The Box (Part XVI)

The words rolled off of his tongue before he was able to stop them, fleeing as quickly as they were born, only to be reflected back unto him by the stone on the opposite end of the large cavern.  Even as they bounced off of the wall behind him and returned in the direction his mouth had originally flung them, was great wyrm beginning to stir.

It was the mountain of gold within which the dragon lay, nestled beneath a weight so massive that were it any other creature, it would have been crushed.  Coins, gems and magical treasures endlessly poured away from the beast, a sight both beautiful and terrible to behold.

“…the gods…the gods…the gods…done?…done…done?”

Even over the cacophony of noise, his words continued to reach his ears.  A seed of doubt took root in his very soul as he glimpsed the first slash of red through the riches before him and he began to tremble in fear.  Even from this distance, the creature’s size was intimidating!

But more horrifying than the brief peek at its crimson scales was the sheer presence of the monster.  Here was a creature that had conquered cities.  Armies had fallen before its might and he dared to face it alone?

Two great horns began to cut their way from beneath the fortune.  They were scorched near the tips, tempered from years of bathing in the drake’s furnace.  His vision blurred, and he nearly swooned with fear as the eyes of the dragon set their calculating gaze upon him.

“THERE ARE NO GODS HERE, LITTLE MAN.  ONLY MALIFGORRANAKA.”

The last of the world’s most expensive blanket finally fell free from the wyrm as it rose to it’s full height.  Here was a beast which had survived the world’s finest warriors.  It had outsmarted the land’s most reviled villians, and now he stood before it feeling every bit as an ant would against him.  Indeed, this creature had only to raise one massive foreleg and with the tiniest flick of one claw, it could send him rocketing into oblivion.

“IT’S BEEN LONG SINCE I HAVE FEASTED UPON THE FLESH OF MAN.  TODAY I SHALL NOURISH MY OLD BODY WITH YOURS.  TONIGHT, I WILL SUCK THE MARROW FROM YOUR BONES.”

The words still held enough power that they very nearly shook him apart!  His mind screamed in protest.  His nerves were broken and he wanted nothing more to do with this foolish quest.  Before this crimson god, he had lost all will to continue.  His had forgotten all that he had come prepared with and the sword was an unfamiliar burden that pulled his hand down.

“…by the gods…”

The sword!

As if awakening from a dream, he blinked his eyes and looked down to the hand which held the…

It was gone?

“It’s gone,” he asked incredulously.  But that’s impossible!  He had only been holding it just moments ago!

“…what have I done…”

His words taunted him, reminding him of the imminent doom that was now upon him. The Great Flame yawned and stretched it’s wings as it began moving forward.  It moved from side to side, much like a cat, as it stalked him.  There was now only a few moments left for him to act.

“Damn,” he muttered softly.  Without the sword, his magic didn’t stand a chance of defeating the beast.  At best, he would only anger it even further!  And with the blood he had already spilled this day, there was only a little left to use before he became too weak to escape, should the opportunity even present itself.

“It appears I have made a grievous error,” he admitted softly.  As he began to prepare one of his most powerful spells, he watched as the dragon god closed the final dozen yards between them.  Regardless of what happened next, he knew that it would soon be over.

The Box (Part XV)

The tunnels began to widen as he drew ever closer to the lair of the beast.  The darkness fled before a soft golden glow which spread into the tunnels as if to reach for the one approaching. The breath of the dragon stank of rotten flesh and grew unbearably hot as he closed the distance between himself and its lair.

All of these things he noticed with only a passing interest.  His mind had turned within itself as he reviewed what magic he had prepared to use.  His arm shook beneath the weight of the elf’s sword and he absently shifted it from one hand to the other as he pressed on.

He knew full well the power of the creature he was about to face. After claiming his master’s tower for his own, he’d spent many hours pouring himself into the research necessary for such a confrontation.  Many books had succumbed to him their knowledge.  Through trial and error, he’d summoned different creatures from various planes of existence, including (but not limited to) demons.  It had taken many years off of his life to do so, but he’d finally coerced the answers he needed.

The ancient dragon was looked upon as a god amongst other creatures.  It had lived for many millenia, consuming man and magic alike, gaining as much knowledge as it had in power, over those beneath it.  Malifgorranaka had become a name that was not only feared by every other species, but of its own as well!

There was very little to be found in the books.  Most were stories of the creature’s deeds, of how it had leveled entire nations as it sought to placate its hunger.  They were of heroes who stood before it, giving their lives so that others might live.  Or they were of villains who sought it out for their own power, never to be heard from again.

One thing remained consistent in these stories; Malifgorranaka’s hunger.  It was written to be a beast even greater than the monster itself.  For nearly a thousand years, it decimated entire landscapes in order to quell the ache in its midsection.

But it was not just a hunger for flesh.  It was the hunger for knowledge, for power, that drove it as well.  It was said that as the creature consumed its enemies, it absorbed its knowledge as well.

It’s not known if The Great Flame retained said knowledge, only that the next time it was seen, it used whatever magic or power it had taken from its previous victim.

Oramiir again switched the blade from one hand to the other as his mind replayed the things he had learned.  The books had been easy enough, his former master had done all of the work for him.

The summonings were slightly more difficult.

He didn’t spend enough time creating the protection glyphs around the circle and as a result, it was a Pit Fiend which nearly killed him.  The cambion, a half fiend/half human, had found the weakest point of the circle and had broken it with-in seconds of the summoning.  It not for the contingency spell hidden in his former master’s cloak, which he had been wearing at the time, he would have been consumed by the creature’s magic.

The contingency, however, was a defense against other worldly creatures, and when it sent its flames against him, reacted with a spell designed to paralyze such beings.

He had tortured the creature for the entire duration of the spell, by which time he’d also prepared the banishing ritual needed to send it back to its plane.  From the foul demon he’d learned of the dragon’s weakness against elfin steel.

“STEP FORTH INTO THE LAIR OF MALIFGORRANAKA AND BEAR WITNESS TO THE END.”

The voice of the dragon thundered off of the walls, bombarding him with its fury and pulling him back to the present.  His arm faltered as the blade suddenly became too heavy for him to bear, and its tip lowered to the ground with a dull metallic clank.

The tunnel had come to an end and before him was the lair of the ancient red he had come to slay.  Whilst lost in his thoughts, it had widened until it was nearly twenty paces across, with the ceiling being nearly as high.  The edges of the wall rounded smoothly at the tunnel’s end, seamlessly becoming a part of the cavern beyond.

The lair was massive.

It spread out further than he could see and for a brief moment, he thought he had returned to the surface, albeit, at night.  The floor was littered with gold, gems and treasures, and there was not a single bit of stone visible beneath all the riches.

While the treasure was stacked into various piles around the cavern, none were so large as the mountain on the farthest end. The gold stretched along the wall, where it was piled higher even his former master’s tower!

“By the gods,” he muttered in awe.  “What have I done?”

The Box (Part XIV)

There was a deep burning sensation in the empty cavity where his eye had once been.  It felt as if a thousand ants were feasting upon the newly exposed flesh, breaking it down piece by piece to return to their nest for later consumption.  Added with the dull ocular throbbing of the broken nerve, he found himself struggling to remain conscious.

It had been several minutes since the sorcerer had passed through the cavern below but he didn’t yet feel strong enough to continue. He needed some time to think.

Oramiir had betrayed them!  His magics had lured the Destrachan from the depths of the underdark for the sole purpose of getting them out of the way!

It had been pure chance that he was alive, but the poor elf hadn’t stood a chance.  Even now, the creatures were gnawing at the bones of the once proud warrior.  The sound of the teeth scraping against them sent shivers down his spine.  One would occasionally lift its head as if scenting the air, but they seemed content to laze near their dinner.

Another blast of hot air passed through the junction, reminding him that even as he perched above the elf’s remains, the sorcerer was drawing ever closer to the lair of the dragon.

“Perhaps it’s time I use some magic of my own,” he spat venomously.  Below him, each of the four creatures turned their heads in his direction, suddenly interested in the small bag of fresh meat dangling from the ceiling.  One of them whistled softly, testing for a reaction from the small hobbit, but he seemed to be paying them very little notice.

As they continued to ‘watch’ him from below, he reached into one of his many hidden pouches and removed a small crossbow. Unlike the hand-crossbows of the Drow, this small folding instrument had very little use as weapon.  He’d had it specially crafted some years ago as a tool to aid him in his more discrete activities.

A flick of his thumb and the tension bar snapped into place.  With his other hand, he reached into another pocket and carefully removed a small cloth bundle.  Careful as to not drop it or the contents inside, he opened it and loaded a small bolt into the small crossbow before replacing the bundle into the pocket from whence it came.

His stomach gurgled once again, a painful reminder that he was missing yet another meal, drawing the attention of the creatures back to his position.  He needed to find a way out of this junction, soon, before his presence became enough of an annoyance to them that they decided to do something about it.

Moving slow and deliberately, he shimmied out from his perch and along the wall.  It was over a half a dozen yards to the floor, but he was never one to be bothered by heights.  Even as the creatures began to stir beneath him, his toes and fingers were expertly digging into even the smallest of cracks that only he could manipulate.

It was painfully slow going.  There were a couple of moments where the hold he had gained crumbled, nearly sending him tumbling to the ground, but several minutes later he found himself resting outside of the junction.  The Destrachan had either decided that he wasn’t big enough to be a threat, or were content to remain with their meal, and he was able to breath a sigh of relief.

He fished through his pouches before finding a suitable enough snack to placate the angry grumbles in his midsection, but his heart wasn’t in it.  He slowly chewed on a bit of rabbit jerky as tears fell from the corners of his eyes, and he mourned the loss of his friend.

Every so often, he would look in the direction the sorcerer had traveled and absently touch the handle of the crossbow now hanging from his belt.