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

"The Pledge" Cornell #5

"Childhood of a Fighter"

"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

 

 

 The dampness and cold of the cell invaded Cornell’s body. His muscles still felt as if they belonged to another person, but they reacted to his commands. Jerkily, but they did react.

“Sometimes,” Barandas muttered as he helped the Cayaborean sit up on his bunk, “I wish there was a priest around when you need one.”

Boragger hadn’t had the wizard taken to the elven torturer. His men had simply thrown Cornell into the cell, slammed the door shut and left. Several hours must have passed since then, judging by the twilight outside of the windowslit. Most of that time, Cornell had lain still on his bunk, riding out the waves of pain crashing through him, while Barandas had sat worriedly beside him. Occasionally the wizard had walked over to the cell bars, taken a wary look outside and uselessly tested the strength of the lock.

At least that’s what it had looked like to Cornell. Somewhere in the back of his pain-addled brain he thought that this wasn’t the likeliest of behaviors, not for Barandas, anyway. The better part of his awareness was focused on Sylasa, though. How could a woman that beautiful be that cold? She had to see that helping Cornell and Barandas was the right thing to do! They were imprisoned, tortured and about to be killed. Yet she ignored it, maybe took pleasure in it!

“Can you get up?”

Cornell shrugged and shook his head, only to regret the motion instantly when nausea swamped him. “Gotta give it a try,” he said slowly. Barandas grinned, then slung his arm under his friend’s shoulders and heaved carefully. Together they managed to pull the Cayaborean to his feet. For a moment or two, Cornell shifted his weight around, tried to find his balance, until he finally nodded to the wizard to let go of him. The support of his arm slowly disappeared – and Cornell nearly fell backwards. His right leg swung forward, caught the bunk – yet he managed to stay upright. “It’s… all right,” he panted, aware of Barandas’ suspicious look. He took a deep breath, then stepped back from the bunk into the middle of the cell. His head was swimming somewhere apart from his body, pain shot through him with every motion. But he stayed on his feet. “I’m fine.”

“Good,” the wizard grinned. “I didn’t want to carry you all the way out of here, anyway.”

“What?! You… have found a way out?”

“Told you we’d been in worse scraps, didn’t I? When are you going to learn to trust your old friend Barandas?”

Another wave of dizziness assaulted Cornell, as he grunted, “About ten weeks after burying you. Provided you don’t dig your way out again.”

“I’m insulted.” He didn’t sound that way at all when he stepped over to the bars again and dug something out of his tunic that Cornell recognized. The metal idol depicting an alreu with unusually large hands. Barandas had retrieved the item from the Darawk academy and used it to create gloves that could stick to any surface. “We’d best thank the tides of magic your buddies here didn’t search us too closely,” the wizard beamed. “Without this little beauty here, we might be stuck in here.” He glanced quickly between the bars to spy any guards, then he pushed a hidden button on the idol and presented it with a flourish to Cornell. The bottom of the idol had sprung open, sliding out an assortment of tiny lockpicks. “Hah!”

Cornell frowned, slowly walking up to the wizard. Fortunately it was a very short walk, yet he was feeling that the nausea was slowly subsiding. “Why…” He stopped, had to swallow down bile before continuing, “Why haven’t you used it before? We could’ve been out before –“

“Magical alarms,” Barandas shrugged. “I’ve been checking on them ever since we got here. There’s one on the hole they call a window, and there’s a couple in here. Or rather, they were. I had most of them disarmed while you were gone and took care of the rest while you were trying to keep your last lunch in your stomach.”

“Charming,” the Cayaborean grunted. “Open the lock.”

“Are you sure you can run? We might have to.”

“Open it.” Running is better than lying on C’traeh’s granite table. Dying in a fight is better than another session with that elf.

The picklock glinted in the weak light falling through the windowslit as Barandas snaked it through the bars and inserted it carefully into the lock. Cornell heavily leaned against the bars, holding on to their support tightly. He probably could have kept his balance by himself, but why drain your strength unnecesarily?

Barandas twisted the picklock around a few times, then he touched a few of the tiny instruments, changing the configuration of the device. It seemed as if the alreu idol was smiling proudly at the wizard. If so, it bore little comparison to the wicked grin on Barandas’ face. “Just a little bit more, baby… Yeah, that’s… it!”

At the last exclamation, something clicked audibly within the lock, its bolt retracted, and Barandas pulled the door back slowly, trying to avoid any traitorous creaks. Grandly he then gestured at the door. “And once more Barandas the Magnificent delivers!”

There was no sign of any guards about, no cries of alarm. It hardly would stay that way for long, Cornell knew, and took a deep breath. “Let’s go,” he muttered as he let go of the bars.

Barandas stepped out of the cell, onto the first block of stone – and the stone sank an inch into the ground with a loud clicking noise. His gaze swiveled automatically down, the grin frozen on his face. Hardly a breath was taken when two gates crashed down a foot each from the door, heavy metal cell bars that blocked the corridor.

Cornell couldn’t help but laugh. A laugh that he regretted since it choked in his throat. “Barandas the Stupid,” he coughed, “checked for magical traps but forgot the physical ones.”

“Bloody –“ The wizard kicked the stone he was standing on. The stone did not appear to be harmed at all by the kick. “How should I have known about this? The bloody guards have been stepping on it all the time, and so have we, by the Tides of Magic. There shouldn’t be any –“ He stopped suddenly and stared down the corridor.

“What is it?” Cornell asked, slowly following the wizard into the impromptu second cage. “Guards?”

“Close,” Sylasa’s voice answered. A few yards away from them she was, resplendent in her silvery armor. In her hands she held a sword, a bastard sword with a beautifully worked blade and an ivory handle carved from the tusks of a thymbair. That’s my sword, Cornell realized with a start. “There’s a lever out here that locks the stone in place. You can’t see it from inside, that’s why all the cells are on one side only.” She approached them, pointed to a lever inserted below a torchholder.

Her face held no emotion. What does she want now? Cornell wondered, constantly glancing at his sword. Did she want to attack them with that? How humiliating to be struck down by your own weapon. And how silly to think about humiliation when you are about to die.

“Well,” Barandas said innocently and clasped his hands, “that was instructional. Thank you very much, Miss Sylasa. We’ll be going back to our cell now, if that is all right with you.”

“No, it isn’t,” she said coldly and turned towards Cornell. “You can stand. Good. Can you hold something?”

“Like what?”

“Like this,” Sylasa said and turned the sword around so its handle passed through the bars of the gate. Automatically Cornell took it, the familiar grip giving him a strange confidence. Barely had he taken the sword that Sylasa threw the lever down, reached out into a hole beneath it and started to pull on something. Whatever it was, it was connected to the gate inbetween them. Slowly it rose from the floor, slid along in grooves by their faces as the two stared incredulously at the Ibrollenian woman.

The gate reached its top point, and holding claws automatically clanked into place. In the dimness of the corridor you had to know that it was there to notice it. Ingenuous, Cornell thought.

“Are you going to stand around there all night?” Sylasa asked while she slid her quarterstaff off her back. “The elf will be sending his guards down here in a few minutes.”

Cornell shook his head. “Then we’ll be gone,” he muttered and gave his sword an experimental swing. He nearly lost his balance and cursed flatly. His senses weren’t yet back to their old strength – but he could feel them coming back together. Just a bit more…

  

 

 Sylasa had taken point, a natural choice since she was rested and healthy, not to mention that she knew her way around the house better than Cornell and certainly better than Barandas. The wizard followed her closely, watching every move of hers – with delight, in fact. A tiny voice from the back of his mind reminded him that this was not the right time, but he had told the voice to look out for enemies by itself.

Cornell’s position in the back was also natural. In his frail condition he was hardly a match for any opponent they might meet. He also had to focus too much on keeping his feet moving silently; whatever awareness was left he spent on tracking his companions ahead of him.

It hurt to be this helpless. More than the injuries C’traeh had inflicted on him. Cornell of Cayaboré was used to being in charge, was used to being the one at the front, clearing a path for his fellows. And he liked that. Not being the one others look upon as the leader, that felt… wrong. Particularly when he hadn’t yet made up his mind whether to trust their current leader. Why had she let them out? Why hadn’t she helped him before, in C’traeh’s torture room?

They hadn’t made it out the cell corridor without an incident. Sylasa had noticed the guard quickly and sauntered up to him openly, her hips swinging hypnotically. Their effect hadn’t been lost on the guard, and the insipid smile had still been on his face after she had smashed her quarterstaff into his head.

After that they had taken the stairs to the ground floor. Torches had been flickering in the stairwell, their shadowy light creating a murky twilight. The ground floor, though, was brightly lit by the Modayrean lamp sticks whose oddly yellowish light left no shadowy corners. “I feel as if we’re in a shooting galley,” Barandas muttered.

Sylasa shot him a warning glance and put a finger to her lips. The wizard quieted down. She stepped away from the stairwell, checking both directions of the corridor. Nobody was in sight, but the corridor was short, turning sharply a few yards to their right and leading to a set of doors on their left. Somewhere down there was the great hall, and the stairs to the upper floors. They’d be full of guards, Cornell supposed. Unfortunately the exit was in that direction as well.

But around the corner to their right, they could get to the storage room. Not the one containing the valuable merchandise from Modayre, but crates of firelighters and other mundane appliances. It was also guarded, but usually less so than the other side of the house. Cornell had stood guard there a few times, so he guessed that the more inexperienced of Tangrain’s men were assigned there.

He tapped Sylasa’s shoulder, drawing her attention, then pointed in the direction of the storage room. She raised a questioning eyebrow, so he gestured crates and the typical motion of flicking a firelighter on. Her answer was a shrug. That won’t do us any good.

“There’s a gate outside,” he whispered urgently.

She shook her head. “It’s blocked by a magical spell, you know that. It can’t be opened if you don’t know the keyword.”

“Well,” Cornell paused to suppress a cough. “There’s a wizard with us, isn’t there?”

Sylasa didn’t look at all convinced. “Powerful enough to break that spell?”

A good point, Cornell knew. As far as magic was concerned, Barandas had never been the sharpest knife in the drawer. Probably because he had spent most of his time at the wizardly college chasing girls or money rather than studying. Yet he did have a knack for breaking protective spells. “We’ll just have to hope,” he insisted, drawing an insulted look from Barandas.

Sylasa shrugged, and they went off to the right. She signaled them to wait as she stepped around the corner. “Clear,” she whispered a moment later.

They followed the corridor a little further until they came to a crossing. Again Sylasa checked it first, but this time she waved down the hall unconcernedly. “Hello, there, boys!” she called and received a rowdy remark in return. “Now, now, not so fast!” she replied and stretched languidly. “I’ll have to think about whether I wish to speak with you today…”

Barandas and Cornell were spellbound by her movements. Undoubtedly the guards down the corridor were the same – and probably coming closer. Did she have to call them? Cornell wondered. Could they really trust her?

“Keep your sword ready, pretty boy,” Sylasa whispered while stretching her leg and arcing her upper body back. A magnificent sight. Magnificent enough that it took Cornell valuable moments to recognize her words.

Almost too late he saw the quarterstaff flash all of a sudden, ramming into one of the guards and swiping him off his feet. The man yelped in surprise, his companion roared – and was cut short as the quarterstaff hit his groin. “Take the other one!” Sylasa shouted as she hammered her staff again in the second man.

The one on the ground was just getting up again, stunned from the sudden attack. Cornell knew him. Udeshta, wiry, young and inexperienced. Ordinarily a matter of minutes. Now he wasn’t so sure. Still, he swung his sword with all his strength.

Udeshta had become aware of him only moments before the sword would have hit, and he scrambled sideways. Cornell’s sword only caught empty air. The Cayaborean felt his balance slip, staggered forward, his hands stretching out, searching for a hold, anything.

He gave Udeshta plenty of time to get to his feet and draw his sword. “Die, bastard,” he cried and stabbed out. Cornell didn’t see the stab, but it wasn’t really necessary for at the same moment he had finally lost his battle with balance and fell to the ground.

Now Udeshta’s sword was in the air, and the young man practically leaned over Cornell. The Cayaborean’s head was reeling. He saw the sword, the hand and arm attached to it, the chest, and instinctively his own blade shot up. It was a good blade, and a lucky thrust, for it pierced the chain armor easily, sliding into the soft flesh beneath with a sucking noise. Udeshta’s eyes glazed over, blood covered his lips, then he collapsed on Cornell.

The dead weight of man and armor pressed down on his lungs and ribs, making him fight for every breath. “Get him… off…” Cornell pleaded, while his chest turned into a fiery cage burning up all the air he pressed in there.

After a moment that seemed to take an eternity, the weight vanished, and Barandas kneeled down by his side. “You got me worried there for a second,” he muttered. “Care to get up again?”

“Sylasa?” Cornell muttered.

Her soft voice answered gently. “I’m here. The other one’s dead, too. And you don’t look too far away from it.”

“Sorry… Just lost my balance, that’s… all.” He took the offered hands of Barandas and Sylasa and managed to get to his feet again. Nausea invaded him once more, but this time it would not leave. Bile rose into his mouth, he gagged, and Sylasa quickly bent his upper body forward – just in time for Cornell to vomit. It seemed to take an eternity, an eternity of pain racking his torso.

“Bloody –“ Barandas cursed.

That cold son of a bitch, Cornell thought – and was suddenly glad he hadn’t spoken aloud when he saw the red streaks in his vomit on the ground. Bloody it was indeed.

“We have to get him to a healer fast,” Sylasa said. “You’d better manage to crack the spell, or Nych is dead.”

The wizard didn’t reply. Instead he slung his arm under Cornell’s shoulder again, giving the heavy Cayaborean all the support he could muster. Sylasa nodded curtly, then she took the other shoulder, and the three set out again for the door to the storage room.

It wasn’t far off, just passing through two rooms that were mercifully empty of guards. Cornell had no idea how long they needed to get there. Nauseated, every now and then gagging drily, he was slowly losing conscience. At one point he thought he was back home again, flying on Tempest, trying one of those reckless maneuvers that had gotten him in trouble with Hyrochyll. But he loved them, and Tempest always cried her hoarse victory shouts during one of those mad rolls.

Then he was back in Tangrain’s house. Before them was the door to the storage room. Oak wood, sturdy, but not barred. All they had to do was push it open, cross the room to the gate outside, then Barandas would magic it open, and they were free. That wasn’t much to ask for, now was it?

Sylasa let go of Cornell, checking briefly that the wizard had enough strength to support the warrior by himself, then she walked up to the door and opened it. The door swung wide and…

… Boragger, the chief bodyguard, smirked cruelly at them. His right arm was leveled at them, attached to it the dragon rod, its maw glowing with the fire it was about to spit. “This is the end of your escape, Nych,” he began to say – and then stopped when he recognized Sylasa. “What are you doing here?” he exclaimed and added, “Don’t you move, girl, I know how fast you are with that quarterstaff!”

“I won’t,” Sylasa said cautiously, her eyes inevitably drawn to the rod’s maw.

Behind her, Cornell felt as if the last ounces of his strength were fading away. Not again, not again caught by Boragger. That was all he could think, in silly repetitions. Barandas held onto him with desperation, otherwise the warrior would have slipped to the ground.

The bodyguard slowly stepped forward, his rod trained on Sylasa all the time. “I misjudged you, girl. Damn, I thought you were one of us!” He spat, his features turned in disgust. “You could have had a good life here. Better than anywhere else, I’d have made sure of that.”

Sylasa smiled suddenly, her sweet, intoxicating smile. “Would you? I never – why, Boragger…” She blinked, stuttered, took one step forward – and was stopped abruptly when Boragger raised the dragon rod.

“Don’t go trying that on me, girl,” he growled. “You never cared about me. All you care about are fools like that savage… And you’re gonna join him in death. Right about now.”

Her eyes widened as Boragger’s fingers slid towards the trigger in his palm.

Cornell had been blinking in and out of consciousness for a while now. Yet the image of Boragger and Sylasa had somehow managed to drill itself into his awareness. He saw the rod, saw the fingers moving, heard the threat – and a roar left his throat. His muscles howled in pain as he tore free of Barandas’ hands. He felt no pain, all had turned to a red sea of indifference. All that counted was Sylasa, all that counted was his jumping forward and –

The dragon rod fired. Bright lightning sparked across the few yards from Boragger, set the air on fire, and flaming, the lightning drilled into Cornell’s chest. Where he had found the strength to leap in front of Sylasa, none could say. Moments before he had been a quivering mass of flesh and bones, barely able to support himself. Then, for a brief moment, he was in the air, a spirit of salvation.

And now he lay on the floor. The hole in his chest smoldered. Its edges were cleanly cut. On his face, still marked by pain, was a smile. He had bought his friends a little time. That was enough to die for.

  

 

 A liquid was seeping from the stones surrounding the tiny windowslit. It was a dark green, with bluish streaks, almost like the deep ocean. There was no source, it seemed more as if the stone was bleeding. Bleeding stronger all the time, to be exact.

Or perhaps not bleeding at all, but rather changing. As the liquid constantly grew, the stone appeared to shrink, to diffuse, to melt into the liquid.

After a moment the stone holding the bars of the window dissolved, and the bars fell clanking to the ground. A little later, enough stone had turned to liquid to form a passage around where the slit had been. The liquid stopped its flow, and gradually it stopped being a liquid as well. The green-blue became grayish rock. Again?

“It’s safe now,” a female voice said. “You can come out.”

No answer came.

Then a head appeared in the hole, masked by a tight-fitting black hood and a darkly painted face. “They are gone,” the head said.

“Then it appears,” a male voice said, “we will have to go look for them. Help me with the package, please.”

The head disappeared for a moment, then an entire black garbed body appeared and quickly slid into the cell. The woman held out her hands to the hole and received a rectangular package wrapped in dark leather. She laid it on one of the bunks, then she aided a man come into the cell as well. He wore similar clothes to hers, black as night.

The man took the package and slipped it onto his back. It did not fit very well, but it would have to do, he decided.

Meanwhile the woman whispered something in an arcane language, frowned and looked at an empty corner of the cell. “The resonance is coming from there.”

“Good,” the man nodded and sighed as he adjusted the package on his back again. “Oh, my, the troubles I go to…”

  

 

 “NOOOO!!!”

Barandas’ shout cleaved the silence left by the hiss of the dragon rod’s fire. Sylasa stared at the body before her, at the wound in the man’s chest. Her eyes were strangely empty yet at the same time full of a fire burning hot. “He gave his life for me,” she whispered.

Boragger snorted. “So he went first, that’s all. You’re going to accompany him on his little trip to meet the gods.” He chuckled and waved the dragon rod from one to the other. “Who’s next?”

Barandas’ face was distorted by pain and tears, his shoulders twitching. “For Cornell,” he sobbed and raised his arms, his fingers twisted into claws.

“What?” Boragger guffawed. “C’traeh told me that you’re no real wizard! What are you trying to do? Put on another light show?”

“Fireball,” Barandas said softly. His fingers began to sweat profusely. But what appeared to be sweat the first instant flowed together in mid-air and caught fire all of a sudden. Two red balls of dripping flame hovered for the briefest of moments within the wizard’s clawlike fingers, then they raced off, straight towards the petrified bodyguard. Boragger had time to throw his arms in front of his face, that was all he had left.

The fireballs impacted on the arms. Instantly Boragger’s clothes went up in flames, but they were not the only ones. The burning substance spread quickly all over the body, growing in intensity until the chief bodyguard was a single, writhing flame. For seconds, the flame burned, then it winked out suddenly. The dragon rod clattered to the ground, apparently undamaged.

None of the others were even looking in that direction. Sylasa kneeled down to close Cornell’s lifeless eyes. A tear ran down her cheek. Stumbling rather than walking, Barandas came over and toppled down by Cornell’s side. “All my fault, all my fault,” he mumbled. “I talked you into this bloody mess. Been in worse scrapes, eh, Cornell? All my fault…”

“Shhh.” Sylasa put a comforting hand on the wizard’s shoulder but he didn’t feel it. He closed his eyes, tears flowed freely, as he clawed his hands into Cornell’s chest. “All… my… bloody fault! I thought we’d just… sail out of here… like always, with that damn gauntlet… and whatever it was you’re after. And now you’re dead, and I don’t bloody want that bloody gauntlet anymore!”

Suddenly his tears stopped and he looked up. “I don’t want the gauntlet?!” he asked himself incredulously. “By the Tides of Magic, I’m an idiot! It’s a lousy, stinking gauntlet of bloody resurrection!”

“What?” asked a confused Sylasa.

Barandas rocketed up from his kneeling position, grabbed the woman by her arms and dragged her up. “We can resurrect him!” he yelled. “There’s a Modayrean item in Tangrain’s private collection that can do it! We can get Cornell back!”

The Ibrollenian woman looked at him as if he had lost his mind. She probably wasn’t far off the mark, considering the wizard’s wild eyes and the manic grin on his face. But the words echoed in her, the intensity of Barandas impressing itself upon her. “Resurrection?”

“Yes! It’s a gauntlet, I read all about it. Within three to four hours of the death, anyone can be raised back to the living. I’m gonna go up there, I’m gonna drag Cornell up there and pull him back if it kills me. You with me?”

She shook free of his clawing hands with a jerk. Confusion reigned on her face. First the barbarian had taken the rod’s lightning to save her. Then the wizard, the selfish, womanizing bastard of a wizard, had suddenly come up with an idea to save his friend, and no terror in the world would frighten him off.

Her glance fell on Cornell’s corpse. There was still the smile of satisfaction on his face. Dying to save someone else, that had been a small price to pay for him. The mark of a great man.

And who was Sylasa, warrior woman from Ibrollene, but a great woman?

“Two floors up,” she said and walked over to the dragon rod. With a flowing motion she bent down, picked it up and fastened it to her arm. The trigger pads easily fitted in her palm. Experimentally she aimed the weapon at one of the crates and pushed the pads down with two middle fingers. The bolt hissed from the dragon’s maw, sparked into the crate, tearing a deep, smoking hole into it. Still working. “That way, there’s a staircase. Let’s go.”

  

 

Read on in
SECTION 3