Dargon Chapter #9

Chapter #9

Daybreak found Kegar awaking with a start. Sleeping next to someone was still so new! As was awaking next to someone in his bedroll. He smiled into his beard, a blush spreading across his face. His eyes lingered on Lizzy, the blanket pulled up to her chin to ward off the dawn chill.

“Definitely some benefits.” He murmured crawling out from under the blanket.

A frown spread across his face. There were some negatives as well. Chief among them Lizzy’s insistence on sleeping in a tent. Kegar was used to sleeping under the stars. This was not that. He missed the breeze tickling his beard while he slept.

While he dressed he considered his options. As the leader he should present the group before the king. As a druid he chafed under the responsibility of caring for humans and the need enter a city at all. He slipped out of the tent, signaling for Cat to join him. Together they threaded the sleeping bodies to the campfire. Ellen, Katrina and Percival were making breakfast and seemed to be in an earnest debate.

“That’s it!” he murmured. He was Sir Wilbur’s representative. He could go alone! Then he could avoid the group altogether for a few hours and have some peace. At least what peace could be found in a town. It was perfect! Or nearly.

Ellen had directed a question at him. Kegar could see it on their faces, but he had missed it. He spooned some meal into his bowl and grunted in reply. It seemed to satisfy them as they turned back to their conversation.

Between one bite and the next, there was a clap of thunder from the clear sky. Clouds burst from the air and lightning charged between them. Katrina’s eyes had begun to glow white and electricity sparked across her skin.

Her voice was like the thunder crashing in the sky,

“By a knight’s command, one must go.

By a lady’s birth another.

By a man’s contract, he must go.

By my word another.

In more footsteps, distrust and unrest follow.”

The clouds above them rumbled a final time before rolling off. Katrina’s eyes cleared and she shook her head. “Well damn.”

Kegar eyed the clouds with distrust, “Aye?”

“I was not looking forward to going into the city.”

“You don’t have to if you don’t wish it.”

“I’m hardly going to disobey my goddess after I prayed for wisdom last night. I’m independent not stupid.”

“So what’s the rhyme mean?”

“Simple enough. Sir Wilbur, a knight gave Kegar the lead. Lizzy is the only lady here. Percival is sworn to her service. Katrina looked like her goddess tapped her shoulder pretty hard.”

“Why does Lizzy need to go? Why should anyone other than me?”

Percival opened his mouth to reply, looked past Kegar and then closed it into a smile. “Lizzy, what are your thoughts?”

“Kegar, I would speak with you a moment.”

The three by the fire finished their breakfast. Katrina and Percival packed up their gear before Kegar and Lizzy returned. Shame covered his face, settling over it with an angry grimace. Likewise cold fury was frozen on hers.

Ellen whispered to Katrina, “I do not envy you on the trip.”

Katrina nodded.

“We are leaving right now. If you are ready, come. If you aren’t, I’m not waiting.”

Percival saluted Kegar, “Ready and willing.”

Fury clenched his jaw. In an uncomfortable silence, they stalked down the hill toward Capita.

Dargon Chapter #8

Chapter #8

Sir Wilbur called all the youths of the town to his supper table that night. “My thanks to the group of the hour. Without your help not only would we still be under the shadow of that dark tower, but Chanceux would have been lost with the others.”

Katrina wiped her eyes surreptitiously.

“However, Cole tells me that the tower has not been completely cleansed from the land. Even if the tower were not still a threat we would have to report it to the king in Capita.”

Everyone nodded their heads in agreement.

“Also, Percival and Francis returned from Capita this morning. Percival has brought me word from the king. It is something you are required to hear.” Sir Wilbur gestured to Percival who stood. “Please, skip the formalities.”

Percival nodded. His eyes scanned the document for a moment before beginning, “Sir Wilbur… as a peer of the realm… you must send a levy of soldiers to defend Capita… all the militia… as well as a representative of your person.” He scanned the document for a moment, “Members will be compensated according to their contribution at such a time that it may be made available… His royal highness… etc.” Percival sat down.

Silence permeated the room. Katrina used Finos’ hanky to wipe her eyes before handing it back to him, “Excuse me, my lord. But if we all go to war, who will till the fields?” She glanced to where Ellen was seated, “Who will prevent the strange beasts from killing the sheep? Or mating with the chickens?”

“As in any war time, some will make sacrifices to the kingdom. While you are away, there will be a group effort to come together and set things to rights.” Sir Wilbur rose again, “For myself, I would love to go and fight for my kingdom, but I am getting long in the tooth. So I have chosen to send my soon-to-be grandson Kegar in my stead.”

“Sir!” Kegar stood, eyes bright with unshed, manly tears.

Lizzy smiled looking at Kegar. That is, she smiled until she realized that Kegar was going to be her grandfather’s representative, not her.

“Kegar, you have always been like a son to me. I am honored to have you marry my granddaughter.” He took Elizabeth and Kegar’s hands and joined them, “Even if you are a dwarf!”

“Am I not worthy?” Lizzy looked at her grandfather.

“Lizzy, you are worthy of many things. Unfortunately, we live in a world where it is better to be a man and a dwarf than a woman and a human. Though it is only slightly better, and only better in certain situations.” He looked around at the other women at the table and sighed, “Ladies. Your femininity does not save you from the draft. The lords are aware enough to realize that common women can fight. They do not however recognize a woman’s sovereign right over herself.” He sighed again, “It would be better for your sakes if Kegar was not a dwarf. But he is. Even so, he is a worthy man, one I put my complete faith in. He will lead you well.”

Each of them would be going off to war on the king’s command. Some of them – those unconsumed by duty – knew they could have shrugged off the king’s command. He was far away and his most intimate moment was sending his tax collector to hassle their parents. Sir Wilbur was different. His calm regard weighed on them. Even the most self-serving and disobedient among them would be hard pressed to willfully disappoint Sir Wilbur.

A collected mental sigh went up from them. They were headed for war.

The next morning, after they had said goodbye to their families, kissed their mothers, hugged their siblings and been pulled into hearty bear hugs by their fathers – with the exception of Katrina – they stood before Sir Wilbur who personally gave each of them a finely crafted weapon.

Once the weapons were distributed, the group started the weeklong journey eastward to Capita. As the days passed they fell into a routine and became increasingly annoyed with one another. As the sun set on the fourth day Kegar realized they were being followed.

He called his animal companion over to him. The two conferred for a moment. Kegar with whispers and Cat with hushed mmmers of a grumbling large feline, before Cat eventually stalked off.

Not long after, there was a shriek and Cat appeared with Lizzy in his mouth, “Lizzy?” Percival followed behind at a slow jog.

Faute exclaimed, “I’m glad to see you are no longer willing to let your man do your job for you!”

The long list of things that Lizzy had expected people to say when they finally knew she was following them had not included righteous indignation and accusations of cowardice. “What?”

Kegar looked at Faute for a moment in horror before turning to his betrothed, “What are you doing here? You could be hurt!”

“I couldn’t stay away knowing you could be hurt and I did nothing! Anyway, the king requested all the able bodied youths. It would be remiss of me, both as one such youth and as the grand daughter of Sir Wilbur to not come.”

“I will take you back myself!”

“And forfeit your responsibility?”

Kegar’s jaw clenched, “Very well. I will find someone in Capita to take you back.”

Percival stepped forward. “Kegar, did you stop to think why I was with her?”

Kegar was taken aback, “What? No…” He looked from one to the other, “Why are you with her?”

Percival shrugged and leaned against a tree, “Because Sir Wilbur didn’t have a problem with her coming. The lords won’t let her lead it because she is a woman, but that doesn’t mean she is any less able. Sir Wilbur hired me to be her bodyguard. But he also knew you would protest to her coming, so we were to follow behind until it was too late.” He shrugged, “I suppose it is too late now.”

Katrina watched the exchange with Broden. She signed to him, “There is so much honor here, it is a wonder they can move with the sticks up their asses.”

Broden signed back, “They let their honor get in the way.”

“Of what? Their relationship?”

“Killing.”

Katrina laughed, replying aloud, “You said it Broden!” She slapped him on the back.

The rest of the group looked over at Katrina and Broden. Broden had obviously said nothing, though he seemed to be laughing in a grunting sort of way. This, on the whole, confused them. Ellen watched the exchange with interest. She had long known that Katrina could communicate with Broden in a way no one else could, though Ellen was one of the few that understood Broden wasn’t deaf and could understand when people made requests of him. Some of the others began thinking that maybe Broden could be communicated with. Others, though they were in the minority, thought Katrina must be crazy because clearly if there was a way to speak to the fool they would have already discovered it.

The rest of the trip was uneventful. With the exception of Cole pulling Katrina aside to talk.

“You shouldn’t lead him on.”

“Cole, I have no idea what you are talking about, let alone who.”

“Broden, he obviously cares for you, but you are already betrothed.”

“First off, I’m not betrothed. I turned you down. Which makes this none of your damn business. Second, I will not abandon my friend just because it makes you feel insecure about something you don’t have. Third, he likes someone else. We are just friends, something we can be since we both know the same language.”

“Broden doesn’t speak.”

“Yeah, and he is illiterate too.” She held up her hands, “We talk with our hands and our bodies.”

Katrina was talking about the complex language of flexing ones muscles and gestures that she and Broden had come up with. People constantly underestimated their intelligence. Cole, who didn’t really pay attention to what they did, hadn’t noticed it. He had really only noticed the amount of time she spent in Broden’s company rather than his.

“Next I’m sure you’ll tell me to spend less time with Ellen, Mary and Strozazand. I have friends and who they are isn’t your concern.”

“Your mother made it my concern.”

Katrina glared at him, “If you want to be in my family so bad, go home and marry my mother, but leave me out of your delusions.” Katrina rode off to chat with Mary.

Cole sat glumly on his mule. He wasn’t delusional. He wouldn’t give up on their parents dream for them. Unfortunately, Katrina was unwilling to talk to him for the rest of the evening and in the morning they saw the gates of Capita.

Dargon Chapter #7

Chapter #7

When they returned with the survivor, Sir Wilbur and Lady Elizabeth were waiting for them with the town’s head priest Franklin, a gnome priest of wealth. Franklin had been at the births of each of them – including Sir Wilbur who was eighty-five. The light was fading, but it was still bright enough to see the sorrow in Franklin’s face when he saw the lone survivor.

Tears streamed from Sir Wilbur’s eyes as Franklin shook his head, “I can restore his body, but I can do nothing for the fever.”

Sir Wilbur stopped, “Fever? I might have a scroll from my wilder days…” Sir Wilbur turned to Lizzy, “Bring me my scroll case.” Lizzy ran off toward the manor returning quickly. Sir Wilbur flipped through some scrolls before pulling one out and handing it to Franklin.

Franklin smiled, “Yes, this is just what we needed.” He read the scroll which shown like gold and then crumbled to dust.

Chanceux’s fever was gone.

Franklin patted Chanceux’s hand, “Carry him to the temple. I will pray over him and all will be well.”

Faute, who had heard the commotion and come to investigate, saw them lifting her adopted father onto a makeshift stretcher. “Father!” She ran to his side, “What has happened to him?” She lifted the blanket they had over his legs and gasped, dropping the blanket back over his legs.

Lizzy turned to her friend, “They just came back from the tower. He was the only one to come back from the first group.”

Faute paled, looking away from the man that raised her, “Well, even if he isn’t my father, at least he lived. My mother will be happy.” She straightened her spine and carefully walked back to the tavern.

Percival saw the sad homecoming and backed away toward Sir Wilbur’s manor. This was unexpected. His father had always told him that a merchant needed to gather all the information he could. A merchant needed to be there to sell a broken man a match in his darkest hour. This sight was too much for him. Pode was his father’s last stop of the year, every year. He had spent great swaths of his life with these people and it felt wrong to capitalize on their pain.

Francis grabbed his arm hard and pulled his son close to him, “Do you know why we come to Pode last?”

Percival shook his head.

“Because this is a town of backwater idiots that have no idea what they need. I sell them everything we couldn’t sell to more perceptive crowds. They have no idea they are being swindled and they never will because these people never leave.” He gripped his son’s arm harder, “Do you know the other reason we come here?”

Percival looked up at his father, his face going pale. These were his friends. Of course he knew his father sold them some things at a bit of a mark up, they were merchants. A fair price was like fairy dust. A myth.

“We come here because the flotsam of the world washes up on this ridiculous shore. We are the only merchants that can be bothered to come to this podunk town and scavenge through the wreck. I don’t care if we fleece these fools and you don’t either. Now, go and sympathize. Get the information I want and sell them some new tools.”

Francis released Percival and shoved him forward. Percival stumbled slightly, before his natural balance recovered him. He pasted a smirk on his face – he never could fake a genuine smile – and sauntered up to Sir Wilbur.

“It is lucky you had a scroll that could cure ghoul fever. Will you be needing more?” Percival stuffed his fists into his pockets.

Sir Wilbur looked over at Percival, “I think I have enough, thank you Percival. Your father and your help has always been greatly appreciated.”

Percival tried not to grimace. His father never gave help. Neither did he. “Think nothing of it. We always appreciate your hospitality.”

Sir Wilbur nodded. “Please excuse me, I need to tell the families of the fallen.” Sir Wilbur nodded and walked away.

Percival gulped, brushed the back of his hand against his forehead and retreated to his room. Perhaps he would go with his friends in the draft? That was absurd. He would be much better off going to live with his grandfather Talasht. But there was a war brewing. Perhaps he would travel with them for a while? Percival shook his head and began to dress for dinner. If he was about to tell everyone their lives were changing, the least he could do is look appropriate.

Dargon Chapter #6

Chapter #6

The second floor was also rimmed in spikes. A stream of bile flowed from one side of the room to the other. Across the acid was a fleshy pillar with a skeleton consumed by fire standing behind it. Though the skeleton was covered in fire, the flames clearly were not harming it.

Two other skeletons rushed Stroz, grappling with him. Behind them, three emaciated humans with hungry eyes and hands that ended in talons lumbered toward them. The creature at the forefront had a distended belly and fresh blood covered it’s mouth and talons.

Kegar slammed his staff into one of the skeletons, knocking it into the bile. It floundered for a moment, not trying to stay afloat, but instead still struggling to grab Kegar. It quickly went under.

Broden leapt across the stream, tackling the flaming skeleton. He roared a primal scream, his head changing into the head of a lion and crunched down on the creature shaking it until it came apart. When he looked up, his vision was different. The world was bluer and he could see quite well in the low light of the tower room. The smell of singed fur mixed with the smell of rotting flesh.

“By the gods!” Cole shouted, looking over at Broden.

Kegar stole a glance at his cousin, “There isn’t time for that Cole, watch yourself!” He jabbed one of the emaciated humanoid things, pushing it away from Cole.

The thing reached for Cole again, but was knocked to the ground when Broden threw his axe, splitting its head and part of its body. Broden leapt across the foul stream before rushing to impose himself between the emaciated thing and Shandra.

Shandra reached a hand around Broden’s mane and let off another fireball. The monsters shrieked. The sound tore through the adventurers. Cole shrieked and fell to his knees, clamping his hands over his ears. The light he was maintaining winked out.

Kegar grabbed Cole by his collar and pulled him up, “Cole!” Kegar smacked him, “Pull yourself together and bring that light back!”

The flames from the dead creatures continued to burn, allowing them to see. Strozazand began breathing more fire as the things shambled toward them. Great torches of burning flesh stretched out their clawed hands.

Broden had had enough of their irritating screams. He shook his mane and roared out a challenge. Grabbing his axe from the corpse it was resting in, he waded toward the pillars of fire and began smashing them. While Broden was hacking, Kegar was able to pull Cole together.

“We need light. Call on your deity.”

Shaking, Cole was able to pray to the god of the sun. A ball of pure sunlight, smaller than the last, appeared above his head. “There it is.”

Once the final creature was no longer moving Strozazand began looking through the room for valuables. He didn’t find any. He did find Faute’s father, Chanceux. The man was being sucked into the floor and from what Strozazand could see of him, eaten. Chanceux was mostly unconscious, but when Strozazand brought his ear to the man’s lips he could hear him rambling about dead things everywhere.

Kegar walked over to Strozazand, “We can’t go back.”

Strozazand pointed at Chanceux. With everyone working together they were able to pull him free of the floor. Chanceux’s legs were partially dissolved. Great chunks of his muscles had been stripped from his body.

Cole began to pray over him, but stopped after only a moment. “Something is blocking me. I can’t heal him.”

Broden picked Chanceux up gently, being careful of his legs. He looked around for a moment before the floor opened up. Everyone could see another floor below. Looking in from above there didn’t seem to be anything in it. Carefully they jumped down, one by one. There were no monsters in the room, only a pillar. The pillar had a series of glowing lights.

Shandra stepped up to it. “This looks like a puzzle.”

Kegar nodded at the pillar, “What makes you say that?”

“Oh,” Shandra smiled, “well, it looks exactly like one of the puzzles Sir Wilbur described in one of his journals.”

“You’ve read his journals?” Kegar barked.

She nodded, “He asked me to start reading them when the first group of hunters went to investigate the tower. He said that if the dead were rising up,” she glanced at Cole, “his words not mine, then we should send a message to Capita after we had gathered all the information we could. He seemed to think we would need as much experience as we could gather.”

Kegar frowned. If he was going to marry Lizzy like they wanted, he felt that he should know Sir Wilbur’s history.

“Done!” Shandra said. “Now, pressing this light should open a door or something.” Before anyone could stop her, she pressed the central light. The light flashed brilliantly and she was gone.

Broden grunted and rushed forward smashed his fist into the central light. The others tried to calm him, but there was no reasoning with him. He struck the light over and over to no avail, and then suddenly he was gone.

He appeared in another room standing on a circle, still holding Chanceux with one hand. Shandra was barely fending off two ghouls that had wrestled her to the ground just to the left of the edge of the circle.

Broden dropped Chanceux behind him just off the edge of the circle and roared. He grabbed the ghouls and began bashing their heads together until they stopped twitching. The others had come in behind him one at a time, as the circle was cleared and picked up the wounded man.

Once again, the floor opened up. This time the walls and floors contracted, pushing them into a much wider room. The floor was covered in a red, sticky viscous substance.

Shandra looked at her boots and bemoaned, “I’m never going to get the smell out of these.”

Cole turned slightly green looking as the fluid, “Your boots were done for when we came into the tower.”

The sticky substance congealed into a mass with a snot-like consistency. The thing jiggled slightly. A stench far worse than the rest of the tower came over them. Shandra and Kegar fell to the fleshy floor vomiting until they had nothing left.

Cole blessed Broden and Strozazand so they shown like the sun. The two axe wielders jumped at the gelatinous mass and began striking it, but they only managed to carve off smaller blobs.

The blobs dispersed into the blood on the floor. Broden tried to cleave the thing in half, but as fast as his axe parted it, it reformed behind the blade. When his axe was halfway through the mass it became stuck. Broden was so focused on trying to pull the axe out, he didn’t notice that the fluid was creeping up his legs, trapping him.

When Stroz looked over from his own attacks, Broden was completely engulfed and being pulled into the gelatinous creature.

“Cole! Do something!”

Cole stumbled backward, tripping as the organic floor sunk under his heel. He outstretched his hand and called upon his deity, “The sun’s flame!” A white line appeared in the air above the blob. Tendrils of the sun’s fire reached out from the blob and struck it before the heat and line faded away.

The stink of burning blood was overpowering. Kegar and Shandra continued to void their stomachs.

The blob, jiggled angrily before projecting Broden into Cole. Broden hit Cole like a battering ram, sending both of them crashing into the spike covered wall. It was good fortune that Cole hit the wall first since he was wearing heavy armor. If it had been anyone else they would have been utterly impaled. As it was, the spikes gave Broden and Cole some nasty scratches, but nothing serious.

The thing had been diminished in size after Cole’s attack. But with Cole and Broden’s blood flowing into the blood on the ground, it began to regain some size. The mass swelled upward before bursting. The spatter exploded outward passing through the group leaving them feeling weak.

Stroz was having none of it. He was dragon. No slimy creature that didn’t even have a head to beg for mercy with was going to defeat him. As the blood began to pool back together, he let loose a breath of artic cold. The cold struck the fluid, freezing it solid. He grabbed his axe and struck the ice with the butt of his weapon, shattering it.

Cole looked at the shards on the ground, “Excellent work Tommy.” He paused, “I mean Strozazand.”

Stroz glared at Cole for a moment before nodding. As he walked over to pick up Kegar and Broden helped the gagging Shandra up, the floor shuddered and heated up. The bloody fluid melted and began reforming.

Cole stretched out his hand, “By the suns light!”

A light so bright it blinded everyone that had kept their eyes open for more than a moment, flashed from the orb above Cole. The viscous substance burst into a flash of ash. The walls were scorched and blackened from the holy light that passed through the youths without touching them. Except to burn away the offal from their clothes. The tower shuddered again and burst apart, spraying decaying flesh and the town youths to the edge of the clearing. The collapsed remains of the tower sunk into the ground so that all that was left was a single spike from the top of the tower.

Strozazand struggled to his feet. He looked around the clearing for a moment before hefting his axe and heading toward the spike.

“What are you doing?” Said Cole.

“I’m taking the spike. Never know when it will be useful.” Strozazand said hacking the spike off.

Cole took the time Strozazand was wasting to use some of his healing chants to cure his sick friends. Cole looked over Chanceux more closely. Chanceux was feverish. Cole recoiled in horror, “He has been bitten by a ghoul! I… I… don’t have the power to cure him. If we don’t get him to someone that can help him soon, he will die and come back as one himself.”

Kegar picked up Faute’s father, “We’ll get you home.” Then he turned to Cole, “Can you check to make sure that won’t be coming back?”

Cole nodded, his god really did hate the undead. Cole stood over the remains of the tower and tried to commune with his deity. He clasped his hands together and looked toward the sun. Even after he had summoned the light and burned away the gloom, the sunlight was still weak. He felt the pressure of death and the unclean on his skin. It was a open clearing now that the tower was gone, yet the sun still did little to warm his skin.  “I have a feeling the tower isn’t dead yet. The grounds here haven’t been cleansed.”

As the group carried Chanceux back toward Pode, a woman spied from a shadow on the other side of the clearing. The aeaeae clung to her, preventing her from stepping all the way through. She sighed, pulling the remaining shadows about her like a cloak. “Time to execute Plan B.”

Dargon Chapter #5

Chapter #5

Mary looked up from her meal. The chicken and potatoes were both burnt and tepid. “Lizzy? Is Stroz feeling okay? Everything is just a little bit cold…” This was unusual since normally it was burnt but at least it was hot.

Lizzy grabbed Finos’ freshly poured tankard and stomped over to the bar. “Hey! I was drinking that.”

Mary turned to Faute, “What’s up with her?”

Faute sat down across from Mary and leaned toward her whispering, “Kegar came by a while ago and asked Strozazand to go into the bone tower with him.” She glanced toward Lizzy, “He said she couldn’t come. That she would be useless.”

Finos hopped down from his bench and waddled on pudgy legs to the girls. “Faute, mind if I get another beer?” He looked at Mary and winked.

Faute sat up straight and looked down at him haughtily, “Fine, get one.”

Finos sighed and walked toward the bar muttering to himself, “I just wanted her to get me another drink. I thought that’s what barmaids were for.”

Mary watched the hobbit stumble off, “You don’t have to be mean to him.”

“He’s a little creep and he hits on all the girls.” Faute said, watching him out of the corner of her eye.

Mary took a bite of the cold chicken, shuddered and put her fork down. “He just wanted a drink. He wasn’t hitting on you.”

That was the problem of course. Faute had made it clear to the whole village that she was better than them. It made her an abysmal barmaid. Finos Nimblequick was a flirt. He was charming and tried, playfully, to pick up every woman in town. Married or unmarried. Except for Faute. No one would accuse her of being jealous… but much like Shandra, she had a gift for the magic arts and fire in particular.

Faute touched her slightly pointed ears, seeking reassurance, before pushing back her hair to reveal her well-known fae heritage to Mary. “I don’t know why he would hit on a blue mutant like yourself!” She stood up and stalked off to the back room where her father, adopted father as she was insistent to tell everyone, kept the books.

Mary looked down at the cobalt epidermis on her hand. Tears threatened. She knew she should have a thicker skin when it came to comments about her skin color. She had been blue her whole life and no one knew how or why, but it was still very hurtful. Knowing that she should be tough only made it worse really. The tears started to leak out. She had sniffed once when a slightly dirty hanky was thrust at her.

Finos held out the hanky in one hand and held two mugs of ale in the other. “Here.” He set the mugs down and hopped up on the bench. “Looks like everyone is having a bad day.”

Mary sniffed and wiped her eyes with the hanky, “What makes you say that?”

He shrugged and took a pull on one of the ales, pushing the other toward her, “Well, certainly everyone in this tavern. You, me, I hardly need to explain. Lizzy is going to kill Kegar for obvious reasons. So that’s bad for both of them. Faute is angry, again.” He shrugged again. “I don’t know if the day could get much worse.”

They both looked up as the door opened. Percival stepped through looking like a dandy. Seeing them he smiled and walked over, grabbed Mary’s pint as she was reaching for it and sat down. “I hope you don’t have plans, because I have news from Capita.”

Dargon Chapter #4

Chapter #4

When all the youths Kegar had spoken to had come together, Sir Wilbur addressed them, “As you know, the hunters were sent six days ago, there’s no telling what they encountered. One thing is certain. Six days ago, that spire of bone and flesh was not visible over the tree line. Now it is. That thing is growing. I want you to scout the outside of the spire and see what can be seen. If you should find the bodies of the other men, please bring them home so they can have a decent burial. Don’t go into the tower unless you absolutely must.” Sir Wilbur looked around the group, “Where is Katrina? A holy warrior of her skill would be of great use.”

Cole shrugged, mentally fuming that his prowess was once again questioned, “She needs some time to regain her temper.”

Sir Wilbur opened his mouth for a moment, then closed it as if thinking better of his words, “Very well. You are a skilled choice as well. A priest of the sun god would certainly be useful against something so unholy.”

It was nearing high noon when the party began trudging into the forest. They stopped when they ran into Kegar’s second cousin, Broden the Lionheart. Broden was felling trees in the forest, something he did every minute that he could.

“Broden!” Kegar called to him.

Broden looked up from his axe and seeing Shandra, came over. Broden had always liked the bookish Shandra, ever since they were kids. Not that anyone other than Katrina knew, since she was the only person who could be bothered to understand their complicated sign language.

Kegar spent the better part of five minutes shouting at Broden and making large sweeping gestures to explain the groups intention to destroy the bone spire. When Broden’s sensitive ears could take no more of his cousins carrying on he shrugged and gestured that he would follow.

When they reached the dead woods, Kegar pointed out the spot the previous group had tethered their horses. One horse was dead. It still had rotten grass stuck in its mouth. The horse had obviously attempted to eat the necrotic vegetation and had rotted from the inside out. “The other horses broke free and alerted me to their plight. But it was too late for this one.”

Shandra looked closely at the dead horse. “Kegar, I’m no druid, but I don’t think it is natural for horses’ stomachs to explode from eating something foul. The others were experienced hunters. They wouldn’t tether their horses near something so poisonous.”

Kegar nodded, “You’re right. This necrotic growth is not natural. Not only that, but it has spread since this morning. Most likely, they tethered their horses at a safe distance and this unholy growth spread to surround the horses.”

Cole touched the necrotic growth, “Unholy is right. This stuff is evil and where evil lingers the undead will eventually come. Keep a weather eye out.”

Strozazand, never known for his tact, spoke, “Well, it’s looking like we ended up with the right priest for the job! Doesn’t the god of the sun hate the undead more than anything?”

Cole glared at Strozazand, “Praise the lord over the earth.”

Cat, who was traveling with them at Kegar’s behest, sniffed the dead horse. After a careful once over, considered informing Kegar that he had scented the hunters but that they were covered in smells of death and the undead. However, on hearing Stroz’s comment about undead, felt the young group had a handle on the gravity of the situation. Anyway, it was possible the hunters had merely been captured. Unlikely, but possible and the hunters were members of the community. It would be terrible for the children to go in thinking their friend’s fathers were already turned into something terrible.

Not far away, the spire stood protruding from the ground. Paper thin flesh covered the bone tower. It looked like the tower would burst forth from the taut skin at any moment. Great ivory barbs jutted from the walls in a spiral going up the tower. The spikes were long and wide enough to be used as a staircase. The tower shuddered as if drawing a breath. Then the side facing them opened in a strange oblong entrance at the top of the spike staircase. Though the sun was still shining, the light was dim where it fell around the tower, the shadows were far deeper than they had any right of being. The smell of rotting meat permeated the air, making it heavy and rancid.

“I wish Katrina were here to blow this stink away.” someone muttered.

Cole frowned at his friends, “If only there was a priest of the sun to do combat with this necrotic infestation.” With that Cole quietly prayed to the sun god and an orb of light appeared above him. The unnatural gloom shrank back from the light and the spire seemed to shudder before belching more foul air.

Broden the Lionheart, who never spoke by choice, nodded his thanks to the priest before rushing up the stairs into the squishy opening with his woodcutting axe firmly in hand. He smiled thinking, “Now that we have announced ourselves, we can commence the killing!” Broden didn’t know what he faced, but to him, it clearly needed to be hacked to bits since it had sprung up on Sir Wilbur’s land.

Strozazand, not to be outdone, sprinted in behind Broden. The muscles holding the gap open relaxed after each one entered, closing for a moment before opening back up. It was like it was breathing or swallowing.

The inside was dark. This should have been expected, since the tower lacked windows. However, strangely, there was an ambient light that brought the fleshy room to a false twilight. The stink was unquestionably worse and the confines of the “room” were cramped. This was made even more restrictive by the bone spikes sticking out of the walls like hedgehog quills.

A fog lay across the ground obscuring any lurking horrors. Horrors that both Strozazand and Broden were sure prowled the fog. They moved forward cautiously, their boots sinking into the floor like they were walking near a marsh. Three figures stood unmoving in the middle of the room.

Strozazand squinted, trying to peer through the gloom, “Those guys don’t look like any of the hunters.”

Broden grunted acknowledgement, taking another cautious step forward. When Cole came through the hole, the light he had summoned outside came with him. It burned the fog away, exposing skeletons that were creeping toward them.

Broden leapt on one in a fury, smashing it in the skull with his fist before cutting it down with his axe. Stroz inhaled before being tackled to the ground by one of the skeletons. He released the entire breath into the one pinning him, turning the bones to ash.

Cole, who thought one of the emaciated figures was a hunter, attempted to pray to the god of the sun for healing for the man. When the pure light of healing leapt onto the man, his face twisted and he howled an unearthly cry, sending the others like him into a fury as they shambled at Cole.

Shandra entered behind Cole. Upon seeing the twisted dead figures shambling toward Cole, she pushed up her glasses and pointed a finger at one of them. A ball of fire sprang from her finger, only singeing the dwarf and the dragonman a little, as it sailed toward the ghoul and exploded. The magical fire ignited the foul air. Broden shielded his eyes from the flames that scorched the now writhing floor while launched himself at the remaining skeleton.

When Kegar came in through the opening, it contracted a final time before sealing behind him. The bone spikes from the walls flowed in behind him and then jutted out toward his back.

“Damn it! Move in further.”

Shandra pressed backward, “There are undead things in here!”

“Well then kill them!” Kegar grumbled about his decision to leave Cat outside. It would have been really nice to have a huge snow leopard in here, but now that the door was closed he couldn’t change his mind.

The fire did a great deal to destroy the undead. So did the mute with the axe. Cole was so taken aback by what he saw that it was all he could do to maintain the glowing orb above his head.

Once the last of the dead things had been burned to ash or dismembered, the room began to constrict. While the walls of the room pushed toward them with the great spikes jutting toward them, a small hole began opening in the floor below them. It was like the tower was trying to swallow them into the next section. For a moment, the group looked at each other. There was a second of hesitation as they considered whether they wanted to go down, but with the walls closing in, promising a painful impaling, followed by a good crushing, they leapt down into the next room.

Dargon Chapter #3

Chapter #3

Katrina had stomped off in the direction of Momma Thompkins. There was only one homestead in that direction. That and the road to Capita, but no one ever came to Pode except for Percival and his father Francis’ trade cart once a year. Katrina didn’t make it to the Thompkins because Percival came a day early this year.

“Katrina!” Percival sprang lithely from the cart, doing a flip before landing in front of her.

She grinned at him, “Still showing off I see.”

“What use is learning acrobatics if a man can’t make an entrance?” He said picking at his nails with a narrow knife.

Francis rolled his eyes and clucked to the pony, “I’ll be seeing you son.”

Katrina waved to Francis before turning to Percival, “What’s the news?”

His face fell, “Not good I’m afraid. You remember how I told you about adventurers? How a living can be made that way?”

“Of course! People put up bounties at a location, you complete it and are paid.” She gestured for him to continue.

“Yes, well the boards are overflowing, have been for months apparently.”

“But why?”

“There is no one to do it. Everyone has been drafted.”

Katrina raised an eyebrow. She was not doing this guessing game anymore.

“Orcs.” He whispered holding up a scroll, “They can’t draft me since I’m just a merchant passing through from the Southern Kingdom.” But he pushed back his sleeve and revealed a healing bruise. “They did strongly encourage me to bring this scroll up here to Pode.”

Katrina eyed the scroll, “That is addressed to Sir Wilbur.”

Percival shrugged, “So it is.” He sighed, “I should be off I suppose. Duty calls and all that.” His stomach rumbled.

She laughed, “Obviously. And the meal Sir Wilbur will give you has nothing to do with that in the slightest.”

“Perks of being a service member, love.” He winked at her before starting after his father.

Katrina frowned. This was something she wanted to think on. Unfortunately, her home had been invaded by Cole and his inflated ego. Ellen’s house was quiet though.

Ellen was Sir Wilbur’s forester. She was in charge of making sure the deer and quail were in good supply for when Sir Wilbur had lords to the house. This had never happened. She was also to keep the exotic predators off his land. Ellen was also rarely in her cabin. She stopped by every few days to re-supply, but Ellen really only kept the cabin as a formality.

“Katrina?” Ellen said looking up from the creature she was dressing.

“Ellen! I didn’t think you would be home.”

“Oh, his lordship wanted something special for his table since Francis is coming in tomorrow.” She gestured to what you would get if a spider had bred with a chicken.

“Special.”

Ellen smiled, “I think so. It has a good taste.” She raised an eyebrow, “I know I gave you an open invitation to the cottage, but you rarely use it. What’s the problem?”

Katrina sat on a stump. “Two-fold I suppose. Cole is demanding I marry him.”

“That’s hardly new.” She brushed some feathers away, “You told him he could shove his demands up his arse?”

“Multiple times, but I think its so crowded with honor and duty, he can’t fit anymore up there.”

Ellen laughed. “That’s irritating, of course, but he has been insisting since you were ten or so. That can’t be the problem.”

Katrina let out a great sigh, “He talked my parents into agreeing.”

“Not your father?”

Katrina shrugged, “So he says.”

Ellen snorted. “Not likely.”

Katrina raised her head, looking up at the older woman expectantly. Hopefully.

Ellen sighed. “Your father is a hunter. I’m a hunter. We talk. I’m not saying he hates Cole, I’m just saying you would marry Cole over his dead body.”

Katrina choked out a laugh, “Good. Then that’s settled. I’ve been saying no for so long, he wears on you. But knowing that my da supports me gives me strength.”

Ellen wiped the blood and feathers from her hands before patting Katrina on the back, “Now, what was the second thing?”

Looking at Ellen, Katrina had a sinking feeling she should have mentioned this first. “Percival came back, I met him on the road and he said there is a draft.”

“They’re back! Think you could have led with that?” Ellen began packing up in a hurry. “I wouldn’t worry yourself about the draft. Either you’re drafted or you’re not. You don’t get a choice.”

Katrina sighed, “I suppose that’s true.”

Ellen shouldered the bag of strange game, “Well, if you are going to be here, mind waiting for Broden and helping him unload the wood I asked him to bring?”

“Sure, Ellen.”

The time passed in quiet solitude for Katrina. She hadn’t moved from the stump. Her deity, the goddess of storms, had given her several interesting gifts when she was chosen. One was the ability to create water from nothing. When she was thinking deeply, she liked to pour the water from one hand to the other.

It was in this sorry state that Broden found her. He whipped a stick against the side of his cart, startling her.

Katrina jerked her head up, seeing the dwarf standing by the cart still holding the stick in hand, “Oh, Broden! I forgot you were coming. Ellen asked me to help you unload the wood.”

Broden shrugged before gesturing his response, “You won’t be much help if you don’t help.” He was dressed in animal skins like a wildman. The most distinct of which was a feline pelt he claimed was a lion. However, since no one this far north had ever seen a lion, that was a frequent source of debate in the village. But only when Broden the Lionheart was not in town.

Katrina nodded. Broden didn’t talk much. It wasn’t that he was mute, or deaf. He just didn’t like the whole business of speaking. His almost total commitment to not speaking left many of the people around town thinking him an idiot.

Katrina began signing, “It looks like we may be drafted.” She began relating to him the details as she knew them.

“Well that’s excellent! My path has always been one of blood. Not of woodchips.” He picked up his axe and brandished it for a moment.

Katrina smiled sadly. She was eager. She had known forever she was made for more than Pode, but if war was coming, then she feared for her family. When all the able bodied youths left to die for the Northern Kingdom, who would protect their families from the strange creatures Ellen was keeping from the forest?

Dargon Chapter #2

Chapter #2

Kegar snuck into the inn through the servants entrance in order to prevent Faute and Lizzy from hearing about the mission. He didn’t want Faute to know because she was a busybody. A pretentious human with fey blood. Negligible fey blood. She felt her blood made her better than everyone in the entire town. Better than solid dwarf blood. He didn’t want her messing up his chance to prove to Sir Wilbur that he was good enough to marry Sir Wilbur’s granddaughter the Lady Elizabeth even though he was a dwarf. He didn’t want Lizzy, Lady Elizabeth, to know because she would insist on coming. Now, he thought she was a swell girl, they wanted to get married after all, but all she did was play the lute. Her music was enchanting, but hardly something to stop a goblin in its tracks.

Strozazand was blowing a steady stream of fire at the hearth. His back was to the door, displaying his unfortunately naked body and extensive back tattoo. Kegar shrunk back from the heat of the kitchen and the naked man. “Strozazand, I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind helping me with a quest.”

The fire stopped. “A quest?” He turned around.

“For the love of the frozen lands, put some pants on man.” Kegar averted his eyes.

Strozazand looked down at himself and shrugged, “It gets hot.” He grabbed his pants and began struggling into them, “What was this quest? Dragons don’t normally go on quests, but if there is any chance of treasure to bolster my horde, I want in.”

Kegar believed, strongly, that Strozazand’s insistence that he was a dragon was delusions of grandeur. Strange breath didn’t make him a dragon. It made him weird, but not a dragon. “Yeah, there is probably some kind of treasure. It’s an unexplored tower after all.”

Strozazand hesitated a moment. “A tower? Are we going to check out the tower Katrina’s father and the other hunters went into?”

“That would be the one.” Kegar nodded. “We are meeting Sir Wilbur. He has some information for us before we leave.”

Strozazand’s eyes gleamed. “I’m in!” he roared and sprinted from the inn, barely remembering to put out the cook fire with a breath of frost before he ran to get his things and head to Sir Wilbur’s.

Thinking of Lizzy and Faute, Kegar hoped the tavern was too busy for either of the women to hear Strozazand. This hope evaporated when he turned and saw Lizzy standing in the doorway.

“I expect you were coming to ask me next. You just wanted to ask him first so he didn’t feel left out?” Lizzy stood with one hand on her hip and the other holding her lute. The breath went out of his lungs at her beauty, and in his despair.

Kegar believed honesty was always the best policy, “Well, no dear. You see I wasn’t going to tell you about it…”

Her eyes narrowed. “You weren’t!”

He shifted on the balls of his feet, wishing his familiar, Cat the leopard, was here to hide behind, “Well, no. Sir Wilbur doesn’t want you to go since you are his heir and it is dangerous.” He also knew the value of a quick exit. Kegar couldn’t continue to meet her gaze and looked away then continued into his speech, “Yeah… so… I’ll be seeing you.” Kegar bolted out the servant’s entrance and raced as fast as his stubby legs could take him to Sir Wilbur’s. He was glad he had spoken to Shandra before Strozazand. He did not want to make any stops where Lizzy could catch up to him.

Dargon Chapter #1

Chapter #1

            It has been said that the gods know when great calamity is coming and that they raise heroes to stand before such disasters. Such a belief is as good as any other to explain how Pode could give so many young lives to save not only Capita and the Northern Kingdom, but the world.

Katrina burst out of the straw thatched hovel she shared with her parents,  younger sister and three younger brothers. “I will not marry Cole. I already told him no! Just like I’ve been telling him no for ten years.” She rounded on Cole who, with her mother had followed her outside. “Damn you for going to my mother! Wait till my father comes home.”

Katrina’s mother, Jane, gasped, “But you have to marry him. You’re not getting any younger. Soon you’ll be too old for marriage.”

“No, I don’t. I am a priestess of the goddess of storms, chosen by the goddess herself. I can go anywhere and I will. I’m not going to be stuck here my whole life hearing about how I need to marry Cole.”

Cole frowned, “But Katrina, it is your duty. Our parents agreed to terms, if you don’t you will fail your responsibility as a daughter.” Cole’s frown deepened. She was making him fail as a son.

Katrina blanched when Cole said her father had agreed. She tried to keep her temper, but tiny bolts of lightning jumped across her skin. “My duty is to my goddess.” She hissed through clenched teeth, “It supersedes all other. I will not marry you.” Then she turned and stalked off. Dark clouds formed above her giving clear indication to anyone who cared to know where she was headed. Most likely to check on Mamma Tompkins cold.

Cole nodded, “Well, at least she is not remiss in her priestly duties.” He liked that in a woman. Especially in his woman. He cared deeply for honor, duty and doing the things that were expected of you. Yet, Katrina’s wildness thrilled him as much as it irritated him. He didn’t know if he wanted to tame the storm in her or ride it. She cared deeply for her family and for her goddess. Now she just needed to obey.

Jane looked up at him. “Do you think she’ll marry you?” She had a compliant temperament that she had failed to pass on to her eldest.

“Oh, she’ll rage for a while, but she’ll calm down and give in. She is always more reasonable with that temper out of the way.”

She sighed, gazing after her errant daughter, “I worry though. The goddess chose her. Maybe her goddess has other plans for her.”

While Cole was smiling condescendingly at Katrina’s mother, ready to rebuke her for such a foolish thought, Kegar of the Frozenpine, a dwarf-druid came sprinting across the field. “Cole! Not quite the cleric I was looking for, but you’ll do.”

Cole frowned. He was at least the equal in medical skill to Katrina, but for some reason everyone went to her first. It irked him. “What’s this about?”

“You remember the flesh and bone spire I spoke of at the town meeting?”

Jane stepped forward, “Yes, my husband was one of the men that went to investigate. What news?”

Cole cut her off, “Sir Wilbur wouldn’t let you investigate it and sent a party of more experienced men.”

Kegar grimaced at Cole’s description, but his news was so exciting, he began smiling again, “Sir Wilbur has sent me to gather a group from the militia.”

Cole squared his shoulders, “I will do my duty.”

Jane was no fool. If Sir Wilbur was sending a second group it was because things hadn’t gone well for the first. She retreated into her house before the boys could see the tears in her eyes.

Kegar slapped him on the back, “That’s the spirit. I need to go fetch Shandra and Strozazand the Dragonman.”

Cole raised an eyebrow at Kegar, “Strozazand the Dragonman? You mean Tommy Tompkins?”

Kegar eyed Cole, “Our houses have thatched roofs, and he can breath fire. If calling him Strozazand the Dragonman or The Fluffy Pink Princess of Alaz makes him happy then we will call him that.”

Jane called out from the house, “Strozazand? I think he took a job at the inn as the new cook. Ever since he started that whole fire breathing thing prices have gone down. He doesn’t just do fire you know. Sometimes he’d even come around here and breathe frost on papa’s kills so they last longer. What a sweet boy.”

Cole, who had been feeling very important, felt his ego pop the moment she referred to a man his own age as a sweet boy. “I’ll meet you at Sir Wilbur’s.”