February 13, 2000
In the year 536, dragon lairs began to suddenly appear across the landscape of Medievia. The clans of the world, not challenged since the days of the great Kingdom battles, were once again called to action. A new foe had arrived, a new kind of Hero would emerge.......
Birth of a Foe
Crag stood outside, upon the steps of the castle, and gazed in anger and frustration at the clantown. Surrounding him was beauty, the product of years of toil by himself and his fellow clan mates, but looking upon it now gave him no comfort.
"Tell the people of the town to return to their homes," Crag ordered his coleader, Ravk. "Tell them that there is no need to worry."
"We have told them," Ravk responded. "They refuse to listen."
"You cannot blame them for being frightened," Okelia explained, noticing her husband's face harden. "We are all wary of these creatures. We do not fully understand the immensity of their power."
"Dragons," Crag spit the word as if it tasted filthy to his mouth. "Our Heroes can handle them. We have always risen to defeat every monster in the world of Medievia. There has never been anything that a formation of Heroes can't handle easily enough. We've fought dragons in the past," he pointed out, unconsciously adjusting his High Forest Helm, created from the scales of dragons in the legendary Demonforge.
Crag's gaze returned to the town below. He stood listening for a moment, listening to the desperate voices of villagers who had gathered at the castle's gate.
"What do those people want?" he asked his wife.
"They are terrified of the Dragon," Okelia told him. "They want us to open up the castle so they can be protected by the clan."
"Very well," Crag snorted and turned to his coleader. "Let them into the castle, make room for them where you can and try to lessen the damage they do."
Ravk bowed and went to do his clan leader's request, taking with him several servants.
"I think we should seek aid outside of the clan, " Okelia pleaded. "You've heard the reports. Other clans have dispatched groups of Heroes into the lairs. None have returned. Perhaps we should...."
"Those other clans are not us," Crag cut off his wife angrily. "They do not have our size or power. The Council has decided on sending two formations to confront the dragon within his lair. They will be fully equipped with the most potent offensivee and defensive equipment we have. I will lead the form and will take our seventeen most Elite champions with me."
"There is no reason to endanger yourself, surely Ravk can lead the form, he's done so well lately in the Herobattles lately....."
"There will be no more discussion, the Council has decided," he replied angrily.
"I know," she said, bowing her head. "Its just, these dragons have put a sense of dread in me like I've never felt before."
"Believe or not wife, I do fear these creatures. My pride has not blinded me enough to see that they are powerful beings. That is why I am leading the group. Ravk will stay behind in case..." He paused, seeing his wife stiffen. "We leave at dawn tomorrow. Be ready with our daughter to say goodbye at the front gate."
"Be safe," Okelia said, attempting to slip her arm through his.
Crag stiffened, holding himself from her touch.
Tark was bleeding. Rolling back onto his feet, he spoke a spell of healing and some of his wounds instantly closed.
Better end this quick, not much magic left, he thought.
Nearly tripping over the corpses of the four wargs he had just killed, he leapt towards the final monster. His blade slashed out, and missed. The warg responded with a rake of its claws across Tark's chest. Shaking away unconsciousness, he had to make a split second decision. Should he use the last of his magic to heal himself or risk sending a magical shockwave towards the creature to end the fight? Sensing the white aura of the sanctuary protection spell around him fading, he decided for the offensive. If he didn't kill the monster with the next set of attacks, he was dead anyway. Speaking the words, he channeled pure energy directly into the chest of the warg. The monster howled in fury and fell back a step. Tark brought forth his kris from its scabbard and drove into it's chest. The warg crumpled to the ground. Blood soaking his armor, it took all of Tark's reserve to keep from following.
After doing a quick scan of the shadows for hidden monsters, Tark rested to repair his injuries. He felt a portion of his mana return to him. He was about to speak a healing spell when a message from the clan's collective conscious rang in his head.
"All soldiers are to return to clantown .... urgent, return immediately."
Something in the tone of the message caused Tark's forehead to crease in a deep frown. He quickly spoke a word of recall, which took him to Riverton's Commemorative Statue. With another word he summoned a firedrake and handed him some gold. The firedrake, who was the only creature who could speak telepathically with dragons, snatched it greedily and nodded as a large bronze dragon appeared in the southern sky. Within minutes Tark was in the air headed for home.
Crag led the two formations down three levels into the lair, and did not expect what he found. An immense system of tunnels weaved downward into the earth. Various creatures, attracted by either the scent of the dragon, or it's magic, had come to live within the passages. Crag and his followers had spent the day cleaning them out, a tedious job, but one they had managed with limited injuries.
Crag paused a second from the fighting long enough to use his magical High Forest Helm.
"It's ahead," he told his followers. "It is sleeping."
Using hand signals, Crag gathered the Heroes into a tight knit group and explained his strategy to them.
"We will make two rushes at them. The first group will contain those of us who have special equipment that guards against the dragon's breath. The second group will follow and cast heals upon the first group."
"Sir, shouldn't we use some of our healing staves?" Lieutenant Jilkez asked.
"Bah, there will be no need. They are too precious to waste on these creatures. We will use them later on Bloodstone or Elysium. Now, quickly, form up. On my signal, move in."
Crag winced as the scrape of metal armor on stone echoed through the tunnel. Using his magical helm, he once again checked upon the dragon. Still sleeping. He had heard they were deep sleepers.
A sudden rush of adrenaline giving him courage, Crag unsheathed his sword, and raised his fist in the air. The troops waited in silence. He opened all fingers wide. The signal had been given.
The troops rushed as stealthily as possible down the narrow passage toward the cavern. Crag noticed as they approached the dim light of the dragon's cavern that the ruby dragon still seemed asleep. Thanking the gods for his luck, Crag raised his sword in preparation of plunging it into the beast's eye. With a newfound boldness born from the dragon's slumbering state, the troops picked up their pace, all caution thrown aside.
Crag was within five feet when he noticed something was wrong. The dragon's eyes were not entirely closed. The pupil of an eye could be seen glinting crimson beneath a small slit of eyelids. Crag tried to scream out a warning to his troops, but the dragon was too fast.
Searing breath roared from the dragon's mouth, engulfing both formations. Screams ran out from some of the soldiers. Crag, in the center of it all, was forced to his knees in agony. A few of the soldiers in the rear formation were only slightly touched by the flames. They attempted to come to the aid of their brethren by chanting healing spells.
The dragon let forth a roar that almost sounded gleeful at being called to battle. It reached out it's huge claws and raked across the front lines. Crag barely escaped with his life by rolling to his side. A seasoned commander, he shrugged off the pain and was instantly on his feet again. He began to shout orders and assemble his soldiers into an organized attack.
"Bash the monster so he cannot work his breath magic!" he shouted.
Three of the larger soldiers rushed forward and threw their bulk across the creature. The dragon didn't even budge. Red eye glinting, it looked down at the three sprawled out soldiers and brought down a massive claw, ending their lives.
His mind racing, Crag ran through every strategy he had ever used in battle. He shook his head in defeat. This battle was lost, he had underestimated how powerful the dragon would be. In a final surge, he called out the clan's battle cry and led his troops in one last charge. The dragon unleashed his fiery breath, searing through the troops, causing the temperature in the cavern to reach an unbearable level. When the flames died away, eighteen charred corpses lay strewn about the floor. The dragon gave a final snort of smoke, sniffed the corpses, and moved his massive bulk onto his hoard of gold.
A necromancer suddenly materialized in the room and began to collect the souls of the dead. The dragon gave a growl of disapproval, but he knew not to challenge. He had tried before and had discovered the creature was invincible. Keeping a wary eye on the necromancer as he collected his treasure into small bottles, the dragon drifted off into a deep slumber, the blood still wet upon his massive claws.
Approaching the clantown from the sky, Tark stared in wonder at what appeared to be a mass exodus of people being herded toward the castles gates. He coached the dragon into a gentle descent and landed near the great hall of his clan. Many of the younger soldiers were milling about outside. Tark approached one of his close friends, Martimus, who greeted him with a strange sadness in his eyes.
"What is going on here?" Tark asked, "What is wrong? Where are all the Heroes?"
Martimus shook his head and looked at the ground. "They never returned. We waited and waited, but they never came back."
"Came back from what? Where were they? What in blazes has been going on?"
Martimus sighed. "You haven't heard. A new breed of dragon has been attacking clantowns. They are saying these dragons could the most powerful creatures in Medievia. Some have even said they could take on a Sphere of Annihilation and walk away with just scratches."
Tark grunted, "Not likely, I've seen a Sphere slaughter a whole formation in the blink of an eye."
Martimus looked at his friend with an expression of horror.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean..." Tark awkwardly halted into silence.
"It's all right. How could you have known? In any case, Ravk has assumed leadership. He is organizing a defense of the town. All soldiers are to report tomorrow at dawn to the castle for the selection of new officers, and to figure out a strategy to fight these dragons. We must at least delay, Ravk is sending an ambassador to the necromancer. If the Heroes are dead, the necromancer will have their souls preserved, and the gods will allow their return if it is not their true time to ascend."
"How can this be happening? What if the dragon comes before then?"
The two friends turned and looked grimly toward the horizon. Far to the west the sun was setting. Out there was such a powerful foe that the best of the clan couldn't defeat it. What chance did a group of young soldiers and a inexperienced leader have against such odds?