The Campaign, part 4

It wasn’t a tree, as Dorian had feared, but it wasn’t much better.  Zanth led the companions a small alcove, little more than a depression against a rock wall, likely where storm runoff had carved away the ground over the years, but was ideally situated for giving them protection from almost all sides and keeping them hidden through the night.  Still, the ground was more damp than not and if a storm passed in the night it could leave them in a tricky spot.  Zanth assured him there was no chance of rain.  He was almost always right so Malland and Dorian kept their grumbling to a minimum.  As it was, they were exhausted and ready to bed down anywhere Zanth said was good enough.

They took turns on the watch and the sun began to warm the horizon without incident, which they were all thankful for.  Rifling through their packs they scrounged together enough of a meal to ease their hunger but realized they’d need to hunt or find a town before too long.  They’d planned on being home and their packs weren’t exactly overflowing with provisions.

“Alright, what does that rest of that note say?” Zanth asked.

Malland pulled out of his pocket and reread what’d he read the night before. Then continued, “That’s it, except this signature at the end.  I think it says ‘Lord Fendall.’”

He passed the note around and Zanth and Dorian both agreed that’s what the signature likely said.  Then Zanth asked, “Isn’t he the seat of power for the mountain region west of here?”

“That sounds right,” Malland said.  Dorian grunted in agreement.

“Well, that’s settled then,” Zanth stated with a sad smile.  “I guess we have to go find out why Lord Fendall wants us captured.  I certainly don’t remember running afoul of him recently.  Do either of you?”

Both Dorian and Malland shook their heads.

Zanth squinted into the surrounding forest.  From where they were stashed only the tops of the nearest trees were visible with just the slightest hint of the warming sky beyond.  While he let his gaze drift through the canopy he made a few quick mental calculations and once he was decided he addressed his friends again.  “I think there is a town about a day’s journey from here where we can resupply.  Let’s head there first and then we can track down Lord Fendall.”

They packed up their gear and Zanth led them back through the dense forest.  It was slow going at first but then they came across a game trail, Zanth said it was a likely last used by a bear, and their progress sped up some.  They only stopped once, for a brief lunch, before Zanth stopped them as the forest began to thin out.  They could see the smoke from home fires drifting lazily into the sky and they could faintly hear the hustle and bustle of small town life.  Mothers called to their children.  Merchants hawked their wares.  It was peaceful and the trio took a moment to soak it in.  It was what they’d hoped to come home to the day before.  It was a peace they may not know again for quite some time and could easily shatter just by showing their faces in the little town before them.

Zanth asked under his breath, “Ready?”

Dorian and Malland nodded and the three walked confidently forward.  As far as they knew, they had nothing to fear in this town.  News of what had happened the night before couldn’t have beaten them there.  So, there was no need to skulk about, there was no need to be any more cautious than normal.

For a time, it seemed like they wouldn’t have any trouble.  Nobody asked them who they were or what they were doing in town.  But then they tried to barter for some food to fill their packs and the prices were outrageous.

“Well, what do you expect?” Said one merchant.  “Nobody here is going to sell to the likes of you for a decent price.  This is food for our neighbors.  Selling to you means one of them might go hungry.”

With a sad shake of his head, Zanth pushed Dorian onward.  The dragonborn had begun to growl low in his throat and that wouldn’t serve any help in this situation.  They would just press on and find someone who would sell to them for a reasonable price or they would find their own food.  The last year on the trail had made them quite adept and hunting and preserving.  But, seeing as they had a few more gold coins than they’d started the previous night with, it amused all of them to spend Lord Fendall’s gold on the provisions that would help carry them to the man that was trying to hunt them down.

The Campaign, part 3

Photo by Dagmara Dombrovska on

The sound of the posse grew louder.  Torch light splashed on the walls a couple streets over.  Zanth pierced the darkness with his elven eyes but couldn’t make out how many were coming yet.  There were too many buildings in the way.

“We’ve got nothing to fear,” Dorian growled.  “We were in the right here.”

“That’s never been a problem for us before, right?” Malland scoffed.

Dorian chuckled in response.  He’d been joking.  A Dragonborn, a Tiefling and a Half-Elf, the three friends rarely were given the benefit of the bout, even in their home town.  Now that they’d been away for a year and at least one powerful person didn’t want them around anymore, it was hard to see anyone taking their side in this mess.

Zanthalaso sighed and returned his attention to his friends, “Let’s search these fools for some sort of clue and then get the heck out of here.  I don’t like what I’m hearing.”

Dorian and Malland how learned to trust the half-elf’s hearing long ago.  The three companions quickly stopped and rifled through the pockets of the dead men at their feet.  Standing at nearly the same time they all produced the same results, 5 gold coins.  Malland was the only exception, not only did he have the gold coins, he also had a note.  Catching the light from the moon, he read aloud, “This contract is for the capture, dead or alive, of the Half-Elf known as Zanthalaso, the Dragonborn known as Dorian, and the Tiefling known as Malland.”

“Well, that’s cheery,” Dorian stated flatly.

“Indeed, and now let’s get out of here before we have to find out how many other people in town received the same payment,” Zanth replied.

“There’s a signature here at the bottom,” Malland said, squinting down at the paper in his hands.

“Fine, we’ll look at it later, but can we go?  Whether they’ve been paid or not, I have zero interest in spilling the blood of the people I’ve called neighbors.”

Zanth, not waiting for a reply and knowing his friends would follow, turned on his heel and headed away from the coming posse.  Dorian and Malland exchanged an amused glance.  Malland stashed the contract into a pocket and the two of them followed after their friend.

Dorian whispered, “I’m not sure what he was waiting for anyway.  I was waiting for him to take the lead.”

“Right,” Malland agreed.  “He doesn’t have to get so upset about it.”

Zanth had only gone a short distance before pausing in the shadow of a building for his friends to catch up.  Once the trio were together, Zanth quickly and quietly turned down a side street and began leading them from shadow to shadow until they had reached the outskirts of town.  Just as they were about to cross the open field and head into the forest beyond they heard an angry outburst from behind them.  “They’ve found the bodies,” Zanth confirmed grimly.

Malland pointed to the forest and said, “Lead on.  We’ll follow.”

The half-elf took long, graceful strides into the moonlit field.  He was across and had been swallowed by the darkness of the forest before Dorian and Malland were halfway.  They weren’t worried, though.  Zanth would scout ahead and find the best route and then come back to them and show them where he wanted them to go.  It was how they’d spent the last year and they quickly fell back into the routine. 

After travelling for an hour, sometimes along game trails and sometimes completely across wild country, they reached a part of the forest that was so dense none of the moon’s light filtered through the canopy.  Dorian and Malland stopped short, waiting for their eyes to adjust.  Zanth called quietly to them from a short distance ahead, “I’ve found a good place to rest for the night.”

“I bet it is a tree,” Dorian grumbled.

Malland sighed, “I was so looking forward to my bed.”

the campaign, part 2

Photo by Dagmara Dombrovska on

The three friends finished their next round and the round after that.  They said hello to some neighbors they hadn’t seen sense they left.  They made small talk with some others in the bar they weren’t as familiar with.  They ordered a bit of food and polished the course off with a final round of ale.  Mostly, though, they were biding their time.  They expected to be ambushed in some fashion leaving Fireside Inn and they were hoping by stalling the four men who wished to cause trouble would grow frustrated and either stalk off or make a mistake when they did try to spring their trap.

An hour or so before dawn, with the sky not yet showing signs of the sun’s approach, Malland, Zanthalaso, and Dorian said their goodbyes and made their exit.  They acted drunk, staggering and talking boisterously of their recent exploits, egging each other on, but all the while their swords were loose in their scabbards and their eyes darted here and there.  A decent array of stars and a bright moon provided some light but also created an abundance of shadows.  Zanth’s elven-vision gave him a slight advantage but none of three wanted to get caught off-guard.

It was Zanth, though, who gave the warning as he spotted the heat signatures of two of the men hiding in a darkened doorway.  As one, swords were drawn and the three friends created a circle so they wouldn’t be blindsided.  The other two men detached themselves from different doorways and the four advanced on the companions.

“This is a mistake,” Zanth called to them.

“That may be,” their leader replied, an edge to his voice, “but you aren’t wanted here and we’ve been paid to see to it that you leave.”

Dorian said, “There’s a tavern full of people behind us who feel differently, strangers.  It’s far more likely that you aren’t wanted in town.”

One of the other men scoffed, “Just look you.  Bunch of freaks.”

Dorian growled low in his throat again.  Malland closed his eyes long enough to concentrate on casting Darkness.  He wasn’t a magic user, but as part of his condition, part of his curse, he had the ability to cast two spells.  Zanth, trying one last time to not spill any blood in their hometown, raised his sword at the leader and said, “Whoever has paid you, has paid you only to die.  Tell us who it was and we’ll go see them ourselves.  You do not need to do this.”

“Yeah, we do,” was all he said before stepping forward with a long sword clutched in his hands.

Malland cast Darkness and a fog pushed away from his circled friends to envelop their attackers.  There was a call of surprise from within the fog.

“You obviously haven’t been well informed about us,” Zanth called out.

“They aren’t even wearing armor,” Dorian stated quietly so only his friends could hear him.

With a yellow, half of fear and half of battle rage, the leader burst out of the fog swinging his sword.  Dorian easily blocked the strike with his own sword and then turned the block into a strike of his own, slicing through the man’s exposed torso.  He went down with a grunt and did not get back up.

The remaining three came out of the fog more cautiously.  The last one through saw their leader had already fallen, and immediately turned tail and fled back into the fog.  The two who remained exchanged blows with Malland and Zanth.  The far more experienced friends easily out-matching the strangers.  One fell to Malland’s sword and the other fell to Zanth’s.

The fight over, Malland dispersed the fog with another moment of concentration and a wave of his hand.  Zanth and Dorian checked the men they’d fought and came up shaking their heads. All three had died. 

“Such a waste,” Zanth said with a heavy sigh.

The friends were just discussing what they should do next when they heard shouting and the sound of many more people headed their direction.  The one who’d fled had gone and fetched a posse. 

where there’s smoke

The demon rose from her shadow and plucked the arrow from the air moments before it would have hit her outermost magical shields.  The shaft broke in two as the massive hand in the darkness crushed the missile in its grip.  Then feathers and stone sharpened head followed the split shaft into oblivion as the demon swallowed the weapon into its depths.  While the sorceress had sensed the projectile coming towards her, and had no doubts that her own spells would have protected her from harm, she was still fascinated to finally get to see her guardian in action.

Pulling her gaze away from the demon, she followed the flight of the arrow to see if she could locate her attacker.  The celebrations were still swinging wildly around her and when no immediate threat showed itself she began to suppose it could have been an accident, a celebratory firing into the sky that went errant.  She didn’t actually think that was the case, but it had already been a strange day and wouldn’t discount any theories until she was certain what had happened.  She also wanted to make certain it had been a deliberate attack before she alerted the dragon to it, but sensing its presence in her mind she turned back to see the beast staring at her.

Its snout rose in a sneer and its voice filled her head, “Go find out if it was deliberate.”

She nodded in deference to the dragon’s request and went to find where the arrow had been fired from.  The demon, pulling free from her shadow again, stalked in front of her, sniffing the air to pinpoint the projectile’s path.

The King, noticing the sudden reversal of the dragon’s mood, while shying away from the tremendous amount of heat pouring off the beast’s scales, stammered, “Is everything alright?”

“I doubt it,” the dragon growled, digging its claws into the stone floor and tearing boulder sized chunks free with ease.

A small tendril of smoke escaped the beast’s maw and rose to collect in the domed ceiling of the grand hall.  The dragon had fit through their modified opening after it used its magic to shrink to a quarter of its normal size, which it had done only after circling the King’s castle four times so he, and all his citizens, could see its true form.  And, much as the sorceress had predicted, the King had fumbled over his words of greeting and deference until the dragon had shrunk to a more manageable size for his tiny brain to comprehend.  Even after the festivities had kicked off without a hitch, the King had continued to tremble and cower next to the might beast.  It had pleased the dragon greatly.

The whole day, up until it had felt the arrow’s vibrations cutting through the air as the projectile approached the witch, had pleased the dragon.  It had enjoyed stretching its wings for the flight down from its cave.  It had enjoyed feeling the fear wash over the citizens of the kingdom as it roared overhead.  It had relished the scents of the various dishes that had been cooked and served just for it and the glint of the sunlight casting rainbows around the jeweled offerings.  But then someone had fired an arrow at the witch…

The beast had sensed the witches hope that it had been an accident, but it knew better.  There had been too much velocity, and too much accuracy in the shot for it to have been anything but a direct attack.  The dragon knew what she would find, knew the archer’s death would be quick, if not painless, and knew how much he would enjoy razing this kingdom to ash in his wrath.  The fire swirling within the beast began to ratchet up to an inferno.

a conversation with a dragon

“Are they ready for me?”

The dragon’s voice woke her from her deep slumber, but it no longer scared the sorceress as it would have before they struck their arrangement.  Rolling from her side to her back, and pulling the covers tighter around her to keep out the cold of the evening, she responded without opening her eyes, “As ready as anyone can be.  They have gathered two trunks full of jeweled items and rare coins, and they have been cooking non-stop for days to have enough food for the ceremony they hope to hold in your honor.  They have even knocked down one of the walls of their grand hall so you can easily enter and take a prominent position for the festivities.  Though, they seem to have greatly underestimated your size because I do not think you will fit.”

She could hear the laughter in its voice as it responded, “Nor do I think I’d like being crowded into such a place while surrounded by so many mortals. “  The laughter quickly faded into anger as the dragon continued, “And I am not there to be a spectacle for them all to gawk at.  I am there for their respect and I will have it when my shadow darkens their castle walls and my roar rings in their ears.”

“Once they see you and witness your strength, power, and majesty, I can’t imagine any of them will be brave enough to dine with you in the grand hall, anyway.  The King might, simply from a sense of obligation to his position, but he will tremble before you and stumble over his words.”

“You don’t need to flatter me anymore, witch, you have proved your worth.  You have shown me your kindred spirit.  I have seen the fire burning your soul.”

“It wasn’t an attempt at flattery, dragon.  I met with the King and he was cowering before me.  Standing before you, if he can manage it, will be the greatest feat of his life.”

“We will see tomorrow when I make my appearance…” the beast paused and the sorceress opened her eyes as she sensed the request before it entered her mind.  “I would like you to join me this time.  Future kingdoms I will likely fly to and receive my homage on my own, but, for this first one, to finalize our alliance, I would like you at my side.”

“Of course,” she immediately answered, though the words were followed by the curiosity of the request and the pondering that perhaps the dragon had a weakness after all.