Wherein Callindra finally manages to talk the party into working together toward a common goal. Maybe the first test of this new unity shouldn’t be to fight a Dragon Turtle in its home element…
Callindra’s Diary 8/13
I had been waiting for my brother to come back in the room. When he entered he looked haggard; his mouth clamped shut so tightly that I swore I could hear his teeth creak from the pressure. He looked like Vilhylm again though and I allowed myself a sigh of relief.
There were things I needed to say. They needed to know that I saw my role in this last failure as well as theirs and that as their leader I wanted to accept responsibility and use what we had learned to become stronger. To learn from our mistakes and rise to the challenges before us. I expected argument, usually when I attempt to take responsibility for something he is involved in my brother brushes me off, but he actually asked what I thought we should do next. I could hardly believe what I was hearing.
I could see them digesting my words as I tamped the tac in my pipe. Before any of them could interrupt I spoke words about leading instead of demanding, asking instead of issuing commands, taking the time to plan instead of acting on a whim but most of all I pleaded with them to listen to me. Just to listen and consider my words before acting.
I tried to point out how we had all been acting independently and that someone needed to take the long view. In admitting that I hadn’t been looking long enough or paying enough attention to their strengths or their weaknesses I could feel … something from them. I persevered, looking into each of their eyes as I spoke of their strengths, trying to force the urgency of I could feel building in my heart into their minds.
It was vital that they all understand their place as part of the whole and that if we were to become a weapon that would aim at the swirling mass of the Abyss that circled over the very existence of the world we needed to work together. Leadership meant assessing and then relying on the abilities of those who had agreed to follow. Following meant being ready to give over your skills to support the group and ultimately to allow those abilities to be pointed in a direction by the one you had chosen to lead you. That meant it was time for us all to put our cards on the table. If we didn’t know what each other were capable of there was no way we could plan accordingly.
Kain in particular seemed to be getting bored with talk, or at least that’s what I guessed his continuing to stuff his face with food from the ample buffet and not even nodding to acknowledge what my words were meant to convey. I don’t think he goes in for long winded speeches.
Connor just seemed confused. I’m not sure how much more clear I could have been. I lead, you follow, I welcome your input in your area of expertise. Don’t expect me to try and orchestrate every aspect of your life, don’t make any major decision without at very least mentioning it to me. For the love of the Gods, at least listen to me when I am begging you not to do something. Sometimes I feel like I’m trying to explain things to children. Simpleminded children.
There was much more I could have said, I wanted to say, that I would have said if only they would let me but we were already off and running onto another topic. They were planning. I could hardly believe my ears; they sat around the table with me and laid out possible options for the upcoming battle with the massive creature that seemed to be floating above our heads. It wasn’t just my direction; it seemed that my companions were finally coming around to my way of thinking without me having to try and ram it down their throats. Or perhaps it was just the presence of our enemy so massive and close that caused them to exercise caution.
After looking up at the thing for a few moments, I shivered in fear and looked away. Being afraid of something that huge and malevolent is nothing to be ashamed of. Connor was telling us that he believed we were in some sort of pocket realm, something I have heard of but never experienced. Evidently time was passing much slower outside than inside and we had perhaps four days to prepare ourselves. I felt a knot of tension loosen in my chest, we would have time.
Connor was talking about what he could create to protect us and augment the plans we had come up with. The general idea was basic. Kain had told us that when out of water a Dragon Turtle would be clumsy and slow so we decided to take it out of its element as quickly as possible. Connor would turn the stones of the bridge to clay, weakening the structure to the point where it could no longer resist the pressure of the built up water behind it. Then we would either harry the thing with spells and arrows as it floundered in the mud or else Vil would distract it and keep its attention while I leapt on its back where I would be safe from its snapping jaws and attack from above while Holt struck it with a rain of arrows.
To distract the beast while we made our way to the bridge Kain would summon another of those large fish as bait. He seems to think it’ll be fast enough to stay ahead of the monster; I’m relying on his knowledge of the creatures he summons. If possible, he is going to attempt to get it to ram the bridge once Connor weakens it with his magic.
I confess to a great deal of nervousness. When I watch Connor work, he seems to be scribbling random symbols in random directions on a sheet of vellum. He barely pauses in his writing and the characters he scribes are nothing like the neat, ordered lines of writing on the few magical scrolls I have used in the past. Sometimes he even folds the page and continues writing. In short it unsettles me to think we are laying the entirety of our plan’s success on his strange arcane creations.
It was easy for me to distract myself for a time, Kain was limbering up and we had a little sparring session. Honestly it was a little one sided; I feel a bit bad for that but I still haven’t really learned the skill of holding back. At least I managed not to cut him to ribbons. Apart from mildly straining a muscle due to not warming up enough I ran and cartwheeled circles around him until his breath came in gasps and we had both worked up a good sweat.
Afterword while we were performing some cooling down stretches and chatting I asked about his training. Kain’s reaction was much the same as if someone had asked me where Cronos was. A dark shadow fell across him and I could see lines of old pain crease his face. His answers became short and curt. He told me he had been forced to train. That he didn’t have a master.
The effect of these statements was shocking. I couldn’t imagine anyone thinking of being forced to fight as training. It sounded as though he had simply been forced to climb his way to competence over a pile of similarly unskilled bodies. The memories of my training are some of the best in my life; how could he want to fight and use those skills when they were earned at such a price?
I asked about his magic and his countenance softened slightly. He told me in a low voice that he had always known he was different. Always known that he held the power of life in his hands. This caused another shiver to run through my frame. Again he seemed to have the opposite experience that I did. My magic rebelled against me at first, the power lashing out in uncontrolled torrents. I feared it and I suppose I still do a little. To Kain though, magic was a balm in an otherwise violent and destructive world. A secret, sacred place where he could shelter from the horrors of reality.
Well, to be honest I am jumping to some fairly serious conclusions; he never said most of these things to me. The look in his eyes spoke volumes though. In spite of the things I’ve seen and done when I look into Kain’s eyes I can see Hell itself staring back. I have resolved to unravel his mystery. My failure to do so with my brother cost us dearly; the price was very nearly the whole of existence as we know it. That is a mistake I will not repeat.
To my sheer amazement, the next four days passed very quickly. I had anticipated them being drawn out with fear or anticipation but instead they seemed to pass all too quickly. The others were all busy with tasks and I occupied myself reviewing what I knew of the monster we were going to face, going over possibilities in my mind and practicing old familiar routines. The room we were in was not large enough to perform any chain maneuvers and I could tell Shadowsliver, or should I say Luftin, was pleased with my return to the basics.
Connor worked for hours at a time, seeming to enjoy being absorbed in his writing. I must remember to attempt to give him the chance to create these scrolls of his on a more regular basis. It would be good to have a store of these things for emergencies.
I began to notice a change in Holt. It seemed he was almost completely absorbed in his work, but I was sure I could feel his eyes sliding over me. Even though I never caught him watching me his scrutiny plucked at the edges of my awareness. When I was sure I had been imagining it and was focusing on trying to repair the rent in the breastplate of my leather armor he was suddenly at my side offering to help me fix it.
Honestly I was so taken aback that I just stammered my thanks and handed it over. He was so sincere; if it hadn’t been for him staring at the companion cut that had cut my shirt and destroyed my breastband I might have believed he had no ulterior motive. I hadn’t bothered repairing the shirt and instead of fixing the band I was going without. It wasn’t like I was going to be exercising or anything and it was comfortable to be unbound sometimes.
What is it about glimpsing a bit of a female flesh that seemed to drive men to distraction? I filed this tidbit away for consideration later. He has never seemed this… interested in my physical form before. Hells, this man has washed my back, or at least he did when he was in his older body. Do younger thoughts younger emotions come with his younger body?
Connor had worked exhaustively for four days and we were finally ready. I nearly bounced on my toes in anticipation; this would be a test not of me but of all of us. We had created this plan together and it was time to put it into action. It took a few minutes for everything to get set; in the heat of the moment Connor seemed a bit flustered and failed a few times but that is only to be expected. We were going to fight a dragon.
The moment I slipped from the comfort of Connor’s magical house the chill of the water penetrated me to my bones. Thanks to his magic I was able to breathe and swim fairly well and speaking didn’t seem to be an issue but it was hard to see in the murky water. I heard some mumbling and turned around to see Kain summoning his fish and to my surprise Connor seemed to be shimmering, his body elongating into a similar shape. While this wasn’t part of the plan, at least now we would have another individual capable of moving swiftly through the water.
I swam up a short distance, encouraging the others to follow me to the surface so we could make our way towards the bridge. Pausing to check on the other’s progress I saw a massive shape coming from below at a frightful speed. The thing had been below us, just waiting for us to show ourselves. All I had time to do was shout a warning before it swept past us, filling the water with muck and silt, tumbling us until it was impossible to tell which way was up.
After I stopped my body from spinning through the water I held Shadowsliver out and waited for his chain to hang down, then shouted for the others to follow me to the surface and kicked off hard. I don’t know why I always succumb to fear when dragons are near; perhaps it has something to do with seeing a massive black beast destroy this very city years ago with clouds of emerald fire. Maybe it’s because I saw that selfsame monster take on four gods and send them running for their lives. Regardless it was all I could do to fight down sheer panic as I shot to the surface as quickly as I could.
The chain dangling from my wrist must be what drew it toward me; the Mithril glittered in the sunlight like a string of diamonds. There was nowhere for me to run or move as the immense form rose from the shadowy depths and struck me with a paw the size of a wagon. It moved faster than anything of that size should have been able and the impact was nearly as intense as when, all too recently, the greater part of a building had fallen on me.
This time however I wasn’t pinned to the earth and instead was flung through the air, skipping across the water like a flat stone from a child’s hand. From the creaking protest of my ribs I suspected the blow had cracked a few of them. Trying to catch my bearings I stood and looked for the others.
I was torn between diving back in to help my friends and trying to reach the bridge. The whole plan was designed for us not to face this thing in its element but instead to lure it away. I hoped to the gods that the others would remember this and have the presence of mind to remember it. Squaring my shoulders and reminding myself to trust in the abilities of my companions I turned and sprinted toward the bridge.
By the time I arrived I had recovered my senses enough to take stock of the situation. The structure was approximately two hundred feet across and about one hundred feet high. Water lapped gently over the top, running down the far edge leaving a dark stain. It appeared this had once been a great gorge but the stone pillars that supported the bridge were now clogged with all manner of filth. Muck, trees, buildings and judging from the smell of the morass a great number of corpses as well.
The city seemed to be completely abandoned; thankfully all the small goblin-like creatures had either left or perished along with their master. Groups of flickering lights were visible among the ruined buildings. Even as I watched they began to slowly congregate on the shores of the lake. It seemed we had an audience.
A splash on the surface brought my attention. It seemed Kain had gotten to the surface before the others but was now having some difficulty swimming in his armor. I shouted out a warning, a huge wave was cresting behind him. I readied a spell, waiting for the thing to come close enough to me that I could use it but it struck Kain before it was within range.
Much as I had, he was flung across the surface of the water only he wasn’t lucky enough to stop before impacting something solid. He slammed into the stone of the bridge with a resounding crash that made me wince. He groaned and hauled himself onto the bridge next to me. I was still holding onto the last word of the spell I wished to loose on the dragon if it surfaced next to me.
A concussion beneath the water sent a ripple out in a spreading semicircle from almost directly below us. I hoped it was Connor working his magic, not something going wrong. Without warning the bridge buckled and rose from a staggering impact. The sound of the rocks slamming into each other was deafening, and although I found it a simple task to keep my feet Kain wasn’t as lucky. With a startled curse he tumbled over the edge of the wall, falling out of sight.
I slid down the steep angle of the walkway and leaped onto the nearest support pillar to get a better, and I hoped safer, vantage point. Kain was making his way toward the shore on one side and to my surprise I could see Holt moving toward the other bank. He was a mess, blood running freely down his face from a large tear in his scalp and his armor shredded.
The cause of this distress was now obvious to me, somehow he had survived being slammed through the bridge itself. Our enemy was stuck partway through the wall shrieking in rage and thrashing violently. Gods and demons it was huge.
I could see arrows flying from Kain and glancing off the thing’s shell as well as some that must have come from Holt. I felt a shiver of fear; if Holt couldn’t pierce this thing’s hide with his arrows we were in trouble, I needed to get down there.
Before I could react, I saw Connor running toward the center of the bridge frantically reading from a scroll. He shoved it onto the stones with both hands and arcane energies shone forth, almost too bright to look at. I didn’t need to ask what he was doing; it became quite obvious as nearly a quarter of the stone bridge softened and became clay. Unfortunately this also included the pillar I was standing on.
I awkwardly jumped onto what had been solid stone a few moments, sinking up to my ankle. Thanks to one of Connor’s enchantments I didn’t lose a boot to the soft clay and was able to run back to solid ground. I let lose a blast of magic, a scintillating bolt of electricity leaping from my hand to strike it on the back of the head. We needed it to be confused and distracted, I hoped this would at least make it look my way. Apparently this made it angry more than anything else, since it finally thrashed free from the wall.
The monster was swept forward by a wave of filthy water but easily regained its footing and was moving to the other side of the bridge. I ground my teeth in frustration; there was no way for me to get across. My I tied a rope that I pulled from my belt pouch around the edge of the pillar I was standing on, transferred Shadowsliver to my right hand, wrapped the rope around my left arm and jumped toward the shore. Using the momentum of the swing to gain speed, I ran along the wall, letting the rope slide through my fingers as fast as I possibly dared all the while swinging like a pendulum toward the center of the ravine.
Connor shouted an indistinct warning from above but I could see him frantically pointing at the bridge and I guessed he was trying to tell me that the entire thing was going to be collapsing in moments. Shit.
I could hear the dragon unleashing its breath of superheated steam on my friends and hoped that Connor’s enchantments were holding. It was all I could do. I looked at the bridge and saw that Connor was right. There were stress cracks forming on the side of the wall that if weakened might cause the whole thing to fall on the dragon. I shouted to Connor to blast it with something since I didn’t have anything that had enough range and I needed to get the hell away before the wall fell.
I barely had time to do anything before a bolt of energy slammed into the crack I had indicated and tons of rock and water ripped free of the wall. Running all out I only barely managed to escape the wave that swept over the dragon without even appearing to slow it down. The sight that I could now see from this vantage point made my breath catch in my throat.
Vilhylm stood in front of the dragon, the eyes of his helm blazing bright enough blue that I could see them from across the ravine. Seeing him standing with his shield lowered and his spear forward in the face of the monster made me fiercely proud. Behind him the slim form of Holt reared up and fired two arrows in quick succession, the first trailing beautiful green sparks and the second following to punch through the exact same hole that the first had made.
The dragon turtle roared in pain, rearing up and at that moment and threw the Dragonbone spear straight down the things open mouth. The roar quieted into a whimper of confusion. It shook its head from side to side and slid down the embankment it had been climbing. Sparks of emerald fire blossomed beneath its skin and while we watched it burn and melt away.
I shouted in victory and heard other voices joining mine. I was reminded of my fractured ribs but I hardly cared. We had won. Together we had made a plan and prepared ourselves to walk into a fight that was stacked against us. We had faced up to the corruption and evil that had tainted this river and destroyed it.
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