"Call of the Dragon, Pt I" Cornell #1
"Call of the Dragon, Pt II" Cornell #2
"Ruins and Hopes"
"Shield Maiden" Cornell #3
"Warrior Eternal" Cornell #4
"Childhood of a Fighter"
"The Pledge" Cornell #5
"The Rock of Discontent"
"A Tale of the Gods"
"The Miracle of Solstice Day" Cornell #6
are you, human?!” the dragon yelled furiously, drawing in breath
to fire a blast through the tunnel.
cursed at the shield, “Turn me visible again, Nev! Now!”
you see what those talons do to the rock?!” the coward cried.
“They’ll splinter the shield – and me!”
be burned in a second if you don’t make us visible!” Cornell shouted,
seconded quickly by Halla and Phindar in the shield.
Cayaborean ran further up the slope of the narrower shaft, knowing fully
well that he could not hope to escape the emperor dragon’s blast. His
bracer’s light revealed far too many signs of diamond in the wall that
hadn’t been there on the party’s trek down – the remains of the
dragon’s first firebreath.
there you are,” the dragon huffed, clearly relieved when it
finally caught sight of the Cayaborean again – relief that turned to
distrustful anger as he realized that Cornell was far away. “Cheater!
Not running again!”
stopped, breathed deeply, rested his wrists for a moment on his knees and
looked back down the tunnel. The emperor had broken open fifty or sixty
yards worth of narrow shaft into a wide passage, and the rest seemed to be
Cornell wondered, the entire shaft seemed to be vibrating a good deal more
than before. The rock wasn’t only flaking off right around the dragon
but also further along the corridor, even as far away as the Cayaborean
was standing. And with every move the emperor made, it got worse.
think,” Phindar said intrigued, “that this tunnel may be
was proven right when the dragon’s stomping feet tore a gap into the
floor beneath them. The emperor didn’t notice, continued barrelling up
the shaft, cursing the swindler of a human who made it run like a young
crouched down, rolling himself into a ball, with the buckler on top.
the ceiling will fall on me!” Nev cried.
second later it did.
rumble of rocks, screams, wrathful bellows and a barbarian’s warcry
shuddered through the wide passage leading to the dragon’s sleeping
cavern. Barandas ignored them as he thundered across the rubble, partially
turned to diamond – that would be very easy to pick up if one had the
time -, into the cavern.
was large, larger than it had seemed with the sleeping emperor inside.
Part of the cavern looked constructed, tell-tale caidwarven pillars carved
from rock in the sides, some beams still intact on the ceiling. Many more
pillars and beams had been inside here once, which were then smashed by
the dragon who wanted a clear place to lay down in. What would have far
more fascinated the wizard at any other time was the pile of gold,
platinum, silver, gemstones that the dragon had been sleeping on. The
fables about an emperor’s hoard were true, after all.
you, Cornell!” Barandas shouted as he smashed his way through the pile,
sent all those precious items flying, as he made his way to the other side
of the cavern.
he stopped, staring in amazed relief at the two giant stone statues that
seemed to be placed there for no reason at all. If one didn’t know that
they hid a door, a careless adventurer might have just ignored them.
feet tall each of the statues was, faintly humanoid, but with long talons
on each of its long, barrel-thick arms. The heads were thick and heavy,
with prolonged snouts that had giant, sharp fangs hanging out from them.
Barandas had no idea whether they were fashioned after any real creatures,
and honestly he didn’t care. He knew there had to be a riddle that would
open the device, make the warriors step aside and allow entrance into the
room beyond. Where was it?
stepped up to the statues, cautiously watching both for any sign of life
leaping into them – and telling them to destroy the lowly wizard in
front of them.
occurred. Unfortunately, neither did any voice from beyond recount the
riddle, as Barandas had hoped.
they look a bit like Thennisgar, you know?” a tiny voice piped behind
whirled about, his eyes widening as he saw the alreu standing on top of a
pile of gold coins. Flink’s large blue eyes took in the surrounding with
complete awe, but they focused on the two statues with a bit of
Who’s that?” Barandas asked testily.
alreu shrugged. “Oh, just a demon I met a few weeks ago.” His face lit
up. “And I killed him! Really, it’s a great story, and my
friends in the shield were –“ Flink stared contritely the other way
out of the cavern from where more noise of destruction and mayhem was
heard. “Shouldn’t I go help them?” he asked timidly.
Barandas answered, turned back to the statues. “There’s got to be a
bloody riddle here someplace!”
mean like the writing over the statues?” Flink asked innocently.
wizard coughed, turned his gaze up – and cursed when he saw that the
blasted little creature was right. Keroullian letters were carved into the
stone, smoothed out by time (and probably the dragon’s wear and tear) so
they were barely recognizable.
but Barandas still could make them out. “Twisted and turned am I,”
he read, “as my alternate eye spies so much, like the krill that –
pardon my dearth of letters – has no arse. Say my name, and the path
shall be opened.”
a krill?” Flink asked, scratching his shock of red hair.
frowned. “It’s a kind of fish in the southern seas, at least by what
don’t have real behinds, do they?”
and turned am I,”
Barandas repeated, ignoring the pesky alreu. “That means it’s a play
on words… A play on words is following. The alternate eye… Hah,
that means ‘me’! The alternate form of the word ‘I’!”
tried to twist his head around to look at his own behind, failing
miserably – and feeling miserable for failing. “If fish have no arse,
then what’s the point of the riddle? That stupid writer of the riddle
needn’t have worried that he doesn’t know enough letters…”
Barandas screamed, happiness suffusing his face. “That’s another pun!
It means that a letter of the word ‘krill’ is wrong! The true
word has no r’s! That means the answer is…” His face fell as he put
the two words together. Once more his eyes took in the giant stone statues
and their uncomfortably lethal appearance. “Uh, Flink, you wouldn’t
happen to know any ventriloquism?”
sighed unhappily, seeing all the hope of reaching the vaunted magical item
(and rescuing Cornell) evaporate. “It means casting your voice so it
seems someone else is speaking,” he grumbled.
of the statues responded in the alreu’s voice, “You mean like this?”
wizard nearly doubled over, stared at first the statue then the diminutive
creature on the pile of rocks. Before Flink could comment on the strange
look on Barandas’ face, the wizard tore out a piece of paper, scribbled
on it with a pencil and thrust it towards the alreu. “Make one of the
statues say this! And don’t you say it yourself, under any
shrugged, took the shred of paper and tried to decipher the hasty words.
Then he snorted, “Well, it doesn’t sound like fun if I say it,
Barandas hollered, “Make one of the statues say it!” And as a
second thought, “That will be fun!”
alreu’s eyes glazed over with the prospect of joy ahead, he took a deep
breath, then the left statue audibly said – in a surprisingly deep voice
– the answer of the riddle.
shiver ran through both the statues, dust spraying off their rocky hides.
A glow awoke in their eyes, green and deadly. Waves seemed to run through
the stone, rippling and leaving live flesh in their wake.
observed with growing excitement. “Now they really look like
Thennisgar! Only smaller and with just two arms!” he exclaimed.
left statue glowered at Barandas menacingly, took a step forward. Its
talons rose, just enough to claw into the wizard – and then the right
statue’s arms slashed out to tear a deep gap into the left one’s side.
The latter turned in bafflement, still stunned when the right one slashed
off an arm at the elbow.
turned to anger, and an instant later both statues tore into one another
with talons and fangs, slicing each other to pieces.
turned back to stone as the life vanished from both sets of glowing eyes.
Rubble fell to the floor, barely identifiable as the statues that had been
them, the opening to the other room was easily seen. Illumination sprang
up from inside, lighting a rectangular space that looked clearly of
dwarven make, including a pedestal with caidwarven runes hammered into its
the pedestal, on a black silk cushion, a small triangular item gleamed in
Barandas grinned. He ran inside, snatched the item from the pedestal,
fetched the other two pieces from his robe – and they too snapped
together easily, magically attracted.
Pharlee’s Appliance of Beastly Control was together once more.
shook dust and rubble from himself, feeling aches pound in every inch of
his body. From the shield, still strapped to his left arm, he heard
Phindar curse as the Decalleigh priest’s magical powers were working
overtime to close all the wounds in the Cayaborean, reviving him back to
rose, irately shaking off the last of the debris, and looked about. The
tunnel hadn’t so much collapsed as it had given way to another cavern
below, one that was big enough to comfortably house both Cornell – and
the emperor dragon, ten yards away from him, fighting madly to get rid of
the rubble that had landed on its scaly hide.
a ton of rock aside with its head, the emperor reared up, yelling in rage,
“You’re destroying my home, human!”
tough breakfast, isn’t it?” Cornell huffed, picking his sword from the
rubble and rushing towards the dragon’s legs. The creature still
hadn’t fully recovered from the shock, so he had a clear option to slice
at the forefoot – and Cornell never ignored any option.
dragon screamed as the magical sword laced through its foot, cleaving open
the skin and spraying a torrent of green goo over the Cayaborean.
leaped over the talons, alongside the dragon’s large body, holding out
his shield so the elfwood’s razor-sharp edge could cut into more of the
still cooked,” Nev commented fatalistically, when Cornell neatly rolled
off the debris-laden ground, came to another stand – and faced the head
of the maddened emperor dragon, very much including the horrid open maw
and its steam of hot, nearly flaming air.
the fight, dragon!” Barandas screamed, holding the magical appliance
tightly in his hands as he ran through the tunnel. There was still furious
noise ahead, still a battle going on.
he had Pharlee’s item! It gave its wielder full control over any beast
in the area, just one – but, by the Tides of Magic, the dragon was
pretty darn big, so there shouldn’t be any choice, right?!
dragon!” He channeled all his magical energy into the item, trying to
fire it up to working speed. Maybe that was all it needed, maybe it needed
a little more power, after decades or centuries of disuse…
off his back, firmly held in both the barbarian’s hands, Gabe barrelled
down the corridor. The noise and dust ahead clouded all his senses, but he
knew that Cornell and the dragon were up front. Finally, bwyell
would eat some dragon flesh, and there would be more honor and glory to
those thoughts weren’t quite at the forefront of the barabarian’s
mind. It wasn’t even his friend at peril that concerned him most. All
that Gabe’s mind conjured up were visions of his elven wife Caeryl, back
home in Robhovard, surrounded by the tribes of the savages – Ryelneyd,
Araysal, Weyshick, Mantrac, Ymarg -, her petite face distorted in fear,
her father Toriel and brother Le’hare with their bows strung tight,
arrows notched. And Gabe appearing out of nowhere, accompanied by an army
that would waste the tribes, free his wife and family, free them to live
in peace. He saw images of himself, back as a simple farmer, plowing his
land, and teaching his children – his children – how to live
properly, and tell tales of his exploits in the world.
first, there was the dragon to contend with.
thrashing had carved a new cavern out of the rock. He stopped for a brief
moment at the lip of the fresh abyss, staring down, fighting to get an
overview. On the far side he saw Cornell, attacking and slashing. On the
near side, all he saw was a mass of dragon, the coils of its tail winding
and unwinding constantly in pure rage, shaking free new debris from the
freshly formed walls.
smile covered Gabe’s bearded chin.
held in both arms, leading the plunge, he jumped onto the coils, smashed
the axe into the scaled hide, and took pleasure in the scream issuing up
had no footing, could only hope to keep moving to stay on the dragon, but
instinct took over and balanced Gabe just enough to keep running along the
widening tail, bwyell flung left and right, chipping off pieces of
dragon scale to fly into the dusty air.
screams came from the head of the dragon. Gabe barely noticed the fanged
jaws raising into the air, turning, come screaming towards him. He flung
himself against the body of the dragon, sharp scales biting through the
furs he wore – the head in vain shooting past him. But bwyell
twisted in his hands, almost as if a creature in its own right, slamming
its sharp blade deep into the throat of the emperor dragon.
blood spewed, covered Gabe’s eyes.
barbarian needed no eyes, a tiny part of his mind decided, and pushed bwyell
deeper into the gap the axe had opened. The head still had impetus, flew
past – and carried the barbarian with it. More blood fell, the dragon
shook its head in agony, trying to shake off the tiny speck of a human
clinging to it.
a chance, Gabe’s
instincts screamed. Perhaps his voice did so as well, the barbarian had no
way of knowing. All he knew was that he had to hold tight, that bwyell
needed to go deeper in. Somehow he found new footing – perhaps on the
walls of the cave -, enough to give him a push to dive into the dragon’s
throat, bwyell’s sharp edge cutting tendons, blood vessels, and
felt little of it, by now completely ensconced in the dragon’s own
flesh. All he thought of was pushing bwyell deeper in, deeper in, deeper!
an eternity he slowly came to realize that the thrashing had ended.
that his mouth was filling with dragon blood.
terror grasped him, and with renewed fury he hewed his axe about him,
making bwyell carve a way out of the dragon meat. It seemed to take
at least as long as his initial fight had, but finally – by Keshmire!
– his head broke free and breathed air, clean, fresh air that
barbarian fought a little more, tore his body free of the emperor
dragon’s throat – and only now he truly realized that the beast was
dead. No movement in the majestic body, none in the head, none anywhere!
raised a warcry in triumph, planting his foot across the slaughtered
dragon’s hide. “Honor and glory!” he yelled. “They are mine!”
sad and wasted voice answered from the lip of the cavern, “But not
looked up, saw Barandas the wizard sitting on the edge, his legs dangling
over, a gleaming golden object in his hand – and tears in his eyes.
told him to look the other way, towards where he had last seen Cornell.
what Gabe saw was a body sprawled across the rock, the chest ripped apart
by a dragon’s claw. Blood had already stopped to flow, drenched as it
had the corpse, its clothes and the stony ground around.
elfwood shield was still strapped to the dead man’s arm, and if one
strained one’s ears, one could hear sobbing issuing from it.
fell from Gabe’s hands. The barbarian felt tears of his own well up in
his eyes, as he slowly sank to his knees, staring at the body in the cave.
friend,” he whispered, then threw back his head and cried, “Coooor-nelllll!”
Cayaborean,” Barandas muttered under tears. “Why do I keep doing this
to you? You bloody, despicably honest idiot, you’re the only friend I
have, and this is the blasted second time you died – because of me!”
corner of his mind became aware of a diminutive figure standing next to
him, and anger washed over him. “Get out of my way, Flink,” he
across the cave, standing next to the dragon’s carcass, Flink raised his
eyebrows and waved merrily. “I’m over here, master wizard! I’m not
in your way, surely I’m not!”
words barely breached Barandas’ grief – just enough to tell him that
the diminutive figure couldn’t possibly be the alreu. And that left
nobody in their party, which –
shot from his dangling seat, pulled a dagger from his robe and faced… a
female songdwarf, clad in the finest of silk that moved with every breath
the venerable woman took. She bore no weapons, only a harp slung over her
name is A’alsys,” she said softly. “You have summoned me.”
didn’t,” Barandas disagreed, clutching Pharlee’s appliance in his
amhran acharadh smiled, her face so beautiful it touched even the
wizard’s soul. “Yes, you did. When you forced your magic into the
appliance. It wasn’t made by this Pharlee you are thinking of, it is
even more ancient than that evil brastok. He only carved his runes into
the sides, believing he might twist its force to his liking.” She shook
her head. “How foolish you simple mortals are, to be swayed by
the appliance is worthless,” Barandas snarled. He glanced at the golden
item in his hand, cursed, and cast it down the cavern. A small cloud of
dust was raised, settled on the pyramid, covered it so perfectly that no
casual glance would ever reveal it.
amhran sighed. “Oh, how short-sighted you are as well.” She turned
away from the wizard, looked down into the cavern. Gabe and Flink were
kneeling by the side of Cornell. The barbarian closed the Cayaborean’s
eyes, tried to cover the gaping wound with the shreds of Cornell’s
shirt, while Flink was scampering up and down as if he couldn’t believe
that his friend was truly dead.
scowled. “Dead hero, you mean. By the gods, I wish I still had the
raised an exquisite eyebrow. “You care for the fallen?”
for him,” the wizard answered. “He’s my friend.”
dwarf graced him with a smile of such allure it nearly stopped the
wizard’s heart. (And brought a sense of fear to his mind that now he was
starting to get interested in a female dwarf!) “Then you have a
better sense of reality than I thought. For Cornell of Cayaboré is
important in history, far more than you simpletons might understand.”
furrowed his brow. “Excuse me, A’alsys, but he’s dead. How could he
ever be important?”
smiled, gestured with her hand and…
Barandas found himself standing on the ground of the cave, next to Gabe
and Flink. The dead dragon was lying belly-up before them – hadn’t it
been the other way around a moment earlier? The wizard blinked, tried to
clear the mist from his head, then realized that the amhran acharadh was
was smiling at him and the others, gracefully, elegant. “The man who
gave his life to save you is needed. It is for his sake that the magical
appliances were spread around the world. If it weren’t for Kristo
Pharlee and the dragon, all the tests and examinations would have been in
place to ensure that only the right person could pass them.” She sighed.
“You ought to thank all the gods of our world that Cornell was still
brought here, for it is the Cayaborean who is needed at the end of
“What do you mean by that?” Flink cried. “I mean, time is eternal, that’s what my mother always said. I think so, at least. Die Zeit steht nie still, Junge, also werde endlich erwachsen, that’s what she kept telling me!“
end of time is near,” the amhran nodded. “You will know when it is
upon you. By that time, Cornell will be needed to right the wrongs, and to
ensure that Gushémal may continue. It hinges on him whether the world may
live, or whether it will fall. And for that he needs to be alive.”
dead,” Gabe said coldly. “I don’t care about what you say, but
it’s for naught if you cannot bring him back now.”
grinned joyously. “Oh, you’re a feisty one, little barbarian. I like
you.” Her grin evaporated in a moment, replaced by dire earnesty. “I
have the power to retrieve him from the land of the dead once. I will do
so under one circumstance, one circumstance alone.
of you in attendance here will have to swear an oath. An oath that Cornell
will be alive at the end of time. No matter what travails you have
to undergo, no matter what foes stand against you, Cornell of Cayaboré
shall live. Do you understand? Do you swear to this?”
grinned, shook his mane of hair. “By Keshmire, if it gets Cornell back
now, I’ll happily swear.”
too!” Flink cried. “Oh, I really wouldn’t like to see the sir stay
dead, you know?”
the shield, Halla gravely asserted, “All I can do, to ensure that the
shield bearer remains alive. For the task of rescuing the world, for my
gratitude to he who freed me from the holnesh.”
added, “He’s a good one, you’ve got that right, madam. And
healing’s my devotion, anyway, so here goes my oath. Nev?”
coward in the shield stayed silent for a moment, then muttered, “Do you
have any idea what kind of trouble this is calling for?”
Halla, Phindar and Gabe said heavily.
by the gods! All right, I’ll swear, fine, now satisfied?”
paid any further attention to Nev but their heads craned towards Barandas
who was scowling at the songdwarf, not at all convinced that he should
bind his soul to an oath this powerful.
before any could reproach the wizard, a fourth voice issued from the
shield, sweet, petite, saying, “By my home, I swear that the hero
Cornell of Cayaboré shall be protected.”
nodded in satisfaction, nodded at Barandas. “Your word is missing,
wizard. You do understand that the end of time means your end as
wizard folded his arms before his chest. Sweat was trickling down his
back, it took all his effort to maintain a calm façade. Finally it broke
down, and he shouted, “Fine! Fine! I’m swearing!”
A’alsys said – and suddenly everyone in attendance felt a twang
in their very souls, as if a tie was knotted that would bind them to the
oath more fervently than any other could. “Cornell must never know about
this oath. Remember it, for otherwise you will sever the pact. Now for the
hero’s return,” she said and waved her hands gracefully about.
flickered in the air, sparkling first around only the amhran acharadh who
was singing a tiny tune that seemed to infuriate the light. Sparkles
sprang to the carcass of the dragon, clove its chest with a sound so easy
that it was sickening. Green gore spilled out, the innards of the creature
reached out with her hand, balled it into a fist, slowly drew it back –
and from the dragon’s body the heart ripped out, hovered in mid-air.
party gasped, seeing the gargantuan heart free of fleshly surroundings.
Another gasp soon followed when the heart began to pump anew, contract and
is for the fallen warrior, to replace his destroyed heart,” the
songdwarf said calmly and tightened her fist. The heart, in response,
shrunk, never seizing its pounding, never shrinking in the force it
displayed. After a brief moment it was as small as a human heart – not
that any could have mistaken the green object for anything human.
turned around towards Cornell. The heart followed her hands’ movement,
hovering over the Cayaborean’s ruined chest. Slowly it dropped,
squeezing into the body. With a sucking, disgusting sound, guts flew from
the chest, replaced by the dragon’s innards as they sank into the chest.
The party saw how blood vessels, how the body closed around the dragon’s
heart, how it incorporated the foreign component – and became whole once
was an ancient dragon,” A’alsys commented, “but its heart will power
this small body more than any human heart has ever done before. Behold the
one you have all sworn fealty to, the one to whom your oath belongs,
behold Cornell the Dragon-Hearted!”
wanted to curse at the pain ravaging his body, but his mouth was too dry.
He’d just been fighting the dragon, there had been the talons clawing
towards him – but now he actually felt rather good. Pretty strong, all
enough to take on the world,
he thought and flung open his eyes, grasped automatically for his sword to
continue the fight.
seemed rather unnecessary when he saw around him all his friends, looking
in consternation – and not a small bit of relief – at him. Beyond he
saw the dragon, who was quite dead and not appearing to be much of a
danger to anyone.
I miss something?” he wondered. Flink – always the first to seize the
opportunity to talk – quickly opened his mouth, ready to spout something
– but was silenced by a ghostly voice that wafted through the cavern, “Remember
wasn’t sure if he really heard that – somehow his mind was still quite
fuzzy, displaying strange images of a peaceful place that felt very much
beyond -, but there was Gabe’s hand shooting out from the barbarian’s
side and clasping firmly over the alreu’s mouth. “Oh, not much,” the
barbarian said nonchalantly. “I killed the dragon, and the… uh,
Phindar healed your wounds. You were unconscious for a while there.”
seconded from the shield on his arm, “We were worried about you, but now
you’re back, and all is going to be fine.”
Cornell asked, testing his muscles. Was he wrong, or did they seem to be
quite a bit stronger than they had seemed before? Why, there was a kind of
power coursing through him that he had never before experienced.
just the adrenaline, he
assured himself. After all, this was the first time he had gone up against
an emperor dragon – and survived!
blinked, wiped his bloodied brow. (Bloodied? Oh, the wounds that
Phindar had healed. Right.) and rose slowly. “Well,” he said,
“if the dragon’s dead, then… Is there a hoard or something in
bit ferociously on the barbarian’s hand. Gabe yelped, withdrew his
fingers in shock, allowing the alreu the time to yell, “Oh, boy, sir, is
there a hoard! It’s marvelous! All that gold, and those jewels, they are
magnificent. You really have to take a look at them, they are so
pretty good,” Cornell assented, wondering why none of his avaricious
friends – that is, Gabe and Barandas – seemed as taken with the
thought as he or Flink. “Why don’t we see how much of it we can load
onto our horses?”
right,” Barandas nodded slowly. “The loot.”
loot,” Gabe repeated, carefully mouthing each syllable, then brightening
into a smile. “The loot! Hey, wizard, do you have a bag of
infinite holding, or something like that under your robes?”
thought you wanted to kill me?” Barandas asked.
barbarian shrugged. “Answer me first, all right?”
two went on bickering for a while. Flink came to Cornell, aided him to get
up and steady himself. From the shield, Halla asked, “How do you feel,
good,” he reassured her. “Good enough that I don’t want those two
fools stealing my part of the valuables. Come along, Flink, let’s see
that we get our share before they’ve finished discussing the matter.”
certainly, sir!” Flink cried. “You know, I’d like to keep some
pieces of the statues that killed each other in the cavern. I made
them do that, you know? Don’t listen to Master Wizard if he says
otherwise, it was me! Really, honestly!”
Cornell said and began to climb over the dragon’s carcass.
life was starting to look really good. Well, a good bit better than it had
yesterday. All he had to do was convince his idiot friends to accompany
him to Cayaboré – without any more silly detours. Then he could deliver
the dragon rod from Chazevo, broken as it was, and maybe, finally he could
get some quality time with his family. Not to mention Tempest, his horse
dragon who was surely making life a hell for everyone who tried to ride
her with her master far abroad.
smiled when he imagined the looks on his friends’ faces when they would
find out just who he was back home.
know,” Flink was saying, “my knapsack is a tad magical, too. Maybe we
could put some of the gold in there, and when you need it, I’ll just
pull it out for you, sir. You really deserve a lot of the goods,
you know, sir?”
Flink,” Cornell nodded.
life seemed pretty darn good right now.
T H E E N D