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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

 


The Miracle of Solstice Day

  by Marc H. Wyman & Chris Bogues

Index Page

Chapter 7 <==/ Chapter 8 /==> Chapter 9

  Chapter Eight

“That’s it,” Barandas muttered. “I’m all out.”

“Already? After only four fireballs? What manner of wizard are you, fool?”

Barandas turned to Gabe and pointed his finger angrily at the barbarian. “I’m a wizard who’s all tapped out! No more magic, get it into your fat skull! Deal with it!” I should have planted that last fireball right between your stupid eyes, he thought, more furious at himself for not thinking about it at the time. No, he’d only seen the approaching Tonomai and hurled the spell at them.

Bloody tides of magic, I can run faster than those armored idiots can. I could have been away and safe!

Gabe growled inarticulately, then patted Flink on the shoulder. “Hurry up.”

The alreu twitched as soon as he was touched, and the barbarian withdrew his hand hastily. Barandas scowled. The little creature had been jumpy all night, since he’d been thrown to the ground. Probably hurt. Whatever. “Get the door open!” Barandas snarled.

“I’m doing my best,” Flink moaned. In the twilight, Barandas could see little but a flurry where the alreu’s hands were supposed to be, hovering around the padlock before the door of a kafeserat. It had seemed a good idea to seek refuge here – its roof was connected to the others so they could flee that way, and it was dark whereas the other buildings had lit windows, some had people leaning out to see what the commotion in their city was about.

Commotion there was enough. Patrols of Tonomai were moving through the night, torches blazing, occasional shouts between the soldiers, to organize their search. Great. Didn’t we want to rescue Cornell? Now they’re after us, and the gods only know how Cornell is doing. Some of the shouts were close, close enough that one of them might see the three foreigners.

“What’s the problem?” Barandas muttered. “You’ve opened all kinds of locks before, you little twerp. Including the magical seal on my bag!”

“My fingers ache!” Flink said, with more than a touch of annoyance.

“They’ll hurt much worse if you won’t get us inside!” Barandas promised. Apparently threats worked on the alreu – sometimes, anyway -, for in that very instant there was an audible clack from the door, and the padlock fell to the ground.

“Move,” Gabe told them.

There hadn’t been any need, since Barandas was already pushing into the dark kafeserat.

 

 

“We’re outside? I can’t believe that big lug actually did something right?”

Cornell ignored Nev’s mutterings. Instead he put his sword into his left hand, and his right immediately shot out to grab Melawdis’ lapels and lift her up against the wall of the Residence. Subconsciously he was surprised how light she was – normal dwarves were built like rocks inside, weighing at least as much as a six foot human. He didn’t much care as he placed his head close to the acharadh’s gray face and snarled, “Now start talking. What is this about?”

Melawdis snapped for air. “Put me down!” she breathed.

Not a chance, Cornell thought and put much of the idea into his face. “Talk,” he said dangerously.

“Your – the shield soul was right. It’s about an egg… the egg of a dragon. Derisham – he stole it, and now – it’s stolen from him.”

“A dragon’s egg?” Cornell repeated. “All this turmoil about a dragon’s egg? Not very credible.”

Her face was starting to turn darker, like a shadow creeping over a rockface. “It’s… a snake… a snake dragon’s egg! About to… hatch!”

“Right. And that changes what?” She was playing with him, there was no other explanation. Cornell didn’t like being toyed with. Particularly not when the city around him was ablaze with the light of torches and patrols everywhere, scared up by the heist of something important – and that the governor thought he was involved with. “Come on, the truth. Tell me!”

To his surprise, Halla spoke up at that point, “She may be telling the truth, shield bearer.”

“What?”

“There are legends about the dragons beyond the Laru’sedna Mountains. Old maid’s tales, perhaps, but it doesn’t matter. Derisham might believe them, as he seems to have believed in knight-errants.”

Provided that hadn’t been a lie to put me at ease. Granted, there might have been a kernel of truth to his words. “Go on,” Cornell said, his hands still holding the dwarf against the wall.

Calmly, Halla said, “Whichever the truth may be, the egg of a snake dragon is valuable. None of the snake creatures have been seen on this side of the Laru’sednas in mortal memory. They are said to be magical, wizards of their own right, smarter than an emperor dragon. They certainly must be powerful. Now think if Derisham wants to raise the snake dragon from a pup. He can use its power and strength, put the snake dragon at the front of his army. The sight alone would make his enemies scatter and flee.”

That wasn’t a bad idea. Except that some people in the past had tried similar approaches with other kinds of dragons. Most of the time, the beast had shown little loyalty, and as its hunger outgrew the supplies, it had turned on its supposed masters.

The only kinds of dragons that could be trained, that could be taught obedience were horse dragons, and only Cayaboreans had fully mastered the art of taming them.

Derisham might think that a snake dragon can be tamed, though. If that little is known about them, he might see it’s worth the chance. But for whom? For the Empire? No, probably not. Derisham seemed an embittered man, left to govern a small city rather than the high and mighty dreams he’d had as a young man. He was more likely to lead an army against the Empire, to take it by force and sit down on the empress’ throne. Which raised the question who Melawdis was working for.

Besides, letting a dragon that powerful loose anywhere would be a very bad idea. Especially while Cornell and his friends were nearby.

“She could have made this up,” he said cautiously. “Putting together the words dragon and egg, from Phindar’s false translation.”

“Shield bearer,” the priest replied instantly, “I don’t think my translation was wrong. The words didn’t make sense before, as I told you.”

“Lord… Dragon…” Melawdis breathed heavily, her face turning to a dusky darkness.

Cornell dropped her, snatched his sword from his left hand and scanned the surroundings. None of the guards were nearby. There was an alley through which he could escape from the Residence. Plenty of patrols around, of course. He tightened his grip on his sword, slashed experimentally at the air, then nodded confidently.

The acharadh grunted, heaving for air, “What… are your plans?”

“I’ll find my friends, we’ll get out of here, just as you wanted. Quid pro quo, Melawdis.”

“Excuse me?” the songdwarf huffed.

Cornell shrugged. “It’s a Roman expression. It means we’re even now. You brought this trouble on me, you got me out. That’s as far as it goes.”

“Uh-huh.”

He didn’t spare the songdwarf another glance. The buckler raised, his sword ready, he started running towards the dark alley.

 

 

Flink was unconscious. A spear thrown by one of the Tonomai had grazed his head and knocked him out. Now he lay on the rooftop of one of the many buildings where they had sought shelter for a few moments, next to the prone figure of the wizard. Well, prone was an exaggeration. He tried to keep rigid, his eyes closed, and relax. Yet every few moments his eyes flew open and he stared around for a sign of any of their pursuers.

Gabe paid him little heed. As a spell-caster, Barandas was worth next to nothing in his eyes. So he claimed that he had to re-charge his magical battery. Fine. That wasn’t going to help them very much, if he could produce no more than three or four fireballs. A real wizard should be able to hurl dozens of them without ever tiring. The barbarian had met a number of them, proud and powerful. It had been an honor cutting their throats, after a great battle.

Now that thought was in the very recesses of his mind as he searched through Flink’s knapsack. The poor little alreu, why did he have to get knocked out? Only he had at least a faint idea of what was in his knapsack – Gabe sure didn’t, and he was slowly coming to realize that his task was more difficult than he had anticipated. He had known for some time that the knapsack had a magical quality, being larger inside than its exterior. He had never guessed at the immense volume it contained.

Somewhere his bow and arrows had to be! Flink had put them into his knapsack several times, and he’d always produced them within a few minutes of rummaging and mumbling – sometimes even less. Miraculously enough, neither bow nor arrows had been ‘improved’ upon by the alreu, they had always been in pristine, battle-ready condition.

“Where are they?!”

He could have used a torch, to shed light into the darkness of the knapsack. There was a multitude of items in there, the nature of many he didn’t dare guess. Once he’d cut his fingers – as if the pain in his leg wasn’t enough! – and found a triple-edged sword of Rhelfinian make. When had Flink gotten hold of one? Saltek’s brood? Back on the Arrufat Peninsula? They’d met with the brood, Gabe in a slave collar, and Flink a more-or-less pet of the slavers. Or had it been after their escape, when they had a run-in with that patrol?

He’d subdued his pondering, pulled the sword free of the knapsack and thrown it to the wizard. Maybe he knew how to use the blade, so he was of some use after all.

While Gabe was still busy searching the contents of the knapsack, he heard rustling aside. Barandas. Of course. He couldn’t lie still and ‘re-charge’. A few moments later, the wizard muttered, “Rhelfinian? Do you know who this Decarius Jeko Nihl is that the sword belongs to? He cared enough about it to have his name engraved on the blade.”

What was it about this wizard that kept him prattling like that? Not even Flink was that annoying!

There! His hands closed around the familiar grip of his bow, and right beside it was the quiver of arrows. Quickly he pulled them out, slung the quiver of his shoulder, ran his fingers along the bowstring. Still taut and good.

A moment later he knelt down, the bow ready, an arrow set in a quick motion against the string, pulled back. His gaze ran across the surroundings, the multi-crested sea of buildings, lit faintly by a half-moon above, and the torches down below. No, not just down below. On a rooftop a story below theirs, some forty feet away, two torches blazed brightly, carried by a seven-man patrol of Tonomai.

Heading their way.

And they had crossbows.

Could he shoot at them now? They’d return fire, of course, and his protection was not the best.

Run away? He’d have to carry Flink again, occupying one arm. Bwyell didn’t like being wielded by only one hand. Nor did Gabe like fleeing from a fight.

The question was resolved a moment later when he discovered another patrol approaching from a second rooftop, only three men, but they were much closer, likely to see him very soon.

“Behind us, wizard,” Gabe said. “Use the sword, if you can. And try not to get killed.”

“How kind you are,” Barandas muttered.

“I want to kill you myself,” the barbarian explained matter-of-factly – then he let his first arrow fly. The shaft raced through the night, true to its aim and embedded itself in the throat of one of the crossbowmen in the first patrol.

Croaking he sank to the ground, while his comrades immediately scattered, seeking protection on the roof. Calmly Gabe set another arrow in a fluent, fast motion – one worthy of an elven archer – and shot it at the Tonomai. This arrow flew straight, but he’d miscalculated the movement of his target. The sharp tip only cut into the man’s leg.

The other soldiers raised their crossbows, and Gabe dived to the side, to escape the quarrels sure to come. Behind him Barandas muttered something about the sword – Gabe paid little attention. If the wizard couldn’t keep the Tonomai warriors off, the barbarian had to take care of them. First, though, he had to do his best to keep the crossbowmen occupied.

“Bloody tides!” Barandas yelled, followed by the clang of weapons.

Gabe shot up from his crouch, sent another arrow towards the crossbowmen, followed by a second – then he rolled backwards, dropped the bow to grasp bwyell and roared, “Ryelneyd!”

The moment he came to his feet, he almost regretted it, as Barandas only barely avoided running him down again. The coward was fleeing! From three Tonomai!

Gabe shoved him to the ground before the idiot could run straight into the quarrels of the crossbowmen, hollered the name of his tribe again, and swung bwyell towards the approaching –

He froze, startled at the sight before him.

The three warriors had stopped, turned back the way they had come, staring at the roof just beneath them. An instant later, before Gabe had fully finished the first swing of his axe, a shadow flew up from that roof, metal gleaming and glittering as it swooped out from the shadow, cleanly cutting through the closest Tonomai warrior’s armor, sending the links of his chainmail flying like the sparks of a fire, along with a stream of blood.

The other Tonomai slashed their swords, but their motions were too slow for the shadow. A boot shot against one of them, sending the man flying across the roof, more than seven feet – while the shadow’s blade flashed again, impaling itself into the other warrior’s chest.

“Get Flink!” the shadow yelled – and strangely, the shadow’s voice sounded like Cornell’s. “Move it, Gabe! Barandas, you fornicating fool, get the rest of the stuff, and let’s go!”

The voice sounded very much like Cornell’s, so much so that Gabe found himself moving instantly, rushing back to scoop up the unconscious alreu, while Barandas was just as quickly grabbing both the knapsack and Gabe’s bow.

But that can’t be Cornell! Did you see him fly like that, when he jumped up from the lower roof? And how far he threw the Tonomai? Cornell isn’t that strong!

Gabe halted his steps for a moment, gasping for air when another thought hit him. The emperor dragon’s heart?! Is the power of the dragon flowing through him? If that was so, however could they keep this secret from Cornell? They had pledged to do so, after all, a blood oath of utmost importance.

The crossbow quarrels flying from behind him cleared his mind of that useless pondering. He ran on, joined the shadow – who also looked like Cornell, as riled as always -, followed by Barandas, and together they dashed over the rooftops, led by the Cayaborean.

Gabe nearly lost track of their run, felt the pain in his leg grow worse and worse, his breath harder and harder. But then, just before exhaustion nearly consumed him, Cornell pointed to a ladder, leading down from the building they were on right now.

And down there were their horses. “Thank Keshmire!” Gabe breathed. Flink was moaning on his shoulder, another small miracle. The barbarian didn’t ask any questions, clambered down the ladder and then onto his horse as fast as his aching muscles permitted. He put Flink across his legs, grabbed the reins of the horse and put his boots into the beast’s side.

 

 

The rush of combat subsided when the horses had cleared Atnas. Cornell scanned for any Tonomai following them. None were in sight, he was relieved to find. With more relief, he saw that his friends seemed to be fine – except for the dark, bloody spot on Gabe’s leg. But Flink was sitting up again and rubbing his head with one hand, while the other clung to Gabe.

“Looks like we’re out of that mess for now,” Barandas grumbled.

“Yes, it seems,” Gabe agreed, with a strange tone in his voice. And he was looking at Cornell, as if the barbarian saw him for the first time. What was that about? Cornell wondered. They’d been in more than one battle together, after all. This wasn’t any –

Then he realized just how he had been fighting. How he had leaped, what strength he had employed, and how he hadn’t been the least tired from all the exertion as he properly should have. No wonder that Gabe was staring at him like that!

By the abysses, Cornell would stare at himself!

How was it possible that he could have done all of that? No ordinary human could have, and there had been nothing that could have affected him. Nothing?

“Oh, dear gods,” he sighed elatedly, then waved to Gabe. “Don’t worry, my friend. It was that songdwarf back at the Residence. She cast a spell on me. It’s got to wear off soon, but until then…” He grinned. “Looks like I’ve got the strength of an elf!”

Perhaps he had to reconsider how he’d treated Melawdis. Her spell must have enhanced his strength, to make it easier for him to escape. And then it had helped him rescue Gabe, Flink and Barandas. Not a bad deal all in all.

The barbarian and the wizard were still staring at him uncomfortably. Ah, well, they’d feel better once the spell wore off, Cornell knew. But he’d miss that additional strength, that much was certain. “Let’s ride on,” he smiled confidently and signaled Stormwind to continue their ride.

 

“That’s it,” Barandas muttered. “I’m all out.”

“Already? After only four fireballs? What manner of wizard are you, fool?”

Barandas turned to Gabe and pointed his finger angrily at the barbarian. “I’m a wizard who’s all tapped out! No more magic, get it into your fat skull! Deal with it!” I should have planted that last fireball right between your stupid eyes, he thought, more furious at himself for not thinking about it at the time. No, he’d only seen the approaching Tonomai and hurled the spell at them.

Bloody tides of magic, I can run faster than those armored idiots can. I could have been away and safe!

Gabe growled inarticulately, then patted Flink on the shoulder. “Hurry up.”

The alreu twitched as soon as he was touched, and the barbarian withdrew his hand hastily. Barandas scowled. The little creature had been jumpy all night, since he’d been thrown to the ground. Probably hurt. Whatever. “Get the door open!” Barandas snarled.

“I’m doing my best,” Flink moaned. In the twilight, Barandas could see little but a flurry where the alreu’s hands were supposed to be, hovering around the padlock before the door of a kafeserat. It had seemed a good idea to seek refuge here – its roof was connected to the others so they could flee that way, and it was dark whereas the other buildings had lit windows, some had people leaning out to see what the commotion in their city was about.

Commotion there was enough. Patrols of Tonomai were moving through the night, torches blazing, occasional shouts between the soldiers, to organize their search. Great. Didn’t we want to rescue Cornell? Now they’re after us, and the gods only know how Cornell is doing. Some of the shouts were close, close enough that one of them might see the three foreigners.

“What’s the problem?” Barandas muttered. “You’ve opened all kinds of locks before, you little twerp. Including the magical seal on my bag!”

“My fingers ache!” Flink said, with more than a touch of annoyance.

“They’ll hurt much worse if you won’t get us inside!” Barandas promised. Apparently threats worked on the alreu – sometimes, anyway -, for in that very instant there was an audible clack from the door, and the padlock fell to the ground.

“Move,” Gabe told them.

There hadn’t been any need, since Barandas was already pushing into the dark kafeserat.

 

 

“We’re outside? I can’t believe that big lug actually did something right?”

Cornell ignored Nev’s mutterings. Instead he put his sword into his left hand, and his right immediately shot out to grab Melawdis’ lapels and lift her up against the wall of the Residence. Subconsciously he was surprised how light she was – normal dwarves were built like rocks inside, weighing at least as much as a six foot human. He didn’t much care as he placed his head close to the acharadh’s gray face and snarled, “Now start talking. What is this about?”

Melawdis snapped for air. “Put me down!” she breathed.

Not a chance, Cornell thought and put much of the idea into his face. “Talk,” he said dangerously.

“Your – the shield soul was right. It’s about an egg… the egg of a dragon. Derisham – he stole it, and now – it’s stolen from him.”

“A dragon’s egg?” Cornell repeated. “All this turmoil about a dragon’s egg? Not very credible.”

Her face was starting to turn darker, like a shadow creeping over a rockface. “It’s… a snake… a snake dragon’s egg! About to… hatch!”

“Right. And that changes what?” She was playing with him, there was no other explanation. Cornell didn’t like being toyed with. Particularly not when the city around him was ablaze with the light of torches and patrols everywhere, scared up by the heist of something important – and that the governor thought he was involved with. “Come on, the truth. Tell me!”

To his surprise, Halla spoke up at that point, “She may be telling the truth, shield bearer.”

“What?”

“There are legends about the dragons beyond the Laru’sedna Mountains. Old maid’s tales, perhaps, but it doesn’t matter. Derisham might believe them, as he seems to have believed in knight-errants.”

Provided that hadn’t been a lie to put me at ease. Granted, there might have been a kernel of truth to his words. “Go on,” Cornell said, his hands still holding the dwarf against the wall.

Calmly, Halla said, “Whichever the truth may be, the egg of a snake dragon is valuable. None of the snake creatures have been seen on this side of the Laru’sednas in mortal memory. They are said to be magical, wizards of their own right, smarter than an emperor dragon. They certainly must be powerful. Now think if Derisham wants to raise the snake dragon from a pup. He can use its power and strength, put the snake dragon at the front of his army. The sight alone would make his enemies scatter and flee.”

That wasn’t a bad idea. Except that some people in the past had tried similar approaches with other kinds of dragons. Most of the time, the beast had shown little loyalty, and as its hunger outgrew the supplies, it had turned on its supposed masters.

The only kinds of dragons that could be trained, that could be taught obedience were horse dragons, and only Cayaboreans had fully mastered the art of taming them.

Derisham might think that a snake dragon can be tamed, though. If that little is known about them, he might see it’s worth the chance. But for whom? For the Empire? No, probably not. Derisham seemed an embittered man, left to govern a small city rather than the high and mighty dreams he’d had as a young man. He was more likely to lead an army against the Empire, to take it by force and sit down on the empress’ throne. Which raised the question who Melawdis was working for.

Besides, letting a dragon that powerful loose anywhere would be a very bad idea. Especially while Cornell and his friends were nearby.

“She could have made this up,” he said cautiously. “Putting together the words dragon and egg, from Phindar’s false translation.”

“Shield bearer,” the priest replied instantly, “I don’t think my translation was wrong. The words didn’t make sense before, as I told you.”

“Lord… Dragon…” Melawdis breathed heavily, her face turning to a dusky darkness.

Cornell dropped her, snatched his sword from his left hand and scanned the surroundings. None of the guards were nearby. There was an alley through which he could escape from the Residence. Plenty of patrols around, of course. He tightened his grip on his sword, slashed experimentally at the air, then nodded confidently.

The acharadh grunted, heaving for air, “What… are your plans?”

“I’ll find my friends, we’ll get out of here, just as you wanted. Quid pro quo, Melawdis.”

“Excuse me?” the songdwarf huffed.

Cornell shrugged. “It’s a Roman expression. It means we’re even now. You brought this trouble on me, you got me out. That’s as far as it goes.”

“Uh-huh.”

He didn’t spare the songdwarf another glance. The buckler raised, his sword ready, he started running towards the dark alley.

 

 

Flink was unconscious. A spear thrown by one of the Tonomai had grazed his head and knocked him out. Now he lay on the rooftop of one of the many buildings where they had sought shelter for a few moments, next to the prone figure of the wizard. Well, prone was an exaggeration. He tried to keep rigid, his eyes closed, and relax. Yet every few moments his eyes flew open and he stared around for a sign of any of their pursuers.

Gabe paid him little heed. As a spell-caster, Barandas was worth next to nothing in his eyes. So he claimed that he had to re-charge his magical battery. Fine. That wasn’t going to help them very much, if he could produce no more than three or four fireballs. A real wizard should be able to hurl dozens of them without ever tiring. The barbarian had met a number of them, proud and powerful. It had been an honor cutting their throats, after a great battle.

Now that thought was in the very recesses of his mind as he searched through Flink’s knapsack. The poor little alreu, why did he have to get knocked out? Only he had at least a faint idea of what was in his knapsack – Gabe sure didn’t, and he was slowly coming to realize that his task was more difficult than he had anticipated. He had known for some time that the knapsack had a magical quality, being larger inside than its exterior. He had never guessed at the immense volume it contained.

Somewhere his bow and arrows had to be! Flink had put them into his knapsack several times, and he’d always produced them within a few minutes of rummaging and mumbling – sometimes even less. Miraculously enough, neither bow nor arrows had been ‘improved’ upon by the alreu, they had always been in pristine, battle-ready condition.

“Where are they?!”

He could have used a torch, to shed light into the darkness of the knapsack. There was a multitude of items in there, the nature of many he didn’t dare guess. Once he’d cut his fingers – as if the pain in his leg wasn’t enough! – and found a triple-edged sword of Rhelfinian make. When had Flink gotten hold of one? Saltek’s brood? Back on the Arrufat Peninsula? They’d met with the brood, Gabe in a slave collar, and Flink a more-or-less pet of the slavers. Or had it been after their escape, when they had a run-in with that patrol?

He’d subdued his pondering, pulled the sword free of the knapsack and thrown it to the wizard. Maybe he knew how to use the blade, so he was of some use after all.

While Gabe was still busy searching the contents of the knapsack, he heard rustling aside. Barandas. Of course. He couldn’t lie still and ‘re-charge’. A few moments later, the wizard muttered, “Rhelfinian? Do you know who this Decarius Jeko Nihl is that the sword belongs to? He cared enough about it to have his name engraved on the blade.”

What was it about this wizard that kept him prattling like that? Not even Flink was that annoying!

There! His hands closed around the familiar grip of his bow, and right beside it was the quiver of arrows. Quickly he pulled them out, slung the quiver of his shoulder, ran his fingers along the bowstring. Still taut and good.

A moment later he knelt down, the bow ready, an arrow set in a quick motion against the string, pulled back. His gaze ran across the surroundings, the multi-crested sea of buildings, lit faintly by a half-moon above, and the torches down below. No, not just down below. On a rooftop a story below theirs, some forty feet away, two torches blazed brightly, carried by a seven-man patrol of Tonomai.

Heading their way.

And they had crossbows.

Could he shoot at them now? They’d return fire, of course, and his protection was not the best.

Run away? He’d have to carry Flink again, occupying one arm. Bwyell didn’t like being wielded by only one hand. Nor did Gabe like fleeing from a fight.

The question was resolved a moment later when he discovered another patrol approaching from a second rooftop, only three men, but they were much closer, likely to see him very soon.

“Behind us, wizard,” Gabe said. “Use the sword, if you can. And try not to get killed.”

“How kind you are,” Barandas muttered.

“I want to kill you myself,” the barbarian explained matter-of-factly – then he let his first arrow fly. The shaft raced through the night, true to its aim and embedded itself in the throat of one of the crossbowmen in the first patrol.

Croaking he sank to the ground, while his comrades immediately scattered, seeking protection on the roof. Calmly Gabe set another arrow in a fluent, fast motion – one worthy of an elven archer – and shot it at the Tonomai. This arrow flew straight, but he’d miscalculated the movement of his target. The sharp tip only cut into the man’s leg.

The other soldiers raised their crossbows, and Gabe dived to the side, to escape the quarrels sure to come. Behind him Barandas muttered something about the sword – Gabe paid little attention. If the wizard couldn’t keep the Tonomai warriors off, the barbarian had to take care of them. First, though, he had to do his best to keep the crossbowmen occupied.

“Bloody tides!” Barandas yelled, followed by the clang of weapons.

Gabe shot up from his crouch, sent another arrow towards the crossbowmen, followed by a second – then he rolled backwards, dropped the bow to grasp bwyell and roared, “Ryelneyd!”

The moment he came to his feet, he almost regretted it, as Barandas only barely avoided running him down again. The coward was fleeing! From three Tonomai!

Gabe shoved him to the ground before the idiot could run straight into the quarrels of the crossbowmen, hollered the name of his tribe again, and swung bwyell towards the approaching –

He froze, startled at the sight before him.

The three warriors had stopped, turned back the way they had come, staring at the roof just beneath them. An instant later, before Gabe had fully finished the first swing of his axe, a shadow flew up from that roof, metal gleaming and glittering as it swooped out from the shadow, cleanly cutting through the closest Tonomai warrior’s armor, sending the links of his chainmail flying like the sparks of a fire, along with a stream of blood.

The other Tonomai slashed their swords, but their motions were too slow for the shadow. A boot shot against one of them, sending the man flying across the roof, more than seven feet – while the shadow’s blade flashed again, impaling itself into the other warrior’s chest.

“Get Flink!” the shadow yelled – and strangely, the shadow’s voice sounded like Cornell’s. “Move it, Gabe! Barandas, you fornicating fool, get the rest of the stuff, and let’s go!”

The voice sounded very much like Cornell’s, so much so that Gabe found himself moving instantly, rushing back to scoop up the unconscious alreu, while Barandas was just as quickly grabbing both the knapsack and Gabe’s bow.

But that can’t be Cornell! Did you see him fly like that, when he jumped up from the lower roof? And how far he threw the Tonomai? Cornell isn’t that strong!

Gabe halted his steps for a moment, gasping for air when another thought hit him. The emperor dragon’s heart?! Is the power of the dragon flowing through him? If that was so, however could they keep this secret from Cornell? They had pledged to do so, after all, a blood oath of utmost importance.

The crossbow quarrels flying from behind him cleared his mind of that useless pondering. He ran on, joined the shadow – who also looked like Cornell, as riled as always -, followed by Barandas, and together they dashed over the rooftops, led by the Cayaborean.

Gabe nearly lost track of their run, felt the pain in his leg grow worse and worse, his breath harder and harder. But then, just before exhaustion nearly consumed him, Cornell pointed to a ladder, leading down from the building they were on right now.

And down there were their horses. “Thank Keshmire!” Gabe breathed. Flink was moaning on his shoulder, another small miracle. The barbarian didn’t ask any questions, clambered down the ladder and then onto his horse as fast as his aching muscles permitted. He put Flink across his legs, grabbed the reins of the horse and put his boots into the beast’s side.

 

 

The rush of combat subsided when the horses had cleared Atnas. Cornell scanned for any Tonomai following them. None were in sight, he was relieved to find. With more relief, he saw that his friends seemed to be fine – except for the dark, bloody spot on Gabe’s leg. But Flink was sitting up again and rubbing his head with one hand, while the other clung to Gabe.

“Looks like we’re out of that mess for now,” Barandas grumbled.

“Yes, it seems,” Gabe agreed, with a strange tone in his voice. And he was looking at Cornell, as if the barbarian saw him for the first time. What was that about? Cornell wondered. They’d been in more than one battle together, after all. This wasn’t any –

Then he realized just how he had been fighting. How he had leaped, what strength he had employed, and how he hadn’t been the least tired from all the exertion as he properly should have. No wonder that Gabe was staring at him like that!

By the abysses, Cornell would stare at himself!

How was it possible that he could have done all of that? No ordinary human could have, and there had been nothing that could have affected him. Nothing?

“Oh, dear gods,” he sighed elatedly, then waved to Gabe. “Don’t worry, my friend. It was that songdwarf back at the Residence. She cast a spell on me. It’s got to wear off soon, but until then…” He grinned. “Looks like I’ve got the strength of an elf!”

Perhaps he had to reconsider how he’d treated Melawdis. Her spell must have enhanced his strength, to make it easier for him to escape. And then it had helped him rescue Gabe, Flink and Barandas. Not a bad deal all in all.

The barbarian and the wizard were still staring at him uncomfortably. Ah, well, they’d feel better once the spell wore off, Cornell knew. But he’d miss that additional strength, that much was certain. “Let’s ride on,” he smiled confidently and signaled Stormwind to continue their ride.

 

 

Read on in Chapter Nine!