the other. “Emperor dragons have hoards, don’t
aren’t much good,” Halla Valfrey said softly from the buckler on
Cornell’s arm, “if you have been fried and eaten.”
taken,” the barbarian assented and growled deep in his throat. “So
much for your treasure, wizard.”
had recovered enough from his shock to peer around the edge of the tunnel
again, one hand in his pocket. “It’s still there, just where it’s
supposed to be. I can sense it.”
you?” Cornell wondered, eyebrow raised – then in lightning motion his
hand raced out to snatch the wizard’s fingers from his pocket. Along
with the fingers, a gleaming, glittering object appeared that looked like
the base of a pyramid, the top piece missing. “Well?” Cornell asked,
clenching down on the wizard’s wrist. “You knew exactly what you were
after, didn’t you? Not just some generic treasure, right?”
what if that were true?”
question caught Cornell by surprise. Actually, it didn’t seem to change
the situation much, now did it? After all, Barandas surely hadn’t known
about the emperor dragon. The wizard was many things – a thief, a
lecher, a pain in the neck -, but he always looked out for his own safety.
Which was seriously compromised by the presence of said dragon.
then the charade? Why not say it straight?
evil, is that it?” The question was a shot in the dark, hoping to shake
Barandas into a credible answer.
answer he got. Sort of. “That is debatable,” Barandas shrugged.
“Just because the Appliance of Beastly Control was created by Krysto
Pharlee before he became a brastok doesn’t mean it has to be
Cornell repeated, working hard to keep his voice low. “The necromancer
king of Rek’atrednu? Are you out of your mind? Everything the undead
creature touches becomes evil – he murdered thousands of Cayaboreans
Barandas sighed. “That’s why I didn’t tell you. You’re always so
cough issued from the shield, followed by Halla’s quizzical voice,
“Forgive me for asking, but in my day there was a Krysto Pharlee at the
court of my homeland, Keroull. He was the king’s head wizard, my – a
well-respected man.” For the first time that Cornell had carried the
shield, Halla’s voice was shaking, well suppressed but still
discernible. “It couldn’t possibly be the same man, of course?”
Cornell whispered. “The land that was taken over by the undead seventy
said, “Led by that Pharlee wizard, as I recall from my studies at the
temple. And he used to be the head wizard, for a couple of decades before
he made himself king. Halla, I’m afraid that the person you knew is now
sitting on the throne of what was your homeland, ruling over all kinds of
understand,” Halla said, her words underlaced with pain.
growling yawn interrupted them, the temperature in the tunnel shooting up
a few degrees. Every head swiveled around, except for Flink’s who was
still watching the dragon. “Goodness gracious, sirs, look at those
teeth! They are even bigger than the holnesh’s! Why, Gabe, they are
taller than you are!”
mighty head of the dragon slowly raised from the coils of its tail.
Taloned forefeet slowly rose to its eyes, rubbed them much like a human
would after waking up. The creature yawned again, hot air escaping from
its gaping maw, then it blinked, the head swiveling towards the entrance
of the cavern. “Breakfast time!” the dragon announced gladly, its
words uncomfortably easy to understand, considering the strange maw. “I
so love good food. Mmmh, humans are tasty…”
an alreu!” Flink yelled indignantly.
cry broke the stunned silence of the party. Both Cornell and Gabe
instantaneously reached out for Flink, grabbed his tiny body, then they
ran with fast steps back up the tunnel – several steps behind Barandas.
dragon yawned once more, stretched its mighty body. The coils of its long
tail unfurled, its end slapping several times against the walls of the
cavern with enough force to shake debris loose from the ceiling. “Not
again!” it complained peevishly, “I don’t like running. You
will so pay for this!”
fireblast shot through the tunnel with a sickening sound. Darkness was
burned out by flames that rushed into every crevice, lighting the coal in
the walls with incredible heat, cracking it. For an entire minute, flames
ruled the tunnel, before they finally sputtered out. The walls gleamed in
the afterglow, their rough, dark surface turned to a much harder
substance. If polished it would sparkle like diamond.
hu-mans!” the dragon’s voice echoed merrily. “Are you still
answer!” Gabe and
Cornell simultaneously advised the alreu who had just opened his mouth.
had barely made it to the opening of the second tunnel, clambered inside
the diamond walls and hung on for dear life to the grooves in the walls.
Grooves that had been cut by the dragon’s claws, so sharp they could
pierce diamond. None dared wonder what those talons could do to human
flesh. Or alreu flesh, for that matter.
sounds came from further down the corridor. The dragon was coming.
craned his head to stare up the second tunnel, carefully angling his
bracer to illuminate it. The shaft went up at a sixty degree angle, its
walls as clear diamond as they were at the mouth. There were more grooves
along the way, sharp-edged. (Which brought Cornell to remember the pain in
his fingers that were clamped around two of those edges. If the claws of
the dragon hadn’t roughed up the edges, they would have simply cut
through the Cayaborean’s fingers.) “We might get up through here.”
you mad?” Barandas cried back, hanging four feet above Cornell’s head.
“That climb’ll slice us into pieces! Besides, the dragon’s gonna
blast us in here like moths!”
wizard was right. It would take too long to clamber up the shaft, giving
the emperor dragon more than enough time to stomp to the second tunnel’s
mouth and breathe his blast inside.
someone gave the dragon something to play with.
off strips of your clothes and wrap them around your hands, then climb out
of here,” Cornell calmly told his friends.
right beside Cornell, growled, “What about the dragon?”
keep him busy,” the Cayaborean said and let go of the grooves.
ground burned under his feet as Cornell landed in the lower tunnel. Hot
air assailed his lungs, flamed into them. He steadied himself with the
shield, pushing against the wall. The souls in the elfwood screamed in
pain, but down the tunnel…
breakfast!” the dragon shouted, pushing its wide body torturously
through the passage. Rock flaked off the ceiling, sprayed over its thick,
green hide, painting it a dusty gray. “I thought… you… were
burned…” it yelled, laboring over every word.
that a very old
dragon, Cornell re-adjusted his appraisement of the creature. “And
would you have anything to eat then?” he hollered back.
dragon stopped, huffed a squirt of fire that blew more arid air at
Cornell. “Never… thought… about that…”
me, and you’ll go hungry again!”
dragon blinked. “I need food!”
try to catch me!”
turned and ran along the tunnel, into the smaller shaft. In his mind he
already felt the quick, murderous blast of fire washing over him, turning
him into a crisp.
dragon didn’t move for a moment. It raised one paw to scratch its chin,
then shook its head furiously. “I’m hungry,” it decided and started
stomping again. The small passage ahead was too narrow for its girth –
but when the dragon barrelled into the rock, the stone gave and burst
apart under the assault.
they going to die?” Flink asked, clambering from one groove to the next
easily. “Cornell, Halla, Phindar, Nev, Ana?”
Barandas snorted, fully concentrated on reaching the next fissure.
the alreu, laboring the hardest, was the large barbarian, his face red
from the effort. “Cornell’s giving… his life for us!” he squeezed
between clenched teeth.
wasn’t much of a life anyway,” Barandas muttered angrily.
stopped in his climb, breathed deeply and looked up the slope towards the
light emanating from the wizard’s bracer. His face was as hard as the
diamond around them as he said, “For those words you will die,
I didn’t know you cared,” Barandas shot back. “Cornell’s been my
friend for a good while longer than he’s known you, savage! He’s happy
dying for us, believe me!”
will cut off your limbs one at a time,” Gabe promised.
brought us here!”
had stopped their climb by now, the two humans shouting at each other
while Flink craned his head first downward, then upward to watch both of
them, while tears were welling up in his eyes. “Sirs!” he cried
desperately. “Master wizard, please, can’t you help my friends,
please? You’re magnificent, so please, use your magical powers!”
added dangerously, “Yes, wizard, do that!”
an emperor dragon?!” Barandas snarled and suddenly he was scampering up
the wall at renewed speed. His mind was empty, pain hollowing it into a
giant cave. Despite his words, he wished there was some way he could help
Cornell. The Cayaborean was his friend, and if it had made any
sense, Barandas might give his life to save Cornell’s. He’d proven
that in Chazevo, hadn’t he? But against an emperor dragon? With the
miserable reservoir of spells he had? Ludicrous!
didn’t even have any appliances left in his pockets that might help.
Four of the pieces he’d taken from Tangrain’s mansion in Chazevo had
turned out utterly useless, at least as far as he’d found out; only the
Keroullian item made sense. And the gauntlet of resurrection? Not that it
would have helped much against the dragon, but he didn’t even have that
one left. He had resolved to wear it constantly, thinking that this would
put everyone else in awe of his wizardly power – not to mention that it
couldn’t be stolen from him. Well, he’d forgotten the need to sleep.
all he had were the Keroullian appliances – which didn’t work without
the third piece that was in the chamber behind the dragon’s sleeping
cavern that was now empty.
combined appliances that gave control over beasts to the wizard wielding
hate you, Cornell!” Barandas yelled – then started climbing down,
crying furiously, “Don’t kill me, savage, let the bloody dragon take
care of that!”
scrambled out of the wizard’s way at the very last moment, staring
baffled after him. “Does that mean Barandas is giving his life for us as
be damned if I let myself be upstaged by a wizard,” Gabe muttered,
staring down the gaping hole below where the single dart of light was
dancing through the darkness. “Flink, get out of here!” The barbarian
tried to recall how straight the shaft was, could he run down? Without the
light there was little chance of finding the right crevices quickly
he decided, let go of the grooves and started running/falling down. “For
honor and gloryyyyyyyy!”
alreu hung onto the wall, sulking. “Yes, right, Gabe, have all the fun
yourself.” Actually Flink was rather good at sulking – but there was a
dragon down there!
instant later he was on his way to join his friends.