Medievia Mudslinger

June 21, 2001

The Big and the Small of it: The Curse that was and is Zeksagmak - By Leetah

"I'm early."

Or so I thought. We were not due to go after the dragon for a while. I should have studied harder and earned the right to learn shockwave. There hadn't been enough time.

The time to meet was at half past. Later than what had been agreed upon. Yet there were already so many others here. Anxiety filled the air. People were already finding hunting groups. Each leader in turn asked for others to follow until their hunting party was full. Joining one often resulted in being kicked out before even leaving the clan town. Some of the strongest needed to be sent out to clear out the smaller creatures within the beast's lair. Others beckoned for the remnants to follow them.

Finally, I found a group.

Somebody said, "Does anybody here know how to lead us into a dragon lair?"

After telling myself to remain calm I managed to blurt out, "Just phase and follow when the main hunting parties move."

Somebody else spoke up. "I'll lead."

"You know what to do?"

"Sort of. Just follow the food. Not too difficult."

Hrm. I've tagged along in the towns. The groups weren't much different than this one. I don't remember food. This guy has studied longer than I if he was that close to learning how to resurrect people. He might know. I hope they know. Charging into battle against one of the little dragons is one thing. Then I've got thirty other people in front of me. But in this case, it's pretty much everybody for himself against the largest and fiercest dragon Medievia has ever known.

At last the appointed hour arrived. A shout rang throughout the area to phase Urikat. It took but a few moments to bring all members of the hunting party to the entrance of the dragon's lair. Once there, the brave hunters descended into the cave. There was very little light and few markings to distinguish one bend in the rock from the next. But there were pieces of clams, meat, and other rations strewn about the cave floor. They were there so that others could follow the first-comers to the nook where the dragon, Zeksagmak, was lurking.

Very clever of them. I hoped nobody was hungry.

Walking through the lair was one of the most difficult parts of the hunt. If people weren't getting stuck in the narrow passages, then they were getting singed in some of the scalding rooms that had to be passed through to reach the dragon. And if the rooms weren't singeing them, then they were trying to locate comrades who'd been lost due to exhaustion or inattentiveness. Upon reaching the end of the trail of food, the weary hunters found more bodies with every step they took.

"Where are we?" I wondered, highly agitated and perplexed. "Shoot. Thank goodness for the food, or we wouldn't be able to find our way back out. If we are in any state to go back out the way we came. We haven't reached the dragon yet, so why are all these bodies here?"

Sounds of roaring and screams echoed through the tunnel. The dragon was near. Hesitant, the party edged forward, hoping to catch a glimpse of the beast before it spotted them. Fumes pervaded the air as a gust carried the stench down the passage, past the hunters. The group took a moment to pause and prepare for battle.

So that's what fear smells like. Hehe, we're all gonna die. Well, let's go out in a blaze of glory then. I cried out, "CHAR..."

"...RED!" A voice in the dark snickered.

"Oh my word," I exclaimed and was suddenly hit with a craving for my own intestines. "Am I undead already? Did I even have time to make a hit? Did I forget how to cast? AND WHO SAID THAT??? Eeep. Did I just say all of that out loud?"

"Yes. Yes. No. Zeksagmak, at your service; or disservice as it were. And obviously."

"Zeksagmak? How?" The necromancer must have given up his midday mead if he managed to move THAT fast.

"You came in blasting spells at me. I blew a little smoke your way. What did you expect? Should I have been offering a comfortable chair and some hot cocoa?"

"I'm starting to wish you had. Maybe next time?"

The dragon chuckled and flopped down beside me, effectively blocking my way out and crushing hundreds of rotting bodies. We have met the enemy, and he is big.

"We are very amused. I was a little cranky. I was lounging around the lair snacking on a few leftovers from a food delivery that came by a couple weeks ago. That food can be a bit foul-smelling after even a few days, so I got in the shower to wash off the smell. It never fails. Just as the water was warming up, a bunch of heroes showed up. I didn't even have time to throw on a towel! Do you have any idea how embarrassing that is? Especially for a well respected dragon of my stature."

"I can only guess," I replied as I backed up towards the wall and started searching for a way around the dragon. Zeksagmak's form practically filled the entire cavern. "I'm not exactly well known in my circles. Haven't earned much in terms of stature either."

"Oh, so they pulled you off their HIT list?"

"Hit list? Somebody's been out to kill me?" I asked aloud, but under my breath I whispered, "Besides you?"

"Nonono. H I T list. List of Heroes In Training." Zeksagmak looked up a little, his eyes glazing over, and licked his lips ever so slightly as if recalling some distant memory. Then the dragon started eyeing me like some curiosity in Castle Medievia's Museum. "It's been a while since I've run into one of those."

"Um. After you'd reached three lairs, I think only heroes dared come after you."

"What are you? A Journeyman?"

"You can call me that. That's about right." He could have called me anything else he wanted, too, just as long as he didn't call me lunch.

"I thought so. I can tell, even after all this time."

I laughed nervously. If he ate me I'd hardly be in any condition to get to an altar. Zeksagmak had begun circling one of his giant claws on the floor, making a spiral in the sea of blood. If he was getting bored, then I was in trouble.

"So why has it been so long?" I asked. Stupid question. But at least the sparks from his claw rubbing against the cave floor stopped flying as he paused for a minute. I hugged my lean frame trying to stop myself from shaking. There was something in the pockets of the tattered rags I was left with.

"I haven't even been outside my lair in a long time. Until a couple weeks ago the only visitors I've had in a while are Medievia magazine salesmen and Vryce's Witnesses. Hence all those bodies in the front rooms."

"Oh, you mean the hundred or so heroes who tried to get you?"

"Exactly! It was pathetic. I finished them off rather quickly. But I don't think they cared too much. I give their dull lives meaning. Besides it would take far more people than that to finish me off. I'd expect it would take no less than half the population of Medievia. Ah well, maybe someday."

I remember now. "Or today."

"Those same heroes are here. There's barely been time for new heroes to be trained. What makes today special?"

"I'm here. And many others like me."

"Puny mortal. I doubt that will make a difference. You're barely fit to be a snack. Come here." Zeksagmak reached for me, but I pulled a potion out of my clothes. The dragon smiled knowingly, snapped his fingers, and pulled his hand back. "I was wondering when you'd remember that was there. The necromancer doesn't leave you completely helpless."

"Yeah, well, I'm leaving," I retorted, "But I shall soon return."

"And then?" The dragon asked as he propped his head up on his fist.

"We'll finish you," I said smugly.

But just as I downed the potion that would whisk me to the safety of the wilderness, Zeksagmak sighed, and once again asked, "And then?"

All the corpses in the room had become undead zombies and the less forgetful ones instantly disappeared from the lair, having never heard the conversation between the dragon and the fallen caster. To the northwest was an altar that usually had very few visitors, but today there were hundreds of dragon hunters passing through. Staying only long enough for the gods' mercy to grant them breath again. Hunting parties found each other again and the quest to kill the powerful dragon continued.

I didn't have to wait to be resurrected once I reached the altar. That gave me a good laugh. Besides being an honor, this minimal wait almost made it a pleasure to be killed by that dragon. Almost. Arks was right. Zek is extremely powerful if he really can kill people from down the passageway. And the trips through the lair were quickly wearing down our numbers. A few people in the party didn't even get a chance to hit Zek the last time we made our way to the end. I didn't know how many more trips we'd be able to make before they'd give up. What then?

Many mistakes were made in the process. At one point, the person marking the entrance to the lair disappeared; it took awhile to find it again. Fortunately that person returned from wherever they were in time to help others who came after the party. Once, the leader of the hunting party didn't give warning; nobody was able to hit the dragon because we didn't come in casting. At long last, during the fourth trip down into the lair, word spread across the land the Zeksagmak had fled his lair. I hoped he had found time to throw a hide or something on.

Brave souls were already waiting for Zeksagmak when he began his assault on a nearby clan town. The others, who had been in the lair, immediately phased to the first person to spot the dragon land.

So many faces. So many dying. What would we do when there are so many that we'll barely be able to move through the town?

The dragon was cornered. As many hunters that could be gathered hid in the adjoining rooms, ready to strike as soon as the command was given. Several times, the dragon happened in on a massive gathering of these brave fighters before they could strike, even when they were three blocks away. The crafty dragon was not quite ready to give up its life. The hunt within the clan town was certainly easier than the lair, but the death toll was no lower than before. The difficulty moving around the bodies all through the town made it nearly impossible for people to flee if they were in any condition to do so. The altar was so full that nobody dared look around at the horror that lay on the floor.

This is taking too long. He might actually get away again. I smiled. What then?

In a desperate attempt to subdue the dragon, everybody in the town charged the dragon at once. Many died within the first round.

And before the eyes of all in the area, after several hours of fighting, Froto's slash finally killed noble Zeksagmak. The menace of Medievia had been vanquished.

I swear that I'm going to bore my future children and grandchildren with this tale for the rest of my existence.

The gods let it be known all across the land that Zeksagmak, the ruby dragon, had been killed. Cheers were shouted from the rooftops and many congratulations went out to Froto.

"I hope she wasn't too disgusted with being congratulated by an undead corpse," I thought, smiling weakly as I made my way to the altar.

Shouts calling for battle trophies spread. Reports of how much damage individuals had dealt the dragon were broadcast. Those killed in the last battle returned to the altar to lick their wounds and rejoin the living.

One shout overheard: "Do I at least get a souvenir? I spilled at least a thousand gallons of his blood."

Wow. I spilled some of his blood, but not that much. I never thought I'd miss being a big bad warrior. But I still did well. Somehow, none of it felt much like success.

Another shout: "Yeah! Souvenirs for everybody except the newbies. They just got in the way!"

I did not just hear that.

Surveying the altar room full of fallen hunters, a few were just slinking off, some were still waiting for mercy, and others just lowered their heads. There was little rejoicing here.

And wherever all the little heroes in training of that day may be, to all the ones who tried and succeeded in even some small way, and all those who contributed as only they could, because Zeksagmak could only have been taken with just about everybody in Medievia nipping at his heels: Thank you.

But I had been given much to think about that day. He knew. That smug dragon knew. So to those of you who celebrate the death of Zeksagmak, the greatest challenge to Medievian heroes and heroes in training everywhere, I ask you this: What now?


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