The red dragon leaned back on his haunches, and with a lazy kind of contempt he surveyed the smaller creatures that surrounded him. "Well, you Harpers certainly took long enough to find me. I thought it would take you years to discover my location at the rate you were stumbling about," Firkraag said in a dry, humorless tone. He focused one of his large yellow eyes upon Gorion and added, "Oh, don't look so surprised human. I knew who you were, and I knew what you were when I got word that your kind was searching for me. I do have my ways of finding things out I'll have you know. For instance, I believe that you are due for a meeting with more members of your organization in a nearby town, hmm?"
Gorion managed to keep his face and tone of voice neutral while his foe was talking. One of his mottos was, never give anything away to an enemy if you can help it. He was reasonably certain that while the great wyrm sitting in front of him did know quite a bit about him, he did not know as much as he claimed that he did. He could start the inevitable confrontation with the dragon sooner by calling the beast's bluff, but the longer he played along with the creature's whims the more time his comrades had to prepare. His main hope was that his party members would realize what the best course of action was, and to act upon it
Then a thought occurred to Gorion, a crucial detail that he had almost missed while speaking with the arrogant red. The pile of bones and skin near the dragon's resting area, which were the remains of the previous owner of this cave, were still fairly fresh. None of the refuse really had much time to rot, and that meant not only did Firkraag eat his rival soon after defeating him, but also the haughty wyrm was going to be somewhat sluggish for a while as the remains of his opponent slowly digested in his belly. The sage thought that he could use this knowledge to his advantage.
Now the trick would be to get his rather dangerous opponent to exert himself without harming any of Gorion's companions in the process. "You have guessed correctly," the mage congratulated the dragon. "Now what do you want with me?"
Firkraag smiled as much as he could smile with those reptilian lips of his. He licked his chops with a forked tongue, an uncomfortable reminder to the Harpers scattered about the cave that here was a creature that could swallow them in one or two bites, and not even think twice about it. Actually, the drake was acting more in the manner of an old tomcat that has trapped a mouse in a corner and now wants to play with it before he kills it. "Well, the tiny, insignificant little human asks me what I want. Can it be that this is the same tender, or on second thought not so tender morsel, who has the audacity to threaten me, is asking me what I want? Absolutely amazing!"
The big red beast stretched out his neck and lowered his head a bit in order to get a better look at the annoyance in front of him. "I am bored mageling, and I am in the mood for a game. It's a game that will amuse me for a while, though I doubt you will have the strength to survive it." Suddenly Firkraag spun around towards his left and knocked a pair of spear carrying Harpers to the ground with a mighty swipe of his tail. They both slid across the cold stone floor of the cave, and while one seemed to only have all the breath knocked out of him, the other one cried out in pain as he slammed sideways into a nearby rock pillar. The man rolled to a sitting position while he painfully clutched his ribs with his left arm
Firkraag harrumphed at the easy way he had gotten rid of the two and returned his attention towards Gorion. "But first, get these useless things out of my way. Mind you, their safety is part of the prize I am offering, though they will not be permitted to leave while the game is afoot."
"I would hear what your terms are first, before I agree to anything dragon," Gorion said in a deadly, quiet voice.
Shandili froze for an instance and looked up from the man she had been aiding who had suffered the worst injuries when Firkraag sent him flying across the room with his club-like appendage. She could tell her old friend and student was completely serious, and she hoped that he had a plan in mind to defeat the red creature that had them all confined in this dimly lit cavern. Her main priority at the moment was her injured comrades, and the only thing she could do for Gorion was to trust that he really could get the group out of the trouble they were now in.
Firkraag stared at the impassive human mage before him with a malevolent curiosity. "Terms? You wish to hear my terms man? Oh very well, I suppose that I could give you that much since I'll emerge the victor in this uneven contest," the drake yawned. Then he stared at the sage with such intensity that a lesser man would have run away already. "Gorion, you are to play a game that I like to call… hmm, let me see… oh yes, catch the pathetic human as he tries to run away. I don't want your friends to interfere at all since I will have to take the time to squash them, and that can get so messy when mortals get stuck between my toes. So, the rest of you weaklings are to stand near the walls and watch as I eliminate your leader in a slow manner."
"Is that all? I thought you would be more imaginative than that Firkraag," Gorion replied, signaling to his comrades to obey the creature and place themselves as close to the cave walls as they possibly could. The others who had accompanied the mage into the cavern obeyed his orders reluctantly, and it took them only a couple of minutes to clear the area.
"Ooh, the human has remembered my name!" the dragon exclaimed in mock excitement. "I see you were paying attention after all. Listen closely mortal, for I am anxious to start the game whether you are ready to participate or not. You are permitted one spell, and at my signal you are to try to run out of this room while I give chase. If any one of your Harper friends gets in my way they will perish and so will you. Now if you win, which I doubt will ever happen, then I will let you leave."
"And my friends and companions, what will happen to them if I win? The sage responded, readying a spell in his mind for later use.
The dragon laughed in a dry, throaty chuckle that was far from reassuring. "You are perceptive for an old man, and I didn't think that you would be. I will let you know exactly what their fate is when you run out that door. Now, get ready because I will start the contest whether or not you are prepared to participate."
Gorion narrowed his eyes at the dragon. "I am ready if you are," he told him, gripping the staff in his hands just a little too tightly. He waited as the red dragon sank his head down on his neck, and when that wedged shaped head darted forward in the blink of an eye the mage hardly had enough time to react. Firkraag bathed the area where the sage had been standing not a moment before in flames, intending to roast the man into charcoal.
Gorion was barely able to avoid the sudden rush of fire, the roaring of which still rang in his ears as he ran towards his opponent, a move that the beast was not likely to anticipate. So closely did he time it that his robe got slightly singed, and he was a second or two away from instantly becoming a bald man. The after effects of the dragon fire left the air filled with the faint scent of sulfur and heat. That was a close one, too close by my reckoning, the mage thought as he rushed towards the drake's underbelly.
"Oh, so that's the way you want to play!" the Harper heard his foe shout as he likely searched for his ossified remains. "This little mouse hunt is going to be more enjoyable than I had thought."
To anyone else who may have had the privilege to watch the scene unfold, the sage's reaction may have looked like the attempt of a desperate man to avoid his fate at any cost. That may have been partly the case, but Gorion had not lasted this long with the Harpers without being able to think of a trick or two. His reason for closing with the dragon had only one purpose, and that was to avoid Firkraag's breath.
The dragon, finally realizing where his human prey went, stood up and craned his neck in order to look under his belly. "Ah, there you are my prize," he said as he found the man standing underneath his tender underside. "Trying to run away from me so soon?"
"No," Gorion replied. "I am making sure that my companions are able to leave this place." Then he took out a vial of a milky white liquid and drank the entire contents in one gulp. The mage turned tail and ran out from beneath the drake, silently cursing the fact that he lacked a spear, for if he had then he could have delivered a severe blow to the dragon.
As Gorion dashed about the cavern, Firkraag took great delight in trying to squash him with his bulk. He would slam a scaled foot down, only to see the human wiggle out of his grasp. The dragon tried to grab the man in his mighty jaws, but since the mage was moving much faster than normal his teeth encountered only air. Then the drake spied Gorion on the other side of the brazier, and so he sent a blast of flame towards the man. This time the edge of Gorion's robes caught fire for he had been too close to the blaze, and he had to waste precious time putting out the flames in his clothes. Firkraag shook his head for he had accidentally added to the already massive fire in the brazier, and though he was completely undamaged by the fire, he was temporarily blinded by the flare from the white-hot cinders.
Gorion used this rare break to run and hide himself behind a stalagmite. He could clearly hear a sucking, rushing sound as the drake tried to sniff out where his quarry had gone. The Harper caught the attention of a nearby companion of his and gave her the signal that the others should attack the dragon as soon as the opportunity presented itself. The woman nodded and scampered around the circumference of the room to tell the others to join the fight.
Meanwhile, the sage still had to keep the dragon busy, and that was not going to be too easy. The potion that he had consumed would soon wear off, and now Gorion had to come up with a spell that would help everyone to defeat Firkraag at long last. But which one should he choose? The dragon's occasional cries of, where are you little human, did nothing to help his concentration.
Gorion thought about his situation and came to the conclusion that he must take this opportunity to cast a spell. Using magic would reveal his location, but since the dragon hunting him would be able to track him in other ways, he had to take the risk. Gorion reached into his pocket and pulled out a tiny, highly polished fragment of a mirror. He then plucked one of his own hairs out of his head, and after he put the two objects together he muttered some words over the pieces in a twisting, arcane tongue. Both items disappeared, and somewhere off to his left another image of himself appeared, wearing the same clothes and carrying an exact copy of his staff. He sent this projection of himself strolling off towards the exit while he paused to catch his breath.
Gorion was feeling wrung out now since the potion's effects had recently worn off. He let his eyes shut halfway, grateful for the brief rest that his spell had offered him. Then an odd but strangely familiar scent hit his nostrils, and he turned his head ever so slowly to his right. He feared what he would find when he looked in that direction, but at the same time he had no real choice in the matter.
Firkraag's face was there, his yellow orbs looking very large as he gazed upon his prey. His body was twisted around the stalagmite that Gorion was hidden behind "I see you human. You are mine now!" the dragon cried triumphantly.
With a great effort the mage put on an incredible burst of speed and ran for the exit. He knew that the drake had no intention of letting anybody leave his lair alive, and that the dragon must be defeated at any cost. Firkraag was fast, incredibly fast, although he could not maneuver that well among the columns of rock in the cave. There were too many hiding places for the Harpers to jump behind, and if the dragon had given his situation a second thought he would have realized how trapped he really was. The beast lunged forward and placed himself at the opening, effectively cutting off Gorion's escape.
Or so the dragon thought.
"You have lost the game you pitiful man!" Firkraag cried out in victory, his legs spread out in all directions as the figure of the mage came to a screeching halt in front of him. "I never was going to let you leave, but you have given me a small amount of entertainment in the short time that you have spent here. Prepare to die foolish human!"
"You have made your last mistake Firkraag. You should have listened to my offer and left the area, but now it's too late for you," Gorion told the creature.
The dragon, angry at being insulted and threatened, buried the sage he saw sneering in front of him in fire. This rush of flame was not as intensely hot as the last one was, but it did its job well enough. The drake smiled in satisfaction as the human torch burned before his eyes… and vanished into nothingness.
"WHAT? YOU HAVE TRICKED ME MORTAL!" Firkraag roared in anger. Then the man who had been waiting in the hall with the poison tipped spear came sneaking up behind the enraged beast and plunged his weapon deep into the drake's rump. Gorion, the real Gorion who had switched places with his magically contrasted image, added to the damage by sending lightning down the shaft of the spear.
The large, red dragon roared in pain and outrage, and he shuffled backwards to try to turn around and kill the humans who were the cause of his misery. A trickle of dark blood fell from the freshly made wound, and when the creature spun on the spot he discovered, to his absolute dismay, that he was effectively trapped and his tormentor was nowhere to be found.
Every Harper who could threw everything they had at the beast at that point. The mission leader had bought them some time, and more importantly a chance at victory. There was not that many spells thrown at the drake for many of the magic users present had memorized a lot of fire based spells, and such enchantments were useless against a red dragon. Yen'satil took aim and fired a wickedly barbed arrow at the dragon's large eyeball. The arrow had been specially constructed in his homeland for slaying a dragon, any dragon, and it was only one of three remaining. The missile flew through the air and bounced off of the dragon's eye as Firkraag shut his secondary eyelid. All was not lost as Shandili raised her crossbow and shot a bolt of acid at the dragon's head. She was not aiming for the eyes; rather she was shooting at a more tender spot.
The projectile buried itself deep in the dragon's sensitive nostril. Firkraag cried in a manner reminiscent of a kitten, and he raised a claw to try to pull the thing out. A couple of men carrying pikes took advantage of the brief opportunity to shove their weapons in the creature's throat. Unfortunately the pikes were not sunk deep enough in the wyrm's long windpipe to kill him.
The battle raged on with the Harpers taking any chance they could to hit the dragon. Several of their number lay on the ground, groaning with pain and unable to rejoin the fight. Gorion had moved to strip the beast of his magical protections and hit him with every air-based spell that he had memorized. Eventually Firkraag fought not to slaughter the people in his cave, but to get away. He was bleeding from several small wounds, and there was more than one big gash down the drake's side, plus there was at least a half a dozen spears sticking out of him, making him look like a pincushion.
With a strength borne of desperation Firkraag twisted him injured frame around and ran down the tunnel that led to the outdoors and to freedom, forcing Gorion and his companion to flatten themselves against the stone walls of the corridor. The two men took one look at each other, and then they ran after the red dragon for they both knew that more of their number waited at the entrance, and those group members were directly in the path of an enraged, desperate beast.
The Harpers chased the creature's fleeing form, and just when they were about to get close enough to warn the mage Orin to stay out of Firkraag's way, they heard a sound that was to haunt them for a long time to come. Orin had begun a spell when the dragon had gotten close to the entrance, that much was understood for they could barely discern the outline of his form. The young man presented a heroic pose as he stood defiantly in the dragon's path, trying to cut off Firkraag's escape route. He never got a chance to complete the casting as the frantic dragon simply plowed through the exit and painfully winged his way to freedom. Orin screamed loudly as he was knocked violently off of the ledge and onto the jagged rocks many feet below at the base of the mountain.
The young mage's cries got progressively fainter, and then his strangled calls for help were suddenly cut off. Gorion and a few other Harpers raced to the end of the rock ledge just in time to see the red speck that was Firkraag getting smaller in the distance. Then, because many of them heard their comrade screaming as he fell, they searched for him at the base of the mountain. Far below the group was the still shape of the brave but foolhardy mage who had gambled with his life and lost.
Gorion could not cry, not yet when there were injured but alive companions still left in the tunnels, including the group's resident cleric who had several broken ribs and was therefore too wounded to heal everyone. The sage himself had a jagged gash on his arm when he had scrapped it on a sharp piece of rock. He sighed, knowing that everyone else was waiting for their orders for there was comfort to be found in rituals when one of their own had passed on.
"We do not have enough healing potions for everybody, and most of us are injured. Some more so than others," Shandili told her friend. "And we must see that Orin is properly honored for his sacrifice."
Gorion glanced at his teacher and nodded, too worn out to offer platitudes. He knew that no one in the group would want to stay in this area to rest and heal. If only he knew of where he could find a large group of clerics!
Then the sage paused, realizing that he had the answer with him all along. He was supposed to meet another couple of Harpers in Taringville, and if he remembered the reports correctly there should be over a dozen priestesses in the town with him. If he rationed the healing supplies carefully then everyone still living could be properly healed.
Gorion turned towards his old mentor who had waited for him to say something. "Shandili, take the healthiest of our number and make your way to the ropes. Aid everyone in climbing back to the top of the mountain, and when the wounded are being tended to, retrieve Orin's body so that we may properly bury it. Hortence, Tern, you two are in charge of treating the wounded as well as you can and guiding them to safety."
"And how will the rest of us regain our health?" Shandili asked him. "Do you have a cleric or two lurking in the bush?"
"No," the mage replied. "Thanks to a man named Merand and his excellent report, there is a large gathering of clerics not too far from here in Taringville. They are stout allies of the Harpers and would be willing to help us I believe."
"Excellent, perhaps I did teach you something right after all," Shandili responded. "But first to practical matters. And have that arm of ours taken care of before I take care of it for you Gorion."
"Yes my friend, I will do that," the sage told her as he moved to make his preparations for the journey into town.
Dreams and Sacrifices: Part 8
No replies to this topic
0 user(s) are reading this topic
0 members, 0 guests, 0 anonymous users