The breathing was the first thing that Vehla noticed after the roar alerted her to the monster’s presence. A deep, heaving breath, with an extra hiss like the release of steam from a kettle. The chamber where it had slept was surprisingly bright compared to the dank, ash-covered tunnels on the way here. The walls shone in the light of the flaming chamber ahead, shimmering as if they were water. the passage contained an antechamber with a large offertory vessel ablaze with fire. Vehla turned back on the fog and strained to walk past it. She had never had the opportunity to try and break this force before but now with testing it, she found she was truly trapped. No doubt the demon’s power had drawn her to it, and it was unwilling to relent until it had her soul.
She could barely make out Luan slumped against the wall, and another person rising near her. It must have been Cluain, since she could make out his great bulk. Bashing her fists against the fog, she shouted out trying to gain his attention. He could obviously see her, but did not seem to hear. Cluain walked up, took one look at the fog gate and shook his head. Of course he shouldn’t try and reach her, he would become trapped too. Not to mention the shape he was in after his run-in with the demon smith. Vehla clasped her forehead in exasperation; so soon after a near death fight to have another monster block her way. She had little choice, and pointed out Luan to her unlikely ally. Though it was a risk, she nevertheless had to put her faith in the barbarian, if only to get Luan away from the demons. Hopefully Scirvir and Boldwin hadn’t gone far and the four of them could escape. Cluain nodded and picked up Luan as if she were made of straw. Surprisingly he did so quite gingerly, resting her head in his arm and making sure to support her back properly. No doubt they had been badly hurt in the battle. Magic may help fix it but it was no good unless she got out of the mine unhindered.
Vehla began to think about her own body. On death and revival most of the major wounds would heal. Usually the wound that killed would be the first to dissipate. But a lot of kinks and complaining joints began to accumulate with successive deaths. She did her best to fix the small niggles and aches, but the longer her journey wore on the worse they got. In Soul form, they actually didn’t hurt as much, but the numbness dulled her other senses, and it was surely doing her mental well-being no favours. Revival allowed her to reaffirm herself, make her feel whole again. Sure it hurt, but it was better than not feeling at all. What’s more, the longer she remained incorporeal, the more she felt something very sinister welling up form within her being. Something that brought her troubling dreams and dark thoughts. Her first night sleeping in soul form was the hardest, and she hoped that it would be her last in such a state. Seeing as how she had to face yet another demon, and a truly powerful one at that, the chances of getting out unscathed were nil. Sword in hand and with heavy heart, she proceeded down the passage of flames.
The hissing and sighing grew ever louder as she proceeded on. The end of the passage was impossible to see thanks to the glare from the walls. It was unbearably hot, she strained not to take off the leather protection she had on. She was certain it was the only thing saving her skin from being burned straight off. The leather was crackling and flaking but held firm enough. She cast a weak magic coating on it now and again, though the heat soon ripped it off once more. She would almost prefer not to become human again after absorbing a demon’s soul, as right now she could feel the temperature continue to rise and rise. Her eyesight began to cloud over as her eyes grew dry and painful. Hot air rose constantly from the floor, obscuring the way even more. All she could do was tap the way forward with her worryingly soft sword as she couldn’t feel her way with her bare hands. She pushed forward and mercifully the chamber opened out in front of her. It was in fact a great cavern, a molten stomach in the centre of the mountain. Some holes could be seen in the ceiling which allowed the heat to escape. It was hardly hospitable but tolerable at least for now. She used the last drops from her canteen to moisten her eyes so that she could see whatever was waiting for her. She ventured forward to the precipice of the passage leading into the cavern and reeled at the sight before her.
Deep below, wallowing in the magma, was the dragon. But no dragon like she had ever seen. They at least had the semblance of a mortal creature, one ferocious and cruel, but more in a bestial sense. Below was no true dragon at all. Vehla could only watch in horror as it rose from its cradle as a man would. Its limbs were the size of the steeple of a cathedral. It could only be compared in size to mountains and she could not even see where its feet began. It stood as a man would on its hind quarters, and held its mighty fists aloft as a boxer would. Its hide was not scale but fire forged steel as thick as a fortress and the colour of rust and blood. It bore wings twice the span of the royal forest, and though they could not possibly bear it aloft in such a confined space, they buffeted Vehla with gales of scorching air. None of this, however prepared her for this horror’s maw. Eight bonfires were lit in its head, passing for eyes. Horns like a crown of towers. And the mouth, oh the mouth. Vehla could not bear to watch as it seemed as if another dragon was within it trying to crawl out. Two sets of grave jaws. It lifted its head and let out a roar that burst Vehla’s eardrums and cracked the ground beneath her, knocking her on her back. Deafened, she stood back on her feet and could only watch as it raised its fist above its head, and flew towards her as a meteor would. The shock was beyond belief, she didn’t know how she survived it. She had been sent flying back and crashed into a wall. She knew she would not walk away so easily from this one. She opened her eyes, blood seeping from her head and blinding her. Deaf, eyes clouded with red and with powdered bones she had been laid low. It was the ogre all over again, this sense of helpless rage took hold of her once more. She tried to move, and found herself just about able to squirm on the floor.
She wiped the blood from her eyes and looked once more over her shoulder to the beast. no, this was no animal. She felt it wasn’t even a demon in the sense of the creatures she had been battling. It felt old. Ancient and with a cruel intelligence about it. Nothing could grow that big the few short months since the demons arrived. This was something that had resided in the mountain for a long time. Perhaps even before the demons themselves existed. Its greatest strength was now, however, its one weakness. It was so big that one punch had made it lose sight of Vehla. She was behind a short wall and search all it could, the Dragon could not catch a glimpse of her. She wondered what was stopping it clamouring up the cliff face it stood before and making short work of her. It seemed intelligent-why would it give up a chase so easy as this?
She crawled in agony toward a breach in the wall and pulled out a small mirror from her pouch. She looked upon the Dragon’s reflection and was stunned to see that it was trapped. The cavern, massive as it was, was far too cramped for the Dragon to move around in. It had the weight of the entire mountain above it, and for all its pretensions of being a almost god-like being, it probably would not survive the entirety of Stonefang falling down on it should it attempt to escape. The magma it stood in hampered its movement, which is why it could only attack with its mouth and fists.
“This is a damned prison, this monstrosity is stuck here.” She whispered to herself. “I see you Beast, for the prey you are. Mighty you may have been but someone trapped you here didn’t they? You got all the worship and invoked all the awe in this place but it was all for naught wasn’t it?!” The fires in its eyes had dimmed as it searched some more. It had quietened, no doubt wondering if Vehla had already given in to the ghost. Watching it eye the chamber up and down, made Vehla realise how near-sighted it was. Whether or not this beast could be classed as a god, it wasn’t an all-seeing one at least. “I’m afraid you’ve lost your toy, Beast. But don’t worry, she’ll be back.” Vehla’s venomous thoughts helped get her mind off the pain in her body. She pushed forward some more in order to get a vantage point, when all of a sudden the ground gave way and she slid down a stone slope. The cracking didn’t make too much noise, and the dragon had been looking away. Vehla managed to avert any more major damage to her internal organs. Her luck really had been a peak and a valley since she had arrived here. She sidled up to a strange device attached to the chamber wall and propped herself against it. She got a shock when her hand touched something cold in this cavern of flames. It was so pleasing, and invigorating aswell. She could feel energy coursing through her, from her fingers to her hand and all along her arm until it reached her head…
“THE LORD OF DRAGONS AWAKENS, STRIKE IT DOWN, O LORDS OF LIGHT!”
“What?! Wait who said that?,” Shouted Vehla, when all of a sudden the device burst into life. It crackled and shimmered with magic. The rubble gave way some more to reveal a great harpoon. She could feel it draw in a great amount of power, before letting itself loose from its mooring with a great “SCHOOM!” It sailed through the cavern with a flight true and straight and struck the Dragon square in the arm. It pierced its stone hide like it were cloth and pinned it to the cliff. The scream the Dragon left out could be heard from outside Stonefang. If there was any doubt, all illusions of godhood evaporated, as the creature lay pathetically immobilised. It tugged at the spear once before pain evidently held it at bay. Any movement left it roaring in agony, so much so that it did not notice Vehla had begun sprinting to the other side of the cavern where another installed harpoon lay. Pain be damned she was not letting this chance go. It spotted her at the last second and mustered enough strength to send a spurt of hellfire over the cliffs.The flames chased her as she jumped over debris and slid under openings to reach the machine. She struck its centre with her palm and it too coursed into life. Flames were flowing behind her and she jumped behind a stone wall to escape them. They burst into the stone and spilled over, setting her dried leather headgear alight. She flung it off and listened to the hum of the spear as it charged and fired. Another volley of flame was on its way but was diverted when the second harpoon hit it in the shoulder blade. Another deafening scream and the Dragon came down hard. For such a monster to feel pain- Vehla couldn’t imagine who built the harpoons that littered this cavern.
The creature was stuck fast, slumped on the cliff face, writhing and contorted into a sad foetal position. Vehla, hobbled down the cliff face, not needing to rush anymore. She made her way to the creature as it lay its head down, feebly belching embers from its maw. Though it had lost none of its fearsome visage, there was no fight. What was once a proud and incandescent God now readied itself for the end. Its breathing grew shallower as Vehla took her time to prepare a spell. Its right set of eyes stared at her in horror. Its end was at hand and it would be this insignificant gnat who would finish what a people long since forgotten had started. She let loose her own magic arrow, and it struck the creature’s pulsating mandibular horn, sending it rearing back into a painful roar. The second one found its mark underneath the chin, cracking the hide and entering its head. The beast let out one more anguished cry before falling, dead at last. As always, with every victory came a sacrifice of its own.
As the souls coursed into her, she saw a shrine. Many lizardmen warriors, far more lustrous and intimidating than their contemporary kin, stood before the shrine, bowed with weapons at their side. At the top of the steps leading to the shrine was a wizened old warrior priest chanting to himself. He held aloft a sword the size of a man as if it t’were a dagger. He took up a hammer and struck the stone blade, and it wreathed itself in flames. The gloves he wore were of pure gold and gripped the hilt tight before the priest plunged it into the ground. The area surrounding the shrine was encased in flames. The priest and his warriors all burned away to ash. Only the sword and the priest’s gauntlets remained. The fire abated, and from the ash a man rose. A man with the head of a Dragon. He sprouted great leathery wings and sprung into the air howling into the wind as…
“Th…Th…Th..That were a mighty battle Lady Knight!”
“Oh? Oh, our wandering friend. How long have I been…?”
“Not that long, I only arrived some minutes ago, and it has b..b…b..been an hour or so since our run in with the Great Smith. I dread to think what you yourself went through to bring down such a beast. I knew you p…p…p..powerful M’Lady, but this is quite something. For such a battle, I would like to offer a token if I may.”
“That won’t be necessary, Scirvir, I am feeling unwell and wish to rest, you may keep your present…Oh.”
He handed her a large orb pulsing with magical energy. She felt calmed looking deep into its folds. It eased her mind if not her body. She sat and stared at it for a moment.
“It is ore f…f…f..found in these tunnels. Mostly used by mages in the old d…d…days in order to calm the… calm the nerves after battle. So the lady mage says.”
“Is Luan alright?”
“Oh yes, the whiskered one and the b…b..b..brute have all returned to the Nexus too. I’m afraid I wont be joining you. Not much of one to be settling d..d…d down now. I have acquired what I was searching for and would like to leave these lands as s…s…soon as I can.”
“Oh, well thank you for your help Scirvir. Though I did die, you did help the others get here in relative safety. This place frightened you didn’t it? Not many would remain, so thank you.”
“Eh, No th..th…thanks neccessary from you M’Lady. I hope you reach an end to your journey soon. These lands have fallen on hard times, and they need more like you, willing to f..f..fight and all. Now if you’ll excuse me. Much journeying to do yet!”
He turned to walk away before Vehla caught his shoulder lightly.
“One thing, Scirvir. You were here for some time. Did you see anyone besides us down here, just before I fought the dragon?”
Scirvir turned a ghostly shade of pale. And turned away, looking at the ground. Vehla circled to his front and caught his arms in her own. She looked him straight in his eye.
“Scirvir, what did you see?! Please, I want to know why they lured me to the dragon.”
Scirvir mustered the courage, as soon as he made sure they were alone.
“Beware the man, Yurt is his name. Stay away from him.”
Scirvir reached into his pack and pulled out the shell charm. He muttered a quick word and a flash of flame blinded Vehla but left her unharmed. When she was no longer dazed she saw Scirvir had disappeared, never to be seen again.