"Call of the Dragon, Part I"
"Call of the Dragon, Part II"
"Ruins and Hopes"
"Shield Maiden" Cornell #3
"Warrior Eternal" Cornell #4
"Childhood of a Fighter"
"The Pledge" Cornell #5
"The Rock of Discontent"
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"A Tale of the Gods"
"The Miracle of Solstice Day" Cornell #6
"The Pilgrims' Trial and Faith"
skeletons from the hall were trying their best to clamber up onto the
staircase. Ha’el and Markesh, on the other hand, did their best to keep
them back. Blades clanged onto blades, and for the moment the assault of
the undead was stopped.
the skeletons didn’t tire, Koyson recognized. Markesh was already
slowing down, so that Ha’el had to pick up the slack. At least there
wasn’t that much slack, for the novice’s gladius
was a short, stabbing sword – hardly a match in this fight for the
half-elf’s longsword sweeping swathes into the undead rows.
get outta here,” the dwarf muttered, casting a glance up the staircase.
It spiraled up one more story, led onto a short balustrade. A round
opening led into rooms beyond – there probably had been a gate, too, but
it had rotted away completely.
splendid idea,” Willett agreed and hurried up the stairs, followed by
the dwarf who called for the others to retreat.
wizard had just reached the top of the stairs – when five skeletons
spilled out of the doorway and started hewing at him with halbards. They
wore the tattered remains of dresses, but their one-time feminity did not
slow the ferocious assault of their undead selves.
dived for Willett’s legs, snagged them, and both went tumbling down the
stairs – but well out of the halbards’ reach.
to a stop at Vobul’s feet – the furrag proved to be an excellent
barrier on the staircase – Koyson bounded up instantly, the axe in both
his hands and already swinging at the skeletons hastening down the stairs.
The blade cut through the first two easily, the bones crumbling all around
them, and the dwarf raced up two more stairs to assail the next one.
one had probably been a noblewoman, judging by the gold necklace still
around her neck. Her halbard slammed against the dwarf’s axe with a
force almost equal to Koyson’s superhuman strength. He grinned in sudden
exhilaration, jammed the halbard aside and and jabbed his head at the
exposed torso. The skeleton crashed back against the stairs, raising her
halbard immediately to block Koyson’s next blow.
remaining two skeletons had reached them by now, their halbards aiming for
the dwarf’s head. Koyson dropped down the stairs for a moment – the
halbards didn’t smash into each other, but missed, kept going – and
crashed into their opposite number’s bones.
exploded under the force, the halbards clattered to the stones.
noblewoman’s skeleton swung her halbard at Koyson. He blocked it,
holding the axe with one hand, used the other to grab the bony arm and
tear at it with all his strength. The bone splintered all too easily, the
weapon bounding off to the ground below. But the skeleton wasn’t
finished yet, as her remaining arm fired at Koyson, its fingers closing
around his throat with crushing force.
slammed his axe back, smashed the handle through the skeleton’s spine.
It disintegrated yet the hand still choked his throat. Koyson dropped the
axe, grabbed the unattached bones around his neck and pried them loose as
quickly as he could. “Up yer shaft, lady!” he cried as soon as he had
pressed some air into his lungs.
are more coming!” Willett yelled, and Koyson saw with dismay some seven
skeletons hurrying out onto the balustrade, wearing intact armor –
warriors, not inexperienced fighters.
he was still too out of breath to fight with full strength, so –
“Willett, yer magic! Cut’em apples down!”
didn’t know if the wizard had heard – or understood -, and he fought
to fetch his axe from the stairs. His hands weren’t working right, or
his vision was still too blurred, or his feeling of time was skewered, but
it seemed like an eternity for him to grasp the handle, close his fingers
around it, bring it up to face the skeletons.
started up the stairs just when he felt that same breeze of air swoosh over his head, barely missing his hair. The armored skeletons
had just started down the stairs – when their heads suddenly disattached
from their bodies, the skulls hanging in the air for a brief moment while
the rest of the bodies moved further down. Then the skulls dropped to the
ground, and the skeletons, battered by an invisible force, exploded,
raining their bony fragments all over the dwarf.
that’s using magic!”
magic,” Willett corrected calmly, “that is the proper description.”
ye say,” Koyson yelled, turned to the wizard and smacked his hand
against Willett’s hip. “Now use it on’em skeletons down there.
Cut’em down, an’ let’s get the blazes outta here!”
wizard looked at him with a strange air of exhaustion and desperation.
“I… can’t. There’s not enough magic left in me to do that.”
stooped over, leaned his arms on his knees. “I’m empty. I can’t cast any more spells!”
gaped. The wizard’s magic had seemed so wonderful just a moment earlier,
but now… Without any magic, they were down to blades once more. And the
skeletons… Who knew how many more were within the fortress, aside from
the bloody hordes down in the hall?
there was only… “Vobul, for the dweorgh’s sake, start usin’ yer
strength! We’re gonna die if ye don’t bloody bowl’em fornicatin’
furrag was standing halfway down the stairs, apparently unconcerned by
Ha’el and Markesh fighting off the undead at the bottom or Koyson and
Willett panting above him. But it took the dwarf only a moment to see that
he was concentrated on something down the hall, something beside the
obvious assault battering down on the two youngsters.
the furrag acknowledged Koyson’s call, turned around and looked at him
with his red, maniacal eyes. “Not all the skeletons have been raised,”
he announced calmly. “Only those who apparently were the defenders of
this place. The Tonomai dead are still down.”
bloody what?!” Koyson yelled. “They’re still gonna kill us!”
frowned. “Apparently they were ensorceled to defend the castle from
further Tonomai attacks. Or any other heathen attacks. If we could tell
them that we believe in the defenders’ gods as well, perhaps that would
stop the spell.”
daft!” Koyson shouted. “These are just bloody skeletons out to –“
The dwarf’s anger suddenly vanished as he noticed that the furrag was
right. Quite a number of skeletons were still on the floor, unmoving, and
most of them had been carrying scimitars in their lifetimes.
hundred years ago, during the invasion of the Tonomai, when the entire
Arrufat peninsula was conquered in a few years, when their single god’s
banner was raised everywhere – the sign of the true gods was what kept
the defenders’ spirits intact, what identified the armies as the ones on
the good side.
how in the names of all the four dweorgh could they raise such a sign?!
Vobul had his own gods, and dwarves had rejected their
gods at the beginning of time – which left only the three young people,
one of whom was a wizard, one of whom was a half-elf, and one was…
Koyson yelled, pushing past the furrag and dragging the novice bodily away
from Ha’el’s side. The novice’s eyes were confused, all the cracks
on his face that the ratpeople had left behind bleeding once more, but
Koyson didn’t care. “Ye’ve gotta bless
this place! Make it sacred ground, do ye understand?!”
Markesh stuttered. “I’m just a novice, not a full priest, I can’t
out to yer god, yer great Darawk! Ask
him t’grant ye this blessin’!”
do it!” Koyson’s yell echoed
through the hall, but the dwarf had already turned around, hastened down
the stairs to swing his axe against the skeletons who were trying to break
through Ha’el’s desperate defense. One pulverized under his swing,
another two rocked back, trying to adapt to the sudden appearance of
left them little time. He hewed at one of them, caught its sword and swung
it far into the air. The skeleton stared at it emptily, as if in
confusion, and then the axe’s top smashed its skull to dust.
were coming, consuming all of Koyson’s attention as he weaved his blade
about, forming a web of blurry, glittering motions that cut through blades
and bones – and all too much empty air. But he kept on, feeling his own
strength accelerated by the energy of battle, drawing on all the force of
his tough dwarven ancestors. I’m
not gonna bloody die in this place! his mind yelled desperately, kept
going all the time.
of the rims of his eyes he saw that the one skeleton with the markings of
the Falken family was coming closer, roughly pushing the other skeletons
out of the way. By now it had drawn a sword of its own, glowing furiously,
just like the helmet on its head. Magic, he knew, and a part down within
Koyson knew that this one skeleton would be the one to best the dwarf. His
axe was solid steel, forged from the best metal of Mt. Eringard, so
precious that his brethren sold it up to bloody Chazevo, halfway across
blow from the magical sword would turn it into scrap metal, and the next
would cleave the dwarf apart.
that his fate was so close only enfuriated Koyson, and with renewed
strength he hit at the next skeleton. With such force he hit that his blow
not only pulverized that skeleton but severed the next one’s spine as
well. “Let’s do it!” he yelled at the Falken skeleton, whirled his
axe about to carve a path to his ultimate opponent.
seemed as if a smile lit on the undead Falken’s skull, understanding
what the dwarf was doing, and the skeleton became all the rougher pushing
the other warriors out of its way, closing in on Koyson and the great
battle that would ensue.
moments before the blades would meet, Markesh’s voice sounded. “Great
Darawk, great seeker of knowledge, magnificent protector of the mind,
please hear thine lowly supporter. Mine mind is small, mine will is weak,
yet I seek thine help. Thou art the one whose understanding surpasses that
of any mortal, thou art the one whom I am craving to aid, whose
comprehension I seek to expand. Grant me the strength, grant me the power
to make this place another abode of thine splendor. Let wisdom expand and bless
wave of light shot out from the novice, rippling and blinding as it passed
through the bodies of the party, of the skeletons, the walls, encompassing
everything. Brightness lit the hall, so strong that Koyson dropped his
axe, raised his hands to protect his eyes.
still flashed through his fingers, highlighting his bones like slim, dark
Maidoyú!” Ha’el exclaimed.
whispered, too low to be heard over the noise. But there was no noise
left. “I don’t… believe it.”
lowered his hands from his eyes. It took him so incredibly long to adjust
his eyes to the dim twilight that once more had conquered the hall, but
then… All the skeletons had fallen down, laying as still on the ground
as if they never had risen from their deaths, peaceful, markers of a
battle waged centuries ago.
save for the skeleton of the Falken family.
was still standing, its eyeholes glimmering in faint red. “Thank you,
honored sage,” a voice from the grave issued, hallowing from far away,
in quiet relief. “So long it has been. Decades, probably. We have held
the castle for so long, three years against the heathens. Three years
since Han left for Ibrollene. But we had to stay. There were those people,
the refugees, dependant on us… they who stayed despite the heathens. How
long has it been, please, tell me!”
surreal it was that Koyson was surprised to find his own voice speak out,
“It has been five centuries since the Tonomai invasion. They conquered
all of the peninsula, turned it into part of the Tonomai Empire. But the
refugees stayed and they founded their own village which remains to this
time. Today, the Tonomai have been driven back to the outermost coasts of
Arrufat, and the old, the true gods rule over most of the peninsula once
more. Your fight has not been f’r naught.”
skeleton stared at him for a while, focussing its gleaming, red eyeholes.
“That is good. Thank you, Sir Caidwarf, for telling me. You are honest
and brave, you are a true son of Arrufat. Please, forgive the spell that
my lordpriest, Namuras, cast over the defenders of my castle. It was to
hold back the invaders, to save the refugees.” It paused for a moment,
put its magic sword’s tip to the ground and leaned on it. “I am
Carawlk Falken, nephew of the lord of the house. All that we own – that
we owned in the past -, it is yours to command, Sir Caidwarf, but, please,
would you tell me your name that I may take it into the world beyond and
tell the gods of your glory?”
nodded, not even fully aware of the meaning of the Falken skeleton’s
words. “I am Lionheart Koyson Seabourne, Slayer of Dragons and Trolls,
Heir of the Kingdom of Tevenshire, Lord Protector of Verishnat, son of Koy
Banson Seabourne, the Lancelord of Albinavia, the first knight of King
Owain Ddaintgwynn the Bear who is the One King of the land, whose knights
saved the island from the Sassenach fright.”
glow in the skeleton’s eyes intensified, and Koyson would have sworn it
smiled. “Yes, Sir Koyson, it is good that one of your might is the one
to liberate our castle. I will gladly tell my ancestors of you, and I will
tell the gods that here is one who is worthy of their attention.”
that, the glow vanished – and the skeleton fell to the ground, as
unremarkable as all the others strewn around it. Tonomai invaders,
following the call of their bloodthirsty One God. Arrufatian defenders,
who fought to protect those who could not protect themselves. Defenders
who had given their lives to the fight, and who had sold their souls to
fight on even after their deaths.
now,” Koyson whispered, “ye have earned yer rest.”
sunlight seemed strangely bright when they left the castle. Trebonshire
Forest’s trees were so calm, so green, an ocean of calmness stretching
to the very horizon. Odd, after what they had experienced. Koyson sat down
on a rocky outcropping, holding the magical helmet and sword of Carawlk
Falken in his hands, contemplating them silently. The man who had given
more than just his life in defense of this patch of ground had given rise
to an odd legend. The people of Clearspring must have remembered the name
of Carawlk, but over the decades and centuries it was changed into Darawk,
and the legend of a lost Academy of the God of Knowledge had been born.
“What would ye have said t’that, eh?” he muttered towards the blade,
remembering the relieved voice of the skeleton Carawlk.
the dwarf, Vobul came out of the gate carrying a large bag full of jewels
and valuables they had found within.
stepped upfront, turning back to take a good look at the castle. “I
don’t understand it. We haven’t found the magiscribe, but I feel so…
other youngsters joined her, their faces holding no more understanding
have put these people back to rest,” Willett said. “They gave their
all to save our ancestors, and now they know it was all worth it. That,
perhaps, is more important.”
cleared his throat. It was a choked noise, mixed with tears running down
across his cheeks. “I am a priest now. Darawk heard me, and it was
through his grace that we allowed these warriors to find their ways to the
afterlife. It is…” He stopped, checked himself and looked at his
friends. “I feel so good now, don’t you?”
Ha’el said slowly.
passed that stretched into minutes and perhaps hours as the three friends
looked at each other, sharing a communion beyond their mortal
understanding. It was then that they were bonded to each other in a way
that would hold all their lives. What bonds they had known before, the
twin birth, the half-elf’s frienship, it all withered away, and they
knew that for all the time they would be together – just like the
defenders of the castle, just like Carawlk and his companions.
Markesh said after a while, a smile still pasted on his face, “what do
we do now? We have nothing to bring home to Clearspring.”
we haven’t”, Ha’el grinned and then waved her hand about,
encompassing Trebonshire Forest and the world beyond. “But there is so
much out there. We will find something
to help our village. We will
help our families, and our friends, and we will bring happiness to
smirked. “Maybe they’ll even forgive us for running away.”
perhaps,” Ha’el nodded, then cast a glance at the dwarf and the
furrag. “Forgive us for lying to you. No, forgive me,
please. The village elders never knew what we were doing, nor did our
parents. Everyone was afraid of leaving the village, of facing the dangers
out here. Clearspring is wasting so many opportunities, and we wanted to
make our people proud and rich. Not for us, but for them. The
opportunities had to be taken, and so we left for here, to make it happen
stopped, waiting for any accusations. When none came, she sighed and said,
“I didn’t trust you. I am sorry, Sir Dwarf, Sir Furrag.”
grinned. “Mighty big o’ye, gal. Ye’re a good one, too.”
beside the dwarf, one paw on Koyson’s shoulder, Vobul solemnly nodded.
“We never believed your story, little ones. The village elders would
have had to be very,” he twisted his snout into a smile, glancing at
Koyson, “daft to send you on this mission. But you have the hearts for this
will find what ye’re seekin’,” the dwarf muttered and raised the
sword and helmet in his hands. “An’ this oughta help ye from dyin’
along the way.”
eyes of the young people widened, and even more so when Vobul took the
sword and offered it to Ha’el. She frowned for a moment, staring at the
steel glazing with embedded magic. Then a smile flashed over her lips, and
she took the blade.
smiled at her happily. “It looks good on you, Ellie.”
actually does,” Willett grumbled – and found himself shortcut when the
magical helmet landed on his head.
you are unconscious,” Vobul said, “your magic will do your friends no
good. So you had better keep your head safe.”
–“ Willett cursed. Then he checked the seat of the helmet on his head
and found it was so light that it didn’t bother him at all. “Well,
I’ll be… I mean, thank you.”
chuckled. “Now this is a new one to me. Willett, you actually said
shut up, will you… priest?”
you say so, wizard,” Markesh answered, unable to wipe the grin from his
cleared her throat, the magical sword still in her hands. “Why don’t
we start now? There’s a lot of space to cover, and I… I feel like
starting right now.”
the twin-born boys agreed in unison, startled by this almost as much as
the half-elf was.
quickly said their good-byes to the dwarf and the furrag, apologetic at
hurrying but in no way encumbered by it. Within moments they had stowed
away all their belongings, including their newly acquired ones, and had
vanished down the hill.
two travellers watched their descent and kept staring after them wistfully
for a while, before Koyson slowly clambered to his feet. “Well, now,”
he said with a pat on the bag on Vobul’s back, “this seems to have
been a worthwhile day, hasn’t it? Let’s go to the next town and find
out how much we can get for this little find here, what do ye say?”
say,” Vobul rumbled, “that I’m hungry.”
very well,” Koyson laughed. “Let’s get a pig down there, first. If
ye left any alive, ye big boar-eatin’ monster!”
furrag licked his lips. “I must have left one or two at least. Maybe
there’ll even be some parts left for you to burn, dwarf.”
T H E
E N D