Our story begins in the kingdom of Lumara, a rather large nation located on the continent of Sethera. Lumara was well known for its cold winters, said to chill a person to the very bone, even while hugging their fire for warmth. It also bore some of the wettest summers where rain soaked the countryside for months. Some outsiders that lived in such climate spoke of Lumara as the worst place for anyone to live. However, in spite of the ill rumors, Lumara was not without its bounty. Several races inhabited these lands, and even though the majority of them were human the others were not treated any lesser.
To the other kingdoms of Man, Elf, and Dwarf Lumara appeared a violent nation, never satisfied with its borders. Many years ago, the forefathers of present day Lumara found ruins that contained knowledge of mana crystals, and -most important of them all- their creation. These crystals had been used eons ago by the Dragons -one of the oldest races of the world- to fuel vast magics in their empire, and keep the mortal races tethered under their claws. By making use of the knowledge they uncovered, Lumara entered into a new age of prosperity where evolution knew a pace unlike any other race discovered before. They were able to build marvels like flying ships, castles that could fly amongst the clouds, and even able to project beams of concentrated magical energy. With the help of these deadly devices, Lumara took upon itself to spread this newfound prosperity to the rest of Sethera.
Now far away from Lumara's capital city of Entis, far away from even its ruling king, past the Dragon Neck mountains to the west, even further than the forest of dreams, there was a village called Garricksville. An old wizard lived there, and Vargus was his name. Vargus had recently returned from an expedition into one of the ruins of the dragon empire where he was able to walk away with a treasure unseen before by his kin. He had found a red orb, perfect in shape, weighting almost nothing, and if one stared at it long enough the night sky appeared in the orb's bosom.
Vargus had put many of his years into studying the ruins of old. He now resided in the study of his large house, personally crafted to suit the wizard's needs by the best masons in the land.
In the confines of his trusted home, Vargus, wielder of the orb, found himself blissfully unaware of the knights sent to retrieve the treasure from him, by any means necessary.
An airship sailed across the dark night sky, hardly making a noise louder than the creaking of the wooden boards upon its deck. Where a mast would stand in place was a large balloon-like structure that was tethered to the hull of the grand ship. Two large propellers -powered of course by mana crystals deep in the hull of the ship- stood in place of a rudder to guide the ship through the darkened sky. She was a dark brown wood with scratches and signs of wear over the years of her service. On her balloon was painted the symbol of Lumara, a gold roaring gryphon painted over a brown shield. At her front was a wooden carved woman with her arms out stretched as if welcoming the sky's embrace. Painted below this statue was the name of the vessel "RLA Destiny" which stood for Royal Lumara Airship, a vessel commissioned only at the orders of the king of this great nation.
On the Destiny's deck, her crew preformed last checks on the three beam cannons. These formidable weapons stood large enough for a person to sit in, and although bulky in form, they could turn on a dime if situation demanded. Other crewmen checked the heat oozing from the engines below, and navigators calculated the distance to their destination. Standing out from the rest of the crew was a group of knights clad in gray and silver armor, ten in total, all of various heights and genders. Each one however bore features filled with experience, grim determination plastered over their faces to denote the urgency of the task at hand.
One man walked around, inspecting the troops to ensure tabards were in order, longswords stowed, shields strapped to their backs, and energy crossbows slung in proper place. This man was their leader, and his name was Arcturus Lund. He was a man of twenty three years and had already achieved the rank of Paladin in Lumara's military. Arcturus stopped at another knight whose crossbow was slung around the wrong shoulder. His green eyes narrowed, staring at the man whose gear was out of order. "Harrison!" he barked to the man, "tend to your weapon or see danger find you unprepared."
"Other shoulder, soldier." Arcturus said firmly.
The man called Harrison quickly switched the position of his weapon. The large cross bow looked like a normal one at first glance, but a critical eye could notice exhausts to vent the heat from the mana crystal used to power the weapon.
Arcturus swept his short brown hair as he looked to the remaining nine knights. Experienced they may have been, but worry still managed to creep its way across their faces.
"Steady hearts, my warriors!" Arcturus spoke loudly, "I have seen you all perform on the battlefield with honor and skill unmatched by any other knight. Today will be no different. Focus, and we shall see this mission to its end."
He turned to walk the other way as he continued his inspiring words. "Though our foe might be a wizard of experience, with men like you at my side, I know we will emerge victorious."
He held up his gauntlet clad hand, "look to your fellow knights, keep your shields up, and don't give the spell slinger an opportunity to conjure his spells."
Arcturus smiled as he saw the worry drain from their faces to be replaced with courage. Satisfied with himself, he dismissed the men for preparation as he looked to his own gear one last time.
At his right hip was a smaller version of the energy crossbow, designed to be used in only one hand. He felt the for the grip, thinking back to the day he was given it as a sign of his promotion. On its side he had marked with ink of all the lives the crossbow had taken. Around his waist to the left was his trusty longsword, still in use since his joining the Lumarian army when he was but a boy, at the frail age of fifteen. The blacksmith kept on telling him to replace the weathered sword, but Arcturus never listened, always reforging the blade. He laughed inside as he remembered teaching his son Geoffery how to hold his training sword, and how the first swing's momentum had the boy tumble to the ground. Arcturus then thought to his wife Selina. Of how her brown eyes shined with anger that day. The paladin reached into one of his pouches to check they were still tied properly, then pulled out a handkerchief, light blue in color given to him by Selina before he boarded this ship on the king's orders. Arcturus gripped it tightly. Though some thought him superstitions, he always prayed to the gods in a whisper for a safe return to the arms of his beloved wife.
The Paladin smirked and pocketed this precious family treasure before securing his pocket. Tonight was not going to be an exception. He flipped the visor of his helmet down as the ship started to descend. He fastened the helmet's leather strap, noticing the other Knights followed his example.
Ahead of them rose a dark castle illuminated by moonlight nestled between rolling hills. The structure had many towers, but in spite of its impressive arsenal, the stone crumbled in places, giving the castle a disheveled appearance. Its windows were dark, the light of the moon still too weak to pierce through their veil.
"No one mentioned a castle." Arcturus heard a knight whisper.
"Well it's fitting don't you think?" he said. "The wizard we seek is just as old. It makes sense he'd inhabit a place that matches the man. Perhaps he's trying to give us a message. What kind of knights would we be to strike down an old man? Best turn around, eh?"
The others chuckled nervously in the night air.
Arcturus scanned the castle's battlements. No weapons of any kind could be seen upon its ramparts. However, wizards always had a trick up their sleeves or a few fireballs to throw your way when not paying attention.
Although, the Paladin told himself, at least I'm not facing a dragon in there. A beast of that magnitude would be a different challenge altogether. Despite being trained to fight them, even Arcturus wasn't sure if his knights would be up to the task if a dragon showed up.
"Do not fall back into the clutch of despair," Arcturus patted the wooden railing of the ship. "Even if fate turns against us, we have the Destiny here for support. Between our crossbows and the beam canons, the only way our friend is getting away is on the back of a dragon."
"Like there's a man in this world crazy enough to ride a dragon!" one of the men said, then laughter quickly followed.
Perhaps this wizard is just that crazy, Arcturus thought. Guess we're going to find what hides in the depths of his castle in a bit.
Arcturus watched intently as the Destiny descended towards one of the makeshift walls. He spied small cracks in the wall, a sign of arcane crafting. Was it possible the wizard knew of their arrival? His hand brushed over the slung hand crossbow at his side. If that were true they might have been in for a nasty surprise when they pierced the wizard's domain. He signaled to the others to move out as the ship's plank touched down. As his boots hit the stone, his knights drew their weapons, filling the night air with a small hum. Arcturus felt a gust of wind from behind, a sign that the Destiny had left just as the last one of them made it off the ship. Arcturus pressed a small rune on the side of his helm, allowing him to send a message to the ship.
"Retrieve us if I send out a flare."
"As you command, Paladin," came a reply from the captain, his voice sounding as if the man were inches from Arcturus' ear.
With his escape secured, the troops mobilized. Arcturus followed the knights through the courtyard. What looked like a normal castle from far away turned into a much stranger show on the inside. The walls were jutting out at odd angles, and carried growths of stone on them, looking like some sort of warts. It was obvious whoever participated in the crafting of this castle held time in much higher regard than aesthetics.
"I don't like the looks of this." A knight spoke.
"Like your face looks any better." Another replied, chuckling.
"Keep focused." Arcturus approached the two men. "We don't fully know what secrets hide between these walls, marred as they may look."
The group kept on walking until they arrived in front of a sizable house, an odd thing to see in the middle of this collection of arcane-bound stone. The structure seemed to be attached to a large stone tower growing out of the buildings side, stone fused to wood. Its front door was distorted by magic, giving it a much higher size. Arcturus guessed it would have to be at least thirty feet tall, and just as wide. It too had the small cracks characteristic to arcane tampering.
Arcturus signaled with a hand to the others to open the door, a heavy thing that took five of the knights to crack open. In silence, the men flowed inside, weapons drawn. Arcturus' view was filled with a bizarre hallway, so long it hardly matched the size of the house he saw from the outside. The hallway's walls were lined with what appeared to be knickknacks and odd pieces of what Arcturus might call metal garbage that didn't seem to have any rhyme or reason. Among the garbage were torches powered by magic to light the way.
It really looks like he's been expecting somebody. Perhaps this wizard has company in the depths of his crazy mind...
"Alright men, spread out!" he told to the knights as their boots sullied the orange rug lining the floor. His eyes found themselves drawn to several painting of an old man. Possibly Vargus himself, his hazel eyes almost seeming to follow him as he walked. Arcturus shrugged and kept going. In this strange place, even the rug beneath his feet could twist at moment's notice.
"You lot. With me!" came a woman's voice from a knight with armor bearing more scratches and dents the rest. Arcturus walked passed the half orc knight who had proven herself over the years to be his most trusted follower. Half of the others followed her through a door they came across, including Harrison. She busted it down with a single shove and a loud cheer. "Knock Knock! Your delivery has just arrived!"
Several shots from her crossbow bathed the knights in flashes of red light.
"Room's clear boys." she casually walked out a puff of exhaust coming from her crossbows vents. "Seems our prey is hiding in another room."
"Or another castle." Someone laughed.
The knights continued down the hallway, keeping a close look on their surroundings. Though they tried to keep a positive attitude, the ominous nature of this place put even the most seasoned of men on guard. Arcturus scanned every cobwebbed covered stone crevice to every creepy self painting in search of any hidden traps.
Fortunately, the wizard had none in store for them thus far, and the knights stopped at a cross intersection of doors, each one a different shade of brown with a handle that failed to match its color. These colors were gold, silver, and bronze. Arcturus pulled out his hand crossbow and flipped the activation rune, the rising hum of its power music to his ears.
"Form squads. Two men." He signaled the knights to enter in pairs. He turned towards the bronze door, the one he planned to go through with the knight Erin. Erin was relatively new to the squad, selected for her expertise in lock picking and trap disarmament.
"Are you sure about this, sir? Shouldn't you have someone more skilled at your side?" she spoke on a soft, worried voice.
"You happen to be a fine shot, Erin. Put mind to purpose. If I didn't think you could handle yourself you would have remained on the deck of the ship, far removed from danger."
He pushed open the door after she gave him a thumbs up to find the inside safe to walk in. The room was made of stone with a singular pedestal containing a small palm sized red orb resting on a purple cushion. The dim light cast dark shadows that crept up like beasts along the walls, sending a sense of dread up the paladin's spine.
"Looks like the perfect den of horrors in here." He turned to back towards the others. "What did you find?"
Spit froze in his throat when, instead of his knights, rose a wall of stone. Arcturus found himself alone with no sign of the others or the door he has just opened. He raised his crossbow at a moment's notice, then scanned the dim light for any sign of movement, any hint at what had just happened. His steps were slow and placed with care as if he threaded on very thin ice. Slowly, Arcturus made his way to the opposite side of the room, finding no exit, as expected.
"Damn it. There has to be a-"
He spun around when a faint noise buried itself in his ear. It sounded like a great roar, coming from behind him and very far away. His finger hugged the trigger of the crossbow almost instantly. The once dim room shone with brilliant red light and the wall hissed with three energy impacts on the stone surface. Arcturus stood in silence, listening to his own thumping heartbeat, trying to focus on where the sound had come from. His eyes hovered over to the orb that sat there, the most single mysterious object in this entire chamber. An itch prodded him on in the back of his mind. Drawing him to the orb. Slowly, the paladin stretched his hand towards the object, sheathing his crossbow. The orb was what drew him to this forsaken place, right? That was his task. To retrieve the orb and return it to the king.
Arcturus took one more step. Then another. He was but a hand away from the orb now, trapped in the agonizing moment when his mind all but screamed for the danger that lurked ahead.
However, despite his rising anxiety, Arcturus grabbed the orb and gritted his teeth.
But no spell came out. No trap. The orb was perfectly safe in his hand, cold to the touch like any other metal.
"Well that was easy," Arcturus let out a long sigh, then smiled. "Guess I'm going home after all."
"Don't judge a book by its cover!" a voice suddenly said, as if from every wall.
"Blast it," Arcturus looked around as Vargus seemed to emerge from one of the many walls around him. Arcturus' first instinct was to grab hold of his crossbow but found himself unable to move a single muscle.
"I don't know what shallow twist of fate allowed you to bypass my defenses and get into this room."
Vargus made his way over to Arcturus until he stood several feet in front of the paladin, his hand stretching towards the orb. "Regardless, I would have you return the orb to its rightful place."
"You...forgot to...say please..." Arcturus strained as he felt his body compelled against his will to walk towards Vargus.
"Would it make any difference? The orb is mine either way. You but have to place it in my palm."
"Nghhhh." Arcturus grunted. Every step felt like pulling against thousands of thornvines, a fight against himself. "What's this red pebble to a man who can build a castle out of nothing anyway?"
"A feeble mind such as yours could not possibly comprehend my intentions." Vargus said.
"Try me." Arcturus hissed. He knew the wizard was a proud sort from the way he expected the orb to be handed to him. While the bastard filled the air with his boasting voice, Arcturus moved his trembling hand towards his crossbow, almost touching the activation rune.
"Rah!" With a sneer of the wizard's mouth and a twitch of his wrist the crossbow flew from his grasp, impacting on the floor.
"That was a clever trick, but useless still." Vargus chuckled "When a wizard speaks to you, you would do well to listen. But ah. I am afraid we are getting ahead of ourselves. We have yet to be introduced! Now what should I call you, knight of Lumara? Enforcer of our Dictator's will?"
"My name is Arcturus...and I am no mere knight!" he said, pride resonating in his voice "I am a Paladin. I suggest you don't forget my name, nor the title attached to it...when you contemplate the choices you've made in chains."
"Paladin, you say? Now that is a title forged by skill, and prestige. Perhaps fate has plans to bring us together tonight." Vargus said amused. He placed a hand on his chin, then walked around Arcturus, no words filling in the void chamber until the mage stopped but a few steps away from the Paladin's face.
"But alas, I stand unimpressed. Paladins used to wield more than steel and swords. I speak of magic to rival my very own!" Vargus sighed. "Ah...it is a pity the glory days have faded. There was one time where your order used to mean something. Now, you are but a flea straddling the fur of a beast beyond your understanding."
"I am sorry to disappoint you then." Arcturus said. "I shall pass your wisdom to our king after I see you bound in chains."
"Oh, but I don't think you shall have that opportunity, paladin." Vargus chuckled again. "You see, I have you in chains now. Your whole body is at my command, and soon enough your mind shall eagerly follow."
Arcturus disregarded the wizard's poisonous words. Instead, he focused on the faint pounding sound starting behind the wizard and he could hear faint voices. He figured it was Thraka and the others.
"Throw your backs into it, or the paladin will have you clean latrines for a week!"
Vargus immediately spun towards the source of the voices just as the door reappeared. The door bust down to reveal all the knights and Thraka holding her crossbow at the ready. A blue shimmering energy shield appeared before the wizard as shots slammed against his magic barrier, only to rebound and hit harmlessly on the stone walls. The other knights filed in adding their own shots as Vargus backed up, blocking each shot with his energy shield but having little opportunity to do much else.
"Enough of this nonsense!" Vargus cried out.
A wave of magic spread out towards the knights, causing their weapons to suddenly smoke and fall from their grasp. However, Erin managed to pull knife out just as Vargus casted his spell and threw it at the wizard.
"Grrraaaaaahhh!" The knife sunk into Vargus' shoulder with a cry of pain. Arcturus felt control return to his body. He ducked as Vargus threw several rays of fire around the room in retribution. He heard Harrison groan as the knight hit the ground. Arcturus grabbed his crossbow on the ground, and hitting a second switch on the crossbow. He raised it and fired, and instead of a red energy blast, a blue energy blast fired at Vargus, taking the wizard squarely in the back while he was distracted by the other knights.
"Damn the...luck." The man mumbled before he hit the ground.
The thump announced an end to the crazed wizard's threat. Arcturus lifted his helmet's visor to wipe the sweat from his brow. The other knights rushed towards him, bombarding him with questions, all background noise to him as he gazed into the orb held within his hand. It seemed to call to him. A whisper different than the spell Vargus used on him.
A pat to the shoulder shook him out of his trance.
"Are you alright, Arcturus?" Thraka said, her tusks slightly to the left, a sign of worry as Arcturus came to know from the time they spent together on various missions.
He straightened up and laughed "I'm great! This is what we came for after all" he held up the orb for the others to see.
"That small thing?"
"What's that do?"
"It's what the King wanted. We couldn't let this stay in the hands of this rebel wizard." Arcturus gestured to Vargus. "The fact that he was also a talkative bastard takes second place."
"Uh sir, we only fought summons, not rebels." Harrison added.
"Yeah I thought that was odd, this mage must not have trusted his compatriots enough guard his treasured ball."
"Well what should we do with the spell slinger?" Thraka lightly shoved the unconscious Vargus with her boot.
"Carry him back to the ship, shackle his hands, cover his mouth, and throw him in a cell. I'm sure the interrogators will love to break some words out of his mouth."
The others chuckled, picking up the drooling wizard and dragging him back towards the entrance. Arcturus holstered his crossbow and followed the others out.
The knights gathered outside in the quiet courtyard as Arcturus reached for a thin piece of wood on his belt. He gripped the worn wood which was engraved with various runes then raised it above his head as three yellow lights burst into the skies. The airship a few moments after the flare gave away the position of the troops, landing a few feet from them. The knights boarded with a collective sigh of relief, dragging Vargus up the plank. Arcturus stopped midway to look back to the castle, his ears still troubled by the faint roar in the distance. He remembered the stories he told Geoffery about a dark shadow beast that stalked the night to devour little boys.
"Are you coming sir?" one of the deck hands asked from above.
"Yes. I just...it's really good to be out of that place." Arcturus turned back to the ship and walked on its deck, his mouth devoid of any other words past what was customary after a mission. He felt the engines roar to life, and a slight lurch as the ship ascended back into the dark skies.
When they gained cruising altitude, Arcturus strode across the deck towards his quarters. His mind could definitely use rest from Vargus' incessant blabber. If he spent more time with the wizard, Arcturus feared he would've collapsed under the mage's unending spree.
Why did you need that orb, Vargus? It must be of importance to seclude yourself in the castle, more so when you came to punish me yourself. Arcturus thought for a few minutes on how easily they breached the castle. Could it be the mage wanted them to find the orb?
Possibly. Then again, many seers claimed to have untangled the strings of the future.
Arcturus purged his mind of the wizard. The mission was done. For now, that is all that mattered when they had hours left before they reached the capital and his men were more than capable of watching the subdued wizard. He nodded to another crew member as he opened the oak door to his quarters.
His quarters were nothing too extravagant. A bed with tan sheets sprawled over to the left, big enough a single man to rest in. There was a stand for his armor and weapons a few feet away, followed by a desk and a sizable storage chest for his clothes. Arcturus detached his armor, letting the plates softly hit the bed., each piece removed accompanied by a sigh. He then fell onto the bed, his eyes closing softly at the comforting warmth beneath. With such a long night under his belt, sleep came to him before he even knew.
Arcturus opened his eyes to find himself on the cobbled path of a street. He looked up into the dark sky to see clouds gathering overhead. They were moving around as if a thousand insects crawled beneath their surface.
A drop fell from the sky. Then another, and another. Arcturus soon felt the rain starting to soak his dark gray clothes. A streak of lightning arced across the night sky, followed by thunder soon after. Arcturus turned his head looking for anything in this black void, not seeing the ship, his knights, or his family.
Another lighting bolt flashed in the sky, the booming thunder forcing Arcturus cover his ears as he collapsed in pain.
From all directions echoed a mighty roar of no earthly origins. Arcturus jumped on his feet, immediately falling into a combat position.
"What are you?" he shouted into the storm above. The clouds parted before him, pierced by a great scaled head that descended like a great meteor. Following suit its mighty platinum wings opened up as the great dragon circled the lone knight briefly before landing on its claws. The great beast's eyes stared at him, fluid, as if filled with liquid mercury. The Paladin stood his ground as he looked up at the dragon that easily towered over him several times over. He noted the smooth scaled head with less pronounced horns belonged to a female, a boon owed to years of studying these majestic beasts. The dragoness opened her maw, each inch lined with sharp teeth gleaming even in the muted light. She raised her head, and let loose another thunderous roar that shook Arcturus to the very core of his being.
"GAH!" Arcturus woke with a start only to find himself in the bed of his quarters. He grasped the sheets tightly in his hands, sweat starting to drip from his forehead.
"Just a dream" he muttered, sighing in relief. "It was just a blasted dream not even half as crazy as that blabbering mage."
A strong knock rattled his door.
"Yes! I'm well awake."
"Sir, the prisoner wishes to speak with you. came Harrison's voice.
"I'll be there in a moment." Arcturus grumbled. He got out of the bed, hastily donning his belt and longsword. He opened the door to find Harrison, his face pale. Arcturus ignored this as Harrison started leading him through the ship.
"He just started talking different."
"Different? What do you mean different?"
"In another language or-or something akin to organized gibberish, so we tightened his bindings to prevent him from weaving one of his spells. Then a moment ago he asked for you, and put up quite a stir."
Arcturus was brought to the lower part of the ship, where iron bars were bolted into the wooden floor, a small enclosure with a tiny porthole and a barred door. Vargus sat on the lone bench, still tied up with ropes. His face was stern, mouth straight, head un-moving, and his eyes staring straight at Arcturus, following him as he walked similarly to how the paintings on the castle's walls reacted to the men that trespassed within its walls.
One of Arcturus' knights sat next to the cell reading a book with the title 'A Bards tale' written by some halfing that Arcturus had no knowledge of.
"Vargus," Arcturus said coldly. "I hope you realize that causing a stir will just make your stay with us all the more difficult."
"You just had a dream. Did you not?" He smiled as recognition appeared on the paladin's face,"Of a dragon descending from the heavens?"
Arcturus did not say a word as he stepped closer to the bars and whispered, "How did you know that?"
Vargus smirked, "You touched the orb, paladin. Only another man managed such a feat, and he is standing right before you."
"Cut the nonsense! You can peer into my head now? How's that possible?"
"It's not me who does the peering."
Arcturus gritted his jaws. "Don't play with me Vargus. You will find my mood sharp and cold, just like the edge of a blade. Now tell me straight. How did you divine my dream?"
The mage seemed to ponder for a bit. "Send your peons away and we can discuss this matter further." Vargus gestured to the knights. "They make poor company for men such as us."
"You are no elven ray of light yourself, old man." Harrison snapped back.
Arcturus put out his hand, signaling to the others to be silent. "Leave us."
"S-sir, is that wise? Bound or not he's still a-"
"I said leave us," Arcturus hissed. "I wish to know what he knows. Stay close though. If you hear any sort of commotion come to my aid at once."
"You heard the paladin!" said the book reading knight. "Leave them alone lads!" He stood up and left the room along with Harrison. As silence filled the air, Arcturus pulled up a chair, dragging it across the floor with a loud scrape. He sat down and stared at the wizard.
"I have done as you have asked. Now explain yourself."
"Why, it's magic of course!" Vargus laughed. "Honestly my good man, you should know better than to trust the words of a wizard."
Vargus' voice grew deeper.
"Impossible, we have you tied up right now!" Arcturus shot back.
"There are some magics that require no hand gestures, or words of power." Vargus sighed. "But what can really be expected of a whelp like you?"
Arcturus scowled at Vargus. "Call me that again, and you shall find out how sharp this whelp's fangs can pierce when provoked.
Vargus smiled. "Stroke a chord, have I? The mighty paladin's ears find themselves sensitive to anything lesser than praise."
"You know nothing of duty, and honor!" Arcturus said. "You'd use your powers to achieve selfish goals, a man who believes in nothing but himself."
"As should you." Vargus said. "We come in this world alone. Why should the rest be any different?"
Arcturus grew tired of his babbling. "Straighten your tongue, mage. I asked you a question and demand an answer."
Vargus let out a long sigh. "Veeery well. What you felt was only the residual energy of the orb playing tricks on your mind. Remember the voices? No? The roar, perhaps?"
"Residual," Arcturus put his hand on his chin, "Where has the rest of the magic gone then?"
Vargus straightened his back, smiling as if he just achieved some great goal. "You understand speech! That is good, my dear paladin. Keen mind. Sharp as your sword!" Vargus than chuckled in his throat. "Could it be that I have already harnessed the orb's power, perhaps? Or that, when you stand before your beloved king, all you'll have is a broken trinket to show for your valiant effort?"
"For your sake wizard, I hope you have not done what you've just said." Arcturus spat out. He was starting to tire of Vargus. The man's laughter was like a thorn on his side. His words, spikes driven into his chest. Even the wizard's face started to become more offending the longer Arcturus stared at it.
"Of course there's the matter of ever arriving to your king's court. I haven't forgotten to mention that, have I?" Vargus' eyes narrowed.
"What does that imply exactly?" Arcturus replied sternly.
Vargus raised his eyes, adopting the same cocky grin that made his face a hard thing to look at.
"I am only trapped in this stinky cell because I allow it, and you, paladin... you are only alive because you entertain me more than the other fools that came after me. To believe you'd be the only one to actually manage to touch my orb...well, that is a reason in itself to prolong your existence."
Arcturus balled his hands into fists. "If you try anything even resembling a spell, you will find yourself executed quicker than you can blink. If memory fails you, dear wizard, recall how you fell on the ground when my stunning bolt struck your body. You drooled on the ground as the rest of my men carried you into this stinking cell you so fondly named." Arcturus boasted, his own grin finding its way to his face.
"Ah, here it comes. The cockiness of youth. You know, I've been wondering how long you'd resist the temptation to show off. Knights are so predictable. Haven't you wondered why your journey through my castle went so smooth? How Vargus, the greatest mage in Lumara, perhaps in the whole world, fell at the hands of a ragtag band of idiots? It is because I allowed it!" Vargus rasped. "I wanted to be trapped here with you sharing these very words!" Vargus' voice kept getting deeper with every word he uttered. Arcturus had to admit the situation started to get strange really fast.
"Have you lost wits, old man?"
Vargus opened his mouth to form a toothy smile. His teeth were bright white and seemed to be sharpened to points. His eyes had changed from hazel to orange and his slit acquired a sharper shape, much like a reptile. Arcturus tried to stand up but found himself unable, the dull noises of the ship fading away, leaving nothing but Vargus chanting in his deep creepy voice. Arcturus did not know what the words were, but the way they hissed upon the mage's breath couldn't be good.
Arcturus watched in utter bewilderment as the room slowly began to melt slowly. Its droplets collected beneath him, vanishing as if getting sucked down a drain. Arcturus' eyes never strayed from Vargus as he was plunged into darkness. The wizard's ropes seem to uncoil from around his limbs, then faded into nothingness.
"No, paladin. You did not face me when you captured my pitiful vessel!" Vargus approached, outstretching his hand. The flesh on it seemed to slowly peel off out of its own accord, managing to touch Arcturus on the chin. Arcturus could see four black talons ripping their way slowly from Vargus' flesh. If the wizard was in pain he did not show it at all.
"Now let's see what kind of man you truly are!" Vargus sneered, then released head with a shove and turned. The blackness around them slowly became a fuzzy vision of Arcturus' house in the capital of Entis. Despite the darkness looming all around him, he could still recognize his wife cooking stew on the fireplace. As the vision cleared he could see her straight brown hair, draped behind her and adorned with beads. She wasn't cooking now, her brown eyes filled with worry over her frozen face.
"Ah, so you left your mate and child alone to heed the command of your king. Hunt Vargus as you would a stag!" the wizard paused to tilt his head as he inspected the frozen woman. "You chose me over her...in spite of your wife's protests."
Arcturus struggled to move even a single finger. Whatever magic Vargus had over him it was much stronger than it had been inside the orb's chamber. He made the mistake of looking into Selina's eyes. He didn't abandon her...did he? He just heeded his duty as would any other man in his place. Despite of wave of guilt washing over him, Arcturus swore to the gods he would make it back to her.
"S-Selina?" Vargus said "The name barely wants to part with the tongue." He stopped again and raised an eyebrow "Selina and...Geoffery!" the wizard wrinkled his brow. "It pains you to have me gain knowledge of their names, does it not?"
A grunt was all Arcturus could muster.
"There is no point in struggling, whelp! My magic has you bound tighter than my vessel had ever been on the deck of your filthy ship! But alas, we must not let ourselves carried away," Vargus spun around once again facing Arcturus. "There's more I would know about the great paladin." Vargus waved his hand, the flesh dropping away in large meaty chunks that slapped wetly onto the floor. All that remained was a red blood covered claw covered in scales.
Arcturus' house melted, leaving nothing but utter darkness. With another wave of Vargus' claw, Arcturus found himself in a field outside of Entis, where his father used to train him.
"Oh, this is intriguing. You are a Lund, after all!" Vargus shouted as his slitted eyes widened. "A Lund!" he jumped for a moment, moving close to Arcturus' face. "Dragon slayers, are you not? Men with tradition!" Vargus laughed deeply as cracks appeared on his face. "Such misery your family has brought dragon kind, and such good fortune that we have met together at this point in time. It's like fate wished to pit us against each other!"
Arcturus renewed his struggle and got rewarded for his efforts. The scene before him faded away to find himself back in the cell of the ship. He had his sword in hand with Vargus in the other. The man's eyes had not returned to normal. He shook his head once and quickly noticed that Harrison and the other guard were currently tugging on his sword arm, causing him to fall backwards onto the floor. Vargus just cackled as he collapsed onto the bench once more.
Arcturus rubbed his head in circular motions. "What happened?" he muttered, turning to the others. "The bastard must've casted a spell on me. I'd never...raise sword against a defenseless man like that..."
"Don't know sir," stammered Harrison. "You just entered the cell, weapon drawn. That's all I know."
"But...we shared words. I ordered you out, and-" Arcturus stopped when the confusion only grew on Harrison's face.
"Mages and their kin, ugh!" Arcturus rose from the ground, shooting daggers with his eyes at the wizard. He grabbed a piece of cloth and tied it roughly around Vargus' mouth once more.
"There will be no more trickery coming out of your mouth tonight, wizard. My blood but warms at the thought of handing you over to meet true justice." Arcturus turned and slammed the door to the cell shut.
Hours seem to shuffle past on the deck of the Destiny, never seeming to end. Arcturus watched soldiers shuffle by, performing the needed checks with looks of worry present on their faces. He was amazed to see the story of what had happened had spread so quickly throughout the crew. All their eyes were filled with worry, uncertainty, and even fear. He didn't blame the men for their reaction. You didn't see many powerful wizards just roaming the streets or halls of Lumara. Only the High Wizard seemed to have that quality. However if you really wanted to see powerful mages you had to go west to the nation of Rothdell. The wizards there ruled over the populous in a council made up of three elders wise beyond their years. Each territory was divided to a different wizard, much similar to how Lumara did it with lords. Arcturus stopped mid thought to look over balcony of the Destiny, and onto the horizon. He could already see familiar mountains already growing in the moonlight. He knew the landmarks well. In spite of everything that happened tonight, he was close to home, soon to be in the loving arms of his wife and child.
A smile graced his face at the thoughts of home. Geoffery was most likely asleep holding fast to a stuffed gryphon Arcturus made for him last year. He pictured his face buried snugly in it without a worry to trouble his sleep. He imagined Selina waiting, looking up into the night sky for any sign of his airship, her eyes longing to gaze upon him once more. He felt the ship start to descend slowly, yet another sign they were close to home. He made his way to the bow of the ship to see the city of Entis, his home, truly a sight to behold for those who have not yet set eyes upon such a marvel. Spread below were lights from the city lamps illuminating every alley, bearing the semblance of little fireflies from this distance. Closer, stone and wooden houses awaited with fine roofs routinely inspected by the city for damage. Banners of every color hung off street corners and windows for various noble houses, guilds, or announcements. Yet despite these he looked to the two wonders that towered above all others.
Floating above the city were two large fortresses. Stone guardians held aloft by large mana crystals. The brown banners of Lumara hung atop them, billowing down to practically the base. Behind them was the castle standing high above the city with many gargoyles and towers. Arcturus remembered that even he was much younger he realized how long these structures endured, before elves graced the kingdom with their presence. It was even rumored that dragons would have attacked its walls, fended off by heroic knights of old. He remembered passing the gates to the castle as a child, seeing large claw marks across their surface. His father had pointed them out, and reminding him that his great, great, great ancestor had slew the beast in his final moments. He remembered smiling at the story, imagining himself as that relative fending off the great wrym that threatened his marvelous city.
Arcturus pulled himself out of the memory and made his way back towards his quarters. He was going to be home soon, and he wouldn't have dared to greet his wife without the proper gear. He donned his armor carefully over his gambeson. With each strap. he remembered how the armor had saved his life from strikes over the years. He stopped, grabbing the helm with his gloved hands. He ran his hand over a scratch down the center, over the vision slit. When suddenly the ship lurched, the helmet dropped from his hands and clattered to the floor, the sound drowned out by thunderous explosions from the bowels of the ship.
He sheathed his weapons and swung the shield around his back. Armed this way, Arcturus walked out of his chamber. As he walked along the hall, his thoughts turned to the prisoner in the hold, then another explosion rocked the ship. Screams came from ahead, piercing through the splintering wood to fill Arcturus' heart with dread at the sound of his crewman being shredded into nothingness. He feared the worst when he passed a knight in the hall, his armor torn to ribbons and blood leaking from each deep gash on his body. Arcturus tried to look away but found himself unable. The knight was an elf named Croecear, he could tell by the elven rune on his blood covered gauntlet. He hadn't been the most talkative of the group, but he didn't deserve such gruesome end.
"Paladin!" he heard a voice gurgle out. A quick scan of the hallway revealed two things. The hallway was starting to have smoke billow into it from further down the hall, and that Harrison was lying on the floor several feet ahead. His limbs seemed to have been bent at odd angles, his mouth saturated with blood and his eyes full of excruciating pain. Arcturus noted the rising and falling of his chest, Harrison was alive if just for the moment. He knelt beside his broken comrade, his face grim. He had lost soldiers before but even after years of fighting he hardly got used to it.
"Hang on, soldier." Arcturus grasped Harrison's' hand. "I need you to hold on for just a moment. Tell me what happened."
"B-Big" Harrison spat, blood flying out to cover his chest plate in a sickly layer of crimson. "The wizard, h-h-he turned into some sort of b-b-b-ig b-beast." Harrison clenched his teeth, gasping in pain.
Arcturus looked left and right for maybe a cleric that could help, but not even the gods themselves could have saved the fallen knight even if they poured down from the heavens.
"Crocecear, Harrison," Arcturus said, rising up from the fallen knight. "I will be sure to honor your fall once we deal with this blasted wizard."
That said, Arcturus broke into a run down the hallway, following the trail of blood and corpses that made the Destiny look like a cemetery. Each door he passed was cracked or destroyed outright, the splinters of them thrown across the floor. Bodies of those who manned the ship could be hardly recognized from the pieces that remained, but with each fallen comrade. Arcturus was filled with a greater determination to put an end to Vargus' machinations. It didn't matter that he was wanted alive by the king. The man was clearly too dangerous for any other course of action, and if the king disagreed, Arcturus would find a way to enter his good graces once more.
Arcturus burst through the shambles that used to be the engine room door to find several more of his knights dead. Thraka, his trusted orc commander, was suspended in the air by three black talons impaled in her chest.
"N-no," Arcturus's throat tightened at the sight. "Not you too..."
His eyes looked past the fallen orc. Through the smoke that was coming from the engine emerged a great beast towering over Arcturus with glowing orange eyes. It was adorned with worn red scales all over its long body, tail poised around, with great wings spread to cover the great hole in the ceiling. The beast's head was adorned with two long black horns and its maw was open to reveal its teeth dripping with fresh blood in almost grin fashion.
"The esteemed paladin comes at last. For a moment I thought you perished in the bowels of your feeble ship." said the dragon in a loud booming voice, gesturing to the dead knights. "Please excuse the dreary company. I would've kept some of your knights alive...if only to watch you suffer as I tore the hearts from their chests. Your feeble kin thought their lesser minds could rival my genius! That their steel sticks and mismatched crafts could match the power of a dragon. Oh, I enjoyed seeing them crumble around me as I torn their ship asunder. I assume you have the same delusion to stand before me when the only place a human has before a dragon is on his knees!"
The engine started to sputter and howl, its screeching groans more painful than the dreaded dragon's roar. Arcturus was no expert in engineering, but clearly the ship's heart could hardly endure more than a few moments. He looked back to the menacing red dragon and swelled up his chest.
"I am a man...and I am still standing, beast! You put on a charade this entire time, but you will not catch me unprepared like you did the others." His hand brushed his cross bow as he stared into the piercing eyes of the dragon. "Whatever fancy polymorph potion you ingested will not-"
"I AM NOT THE WRETCH YOU SPEAK OF!!" the dragon roared, smoke flaring from its nostrils. "Do NOT compare me to that pitiful excuse for a creature." The dragon thrashed its tail against the ground with a loud thwack. Arcturus' hand touched the crossbow in his holster.
"If you're not Vargus...then how should I call you, my dear scaled beast?" Arcturus smiled with the corner of his mouth as he started to back away from the dragon who had taken a step towards him on four limbs. Arcturus had to admit he had never felt so small before.
"Grah!" the dragon growled. "You prolong your pitiful existence with a few more minutes, but I shall entertain you for amusing me thus far, even if I doubt your stupid mouth could even form the words." The dragon sneered. "Dread Flame. Does this name satisfy your curiosity?"
Arcturus carefully watched the dragons eyes move to the crossbow as Arcturus hit the activation rune. "Fondling your little toy so soon? I'm surprised to see you throw yourself into the jaws of death so eagerly, but alas, everything that has a beginning bears an end." The dragon snarled, smashing his tail into a piece of machinery and crushing it to pieces.
"I hope you'll put up a more valiant effort than the pile of dented steel and broken bones you call knights!"
Arcturus saw the dragon's nostrils flare, already starting to start the flame that was sure to be unleashed. He dove to the side, pulling out the crossbow in midair and firing three times in rapid succession into the dragons neck, just below the head. The destroyed room flared to life in a shower of blue light that emerged from his crossbow. At the same time, Dread Flame opened his maw to unleash his own devastating attack.
But what greeted Arcturus was not the sea of flames one would expect. Dread flame shook his head in irritation as only a small plume of black smoke sprung forth from his maw.
"How do you like that, beast? Not so powerful now, are we?" Arcturus stood up as Dread Flame gasped in surprise.
"Oh, you clever little whelp." Dread flame chuckled. "So you know where my fire glands reside! I comment your efforts, although they do little to protect you against my CLAWS!" Dread Flame pounced towards the paladin, black talons poised to rip him to shreds.
Arcturus had only a split second to react. On the dragon's upper portion of its frame was a scorch mark, most likely from his comrades attempts of bringing Dread Flame down. Arcturus took aim and fired quickly into the exposed spot, then tried to roll out of the dragon's way. His shots hit home causing Dread Flame to roar out in pain, but a claw still found its mark, slicing into Arcturus in a haze of sharp, seething agony.
"Nrraaaahhh!" The paladin hit the floor, wincing in pain as the dragon skidded past him. His crossbow was pulled from his grasp, and shattered onto the wooden floor with a golden flash.
"That was a fine shot, paladin." The dragon hissed. "You do live up to the family name of yours. I am impressed you wounded me." Dread flame spun around, claws ready to deliver a second blow, but Arcturus pulled off his shield and slammed it hard against the slashing talons. His shield screeched as the dragon's humongous claws scraped against the steep briefly before Arcturus was thrown back several feet.
"See how you crumple before me?" Dread Flame advanced slowly with an audible deep growl rumbling within the depths of his maw. "You're lucky I am holding my rage back, paladin, or that metal scale of yours would not have saved you."
"One of the last mistakes you'll ever make." Arcturus gritted his teeth as he got up, unsheathing his sword with a sharp hiss. His crossbow was all but mangled scraps, but there was another way to strike back at the beast. Arcturus blocked another slash by Dread Flames' claws, then nimbly avoided the dripping teeth that came to claim his life. The dragon snapped at the air where his head would've been. Arcturus felt his adrenaline pumping as shield met teeth, sword parried claws, until Arcturus saw an opening in the dragon's attack. Pouring all his strength into a single counterattack, Arcturus struck an unarmored portion of the dragon, his blade shoving deep into the creature's flesh to taste warm, dripping blood.
"Hrraaaaaahhhh!" Dread Flame backed away from him. "This is preposterous! How can a wretch like you muster such strength?" The dragon's eyes looked to his own blood as it dripped and splattered onto the floor. Dread Flame snarled and backed towards the sputtering engine. "I have underestimated you, paladin. Perhaps you are worthy to soar above the mediocrity displayed by the knights I've killed, but your life will still end at the tips of my claws. It is a rule, you see. Like the sun that rises in the sky, or the ivory moon that takes its place at night. Humans are made to kneel before their better. It simply boils down to our superiority as a species."
Arcturus shook a few drops of blood from his sword. "False words that mask true intent. You don't seem so superior, retreating from a mere human." Arcturus advanced towards the dragon, arms at the ready.
"You would think that, despite the answer staring you blatantly in the face," snarled Dread Flame. The dragon grabbed the engine tight with both of his claws and spread his wings. "I can FLY, and you CAN NOT!" Dread flame gave a mighty flap of his wings and with a great rip he tore the engine from its resting place and flew out the hole in the ship.
The broken ship shuddered one last time before it started to plunge towards the ground below.
Arcturus had only time to sheathe his sword as his hands desperately grasped for anything to hold onto. He found his salvation in a chain that dangled from one of the walls. His arms strained from his own weight as the chain pulled taut. The whistling winds screeched at his ears from the sizable hole where the engine should've been, the night sky getting further and further away by the second. Arcturus took a deep breath, then scanned his surroundings for a way out of this deathtrap.
The escape boats! his mind screamed at him, as he remembered the emergency boats that came along with every ship. These miniature flying crafts fit six to eight people. He found a plaque signaling one such craft on the wall along with a lever to release it away from the Destiny. The only snag in this was that the emergency boat was a distance away from him. It would require a great swing from the chain he was holding onto, and if he missed it...
Arcturus shook his head. He had to try, otherwise he was going to perish with the rest of the ship anyway.
He started to swing on the chain to get momentum before he flung himself at the lifeboat. He landed with a thud and scrambled to find a good hold as he started to slip. His arms felt like they were on fire as he pulled himself to grasp the activation lever.
Please work...by all the gods above...please get me back to my family...after I kill this blasted dragon.
Arcturus closed his eyes and pushed with all his strength on the lever. It slammed into place with a loud clunk as the gears and mechanical parts sprung to life. With a small explosion the lifeboat shot itself out of the doomed ship and gently sailed into the night air. Its propellers unfolded from its underside to keep the little boat aloft. Arcturus breathed a sigh of relief as the life boat came to a hovering stop in midair. He watched the Destiny collide with the cobblestone streets with a thunderous crash. Wood beams split, machinery ripped from the Destiny's crumbling carcass, and windows shattered in the wake of the impact.
"Nice Trick!" boomed the dragon's familiar voice.
Arcturus had no mind to quarrel verbally with the deranged beast. He quickly grabbed the controls and descended with the lifeboat. He had to at least give the dragon a moving target, not one that simply waited to be killed. He turned the lifeboat around to see Dread Flame following him with a wicked smile of delight on his snout, which quickly opened to release a great cone of orange fire that spread forth. Arcturus swerved the boat hastily to barely avoid the brunt of the flames, the heat still licking at his neck.
"You cannot flee from my wrath little wretch!" roared the dragon with another flap of its mighty wings. "We share a bond of pain, you and I, and I shall wound you deeper than you've ever wounded me!"
Arcturus hated to admit it, but the dragon was right in both regards. He would not rest until he saw the beast dead for the massacre on the ship. However, Arcturus was well aware he could not fulfill his task if he perished prematurely. With every passing moment, the dragon was gaining on him thanks to his mighty wings.
Arcturus needed advantage, and fast. He brought the boat around 180 degrees, then reached for an unstrapped spear that clattered to the floor of the boat. With the lifeboat facing Dread Flame he pulled the spear up and held it pointed out, controls veered to maximum speed.
If the dragon was concerned, Arcturus could not tell, for Dread Flame just flew straight towards him, looking as malevolent as ever. At the last moment the dragon tilted his wings, as to avoid the spear meant for his chest, but Arcturus used the controls to change direction. With a thunderous crack the spear's head found purchase in the upper right of the dragons chest. Carried by unearthly momentum, its iron head pierced through the beast's mighty crimson scales. Arcturus was flung forward towards the dragon as Dread Flame roared out in agony. The paladin crashed hard onto the dragon's chest even as his own was filled with a dull pain. He started to fall, but he grabbed his knife and stabbed it as well into the dragon, hard and fast, until the blade found purchase into an unarmored spot. Arcturus plunged the dagger deeper, then twisted it hard.
Dread Flame screeched out into the night as he struggled to remain in the air. The dragon's sharp claws immediately came in the defense of their owner, trying to tear the pesky human off, but the paladin clung onto the dragon with all he had. He thanked the gods for his armor as the otherwise deadly claws scrapped against the hardened steel instead of his own flesh. The dragon shuttered below him as they impacted a chimney, scattering the brick everywhere before the debris littered the street below. With a loud thud and a groan from the dragon, the two crashed into the street.
Arcturus lay on the ground, his body aching all over from the tough impact. He could feel the cold wind licking through the cracked parts of his armor. With a breath that felt like a thousand little needles pressed firmly into his lungs, he propped himself up. Several feet away from him Dread Flame slowly picked himself up with the same difficulty. With a tight grip of his claws the dragon ripped the spear out that had pierced his chest and even bit into his wing. Dread Flame's eyes narrowed as the blood covered spear clattered to the street, but not for long, a smile replacing irritation when the orange eyes noticed the blood starting to drip from the paladin's body.
"You are a tenacious little wretch...I give you that. But your heroics are about to come to an end." Dread Flame growled mockingly as he approached the paladin.
Arcturus groaned in pain. He had to move or the dragon would surely kill him. Dread Flame realized this as well, pouncing to Arcturus with his claws out stretched. With a herculean effort Arcturus rolled away from the deadly dragon, its claws striking the stone hard enough to send sparks along the cobbles of the street. With adrenaline filling his body, Arcturus stood, grabbing his sword and shield. His hands and legs shook as Dread Flame gazed at him.
"How intimidating." Dread Flame growled, "No words left to mock me, paladin? I've killed your squad, destroyed your ship, landed straight in the bosom of your city...yet you say nothing! I bet you used the last of your energy to stand up and draw those pitiful weapons of yours." Dread Flame started to limp around him. "So how's this going to go from now? Will you strike me again? Or finally accept your place before your betters?"
"I think you are trying to hide your wounds through talk." said Arcturus through gritted teeth, trying to ignore the pain coursing through his veins.
"Rrraahh," the dragon shook his head as his lips curled with obvious pain. "It comes hard for a dragon to admit its flaws, but I believe compliments are in order. As inferior as you humans are, you...Arcturus Lund... wounded me far greater than anyone ever managed before." Dread Flame sneered. "However..." the dragon stopped in his tracks. "Your quest for retribution comes to an end. I will not be giving you the satisfaction to finish me off in the same way your ancestors killed my kin!" Dread Flame turned to spread his wings, and Arcturus willed himself to sprint at him, so focused on the dread feeling rising from his gut that he didn't notice the threat in time. With a sharp whip of the dragon's tail slammed into his side, Arcturus tumbled to the ground with a pained grunt.
"Your family stole more lives from dragon kind than you can ever comprehend, so in turn, I will return the favor."
"Straighten tongue you blasted dragon!" Arcturus roared. "Tell me of your plans before you die!"
"You already know, paladin, for nothing was hidden in your mind when I peered into it."
Arcturus' heart skipped a beat. His blood turned to ice as his thoughts turned to his family.
"N-no. No, you can't!"
"Can't I?" the dragon sneered. "I still have enough life in me to pay them a visit."
"NOOOO!" Arcturus shouted. "Stand and face me you vile wyrm! My family has done nothing! I've pierced the gates of your castle. I captured you. I wounded you! Your quarrels are with me, not with them!
"Do you mistake me for a fool, human?" the dragon spoke. "Another bout with you might very well claim my life." said Dread Flame, a devilish grin spreading on his snout. "But I will hurt you, in a way that my claws and fangs never can. Stand there, writhe in agony, and cry in despair as your retribution crumbles around you!"
Dread Flame flapped his great wings, leaving Arcturus to slice empty air with his sword.
"Selina!, Geoffery!" he screamed at the top of his lungs. Arcturus looked around in a panic, but what could he do against such a beast? The ship was in tatters. His lifeboat, gone. He had no horse, and to top things off his own body barely allowed him to take a few steps without a burst of crackling pain shooting through his muscles.
I must...protect them. Must...defend...my family. Arcturus looked to all the houses, finding he recognized them. Through sheer adrenaline he started to sprint towards his home. He was only a few blocks away from his family. With each foot step he feared that he would be too late. He shook his head and prayed to the gods the dragon would take time to gloat, buying him enough time to catch up.
Arcturus dashed down the street as parts of his armor started to fall off. The leather straps snapped one by one from the strain. His limbs arched, his lungs struggled to draw breath, but he still pushed his body to his limits in order to protect his most beloved of treasures: his family.
He heard screams from nearby houses. Possibly from the fire that stared to spread after his ship fell from the sky. Or more likely because of the dragon. His steps fell back into pattern with the bells ringing from the roof tops, signaling an attack on the city. Arcturus rounded the last corner of the street, to find his house enveloped in flames. Its front seemed to have been crushed in with a mighty strike of a claw, or tail. Definitely Dread Flame's work.
His eyes focused on the red beast. The dragon lay collapsed on the street, blood oozing out from the numerous wounds both the fall and Arcturus had inflicted. On its pebbly snout rested the same grin that became characteristic to this dreadful beast. Arcturus could see that the dragon still drew breath as he approached the beast. He noticed there was another spear piercing its chest, close to where Arcturus had stabbed. Dread Flame chuckled as Arcturus tried to run by to his house. When he tripped in his haste, the dragon had reached out and grabbed his leg. He landed with a painful thud, and a hoarse laugh from Dread Flame.
"Not so fast, human..." growled the dragon.
Arcturus struggled to pull himself free. In his struggles, his eyes found the dead form of a man clad in chain mail, obviously one of the guards. It looked like the dragon had sliced through his armor inscribed in the red lines of blood that marred the man's broken chest. Arcturus pulled again on his leg but no matter how hard he pulled, Dread Flame had no desire to let go.
"Linger a while. I don't want you to be alone when your family gives their last breath. We shall watch them die together." Dread Flame taunted.
"Not today, monster!" Arcturus unsheathed his sword in reply and whirled around. "I owe you pain!" he gritted his teeth, then rammed his blade with both hands through the dragon's skull, right through his eye and into his brain, silencing him forever. Arcturus gave another pull of his leg, even in death the dragon held firm. He tugged again, then again, and finally the reptile's dead limb gave way. Arcturus scrambled to stand, stumbling through the first attempt, then rushed to the burning frame of his home.
Pieces of debris started to collapse among the flames, nearly hitting Arcturus as he searched in desperation for a way through the debris, forcing his way through rubble like an enraged bull. He passed rooms filled with memories, now engulfed in fire threatening to consume them forever. He pushed aside debris and burning wood. Shouted his wife's, then his son's name. Coughed from the smoke, quickly covering his mouth with part of his ragged clothes. He strained his ears, hoping for anything other than the sound of burning wood, collapsing house, and the pounding of his heart. He started to feel the shimmer of hope in him starting to die when he heard a sudden cry.
With a second wave of energy he rushed towards the voice of his son. Arcturus found him among the wrecked items of the house. Geoffery was covered in cuts and bruises, gasping for air. Arcturus quickly picked up his son with care. He tried not think about the dried blood on his son's face, or how it was so pale. When the little boy smiled up at him even through all that pain, Arcturus all but felt his heart break. He looked around for Selina, only spotting her burned body, a beam collapsed on her frame. With a heavy heart he turned away from the corpse. Right now he had to get his son out of there.
He clutched Geoffery tightly to his chest then pushed through the debris. It was all a blur as he struggled to get out of the burning wreckage of his home, but somehow he made it.
Arcturus found himself in the panic filled streets of his city. He passed the dragon's corpse in haste, as even in death Dread Flame had that wicked smile about his snout, taunting him from the grave.
"Cleric!" he cried out with tears forming on the edge of his eyes. His steps were now filled with stabs of pain, and they collapsed from under him a second later. "Hold on Geoffery. I got you, son. I got you..."
"D-dad, I saw a dragon." Geoffery said, his voice barely a whisper. Arcturus watched in horror as the last color on his face drained away.
"N-no! No no no no no!" Arcturus repeated, clutching Geoffery tighter than ever. "Just stay with me, son. You have to be strong for me Geoffery. Fight through this, the same way I fought for you. Cleric!" he cried out. "My boy. My boy is...CLEEERIIIIIC!"
A soft tug on his chin pushed Arcturus' head down to his son.
"She was- she was so pretty, dad... all silver...with eyes like...mer-mercu...mmmercury..."
Geoffery sighed for a final time, his tarnished body going limp in Arcturus' arms. His hands went to his son's face, smacking him softly.
"Son. Please don't...please don't do this to me. Fight through this, son. Don't let him take away you too!"
But Geoffery had no fight left in him. After a long while of failed efforts, Arcturus collapsed his head into Geoffery's chest as he sobbed and screamed into the night air.
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The Dragon's Paladin Chapter 1: Dread Flame
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A story by Unscforces. https://www.sofurry.com/view/1187754
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3 weeks ago
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