Tales of Strange Adventures

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Home Index of Tales of Strange Adventures

"Call of the Dragon, Pt I"

"Call of the Dragon, Pt II"

"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

 


Call of the Dragon, Part 2 

by Marc H. Wyman & Chris Bogues

  SECTION 1 / SECTION 2 / SECTION 3

 

“Of all the dungeons in this town,” the wizard Barandas muttered, “we had to walk into this one.”

Opposite him, Cornell of Cayaboré sat, staring wistfully at the tiny slit of a window high above their heads. Little in the way of air passed through, certainly not enough to take away the smell of refuse and sweat. Too much of said sweat issued from his clothes made of leather cured from a thymbair, the proper clothes of a southern barbarian from Robhovard. Itchy they were, and Cornell wished he had never chosen that particular disguise when he presented himself to Ceravin Tangrain, the wealthy merchant of Chazevo. Tangrain was one of the few dealers in merchandise from the mysterious land of Modayre whose inhabitants excelled at creating magical items. Simple items such as firelighters or lampsticks, but also a ferocious weapon such as the dragon rod.

His superiors in the dragon rider corps of Cayaboré had sent the young man to Chazevo to acquire one of the rods. His disguise as Nych from the tribe of Ryelneyd had been excellent, he had made it so far as to be almost accepted as one of Tangrain’s bodyguards.

When suddenly the doors had burst open and his old friend Barandas had appeared, in the tow of Demercur Ylvain, a Darawk scholar. Appropriate to his disguise, Cornell had tried to attack the wizard – not least to keep him from blurting out the Cayaborean’s real name. The fact that it had been the proper response to seeing a wizard still gnawed at him. It had been the right thing to do – but Tangrain hadn’t seen it that way and thrown Cornell out of his house.

“All because of your gauntlet,” he muttered.

Barandas sighed. “Are we going through that again? Look, if it was my gauntlet, I wouldn’t have had to go in here and steal it!”

The wizard was right, but Cornell wasn’t about to grant him that point. Another powerful Modayrean item, a gauntlet of resurrection was the reason that Barandas had come to Chazevo. Ever greedy for magic, money or women – ordered by whichever was more available at the time -, Barandas had been planning to rob it. Like the dragon rods, it wasn’t for sale – whether because Modayre forbade it or Tangrain wanted it for himself, it didn’t matter.

Cornell’s fault was to join his friend on that robbery. He wasn’t a professional thief, and Barandas could at best be described as a competent layman. Still he had gathered some interesting magical tools. They might have tipped the scales in their favor.

Might have, he reminded himself. They had only been in the mansion for half an hour when they were captured by Tangrain’s chief bodyguard, Boragger. The burly guard had aimed a dragon rod at them, and there was no arguing with a weapon that fired bolts of lightning.

And now they were trapped in the dungeon of Tangrain’s house – or fortress as might be the more proper description. At first Cornell had wondered why they were still alive. Barandas, of course, never had bothered with that kind of morose thinking. “We got out of worse scraps,” he’d said confidently before checking the cell for any kind of edibles that could be found, while Cornell had tested the door’s lock as well as any metal bar and stone in the wall. Both searches had proved to be in vain, after which both had settled down to wait for what would happen.

Something happened rather quickly.

“Looks like your quest for fame ran dry fast, pretty boy,” a female voice said, in an alluring timbre that set both men’s hearts pounding instantly. Barandas’ head flew around to the bars, his eyes widening when he took in the magnificent figure visible through the bars of the cell door. Barely five and a half feet tall, luscious hazelnut hair framing a face that needed no makeup for enhancement. The woman’s curves were barely hidden by the silvery chain armor so intricately forged that the chains seemed to flow into one another and move as easily as silk with every motion.

While the wizard’s eyes did their best to leave his skull and explore every inch of the woman, Cornell’s lips went taut and he kept staring at the tiny slit of a window. “Sylasa,” he muttered, recognizing the voice of the Ibrollenian warrior woman who had bested him in quarterstaff combat just the day before. (Or rather, pulverized his defense, but the Cayaborean rarely dwelled on such details.) And he also remembered his unfortunate comment that his fame one day would outshine Tangrain’s, right before he’d left the mansion.

“Your barbarian mind is intriguingly fast,” Sylasa said flatly. “Well, Nych, how do you expect to escape this trap?”

Finally Cornell swiveled his head around and found that he was caught once more by the beauty of the Ibrollenian. Urges raced through his body, brutally fought down by his mind. “I expect nothing,” he said in his barbarian imitation. “The future will bring what it will, and I will use it. Is that what you wished to know, woman?”

A fast smile whisked over her lips, very much like the smile of a mother at a child convinced his lies won’t go unchallenged. “Oh, very much so.” Their eyes locked, both sets unrevealing and still as ice, yet somehow ferocious at the same time.

Barandas frowned, looked from one to the other, then quickly said, “Well, how can we be of assistance, Miss… Sylasa?”

A moment passed before Sylasa said – never taking her eyes off Cornell -, “Not at all, wizard. Nych, Tangrain’s men will be coming for you shortly. That will not be pleasant. Be strong, pretty boy.”

“I will.”

“Good,” she nodded, turned around and stepped out of sight without saying another word.

Cornell folded his legs over each other, composed his face and went back to staring at the window. The frown on the wizard’s face deepened as he scowled, “What by the tides of magic is going on here, friend? Did I miss something?”

“Yes, you did,” the Cayaborean answered.

“Go jump into a grasstrap! Stop this barbarian routine, and answer me, you bloody –“ Barandas interrupted himself, stared exasperatedly at his friend for a while before he sighed and leaned back against the wall. “Least they could do was feed us, I say,” he muttered to nobody in particular.

  

 

 “We have not yet been introduced, I fear,” the tall elf said when Cornell was strapped down to a granite table in a small chamber that smelled worse than the dungeon had. Three burly henchmen of Tangrain’s made sure that the Cayaborean could not hope to escape; and every one of them, Cornell noted absent-mindedly, had visible traces of elven blood.

“My name is Leur C’traeh,” the full-blooded elf continued, the tips of his pointy ears quivering slightly in anticipation. The tone of his skin was a rich blue, counterpointed by the cyan hair and the magenta-colored, almond eyes. Mirrored tattoos were on his cheeks, dark lines of no meaning to Cornell. “I will be your host for the next few hours, my dear savage friend,” C’traeh continued while he waved the bodyguards out of the room and sat down next to the table. “We will have a nice conversation, about the most varied of topics. But tell me first, are you of elven descent?” He pulled objects from a drawer beneath the table, began arraying it on a tray inset into the granite – and then stopped. “Oh, my, forgive me.” He smiled, then removed the gag from Cornell’s mouth. “Is that better?”

Cornell stared at him. There was little doubt in his mind as to what the elf had in mind. As a matter of fact, few elves hid their delight in inflicting pain on others. Not to mention Sylasa’s warning.

“Dear me,” C’traeh shook his head, “rather unresponsive, aren’t we, my friend? Well, let’s just see…” He took up one of the objects from his tray – a wickedly curved stiletto knife with which he quickly and expertly tore up Cornell’s clothes, miraculously missing his skin. Chilly air breathed over his exposed body, seemingly impossible in a hot place like Chazevo.

The elf inspected the Cayaborean’s body methodically, spreading his fingers and toes, then pulled back his eyelids to peer deep into Cornell’s pupils. “Ah, splendid,” he finally nodded. “You are human indeed, my friend. That means I may dispense with any of the special methods reserved for my own kin. Rather annoying that, if you know what I mean. After all, my people are somewhat less receptive to pain than your kind is. Well,” he sighed, “we’d better get started, hadn’t we?”

The quivering of the elf’s ears got stronger. He put down the stiletto and replaced it with a set of needles whose tips glistened dark and moist. “Now, good Nych,” C’traeh said, waving the needles about lightly, while Cornell’s muscles stiffened, “the problem is that Master Tangrain is upset that one of his own bodyguards – though not sworn to him yet – would betray him. The circumstances are rather uncomfortable for you. So, tell me, why did you come here with the wizard? Were you sent for some of the baubles here?”

The needles hovered over Cornell’s eyes. The Cayaborean tensed, stared straight ahead without focusing on the dark tips.

“Goodness gracious, you truly are stubborn. Well, it can’t be helped, I suppose.”

A single needle stabbed down into the skin next to Cornell’s right eye, scraped over the bone – and fiery pain rushed across his face, engulfing his head in a corona of flame.

“Well?” the elf’s patient voice drove through the pain, resigned to wait a long time before receiving his answers.

To Cornell, the time would be far, far longer.

  

 

 Cornell floated in darkness. Splotches of red appeared and disappeared at random, dancing about for a moment before winking out again. Slowly consciousness began seeping back into him, and with awareness came pain. Dull pain at first, slowly growing and expanding, just like the splotches of red that became ever more prominent.

Tempest… Gotta teach that dragon a bit more discipline. One day her playing around is gonna kill me…

Red flowed over him, bringing an aching feeling of his body. His thoughts were still disjointed, looking forward to the moment when the healer would wake him up. The commander of his dragon rider squad, Hyrochyll, would be called in to chew him out, followed quickly by Cornell’s father. Father would calm Hyrochyll down, force him out of the room – only to scold his son worse than the commander could have dreamed of doing.

Cornell was actually looking forward to his father’s tirades. Father knew Tempest all too well, the horse dragon’s sire had been Father’s own steed for ten years. Oh, yes, that would –

“Still alive, pretty boy?”

Now that wasn’t Father’s voice, he was quite sure – and suddenly Cornell was catapulted into reality. Along with pain that was throbbing all through his body, worse than anything Tempest had ever cooked up. His memory of the “conversation” with C’traeh was fuzzy, questions intermingling with the sensation of poisoned needles pressing into his flesh intermingling with his own screams. Had he spoken? Had he been able to articulate a single word?

“In case you are still alive, C’traeh is angry. Very angry. That should be a reason for you to feel proud. Provided you can feel anything aside from the pain.”

“Sylasa.”

The name came out accompanied by a cough, moisture on his lips. Blood? There was barely time for him to think about it when something wet and cool touched his lips and swiped the blood off.

“Why… are you… here?”

“Good question,” Sylasa’s voice came from far away. “Boragger’s men will be here shortly to bring you back to your cell. I suppose that it will be the wizard’s turn then. Worse luck. C’traeh will vent his anger at him. The wizard probably won’t last more than half an hour.”

Fresh pain surged through Cornell’s spine, as if rekindled by the memory. Slowly, he opened his eyes. The same rough ceiling was above him, and leaning over him the Ibrollenian woman. “Mustn’t… let that happen,” Cornell breathed. “You’ve got to… help… me.”

“Do I?” Her eyes were cold, her beautiful features as immobile as a granite statue’s. “Why should I care about the wizard? Or you, for that matter, savage barbarian that you are.”

Cornell flexed his hands. Liquid fire ran through his arms in response, and a moan of pain was muffled by another cough. More cautiously he tried again. It still hurt, but it was bearable. More or less. Now for the rest of the body, he told himself. First the legs. Then the shoulders. Push yourself off the table. Come on! Do it, Cornell of Cayaboré!

Sylasa’s hands suddenly rested on his chest. “Don’t,” she said. “You won’t be able to stand for another hour at least. And there are several guards in the corridor who would love to cut you down. You do not stand a chance.”

“I’ve… heard that before,” he muttered and shoved his legs sideways, gritting his teeth at the new pain. His legs felt oddly cold and distant, like an unattached part of his body. Bloodflow must have been impeded at some point. Move! he ordered himself, not able to feel exactly whether his legs obeyed.

The Ibrollenian woman’s hands disappeared from his chest. “Nych, stop it. You won’t help the wizard by getting yourself killed.”

Just a little bit further, and his right leg should be over the edge. Just a little bit… There! It had dropped over, dangling lightly. Now for the chest! he thought triumphantly and tensed his muscles to…

… feel convulsions rack his body, wave after wave of hurt that hammered the breath out of his lungs. Greedily, painfully, he snapped for fresh air, gulping it quickly. His heartbeat raced, his eyes misty as he looked at Sylasa. “Help me, Sylasa,” he groaned. “Please. You can’t let this… happen.”

The woman returned his gaze calmly. A sparkle twinkled in her brown eyes – or was that just Cornell’s empty hope? “Please,” he repeated, putting all his emotion into the word.

“You’re right, I cannot allow this,” Sylasa answered after a moment, then she reached down and pulled Cornell’s legs back onto the table. “Stay,” her voice sounded coldly, as she placed her hands back on his chest, this time with force.

The feeling of betrayal flooded through Cornell’s mind as his head dropped back and he stared helplessly at the rough ceiling again.

A minute or so later, the door opened and Boragger entered with the part-elves who had taken Cornell to the chamber hours earlier. The chief bodyguard acknowledged Sylasa with a grunt, then took a close look at the Cayaborean on the table. A smile dug itself into his harsh face. “How nice,” Boragger said. “C’traeh left something for us.”

With that he grabbed Cornell’s shoulders, pushed him up and shoved him into the waiting arms of the part-elves. “Bring him back to the cell. Sylasa, you’ll be coming with me.”

The guards dragged Cornell out of the room, his legs sliding over the ground, his head lolling about. He couldn’t see clearly, too much movement, too much confusion. Only once did his eyes focus – on the sight of Sylasa, watching him closely.

  

 

 “I am deeply sorry, honored sage,” Tangrain said, leaning back comfortably in his chair on the pedestal at the far end of the Great Hall. On his right, next to the statue depicting the god Darawk, stood Boragger, the dragon rod attached to his arm by twisted appendages that looked like the metal fingers of a skeleton. On the opposite side, Leur C’traeh smiled pleasantly. The elf had no weapons on him, yet his smile was enough of a threat. “Your two… friends broke into my home, and I am well within the law of our city to do with them as I please.”

Standing in front of the dais were two priests of Darawk, recognizable by the identical tan vests both wore. One was in his late fifties, hair and beard a salt-and-pepper gray, his eyes a bright and steely blue. The other was a young pert woman, barely over twenty, light blue eyes that sparkled like sapphires in a pale, pretty face framed by halflong auburn curls of hair.

The former, Sage Demercur Ylvain, barely contained his anger when he said, “Dear Ceravin, although you are correct, I cannot recall this part of the city constitution ever having been applied. There is no precedence.”

“Oh, there is precedence,” Tangrain calmly offered. The permanent twitch in his eyes grew more pronounced when he turned to the elf. “Has the savage provided any insight?”

“None at all, I fear,” C’traeh answered in a voice that had only the faintest sing-song accent of his natural tongue. “His answers were disconcertingly empty of useful information. I would like the opportunity to question the wizard, he might be more forthcoming with the proper stimulation.”

The merchant shifted in his chair, cast a sidelong glance over to the Darawk scholar. “The barbarian resisted your… stimulation, C’traeh? I am shocked to hear that. Your reputation probably overrates your abilities.”

“Master Tangrain,” the elf said amiably, “my reputation is not my concern. Providing you with the answers is. And I do not appreciate your playing games. If you would prefer me to question the barbarian again, that is your wish. But he will need a few hours to recover from the first session, so the time might be well spent investigating the wizard. Unless you don’t mind Nych dying before he answers your questions.”

All the while Ylvain’s face had been growing tighter, the skin over his cheekbones whitening. “You are torturing these people!” he exclaimed and took a step forward. “Ceravin, I urge you to stop this and hand them over to the authorities. There is no call for reacting like this to a simple act of thievery.”

“Thievery?” Tangrain asked and arched an eyebrow. “Considering the fact that one of the two thieves accompanied you yesterday, when you requested an object I own, there is more at hand, I think. Oh, and by the way, how did you learn that the so-called thieves are kept here? I am not in the habit of publicizing any arrests made in my home. Well, honored sage?”

The last two words were dripping with sarcasm that cut through Ylvain like a knife, as much as the insinuation that the scholar had sent Nych and Barandas on their errand of thievery. But if Tangrain had thought to upset Ylvain, he had miscalculated. His face steadied all of a sudden, and he nodded gently. “A suitable question, Ceravin. Unfortunately for you, it is easy to answer. The young wizard borrowed an item from our library which bears a magical stamp. The stamp’s resonance is located in your home, therefore Barandas is probably here as well. Which you have subsequently proven, by the way.”

Neither of the men on the pedestal showed any reaction. Tangrain smirked. “You mean to say, he stole from you as well? Borrowed is such a loose term. But I fear that I have no more time for this pleasant conversation, honored sage. As you know, there is still some business to be taken care of. Who knows? Maybe afterwards, we would best have words again? Sylasa, please show the honored sage and his charming companion out the door.”

From a dim, shadowy area aside from the statue of Alyssa, the warrior woman stepped forward. Ylvain shook his head. “No need, Ceravin, I know the way.”

“Nonetheless I insist,” Tangrain said and waved to Sylasa. “Oh, another thing, honored sage. It is amusing to see you come here with new companions every day, yet I very much hope that the next time I see your current associate, you will still be by her side.”

The scholar’s eyes contracted, as he snorted and turned around. “Let’s go, Aurelyn. There’s nothing left to say.”

The priestess gave a curt nod then followed the elder priest out the hall, casting an intrigued glance at the silverclad Sylasa walking beside them. Neither said a word as they traversed the corridors towards the entrance. A guard jumped to attention when he saw Sylasa, quickly swallowing something while he pulled open the heavy oak door.

Ylvain was about to hurry through, into the sweet late afternoon air of Chazevo, when the priestess stopped and looked at the Ibrollenian warrior woman. “You are a long way from your home, aren’t you?” she asked. “In more than one way.”

Sylasa folded her arms before her chest and nodded gruffly at the door. “The Master told you to leave, and leave you will.”

A smile whisked over Aurelyn’s face. “Yes, lady, we will leave,” she said and enjoyed the sudden frown on Sylasa’s face. “But there’s a reason for your presence. I hope that it is the right reason, no matter what appearances claim.”

“I do what I do, Aurelyn Mutean,” Sylasa answered with surprising softness. “You may rest assured of that.”

The priestess nodded gravely. “That relieves me greatly, lady.” With that she turned, took the hand of the astonished Ylvain and guided both of them onto the street. The door slammed shut behind them.

“What in all the Gods’ names was that all about?” Ylvain whispered urgently, as always careful not to be overheard. “Are you forgetting that there are two boys about to be tortured to death in there?!”

Aurelyn shook her head slightly, patted invisible dust off her robe and pointed down the road. Quietly both walked across the marble walkways. The sunlight was mostly blocked by a thin layer of clouds, painting shadowy figures on the polished marble. After a while the priestess stopped and bowed to the elder cleric. “Forgive me, honored sage. It was not my place to speak, and I undermined your authority.”

“You are talking in riddles, child.” Ylvain wiped his hand over his forehead and sighed. “If you think there was a point to your conversation, that was fine. You should have learned that much from me by now. I haven’t yet grown so old and crusty that I love authority more than the truth. Or do you think so?”

“Absolutely not, honored sage!” the priestess replied hurriedly. “I shall immediately write an essay on it upon our return to the academy, and it will be on your desk by the morning!”

Ylvain stared at her, baffled. Her eyes were wide open, fear glistening in these bright blue lakes – and suddenly the sage laughed softly, just as her façade of terror broke apart. “Great lord of knowledge, I probably needed that.”

“Probably,” Aurelyn agreed. “You were a dictator in every class I have attended. And I did have a point in the conversation. I don’t know if I succeded but… What are your plans, honored sage?”

He frowned and scratched his chin. “That’s a good question. I can’t allow these boys to die. They must have had a good reason for breaking into Ceravin’s house, and Darawk knows that my dear ‘friend’ is anything but a law-abiding citizen. Well…”

“There is not much time to decide,” the priestess interjected. “According to the elf, he will torture the barbarian again in a few hours. So, what shall we do, honored sage?”

“We?”

Aurelyn nodded honestly. “I have taken the vows, haven’t I? That means I have as much right to choose my path as you have. Even if it should prove a path of danger.”

Creases furrowed his forehead as the old scholar sighed again. Time flew by so quickly. Aurelyn was no longer the little girl with the pigtails in his history class, the one that was fidgeting all the time, playing around – only to confuse her teacher when she knew all the answers. “Let’s hope I find another way,” he said, and they continued their way to the academy.

  

 

Read on in
SECTION 2