The Gods of Dragons (Vol 1)

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Time After Time - Cyndi Lauper, 1983

Chapter 13 (v.1) - Time After Time

Submitted: May 16, 2018

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Submitted: May 16, 2018

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Rach 36, 1109

The last caravan of the season was making poor time through the Klyr mountain pass. It consisted of only three wagons, but the trail had already seen a week's worth of late autumn snow that had melted then frozen again, leaving the path full of potholes, frost heaves and thick slabs of black ice. They had lost one wheel, and a crate of product, frostberry wine, somewhere around the midpoint of the journey and the lead merchant was insisting that they take it slow to save as much of his delicate shipment as possible.

“What was that about two birds with one stone?” Shon asked his master as they walked in front of the first wagon.

Veon-Zih just laughed, taking a double step to get over a particularly deep pothole. “They needed more guards, and we need to find someone who attacks caravans.” the monk shrugged, they had had this conversation nearly every day since the start of this particular mission, “worse case is we get paid for going to a place we needed to go anyway.” Shon knew he was right but rolled his eyes anyway, glancing over his shoulder at the wagons lagging behind.

“She’s moved again,” he complained, his voice flat. Veon-Zih turned around walking backward and looking at the wagon. Sure enough, the merchant's wife was sitting up front with the driver when earlier she had been hanging out the back of the last wagon. When the two men had been taking rear watch.

The older monk snickered, turning back around, “I think she likes you.” he teased, then laughed out loud at the look on Shon’s face.

“Maybe it’s you.” the younger man retorted, she was closer to the monk’s age anyway.

“There's one way to find out.” Veon-Zih said with a sideways glance, “we could split up, I’ll take the rear watch and you stay up here…” the glare Shon gave him was one he usually reserved for traitors and vagabonds and it was the monks turn to roll his eyes. Shon’s glare didn’t affect him the way it did most others, “it wouldn't kill you to make a few friends.”

“It might.” Shon reached up to run his hand through his hair, pointedly avoiding looking back at the wagon and the watching older woman. “Remember Ebonport?”

Veon-Zih snorted, “That was one time, and he was a doppelganger. It doesn’t count.”

“Everything counts,” Shon attested, though there was no real malice in it.

The two walked in companionable silence for another hour, slowing every few minutes to let the caravan catch up. They finally made it through the winding pass and into the wooded foothills just as the sun began to touch the treetops to the west. But it wasn’t until the last wagon had crossed the treeline into the wood that the attack happened.

One moment they were considering changing position with the other two guards, the next Veon-Zih had snapped his hand up with lightning speed to catch an arrow out of the air. He needn’t have bothered, the bolt would have missed anyway, but it was impressive nonetheless.

Shon reached for the bastard sword over his shoulder, gripping but not drawing it. From a bend in the road there came a laughing man. He was using an old halberd as a walking stick and clapping his free hand against his thigh as he laughed. “Now that’s impressive. You must be one of those monstery types.”

The monk arched an eyebrow at the mispronunciation but said to Shon, “I could be wrong, but I think he’s the one we want.”

Behind them, the wagons continued to draw closer until the lead driver realized something was happening and pulled back on his reins. No sooner had the wagons rolled to a stop then the merchant was hoping down from the middle and jogging to the front of the caravan. “What? Why have? Oh goodness!” he spoke with a fast-clipped accent that reminded Shon of a panicking rabbit.

“You should probably get back in the wagon,” Veon-Zih said kindly, slipping the arrow into his waistband. No use wasting a good arrow. But the merchant was entering a full panic as six other men came out of the trees to either side of them. His beady eyes were wide and darting to each of the highwaymen, all in ratty leather armor and wielding an assortment of weapons.

This was why Shon hated using merchants as bait. They always made things significantly more complicated than they needed to be. The halberd-man was laughing and motioning for his men to advance. “Go easy Shon,” Master Veon-Zih spoke loudly standing with his arms and legs loose as he waited for an attacker to be foolish enough to come into range. “There's no need to kill all of them.” the closest of the bandits exchanged nervous glances while Shon nodded drawing his sword. They only needed one of the poor souls.

He locked cold eyes on the leader who stopped laughing and glared back. “Eh? What's this now? You think you can scare me, boy!” Shon didn’t respond, and the big man brought his weapon to bear, “I’ve cut bigger men than you in half boy!” but his halberd was shaking in his hands. Shon continued to stare at him. Shon wasn’t a small man, though he wasn’t as large as the Highwayman either. An even six feet, Shon had a broad chest and shoulders beneath loose-fitting clothes, he didn’t wear armor. Tilting his head down slightly Shon continued to watch the man through the loose strands of his jet hair.

“Lay down your weapons, and we will spare your lives!” behind them at the middle of the small wagon train another of the guards called out. The fourth guard had her bow drawn and aimed into the wood, in the direction Veon-Zih’s arrow had come from. The approaching highwaymen exchanged looks again but kept moving forward slowly, obviously on edge. It was a classic situation, and the reason Shon didn’t mind taking these missions. The leader was just as much a bully to his men as his targets, and his lackeys didn’t know who to fear more, the guards of their caravan victims or the leader and his more loyal henchmen.

The standoff ended when the merchant finally broke. He let out a squeal and sprinted for the lead wagon to take cover. The bandits lifted their weapons, the archer let loose her shot, and Shon charged.

He left the bulk of the men to Master Veon-Zih who had exploded into motion when the first bandit came in range, stunning him and flinging him into his compatriot coming from the other direction. Shon dashed past, his eyes still fixed on the leader who swung the halberd around to intercept. Shon stopped his charge just out of reach of the long weapon, feeling it move the wind as it swung past his midriff.

He stepped in behind the swing, aiming his two-handed swipe for the man's neck. Eyes wide the bandit stopped his swing, twisting and pulling back on the great weapon. The blade came from behind, towards Shon's side. Letting go of the sword with his right hand, Shon pined the pole against his ribs, the blade cutting into his back but his left-handed swing continuing. The bandit didn’t think to let go of his weapon, they rarely did, so he couldn’t pull back enough to avoid the sword's blade as the tip cut across his throat.

Grabbing the pole of the halberd, Shon jerked the weapon back. The dead man fell forward with the weapon and stepping to the side Shon resumed his two-handed grip and took the head off of its shoulders.

Flicking the blood from his sword, Shon turned back to the main scuffle behind him. Or what was left of it. Three of the six highwaymen were down, the other three had dropped their weapons and were kneeling with their hands behind their head. The ranger was gone, presumably after the bandit archer, and the other guard was busying himself fetching rope to bind the surrendered highwaymen.

Retrieving the leaders head and halberd Shon walked back to the wagons. “Well, that's that,” Master Veon-Zih finished wiping his hands off on his trousers, before turning to the merchant retching on the side of the road. “We should probably continue further down before setting up camp.”

***

Shon sat cross-legged well away from the fire while Veon-Zih examined his wound by lantern light. It wasn’t deep enough to be serious but needed to be cleaned and closed nonetheless. “You could have dodged it.” the monk said, cross.

Shrugging Shon gave his usual answer, “I wouldn’t have been able to take the shot.”

Veon-Zih dabbed the cut a little harder than necessary making his wayward student flinch with a little ‘tich’ as he pulled away, “There would have been another shot.” he countered, glancing over the healed scars of four years of such reckless combat experience on the young man's shirtless body. Shon didn’t bother trying to argue, he would rather exchange hits to end a fight fast then let them draw out overly long.

“Oh dear you poor thing…” the merchant's wife cooed, and Shon shot wide frightened eyes at his teacher. The woman scared him considerably more than the bandits could have. “Here let me do that master monk,” she knelt down behind Shon, and to his horror, Veon-Zih handed her the rag and ointment.

“Thank you, ma’am, I think I will get some dinner before it’s cold.” he leaned forward as he stood, whispering to Shon as he did, “This seems a fitting punishment.”

Shon glared daggers at the monk as he walked away but was soon distracted as the matronly woman placed a hand on his bare shoulder only to jerk it away a second later. “Oh, my. You’re cold as ice, maybe we should move closer to the fire...” Veon-Zih left them to it, walking towards the other two guards sitting by the fire and chewing mournfully on the roast vegetable dinner. The merchant couldn’t stomach meat tonight.

“Scary,” the ranger was saying.

“Effective,” the fighter countered, then glancing at Shon, who was trying to put his shirt back on against the women's protests, added, “but yeah, scary.”

“Not really,” the monk interjected, and the two guards turned their eyes to him instead. He smiled warmly and made himself a plate of the vegetables.

“He took that man's head without flinching,” the woman whispered, “that isn’t normal.”

“The bugger was swinging a great big ax at him though.” the fighter countered again.

Veon-Zih took his seat on the ground in one smooth motion adding, “taking the leader is what allowed us to capture some of the others alive.” in the end only two other bandits besides the leader had died, one foot soldier and the archer, allowing them to take the other five as prisoners. 

Shon had finally turned his icy gaze on the woman causing her to pull back, “Stop.” the one cold word had her standing and moving away again, shooting scared glances over her shoulder at him. Shon didn’t move to join the other guards. Instead, he ran a frustrated hand through his hair and finished adjusting his tunic. Reaching for his pack, and removing the leather journal from it he began his nightly log. He would take first watch that night and would probably eat then. Veon-Zih sighed.

***

Rach 37, 1109

The small mining village of Sediment Creek was not well known for its production of precious metals. Which is probably why they cut so many corners when one of the younger miners stumbled upon a vein of gold. In their haste to extract the rare ore, they dug fast, and they dug deep, and from this careless greed arose a horrifying blight...

“Kobolds. Really?” Lily looked at the request again, glancing up from the parchment to the young mage and back again.

He was far too excited considering the nature of the request. Bobbing up and down on the balls of his feet he said, “they are paying by the head, or, well, ear technically, and some say Kobolds guard ancient dragon treasure!” and by ‘some’ he meant grandparents telling fanciful stories to children at bedtime.

Lily looked pleadingly at Master Velona who was already shaking her head and smiling, “we did promise he could pick the next one.” she said consolingly.

Dropping her hands limply to her sides Lily looked at the ceiling with a pitiful whine that made her seem more like a child then the woman in her early twenties she resembled.

Tuth was too excited to pay her any mind and had already taken the parchment back from her slack fingers and was looking over it again, saying, “they’ve mostly been staying in the mines so we will have to go in after them. I’ve got a couple light stones so we won’t need torches.” he was speaking very fast and counting on his fingers, but stopped for a moment to look back at Lily, “um Lily?” she groaned in reply, “no fire this time ok? I don’t want to asphyxiate.”

Lily let her head fall back down to look in wide-eyed indignation from the young mage to the older monk and back again, “That was one time!” she spluttered.

Velona was snickering behind her hand, but Tuth was shaking his head, considerably more serious then someone so young should be. “One time too many. We were lucky to get out of there in time.” Lily huffed, crossing her arms and looking away at which point Tuth shouted, “I was coughing up black flem for a week!”

“They always scream for mercy in draconic,” Lily whined again, “and their pronunciation is way better in draconic then it is in common.” but that just made both of her companions shrug.

“And since when has that stopped you?” Tuth asked, making Velona snicker again and Lily glare.

“That doesn’t mean I go out looking for them.” but Tuth was already rolling his eyes.

“It's my turn. You promised.” and that was all there was to it really.

***

Lily wasn’t tall, a bit under six feet, but she still had to crouch in the newer tunnels that hadn't been widened by the local miners yet. She had grumbled a lot on the way to the job but had settled into the rhythm of the work once they had arrived. Taking point with her enhanced vision she didn’t bother to move silently, the kobolds would either retreat back, or they would become corned and give a good fight, either way, she wasn’t in the mood to be stealthy.

She considered the narrow tunnels to be the bane of her existence. Restricted from using fire do to the accompanying smoke and limited in her maneuvers with her staff. She was just considering changing places with the much smaller Tuth when something shifted under the soft sole of her boot. Lily stopped. Reaching down she felt around the dirt to either side of her boot, finding a small wire and following it as far as her arm could reach.

Behind her, she could hear Tuth talking to Master Velona, something about only surviving worshipers of dragon gods, and offering plates and what not. They were getting closer and soon the light from their magical stones could be seen around the nearest bend in the tunnel.

Following the possible path of the wire with her eyes, Lily noticed for the first time a small hole in the wall to her right. “Hold,” she called quietly to her companions who stopped talking and moving for only a moment before she heard Tuth say,

“What is it? Did you find any?” to which Lily sighed and dropped her shoulders in exasperation.

“Almost,” she answered, which just caused the young mage to look curiously from her to the monk, brow furrowed.

“How can you almost…” but he stopped when Lily rolled backward, and a small bolt came shooting out of the hole in the wall to strike harmlessly against the stone on the other side of the tunnel.

Ending the roll in a crouch Lily swung her staff around as far and as hard as she could in the limited space, to strike the wall to her right. The thin layer of stone collapsed causing the group of kobolds waiting on the other side of the false wall to squeal and throw their spears in panic. Velona and Lily smacked the clumsy projectiles aside with their weapons while Tuth stumbled back.

To his credit, the mage only hesitated a moment before he began a quick spell that sent a missile of light streaking from his fingertips to crash into the chest of one of the lizard men. It collapsed instantly, and the others scrambled to retreat down the narrow tunnel, not bothering to check if their companion was alive or not.

With a hiss born of impatience, Lily rolled after them. She wedged her staff between the tunnel ceiling and floor and using her momentum swung around it, sliding past the kobolds. Dislodging the weapon at the apex of her swing she placed herself between them and their exit. Master Velona had stepped forward with her short sword drawn, putting herself between the kobolds and the wizard who was working on casting another spell from the back.

Tuth managed to down one more with a magic missile while Lily and Velona made quick work of the remaining pests. With a huff Lily sat cross-legged in the middle of the tunnel, looking through the loose strands of her golden hair at the mage. “Eight down, only eight hundred left to go!” she said. Kobolds always seemed never-ending.

“Actually the average kobold tribe is only...” but he was interrupted when Velona gave him a gentle smack with the back of her hand on his chest. Lily laughed despite her teasing complaints and hoped back to her feet to relieve the lizard men of their remarkably well-crafted jewelry and their somewhat less remarkable ears.

***

The lightless tunnels made it impossible for the companions to know the time of day, so they shouldn’t have been surprised when they finally exited the mines to find the sun had already set and the villagers had all retreated to either their beds or the only tavern. Lily stretched as she stepped into the crisp air, sighing and letting her arms swing down with a smile. She was in a much better mood. Even with all her complaining, any adventure was a good adventure, and at least the little lizard men always came with some trinkets that were worth keeping.

Master Velona came out beside her, and the two women turned together to watch the younger mage struggling with the dripping sack full of Kobold ears. It being his idea, Lily had insisted he carry the carnage. But as he swung the bag off of his shoulder to rest and breath in the fresh air, she couldn’t help but laugh again, throwing an arm over his shoulder and pulling his ear. “I guess it wasn’t so bad,” she said.

“At least this time we aren't coughing up our lungs and lunch at the exit…” the monk teased Lily, who stuck her tongue out at the older woman.

Tuth winced a little, pulling away from the woman's overly hot skin, “It's too bad we didn’t find any dragon treasure though…” he signed but was still smiling from ear to ear.

Laughing Lily reached down and took the soggy bag from the young man. “Perhaps it's for the best,” she consoled him, “I wouldn’t want to split it with you anyway.” and laughing she flipped one of the gold tail rings she had taken from the kobolds into the air and caught it again. “Drinks on me tonight.”

***

Ulhar 03, 1109

As the center for shipping and comers in the Lenare province, the city of the same name was always crowded this time of year. The press of human bodies on the most used roadways caused the city to feel significantly hotter than it should be at the end of autumn.

Shon did his best to avoid these roads, cutting down back allies and hugging the walls when he was forced into one or another. Lucky for him most people who noticed him gave him a wide berth. Something about a sizeable rusty halberd and a scarlet stained sack made them avoid the dark-haired stranger.

Veon-Zih had opted to stay behind at the traveler's tavern while Shon made his official report to the Temple of Heironious. If it wasn’t for the head in the bag, Shon would have preferred to stay with the monk until the roads had cleared a bit more, but as it was he wanted to get rid of the macabre proof of a successful mission as soon as possible.

The Temple was located in the central ring of the city, with the other religious orders as well as the local military and government buildings. The crowds began to clear the closer Shon got to the Temple, and by the time he was showing his papers to the gate guard, he was nearly the only one on the stone-paved road. The paladin on guard gave Shon a casual salute which he returned sharply before entering one of the buildings off of the main fortress.

The officer behind the desk watched Shon in silence as he placed first the dry crusty sack, and then the rusted halberd on the counter, giving him time to pull out the official order and present it before asking, “Bloody ax Boriger?”

“Five of his men are being held at the north gate,” Shon confirmed, while the officer gingerly picked up the sack and placed it on the ground behind the desk. Shon just hoped he would remember to warn the poor Jr. Paladin who would inevitably be sent to fetch it.

The Paladin looked Shon over with a critical eye, “was the assignment for alive or dead?” he asked. Shon resisted sighing. It wasn’t uncommon for others to confuse his cold demeanor for a complete disregard for human life. On the contrary, he worked very hard to spare as many humans as possible, most of the time.

Shon swallowed his desire to tap the official orders where they said quite clearly that ‘Bloody ax Boriger is a well-known murderer of both caravan guards and his own disobedient men and is wanted dead or alive.’ and instead just said, “Yes sir.” to which the man looked him over again before nodding and lifting the halberd off of the table to lean against the wall behind the desk, next to the head.

***

Lily skipped down the entrance steps of the mages guild, turning a full circle at the bottom before stopping to face the door and her companions walking down at a much more relaxed pace.

“I don't see why you’re so excited,” Tuth grumbled, “I hate working with paladins…” Lily just tilted her head at the young man, confused.

Master Velona came to her rescue, “Lily has good history with some of the paladins,” she explained to Tuth, then, “but you have to admit Lily they aren't always the best to work with.”

Lily shrugged, “But you never know which it will be ‘til you meet them so there’s no point in getting huffy ahead of time.” she spun again walking down the road with a little bounce in her step. She had run into Brardin the previous year in Halakon province and was so excited to see one of her old boys that she looked for any excuse to poke around the Temples in the larger cities looking for more.

“Says the woman who grumbled the whole way through the last mission,” Tuth said under his breath. He was still bitter about the poor reward they received for the fifty kobold ears they had turned in. He hadn’t calculated on splitting it three ways, an 'amateur mistake' Lily had teased him. “Where are we meeting them anyway?” he asked the monk as they followed the golden-haired woman from a comfortable distance.

As usual Lily was making a bit of a scene, smiling to anyone who would meet her eyes and just nodding and waving at those who took second looks. Most people assumed the red stripes that could be seen on her face, neck, and hand were some kind of tattoo, and the only people who had facial tattoos were criminals and madmen who didn’t mind being mistaken for criminals. A closer look rarely helped the situation as anyone who moved close enough to see the little scales that made up the stripes could also see the slitted eyes and often fell back making signs against evil and crossing the street to get away from her.

But this usually only happened in new or bigger settlements, after enough time most people couldn’t help but warm up to the curious girl with the warm smile and warmer skin. Already there was a noticeable difference as they entered the trade district and shopkeepers who remembered Lily from previous trips through the city started returning her waves and calling out greetings.

“Out the east gate an hour or two after dawn,” Velona explained, watching Lily ahead of her with a soft smile. They had been traveling together for over five years, and she had grown particularly close to her student. It made sense to her now why Veon-Zih had chosen to take a student that was not an apprentice or member of a monastery. They offered a sort of extra flavor to the training, and the alterations they made to the standard ancient techniques were always a surprise, even if they didn’t always work. Much more open to experimenting, non-monks.

Tuth groaned, “why do they always have to get up so early…” he whined, which just made Velona shake her head and clap the young man on the shoulder in silent comfort. The monks of her monastery were known for getting up well before dawn to do exercises and meditate as the sun rose. She didn’t know for sure, but she had a feeling most monasteries had similar practices.

Just ahead of them Lily had stopped in front of a two-story tavern with stone walls and an open door. The signed read “Crossroads Travel Tavern” The stop was sudden enough that Tuth, who wasn’t paying attention nearly ran into her. Lucky for him Master Velona still had her hand on his shoulder and pulled him to a stop before he hit Lily.

“Lily what?” but she held up a finger to silence the questions, squinting into the tavern for another moment before stepping inside without a word of explanation.

***

Shon stood by the bar where Veon-Zih was sitting on a tall stool sipping tea. Beside the monk, Yua, the ranger who had accompanied them as a caravan guard, was nursing a foaming glass of honey mead. She had warmed up to Veon-Zih on the trip, and the monk had asked if she would be willing to accompany them on their next mission, whatever that may be. When she had asked Shon if it was alright with him, he had merely shrugged stating, “It's always good to have a skilled range fighter.” which Veon-Zih had assured her was a compliment.

“So,” the monk said as way of greeting his student, “do we have a new assignment or should I check the board?”

Shon nodded, crossing his arms and motioning for the bartender with one hand, “they want us to accompany a representative of the mages guild across the eastern plains.” at the bartenders approach he held up one finger, to which the man nodded grabbing another mug to fill with mead. Shon always liked the seemingly psychic way tavern keepers knew what their customers wanted.

“What do they want out there? There's nothing but grass and barbarians.” Yua asked. She had gotten used to Shons preferred speech pattern of not talking at all so she wasn’t surprised when he just shrugged as a response. Shon assumed she was about to ask a follow-up question when she stopped, closing her mouth and squinting over his shoulder.

He barely managed a puzzled look at the ranger when a hand landed on his right shoulder. Not having expected it and unaccustomed to touch in general Shons startled reaction was fast and violent. Pinning the hand in place with his own he pivoted, twisting his ‘attacker’ into a wrist lock. Or that's what he would have done had they not flipped over it, twisting out of the hold and aiming a strike of their own at his jaw. Shon’s hands came up instinctually, redirecting the swing and countering with one of his own before he had realized exactly who was attacking him.

His fist stopped a hair's breadth away from Lily’s neck. He could feel the heat radiating off of her skin as she smiled at him, bopping him gently on the temple where her own hand had been about to strike.

Shon swallowed, and she giggled at him. Behind her, Velona was coming in with wide arms saying “Master Veon-Zih! It’s been forever!” behind the monk stood a young man in a purple robe shifting from foot to foot and glancing around nervously.

Lily dipped slightly, keeping her dark blue eyes on Shon’s pale ones, and kissed his fist. Her lips were hot, hotter then he remembered. “What has it been? Five years?” Veon-Zih was saying beside him, turning in his stool and standing for a hung from his fellow monk.

Five years for the monks but four for him and Lily. The last time he had seen her was in Hamerfoss, and their letters had been few and far between with them both moving around with seemingly random jobs from two separate kingdom-wide organizations.

Lily was still smiling, it made her eyes twinkle as she squinted at him. Shon was trying to find his words when she leaned forward and wrapped him in a tight hug. “I told you I would find you,” she whispered, and he wrapped his arms around her waist closing his eyes and breathing her in. She smelled like cinnamon.


© Copyright 2019 Shawn Cameron. All rights reserved.

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