Lava flowed in deep fissures nearby as Armen’s large brass scaled dragon slowly descended to the rocky mountainous terrain. He hopped down from the dragon and tossed it a small sack of gold coins, which it caught in its claws as it flew off into the smoke filled sky. There was no question as to why it wanted to depart as quickly as it could; the temperatures here were well above one hundred degrees. Armen noted this while wiping the sweat from his brow.
Making his way slowly over the barren land, Armen stumbled over a hill and found himself face to face with a massive stone giant. The giant’s skin looked like rock, and as it’s chest rose and fell, small pebbles crumbled from it. It was seated on a large chair that seemed carved out of stone. He nearly screamed out in horror and fell off of the hill he had just climbed, but quickly regained his senses and jumped back behind it. Ever so slowly he peered out over the hill, so that only his eyes and the top of his head were showing. Armen giggled to himself as he realized the giant beast was merely sleeping. Hoping to dart past it quickly enough not to be noticed, he crept as quietly as he could behind the behemoth, which began to snore so loudly he could hardly hear his own footsteps. Every muscle in Armen’s body clenched as he passed the giant not ten paces away, and began ascending another hill. He released a sigh of relief as he started to climb down the other side when he heard the sound of small rocks falling to the ground behind him.
Armen froze in terror and pictured what his head would look like crushed between two massive, stony fists. He was petrified. Every joint in his body had locked up, when all of a sudden, a small pebble rolled down from the nearby hill, and struck him on the head. Armen jolted in shock and praised his luck as he realized he had regained his wits enough to begin sprinting away from the giant. Wondering if it was too late, he glanced over his shoulder, but just as he did so, his foot found a small rock protruding from the ground which sent him flying to the earth, full force. Groaning as he got up, Armen touched his forehead only to see blood on his fingers. Shaking his head, he began to run again. Now the noises behind him grew louder and when he heard thunderous footsteps he began sprinting with all his might. After running several hundred yards he remembered the size of the giant’s legs and figured there was no way he could outrun it. Recalling an old trick his father, Elyas had taught him, he jumped behind a small boulder and imagined he was the boulder. Closing his eyes, he centered all of his thought on being one with the rock, and staying hidden. For some time Armen crouched there, paying no heed to what went on around him. He was one with the boulder and in his mind nothing could see nor harm him as long as he thought so. Several minutes later, Armen opened his eyes. Silence. He slowly straightened out his knees and turned his head from side to side. The coast was clear, or so it appeared. ‘Saved by my luck once more’ he thought as he rose to full height stretching his arms and wiping the blood from his forehead with a rag he had taken from his belt pouch. Armen had always been lucky. It had run in the family you might say. His grandfather had told him stories of being attacked by wild beasts in the forest, and just barely escaping them, and his father had won games at the village carnivals nine times out of ten. Armen had played dice games with his companions when he was young, but they began turning down his challenges when would win several games in a row.
‘Luck or no luck, I’ve got to keep moving’ he thought and began striding over more rock filled land. Suddenly, there came an eardrum pounding growl not 30 paces behind him. ‘Perhaps this time my luck has run out,’ Armen contemplated as he turned around to face his fate head on; but to his joyous surprise, he saw nothing of what he expected. The twenty-foot tall stone giant was engaged in heated combat with a bright red, flaming phoenix. ‘Ha! That phoenix must have a nest somewhere nearby’ Armen thought, as phoenix only attack when threatened. Not taking his luck for granted, he stumbled off away from the battle. After several minutes, an ear-piercing screech arose from behind him. With much credit to Armen’s luck, he ran into no more monstrous creatures before reaching his destination: The Fire Giant’s Keep. He knew this would not be the case inside however.
Armen’s father had always told him tales of how he and his closest companions would go to slay the beasts in the fire giants keep to gain riches, and to learn from the battles. But he also told how nobody had ever dared to challenge the king, except one: Armen’s uncle, whom he had never met.
‘Damnit! I knew Almarond was cocky, but I had never expected such a foolish move from him! If only I had known..I could have done something’ Elyas would mutter to himself sometimes when he thought no one was listening. ‘Nothing is worth losing your life over, not even the shield forged from dragon hide.’ Armen’s eyes would widen when he sat down to hear his father’s stories as a small boy, but he had never imagined he would actually end up being in a story of his own.
Armen found the beginnings of a small grass path and began making his way down it. Upon reaching its end, he viewed the entrance to a large cavern. Armen’s eyes darted from left to right as he cautiously stepped into the spacious hollow. He glanced over his shoulder and saw nothing but smoke rising from distant volcanoes. As Armen made his way into the keep, he dreamed of the riches and power he would acquire from slaying the mighty Fire Giant King, and winning his ancient and valuable dragon hide shield. While traveling through the entrance to the keep, more sweat formed on his brow from the unbearable heat produced by the volcanic activity nearby. ‘Now for the fun part’ he thought to himself sarcastically and made his way into the thousand-year-old cave.
Shivers went up and down Armen’s spine at the strange sounds he heard coming from unseen creatures lurking in the shadows. He quickly trotted through the cave, dagger in hand, keeping as aware as he could, until he reached a large wooden door built into a cavernous wall. He sheathed his dagger and curiously reached for the doorknob, but quickly pulled his hand away to prevent being seriously burned. ‘Idiot’ he thought to himself as he pulled out the same rag he had used to wipe his brow of blood earlier. He fit the cloth around his hand, quickly grabbed the knob, turned it and yanked the door open at the same time. Grinning, he stepped into a most peculiar hallway. The walls here were at least ten paces apart, and they appeared to be seamless. The ground was much the same as the walls, and so was the ceiling. Armen was noting the fact that there was a queer red glow emanating from them just as he caught movement out of the corner of his eye.
Whirling around he found himself face to face with a fire giant. Gasping in astonishment at the sight of the creature, he had just enough time to jump out of the way of its charge, unsheathe his trusty dagger, turn around, and place it in the giant’s back. Before he knew what happened it was over. Drops of blood stained his clothes, as no death by the blade is a clean one. Recalling the features of the giant made Armen gag in disgust. It had rotten yellow teeth, glowing red eyes, and leathery skin. He stood there for a few moments recovering his strength as well as his wits, then hurried on.
After running down this corridor as silently as possible for what seemed like hours, Armen skidded to a halt at a solid wall with a large picture of an ancient looking creature. It appeared to look somewhat like the giant he had slain earlier, except it was larger, and wearing a long golden robe. It held a dark green, scaly shield in one hand. He decided either way it was disgusting, and the fact that he had hit a dead end didn’t put him in a very good mood. Just as he was about to turn back and look for another way in, Armen noticed a small silver latch on the right side of the picture. Taking a closer look he saw that the picture was in fact a door that could be opened. Smiling, he pulled it open and stepped through only to find himself on a worn-down path. The walls here were rocky and more cavern-like, and there was a strange moss growing all over the ground. Armen made his way down the path, trying to avoid the fungus where he could.
Rounding a corner, he pictured in his head the map of the Fire Giant Keep his father had shown him. He placed himself at a certain spot on it, and nodded as he decided his path. Armen took a deep breath and headed east until he reached yet another door, this one made of what seemed like gold. There were incredibly intricate carvings all over it, and it was done as masterfully as anything he had ever seen forged. On the doorknob was engraved an almighty fire hydra. He remembered the lesson he had learned from the first door he had encountered, and pulled the rag from his pouch yet again. When he grabbed the doorknob, a look of surprise came onto his face. It didn’t turn.
‘Great, what next’ Armen muttered. Just at that moment, a multi-headed monstrous creature appeared not thirty paces away, seemingly from out of nowhere. The creature had the body of a giant lizard and several large, hairy, deformed heads protruding from long necks attached to its body. Armen screamed as terror took him while the creature’s heads flailed about and half of them screeched loudly at him.
‘Good god my father was right, why have I come here!?’ he thought in a panic. Turning his mind back to the door he frantically tried to work it open, but to no avail. As the creature advanced toward him, he suddenly remembered the set of lock picks he carried in his pouch. All his fingers seemed like thumbs as he searched his pouch trying to find it. ‘AH HAH!’ he thought as he pulled it out. Immediately he began fumbling with the lock, ignoring the pain from the door’s heat. The creature was nearly on him when he heard a *CLICK* that was music to his ears. Grabbing the doorknob his skin sizzled and smoke arose from it as he yanked open the door, spun around behind it, and pulled it shut. He heard a loud THUMP sound and the walls shook as the monster pounded into the door in a raging attempt to get at him, but it held, for now.
‘Too close’ he whispered while his head spun and his hand throbbed in pain. The smell of charred flesh sickened him. Armen lifted from his belt loop a small vial that his father had given him.
‘Son, I picked this up on my journey through Tear when I was a young traveler. I kept it with me always, just in case I got into trouble deeper than I could handle, you know what I mean?’ he said with a grin.
‘Drinking this vial will, how do I put this’ he stroked his beard, ‘it will move you from one place, and put you in another. That’s the best I can explain it. Now that I’ve settled down, I don’t really need it, but I suspect someday you might. Here I want you to have it’ Armen took the bottle and kissed his fathers cheek.
Armen had thought about drinking the contents of the vial now in the burning depths of the keep. ‘If only I could be at home with my father’ he thought. He sighed loudly and slipped it back into the loop on his belt. Not now, I’ve come too far to give up. Armen gathered himself and looked around taking in his surroundings. He seemed to be at some sort of a guard post. Peering around he moved on. Straight ahead, he saw a large group of creatures, much like the one he had slain earlier, except they were much bigger, and clad in red armor. His heart jumped up into his throat, and he thought he was a dead man, until he realized that they hadn’t noticed him. They seemed to be bickering amongst themselves. Armen pressed himself flat against the wall and listened. The voices were crude and in a strange tongue.
He thought he could make out a few words: “NO! you...into..IDIOT!”. Then another put in “I’m ...he...your fault!”. They all seemed involved now and Armen thought ‘now’s my chance’. He slipped past them as quietly as he could, and managed to avoid being seen.
Armen’s eyes widened as he came upon a beautiful golden staircase. The stairs looked as if the same hand had made them, as had the door. He climbed the stairs warily, until he came upon a great, intricately carved throne, more detailed and incredible than anything he had ever seen. Seated upon the throne was an enormous giant with an overpowering presence. Wrapped around him was a golden robe, and in his left hand he held it: the legendary Dragon Hide Shield. Armen’s jaw dropped, and he went to unsheathe his dagger. Just as he did so, the king was up out of his throne and practically on him. Armen managed to get his weapon out just in time to parry one of the king’s attacks. He then spun around behind him and placed his dagger in its back. The king’s agonizing scream hurt his ears. To his surprise, the monster turned around, angered now more than ever. He thought for sure this was the end; the fire giant king had Armen pinned to the ground, and the young fightetr was still recovering from his last attack. Just at that moment, a bloody disgruntled figure came up the stairs. It seemed the fight between the guards down below had come to blows, and one of them came to report what had happened to it’s superior. The king turned his head to look at the guard and Armen took full advantage of that moment of weakness. He rolled out from under the king, stood up, and jumped on it’s back, plunging his dagger not once, but three times into the back of the monster, until its movement ceased completely.
The creature near the top of the stairs screamed in rage, and charged at Armen. Knowing he could not endure another encounter in his current state, he grabbed the shield from the arms of the dead king, pulled the vial from his belt loop, and put it to his lips. Everything went dark for a few seconds, and when he could see again, Armen was on a grassy hill bathed in sunlight. Looking down in his arms he saw the wondrous shield which not his uncle, nor anyone else had succeeded in attaining. Looking at his hand, which throbbed in pain, he saw the mark of the hydra, permanently inscribed upon it. A brand to remind him forever of his luck, and of his triumph, over The Fire Giants Keep.