BY EDWARD DRAKE
Warning: This story contains scenes of fantasy violence.
In the darkness waits the beast. Are the four heroes strong enough to survive, let alone conquer and claim their prize.
Through the caverns they trekked, endlessly and aimlessly. For an entire day and more they walked before hearing the low rumbling. The ground and walls around them shook with every growl in the distance. The tremors grew with every step they took.
‘It is here,’ announced the lead of the four menacingly. In his hand was a tall staff, a white crystal glowing at its top, leading the way. He was tall and slim, draped in several expensive but tattered robes. His eyes were narrow, his beard short and blonde like the hair at the top of his head. Sparks of shimmering light soared from the fingertips that held the staff, embers of the wizard’s power. His name was Zarek.
Close behind was Ulgoth, an absolute brute who was even taller than the mage and far, far broader. His bulging muscles were impressive by anyone’s standards, a clear indication of his barbarian heritage. Ulgoth had long brown shoulder length hair, tied back by a band of leather. He wore a battered and scratched chest-plate that had seen combat many times, a veteran of many battles, also hinted by the scars along the barbarian’s immense arms. His face was strong, a stubbornness and impatience in his eyes and grimace, his nose broken at least a dozen times. Sheathed at his side was a mighty broadsword, only wieldable with the use of two hands, and only by those strong enough. Ulgoth was the muscle of the group.
‘It’s about bloody time!’ muttered the next of the four. His thick beard, short temper and armament of axes clearly showed his race, that and his stature. Mathias was a dwarf, born and raised in the caves and mines and used to the dim light and rock surroundings. Big, dark eyes that shone like flint gazed into the darkness as he hurriedly followed, eager to reach their destination. He grinned at the thought of what was to come, counting the gold in his head already.
The last of the group was far less impressed with their surroundings and looked nervous and at edge. He was used to the lush green forests, the running rivers and open, calming fields. These caverns were tombs. If it was not for their aim, their prize, then Arandess would have been far from there. He clutched the stave and cord of his bow tightly, ready to loose an arrow at anything that should leap out of the darkness. He was slim and agile, wearing a thin cloak over his chainmail armour. A narrow, taut face and wide pale eyes turned and peered all around, taking in everything that the faint light. Framing his face were pointed ears, Arandess was an elf.
It had been many years since the four had crossed paths, their destinies aligned and their journey began. Through many battles and campaigns they had fought, as part of an army or as hired blades. Each had lost friends, family and lovers, but always had they stood alongside each other. Always had they killed for each other. Always had they protected each other. A brotherhood forged in fire and blood.
‘The guardian lurks nearby,’ warned Arandess.
‘More elvish wisdom?!’ taunted Mathias, but the elf had heard it all before.
‘Quiet you two!’ commanded Ulgoth as he unsheathed his broadsword. ‘Evil awaits us!’
The rumbling still grew until the four warriors could tell it was not the tunnel shaking, but something far worse. Mathias drew a large battleaxe that hung from his pack, sensing the coming danger.
Around the next corner they reached a large cavern, a cave that stretched as far into the darkness as Zarek’s light penetrated. The rumbling had become deafening and amongst it a booming could be heard, like drums beating again and again, quickening as the tremors grew into earthquakes.
‘It is here!’ announced Zarek, his eyes shining white as a flash emanated from his staff, illuminating the entire cavern. Looming above them, with black, scaled and spiked skin and curved fangs, was a creature of terrifying myth and legend. Mighty winged claws reached out, tearing into the rock it stood upon. Scars lined its body and there was an immense anger and hatred in its dark blue reptile eyes for these intruders to its home. It roared tremendously, shaking the cavern again, stalactites falling all around.
‘No one said anything about slaying dragons!’ spat Mathias as he and the others looked up in horror. The beast roared again before blue flames soared from its open jaws. The four heroes leapt aside, Ulgoth barely missing the burning fire, his hair singed. The colossal guardian paced forward towards them, roaring and snapping its powerful jaws at the trespassers.
Arandess fired arrow after arrow at the creature, their barded heads tearing into the flesh at its chest, but it did not slow, nor even seem to notice. Its winged claw smashed into the ground, Mathias rolling away just in time. He leapt up and swung his battleaxe straight through one of the claws. The guardian screamed in pain and clawed at the elf and dwarf, but was met by the advancing barbarian, sword raised over his head. With Zarek behind him, summoning bolts of lightning that exploded upon the dragon’s scaled head and long neck, Ulgoth lunged at its chest, tearing into the flesh, blood gushing from the wounds.
With its winged claw, the beast sent Ulgoth flying, the barbarian falling amongst a pile of rocks that grew as more of the cave’s roof collapsed. Arandess stepped forward again, launching arrows as he leapt aside from the beast’s flames, the missiles impaling in the creature’s head, two penetrating its right eye as it dove forward, fanged jaws snapping. Still it did not slow and the beast’s ferocity rose into pure, vile fury. In its anger, the massive dragon reached out and slammed the elf into a wall, drawing blood which covered his face.
Mathias leapt forward too, tearing his battleaxe through the nearest wing, slicing clean through. Then the guardian turned on the dwarf, smoke and blue flames pouring from its mouth. There was nowhere for Mathias to hide this time, but thankfully Zarek stepped forth, a hand raised, green flames meeting the dragon’s blue. The dragon’s power was too much though and even with both of the wizard’s hands summoning their own destructive power it was not enough. Sweat covered his face, his body shaking from the effort. Zarek was losing.
With a mighty battle-cry Ulgoth emerged from the rocks and climbed upon the torn wing. He sprinted forward, losing his footing again and again but still he did not stop. Just as the giant guardian’s head turned, jaws snapping, the barbarian drove his sword into its neck, using it to climb amongst the barbed spikes of its back.
Mathias threw smaller axes, hatchets, again and again, trying to draw the dragon’s attention. The dwarf succeeded, and in desperation the dragon reached out quicker than he could move. Mathias was seized by the unwounded winged claw and thrown through a cave wall, the dwarf disappearing in a shower of blood and rock.
‘Nooo!!!’ roared Zarek as he summoned blasts of purple light from his staff that smashed into the beast. Arandess had risen too, wounded but still fighting. He drew a longsword from his side, the bow gone amongst the darkness, and the elf sprinted forward, tearing swiftly at any nearby exposed flesh on the creature’s body.
‘This ends now!!!’ swore Ulgoth as he climbed along the spiked neck. ‘By the might of Zothkar I slay you!!!’ The barbarian wrenched his blade through the dragon’s throat again and again.
At the same time, Arandess rose up beneath its body and stabbed his sword up, straight into the beast’s heart. The gigantic guardian choked on its own blood, writhing in agony as flames tore through its wounds as they rose up its throat. The beast staggered, roaring in agony, and smashed into the side of the cave wall, shaking the cavern ferociously again as the mighty creature collapsed. Ulgoth was thrown to the ground, but as he staggered up, Zarek and Arandess were at his side, weapons ready.
The dragon’s breathing slowed and it tried to rise up before staggering down again. Just as they thought the mighty guardian was dead, it reached out, clawing at the three warriors. Swiftly, the barbarian and elf brought down their swords upon the creature’s neck, just as the wizard surged green flames forth, severing the dragon’s head. Finally it was dead.
‘Hey! You oafs! You finished with that puny fairy yet?!’ Amongst the rubble of the wall in the next cavern proudly stood Mathias, bleeding from a dozen wounds but still very much alive.
‘Guess what I found!!’ In the dwarf’s arms were piles of gold coins and jewels.
‘Our prize!’ roared Ulgoth smugly.
‘Wait!’ warned Zarek, his eyes white once again. ‘Something is wrong!’
Turning to the entrance of the caves they had walked through, the heroes saw a horde of demons, goblins and vile, tainted men. At their lead was a tall robed man, with a long flowing white beard and eyes an evil black. His hands were raised high, lightning erupting from their palms as more of the abominable mass surged into the cavern.
‘Brother,’ stated Zarek calmly as he, Arandess, Mathias and Ulgoth, battered and bloody, prepared for battle once again.
Copyright. Edward Drake. 2011