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Home Index of Cornell: The Resurrected Hero

Home Index of Tales of Strange Adventures

"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

 


Cornell: The Pledge

  by Marc H. Wyman & Chris Bogues

  Section 1 / Section 2 / Section 3

“Where are you, human?!” the dragon yelled furiously, drawing in breath to fire a blast through the tunnel.

Cornell cursed at the shield, “Turn me visible again, Nev! Now!”

“Did you see what those talons do to the rock?!” the coward cried. “They’ll splinter the shield – and me!”

“You’ll be burned in a second if you don’t make us visible!” Cornell shouted, seconded quickly by Halla and Phindar in the shield.

The 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.

“Ahhh, 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!”

Cornell 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 little trouble.

Although, 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.

“I think,” Phindar said intrigued, “that this tunnel may be collapsing.”

He 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 pup.

Cornell crouched down, rolling himself into a ball, with the buckler on top.

“Hey, the ceiling will fall on me!” Nev cried.

A second later it did.

 

 

The 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.

It 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.

“Damn 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.

There 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.

Eight 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?

He 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.

None occurred. Unfortunately, neither did any voice from beyond recount the riddle, as Barandas had hoped.

“Wow, they look a bit like Thennisgar, you know?” a tiny voice piped behind him.

Barandas 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 recognition.

“Thennisgar? Who’s that?” Barandas asked testily.

The 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.

“Whatever,” Barandas answered, turned back to the statues. “There’s got to be a bloody riddle here someplace!”

“You mean like the writing over the statues?” Flink asked innocently.

The 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.

Barely, 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.”

“What’s a krill?” Flink asked, scratching his shock of red hair.

Barandas frowned. “It’s a kind of fish in the southern seas, at least by what I’ve heard.”

“Fish don’t have real behinds, do they?”

“Twisted 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’!”

Flink 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…”

“No,” 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?”

“Ventri- what?”

Barandas 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.

One of the statues responded in the alreu’s voice, “You mean like this?”

The 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 circumstances!”

Flink 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, you know?”

Exasperatedly Barandas hollered, “Make one of the statues say it!” And as a second thought, “That will be fun!”

The 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.

“Kill. Me.”

A 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.

Flink observed with growing excitement. “Now they really look like Thennisgar! Only smaller and with just two arms!” he exclaimed.

The 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.

Bafflement turned to anger, and an instant later both statues tore into one another with talons and fangs, slicing each other to pieces.

And 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 before.

Behind 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 sides.

On the pedestal, on a black silk cushion, a small triangular item gleamed in golden sheen.

“Hah!” 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.

Kristo Pharlee’s Appliance of Beastly Control was together once more.

 

 

Cornell 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 fighting strength.

He 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.

Flinging a ton of rock aside with its head, the emperor reared up, yelling in rage, “You’re destroying my home, human!”

“Pretty 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.

The dragon screamed as the magical sword laced through its foot, cleaving open the skin and spraying a torrent of green goo over the Cayaborean.

Cornell 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 body.

“We’re 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.

 

 

“Stop 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.

But 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?!

“Bloody 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…

“Stop the fight!”

 

 

Bwyell 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 Gabe’s name!

Honestly, 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.

But first, there was the dragon to contend with.

Its 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.

A smile covered Gabe’s bearded chin.

Bwyell 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 front.

He 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.

More 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.

Green blood spewed, covered Gabe’s eyes.

A 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.

Not 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 spine.

The emperor thrashed.

Gabe 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!

After an eternity he slowly came to realize that the thrashing had ended.

And that his mouth was filling with dragon blood.

Finally 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 invigorated him.

The 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!

Gabe raised a warcry in triumph, planting his foot across the slaughtered dragon’s hide. “Honor and glory!” he yelled. “They are mine!”

A sad and wasted voice answered from the lip of the cavern, “But not Cornell’s.”

Gabe 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.

Instinct told him to look the other way, towards where he had last seen Cornell.

And 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.

The 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.

Bwyell 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.

“My friend,” he whispered, then threw back his head and cried, “Coooor-nelllll!”

 

 

“Bloody 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!”

A 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 muttered.

From 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!”

The 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 –

Barandas 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 back.

“My name is A’alsys,” she said softly. “You have summoned me.”

“I didn’t,” Barandas disagreed, clutching Pharlee’s appliance in his left hand.

The 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 short-sighted greed.”

“So 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.

The 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.

“Hero,” she whispered.

Barandas scowled. “Dead hero, you mean. By the gods, I wish I still had the gauntlet!”

A’alsys raised an exquisite eyebrow. “You care for the fallen?”

“Only for him,” the wizard answered. “He’s my friend.”

The 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.”

Barandas furrowed his brow. “Excuse me, A’alsys, but he’s dead. How could he ever be important?”

She 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 still there.

A’alsys 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 time.”

“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!“

“The 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.”

“He’s dead,” Gabe said coldly. “I don’t care about what you say, but it’s for naught if you cannot bring him back now.”

A’alsys 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.

“Each 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?”

Gabe grinned, shook his mane of hair. “By Keshmire, if it gets Cornell back now, I’ll happily swear.”

“Me, too!” Flink cried. “Oh, I really wouldn’t like to see the sir stay dead, you know?”

From 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.”

Phindar added, “He’s a good one, you’ve got that right, madam. And healing’s my devotion, anyway, so here goes my oath. Nev?”

The coward in the shield stayed silent for a moment, then muttered, “Do you have any idea what kind of trouble this is calling for?”

“Yes,” Halla, Phindar and Gabe said heavily.

“Oh, by the gods! All right, I’ll swear, fine, now satisfied?”

Nobody 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.

But 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.”

A’alsys nodded in satisfaction, nodded at Barandas. “Your word is missing, wizard. You do understand that the end of time means your end as well?”

The 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!”

“Good,” 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.

Light 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 visible.

A’alsys 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.

The party gasped, seeing the gargantuan heart free of fleshly surroundings. Another gasp soon followed when the heart began to pump anew, contract and release powerfully.

“This 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.

A’alsys 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 more.

“It 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!”

 

 

Cornell 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 things considered.

Good enough to take on the world, he thought and flung open his eyes, grasped automatically for his sword to continue the fight.

Fighting 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.

“Did 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 the pact.”

Cornell 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.”

Halla seconded from the shield on his arm, “We were worried about you, but now you’re back, and all is going to be fine.”

“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.

Probably just the adrenaline, he assured himself. After all, this was the first time he had gone up against an emperor dragon – and survived!

Cornell 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 here?”

Flink 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 beautiful!”

“Sounds 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?”

“Uhm, right,” Barandas nodded slowly. “The loot.”

“The 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?”

“I thought you wanted to kill me?” Barandas asked.

The barbarian shrugged. “Answer me first, all right?”

The 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, shield bearer?”

“Very 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.”

“Oh, 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!”

“Sure,” Cornell said and began to climb over the dragon’s carcass.

Somehow 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.

Cornell smiled when he imagined the looks on his friends’ faces when they would find out just who he was back home.

“You 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?”

“Right, Flink,” Cornell nodded.

Actually, life seemed pretty darn good right now.

T H E   E N D